Saturday, April 20, 2013

Tribute to David: John Corcelli

David Churchill (1959-2013)

Given the sad passing of our friend and colleague David Churchill, we've decided to honour him in a manner totally fitting to our memory of him. Since he was such a strong advocate of Critics at Large from the beginning, he was quick to initiate ideas. One thing he was quite fond of were omnibus projects like the Remembering 9/11 collection (which led to our first e-book) and the Titanic 100th Anniversary commemoration. Therefore, we felt strongly that we could best salute our late columnist by creating an Omnibus of David. From April 16 until April 24, we plan to publish – daily – the best of David Churchill as chosen by our writers.

Today's piece is from John Corcelli.

The Editors at Critics at Large.


“One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain.”
B. Marley

I met David around 1987 at radio station CJRT-FM (Toronto) through Kevin Courrier who introduced me to his new broadcast partner for movie reviews. We hit it off immediately and I always looked forward to seeing him every week when he came into the studio.

David was (and remains for me) an enthusiastic lover of the arts and in particular music. When I was asked to join Critics At Large, that was co-founded by David, I quickly took the music portfolio with the understanding that I could also write about theatre and the occasional book if it struck my fancy. (Although all of us agreed that we could write about music if we contacted each other to avoid duplication.) Music is my religion and I jumped at the chance to write about it.

In 2011, I had planned to write about Kate Bush's album 50 Words for Snow (EMI), her second release of that year. David contacted me before it came out expressing a keen interest in reviewing it, so once a copy came into my possession, I happily sent it to him, knowing he'd probably write a better review than I.

What follows is David's over-the-top enthusiasm for the album and the artist, Kate Bush. Unlike me, David never failed to get personal with his comments. I would never call any record a "masterpiece" fearing an unauthorized commercial quotation appearing in an ad. My approach is to appreciate the work from afar. Not David. His unbridled support for 50 Words for Snow as a fan is nicely balanced in his review as he maintains his distance just enough to offer his insight into the album and its creator.

John Corcelli is a music critic, broadcast/producer, musician and member of the Festival Winds Orchestra.










Friday, April 19, 2013

Tribute to David: Shlomo Schwartzberg

David Churchill (1959-2013)

Given the sad passing of our friend and colleague David Churchill, we've decided to honour him in a manner totally fitting to our memory of him. Since he was such a strong advocate of Critics at Large from the beginning, he was quick to initiate ideas. One thing he was quite fond of were omnibus projects like the Remembering 9/11 collection (which led to our first e-book) and the Titanic 100th Anniversary commemoration. Therefore, we felt strongly that we could best salute our late columnist by creating an Omnibus of David. From April 16 until April 24, we plan to publish – daily – the best of David Churchill as chosen by our writers.

Today's piece is from
Shlomo Schwartzberg.
The Editors at Critics at Large.


I’ve known David for many years but it’s only in the last five years or so that we became good friends. He kindly called me in Montreal when I was sitting Shiva for my father my first inkling that he considered me a friend and not just someone he was friendly with, which he was. But it was Critics at Large that actually brought us closer and allowed me to get to know the David that we are honouring on the site this week. Reading David’s posts introduced me to a passionate and opinionated critic who personified what Critics at Large was all about: views that go against the popular grain, that argue cogently for what one believes in and which demonstrate a concern with the issues of the outside world.

Last year, David also became my regular editor on the site, offering much support for me, a writer who often doubted himself when finishing a piece. He didn’t say everything I wrote was terrific, his favourite adjective for my output, but often enough so I felt better afterwards about what I’d written. I also got to know David better through his curiosity and interest in subjects (the FIFA World Cup™, the British car show Top Gear) I would normally not care a whit about, though we also shared a similar passion for the writer Harlan Ellison, with David contributing a nice addendum to the piece I had written. He was much better at putting his personal views and life experiences into his writing then I was, which was a revelatory approach that journalism school said I should never do.

