Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Kevin Spacey, Bryan Singer, and Apt Pupil: some cliches

If 2016 was "the year people died," celebrity-wise, 2017 is shaping up to be "the year people were outed as sexual predators." I guess that's an improvement, but there's troubling stuff out there.

I haven't figured out what I want to say, as a fat man, about the fact that two of the prominent accused in the casting couch scandals that are breaking are fat men, Harvey Weinstein and James Toback. I'm kinda hoping some skinny, good looking straight men get busted too, soon. (I mean, sure, there's the Afflecks, but the stories I've read about them seem more of a "spoiled fratboy" nature than serial sexual predation, unless I'm forgetting something).

I'm going to leave that all aside, here, and focus instead on the whole pedophilia thing in Hollywood.

As others are noting, it is at the very least deeply unfortunate and poorly thought out - "distraction tactics" aside - for Kevin Spacey to use the accusation of coming on to a 14 year old as an opportunity to out himself. I guess I can see the logic of it - I mean, you read that he's tried to fuck a 14 year old boy and you go, "wait, Kevin Spacey likes boys?" So he may just be guilty of concision: yes, I might have tried to drunkenly seduce a 14 year old boy, and yes, by the way, I'm gay. 

But it has an unfortunate correlate: suddenly you've re-equated homosexuality with the desire to fuck kids, a destructive stereotype that gay men have been trying to get off their backs for a long time.

It's not an entirely UNFOUNDED stereotype, mind you. There are writers out there - lesbian-to-transman queer activist Pat Califa, for instance - who have written about the appeal of the underage, and the problems with the taboos around pedophila (some of Califa's writings are excerpted here, albeit in a contentious context). Unlike the NAMBLA people - who had friends even in people like respected queer icon Allen Ginsberg, but never mind that - Califa is more associated with the queer community in general than with pedophilia proper. The same way there are a lot of straight men - Roman Polanski, alas, also recently outed as a repeat offender, which I'd never known - who want to fuck female teenagers, there are apparently lots of gay men who feel the same way about male teenagers.

And lest I seem to be demonizing that, let me add that I think I actually can understand that a little. If you've had troubling life experiences around early queer experiences - say, when you're first trying to find your way, are vulnerable and confused and unsure of yourself, and are either approached as a teen by older men, or make approaches to your own peers, which may or may not end positively, and these experiences leave some degree of psychic residue, whether positive or negative, they might leave part of you sort of stuck developmentally, on people FROM that age in your life.

Is that a cliche? Am I presenting a cliche'd stereotype as an insight? Maybe, but I should add - I'm not just theorizing from the outside here. I had a couple early queerish experiences in my preteens myself, when girls were kind of terrifying but my male friends safe; I've written before, during my time writing the odd article for Xtra West, about one experience, where a male friend a few years older than myself and I literally got into my closet - yes, my closet - and looked at and touched each other. It wasn't really sexual, for me - I didn't even have an erection, though as I remember it, he did, and wanted things to go further, wanted me to put his penis into my mouth, which I didn't do. But it troubled me, and led to an episode where we actually fought quite violently in my bedroom, the next time I saw him, as an outpouring of whatever turmoil was going on inside us; that fighting, of course, was probably the consummation of a different kind of tension, that I didn't really understand at all at the time, and maybe is its own sort of cliche, but what can I say, that's how it happened.

Anyhow, there's more to that story, but suffice to say, occasionally when I see young men who remind me of this particular guy, I feel a flicker of something. It is something I don't ACT on - I identify as a straight male, and have no interest in any sort of teenagers, male or female - but observing it in myself makes me wonder if men who want to fuck teenage boys had life experiences that stuck with them in the same way that one did for me; if part of them wants to go back and revisit those experiences, redo them, relive them, rewrite them...?

Regardless, there are certainly people who are both gay and who like it young. To say homosexuality equals pedophilia is deeply wrong, but so is saying that the two have no areas of overlap - see the shower sequences in Gus Van Sant's Paranoid Park for another example of a respected queer activist who obviously has attraction to young teens. Using pedophilia as an excuse to justify the oppression of gays is, obviously, wrong; there also gay men who have no interest in teenagers, or who would never act on attractions they may sometimes feel. But like I say - there are overlaps, and denying that is naive or maybe, while politically admirable, slightly disingenuous.

And as for the other aspect of that cliche - young men who have been victimized by adult sexual predators, note that I've also had the experience of having had older men come onto me when I was a kid, too. I remember a guy suggesting we go to drinks at a Maple Ridge bus stop when I was about 13. Another approached me at a Quebec raceway, age 14, where I was waiting for my father to finish placing bets. I guess he misunderstood my standing around alone for something else, like that I was available for a pick up; he seemed most disappointed, and tried several times to get me to go for drinks with him. I was 14, a virgin, and didn't even drink. No, really - I'm not interested. My father is just over there. You should go away. 

He did.

But again, this doesn't seem all that surprising.   Teenagers, male or female, have a physical beauty to them that older people lack. I certainly was a lot prettier to look at at 14 than at 49! Go do a survey of porn sites, straight or gay; I don't really look at the latter (nor the former, all that often), but I would hasten to guess that there's a huge amount of teen porn for gay male consumption out there. Some of that might come with a disclaimer that "all our models are 18 years of age," but some of it might not. (There's also a ton of porn out there of the "casting couch" variety, incidentally, another very popular trope of porn that has, in its real life counterpart, been drawing outrage, but I don't want to digress too far).

Anyhow, given how ubiquitous that sort of thing doubtlessly is, it seems a bit silly to say that the sort of behaviour Spacey is accused of is THAT exceptional. It may be destructive, it may be dangerous, there may be good reasons for having taboos in place against it, and it may even be a cliche, but it's not like it isn't OUT there. It's just not that unusual - so much so that you get the feeling Spacey may never have even CONSIDERED that he was saying something that others would perceive as damaging.

This brings us to An Open Secret - the unedited version on Youtube or Vimeo. It seems to be THE much-watch documentary of the moment, distributed for free by the filmmakers so people CAN see it. It's very well-made, if leaning a little to the emotively sentimental (the tone is one of tragedy, not outrage, where the latter at times seems like it might be more appropriate). In it, you'll hear from various people who were sexually seduced and/ or assaulted by Hollywood pedophile power-players. Some of them seem remarkably unscarred by the experience: they've processed having been fucked as a teen by an adult male and gotten on with their lives, however much anger they might feel. On the other hand, some of the victims, like a young man who drank and drugged himself into a debilitating stroke, when he finally tried to cold turkey, after having survived long exposure to Hollywood pedos - ended up trapped in a cycle of self-destructive behaviour, apparently caused by how troubling their experiences were to them. (I've personally known people like that, too, who were sexually abused as kids and ended up as alcoholic adults, who directly correlated the two aspects of their lives; it might also be a cliche, but it doesn't mean there isn't truth to it).

Where it all really gets interesting, especially in the uncensored version of that film, is in the repeated outing of Bryan Singer. He was - until a key lawsuit against him was dropped - named more than once in the original cut of that film, as someone who had known pedophile associates, who frequently attended DEN pool parties where, for a brief time in the 1990's, it was ALMOST normalized - normal for Hollywood, anyhow - to have wealthy, powerful, adult gay men being attended by naked 14 year old boys, who were sometimes then drugged and raped. Though there is no word on Kevin Spacey attending such pool parties, Singer, of course, directed one of Kevin Spacey's breakthrough films, The Usual Suspects, a film which might bear some subtextual analysis in light of recent developments. After all, it has a tale told from the point of view of a monster hiding in plain sight.

And actually, that's a theme behind Bryan Singer's Apt Pupil, too - a very disturbing film to watch in the current climate, with its controversial shower scene (teen male extras complained about being asked to shower (nearly) naked for long periods). The film deals with a secret, special, and very close relationship between a young teenage boy and an adult male with a secret. It's based on a Stephen King story, and of course, there are weird pedo things in a few of King's stories, too, from a dominant subtext in Salem's Lot to the child abuse in It. The relationship in Apt Pupil actually ISN'T overtly sexual - the older man (Ian McKellan, whose being gay no doubt was just coincidental to the casting) is a Nazi fugitive and the young man, the dominant figure, is more interested in history than sex. But there are suggestions that the young man is gay, and there are all sorts of weird moments in the film, from the shower scene (where the showers change into gas chambers and the naked boys into old Jewish men) to conversations about keeping secrets, that have very striking, disturbing resonances with the stories that are circulating about Singer.

