Proust Q 5.0 June 2009: Al Kratina

June 11, 2009

When I met Al Kratina a few years ago, he was just some geek. Well, make that Geek, as in star of short-lived feature in The Montreal Gazette called The Geek Speaks that tapped local video store clerks for suggestions. I googled and found he wrote clever reviews for the

Al Kratina on the set of Alex, Vampire Slayer

Comic Book Bin and had made an acclaimed short film called Alex, Vampire Slayer. Then I found his piece about black metal, about which I knew nothing. But I laughed out loud and loved the writing. So I decided to see what else he had up his sleeve other than the massive collection of tattoos. The answer is a very intriguing mix of shy (in person) and confrontational (in print), extreme and conservative. He is, as he says below that he hopes , very kind. Also wickedly funny. I also forgot to mention he is that most brave of word nerds, the kind who quit a day job to become full-time writers, contributing regularly now to The Gazette, the Gazette’s Cine Files blog, Words & Music blog and other joints. He is also now my editor and a friend. So behold Al Kratina and his answer’s to this month’s Proust Questionnaire 5.0 (more on that at the bottom of this hideously long post).

Since we are conducting this interview via email, the world is ours for the inventing. If, as I some day hope, money is no object, in what city and establishment would you like this interview to be taking place?
Prague, in some place that serves meat carved off of skewers with really old swords. There would be a moat and a secret password and the menu would be written on velum, and the servers would wear robes and look kind of like Emperor Palpatine mixed with a warlock. This may sound facetious, but it’s true. Prague is the most beautiful city I’ve ever visited. It’s permeated with great age, and despite modern conveniences and accoutrements, you always feel as if you could go to sleep and wake up in Avalon or Narnia or something.

Who and what would you be wearing?
I’m not entirely sure what the first part of the question means. Who am I wearing? Am I supposed to answer with the name of a designer? Or name the people who make up my necklace of ears? I would wear what I normally wear: Jeans, army boots that make me look like a 14-year-old about to shoplift from a 7-Eleven, and a band T-shirt.

And, most importantly, what would we be drinking?
Water. Distilled, over ice that is also distilled. This is important, because distillation removes impurities and bacteria, unlike “spring water,” which comes out of a hole in the ground that is probably full of pig shit and rotting mushrooms. I drink only water and fruit juice, and the latter only in the mornings. No alcohol, pop, refined sugar, etc… . I recently began drinking coffee, after reading a study tracking the benefits of caffeine in relation to the prevention of dementia, but I do not enjoy it. In case you’re wondering, I take it black.

Okay then. What are the qualities you most admire in others?
Rationality. We all have strange beliefs, quirks and idiosyncrasies, myself included. But I think it’s especially noble when they can be recognized as irrational, even if they’re embraced nonetheless. But tell me with a straight face that I can get rid of my stomach ulcers with happy thoughts and a Sun Salutation in the morning, and we’re going to have a problem.

What do you like most about yourself?
I’m not sure there’s anything about me that stands out in particular. I have some funny tattoos that seem to amuse people. And while I can be a touch caustic in my writing, I like to think I’m fairly pleasant and kind in real life.

I am shy to the point of being weird. I do most of my correspondence by email because I am terrified of phone calls. I am also developing a series of increasingly worrying tics, like collecting thousands of albums and movies but being unable to watch them out of alphabetical order, and never throwing anything out. And while I pride myself on pushing the envelope in terms of challenging taboos through humour, I take this too far frequently. I’ve alienated more than a few people in the process, and lost some friends.

What is your greatest achievement?
Hmmm. Good question. To this point, it would probably be convincing my fiancé that an existence below the poverty line with a struggling writer and an oppressively large action figure collection is a viable life choice. She’s a peach.

What is your present state of mind?
Anxious. I’ve recently left a well-paying, salaried job to pursue writing full time. It was a horrifying decision, but one that I think was necessary. I’d be lying if I said it is turning out exactly as I had hoped, however, and I’m preparing for a very long struggle ahead.

