Thursday, October 8, 2015

A Beginner’s Guide to The Shining (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Listicle)

The impossible path travelled through The Overlook Hotel by Danny (Danny Lloyd) and his Big Wheel is one of the many puzzling features of Stanley Kubrick's classic, The Shining (1980).

It’s that time of year again. The leaves are starting to change colour, everything you never wanted now comes in a “Pumpkin Spice” option, and many of us are beginning our month-long horror movie binges in honour of Hallowe’en. Maybe this is your first year participating in this ritual and you’re not sure where to start. Maybe you’re trying to impress some new friends with your carefully honed critical eye (read: ability to read Wikipedia). Or maybe, like me, you’re feeling the itch to have a horror movie night but you’re lacking the time, energy, or desire to actually get dressed and entertain people so you prefer to connect with like-minded strangers on the internet. Whatever the case, I’ve got you covered with everything you need for a satisfying critical viewing of Stanley Kubrick’s iconic 1980 horror film, The Shining

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Chrissie Hynde: Reckless Indeed

Chrissie Hynde performing at the Irving Plaza, New York City, 1994. (Photo by  Ebet Roberts)

“The idea of me writing anything at all was ludicrous. My head was disorganized, a tangle of crossed lines. I couldn’t conclude a thought on a postcard… I wasn’t a poet. I wasn’t a writer. To begin a paragraph and find my way to a conclusion – Gretel tracking a breadcrumb trail would fare better… My only qualification, had I required one, was that I was as frustrated as the rest of them – a frustrated musician (the cliché of music journalism), opinionated, hungover, illegal in the workplace, devoid of ambition and, if I couldn’t find a word in my dumb guy vocabulary, I would make one up.”

This is Chrissie Hynde describing how she approached being asked to write rock criticism for NME circa 1974. It would be a few more years before she stormed the charts herself in a band called The Pretenders. The self-evaluation holds true though, even today. The quote is from page 147 of her 312 page autobiography Reckless: My Life as a Pretender (Doubleday, 2015). I laughed when I read it, because it echoes what I was thinking as I plowed through the book. It seems like she scribbled thoughts on scraps of paper and then pasted them together in more or less chronological order. Characters are introduced and then disappear, their ultimate relationship to Ms Hynde left undescribed, or maybe hinted at in a vague way.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Foolhardy: The Walk

Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Philippe Petit, in The Walk.

While Philippe Petit (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) was suspended on a high wire strung across the Twin Towers, a girl behind me at my screening of The Walk whispered "I hate this movie." I know how she feels, and not because the film is bad. It's not. What it is is manipulative, in the way only Robert Zemeckis can be – and when he tilts his camera from Philippe's feet down to the bustling Manhattan streets thousands of feet below for the twentieth time, I stopped being engaged and started being nauseous. Do not – I repeat, do not – go to see The Walk if you get vertigo, or if you ate shellfish beforehand, or if you're averse to 3D. (I met two of those criteria.)

Monday, October 5, 2015

Nova Pilbeam: The Girl Was Young

Nova Pilbeam with Leslie Banks in The Man Who Knew Too Much (1934). She passed away in July at the age of 95.

When she died in mid-July at the age of ninety-five, the English actress Nova Pilbeam had been retired for six and a half decades, and long forgotten. She appeared in only fourteen feature films, but in three of them – released in a row, between 1934, when she was only fifteen, and 1937 – she was startlingly and unconventionally good. In an age of affected child performances, she was completely natural, with effortless poise and an unobstructed path to her emotions that any Method-trained American actor would envy.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Resonating Impressions from Berlin, 2015

A section of the Berlin Wall Memorial. (Photo by Bob Douglas)

"Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it."
– Helen Keller
Berlin from my experience is one of the most stimulating cities in the world. As a long-time teacher and student of modern German history, Berlin possesses a fascination for me. Ian Buruma’s Wages of Guilt: Memories of Guilt in Germany and Japan (1994) contrasts Germany’s efforts at reparation with Japan’s denial of its aggression during the war. Nowhere in Germany has any city taken more responsibility to address this vital issue than Berlin. For fiction, Peter Schneider’s The Wall Jumper (1983), where we meet a diverse gallery of characters from both sides of the Wall, and his novel set after reunification, Eduard’s Homecoming (2000) are both insightful portraits of different periods in Berlin’s history. In the latter, the protagonist returns home from California after he inherits property in what was East Berlin, and is forced to examine both his family history during the Nazi era and his own actions, questioning whether he is just another West German opportunist who is taking advantage of the misfortunes of East Germans.

I still regret that I never travelled there before November 1989. Nonetheless, I have visited the city three times: in the early 1990s shortly after the Wall, the most tangible symbol of the Cold War, came down; ten years later; and for over a week at the end of this summer. Each time, the city resembles, at least in part, an urban palimpsest as it physically and spiritually tries to remake itself after the ordeal of the Third Reich and the tensions of a divided city during the Cold War. For example, the first time we exited from the U-Bahn at the old city centre, Potsdamer Platz, the area was desolate grassland that had lain fallow during the Cold War because it was situated right along the Wall. The second time, modern architecture featuring the Sony Centre, a monolith of glass and steel with a huge tent-like conical roof, showcasing the history of German film (an exciting exhibition), began to spring up. Currently, the building boom with both commercial skyscrapers and high-end residential housing has turned the Platz into the business-entertainment centre of Berlin. And that is just one site, as cranes continue to operate throughout the city both building and renovating. As thrilling as the first two trips were, the latest was the richest in large part because I carried with me a copy of Berlin by Norbert Schürer (Interlink Books, 2015) and participated in four of the eight thematic, reasonably priced, walking tours offered by Insider Tour.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Review, Reviewed

Andy Daly as Forrest MacNeil, consuming “an upsetting number of pancakes,” on Comedy Central's Review.

We critics are fundamentally damaged souls. Driven by a compulsive need to authoritatively analyze, categorize, and rate everything with which we come into contact, we’re chronically unable to enjoy life, and we find ourselves pushed ever further into isolation and embitterment by our profession.

That’s one possible interpretation of the message of Andy Daly’s pitch-black satire Review, which just concluded its second season on Comedy Central. Daly’s show is bleak, extremely cruel to its central character, and deeply skeptical of the profession of the critic. However, it can also be incredibly funny, and that by itself is almost enough to atone for everything else.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Shadows in the Night: Dylan’s Sinatra

Photo: Fred Tanneau/AFP/Getty

The title of Bob Dylan’s latest CD, Shadows in the Night, may sound sinister until you listen to it and realize that the allusion is to the shades of romantic despair, not the shadows of film noir. This is Dylan’s Sinatra album: every song on it was recorded at one time by The Voice, though you have to be a genuine aficionado to recognize some of the cuts. They include only two by the most celebrated composers in the Great American Songbook: one by Irving Berlin (“What’ll I Do”), one by Rodgers and Hammerstein (“Some Enchanted Evening”). And though Dylan is going for the feel of the doomed-romantic concept albums Sinatra recorded for Capitol in the fifties, with evocative names like No One Cares and Point of No Return, In the Wee Small Hours and Only the Lonely, only a couple of the songs he’s selected actually appeared on them. Instead he draws on a variety of Sinatra ballads to assemble his own version of a Sinatra concept album. The project is a surprise in many ways. But not because you don’t expect that he’d love these songs; if you’ve read his autobiography, Chronicles, then you know that the breadth of his musical tastes stretches even beyond the genres for which he’s famous: rock, folk, country, blues. It’s a surprise partly because he’s never tried anything like it before – and because, approaching these numbers for the first time, he gets spookily close to them. Dylan isn’t trying to be Sinatra, but by the mysterious process of digging a trench for himself inside the heart-bruised lyrics and aching melody lines, he ends up inhabiting the emotions of every one of these songs.