Thursday, January 30, 2014

Hideaway DVD review: neglected gems of 90's genre cinema

By damn, if Hideaway isn't the perfect 90's SF/ horror entertainment, especially from the perspective of today. It's a very silly movie, but crazily inventive and possessed of integrity in its silliness; people who love genre movies, or who spent a lot of time watching movies like this in the mid-1990's, will be amply entertained by it, especially if (as I did) they ignored this one at the time. Against the critical mainstream (and the author of the novel, Dean Koontz, who hated this film), I will here happily side with the late Roger Ebert (one of two critics on R/T who gave the film a positive review; the other is here). Saith Ebert:
It belongs in the category of Wretched Excess, which is a category I am quite able to enjoy. I can think of carloads of movies with more probity and higher intent than "Hideaway." But what "Hideaway" delivers is the sort of experience I occasionally crave at the movies: lurid, overwrought melodrama and an ending that shoots for the moon.
Shot in BC - IMDB names Brittania Beach as a key location - Hideaway has two visible local touches: there's ample use of the roller coaster at Playland as a set/ background, and there's a DOA t-shirt in plain view, pinned over the wall above Alicia Silverstone's bed in the film. (There is also a club location and a rock band onstage in one scene that I did not recognize and cannot find easily online, but this was when grunge was just entering its decline; a plot point involves a Pearl Jam concert, for instance, tho' the band in the aforementioned scene reminds one more of Helmet than Eddie Vedder). Jeff Goldblum is his perfectly entertaining Jeff Goldblummy self, provoking fond thoughts of other culty b-movies he popped up in back then, like Mister Frost. There's a solid performance (in a somewhat thankless role) from Christine Lahti (whom I always admired for holding her own against John Cassavetes and Richard Dreyfuss in Whose Life Is It Anyway?, but who is also terrific in Bill Forsyth's under-appreciated, also BC shot Housekeeping), and Alfred Molina is always entertaining, here playing a doctor with a secret, somewhat in a Cronenbergian mode. (I've got nothing much to say about Rae Dawn Chong or Ms. Silverstone, but they do solid work). Not only is it fun to see what all these people were up to in 1995, but the cheesy, overblown, but still-kinda-fascinating CGI effects are a hilarious look at a road not taken; they'll remind you so much of The Lawnmower Man you won't be surprised at all to learn the two films have the same director, Brett Leonard.

And hey, how can you beat a story like this? We begin with a young man staging an occult ritual. Downstairs, his mother and kid sister kneel before a picture of baby Jesus. Within minutes, we will discover that they are actually corpses, tied into this position by their killer - the young man - who is listening to heavy metal, lighting black candles, and planning a ritualistic suicide, falling on a blade whilst devoting his death and afterlife to Satan. He does this just as his father arrives home, too late to save anyone... We then plunge into excessive CGI as we close-up on our young Satanist's dead eye, enter his brain, and then zoom along with his soul (visualized as a shooting sperm made of electric light) on a journey into the afterlife. Here we see a conflict between a glowing neural net of glowing white and blue and a glowing neural net of, you guessed it, red (and orange and yellow and other fiery colours). This latter sphere is where his soul ends up confined, like a synapse in a flaming brain, screaming in agony; you will be both grateful and somewhat sad that this, in the end, was not the future of computer animation. In fact, it wasn't even the past, really: because there aren't many filmmakers back there who ran with this particular ball as far as Leonard did...
Anyhow, once our Satanic killer is dead - you know that somehow you will meet him again - we cut to Jeff Goldblum and his family, driving along en route to a car accident where Goldblum himself will have an after-death experience. He will be revived. Complications will ensue, which at times will remind one of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, as our hero goes, in the eyes of his family, quite nuts in pursuing an obsession with the inexplicable phenomena that dog his recovery... Of course, he will be well-vindicated by film's end, and there will be a further confrontation between good and evil that makes even the ending of Lawrence Kasdan's Dreamcatcher seem somewhat restrained (yet which still manages to fizzle, in the final shot, which is kind of a boring "let's go home" motif so often repeated in films of this kind).

There's really no need, if you are the type of person who needs to see this movie, for me to say more about it, though I will note that those with a fondness for 90's industrial/ Goth-influenced metal will greatly enjoy the soundtrack, which includes KMFDM, Fear Factory, Miranda Sex Garden, Front Line Assembly, Sister Machine Gun, and Godflesh, among others. If you have no fondness for such bands, you may possibly find the use of music intrusive, because there's a striking amount of it, but really, it was fine with me!

Hideaway is such a throwback to an innocent time in the mid-1990's when B-movies were being pumped into the world at a fierce rate, showing up in three copies on the shelves of Blockbuster or Mega Movies or Rogers or what-have-you, often having gone straight to video. It was a world where people had no great sense of where CGI was going and were prepared to play with the potential of the media and to try to make an impression. It is not a "good" film by any stretch - never was and never will be, and in fact exists in a zone where polarities like "good" and "bad" cease to apply - but it is vastly enjoyable to watch from the vantage point of 20 years on.  In fact, the nostalgia elements really do make it seem like it would be best seen on VHS - like that is its proper medium for a movie of this sort (I can't say I consumed it that way, but the DVD I found at Liquidation World was full frame, so that's almost the same).

Incidentally, there's one more month, at most, to the Liquidation World close-out. The few remaining DVDs at the Maple Ridge location have been marked down to 50% off - where the starting prices are $1, that's not a bad deal at all...

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

eBay isn't what it used to be, plus an interesting Omniverse auction

Not much of an auction follower these days. Nevermind that I don't have a lot of income to shop with, but eBay has lost some of its charm. A lot of small sellers have been driven away, it seems, by increased shipping rates, increased listing fees, intrusive selling templates that do things like force your item to be listed with inaccurate postage, and other such hassles. Seems mostly what eBay is good for now is buying new but discounted stuff from power-sellers with stores in their garages. And that's okay - eBay is great if you want to get a good deal on some new item - but if you're a collector on a treasure hunt, it's just not as fun as it once was. The sorts of auctions I used to love to find - small auctions from people who didn't particularly know what they were doing, listing things I wanted at very low prices, sometimes with spelling errors in their listings, trusting that the auction will end in their favour - are now almost extinct. You know the type I mean: I once found and sold for a nice profit some signed Bukowski promotional material - cards produced by Black Sparrow Press - that sold for a fraction of their value because the speller spelled it as "Bukowsky," which variant I was actually searching for; "let's see what the idiots are up to." eBay now helpfully suggests spelling fixes and has broadened search parameters so the misspelled stuff turns up alongside the correct spelling, so we predators have a harder time thinning the herd...

