Kathleen Hanna Is Back

Kathleen Hanna is back on the circuit with a film,The Punk Singer, and a new Julie Ruin album. The film takes an intimate look at Hanna’s rise to fame as a third-wave feminist icon in the Riot Grrl movement and her departure because of late-stage Lyme disease.

Director Sini Anderson uses concert footage, stills, posters and interviews with Hanna, her husband, Adam Horovitz (Ad-Rock) from the Beastie Boys, and other punk women icons like Joan Jett, Kim Gordon and Corin Tucker, to craft the image of a natural born leader. Hanna emerges as a spokeswoman for the Riot Grrl movement that came from the same place as the Grunge scene in Washington state. Colorful vignettes tell the story of a powerful woman. It was Hanna who came up with the title for Nirvana’s first hit, “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” – spray painting it on Kurt Cobain’s bedroom wall. Friends who knew what was good for her keep pushing her towards Ad-Rock. A love story surfaces that includes initial struggles with her attraction to her husband because of his (now reformed ) misogynistic tendencies.

Even the punk artistic movement dedicated to free expression and equality, really wasn’t. Hanna and her friends were sick of playing second fiddle to the boys. They were allowed to be girlfriends, but not allowed in the mosh pit. They were allowed to manage the band and put up posters, but not play in the band. That all changed when Bikini Kill, Hanna’s first band, started making the rounds. Hanna would call for all the girls to come up front, and the boys to stand back or mosh on the sides at the underground clubs.
Hanna said in a Rolling Stone interview that “I just didn’t want any male authorities telling people what good music was. I didn’t want men to validate me.”

“I just didn’t want any male authorities telling people what good music was. I didn’t want men to validate me.”

Which is interesting, since Hanna is a former stripper. The motivation to take on punk culture and push back seems to have come from a desire to put the spot light on sexual abuse, rape and male oppression. Hanna openly challenged sexual expectations and found a way to break the limitations that even the punk subculture maintained. “I kind of based myself in opposition to what I perceived as being Second Wave feminism, which was really ignorant, and based on all of the stereotypes. Like that they have hairy legs and they are anti-sex and so on,” Hanna said in a written interview with Celina Hex during the Riot Grrl days. Burning bras and suffragette authority gave way fun, ferocious frivolity and putting the sexy back in feminism.

Hanna is still seeking an inclusive culture that honors women, not as objects, or supporters, but as artists. She says we’re in the fourth wave of feminism, and poverty is the biggest challenge for women. Hanna remains a leader with a cause.

tumblr_lflvpxppJU1qg03jso1_400 punk_singer_xlg

Kill Your Darlings – A Review

Kill Your Darlings - From left: Daniel Radcliffe as Allan Ginsberg, Dane DeHann as Lucien Carr and ack Huston as Jack Kerouac.
Kill Your Darlings – From left: Daniel Radcliffe as Allan Ginsberg, Dane DeHann as Lucien Carr and Jack Huston as Jack Kerouac.

John Krokidas as author and director alongside his pal Austin Bunn as scriptwriter use a mishmash of quotes from the Beats, flinging ’em fast and furious, like jazz provocateurs exploring a riff. Some of these gems, I’d wager, came after the 1944 incident of Lucien Carr’s (Dane DeHaan) murder of David Kammerer (Michael C. Hall), but it doesn’t matter, it’s poetic license, and it works.

Using Allen Ginsberg’s (Daniel Radcliffe) point-of-view, the film takes on Beat culture while anchoring itself to the incident of Kammerer’s murder to heighten the dramatic tension. We see a little of where Ginsburg comes from. His mother, played superbly by Jennifer Jason Leigh, is insane and his father (David Cross) ineffectual. Ginsberg meets Lucien Carr at Columbia. They become fast friends but, eventually, Ginsberg wants more which leads him to follow through on “first thought best thought,” by planting a wet one on Carr. Carr, not interested in Ginsberg’s advances, relegates “Ginsy” to the role of his new intellectual benefactor, and additionally, rids himself of his old benefactor, David Kammerer, by killing him in Riverside Park. Carr would go on to serve two years for first degree manslaughter in Upstate New York, but the film doesn’t take us that far.

