Friday, February 25, 2011

Snap On, Snap Off

While I was working the other day, I took a break and checked out the happenings on the street below.

Looking down from my apartment window, I immediately took notice of the Snap-On Tools truck parked directly across the street.

For countless years that truck pulled into our shop and took orders for new and interesting hardware. All of our mechanics, of course, owned snazzy Snap-On tool storage boxes that were filled with, for the most part, Snap-on tools of all shapes and sizes, and all torques and tensions.

With the turning of each year, the Snap-On guy would leave behind another iconic relic: the annual Snap-on Tools Calendar.

By the Snap-On reckoning, each and every day was rendered remarkably attractive, playful and interesting. When motivation waned, one look at the Snap-On calendar and you re-embraced your work with a renewed vim and vigour. A bit of savvy social engineering by the Snap-On corporation.

Until, that is, the corporation decided to discontinue it in 1994. Snap-On Inc. issued a statement that the annual calendar was "not consistent with the image we want to portray for our company, our dealers, or our customers ... we have made a decision not to do anything that might reinforce these negative images."

With one fell swoop of econo-political correctness, the age of the Snap-On calendar was terminated. I started working at my Dad's shop in 1984 when I was a prepubescent punk -- for the next ten years the Snap-On calendar marked the days of my summer and after school drudgery. A quick web search reveals that there is a brisk online market for these relics. More than likely, many of them could have been found lying about with many other antiquated artifacts cached within the ancient nooks and crannies of our old shop.

Sadly, all the relics, along with all the memories, went up in smoke when the shop burned to the ground a couple of years ago. For me, and especially for my Dad, no price could ever be put on that.

Monday, February 14, 2011

My Bloody Valentine

Just got back from my 8 am date with the dentist.

Been spitting up blood all morning. Now I just have to make sure I don't bite my tongue off. The most brutal session yet. I've known for years that the Reckoning was nearly nigh, but nothing can prepare you for that.

Even the supposedly soothing soundtrack was annoying. I've been trying to get the saccharine strains of Tears for Fears and John Cougar Mellencamp out of my head for hours now, but the haunting hasn't yet relented.

As for the Salvador Dali-esque painting that adorned the ceiling, and that one is forced to stare at during the entire procedure? Well, it hardly moderated the fight or flight adrenalin that was naturally flowing through my veins. A baroque grotesquerie of gnashing teeth flailing freely in a surrealist soup, it only heightened the sense that a carnal confession was being wrested out of me. "You haven't been flossing, have you?" I imagined that a leather bound copy of the Malleus Maleficarum lay open upon the adjacent instrument tray.

Only half-way through the exercise did I remember that it was Valentine's Day, and that exactly three years ago this morning I was enduring, for the final time, the iron maidened massage of a radiation treatment. I became aware of a disturbing trend traceable to this dubious day of the Gregorian reckoning: devastating radiance, destructive drilling, debt inducing debits for the girlfriend, et al.

But the legacy of this day goes beyond the personal.

Captain Cook was clubbed and stabbed to death in the Hawaiian surf on this day in 1779.

Or Al Capone's massacre of a rival Chicago gang in 1929.

Or the release of "My Bloody Valentine" in 1981, the Canadian classic that chronicles the ghost of a coal miner as he pick axes his way through a host of Canuck actors all mired in mediocrity. Having watched that movie a few years ago on late night cable, I remember it most as a two hour advert for Moosehead lager. And since I like Moosehead, I kept on watching. It was remade in the U.S. a few years ago as an ephemeral pap-fest entitled "My Bloody Valentine 3-D"

But "ain't that America"? Sorry, I still can't get that John Cougar Mellencamp shit out of my head.

All that is left of Sancta Valentinus is a grinning skull in a Roman basilica. And as so many people hustle out to buy chocolate, flowers and greeting cards, or go to the dentist, he's laughing at all of them. And the Roman basilica is laughing too ... all the way to the bank.

Here's something else we can blame on "My Bloody Valentine":

Sunday, February 6, 2011


Its Super Bowl Sunday, but I can't really get into the mood.

Bomber and I took our expansion Fantasy Football team to the Bowl game earlier this year. We ending up losing, but received no money for finishing second, both in the regular season standings and in the playoffs. I still have a sour taste over that, and my NFL interest waxes and wanes on a three year cycle anyway. I don't know the personnel as good as I used to when I toyed around with the idea of writing a book about the entry draft in professional sports, particularly hockey and football. That project, like many others of that time, fell stillborn from my imagination. These days, however, I have a couple other projects gestating that I'm pretty convinced will see the light of day.

On the eve of Super Sunday, I decided to have one of those old fashioned, messy movie nights and live the Good Life. I loaded up on the artery encrusting munchies and picked up three as yet unspooled titles.

The Informant! had its moments. I didn't know what to think about Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call - New Orleans . Either it was the first work of genius from Werner Herzog since the 1970s, or it was truly execrable. Irregardless, it needs to be seen to be believed. And no, its not as good as Abel Ferrara's Bad Lieutenant, although everyone involved denies that it is a remake.