Where and when are/were you happiest?
That’s tough to say. Certainly the day my marriage proposal was accepted is number one, but there are some strong contenders to second place. My first published article, about two years ago. The acceptance of my first film at my first film festival (Crimson, accepted by Montreal’s Fantasia). All strong runners up.

What is your first memory?
I’ve got two very early memories, and I’m not sure in which order they occured. In the first, I’ve dropped a marble down an air vent in my parents’ house, and while reaching in to retrieve it, a spider runs over my hand. I also remember seeing Nosferatu (1922) on PBS at around age four, and being so plagued by nightmares that I refused to sleep and demanded to be taken to a doctor. The end result: I love vampire movies, hate spiders and still can’t sleep.

What, currently, do you most love doing?
Writing. Hands down. I love every aspect of it; the research, the drafts, the editing, the feedback, the tough decisions. Nothing I do makes me happier. I’ve been doing it since high school, when I started my own alternative newspaper full of vitriolic right-wing movie reviews.

What was your worst job?
I haven’t really had a lot of jobs, let alone ones that were terrible, as I tend to stay at companies for lengthy periods. I suppose, in a certain sense, my first job at a restaurant was the worst, but my co-workers were great. I started off as a dishwasher, which is disgusting work, but within a year became a top-of-the-line cook. The people were wonderful, but being a cook in a restaurant is incredible stressful, particularly if you’re 17 and underpaid. I did it for three years before I got tired of smelling like grease and steak spice.

Your favourite colour?
Is it too much of a cliché if I say black? Will someone point out that it’s technically achromatic? I wear a lot of it, though mainly that’s because Darkthrone didn’t print the Transylvanian Hunger shirts in white.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Love and money. The former is sappy, but necessary to keep me from going insane. And while the latter doesn’t buy you happiness, it can buy you The Twilight Zone on Blu-ray, and the complete line of Mini-Mates action figures.

Of misery?
Loneliness, dementia and stomach illness. I have a long history with the last item on that list, and I can attest that it is absolute misery.

If not yourself, who or what would you be?
Chuck Klosterman. He does what I do, except well. He even likes metal. I don’t even know why I bother to get out of bed in the mornings.

Where would you like to live?
New York, probably or the aforementioned Prague. We’re considering a move out west, but there are some issues with black widow spiders that need to be well-researched and addressed first (see about ‘first memory’ answer.)

What is your favourite journey?
Physically? Or in that kind of hippie way that people talk about in coffee shops when describing spirituality? If it’s the former, I do quite enjoy the walk from our apartment to this ice-cream shop in Westmount, because not only do I get ice cream, but I don’t have to get into a car or a metro or something else that can catch on fire or explode. If it’s the latter, I’m not sure if it qualifies as a journey, but there’s little I find more satisfying than working your way through an article, and finding that ‘hook’ or ‘thread’ that ties everything together and turns it from a list of facts into a cohesive whole. The journey from notes to first draft to finished product is amazing.

What is your favourite or most memorable meal and when is the last time you indulged?
I love sushi, particularly really disgusting kinds like ‘uni’, which is the balls of a sea urchin. Tastes kind of like bitter mucous, but for some reason I love it. That last time I had it was last month, on a trip to Quebec City to celebrate our anniversary. The meal, at Yuzu, was absolutely delicious, and also included foie gras rolls and something that mixed fish and figs.

Name the person who influenced you most and how.
That’s tough. I think the most realistic answer would probably be my parents, who have been nothing but supportive, kind, and loving to me for my entire life, despite the fact that I’m kind of a dick to them. Other than that, a pair of high school teachers, Robert Godwin and Andrew Cumberland. Mr. Godwin taught communications studies, which was essentially filmmaking, and that’s when I became obsessed with film. From day one, he treated me like an adult, and a friend. As nerdy as it sounds, me and my friends spent our lunch hours with Mr. Godwin, playing trivia games and watching movies and various other AV Club activities. Mr. Cumberland taught physics, and aside from instilling into me a love of the scientific method and a wonderful skepticism, also (along with Mr. Godwin) encouraged my writing and was the teacher who suggested, supported and edited the alternative paper I wrote.

