Jul 11, 2005

CLUES THAT THIS SCENE IS GOING TO RATSHIT, VOLUME TWO

This Sunday I went to the St. Lawrence flea market. This is not a regular stop for me, but I go once or twice a year tops, and seldom buy anything but a cup of coffee. Anyway, this particular afternoon, I was chatting with one of the vendors while I perused his CD's for sale. He was telling me that the lady who ran the market was going around telling all the vendors that effective the following week, any "flea market" items could no longer be shown. She instead prefers that people instead focus on selling antiques or interesting collectibles. Understandably, this irked a lot of vendors who sell books, music or videos at their tables.

In one way, it's making this venue into a completely exclusive (shall I say it? snobby) kind of affair- the event will then just be a specialized market that the common people shouldn't or hopefully wouldn't be interested in. On the other hand, is that a great loss, really? It is amazing how many vendors actually think they're going to sell a warped, scratchy, musty, water-damaged copy of Barry Manilow's Greatest Hits for five bucks. Hello? Been to a buck bin at Salvation Army lately?

But here's where it starts getting interesting. Who still gets to show their "flea market" stuff? The guy who sells grey market DVD's in the back corner!!! A lot of Toronto film geeks might know who I mean- he's been there for as long as I remember selling pirated copies of such esoterica as horror, sex, JD, and rock and roll movies. Well in recent times, he's gone digital... hence he no longer sells illegal VHS dupes of Herschell Gordon Lewis movies for forty bucks a pop.

Instead, he's selling stuff like REEFER MADNESS on DVD for 15 bones in jewel cases, with the shittest inkjet printing I have ever seen on the front covers and the DVD stickers themselves. Go to Sunrise records, and you can get a more legit copy of this for five. The next issue of ESR will be the "all rock and roll" issue, and to get ready for it, I have been meaning to score copies of THE TAMI SHOW and THE BIG TNT SHOW- neither of which are legally on video. This guy is selling each of these for 15 apiece, and even though that is not an unreasonable price for a DVD-R of a hard-to-find grey market item, I was totally turned off by the crappy inkjet art on the sleeves and the stickers! Instead, I got both off eBay at considerably less than what I would have paid for this claptrap.

The moral of this story is not just that even as a grey market connoisseur, I still have aesthetic values to uphold. Instead, this is another classic case of the weird kind of exclusionism that goes in the indie scene in general. Someone lays down ground rules, but somehow, there is one fraction of the population that is immune to them. Why do the rules work here and not here? Thus, this darkly amusing chronicle is a microcosm of how any kind of fringe event is being taken away from "the people", primarily by upstarts who do this as an excuse to keep who they want in the organization, and piss on all the rest... the participants and the public.

Frankly, if the guy is still allowed to shovel his crap there, fine. I might need a DVD-R of "American Bandstand" real soon.

MEMO TO THE BRITISH FILM INSTITUTE:

ESR's mandate is of course that "All film matters". And to exercise this, a long-held practice of our fine publication is that we write about trashy Grade Z movies with the same brushstroke of interpretation and allusions that a lot of the film criticism intelligensia might review anything by Fellini or Tarkovsky. We are bringing both extremes of cinema to the middle, in which each is forced to recognize the values of the other.

Now I think it necessary for all bastions of film criticism to do the same thing. Remember, cinema was made for the people, therefore why alienate the people with alot of windy pretentious claptrap? One ends up intimidating readers who might be interested in this work, however are made to feel unworthy of such specialty cinema.

You might have seen on the bookshelves these little paperbacks that have been produced by the British Film Institute- "BFI Film Clasics", seldom exceeding 80 pages but still bleeding you about 12 bucks. These singular academic pocketbooks each offer book-length analyses of such arthouse classics as GREED, ODD MAN OUT, PATHER PANCHALI, and SHADOWS, to name only some of the few dozen volumes that have been published so far.

Therefore, in an attempt to bring a fresh, radical dimension to film criticism, we propose to the BFI that perhaps for their next line of film titles they offer one book each to:

-IF YOU DON'T STOP IT YOU'LL GO BLIND
-HERBIE GOES TO MONTE CARLO
-THE CRATER LAKE MONSTER
-BRUCE LEE FIGHTS FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE
-STOP OR MY MOM WILL SHOOT
-GODZILLA VS. MEGALON
-GREASE 2
-BENEATH THE VALLEY OF THE ULTRAVIXENS
-THE INCREDIBLY STRANGE CREATURES WHO STOPPED LIVING AND BECAME MIXED UP ZOMBIES
-BLACK BELT JONES

Don't stop believing. It CAN happen.

CLUES THAT THIS SCENE IS GOING TO RATSHIT, VOLUME ONE

Every spring I always look forward to attending Cut and Paste. Even though this is my least-selling venue all year, it is the most fun, as this fair features a lot of the "old guard" of the local indie / zine scene. Anyhow, much my surprise, and others' to be sure, C&P was stunningly unattended.... by the vendors!!

A whopping eight tables were filled by merchandisers, which is roughly one quarter of the usual space. Unsurprisingly, the plug was pulled on the show two hours in. However one wonders what in the hell did or didn't happen. Was it lack of promotion? Lack of interest on part of the vendors? I seriously doubt the latter, but I suspect that the word simply didn't get out to people Since it happened one month later than usual, perhaps many thought it just wasn't happening at all.

But had the day gone as planned, this afternoon may not have gone down such an interesting path. Since all the vendors huddled together in one small area, people actually began to talk to one another (which wouldn't happen in the general hubbub of a busy day at the fair)- ideas were hatched for upcoming screenings and venues, and although I basked in this vibe for a day or two, I suppose I was unsurprised when eventually nothing at all was done about it.

This I know is indicative of a lot of what goes on in the day-to-day struggle of the movers and shakers on the fringe. One moment of inspiration quickly gives way to a sea of broken promises and general apathy. I can't fault anyone for it, because I know that it is a lousy thing to be toiling to create something that people wouldn't miss if you hadn't. But however, we can't just let this happen even if this behaviour is understandable. If this scene is meant to survive at all, then we need a new handful of visionaries, or at least realists, who will work to keep independent culture alive. It is that important.

Now, you, faithful reader, may rightly ask me why I couldn't practice what I preach and do something. Well I'm trying. But there are so many hours in one day, and I sure can't do it alone. Now if ten people said that very same last sentence, perhaps if they all chipped in with 10%, something could be done. But I suspect too that a lot of movers and shakers in the underground have gotten carried away with other things in life, which is totally cool. Who can blame them? Not only is the mainstream swallowing the underground, but it is also becoming one big clique. In any event, the options which we have to display our wares get fewer and further between.

The spring edition of the Toronto Small Press Fair happened on the Saturday of the long weekend in May. It was the first small press fair in four years I did not attend-- I was out west that week anyway. Even so, I can't help but wonder what business was like during a long weekend in which one could fire a cannon down Bloor St. and not hit anyone. Now, if I'm wrong about this day- if it was well attended, please tell me so. Otherwise, I can't imagine a lot of local traffic supporting something like this on a long weekend. The "customers" we rely on are more concerned about their own lives, families and dreams than buying someone's chapbook.

But still, I can't help but notice the duality of both C&P and the small press fair- they seem to exist now because they've each become an entity, and I can't help but wonder if they happen just to happen, but without any kind of careful planning or urgency.

This scene needs new blood. Can you make a donation?

ESR REALLY IS A SCREENING ROOM

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.

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