Reel to Real: Two portraits of innovation

Posted in Daily flow on April 26, 2011 by twm68

Hori Smoku: Sailor Jerry, the life of Norman K Collins -2008

Director-Erich Weiss

Starring- Norman K Collins, Ed Hardy, Lyle Tuttle, Mike Malone

Jack Kirby: Storyteller -2005

Director- Paul Baker

Starring – Jack Kirby,Roz Kirby, Lisa Kirby, Alex Ross, Marv Wolfman, 

While trying to nimbly navigate the foul waters of common cultural mediocrity, one soon learns that originality remains an elusive commodity. A betting man could claim better odds on spotting a whore in church, than coming across a modern artist possessing a unique idea.

While many submit and sink deeper into the seas of banality, there are those who have risen above the derivative muck, leading the way to stand as true beacons of creativity. These are the kinds of individuals who harness their raw talents, and forge a style or movement that inadvertently sets the foundations from which future generations are built on.

Two of these legendary architects of culture were, Norman, ‘Sailor Jerry’ Collins, the quintessential godfather of modern tattooing in the West, and Jack ‘King’ Kirby, who is commonly recognized as one of the most prolific influential comic book artists of the twentieth century. The lives and tribulations of both of these cultural icons were recently documented in two very comprehensive films.

In 2008 first time director Erich Weiss compiled a thorough look into the life and times of Sailor Jerry in his film. ‘Hori Smoku: Sailor Jerry, the life of Norman K Collins’.

The title of the film partially comes from a humorous title that Jerry bestowed upon himself to parody the honorific title given to master Japanese tattoo artists. Norman Collins began his career in his early youth, leaving his home in Nevada and learning the art of tattooing crossing America in the 1920’s while living the life of a vagabond. Eventually enlisting in the United States Navy, Jerry traveled throughout the Pacific. The film clearly shows how Jerry’s ventures into Asia had a profound impact on the development of his art, and his attraction to both Oriental and nautical imagery. Jerry himself even admits to learning much from the original Japanese ‘Hori’, and branching into his own style from their influence.

As Jerry perfected his art on the bodies of thousands of sailors, he eventually gravitated towards Hawaii as a base of operations, and opened his legendary studio on Hotel Street in Honolulu. One interesting element that the film briefly delves into is the history of how Hawaii and Honolulu in particular would become ‘Doorway to the Pacific’ for millions of servicemen at sea. Hotel street was the place that every sailor laid money down to get ‘stewed screwed and tattooed’, and Jerry was there to gladly drop ink on most anyone who darkened his door.


Sailor Jerry Collins was a man of clear contradictions, and the film does a solid job of showing this. While Collins took pride in the fact that he excelled in an art form that was considered, ‘anti-establishment’, he was also a staunch Uber-conservative. Most knew Sailor Jerry as a no bullshit old school hippie hating sea salt who doled out ‘blood and thunder’, not only through his character, but through his needle as well. Through interviews with close friends and fellow associates in the field, the film also shows that while Jerry was initially influenced by Oriental aesthetics, he also harbored a deep rooted resentment towards the Japanese for the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Through collected interviews with such tattooing legends such as Lyle Tuttle, and Don ‘Ed’ Hardy, and Mike Malone the film adeptly shows the influence and legacy that Sailor Jerry left behind due to a lifetime of commitment to his art. Director Weiss does an admirable job of presenting Jerry Collins not only an artist, but also as a multi faceted man. Regardless of whether you carry ink, or have a minor interest in tattoos, ‘Hori Smoku: Sailor Jerry, the life of Norman K Collins’ is a solid doc, and a story well worth delving into.

If Galactus was the destroyer of comic book worlds, Jack ‘King’ Kirby was definitely the creator of them. It is almost impossible to be a child of the 60’s and 70’s in North America without having been exposed to the art of Kirby. Even if he was not directly know by name, he was always recognized by his art, and the iconic characters he helped define.

While it is impossible to sum up the overall influence that Jack Kirby has had on comic book art, director Paul Baker attempts to give people a better understanding with his documentary, ‘Jack Kirby :Storyteller‘. The film stands as both a biography, and fitting tribute to a man who single handedly forever changed the way we see comic books.

We see Kirby starting out as Jacob Kurtzberg, born to poor immigrants in 1915 in New York city. Determined as a young man to develop his skill and desire, Kirby broke out beyond the economic and social boundaries of New York City and began to draw.

Before the outbreak of World War II Kirby would create one of the most symbolic American comic book figures, Captain America with his partner Joe Simon. After serving in Europe Kirby returned and once again started to establish himself in the comic book industry.

It was from the late 1950’s and into the 1970’s the Kirby’s work exploded, both in terms of content and creativity. No one could draw two-dimensional figures that could leap off a page like Jack Kirby. Some said that the only things that confined his art were the paper pages themselves. Many also initially saw Kirby’s drawings as somewhat ‘psychedelic’ to begin with, but only due to his wild visions and unfettered creativity. It seemed as if Kirby had found mythical keys that unlocked doors to a million dimensions the only he could see in his imagination. Working on up to five or six different titles at once, he proved to be a powerhouse whose pencil never left the page.