Having revisted the film last night, I looked up Brad Renfro, who I hadn't heard about for years; did he ever accuse Bryan Singer of impropriety?

Nope: he developed drug and alcohol problems which led to his death of an overdose at age 25. His story, in fact, seems very similar to that of the stroke victim in An Open Secret.


It's a shame; Renfro is a good actor, actually, and holds his own against Ian McKellan in the film. One wonders, if he'd lived to appear in An Open Secret, if he'd have his own stories to tell about Bryan Singer?

One wonders what Sir Ian McKellan saw/ remembers?

In any event, it's a reasonably interesting film to watch, if you've a mind for a horror movie tonight. Personally, I am glad never to have really been a fan of Mr. Singer's cinema. I do like Apt Pupil, a bit, but I'm not so attached to it that I'm not prepared to throw it under the bus.

That's a bit harder with people like Roman Polanski, or James Toback (or Klaus Kinski or... well, I was never a big Woody Allen fan)...

It's going to be a tumultuous year.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Upcoming cinema excitements: The Great Silence, Lost Highway, Kenneth Anger, DOA: A Rite of Passage, and more!

One of the most esteemed of the non-Leone spaghetti westerns, Sergio "Django" Corbucci's The Great Silence (also known, at least to Alex Cox, as The Big Silence) is coming to the screen at the Cinematheque. It's an unusual western, in that it is set in the snow; it's also politically charged, as the best of the 1970's Italian westerns tend to be, and cynical and downbeat as all hell, with Corbucci's typically-tortured, mute protagonist (Jean-Louis Trintignant) facing off against a murderous Klaus Kinski and accompanying thugs. Kinski, of course, is vastly problematic, even to a fan of James Toback or Roman Polanski; he seems to have been a morally repugnant human being, who, besides boastfulness verging on the delusional, a propensity towards rage, and general priapism, appears to have raped two of his young daughters (and bragged about it!). I don't know really how to deal with these matters, don't entirely feel like "separating the artist from his work" is an answer, but I'll see this film again regardless; it is great enough a work that I can breathe past the vile odors that come off its star (somewhat mitigated, in fact, in that at least it's not Kinski's voice you hear; versions I've seen, at least, were dubbed by another actor, before Kinski was a name star).

The Great Silence is paired with a Latin-American western I have not seen, called Time to Die, which sounds interesting enough; I had no idea that there WERE Mexican-made westerns, and both Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Carlos Fuentes were involved, so it's no doubt interesting.... I will leave it to the Cinematheque guide to sell it, however.

Sooner than all that, of course, is the Cinematheque's Damn Scary! Hallowe'en party, which has some inspired films playing, including Carnival of Souls, David Lynch's Lost Highway, and one of Ingmar Bergman's most noirish, expressionism-influenced films, Hour of the Wolf, with Max von Sydow as an artist persecuted by the materialization of demons in his head, whose madness threatens to draw in his wife, as well (played by the great Liv Ullmann). It's an unusual Bergman, and a perfect bending of the arthouse canon to suit a sophisticated Hallowe'eny crowd. If you've never seen Max von Sydow acting in a Swedish film, this is by far not the worst place to start.

Fans of Lost Highway, meantime, might find some of the backstory of the collaboration between the film's two authors, David Lynch and Barry Gifford, illuminating. My conclusions, I should note, are ALL SPECULATIVE on my part, but are based on facts and a definable timeline, and I would guess I've filled in the blanks correctly (input is welcome if I've made a mistake!). Barry Gifford had a gig writing short prose pieces about classic films noir for a magazine or newspaper or such, which ended up anthologized in a great little book from 1988 called The Devil Thumbs a Ride. Gifford is also a poet, novelist and Kerouac biographer - a writer's writer, in short - so his descriptions of the films are very entertaining as prose pieces, often cutting to the essence of the films he describes. One of the few reviews of a contemporary film included in the book is for Blue Velvet, which Gifford calls - I'm quoting imperfectly from memory - a "kind of academic pornography," "phlegm noir," and I think even says it is "one step up from a snuff film," or such, accusing Lynch of reveling in ugliness (which Gifford himself thinks he's pretty talented with, he notes, so it's no small thing for him to say). It is one of the most negative, dismissive reviews of a David Lynch film ever; there  must have been other contrarian reactions to the film, but Gifford's is a full body-slam takedown. To my knowledge, the two men had never interacted before that, and Gifford wasn't exactly mainstream reading, so it is very likely that Lynch's first awareness of Barry Gifford was that condemnatory review.

Gifford's Wild at Heart was published soon thereafter, in 1990, and guess who picked up the rights for the film adaptation? (I vastly prefer the book to the movie, on that one, by the by, though the ending is a bit odd in the book; Lynch repairs a gesture on Gifford's part that I've never much understood, having Sailor walk away from Lula for good, apparently). Lynch and Gifford continued to work together on the TV series Hotel Room, which I haven't seen, but their collaboration reached its peak, for most people, in 1997, with Lost Highway, which the two men co-authoredI have always figured the Robert Loggia and Robert Blake characters are the on-screen analogs for Lynch (the pornographer, get it) and Gifford (represented by the whatever-the-hell demonic force Robert Blake represents - a competing author, possessed of a camera and agenda of his own...). I'm pretty sure understanding that the film's two authors are feuding within the text opens windows of insight both into their collaboration and the story itself (which, let's face it, gets a bit strange). I think I might write Barry Gifford via his Facebook page to see if he cares to confirm my theory... Theirs is one of the more unlikely collaborations in cinema, that I'm aware of, anyhow, assuming it all began with that Blue Velvet piece.

There is other cool stuff upcoming at the Cinematheque, including a double bill of Bruce "Hard Core Logo" McDonald's early Roadkill, the first teaming of Highway 61's Valerie Buhagiar and Don McKellar (as a wannabe serial killer), and the restoration of George A. Romero's classic Night of the Living Dead (which, rumour has it, has a Criterion release in the works). There will also be a free screening of Canadian cinematographer Peter Mettler's Picture of Light, combined with a short David Rimmer animation... Other free Canadian film screenings are listed here, ongoing all year...

Meantime, at the Vancity Theatre, there's the Hallowe'en Boos Cruise, featuring, among other things, a screening of Suspiria (a film I have never done justice, but I have never been able to engage fully with Dario Argento's cinema, to be honest; I haven't seen the right films, or haven't seen them in the right frame of mind, perhaps. He is certainly much admired, but I have never had the "aha" moment). There are also screenings of The Nutty Professor (haven't seen it, either!), and an inspired-sounding horror movie clip collection with Michael van den Bos (it's family friendly but I am told that there are indeed some scary moments, though the person who told me this was particularly terrified by a clip from the PG-rated Poltergeist, so take that with a grain of salt). There will also be a screening on Hallowe'en night itself of everyone's favourite gay occultist experimental filmmaker Kenneth "Hollywood Babylon" Anger's magnificent, puzzling, and provocative Lucifer Rising, with a score from Charles Manson associate Bobby Beausoleil; the film is screening with some other short works by Anger, including Invocation of my Demon Brother, which involves a very decadent-looking, Performance-era Mick Jagger (though his soundtrack work is bloopy electronic noise; don't expect any Stonesiness from it).

I still wish Tom, or someone, would play The Devil's Rain one o' these Hallowe'ens - I want to see Ernest Borgnine melt on the big screen! - but I guess he's waiting for a decent digital hi-res version of it... I certainly am... [THIS JUST IN, thanks to Tom Charity for calling my attention to it!].