Scenes of furiously cutting up classics a la William Burroughs’ (Ben Foster) technique, and benzedrine, alcohol and ether induced states of discovery capture the energy of youthful experimentation during the era. Krokidas chose to use modern music for some scenes and jazz of the time for others keeping the exuberant momentum going. We experience the Beats’ sweaty, gritty exploration of ethics, sexuality, race, ethnic and socioeconomic class relations through a hazy lens of blue and yellow cigarette smoke in dorm rooms, jazz clubs and parties. Ben Foster as William Burroughs has the voice and affectation down, and Michael C. Hall brings sensitivity, longing, and creepiness to his portrayal of David Kammerer.

There are a lot of thematic devices used, like death as a new beginning. One scene has Ginsberg and Carr hanging themselves in Carr’s dorm room. Unexpectedly, the chair kicks out from under them, they’re choking – we see a shot of the pipe as it breaks and they fall, surviving a simulated death experience. Oops, it’s a PVC pipe, not yet invented, but heck, it’s a minor detail.

“Lu was the glue,” as Ginsberg has said about their gang, and Dane DeHann perfectly personifies the captivating character Lucien Carr must have been with his graceful androgynous sensuality. Daniel Radcliffe is outstanding as the nebbish that would become the poet avenger. He may have glasses, but he’s lost his magical Harry Potterness and his lovely British accent. His portrayal of Ginsberg is heartfelt and fierce. We can see how this young intelligent radical is poised to Howl.

The use of the the romantic poets is well placed as Ginsberg and Carr discuss Yeats and begin crafting “A New Vision” based on Yeats’ “A Vision.” In another scene, Jack Kerouac’s (Jack Huston) reaction listening to his friend quoting Shelly’s Elegy for Keats as he suffers from a wound he’ll never recover from, in a war he doesn’t know if they’ll win, adds depth, complexity and context to the film.

In scenes that exemplify the generation gap, John Cullum is perfect as the old guard English professor, Lionel Trilling as Ginsberg questions him about techniques in poetry. Each disregards the other’s opinion, and towards the end of the film, Ginsberg leaves Columbia defiantly unwilling to withdraw his “smutty” final paper about the Kammerer murder. The old professor saves face in the eyes of the institution, but secretly champions Ginsberg. In a final scene, Ginsberg sits with his father at home, smoking and listening to the radio. An announcement that WWII is over comes on just as Ginsberg opens his mail to find his “smutty” paper returned with words of encouragement. Both wars are over, the external, and the internal, for Ginsberg.

Krokidas said in an interview that he and Bunn did extensive research but couldn’t get a hold of early works that are now available. If you’re interested in reading more about the early Beats or the murder, Krokidas cites The Book of Martyrdom and Artifice – a collection of early writings from Ginsberg’s journals about his relationships and adventures with the other Beat luminaries, so candid Ginsberg insisted it not be released until after his death, and The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks, a noir style novel by Burroughs and Kerouac not released until after Carr’s death. The Kammerer murder has been credited as the violent event that gave birth to the Beat Generation. It did give everybody something to write about, that’s for sure, even generations later.

A Band Called Death — Great Movie, An Awesome Punk Band

a band called death

Picture this: It’s the early seventies. You’re a black male. You sport a killer ‘fro. You’re living in the inner city, and the hot groups are people like Chicago and Earth, Wind, and Fire. You’ve grown up in a town soaked in Motown and Soul – Detroit. You’re a teenager, you need to rebel and your parents claim to be open minded. What do you do? You start a punk band.

Part documentary a la Robert Burns and part current interviews and performances by Death and Rough Francis, the film recounts the genesis and trajectory of three brothers and a band. With influences including Alice Cooper, the MC5, Iggy Pop, the Who and Queen, these black kids were playing fast “white boy music” and in a “black boy” town, and met with little acceptance.

