COUNTDOWN TO TADFF 2013 WITH OUT TAKES FROM MY PHANTOM OF THE MOVIES' VIDEOSCOPE INTERVIEW WITH THE EVER-SO BRILLIANT SOSKA TWINS (WHO COMPLETELY KNOCKED ME ON MY PROVERBIAL ASS AT LAST YEAR'S TADFF WITH "AMERICAN MARY")
By Greg Klymkiw
PREFACE - A Place to call Our Home, A Place To See the Twisted Twins, The Place that spawned Canada's Icon of Literary Transgression Scott Symons, A Place to Fight Back Against Those Whom Mr. Symons Called "The Smugly Fucklings".
The Toronto After Dark Film Festival (TADFF) has become one of the most important film festivals to me personally as I'm getting so fucking sick and tired of the pure shit I see on the big screens these days. I don't ask for much - I just want to see cool shit. And I want to go out, leave my home and see movies on a BIG MOTHER FUCKING SCREEN. Am I asking too much, pray tell? Well, thanks to Mr. Visionary himself, Adam Lopez and his yearly TADFF festival (as well as its occasional year-round events), Toronto is finally exploding with cool shit.
With the Raven Banner "Sinister Cinema" series, the fine work of Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada, Colin Geddes holding down the fort at TIFF's Midnight Madness and Vanguard series - cool shit is finally happening in the Centre of the Smugly Fuckling Universe of Toronto. "Smugly Fuckling" is the apt phrase used to describe Toronto and its vast majority of pole-up-the-ass pseuds - coined by and courtesy of the late, great and genuinely subversive Icon of Canadian Literature, Scott Symons.
The sexist dweeb David Gilmour (the apparent writer and English Literature lecturer at Victoria College) whose recent misogynistic, racist, boneheaded, humourless and horrendously asinine comments about what literature he has no use for make me realize how he and, frankly, so many "Gods" of CanLit and other gatekeepers and practitioners of Canadian Culture would be so lucky to collectively achieve even one pubic hair's worth of the genius that the late Mr. Symons displayed. (He was, unlike so many whining Torontonian artistes of the - ahem - male persuasion, a REAL MAN!)
For those unfamiliar with Symons, he penned the first piece of gay-themed literature in Canada, Place d'Armes. His best friend was the late Charles Taylor (Scott's best man at his wedding before he came out and left his wifey). And yes, this is THE CHARLES TAYLOR of the E.P. TAYLOR family, their mansion and grounds now house the Canadian Film Centre. Taylor wrote the brilliant essay about Symons and his Canadian qualities whilst the mad genius lived and worked in Morocco. Symons's abandonment of Toronto's tony Rosedale world of pole-up-the-ass repression, coupled with his great novel, his public coming out and eventual self-imposed exile inspired by the horrendous article by Robert Fulford in the Toronto Star that dubbed him "The Monster From Toronto" places him at the forefront of Canadian artists tarred and feathered by the establishment. Fulford declared that "The hero of ... Place d’Armes may well be the most repellent single figure in the recent history of Canadian writing ... a monster of snobbishness still wedded to an aesthetic view of life that can be called – depending on the degree of your benevolence – either aristocratic or fascist.” This main character was, of course, a not-so-thinly disguised version of Symons himself - a brilliant, brave and brash artist who gave up everything to come out at a very dangerous time, even in Canada. Let's never forget the notorious "fruit machine" ferreting-out of homosexuals within the Canadian government - still one of the most nasty, insidious, shameful blots on our history.
Years later, Fulford, the Status Quo Lord of Canadian Culture pathetically cowered behind the pseudonym "Marshall Delaney" to write an article in Saturday Night magazine that crapped on David Cronenberg's first film Shivers (recently restored by TIFF who will present it and a myriad of other films and activities during their upcoming celebration of Canada's Master of the Macabre). Shivers received a healthy public investment from the Canadian Film Development Corporation which we now know as Telefilm Canada. The article completely missed the point of Cronenberg's brilliant movie and it was titled: "You Should Know How Bad This Movie Is, You Paid For It." Fulford's article made Cronenberg's attempts to finance further work a major struggle and reportedly inspired his landlord to evict him on a "morals" clause in the rental agreement.