As cool as all that is, the big event at the Vancity, upcoming, for those humans out there who might be coming to this blog for movie suggestions, is DOA: A Rite of Passage, which documents the famous "ever feel like you've been cheated" American tour of the Sex Pistols, in all its chaotic, filthy fury. It also features footage of Sham 69, the X-Ray Spex, and... the Dead Boys? Funny, I don't remember seeing the Dead Boys at all when I saw this, but then, the last time I watched this film, I was a teenager, and it was on VHS tape, and I think the only Dead Boys song I knew (thanks to Co-Op radio, I believe) was "3rd Generation Nation." So I might just not noticed. DOA: A Rite of Passage screens November 6th. There is no involvement of Vancouver punk band DOA, note (which I think is what I was hoping for when I rented it as a teen).

There's plenty else happening around town for the Hallowe'en season, of course. I heard on Facebook, actually, there would be a Dicks cover band playing somewhere but I've missed the concrete details on that; Gary Floyd of the Dicks saw the Sex Pistols in San Francisco on the aforementioned tour, note. Also, I see that the Rio is going to be doing late night screenings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and will be bringing back the Maple Ridge-shot Dead Shack, with the filmmakers in attendance; it's a film I've had recommended to me by someone I trust. But I've kind of come to the end of my energies, here. I may not be writing quite as much for a bit - other projects, like getting a job, beckon. Still, happy Hallowe'en, folks! (I'm kind of jealous of anyone who will be at the Rickshaw tomorrow to catch BB Allin opening for the Genitorturers but I have stuff I gotta do...).

Monday, October 23, 2017


I don't know if I misled anyone but David is at the Princeton TONIGHT and at the Heritage Grill NEXT WEEK. Sorry.

Bob Mould last night...!

All photos by Allan MacInnis

Show review here. Dirk Bently was a bit harsher on Facebook talkin' about the variable tempos and fudged lyrics of some of the songs (which I noted, too - the Du stuff was messier, I thought, than his solo work) but he also acknowledges ("Celebrated Summertime" aside) that these things didn't matter much. One thing I forgot to mention is that I overheard more than one person say to Bob, in the queue at the merch table, that Husker Du had saved their lives. A few of them didn't even have anything to get signed - they just wanted to thank Bob. He received it all graciously.

There were some encounters that were pretty funny in that queue, actually - like the ubiquitous Gerald turning up, after a solo signing party with Bob, with MORE stuff for Bob to sign, and then hassling me about letting him go first. Bob greeted him with "YOU AGAIN?" But obliged him, no less. 

One guy wanted to just hug Bob and gush, saying he had nothing for Bob to sign. I dug a little gig poster out of my pocket and slid it over, and said "now you do," but the guy wasn't done gushing, so he kept at it, not notcing. Bob waited for a pause and then said, "look, you have something for me to sign!" 

Then he signed it.

A guy I know from the music scene - he was at that Grant Hart show at the Lamplighter I wrote about, linked a few posts below, though he was in awe of Hart that night, unlike me - chose as his opener, "Have you ever seen a Husker Du tattoo?" Bob said, "I have." Then the guy went ahead and showed him his anyhow. But Bob was really sweet about it. I mean, what do you do? Politely receive the love and try not to think about dinner...?

It must feel pretty nice, actually. No one lines up to love ME.   

It was kinda funny, too, how many people wanted to gush condolences about Grant Hart at Bob, who I don't think Bob had been at all close with for some time, but their troubled working relationship and whatever acrimony existed between them wasn't something he was going to bring up. Again, as Dirk notes - it's something I thought of too - "Never Talking to You Again" is a pretty chilling and fitting obit. I gather some people were moved to tears by Bob choosing to play it. 

He whipped through it pretty quickly, I thought, but it was still touching.

For my part, I got in line and got him to sign my Zen Arcade. I'd bought a Patch the Sky with me, too, but there was a queue, and I had "kinda" jumped it - because I'd been at the FRONT of it when Bob came out from backstage, had been the first person waiting by the merch table, but he sat down a little to one side of where I was, and a lineup formed that I didn't feel like getting in back of. So I got my Zen Arcade signed and then just figured I'd let the Patch the Sky sit.

Then, it turned out, after bullshitting with Mo and Ford and milling around a few minutes, the queue was still active, and very short, so I got back into line and got my Patch the Sky signed too. I asked Bob's permission to mention the weed thing in that Straight review, and he was fine with it, and shook his hand and thanked him, and that was about it. (It weirdly did occur to me to flirt with him a bit but I suppressed the instinct. I mean, I knew I would be kissin' and tellin', and I'm not sure Erika would approve). 

The guy has a pretty blessed life, it seems. I'm glad for him. I don't think a lot of old punks end up so happy, peaceful, or comfortable-seeming... I wonder if Chi Pig was there last night? 

Thanks again, Bob!

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Bob Mould tomorrow!

Interesting to compare befores-and-afters in Bob Mould's setlists: compared to the first part of this tour (which took place before Grant Hart's untimely departure), there are, if my count is right, five more Husker Du songs that are likely to be played tomorrow (there were seven or maybe eight last night, if you count "Love Is All Around"). I'm inclined to speculate that my interview with Tom Scholte about Bob's musical history (and our Du fandom) might have something to do with the sudden appearance of "Celebrated Summer" last night, but it is only speculation. It seems much more reasonable to surmise that the inclusion of a certain Grant Hart song has something to do with Grant Hart's passing, but in deference to those who don't want to know, I will say nothing as to which song it is...

Anyhow, when Bob Mould last played Vancouver, nine years ago, I had never owned a single album he was on, post-Warehouse. I had no plans of fixing that anytime soon. Since finding out about this show, I have done my best to amend my ways, and now have legit vinyl or CD releases of five of his solo LPs and two Sugar albums. And I've re-acquired Metal Circus, which I used to have, then sold, then had, then sold, and now hope to keep til I kick. I have overcome any and all issues I ever had; this guy is a genius songwriter and guitarist, and the fact is, right now, given a choice between spinning my FAVOURITE Du, which - you all know by now - is Zen Arcade; or spinning any one of Silver Age, Beauty & Ruin, or Patch the Sky, I would likely pick one of the latter, which I am really enjoying getting to know. I am finally ready to let go of my protracted adolescence and embrace adult Bob Mould (figuratively, anyway). 

I am really, really excited for tomorrow's show. 

By the by, interested parties may wish to also read my interview with tomorrow's opening act, Ford Pier, in which he (sorta) teaches me a new word ("meconium") and cracks a joke I don't get (because I didn't know fans of NRBQ referred to them as "the Q." Truth is, I don't know my NRBQ much at all). I am looking forward to seeing Ford again, too. But not as much as I'm looking forward to Bob Mould...

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

This weekend: Rodney DeCroo, Ford Pier/ Bob Mould, and (on Monday) David M. and Coach StrobCam

Rodney DeCroo, whom I have reviewed here and interviewed at some length here, and whom I think is one of Vancouver's finer songwriters - sort of in the "dark country/ folk" tradition of Townes van Zandt, maybe by way of Nick Cave- will be doing a rather intimate-sounding, "in the round"-type show October 19th, with Mark Davis (from Edmonton, and, Rodney tells me, one of the key songwriters for the band Old Reliable; I haven't checked out his music yet but any album called Eliminate the Toxins is surely worth poking one's nose into). Also joining them is Vancouver's own Sarah Wheeler, whom esteemed colleague Adrian Mack has said has "an effortlessly big voice which falls somewhere between Chrissie Hynde and Neko Case." The three will share the stage, maybe share songs, stories - it sounds like an intimate eve of talented songwriters doing their thing. Rodney tells me the space, Hidden City was founded in 2015 by Trish Klein (The Be Good Tanyas. Hidden City), it's also somewhere I haven't been yet...