A great story about integrity, regret, purpose, spirit and what music can mean. As teens, in the early seventies, the Hockney brothers formed a band in their extra bedroom. They got close to getting a record deal with Arista, and recorded a studio demo, but the eldest Hockney brother, David, stuck to his guns – the band’s name must stay Death. His brothers stuck to the family code – never fight and stick together – so Death never got a recording contract.

As young men, Dannis (drums), Bobby (bass/vocals) and David (guitar/vocals) continued their musical odyssey. They found their way out of Detroit to the opposite end of the cultural spectrum, Vermont, and put together a Christian rock band. Eventually, David goes back to Detroit, but his brothers develop a reggae band which meets with moderate success. David cuts a single as Rough Francis, but only presses a few hundred records. His work, again, meets with rejection.

Fast forward thirty years: enter the record collectors. Some of those interviewed include Henry Rollins, Joey Ramone’s brother Micky, and oddly, Frodo. Elijah Wood is a record exec, so, whatever, anyway, all these rabid fan-boy vinyl collectors are blown away by Death’s 45s. On eBay one sells for $800 bucks. Bobby Hackney ( bass) is flabbergasted when he finds this out from his son, and that his music is being played at underground parties in San Francisco. Finally, Bobby’s sons start a Death tribute band calling it Rough Francis to honor their uncle Dave, the visionary.

David Hackney, the guitarist, song writer, oldest and the leader of the group, was a gifted, wild, wise, tortured soul with a drinking problem and a bad cigarette habit. He died of lung cancer, thirteen years ago. A huge loss to his family and especially his younger brothers. Prophetically, right before his death, he gave the demo tapes to his brother Bobby to keep safe, saying hang onto the tapes, people will come looking for this music. Boy, was he right.

To find out where it’s playing and for more about Death see the links below.

The Official Death website

Rough Francis (The Legacy)

A Band Called Death (Drafthouse Films)

Review of Oblivion: Not the State, the Movie

Oblivion 2013
Oblivion 2013

Where you see the movie makes a difference. It’s great to see sci-fi movies with a bunch of nerds. I saw it at MIT LSC. I thought the preview for Oblivion looked good, despite Tom Cruise being Tom Cruise. Morgan Freeman was in it to boot, so that made it better. Always go to see a movie with God in it.

Do I have to talk about plot? Ugh. The premise was, let’s say, Planet of the Apes meets Star Wars in 2001 on Dune with a little Star Trek original, Running Man and Solaris thrown in for good measure. Okay?

It was epic, very epic and slow, very slow. The first half-hour is Tom Cruise in voice over explaining the set-up over a groovy CGI montage. There was an invasion, the moon got blown-up and that caused earth to fail; earthlings leave. Cruise as Jack Harper and his communications officer Vica played by Andrea Riseborough are left there as part of a two member maintenance crew. They live in a space-age fire tower, kind of Jetson’s, actually, and Our-Boy-Elroy and Jane-His-Wife make sure the machines work and that water is harvested for the off world colony of what remains of the human race on Titan, that moon, in Jupiter’s orbit. Jupiter Two? But that turns out not to be true. Melissa Leo is the chirpy happy mission control who tries to keep Jack on task, but he breaks protocol for love.

cruise_ kurylenko

We move into a love triangle. The crew of a human spacecraft crash lands, and Jack who turns out to be a clone saves his Real-Wife the Russian cosmonaut Julia, who haunts his dreams, played by Olga Kurylenko. It’s all drama. He’s broken protocol, and Jane-His-Wife knows “it’s always been her,” and MIT is moaning and giggling and the spectacular CGI is waining in it’s ability to retain anyone’s attention.

