Sunday, March 31, 2013

Yob: yet another show I would see if I could

Next Saturday, Yob, one of the coolest, heaviest, most artful doom metal bands from the Pacific Northwest - Eugene, Oregon, to be precise - is playing the Interurban Gallery. Someone is describing them on Youtube as doing "Buddhist metal" - really? I sure do wish I could go.

Friday, March 29, 2013

(Arkona not coming)

Their website hasn't been updated to reflect the news, but apparently Arkona - who were slated to play Funky's on April 19th - have been denied the Visas they need... I was all excited about seeing them again, since they're my favourite folk metal band, but it looks like it's not happening...

Rental Roundup #2: Zero Dark Thirty, The Master, plus John Dies At The End

Zero Dark Thirty is beautifully, carefully made, a pleasure to watch, in terms of craft and construction. If Argo (see below) is made without any particular skill or love of the art, is a dully workmanlike coulda-been-a-TV-movie that seems to barely qualify as cinema, then Zero Dark Thirty -  viewing it only as a piece of visual art, without getting into questions of theme or politics or relation to reality or so forth - is somewhat of a triumph of the art of filmmaking. Nor is its content as objectionable as I thought it might be. I actually admired that it pulled no punches in depicting US torture of prisoners; the scenes of people being tortured are, while sanitized and simplified a bit, still very uncomfortable to watch. So they should be, especially coming from a highly distractable, ill-informed country so eager to forget what its done. I am not sure that the film doesn't, as its accusers say, validate that torture (a word seldom used by its characters, replaced by the more innocent-sounding phrase, "the detainee program"), by showing that it ultimately pays off - which I gather is somewhat of a fiction; based on what I've read online, the film is not that historically accurate - but I wasn't offended by it so much as I was... unimpressed; because whatever else might be said about Zero Dark Thirty, whatever obvious skill went into its making, it fails to really take any strong position at all on world-shaping, morality-defining events, and, pretty as it is, doesn't really amount to much. (It is not even a strong endorsement of torture, like, say, The Dark Knight - which at least has the courage of its immoral convictions - since it shows it as being so ugly and dehumanizing that we cringe from it, even if the film suggests that it works). Even if it could be proven (it probably can't, but IF) that  in the final estimation Zero Dark Thirty is more honest than not - it still isn't particularly brave, or passionate, or stimulating, or rich with ideas, beyond its straightfoward depiction of its (inaccurate) version of events. If it is a triumph of craftsmanship, it is also a waste of the same. It's not even that entertaining; certain scenes (the protracted final raid on Bin Laden's compound, seen mostly through night-vision goggles) were drawn out to the extent that they got my mother shouting "boring!" at our TV, and I have to admit that I could sympathize.

To confess, I also am a little more inclined to entertain non-mainstream versions (see here) of Osama Bin Laden's reported execution and the disposal of his body than I am about other aspects of the 9/11 narrative. The lack of information and images released to the press, the shiftiness, haste, and lack of public discussion that accompanied the alleged dumping-at-sea, the lack of any apparent desire to disprove theories that bin Laden died years ago, all scream that secrets were being kept, that the truth was not being told to us. I don't understand the film's utter lack of interest in such things, in its willingness to play along with authority. Zero Dark Thirty consolidates and endorses a comfortable official narrative about the hunt for "UBL," as he's called in the film, while failing to grapple with the most confusing and provocative part of the tale (no explanation is given or mention made of the alleged ocean disposal, and the leaked emails that suggest he was actually flown back to the US to be cremated are not touched on in the film at all, like Bigelow didn't even find this stuff curious, or worth mentioning). I should imagine 9/11 Truthers wouldn't like this film much. In fact, I should imagine anyone with any sort of passionate feelings about 9/11, the war on terror, and so forth will find Zero Dark Thirty a little too dispassionate, a little too cold, too safe, too hollow... Bigelow is a superb craftsman (craftsperson?) but there's something lacking from her vision, and from this film.
The Master is much the same. I didn't feel ANGRY with it, the way I did with There Will Be Blood, but I wasn't very excited by it. It's beautifully crafted, and very pretty to look at; it seems to be PT Anderson's Far From Heaven, since it evokes, in colour and lighting, the filmmaking practices of the time in which it is set. It also makes a surprising amount of sense of the Scientology master-narrative; I haven't dabbled deeply in that particular, uh, philosophy, beyond the sense of pre-judging it as pernicious gobbledygook, but for all of The Master's criticisms of the movement, the belief system articulated seems, though flaky, more compelling and coherent (especially if you take some of it metaphorically) than I ever expected it might be. Phil Seymour Hoffman is at his charismatic best, Joaquin Phoenix looks to have aged 20 years since his last film (and strangely resembles Daniel Day Lewis); and both are interesting to watch throughout. And that's about all the praise I can give it. Truth and wisdom and beauty can be found anywhere, if one looks hard enough, works hard enough, forces these qualities from the text; they can be wrung from  anything from soap commercials to sitcoms - but all the same, I don't think The Master has anything very profound or insightful or provocative to say about male relations, gurus, Scientology, or America, or anything else. It doesn't lack craft, but it does seem to lack content - or at least content that moved me very much.

Having given fairly negative reviews to both films, I must say, still, that I did enjoy watching both of them more than I expected I would.
Alas, I enjoyed John Dies At The End somewhat less than I'd hoped. It starts off well enough - it gives a delightful, funny, inventive interpretation of the first third of the novel; and then omits the second third; and gives a very partial reading of the last. It's a fun film to watch, and I'll probably own a copy someday, but people who want to get maximum use-value out of the story it tells would do better to read the book than watch the movie; and people who have not yet read the book will probably find that it works better to see the film first - to move from the slighter text to the richer one, so the voyage is one of enhancement and discovery, rather than disappointment and diminishment (overheard in the Rio Theatre lobby: "it skipped, like, thirteen chapters of the book! What the fuck?" ...or words to that effect). All the same, thanks for the Rio Theatre for putting it on.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Rental Roundup #1: Argo, Killing Them Softly DVD reviews

Four DVDs rented off the new arrivals wall at Little Shop of Movies today: Argo, Killing Them Softly, Zero Dark Thirty, and The Master. Watched the first two tonight.
(who is the most self-important person in this picture?)

Argo is scandalously lousy, considering the praise heaped on it. I normally don't pay any attention to the Academy Awards, for obvious reasons, but they've really outdone themselves voting for this piece of tripe as best picture; the film is a sub-cinematic liberal wank, an act of Hollywood self-congratulation, and yet another attempt by Ben Affleck to sell us on how soulful, deep, and caring he is (he's getting to be worse than M. Night Shyamalan, whom I always sort of hoped wasn't being entirely serious in his self-flattering self-castings; Affleck couldn't even cast himself as a Boston bank robber - in The Town - without making him the most generous, caring, and moral bank robber in America).  Pretty much everyone already knows the film's story, drawn from an actual historical footnote: Affleck, as a CIA "exfiltration" specialist, cooks up a scheme to rescue six Americans from the residence of the Canadian ambassador of Iran, as a sort of sideshow to the Iranian hostage crisis. His idea - "the best bad idea we've got," as his CIA cohort Bryan Cranston describes it at one point - is to pose as a film producer, smuggle in forged documents, coach the diplomats and their wives how to pass as movie people, do a bit of location scouting in Iran, and convince the Iranians that they are a Canadian film crew for a low budget Star Wars knockoff named Argo. To make the story believable, Affleck and his CIA co-conspirators actually hold press conferences in America, get an article published in a trade journal, rent an office, design a poster and storyboards, and option an actual screenplay.

