Archive: June, 2009
It's a rare and inspiring thing when an independent filmmaker achieves the type of cinematic maturity and beauty usually reserved for those with big bucks and big resources. But filmmaker Bajir Cannon, from Lower Merion, managed to do just that, with his feature length film, The Distance Between the Apple and the Tree.
Will Sr. (Michael H. Johnson) and Linda (Michelle Sims) are an upper-middle class couple whose only son flies off to Cambodia in search of the meaning of life. While neither parent copes well with the absence of their son (Chris Kamenstein), Will Sr. does not understand the path Will Jr. has chosen. His health suffers from the stress caused by the two's tumultuous relationship, which distance, in this case, only makes worse. Meanwhile, in Cambodia (effortlessly adding visual flavor, as the landscape is stunning), Will's belief in the wisdom of his relocation slowly crumbles when he discovers that the woman who convinced him to join a spiritual group is not quite who she claimed to be and an incident with a young native causes Will to further question his own truth-seeking motives.
The Distance takes bold narrative risks. The film isn't consistently linear, occasionally vacillating between reality and metaphor, like when an over-the-phone argument between father and son suddenly transports the two into an actual boxing ring. It also utilizes some odd editing choices, like split-screen close-ups of both characters during conversations. The choice of split-screen serves these moments well, as both actors are given equal screen time, highlighting the importance of the relationship between the two people instead of the people themselves.
While many independent filmmakers fall victim to the seriousness of their vision, Bajir helps himself with humor in The Distance. Sims was a great choice, as she has a subtle sense of comedy with a spot-on sense of timing. And the scattered gags throughout, such as an incident where a man's testicles hang out of his shorts, help bring levity to an otherwise sober 'What is the true meaning of life?' tale.
|Photo by Michael T. Regan|
Brian McTear ' super producer at Miner Street Studios, frontman for Bitter Bitter Weeks ' recently talked to me about his new Weathervane music non-profit. (Read all about it here.) Here's more with McTear on the who and the why and the how.
City Paper: So why start with these particular artists? Why these artists at all? Certainly there are a handful of maybe better known people that you've collaborated with ' or is that the point?
Brian McTear: Like any music presenting group, we too are most excited by the idea of bringing new artists, or lesser known artists from obscurity into the limelight. This Project Series will feature mostly the lesser known types, though we have a couple better known bands also up our sleeve. We chose Sunset and East Hundred, and the other upcoming groups that are in production right now, for a wide variety of reasons ' the quality and sophistication of their music and their work ethic are the most important factors. We also want to make sure it's clear to our audience that artists can and will come from anywhere and everywhere, and can even represent different genres of music, cultural backgrounds, etc. So as the season unfolds, people will hopefully notice the variety.
CP: I get that you're doing this because there're fewer labels willing to take risks ' but I wouldn't say the artists you've chosen so far are necessarily avant-garde. So what is the level of chance and sound you're looking to invoke?
BM: Things are bad for everyone. Pop or avant-garde. The whole problem is that the one part of the process that is absolutely essential to make great catalogs of music, namely quality recordings, is expensive enough that if you are not already a successful artist, no one will have the incentive to pay for that start-up cost.
CP: What is your criteria for deserving and/or great artists in this regard?
BM: Well, to start, the music has to be excellent in our estimation. It's a curated series, and we're the curators, so it should all be of an artistic level quality and sophistication. Our definition of independent musician is any artist that is not obligated to relinquish ownership of their master recordings to a third party record label or otherwise. If we were to do a project series with Beyonce, well, that'd just be a hand out for Sony! We want to make sure that the artist is clearly without any question going to benefit the most from their participation.
CP: I saw this thing on your web site where you say 'Today it is nearly impossible for artists to sustain a living from sales of their recordings, and because of this few musicians (even great ones) can afford proper recording production and promotion.' Are you giving the artists on your series the money?
BM: No. For now, we don't have any money. This is our start-up year, and as such, we're producing the Project Series with an entirely volunteer staff, studio crew, video crew, etc. We wrote up a detailed business plan last year that presupposed unlimited financial resources. We were really impressed with it, until we realized that we should have been writing a plan based on our actual budget, which was $0.00.
In January, we decided to just do it. I could put up the studio time and my engineers were willing to work on a volunteer basis for the series, Andy Williams helped me find a video production crew that would be willing to do the same. The Project Series in 2009 would be a vastly reduced version of what we hope to do once we're really up and going. More than anything we knew that we could only raise money if we had something to show for ourselves, and I can't believe it, but it is working. Now this is real.
