Saturday, January 29, 2011

Fela Box!

It's finally happened... someone has released a box set of Fela vinyl! (The first of a few proposed reissues, I gather). Not sure who all has it in stock - but Red Cat did, the other day. For anyone who doesn't live way up Main Street, they might be surprised at how good Red Cat's prices are, compared to some other shops; I mean, I saw X's Wild Gift in their New Arrivals bin the other day, priced at a mere $8! (It would surely be at least $15 anywhere else).

Friday, January 28, 2011

Save the bees!

Petition here to ban pesticides linked to bee colony collapses...

Hard Core Logo Live: a review

All photos by Bev Davies, not to be reused without permission.

Hard Core Logo Live, playing now through February 6th at the Rickshaw as part of the PuSH Festival, is: brilliantly conceived and executed, totally unnecessary, and a lot of fun.

Brilliantly conceived and executed: from the gig-poster splattered stage of the Rickshaw - decorated to evoke the bathrooms at CBGBs, with vintage punk posters covering every inch of the proscenium, to a visual gimmick lifted from the film for the driving sequences; from the performances (the standouts being the writer Michael Scholar Jr., as an energetically manipulative Joe Dick; Clinton Carew, channelling Rory Cochrane in A Scanner Darkly, as the band's bipolar bassist; and the seemingly limitless Rachael Johnston, as, among others, Nardwuar, Bucky Haight, Mary The Fan, varied nameless graffiti artists, and about half a dozen other roles, all delightful) to the "band's" energetic live versions of Joe Keithley's tunes, written around Michael Turner's original lyrics, opening with "Rock'n'Roll is Fat and Ugly" and including, as one might hope, a version of "I've Been Drinking at the Railway," which didn't get featured in the film... From the decision to stick with most of the narrative devices and ideas of the movie(including a delightful acid-trip goat sacrifice - yep!) to the decision to jettison the Toronto-esque sounds of the "movie band," instead to offer something that rings truer to Vancouver punk... everything about this play is a great fucking idea, perfectly executed, the obvious fruits of a labour of love.

It's also, if I might say so, totally unnecessary. The film adds something to the book, enriching its vision; the play - with the exception of the "truer-to-life" west coast punk sound of the band - adds very little to what has already been achieved with this story, save for the experience of seeing it acted out live. Granted, that's no small thing, and it's a whole lot "less unnecessary" than, say, the comic book version of the film... but like many of the gestures of fandom, there is something wholly gratuitous about the experience: there is no grand reason d'etre here, no need for a theatrical version of a film adaptation of a book about a band that never existed, save that it's a delightful thing to do & watch. The play will work best for those who love the movie and the book so much that the idea of seeing it done live needs no further justification; otherwise - one could just as well go see, like, a real gig by a real band!

That is, however, not really any objection at all to seeing Hard Core Logo Live - it's not even a quibble, more than it is an excuse for not having anything particularly important or insightful to say here: I enjoyed the experience of the play immensely, enjoyed the intelligence and craft of all involved - I had a really fun night out. The cast offer their own interpretations of the characters, highlighting different aspects of them than we see in the film; the performances of the songs are credibly punk and invited real whoops and cheers from the audience (if, thankfully, no actual spitting or moshing); and nothing in my recent life has been stranger than watching Raechel Johnston, in Nardwuar mode, doing a perfect imitation of Nardwuar giving an interview less than twenty feet from the actual Nardwuar, sitting in the front row. I guess that aspect of the experience won't be replicable on other nights, but if you visit Nardwuar's site, you can probably find his interview with Michael Scholar Jr. about the play, ongoing as I type this. It should be pretty entertaining. (Edited to add: Bev tells me it was some sort of masterwork, that the interview is a must-hear).
Thanks to Bev Davies, for the great photos! Not to be reused without permission!
Oh, by the way: following the performance of the play, Vancouver's own Mecca Normal plays a half-hour set at the Rickshaw, on Friday, February 4th, at 10:30 pm. Admission is free with a Hard Core Logo: Live ticket stub from any night, or $5 at the door!
Mecca Normal New 7" K Records:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

McCabe and Mrs. Miller Friday

One of the great films of the 1970's, probably my favourite Robert Altman (it vies with The Long Goodbye - incidentally, the two Altman's most praised by Robin Wood in Hollywood From Vietnam to Reagan), and certainly the most historically important film thus far made in Vancouver, McCabe and Mrs. Miller starts a limited run Friday at the Vancity Theatre. I have nothing new to say about the film, except that if somehow you've missed it thus far - and care about cinema - you should be there. Enjoyable characters, a politically interesting text, fine use of early Leonard Cohen songs... it's a must-see.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Marwencol and Motorhead

Two bits of news: Marwencol is a very interesting sounding doc, now playing at the Vancity. Haven't looked at it yet but the official site has some fascinating stuff on it.

