Monday, October 31, 2011


This 2010 Danish film By Susanne Bier, which hauled in the Oscar for Best Foreign Film & had been on my “list” for some time, is as good as I’d hoped. It essentially concerns itself with male violence, the innate urge to express that violence, and the societal or humanized urge to suppress it. At another and slightly more melodramatic level, it’s about how devastating the death of a parent can be. If you’ve guessed that this is not a screwball comedy – you’re right. It follows two overlapping stories: one, a depressed, recently-divorced, hardworking doctor trying to balance life with his sons back in Denmark and his role as a caregiver in war-torn, sub-Saharan Africa. The other story is about a teenager’s loss of his mother to cancer, and its effect on his relationship with his father, his schoolmates & everyone around him. Violence comes both suddenly and over time in this film, and how the characters react to it is the core of the story.

Certain scenes are absolutely searing. In one, the doctor is forced to treat a brutal African warlord with a gangrenous, rotting leg – despite that same warlord having personally killed or maimed pregnant women that the doctor has recently rescued. The pain on this man’s face as he decides whether or not to lash out at this warlord or help him – particularly after a similar experience he’s faced up to in Denmark in previous scenes – is incredibly moving. The grieving young man who plays the budding pyromaniac Christian is also excellent at conveying a stony, silent, embittered teenager completely unable to talk with his confused father about his bottled-up rage. While that story was a little more paint-by-numbers than the other, it still provided a lot of color to Bier’s theme of “men grappling with inner violence”. Finally, I was excited to see the actor Ulrich Thomson play the latter’s father – it’s the guy from “The Celebration”! (Easily my favorite non-Bergman Scandinavian film of all time and a film I need to see at least two more times).

Susanne Bier directed a terrific drama in 2006 called “AFTER THE WEDDING”, and I’d have a hard time choosing that better film between that and this one. Oh, and while we’re discussing recent Scando film, let me put in a plug for a phenomenal 2006 Norwegian film that didn’t get a lot of eyeballs in the US but which I’ve seen two times & would see again anytime: “REPRISE”. I’ll let you read about it, but it’s easily the equal of the two we’re discussing here. Those of you hanging on by your fingernails to your Netflix queues – now you’ve got some doozies to add to it.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


I linked to an article the other day from this past Sunday's New York Times on print fanzines. There were a couple of crusty curmudgeons in there bemoaning the fact that blogs and social media - the primary form of non-professional expression on the web - simply replace one piece of content with another, over and over, ad nauseum until the old stuff is totally gone. It's not gone, per se - my Byron Coley post from last June is the most popular thing I've even written on this blog, racking up hits like crazy from god-knows-where - but if no one links to it, and no one searches for it, then it's gone.

Vainly, there are certain things I've posted on The Hedonist Jive that I don't want to be gone. They're just blog posts, to be sure, but they're my blog posts, and if I don't link to 'em, at this point no one else will either. So have a look! Here are some of our greatest hits the past two years.

SUPERDOPE #5 (a scan of my early 90s print fanzine, with links to the other four issues I've scanned as well)

plus....a ton of book reviews.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Unpacking my thoughts about this book could really eat up some time and space if I let it, so I'll do my best to stay concise. Long story short, Simon Reynolds' new book "RETROMANIA" is imperfect and flawed in a few key areas, and yet at times I felt like it was written just for me and my "ilk". It concerns itself with 21st century culture's, particularly musical culture's, incessant need to look backward for inspiration. Both underground and mainstream culture have run out of original ideas, the argument goes, and are aimlessly jumping from inspiration to inspiration and to literal and shameless borrowing from the past. Anyone past the age of 40 - as I am - can probably relate. As the book does a marginally good job of showing, people have also been complaining about quote-unquote retromania for about fifty years now, with nearly as much credibility as we ourselves have now.

The author, whose music writings I've been moderately acquainted with for a while with a mix of admiration and repulsion - the latter mostly because our tastes don't line up synchronously and therefore he's not to be trusted (!) - wrote a really good book about late 70s/early 80s post-punk, on which I too was weaned, called "RIP IT UP AND START AGAIN" and which I reviewed on an old blog right here. He's not only an even better writer now, he's done a good job keeping himself current both musically and culturally. In the first half of the book, he covered two topics very near and dear to my heart - the culture of record (LP/45) collecting, and the transformative changes the Internet has bestowed on the way we consume music. There are several chapters on these subjects, both of which are quite obviously almost mutually exclusive. In fact, Reynolds evinces quite a bit of retro nostalgia himself for the solitary pursuit of record accumulation, which was also a huge part of my life from about age 13 all the way until about 33. I know exactly what he means about what is now being lost in the digital age, and I also love that he appreciates very well what's being gained - which, on balance, is better for just about everyone except for grumbling audiophiles and newly-unemployed music industry executives.