Also of note, Ford Pier - pretty much the only super-talented Vancouver musician I feel guiltier about not paying enough mind to than Rodney, but mostly because I see him two out of three times I pop into Red Cat Records and so am constantly reminded of my neglect - will be opening for Bob Mould on October 22nd at the Rickshaw. Of course, Bob's the draw, there; I'm happy to report since I previously blogged about him, I have completely gotten over my whiny "but it isn't Zen Arcade" issue and have embraced Mould's genius fully. Black Sheets of Rain, Silver Age, Beauty and Ruin, Patch the Sky, and even two of the same Sugar albums I heard and turned my nose up at in the early 1990's have all been on heavy rotation for me these last weeks. I finally get it; next thing you know I will be replacing Warehouse: Songs and Stories in my collection (but not if it costs $40).

Sadly, Bob is not doing press for that show, so I've invited a "celebrity guest" to share some of his thoughts on Mould's solo output, which he knows far better than I do (more to come on that - I had actually been contriving to hook him up with an interview with Bob, but that can't happen, unfortunately; maybe Bob just doesn't want to answer question after question about the passing of Grant Hart. I sure wouldn't). Meantime, I am also working on something with Ford Pier. My two favourite Ford Pier songs (based on my shamefully limited exposure to his music) are "Great Western," a charmingly Canadian country ditty about two people who meet at a bingo game, which reminds me a bit in its humour of the wit and wordplay of Tom "Fussin' with the 'tussin" Holliston; and "Lions and Tigers and Bears," at the further extreme of Pier's musical spectrum, more Wright brothers in its middle-aged anguish - about aging men facing impotence, illness, death and untold stressors who turn to ground-up health supplements involving the claws, fangs, paws, gall bladders, blood and/or genitals of deadly animals to prop up their imperiled masculinity (to be fair, I don't think Ford mentions any genitals in the song, but you get the idea). It works real well on a mixtape between Husker Du and Nomeansno, I discover. Again, more to come on that.

Finally - but of course, DAVID FUCKING M. HAS ANOTHER FUCKING SHOW to -


My friend and the neglected Vancouver musician who makes up for the neglected Vancouver musicians I don't pay enough attention to by being the neglected Vancouver musician I pay FAR TOO MUCH attention to, THE GREAT AND DELIGHTFUL David M., of NO FUN, the Beatles of Surrey, whom a whole bunch of people OBVIOUSLY ENJOYED when he opened for Marshall Crenshaw and the Rickshaw (which I was briefly tempted to miswrite as "Marshall Chapman and the... Richardsaw," thinking of Richard Chapman, obviously, of the Heritage Grill and Northern Electric) will have two shows in the week after Bob, both on Monday night: on the 23rd, with Coach StrobCam (featuring the great Pete Campbell of Pink Steel, the Wardells, and... what was that other band he was in?) in New West.... and then the next week at the Princeton. David M. writes:
There will be a special NO FUN film presentation at the Heritage Grill Backroom Theatre, there's a newly-written show theme song "In Fall", there's yet another version of your popular Bat-tune, there are more new songs, etc..

We only did this show once before, at Slickity Jim's, and I believe that you and Erika were there. [Was it this show, I wonder?]

I've realized during the past year that, for me, Glen and Dave bring actual elements of Paul into the shows. They both knew him very well, and were right there participating in NO FUN shows the whole time. Pete does this too, in a different way, by representing how Paul and I started connecting with people in the 1980's by just doing what we felt like doing any way we wanted to do it rather than trying to fit into the mould of someone's idea of a rock band. So these shows are new and different, but they're also a kind of seance that actually works, if only from where I'm standing.
 In other news, David and I have been discussing whether this poster is in poor taste. (He's got a couple people out there naysaying about him on social media so he thought he would attempt a poster from their point of view. I am not sure the point of the satire doesn't get lost, but, well, that's David for you, sometimes.

I realize the Princeton show is probably more convenient for a lot of y'all, but the Heritage backroom shows are pretty comfy and fun, actually, and there's far less chance of talkative Italians or drunk buffoons making requests for David to sing - what was it that guy was shouting for, "The Dream Genie?" (David had riffed on "The Jean Genie" by Bowie in one of his songs and it reminded this drunk buffoon of the actual song which he then started loudly requesting, all the while getting the title wrong, as Club M snickered at his expense into their cheap beers. That sort of thing has yet to happen in New West).

More to come...

This just in - Coach StrobCam has hadda pull out. Pete will still be there tho!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

...matters Weinstein

Setting aside recent scandals for a second, the Weinstein brand has been problematic for me for years, based on the reputations of the Weinsteins for insisting on edits to films they distribute - the whole "Harvey Scissorhands" thing. It's always smacked of dumbing down, and there are various times when I've seen a movie branded TWC or Miramax and wondered what aspects of the film come from the Weinstein "touch," rather than the filmmakers'. I remember liking many elements of an Anthony Hopkins vehicle called The World's Fastest Indian, for instance, but also thinking, in the too-cute, too-energetic music and in some of the misplaced, sappy sentimentality that I could spot what the Weinsteins had done to it. They're not only heavy-handed in their edits but tend to have sweetly sticky fingers, fingers that leave an unpleasant aroma, perhaps of contempt for their audiences, on the films they touch. I liked August: Osage County but wonder if I would have liked it more had its original ending been preserved. Jonathan Rosenbaum has written - maybe in Movie Wars - a quite condemnatory piece about the ways in which Miramax altered foreign films for distribution in North America, as a precondition on distributing them. I haven't done the work to sit down and compare, where it is possible to do so, the Weinstein cut of a film with the director's cut - I believe there's a DVD release Shaolin Soccer that includes both the original and the Weinstein version, and there's writing online about a Kevin Smith film where the director's cut is apparently far superior - but I do recall that some films that I was really excited to see, and then really disappointed by - All the Pretty Horses, say - only exist now in chopped-up, shortened Weinstein versions, with no director's cut having ever been released. It hasn't mattered in the slightest to me how successful some Weinstein-branded-product has gone on to be (Quentin Tarantino, PT Anderson - both of whom I think are extremely overpraised). That something makes money (or wins Oscars, an institution I have never in my adult life cared about) is no argument for aesthetic worth. I just now ended up looking up two of my pet cases of films where truncated, shitty theatrical releases dimmed the lights on excellent director's cuts, to see if they were the Weinstein's fault: Kenneth Lonergan's Margaret and Bertrand Tavernier's In the Electric Mist. They weren't, but the fact that I reasonably assumed they might have been says something about how I feel about the Weinstein brand. I have never had very positive associations with any brand they've been associated with, and in the last few years, when the words "the Weinstein Company" flicker across the screen before a movie I'm watching, which they do fairly often - part of me winces.

All that said, it's disturbing to see the shitstorm swirling around Harvey Weinstein this last couple of weeks. Don't get me wrong - I fully believe he's a bully, I fully believe at the very least that he has aggressively propositioned women and tried to use his power and influence to get them into bed. It fits the profile of a powerful egomaniac/ megalomaniac who tries to get his own way and serve his own interests at all corners. If he is found guilty and ends up in jail for rape - great. I don't know the man, but it sounds like a powerful (white, male) asshole is getting his comeuppance, and I can understand why people who have been negatively affected by him (or angry, uppity women anywhere, including my Facebook feed) are cheering for his (figurative) decapitation.

But the sheer number of people coming forward with complaints, many of whose names I recognize, and the apparent time period that his offenses have gone on over, unpunished and largely unremarked-upon, the odd off-colour joke in the media aside, are horrifying. How can it be that this many women, women of some fame and presumable power, including Angelina Jolie, Rose McGowan, Mira Sorvino, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Beckinsale, Asia Argento, Heather Graham, Ashley Judd, Mia  Kirshner, Sarah Polley, as well as DOZENS of others whose names I don't recognize, have been cornered and aggressively propositioned by him - in the BEST case, because we gather it gets worse - with people accusing him as far back as the 1990's... and he's only being taken to task NOW?

It boggles the mind a bit. I'm a bit naive, maybe, but it doesn't seem like it should have been possible for the guy to get away with this for so long, no matter how many Oscars he's had associated with him. Maybe it would make sense as a story in Kenneth Anger's Hollywood Babylon books, detailing scandals of the 1920's and 1930's - but I thought we had evolved as a society a little bit beyond all this. The sexual misconduct allegations against Harvey Weinstein are so numerous and serious that, neverminding rape investigations in New York, they have spawned their own Wikipedia page. Terrorists are killing hundreds in Somalia, and I'm more interested in seeing which of my female friends have posted "me, too" as a Facebook status... It's fascinating, troubling, revealing...