Unfortunately throughout his career Kirby was plagued by financial difficulties in the form of shifty companies and publishers who attempted to fleece him, and undermine and exploit his skills and art. The film clearly states without a doubt that Marvel comics would have never existed without the principal contributions of Jack Kirby. Interviews throughout with countless artists and fans repeatedly state that Kirby was the ‘prime mover’ that took Marvel from it’s start as a simple idea and propelled it to the institution it would become.

Despite his groundbreaking work, Kirby faced lawsuits and litigation with both DC and Marvel throughout his career to fight for what he rightfully deserved. The film does not really mention the sad financial battles that befell Jack Kirby, most likely due to legal restraints. Those in the know will tell you how Kirby was thoroughly screwed by both of the majors repeatedly, and it was only through the will and desire of his family to preserve his name and art that his estate continues to thrive. What the film does manage to show is the love of a wife, children, and artistic apprentices towards a man who gave so much of himself to so many. Jack Kirby left behind a reputation as a man with a rigorous work ethic and a kinetic art style with living depth that would only fully be appreciated long after.

“He barreled like a freight train through the first 50 years of comic books like he owned the place.”

- Gary Groth

Verdict:

In both films we see a portrayal of two authentic artisans who truly loved their craft, and committed countless years and hours refining them.

Hori Smoku: The life of Sailor Jerry, Norman K Collins

Erich Weiss has put together a really insightful look into both life and legend of Sailor Jerry Collins. The humor and character of Sailor Jerry comes to life not only through photographs, but the narrative reading of his numerous letters he sent out to various pen pals abroad. The film is not only a great look at tattooing, but also a brief look into the rough and tumble history of the US Navy in Honolulu, and the hell raisers who served and were ‘served’ on hotel street. While the legacy of Sailor Jerry has become corporatized through rum, shoes, and t-shirts (something he would have despised), the film will help to educate many interested in separating the man from the legend.

8/10

Jack Kirby: Storyteller

While the characters that he drew were larger than life, Jack Kirby himself was a quiet humble man. Through true commitment to his craft Kirby did more as one artist than the many who have come before or after him. There are few comic artists today who would not admit a large debt of gratitude to Kirby, for his struggles for artist’s rights, and also for the influence he ingrained on all of them. Through his film, Paul Baker gives many the opportunities to share their feelings about Jack Kirby and to honor his legacy. While detailed, the film seems more geared towards those with an absolute interest in Kirby’s work, and comic books in general. Regardless of your opinion towards comic books, and those that collect them, the film is a great piece to check out in regards to seeing how one man’s lifetime of art was able to change social perspectives toward the generic comic book so that it was finally acknowledged as a legitimate art form. There will only be one ‘King’ in comic books. The King is gone, but lives on forever on the page, and in our imaginations.

7.5/10

Short Cuts – Confessions (Kokuhaku)

Posted in Daily flow on April 10, 2011 by twm68

Confessions (Kokuhaku) -2010

Director-Tetsuya Nakashima

Starring: Takako Matsu


“Vengeance taken will often tear the heart and torment the conscience.”

-Arthur Schopenhauer

In terms of Asian film there’s no denying the ongoing love affair with the ‘revenge’ sub-genre. We’ve seen it again and again from, ‘Audition’, and ‘Oldboy’, to newer fare such as ‘The Man From Nowhere’, and ‘I saw The Devil’.

Each film presents characters forced to face unthinkable situations, and documents their relentless pursuits towards personal vindication. While some directors like Park Chan Wook contend that their films are more philosophical meditations on the moral and psychological consequences of vengeance, a large percentage of these films unfortunately stand simply as a means to stretch the limits of modern transgressive Asian cinema.

Now director Tetsuya Nakashima (Kamikaze Girls. Memories Of Matsuko) shares his own ruminations on, the themes of ‘Crime and Punishment’ in his film, ‘Confessions’ (Kokuhaku).

Although ‘Confessions’ shares many of the same concepts and sentiments as the other films of this sub-genre, it would be a great disservice to lump it into the same category. In terms of the plot, it would also be wrong in itself to reveal the majority of the tale. Suffice to say it manages to crossbreed the deeper elements of Dostoyevsky and ‘Old Boy’ with the natural and unnatural growing pains of adolescence. The film redefines the bleak outlook held by many modern youth in Japan, and casts it into a black nihilistic void.

On the last day of the school semester, middle school teacher Yuko Moriguchi (Takako Matsu) prepares to teach her students her final class in the lessons of life. The teacher begins to share the tragic news of the death of her four-year-old daughter. The students sit in stunned silence as she then announces that her daughter was in fact murdered, and that two students within the class committed the crime. What starts as a simple tragic story quickly turns into deathly serious lesson in loss and retribution. Refusing to rely on an ineffective legal system as a means of punishment, the teacher instead sets in motion a series of events that goes far beyond the boundaries of vengeance.

From the initial first frames director Nakashima demonstrates real skill in wasting no time in snaring his audience. He sets a trap, baiting us with the tragic tale, and in the blink of an eye and in a few short words spoken by the teacher, the hook has sprung. We find ourselves pinned down like rats, unable to escape, and presented with a situation that is impossible to ignore.

