Oct 31, 2005

Ornette: Made in America (1985)

Tonight, we see the legendary free jazz player Ornette Coleman at Massey Hall. His warm reception was a delightful change from all those years of being a scourge to the jazz world.

In fact, this thunderous applause he was receiving for every song reminded me of the opening of Shirley Clarke's impressive documentary of the man. The film opens in the present tense with his band Prime Time (which adapted his theories to jazz fusion)- and it is ironically amusing seeing him play before a black-tie crowd in his native Texas. Yes, Coleman has come home again.... and to open arms, however this warm greeting was hard won. In Coleman's own words, the sudden appreciation of his work is this: "I guess if you live long enough, you get to be an elder statesman."

40 years on, the jury is still out on Ornette Coleman. His "harmolodic" theory was/is one of the foundations of the free jazz movement. His original quartet (with Don Cherry, Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins) was the scourge of the jazz world in the late 1950's... and even today the revolutionary sax player is still a hot topic for debate. The beauty of ORNETTE: MADE IN AMERICA is that it doesn't try to change one's mind about him. It is however a fascinating study of a figure who really sacrificed a lot for his unique voice.

It is enough to see Coleman practice his music in one of the most unholy places in Urbana (an abandoned building often populated by addicts and knife-wielding crazies)- fittingly working on outlaw music among other societal outcasts. However, this film pushes Ornette's legacy even further-- he often comes across as some kind of pop icon or superhero (as best exemplified by the cartoonish image of his likeness flying across a starry backdrop)- while he may be more mainstream than ever, this silly bit pushes it a little too far.

Sadly, ORNETTE MADE IN America is not widely available. My one and only screening of this in 2001 at Toronto's Cinematheque was made available by a film print which came and went under the arm of someone from New York the same day. It is a revealing, complex and somewhat moving portrait of a person who stands by his art regardless of its interpretation.

Supernatural (1933)

Here is a real treat- Carole Lombard, best known for her comedy roles like NOTHING SACRED, MY MAN GODFREY and TO BE OR NOT TO BE, has an early and unconventional role in this underrated thriller made by the brothers Halperin (Victor and Edward) after their surprise hit WHITE ZOMBIE (a great public domain favourite that still enchants us today). Thus, once they were called to the Paramount backlot, they made what is probably their most polished piece of work in a technical standpoint. Perhaps it lacks that unique mood and atmosphere of their earlier feature, but this entertaining piece of B movie chiller conventions is very well done.

Carole Lombard sees a phony spiritualist who claims that he can contact her dead brother... and even offers up the notion that the young man was murdered! Thus, complications evolve from this twist, naturally, and the result is a very entertaining 65 minutes, which has a marvelous ending. This is one of those horror movies that acts rather ambigiously about its supernatural quotient- rather, it plays like a melodrama and mystery with vaguely otherworldly elements. In this case, it works better, because we're never sure if some peculiar moments are due to outside forces or just weird coincidences. Also fun to see Randolph Scott as the love interest, when he had not yet found his cowboy image.

Sep 12, 2005


Today, Hollywood Canteen (the movie collectibles, books and video shop here in Toronto) ran their Show of Shows at a hotel downtown. I had been curious about attending this venue as a vendor ever since I began this publication, and this year I finally remembered to sign up early enough to do just that. Well, ten minutes in there, I realized I was in bigtrouble. All the other booths were selling lobby cards, posters, magazines, etc. so ESR was a unique thing to have at this fair... and not in a good way. The clientele here didn't come to read, but collect. I'm disappointed, but not bitter about the experience- these are the gambles we take when we try to take our work anywhere. I did manage to sell a few of the noir issues, though, so the day wasn't a total loss. With enough pocket change, I browsed through the one dollar lobby card bin and found some stuff for some obscure 70s flicks, which is of course my bread and butter.

Every year, Hollywood Canteen revolves the fair around a celebrity appearance as a draw, so people can collect autographs and memorabilia in addition to the fair getting a shot of star power. This year, our guest was Priscilla Barnes, known for her roles in "Three's Company", MALLRATS, and (for me) THE CROSSING GUARD. My booth was next to hers, and she is a completely charming lady- as exciting and funny in person as she is onscreen. In fact, I've confirmed my suspicion that there is a lot of untapped talent that supersede her usual requirements in her slate of B-movies.

After the show, I had coffee with John Reed, the director of FUDDLEBE- one of the films I showed in February. This was one of the little morsels of the day that remind me to hang in there, and keep on doing what I'm doing, even in an umbrella of disappointment.

