Friday, August 30, 2013

James Bond Versus Zombies

With apologies to the Vancity Theatre - who are having festival of Bond films over the next while - James Bond is a taste I have never acquired.

Sure, the early Sean Connery Bonds are passably entertaining, and Casino Royale was pretty great - though I think that has more to do with the skill of the director, Martin Campbell, than its belonging to the Bond genre (Campbell had previously made the terrific thriller Criminal Law, with Gary Oldman and Kevin Bacon, and also directed the first Brosnan Bond, Goldeneye, unseen by me). Years after having grown out of Ayn Rand, I think her observations about Bond in The Romantic Manifesto are pretty apt. She observes, as I recall, that post-Dr. No, Bond movies became morally dishonest exercises in having a hero and sniggering at him at the same time.They're too cute, too knowing, too ironic for her. Further, while this is likely not a criticism she makes, being who she is, to me, they seem reactionary from the gitgo, an artefact of empire even despite the irony. Skyfall's villainization of Julian Assange left me wondering just how many Bond do-badders over the years have been caricatures of actual historical figures or movements, and how often the series might have been used to nefarious political ends, to sway mass opinion along certain lines...? I don't think, if one took the political subtexts of Bond films seriously, there would much for a (more-or-less) leftie like myself to appreciate... maybe the sniggering is actually a sly means of slipping past politically contemptible messages, an excuse of first recourse: "you don't mean you're actually taking any of this seriously...?"
Not being a Bond fan, then, probably the best story I can offer by way of plugging the fest is my oft-repeated zombiewalk anecdote, in which a group of us, during (I think) the second-ever Vancouver zombiewalk, were walking towards Robson in full, professionally-done zombie makeup, late for the parade and obliged to be "fast zombies" as a result - though I kept trying to throw some slow lurching action into our group's forced march, so I was one of the last two zombies in our line. Lo and behold, who should round the corner but Pierce Brosnan himself, talking on a cellphone. He passed zombie after zombie - there were maybe eight of us all told, stretched over half a block - and what was most delightful about it was that he didn't so much as GLANCE at us. He had no reaction whatsoever, just walked coolly (and quickly) on by. I guess when you've been James Bond it takes more than a few zombies to faze you.

By the by, it's entirely possible that Jen and Sylvia Soska were in that group that day; that was the year I walked with them, though they might not have been in our party by then.
(Photo by Dan Kibke, not to be reused without permission)

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Rolf Harris charged

Various stories about celebrities in the UK preying on children have appeared in the press in recent years - Gary Glitter, Jimmy Savile - but none have had much personal impact on me, since their crimes happened miles away, and in a different cultural milieu. (I have always thought Britain, like Japan, had a somewhat different attitude towards the sexualization of children, mostly because I remember girls as young as 16 in British porn mags like Mayfair, when I was 16 myself, and was an avid consumer of such fare; it was only the British mags that had girls as young as I was in them - Traci Lords notwithstanding. Plus there's David Hamilton - I am not one of those who is of the opinion that his images of young women are fine art). Of the stories to break, the most personally disturbing by far is that of Rolf Harris - who has just been charged with multiple offenses. (Yes, he's an Australian, but has been based in the UK for some time). It brings it home for me because I *saw* Rolf Harris when I was a child, during one of his many live performances in BC; I forget if he came to my elementary school, or performed publicly in Maple Ridge, or if my parents or teachers took me to Vancouver to see him - but I know I did, was in the same room as the man. Though he appears to have targeted teenaged girls, and not eight year old boys or such, reading about it now gives me a bit of a chill: how different would my life have been if I'd been molested by him, or someone else? I did encounter sexual predators as a boy - on two occasions as a young teen was approached by adult men who offered me drinks, tried to pick me up; plus I grew up in an area where Clifford Robert Olson was known to be active. But I never actually WAS molested by anyone, thank God. Glad to read that the UK is cleaning house - sounds like it's well past due. Charlie Smith of the Straight just posted his own reaction the Guardian  report on Rolf Harris' arrest. This is a very sad story - I'm not sure I'll ever again be able to wholly trust anyone who works in the field of children's entertainment....

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

One white man's fondness for the films of Sydney Pollack

(NOTE: this piece has been substantially augmented at the end with considerations of two further films, beneath the pic of Jane Fonda and Robert Redford in The Electric Horseman). 