While the film is based on fiction, it is also grounded in real tragic social issues, such as the school killings, and youth violence. We are faced with not only attempting to understand the motivations of the guilty, but also the aftermath in the emotions and actions of all involved. The film takes a ‘Rashomon’ type of approach in presenting the same issue from the various perspectives, as each character shares their own ‘confession’, and opinions regarding their situations. Feelings of hatred, sympathy, guilt, and innocence all bleed into a gray ambiguous sea, and no one comes out unscathed.

In tackling such serious subject matter you would expect the film to be laid out in a direct cut and dry approach, but such is not the case. ‘Confessions’ is masterfully shot, and brings to mind the visual stylings of Terrance Malick, and Satoshi Kon’s ‘Perfect Blue’. Pivotal moments of the film drift across the screen like clouds, and there is a climactic resolution in slow motion that is both achingly tragic and beautiful. While Nakashima’s decision to present such heavy content in a dream like manner might be in question, the cinematography bonds with the soundtrack in an amazing audio/visual interplay. Both the music of Radiohead, and the Japanese band Boris, are used to incredible effect to convey the raw gamut of emotions that the film presents.

If there are any problematic issues that emerge from the film, they can be strictly be pointed out in the plot. At several instances in the film several implausible situations arise to propel the story. While it doesn’t reach ‘Shyamalan’ levels of absurdity, it does beg you to suspend a modicum of disbelief. By the time the film makes you question its logic, you’ll already be so absorbed in it that you can forgive its misdirection.

‘Confessions’ was selected as the 2010 Japanese entry for the Academy Awards and for good reason. Nakashima has clearly showed film audiences that he is more than capable of weaving stunning images into a hypnotic plot that absorbs you right from the onset.

VERDICT: It’s surprising how effortlessly ‘Confessions’ has defined itself as one of my favorite films of the last five years. Regardless of your taste in terms of film, you need to take it upon yourself to catch ‘Confessions’, as it is a mandatory view.

‘Confessions’ is currently available on region 3 DVD from WWW.Yesasia.com, and will soon be available on DVD and Blu-ray from WWW.Amazon.co.uk at the end of April.

Rockin Reels #1-

Posted in Daily flow on March 22, 2011 by twm68

Ladies and Gentleman,The Fabulous Stains

with Jaime Pina

Welcome to the first installment of  ‘Rockin Reels‘, a new regular piece for Cinema Satori that’s going to focus on the films that bring the sounds.

Critics and film fiends alike are always crawling up the pant legs of Scorsese and Tarantino to find out what movies got them off, but what about musicians? What are the films that are seen as a legitimate knock out for those who rock out? There’s those films that blaze a path, and earn their rightful recognition (Spinal Tap, The last Waltz) and those that weakly ‘SUCK’ shit by the wayside (Hint: see previous entry). This column is going to strictly cover the ties between music and film (soundtracks,documentaries,bio pics, whatever) from the musician’s standpoint. If anybody is going to know who legitimately brings it to the screen, it’s those who make music themselves. From the Monkees ‘Head‘ to Alan Parker’s ‘The wall‘, we’re going to break it down and let you know why these films are musically relevant (or not).

First and foremost big thanks and respect go out to my compadre Jaime Pina for being the main brain and initiator behind Rockin Reels. Jaime has been tearing it up for years on the West Coast with pop punk band, ‘Chemical People‘, and has played in a string of legendary acts (Los Cremators, Down By Law, 45 Grave, Christian Death). The man not only brings the rock,but is also a hardwired musical historian. It was only appropriate that Jaime came up with the first rockin reel selection to cover, and he came out swinging. Leave it to the man to come up with that late night cable classic, ‘Ladies and Gentleman, The Fabulous Stains‘. Take it away Jaime…..

‘Ladies and Gentleman, The Fabulous Stains’-1982

Director-Lou Adler

Starring: Diane Lane, Ray Winstone,Paul Cook,Steve Jones,Paul Simonon,Fee Waybill

The first thing that strikes you is the feeling of a city and its people rotting away. Corrine Burns is a teenager in Charlestown, PA (home of the Chiefs!), her mother has passed away and while being filmed for a news item on the town falling apart she is fired on camera for speaking her mind. The city backdrops are not much different than the ones depicted in other tales of the decay in the once mighty industrial areas of eastern America like SLAPSHOT and George A. Romero’s brilliant MARTIN.


Corrine is on her own and doesn’t get much help from her cynical aunt. Together with her sister and cousin she decides to form a rock band called the STAINS and gets motivated after seeing a punk band from Britain called the LOOTERS who are playing a local venue. And what a band this is! Steve “Jonesy” Jones and Paul “Cookie” Cook of THE SEX PISTOLS on guitar and drums, Paul Simonon of THE CLASH on bass and actor Ray Winstone doing a highly credible job on vocals and swagger. One of the most badass fictional bands that could actually play. Headlining the tour is a washed up one-hit-wonder called METAL CORPSES featuring Fee Waybill and Vince Welnick of THE TUBES. During the Corpses’ set Winstone heckles them mercilessly and after the set Corrine walks backstage right after Waybill tells road manager Lawnboy that he wants the LOOTERS off the tour or else. Corrine mentions her band to Winstone who is a complete dick to her. However, Lawnboy has seen her on TV and invites the STAINS to join the tour. The other two girls are highly skeptical but Corrine reminds them that it’s a way out of the dying town. And also Corrine has had her first taste of what media exposure can do. As SEX PISTOLS conspirator Caroline Coon was an advisor on the film, when the bus drives off to the sound of sweet reggae music, it is authentic since that’s exactly how the PISTOLS did it.

