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Dave Monroe as a child.

Dave Monroe in high school.

Dave Monroe in one of his bands, The Prevailing Westerlies.

Dave Monroe being interviewed on the news in Milwaukee.

A few days ago, Dave Monroe of Milwaukee, Wisconsin passed away. He was 49 years old.

Dave was a friend of mine and a friend to many—a beloved, highly cultured fixture of Cream City who frequented record shops, night clubs, book stores, movie theaters, cafes, restaurants, museums, and bus stops from one side of town to the other.

To know Dave at all was to be aware of his deep knowledge of music, literature, and film, and the goodnatured, at times hyperactive manner in which he liked to talk shop. Whether it was with hardcore enthusiasts of one of his pet subjects, or so-called laymen who were curious (or even staunchly incurious), Dave always shared his interests with others and his fervor for art was contagious.

An avid collector of music, Dave developed an inextricable fondness for old 45rpm records. Indeed, one of his catchphrases was “Have records, will travel” and nothing seemed to summon warm and fuzzy feelings in him quite like laying down a Mod soul, boogaloo, Hammond jazz, doo-wop, Sixties French pop, or freakbeat 45 and letting it rip—preferably in public. As DJ Flavor Dav he spun records in Milwaukee countless times—at recurring events like the Soul Hole (his main endeavor), Rave You in Bay View, the Rhythm and Brunch, 2 x 2 4 Tuesday, various regional soul summits, and guest spots at local mainstays like Mod Night (R.I.P.) and The Get Down. My good friend Will who used to work with Dave at the Milwaukee Art Museum recalled how a woman Dave was once trying to court said to him, “When I look into your eyes, all I see are two records spinning,” and it’s easy to imagine Dave feeling flattered by that to no end. Even on his deathbed in a hospice Dave managed to have a small turntable present with various 45s strewn about. And word has it he was still trying to acquire “new old records” (as he liked to call them) while haggling about their prices up until his last few days. (You can witness the late Flavor Dav spinning some of his recent favorites HERE.)

The expression “voracious reader” has become a bit of a tiresome cliché to describe a bookish person, but Dave was nothing if not a bibliophile. Even Milwaukeeans who didn’t have the privilege of being acquainted with him would probably recognize Dave as the ubiquitous bespectacled “man about town” who never left the house without a stack of books under one arm, and, later in life, a cane at the end of the other. While Dave did graduate from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with a degree in Comparative Literature and Mathematics in 1990, the cut of his jib was much more closely allied with that of an autodidact than an academic. To that end he absorbed numerous compelling reads in his adult life—everything from top-shelf novels by authors like Nabokov, Virginia Woolf, and his all-time favorite Thomas Pynchon, to scores of non-fiction books pertaining to cultural analysis and critical theory, to science and math texts, to fun and colorful comic books old and new. Among other things, Dave used to email his other friends and me PDFs he’d found of curious film theory titles, the most recent being The Feel-Bad Film, which I plan to get around to soon. And just revisiting his Facebook page today I noticed dozens of promising books he read and recommended that will be worth looking into in the coming months.

But while music and literature were touchstones, being a filmmaker I probably related to Dave most when it came to cinema. The early to mid Aughts, while I was enrolled as a film student, were a great time to be a moviegoer in Milwaukee. If one was so inclined, every week he could see a treasure trove of movies ranging from old domestic classics by directors like Nicholas Ray, to bad-ass foreign “art house” titles, to esoteric avant-garde works—all via celluloid prints. I was so inclined and happened to see Dave at a ton of screenings all over town. He was there at a screening of the newly restored print of Le Circle Rouge at the Times Cinema (back when they screened more adventurous selections), and he was routinely present at the UWM Union Theater for showings of great movies like Elem Klimov’s Come and See and Chantal Ackerman’s Jeanne Dielman, 23 Commerce Quay, 1080 Brussels. Dave was an adamant fan of mainstream hits like the Star Trek and Planet of the Apes movies, but he also absorbed a lot of cinema that many fans of such fare would find intimidating or perhaps hard to understand. One of the many humorous things about Dave is that since he had a sleeping disorder, he would often fall asleep during movies, so sometimes he would attend a showing of a movie three or four times in order to effectively see it once. It was not uncommon to hear Dave snoring at the back of a movie house if he was in attendance, and when he did just that at the Milwaukee premiere of Robert on his Lunch Break, I considered it an honor. I tried to get a picture with him that night but, ever photo-shy, Dave wouldn’t comply.