...and I gotta admit, as a man, the vehemence of what a Facebook friend of mine has described as "accusation culture" - I think more in response to the Harry Knowles and Alamo Drafthouse stories that broke in the weeks before this one - it is all kinda FRIGHTENING, as well. As someone who has had to tread his own path through a sexual wilderness, with some very weird and sometimes confusing encounters with women, and who is further inclined towards persecution fantasies, there is definitely some small part of me that worries if at some point some of this hostility will direct itself at me. It is obvious that at some point Weinstein's behaviour was accepted as NORMAL, and tolerated - since no one acted against it for what appears to have been decades. What if at some point in the future someone who I had a date with in the 1990's, which went weird in some way, decides she has a grievance with me, which leads to a similar sort of social media dogpile? "First they came for Jian Ghomeshi, and I didn't speak up, because I wasn't a weaselly CBC radio host who liked to hit women. Then they came for Bill Cosby, and I didn't speak up because I had never drugged a woman to rape her... then they came for Harry Knowles..."

...And some of the stories that have come out are confusing, make you wonder what your values are. Check out the transcript of a recent interview with Montreal actress named Erika Rosenbaum who has come out with her own story of Weinstein's approaches to her. Based on her own telling of events, Weinstein seemingly made it quite clear from the start with her that his helping her with her career would be connected to her coming across sexually. I am not sure if that right there constitutes an abuse of power. It MAY - but it may not, since there isn't a hint of anything coercive, and Rosenbaum was and is an adult. It seems like she was free to take it or leave it, as they say. I've had women offer me sex for money, and been perfectly comfortable saying no; so why can't a man offer a woman career advancement for sex, if she is also free to say no? (This is presuming you don't already work for him, which WOULD count as an abuse of power and harassment, obviously). My wife, discussing it with me this morning, pointed out that there is something frowned upon about prostitution, such that there is something demeaning and insulting about the offer, if you're not, in fact, a prostitute, and I can understand that; maybe as a man - and a man of zero power and influence, I might add, whom bestowing with sexual favours will never, ever lead ANYONE to career advancement, who is imagining all this from far on the outside - I am ill equipped to understand just HOW demeaning that sort of offer is, how it feels to be on the receiving end of it. I wouldn't blame anyone for being angry about it, to be sure...

...But to return to the Rosenbaum story... then, AFTER that first meeting, when everyone's intentions and desires seem pretty darn transparent, Rosenbaum continues to find herself alone with Harvey Weinstein in his hotel room. At some point, surely, she should realize what his invitations entail. On the third time, it sounds like he gets quite a bit more aggressive with her - though he doesn't rape her, exactly; what transpires seems more demeaning and ugly than criminal. I can see Rosenbaum feeling very dirty afterwards, and very angry... but you also get the sense that she might have kept silent for so long because in fact she had been a willing participant in MOST phases of what transpired with the man, and that maybe she felt GUILTY for having "allowed" things to go as far as she did?

I think towards the end of the interview you can see Rosenbaum sort of acknowledging her complicity, in fact, where she starts talking about how "crazy" it all sounds. Which, in fact, is brave of her, I think. Human beings, since we have agency, have complicity in a great deal that happens to us; there CAN be cases where you're a pure victim of someone else's evil - or just shitty luck - but more often than not, your own choices have some influence on how events transpire.  Maybe it's the shame and confusion that comes with such situations that is precisely what prevents people from coming forward. You figure it was your fault - because you "let" it happen; so you keep silent.  Far from saying that Rosenbaum's own, shall we say "innocence" here, discredits her complaint, I think she deserves praise for telling her story, even though it reveals her own side to it. She obviously WANTED some of what Harvey had to offer, enough to keep going along with his invitations; she just didn't want to have to have sex with the guy...

...and maybe it's just that - the guilt around complicity, around having wanted the career advancement that Harvey Weinstein offered - that has kept so many women (more-or-less) silent for so long? Maybe it was because he DID help some actresses with their careers that they haven't said anything? Maybe he's smart enough to have not let anyone fall into his grasp who - well, like they say, you gotta invite the vampire in...

One also wonders if there's also a contingent of women who rose to fame via Weinstein's casting couch who have thus far said nothing,  because they actually feel loyal to him, feel like he delivered on his end of the bargain...? There are so many names already out in public that you gotta ask - who has yet to come forward in this story? Who else is afraid their name is going to be dragged into the muck around sinking Harvey, if they don't come forward sooner rather than later? Are there people who DID engage with him sexually, whom he DID help with their careers, who don't want to come forward yet because they were in fact satisfied with how things went down - or who just feel ashamed to be associated with this sort of deep tawdriness? At what point will the scale tip so that they feel like supporting the women already on that Wikipedia page is more important than protecting their own reputation or sense of pride?

I also kind of wonder if we weren't living in such a divisive time - tempted to call it the age of President "Grab Them By the Pussy" - if Harvey Weinstein would still be getting a free pass...?

I don't know about any of this, but Harvey is going to go down in movie history as having one of the most spectacular falls from grace of the decade, as far as the movie industry is concerned; and I somehow suspect that the worst is yet to come. 

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Halloween Horror recommendation: The Poughkeepsie Tapes

I don't know what film I saw the trailer for The Poughkeepsie Tapes in front of. Maybe The Ruins? Something that came out 2007-2008ish; the trailer played in front of a fairly mainstream horror movie, maybe at Scotiabank Theatre, and lodged itself in my mind, where it has remained for ten years while I waited for it to get some sort of legit release. That never happened, though it did surface in an illegitimate and somewhat inferior form on Youtube for awhile, where I watched a bit of it before deciding it wasn't the way I wanted to see it. I imagine it has since been removed; I gather it also flickered briefly on some video-on-demand streaming service but has also since been pulled, not that I was aware of it at the time. 

I recall being equally disturbed and intrigued by that trailer, because the film had one of those premises that is undeniably elegant, and yet ugly: a serial killer's stash of home videotapes, documenting his crimes, is discovered, and a "found footage"-style documentary is constructed around it, wherein you see the killer's home movies. Nowhere - as per the marketing scheme of the day - did the trailer make clear whether the film was fake or real; it looked a bit like an A&E true crime show cross-pollinated with Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, and I was put off and intrigued in equal measures: "People shouldn't be allowed to make movies like this, but I really want to watch it." The trailer evoked two sides of my personality, much like the film does. It's a superego-versus-id kind of experience to the core, and my interest was born of the wrestling match between them.   

That interest has only grown as I've watched the subsequent films of John Erick Dowdle and his brother Drew (the Coen brothers of horror!). The last two of those, As Above, So Below and No Escape, have been way up there on my list of the best mainstream movies of the last ten years, vying with much higher profile and more respectable fare like Nightcrawler. I've kept an eye out for news of its release since. And that finally happened this week: I bought The Poughkeepsie Tapes on the very day it hit the stores (Sunrise Records, now stocking Shout! Factory titles - and Arrow, and maybe even a few Kino Lorbers - is carrying it, costs around $32 there; don't know what Videomatica is charging). 

I watched the film that same day, with some trepidation, since the things about the premise that disturbed me still do. I am no enthusiast for snuffy cinema, understand, and find some of the most talked-about films in the genre to be disgusting and/or impossible to watch. I sat through a stupifyingly-clumsily-censored Korean version of Cannibal Holocaust a few years ago and felt loathing to the core for the film and the filmmaker by the time it had ended; it is one of the most craven acts of hypocrisy I've seen in cinema, presuming to condemn our propensity for violence onscreen with a sickening display of it - and the animal gore, none of which got censored in the Korean release - unlike the pubic hair! - pretty much made me want to barf, cry, and punch Ruggero Deodato, if possible simultaneously. The turtle gore scene in particular lasts for a very long time, so much so that it gets tedious, as does the "see? it's real gore!" m.o. of the director, whose moralizing judgment of his own audience seems to leave no conclusion possible but to not watch his films, which I have since been only to happy to oblige him in*. 

