Monday, October 29, 2007

Another night of strange dreams

The other night, I dreamed that I telephoned a charismatic Lakota "spiritual teacher" of my youth - this being a real person, not a dream; he was quite an important figure in my getting my shit together in my late 20's. We had something of a falling out - a "disillusioned disciple confronts his guru" kind of cliche - after which, he walked away; I haven't spoken to him since (about eight years ago). It was odd, then, to talk to him on the phone, even if it was in a dream. Mostly, on the phone, he talked about himself -- it was a bit of a one-way conversation, which I remember thinking was fitting. I woke up in a more serious mindframe, for having spoken to him.

Last night, I dreamed that I had encountered a charismatic crank - an old man with a Slavic accent who lived in a trailer with his wife and was on some sort of nature trip. I don't remember what the specifics of it were, but I do remembering asking him what he cleaned his dishes with, and him answering that he used soap -- along with water and milk. (The milk made it smell better, he explained). I could tell he was an eccentric, but I was considering becoming his student anyhow. At one point -- while waiting outside a grocery store for my new teacher to finish his shopping -- I phoned my friend M., to report this to her. I told her about some other dream I'd had, involving, I thought, a statue of Pope John Paul II (whom she admires); the statue was hollow, but filled with gold, and I had reached up inside it to get some of the gold out. "What does it mean - it's hollow, it's empty means it's false, without merit - but then, it's filled with gold?" (I was unsure if it was exactly a statue of the Pope - maybe it was a popstar, and said so to her - maybe it was Tom Petty, or someone else. In fact, I'm not even sure if this dream-within-a-dream was actually a dream I'd had earlier in the night, or if the memory of it was false from the gitgo). Then I told her that I was considering subordinating myself to an eccentric spiritual teacher again, maybe to compensate for a perceived lack of guidance in my youth; I remember sitting in the parking lot of the grocery store (in Maple Ridge, where I grew up - I'd perversely located the dream in a place where there hasn't been a grocery store in ten years) looking out at the traffic zooming by, feeling that old feeling of confusion and dismay at how completely insane human life is, wondering how anyone could possibly be guided through all this mess...

There was also my old "interrupted masturbation" dream motif, last night. I had a bunch of magazines I was going to jerk off to, but people kept showing up and I couldn't make it. Part of that dream saw me back in the room I grew up in, in Maple Ridge, listening to a very, very old console stereo I had as a child - it used to have a black and white TV in the center, but we scooped that out when it stopped working and kept it for the stereo. At some point, in the dream, that stopped working, too...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Cow-Eating Trees

The site where this appears is laden with sneaky pop-ups, so I've just copied it out. Haven't posted any cryptozoology stuff in awhile, and thought this was pretty special.

'Cow-eating' trees of Padrame
October 23 2007 14:24 IST

MANGALORE: Carnivorous trees grabbing humans and cattle and gobbling them up is not just village folklore.

Residents of Padrame near Kokkoda in Uppinangady forest range sighted one such carnivorous tree trying to dine on a cow last Thursday. According to reports, the cow owned by Anand Gowda had been left to graze in the forests.

The cow was suddenly grabbed by the branches and pulled from the ground. The terrified cowherd ran to the village, and got Gowda and a band of villagers to the carnivorous tree.

Before the tree could have its meal, Anand Gowda and the villagers struck mortal blows to the branches that turned limp and the cow was rescued. Uppinangady range forest officer (RFO) Subramanya Rao said the tree was described as ‘pili mara’ (tiger tree) in native lingo.

He had received many complaints about cattle returning home in the evenings without tails. On Friday, the field staff confirmed coming across a similar tree in Padrane, partially felled down.

However no detailed inquiry was made as the authorities were not asked for any report, Rao said.

Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens: a Love Infusion for Vancouver

Ah, fall: Vancouver is overwhelmed once more by darkness and rain, after barely having had a summer at all. If you're feelin' like things are a bit of a slog - and I certainly am - it may be the perfect time to be cheered up by an interview with sex postive feminist, filmmaker, and artist Annie Sprinkle and her partner (academic and artist) Beth Stephens. The photo above is from their joint website, the Love Art Lab, where there's much to read from them; but speaking in terms of print media, my interview with them for Xtra West has just hit the stands. The article touches on their relationship, Annie's brush with cancer, and their various art projects together; watch this space for a much longer version of it in a few weeks!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Bixobal and No Neck Blues Band

Well, it's out! (and the first run of 500 is gone, with another 250 more slated): the first issue of Bixobal, featuring my very long interview with Dave Nuss of the No Neck Blues Band (and much more, including a Sir Richard Bishop travelogue and an article on the published works of Tuli Kupferberg). Click the link to find out how to get your copy before the second print run disappears altogether!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Sad stuff - Lucky Dube murdered

I went through a reggae phase where I owned a couple of Lucky Dube albums. They didn't change my world, but I liked his lyrics.

