The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger with Circulatory System at the 40 Watt Club. Athens, GA 5/18/2015

I learned a new word this week. Sean Lennon made it up. The word is “womenis.” It’s pronounced “wim-ee-niss,” and it’s the female equivalent of “mangina.”

He got on this subject while referring to the video for The GOASTT’s Moth to a Flame, in which bandmate Charlotte Kemp-Muhl eats him. He clarified that she doesn’t eat him in a sexual way, but rather in the traditional sense of consuming him as food. That made me 2 for 2 this week for reviewing bands with videos in which they are cannibalized. The first band to be cannibalized was Icky Blossoms with their video for In Folds.

I was awestruck by the song Poor Paul Getty, inspired by the true story of J. Paul Getty III, grandson of oil Tycoon J. Paul Getty, who was once believed to be the wealthiest man in the world. At the age of 16, Getty III was kidnapped and held for ransom. When his family refused to pay the $17 million dollars the kidnappers demanded- believing the kidnapping to be a hoax perpetrated by Getty III himself to fund a boheminan lifestyle in which the young man participated in left-wing demonstrations- his kidnappers cut off Getty III’s ear and mailed it to the press. At that point, his grandfather negotiated a deal with the kidnappers to reduce the ransom and paid for his grandson’s release. According to an article in The New York Times, his grandfather refused to come to the phone when Getty III called to thank him for paying the ransom that set him free. Damn.

I tried not to mention Sean’s father, really I did. Yet I could not resist noticing some wonderful similarities between Poor Paul Getty and John Lennon’s John Sinclair. The Lennons are really good at spinning true tales of the downtrodden that command people to wake up and listen while they clue us in to just how messed up the world can be.

One of the night’s most notable song medleys was La Carotte Bleu/Jardin du Luxembourg. These songs show just how well Sean Lennon can shred on the guitar. His chops are impressive; outstanding in fact. He lulled the devoted crowd at Athens’ 40 Watt Club with his guitar’s psychedelic wail.

Speaking of Sean’s guitar, it’s a beauty. The headstock appears Fender-esque, but the body is more like that of a Gibson. There is a single f-hole on the left side of the body. Once the show was over, Sean laid the guitar flat on its back on the stage and the roadies took over from there. I looked at the headstock and realized it was a brand of guitar I’d never heard of before; a Bilt S.S. Zaftig. The color was a sparkling, metallic deep turquoise, probably a custom color because I could not find another Zaftig online in the same color. According to the Bilt Guitars website, the Zaftig has a “full curvy body,” and they encourage us to Google the word. I must admit that I didn’t know what ‘zaftig’ meant until I was 35, but I Googled it anyway to get the official definition. As it turns out, the meaning of the word ‘zaftig’ is in the guitar’s description- having a full curvy body; pleasingly plump. So there you have it.

The show opened with Athens’ psychedelic rock heroes Circulatory System. They gave their hometown crowd an energetically electrifying, all-encompassing representation of their musical catalog, including their self-titled debut, Signal Morning and Mosaics Within Mosaics.

For a portion of their set, Elephant 6 alumnus Robert Schneider of The Apples in Stereo joined Circulatory System onstage. His hauntingly ethereal vocals added an additional layer of lovely surreality to an already surreal set. It’s beautiful how the members of E6 can effortlessly transition from one instrument to another and one band to another, helping each other out and sharing in the joy of their truly stellar musical collective.

This was a great show by both bands. If you missed it, don’t worry… Charlotte has family in Georgia, and she and Sean generally come to Athens more than just once a year.

Being local, Circulatory System- or some incarnation thereof- plays Athens often. Check them out; they are more than worthy of your time.

