Saturday, September 30, 2017

Two other VIFF films: Animals and Bitch

I was not in the mood for Animals when I tried to watch it, but based on a half an hour or so of viewing, I can attest that it's very well-made: smart, tight, and darkly playful, and if I were writing a full review, I would maybe try to incorporate references to Weekend, Long Weekend, and Lost Highway. Maybe I would title the review Long Lost Highway Weekend? For a film at least somewhat preoccupied with suicide, it's disturbing to learn that one of the makers killed himself; but if you like a slightly cruel surrealism, or cinema that fucks with your head while remaining more or less coherent, it is well worth a look; please don't let my not having finished it deter you. There's a fair bit in the film about infidelity, as well - and a very unsympathetic main male character, at least in the segment I saw. 

Bitch - which it happens, I did finish - was less exciting to me, seemed less of an accomplishment, though I am sure some people at the Rio last night found it fun. Someone else's smartass quote in the VIFF catalogue is perfect, likening it to "if A Woman Under the Influence and Mr. Mom had a baby," though it doesn't capture the slightly werewolf-y aspect of the film. But I found some of the incompetence and self-absorption of the main male character kind of misandrist, to be honest - it's a very broad portrait of a man, though Jason Ritter handles it gamely. I further found the children (who include the Walking Dead "zombies are people too" girl) not particularly believable and rather annoying; and didn't really enter the mind of the female character - director Marianna Palka - who turns into a growling dog and has to be locked in the cellar. (Ginger Snaps mines the whole female-transformation-into-an-animal thing much more thoroughly). Bitch begins as broad comedy, ends as touching drama, and veers through suburban surrealism and a slight bit of horror, but the whole seems somewhat less than the sum of its parts. The VIFF progtram mentions "Morgan z Whirledge's chaotic score;" I must say I found it quite grating at times.

All for now...

VIFF 2017: Michael Glawogger and Monika Willi's Untitled, and the case of the nude interviewer

Timezone mixups are fun. I make them myself sometimes: say, I'm interviewing someone in Calgary, which is an hour ahead, but I get it in my mind that they're an hour behind, so I'm planning to call them two hours AFTER the interview was actually scheduled for (which was the case with Art Bergmann last week, though we sorted it out, sorta).  It's less embarrassing for me when someone else makes the mistake, which happened yesterday with my Skype talk with Monika Willi: I'm supposed to call her at 9am - because she's in Austria, some miles away - and she was calling me at 8:15 as, naked and grimy, I was getting ready to get into the shower.

Luckily, I had everything ready to go (and she wasn't doing it as a video call).

There was a fair bit in our talk that did not make it into my Straight interview with Willi; her answers were more elaborate than I sometimes could incorporate into a tight piece of writing, and the combination of so-so audio quality and her excellent but accented English further made a few sentences difficult to transcribe (something I'm getting more and more frustrated with; it played a factor in my talk with Art, too, though there it was only my imperfect audio/ recording setup that was the culprit). I got a laugh out of her when I asked about the dogs in Whores' Glory, if - as I explain in the Straight piece - Untitled was a "just the dogs" movie, a movie just of happy accidents, and she laughed and said, "The dogs! This is very nice, yeah, the dogs. This is very much Untitled, you’re very right.” She went on to explain about how there had initially been music to the dogs scene in Whores' Glory, but it ended up transposed to the Mexico segment, and further, that she felt the dogs scene went on a little too long - but was "not strong enough" to fight with Glawogger to shorten it. But as interesting as that was, in fact I didn't need to use a quote from her at all, I decided, all I needed to know, in asking this question, was that I wasn't, uh, barking up the wrong tree with my observation (damn you, Kenji Yam, you've infected me with crappy puns - Ron of the Straight movies section has been gassin' me on Facebook with jokes on my Caniba article, asking if the film was "yellow journalism," if I found it "hard to stomach," if I found it a bit "stiff" or "in poor taste" or things like that...)

We also talked about Glawogger's book, which I had been previously unaware of, and how it informed the narration. (You can order it on Amazon, but I presume this is in German; too little of his work is available in North America). It started as a question as to why so much of the narration of the film was in the third person:
Michael started to trust his writing and his literary ambition, which grew and grew over the last decade. He had nearly financed a feature film, and then it didn’t get the financing. He had a hole, and in that time he realized a book, a novel, which has been posthumously published, called 69 Hotelzimmer. That is, ‘69 hotel rooms’ - but it has 96 stories, because he likes those films where someone smashes the door and the numbers go around… They are written from the whole world, from his hometown to the most faraway places we can imagine, somehow connected to hotel rooms. And these are written in the third person. And with the publisher, he agreed that when Michael came back, maybe he would choose some of the stories that would happen during Untitled. And then he had these agreements with two newspapers, German and Austrian, to do so-called travelling blogs, but in these blogs he did nothing but continue this kind of writing, which are not travelling blogs. This is the kind of literature which he started writing, and I extracted sentences from. So the 3rd person, ‘he’-form was always there.
Here, I found I only really needed a phrase or so for the article's purposes. It does a bit of an injustice to her answer, simplifies it a bit, but sometimes that's necessary. (I hope if there are problems, if I've oversimplified too much, they will get in touch). I didn't even transcribe the part where Willi explained that Glawogger had initially objected to the idea of using these texts, before his unplanned death, as narration for the film, or that she had laboured over finding appropriate literary substitutes for them, when she was tasked with completing the film. It was revealing, but just took us too far afield from the article, which had to maintain some semblance of flow. It's already pretty elaborate - plus I think the fact that Glawogger could NOT complete the film with new texts of his own, which is apparently what he wanted to do, makes her use of these previous texts fair game...

The one passage that I would have liked to have used that I didn't involved his 2006 film - pictured above - called Slumming. (She did not edit that film, note). Not on video in North America (though it has shown on Mubi), it's a pretty remarkable fictional feature film by Glawogger. His young main character in the film, as I recall, is a little bit of a prick, playing, for example, a rather evil prank on a drunk that involves, when he's blacked out, moving him from a bench in one town (or is it one country?) to another, so he'll wake up far, far away from where he passed out, heedless of what has happened to him. But on the other hand, this same character - whom we're invited to judge a few times in the film - is quite earnestly entranced with the customs and cultures he encounters in travelling, has a sort of wide-open curiosity about what he's seeing, which seems to relate to Glawogger's own filmmaking practice  ("there is a way that character looks at the world and finds joy and beauty in unexpected things that seems to connect with Michael's aesthetic," is how I phrased it on the phone with Willi. "But he's also a cruel character and not very likeable"). So was this character meant - I asked Willi - as a self-portrait, perhaps a self-criticism on the part of Glawogger?

"I really start to cry now - you're the first person to ask that question," she answered. "I remember the moment, which he rarely spoke about, about how hurtful it is if many people find your alter-ego unsympathetic? So yeah, you're completely right, this has a lot to do with him. It's just surprising how he did the cast, and everything. But it was self-criticism, a kind of reflection on himself. It has a lot to do with him. And there are two other feature films that would have gone further with that topic, that would have been financed after he got back, so..."

So there we go: I made Monika Willi laugh (at my dogs question), cry (at my Slumming question) and if it had been a video call she would have been speaking to my hairy bare chest (or wherever my webcam was angled - I hadn't had a chance to test it). I also got to ask the one good question I had filed and set aside for Michael Glawogger, should I ever get a chance to interview him, to someone who knew him well and could answer it. I really hope they like the finished article, and that it gets a few people out there to see Untitled...

Note that I elected not to use the Slumming quote in the Straight piece, either, because it again took us too far afield, would have required too much else to set up, but I wanted to put it out there into the world here. I guess I'm proud to have gotten my perception of the film right, though really it's not so hard to see if you watch the film and have seen a few of Glawogger's own documentaries.

If you haven't, Untitled is a fine place to start; chances to see his films on screen are few, and it screens only one time at the VIFF, this afternoon. I highly recommend it.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

VIFF 2017 review: Caniba - Horror, Boredom, Perversion and Revulsion

There is more than one way in which Caniba, screening at the VIFF tomorrow (and October 10th), is hard to watch. Consider this less of a review and more of a cautionary description...

After opening titles that include some explanation - including audio from a French news report - of Japanese  killer cannibal Sagawa Issei's infamous 1981 crime, directors Véréna Paravel and Lucien Castaing-Taylor linger at length on close-up, at times out-of-focus images of the faces of both Sagawa and his brother, Jun, in their home on the outskirts of Tokyo. We can infer from what we see that Sagawa has had a stroke, and that his brother is now his caregiver, though Caniba doesn't provide very much explanation as to their relationship, and mostly leaves aside details (like that Sagawa has diabetes) that do not arise from the conversation between the people who appear on screen; the film prefers to show, not tell. In particular, Paravel and Castaing-Taylor - whom I interviewed below in regard to their best-known film, the "immersive" fishing trawler documentary Leviathan -  make a point, during this first third of the film, of showing images of Sagawa's chewing mouth, as he snacks and talks - slowly, quietly, but without any sign of aphasia - about everything from the ways in which cannibalistic desire is simply an extreme extension of the urge to lick ones lover, to his "other" extreme (a fondness for Renoir, Disney, and chocolate - sweetnesses in which he finds some respite). There are also long periods of silence, where the filmmakers simply let Sagawa look into the camera. It's troubling, fascinating, confrontational, demanding and also - I think the blunt word for it is "boring;" because as much soul-searching and revulsion as a close up of an out-of-focus cannibal's face can inspire, it's still a lot to be asked to sit and look at for over half an hour.

