Sep 26, 2018

Screen Captures #2: It's (About) Time

If you’re reading this blog, you likely have a passion for things out of the mainstream. You subscribe to free will, and not whatever some corporate algorithm dictates you should consume. Whatever it is you’re passionate about, it is beyond mere hobby-ism. It is a lifestyle; it is a belief system. It is something not addressed by the cookie-cutter status quo. You likely have a kinship with other independent creators despite whatever medium they practice, as they all speak to that same great truth. That is why you will probably understand when any of these columns discuss issues that exist outside of the cinema’s realm, because they still address the universal issues of the lives we have chosen.

During the summer, I had read an article somewhere, which gave an interesting hypothesis of why time seems to go faster as we age, whereas in our youth (public and high school age), the days seemed to drag on. It offered that time seems to go faster when we’re older because we get settled into routines. Time on the other hand seems to go slower when we’re younger, because we’re always experiencing new things. Whether you’re five or fifty, the second hand on the clock still ticks at the same pace. The speed of time then is simply an illusion. In this theory, time is not measured in years, but by what is done in those years. Therefore, we can trick ourselves into making time seem slower by keeping ourselves open to new and different experiences.

I was reminded of this idea last week when we watched Debra Granik’s superb film, Leave No Trace. As the film unspooled, it seemed to me that time moved much slower. This was perhaps in part because I was seeing something unfamiliar: the lifestyle of a father and daughter who exist off the grid. Because they choose to live outside of our accelerated world, their lives by comparison are slower, and time thus moves much slower, understandably the film compliments that pace.

And by comparison, Cleo manages to pack a lot of living from 5 to 7. Agnes Varda’s nouvelle vague classic (which had a revival screening at the Revue on Sunday night) gives the semblance of real time in chronicling roughly 90 minutes in the life of pampered pop star Cleo while she awaits a test result from her doctor. “Day in the life of” movies seldom work, as foolishly, all of the protagonist’s problems get resolved in a compressed period of time. Life doesn’t work that way. On the other hand, I’m not sure this film is intended to be real life, despite its semblance to an off-the-cuff spontaneous tone. Cleo gets a tarot reading, does a song rehearsal, sips brandy at a cafĂ©, goes on a car ride with her girlfriend, watches a comedy short in the cinema, meets an army man in the park, who accompanies her to the hospital for her results. Is Cleo’s life always this action-packed? For us mere mortals, one of these activities alone would’ve sufficed in that same time period.

In either event, time is what you make of it. And surely, in the past years, I’ve been more conscious of how the clock is ticking away. I’ve often felt that I’m already washed up when I’ve barely gotten started.  But then I realized, that the more I keep myself active, and continue to discover new things, this feeling dissolves. For example, over Labour Day weekend, after watching Bertrand Tavernier’s extravaganza, My Journey Through French Cinema, 201 minutes and five pages of notes later I uttered the phrase: “I feel young again.” Keep exploring, keep creating, and that second hand seems less daunting.

Also last week, Bill Shute, one of my independent heroes, once again inspired me. While just a few years older than me, this man has garnered enough wisdom and experience in his passions to fill two lifetimes. I tremble at the depth of his knowledge and his vestiges of experience in the realms of B-movies, literature, avant-garde or alternative music.

Bill has been contributing pieces to zines and independent publications for decades. He is also an incredibly prolific publisher under his own imprint, Kendra Steiner Editions, which releases limited edition runs of poetry and experimental music. (How does the man do it?) Last week he announced that next year he would be publishing a compendium of reviews and articles he’s contributed to Ugly Things, Black To Comm and several other publications. 

I first discovered Bill’s work via his film reviews on the IMDB, and then through a mutual friend, we became Facebook friends in 2010. In fact, I’ve encouraged him for years to publish his film reviews, so I was thrilled at this announcement, as this project will include some film pieces. Whether Bill discusses obscure Euro-genre films seen on fuzzy UHF channels, 45 RPMs of forgotten Texas garage bands, or beat literature, his work is full of refreshingly personal asides, which give the pieces greater universal context about how this stuff is all part of the lives we have chosen. What was the inspiration for his decision to publish these works in the future? He just said, “It was time.” That simple phrase haunted me while I checked out the literary events over the weekend.

