California Fool's Gold's Guide to Los Angeles's Revival Cinemas

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 22, 2014 10:34am | Post a Comment

Hollywood Cinerama, Los Angeles, 2003 (image credit: Hiroshi Sugimoto)

No city on Earth is more closely associated with motion pictures than Los Angeles. 10% of all movie theaters in the entire country are located in California and Los Angeles County is home to over 100 of them. Although most of Los Angeles's theaters, like those throughout the country, showcase only the latest Hollywood product, there are also specialty theaters which show art films, adult films, classic films, experimental films, foreign films, independent films, revival films, &c. I've previously written about Southern California's drive-in theaters (For Ozoners Only) and overlooked commercial foreign language cinemas (Los Angeles's Secret, Foreign Language Movie Theater Scene). This is my guide to the repertory cinemas or revival houses. 

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Exodus shocker -- the latest Hollywood Bible cartoon isn't very realistic

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 17, 2014 09:06am | Post a Comment

The other day I found out that some people are outraged by the casting in a Hollywood film -- in this case Ridley Scott's latest effort, Exodus: Days of Future Past (or whatever its full title is). They're apparently so upset that they're boycotting it, which is something I do with all but one or two Hollywood films every year although I refer to it simply as not paying to see it.

The problem that the boycotters have, it seems, is that Exodus is almost completely historically inaccurate (It's safe to guess that most of the Egyptian and Jewish characters are most portrayed by Anglo-Saxons and presumably speak Modern (if pretentious) English with a modern British accent, or approximation of one. Without having watched a trailer I'd guess that there aren't a lot of apparently Middle Eastern Africans portraying Middle Eastern Africans and the actual actors of African descent are used entirely for background color and supporting roles). 

Apparently these scandalized and offended won't-be viewers have never seen a Hollywood film before... or assumed that they'd somehow completely change their raison d'etre. Even at Hollywood's artistic peak in the 1930s, racial sensitivity and historical accuracy were not exactly hallmarks of Hollywood films -- making loads of money was, and that's what they did and they did it well. At one point Hollywood made loads of money with elaborately choreographed, brilliantly scored, escapist musicals. Nowadays Hollywood makes loads of money with loud CGI superhero cartoons. Sometimes -- rarely -- art slips through the cracks. Much more often big, dumb-looking movies like Exodus get released that look rather like the big, dumb movies that Hollywood was mostly pumped out for the last 90 years.

Sometimes these big,dumb movies made by Ridley Scott, a once-briefly-interesting filmmaker more than three decades ago made two excellent films (Alien and Blade Runner) and one not-great-but-enjoyable one, Legend. After a few years of light fun with gender (White Squall, GI Jane, and Thelma & Louise), Scott made the Gladiator, a truly old fashioned sword 'n' sandals epic in which Anglo-Saxons with British accents played sanitized, dehomosexualized Romans. It made no efforts at accuracy (no one spoke Latin, the statues were all unpainted, there was nary a priapus to be found, the meaning of thumbs up and thumbs down were reversed, &c). It was also, as a film, not good -- but it made loads of money and apparently convinced Scott that he could be this generation's Cecil B. DeMille. Kingdom of Heaven and Robin Hood followed -- neither of which looked any good and both of which I thus ignored, sorry, "boycotted."

So setting aside the fact that you're a grown-ass adult who apparently was considering watching a film based upon a book of the Torah, my question to the boycotters of Exodus is this: Why would you expect anything more or different from either Ridley Scott or Hollywood? Were you somehow misled? Did you see the trailer for Exodus in an arthouse, film festivalforeign language cinemagrindhouserevival housemuseum, on MUBI or somewhere else that good films are routinely screened -- or was it before some dumb, loud movie you watched in a multiplex? [I'm not not suggesting that I'm somehow above magical thinking. Every autumn morning in Los Angeles I put on a sweater somehow thinking that I'll will it to cool off and possibly snow but when it's hot by noon I curse my own stupidity and not the predictable weather.]