Enter Morgan Freeman to save the day with a wonderful kitschy performance as the leader of the rebellion. He has steampunk glasses, black feathers and a cigar. Excellent. So now we get the real story: The enemy Jack has been fighting are the last remnants of the human race. Our-Boy-Elroy and Jane-His-Wife are in fact clones. In divvied up sections, they protect the harvest of water for the aliens that killed the planet. The aliens keep the clones separated by mind fucking them into thinking that the rest of the world is radioactive. In a turn of events, Jack meets himself, in another section, fights himself, and we wish one of them had a beard, but instead he has a cut on the bridge of his nose so we know he’s Our-Boy-Elroy. So Real-Wife, Julia, is dying from a wound, and Our-Boy-Elroy masquerades as himself (clone 52 instead of clone 49) to get medicine to fix Real-Wife. Why doesn’t he have the tiny medical device on his ship, that powers up like a hand vac? Chalk that up to plot device.

Once our boy learns the truth, clone 49 sacrifices himself to save the planet, but luckily he has waterfront property in the Hudson Valley, oh yeah, the second flat, he sends Real-Wife’s space pod there. She wakes up pregnant, and lives happily ever after, especially when Jack 52 comes home with the rest of the freedom fighters. Oh, and Morgan Freeman dies fighting the good fight, saving the resistance, just like the General in Matrix, and the other stud in the movie Sykes played by Nikolaj Coster-Waldau accepts Our-Boy-Elroy in the end because he’s going to go get himself blown-to-bits to save the planet.

In trying to find the graphic novel that the movie was based on, I found out that there isn’t one. Turns out that Radical Publishing put out an “ashcan” – a teaser comic a few years ago when there were a bunch of companies that were doing comic to movie projects. After all, comics are a built in storyboards. Most of these companies have failed. The “ashcan” premiered at Comicon San Diego and caught the attention of the Tron Uprising guy, Joseph Kosinski. He teamed up with Radical and they pulled together a work up that caught the attention of Tom Cruise who backed it with his production company so the film got made. If it had been a hit, they’d produce the comic, but since it was only a hit outside the US, no comic will be made. The comic was supposed to be released in 2012, and the movie was supposed to release summer of 2013, but instead, the movie released in spring 2013 and the comic, according to the director isn’t getting produced at all. But hold up, Radical says otherwise. They say it’s coming out in 2014 when they release Hercules. Don’t hold your breath. You can get the “ashcan” on eBay if you really want.

Star Trek Into Darkness and Bun-O-Vision

star trek bun
Star Trek, Wrath of Khan in Bun-O-Vision

I can see why they picked JJ Abrams to head the Star Trek and Star Wars film franchises respectively. He likes to recycle, knows how to use stunning visual effects to great advantage and could give a shit about the canon. What he does, he does well – he knows how to make a relentless action movie. And that’s exactly what the new Star Trek Into Darkness movie is – a recycled action movie that uses every tag line imaginable and then fails to use the one Trekkies expect at the end. There’s no Never Never Land here – no poetry, barely any camaraderie, no beach to walk on, and no star to steer by.

The thing about old Trek – I’m talking TV here – is you got to watch the characters solve puzzles, reason things out, and stick to their principles – regardless of the prime directive. They were four act Shakespearean morality tales that served as a platform to discuss the relevant social and human rights issues of the time.

kirk toyThat’s not the case with the JJ Abrams films. There is barely a moment to breathe, let alone time to reflect – which I suppose is a reflection of our times. Where there is an inundation of information, failing infrastructure, endless wars and over stimulation everywhere, who has time to actually discuss bio-engineering, low tech versus high tech or duty and self-sacrifice?

Leonard Nimoy makes a cameo as the real Mr. Spock and it is simply adds to the absurdity. It’s cold comfort, and needless explanation to appease the Trekkie audience. Simply put, it doesn’t work and the artifice pulls you out of the story and makes you remember “oh, yeah, this sucks.”

SPOILER ALERT: They kill off Pike too soon, they have Tribbles already, and can bring people back from the dead using a serum cultivated from Kaan’s blood. What? Oh, but it’s okay because real Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) says it’s an alternate time line? What? PHHH~ NO!

