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DeZ Vylenz Log
A captain's log of activities and projects, affiliations and developments involving the Shadowsnake ship and various guerilla film expeditions. Updated in between storms by DeZ Vylenz, Writer - Director - Martial Arts Choreographer
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Wednesday, October 24, 2007
Back across the Big Pond
The Eagle has landed. Back in London on Tuesday morning, although the plane left San Francisco Monday afternoon. So my mental calendar and bio rhythm are slightly messed up as it's impossible to get any real sleep with crying babies on board of the plane and upright chairs. Straight back to work without resting, the usual red tape and a few kilos of post to go through, then running in some fresh victuals, at night a battery charge of 14 hours, which must be a record as I usually only need 7-8 hours of sleep per day (often don't have more time than 6 1/2).
I realised I didn't read or watch films in the last two weeks, except 28 Weeks Later (weak horror compared to the first one) on the plane going to CA and Sugarhouse (mediocre pseudo-realistic British drama-thriller with again the usual "hard and violent" character, a middle class and a junkie stereotype). I actually don't miss films if there's enough exposure to music. People are always surprised that I never watch TV, although I'm a filmmaker. Watching some of the rubbish "reality" shows in the USA such as I Love New York, the Judge shows (some kind of civil court with people fighting over petty things and material possessions) confirmed my prejudice. There are periods when I prefer real people and real communication over pre-fab audio visual programming.
And in the Bay Area / San Francisco I was mostly with friends and connections from the reggae music scene, so plenty of stuff to catch up on. Also met up with London born DJ Brixton Hitman:
New musical discovery by the way: Fantan Mojah, artist to watch out for. He's got the fire, he's got the beats and he's got the message. Check it out
The last 5 years of travelling have always brought me inside the real heart of the cities I visit, rather than the surface touristic settings and "famous" locations or buildings. Once you actually communicate with people in their homes and habitat, you get a much better and more realistic sense of what the soul of a city is, rather than the postcard image projected in the media.
This is obviously a personal thing, as I rather check out what's going on underground rather than the glossy marble tiled shopping malls or fancy restaurants which are of course also part of a city's landscape, but can give a false sense of security far away from the real vibration of the various subcultures and scenes within an urban scape.
Therefore, every place has a story of failure and one of triumph. No place can be judged by what's presented in the media alone or by a single personal experience or contact with other people and places. So far my favourite city in the USA is still San Francisco (fitting that I'm apparently getting some kind of proclamation or key to the city from the mayor), or better said the entire Bay Area, as it's surrounded by a lot of wild space and has an incredible cosmopolitan vibe and mixed population. I even met coincidentally with people from Suriname two years ago, who were just as surprised as I was, given the fact that most of our country's brain-drain seeped into Florida, Canada and The Netherlands. Especially the jazz musicians are notoriously itinerant creatures.
In Oakland alone I saw so many different bars and scenes, e.g. one night I passed a soul bar and just had to step in because there was some great old school blues and soul band playing, and the place was loud and happening. Only the day after when a friend asked me where I'd been, she told me that it was supposedly a rough place where a lot of dealers went. In the end it's the vibe I care about and stories can be good warnings to remain alert and careful, but it is still how you walk through life and meet others that will keep you safe from harm.
The world in the end is a small ball of dirt compiled of even smaller chunks of land and it is unfortunate that the majority of our population remains ignorant, minds stuck into individual mental ghettos, even when well travelled or educated. Anyway, I'm back in dark and cold London and focusing on a few different projects, some short term, some long term, a lot of work, so to answer another question that came in: no, I most likely will not have more time to write the weblog more than once a week.
Quality still rules over quantity.
Posted by DeZ Vylenz
Thursday, October 18, 2007
Las Vegas to Bay Area
Oakland, Ca, USA. Woke up this morning by a series of atomic blasts reverberating from the sub-woofer of some parked car across the street. This area is unofficially labelled as the ghetto, a far cry from the neon littered Las Vegas where I attended a good vibed wedding on Saturday, before flying into the Bay Area on Sunday. No point writing about all the stereotypes and cliches about Vegas as it's been recorded many a time, but the drive through the Mojave desert from LA is worth noting as a mini road movie, although it took 6 hours instead of 4 as we we're stuck for a while because of some accident with a semi-rig 15 miles ahead of the gridlock.
An interesting variety of people who came to visit from different parts of the country, different accents and interests, but most notable were Brian's grandparents, 81 and 83 who came driving 1800 miles from Alabama by car and were as active as ever after 61 years of marriage. Quite inspiring to see that energy in an older generation and a nice surprise to have them adopt me as their grandson as we got along really well.