Also: if anyone missed it, the new Motorhead album is out. It's news to me, anyhow: Maple Ridge is sufficiently cut off that there's been no trace of it out here - we have no new CD stores, unless you count Zellers and London Drugs!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Blog surge!

Heh. This morning, Sitemeter reports that the average number of hits per day on my blog has soared, from a fairly consistent 80-120 range (which it's held for the last year or so - as long as I've been monitoring it) to a whopping 236! (Still not a lot, but by God, it's nearly double the past peak!). What could the explanation be - the Creaking Planks' massive worldwide following, suddenly spurred into action by my post yesterday? The megahit status of Alex Cox's Searchers 2.0?

...doubtful, what? But in the DVD review I did of Searchers 2.0, a couple posts below, I happened to mention, in passing, the names Spielberg, Lucas, Eastwood, Schwarzenegger, and Michael Jackson (the last in reference to pederasty, no less!). Could it be that so many people are Googling these names that their mention alone suddenly DOUBLES the people looking at my site? Could it be? - As if anyone anywhere needs to go out of their way to find information on these people! It's thrust down your gullet at every corner just walking around the mediascape, without actively SEEKING IT OUT! (It's gotta be the activity of teenagers, what?).

At the same time, may I add:

Madonna MILF XXX
Britney Spears blowjob sextape
Lindsay Lohan rehab arrested
Harry Potter Satanic homosexual orgy
Courtney Love meltdown
Taylor Swift (I'm not even sure who she is)
monster truck
free cocaine
Barack Obama is gay!

...let's see what THAT does to Sitemeter!


Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Creaking Planks anniversary show! the Minimalist Jug Band and Petunia

Heather Jean McDermid - AKA Lee Shoal of the Creaking Planks and Ejaculation Death Rattle - describes the Planks' upcoming 6th anniversary show as "the celebration of our evolution from being essentially a few people practicing in public to a force of silliness to be reckoned with;" the show marks the band's first deliberately organized anniversary celebration since what Rowan "Blackbox Squeezebeard" Lipkovits describes a "catastrophic spot on our 3rd at 2008's Dark Blue Horse Cabaret."

Lee Shoal in EDR mode, photo by Femke van Delft, not to be reused without permission

The 2008 gig took place at the Western Front, the site where Lipkovitz first met Heather and original Plank Ole three years previously, when the massively-bearded accordion player/vocalist had been promoting the group performance poetry show "That's My Brain... And You're Killing It!" "The reasons for its failure as an anniversary aren't anyone's fault and amount to unrealistic expectations; since then, instead of lining up birthday shows we've just taken gigs offered us, which has been a baby step up but still a bit of a drag." Some of these gigs were an odd mismatch indeed - "occasions where folks wanted a dance band and got a string quartet," as Lipkovits puts it. "I felt bad drawing on individual Planks' increasingly scarce spare time to get them to turn up for strange and random gigs where we just puzzled or bored people (since as fascinating as we are, if you're really in the mood for a house DJ, we can't effectively substitute.) It since became apparent that we could have better shows, both in terms of who we end up sharing the bill with and what we end up taking home, if we set them up instead rather than just yeaing or naying what was offered us, so as soon as the craziness of the 2010 Accordion Noir festival wound down, this date loomed large on the horizon."

For the show, the band has organized what should be a delightful cabaret of talent. Lipkowitz explains that "a brief and highly scientific poll of the Planks regarding what we actually wanted for our birthday show - a reward unto itself regardless of how else the night turned out - unsurprisingly had us looking back to things we'd left behind: that same Al Mader Jug Band minimalism that got us together in the first place, plus his busking-brother Petunia the yodeling cowboy." (Both Al and Petunia will perform that night; McDermid adds that there's a chance original Plank Ole might also show up for a song or two.) Says Rowan, "we wanted our birthday to be the kind of show where we could just show up, play, and enjoy ourselves, without hauling tons of gear and working all night, and the Railway is a very respectable example of that kind of venue - where we might even make a little money, to boot! We landed the room through Dieter Friesen (of 'Deet Street'), who picked up the reins of a monthly night there after inheriting them from Tamara Nile (who somehow, strangely presented our first appearance there back in the performance art days with Deet's band Rick Danko's Ghost also on the bill. We made an impression on him (I bet we did!) and years later when he came sniffing around to fill a spot in his new series, he was pleasantly surprised to find that we'd developed from curious to actually entertaining.) With starts and stops and all these milestones it's worth mentioning that this will be the last installment of his Deet Street shows at the Railway, so it's fortunate for us that we didn't form in a February."

