Friday, December 31, 2010

The Unabomber, MK Ultra, and so forth

A friend, who shall go nameless, has sent me an excellent link to a blog being kept by the Unabomber's brother, David Kaczynski, speculating that Ted's experiences with MKUltra may have greatly informed, in some way or other, what became of his brother. Make sure you read part two, as well, and the comments. (Those interested are further advised to seek out Lutz Dammbeck's film The Net). Thanks, friend! Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A lull

No writing at the moment. Adapting to a new computer, getting a bunch of dental work done before I'm without an extended medical plan, doing random housekeeping activities, and having some holiday cheer. I have nothing to say. Happy New Year and all.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Get Your War On Returns

One of the most optimistic gestures directed at Barack Obama is that David Rees suspended Get Your War On once he took office. Operation Enduring Freedom was still ongoing, US troops were still committed to Afghanistan and Iraq, Guantanamo Bay was still open, but... well, maybe Rees wanted to give Obama a fair chance.

Get Your War On has resurfaced.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Shows, shows...

January 15th at the Rickshaw - Download, Dead Voices on Air, and Gnome & Spybey! A Spybey kinda night! Also pLATEAU, Wet Mango, and DJ Dizy Pixl!

For those craving more metallic flavours, on February 7th, Motorhead return to the Vogue, and on February 13th, Cradle of Filth return to the Commodore! Ooh, the decadence...

Swans February 25th at the Rickshaw!

Somewhere sooner than that, I think, the Creaking Planks are having an anniversary gig, maybe with the participation of the Minimalist Jug Band and Petunia... more on that later! (I think it's separate from their January 1st gig at the Railway, but I might be wrong...).

Chris D. anthology published!

...apparently it's been out for quite awhile, but I missed it: Chris D., of LA punk band the Flesheaters and Divine Horsemen, has an anthology of lyrics, short stories, dream journal entries and so forth out now (it may or may not be related to a project that was supposed to appear on 2-13-61 press, and maybe briefly did, but if that book ever got published, I've never seen it, and it's long OOP now). Chris D. is my favourite punk vocalist and has a great knack for stealing titles from gritty, sleazy, violent, or otherwise memorable movies and building highly memorable songs around them (cf. "Tomorrow Never Comes," "A Minute To Pray, a Second to Die," "Eyes Without a Face," God knows how many more). The one time I almost got to see the Flesheaters - touring their underrated Dragstrip Riot album, and scheduled to appear at the Granville location of the Cruel Elephant back in the early 1990's, I guess - the show was cancelled so that Chris, who is somewhat of an expert on Japanese exploitation cinema and has written a book on that topic - could travel to Japan and research Yakuza movies. I was bummed, but I still remain a fan... I wonder if this new book will include Chris' old movie review columns from Forced Exposure...? Oh, by the way, his movie about heroin addicts as vampires is also worth a look...

Friday, December 17, 2010

RIP Don van Vliet

Captain Beefheart has died, of complications from MS, at age 69.

I have nothing in particular to say about him, but for whatever its worth, my favourite Captain Beefheart songs are the early pop-blues stuff on Safe as Milk, andthe slow progression into the longer, jammier structures found on Mirror Man. I wore out Trout Mask Replica a long time ago and have set it aside for some future date; mostly these days when I spin Beefheart, it's Shiny Beast (Bat Chain Puller), or what original Bat Chain Puller demos can be found (there are some on an excellent comp called Dust Sucker that I highly recommend); or sometimes Doc at the Radar Station or Ice Cream for Crow. For some reason, the song of his that most gets stuck in my head is "I'm Gonna Booglerize You, Baby" off The Spotlight Kid. A unique human being, a major force in the world of music; my respects.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

No Fun Alone at Christmas 25th anniversary tomorrow

All photos by Femke van Delft, taken at No Fun Alone At Christmas 2008. Not to be RWP, etc. Guest in middle photo: Michael Unger, of comedy duo the Skinny

Turns out that there's a Tom Harrison interview with David M. in the Province today. In it, you will, at the very least, learn what the M. stands for (but not how to pronounce it). Tomorrow night at the Railway, it transpires, marks the 25th anniversary of No Fun Alone at Christmas in Vancouver (and its less isolated "No Fun at Christmas" variant, when Paul Leahy, the other official half of No Fun, plays - tho' David does have guests for this, and all, No Fun Alone at Christmas shows). While I actually prefer my No Fun songs in non-seasonal garb, and am in particular hoping to catch No Fun on Drugs* someday, since I've never seen that particular show, I think I need some beer, soon... so tomorrow night sounds like a good night to head down to the Railway (which, incidentally, is one of the top three Vancouver watering holes singled out for praise by homebrewer extraordinaire John Wright, of Nomeansno and the Hanson Brothers, when I asked him to recommend local beer-drinkin' establishments to German tourists, for a German Nomeansno article. The other two were the Steamworks and Yaletown Brew Pubs!). I really, really hope David will do some sort of rendition of "Work, Drink, Fuck, Die" - it's a song my heart is cravin' at the moment!

*Or, I suppose, the solo variant, No Fun Alone on Drugs, which has even more bathos to it, no?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Faint praise for Inception: high praise for Dreamscape

I don't really care about Christopher Nolan's films, but I've somehow managed to see all of them so far. While Following and Memento were both interesting enough, Insomnia was just another mediocre big-budget thriller, and I really did NOT like his two Batman films, which - especially The Dark Knight - seem to me to vie with 24 for being the most politically irresponsible works of popular culture of the Bush II regime (my original rant on that film is here; I have not revisited the film, to see if I feel the same way about it, though I did try, out of morbid curiosity, to take in Nolan's first Batman, as well; in addition to finding it politically distasteful, I found it rather dull, and didn't finish it). Still, I haven't walked away from his movies altogether. In my neverending quest for "good movies to watch with my mother," I recently tried The Prestige on her, and didn't mind it - though I don't think I enjoyed anything about it quite so much as the idea of casting David Bowie as Tesla (not his performance, mind you, which is by-the-book and unremarkable, but the idea of it). Cinema as magic, the desire to make people believe - Nolan seemed to be trying to make a self-reflexive fable of his film, which I didn't entirely buy, but there was certainly a degree of craft at work that I could appreciate.

Tonight, I finally got around to Inception.

A few thoughts: given the success of the movie, there clearly is demand for cinema-as-mindfuck experiences, so I can't quarrel with the film's complexity on the level of marketing; if the only question that matters is, will it sell?, clearly the answer is yes. Still, I was prone to wonder on more than one occasion if the complexity of the narrative - with its various sublevels of dreams, populated by "projections" of the subconscious of the dreamer - served more to obfuscate than enlighten; does Nolan want us to go away thinking about and discussing his film, or is he simply aware that the more impenetrable it is, the more times you'll have to watch it to figure out what's going on? There used to be an old t-shirt slogan that read, "If you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit;" I am not convinced that it does not apply in the case of Inception.

Secondly, so much is attempted by the film, narratively - deftly shifting between different "dream levels," where a host of characters are fighting multiple battles, or undergoing multiple crises, simultaneously - that the sheer density results in a feeling of rather incongruous tedium. One senses you're supposed to be sitting on the edge of your seat, but I was slouched back on the sofa, feeling numb. It was almost like watching the chase scenes in Spielberg's Minority Report, which are boring precisely because Spielberg never manages to make either the characters or the narrative significant to us; it's just another movie with footage of Tom Cruise being chased, yet more sound and fury signifying nothing. The only difference is, with Nolan's film, you have to work a whole lot harder to hold all the narrative threads together, while caring not a smidgen more... Add to this a related complaint, too, about the ridiculous amount of gunfire in the film - I personally have never even SEEN a gun in a dream, that I recall - and a brief whine about the excesses of contemporary special-effects cinema (it appears that anything is now possible in cinema, but that doesn't mean it's interesting) and you begin to get a sense of my boredom.

Thirdly, it was interesting that almost everything I did kind of like about Inception reminded me of William Gibson's Neuromancer. It would be probably be interesting to sketch out the parallels. More work than I intend to do, but I wonder if anyone else has gone there? (edit: yep). It comes closer to plagiarising Gibson than any other film I'm aware of.

All that said, I actually enjoyed Inception more than anything Nolan has done since Memento. There does seem to be some deeper meaning gotten at in the final sequences; while I still find the film noisy, cluttered, and excessive, I am almost prepared to believe that it is sincerely intended to be "about" something - that it has actual, useful CONTENT, in the suggestion at the end, say, that the film is about the fragility of human experience, with the rather nice image of "building a house on a cliff." Those who want to find things to think about in Inception - who are less skeptical than I that it's worth the effort - might find it a fertile starting point for something, and I must not begrudge them.

...Plus it's always nice to see Pete Postlethwaite in a film, even if he's badly underused...

