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Wednesday, Oct 10, 2007
by PopMatters Staff

The Trolleyvox —"I Call On You"
From Your Secret Safe on Transit of Venus
The Trolleyvox’s new release is a two album set that is comprised of Your Secret Safe, a full-band electric album produced by Brian McTear (Danielson, Espers, Mazarin, A-Sides, Lilly’s, Apollo Sunshine) featuring nine new originals and a ripping version of The Who’s “Our Love Was”; and Luzerne, a gorgeous acoustic album featuring songwriter-guitar player Andrew Chalfen and lead singer Beth Filla.


Swivel Chairs —"Afterthought"
From The Slow Transmission on Transit of Venus
The Slow Transmission is an album born of a friendship and musical partnership that has lasted more than a decade. Over that time, the Swivel Chairs song-writing duo of Jeremy Grites and Jason Brown have polished their craft through numerous self released cassettes; CD-R albums; compilation tracks; several split albums and EPs with bands like Audible (Polyvinyl) and The Banes; and the acclaimed 2004 indie-pop album A Late Day For Regrets on Portland OR’s Paisley Pop label.


Robert Pollard —"Rud Fins"
From Coast to Coast Carpet of Love on Merge Records
Pollard explores the poppier, “Beatles” side of his musical personality here. In the universe where Bob explains the Freudian divisions of his psyche, he calls Coast To Coast Carpet Of Love his id; Standard Gargoyle Decisions his ego’ and himself his Super Ego.
John Ralston —"Fragile"
From Sorry Vampire on Vagrant Records
What would become the jangly, densely layered Sorry Vampire, the second full-length from John Ralston, began as just a few basic elements and eventually snowballed into over 50 songs with almost twice as many individual tracks on each song. The record was built to give the listener the experience of hearing something new with each repeated listen – you’ll likely never hear this record the same way twice. The final dozen tracks also speak to the ‘luxury’ Ralston experienced by not having time constraints and being able to home record.


The A-Sides —"Cinematic"
From Silver Storms on Vagrant Records
In Philadelphia, they don’t get many big waves. But recently, they’ve been getting a little bit closer. The A-Sides suggest the ocean, the clouds, love, fury, life and death, with a sound that’s like sunshine on your arms, seeping in right after the biggest waves in the world have torn you down.


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Tuesday, Oct 9, 2007


Okay, it’s time to admit it. You’re addicted to dung. You know what we mean. Garbage. Junk. Refuse. The kind of generic popcorn movie fluff that Hollywood passes off as art each and every week of the year. As a matter of fact, you’ve been mainlining the mainstream for so long that you know longer have the arterial constitution to tell good from god awful. At this point in your problem, you’re more or less gone, given over to lackluster gross out comedies, anemic thrillers, overripe melodramas, and the same old “I hate my life” indie angst fests. Even the typical tame horror romp finds a way to get your gooseflesh perky. In fact, if you’re not experiencing the non-acting abominations that are Robin Williams and Jennifer Aniston, you’re not sure it’s actually a movie you’re mooning over.


Well guess what – it’s time for an intervention – TROMA style. As the leading purveyor of pure art in the entirety of modern motion picture making, founder Lloyd Kaufman and his merry band of product purchases have come up with a dozen definitive films that, when experienced, will work better than a trip to rehab and/or a featured video on TMZ combined. It will get you out of the shame cycle, correct your bass ackward crap aesthetic issues, and release you from the grip of baby blood drinking studio suits. Here’s a warning, however. It will not be easy. The sights you see and the stories you experience will not be some cookie cutter committee claptrap marginalized for maximum demographic delight. No, these are real films by real filmmakers, and their clarity may put you off – at first. 


But if you stick with it, give it time, and follow these rigorous rules of celluloid self-examination, you might just find that your compulsion is curable. Heck, you may even discover that you prefer a good dose of unnecessary sadistic bloodletting or undead neck nibbling to the latest Saw installment. Just remember – these are not official Troma helmed productions we’re talking about. The power of those bad boys is too great for the fragile first timer. Instead, these are the company-approved offerings that best illustrate their big picture dynamic. Once you’ve survived these samplings, a date with everyone’s favorite mutant mop boy is just a relapse away.  Let’s begin with:


Step 1: Give Up the Self-Destructive Streak (Suicide, 2001)


Armchair psychiatrists would argue that the main reason people gravitate toward Tinsel Town’s trash is that they have some manner of indirect death wish. Well, if you want to see individuals with a much greater desire to end it all than you will ever have, try this intriguing German mock doc. Using a handheld POV to support a premise where people sign up on the internet to have their title acts filmed, we get one of those “is it or isn’t it real” presentations that will have audiences arguing for days afterward. Even better, it will begin the cleansing and curative process.