The first half of "RETROMANIA" flits around these topics and others so well, gliding disparate concepts into and out of each other with ease, that I felt like I was finally reading the first tome that finally synthesized what digitization is doing to music consumption in a way that felt real and true, instead of a year or two behind the times or like futurebabble. Alas, that's not really what this book is about - which is why I was sort of surprised to be loving the book as much as I was. Around midway and especially into the last third, it's almost like Reynolds rediscovers his thesis - "we have run out of ideas" - and then looks to various subcultures (fashion, musique concrete, even film) to try and fit this all into a unified whole. It comes off as awkward at times, and there are chapters that just don't add a whole lot except to make Reynolds look like a guy grasping at connections that may or may not be there.

It almost reads like a collection of essays that someone decided needed to be anthologized in a book, and tied together by hook or crook. I'm fairly certain that's not what this is, and that Reynolds definitely had his theme developed before his editors did. So let's blame the editors for making it come across as ham-handed at times. That said, I'm really happy I read this. He really captures the zeitgeist of the time and of certain subsets of individuals, myself included - and I don't think his "retromania" thesis is at all wrong or even something we shouldn't worry about a little. Reynolds, far from bemoaning laziness on the part of content creators, instead points a strong light at cultural and technological forces that have made this current state of stasis so. I believe him, But of course I would - I'm a nostalgia-drenched fortysomething dad, right?

Monday, October 24, 2011


Life is complex. The last thing you need is another blog stinking up your RSS reader. Yet you may have an appetite for content & information that fits neatly and squarely in between - oh I don't know - the Hedonist Jive 140-character Twitter account and the Hedonist Jive "long form" blog. Right, I hear you - when did the friggin' blog become long-form content? Well, for a lot of our brethren and sistren out there, it has. That's why some enterprising twentysomething came up with this TUMBLR idea, which can be equated to a longer Twitter or a shorter blog. For those of us with lots of things to "say" or publish, but not enough time in which to say or publish them, I have to admit, it's a pretty good idea. You can even write your posts on your phone, add photos, add audio files and then some. It's a platform I thought I'd experiment with, starting right about now. Thus, the HEDONIST JIVE TUMBLR.

I have had to actively coach myself this past year to complement my incessant online activity by reading more long-form content, as I did - as we all did - for years. This includes a stepped-up effort to read even more books, which I've been reviewing here these past couple of years, and long-form magazine articles, which I've always read and which I'm reading even more of thanks to INSTAPAPER, the greatest smartphone & tablet app not called Spotify or MLB At Bat. There's still a need for the pithy soundbite and the quickly-shared photo or mp3, though. I think this Tumblr thing will make a decent place for me to throw all asides and bon mots that I don't quite feel like covering in "medium-form" glory here at the main blog. And it actually renders well on your internet-enabled phone, too. (I'm going to assume you have one of those unless you're still rocking a StarTac - but if you are I'm going to start calling you "Bob Dole").

So have a look at The Hedonist Jive Tumblr, and maybe bookmark it if you think it might add some value to your media-consumin' life. And maybe subscribe to the Hedonist Jive Twitter while you're at it. Our online media empire is expanding. Next stop - printzine. Don't laugh.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011


My birthday a couple weeks ago brought untold good tidings and comforts – actually, pretty much everyone in the family gave me the same thing: Amazon gift credit or cards. No complaints here. That was my excuse to go and use some of it for something I’ve been waiting years to hear – the complete early 60s recordings that folk guitar wizard JOHN FAHEY made for Joe Bussard’s FONOTONE label. Actually, I’ve heard a bootleg of them, but my burned CD-R copies have jumbled track orders, missing titles and whatnot – and man, that new box set “YOUR PAST COMES BACK TO HAUNT YOU” looked to be a fetish object of the highest order, what with 5 CDs and a book, even at $84 all-in. So I bought it.

