Wednesday, November 28, 2007
Weinstein and security aside, I quite liked I'm Not There. I'm kind of relieved to allow the distributor's general mood of spoilsportism to dissuade me from writing at length, because the film is huge, complex, and sprawling, and frankly too much for my mirror at the moment, anyhow. There are moments of great beauty and poetry, as chaotic and confusing and compelling and arguably profound as Dylan's most obscure verse, and it will do wonders for Todd Haynes' profile in America (and Cate Blanchett's, since she's astonishingly good); but I challenge ANYONE to put it all in perspective (while saying anything that isn't rather obvious) after just one screening. I do have a few reservations -- I always think it's a sign of a lazy viewer when someone says a movie is too long, but I peaked well-before the two hour mark and just felt exhausted and drained by the time the film reached it's 135th minute; maybe I just wasn't prepared for such a feast -- if I'd done something to enhance my perceptual appetite before the film started, f'rinstance, I might've felt more enlivened by the time it ended. It didn't help, either, that my enthusiasm for Dylan has waned in recent years; if I'd seen this back when Dylan was a staple of my musical consumption, I'd no doubt be raving, now.
Still: good film, recommended. One thumb up, unless I'm supposed to raise both of them. With the premise of the film - having a variety of different actors play Dylan -- I was worried that I'd end up feeling like I'd been subjected to inconclusive, incoherent gimmickry-for-it's-own-sake, as with Todd Solondz's abortion film, but instead, my admiration for Todd Haynes has grown considerably. This is a helluva piece of film.
One thing: it helps if you KNOW a bit about Dylan - if you're savvy enough to pick out the nod to Harry Smith in the first ten minutes or so, or at least to realize that Julianne Moore is playing Joan Baez, you'll do fine. Don't Look Now and Scorsese's doc will serve as adequate cheat-notes, if consumed beforehand. (Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid would be a good thing to be familiar with, too, for the Richard Gere segments). I'm not sure that people can "get" the film without some background.
Oh, and: stick around to hear the Sonic Youth song (covering Dylan, of course) over the end credits; it's great.
Monday, November 26, 2007
By the way, if I were doin' a top 100 DVD list for Sun readers, of the ones I've seen, I certainly would agree with #91 (the Cassavetes box), #87 (The Hustler), #63 (Edvard Munch), #50 (Psycho), #46 (The Thin Red Line), #16 (The Gospel According to St. Matthew), #14 (In a Lonely Place), and #12 (The Battle of Algiers). If I were to draw up my own top-100 must-see cinema lists, even with my intent to be less of a populist educator and more of an elitist provocateur, I'd agree completely with the inclusion of these DVDs. That's about it.
That's not to say that I disagree with the rest of his list, tho'. There's a few films that I consider odd choices and would quibble with, but I'm in the same ballpark: I don't think the BRD Trilogy (#11) is actually Fassbinder's finest work, preferring his smaller scale, darkly humourous domestic dramas from a few years previous (Fear of Fear, Martha, The Merchant of Four Seasons, Mother Kusters Goes to Heaven, and Ali: Fear Eats the Soul are the ones I most love, of the dozen or so Fassbinder's I've seen, and I'd probably choose the last one on that list as the one people should seek out first. I like it so much I have a framed German poster for it on my wall, under the original title, Angst Essen Seele Auf).
Speaking of New German Cinema, I also don't think I'd include #17, Wings of Desire, which, tho' I'm fond of it, now seems like "the beginning of whatever Wenders we have now," versus the Wenders we'd all like to have... none of which is really available with English subtitles on DVD, unless you're in Australia, save for The American Friend; that would be my token Wenders, until Kings of the Road and Alice in the Cities get distribution.
More quibbles: Ordet (#96) I could not enjoy, because it takes an idea seriously that I simply find ridiculous, that of resurrection based on faith; I think The Passion of Joan of Arc is a much more important Dreyer film. The only Scorsese film I care about now is Who's That Knocking at My Door, his first and, it seems, most heartfelt/passionate film; Casino IS a masterfully made film, as is, I suppose, Raging Bull, but Scorsese is so over-hyped that, for the time being, I just don't care, and am content to leave these films in distant memory. In terms of Peckinpah, The Getaway kicks The Wild Bunch's ass; and Michael Mann's Manhunter holds up under repeated viewings much better that Heat (#31). I like The Long Goodbye (and even McCabe and Mrs. Miller) so much more than Nashville I'd let them take it's place (#48), even if Nashville is more important, objectively; and I think Seven holds up better than Fight Club, even if Fight Club is more ambitious. In terms of Bresson, I loved Pickpocket, and fell asleep during Au Hazard Balthasar, which I haven't gotten back to, so - admitting that I haven't done enough Bresson to really be a fair judge, I'd stick Pickpocket on anyhow. Call me Paul Schrader. And L'Eclisse is an Antonioni that I really don't think has aged well; I'd point people to The Passenger or Blow Up first, since Zabriskie Point isn't available yet. Finally, as far as minor quibbles go, I don't think that I'd stick Winter Light (49) up as my "token Bergman." My favourite Bergman is The Passion of Anna, but it's so fuckin' bleak a vision of humanity I'd probably point Sun readers at Through a Glass Darkly, instead; you have to break people in easily. (Then again, you can only get Winter Light in Region 1 format if you buy the box with Through a Glass Darkly in it). I'd probably also include a couple of other Bergman's; one Bergman isn't really enough.