At the next gig the girls are backstage trying on the matching outfits given to them by Lawnboy but Corrine is having none of it. Waybill and Welnick score some “shitty coke” while the LOOTERS argue amongst themselves. They have come to America expecting the palm trees of sunny California but instead are getting black lung in the industrial wastelands of Pennsylvania. The STAINS take the stage and begin playing. The guitar Dee Pleated has borrowed from Jones is the same guitar given to Malcom McClaren by Syl Sylvain of the NEW YORK DOLLS after their ill-fated tour of Florida. What a legacy that Les Paul has. Siminon and Winstone are sitting at the bar watching and it becomes clear that the girls are novices at best.

“They can’t play,’ observes Simonon.

“Girls can’t play rock n’ roll,” replies Winstone.

The crowd is indifferent and a little intrigued but not hostile. They almost seem willing to let the girls have a go and as they progress it becomes clear that Corrine might actually have something but then the girls become frustrated with themselves and abandon their instruments leaving Corrine alone in the spotlight. As the audience has an awkward giggle at the drama Corrine turns her back, takes off her hat and reveals a blonde and black hairdo that is striking. She then turns the show into a spoken word performance where she verbally attacks a young woman in the crowd only to have the woman’s date throw his drink at her. She turns once again taking off her coat to reveal a revealing see-through out fit and exclaims, “I’m perfect. But no one in this shit hole gets me because I don’t put out!”

It was a bold statement then and it’s a bold statement now. As the film progresses we see Corrine become a master manipulator who is not afraid to use sex to get what she wants. The media falls in love with her and Corrine plays the media and those who worship it like foolish lovers to work her way up the ladder of fame. Each band suffers a typical fate. The LOOTERS suffer from division, the METAL CORPSES are old drug addicts and with the STAINS it is too much, too soon.  Corrine’s “skunk” hairstyle sets off a national phenomenon and soon everyone wants to look like the girl who didn’t want to look like everyone else. And while Corrine’s feminist views are admirable what she becomes is no better than Waybill who was trying to kick the LOOTERS off the tour in the beginning. As Lawnboy warns her when fame is creeping up and she has tough choices to make, “Everybody wants to go to Heaven but nobody wants to die…”

This quirky film about feminism, punk rock versus the old guard, how the media influences popular opinion and the end of the American Dream was financed by profits from CHEECH AND CHONG’S UP IN SMOKE by a guy that was known for producing comedy and folk records. It is savvy on several levels as the band scenes ring true and it has an understanding of how people like McClaren had one use for punk rock (filthy lucre and media manipulation) while someone like a Johnny Rotten had other uses (pushing the boundaries of music, turning people on to reggae music, pro-feminist views) and basically how punk started as a noble cause but ended up as just another product to be marketed to the consumer. The performances are all highly credible and Christine Lahti’s admission that after being critical of the girl’s behavior she could look at them now and be proud is one of the most heartfelt scenes in the film. They have the guts she and her high school friends did not.

This once hard-to-find film was first viewed by most on a cable show broadcast by the early USA network called Night Flight in its unedited form. Smart folks who taped it ended up with a holy grail of punk since subsequent broadcasts bleeped the foul language and cut out Diane Lane’s nude scene. Bootleg videos were sold on the black market and when the DVD players became available bootleg burns started showing up on eBay. Now the film has been beautifully restored and officially released by Rhino. A lesson in what happens when your dreams come true with a hard hitting sound track and one of the best rock n’ roll films ever made.

Jaime Pina can be found at www.myspace.com/jaimepina, and www.myspace.com/punkrockvatos, www.reverbnation.com/jaimepina


Short Cuts – A whole lot of ‘Suck’.

Posted in Daily flow on March 15, 2011 by twm68

Suck –2009

Director: Rob Stefaniuk

Starring: Rob Stefaniuk, Jessica Pare, Iggy Pop, Alice Cooper, Henry Rollins, Moby

I’ve always been a staunch supporter of Canadian content, regardless of quality. For every pile of pig shit, there’s always got to be a few pearls right? I’ll throw ‘Rock and Roll Nightmare’, ‘Class of 1984’, and ‘Rituals’ right up along side anything by Cronenberg, or Denis Arcand as classic Canadian film fare. Now that we’ve identified a few of the gems, let’s look at the opposite end of the pig pen.

Here were have a vampire rock comedy aptly named, ‘Suck’, which is basically a vanity project starring and directed by Rob Stefaniuk. The film makes no bones about the fact that it’s tailor made for the ‘Twilight’ set, and that’s fine for that limited demographic. The problem stems from the ‘rock’ aspect that it tries to portray. If you intend to ‘bring the rock’ whether it’s live or on screen, you had better be prepared to rock the balls off a rhinoceros at 40 yards. While the background to the film is padded with some of the greatest rock songs recorded to date (Tv Eye, Sympathy For The Devil, Here Comes The Night), the original soundtrack comes across so weak and flaccid, and that’s a shame.
Unfortunately even with the obligatory appearances of rock legends like the Coop, Iggy Pop, Alex Liefson and Henry Rollins the film can barely muster up a popcorn fart in terms of  rocking out. As much as I love the Stooges, even the mighty power of Iggy isn’t enough to keep a film afloat (Anyone remember ‘The Crow: City Of Angels?’) Points need to be awarded to the director for at least having the common sense to include Toronto high priestess of rock Carole Pope in a cameo.

