Cover Songs That Decimate the Original in Just About Every Way: “Wild Horses” by The Sundays

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I tend to bristle at the idea of crediting an artist of performing the “definitive” version of someone else’s song. It just feels unfair to me, like it trivializes the craft of songwriting or renders it subservient to the performance. People are so smug about it, too. I know they’re not consciously doing it, but the kinds of people who heap that kind of praise upon someone who’s doing a cover version seem to treat them like they’re tearing down some dilapidated old structure and building a new, better song in its place. I dunno, it seems icky to me. A good cover version can be ten kinds of mind-bendingly beautiful, but not if the base song is absolute garbage. You’re shining a new light on an existing object, and it can bring out dimensions that weren’t immediately evident in plain sight, but unless you’re overhauling it, your work is to explore and expand.

That said, it’s hard to argue against the sheer deliciousness of British indie-pop band The Sundays’s gorgeously plaintive take on the Rolling Stones’s “Wild Horses”. The original is a real nice song, and I mean no disrespect to the Stones– though I’m not by any means a fan of theirs, I think there’s an undeniable level of craftmanship in their very best songs, and “Wild Horses” certainly falls in that category in my book. Thing is, I can’t really stand listening to the original. It drags and it plods and it’s a laborious country ballad with some lovely moments of tender sincerity but not much in the way of mellifluousness. Unlike the sheer magnifiscence of stately “Moonlight Mile”, which I wrote about a while ago, I find it difficult to sit through.

The Sundays version, though? A quietly transcendental arrangement of echoey, flickering-streetlight guitars over the silkiest acoustic base since Johnny Marr gave us “Please Please Please Let Me Get What I Want”, Harriet Wheeler’s beguiling vocals carrying us gently along. I love this version. I love it a thousand times more than it’d be physically possible for me to love the original. It’s more yearning, more wistful, more uncertain, just more of everything that I love about music They took a plodding trudge of a song and carved it into something that feels that much more real, more intimate; whispered words between lovers in the dead of the night, a shared moment from across the room, something existing quietly and gladly beyond any grand gesture. Not only do they elevate an already-solid song to new heights, they craft a new, distinct emotional space out of it, and spend the next four minutes and forty-five seconds loitering placidly within it.

And really, only a reading this sublime could make a line as dopey as “let’s do some living after we die” sound like anything other than a discarded Dashboard Confessional line circa 2003. I don’t care that this version was in a beer commercial and in the Buffy soundtrack. This is the version that defines the song for me. And it is glorious.

Listen to The Sundays teach the old coots how it’s done by clicking the embedded player link below.


Mr. Programmer, I’ve Got My Hammer: Five Ramones Gems Worth Revisiting

I was in the middle of writing this blog post when news broke that Tommy Ramone passed away. His death coincides quite freakishly with a sudden surge of enthusiasm for the Ramones’ music– I wrote about it last week–  that I have no real explanation for. This made me very sad. I really liked Tommy. He always struck me as the most mature of the Ramones. He lacked most of the neuroses and anxiety that seemed to afflict the rest of the band, so in a way it made a whole lot of sense to have him manning the drums. He may have only occupied that spot for a few years, but he played on their three biggest albums: Ramones, Leave Home and Rocket to Russia; albums that essentially kickstarted a musical revolution both stateside and abroad.

Those first three albums are absolute masterpieces. Though most folks will talk about that first record (and it is a fine record), my personal favorite is Leave Home, an album which more accurately reflects their live sound, without the pronounced channel separation of their debut. I wrote a bit about Tommy last week, and posted what I consider to be their greatest live document: a video of their legendary (and riot-inducing) 1977 performance in London’s The Rainbow. But I also wanted to discuss some of the unheralded Ramones classics that Tommy wasn’t a part of. Of course, everyone knows “I Wanna Be Sedated” and “The KKK Took My Baby Away”, but I thought I’d take a look at some of those later songs that nobody really talks about. So for your listening enjoyment, here’s recorded proof that the band just wouldn’t let up: five Ramones gems you probably haven’t paid much attention to.

