Sunday, November 26, 2023

Of Nomeansno, Toronto Hardcore and Going All The Way: Adam Kates tells A Tale of Two Cities

With a few Dead Bob shows coming up this week (and Nomeansno reissues taking place via Alternative Tentacles, who have recently announced Wrong preorders), I've been helping a friend on a project, putting a Nomeansno interview (with Rob Wright and Andy Kerr) into the world from a cassette that has gone (mostly) unheard and unpublished since 1989. It's a pretty great interview, recorded at a peak period for the band: Nomeansno had, in the months prior, released Small Parts Isolated and Destroyed and The Day Everything Became Nothing and -- in trio form of Rob Wright, John Wright, and Andy Kerr -- were gearing up to go into the studio to record Wrong, their most famous album, which would come out in fall of that year. It's quite a delightful listen; Rob and Andy seize on Adam's questions and run with them, perhaps stoked on the energy of the upcoming show, interacting with each other as much as with him (John, fronting Dead Bob at the Pearl tonight can be heard loading into the venue and may contribute a small quote or two, as well -- it's not always easy to tell those Wright brothers apart based on voice alone!)

Rob -- who retired from rock in 2015 -- is not doing too many interviews these days (though we gather that he did speak to Jason Lamb for the new "oral history" of Nomeansno, due out in January; you can also read my old interview with him here). So this is your chance to hear him tip his hat as a bassist to Lemmy Kilmister, to explain what "Small Parts Isolated and Destroyed" is about, and to talk about the early history of Nomeansno... 

...but more to the point of this article, here's your chance to meet the man who conducted the interview, Adam Kates. 

Adam was writer/ editor of a 1980s Toronto zine called Going All the Way, which featured articles on both hardcore bands and skateboarding. Only two issues were produced; the Nomeansno interview was for a planned third issue, but things fell apart before it could see print (pictured are recent reprints that Adam has made; Adam doesn't have much of an internet presence, but occasionally does check into Facebook if you want to reach out to him to acquire copies or catch up; and yes, he was on hand to see Random Killing, featured in issue #1, when they opened for the Dayglo Abortions a few months ago, and gave them a copy of the zine they are in!). 

Later, Adam would move to Victoria, where, among other things, he interviewed Dave Dictor of MDC for Offbeat, then to Vancouver, where I first met him at a Grant Hart show at the Lamplighter back in 2005; we'd later meet again at a Bob Mould show -- here he is showing Mould his Hüsker Dü tattoo. 

Adam's a sincere enthusiast for punk rock, though we don't overlap in all things, since I was exposed mostly to Vancouver and California punk here on the coast, while in Toronto, besides local acts like MSI (More Stupid Initials, as photographed by Adam below), he was seeing touring bands from New York, Detroit, Boston, Chicago, and so forth. We met a couple of weeks ago over dinner at the Sunrise on Commercial -- an unpretentious, under-rated Italian restaurant -- to talk about Adam's history and some of the bands he's caught and/or shot (photos of Adam are by me; photos taken by Adam were cleaned up with the help of Bev Davies. Thanks, Bev!). 

MSI in Toronto by Adam Kates, not to be reused without permission

AM: Tell me your entry point into punk and hardcore? Did you start with British punk? 

AK: The Brit punk bands never really impressed that much. I picked up a couple of records by GBH, "Give Me Fire," and the street punk band the UK Subs, "Another Typical City Involved in Another Typical Daydream," but other than that, as soon as Chronic Submission came out with that tape, Empty Heads Poison Darts, from Toronto, that's when I got into hardcore. There's a broad distinction to be made between punk music and hardcore music -- between anarchist punk and street punk and UK 82 punk. There's a big distinction. 

AK (continued): And I'm not a big punk lover. But I've been for years, since I was about 15, involved in the hardcore scene. One of the first shows I saw was probably at the Ukrainian National Federation Hall on College Street in Toronto, and it was Die Kreuzen, DRI and Dr. Know, back in 85. That was a great show. I went down with a couple of buddies; we all grew up in North York. That was my first show, and that was a great show, a very good show. I really got a lot out of DRI's Dealing With It -- that was the album they were touring. Dr. Know were touring This Island Earth [which kicks off with a DOA cover!], and Die Kreuzen from Detroit [actually Illinois, then Milwaukee], they were a great post-hardcore band. 

 Lifted from this blog)

AM: So you weren't a punk before that? What started you on punk? 

AK: I got into it gradually. I had a neighbour when I was about ten years old who would play Led Zeppelin and Genesis, and I was big into KISS in that time period, and there was a radio station called Q107, and they used to play Teenage Head and the Ramones. And that's how I gradually got moreso into the punk side of rock and roll, rather than the arena rock side like KISS.

