Do you remember my Jack Sparrow wig? Not the first couple – the cheap ones I bought in party stores – but the other one. The one handmaid in the wilds of Rhode Island, and shipped to me at cost, in 2007. I think of it often… perhaps too often. It was a beautiful thing, and I loved it, and now it’s gone. It succumbed – appropriately enough – to the sub-tropical weathering that only the top shelf of a top-floor bedroom in a bachelor male’s life can bring. It bore needs of care and feeding that were unknown to me. It rotted away – it was eaten by maggots, for goodness’ sake – and now it’s gone.
2007, the last time a Pirates of the Caribbean movie came out, was a good candidate for the best year of my life so far. I’m sure it had its downsides, but I can’t remember them; I’ve subsequently made a film about that tendency to run a highlight reel of one’s own experience, when the cup runneth over in one direction or the other – though under that gestalt, whose story is ACCORDION’s, anyway: Anita’s or Adam’s?
Anyways. 2007 is nothing but upside from my perspective. I had the best first date of my life, and then five months later, I had the new best first date of my life. I got to the end of a long, hard thing that had been plaguing me for 2 years, and got to the end of it so decisively that the sky turned green and the storms came. I got into rough-and-tumble shenanigans at a workplace I no longer look back on with any fondness, although those times, at that time, were fond. I joined a secret [redacted] club, and had a first outing there so disastrous – thanks to that Obeah woman – that to this day I am reminded that the only reason I was allowed back at all was that I was in costume, and no one knew I was me. I peeled away the blank canvas on my forearm and discovered Serenity Rose underneath. I read one or two of my ten or so favourite books of all time. Hey – I grew this beard, and never needed to grow another. And I met Sarafina – which would be more than enough for any year to climb to the top of the list. The kind of lady who wants to break in your new blu-ray player by watching Pirates 1 and Pirates 3, but “not 2, because 2 sucks.” Man, even New Year’s was good that year, and New Year’s is never good. Up was down, that year.
And yes, I saw a movie that did something I didn’t think would ever happened – it unseated Return of the Jedi from its 24-year throne as my favourite movie of all time. My love has little to do with what you would call quality. Favourite movies are better than “best movies,” for reasons that have been previously enumerated; because they can be yours for weird, stupid, irrational, and entirely personal reasons, as should all such reasons be. More importantly, I guess, sometimes something comes along that opens the Great Eye, with which you once associated only pain, and shows you that in its depths can be pools of unmitigated joy. Those years, you remember.
"It be too late to alter course now, mateys! Ah ha ha ha ha ha!"
Today was the goods. I’ve seen the 2 best films at the festival in the last 24 hours – Bellflower and A Lonely Place To Die – and met and congratulated both of the filmmakers, both of whom are great, generous with their time, friendly and awesome. One of them drives a post-apocalyptic road machine from The Road Warrior, and brought it to Asheville to roar around in. He’s thinking about installing the whiskey dispenser on the dashboard (featured in his film in a different car), or perhaps a soft serve machine (per Matty Price’s suggestion). The blazing sun was going down over the Carolina as we stood around his jet-black monster, shooting the shit – me, Price, Sean, Kat. Today was the goods. The goods are what you come to the film festival for.
Bellflower and A Lonely Place To Die were programmed against each other, twice. First screenings were last night, and repeats were this afternoon (against the stunt show). We went with Bellflower first, and found an almost empty auditorium (Lonely had just won Best Action Film, and everybody went there). We also found the best film I’ve seen this year. It is an extraordinary thing, one of the films that I just sit and stare at in unabashed, ecstatic joy - I am glad this thing exists. I don’t understand it all, I want to see it a bunch more times, I want to buy the blu-ray and pick it apart like an optics instrument (a relevant metaphor, it turns out, as writer/director/actor/damn him! Evan Glodell constructed the camera “using various vintage camera parts, bellows and Russian lenses, around the Silicon Imaging SI-2K Mini Digital Cinema camera,” per Wikipedia).
