Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Death Game & Pop Life

"With love, there is no death"-Christopher Tracy

"Fuck death."-Anyone who has lost someone they loved.

Mortality. The word alone is enough to elicit depths of worry and dread, not unlike loss, illness and family reunions. It's one of those things most do not want to think about but the cycle of living has a way of wafting it all right under your nose. The scent is one part charnal house and one part weighted awareness. The more our loved ones, heroes and heroines shuffle off this mortal coil, it is hard to not feel, to quote Love & Rockets, haunted when the minutes drag.

Personally, I have an acceptance/hate relationship with death. It's the great inevitable and an essential part of life. You can't really escape it, so making moderate peace with it is a good idea. Yet, even though many view it as simply a transition to something else, whether it is heaven, limbo, Earth again or the great void, it flat out sucks for those of us who are still here. The dead ultimately are fine. They have moved on but yet it is us who are left to sift through the ashes, sometimes literally.

Out of the assortment of heroes and loved ones alike that I have lost in the past few years, the thing that haunts me the most are the lost acts, ideas and art that never came to fruition. When a close friend of mine passed away in '08, one of the things that hurt the most was all of the great writing he never got to do. He had some amazing ideas and coupled with his innate charisma with words and intrinsic understanding of film and music, there would have been some sheer magic he could have created. This is where I loathe death the most, though it's the worst the kind of hate, because it does not change a thing.

All that said, a lesson for the living that I repeat time and time again is that the best use of death is motivation. We're still here to burn the ashes, create, love, scream and fight for ourselves and our work. Art isn't just for the artist, it's for those who aren't here quite yet and for those who can't be here. Let's rock.


Critics and the public alike have always had a strange relationship with pop music. The former tend to, for the most part, glower at it and hiss like a foamy-mouthed feral cat. The latter can alternately love with a blind, cult-like devotion, only to hastily switch to storming the internet with lit torches in hand. It's weird that such a fairly safe genre can elicit some pretty extreme emotions, but that is part of the fascination with pop music.

I was lucky enough to grow up in a fairly schizophrenic-musical environment, so genre snobbery is something quite alien to me. Metal, punk, klezmer, country, pop, exotica, etc etc. If the song is good, it's good. So when I heard The Flaming Lips cover of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" with Miley Cyrus and Moby, I was astounded. Not because of Miley but because it is really, really great. Not thing I went into it expecting it to be horrible, I was just not expecting it to wow me like it did.

This kind of collaboration may seem like it is from Mars, since the Lips are this fairly respected, psychedelic-art-rock band and Cyrus used to be Hannah Montana and has the sad distinction of twerking on Alan Thicke's son. However, if you think about it objectively, there is something kind of brilliant about that. The Lips are too weird (and probably "old") for Cyrus' demographic and she is too pop-tart for their core audience. Which makes it even more interesting because it is a real creative risk for both parties. Granted, it's one for a good cause, since a portion of the sales are going to the Oklahoma City based non-profit, The Bella Foundation, which helps low-income, elderly or terminally-ill pet owners with veterinary costs.

Some of the negative reactions to both the collaboration and the fact that Cyrus and Lips frontman Wayne Coyne (who looks like the world's grooviest professor/magician) are good friends, reminds me a lot of the critical and public flotsam that ensued when Metallica and Lou Reed worked together and released "Lulu." "Lulu" was an intense and brave album that was also quite good and definitely the best thing Metallica had worked on in several years. The only real thing that either Lou or Metallica had to gain was the feeling of creating a work that they personally loved. Over time, hopefully, both "Lulu" and the Lips cover of "Lucy" will be seen as ballsy creative moves with some gorgeous, rich moments intertwined.  (Also, for a really terrific article on the recent negative critical reaction to Coyne in the media, please check out Katy Anders' piece on her fabulous blog, Fascist Dyke Motors. Then read everything else on there because she is THAT good.)

© 2014 Heather Drain

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

The Future of Cinema Meets Article Round-Ups

2014 has already been one of the strongest and strangest years I have had, well, ever. Older projects are getting filled out and delved into further, while new ones are starting to take root. The best part is that I am only halfway getting started.

Before I segue into my "It's a Mad Mad Mad Mad World"-style post, one thing I have wanted to briefly write about is a discussion that has come up and more and more regarding film versus digital. Seeing quotes from directors who should know better proclaiming the digital wave as a sign that "cinema is dead," I have instant PTS of hearing a litany of old people griping about change. You know the drill. The younger generations are sending the world straight into dumbass hell, while their parents and grandparents grind their dentures on butterscotch candy and abandoned dreams. It's as old as time itself. Saying cinema is dead is tantamount to telling all the struggling filmmakers out there that they are screwed and might as well give up. But one thing they don't teach you in school is that the biggest element you need to survive in any of the creative arts is pure, undiluted tenacity. Someone tells you cinema is dead, then prove them wrong and make the best movie you can dream of. I grew up worshipping at the twin altars of silent film mavericks like Robert Weine as well as Indie Cult gurus like John Waters because these are artists that took what could be perceived as limits and instead, created new frontiers. Rip it up and start again.

I will always champion film preservation till my last breath. I love film stock with all of my cineaste heart, especially all the beautiful grain and texture it can possess. But there is a middle to be met here. You can love film, as well as embrace digital. After all, what makes real cinema is the right mix of vision, lighting, good editing, sound, heart and flat out testicular/ovular fortitude. These elements can cohabitate on any format. 

In other words, take care of the past, look to the future and never ever give up.


Now, speaking of the past, here are some of my favorite things that I wrote about in the past several months.

The Dance of Reality/La Danza de la Realidad

One would be hard pressed to think of a finer gift from the universe than a new film by Alejandro Jodorowsky and this year, we got such a present. Even better, is that it was well worth the nearly 25 year wait.

Getting to write about this brilliant and heart-burrowingly great film for Dangerous Minds was a pleasure, matched only by getting to talk with the man himself. With generous thanks to both my fantastic editor and Jodorowsky's lovely PR guy Matt, I got to speak on the phone with the director/personal artistic godhead for an interview about his latest film. Sadly, our connection was pretty spotty lending to a fragmented conversation that was heavenly when it did connect and frustrating when it did not. The fact that it did last almost 30 minutes is both a testament to the seeds of a good conversation and (more than likely) the man's saint-like patience. But even with the wonky connection, Mr. Jodorowsky was incredibly gentle, assertive and nothing short of wonderful. (Also, quick thanks to my friend David Arrate for his audio assistance.)

Back Issues: The Hustler Magazine Story

Hands down, one of the best documentaries I have seen in a long time, Michael Lee Nirenberg's film is smart, fun, kinetic and has its own thumbprint while exploring one of the most subversive American magazines ever. Keep on eye on this guy, because I have a feeling this is just the beginning for the young filmmaker.

Massacre at Central High

After writing about Rene Daalder's powerful and still controversial feature film, I found out directly from Cult Epics that they are indeed prepping to release it. This will be the first legal domestic release this overlooked gem has had in decades.

Sugar Cookies

Bless Vinegar Syndrome for not only releasing this underground-meets-overground film but also for giving it such a gorgeous release. Every frame in this feature could be put on a wall in an art gallery. Great, great stuff.

Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg, which also includes book projects, recent podcast appearances (Thank you Mike White, Rob St. Mary and Frank Cotolo!) and an event that equals my Jodorowsky experience in a multitude of ways. But I'm here to sell the sizzle, folks, not the steak. So in the meantime, enjoy!

2014 © Heather Drain