More importantly, If you want to see an historically accurate or artistic film set in Africa and depicting Africans then why on Earth are you turning to an industry whose best known "African films" were shot on a Culver City sound stage and starred Johnny Weissmuller? If you want African food do you go to Souplantation and wait for the chain to one day change their menu or do you go to an African restaurant? If you want African music, you go to the African music section (or store). So why, if you want racially sensitive or accurate portrayals of African history or culture wouldn't you go to the source?

If you want realistic, artistic African films depicting Africa then why don't you watch African films?
 If you really have your heart set on Biblical films, with the slightest effort you'd have come across Cheick Oumar Sissoko's La Genèse is a widely available at all finer video shops and is a good Bible film made in Africa by an African director and an all African cast. La Genèse was released on video in the US by Kino Video, who've released a lot of African cinematic masterpieces. Other widely-distributed, English-subtitled African classics are available from New Yorker Films, Facets, and Film Movement. If you live in a respectably diverse city, you could also try an African market. I'm just saying, maybe if you want to see sensitive, intelligent cinematic depictions of Africans, watch more African films than just District 9.

In case you need to be reminded, there are about 196 sovereign countries on our planet today and of them, Argentina, Armenia, Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Belarus, Belgium, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Burma, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, ChadChile, China, Colombia, CongoCosta Rica, Croatia, Cuba, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Gabon, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Guatemala, Guyana, Hungary, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iran, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Korea, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lebanon, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritania, Mexico, Moldova, Mongolia, Morocco, Mozambique, Namibia, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Paraguay, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Senegal, Singapore, Slovakia, Slovenia, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tajikistan, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, the UK, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Vietnam are all have film industries and/or filmmakers who regularly produce films that quite often are more intelligent, more artistic, more honest, more insightful, and more culturally sensitive than their Hollywood counterparts. 

It is 2014 and you have options. Assuming that you're reading this on a computer and not a print-out, you have electricity which means you have internet and are not required to rely solely (or at all) on Redbox. There is no reason you'd have to watch a Hollywood film unless you're a film reviewer or your friend is involved in the production. This should be cause not for complaint but for celebration. 


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One album wonders: The Sex Pistols' Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 8, 2014 08:16am | Post a Comment
The Sex Pistols - Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols (1977)

Sex Pistols - Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols

In the early 1980s, when I was in elementary school, I remember asking my father what mental illness was. This was the era of deinstitutionalization, when most of the nation's mental institutions were emptied onto the streets which were at the same time flooded with AIDS and crack. Not surprisingly, most popular entertainment was decidedly escapist in nature.

Hey hey we're the Pistols!

I probably asked my father because I assumed he was an authority on the subject, him being a psychiatrist at the VA and also himself clearly not right in the head. To answer my question he briefly told me about the Sex Pistols, specifically their seemingly innocuous use of safety pins in fashion. I didn't come away from our conversation with even a better understanding of mental illness but I imagined that the Sex Pistols must be a very frightening bunch indeed to exemplify insanity in that insane era where our society's inevitable and impending doom was guaranteed -- probably because of satanic cults, child abductionHalloween poisoningssubliminal messages, Dungeons & Dragons, or Sigue Sigue Sputnik

By junior high I had a notion of what punk was because there were punks in my school. They certainly seemed less frightening than the jocks and preps but I didn't associate with any of them. I was listening to a lot of Dead Kennedys, Dead Milkmen, and Eazy-E -- all three of whom owed a debt to the cartoonishly outrageous spirit of 1976 and bands like the Sex Pistols but I still had no way of hearing them since they were too old for the college station I mostly listened to (KCOU) and -- not being Top 40, Classic Rock, Country or Classical -- never played on any other station. 