I mean, we could as easily spend half an hour on the interior of Jeffrey Dahmer's fridge, and while there is much that would be troubling to contemplate in regard to that particular appliance, a half an hour of a fridge would, at the end of the day, still be a half an hour of a fridge.

Boredom does not necessarily equal bad cinema, mind you: I mean, I love the work of James Benning (whom I interview here) but it's pretty much impossible, as one tries to find a way to engage with his films - which in some cases see a single shot going on for an hour and a half, as with Nightfall - to not nod off for short periods. Maybe I'm only speaking for myself, here, but I've slept through parts of some great cinema in my day. I have napped and snored and jolted myself awake through Tarkovsky, through Kurosawa, through films noir... but never through a film as horrifying in its subject matter as Caniba. It is, in fact, quite an accomplishment that the filmmakers managed to set me nodding with subject matter as sensational as this - I was a bit shocked at it, myself.

One should ideally not fall asleep in the presence of a cannibal, even if he's only on a screen.

Anyhow, the first 30 minutes of the film provide a challenge, to find a way to take in the rather maximal subject matter/ minimal approach, which you'll have to figure out your own way to come to terms with.  In fact, they've got nothing, in terms of being hard-to-watch, on the next twenty minutes or so. We cut from Sagawa describing how he most wanted to eat fellow student and victim Renée Hartevelt's buttocks, to clips from a pornographic film that Sagawa acted in, as one of his various attempts to make a living (it's not easy to get a job when you're a cannibal killer, even in Japan, it seems). The filmmakers allow themselves a bit of black humour in this edit, beginning the excerpt with a clip of Sagawa's mouth on the buttocks of his female co-star, so we go from the stated desire to eat someone's buttocks, to the actual eating of ass, in a slightly different way.

Apparently - I have read this elsewhere, it is not dealt with in the film - Sagawa's pornos have a sort of revolting "gotcha" quality to them, as the actresses have sex with Sagawa without knowing who he is, and only at the end of the film are shown clippings of his crimes; their revulsion becomes a part of the film. If this is true, none of it is shown here.

I should give, I guess, a warning - though I already feel like it is coming a bit late: in describing this film, I'm going to be forced to cover some pretty revolting territory. The squeamish, easily-offended, or, say, people really concerned with spoilers, who already KNOW they want to see the film, might want to check out here and now. If you're already disgusted by what you've read - own it, and stop reading; it's on you if you continue, eh? It's going to get quite a bit uglier.

(And while I am offering asides and disclaimers, if you want me to justify that I'm spending time on this, note that I was living in Japan when I first learned about Sagawa, and found that he was roaming free in the same area where I was, which was pretty disturbing; it makes an impression on you, to know that the guy you just passed on the sidewalk might be a cannibal. Also note that, as I say above, I have interacted with the filmmakers before, and was interested in seeing their new work before I even realized what it was. I didn't realize that they'd made a film about Sagawa, though it IS, to me, interesting subject matter, to a point).

Anyhow, to get back to the porn clip, as is standard with more above-ground Japanese pornography, the film Sagawa appears in is partially censored with fogging mosaics, so you can't get a clear glimpse of anyone's genitals, male or female. However, you do get to see, near the end of the clip, the "lower" half of a golden shower that Sagawa receives, GG Allin-style, on his face, while he gags. (I've never known what to make of that: if you want a girl to pee on your face, as Allin obviously does in Hated and Sagawa presumably does here, what's with the gag reaction?) The partial censorship, of course, raises questions about Japanese standards of obscenity. It brings to mind browsing, circa 2001, with a Canadian girlfriend through an open-air market in Tokyo where there were pornographic VHS tapes for sale, showing all manner of perversion, including - we gather this was also an early interest of Sagawa's, though again it is not included in the film - bestiality. (My girlfriend and the time and I were just amused to see what was on sale at this market, which ranged from samurai swords to lighters to Hello Kitty sex toys. "Hey, check it out, they've got porn - but - wait, WHAT THE HELL?"). The upshot of censorship laws at the time was that you could buy a video of a woman having sex with a dog, but the dog's genitals (or the woman's) would be fogged. You could buy tentacle porn, showing animated girls being raped by the tentacles of demonic beasts, but their crotches would be fogged (though not the tentacles). I don't pretend to understand any of that. As long as you don't show pubic hair - which is consistently blurred even from arthouse and mainstream movies, or was when I was living there - you seem to be able to depict pretty much anything else on film or in comic books in Japan, no matter how grotesque or offensive.  So in the porno clip in Caniba, you can see urine splashing Sagawa's face, but not the bush from which it flows; you can see his semen on the hand of the "actress" who jerks him off, but not his penis.

Not that you really want to see Sagawa Issei's penis, but the standards for obscenity in Japan are a curious thing.

Does the film get worse from there? Why yes it does! The next segment of Caniba, and the one that is most likely to drive away a few audience members, has brother Jun - apparently a patient and understanding caregiver to Issei, if not himself a cannibal - flip through a manga that Sagawa drew, again as a way of capitalizing on the notoreity of his case (and generating income for himself). He's not much of an artist - the drawings are crude and somewhat childish - but they're extremely expressive and revealing, and horrifying as all hell in terms of content, showing Sagawa cutting up and eating chunks of his victim's flesh. (You also learn next to nothing in the film about her, or her family, or how they might feel about this crime). I am going to elect NOT to show any panels from that comic book here, though you can see some of them - along with crime scene photographs - here, if you like. I don't really recommend it; nor, it turns out, does Sagawa's brother, who talks about wanting to vomit as he turns the pages of the manga - though he gets through quite a few pages before he begins to complain, and continues for quite awhile after. Eventually he stops, around the time we see cartoon images of a naked, ejaculating Sagawa holding Hartevelt's severed head. Jun opines more than once that the book should not have been published, and he's got a point.

Apparently Japan, besides bizarre standards of censorship, has no law saying people can't profit from a criminal activity. I am pretty sure a book like this would be impossible in North America. Presumably Sagawa made a fair bit of money from it. (I am under the impression it's not his only publication - there is also mention in the film of a novel).

If you're thinking the film couldn't get weirder - sorry. Remember Crumb? Remember thinking as you entered the film that Robert Crumb is a pretty messed up person, then having to re-evaluate him as you saw what his brothers were into?

After some archival footage of the two Sagawa brothers as boys, Jun has a reveal of his own. His story (and his perversion) are in fact nowhere near as disturbing or dangerous as Sagawa's, but - golden shower aside - we don't see FOOTAGE of Sagawa's perversions in action. We do, with Jun: he allows Paravel and Castaing-Taylor to film him. His kinks involve self-harm, mostly on his right bicep, which he describes as his sex organ; since the age of three, apparently - some sixty years - he has been attacking his own arm, with barbed wire, knives, and candle flames (apparently S&M candles aren't hot enough so he uses candles from the family altar). Much of this is presented without explanation, as he wrangles a giant mass of barbed wire, leaving you wondering what the hell he is doing, but eventually, as he narrates his own actions, it all becomes clear. Then he is shown stabbing at his own arm with a fistful of kitchen knives, which eventually do break skin.

One reviewer has already made mention of the strangeness of Jun's own evaluation of the act: Jun says, "this isn't fun yet," as he jabs himself, and the reviewer calls particular attention to that last word, "yet." There is some irony to the fact that, now that the worst is over and the WTF aspects of the film have reached a feverish pitch, the movie is actually starting to become (sort of) fun at this point, as you try to sift through your confused reactions to what you're seeing. You are so not in Kansas anymore that your disorientation itself becomes kind of bizarrely entertaining. We also get some video Jun shot of his own arm, wrapped in barbed-wire and subjected to fire; then strapped with a lit firework. You might wonder if this in any way normal in Japanese society, for people to nurse such perversions, and if not, how did these two brothers get so twisted...?

Jun then informs us that he offered a porno company to do all this to a girl - to bind her in barbed wire and set to her skin with knives and candle flames - but they refused, saying it was too extreme.

What follows is my favourite segment of the film, as Jun confesses his perversion to his brother, who has never known about it before, apparently. The VIFF catalogue describes this aspect of Caniba as "Shakespearean," and I must confess, though I was initially skeptical, that I can see what they were talking about. I will leave this interaction more or less undescribed here, so it can be fresh when you see it. It is quite entertaining to contemplate the psychology on display, and in no way, now that the worst is over, requiring any sort of warning.

The final segment of the film is somewhat confusing, and the segment that would most profit from some additional explanation. Sagawa's care has apparently fallen on to a woman; whether this is because of an off-camera fight Sagawa has with Jun, where he apparently damages one of his brother's eyes, is left unexplained - that seems one logical explanation - but suddenly, Sagawa is being attended to by a sexy woman in a French maid costume, with considerable cleavage when she bends over. It is unclear if she is a nurse, a maid, or a prostitute; it is also possible that the lines between roles are blurred. She feeds Issei a chocolate croissant and talks to him about cosplay, revealing her own dream where she is a flesh eating zombie.

It is unclear if she fully understands who she is telling the story to, but Sagawa obviously enjoys hearing it. He has said earlier in the film that his fantasy now is to be eaten by a woman, perhaps his former victim. She is now dead, of course, killed by Sagawa, but now that he is in the care of a girl with her own cannibalistic fantasies, he is in a kind of glory, closer than he might have ever hoped to get to a "happy ending." She takes him out in his wheelchair for a walk; we hear an apparent sports crowd in the background, and the film cuts to a karaoke song, "La Folie," by the Stranglers, inspired by Sagawa's story. The words appear on the screen, in French, with English subtitles; we can sing along about our own madness if we want.