Gone too, as far as I can see, are those intense, irrational bidding wars where some obscurity gets listed in an experimental fashion ("let's see what this is worth to people!"), and suddenly you get a handful of bidders jacking it up beyond what it should rationally sell for, because they've got the fever and have their heart set on getting the item. Case in point, I remember when I was living in Japan, someone sold a run-of-the-mill Japanese paperback of a Philip K. Dick novel, and it went for $60 or $70, because people had simply never had seen a Japanese PK Dick on eBay before, had no clue what it was worth; the next week, suddenly there were three other sellers who had followed that auction trying to sell Japanese PK Dick paperbacks on eBay, hoping for a repeat performance. Me being one of them; alas, buyers saw through our scheme.
In fact, real auctions themselves are almost extinct, where the collector's market is concerned. Where someone does want to sell a truly collectible item, it is very, very rare they will put it out there with a low starting price, no reserve, and a commitment to take whatever price is arrived at. People have realized that these auctions will often NOT end in their favour; not only are bidding wars increasingly rare, but the people who ARE still bidding are very, very savvy: so that you end up with no bids at all until the last two minutes, then five people jump in and drive the price up to about a third of what you'd hoped to get. Who wants to list stuff under those circumstances? Case in point: someone posted, for true auction, Gerry Hannah's Songs From Underground cassette on eBay not too long ago; a genuine rarity, back in the days when eBay was a wild-west of geeky scavengers hoping to burn each other good, it's the sort of thing that should have sold for $100 or more. It went off for $22.50 (plus $11 shipping). That's not so great for the person who was selling it (though admittedly the buyer - not me - must be pleased).
No: rather than true auctions, when it comes to collectibles, what you find on eBay now is people who know they have stuff that's worth money, who have arrived by some juju at a price they are happy with (often having little to do with what the item has actually selling for), and they're sticking to it. A good example of that is the book Sun Ra: Omniverse, by Geerken and Hefele. There are a few sellers online who are determined to get a very hefty price for that book. It is truly scarce - published some 25 years ago in a limited run (of about 500 copies?), it's a sort of vanity coffee-table oversized paperback for Sun Ra junkies, with an annotated bibliography, cover art, and so forth. It's a pretty book, and it doesn't turn up for auction very often. When it does, in my experience, it usually sells from between $200 and $300. Popsike lists one that went off in Europe for a mere 76 Euros! ($115 Canadian). Yet here we have someone who is hoping to sell it for $1449 US, who keeps re-listing the book at that price as a Buy-It-Now (no auction is involved). Granted, it's a signed book, but it still seems pretty ambitious; they're gambling on a very peculiar combination of qualities - someone who knows enough about this book to realize it is worth money, but either doesn't know that it turns up every few years for $200 or so, or doesn't care. Maybe a wealthy academic writing a paper on Sun Ra might need it so urgently that they will pay whatever it takes? Not sure who their intended market is. I wish them luck, but...

Anyhow, it's nice to see a more interesting Omniverse auction taking place. It looks like Hartmut Geerken has decided to sell off his remaining three copies of the book, with bids starting at $1, and an offer to inscribe the book. Granted, again, it's not a true auction - there's a reserve in place, so you don't win unless the bidding caps the reserve. (Ironically, reserves seem to take some of the fun out of bidding so people don't bid as enthusiastically as they would if they hope to get the item for peanuts). But it will definitely give a better idea of what Omniverse is worth to people these days. My guess is that the auction will end without the reserve being met - I would bet that he's placed at least a $500 reserve on it. I just don't know anyone who has that much money for Sun Ra collectibles these days... 

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

RIP Pete Seeger

A nice story and photo of Pete by bev.davies here. My favourite Pete Seeger - the Goofing Off Suite - here. A man who will be missed.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Maybe I do have dental problems after all...

Fun times! Today I went back to the dentist. TMJ doesn't explain the stabbing pain in one of my heavily-filled rear molars when I chew, especially if there's something hot or cold that it gets exposed to. Referred pain is one thing - something has obviously been referred somewhere, because half my face has been sore for over two weeks, including teeth, lower left jaw, hinge, and ear - but my jaw actually feels fine this morning. It's my rear teeth that are throbbing, and they throb worse when I chew something solid or take in something cold (especially ice cream). I'm told root canals start around $1400, and then the crown is more than that. The other option is just to get the tooth removed, but I'm already missing one rear molar back there, and the problem is the second one from the back, so I'll have a "rear jaw snaggletooth effect." Arrgh.

Anyhow, I can't chew. I'm having bullion and water for breakfast. I've been popping naproxen - in the non-prescription form of Alleve - so frequently that my stomach is really starting to feel it. This has not been my best month...

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Toby Jones Cinema Salon!

The heck? For the February 4th Cinema Salon, none other than Toby Jones is presenting The Last Detail, a minor 1970's Jack Nicholson classic (and probably Randy Quaid's finest moment). Jones is one of the most interesting actors out there, though being who I am, I am fondest, of all his roles, of his perfect turn as Ollie Weeks in Frank Darabont's The Mist. It's one of those supporting roles that seems tailor made from the writing for the actor's talents, like Michael Moriarty as John Converse in film adaptations of Dog Soldiers (AKA Who'll Stop the Rain). Alas, I watched The Last Detail only a month ago, so I don't know that I need to see it again. It's certainly a movie worth seeing! (But unlike The Mist, it's a movie you can only see once every couple of years).

What TMJ is like

TMJ means: you're walking around in dull, throbbing pain in your face pretty much all the time. It fades for awhile, when you medicate it or ice or heat it (ice is best), but it reasserts itself when you chew, or drink, or swallow, or laugh, or speak. Even sunlight, if it's bright enough to make your facial muscles react, hurts. So even though you have things to do, you try to avoid talking to anyone unnecessarily. You have to practice a certain mindfulness - to be conscious to neither clench your teeth nor move your jaw unless the movement matters. You still find yourself required to talk when you don't want to. At the very least, you have to move your jaw to explain that you don't want to talk; you contemplate maybe designing a placard ("jaw sore - can't talk now") to show people. If they ask what's wrong you just show them the placard again until they get the message. Just this afternoon, an adult literacy group spokesperson cornered me in the library and started explaining to me her group's mission. It was easier to force myself to make the expected feedback cues ("oh really?") for awhile, even though each one cost me, rather than tell her that I didn't feel well or such (which I eventually had to do anyhow... after establishing that they were a largely volunteer-run group with no capacity to hire a teacher). Then Joe, a retired Maple Ridge bookdealer I'm friendly with, spotted me and came up to chat a bit and I had to explain my situation again ("I can listen, but I can't really talk.") He then launched into the following:

"Did you hear about the Buddhist who went to a dentist, and refused all Novocaine?"

I shake my head.

"He was trying to transcend dental medication."

It was hard not to smile at that. I have a weakness for corny jokes.

Smiling hurt.

Pain and pictures: a walk in the park

After a day where I thought my jaw pain was fading, it has reasserted itself quite notably, making this a fairly shitty day. (Getting motion sick and throwing up at Braid Station didn't help, either, though I guess I should be glad I managed to make it off the bus...). I was so worn out that I barely registered Watermark - some beautiful images, but lacking the focus and intensity of Manufactured Landscapes, though according to my girl I nodded out for a big chunk of it, so I might not have done it justice...

Wanted to post a few photographs, though. Took the new smartphone out to Burnaby Lake park over the weekend. My girl looked at me like I was kinda nuts - "strained indulgence," call it - when I insisted on crawling out on a walkway to take photographs of some floating garbage, but I thought it fascinating, and think they're important images to include in the series (though I admit my offers to toss her a decomposing Nerf ball were somewhat juvenile). Also struck that we could hear frogs singing. Though it was cold, it was a sunny afternoon, and while the sun was strong, there appeared to be several frogs in the bushes, calling out to each other. It's an odd walk: the path seems designed more to give you a view of the road than the lake, and at one point, if you arrive as the sun is going down, you're treated to the spectacle of various, racketous murders of crows returning to their nesting grounds, in the bare branches of trees that, if you photograph them right, look like ganglia or veins or such, but with crows in them. It ended up a nice enough walk, but maybe there are nicer ones out there...

My jaw hurts. I'm tired. Here's some photos... gonna go zone out to The Walking Dead.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Lemmy is still not well, Motörhead cancels more dates

Ah, Lemmy. The man is not feeling well, and Motörhead - as those of you who subscribe to its (mostly advertising-oriented) Facebook feed already know - has been forced to cancel its February European tour.

Lemmy: for the record, from one fan's point of view: it is entirely okay by me if you retire Motörhead permanently. I realize with album titles like March or Die that may seem like a singularly un-Motörhead thing to do, but you've put more Motörhead into the world than any other man in history, and most of it is great (I'm still floored by that late period stretch of Inferno through to Motörizer; people for whom Motörhead stops with the departure of Fast Eddie should definitely acquaint themselves with those three albums. And Bastards, which is now available on vinyl as Death or Glory). I hope you can ignore whatever pressures may be on you to push yourself, to keep producing Motörhead-brand product and backing it on the road until you collapse onstage somewhere; it would be an unworthy end. If, as a result of your illness, you  elect to take years off the road, undergo whatever lifestyle changes you need to undergo, and transform yourself into an acoustic blues musician, or something, I can only see this as the world's gain. The world has plenty of Motörhead - more than it has learned to use! - but it needs more acoustic blues from your unique point of view.

