Friday, May 22, 2009

RIP JG Ballard

I love JG Ballard and was very sad to learn of his passing several weeks back. It did make me pick up and read The Kindness of Women, a book I’ve been meaning to read for years. I can’t recommend the book enough. Like his brilliantly harrowing bio, Empire of the Sun, which chronicles his childhood years in a Japanese internment camp in Shanghai during World WWII, The Kindness of Women is another semi-autobiographical novel. The Kindness of Women revisits his Shanghai years, and then follows his life through his years in Cambridge, Saskatchewan and his beloved Shepperton, where he finds salvation in family life and his children. The book also does a great job exploring the tumultuous sixties. That’s a scene that’s been done to death, but I’m tempted to say Ballard has done it best. He has a unique window into that world. Free spirits are attracted to him and he’s willing to dabble and explore but with the distance of a family man a little too old for that sort of thing. In a clever bit of symmetry, the book culminates with Ballard revisiting a fabricated Shanghai on the studio lot in Shepperton during the filming of Steven Spielberg’s film adaptation of Empire of the Sun. One of the things I loved about Empire of the Sun (the book) was that though it is completely different in style and tone to all of Ballard’s fiction, it manages to lay down the blueprint for all his fiction work. Ballard’s sci-fi work and dystopian future worlds are filled with mass-psychosis, sleep deprivation, and fractured societies. It’s a world that can be cold, confusing and off-putting to some, but makes total sense once you learn about his childhood experiences. The Kindness of Women functions in much the same way with a hint more emphasis on Ballard’s psycho-sexual explorations. The seeds of Crash are laid out in detail in the latter portions of The Kindness of Women. Also, the book really shows how his experiences in Shanghai shape him, for better or worse, throughout his entire adult life. Best of all it reads like a great, classic novel.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

D Tour

It’s been a rock doc week. Just saw D Tour at the SF Film Fest. It’s a doc by my good buddy, Jim Granato. It follows Pat Spurgeon, drummer of indie rock rising stars the Rogue Wave. It’s a great doc and not your typical one at that. The film chronicles Spurgeon’s search for a new kidney and follows him on tour while he copes with dialysis. Not your everyday tour scenario. The film takes some pretty intense and emotional twists along the way. It’s 3 in the morning, so I’m not gonna say much other than that. But I wanted to get a quick post up here to let you know that if you live in SF, you should try to see it at the fest this week.

The film screens again Monday, May 4 and Thursday, May 7 at the Kabuki. Go here for more info.

D Tour Trailer from dtour on Vimeo.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Patti Smith: Dream of Life

Wow. This film was pretty intolerable. Let me first say that I’m a huge Patti Smith fan. Horses is one of the greatest records ever. And though I haven’t paid that much attention to her late career output, Gone Again, the one record I have heard, is fantastic.

Clearly, what I was hoping for with Patti Smith: Dream of Life, was a rock doc about one of the truly unique spirits in rock and roll. However, the film does not even attempt to be a conventional, career-spanning doc. There are maybe 3 minutes of archival footage, no live footage from back in the day, almost no classic Patti Smith songs on the soundtrack, and the live performances that we do see are from a later tour, and even with those, you are only treated to snippets of song. Ultimately, the film is a cinéma vértié look at the recent incarnation of rock poetess, Patti Smith. The film is clearly attempting to be her Don’t Look Back. It’s a choice that is a strange one. Don’t Look Back has the fortune of capturing Dylan at a critical transformative point in his career, plus he’s at the height of his powers and he’s meeting and mingling with rock legends. Who wouldn’t want a window into that world? Would I have liked to see a cinema vértié portrait of Patti Smith in 1975? Hell yeah. In 2005, that tactic is a little less compelling. Is she still a strong, outspoken artists with a lot left to give her fans, her friends, and the world? Well...yes. But let’s face it, Patti Smith, circa 1999-2009 (the years over which the movie were made), doesn’t have the compelling storyline that Patti Smith, circa 1975 does. If you’re like me, you’re aching to see the formative years, hear about the formative years, experience the formative years. This is not that film in any way, shape or form.

The grainy b&w cinematography is beautiful, but like many vértié films, it feels cold. Also, much of Smith’s voice-over feels like a poetry reading, like she’s on stage, performing for us. While I like much of what she says, it feels more like a performance and less from the heart and therefore takes on an air of pretension. Smith talks a lot about her inspiration to be an artist, the connection to Rimbaud, Burroughs and Blake. She clearly tries to make a connection between those who have influenced her and her hope that she can serve as an influence to others. All noble, but the coldness and the pretension of the film dilute the message.

One of the awesome things about Patti Smith has been her ability to transcend the rock world, the poetry world, the political world and the art world. But for me, her foot that was firmly planted in the rock world was the element that gave her voice that undeniable fire. This film, unfortunately, is almost completely planted in the art and poetry world, and the fiery breath of rock and roll is sadly missing.

Here's a clip you won't see in the movie.