“Questioningly” from Road to Ruin (1978)

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Easily the poppiest, most melodic, most unabashedly sugary out of all the songs from the first four albums (save for maybe their wonderful cover of Sonny Bono and Jack Nitzche’s “Needles and Pins”, but that’s a cover so it doesn’t count). This beautiful little number was overshadowed by other Road to Ruin cuts like “I Wanna Be Sedated” and “Don’t Come Close”, but to my ears it’s much more affecting. Penned by bassist Dee Dee (mind you, the same person who’d written earlier songs like “Now I Wanna Sniff Some Glue”), this song displayed a sense of romantic vulnerability that, while somewhat present in earlier songs, was buried under buzzsaw guitar riffs and ridiculously high tempos, as well as the band’s trademark sense of humor. There are no yuk-yuks here. This is a strikingly earnest song about regret, heartbreak and lost love, which is underlined by everything from Joey’s vocal performance to the song’s country-western ballad production flourishes. Johnny Ramone, the band’s guitarist and steadfast disciplinarian, reportedly hated the song.

Road to Ruin was meant to be the band’s big breakthrough in the US; they spent more time on it than on any of their previous albums, making sure the arrangements were lush and radio-ready. It only really became considered a classic in hindsight, after a remixed version of “I Wanna Be Sedated” for a Greatest Hits collection gave them some modest chart success in the mid-80s. When it came out in 1978, it received very little radio attention and lukewarm reviews. Mainstream radio’s indifference was a crushing blow to the band’s morale, and led directly to one of their most controversial  albums…

“I Can’t Make it on Time” from End of the Century (1979)

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In light of Road to Ruin’s disappointing chart performance, the band decided to work with their first celebrity producer, the legendary Phil Spector, on their follow-up album End of the Century. Look, this should have worked. Phil Spector, pop producer extraordinaire, a master at crafting songs that jump out and pull you in, inventor of the Wall of Sound. And the Ramones, a band whose vocal melodies were always deeply rooted in the radio pop of Spector’s era, and whose straight-ahead overdriven buzzsaw guitar attack was their own rudimentary approximation to Spector’s orchestrated Wall of Sound approach. This should have resulted in a pop album for the ages. This should have been the record that finally earned the Ramones some commercial success. This should have…  sounded better.

Unfortunately, the end result to the long and arduous recording sessions, fraught with tension and reportedly even threats of violence, was an album that neither matched the raw power of the Ramones nor approached the transcendental pop stylings of Spector’s best work. In fact, it clearly displayed that Spector had no idea how to produce hard rock music: the arrangements were a mess, the drum sound sloppy, and Johnny’s guitar paper-thin and anemic. The two songs were Spector’s approach actually worked were perhaps the album’s most famous tracks: lead single “Do You Remember Rockn’roll Radio” and the plaintive ballad “Danny Says”. The rest of the album sounds bad, even though the songs are good. Take “This Ain’t Havana”, for example, a rollicking two-minute blast with a ridiculously infectious melody that would’ve sounded amazing in Leave Home or Rocket to Russia. Or this song, my favorite song in the album, “I Can’t Make it on Time”, with its irrepressible shout-along chorus. Look past the tepid sound and you’ll find a stone-cold Ramones classic, and a great pop tune. This is true for the other songs as well. There’s a great album here, ill-served by the bizarre production choices of a veritable madman.

The saddest part? It didn’t even chart.