AM: Hang on a second, there was a radio station in Toronto playing Teenage Head and the Ramones?  Vancouver radio was not doing that. Was this like, a college station or commercial radio?

AK: It was commercial radio. By that time, Teenage Head was big, with Frantic City, and... I'm 53 now, so how old would I have been in 1980? I was about 13 in '83. I started listening to music when I was just a kid; my parents played me Rubber Soul by the Beatles, and I'd heard "Heartbreak Hotel" by Elvis Presley. I even saw Presley on television in 1975, before he died. I was enamoured by that stuff. 

AM: But it sounds like you weren't prepared for hardcore. 

AK: No! Absolutely not. I was not prepared for hardcore. It was a very, very volatile place to be for a 15 year old kid. I remember Brian Taylor who worked at the Record Peddler at that time, he was working the door [at the DRI/ Die Kreuzen/ Dr. Know gig]. He was in Youth Youth Youth (listen here), a real punk mentor, just like Joey Keithley of DOA here in Vancouver. And probably the same age as him, now, or maybe a few years younger. And I remember the guy who ran the Record Peddler, Ben Hoffman... it was an extraordinary place. Every kid in the city, from Oshawa to Hamilton, from Lakeshore to Barrie,  would come to downtown Toronto to hang out there. 

AK (continued): And as I remember, that was an extraordinary show. At that time DRI and Dr. Know were on Metal Blade, a kind of metal label. This Island Earth, the lead singer, Kyle Toucher... I think he does animation now. I think the other guy's name was Ismael... Later on I ended up seeing Dr. Know again in Vancouver. And Die Kreuzen went on to put out October File, Century Days, and a few other records in the post-punk area, if you will. It was the beginning, for me: to make new friends, when I was 15 or 16, and the beginning of, y'know, seeing bands at Ildikos at Bloor and Bathurst, which had all ages shows every Saturday/ Sunday. I saw Youth of Today there, Jones VeryFire PartyNegative GainNomind... it was a real special place. I remember one of the first shows I went to there, I went with one of my friends, Yared Grinstein, and he played in Urban Surf Kingand a band called MSI (listen here). I remember that we'd wanted to go see Gang Green (probably one of two shows they played at Ildikos/ The Bridge/ Starwood, in 1986), they were a great skate punk band from Boston. It was a great time for hardcore music, the second wave...

AM: If we can go back a bit to DRI. I remember I had Dealing With It! when it came out, and I loved some of the songs on it. It was a bit intense but songs like "Soup Kitchen" or "Nursing Home Blues" really worked for me. But I was really pissed off with Crossover when it came out, because it was too metal...

AK: I disagree with you! They were never meant to be a metal band. They were influenced by metal music, but they were always hardcore or crossover.

AM: But I never liked crossover, is what I'm saying. I had so much prejudice in me against metal at that time that even bands that I later came to love, like the Bad Brains, or SNFU, or the Dayglo Abortions, when they started showing traces of metal in their music, it put me off. I turned my nose up for many years. That wasn't a thing, for you?

AK: See, when I first discovered downtown Toronto, I was about 13 years old. I was allowed to go to downtown Toronto when I was about 13. I grew up about half an hour away, in the Jewish neighbourhood of Toronto on Bathurst street. And I went downtown with a friend one day, a neighbour, and he brought me to the Record Peddler on Queens Street, and that was my beginning with independent record stores. I remember Brian Taylor had a Mohawk, and it was just a different cultural experience for me. And at that time, I was listening to Venom and Black Sabbath! A lot of metal stuff. I didn't have any prejudice towards metal, but I very quickly got out of it and heavily immersed myself in hardcore. 

AM: But you continued to listen to metal?

AK: Not much. 

AM: So there was a bit of a tribal thing that happened here, a tribal division. I don't know Toronto, but in Vancouver, the metalheads would beat the punks up... 

AK: That never happened in Toronto, as far as I know. 

AM: Good to know! Anyhow, tell me more about the Toronto hardcore scene...?

AK: There was Larry's HideAway, they played punk music... I was not old enough to go. A lot of my friends turned 19 before me, they saw Hüsker Dü during the Zen Arcade period (note: there are some really cool photos of that 1985 gig here). And there was the DMZ on Queens Street; the Goofs [AKA Bunchoffuckinggoofs] used to play there... they may have had all ages shows. The Goofs were a lot older than us, they had their little house in the Kensington Market. I have never been to a Fort Goofs show... But I remember distinctly the first club I was interested in going to was Ildikos/ The Bridge/ Starwood, on Bloor Street, in the Annex area. I don't know what Ildikos' first name was -- it may have been Doug; but he ran this joint, and it was literally every week, we'd see a hardcore show, all-ages-bands, MSI, the Goofs... 

