Posted by: Gregoryno6 | October 27, 2013

A big star shines over Harry Deep Stanton: a (very late) review of Rev ’13, part 2.

For those who missed it: Part 1.

American film maker Zach Clark made his Rev debut in 2011 with Vacation! – which, I confess, I didn’t see. A decision I regret after White Reindeer.

I have a fancy for Christmas movies that put a twist on the whole business of Christmas. I could post a link to the trailer from Santa Claus Conquers The Martians – but this song from Wall of Voodoo is more appropriate. White Reindeer opens with a man being shot by burglars just as the Yuletide season begins.

His widow, Suzanne, played by the lovely Anna Margaret Hollyman

anna_margaret_2009_04_01

(See? I told you she was lovely)

is left to cope with not only that loss but with the compulsory good cheer that emanates from everyone around her. Except for her parents, who announce that they’re separating. And the friend of her deceased husband, who reveals that the two of them spent a lot of time in a lap dancing bar. After news like that, adventures in shoplifting and begging an invite to the neighbours’ Christmas shagfest seem logical.

 

Zach was a Rev guest this year, and talked about the movie in the Luna Bar after the screening. Listening to him describe the problems of film making, I began to understand why the credits on big-studio films include dozens and dozens of names. Independent directors have to achieve the same end result but with a far smaller team. Cat herding looks a pushover by comparison. At the time – back last July – Zach was negotiating a mainstream theatrical release. For North American cinephiles at least, this has come to pass. White Reindeer on DVD is still a possibility.

When Zach invited questions I commented on the numerous regurgitation scenes. It was that or ask for Anna Margaret’s phone number, and I didn’t like my chances there. Zach was happy to talk about puking; he even gave out the recipe for the movie puke. And because he’s a director who leads from the front he had taken a few mouthfuls of the stuff himself. Brave man. In this interview at NoBudge Zach talks about raising the money and going to Puerto Rico for forty-five seconds worth of footage. It beats spending months in the Philippines jungle.

Zach Clark wonders if giving away his puke recipe was such a good idea. 'It could have been bigger than the Colonel's eleven secret herbs and spices.'

Zach wonders if giving away his puke recipe was such a good idea.
‘It could have been bigger than the Colonel’s eleven secret herbs and spices.’

White Reindeer was a good movie for the last day of Rev. The previous night I’d been in Cinema One for the Big Questions Movie of Rev ’13 – Upstream Color.

Shane Carruth released his first move, Primer, nearly ten years ago. I didn’t completely understand its story – it involves overlapping journeys back in time – but I didn’t feel that Carruth was pushing half-baked ideas. I just wasn’t on quite his wavelength. Still, I might have given Upstream Color a pass – if not  for Aidan at CTCMR.

It could have been a much less enigmatic movie. In which case it would have been much less entertaining. Upstream Color is similar to 2001: A Space Odyssey. It leaves much unsaid. Imagine Kubrick’s monolith speaking to Dave Bowman…

2001_monolith

Earthman, you have travelled so far…. and yet your journey has only just begun. I will be your guide, and mentor… I am the sentinel, set in place to watch blahblahblah blah blah. And there goes the mystery.

UC begins with a grub; a larva which, when ingested, makes its host extremely suggestible. A young woman not only signs away all her material possessions but recites verbatim the conversations that took place while the papers were being signed. This is only the first phase of a bizarre process which establishes telepathic contacts on a number of levels.

The process is elaborate, and the steps involved imply not only research but surprise discovery. Its unfolding could have been the work of decades. Or even centuries. But no background is revealed. There’s no mad scientist monologue. There’s no conscience-stricken CIA type regretting hubristic folly. We saw incredible potential for a weapon against terrorism. We could make the bad guys as docile as lambs – or we could turn them against their own people. What happened to you… it wasn’t meant to happen. Upstream Colour isn’t that kind of movie. It leaves the viewer to fill in the gaps. Kris, the young woman, regains awareness and tries to rebuild her life. She makes a new friend in Jeff (played by Carruth himself) and through them we learn as much about the process as we’re allowed to know.

Upstream Color is deceptively calm on the surface. There are no explosions and only minimal CGI. It’s an intelligent movie that opens up many paths for speculation. You’ll want to see it again (DVD and digital download available here) to pick up the clues you missed the first time. Either that or you’ll be leaving in a hurry at the transfer scene.

Upstream-Color

When was the last time you heard September Gurls by Big Star on the radio?

Big Star

Before you answer ‘Never, and who is Big Star anyway?’  consider that this is a band that formed in 1971. Their lead singer was Alex Chilton, formerly of the Box Tops – remember The Letter and Soul Deep? Big Star produced three albums that were commercial failures before they broke up in 1974.

So, again, when was the last time you heard September Gurls by Big Star on the radio?

Uh-huh. Well, as the captain of the Endeavour was wont to say, that’s the way that Joseph banks.

Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me isn’t a documentary about success. But neither is it about failure – it’s about near success, the land of almost-but-not-quite. Big Star had a charismatic front man; they had talent; and above all they had the support of music writers across the US. And in spite of all these advantages they still came to rest in that region of shadows. Personality clashes. Hassles with the record company. Inefficient distribution. The path to success is narrow and easily lost.

I knew of Big Star from the liner notes on my Box Tops greatest hits LP, issued by Rhino Records during the 1980s. The band was well gone by then. There is sometimes a comfort to those who achieve near success; they can become an influence on those who follow. Brian Eno said that the Velvet Underground’s first album sold only thirty thousand copies, but everyone who bought a copy started a band. Big Star’s reach has been similarly broad. REM, Cheap Trick, and Jeff Buckley are just a few of the performers who have covered Big Star songs.

There’s more from here from studio engineer John Fry.

But you’ve still never heard September Gurls, have you?

To close my review of Revelation 2013 – just as it closes the movie.

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