Those unfamiliar with Lemmy's acoustic work should check, say, the unplugged version of  "I Ain't No Nice Guy," which originally appeared as a duet with Ozzy on the band's album March or Die. It's a masterpiece of introspection and honesty - just heartbreaking, and one of Lemmy's finest moments as a songwriter. 

Incidentally, so far the one thing that my new, annoying smartphone has over my vastly less advanced, much-loved old Samsung Intensity is that I have been able to teach it to automatically offer me "Motörhead" with an umlaut in the right place so I don't have to go through my texts and add it. Even my computer doesn't know how to do that!  

Devil's Knot: a film I will see, eventually

Earlier today, I posted my anecdote about (sort of) meeting Colin Firth, back when I was maybe the only person in the vicinity of Maple Ridge besides Meg Tilly to recognize his name, on Ken Eisner's review of Devil's Knot in the Straight. It's an amusing, if trivial story, which takes place at a video store where I once worked, where Colin Firth came in to rent a movie, long before he was internationally famous. I wonder if Mr. Firth remembers me...? If he went home and a conversation with Meg beginning with "Someone recognized me in town today!" before sitting down to the film he'd rented off me...? If he was secretly pleased, back in 1990, that some geeky guy in the video store actually knew who he was...?
Anyhow, Mr. Firth is now in the new Atom Egoyan film, Devil's Knot, about the real-life West Memphis 3 case, in which (as if you don't already know) three youths ended up serving jail time for a triple-child-murder that they transparently did not commit, during the later years of the "Satanic Panic." I have not yet seen it, but I'm most curious. I've followed the case, read the book, was a big fan of Egoyan's early films (up to about 1991), and thought of his later films one of the most successful was his previous one with Firth, Where The Truth Lies. (Chloe was watchable, too, though more of a conventional Hollywood thriller. I hated, absolutely hated Adoration, his attempt to make an "Atom Egoyan movie" again, and think that he's actually better off working close to the mainstream these days. Sometimes you really can't go home again).

Of course, all appearances have it that Devil's Knot is an attempt to make a "West Memphis Three for Dummies," or at least people who never watch documentaries, which may amount to the same thing (ba-dump). This, however, does not rule out the possibility that it is also an interesting piece of cinema; the very fact that it seems so obviously not to need to have been made makes me wonder if maybe there is something less than obvious going on in the film, like it's somehow akin to Gus Van Sant's Psycho, as a film where quick dismissal counts as the path of least critical resistance, which may well be someday deemed worthy of reappraisal? Add to which, it won't be a bad thing for Reese Witherspoon fans and people whose only association with Colin Firth is Bridget Jones' Diary to get edu-ma-cated about the West Memphis 3. And I actually like to see Witherspoon take on meaty roles, thought it was gutsy of her to do Rendition, say; I'll be curious to see what she does here, even though I'm not exactly a fan of hers (I've seen none of her, uh, "signature roles," unless you count Election). 
What really interests me about the West Memphis 3 story is the support they've received from the punks, geeks, metalheads and goths who identify with them and can imagine themselves unjustly persecuted in a similar way. Part of it may well have to do with their supporters' knowledge of the facts and belief in the 3's innocence, but I think the vast majority of it has to do with every time one of "us" - members of the "misfit community," so to speak - has had a rock thrown at us for having funny hair, or been called "faggot" out the window of a passing Camaro, or been hassled by a cop for no reason, or... you get the idea. There's a sense of the community rallying around its own, trying to redress its members' feelings about belonging to an unfairly persecuted minority, similar to what you saw in the early punk reactions to the Squamish Five case in Vancouver, where people initially assumed the Five were innocent and being railroaded... which opinion had to be revised later. Nevermind any questions of innocence or guilt: based on the three Paradise Lost films and Mara Leveritt's book, there seems no question that the WM3 were scapegoats, but then, the three films and book are designed to convince us of exactly that, so who knows? It remains the case that the rush to identify with and support people you imagine to be your peers can sometimes bite you in the ass. I wonder if that's an aspect of the psychology of this case that Egoyan delves into? I'm sure he's familiar with the feelings I'm writing about, here, and probably has enough self-mistrust in his makeup to have thought along these lines...

Red Herring again!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Confession: I do not care for the films of Jean-Luc Godard

There are, in my experience, two kinds of cinephiles: those who love and understand the cinema of Jean-Luc Godard, and those who mostly find he makes their heads and asses hurt. Those who esteem and understand his cinema have higher cred than those who don't, and tend to be very public about it, making neo-Godardian films (Reg Harkema, Gregg Araki) or writing respected film criticism (Jonathan Rosenbaum). Mostly those of us who don't appreciate Godard, I expect, experience this lack of appreciation as a failure, and seldom declare it in public.

I number myself among that latter camp. Since the Cinematheque is having a retrospective of Godard's work, running through February and March, it seemed an opportune time to come out of the closet on this one. My last couple attempts to engage with the cinema of Jean-Luc Godard were so off-putting that it may be years before I try again.

I have enjoyed a couple of the Godard films I've seen - I like his music documentary, One Plus One, about the writing and recording of "Sympathy for the Devil," and the white appropriation of black musical culture (it's not screening as part of the retrospective). With a bit of help from (since retired) SFU film studies professor George Rosenberg, I came to appreciate Weekend, as well - a blackly funny, very political departure from conventional narrative, but maybe a little less unfriendly than some of Godard's other less conventional film fare. Some of his early films held my interest, too - I was able to enjoy Contempt, though I saw it as a teenager, so the nude Brigette Bardot probably helped. But I have not even seen some of his most important films - like Breathless, Alphaville, or Pierrot le fou - because I've been so told that "Godard is a genius" that I don't want to be confronted by my own failure to "get" these films; I would rather say I have not seen them, than to say I have seen them and did not care for them....especially since I would then have to explain myself.

The truth is, more often than not, I have found the films of Godard not only boring and annoying, but deliberately boring and annoying, like I'm supposed to appreciate being bored and annoyed by them. This sense that I am being deliberately one-upped at every turn by his cinema actually makes me a bit angry; unlike the other great one-upper in contemporary cinema, Lars von Trier, being one-upped by Godard brings me no pleasure as a viewer whatsoever. I do understand that one is supposed to take a critical distance from the construction of "pleasure" in bourgeois society, in order to appreciate Godard's cinema, but it's a trick I'm not very good at. I cannot understand the value in watching a film that deliberately sets out to bore and annoy you, so, presumably, that you can feel superior to your desire to have enjoyed the experience. There are a lot of boring and annoying things I can spend my time on, like flossing my teeth or cleaning the food spatter off my fridge shelves, that I would get much more out of, if I have to do something that I simply will not enjoy. 

A concrete example might be useful. Reg Harkema, in talking to me about Monkey Warfare, praised Godard's own film about terrorism, La Chinoise, so the last time it played the Pacific Cinematheque, I went to see it. I found it painful to sit through: talking heads reciting revolutionary doctrine, lots of pop art imagery and bright primary colours, footage of tape recorders running while recordings of political speeches played. There was little in the way of a narrative, and the ideas in the film mostly amounted, as I recall, to lengthy quotations from Chairman Mao. But why the hell would anyone go to a movie to watch people recite Chairman Mao? Even if you're interested in Mao, just stay home and read from the Little Red Book! I don't really recall whether the film serves as an endorsement or a put-down of its student radicals, since, camera-friendly as they may be, they do end up bungling an assassination they attempt, but by the end of the movie, I was mostly just glad it was over.

