Sunday, June 27, 2010

No stamina for blogging

Sorry, folks - won't be anything until next weekend or so, I don't think. Just no stamina for blogging at the moment.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Pictures from a booklaunch, plus Russ Meyer box

...and a mighty fine time was had by all at the Railway for the launch of Rod Filbrandt's Wombat book (see below!). I got me a Dry Shave and a t-shirt, mellowed myself a tad on the Back Hand of God, socialized with various delightful folks (including Mr. Filbrandt himself) and directed a few hip-lookin' types to the rock photography of Femke van Delft (see further below!) still hanging until the end of the month... A great night was had! Thanks, Wombat!

In other news, a most happy thankyou to a certain video store employee who (while he may wish to go unnamed) was selfless enough to point out that there was really no point in spending some fifty-odd clams on US DVDs of individual Russ Meyer movies when you can buy, for about the same price, a box set of nearly all Russ Meyer's films from Amazon UK. Some customers on the Amazon site have complained about image problems, but they look fine to me, so far; far as I can tell, this is one of the best bleedin' deals in the land o' DVDs - assuming you're set up for PAL/ Region 2 viewing. The (shot-in-BC) Vixen, Lorna, Mudhoney, Blacksnake, Mondo Topless, Common Law Cabin, Beneath The Valley of the Ultravixens, Faster Pussycat, Kill! Kill! - they're all here, and a lot more, too - every one I've heard of except Beyond the Valley of the Dolls. They're full-frame presentations but that may well reflect how these films were shot, I dunno. In any event, nothin' goes with the Back Hand Of God like a good Russ Meyer movie! Cheers, Russ! (And cheers, video store guy!).

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

RIP Tracy Wright

Sad to note: Tracy Wright has died of pancreatic cancer at age 50. Wright was married to Don McKellar and starred alongside him in Monkey Warfare, Highway 61, Blindness, Childstar, and Last Night - among many other roles in Canadian cinema. My condolences to her friends and loved ones.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Punk Gigs of Note: Ron Reyes 50th, Chris Walter booklaunch

Heyo - y'all know that Chris Walter's booklaunch for Argh Fuck Kill: The Story of the Dayglo Abortions is on Friday at the Biltmore, right? (Not that it's very big, but I spoke to him about it for the Straight, here). The lineup includes Mr. Plow, SNFU, and, of course, the Dayglo Abortions (whom, horror upon horror, I must confess to never having seen, not being entirely embracing of their at times highly - erm - "politically incorrect" humour; actually, I have no idea what he's singing, but a song called "I Wanna Be East Indian" just... can't... be okay...). As we have seen, seein' shows is a bit of an ordeal for me, these days, but I might see what I can manage with this one... By the way, there's a fairly entertaining vintage news clip on Youtube about the 1980's obscenity case surrounding the second and third Dayglos LPs.
Also happening of note will be a show at the Rickshaw on Thursday, which I most likely won't be attending: Ron Reyes 50th birthday party, featuring I Braineater, The Modernettes, the (thoroughly delightful) Little Guitar Army, The Jolts, and, 'tis rumoured, an appearance by the Ron Reyes Band. If any of you have somehow missed the story of Reyes, I guess Wikipedia is a decent place to start. You might have seen him credited on Black Flag albums as Chavo, or Chavo Pederast - which I always took to be a normal punk name, tho' I gather - if the Wiki page is accurate - that he doesn't care for it much. You can find some of his early vocals on Black Flag anthologies to this day - he sang the version of "Jealous Again" that most of us know best, f'rinstance. I'd rather listen to Reyes than Rollins, these days!
...tho' a gig on a Thursday is a bit of a longshot for me... Tho' I'm stayin' in town ANYHOW for the Rod Filbrandt booklaunch (see below). Hmmm.
Well, we'll see.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Cherchez la femme

I often wondered what the source of the phrase "cherchez la femme" was - "look for the woman," often repeated in noirs and detective fiction; I always assumed that came from some French New Wave cinephile - a critic or filmmaker - in reference to American cinema or genre fiction, then was incorporated into the same. Encountering it in Roman Polanski's Chinatown, this evening, however, I realized the source had to be earlier, since Faye Dunaway uses it with Jack Nicholson - in a film set in the 1930's that has reasonable attention to period details. It provoked me to finally scratch this itch, looking up the phrase on Wikipedia. The page for it explains that it comes from a 19th century French novel by Alexandre Dumas. Who knew?

