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Sunday, Nov 4, 2007


It’s that time of year again. Even though Halloween and the season of dread ended officially last Wednesday (31 October) the After Dark Horrorfest is back. 2006 saw the inaugural festival, accurately described by its subtitle as “8 Films to Die For” rule the genre box office, providing hundreds of scare junkies with a collection of creepshows they won’t soon forget. This year, a new octet of offerings is slated to give fright fans the wicked winter heebie jeebies. Running from 9 November until the 18th (one week, two weekends) the promising line-up on tap includes:


Crazy Eights (2006) – six childhood friends reunite to battle a secret from their past that’s returned to haunt them.


Lake Dead (2007) – when the relatives of a dead man return to his home, they meet up with a band of sinister psychos.


Borderland (2007) – a group of college kids run into a South of the Border human sacrifice cult.


The Deaths of Ian Stone (2007) – a young man is stuck in a parallel existence where he is murdered over and over again.


Mulberry Street (2006) - a deadly virus is turning the citizens of Manhattan into rabid, rat-like creatures.


Nightmare Man (2006) – an infertile couple discovers a demonic presence inside an ancient fertility mask.


Tooth and Nail (2007) – in a post-apocalyptic world, it’s survivors vs. cannibals.


Unearthed (2007) – a group of archaeologists disturb and ancient Indian burial ground, unleashing an ancient monster.


Partnering with AMC, Regal, and Cinemark, the macabre marathon will run on over 300 screens across the United States. For more information on After Dark Horrorfest 2007, including how to purchase tickets and all access passes to this hair-raising national event, please visit the official website at http://www.horrorfestonline.com/.


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Sunday, Nov 4, 2007

Cate Kennedy talks writing at LiteraryMinded:


I’ll try to have two things on the boil at the same time so I have something to switch to if I feel really stale with the first one. I’ll promise myself a coffee if I just do another 500 words. I trick and cajole myself into getting to the end of the crap draft, as if my unconscious is some sort of mutinous toddler who needs bribery just to stay on the task. Or perhaps a better analogy would be a big, undisciplined dog who hates the lead and never comes back when it’s called. You’ve got to try and train a dog like that, but generally it sees you with the leash in your hand and just runs off ...
And last of all, when I feel really uninspired, I think: what would you rather be doing? Nobody’s making me do it, after all, so I remember what Raymond Carver said: Don’t complain, don’t explain.


In my opinion, Cate Kennedy is living the Australian Dream. She gets to live and thrive in rural Victoria, where her kitchen window view reveals cows in paddocks, and see her worked reviewed (complete with special red star) in Publisher’s Weekly. A lucky woman, if ever there was one. She’s also warm, funny, and stupendously talented. Her book, Dark Roots is out in America in January, published by Grove/Atlantic.


Kennedy’s story, “Cold Snap”, also found in Dark Roots, was published in the New Yorker on 11 September 2006. Cate’s other works include the memoir Sing and Don’t Cry: A Mexican Journal and the poetry collections Joyflight and Signs of Other Fires.


Check out the LiteraryMinded interview, the Publisher’s Weekly report, and note the jackets on the US and Australian releases of Dark Roots. The American release features a woman’s head in need of fresh peroxide, while the Aussie cover is far grittier, a hand sort of mid-xray, with a vein-like tree sprouting from the wrist. Vastly different images, somehow they both represent themes key to Kennedy’s stories, themes of hidden warts, demons, and boiling points. If one were forced to make such a comparison, I’d make Anne Tyler hook up with Chuck Palahniuk in middle of nowhere Australia. The very thought entices, right?


 


 


 


 


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Sunday, Nov 4, 2007

I hate to turn this into tabloid fodder but rumors of writer Robert Christgau’s demise are greatly exaggerated.  Some message boards, mailing lists and even possibly his Wiki entry questioned this.  Christgau himself wrote to me this morning to say that it ain’t so.  No need to send flowers or anything then (unless you really just wanna be nice).


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Sunday, Nov 4, 2007

The past few nights, I’ve dragged myself to Greenpoint, a Polish neighborhood in Brooklyn, to go to Cavestomp, an annual garage rock festival the brings together reunited bands from the 1960s with revivalist bands inspired by them for recitations of songs that generally were written and performed by teenagers for teenagers. Of course, there are no teenagers at Cavestomp, by and large. It seems mostly to be people in their 30s watching people in their 50s and 60s perform. I saw the New Colony Six, the Strawberry Alarm Clock, and most notably, the Sonics, who apparently were playing for the first time in 40 years. They drew the most enthusiastic crowd; whether that had anything to do with a song of theirs appearing in a Land Rover commercial is an open question.