I still wasn't ready to abandon my attempts to engage with Godard, mind you. When Made in USA came out on DVD, I bought it sight unseen, since it was supposedly an adaptation of a Parker novel, and we know I like Parker novels; the idea of using a Parker text as part of a criticism of American imperialism or something seemed fascinating on paper, at least, and I'd been meaning to see it for years. I sold the disc at Videomatica a week or two later, shaking my head at the loss I was taking. I had not even finished the film, but knew I wanted nothing more to do with it.

I have only seen a couple of other films by Godard to completion (Holy Mary, Prenom: Carmen). I think at this point that I can fairly say I've had enough. I try generally to restrain myself from condemning films I don't enjoy, especially when I don't understand them, since my reactions may say more about the limitations of my perceptions than the films themselves, but there's a quote kicking around, attributed to Werner Herzog, that Godard's cinema is "intellectual counterfeit money when compared to a good kung fu movie," and I agree wholeheartedly. If only I were Werner Herzog, I would say such things myself.

(Ooh, apparently Ingmar Bergman, on the same page as the previous link, says "Godard is a fucking bore." Well! I'm going to go peruse that page now, see what other juicy quotes there are).

Enjoy the Godard retrospective, Vancouver!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Dreams of a Startling Display of Light

I go back to bed after being awake in the early morning, and somewhere have the following dream: that I am going to a Safeway, and, in the parking lot, hear a strange sound and see something flash in the night sky. I turn and watch a remarkable display of light: a young man and woman - I can see them in the distance - are standing, each shooting parallel streams of sparks into the sky, which rocket up in two sometimes straight, sometimes gently curving lines, rising high above Vancouver. They're playing music, a glowing electronic hum, to accompany themselves; part of the show is that their separate strands, which glow a bluish white, are in synch with each other, timed to shoot up together - though I notice that the woman's shoots much higher than the man's, that his stream tends to sputter and fail before hers. Their display catches everyone's eye and lasts several minutes, with several pulses shooting up above the city, but it's clearly an unsanctioned, off-the-grid performance, and after they finish, they pack up they leave the area quickly. I watch their flight with interest. To my surprise, they walk directly to the Safeway, hurriedly ducking inside, where I fall into pace behind them. She has long dark hair, he has short blonde hair; they walk quickly while I follow them.

"That was remarkable! Totally beautiful! I want to write about you - do you want to be in the Georgia Straight?"

He looks over, hostile. The woman is more receptive to attention but says no, they don't.

"Can I know your names?"

"No!" he says. "Leave us alone!"

"We're quite well-known on the scene," she adds.

"But... what scene is that? I don't even know what to call it."

"Call it what you like!" This from the stressed-out guy.

"But how do I look it up? What should I Google?"

He says, still irritably, like it should be obvious - "maybe try 'fireworks scene?'"

There's a Vancouver fireworks scene? I wonder. I've never heard anything about it... a guerrilla underground of fireworks enthusiasts, planning art projects with fire? 

I follow them the length of the Safeway - not sure why they even went inside - and they come out a different exit and head to their vehicle. I can hear sirens in the distance - someone is looking for them. In fact, there are cops parked nearby, a uniformed constable standing in the lot talking to someone. I sense they may be more receptive to the fact that I am walking with them because it clashes with any description the police may have of two people, a man and a woman. So I try to relax and function as cover - the least I can do is walk them to their car. I don't recall what gets said from this portion, but they get in their Land Rover and I say goodbye and thank them for the moment of unexpected beauty.

I return home to sit at my computer. The article I'm working on can wait, I think. I start entering in combinations of words - "unsanctioned fireworks Vancouver," "underground fireworks scene," that sort of thing. I do image searches to see if there are photos online of what I saw, but there's nothing up yet. Who are these people? What shall I write about them? I feel the excitement of a breaking story...

Ginger Snaps, The Visitor... upcoming odd cinema...

So here I sit, awake too early, with an icepack strapped to my jaw (see below), waiting for the anti- inflammatories to kick in. What to do but note a few cool upcoming film screenings?

This Friday at the Vancity Theatre there is a late night (10:30 pm) screening of Ginger Snaps, which is a must-see if you've missed it; it's certainly the best Canadian werewolf movie I've seen.

Okay, that's disingenuous. It's the ONLY Canadian werewolf movie I've seen, unless you count Ginger Snaps II and Ginger Snaps Back, the sequels. But it's still terrific, and the first film is the most audacious: two Gothy, death-obsessed teenage girl misfits deal with the lycanthropy of one of them, which is presented as a metaphor for the onset of pubescence, what with all the new body hair, the changed relationship to the moon, increased predatory behaviour and such... Just terrific performances by Katherine Isabelle (American Mary) and Emily Perkins, and it's very funny and smart.

I have not seen the latest Alamo Drafthouse cult-movie "find," The Visitor, but the cast alone is an eyebrow-raiser: John Huston, Glenn Ford, Lance Henriksen, Joanne Nail (of Switchblade Sisters fame), Sam Peckinpah, Shelley Winters... what? Yes, folks, I would see any film where there is a chance Sam Peckinpah might interact with Shelley Winters. Trailer and description here. Also upcoming: the new Edward Burtynsky/ Jennifer Baichwal collaboration Watermark, and the compelling-sounding Canadian drama Enemy. You can see one or the other double-billed with The Visitor depending which day you go on...
Nothin' much that excites me at the Rio at the moment but February 1st there's the bizarre cult movie The Room, and Feb. 18th they're screening Pee Wee's Big Adventure... I wonder if I would enjoy seeing the Gentlemen Hecklers ridicule Bulletproof? Their upcoming programme here

Fun with TMJ apparently I have temporomandibular joint disorder. I think it might have something to do with the big container of mixed nuts that I was chomping on every day for breakfast and lunch while transcribing Zev Asher. It may be exacerbated by my being without the last lower molar on the left side of my face, which might be causing my jaw to go out of whack; it's also possible that I've been grinding my teeth in my sleep, though I don't think so.  My big gold filling on a surviving molar on that side was where the pain started, after I bit down on something, so it may have something to do with things; that it started in the tooth and then seemed to spread outward is why (see below) I initially thought the cause was dental.

What I can say for sure: it is NOT a pleasant experience. I've now had pain in my face for over a week, with the initial sharp tooth-oriented twinges having transformed themselves into a dull but persistent ache in the hinge of my left jaw, radiating along the jawline, top and bottom, and further extending to the ear. (I saw a doctor at a walk-in clinic, after the dentist could find nothing wrong with my teeth, and said doctor assured me that I do *not* have an ear infection, as I'd previously thought). Having devoured about fifteen extra-strength Advil or more in roughly three days' time, I am now on a more powerful prescription anti-inflammatory, which brings notable relief within an hour of taking it; alas, this relief lasts only a couple of hours before the pain starts up again, and I'm only supposed to take two of them per day (today I cheated and had three). Hot water bottles seem to help, but only for awhile. Icepacks seem to help, too - but only for awhile. There are all sorts of self-massage techniques on Youtube that seem to bring a few minutes' of relief but they don't really seem worth the effort and attention they require, since the pain comes back a few minutes later...

Anyhow, that's just what I needed to add to my life: chronic pain! Maybe it will motivate me to become a rockstar so I can support an opiate habit... or maybe it will fade in a few days' time, if I stick to soft foods, don't talk too much, and try to generally relax. It'll be funny if I end up having to wear a night guard when I sleep - a bit - since I already have apnea and a CPAP machine, and tend to sleep with a blindfold. All I'll need is earplugs and I will be plugged and masked and covered at every orifice in my head.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Frank Frink 5: Fun for February first!

I thought that the Frank Frink 5 only played one gig a year sometime in December, but how about that - the re-opening of Noize to Go has inspired them to do a show in February! I missed the Christmas show, so maybe I might check out this...