Step 2:  Acknowledge the Devil’s Hold on Cinema (Screamplay (1985)


While blame is never healthy (we are trying to take responsibility for ourselves, remember), one must never forget the role the mangoat plays in keeping us hooked on hackwork. An excellent example of this paradigm arrives in the form of this writing as reprobate satire. When a screen scribe’s imagination becomes so vivid that the crimes he imagines become real, no one in the business called show is safe. And the best part is – this is one wickedly witty work, proof that not all scripts are culled by committee scat. Outsider auteur George Kuchar is even part of the cast.


Step 3: Give Up Drugs (Meat Weed Madness 2006)


At this point, you’re well beyond a simple negative pronouncement. In fact, it’s painfully obvious that just saying “No” would do very little except exercise your vocal chords. What you require, instead, is a healthy dose of demented tough love – and this surreal Southern Gothic is just the demented dime bag you require. Here, a group of gals stumble upon the Bullpocky Plantation and its title herb – a plant cultivated from human flesh! One toke and you’re not only over the line, you’re high on your own supply and ready to bogart the soul out of someone.


Step 4: Take a Vow of Chastity (Killer Condom 1996)


It’s a fact – sex will only screw you up. Unfocused fornication and purposeless petting will merely lead to heartache, body issues, and suffering. Don’t believe it – then check out this Teutonic treat about a prophylactic that preys on people. When Detectice Mackaroni discovers a rash of missing “member” cases, he stakes out a seedy motel in hopes of finding some answers. Turns out, there’s a randy rubber on the loose, looking to stop illicit physical contact once and for all.  While Christians can call for abstinence and liberals long for education, this is one solution that’s also ribbed (for her pleasure).


Step 5: Avoid a Life of Crime (Wiseguys vs. Zombies 2003)


Everyone thinks that gangsters are so cool, and with Hollywood glamorizing their murder for hire mythos, it’s hard to tell the felonies for the Sicilian family trees. But one screening of this Cosa Nostra corpse grinding will cure you of even the most lingering Sopranos sympathies. Two hit men, delivering bodies and bottles to a connection in Miami, wind up face to face with bloodthirsty remnants of the undead. And these are the kind of flesh fiends who can’t be bribed with irrefutable offers. It’s enough to make those geared toward goombah’s choke on their cabbagool!

Step 6: Try Alternative Foods (Meat for Satan’s Icebox 2004)


Speaking of inedible vittles, one of the best ways toward self-help and aesthetic purification is the toxin purging properties of a new diet. Sadly, almost every life altering culinary amalgamation has been forwarded by a baneful buck hungry business, from organic to raw. Leave it to this ignominious indie effort to offer stripper sirloin as the latest answer to what’s for dinner. That’s right – Soylent Green is not the only human-based hunger hinderer anymore. With Satan himself working as a homespun homosapien pitchfork man, there’ll be plenty to go around.

 


Step 7: Recognize the Inherent Evil in Youth (The Children 1981)


Of course, everyone knows that kids are craven. They’re about the wickedest little buggers this side of Nazis and roughed collies. So keeping away from the wee ones is always warranted. But what if you find yourself slipping, influenced unfavorably by a cherubic face or a tongue-heavy “thpeech patuwn”? Just remember – hiding behind that cute façade could be a radioactive monster ready to hug you into an early grave. At least, that’s what this beloved low budget fright flick tells us. Leave it to cinema to make progeny even more precarious.


Step 8: Recognize the Inherent Evil of the Stage (Bloodsucking Freaks 1976)


They say that movie is illusion, but that’s only partly true. Theater is much more existence mocking since it uses the inherent connectivity of a live event to foster a fictional, usually melodramatic methodology. So in order to keep such Great White Way wants to a bare minimum, rehabbers might want to check out this gore soaked creepshow classic. Centering on Sardu and his supposedly “fake” torture show, there’s enough amateur brain surgery, little person perversion, and garroted gals to swear you off the smell of greasepaint and the roar of the crowd forever.