On Saturday afternoon, Broken Pencil held its annual Canzine fair at the AGO. ESR’s very last public event was via tabling at Canzine in 2012. My twelve-year experience at trade shows wound down not with a bang, but a whimper. The scene was always changing, but it especially became apparent that this venue was getting younger as I aged. This year’s visit to Canzine simply re-affirmed that. Over the years, the scene has gradually shifted from Xeroxed zines to graphic novels and books. Even so, over the years, I could still walk away with a handful of publications that still spoke to me, which highlighted life in the independent scene (Cometbus, etc.). More often than not, they were procured from Francois’ table, and he wasn’t even there this year.

Otherwise, in terms of familiar faces, Marc Laliberte and I nodded to each other. I don’t believe we’ve ever spoken to each other, but we recognize each other from tabling back in the old days. In the days leading up to Canzine, I half-jokingly wondered if I’d run into Glenn and Hal again this year, so we could resume our “Get Off My Lawn” session from last fall, discussing how the scene has changed since the heyday of the zine craze. Well, two outta three wasn’t bad. I did see Glenn there, and chatted with him for a few minutes. He’s got another zine coming out in a month.

Sunday was this year’s edition of Word On The Street, held at Harbourfront Centre. Even though I stopped exhibiting at WOTS after ESR’s disastrous 2012 season, I’ve still attended every year to feed my brain, and my literary habit. But in addition to discovering some interesting items that would otherwise be difficult to find elsewhere, I admit that I’ve also visited the fair each year with ulterior motives.

I was also hoping to recapture that wonderful headspace that I used to have for days afterwards when I was an exhibitor. That inspiration, that desire, was enough for me to continue creating for the next twelve months. Instead, each year since 2012, I came away feeling nothing at all, not even disappointment (as even disappointment would mean that I was passionate about something). But picture this.

Fade up on a low-angle shot of yours truly, with back to camera, entering WOTS grounds. Cut to a 360 pan of the fair, and stop at a medium close shot of yours truly, uttering the phrase: “It’s time.”

What I have in mind I think will be a perfect fit here. I once again see the need. There is still much, much, much to do. It will be a difficult journey. Because of this long absence from the printed word, much of the community that ESR created has evaporated. Right now, I can’t offer anyone anything but promises, and I’ve already broken too many. But then again, I’ve started this publication once before with just me. Let’s see what kindred spirits we can meet for the first or next time.


Independent Screenings Of Note:

This week sees some revivals and other interesting items at The Revue Cinema, 400 Roncesvalles Ave.

Wed Sept 26: the 20th Anniversary screening of the anime classic, Perfect Blue. (7 PM)
Thurs Sept 27: Designing The Movies presents Diana Ross in 1975’s Mahogany. (6:45 PM)
Fri Sept 28 – Sept 30: The Toronto Motorcycle Film Festival 2018 (6:45 PM and 9:30 PM, on Fri, Sat; also 1 PM on Sunday)
Sat Sept 29: Throwback Cinema presents Danny DeVito’s adaptation of Roald Dahl’s children’s classic, Matilda.
Sun Sept 30: Silent Revue presents F.W. Murnau’s masterpiece, Sunrise, with live musical accompaniment by The Ugly Beauties.

For ticket information, best to visit

Fri Sept 28 – CINSSU Free Fridays

The Music On Film series continues with Bob Fosse’s 1979 classic, All That Jazz.
Innis Town Hall, 2 Sussex Ave, Toronto. 7 PM. Admission is free!

(Have an upcoming screening to plug? Drop me a line at: mail at screening dash room dot ca)

DVD - BluRay Releases This Week:

Sept 25 sees the release of Joe D’Amato’s 1981 horror film Absurd, from Severin. Ted Post’s 1973 camp classic The Baby gets the Arrow treatment.  The Boris Karloff Collection (VCI Entertainment) serves the four Mexican films (House of Evil, Fear Chamber, The Snake People and Alien Terror) which marked horror great’s final excursions into the genre. VCI also debuts the Red Scare Double Feature, pairing 1952's Invasion USA and Barry Mahon's daft Rocket Attack USA.  Kino Lorber brings Good Times, with Sonny and Cher’s movie debut (also the feature film debut for director William Friedkin), the oddball Lee Marvin-Oliver Reed western The Great Scout and Cathouse Thursday, and Carol Reed’s Trapeze, featuring Burt Lancaster. Criterion releases the Sidney Poitier classic, A Raisin In The Sun.  Canadian viewers will no doubt rejoice in releases of Fraggle Rock The Complete Series, and The Peanut Butter Solution! And finally, Vinegar Syndrome pairs two sex films from B-movie legend Ray Dennis Steckler: The Sexorcist and Deviates In Love. Physical media is dead? Pssshaw.

