A Night at the Drive-In

If Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, the exalted directors of Grindhouse, know anything, they know crappy movies. Through some postmodern loophole, they are Hollywood’s chief purveyors of comic book crud passing off as art. With Grindhouse, their intent is not to simply pay homage to their dollar-bin influences, but instead downright emulate them; and I don’t think any other directors could have done the job better.

The result is two “mini” (ninety minute) movies and a smattering of horror-movie-parody trailers that were lovingly directed by such schlock-and-gore fans as Rob Zombie, Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead) and Eli Roth (Hostel). Everything is exactingly in sync with a seventies drive-in double bill; even the film stock has been washed out and aged. In terms of atmosphere, Tarantino, Rodriguez and their cohorts are geniuses; one leaves feeling sociable and giddy.

The first feature, Rodriguez’s Planet Terror, culls all of the clich├ęs from the now-hackneyed zombies-on-the-rampage genre: a small town setting, a well-intentioned hero with a past, military complicity, a liberal volume of blood spray, and an apocalyptic ending. This segment is not particularly memorable, but it was so overwrought and so full of cheesy dialogue that it never lost my attention; disposable movies such as this should just wash over you. The cast has all the right stock players – people that never have and never will become stars, and have since given up trying. Some, like Michael Biehn (the protagonist in the original Terminator plays a gruff sheriff here), and a tired Bruce Willis, are jokes in and of themselves.

Tarrantino’s flick, Death Proof, despite being full of horny girls and mean muscle cars, actually betrays its roots at times. An early scene at a bar, for example, could be the set-up for a more substantial film. To my surprise, the middle actually sagged. Tarantino, the writer, got indulgent; his attempts at characterization go nowhere and – worse – lack his trademark wit. There’s a very long take that spins around a group of girls at a table that seems like something out of Grand Illusion and not Vanishing Point. And there is a whole lot of build up for a stunt that seems comparatively unimpressive. But the movie zings when Kurt Russell is on screen as an old TV stuntman who likes to use his “death proof” car as a murder weapon for unsuspecting women. He goes between being a smooth but world-weary charmer while he’s on the winning side and an apoplectic wuss when he’s on the defensive. He finally harasses the wrong girls – themselves Hollywood stunt people – who decide to get back at him and then some.

Their car chase/dog fight is probably the best that I’ve ever seen on the big screen; I’d put it next to The French Connection without flinching. One friend likened watching it to getting high; the choreography, coupled with the feminist revenge fantasy – because you really want to see the murderous old chauvinist finally get his comeuppance – really leaves you feeling elated. It’s the perfect high note for Grindhouse to end on.

The beauty of this movie is that it's wholly loyal to what it’s doing; Rodriguez and Tarantino never try to elevate the material into what some critics mistake for “art.” This is empty, compelling popcorn entertainment, and the perfect movie-going experience. And unlike movies, such as 300, it's thoroughly witty and without a nauseating flair for propaganda.

-Elliott Feedore

more music. . .

In addition to the previously discussed FREE events this weekend (two awesome buzzsaw shows, click here if you don't know), there's an assemblage of other activities. Directly after our Friday- Robot Ate Me- show there'll be a dance party fundraiser for the Ithaca Opera Project right at No Radio. Bob describes it as follows:

Friday, April 20th at 10 pm
Dance Party
Love-In vs. Freak-Out
No Radio Records
312 E Seneca St

Also, the same night there's a 10pm Fanclub show at the Lost Dog with Ike Yard,"NYC electro / no wave / industrial band from the early 80s." Check out Natasha at the Times' story on that.

If you still want more music after the mass of concert-parties this weekend, this Sunday Mara Levi will be playing a free show at Felicia's Atomic Lounge (508 W State St) at 7pm. She's from DC and plays pretty cool singer-songwritery stuff.



These shows will also serve as the collective release parties for the first-ever Buzzsaw Haircut Compilation CD.


Whale + Synthesizer =Awesome

Wholphin, the McSweeney's DVD magazine, posted a video by Nicholas Thorburn of The Islands featuring a song from the last album, Return to the Sea, along with some awesome whale footage. The story is pretty sad, but the whole package puts an interesting spin on what was originally kind of a snoozer of a song.

Check it out here:


Buzzsaw Concert Announcement: UPDATE


Both shows are POSSIBLY FREE OR POSSIBLY $3, all-ages, start before 7pm, and at No Radio Records (
312 E Seneca St, Ithaca, NY)

Friday, April 20
The Robot Ate Me
Run Chico Run
Sorry Safari
This Fantastic

Saturday, April 21
Tiger Saw
Stanley & the Livingstons
The Tundra Toes
Machine Gun Joe

(the potential fee would be to aid buzzsaw in its effort to fundraise the required percentage of its budget necessary for future funding)

p.s. And as a supplement to the preceeding post, here is my favorite Kurt Vonnegut passage, also my favorite page of text ever written:

So this book is a sidewalk strewn with junk, trash which I throw over my shoulders as I travel in time back to November eleventh, nineteen hundred and twenty-two.