However, for anyone who cares, I'd like to recommend a much, much better movie in which people enter other people's dreams - a rather delightful, archetypally-rich gem from the 1980's called Dreamscape, which I only discovered this year, picking it up on DVD simply because Max von Sydow was in it. (I'll watch anything Max appears in - hence Minority Report, by the way). It begins with an astonishing nuclear holocaust nightmare sequence that will resonate for anyone who grew up during the Cold War; it's very effective and politically rather bold, for a movie that is aimed at a relatively young audience:

The story involves a US President (Eddie Albert) who is plagued with nightmares of nuclear war. Dennis Quaid is an arrogant, cocky, morally naive but fundamentally virtuous young psychic, wasting his talents on picking winners at the track, who is brought in to help enter the President's dreams. Max von Sydow is the mostly benevolent scientist/ father figure who guides him. Christopher Plummer is the Deep Government spook who is horrified what peace will do to his business; David Patrick Kelly ("Warriors... come out to playyy-ayyy") is a rival psychic that Plummer is grooming for his own purposes. Kate Capshaw, the only wasted performance in the film, is a non-credible love interest. While the film does have an innocent cheesiness to it - a friend aptly described it as the sort of dreck he would have loved when he was 11 - it also has interesting ideas, which it is humble and engaging in presenting, as opposed to the noisy arrogance of Inception; if you can get over the naivete of having an anti-war American president (during the Reagan years, no less!), its politically quite acceptable, and I've no doubt that a Jungian with an interest in dreams (and hero's journey stories) could find much to say about the relationships between the various father figures and sons, in the film - Plummer and Kelly versus von Sydow and Quaid (tho' I won't attempt to further fake that perspective myself). And most significantly for a fan such as myself, Max von Sydow gives one of his most charming performances, from a period where he must have felt great delight at where his career was. Some of his monologues resonate directly against those about dreams in Tavernier's La Mort en Direct (aka Death Watch, the mutilated, shortened English language version), another under-seen gem of the 1980's (also featuring Harvey Keitel, Romy Schneider, and Harry Dean Stanton!). These are idea-rich science fiction films that I respect and love; Inception, while not without a few interesting aspects, is mostly just a noisy piece of commerce.

Mom didn't like it, either.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Enter the Void: make no further plans until you SEE THIS FILM

Have you ever had (gasp) a drug experience? Did you combine it, most eagerly, with cinema? Are you the kind of person, say, who might watch Tarkovsky's Stalker while under the influence of a psychotropic? ...Are you even in the slightest bit interested in The Tibetan Book of the Dead? (Did you ever own the Tim Leary/Richard Alpert version? You don't have to have read it...). Do you relish perceptually adventurous, scopophilically gripping, fiercely ambitious film experiences - the kind that leave you staring in silence at the screen, flabbergasted, your eyes wide open, your attention wholly captured by the images there, which dare to take you to realms previously thought unfilmable, with the filmmakers apparently grinning at their own audacity all the while? Does the use of cinema to capture unusual subjective states (like, say, the perceptions of the newly dead) resonate for you? Did you feel, aside from the horror and disgust and rebellion, a smidgen of awe and respect at the cinematic feats of Irreversible?

If any of that resonates for you, take it from me: you really must go see Gaspar Noe's new film, now at the Vancity Theatre, Enter the Void. You must see it in the cinema - to experience it on the big screen - and you must see it as soon as possible - tonight, if you can - because there is a good chance you may wish to go see it again before it ends its short run. If you are the sort of person in whom this blog has an interest, you will want to see this film. Trust me, and read nothing else about it - because the less you know, the more intense your attentiveness will be. (It is okay to know that it is set in a Tokyo rendered in part in psychedelic glo-stick neon, & that it involves a young drug dealer who gets shot, but I wouldn't trust any other critic not to inadvertently give away some of the delights and surprises of this film; knowing more than you do thus far can only lessen its impact). You needn't fear, by the way, that it will be as brutal as his Noe's previous two films, by the way - it isn't. Go see this movie.

Postscript: Gaspar Noe MAY be an arrogant showoff, or worse, a conservative of some sort. This film has some of the moralizing feel that runs through Irreversible (my copy of which I actually gave away, having come to the conclusion that it is a fundamentally, inexcusably homophobic text). It will not be uncontroversial, and I do not promise you you will ultimately be on side with this film - you may wish to rebel, to guffaw, to call it down. This is your right, your privilege; I cannot say how I feel about the film, or Noe, myself, save that in this case, I am staggered by the immensity of his ambition and the skill with which he brings it off. One thing I think I can say with certainty, however, is that if you're a cinephile, regardless of how you end up feeling about Enter the Void, you will probably want to see it again at least once.
Unless you're Katherine Monk, tho' I'm not sure she counts as a cinephile (...don't read that unless/ until you've seen the film, eh?).

Post-script the second - this one is an apology: Trigger, double-billed with Enter the Void, is a sweet, sincere gesture of a film; it is very well-written, with a fine ear for human dialogue; (the late) Tracy Wright and Molly Parker give great performances; it is a film that will be of great meaning to those who knew and worked with Wright; while - for those of us who are not in the inner circle -the film will likely prove interesting in that it is set in the same Canadian rock landscape that brought us Hard Core Logo, and in fact features co-producer Callum Keith Rennie as a character named, um, "Billy" (and Julian "Bucky Haight" Richings, too, though he is not explicitly called Bucky anywhere in the film). Some of the themes from Hard Core Logo are carried over, as well (and you all know that Hard Core Logo 2 is finished and playing at the Whistler Film Festival, right?). There are all sorts of good reasons to go see this film - but my experience of it was completely dwarfed by the Noe film, so I haven't really even tried to do it justice. I liked the film!
(I've edited this last bit to get rid of a misunderstanding - I'd thought there were some nights on which Trigger was the second film featured, and recommended catching it BEFORE, not AFTER, Enter the Void - but I seem to have been confused, now that I've re-checked the Vancity theatre homepage...)

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Gigs this weekend: Bison BC, Little Guitar Army, Theocide and Without Mercy... and more!

Dan And of Bison BC, photo by Femke van Delft, not to be reused without permission

For a mid-December weekend, there's a lot happening in Vancouver over the next couple o' days.

As noted below, Bison BC play the Biltmore Friday, with Weapon and Haggatha (I must say, I like their self-description on "First the Earth cooled, then the dinosaurs came...then HAGGATHA arrived and shit all over your mind.") What really shits all over my mind, actually, is that the Bison show tomorrow is not sold out, but the Roger Waters gig at Rogers Arena is. I saw Waters in Tokyo about ten years ago, to please a Pink Floyd-loving friend, and must say that, while he has written some decent songs in his day, the performance was among the most uninvolving I've sat through - with Waters walking rather blandly back and forth across the gigantic stage with his bass, practically invisible behind his celebrity aura, occasionally gesturing at to the audience to cheer, as video of his glory years played on a gigantic screen overhead. Lou Reed, when I saw him in Japan, ignored his "hits" in favour of jamming out with Mike Rathke on current stuff, only tossing in a mercifully hurried, "let's-get-this-over-with" encore of "Sweet Jane" and such at the end so no one could bitch; but Waters, on the other hand, cranked out, for over two hours, exactly what the audience expected and demanded, without a trace of in-the-moment inspiration, passion, or spontaneity: the aural equivalent of a wax museum, the sanctified status of which completely erased what was "actually" happening (an overblown but meticulous performance of some songs that for the most part have been played far too often) and replaced it with the Grand Message of the night, that Baby Boomers Rock. (Yawn). It WAS nice that he did "The Bravery of Being Out of Range" - which is the last song he recorded that I have actually listened to by choice a couple of times - but even that will make way for The Wall tomorrow - an appropriately monolithic title, given what it's become. I loved The Wall as much as anyone when I was 13, and have never seen it actually performed - but tomorrow, if I decide to stay in the city and see a show, I'll be at Bison. Tear down The Wall indeed!

Saturday is a little harder to figure, since there are a couple of conflicting events. The Little Guitar Army are having their Christmas show, for one. Doug Smith sent me a couple of posters - one for the show by Rev Rot n Hell, and their "2011 Miss Feb shot for the Isotopes hockey calendar, with partial proceeds to a Britannia Community Centre hockey program for underprivileged kids!" (Photo by Rebecca Blissett). By the way, I'm not sure who the Stoolies are, but I gather there are ex-Slow/ ex-Tankhog members in the lineup - am I wrong about that?
Doug further tells me "we have 3 songs available on itunes and all the digital sites ('30 Watts to Freedom,' 'Can't Fix Stupid,' and 'Jack Pike')" whilst he works out a deal to release their first, much anticipated record. Spring may see them doing another video and releasing a few more songs for download; if you haven't seen the "30 Watts to Freedom" video, it's a must. Now THAT's living culture.