“I Can’t Get You Out of My Mind” from Brain Drain (1989)

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By 1989 the dream was dead. The Ramones had floundered for most of the 80s in an effort to gain commercial relevance within a pop culture landscape that had no space for their ilk. They had attempted big-name producers, recorded absurdly catchy songs, collaborated with some of the biggest artists of the decade yet continued to operate well below the radar. Aside from the aforementioned remix of “I Wanna Be Sedated”, their 80s singles were crushing radio bombs, and their albums were uneven; you had the choppy pop exuberance of Pleasant Dreams, the stripped-down proto-hardcore of Too Tough to Die, the bizarre mish-mash of punk rock and synthpop stylings of Animal Boy. Still, as much as their 80s discography felt like increasingly erratic attempts at radio success, each record yielded a few gems that approached the intensity and fun of their 70s output.

For my money, the best album from this turbulent period was its very last one: 1989’s Brain Drain. I purchased this at the height of my Ramones fandom, maybe about 14 years ago. This track was an instant favorite. “Can’t Get You Out Of My Mind” is a dark and feverish song about romantic obsession, with a suitably dramatic performance by Joey. It has about 9 words in it, because that’s all it needs to have. It captures the overall mood of the album, a dark and murky record filled with angry and desolate songs. From the impassioned opener “I Believe in Miracles”, to the sparse and deceivingly poppy “All Screwed Up”, through roaring numbers like “Learn to Listen” and “Zero Zero UFO”. It’s honestly one of my favorite Ramones albums, and one that rarely gets talked about.

(This was also Dee Dee’s last album with the band before he left to pursue his hilarious rap career.)

“Tomorrow She Goes Away” from Mondo Bizarro (1992)

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Dee Dee’s replacement was CJ Ramone, an enthusiastic young Marine who’d grown up a diehard fan of the band, and parfticularly of the man he was replacing. CJ felt, and sounded, like a breath of fresh air for a band that had grown creatively stagnant. CJ’s presence brought a much-needed levity to the group, which had become embittered and resentful towards each other. His studio debut with the band, 1992’s Mondo Bizarro, featured a band that sounded vibrant and hungry for the first time in many years. It contained some of the band’s catchiest songs in a decade: tracks like “Censorshit”, an open letter to Tipper Gore with a devilishly hooky chorus of “aw Tipper come on, ain’t you been getting it on?, Other highlights include the demented rave-up “The Job That Ate My Brain”, the soulful lament of “Poison Heart”, and the tender country ballad “I Won’t Let it Happen”. The songs were sharp, bright, well-crafted and with a healthy dose of macabre humor; this was a welcome change after the stark murkiness of their last couple of albums.

“Tomorrow She Goes Away” is probably my favorite track from the entire album, capturing the youthful enthusiasm of this era. There was a lot of that going on; the song “It’s Gonna Be OK”, a love letter to Ramones fans, featured the lines “got good feelings about this year; all is very well, CJ is here”. For the first time in years, the band was back to their early-career optimism, making public declarations about how this felt like they were at the precipice of something big, Well, they were. They just didn’t know it wouldn’t really include them. 

“Born to Die in Berlin” from Adios Amigos (1995)

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1994 was a big year for punk rock music in the United States. Green Day, The Offspring, Bad Religion, Rancid, NOFX– all bands that had been massively influenced by the Ramones– all attained a level of commercial success that had so far eluded the band that inspired them all. And even earlier, before that, the early 90s also saw an explosion of bands that were name-checking the Ramones in interviews: Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Nirvana. It felt like the time was finally right for them; the pop culture landscape had caught up, people were finally listening to their brand of distorted, melodic, fast-tempo music. But… it wasn’t their music. Ramones guitars were all over the radio, yes, but it wasn’t the Ramones playing them. It was everybody else. It was bands that had been inspired by the Ramones approach. Meanwhile, their own albums Mondo Bizarro and Acid Eaters (a really great cover album featuring punked-up 60s songs) had failed to capture the public’s interest. People were just not paying attention. Success just wasn’t for them.