One main objective is to produce recordings ' at no cost to the artist ' that they can sell, and from which they will receive the majority of the financial benefit. So for instance, with East Hundred, we produced 'Hammerhead' which we'll release Monday June 22, and they've already added it to the second pressing of their new album Passenger. In the future we hope to produce whole albums for great independent musicians, and we hope it leads to opportunity for them from the for profit sector. There's a lot of great music that will never get made and never get out there if something like this doesn't start to happen. That's bad for the musicians, but it's arguably worse for our culture in the long run.
CP: I take it you don't mean Andy Williams from 'Moon River' and rather that you're talking about the Executive Producer at DIVE visual effects and film finishing house. Anyway, I'd feel better if somebody wrote a song about 'Hawthorne' or 'Kingsessing.' Why Fishtown, B?
BM: Bill surprised us with the song 'Fishtown.' We had nothing to do with it. Ha! He had been poking around between me and Quentin in the days leading up to the session so we started to give him all the fun details about the neighborhood. When the got here, somehow in the craziness of everything we needed to do, he got away and took a long observant walk around, too. I have to say, not many of the people who've lived in Fishtown since the real estate boom know that 'Sepviva' is pronounced su-VI-va.
CP: Why call it Weathervane and don't say the Dylan song?
BM: Yeah but, you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows, A.D. Duh. No, weather metaphors have been interesting to me for a long time. My old band Mariner Nine had a noise record called 'A little something from the Weathervane's Perspective', and then the band after was called 'The Weather.'
Weather for me conjures a beautiful mix of pleasant and terrifying. It also makes me think of the state of things, the status quo. While we can't change the problems we're faced with, we can adapt to the climate so to speak. A weathervane points into the wind to say 'there's a storm coming.' It helps us see the future a little bit. That's really it.
CP: What's the ultimate goal of this other than love and money?
BM: Our ultimate goal for now is to come up with a new way for our culture to produce great works of art. We want to solidify the connection between great artistry and success, and in the process we want to change artists' lives and careers. That's pretty much it in a nutshell.
Weathervane's Launch Event is tonight, Thu., June 25, 8 p.m., $10, with Papertriggers and the Armchairs, Kung Fu Necktie, 1250 N. Front St., 215-291-4919, kungfunecktie.com, weathervanemusic.org.
With vocal hooks courtesy Dice Raw, The Roots debuted their new James Brown-ified, Mahalia Jackson-inspired single on Fallon last night. (There's a proper music video forthcoming.) Then ?uestlove dropped a little backwards message to Def Jam on Twitter. It's a line from the song. It's also, maybe, a plea for some big time promotion when How I Got Over, the album, comes out in the fall. Fingers crossed that we're not on the verge of another "Our Label Screwed Us" Roots saga. They're finally close to getting the recognition they deserve. Give 'em some help.
They sent me a Kindle 2 to try out for 10 days. I just sent it back. Sadly. It was just like the end of Harry and the Hendersons, not the part where it turns out there are like LOTS of Bigfoots, but the part where John Lithgow slaps Harry and is like "you smell get lost creepo" but he's just doing it to save Harry from the Bigfoot hunter.
If I was rich, I'd probably buy the Kindle, for use while traveling and such. I'm not rich. I can't even afford to travel.
It's $350 for the device plus $10 or so per book. Some books are way cheaper, like $.99. A lot of old public domainish books on there. I was given a $30 account by the good people at Amazon to download from the Kindle's always open, always connected store. I found a collection of sci-fi short stories I hadn't heard of and decided to give it a try. It was only a buck. Pretty early on I was wondering why the author though he could get away with a piece of about a colony of Moonpeople interacting with the astronauts. then I looked up the story. It's from the 1940s. We've been to the Moon since then. Nobody there. So, I suppose there are good bargains on the Kindle, but you gotta be choosy.
I just started Infinite Jest, as the the Infinite Summer challenge. (Oh man, I wanna out-read Colin Melloy.) And I cannot deny that the considerably lighter Kindle would be way preferable to hauling David Foster Wallace's 1,000-page monsterpiece around.
And I like the way Kindle looks up words with the flick of the cursor, even if it can seem a little condescending when you do it accidentally. And I dig how you can download newspapers and magazines, though I wish they were more easily navigated, with expansive tables of contents. I really like the screen, and found bed-reading particularly comfortable.