Unthinkable DVD review

Mainstream movie audiences don't seem particularly receptive to films about the war on terror, particularly when it comes to the topic of torture. It's a point well-made by Gregory Burris, in this month's CineAction, in a very interesting re-evaluation of "torture porn" cinema - particularly the Hostel movies, which I also admire. Burris claims - rightly so - that these films, more than anything else at the box office, represent moviegoers' most significant engagement (in many cases on a deep and unacknowledged level) with the realities and "contemporary relevance" of torture; it is very significant, he thinks, that the Hostel and Saw franchises should be such hits, compared to the "dismal box-office failure of 'war on terror'-themed message films like In the Valley of Elah (2007), Lions For Lambs (2007) and Rendition (2007)." (He neglects to mention Brian De Palma's contribution to the fray, Redacted, which is nastier and angrier than these three films by far - but was also a box office failure; or the critical hit The Hurt Locker, which, as far as I know, didn't get a large audience until after it won an Oscar - if then). There may be reasons for the reluctance to engage with such films beyond denial of the realities of the war on terror, however - such as mere inundation by other means; biased and inaccurate as it may be, media coverage of 9/11, terrorism, Iraq, Abu Ghraib and so forth has been pervasive enough that one doesn't necessarily hanker to see fictionalized accounts of same, and may well even mistrust them, perceiving them as an attempt to exploit issues that are "too important" to trivialize (or monetize) with a fictional treatment. I certainly felt that way about Rendition, which is basically "Maher Arar for dummies." It is undoubtedly well-crafted, well-acted, reasonably entertaining, and more-or-less politically sympathetic, and I have nothing against that film per se, but having read about the Maher Arar case at some length, I just didn't really need the story fed back to me in a simplified, fictionalized, and thus amply distorted form. Maybe for the great unwashed it's useful as an educational experience, in the same way Brokeback Mountain or the works of Oliver Stone are sometimes said to be useful, but I've never been entirely convinced that cinema should be used this way. People too ignorant, apathetic or stupid to have grasped such issues as these films deal with in reality might "get it" if spoonfed, but who cares? It's not like they'll be radicalized by such experiences. They'll just sit blinking in front of the TV for a minute after it's over, maybe mutter a "tut-tut," then change the channels... Big fuckin' deal...
Anyhow, feeling thus, I didn't rent Unthinkable right away, when it was released last week on DVD. Reading that it's about the moral issues that arise around the interrogation of an American scientist turned terrorist, I shuddered and set the box back on the shelf. It would no doubt be, I felt, either reactionary, torture-justifying bullshit (a la 24, which HAS proven a successful audience-getter, disturbingly enough), or a simplified spoonfeeding, perhaps with an aura of liberal self-congratulation (see how enlightened we are for disapproving of these horrible things? Isn't torture awful?). Neither possibility seemed interesting as cinema - or politically or morally useful; at the very best, I figured, Unthinkable would be simply unnecessary - with a wide range of less favourable possibilities coming to mind. Perhaps that's why it was given very scanty theatrical distribution or press - it never played Vancouver, is not listed on Rotten Tomatoes, was not reviewed by Roger Ebert, has no website of its own, and for all purposes might as well be a "direct to DVD" release, appearing on shelves last Tuesday with no previous fanfare, no promotion, no nothin'...

Here's the news, then: for what it is - a suspense thriller dealing with serious issues in the language of mainstream Hollywood filmmaking - it's utterly great. Not only is the writing superb - no spoonfeeding going on here - but the principals (including Samuel L. Jackson, in what could be a career high as a sort of black ops uber-torturer, Carrie Ann Moss as a well-meaning FBI agent, Michael Sheen as the military scientist-turned-terrorist, and Martin Donovan as an FBI higher-up) are terrific, and the story presented in a gripping and thought-provoking fashion, with the only misstep (a relatively weak ending) being taken care of in the Special Features (which has an "alternate ending" that is really the only proper way to resolve the film). It seems more or less to be an intelligent fictionalization of an argument we have all heard a billion times: you have a terrorist prisoner, he has planted bombs, you can potentially save millions of lives if you find the locations of these bombs, and he is unwilling to cooperate: do you torture him or not? (And once you cross that line, how far should you be prepared to go?). Pretty much every intelligent response to this scenario is fictionalized and contained in this film, which is serious enough in its treatment and sufficiently provocative that it could be used as a discussion starter for an ethics class (I mean, it ain't The Battle Of Algiers, but it's damn good). It's the second really strong "new arrival" I've encountered this week, and like The Cry Of The Owl (see below) has received next-to-no fanfare. So I'm happy to give it a plug: it's a very interesting piece of cinema that will definitely hold your attention - assuming, of course, you can stomach the grimness of it; it's not exactly a feelgood movie, y'know?

I have nothing much else to say about Unthinkable - though I would lay dollars-to-donuts that the original screenplay made mention of the state of Israel, which was then removed from the film, as too much of a hot potato. That wee copout notwithstanding, for people interested in well-thought out suspense thrillers that take on moral issues of the day, it's a must-see; remember to watch the alternate ending - if you skip to it as soon as the credits roll, you can pretend it's the real ending of the film.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Rod Filbrandt and Wombat: Straight from the Brain

I had a delightful surprise reading Rod Filbrandt’s new Wombat anthology last week (available at Chapters, online, and elsewhere). I’ve always enjoyed Filbrandt’s work - he's one of about a dozen things that I always read in the Straight - but I had a particular fondness for the character of Wombat, since I was exposed to him in my formative years, back when Wombat was a punk with a funny haircut, and I was too. Peter Stampfel of the Holy Modal Rounders has said that he always wanted to be a cartoon character; with Wombat, various Vancouver freaks got to experience themselves as one - or at least feel themselves represented a little, through the distorting lens of Filbrandt’s eccentric imagination. I was shocked to find that I had vivid memories of many of the strips, dating back to the years (the mid-1980’s) when I would cart stacks of Discorders and other zines via bus from Vancouver to Maple Ridge, to their pore over the mysteries of the initiated with teenaged friends. The resonances were such that I had to get in touch...

See you at the booklauch, Thursday at the Railway! (And visit Filbrandt’s blog!)

Allan: Is the book the "complete" Wombat or the "selected" Wombat?

Rod: Very selected. It was a bit of a chore weeding out the bummers, but I also put a few in there that I myself find a bit wince-worthy. I wanted to have some warts in there for the sake of posterity.

Allan: You change and the strip grows more complex over the course of the book, but the earlier "Wombat the punk" Discorder stuff - which is where I first became aware of you - seems as fully realized as your "Wombat noir" years... What was the prehistory of Wombat?

Rod: The character just sort of sprouted up fully formed, I think. I'm not sure how or why that happens, but once in a while it does and I try not to argue with it. It was just loose and stupid and spontaneous - straight from the brain. I'd of course been very influenced by punk and new wave and the attitude. It seems like I was probably going for anti-humour shtick, but now it sort of seems like anti-anti-humour in that there's still some semblance of a punch-line in there, but I was playing with the medium - not really by design, but by ignoring the rules. Who made the rules anyway? I still fucking hate the way people over-think comics and cartoons and analyze everything until all of the fun and spontaneity is sucked right out of it. It's death.