Shocking to say it, but while I am considering actually seeing a few shows in the city this weekend, I'm not sure the LGA will be one of them. Neither, I suspect, will be Chris Walter's booklaunch for Sins of the Poor at Funky Winker Beans, featuring Alcoholic White Trash and Aging Youth Gang (comprised of former members of Curious George and the Spores and... and, hm, also including Nick from Little Guitar Army. I guess he's going to have a busy night)! Good bands, and I've long been a supporter of Chris, but if I am lucky enough to be seeing live music in Vancouver on Saturday, I think it'll be the metal show at the Rickshaw,
featuring Fallen Decade, My New Enemy, Until Dawn, Theocide - who are pictured to the right, giving a very energetic and entertaining performance at one of the Maple Ridge church venues that rents out to live shows - and Without Mercy, whose CD I've been enjoying, but have never seen live. Like Arch Enemy, they're one of those metal bands whose singer - buffalo-throated and fierce - you would NEVER guess from the music is in fact female. I will be studying Ms. Alxs' larynx from the pit, trying to spy abnormalities that might make it possible for a woman to sound so goddamn tough. It must be at least LARGER than your average female's... I do not know how she does what she does without her throat exploding in a spray of blood.

My apologies to China Syndrome's Tim Chan, who seemed a damn nice guy when I met him at the Alex Chilton tribute, and who did some perfectly credible Chilton covers, both with that unit and 64 Funnycars; while there is some question of where I will be Saturday, I will not be at the Railway Club, where China Syndrome will share the bill with Weathered Pines and others. There was a period in my youth when it would have been otherwise, but what I crave right now is metal, not smart independent pop. Those of you who feel otherwise know what to do.

Friends of mine who crave avant-garde electronica, meantime, will be at the SquareWaves festival, as written about in the Straight by Alex Varty. The show portion of the two-day event is at the new Blim location, 115 East Pender Street, which is so big and nice that I had to step inside and gawk briefly the other week; it is the best Blim yet by far (tho' the space in that office building by Cinemark Tinseltown still has a certain charmed spot in my memory). Magneticring performs Friday night, with Josh turning up at the modular synth symposium on Saturday. I begrudge no one thinking this is a cooler event than a buncha metal and rock shows.

Wherever you go, have a good weekend, folks. Ain't it nice to have so much cool stuff to choose from?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Time crawls...

It's 5:10 AM. I have a cold, and can't sleep - I have a sort of dull pain behind my face, I'm too plugged-up to use my CPAP machine, and I'm online trying to kill time, which is dragging painfully. I slept for a few hours between 5pm and 8, and then for a few more between midnight and 3AM, but I've been awake since - sometimes lying in bed, sometimes giving up and coming to the computer, to break the monotony of just lying there, listening to the rain. I'm telling myself that, sick or no, I need to go to work today, which means that I could really use a couple more hours' rest, but it's not forthcoming, and each minute goes by so slowly...

Having returned to work, for the time being, means that I will be blogging less during the next few weeks. Various writing projects are in the works, but none for this site. I might try to stick up a Little Guitar Army poster for their gig this weekend... that's all I can think to do...

Oh, and Fake Jazzers will want to note that Ahna's album is in stores, but I haven't heard it, myself... and I don't really know if any Fake Jazzers still follow this blog...

Sunday, December 05, 2010

The answer to the Howard-meets-Tim condundrum

Awhile back, I posted about a persistent mystery: I had long been convinced that somewhere in a Howard the Duck comic, Howard encounters Tim Leary and is given acid. He is institutionalized and looking for "the key," which Leary interprets somewhat playfully, prefiguring one of the episodes in the comic where Howard hallucinates (say during his "quack up" period). I remembered all this vividly because I'd had to ask my father to explain what was going on, being barely a teenager at the time and unfamiliar with Leary, let alone acid. I decided, a few months ago, to resolve this mystery - could a Marvel comic, however hip and subversive, actually have gotten away with an acid reference back then? Searching in vain through HTD back issues in a few comic stores led me to consider the possibility that I'd gotten something wrong - that maybe it was in a different comic book, perhaps something more underground and drug-friendly, say. Thanks to a friend of a friend - a nod goes out to Eamon, with the hope that I'm spelling his name right - I have discovered that in fact, it wasn't even a comic book at all. The Tim Leary, acid-as-the-key episode is actually from Cheech and Chong's Nice Dreams, which I saw theatrically with my Dad when it was released back in 1981.

Mystery solved!

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Bison BC Maximus: Biltmore Dec. 10th

Bison BC by Femke van Delft, not to be reused without permission

Vancouver's hairiest band, Bison BC, make another foray into the Biltmore on December 10th - the first gig there since a bandmember's injury, a few months ago, caused a cancellation to a show that I gather was sold out (lots of tickets still available for this one, I'm told). I have no idea if the Skinny website, which has mutated considerably, is still hosting my old Bison articles anywhere; portions of a couple of my conversations with the band, about Quiet Earth and Dark Ages, were edited together for Germany's Ox Fanzine a few months ago, but since the "complete piece" has never run in English, I've posted it on the Big Takeover website. Why the heck not - give the boys some more exposure worldwide. Listened to Dark Ages today on the train, actually. It's such a serious, moody, heavy and bleak album that I confess, while respecting it, that I seldom spin it, finding it actually a bit of a bummer; but there are some amazing songs on it no less (I'm particularly partial to the first two cuts, "Stressed Elephant" and "Fear Cave"). I think I'll only be able to see one final show before 2011, and I think this is going to be the one.

Unless it's a metal or a punk show in Maple Ridge... there was a very interesting one just last night...

Wages of Fear Cinema Salon on Tuesday!

One of the best thrillers in the history of the form, Clouzot's The Wages of Fear - the basis for the remarkable William Friedkin remake Sorceror, which I've also always enjoyed - will play the Vancity Theatre for Cinema Salon on Tuesday. I might actually make it out to this one, as I've never seen it on the screen...!

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Strange dreams (versus the goddamn clock)

Certain elements of the dream remain in my mind - still half-asleep as I sit here - but the overall structure, the narrative arc, are obscure. Perhaps I only remember the last few minutes before I woke up. I was in a room, large, sparsely furnished, and unfamiliar. I think I noted at one point in the dream that it was not a room I'd ever been in before, contra my usual dream-pattern of locating myself in the room I had in childhood. There was a video game console and a Mario Brothers-like game where certain characters reminded me of friends I have lost in circumstances where I was rejected: objects in the dream reminded me of them, including a chair named for someone I knew in my elementary school and high school days, whom I have not seen for some 20 years; I think the idea was that he used to play the game with me, and named certain objects for his character. A more recent lost friend left a bigger hole, and I'd needed to go into the game and delete certain things so as not to be reminded. Something on the soundtrack reminded me of Laurie Anderson's Mister Heartbreak, but I don't recall what (I have cause in the dream to hum "I turn around - and it's fear; I turn around again... and it's love," or something like that; can't say those are the actual lyrics). I am playing the game with a new friend, whose identity remains obscure. There is also some grand task I am working on, perhaps related to another game, involving building a Tower of Protection, and another structure, whose use I don't remember. I am building them in opposite corners of the room, but they would be better close by each other. Someone comes to help me - someone I know who has suffered a loss recently, not exactly a close friend but someone I have spoken to on many occasions. He wanders about the area, trying his hand at the videogame, and I wonder if I should explain anything about it to him. But we set to at building the structure. (My waking mind has no idea what its purpose could be). I am worried - there is someone ELSE in the room, another friend whose identity is now unclear, and I am concerned he will say something insensitive in regard to death and dying, since this "new arrival" might be a bit raw - I wonder if I should take the guy who was there previously aside and let him know - hey, this new guy, he's suffered a loss recently, so tread lightly. However, there is a distraction - I pause to show this new arrival the area across the room where I'm supposed to have built my Tower of Protection, when people come in the room. They are Chinese people; a woman and her little girl. There is also a "host," an older Asian woman who speaks both Japanese and Chinese. Some conversation takes place, and I try to offer the little girl a snack - based on an odd Filipino or Malaysian treat I tried awhile ago, something like a fig bar but filled with purple yams or sweet potatoes or such. In offering the child the candy I am reminded of my father (who died a little over a year ago, Nov. 27 2009). The mother doesn't want the little girl to eat it. I try to engage the mother - who speaks only Chinese - in conversation, but I can speak only Japanese, and that badly. She smirks at my efforts, and the woman who speaks Japanese and Chinese translates a bit of what I say. I say, in broken Japanese, "Japanese is difficult. Chinese is impossible" (chuugokugo wa dame desu - my recall of Japanese in the dream is better than my recall in real life!). I end on one word I hope she will recognise - "sumimasen," or "excuse me." To my surprise, she warms up to me a bit, and starts to say something. In Chinese, which I don't understand at all.

