Phil Cook’s got a beautiful head of hair, and the man knows it. It’s a sort of flowing mane of blond curls that stops just shoulder length and floats magnificently around him as he strums his guitar and sings. At one point during the evening, an audience member went ahead and put into words what everyone in the crowd was obviously thinking, yelling out “Nice hair Phil!” to which the singer responded by raking his fingers through and primping to the delight of the crowd.
Cook produces some luscious music to pair with those prodigious locks. The Durham, NC based artist (by way of Chippewa Falls, WI, whatwhat Midwest!) is a member of the genre bending group Megafaun, but Sunday night it was just him, his guitar, his folk songs and the crowd sharing a moment at Schubas. Cook worked his way through his new material, and thanked the crowd profusely for putting up with “an artist you probably aren’t really familiar with playing songs that haven’t even been released yet, so you definitely don’t know” (he was opening for Hiss Golden Messenger) but no apologies were necessary and the crowd quickly warmed up to the folk singer, getting especially into the closing song, a cover of “Take Your Burden to the Lord and Leave it There,” happily supplying the response to Cook’s call. Keep a look out for Cook’s Hungry Mother Blues which will be released May 10th – it’ll be worth the wait.
I was one year old when Kurt Cobain commanded a nation to “entertain us.” Being born in 1990, I had missed grunge rock’s entry into the mainstream, the rise of flannel and fuzzed-out guitars all voiced by a scraggly-haired man named Kurt Cobain. By the time I began discovering music on my own at the age of six or seven, Cobain was no longer with us. What remained were heavy rotations of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” on the radio and television, black and yellow happy face posters in stores everywhere and a mythological creature bigger than Michael Jackson. I never grew up with Nirvana; I grew up with the legend of Nirvana.
In the two decades since Cobain committed suicide, I have admittedly learned a little more about him, his music and his life, but much of what I’ve read or seen, be it in retrospectives, books or films, is often highly romanticized. Even though Cobain clearly struggled with drugs and depression, his early demise has transformed him into a musical god (among many who met similar fates) and one of the most notable things about the new documentary, Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck is that the most defining moment in his life, his suicide, is practically nonexistent. In fact, it’s a mere footnote at the very end.
Instead of focusing on Cobain’s death, as many might be tempted to do, Montage of Heck shines a refreshing new light on the life of Cobain. As the first “authorized” documentary on Cobain, writer and director Brett Morgan was given full access to Cobain’s personal belongings including handwritten notes and drawings which are animated in the film as well as his cassette tapes that revealed narratives documented like diary entries or confessionals of Cobain’s.
This creates the foundation of which Cobain’s story is told, through his own words, and further illustrated by graphic novel-like segments where he retells stories like trying to lose his virginity and discovering weed. The documentary also draws from interviews with some of Cobain’s closest friends and family including wife Courtney Love, his mother and sister, and his bandmate Krist Novoselic (though curiously, Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl’s interview was left on the cutting room floor).
The end result is a very thorough profile of a human being, not a god. Footage of Cobain as a child is heartbreakingly endearing as he proclaims in an early clip: “I’m Kurt Cobain!” while in his years with Love, we see plenty of raw video recordings of the two madly in love, cracking jokes at each other and, in his last months, taking care of daughter Frances Bean Cobain. In one of the most jarring scenes, Cobain is seen holding his daughter as she gets her first haircut looking lethargic as he assures, “I’m not on drugs, I’m tired.” It’s just as heartbreaking to watch that scene because, two hours after seeing a smiling doe-eyed child full of life, we are seeing a man denying an addiction to drugs, almost entirely drained of that energy and life seen earlier.
Montage of Heck doesn’t hide the fame and celebrity of Cobain either. We see the meteoric rise of Nirvana, the magazine covers and the Beatles-like fandom, but it never felt like the main story at hand. Rather, it was just a part of the complex story of Cobain’s hectic life and the overall montage was well-balanced, realistic and the most grounded depiction of Cobain I’ve ever seen. Whether you’re a fan of Nirvana or you just grew up with the image of Kurt Cobain plastered on college dorm rooms everywhere, Montage of Heck is a clear and direct representation of the man behind the legend, the man who thoroughly entertained us.
Seth has become a prolific face of Canadian comic art; a face that connects a glasses and top hat-donned head to a trench coat-covered body with a tie. The Drawn & Quarterly darling is known for his comics, graphic novels, cardboard city Dominion and recent illustration work with Lemony Snicket.