Setlist for The GOASTT:
Too Deep
Xanadu
Animals
Midnight Sun
La Carotte Bleu/Jardin du Luxembourg
Poor Paul Getty
Johannesburg
Golden Earrings
The Devil You Know
Moth to a Flame
Long Gone (Syd Barrett cover)

Setlist for Circulatory System:
Prehistoric
Just in Time to See You All
If You Think About it Now
Stars & Molecules
A Peek
Particle Parades
Woodpecker Greeting Worker Ant
Aerial View of a Heart (From Above)
Bakery Spires
Signal Morning
The Lovely Universe
Diary of Wood
Days to Come/Yesterday’s World (joined onstage by Robert Schneider)

Dope Cops: The Best Film You’ve Never Seen

5/17/13

Dope Cops

Director/Producer: Christopher Fagot

Written by: Jeff Griggs, Paul Simpson, Christopher Fagot

Watch it at: http://vimeo.com/4406690

Few films are watchable when they’re scratchy, often out of focus, and analog. Yet there’s this one comedy I saw one time… I was in college, it was 1998, and the film was called Dope Cops. It was a local production by an outfit called Spaceball Entertainment. I had met most of the cast before. We all lived in the same small town and attended the university there. Director Chris Fagot and I had mutual friends but I had never met him. Paul Simpson lived in my dorm. It’s trippy to see people you’ve actually met onscreen. Especially when what they’re doing is brilliant. You know you won’t have to face that all-too-common moment of embarrassment when you’re called upon to tell them- in your honest opinion- what you think of their work.

I found out about this film quite by accident. I somehow ended up at its premiere. This was held at a (sadly now defunct) Athens, GA club called Tasty World. It was a big event for such a small town and such a small club; some bands also played and other mayhem ensued. I was instantly hooked. I’d never seen anything like it. Local films by local filmmakers and actors were rare at that time and place. So was comedy. Athens was mainly about music, and about being icy cool at all times.

Even in that age before YouTube, I had the opportunity to watch Dope Cops again and again because I was one of the lucky people to obtain a free VHS copy after the premiere. I think there were, like, two of us. They guy who handed me the tape assessed me carefully before letting me have it. He was holding it up, addressing the crowd that was milling about after the event, telling whoever happened to hear him that it was up for grabs. His offer was almost an afterthought; I don’t remember anyone else handing out free copies during the screening. I held out my hand, then gently gripped the tape. He held fast to it for a moment, assessing me for coolness and cred, I assume. I had neither; I was just a college student with relatively decent taste in films.

Plot and acting prowess carry this film. It’s written by Jeff Griggs, Paul Simpson (credited as Saul Pimpson) and Christopher Fagot (credited as Crazy DJ C Breez). All three of them act in the film, each giving a really strong and hilarious performance. Paul Simpson and Scott Recchia are the two leads. It’s a good choice of actors. I always like it when the writers also star. It gives more sincerity to the performances.This film introduces what I like to call “loose-limbed comedy.” What a breath of fresh air. It’s the opposite of slapstick, yet works well alongside it.

The basic premise is that it’s a film about a day in the life of two dirty cops who are desperately trying to be “good.” Scott Recchia plays officer Tony Green and Paul Simpson plays his partner P.P. Simmons. Great choice of names; “Green” works well for a Cheech and Chong-esque “weed comedy” and “P.P.” appeals to the juvenile sense of humor in us all. Not to mention the bonus hilarity in the way Recchia often draws out “Peeee Peeee” in a wheedling, syrupy way when addressing Simpson.

I like how the lighting and the general mood change with each scene, especially when you go from a group shot to a closeup monologue. The changes in camera angle work well with the monologues, too. It makes the grainy quality of the video easier to digest. The writers create a hysterical new entry into the urban slang dictionary when they say: “no one has ever O-weed” as in “no one has ever OD’d on weed.” And speaking of overdosing on weed, this is another of the fantastical plot elements that make the film so inventive.

The film’s score is written by The Saul Pimpson Rock-a-Delic Mack, the brainchild of writer/actor Paul Simpson. Using music written by cast members is a really smart thing. Should the film achieve commercial success, no outside acts will be able to sue later. This shows talent on multiple levels. Most members of the cast have a background in music. Scott Recchia is the man with the background in college drama. I knew him as the writer/lead actor of a great comedic play called The Pool Party. Although a student production shown in a tiny theatre on campus, it was quite impressive. At that time it seemed he had his hand in all the big projects going on in the UGA drama department. Director Chris Fagot’s reputation preceded him; he was the film wunderkind from Los Angeles. Everyone raved about his work and how professional and funny it was. I am not sure how these diverse elements converged; these were different people from Scott’s regular comedy performance group. Then again, how well they knew each other in the real world doesn’t matter; the work they did together is brilliant.