It's a bit off the usual punk-avant-cinema line I toe here, but I just wanted to note how sad it is: the man was gunned down in front of his young son in an attempt to steal his car: as if a car were worth the price of a human life (not to mention the cost to those left behind to mourn). He was 43.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind

By the way, my favourite film at the film festival - or the only one to compete with Man on Land - was Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind, a richly cinematic poem to accompany Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. There's an online CinemaScope interview with the director, John Gianvito, here. I seem to really value quiet cinema lately - Old Joy, my favourite film from last year, was also very, very quiet.

Femke shoots the Black Lips at Richards on Richards

Photos by Femke van Delft

(I wasn't at the Black Lips show and I don't know their music, but Femke van Delft, intrepid Nerve photographer - who is still showing pictures alongside Bev Davies and others at the JEM Gallery for a few more days - was there. The following is Femke's account of shooting the concert).

On Thursday I get an email from (Nerve Magazine music editor) Adrian giving me the green light to shoot The Black Lips at Richards on Richards. I need to meet the Live Nations rep at 10:45 pm for a briefing. I am not that happy about it. That means that I will have to battle my way through the already anticipating, fixated legion to get to the front stage. My strategy: compensate with height. I wear my 4 inch platform boots making me 6 foot 4….midable.
The show is running late. I shoot the first two acts for fun and meet the rep to find out that Jared Swilley has been held at the border, a Vancouver bass ringer, Curtis ?, is the replacement. I find out later that Curtis had 15 minutes to prepare and borrow the bass from Vancougar.

The crowd is mostly made up of inebriated 20 somethings in the pit and old guard punk enthusiasts sitting back on the edge of music. I shove my way to the front, stage left. By the second song, Ian Brown rhythmically kicks the monitors from washing up onto his feet as waves of 185 lb drunk young men full on mosh.

Feet flat on the floor, those black leather platforms make my legs 38 inches long. I discover my hips are perfect stage height. OK, maybe I was asking for it. I bend my torso onto the stage, tripod my elbows and shoot. Suddenly, I can feel some young zit-faced puppy dry humping me from behind. I double fist elbow him [hopefully] to the head and yell…."This is incest! I could be your mother." I then hockey board the two guys next to me for good measure [which I actually feel guilty about since they were obviously decent] yelling "I just want to do my fucking job!" Turn back to the stage and catch Cole tossing and catching his own gob (see above). Better move out of the pit to stage right, which apparently is the best position to get Anderson projectile vomiting while never interrupting his guitar riff. [and what's with that no flash rule? These could have been perfect!] Now it's time to go upstairs and get that shot of him drumming like a drunk sister in The White Stripes.

Best comment about Brown's mouthful of gold caps from Dave Chokroun, ex punk rock drummer for WAD. "Hey, what's with Ian Brown's teeth? Doesn't he believe in banks?"
Best comment about Brown's mouthful of gold caps from Dave Chokroun, ex punk rock drummer for WAD. "Hey, what's with Ian Brown's teeth? Doesn't he believe in banks?"

- Femke

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Paranoid Park: the Disappointment of the VIFF

I feel like I need to clean myself in some heretofore unknown way. Paranoid Park (TIFF review here) has left me feeling compromised and uncomfortable, not because it's intended to produce that effect, but because, I suspect, it's a false and bankrupt piece of filmmaking; at the very best, it's the work of someone who is deeply lost. I'm starting to think Gus van Sant belongs on a list with Elvis, Britney Spears, Tom Cruise, and Whitney Houston, as an American artist deformed and deranged by all the attention he has received, confused about himself beyond any redemption; if people were only more demanding of cinema, more perceptive, surely this would be transparently obvious. I begin to understand why Last Days stands out as his best film in recent years, since one suspects he could identify quite easily with Kurt Cobain, at this point in his career.

My reaction has nothing to do with the subject matter of the film. I greatly admire the novel on which Paranoid Park is based. I'd read it as a sort of homework, since I had no opportunity to preview the film and wanted to possibly be able to write about it. The book, by Blake Nelson, tells a very moving story, written with the directness, simplicity of language, and emotional integrity of our own Chris Walter, though with slightly less sex-drugs-and-profanity, since it's aimed at the Young Adult market. It involves a teenaged preppy skateboarder in Portland who defends himself against a thuggish railway security guard, and accidentally causes - or contributes to - his death. The boy is traumatized, wracked with guilt; he wants to tell someone, but the adults around him are either too caught up in their own confused dramas, or too inclined to mistrust skaters and assume the worst about them, for him to be able to unburden himself. His silently carrying the memory of this event forces him into a new understanding of life, and changes his relationship with the people around him; these transformations make up the bulk of the narrative, and are, more or less, its subject. Issues of class are also touched on: another skater implicated in the death, a street kid who had been hitching a train with the narrator, is forced into hiding, and his friends - also on the streets - are convinced, when the cops come around asking questions, that the middle-class kid narked on them, a subplot completely eliminated from van Sant's telling of the tale. It's a worthwhile book; it captures the deep sensitivity of the young, and how difficult it is for them to forge connections between their complex inner experience and the intimidating, condescending, and judgmental "adult world" that surrounds them. I would gladly recommend it to any teen reader, would give it to my kids if I had any; Nelson impresses me considerably, and adults will dig his book too.