Al Mader and Petunia at the former Slickity Jim's Chat'n'Chew, photo by Femke van Delft

Rowan wrote a fairly elaborate email explaining all this to me, as you may gather, so I'm going to just turn the reins over to him now, without attempting to incorporate his writing in mine. Let me just add that I've long held that the Planks are one of the funniest and most engaging bands in Vancouver, that I've never less than thoroughly enjoyed what they do, and that they may well have copies of their delightful Flogged Round the Fleet CD at the show - which sounds rather like an interpretation of contemporary pop as performed by Eastern European Jewish villagers. The remainder of what follows is straight from the Squeezebeard, talking about pending Planks' plans.

"With one exception (an Accordion Noir-sponsored Pleasing Squeezing show at the Railway Jan 1st with Fang and Winnipeg's Ingrid Gatin, an exact duplicate of a great show we put on last May) we're taking Jan 2011 off from gigging with the intention of retiring some of the songs that we've been playing non-stop for six years and freshening up our power set with more original material and some new strange covers - or at least old ones we set aside and never remembered to pick up again. Even after the new set is up to speed, I get the feeling that to increase the fun!-to-'meh' ratio of our local shows we'll be following Geoff Berner's lead and slowing them down from the 'every 8.5 days since being founded' cited in our press kit. Maybe only one benefit a month. Maybe only shows that will be promoted. Who knows, perhaps even a focus on getting paid. Anything is possible! And ideally, 'anything' will include touring festivals with Raghu Lokanathan."

"Our next piece of merch, the Creaking Planks book, continues slowly but apace, including poster artwork (from eg. Mei K of the Tiny Vices webcomic), recipes, song charts and anecdotes from our first strange 6 years. I'm hoping to include both a Plankian Choose-Your-Own-Adventure and a flip-book animation in it (hopefully from Peter Guindon of "Sandwich Artist"/ "Cougar Man" fame.) For no good reason (rather, a wholly arbitrary one) we're hoping to have a new and original-song-full (and hence, affordably-mass-reproducable) recording together by May... though we haven't yet strategized a recording schedule or even written most of the songs that will need to populate it. Trifling details! Best of all, like Voltron, the book cover should contain a little flap just the right shape and size for a CD. But the first run may just have to contain a voucher redeemable for one... or a website URL 8)."

"A final note - I got carried away from by my own surging tide of prose: where possible (RIP longboarder Glenna Evans) we're hoping to draw on a fabulous cast of former and part-time Planks to do guest-spots at our anniversary show and, who knows, exceed our record of 11 of us on stage at the same time."

"The Rembrandt Photo" of the Creaking Planks, at an Obama Victory Party, by Femke van Delft

Thinkin' 'bout Alex Cox's Searchers 2.0

Though it is never mentioned, a quote that appears in Wim Wenders' somewhat grim 1982 film The State of Things hangs eerily in the background of Alex Cox's Searchers 2.0.:
These people had a kind of courage that may be the finest gift of man: the courage of those who simply keep on, and on, doing the next thing, far beyond all reasonable endurance, seldom thinking of themselves as martyred, and never thinking of themselves as brave.

The quote is a sort of epigram (or is it an epigraph?) to Alan Le May's novel The Searchers, the classic western that was the basis for the John Ford film, which Searchers 2.0 is referencing in its title. While there is no reference to either this quote or LeMay's novel in Searchers 2.0, Cox's film shares with The State of Things another notable quality, as famed producer Roger Corman appears in both films (he also served as executive producer for Searchers 2.0 - Cox somewhere has quipped that he got it all backward, starting out working for Universal and ending up working for Roger Corman).

