Saturday, December 30, 2006

Gone Daddy Gone

THE TREASURES OF LONG GONE JOHN
(Greg Gibbs, USA, 2006, DV-CAM, 95 mins.)


treasures.jpg
Todd Schorr provides the poster art

*****

We almost really care.
-- original Sympathy for the Record Industry motto

18 years of performance anxiety, instability, and poor judgement [sic].
-- new Sympathy for the Record Industry motto

*****

It's hard to be objective when a film features all my favorite stuff. I majored
in studio art, I've been writing about music for 20+ years (boy, do I feel old), and
cats have been a part of my life since day one. That's right, The Treasures of Long Gone John concerns art, music, and cats. Mostly, it concerns Long Gone John,
founder of inimitable indie label Sympathy for the Record Industry.

Born John Edward Mermis in 1951, Long Gone John is also an art collector
and feline fancier. And he isn't just any collector, but the rabid, obsessed kind.
He's as single-minded as the movie loonies in Cinemania (2002) or crossword crazies
in Wordplay (2006). Fans of those films will probably like, or at least appreciate,
The Treasures of Long Gone John, even if they don't share his interests. Further,
the director's freewheeling approach to fringe culture creates a link with previous
art docs, like Crumb (1994), In the Realms of the Unreal (2004), and Tales of the Rat Fink (Gibbs uses time-lapse photography to bring artworks to life).

long_gone_john1.jpg
The Sympathetic Nerve Center
To be clear, Long Gone John isn't an artist. He's just a guy who grew up in Southern California in the 1960s and 1970s, which means he was there for the advent of
So-Cal punk. Suffice to say, he loved it, and it changed his life. His childhood
was crap, and punk gave him something to believe in. He attended all the shows-the Screamers, the Weirdos, the Germs, etc.-and became, like many peers, a fanzine writer. Instead of picking up a guitar, however, he released bootlegs.
This led to the production of official, band-sanctioned recordings in the 1980s.
In 1988, Sympathy for the Record Industry was born. Sure, independent labels
are a dime a dozen, but Sympathy was different. Long Gone John sealed his
deals with a handshake and let artists retain the rights to their masters. It isn't a great way to get rich. But then, it was never just about the music (or the money). Sympathy's sole employee also has a keen eye for visuals and called on some of the art world's most promising painters and illustrators to design the cover images, the inserts-the vinyl itself. He paid them next to nothing and kept the originals.
So, you could say the musicians ripped him off, while he ripped off the artists.
(When the White Stripes left for V2, they took their masters with them). It's not
that simple. Pretty much every outsider artist you can name-Savage Pencil, Coop, Frank Kozik, Mark Ryden, Camille Rose Garcia, etc.-is in the film, and they have nothing but nice things to say about Long Gone John. No, he didn't pay much, but he gave them a start. People bought the records, then they bought the art. And those people include the man himself, who started collecting and commissioning their work for his Spanish-style abode, which he refers to as a museum (as well he should).
In the film, he shares his entire collection. It doesn't just include paintings and drawings, but toys (Hitler in a nighty!), celebrity prescription bottles (Debbie
Harry's Prozac!), strange artifacts (a doll tricked out like a mummified baby!),
over 10,000 LPs, and other bizarre objects. Along with half a dozen cats...
artwork_images_117778_151374_mark-ryden.jpg
Mark Ryden - "The Ecstasy of Cecilia"
Why does he do it? He admits he really doesn't know, but suggests it has something to do with growing up underprivileged. In fact, he's a little concerned about this ceaseless urge to acquire, but not so much that he intends to do anything about it.
Towards the end of the film, Long Gone John mentions that he plans to move
from Long Beach to Seattle.* The anti-mogul/art collector/crazy cat man, is now
one of us (cue the Ramones' "Pinhead"). Why he chose Washington, I couldn't
say. Except for his candid comments in the documentary, he's never been known for his love of interviews (and doesn't own an answering machine or cell phone), so I have no idea whether he'll ever reveal the reason. I just know that your chances of running into him at Roq La Rue or the Fantagraphics store are very good indeed.
The Treasures of Long Gone John is so stuffed with, well, stuff, that it may overwhelm some viewers, but I just can't get enough of this kind of thing-and that includes
the garage-oriented tunes by Sympathy acts, like Holly Golightly and Sonic Boom-
so I was in my element the entire time. As I cautioned at the outset, I can't be completely objective, so your mileage may vary. While I'm at it, I should note that the term "lowbrow art" gets tossed around a few times. Every single artist agrees:
it sucks. My use of the words "outsider" and "alternative" is, perhaps, similarly insufficient. Most of the featured artists make a living at what they do, but they haven't come to a consensus on the best way to describe it. Gary Baseman, for instance, laments that his attempts to popularize "pervasive art" have come to nought. Call it what you will-there's a lot of it in the film. Plus music. And cats.
* On screen, he mentions Seattle, but the official website notes
that Olympia is the new home of the Sympathetic Nerve Center.
*****
The production team...has just learned some unfortunate news that we
deeply regret reporting to our extended family. Last week, our favorite
feline and a true star of the film--Go the Cat, left the physical world.
Those that have viewed the film never forget the lasting impression
Go leaves. In every city, at almost every screening... Go elicits howls
and hoots that represent the peak of reactions. Go will truly be missed
by us all and will live on forever in his silver screen debut.

