After two days at CMJ, the mad dash to make every shows subsides, and you begin to feel a lot more comfortable going with your gut. This year, day two’s artists made that easy, maintaining remarkable energy even as the listeners themselves started to feel the strain that comes with getting out to so many shows. There’s a lot of sweat in today’s pics from our friends at Flavorpill, so best to view from a distance — unless you’re carrying a towel of course.
CMJ Day 2: Moshing On-Stage to Dan Deacon
Dan Deacon shows tend to have an aura of crowd participation. This was the case at the Bowery Ballroom, first when L.A. punk duo No Age started an on-stage mosh pit which escalated into guitarist Randy Randall riding on someone’s shoulders while rocking out the set’s final song. Then, as usual, Dan Deacon took it to the next level, inviting the crowd on stage while he set up on the floor to exude his electronic mayhem. After performing in complete darkness, except for the glow of a skull strobe light, Deacon requested the house lights be turned up and cleared the dance floor to allow space for a spastic dance contest. The prolific production artist Diplo was on hand, rocking out to Deacon’s electro-anthems, and even received a congratulatory round of high fives from the crowd. The party atmosphere was admittedly not fitting for the more cerebral, white-noise-inspired sound of Deerhunter whose lead singer Bradford Cox called Deacon “a tough act to follow”. Nevertheless, Deerhunter killed with a set of their atmospheric rock from their stellar Cryptograms album. Cox’s airy vocals and the band’s spatial pop songs were a welcome reprieve from the over-indulgence of the previous acts.
Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez’s collaborative cinematic crack, the brilliant and brash Grindhouse, was a failure in perception, not in execution. Opening up a blood and body part drenched motion picture the weekend of Easter may have seemed like the biggest bonehead move since Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake bowed at the very end of Summer (?), but what the three hour return to exploitation’s gruesome Golden Era proved was that, as revivalists, these moviemaking mavericks really understood their subject. For Tarantino, it was West Coast sex slaughter – slutty gals doing erotic things before meeting their anarchic action film fate. Rodriguez, on the other hand, delved right into the drive-in motif of macabre – whisper thin premise, smoking hot stars, unholy helpings of human suet. Together, they offered an overview of the taboo-busting film format, the moment movies woke up from their Hays Code induced coma and found their sex and violence voice.
Of the two, Planet Terror stands as the most faithfully inappropriate. Unlike his partner in retro crime, Rodriguez purposefully avoids any semblance of the arthouse to literally throw balls to the wall. In a MPAA mandated mentality that believes all cruelty creates socially inappropriate behavior, it’s Ritalin’s regressive antidote. Bringing the best bits of splatter directly into the new CGI heavy horror film while remembering to accent the physical, it’s a movie made up of iconic insanity and moments of proto-porn wackiness. Though it deals with such fright film standards as a corrupt military, a science experiment gone sour, and hundreds of flesh feasting zombies, there is more to this movie than mere bloody cinematic showdowns. What Rodriguez has accomplished is something very rare – a crowd pleasing celebration of all that Hollywood hates, filtered through a true geek’s love of glop.
When we first meet our heroine Cherry Darling (an absolutely brilliant Rose McGowen), she’s leaving her life as a go-go dancer and pursuing a dream as a stand up comic. Stopping off at local BBQ pit The Bone Shack on her way out, she runs into ex-boyfriend Wray (Freddie Rodriguez, grade-A badass). In the meantime, there’s trouble over at the military base. A noxious cloud of green gas has been unleashed, turning the local population into brain-hungry members of the undead. As law enforcement, including a serious sheriff (Michael Biehn) and his lunkheaded deputies (Tom Savini, Carlos Gallardo) battle the fiends, the doctors on call at the hospital (Josh Brolin, Marley Shelton) are seeing an increase in infected individuals. They have their own personal problems making matters worse. Eventually, it’s survivors vs. soldiers to determine who will live, and who will become part of this unending nightmare.
In his sensational audio commentary, the director points out the one thing he hated loosing in the original edit – the transitions. Trying to replicate the experimental extremism of exploitation’s heyday, he purposefully made each scene meld into the next. Sequences ending with a walk through a doorway would match new segments starting with same. Faucets turned on in one setting would lead to water covering someone’s foot in the next. These are wonderfully arty touches, moments of mise-en-scene that make you smile by their very obviousness. There are also little character tags, snippets of dialogue and interpersonal interaction that held to broaden our understanding of the relationships at work. We get more of Michael Park’s cancer ridden wife in the DVD version, explanations of why the marriage between Brolin and Shelton is falling apart. Unlike Death Proof, which Tarantino reconfigured into a weird internalized take on every ‘70s movie he’d ever seen, Rodriguez stayed firmly ensconced in the passion pit – and its shows.