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Two brief reviews: Rhymes for Young Ghouls, Asphalt Watches

I may be in the minority on Rhymes For Young Ghouls, but I didn't like it much. It starts things off with what seems to be a rather glaring error, for those attentive to cinema. In a scene set in 1969, someone explains to a confused kid that zombies are living dead people who like to eat brains. Those with any knowledge of zombie lore or horror cinema know that in 1969, the age of the modern zombie had only barely just begun, with 1968's Night of the Living Dead; even that movie would have been pretty cutting edge, for people to have known about it on a reservation in Quebec in 1969, I imagine, so any reference to zombies should probably have involved undead slaves produced by Haitian voodoo, still the dominant conception of the zombie at that time. Plus the whole zombies-eat-brains thing didn't get underway until 1985's comedy Return of the Living Dead... Why do I suspect that director Jeff Barnaby was not aware of this (how young is he, anyhow? Was he even around in 1985?).

There are various other ahistoricisms in Rhymes - like visual art clearly influenced by contemporary Japanese anime and manga, which were hardly well-known anywhere in North America at the time. (Some of the art suggests Vaughn Bode but even he was pretty cutting edge - the Cheech Wizard strip didn't get started, saith the Wiki, until 1970). The music is a mixture of old blues and contemporary rock, including a Black Lips song; none of it suggests 1969. All of this may well be deliberate, with the old blues evoking the history of slavery and racism, and the zombies and manga giving points of identification for contemporary youth - but Barnaby goes to some lengths to get other things right, like having old Canadian money, including one and two dollar bills; the cars people drive look right, too, though I'm no car expert. I'm not against deliberate use of anachronism in a film, if that's what these things were, but in this case they mostly took me out of the world the movie was trying to evoke and set me quibbling. If at least the anachronisms had been glaring and obvious (like Alex Cox having helicopters in Walker, say) they wouldn't have gotten in the way...

Maybe all that seems pretty minor, especially given that a lot else about the film is so accomplished. It has terrific production design, an interesting eye, and has good performances, I admit. But it's also very dark, somewhat brutal, and for a film that seems to want to rally its community against injustice, is in the end pretty depressing. And it oversimplifies history and motive - especially in the character of a brutal, corrupt Indian Agent who is a pure caricature of The Evil White Man. He's not at all believable, and distracts from any real political force the film might have; the problem with the Residential School system was not that it was run by comfortingly obvious, vicious, thieving racists, but by people who in many cases actually believed in what they were doing, wrong as it was. Reducing them (and by extension, all white people, since the Indian Agent kinda serves as our representative here) to ill-intentioned, transparent monsters might be the stuff of a good thriller, and it might *feel* good, especially in a film where revenge becomes a motive - one fellow in the audience applauded loudly to see the white baddies get theirs - but it's not very mature or considered. Even this mostly glowing TIFF review notes that the film's characters lack nuance, likening it to Inglourious Basterds or Django Unchained. We may be seeing the legacy of recent Tarantino here - the ahistorical historical "yay team" revenge thriller, rewriting the injustices of the past so audiences of today can pat themselves on the back. It's a mode of filmmaking I could live without...

Asphalt Watches, meantime - on the same bill, though considerably better-attended - was sort of weirdness-for-its-own-sake, but at times very funny and entertaining. It kind of wore me out, eventually, but I've never seen anything quite like it, and have to give it credit for that.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Random matters

Disappointing turnout for Zev Asher night - maybe fifteen people, though different ones for each film it seemed - but the people who were there cared, including a few friends of Zev's, so I'm really glad it happened... thanks to Jim at the Cinematheque for making it possible, and Shaun and Steve and Heather and the volunteers (even the guy who suggested I make trilling sounds with my lips to relax my throat). Keith Parry still has Nimrod picture discs - even AFTER sitting on the merch table all night! Was struck that, seeing three of Zev's films in a row, that Casuistry is actually his best... of the three, anyhow. (I would love to see more of his films, but that might prove difficult to do).
Not much to say at present. Going to check out Rhymes for Young Ghouls this weekend, also at the Cinematheque, am told by people whose opinion I value that it is one of the more interesting Canadian films of late; it won the award at the last VIFF for Best Canadian Feature, so there's that to recommend it. (I liked Tom at the Farm, too - it works as a sort of slick thriller, but with a dramatic confrontation with homophobia built in. It's not as subtle as it could have been, has a couple of touches that sort of beat you over the head a bit, but I still liked it. Vic + Flo Saw a Bear is also well worth a watch, and more of a commerically-engaging drama than the previous Cote film I looked at (Bestiare), though I had hoped for a less downbeat ending). I like the idea of Canadian arthouse filmmakers bringing their skills closer to the mainstream to grapple with serious issues on a wider scale; both of these films count as such... and deserve to be seen (I mean, they're entertaining, serious, and Canadian; that's an appealing combination).

Edited to add: for all out weirdness, meanwhile, there's this animated Canadian feature, also playing tonight. Hadn't paid much attention, to thanks to Adrian Mack for pointing it out).

Got a nice new Ani Kyd thing in the Straight that my followers might like.. Red Herring gigs again at the Prophouse January 31st, and had a recent writeup in the Province by Tom Harrison, of Bruno Gerussi's Medallion fame... Hey - check that out - Tom Harrison has a website!

All I've got for now...

Thursday, January 16, 2014

One final Zev Asher excerpt

Apropos of  tonight's tribute at the Cinematheque: talking about Zev shooting in Shanghai, for his film about Chinese noise band Torturing Nurse.
A: Did you safe as a filmmaker? Were you ever hassled?

Z: There’s one scene in there where I’m shooting the military - they put their hands up and tried to stop me. I was feeling kind of aggressive and I just kind of ignored them. And they’re kind of afraid - they can’t speak English at all, and they assume I can’t speak Chinese. Which I couldn’t. They’d rather not deal with it if they can avoid it.

A: Where did the kid come from - the kid on the parade ground? That’s a brilliant shot.

Z: The kid was just sitting there! I had a friend shooting that for me, and I said, “the kid would be a nice shot.” He got a beautiful shot of it, just to illustrate - she was saying that the military service was compulsory, but you don’t have to really do anything.

A: It illustrates that brilliantly. Most hardcore military maneuvers are probably like, “no kids!”

Z: No kids. We did have guy come over and say “you can only shoot the cadets and the students - don’t shoot any of the generals” or - I didn’t know who was who, but after that, I focused on shooting the generals. I was sitting alone in the stands in the stadium. Clearly, obviously, a white guy sitting there alone with a nice camera. But they didn’t stop me, surprisingly.

A: What was your impression of communism in China?

Z: I didn’t get a sense of it, other than street signs indicating that buildings associated with communism or the Communist Party. It seemed more like capitalist hell, like Japan. Everyone’s hustling you and they’re trying to sell you knockoffs of Luis Vuitton bags or Rolex waches, or DVDs you can find on every corner, for the equivalent about a dollar. I couldn’t believe some of the stuff I found - the Criterion box set of Stan Brakhage, pirated for $3.

A: Did you buy it?

Z: No, I had it already. I downloaded it!