Allan: What bands were playing when you got on the scene when you entered it? Wombat’s blender playing makes me think of bands like Tunnel Canary, or the Haters, but were you aware of them? Did you ever make it to the Buddha?

Rod: I was a late bloomer and too young to have gotten in on that action. I remember being 17 or 18 and we'd go stand outside the Commodore in the back alley just to hear bands like X playing. It killed us that we missed so much. Seeing the Clash at War Memorial was huge for me and I eventually saw a lot of great Commodore shows, and some crazy fly-by-night bands at the Pit, but punk was pretty much over. I saw Art Bergmann a few times - that's practically punk, right?
Anyway, I was a few years too young to get in on the first wave of 70's punk, but there was a strong dividing line drawn, even while playing catch-up, between my cartooning before and after. I think as for many people of a certain vintage - it changed everything. Plus I was also only about 21 when the strip started appearing in Discorder, so some artistic improvement was a foregone conclusion. Influences pile up or come and go or mutate into something else, but I was always just making it up as I was going along.

Allan: I’ve always wondered - do you and Wombat bear a physical resemblance to each other? Is he an alter-ego?

Rod: He was definitely an alter-ego all along, a surrogate that could act out things I never could - or would. I'm pretty introverted and not prone to being particularly wacky in real life. Even when things got darker for Wombat it's still an outsized version of me, I guess, but as time went along he definitely had his own life that hardly resembled my own. There's a whiff of bad teenage poetry to some of it, but in a way I thought that was also funny. I often wonder how many people got that.

Allan: Did you look like a punk yourself, when starting Wombat?

Rod: No, not really, but I kind of gave it a shot. If anything, I looked like I was dressed for a Joy Division cover band or something. I could never get my hair to stand up, so I was into the severe Factory/Manchester hairdos. I also had my own version of Mod going on for awhile, decidedly un-punk rock in cardigans, button-down collars, and desert boots. I also liked the Undertones' red socks with Oxfords look. I'm sure I looked like a proper dork. Well, I guess I still do, but at least the outfits are gone.

Allan: When I was first reading Wombat, I was a punk kid in Maple Ridge, where I was laughed at, pointed at, and occasionally attacked for lookin' funny. Friends of mine had the same experience - it was the way it was. The moment that stands out was walking past a park where the school stoners were smoking up. I had a funny haircut - a fin on top and maybe bleached on the sides, I’m not sure what it was like then exactly - and was listening to The Exploited on my tinny Realistic tape recorder. Suddenly I felt something hit my leg. I turned around, and saw, to my shock, that the kids in the park had lined up and were THROWING ROCKS at me. Kinda small rocks, kinda lamely - most of them missed, but it was startling and memorable (and I usually construe it as having been "stoned by stoners," tho' it wasn't particularly funny at the time). So the Wombat strip when he devours the dude's head for laughing at him - which I saw around the same time in my life - was a huge comfort and delight to me and my friends; we fucking loved it. It spoke to me and the punks I knew VERY directly and positively, in a way comic strips don't usually do...
Rod: Yeah, that was definitely a big "fuck you" to all of the lingering 70's stoner/rocker bullshit that permeated my youth. I grew up in Richmond, which already felt about five years behind everything by the time I finally latched onto the Sex Pistols and the Clash. It still felt like the C-Fox "classic rock" types were calling all the shots and I think of it now as being very opportune, because, Christ, I needed something to rebel against at that age. And unfortunately, my parents were cool, so I had to really go out of my way to find music and attitude that would outrage them. I remember being so happy when my dad finally yelled at me to turn down Elvis Costello's This Year's Model, because he said, "That's not singing!" He would get on me about how so much of my music was "too fast!" But a few short years later they were tagging along to a Lene Lovich concert. It was horrible.
Allan: And in high school?
Rod: I was pretty incognito in high school and was only getting into this stuff towards the end. It wasn't until about 1981 that you could even find a pair of skinny black pants in Richmond, but even that would get some of the jocks and rockers all riled up. I was so fucking elated to escape all of that and find out that there were far more interesting things going on, far more interesting people, and I happily shelved it all into the history file and got on with it. I was even in a band for awhile and that was fun; it went nowhere, but the experience gave me a small sense of "cred" - really small.
When I was doing the strip initially, my friends were pretty much my only sounding board - some of it private joke stuff - and one friend in particular almost deserves co-writing credit. He was much more extroverted than me and dressed the part much more flagrantly. We shared a sense of humour. There's a little bit of him in Wombat.
Allan: Does the shift from "Wombat punk" to "Wombat noir" mirror the shift from Discorder to the Straight? How important was it to you, getting into the Straight?
Rod: The Straight lured me away with the promise of actual money, I think it was 1988. I was already doing a cartoon for them, but they preferred Wombat and stole it. The change of venue didn't affect it in the least.

Allan: As I recall, once Wombat's look started varying from strip to strip, the "punk Wombat" first incarnation completely disappeared. Is that accurate? Is there any one "later incarnation Wombat" look that you think of as being definitive? Where did that decision come from - were you influenced by editors, friends, the changing scene, or just wanting to broaden your palette?

Rod: His look started varying mostly in his hair, I had to cut it down - the only reason for this was because his hair was too tall to comfortably fit word balloons in the panels. I needed the space, particularly since the drawing was getting a little bit more refined. From my perspective now I almost see them as two different characters - the book seems kind of oddly schizophrenic, seeing the strips collected.
Allan: Why did Wombat go noir, anyhow?
Rod: Two things happened: I seriously went mental for writers like Jim Thompson and Raymond Chandler and cartoonists like Dan Clowes and Charles Burns and just found myself going in a new direction, although I still saw humour in it. It seemed like a crazy mix at the time, this playing dark pulp melodrama for laughs. Well, mostly laughs. Then I took a year and a half off and started traveling. That's a whole 'nother story, but when Wombat came back he was a different character in many ways. He was older. He had a past. I could say that I was "exploring" my darker side too and going through the usual youthful romantic entanglements and various states of disillusionment, but the strip was still an exaggeration.

