Here is the latest from Donwill, of the hip-hop group Tanya Morgan. His upcoming solo LP, Tanya Morgan Presents: Don Cusack in High Fidelity, is both an obvious ode to the 2000 film and what appears to be another solid entry in the TM catalog. Here we have the video for “Laura’s Song”.
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Enough good things really can’t be said about Dave Foley, Kevin McDonald, Bruce McCulloch, Mark McKinney and Scott Thompson, also known as The Kids in the Hall. I celebrated them, in 2007, for the Popmatters “Best of TV on DVD” feature (http://www.popmatters.com/pm/feature/part-3-the-new-networks), and this was as succinct a summation as I was capable of conjuring up:
The Kids in the Hall existed in a sort of parallel universe to the much more popular, much less brilliant Saturday Night Live. Though comparisons between the two are inevitable, perhaps because of the Lorne Michaels connection, Kids in the Hall should be appraised—and appreciated—as part of the crooked line connecting Monty Python, which preceded it, and Mr. Show, which followed. While attracting an intense cult fan base, the Kids faced at least three major obstacles that made crossover success pretty much an impossibility. They were Canadian and had a pronounced—-and, for fans, most welcome—-quirkiness. They were disarmingly intelligent, yet always willing and eager to embrace the oddness of life. Their one-two punch of ingenuity and eccentricity could be like Gary Larson’s Far Side cartoons: you either got them, immediately, or you did not. Lastly, they dressed in drag. Often, and convincingly. Too convincingly, perhaps, for the average American sensibility circa 1990-something.
That works, I think. You can, and should, encourage those not-in-the-know to check them out, but it seems safe to predict that KITH will remain forever a cult phenomenon, appreciated by a discerning minority. Not unlike Monty Python, come to think of it. Not the movies, but the actual TV series: everyone loves Python and everyone ensures they get their props, but I can’t say I know too many people who have actually seen more than a handful of the actual sketches.
Speaking of the sketches, it’s an impossible, and pretty futile endeavor to attempt isolating the single skit that best represents the whole (whether it’s MP or KITH or even a shorter-lived gem like The Chappelle Show). But it’s still funny, and possibly imperative, for fans to play around with the agonizing, if ultimately unimportant distinction. There are at least a dozen serious candidates, and different KITH fans would invariably choose different ones, but that is also part of the fun.
One skit in particular I never get tired of is “Work Pig” (from Season 4) which, unlike many of the great KITH sketches, is not a collaboration, but pretty much a vehicle for Bruce McCulloch. It has all of the elements of a prototypical top-tier KITH effort: the quirky, dark, surreal humor, the clever (and always remarkably subtle) social commentary, and mostly the rather inimitable oddball sensibility. This skit, as anyone who has seen it will know (and for those that don’t, see below), works so perfectly because its skewering of the frenetic corporate circus is timeless.
But watching it again, recently, something hit me.
This had to be made in the early ’90s because it nails all the last vestiges of the old world order: the phones, the fax machine, the suspenders, and especially the rolodex. That skit could not be set up the same way now for the simple reason that no office looks that way today. And one is tempted to think: thank God. Who needs the bad old days when you actually put people on hold not merely because you were busy but because you actually talked on the phone. Plus, what else did you have to do? No Internet to surf, no e-mail to send and receive, just…work.
But wait. That is still happening; it just happens in one centralized place: on the monitor of a ubiquitous PC. The activities he is engaging in (still called multi-tasking, one assumes) are all occurring now; they merely appear more innocuous, or unthreatening, because they are all trapped in electronic ether, they are confined to a 12 inch screen. Suddenly it’s slightly more unnerving to consider that if, like myself, it’s not uncommon for you to have more than 10 windows (various sites) along with MS Outlook, and one or more spreadsheets and/or MS Word documents, and maybe a CD playing, you are bopping around doing a million things. Here’s the thing: it just doesn’t require you to bop around. It’s all happening, in your head. And how much more intense—and damaging—is that type of information overload? It’s no wonder (if, like myself) at least once a day you open a new window to look something up and get momentaritly sidetracked (say, you see the window you’d previously opened and remember you need to finish that task or send that e-mail) and then, when you turn back to the welcome screen on for a fresh window, have no earthly idea what it was you were looking for. We’ve been moved out of the pigsties, perhaps, but maybe the joke is on us. Possibly, people will look back at our moment in time and ask how the fuck we outsmarted ourselves into being even busier every day.
Or, like the songs says, freedom is just another word for nothing left to lose. Like your mind.
I’m not glad that people will be out of work, but I can’t say that I’m too sentimental over the demise of Virgin Megastore. Other than the time when a boss gave me a gift certificate, I never shopped there, and I never understood the appeal—they seemed noisy and disorienting, overstocked and poorly organized. There was too much stuff, too much sound, too many racks, too many ads—it all seemed designed to drive me away as rapidly as possible. Joy Press, who wrote a swoony obituary of the store for Salon (link via Rob Walker) , describes it somewhat differently:
Virgin had an in-store D.J., private listening booths and plenty of room to mingle with records while also flirting with cute, lanky boys in eyeliner. Alongside the diversity of music, the megastore stocked a selection of culty and esoteric books, adding to the sense that Virgin offered a magical combination of mall-like consumer convenience and independent-minded cool.