There are, of course, many more questions raised than the film answers. Is there something about Japanese society that encourages or allows extreme behaviour? Can Sagawa's perversions be understood as something we all possess - a universal, primal orality given extreme expression - or do they say more about his privileged upbringing, or his culture, or...? What should be done with people like Sagawa, who, because of bureaucratic complications (and, we gather, an influential, wealthy father) are allowed to walk free, having done horrifying things? How did his crimes impact the family of Renée Hartevelt? And what of the briefly-alluded to desire on Sagawa's part for WHITE flesh? (He had, before going to France, also attempted to rape and eat a German female travelling in Japan, but was foiled in the attempt, and concealed the cannibalistic aspect of his urge when caught). Would the Japanese have taken his crime more seriously if he had killed an eaten a Japanese woman? (One actually suspects that they might have; part of traditional Japanese culture involves drawing a line between what you do at home, within your circle, and what you do outside it, which is regarded with a kind of "what happens in Vegas" free-for-all indulgence. Renée Hartevelt was Sagawa Issei's Vegas).

Finally, a lesser but still pressing question lingers at the end of the film: is there a way that Sagawa could have been supported WITHOUT turning to obscene, exploitive manga and porno films? (We gather he worked briefly as a food critic, but the film also doesn't delve into this - nor make mention of the story I heard while in Japan that he had appeared in a commercial for a steakhouse. None of these are great improvements on his profiting from a pornographic manga detailing the indignities he inflicted on the body of Ms. Hartevelt, however.  But if he's going to roam free, really, what sort of income SHOULD he have? A special-case pension for utter unemployables?). We might even feel complicit in his continued celebrity status (though a wee title at the beginning of the film explains that the filmmakers do not endorse or pardon his actions).

The film has no answers to any of this. Depending on what you expect of a documentary, the lack of answers may count against the movie; some critics have seemed to expect more from it, and I can see their point. But as a close-up confrontation with taboo human desire - or as a portrait of an aging cannibal outcast - or as a WTF provocation, plunging us into what we can only hope is deeply abnormal psychology, even by Japanese standards, it's pretty fascinating. Not an easy watch. Hard to watch in many ways. But it's bound to make an impact, if you let it into your life.

Your call.

Caniba screens tomorrow at the Cinematheque, as part of the 2017 VIFF, then again on October 10th.

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Boney M in Vancouver: I have questions

Went to see Boney M at the Queen E. with my wife yesterday. Twas her birthday gift.

It was a curious experience. I was kinda detached from it. It was odd to see how many 70 year olds were in the audience, even some apparent 80 year olds. A lot of walkers, wheelchairs, crutches. It was kinda fun to see 80 year olds waving their arms in the air to disco, you know? You kinda expected Richard Simmons to leap out from the wings, at times: there was a bit of a "senior's calisthenics" vibe, and a somewhat sweetly naive, game, TV-watchin' innocence to the crowd, which reminded me a bit of my Mom, singin' along to Kris Kristofferson when we went to one of his casino shows. It's really nice to see old people having fun, though it's a bit weird when it's at a rock concert you're also at.

I wonder what concerts I'll be making it to if I get to age 80?

Erika really enjoyed it, but aspects of the evening were puzzling, even for her.  When Liz Mitchell, the sole original Boney M. member on the stage, made a kind of apology for the absence of live musicians on stage, explaining that it was meant to be a "disco show" and the live band had gone home ("so we can't really 'break it down,' you know?'), it raised  questions. It was kinda nice, in contrast to how it would have been amongst the hardened cynics I count as peers, that no one heckled her explanation. But it was kind of odd seeing Liz, her two nieces, and one male dancer/ singer for the male vocal parts doing, essentially, big-budget karaoke, that many in the audience had paid upwards of $130 to see. I think if, you know, the Sex Pistols played the Commodore, with tickets in the $130 range, and John Lydon showed up with a recording of a backing band and did a solo vocal over it, people would throw literal bricks at him, then storm the exit, demanding their money back.

The Boney M. crowd, however, were game, and not wanting to let anything get in the way of their having a good time, so they just rode with it, not a jeer to be heard. They were, in fact, a more polite audience all round than these chatting, whooping punk sonsabitches I go to shows with, so hey, that's sweet, if they're happy I'm happy...

I wonder, though: is canned music often a part of Boney M's act? They're a vocal group, and have only ever been thus, I gather; that's how they're described on Wikipedia, where no actual instrument-playing musicians are listed as members. Photos on their greatest hits show the four of them with microphones, not guitars. Session musicians get thanked for their support on their albums but - at least on the two I have (thrift store finds for Erika) there is no bassist credited, no drummer, no guitarist. While live footage from 1978 - very, very different from the minimal stage show last night - shows live musicians onstage, if they're not actual full fledged band members, it does make a degree of fiscal sense to just go with canned music. Why pay to fly a band around the world when you're already paying for four vocalists, and playing in front of a crowd who may think nothing of hearing canned music at a concert?

(I mean, that's the way these things look on TV...).

Their 2013 Moscow clip on Youtube - also a much LARGER, more elaborate, more expensive production than we saw last night - also doesn't appear to involve live music (though it does have an elaborate stage show to distract you from the fact). So why did Ms. Mitchell explain that the band had "gone home?" Had there actually ever been a band, or was it just an easy way of conveying to a somewhat naive audience that this - a mostly bare, black, prop-free stage, one dancer, canned music, and Liz and her nieces, in simple black dresses - was all they'd be getting?

Anyhow, no matter. Ms. Mitchell was in fine form, her personality quite winning. She reminded me a bit of Mavis Staples, right down to her speaking about God from the stage, and her nieces both made fine backup singers. The male dancer/ singer had a fun thing he did where he made his muscular pecs bounce in time to the beat, which got big cheers the first time he did it, during "Daddy Cool," I think (you can see him workin' the pecs in that Moscow clip, too). Boney M. fans seemed to eat it up, getting on stage with the band to dance to "Rasputin," singing along with "Rivers of Babylon," waving their arms, tapping their canes... I don't begrudge anyone a good time.

ABRA Cadabra, the ABBA-themed Vancouver-based opening act, were a terrific warmup, however, a pretty satisfying experience in their own right (especially if, say, you're an ABBA fan, which I'm not, but people sure did seem to enjoy them, and I appreciated how well they did what they did). Their Facebook page (linked above; their homepage is here) lists some very unusual accomplishments - playing shows for the Malaysian Royal family, for example (tribute bands go over pretty big in Asia, as I understand it; it explains their very polite, professional demeanor, when introducing songs, if they're used to playing concerts like that!). I won't say they exactly stole the show, but they had actual live music, better choreographed dancers, a wider range of costumes and lighting effects, and two female lead vocalists who perfectly delivered the songs (but whose names aren't quickly findable on their websites so I'm not going to work too hard on this; the brunette in particular had great pipes). There were a couple of glitches - as when the keyboards made an unwelcomely screechy sound we thought maybe was supposed to imitate flutes - but overall, ABRA Cadabra did a game job of warming up the crowd, and returned to dance with Liz and her nieces onstage during the climax of the night, which was nice of them, and lent to the "big party" atmosphere, ensuring that people went away satisfied.

Which most people seemed to do, though you can imagine which famous line of John Lydon's echoed in the back of my mind. Whatever - I would have felt like an alien no matter what. Erika and I ended up in better seats than I'd paid for, by a pleasant (and not-at-all-underhanded) turn of fate, and she had fun, which was the point, so it's fine. ABRA Cadabra joins Betty Bathory's versions of the Sex Pistols (the Fuck Guns, wasn't it?) and GG Allin (BB Allin) as one of the few tribute acts I've taken in.

I wonder - if Tesco Vee had been in town, and faced with a choice of a GG Allin tribute, and an ABBA tribute, which one he would choose?

Monday, September 25, 2017

VIFF 2017: The Endless, a "cult" movie

There's a deep anxiety about collectivity in North American popular culture. While it now is common to violate certain tropes of the 1980's and 1990's - women, in particular, can now occupy positions of power or authority in a film without necessarily being psychotic schemers with a grudge against our proptagonist - it remains pretty much the rule of contemporary American cinema that if there's a collective - be it a church group, a New Age religion, a commune, you name it -  which our individual protagonist is drawn into or towards, the collective, however idyllic it may seem initially, however well it meets the needs of some of its members, will inevitably turn out to be a dangerous, demented entity, a small-scale, malignant dystopia which must either be destroyed or fled (unless our protagonists themselves are devoured by it). Films as different as Todd Haynes' Safe and Kevin Smith's Red State show people drawn to collectives, then betrayed, either subtly or overtly. Ti West's excellent The Sacrament entertainingly updates and reimagines the Jonestown massacre for the Vice media generation, luring us in through the eye of two reporters whose initial evaluation of the "cult" is quite positive; among other things, it shows that not much has changed since the Jonestown mass suicide, including our anxiety about collectives. Within genre films in particular, exceptions to the "individual good/ collective bad" rule are few and generally of another, less conservative time. For instance, there's Saul Bass' 1970's classic Phase IV, which pits individualistic, rationalistic scientists against the hive mind of ants, and posits the ants winning, with the possibility of a human-ant merger at the end of the film suggesting a gateway to some sort of psychedelic further evolution; it's a WTF ending - not as yet restored to full glories on any home media I'm aware of - but an unusually pro-collective one, even in the shorter cut of the film. 

More often than not, though, collectivity is either expressed metaphorically (the collective entity of The Thing versus the loner McCready, the whole world versus The Invasion of the Body Snatchers) and made monstrous, or else as a whacko fringe group that must be revealed for what it is and destroyed (even if, as in the time-travel "cult" movie The Sound of My Voice, there is some suggestion at the end that the group actually had something to it after all; whoops!). When dealing with actual religious groups, at the very best, you get a film like Ted Kotcheff's under-seen "deprogramming" film Split Image, which suggests that while the cult is indeed problematic, there are very real problems in "the real world" that drive people to it, very real needs that it meets that are not being met by our present way of life. The cult is still dangerous, but daily life outside it isn't so great either. 

