Dec 23, 2004

Larry Buchanan 1923-2004


Larry Buchanan
Originally uploaded by eclecticscreeningroom.
Three days before the holiday season, and my long overdue return to the blog after such a long lapse, I have to report news like this.

A friend of mine sent me an e-mail asking me if I had heard of Larry Buchanan's passing, which he had just read in the Post. I hadn't, and the news both saddened and shocked me.

For those who may not know, Larry Buchanan was a director of micro-budget genre films from the 1950s to 1989. He is perhaps best remembered for a string of made-for-TV science fiction horror pictures in the late 1960s (among them, MARS NEEDS WOMEN, THE EYE CREATURES, ZONTAR THE THING FROM VENUS) which over the years has continued to delight or baffle many a channel surfer in the wee hours of the morning. For the most part, people poke fun at these movies because of the same cheap monster that appears in most of the seven films (made under the banner of Azalea Pictures, released by AIP), and that they are lethargic movies made on ridiculously low budgets. All right, but ESR's mandate has always been to look behind the cheap curtain and see what is operating there.

Thus, in 2002, we did just that.


Nov 11, 2004

Sunday Comedown

Well I already typed this once on Monday and the draft didn't save, so we're back at it again.

Usually the day after a trade show, I have a bit of an emotional letdown. It isn't out of depression or disappointment; it's just that after an event in which your mind and body are required to be on optimum levels, you go through a psychical kind of collapse, where you just vegetate. Curiously, this particular Sunday, I was pleased to find my mind still humming along, reflecting on how to push this publication ever further, and about things unfolding within the next couple of weeks.

Sunday I read all of Gordon's "Counterblaste" chapbook. I can see why he wondered why I would purchase this, because I tremble before his knowledge of literature (which I guess is equivalent to mine on film history). To be sure, I didn't get all of the references in his work, but even so, in his energetic and learned prose, there is an abundance of universal truths that anyone could recognize.

The one that most stuck with me was a point he made in his lengthy attack on John Metcalf. He illustrated a truth which I've long held. Before the early part of the 20th century, most of what we colloquially consider to be high culture was exactly that- classical music, literature, etc., was only enjoyed by the marginalized upper crust.

Of course with the proliferation of technology and the stratification of culture, there really is no such thing as that entity called high culture anymore, no matter how vainly they attempt to hang onto it. On the flip side of the coin, I don't believe that people on any rung of the social ladder would have less likelihood of enjoying such a thing if they were exposed to it. There is no reason to assume that a ditch-digger wouldn't like grand opera, that a cashier wouldn't go home to read Proust, or that a janitor wouldn't like Criterion's boxset of Stan Brakhage. And in today's ease of technology and proliferation of entertainment, there has never been a better chance for them to do so if they chose.

Basically, Gordon alludes to the fact that author John Metcalf is trying to hold on to this archaic notion that high culture should go back to what it originally meant- that it should only belong to a privileged few. And incidentally, his own work is encompassed in his vision of high culture. This nonsensical idea of cultural snobbery may not be as shocking or obscure as one may think. Primarily why people like Metcalf think so backwards is because they fear for their own identity. They are afraid of sharing anything perhaps because they lose their identity with the knowledge that others can do or appreciate the same things. It boils down to the "Indie Snob" phenomenon in the 90s- "I can only be hip if no one else is doing what I'm doing."

Therefore, Metcalf's idea is to take this cultural snobbery to an absurd and primitive degree. Only the so-called privileged (that is, sycophants whom he deems worthy of reading his work) should be allowed to dwell in high culture. This deconstructive theory helps no one in the long run. The underground is full of reverse thinking like this- people forget that sharing culture is the only way it survives. If people want to keep their own creative work to themselves, that's their business. However, who gives them the right to say whether or not someone else is worthy enough to appreciate it?