Most people who checked out the Kindle were like, "I think I'd still prefer reading from a book." To which I say: Fine. But there's something to be said about the convenience and comfort of a digital reader. And there is much being said, mostly about stuff I wouldn't encounter after only 10 days with the thing.
- Kindle Copy Controls Stink on synching with the iPhone Kindle app
- Rethinking the Kindle on download limits
- Kindle gnaws at books' shelf-esteem one writer's love/hate affair with e-books, puns
- How to Add Color to the Kindle for some reason
- Kindle Could enjoy iPod-like Success no it couldn't
- Analysts: Kindle Book Price Hikes Are Coming great
- Kindle Content to Appear on More Devices well as long as the Kindle is content
- Old, Real Book vs. Kindle Alternative: Which Wins? great headline, guys
- Owly's Kindle Debut comic book on the Kindle
- Finding the Kindle Beater who can defeat this mighty juggernaut?
- E-Link's Acquisition Could Mean Cheaper Kindles good
- Kindle Joins a Bookstore Ritual on getting it autographed
|Out for Blood|
For those not in the True Blood-know, here's a quick recap: Creator Alan Ball, responsible for the late, great Six Feet Under, happened upon Charlaine Harris' Southern vampire mystery books while browsing in a Barnes and Noble and was quick to see promise in Harris' fictional world. In the first season, a synthetic material called True Blood is released on the market, allowing vampires to reveal that they live among humans. Despite this, vampires are still widely persecuted. In the Louisiana town of Bon Temps, the mind-reading Sookie Stackhouse (Anna Paquin) falls in love with sultry vamp Bill Compton (Stephen Moyer), admist cries of vampire-phobia by her . We'll be re-capping True Blood each and every week here on Crit Mass.
As Bill and Sookie lie languidly in post-coital bliss, Bill discusses the emotional difficulties the newly turned vampire Jessica is facing, his Civil-war era drawl makes the conversation seem epic and thus quite trite. But moments like this reaffirm the uniqueness of the show, and where there is no real excuse for overt narrative exposition, within lies an homage to the Southern way of storytelling.
Jessica (Deborah Ann Woll) sees her family on television pleading for her safe return, as they are unaware that she has been abducted and transformed. Sookie makes the mistake of allowing the impetuous nubile vamp to go observe her family home, under the condition that she may not interact with her relatives. Trouble ensues when Jessica super-speeds ahead of Sookie's grasp, only to be found by her mother and sister, who are unaware of Jessica's transformation. All seems peachy and darling, as Jessica plays it human, until her father arrives home and their abusive relationship becomes apparent. Jessica's fangs come out as she throws her father against the wall and it is Bill that comes to stop her as Sookie looks dumbly on. But first, in a nod to vampire lore, Bill must be invited inside the house in order to enter and he hypnotizes Jessica's little sister into doing just that.
Meanwhile, the flamboyant V dealer (V short for vampire blood, which induces a high when had by humans), Lafayette Reynolds (Nelsan Ellis), is held prisoner by the fanged track-suited aficionado Eric Northman (Alexander Skarsgard) and his band of loyal vamps at the local vampire-only bar Fangtasia. Lafayette pleads for his life, and when this fails to interest his captors, pleads to be made into a vampire, saying, 'Not only will I be a badass vampire, but I'll be your badass vampire.'
Why nobody over at the human-hangout, Merlotte's, is wondering where Lafayette has disappeared to is a weakness in plot, but bar-owner and Lafayette's former boss Sam Merlotte (Sam Trammell) seems too preoccupied with the oddly powerful Maryann (Michelle Forbes), a strange woman from his past who quickly turns his bar into an orgy. When he complains about her influence in the safety of his office, she shakes and simmers and suddenly turns Sam into his dog form (as he is a shape-shifter, naturally), threatening to do the same in front of his customers who are unaware of his powers. Earlier, Sookie hears Maryann's thoughts, which are in a masculine voice and another language, leading the audience to know that something's up, but still a bit confused as to Maryann's origin and why she wants people to get it on so bad.
But the best storyline is Jason Stackhouse's, Sookie's dolt of a brother (Ryan Kwanten), trip to a pseudo-fundamentalist bible camp. There, he and the fellow followers are treated to a rendition of 'Jesus Asked Me Out Today', an overtly sexual rock-and-roll tribute to the man upstairs, and a song that sure to be climbing the Christian music charts.