The film basically lays out the story of a generic hipster ‘rock’ band in Montreal pulled out of obscurity overnight by the bite of a vampire. It should be noted that said vampire comes off looking like a cross between a tweaked out version of Johnny Depp’s Mad Hatter, and the lead singer of the Canadian band, The Tea Party. Either way, ridiculous is the word of the day.  So apparently the bite of this ‘mad batter’ automatically gives the band talent, as they instantly become media darlings once they turn over to the dark side. As the movie progresses ,the band roams town to town satisfying their urges, all the while living the ‘rocker’ lifestyle.

It’s sadly obvious that director Stefaniuk clearly drank from the bath waters of one Bruce Mcdonald, in trying to present this weak knee equivalent of Mcdonald’s classic rock and road trilogy Roadkill, Highway 61, and Hardcore Logo. The idea of bringing vampires and rock together seems like a winning combination, but if you can’t bring the rock, then you’re stuck with a surplus of ‘suck’, and unfortunately the wrong kind.

On a positive tip, ‘ Suck‘ does have the casting of one Malcolm McDowell going for it, as the vampire hunter done wrong. Our favorite droogie does his best at chewing up the scenery, and sticking it to whomever he can. One surprising highlight of the film is a flashback sequence with McDowell, comprised of vintage footage of McDowell as a young man, from Lindsay Anderson’s classic, ‘O’ Lucky Man’. As with the rock icons, the inclusion of McDowell only serves to tease at what the film could have been, as opposed to the final product. Regardless of what you think of the current undead shtick, a vampire film should have a real ‘bite’, and this has about as much as grandad’s dentures. What we’re left with in the case of, ‘Suck’ is a film wrapped up in it’s own smugness, and reliance on a second hand crib note knowledge of rock and pop culture references.

Now I know some of you might be wondering why I decided to sit down with a little nugget like, ‘Suck’ when it really doesn’t seem to be up my alley. Like I said in the beginning, I make it a point to try to give all Canadian film content my support, even when it’s hard to swallow. ‘Suck’ is a perfectly suitable film for every misunderstood angsty teenager on your block, but for anyone else it’s an exercise of good potential put to waste.

If there’s any idea to go forward with a sequel, then someone should definitely drive a stake into that plan right quick.

VERDICT: If you’re hankerin for a hunk of Canadian cheddar, then there’s much more suitable fare than this.
Pick it up at Walmart for your favorite Emo kid, otherwise leave it be.

Ello Kiddies

Posted in Daily flow on March 15, 2011 by twm68

Ello kiddies. We’re back in the saddle again after a few weeks of Winter hibernation. Truth be told, it’s kind of hard to peck this out while thinking of the unimaginable situation that the people of Japan are currently facing.

Some in the Blog/Podcasting community are doing what they can in any way to provide assistance to the disaster relief. Our brothers over at the VCinema podcast are donating $1 for each download of episode 25 to the Japan society relief fund. If you happen to be reading this, head over to www.vcinemashow.com for more information, or help out through your nearest service available. Even a small amount is still one step toward helping these people reclaim some semblance of a stable life once again.

You can also assist through the following sites:

www.Oxfam.org.uk

www.doctorswithoutborders.org

www.helptojapan.info

www.redcross.ca

Thank you for taking the time to read this, and please do what you can.

There’s a lot of content headed your way in the near horizon, so fix yourself a drink, and pull up a stool for a while. Things are about to get interesting.

True Tales Of The Theater

Posted in Daily flow on February 16, 2011 by twm68

“If someone threw up at one of my screenings, it would be like a standing ovation.”

-         John Waters.

You never forget your first time. Immersed in pitch darkness with a partner, or group of choice, all anticipating a mutual inevitable payoff. Flesh presses against flesh ‘accidentally’, and liquids are spilled on the floor. And then the moment that everyone is waiting for arrives, and the grand lady of the theater parts her red velvet curtains, and the camera casts its magic on the screen.. All eyes are locked in, and the audience sinks into a relaxed lull, until some juvenile shit stick decides to light up a brand new pack of M-80 red rocket fireworks, and all hell breaks loose.

Those who have worked in theaters, and those who haunted enough, will all clearly tell you that anything and everything can take place between its grimy walls. While the experiences all varied from good to bad, to those requiring a hepatitis shot, they could never be erased. The assortment of sights, smells, stains, and characters are all locked away in the theater of our minds, encased in celluloid dreams forever more.

It’s no word of a lie when I say that some of the most enjoyable moments of my life were spent within the confines of a cinema. While the whole act may be ritualistic in itself, it was never the same thing twice. While you could always assume to know what was happening in terms of the film, you never knew what was going to take place in the darkness….