Adios Amigos was their farewell album. As the name implies, the band had decided to call it quits after decades of struggling commercially while being heralded by every rock musician and music critic as the greatest band in the world. They’d just had enough. And their last album reflected that; the songs were full of anger and bitterness, from “It’s Not For Me To Know” to “Take The Pain Away” and “She Talks To Rainbows”, it was a sound of a band that had had enough of giving their heart and soul to a public that just didn’t seem to care. It also kept some of the traditional Ramones pep and snarkiness, of course, but even those tracks seemed fatalistic: “I’ve Got a Lot to Say”, “Life’s a Gas” and their cover of the brilliant Tom Waits song “I Don’t Wanna Grow Up” (which sounded like it was written to be a Ramones song in the first place).

The Ramones finally received the recognition they deserved, yes, but many years overdue. Ramones t-shirts are a common sight these days, and it seems every indie band in the world has played a cover or two of their songs. The public seems to have a pretty good idea of who they were, thanks to books, films, television and the Internet. They finally permeated into pop culture. In their lifetime as a band, however, they were the start of something big, but went largely unheralded and ignored. The last song of Adios Amigos, and as thus the final track in the Ramones studio discography, is one of my all-time favorite Ramones songs, the furious “Born to Die in Berlin”. Roaring guitars over a plaintive, soulful chorus: “sometimes I feel I just can’t win”. The bloody, screaming death of a mighty beast.


… And Then There Were None. RIP Tommy Ramone.

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More than any other band I’ve ever called a favorite, loving the Ramones feels like a lifelong allegiance. You’re making a pledge as part of something bigger than yourself. You take a stand with the underdog– the rejected, the dejected, the downtrodden and beleaguered. You celebrate everything that is wrong with you and everything that makes this mess of an existence so uniquely beautiful. You laugh and you cry in equal measure, but you’re glad because you’re out there feeling. This is what made their music so vibrant and so enduring. In all its malformed simplicity and unabashed goofiness, it was loaded with heart. When you declare yourself a fan of this band, you know that it’s about more than the catchy and energetic tunes, but also the fact that the dysfunctional weirdos who made those tunes were able to rise above their maladies & sundry neuroses to make something this joyous.

I hesitate to talk about this kind of stuff because it sounds like exactly the kind of pseudo mystic bullshit that people come up with as a way to introduce themselves into the narrative of somebody else’s tragedy, but I think I’ve accumulated some goodwill in the pages of this here webrag. And let me also preface this by saying that I am 100% certain that this is nothing but a crazy coincidence; I don’t believe there are cosmic forces at play here, there’s no great wind upon which we are being carried, putting each factor into a specific order as part of some greater meaning. This is just what I consider to be a remarkable coincidence.

I love the Ramones. They are, and long have been, one of my all-time favorite bands. But sometimes I’ll go through long stretches of time– months, even years– when I just won’t feel like listening to their music. It’ll still be there in the background, I’ll still smile whenever I happen upon one of their songs, but I won’t actively seek them out. This is pretty reasonable; for as prolific as they were, there’s only so many times you can listen to the same bunch of albums, the slight variations in barr chord sequences over and over again. However, every once in a while, I’ll go into a Ramones frenzy; an extended period– usually weeks, sometimes months– when they’re all I’ll listen to. Whether it’s the later stuff or the old classics or the unfairly maligned middle period, I’ll go through these sudden bursts of Ramones enthusiasm where all I wanna hear is the sound of that buzzsaw guitar, those crude & angular basslines, and Joey’s soulful vocals singing teenage love songs or songs about getting lobotomies. Alright, now here’s the creepy part…

The last three of these Ramones frenzies have happened to coincide with the death of one of the original band members. No, I don’t mean it was their death that prompted me to listen to them– rather, I’ll have a sudden and inexplicable urge to listen to their music for weeks, at the end of which the news will come out that one of the four original members has bitten the dust. It happened first with Joey, during the early days of my Ramones fandom. Soon after that, Dee Dee. And a few years later, Johnny. And for the first time in years, I had one of these Ramones frenzies recently; for the last month or so, I’ve been listening through their full discography, and re-reading my books about them. I was even in the middle of writing a blog post about some of their overlooked gems (proof). And just a couple of hours ago, I find out that Tommy Ramone– their first drummer, and their last original member– has passed away at age 65. Beyond the sadness of his loss, I find this coincidence unnerving.

