Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Who gets on the 99B last night but Carl Newman. I thought, "Okay, fair play to him. There's room on this enormous public transit vehicle for both of us. He may write catchy songs that attract international attention but he's still got to get down Broadway same as me." The bus pulled out into traffic, and I resumed reading my book.

Not five minutes later I'm startled to hear someone bashing away on a guitar down the aisle and disturbing the people. It's Newman! He's only taken out his guitar and begun penning another hit tune on his way home. I can't return to my book. He's ruined my concentration. I shouted, "Oi! Newman! No! You cannot use this bus as a venue for composing your unique brand of hook-laden three-minute pop songs! You may garner accolades from The Village Voice, but I will not allow you to disturb my peaceful evening commute. There are people trying to read John Grisham novels around you. At the next stop, will you kindly push the bar to open the rear doors and hop it!"

Last time I ever ride a bus with Newman on it. Tosser!

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The belter and I went to the Blinding Light! on Sunday night to see Werner Herzog's Fata Morgana with live music by the Eye of Newt Collective. I've wanted to check out one of these EoN shows for a long time. Live music and a film by my favourite German freak was too tempting a combination to ignore.

EoN (on that night) were four musicians—clarinet, double bass, viola, and muted trumpet. All of them were equipped with various rattles, scrap metal, and other noisemakers to add some chaos to the performance. They arranged themselves in two pairs on either side of the screen. I wondered how they would communicate in the dark, but there was enough light to see what was going on.

Fata Morgana was about the desert, if it was about anything. Herzog always seems to make films in and about harsh environments. I'm sure he and his crew lived like animals through the whole process, and that he loved every minute of it. The film had no story, and consisted mainly of long panning or tracking shots of sand. The sand was doing stuff, mind you—swallowing up buildings, piling in drifts around abandoned cars and downed planes. Sometimes people entered the frame, walking through their strange desert villages (did George Lucas pattern Tatooine after these places?), or standing still, bewildered and at a safe distance from the camera.

Of course, every desert has its share of dead things—in this case, many many bloated and desiccated animal carcasses, which Herzog's camera lingered on at great length. "Look! Dead things in the cruel desert!" It was like "Germany's Most Disturbing Home Videos" on Sprockets—both gorgeous and obscene.

Eye of Newt were quite good. I couldn't tell how much of their performance had been worked out beforehand, but it was clear that they were familiar with the pace and content of the movie. There were times I would have preferred to hear the film's original soundtrack, especially in "The Golden Age," the title of the last third of the movie (the first and second parts were "Creation" and "Paradise"), which had the most people in it, including a guy who had been studying desert lizards for 16 years (his dialogue was subtitled), and the world's strangest band, a piano-and-drums duo that I can attempt to describe here.

The band were set up in a small alcove indoors. No context for their setting was provided, so we don't know where in the desert this building might have been located. A stout older woman with a grim expression played an upright piano. The drummer was a younger guy in a buttoned-up shirt and scarf ensemble, topped off with silver aviator's goggles. He leaned over sometimes and sang into a microphone. His drumming style was spectacular for its lack of movement. His entire body was still except for his right arm, which pivoted horizontally between the ride cymbal and snare drum, touching each ever so lightly. He looked animatronic. His bass drum featured the word "Rojo." Perhaps that was their name.

Why were they in the movie? I have no idea, except to provide the sideshow/freakshow element that I've seen before in Herzog movies, like the dancing chicken in Stroszek, the movie that Ian Curtis supposedly watched before he committed suicide (as seen in 24 Hour Party People).

Though Eye of Newt provided some amusing music during these scenes and the audience (a decent-sized house for a Sunday night) had a chuckle, I wonder what this Grandma/Sky Pilot band actually sounded like.

The movie left them behind after a while and returned to the desert. A distant car appeared in a mirage, looking like it was driving across water. It came towards us out of the mirage, back on solid ground, then the movie ended.

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