But I do like a good horror movie, and I can take extremity in cinema if I feel like it serves a purpose. This purpose can sometimes even be trivial: I will always love the original Maniac for the crazily effective and meta-level marvelous scene in which Tom Savini, acting in the film, gets his head blown off with a shotgun, thanks to the makeup wizardry of, yes, Tom Savini himself. Or it can be thematic. I love Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer mostly for its terrific lead performances - big Michael Rooker fan here - but also for its richness, in critiquing the romanticization of serial killers in popular culture, which the film in no way participates in; its snuffy ugliness is clearly morally purposed, as an alternative to the attraction for serial killers in the mainstream, where the judgement on you is not for wanting to watch films like Henry, but for wanting to watch all those OTHER serial killer films where the killers are presented as attractive supermen with moral agendas (the film, made years before Silence of the LambsSe7en, or Saw, is somewhat precognizant in this respect).

I am not sure what the moral purpose of The Poughkeepsie Tapes is, ultimately - but it's quite brilliantly made, for an early feature, and definitely entertaining to watch, if you have a taste for this sort of thing. There are strange and provocative elements throughout, almost operating subtextually, beneath the level of the TV-documentary style main narrative: the killer has a dorkish, attention-seeking theatricality to him, evident in his costumes, his voice, the way he stages some of his killings for the camera, and also in some presumably deliberate, embarrassingly hammy overacting that he does. If Henry and the maniac in Maniac are tortured, psychosexually scarred white trash imbeciles, the killer of The Poughkeepsie Tapes is a pretentious dinner-theatre twerp; if Patrick Bateman masturbates to Body Double, this guy surely jerks it to Theatre of Blood or perhaps all those cleavage-rich Hammer horror period pieces of the 1970's (Twins of Evil, say. Lotta boob in that one, and a fair bit of sadism, too). He would be impossible to take seriously if it wasn't for the utter ugliness of his crimes, which begin with him killing an eight year old girl with a hammer (off-camera, but the sound effect is more than you need).  While his dorkiness undercuts some of the scariness of the movie, it is also probably essential to any deep reading of the film, again undercutting any attempt to romanticize such criminals. Like Henry,  Long Pigs, Man Bites Dog, Peeping Tom (or, yes, even the despised Cannibal Holocaust), The Poughkeepsie Tapes can probably be productively read as a meta-level commentary on its own making and consumption, and the Dowdle brothers themselves on a featurette talk about the killer's character as being more or less that of an amateur filmmaker.

There are unanswered questions - missing tapes, and hints of things that are on the tapes that are puzzling indeed (the killer has a fetish for making women - presumably prostitutes - blow up large balloons, sit on them, and pop them with their bums, which he demands in quite a bullish way). It could be that subsequent viewings are funnier than the first, after the disturbing elements - largely dependent on suspense - become less potent. Though the film is not particularly gory - most of the violence happens off-camera or is suggested - it makes maximal use of the killers-eye-point-of-view (which I associate with DePalma but which the Dowdles associate with Carpenter's Halloween), and there's a lot of tension to watching the killer's crimes through his eyes, waiting for something terrible to happen. There's also a lot of surprising level of visual pleasure achieved through watching the low-def, VHS-quality found footage through a high def system, and there's a LOT of low-end stuff on the soundtrack (turn the subwoofer DOWN). It makes me wonder if there's any subliminal stuff slipped into the film? Connoisseurs of ambient noise and video feedback might actually find this aspect of things interesting... 

The Poughkeepsie Tapes was well worth the wait (a shame that audiences didn't get much of a chance to see it when this subgenre was still fairly fresh). I doubt I'll see any more disturbing or effective horror movie this month. In fact, I kind of hope I don't. 

Wonder what the brothers Dowdle are working on next...?

*Okay, I do want to see Cut and Run, but only because Michael Berryman is in it. Leave me alone. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Siding With Midge: Of Guy Maddin, Vertigo and The Green Fog - A San Francisco Fantasia: an interview with co-director Evan Johnson

I am by no means an expert on Guy Maddin's cinema, though I understand why friends of mine like veritable blog co-author David M. declare him "Canada's greatest living filmmaker." I haven't gone deep enough into his cinema to meaningfully agree or disagree with that statement. I find Maddin a bit daunting, actually, often find myself squinting and trying to understand what he's doing while he nimbly capers and plays, and sometimes I feel like the joke ends up on me; but Archangel and The Saddest Music in the World both delighted me, and I can see (with apologies to David Cronenberg) that M. might have a point. Certainly the Kronos Quartet providing a live score, at the VIFF tonight, to Guy Maddin and Evan and Galen Johnson's "sampled" reconstruction of Hitchcock's Vertigo, The Green Fog - which uses footage found in other films (or TV shows) shot in San Francisco to retell the story of Vertigo, as you can read about in the Georgia Straight and the Province - sounds like a must-see event, so I'm going, tonight, and bringing my wife, and have interviewed one of the two brothers who assisted with the film, Evan Johnson (I actually asked Guy Maddin, as well, but he's too busy with the holiday to contribute and offers his apologies). 

I'll get to the interview with Evan Johnson in a second. But first a confession: I have never been the hugest fan of Vertigo.   

It's actually a bit odd when one of the few major Hitchcocks you find deeply problematic ends up voted the greatest movie of all time by the Sight and Sound critics poll (full list of the top 50 here). Vertigo - recently supplanting Citizen Kane at the top of the BFI canon - has always been a challenging movie for me: it has brilliant stuff in it, but it is all packed into the last half, which forces you to go back and re-evaluate the first half of the film, which it reflects and complicates. The re-evaluation of that first half requires you to actually finish the movie; but I've had more than one attempt to view Vertigo thwarted around the 40 minute mark, where I was overtaken by frustration at the leisurely pace and slow accumulation of apparently useless information. If you asked me any other day but today - the day after I finally successfully completed Vertigo for what may be only the second time - I would say that I actually preferred (besides a dozen other Hitchcocks) a couple of movies that riff overtly on Vertigo, Miike's Audition and Brian DePalma's Body Double, which are far more parsimonious. Vertigo has always been a meh Hitchcock for me, though having finally gotten through it again, I'm kind of excited to try it a third time (and I don't mean as re-imagined by Guy Maddin; that's a separate film, though it will be fun to see how it riffs on the original). 

The plot of Vertigo, if you haven't seen it, goes like this (I will try to do this justice, in case you're curious about tonight's screening but find yourself lacking a familiarity with the original film that inspires and informs it). Scottie - an ex-policeman with a fear of heights - is hired by an old friend, Gavin, to follow his wife, Madeline, who may or may not be suicidal, and whose suicidal thoughts may or may not be informed by an ancestor named Carlotta, who killed herself some time past and may now be "possessing" Madeline (there's lots of "possession" in Vertigo, though none of it proves to be supernatural). Besides lots of scenes of Scottie driving around San Francisco following Madeline, that's pretty much all you get for 40 minutes, either in terms of story or theme; there's also Midge, a rejected love interest pining for Scottie in the wings - played by Barbara Del Geddes - but she barely figures in the story, save as a "tragedy enhancer," since she is ever present as a neglected-but-available alternative to the doomed love that ensues between Scottie and Madeline. (The fact that someone has had to write an essay called "Why Midge Matters" sort of proves that she's relegated very much to the margins of the story). Otherwise, there's not much else to chew on, at least not that we know about yet; we are, in fact, being lied to throughout the first third of the film, and watching through to the ending, as I say, requires you to go back and re-think things - but taken at face value, especially with all those poorly-aged fake driving shots, those first 40 minutes make Vertigo a real hard sell as the greatest movie of all time. 