When it arrives in the mail via Super-Saver shipping in 5-8 days, it will likely set off a feverish John Fahey listening bender. I get those from time to time. Once I heard the sneak-peak track I’m posting for you below, an early version of my favorite all-time Fahey track “The Portland Cement Factory at Monolith, California”, I started in on the bender early. Re-listened to a couple of CDs I hadn’t heard in a while, and thought I’d post my thoughts on them presently:

“THE GREAT SANTA BARBARA OIL SLICK” - When Fahey stepped onto the stage at San Francisco's Matrix club in 1968, I think it's fair to say that that could have been the very moment when he was at the absolute peak of his game. His very best LPs - the Blind Joe Death volumes, "The Great San Bernardino Birthday Party", "The Yellow Princess" etc. -- were just immediately behind him, and though he still had a couple of classics to come ("America" and "Of Rivers and Religion"), he was at this point fully locked into the five-handed guitar instrumental virtuoso he'd make an unfortunate habit of disparaging in his later years. This Matrix show is less an additive eye-opener for what Fahey's live act was like -- it was a lot like his studio act, with some bonus mumbled repartee between songs -- and more a wowser of a record in its own right. Taking some his absolute tip-top classics and splaying them out onto the stage with a lap steel and the odd slide, Fahey takes his ringing, intricately constructed acoustic songs and transports them in real time to someplace warm, lovely and complex. His reverence for the deepest of the deep country blues shines through in the odd squeaks and moans that emit from his guitar, dexterous sounds that only other giants like SKIP JAMES or CHARLEY PATTON or MISSISSIPPI JOHN HURT were able to pull up from the depths of their experience. This CD's got plenty to recommend it, and despite its overlap with so much of the 1966-68 studio material, I hope you make the wise call and add it to your collection anyway. Fahey was a legend, and a guy who was cut from a totally different cloth than just about any other guitarist alive or dead.

“GUITAR,VOL. 4/THE GREAT SAN BERNARDINO BIRTHDAY PARTY” – Revisiting this one, his fourth album, after about six years of having it gather dust on my shelves helps me put it into perspective a little better. It’s the first “experimental” LP that Fahey put out, which points a light to the recordings he made in the 90s before his death. It’s also indicative of the 1966 mindset – a cut-up, at times Eastern-inspired, vaguely psychedelic set of guitar excursions, one of which is actually called “Guitar Excursions Into The Unknown”. Far out! His tunings, and the deliberately muddied fidelity of some of the recordings, makes it his first truly uncommercial work. The first track is over 19 minutes, for crissakes – and it’s really about ten different pieces in one, complete with 1-second breaks between each “movement”. That said, it’s still rooted in beautiful, transcendent guitar strum, and while it’s certainly not the place you start with the man, you definitely need to ingest it once you’ve fully digested the main early courses of Fahey guitar genius.

John Fahey: The Portland Cement Factory at Monolith, California by dusttodigital

Friday, October 14, 2011


While I’ve long cited Robert Altman as one of my “favorite all-time directors”, said citation comes with several caveats. First, I’m talking about 1970s Robert Altman, not “Short Cuts”, “Gosford Park” Altman – though those are fine films to be sure. Second, I have seen all of what I believe are his major 70s works, including three that are in my Top 20 films of all time: “3 Women”, “Nashville” and “McCabe and Mrs. Miller”. I’ve also seen (and loved) some of his lowest-tier 70s stuff that no one ever talks about, like “A Wedding” and “Images”. I’m still missing out of the full oeuvre, though, having never seen “The Long Goodbye”, “Thieves Like Us” and, until two weeks ago, 1974’s “California Split”. This admission elicited audible gasps and much umbrage taken among certain of my film-going friends, so I reckoned it was time to correct the deficit, one film at a time.

“CALIFORNIA SPLIT”, with a screen-hogging Elliott Gould and a morosely weird George Segal in the lead roles, is one of the most manic films I have ever seen. It could be from no one but Altman. Remember how jarring it was to have characters in the background of “McCabe and Mrs. Miller” miked higher than those in the foreground? No one had ever done than before, intentionally at least, but that film has nothing on the total cacophony of conversations that all take place at once in this one. As my pal who’s seen this film four times now told me, you can’t watch “California Split” just once if you want to get all of the best quotable dialog. I missed a ton, because, for example, Altman has four conversations going at once at a roulette wheel, and everyone’s miked exactly the same – even Gould. Since his voice is the loudest – he’s a total obnoxious party animal/egotist/gambling addict in this film – and because you know he’s the star, you tend to focus on his words the most, but it’s a struggle at times.