I had really hoped to see Dave the last time I was in Milwaukee, but he was too sick to make it out. Subsequent attempts to hang with him fell through. But we managed to keep in touch via the magic of the internet. And even though I could tell he was in a lot of pain and exhausted and frustrated by his illness, he still maintained a lot of dignity and wit. Which brings me to the last item — Dave was quite skilled at the internet! Yes. Sometimes social media seems like a really bad idea given the huge potential for misunderstandings, the inevitable trolling, people using it for cross purposes, the sheer amount of “noise” one has to endure in order to get to the good stuff, and the way entropy seems to win out more than half the time. But Dave’s presence on Facebook was always a welcome one, even among people who never met him. Sometimes in the “virtual world” rifts arise between people, but I got along with Dave 100% of the time. Dave was kind of like a big kid who’d endured a lot of hardship but was still able to keep his groovy interests at the forefront in spite of everything. He was fun to be around and judging by the hundreds of people paying tribute to him this week, he had a big impact on a lot of lives.

There’s a late-period Tom Petty song in which he boldly declares “I’m the king of Milwaukee!” and in my mind that title belongs to no one other than David Michael Monroe, one of the most unique people I’ve ever met.

Dave Monroe toward the end of his life.

Dave Monroe as Fred Flinstone.

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A new self-interview, entitled Dave Andrae Interviews Himself, can be read HERE.

I think it does a pretty good job of delving into the particulars of how The Plants Are Listening was made, while shedding light on some of the ideas behind it, as well as my views on moviemaking in general. It was originally written in anticipation of the movie’s release on iTunes, but it looks like The Plants Are Listening will be unavailable for widespread home viewing for the indefinite future (long boring story best told in person). Anyway, here’s hoping you find it a worthwhile read.

The other week, while going through some old books of mine, I encountered this passage from Gilles Deleuze’s book on 17th Century philosopher Baruch Spinoza:

In the Ethics, it is in opposition to what Spinoza calls satire; and satire is everything that takes pleasure in the powerlessness and distress of men, everything that feeds on accusations, on malice, on belittlement, on low interpretations, everything that breaks men’s spirits (the tyrant needs broken spirits, just as broken spirits need a tyrant).

This December, on Friday the 5th at 9:15 p.m., The Plants Are Listening will see its Florida premiere at the inaugural Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival. This will be the first occasion in which any of my work has been shown publicly in the Gator State.

In their own words, The Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival “was founded by award-winning Bay Area filmmakers, actors, critics, artists and cinephiles to catch the independent films that fall through the cracks and end up… underground. With most independent films going straight to home video, TBUFF offers cast and crew the opportunity to see their movie on the big screen in digital sound at a real theater.”

Plants will be projected via DCP and preceded by a new 12-minute narrative from Russia, Diana Galimzyanova’s February 28. Should be a fun night out.

Here’s an audio recording of the Q&A that followed the recent screening at Woodland Pattern. The audience and I mostly discussed the music that was used in The Plants Are Listening.

Here’s the official trailer for The Plants Are Listening

Sign for The Trylon microcinema in Minneapolis, MN

On Thursday, August 21st, at 7 p.m., The Plants Are Listening will be unveiled at The Trylon microcinema in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Admission is $5. Should be fun.

Sign for the Woodland Pattern Book Center in Milwaukee, WI

And a few weeks later, on Friday, September 12th, at 7 p.m., The Plants Are Listening will see its Wisconsin premiere in the performance space of the Woodland Pattern Book Center on the Riverwest side of Milwaukee. Admission is $4.