Sure, Sydney Pollack directed some lousy films in his day; his last, The Interpreter, with Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn, was, insofar as I remember it, almost unwatchable, and I have no great fondness for Random Hearts, The Firm, Bobby Deerfield, or Havana, no great desire to revisit Tootsie, and no plans to watch The Electric Horseman, ever, thanks (edit: see the end of this blogpiece). When Pollack was good, though - jeez, he sure was great (and I'm not even speaking of his work as an actor, though he certainly brightened up Eyes Wide Shut and Michael Clayton; I'll miss his popping up in such fare - he died in 2008).
I haven't caught all of Pollack's films, but three of them rank among my favourite American films of the 1970's, for their sheer entertainment value: The Yakuza, with Robert Mitchum and Ken Takakura; the Robert Redford "mountain man" vehicle Jeremiah Johnson; and the espionage thriller The Three Days of the Condor (also with Redford and a terrific Max von Sydow). All three films partake in the white American male desire to win the respect of other cultures and races, offering a fantasy remedy to the American inferiority complex and/or "white guilt": in the first, our white male hero wins the respect of traditional, sword-wielding Japanese; in the second, that of Native Americans; and in the third, that of an erudite European hitman (he may be white, too, but he actually comes from a country with culture, unlike the American-all-too-American protagonist). I suppose, since I like these films so much, that these are fantasies I'm not immune to myself - having at times been very conscious that we have nothing much of a culture (besides pop culture) in North America, and not feeling particularly proud of McDonalds, Disney, and drive-by-shootings. Besides, none of Pollack's white/American-redemption fantasies have the odious obviousness of films like Dances With Wolves or Black Rain or The Last Samurai. They're at least somewhat sophisticated, somewhat subtle, somewhat discreet about how they gratify their target audience, and their heroes have to go through at least a little bit of work to earn the respect of the "others" in question (doing unheard of things like learning other languages, for instance...). They validate their heroes (and thus their target audience) without it being entirely obvious that that is the main purpose of their narrative, and they leave room for a bit of heroism for their peripheral (non-white, or non-American) characters, too...
That's not to say that there aren't flies in the ointment with all three films. The truth is, I was unable to watch The Yakuza last time I tried, because it partakes deeply of the romanticization of Japan that so pollutes American versions of that country - plus it has some obvious inaccuracies to boot. The most glaring of these might seem minor, but will shock anyone who has actually spent time in Japan out of the narrative and into a critical monologue: it is simply not possible that its expat character Oliver - who serves nabe to his guests, has a home bedecked with tokens of Japanese culture, and presents as someone who has acclimatized himself to life in Japan - would wear shoes in his home, or allow his guests to. If you're trying at all to fit in, which Oliver obviously is, leaving your shoes at the door ranks up there with the use of chopsticks as one of the first customs you get accustomed to. You might manage to avoid using squat toilets, but unless you want to be perceived as a total savage, you'll get used to taking off your shoes as soon as you enter people's houses, including your own -- so much so that you'll feel weird doing it any other way when you return to your home country. There's also a scene in a public bathhouse that opts for discretion over accuracy, making sure star Robert Mitchum and other bathers are wearing swimtrunks: presumably this stemmed from a desire to protect Mitchum's modesty, without being too obvious about it, because if all the other Japanese bathers were walking around naked and he was the only person in a bathing suit, then his character wouldn't seem as accustomed to life in Japan as he's supposed to be. Perhaps the attitude was that no one would notice, but for someone who frequently partook of public bathing in Japan, this stood out as an obvious error, too...
Worse, the film presents its Yakuza as sword-wielding samurai types, obsessed with giri and duty and so forth, and willing to sacrifice themselves (or their pinkies) to fulfill their obligations to each other. It does this without the slightest effort to question if this romantic vision (Yakuza = Samurai, which it spells out right in the opening titles) is accurate. Mitchum plays an American to whom the main Japanese protagonist (Ken Takakura) owes a debt; as a soldier, he saved someone Takakura loved from a horrible fate during the American occupation, while Takakura was still hiding in the jungles of the South Pacific, years after the war ended. Takakura, on returning, finds his debt to the enemy intolerable, but takes it seriously, making huge sacrifices for the American. We only learn late in the film how big these run. Still, when the American turns up years later to ask a favour, Takakura's character feels obliged to help. Of course, Mitchum proves himself a worthy friend, and the two end up fighting alongside each other as equals in a mutual respect society of two, with sacrifices and obligations going both ways...
There are a few things wrong with the story, to be sure. First, I tend to prefer de-romanticized, critical visions of the Yakuza - if not Minbo No Onna, which is positively disrespectful, then at least Fukasaku Kinji's Battles Without Honour and Humanity (pictured above). Fukasaku's Yakuza movies constantly undercut heroic gestures, strive - like the dramas of Kobayashi Masaki - to show the self-serving, venal reality beneath the big talk and bold posturing of many gangsters; the characters Fukasaku likes most are simply ordinary people striving to survive, not larger-than-life bushi. Compared to the dour, ceremonial pinky-severings in The Yakuza, in Battles Without Honour and Humanity, when one character feels compelled to chop off a finger, comedy ensues, as the finger immediately goes missing, and becomes the object of a puzzled search, which eventually reveals that a chicken made off with it. By contrast, The Yakuza - based on a story by Leonard Schrader, and adapted to the screen by Paul (Mishima) Schrader and Robert Towne - clearly views the titular organization through falsifying, romantic, Orientalist eyes, making its gangsters (or at least the main ones we get to know) emblematic of all sorts of virtues (respect for tradition, loyalty to a purpose, duty and honour among friends) that are lacking in America: imaginary Japanese, the "Far Eastern" kin to the Imaginary Indian. It's an image the Yakuza themselves are partial to, but flattery (even self-flattery) and accuracy are rather different things...
All the same, I have to admit, on finally making it through the film tonight, that it deserves credit for at least TRYING to get things right. Compared to the outlandishly bad Ridley Scott film, Black Rain - which offensively co-opts the title of Shohei Imamura's earlier film about the effects of the bombing of Hiroshima, apparently for no other reason than to bury/ replace Imamura's film with pro-American bullshit, since no black rain of any sort appears in the movie - The Yakuza positively bursts at the seams with evidence of sincere respect for Japan, right down to Robert Mitchum learning to speak some pretty good Japanese. It ends up a gripping piece of storytelling, and is absolutely beautifully filmed - with a climactic swordfight sequence that ranks up there with anything in the oeuvre of Fukasaku (though his Yakuza tend to use guns).
Speaking of the Imaginary Indian, he is no doubt all over Jeremiah Johnson, but not having lived among the Crow, Blackfeet, or Flatheads (AKA Interior Salish), I feel less qualified to criticize the depictions of them in the film than I do with the Japanese. One imagines liberties are taken, that romanticization occurs. The Crow leader, Paints-His-Shirt-Red (above), is apparently played by a Mexican actor, Joaquin Martinez (pictured above), and it has been said online that the Crow dialogue he and others speak appears to have been memorized phonetically, delivered rote by people not fluent in the language. These facts alone show that the filmmakers went to some lengths to be respectful - since it is actually Crow that is spoken - but it also reveals the limits of their respect (it would be much more impressive if actual Crow actors, or at least people fluent in the language, could have been employed). Still, it counts that more than one First Nations language is spoken in the film, and Redford - or rather, his character - not only has to learn how to communicate in other tongues, but to honour other customs, which actually differ depending on which people he is dealing with (!). Plus there's even some subversive irony behind the respect he ends up earning from the Crow and Flatheads in the film, since the majority of it stems from a rather unflattering case of mistaken identity. He may be taken for a hero, but we understand that he isn't, really - at least not the sort believed.
Still, what a fantasy for white audiences to consume - to leave behind civilization, trek off into the mountains, and learn to subsist on trapping and hunting, ultimately doing so so successfully that the glamourized noble savages themselves, fierce and stern and implacable, end up regarding you as a hero! It beats owning the reality of the genocide our ancestors perpetrated, or, say, working in an office. Particularly if you don't actually try it - it's one of those fantasies that is best left a fantasy, or so I've been told by a friend who tried a variation on it...
It's only in light of these two films that The Three Days of the Condor is at all suspicious. The film's story is ostensibly about a conspiracy to invade the Middle East; the Robert Redford character, a lowly CIA analyst, stumbles across the plot, and suddenly finds that everyone in his office has been murdered, which fact other spooks rush to cover up. There are two main subplots to the film - one involving a cynical, mistrustful, lonely woman Redford kidnaps (Faye Dunaway) to help him survive his ordeal, who ends up helping him, and finally loving him; and the other involving a European hitman (von Sydow), who unexpectedly - after shooting most of Redford's friends and trying to kill him for much of the movie - switches teams at a key point. This is not done out of respect or loyalty to Redford, but von Sydow's character clearly feels a bit of both for this man, who has successfully evaded him; the film oddly privileges a scene in which von Sydow offers Redford a ride, after the climactic shoot out ends, which seems like it should be peripheral to the plot, but nonetheless feels like the film's emotional payoff. If we hold as a general principle that the changed relationships in the course of a film reveal something about its inward mechanics, its subtext, its themes, then it's no coincidence that the film moves to win the love and respect for the white American male lead from both an independent, aloof woman and a cultivated, uber-menschy Euro-assassin; in fact, it's the main point of the film - to validate "our man" - and the plot about a conspiracy, prescient as it is, is simply an engine that delivers the desired payoff...
I suspect that there aren't many thrillers that are politically defensible, when you analyze them in this way. Thrillers tend to have a fairly conservative function - to bolster the identity of the people who consume them, to reassure them of their fundamental morality and general rightness, their cultural centrality, their omnipotence, to consolidate the status quo and neutralize any threats to it (consider pretty much any Bruce Willis action movie in this regard, but especially The Last Boy Scout and Die Hard). It's by doing these sorts of things - jerking the audience off, in effect - that the thriller makes us feel good; it's providing the fantasized reward for our daily labours, giving us the validation that we lack in daily life, helping make staying in our place seem easier to do. A thriller that left its target audience, whatever their race, feeling insecure, immoral, marginal, flawed and/or powerless probably wouldn't be perceived as being very thrilling (they do exist, mind you: Brian DePalma's terrific Blow Out springs immediately to mind in this regard -- but it wasn't exactly a smash hit).