It may be the passage of time and the 37-year gulf between 2011 and 1974, but I don’t think I’ve seen a film that looked so seventies since my last Blaxploitation marathon. Altman excellently casts of collection of grifters, bums, elderly gamblers and all-around ugly people in just about every non-essential role. This is not a frolic with the beautiful people in Las Vegas; this is a bottom-dwelling journey to places like Reno, Tijuana and Santa Anita racetrack. Nothing really happens, per se, other than Gould and Segal opportunistically following their luck wherever the chance to win money takes them. There’s drinking, there are girls (including the lovely Gwen Wells, who played Sueleen Gay in “Nashville” and whom I’m heartbroken to just now discover died in 1993 at the age of 42) and many big bets taken. Segal goes from depressingly morose to euphoric to drunkenly euphoric to morose again. Gould is just pure mania throughout the entire film, completely unable to self-reflect or slow down for even a second.

After watching “CALIFORNIA SPLIT” I wasn’t sure if I had a headache to complain about or if I’d just seen a near-masterpiece. It was a joy to look at, that’s for sure – the people, the 70s signage, the old Detroit boat-cars, the sexual revolution in simultaneous full flower & decay, and so on. I’m pretty sure I’m going to need to see it again to see what I really think. See, that’s how Altman gets ya.

Thursday, October 13, 2011


In the mood for some ruff Danish girl garage pop? Maybe not this morning – but perhaps later this afternoon? Well then have I got a band for you. I discovered Copenhagen’s SOCK PUPPETS on someone’s 8Tracks mix & then followed them down the internet rabbit hole for a while. At the end of it, I’d ordered their 4-song CD-EP from Odd Box Records because I was just so smitten & stuff. Their EP whips by in less than eight minutes, and if the stars align the way I expect them to, the folks over at Slumberland are probably already taking them out for crumpets & readying a big signing bonus. At least they should be.

The band roll-calls many of their heroes on their MySpace page – calling out just a few, like Aislers Set, The Vaselines and Pussy Galore, should give you a pretty good sense of how the band combines noise, feedback and really sweet pop hooks to make something they call their own. The songs are so insanely catchy that it was a goddamn teenage dance party in my car as I played the four songs over & over on the way to work this morning. This is barely one step above self-released stuff, so if they’re this good when they’re barely off the ground, let’s hope these young lasses can continue this rambunctiousness well into their twenties.
Download SOCK PUPPETS – “Summer Jacket”

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


Still checking daily into The Hedonist Jive or tirelessly refreshing your browser in hopes that we’ll review some of today’s up-n-coming craft beers? Well we understand and thank you for it – after all, a good portion of this site’s 200 total posts have been about beer. 64, to be precise, and you can read them all here. But in case you missed the breaking news from August 2011, I’ve started another blog to feed my beer obsession called BEER SAMIZDAT, and all beer talk, loads of it, is going on over there. Hedonist Jive retains everything else I want to write about, but beer – well beer’s in a class by itself. Please do us the favor of checking it out and following us on Twitter if you can - @beersamizdat.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

BOOK REVIEW: "WAR" by Sebastian Junger

One could pretty much read quality books about war, and only war, for a lifetime and still feel they'd still missed out on some classics. For those of you like me who are dilettantes in the field of first-person accounts of war on the front lines, don't make the mistake of passing up this amazing work of journalism simply because it's entitled a mere "WAR", and because it deals with recent nonsensical fighting in Afghanistan and not on epic, defining battles along the Western Front. This account by Sebastian Junger of his time embedded with an American infantry platoon in Afghanistan's Korengal Valley - the hottest flashpoint in the entire deadly, crazed battle with the Taliban - is as well-written as any military account I've read, right up there with Anthony Beevor's "Stalingrad" (which is actually a work of history) and Tim O'Brien's semi-nonfictional "The Things They Carried". Except this is better, and cuts more closely to the bone. If you've ever wondered why some men are driven to be soldiers, why they will die for the men around them and take ludicrous risks to save their friends instead of themselves, this is an essential read.

Sebastian Junger is fairly well-known for his gonzoid journalism in the lines of battle with firefighters, seamen at storm and other testosterone-laden subjects. Junger is obviously the rare sort of man up for the challenge of spending multiple months getting shot at and going on shoot-to-kill missions with a platoon in the name of a good story and a film ("RESTREPO", a terrific documentary that Hedonist Jive reviewed right here). All well and good - but the man can write like you wouldn't believe. His perspective ranges from quote-perfect descriptions of the boredom and intense camaraderie of the men he's with to meditations on the internal machinations of man when confronted with possible or near-certain death. When he hits upon a particular topic - how cortisol contributes to fighting ability, say, or how men block out the external narrative of "the war" in favor of the WAR they're actually fighting - he goes on some pretty big riffs to get to what he believes are essential truths. It's hard not to believe that they are when you're done with said riffs, backed as they are by words straight from the mouths of soldiers and even from clinical, scientific research.

