Nov 21, 2006

Robert Altman RIP




Considering Robert Altman was 81 years of age when he passed away Monday night, I don't suppose his death should be that much of a shock, but it is. He was, up until yesterday, the world's greatest living filmmaker. We don't mourn the passing of a giant whose glory days had been behind him. With a perennial and prolific talent like Altman, we always knew that as long as he was still able to work, he would still be able to deliver a few masterpieces. And regardless of his age, I (or we) had assumed he would be indestructible.

Oct 11, 2006

Aug. Sept. Screenings

Since the fall is my busiest time for ESR (getting prepared for all the shows and fairs I do in the last four months of the year), I've been neglectful of my blog. So anyway, here's some reflections and pictures of Screenings 2 and 3 at Centre for the Arts.

Aug. 30, we had our "Back to School Special" with two programs of educational films.



In the first, we showed A Case for Beer, featuring underage teens trying to buy beer; A Case of Spring Fever, in which a man learns the hard way about the virtue of springs; What About Juvenile Delinquency showcases the gimpiest gang of toughs in film history; Ghost Rider features bad special effects in a tale of a ghost teaching Kevin bus safety, and The Snob does homwork on Friday night while people whoop it up at a party next door. After intermission, we unspooled Overs and Outs featuring outtakes from industrial films, the infamous Live and Learn from that humanitarian Sid Davis, featuring kids getting crippled, stabbed and burned while at play; Joy Ride: An Auto Theft documents the consequences of teens taking a stolen car out for a spin; and finally, we ended with Safety: In Danger Out of Doors, with the immortal Guardiana: Safety Woman warning kids about the dangers of loaded handguns and grease fires. Remember, Aware Alert Alive!

This was a great night, with 25 enthusiastic customers-- even managed to unload some zines and DVD's too. The feeling I had at the end of the Innis screening was repeated here, a sense of pride and accomplishment. I would have loved to have hung around later to celebrate the success of the night, but alas I had to get up at the crack of dawn because our office was moving.



And on the last Thursday of September, I showed Russ Forster's entertaining documentary TRIBUTARY, which is a cross-country exploration of people who perform in rock and roll cover bands. I had great expectations for this show, especially with the enthusiasm I was greeted with when I was handing out flyers for the screening at Word on the Street.

Well, I won't pull any punches. Attendance for this PLAIN SUCKED. A whopping seven out of a mailng list of 200 people and a few hundred flyer recipients bothered showing up... not to mention any adverts I ran. By far, this is one of the greatest disappointments in ESR's existence... right up there with Hive magazine's embarrassment of a show Pulp & Plastic. It is setbacks like this where fringe dwellers ponder why the hell we do what we do if no one supports us. Well, that's Toronto for you. People will assume someone else will support an event if they do not, and then -voila- the same bunch wonder why things close. We'll be back in October, hopefully others will too.

One good thing I can say about the event, a few people hung out afterwards to gab, which is something I encourage at these screenings. There's no "love em and leave em" rhetoric here... part of the mandate from the beginning was that these screenings, and ESR in general, exist to form a community of like-minded individuals. It should be a social thing as well as a cultural one.

And oh yes, here is a photo of the space, to give people an idea of the essence of the event.

Jul 30, 2006

Kubasa In a Glass and other Delights

Saturday afternoon, I was at Harbourfront, seeing both programmes of films offered up by the Winnipeg Film Group, and the Video Pool, also from that city. The first installment was a collection of experimental shorts shot on both film and video. It was a grab bag of styles, from hand processed film to videos which deconstruct the image. (On a sidenote, for the video age, it seems the structuralist filmmaker is as interested in studying pixels as one would have explored film grain thirty years ago). Needless to say there was a Guy Maddin film (his breathtaking ODILON REDON), but there was also interesting work by
Theodore Turner, Deco Dawson, Colin Zipp and Mike Maryniuk, among others.

Between programs I chatted with John Porter a bit, and because the summer heat usually knocks me stupid I had to excuse myself to get a coffee. The closest thing naturally was down by the waterfront at the overpriced food stand, which -gack- "proudly serves Starbucks coffee". I asked the slightly confused counterperson if they had any "non-Starbucks coffee" (which I guess is a lot like doing into a Nike store and looking for Adidas), and I ended up walking away with a "French Vanilla" mocha something. Ah well... Why this sidenote you ask? a) it's part of the Lester Bangs "write about everything and put it in and make it fit" in me; and b), well it DOES fit. It seemed the afternoon was dogged by the corporate shadow. Here we are in a venue which is celebrating artists' independence, yet there's a Starbucks down the hall. I'm not close-minded about it-- I realize people have to get sponsorship somewhere, but the irony lover in me can't help but notice the juxtaposition.