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Zev Asher anecdotes! (interview excerpts)

I'm not sure what I want to do, exactly, with my big Zev Asher interview - I'm exploring a few options - but I've posted a few tidbits on Facebook to help promote the film screenings tomorrow night. Might as well post them here, too! It's been a real pleasure to revisit this conversation, though bittersweet in context. It took place between March 7th and 9th, I believe, mostly around the Gastown area. Thanks to Erika Lax for the great screengrabs from videos on Youtube (the first two are from a pretty-hard-to-listen-to series of clips of BustMonsters, a Japanese noise supergroup Zev played in, and the second are from super-cool clips of Nimrod, featuring Mayuko Hino and Tim Olive (Sam Lohman is never clearly shown).
On playing with Masami Akita (Merzbow) during his time in Japan:

Zev: Masami Akita said, “let’s try doing this thing. Flying Testicle, you like that name?” Yeah yeah yeah, it works! And then a larger band, they called it a supergroup, called Bust Monsters. I had a New Zealand roommate, sharing the same sort of crappy old Japanese house. He was downstairs, I was upstairs - a surfer guy. He said (puts on Kiwi accent), “I never met a fackin’ Jew before - no offense mate!’ He told me that Kiwi slang for a slutty girl was a “Bust Monster.” “Bush Pig” was the other one. So I dropped those names and they liked Bust Monsters. I guess the Godzilla thing…

On his film about the Nihilist Spasm Band (the first film to screen tomorrow).

Allan: You were in Japan when the Nihilist Spasm Band CDs came out on Alchemy, right? Your time over there overlapped with that?

Zev: I was quite shocked to find that a lot of these noise guys were quite familiar with the Spasm Band. In fact, one noise guy, after a gig - I don’t know if you ever went to one of these, but it was standard that all the guys would go out to an izakaya (Japanese bar) and blow all the money we made on booze and food, and one of these guys was in Incapacitants, another noise band, a really good one. He jumped up on the table - this guy is a banker by day, and a Spasm band fan the rest of the time. And he jumped up on the table in this bar and started shouting, “No Canada!” He went through the whole song, all the lyrics. I was shocked and delighted…

A: And when you came back from Japan, you wanted to make a film about them…

Z: …because of the interest in Japan I saw. I was proud to be Canadian. I mean, they’d talk about Cronenberg or something like that, but it’s rare that it comes up. They never discussed April Wine or stuff like that. 

A: Did you find yourself getting more nationalistic over there - more proud to be a Canadian in Japan?

Z: Certainly, because there’s anti-Americanism everywhere, and I’d always correct people: “no, I’m Canadian,” and you’d get a warmer reception. I wouldn’t wear a flag on my backpack like a lot of tourists do, but… people were more receptive.

A: I think that’s an American thing, wearing a Canadian flag on your backpack.

Z: Oh, maybe, yeah. They figured it out...

On the video he played at Noise Night 2011, to accompany his musical performance, before his screening of his documentary on Torturing Nurse, Subcultural Revoution: Shanghai (also screening tomorrow):

A: Is video a regular component of your performances?

Z: Yeah, since I got into film. Especially if I’m playing a laptop or an iPod, in this case. It’s like cheating the audience if there’s nothing else to watch. I’ve seen plenty of shows of a guy sitting in the spotlight or in the dark - okay, it’s fine, but keep it brief. Some of them go and on. And I’m just a fan of visuals.

A: What were you doing yesterday?

Z: That was a DVD I made in China for a festival there, and it just seemed to fit perfectly. It was outtakes of that film.

A: I noticed you cut some hardcore into it.

Z: That was a Chinese band. It was all shot in China.

A: No, I mean the facial cumshot.

Z: Oh, hardcore. That was just to kind of to see if I’d get a reaction. That was just something I downloaded.

A: Was there a reaction?

Z: It was so brief and subtle - no, I just got a few nudge-nudge wink-wink reactions, but nothing major.

A: Were you disappointed?

Z: No! I didn’t even know people would notice it, but if you did then I guess it’s pretty obvious.

A: It pops up twice!

Z: But quick. It’s just me being cocky.
Tomorrow's films are a three-for-one treat. Hope to see some of y'all out there (I have no excerpts about Casuistry but my interview with Zev about that film is here).

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

RIP Kelly Churko

There seems to be a wave of mortality sweeping the avant-garde/ noise scene, particularly in regards western noise musicians with ties to Japan.

A few weeks ago, I gave my friend Dan Kibke (G42, Ejaculation Death Rattle) a copy of a Zbigniew Karkowski CD. It was a random gift - I was clearing out a few CDs I hadn't listened to in awhile and though I remember thinking the CD an interesting one, that Dan would probably like, I had completely forgotten that Karkowski, a Pole, had played on the same bill as Dan during his trip to Tokyo a few years ago. Karkowski jammed with sometimes Vancouver-based noise artist Kelly Churko that night. I didn't realize this, did not realize when Dan told me about that gig that I actually had a CD by Karkowski on my shelf. The gift was just a coincidence.

Within a week of giving Dan that CD, Karkowski died of pancreatic cancer.

This week, I'm working on transcribing an interview with Zev Asher, an avant-gardist with ties to both Vancouver and Japan, who performed on the same bill with Ejaculation Death Rattle two years ago in Vancouver. There will be a tribute screening to Zev this week at the Cinematheque (Adrian Mack on that, here). He died in August of complications from his leukemia treatment. In writing an introduction to the piece, Kelly Churko's name came up: the first incidence of my hearing Zev's name so it stuck - the first moment I *remember* someone mentioning him to me, though I recall recognizing it at the time - was at a gig around fifteen years ago at the Sugar Refinery, where (present-day Bison bassist) Masa Anzai and, as I recall, Kelly Churko were doing a jazz improv set. That night, I was complaining at random about my difficulties finding interesting gigs to go to in Tokyo; someone turned to me and suggested that I look up Zev Asher. (I believe Asher was still in Japan at that point, and that Churko, who relocated there for a time, hadn't gone to live there yet).

Well, Dan just called me. Kelly Churko, who had also been battling cancer, died this week.

I didn't know Kelly well. I interacted with him a few times, saw him play live here once or twice, but it's been a long time, and I can't say much about him now. I think we sent a few emails back and forth at some point, but I can't find them. My sympathies to those who knew him better. He was, obviously, a creative and unusual human being; any North American who finds himself on the noise/ improv scene in Japan obviously is.

By the way, another noise musician whose name came up in the Zev Asher interview was Nakajima Akifumi, AKA Aube. He died in September. I guess the noise scene is getting to be that age, or something - people in their late 40s and early 50's start to die more frequently.

It's still kind of weird.

Adventures of broke men with dental problems

Heh. Another morning of fun dealing with the Ministry of Social Services, or whatever they're called now.

I discovered two days ago when I bit into something that I have something wrong with a tooth.

Admittedly, my dental hygiene is not top-notch. I see dentists every few years at best - particularly since 2009, as I have had no regular income. I generally brush my teeth two or three times a day, but flossing is a pain in the ass. I don't have an especially high-sugar diet, and I get a fair bit of calcium - through yoghurt and through carbonated water, which contains the substance - but I know from past experience that this standard of care is insufficient; in addition to my wisdom teeth surgeries, I have had three root canals and one extraction - a molar that would have been quite expensive to crown but quite cheap to get pulled. I elected to do the latter. I figure I only have another thirty or forty years on the planet, at best, and can afford to lose a tooth or two along the way. Of course, in the weeks after any major procedure, reminded of the pain and discomfort and consequences of neglect, I make an effort to improve my mouth-care, but inevitably the standard slips. Some days I may forget to brush at all...

Anyhow, two days ago I had fairly severe tooth pain, emanating from a lower left molar, where I have previously lost one tooth and had two root canals. This morning I called the dentist's office and set up an appointment. I inquired if they knew anything about funding options - I have a very limited income, basically amounting to whatever freelance work I can scrounge, the odd shift at a used bookstore, and what my Mom pitches in. If I need a root canal or an extraction, it's going to be expensive.

The people at the dentist's office didn't really know much about these matters, but directed me to talk to the Medical Services Plan people.

I phoned MSP. I navigated their system  - fifteen minutes wasted until I could talk to a person. Nada. They don't cover dental work, in any circumstance. Call welfare.

I have had previous issues with welfare. Though the last few years have been lean, I've been scraping by without their help. It's involved sinking back into debt and exhausting the money Mom and I had been living on, while I look after her, but dealing with them hurts my pride too much. Still, who knows, maybe they have a system in place to help low-income people who need dental work? No one else seems to (somewhere in there I phoned my doctor's office, and they also didn't have any other suggestions).