The film adds absolutely nothing of interest to the story just told, just acts it out in the (doubtlessly highly oversimplified and historically inaccurate) manner of a TV movie of the week, so unless you're illiterate, if what you want is historical information, just read the Wikipedia entry on the actual mission (or, heaven forbid, a book about it) and skip the film altogether. If you ARE illiterate, you could still have a more entertaining and edifying experience by having someone else read the Wikipedia entry to you, while bypassing the film. Since we all know Argo is based on a true story, and since there would be no movie here if the mission didn't succeed, there's not even any real suspense generated. The film has no visual interest, no particularly well-developed characters, takes no risks, and does very little with the cast members with actual talent that Affleck surrounds himself with (Cranston, Alan Arkin, John Goodman, Rory Cochrane, even a bizarrely wasted Michael Parks, who flickers on-screen for all of three seconds and then completely and utterly disappears). Exactly one funny joke occurs when Arkin, as one of the Hollywood people brought on board, refuses to answer a persistent reporter's question about the name of the  ship in the movie - the ship also being called Argo - and, growing tired of being badgered ("Argo what? Argonaut?"), responds with "Argo fuck yourself!" An amusing moment from a talented veteran, but the film is so short on other inspired things to do or say that it repeats the joke some five times (each repetition of which is still more interesting  and entertaining than anything else that happens in the film).

Then there's the question of the moral purpose of Argo: on one level, it can be seen as an endorsement of CIA involvement in the entertainment industry; on the other, it seems to suggest that silly science fiction movies are somehow a universal good that can solve all the world's problems and triumph over fundamentalism, anti-Americanism, and all manner of political ills and injustices ("Iranian revolution bad, cheapshit Hollywood knockoffs good"). Both of these factors probably go a long way to explaining the Oscar, since Americans LIKE siding with authority whenever possible, and seem to enjoy celebrating their own vapid mass culture, but they don't make Argo a good, or even a moral, film. In fact, Argo is a bunch of mediocre rubbish, and should be avoided.

I would perhaps be kinder on it if it hadn't won an Academy Award for best picture, but... fuckit.
By pleasant contrast, Killing Them Softly is very nearly great, and definitely deserves to be seen; the scandal here is that it came and went pretty much unremarked. I'm going to hazard a guess about the film, however, without having read much about it at all: I'm convinced that what we see onscreen cannot possibly be 100% as the director intended. It's my understanding, via Jonathan Rosenbaum, that the brothers Weinstein (who produced the film) have a long history of re-editing and reworking material - including foreign films that they pick up to distribute - and often substantially alter films they're producing from the director's intent, in their attempts to craft a hit (they are hands-on businessmen with definite ideas of what a successful movie should look like). They appear to have no bones about taking something that could be a great work of cinema, seen by few initially but remembered for ages, and changing it into a mediocre short-term moneymaker, hyped for a few weeks, forgotten in a few months - regardless of what damage they do to the long-term reputation of the film in question or cinema in general in the process. Sadly, I smell their craft at work here. Andrew Dominik - who previously made Chopper and the very effective, subtle The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford - handles so much of his material in this film with care and precision and respect for his audience that I really don't want to believe him responsible for the ham-fisted, blaringly obvious fuckups that pop up time and again throughout the movie. I would prefer to believe that someone stepped in and made him change the film, forcing him to make it less subtle, less original, less important, less restrained; the best argument I can offer for this theory is that it fits the film so well, because all the things wrong with Killing Them Softly look suspiciously like the sort of changes that movie money-men might insist upon.
Here are some specific instances: there is very, very little music in the film; it has an extremely restrained soundtrack, makes great use of silence and ambient noise, seems to be consciously trying to build tension and draw our focus to the terrific, terrific dialogue (drawn from a novel by George V. Higgins, who wrote the novel that was the basis of the great 1970's film The Friends of Eddie Coyle - a film which the aformentioned Affleck's The Town, also a Boston crime drama, cannot hope to compete with, but against which Killing Them Softly stacks up pretty well). This tense silence is so effective and seems so much a matter of directorial choice that it doesn't make sense that on several occasions, suddenly the film breaks from this modus operandi and asserts corny, obvious, overly loud popular music of a singularly hip variety to comment DIRECTLY on the action onscreen. When Brad Pitt, as the film's central character - a cynical, smart hitman - drives into town, the soundtrack plays Johnny Cash's "The Man Comes Around." When two haplessly incompetent wannabe crooks shoot heroin to celebrate a small victory, the soundtrack is none other than the Velvet Underground's "Heroin." And worst of all, when Pitt first shoots someone in the film, the song is "Love Letters (Straight From The Heart)", which, of course, is a Blue Velvet reference - the love letter is, as Frank Booth says, "a bullet from a fucking gun, fucker!" If Dominik is responsible for these song choices, he should be chastened, for not having the courage to carry through with the apparent impulse towards silence - but I suspect that these are Weinstein Company attempts to increase the popular appeal of a highly grim, dark, unpalatably cynical, but potentially great film, by making it a little hipper, cooler, more ironic, "entertaining." Such moments are definitely at odds with the things that work in the film.

Something similar happens with incidental radio and TV broadcasts in the film. Killing Them Softly makes, at times, great use of the speeches of Barack Obama, as delivered just before and just after his election. The climax of the film is basically Brad Pitt in a bar responding to Obama derisively, offering a very different vision of America from Obama's. This moment resonates against an early scene where Scoot McNairy (also in Argo, but much better here), as one of the hapless wannabe hoods, trudges along, dishevelled and obviously broke, with an Obama Change poster in the background. That moment at the beginning of the film, and Pitt's reaction to Obama on TV at the film's end, are absolutely all that the film needs to make it obvious even to the stupid people in the audience that the film is attempting to use the crime genre to comment on contemporary American life. Anything more would be overkill, and out of keeping with the restraint, subtlety, craft, and quiet tension that the film cultivates through most of its runtime. Overkill is just what we get, however. A good fifteen minutes of the film - ie., far too much of it - is commented upon and overlaid by voiceovers from political speeches, including an ample helping of Bush; some of this becomes patently silly in its overtness. There is discussion at one point in the film of the necessity of killing a certain character, to show that there are consequences for misbehaviour; the next time we see this character on screen, a Bush speech booms out of the soundtrack talking about the need to punish corporate criminals, which exactly echoes the prior conversation ("there need to be consequences!"). It's exactly like using "Heroin" to illustrate the shooting of heroin; it's out of keeping with the stuff that works in the film, but completely IN keeping with the stuff that doesn't, so much so that I really want to be able to absolve the director and blame someone else.
If it wasn't for these too overt, too obvious, too loud attempts to underscore the action of the film with radio, TV, and music, I think Killing Them Softly would be the greatest American film I've seen in quite awhile. It's very true to what I presume (not having read Cogan's Trade, but having read The Friends of Eddie Coyle) is Higgins' vision of crime and life in America. The performances are fantastic - fans of James Gandolfini should be particularly pleased, because he's absolutely terrific here, giving a supporting performance as an unknowingly washed-up killer that, for nuance and subtlety, should have won him an award of some kind, if awards in America were actually meted out according to talent. The violence in the film is some of the most honest, ugly, sad violence I have ever seen onscreen; Ray Liotta, at one point, takes a beating that fills you with pity for his character, and bleeds and cries and vomits in a way you simply never see in American movies, ever. I would have liked to see more of Sam Shepard - he plays a character named Dillon, which, coincidentally, is the name of the character played by Peter Boyle in The Friends of Eddie Coyle; but it's enough that he appears. (Brad Pitt is just fine, too!). There is so much that is so good about the movie that I think I'll recommend it in spite of its flaws - even if those flaws are glaring, unfortunate, unavoidable. It appears to be the sort of film director's cuts were made for, but it seems highly unlikely, given its modest reception, that such a thing will ever come to pass. If the Weinsteins are indeed the ones responsible from keeping this film from being the great work of cinema that it could have been, they should be ashamed of themselves, and seek repentance of some sort: they need to realize that, at least in the case of auteur-driven art cinema, people generally want to see films as their directors intend them, and not how the money-men think they'll sell best.