(I shared this phenomenon with a friend recently. “I’ve been listening to nothing but the Ramones for the last few days,” I said. “The last few times this happened, a band member has turned out dead.” “Maybe you should stop listening to them before you kill them all,” she joked. For the sake of remaining members Marky, Richie and CJ, maybe I should. Although they were not part of the original lineup, so perhaps they’re safe.)

Tommy was their drummer from 1974 to 1978, playing on their first three albums (their biggest and most influential). He was also a producer for several of their later albums, having left the band due to a distaste for touring. From everything that I’ve seen in interviews and read in books, he was a kind and funny guy, with a level of self-awareness that perhaps eluded the rest of the group. He wasn’t a showy drummer, but he understood exactly what his drumming needed to be. He understood that Ramones songs were really just pop songs set on fire. And since my upcoming post is about their overlooked gems (and there really aren’t any overlooked gems in their first 3 albums), it felt strange not to pay my respects to a man whose role in forming the band and setting them on their course contributed to the shaping of my teen years and my musical identity. So long, brother, and Gabba Gabba to you.

Here’s Tommy in his prime, playing a legendary gig with the Ramones at The Rainbow in London, 1977.


Everyist Blogcast: The Co-Hosts that Never Were (with guest Nate Dunaway)

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Boy, it’s been quiet in here, huh? Call off the search parties, though, rein in the hounds; I’m just a little busy. And busy is good. Busy means money. Busy means I’m out there doing more than just lie around in bed all day weeping while I listen to In the Wee Small Hours for the 5032nd time– which doesn’t sound so bad, but money is better.

In this edition of the blogcast, we continue our exploration into the minds and ears of a wide array of music listeners from all over the music spectrum. Last time around, Rease Kirchner served us a hefty dose of guitar-laden indie rock. This time, I’m chatting with Austin’s own Nate Dunaway, a thespian with a proclivity for the rap genre.

A long time ago, Nate and I had the idea of starting a podcast together. Now, unfortunately, we’re both pretty creative people, and creative people are often kind of flaky. After weeks of deliberation, we couldn’t come up with a compelling enough premise, or more specifically, something that hadn’t been done to death in the already overcrowded world of podcasting. We thought about it real hard. So hard, in fact, that we wound up not doing it. So this here pod is a taste of what could’ve been.

I tasked Nate with coming up with his idea of a perfect playlist, and Nate wowed me by producing perhaps the most gloriously disparate list of songs I’ve ever had the pleasure of listening to.

Here’s Nate’s playlist:

Danny Brown ft. Purity Ring- “25 Bucks”
Animal Collective- “What Would I Want? Sky”
Death Grips- “Takyon”
Talk Talk- “Inheritance”
Jonny Greenwood- “Sweetness of Freddie”
ASAP Rocky- “LVL”

Click the embedded player below to listen to Nate’s soothing southern tones as we discuss my precarious knowledge of the hip-hop genre, sing the praises of Paul Thomas Anderson’s 2012 masterpiece, whine over our failed podcast pilot, and talk over each other a lot. All of this, and the songs listed above, for the low low price of one mouse click. Hit it:


Download: http://jorgefarah.files.wordpress.com/2014/05/natepod.mp3


Come Over Da House: The Beautiful Absurdity of Baman Piderman

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This is a picture of me and my best friend Caropi hanging out with Baman and Piderman. It was drawn for me by Lindsay and Alex Small-Butera, creators of the show “Baman Piderman”. It’s the background image on one of my work monitors. It’s nice to be greeted by a silly piece of art that lifts my spirits and makes me smile. Even if the smile dissipates just as quickly as it appeared, when you move past it to actually start working, when you’re confronted with the sometimes unbearable ughness of everyday existence.  It just…  helps, somehow.