The Ministry's number, should you choose to call it, is 1-866-866-0800. They have perhaps the most arcane automated system that you can imagine, which is made worse insofar as my phone - a smartphone that I got on tab, when my old, much loved Samsung Intensity finally bit the dust - doesn't particularly like automated systems. Sometimes, when I press a number, the key - which isn't even a real key, just a number on a screen - weirdly sticks and generates a long tone. And even when I could get my phone to behave, the run-around is really quite frustrating. I would guess I spent 40 minutes just trying to get a person on the line that I could speak with - press this button, press that button, press pound to return to the original menu, press nine to go to the previous menu. Finally, I find myself in queue to talk to a real! live! person!- can't say how I did it; I wasn't expecting it to happen, it certainly wasn't a "to speak to an agent" function, since they don't have one of those. Anyhow, excited that I would soon be off the line, so I can get back to the work I'm supposed to be doing this morning, I set my phone on speaker so at least I can use my hands while I wait. Canned music plays.

Suddenly - ring, ring, and - "good morning, this is Judy."

"Good morning, Judy!" I say. I pick up the phone and press the key to take it off the speaker, so we can hear each other better. A long beep generates, one of these aforementioned smartphone/ stupidphone glitches. I say, "oh, Jesus - hang on a second" - because we can still hear each other - and look to see what I can do to stop this tone, but after about one second - as the tone subsides - I hear a click on the line. 

She's hung up on me. 

I think I actually laughed aloud.

Okay, so much for the phone option: I get dressed, truck down to the ministry office nearest me. I do NOT like going in there, and I do NOT want to apply for welfare benefits, but I want to know if there's any option in this circumstance; if there is, I might swallow my pride and take it, because money is scarce and dentistry expensive and my tooth hurts. Usually there are long lines and clusters of some seriously disenfranchised people - people with addiction issues, missing limbs, the very poor. It is not a scene I feel comfortable in. But I'm relatively lucky - there are only a few people in the office this afternoon. There are two people at the desk, talking to a receptionist. There is an old man standing, facing the reception desk. There is another window free, with a woman seated at it, but she is not looking at him. There is no number to be taken. I am not 100% sure if I am supposed to stand in line behind the old guy or not. Maybe he is just standing there? Maybe he's already been dealt with? If he is waiting in line, why is no one acknowledging him?

I look around, can see no signs addressing us to do anything else, so I wait in the line that may not be a line. The old guy stinks of tobacco. Dum-de-dum.

Eventually, the woman at the screen gets up and leaves and another woman takes her place. The new woman sits at the computer. She also doesn't acknowledge the old man. Minutes pass. Someone comes in and gets in line behind me. I consider turning to him and saying, "for the record, I'm not actually sure this is a lineup." But I don't.

We stand there. I study the hairs sprouting from the old guy's ears. There's a sign on the wall that says the office is scent-free, and I contemplate the irony, given the reek wafting from his pores. Eventually, the woman at the desk looks up, acknowledges the oldster, and he steps forward.

He explains that he has just applied online for benefits - something I am pretty sure was not an easy process for him, since he looks old, poor, and kind of rural. I wonder about that - now that all applications are submitted online, how exactly do people with no computer skills apply for benefits?

I hear the woman at the desk tell him there will be a phone call in a few days. He is told to wait for it. Good luck, I think. Next!

I step up. I explain my circumstance. I am not presently a client. I have a very painful tooth. I have limited income. MSP say they can't help, but I need to get this dealt with ASAP. What are my options? 

Rather to my surprise, my throat constricts as I explain all this and I find myself in the odd position of crying and being angry at the same time. But I ignore it, and press forward. Just pretend I'm not in this state, okay?

The woman does a good job of that, and explains that there are no options for people in my circumstances. I can apply for benefits. It takes at least four weeks. There are no emergency options for medical need. If I am deemed eligible to receive benefits, I will be covered, but that process, as I know, takes time. I can apply online - her hand fingers the little slip of paper that they give you with the Ministry URL on it.

I'm in pain, I explain, and can't wait, so if I get the surgery done now, and pay for it - will they reimburse?


And there's no way to get fast-tracked so I can get this taken care of?


Despite my agitation, I more or less keep my temper until she says, as we near the end of the transaction, in her neutral, officious way, "I understand your frustration." No, I really do not think you do. After I (kinda) storm out, I consider going back in to apologize to her, afterwards, because I'm sure her position isn't an easy one, either - it's not a job *I* would want - but she has to understand that getting a bit angry is the only way I can sort of compensate for the pride lost by having gone in there in the first place.

I will scrape by. There's enough money at hand to cover an X-ray. There are payment options available at the dentist's office - dental surgery on the installment plan. Not the best start to the day...

Happy 9th Anniversary, Creaking Planks!

Long day, I'm tired, got no stamina to type or think of things to say. So here's the Creaking Planks press release, cut-and-pasted verbatim! 9th anniversary show this Sunday!

The Creaking Planks 9th Anniversary Extravaganza!
Sunday, January 19th, 9:30 pm
Railway Club, 579 Dunsmuir Street (upstairs), Vancouver, BC
$9 at the door

Featuring The Creaking Planks, Glittering Kingdom, and Sidewalk Cellist.

The Creaking Planks celebrate nine years with heaping spoonfuls of quirky originals, oddball takes on traditional fare, and anachronistic renderings of familiar tunes rescued from the dust-bins of pop-culture. The evening will also feature Glittering Kingdom, releasing their new music video, and the inimitable Sidewalk Cellist (Clara Shandler).

The Creaking Planks
Nine years is a long time to keep on keeping on, but in recent years the Creaking Planks, East Van's jug band of the damned, have made a tradition of throwing themselves an annual anniversary show at Vancouver's ‘grande dame’ of venues, the Railway Club. Unwilling to allow themselves to be ground to a halt by the ravages of greying hair, sleepless toddlers, grad school and graveyard shift work, they aim to demonstrate that rock 'n roll remains the most prematurely ageing influence of all. With their unruly assortment of underdog old-country instruments, they breathe a new rootsy life into monster pop anthems which have long since collapsed beneath their own sodden hubris and, despite being old enough to know better, compel the moldering leg-bones of also-ran B-side songs that history has unjustly forgotten to jiggle and caper like they are callow and spry again -- some old trick involving a spike of shaved ginger root. Remember when you were young and foolish? You will.

Glittering Kingdom
Glittering Kingdom grooves, taps and twinkles through tunes that meander from lonely circus swing to prohibition-era jazz, folk noir to post-apocalyptic acoustic. The sparkly foursome (Katheryn Petersen, Lindy Gray, Jen Rashleigh and Belinda Bruce) braid fine harmonies amidst guitar, accordion, saw, harmonica, snare and tinkly percussion. Glittering Kingdom is jazzed to debut the video of their bittersweet cover of Leonard Cohen's "The Future" at the Railway.