Allan: As a punk I remember at the time feeling kind of disappointed in the shift in the strip - the humour got more oblique, the punk connection got effaced, and at the time, I didn't really get the noir references or the stylistic experiments - it stopped being a "cartoon for punks" and became something else, which I appreciate now a great deal, but didn't then. Is that a reaction you got from others?
Rod: Sorry about that. Not that I ever got a lot of fan mail, but surprisingly the feedback was all positive. I didn't get a single beef. I was expecting a few "you suck" letters.

Allan: Care to drop a few names of favourite hardboiled crime novels or films noir? If you were stuck on a desert island with three hardboiled crime novels and three noirs, what would your shortlist be? (By the way, I just encountered, for the first time, Charles Willeford's novel Pick Up - it's an absolute must-read, if you haven't read it).

Rod: Love Willeford.

The Killer Inside Me - Jim Thompson
The Big Sleep - Raymond Chandler
The Black Angel - Cornell Woolrich

Out of the Past - 1947
DOA - 1950
The Glass Key - 1942

And anything with Robert Mitchum, Lawrence Tierney, Veronica Lake, or William Bendix.

Allan: Montgomery Clift and Robert Mitchum make appearances in Wombat... Any other notable celebrity "cameos" in your work? What makes someone a good candidate for a cameo in a Filbrandt cartoon?

Rod: There's always an Ernest Borgnine nod in my work somewhere, maybe a Don Knotts or two, Roy Orbison. I don't know - I just like throwing in weird pop culture references. The more obscure, the better. I'm somewhat obsessed with the German folk singer Heino, although I think I'm in a pretty small minority there. He's fun to draw. So's Borgnine. They don't make kissers like that anymore.

Allan: I've heard - I think you say this in another interview - that some people didn't get Dry Shave so much, and that you got feedback about it being too dark and weird. Did that inform the decision to move on to Tar Paper Town? Do you feel like people are finally catching up?
Rod: I'll never understand how some people - mostly editors apparently - took Dry Shave at face value. But it ran its natural course. It was my American strip. I lived in Seattle for eight years then moved back here and the strip just fizzled out on its own. As for people getting it or liking it, and this goes for all three strips - I try not to care. First and foremost what I do is for me and if it finds any kind of audience, so much the better. It's all an outlet outside commercial work and I let my own stuff go where it wants to. I'm aware that my sense of humour and my references are not exactly Hi and Lois, and while I like acceptance as much as the next guy, I'm just trying to do my own thing and not fall into the artistic death-trap of second-guessing things. Besides, I'm usually wrong anyway.
Allan: I heard Wombat would make an appearance in Tar Paper Town to plug the launch - has that happened? (I might've missed it!). Did he ever surface in Dry Shave? Why did you retire Wombat in the first place...?

Rod: Wombat shows up in this week's strip - Thursday, June 24th - same day as the launch. He actually did appear in Dry Shave two or three times. There was this barely perceptible back story that one of the characters, Monkey Man, was looking for him. Monkey Man did eventually find him and Wombat smashed his face with a pint glass and then kissed the bloody mess. I probably should have put those in the Dry Shave book.

I retired Wombat when I moved to Seattle. It felt done. I think I went a couple of years without a strip, but Charles Campbell, the then editor at the Straight, wanted me to do something else. I always had the title - it was a reference to shaving in Thailand, often with no shaving cream or water. We would see each other with bloody toilet paper chunks on our faces in the morning and say, "Dry shave?" The title somehow did half the work.

It became an attempt to totally work the classic four panel gag cartoon set-up, with broader humour and physicality than I'd generally done before. I wanted to do gags. I made it a discipline. And again, it was the American influence - I had to live it a bit to really capture it, as stupid and cartoony as it was. Because, let's face it - America is kind of stupid and cartoony. And there are real people in Dry Shave, but I'll never blow their cover. Tar Paper Town is a real place too, but I'm sworn to secrecy. And Googling will get you nowhere.

Allan: By the way, is the Dry Shave book still available? Will it be sold at the launch? There will be merch?

Rod: There will indeed be some Dry Shave books as well. And t-shirts. While tiny supplies last. I'm also going to have 'zine/digest thing for sale at the launch. It's a compendium of bric-a-brac including some orphaned strips, some writing, and sundry one-offs that hopefully showcase that I do other things besides wacky cartoons.
Allan: By the way, why the name, "Wombat?"

Rod: You know, I have absolutely no recollection of where that came from.

Friday, June 18, 2010

The Cry Of The Owl DVD review

Followers of this blog know that I am a big Patricia Highsmith fan.