All the same - even if my three favourite Sydney Pollack films are ultimately fantasies for white North American men, what can I say? I too, am a white North American man, and as fantasies go, The Yakuza, Jeremiah Johnson, and The Three Days of the Condor are damned fine ones.

Maybe, having written all this, it would actually be interesting to revisit Tootsie again, who knows? Maybe Pollack actually has a thematic consistency running through his films - the hallmark of the auteur - by which his characters are forced to accommodate cultures, genders, languages, and experiences not native to them, in order to succeed? Dustin Hoffman passing in drag is the equivalent of Robert Redford smoking a peace pipe, or Robert Mitchum speaking Japanese... I actually hadn't even considered, when I sat down to write this post, that all three of the films I was considering serve variants on a single function. Which other of Pollack's films do this, I wonder? Hmm...
Edited to add: by chance, I stumbled across The Electric Horseman (1979) for $3 today, and having sworn off seeing it just last night, I had a complex thought process by which I realized that I had seen the film before, when it first came out (when I was 11) at Maple Ridge's long-since-defunct Stardust Theatre. I seemed to recall that I rather liked it, back then. So in keeping with the little Sydney Pollack-fest my Mom and I have been having, I picked it up, and we watched it this evening. It's certainly a passable entertainment - and though there are no strong traces of the thematic thread identified above in it, it has a likable cynicism about capitalism and mass media and advertising and so forth, and certainly shares at least some of Jeremiah Johnson's romantic ideas about going wild. However, the film that it most reminded me of - quite unexpectedly - was Bertrand Tavernier's Death Watch (1980). While unalike in many regards, both films take as one of their main characters a TV person who occupies a conflicted position, having, in pursuit of a story, hooked up with someone of the opposite gender. This person, having previously assented to being involved with corporate media, has gone renegade and run off, and does not, in their flight, wish to be the subject of media scrutiny. In both cases, the media person wins the trust of their subject, then has to apologize for having betrayed them (by continuing to represent corporate media) and atone for themselves by breaking with their employers and helping them reach their goal (of course, the degree of this betrayal and the lengths to which the media person must go to atone differ greatly). Damage to the media person's equipment (in vastly different forms) also takes place - technology must be abandoned en route, as the course of the pair's travels takes them outside civilization (often on foot!). Meanwhile, TV execs and corporate figures follow their progress from afar, and strategize about what to do, while consulting ratings and sales charts and such, since that's all they know to care about...
Adding any more specifics to this framework ruins the parallels, since the two films are dissimilar in all particulars (one is set in a dystopian future, the other in a compromised present; in one case the media person is a man with cameras implanted in his eyes, in the other a perceptive, ambitious female; in Death Watch, the person fleeing is a woman trying to die with dignity, away from the TV cameras, while in the other, the person is a cowboy, trying to release a horse into the wild)... Still, the connections hardly seem coincidental, as one of Death Watch's co-writers, the late David Rayfiel - a very frequent Sydney Pollack collaborator - made uncredited screenplay contributions to The Electric Horseman, just the year before he joined Tavernier to co-author Death Watch (they were working from a novel, but my impression from talking to Tavernier about this last year was that they took some liberty with the source material; I haven't yet read the book). I had not realized Rayfiel was connected to The Electric Horseman when watching it, since his name doesn't appear anywhere in the credits, so I'm even more convinced now that Rayfiel may have, perhaps unwittingly, smuggled elements from one film into the other. (Or perhaps he too has some sort of auteurist thematic consistency to be found running through his films - areas of obsession that he returns to?).

Anyhow, the net result of all this is that I think The Electric Horseman is a keeper, after all. It's kinda like Death Watch with Willie Nelson. And a horse.

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Sabbath comes to Vancouver! ...Plus full circle

Some photos from the other night!
(This is not how I got my Black Sabbath ticket)

 (I texted my girlfriend one of the evenings goat-throws; she responded in kind).