That's when my alarm goes off. Which has nothing on last night, where my alarm went off as I was embracing a naked woman in a parking lot - she had just taken off all her clothes, prior to entering the compound of some cult I'd just left, and somehow I'd convinced her - naked and far too beautiful for one such as myself - to embrace me. My fingers were grazing the crack of her ass and I was wondering if I was going to have dream sex, when the goddamn clock commenced beeping...

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Khadr doc repeats at SFU Woodwards

See below for my thoughts on You Don't Like the Truth. The film repeats on Tuesday, for anyone who missed it:

Tuesday November 30, 2010
7:00pmSFU Woodward's - 3rd Floor
149 West Hasting Street (enter via Courtyard)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Internet dating, round 3,456,592

Tonight on Plenty of Fish, I have clicked on about two dozen profiles and sent - or tried to send - two messages. Of the profiles I didn't reply to, perhaps six of them had terminal spelling mistakes ("to" for "too," "definatly" - things of that sort); a few of them had interests I cannot get my head around (because I cannot see myself ever dating a woman who lists "golf", "4X4ing," or "UFC" as interests, however much I tell myself to keep an open mind); and the rest I was blocked from sending messages to by various filters in place on their profiles ("must not have messaged users for intimate encounters or sex," for instance; sigh). I did make an exception to my usual snobbery and send a friendly message, recommending the excellent Canadian film about LARPing, The Wild Hunt, to a woman in New West who listed the SCA as an interest - because I figured she'd dig it, and because I can no longer rationalize holding the SCA in bemused contempt now that I participate in Zombiewalks occasionally, since, howevermuch cooler the latter appears to me, both are essentially mass dress-up activities. In fact, I was able to imagine myself liking this woman - except I ran into the PoF GLITCH that manifests itself occasionally: you send a message to someone, apparently successfully, but it is never copied to your "sent messages" folder, which means that they haven't received it. So in fact, I couldn't get through. Sigh.

The other woman I sent a message to was a young local woman who I thought I could have some entertaining online banter with, despite our obvious age differences - except I discovered on clicking "send" that she had filters in place blocking people older than a certain age. (Wouldn't it have been nice to have been told that before spending fifteen minutes composing a witty message?). I also checked on a few messages I sent last night, while online: two were read, and ignored; one was the classic "unread deleted;" and one remains unread, after 24 hours have passed.

I remain dateless. Maybe I should get cable?

Enjoy Grinderman!

Just wanted to wish all you Nick Cave fans a happy Grinderman concert tonight. I was at the Lollapallooza, helping mind a friend's New-Agey stand - selling rainsticks and other unusual items - when last Cave performed Vancouverwise; I'd left the stand to check out his set, and was standing reasonably close to the stage when some idiot, no doubt come to see the Beastie Boys or Green Day or such, pelted Nick with his shoe, near the end of "Your Funeral, My Trial." I missed the actual shoe-hit, but I definitely noticed Cave's abrupt exit after it happened. (I think he managed to thank the audience for listening - it would have been near the end of his set, anyhow). He was an energetic showman (tho' I recall that he sang the slightly tamer version of "Papa Won't Leave You Henry," omitting the "warm arterial spray" that I am rather fond of). If I had a ticket, a place to sleep, and the energy, I would definitely be there tonight - I can't remember exactly the last time I saw a show at the Commodore, but I suspect it was Bison BC with Three Inches of Blood and the Golers, during the summer or perhaps fall of 2009 ...alas, tonight's show is not one of those concerts I will be able to see.

Swans on February 25th, mind you... (wasn't Jim Sclavunos of Grinderman a Swan, once?*).


*Edited to add: not according to Wikipedia, he wasn't, but he WAS a member of early Lydia Lunch project 8 Eyed Spy, maybe even Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, as well as playing with Sonic Youth, The Cramps, and many other bands that matter. The project he leads, The Vanity Set, has a website here; article by Jim on Greek rebetiko music here. Hi, Jim!

Landscape with Cellphone

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Queering John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness: it's making my head hurt

So I just watched John Carpenter's Prince of Darkness. I don't have the stamina for the sort of Google search that would be required to scratch the itch the film has left in my head, but I wish I did - because on some level, the film seems to have a queer subtext that I can't quite drag out into the open, and would love to see discussed. Such things have been said online about the queerness of Carpenter's The Thing, with much more coherence and clarity than I will manage below; and I've often noticed in particular a weird attraction/repulsion between white men and blacks in his films, which sometimes manifests itself in very physical ways (yes, I'm thinking particularly of They Live); but Prince of Darkness, because of all the religious, metaphysical, and quasi-scientific jargon that the film lathers out, manages to obscure its queerness better than his other works. But there IS something very queer going on here:

- There are repeated jokes about the Dennis Dun character's sexuality which seem to contribute on some unclear level to the thematic development of the film. Somewhat femme and bitchy in his manner, he dresses in a very flamboyant shirt in one scene, and sports gold chains; this has apparently given him a reputation that he gets kidded about, of being gay. He says at one point that he has a date with a fellow student, and Jameson Parker joshingly replies, "What's his name?" (or something like that). A similar joke occurs later, and then again, when he is trapped in a closet. He actually comments upon it - that he's in the closet - as if it's supposed to be significant, which it wouldn't be, unless you've been paying attention to the idea that he gets kidded about being gay. But what does any of this have to do with the reappearance of Satan on earth? Why is it even in the movie, if it's irrelevant?

- The most striking acts of violence in the film involve the penetration of the male body (the Alice Cooper bike impalement is particularly memorable).

- There is a female-female attack that gets mistaken for a lesbian come-on. There are also various scenes where men must struggle to avoid a sort of "kiss" - the mouth-to-mouth projectile of fluid that is the conduit of evil in the film; the most protracted struggles involve men avoiding the "kiss" of other men, lest they be contaminated.

- The changes that the female body undergoes in pregnancy are given horrific treatment, suggesting a primal fear of the female, almost on the level of Cronenberg's The Brood. The main possessed character - the chosen conduit of evil - swells as if pregnant, during her possession, though no literal birth occurs and the need for her to "appear" pregnant is otherwise unexplained - it is seemingly meant to resonate subtextually, not textually. Indeed, most of the female characters, with the exception of Lisa Blount (RIP), become possessed and have the most active role in bringing Satan into the world; both Satan's host and the "guardians" are female, which spells "women issues" to me...

- The only clear couple in the film, Jameson Parker and Lisa Blount, have a troubled dialogue about sexuality, with her having obvious trust issues. This ultimately forms one of the strongest narrative threads of the film - he is watching her, attracted, from the beginning of the film, and the resolution of the drama will entirely hinge on their relationship. Troubled heterosexuality is most definitely evident and significant to whatever the film is "about."

- In the final scenes - as Satan is trying to pull the anti-God through the mirror - in order to fulfill her role as a female, and rescue Parker from the evil-transmitting "kiss" of a black man, Blount has to sacrifice herself. This involves a plunge into the mirror, where she remains trapped. This leads to a very strange final scene - of a shirtless, sweaty ("beefcake-y") Jameson awakening from a nightmare to confront his own image in a mirror, which he reaches out for, as if his loved one might be in it; on the literal level, she actually IS trapped in the mirror, but there is a resonance to this image that goes well beyond the literal - of a man seeking his lover, or the truth of himself, in his "mirror image." It puts me in mind of similar motifs in Fassbinder's films of Querelle and Despair, both with (text-level) queer themes, in which men become obsessed with other men as "mirror images." In the final moments of the film, Parker is left alone with his mirror image, his hand about to "touch" his reflection's - almost as if he is "two men alone," one of whom - the one in the mirror - has a secretly female aspect.

- Alternately, we could say that in order for him to be "saved" as a man, he has to supress the female in him, which is what he is actually reaching out for - some lost aspect of his identity, his feminine side, demonized and "trapped," just as Satan has been trapped...

None of this really adds up, however, and it sure doesn't connect to all the talk of Tachyons, quantum physics and Christian secret societies, at least in any way that I can tease out now. I can only dig deep enough to find myself irritated by what I've found.

One thing I can say for sure: whether its queer or not, Prince of Darkness sure is one strange movie.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

David M's Christmas Alone in No Fun City!

This blog likes David M., who, in the true Christmas spirit, began sending out gig posters for his upcoming Christmas-themed gig sometime in late October. (Do we know Loudon Wainwright III's song "Suddenly It's Christmas?" ("Suddenly it's Christmas/ right after Halloween/ forget about Thanksgiving/ It's just a buffet in-between... Dragging through the falling leaves in a one-horse open sleigh/ suddenly its Christmas/ seven weeks before the day." It is the funniest Christmas song NOT written by David M.) In the spirit of seasonal resistance, I have held back on posting said posters until we came a bit closer to the day (December 15th at the venerable Railway Club). More will be forthcoming! Merry Christmas!

(Already the malls of Maple Ridge are getting crowded...).