I will come to a time in my backwards trip when November eleventh, accidentally my birthday, was a sacred day called Armistice Day. When I was a boy, and when Dwayne Hoover was a boy, all the people of all the nations which had fought in the First World War were silent during the eleventh minute of the eleventh hour of Armistice Day, which was the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

It was during that minute in nineteen hundred and eighteen, that millions upon millions of human beings stopped butchering one another. I have talked to old me who were on battlefields during that minute. They have told me in one way or another that the sudden silence was the Voice of God. So we still have among us some men who can remember when God spoke clearly to mankind.
* * *
Armistice Day has become Veterans' Day. Armistice Day was sacred. Veterans' Day is not.

So I will throw Veterans' Day over my shoulder. Armistice Day I will keep. I don't want to throw away any sacred things.

What else is sacred? Oh, Romeo and Juliet, for instance.

And all music is.
-Vonnegut, Kurt. Breakfast of Champions. New York: Dial, 1973.

Vonnegut and the Ithaca Issue

The Ithaca Issue has been out for about a week, and most of it is now online as well. Check it out, and let us know what you think. (You can read what the editors have to say about it here.)

In other news, Kurt Vonnegut died last night. He's a favorite of the Buzzsaw editors and so I thought I'd share with you my favorite passage in all the literature I've read (which, admittedly, is not that much). It comes from Vonnegut's 1969 classic, Slaughterhouse-Five.

He went into the living room, swinging the bottle like a dinner bell, turned on the television. He came slightly unstuck in time, saw the late movie backwards, then forwards again. It was a movie about American bombers in the Second World War and the gallant men who flew. Seen backwards by Billy, the story went like this:

American planes, full of holes and wounded men and corpses took off backwards from an airfield in England. Over France, a few German fighter plans flew at them backwards, sucked bullets and shell fragments from some of the planes and crewmen. They did the same for wrecked American bombers on the ground, and those planes flew up backwards to join the formation.

The formation flew backwards over a German city that was in flames. The bombers opened their bomb bay doors, exerted a miraculous magnetism which shrunk the fires, gathered them into cylindrical steel containers, and lifted the containers into the bellies of the planes. The containers were stored neatly in racks. The Germans below had miraculous devices of their own, which were long steel tubes. They used them to suck more fragments from the crewmen and planes. But there were still a few wounded Americans, though, and some of the bombers were in bad repair. Over France, though, German fighters came up again, made everything and everybody as good as new.

When the bombers got back to their base, the steel cylinders were taken from the racks and shipped back to the United States of America, where factories were operating night and day, dismantling the cylinders, separating the dangerous contents into minerals. Touchingly, it was mainly women who did this work. The minerals were then shipped to specialists in remote areas. It was their business to put them into the ground, to hide them cleverly, so they would never hurt anybody ever again.

The American fliers turned in their uniforms, became high school kids. And Hitler turned into a baby, Billy Pilgrim supposed. That wasn't in the movie. Billy was extrapolating. Everybody turned into a baby, and all humanity, without exception, conspired biologically to produce two perfect people named Adam and Eve, he supposed.



Essex Green Interview

A long, long once-upon-a-time-ago, Buzzsaw Haircut interviewed The Essex Green, a stellar indie-pop act that played a highly entertaining, if not a bit poorly lit, set at Cornell on March 3. We talked with Chris Ziter, guitarist and vocalist, about the trials of being in a long-distance band, the stigma of being labeled a "60s" act, and a couple other topics, some of which got inevitably lost and misplaced in the passage of time between the actual interview and our transcription thereof. Enjoy.

Buzzsaw Haircut: So how has living in Cinicinati changed being in the band [as the rest of the members live in New York City]?

Chris Ziter: As a band we've always lived near each other, and our rhythm section, our bassist and drummer, have either been local folks or people that have lived in other countries. We never really necessarily settled on certain people. So we were always project-based as a band -- we would pick times for getting together to either work on live songs for a tour or songs for recording. So in a sense that's pretty much the same, we just have plan it out a little bit more when we get together. With recording, we try to write the songs separately and then bring it all together. It changed a little bit more from a friendship point of view, not running into each other as often, but from a work point of view, it hasn't affected it that much.

BH: Can you talk about the songwriting process? How does it work putting an album together, with all three songwriters writing independently?

