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by Bill Gibron

13 Mar 2009

There is an argument/mantra among devout fans of cinema that goes a little something like this: “Critics are so hard on and hate (insert name of favorite movie here) because they are merely frustrated filmmakers themselves and can’t do any better.” To paraphrase Woody Allen, “those who can’t do, teach, and those who can’t teach, grab a camcorder and call themselves directors.” Thanks to DVD, and the so-called digital revolution, everyone with a basic knowledge of process, a hint of inspiration, and a script/screenplay spinning around in their head/bottom desk drawer thinks they’re the next Kubrick…or if not the late, great auteur, some manner of homemade genius. For them, the motion picture is not about exclusivity. It’s about jumping whole hog into the artform before there’s even a need for their input.

For years, Paul O’Callaghan has added his celluloid two cents on the current Cineplex crop as part of radio’s outrageous Ron and Fez Show. Before that, he was a Tampa, Florida cable access star with his review/preview show Your Life is a Movie. But unlike the cliché, his recent turn behind the lens is not some random outlet for his misspent muse. It’s actually the culmination of a dream he’s been holding onto since graduating from film school in the early ‘80s. The resulting experiment in genre exposition, Gap, gives new meaning to the term “unconventional”. By taking on one of the most stereotypical scary conventions - the serial killer with a desire to record his crimes - O’Callaghan has made a remarkable accomplished and anarchic piece of post-modern social commentary.

Gap is a movie that believes in ideas. It’s a film that follows a certain philosophy. Rebuking the clueless cow-like attention span of the average individual and adding it into the already ripe disposability of our poisonous pop culture, O’Callaghan’s killer (he plays the role himself) is more of a slaughter-bent sage than a manifestation of pure evil. By making these “tapes” (similar in style to the Blair Witch/Cloverfield conceit of first person POV insight), our clearly unhinged anti-hero is creating his Gospel. With each rant, with each frightened face he showcases (and then murderers), this demon dissects the human and finds its insides stuffed with maggots, the media, and a wildly unhealthy dose of “Me First” self-absorption. O’Callaghan’s character isn’t out to purge the planet, though. In his mind, seeing the horrific fate that meets anyone this selfish and simple will hopefully wake the world from its craven, crusty sleep. All they need is a copy of his visual primer.

Gap gets this point across via several divergent means. The first is through a thwarting of traditional horror film convention. When we hear that this movie centers on a killer videotaping his deeds while sermonizing about the various social “sins” he’s addressing, a wealth of gore-laden grotesqueries come to mind. Yet Gap has very little blood. We also anticipate lots of gratuity, including rampant nudity and a certain misogynistic view of the opposite sex. This also doesn’t occur. There are scenes where a particularly ghastly set up leads to an anticlimactic “apology” from our lead. There are also times when a certain strategy gets immediately circumvented for a more “direct” approach. If these descriptions seem vague, it’s because Gap would be ruined by too much advance knowledge. It’s better to go in, unprepared, and experience what O’Callaghan has to offer.

The murders are each handled in a different manner. O’Callaghan plays with the viewer, making them guess when our star will “snap” and procure his dance with death. Some of the sequences are sadistic and quite shocking. Others are almost comical in their nonchalant, farcical flippancy. Sometimes, O’Callaghan’s speech will be more horrific than the crime. In other instances, it’s all viscera and vivisection. Gap definitely keeps the audience off guard, making them guess what’s coming around the next corner, what the next shot or situation will have to offer. It also takes its title literally. The movie’s main theme is the massive ‘gap’ between reason and insanity, life and death, understanding and isolation, wisdom and misplaced contemplation. While we’re never sure if the victims deserve their fate, we clearly see that O’Callaghan’s character thinks so.

This doesn’t mean that Gap is flawless, however. As with any hands-on project, the casting process brings a few amateurish performances to the party - and nothing ruins dread like seeing an actress trying not to laugh while under a threat. In addition, the simple set ups of O’Callaghan speaking to the camera shows very little directorial panache. While he does eventually move the lens around in a more inventive fashion, the point and shoot awareness definitely undermines O’Callaghan’s ambitions. One wonders what he would be like with a bigger budget, a broader scope, and a cast and crew that could realize it for him. Still, as an initial foray into the dark, depressing world of independent creativity, Gap has its subversive charms.

And when you learn more about the production, about the motives behind this first aesthetic attempt and where the inspiration came from, you come to appreciate O’Callaghan even more. This is a man truly open to the process, who has seen the mistakes made in hundreds of horror movies (and mainstream Hollywood hackwork in general) and decided to go in a different direction. This may make Gap difficult for some audiences to accept. In general, we like our macabre measured out in certain, recognizable chunks. We don’t want to be challenged. We don’t like having our expectations circumvented or destroyed outright. We want terror, taunting, titillation, and perhaps a tell-all wrap up at the end of it. It’s safe to say that, for the terror traditionalist, Gap will be a baffling experience.