Sunday, November 21, 2010

A Woman Under the Influence at the Vancity Theatre

Any screenings of John Cassavetes' cinema are to be noted, but the Vancity Theatre showing on Wednesday, Nov. 24th of his A Woman Under the Influence is an ideal time for those NOT familiar with Cassavetes' canon, and hungry for emotionally intense, honest, and challenging film experiences, to begin their explorations. The film is widely hailed as Cassavetes' most fully realized and formally successful project; it certainly is the easiest entry point for those not previously baptised, the film least likely to be accused of self-indulgence, histrionics, or juvenile bad taste (which would, of course, be Husbands, my favourite of his films). Wednesday's screening, too, will be introduced by Vancity programmer Tom Charity, who wrote an excellent book on Cassavetes' life and films, John Cassavetes: Lifeworks. The film is a gruelling look at a working class family bordering on implosion: Nick, played by Peter Falk, while well-meaning, is too gruff and authoritarian for his own good, while his wife Mabel (Gena Rowlands, in what surely must be the most demanding performance of her long career) is highly sensitive, expressive, and emotionally volatile. Or is the word unstable? Highly recommended for anyone who plans to attend a large family dinner this holiday season, the film treads some harrowing territory, but is not without humour and warmth; it also features a terrific performance by John Cassavetes' own mother, Katherine Cassavetes, and a brief appearance by his father - also, perhaps significantly, a Nick - playing a character named (no kidding) Adolf. (He must have had a good sense of humour to do that...). The film is a must-see; if you haven't yet, now's the time....

You Don't Like the Truth: essential doc on Khadr case

This Tuesday, at 7PM, in the Woodward's complex, an absolutely essential piece of cinema is going to play in Vancouver, courtesy of Doxa.

Everyone in this country who votes, everyone who values human rights, anyone who is concerned about the direction that Canada is heading, or who simply values being informed about world events, owes it to him or herself to be educated on the case of Omar Khadr. A 15-year old child soldier and Canadian citizen arrested during a US assault on a compound in Afghanistan in 2002 - I'd mistakenly said it was his family's compound in a previous post - Khadr has been in US detention at Bagram and at Guantanamo Bay since that time, for a period totalling eight years. He claims he has been subject to torture, and this seems highly likely, with witnesses having seen him in stress positions and ample evidence that torture has occured around him. He has certainly been interrogated at great length while being deprived of due process. The Canadian government has not acted in his defense, despite many cries for them to do so, including a Federal Court decision that Khadr's rights have been violated and that it is our country's duty to protect him. Even though a child at the time of his arrest, whose actions were part of a combat situation, Khadr has been accused of war crimes, at one point even being possibly eligible for the death penalty. His main crime - which he has plead guilty to, but which there is apparently some good reason to believe he could not possibly have committed - was killing a US soldier. (See this New York Times editorial for more on that; there is also a past Toronto Star article that is mentioned in the film I am about to review, but I don't have a link to it at the moment; it shows photos that apparently prove that Khadr, at the time the grenade that killed Christopher Speer was thrown, was lying under rubble, riddled with shrapnel, with various bullet holes in him, near death; the headline of the article is a non-ambiguous assertion that Omar could not have thrown the grenade).

The film about Khadr in question is called You Don't Like The Truth. I am unaware of any single document as significant or as compelling as a means by which one might educate oneself about the Khadr case. It is an astonishing documentary, very well-made and intelligent, far eclipsing, for example, Errol Morris' film Standard Operating Procedure in its bravery, educational value, and impact.

The film has a very simple structure. It is based on seven hours of publicly released video footage of Khadr's interrogation at the hands of visiting CSIS agents, taken over a period of a few days. The video quality is variable. All faces but Khadr's are obscured. He sits in his orange jumpsuit, answering questions - or avoiding them, or, for a great length of time, sobbing uncontrollably and calling for his mother.

This raw footage is not all the filmmakers have to offer, however. Again, they make very simple and straightforward choices for assembling their film - except they are the RIGHT choices, choices that were NECESSARY, which far too few people in the media have made in recent years. They interview Khadr's lawyers, American and Canadian. They interview Khadr's sister and mother. They interview a half-dozen cellmates from Bagram and Guantanamo - now released, and in some cases galvanized towards activism. Some, like Moazzam Begg, are controversial figures - something not dealt with in the documentary - but all are highly articulate and intelligent. All are shown the footage of Khadr and allowed to comment, often in split-screen constructions as we continue to watch Khadr; all are unanimous in the picture they paint.
Perhaps the most inspired choice of interview subject is a former US army interrogator named Damien Corsetti. Corsetti, soft-spoken and intelligent and apparently capable of considerable brutality, was at Bagram and at Abu Ghraib, where some of the worst abuses of the "war on terror" are said to have occured. Though found not guilty in the ensuing investigations, in the film, Corsetti is quite open about having been party to horrible offenses against human dignity, something that continues to weigh on his conscience; his nickname, "the King of Torture," appears to have been well-earned. "I did some very bad things," he says in the film. "I have to own it." And yet even he - a man with the word "monster" tattooed in Italian across his chest - acknowledges that Khadr was a child at the time of his arrest and first detention, that he has been done a grievous wrong, and that his country has failed him. "Ultimately the blame now lies on the Canadian people," he continues, since "there have been elections in Canada since Omar was captured... I think the Canadian people need to look at themselves," and try to understand "how I, as a cold, callous sonofabitch, had more compassion for that boy than his own people. If they want to allow one of their own citizens to be treated like this, think of the precendent it sets. It could be you."
You Don't Like the Truth is, simply, an unmissable documentary - something every Canadian should see. It does need a bit of an updating - since the film was completed, Khadr has been tried and plead guilty to the killing of Speer, which may mean nothing at all, save that he is desperate to get out of Guantanamo Bay. By his current sentence, he is to spend one more year there, his ninth. Our country's chance to act may well have passed, but at least we can educate ourselves as to what we have been a party to.
(Edit: a very good Q&A update, with various scary "let him rot" comments, was posted by the CBC today...).
Screening information:
Tuesday November 30, 2010, 7:00pm
SFU Woodward's - 3rd Floor
149 West Hasting Street (enter via Courtyard)
See the Doxa website for more information.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

No Nyala for Al

Ah, it's just as well that I didn't secure a date for the show tomorrow - I'm exhausted. After taking time off, the second week back at work is always the toughest: my throat is ratched, my bad ankle is achey and I feel mentally and physically spent from having to push myself far harder'n I've been used to. So after work tomorrow - I'm comin' straight back home, here to relax and watch a Lee van Cleef spaghetti western with my Ma. Those of you who actually live in the city and are hungry for an interesting evening of experimental music and Ethiopian food, however, are highly advised to head down to Nyala... show starts at 8. (See the original post a few down for links to bands, etc).

Quest for Spaghetti 2: The Hidden Gold

Friend Blake, with whom I ominously viewed a barred owl last night in Maple Ridge, so large and so completely unconcerned by its proximity to us that it didn't even react when I took hold of the tips of the branch it was sitting on and gave it a wee shake - noted my spaghetti post below and sent me two links worth sharing: the Spaghetti Western database's top 20 list, and Alex Cox's version of the same. Cox's book just arrived today, so I'm happily perusing it. I need to see more of these films!

Quest for spaghetti

Since I started preparing for my Alex Cox interviews (below), I've become very interested in a form I've sort of neglected: the spaghetti western (Cox has written a book about the form and Straight To Hell Returns is a homage to it). Until recently, I've only seen the Leone films, which are so highly praised and widely marketed that one might innocently assume they're the only spaghetti westerns that exist. In fact, they're a very, very small, rather exceptional, and (dare I blaspheme) not entirely satisfying example of the form, which, I'm told, contained some 400 films made over a ten year period. I'm actually of the opinion that after his first two, the Fistful movies, whatever his abilities, Leone had such success that his films bloated, with Once Upon a Time in the West and Duck You Sucker (at least) both erring on the side of excess, with bigger budgets, bigger spectacle, increasingly operatic sensibilities and a lot more FAT on the bone than any film can easily support. (I need to revisit The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Once Upon a Time in America to see if they fare better, but I doubt either will change my feeling that his most satisfying film is actually For a Few Dollars More; meantime, I'm much more interested in films NOT by Leone, which have a freshness and a discipline that the rather over-focused on few films he made lack). My early forays into lesser-known macaronis are proving highly fruitful: both Death Rides a Horse (even tho' I've only seen it in a crappy pan-and-scan version) and Between God, the Devil and a Winchester are highly inventive and engaging films, with more than their share of cinematic surprises that made me laugh out loud at their audacity, their inventiveness, and their cynicism. I'm reminded by both of my fondness for Montaldo's Machine Gun McCain; though it isn't a western, the best films in this subgenre seem to share a certain sensibility with it - a kind of blackly existentialist savagery and a certain Euro craftsmanship, which, particularly in terms of its visual sensibilities, has more in common with other great Italian filmmakers - Antonioni, say - than with the American exploitation films it connects with. (I'm also reminded, tho' it's a visually dissimilar form, of my fondness for 1960's and 1970's Yakuza films, especially those of Fukasaku Kinji).