I was too far from the stage to get a decent shot of the band members, and the light show/ video projection was too bright for my camera to capture anything on-screen. It was a great night, though. It was struck once again by how good the sound is at Rogers Arena, given that it's a huge stadium; and while normally I found video projection distracting, it really did work well in context, with deftly-edited closeups of the band as they played and a bit of video window-dressing on the sides (like sexy and strange faux-bondage imagery to accompany "Fairies Wear Boots," or clips of Pacino as Tony Montana to augment "Snowblind;" Ken Russell's The Devils got thrown in the mix for one of the band's critiques of religion, "Under the Sun/ Every Day Comes and Goes"). Ozzy had vocal troubles that resulted in the set being shortened by two songs - something Steve Newton reports on here, though he doesn't mention Ozzy's repeated apologies to the crowd for "singing like an asshole," as he put it; one felt truly bad for Ozzy, who seemed so game and wholehearted in his enthusiasm for the performance that you could imagine how painful his vocal flubs must have been to him. Oddly, the high point of the night, energy wise - a punchy version of "N.I.B." that got the crowd really bouncing - was also the low point, in terms of his voice, various words going squirrelly on him, in counterpoint to the menacing lyrics (see 1:11 and 3:34 on that clip, for instance - a few of those moments can really stand out, though in fact it doesn't sound half as bad on Youtube as I remembered it!). One hoped the drum solo during "Rat Salad" would allow him to recoup a bit, but it was not to be, and "Dirty Women" and "Children of the Grave" ended up being dropped from the set, cutting directly to what was supposed to be the encore - "Paranoid," of course, with a bit of "Sabbath Bloody Sabbath" at the beginning. Ah, well. Some people felt shortchanged, I didn't; and really, a lot of my love for "Children of the Grave" has to do with (absent original drummer) Bill Ward's stellar drumwork, anyhow....

Amusingly, afterwards, I saw a father-son team on the Skytrain, with the father wearing a Mob Rules t-shirt from the very show I last caught Sabbath at, back in 1982, with my father. Since I wore my Mob Rules tee out before I got out of junior high school, I was pretty impressed he'd managed to preserve his so well - it was a bit faded, but otherwise in fine shape, which definitely sparked some comment. We briefly bonded as the train pulled into my station. I was the one who brought my father in 1982; it was nice to see some other guy bringing his own son to the show.

Which brings me round to this feeling that I've had for awhile now - of things coming full circle. I'm back in the town where I grew up. I've now seen, for the second time, the band that really started me off on the path of rock. I'll be transcribing over the next while my last interview with Zev Asher, the man with whom I started doing interviews, who has now died. What successes as a music journalist I've had have been limited - I haven't been able to parlay what I've been doing into anything fulltime, and income from writing is too haphazard to rely on at present... it seems like it's a good time to re-assess my situation. I'm not going to officially say I'm stopping doing anything, since there will no doubt always be concerts and films that I want to write about, and since my last attempt to quit this blog only lasted a few months; but I'm really not feeling it anymore, these days. Things have come round to a pretty good place to stop.

I do have to get this giant Zev Asher thing into the world somehow, though... We'll see how that goes.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Moebius at the Cobalt!

Here's a show I would go see at the Cobalt 2.0 tomorrow (Thursday) if I weren't already occupied.

I do still feel a bit weird about the idea of that place as a hardcore bar post-wendythirteen, but it HAS been a long time since that place has been under new ownership, and besides, nothing about Dieter Moebius - no relation to the deceased cartoonist - is hardcore.

Alex Varty's interview with him is here. My favourite recording he was involved in - of the few I know - was "Broken Head" off Cluster and Eno's After The Heat - I love the way that song slips around, though my fondness is not so much for Cluster's contribution as for Eno's, to be honest. I bet there are all sorts of analog synth heads who could turn you on to even more exciting stuff in Moebius and Cluster's non-Eno albums...

As it happens, one of them, Josh Stevenson of Magneticring, will be opening tomorrow, which is entirely appropriate. If this show were on Friday, I would be seen there, sniffing around, to see if it still smelled like the Cobalt of yore.

I kind of miss that smell, believe it or not.

Black Sabbath!

So my two favourite Sabbath songs likley not on the setlist for tomorrow are "Johnny Blade" (which kinda touches on 80's pop-punk, something that runs throughout the underrated Never Say Die) and the shockingly proggy, chorally-overloaded "Supertzar" - which is just such an oddball, arty item that it fascinates me... but I can live with their absence just fine! I've said pretty much everything I need to about Sabbath in commenting on Steve Newton's articles about the show, here and here. I like the new album - Rick Rubin did a good job of bringing the band back to their classic sound - though here's hoping they have a still better one up their sleeves for the future. (It doesn't seem impossible).

It'll be a great privilege to see this band play tomorrow. I'm sad Bill Ward's not around, but then again, he wasn't in the band the last time I saw them play, with Ronnie James Dio on vocals, either (Vinnie Appice sat in for that tour, for Mob Rules). It seems like a good way to end a certain phase of my life: Sabbath was one of the first concerts I saw, ever - certainly one of the first that I still credit - so it's kind of like coming full-circle. I seem to be in a position of having to (more or less) let go of concert going, at least as a regular pastime, given my circumstances; this is a really good one to go out on...

Did you all know that Tony Iommi lost two of his fingertips as a young lad and plays with thimbles on them? Check this out - it's pretty interesting.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Shearing Pinx vs. The Melvins (Not!)

Every now and then you come across a story that makes you laugh so hard you fear for your continence.

Sometimes you get to be the guy who writes that story.

For example...

Edited to add: the sheer human-all-too-human humanity of everyone's actions/ reactions was what made the story funny while I was writing it, but the comments have long since taken all the humour out of it. There are some really hateful, vengeful, nasty people out there, you know? (I'm told if I'm writing for the Straight I "have to get used to it" but it ain't gonna be easy). I thought the article, as written, would DEFUSE the lynch-mob mentality that had started to assert itself on Ben Frith's original post. In the short space of a few hundred words - some of which were cut from the article, which NO ONE has taken into account before dumping shit on me - I mention that Jeremy was apologetic, that he was wasted at the time of the incident, that he'd meant no harm, that he has received a fairly unpleasant punishment for his fairly minor transgression, and that (maybe) the Melvins overreacted a bit - in a style out of keeping with the punk ethos they come from (which is the point of the Chris Walter quote by me). It all seems clear enough to me. I could have asked him to grovel for forgiveness a bit more, but to be honest - I didn't think it was necessary; I didn't think people would be so cuntish in their responses. But while a  few Straight readers - like Alan Ranta - seem to have read the article I intended, a lot more are using it as a pretext to vent their hostility, and are salivating to attack, talking about going to see the Shearing Pinx to chuck shit at them, for instance. Grrreat. I mean, maybe Jeremy should have a "chuck shit at me" gig just to get it out of people's systems and prove he's contrite, eh?