AK (continued): And at that time period, I wanted to know how to do a fanzine properly, so I got fanzine called One Solution by a guy named Morgan Gerard. I wrote to him and he sent me the directions, a prescription for how to start a fanzine. He gave me the baton and I went from there; and I had help from a friend named Simon Harvey. Simon started a record label in Toronto, Ugly Pop Records. It was the longest running underground record label in Toronto. He came out here and stayed about two years, then went back to Toronto. And I got some help from a guy, Dave Petretic, who did a fanzine called Intense

AK (continued): What I ended up wanting to do with the fanzine, the politics of the fanzine and the whole structure of it, basically was to bring people -- youth -- together. I thought of the name. Later in life, I found out there was a Baby Blue movie [a City TV softcore porn program] called Going All the Way, but I didn't know about the coincidence, that's not where I got it from. I thought the name, Going All the Way, would reflect on the spectrum of politics, from extreme politics to politics that are kind of lethargic in a way, and the meaning is to separate the two and find out what Going All the Way means to you. I was very very very influenced by bands like Uniform Choice, Instead, and Youth of Today, because they were bringing in a new sound, not like generic hardcore. It kind of grew out of reggae music, with mosh parts to it. And they were bands that objected to using drugs.

I was never big on using marijuana. I experimented with it, like all youth do, but I got out of it very, very quickly. There wasn't a whole lot of drugs in the scene back then, for kids, except marijuana. Most of us were not involved with it, other than drinking alcohol, if we were of age. There was also the Siboney Club, the Rivoli, and the Quock Tai (spelling?) The Siboney was in the Kensington Market, and Quock Tai was in Kensington Market. A lot of punks gravitated to the Kensington Market, right around Chinatown and the old Jewish neighbourhood in Toronto. It's a very bohemian place, today as we speak...

And at that time period, I remember, there was another band called D.O.G. that I interviewed. Now, it's very sad for me to talk about this, but... Dave Petretic called me up one day on a Sunday afternoon; I was at home at my Mom's. And he said, "I've got some bad news." "What, did somebody die?" ...and sure enough, Scott, the guitar player of D.O.G. [for Death of Gods] was run over by a drunk driver and killed instantly. That was the first time where I actually dealt with death. It was quite an ordeal for me to deal with something like that, and the people from Mississauga were in shock about his death. His parents were in grief. 

AK: I didn't know Scott personally but I knew he was into Agnostic Front; I guess they influenced Toronto's hardcore scene to some degree. I remember seeing them at the Apocalypse Club on College Street. They were so scary and so extreme, I ended up staying for two minutes and I walked out. Later, I ended up interviewing Roger Miret, when he was with Roger Miret and the Disasters -- a very nice guy -- and I met Vinnie Stigma when they played here in Vancouver on West Broadway, in a club. They're very nice guys. They've been through a lot of adversity in their lives; it's very unfortunate. I don't think anyone I know in Toronto who was affiliated with the hardcore scene had that much adversity. I met a few people, but not too many.

After that, I put a second edition of the fanzine. This was 1986, 1987. It looks so beautiful! People take it for granted, they think it's so easy to do a fanzine, but actually... it's tangible, it's in your hands, you can feel it. It's a very good thing. And I was the CEO. I paid for it. I put out a poetry book with a close friend name Spencer Mack, but it doesn't fall into the category of Going All the Way. It wasn't music-related at all. 

AM: Who else was involved?

AK: There was myself, Dave Petretic, Simon Harvey... I have to thank Morgan Gerard for helping me; Glenn Salter, Stephen Perry... there were a lot of people. The second issue was more intense. I got Dag Nasty interviewed, D.O.G.... like I said, there were better fanzines that came out, but  what can you say for a 17 year old kid? I did my best!

Anyways, getting back to the politics, I never got into extreme politics -- extreme straight edge, extreme drinking... We were influenced by a lot the women on the scene who were into feminism. A lot of the women in the Toronto punk scene, really really, without them, you couldn't have had a very good punk scene. There was Jill Heath, there was Lou-Ann Voskins, there was Fran Grasso -- she used to come to shows. She helped put out the two books, Tomorrow is Too Late, which I have, by Derek Emerson, Shawn Chirrey and Simon Harvey, and I have the heavy metal book they put out, Eve of Darkness. I have a lot to say about those people; they're very great people, and I'm totally sorry that I never got involved with [those books], but that's the way the situation was at the time; I didn't get involved on the internet so well, I couldn't get involved. But they did such an amazing job. I believe that Derek got an award for putting out that book, and was in NOW Magazine. You saw it. It's a beautiful book, it's just as good quality as Blush did with American Hardcore

AM: How many copies of the zine were produced?