For those who don't know of her, Patricia Highsmith was an alcoholic lesbian misanthrope with a fondness for snails - as in, breeding and keeping them as pets - and a very black sense of humour. She wrote (mostly) transgressive crime fiction from the point of view of outsiders, often men with women issues (or gender confusions), who are implicated in murder, and may or may not be guilty; we generally sympathize with them, in some cases hoping they get away with their crimes (as with the rather famous Ripley series, the first novel of which, The Talented Mr. Ripley, was made into a rather unsubtle - but still better-than-average - Hollywood film, as well as inspiring a French adaptation, Purple Noon; Ripley's Game has also been filmed twice, once with John Malkovich as Ripley and once with Dennis Hopper in the role, in Wim Wenders' The American Friend. The other really famous Highsmith film adaptation, of course, was of her first book - Strangers On A Train).
Highsmith had, by all accounts, rather difficult relationships with other people; she may or may not have had Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism, and was regarded as difficult even by her closest friends. It didn't keep her from a long and varied career. She worked in comic books for awhile, though to my knowledge, no serious work has been done to track down her contributions to the form; she also once illustrated a children's book, Miranda The Panda Is On The Veranda, which may have the first reference to snails in her literature (I gather there's a rhyme about a snail in a veil). She also wrote a rather famous lesbian novel, published for years under a pen name, The Price Of Salt. One of my favourite anthologies of her fiction is The Animal Lovers' Book Of Beastly Murder, which invites you to sympathize with various oppressed animals as they kill their owners; she also once wrote a story about a man killed by giant man eating snails, which I mentioned at some length in this post, some time ago. As dark as Highsmith can get, I often find myself laughing with glee at developments in her fiction - maybe there's something wrong with me, too, but I often find it very easy to identify with her characters, and with her often perverse agendas for them. Just as the novels of Philip K. Dick have been gradually mined for stories SF films, as people realize they prefigure an age of identity confusion, alienation and paranoia, so too Highsmith's books - with her troubled characters' loneliness, confused sexuality, guilty consciences, and antisocial or transgressive desires - are well suited for the time, and ripe for exploration by filmmakers.

For instance, consider The Cry Of The Owl, originally published in 1962. The story goes like this: an emotionally ruined man, after a messy divorce, takes to spying on a beautiful young female - a stranger - for the comfort it brings him. When she discovers that she is being watched, things take a turn for the weird, insofar as she is intrigued and wants to get to know him; it turns out she's not exactly normal, herself, which Robert, our voyeur, notices - he's more intimidated by her than she is by him, ultimately. Her boyfriend, meanwhile, whom she is in the process of breaking up with, discovers enough about the relationship to be furious, and conflict ensues, as he starts spreading vile rumours and digging for dirt from Robert's malicious and irresponsible ex-wife. Soon our protagonist is at the center of a murder investigation, being treated with mistrust, loathing, and suspicion for a crime that he did not commit; he is almost a Hitchcockian "Wrong Man," except he is too depressed and beaten down by life to mount an effective defense against himself, and can only look on in disappointment and bitterness as people distance themselves from him. Any gestures he might make can only work against him; death looms ever closer...
I so did not care for a previous French adaptation of the film, by Claude Chabrol, that I did not finish watching it, but I have good news for Patricia Highsmith fans: there is a remarkably faithful new adaptation, directed by Brit Jamie Thraves, filmed in Ontario, and co-funded by the Germans (who embraced Highsmith and took her seriously long before she was recognized in her home country; born in Texas, she died an expatriate in Switzerland, with some of her later work, like Little Tales Of Misogyny, appearing, I gather, in German translation before English language versions came out). The (utterly excellent and believable) leads are Paddy Considine (who looks wounded even when laughing) and Julia Stiles (who was the waitress in that nasty piece of Mamet, Edmond, directed by horror king Stuart Gordon). The characterizations are wonderful, with the actors managing to convey a great deal of unspoken meaning behind each glance or line of dialogue - Considine in particular has such an expressive face that, in scene after scene, he "says" so much more than he actually allows himself to utter. Thraves, who adapted the novel himself, has considerable talent for psychological realism, above and beyond even what Highsmith accomplishes. For instance, consider an early scene where a coworker bums money from Robert. In the book, Highsmith has the request laid bluntly at Robert's feet, but Thraves has the coworker subtly manipulate the conversation by front-loading it, explaining what he needs money for before revealing that he hasn't any and needs a favour. It's the kind of set-up that people who want to borrow something often employ, weaving a bit of a trap for their target before they get to the point, but I've never seen it so believably depicted in a film before. There are all sorts of nicely observed and psychologically true moments like this, subtle details that lend veracity to the story and are impressive in their own right...
About my only complaint with Thraves' adaptation is that, at least to my eyes, the novel is intended as black comedy, which Thraves is not so gifted at; he tends to play scenes for pathos that I think are meant to be rather funny, in a blackly over-the-top sort of way, as our poor hero's troubles mount. You'll have to bring your own malicious sense of humour to the proceedings to be able to fully appreciate what Highsmith was intending, but it's not that difficult to do. Still, this is a very faithful adaptation, overall, and for anyone with a flicker of persecution mania in their souls, the DVD is well worth checking out. Sadly, it's been slapped direct-to-DVD with minimal fanfare, support, or critical attention, at least for the North American release, which happened this month. Like the novels of Patricia Highsmith themselves, it will likely be better appreciated in Europe, where people are less frightened of acknowledging how fucked up the human heart can get... no matter how it might look from the outside...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

To Sleep, Perchance to Breathe...

Thanks to the mysterious workings of search engines, the most commented-upon post in the history of my blog is "I Hate Downtown: a Rant," a frustrated bit of bile-spilling about the quality of life in downtown Vancouver - which saw increased action this past February, for some reason. It turns up near the top, or, depending on which engine you use, right at the top, of searches for the phrase "I Hate Vancouver," so people pissed off with the city and turning to the internet for comfort and camraderie are directed there time and again. I feel a bit bad about how negative and borderline racist some of the comments are, since there's a lot I actually like about Vancouver, and the large Asian population (whom I work in the service of) is not really the main issue for me, as it is for some commenters... but the post serves a useful social function, I guess, if it helps people feel their dissatisfaction with life here doesn't reflect badly on them, and gives them an opportunity to release some pent-up tensions. Plus I suppose it's kinda fitting that it be my most popular thread, given my blog's name.

Interestingly enough, the second most commented-upon post in the history of my blog deals not with weird music or film culture in Vancouver - the main two areas I tend to focus on - but with a medical condition I suffer from, sleep apnea. Again, thanks to search engines, it turns up near the top, or right at the top of searches, making me some kind of authority on the topic of "Sleep Apnea and Ear Infections."