I mention Scott Symons and David Cronenberg and the ignorant literary defamation of their work within the context of this piece, because they're both outstanding Canadian iconoclasts. Some might say "that was then, this is now", but they'd be wrong - Canada's sneaky, ever-so-subtle condemnation of anything that runs counter to the culture of its power brokers has never gone away - the cowardice of our overt, but worst of all, CLOSET FASCISTS remained with the Right, but oozed its way into the Left in the form of the worst Fascism of all - Political Correctness.
For several years now, I've had the pleasure to experience a true renaissance in Canadian Cinema and much of my thanks and accolades in this regard must go to TADFF. When I think of some of the most genuinely exciting, thrilling, artistically challenging cinema in this country, I've discovered it at TADFF. The very notion of a Toronto "After Dark" is no longer an oxymoron. Thanks to Lopez's festival within the heart of Canada's genuine Centre of Excellence (in spite of the annoying repression in its tonier pockets and/or its suburbs), TADFF has been a true leader in promoting and exposing the most outstanding iconoclasts of Canadian Cinema (and, fankly, World Cinema). Years past have seen the discovery of the Foresight Features madmen from Collingwood (Monster Brawl, Exit Humanity and this year's outstanding Septic Man), the asbestos-poisoned-drinkers-of-tap-water in Winnipeg, Astron-6 (Father's Day, MANBORG) and last, but certainly not least, the Queen Bees of Horror - not only in Canada, but the world - Jen and Sylv Soska, those Twisted Twins of American Mary fame who hail from good ole' sleepy, repressed Vancouver.
So here's the deal. I'm one of the Canadian correspondents for Phantom of the Movies' VIDEOSCOPE, a great magazine founded and published by one of my biggest heroes - Joe Kane - who generated his regular column of genre coverage for many years in the New York Daily News. The latest issue of this great magazine is on news stands now (and yes, Chapters/Indigo actually carries it along with a few other cool genre mags). The Fall 2013 issue includes my interview with the Soska Twins and I urge you to grab a copy and/or just fucking subscribe to it. Here's an sample jpg of my article which you can click on to read the stuff I didn't black out as a teaser for you to actually buy the mag. In honour of TADFF, I present out takes from my Soska interview.
Let us then consider this piece here today as my official countdown to a great film festival. I hope to see you all there - it feels, yet again, like it's going to be a great year, especially in TADFF's new home at the Paramount Cinema (I refuse to call it by its current name, the Scotiabank Cinema. Only a corporate pig would name a cinema after a fucking bank.)
AND NOW OUT TAKES FROM THE INTERVIEW TWIXT GREG KLYMKIW AND THE TWISTED TWINS:
JEN AND SYLVIA SOSKA
On Whistler Walkouts
Klymkiw: When I hear people using the phrase “moral outrage”, my usual response is, “What’s that?”
Jen: Well, you know, I think the worst screening we’ve ever been to of American Mary was at British Columbia’s hottest ski resort during the Whistler Film Festival where most of the people walked out of the screening, and I was shocked. The festival started this really great section of late night horror films – really great horror films – and people either wouldn’t even bother going and those who did were always walking out.
Sylvia: Especially American Mary.
Jen: Yeah, it was weird. The whole point of any film festival is to experience things that are new and different – not to see the same stuff you can see anywhere.
Sylvia: I don’t mind if people don’t like it. That’s okay, but it seemed like a lot of this audience didn’t know what they liked and they certainly didn’t know what they’d be in for in the late-night series.
Jen: That’s fine too, I guess, but this is a film festival, people!
Sylvia: Exactly! It’s about exploration. How do you know what you do or don’t like when you keep walking out?