Most of the list, really, seems to be written from a somewhat educational point of view: if you're going to be in the know about cinema, you've got to start somewhere, and that seems to be why North by Northwest, Vertigo, Rear Window, and Psycho are on the list - or Citizen Kane, or The Searchers, or The Rules of the Game, or... . I could hardly quarrel with their inclusion, though none are favourites of mine, or even films I presently own. I'm not quite sure that people don't already know about these films, but if the purpose of the list is educating Sun readers (who, I guess, ARE largely non-cinephiles), I guess I can see why they're up there.
The only surprise on the list - a film I haven't seen in a long time, and didn't expect anyone would be claiming as a classic - is Cutter's Way. I might check that out again, actually. I remember being shocked at how good John Heard was - I had no idea he had it in him.
Full disclosure: films on the list I have not seen: #3, Tokyo Story (I've seen Late Spring and Floating Weeds and am not particularly keen on Ozu); #7, In the Mood for Love (I haven't gotten to Wong Kar Wai; I was put off by the one film of his I tried, ChungKing Express, and haven't returned); #8, Hoop Dreams; #15, The Shop Around the Corner; #19, The River; #22, The Leopard; #23, The Lady Eve; #25, The Wind Will Carry Us (tho' it's around here somewhere); #26, Code Unknown (tho' I liked Cache and to a lesser extent The Piano Teacher, the only Haneke I've seen); #27, Some Like It Hot (the only one I'm really embarrassed about, particularly since I really like Billy Wilder, and absolutely love his film The Apartment, which would be my Wilder entry, alongside, maybe, Ace in the Hole and Sunset Boulevard); #33, A Canterbury Tale; #34, Bringing Up Baby; #39, La Belle Noiseuse (my one Rivette experience, Paris Belongs to Us, was less than riveting); #41, YiYi; #45, Lovers of the Arctic Circle, which is one of a very small number of films on the list I've never even heard of; #50 - I've seen some Buster Keaton, but certainly not enough; #53, Toy Story (and if I were going to put an animated film on such a list, Miyazaki's Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind would be the one, or maybe Spirited Away); #56, A Nos Amours (for a Cassavetes fan, I've seen little Pialat); #57 (blush), Red River; #59, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg; #64, Eric Rohmer's Six Moral Tales (I tried Rohmer when I was in my early 20's; I may have been too young, but I enjoyed it so little I have had no inclination to go back, despite some earnest urgings of cinephiles I respect); #65, The Miracle of Morgan's Creek, another film I don't even know; #73, The Documentaries of Louis Malle (haven't seen a one); #78, Sansho the Bailiff (just haven't gotten around to it); #81, The Big Heat (ditto); #83, Sweet Smell of Success (ditto); #85, Ratcatcher (ditto); #86, To Be or Not to Be; #92, Nobody's Fool; #93, Children of Paradise; #94, The Decalogue (I've seen A Short Film about Killing and, to be honest, wasn't that excited by it); #99, Birth; and #100, A.I., which I have no intent of seeing. Spielberg couldn't pay me to write about him (tho' I do like that Charity calls him "needy," and I get a secret kick out of his more misanthropic, people-getting-eaten fare: Jurassic Park II is actually my fave of his films. Spielberg doesn't really need our help, tho').
Here are a few what-the-fuck omissions:
Um, Tarkovsky, Tom? NO Tarkovsky? SOME people who read the Sun must be up for it. No Nic Roeg (Bad Timing, at least, surely...)? No Bela Tarr? No Dusan Makavejev (Tom: wouldn't you love to see what Sun readers would make of Sweet Movie? You could put it close to the end of the list, so as not to lose your job...).
No Jim Jarmusch? No Lars von Trier? No John Sayles? No Sirk?
No M? No Wages of Fear? (No Clouzot at all?). No Maltese Falcon? What about Kubrick's The Killing?
Atanarjuat is fine, but what about Hard Core Logo, or Last Night, or some Guy Maddin? Is The Fly really the BEST Cronenberg film? (It's certainly the one Sun readers are most likely to appreciate, but, well... you see what I'm sayin'). What about Lynne Stopkewich? Atom Egoyan? We Canadians need our limited cultural institutions flattered, dontcha know?
And what about a couple of political documentaries? Winter Soldier? Hearts and Minds? In the Year of the Pig?
Token experimental cinema: the Criterion Brakhage box, no?
For a Cassavetes fan, you don't seem that excited about American cinema of the 1970's. What about Scarecrow? Blow Out? Deliverance? The Gambler? Badlands? Electra Glide in Blue? All of these are films within the range of the Sun readership, and maybe not as familiar to them as some of the films you've told them about (I don't really understand the recommend-films-they-already-know-and-love tendency in listmaking, frankly). Mikey and Nicky?
What about those few truly great independent American films to emerge in recent years - Happiness? Old Joy? Police Beat? Safe?
And I'd put Romero's Dawn of the Dead up, on general principles, even if zombies are being overused lately. Not enough horror cinema, or transgressive cinema, on the list. Visitor Q? (yeah, right).
There's a bunch else. Maybe I'd draw the American content from Jonathan Rosenbaum's alternate AFI list - now THERE's an intimidating list of movies (I mean, I haven't even seen about 70 of them... it might as well be entitled " great American movies I've seen that you haven't!") There must be a ton of things I'm forgetting. Tom, if you comment - if you could do it over, would you add anything to the list?
More of Tom Charity's reviews can be found on Rotten Tomatoes by searching for "Tom Charity" under "critics." Y'all might also be interested in my interview with Tom Charity about a rare Cassavetes screening here a couple of years ago.