On the other hand, if the director, Andrew Dominik, is in fact the responsible party - well, someone let him see this review, okay? He should trust his audience (and himself) more. We can take it.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Hey, Columbo! (Another dream)

In the dream, I am with my family at a mall in the US that we visit. My mother is my actual mother; my father is Peter Falk, at least in the part of the dream that I remember. We go to this mall for some special event - there's a casino, a restaurant, a racetrack, a movie theatre; that part of the dream - what we do there - is forgotten, though I remember being in the theatre at one point. As usual, in the dream, we go to the mall in a car - the car may be the white American Rambler that belonged to my actual father, that we owned in my childhood and took several (actual) roadtrips to the US in during my childhood, sometimes going to malls, sometimes going to Longacres racetrack so my father could bet on the horses (in later years, my father gave up driving and all our casino trips were done by bus). In the dream, my father/ Peter Falk needs to do something that requires us to separate, and my mother and I are going to go to the enormous parking lot, find our car, and negotiate our way to a certain point where we pick him up. We have belongings to pack and this proves complicated; I let Mom drive (she doesn't actually drive in real life; neither do I, for that matter) while I get them organized in the back seat. Alas, she gets confused - I'm not sure in the dream if she had had her stroke, with disrupted some of her cognition, or if she was just prone to making mistakes (as she arguably was even before her stroke) - but it may not have been the best idea to let her drive, because she  drives us to a completely different part of the mall, well past the area where we're supposed to be; when I look up from my work, I realize - she's gotten us completely lost. 

I take the wheel and, realizing we're going to be late for picking up my father, drive us to a certain point, but it dead-ends, and we have to get out and walk. The walk is complex, and we weave around several mall corners (how we get there when my Mom had driven in a straight line is anyone's guess - I must have been attempting a shortcut). We can see the part of the mall where we want to be in the distance, but suddenly we're following a winding path down rocky hills that, it turns out, was designed by the First Nations people who built the mall as a sort of "ordeal path" of religious instruction: climbing down the hill is designed to provide enlightenment, and I discover myself having a sort of religious experience, which, for some reason, Mom isn't really noticing, though she's on the same path as I am. She's just finding it hard going, and I have to explain what's happening to her, as we wind our way down the hill; I also have to help her over several complex passages, holding her tight and lowering her down, somehow confident of my footing; for reasons unclear and related to whatever epiphany I feel I'm having, I think I know what I'm doing and know that I will not fall. The last stretch of the descent is practically like mountain climbing...

Some of this is doubtlessly based on the teachings of a remarkable Lakota fellow that I knew, who had a big impact on my life in my 20's, and often talked about the "Red Road," which he understood as a circular path with certain recognizable points (the "giveaway," a kind of sacrifice, which led to suffering, which led to compassion, which let to wisdom, and which then led back to the giveaway; they call it the Red Road because it hurts so much, he told me... I don't know if I remember that accurately but it's in me, somewhere, still, informing my present behaviour with my mother - unless I'm kidding myself. There was also a hierarchy of people you take care of in his belief system, with elders and children at the top...

Anyhow, my mother and I finally emerge from the bottom of the path, and indeed, there is a legend posted on the stone saying that the hillside climb was designed by the people who lived on this site, thousands of years ago, and the mall has been built around it; there's a name, seeming to belong to some Southwestern native band, though its nothing I recognize or can make sense of now - not Hopi or Navajo or anything obvious; maybe Anasazi? I don't have time to read it. Mom says something about how she wants to tell the mall employees, who may also be First Nations, about the experience we've had, but I'm too busy trying to figure out where to go next. I  can see where we have to be, and as I start towards the area of the parking lot, I can see my father, below me, stalking angrily, worriedly off in the wrong direction - the direction Mom drove off in previously - looking for us. 

Since "father" is too generic to attract his attention, especially if he doesn't recognize my shouted voice, I shout as loudly as I can: "Mr. Falk! HEY, COLUMBO!"

I can't tell if he's stormed off in the wrong direction or if he is coming up the twisting staircase towards us. I feel a twinge of fear: I know he's going to be very, very angry with me, and hold me responsible for what's happened, which, I suppose, is reasonable, since I'm the one who doesn't have impaired cognition. ("I should never have let her drive" - I can see how it will all seem to be my fault, however I construe my excuses). I finally see that he is racing up the stairs to get to us and I brace myself. He casts an angry glance at me as I babble explanations and embraces my relieved mother, and they have a moment - he was worried about her! There's the sense that he's going to deal with me later.

We set off as a family. How we get back to the car is unclear, but I know one thing: we don't go back up the hill that I'd led my mother down... 

Vancity Theatre must-see: Wake In Fright

Take heed, cinephiles: this coming Friday and Saturday, the Vancity Theatre will screen Wake in Fright. I'm not exactly sure of how a Canadian director, Ted Kotcheff, ended up making one of Australian cinema's most important movies, but the film - also known as Outback, made in 1971, and believed lost for many years - is definitely a must-see, for those interested in Australian cinema, 1970's cinema, or in gritty, sweaty, strikingly cinematic dramas about smalltown demoralization and despair. I'm not sure it's the sort of film that I'd ever watch a second time, but it's one that everyone should see once - though it's not particularly pleasant, and may require a fairly hardy filmgoer to take in all it offers.
The plot is simple: a schoolteacher, on vacation, ends up stuck in a small outback town, and there experiences a sort of angry, alcohol-fuelled degeneration as he gets sucked into the local colour. I love the blurb on the Vancity Theatre website about how the film combines elements of "Heart of Darkness, After Hours, and Groundhog Day" - an apt bit of critical cleverness, but one that probably, in comparing the film to two comedies, doesn't really do justice to how ugly it can be. In particular, nastiness-wise, footage of an actual kangaroo hunt was used, which will be upsetting to people with even a passing fondness for animals - you can read more about that on the film's Wikipedia page. But there are familiar faces for cinephiles, like Donald Pleasance and Jack Thompson, and Kotcheff's choices as director are often inspired and highly cinematic; if he made a better film (he's also noted for First Blood and for what I remember as being a well-acted cult deprogramming film called Split Image) I haven't seen it.
The most curious thing about Wake in Fright, ultimately, is that Australians apparently love it; if a Canadian made a film about America that was anywhere near this unpleasant, he'd get accused of America-bashing, but Australian cinephiles I've encountered seem positively proud of this movie. I guess nationalism isn't a strong trait in Australia; this film is about as appealing an advertisement for visiting the outback as Wolf Creek. Still, it's a highly recommended film experience, if you've go the stomach for it.

Monday, March 25, 2013

The day before Tuesday, and other nearly forgotten video store pleasures

So many experiences that went along with the age of the video store are obsolete, extinct, forgotten - or are soon to be.

While those of us who remain diehards can continue to rent and return movies, pay late charges, and the like, the experience of "walking the wall" at your local megastore is pretty much gone. The new arrivals section at Little Shop of Movies, Maple Ridge's little indy video store, sprung from the ashes of Rogers and Blockbuster, is not really big enough to be walked: you can stand in front of it and scan it, but its all in the neck, now: the lengthy up-and-down pace from A to Z is simply not doable, unless you want to look at their entire stock. Ditto the new arrivals, salewise, at Videomatica; I'd have to do ten laps of their surviving store, tucked in a corner of Zulu, to get in the equivalent of one good up-and-down pace of the wall at Rogers (RIP).

The experience of assembling cardboard promotional standees for movies, or going through the tube of promotional posters, known best to video store employees, is also utterly gone. There's almost no promotional material available for videos any longer; there's not enough of an industry left to support it. We used to get thirty or so rolled-up posters on a weekly basis at Rogers, which I'd eagerly go through, deciding what merited putting on display. Some stores used to put the chaff in cardboard boxes and give it away or sell it to customers (though we never did, that I recall). I still have posters on my walls and in my closet from the early 1990's -  not many, but I've hung on to a few definite keepers. 
There aren't many PV bins out there anymore, either. That's a part of the video store experience that I definitely miss. Used to be you'd get exposure to a hundred-odd B-tier movies in those bins, and going through them was a mixed bag of discovery and gambling. I might never have seen cool films like Jennifer Lynch's Surveillance, say, if I hadn't found'em for $3.99 at Rogers; there's all sorts of films like that now that will be that much harder to discover. Little Shop of Movies has a few PVs, and the experience of going through them definitely has a quality of deja vu and nostalgia all at once; I stumbled across The Mind Snatchers, an obscure early Christopher Walken film, the other week, which I saw on VHS back in the 1980's, and didn't even realize had gotten distributed as a DVD.