Indeed, if Grindhouse was divided – yin and yang style – into two halfs, Planet Terror would be the portion that eats. It’s the movie directed at the audience, not the critic, and contains more applause/shout/scream worthy moments than the entire Hollywood horror output of 2006. One of the DVD’s biggest surprises is a second auditory track which offers up actual reactions recorded during a packed house showing of the film. The gasps, shouts, and shrieks are priceless, like the Beatlemania of b-moviedom. It illustrates how effectively Rodriguez was at tapping into the splatter fanatic zeitgeist. While it’s clear that the biggest cheers and jeers come at the proper scary movie moments, it’s a hoot to hear such a unified front. Since the advent of home video, the theatrical experience has been marginalized to the point of meaninglessness. Planet Terror argues that, in the right setting, with the right mindset, group participation is a film’s greatest purpose.
For those wondering if the “unrated” label means more and more gore, the answer, oddly enough is undecided. Rodriguez mentions a couple of scenes where the ratings board mandated massive trims (they involve brain eating and torso tearing), but the added back bits don’t really accentuate the excess. Similarly, the director states over and over that he purposefully held back in certain moments, the use of post-production print deterioration and aging helping to increase the level of brutality in his mind. So aside from a few additional seconds of melting testicles, and an overall augmented level of post-gunshot spray, Planet Terror plays exactly like it did in theaters. McGowen still swivels her hips and picks off bad guys with leg weapon ease. Actor Rodriguez is still Rambo with a rebel’s edge. Brolin is still a cuckold clinging to his own inner rage, and Shelton stands in stark contrast to the champions surrounding her. When required to step up, however, she does.
Individuals interested in the backstage particulars of this production will also love the second disc full of behind the scenes info. The “10 Minute Film School” highlights how CGI and camera tricks created many of the movie’s most memorable sequences while “The Badass Babes and Tough Guys” featurette focuses on the cast. “Sickos, Bullets, and Explosions” deals with the movie’s amazing stunts, while “The Friend, The Doctor, and The Real Estate Agent” centers on pals of Rodriguez who stepped up to participate in the film. As usual, the filmmaker uses the DVD format as a way of imparting knowledge and hands-on information to the uninitiated. Perhaps the most telling stat is his desire to keep his part of Grindhouse as cheap as possible, knowing the expanded scope Tarantino was planning for his installment.
If there is one downside to the whole Planet Terror experience, it comes about three-quarters of the way through Rodriguez’s commentary. There, during a lull in the action, he lets the double dip secret out – there will be a legitimate, two disc DVD release of the original Grindhouse sometime in the format’s near future. Now before you go ballistic and start screaming sell-out, remember this: as a project, this daring double feature was always about the films first, the experience second. The unflinching success of both solo outings confirms this fact. Had they been planned as a chaotic combo platter only, neither movie would work outside the setting. But Planet Terror, ‘missing scene’ still intact (yep – no extra McGowan nudity – sorry guys), easily survives its initial attack of cinematic separation anxiety. It remains a great film, and an excellent first digital package.
Sunrise doesn’t last all morning
A cloudburst doesn’t last all day . . .
All things must pass
All things must pass away
Deborah Kerr passed today. As with all people and all things, eventually there comes a passing.
Being of a different generation, I didn’t have intimate awareness of Kerr. But sharing the common cloth that enfolds all generations through pop, I knew of her. In their twenties and thirties, my parents sat in theaters—smiling, chuckling, weeping, fretting in relative reel-time—as Kerr emoted and kissed and sang and danced on-screen. I, probably like you, have only known her from images like the one below, in coffee-table books, or else in scenes flitting across the TV screen or on DVD.
So, when I read the obit here what had been basically just a name and a set of two-hour diversions, became something more substantial; something organic and teeming with life. For those of you - like me—who really only knew Kerr second hand, it turns out that she had quite a life. Quite a PopMatters kind of life. The kind of life that contributed to the popular, entertainment and artistic currents of our times. The times of your grandparents’ or parents’ lives, sure, but yours, too, Even if you’ve never seen From Here to Eternity or The King and I or An Affair to Remember, or . . . for that matter, Sleepless in Seattle. Because, Kerr was part of the stream—a significant stone in that stream—who helped, in some small way, to shape the popular world of today. The one burbling around us; the one that washes up over us in an incessant torrent—no different that the waves crashing over the lovers in From Here to Eternity . . .
Hopefully the title of this entry doesn’t have you expecting an exegesis of Marillion lyrics or something; instead I wanted to revisit the point I was trying to make in the previous entry about education and try to illuminate it with a concept from an essay by Leszek Kolakowski. In his essay “The Priest and the Jester,” Kolakowski posits two eternally warring approaches to philosophy, which in his view has yet to shake its theological roots and is always taking up eschatological questions.
