Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Podcast: Interview with Author Morley Torgov (1982)

Author Morley Torgov.

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 author Morley Torgov.

At the time of our conversation Torgov's novel The Outside Chance of Maximilian Glick had just been published. The next year, he was awarded Stephen Leacock Award for Humour for the novel. A well-received film adaptation of the book was released in 1988. His most recent novel is The Mastersinger from Minsk (2012), the second book in his Inspector Hermann Preiss mystery series. In 2015, Morley Torgov received the Order of Canada.

– Kevin Courrier.

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

Monday, September 18, 2017

On the Shore of the Wide World: Still Life

Mary McCann and Leroy McClain in On the Shore of the Wide World.(Photo: Ahron R. Foster)

On the Shore of the Wide World, receiving its American premiere at the Atlantic Theater Company, is the English playwright Simon Stephens’s exploration of the effects of a tragic accident on a family in a Manchester town in 2004. Fifteen-year-old Christopher Holmes (Wesley Zurick) is hit by a motorist and killed. His death drives his father, Peter (C.J. Wilson) and his mother, Alice (Mary McCann) apart and exacerbates the tensions between them and Peter’s parents, Charlie (Peter Maloney) and Ellen (Blair Brown) as well as bringing to light the unsettling qualities in their relationship. Shortly before he was killed, Christopher walked in on his alcoholic grandfather strong-arming his grandmother and, in dismay, confided in his older brother Alex (Ben Rosenfield), whom he adored. The aftermath of the boy’s death and the evident crumbling of his parents’ marriage drive Alex to move to London with his new girlfriend, Sarah (Tedra Millan). Meanwhile both Peter and Sarah, who have so much difficulty communicating with each other, are drawn – not romantically but out of a need for confidants – to other people. Peter, who restores old houses, has been hired by the pregnant Susan (Amelia Workman), and she’s the first person outside the family with whom he shares the story of Christopher’s death. (This conversation also marks the first time the audience hears about it, for reasons I can’t quite work out; this choice doesn’t seem to enhance the drama.) Stranger – and more intriguing – is the friendship that grows up between Alice and John (Leroy McClain), the driver of the car that knocked Christopher down on his bike. John’s attempt to reach out to the mother of the boy he inadvertently killed and her responding to him (reluctantly at first) are reminiscent of part of the plot of David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole, though here it develops in a different direction.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Remembering the Communist Experience in Romania and Bulgaria, Part One: Partial Amnesia

Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu, centre, in his final address to the people on Dec. 21, 1989.

“The things they do to you (in the camps), the power they have over you. It throws off your sense of right and wrong.”Olen Steinhauer, The Confession
One of the most remarkable exchanges I encountered this summer during my time in the lower Danube was the personal family story of one of the Romanian guides. His father, a doctor, originally supported the regime of Nicolae Ceaușescu until his father was conscripted into the army and one of his odious duties was to accompany the feared security police on missions in which they executed individuals. (His father would subsequently turn against Ceaușescu by supporting his wife who, coming from a humble background, had suffered under the regime.) He also revealed how his mother and her fellow workers were bussed in to cheer Ceaușescu as he appeared on his balcony for the last time. The guide’s uncle was a member of the Army ordered to shoot anyone in the crowd who did not appear to be cheering. Was he to shoot his sister? This was a pivotal point in alienating the army. The despised dictator lost his support and as a result he was finished. Our guide pointed out that balcony where Ceausescu delivered a speech that was interrupted by taunts from the crowd. It was a breathtaking moment, but this guide was an almost solitary voice among the local citizens I have heard over the last two years.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Watching and Worrying – David Thomson's Television: A Biography

Television can’t be an easy thing to write a book about, given its rapid ongoing evolution into new forms – given, too, the sheer unconquerable volume of sound and image, brilliance and nonsense that have coursed from the small screen since it buzzed to something like life in the late 1930s. But David Thomson, one of our best historian-critics, is also one of our most ambitious writers. Among his more than 30 books are two major critical histories of film, one focusing on Hollywood (2004’s The Whole Equation), the other taking a more global vantage (2012’s The Big Screen). His mammoth Biographical Dictionary of Film, first published in 1975, is now in its sixth edition, and he writes a detailed, eccentric, irresistible “personal introduction to 1,000 films” (2008’s “Have You Seen … ?”) with the same bell-ringing ease that Johnny B. Goode brought to playing a guitar. So it’s with a rueful smile and admiring shake of the head that we who know Thomson’s tendencies to great scale and world-encompassing thought, as well as his vast knowledge and masterly ability to combine fact and reverie, regard his latest book and say that yes, of course he has the stuff to write a critical history of television, and he will earn the right, if anyone will, to give it a title as provocatively blunt and accurate as Television: A Biography (Thames & Hudson; 412 pp.). 