CZ: Jeff Baron, the lead guitarist, and myself went to college together and we were in a local band at the University of Vermont. We started playing music together our senior year in college in a local band with four members who all wrote songs, and we'd each record them on 4-tracks. So the idea of writing songs separately and recording demo versions of them, then playing them for the other band members and having everybody work together on what becomes the live version is just something we've done from pretty much day one. And once we started Essex Green and Sasha was in it-- she'd played with our old band for a little while, and she was watching how we were doing things and that's just the way we've always made music. It kind of taps into the personal side of every songwriter in the band and they spend some time with the song, then they bring it to the table and it gets shaped around before we go into the studio.

CUT::This is where this interview gets interrupted by an old woman in Biloxi, Mississippi discussing her work helping people in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. She tells many great stories::CUT

(BH's assumed question: What's it like working with Merge [Records]?)

CZ: In general, they're just really, really top-notch people. A great independent label. It's really one of the last major, true indies; no major label money coming in from anywhere. We have a lot of respect for how they do business. But there is handicaps that come with any independent label -- that they can't spend a ton of money that a major label would be spending on marketing and what have you. So our PR is limited, and we have to kind of pull stuff out of our own pockets to supplement that if we want. They've been great as far as us being proud to be on that label with their roster, and people definitely notice us because we're on [Merge]. I think we get a certain amount of respect just based on that.

BH: Do they have people working to get your stuff on commercials and movies, or does that come about by people just hearing the band?

CZ: They do a lot of hard work that we certainly couldn't do ourselves. [For example], they give us some advance money for recording. They have a lot of really great bands on their label and they're very busy people just trying to make it, and when a band like the Arcade Fire comes along they can finally get some sort of payback for all the hard work they put in. But in general, it's the same as being in a band, people are doing it for different reasons and they're just trying to make ends meet so they can keep doing what they love to do.

BH: How would you describe a typical audience?

CZ: It's strange, you know, we've gotten really into opening for either bigger acts or contemporary acts that have just started to gain some popularity. And that's one of our favorite things to do because you expose yourself to a lot of different audiences. A lot of cases we can come out of that really positively. Our audience is definitely the indie crowd, but it can really range from really young to much older people because our music has that range from the different levels of songwriting that are happening. And our kind of preference for 60s-style production and arrangement. It's generally pretty much a mix, hard to pin it down.

BH: Do you feel like the 60s comparisons that critics like to latch onto help or hurt the band?

CZ: We get pegged for the 60s thing more than we certainly talk about it. That's the kind of music we like listening to, but when we're writing the music and then recording it and arranging it, we're doing it based on what we want to hear. It's not like we think, "Oh, this sounds like The Zombies," or "This sounds like The Kinks or whatever." We're not thinking along those lines and we don't actively associate ourselves with being a 60s band or a 60s interpretive outfit or anything like that. We get pegged that a lot, I don't know if that has to do with our name. In one periodical we got pegged as a Kinks revisionist band solely on the fact that our name is close to the kink's
Village Green Preservation Society. It's just wierd how people kind of want to put that stamp on you, and I suppose the Elephant 6 label might of helped do that. And I have no problem with it. Our music, we feel, is more complex than that. On the last record it ranges from 60s and 70s [influence] to some stuff that has an 80s sound going on. It's a mix, I dont think it helps or hurts us necessarily.

BZ: So you think the people who listen to your music just listen to the record? That's really something they're thinking about?

CZ: It might be. The one thing we really associate with the 60s is the arrangements of the songs and the production. We're going for a specific sounding amp and specific sounding keyboard and stuff like that, and we choose those olders sounds rather than a lot of synthy stuff. But that's just the kind of music we like listening to and the kind of things we like to hear, so i can see why people consider that in our music, but, outside of that, I think it's a little more complex.

BH: What are your future expectations for the band? Are you guys working on another album, or just songwriting for now?

CZ: We've been friends for a really long time, I hope and expect that we will continue to make music for a long, long time, even into older ago or whatever. [I hope that] as we all get older, we get families and consider moving various places like I have in some ways, it's gonna be the way we all keep connected to each other. Obviously I'd love to have a break-out record and love to be able to play some big festivals and tour with some really big acts and stuff like that. But we've had some really great, big shows and we've done really well in certain countries, like Sweden, so we're really lucky.

BH: So are you guys working on another album for 2007 or just concentrating on weekend tours?

CZ: We did a lot of touring in 2006 for our record, and we just toured with Camera Obscura a couple of weeks ago, and I'm on my way to New York for these shows we're doing this weekend. And everybody's just kind of writing. I think starting next fall we'll probably get together and start the process of recording. We're all into the idea of going about this record a little bit differently by spending more time in an actual studio and not recording as much by ourselves, so we can both get the record done quicker and get more a live feel, because we've really enjoyed the live stuff we've been doing.