There are, in fact, more differences than connections between the two films. The State of Things is black and white, set in Portugal and Hollywood; Searchers 2.0 is in colour, filmed largely in Arizona's Monument Valley (or on the road to said location). The State of Things is a somewhat dark arthouse film, bearing no resemblance whatsover to any John Ford western; Searchers 2.0 is a slightly surreal lowbudget comedy that very much resonates visually and thematically with The Searchers, surveying the landscapes where the film was shot, and even taking us to the room where John Wayne stayed during the shoot - preserved as an historical landmark. It is filled, furthermore, with cinematic in-jokes that have little to do with Ford, for sophisticated cineastes to spot (since no one else would likely get them - I mean, you have to be paying attention to know that the French actor in The Great Silence was Trintignant, not Depardieu; I wouldn't have known this myself, prior to interviewing Cox and thus getting enthused about spaghetti westerns). Two of Cox's guests on the commentary, composer Dan Wool and sound designer Richard Beggs, theorize that people could enjoy the film without getting said in-jokes, but I beg to differ; I think that unless you're attentive to such matters, you can at best only arrive at a rather impoverished reading of the film, a slim sliver of what's actually there for viewers. If you don't know that this film is to some extent a film about films, and about how confused and limited American discourse about cinema has become, you're missing something fairly significant. It is this very self-consciousness - the extent to which both this film, and the Wenders', however different, are about cinema - that sets the LeMay quote hovering in the peripheries over the proceedings in Searchers 2.0.

In The State of Things, the LeMay quote - if indeed LeMay wrote it; it's presented as a quotation with no attribution at the beginning of his novel, so could be from some other source - precedes a dour post-apocalyptic film-within-a-film that Wenders' onscreen analogue, Friedrich (aka Fritz, played by Patrick Bauchau) is shooting in Portugal. In this film (which takes up the first ten or so minutes of the movie proper), the theme of survival - and of the cost of "keeping on" - is heavily underscored by the struggles of the survivors, many of whom fall by the wayside, succumbing to a mysterious and fatal condition and left behind by their comrades, who cannot afford to stop, lest their own desperate quest fail. This film abruptly ends - and the "real" narrative of the film begins - as the director discovers that his shoot has completely run out of money, his cameraman (played by Sam Fuller) informing him that they haven't a single frame of film left to go on shooting with. The cast and crew mill about Portugal while Fritz leaves for America to try to track down his producers and money men, to get things back on track; his journey climaxes with the discovery of one of his producers, terrifically played by Allen Garfield, hiding out in the back of a (mobile) mobile home, looking sleepless and unshaved. Garfield sings a very cynical and despairing song about Hollywood, and reveals to Fritz that the film was backed by mob money; some problem with the deal has left him a fugitive. The final images, which I won't describe (but which can be seen on Youtube without audio, if you like), are among the grimmest in Wenders' canon, suggesting (with perhaps a smidgen of self-congratulation and self-pity, belying the LeMay quote) that the survivors and martyrs Wenders means are the independent filmmakers (and other artists) of the world, who go on being creative despite the indifference, greed, cynicism and cruelty of the film business. It's a fairly effective protest against "the state of things" for independent filmmakers in 1982, and probably still quite relevant - it's been some time since I've seen it.

Searchers 2.0, by contrast, for all its self-consciousness, has absolutely no self-pity or self-regard to be seen: if Cox, who has had a far more challenged career than Wenders, ever partakes of such things, he does it offscreen, to his great credit. There is definitely a sort of "protest against the state of things" informing Cox's film, however, which seems to ask how a) American cinema and b) America itself could have gotten HERE from THERE - from the time depicted in The Searchers to now, from the Golden Age of Hollywood to the Golden Age of Spielberg and Lucas.

Digression: I'm still kind of annoyed with Ray Carney for alleging that he's
discovered an "unseen Cassavetes film" which he isn't going to tell anyone about, though increasingly I suspect that there is no such film and the whole thing is a pissed-off but pointed put-on, a "lesson" about the costs of disrespecting academics. At the same time, I practically wanted to stand up and cheer when I read the following quote about camp-Spielberg-and-Lucas, from Carney, sent to me recently by a friend, who shall go nameless:
They've sold their souls to the double devils of money and marketing. They and their work and everything else they have done have totally SUPPORTED AND ENDORSED the America-first macho-militarist views of life that has gotten us into Iraq and supported political malfeasance in the Middle East. They and their work have FOSTERED AND ENDORSED the me-first, selfish, self-centered, fiercely individualistic, ruthlessly competitive, profit-obsessed, Faustian impulses that are destroying the environment and creating global warming. They and their work have SILENTLY COOPERATED WITH the horrors of American foreign policy to disenfranchise the Palestinians and prop up the maliciousness of the Israeli government and its highly paid American lobbyists. That's what Schindler's List is really about. That's what Star Wars is really about.

How have Lucas and Spielberg used their immense cultural power? When did their work do ANYTHING to critique and change the culture of death and conquest and militarism we live in? When did you ever hear Spielberg or Lucas make a single controversial, daring, or courageous political statement--in their work or outside of it? When did they ever give one speech that ruffled feathers? Make one film that critiqued American foreign policy? They have done worse than wasted their lives; they have made careers as collaborators. Intellectual, ideological collaborators with the powers-that-be, with the way things continue to be done. There is a lot of blood on their hands. Getting booed in public is the least that should happen to them.

