Friday, June 29, 2007

Hostel Part Two: A Thoroughly Enjoyable Revolting Horror Film

In The American Nightmare, I think it’s Carol J. Clover who makes the cleverly memorable comment that horror films are “boot camps for the soul,” in which, through surviving a process of ordeals, we emerge strengthened. In his Hostel films – in which the very rich pay for the right to murder young backpackers rounded up by an evil Slovakian hostel –Eli Roth seems to have found inspiration in this concept of horror: in both movies, initially decent, innocent characters with whom we identify are toughened up - even made sadistic – by the course of events, having learned a trick or two from their captors. When Paxton performs the final murder in the original Hostel – killing a victimizer, of course, since he’s the “good guy” – he is not the same horny, affable, ugly American youth we meet at the beginning of the film; he even tortures his tormenter in much the way he was tortured, cutting off two of his fingers. This all riffs, of course, off the transformation the film makes in its viewers; by suffering along with Paxton and his less fortunate comrades, we too are (ahem) “empowered” to use the violence that has been used on us – sorta like the scrawny kid who, bullied in grade two, becomes a bully in grade four. So much for taking down the master’s house with the master’s tools.

I didn’t like the first Hostel much. An equal mix of tits and carnage, it seemed fundamentally reactionary, and suggested – at a time of tensions between the US and Europe over support for US actions in Iraq, including the torture of prisoners – that Americans were currently victims of torture, not perpetrators, unfairly singled out by Europeans, who were the real sadists. A bizarre transference of guilt, really – ridiculous bullshit. It made for an amusing spin on American self-importance (and provided an accurate reflection of the level of anti-Americanism in the world at that time) that the right to kill Americans at the murder resort fetched a premium, but given that the ending of the film has Americans fighting back, using violence to counter that anti-Americanism – well, I couldn’t get behind it much. Blood-spattered and troubled flag-waving is still flag waving, even if you have to dig a bit to get at it.

To my surprise, I like the second Hostel film very, very much. It vastly expands on the simple plot of the original, telling the story both from the point of view of the intended victims – in this case, a trio of girls – and from the would-be victimizers (two brothers from America, who fly out because the older one of the two wants to help his emasculated sibling and because he thinks he’ll acquire an edge in corporate meetings, if he’s killed someone; nice that Americans are the evildoers here, and that the hostel simply services them). We also get to meet the Hannibal Lecter-esque founder of the resort and to spend a little time getting to know its employees, who seem distressingly like people “just doing their job” everywhere in the world (bored and semi-competent). Such fleshings-out make the film a tad more believable than the first, and the various brilliant little details that we’re treated with keep us wholly engaged with the film on the level of craft. When a severed head in a box is brought as a gift to one of the evil, powerful people at the upper end of Hostel’s food chain, we see the box being delivered as reflected in the man’s sunglasses. When, in a grotesque run-up to one of the torture scenes, a young and very vain woman, about to be tortured, is “prepared” for the client in a makeup room, Roth sets her in front of a Hollywood makeup mirror rimmed with lightbulbs, as a, shall we say, cutting commentary on the culture of glamour. Even the opening sequences, where the diary, photos, and postcards acquired from one past victim are thrown into a furnace to dispose of any evidence of her passing, have a creepy brilliance to them – showing us the burning away of sentimentality and innocence, as part of the transformation Roth’s cinema proposes to engineer in us. There’s also a perversely brilliant and all-too-real auction scene, where you get to watch a variety of unwholesome rich assholes bidding via palm-pilot for the right to murder our three heroines; bizarrely, you may find yourself rooting for certain characters to win, as if our own masochistic vanity requires a suitably attractive murderer. None of this makes the film brilliant, but it does make it very watchable, a well-crafted and creepy experience.