Scott Recchia’s earnestness is what makes him so funny. His crying and supplications to P.P. are melodramatic, overplayed… and therein lies the reason they work so well. His tears actually seem sincere, at the same time causing you to laugh your ass off involuntarily. Out of all the film’s strong performances, Recchia’s is my favorite.

Paul Simpson’s strength lies in the fact that he seems as calm as a yogi at all times, and it’s often unclear whether he’s kidding or serious. He has great sleight of hand. He gets jokes by you and you don’t realize until a beat later the hilarity of what he said; that’s how understated his humor is. Simpson acts with an unselfconscious ease. His comedic style  is where I get the term “loose-limbed.” Recchia’s style is more slapstick. These polar opposites balance each other perfectly. These two actors really know how to play off each other.

The action is punctuated with documentary style interviews with coworkers of the two main characters. The camera operator is neither seen nor heard. The topic is P.P. Simmons and Tony Green. What kind of cops are they? Good or bad? Everyone they know, including them, has their own answers to this question. The general consensus is that Tony and P.P. are troublemakers; loose cannons. Their actions in the film prove this to be true.

The camera goes out of focus during the interviews with Tony and P.P. However, this is okay because it’s more about what’s being said than what’s on the screen. P.P.’s voice is easily distinguishable from Tony’s, so you could actually close your eyes and these scenes would still make sense.

At times the onscreen audience participation is a hindrance; at other times a help. I think the bar scene would have been more effective had it been filmed in an empty bar or even on a set, with extras talking softly in the background to mimic the sounds of a bar. This way no ambient sounds could drown out the dialog. A scene where the audience really helps to make things work is the street dancing/drumming scene involving several street musicians, a small crowd being respectfully quiet, and P.P. and Tony doing a herky jerk dance to the music. I especially like Recchia’s stiff and grimacing style of dancing. Then we see them dancing again at a random time and place, for no obvious reason other than Tony suggesting they do it. These physical comedy scenes between P.P. and Tony are a nice touch; it’s an abrupt change of focus from the normal dialog and it works.

I like to break the film into 3 parts. What I call Part 1 is plot-driven, whereas Part 2 is a collection of esoteric, abstract and surreal scenes which often have nothing to do with the plot. Part 3 (also known as “Part 7: The End”) consists of one short scene, serving as a continuation of Part 1. The scenes in Part 2 are mostly long shots with little or no dialog; in fact the sound is almost nonexistent. Sometimes you hear what might be the sound of wind blowing against a window. It’s quite disconcerting, probably on purpose.This extra stuff that occurs between parts 1 & 3- while interesting- should probably be cut out and made into another separate project or projects. Except for the scene when that old guy says “sun yuns sen suns?”- now that’s funny. I think that this “looking for Funyuns” scene should be kept, maybe as a segway between parts 1 & 2. I find it inventive and funny that Fagot prefaces the final scene with text onscreen which reads “Part 7: The End.” In a great many ways, this explains and justifies the esoteric and often unrelated scenes that make up what I call Part 2.

The ending is great; it solidifies the ‘almost’ sexual tension between Tony & P.P. Tony’s concern that Funyuns are more harmful to consume than weed, to the extent that he treats P.P.’s love of Funyuns like a drug addiction… now that’s just priceless. Zooming in on P.P’s face as he eats his favorite addictive substance works really well for a final scene. Full frontal male nudity also adds to the sexual tension, and it’s also quite a surprise. Normally this kind of thing occurs somewhere in the middle, or at the beginning if the director is really adventurous. And normally it means that sex is about to happen; whereas these two are just hanging out together. No pun intended.

I have approached director Chris Fagot via email about reshooting this film. He says he probably won’t. However, I’d love to see this group of actors and writers reunite and create some new material. In my humble opinion, they (and this film) have the potential to go places.

