Wednesday, July 29, 2009


The Mekons played last night in SF. Not sure why they’re here. No new record. Low key show that I found out about only two days ago. I was pretty on the fence about going. I was tired. It was Tuesday. I’ve seen ‘em a million times. I rallied, made it to the show and pretty early on I thought to myself, “Why was I even considering not coming to this show? I love this band.” I’ve loved the Mekons since purchasing a scratched, over-priced import of The Edge of The World back in 1986. $14.99 for a sealed, yet scratched record! Had to take it back to the record store, have them ship it back to England and get another copy, which arrived 60-90 days later. But hey, the band crossed my doorstep just as I was discovering country, blues and non-rock material. They came into my life at just the right time. And while not every track on every record is amazing, I probably have more of their records than any other band. And last night, they delivered in a big way. In a classic Mekons-of-old style, there were plenty of broken strings, broken accordion straps, and missing 9 volt batteries plaguing the opening half hour of the set. But no worries, the comedy team of Timms and Langford were as tight as ever and as good as anybody I saw at Sketchfest this year. Once they got their gear in order, the band ripped into a fantastic set. I remember seeing the Rolling Stones about ten years ago. It was a time when I wasn’t listening to the Stones that much. I remember being blown away by the sheer volume of hits. They’d pull out a song like It’s Only Rock and Roll, and I’d think, “Holy crap. I forgot all about this song.” Hit after hit just kept coming. That was going through my mind yesterday as the Mekons rolled through lots of choice selections from the back catalogue. Staples such as Hard To Be Human, Wild and Blue, Beaten and Broken, Hole In The Ground, Fantastic Voyage, Last Dance delivered as usual. But there were moments of “Oblivion! Abernant! Have I ever heard them play these live?” The answer is probably, but hell, that was a long time ago and it all sounded so damn good last night. Even with Tom Greenhalgh missing in action, Lu Edmonds and Rico Bell filled in nicely on vocals. And the new material focused heavily on last year’s Natural, a record I like enough, but don't think their best. But live that material sounded great and will definitely make me take another listen. Moral of the story. If one of you’re favorite bands are playing, don’t be a fool. Just go to the damn show.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Welcome To Australia, Pt. IV: The Great Ocean Road

Before heading to Australia, I definitely had my eye on the Great Ocean Road, a 200 km road along the ocean in Southern Victoria. What photos I had seen looked spectacular, and my Melbournian friend Martyn had highly recommended it as well. I was still a bit on the fence given the two day chunk it would take out of my stay in Melbourne, not to mention the transport issue. To travel the road my options were a) rent a car and drive on the wrong side road, b) borrow Martyn’s car and contend not only with the wrong side of the road, but also with a manual shift on the wrong side of my body or c) get on a tour bus with a bunch of tourists. Ultimately I chose not to deal with humans or risk wrecking Martyn’s auto. I rented a car and went on down the road. Hands down the GOR was the highlight of my Australian trip. Absolutely breathtaking. Though it’s winter down here, I was accompanied by blue skies, white billowy clouds, giant rainbows, and the golden glow of a sparkling, sunny day. The day was crisp and spring-like, the evening offered an autumnal chill descending into winter. The road offered up beautiful vista after beautiful vista. Sandy beaches, rugged, rough hewn orangey cliffs, rolling green pasturelands dotted with cows and sheep, rain forests, and the postcard perfect 12 Apostles—a series of 12 monolithic rock structures off the coast near Port Campbell. Truly stunning. If you’re ever in Australia, you’ve got to do this drive. And the wrong side of the road thing…kind of fun.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Welcome To Australia, Pt. III: Minescapes

Since being in Australia, I've learned a lot about Aussie history, culture and economics. From what I gather, the economy of Western Australia (home to Perth) is all about mineral wealth, with mining playing a central role in the region's development. Had the pleasure of seeing an amazing photo exhibit by Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky at the Australian Centre For Photography. Burtynsky's photos are absolutely magnificent. They're large format, large scale (appx. 5' x 5') aerial photographs of mining sites. They stunningly showcase the impact of industry on the landscape. Additionally, the formal structure of the photos creates a world that is simultaneously concrete and abstract. Worth seeking out.