Then you get to the ending. Neverminding plot implausibility, this is pretty rich stuff (and spoilers, here, ensue, though I've already kinda tipped to them by mentioning Body Double). The woman who we know as Madeline, in fact, is not the wife of the man who hired Scottie, but his lover, being employed by him to impersonate Madeline, so that a convoluted murder plot can be enacted, with Scottie as a credulous and compromised witness. He's been played for a fool - exactly like Craig Wasson in Body Double, he's been set up to witness a death and misunderstand it, so that the killer can get off "scot"-free and Scottie can carry the burden of humiliation, guilt and failure in the wake of the crime. We learn all this long before Scottie does, and can see more than he can through the last third of the film, so we can understand just how unfortunate and misguided everyone is. "Madeline" - real name Judy - actually, um, falls for Scottie, and, after her lover (murderer Gavin) rebuffs her, seeks him out. His obsession transfers easily onto his dead loved one's (apparent) look-alike, but just as Judy's value to Gavin lay in her ability to pretend to be someone else,  Judy discovers Scottie is so much in the grips of Madeline that she must, once again, pretend to be her, wearing her hair and clothes in direct imitation of her, to satisfy Scottie. Judy is put in the un-enviable position of being jealous of her own successful performance - jealous of herself! - but she eventually agrees to recreate the role, to become Madeline again, at least in terms of her appearance, if it means being with the man she loves.     

It all works out, for a short while, until Scottie realizes he's been lied to, and that Judy is, in fact, actually the woman he knew as Madeline; and that he has been used. The climax of the film sees Scottie liberated of his fear of heights, but it denies either him or Judy any sort of redemption or forgiveness; the past repeats itself in a very literal way. The themes are multiple, touching on the illusory nature of love, the nature of fetishization, the ways in which men use women, and the ways in which women allow themselves to be misperceived, in order to provide the lineaments of gratified desire to their own love objects. The "possession" of Madeline by Carlotta is replicated in the possession of Judy by Madeline, as is Madeline's fall in Judy's. Everyone in Vertigo is trapped, everyone is doomed; no tragedy in the film's world exists without repeating itself, and what we see more often than not won't help us. It's a dark, despairing, and probably quite profound film - if you can make it to the end. It probably has plenty to say on a meta-level about cinema, too, though shy of a third viewing, I'm not sure I'm prepared to tease that out (Audition and Body Double both explicitly make use of the metaphor of "casting" someone as an object of desire, in the context of filmmaking; and at least one critic I've read has pointed to Hitchcock's own fetishistic approach to his leading ladies as being critiqued in Scottie's obsessiveness, though there is no literal film-within-a-film here). 

I'm excited to be seeing what Mr. Maddin and co-directors/ editors Evan and Galen Johnson do with their re-imagining Vertigo tonight. It is, of course, deeply funny, meta-level stuff to have a doppleganger of a movie about dopplegangers. The Kronos Quartet's performance of the live score - not Bernard Herrmann's, note, but an all new one, by Jacob Garchik - is more or less a cherry on top of what already sounds like a very fun project, though I've been a fan of theirs since the days of Black Angels (the first Kronos Quartet I heard, when it was released in 1990). I've never gotten to see them live before, and while the $55 orchestra seat may seem expensive when viewed as a ticket to a movie, it seems a real steal as a ticket to a Kronos Quartet live performance.     

The Kronos Quartet playing in front of The Green Fog, by Pamela Gentile
Here is my interview with Evan Johnson, co-director of The Green Fog - A San Francisco Fantasia.

A: I have NOT seen The Green Fog yet - I'm saving myself for Tuesday - so I'm curious if the three of you have played with the work of Saul Bass much in the film, or if Jacob riffs on the music of Bernard Herrmann? (Is it at least a Herrmannesque score? Did Jacob have any directions to work with as to how to score the film?)

E: We thought about making a full-on Vertigo title sequence, in the style of Saul Bass, but abandoned the idea when it just didn’t seem like it was going to look very good. At one point Galen was working with a shot of Linda Fiorentino from Jade as our Vertigo title sequence face-double, but it wasn’t coming together. As for the music - I think Jacob was mostly avoiding Herrmann. His score isn’t particularly Herrmannesque, though he is and was a longtime fan of Herrmann. We made his life difficult by repeatedly sending our rough cuts to him using Herrmann’s Vertigo score as our temp music. Very cruel! But he was a great sport and his score is terrific, it has just the right amount of angst and beauty and impishness, and of course Kronos performs it invigoratingly.

Are there any references to Hitchcock's cinema that only a Hitchcock devotee will spot? Are there any shots you chose BECAUSE they evoked Hitchcock, or conversely, shots you could have used but didn't, because they were too overtly Hitchcockian?
I’m not sure we were really making Hitchcock references, except the many explicit and implicit ones to Vertigo. Inadvertently, of course, this resulted in plenty of Hitchcockian shots finding their way into the movie.

I am guessing at something here: you supposedly use a shot from
The Birds; is it by any chance the pet store scene in The Birds where Hitchcock himself appears? (Does your homage include any Hitchcock cameo?). Are there any other Hitchcock clips employed in the film? How about clips from other films that are explicit homages to Hitchcock or Vertigo? (Did Brian DePalma ever shoot in San Francisco?)

We did not use the pet store scene from the Birds, though we looked closely at it, and we were so stupid not to even consider a Hitchcock cameo…our mind was on other things, I suppose. And that’s it for other Hitchcock films, though I know Family Plot is sort of ambiguously part-set in San Francisco. There’s a lot of very explicit Vertigo references in films shot in San Francisco, as you might imagine, and we definitely include those - they’re sort of hard to miss. Mel Brooks plummeting to his death off a bell-tower, that kind of thing.

Ha! So I have a confession: I LOVE Hitchcock, but... I am not a huge fan of Vertigo. It's one of those flms - John Ford's The Searchers is another, or Orson Welles' Touch of Evil - where its towering reputation preceeds it and makes it impossible for me to enter it on its own terms and I end up wondering if something is wrong with me for not having enjoyed it enough. I watch it every few years to see if I "get it yet." Do you know what I mean? (...this seems like a problem Guy Maddin might not have, actually). If so.... what are those films, for you? (Was Vertigo by any chance one of them, or do you all love it equally, or...?).

I certainly know what you mean. First of all, I have trouble with The Searchers too, though I love John Ford (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is one of my favourite films), and yeah, Touch of Evil can probably seem a bit…cold, cynical and pyrotechnic, maybe? (I do like it though.) I fell asleep the first time I saw Vertigo, like most people. It is a grim, gloomy movie, looked at one way, and though I’m easily cowed by critical consensus and expert opinion, I would never begrudge anyone who fails to be moved to enjoyment or anything else by Vertigo. I do find it very moving though, in complex and mysterious ways, and am fascinated by its secrets. Anyway, other ‘masterpieces’ I don’t really connect with? I find Metropolis pretty boring, I have to admit, though I love almost everything else Lang made. I shudder to type the words! I realize now how difficult it is to admit something like this. Speaking truth to power!

Are the three of you on equal footing as film enthusiasts or was working with Guy Maddin an education in cinema? (What is he like in person/ as a collaborator? What's your history with him?).

It’s hard to top Guy for film enthusiasm, but we try to keep up. Guy was partially responsible for my film education in the first place, when I was his student, but he still ‘educates’ me, in certain ways, though these days the education is usually concurrent with his own, in that he shares with me recent discoveries he’s made. Guy is a very close friend and a very fun collaborator - of course, we have our little disagreements, as everyone does. But the collaboration has been remarkably smooth. Of course, for all I know, he is secretly building up a massive warehouse of grudges against me (and Galen?) and will one day suddenly tolerate me no more. But it’s my impression that we regularly air our grievances - to use Festivus terminology - and that this reduces the tension that might otherwise be there. Guy can be a sneaky fella, and mischievous and occasionally confusing and emotionally indirect, but he is spectacularly generous, friendly in elevators, full of good, crazy, implausible ideas, and very funny.    

Was there ever any "limit" set on irreverence? (Were there shots you COULD have used that were too goofy or too disrespectful or... does Guy's sense of humour and playfulness allow for a no-holds barred approach?) Was there any disagreement/ difference between the three of you about which shots to use from which sources?