Sometimes this city seems pretty broken...

Cheetah Chrome to release solo album! Plus RFTT autograph hijinx

Hey, check it out - Cheetah Chrome has an upcoming solo album!

Nevermind his guitar - I like his playing just fine - but I *love* how he sang RFTT's "Amphetamine", live and on the Rocket Redux album. That terrific, terrific song, as you may know, was written and (I believe) originally sung by deceased rocker and Creem contributor Peter Laughner, to whom Cheetah dedicates the number here. I was delighted to catch RFTT live at Richards on Richards (also RIP), and got to pester Cheetah for his autograph ("or a bloody thumbprint, or whatever you got!") on an RFTT poster after the show. (His thumb was not actually bleeding at the time, and someone had a pen, so...):
On the other hand, RFTT singer (and legend-in-his-own-right) David Thomas, a bit in his cups, looked at me skeptically because I was asking the guys to sign TWO posters; he must have figured I was a dealer tryin' to exploit him, or something, because he signed them both with illegible squiggles which neither looked like his name, nor like each other. (One was for a friend, one is on my wall). On the other hand, he let one of the friends I was with (a beautiful woman, but still) kiss him as they loaded into their van, so that was nice of him, and he clarified some of the lyrics to (RFTT original!) "Sonic Reducer" in an email later ("I got my DULL machine" - I'd always wondered). His squiggle is below; I defy you to make a "David Thomas" out of this!
 Anyhow, I don't buy too many new albums these days (I got no money!), but I'll be picking up Cheetah's for sure...

RIP Elmore Leonard

I read one Elmore Leonard novel: 52 Pick Up, after enjoying the film adaptation (at the time - haven't looked at it in awhile). I liked the book - it was a lean and mean and somewhat nasty crime novel, which I don't remember all that well.

I liked Tarantino's Jackie Brown, too - his best film, in my opinion, and based on Leonard's Rum Punch, though I haven't read it. Oh, and Killshot had some interesting stuff going for it... including Mickey Rourke, with his "late period face," as a Metis assassin!

I liked that Leonard introduces the music of Marvin Pontiac into one of his later novels, too. 

No other real feelings about Elmore Leonard - I'm not a Get Shorty fan, don't really know Leonard's other work - but it seems appropriate to mark his passing somehow...!

A wee upset at the Melvins show...

The following broke on Facebook last night - someone you may well know (I do), or may even know well (I don't) is rumoured to have thrown a drink at King Buzzo during the Melvins' set last night, thereby ending the show early; after which this person was loaded into a police car and personally given a shove by Buzzo himself. This is a RUMOUR at this point - so far it's all hearsay. I have no clue how to permalink to the Status Update on Facebook where this is happening, but it's on Ben Frith's page, or stream, or whatever-the-hell-you-call-it! Will let you know when there's more news...

Edited to add: Ben is considering deleting the thread or post or feed or whatever-the-heck-you-call-it, so this may seem mysterious if you go looking for it, but I will investigate, I promise...

Sorcerer: The Blog!

Hey! Someone started a Sorcerer-themed Wordpress page about the restoration of one of my all-time favourite films, soon to premiere at the Venice Film Festival! I am deeply moved!

Edited to add: for fans of Friedkin, conversant with the debate about Cruising, I stumbled across a worthwhile article on (openly gay critic) Robin Wood's defense of (supposedly homophobic Al Pacino movie) Cruising today... worth a look!

Friday, August 16, 2013

How I fell in love with horror cinema (and movies in general)

The scariest movie I have ever seen was The Wizard of Oz.   

It helps that I was five years old at the time. My parents had taken me to see the film at Maple Ridge's long-since-defunct Stardust Theatre. It was, I believe, my first time in a movie theatre; it was certainly my most traumatic experience in one. I was reduced to wailing and hysterical sobbing in fear for Dorothy, whose jeopardy at the hands of the dread flying monkeys was simply too much for me to witness. Mom and Dad had to take me from the theatre; I didn't get to finish the film until years after that, on TV, where things were less intense. 

You might think I'm revealing a flank on this one, exposing a bit of my soft white underbelly, but the truth is, I'm kind of proud of that reaction, impressed that a film could affect me that deeply. It says something about The Wizard of Oz, of course - but also something about me, that my engagement with the experience, as a child, was so utterly sincere and wholehearted. It's the right way to watch a film (though ideally you stick it out til the end). A lot of kids fidget, chatter, run around the aisles if you let them; I was totally focused on and emotionally invested in the movie theatre screen, even if what I saw there totally freaked me out.

I like to think that that bad experience was what sunk the hook in me, that being so overwhelmed by the emotions The Wizard of Oz stirred in me that I had to be taken home - in effect, being "beaten" by the movie -  made me regard films as a challenge, and perhaps helped cultivate the desire to take on more and more challenging film fare. Whether that meant braving gore or  the years I spent renting, some fifteen years later, anything I could find with subtitles in the video stores of Maple Ridge, I certainly grew into someone who wanted to confront unfamiliar and difficult cinema - someone who regarded movies, as Wes Craven has said, as a sort of "boot camp for the psyche." That aspect of myself began somewhere, and it seems logical that those flying monkeys had something to do with it.

Plus how could I not be fascinated by something that had such power to effect me?

I can recall vividly my next most important film experience, as well - also involving a projected film, which took place in elementary school a few years after that. (I saw lots of movies on TV, but somehow the most formative cinematic experiences of my childhood took place during actual projected screenings, so I got it right there, too). We were led into the school auditorium to watch a projected print of the original 1933 version of King Kong.
By that time, around age eight, I was already a bit of an unusual kid. I was interested in art and writing; and while other kids were wild for their bicycles, or running around playing soccer, or building car models, my enthusiasms were playing with plastic dinosaurs, building Aurora snap-together models (of dinosaurs, again, and later, monsters) and exploring the fields, forests and ponds of Maple Ridge, looking for snakes, salamanders, and frogs.

Other kids have stories about winning goals or home runs; I have stories about the time I put leeches on my arm, to see if their bite hurt, and see how hard they were to get off. (Easy, if you've got a lighter; one of the bigger kids showed me that you just needed to get the metal on the lighter hot and put it next to the leech and it would curl up and let go).