The other nice thing about spaghetti westerns is that it's a very cheap subgenre to plunge into. I picked up, for instance, a 20-movie DVD collection at a local Zellers, to find that about six of the movies on the set are presented in widescreen versions; they look like VHS transfers, and may be slightly cut, but they're still a lot better than I expected, given that the set cost $6.99. There's another box set by Mill Creek Entertainment with 44 Spaghetti Westerns packaged together, apparently including the film that Straight To Hell owes most to, Django Kill, and a Klaus Kinski film that I've read praised, And God Said to Cain. Most of them are doubtlessly pan and scan and a few are probably completely unwatchable, but if the same ratio of keepers-to-clunkers obtains, there's probably some great cinema-watchin' to be had here. (One note: read the Amazon reviews with caution, they've taken to tacking on reviews from OTHER box sets with completely different films). Zellers doesn't stock it, alas, nor London Drugs... maybe I could strike a deal with the devil and go shopping at the Coquitlam Walmart?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Winter's Bone: Brief DVD review

...liked this film, currently on the new arrivals' wall. Missed the fanfare for it - it took a Grand Jury Prize at Sundance - but caught up with it on DVD and was glad I did. It's less mood-oriented than Ballast and a little less devastating than Wendy and Lucy, but deals with equally bleak circumstances - a 17 year old girl faced with enormous responsibilities in a community that might, by others, dismissed as a bunch of distasteful, drug-dealing, violent white trash. The film gives its "trash" humanity, conscience, and integrity, however damaged and deformed these may be by the conditions under which it labours; and the film boasts two fine lead performances, from Jennifer Lawrence and a guy named John Hawkes (best membered by me as the clerk at Benny's World of Blood, in From Dusk Til Dawn - a role I always enjoyed). Worth a rental!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Still no date

Just for the record, I'm still goin' to Nyala stag, at this point... that show's on Thursday, by the way (see below).

Expanding Alex

Those of you who enjoyed Straight To Hell Returns or my interview with filmmaker Alex Cox (below) are directed to the Big Takeover website, where I've published a much longer version of the same! Added stuff at the beginning, middle, and end, so you gotta read it all again, but I think it's worth it... Though do note that I left out the fact that the second interview was cut short because one of Alex' dogs started taking a shit on the floor in front of him! (A first for me, to be added to other firsts, like the time Tom Holliston asked me to look up an Indian restaurant's phone number so he could order dinner, lacking a phonebook in his new apartment... Something about firsts makes them memorable...!).

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Notes on last night, enthusiastic yes for Out of the Blue

Wow... so it turns out that Out of the Blue is actually a really interesting film! Tom Lavin, who did the Q&A with Tony Bardach last night, commented that the film was better than he remembered it, and I have to agree. Even scenes that I specifically recall finding lame and unconvincing in past viewings (years ago) - like that of a very pudgy Raymond Burr trying to counsel the young Cebe (Linda Manz) - actually seemed entirely credible, well-acted, and - despite a persistent improvisatory vibe that makes the film somewhat unique - involving as cinema. Manz's performance - which I'd sort of watched as an outsider on previous attempts to take in the film, neither buying nor trusting the film's attempt to encapsulate punk - became involving, believable and poignant; and while I'd always remembered certain images being striking - like the seagulls reflected on the windows of the whatchamacallit that Dennis Hopper drives in the garbage dump, to the tune of Neil Young's "Thrasher" - my overall impression of the film had been of something rough, dark, and sloppy, based perhaps on the crappy VHS tapes I had initially watched it on. Instead, I saw care and craft in almost every composition and was constantly surprised by the beauty of its images (of Vancouver circa 1980!). About the only thing that didn't actually change much was my reaction to Hopper's performance; as an over-the-edge drunk playing an over-the-edge drunk, he's both fascinating and terrible to observe, primarily raising the question of how a man THIS out of control could be making a movie THIS good; he seems so sincerely gonzo that it actually buys him some slack for the films weaker moments (and there are a few - like the rather lamely dispatched murder/theft scene). Best of all, this is a new print of the film, and looks utterly great. Tonight's the big night, when a bunch of the people involved in the making of the movie are going to be there. If I still lived in Vancouver, I would go again; anyone who hasn't seen the film is advised to check it out. (A big thankyou to the VIFC's Tom Charity for programming this film!).

It was also very pleasing to hear people laughing at Straight To Hell Returns... Thanks to Tom for programming that one, too!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Weekend Double Bill! Out of the Blue plus Straight To Hell Returns!

Yes, folks, it's a reminder to not miss one of the coolest movie double bills this city has seen, this weekend at the Vancity Theatre: Dennis Hopper's 1980 shot-in-Vancouver independent feature Out of the Blue and Alex Cox's Straight To Hell Returns (which I interview the director about below). Friday night's screening of the Hopper film will be introduced by Tony Bardach of the Little Guitar Army and the Pointed Sticks (who famously appear in the film, as discussed in my big interview with the band, here). There will be various treats and surprises, including door prizes. After Out of the Blue, also on Friday, I'll be introducing Straight To Hell Returns, again with a few treats and surprises. Those who can't be there on Friday are next best advised to come on Saturday, when a host of people involved in Out of the Blue will attend and share their recollections (meaning the second film will get off to a later start). For those who can't make either night, there'll be another screening of both films on Sunday! Arrive early (6:30pm?) for good seats, this could prove to be a popular event...!

Monday, November 08, 2010

The Little Guitar Army's Awesome New Rock Video

Photo of the Little Guitar Army at the Ron Reyes Birthday Bash by Femke van Delft, not to be reused without permission

If my information is correct, sometime this very night, the first-ever, brand new Little Guitar Army video will materialize on Youtube! (I've been waiting up to link it, but it hasn't materialized as of yet). Note the presence of Femke van Delft, on the frontlines as usual, telling a cop - or an actor playing a cop - to fuck off...! (We love Femke!). More to say about this anon, but note that Tony Bardach (pictured in foreground, above) will apparently be introducing Out of the Blue the same night as I'm introducing Straight to Hell Returns, November 12th at the Vancity Theatre! (interviews with Tony here and here).

Note: your next chance to see the Little Guitar Army live in Vancouver is apparently December 11th at the Princeton, with the Gamelons (Ex-Red Hot Lovers, Excessives, current Spitfires) and the Stoolies (ex-Slow, Ogre, Tankhog). I'll have more to say about the video presently... tho' I plan to say it elsewhere and just link to it here. Gotta spread the good news around, y'know? THE LITTLE GUITAR ARMY ROCK(s)!

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Howard the Duck meets Timothy Leary?

I've twice in the last few months gone into comic shops, trying to scratch a stubborn itch.

I have a vivid memory from my childhood of reading a comic book. I believe it was Howard the Duck - I was a fan of the original Steve Gerber series, as a kid, and retain some fondness for it now.

Perhaps I'm getting my comic books confused, but, likely somewhere during or adjacent to the "Quack-Up" period of Howard's - a storyline spanning several issues, where he is institutionalized and ends up (rather famously) seeing Kiss exorcised from a young woman - I vividly recall an episode along the following lines.

Howard is in a somewhat damaged state, wandering an institution, trying, dazedly, to get free.

He finds a doctor, explains that he wants to leave, and asks if the doctor has the key.

The doctor says he does, indeed, have "the key." He is somewhat mysterious about the nature of this key. He places something in Howard's mouth.

Howard begins to hallucinate in earnest.

I did not understand what I was reading, at the time. I was, perhaps, 11 or 12. I understood that the doctor had given Howard some sort of drug, but I had no idea what. I asked my father, and he was able to identify - from seeing him on TV - the doctor as being one Timothy Leary. My father, never a drug user, then had to explain to me about LSD; I believe it was the first time I had heard of that drug - or of Leary.

Visits to two comic shops have failed to turn up this issue or to even verify that the episode happens somewhere. I have a Howard the Duck anthology - the "essential," not the complete - and can find it nowhere in there. The comics I have looked through - getting shop owners to indulge me in my quest - have not contained the above. One of the guys I asked was dismissive - he thinks so obvious a drug reference couldn't possibly have happened in a Marvel Comic, and that I must be in error, but this is a stubborn memory on my part. I can't let go of it. While I might, somehow, have the wrong comic - I don't think so, but it's possible, since I read a lot of different comics as a kid, including some underground ones - I know that I am remembering SOMETHING real, because of the nature of the memory; the conversation I had with my Dad came from SOMEWHERE. (Perhaps Howard the Duck #10? I haven't checked that one yet, I don't think).
Can anyone help? Am I nuts? Is there a Howard the Duck completist out there who can peruse his or her collection on my behalf and verify for once and for all that the above does or does not happen? Did Howard encounter Timothy Leary in an issue? Which issue?