Uh: and now I'm gonna go see a movie with a friend.
Sunday, November 25, 2007
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Thursday, November 15, 2007
I have to admit, though, I still read his reviews. There aren't many mainstream critics I do that with. I'll usually will poke my head in to see what Ebert says, or Vancouver-based Tom Charity; and I'll read Rosenbaum. I read, for instance, his views on Joel and Ethan Coen's No Country for Old Men. Whatever his failings, they make for an interesting take on the film - questioning why we need another romanticized portrait of an invincible evil, and how that functions in the current political climate. One suspects that Rosenbaum was predisposed to dislike this film - he doesn't care much for the Coens, and has written well about their failings in the past (I'd recommend seeking out his review of Barton Fink, for those interested. I don't believe it's online, but it is in one of his books, maybe Movies as Politics. It's perceptive, well-written, and is so sensitive that it would almost suggest that Rosenbaum does have some fairly refined principles of taste and decorum, which simply don't apply to speaking ill of the dead). His approach to No Country for Old Men, however, is kind of lazy. He praises the craft of the film, but, since he doesn't want to be bothered at looking closely at it, he simply rejects it as a whole for the story it presumes to tell.
In fact, there are many, many more reasons to reject No Country for Old Men than Rosenbaum provides, particularly if one has read the novel on which it is based. Though this has been an issue of contention - a surprising number of members of the Criterion Forum completely disagree with me, and the film has 95% on Rotten Tomatoes at the moment - it seems to me, anyhow, that the Coens show the same contempt for folksy rural types that runs throughout Fargo, framing them as ridiculous throughout. They introduce various notes of humour that lighten the film's impact - smugly framing an overweight trailer court manager as being utterly ridiculous, for instance. Worse, they considerably bungle their depiction of one of three main characters in the book, an aging lawman driven to despair by the brutality of the crimes he's witnessing. Tommy Lee Jones is directed to portray the character as a weepy-eyed, blinking, often-near-comical version of Frances McDormand's character in Fargo. As I recall, half of the time we see him onscreen, he's eating - hardly the most dignified of actions. The idea that his point of view should be taken seriously is completely effaced in the course of the film, even though his voice, impotent though it may nonetheless be, is the closest to McCarthy's own in the book; only in the closing moments does Jones gain any degree of moral credibility, and by then, it's too late.
Not only do the Coen's fail to get us to identify with the voice of virtue in the novel, however - they fail to make their evil force particularly great. Javier Bardem is creepy as Chigurh, but rather repulsive - more of a menacing, evil clown than a Satanic minion - and his exposition of his philosophy is so abbreviated that it hardly compels our agreement. An episode at the end of the film - I cannot be specific without spoilers, so I'll remain vague - that should seem like a black joke at Chigurh's expense, courtesy of the very forces that he believes he is allied with, comes across as random and meaningless. It's a great shame, really, that the Coens fail to bring this story to the screen; I would have been quite pleased if they'd kept their smarminess in check and did justice to the tale, since I think that McCarthy's voice, and this book - light though it may be, relative to the rest of his canon - are important to our times. And in an age where Ingmar Bergman can be blithely dismissed as overrated, cinema clearly is in a state of crisis. What was the last morally serious new film YOU saw?
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
When last a feature on Annie Sprinkle ran in one of Vancouver’s alternative papers, fans of hers had cause to be worried: the positive-minded New Age sex guru, filmmaker, and PhD sexologist had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Though cancer of any form is never welcome, to those aware of her work, this may have seemed a singularly cruel fate: for years, the former pornstar has used her breasts as an asset and objet d’art. Sprinkle supplements her income with “tit prints” (produced by coating a fulsome boob in paint and pressing it to paper); she ended her last Vancouver appearance to hearty applause by unsheathing her breasts for the audience and making them dance to Strauss’ “Blue Danube” waltz (the “Bosom Ballet”). Those worried for Annie can breathe a sigh of relief – not only has the resilient Dr. Sprinkle had a lump successfully removed, without need for a mastectomy, she is in typically good spirits about the whole experience. This is in part due to the efforts of her primary caregiver, partner, and collaborator, Dr. Elizabeth Stephens.
Beth Stephens is described on Annie and Beth’s site, http://www.loveartlab.org/, as a “sexy dyke playboy,” and as a ” Professor of Art and of Digital Art/New Media... affiliated with the Department of Feminist Studies at the University of California, Santa Cruz.” Her artwork, as described at http://www.elizabethstephens.org/, sounds brilliant and very funny – for example, The Academic/Porn Star Panty Collection, a series of bronzed (used) undergarments designed as a “homage and a wink to the bravery and chutzpah of porn stars and adventurous academics who are physically and intellectually stimulating, be it in the classroom or on the silver screen” (Annie’s panties are included in the series and can be bought through the shop at http://www.anniesprinkle.org/) Together, Annie and Beth are currently touring Exposed: Experiments in Love, Sex, Death and Art. The description on the Love Art Lab site describes it as “a theater/performance art show about our relationship, exploring artificial insemination, breast cancer treatments, queer weddings, art experiments, aging, sexuality and more.” The piece is intended as “a response to the war, anti-gay marriage sentiment and the politics of breast cancer,” and will be coming to Toronto for Buddies in Bad Times, on June 19th (note: this interview is actually almost a year old, so that was LAST June...). Annie and Beth “invite everyone to a genuine celebration and critical public exploration of the deepest realms of romantic, sexual and familial love to bring about positive social change.”