Step 9: Reconcile that Life is Chaotic and Episodic (Dumpster Baby 2000)


Here’s another truism: existence if futile - or if not fruitless, at the very least fractured. Seemingly random events can add up to one Helluva karmic cock-up and you may never ever recognize said fact. Indeed, what you require is a celluloid guide, a movie that makes the seemingly senselessness line up and have meaning. This tale of a rejected infant and the Prague like predicament of the effect it has on everyone around it will surely solidify your grip on human happenstance. After all, if a dada-esque excursion into the obscure can come out legible, your world can too.


Step 10: Never Forget that War is Hell (Combat Shock 1986)


Combat produces a two-fold trial for the average vet. First, there is the atrocity of battle, the spilling of blood, the loss of individual life. Then there is the aftermath – the broken government promises, the unattended internal scaring, the lack of sympathy and support from the ungrateful society around you. It’s a situation all too familiar to Frankie Dunlan in this intense urban nightmare. Destitute and desperate, with a family to feed and no prospects in sight, our hero simply sinks into a cesspool of his own bad luck. Proof that all pointless police actions are deadly in many different ways.

 


Step 11: Understand that there are People Much Worse Off than You (Luther the Geek 1990)


Remember when you mother convinced you to eat your greens by telling you that people in far off, invisible lands had it so much tougher than you. Well, your guardian could have looked closer to home for more powerful illustrations of elder acquiescence. As a young boy, our title character saw a group of men taunting a real life sideshow oddity. Years later, this newly crowned psycho killer somehow manages to gain parole. He decides to do a little freak showcasing on anyone who’s available. So the next time you sing your sob story, this caustic cautionary tale will hopefully dull the despair.

Step 12: When in Doubt, Blame Cannibalistic Extraterrestrials (Flesh Eaters from Outer Space  1998)


Of course, after all these substantive steps, after reflection and tons of therapeutic screams, you may still feel a little flummoxed. Have no fear – ET is here. That’s right, if you can’t gain control of your habit, if you still hanker for a hunk of blockbuster cheese, if you can’t help but wonder what Michael Bay is up to next, then explain away your malady as the byproduct of an abduction. And what better example of outer space madness can one choose than this Warren F. Disbrow classic. Revolving around a bloodthirsty crater critter who piggybacks onto a returning US astronaut, it’s the perfect personal pass. It’s also the only way Troma can treat the torment.


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Tuesday, Oct 9, 2007
Los Angeles as it appears in Blade Runner

Los Angeles as it appears in Blade Runner


In the latest entry on his blog, BLDGBLOG, Geoff Manaugh describes Los Angeles as “a city of individualized car geographies”. He writes about the built world and building worlds and the lives contained in constructed spaces with the beauty and strangeness of a science fiction writer. Many have constructed blogs as covalent bonds (myself included) reporting on reports that appear elsewhere in newspapers and magazines and blogs. Almost no-one creates a powerfully written new story with the link in the way that he does. In Monday’s entry, Deep Space Pharma, he reports on a Wired story about a Texas investor who wants to turn the International Space Station into an orbiting pharmaceutical laboratory.


While it seems next to impossible to believe that we’ll be able to maintain flights back and forth between Earth and the ISS in a post-oil economy, it is nonetheless quite fascinating to think that, someday, depressed teenagers in suburban Arizona might pop space-made anti-depressants, affecting hormonal moods through the use of literally extra-terrestrial substances; or musicians in small apartments in Prague might swallow attention deficit drugs crystallized in microgravity, writing the world’s most intricate symphonies in response; or perhaps even illegal new hallucinogens will be developed in windowless, symmetrical rooms hovering 250 miles above the Earth’s surface, and they’ll be taken by Rem Koolhaas-reading students at SCI-Arc who then draw up plans for self-healing tentacular cities, under the influence of space…


Geoff Manaugh. BLDGBLOG


He conducts interviews, reviews books, and unearths astonishing facts and lists a blogiography that’s a treasure trove of unusual criticism and speculative futures for the built world.


SIMON: What motivated you to start a blog devoted to “architectural conjecture, urban speculation, and landscape futures”?