The Plants Are Listening will be shown via blu-ray disc at both screenings. The trailer should be online soon and I’ll be sure to make a post about it here in the coming days.

Here, hot off the press, is the official poster for The Plants Are Listening

Official poster image for The Plants Are Listening.

It was illustrated by Chris Summerlin of the U.K., who plays in the bands Grey Hairs and Kogumaza, among others.

If you live in the Twin Cities or Milwaukee, there’s a decent chance you might see the above image around town (in the form of nifty little lobby cards) toward the end of the summer, in anticipation of a couple of screenings there. More information about these screenings will be made available here in the not-too-distant future.

Cover art for the upcoming Criterion Collection reissue of John Cassavetes' swan song Love Streams.

A couple of hours ago it was officially announced that the Criterion Collection will finally reissue John Cassavetes’s charming, emotionally complex swansong Love Streams. This is wonderful news as fans of the neglected masterpiece have been waiting patiently for a North American home release that markedly surpasses the quality of the original VHS and BETA tapes, now almost thirty years old and long-out-of-print. It feels as if film lovers with an eccentric bent have collectively won the lottery, and it’s great to know that throngs of people who have never experienced the film before will now have a chance to see it.

I’ve managed to catch Love Streams a couple of times in the theater, first during a Cassavetes retrospective at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago, and a few years later during a similar retrospective at the now-defunct (and genuinely missed) Oak Street Theater in Minneapolis. This was roughly around the time when Cassavetes’s work as a director started to experience a significant reappraisal and resurgence in popularity. Offhand I forget the chronology, but in a fairly short period of time Ray Carney’s book Cassavetes on Cassavetes was published (a little while after Tom Charity’s book about him); Cassavetes was honored by being featured on a stamp by the U.S. Postal Service; the Criterion Collection put out a DVD boxset of five of Cassavetes’s independently-produced films (accompanied by a somewhat tepid and fluffy documentary made around the same time); and in general more and more people in the film world (famous directors and actors, critics, programmers, cinephiles, “bloggers,” you name it) were coming out of the woodwork talking and writing about the artist and his creative legacy.

But in the midst of all of this “hoopla” it never sat right that Cassavetes’s last truly personal feature-length movie, and probably his most melancholic effort as both a director and actor (he made the film while he was dying after all), was only seen publicly via warped and tattered prints almost as old as I was. Seeing the film in 35mm, on the big screen, it definitely resonated more than it did at home, but for a while there it started to seem as if Love Streams would never resurface in the 21st Century in some sort of restored form that would take advantage of advancements in technology. So yes, to reiterate my point, I’m really grateful for this upcoming release and suspect a lot of others viewers out there are too.

What follows is a long overdue (and somewhat longwinded) update on the status of The Plants Are Listening, the movie I’ve been working on, on and off, for a good while now. If you read this “blog” and/or know me personally (whether in “real life” or mostly via the internet), you’re probably well aware that this movie has undergone many changes. Now that things have taken shape and more and more footage is “in the can” with each passing week, as the project nears completion, it’s much easier to discuss what the movie is “about” and what sort of viewing experience audiences can expect.

Observing the first eleven or twelve minutes of the The Plants Are Listening, as they stand edited together, the film I’m reminded of the most, perhaps, is Jean-Luc Godard’s underrated (and rather neglected) late-period effort JLG/JLG: Self-Portrait in December. In both movies there’s a moody undercurrent of reflection as the director mostly sticks around the house and ruminates on various topics with a literary bent. I’m pretty sure the similarities here weren’t intentional — influenced as I am by many artists, rarely will I consciously model a movie I’m making after someone else’s — but they’re probably there if one feels inclined to compare the two titles. I remember, after a screening of Godard’s film, some people, clearly not fans of his work, complaining that it was “basically just some old French guy smoking cigars and talking to himself for an hour and a half.” But I found JLG/JLG: Self-Portrait in December to be a pleasant sit and eminently engaging, especially in relation to some of the clunkers the 84-year-old director has unleashed over the years.