AK: I must have put out a few hundred at the time. Don't forget that I was a kid and I didn't have too much money! But I did have jobs at the time.  I worked at a movie theatre, the Carlton in Toronto, and I saved up my money. I think the inspiration that I got from my parents helped me. My Mom was really interested in the music of the 1960s; she was into the whole jazz music scene. And she was a bit of beatnik growing up. And my Dad used to take me on drives to Buffalo, New York. We ended up going to a record store called Home of the Hits. I used to get my Descendents t-shirts and Bad Brains t-shirts there, and he would get a schnapps... it was very nice! 

And I had friends who used to go Ohio. And the Bad Brains came to Buffalo. Oh! I've got a Bad Brains show to talk about. 

The Bad Brains came to Toronto in 1986. It was the I Against I tour with HR, God bless him, he's still alive today. All the guys in the Bad Brains are very nice men; I got to meet them later in life at the Commodore Ballroom. Very lovely men, and the greatest inspiration. So much happened to me in that time period. I was with a friend called Paul Morris; he was in the Sons of Ishmael. And we were outside of the Masonic Temple on Yonge Street, where the show was taking place. And even at that time, I think it was fourteen, fifteen, maybe even twenty bucks for a ticket to see the Bad Brains. And we just stayed outside, looking at the tour bus the whole night. It was so painful, because those guys were the essential Gods of hardcore. It was a lot of money for young kids; I was about 16. 

I'm also a big fan of Hüsker Dü, but I got into the Bad Brains before I got into  Hüsker Dü. And we know that the Bad Brains -- I don't want to say anything, but they were on the same record label as  Hüsker Dü, but they weren't the closest of friends. And, listen, people say things they don't mean, and mean things they don't say. And unfortunately I think one of the members of the Bad Brains said something to Bob and Grant, and it wasn't very nice. I'm not going to mention it, but... everybody's entitled to a mistake in their lives. And from what I hear, it almost cost them their career. A lot of people took it seriously, what they said, but those two bands remain two of my favourite bands, to this day, Agnostic Front,  Hüsker Dü and the Bad Brains. Bob Mould is another rock god, he's a great guy. You had the pleasure of interviewing him, and I had the pleasure of getting his book signed. He's an extraordinary man; I don't think most people could do what he's done in one lifetime. 

AM: Did you ever get to see  Hüsker Dü?

AK: No. They played at RPM many times in Toronto, they played at Larry's HideAway... I was just not old enough to see them. And that was an amazing time in my life; I was involved in skateboarding, and New Day Rising was extraordinary. I used to skateboard to it, and that was the first introduction to introspective alternative rock, emo-core hardcore, the progenitors of emo-core, and absolutely, they influenced the Washington DC scene, Hüsker Dü... I became a lifelong fan ever since, The only member I have yet to meet is Greg Norton; he's in a band called UltraBomb right now, and tours around. I can assure when he comes to Canada, I will be there to see him to shake his hand, because he's an extraordinary jazz musician and hardcore musician and alternative rock musician.

AM: Tell me about Grant Hart. You had some interaction with him?

AK: I did. He was a very nice man, and I think we're all sad that he passed away. And every song that he played that night, I recognized; even his solo stuff and Nova Mob, which was all about William S. Burroughs stuff. A lot of punks were very literate people. And we ended up talking outside, and Randy Rampage was speaking to him, saying, "let's go to a beach," or something like that. He was so nice, Grant Hart. He gave me a CD of some of his solo stuff; he had a record called All of My Senses, which had all of his folk music and electronic stuff. It was just extraordinary, extraordinary, extraordinary... I'll emphasize that 500 times. They never wanted to stay pigeonholed in the hardcore scene, the members of Hüsker Dü. They were an experimental band. That was a great time when I photographed and met Grant Hart. He came another time to Vancouver, at the time when the hockey riots happened, and he played at the Biltmore. Unfortunately, I was working at the time, but I came downtown and they'd had a very severe hockey riot, because the Vancouver Canucks lost. Oh my God, I was gonna commit suicide because of that!

No, I'm just kidding. I'm not a hockey fan whatsoever, people. But I really think they took it a little too seriously, this city. But I would have seen him regardless, even if there was a riot...

And then sadly, a few years later, in 2018, he passed away. I think he was about 58 years old; what did he have, cancer? He was about ten years older than me. I think Bob was born on the same month as me -- he was born on October 16th, I was born on October 27th. But do you know what, getting back to what I was saying about Hüsker Dü and the Bad Brains, there were a lot of kids that used to skateboard at the time to Hüsker Dü and the Bad Brains. They didn't really care: there was no real distinction between skate rock, bands that were like JFA and Agent Orange. And what's the band from Calgary?


AK: No, I'm thinking of... Beyond Possession. They were instrumental in helping the western Canadian hardcore punk scene; I remember listening to them on Thrasher compilations... quite extraordinary. 