Sep 10, 2005


After a dismal first half of the year, I was hoping I wouldn't have to write a third part to my "...Scene is Going to Ratshit" series, but here it is. Much my delight, and I'm sure to that of others in the independent scene, there was an announcement made for a weekend-long engagement at the CNE. Under one roof, people could see and hear works by visual artists, writers, musicians and filmmakers. If this didn't spell community for independent artists of any persuasion being able to come together, well, nothing would. And sadly, nothing did. This week all of the vendors got the e-mail that Ear to the Ground had been cancelled due to lack of funding. The venue that sounded too good to be true... was. I am uncertain if it was an issue of expanding far too quickly for a first-time attempt at a venue or what, but alas, the very thing that could give the independent community its sorely needed shot in the arm is another of too many casualties with big ideas and small prospects. Am I disappointed? Certainly. But I do hope they learned from this, and continue to get on the saddle and try again. It is worth doing.

Jul 11, 2005


Not that you may have missed us, but we're back. After a perfectly dreadful first half of 2005, which featured a couple of personal meltdowns, general malaise, compounded with "What Now"isms at my day job, I've completely lacked motivation- not only for writing ESR, but working on the show, and doing a couple of other writing projects I've committed to.

I've decided to finally pick myself up from the floor and make sure that the final six months of this year don't go for naught. The first six months were quite arid; however, there is one shining moment to talk about, and it is long overdue for my inclusion on this page.

In the past calendar year, ESR has expanded its operations into other media in order to reach out to this ragtag film community in order to try and form a sense of, well, community. Last fall, we released our first DVD, Retro Shorts #1, which was a hit at a couple of fairs I attended in 2004.

On Tuesday Feb. 22nd, I pushed ESR into another direction by holding our first ever screening in order to get people out to pick up a new issue of our fine publication. Thanks to the fine folks at Innis Town Hall, namely James King and Danielle Dornellas, we were able to hold a fun evening of films: Brian Random's mockumentary POP CARTS, Skot Deeming's collage film P2P, John Reed's FUDDLEBE and Bill Heath's POROROCA: SURFING DOWN THE AMAZON filled the first hour. Since these were all DVD's that were projected, I made sure that the last half of the evening featured something with sprocket holes. (People know my general dislike of video projection, but I will concede that it is getting as years go by, and if there's no film print to show instead, well it's better than nothing. However, I do tip my hat to Innis, for their video projection system is brilliant!) Thus, thanks to the assistance of my good friend Dion Conflict, we were able to show a 16mm print of the Roger Moore peplum ROMULOUS AND THE SABINES.

Both of my faithful readers might recognize the name of Skot Deeming, who has been a semi-regular contributor to our publication. His short film P2P was a collage of footage featuring space or extraterrestrial phenomenon appropriated solely from file sharing. Skot showed me this film two years ago, and I still think it's his best work that he's done to date. His was a last minute addition to the programme, and I was happy to screen it- however I can help to get more people to see this unique movie. Anyway, last December Skot and I bumped into Brian Random at Dion's "Hunkajunk" festival at The Royal. Brian (one of my best customers) invited us to his place, and showed us his recent work, POP CARTS- a hilarious mockumentary of some bored Brampton youths who bring some meaning to their life with an unusual urban sport.. I won't ruin the gag-- just see the bloody thing.

Last December, I happened to witness Bill Heath's spellbinding half-hour documentary POROROCA on his showreel (about world-class surfers who brave the mighty waves of the Amazon river), and he graciously allowed me to show it for this evening. The "draw" for the show was surely John Reed's beautiful short film FUDDLEBE, a breathtaking melange of German Expressionism, Tim Burton, and Guy Maddin, done with the perfect balance of black humour. Since this was a premiere for its cast and crew, they were the ones who made up most of the 70-odd spectators. (In fact I overheard one whining thespian grouse at the beginning of the night- "How many films do I have to see before this one?") Thus, at half time, there was a mass exodus, as I predicted there would be, and perhaps one to two dozen brave souls stuck around to see the gloriously cheesy sword and sandal epic ROMULOUS AND THE SABINES.

This peplum, featuring Roger Moore paying his dues way before The Saint and 007, is full of bad dubbing, heavy-breathing dialogue, and a real "huh" of an ending to keep us giggling for an hour. The people whom I spoke with seemed to have a good time throughout the evening, and if anything, this, forgive me, "eclectic" cross-section of pictures demonstrated my own philosophy that "all film matters", and even though I knew a picture like Skot's would be the least audience friendly, it is testament to my insistence that people be introduced to all aspects of cinema.

On top of all that, we had giveaways- congrats to Betty Pearson, Barry Price and John Porter (one of ESR's best customers), for they will receive a year's worth of ESR delivered right to their doors.

To be sure, this very first screening was a trial by fire, as I knew it would be, but I learned a whole lot and had a great time. Somehow the issue got done in the days prior to the screening during my really bad cold, but I survived. Oh yes, one weirdo coincidence before I go-- the Sunday night before the screening, I watched GODS ANGRY MAN twice. This Werner Herzog documentary about the hotheaded televangelist Gene Scott was reviewed for that issue. I later found out he died the next day.

PS- in my four-year uphill battle of keeping this publication afloat, despite the support from my contributors and readers, it took this screening for me to receive something in my PO box that I had never ever gotten before... I got a thank-you card from one of the performers in FUDDLEBE.

It's worth it.