Over the course of a three way phone conversation, Annie and Beth talked about their experiences overcoming cancer, and provided a bit of background on their current work. The two just held a “big fat queer wedding” in Calgary – the first legal marriage of the three they’ve undertaken thus far, thanks to Canada’s progressive legislation. It’s colour-coded as the Yellow Wedding, corresponding with the third chakra and a focus on “Courage and Power” (each year has a colour, a chakra, and a theme; 2005, the Red Wedding, focused on Security and Survival; the Orange Year, 2006, was themed around Sexuality and Creativity).
Allan: What was your impression of Annie when you first met her?
Beth: Oh, I thought she was just as hot as could be.
Beth: My first impression was like, I got totally wet panties.
Annie: It was lust at first sight.
Allan: When did you meet?
Beth: When I first met Annie, she lived in New York City. I was in graduate school, and then we met again later in San Francisco. I moved to the west coast and then she moved to the west coast and we got together for a date out here.
Allan: Were you at all intimidated by Annie’s background?
Beth: No, I think it’s great that she slept with all those people, so that she’d have a lot of practice for me! They got her ready. Annie: Not too many lesbians could handle, y’know, their lover having had thousands of lovers –
Beth: But I just say, “Bring it on!”
Annie: – so it was very nice. She’s very open-minded. And very sex positive. Of course I’d have to marry someone sex-positive.
Beth: Well, you wouldn’t have to.
Allan: Beth, are you from New York originally?
Beth: No, I’m originally from West Virginia, which is a little redneck state in the Appalachian mountains.
Annie: She’s a rodeo girl.
Beth: I’m a hillbilly.
Annie: A very smart hillbilly.
Allan: You’re an academic, right?
Beth: Yeah, I’m the chair of the art department at UC Santa Cruz. That makes me not exactly an academic.
Allan: You’ve done graduate studies?
Beth: Well, we’ve both done graduate studies. In fact, Annie has a doctorate, and I don’t have a doctorate, but I am a professor – go figure! (laughs)
Annie: She has a Masters in fine arts from a very good university, from Rutgers.
Allan: I was actually confused by that when Annie spoke up here in Vancouver. It sounded like she said part of her doctorate was honorary...?
Annie: Oh, no – I got several credits for life experience, I might have said that. But no, I did a PhD dissertation, and everything. I went to the Institute for the Advanced Study of Human Sexuality. There’s only about three places where you can get a degree in human sexuality, and that’s one of the few. And it’s been around a long time... My dissertation was on “Providing Educational Opportunities for Sex Workers.” It was about, where do sex workers learn about their work, and if they want to learn more about their work, where do they go? And I developed a program to educate sex workers. It was a research study, and I developed an educational program that would be a four day intensive, called the Sweat Training. So I created a training...
Allan: Is anyone using it?
Annie: No, uh-huh. It would be fantastic. Maybe someday.
Allan: So right now, you’re making your living more or less as an artist, right Annie?
Allan: If I could ask, then, the issue of medical insurance - how did that work out with Annie’s brush with cancer?
Beth: Well, in the state of California, there are domestic partner laws, and my university is very – very -
Beth: Progressive, yeah. So we had health insurance.
Annie: Beth takes very good care of me.
Beth: That’s mutual. Annie takes very good care of me, too.
Annie: Aww! ... (To me): You’ve done your research, obviously.
Allan: Well, yeah. And I’ve been a fan of Annie’s for years, though I don’t know Beth’s work very well. Some of it sounds brilliant, like the bronzed panties...
Annie: It is a stunning piece. You should see how beautiful it is.
Allan: How do academics respond to it?
Beth: Well, of course, it depends on the academic. Some of the people who write about the most outrageous things wouldn’t be caught dead letting me bronze their panties, but, um, some academics, they just love it. I mean, it’s very titillating, and they really get off on it. I think academics aren’t used to being seen as sex objects, although some academics are. There are always the students who have the crushes on their teachers.
Annie: I find academics really hot.
Allan: You have a thing for, like, lawyers and straight types, right Annie?
Annie: Yeah, well – particularly academics.
Beth: This year.
Annie and Beth: (laughter).
Annie: I used to have a thing for lawyers, now its academics.
Allan: You’re obviously proud of your PhD – I mean, even your email address says Dr. Annie Sprinkle – but you’re making your living as an artist...
Annie: I also am a sexologist and a sex educator, and I actually use that email address because I was doing personal coaching – sex-life coaching – so I kind of wear a variety of hats.
Allan: If I can ask about finances, do you get royalties from your old porn stuff?
Annie: No. I own a few of the movies I produced, but of the old movies, no. But I do sell some porn movies on my website.
Allan: Those are the ones you actually have the rights to?
Annie: No, I buy them wholesale and sell them. But I get a good deal, so I still make money on them.
Beth: But we’re good Americans, so we’re really in debt. We’re working to get out of it.
Annie: We have two beautiful houses that Beth bought and re-did, and we’re hoping to buy another one.
Beth: Well, the bank has two beautiful houses that I’ve redone.
Annie: She’s very handy.
Beth: I figure if I can just buy one more house and fix it up and sell it, we’ll be doing okay.
Annie: But yeah, I’m actually in a business course right now, because I have spotless credit, but I have not been good at managing money.
Beth: But she’s been great at making money.