All this surely connects with some deep seated American anxiety about socialism - a fear of alternative ways of constructing social practise. You mostly have to either leave America or go to explicitly leftist filmmakers like John Sayles (Matewan) to find post-1970's exceptions to the rule - though these days even praised left-identified filmmakers like Kelly Reichardt are more interested, in films like Night Moves, in showing collectivity breaking down, betraying its principles, falling in on itself and failing. (I admire that film and its complexities but it does surely reveal something about the state of the world and the state of cinema). 

The Endless, at VIFF 2017 - by the makers of much-praised SF/horror movie Spring, which I have not yet seen - begins squarely in this territory. Two brothers, played by filmmakers Justin Benson (left, above) and Aaron Moorhead, venture trepidatiously back to what they have been describing as a "UFO Death Cult" that they fled ten years previous, before what they thought was surely going to be a mass suicide. The more idealistic of the two, Aaron - looking a bit like a young Matthew Modine - is convinced that there was something to life in the group worth recapturing; at the very least - he says, slurping down ramen - they ate healthier food. Why struggle to live an anonymous, unsatisfying, alienated life in a society that doesn't care about them or use what they have, when they could be parts of a group that embraces and understands them and wants their full contribution? Even if they were a cult - wasn't life better there? Why don't we go back? 

Well, his older brother reminds them, there's the whole mass suicide thing (he still thinks that is yet to come - he just had the time frame wrong). And what was that about castration...? But his kid brother persists, and the older brother seems to tacitly admit that he has a point... so we go back to the cult - to the very concept of communal existence, really, which had its currency in the 1960's - to see what there is to be salvaged. 

This is a film worth entering without knowing much more than that; it begins with the anxiety about collectivity and gets considerably weirder (and more philosophical, even kind of reminding you of Nietzsche's Eternal Return at times; if you don't want spoilers and aren't familiar with that concept, don't look it up, okay?). Some things we have been told about the cult are false, some things are apparently true, and there's a whole lot we're completely unprepared for when it happens. There's also a fair bit on the nature of family, and maybe reality itself, but I can't get much deeper into the film without taking things away from you. It's a very enjoyable, interesting film, and I suspect will be one well worth seeing with an audience, as a collective; there are a few surprises up the filmmaker's sleeves that should make other people's reactions quite entertaining. 

If The Crescent was a B- at best, The Endless is an A- or more: well worth your time. (Stay for the credits, too - there's a fantastic female vocal reading of "House of the Rising Sun" that sounds like a very restrained Diamanda Galas; I've yet been able to find out who sings it). 

By the by, The Endless apparently references an earlier collaboration by the filmmakers, 2012's Resolution, but it's a film I have not seen; you can read more on that here, with a more detailed description of The Endless... 

Friday, September 22, 2017

Leviathan in Context: An Interview with Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel

The following essay/ interview ran in a slightly different form in now-defunct Canadian film journal Cineaction, under the title The Aesthetics of Slaughter: Leviathan in Context. With at least one film in the 2017 VIFF calling into question the killing and eating of animals - Bong Joon Ho's remarkable Okja; a new, final film from Michael Glawogger, whose Workingman's Death is considered at length below, and a new film from Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel, Caniba - inquiring into the killing and eating of humans (!) - it seemed a good time to put this interview out into the world again.

I seem to have misplaced my footnotes, but I hope no one really cares.

The Aesthetics of Slaughter: Leviathan in Context
An Interview with Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel

By Allan MacInnis

One of the most remarkable recent films to show the workings of a slaughterhouse is Michael Glawogger’s 2005 film Workingman’s Death, the centerpiece of which is footage shot at a Nigerian open-air marketplace/ abattoir. There, workers and customers happily socialize and haggle whilst cows and goats, throats slit, bleed out into the dirt. Workers haul the heads, skins, and meat of slaughtered animals through crowds, over blood-soaked mud; no one reacts with horror. Nowhere is the western desire to deny or sanitize death and suffering in evidence; in fact, quite a different attitude towards animal death applies. As Glawogger explains on the commentary,
the slaughtering in the culture of Nigeria is something very normal and simple, and they wouldn’t even like to buy the meat when they didn’t see the cow. They wouldn’t like - they wouldn’t even do it - to buy the goat when they don’t see the lively goat, and when they don’t see the goat was healthy and the goat was worth buying.
These attitudes are remarkably different from the prevailing ones in North America, where, as animal liberation advocate Peter Singer puts it, meat is presented in “neat plastic packages,” as the “culmination of a long process, of which all but the end product is delicately screened from our eyes” (95). The unfamiliarity of Glawogger’s images, and the challenge they present to the viewer to honestly, openly embrace (or at least acknowledge) the suffering that goes into the production of meat, lend them a fascination that would likely be lacking in a film produced with more polemical intent. There is, as Glawogger puts it, “a strange mixture of brutality and beauty” to the footage, which makes it “watchable” and “gripping,” “because I’m never tired to see that… I always see something new in it. It opens my thoughts.”

This is a response quite different from the one engendered by the sort of films produced by animal rights activists to horrify the viewer into swearing off the eating of meat; such films do not seek to “open thoughts” but to produce a desired effect on the viewer (usually the swearing-off of animal products). While such films have generally not been received as cinema, there is a growing body of films like Glawogger’s, which are almost as bloody, in seeking to show the reality behind the “neat plastic packages” of the grocery store. While equally aimed at breaking down barriers of denial, such films often have a dispassionate or aestheticizing quality to them, which allows the viewer space to contemplate the realities at hand from some safe distance. Such is the case with the first classic of the form, Georges Franju’s 1949 documentary Blood of the Beasts - reportedly shot in black and white because Franju felt that showing such images in colour would be “too much to take” (   

Blood of the Beasts is available as an extra on the Criterion DVD of Franju's noirish horror film Eyes Without a Face. While a harrowing experience to anyone unaccustomed to images of slaughter, the film need not lead viewers to the conclusion that “meat is murder;” it simply refuses to allow them to lie to themselves about how meat is produced.

Often in these films - as is the case with Franju, with Frederick Wiseman’s Meat (1976), or with Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s 1978 film In A Year of 13 Moons - social criticism is intended, but this criticism is aimed at targets larger than the abbatoir per se. Meat depicts both animals and workers as pawns in a relentless human institution that is indifferent to the feelings of both, connecting the film to Wiseman’s other documentaries on North American institutions. Writing on the Fassbinder film, Ronald Hayman notes that its slaughterhouse sequence “is both a piece of cruelty to the audience and a statement about human cruelty,” which will serve to call to mind concentration camps later in the film (78). Concentration camps were also seen as an unsubtle subtext to the Franju film, our inhumanity to animals standing as a cipher for our inhumanity to fellow humans. 


A more recent documentary, which takes in both meat production and contemporary agribusiness, Our Daily Bread (2005) strives to trouble the viewer with the alienated/ alienating conditions and technology that animals and workers face, but with more of an aesthetic than political motivation; one watches the film not in horror, but fascination, marveling at the bizarre tableaus presented, which seem more the stuff of science fiction than daily life.

Perhaps the most provocative film to deal with slaughterhouses is Zev Asher’s remarkable 2004 documentary Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat, sadly neglected when this article first saw print in Cineaction, and now, with Asher’s death, rendered quite difficult to see. The film, again, is not merely an act of advocacy for animal rights, but asks larger questions: is killing an animal in the pursuit of an artistic objective ever acceptable? (And, if not, given that we kill them routinely for food, why not?). What if killing that animal is part of a project designed to call into question the modern day consumption of meat? And what should be done with artists who do choose to engage in such a project? Are they actually threats to public safety (or simply to our state of daily denial)? 

The film centres on Jesse Power, a Toronto arts student, who was apparently sincerely disturbed by the ways the killing and consumption of animals is taken for granted in society, so much so that he had, at various points, filmed himself killing and eating a chicken, experimented with vegetarianism, and, ultimately, gotten a job in a slaughterhouse. He and two friends conceived of an art project where they killed a stray cat and filmed it, to try to understand what killing an animal meant; however, stoned and incompetent, they ended up torturing the cat slowly to death, while capturing the entire procedure on video. When the footage was discovered and called to the attention of authorities, it set off a lengthy and controversial animal cruelty trial (and very vocal displays of outrage on the part of animal rights activists, who dubbed the nameless cat Kensington, after the area where it had been caught. 

Asher’s documentary - which allows Power and one of his collaborators to speak for themselves, and explain what they had been thinking - also proved highly controversial when it screened, resulting in Asher - a self-described cat lover, who played none of the video footage of the cat’s death in his film - receiving death threats from people who had not seen the film, but presumed he was taking Power’s side. A Toronto screening of the film which Power attended drew protests and a near riot; the film was also selected for screening by the SPCA in New York for the insight it afforded into animal cruelty cases.

(My interview with Zev Asher about his work, including this film, is viewable online here.   