Apnea, of course, is a potentially fatal breathing problem that affects people when they are sleeping, if our nasal passages are too narrow and our throat muscles too flabby to stay open and allow us to breathe comfortably. The main effect of apneated sleep is loud snoring, punctuated by periods where breathing stops altogether and the sufferer gasps and struggles to breathe; if you know someone who snores, you may have heard them do this. Without treatment, apnea sufferers tend to wake up repeatedly at night; night sweats, increased urination at night, and tiredness during the day are other markers of the condition, which is particularly prevalent among the overweight. The main treatment is a CPAP machine, a rather expensive shoebox-sized piece of medical equipment that sits at the head of my bed.

To briefly recap the main point of the post, since going on CPAP some seven or eight years ago, I discovered that use of my machine - which has a mask that fits facehugger-like over my face as I sleep, blowing air up my nose and keeping my airways open - seems to have led my having several ear infections. I used to have ear infections regularly in my childhood, particularly in my left ear, but hadn't had any for some twenty five years, prior to going on CPAP. After going on CPAP, ear infections once again became a regular part of my life, happening every few months or so and leading to tinnitus and a significant loss of hearing in my left ear, which scared the hell out of me (but which, thankfully, I was able to repair - a lot of the problem was caused by fluid buildup in my eustachean tube, which could be vented). I can't prove any connection between CPAP and my increased frequency of ear infections, and most ENTs and CPAP salesmen you talk to won't have heard anything about it, but I firmly believe there is one, based on my own experiences; and it simply makes sense that air blowing about in my ear-nose-and-throat chamber might affect sensitive tissues and/or move bacteria about inside my head. As I describe in that post, the only solution to the problem I could find that seemed to work was to lower the settings on my CPAP machine, so that I could still breathe at night without irritating my inner ear; since turning it down - to a setting of six or seven - I have the odd night of apneated sleep (waking with sweaty pillowcases and a decidedly unrested feeling) - but I haven't had another ear infection. It's not exactly a solution to all that ails me, but I can usually breathe okay at night - falling asleep and waking with the feeling of air comfortably flowing up and down my nasal passage - and my hearing is stable again, so I guess it will have to suffice.

The problem is, when I have a cold, and my nose is plugged, I'm screwed. I put on my mask, wrap a velcro'd and elasticized cloth around my head to keep my mouth from popping open and letting the air escape, and turn the machine on - and I try to breathe. Either no air goes up my nose, or so little that I feel like I'm suffocating. My only options would be to crank up the machine - consequences to my ears be damned! - or to take off the mask, which means sleeping badly, snoring all the while, and waking with a sore throat in the morning... which is not exactly something one wants to do, if one has a sore throat to begin with.

Like now, for instance. I sun is up, and I haven't bloody slept at all; my nose is completely plugged; and my throat hurts. I've been tossing and turning, putting on my mask and pulling it off, for three hours, with no positive results whatsoever. So I thought I'd kill a couple of hours sitting up and complaining about it.

That's all - I just came here to complain. Now I guess I'll go turn on my kettle and inhale some steam, in the hope that it loosens me up...

Friday, June 11, 2010

Exhausted, plus Subhumans and Nomeansno in Big Takeover

Maybe I still haven't recovered from my Doc Chad night, but crikey, I'm pooped. No strength to blog or much of anything else. If you're really hungry for my writing, go grab Big Takeover 66, which has the first part of my new, big Subhumans piece in it! (it also has a wee Nomeansno thing I did in it, and a previously unpublished 1992 Ramones interview that I had nothing to do with!).

VIFF poster sale!

How's this for magnanimity? I'm going to let my potential poster-buying competitors know that tomorrow and Sunday, from 11 to 7 - as it says in the mailout - "the VIFF poster archive will be opened up to the public to purchase posters of their favourite festival films! Over 1000 rare and unique posters on sale.Poster sales from $5 and up, discounts for multiple purchases, many speciality posters on offer. Cash Only." A partial (?) listing of posters to be sold is here. The Vancity Theatre's website is having a bad hair day, but I imagine this is all taking place at the Seymour and Davie theatre...

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Of snakes and bees

I turned over a board in a ditch today. It was a good board and a dry ditch, and it seemed likely, if my childhood instincts still apply, that there might have been a snake under it; I couldn't resist. I was walking home from the train station, with nobody watching, so I negotiated my way down the slope and quietly approached, hand extended...

Do understand: it's not that I've returned to catching snakes - a fine pastime of my Maple Ridge childhood that I suspect cannot be easily returned to, since many of the fields where I once sought my captures are now paved and townhoused; the last time I saw a snake in the wild was on a hiking trail on Bowen Island, maybe three years ago. No: I wanted to photograph a garter snake in my hand with my cellphone to show my Mom, who rather despises the creatures (and had to struggle with my keeping them in my room as a kid, especially when they managed to escape). We could have had a moment of nostalgic fun over such a picture. Plus I admit a fondness for that reptile smell they slime you with, and a desire to be brought back to my childhood by it, that those powerful olfactory sensations might make this town, which I resist so much, feel more like home. (There's nothing like snake slime to make the suburbs more palatable).

Unfortunately, there were no snakes under the board. A small spider, a slug, some rotting grasses; nothing worth taking a picture of. However, there are a few bees about that were willing to put up with my phone.
The straggling survivors of an apparently decimated species, the few bees that you see these days are almost always bumblebees. On rare plants, you still find honeybees, but these are few and far between. In my childhood - when I used to catch them in jars, before I moved up the food chain to snakes and frogs and salamanders - there were bees everywhere, no patch of flowers untended, or so it seemed. Now - and I wonder if this is connected to whatever force is behind Colony Collapse Disorder - it seems that vast numbers of flowers go completely beeless, while other particular plants are abundantly staffed, almost as if there was something in certain plants the bees were trying to avoid, or something in other plants they singularly needed more of. Maybe it's just a matter of taste on the part of the bees, but I still suspect, for all the talk of parasites, that GMO's have a role to play in this ongoing overlooked calamity; when I see a flowering shrub with not a bee on it, I feel a small quiver of apocalyptic dread, while finding another shrub that has many makes me hopeful that the ecosystem might be okay after all.