Annie: Good at making it, and even better at spending it... College gigs pay the best, probably, if you go by the day, but we love doing theatre. We have a piece called Exposed: Experiments in Love, Sex, Death and Art, and that’s really the work, I mean, that’s the hardcore heart of the Love Art Lab...
Beth: We also make visual art.
Annie: We’re great collaborators, and we’re very happy working together, but it would be great if there was more funding in the United States...
Annie and Beth (chiming in): For the arts.
Annie: And less for war.
Beth: We’ve actually worked internationally more than we have nationally. We’ve worked in Germany, we’ve had pieces in Russia, we’ve had pieces in France, and Austria...We’re going back to Austria.
Annie: We’ve worked more out of the country. They have better funding in Europe.
Beth: In Canada, too!
Allan: What was Calgary like?
Beth: We loved it. The people were so generous, and so enthusiastic about our wedding – we had a beautiful wedding, and all these artists, all these Calgary artists came and performed and did beautiful pieces.
Annie: We only knew four people, out of 250 people, at our wedding – but it was a big happy family. In fact, my Maid of Honour was Victoria Singh, who used to run the Western Front there in Vancouver. She was the curator of the Western Front.
Beth: And she was just extraordinarily lovely.
Allan: Tell me about the chakras and colour coding – how do they apply to this year?
Beth: Well, we’re going to forefront the colour yellow in our lives, and we’ll also really concentrate on projects that have to do with courage and power. So it’ll be a guiding theme for our work throughout the whole year.
Annie: Our wedding was yellow, so it’s called Yellow Wedding Three. It was part of the One Yellow Rabbit High Performance Rodeo in Calgary.
Allan: This sounds like LaMonte Young named it.
Annie and Beth: (giggle)
Beth: We did one of his pieces too!
Annie: We did a LaMonte Young piece?
Beth: Yeah, we did. “Zen for Head” was actually LaMonte Young, but Nam June Paik made it famous.
Allan: So...pieces centering on courage and power. What sort of things are you planning to do?
Annie: Get arrested.
Allan: Get arrested?
Beth: Well, we really use the Love Art Laboratory as a platform to speak out against things like the war. We make comments on a lot of the sort of newsworthy items that are happening around the world. We’re trying to counteract some of that stuff. So we’re hoping this year to be really courageous and to make a really big political statement at some point, which in the United States can get you arrested very easily.
Allan: Annie, I know you had trouble once with getting arrested some of your porn, when you were making a magazine with amputee pornstar Long Jean Silver. Beth, have you had problems with the law?
Beth: Well, not that I really want to talk about!
Allan, Annie and Beth: (laughter).
Beth: But thank you for asking!
Allan: Nothing in the context of political activism.
Allan: Do you want to be more specific about what you’re planning?
Annie: We’re going to continue our theatre piece, Exposed: Experiments in Love, Sex, Death and Art.
Beth: We do have a three week engagement in New York in the spring.
Annie: We believe we’re living our lives as art, so it’s very organic. It’s like – whatever we go through in our life, we make into art.
Beth: So we’re not exactly sure what we’re going to do. We’ve just sort of set our intention.
Allan: On the topic of making life art, is there anything you hold back, or is everything made public?
Annie: We try to hold our bellies in, that’s about it.
Allan, Annie and Beth (laugh).
Annie: We’re all for people showing their bellies, but we hold ours in.
Beth: Well, we don’t hold ours in very well. But this being the year of power and courage, the power and courage chakra is located right about in the belly, right in the solar plexus.
Annie: Yeah, we’re gonna let our belly OUT.
Beth: Yeah, we’re gonna lead with our bellies this year.
Annie: So actually we might even show our bellies. That would be about the most courageous thing we could do! (Laughter).
Annie: We talked about riding the subway in New York topless, just because we can. It’s legal there.
Annie: You can be anywhere in public topless, because men can, so they made it equal.
Allan: Actually, there’s a woman in my hometown, Maple Ridge, who gets arrested again and again doing that. She’s portrayed in the media very unsympathetically – as an eccentric attention-seeker.
Beth: Is Maple Ridge in Canada?
Allan: Yeah. It’s this suburban burg – it’s rednecky. I forget her name...
Annie: Have you interviewed her?
Allan: No, I haven’t!
Annie: You should!
Allan: I might... In terms of the war – what’s the current political climate like there? It seems like Bush is –
Annie: He’s out of control, is the way we see it.
Beth: Yeah, but you know what, we live in California, and we live in Northern California, which is a very liberal, y’know, ‘bright spot’ in the country. I think the war is very complicated right now. We already have all these kids over there, and we’re getting ready to send, what, 21,000 more? I mean, it’s just like Vietnam - if the country no longer supports the war, but we keep sending these kids over there, then they’re just like little sheep to the slaughter. It’s sad. I mean, the United States is pretty much hated in the Middle East right now, except for the little warlords that Bush is smiling upon to give them power.
Allan: If I could ask, Annie, I know your background is Jewish, and I have no idea how that fits into your work...
Annie: Jewish blood, raised Unitarian. And then I became sort of Tantrist-Buddhist.
Allan: Do any feelings about Israel or the problems in the Middle East come into your work?
Annie: Well, I’m for peace and love, all the way round for all people. Wherever there’s war, I’d like to see more love, more peace. I just wish everyone everywhere could tone down the violence, no matter who you are, what country – it doesn’t matter what nationality or borders. I see one world with lots of really violent people, and y’know, just whoever’s being violent, stop it right now! (chuckles). The thing is, Beth and I wanted to do art to comment on the war, but we didn’t want to add to the violent imagery out there. We wanted to do something kind of – how did we describe it?