Nothing could seem further from my experience. It seemed to take the stuff my peers had painstakingly discovered in quirky corners of the retail world, or had passed to one other in shoddy photocopies or beat-up, well thumbed editions, and made it all too easy, invalidated it. The store inevitably seemed full of teenagers who’d wandered in from Hot Topic, who were either sulky, giggly, or vaguely menacing. (Fittingly, the Times Square megastore is becoming a Forever 21.) The idea that anyone would flirt or hang out amidst the cacophony never would have occurred to me. The place revolted me viscerally.
I was born too early for the Virgin Megastore, perhaps. When I think of chain music stores, I think of the late 1980s and early 1990s, and Tower Records and HMV. These were alienating places, too, but I shopped in them. They were a step up from Listening Booth and Wall to Wall Sound, the only record stores I knew while growing up in the suburbs and going to the mall. They had a wider selection, but were still fairly homogeneous. At college, I eventually discovered well-curated indie record stores, but I was always a little put off by the coolness tests you seemed to have to pass to hang out in them. One day, I finally somehow managed to pass the test, which in retrospect meant far too much to me and contributed somewhat to my general antisocial orientation.
The problem with record stores generally was that they embodied the idea that you could buy integrity or superiority by getting the right albums and knowing the right musical references. The poster-heavy, shit-pile aesthetic in the stores—mirrored in the teenagers’ rooms depicted in 1980s movies—emblemized a certain dream of abundance, one which seems extremely juvenile to me now. If you could have access to it all, it seemed as though you could pass as if you knew it all—and for some reason I thought that this was a good thing, trying to be a know-it-all. Records stores made it seem as though that smug posture was the height of accomplishment, that nothing could be more justified, nothing was a better use of erudition, than to insult the ignorance of others about niche pop culture. So having a pile of records—owning more stuff—seemed like material proof that you were smarter and better than others when it came to music, and music was a metonym for our entire identities. The music you could reference was an index to how you wanted to be regarded, who you wanted to impress. (Dick Hebdige’s Subculture: The Meaning of Style details this phenomenon well. Allegedly this is not the case anymore, and music doesn’t loom so large as the basis of subcultures. Is that right?)
In truth, the stores encouraged the formation of a specifically consumerist self-concept that was especially insidious, because it left those of us prone to the stores’ allure believing we were cooler than ordinary consumers, and perhaps not even consumers at all but refined aesthetes. The irony that we spent hours and hours each day in a record store managed to escape us. We thought we had found a place to escape the system.
No one in Virgin Megastore felt like they escaped the system, of course. Though it was always a distortion, the huge chains symbolized for indie- record-store denizens a homogeneous mainstream taste; the megastores were necessary in order to believe it was distinctive and important to listen to alternative music. It’s tempting to argue now that those who did their record shopping at Virgin were the true escapees, the ones who better avoided pegging their identity to a particular mode of consumerism, but that seems too facile. I wish I took music less seriously in my 20s, but I don’t wish that I was in Virgin Megastore lackadaisically buying into the zeitgeist. I wish only I had made my vocation then something other than having a encyclopedic knowledge of what in the end is just a species of consumer goods. I wish I would have actually been doing something instead of listening and categorizing and posturing.
For film critic Paul O’Callaghan, life has always been a ‘movie’. Ever since graduating from NYU Film School, he’s been pursuing a dream to be a director. Of course, that goal got sidetracked when his self-professed “labor of love” - the Tampa, Florida cable access show entitled Your Life is a Movie, led to an association with local shock jocks Ron Bennington and Rob Diaz. As the “movie guy” on the nationally syndicated Ron and Ron Show, O’Callaghan (who goes by a shortened nickname, ‘Paul O’, on-air) became something of a celebrity. Yet in the back of his mind, he still wanted to make movies. “I’ve never given up on the goal,” he repeats during a recent interview in his adopted hometown. “I just needed the right motivation to move forward.”
That drive came from his current gig as part of the Ron and Ron revamp, The Ron and Fez Show on XM Satellite Radio. “Here am I,” O’Callaghan says, “spending an hour or so a week talking about what I love (movies),” and so naturally, the conversation would turn toward his own aspirations. “I talked about it a lot,” he offers, “but what I really wanted to do was something big. This secret project I had that I knew no one would finance.” O’Callaghan is alluding to a mystery script that he has “squirreled away in a bottom desk drawer somewhere”, a possible blockbuster that he refuses to discuss. It’s one of several he’s written over the years. But when the time and opportunity came to actually get behind the lens and make a movie, O’Callaghan had to set his sights - and his scope - a great deal smaller.