I'm not sure who, exactly, the film of Paranoid Park is aimed at, but I think kids, for one, will be too smart to buy into it. Moviegoers might be easier to fool: at first, when you see Christopher Doyle's grainy home-movie footage of skaters, you feel excited, thinking that the film will harken back to Mala Noche and Drugstore Cowboy, which both used home movie footage to excellent effect. (I frankly forget if My Own Private Idaho does or not; it's been a long time). Van Sant's first two films remain my favourites, and everyone is encouraged to go see Mala Noche when it screens at the Cinematheque later this month; it's an interesting, important film, and tells a story about characters you will care about, and come to understand, and it contains complex and thought-provoking narratives about homosexuality, class, and social hierarchy in general. And it's pretty to look at, even if it was shot on a shoestring.

Unfortunately, any similarities between van Sant's earlier work and Paranoid Park disappear quite quickly into the film. The grainy footage of skaters skating - Doyle's skating scenes are one of the only consistent pleasures in the film - is soon replaced by a lengthy, Bela-Tarr-influenced tracking shot of one skater kid walking down a hallway in highschool that could be an outtake from van Sant's earlier Elephant -- except that this young actor, Gabe Nevins, is even more expressionless than the kids in that film. This is the first huge question the film raises: why does van Sant hide all the churning emotion of the text behind this blank-faced prettyboy's vacuous, unblinking gaze? Why did he even choose him at all (casting him off Myspace, in what seems a rather obvious publicity-seeking gimmick)? It's probably not the kid's fault that he can't act, or that, at the least, he completely fails to convey any of the inner turmoil he describes; one wonders if van Sant even informed him what emotions he was supposed to be showing at given junctures, or if he just had him walk around directionless and stunned. Nevins' voice-over narration is so sapped of feeling and so dumbed-down from the already pretty straightforward source material that it almost seems to suggest that this is van Sant's opinion of kids - that they're pretty to look at, shallow, and inarticulate; it's an injustice to the novel's rich main character, to Blake Nelson's sensitive handling of youth - and quite an insult to skaters, on top of that!

There are bizarre stylistic choices made throughout the film, too: the music veers from entirely appropriate minimalist glitch electronica and moody Elliot Smith songs to bizarre and arbitrary-seeming carnivalesque passages from Nino (I shit you not) Rota, which mystified me, seeming to undercut the text, even to mock it. There are also various shots of Nevins which are very obviously intended to fetishize his beauty - to queer the camera eye and look at him with desire - but this too seems irrelevant to the material at hand and devoid of carefully thought-out purpose, feeling more like a gimmick designed to do nothing more than trigger reactions and to raise questions about what van Sant intends. I'm glad that van Sant is approaching queer themes again (and am still curious about his Harvey Milk movie), but there is only a very slight homoerotic element to the book, which you might not even notice. Paranoid Park (the film) nearly drools over Nevins at times, foregrounding what at most should be a hinted subtext and confusing and misdirecting the audience: is Alex - the Nevins character - gay? Is Jared gay? Is Scratch gay? No: the DIRECTOR is gay, and he can't let the film stand without making sure we know. I cared too much about the story van Sant was supposedly telling to not be annoyed at such irrelevancies.

Van Sant's tendency to call attention to his own directorial choices in framing Nevins is in keeping with the overall strategy of his film, which calls attention to itself as art object at every turn, using slow motion, repetition of images, jagged, non-sequential restructurings of perfectly linear source material, and so forth to aestheticize the experience to the nth degree, as if the point of the work of art is to be a work of art and to get noticed as such, not to speak to the community in any way, to have a theme, to have (gasp) a moral purpose, or (God forbid) to tell a story. It may be pointing at the moon, but it wants you to look at its finger. Even if we completely forget the source novel and view Paranoid Park on its own terms - it's a gamey, confused experience, and, like Todd Solondz's horrible, empty Palindromes, at least some of its bizarre choices seem to have been made simply so the press will have puzzles to play with. "Oooh, Mr. van Sant - why did you cast the film off Myspace? Why the charged glances between Alex and Scratch? What's the meaning of the Nino Rota music? Why did you scramble around the sequence of events? Why the repeated closeup of Alex writing the words 'Paranoid Park?' What are you trying to say about young people?"

Gus van Sant is trying to say nothing whatsoever about young people, I am quite convinced. He likes to look at them. Maybe he wishes he still was one. He doesn't really understand them, though he'd like to think he does, because he'd like them to like him. He'd really like MOVIE CRITICS to like him, too, and to take him seriously as an artist.