The most interesting aspects of the film cannot be delved into at length without spoiling the story, though. It is NOT reducible to a defence of American violence, however; it barely touches on the US-versus-the-rest-of-the-world paranoia that made the first film so objectionable, focusing instead on the current state of affairs between men and women (and men and men – it contains some very interesting peeks into the darker corners of the male psyche). It's even more interesting for doing this while provoking interesting meditations on class hierarchy and privilege. Europe IS figured as the source of our hierarchical value-system which allows the rich to exploit others, and there's a costumed bacchanalia that suggests that there has always been a dark underside to our traditions and cultures, which horror movies - or murder resorts - partake in -- but neither of these things serve to displace US guilt; rather, we are reminded that our cultural roots ARE European, even if Americans are more "businesslike" in their figuring of hierarchy, and, by virtue of forgetting their history and ancestry, can pretend to greater innocence... The squeamish can rest assured that there is only one scene that is nearly impossible to sit through comfortably, a very literal bloodbath that conclusively lays to rest any claims to innocence that the audience might make. In a time when mainstream fare seldom addresses issues of class and shies well clear of feminism, Hostel 2 is provocative and pleasing to see – a nicely liberal corrective for the prior film, in many ways, even if, once again, we emerged hardened. Toughening us up to fight critics of America is very different matter from toughening us up to not be victimized by the rich and privileged.

Spoiler alert – that’s the best goddamn castration scene I’ve ever seen, too; it makes even I Spit on Your Grave look pretty tame by comparison. I absolutely love that the dog handler tries to stop his dog from... well, anyhow...

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Disturbing Dream

Another weird dream: though I'm not sure of my identity in it - it was almost like a 3rd person omniscient dream, if you can imagine that - there's a couple of evil, cynical people who work at a newspaper, and they summon a couple of ghosts by promising them a reward that they patently won't get, to help them harvest skins and maybe souls of people who have died in the city and whose corpses are hidden in various places - an erotic asphyxia case hanging in a public bathroom stall, a naked man forced into the trunk of a car, etc. I think maybe the ghosts will get the souls, but the newspaper people will get the skins, which they will use for nefarious purposes. The last part of the dream was spent walking from place to place in the city, uncovering the dead. Creepy.

Possession at Blim (great cult film)

The Polish film Possession is a very weird and dark look at male-female relationships - so dark and weird that I cannot begin to describe it fairly, and not just because I have no faith that my reading of the film will hold water. It screens at Blim on June 28th; fans of unusual cinema should endeavour to check it out - it has an obsessive, paranoid quality that will linger in your brain for weeks.

Civic Duty, Vancouver-style there I am, walking along what I guess is Sunset Beach - the demarcations between beaches here are not clear to me - and I decide to walk down to the water. It's raining lightly, but I don't mind. As I crest a slight hill I see that there's a large gaggle of geese gathered at water's edge. I gesture my peaceful intent and decide to sit down by a log and observe them. Then I stop.

There, stuck into the log, just where I was planning to sit, are two used syringes. A third is lying on the sand, cap on.

I sit at an adjacent log and contemplate the needles. Would make a hell of a photo, if I had a camera with me; a friend of mine is contemplating starting an ironic postcard series, and the three needles shot against the background of False Creek, with a 'Welcome to Vancouver' emblazoned above it, would definitely work - particularly if you took the photo when the sun was setting. Joggers, cyclists, and dog walkers go by on the walkway, indifferent. I don't really want to turn my morning stroll into an act of civic duty, but how can I not - I'm my father's son, and he wouldn't even hesitate. I pick up an empty cigarette carton - probably left by the same junkies - and put the needles in it, pointy end down. After some indecision, I take them to the Acquatic Center, guessing, correctly, that they might have a sharps disposal bin.

Welcome to Vancouver.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Eugene Chadbourne again!