GEOFF: I was reading Super-Cannes, writing my own first novel, recovering from abdominal surgery, and auditing a university course about Archigram, the 1960s British pop-utopian architecture group; those things just came together somehow – and, one morning, on a whim, I started BLDGBLOG. Now I work on it almost constantly. It’s been two years.


BLDGBLOG became pretty well-defined, with a small but growing readership, and it had a voice, a tempo, an energy, a feel. It was no longer just an ‘architecture’ blog; it had its own direction and orientation, and it was even verging on science fiction in some ways. Short stories in the disguise of architectural theory. Ideas for screenplays. In that regard, BLDGBLOG became more literary – by which I don’t mean to compliment my writing abilities, but to say that the site became its own kind of genre: architectural criticism as a kind of literary form. Somewhere between science fiction, a short story collection, a Don Delillo novel, and a kind of technical catalogue for a world that didn’t exist. Which, incidentally, is how I view a lot of Ballard’s work. So if BLDGBLOG could ever equal Ballard in that regard, I’d be a very happy man!


It’s worth adding that a lot of the architects I admire also use architecture as a form of social critique, or political allegory: Archigram, Rem Koolhass, even Piranesi or Will Alsop. The Agents of Change. Speculative architectural treatises are an extremely exciting, if totally unacknowledged, branch of the literary arts. Look at Thomas More’s Utopia. Or China Miéville. Or, for that matter, J.G. Ballard.


Interview from Ballardian: The World of J. G. Ballard


 


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Monday, Oct 8, 2007


They’re noted for their insanity onscreen – blood and body parts flying across the frame with reckless abandon, while gyno-Americans explore each others’ naughty, naked nether regions. As toilet humor cascades across the speakers and monsters make mayhem among a cast of literal unknowns, subtext and closeted intelligence fill in the often glaring gaps. It’s like anarchy whittled down into art, the language of film spoken outloud by idiot savants and translated by terrorists. Let’s face it – it wouldn’t be a Troma movie without some spatter, some slaughter, and some satire. It’s been the independent film company’s modus operandi since a mild mannered mop boy named Melvin transformed into the Toxic Avenger.


So it probably wouldn’t surprise you to know that there’s an equal amount of chaos going on behind the scenes. What might shock you is how eager Troma is to share these motion picture meltdowns with its loyal fanbase – and the rest of the world. Long before DVD became known for its context including benefice, founder Lloyd Kaufman and his various apprentice associates where using their productions as a proving ground. It wasn’t a matter of survival of the fittest. In many ways, they were reverse Darwinists – survival of the sickest. Indeed, it takes someone with a strong creative constitution and nerves frayed to the point of numbness to make it through one of these Bataan Death March experiences.


Want proof? Well, then look no further than the four documentaries created by the company to support the films Terror Firmer (Farts of Darkness), Citizen Toxie (Apocalypse Soon), Tales from the Crapper (When Reshoots Go Wrong), and their annual trek to France’s famed film festival (All The Love You Cannes). Differing in both tone and dimension from your standard digital EPKs, we are tossed directly into the maelstrom that is Troma movie making, from Kaufman’s occasional demagoguery to the blatant incompetence of his cast and crew. Collected all together on the definitive DVD box set, Make Your Own Damn Movie, we witness how logistics, personalities, and blatant incompetence conspire to undermine the best laid plans of indie horror mavens.



Farts of Darkness sets up the standard Troma paradox – big budget outsider idealism helmed by untested cast and crew. With Kaufman as ringleader, we get a surreal circus of party hearty goof offs, well intentioned egotists, and legitimate technical talent. In the beginning, the goal is always the same. As a matter of fact, we learn the Troma creed as part of this delicious documentary. Like the Ten Commandments for the tattooed and pierced, the mandates revolve around making a good movie, hurting no one, and being fair to everyone involved. Naturally, such tenets are almost instantly ignored as participants learn of the lack of craft services, the ungodly hours, and the occasional need to defecate in a plastic bag.