This is not a book about whether or not it's right to fight the war in Afghanistan, nor about anything happening outside the Korengal Valley - unless it's about how weird it was for the men of the Second Platoon to go back to the United States when their tours of duty were up. Many signed up for new tours, just so they could feel the adrenaline-rush intensity that comes from nothing but combat. Remember that soon-to-be-cliched scene at the end of "The Hurt Locker", in which Jeremy Renner's character suffers from total cognitive dissonance at an American supermarkets after his wacked-out, exceptionally violent time in Iraq? There's a lot of discussion of similar feelings among combat personnel in this book, and about how firefights & screaming, violent combat is especially well-matched to the phisiologies of 19-25-year-old men in top physical condition.

The notion of "brotherhood", so easily mocked when put into the wrong hands - say, a politician's - is made into something so respectful and understandable in this book that I actually dropped my jaw at times in a newfound respect for humanity. It turns out that we as people have an innate empathy for our fellow man that in certain circumstances can override even our love for ourselves. Yeah, like I said - this is a book that hits on some pretty deep truths, all in the service of painting a vivid picture of men in combat, thousands of miles from you & me and doing this every day and night while we do whatever it is we do. "WAR" is an exceptional book, and I'm happy it's only my first at what I'm sure will be many books read by Sebastian Junger.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


…just happens to be my favorite record of the moment. It’s a weird one for me as well, as it’s not a “record” in my “collection” per se. It’s an album I can access digitally via my $9.99/month subscription to Spotify, and that I own no hard copy of - burned, legit or otherwise. Welcome to the new normal.

MIKAL CRONIN is a San Franciscan who plays at times as a one-man act and more commonly in a band with other people, under his tutelage. His debut S/T release is a fantastic big-burst of amplified garage pop, acoustic 60s hard strum and a few bizarre 70s grit moves of the E.L.O. orchestral pop variety. You’ll probably just want to call it garage rock, and that’d be OK. There are some fellas on here that you already love and recognize, like TY SEGALL and John Dwyer from THEE OH SEES, both big Hedonist Jive favorites. One plays drums, and the other plays flute solos. That’s right, flute solos. Most of the songs on “Mikal Cronin” are tremendously hooky and infectious, particularly the single “Apathy” and “Gone” – both of which are pretty hard to shake from your head once they’re in there. A few others are slithery, but harmonious, noise (“Is It Alright”) or that sort of off-putting 70s stuff that’s one hipster toke over the line (“Situation”). I think you need to hear some of it to see for yourself. Go listen to my new mix on 8TRACKS – it kicks off with “Apathy” – or check out this page or this one to listen to some more. Along with the much more pop/twee Veronica Falls record, it’s my favorite thing going right about now.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


When we talk about sports around here at the ‘Jive, which is not too often – but when we do, we’re usually talking baseball. Baseball season is by no means over, but I’d be doing you & the world a big disservice if I didn’t at least remind you that the other great North American team sport, the National Hockey League, is starting up again the day after tomorrow. That would be Thursday 10/6. No labor strife, and no big controversies this offseason except for a huge focus on aggressive hits and head injuries. Sidney Crosby, arguably the “face” of the NHL to the non-hockey world, is still suffering from post-concussion after-effects and won’t be playing this weekend. Brendan Shanahan, former Detroit Red Wings star & now the league’s rule enforcer & disciplinarian, is suspending players left & right over over-aggressive face-washes & body-spindling during the preseason. Lots of ensuing chatter. I can't pretend to care. Let’s play some hockey.