Dope Cops is definitely a diamond in the rough, and well worth watching.

Watch it at: http://vimeo.com/4406690

Women on Films – Reeker

5/13/13

Reeker (2005). Directed by Dave Payne

I am bummed that I have to write a blog today. I live in Southern California. It’s beautiful outside. It’s Saturday. Something must have really lit a fire under my ass.

I watched a horror film today that I’d been avoiding like the plague for the past year. I dismissed the film partially because of its title, but also thanks to the ridiculous synopsis it received on my cable network’s programming guide. What thankless person gets chosen to sum up something as complex as a cinematic work in a single sentence for a cable guide? I’m sure it’s often a challenging job. The synopsis read like so:

“An unseen, foul-smelling force terrorizes five stranded travelers in an abandoned town.”

To make matters worse, the film’s title is Reeker. Now for me, this just spelled trouble from the start. The description implies a derivative piece of caca that has been done in some form a million times, at least.  But most of all, the title immediately made me think of gratuitous schlock horror, or maybe a horror/comedy featuring a lot of scatalogical humor. In my opinion, horror/comedy is one of the hardest genres to make work. The balance between one extreme and the other has to be just right. And I’m the kind of person who usually longs for one or the other, but not both at the same time. There is a time for schlock, but today wasn’t the day. I wanted to be scared.

And a scare is what I got! What happens to Arielle Kebbel’s character, Cookie… wow. Oh no he didn’t! Think of the woman vs. trees scene in Evil Dead. I found this scene amazingly disturbing, yet not so much as to compel me to spend the rest of the day cowering under blankets and emotionally wrecked. Director Dave Payne could have been really gratuitous with this scene. He could have taken a lot more sexual liberties with it, but he stopped just short of that by leaving out as many elements as he showed onscreen. For that I give him points in my women’s book. Then again, those who are not so affected by this type of thing might have said that Kebbel underplayed the role and was not convincing enough. To be fair and balanced, it could go either way.

Speaking of women, I admire the heroine in this film, played by Tina Illman. As street smart Gretchen, Illman reminds me of Evangeline Lilly’s character on Lost. She’s a woman with a past you wouldn’t expect, to look at her. Her past makes her tougher, need I say more valuable than everyone else involved. All horror films have expendable characters, usually those with the least character development or the less exciting back story. You actually care whether Gretchen lives or dies; at least I did. And it’s impressive to see just how far she’ll go to defeat her adversary. With this comes the cliffhanger, and then a sense of not knowing. You almost root for a nihilistic ending. After all, there is only so much a human mind can take, and you wonder if she’ll even get a chance to be in a position from which to overcome the ordeal.

The trippy death scenes where the victims’ lives flash before their eyes in rapid succession- the vivid colors- are a nice break from the murky scenes which dominate the rest of the film. These “moment of death” scenes are pretty and vibrant, yet still manage to remain as disturbing as the scenes which take place in near darkness. They also imply a feeling of sweet relief, which makes it easier to say goodbye to the characters who do not survive. I must say I’m a stickler for horror films that leave at least a small margin of hope.

I like the ending. I’ll stop there in order to avoid any spoilers.

I’ll admit, for the longest time I could not even speak the movie’s title without laughing. This may be why I avoided it for so long. I had convinced myself that it would be nothing more than super-silly schlock. Speaking of the title, what is really impressive is that this film’s creators had the balls to basically name their movie after a word that has become- in our modern urban slang- synonymous with major failure. Yet this film far from fails. It is in fact very scary, and not so gratuitous as I thought it would be. Watch it and see.

Steve Earle’s Wal-Mart protest song. The Walking Dead’s Corey Brill’s protest song about his nickname “Porchdick.” They star in Leaves of Grass (film) and How I Learned to Drive (play), respectively. Both highly recommended.

Steve Earle’s Wal-Mart protest song

Steve Earle has a bone to pick with Wal-Mart. As of June 27, Steve was in Nashville recording a new album. But he did take time out to write an amazing protest song, in light of the recent threat by Wal-Mart to build a store in Chinatown, Los Angeles. Steve tells us that he’s never known Wal-Mart to be a good neighbor in any town. As a former Wal-Mart employee, I concur. Place went down the tubes when Sam Walton died; not long after his passing I determined to seek employment elsewhere.