Leviathan, the newest major film to take on the suffering of animals and humans in the production of food, also has Glawogger’s “strange mixture of brutality and beauty,” which makes it compelling and repeatedly watchable despite the difficulty of some of its images. (It also has been likened, like Our Daily Bread, to science fiction and, indeed, horror cinema - what might be glibly dubbed torture porn for fish). Shot on and around a fishing trawler off the coast of New Bedford, Massachusetts - the former whaling town from which the Pequod departs, in Moby Dick - the aestheticizing element in the film has much to do with the innovative technology employed by directors Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel, of the Harvard Sensory Ethnography Labs. Eschewing narration, and shot using miniature GoPro sports cameras, incorporating footage shot by the subjects - fishermen - themselves, and containing moments where the camera floats, apparently free of all control, among dead fish, the film has the excitement of the new to it; it is clearly an innovative and intimate approach to its subject matter. Almost all of the ample writing on the film to date features a pun on the term “immersive” - referring both to the amount of time the camera spends either on or beneath the surface of the water, and to the narration-free immediacy of the film’s images, which - comparable to the work of Stan Brakhage or to Werner Herzog’s Lessons In Darkness - transform a mundane, much-filmed activity, industrial fishing, into something apocalyptic and unfamiliar.

While animal suffering is very much in evidence in Leviathan - from the bulging, dead eyes of fish hauled from the depths to the gasping catch dying of suffocation on the ship’s deck - there is also a strange humour to the film, and a greater degree of compassion for the fishermen than one might expect. Both qualities are in evidence in a sequence where one of the fishermen nods off while watching a reality-TV show about fishing. The scene is presented in a lengthy, static shot which itself may lull viewers towards sleep, only to suddenly realize that they have become a mirror image for the blinking, nodding, exhausted fisherman slumped on the opposite side of the screen. Unsettling as Leviathan’s images may be, the film is no mere polemic - though it would be entirely reasonable to swear off eating fish after seeing it.

Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel spoke to CineAction from Boston, on a speakerphone hookup so both filmmakers could react to questions, prior to a Vancouver screening of Leviathan. Thanks to the Georgia Straight, who previously ran a greatly abbreviated version of this interview, and to Steve Chow and Jasmine Pauk, for facilitating it.

A: Congratulations on the reception that Leviathan has received. It seems to really be striking a chord with critics. I’m curious if it’s exceeded your expectations?

V: I don’t think we had any expectations.

L : We had no idea what to expect.

V: We were hoping that the fishermen would like the film, but -

L : - we didn’t know what anybody else would think.

A: Were the fishermen wary - thinking you might be making an activist-oriented eco-horror doc along the lines of The End of the Line?

L: I think so, before they got to know us. Fishermen feel marginalized and scapegoated and blamed for the lack of sustainability of fish stocks. The cause is really poor regulation, on the part of different governments, more than it is the fishermen themselves. But once they got to know us - they’re engaged in this really grueling activity out at sea, and I think they were happy to have a couple of greenhorns along to give them something different for a few voyages.

A: Did they enjoy your “greenness?” I gather both of you got sick, and that Véréna - you were sort of battered about and had to be hospitalized a couple of times?

V (laughs): Yeah!

A: How were they with that? Amused, supportive?

V : I don’t know. Not amused… I think when I was really in bad shape I was trying to be very discreet about it. But no, they were not amused. The captain didn’t seem really concerned, but he was helping - giving me some medication to sooth my pain… I was expecting them to be more amused by Lucien being seasick, but actually they were kind with that too, and completely understanding, because some of them, even after long years of being a fishermen, some of them are still seasick, and they know how hard it was and how painful it is, so they were very understanding with us.

A: Did you have any preconceptions of what the fishermen would be like, which were changed by being on the boat with them?

V: No, we discussed with them before, and we met them when the boat was at dock. So we didn’t know what to expect, but we had a couple of conversations with the captain, and we had some agreement that if something happened to us, he wouldn’t go back on land for us… so we knew that it was a rough environment, a labour-intensive environment. I think we were intellectually ready for that. I don’t know if physically we were that ready for that, but we went through with it.

A: Did you have ecological themes in mind when you began? I gather the film changed a lot, that you shot 50 hours of footage on land, and that it was radically transformed by the experience of going out to sea… I wonder how much of what we see emerged from ideas you had before you set out on the ship, and how much of what we see comes entirely from the experience…?

V: I think we didn’t have any preconceived idea! Maybe something more beyond the image… I think the whole film comes from our experience at sea. And the only conceptual criteria that we had before was to share the camera with the fishermen, or a very small idea about how we can film when we were on the boat. We were basically projecting things, but it was more like - we wanted to do a film where there was a real engagement with them and they’re also engaged in the film and in filming with us and in sharing ideas with us. It was more this kind of idea that we had rather than having a preconceived idea of the visuals, how it would look like… so the aesthetic came out of the experience, the fear, the engagement of being at sea in the middle of the Atlantic.

L: I would certainly agree with everything that Véréna just said, but - we had a negative preconception, we tried to work without preconceptions. We tried to do everything while we were doing the filming, rather than vetting a subject beforehand and knowing what we wanted to say about it. So we were discovering as we went along, and the most powerful experiences we had were indeed the ones we had on the boat, rather than on land. There’s no profession that has been more filmed and more photographed than fishing, since the beginning of photography, since the beginning of cinema, and if we were going to make yet another film about fishing, we didn’t want to do another romantic portrait of fishing, or a typical kind of liberal PBS TV-documentary portraying different constituencies as victims of X, Y, and Z. We wanted a different kind of experience and a different kind of film, but we didn’t know what that would be like until we were out on the boat filming.

A: Maybe it’s my own preconceptions that are at work here, but… I sort of imagine that two Harvard professors, and a group of fishermen, there was a class divide…?

L: We’re not trying to be defensive about this, but even the lowliest deckhand takes home more money at the end of the year than a salaried professor, at least at our level at Harvard does. So the class differences - there are differences of class and differences of culture and of nation, and certainly gender, for Véréna - but the class differences aren’t as pronounced as one might imagine, per se. Also, the fishermen are intellectuals - in different ways, and in different degrees, but they know more about their world and the political economy of fishing and how that’s changed over the last half-century than we will ever know, no matter how much research we do. We didn’t have much to teach them, they had a hell of a lot to teach us…!

A: Am I correct that your family background involved fishing…?

Lucien: Not really! My background was in shipping; my father was a boat-builder. I went fishing as a kid, but not industrial fishing. Véréna used to go diving with her father; he was a scuba-diver. So we both have different relationships with the ocean. We wanted to do something local, to do something close to Boston; we were fed up with having to travel great distances, and we were interested in doing something that related to our autobiographical experience, but not in any direct way.

A: Do you both eat meat and fish…?

V: Raw meat and raw fish! (Laughs).

A: Raw meat?

L: We eat more fish than the fishermen do, we can tell you that much!

A: I’m also a meat-eater [note: as of 2017, no longer], but I’ve always found slaughterhouse footage fascinating, in films like Blood of the Beasts or Workingman’s Death, because we’re looking at images that are suppressed, unseen, getting behind the denial of death in our culture… I found the images on the “killing floor” of the fishing boat quite remarkable for the reason, where we’re swirling about with the guts and the fish heads - I found that really exciting to see, cinematically. I don’t really understand my excitement at that - I feel like I should be horrified, but cinematically, it’s so new and fresh…    

L: I don’t know if anyone else has suggested Workingman’s Death as a connection before. Certainly we’ve read a few reviews that mention Franju’s Blood of the Beasts and Stan Brakhage’s films. But - it’s not that we’re trying to disavow any influences, but as we were filming, other than trying not to make a film like these ones we imagined, we weren’t thinking of abbatoir films, slaughterhouse films, we weren’t even thinking of Stan Brakhage or particular styles that we were either mimicking or avoiding in that regard. The references make sense to us after the fact, but none of them are conscious influences at all.

A: How much control did you have over the Go Pro cameras? I know you had them attached to things, but some sequences are really chaotic and seem to suggest the cameras are entirely set free, as when it streams behind the boat with the seagulls…

L: I would say that there are three or three and half different kinds of footage shot with those cameras. One is a series of four shots, spread throughout the film, that were attached to a tripod or to a stable part of the boat, such as the shot from the top of the mast that you get 2/3rds of the way through the film, looking down on the boat. There were only four shots that weren’t either hand held by us or attached to a body. So the first kind was four short shots; the other kind was the shots that were attached to the fishermen’s bodies. Mostly their heads, like miner’s lamps, but also their wrists or their chests. And in that we didn’t have any direct control. Obviously we attached them to their heads because we were interested in what that footage would look like, we had some idea as to what it might look like, but it wasn’t until we started looking at it that we realized how arresting and interesting we thought it was. And then we kept on giving them the cameras to get similar kinds of footage. And then, of the footage that was hand held by us, either we were holding the camera literally with our hands, or we put it on the end of a boom, which is just like a fancy word in our case just for a basic 2X2 - or else two pieces of wood strapped together so we could hold it, up to about sixteen feet away from our arms’ length. And that could either go underwater or above water, within the same shot. And with those shots - I would say there are differences of degree, not kind; we couldn’t look directly through the viewfinder, but it was also true, when we were hand-holding the shots, that these Go Pro cameras didn’t have an LCD screen on the back, so we were just imagining what we were filming. You could say that it’s a further stretch of the imagination when it’s at the end of a stick. But we were also downloading the footage and looking at the footage and realizing what was interesting to us, and so on. Véréna, you put it very well when you said that one films more with one’s body, in some literal sense, than merely with one’s eye.

A: Were you surprised at some of the footage you got? Was there anything you repeated - you looked at and thought it had promise and tried again, having a better idea what it might look like? Second takes?

L: I would say yes and no. We never asked anyone to do anything again - we don’t “direct” the people or script stuff in that way, but because we were looking at it and looking at it, we were constantly surprised about stuff, and bored by stuff, and fascinated by stuff, and anything that intrigued us, but we thought could be rendered more interesting yet, or made more peculiar or unfamiliar yet, we pushed, and we filmed it again.