I can't help but conclude that THAT is the purpose of Paranoid Park. It's not even art for art's sake - it's art for the artist's sake. But what the fuck do I care about Gus van Sant?

Those who are curious about the film can see it at the Vancity tonight, as a post-festival encore. Compared to the above, the writeup clearly demonstrates how different people's takes on a film can be. Maybe if you go in with much lower hopes than I had, you'll enjoy the film more - who knows?
(Thanks to Simone and Frank, two fellow film buffs who, in different ways, influenced this review)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Rituals on DVD

Someone tell Caelum Vatnsdal: the most underrated -- and possibly the finest -- Canadian horror film ever, Rituals, has finally been distributed domestically on DVD. I have not yet seen this version, and am going to remain cautious about recommending it - since there are badly mutilated prints out there; you can read my comparison of the atrocious US VHS release and the print that screened at the VIFC last year here. There was allegedly a proper DVD edition of it put out last year in Germany, under it's alternate title The Creeper, but I cannot vouch for that one either, and it looks from that listing (Amazon Germany) that it is now out of print. Seen properly, it's a subtle, tense, and surprisingly well-written film. One telltale sign that you're seeing a trimmed version is the absence of the line, in the first 15 minutes, "What man wouldn't pay for a bigger dick?"

No, seriously...

Thursday, October 11, 2007

John Lurie interviews on his art and his illness

I knew that health problems had something to do with Lounge Lizards' founder John Lurie disappearing from the music scene and taking up painting, but didn't know their nature. It's apparently advanced Lyme disease, which sounds nasty - "bizarre migrating neurological problems" is an ominous phrase indeed. I just stumbled across an interview online where Lurie talks about it, and then yet another that goes into more detail. (He is less forthcoming, but quite witty, here, dealing with a poorly-prepared writer by the sounds of it). I don't know if any of you are fans, but his Marvin Pontiac album is a delight, in particular - something everyone should own, samples of which can be heard here, if you don't mind Real Player being installed. Lurie's paintings can be seen here, and his new-ish art book bought here. Looking forward to the day his memoirs are published (To be entitled What Do You Know About Music, You're Not a Lawyer).

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Hey, Raven

I'm acting on a theory that you turned up at THE TRAP because you read about my intent to see it in a previous entry and decided to stalk me there. You'll have to tell me if I'm right. It's too bad you left when you did - the middle section was almost wholly unnecessary, repetitive, unfocused, but the third installment returned it to something a bit more rigorous. It needs to be edited down before it can be shown theatrically, really.

I was thinking, before you surprised me by leaving, that I should try to turn you onto a few movies - you should rent OLD JOY, for one; the Will Oldham character will speak to you, I think. It and a film called POLICE BEAT were two of the most exciting American films for me of the last few years. I'm not sure how you'd respond to POLICE BEAT, but OLD JOY has things that will move you in it. Do you like Will Oldham's music? He acts in it. Try on I SEE A DARKNESS if you're curious.

The other film in the VIFF that you might like to stalk me to is MAN ON LAND (see below for links and such - I mention it in my piece on DUST and ABOUT WATER - look for the green dustpan, below). Trust me, it will be a very interesting experience for you. I believe I'll be seeing it on Thursday night. And then I'll be at PARANOID PARK on Friday. There will be other films, of course, in-between - but if you're going to stalk me, you might as well at least stalk me somewhere interesting.
By the way, if you look in the top right hand corner of the blog, there should be a "contact me" key or such, if you don't want to post a comment.

Monday, October 08, 2007

US peace activists denied entry into Canada, plus Strange Culture

Thought this was interesting - the US is putting peace activists on lists that will keep them from crossing the border into Canada, and our government is complying without questioning it.

Also of note to people concerned with civil liberties, there's an interesting political doc at the fest, Strange Culture, dealing with the disturbing case of Steve Kurtz. VIFF writeup here - not sure if it screens again, check it out.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Guitars! Guitars! -- the Vancouver New Music Festival, plus Bixobal and No Neck Note

Guitar freaks by advised: just a few days before Nels Cline returns to town with Scott Amendola's band, Vancouver New Music will be having its festival, featuring some of the most significant guitar improvisers in the world. Sir Richard Bishop, James Plotkin, Rene Lussier, Bill Frisell, Keith Rowe... I can't list them all, but it's gonna be big. Even VNM's recent Some Cats from Japan show sold out the venue, so anyone who likes guitar music (particularly CHALLENGING guitar music) should buy tickets early - a pass for all four days costs about as much as you'd pay to see Frisell alone at a larger venue. I'll be mannin' the merch table for the first and last night, and attending the middle two -- so I'll see you there!
No Neck Blues Band fans should also take note: the first issue of Bixobal will be kickin' around the city soon, with a huge interview I did with Dave Nuss of that band, around about when they last played here. It's particularly exciting in that Dave and I discuss at some length the rather negative review that Alex Varty gave of their show -- I'm sure Alex will get a kick out of it! The issue also features, I'm told, "the first installment of Climax Golden Twin Rob Millis' column 'Talking Machine,' in which he talks about 78 rpm records and Korean ones; an interview with Alan Sondheim on his group All-7-70 (which recorded for ESP-Disk) and his solo material (which has been released by Fire Musuem and Qbico), plus a special review section covering his discography." There will be the usual reviews and so forth, plus "book dealer and artist Dave Hornor gives us the run down on books by Tuli Kupferburg of The Fugs," which should be cool (I've always liked Tuli). "There'll also be part one of former Sun City Girl Sir Richard Bishop's Indian travelogue from this summer."