Yet if you’re willing to redefine your expectations and come in with an open mind, Gap will give your genre prerequisites a good tweaking. There are elements of exploitation, mumblecore, comedy, tragedy, experimentation, and outright ridiculousness here along with a great deal of insight into the mind of a madman and our current cultural malaise. O’Callaghan’s killer isn’t some megalomaniacal psychotic with a generic God complex compelled to do the bidding of a higher power. Instead, he’s a troubled individual seeing the world spinning out of control and hopes to impart upon it some necessary “lessons” before things totally go to Hell. Visiting the ‘found artifact’ nature of this movie indicates that the trip to Hades may be inevitable. How we get there, however, may be our only - and the film’s - saving grave. One thing’s for sure, it won’t be pretty. Then again, no attempt at personal reflection ever is.

by PopMatters Staff

13 Mar 2009

Dillinger Escape Plan joins Nine Inch Nails live at the Soundwave Festival in Perth, Australia on 2 March 2009.

by PopMatters Staff

13 Mar 2009

Foreign Born releases Person to Person on 23 June. Here’s what Secretly Canadian says about their band: “It’s been said that Foreign Born is an anthem band without “the” fist-pumping anthem, which may be true. And this is OK, because the trade-off is for an album far more cerebral and sustaining. The thing with summer anthems is that they only last a summer, Foreign Born delivers the soundtrack for the backyard BBQ of the ages.”

Foreign Born
“Vacationing People” [MP3]

by Timothy Gabriele

13 Mar 2009

Like the Langsley School Music Project before them, there will inevitably come a day when the PS22 Chorus of Brooklyn, NY will come to cut an album. They’ve already received the blessings of Neil Finn and Tori Amos, whose songs the elementary school singers have admirably covered (their instructor Gregg Breinberg is a huge fan) and they’ve become somewhat of a viral phenomena online.  I’m not saying that this hypothetical disc will be anything less than splendid, but the optimum way to listen them still seems to be exactly as YouTube presents it—filmed with standard home video equipment in the midst of a crowd. In the age of melisma and Pro Tools, the most moving thing about PS22 is the pure simplicity and devotion intrinsic in their craft. There’s no room for pretension. It’s music stripped to its core essence. The video camera mic captures the extent to which this is often a lost art to those of us who are old, jaded, cynical, and/or too caught up in the whirlwind of culture to realize what we’re losing. That is, we’re too busy listening to music to enjoy music.

Their latest video is a cover of The Velvet Underground and Nico’s “I’ll Be Your Mirror” and I fucking swear this thing could end the recession.

by Mike Schiller

12 Mar 2009

A little background: I’m a software guy.  I grew up tinkering with BASIC, learning programming on PASCAL, taking years of college courses based on C++, and now I have a job programming Java.  I’ve always thought like a software guy, I will always think like a software guy.

I mention this because David Shippy and Mickie Phipps are hardware people.  In fact, they’re the hardware people responsible for the chips that run the PlayStation 3 and the Xbox 360, which is what their book The Race for a New Game Machine is all about.  They live and breathe microcircuitry, while I don’t even know if microcircuitry is a real word.  To them, everything worth doing can be put on a silicon chip; brilliance is measured in gigahertz.

As a software guy reading a book by hardware people, then, I’m willing to acknowledge that maybe Shippy and Phipps are at a disadvantage when I’m the one evaluating their book.  After all, there are passages like this:

When a kid drops $59.95 at Circuit City on Microsoft’s Halo 3 interactive shoot-em-up and launches the game on Xbox 360, more is demanded from this game console than has ever been demanded from any other game machine.  When the player swings a joystick and levels a weapon at a charging alien beast, then presses the button and showers it with lead, splattering it straight back to hell, the quality of the experience depends less on the code written by the people at Microsoft than on the processor brains in the chip inside the box.

That’s from the very first page of the prologue.  For a software guy to read that, it’s an awful way to start.  One, he (and when I say “he” from here on out, I speak of David Shippy, given that the entire book is written in his voice, from his point of view) speaks of the code written by the people at Microsoft, when Halo 3 was developed by Bungie; he actually slights the people who built the game, giving credit instead to those who sold the game.  While it’s an honest mistake—Microsoft’s name is the one splashed on the Halo 3 box, after all—that’s just the kind of thing that can make the hairs on the back of a developer’s neck stand on end.

The other problem with that passage: he actually puts the role of the chip designer above that of the developer.  In that one simple statement, he makes it known just how much stock he puts in what software people do.  Whether that was his intention or not, or whether he even believes it or not is irrelevant.  He just told us that the chip is more important.  As a software guy, I would counter: I’ve seen too many awful games running on these amazing machines to believe that the quality of the experience has more to do with the hardware than the software.

That’s not the only nit I have to pick, either.

So…this never happened, then?

So…this never happened, then?

In a chapter called “Do Your Homework”, Shippy recounts the research he did to get acquainted with the gaming industry, and he does a quick recap of gaming history up to the release of the PlayStation 2.  The problem?  He does all right up to 1984, where he details the doldrums that gaming was finding itself in…and then he skips right to the PlayStation.  As far as he’s concerned, the ten years of the NES, the SNES, the Sega Genesis, the rise of portable gaming in the form of the Game Boy…they never happened.  1984-1994 was a black hole for the industry as far as he was concerned.  While I don’t expect a full, detailed recount of every system that was ever released, the NES, at least, seems to be a bit of an omission, yes?  Shippy actually seems to have a decided aversion to Nintendo in general—the only reference to Nintendo that I recall is a passing mention of the GameCube, and only because a colleague worked on its chip.

Again, I’m being unfair, because none of this has much to do with the story that Shippy and Phipps are trying to tell.  The point, however, is that there is an interesting story to be found in The Race for a New Game Machine, but much of the audience who would be interested in that story is going to be alienated by the assumptions that are made and the history that is overlooked.

That’s why I’m putting this here.  I want to be able to talk about the story told in this book without the bias of a “software guy”.  As such, I had to lay out all my “software guy” problems before I talk about the good stuff—because there is good stuff, and it’s worth talking about without getting sidetracked.  For that writeup…well, you’ll have to come back next week.

//Mixed media

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