Videomatica also brings in cool used movies, of course, but they lack the ignorant, dismissive, blow-this-shit-outa-here attitude of the chain stores: the best stuff at Rogers and Blockbuster was almost always the cheapest, because it had the smallest niche of consumers looking for it. This led to a shark-among-fishes "there's gold in them thar bins" experience that is pretty much extinguished now; for instance, my copy of David Lynch's Eraserhead was bought PV'd for three dollars and something at a Rogers, and rung in by someone who had never seen or heard of it. No concomitant experience at Videomatica is possible. I didn't realize that I'd ever feel nostalgic for the sheer ignorance of the prevailing attitudes towards cinema on display at megastores, but there it is.

Anyhow, I'm writing all this to note a single feeling: I have anticipation over the prospect of renting movies tomorrow, because Tuesday is the day the new arrivals come out. The sort of attentiveness to time, to the rhythms of commerce, to the anticipation of a real world event, that are part-and-parcel of this "wait for Tuesday" feeling will surely get rarer and rarer, moviewise, as people turn more and more to online consumption, which is more nebulous; there's less of a mark-your-calendars, communal-participation-in-a-public-event quality to waiting for something to pop up on a torrent site. With the internet, something shows up when it shows up, is now a private event marked by when YOU go looking for it and/ or find it, and you can't know the date in advance. Further, there's something less tangible, less exciting about waiting for a file to finish downloading than there is in waiting eagerly with everyone else for the day a certain movie is going to come out on video (an imaginary community that is surely getting smaller and smaller).

Tomorrow, Killing Them Softly hits the shelves, based on a novel by George V. Higgins,  of The Friends of Eddie Coyle fame. Come 1pm - when they open - I'll be phoning Little Shop of Movies and requesting they hold a copy - because who knows, maybe there are one or two other people in this town who are experiencing the same feeling as I am? When I'm there, if they're "in," I'll also snag The Master and Zero Dark Thirty, two films I'm curious about, but am skeptical enough about that I've held back on seeing them until now. All three are perfect rental movies - risky to torrent, since, even if you find them, someone is likely watching what happens with those titles; expensive to purchase, since they'll all cost more than $20 at sale stores, and not-a-one inspires the confidence that it's a keeper (because Higgins adaptation or not, I don't trust that Killing Them Softly will actually be that great; because PT Anderson's last film, There Will Be Blood, was a bit of a bloated, over-hyped non-starter, by me; and because - well, 'nuff said on Zero Dark Thirty).

Trivially, they'll all also make great movies to watch with Mom.

While I'm at the shop, too, I'll get to peruse what other DVDs the dude got in, because there are still odd little movies that got no buzz that are turning up on rental shelves that I've never heard of. My last time there, it was The Factory - a mediocre crime thriller with John Cusack and Jennifer Carpenter. I kind of think Jennifer Carpenter is hot shit, mostly due to her terrific work as Debra Morgan on Dexter, so I'll basically rent anything that she's in, especially if it's a horror or crime film. That sort of gambling on a movie you don't know does sometimes pay off, too; the rental shelf at Little Shop of Movies is also how I found out about The Samaritan, a great little Samuel L. Jackson neo-noir that I likely would have missed entirely, otherwise.

Soon I guess I'll be writing an "RIP DVD" article - it seems a format that's on its way out. The stores that still stock videos for sale are increasingly filled with Blu-Rays, which is, I guess, what People With Money actually buy. For the rest of us, I can't blame anyone for snubbing both formats, now: the format shift from DVD to Blu-Ray suggests that no stable platform for physical media may ever arise, so that investing in a collection of hard copies of ANYTHING doesn't make sense anymore, knowing it will eventually die out. Who can blame people for not feeling very trusting, having gone through it all with VHS and DVD already? Fuckit, why NOT use services like Netflix, if you're just going to be asked to buy everything all over again in a different format every decade or so?

Still, I think DVD is a great format, and it's kind of nice to be looking forward to the day a couple of movies I want to see will pop up that-a-way. In this case, tomorrow. I wonder how many Tuesdays like this the future will hold?  

Saturday, March 23, 2013

SORCERER NEWS!!! Yaaaaaahhhhh!

Good news from the land of cinema! William Friedkin's momentous Sorcerer is finally getting digitized and re-released, presumably with DVD/ Blu-Ray following! (The previous DVD is not in the right aspect ratio, has horrible image quality - this film has been begging for a decent restoration for a long time). See the harrowing, intense bridge sequence in widescreen here, ripped from German television and presented with English audio (a Youtube labour of love on someone's part, obviously). Note: the truck is full of old dynamite, sweating nitro and threatening to blow up at any moment. Music by Tangerine Dream!

Friday, March 22, 2013

RIP Chinua Achebe

Nigerian writer Chinua Achebe has died at 82. I admired Things Fall Apart and No Longer At Ease, his first two novels, dealing with the impact of colonialism on African life. His essay on Conrad's Heart of Darkness also has been important to me, sometimes coming up in surprising ways (it informed my asking Charles Mudede, as mentioned recently, about the "heart of whiteness" his African cop character finds himself in Seattle in the film Police Beat; further, when Peter Jackson's King Kong quotes from Heart of Darkness and thus brings a highly problematic racial element in the King Kong story to the fore, I believe I actually quoted from Achebe's article in reviewing the film - or perhaps just referenced it...). It's been awhile since I've read Achebe but he definitely shaped my awareness of how Africa is represented in popular culture, and how European colonialism looked from an African point of view... An important writer has been lost...

Fragments of a strange dystopian dream

Dream I'm part of some fascist future state. I'm a young man, heir to great wealth, being groomed for some important position. I'm invited to a palace with a group of other students whose future is deemed important, just as violence breaks out - a faction of fellow students are rising up against the authorities. Ernest Borgnine, in a cameo, plays an official who interrupts the ceremony we're in to offer us a peek at these revolutionaries, encouraging those who want to go along with him to crouch down and follow... I go in a different direction, and see executions, violence, student revolutionaries shooting at people from my group as they skirmish in the bushes...

I return to my own residence, where, as part of a ceremony involving passage into adulthood (or something like that), I have to choose five white ceramic sculptures from a large set to represent me, which will be displayed in my home. The choice of sculptures is a custom of my society; whether it began as such I don't know, but it is actually now part of a government control system, and people who choose the wrong sculptures are re-educated or executed - we've just been learning about the past choices of historical figures and the consequences of wrong choices in the present day. There is pressure on me to choose conservatively - a helpful adviser who knows my sympathy for the rebels encourages me to pick symbols that will allow me to continue to have influence in the society, to pick "the right" symbols; but after hearing of some government massacre of the rebels, or such, I break down, reject the pressures to conform, and pick HONESTLY, five statuettes which will go on display and speak my personality to people.

I forget now what four of them are - though one represented writing, I recall. All I remember is that there were some that I knew were going to get me in trouble, especially the one that I do remember - a figure of a (flaccid) cock and balls.

In the dream, I recall explaining to someone that I'm not gay, that the cock was a symbol of potency, fertility, the creative spirit, and also to some extent symbolized my own cock, and its role in driving my life. I knew it was one of the symbols I was not supposed to pick, but in the end I could not help myself, had to choose from the heart...

My helpful adviser says he will honour my choices but is going to try to find a way not to publicly display the cock and balls, because it's going to get me in trouble; but almost as soon as he starts to place them about the house, trying to come up with an excuse for keeping one secret, a treacherous advisor - actually a government spy placed in the household - starts to demand he show him everything I chose. He tries to protect me, and I can hear them arguing, shouting at each other from different parts of the house. I come into a room from a place where I was told to stay, and start to shout myself that I will not conform or such, that it is my duty to myself to pick the symbols meaningful to me; my helpful adviser urges me to be quiet and go back to the previous room - but it's too late, I've given away my position, and the treacherous adviser explodes through the door, possibly firing guns: "I've got you now!" I wake on the violence of his action.