Sounds pretty good, eh? Guitars, cool reading... we're easing you into the winter as gently as we can.

A Guilty Pleasure, plus a Mel Gibson film I gotta see (no shit)

When I was in my early 20's, I went through a phase where I read a whole whack of Parker novels. Parker novels - written by Richard Stark (actually Donald E. Westlake) - chronicle the various "jobs" of an intelligent, methodical, and rather cold career criminal named, you guessed it, Parker. They're as stripped-down, hard-boiled, and functional as the character they depict: they detail the planning of the crime, the execution, the problems, and the payoff - and nothing much else. They seldom are more than 200 pages long, and can be read over a couple of nights with great ease. To my embarrassment, as a young man, I fell in love with the razorlike utilitarianism and determination of their main character, with the plausible imaginings of heist after heist, with the peek into a secret world of men who lived strictly on their own terms; they were tough, manly books, completely in dischord with my liberal conditioning, and I ate them up - I must have read at least 10 of them, which, considering there were only 14 written at the time, is impressive indeed.

The initial series ran from 1962 to 1974. In 1998, with Comeback, Westlake returned to writing as Stark and offered the first new Parker novel in years, roughly corresponding with the release of a Mel Gibson vehicle, Payback. It wasn't the first Stark novel to be filmed - there's also Point Blank, The Outfit, Godard's Made in USA, a terrible Peter Coyote film called Slayground, and two I haven't seen - The Split and Mise a Sac. The first two on the list are probably the closest to the spirit of a Parker novel, with Lee Marvin narrowly beating Robert Duvall as a bigscreen Parker (though Westlake apparently prefers Duvall). I was actually really excited when I heard Mel Gibson was going to play Parker (or Porter, as the movie calls him), because he comes closer still to looking like the Parker I carry around in my head.

The film was a disappointment. It was, God help me, cute: despite taglines like "Get Ready to Root for the Bad Guy," it really didn't have the balls to be a Parker film. It had comedy in it, for Godsake. Parker cracked jokes. There was a smarmy voiceover narration. Lucy Liu cracked a whip. It was an amusing, forgettable experience, with hints at times of how good it could have been, in the few moments where it actually took itself seriously.

I'm reading my first Parker novel in 10 years or more, picked up on a whim at Book Off, and, in doing a bit of online sleuthing about recent developments in the world of Parker, have discovered that in fact, the version I saw - that any of us saw -- in the theatres was not how the film was meant to be at all. Director Brian Helgeland, then a novice, had in fact made a serious, grimy, relatively humourless film that crossed all sorts of boundaries and harkened back to the gritty crime films of the 1970's. Mel beats up a woman. A dog gets killed. There are no cute jokes. The ending is ambiguous but downbeat. The first cut was, by all accounts, a dark, brutal noir - exactly what a Parker adaptation should be. And the studios, with typical courage and artistic integrity, took the film from Helgeland and re-cut it.

This, unfortunately, is not unusual. Even the recent shitty remake of The Invasion - see my review last month; I can't be bothered to link it - came to us in a version significantly altered by the studio; they not only re-edited it, they shot new footage to make it seem more exciting, more in accordance with whatever their marketing research told them audiences want to see this year. Because the film - which is exactly as mediocre as you'd expect, given this, reflecting no-one's vision whatsoever - tanked at the box office (getting a generous 20% on RT), there will likely never be an opportunity to see what Oliver Hirschbiegel intended for us. I have no idea whether his cut was any good or not, but I have no doubt it's far superior to the negligible piece of shit the money boys made of it.

For some reason, though - Mel Gibson's recent notoriety, or the relative darkening of cinema post 9/11 - against all odds and with Gibson's participation, Helgeland's original cut of the film has been issued on DVD. Called Payback - Straight Up, it features a director's commentary and featurettes about the changes made to the film, which I am dying to hear. I absolutely MUST see this film, as soon as possible. It could be the best Parker adaptation yet to hit the screen.

Or, well, okay, it never hit the screen, but at least it's out on DVD. I will actually make time out from the film festival for this one. I am genuinely excited by this.
Go figure.