Anyhow, in lieu of a snake, here's to the bees! Gambatte, bees! Keep up the good work!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Dear BCVCO...

Congrats to BCVCO on this evening's Planetarium gig! After Alex Varty's fine Straight piece on the show (which I heard had sold out) there didn't seem any great need to plug the event here, but I do hope it went well; it's a pretty bloody amazing thing that it came together and I do hope it will happen again. Sorry I couldn't have been there, but my exhaustion level this week has been off the grid, and my responsibility-stack is doing nothing to shorten itself of its own accord; I could neither justify nor handle another trip into the city for a concert. Plus who the hell wants to follow up a gig that potenitally trippy and peace-inducing with a two hour commute by bus? If we'd been allowed to sleep in the Planetarium, I'd have brought a blanket and been there, really.

But anyhow, congratulations! (Um, if it happens again, could it be on a Friday night, maybe?).

Of the Melvins and their lyrics

I must admit that I'm relatively new to Melvins fandom. I saw them at least twice, maybe more, back in the late 80s/early 1990's at the Granville Cruel Elephant, during the early days of grunge (also seeing Tad, Tankhog, Helmet, and many lesser-known bands there - all of this in the pre-Nevermind glory days, before things got blown all out of porportion). I remember the SECOND time I saw them, I was surprised to see that they had a gal bassist - Lorax - which means I guess the first time it might have been Matt Lukin - a pretty early lineup indeed. I loved them live, but their albums, back then, seldom grabbed me; while certain songs were hooky and appealing - "At A Crawl," say - a lot seemed slightly undercooked, interesting ideas that could have been pushed further into epic and arresting songs, but often didn't quite make it that far (that was how I felt back then - I'm not sure I'd agree now, but it's the only opinion I have handy). I didn't pay very close attention to them at all for at least a decade, until I saw them back Jello Biafra in Vancouver a couple of years ago, beginning the set with some epically artful and dramatic numbers of their own. It was really striking; so I picked up Nude With Boots and (A) Senile Animal and suddenly realized that they are one of the smartest, most creative, and balls-out heaviest rock bands currently walking the earth. Investigations into their back catalogue reveal - with 1994's Stoner Witch, say - that the magnificence of the Melvins is not just a recent phenomenon, either; they've been really, really good at what they do for a very long time, while I blissfully ignored them.

Except there's this really annoying thing they do, or rather, since the early 1990's, don't do: they don't offer lyric sheets. There is no "lyrics" section on their website. The fan site does have a lyrics section - but it's all guesswork, with much disagreement between "fan transcribers" and no final word as to who is right. As an example: the discussion for "A History Of Bad Men" (cool live version here) in the section for (A) Senile Animal, has various Melvins listeners taking the "chorus" as "dire/ it's bleeding," or maybe "dire/ it's fleeting," but I've consistently heard it as "Gaia is bleeding" (an interpretation I like a whole lot more, but can't vouch for as being correct; they may well sing "dire," I dunno). Fond as I am of misheard lyrics - mondegreens, soramimi, what-have-you - King Buzzo sings with such an artfully, um, incomprehensible style that I've even heard people conclude that he wasn't singing words at all, just making sounds. I don't think that's so - it's just there's a helluva lotta room for error in trying to decode what he's saying. What was that Nietzsche quote - about how people who write in an aphoristic style don't want to be understood, but learned by heart?

Anyhow, really excited that the Melvins play here in July, and there's a new Melvins album out this week; I'm gearing up to try to help with decoding efforts on the Melvins board, assuming I have the freetime to squander. Or maybe they'll include a lyric sheet with this album?

I somehow doubt it...

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Blog The Night Away: in which I stay overnight on the streets of Vancouver to see Eugene Chadbourne play

(Written early June 3rd, edited and posted June 6. Rewritten again on June 7, because I can).

So here I sit: all roads lead to a Korean net cafe on Robson Street. It is 3:04 AM early Thursday morning as I begin this. I go to work in five hours, just a few blocks away. I elected, last night, to stay awake after the Eugene Chadbourne gig, rather than risk the costly, difficult, and likely none-too-restful alternative of trying to commute home to Maple Ridge.
It's something I've considered on a few occasions since I relocated to the burbs, on those odd nights when a concert is happening that I feel I simply cannot miss: stay awake all night, go to work in the morning, deal with the consequences. Other options - impose on friends, pay for a room, sleep on the street - all have complications attached; the independence of just foregoing sleep for a night has its appeal, assuming I can make it through til noon. The last time I attempted anything like this in the name of music was when I saw Joe Strummer and the Mescaleros in Tokyo at the Akasaka Blitz on the Global-a-Go-Go tour, in 2001 or 2002...

Tokyo is really a better city for doing this sort of thing than Vancouver, tho'. By contrast to the empty streets outside as I type, at 4am, the streets of Shinjuku are full of life: you see salarymen passed out in doorways, some apparently intoxicated, others seeming merely to be napping as they await the first train home to the 'burbs. Kids walk arm in arm down the alleys. The few 24 hour cafes and fast food joints are filled with similar teens and 20somethings, curled around each other cutely, totally asleep, the staff doing nothing to disturb them. If you can't find a seat to sleep in of your own - because they're packed - you can try your luck with the salarymen outside. If you fall asleep in the wrong doorway - in front of a well-lit corporate building, for example - you will likely be awakened by security guards and told to move on, but not too roughly. It doesn't matter much: if you're creative, there are all sorts of places to huddle (check for urine first)... there to sit and count taxis like you might count a parade of real live sheep, rolling by at a ratio of a dozen to one against non-taxis, until the trains start rolling back to, say, Saitama around 5AM. Nodding in a doorway counting taxis is a small price to pay for the memory of Joe doing "Message To You Rudi" and "Blitzkrieg Bop" among his encores.