(To quibble, I thought that Spielberg, after being associated with Michael Jackson and being portrayed as a sexual sadist with an interest in scaring children and/or showing them in danger in the ANSWER Me! article, "Pederast Park," was actually kinda gutsy sticking up for gay scout leaders, but, well... nevermind. Hey, didja ever notice that the hook in Hook looks strangely similar to the velociraptor claw that Sam Neill uses to demonstrate how one might disembowel a fat kid, in the first Jurassic Park movie? Is menacing kids with hook-shaped sharp objects an actual MOTIF in Spielberg's cinema? If so, where could THAT have come from? ...but I digress yet further; Carney's quote should be shouted from the rooftops of every cineplex in the country, no?).

Searchers 2.0 - made in 2007 but unreleased in North America on DVD until now - takes on, among other things, the will to REVENGE in American life and/or popular cinema (tho' as I recall, it targets Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Clint Eastwood, more than it does Spielberg or Lucas). In doing so, it somehow manages to entangle a comically misguided, revenge-driven roadtrip (two somewhat bumbling unemployed actors travelling across country with one of their daughters to kick the ass of a screenwriter who abused them - coincidentally or not, named Fritz, and played by Cox regular Sy Richardson) with the partially revenge-driven wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. There is also the role of capitalism and the oil industry to be considered, brought most sharply into focus by the bumper sticker on the back of the SUV the main characters are using, which reads, "Kick Their Ass and Take Their Gas" - apparently a real bumper sticker one used to see in the States! How deeply is Hollywood in cahoots with the military-industrial complex? Are Americans the victims of a sort of gadget-and-entertainment driven mind control, driving about in absurd gas-guzzlers in a state of self-or-otherwise-medicated denial, cut off from a perception of the world around us by a false world that has been imposed over it? What role has cinema played in bringing America to this current state, and what are we to make of that state, where people live in a fog of half-baked media references, diddling incessantly with their cellphones, nurturing private obsessions over pursuing public good, and misunderstanding pretty much everything around them? What is a filmmaker to DO in such a circumstance?

These are serious questions, raised repeatedly in the film, but the tone of the film is not serious at all. Cox regulars Ed Pansullo and Del Zamora play the two actors for comedy; the other main character, Delilah (played by newcomer Jaclyn Jonet, who has the lead in Repo Chick, Cox's newest film, coming out on DVD on February 8th) is somewhat more earnest and idealistic, but her ideals are informed, as Cox chuckles in the commentary, by two contradictory books, Naomi Klein's No Logo and Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead. As they drive (repeatedly running out of gas) and bicker about cinema and politics, all of them take turns making valid points, and all of them take turns making asses of themselves - some more frequently than others, but no character really understands what's going on around them, however much they all think they do.

I'm not sure, in the end, Cox arrives at a "coherent statement" about America, or American cinema; as with the cinema of Bunuel, or even with Cox's Repo Man - which I was oddly reminded of at various points; there's a similarity of flavour, if not content - the "meaning" of the images might be best left unpacked at times ("why is that Indian golfing in Monument Valley," for example, is a question that doesn't really need a detailed, didactic answer, anymore than we need to really ask what the flying car in Repo Man signifies). Still, there is much good humour, much to think about, many effective moments, and many lovely images. It's a smallish film - shot on video on a low budget in a short time period - but it's a consistently interesting and appealing one. Those that will appreciate it best will likely be cinephiles of some sort; it should have special appeal for those of us who believe that Alex Cox is a highly significant filmmaker, a survivor in the sense of the LeMay quote, who IS labouring on quite humbly in conditions of considerable neglect, and making a far more interesting sort of cinema than what is widely available in North America today.

More on Repo Chick pending...

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Hard Core Logo Live!

This could be very, very interesting. Hard Core Logo Live - a musical adaptation of Michael Turner's book, with an as-yet-to-be-seen relationship to Bruce McDonald's (terrific, terrific) film, is starting next week at the Rickshaw, with music by Joey "Shithead" Keithley and with Bev Davies as "punk consultant"; Bev saw several of the prairie performances and tells me they were great, and apparently will have some of her photos at the Rickshaw on display. The book - about a reunion of a fictional Vancouver punk band - is a very different beast from the film, and no doubt the live show will be an equally discrete beast-unto-itself. As sometimes happens with a film I know I want to see, I've gone out of my way NOT to read up on it in advance, so as not to lessen any of the surprises - but I will be sure to post my reactions once I've seen it. (And bear in mind that Bruce McDonald has completed Hard Core Logo 2, which apparently showed at the Whistler Film Festival...)

