Saturday, April 21, 2018

What four films define you? (No, really)

It's been a while since a generated meme captured my attention, to say nothing of my imagination, but this one did.

My wife has known me for just over a quarter-century, so I asked her which four she thought defined me.

“Just one condition,” I said. “No Star Wars, 'cos it's too obvious.”
It's mostly about the LEGO these days.
This got a rise from her. “You HAVE to say Star Wars, because there is no more obvious film than that!”

Sigh. Okay then, Star Wars it is — Film Number One (1)! And, in fact, with the latest (final?) installment of Mr. Skywalker's adventures the choice seems even more obvious. Like him, I increasingly find myself wanting nothing so much as to be left alone in a comfortable chair.

“Alright, is there a particular concert movie or band doc that defines you?”

Wow — so many greats to choose from. RUSH, Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads, and more recently Devin Townsend and Steven Wilson.

I squirmed uncomfortably, and said, “Actually, if there's a music doc that defines me best it is almost certainly . . .”
Film Number Two (2)!  — Why Should The Devil Have All The Good Music?

Here's the truth: the first rock music I listened to was Christian Rock. Here's another confession: even though I jettisoned 99% of my Christian Rock library in the early '90s, I remained game to attend Cornerstone Festival — the Lollapalooza of Christian Rock.

I never managed it — but Vickie Hunter and Heather Whinna did. I couldn't say which one of them is agnostic and who is the atheist, but they both have such an open spirit they get attendees and acts alike to speak freely about the aesthetic and moral tensions that hamstring their enjoyment of, and attempts at, artistic expression. Watching it 14 years later, this film doesn't just define where I come from — it does a disturbingly good job of defining the current cultural moment as well. It's on YouTube.

“What is your favourite love story?”

Easy! It's . . .
Film Number Three (3) — Punch Drunk Love. For a lot of us dudes, the trick to intimacy is acknowledging the rage generated by our sense of isolation, and letting 'em both go.

“Okay, we need a writer film. Barton Fink?”
Ooo! Another obvious choice, perhaps...
I do love that film — a lot. But it doesn't “define me” (I hope!). Strangely, (and hopefully not too preciously) the writer film that just might is Stephen Soderbergh's second movie . . .
“I write by myself, for myself, in publications nobody reads.”
Film Number Four (4)! — Kafka. I think Soderbergh is, perhaps not my favourite filmmaker, but my most beloved one. He is a daring stunt man, and as with all daring jugglers, the moments I love him most are when he attempts something bold, and drops the ball. (Conversely, he tries my patience when he delivers the safe goods — Erin Brokovitch, Ocean's-By-The-Dozens, etc). In Kafka he drops the ball six ways to Sunday. It dares all, and I love it  I want to be that.

I do not tag people, but I would love to hear what four films define you (no, really). Comment or link below, svp.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

"Die Drasche Maschine"

This is a photo of a primary school class in my father’s (and, eventually, my own) village, taken the year he was born — 1939. It pretty much represents the situation he grew into. A small group of kids, shepherded by a lone woman.

He has stories of getting spanked as a first-grader by the woman principal. The first spankable offense was standing on a teeter-totter to get a better view of a couple of boys in a scrap. This struck him as terribly unfair, and he complained to his parents when he got home.

All he got was a knowing smirk, and “Nah, yo — die Drasche Maschine.” And possibly a comforting pat on the back.

I don’t know if the gal pictured is the legendary “Drasche (eng. ‘Thresher’) Maschine.” The woman who bore the nickname meted out many a strapping in her decades as principal, though. It’s a remarkable anecdote, to me.

Had either of my kids come back from school with stories of getting spanked by a teacher, that person would have committed a fireable offense — an action I’d be keen to see taken. In my father’s time it wasn’t just assumed teachers had every right to corporal punishment, it was a source of wry amusement when it occurred.

And my grandparents were not of the “If you ever get the strap at school, you’ll be getting it at home, too” mindset — also common at that time. Nevertheless, the thought of a relative stranger subjecting their child to corporate punishment with some frequency didn’t seem to phase them. Kids absorbed and grew up, was the thinking.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Boston, '68

I am reading Anthony DeCurtis' biography of Lou Reed, and mostly enjoying it. Other biographers (quite understandably) tend to get hung up on Reed's notorious cruel streak — easy material, really. DeCurtis doesn't skirt around it, but places a greater investment in the artist's journey — a POV I can appreciate.

Still, there are moments when DeCurtis's “from-here-to-there” narrative is just a bit too light on the details or analysis — a bit superficial, finally. One example:
That the Velvets spent so much time in Boston and essentially stopped playing in New York was, at least in part, a result of [band manager Steve] Sesnick's strategy. No doubt Reed perceived New York as Warhol's turf. Performing there regularly would make it much more difficult to move out of his sphere of influence. Some speculated that the Velvets were angry that New York radio didn't play their debut album, which doesn't make much sense since almost no stations played it. It's not unusual for a band, once it has achieved a certain stature, as the Velvets had with The Velvet Underground And Nico, to limit its exposure in its hometown and concentrate on building a national following. But that strategy makes much more sense for regional bands than it does for one from New York; if you have an enthusiastic following there, you pretty much already are a national band. Pulling back a bit from the New York scene may have been a smart move temporarily, but as the sixties were drawing to a close, some people were beginning to think of the Velvets as a Boston band. By any measure, that was a step backward.
This “clangs” for me, somewhat. My impression from interviews is that at this particular moment Reed did not object in the least to the Velvets being considered a “Boston band.” He was making a break from Warhol, sure — and letting the band take on a Boston reputation would surely have been a thumb in Warhol's eye. But at this point in his life Reed was compelled to be near the centre of whatever scene there was — surely there was a Boston scene, no?

We don't get evidence of such from DeCurtis' telling (“By any measure . . . a step backward”).

Fortunately we have Ryan H. Walsh to fill in this particular oversight. Walsh's Astral Weeks: A Secret History of 1968 is getting a great deal of prestige coverage right now, for which I'm grateful. Walsh apparently eschews the one-artist's-journey-to-and-through-an-album narrative to focus on, ahem, the Boston scene of '68. I've gone ahead and gambled the stamp on Walsh's book. So far I've only read the index — and I am already gratified. In a book “about” Van Morrison, Lou Reed figures prominently in at least 15 pages.

More to follow.