V: Or we would look at our footage and, being surprised at how arresting the images were when the fishermen were wearing it at night, for instance, we would ask them - “could you pick up the camera when you next go out,” this kind of thing. But to go back to the topic of control, there is a degree of control, when you are directing, even being from your body - even if you don’t look through the viewfinder, you feel what you are doing, and you kind of direct it - if you want the camera being under water at that moment, and then above water the next - you have a kind of control, even if you don’t know exactly what will be on the image.   

A: So for example, the seagull sequence, you were turning the boards so that the camera would go under water, or above…? There’s actually a gestural component to those shots, it’s not just the board spinning free behind the boat?

V: Yeah, it’s controlled by us.

L: You can say that it’s directed in that way, in that we were trying to control it, but we were never able totally to control it. Even if we weren’t on a boat - even if the sea was flat and the boat wasn’t moving, you never can predict what happens precisely in front of the camera, and then with the boat lurching around as it was in high seas like that, even when we were filming on deck, close up to the fish, or close up to the fishermen, we never knew exactly what was going to happen. Often we never knew at all what was going to happen. And that was even more true when, in order to film on the stick with the seagulls, one of us would have to hold on to the other who would then be holding onto the stick, and you couldn’t anticipate when the waves were going to come, or how big they were, and we couldn’t always resist the power of the water slushing by… so we were trying to control it, but the resulting image is a combination of intent and accident.

A: Was there anything too chaotic, stuff that was unwatchable? The film seems to really push the borders, at times, of what the human mind can process as information. Some sequences are really alienating and shocking. Beautiful, but it’s surprising that they make as much sense as they do.

V: Hm. We never had this question…

L: There’s loads of stuff that we rejected, for various reasons, conscious and unconscious. Whether we rejected stuff because it was too chaotic, I’m not sure. In addition to putting a camera on the end of the stick, and attaching it to fishermen’s bodies, we did attach it to a string and have a weight below it, but we didn’t use any of that footage.

A (Laughs): You were fishing with a camera!

V: (Laughs).

L : Fishing with a camera. If we had caught a fish, we might have used it!

A: You attached the camera to a dead fish, did you not?

V: No. It’s not true - it’s one of us holding the camera.

L: That’s an error that’s been said in the press.

V: There are many errors.

L - it’s an old wives’ tale.

A: It’s a great one… If you don’t mind my asking - as someone who has some familiarity with psychedelics, it occurs to me, because the film is so immersive, that it would be an astonishingly good “trip” movie. And some of the filmmaking that Leviathan has been likened to - Brakhage, obviously - comes from a psychedelic perspective. Has anyone commented on that? Would you regard that as a sort of “misuse” of the film - a way of hijacking the purposes of the movie?

V: It’s very funny that you’re asking this question, because this morning I was telling Lucien, “it’s very strange that we always talked about doing this - suddenly being heavily drugged and watching the film, the whole thing.”

L: Even before we finished the film, we wanted to do it to see how it would feel.

V: We wanted to edit under acid, and we never did it, unfortunately. But I’m sure it would be great. We received an email a couple of days ago, a friend of ours say, “I want to tell you, I went to see your film at the IFC in New York under acid, and I want to tell you how it was." Apparently it was great!

A: The sound design seems like it would be a big part of that. But before we get to that, just quickly, what is the heavy metal music used in the film?

L: The shot of the captain -

V: Brian, listening to Mastodon.

L: A song called “I Am Ahab,” from an album called Leviathan.

A: Oh, really? That couldn’t have been an accident.

L: It was a very happy accident. It wasn’t the only kind of music they listened to - they listened to country/western and other kinds of music, too.

A: So did you supervise the sound design (by Ernst Karel and Jacob Ribicoff)? How did that work?

L: I would say “supervise” is a bit too generous; I’m tone-deaf, and Véréna is a bit more musical, but not terribly. Ernst is a collaborator at the Sensory Ethnograpy Lab, we’ve collaborated on lots of different things together. He has the most amazing ear either of us have ever heard. His own aesthetic is very minimalist. He came up with the initial 5.1 surround from all the sounds that we gave him; we were just editing with video software that isn’t that great for audio, and it had more of an unremittingly blaring, punk rock/ heavy metal kind of intensity. He modulated it a lot more and added a lot of really subtle overtones, that were almost inaudible in our mix, and then he gave the mix, once he was done with it, we went to New York and worked with Jacob Ribicoff, who is a cinema sound mixer. Ernst comes more from the art world. The final mix is more cinematic as a result.

A: Did they add anything to the sound - is all the sound we hear stuff that was recorded on the ship?

L: All of it is stuff we recorded, and most of it is in fact synch. Much of it, believe it or not, comes from these little GoPro cameras - a mono-microphone that is really compromised - the sound is super compressed and had lots of digital artifacts that we thought were really interesting. They bizarrely sounded, simultaneously or by turns, super-machinic, super-cyborgian, and then really organic, as if they themselves were gasping for air, as if they themselves were drowning. But we also recorded with a stereo recorder - we recorded, we’re guessing, maybe 50 hours of wild sound, and they laid a lot more of that into amplify and to round out and to specialize and open up the final mix in ways we wouldn’t have been able to do.

A: If I can ask, the one scene that seemed a slightly odd fit was the fisherman taking a shower, because it’s so static and so, well, human. Where did that sequence come from…?

L: Before I answer that, can I ask a question - did you see it at the Vancouver Film Festival?

A: I did.

L: We’ve remixed the sound radically since then. The shower scene is not different, but the four-to-five minute shot of the captain falling asleep in front of the television - he was watching television in the version you saw, but you probably couldn’t hear what he was listening to; he’s actually listening quite literally to The Deadliest Catch, which is this Discovery Channel reality TV show of Alaska king crab fishermen, which totally changes the feel of the scene, and the film as a whole. But how about the shower scene?

V: It’s at least one of the scenes we had long discussions about. There are two things - you use the words “human,” and the word “static,” and the shots with which we have been struggling with a lot are precisely the static shots, and the two human shots. The shower scene - one of the big questions between us when we were editing was how much of the human to use, and how, and when to use it - their weight overall in the film. And suddenly somehow being trapped in the shower with this fisherman sounded like a very intimate moment - a moment where we are really close to him. They have so few moments where they can - first of all, wash; they do that once a week, maybe. So it’s kind of a moment of respite; we don’t have a lot of respite in the film. And the fact that they are cleaning themselves - I don’t know how to answer, but the intimacy at that moment felt, not necessary to us… but good, to us.

L: Our typical struggle was how to introduce humans. We didn’t want to have “character development” or any kind of obvious plot, in the way that one would expect from a fiction film; and we didn’t want the film to be “about” fisherman themselves - we wanted to place the fishermen in this much larger ecological domain, where they were rubbing shoulders with the boat, the machines, with nature, with the elements, and everything, so their centrality would be relativised to an extent. And even to start off in darkness at the beginning, on the back of the boat, and even though much of that is shot from the head of a fisherman, it’s very unfamiliar, it’s very disconcerting, it’s almost uncanny. You don’t have your bearings; it doesn’t feel like a quintessential human-centric film. And gradually humans are introduced, very slowly, to a very limited kind of degree, and the two shots - of the captain in front of the television and the equally static shot of the fisherman taking a shower - are the most intimate moments. To be sure, when he’s taking the shower, it comes after the bow shot of the waves and the underwater sequence during the daytime with the seagulls; so there he is, in the hull, behind the bow, getting wet in order to clean himself. So there’s lots of affinities and differences from the rest of the natural world, that are implicitly being thematized in that shot.

A: Lucien, you’ve said the film resembles a science fiction film or a horror film. How much of that was by design?

L: To be honest, I may have said that, but Véréna has also said the same thing! Each of us repeats what the other has said.

V: (Laughs).

L: So you shouldn’t place too much credence in that! Neither of us were thinking about science fiction films or horror films when we were making it. We just find ourselves obliged to sound more coherent about these sort of genre distinctions after the fact. But we did have some references - they weren’t deliberate, in terms of our intentionality, while we were making the film, but while we were editing the film, we were thinking more painters, more than about other filmmakers. We were thinking about Bosch and Breughel and Escher and Turner - the history of painting began to emerge, and the representation of nature and humanity’s role in relation to nature began to emerge during post-production, during the editing. I don’t know if it influenced us, but it’s something we were aware of. But - we only knew we didn’t want this to be a canonical documentary.

V: What we wanted to do, is just when we were watching the image, is to feel what we were living, the experience we had. And most of this experience was bloody and dark and strange. And even surreal, so I think this is why the reference to sci-fi and horror, because it was also nightmarish.

L: It was simultaneously nightmarish and intimate. It wasn’t an unadulterated nightmare. But to the extent that there are nightmarish qualities, it’s a nightmare that’s lived and breathed by the fisherman, as much as it is by their prey.

Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel's new film, Caniba - about Japanese celebrity cannibal Issei Sagawa - plays the VIFF September 29th and October 10th 

Millions of Dead Cops: a Dave Dictor interview apropos of tonight's Seattle show

Part of me really likes the idea of pulling up at the US border (I would, as a non-driver, be in the passenger seat, but nevermind that) and having the following conversation:

Customs officer: What's your business in the United States?

Us: We're going to a concert.

Customs officer: What band?

Us: MDC.

Customs officer: What's that stand for?

Us: Well, uh, usually, Millions of Dead Cops.

Even a cavity search would be kinda worth it, you know? And it would be fun to violate my "fuck Trump's Amerikkka" ban on cross-border travel - not that I cross the border that often ANYHOW - to see MDC perform.

If you don't know MDC, start here. (That link is to "John Wayne was a Nazi;" there's also their homepage, here).

