Van­cou­ver poses for hellish thriller Selfie RE­VIEWS The clas­sic Des­o­la­tion sound


The Georgia Straight - - Doxa -

Star­ring Alyson Walker. Rated 14A

Most of the fun here can be 2

found in the ti­tle of Selfie From Hell, which prom­ises a lot more than the 70-minute thriller can pro­vide.

The cheaply, if ef­fi­ciently, shot scare flick wastes no time in­tro­duc­ing its main premise, which is, as some­one bluntly says, “Self­ies can kill you.” You might ex­pect such a zeit­geisty as­ser­tion to be backed up by at least a few ges­tures in the philo­soph­i­cal di­rec­tion of where our cur­rent tech ob­ses­sions come from. Are we steal­ing our own souls th­ese days? Is this dig­i­tal nar­cis­sism just another fu­tile at­tempt at im­mor­tal­ity? And who’s that dude who keeps bomb­ing my photos?

In this case, some shad­owy fig­ure re­ally does show up in the self­ies of one Ju­lia Lang, a vlog­ger from Ber­lin, or some­where. Ac­tor Mee­lah Adams, seem­ingly dubbed, is from Ger­many, as is writer-di­rec­tor Erdal Cey­lan, here ex­pand­ing a mini-short from 2015. Ju­lia runs a site the Van­cou­ver-made movie’s named after. But it’s un­clear how this pays for it­self, how much ma­te­rial can fill her pages, or why she is visit­ing her state­side cousin, Han­nah (Alyson Walker). The lat­ter also works with com­put­ers, sort of. How she pays for the up­keep of her man­sion­like abode (ac­tu­ally the ma­jes­tic Mercer house in New West­min­ster) is yet another mys­tery that re­mains more haunt­ing than any­thing else that hap­pens on-screen.

No sooner does Ju­lia ar­rive than she takes one au­to­por­trait too many and falls into an im­me­di­ate coma. She stays there for the rest of the story, thus sav­ing on dub­bing and script-pa­per costs, with Han­nah oc­ca­sion­ally wan­der­ing into the spare room to ask “U up?” I’d prob­a­bly call an am­bu­lance, or Ghost­busters even, but Han­nah even­tu­ally gets too dis­tracted to bother. The film’s creepi­est as­pect is that she gets odd texts from the conked-out Ju­lia. This prompts her to seek as­sis­tance from her tech pal Trevor (Tony Giroux), whom she has never thought of “that way”. Things change when he helps her ex­plore the dark web. This in turn leads them to a phys­i­cal space, where the spook­i­est stuff hap­pens. At its most cre­ative, Selfie hints at grisly ab­strac­tions re­call­ing David Lynch and Un­der the Skin. But ev­ery­thing is so rushed, eros-free, and sketchy, the film­mak­ers must rely on boom­ing sound ef­fects and tired found-footage tropes to sell a story that, scar­ily enough, didn’t quite make it out of screen­writ­ing pur­ga­tory.


The great­est com­pli­ment one might pay Des­o­la­tion Cen­ter is this: it some­how man­ages, against al­most im­pos­si­ble odds, to cap­ture the power of events that rev­o­lu­tion­ized pop mu­sic as we knew it.

To watch di­rec­tor Stu­art Swezey’s es­sen­tial doc­u­men­tary is to marvel at a dust-grimed Sonic Youth rip­ping through “Death Val­ley ’69” in the Cal­i­for­nia desert long be­fore any­one had heard of Coachella. It’s to sit there slack-jawed at the in­san­ity of the Meat Pup­pets, caught los­ing their shit on a boat cruise a decade be­fore Kurt Cobain tried to make them a house­hold name with MTV Un­plugged in New York. And it’s to un­der­stand not only the rev­o­lu­tion­ary power of Ger­man noise pi­o­neers Ein­stürzende Neubauten as they turn sheet metal into sonic art, but also the seeds of mul­ti­me­dia blowouts like Burn­ing Man.

“When I started look­ing at putting the movie to­gether I re­al­ized that th­ese shows had sort of be­come leg­endary,” Swezey says, on the line from his home in Los An­ge­les. “Peo­ple would be writ­ing about this Sonic Youth show in the desert or the time the Min­ute­men played on a boat in the San Pe­dro har­bour. That started to make me look at things in a dif­fer­ent way. Orig­i­nally, I wanted to share th­ese mo­ments. In the process of want­ing to do that, I re­al­ized that there was a big­ger story.”

In the spirit of Michael Az­er­rad’s book Our Band Could Be Your Life, Des­o­la­tion Cen­ter not only ex­plores a crazily fer­tile pe­riod in Rea­gan­era un­der­ground mu­sic, but also gives con­text for why the move­ment was im­por­tant. Swezey was there to wit­ness the events cap­tured in the movie, be­cause he or­ga­nized them. Drawn to the chaotic en­ergy of first-wave Los An­ge­les punk bands like X and Black Flag, he be­gan putting on his own shows. But when ware­house gigs un­der the ban­ner Des­o­la­tion Cen­ter be­gan at­tract­ing heat from po­lice, he de­cided to think out­side the box. At the cen­tre of the film are now-leg­endary gen­er­a­tor-pow­ered shows at­tended by con­cert­go­ers who were trans­ported to the mid­dle of the desert by school bus.

“I didn’t think the shows we were do­ing would be his­tor­i­cal,” Swezey says. “I did know what we were do­ing was rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent, and re­ally em­bod­ied the spirit of what the cul­ture I liked was about. It’s this idea of an ec­static ex­pe­ri­ence where it’s like ‘It’s not go­ing to change the world, but for the mo­ment it’s a re­ally tran­scen­dent thing.’ ”

Ex­cept that some­times small things do change the world, and in­ter­views with artists like the Min­ute­men’s Mike Watt draw a through-line from Des­o­la­tion Cen­ter to mod­ern mega-events like Coachella. Swezey didn’t make any money, but he walked away from it all in the mid-’80s with some­thing more: namely, mem­o­ries that make him the envy of any­one who cares about un­der­ground cul­ture. It’s his hope that Des­o­la­tion Cen­ter— screen­ing as part of DOXA’S mu­sic­themed Press Play series—some­how in­spires a new gen­er­a­tion.

“The world is to­tally dif­fer­ent,” the di­rec­tor says. “I do think the po­ten­tial ex­ists, though, for peo­ple to be in­spired to try out things, no mat­ter how small. It doesn’t have to be Burn­ing Man, be­cause there’s a big desert out there.”

Selfie From Hell. Des­o­la­tion Cen­ter.

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