The film looks, feels, and sounds extraordinary, and is as complex and dizzyingly apt a “sequel” to the Mad Max franchise as anything George Miller could hope to conceive for the actual, in-production Mad Max 4. It is a tale of the emotional apocalypse, preceding the other one; in the post-nuclear heat of 2011, this is unabashedly correct. Mumblecore non-actors evince humans in a kaleidoscopic landscape in which time, itself, might well become unglued in the final act; every person who sees the film will have a different read on “what happened.” Oh, glorious film.
Bellflower and A Lonely Place To Die are not alike. This is a strength. A Lonely Place To Die is an Impossible Situations movie, a Gordian knot thriller that – indeed – gets chopped at the axis line of its first act, and then becomes a terrifying freefall through open air. Literally so, in one of the film’s greatest reveals (and that is a long, long list); but more so in all the other ways, as a surprising complexity of scenarios and outcomes play themselves out, following the discovery of a little girl, trapped in a box, buried in the woods, by a team of vacationing mountain climbers. The film finally gives Melissa George a role that is worthy of her, and she shoots straight to the top of the surprisingly long list of extraordinary female protagonists that have graced the ActionFest screens this weekend. Director Julian Gilbey drives his Red camera to breathtaking vistas and sharp, startling textures, turning mountains into murderous hulks and BOOMing his soundscape with the best post-Batman Begins rumbles of threat to date.
And I was not five minutes past asking Gilbey about his film and shaking his hand – he was a great, enthusiastic presence, honest and no-bullshitty – when I walked out into the lot and there was Glodell, a cut straight out of his movie, driving his car. There is something profoundly satisfying about telling a filmmaker his is the best I’ve seen so far. Today was the goods. The stunt show happened in the parking lot before we went into Lonely, and it’s just so goddamned good to be out in the sunshine, doing this thing, in this place. Alive. Last night after I dozed my way through my second screening of Hobo With A Shotgun, we went to the after-party at the Arcade, and then to a farm in the middle of the North Carolina woods, where a girl grows her own mushrooms and (for the second time in 2 years!) I met a fellow who builds and operates his own looms.
I joked about how immediately we were all going to face death, given such a clichéd setup, the darkened and perilous barn in the middle of the night. Perhaps death is lurking around the corner a bit more this weekend than it usually ought to; I have seen so much of it. Normally I skate past the concerns about the effects of witnessing gruesome demise in film, but I must admit, having been given repeated espresso shots of it for 96 hours and counting, I am finding my thoughts drifting unguarded to my own mortality on a disconcertingly regular basis. An unconscious side effect? I am coming up on the middle of this thing, hopefully, and not already skittering down the back slope. But who knows. These are things that dance around me when I’m in the cold, air-conditioned dark. Out in the sinking Carolina sun, it all seems farther away.
A crack pipe for a candle. Still from Gaspar Noe’s Enter the Void.
Last year’s TIFF literally changed my life. Since earlier this year, when people ask me “why did you quit your job?”, the real answer is that during one week of TIFF ‘09, some things happened that forced my eyes open on what had gone out of my life; and then a month later, I went somewhere which confirmed my suspicions.
For simplicity’s sake, let’s say “I saw the light.” I was already living a fairly grey, dismal existence, drifting further and further from where/who I wanted to be. I was already having a pretty amazing TIFF ‘09, new worlds open and good times had. And then on a day when sex and death were particularly raw wounds at that particular moment, I saw a film called Enter the Void, about which I’ve written plenty. It’s not necessarily the best movie ever made, though I’d argue it’s somewhere in the top fifty; but such considerations aside, let us say that on a personal level, sex and death and existence collided onscreen in a fusillade of candy-coloured light, in a big wide movie theatre with a big wide screen - and right then and there, all the chords of my mortal life played in unison.
This was not the way things had been, up till that moment. That was September 15, 2009, which was nearly a year ago, but feels like ages more.
So what then? I’d known for a long time that things were not well. Some quality of authenticity was lacking. I knew changes were needed, and I even knew what they were. But something woke up in me that day - an engagement, a connection to the tangible, a little lightsabre of the soul. Enter the Light.
Enter the Void - finger puppet edition.