Alas, there are health issues this weekend - I am newly missing a tooth and my girl has a hurt foot - and I have no $ for it, so... here's hoping SOMEONE ELSE gets to have that conversation tonight - that this interview makes it into the world in time to promote tonight's MDC concert in Seattle.

I talked to Dave Dictor last year, pre-Trump, about many things - from the homophobic outburst of the Bad Brains against the Big Boys and the Dicks to his vegetarianism, with one update from Dictor, which you will note below. It's only a partial interview, since I appear to have deleted a file I shouldn't have, so there are some missing pieces. Some reference is made to this interview with (the great) Mark Prindle, whose record review site, tho' mothballed, provides hours of fun reading...

I imagine you've told the story many times, but I've gotta ask you about "John Wayne was a Nazi," because that has got to be one of the top ten political punk songs of all time.

Well, he died in 1979, and I was right on campus at the University of Texas. And the University of Texas campus at the time was very collegian - we used to call them frat boys and sorority sisters, and they were very Reagan youth - not the band, but the true Reagan Youth. And they were all crying and everything. And I go, "What are you crying about?" (Faux-sobbing:) "John Wayne died!" People in Texas really take their hat off to John Wayne. And I'm like, "what are you talking about, that guy was a Nazi." I just went home and wrote the song. And I tried to give it a couple of other people, "why don't you sing this," because some other bands were more popular, we were just starting out. And for a long time we just played parties for 30 people, we weren't really a band that could draw 200 people. It's kinda funny, because in Austin, until we went to San Francisco and played that gig, we were a very minor-league band. They had some kind of poll, and we were like 30th in the poll, right there with bands that had broken up years before. Austin's kind of a close-knit town, and none of us were really true out-and-out Southerners. Franco [Mares] was from El Paso, but he was Chicano. And it's a bit of a Peyton Place kinda place. There's a pecking order, and I never looked all that skinny with a big mowhawk kinda thing... I did have a mowhawk at one point, but I just mean, we didn't get that much love in our hometown. It took the outside world, it took getting a call from Tim Yohannan and... I'd sent Mickey Creep from Creep Magazine our record, and actually Jello Biafra was his roommate. Jello started playing it on the radio, Tim Yohannan called us, and then I got Biafra's number, and that's how we got the gig out there. It really started picking up after 1981. But 1978, 1980, we were the nobodies. And I don't mean the band the Nobodys. Truly the nobodies. We were lucky that Gary [Floyd, then of the Dicks] liked us so much, because the only times we got gigs anywhere was when Gary said, "I want my friends the Stains to play with us."   

When did you first meet Gary, anyhow?

I picked him up hitchhiking, right around 1977. He was on his way to San Francisco to see the Sex Pistols.

Oh wow, you drove him to that?

No, I didn't drive him to that, he was just kinda chatting me up. I said, hey, what are you up to, and he said, "I'm on my way to San Francisco - if you knew what you were doing, you'd be coming to San Francisco!" And I said, "ahh, I've got lots of stuff going on in my life." Y'know, Austin Texas is 2200 miles from San Francisco. But wow... and I didn't really know who the Sex Pistols were. He was so ahead. He was the first real punk I ever met. We talked for about a half an hour, and then I think I saw him a few months later when he got back from San Francisco. "It was great, blahblahblah, I'm moving to San Francisco but I'm getting my band together first." Ah, a band! And we just started talking to each other. Because I lived right off the drag, at the University of Texas in Austin, and he worked somewhere around there. And then I found out, he had a pushcart on the University of Texas campus; it was one of those carts where, you sell sodas and pretzels and candy bars off of, and there he was. And every day of the week, in class, I could talk to him, and before you know it, I was skipping class and just hanging out with. I say in the book that he was one of the most interesting people I ever met in my life, he was so strong in his convictions that his view of the universe was way better than the worlds'. And he was an out person, this was way back in 1977, and he was talkin' political things, and way advanced. We were just making small talk, but it was so interesting - it was more interesting than my professors by a factor of ten or something.

He was a few years older than you?

Yeah, he was - I think he's about five years older than me. I'm 56 (a couple of years have passed since we talked, note). But I wasn't that young at the time, I was more like 21 or 22, he was maybe 24. Maybe only three years. But he was such an interesting person, and then he starts telling me he's doing a band called the Dicks. "Would you mind if I called my band the Stains?" He said, "nooo!" And then his band came out, and we followed suit about a half year or a year later. We started playing together, and eventually got a gig with the Dead Kennedys up in San Francisco, in the summer - July 2nd of 1981, and both our bands went out there together, and we just had a great, great time. We discovered the ocean. We decided we were both moving to San Francisco - and we did.

He was the guy who sort of turned you on to punk rock, then?

Yeah, you know... not in total, but I didn't really know what it was. This was in 1977, and I was into the New York Dolls and Roxy Music and Lou Reed, but not really about the British invasion kinda stuff, not really the Ramones... slowly but surely, stuff like Elvis Costello and Patti Smith and Talking Heads were part of my vocabulary, but he was the first punk I ever met, and just his attitude was punk: "I don't care what other people think, I don't care what other people say, this is my life and I'm doing it the way I want to do it." It was just so refreshing, it was just really wonderful. I was somewhat of a political person. It was so sad in that era - I don't know if you remember it, but they forced Nixon out of office in 1972 or 1973 and then the country just went totally downhill. The kids started doing cocaine, and disco came about... It became this - to me - anti-egalitarian (society). People were sneaking off to the backroom two or three at a time to snort cocaine, there's expensive drugs, and... I was so happy to meet Gary. I had heard the word punk, but there, he was one. I think I saw him a few months later, and he had a purple mowhawk. He was way ahead.

Were you at the first Dicks gig, May 16th at Armadillo World Headquarters?

Yes I was at that Dicks gig. I was at both nights - they played with the Big Boys, they recorded at Raoul's... We must have played six, eight, ten shows with the Dicks, we played backyard parties. We were their junior band, and we had a little more, y'know - all our amps were working, all our drums, all our cymbals weren't cracked. We shared a lot of stuff. And our politics very much gelled. We were very much against the authoritarian state, against what was happening to the farmworkers, they were getting murdered in Texas by the Klan, who were hanging out with the police. This was 35 years ago, it was a different world.       

(Gary Floyd with the Dicks)

Both MDC and the Dicks make comparisons between the KKK and the cops - were there actually a lot of connections?

Oh, that's documented. There are famous pictures, and not from the 30's or something, of the Klan hanging out with the cops. They had counties in Texas like King County - it's the home of Purina/ Raulston dog food - and all the judges, all the cops, all the everything were kinda from the same powerful family, and they truly ran the whole state. It's the kind of thing that Bo Diddley [editor: or did he mean to say Leadbelly?] was singing about in "The Midnight Special." You come to town, you say the wrong thing, next thing you know, you're prison bound.

I want to ask about why Austin was so queer, compared to the rest of Texas, but I gotta clear something up here. I had always heard and thought you were gay, and then I read the interview you did with Mark Prindle, and you said that you're not. So I'm a little confused...

I've had some gender issues. I'm think more of a transvestite - I was very friendly with female clothes, and donned drag and performed that way, and people just assumed, across the board, whether gay or homophobic, that I was gay. And I kinda refused to deny it. I was living in San Francisco, and I had a lot of gay friends, two gay roommates. Through the years I've had a half-dozen gay roommates, and I never denied it, I just let the rumour go to the point that I made it to the Homosexual Who's Who of America. And I never said anything about it, but, y'know, with Mark Prindle, the last three or four years, I set the record straight: I'm not really gay, haven't made love to a man in a long long long long long long time, fuckin' three decades. But I would dress in drag, and there was a fascination with all things female in me.

That pre-dated your getting on stage?

Oh yeah! I did drag, there'd be Halloween or this or that, but it was always inside me, waiting to bust out and give word to it. And that's where the song "My Family is a Little Weird" comes in, or [the lyric] "Why is America so straight, and me so bent?" I almost wish I hadn't given that interview, where I set the record straight, it was more fun having everyone think I'm gay. And gay, bisexual, straight... maybe say I'm bisexual, even though haven't been participating with males in 35 years; why not?

Update: the above conversation took place a couple of years ago, after which Dave elaborated on his answer by email. Things change!

I have crossed the threshold and ....come across to consider myself to be part of the Queer community because of trans fluid feelings... Not wanting to change my gender but being able to being fluid. In my thoughts and how I view myself sexually .... I think there is a lot of fluid folks who just didn't know where to stand ..... The new terminology finally caught up to me.... I would say that I felt like the queerest straight guy in the world. Because I wasn't having what the rest of the world considered true gay homoerotic sex. I was dreamscaping erotic sex in my mind of all sorts, acting on only a little, usually involving a female where I would totally feel attracted to the scent of that woman. I knew I was off and in my mind I saw myself in a feminine role and actually seeing and feeling myself to be and as a woman. In these subsequent years, the term "fluid" came about and it seemed almost made for me. Gay men and woman were getting together to gender fuck with each other as queers. I felt sort of ...the inside of out of that... But finally I found a true home in the queer community. And since I have found a woman ( probably many of you who identify as a woman but dreamscape as a male). And I feel that... I love my place in my queer community and actually in all loving communities. And I know there are just millions of you out there ready to take similar steps. All I can say is do it when you're ready and let me tell you the water is fine. I hope you make it soon. I am loving my life like never before and see you in the deep end of the pool.

Continue old interview!

It makes the whole Austin scene look unusual, when I thought you were gay: holy shit, there's the Big Boys, the Dicks, and MDC, and they're all fronted by gay men? What?