Somewhere in there, before I chose my symbols, there was another detail from the dream: I had bedbug bites on the heels of both feet, which I got from my overnight stay at the palace, and a kind nurse (?) put medication on them. Or something like that. That detail is more than a little foggy, but I remember the bites, because they itched. It is the first time I can recall feeling itchy in a dream.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Michelle Shocked yet again

Michelle Shocked has published a retraction/ apology for her Yoshi's "rant," as it's being called. At the same time, the audio of the same is also now online, with the relevant section starting at around 4:40. When she asks rather archly if someone would Tweet that she said "God Hates Faggots," she gets a LAUGH, which seems to be the reaction she intends; this seems exactly what I thought - she's commenting, ironically, on the likelihood that people will overreact to what she's saying. So: yes, to some extent she's being misquoted.

However, the thing that she's saying they will overreact to is when she asserts, apparently non-ironically, that gay marriage is a sign of the end times, and that priests are going to be forced to marry homosexuals at gunpoint, which will herald the return of the saviour. I'll leave it to other courts to decide if this is the selfsame as "God Hates Faggots" or not; given that these headcase Christians are ROOTING for the return of their saviour, who the fuck knows what they think is good or bad, apocalypse-wise - if gay marriage means they'll get to hang out with Jesus sooner, maybe they should be supporting it! (I personally am all for the end times if it means fundamentalist Christians and the like are going to get spirited away somewhere; good riddance to their hateful lunatic nonsense, I say! Grr!). It's still a bizarre, confused, and un-queer-friendly statement, even if it does NOT (exactly) equal "God Hates Faggots."

It's also interesting to note that she seems to waffle a bit as to whether this is HER opinion or the that of some OTHER Christians, whose fear she is trying to explain to her audience - she speaks first of "their" view and then corrects herself from trying to bail on her co-believers and shifts to "our;" in her retraction it's "their" again. What I suspect based on this is that she is having a very, very hard time reconciling her own sexuality (past, present, disowned, closeted, or what-have-you) with her religion. She must be constantly having to perform mental gymnastics to allow her to be a like-it-or-not queer icon AND a Born Again Xian club-member at the same time, which, you gotta admit, would be a difficult move to pull off. (It's kind of like being a Jewish Nazi, a black Klansman, or a Canadian supporter of Stephen Harper). What we see here is her stumbling and falling in a spectacular way as she tries to bring her inner gymnastics routine to the public stage. And then when she starts praying in Spanish, apparently trying to retreat from what she's set loose... that's one broken mind on display.

So: I think the only conclusion I can draw from all of this is that Michelle Shocked is a definite damage case. The best deprogrammers in the country probably couldn't put her bits and pieces back together again, if this is how confused she is. What she offered at Yoshi's was not so much HATE SPEECH as the spectacle of a really confused, fucked up woman short-circuiting under a spotlight as her inner contradictions were dragged glaringly to light - a sad performance which she's compounding by trying now to pretend didn't happen.

Perhaps it's not a bad time for her to retire, or seek help, or something. Kinda sad, really, but I think I'm ready to look the other way...

RIP Harry Reems

Harry Reems died yesterday of pancreatic cancer at the age of 69. I didn't really follow his career, but he seemed like an affable chap in the documentary Inside Deep Throat (he was in his "Christian real estate" period by that time). I've long been curious about the anti-Vietnam war "roughie" Forced Entry, mostly because Stephen Thrower seems pretty impressed with it in Nightmare USA, reading it as a no-holds-barred statement on the viciousness of the Vietnam war - but what I've seen of it is pretty hard to take; it was, according to Reems, the one film he regretted doing...

Japan dreams and Jesus; more Michelle Shocked

Had elaborate dreams of a spur-of-the-moment return to Japan last night, where I spent the whole trip taking cellphone photographs to prove to my girl that it actually happened. I remember being at the school where I once worked, meeting several familiar faces, and a few unfamiliar ones - like a Japanese teacher with an enormous, bushy beard, which would definitely count as unusual; teachers were gathered in a parking lot for some sort of Shinto or Buddhist ceremony (?) while I showed my former coworkers the photos I took of the previous night's venture into Tokyo. I also got more than a few names wrong, as I tried to say hello to people I recognized (I comically mistook a big-bodied, beautiful in an I'll-kick-your-ass kinda way female gym teacher for her very short, compact, un-beautiful male counterpart, much to my embarrassment...).

That's about all I remember of that; it was the fruit, it seems, of an especially deep and indulgent sleep, since I was under for something like ten hours. I woke up, peed, and then promptly got a buzz at my door; I picked up the "door phone," thinking maybe it was some pornography I'd ordered - I've been wanting, thanks to Robin Bougie, to revisit some Golden Age of Porn classics - and instead was invited by someone named Asher to discuss (it sounded like he said) "the morality of Jesus Christ." I didn't invite him up. Now I return to my computer where my morning is to be spent lookin' at an advance copy of Chris Walter's new book... my head is feeling a bit wonky, needless to say. Maybe I should go get a coffee before I proceed...?

Re: Michelle Shocked, I'm most amused by the final sentence here, which is obviously from some hapless bar employee trying to fend off the intrusive reporter's questions as to whether their Michelle Shocked gig is to be cancelled. (In case the link stops working, the paragraph in question is: "The only U.S. date that has not canceled Shocked at this point is the Harmony Bar in Madison, WI, where a person answering the phone Tuesday evening responded, 'I won't know a damn thing until the boss comes back in eight days.'"). I can't really explain why I find it so funny - I am even amused by the intrusive reporter's INCLUSION of the quote. It's like: "the internet versus the real world," with the internet trying desperately to confirm that its victory is final... the crazy thing is, it's not at all clear WHAT Shocked was saying during her Yoshi's performance; saying the audience can tell the Twittersphere that she said "God hates faggots" is nowhere near the same as HER saying it, as a simple, sincere declaration; you can tell the blogosphere that I like the taste of mushrooms, if you like, but the fact is, I hate it. And coming from someone who, like it or not, has been seized as a lesbian icon, who was playing in San Francisco to a crowd she must have known was heavily bepeopled with gays and lesbians... the "real" story seems a little different from the one the internet as a whole is getting so slathered up about, which seems to be running on oversimplification and outrage ("Michelle Shocked says 'God Hates Fags!'" ...uh, not exactly).

(She probably emerge looking very good in the "real" story, either, mind you, but...).

Monday, March 18, 2013

Michelle Shocked is in no way connected to Darren Williams

Well, what's news? Michelle Shocked (whom, along with everyone else in the world, I have always assumed was a lesbian) apparently had recourse to the formula "God Hates Fags" during a concert in San Francisco recently, relative to her Christian faith. (Apparently the full quote was a bit more complicated; it's hard to get a feel for context from the stories I've read, but it seems her comments tend more towards the Michael-Richards-destroys-his-career end of the spectrum than the Lars-von-Trier-makes-an-extremely-ill-advised-joke one. Maybe they can call up Cat Stevens and form a support group?). I liked The Texas Campfire Tapes and Short Sharp Shocked enough once upon a time that I'm definitely puzzled and disappointed by the story as it's being presented, but I haven't listened to a Michelle Shocked album in about 25 years - have barely heard her name mentioned! - and never was THAT much of a fan, so... it's a bit of a shrug, really. I was more affected to find out that Maureen Tucker had joined the Tea Party...

(Edited to add: though actually, some of Shocked's gospel stuff is pretty good!)

Anyhow, that's what everyone ELSE is writing about tonight, I guess, but I'm here to tell y'all about something completely unrelated: Darren Williams is back in town for a cool avant-sax gig with V. Vecker, March 20th! See poster, below - each man will do a solo set, then square off against each other or somethin'. After that, on Thursday the 21st, Williams reports that he will be playing "in an explodo-free-jazz trio with Dave Chokroun on bass, Kevin Romain on drums at Thor's Palace; guitarist Gord Grdina and drummer Kenton Loewen will also be performing in their duo known as Pink Brown." So that's cool, too.

I can barely go to gigs, I'm not really listening to jazz or noise much these days, I haven't seen Darren since at least the jazzfest last year, and I won't be at the show... but Darren is a nice guy and I've always enjoyed his music and his posters are cool, so why not share it? 