AM: If we could talk about a couple of your photos... Soulside is a band that I don't know much about. 

AK: They were on Ian Mackaye's record label, Dischord Records. Soulside kind of bridged the gap between alternative rock and hardcore music; they played a bit of a mid-tempo hardcore sound, as we know it today -- post-hardcore music. Bobby Sullivan, the one with the dreadlocks, sang. The octaves were interesting. I saw them once at the Quock Tai in Toronto. They  played at another venue, which I don't remember. I do remember seeing them at the Quock Tai when they did their Trigger tour. Extraordinary. 

Washington DC's Soulside by Adam Kates, not to be reused without permission 

Washington DC's Soulside by Adam Kates, not to be reused without permission

AM: The photo of yours I remember, there's what looks like a skinhead moshing?

AK: There were no skinheads there. That was probably John Rankin from MSI. I will talk about MSI; they were all friends of mine. John was the lead singer. We would always go to a place called Exit Sound Studios on Bloor and Ossington and watch them rehearse. Nice guys! Derek Emerson, Paul Morris, Tim Alchin, Glenn Salter -- I saw him in the early 2000s. And later Yared Grinstein ended up playing drums for them, when Tim Alchin moved to New York City. But Tim was a great drummer; I remember him passing out at one of the shows right beside the El Mocambo, at the Fallout Shelter. They played with a band from London Ontario called the Nunfuckers, and it was so hot inside the club that Tim ended up passing out. We were all scared! They were a great band, MSI.

AM: Were you moshing?

AK: I did, but I wasn't the best mosher. I was a very skinny guy! And stage diving was dangerous, it was a very risky thing. They did that at a time before they called it moshing or stage diving. The whole scene was new and scary at the time. It was not like it is today. The Vans Warped tour co-opted it and changed everything. It became like the NBA for hardcore, basically; punk rock became like a big sports arena. It's very big now, it's very commercialized. I'm not a follower of commercialized punk and hardcore. 

I even have a picture here of Simon Harvey, in the back cover of Going All the Way #2, with Rob Gitzy (spelling?), and they're moshing. And I have the little blurb, "Those who dance are thought mad by those who don't hear the music." I put that in there. Quite clever for a 17 year old! 

AM: Is that your photo?

AK: Yes, it is. I'm really proud of that one. 

AM: So when did you move to Victoria?

AK: I moved to Victoria in November of 1992, spent seven years there in the punk scene, saw 
Assück at the Fernwood. I think they played at the Fernwood... a lot of bands played Victoria, but it wasn't for me. Victoria had nice people but was too small-townish for me. It's kind of a Sleepy Hollow kind of town, kind of the London, Ontario of the BC. 

AM: At least it's not Hamilton.

AK: What's wrong with Hamilton!? Hamilton is a great city. Teenage Head came out of Hamilton. Problem Child came out of Hamilton. 

AM: I'm joking, I'm joking. I saw Nomeansno in Hamilton, actually, But I remember hearing people in Hamilton call it "the armpit of Ontario." 

AK: It's part of Toronto, but what's the difference. But I ran into a lot of people from Toronto who liked Victoria. One of the guys from Sons of Happy lived there. Another woman who ran a garment shop on Queens Street ended up opening a garment shop on Yates Street or View Street... I don't remember her name. 

AM: Tell me about interviewing Dave Dictor? 

AK: Dave Dictor is an interesting man. MDC were the most anarchistic punk/hardcore band to come out of America. I had an interview that they did at CFUV, the campus community radio station at the University of Victoria. They'd come to the anarchist festival in Toronto, many years ago, and Dave was there; he was with, I think, the drummer's son. I think the drummer did hard time in San Quentin -- I think in the interview he mentions that. I remember listening to Millions of Dead Cops, their first album, and Smoke Signals, and their 7", as Multi-Death Corporations, do you remember that one?

AK: "Chicken Squawk." They were a great band! Kudos to them. And didn't they put out a parody of Donald Trump?

AK: I would love to hear that. The guy tried, but he failed as a president. 

Adam's Dave Dictor interview from Offbeat

Dave Dictor of MDC, by Adam Kates (bev was unavailable so this one isn't cleaned up as well!)

AM: What were you shooting with, by the way?

AK: It was an Argus with a 35mm lens. It was just a basic, automatic 35mm, but boy I got some good shots. I got it from my uncle... Three consecutive decades that camera lasted me!

AM: Very cool. Finishing off, just to be clear, the Nomeansno interview took place when they were on tour in Toronto, not in Victoria, right? 