Nov 10, 2004

Little Cinema

Saturday night we watched the 1975 movie DOGPOUND SHUFFLE with Ron Moody and David Soul. It's about two hoboes who begin and song and dance act to raise $30 to get one's dog out of the pound! I haven't seen the film in 20 years, and I fell in love with it all over again. Seeing this film reminds me just how vital it is in to keep the smaller films alive. Their existence is getting squeezed out by the multiplex's hostile takeover of SPIDERMAN 15. Sometimes all people need is a modest little movie of everyday people doing ordinary things.

Nov 7, 2004

One more...

Before I forget, here's one anecdote about the fair. Gerry Magliarisi mentioned to me that he got a kick out of ESR #15, with the article that slags George Lucas, which he leafed through. I told him I didn't write it (it was written by Rob Craig in Connecticut; the article's full title is "1984: Who Killed Hollywood?"). He asked me if I agreed with it. I said that I didn't agree with absolutely everything in it, but it's not my job as an editor to censor someone's opinion- especially if I disagree with it. If anything, what I WANT is a series of different voices in this publication. It allows the magazine not to be so one-sided. Somehow my answer prompted him to mention that Parrish lady in the house of commons who got in trouble about mouthing off about George Bush. The point was that people should be able to voice their opinions no matter what. I agreed, and capped it with the statement that we're supposedly living in the land of the free. I don't want to get in a sociopolitical barb here, because that's not why I created this blog. However I will say this- I don't run ads in my magazine, therefore I don't have to satisfy anyone... not even myself, really. I only have to be true to the writer.

Toronto Small Press Fair Fall 2004

As always, I leave the small press fair, or any other trade show for that matter, feeling strangely liberated, and with a head full of thoughts.

For those that may not know, the Toronto Small Press Fair is held twice a year, once in the spring, the next in the fall. It is a great venue for small publishers who make chapbooks, literary quarterlies, and even trade-size books. ESR has always been a bit of an anomaly at the fair, simply because no other vendor sells a film-related publication. Sometimes I fare better at this function than others for that reason. I do not mean this disparagingly, but perhaps because after so much fiction, poetry chapbooks, and cute little buttons, they see this publication and they either investigate with bemusement, or head to the hills.

Although I do not consider myself a literary person by any means, I do however feel a kinship with the familiar faces, whom I see twice a year (more often than my relatives). Every person there is doing this thing, though great adversity, because they have a voice, and want to share it. By the way, what I mean by not being a literary person is, that I do not keep abreast of the latest books, or have an idea of what people in the underground are doing, nor do I attend readings (and in Toronto, I could fill my calendar with plenty of those). The word means a great deal to me, but nonetheless I consider myself tertiary to the literary scene because I do not publish fiction or creative writing. The time I have at my disposal barely affords me to publish my own thoughts, let alone keep up with others'.

Before I continue with my experiences of the day, I want to share one thought about the small press fair which has stayed with me for years. In the fall of 2002, which by the way was the greatest showing I've ever had at this particular venue, another writer said to me afterwards over a beer that the small press fair represents the Toronto underground. But since that point, I have pondered, just what exactly does this mean? It's a loaded statement, that can burst into many different colours.

Very early in the day, I was reminded of this thing called the underground. I made a donation to Pen Canada, an organization which works to free people from behind bars for their political beliefs, especially in an unfree country. This group is a classic example of the true definition of what it means to be an activist, a revolutionary. Yes, it's a liberating thing to publish a little rag yourself and sell it, but that is basically foreskin compared to the real picture. These are people who are fighting tooth and nail for their beliefs- this is the real battle, this is the real sacrifice. Whenever I hear some creative person bemoaning over the pain of being an artist, I dismiss the comment as superficial self-serving nonsense. The true pain is not in creating a voice, it is in having that voice shut involuntarily.

My good friend Gordon Phinn was selling his new book, "Eternal Life and How to Enjoy It". However at his table, I picked up a chapbook entitled "A Counterblaste to Canlit", which was his bestseller. Basically, it's literary criticism done with far less kindness than the usual politeness that this country accords. He later asked me why I bought it. I had not seen the book before today, but the title intrigued me so I asked him about its contents, and thought it would be a good read. He seemed surprised that I bought it. I'm not sure why- yes, because I'm a film guy, I may not get all the literary references that he makes in it, but when I can I like to learn more about literary history, as I do plan on reading that great wall of books in the back room... some day.