Anyway, now catching up and staying with old friends in the Bay Area, among which Ras-I-Zulu, Jamaican Rasta warrior supreme and Carmelita Harris, presenter of Irie Vision Reggae World Beat show on channel 29. She has an impressive catalogue of footage filmed over more than a decade of interviewing world famous reggae artists and events. In general, the whole area around San Francisco and this part of California has a very mellow vibe while people are still on the ball and get things done.
Will be a good battery recharge before flying back to London after the weekend, I'll definitely miss all the fresh fruit and vegetables here and the incredible cosmopolitan mix. It seems tradition now that I'm in California every two years and hopefully it will be more frequent as a number of music and film projects are underway with various artists over here.
Posted by DeZ Vylenz
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Back in the USA after 2 years, flew into Los Angeles last Friday to meet up with my old friend and collaborator Brian Kinney, special make-up FX artist who I met in London and later on moved on to work on the CSI New York TV series in LA. We're planning several realistic shots for the next projects. Strange feeling I'm getting of transcending time, place and culture with my work continuing, while moving from country to country.
Saturday was the long announced second Moto Zombi party in my friend Brian's back garden in North Hollywood, designed like an all out voodoo set up, wooden installations and stage, mini cemeteries between the plants, child corpse in tool shack, rotting bodies here and there and great live music from the Moto Zombi House band, Starring Brian as Baron Samedi on bass, Joyce as the 50s bombshell diva on vocals and a whole band of characters, setting the mood with classics such as Bad Moon Rising, Fever, Blue Suede Shoes and Monster Mash. Great atmosphere and people working in various parts of the film and music industry.
It's always interesting to be back in the States, as there's the main stream culture at the surface with all the various subcultures and interests going on. Especially California has so many niches and areas of interest you can never get bored. But public transport in LA is virtually non-existent except for a few metro lines and buses, while traffic is crawling in perpetual gridlock, so getting around to meetings is quite difficult compared to other cities or especially Europe where the network of buses, trams and trains is usually elaborate enough to bring you anywhere.
On Thursday we're off to Las Vegas for Brian's and Stacy's wedding on Saturday, so the drive will take about 5 hours through the desert. Another reminder of the massive scale of this continent and country, starting in Amsterdam I'm usually in Belgium within 2 hours and a half, France or Germany in double that and so on. Overall there's a general divide here between the coastal cities that are usually far more up to date of what's going on in the rest of the world and the Midwest with the majority of conservative votes. With another economic crisis around the corner, a writer's strike coming up and new elections, I can sense a prevailing feeling of uncertainty.
Anybody who wants to catch up on American history and culture in general or delve deeper than the cultural stereotypes and cliches can do so by reading Henry Miller's "The Air-conditioned Nightmare" and Alistair Cooke's America, a 13-part series made for the BBC back in the 70s. Personally, I always enjoy being back here as I have plenty of friends, mostly in California, but there's just something in the energy of the continent that is dark, violent, primal and inspiring at the same time next to all the bureaucracy and problems I see my friends deal with.
I think it's also important to get a more objective impression from within the various political and economic power blocks that will comprise the cultural landscape of the 21st century. Europe and the USA I'm quite familiar with, but China, the Far East and South America are still place next on the list to visit and hopefully some of my enterprises will bring me there soon.
Posted by DeZ Vylenz
Wednesday, October 03, 2007
Death of a Poet
Hard to summarize all that's going on, but been writing mostly on the move again, filling up those small notebooks for the screenplays and novel slowly but surely.
Last week Thursday met up with Mick in Amsterdam, an old friend from the university days. He moved on to Artificial Intelligence, philosophy, playing cello and bass amongst other things. Was good to catch up after 2 years or more, can't even remember. He had to play cello at a funeral party, so I went down to meet him at the NDSM Docklands, 15 min by ferry from Central Station. No idea what to expect, but walked past the stranded submarine, old boats and abandoned terrain, with as only land mark the fire burning outside of the bar in an old rusty ship's bow, Mad Max style, moving through the entrance made out of one half of an old container. Plenty of anarchists, artists, musicians were paying their last respects to Bone, self proclaimed "low life poet".
Bone was originally from Liverpool and had lived in Amsterdam for quite a while and apparently was just on the verge of recording some great pieces of work and music, sounding a bit like Tom Waits. It came as a shock to most of his friends (and he had a lot) when he was found after drowning in the lake, presumably because he fell out of the rowing boat. Also because one of the poems he wrote had a piece about him ending up in heaven, not liking it: "and I threw away my harp, and I threw away my wings and just left" (or something like that).