-- From The Treasures of Long Gone John website
250px-LongGoneJohn.jpg
The Treasures of Long Gone John plays the Northwest Film Forum Jan 5-7,
Fri.-Thurs. at 7 and 9pm. The NWFF is located at 1515 12th Ave. on Capitol
Hill between Pike and Pine. For more information, please click here. You can
also call 206-329-2629 for general info and 206-267-5380 for show times.

Gone Daddy Gone

THE TREASURES OF LONG GONE JOHN
(Greg Gibbs, USA, 2006, DV-CAM, 95 mins.)


treasures.jpg
Todd Schorr provides the poster art

*****

We almost really care.
-- original Sympathy for the Record Industry motto

18 years of performance anxiety, instability, and poor judgement [sic].
-- new Sympathy for the Record Industry motto

*****

It's hard to be objective when a film features all my favorite stuff. I majored
in studio art, I've been writing about music for 20+ years (boy, do I feel old), and
cats have been a part of my life since day one. That's right, The Treasures of Long Gone John concerns art, music, and cats. Mostly, it concerns Long Gone John,
founder of inimitable indie label Sympathy for the Record Industry.

Born John Edward Mermis in 1951, Long Gone John is also an art collector
and feline fancier. And he isn't just any collector, but the rabid, obsessed kind.
He's as single-minded as the movie loonies in Cinemania (2002) or crossword crazies
in Wordplay (2006). Fans of those films will probably like, or at least appreciate,
The Treasures of Long Gone John, even if they don't share his interests. Further,
the director's freewheeling approach to fringe culture creates a link with previous
art docs, like Crumb (1994), In the Realms of the Unreal (2004), and Tales of the Rat Fink (Gibbs uses time-lapse photography to bring artworks to life).