Eugene Chadbourne, left, Allan MacInnis, right. Photo by Dan Kibke

In addition to his tenure at the VCMI, which has already begun, Eugene Chadbourne will play three shows in Vancouver, starting Wednesday with a Dick Dale tribute band from Calgary at the Cobalt, for Fake Jazz night. Expect surf rock with a twist - Dr. Chad tells me that he played with this unit once before and it was a hoot. Then there's his Friday 5:30 PM show with Paul Lovens on June 22nd, followed that evening at the Culch, where he'll be singing and providing guitar and banjo accompaniment with Aki Takase's Fats Waller Project. My current print interview with Dr. Chad is findable at the Nerve online (check the archives if you're viewing this after June 2007) - we talk about Phil Ochs and his fondness for covering country tunes, and sort of neglect his "protest-song" side. The meat of the interview is below, without my interspersed prose:

On Phil Ochs:

I saw him several times when I was a teenager, I
always had to go alone because all my friends hated
his voice. He was a huge inspiration. One thing that is
interesting is in Boulder, Colorado, he did his rock
and roll shtick and nobody objected at all. I thought
it was weird when that "Gunfight in Carnegie Hall"
disc came out with the audience getting upset, I
thought New Yorkers must be really uptight. His life
of course ends with a horrible tragedy, including
several stupid biographies that came out after he
killed himself.

Reacting to my observation that "I don't like country music that much, but I love
your recordings of country music," and my request for his theory of how that works:

I don't know the answers to any of this for sure but I
do hear alot of it. In the '80s I would hear that
albums such as There'll be No Tears TOnight and
Country Protest "turned on" punkers to country music.
I just assumed they hadn't heard anything they liked
yet in the genre and I just happened to be that. In
the beginning there was a split between the avant
garde fans that liked the combination and those that
didn't, a split that has continued.

On the spontaneity of his shows - does he plan the set in advance?

I would rather not but I sometimes have to just to
make sure the show is going to move comfortably. Paul
and I might plan the first number and during the show
we may discuss what is coming next, but most of it is
On the origins of his duo work with Paul Lovens:

Ironically the duo with him came up when the chef of
the Victoriaville fest turned down my duo with Jimmy
Carl Black, saying there was too much rock and country
and the festival crowd would not see what a great
guitarist I am in this context. This is of course the
opposite of the usual public reaction to free music.
So Paul Lovens and I had been talking about playing
together as he was getting attracted to the banjo
playing and picking he had heard in other contexts
involving me at festivals.
The Victoriaville fest went with the new combination
based on the idea that we would tour on the way up and
not present "the first meeting." Still expecting a
largely free improv set, the festival was surprised
that Paul had encouraged me to play all the country
and rock stuff, because he wanted to play it too. He
is like a big fan of drummers such as Charlie Watts,
Gary Chester, Earl Palmer. We also play together in
two other groups right now, one of which is also
playing in Vancouver, the Aki Takase Fats Waller
Project. Another is called New Directions in
Appalachian Music and involves Phil Minton, Mike
Cooper and others.

On how he seemed a lot more normal than I expected when I met him at the airport last time, then magically turned into a Looney Tunes character onstage:

I am not really in control of any of these perceptions
and think they are stupid to talk about. Why would you
expect someone to act the same way at an airport then
they do at a concert performance? My wife gets alot of
this from local yokels who think I sit around the
house playing the electric rake all the time or

Another funny variation was the guy running a college
radio festival in Cleveland: he wanted to be assured I
would actually show up since "your music is so weird,
how do I know you will?"

On how he feels about "Outsider Music" as a term and phenomenon, and if he ever gets stuck in that box:

Another dumb label, I prefer the kind that relate to
buildings, garage rock, chamber music, loft jazz,
bedroom tapers.

I have been part of the "Outside Music" festival at
Chicago's Intuit Gallery, which shows outsider art.
My inclusion was controversial: it is true, I am not
an outsider in the sense of these artists because I
work profesionally as a musician. But many of them
survive from their professions too. In the art world
it is mostly employed as a term so collectors can keep
the price down on various types of work, a control
mechanism. In the music business they couldn't get the
price down any lower so I am not sure what the fuck
they are doing.

Does he have any labels for himself?