Anyhow, for a kid like that, King Kong was cinema heaven. I had probably seen other movies or TV shows involving dinosaurs before, since I was so fascinated by them, but I had seen nothing on the level of Willis O'Brien's stop motion animation. Whether it was by accident or design, our class was led into the elementary school gymnasium after the film had already started, such that the first thing I remember was the raft scene, where the intrepid adventurers have their raft toppled by a long-necked dinosaur. From the moment that creature - guess I'll call it the defunct name of "brontosaurus," because that's what he was to me then - stuck its neck out of the water, I was hooked.
I had spent a good portion of Grade One molding dinosaurs out of modelling clay that the teacher had brought to class - we had several on display, and the janitor at the school added to the collection with a couple of almost professional-quality models of his own, which sadly did not survive (I believe he later killed himself - there was a janitor at my school who did, and I believe him to have been the same guy; I sometimes think of him now, this man who made dinosaurs for children, staying late after the school was closed, neglecting his cleaning so he could make this gesture of connection... I don't know much about him but it's sad that a guy who would do something like that would end up taking his own life). In Grade Two, I had a whole diorama of the creatures, complete with fake plastic palm trees and other landscape effects, on the windowsill of the classroom, mostly made to impress a girl I liked. All of that was pre-King Kong, but that there was a logical connection between the models I made with my hands and the models up there on the screen made the film seem, not just magical, but attainable; magic that had a connection to my day to day life. 
That's not to say I was ready for whatever cinema had to offer, though. There is one more formative film experience that needs to be mentioned: the second time I had to be taken from a movie - though it was at a drive-in, not a theatre, with Mom and Dad in the white American Rambler that my Dad used to drive. I had seen images in Famous Monsters of Filmland - a magazine which I had just begun to read, at that point, but would soon become devoted to - of a film called The Land That Time Forgot (1975); and I had seen their cover story on a film called The Food of the Gods (1976). The two films made it to a double bill, out in Surrey, I think, and I spotted the ad in The Province and did a can-we-go-can-we-go on my parents. I remember my father enjoyed The Land That Time Forgot quite a bit - a perfect father/son movie, in a way, since it had dinosaurs and Germans in a U-boat. My mother mostly enjoyed our enjoyment, I expect.
The story involves a group of American and British soldiers and civilians, whose ship gets blown up, and who end up commandeering a U-boat; a power struggle ensues between the American (b-movie star Doug McClure) and the German leader (British actor John McEnery), and they end up off course in uncharted waters, approaching an unknown island, with an underground passage that leads to a world where dinosaurs and cavemen co-exist. It's by no means a great film; the dinosaur effects have nothing on the O'Brien/ Harryhausen school of effects, and the film is cluttered with half-baked evolutionary theorizing that could have likely been left in the Edgar Rice Burroughs source text (which, written in 1924, was not exactly cutting edge science; I could spot its fallacies even then). Still, I loved it. All three of us in that car together watching that movie might just count as one of the happiest moments of my childhood - along with my parents taking me to see a fossilized dinosaur skeleton at a museum, and playing with my dog, and catching a really big snake in a local pond...
The Food of the Gods, however - the second feature on the double bill, after it had gotten good and dark - was by no means as wonderful an experience. It had looked great on paper - I thought I was ready to see people menaced by giant rats - but it quickly proved too much for me to take. Shot on Bowen Island, which I didn't realize until I recently revisited the film on DVD, it deals with a substance that bubbles out of the ground that, when fed to animals, makes them grow to gigantic proportions. A farmer and his wife feed it to their chickens (and yes, folks, there is a giant chicken attack in the movie). But local hornets and rats and other creatures get into the stuff, too.
The hornet effects were too godawful to actually be scary: as with the ant effects in Bert I. Gordon's other notoriously bad big-creature feature, 1977's Empire of the Ants, several of the "attack" scenes involve insects held by tweezers being waved in front of the camera, badly superimposed on the action. It's almost at a Birdemic level of badness - especially since hornets held with tweezers (curled sideways, wings folded, legs and antennae twitching) look utterly nothing like hornets that are flying.
Anyhow, so far so bad: the film wasn't impressing me, but it sure wasn't scaring me. The giant chicken confrontation did neither, either. Where the film became too much to bear, however - about twenty minutes into its runtime - is where the farmer's wife - gamely played by Ida Lupino, near the end of her film career - hears a crashing in her basement and goes to investigate. A jar of her preserved fruit has fallen from a shelf; she reaches back behind the other jars to see what's back there - and is attacked by giant maggots!
As I say, I re-watched the film recently, and I must admit, this scene is still unsettling. The effects are great, at least compared to the hornets and chickens; and there's a real nastiness to the way the attack is shot - traumatic music plays, and the film defies realism to have Lupino - instead of pulling her hand back at the first bite - submit to the attack for several seconds, so the camera can linger on the gore. There's a nastiness at work that suggests the film has an ill-will towards its audience, a none-too-playful element of genuine sadism. I don't blame myself for being unsettled - it's a pretty ugly moment. I went pale and felt my stomach turn for a reason, that night at the drive-in. 
And so it went: "Mom, Dad... can we go home?"

My recent viewing of the film is in fact the first time I have gone back to finish watching it (a past attempt was aborted when I saw how baaaad the film was). Glad in hindsight that I got us out of there, because (as someone who had pet gerbils, around the same time) I probably wouldn't have liked all the scenes in which real rats are shot or exploded or otherwise subjected to real deaths for the sake a cheap special effect. I've never really understood that sort of thing. It's like the real snake deaths in Sssssss and Stanley; who would go see either film but a snake lover, and what snake lover would want to see snakes get killed?

The Food of the Gods is a nasty little movie, really, without much in the way of redeeming qualities, though connoisseurs of bad cinema might find something to enjoy in it, or perhaps the residents of Bowen Island: it is very recognizably a BC-made film...

Whether Food of the Gods provoked me to try again with horror films, by upsetting me so much, I cannot say, but it certainly didn't stop me. A couple of years after that, I caught a double bill of Dawn of the Dead and Phantasm, with my father, in Mission - another very important film screening, for me. Then came Alien, and Altered States, and Friday the 13th, and An American Werewolf In London - all R-rated, so I had to get my father to take me to those, too; he was terrific about that, really. Those were good nights out, important movies to my childhood self, and I still have great fondness for all of them.