The funeral party was organized by a friend and Bone's mother, a lovely woman who seemed to handle it well with a certain calm acceptance. Most of the event was a strange mix of part electronic DJ-ing, folk music, blues and particularly Mick on cello and K on guitar singing "The Bright Side of Life" with pictures of Bone projected on the wall behind struck me as a poignant heart felt celebration of life and the passing way of a friend at the same time. Quite a rowdy event, had to remain calm to avoid some fights, whole scene reminiscent of an old school pirate's nest and from what I hear exactly in tune with Bone's raw character.
The NDSM Docklands are an interesting area, home of the Robodock event, where I had been 6 days before with Rachael, a friend from London, passing through Amsterdam on business (developing an art installation event). In some strange epiphany I witnessed a gigantic mechanical serpent --similar to the Shadowsnake skeleton-- moving its head while flames roared from its body and skull. The remote controlled robotic horse breathing fire was also too surreal for words.
There are signs that the area is getting hip and developed into something more commercial (MTV has already settled down in the area ). Hopefully Bone's death is not signalling the end of the area's raw artistic era, as there are a lot of independent artists living and/or working there who need the space, generating very interesting and unique projects and installations.
In any case, Bone will still remembered by plenty of people there. After experiencing the most extraordinary wedding of the century (Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie) earlier this year, this must have been the most extraordinary funeral party.
Bone Rest in Peace.
Posted by DeZ Vylenz
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Life on the Road
Another week, another series of mini-adventures, too much to write all of them down. Still in Amsterdam. Last Saturday, got a last minute phone call from film maker-tour manager-multimedia centipede Mano, with a request to do camera work in Antwerp at a music gig. Used to it by now, mercenary standby for these kinds of jobs, so had to move fast and collect a camera in Amsterdam West by train and bike, then rush back to pack, eat and jump on the train to Antwerp.
2 hours and a half later I disembark at the impressive train station of Antwerp Central, Blade Runneresque almost. Massive glass domed roof all the way up with several levels in between. I’ve been to Antwerp many times before for leisure or business over the years, but somehow always went by car. A friend picked me up to drive off to the Zuiderpershuis World Music Centre, where I met the flamenco dancer Jesus Herrera and his femme fatale flamenco partner Lola, accompanied by 2 guitarists and two singers.
Very energetic performance in front of a sold out hall, with great acoustics and film noir style shadows on the side walls, so plenty of footage besides the usual required coverage of the music act. The heels of the flamenco dancers sounded like heavy duty machine guns on the stage, while together with the singers and guitarists they built the songs into a crescendo or moments of silence or sudden eruptions.
All well paced, well executed so I was very pleased I took the job on, even though it meant I had to skip another Saturday night of writing on my scripts and other projects. I even got stuck in the hotel elevator with Jesus and two guitarists, but after jumping up and down –following the instructions of the Flemish receptionist yelling through the steel doors-- we managed to get it moving.
Sunday morning at breakfast me and Mano had a conversation with Kobin, one of a large group of Chinese who turned out to be performers from the Beijing Circus show Pirates. They had just left The Netherlands after 6 months and were touring across Europe and Kobin had just become a father, but I assumed his wife and child were back in China. Further down at another table sat a Russian woman, who was also on tour with her husband, performing their dangerous trapeze act.
The tour bus was moving on to Zeeland, and I was dropped off at Central Station, where I noticed an interesting art installation by a South African artist (forgot the name), a series of life size wooden elephants walking towards the Zoo, right next to the train station. Rough pieces of wood and panes formed their shapes, golden sunlight gave them a surreal amber feel.
On the way back stopped in Rotterdam to catch up with old friends travelling through, took a boat trip around the port in probably the last real sunny day of this bleak summer. Late night, back to Amsterdam and every day since then more trains to Eindhoven, Utrecht and other smaller stops. I realised that the stations in Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Antwerp were all in scaffolds, with major construction work going on, nearly analogous to my own life, with a certain structure, yet with plenty of chaos and improvisation building up to unexpected things.
As exhausting as it sometimes can be, I still love trains, moving while sitting comfortably in a small time capsule, with plenty of concentration to write and read. And meeting up with other itinerant artists doing their own thing is always inspiring. Unfortunately didn’t get the chance to make stills of the flamenco gig as I was handling a film camera, but the rapid and aggressive rhythms still occasionally reverberate through my head. Very promising act this Jesus Herrera and company. Check it out.
Posted by DeZ Vylenz
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