This little sidenote is a precursor for a major change in the program, which I remember reading about in the Globe a few weeks back. The WFG was originally supposed to screen "Death By Popcorn" (if I am quoting the title properly), which was footage of hockey games made from broadcast masters that CTV had thrown in the dumpster. Well, they got on their high horse and forbade them from showing it, because they didn't get permission to use the material which they were throwing away anyway. I guess that's alot like someone yelling at one of those artists who make sculptors out of garbage because "hey, that's MY pop can." I guess no one on the CTV board heard of Man Ray, Craig Baldwin or anyone who takes discarded objects and reshapes them into a new piece of work. But then again, they've been showing recycled garbage for years.

ANYWAY, because of this, they instead programmed "Kubasa in a Glass" (which was also shown at the Images Festival). This is a compendium of Winnipeg local programming, from cheesy commercials like the Hills hawking really loud furniture, to dating services and Crimestoppers ads. It is anchored with footage by local celebs, namely Bea Broda, whom we see being interviewed by Russ Doern. Ms. Broda is-was an aspiring Hollywood actress, but who came back to her native Winnipeg to appear for a gig at the Holiday Inn. This is intercut with her early morning talk show (which I can assume was how she ended up supporting herself after staying in Winnipeg after all), with the opening theme of Pat Metheny's "James". One of her guests is some little girl named Chantal Kreviazuk!

Since the audience was full of "Peggers", they were in gales of laughter throughout the whole thing, largely due to recognition of their interior popped cultural references. To us, it would incite the same kind of knowing laughter if we were watching a compendium of footage with Irv Weinstein, Barry Lillis, Promo the Robot, and that guy from "Strikes Spares and Misses".And even though it was subtitled "Winnipeg's Strangest Commercials", they really weren't that strange, since we also had our share of cheesy local commercials during Late Great Movies (oh, remember when....?) But even so, this movie, told in "10 Acts" (long story) is also an ironic commentary on celebrity, and for that matter how "The Peg" represents itself. Cheery Winnipeg spirit songs underscore Crimestoppers commercials (all, interestingly featuring white males 16 years of age as culprits), and we occassionally see these local celebs lose their mind. We see outtakes for an RV infomercial were the host commonly flubs his lines and starts yelling the F word at everyone or no one. Laurie Mustard and Stan Kolnicek (sic?), both brandishing the famous "Winnipeg moustache", have a weird showdown. Mayor Bill Norrie's address is recut so that his monologue sounds ridiculous (think of what people online are doing with Dubya's speeches)

Then there's the strange case of Uncle Bob, a morning kiddie show host-- a cantankerous old curmudgeon in a cowboy hat (for an Ontario-based comparision, think CKCO's Big Al on the set of Rocketship 7), who we learn was so terrible to his crew that they would commonly sabotage things that wouldn't work on air to make him look like an idiot on air. (Thanks to the omnipresent subtitles, we learn that he was eventually fired for being drunk on air). Among the final segments, we see Uncle Bob trying to find a button on a doll (was this the day he got fired?), and fittingly, we end on another piece of Russ Doern (unsuccesful NDP candidate, and a seemingly dry host who could blend into the wallpaper) interviewing hopeful starlet Bea Broda... then learn that shortly after this interview, Doern shot himself!

As I was coming home, I was humming the Carpenters' "Yesterday Once More", because it is featured in one sequence- both ironically commenting on the retro footage, and how we perceive ourselves. Now, I'm going to show my retro roots here-- I actually like The Carpenters, and whenever their breezy harmonies are used on film, it is always with good effect. They perfectly capture the melancholy onscreen: I am also thinking of "Rainy Days and Mondays" in Michael Landon's final film, US; and of course the liberal use of Carpenters songs in Todd Haynes' SUPERSTAR. Then I came home, turned on channel 24 to see what the temperature was outside (and then would commonly "add 10" for the temp in my apartment), and there was an ad for BT... "here's what you missed on the last Breakfast Television".... I guess it was retro day, because Kevin Whatsisname was lip-syncing "Shannon", and Jennifer Peck had a Shaun Cassidy poster. Then I had THAT damn song in my head all day.