I haven’t made NHL predications in some time, in at least six/seven years, and I was of course dead wrong in public then as I often am in these matters. (I thought it especially awesome that the 2 teams I picked to play each other in the 2011 MLB World Series, Atlanta & Boston, each went into free-fall during September and were ignominiously eliminated on the last day of the season). I’ve been doing my homework this NHL off-season, however, and I’m feeling pretty good about these picks. I’ve been reading Backhand Shelf, Houses of The Hockey, Puck Daddy, Hockey News and ESPN’s NHLpage – have even been listening to XM’s NHL Home Ice and a few podcasts (!) – so this is pretty scientific right here. Let’s talk again about the results in April and we’ll see if my San Jose Sharks actually did finally shrug off their curse and get it done for Lord Stanley this time. Here goes:

NHL Western Conference (top 8 teams make the playoffs)

1.    Vancouver Canucks
2.    San Jose Sharks
3.    Nashville Predators
4.    Los Angeles Kings
5.    Detroit Red Wings
6.    Chicago Black Hawks
7.    St. Louis Blues
8.    Anaheim Ducks
9.    Columbus Blue Jackets
10. Calgary Flames
11. Dallas Stars
12. Colorado Avalanche
13. Phoenix Coyotes
14. Edmonton Oilers
15. Minnesota Wild

NHL Eastern Conference (top 8 teams make the playoffs)

1.    Washington Capitals
2.    Pittsburgh Penguins
3.    Boston Bruins
4.    Philadelphia Flyers
5.    New York Rangers
6.    Buffalo Sabres
7.    Toronto Maple Leafs
8.    New Jersey Devils
9.    Montreal Canadians
10. Tampa Bay Lightning
11. Carolina Hurricanes
12. New York Islanders
13. Winnipeg Jets
14. Florida Panthers
15. Ottawa Senators

Western Conference Finals: San Jose over Nashville
Eastern Conference Finals: Washington over Pittsburgh

Stanley Cup: San Jose over Washington, 7 glorious games

Some commentary: None of this really upsets too much of the conventional wisdom. I have a hunch that exciting times are due to visit Toronto after a long absence and that the Maple Leafs will finally make the playoffs & have a nice run. The other big surprise team – well, not to some folks – will be the Nashville Predators. Blessed with an amazing goalie (Pekke Rinne), an incredible defensive corps (Shea Weber & other brutes) and just enough scoring, they’ll achieve great things in front of not too many fans in that hockey hotbed of Nashville, Tennessee. The San Jose Sharks, though, have really got an incredibly balanced team across the board. They’ve been knocking at the door of this thing for so long, and just because they’re “my team” and in my backyard, I can’t ignore the fact that they’re totally loaded and ready to go off.

I’m also excited to see a few teams start to turn it around – St. Louis, the NY Islanders and the New Jersey Devils, who all had pretty weak 2010-11 seasons. And those Washington Capitals are a blast to watch – fast, loose and possessing the most exciting player of the decade, Alex Ovetchkin. I’m confident he’ll at least make it to the Cup this year given the supporting cast they’ve built around him, including goaltender Tomas Vokoun, who’s poised for a bounceback year. And Vancouver? Good enough to rack up the points in the regular season for sure - not tough enough to make it happen this year in the playoffs. Keep waiting, Vancouver - and try not to set anything on fire this year.

Grab a Labatt’s and start growing out your playoff beard as I am – should be a wild season, eh?

Saturday, October 1, 2011


This is a quiet, meditative French film from 2010 that recreates a 1996 incident in which Trappist monks from France were kidnapped from their monastery in Algeria by Islamic fundamentalists. Such a description may understandably lead you to believe that a film about said incident might not be quiet and meditative. Yet “OF GODS AND MEN” focuses the majority of its screen time on the inner life of the monastery and of the mental turmoil in the minds of the monks as they come to realize their way of life is coming into extreme danger from the clash of civilizations right outside their hillside door. The backdrop is an Algerian civil war between a more secular government and a radical, Taliban-like people’s army, and the encroachment of this battle onto the monks’ serene – dare I say monastic- lifestyle. Suprising to me, this is a very religious film that I can imagine being shown both in churches and hedonistic film festivals.

I found the film to be a little too deliberately meditative for my tastes. After the fourth or fifth lengthy singing/chanting interlude within the monks’ Algerian sanctuary, you’ve truly seen enough singing and chanting – but the filmmakers obviously believed that you needed to see some more regardless. There’s also a bizarre scene that goes on forever in which the monks wordlessly listen to “Swan Lake” at top volume during a meal with a mounting sense of dread and foreboding – which makes sense, considering that after this scene the inevitable kidnap finally comes, but it’s such a weird film-school type of scene that I found it pretty off-putting. With all my complainin’, though, I’ll admit that the performances are quite good as the monks consider their potential fate, and weight the option of staying vs. going – and wow, who knew that the Algerian countryside could be so beautifully filmed. Not me. I’m not sure I’d invest the two hours I spent in this one knowing what I know now, but I still have some level admiration for it in my hardened heart of hearts.