In those pre-internet days, there were many bands whose names but not music were familiar to me. From the school bus I'd spy graffiti advertising The Jam and The Cure on the wall of an alley. Classmates wore T-shirts and scrawled onto desks, blue jeans, and Trapper Keeper folders names like Echo & the Bunnymen, Iron Maiden, Joy DivisionMetallica, The Psychedelic Furs, The Smiths, Suicidal Tendencies, and Velvet Underground. Kids wore Sex Pistols T-shirts too -- often decorated with reprinted headlines with quotes including "The filth and the fury!," "Sid Vicious Dead," "Call if filthy lucre." Others looked like ransom notes. That I didn't know what "lucre" or "bollocks" just added to the air of mystery around the punk legends of yore.

In high school a German girl let me dub her dub of the album Happy? by John Lydon's post-Sex Pistols band, Public Image Limited. It's probably not many PiL fans' favorite album by them but for me it was akin to that experienced by Marcel Proust when he first dipped a madeleine into his tea. When 9 came out, I bought the audio cassette. Buying music was expensive but rather than wait for another PiL album, my thoughts returned to the Sex Pistols. I had a rule against buying albums by bands which I'd never even heard, I had obligations with the mail order BMG Music Service, to choose more albums from what turned out to be a surprisingly limited catalogue. I'd heard Megadeth's cover of "Anarchy in the UK" and so allowed myself to make an exception and ordered the Sex Pistols' only full-length.  

When the disc arrived, I no doubt struggled with its ridiculous security stickers before dropping the laser onto the aluminum groove and my tiny apartment filled with the strains of "Holidays in the Sun," which struck me as surprisingly slow, competent, conventional, catchy, funny, smart and about as threatening as a beach party film. If my understanding of the lyrics were correct, "Bodies" was apparently a safe sex/pro life anthem. "No Feelings" sounded like the work of fans of New York Dolls, a suspicion which was seemingly confirmed by "New York." I was even more surprised by "Liar" and "Submission," the former which wouldn't have sounded out of place on an Eddie Cochran record, and the latter which sounded like early Doors or The Seeds. The Sex Pistols, I had read, were the Khmer Rouge of rock and 1976 was year zero -- so how was it that the entire album sounded like the work of a 1960s Florida garage band who'd somehow incorporated bits of T. Rex into their sound?

None of this is a complaint, mind you. I loved every minute of that record, as conventional, wholesome, and not-mentally ill as it is. At the time I was deeply immersed in the works of Joris-Karl Huysmans, Oscar Wilde, and Charles Baudelaire and I was expecting decadent villains, not Dickensian heros. When I was done listening to it, I filed it away on my record shelf, between Saint Etienne and Sandy Shaw -- which to me makes total sense. Not long afterward I was approached by a stranger who asked me what music I listened to. I told him, "bands whose names start with 'S's."

The story of the Sex Pistols after their dissolution is well known but I'll summarize anyway. Glen Matlock was kicked out of the band and quite naturally resurfaced with a power-pop group, The Rich Kids, (which also included Midge Ure of class Scottish glitter rock boy band, Slik). Matlock's replacement, Sid Vicious, died in 1979. Paul Cook and Steve Jones joined The Professionals and the latter later launched the excellent radio program Jonesy's Jukebox in 2004. John Lydon, of course, enjoyed a long brilliant, and much more prolific career with Public Image Limited -- whose best album is actually either Flowers of Romance or Metal Box. Never Mind the Bollocks, Here's the Sex Pistols is still in print, often released and re-released with tweaked colors for some reason. 


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One album wonders: David McComb's Love of Will

Posted by Eric Brightwell, December 1, 2014 08:00am | Post a Comment

David McComb
is best known as the singer of The Triffids, unquestionably one of the greatest rock bands of all time and one which released quite a few albums over the course of their fourteen year existence. As a solo artist, however, McComb recorded just one solo record, which is the subject of this week’s One Album Wonders.