Next week's episode, 'Scratch My Back,' promises a lot of drama with Sookie and Bill, and maybe even a love interest for Jessica, but what hopefully comes to fruition is a Lafayette with fangs.
True Blood airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on HBO.
Monday: Glasgow's Camera Obscura sounds quite a bit like their fellow Scotsman Belle & Sebastian. Frolicking Chamber Pop with plenty of memorable hooks and soothing vocal melodies. At the TLA, 8 p.m., Tickets are $15-$18.
Tuesday: Expect a night of hair metal and arena anthems from 'Pour Some Sugar on Me' to 'I Want You To Want Me.' Def Leppard, Poison and Cheap Trick are in town!! This will be like a live version of that cheesy '80s night your friend who's in a frat always invites you to, despite your constant lack of attendance. At the Susquehanna Bank Center, 7 p.m., Tickets are $20-122
Wednesday: Former punk rock group The Lemonheads, who used to do an awesome cover of
Mrs. Robinson' now play less-intense rolling indie-country rhythms. I guess it makes sense that XPN is sponsoring this event then. At Johnny Brenda's, with It's a King Thing & Appomattox, 9 p.m., Tickets are $20.
Thursday: Featuring members of Straylight Run and The Format, Destry plays bright upbeat indie pop. This small chapel show should be quite a treat for those interested in either of the members' previous bands. At the First Unitarian Church's Chapel with The Narrative, 7:30 p.m., Tickets are $10.
Friday: Sonic textures of synths, club beats, and slightly creepy vocal melodies define Telepathe. When I saw them live last year, they appeared to be nothing more than an extremely pretentious female Animal Collective ripoff, but now that I listen to their recordings I realize there is something more interesting brewing amongst these ladies. At Johnny Brenda's with Lemonade and Jotto, 9 p.m., Tickets are $10.
Saturday: Continuing in the footsteps of his father, Hank Williams III is living off the name of his successful grandfather playing country jams. At the TLA, 9 p.m., Tickets are $20.
Sunday: Violent Kin play infectious indie-electro pop with playful vocals and a sneering attitude. At the M Room, 8pm, $8.
City Paper contributer Gary M. Kramer went to Silverdocs ' a festival in Silver Springs, Maryland showcasing more than 100 nonfiction shorts and features features from the around the world.
Discovering films and filmmakers who profile such unique personalities is what makes Silverdocs worthwhile. While distribution is likely for many of the films , most of them will only screen Philadelphia at film festivals or through other limited exposure ' if at all. Hence the silver lining of attending. Here are a trio of notable films from this year's strong program:
Ondi Timoner's We Live in Public is a portrait of Josh Harris, "the greatest Internet pioneer you've never heard of.' Harris created web-based TV before selling it for millions. Super-rich, he became an insane party clown and he found his greatest pleasures (and personal guidance) in Gilligan's Island. He soon took a chunk of his millions to create 'Quiet,' an underground lair/bunker that was part endless party, part social experiment. As We Live in Public shows in naked detail, more than a hundren people lived for the last month of 1999 in a 'kooky cult kingdom,' where participants were filmed eating, sleeping, shitting and fucking. Harris played God until things got out of hand. When Quiet ended, the mad scientist became the lab rat and used his home surveillance cameras to record him and his girlfriend Tanya 24/7 for viewers. This experiment also backfired, eventually forcing Harris to reinvent himself again. Timoner's shrewdly-edited film took 10 years to make from the 5,000 hours of footage she collected; the longterm schedule in similar to her previous film Dig! Her painstaking efforts pay off.
Another person who became famous for being overexposed is Jack Rebney. His f-bomb laced flameouts while making an instructional video for Winnebago had him dubbed, 'The Angriest Man in the World.' Bootleg videos of this infamous rant circulated for years before turning up on YouTube. Ben Steinbauer's crowd-pleasing documentary, Winnebago Man considers what happened to this former newsman turned unexpected folk hero. Steinbaeur discovers a very different Rebney than the one we see on the Internet, but he is still profanely provocative. Steinbauer uses his film to raise topical concerns about cyber bullying while also considering how someone might reclaim their sullied reputation. (Take a lesson, Christian Bale.) At the post-screening Q&A, Steinbaeur got Rebney on the phone. He chatted about politics among other topics with his characteristic piss and vinegar. The DC crowd was appreciative.