There were other films I watched and loved as a kid - I had somewhat weird fascinations for character dramas like The Big Chill and Ordinary People, and for years was obsessed with a late night screening of Husbands that I caught on TV (one of my first trips to the Pacific Cinematheque was to see the film projected as part of a tribute to Cassavetes, shortly after he died in 1989). But for me, the love of cinema began with a fascination for horror and weirdness, and I doubt I would have ever been so passionate about movies if it hadn't been for those damn flying monkeys...

Black Flag Lawsuit again

...from Vice. Haven't even read it yet myself but I know I'll want to link it here, so...

(Edit: Oo, it's a Keith Morris interview, spillin' the dirt on his time with Black Flag and talking about the formation of Flag... though it appears to have been done pre-lawsuit, and just published now). 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

People we like: Mark Prindle

The Prindle Rock and Roll Record Review site - a veritable wealth of entertainment! - may be mothballed, but Prindle is alive on Facebook, and has some pretty delightful video reviews on Youtube. For instance, check out his album review of the hilarious Van Morrison "Contract Breaking Sessions." I did not know about that album before seeing this clip; I had, like Prindle, not much interest in Van Morrison before; but I kind of like him now...!

Jerking Off to Comic Books (for Robin Bougie)

Sure, I admit it: I have jerked off to comic books. But you have to understand the context: when I began masturbating (at age 12, in 1980), porn wasn't so easy to come by. The internet didn't exist, home video had barely begun, and actually buying an adult magazine required a shamelessness and a ballsiness I did not possess, at least until a few years later, when I bought my first issue of Playboy at a drugstore. That, as it happens, was the April 1982 issue of Playboy, pictured below, and even then, at the hormonally raging age of 14, I was absolutely terrified that the clerk - a matronly middle-aged woman - would refuse to sell it to me, demand to call my parents, or say something humiliating about how I probably wasn't buying it for the articles... Within a couple of years I had a goodly-sized stack o' porn under my bed, but that single Playboy - simply by virtue of being the only one I owned at that time - surely has to hold the record for the magazine I have stroked off to more than any other; I was in a monogamous relationship with that one magazine for months before acquiring my second and third...
Before I got up the guts to buy that first ever stroke mag, tho', I had to make do with what was, so to speak, at hand. Often that meant late night TV, when my parents were out or asleep, when you could sometimes catch late night screenings of Emmanuelle or The Vampire Lovers or other racy fare on Canadian channels. When I finally got a TV in my room, I could stay up late on weekends getting all sweaty-palmed as I channel surfed with an erection. A glimpse of tit on the French channel? The 20 Minute Workout? The Solid Gold Dancers?
I jacked off to all of these things and more, sometimes sitting for hours, changing channels, hoping to stumble across something that stimulated me. In fact, I was exposed to some pretty great culture through that very quest for wank material - that was how I first got curious about Zabriskie Point, when I saw the hippie lovemaking scene on the late late show, though I don't think I actually got off on it at the time. I believe I stopped and thought - "hey, that looks pretty interesting, but it's not actually sexy." Followed maybe by, "Jeezus, I think I just saw some guy's balls on TV! What the hell IS this movie, anyway...?"

Jerking off to TV wasn't always practical, however - particularly since masturbation felt so much safer behind a locked bathroom door, especially when the parents were home or awake. You couldn't bring the TV in there with you, but you could easily sneak in the Sears catalogue, for the bra section, say. I'm pretty sure I read my first issue of Creem in the bathroom a few times, too, for that photo of Joan Jett walking on the beach in a red top that hugged and complimented her breasts. There was a book on science fiction movies that I remember liking for a nudie shot of Valerie Perrine, in the film Slaughterhouse Five, and a movie mag that had an honest-to-god centrefold of a skimpily clad Caroline Munro. Of course, this has made its way online:
And yes, in those pre-porn years, I would occasionally get off to comic books: because no matter how racy the subject matter in some of the comics I bought, it took a fair bit for anyone to object to a kid buying a comic - at least until my father took the time to read an issue of Commies From Mars that I bought at The Comic Shop, during my underground comic years, which came a bit later. He wasn't a big Greg Irons fan, I guess: he made me get rid of it and forbade any more Commies From Mars in his household. But I wasn't jerking off to Commies From Mars, anyhow - and it was the rude political content he found objectionable, not the sexual stuff, as I recall...
No, no, folks: for stroke material, I would go crazy on Vampirella, and Heavy Metal, and 1984, and... well, whatever else I could find that was sexy. Warren magazines often had the odd sexually themed story, or suggestive panel, or glimpse of comic book nudity. Those were the years, understand, when I could brush up against a table at the right level and my dick would suddenly get hard; when frickin' tables can give you an erection, a magazine cover like this can all but make you stain your underwear:
When I bought Eerie or Creepy (also Warren publications), I would actually read the stories, but Vampirella - well, there was another reason I liked her.  Warren publications knew their target market very, very well.
If there was ever any single comic artist who knew where I was, erm, coming from, sexually, as a teenaged boy, it was Richard Corben. I would hate to guess the number of times I jerked off to images in his Den series, in Heavy Metal - sadly turned into the stuff of comedy in the film adaptation, with John Candy giving Den the voice and thought processes of an adolescent male, but played pretty much straight up as a heroic sex fantasy in the magazine. It would have to be in the hundreds, at least. I really, really liked the way Corben depicted the heft and curve of the female breast, and I enjoyed his hyper-real arbrushed art style... and I did read the stories, too! I don't have as much nostalgia for my masturbatory teenaged self as I do other aspects of my life - I would bet Cinema Sewer's Robin Bougie, by comparison, has a whole closetful of stroke material from his younger years - but I actually bought an old back issue of Eerie magazine based on my fond recollection of the Richard Corben cover art (and the story therein which it illustrates). I know that magazine is one I masturbated to, back in the day - and not just for the cover, though it's pretty remarkable, innit?
Thinking on it, you can't get a more perfect illustration of the transition from boyhood to manhood - from dinosaurs to naked women - than that cover, really; and what better metaphor for the teenaged penis than a reptilian, lustful horn, pointed savagely at the female of the species?