ESR Presents: The Indoor Drive-In



Well finally, after spending a long time thinking about, I've started what I hope to be the monthly "theatrical" equivalent to ESR. The last Thursday of the month, you can now see The Eclectic Screening Room unspooling offbeat and interesting films at Centre for the Arts. Located at 263 Adelaide St. W., Suite 513, just east of John St., and about two blocks west of University, it is a cool little space, where the big studio room is used for the screening, and I have use of the lobby area as well to merchandise and sell refreshments.

The first screening, as you can see above, was the "indoor drive-in" festival, in which I first showed a lovely documentary DRIVE IN MOVIE MEMORIES, made in 2001. It is an hour-long feature giving an entertaining history of the drive-in from the 30's to present day, with lots of great nostalgia clips, and trailers, capturing the essence of the drive-in experience in its day. It also features interviews with Leonard Maltin, Beverly Garland, Sam Arkoff (I believe, filmed not long before he died), Celeste Yarnall and Robert Fuller, among others. Then I followed up with DAUGHTER OF HORROR, a mini-favourite of mine-- a completely mind-warping flick from 1955. It was first released in 1953 with the (far more accurate) title DEMENTIA-- with no onscreen dialogue, just music and ambient sounds on the audio. Then it was re-released with the title DAUGHTER OF HORROR, featuring narration by some guy named Ed McMahon!!! Although I prefer the earlier version, I screened the latter since it was public domain.

Our audience attendance was about a dozen customers. Not great, but I am rather glad I had a small crowd for the first screening. Since I was still working out the technical bugs right up till the first customers arrived, and still getting into the groove of running the gear (the switcher and what not), it just seemed best to do so with a group that was intimate enough which practically encouraged a "one on one" feeling. In that regard, the night almost felt like a friendly gathering as opposed to a clinical screening. Half of the audience was comprised of a meetup group entitled "We Don't Do Mainstream Film"-- somehow someone received notice of my screening at the last minute and posted it on the list. For that I am grateful. My friend Mike Ritz showed up, as did Will Sloan (who had contributed to the STILL in progress Roger Corman issue). Plus I was happy to see Chris Mitchell and Maria show up for the second film. The response to the films was polite, and it was a beginning.

As with any first-time screening at a venue, it was a trial by fire. But I learned a whole lot, and already have ways of making the next one better and smoother. End of August is Educational Film Night, or if you like, "ESR's Back To School Special". Hope to see you there.

Feb 7, 2006

Shark! (1970)


That lovable, cigar-munching mad genius Sam Fuller was so incensed that the Mexican producers butchered his cut of this movie (filmed under the title CAINE), he ordered his name removed from the credits. Eventually, the movie came out as SHARK!, possibly sank like a stone, but has been a perennial title for years on cheapo public domain video labels. In fact, when Cinematheque ran the Sam Fuller retrospective in 1998, this was the only title not programmed, perhaps out of respect for the director's disdain for this project.

Well, whatever Fuller's intentions were for this film originally, still, you know, I kinda like it. It's no masterpiece, but it isn't a bad little adventure full of the grit and sweat you would expect in anything by this madman. Burt Reynolds is actually rather good as an adventurer who is hired to get some gold buried on the gulf floor surrounded by maneating sharks. Featured in the cast are Barry Sullivan and Arthur Kennedy... but no-one has a character named Griff! Ah well... There's even a kid sidekick (perhaps an influence on confessed Fuller fan Steven Spielberg for INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM), a climax that's almost as wild as that of DEAD PIGEON ON BEETHOVEN STREET (the key word is... almost).. and lots of not-bad underwater action.

It's no great shakes, but it's a pleasant reminder of the kind of undemanding stuff we would still devour like cotton candy at 3 AM watching "The Cat's Pajamas" on Buffalo's TV 2!

Cut n Paste

Hi folks, welcome back to ESR Journal for 2006!

Sorry for the neglect over the past couple of months, but with shows shows shows in the fall, the holiday season, Florida and then having an awful cold, we're finally back among the living. I guess what better way to start than with... the first venue of 2006.

Stacey Case once again had Cut n Paste this year at Sneaky Dee's. After an astonishingly underattended fair last year, I'm happy to report that there were lots of vendors and traffic this year. Alas, not too many sales for ESR, but that's okay, because C&P is probably the most fun venue I attend each year- it is still by far the most unique independent culture fair I set up shop at annually. A diverse mix of stuff, with an interesting mix of underground vendors both new and veteran. As usual, Mr. Case had a pile of Mexican lobby cards for sale- I picked up a few and will be posting them in the near future (I need a big enough scanner!!!)

Thanks to our pal Dion Conflict for taking this photo of yours truly holding one of our wonderful DVD's. And congrats once again to Stacey-- already looking forward to CnP 2007!

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