Friday, December 15, 2017

The Virtues and Perils of Being an Equal Opportunity Offender: Real Time with Bill Maher

Real Time with Bill Maher recently concluded its 15th season on HBO.

Considering that I was a devoted aficionado of Bill Maher’s Politically Incorrect show when it ran on ABC in the late '90s and early '00s, I can’t explain why it took me until late last year to get into his HBO series Real Time with Bill Maher this after the show had been on the air for well over a decade. Nevertheless, I’ve made up for my neglect with gusto and now never miss an episode. Since Donald Trump became President, a fact that energizes and enrages Maher in equal measure, Real Time with Bill Maher appears more than ever to be an oasis of intelligence in a U.S. media and television landscape, too often, dominated by ignorance and superficiality. For those of us despairing of the United States since November 2016, Real Time provides hope that all is not lost there, despite the actions of those deplorable voters who put the ignorant, bullying Trump in their country’s driver’s seat. And yet, it’s debatable if the show is making the slightest bit of difference in changing or bettering the political landscape it’s so intent on addressing. But first, the good things about the show.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

An Intricate, Beautiful Thing: Guillermo del Toro’s The Shape of Water

Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones in The Shape of Water.

Last month, when I attended Guillermo del Toro’s exhibition At Home With Monsters at the Art Gallery of Ontario, one of the things that impressed itself most strongly upon me was the filmmaker’s fascination with otherness. The weird, the unsettling, and the macabre have always had a presence in his work, but his more sensitive artistic tendencies are expressed through his fondness for the freaks and outcasts of the world – those deemed to be somehow “other” than the rest of us. It might not be readily apparent in a filmography full of graphic violence and disturbing imagery, but a deep vein of compassion runs through del Toro’s oeuvre, especially for those who seldom receive it from society. The Shape of Water is by far his most compassionate film, celebrating otherness so directly and so proudly that it seems wondrous he managed to get the thing in front of general audiences at all.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

The Poisoned Well: Joe Hagan’s Sticky Fingers

Rolling Stone co-founder and publisher Jann Wenner, 1977. (Photo: Claire Maxwell)

I.

“He’s a dick,” said an old acquaintance, a veteran New York newspaperman, when I mentioned Jann Wenner recently. In three words, he expressed what it takes Joe Hagan, author of Sticky Fingers: The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine (Knopf; 547 pp.), an entire book to say. On the largest scale of generalization, the verdict seems unassailable: one gathers it would be difficult to find a Wenner associate who hasn’t at some point felt betrayed or otherwise outraged by him. Yet this major biography of the co-founder, editor, and publisher of Rolling Stone, though it reports innumerable facts, can’t really be credited with telling the truth. In its single-minded focus on proving that Jann Wenner is a dick, it almost utterly ignores the rest of this complex and influential figure’s metaphorical anatomy.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Podcast: Interview with Poet Alden Nowlan (1982)

Poet Alden Nowlan (1933-1983). (Photo Courtesy of Beaverbrook Collection of War Art)

From 1981 to 1989, I was assistant producer and co-host of the radio show On the Arts, at CJRT-FM (today Jazz 91.1) in Toronto. With the late Tom Fulton, who was the show's prime host and producer, we did a half-hour interview program where we talked to writers and artists from all fields. In 1982, I sat down with Canadian poet, novelist, and playwright Alden Nowlan.

Nowlan was born in poverty in Stanley, Nova Scotia, where his father worked as an itinerant manual labourer. His mother abandoned the family when Alden was quite young and left him in the care of his paternal grandmother. Since the family was hard pressed to survive, education wasn't a priority. So Nowlan left school after the fourth grade, but when he discovered the library in the small adjacent town of Windsor, he would travel eighteen miles to stoke his interest in literature. Ultimately, Nowlan settled in Saint John, New Brunswick, where he married Claudine Orser, a typesetter, and became a poet. Having contracted throat cancer in 1966, which he recovered from, he went on to write many poems about mortality. In 1967, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, and his collection, Bread, Wine and Salt (Clarke-Irwin, 1967) was awarded the Governor General's Award for Poetry.

At the time of our conversation, Alden Nowlan's final book of original poetry, I Might Not Tell Everybody This, had just been published by Clarke Irwin. Nowlan passed away a year later, in 1983, at the age of 50 from severe emphysema.