Abrams admitted in an interview on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart that he was not a big Star Trek fan. Cha-Yah, ya think? He obviously doesn’t like to think. So there you are. Is the film worth seeing? Honestly? Not really. But if you’re a Trek fan – you know who you are – you’ll go see it anyway, and if you’re not, well either you get a well made relentless action movie, or maybe you’ll find something in it that will pique your curiosity enough to find out about the real deal.That said, if you’re a gamer there is a video game tie-in, but reviews on IGN,  are not promising. Maybe the problem is that Abrams consulted the Wrath of Khan script from that bunny animation in making his new treatment. No offense meant to the makers of Bun-O-Vision, I think they rock.

On the Road – and the Beat Goes On


Sam Riley as Sal Paradise a.k.a. Jack Kerouac in On The Road.
Sam Riley as Sal Paradise a.k.a. Jack Kerouac in On The Road.

Walter Salles’s film version of “On the Road” (2013) starts out with a voice over narrative to set the scene, but quickly dissolves into linear visual storytelling with the markings of a buddy film, much like the “Motorcycle Diaries” (2004). The two films are similar – they’re coming of age road movies, but that’s where the similarities end. In “On the Road,” two young guys are out for adventure, consciously leaving the confines of normalcy behind to experience life with the intent of using their experience to make art – and that’s the pitch the movie takes with a token nod towards seeking God. Jack Kerouac has said that “On The Road” was essentially a search for God. “Dean and I were embarked on a journey through post-Whitman America to FIND that America and to FIND the inherent goodness in American man. It was really a story about 2 Catholic buddies roaming the country in search of God. And we found him.”
(quote: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/On_the_Road#Major_themes)
Set in the late forties, early fifties, Kerouac was struggling to find his writing voice. As it says in the movie, after his father’s death, Kerouac met Neal Cassady. Like all of Kerouac’s work, “On the Road” is semi-autobiographical and Cassady was Kerouac’s muse.


Sam Riley as Sal Paradise a.k.a. Jack Kerouac and Tom Sturridge as Carlo Marx a.k.a. Allen Ginsberg in On the Road (2013).
Sam Riley as Sal Paradise a.k.a. Jack Kerouac and Tom Sturridge as Carlo Marx a.k.a. Allen Ginsberg in On the Road (2013).

Sal Paradise (Jack Kerouac) is played by Sam Riley, the English actor who isn’t quite as physical as Jack Kerouac probably was, given that Kerouac went to college on a football scholarship, but comes off as the friendly, sometimes brooding, observer. Dean Moriarty, brilliantly cast and played by Garrett Hedlund, is a manly, sexy, bisexual Neal Cassady, and Mary Lou, Moriarty’s teenage first wife, a.k.a. Luanne Henderson, is well played by Kristen Stewart. Moriarty’s second wife, Camille, a.k.a. Carolyn Cassady (who wrote the famed “Off the Road”) is played by Kristen Dunst with appropriate and longing for Dean to settle down. Carlo Marx a.k.a. Allen Ginsberg is played with exuberance and angst by Tom Sturridge, and the love scenes with Hedlund are sweet. “The legendary Holy Goof (Neal Cassady) inspired so much of the Beat movement and literature, despite having no famous literary output of his own. He was Ginsberg’s lover and ‘secret hero of these poems’.”
(quote: http://www.beatdom.com/?page_id=349 )

The film mirrors the bop aspect of Kerouac’s writing sometimes jumping from one subject to the next without a lot of continuity. You don’t know how you got there, but you go with the flow, and some of the club scenes capture the hot gritty grind of sex, drugs and jazz that would melt away intolerance based on skin tone and allow these forward thinking young people conviviality and acceptance in an intolerant world.