Not really, I like that comment of Capt. Beefheart's,
"my bottle doesn't have a label on it."
On what is a Eugene Chadbourne fan is like:

A sincere, socially conscious and usually brilliant
individual who has no time for crap.

On his daughters:

All three of the daughters actually are pretty
involved from time to time, Lizzie as a lyricist and
Jenny as an organizer and driver.

On Molly's future music career and how having Eugene Chadbourne for a father will affect her:

You are assuming she will have a music career. I am
not sure what she will do but she has a research grant
this summer to conduct an oral history related to the
establishing of Ladyslipper Music, a distribution
company for women's music founded in the Carrboro area
in the '70s. She graduates from college in the fall
and has been studying Spanish, semantics, literature,
women's studies, among other things.
She is very serious about music. She tends to talk
about things like sounding out of tune, kind of a
forbidden subject in the Chad world but I let her get
away with it.

Does Dr. Chad have more serious projects and more frivolous ones? Is there a hierarchy of importance in his musical world?

Almost anything has equal promise in my opinion. At
the same time if I decide to do a gig with two
teenagers backing me up I might expect less then if it was Paul
Lovens I was playing with. I try to put the same
amount of my own bravura and aesthetic into everything
I do, though, even if I am playing a song or two for a
class of little kids, I want to be playing in such a
way that if a hip jazz fan walked in they would freak
out and say "wow!"

What 3 CDs would he advise people to buy?

As you may have seen when I lord over my KKK mart
(explanatory note: when he sits onstage with a bunch of
his homemade CDs in a guitar case after a show), I
steer people toward whatever sides of my music they
are most interested in, and then it would also depend
on the nature of their collection. "There'll be No Tears
Tonight" is a groundbreaking record in some ways so
many people would like to have that. The CD version of
"The English Channel" is such a crazy assortment of
noise that I think every household should have one. I
am currently quite fond of "Horror Part 10: Concert
Band Massacre by Evil Spell" in which a pile of rare
vinyl recordings by the Grimsley Stage Band in
Greensboro get mutilated in my lab. Paul Lovens thinks
the debut recording of New Directions in Applachian
Music is the greatest CD ever and won't stop listening
to it. Collections such as "Duck Chad" and "Doc Chad
Coffee Cure" present good examples of what I am up to
currently. In some cases the best documentation is not
home made by me. The Get out of Iraq Now quartet
(GOIN) is represented in my catalog but I prefer the
new DVD production by the Straw into Gold company.

Does he still have family in Canada?

Yes, father, father in law, sister in law, brother in
law... I am stopping off to visit my dad.

On what he does in his freetime when in Canada:

Most often it has something to do with nature...

Any funny stories about visiting Canada?

No, but it isn't that Canada isn't funny. Most
performers would tell you a story about a border
search. Shockabilly was held up at the Winnipeg border
for hours and hours, they really thought we were
troublemakers and idiots and would have no resources
to raise a bond or make anything happen that would get
us across the border. Meanwhile we called my brother in law, who owned
several clothing stores in Calgary and could arrange a
bond even with the Stampede in progress. The promoter'
father turned out to be a retired colonel, he called
the customs people and apparently tore a hole in them.
When they allowed us through, the guy in charge said
"I am impressed, I had no idea you guys knew anybody
like that."

On Dr. Chad and Lenny Breau

I interviewed him and both that piece and the review
of his gig ran in the Calgary Herald in the early
'70s. He was doing some nice modal playing in the McCoy
Tyner style at the time.
How do you feel about yourself as an AMERICAN musician?

I don't even see myself as an American person.

It seems to me that you are intractably American - I don't think any other country could have produced you.

I am not sure if that is a compliment or what. There
are many Americas.

You're obviously often very critical of your country (like Phil Ochs). How do you feel about being an American?
I must be like everyone else, able to distinguish the people from the politics, that is really important.