Many details I left out are in the DVD Beaver review here - a good site for getting info and seeing screenshots, like the one above; check their Release Calendar, too, for a good listing of films coming up.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Battle in Seattle and Redacted, as seen through a jaundiced eye

The neatest thing about Battle in Seattle, to me, is the cameo by Haskell Wexler. I didn't notice it when it happened - nor the quote from his most famous film, Medium Cool, which, I know now, is shown on a TV screen at the beginning of the movie - but I still smiled when I caught Wexler's name in the credits. Medium Cool is a well-respected piece of politically engaged filmmaking from the 1960's, starring Robert Forster (best known to young'uns as Max Cherry in Jackie Brown) as a reporter forced to question the media's role in the coverage of the Democratic convention protests of 1968. Wexler is sort of a hero to liberal filmpeople - he's shot many films, including John Sayles' Matewan and politically engaged docs like his own Bus Rider's Union. I will confess (to my embarrassment) to not having SEEN Medium Cool yet (Mark, Jack: forgive me!), but I know enough about the film and Wexler to like that Battle in Seattle pays its dues; writer-director Stuart Townsend noted when I asked him about Wexler's cameo that "Seattle was the first major mass mobilization in the USA since the Democratic convention riots," so he thought it important to tip his hat. He also explained, for anyone who sets out to "spot Haskell," that Wexler briefly appears holding a camera: "blink and you'll miss him."

As for the film, there's little question that the audience it's playing for will love it, and it drew warm cheers and whoops and applause at the screening I was at (and not JUST because it was shot in Vancouver with a local crew -- people ate it up politically, too.) Since it congratulates the viewers warmly at every turn for believing the right things, and confirms and rewards their (our?) every opinion, this is hardly surprising, tho'. It MAY have merit as a history lesson for some; it MIGHT open the eyes of viewers who haven't heard of the Seattle riots before; and it's laudable that it doesn't flinch from showing the city/ police as being excessive in their use of force: BUT, still, I'm really not sure what films like this accomplish. Call me jaded, and I am, but... remember all the hype and drama over Fahrenheit 9/11? Neverminding that it's not a very good film, it still had enormous momentum, yet did nothing to stop Bush from being elected a second time (and in a way, as a cinema-goer, I'm kinda perversely grateful: Moore would have been unendurable in his self-congratulation had Bush actually lost). Likewise, it's doubtful films like this will have any lasting impact on the WTO or global capitalism, raising the very valid question of whether, really, there is any point to them at all. Unless they somehow challenge us to think or act in a new way -- unless they provoke us to learn something about ourselves or the world -- unless they actually TELL US SOMETHING WE DON'T ALREADY KNOW, then I can't understand why they need to be made. I felt rather like I did when marching against the war in Iraq a couple of years ago: unconvinced that my being there did any good at all, even if I did feel slightly pleased with myself at the end.

I guess it's to the film's credit that that's the best analogy I can think of -- it's as useless as a protest march. If you dig protest marches, you'll probably dig it, too. At the very least, it made me want to watch This is What Democracy Looks Like again.

More significant, but also more questionable, is Brian de Palma's Redacted (that's the official site, but it's "under construction" at the moment, so you might also want to look here, where you will find a sizeable presskit for download). I expected to rejoice, watching it. I was very excited to hear that de Palma, whose last politically engaged film was 1989's Casualties of War, about Vietnam, had made a "furious and incendiary take on the Iraq conflict." Though he is often accused of misogyny and exploitation, anyone who has seen his early film Hi, Mom knows that de Palma is capable of using his penchant for pushing boundaries and his fascination with voyeurism for political ends, to assaultively provoke complacent viewers and challenge their preconceptions; and at least one of his middle-period films, Blow Out, is masterful at leaving the viewer feeling unclean as all hell, questioning whether his/her own cynical specatatorship is moral. Even his dumbest (Snake Eyes) and his most "offensive" films (Body Double, say) are richly crafted and thought-provoking on a meta-level. I'm almost always happy to watch his films, even when I don't like them.

For all the craft and fury that de Palma brings to bear in Redacted, though - ambitiously stitching together a narrative not unlike Casualties of War out of supposedly "found" footage from video diaries, video blogging, surveillance cameras, a French documentary, Youtube, and so forth -- at the end of it all, I just felt depressed. The subject matter is undoubtedly a part of that - it is based on a true story about five soldiers who participated in raping and murdering a 14 year old Iraqi girl and her family. Strong stuff it is - and it also takes on insurgents, Al Qaeda murder porn, beheadings, racism, and the idiocy of sending vicious rednecks into a complex diplomatic situation; it even allows those vicious rednecks to speak for themselves, the main rapist offering a speech in his self-defense that reminds one of Tony Montana speaking up for "the Bad Guy" in Scarface. It does all this, too, with abundant self-consciousness: the presskit describes it as a "profound meditation on the way information is packaged, distributed and received in an era with infinite channels of communication," and it may well be - people excited about self-reflexivity in cinema will find much to think about in it, and de Palma's detractors will even find themselves robbed of the predictable litany of objections to the film -- that he is just an exploiter, a parasite, a sadist, feeding off human misery, puffing himself up by attaching himself to the events he depicts -- because de Palma incorporates these very accusations into the text. Clever guy, de Palma. I have no congratulations to offer, though. When it comes to the war in Iraq, I've had enough; and to be honest, much as I was grateful to see him trying to make a real film -- I enjoyed the sheer beautiful fluff of Femme Fatale a helluva lot more.