long_gone_john1.jpg
The Sympathetic Nerve Center
To be clear, Long Gone John isn't an artist. He's just a guy who grew up in Southern California in the 1960s and 1970s, which means he was there for the advent of
So-Cal punk. Suffice to say, he loved it, and it changed his life. His childhood
was crap, and punk gave him something to believe in. He attended all the shows -- the Screamers, the Weirdos, the Germs, etc. -- and became, like many peers, a fanzine writer. Instead of picking up a guitar, however, he released bootlegs.
This led to the production of official, band-sanctioned recordings in the 1980s.
In 1988, Sympathy for the Record Industry was born. Sure, independent labels
are a dime a dozen, but Sympathy was different. Long Gone John sealed his
deals with a handshake and let artists retain the rights to their masters. It isn't a great way to get rich. But then, it was never just about the music (or the money). Sympathy's sole employee also has a keen eye for visuals and called on some of the art world's most promising painters and illustrators to design the cover images, the inserts -- the vinyl itself. He paid them next to nothing and kept the originals.
So, you could say the musicians ripped him off, while he ripped off the artists.
(When the White Stripes left for V2, they took their masters with them). It's not
that simple. Pretty much every outsider artist you can name -- Savage Pencil, Coop, Frank Kozik, Mark Ryden, Camille Rose Garcia, etc. -- is in the film, and they have nothing but nice things to say about Long Gone John. No, he didn't pay much, but he gave them a start. People bought the records, then they bought the art. And those people include the man himself, who started collecting and commissioning their work for his Spanish-style abode, which he refers to as a museum (as well he should).
In the film, he shares his entire collection. It doesn't just include paintings and drawings, but toys (Hitler in a nighty!), celebrity prescription bottles (Debbie
Harry's Prozac!), strange artifacts (a doll tricked out like a mummified baby!),
over 10,000 LPs, and other bizarre objects. Along with half a dozen cats...
artwork_images_117778_151374_mark-ryden.jpg
Mark Ryden - "The Ecstasy of Cecilia"
Why does he do it? He admits he really doesn't know, but suggests it has something to do with growing up underprivileged. In fact, he's a little concerned about this ceaseless urge to acquire, but not so much that he intends to do anything about it.
Towards the end of the film, Long Gone John mentions that he plans to move
from Long Beach to Seattle.* The anti-mogul/art collector/crazy cat man, is now
one of us (cue the Ramones' "Pinhead"). Why he chose Washington, I couldn't
say. Except for his candid comments in the documentary, he's never been known for his love of interviews (and doesn't own an answering machine or cell phone), so I have no idea whether he'll ever reveal the reason. I just know that your chances of running into him at Roq La Rue or the Fantagraphics store are very good indeed.
The Treasures of Long Gone John is so stuffed with, well, stuff, that it may overwhelm some viewers, but I just can't get enough of this kind of thing -- and that includes
the garage-oriented tunes by Sympathy acts, like Holly Golightly and Sonic Boom --
so I was in my element the entire time. As I cautioned at the outset, I can't be completely objective, so your mileage may vary. While I'm at it, I should note that the term "lowbrow art" gets tossed around a few times. Every single artist agrees:
it sucks. My use of the words "outsider" and "alternative" is, perhaps, similarly insufficient. Most of the featured artists make a living at what they do, but they haven't come to a consensus on the best way to describe it. Gary Baseman, for instance, laments that his attempts to popularize "pervasive art" have come to nought. Call it what you will -- there's a lot of it in the film. Plus music. And cats.
* On screen, he mentions Seattle, but the official website notes
that Olympia is the new home of the Sympathetic Nerve Center.
*****
The production team...has just learned some unfortunate news that we
deeply regret reporting to our extended family. Last week, our favorite
feline and a true star of the film--Go the Cat, left the physical world.
Those that have viewed the film never forget the lasting impression
Go leaves. In every city, at almost every screening... Go elicits howls
and hoots that represent the peak of reactions. Go will truly be missed
by us all and will live on forever in his silver screen debut.

-- From The Treasures of Long Gone John website
250px-LongGoneJohn.jpg
The Treasures of Long Gone John plays the Northwest Film Forum Jan 5-7,
Fri.-Thurs. at 7 and 9pm. The NWFF is located at 1515 12th Ave. on Capitol
Hill between Pike and Pine. For more information, please click here. You can
also call 206-329-2629 for general info and 206-267-5380 for show times.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

What I Liked

frye.jpg

This might be due to the lingering effects of the high-quality hash that was readily available in NY in the 80's, but I can't remember all the films I saw this year. Perhaps next year I'll keep a log. In any case, of the films I can remember here's my top twenty faves in alphabetical order.