By the way, why is that cock and balls fucking that horn? What is "saxophone intercourse," exactly? No saxes are empoyed, but it kinda reminds me of this, making the rounds on Facebook:

Mandingo vs. Django Unchained: Food vs. Regurgitation

I have always been interested in seeing Mandingo, but only just got around to it tonight. Directed by Richard Fleischer in 1975, it turns out to be a vastly entertaining and idea-rich film, chronicling all manner of  perversity and corruption among the white slave owners on a Southern plantation, portions of which are paid homage by Quentin Tarantino in Django Unchained (especially the "Mandingo fighting," which is lifted pretty much wholesale from the earlier film, and apparently has no known historical precedent). Having finally seen it, I can appreciate the irony that Roger Ebert, reviewing Mandingo in the year of its release, called it "racist trash" and gave it zero stars, while he describes Django Unchained as "a brilliant entertainment" and gives it four stars in his journal (his official review appears to have gone AWOL). 
I don't mean to be too hard on ol' Rog. After all, he also gave zero stars to such remarkable films as The Devils and Death Race 2000, appearing at various points to see himself as a guardian of public morality - a strangely prudish role for a man who wrote Russ Meyer movies! So giving zero stars and waxing indignant about Mandingo isn't too different from what we might expect from the younger Ebert; perhaps his differing reactions to Django Unchained reveal primarily that he has matured as a critic, become far more open-minded as he's aged, which is, after all, a good thing, which should not be held against him.
Still, the question is raised: would Django Unchained even exist without films like Mandingo? Is Mandingo any more (or less?) perverse or violent or exploitive or provocative than the Tarantino film? It does have more sex in it, I'll grant, but it serves a serious purpose: the white male slave-owner's attitude towards taking female slaves as "bed wenches" (then selling off their babies, charmingly referred to as "suckers," to be slaves themselves) is contrasted with what happens when a white woman beds a "buck," thus pointing out double standards and white male privilege in the world of the Southern plantation, as well as rampant irrationalities and contradictions in the racist dread of miscegenation. Still, there is nothing of exploitation in its depiction of sex; it's not in the slightest pornographic ....though I wouldn't have minded had it been; I mean, I admire the hell out of the late Marilyn Chambers for her big Behind The Green Door white-on-black fellatio scene, which doubtlessly had political impact when that film was made, three years earlier, in 1972; imagine had a similar scene occurred between Susan George and Ken Norton! There is a moment where Behind the Green Door practically LEAPT into my mind, perhaps deliberately cued by Fleischer - I can't be the only viewer who went there. I would have LOVED the movie had they showed Susan George taking Norton's (we would hope) meaty manhood into her mouth... though of course it would not have been possible to do such a thing in a mainstream film.

Anyhow, I greatly enjoyed Mandingo, and recommend it heartily - especially to people who thought Django Unchained was such hot stuff. I mean - Tarantino's newest is not a terrible film, I suppose, but I'm growing more and more irritated by a viewing public so ignorant of cinema's history, so attached to the "new," so unwilling to DELVE that it fawns over every single remake, reboot, and "English language adaptation" that gets made while existing in complete ignorance of the originals. I wonder, for instance, what percentage of movie watchers think Straw Dogs is a film made in 2011, starring James Marsden - or who have only seen that version? Certainly if you go by your average store that sells DVDs - a few still exist - most of them will now only have the 2011 version on the shelves; it's less like the film has been "remade" than that it has been "replaced," at least as far as the marketplace is concerned. Tarantino has been, perhaps, a bit less offensive than most in his various recyclings, thefts, and "homages", but Django Unchained has become his most irritating movie, for me, since it borrows so shamelessly from other films, does so little that is original or inspired (other than maybe the inclusion of a Jim Croce song on the soundtrack), is in fact so much LESSER than films like Mandingo - which was, in 1975, TRULY a bold and original movie, by comparison - that it really doesn't deserve all the attention its gotten. It stands in relation to films like Mandingo very close to the relation between the Gus van Sant version of Psycho to its source text - it is more regurgitation than it is home-cookin', as fed to people who apparently cannot tell the difference; yet its still on the screen three months after its release, was nominated for various academy awards (and won one!), and is Tarantino's highest-grossing film to date... Gimme a fuckin' break, folks! (And take a look at Mandingo!)
Addendum: it does my heart good to see that Jonathan Rosenbaum describes Mandingo as "one of the most neglected and underrated Hollywood films of its era," and says in his capsule review of it that it "was widely ridiculed as camp in this country when it came out. But apart from this film and Charles Burnett's recent Nightjohn, it's doubtful whether many more insightful and penetrating movies about American slavery exist." I wonder what Mr. Rosenbaum made of Django Unchained? I think I have some reading ahead of me.
Addendum 2: apparently Robin Wood, in Sexual Politics and Narrative Cinema - excerpted here, if the link works - describes Mandingo as "the greatest film about race ever made in Hollywood." It's so nice to know that critics I admire - Rosenbaum and Wood are two of the finest to ever write about film, in my opinion- share my esteem for Mandingo

(Carney/ Rappaport again)

Hm. Well, I might end up signing that petition after all. Read David Ehrenstein's update from Mark on this page, re: the Carney affair. Now that both sides have weighed in, unless Carney starts backing up his writing with actual evidence... it's starting to look kind of grim for him. (I realize I'm somewhat late in coming to that conclusion).

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Holy shit! NEW YORK EYE AND EAR CONTROL at the Cinematheque

Just discovered with a jolt that, somewhat hidden in this month's listings for DIM - the Cinematheque's experimental cinema program, in this case curated by Eli Bornowsky - is a double bill of two very interesting-sounding, if rather different, films: a recent James Benning, Twenty Cigarettes, AND an experimental film by Michael Snow, the ESP-Disk soundtrack of which is known to free jazz heads worldwide. I have never heard of a public screening in Vancouver of New York Eye and Ear Control - and what descriptions I find online aren't exactly statements of praise - but it's still kind of a must-see, regardless...

Friday, March 15, 2013

Ray Carney responds

I won't recap the situation with Mark Rappaport, but Ray Carney has finally told his side of the story. It is much as I expected it would be. I suspect the truth of things is neither the sole province of the Rappaport/ Jost camp, nor Carney's, but I'm glad, at least, that I didn't sign that petition. That was quite a nasty mass phenomenon, eh? I wonder if a few people are worrying now that they made a mistake?

Of course, it would be good if Carney DID produce some of the copious documentation he says he has, backing up his version of things. I'm actually kind of glad to see he hasn't lost his fight, but if he has the opportunity of proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that he is absolutely in the right, as he claims, he would do the world a great service by BACKING THAT CLAIM UP WITH EVIDENCE, IN THE MOST PUBLIC WAY POSSIBLE. Scans of original documents in Rappaport's handwriting would be the best place to start. If such things exist, they might shame a few people into being more cautious what bandwagons they jump on, at the very least. If he has the power to take this out of the realm of the "he said/ she said," he should.

On the other hand, as I'm sure Jon Jost will rush to say, Carney says nothing that you wouldn't expect a man in his position to say. I have an Australian friend who anticipated Carney's side of things almost to the letter, actually, but this does not necessarily mean Carney is actually in the right.

Somewhat surprisingly, aspects of this story are beginning to remind me a little bit of the story of an SFU Linguistics professor I had named Hector Hammerly, now deceased. I won't recap that story at length, either, but there are various links here. A former friend, then a fellow student of Hammerly's, used to joke about how perfect his last name was, as an adverb - "to teach in a Hammerly manner;" and no doubt he was as big a pain in SFU's ass as Carney sounds like he's been to BU's; he had several unpopular views that he was quite passionate about defending, from a rather over-the-top, tilting-at-windmills antipathy towards "immersion" language teaching to unpopular views about God and morality... He was beyond a doubt not the easiest person for the faculty to work with; he was certainly NOT the easiest teacher to study under. All the same, he was pushed out of the university with what seemed at least to this outsider to be a bit of smear campaign, which involved front-page newspaper stories in the Vancouver Sun and such about how he'd lost his mind; these seemed hurtful and rather one-sided, so much so that one suspected that he'd lost his tenure at SFU not because he behaved in the manner described in the news reports, but that the news reports existed because of an agenda to remove him from the university.

