Real Live Action

author
Ashley Wood

It was the evening of April 22 and there was an undeniable buzz of excitement on the street as I arrived at the Vogue Theatre. I had purchased tickets to the Destroyer concert two years earlier, just as the world began to go into lockdown — I was so excited to finally see their show. When I walked into the theatre, I was greeted by the opening act, Rosali. They had a warm sound that invited the crowd in, a soft rock with contemplative lyrics that fit the performance to come. 

After a short break, Destroyer took the stage, opening with “It’s in Your Heart Now.” As I sat in the back of the theatre, I felt a wave of comfort as the audience happily soaked in the band’s sound. “June” followed suit, the opening bars felt like the first days of summer, brimming with hope. The lush, unpredictable instrumental felt like being pulled into a dream, a labyrinth where the questions posed in the lyrics didn’t need an answer. At times, vocalist Dan Bejar would pick up a piece of paper and recite his lyrics like poetry. The performance was intimate, with band members weaving between each other’s melodies. A few songs later, “Tintoretto, It’s for You” opened with a jazz piano accompaniment that metamorphosed into an explosion of synthesisers. Every second left the listener resigned to simply feeling and listening, rather than trying to figure out what shape the sound was taking. The soothing piano chord progression, accompanied by an offbeat pulse and synth, felt like falling into a new, trance-like space.

 In the second half of the show, “It Takes a Thief” shifted the tone. The beat felt like a reckless abandon that you could dance to. It made me recall an interview with Bejar I read a few years ago, where he cited Joni Mitchell’s Blue as one of his favourite albums. Listening to the instruments blend together and work to shift mood, I could feel its influence. The merging of genres created an ever-evolving sound that belonged only to itself. The drummer seemed to be in his own world, improvising rhythmically with the bass player, the keyboardist too, perfectly matching his chords and melodies with the guitarists — I was amazed to hear the lush instrumentals come to life in real time. Before the closer, there was a small break. The crowd quieted down in silent anticipation, then came a beautiful instrumental solo from the trumpet player. He unfolded a melody that melted into the opening bars of “Suicide Demo for Kara Walker.” The entire crowd was captivated and at the end, the band was called back on stage for an encore. The encore ended with Bejar’s cadence “We are slain by that stuff.” Those who were seated rose to their feet to give the band a standing ovation, and they bowed warmly in reception. Leaving the theatre I felt wrapped in the warm afterglow of seeing Destroyer in our home city. — Ashley Wood

author
Alec Christensen

The cliché that “Vancouver never plays itself” — popularized six years ago in a video essay by Tony Zhou that has close to 2 million views on YouTube — is difficult to dispute, especially when considering the innumerable examples of Vancouver standing in for places like Seattle, Chicago, or San Francisco. The Cinematheque’s series The Image Before Us: A Film History of British Columbia aims to challenge this narrative and celebrate, or perhaps simply identify, the province’s understated and too often overlooked cinematic identity. Founded in 2015 by Vancouver filmmaker and scholar Harry Killas, The Image Before Us is in its sixth season, returning after a two-year hiatus due to COVID-19. The current edition of the series includes a mix of contemporary films set in B.C., or works by B.C.-based filmmakers set elsewhere, in addition to a handful of older pictures produced in or centred around the province. Titles this season include Atom Egoyan’s The Sweet Hereafter (1997), Nettie Wild’s documentary Fix: The Story of an Addicted City (2002), and The Body Remembers When the World Broke Open (dirs. Elle- Máijá Tailfeathers and Kathleen Hepburn, 2019), among others.

The screening I attended, themed “The Human Spirit,” featured Soran Mardookhi’s Turbulence (2014) alongside introductions by Killas and Simon Fraser University Professor Emeritus Colin Browne, whose 1987 documentary short The Image Before Us inspired the programming series’ name. The evening also included a screening of the documentary short Good Stuff (dir. Matt Nie, 2003) and a post-screening Q&A with Mardookhi. 

The connections between the two films felt somewhat tangential, but both were quite compelling. In all of eight minutes, Good Stuff introduces us to Ray Bethell, who spent years flying kites in Vanier Park, achieving awards and records around the Pacific Northwest. Nie overlays Bethell discussing his accomplishments, his craft, and the severity of his wife’s dementia atop brightly-coloured footage of his kites against blue skies. Killas and Browne introduced the film as being representative of the enormous body of student-produced cinema in B.C. Indeed, it would be remiss to ignore student films in a series like this — though one may be tempted — given the sheer number of high-calibre filmmaking programs within Vancouver. 

Turbulence follows two Kurdish immigrants in Vancouver: a father, Sherzad (Kamal Yamolky), and his daughter Jina (Camillia Mahal). The two have coped with their relocation, and Jina’s trauma witnessing her mother and brother killed in the Iran-Iraq War, in dramatically different ways. Sherzad — a gifted electrical engineer — works to develop a prototype for a perpetual motion machine, emblematic of a utopic future that seems to remain out of grasp. Jina, meanwhile, experiences opioid addiction and lives largely as a drifter, in essence running from her past. The relationship between the two is moving, even if they share relatively few scenes. Yamolky’s performance as a cautious but determined father experiencing early symptoms of Alzheimer’s proved the highlight of the film, and I was shocked to learn that it was his acting debut.

During the Q&A, someone asked Mardookhi how he would approach the film differently if he were to make it today. I was rather struck by his answer to what, in all fairness, was a pretty obnoxious question: “I wouldn’t make it.” He elaborated, but only barely, mentioning how he, his interests and his sensibilities have dramatically changed in the last eight years. It was refreshing to hear a filmmaker be so honest about their relationship to past work, even if he was perhaps overly critical of what was in fact a pretty good film. At the same time, this sort of reflection resonated with the theme of the entire series — the notion that examining a history, or histories, requires us to reevaluate what we previously accepted or believed by considering new information and alternative perspectives; a reminder that our past individual experiences inform our collective future. — Alec Christensen