Sep 18, 2018

Screen Captures #1

Hello webiverse, how have you been doing? Planet ESR has been inactive for some time, so much that both of my readers have stopped asking when the heck the next issue is coming out.  As of this coming weekend, it will be six years since we debuted a new issue, at 2012’s edition of Word On The Street. 

What the hell have I been doing in all this time? Not much, other than work things. (Sacre bleu! You don’t do ESR for a living? Mais, non!) Well, I did get a short piece on Curtis Harrington published (Thanks, Jason!). Also, I was supposed to contribute an article to a book-length study, and before I knew it, they published without me- no communication, nothing (I’m STILL pissed off about that one). Additionally, there were a couple of attempts to revive ESR as a publication, each followed by the resignation that I just wasn’t ready yet.

Other than that, creatively speaking, the only real feat of these intervening years was in, to put it politely, archiving. Much of my spare time was devoted to / frittered away on downloading old TV listings from newspaper archives. This began as research for another project still on the back burner, and manifested into a hobby where I’d make spreadsheets of old movie schedules, etc. Why? Am I that OCD? Well perhaps. Truthfully, I think everyone in this industry has to be obsessive. Otherwise why would we willingly subject ourselves to cruel and unusual punishment? (Shoot during a hurricane with a free cannelloni dinner as reward, and you’ll see what I mean.) 

In fact, obsession is part of human nature. What we choose to obsess over, however, can sometimes be declared as abnormal. I’ll leave the analysis to Niles Crane, but perhaps, deep down this hobby was an excuse to distract me from obsessing over what next to do with my life. As always, I tend to bury myself in the past, to look backward, because there’s nothing to look forward to.

But, it is time to change that school of thought.

This year, I had a milestone birthday that ended with a zero. My day job also had a milestone anniversary that ended with a zero. These events have compounded my constant self-deprecation. What have I accomplished in all this time? What have I gained with sacrificing x number of years of my life for someone’s dream? Most people my age have houses, kids, and are even thinking of retirement. I’m still in the same mindset I was twenty years ago, still trying to figure stuff out, still trying to grasp onto something out of reach. Another major event this year has forced some self-realization. 

I hesitate to extrapolate on personal things, but this is relevant to why you’re reading these words at all. Earlier this year, my dad had to go to a nursing home. I had to attend to his personal affairs and clean out his place. There are few things as invasive as tending to the personal effects of someone still living. It’s dirty. But thankfully, this cleanup went a lot smoother than it could have, because my father always kept his affairs very orderly. This forced me to re-examine myself. What kind of milestone am I leaving behind? How can I improve my life right now? How can I build a better future?

This hot summer has been spent with much reflection. To be as general as possible, I’ve learned that I’ve become a prisoner by design. I’ve allowed myself to be ruled by factors that ask for more, and do not reward back. I blame no one but myself for this quandary, but the time has come to take my life back. As the weather hopefully cools, it’s time to get back to loving life again, and to return to the things that I’ve forgotten about, which define me as a human being. 

As part of this self-examination, I’ve started writing journals again for the first time in years. And as writing continues to be part of my daily mantra, I will feel confident enough to return to publishing: not just to ESR, but a couple more projects I’ve entertained over time. I’ve made false promises in the past about restarting these vocations. In these six years, this is the most mentally prepared I've felt to do this.  I still have a long way to go, but it's a start.

And that, my friends, is how we get to this column. 

Another activity of my self-imposed Sabbatical was in reading collections of work by columnists. I’ve long wanted to do a regular film-related column. Blogging regularly is like writing a column, I concur. And with each new edition of Screen Captures, I hope to achieve a body of work that will serve at least two purposes.

First, I hope that each new edition will entertain its readers with whatever arcane topics strike my fancy at the moment. This is an exercise for me to return to a regular regimen of writing about what kindles my creative passions.