I would hate to think what 13 year olds jerk off to nowadays. I'm sure any adults who make art like the above, in magazines aimed at young people, would be viewed most suspiciously in the current climate - and rightly so, perhaps - but I haven't cracked the cover on an actual contemporary kid-oriented comic book in a long time; God knows what's in them now. I suspect that comics and other print publications that kids can get their hands on are far more regulated than they were during my pre-porn heyday (1980-1982). Also, they likely have less incentive to try to pitch themselves at horny youths, since kids today can doubtlessly find anything they want by way of stimulation online and don't need comics for their sexual content. (I bet the Sears catalogue doesn't get snuck into the bathroom very much these days, either). Besides, for those without access to the internet, there's a whole new class of magazine - from swimsuit issues to Maxim - that didn't exist when I was young. My masturbating to comic books at age 12 and 13 was a matter of deprivation, of making due, of being hungry for sexual stimuli and not having any other easy access to it; it was the equivalent of guys having sex with other guys in prison, because there weren't any women around (except, in my case, real ones, who were terrifying and mysterious and not at all interested in weird chubby kids like me).
Now that I'm an adult, now that I have the freedom to jerk off to pretty much whatever I want (within obvious legal limits), I don't NEED sexy comics to stimulate myself, and more importantly, I don't want them. I'm still curious about sexually themed comics and animation - I've peeked at the odd hentai manga, and I watched the Urotsukidouji movies and found them fascinating - but that shit doesn't turn me on; it amuses me, it startles me, it can be very oddly entertaining and revealing of the psychology of its authors - but good God, jerk off to it? Why? Why, when I have a girlfriend on the one hand and the internet on the other and a few pornos on DVD on the side? It's not like I have a tentacle fetish or anything. For an adult male to jerk off to cartoons or comic books... that's just wrong, isn't it?

This brings us to the point of the article.
I picked up Robin Bougie's fourth and newest Cinema Sewer anthology the other day. To be honest, I feel a bit like Colin Upton in regards some of the stuff Bougie writes about/ draws. Bougie has a free-range enthusiasm for some pretty twisted stuff - from hardcore bondage to Brazilian fart porn to films and kinks I have not heard of, he pretty much seems fearless, unwilling or unable to censor himself, and disinclined to view pretty much anything that consenting adults get off on through a moralizing, condemnatory eye. While I could take sides with anti-porn feminists about a few of the films he writes about, for the most part, his content doesn't offend me - I'm just far more vanilla in my porn consumption, and in my sexuality in general. I read him talking about jerking off to Brazilian fart porn somewhere; I haven't even exposed myself to it, and have absolutely no desire to do so, and really do not feel like I'm missing anything.
True to that, the stuff I read first when I pick up a Cinema Sewer anthology is usually the stuff that deals with straightforward, non-pornographic cinema. Robin has articles in the current anthology on film noir, for instance - including his description of Panic in the Streets, an excellent Jack Palance/ Richard Widmark movie that he himself turned me onto at the Videomatica rental store some years ago (thanks, man!). He has another piece in defense of Brian DePalma, whom I also admire (though why Bougie rejects Redacted and ignores Casualties of War, Snake Eyes, and Hi, Mom - three of DePalma's finest!- is beyond me). He has a page on "Crazy Hong Kong Subtitles" that he's compiled that is filled with fun (including lines like "How can you use my intestines as a gift?" and "We cops. Have no time for farts" - taken from films I have never heard of, let alone seen). This is all very enjoyable reading, and well within my frame of reference and comfort.

On the other hand, his 2007 article on "The Public Sex of Sonan," about a Japanese teen who gets off on having sex in grocery stores and such, simply doesn't speak to me the way the other content does (though now that I've flipped through the book looking for an example of something I normally wouldn't read til last, suddenly I want to read that article... And I'm keen to read "Ted Bundy: Porn Made Me Do It," having just watched the compelling serial killer movie Riverman, with Cary Elwes as Bundy and Bruce Greenwood as a detective who interviewed him...)

Two things really struck me in flipping through the book, however. First, in regards all the drawings of masturbating nuns, Jesus with a giant erection, countless girls performing fellatio, a girl (on page 149) on her hands and knees, spreading open her asshole with both hands... this stuff is actually pretty healthy, I think. It doesn't make sense, given how normal and ubiquitous sex is, that we repress so much of it - that there is so much hypocrisy, so much dishonesty, so much confusion and obfuscation when it comes to communicating about sex in our culture. That girl spreads her asshole, and I think, "right on!" Even the illustration on page 93, capturing a scene from a Latin American film in which a woman is being forced to perform oral sex at gunpoint... while I find the idea objectionable, don't want to see the film, don't find the image arousing, and feel no impulse to produce such images myself - as a cartoon, it doesn't really bother me; and it seems valuable that Bougie doesn't restrain himself from representing such images. I think I'd rather live in a culture where representations of sex and sexuality, even in extreme forms, flourished aboveground and in the arena of public discourse, than in one where it was repressed and shamed and forced underground; that's where the real sickness starts, when shame and guilt and fear and confusion and the inability to communicate openly about ones thoughts, desires, feelings - however weird! - make people turn to perverse and private and often antisocial means of gratifying themselves - or where shame and repression lead to hatred and the desire to strike back... I see absolutely nothing of that in Bougie's work, even at its weirdest, and see far more grim a threat in the idea of government censorship than I do in the obsessive drawings of some horny nutcase with a pencil (I mean that in a good way, Bougie, really I do).

The second thing that struck me, though, was a comment Bougie made in an interaction with a fan, on page 47, where he proudly declares that what he makes is porn, not erotica, and says (in a little speech-bubble, beside a cartoon image of himself) that "jerking off to what I draw is the ultimate compliment." Suddenly my head did a little flip-around and I scanned the book again and thought, "Jesus Christ, are people actually jerking off to this stuff?" To hand-drawn pictures - DRAWN BY A GUY! - based on scenes from porn films, when they could simply go onto the internet and look at actual XXX?

I mean - Bougie's a very entertaining and talented artist, and some of his images (like the "All Night Dildo Session" on page 80) definitely have some heat to them... but jerking off to Cinema Sewer - really? The thought is utterly bizarre, and I reassured my gal tonight, on inviting her to the Cinema Sewer book launch this Saturday at They Live video (4240 Main, starting at 8pm), that I do not actually jerk off to comic books.

At least, not any more.