A couple of days later, I got an email at 8:00 in the morning. It’s Steve - he’s got an extra ticket for U2’s 360 tour, that night. I’d mostly grown out of U2 years ago, didn’t think much of the new album, but free’s free. And again leaving aside all other considerations of time and place - I’d call that a hell of a show, by any man’s yardstick - let it be said that what followed for me at the SkyDome that night was a night-long existential orgasm, and that from my fresh-formed vantage point I was essentially watching Enter the Void: The Stage Show. For what seemed like an infinite moment that night - time and self stretching in all directions around me - I lived in the light. I remember running - yes, running - across town to get from the Dome to the Ryerson to see Symbol after the show was over, and I do recall that every single molecule of me had no mass. I was a beam. I flew.
U2 360 9-17-09.
So now then. The fall continues. The weather gets colder. A month later, I was in Germany. I spent a couple of weeks in Berlin with the woman I love and two good friends. I ate pretzels and drank thick beer; lunch was apfel cake. Nights were spent plunged into thirty dozen artthings and wild jaunts. This happened. On the day after Hallowe’en I was alone, on a train from Germany to Switzerland. I was listening to No Line on the Horizon - good concerts have that way of revealing the music to you - “Magnificent,” I believe - and I pulled out the Black Diary and wrote five or six points by which I will, I believe, live the rest of my life. I wrote a book of law - or better yet, made myself a map. I’ve added to and modified it since. But the work was done. The pipe was in the ground. The light was everywhere.
Out of the darkness, into the light. On the train from Berlin to Schaffhausen.
In Switzerland I stood on the banks of the Rhine and watched the river flow away to Rotterdam, my next stop - and understood, with soul-calming certainty, that the river goes there, and so do I. After Rotterdam I was back in Berlin, and spent the last day there all alone. Girlfriend was in Toronto, and Daniel and Brenda in Venice. I walked from one side of Berlin to the other on a dappled, breezy November day. The city was painted in colour and vision. When my plane left the next day, it flew back over the same track I’d walked, and the city gleamed with golden light. Pathways across the earth, and back home.
Bono in the TRON suit.
About a year ago, then, I got my life damn good and changed. It’s too much to ask that every year, every TIFF, every big grand thing like this, be like that. But boy, I’m sure grateful one of them happened, and that it happened to me.
My favourite image of the Void (from The Sentry). Unrelated to this post.
Would you believe me if I told you I hate phones? Always have. I remember being 7, calling my best friend (Geoffrey MacDonald), and feeling uncomfortable and angry about it. Now I have an iPhone and an insufficient voice plan and a compulsive need to check Twitter every eleven seconds while going anywhere. This results in the Frenzy.
The Frenzy is having too many small tasks and not enough large movement. The Frenzy is what happens when you book yourself (as I often do) to do sixteen discrete things in a single day, in train-car chunks of time which follow one after the other. The Frenzy is being reachable at any time by one or more means of communication, and answering every call/mail/tweet/text. The Frenzy is living in a city and becoming, essentially, a human data processing machine. We’re all cyborgs, now, with more or less of our personalities, minds, and memories stored in the Cloud. This is the way the species is going. It’s hard to get off.
The biggest detriment that the Frenzy brings is the end of complex thought. There is little time to ruminate. Rumination is important. We are facing complex problems. They require dialogue and fully digested thinking. Instead, we have PowerPoint slides. I thought a lot about the Frenzy when I was at my aunt’s cottage two weeks ago. When you take the canoe up the river for several hours and hike deep into untouched woods, you can figure a few things out. Eating a peach is a surprisingly meditative event when you can take your time with it. Reading a book cover to cover accomplishes a lot, too. I never listened to music while I was up there. I didn’t really need to, on account of having nothing to block out.
The opposite of the Frenzy is the Void. I am not a person who does well with total inaction; it brings depression and anxiety. When I have too much to do, I get annoyed; when I have too little to do, I get sad. It’s a balancing act par excellence and I have been doing it ab aeterno. Nonetheless, I am using the various tenses of the word clarity quite a lot in my internal goalsetting right now: clarity, clarify, clarification. There has to be a way to simplify all this without running into the hinterlands with nothing but a shotgun and a map.
In Toronto alone we are facing a few difficult months of choice, and filtering through the self-serving babble will be the single largest obstacle between us and an intelligent, forward-thinking decision. In the States, things are far worse. Worldwide, more so. If we can’t quiet things down, this century may tire of our frenzy and toss us clean off its back.