Klymkiw: The Whistler Film Festival always drives me crazy. It has the potential to be the Sundance of Canada, but I don’t think you can rely upon the locals or even the non-locals who come up there for the skiing. As well, the festival keeps shuffling the deck on their artistic directors and artistic direction. They’ve had one excellent program director after another - people like Bill Evans and Stacey Donen. Paul Gratton, who was the 2012 head honcho of Whistler, is great. The guy is a genius! An A-1 aficionado of cinema and a real lover of genre pictures. Years ago when he was a production executive at a film financing agency [Ontario Film Development Corp], he expressed complete delight that I was the first person to ever walk into his office and extol the virtues of Russ Meyer. God, where are those people now?
Sylvia: Oh, I love Paul. He was the one who was so supportive of our film playing in Whistler, but most of the people who went to the festival – and this pretty much sums up the whole festival, or rather the typical audience for the films at the festival – but so many people were going nuts about this Kokanee Beer movie.
Klymkiw: Oh yeah, The Movie Out Here. That movie stinks in a big way. It’s literally a feature length ad for Kokanee Beer with a lot of really juvenile humour aimed at God knows who – monkeys or something. Actually, that’s an insult to monkeys. It’s just terrible in any event.
Sylvia: The festival had so many great movies – not just the late night horror films, but also that wonderful drama [Still] starring James Cromwell [Babe] and Genevieve Bujold [Coma, Dead Ringers] and all the amazing documentaries – one about feminism, one about Marilyn Monroe. There was so much really cool and often different stuff – just sensational, really, but what were the audiences going for?
Klymkiw: A feature length beer commercial with unfunny dirty jokes?
Sylvia: Yeah, a really stupid beer commercial, too. And it really was so sickening. That awful movie really hits a chord with me because our star, Katharine Isabelle, made that beer movie around the same time that she did American Mary. With us, she’s playing Mary Mason, this really complex starring role and yet here she is in some horrible, stereotypical female role in an awful 90-minute beer commercial. Literally – her role is that of “The Girl” in a beer ad. It was so embarrassing. That movie actually got Canadian government funding and for anyone to try and say it’s not just a fucking commercial, give me a break – it is a commercial.
Klymkiw: A lot of people say they want to see different stuff ...
Sylvia: ... and then, when it is out there, those same people don’t come out and support it. In Vancouver you have to practically drag those people into the theatre to see cool stuff – the stuff they say they want. Well, where are they? There’s cool stuff happening in Vancouver all the time. What’s it like in Toronto?
Klymkiw: Well, because the population base in Toronto is substantially larger, it feels like there are more people into cool genre stuff, however I’d say it’s probably just as bad, but in its own and very different way. There are enough people who want the stuff, but the opportunities to see it are not available on a regular basis. You need to screen much of the product in alternative venues within the context of special events like the Raven Banner Sinister Cinema series, Adam Lopez’s Toronto After Dark Film Festival and, of course the programming from Colin Geddes in his Midnight Madness and Vanguard sections of the Toronto International Film Festival.
On Pulling a Script Out of One's Ass for Eli Roth
Klymkiw: And, uh, forgive me for not remembering which one of you delightful ladies so demurely came up with that erudite description regarding the birth of your creative vision.
Jen: Don’t worry. We both take turns saying that.
Sylvia: It was a terrific life lesson when Eli asked us for a script of our next movie because this was just after Dead Hooker in a Trunk and we should have expected people might want to know what we were working on next.
Jen: We learned that you must always have a variety of things you’re working on. You make sure you have a pile of scripts and concepts and story ideas. That way, if they don’t like one thing, you’ve got another, and another and yet another.
Sylvia: Yeah, here’s this, here’s that, here’s this. Don’t like that? Here’s this!
Jen: Pick one!
Klymkiw: Well, there are a few good film critics and then there are just plain assholes who wouldn’t know a cool, intelligent film if it drilled a hole into their head and discovered there’s nothing there beneath the skull – just a whole lot of empty space,
Sylvia: I want to make cool movies. I never thought there was some sort of a gender problem or that American Mary takes a feminist stance that’s anything but pure empowerment, though within the context of having fun. Then we started to experience this strangely unexpected backlash that was political, but also felt personal.
Jen: Look at how all those journalists misunderstood and took those comments Lars von Trier made at the Cannes Film Festival in such a stupid, closed-minded way.