AK: No, no. That was in Toronto at the Soup Club, run by William New of Groovy Religion. He was an older youth who ended up opening up the Soup Club; he was the bartender and manager at that time. And boy, that was one of my favourite clubs in the city, right at the corner of Queen and Bathurst. The Soup Club was a great place for youth that didn't fit in, like myself. I saw Failsafe there, Urban Surf King... a lot of people don't even know about them. They played one night at the Soup Club. Nobody knows about them?

AM: They're a skate band?

AK: Yes! They were all friends of mine. Jake and Sean Ravi and Yared Grinstein, he played drums for them, and then they went onto MSI. I have photos! Nobody else took photos of that band.

AM: Were you following Nomeansno at that point?

AK: Yes, I was very involved with Nomeansno. I'm glad that I interviewed Andy and Rob Wright -- I didn't interview his brother. Massimo Panzino helped on that one, but he was in the background. He put out a fanzine called Ignorance is Bliss

AM: What happened to the third issue, that the interview was done for? Why didn't it come out?

AK: Lethargy! Brain lock. 

AM: What else didn't get published?

AK: Bliss never got published. Swiz never got published. But they're with me, they're in my heart. And it meant a lot to me, interviewing these bands. 

Thanks to Adam Kates for the interesting conversation. Any other Toronto-to-Vancouver hardcore enthusiasts planning on going to the Dead Bob show at the Pearl are welcome to say hello; Adam's going to be there, as will I. Enjoy Adam's interview with Rob and Andy here. Nomeansno are gone; long live Dead Bob! 

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Killer Movies: Closed Circuit in context, plus some notes on the Severin Black Friday Sale (this weekend)

There's a certain kind of movie that, to my awareness, has not been systematically gathered together, classified or analyzed as a group: movies where either the movie or the theatre itself is the source of danger. I won't call these a subgenre, since they don't all belong to the same genre of film -- it's more of at trope that runs through a few types of films; but there are definite commonalities between them. Severin, on their coming Black Friday sale, is putting out an interesting variant on this theme, Giuliano Montaldo's 1978 film Closed Circuit, an experimental police procedural in which a gunfighter in a spaghetti western shoots into the audience. The director is an under-sung Italian filmmaker who has made three films I admire, but whose work has gotten little recognition here; he died a few months ago, on September 6th, 2023. I'll say a bit more about both Montaldo and the film presently, but first I want to mention a few important precursors, to try to place the film in a sort of context (though all of the following are horror movies). 

1. Precursors

Best I can figure it, the "killer movie" trope starts with 1958's The Blob: there is a scene in a movie theatre where the audience, no doubt a mirror image of the audiences watching the film, is menaced by the titular creature, which oozes through vents, absorbs the projectionist, and attacks the crowd, which attempts to flee. It's not the perfect realization of the idea, perhaps, insofar as the Blob does not actually attack from the screen, and the movie itself is not dangerous, but the theatre does become a site of horror. It's nice, too that the movie the audience is viewing is itself a horror film; and the parallel between the audience in the film to the audience watching it was no doubt not lost on viewers. 

William Castle, in the 1959 film The Tingler, oddly does not use a horror movie as the film within his film, but still ups the ante considerably; not only is the theatre a source of danger, as a parasitic monster crawls through the aisles of a theatre, threatening to suck the energy out of the patrons -- but Castle, at his gimmicky best, planted electrical charges (dubbed "the Percepto")  in the seats of some theatres to mimic the sensation of being attacked by the tingler. He also planted fainters and screamers among certain audiences, and used the cinema lights, the film (which goes dark), and the voiceovers of Vincent Price and other screamers to try to convey a sense that the dangers in the movie had bled out into the theatre itself. Castle bragged about his gimmick in the film's  promotion: "“For the first time in motion picture history, members of the audience, including you, will actually play a part in the picture. You will feel some of the physical reactions, the shocking sensations experienced by the actors on the screen.”

The film features what is described as the first LSD experience to be depicted in a movie (it is unclear from watching the scene if Castle, Price, or anyone else involved had actually taken acid, or had just heard about it; if people know, they are invited to comment). Tricks like this earned Castle a notoriety that served as the basis for Joe Dante's 1993 film Matinee, where Goodman plays a Castle-like producer bringing his own bag of tricks to a cinema, intent on blurring the line between the fictional and the real. But by the 1990s, the advent of home video, video games and the like made the idea of killer entertainments a commonplace; despite some interesting variants (Demons, Popcorn, The Ring, Cigarette Burns, Antrum,  and others), I'm only concerned with films made before 1978 -- the possible precursors to Montaldo's movie.   