Apologies for not having given the "play" more press than this, but... surely EVERYONE is going to this, right? If you need ME to tell you about it...

Friday, January 14, 2011

Enemies of the People vs. Holiday in Cambodia

Jello Biafra in the pit at the Rickshaw, photo by Femke van Delft (not to be reused without permission). Jello's face is visible under the upraised arm of a fan, to the right of the centre of the image

I've seen Jello Biafra sing "Holiday In Cambodia" three times now, once with the Dead Kennedys, once with the Melvins, and once with the Guantanamo School of Medicine at their recent Rickshaw gig. The song is truly a masterpiece of punk - especially the chant of "Pol Pot," referencing (in case anyone out there DOESN'T know) the leader of the Khmer Rouge revolutionaries that plunged Cambodia into a horrific darkness in the late 1970's, killing two million of their own people in the name of rebuilding their country from the ground up. The song happens, in fact, to be the first time I'd ever heard of Pol Pot - listening to Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables when I was a kid (just like I first heard the word "Sandinista" through the Clash or first learned about urban guerrillas via the Subhumans). I vividly remember watching, from the Rickshaw balcony a few months ago, as the moshers frenziedly threw themselves about when the "Pol Pots" picked up speed and intensity; as I looked on, an odd thought took hold of me. The song, on the one hand, appears to be a rather black-humoured class-hate fantasy of subjecting a Yuppie (a "star-bellied Sneetch") to the extremes of Third World poverty and violence, but something else takes hold of audiences during that chant, bringing them close to an unwitting celebration of the very hostility and mistrust against the "imperialist west" that was a big part of the Khmer Rouge ideology; during the chant, supposedly liberal, progressive punks are kinda being invited to REVEL in the name of Pol Pot, with Jello in a sense turning the moshpit briefly into a tamed-down facsimilie of Cambodia's descent into ideologically-driven savagery and violence, an envigorating, entertaining and RELATIVELY consumer-friendly version of the killing fields. It's great theatre, but more disturbing in its implications than I suspect a lot of the moshers realize (and God knows there must be punks out there still who know this song but know nothing of Pol Pot). It's actually kind of creepy to contemplate, and it raises troubling questions: is punk really about intelligent misfits wanting to create community and challenge aspects of their society that deserve to be challenged - a socially progressive project - or is it about venting hatred, resentment, and anger, about lashing out from ones alienation and striking a blow, however symbolic, against the "normal" world that we don't fit into? As a lifelong punk, I'd still have to say that for me, personally, the answer would be "a bit of both."

...And what about the Khmer Rouge? Ever since I first read about them - prompted by my Dead Kennedys lyric sheet to do a bit of homework - I've tried, and failed, to understand how they could do what they did. They also, apparently, believed that they were engaged in a socially progressive project, getting rid of corrupt western ways, defending their people from US and Vietnamese influences, and bringing the country back to an agrarian golden age. However many eggs they smashed, from their point of view - at least at the top - it was justified in reference to the omelet they saw themselves as making. This doesn't excuse or mitigate the horrors they perpetrated against their own people, but it does raise questions - especially for radicals, revolutionaries or people of the left. How to reconcile what seems to be an authentic streak of utopian idealism in the Khmer Rouge "project" with the bloody violence and destruction they brought to their country? How to separate out what they thought they were doing from what they actually did? Is what happened in Cambodia a cultural and historical aberration, or is there something inherent in the idea of revolutionary change and/or communism that lends itself to such brutality? How do supposedly good intentions end up going so bad?

At least some of these questions are raised by a striking documentary, Enemies of the People, starting today at the Vancity Theatre. (Official site here). It focuses on the work of one Thet Sambath, a journalist trying to understand - by getting testimony from those involved - exactly what happened in Cambodia. Described as a "personal journey" into the heart of the killing fields, it maintains a very intimate level of focus, with the filmmaker talking at length about his own family story - his father, mother, and brother all having died in the Khmer Rouge purges, with his father being stabbed to death for defending the right to own property, then thrown in one of the ditches that served as mass graves. Over ten years, as part of a private project, Thet has collected interviews with anyone he can find who will come forward about their role in what happened: most significantly, in the film, two low-level killers, Khoun and Soun, who have decided they want to come clean about their involvment, and describe in great detail how they slit throats, or the penchant of some - including Soun - for carrying around human gall bladders, cut from their victims, to drink the gall, for its supposed medicinal value. You don't get to hear people talk about this sort of thing very often - certainly not people who are free to walk around - but these are just some of the horrors catalogued. Khoun and Soun remain free because it is felt that the real culprits are the Khmer Rouge higher-ups, who ordered the execution of "traitors;" for those lower in the ranks, to disobey orders would simply mean being killed by someone else. A lot of low-level killers remain free men even today.