Thursday, November 04, 2010

Maple Ridge Metal (the saga continues)

Though I no longer actually live in Vancouver, occasionally I get contacted by people wanting me to give press to gigs there. That happened the other week - hence my rather uninspired metal gig poster posting, a few down. I mean, I didn't know any of the bands, and I didn't even bother to check the various links to Myspace and Youtube clips that the dude provided, nevermind posting them, because, I mean, I wouldn't be able to go to the concert ANYHOW, so why torment myself? Given my transit challenges, any show I see in Vancouver now basically involves paying fifty bucks for a cheap room, so gigs are few and far between, and I'd actually rather not know about shows I'm going to have to miss.

Imagine my surprise, then, to see, on what passes for a Maple Ridge gig poster, that one of the selfsame bands - not actually represented by the dude who emailed me, but who cares? - is actually PLAYING IN MAPLE RIDGE TOMORROW! (Or, to get technical, today, since it's after midnight - the gig is on Friday the 5th). They look to be pretty good, too - they're called Unleash the Archers, and you can access Youtube audio clips here (I selected their tune "Black Goat of the Woods" as the portal). While I tend more towards blackened, brutal, and/or technical death metal these days than the more melodic variety they seem to be into, the fact that I'll be able to SEE a death metal show without even having to catch a fucking BUS is delightful to me, and I have no doubt that in a live context, these songs will transform themselves from "pretty good" to "fucking awesome," as seems to happen. Also on the lineup are Without Mercy, Remove the Doubt, and Prophet Fulfilled. One of the guys from the very interesting, youthful local metal band Paradosis has been telling me I need to see Without Mercy, so I'm pretty happy about that.

I'm goin' to a metal gig at the Vineyard! Woo!

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Al Needs a Date to Experimental Music show at Nyala

Ejaculation Death Rattle's Ross Birdwise, by Femke van Delft, not to be reused without permission

Right, so... a bunch of bands are playing at Nyala, the Ethiopian restaurant, on November 18th. I need a date!

Ejaculation Death Rattle (whose music I apparently once described as "earthy ecstatic deathtrips... kinda like lyin' back naked in a bed of moss as serpents crawl on your flesh" - play with alt-country singer turned avant garde vocal improviser Soressa Gardner. Lee Hutzulak will be there with guests. Yellowthief, whom EDR's lizard-in-chief Ross Birdwise has described as "Lightning Bolt meets Slayer meets Slint," will perform; I don't know my Lightning Bolt or Slint, but do either owe a debt to John Zorn's Naked City, or perhaps Ruins? Not being half as current as Ross, they're the best I'd be able to do. (But I second the Slayer reference). Finally, there's a band I know nothing about, Nervous Operator.

Successful applicants for the role of date should:

- Have at least some fondness for horror and cult movies, as well as arthouse cinema

- Have at least some fondness for spicy food, esp. curries, since it's all I cook at all well

- Have little use for tobacco, television, professional sports, or real estate
- Be actually interested in some of the above music

- Have some interest in attending occasional punk and metal shows

Pretty much anything else, I've found, is negotiable. You should not mind that I don't have a car, a savings account, a condo, or a firm physique. It would really really help me if you were impressed by stuff like my mini-collection of Ultraman monsters, my European bootleg DVD of the Canadian exploitation classic Rituals (which seems like it will never, alas, be released by Code Red, who are talking about going out of business soonish and whose blog is now ofline), and/or my Nihilist Spasm Band box set, signed by all the members of the band. (Just don't try to steal them).
Contact me via this blog! (Find the "contact" button somewhere....).
The show starts at 8.

64 Funnycars Gig!

For those not going to the Little Guitar Army's November 6th video release (which, I'm told, is open to the public at ten - see a few posts down for more) - there's also a 64 Funnycars gig to consider. Tim Chan of that band - last seen by me during the Alex Chilton tribute this summer - writes:


Just so you know, the reunited 64 Funnycars will be playing a gig on Saturday, November 6 at the Railway Club. We had a great time playing a couple of short sets this past summer, but this gig is the real deal -- we'll be doing a full set this time around featuring more of those classics you've been trying to forget for 20 years...

Also playing are a bunch of our friends: a rare Vancouver appearance by Budokan (featuring Andrew Molloy and Graham Watson, ex-Bum) as well as Wilderness Years, a great Vancouver band, and the debut of Friday Night All-Stars (with Eric Lowe of the Funnycars on drums).
Should be a fun night and hope to see you there!


Websites if you're curious: (Friday Night All-Stars)

metal gig!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Straight to Hell Returns! Alex Cox Interview!

Attentive followers of this blog will know that in July of last year I called out for someone somewhere to project Alex Cox's Straight To Hell, in memory of Joe Strummer and in acknowledgment of the fact that this film, a critical and commercial failure at the time, is "a gleefully idiotic, deliriously inventive, thoroughly postmodern gem," too long neglected, almost forgotten... This despite its being beautifully shot in Almeria on the disused, decaying set of a Charles Bronson western, in the same region where Sergio Leone shot his westerns, and being smarter, funnier, and richer than several successful recent spaghetti western homages like Sukiyaki Western Django and The Good, the Bad, and the Weird. It also boasts performances - some great, others at worst enjoyably ridiculous - by Strummer, Courtney Love, the Pogues, Elvis Costello, Jim Jarmusch and Dennis Hopper - to say nothing of having at least eleven roles for the cast of Cox's earlier cult favourite Repo Man, including Joe Strummer collaborator/ Circle Jerks' bassist Zander Schloss (Kevin in Repo Man - "there's fucking room to move as a fry cook"); Straight To Hell co-author and filmmaker Dick Rude (who'd played Duke - "society made me what I am"); Jennifer Balgobin (Debbi, the gang's co-leader); Miguel Sandoval ("King Archie"); Fox Harris (J. Frank Parnell, here playing a non-radioactive lounge singer); and the inimitable Sy Richardson (Lite, of whom you need no reminding). I suggested with some arrogance that Cox could even tour with this film. The time is ripe to reevaluate Straight To Hell, I pleaded. I made a wee fuss.

This Sunday - Hallowe'en - a new, digitally retouched cut of Straight To Hell, dubbed Straight To Hell Returns, debuts in San Francisco. Cox will be present. I hereby pat myself on the back and smile. There is order in the universe, after all, and I have correctly perceived it. And now if all goes according to my wishes, thanks to the legwork of Quentin Tarantino, Miike Takashi, and other postmodern hipster filmmakers who delight in playing with the codes of cinema past, Straight To Hell Returns will be "discovered" as the fine entertainment it always has been and Cox will be heralded as an ahead-of-his-time genius.

Such is my fervent wish, anyway. Vancouver audiences will have a chance to make it come true on November 12th through the 14th, when the film is double-billed, as part of a tribute to Dennis Hopper, with Hopper's 1980 shot-in-Vancouver feature Out of the Blue - the film with the much-talked-about appearance of local punk-pop legends the Pointed Sticks. (Straight To Hell Returns gets the 9pm slot on Friday and the 9:45 on Saturday, with various people involved in the shoot of the Hopper film invited to attend the Saturday screening). I will be on hand to introduce the film on November 12th (a Friday), but bear no grudges to those who would rather see it on one of the other days. Nardwuar the Human Serviette will be interviewing Cox on his radio show at 4pm of Friday the 12th. (Nardwuar's interview with Dennis Hopper is here). I have left aside all questions about Dennis Hopper (...and Courtney Love) for Nardwuar; what follows below is my talk with Alex Cox about Straight To Hell Returns.
Allan: I'm delighted that you've recut Straight To Hell and it's going to get a second chance at life!

Alex: Heh heh heh. It's better!

Allan: Well, there's more of Karl being tortured, so - yes!

Alex: There's quite a bit more of that - also Elvis Costello being tortured.

Allan: Did you have to get Zander Schloss' permission, to include more of the Karl-torture?

Alex: I don't think so, because I think the thing is, when they signed on, everybody who was involved agreed to make the movie, so whether the movie was 87 minutes long or 91 minutes long isn't relevant.

Allan: He always seemed so unhappy about being tortured and abused to such an extent.

Alex: I think so, but the thing is, because he agreed to do it - it's a bit like if you buy a car; you may be unhappy with it, but if it's still running, then... you're stuck with it, you know?

Allan: I've been trying to figure out the smaller things that have been added. Miguel's clogs, the torture scenes, the digital skeleton - that's all quite obvious. But it looked to me that you may have added some digital flies. Is that true?

Alex: Yes, there are digital flies. There are a lot of - you know, the flames and stuff coming out of the guns, and dust hitting the walls and stuff - a lot of it is digitally enhanced. But the skeletons, though - the skeletons in the car are digital skeletons, but the skeleton of the wolf and the skeleton of George are actually animated, in the old-fashioned way. They're model skeletons, like Ray Harryhausen.