Donal Mosher and Michael Palmieri's October Country is a remarkable feature twist on the home movie genre, taking home the festival's Sterling U.S. Feature Award. The film chronicles a year in the lives of Mosher's family who, as the matriarch says, 'wouldn't know normal if it fell on us.' Don has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder because of a tour of duty in Vietnam. He does not speak to his sister, Denise ' a witch. His wife Dottie loves her foster son Chris, although he steals from them. Their daughter, Donna had an abusive husband and a daughter too young. That daughter, Daneal, continues the cycle, also marrying an abusive husband, and having a daughter too young. Donna's other daughter, Desi, may be the smartest member of the family, though perhaps not when she admits, 'the bright side of playing video games is that I watch less TV.' Mosher and Palmieri infuse their film with a touching lyricism. Images of lingering smoke or shots of the house before a custody hearing echo the emotions of these all-to-real people who painfully discuss the ghosts that haunt their lives, Moser the filmmaker seems to be exorcising some of his own personal demons here in this extraordinary family portrait, and he is well aided by his partner's outsider perspective.
|Photos by Brion Shreffler|
Plangent, trenchant and powerful.
Little Joy's greatest attribute is the plangency inherent in their sound, a thrilling evocation on ready display at The Khyber on Friday night. An early gem was frontman Rodrigo Amarante's ethereal delivery on "Evaporar," which he performed solo, his guitar trilling away while his earnest emotions transcended any language barrier (the lyrics are in Portuguese, a nod to his native Brazil, which largely shapes the band's sound).
Co-founder Binki Shapiro was disarming, her soft voice trenchant and powerful, a fitting complement to Amarante's subtly forceful near-crooning. Her occasional play on the xylophone and keyboards heightened the dream experience of compositions atmospheric yet never dilute. Amarante and Shapiro ' not in the least hindered by the absence of third founding member Fabrizio Moretti ' hardly overpowered the music; spirited strumming buoyed the vocals and laid a cadence aptly supported by the drums, while the rhythm guitar elevated each track further.
Though the guitar licks frequently seemed a device towards transport or teleportation to a distant place ' a soft echo effect on one song recalled the riffs on The Beach Boys' "Don't Worry Baby" ' the main impetus for Little Joy wasn't something as simple as vicarious transit, but transferral, as they wished to instill in us the energy and subsequent benefits of the experience rather than simply making us long for beaches hundreds of miles away. Amarante, as well as the rest of the band, had us duly keyed as he implored, 'What are we waiting for?' on "No One's Better Sake."
Questlove looks at the show's guest list one month in advance so that he can get legal clearance from song publishers for clever walk-on choices. A typical walk-on rate for a five-second clip is a few hundred dollars, but that number gets bigger fast for big-name artists. "In the case of Justin [Timberlake], he's more expensive than The Beatles or Eric Clapton," Questlove says. That forced The Roots to make a last-minute audible for Joan Rivers' recent entrance, as Timberlake's "Cry Me a River" was deemed too expensive. As they cut to commercial break right before Rivers was to appear, Questlove jumped online - he keeps a laptop next to his drum kit at all times in case he wants to Twitter - and downloaded Lady Gaga's "Poker Face." "We had exactly 35 seconds to learn 'Poker Face,'" he says. "It was like, ok, uh-huh, ok, got it, 'Ladies and gentlemen, Joan Rivers!'"
"That's probably the hardest part of the show," he says.
Read the whole thing here. Highly recommended.
(This is a red band trailer but it's not that scandalous)
Ok, so vampire overload, right? Enough with the little suckers, let's get on it with it. Ah, not so fast. Badass to the max Korean director Chan-wook Park (Oldboy, Sympathy of Lady Vengeance both of which are awesome) throws his hat into the ring with Thirst. One of the reasons vampires are so prevalent with in pop culture is that they are easy to ascribe symbolism too. The immortality, the Otherness, the penetration ' it's all easy to tweek the idea of a vamp so it comes out the way you want it to. And while I've seen vampire as homosexual (True Blood, pretty much anything Ann Rice has ever touched), vampire as dashing hero (Twilight) and vampire as the catalyst for teen drama (Buffy), I don't think I've ever seen a vampire as Jesus scenario. This guy sacrifices himself, doesn't want to see people die, is a savior in a a really twisted way. Ok, my sense of symbolism may be off because I'm looking at a couple minutes long trailer, rather than a full length movie but damn!
Thirst is scheduled for a July 31 limited release. No word yet on a Philly date.
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