Of the higher ups, "Brother Number One," Pol Pot, is now deceased, but Brother Number Two, Nuon Chea, is still alive, in his 80's, and the real coup of the film is - as the United Nations prepares to try him for war crimes, for which he is now incarcerated - that Thet Sambath gets Nuon Chea to TALK about his involvement in orchestrating the mass killings, something that takes Thet many interviews, over several years, to achieve. While Nuon Chea admits to ultimate failure - no omelet was forthcoming - he appears to be largely unrepentant about the means he used to his "noble" end; he blames America and Vietnam, seems to justify the killings as being part of a defence of his country, and even claims - when Khoun and Soun are brought to meet him - that their conscience should be clear, that they should be proud of what they did for their country. (Khoun and Soun, to their credit, are anything but).

Made in collaboration with filmmaker Rob Lemkin, Enemies of the People is a remarkable and important film, though it perhaps errs on the side of being a bit TOO intimate: however courageous and valuable the work of Thet Sambath may be, there sure is a lot of time spent watching him go about collecting his footage, showing him leaving his family, driving through the Cambodian landscape, cataloguing his tapes, translating the interviews, and so forth - with some bits of information being unnecessarily repeated, like how he is withholding his actual family history from Nuon Chea, the better to get him to open up. Perhaps this is an attempt to provide an element of personal drama for viewers less interested in history, but I would have preferred more focus on the latter, myself, since it is Thet's work and what it means for history, and not his experience of collecting it, that ultimately matters. Still, Thet Sambath's archive is a remarkable accomplishment, it IS interesting to watch a journalist undertake so dangerous and important a project in his spare time, and his intimate approach to his interview subjects, winning their trust slowly over time, certainly pays off. Hearing the stories of Khoun, Soun, and Nuon Chea brings me closer than I was previously to understanding something that perhaps cannot, in the end, ever be completely understood. Anyone interested in questions of how the revolution can go wrong, in questions of bringing war criminals to justice, or in the history of Southeast Asia or of communism, should see the film.

...and maybe so should anyone who has ever moshed to "Holiday in Cambodia." Time to go where people are one, indeed...

Post-script - also this week, the Vancity will be playing the documentary about Omar Khadr, You Don't Like the Truth; I have a lengthy piece on that film somewhere below...


It's funny: knowing that my job would be ending this week didn't do much to spark panic in me. I worked out my last days, signed a form waiving right of recall, hugged a few coworkers goodbye, and caught the train home on Tuesday without so much as a quiver of nervousness. It was a good time to get out, a nice confluence of events: there was a Workforce Reduction Program in place, the company was restructuring, wages were dropping, and the ESL business in general is kind of floundering in Vancouver, after several great years. I reasoned that if I'm ever going to do anything else with my life besides correct the same bloody grammatical errors year in and year out, teaching the same material over and over again in endless rotation, this was the perfect time to do it.

Nerves started flickering on Wednesday, with the realization that I'm now unemployed. Thursday, when I actually filled out my EI claim, made things a bit worse - promising that you're actively looking for work is a bit nerve-wracking when you don't really know what you want to do next. I managed to hold off my panic this afternoon by making a few productive steps - typing out a resume, exploring a few options for retraining, making an appointment at an employment services agency where I can get some "free advice" - trying not to make too much of the fact that the other client waiting in the office had a spider crudely tattooed on his neck. What I want to do (a master in film studies) is somewhat offset by the fact that I don't know if there are jobs; what I know I could do, jobwise (pretty much anything involving teaching) is somewhat dampened by the fact that I would really rather write, or... oh, a lot of things.

Anyone need work done? I'm all ears.

Crispin Glover weekend

Also happening this weekend: Crispin Glover in person at the Cinematheque!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Subcon! Hail Spybey! Hail Download! Hail DVOA!

I gather this is Download's first Vancouver show since 1996... I wonder how long it's been since DVOA played here?

I predict that in Thursday's Straight, Alex Varty will have an article about this show. I might be wrong.

Pending from me: Swans interview. Soon. (But not in the Straight).