– Kevin Courrier.

Here is the full interview with Alden Nowlan as it aired on CJRT-FM in 1982.



Monday, December 11, 2017

The Parisian Woman: Those Devious Politicos

Uma Thurman and Blair Brown in The Parisian Woman. (Photo: Matthew Murphy)

The last time I saw Uma Thurman, she appeared, in a remarkable ensemble, in the 2015 NBC miniseries The Slap, which deserved more attention than it got. Now she’s starring in a new Broadway play, Beau Willimon’s The Parisian Woman, and at forty-seven she looks more beautiful than ever – that long, sleek frame, that sculpted goddess’s face. She hasn’t done much previous stage work (she played Célimène in a production of Molière’s The Misanthrope at Classic Stage Company in 1999), but she seems just as comfortable on the stage of the Hudson Theatre as she does on camera, and, with Jane Greenwood’s elegant dresses dripping off her, her presence is mesmerizing.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Changing the Anti-democratic Dial: Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny

Historian Timothy Snyder speaking in 2016.

"Americans today are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism in the twentieth century. Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience. Now is a good time to do so."

“To abandon facts is to abandon freedom. If nothing is true, then no one can criticize power, because there is no basis upon which to do so. If nothing is true, then all is spectacle.”

“Post-truth is pre-fascism.”
Timothy Snyder, On Tyranny.

Recently, I was fortunate to hear in Toronto a stimulating talk by distinguished Yale historian Timothy Snyder, author of the acclaimed monographs Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning and his latest, On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century (Tim Duggan Books, 2017). His talk was followed by a Q&A with CBC correspondent Susan Ormiston. It turned out that his presentation was more an expansion of the epilogue in On Tyranny that explores two paradigms leading to worldviews that founder on an insufficient knowledge of history, while the interview with Ormiston directly related to the lessons Snyder posits in that slim (a mere 126 pages) but substantive volume.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Call Me by Your Name: Veneer of Romance

Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer in Call Me by Your Name.

In Luca Guadagnino’s Call Me by Your Name, an American grad student in his mid-twenties named Oliver (Armie Hammer) spends six weeks in northern Italy during the summer months in residence as a research assistant to an archeologist (Michael Stuhlbarg) and has a love affair with Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), his host’s seventeen-year-old son. Neither of the young men identifies himself as gay – the first object of Oliver’s amorous attentions is Chiara (Victoire Du Bois), a neighbor of the Perlmans, and before Elio cements his relationship with Oliver he loses his virginity to Chiara’s daughter Marzia (Esther Garrel). Guadagnino and the screenwriter, James Ivory (adapting a novel by André Aciman), present their romance as a perfect confluence of physical and emotional energies at an ideal time in both their lives – especially Elio’s, since it’s his coming-of-age story – and in an ideal setting, a beautiful old villa in a picturesque town set against the magnificent landscape of Lombardy. (Sayombhu Mukdeeprom photographed.) Elio is a great-looking kid with an air of social and intellectual privilege; he’s fluent in English, French and Italian – his mother (Amira Casar) is Italian – his family has lived all over, he’s an accomplished pianist, and he has a comfortable, bantering relationship with the teenagers of the other summer people in the town. He walks around shirtless in shorts or swim trunks, smoking; he might be the image of the adolescent on holiday, snug in his own skin. But he holds back. He spends more time alone, reading or transcribing music, than he does with the other kids, and when they go to a club he’s the last on the dance floor. We see him eyeballing Oliver, who’s physically expressive – in sports, at a dance, or just lying on the edge of the pool reading – and it’s clear that he both envies the older man and is somewhat resentful of how easily he fits in. Their bedrooms are next door to each other – he has to give up his own room to this American visitor – and the day Oliver shows up, he’s so jet-lagged that he plops himself down on his bed, falls asleep instantly and opts to skip dinner, and Elio is put off by his refusal to act the role of the guest who does what’s expected of him. He thinks that Oliver’s impulsiveness and his manner are arrogant – and the fact that both his parents take to Oliver immediately and aren’t remotely bothered by his style doesn’t help. But Oliver reaches out to him in a friendly way, and Elio loses his skepticism – which is, of course, just a resistance to his own attraction to Oliver.