Allan: And you did those especially for the new cut.

Alex: Yes! They were done by a guy named Webster Colcord, who specializes in skeletons - he has a whole web presence devoted to skulls and skeletons and flying skulls and all this stuff. (Not sure which site Alex is referring to, but here's Colcord's blog, showing varied bits of art and animation). He did the two animated skeletons with Ray Harryhausen's Jason and the Argonauts as his inspiration. Ray Harryhausen's like, 90 years old now - they had a party for him in London at the BFI...

Allan: Were you there?

Alex: No, I wasn't invited - I'm not really a special effects-y person, but do you know Phil Tippett? He's a CGI/ special effects/ monster guy from Berkeley, in California. He went, and he said a whole bunch of Harryhausen's surviving colleagues were there or sent messages, and Spielberg and Lucas recorded tributes to him and stuff, so it was pretty cool.

Allan: Wouldn't it have been cheaper and easier to go for CGI instead of stop motion? Did you deliberately choose stop motion?

Alex: Yeah, because I think what it is - the Collateral Image guys who did all the blood spurting and bullet hits and stuff - it's more interesting if people get to do stuff outside the norm. A lot of the work that special effects people do is to "try and make it look as realistic as possible" - to try and make that cat hairball rolling across the carpet look as realistic as possible, which isn't necessarily as much fun as doing some stop motion animation, or doing something that's really gross and over the top and would normally be rejected. It's fun to - you know, "step outside the box" is the corny way of saying it.

Allan: It's fun to see in the film. It looked like you darkened some of the blood spatter, too, when George shoots one of the Pogues.

Alex: That's enormously more, now. What happened was, there was a little squib on him and blood flew out and hit the lens, so what the Collateral Image guys did was, they enormously exagerrated that. It's huge - like the liver section of the supermarket exploded (laughs).

Allan: Where did the decision to recut and re-release the film come from?

Alex: I watched the old DVD, and I was thinking, "Ohh, I wish that we had, back in 1986, the digital technologies that we have today, in order to amp this up and make it much crazier." And then I thought - "but wait, we DO have the digital technologies that are available today!" And the very good fortune was that the archive at UCLA had manage to preserve, somehow, the interpositive of the original version of Straight To Hell, so we could go back to something that was as near to the negative as you could get, without being the negative, and do our HD transfer from that. So there was incredible high quality, which didn't exist previously. Previously, the best editions of the film have been either the 35mm version or the digibeta tape. And now we have the HD transfer and this new colour scheme by the cinematographer, so it's all kinda - better!

Allan: It looks great, it looks wonderful. Did the passing of Joe Strummer and Dennis Hopper have anything to do with the decision to re-release it? I mean - I think it's Joe's best film role. I like him in Mystery Train, but he really gets to have some fun in Straight to Hell...

Alex: I agree. I think he's very good in it. Your eye is really drawn to him, in the film - I think of the acting jobs I saw him do, this is the best. So I suppose it is a bit of a tribute to Joe and Dennis and all the other unfortunate Straight To Hell people who are no longer with us.

Allan: Do you have any Joe Strummer anecdotes that you haven't told before? I've read X Films, so I know some of your stories (which range from Strummer's involvement on the soundtrack to Cox's previous film, Sid and Nancy, to his scoring and acting in Cox's next film, Walker)... is there anything from the last years of his life that you haven't told?

Alex: No, I only saw him one time in the last few years before he died, and that was at Cannes, when we went up the red carpet, and I'm thinking, like, "Whoaaaa!" - y'know - "there are all the photographers! They'll take our picture!" And he says, "When they see who we are, they'll turn away." And I'm going "No, man, no - this is Cannes, we just got out of a big limo, it'll be okay." And we got to the top and the photographers all clock us. They all turn away. So rude! Not only do they not want to take our photograph, they don't even want to look at us. (Laughing).

Allan: It's heartbreaking - it reminds me of the footage in Dick Rude's documentary about Joe (also used in Julien Temple's film), where he's passing out flyers in the streets of New York, saying "Come see me, I used to be in a band called the Clash..."

Alex: Yes, but it's interesting - he had all of that, he had this enormous success and fame and celebrity and great, wonderful transcendent admiration by all. And then everybody hated him, because he broke up the Clash, y'know, and then he had these other careers, as an actor and a movie composer, and he had these other bands - the Mescaleros, but he also had that band that Zander was in, the Latino Rockabillies (aka The Latino Rockabilly War, Joe's backing band on Earthquake Weather, also appearing on the Permanent Record soundtrack - check out "Trash City" if you don't know it).

Allan: Did you ever see them perform?

Alex: I did, I saw them perform several times, because they did a tour of England. I saw them in Poole and - really horrible cities, very unpleasant minor English cities. But they were a great band.

Allan: I never saw them, I saw the Mescaleros twice in Japan, but never them...

Alex: And I saw the Mescaleros once, they played with The Who - as, like, the warm-up band for The Who.

Allan: Oh, yes. I remember hearing about that concert. And then Roger Daltrey appeared on Global a-Go-Go... You didn't use the Commando cigarettes commercial that you shot with Dick and Joe, in the new version.

Alex: Where is that, that's the thing - I don't know where that cigarette commercial is. I know we did a thing where Dick just walked into frame, in his, y'know, beach outfit, and said, "Hi, I'm Dick Rude - I'd like you to meet the McMahons." But it was too arch, it was too outside the movie. So maybe the cigarette commercial... I don't remember the cigarette commercial very well, so maybe we didn't do a very good job, or maybe it was just something Dick and Joe did, and I never even saw it. I don't know. It's not in the interpositive - had it been in the IP we would have seen it, we would have evaluated it, and then we would have looked for audio to go with it.

Allan: And then the red car training scene -

Alex: The red car training scene was never shot. It was our intention, but we bit off a bit more than we could chew in the first couple of days, and we had the little driving school right outside the hotel, and the Rambler, where we could have done our little car chase with the police - but we didn't have time.

Allan: If you could help me, I want to try to track down the different film references. There's Django Kill (which Cox - a spaghetti western expert and author of a recent book on the form - talks about here; if you don't know this film, hearing Cox talk about it will make you want to see it!). There's the Point Blank shooting-into-the-bed; there's the For A Few Dollars More title sequence. There's the Cool Hand Luke homage when Jennifer washes the motorcycle. The car crash owes something to Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry. Is the branding-seen-through-binoculars a nod to Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom?

Alex: It would be if I had seen it! (laughs)

Allan: (flabbergasted): You haven't seen Salo: The 120 Days of Sodom?

Alex: I should, I should see it.

Allan: Oh, my lord! I've ALWAYS assumed you were paying homage to it! The climax of that film - the big torture scene - has someone being branded, as seen through binoculars (see 1:55 of the recent Criterion DVD; by the way, if someone could contact Tom Richmond, I am now desperate to know if he's the man responsible. It cannot be mere coincidence, could it? How many brandings-seen- through-binoculars are there in cinema history?).

Alex: The thing is - I can't watch that! I couldn't watch Secretary, you know, because it's about this girl delicate-self-cutting. I can deal with guys getting shot, but that's about it - anything else, I'm very squeamish about.

Allan: Wow! ...and yet you make such bloody films!

Alex: Ah, but it's only guys getting shot. It's a whole bunch of machos getting shot. That's all right. That's great - that's like The Wild Bunch. Everybody likes The Wild Bunch.

Allan: Anyhow, are there any other references that I'm missing?
Alex: There's probably references to spaghetti western characters, borrowed from other films. And I'm sure that Edward Tudor Pole, the part that he plays is full of a million-and-one references in his head - I imagine he's channelling Warren Oates in Two-Lane Blacktop or somebody from Cockfighter. Because I think that's the other thing - the actors in their heads had certain thoughts and goals, which they never even told me about. Joe is Michael Caine, throughout.
Allan: What are your hopes for the first screening, in San Francisco? Are you nervous? Are you hopeful? Are you blasé?
Alex: I don't know, because it's on Halloween, and Halloween people have a lot of other things going on, if they're apt to do anything at all. But it does seem an appropriate day, as well, for the return of Straight To Hell. And because of the colour scheme that Tom Richmond chose for the new version, there is kind of a pumpkin quality to the whole movie. It's got this kinda yellowy orange look. So maybe that'll stand it in good stead!
Allan: Any messages for Vancouver audiences?
Alex: I'm just honoured to think that people in Vancouver are going to watch this film, as I am honoured anytime anywhere people watch any of the rubbish that I've done! It's marvelous to think that people can spare an hour and a half of their time in this endeavour, and I'm very grateful - I hope they enjoy it very much indeed! ...or at least to a certain extent.
Straight To Hell Returns screens at the VIFC, Nov. 12-14, double billed with Out of the Blue! I introduce it on the Friday! Nardwuar talks to Alex on the radio at 4pm that day! Check it out! Check it out!