1. Apocalypto
My ultra-Zionist friend, Mike, was appalled that I paid to see this, but as Tony Bourdain said, "I'm no fan of Donald Rumsfeld, but if he makes a good sandwich, I'll certainly eat it." As history it was rubbish, but as entertainment it was worth $10 of my Jew dollars.
2. Casino Royale
Daniel Craig isn't just the shortest actor to play Bond, but the most interesting. During his career he's been an object of adoration for Francis Bacon, Sylvia Plath, Truman Capote, a 60-something widow and an obsessed Rhys Ifans. What range! As a reboot of the franchise Casino Royale portrays Bond as a newly minted 007 of non upper-crust origin. He's got smarts, he's got parts, but he's not a connoisseur and takes his luxuries as earthly consolations, not as occasions to display abstruse knowledge. He also tends to get his shirt bloodied. Like Cillian Murphy in Breakfast on Pluto, Craig's Bond traverses a cat's worth of lives, all the while wondering if it's really worth it. It will be interesting to see whether this nest of tensions continues as the series develops, but with this first installment, EOM Productions has provided the most fascinating Bond in over forty years.
3. Death of Mr. Lazarescu
4. The Descent
5. District B13
6. Duma
7. I Am A Sex Addict
Caveh Zahedi appears to be a very sincere person, which makes his self-portrait as a head-on collision between George Costanza and Dr. Tobias F/onke all the funnier. Plus, he looks like Harpo Marx when getting a blowjob. As Kenny Banya would say, "that's gold, Jerry! Gold!"
8. Infamous
I can't pretend this was a better film than Capote, but it contained more historical and emotional depth, more subtlety, better dialogue, more humor, a better role for Jeff Daniels than Chris Cooper and the opportunity to see Hope Davis doing the twist. Toby Jones may not be a better actor than Philip Seymour Hoffman, but his resemblance to Truman Capote was freakishly accurate. Whether this bodes well for his future career is to be seen, but in Infamous, motherfucker is Truman Capote.
9. Innocence
10. Inside Man
11. The Intruder
12. Jack Smith and The Destruction of Atlantis
Documentaries on underground subjects tend to be micro-budget labors of love, held together with shoestring and spit. Eliciting the participation of everyone from Michael Almereyda to John Zorn, Mary Jordan managed to make a visual feast, wholly befitting the baroque aesthetic of Jack Smith. An accomplishment with a capital A.
13. Lady Vengeance
14. Lemming
Maybe someday Dominik Moll will do a film called 'Lemmy' about a couple whose plumbing gets clogged by the lead singer of Mot/drhead, but until then this mashup of Kubrick and Hitchcock will have to do.
15. The Proposition
16. The Science of Sleep
17. Time to Leave
18. Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada
19. TV Party
20. Wassup Rockers
Dude in Apocalypto dodged jaguars, clubs, arrows and spears and nearly got his heart ripped out, but he didn't live in LA and he didn't do an ollie on the steps of Beverly Hills High while wearing a Ramones t-shirt. Fortunately for us, his descendents do. And they have a band.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Make a Joyful Noise HERE

DANIELSON: A FAMILY MOVIE
(JL Aronson, USA, 2006, BETA-SP, 105 mins.)


danmovie2.jpg

"They sound like Captain Beefheart's Magic Band joined by the Partridge Family
at some roadside revival along the Jersey Turnpike."
-- The All Music Guide

*****

I watch documentaries for two basic reasons: To learn more about subjects
with which I already have some familiarity, and to learn about subjects with
which I have no familiarity. Although I had heard of the group, I knew next to nothing about the Danielson Famile before I watched JL Aronson's informative profile. Now, I know quite a bit -- but I still would've liked to learn more.

Leader of the band is Clarksboro, New Jersey artist/musician Daniel Smith,
a devout Christian who's been playing music professionally since college. In
fact, the Danielson Famile began as his Rutgers thesis project (Aronson includes
footage from the original engagement). Like the Von Trapps or the Partridges, they're an all-family combo. Though the parents don't participate, they encouraged their five redheaded children to sing hymns and to play instruments from an
early age. The Danielson story is told mostly by Smith and his siblings.

This brings us to that moniker. Smith chose Danielson to indicate that he's
a son of God. (Interestingly, he studiously avoids dropping the name Jesus
Christ, possibly to avoid putting off secular fans.) From the beginning, the
group performs in white doctor and nurse uniforms with their names emblazoned
in red over their hearts to symbolize "the healing power of the Good News."