Maybe it's just me, you know? Maybe I've just seen too many movies. I've sung along to too many protest songs and done too little to change the world: I do not believe even this film, angry as it is, will make the slightest positive difference in the state of the world. Audiences will go to it to vent their indignation and their outrage, will cheer at the scene where an internet protestor likens America to Nazi Germany, and will pat themselves on the back when the whole thing is done, but odds are, they will DO NOTHING that they would not have otherwise done, for having seen the film, that will help hasten the US retreat from Iraq. We simply cannot consume our way out of that war. The first world's addiction to stimulation of all sorts is PART OF THE PROBLEM, part of the reason that Bush is still in power, even though the whole fucking world knows better; the harshness of Redacted is first and foremost an indicator of just how little a threat the world of cinema poses to the powers that be. If Redacted could change things, they'd make it illegal; since it can't, again - why bother?

One interesting note about the Redacted presskit: it provides no information about the actual killings that the film is based on, nor does the film. One would think, for all the moral furor that supposedly motivates the filmmakers, they'd want everyone to go home and visit fuckin' Wikipedia or something, to see what actually happened. From that site:

"The Al-Mahmudiyah killings occurred on March 12, 2006 in a house located to the southwest of Yusufiyah, a smaller village, to the west of the larger town of Al-Mahmudiyah, south of Baghdad, Iraq in which five United States soldiers with the 502nd Infantry Regiment, Spc. James Barker, Pfc. Jesse Spielman, Sgt. Paul Cortez, , and Pfc. Steven D. Green (discharged before the crime was discovered), gang-raped and murdered a 14-year-old Iraqi girl named Abeer Qasim Hamza, after murdering her mother Fakhriyah Taha Muhsin, 34; her father Qasim Hamza Raheem, 45; and her sister Hadeel Qasim Hamza, aged 5. As of August 2007 Barker, Spielman and Cortez have been sentenced for this crime. The matter came to light when a private first class in the same platoon, Justin Watt, reportedly revealed the crime during a counseling session on June 22, 2006 following the deaths of two other soldiers in the same regiment. One of the soldiers, Steven Green, was honorably discharged from the Army on May 16, 2006, due to "antisocial personality disorder" and has been charged with these crimes by the FBI, not the military, as his discharge released him from military jurisdiction. Steven Green has been arrested as a civilian within the United States and as such has received the majority of press coverage related to the incident. The other four soldiers, SGT Paul E. Cortez, SPC James P. Barker, PFC Jesse V. Spielman and PFC Bryan L. Howard, were on active duty when charged by the United States military. Currently they remain confined to the Forward Operating Base in Mahmudiyah, Iraq. According to military spokesman Maj. Gen. William B. Caldwell they could face the death penalty."

If Redacted sounds like something you want to see, don't let me stop you, but in my opinion, you'd be better off spending the time chasing down the links in the article that that's from, and asking what you can do to change a world where such things can happen. If you want to see a movie, just go see somethin' that sounds fun, for fucksake. Or a documentary. (I'm really hoping I'll like Adam Curtis' The Trap: What Happened to Our Dream of Freedom; I'm told it's remarkable).

You know, it's nearly 4 AM, and I'm worn out. These films both play again as part of the festival, but I can't bear to chase down links. Go here and figure it out, if you're interested. G'night.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Femke van Delft, Bev Davies, and Concert Photography at the JEM Gallery

Animal Collective at the Commodore by Femke van Delft

Gerry Hannah of the Subhumans at Pub 340, by Femke van Delft

Y'all may have noticed a few cool concert pics popping up lately, on my blog and in the Nerve Magazine, from a woman named Femke van Delft. I ran into her at the Eugene Chadbourne show at the Cobalt awhile back, and she's been comin' to a few shows with me; she's got a fantastic eye, and has managed to take some great pictures in some near-impossible situations.
She writes, of trying to capture the spirit of the Animal Collective show:
"So I get to the Commodore a little after 8pm and take up my station center front stage. I know that this is a scene-ster band. I know that my territory needs to be staked out. I look to the left of me and I recognize the young woman. I say, "Hey, didn't you throw up in my van five years ago?" She was my oldest daughter's friend. Two baby Goths first drunk at English Bay. To her credit she says," Hey! that was the best smelling vomit. I only ate jelly beans." The band's is getting ready. I know the rules. No Flash. First three songs. I have nine minutes to get one shot. Geologist sperlunks onto the stage with a caver's headlamp.[It za bad sign] Two more Animals follow. I am poised with my camera. After all, I am a rock stalker. The first song is the longest 2 minutes and 35 seconds of my life. I am not talking low light, or ambient light, or reflected I mean NO F-IN LIGHT. I think to myself, "I am not crawling up on stage and unplugging your speakers." The first 70 shots are a write off. Second song. Avey says "Let there be light." A bank of ass high runway lights at the back of the stage blast on. Between the epileptic inducing computer controlled backlights and absolutely NO front lights. This is all I could manage. When Panda turned on the smoke machine.... my camera could no longer work on automatic focus."