1974 – The Breezes Drive In – Canada

The first ‘movie memory’ that springs to mind is as a young whelp on an outing to see ‘Grizzly Adams’ at a local drive in. As expected, numerous ‘Coming Attractions’ were always previewed in between the features. Only imagine what sadistic intent the projectionist had in mind as he spooled out the trailer for Hershel Gordon Lewis’s pinnacle of sleaze, ‘The Gore Gore Girls’. Within 2 short minutes, I think every kid in the lot must have filled their shorts at having to bear witness to the brazen gore and all out carnality.

Attempts to quickly switch the reel for a Felix the cat cartoon were all in vain. The damage had been done. It was that sleazy trifecta of boobs, blood, and a fake fork in the eye that warped our fragile young minds ineludibly. Many years later I was able to share my recollection with the director himself. While HG Lewis thanked me for appreciating his films, the only thing he could say regarding the incident was, ‘That projectionist was insane. He should have been arrested’

1987 – Ottawa Canada

I never had the chance to see, ‘Platoon’ during its initial release, so decided to catch a screening at a nearby rep cinema while attending university. It’s no surprise that people have been known to fire up various kinds of ‘smoky treats’ while in the cinema, and others have sometimes reacted less than favorably.

The hophead in question tried to play it incognito by sitting in the back row against the wall, but the pungent odor of his skunk weed gave him away. While most of the theater tried to ignore the green fog that hung in the air like a Godzilla fart, one man wasn’t having it. After telling ‘billy burnout’ several times to, ‘quit burning that shit’, the man finally got up, and grabbed a fire extinguisher posted beside the exit, and blasted the baked bean, covering both stash and stoner in a white sticky chemical foam. Now we were all treated to the delightful scent of dirt weed, and toxic foam.

The irony was that after both were escorted out of the theater, and the film resumed we all sat and watched as a young Charlie Sheen got high by taking a mega shotgun toke from the barrel of a rifle. Does life mimic film, or does film mimic life?

1987 – Ottawa Canada

Months later at the same theater during an Exorcist/Hellraiser double bill, the audience really lost their shit during a simulated medical ‘possession’.

We were seated near the front of the theater, and had no visible vantage point to what was going on behind us. At some point in the middle of The Exorcist, a woman seated behind us suddenly lets out a scream like a shotgun blast. Immediately the whole theater pulls a Linda Blair and spins their heads to see what was going down. The woman continued screaming in agony as her hair was knotted in the fist of a man seated immediately behind her. His eyes were rolled back in his head, and he was bent as if someone broke his spine. After rocking his head back and forth, he unloaded a stream of spittle and vomit over those near by.

A quick thinking patron recognized that the poor guy was in the midst of a ‘Grand Mal’ seizure, and quickly crammed his wallet in his mouth, and called an ambulance. After finding out he was going to be ok, and that the woman didn’t lose that much of her scalp, we didn’t have the heart to sit there and watch Lind Blair re-enact what just took place in the theater, so we left.

1992 – Toronto International Film Festival – Midnight Madness

Whodini was right on the money when they said that the ‘freaks come out at night’.

Back in the day when the ‘Midnight Madness’ program was based out of the Bloor cinema, every funky film junkie would burn the midnight oil to catch the latest fringe freak out.

It was during a screening of the notorious Belgian serial killer mockumentary, ‘Man Bites Dog’ that I was introduced to, ‘The giggler’. He sat alone in the dead center of the theater, and softly chuckled to himself at first. As the film progressed, and developed in violent intensity, the man began to respond with giggles, snorts, and a  snicker like Ernie on Sesame Street.

At first,  while some in the audience nervously laughed along, thinking they missed the black humor in the film, it soon began apparent that the giggler was beginning to wig everyone out. The film was billed as a, ‘killer  comedy’, and there were points where people laughed understandably, but the giggler was in a zone of his own, reveling in glee at all the wretched low points the film had to offer

As the film reached the point of a horrendous rape and murder, chuckles could hardly contain himself, and laughed and giggled, and bounced in his seat like a kid on Christmas morning. People might have their fetish of choice, and all the power to them, but  this guy was ready to launch,  and it was flat out capital D disturbing. Without a doubt, this was probably the creepiest experience I’ve had in a theater to date.

The ironic point to be made about the giggler is that he comes in many forms and variations. We had our own hometown giggler who used to haunt the local Brantford mall, and Odeon cinemas, alone in the dark, chuckling away at whatever amused his twisted sensibilities.

Our final true tale of cinema also took place during the 92 Midnight Madness run. A female friend and I decided to check out the latest splatastic film of a talented low budget director who would soon establish himself as a major player in Hollywood, and abroad.

As we sit down, I happen to notice a crew of stewed prunes in suits seated right behind us, just reeking of hooch. My friend happened to ask me if I had seen any other films, and I had mentioned that I had seen an up and coming crime film that was pretty decent.

All of the sudden one of the loudest pissed suits behind us leans over to inform me that the  crime film I had just commented upon was in fact a, ‘piece of shit’. When I asked the slobbering drunk why he happened to think so, all he could say was ‘because I directed the fucking thing all right?’ His arms started flailing like propeller blades,and from there on in, he could not be stopped. Off he goes into a non stop balls to the wall coco puff spastic diatribe about how he had to get his cast for the movie, most of who were seated beside him, barely vertical.