Where the two movies differ most is that I’m not at all a world-renowned cultural figure with a revered, decades-old legacy–I’m essentially an “unknown” filmmaker at this point, a fringe dweller on the cinematic landscape. The Plants Are Listening, despite several silent passages, also features more dialogue, the majority of it carefully scripted, the result of months and months of writing and refining. It’s probably also more accessible and closer to being a “normal” movie, albeit one with a thin plot and more of an attention to detail (particularly that of non-humans/inanimate objects) than most of the cinema being shown at the box office.

“So what exactly happens?”

“What’s your new movie about?” people might ask.

[**Note: the following paragraph may contain spoilers, so the text is colored black. Skip it if you’d like to view the movie without knowing the basics of what happens ahead of time.**]

The Plants Are Listening is centered around twin brothers, Simon, a playwright, and Dave, a filmmaker (both parts played by yours truly). Simon is visiting Dave for a day or two while the latter dog-sits at their parents’ house in Southwest Florida for a couple of weeks. The movie begins in the middle of a brief phone conversation between Simon and his friend Jana, a budding playwright (played by Dominique Joelle). Attention shifts from the conversation to the hibiscus in the front yard as its petals undulate in the wind. From there we see the shadows of plants blowing in the breeze on the half-open blinds in Dave’s bedroom before he reads aloud from Georges Bataille’s Literature and Evil. Then, before Dave can fully process the words, Kaji the dog (playing himself here) runs into the room and barks to be let outside. Dave lets Kaji outside while Simon grabs a cup of coffee and heads into the sunlit family room to peruse the titles in the bookcase. He zeroes in on a paperback copy of The Wisdom of Life. Dave returns with Kaji and hands him a treat. He grabs a cup of coffee and heads into the family room, where the two brothers engage in an intricate conversation on the philosophy of Arthur Schopenhauer. Eventually the topic of the conversation shifts to “experimental” art and its viability (or lack thereof) in the marketplace. At this point Simon remembers that he bought an unusual record earlier in the day and asks Dave if he’d like to hear it. Dave agrees but first he needs to relieve himself so Simon steps outside to smoke a cigarette. While finishing his cigarette Simon encounters his parents’ next-door neighbor Kaleigh (played by Robin Morrissey-Jones) as she steps out to collect the day’s mail, and being in social mood asks her if she’d like to listen to the record. Kaleigh has a few spare minutes to hang out before she has to drive to the marina in town to pick up her husband Tom, so she agrees. Then, in the family room, Kaleigh, Simon, and Dave listen to the piece “How to Pronounce ‘Prosthesis'” by Vicekopf (a.k.a. Gregory Whitehead). Afterwards they discuss the piece and Kaleigh concludes that it’s “kind of creepy” and asks Simon if he has “anything less creepy” that she can listen to in her car. Simon gives her a mix CD he put together and Kaleigh says goodbye and leaves. Then there’s a brief fart joke between Simon and Dave. We then see Kaleigh driving along a scenic path of seaside houses in the early evening while she listens to a song (“Silence or Something Else” by Robert Scott) on her car stereo with the wind blowing through her hair. And then the movie cuts to black. Plot-wise, that’s the gist of it, though I’d like to think that the actual viewing experience will produce a more subtle, affective, and inviting mixture of emotions than what the words above can account for. (Have I said too much? Maybe I need a publicist here!)

All told, it’s looking like The Plants Are Listening will be a fairly easy sit. I’m guessing it’ll clock in at around forty-five or fifty minutes so this will probably qualify as my debut feature.

This time around, rather than waiting and waiting for film festivals to give it the green light, we’ll be hosting a couple of screenings at independent movie houses, most likely in the Midwest this summer. You can follow the film here on Facebook to keep abreast of screenings as they’re announced, though this “blog” will also be updated accordingly.