Terror Firmer, a fictionalized take-off based on the book version of Make Your Own Damn Movie (by Kaufman, Trent Haaga, and Adam Jahnke) revolved around a film crew making an epic in Manhattan. Unbeknownst to everyone involved, a psycho killer is stalking the set. Believe it or not, this is the least of the film’s potential problems. After all, it’s being directed by a blind man (Kaufman essays the role of sightless auteur Larry Benjamin), and a seedy love triangle between production assistant Jennifer and her diametrically opposed paramours threatens to undermine everything. Naturally, when the murderer makes his presence known, everyone bands together to defend their territory and finish the film. Extreme arterial spray and flatulence ensues.


The madness of independent moviemaking in all its cinema vérité glory is the best way to describe Farts. It’s a backstage melodrama overloaded with logistical nightmares, inconsistent planning, and body wasting work. While it’s commendable that Kaufman wants to collaborate with so many untested young people, it’s clear that, in many cases, responsibility is not a skill earned in film school. Many of these overzealous wannabes are only involved to get high, grab ass, and add a Troma title to their otherwise weak resume. Even the people who’ve been with Kaufman over the long haul tend to let him down once the pressure is on. Unlike the standard Hollywood Making-of which offers up nothing but bragging and “aren’t we great” accolades, Farts of Darkness shows the warts and all reality of trying to make a movie. It should be mandatory viewing for every basement dwelling geek who argues that they could create something more substantial than Kaufman and clan. Such a statement can only come from a lack of perspective – and actual participation.



Things only get worse in Apocalypse Soon. After 11 years without another installment, Kaufman decided to relaunch the Toxic Avenger franchise with a new effort – Citizen Toxie. Rumor had it that the film was also a financial necessity – the company was facing tough economic issues, and hoped that going back to the iconic classic character would right the solvency ship. The storyline was like an amalgamation of everything Troma stood for. Our lovable nuclear mutant must defend a school for special kids from the notorious Diaper Mafia. After an explosion creates a dimensional tear in the fabric of the cosmos, our hero finds himself flung into the parallel universe of Amortville. In the meantime, his evil twin from another realm – the Noxious Offender takes over Tromaville. It’s up to Sgt. Kabukiman, NYPD to gather together a team of superheroes to save the day, as well as everyone’s favorite irradiated champion.


Clearly a case of ambition overriding ability, Citizen Toxie would end up being a noble failure, at least commercially and critically. For fans, the film stands as a wonderful overview of the entire Troma mythology – especially when the loony league of justice including Mad Cow Boy, Dolphin Man, Mastor Bator, and The Vibrator all show up. Yet from the very beginning of Apocalypse Now, we can see that personalities and other individual issues constantly unite to undo Kaufman’s goals. First and foremost, the actor hired to play Toxie goes from ‘lucky to have a job’ to problematic prima donna in the span of a couple of hours. Worse, the crew is incapable of taking matters seriously. Abusing Troma’s “learn by example” ideal of education, we come to understand a lot about young cinema wannabes. Most are slovenly slackers who get pissy for no valid reason. Many feel that, at a certain point, hard work is no longer their forte. And a few will mutiny over the dumbest, most ridiculous ideas (like the rumor of lead paint at a location).


Pulling it all together becomes a task of Herculean proportions, and the stress takes its toll on Kaufman. In these days when every famous face wants to be loved (or at least respected) and studios cringe at any kind of negative publicity, Troma wears these filmmaking fiascos on their sloppy, scattered sleeves. It’s almost as if, having survived such a taxing ordeal, and watching the results get little or no respect, Kaufman carts out his dirty laundry and shouts “See? See what we put ourselves through for you fans? Huh? HUH???” While not quite so demonstrative, the message remains crystal clear – art like this doesn’t come fully formed out of the ether, stitched together by cherubs and given a glossy patina by enchanted leprechauns. Instead, Kaufman is like a potter throwing film out of feces. And his hands are almost never clean.



Of course, he’s the first one everyone comes crawling to when things go painfully awry. Case in point – Tales from the Crapper. Taking advantage of the digital explosion, Troma hired a producer named India Allen to oversee the creation of two separate direct to DV-R films featuring manufactured sex kitten Julie Strain. Working in LA, Kaufman was unaware of any problems initially. The two movies – one about a shape-shifting, bloodthirsty alien man-eater and the other centering on vampire strippers – were completed, and sent to the company for approval. When Troma finally saw what they had (and what they had paid for) they went ballistic. Basic moviemaking concepts like characterization, storytelling, and continuity were thrown on the window. In their place was scene after scene of unsalvageable material, most of it shot in a manner that rendered everything almost unwatchable.