Soon the lights dropped, and Mr. ants in his pants danced out of the theater nowhere to be found. Apparently rumor has it he crawled into the lobby, and blew enough chunks to fill a reservoir ten times over…..

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Everybody’s got a true theater tale to tell, and we encourage you to lay it on us.

It doesnt have to be sick, sordid, or crazy shit. What were you fondest moments in a theater, or the moments you keep trying to forget? The moments that made it all more that ‘just a movie’….Let the tales commence….

Wayback Archives #3 Interview with director Julien Nitzberg on “The Wonderful Whites Of West Virginia”

Posted in Daily flow on February 7, 2011 by twm68

In 1991 PBS public television released the ‘different drummer’ series of documentaries, focusing on eclectic and unique performers throughout the United States.

The most memorable character to emerge out of the series was Jesco White, a second generation mountain clog dancer from Boone county West Virginia. At first glance Jesco comes off as your typical backwoods ass scratching hillbilly, but as a simple assessment, it criminally sells Jesco short. Some see him as Appalachian redneck royalty, some see him as a tap dancing Elvis impersonator, and other simply see him as a glue sniffing criminal.
The best way to approach Jesco White is the same way you might take a pull of moonshine. Take a hit straight and strong, and see where you stand after the fact. You’ll either go back for more or swear off the stuff for life.

Director Julien Nitzberg first crossed paths with Jesco and the White family while shooting a documentary on one man psychobily legend Hasil Adkins.
It was no co-incidence that Hasil also happened to reside in the same county,
which was becoming notorious for it’s outlaw tendencies. After time, and slow exposure to Jesco and his clan, Nitzberg soon gained their trust and friendship. After a number of years, with the approval of the White family, Nitzberg assembled a bare bones crew, and began to put together footage for what would come to be known as, ‘The Wonderful Whites Of West Virginia”.

After hearing about the project, I got in touch with Julien before the initial release of the film, to ask about the filming process, and his relationship with the ‘Wonderful Whites’.

Originally published on ‘Pop syndicate’

Family Tradition: Documenting The Wild and Wonderful Whites Of West Virginia

‘A little rebellion now and then is a good thing’ – Thomas Jefferson

There are those who will tell you that any society worth it’s weight should not only be measured by the powers that establish the rules and boundaries of the land, but also by those who choose to live outside of these parameters.

A paradox emerges as those who remain on the fringes of society become just as respected as those who try to establish the boundaries. From Billy the kid, to Boxcar Bertha and Bonnie and Clyde, these anti-social legends make up just as much of the fabric of America, as any politico or social activist out there. The rebels are revered for their disregard of laws, and their refusal to be reeled in by social constructs, and presumptions. While America has prided itself in it’s pursuit of ‘taming the wild frontier’, the rebels have always claimed the frontier as their own, as something that will remain forever wild, true, and free. One family of renegades who have carried on the torch of social dissent, are the White family of Boone county West Virginia.

Many throughout West Virginia will tell you that trouble follows the White family, in the same way that stink trails shit. The family is infamous for their conflicts with the law, and charges of drug dealing, robbery, assaults, and attempted murder. Regardless of the disdain and negative reputation, there are others who see the Whites as a rare and honest breed, who are just basically following the American tradition of the ‘pursuit of liberty’ as they see fit.

Director Julien Nitzberg has been a friend of the White family for 20 years, and has just released his documentary, ‘The Wild and Wonderful Whites of West Virginia’, that premiered at this year’s Tribecca film festival in New York. He is no stranger to documenting the wild residents of Boone county, having shot, ‘The wild world of Hasil Adkins’ in 1993, and acting as associate producer on, ‘Dancing Outlaw’, the story of Jesco White. With his recent film, Nitzberg became a fly on the outhouse wall, documenting the family for a full year, with an unblinking eye, warts and all. To hear Julien tell the tale, the project came about from past footage he had shot, and interest from Johnny Knoxville.

‘I’d actually shot a bunch of footage prior to Dancing Outlaw of Jesco and Mamie White hanging out. I always wanted the world to see this footage. Then, out of the blue, I got a call from a friend telling me that Johnny Knoxville was a big fan of my Hasil Adkins documentary and wanted to know if he could call me. I ended up showing him my “secret Jesco footage” and Knoxville got obsessed with it. We started talking about figuring out a way to release it.

I remembered how I’d found everyone in the family to be as wild and interesting as Jesco.   So Knoxville and I developed the idea to go back and explore a documentary about the rest of the family and the younger generations of what had become, since Dancing Outlaw, West Virginia’s most famous or (depending on your point of view) infamous family. Out of his own pocket, he paid for me to shoot for four days with one of his childhood friends Storm Taylor as my producer. Strom had known the Whites for a few years and was invaluable. We came back with what would become the basis of the film. That was cut into a twenty minute mini-documentary which we took to Jeff Yapp at MTV who kindly agreed to finance us to follow the family for a full year.’

Given the nature of the brood, and the circumstances that unfolded within the film, one could say that Nitzberg captured lightning in a bottle. There’s little chance that anyone outside of close friends would be given the chance to record the family so intimately for a year without having their  ass handed to them.