Klymkiw: It’s twisting and perverting everything we believe has changed in the world. All that ignorance you think we’ve moved so far beyond is back with a vengeance. Either that, or it never really went away.
Jen: You know, if Lars von Trier, or anyone else who says controversial things that are then taken out of context, but said similar things about women – very few would really bat an eye over that.
Sylvia: You know, people like the movie or they don’t, but when their criticisms become personal, when they become anti-feminist and downright anti-female …
Jen: … and from women, yet!
Klymkiw: And here you both are, doing the entire press junket today adorned in gorgeous, colourful 1950s party dresses. You both look like you’ve stepped right off the set of Joshua Logan’s film adaptation of William Inge’s great play Picnic with William Holden and behind this Midwest American Kim Novak facade you're making incredibly sophisticated, wholly modern and totally subversive genre movies while living and working in this weird age that’s far more repressive than even the fucking '50s – here you both are, being modern in a world that’s reverted to a twisted extremist conservatism.
ON KATIE ISABELLE
Klymkiw: Unlike the “slutty victim” in most contemporary horror movies, Mary is someone who embraces her sexuality in far more resonant ways.
Sylvia: Mary is a character who totally embraces her sexuality.
Jen: She’s also aware of the way all the men in the film are looking at her as some sexual object in her professional world, but she sticks to her professional attire until she goes to the party where she allows herself to be gorgeous and sexy.
Sylvia: Exactly, her makeup and that sexy dress becomes her war paint.
Klymkiw: Well, as does the attire she begins donning during her empowerment phase – the entire fetishist quality of her “operating” gear as well as the whole notion of her dominance as a surgeon and the submissive nature of her patients.
Jen: That’s it for sure, but also this '70s connection you’re making comes so much from our star, Katie Isabelle.
Sylvia: That’s why we’re so happy you feel the way you do about her character and performance.
Jen: Katie’s Mom, by the way, is a total '70s gal. She actually worked for years with Led Zeppelin!
Sylvia: Oh yeah, Katie has an amazing “Old Soul” quality that is so much a part of her performance. She’s got this totally cool old rocker spirit like her Mom and she is definitely not some cookie-cutter babe. She’s naturally and effortlessly beautiful.
Jen: Plus, she doesn’t give a fuck about anything superficial. Katie kept winning the Best Actress Award at all the major genre festivals and when Sylvia called her to let her know about one of them ...
Sylvia: ... Katie owns a bunch of horses, right? So when I told her she won Best Actress, she’s like, “That’s great! I’m shovelling horse shit right now.”
Jen: She’s such a committed actress, too. When we first met her, she had three dense pages of notes about the character. She puts so much of herself into her work.
Sylvia: Yeah, we met her at 7:00, closed three different bars and then kept talking passionately until 5:00 A.M. about filmmaking, body modification and radical feminism. And man, she’s seen it all. She’s been acting since childhood and she’s seen and experienced misogyny – especially in the movie business. There are so many fucking pigs that all assume that because she’s an actress she can just be passed around like a party favour. I can’t even imagine the full extent of the assholes that hit on her in the most revolting ways. But here’s the thing – Katie plays cool as a cucumber like nobody else. Mary is a very powerful character, yet so many actresses evoke power with this stereotypical and grating shrillness – they’re so big and loud – but Katie is so controlled and quiet as Mary. It’s like Meryl Streep in The Devil Who Wears Prada – never raising her voice. Katharine’s take on Mary is exactly the same way.
Klymkiw: She’s like the female equivalent of a mensch, right?
Sylvia: Yeah, for sure, she really does have this wonderful down-to-earth quality
Jen: Even when we’ve been out together, we’re having a nice chat and some boob comes over and pathetically starts hitting on her in the most obvious, sexist and disgusting way and Katie takes one look at him and with a totally straight face, she’s so polite, too, she says, so politely it's almost scary, “Fuck off, please” and then continues talking with us as if she hadn‘t just been so rudely and offensively interrupted. This, of course, is perfectly indicative of her power as a human being, but also an actress.
Sylvia: Have you ever met Katie?
