Saturday, October 30, 2010
Friday, October 29, 2010
Apparently a renaissance nun in medieval days of yore, Hildegard von Bingen displays a protofeminist impudence in writer-director Margarethe von Trotta’s Vision. The protagonist stands up to the good old boys club of mean priests who run the hermitage that houses her Benedictine order. For example, she insists that her promotion to magistra -- a sort of mother superior -- be subject to a democratic vote by the sisters. This being the early 12th century, however, the woman stops short of any pro-choice notions when a young novice is impregnated by one of those good old boys. The poor girl is expelled, even though returning to her family means shame and probable abuse.
As the backstory unfolds, we first see Hildegard at age eight -- destined to become a “little bride” of Christ, according to her parents -- delivered to the cloister in a lush German forest. After a few brief scenes depicting her youth, she’s suddenly 38 and played by frequent von Trotta muse Barbara Sukowa with typical grace. The audience is given few clues as to how the adult celibate has evolved into a remarkable Christian mystic, playwright, composer of liturgical songs, author and healer in a doom-and-gloom era when people regularly flagellated themselves. Somewhere beneath her devout Catholicism lurks an enlightened pagan who worships nature, but the ecclesiastical vows dominate.
Thursday, October 28, 2010
Over the years, I'm convinced he often times had no idea what to make of his artsy son. Here was a man who climbed hydro poles in the early part of his career, and continued working for Ontario Hydro, in a variety of positions, for almost 40 years. To his children – myself and my older siblings, Neil and Teresa – my Dad was a good father. Unlike most fathers in Parry Sound, he played with us and the rest of the neighbourhood kids (touch football, street hockey, etc.) He taught us to swim (it was a bit of struggle with me, his sink-like-a-rock youngest son), fish, drive a boat, drive a car, ride a bike, skate, ski (downhill and cross country – I sucked at downhill, but I was a pretty good X-country skier) and tie knots (he was in the Navy during WW2). Yet, when it came to the arts, my obsession, I think he was at a loss.
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
In this age of DVD box sets, Youtube, and Hulu, television fans finally have full and immediate access to their favourite TV series, even ones that have been off the air for decades. As good as current television often is, sometimes the most satisfying viewing can come from settling in front of the TV, or computer, and immersing yourself in a classic series. Last week, frustrated by the lack of innovation in this fall season’s new sitcoms (and with all due respect to the continuing efforts of William Shatner), I pulled a much-loved series off the shelf and looked back at it, for the first time in decades. The series that caught my eye this time was Soap, which aired on ABC from 1977-81.
Soap was prime time television’s first serial comedy. The brainchild of the production team of Susan Harris, Paul Witt, and Tony Thomas (perhaps most famous for creating the immensely successful Golden Girls in the 80s), Soap was a parody of daytime soap operas which wove together the serialized and often sensationalized narrative of a soap with the conventions of a weekly situation comedy. The result was like nothing television had ever seen before, and quite frankly, since. I have always remembered the show fondly but, having watched it mainly as a kid, few but the most exaggerated details of it remained in my memory. What I recalled were the over-the-top characters, the zany situations, and, well to be honest, the ventriloquist dummy. What has surprised me in the past week has been the brilliant writing, the stunning comedic acting, and the depth and humanity of all of its characters. Some sitcoms don’t age well, while others become more impressive even decades after their original run. The best of them fall into two camps: groundbreaking ones which change the genre forever, thereby setting the stage for the success of many subsequent series, and other shows which are so startlingly original that they have produced no real successors. Norman Lear’s All in the Family (1971-79) falls firmly in the latter camp: though the show is largely credited for the sudden boom in ethnic sitcoms of the 70s, none ever approached the stark political frankness of the show that inspired them. Even today, almost 40 years later, any episode from the first season of All in the Family can leave a contemporary television viewer speechless in terms of the bluntness and honesty of its political content. I’m now convinced that Soap, despite its disarming lack of pretension and apparently narrow mandate, falls into that same category.
Tuesday, October 26, 2010
|Toronto Mayor-elect Rob Ford|
Monday, October 25, 2010
It’s not that Hitchens doesn’t stand up for what he believes or goes against the grain. He certainly does. But Hitch-22 is largely a reflective, soft-spoken book wherein he (mostly) sets the record straight on his life, including his famous friendships and his adversarial politics. It’s the latter he's become best known for, particularly from the days right after 9/11, when he rejected the left’s moral equivalence between Osama bin Laden and George W. Bush and their justification for the terror attacks on America. He came out in support of the Iraq war and the toppling of Saddam Hussein, which led to Hitchens being ostracized by the anti-war left. While he's not necessarily embraced by the right, who are suspicious of his anti-religious diatribes and criticism of past American foreign policy, Hitchens is determined (as always) to stake out territory as an iconoclast who thinks solely for himself.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
The Tomahawk Chop drone is topped off with the fans waving cartoon foam red tomahawks in a vaguely menacing 'I'm going to scalp you' motion. Whenever the Braves come to bat and have a chance to score, or whenever their pitcher is about to get the third out, the drone commences, taking over the entire soundscape and proceeding to crawl under my skin. Why the fans think this noise is actually helping their team is beyond me. Sure, under manager Bobby Cox, the Braves have been a perennial playoff team (something the Jays sure haven't been for 17 years), but they've only managed to win the World Series once (and that was in the post-strike-shortened 1995 season). Perhaps their fans' insistence in continuing this ridiculous drone is a factor.