More crucially, it will hopefully serve as a record of independent screenings and events, plus the movers and shakers who make that happen. This city has seen dramatic changes in the past few years. Gentrification and sky-high real estate has forced the closure of many favourite haunts. Artists continue to struggle for the same pieces of the pie; only problem is, the pie itself has gotten smaller. Since its debut in 2001, ESR has always felt part of the indie culture scene, as that is chiefly where we have sold our wares. Even if we sell socks, while others in the underground sell gloves, there is nonetheless a kinship. We’re all addressing a need for something not offered by the mainstream.

Over time that scene has diminished in some ways, and mutated in others. I hope Screen Captures will exist as a living record of that vital piece of culture, as it continues its sine wave pattern on the fringes.

Forgive the indulgences of this first endeavour: I just felt it necessary to begin with a long, personal tract to help you understand how we got here, and where we’re going.


Independent Screenings Of Note:

Apparently there was some big film festival in the city recently. As a result, people tend to be “movied out” for the rest of September. But for those of us who couldn’t afford the $89.75 just to say they inhaled some of the same O2 as Bradley Cooper, and are looking for something beyond all the hoopla, here are some noteworthy independent screenings happening over the next seven days. (Wouldn’t you know it? Two are on the same night. It happens a lot in this scene.)

Thurs Sept. 20 - Directed By Women Screening Series 
The first in a series of free screenings of films directed by women, features Shoes (1916), directed by Lois Weber. This film was recently restored, and entered into the National Film Registry in 2014. Silent film pioneer Lois Weber’s work has been enjoying a renaissance in recent times. It was generously featured on TCM last year, and this spring, The Toronto Silent Film Festival showed 1927’s Sensation Seekers
Media Commons – Roberts Library; 130 St. George St., 3rd Floor. Toronto, ON. Admission is free! Doors open at 6:15 PM, films begin at 6:35 PM. Admission is free!
Click here for future titles in this series.

Thurs Sept. 20 - Ad Hoc# 12: David Morris in person with his films
The not-for-profit collective continues their impressive screenings of independent-experimental cinema with Concordia professor David Morris in person presenting his films: (Shekhina) Series - Projection (Super8, 1990), Ruakh (Super 8 and 35mm), and MPQ suite (digital).
Morris’s films are composed and edited in camera, and shot (with few exceptions) frame by single frame (‘pixilated’). The Super 8 films are shown in original at approximately 12 frames per second. 
Pix Film Gallery; 1411 Dufferin Street, Unit C, Toronto. 7 PM. Admission is free!

Fri Sept 21 – CINSSU Free Friday Films
It's back to school season, which means that the cheapest movie date on a Friday night is also back in action! The Cinema Studies Student Union has a stellar line-up this season devoted to the theme of "Music And Film". This week, it's Bob Fosse's 1972 Cabaret, with Liza Minnelli.
Innis Town Hall, 2 Sussex Ave, Toronto. 7 PM. Admission is free!

Sun Sept 23 - Art House Theater Day
As a tribute to cinema in the art house, The Revue Cinema is showing Agnes Varda's 1962 nouvelle vague classic, Cleo De 5 a 7. The event is free, but it is recommended to get a ticket beforehand by visiting the event page at Eventbrite here.
Revue Cinema, 400 Roncesvalles Ave., Toronto. 6:45 PM. Admission is free!

(Have an upcoming screening to plug? Drop me a line at: mail at screening dash room dot ca)

DVD - BluRay Releases This Week:

Sept. 18 sees two new releases from Arrow: Peter Fonda’s revisionist western The Hired Hand, and Teruo Ishii’s cult classic, Horrors of Malformed Men.

And from ClassicFlix, the complete Blondie 1957 TV series. Now this I’ve gotta see! Chic Young’s classic comic strip character was in a series of 28 films by Columbia, from 1938 to 1950, featuring Penny Singleton as Blondie, and Arthur Lake as Dagwood. Lake reprises his role for the TV series; Blondie is played by Pamela Britton. 

Other Events of Note:

It's a literary weekend in TO.

Sat. Sept 22: Broken Pencil returns with Canzine, Canada's largest zine fair, at the AGO. 317 Dundas St. W., Toronto. 11AM - 7 PM. Admission is $5 by donation.

Sun. Sept 23: Word On The Street is back at Harbourfont. This huge fair of books, magazines, readings and all things literary is at Harbourfront Centre, 10 AM - 5 PM. Admission is free!