Digital Prospector: musical trash, vinography, "The Canyons" and Tom Jones

Critic Rustin Thompson unearths the very best - and worst - in online video.
Crosscut archive image.

Tom Jones at the House of Blues, 2009

Critic Rustin Thompson unearths the very best - and worst - in online video.

Crosscut archive image.

The Sound of Trash
In a slum in Paraguay, a teenager displays his cello, constructed from wood and an oil can, and proudly says, “The pegs are made out of an old tool to tenderize beef and this was used to make gnocchi.” The teen is a member of Landfill Harmonic, an orchestra comprised of children too poor to buy musical instruments, but resourceful enough to learn how to play Beethoven on a clarinet made from bottle caps. This video short trumpets the message: “The world sends us its garbage, we send back music.” And that is exactly what happens after garbage pickers recycle the buttons, strings, pipes and cans, and inspired locals craft them into instruments. In a place where a violin costs more than a house, these kids believe that nothing is more priceless than music.

Still trying to untangle the raison d’etre of Vines? Those are the six-second videos (why only six?) uploaded to the Vine app by amateurs (usually) which achieve a kind of sonic feedback loop when endlessly replayed. This recent article from Ad Age links to a series of Vines commissioned by the Seattle agency Copacino & Fujikado for the tourism site, Visit Seattle. These local mad men tapped a professional photographer to shoot some visual tendrils of the Space Needle, the Pike Place fish throwers and the Seattle Great Wheel in an effort to improve on the shaky iPhone quality of most Vines but, frankly, they still have that random, morning glory kind of look to them.


Upstream Color   
Director Shane Carruth made his first film, Primer, for $7,000 after teaching himself writing, directing, editing, producing and cinematography. It won the Sundance Grand Jury award in 2004, and gained an instant cult following for its heady mix of visual grunge and sci-fi smarts. For his long-awaited follow-up, Upstream Color, the autodidact Carruth­ studied the fine points of film marketing and distributed the movie himself in theaters, on pay-per-view and now in the Instant Play category at Netflix. Like Primer, Upstream Color is resolutely cinematic and intellectually challenging. Characters identified as The Sampler, The Thief and The Orchid Harvesters are parts of a triangular cycle of regeneration, speaking to Carruth’s central thesis that our identities, instincts, habits and quirks are perhaps shared traits on a continuum and, unsettlingly, beyond our control. Shards of scenes are broken down into extreme close-ups, repetitive fragments and snatches of sounds, resulting in a dizzying assemblage of sensory imagery. The film comes across as hallucinatory and mind-bending, but also grounded in a rigorous design. What at first appears inscrutable eventually reveals itself to be a crucial link in a compact, determined architecture, a blueprint for a distracted culture of multi-taskers. Carruth would like nothing more than to remap the neural pathways formed after a century of movie-watching.

“The Canyons” trailer 
This pulpy preview of Paul Schrader’s first film in five years perfectly exploits the movie’s pre-release, train-wreck-in-the-making publicity. The Canyons is a micro-budgeted B-movie crowd-funded into existence by a trifecta of SoCal oddballs who have seen better days. Written by former wunderkind Brett Easton Ellis (Less Than Zero, American Psycho) and directed by Paul Schrader, the once-lauded scribe of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull who can’t even get arrested in Hollywood these days, the movie stars Lindsay Lohan. But wait, there’s more! Schrader cast a hugely popular porn star by the name of James Deen as the male lead, a tumescent stroke of attention-getting genius. The movie’s lurid, grindhouse plot seems to be about ego-tripping sluts and scumbags, and it comes online, in theaters and on pay-per-view in August.

Tom Jones/Tower of Song  
Tom Jones, the famous pop crooner and former fantasy sex toy to millions of panty-less housewives, recorded a staggeringly great Americana album in 2010 called Praise and Blame, in which the Welshman’s pipes distilled a harvest of gospel and blues covers to their smoky, muscular essence. Now he’s back with another collection, Spirit in the Room, featuring interpretations of songs by Paul Simon, Richard Thompson, Odetta and, in this music video, Leonard Cohen’s “Tower of Song”, stripped down to sparse plucks of a guitar and bass. Jones, sporting a grey goatee and a road weary mien, wanders the stairwell of a crumbling mansion, a troubadour trapped by his spectral past. When he sings, “I was born with the gift of a golden voice,” the only possible retort is, “Amen, brother.”

For more nuggets from the Digital Prospector, go here. Lead photo courtesy of Landfill Harmonic.


Please support independent local news for all.

We rely on donations from readers like you to sustain Crosscut's in-depth reporting on issues critical to the PNW.


About the Authors & Contributors

Rustin Thompson

Rustin Thompson

Rustin Thompson is a filmmaker, film critic and indie radio deejay. He enjoys strong coffee, red wine, IPAs and his wife and grown children. He is comfortable with the fact he will never be rich, but grows petulant if he thinks too much about it.