“Baman Piderman” is a wonderful animated show on the Mondo Media network (makers of Happy Tree Friends and Dick Figures, among other things). It stars Baman and Piderman, two oafish and childlike next-door-neighbors. Baman and Piderman occupy an alternate dimension, ungoverned by conventional laws of physics or logic, a blank canvas world where raindrops are shards of glass, snowflakes are monstrously gigantic and houses can be steered away from danger. Despite what their outfits may suggest, Baman and Piderman have very little to do with Batman and Spider-Man; instead, those characters were a mere starting point for something much stranger. Baman is an amorphous blob with the ability to grow extra limbs. His best friend Piderman is hapless and given to panic attacks. They share their world with Baman’s girlfriend Tuba (an actual sentient tuba), their friend Pumkin (a mild-mannered and vaguely hipstery pumpkin, with a body), Pumkin’s love interest Squib (a genderless mess of green tentacles from another dimension). a couple of basement-dwelling “villains” (named That Guy and The Other Guy, too dumb and affable to be actual villains) as well as a few other supporting characters. The show follows Baman and Piderman as they plop around laboriously, give each other presents, go on adventures in alternate dimensions and escape the cakes.

I have a hard time articulating what I find so compelling about this relentlessly bizarre show, so I invite you to watch this video; it compiles the first 15 episodes of the show:

There are 8 more episodes after the ones collected above, and they’re great– arguably the best of the series. You can find those starting here. If you’re initially put off by the nonsensical stories and non sequitur dialogue, stick with it. It gets progressively more layered and story-driven; as Lindsay and Alex grew as animators and storytellers, their vision for Baman Piderman also became more refined. The episodes got longer and more elaborate, displaying a surprising amount of depth and character development as well as a remarkable sense of in-universe continuity. In short, it gets better the more you watch.

At the heart of it, beyond its pop culture appropriation and clever trope subversions and deliberate kookiness, it’s just a sweet show about friendship. The kind of unconditional friendship and support that most people want to have but is actually pretty fucking rare; where all the platitudes about how “friends are the family you choose” ring true, almost painfully true, beyond the level of feel-good Hallmark greeting card fluff. In all its stupid simplicity, it touches on something profound: how that childlike level of devotion fades slowly as we grow older and more cynical, and friendships become more about posturing and killing time and networking. Baman and Piderman need each other in a very real way, a very pure way, and every character they welcome into their absurd social circle becomes another set of arms to lean on (except for when they don’t have arms, like Tuba). I know it sounds ridiculous for a show that, on a surface level, doesn’t look like much more than a parody of two ridiculously ubiquitous comic book characters that have already been parodied to death, but it really did evolve into its own, uniquely beautiful thing.

The show was woefully put on hold by Mondo in late 2012, and it’s laid dormant ever since. Today, however, Lindsay and Alex unveiled a Kickstarter campaign to fund the show’s final five episodes and bring the story to a satisfying conclusion. They’re also releasing a staggering amount of sweet merchandise as perks to campaign donors. If you dig the show, if you dig animation, surreal stories and ukuleles and cake, please consider donating to their Kickstarter page (also, be sure to watch the campaign video, which is wonderful in its own right). Everything comes to an end, yes, but some things deserve to end the right way. Tuba, enjoy your dinner.


BAFICI Report: Days Four, Five & Six (The Mid-Festival Slump)

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A festival like BAFICI, which prides itself in its wild eclecticism and its ability to signal-boost tiny little art films from far-off lands, is clearly going to have some clunkers as part of its vast lineup. But the disappointments are part of the joy of a film festival like this, a veritable smorgasboard of cinematic expression– the “disappointments” are as much a part of the experience as the amazing discoveries that were smattered throughout its impossibly wide (500+ films!) selection. I never really walk out of a BAFICI screening thinking “wow, that was a waste of time”, even if the movie was absolute garbage. I’m glad for the experience of being exposed to accidents and misfires and risks that ultimately don’t pan out. It’s a wonderful freak show.