I also have no regrets about having stayed to see Eugene Chadbourne at Lick, as part of Music Waste last night. It hadn't been my plan to stay all night, mind you, when I first showed up at the gig; but the set had been delayed by 45 minutes by the Music Waste/Fake Jazz organizers, who, having promised publicly that Eugene would go on at 10 sharp, nonetheless felt free to reschedule the start of his two sets to 10:45. (As a point of interest to the people responsible for that decision, if you'd kept to the promised schedule, I would be home in bed right now, as I had planned to be... or alternately, if you'd let it be known in advance that the set would be delayed, I might have made sleeping arrangements, either of which would have been kinda preferrable to this "experiment" I'm now undergoing... but grr, fuggit, thanks for bringing Eugene back, anyhow!).
Eugene 2010 by Femke van Delft, not to be reused without permission

At 10:45 sharp, Doc Chad began his set without waiting for people to quiet down, doing solo banjo as younger folk ran around with wires trying to mike him properly, letting the room slowly get drawn into what he was doing. It was the most "traditionally Appalachian"-seeming set I've seen him do, and certainly some of the most exciting banjo playing I've heard anywhere, comparable only to other times I've seen Chadbourne play banjo; it really brought home how great a musician he is, and how privileged we are to have been there watching him. Songs that I recognized included "People Will Vote For Whoever Gives Them Food" (which you can find on his House of Chadula CD Rebuild New Orleans In Iraq) and "The Old Piano." The latter - meditations around an unused piano - reminded me of Doc Chad's thoughts a few posts back on how many communities used to actually have live music, a tradition that has gradually been erased or thinned out by the advent of television, the internet, and so forth; it was possibly the saddest song of the night, though the sadness occurs at a depth that some folks might not notice...
Afterwards, Darren Williams and Kenton Loewen joined him for a jam session, nowhere near as amazing as Doc Chad's solo set but still interesting, despite a certain amount of push-pull involved, as the trio sought common musical turf to explore. Darren and Kenton had to struggle a little to enter and maintain the structures that Chad seized from the swirl and built into songs - songs which may have been country tunes in some previous incarnation, but took on a distinctly R&B feel, given the addition of saxophone (some may well have been spontaneous compositions by the Doctor, I really don't know). Williams had confessed in my Straight interview his lack of fluency in the idiom of country; he and Kenton, thinking more like jazzsters than songsters, tended to follow his solos into chaos rather than keeping up the structures Chadbourne had developed and letting him play off them... but regardless, by the end of the night, Darren and Kenton were much, much better at playin' R&B, Chadbourne style, than at the start.
On the other hand, I'm not sure how at home Eugene felt playing the Ornette Coleman piece. It was the second time out of six Doc Chad shows I've seen, after Aki Takase's Fats Waller Project, that he looked to be referencing sheet music; I assume that it might have been a bit constricting to him - it certainly was constricting to me as a listener/fan, since I'd much rather hear what Doc Chad can DO with an Ornette Coleman piece when NOT following notes on a page. (A lot of the delight in Chadbourne's covers lies in his digressions or his total reinventions, like, say, his banjo adaptation of Mingus' "Fables Of Faubus;" it's recognizable as the Mingus tune - actually quite faithful - but the very fact that it's being played on a banjo is half the fun. One imagines Mingus would never have seen it coming, but would laugh happily in approval). All three musicians seemed relieved to arrive at the improv section of the Coleman piece - certainly I was! Finally the trio was able to explode with conviction and enthusiasm, manifesting magnificently tempestuous freakouts on secured common ground. It was, in short, as beautiful as a hurricane...
It was still really all about seeing Doc Chad again for me, tho'. The closer, "That's The Way Love Goes" - was one of those highly emotionally compelling American songs that I probably would never have encountered were it not for his arrangement of it (I'm assuming it isn't an original, and that it bears no relation to the Janet Jackson hit. I'm told that Willie Nelson might've sung that one... I'll have to ask around...). At the end of it all, I felt really, really happy to hear people cheering loudly - presumably many of whom had never heard the music of Eugene Chadbourne before. I was happy they "got" it - little things like that keep my faith in humanity afloat, y'know?
Robson Street around 4am by Allan MacInnis
The rest of the night was spent wandering the empty streets, trying to get photos of west end skunks, ducking divebombing crows, and/or just killing time in a Blenz, nursing a Shizuoka Genmaicha, reading Charles Willeford's Pick Up, and trying, as an exercise, to transcribe the lyrics to a Melvins song (why are they so damned hard to figure out?). I'm thinking, based on how tired I am, that come the Melvins show in July, I'm going to have to make some sort of sleeping arrangements. However interesting it may have been, I don't think this all-nighter-in-the-city thing is that workable a way to continue seeing live music...

Eugene 2010 by Femke van Delft, not to be reused without permission

By the way, a happy Chadbourne Anniversary to Femke van Delft, whose show will continue to hang at the Railway for the month of June (see below). Some terrific photos of mostly local musicians - both hanging and in her binders - also including George McDonald of the Melodic Energy Commission, playing his theremin; Randy Rampage, back when he was still with DOA; Chris Arnett of The Furies; Mark Berube, looking quite strikingly like a young Tom Waits; the amply-tattooed Ani Kyd, and... well, too many for my still-sleepy brain to do justice to, but check'em out sometime!