David McComb was born 17 February, 1962 in Perth, Australia to Dr. Harold McComb (a plastic surgeon) and Dr. Athel Hockey (a geneticist). The McComb family resided in the Cliffe, an historic home on McNeil Street in the posh neighborhood of Peppermint Grove. David and his four older brothers all attended Christ Church Grammar School in nearby Claremont. Nevertheless, McComb would emerge as one of Australia's greatest poetic voices.

McComb began making music with Alan “Alsy” MacDonald in 1976, who was the primary songwriting partner throughout what proved to be his too short life. The two first collaborated as part of the collective known as Dalsy, then as Blök Music, and followed by Logic, which after just one performance in 1978 changed their name to The Triffids. Despite their having released some of the best music of the 1980s and NME having gone so far as to proclaim 1985, “The Year of the Triffids,” they were never commercially successful. After one of their most musically adventurous but commercially less successful albums, The Black Swan, The Triffids called it a day in 1989.

McComb’s post-Triffids years were less prolific, in large part because of his difficulties with drug addiction and associated illnesses. After the dissolution of the Triffids, McComb and MacDonald formed Blackeyed Susans with former Triffid Phil Kakulas, Ross Bolleter, and Rob Snarski and that band released an EP, Some Births are Worse than Murders in 1990. McComb returned to London, where The Triffids had been based for several years, in 1990, and the following year he and Adam Peters contributed a cover of “Don't Go Home with Your Hard-On” to the Leonard Cohen tribute album I'm Your Fan and also released a proper single, “I Don't Need You.” McComb next formed a backing band, The Red Ponies, comprised of former Triffid “Evil” Graham Lee, Warren Ellis, Peter Luscombe, Bruce Haymes, and Michael Vidale. Backed by his new band, McComb toured Europe and released the dancey single “The Message” on Stephen Street’s Foundation label, which folded in 1991. In 1992 McComb returned to Australia to study art history at The University of Melbourne… and occasionally performed with Blackeyed Susans.

From June to August 1993, McComb recorded what would prove to be his only solo ablum, Love of Will, with a band comprised of former Triffid Martyn Casey and Phil Kakulas on bass; Peter Luscombe on drums; Barry Palmer and “Evil” Graham Lee on guitar; Bruce Haymes and Daniel Denholm on keyboards; and Warren Ellis on violin. Backing vocals were sung by Joanne Alach, Lisa Miller, and Rob Snarski. Love of Will was released in December 1993 on White Label and promo videos were filmed for "Setting You Free" and "Clear Out My Mind" -- both of which were released as singles and the latter of which was (according to McComb) inspired by Geto Boys' “My Mind Is Playing Tricks On Me.” A few months after the recording of Love of Will, McComb sang back-up on Nick Cave & the Bad SeedsLet Love In and his own band’s Martyn Casey and Warren Ellis both ended up joining Cave’s. Palmer went on to join Hunters & Collectors; Lee performed with Paul Kelly, Robert Forster, and other musicians; and Luscombe, Haymes, and Denholm also went on to play with numerous musicians.

McComb launched one last band, Costar, who recorded a still unreleased EP. A planned Triffids reunion in 1994 was put on hold when McComb’s health worsened and McComb developed cardiomyopathy. Although he underwent a successful heart transplant in 1996, his continued abuse of drugs did his health no favors and after being involved in a car crash on 30 January, 1996, he was hospitalized for a night, released, and then died on 2 February, a few weeks shy of his 37th birthday. His ashes were spread under the pines at the family’s farm near Jerdacuttup

David McComb

Predictably, since McComb’s death The Triffids’ stature has grown and they’ve inspired a documentary (about the masterpiece Born Sandy Devotional), tribute concerts, and Bleddyn Butcher’s book, Save What You Can - the Day of the Triffids. Additionally, a book of McComb’s poetry was released a few years ago as Beautiful Waste. A crowd-funded documentary titled Love in Bright Landscapes: The Story of David McComb of The Triffids seems still to be in production (or pre-production), directed by Jonathan Alley. Most encouraging is the fact that every proper studio album by The Triffids has been re-released and are therefore relatively easy to enjoy. On the other hand, McComb's Love of Will has unduly suffered over the intervening years since its release from its relative obscurity. Shortly after its initial release it received a second pressing by Mushroom in early 1994 but soon after went out of print and remains so to this day. It was only produced on audio cassette and compact disc but if you find a copy, do snag it. In the meantime, you can listen to it online if you wish.