It just so happened that days four, five and seven of my BAFICI experience this year were littered with these aforementioned clunkers– a couple of flat-out bad films, a couple of underwhelming “meh”s, and one astounding discovery. Days seven, eight, nine and ten were much better– we’ll be covering those next. For now, here’s what was on deck for my second batch of films (following the first three days, which were covered in this post).

Downloaded

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I should start out by saying that the above picture is not a still from Downloaded. I couldn’t find any good ones online, so I decided to simply honor the director by putting up a picture of Bill & Ted. And I know, I know, the whole film is actually posted online, I could’ve gone on the stream and simply captured a screenshot from it… but I just kinda wanted to post a picture of Bill and Ted.

Look, whenever you’re dealing with a topic as complex and as polarizing as “downloading culture”, you’re going to face the challenge of whether to give your film an ideological bent at all. Does your documentary have a thesis statement, or do you aim to simply present the facts and perspectives as objectively as possible from both sides of the argument? One is infinitely more entertaining and engaging than the other. Of course, it would be a terrible thing for documentary cinema in general if the filmmakers’ only concern was to push an agenda onto the audience, but with a topic as (relatively) banal as illegal downloading? Take a stance, man. This film is fine– it’s entertaining, it’s incredibly informative, it’s most definitely worth a watch. But it’s not particularly gripping, it’s not particularly powerful, and it doesn’t tell me anything I haven’t already seen in the comments section of a Trichordist blog post. Solid, but you could reasonably expect better from Alex Winter.

How to Disappear Completely

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Harmony Korine’s 2008 experimental VHS film “Trash Humpers” is the last time I remember leaving a screening feeling so bewildered, confused and ill at ease… and that’s a film about old men having sex with trash cans in a post-apocalyptic future. That now-overused message board expression “what did I just watch?” is completely apt for something like this. An absurd, decidedly surrealistic, sometimes claustrophobic mood piece that weaved oneiric passages into traditional narrative in a way where they seemed to struggle for dominance. This film is visually stunning, but ill at ease; compelling at times, but ultimately tedious. I’d like to watch it again, though not exactly for pleasure. Mostly I just want to make some sense out of it.

Gente en Sitios

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Semi-improvised slice-of-life reenactments by sundry Spanish pseudocelebrities. Platitudes and self-conscious quirkiness. On a bad day, I’d call this tiresome, gimmicky bullshit. But there are a few things I enjoyed about the film: the theme of a “country in crisis” removed from the realm of the abstract and presented in the form of real people, which makes for a powerful statement. Also, there’s a palpable warmth to the proceedings, like a group of friends putting together their annual talent show. There are bemused chuckles scattered throughout, like a less clever Jarmusch film. But yeah. Tiresome. Tiresome is the word.

The Wait

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Execrable. Easily the lowlight of the festival. A film so dull, so clumsy in its execution, so flimsy and inconsequential and empty that I’d almost completely forgotten about it the next day. Awkward, pointless and excruciatingly dull, its only saving grace being its cast. I’d almost prefer an offensively terrible movie to something so staggeringly mediocre; at least I’d have been entertained, rather than just feeling like I’m watching a work-in-progress where the final act is missing. The final act where something actually happens.

Mistaken for Strangers

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Talk about a sharp contrast. This was easily the best movie of the “mid-festival slump” and perhaps one of my favorite films of the entire festival. This movie is an embarrassment of riches: laugh-out-loud hilarious, deeply affecting, incredibly clever and poignant and real. A film that had every opportunity to be a run-of-the-mill “rock doc” about a band on the road, but through luck and consequence ended up being something much more engaging, much more honest.