Beth: We wanted to put our energy into things that we were very attracted to, not to the things that – um -
Annie: Repulse us.
Beth: That repulse us. And so instead of protesting the war directly –
Annie: Or making some piece of art with blood and bombs and blown up cars, to try to show the violence of it –
Beth: We decided to make work about love. I mean, that’s really very simple. It’s a very simple strategy on our part. And people have responded. I mean, these weddings – who would think that anyone would want to go so see two middle-aged lesbian ladies putting on this sort of crazy wedding ceremony? But we sold out days before the wedding happened, and people really enjoyed being someplace that was just dedicated to love, y’know? And I think there’s a real need for that in the world right now. I think people are burned out, really, on all the violence, all the scandal, all the political muckracking.
Annie: A lot of negativity. And people want more hope. Y’know, I think there’s so many churches. And Hallmark! We’re offering an alternative to Hallmark cards and church.
Allan (laughing): We need that, very much... Um, if I could ask you about cancer, that’s another big theme in your work lately. Annie, you’re totally okay now?
Annie: Mm-hmm! I mean, I have both boobs, and I’m a year out of treatment now. And Beth helped me get through it together, ‘cos Beth took on the cancer – we took it on as a couple, and took it on as artists. So we made art out of our experience, so... I can look back and go, that was a worthwhile experience because of what we made, you know?
Allan: How sick did you get?
Annie: I was never, ever sick. I just got sick from the chemo and from the radiation.
Beth: She was very tired.
Annie: I was just Phase One, but the treatments definitely made you kind of sick, but the actual cancer, it was just a hard spot in my breast that I felt. It was never an issue really, but if you leave it there, you can grow.
Allan: What were the reactions on ward to your “Chemo-Fashion Show,” where you dressed up on ward in various funny costumes? Were other cancer patients seeing that happening?
Annie: Yeah. We had a wonderful doctor, and you go into this room – and it’s like a beauty parlour, with ladies sitting in chairs, attached to these IVs... They were very supportive, and we were pretty disruptive, doing this.
Beth: But I think that the patients liked it, even though, I mean – we heard some really sad stories, because there were people there that obviously were not going to be cured. But it wasn’t just about death and dying or being sick. We were really doing something else – were being creative.
Annie: It was about love. That room, where all the ladies were getting chemo, it was a very loving place, and so Beth and I were really inspired by that. We made what we called a “Love Infusion Center,” and we don’t have the pictures of this on our site – actually, there’s some pictures of a Love Infusion Center we did in our garage, the first one... So we made these places where people can go and sit down on a couch or a chair or a gynaecology table or whatever, and they can be attached to coloured liquids...
Beth: We actually had a laying on of hands at our last Love Infusion, when people would just stand around this one person and put their hands on them and just send them love.
Annie: We gotta get those pictures up on our website. They’re really wonderful... so we made these Love Infusion Centers, so everyone could get loved up, because everybody has something to heal, or some pain, or some sadness. It’s the human condition.
Beth: Everybody needs some love!
Annie: Everybody needs some love.
Allan: Speaking of that – I read about an elixir that was used. Were there actual, uh, chemicals involved in that?
Annie: It was more alchemy – we mixed fruit juices –
Beth: Transubstantiation. Speaking from a non-Jewish point of view here.
Allan: What did it mean to be Annie’s primary caregiver?
Annie: Well, working on a theatre piece!
Beth: Yeah, we started our theatre piece during the time when she was getting chemotherapy.
Beth: Yeah. So we were working on a theatre piece. I went to all of her medical treatments with her, and made sure that she was getting good care. And then while we were at the medical treatments, we were often documenting the medical treatments, so I was the primary photographer for all that. You know, we also had to have the costumes ready to go to the medical treatments, because every time we’d go, we’d dress in a different costume. And then, I don’t know... as much fun as we had, it was hard, also. I actually took a medical leave from school, and I just tried to take care of everything, so she didn’t have to worry about stuff.
Annie: And she helped out financially, so I didn’t have to work. But we did make a lot of art stuff...
Beth: Yeah, we really made a lot of work.
Annie: We made collages out of the radiation treatment plans, the computerized graphics to find out how much radiation to give. I got copies of those and we made collages. Beth: They’re for sale. You can buy them through the website...
Annie: We’re showing them in art galleries... we have one in France right now. When we get our new website up, there’ll be a shop.
Allan: And of course, Beth, you shaved your head to be in solidarity with Annie... Annie, did you need to shave your head, or were you just trying to anticipate what was going to happen?
Annie: Well, it’s always much nicer to shave your head than to have it every day falling out, because that’s really upsetting and unpleasant, whereas if you shave your head, it’s kind of a cleansing experience.
Beth: It’s proactive.
Allan: It’s a marvellously sensual thing to do.
Annie: Yeah. That’s funny, because we’re going back and forth if we should shave our heads again for Exposed.
Beth: There’s a very important part of the show that involves our heads being shaved, at the climax. That’s nice to hear you describe it as a deliciously sensual thing to do.
Annie: Maybe we should just tell people we shaved our heads because it’s erotic!
Beth: An erotic ritual.
Allan: It also does odd things with gendering. I think Elizabeth said somewhere that in Scotland, there was a piece where people were confused about your gender identities because you were both bald... You see more bald men than you see bald women.
Beth: Yes, usually.