‘It was always difficult. There is so much stress in the family and this time was particularly stressful because of all the problems we show in the film. Because I have such a close friendship with the Whites they are completely comfortable with the camera. I called what we were creating “immersive filmmaking.” There was no distance between us and the family, nor could there be. It’s hard to have distance when you have 5 family members and 5 crew members crowded into a tiny apartment or trailer for hours every day. Instead, we became a complete part of their lives. When we ate, we turned the cameras off and ate with the family. We really became like family. People have commented that we have been able to get amazing intimacy in our footage. I think this is because we were more like family members shooting home movies than outsiders filming them.’

On screen the Whites come across with all the subtlety of a fart in church. Lines are chopped, pills are popped, and people are shot full of holes, all with a blatant disregard for any form of law. But while the film boldly walks through the valley of Meth, and the threat of violence hangs prominently in the air, Nitzberg wisely shows the sad sober results that often come with living the outlaw lifestyle.

It was actually something Johnny Knoxville stressed early in the making of the film. He’s a super smart and insanely film literate guy and we agreed that this film wouldn’t just celebrate outlaw culture but also explore its pitfalls. We start off showing the wild, fun side of the outlaw life but at a certain point start seeding in how that self-destructivity can fuck you up.

Suddenly the audience realizes this isn’t all fun but is dangerous.’

From the conception of the project there were also a number of other intentions that the director felt the film had an obligation to convey. Considering the volatile nature of the family, it might have been tempting to portray them in a exploitative manner, but this was something that was intentionally avoided from the get go. Instead, the film retains an honest, and often poetic look at the Whites, as opposed the ‘white trash kitsch’ approach taken by the pervious film, ‘Dancing Outlaw’.

‘The Whites are funny as shit but also deep and I felt that Dancing Outlaw oriented a bit too much towards being a comic portrayal. They were concerned that they felt Dancing Outlaw was edited to mock them. I tried to let them know that if they did something foolish on camera, it might end up in the film, but it was not going to be approached in the manner of Dancing Outlaw. We did tell everyone that if they wanted us to turn the cameras off at anytime, we would, but if they didn’t, then anything could end up in the film. Since I’d known Jesco and Mamie for 20 years, they felt trust in me and a great sense of comfort.’

The other issue that the film tries to touch on is the matter of being raised in a continuous cycle of poverty, and the attempts (or lack of) to break the chain, and follow new roads to improvement. In the film, some of the clan are seen moving away from Boone county to find new opportunities for themselves, and to avoid the reputation that comes with the family name.

‘I think the Whites of Minnesota have a good chance to break the cycle because they are living in a different culture that also has more opportunities. Sue Bob has a daughter Ashley who isn’t in the movie and is a straight A student and wants to get out of Boone County. Kirk White is still doing well and is about to get her first legit job. In reality, America fucks the poor and the poor often fuck themselves as well. There are the occasional few who escape from poverty and because of amazing self-will make it to places like MIT. But this is the exception. No one really wants to show the other side and how the world is stacked against them. The film is about these cycles that generation after generation of families get trapped in that actually degenerate. With the Whites we also show that when you grow up in a criminal family, you learn different ethical codes that can fuck you early in ways that fuck you up for the rest of your life. You see your elders talking about crimes in a romantic way and you idolize those people and end up replicating their behavior, stuck in a cycle that becomes nearly impossible to escape. These cycles aren’t a West Virginia phenomenon but a phenomenon you can see anywhere there is a criminal culture. But the impossibility of escaping them is what intrigued me in following the different generations of the family.

As a whole, the film really shines a light on the ‘human’ nature of the White family, as opposed to the reputation. Lives are lost, and penalties are paid for dearly, but yet they still maintain their dignity, and will to carry on. In a way the film comes across as if Martin Scorsese directed an episode of ‘Hee Haw’. Regardless of your personal leanings towards the subject matter, it’s hard to remain unaffected at some of the stark reality that the film presents.

‘I really wanted to make a cinema verite documentary about the family. I love Boone County and the White family. If I could, I would make a documentary in that area every two years. That part of America is never shown in a realistic or non-patronizing light and I was eager to do that and show the background of the area as well. I hoped to make something they would like (even though I was more concerned with it being honest.) Amazingly, Jesco and Mamie loved the film. Unlike Dancing Outlaw, where there were obvious manipulations of the subjects, ours was super honest and non-manipulative. I warned Jesco and Mamie that parts would be painful to watch. Both were very affected by the scenes of their mother’s sickness, but in the end loved the film.’

To film and live with the most notorious outlaws of West Virginia for a full year is no small feat in itself. To have them turn around and embrace the film is nothing short of a minor miracle. After contemplating the end result, Julien Nitzberg, feels that one of his proudest achievements during the project was, ‘not getting shot’. All joking aside, all those involved in the production of the film should be commended for their expose on another side of West Virginia that few get to see outside of the hollow. The director makes it clear that the White family do not represent West Virginia as a whole, but only a segment of it’s colorful history.

They may not walk amongst the minds and higher class of the state, but they do represent the hearts and guts of the resilient people of Boone county.

The film itself pulls no punches, and Mamie and Jesco White would be the first to tell you so. It is what it is, take it or leave it, and some might say it’s like sitting down to a jelly jar of homemade swish. If you’re in, you’re in for the long haul, and some of it may leave a bad taste in your mouth, and make your head spin, but what a hell of a ride.

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