Welcome To Australia, Pt. II: Wake In Fright

Since having touched down in Australia two weeks ago, the hype surrounding the re-release of Ted Kotcheff’s 1971 film Wake In Fright has been thick. I had the opportunity to see the film at the Revelation Film Fest in Perth and the film lives up to the hype and then some. Wake In Fright stars Gary Bond as a teacher stuck in a one-room schoolhouse in the outback. Due to the intricacies of the Aussie school system, he’s trapped there until he can buy out his $1,000 teaching contract. Given that he’s an erudite city-slicker, this prospect does not go down smoothly. For winter holiday, he’s planning to head to Sydney, but he has a one night lay over in “The Yabba”, an outback mining town. Bond quickly takes a condescending tone to the beer-swilling denizens of the Yabba. It’s a world of redneck machismo, a world which he clearly disdains. But the townsfolk pour beer after beer down his throat. He drinks to be hospitable and in a moment of drunken clarity, he realizes he might be able to raise $1,000 by entering an epic game of “two-up”, a rudimentary gambling game that all the men seem transfixed by. Things go south quickly and he ends up flat broke with no way out of the Yabba. He’s forced to rely on the kindness of strangers and what follows is the lost weekend to end all lost weekends. Bond descends headlong into a world he clearly has trouble navigating. Drinking, gambling, fighting, hunting and awkward sexual dalliances follow. The film’s grim centerpiece is an utterly brutal, drunken kangaroo hunt filled with bloodlust, a high marsupial body count and, believe it or not, hand-to-paw combat with the plucky roos.

Ultimately the film is a critical look at the culture of machismo in Australia, as well as an exploration of the cultural divide between rural and urban lifestyles and attitudes—a divide that exists in more places than Australia.

One of the fascinating things about seeing the film in Australia is the debate about weather Australia has left this culture of masculine posturing behind. The film is almost 40 years old, but many still seem to question how far Australian culture has evolved in that time span, especially in light of recent debauched footballer escapades in both Sydney and Melbourne. I’m just a tourist, so I can’t weigh in on that debate, but I definitely recommend seeking out this movie. Not sure if will appear in reparatory in America, but I imagine a dvd release can’t be far behind.

Oh, and Donald Pleasance is brilliant in the film as well.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Welcome To Australia-Let's Talk About Nick Cave

Having spent four days in Australia so far, there’s no question that Nick Cave is considered a national hero. You can’t go five minutes without someone mentioning him. He’s as big as Bob Seger is in Detroit. Fortunately, that’s ok by me. And not only are people constantly talking about him, but as it turns out, he even has an exhibit at the Western Australian Museum here in Perth, where I’ve spent the last few days. The show is pretty cool. It’s essentially Nick Cave ephemera mania. Three or four rooms filled with journals, folios, sketch books, studio notes, curios from Cave’s house, bookshelves filled with books from his Sussex home, artwork that inspired him, and original photos spanning his career, many of which you’re all familiar with. There are lots of Birthday Party and Bad Seeds videos, as well as Nick Cave docs screening on monitors spread throughout the exhibit. There are also some very cool curio cabinets hung on the wall. They contain little speakers and when you open them, you hear Cave wax rhapsodic about love and life. For some reason, all the 10-year-old kids at the museum were immediately drawn to those. There was something perverse about that.

And if that wasn’t enough Nick Cave for the day, later that evening, I caught a Nick Cave doc at the Revelation Film Festival (the reason why I’m in Perth in the first place). Do You Love Me Like I Love You, Part 5: Tender Prey is a 30 minute doc by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard on the making and the meaning of Tender Prey. Apparently, they’ve made 14 of these films, interviewing over 300 people in the process. They’ve made one film for each Bad Seeds’ record and the films appear as bonus material on re-issued collectors’ editions of each record. The film is pretty awesome. 30 minutes of beautifully shot talking head interviews with the people involved and influenced by the record in question. It is a thorough analysis of all things Tender Prey. Dissected are the songs, the lyrics, the emotion, the smuttiness, the meaning, the images, the photography, the recording, the mixing. Weighing in are the likes of Blixa, Mick Harvey, Alan Vega, Kid Congo, Mark Arm, Noah Taylor, Flood and many, many more both male and female. At times, the film yearns for a little music or a little live footage, but the interviews are so good that’s all forgiven, especially considering these are ultimately part of a cd package where you can pop on whatever song you want to hear.