Allan: I read somewhere that during the Cuddling piece (an event held during the Red Year, in which gallery visitors could cuddle with Sprinkle and Stephens under a red “security blanket,” to correspond with the year’s theme) there was a bit of a problem, a riot or something.
Beth: No, there was no violence. People just really wanted to cuddle us up. There was a traffic jam, but there was no violence. I think at the reception of our wedding in Calgary, they hired extra security, because they were a little bit afraid there was going to be a huge mass of people.
Beth: But so far we’ve never really encountered violence.
Annie: We’re lovers, not fighters.
Allan: Even in the States?Beth: Even in the States. Allan: Are there places where you don’t go?
Beth: We go anywhere. I mean, listen, I grew up in probably what is considered one of the most backwards parts of the United States. And I know the people that are in those places that in those places, and I love the people that are in those places, so I’m not afraid of the people that are in those places. I welcome bringing our point of view to people who don’t share it. We will take the Love Art Lab anywhere. I really mean that. I’d really welcome bringing our work somewhere our viewpoints are not shared.
Annie: With our weapons of mass seduction.
Allan: Okay, a couple of final questions. Annie, I saw on your website that you were giving your name as Annie M. Sprinkle. I don’t think I’ve seen the M before now. What’s the story behind that?
Annie: Have you ever seen the picture of the tombstone that says Annie M. Sprinkle? There’s a tombstone picture I’ve used in my work and my books and stuff, it’s of an actual Annie M. Sprinkle who died in 1872 or something, and a relative sent me a picture of it. I really have a myth about it, so I took her middle initial and I just say it stands for Mermaid. Because I’m really a Mermaid at heart – or I was in one of my last incarnations – meaning in one of my last nine lives.
Allan: The other thing – maybe the answer will be interesting, but it’s a bit weird: what happened to the tumour? There’s a photo of it on the site...
Beth: We sold it to the Museum of Modern Art in New York (laughs).
Allan: You’re kidding?
Beth: I’m kidding.
Allan: For, like, research purposes.
Beth: Yeah, they freeze them and kind of use them for research.
Annie: Yeah, they take little slivers...
Beth: Breast cancer is an absolute epidemic now. It’s in epidemic proportions.
Allan: How worried were you, Annie? Are you a worrier?
Annie: No. You know, it’s funny, because when I came out of all the cancer stuff, I really felt like I came out a winner. I came out ahead, somehow. And I had that same experience with porn. You know, like other people go into porn or prostitution, and, I mean, a lot of people do have bad experiences, but I always felt no matter what I came out ahead, somehow. So I think I just have that attitude. If you learn, you grow. If you learn, you win, so... I never thought I would die, but you never know, I never thought I’d get breast cancer... On the other hand, having breast cancer fits right in with the work I’d been doing, which is all about breasts. So if I had to get a disease, I’m really happy it was breast cancer!
Saturday, November 10, 2007
Saw two really cute things on a wet walk home over the Cambie street bridge tonight (the long route home from Pat's Pub). The first was a rat, scared of me, trying to run away along the endless linear stretch of the bridge, trying to conceal itself by running along the inner edge of the ledge. It would get about thirty yards ahead and stop, amidst flowing rain and wet leaves, to catch its breath, eventually relaxing, then suddenly (as I continued my walk) I was upon it again. It would give a startled leap - literally bouncing up into the air - and re-commence the sprint, as I called after it soothing phrases, feeling guilty for its panic and kind of wanting it to stop so I could check it out. This repeated itself three times - three startled leaps and sprints - before the rat figured out that the bridge was long and that I was going to continue on my course, whereupon it made a move of considerable intelligence, a sort of calculated gamble as a way of solving its problem: it ran in front of me, hopped onto the ledge, and getting as far onto the side as it could without plunging into the water below, zoomed in the opposite direction. Smart guy! I continued on my way, and the rat got to realize that I'd never, in fact, been chasing it at all. I hope he didn't feel too stupid.
Shortly after crossing the bridge, I saw my second cute thing: a blonde girl walking home with a boot on one foot - and nothing on the other (if you didn't count her toenail polish). It was a bit of a hobble. I didn't stop to commiserate.
Thursday, November 08, 2007
2. I'm 39, single, a slave to student loan debt, without a home of my own, a family of my own, or a clear sense of what I'm going to do with the rest of my life.
3. My workplace is a haven of mediocrity (the computers reserved for teachers, for instance, are still running on Windows 2000... riight).
4. Half the power in my apartment has mysteriously gone out. I've tested the fuses. All work.
5. (unspecified family issues)
6. While we're at it, human life is spiralling out of control, like a colony of ants that has grown so large it is depleting the surrounding environment and will soon collapse. We drift disconnected from the ground of being, coasting along with flows of capitalism and illusion, barely conscious, barely real.
Feelin' impotent to make changes. Frustrated, despairing. Waah.
Thought I'd share.
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
By the way, a compendium of BC bigfoot stories here. And if that doesn't excite you, how about the giant black salamanders of Pitt Lake?
(EDITED TO ADD: Actually, it turns out Stampfel has never heard the Baracuda song and came to the idea of sticking his ass up in the air all on his own. Look for my interview with him in next month's Nerve Magazine).