Seth’s Dominion captures the man’s nostalgic personality from the shots of him discussing himself under a warm golden spotlight, his pretend old-timey video footage of walking along train tracks and through the woods, him acting out handmade puppet-like plays and animated shorts of his stories. Each part is cinematically beautiful, and brings fresh life to his work, but combined it does leave a slight sense that he directed the documentary on himself, not someone else. “There’s something really valuable about doing art for yourself,” he says. Fair enough.
Seth draws lines between his work processes and his inspirations. He’s been fixated on telling his parents’ stories besides his own. His childhood has made a big visual and emotional impact on him. “Memory is a blueprint of sensation,” he says. It’s clear he’s a very sensitive person, which is good for a skilled storyteller. As he’s grown, he’s made his environment his art project – he’s made everything around him into something special, including his wife’s barber shop.
If you haven’t checked out any of Seth’s work yet, you will want to by the end of this documentary.
Seth’s Dominion screens again on Thursday, Apr 30 @ 9:45 PM at Scotiabank Theatre 8
I’m not an activist of any kind. I’ve never known Greenpeace to be anything other than Greenpeace International. In my defence, it was literally before my time. But given that man-made environmental and ecological issues are the defining dilemma of this generation just like the A- and H-bombs were in the 50s for the baby bombers (sorry, boomers), it really can’t be brushed aside easily. Compounding that, my lack of any inkling as to the origins of Greenpeace implies a multiversal divide in my intellectual curiosity that I still debate whether to accept. Along came this documentary to the rescue: and it’s perfect. Who better to introduce Our Home and Native species of “flora” and “fauna” than a British filmmaker, now at the “point-of-no-return” as we head toward the global meltdown that few heeded 40 years ago?
Greenpeace started with hippies. And substances. And transcendence. But the origin was far closer to home than I had imagined. In the 1970s, draft-dodgers from the US coalesced with a rampant social movement, rediscovered nature awareness, drugs, rock music and mysticism in Vancouver to form a maelstrom of… laid-back Canadian hippies. From this swirling solution of perfectly random, normal people, a nucleation event began to occur around the Vancouver Sun journalist Bob Hunter. At first it was a reactionary act toward the nuclear bomb test at Amchitka which grew the nucleus, calling itself Greenpeace. Then came the active effort to save the whales aboard and seals at home, which established a self-sustaining growth along different crystal planes. And when the rest of the world saw and realized: “wait a minute, we’re all in the same solution!” So other nucleation events occurred and dozens of equally galling Greenpeace hippie groups spawned abiotically. And then they all had the same thought: “Wait another minute, we’re not some mindless molecules, we’re people! We can’t be the same!” And so the activism turned inward, cresting into a power struggle. Meanwhile, Bob Hunter was encased suffocatingly in an organization that he believed was no longer primarily focused on their real, ecological/environmental mission, and disappointed that people with the same lofty goals can’t/won’t play together. But eventually, the film halts the negativity and screeches toward a warm (pun-intended) ending.
After Greenpeace, Bob Hunter (NOT his namesake who’s an executive for Toronto Raptors/FC/Maple Leaf) went on to CityTV in Toronto, and reported on ecological issues for the remainder of his life. His voice (well, words from his writings) bonded the film together seamlessly. Whether by design or by necessity of the content, Rothwell’s use of that narration receded as this legacy film progressed, working beautifully in parallel with Hunter’s bowing out and retreat from the eco-movement’s power-center. The film carries the spirit of Greenpeace’s late co-founder with clasping hand in gentle march toward the shining seas of greater tomorrow. I say that without the mockery that I generally hold for mystics and hippies. Not only is the film well edited as a historic review of the origins of the Greenpeace organization, it was careful to also impart lessons that all past events have the potential to illuminate and provoke. Chief among them, how will we shepherd this even more fragile environment that we now have, as “sovereign” nations of people with wholly different needs, traditions, and aspirations? The lesser instructives include: should you change your name and appearance to match Tolkien characters? (Answer: Yes. “Walrus Oakenbough” sounds badass and tree-hugging at the same time). Or, must you become silver-haired to look like you gave life your best shot? (Answer: Not really, but it certainly adds gravitas). Speaking of “silver-haired hippie Canadian environmentalist,” at one point in the film a thought came to mind: “where is David Suzuki?” If you want more proof that the visceral hate between climate-change deniers like Patrick Moore (another Greenpeace co-founder) and other environmentalists plays out like a bad family feud, rest assured it is still alive. I’ll leave the left-right-center political conundrum and the position of the Edmonton Sun/News within that totem pole to your imagination.
How to Change the World will be screened again Monday April 27, at 9:30PM in Bloor Cinema. Go and see if you can put together how saving whales and damaging the Nazca lines are related.