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Dull as dry toast

It may seem that I've become quite a dullard. I feel it, anyhow - tired, complacent, passive, and all too easily amused. My days blend into each other, the elements similar: keep Ma company, go to work, do my chores - shopping, cooking, cleaning, for Ma and for myself... most nights when I get home I haven't two ideas to rub together to generate the slightest spark based on which I might write; I'm lucky if, after hours of watching the mostly easily-digested commercial fare that Mom likes, I have the stamina for an exploitation film, let alone a serious piece of cinema. And I begin to question - given the lack of significant monetary rewards, the shit that gets done to my writing by various editors, and the amount of time and effort the work takes - of transcribing, editing, re-reading, revising, and so forth, to say nothing of pitching articles, contacting interview subjects, and negotiating sometimes rude and weirdly unappreciative bands, publicists and record label people, a couple of whom have been right assholes - whether it really is worth the effort; the compulsion to do it that I once felt is nowhere to be seen, replaced instead with a sigh, a shrug, a slump and a turning away. This depresses me a bit - because it seems all too similar to a suburban lowering of standards, a settling into middle-aged mediocrity that I've been rebelling against since I was a teen... laziness, apathy... a concern for what's on TV... but it seems to be the trip I'm on, at least at the moment. And on some level, I don't really care.

Fuck, but... fuck it. Maybe it will prove temporary - a brief slump before a productive period. Who knows...

Monday, January 03, 2011

RIP Pete Postlethwaite

At age 64, with many years and many films left in him, Pete Postlethwaite has died of cancer.

Postlethwaite's probably best known to my blog readers as a character actor - as the father in In The Name of the Father, or as Friar Lawrence in Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet. He also plays, very briefly, the dying father in Inception; and he's underused - but still exudes menace - in the new release The Town (which I didn't mind, actually; though it's a far cry from The Friends of Eddie Coyle, at least Affleck, in making a Boston crime pic, clearly is aware of that film, though I found the ending had a bit too much cheesy sentimentality to it, a quality that Eddie Coyle would scoff at). Something about Postlethwaite's performances always elevated the films he was in; sometimes, he's the best thing by far -- he certainly towers head-and-shoulders above the rest of the cast (including many fine actors and actresses) in Spielberg's Jurassic Park 2, where he plays the head "dinosaur hunter." I rather love the anecdote offered in the Wikipedia article on him, about that film:
Steven Spielberg called Postlethwaite "the best actor in the world" after working with the actor on The Lost World: Jurassic Park, to which Postlethwaite said: "I'm sure what Spielberg actually said was, 'The thing about Pete is that he thinks he's the best actor in the world.'"

Looking through his filmography, of the fifteen films there I've seen, one is a bit of a gem that readers of this blog might want to seek out, should they wish to pay Pete respects: Brassed Off, from which the still above was taken. It was actually brought to my attention by one of the teachers at the high school I taught at in Japan, an attractive (married) female teacher in her 40's, who knew and loved the film as Brass! - the somewhat more upbeat Japanese title, made a little less mysterious to non-English-speakers for being shortened, while actually enhancing the double meaning. It's a rather emotionally powerful experience, set during the coal mine strikes and shutdowns of the Thatcher regime, focusing on a group of miners who form a brass band; it manages to be quite fun at times - and has some of the most powerful images of working class anger-at-being-screwed* that I've seen in a fictional film. An enthusiastic early Ewan MacGregor performance, too, though Pete, of course, towers over him.

My respects to Pete Postlethwaite, and condolences to his family and friends.

*There oughta be a word for "anger at being screwed," to differentiate it from other forms of anger, but awakened by dreams at 4AM, I am unsure what it might be.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

The Dunwich Horror

Some great films passing this way on DVD, but I have little time or energy to do them justice. The most fun I've had this week is with The Dunwich Horror, a liberal 1970 AIP adaptation of an HP Lovecraft short story, which injects a certain amount of sex and a lot of 1960's countercultural self-awareness into a horror story set in Gothic New England (but shot in Mendocino). Far better than I expected - particularly a sly, sexually ambiguous Dean Stockwell in the role of a young occultist, who is persecuted and despised by the townspeople, but defiant, and determined to "bring the Old Ones back," however you care to interpret that phrase. The film, of course, opts for the literal - probably containing the earliest western example of something approximating tentacle porn - but the rituals employed are far more sexualized than anything I recall reading in Lovecraft, and Sandra Dee (pretty, but body-doubled for the brief nudity) is inserted in the role of "sacrifice victim" (or is it "love interest?"); she has no analog in the original short story. A bit cheesy at times, but mostly a lot of fun, surprisingly well-crafted, and almost as inventive visually as The Trip - with which it would serve as an excellent double bill. Well worth a look!