Saturday, February 27, 2010

Song: Family Snapshot

My colleague Kevin Courrier's analysis of Harry Chapin's "Sniper" put me in mind of Peter Gabriel's assassin song, "Family Snapshot", from his Peter Gabriel 3 LP; also known as the 'Melting Face' album. Where Chapin's song was an examination of sniper Charles Whitman, Gabriel's song, Family Snapshot is loosely based upon Arthur Bremer, who attempted to assassinate presidential candidate, George Wallace in May 1972. Gabriel was inspired to write the song after he read the published version of Bremer's diary, An Assassin's Diary (1973). Starting with a low-key piano and synth line, Gabriel sings:

The streets are lined with camera crews/
Everywhere he goes is news/
Today is different/
Today is not the same

Friday, February 26, 2010

Canada - Made in China

This is a slightly odd piece for Critics At Large, but I think it has relevance because what we are dealing with is the Vancouver Olympics and the promotion of Canadian patriotism through clothing. Except the things they want us to buy to make us feel good about ourselves and our country were not made here.

This issue began awhile ago with wine. Vincor, a major wine company that owns wineries such as Inniskillin and Jackson-Triggs, became one of the corporate sponsors of the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver. They released their first commemorative Olympic wine about 18 months ago, and the shit immediately hit the fan.Instead of releasing a wine that was made with British Columbia grapes, they instead slapped the label on one of their "Cellared in Canada" wines. Cellared in Canada is a series of wines made by several Canadian wineries that allows them to import wines in bulk from countries such as Chile. The percentage can be anything from 70% in Ontario to 100% in BC. The only requirement is that the wines are indeed 'cellared in Canada', but contain little or no local wine. Long story short. When these commemorative wines were released, the wine press and regular media went into a frenzy, attacking Vincor for not releasing a VQA BC wine (VQA is Canada's appellation system that guarantees the wines come from the region stated) as their 'Olympic' wine instead.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Possession: Harry Chapin's Sniper

My good friend Adam Nayman and I were once discussing people who you always expect to miss the point. But we agreed that sometimes - maybe just once in their life - they got it right. That lead me to think about the late singer/songwriter Harry Chapin. Chapin was a composer of short-story songs and they often centered on society’s “little people.” Whether it was the poor sap wistfully remembering a lost love affair in “Taxi,” or the DJ who’s time has faded in “WOLD,” or (worst of all) the dad who doesn’t take time to pay attention to his growing son in “Cats in the Cradle,” Chapin was pop music’s Paddy Chayefsky. All everyone needed was love and attention and the world would be fine.


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Drew Barrymore's Revelatory Performance: Grey Gardens

Maybe Drew Barrymore has her grandfather's (John Barrymore) acting chops after all. Over the years, I've avoided watching most of what she's appeared in because it was either lame rom-coms or outright trash such as the god-awful Charlie's Angels movies. So, when I first heard she would star as Edith 'Little Edie' Bouvier Beal in a fictionalized version of the Grey Gardens documentary by David and Al Maysles, I cringed.

Grey Gardens (1976), the doc, tells the story of 'Little Edie' and her mother 'Big Edie', relatives of Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis who lived as recluses in a decaying, filth-filled mansion in the Hamptons. Some called the documentary voyeuristic, while others were drawn to these two eccentrics as they lived for and off each other. Leonard Malton, in his yearly Movie And Video Guide (1993 edition) liked the film, but gently condemned it as shallow because he said we learned nothing about their lives prior to their retreat into hermitage. Grey Gardens (2009) the HBO-produced docudrama addresses these shortcomings.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bad Moon Rising: Universal Studios' The Wolf Man - Then and Now

The one thing that director Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park III) has actually improved upon from George Waggner's 1941 original The Wolf Man is that we're made well aware that the wolf man's transformation from man to blood thirsty beast is a gruesome and horribly painful ordeal (though let's be honest, 1981's An American Werewolf in London showed us first). The shame is that we no longer care about Talbot's struggle against the animal within.

Much has changed since the 1940s when the wolf man first prowled the moors of England, and this goes far beyond the aesthetics of his transformation. In 1941, Jon Chaney Jr.'s monster stemmed from the repression of his perversions. While his transformation from man to wolf involves but a few fades revealing the growth of hair on his legs, the turmoil ran far deeper than the pain he might have experienced in transit. This man's pain comes from the mayhem he knows he is capable of, and the harm he fears he'll bring upon those he loves. By contrast, Benicio Del Toro's wolf man appears to enjoy every act of carnality, or at least hopes we get a kick out of the spectacle he creates.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Memories of Miriam

Back when I was about nine, my family lived in the small suburb of West Rouge, Ontario (which used to be part of Pickering). Our house was located right down at the bottom of Island Road which overlooked the sprawling Rouge Valley. Our backyard was quite long and it connected to the backyard of the Fisher household on Rouge Hills Drive. One day, while I was playing out there, I saw this young black girl in the adjacent property. Since there weren't any black people that I recall living in West Rouge in 1963, I knew she was from somewhere else. When I went over to talk to her, she spoke only a little English and in an accent that I didn't recognize. But one thing I did understand perfectly was when she told me that her mother was a singer named Miriam Makeba.

My parents owned one of Miriam Makeba's albums having recently gone to see Harry Belafonte perform at the (then) O'Keefe Centre in downtown Toronto. (Makeba was one of the guest singers in his concert troupe.) She had one tune on her record that was referred to as the "click song." Coming from South Africa, Makeba sang in her native tongue which contained a sound that resembled a clicking in the back of the throat. I remember one time even putting my ear against my parents' stereo speaker so I could try and figure out what it was and how she did it. Now I saw myself having a chance to solve this dilemma and see her do it in person. So the girl invited me in to meet her mother. But I wanted to tell my folks first. So I went home and immediately informed them that Miriam Makeba was visiting just around the corner. Even though I wasn't prone to lying, my parents didn't believe a word I was saying. But I wouldn't back down. I insisted they phone the Fisher home and find out. When they did, we were told that she was indeed staying there during Belafonte's concert run and they invited us over.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Robert Richardson's Shutter

Salvador Dali isn’t available these days to craft a surreal dream sequence, as he did for Alfred Hitchcock’s Spellbound in 1945. But director Martin Scorsese had talented contemporary artists -- among them, cinematographer Robert Richardson -- to help him fashion the freakish cerebral terrain of Shutter Island. Each of those psychological thrillers is set in a mental hospital where the lead character arrives confused and eerie conspiracies abound. But it’s the stunning Vertigo, which opened in 1958, that seems aesthetically similar to the current film by Scorsese -- who has suggested that all of his work taps into much the same “sense of obsession” evident in Hitchcock’s oeuvre.