Probably a lot of the Shimmy Disc bands doing a sort of playful psychedelia (King Missile and Bongwater and such) were kind of derivatives of the "Eugene Chadbourne genre" - would they have existed without Dr. Chad? Who does he see as a peer group?

Shockabilly was so influenced by so many other
psychedelic bands, however, that accepting what you
are saying is kind of ignoring history (editor: he read me
wrong, really!). Bongwater was
clearly an attempt to continue what Shockabilly was
doing, minus me, but then it evolved due to Ann
Magnusson's influence more than anything else. I
don't see any connection with King Missile...A peer
group for me is musicians in general, all of them, all

Sunday, June 17, 2007

I love the Yes Men

...a new prank in Calgary...

WR: Mysteries of the Organism at the Cinematheque

Too many movies to see that I'm excited about, plus there's the jazz festival and Eugene Chadbourne to consider... one must-see arthouse film coming soon that I had to mention was Dusan Makavejev's WR: Mysteries of the Organism, at the Cinematheque next Friday and Saturday (June 29th and 30th). It's seriously worth taking a break from all that jazz to go see it - it's a shocking, funny, sexy, and very intelligent film about the life and theories of Wilhelm Reich. Those of you who missed my last Discorder column - I have terminated my column, and don't really consider the last installment a piece of my writing, since it was changed a fair bit, for no good reason - might want to heed my advice now and make plans to check it out; it's a pretty special film, so much so that the image from the film has long graced the cover of Film as a Subversive Art by Amos Vogel... Tuli Kupferberg is in it, too... I'll be at the Friday show.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Pointed Sticks New Single, Nomeansno Boat: Ah, Fandom

I just got news of the band's first single in 26 years, courtesy of Ian Tiles. The splash page for it, with more info, is here; the official site is under construction here. I love the title and the gesture and I hope the Japanese dig the heck out of it. For those of you without turntables - because it's gonna be a real honest-to-god 7" -- Ian points out that it is "suitable for framing."

In other news, the most ridiculous Nomeansno auction I have ever seen is ongoing at the moment; it's more of a satire of fandom than a money-making device. If this link doesn't work, search out item number 200117558197.

For the record, I have a chicken recipe framed on my wall that Tom Holliston signed and gave me. It was that or the lamb.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Last Minute Bidding Blues: Phil Ochs, Eugene Chadbourne

I hate it when I wait all week to bid on some special item on eBay and then FORGET TO DO IT.
I forgot to bid on this Phil Ochs album some dude in New Westminster was selling, for example - a live, Canada-only 1974 release of a late-period live show, where Ochs is interspersing protest songs with versions of "Okie from Muskogee" and Elvis tunes, while wearing his (cynical?) gold lame suit. The audience heckles him, and he jousts back. The cover is priceless, and as live albums go, it's as odd and special an artefact as, say, Lou Reed's Take No Prisoners. It gets mentioned in my Eugene Chadbourne article in the Nerve this month (not online as I write, but go here, check the contents, or if you're seeing this after it was initially posted, the archives for June). It turns out Chadbourne saw Ochs play live when he was younger, something I did not know. Speaking of Chadbourne -- whose jazz fest return I am most looking forward to (also see here, for his show with Paul Lovens and Japanese pianist Aki Takase, covering Fats Waller tunes) -- I also recently forgot to bid on a signed edition of There'll Be No Tears Tonight, also on eBay and also mentioned in the article. Both these items were radically underbid upon, considering their scarcity and importance as artefacts; the Ochs went for a scant $9.95, with one bidder. It's just as well someone else won them, tho'; they should ideally go to a home where there's a turntable, all things considered. I was just gonna stick the vinyl on the wall, underneath my decorative Monkey Warfare LP, courtesy of Reg Harkema.
By the way, Reg tells me that Monkey Warfare is due out in July, I think it was, on DVD with some cool extras, including a rough cut with Reg and his editor doing commentary. By far the coolest Canadian film of 2006, and you can tell'em I said so.
More on Eugene later - I have outtakes from the interview to post.