The premise is simple: The National, one of the most successful “indie rock” bands around, is going on tour. Lead singer Matt Berniger brings his brother Tom along to help as a roadie. Tom is an aspiring filmmaker and decides he wants to take the opportunity to make a documentary about the band, but he also happens to be an oafish manchild who straight-up sucks on just about every level. It becomes instead a documentary about this really lonely guy, with huge potential, who simply let every opportunity pass him by, and his resentment towards his brother’s success. It’s a sweet, sad, hilarious and poignant story about disappointment and anger, with The National and their music as a framing device. I don’t want to write much more about this film now, as I’m going to be including it in a future installment of Music Documentaries About Failure & Disappointment (read the first installment here), but this is genuinely one of the greatest documentaries I’ve ever seen. Just beautiful.

Un Chateau en Italie

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A mostly lighthearted, mostly inoffensive little movie with some nice dialogue and some genuine familial warmth. Pleasing cinematography, likable characters, delightful humor, whimsical plot, some dashes of piquancy and melancholy– not too much of either, just enough so that it doesn’t feel too much like a family film. I have nothing negative to say about this movie– it’s well-meaning and well-made, if perhaps a little too cutesy? I don’t know. Not exactly what comes to mind when I think of modern independent cinema, but maybe that spectrum is a lot wider than I give it credit for. Hey, I liked it. It put a smile on my face. The older ladies in the audience were absolutely smitten.

Algunas Chicas

algunas chicas

A meandering rumination on… what? Man’s carnal nature? Excess? Violence? The futility of human relationships? The darker corners of our psyche, where we fear to tread unaccompanied? I’m not really sure. Whatever it is, it was glamorous as all hell, and it looked absolutely gorgeous. But then foreboding doom and listlessness have always looked great on camera.

Days seven, eight, nine and ten will be posted soon. It got a lot better!


Everyist Blogcast: Would You Eat a Dinosaur? (with guest Rease Kirchner)

reasetree

Making friends while you’re traveling is a weird thing. It’s a different kind of friendship than the ones that happen naturally, under regular circumstances. There’s an intense, almost instant bond that occurs because you’re together in a foreign land; this odd, survivalist sense of “us vs. them” takes hold very quickly. And they burn so intensely, in part, because it is understood that they have a built-in expiration date; after a few days you’ll go your separate ways, perhaps maintaining casual contact through social media, but never really returning to that initial level. It’s a short and fleeting thing.

Sometimes, though, you find yourself reuniting. Sometimes those “temporary friends” return, pitch a tent in the campsite of your life and become fixtures in your everyday existence. And so you find yourself in this funky situation of rekindling that initial intensity, while trying not to deplete yourself emotionally. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it results in you driving each other up the wall. Sometimes it’s both.

Rease Kirchner was one of those friends for me. We met at a grungy Buenos Aires hostel a long time ago, remained Internet buddies for a while, and then became part of each other’s everyday life when she moved back to Buenos Aires. She lived here for about two years– two of the strangest, funnest, most frustrating and ridiculous years I’ve ever seen anybody live through. As a travel blogger, she has dedicated herself to capturing the joy, pain, and sheer absurdity of cross-cultural exchange through traveling, and keeps a blog titled Indecisive Traveler, a kind of ongoing celebration of happy desultoriness. Since we’re so dissimilar in so many different ways, yet so close as friends, we have an interesting almost brother-sister rapport, so it was a natural fit to have her on as a guest.

We talked about the weirdness of her time in Buenos Aires, being hit on by incredibly creepy Argentine dudes, and the joys of ice cream, among other things. She also put together a playlist of some of her favorite music for us to listen to. Here are the songs Rease chose to feature in this episode:

Death Cab For Cutie- “Crooked Teeth”
Pedro the Lion- “Priests and Paramedics”
Rise Against- “Bricks”
The Weatherthans- “Aside”
Against Me!- “Sink, Florida, Sink”
Wilco- “Hummingbird”

Listen to our conversation by clicking the player below:

Follow Rease on Twitter here, and again be sure to check out her blog Indecisive Traveler.


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