It really was a unique space and place. Because it wasn't Texas, it was Austin; and 700 miles in every direction, there was nothing but uptight Ameri-KKK. Especially in the 1970's, even moreso. And there was a small gay neighborhood in Houston named Montrose, but the rest of those people came to Austin, Texas. And even then there was only one or two gay bars. I actually used to hang out at a lesbian gay bar called the Hollywood, very disco-oriented - this is 1976, 77 - and I used to like playin' with those girls, hangin' out with all these gals. Most of them were University of Texas students, some of them just lived in the area, but sometimes I'd go into a lesbian disco, and there'd be maybe three males in a room of lesbian women. It was very cool. Having a certain amount of trans feelings, I felt right at home.

I know, Gary, when he used to dress, used to pin condoms filled with mayonnaise to his clothes and then throw them at the audience.

He certainly did!

Did you do anything like that?

No, he was more in that Divine, over-the-top kind of way. I was more shy about it.

I like hearing that you didn't shave, though, when in drag. Gary and I were actually talking about you, about how he would shave and present himself nicely, and you went out there with a face full of stubble...

I hate to say it's more like I was lazy than any deep seated political [thing]. If I'd had someone around me saying, "darling, please shave," I would have, but I didn't, and that's that.  

So if we could talk about the Bad Brains story... you revered the Bad Brains before that episode, right?

Totally, totally did. I bought their 1981 single "Pay to Cum," and we had just moved out to the Bay Area and played a gig with them. They loved our "no war/ no KKK" stance we were taking against the cops and it's effect on people of colour and people with less power, and they said, "why don't you join us on tour?" We go, "okay," and then next thing you know - literally, that night, we were driving to Houston Texas to play a gig. And like I say, I'm writing this for the book, and we got to Houston and they kinda came up to us after the show... "why is there a woman on tour with us," and this woman was our manager named Tammy Lundy (Cleveland?), she's our manager, and they're like, "women should be pregnant and barefoot at home." And I was like, "thanks for your opinion, but whatever..." And on the way, I was like, "y'know, I could probably get on the phone and set up a quick show in Austin," because I think everyone would love to support you, and they said sure. And we get there, and Randy Biscuit is in the show with the Big Boys, and Gary, and I think MDC. I'm not sure if the Offenders were on the bill. But all of a sudden there's this big scene where HR of the Bad Brains didn't want to sing into the same microphone as those gay guys, and then he yelled, those bloodclot faggots should die. It's one thing to say "I don't really like gay people," it's another thing to say, "bloodclot faggots should die." And it was just terrible and nasty and of course the tour was over. And that is the story. To this day - I'm writing this in the book - it was one of those sad things that really happened. But we went to San Francisco, got interviewed by Maximum Rock'n'Roll, and we felt it was our duty [to speak up]. Because everyone was hypnotized by the Bad Brains, they're still an incredible band. Their dogma and what their lead singer is thinking is warped, but their musicianship, and the influences in some of the songs - "Postive Mental Attitude" - were a cool message. But just what was going on under the surface - by Prophet Joseph, as HR also called himself over the years - was a hateful, "hope they die" - sentiment. I didn't want one more person to put on a show who might be gay or might happen to be a little different and then get taken advantage of by the Bad Brains and made to feel less than they were.


And this was back in the day when most of the punk kids were 16, 17 - it was just me and Gary and Randy who were like, four or five years older. It's one thing to tell an 18 year old "gays all deserve to die," but to us it was like, "what the fuck are you talking about, how about you screw your fuckin' selves?" And I realized it was going to take someone a little older, with - and obviously by that time MDC has some street cred and we were out there touring, and people were digging us, and people were listening. And that interview got out, and the word got out, and believe me, I play a tour somewhere, and every fifth night some kid will come up and say, "tell me the story about the Bad Brains." And American Hardcore did a fairly accurate depiction, I don't know if you read the book, Stephen Blush...

Tim Kerr (of the Big Boys) tells the story there, I think.

Tim likes to whitewash it a bit. Tim didn't like the controversy, "it wasn't so bad, y'know." It really was bad. If you ask Gary Floyd or ask other people that knew that era. It was that bad.

What the hell is a "bloodclot faggot," anyhow? {The Bad Brains had used the term in their hate speech directed at the Dicks and Big Boys]. What does that mean?

A bloodclot is something that causes a hemmhorage, so if you have a bloodclot in your veins, it will kill you, you'll have an aneurysm in your brain. So the gay population is like a bloodclot to the human race.


It's very Coptic-Christian-Rastafari kind of imagery. It wasn't familiar to me, obviously not to you, but it was there.

Do you still perform "Pay to Come Along?" (MDC's musical response to the episode, with lyrics in part that read, "Couldn't help us fight the fight/ Get together black and white/ Returned all support with abuse/ and intolerance beyond excuse.")

No, we don't. We really dropped it from the repertoire, it fell off our setlist in about 1990. I don't want to get up on stage and go, "let's talk about the Bad Brains." I'm not for extending this war, but the word is out. People want to go see the Bad Brains for their musicianship, and that, they know already. I've never said "boycott them" - I wanted to let people know that HR is kind of a hateful guy, don't put yourself in the same position as we did in bringing him to your hometown and finding out just how hateful they were... We played the Democratic National Convention in 1988 and so did the Bad Brains, and HR is looking at me hard. I'm just, like, "What EVER, dude. Have a great life - I'm not going to fight you." The sad thing about him - it really affected his brain with the amount of cocaine he smoked. I'm not going to say it's karma, but when you live in glass houses, and all that stuff...

It's always sickening to see someone who is part of an oppressed minority taking it out on someone who is even more oppressed.

Exactly. You kick the dog that's a little smaller than you, right on down the line.

Coming to the topic of touring... what was the biggest show you ever had?

There were big shows for different reasons. We played in front of 50,000 people, but that was opening for Agnostic Front and Motorhead. The 50,000 people weren't there to see us. That was in 2002, in Germany. So that was the biggest numbers I ever stood in front of and played for. But y'know, way back in the day, we were getting thousand-people crowds on our own, or then when we played with Kennedys or at the Lincoln Memorial with DRI and the Crucifucks, there was upwards of 6-8-10,000 people. Free outdoors, we played with the Dead Kennedys and the Contractions in San Francisco at Rock Against Reagan in the fall, and there were around 8-10,000 people. Those were the biggest shows. They were free shows - it's nice when it's free, because everyone can just come down - but we played the Olympic Auditorium sometimes, and it was four to six thousand people. It was a big boxing arena. We played there with the Dicks, once. The Subhumans, Discharge...

The Canadian Subhumans? 

The British Subhumans.

Ah. I'm friendly with the Canadian Subhumans.

No, not those guys, but they toured very early on, and we saw them in Austin Texas, and Joey Shithead and DOA - I don't know if Chuck was with them at that point... but we'd look at the van and go, "Wow, you're going 30 cities in this van?" Before then, you just played your hometown and hoped that there was a big enough crowd, that some record company was gonna send a rep out and sign you and put you on tour with the Ramones or somebody. It was a whole new way, and DOA and Black Flag and the Subhumans really led that charge, of bands saying, "We aren't going to sit around our hometown and wait for them to discover our kind of music, we'll be sitting here til hell freezes over. We're just going to take it on the road." And sure enough, [when we toured], there were a hundred, two hundred people in every major city, or a lot of major cities - Houston, Austin, of course LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Portland, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, New York, of course DC, Boston, and a few places in the midwest like Minneapolis, Chicago, and believe it or not Akron Ohio, had a great little scene... I'm sure I'm missing a few little scenes, but there was really about twenty gigs in North America, and we just took it on the road. We got a van, realized we're going to have to be in close quarters with each other, there's no rich and fabulous contract that's going to get signed, that's going to make it feel like latter day rockstars. It was all very working class, do it yourself.

Final question - it's my impression you're a vegan?

I'm a vegetarian. And when we go on tour, we act as vegans, we ask for a vegan menu. I'm not perfect. I just had a vegan stay with me who read every label on everything and ended up throwing out a large amount of food in my kitchen! Y'know, I support veganism, but for whatever reason, my roommate and I - he's in the band with me, he's the bassist in the band - are both single guys, and we do a little cooking but not much. We eat out a lot. And that's exactly what we are. We're vegans on tour, and at home we're a little bit more relaxed. I've been a vegetarian for over 40 years. I go back and forth. What happened was, I was doing a very vegan, pure, wheat grass juice and green tea sprouts juicing diet. And then I had a staph infection. I almost died in the hospital, I lost 30 pounds. And the doctor, I was telling I was a vegan. He was like, "stop. Don't tell me this. Eat some salmon. Eat eggs - go get your free range eggs or cage-free eggs, but something, eat protein. And I took him to heart. I was down to 145 pounds, two years ago. I went purposefully out of my way to start eating eggs.

That's curious, though, it's kind of the opposite of what you'd expect, that you keep to a vegan diet on the road, and are more relaxed at home.

Well, you know... yeah, that is kinda funny, but in the rider, we ask for vegan food, and everywhere we go, generally, they provide a dinner and a breakfast. So you get a great well-paid for vegan diet when you're on the road. And then when you're at home, someone comes over with eggplant parmesan, and - just because there's some cheese in there, I don't make the exception. It's not a lot of cheese, mind you. I don't have a quart of milk in my refrigerator. I do have some eggs. I don't have any ice cream in my refrigerator, but I'm not going to say I haven't had ice cream in years. I can't think of when the last ice cream was, but, y'know... if there's a Ben and Jerry's quart of ice cream melting in front of me, I might just have some.

The rest of this interview appears to be temporarily lost... But there's lots more out there from Dave Dictor, including his book, Memoir of a Damaged Civilization: Stories of Punk, Fear, and Redemption. It can be ordered through the publishers, Manic D Press, among other venues...!