f31122sbej0.jpg
A Prayer for Every Hour (1995)
If you're not familiar with Danielson, you might think they play Christian rock.
They don't -- not in the traditional sense -- and this is where things get interesting.
It also explains why this film exists, i.e. Smith is neither your average Christian
nor your average indie rocker. The clean-cut kid is a true original. Throughout his career, he's recorded strictly for independent labels, like Tooth & Nail and Secretly Canadian, and plays rock clubs instead of limiting himself to church gatherings.
Yet he's never made any secret of his beliefs, which play a big part in his music.
Not only that, but it's pretty offbeat stuff -- like the Shaggs covering the Velvet Underground -- and Smith has a highly unusual singing style. As his high-pitched warble suggests Daniel Johnston, it's little surprise when Johnston enters the
scene. More surprising is when Steve Albini (Big Black) puts in an appearance.
The Chicago musician/producer might not seem like a Danielson fan, but he is.
So much so that he invites them to England to perform at the All Tomorrow's Parties Festival he's curating (Danielson has also worked with eccentric producer Kramer). The conversation between Smith and Albini is worth the price of admission alone.
medTree.jpg
Smith as "The Tree of Nine Fruits"
Arsonson began filming A Family Movie in 2002 and wrapped things up this year.
He follows Smith from the family line-up to the friends-and-family version to his current incarnation as Br. Danielson. Once his siblings disperse for college, marriage, etc., Smith calls on outside players. That iteration continues, but he's mostly a
solo act these days. During the course of the movie, he also marries, has two kids, builds a studio, starts a label, and promotes his handmade Great Comfort Stuff.
One of his guest players is a multi-instrumentalist named Sufjan Stevens. For
much of the movie, the aspiring singer/songwriter is on stage, banging away on something or other, as they travel across the country and on to Europe. Then, he becomes their opening act (the film features a few of his numbers). Stevens may share Smith's beliefs, but he's considerably more circumspect in interviews and has
a more accessible style (frankly, I love his voice). Smith encourages his friend's efforts, producing and releasing Seven Swans (2004) on his Sounds Familyre label.
dansuf2002.jpg
Stevens and Smith have a stoop-side chat
In different hands, A Family Movie would be about how Stevens eclipses his
mentor's popularity, as in DIG!, in which the Dandy Warhols leapfrog over the Brian Jonestown Massacre on their way to fame and fortune. Aronson dutifully tracks Sufjan's ascent into the indie-rock stratosphere -- the release of the well received Greetings from Michigan: The Great Lakes State (2003), and then Illinois (2005), which makes numerous top 10 lists and sells hundreds of thousands of copies. It's all there, but Aronson never loses site of his film's true subject: Daniel Smith.
Further, the director never judges. So, is he a Christian, too? He claims he isn't,
but I'm not so sure it matters. Greg Whiteley's more emotionally involving New York Doll, which documents Arthur "Killer" Kane's conversion to Mormonism, could only have been made by a Latter-day Saint in terms of access to Church members, who might have been less comfortable speaking to a non-Mormon. That isn't the case here, although I do wish Aronson had been more rigorous in his questioning.
Though he does include the voices of a few dissenters, Smith comes across
as always calm (except when he's singing), never jealous, and seemingly unconcerned about money. These are universal concerns, and I kept wondering
how he manages to make ends meet while appealing to such a fringe audience.
The irony, of course, is that a lot of people are going to want to see Danielson:
A Family Movie
due to the presence of "bit player" Sufjan Stevens. I don't think
that's such a bad thing and, as much as I seriously doubt that he's never harbored
a jealous thought or two about his protégé, I doubt Daniel Smith does either.
*****
"I love my Lord, I love my Lord, I love my Lord."
-- Tell Another Joke at the Ol' Choppin' Block (1997)
shipheads.jpg
-- Smith and the entire Danielson "Famile"
*****
Danielson: A Family Movie (or, Make a Joyful Noise HERE) plays the Northwest Film Forum Dec. 15-21, Fri.-Thurs. at 7 and 9pm. The NWFF is located at 1515 12th
Ave., on Capitol Hill between Pike and Pine. For more information, please click here. You can also call 206-329-2629 for general info and 206-267-5380 for show times.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Michel Gondry Solves Rubik's Cube

It's been awhile since I've posted some random film-related ephemera.
So, here's something I discovered via GreenCine Daily, who swiped it from
Jump Cuts. Naturally the video comes from YouTube.

*****

Jump Cuts text:

Michel Gondry Solves Rubik's Cube in Under 2 Minutes With His Feet

Michel Gondry sure has talent. The maker of uber cool music
videos and feature films also can solve a Rubik's Cube in
under two minutes WITH HIS FEET.



Thanks to David Hudson (GreenCine), James
Israel (Jump Cuts), and YouTube!

Michel Gondry Solves Rubik's Cube

It's been awhile since I've posted some random film-related ephemera.
So, here's something I discovered via GreenCine Daily, who swiped it from
Jump Cuts. Naturally the video comes from YouTube.

*****

Jump Cuts text:

Michel Gondry Solves Rubik's Cube in Under 2 Minutes With His Feet

Michel Gondry sure has talent. The maker of uber cool music
videos and feature films also can solve a Rubik's Cube in
under two minutes WITH HIS FEET.



Thanks to David Hudson (GreenCine), James
Israel (Jump Cuts), and YouTube!