The most relevant and impressive of these is 1968's Targets, though it's just as well that Peter Bogdanovich (or Roger Corman) did not attempt to blur lines in a similar way as Castle, come the climax of the film, which has attendees at a drive in movie being shot at by a sniper hidden behind the screen. Aware of the shooting rampage of Charles Whitman, which in part inspired the film, audiences would have been all-too-susceptible and likely not amused. Subject of a recent Criterion blu-ray, the film involves an aging horror movie star (Boris Karloff) who is making a public appearance at a screening of a horror film (actually Karloff's own previous film for AIP, The Terror) before he retires; he feels his brand of horror is too quaint and old-fashioned compared to the horrors of the modern world, which in turn are represented by the sniper, whose path to the drive-in is intercut with Karloff's own. The film has an unusual level of self-reflexivity, given that Bogdanovich, like the filmmaker he plays within the film, had been tasked with making a film for Karloff, who really was en route to retirement (or at least the end of his contract with AIP). Karloff's character's name (Byron Orlok), besides being a reference to the vampire in Nosferatu, is clearly a play on his own. And if there is no attempt to blur the lines between the audience's experience and reality, there are definitely blurred lines within the film, including a gag where a hungover Karloff catches himself in the mirror and starts with a fright, as if he'd just seen Frankenstein's monster...

The film itself does not actually kill anyone in the audience, but the sniper hides behind the screen, and people do get shot from the screen, so the idea of the killer movie is very much relevant. 

If there are other precursors to Closed Circuit, wherein a movie screen, theatre or drive in becomes a source of danger, I'm unaware of them (though Repo Man's Alex Cox, in his rather essential discussion of spaghetti westerns, 10,000 Ways to Die, views The Closed Circuit in light of another kind of film, Luis Buñuel's surrealist dark comedy The Exterminating Angel; one of the few critics to spend much time on Montaldo, Cox's essay is required reading for those interested in the film. Cox also contributes a commentary on the recent release of Montaldo's more straightforward, more overtly political Sacco and Vanzetti).

2. Giuliano Montaldo 

Giuliano Montaldo's filmography is divided between making commercial entertainments and more serious politically-themed projects. The first of his films that I've been able to see is Machine Gun McCain (distributed as Gli Intoccabilli -- The Untouchables -- in Italy), an entertainment that we gather was designed to fund his more historically-based films, like his next movie, like The Fifth Day of Peace (about the execution of German prisoners in a Canadian-run POW camp in the Second World War) and Sacco and Vanzetti (a true story about two Italian anarchists framed for murder and, again, executed). 

Machine Gun McCain lacks the seriousness of those topics, but it holds a very special place in my heart, since it stars John Cassavetes and a company of actors associated with him, including Peter Falk, Gena Rowlands, and Val Avery; it's like Montaldo is collaborating with "Team Cassavetes." Cassavetes himself was raising money for his own more serious projects (in his case, Husbands); like Montaldo, he frequently crossed the line between commercial entertainments and his own more personally-invested films, using his work in the one type of film to fuel his passion for the other. 

And that's where Machine Gun McCain becomes truly interesting, since it can be read as a metaphor for its own production. About a low-level gangster rallying his resources to rob a Mafia-run Vegas casino, it is shot through with a love of the little guy, the "independent," going up against organized crime. Trying to get money out  of Vegas can be read as a figure for trying to get money out of Hollywood (and Hollywood audiences); there's no question that, as unpleasant as McCain is (using slurs against homosexuals, raping -- and then falling in love with -- a woman, and generally being violent and full of himself), Cassavetes inhabits the role with gusto, finds something in McCain to identify with. He later, in his own work, returns to this theme, the lone man vs. the mob, with Cosmo in The Killing of a Chinese Bookie and the Rowlands' title character in Gloria both set in opposition to Mafia thugs. I haven't seen his entire filmography as an actor prior to McCain, but it seems at least possible that this is the entry point of that thematic thread into his work (there's an interesting-looking essay about it on the Criterion website, if you're curious for more; I also would be remiss if I did not direct readers to Mike Patton and John Zorn's stirring interpretation of Morricone's theme song for the movie, "The Ballad of Hank McCain," off the expanded version of The Big Gundown). 

Another interesting Montaldo is a rather unpleasant anti-colonialist historical film about Italian soldiers in Africa, which may never actually find its audience: Time to Kill. It's been awhile since I've seen it, because -- oddly, given that it stars a young Nicolas Cage -- it has received no decent North American home video release, existing only in crappy-looking pan-and-scan presentations (though there is a decent English language version of it on Youtube, which actually looks better than the DVD that came out here). 