For the record, though I have culled almost every other textbook I acquired at SFU, I still have a copy of Hammerly's main one, Synthesis in Language Teaching, on my shelf. I believe it was self-published, actually (as, by coincidence, are several of the Carney books I have). My favourite teachers have almost always been the genuinely difficult, exceptional ones - eccentrics, control freaks, passionate weirdos, troublemakers. They're the ones you remember, the ones who make a mark on you, even if, at the time, you can't stand them.

It would have been interesting had circumstances allowed me to study under Ray Carney. I considered it once.


Thursday, March 14, 2013


This looks to be an awesome Saturday show, which I might actually be able to see some of...! I talked to Marco of the Dreadnoughts for the Straight about it, dealing mostly with the contributions of photographer/ videographer Adam PW Smith. The band hasn't been gigging or touring much - people have moved, circumstances have changed - but are enthusiastic about doing a Vancouver anti-St. Patrick's Day show again. I asked how the band came 'round to the whole anti-St. Patrick's Day thing, and Marco replied:

“As soon as people realized we had a fiddle, they always thought we were an Irish band, which the first album (Victory Square) kinda was - we were definitely doing kind of a Pogues thing, celtic music with a punk feel to it. But we’ve kind of moved along from that; our second album was kinda Gypsy/ eastern European, and way more heavily focused on the punk side, as well. And then we toured for, like, a year and a half straight, and the more you tour the more new influences you get; so our third full length really turned into, like, a polka album! Anyhow, we’ve spent four of five years making fun of the Irish-wannabe bands that can barely play a mandolin or a fiddle, and just drink Guinness,” Bieri said, chuckling. “So that’s kinda been our market, I guess - though we always play with those kinda bands, because we do have a fiddle, right? Anyhow, it’s the one day a year we can kinda get away with it.”

See y'all Saturday at the Rickshaw, maybe...

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

My biggest indulgence

My biggest indulgence (next to a certain girl I travel many miles to see each month) is Lush Waylander Rhassoul soap, which was formerly known, when it was stocked in stores, as Middle Earth Turns To Mud (a name I suspect the Tolkien estate objected to; note that I've also seen it given as "Middle Earth Turns to Rock," though that might be a different product). Though with tax and shipping it costs around $10 a bar, and can now only be bought online, I love its muddy texture - it is actually made with mud! - and am very fond of the patchouli scent, which people I meet may detect wafting hippie-like from me over the next weeks, since I finally broke down and re-upped my supply. (My last order was in 2009, and kept me going for a few years). I just took a luxurious bath, and am pleased that I finally smell like myself again. The best soap I've encountered anywhere. Wish I could actually afford it, this was a bit of a daft purchase...

Charles Mudede on War Witch

I have not yet seen War Witch, AKA Rebelle, reviewed here by The Stranger's Charles Mudede, but I too am growing tired of the Africans-with-machetes-and-machine-guns movie; every film I've seen set in Africa in the last few years has had machetes and machine guns aplenty, including some very good ones, like Claire Denis' White Material -- though Mudede obligingly overlooked the machetes and machine guns in that case, saying (here) that it "is a sin to miss anything made by Denis. A sin against the gods of cinema."

While not much of my writing is likely to impress someone as erudite and sophisticated as Mudede, I think he was quite pleasantly surprised when I began our interview about Police Beat, published in CineAction a few years ago, by asking him if he intended the story to show one African's descent into the "heart of whiteness." I'm still rather proud of that question (and still a big fan of Police Beat). You can read that interview online here, if you're curious (though it's been published there without the consent or participation of either CineAction or myself, so if you're REALLY interested, order a back issue! It's number 72).

Is it just me, or...?

(Thanks to Dangerous Minds for posting that photo of Rand, which immediately brought Blixa to mind. Not that I've actually watched the video clip Dangerous Minds posted: my Ayn Rand years are far behind me. Photo of Blixa by Johannes Giotas, lifted off his website...).

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Patrice Leconte's The Suicide Shop

The Suicide Shop plays tonight (ie., Tuesday) at the Vancity Theatre; director Patrice Leconte has surprised the heck out of me with this, an animated musical, which, if it weren't for its somewhat dark premise, would seem to sit very strangely next to films like Monsieur Hire (still my favourite of his films, though there are many I've missed). I have not previewed it, but if the gods are with me, I'll be seeing it theatrically tomorrow...

Humour re: Japanese subtitling errors, plus Jubal

Late film historian and Japanese cinema expert Donald Richie, in the liner notes for the Criterion edition of Akira Kurosawa's Noh-influenced film adaptation of Macbeth, Throne of Blood, relates an amusing anecdote about the perils of translation for the purposes of subtitling. It involves the 1987 British film Wish You Were Here, about a rather potty-mouthed young British woman, played by a delightful young Emily Lloyd, who, if I recall, is particularly fond of the phrase "up your bum." She occasionally calls men with whom she dallies "buggers," as a generalized, playful insult. Apparently, according to Richie, the hapless Japanese translator, finding only one meaning of the noun form of "bugger" in the dictionary, translated the word as "okama" - basically a Japanese drag queen. Japanese audiences were apparently deeply confused, Richie writes, "by the many scenes of the foul-mouthed heroine being mounted by manly, rugged, ardent men whom, over and over again, at the top of her voice, she bafflingly called okama."

My apologies to the Japanese for laughing at this; rest assured, I'm the guy who regularly told shop clerks he didn't need a bath (furo), when he meant he didn't need a bag (fukuro) - an error he would also sometimes compound on those occasions when he wanted to be given a bag, which is far worse. Still, I take comedy where I find it; so when watching a Region 1 DVD of Jubal - a classic western starring Glenn Ford, Ernest Borgnine, and Rod Steiger - and noticing that it had, somewhat strangely, a Japanese subtitle option, I couldn't help but keep an eye out for moments that would be particularly ripe for mistranslation. One occurs early on: Glenn Ford, lost in the wilderness, has been rescued by ranchers, led by Borgnine; once they've got the cowpoke back to the ranch, to warm Ford up, Borgnine instructs his cowhands to "give him a cup of coffee - and put a slug in it!"
One could imagine this line provoking some very strange misconceptions about western folk remedies among Japanese viewers, if mistranslated. I really wish I were a whole lot better at reading Japanese, so I could see if they got it right; I'd also be very curious to see what the subtitlers made of a brilliant double entendre from later in the film. Borgnine's wife, Mae - played by Valerie French - is a faithless, dissatisfied young woman, tired of her husband's hammy gropings and general goodnatured vulgarity. When Ford is hired on to help at the ranch, she comes to him in the barn on the pretext of getting firewood, and throws himself at him. He's a virtuous man, grateful to Borgnine, and rebuffs her, but Steiger - the film's heavy - sees this; because she'd previously taken him for a roll in the hay, he confronts her with his own crude advances, saying, "time was, when you needed wood, I was the man you came to."

Given that the film is from 1956, I may be reading too much into this turn of phrase, but having been surprised out of my socks by those cab-drivin' dykes in 1957's Crime of Passion -- see below -- I am prepared to believe that this was an especially clever bit of writing... but I wonder how it fares in Japanese?

Jubal is pretty good, by the by, with gorgeous technicolour landscapes and a terrific cast, also featuring Charles Bronson, Noah Beery Jr, and Jack Elam. The story - which has the likable, guileless Borgnine being tricked into turning on the virtuous born loser Ford by the conniving Steiger - is described as a "western reworking of Othello" on its Wikipedia page, though I think that's stretching it a little (Steiger, unlike Iago, is neither the main character nor narrator, nor is he particularly appealing in his villainy; Borgnine is more a good-natured boob than a tragic hero; Ford corresponds to Cassio, a minor character in the play but the main character in the film; Desdemona is actually virtuous, while Mae is a bit of a tramp; and Iago wasn't motivated by jealousy over his own past romps with Desdemona, that I recall... It's a very loose reworking, if a reworking at all; I guess I might concede the adjective "Shakespearean," but it still seems to sit a bit oddly). Director Delmer Daves is a man with an interesting filmography indeed; seeing Jubal makes me want to revisit Broken Arrow and Daves' other classic with Ford, the original 3:10 To YumaJubal is slated for a Criterion edition later this spring, which will no doubt look even better than the version I just watched...