The antagonism between a philosophy that perpetuates the absolute and a philosophy that questions accepted absolutes seems incurable, as incurable as that which exists between conservatism and radicalism in all aspect s of human life. This is the antagonism between the priest and the jester, and in almost every epoch the philosophy of the priest and the philosophy of the jester are the two most general forms of intellectual culture. The priest is the guardian of the absolute; he sustains the cult of the final and the obvious as acknowledged by and contained in tradition. The jester is he who moves in good society without belonging to it, and treats it with impertinence; he who doubts all that appears self-evident. He could not do this if he belonged to good society; he would then be at best a salon scandalmonger. The jester must stand outside good society and observe it from the sidelines in order to unveil the nonobvious behind the obvious, the nonfinal behind the final; yet he must frequent society to know what it holds sacred.
In the previous post, I was trying to argue that everyday life tends to make jesters of us all, while cultural institutions tend to try to instill us the reverence of the priest and the complacency that comes with believing moral questions have been settled—in Venezuela, in favor of the “new man.” But the “new man” himself was supposed to be a jester; his demeanor was precisely something that can’t be taught, an attitude that self-consciousness and second-handedness destroys.
When I was a college teacher, this dilemma was palpable to me, but I didn’t have this vocabulary to describe it. I could tell that some other English dept. professors clearly took inherited standards seriously and saw these traditions as self-justifying, worth preserving simply because others had saw fit to do the same. These priestly professors would teach appreciation classes and pass off subjective judgments on poetry, etc., without a blush or a moment’s hesitation—to them, that’s why you got credentialed, so that others would have to take your opinion as gospel, so you could essentially say whether various works of art rock, rot, or rule. Others, the teaching assistants especially, wanted to challenge the students to contest everything and reject all hierarchies and make it all up for themselves, as though they weren’t in the classroom to learn from someone else. These instructors wanted to dismantle all authority, particularly their own, and affirm the students’ voice. I would sort of ricochet back and forth between those poles, with an ad hoc pedagogy and a faithlessness in the whole process. Inevitably, one may have to become a priest to become entrenched in academia; one must professionalize and buy into one’s own bullshit, or in other words, have the dignity to take one’s own career seriously. And as a by-product of that, you might so piss off some students with your righteousness that they’ll develop their own jester-like qualities and fulfill their subversive potential.
The summer stickiness has pretty much dissipated (though nothing can completely kill the subway’s trademark stink), and All Hallows Eve is all but upon us. So, you know what that means: it’s CMJ TIME!!!! That’s right, the industry conference to dwarf all other music industry conferences kicked off in New York City yesterday and will continue through the weekend, hosting hundreds upon hundreds of newbies, up-and-comers, and soon-to-be superstars. As always, PopMatters’ Events crew is out in force, chronicling every inspired solo and dutifully noting every errant riff. While you’re waiting for our extensive breakdown of the conference’s best (and worst) performances, how about a few snapshots from the middle of the mayhem? Check back tomorrow for more photos courtesy of our friends at Flavorpill...
Press and fans from around the planet descended on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to gather their CMJ badges, stock up on free swag, and play Halo 3. People recovering from hangovers and jet lag were comforted by some afternoon-friendly indie pop and classically influenced cover tunes. The coy, unassuming sound of Takka Takka started things off, followed by the cutesy boy-girl vocals and organ-tinged rock of Saturday Looks Good to Me—leaving us early birds yearning for the Festival’s proper beginning later on at night. Also performing the afternoon show was rock and roll violin group the Section Quartet and acoustic folk chanteuse Jennifer O’Connor. A great way to start things off before we head to L’Asso for $1 pizza, as CMJ 2007 prepares to launch tonight with Bouncing Souls, Voxtrot, Q-Tip, and many, many more.
Venue-Hopping at the CMJ Festival
Before we were off to see Austin’s Voxtrot, with young Canadian sensations the Most Serene Republic and Dean and Britta (who sound like a more mellow Thurston and Kim), there were a host of shows just south of Houston street where venue-hopping at CMJ is at its best. At Arlene’s Grocery, the Swedish synth-pop band Mixtapes and Cellmates took time in between their Postal Service-like tunes to pay homage to Baywatch heart throbs David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson. Just around the corner at Pianos, Benji Cossa and Rocketship Park gave us some pedal steel-inspired country rock before we headed into the dungeon-like space at Fat Baby, where Centipede E’est whipped the crowd into a frenzy with their psychedelic stoner rock. Finally, at the aptly titled Living Room, the band Clint, Michigan, playing with delicate vocalist Amy Bezunartea, lulled the crowd with their banjos, fiddles, and mandolins.