Sidewalk Cellist
Vancouver's Sidewalk Cellist takes the classics out of the concert hall and throws them into the streets, with the help of her nearly-indestructible carbon-fiber cello! She provides a musical mix of everything from Bach to Nirvana, jazz to heavy metal, and more, building bridges between genres for audiences of all shapes and sizes.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Unexpected enjoyment for 47 Ronin

On the Georgia Straight website, I wrote a comment on Ron Yamauchi's reasoned response to 47 Ronin that I had no intention of seeing it.  The day has passed for overblown Hollywood manglings and misappropriations of the revered stories of other cultures - particularly those as close to home as Japan. I've lived in Japan, enjoyed my time there, and - whatever their weirdnesses - respect the Japanese investment in their own culture and tradition; I wish as a Canadian I had the same reservoir of myth and history to draw on. To take a story as important to a culture as this - a culture that is both foreign and yet not that remote - and to bedeck it with inaccuracy and foolishness - to get costumes and hairstyles transparently wrong, to make the leading man a half-white, to decorate it with a dragon foreign to the story, and to partake of lazy, obvious stereotypes like the (quite literally realized) "dragon lady" is not okay. Yamauchi compares the film to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Slayer - a film he and I both enjoyed - saying essentially that "to repurpose hallowed national myth for the sake of insight or even wackiness is the right of any artist," as long as the end product is actually entertaining, but I'm not sure that the principle applies across cultures. What's wrong with 47 Ronin is the same thing that's wrong with films like The Mummy or Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, trading in stereotypes, cliches, and Orientalist exoticizations, or, say, with The Last Samurai or Dances With Wolves, which reorganize the history of another people around a white guy, making him the saviour of the day when in reality his people were anything but. Plus it's really, really nothing new; in terms of Japan, it goes back to sticking Raymond Burr into the original Godzilla. There was a time when such things were more-or-less innocent, inevitable and forgivable - I can enjoy a good Warner Oland movie with the best of'em, and the Burr Godzilla is at the least a historical curiosity, viewable now with hindsight - but audiences are a little too plugged-in these days for Hollywood to expect a free pass when gleefully and deliberately erasing the realities of another culture in favour of cliches, errors, and exoticized romantic bullshit, especially when nearly every adult moviegoer alive has the opportunity to easily see REAL samurai movies - ones that get the details right, and, when representing historical incidents, do so with fidelity, attentiveness, and respect. 47 Ronin? Heck with it. Go insult someone else's intelligence.

Then we come to an evening where my girl and I are going to spend time together, and, since I tend to over-assert myself with what we should see on any given night (being, um, somewhat more invested in these matters than she is), we arrived at the conclusion that SHE should pick the entertainment for a change.  When it turned out that she decided - given the grim weather and a long day - that we should go see a movie, I half-hoped (and half-feared) that she would foist something truly unusual on me - that I would be watching something with Julia Roberts or Reese Witherspoon, say. I promised I would watch whatever she picked, without complaint - so she had the opportunity to really stick it to me on this one, and pay me back for some of the horrible images I have fused to her retina over the last year or so; she elected not to. Though we made it to the cinema with my still not knowing what movie she had picked for us, the 3D glasses were a pretty good clue that we were NOT going to see your standard chick flick.

As you may guess: she'd picked 47 Ronin!

Now, here's the thing. Whenever I publicly state that I have no interest in seeing a film, it usually means that I really do; and the act of asserting that I don't only increases that desire. That the last two incidents of such behaviour on this blog led to my watching two pretty interesting films - Pollack's The Electric Horseman and the Coens' The Man Who Wasn't There - has taught me that I should almost always regard such impulses to refuse a movie in advance with suspicion: the feeling that I need to state I am not interested in something is a fair indicator of the fact that some part of me is actually curious, and that I am quarrelling with it. Besides, how many times have film critics embarrassed themselves by condemning unseen films? How can you KNOW a film is bad, if you don't actually expose yourself to it? (I haven't actually seen The Last Samurai, by the way, though I sniped at it above. Who knows: maybe I've got that film wrong?).

Anyhow - by damn,  it turns out I quite enjoyed 47 Ronin. I liked it more than a lot of the big screen films I've seen in the last year - more than Pacific Rim, World War Z, and Gravity, to name three.  The story has more emotional impact than any of those films (though Gravity is by far the most visually interesting of them, and the best use of the technology of 3D). The creatures, misplaced as they may be, are terrific as effects - especially a multiple-eyed demon-mammal that pops up early on, a shape-shifting fox, and a spider produced by witchcraft. The production design may be error-ridden, and the locations remind one more of New Zealand than Japan (while apparently actually being Hungarian!), but it's still a pretty, consistently interesting film to look at. Rinko Kikuchi may be a cliched dragon-lady with an ahistorical, culturally-wrong hairdo - but by damn, she's gorgeous (and plays the role to the hilt, and hey, that's one nice hairdo to boot). It's easy to feel invested in the characters and to accept the film as a sort of big-screen folktale about loyalty and sacrifice and courage, if you like that sort of thing; it may not follow the original as closely as it could, and it may be predictably over-expository about "honour" and that sort of thing, but it creates a world and stays true to it, much like the Lord of the Rings movies do, except with a Japanese locale. There's a lot it omits, and a lot it gets wrong, but IF - and this is a very big and significant IF - you can turn off your brain to all the objections to the film stated in the first paragraph (which, let me emphasize, are significant and relevant and reasonable objections), and IF you have no real investment in the idea of a faithful rendering of the source story - the story that the film tells works quite well, at least in terms of what it is. What it IS is "everyday Hollywood bullshit," but as far as everyday Hollywood bullshit goes, there are a lot less entertaining ways to spend your money. (And my girl paid the ticket cost, too! Woo!)

What's ultimately the real interest value to 47 Ronin, however, is the tension between the things it gets right and the things it gets wrong. It's interesting, for example, that the Japanese characters are played by Japanese actors. It suggests that someone somewhere realized that cultural (and, um, racial?) specificity matter. That they speak English and have the wrong hair, on the other hand, shows the opposite impulse (how ballsy would it have been if the film hadn't had a western star at all, and everyone spoke Japanese? It would have been a riskier proposition, of course - but look at Mel Gibson's Passion of the Christ; it might actually have worked). There are tengu in the story - actual mythological figures in Japan - but they don't look like tengu are generally depicted (the movie tengu have big weird eyes but small flat noses, whereas tengu in Japan tend to have big noses that stick out in a rather phallic fashion).

There is obviously awareness of and respect for Japanese culture behind having the film's witch first manifest herself as a fox, since foxes are trickster figures in Japan, with ample mythic baggage; but then for the film's climax, she turns into a dragon - a positive thing in China and Japan, and not a fire-breathing beast as depicted. There's a pretty good early hara-kiri scene in which a character disembowels himself while having a second on hand to cut off his head and spare him some mess and pain; this is historically correct (though there may be details the scene gets wrong; I'm no expert). Then there's a big climactic hara-kiri where they omit the seconds altogether, like the filmmakers have forgotten what they knew two hours' previous, or couldn't spare the 40-odd supporting players. (It probably says something, too, that throughout the film, people refer to ritual self-disembowelment as seppuku. Contrary to a widely repeated belief here, Japanese really do call it hara kiri - literally, belly-cutting; or so any Japanese I asked told me, when I lived there). There are doubtlessly many more examples, borne of the film's complex and troubled production history, which involved re-shoots and substantial revisions and many years of toil. Some may be spelled out in this article on Roger Ebert's website. One thing I wondered about is why no one ever visits a Shinto shrine in the film, despite various trappings of Japanese religion and folk-culture, like purifying a sword with water. I think these tensions are one of the reasons the film is being written off as a "mess" by some people - it is filled with contradictory impulses. It is faithful and faithless in equal measure. It knows a lot about Japanese history and culture, and is painfully ignorant. It tries to be at least a somewhat faithful rendering of the story of the 47 ronin - it's not like it changes the story's downbeat ending, say, which was a concern for me - but to the extent it cares enough to get certain things right, this only raises the question of how it could get so many things painfully, obviously wrong?

I still rather enjoyed it. And guess what? On a Sunday night, a couple of weeks into its mostly disappointing, critically dumped-upon, 10%-on-RT run, there were still a fair number of people at International Village who had turned out to see it, so in spite of everything, the word of mouth really can't be that bad... see here for another contrarian defence of the film (beneath the article on Scorsese...). If you're a fan of late period Peter Jackson, which seems the template here, have a superficial fondness for Japan, and are capable of being forgiving, when a film trods on its thumbs politically... 47 Ronin is actually not that bad...