Viggo Mortensen as Old Bull Lee, movie poster.
Viggo Mortensen as Old Bull Lee

Viggo Mortensen as Old Bull Lee does a fantastic job capturing the pathos of a junky mentor in his portrayal of William S. Burroughs, a paranoid, closeted, junky with a gun fetish, and his wife, Jane Lee a.k.a. Joan Vollmer is brilliantly deranged as played by Amy Adams. Burroughs wife became one of the most famous women of the Beat generation because she was shot and killed by Burroughs while playing “William Tell” in 1951 in Mexico. Burroughs has said, “I am forced to the appalling conclusion that I would have never become a writer but for Joan’s death … [S]o the death of Joan brought me into contact with the invader, the Ugly Spirit, and maneuvered me into a lifelong struggle, in which I had no choice except to write my way out”. (Queer, 1985, p.xxii) (Quote: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan_Vollmer)


The real Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac.
The real Neal Cassady and Jack Kerouac.

Male bonding may have been a motivating factor for Jack Kerouac’s adventure, and the experience made for great art. With the Gay movement finally making real headway towards equality, the timing of this movie couldn’t be more perfect. The story was written in a time of oppression, when conformity was paramount. Naturally, “On the Road” is filmed through the lens of nostalgia, but the craving for freedom and truth found through rebellion is visceral and applicable to anyone searching for meaning, truth, tribe, and personal expression – something that many people still seek in our discordant society. The film mirrors our societies ethics today with a haze of early fifties paranoia striving for those same utopian ideals of acceptance and equality. We’re poised for the next big integration, so the search for meaning is all the more poignant.

Tarantino Unhinged

“I refuse your question. I’m not your slave, and you’re not my master. You can’t make me dance to your tune. I’m not a monkey,” Tarantino said, in response to an interview question posed by Krishnan Guru-Murthy regarding the connection between real life violence and violence in film. Fascinating. He’s come unhinged or has he?
Subjugation and Colonialism
Let’s look at the layers of this incident. You’ve got a white Hollywood director pitted against an Indian British reporter. Okay – layer one, Brits against the Americans. Layer two, white against black, even though most Indians don’t self-identify as black, there are still race and cultural relations to consider. So we have two undercurrents of subjugation and colonialism. Layer three, Tarantino flips the tables, in that he’s white and the interviewer is isn’t. But Tarantino is a slave to the Hollywood machine. Right? So he’s subjugated. And with this rant, he gets ratings even if they’re not good. It adds to the discussion in context of violence in America. But, is this just marketing? Hmmm. Has Tarantino said anything of substance regarding violence in film and society?
Some. In an interview for Fresh Air earlier this year, Tarantino said what’s really at issue is gun control and mental health, avoiding making a comment on his role in producing a product that promotes violence. Why wont he admit that there is a connection between big screen violence and the streets? Most likely, profits. But maybe there’s more to it.
Maybe Tarantino is trying to do the right thing. Maybe he could be trying to offer a form of empowerment. Violent fantasy in video games and film allow us to lose our powerlessness. We identify with the anti-hero, the underdog who wins the girl and beats the bad guy. Is he really giving the black man someone to identify with? A new hero paradigm that black males can relate to that doesn’t have to do with bitch slapping women and drug lords? Well, maybe.
Artistic Integrity
Is there a moral imperative to feed the public pablum when it gets unruly? Or is there a moral obligation to give the people what they want? Neither, and both. There’s also artistic integrity to consider, and this film isn’t any different than any of the other updated spaghetti westerns that Tarantino has done.
Of course there is a connection between violent fantasy and reality. What we see, we emulate and quote. Monkey see, monkey do. Not to mention that the mind has no way of telling the difference between what’s real and what’s fantasy in it’s emotional and physiological response to input. Film teaches us about our connection to each other and ourselves. Film teaches us how to handle ourselves and our emotions, and Mr. Tarantino went all Django on Mr. Guru-Murthy’s ass.
That said, of course Mr. Tarantino isn’t going to say that there is an obvious correlation between movie violence and real life violence because he makes his living making violent movies. It wouldn’t be good business. Tarantino makes films that are larger than life, and they boil everything down to a simple good guy vs. bad guy scenario. Although we might want our lives to be that simple, they rarely are. And the connection between art, violence and society is no simpler.
So what has Tarantino said about violence in his films? Check out the Atlantic article: http://www.theatlanticwire.com/entertainment/2013/01/quentin-tarantino-violence-quotes/60900/