Name the film/song/book/art that influenced you most and why?
Woah. Very tough. Nosferatu, for scarring me for life and yet making me love horror. A song would probably be Braineaters, by the Misfits, which opened my eyes to the fact that there were other weird kids out there who did nothing on Friday night but comb through cable TV for shitty movies in the hopes of catching a glimpse of Vampira’s thigh. I love the work of Harlan Ellison, Richard Matheson, and Patrick O’Brian (yes, the books about Napoleonic naval warfare; this is why I don’t have friends), and the art of Dore and Bosch.

In this or any time, which real-life figure(s) do you most admire?
Hmmm. I’m in awe of those who fight for rationality and sanity in an increasingly volatile world. It’s a long list, but it would include James Randi, John William Gott, Christopher Hitchens, Betrand Russell, Clarence Darrow, and Anton LaVey. Also Bruce Campbell is awesome.

Who is your favourite fictional hero?
Ashley J. Williams, from the Evil Dead series. Hands down. He’s exactly the kind of snappy-pattering prick I wish I could be, if I weren’t completely socially awkward.

What fault can you most easily forgive?
I like to think I’m a pretty forgiving fellow. Laziness is pretty easy for me to forgive, because I’m about twice as guilty of that as anyone else. I’m currently writing this at the last minute, while lying down, if that’s any indication.

What fault can you not forgive?
I can forgive anything. But I have some trouble with arrogance and addiction. I myself have an addictive personality (part of the reason why I am militantly straight-edge), and I can be more judgmental that I’d like to be when it comes to drugs and alcohol.

What is your motto?
Not sure that I have one. I’m quite fond of the following quotes, however: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need,” from Karl Marx, and “I believe that when I die I shall rot, and nothing of my ego will survive,” from Bertrand Russell.

How would you hope to die?
I’m not planning on it. Because I don’t feel like rotting and I like my ego.

Any last words?
Thanks for the opportunity to answer these questions. It actually involved quite a bit of introspection, despite the fact that it may read like I didn’t take it seriously.

Admit it. You read those celebrity Q&As and you know you’re easily as worthy of being profiled. I know I do, but my friends are way more interesting than me. So, with nods to the “confession albums” of the late 1800s  made famous by the fabulous Marcel Proust’s answers, to French TV host Bernard Pivot who adapted the questionnaire, to Inside the Actors Studio host James Lipton who gave it another spin and to Vanity Fair, which uses its own elegantly spun version to anchor the magazine’s back pages. I submit for your entertainment and enlightenment, my own version of the Proust Questionnaire, re-retooled for a blog age, and the friend who has consented to be this month’s victim.



  1. […] ave « Proust Q 5.0: Al Kratina Let the bells ring out: It’s the 11th June 11, 2009 Welcome to this month’s […]

  2. Al: I developed that same tick about listening to albums in alphabetical order at one point. I got over it when I had an unquenchable urge to hear Swans when I had only reached Bauhaus.
    Wonderful answers, and contrary to your last words, it read like you took this very seriously.

  3. D, this is the best Proust questionnaire yet. I especially liked the part about the necklace of ears.

  4. I can relate to your Nosferatu at four experience. The same thing happened to me only it was The Exorcist and a babysitter who let me watch it when my parent’s weren’t home. Scarred for life.

  5. Jordan: Thanks for the kind words.

    Regard the alphabet: I’m currently mired in the “Ab”s, including the complete discography of Absu, a band I don’t even like. The problem is compounded by the fact that I insist on writing capsule reviews of EVERY ALBUM. At this rate, I’ll never get to my Minipops collection.

    • Ms? You won’t get to the Ax’s before age 75. I liked reading about how you think about your parents and the two teachers. It shows how every individual can make a better world, can help a child gain confidence and otherwise develop their gifts. With results that can reverberate through generations. I often think of the older people who encouraged me when I was growing up and how so many of them were strangers that I never really even saw again. Just kind words and insights at the right time.

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