Friday, September 15, 2017

See You At The Curtain Call: Twin Peaks – The Return (2017)

Despite my best efforts, there are a few unavoidable spoilers within

“'We are like the spider,' said the king. 'We weave our life, and then move along in it. We are like the dreamer who dreams and then lives in the dream. This is true for the entire universe. That is why it is said, "Having created the creation, the Creator entered into it.". This is true for us. We create our world, and then enter into that world. We live in the world we have created.'"
– Thomas Egenes & Kamuda Reddy, Eternal Stories from the Upanishads

"We are like the dreamer who dreams and lives inside the dream, but who is the dreamer?” 
– David Lynch

I think it's safe to say that there hasn't been anything on television close to what director David Lynch and co-writer Mark Frost unleashed the last few months in their 18-part serial Twin Peaks – The Return. More than being simply a sequel to the original 1990 ABC series, Twin Peaks, which focused on the murder investigation of the high school senior Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) by FBI agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan), or a mere continuation of the follow-up 1992 film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, which examined the circumstances leading to that murder, Showtime's Twin Peaks – The Return was an abstract murder mystery that resisted solutions and begged even more questions. It was like finding yourself seeped in a David Lynch compendium where you experienced the full body of his work – including Eraserhead, Blue Velvet, Wild at Heart, Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive – as one long amorphous trance as plot lines vanished, dramatic moments imploded, and nightmarish visions suddenly erupted and took hold. Twin Peaks – The Return was the source of much frustration because within that Lynchian theme park of devious delight were also hours of flattened-out kitschy comedy that not only tested your patience, but drew some of his worst instincts, those that had already been on display in Wild at Heart, and parts of Lost Highway. Yet the baggy unevenness of Twin Peaks – The Return wasn't simply a case of the director's intuition taking a holiday and intermittently going wrong. Lynch, who works almost entirely from his unconscious, seemed to be refusing to make any kind of conscious judgement over the material. It was as if he'd decided instead to run the table with whatever came into his mind (bad or startlingly good) to see where it might lead him – and also, of course, the viewer. Knowing that there was an audience out there both nostalgic and fiendishly curious to return to Twin Peaks after such a long hiatus, Lynch turned this epic tale into something more than a conclusion and resolution to the story. Twin Peaks – The Return was a turbulent meditation on the past, on the nature of nostalgia, on the tropes of television serial drama, and on death itself.      

Thursday, September 14, 2017

You'll Float Too: Andy Muschietti’s IT

Jeremy Ray Taylor, Jaeden Lieberher, Finn Wolfhard, and Jack Dylan Grazer in IT.

I’m neither a Stephen King devotee nor a person who grew up with the 1990 TV movie based on his landmark novel It, so unlike many filmgoers who are bleating their nostalgic bias into any internet forum they can find, a new feature length film version appealed to me greatly. I love the creepy premise of a picturesque town in Maine that is besieged by an ancient evil that poses as a ghoulish clown in order to kidnap children. I generally admire the creativity and weirdness of King’s work, despite its inconsistency in quality. And as summer slowly transitions into autumn – the season of Halloween, the season of horror, my favourite season – my appetite for an entertaining horror film grows ever more fierce.

IT, I’m pleased to say, satiated that hunger. Director Andy Muschietti has made a handsome and efficient horror flick from King’s original material, adapting the long-winded 1986 novel into a solidly-structured two-hour spookfest. IT, I’m pleased to say, satiated that hunger. Director Andy Muschietti has made a handsome and efficient horror flick from King’s original material, adapting the long-winded 1986 novel into a solidly-structured two-hour spookfest. The story of IT, about a group of young teens who call themselves “The Losers Club” discovering the presence of Pennywise the Dancing Clown (Bill Skarsgård) and fighting against It, only represents the first half of the novel. The second half portrays the same group of kids almost three decades later, as the evil force in their hometown of Derry re-emerges to feed once again. Muschietti made a conscious choice to split the story into two films, with the closing credits of IT listing the film as “Chapter One”. Since the 1990 film is criticized for attempting (and failing) to cram both halves of the novel into one made-for-TV movie, Muschietti has clearly made the right decision – especially since the pacing and structure of his adaptation feel spot-on. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Faith and Fury: The Strange Saga of Al Green

Soul Survivor: A Biography of Al Green by Jimmy McDonough was published by Da Capo Press on August 29th.

“Beware of men who speak well of you, my brother.” – Al Green

Music critic Jimmy McDonough seems to have taken that sage advice from Green to heart. Few people who personally encountered the great soul singer Al Green would be in danger of speaking very well of either him or their meeting. For the rest of us, safely at a distance and accessing his soul strictly through the remarkable records he created, he remains a towering figure in music for over the last five decades. From his first album, Back Up Train, in 1967 to his twenty-ninth release, Lay It Down, in 2008, he has traveled far from his gospel roots through the soul vibe, then suddenly back to gospel in the late '70s, and then just as suddenly back to soul again. All along the way, he’s been feverishly running away from something and passionately running towards something, and often those two were the same something.

The dichotomies that link gospel, blues, soul and funk are never-ending. They are the living proof that coal becomes crystal under pressure. They are also, in their cores, different names for the same thing: a head-on collision course between faith and fury. And no one ever exemplified the paradox at the heart of these great African-American musical traditions quite as forcefully as the Reverend, revered and feared Al Green. He was both a gifted genius and a tortured psychopath who personified both the heights and depths of what it means to be a human being. Brilliant and besotted, he was, in the end, almost beyond the ability to grasp it with any real sense of clarity, since his mercurial personality shifted in and out of focus from moment to moment. And few books can qualify for the term “warts and all” quite as much as Jimmy McDonough’s new, breathtaking life of Green.