Alas, there was no limit set on irreverence, though perhaps there should have been. I was reading an amazing essay about Vertigo yesterday, by our friend George Toles, and I had a realization about what we’d achieved (or failed to) in making The Green Fog. In Vertigo, there’s a great scene where Midge, in an effort to puncture Scottie’s overpowering romantic illusion - his obsession with Madeleine - paints her own face into a portrait of Carlotta Valdez, the ancestor figure supposedly haunting Madeleine. Midge thinks she’s done something playful and funny, and that this gag might destroy Scottie’s illusion and bring him back to earth, as it were, but all she’s done is make explicit her own failure to intoxicate him. Midge’s painting is the perfect analogy for what we’ve done with The Green Fog - we’ve made a parodic facsimile in an attempt to puncture a romantic illusion (Vertigo itself), but as a result have simply revealed the extent of our own self-loathing, our knowledge that we could never achieve such feats of overpowering illusion. This doesn’t sound like a very kind self-assessment, so I will add that I love Midge, and that though Scottie is offended by her gag, I admire her for attempting it and I think it was the right thing to do. In short, we’re siding with Midge here, for better or worse. Although I should ALSO add that I don’t know if Guy and Galen agree with me on this, they might have a different account of what we’ve done.   

Do you have any favourite riffs on Vertigo from other films? Do you have any favourite (or least favourite!) homages to Hitchcock out there? What did you think of Gus van Sant's Psycho remake? (Do you like De Palma's films, out of curiosity? He seems, whatever might be said about him, to have really learned how to "speak" Hitchcock cinematically...).

I quite like De Palma and think his skills with tone and perspective help him achieve something more or less Hitchcockian, sometimes. Though I guess the truly Hitchcockian remains ineffable. I’m not sure Hitchcock himself could describe it. There’s something - some surplus guilt or dread - in his films that floats free of the inexorable cinematic logic, the tightly framed shots and tightly choreographed scenes and sequences, some mystery element. I thought the Gus van Sant Psycho remake was rather educational, for me, anyway. I saw it when I was young enough that it had much to teach me about the power of small (and large) directorial decisions. In fact, I think it’s the first time I was aware that a director did anything at all. I remember when I was young, wondering what a director could possibly do if someone else wrote the script and the actors did all the acting and said all the words, and a DOP composed the shots, an electrician did the cords and stuff, etc.. What is this ludicrous, superfluous job, “director”? I hadn’t read much Cahiers du Cinema at that point. Anyway, I really like Chris Marker’s Vertigo talk in Sans Soleil, though his remarks on Vertigo are almost as mysterious to me as Vertigo itself.

Did the three of you have any discussions of Hitchcockian film language in making the film? I assume someone out there can actually describe what IS "Hitchcockian" - if Brian DePalma can replicate it, presumably anyone else can; it's certainly easy enough to spot when you see it. Was a discussion of what is/ is not Hitchcockian at all relevant to making the film? Did you learn anything about Hitchcockian language (or
Vertigo) in making the film?

We really did not go deep into Hitchcock theory during the making of this, not out of laziness, I don’t think - I would have loved an excuse to read a bunch of Hitchcock books and watch all (most of) his movies again, but we wanted to learn about Vertigo/Hitchcock through the pragmatic act of putting together the movie, if that makes sense.

It sounds like the three of you were ALREADY watching other San Francisco films before you hit on the idea of remaking Vertigo using these other films - did you then have to go back through these films to select shots that correspond to scenes in Vertigo? How long did that take? How did you divvy up the work? DId you go with the first shot you found that fit, or did you ever look for a "better" option? Were there any moments from Vertigo that you had a hard time finding a match for? Was there ever a mad rush to Google OTHER FILMS SHOT IN SAN FRANCISCO to look for a scene you needed? (Were there ever moments where you could remember a scene that you needed from a movie you'd seen but couldn't remember what movie it was in?).

Yeah, we watched 20-30 San Francisco set features before deciding on Vertigo as our guiding force, but luckily we had been taking detailed notes while watching so in most cases we didn’t really need to go back into our “watched” bin and go trawling again. The work was divvied up thusly: we all watched many many many movies together, over many long hours during Guy’s Christmas break from his Harvard teaching gig; we made a rough plan of action together, then Galen and I began editing scenes and sequences and emailing them to Guy for feedback and/or rubber stamp approval. And yeah, we had trouble finding material for certain Vertigo sequences, but in those cases we would find something un-Vertigo like and try to work it in in a way that seemed like its negative outline was shining some light into Vertigo’s crevices. There were PLENTY of times when we knew we had a shot somewhere but couldn’t remember what movie it was from, and we’d start going over Herbie Rides Again with a fine-toothed comb, hunting in every frame, before realizing 90 minutes later that the shot we were looking for was in an episode of Murder She Wrote.  

Were there ANY other rules used in the search besides "fits a scene in Vertigo" and "shot in San Francisco?”

Nope - those were the rules! We did focus on feature fiction films, for the most part (though there are some exceptions), if only because were attempting to replicate a feature fiction film. But also we were limited by the amount of time we had to track down obscure or difficult to acquire films or clips.

Are there any San Franscisco films that got snuck in because any of the three of you have a particular fondness for them, or for other sentimental reasons (shots of favourite locations in San Francisco? Was location-matching an issue?) Are there any interesting background stories behind the inclusion of a particular shot? Are there any films you really wanted to include but couldn't, because there was nothing in
Vertigo that they spoke to?

We snuck in a shot of the great George Kuchar from Thundercrack! And a few shots from an Obayashi Nobuhiko movie that looked great though we never saw it with English subtitles after we found it on Japanese Amazon; there’s some stuff from Chris Marker’s Sans Soleil, DeMille’s first version of The Ten Commandments (from 1923) which has some sequence set in then modern-day San Francisco; an episode of Mission Impossible because we wanted to sneak Peter Graves in. A very good noir called Women on the Run. There were all kinds of films we wished we included but couldn’t quite fit in. I would have loved to included Sun Ra’s Space is the Place, which is pretty cool and seems to have been shot partially in San Francisco. There’s a bunch more, but I can’t remember them now because all this watching was crammed into a very ludicrously small amount of time, and my brain is all scrambled and useless from the endeavour.

Dumb question, but is Tommy Wiseau's The Room used at all? Any thoughts on that film?

Not a dumb question! We didn’t use it, though we considered it! I love The Room, and I am a little protective of it, the way I am with other so-called “bad movies” that are actually more alive with human strangeness and (perhaps inadvertent, but so what?) formal ingenuity than many works of prestige. But for whatever reason, it didn’t fit with what we were doing.

Have you actually seen
The Green Fog - A San Francisco Fantasia screened with an audience yourselves? Did you have any fun observations of the audience? Any advice/ caveats/ "preparatory remarks" to make to VIFF audiences (besides the obvious one of "watch Vertigo before you see The Green Fog?”)

We saw The Green Fog (live with Kronos) at the San Francisco world premiere, and it was a pretty great time. The audience was very receptive, they seemed to find it as funny as we had intended it to be. Whether they found it moving, or interesting, it’s harder to tell, as audiences generally don’t let out loud whooping sounds when they find a movie moving or interesting. If you’ve seen Vertigo, you’ll understand much more about why we put sequences where we did, and why certain shots are included at all. But if you haven’t, most of the scenes should work on their own anyway, as montages highlighting certain cinematic conventions, or as strange Kuleshov-effect-demonstrating whatsits. It’s a found footage movie, for better and worse, so it’s composed of clips from vastly different things, which means there’s hopefully enough variety of tone and haircut style to keep things from getting boring for very long. And we wanted it to have its own flow, we even secretly want viewers to pretend it isn’t a found footage film at all, that we actively wrote and shot all this material in this way in an attempt to achieve a decades-hopping dream-logic narrative tour through San Francisco’s history. So that’s what it is! We worked hard on it, but it’s supposed to go down easy.    

The Green Fog - A San Francisco Fantasia plays at the Centre for the Performing Arts at 8pm tonight. More information here.