Heck, I even debased myself before the screening, crooning a little bit of Lover Man in order to win a giveaway of From Her To Eternity.

Now I’m off to hunt down Bon Scott’s grave.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Public Enemies, Moon, The Song Is You. Book and Movie Round Up

Awesome. Sam Rockwell is diligently at work in solitude on a lunar station. Two weeks left to go on a three year stint. There’s an accident. Things go wrong. He’s starting to lose his marbles. Is he seeing things? Are there clones? What’s going on? Creepy, sci-fi quietude channeling 2001, Silent Running and Demon Seed. Is the computer good or bad? What about the corporation behind it all? A grim 70s view of the evil corporation and the sci-fi world in general. And it was shot in Shepperton. Right on!

Public Enemies
Not down with this at all. The film was pretty much a compilation of prison breaks (apparently very easy to do), bank robberies (apparently very easy to do) and shootouts with the cops featuring lots of tommy guns and dead people. But honestly, where was the story? If you’re gonna make a movie about Dillinger, you should at least give some insight into the inner-psyche of the character, what makes him tick, blah blah blah. Did I miss something? Depp could have been any gangster. Pretty generic at the story, back story and inner story level. I was also irritated by the camera work (oooh, low angles all the time, how ominous) and the music. I guess I didn’t like it. Marion Cotillard was purty to look at, but not so sure about the acting chops. There were moments where the film addressed the changing nature of crime during the depression and shifts taking place within the FBI and the world of crime fighting. I liked those moments, but those were fleeting at best.

The Song Is You by Megan Abbott
Fantastic neo-noir. Channels Ellroy and Chandler in a delicious way. Great story about the underbelly of Hollywood in the 40s. Desperate, wanna-be actresses, willing to do anything for a role. The stars and the studios willing to prey on these star struck girls from the Midwest. The jaded hangers on in the system undercutting their morals for a taste of fame and money. Expertly written.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Skate & Destroy

It’s a weird world to be sure. Back in 1986, over the course of one day, I made a short film called Skate Witches. Tonight it appears on MTV. Never in a million years would I have predicted that.

The film was inspired by my friend Dana. She had skated a bit and wanted to bring her board to Ann Arbor as a way to get around town. But since she was a girl, she figured she’d get hassled by the boy skateboarders. Jokingly, I suggested she start a female skateboard gang as a way to address that problem. Within minutes our friend Karen, who claimed to be a good skater, joined up, as did our friend Jenny, who openly admitted to never having skated. A gang was formed, a movie script was plotted, and the back of a leather jacket was emblazoned with SKATE WITCHES in white spray paint.

When we started shooting, Karen, for some reason, refused to skate. We worked that into the script. During the shoot, we found a couple of friends skating. They were recruited to be hapless boy victims, being shoved off their skateboards and having their boards stolen by Jenny. I think because she was the most novice skater, it was decided that she would be the tough. All of our pet rats appeared as well. Mr. Ig Wigg, Maggie, and a rat whose name I can not remember.

The film was shot in an afternoon and one evening. We shot a night scene where Karen skated at night, backing up her claim in the film that she “only skates at midnight.” That was lit by the car lights of a 1982 brown Horizon. That footage was unusable.

We finished the film and essentially no one cared. It did screen at the Ann Arbor Super 8 Fest in 1986 or 1987. I remember being irritated because they had a prize for best Michigan Film. I’m not saying I deserved to win, but they did give that award to a filmmaker from Ohio that year.

Underground films like this were a tough sell in 1986 and not until the 90s with the founding of NY and Chicago Underground Film Fests did this kind of work even gain traction. Skate Witches got a couple of nice screenings throughout the 90s as Skate Film Festivals (esp. Cut & Paste) started coming to the fore.

But then the internet. Skate Witches has been a hit with the youth on YouTube. It’s funny. And now MTV.

The film, “discovered on YouTube”, is going to be featured, and I believe made fun of, on a show called DJ and The Fro. Kind of like Bevis and Butthead, but featuring guys in cubicles sharing viral videos. We’ll see. It appears on an episode called Substitute Boss. It’s set to air Friday, July 3, 12:30 am. Set your TIVOS and check your local listings for repeat airings.

And for what it’s worth, Dana still has the jacket. Let the eBay bidding wars commence!

Watch it below with out the smarmy MTV comments. Also, it's available on my Warts & All DVD.