Potluck Noise Dinner
Venue: The Collection Agency (1009 E. Cordova)
Common Collector : http://myspace.com/commoncollector
My Year of Fish, aka Fishing with Ruth: John Lurie, Ruth Ozeki, and a fun little series of synchronicities
In the late 90’s, before it was available on VHS, and before DVDs were widespread, I knew quite a bit about John Lurie’s ironic fishing show, Fishing with John, and was very excited to see it. I’d told a painter friend of mine, Thomas Ziorjen, all about it – he and I were both big Lounge Lizards/John Lurie fans. I was on the way to Japan, though, where I taught English for three years, and if it ever ran on TV in Canada before I left, I missed it; the only way to catch the show was on the IFC in the US, at that point. Ah, well.
It wasn’t long after I settled in Japan that I started regularly visiting my local video chainstore (Tsutaya) – your standard suburban video store in Saitama, just north of Tokyo. I felt a bit isolated over there, so I’d watch a lot of movies. One day I was poking about, trying to find films I hadn’t seen, which was always a challenge, since I could barely read the Japanese titles: they had a few odd things (Jodorowsky, Richard Kern movies, Cannibal Holocaust, different cuts of Todd Haynes’ Safe, Lynch’s Dune and Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, and some movie directed by Johnny Depp, with Marlon Brando in it, that no one has heard of here). Never did I expect to find the Fishing with John videos, but there they were: long before there was any video release in North America, assumedly because of the Japanese crew that shot the series, these were available in Japan. I rented them promptly, and of course was delighted by them, sitting in my tiny pasty apartment across from my tiny TV, watching them with Japanese subtitles...
Around the same time, back in BC, on the Sunshine Coast, my friend Thomas met a remarkable, beautiful, and brilliant Japanese American woman who’d just published her first novel: My Year of Meat (or Meats, depending on whether you get the British or US version). Her name was Ruth Ozeki, and she spent part of her year in BC; her partner is a friend of Thomas’. The novel follows a Japanese American woman who is hired to help translate for an unusual documentary series, being shot by Japanese to promote “American meat” back home. She was explaining the book to Thomas, and saying that some of this material was inspired by her peripheral involvement in the Fishing with John series. (She’s uncredited on the DVDs, that I saw – there’s a “thanks to Ruth” that appears somewhere, but that’s about it. Her website informs me that she spent “several years directing documentary-style programs for a Japanese company,” but I don’t know exactly how she got involved with the Lurie people or what she did with them). As I heard it, Ruth was shocked when it turned out that Thomas knew all about the show, without having seen it. To Ruth (and to most people in 1999), this was a pretty obscure program. How did he ever find out about it? Thomas ended up telling her about me, in Japan.
Cut to: Japan, a couple of weeks later. I’m in Tokyo, looking through the English language section of Kinokuniya, one of the bigger book chains, and there I see this rather quirky-lookin’ book: it’s called My Year of Meat (the UK edition) and it has an image of a cow held between chopsticks on the cover. Thomas had mentioned Ozeki in an email to me, but either I didn’t read it that closely or had forgotten about it – the book didn’t resonate as something that I’d heard about. It just had a really cool cover, and looked like a smart, engaging book (which it was). I bought it based on its own apparent merits.
Sometime after I started reading it, I made the connection between the book, Fishing with John, and Thomas’ email. And eventually - thanks to Thomas - I ended up in touch with Ruth, and she inscribed the book for me (I actually have signed British and US firsts, one mailed to her from Canada, one from Japan, that she signed and sent back to me). It remains one of the more pleasant incidents of synchronicity – Ruth, her book, and Fishing with John all falling across my path in short order, while Ruth was hearing about me; I doubt anyone else has as cool a story about stumbling across either Ruth's book or John's TV show, though who knows...? (The internet, by making all of this stuff SO EASY to seek out, kind of makes stories like this rare these days, I imagine - though there was my Patricia Highsmith online synchronicity awhile back). I was really pleased to see My Year of Meats get promoted widely in BC last year (long after its initial publication). If anyone out there hasn't read it, I highly recommend seeking it out.
Anyhow, after Ruth Ozeki had been so nice as to sign my books, I wanted to send her a gift. It turns out there was a CD released at that time that not many people knew about: Marvin Pontiac, a goofy, delightful John Lurie vocal project that he’d cooked up an elaborate fake bio for. It was one of the funniest CD releases of the year (and, I believe, Lurie's last musical project, before illness overtook him and he switched to painting. See the interviews with him linked here for more on his condition). There was no indication on the packaging of Lurie’s involvement: the first clue would be her recognizing his voice on the first track, “I’m a Doggie” (which begins, “I got a bone for you..."). I bought it in Tokyo and mailed it out: can’t get more perfect than that as a gift. I wish I’d been there when she first played it...
Thursday, November 01, 2007
Blim and CAST EXOTIC ARCHIVES present:
Palace of the Winds
My Friend Rain
Sublime Frequencies is a collective of explorers dedicated to acquiring and exposing obscure sights and sounds from modern and traditional urban and rural frontiers via film and video, field recordings, radio and short wave transmissions, international folk and pop music, sound anomalies, and other forms of human and natural expression not documented sufficiently through all channels of academic research, the modern recording industry, media, or corporate foundations. SUBLIME FREQUENCIES is focused on an aesthetic of extra-geography and soulful experience inspired by music and culture, world travel, research, and the pioneering recording labels of the past including OCORA, SMITHSONIAN FOLKWAYS, ETHNIC FOLKWAYS, LYRICHORD, NONESUCH EXPLORER, MUSICAPHONE, BARONREITER, UNESCO, PLAYASOUND, MUSICAL ATLAS, CHANT DU MONDE, B.A.M., TANGENT, and TOPIC. http://www.sublimefrequencies.com/