How Kaufman and company saved this artistic abortion forms the basis for When Reshoots Go Wrong, a lesser if still effective behind the scenes exposé. Looking tired and dejected, the director offers a first person tour of the carnage, presenting Troma’s side of the story and taking Ms. Allen to task at every opportunity. For those who’ve seen the finished DVD product, it’s not hard to envision what Kaufman is complaining about.  During the documentary, Lloyd frequently holds the camera on himself. He’s not the same chipper chappy we’re used to. Instead, he’s all too serious. He talks about how hard it was to work with the material and how unhappy he was with some of the post-production circumstances. We then get to see more interns acting atrociously. Experiencing the usually giddy Troma chief in grim businessman mode is amazing. Gone is the jovial jokester. In its place is a man struggling to stay sane.


Of course, many could argue that much of this is Kaufman’s own fault. If he didn’t run such a loosey goosey ship, if he didn’t rely on unproven volunteers to do what professionals take decades to perfect, if he simply sat down and connected with his crews instead of disappearing to locations around the globe to cameo in other people’s productions (under the guise of supporting independent art), he might not have so many mishaps. But even when he takes precaution and prepares diligently for his annual trip to Cannes (for the film expo element of the festival), a few inebriated bad apples will spoil the company’s already marginalized name. It’s something we witness firsthand in All The Love You Cannes.



Starting off like an instructional video, this full length feature finds Lloyd narrating, giving us a basic idea about how things work at the famed French institution. He highlights the way movies are packaged and sold, and the necessity of generating any and as much publicity as possible. Without hype, international buyers won’t stop by your booth (or in this case, your hotel room) and you leave without making significant syndication and foreign distribution deals. These are the lifeblood of little companies like Troma. It literally could mean the continued existence, or the end, of a struggling outsider organization. Of course, said pronouncements slowly backfire on the company as – thanks to their unruly interns – they get in Dutch with their hotel, with public relations people, and the local French citizenry.


Part ugly American dissertation, part lesson in doing a better job of picking your assistants and associates, this is the lesser of the four major Behind the Scenes features discussed, if only because the individuals mucking things up for Troma are so reprehensible. Watching drunken dullards take advantage of their boss to publicly embarrass themselves and said employer has never been so shocking. Maybe it’s the clueless posing of everyone involved – a little power taken to inhuman extremes. It could be the massive quantities of alcohol consumed. It might be the notion that kids who basically know nothing about the business end of cinema are destined to act like dorks. Whatever the case, All The Love You Cannes is educational on many levels. The pitch and shill of the international film trade is intriguing. How quickly your reputation can be ruined by dozens of directionless mooks is just irritating.


Apparently, that’s the point. What other company besides Troma would tear down the façade and let the viewing public see their shameful, disorganized reality? Though he’s typically outnumbered by the crudeness of his crew, Kaufman himself comes across as a surly, sometimes insensitive jerk who appears hindered by all that’s happening around him. Even worse, those looking for an excuse to diminish the company’s output as of late can look at the onset anarchy of Citizen Toxie or Tales from the Crapper and have their case proven, pointblank. But there is still something so rebellious, so anti-Hollywood-in-your-face about the way Troma does things that such a scattershot approach borders on the endearing. Mavericks are supposed to make a mess. They’re supposed to stumble and break stuff. They’re revolutionaries. By their very nature, they buck tradition.


And no one bucks up more than Lloyd Kaufman and his crews. Whether it’s the guerilla filmmaking follies of Terror Firmer, the actor inspired angst of Citizen Toxie, the overall ineptness of Tales from the Crapper, or the lack of suitable corporate etiquette while visiting Cannes, Troma has taken to playing the clown both in front of and behind the camera. For a glimpse at what such a Hellsapoppin’ plan might achieve, go out and buy a copy of the Make Your Own Damn Movie boxset – or better yet, collect copies of the four films mentioned here. Not only will the company be happy for the cash, but you’ll be rewarded with the truth about independent filmmaking. As usual, the facts are never pretty. 


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Monday, Oct 8, 2007

As part of the New Yorker festival, Fiona Apple was truly interrogated.  Usually I say that word as a euphemism for an interview but this time the term is appropriate.


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