Sunday, March 10, 2013


Ah, Mom.

I have sometimes complained about being marooned in Maple Ridge. Getting out to shows or films, and remaining in easy contact with my friends, has not been easy for me here, especially given that I don't drive. Work has been limited to what freelance writing gigs I've been able to scrape up, and the odd shift at a Vancouver used bookstore. I find Maple Ridge rather empty of culture, and have yet to find a comfortable niche for myself here, other than what I can make of my apartment. In many ways I feel like I have set my life on hold to take care of my mother, and while I have enjoyed her company and don't mind cooking and shopping and so forth for her, occasionally I do feel ready to move on to the next stage of my life. On the other hand, occasionally I feel twinges of self-doubt about my purpose in being here - as if the point isn't so much looking out for Mom as not having to have a regular dayjob; since she and I watch from one to three movies every day - the better part of my "work" as her de facto caregiver is simply keeping her company - I can't pretend it's not a somewhat dangerously comfortable, altogether too lazy way to spend the time.

Then come those days when she doesn't answer the phone.

Today was one such day. She called me late last night to check in, after returning from her latest casino venture. I knew she'd gone to bed okay. This morning, I called her at 11am - having adjusted my clock, this would be around 10am, but she's usually up by 9, so it wasn't that late. She didn't answer. This was no big deal - she could have been in the bathroom or showering or such, so I turned to some writing and puttered away for another hour or so.

Then I called again, closer to noon, given the time adjustment.

Still no answer.

Well, it was about the time of day that I would normally poke my nose into a couple of thrift stores, to see what books, records, and DVDs have come in, en route to her apartment. I set out on my day, only moderately concerned that she wasn't answering the phone. Sometimes when she doesn't answer the phone, it's been due to her phone being unplugged (usually by me, after I've done a phone interview using her landline; but I haven't done one of those in weeks). Sometimes it's because she's gone out with a friend for tea (there is one person who visits her and sometimes takes her out). Her not answering the phone at 11, and again at 12, is not yet cause for panic.

By 12:35, leaving the first of the thrift stores on my route, the panic was setting in.

I feel a considerable variety of conflicted feelings at such times. I put forward various hypotheses: if she's alive, she's either out, her phone is malfunctioning, or she's had a stroke or other health episode that is preventing her from answering. The last of those is actually the most unlikely, since she's under treatment. It's more likely that she'll die before she's incapacitated to the extent that she can't answer the phone.

So I then have to entertain the possibility that she's died. She's 82. People die in her (all seniors) building all the time; hazmat teams and cleanup crews have been visiting the suite of one such tenant on the floor above her, who was dead in his apartment for three days before anyone found him. He wasn't even 70. Her heart is not good, and she's diabetic; plus she's taking lots of medicines, including blood thinners, which could lead to uncontrolled bleeding, if she cut herself (a messy scenario to contemplate). Most likely, one day, her heart will just quietly fail.

Though I take time to check a second thrift store - because if her heart has stopped in her sleep, there's nothing I can do about it - I continue to call her on my cell phone, and she continues not to answer. There have been a half-dozen days like this already in the last few years, and they've always proven to be nothing, but by 12:50, I'm getting increasingly worried. I start to do a fast check-in with myself: have I taken good enough care of her these last few weeks? Were our last words together kind? I fucked up my last days with my father, so my mind scans the last week to see if I have a lot to feel guilty about, if there was anything I'd done to make her unhappy, if I've done right by her.

I decide I have.

After acquitting myself, I must confess, part of me then starts to make plans, as I walk down the sidewalk to her apartment; because, maybe there seems the possibility, at least, that I'm now free - free of this town, free of this phase of my life, free to start over elsewhere. I'll use the small inheritance to pay off part of my credit card debt and relocate to Vancouver Island to be with my girlfriend. Will it get tied up in probate? Will there be any big expenses? Will I be able to cover my bills for the month while sorting out my Mom's affairs?

My heart is starting to beat a little faster as I round the final corner of her street. I'm reminded of why I have to spend as much time with her as I can, why I need to take care of her the best I can, keep patient, stay loving. She could be taken from me at any moment. She's still not answering the phone. I go over the scenarios, and the most likely explanation (other than the one I haven't thought of, which has, so far, always turned out to be the correct one) is that she's passed.

I let myself in her building, say hi to one of her neighbours, get in the elevator, and go to her floor. I have my key out and am already telling myself that the last thing I want to see is her chair, empty, and her purse beside it. (She wouldn't ever leave the building without her purse).

I knock, open the door, and there it is: her chair, empty, and her purse. Fuck. The living room and kitchen is empty. Her bedroom door is open. I can see through it that her bathroom door is open, too, so she's not in the toilet.

My heart is in my throat as I walk to the bedroom door and round the corner. And there is her shape, curled on the bed. It's now 1pm.

I lean over and touch her shoulder. "Mom?"

She rolls over, and, bleary eyed, curlers in her hair, asks, "What time is it?"

Mom, it turns out, couldn't get to sleep after her casino venture and took a pill the doctor gave her for her odd sleepless night. She slept soundly from 3am til 1pm - noon, if you subtract the night's adjusted hour. She's entirely fine, if a little groggy; she hasn't slept this late... ever!

And suddenly it's all back to normal. We started a movie - Jubal, an old Western with Glenn Ford and Ernest Borgnine - and she's waiting for me to come back home with some Chinese food for dinner, to supplement what I have cooked and waiting in the fridge. After we finish Jubal, we'll do another movie, maybe a courtroom drama. She likes those.


DVD review: The Prisoner (2009)

I've just begun the 2009 AMC remake of The Prisoner, starring Jim Caviezel and Sir Ian McKellan. It condenses the action of the series into six episodes, and significantly changes aspects of the story - changes which appear to have lost many loyalists of the original show, but to me, so far - a third of the way in - have me wholly engaged and curious. Whereas in the original series, the inhabitants of The Village realize they are in a village, separated from the rest of the world, with which they retain a relationship, in the remake, everyone seems to labour under an enforced, unquestionable consensus that the Village is the only such place in the world, and has always been thus. There is no London, no New York, no ocean, even, just the Village and the desert beyond it; thinking about the village in any other way is seen as a threat to stability, a sure way to mark oneself a lunatic, and all media and government efforts in the Village encourage acceptance of the consensus and ones lot in life. Everyone is happy in the Village; why would anyone want to imagine life any differently?

(Already that description is reminding me of growing up in Maple Ridge...)
Enter number 6, who wakes up on the Village outskirts one day, not understanding where he is or what's happened to him. His refusal to accept that the Village is all that there is - his insistence on a before and an elsewhere - quickly become a metaphor for any individual at odds with his society, unwilling to accept its limitations and customs, or, indeed, even its reality. His continued refusal of the consensus marks him as insane - but becomes a point of pride (all of which is a bit richer and more complex than that rather dated, oh-so-'60's proclamation that "I am not a number - I am a free man!"). The vividness of 6's insistence on another world threatens to unbalance the status quo, since gradually, Number 6 draws other people into his "delusion," drawing on their own half-forgotten dreams and memories of other ways of being; but just as they are partially seduced by him, so too 6 is partially seduced by the collective hallucination that he himself has always been a resident of the the Village, with family, a job, coworkers and so forth, who are all worried about his sudden insistence that nothing around him is real. Maybe everyone else is right, and he really is insane? After all, so much around him is eerily familiar...
It's a very curious show! Its metaphors are a bit more streamlined and its narrative quite a bit more coherent and consistent than the original series, which, while brilliant, was highly uneven and, er, at times a bit ramshackle. The 2009 remake seems determined to improve on the original, and - while it can never match the original for cultural/ historical significance, and labours in great debt to it - appears (based on the first two episodes), to succeed quite admirably. Sir Ian McKellan, further, is delightful to watch, as always, as the totalitarian in charge, Number Two, who appears just as convinced as everyone about the reality of The Village, and genuinely confused by 6's contrary assertions; he only wants to help the poor man come to grips with reality - just like so many other fascists before him...
I reserve the right to do an about-face on the series if the next few episodes lose me - but so far, I think I'm recommending this'un!