Like any convention, the principal draw seems to be an opportunity to spend money on something you love and have a lot of identity invested in. If you can’t spend money on something in a consumer culture, you can’t prove that you really care about—purchasing is the measuring stick of caring: You have to put your money where your mouth is.


I’ve mocked these sorts of things before as Star Trek conventions with guitars: most everyone gets into elaborate costumes and tries to escape into a world that never really existed. But that should probably be celebrated rather than mocked; the attendees at Cavestomp aren’t afraid to be publicly enthusiastic about something that could make them seem weird, and that enthusiasm can make them seem like they have a secret knowledge about how to come to terms with oneself that maybe we can all profit from. Of course, it can make them seem to be in state of arrested development as well. It seems like the fetishization of garage has something to do with preserving certain elements of teenagerdom—to hell with parents rules and the nine-to-five dork schedule and the mindless conformist drones in suburbia—and keeping them accessible to oneself in adulthood, but in a safe, carefully controlled manner. Like the music itself, this repository of teenageness is made into a formulaic genre with very definite rules, and the predictability of the formula, given expression in a variety of subtle variations, ultimately supplies the satisfaction. The chaos and hurt of being on the brink of unwilling adulthood is tamed into three-chord rock songs about heartbreak. Listening to the music takes you back to the pre-adult moment and offers the fantasy of imaging it was possible to make different choices, to refuse the compromises of adulthood and stay forever true and completely authentic to oneself.


So if Cavestomp is supposed to be a respite from the pressure and compromises of adulthood, it doesn’t really help to have the performers joke about how old and out of touch they are, as the New Colony Six singer tended to. It doesn’t help either when they look like a bunch of math teachers or retirees on a CostCo outing—though I prefer this actually to when they try to look “cool” and end up looking like geriatric Fonzies. An old man with a Stratocaster or a leather jacket just doesn’t fit the image one has of rock; it’s kind of like when people put sunglasses on babies—allegedly cute but sort of pathetic.


I tend to forget just how long ago the 60s was—it was the time just before I was born, which conceptually doesn’t seem so long ago. But it’s more than 40 years now, and the bands of that era are now composed of really old men. But it occurred to me as I was watching that what was happening at Cavestomp was not merely some escapism into a carefully patterned world of genre and youth symbolism, but was actually a strange form of paying respect to one’s elders and trying to establish a bridge between generations for people who feel, perhaps, desperately misunderstood by their own actual parents. Though these old folks seem at times ludicrous as performers, singing simple songs they wrote as teens about high school sweethearts, the crowd is eager and respectful, palpably yearning for reasons to give applause and recognition. And the bands respond with genuine expressions of gratitude, something increasingly rare in the commercial entertainment world that has in some ways crowded out the humbler forms of entertainment that were intergenerational in the past—the kind of folk festivals depicted in early Hardy novels, or the archetypal barn dance conjured by this image from today’s NYT.


Caevstomp, then, is a interstitial version of those lost kinds of entertainments, existing in a niche where it can thrive without getting commercialized and made cool and therefore spoiled. But that Land Rover commercial, though, may be a bad omen.


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Sunday, Nov 4, 2007


At first, many wondered if it was a weird Halloween prank. Longtime info outlet The Satellite News, the (former) official web address for all things Mystery Science Theater 3000 announced that, after years away from the format, both Best Brain Industries (producers of the classic TV series) and creator Joel Hodgson were coming back to the theater riffing roost – sort of. Jim Mallon and former show writer Paul Chaplin are resurrecting MST3K via a new site and a collection of online cartoons featuring the formidable robots – Gypsy, Servo, and Crow. Hodgson, on the other hand, is teaming up with former friends and cast/crew members Trace Beaulieu, J. Elvis Weinstein, Mary Jo Pehl and Frank Conniff to create Cinematic Titanic, a DVD based update of the old talking back to the screen format. For fans of the former stand-up, it was a dream that many thought would never come true.


Oddly enough, nowhere in the publicity materials is there a mention of The Film Crew – otherwise known as Mike Nelson, Kevin Murphy, and Bill Corbett. Now, some of it may have to do with contracts, outstanding obligations for other companies (like the Internet commentary collective Rifftrax), and some minor animosities that still exist among the participants. It could just be an oversight. While the obsessive are probably crafting conspiracy theories, using the success of the trio’s Shout! Factory releases as a motive for the uninvited’s sudden interest in returning to the medium, it’s clear that the one time cult is marching toward the mainstream respect it so richly deserved/deserves. And based on the brilliance shown in The Giant of Marathon, the final installment in the Crew’s digital quadrilogy, there’s a lot of life remaining in the old cinematic criticism gig.