But the highlight of the night was Tokyo Sonata. I've loved each and every film that I've seen by Kiyoshi Kurasawa (the "other Kurosawa"), and that did not change. I had previously seen it described as his first departure from, for lack of a better term, the "horror" genre, but this seemingly Ozu-esque domestic drama displayed all of the signs and markings of the very best Kiyoshi films.

In the course of watching it I was transported back to my last years in Vancouver.

My last years of sessional serfdom.

After spending many Calypsodic years in the bucolic beauty of the Land of the Lotuseaters that was Point Grey and Kitsilano, I served my last two years in the edgier and eastern part of town. House sitting at Broadway and Main showed me a new side of Vancouver, and I have to admit I spent a lot of time (and money) ekeing out a bohedonist living. But it was in the final year of my west coast adventure that I started to consume a lot of Asian films, especially Japanese ones.

I was the only white guy living in a Sikh neighbourhood. A neighbourhood where all the streets bore suitably Scottish names like "Waverley", "Dumfries", and "Argyle". The only other non-South Asian guy in the area was my Chinese landlord and his family.

It was during that year, in between the thrice-weekly commutes to the university college buried in the Fraser Valley, that I introduced myself to the often ragged and twisted glories of Japanese cinema. I discovered a place called "Happy Bats Cinema" on Main Street that seemed to specialize in well-known and obscure films from way Across the Sea. It was wonderful to see the traditional yakuza, samurai and melodramatic genres refracted by the new and different sensibilities of the new generation. Many Japanese people I know tell me that the majority of Japanese filmgoers prefer their mainstream manga and melodrama. Their J-Horror. Even eiga pink soft porn. But the film festival favourites always made me wonder what the hell had happened in postwar Japanese culture that made these films so unusual and taboo-shattering.

Watching these films in my east end garret helped to build my levee and salve the wounds of depression and self-sabotage. My Chinese landlord had relatives who, counter-intuitively, owned a Japanese restaurant, and about once per week he brought me a bag containing a week's worth of "unused" sushi. During those frequent lapses of reason when I didn't worry about the freshness of the otherwise quite good sushi, I would enjoy it while watching my Japanese films. By the time I moved out, I had a freezer full of uneaten sushi than had to be jettisoned.

With the passage of time, these have become fond remembrances that have added to a treasury of meritorius memory from that time and place.

Five years ago, I couldn't wait to get out of Vancouver. Now, every time I see the familiar scenes from that place, I feel the tug of nostalgia.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Counterfactual Cinema, vol II

First off, full disclosure.

Much of this information is apocryphal.

I tripped over its scatterings while scavenging across the Wild Wide Web. Like found fish wrap. Like a message in a bottle. Like pages of a lost manuscript unspooling from a toilet roll.

But that's the allure of the counterfactual. Without the fettering of empirical "facts", or whatever we reckon those elusive things to be, we are free to imagine. To compare. To be nostalgically wistful about. To say "what if?", gratefully or regretfully.

Imagine, if you will, "The Wrestler" without Mickey Rourke. Could a more appropriate "old broken down piece of meat" from the 1980s have been unearthed? After the late 80s, nothing is really recognizable within his filmography until 2008. I was pleasantly surprised with that film, even after I had written that director off after "The Fountain". However, while I suspect that it wasn't Aronofsky's idea, Randy the Ram was originally offered to the ever underwhelming Nicholas Cage. The same actor who named himself after a 1970s comic book hero, a character that he desperately wants to portray on film. Problem is, Nick Cage is black, and Nicholas Cage isn't. But that probably won't stop him. Original source material means little to the big studio machine, and probably even less to Nicholas Cage.

Perhaps I am partial to "The Wrestler" only because every time I visit my folks in the ancestral Glen, it is being shown on one of their satellite TV movie channels. I think I have watched at least portions of it four or five times. Usually there is not a second watchable film on offer across the Bell ExpressVu constellation of channels.

If Rourke hadn't made his comeback in that film, we would have been deprived of such stellar straight to video classics as "Killshot" and "The Informers". He seems to be gratefully backsliding into Pam Grier-type cult obscurity, failing to take advantage of the career resuscitation.

Speaking of revived careers, John Travolta almost never got his second chance to dilute the overall quality of American cinema. Daniel Day-Lewis wanted the role of Vincent Vega and apparently pushed hard to get it.

Could you imagine anybody else other than Robert DeNiro playing Jimmy Conway? Allegedly it was turned down by Al Pacino (who, I recall, had just made his return to the business around that time).

Cary Grant as Bond? He was the first choice.

Sean Connery as Gandalf? Maybe if he hadn't retired to advance the cause of Scottish secession.

Most shocking to me, Lee Marvin had to turn down the role of Pike Bishop in "The Wild Bunch" in order for it to fall to William Holden. I can't imagine anybody else but Holden (a legendary drinker whose career was in decline as he himself aged) in that role within a film about aging and the concomitant decline of masculinity.