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Happy 30th, Criterion -- May your next 30 be even better

Posted by Eric Brightwell, November 25, 2014 11:18am | Post a Comment
Criterion is, without a doubt, the most loved video-distribution company in the video distribution game. No one (outside Korea) packages their films so beautifully and today they released a lovely, book (just in time for Christmas) of their "covers, supplemental art, and never-before-seen sketches and concept art" featured on their releases over the years called Criterion Designs. They're also beloved for their supplemental special features, which are similarly rarely paralleled, and the high quality of their restorations. There are podcasts, and subreddits, and completists devoted to the label. My only problem with them is over the films which they release -- or rather, those that they don't. 

Criterion Designs (image source: The Criterion Collection)

Criterion was launched back in 1984, when Joe Medjuck, Aleen Stein, and Robert Stein founded the company in New York City. From the get go Criterion chose films from Europe, North America, and Asia for their lovingly attentive treatment. I only became aware of the company around 1999. I recognized a lot of their films from introductory film school classes -- the canonical status of which was usually advertised by the stamp of Janus Films. At the same time, couldn't help but notice the glaring omission of ANY films from South America or Africa. When I pointed this out to Criterion loyalists and asked for their thoughts I got the following replies: "Do they make films?," "You mean like Tarzan?," and "You mean like Superfly?" My answers to all three were, "Are you *censored* kidding me?"

While Cinema EpochFacetsFilm MovementFirst Run FeaturesKinoNew Yorker Films, and Zeitgeist all regularly release films from less-exposed corners of World Cinema, none of them enjoy the loyalty, and thus power, that Criterion does. For many film fans, Criterion is unfortunately the first and last word in foreign and art film. In the minds of Criterion's completists, the fact that Criterion ignores entire continents means there's nothing there for aspiring film lovers. 

Three decades later and Criterion have still yet to release a SINGLE film from South America. It only took thirty years and the involvement of Martin Scorsese for the label to release its first (two) African films, Touki Bouki and Trances, both among the six films in that director's collection, Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Project. Next year Criterion are set to release their first ever South American film, Lucrecia Martel's La Cienaga (2001).

Criterion have long been more open to Asian Cinema, especially if the film in question is from Japan. Japan has accounted for nearly 90% of Criterion's Asian films whereas only five films from China have been deemed worthy. Meanwhile, mo more than two films each in the collection come from IranKorea, or Taiwan. Criterion have released no Turkish films which means no films from Nuri Bilge Ceylan.

If you need a graph to see what Criterion's bias looks like, here you go:

Of course there are acclaimed directors from Africa and South America, directors like Alejandro Jodorowsky, Abderrahmane Sissako, Souleymane Cisse, Ousmane Sembene, Cheick Oumar Sissoko, Carlos Diegues, Gaston Kabore, Youssef Chahine, Andres Caicedo, Anselmo Duarte, Carlos Mayolo, Daoud Abdel Sayed, Eliseo Subiela, Farid Boughedir, Fernando Meirelles, Glauber Rocha, Hussein Kamal, Idrissa Ouedraogo, Juan Jose Campanella, Luis Ospina, Med Hondo, Mweze Ngangura, Oussama Fawzi, and Raja Amari, to name a few.

So whilst bells, whistles, and shiny wrapping paper are all nice -- but how great would it be for Criterion to broaden their scope to include great films from around the world? Mark Cousins's documentary The Story of Film: An Odyssey, which came out in 2011, was surprisingly encompassing and in 15 hours did more to correct western bias than Criterion has in its first thirty years. Let's hope that we won't be saying the same 30 years from now.


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