Thus the small indie horror film Gap was born. “It’s about aging, about the state of the world”, the first time filmmaker confesses. In the movie, O’Callaghan plays a nameless man who, frustrated by what he sees around him, has decided to videotape a multi-victim killing spree. Speaking directly to the camera (with some intercut montages and title cards to suggest his mental state) the character spews an almost non-stop collection of missives, prophecies, edicts, and tantrums. Then the slaughter starts. “I wanted to work in a recognizable type,” O’Callaghan says, “something an audience could instantly relate to.” He also understood the basic foundation of the independent film business. “No one is going to give me, a first time filmmaker, a big budget like on a mainstream movie.” With horror, the movie could be made cheaply, easily, and have a kind of “instant recognizability” amongst the viewers.
O’Callaghan actually had the fans in mind when he made the movie, “It was highly collaborative at first,” he admits. “I got lots of input from the (Ron and Fez) listeners. We run ideas, improvise scenes. Sometimes, I would take on the character and we’d adlib something.” All this material then was filtered into O’Callaghan’s script, though there was room for improvisation on the set. “I gave the actors a basic outline,” he clarifies, “letting them know where the material was going.” But once he got into the character, O’Callaghan felt free to take the scenes toward places even darker. “There were definitely times when people were afraid of me,” he admitted. “I’m a big guy…an imposing guy, figure. It got pretty intense at times.”
Indeed, one of Gap‘s most impressive aspects is its fierce philosophical stance, a painful projection of popular culture’s destructive properties. “Yeah, a lot of the issues raised in the film are beliefs I hold personally,” O’Callaghan explains. “Not literally, but in general. I think society is going in the wrong direction. I think people, especially young people, are influenced by a media that feeds them nothing but garbage.” He points out that, in the film, he only kills “kids” under a certain age because they are the one’s most vulnerable to the corrupting influences around. “They don’t think for themselves”, he chides, “they’re sheep. They believe whatever society and the stupid news tells them.” As a result, in O’Callaghan’s mind, they are unprepared for the real horrors that face them once the truth is told.
But murder? “Yeah, it’s an extreme reaction.” He laughs it off. “My point is…Gap‘s point is…someone has to teach the world. The character (of the killer) sees himself as someone on a mission. School won’t teach them. He’s going to use these tapes, these lectures, as a way of communicating his ideas.” O’Callaghan admits that it’s heady stuff for a horror film, but genre titles are more readily accepted from first time filmmakers than larger than life, epic in scope ambitions. “As a novice director, no one is going to give me the money to realize my dreams,” he says again, realistically. “No, it’s easier to approach a recognizable film type, in this case, the horror film, and then try to inject some intelligence into it.”
Surprisingly enough, the shoot was relatively simple, according to O’Callaghan. “No real problems. Most of the cast came from the Ron and Fez audience.” But there were also elements at play behind the scenes which threatened Gap‘s completion. “While I won’t say the film was cursed…” he trails off, later admitting that there were tragedies all throughout the production. The most difficult of course was the untimely death of his wife Gail (who had a small role in the film). “It really added some perspective,” he admits, taking a long pause for some self-reflection. But it did not defeat him. “I felt I had to go on, to finish. I needed to get this done. It was therapeutic in a way.” Even then, O’Callaghan admits that it took several months in the editing room and post-production to get the film exactly the way he wanted.
“I had a vision for the film,” he explains. “I wanted it to be just like The Blair Witch (Project) . I wanted people to just ‘discover’ it, to think that what they were seeing was real, was happening.” In the early stages of the idea, O’Callaghan tried to come up with ways where people could just ‘find’ the film (perhaps online or at conventions). “That was the whole premise,” he states, “to put people off guard. To see their reaction to something where they couldn’t quite tell if it was true, or just a put-on.” Of course, any and all publicity destroys that illusion. “Yeah, talking to you, or anyone, about the film really undermines that surprise or shock value. In some ways, the more I advertise, the more I destroy my concept.”
In the end, the final project speaks for itself. “The feedback has been decent,” he adds, “even the negative has been constructive.” O’Callaghan also understands that his first effort will be judged more harshly because of his critical past. “A critic is just asking for it,” he laughs, alluding to the notion that someone who used to derail movies for a living is just waiting to have the same thing done to his own offering once it hits the circuit. Still, by getting the word out, by fueling interest in the DVD currently available, O’Callaghan hopes to continue exploring his muse. “I really enjoyed the experience,” he states, “it was fun finally getting a chance to chase my dream. I have to do it again.” It’s a message Paul O’Callaghan wants the whole world to embrace…embrace, or else.
Neil Young has been making a series of no budget music videos for his upcoming album Fork in the Road. The title track was released last month and now we have two different videos for “Johnny Magic” and one for “Light a Candle”. The first video for “Johnny Magic” was shot in Neil’s LincVolt; the electric car he’s been developing that was apparently the inspiration for the album. The second “Johnny” video features Neil’s dog, Carl, and “Light a Candle” features his wife, Pegi. The songs are as raw and ragged as the videos although “Light a Candle” is a lovely ballad.
Fork in the Road is out April 7th.