I had the good fortune to briefly converse with Steve this spring when he performed at the newly-reopened Georgia Theatre in Athens, GA.  http://www.georgiatheatre.com/

Athens has had its own problems in the recent past with the Wal-Mart corporation. About a year ago, citizens got word that Wal-Mart was considering building one of its uber-stores in downtown Athens. As if it didn’t already have TWO (2) locations in this relatively small town!  My source in Athens tells me things have been quiet lately; the hoopla seems to have died down. Let’s hope it has. Otherwise, Athenians may wish to call upon Steve’s wise & benevolent assistance! Thank you, Steve!

Watch Steve Earle’s video:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QHlj6UmT4cc&feature=youtu.be from http://www.steveearle.com/ The official site of Steve Earle.

And for those of you who are not into amazing alt-country/blues/Americana, don’t forget that Steve Earle has excellent acting chops as well. His character on Treme met an untimely death last season, but you can still get plenty of Steve by watching him on the big screen. Which leads me to….

A MUST-SEE Movie: Leaves of Grass (2009). Directed by Tim Blake Nelson

It’s an oldie (or not);  limited release happened in fall of 2010 and it was also featured at the 2009 Toronto Film Fest. It yielded a perfect score (4 stars out of 4) on the Ebert Scale. I concur, sir. I concur.

Already I’ve seen it, like, 15 times. Can’t get enough of Edward Norton (who plays identical twins), Keri Russell, Susan Sarandon, Richard Dreyfuss, Melanie Lynskey and- of course- Steve Earle. And many, many praises to director Tim Blake Nelson, who also stars. His funny, thoughtful and provocative film sheds new light on something you may have never considered: there are Jewish people in the Dirty South. Shalom, y’all!

An organization I’m glad I checked out:

LA FPI stands for Los Angeles Female Playwrights Initiative

I became a member of the FPI! So should you. http://www.lafpi.com

Speaking of female playwrights….

A MUST-SEE Play:  How I Learned to Drive. Written by Paula Vogel and directed by Jen Bloom. Presented by the Santa Monica Repertory Theater, in association with the Santa Monica Little Theater.

Saturday, November 17, 2012 from 8pm to 10pm PST

The Santa Monica Little Theater

12420 Santa Monica Blvd. Los Angeles 90025

Tickets: http://www.santamonicarep.org/SantaMonicaRep/Welcome.html

This play won the 1998 Pulitzer Prize. And the complex issue(s)  it presents, namely the story of a (young) female/(older) male friendship which develops over the years into pedophelia, is perhaps even more timely today than when it was written. Fourteen years have passed since the play’s premiere, and women have come a long way toward stronger self-awareness during that time. And I believe there are many men who have come a long way toward understanding what makes us tick. This play will facilitate much needed discussion; hence the evening’s performance will be followed by a panel discussion including the director and various child and family therapists. The topic: the facts and gray areas of childhood sexual abuse and PTSD. Also to be discussed: the rights and responsibilities of theaters and audiences in regards to production, support and attendance of plays with this type of content, which is obviously a ‘hot-button’ issue for many people. Director and therapists will serve as facilitators for audience comments and/or questions.

For more info, visit the Santa Monica Repertory Theater’s website:

http://www.santamonicarep.org/SantaMonicaRep/Welcome.html

You can also watch fellow blogger Cindy Marie Jenkins’ video/blog as she interviews director Jen Bloom and female lead Barbara Jean Urich. It will give you a lot of background information about the play and also shed light on varied audience feedback, some of which may shock you!

http://cindymariejenkins.com/2012/11/15/547/comment-page-1/

Update 9/1/2015- The play How I Learned to Drive features Corey Brill of The Walking Dead, whose character has been given the nickname “Porchdick.” I met him after the play and he is actually a really nice guy, as he will also tell you in this hilarious song he made up about his new moniker…