Klymkiw: Once, but it’s pathetic. I met her at the premiere of Ginger Snaps.
Sylvia AND Jen: GET OUT!!!!
Klymkiw: It was cool, but I was fucking pathetic. I was so geekily star-struck, I said little more than “Hello, nice to meet you.” My jaw was dragging on the floor and my eyes popped out - inflating like fucking balloons. Nothing was coming out of my mouth. She no doubt thought, “Uh-oh, Psycho!” and she politely moved on.
Jen: You’re coming to our party, right?
Klymkiw: Wouldn’t miss it for the world.
Jen: Look, Katie’s going to be there. We’ll re-introduce you.
Klymkiw: Well, hopefully I’m not going to zone into some middle-aged stalker fanboy.
|Jen Soska, Greg Klymkiw, Katie Isabelle, Sylvia Soska|
Klymkiw: How things have changed. In my day, we were called altar boys.
Jen: You were an altar boy?
Klymkiw: Yup. I was raised Ukrainian-Catholic.
Jen and Sylvia: Cool!
Klymkiw: Well yeah, we might have the Eastern European and Catholicism things in common, but Ukrainian Catholicism is a lot weirder than Roman Catholicism since it’s essentially a cross between primitive perogy-slurping paganism, Orthodox tradition and a grudging acknowledgment of the Pope.
Jen: You win. That’s sounds super weird!
Klymkiw: Well, the whole religion is based upon Ukrainians cutting a deal with the Roman Catholics because they needed some other way to say “Fuck you!” to their Russian opressors.
Jen: We’re down with that. Sometimes “fuck you” is the only option.
On Conservative "Values"
Klymkiw: What blows me away about Katharine’s performance is how she occasionally conjures up this astonishing blankness – a Buster Keaton deadpan. This not only contributes to the humour of her delivery – God, she made me laugh so hard during the most delightfully wicked stuff in the movie, but as well, I remember thinking about James Toback's The Gsmbler and how she had this ever-mounting quality of obsession that started to become self destructive. Katie comes off like a kind of female James Caan in that movie - he just can't stop gambling and has to keep upping the ante - sort of how Mary keeps upping the ante on her body modification business and the eventual payback upon her primary abuser.
Sylvia: Wow, that’s such a classic performance and you know, I’m so happy you’re making these'70s analogies because Jen and I certainly paid attention to telling as good a story as possible, but we’d never fall back on stock formulas. In the '70s, what made movies so special was that the best of them weren’t following some sort of set equation. They also crossed into really dangerous territory.
Jen: It’s so conservative now. It’s one of the reasons it took so long to get the film out there – especially in the United States. It actually took exposure in the UK to get people in America to take notice of the film. We couldn’t initially get the attention of any American festivals or companies until Universal Pictures overseas backed the picture, did an amazing UK push and even released it in other European territories. In America, there was always this concern about how American audiences would respond. That eventually changed once people and companies in North America got on board, but the real thing that got it out there were all the cool American audiences tired of the same old thing who created such an overwhelming fan base for the film that it became impossible for programmers, critics and distributors to not take notice of the film.
Klymkiw: The problem with the movie industry – more than ever before – is that it’s entirely ruled by middlemen who are out of touch with what people really want and manufacture what they think people want. The middlemen are always the first clowns to say, “I can’t sell this.” Then you respond, “Well, why can’t you sell it? Because you’re too fucking uncool? Because you’re too fucking stupid? Because you’re too fucking lazy to do your job?"
Sylvia: It’s because they’re not fans. We kept saying, “Trust us, the fans are going to get it.” And their response is, “How the fuck do you know?” And our answer is simple, “Because we are the fans.”
Klymkiw: It’s the end-user that counts. They don’t see that.
Jen and Sylvia: Exactly!
Klymkiw: The way I see it is that cinema can only keep evolving. The future of cinema is completely dependent upon learning the rules then not following those set rules - to take what works and build upon it. This is exactly what American Mary does and you’re both, as filmmakers, a perfect example of that.
American Mary is available on BD and DVD from Anchor Bay Entertainment Canada