The table next to me was rented by author Giridhar Verramaneni, who was selling his book "Enjoy the Journey", which is a collection of short stories. When I bought his book, he asked me if I was sure I wanted it. Perhaps because we had been chatting the whole day, maybe he felt I was doing it to be nice. But the truth is, his description of the stories on the back rather intrigued me, and what bits I did read while leafing through it were quite lucid, thoughtful.

Grant Wilkins had #10 of his "Murderous Signs". His is one of the publications which I always make a habit of picking up whenever it comes out. I really have to admire this guy- he is a happy example of why people like us do what we do. Twice a year he publishes this digest-sized chapbook, pays his contributing authors for their trouble, travels from Ottawa to Toronto, to give it away for free! This alone is a nice gesture, but what has always attracted me to his publication is how disciplined it is. The writing is razor-sharp- he takes the time to put in only the best that is sent to him. (His contribution to the magazine is usually an interesting editorial in the beginning, followed by poems or short stories from contributors.)

Today I had the good fortune of seeing my old friend Tim Norton, whom I have not seen in person in ten years. He had tracked me down on the internet a few months ago, and ironically this was the place where we finally managed to see one another again. Also, Simon, my partner in the pilot, dropped by, and I freaked him out by telling him I picked up DR. DEATH in Honest Ed's last night. I was nicely surprised to see Dan Vandermolen, who used to PA and AD for us once upon a time, stop by. It's for moments like these that makes the fair worth attending every time. Although other vendors had mentioned that it was a rather quiet day (a noticeable number had cleared out early), I didn't do too bad, actually.

Ultimately, even on bad days at trade shows, I leave feeling somewhat liberated, as though I was part of something. Twice a year, I nod or exchange hellos with strangers who nonetheless have familiar faces (we all being to recognize each other before long!), and leave with the collective feeling that I have played a part in an invisible community of strangers -vendors and customers alike- who are looking for something that can only be found in this rented room.

Nov 6, 2004

VHS Wonderland

SWow, my first post. Hmm... wonder how many blogspots start with that?

Well, anyhow, in my upcoming plan to redo ESR's website, I thought it might also be fun to have this blog in conjunction with the regular site. In addition to discussing my pursuits in the publication, I also plan on writing about my interests in film, writing, underground culture, and so on.

Tonight, on the way home I stopped off at Honest Ed's (AGAIN!) for their 99 cent video sale. Among some goodies, my big picks were the road movie PAYDAY (1973), which I've been trying to find for 20 years, and the collage movie DYNAMITE CHICKEN (1971), which features such diverse pop culture figures as Richard Pryor, Leonard Cohen and Yoko Ono. For a buck each! Unbelievable.

Then I went next door to Suspect to see if they had the original Japanese version of GODZILLA without Raymond Burr. They did not, but while I was flipping through the "G" section, I found a copy of GLEN AND RANDA! It's the old Zen principle, "don't look for it, you'll find it". This hippie-dippie Jim McBride post-apoc fantasy has been another elusive title on my list (of course my list is 30 pages long, but forget that), so I rented that.

Queen Video was selling a VHS copy of THE PROJECTIONIST for three bucks. The young lady at the counter told me that they sold off all their Rodney Dangerfield movies after he died! He still don't get no respect. I taped this off Bravo, but it's good to have an SP mode copy not off-air.

Today we did more work on prep for the opening sequence for the pilot that Simon and I are doing. Finally, I'm getting all psyched up about the shoot, which extends over three nights next week. I've been in a psychic slump lately... the past few months in fact. This year has blurred by so fast- the fall is my favourite time of year, and I've barely absorbed the fact that it's here!

Tomorrow is the fall edition of the Small Press Fair. I'm finally starting to get excited about it. For some reason, it only happens the night before. For my feelings about being at trade shows such as these, I suppose it's only fair I reserve those for tomorrow's blog.

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