She ended that email with: "Love the fucking challenge." The Subhumans show the other night - see the embarrassing mosh footage of me below - also posed quite the challenge, as the "lights,in an epileptic fit, cycled through red green and white" and the floor provided abundant opportunities to get jostled. While Mike and Brian occasionally made it into the light, Gerry was NEVER lit well, but this is still one of the best photos of him onstage that I've seen. (There's an in-joke in all this for Gerry, but I won't spell it out. Thanks for dedicating "Moving Forward" to me - hell, thanks for playing it!).
Anyhow, Femke will be part of a group show at the JEM Gallery featuring her work, as well as that of Sprout, Adam PW Smith, Morgan Beare and JEM's Carola Goetze. I believe Femke's shots will include images as yet unseen - or seen only as a tiny black and white corner in the Nerve - of Tatsuya Yoshida of Ruins, Mark Berube, Eugene Chadbourne, Black Mountain, and the Pointed Sticks (see her tiny pic of Bill with my single review in the new Nerve). There may be a few surprises, too (ie, stuff I don't know about yet). There will also be some previously unseen pictures taken by the legendary Bev Davies; Bev tells me that she'll have shots of Madonna, the Everly Brothers, Johnny Cash and others - things she took for newspapers that has never been seen since! (She felt like departing from her usual MO). Info here:
1, 2, 3, 4! - a live concert photography show

Opening reception: Friday October 5th @ 7pm
Show runs October 4th – October 25th

the JEM gallery
225 East Broadway
Vancouver BC V5T 1W4

Gallery hours: Sun. & Mon. closed, Tue. – Thu. 1-6 pm and Fri. & Sat. 12-7 pm,
or by appointment.

Those eager to see new punk rock shots from Bev also have cause for excitement: there'll be a new calendar from her for 2008, featuring Death Sentence, No Exit, the Modernettes, DOA, the Dishrags, Rude Norton, Buddy Selfish, Los Popularos, the Young Canadians, East Van Halen, and the Bill of Rights - and others! It's a signed, limited edition, only available through JEM, and - best of all - the photos are removable! I'll be working on a short chat with her for next month's Nerve Magazine, just as soon as I get a chance to talk to Bev. See you all at JEM!

Subhumans on Youtube (plus me in the audience)

Well - I've always wondered how silly I look when moshing. Not that I'm really moshing here - just sort of nodding my head and bouncing around a bit.

Thanks to Susanne!

Monday, October 01, 2007

Bela Tarr's The Man from London at the VIFF

People with a taste for serious cinema who do not yet know the work of Hungarian auteur Bela Tarr are urged to check out The Man from London (that's a VIFF link, btw - the next screening will be on Friday at the Cinematheque, and is almost sold out; we can hope that it will repeat with other festival favourites at the Vancity Theatre). It's a predictably epic accomplishment, comparable to the greatest works of Antonioni, say, even if it's much smaller in scale than Tarr's previous masterworks, Werckmeister Harmonies and Satantango. An adaptation of a Simenon thriller about a briefcase full of cash and the various parties who are feuding over it -- sort of a No Country for Old Hungarians, if you will - the film takes very simple materials, elevates them to the level of high art, and lends a subtly self-reflexive element to them: the money that serves as the Macguffin had been stolen from a cinema, and the initial action of the film identifies our desire and our gaze very strongly with that of a voyeuristic protagonist, whose desire to enter the field of the seen initiates the drama of the film. Any element of "thrill" is drained from the proceedings, however; bleaker than the bleakest of films noir - it makes In a Lonely Place seem a feelgood light entertainment - The Man from London holds us and our protagonist accountable to the last detail for what transpires. Tarr cognoscenti will note a harkening back to themes from his Cassavetes-influenced early film The Prefab People, as well - showing how men are far less morally serious than their suffering and sympathetic (if at times shrewish) wives.

Speaking of women, can someone easily explain Tilda Swinton's presence in the film, by the way? (I haven't really looked around the web - there must be a story here). Though she accomplishes much with her facial features, she really needed more work with her Hungarian before participating in the project; the dubbing was a bit distracting, in a film so meticulously crafted as this.

More information on the film is here - it was a very troubled shoot, during which a producer, I believe, killed himself, so if you're interested, do poke around online. No other film that I've seen thus far in the festival harkens back quite as dramatically to the glory days of European arthouse cinema -- it's filmmaking on the level of Tarkovsky and Bergman, a rare thing nowadays indeed. Not to be watched lightly.