The film probably wants too much of its audience, in that you are asked to sympathize with an Italian soldier stationed in Africa who, in the course of the film, does some rather unforgivable things, tries to cover them up, then undergoes a crisis of conscience as to what he has done; he ends up, in a way, as a figure of all of Italy, or any colonizing power, trying to come to terms with guilt and shame and an awareness that they have wronged people, while remaining the "hero" of their own narrative, as we all generally do. "The good guy" in a movie -- and here I will write with significant spoilers -- is simply not usually someone who rapes and kills a woman (!) at the film's mid-point; there aren't many films that would expect you to maintain identification with a character after that, even if he mostly acts within the accepted limitations of colonial/ imperial privilege as he and his peers would have understood it: while his conscience may trouble him a little after his actions, it's not in fact guilt over what he has done that really gets the better of him, but a fear that he has contracted leprosy as a result (he discovers that the woman may have been a leper, wearing a white turban associated with the condition; it is the likelihood of punishment-by-disease that undermines him, not remorse per se). 

All of the above actually makes the film more, not less interesting, as it requires you to take a critical distance from the film's main character, even while "identifying" with him (an uncomfortable place to inhabit; you have to both invest yourself in Cage's character, and realize that you are investing in him as a flawed, mediocre man acting on behalf of a colonialist/ fascist occupation. Perhaps it's a given that Nic Cage fans will likely not enjoy this movie. For example, someone devoted to reviewing every Nic Cage film, on the website Everyniccage, describes it as "incredibly uninspired, and pretty boring," and wishes for "a more exaggerrated performance," complaining that Cage yells "only when a person would actually yell," which is kind of a curious criticism of a film (who but a Nic Cage fan could say such a thing?). Still, even that reviewer notes that the film, while criticising racism and imperialism, "uses the same tools that racism and imperialism use when creating art that portrays other cultures and races as ‘other’ and lesser." 

Which is actually on the money: the African characters are less believable, fully-developed beings in their own right than they are relegated to playing supporting roles in one white person's journey. Even films I love (like Clearcut) can be found guilty on this count; a truly anti-colonial gesture in cinema would be as interested in its African characters as its white ones, which Time to Kill is not. 

It's still more interesting than most other Nicolas Cage movies. 

This is all I can write about Montaldo at present -- I'll be heading over to Tubi soon to start on The Fifth Day of Peace. You can also see a spaghetti western called Day of Anger there, which is relevant to Closed Circuit, even if not directed by Montaldo, in that Closed Circuit is set in a theatre that is screening that film, I gather (along with another Giuliano Gemma film I have not heard of). 

3. Closed Circuit and Severin's Black Friday sale

I have not, as of this writing, seen Closed Circuit. I'm very interested, and will review it once I do see it, but since I am writing this apropos of a sale that is happening this weekend, which is marking the debut of Closed Circuit on the label, I would be remiss if I did not post about it BEFORE THE SALE STARTED. The film is reviewed in much more detail here, if you're interested in reading further. 

But a note about the sale: I participated in a Severin Black Friday sale a couple of years ago, netting for myself copies of Santa Sangre, Grizzly (complete with t-shirt), The Day of the Animals, The House on the Edge of the Park, Day of Wrath, and a couple of others; those were the ones that delighted me most (I passed on a few of the other items I got, like Black Candles and Night of the Demon - the bigfoot movie, not the Val Lewton one -- to others who I thought would appreciate them more). I might have grabbed an Amicus film off their site as well (I already had Blood for Dracula). While their recent standalone of Clearcut (obviously a film I have some attachment to) is not part of the sale, the All the Haunts Be Ours box set, which features it, is, for the first time, as are many, many other noteworthy titles, most of which are 50% off their usual price. Were I a wealthier man, with the leisure time required to watch all the movies I wanted, Cemetery Man, Spider Labyrinth, and The Church (which I believe began life as the third part in the Demons franchise) would all be of interest (and I still haven't picked up a copy of Perdita Durango!).

Note that the Severin Black Friday sale DOES take some patience to participate in, as video geeks with time and money to spare descend on the Severin website to scoop up heavily-discounted deluxe bundles, possibly overwhelming servers in the process; be patient if you are unable to log into the website (and keep trying). I also urge you to read their sale policies page ahead of time, to know what to expect and what is available; I believe the Severin site will be down until the feeding frenzy commences, and then be very active through the weekend. 

It's a great sale. I was very happy with the results a couple of years ago. If you're unfamiliar with Severin, they are particularly noted for their superb extras.  While I have no idea what the extras might be on the Montaldo blu, The Changeling, a locally shot film recently subject to an article in Montecristo, features a very fun "Psychotronic Tourist" extra that walks you through the locations. It should also be part of the sale, as I believe will be the case for Dennis Hopper's Vancouver-made film Out of the Blue, featuring the Pointed Sticks. Lots to be found, if you're a physical media type, once you make it onto their website. A full list of box sets and bundles can be found here. Good luck (and more to come on Closed Circuit)...

Monday, November 13, 2023

Golden Ears fall fungus photos

 Erika and I went to Alouette Lake today and explored a little... she's posted her photos on FB; these are mine...