For this episode, employer Bob Honcho appeals to Mike, Kevin, and Bill to create an alternate narrative track for a subpar sword and sandal epic featuring that mountain of man meat, Steve Reeves. Playing an Athenian Olympian named Phillipides, he is so well loved after his athleticism based triumph that he’s put in charge of the Sacred Guard, a group of strapping, overly defined men who wear nothing more than a snug fitting diaper. A falling out with the political powers that be, including the treasonous Theocrites and his paid whore Karis, leads our hero back to his country home – but not before he can woo and fall in love with Andromeda, the daughter of a high raking member of the Council. In the meantime, exiled leader Hippias has banded together with the Persians to take over Greece. Hoping to halt their advance, Athens calls on Phillipides for help. He gets Sparta’s support, and before you know it, loincloths are leaping across the screen as scantily clad extras beefcake it up for a homoerotic tour de force.


As a film, The Giant of Marathon is a talky, disposable affront. Steve Reeves is given the same old dubbed voice vacancy that tends to mar his entire cinematic catalog, and he’s once again paired up with women who aren’t as attractive as him. The storyline will remind viewers of 300, except with more gay overtones, and the regular sequences of man on man action (wrestling, grappling, battling) will have you instantly mulling over director Jacques Tourneur and substitute helmer Mario Bava’s proclivities. Yes, this is one of those notorious productions where the original filmmaker was fired, and a soon to be Italian maestro stepped in to pick up the hack. In this case, Bava was merely a cameraman, but when feelings toward Tourneur turned sour, the Mediterranean auteur in the making was given the go ahead. His success in completing the project led to his first credited film as a director.


The Film Crew, on the other hand, needs no rescuing. Thanks once again to the DVD format, which frees them up to contemplated quips of a slightly more sexual nature, we get a nonstop laugh-a-thon offering jabs at male genitals, numerous butt references, and a running gag concerning Karis and her less than virtuous reputation. Under Mike, Kevin, and Bill’s constant badgering, the aging Italian actress playing the part is vicariously saddled with every STD known to man. During a particularly potent section (the character is trying one last time to seduce Phillipides – though a strumpet, she loves him) the guys give her such a thorough going over that you envision the onscreen disgrace and fall that Karis goes through paralleling the pall late actress Daniela Rocca would experience could she hear their taunts. Most of the naughtiest knocks come at her and her B.C. hooker’s expense, and each one’s a classic.


Similarly, the Crew dishes out some fine funny business regarding Reeves. Stoic and as statue like as ever, the former bodybuilding champion does make the Governator look like Sir Ralph Richardson, and the script doesn’t make things better. This is one of those performances that relies almost exclusively on what the actor looks like sans shirt. Phillipides may be a wonderful sportsperson and skilled competitor, but once we see him shimmy with his fellow semi-nude Olympians, the vast majority of the action is over. We have to wait another 80 minutes before the last act battle, and then again, Reeves and his steroided buddies spend more time in the water setting up harbor-protecting spikes than flexing their quads. With his standard, dopey heroic dialogue and unflinching blandness, he’s a far too easy target for the comedians. As they did with prior Hercules-oriented epics during the MST days, Reeves gets ripped – and not in the good GNC way.


As part of the presentation of this pathetic peplum, Shout! Factory and the Film Crew do their usual bang-up job of supplementing the shortcomings. During the opening skit, Mike plays unskilled laborer to hilarious results, while during the mandatory “Lunch Break” intermission, Bill explains how the real Battle for Athens played out (it’s history as a Hellsapoppin’ food fight). Finally, at the end, Mike makes a ridiculous racist plea. It warrants a DVD bonus feature apology that’s equally unhinged and borderline bigoted (especially if you’re Norwegian). Finally, there’s a “commentary track” (about 9 minutes in length and covering various scenes in the film) where a supposed actor on the shoot, one Walter S. Ferguson (Mike in old coot mode) provides some gloriously goofy anecdotes. In combination with the jolly joyful riffing, we wind up with another post-SOL winner.


Still, the question remains, what happens now? Shout! Factory has had great success with these titles. They’ve been very popular and critically acclaimed. As much as the fans love Joel, Trace, Frank, Jim, Paul, Mary Jo, and Josh, they’ve been out of the game for a while, and seeing them pick up the MST-styled mantle at his point questions their motivation. Of course, what everyone wants is a full blown reunion, something that can work the Film Crew, the Cinematic Titanic, the new MST3K.com gang and the ridiculously resplendent modern film mocking of Rifftrax into one big comedic gathering, a return to the days when a tiny cowtown puppet show gave notorious new life to bad B schlock-busters. Whatever happens, the four films that made up the Crew’s initial output deserve a place among the best these performers ever offered. The Giant of Marathon is indeed a huge cinematic load. Thankfully, these satiric caretakers are still around to clean up the mess. 


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