But David was much more than a good, smart editor. He was so empathetic when someone close to me faced a terrible illness, even showing genuine concern for my situation on the greatest night of his life, his book launch for The Empire of Death. That ability to reach out to someone else at such a crucial time when you could be easily forgiven for thinking only of yourself was a mark of what distinguished David and made so many love him. I’ll remember him for his kindness and for the honesty with which he approached me and my work. We often discussed writing and what we expected of it – David, too, had had a time when he didn’t much like doing it – and while I still have difficulty writing I think David (and our Critics at Large colleague and friend Kevin Courrier, too) taught me, at least, to value what I have to say. I will always be grateful for that. In the way he conducted himself, personally and professionally, David Churchill came across as a real mensch, which is Yiddish for a person of integrity and honor, a description which defines him perfectly. I've chosen David’s impassioned, powerful piece assailing Nicholson Baker’s pacifist but immoral book Human Smoke for displaying what I value most about Critics at Large and David Churchill, a courage to dissent from fashionable thinking, a complexity of view that didn't fit neatly into that political box marked Right or Left and, finally, a well-argued, well-written case for something he deeply believed and a passionate response to someone who vexed him tremendously. We’ll miss your trenchant, critical voice. David. Rest in peace, my friend.

Shlomo Schwartzberg is a film critic, teacher and arts journalist based in Toronto. He teaches regular film courses at Ryerson University’s LIFE Institute. He has just concluded his course, What Makes a Movie Great?. Beginning on May 3 he will be offering one on science fiction movies and television.








Thursday, April 18, 2013

Tribute to David: Deirdre Kelly

David Churchill (1959-2013)

Given the sad passing of our friend and colleague David Churchill, we've decided to honour him in a manner totally fitting to our memory of him. Since he was such a strong advocate of Critics at Large from the beginning, he was quick to initiate ideas. One thing he was quite fond of were omnibus projects like the Remembering 9/11 collection (which led to our first e-book) and the Titanic 100th Anniversary commemoration. Therefore, we felt strongly that we could best salute our late columnist by creating an Omnibus of David. From April 16 until April 24, we plan to publish – daily – the best of David Churchill as chosen by our writers

Today's piece is from Deirdre Kelly.
The Editors at Critics at Large.


I just re-read David Churchill’s zinger of a piece detailing his enduring affection and indebtedness to the late great American film critic Pauline Kael, and admit I several times worried I wouldn’t get through it.

Not because it isn’t cogent: David, whom I met at university, should have been on the inter-college debating team because he has always known how to build and lob a fire bomb of an argument. I was reading him and hanging on every word, convinced that other critics who denounce Kael are doing it for their own self-aggrandizement and are missing the point, as David says, of her commitment to speak the truth. David never did mince words.

And it wasn’t because it isn’t expertly written: David writes the way he talks, with a rat-a-tat clarity and intensity of focus that is by turns profound and funny, with lots of the personal invested in what he is saying. We met in Professor Cameron Tolton’s history of cinema class and both of us were undergraduates also keenly interested in writing criticism. David went to The Newspaper to write on film; I ended up at The Varsity where I wrote on dance and, well, I am getting way from myself again. It’s the reason I had difficulty reading the piece all the way through:

I am bereft.

While reading his heartfelt tribute to a critic who inspired him to become a critic in the first place – he pronounces it strongly here – I kept hearing his voice, and seeing the flash of his eyes as he grew passionate in defence of no holds barred arts criticism. What really mattered to him.

His references to his past at the University of Toronto, where I met him all those years ago, not able not to notice him for the way he used to bound up in class, hurling facts at our only somewhat bemused professor to show off his encyclopaedic grasp of pop culture when he was just 19 and fresh out of Bracebridge (“Bracebridge?” I remember exclaiming, dumbfounded at the thought. “But there’s but one movie theatre in that town. How do you know so much?” He never did tell me.) – they made me so deeply sad again for his recent and sudden parting. I could barely see the words from behind my veil of tears.

Davis had always been so forceful, and I truly had believed him when he told me he was going to defeat the cancer that took him – really, the only thing ever capable of stopping his voice. And so my lingering shock at his departure.

He was electric as an eel: brilliant, and just as quick. I already acutely feel the loss of his energy. Since learning the news of his passing I have felt plunged in darkness. I mourn my friend, and the passing of time, of course. I long again for those galvanizing days back on campus, shot through with lightening bolts of discovery, when we both were bursting with ideas and enthusiasm and nothing, simply nothing, would ever stand in our way.

I am reminded of that fervour we once shared when I read David say in his one-two-punch homage to Pauline Kael, quoting New York Times critic A. O. Scott, “She will not lead you to correct positions, but she is an example of the right way to do criticism, which is with everything you have.”

David then goes on to explain how that example made him the critic he in turn became: opinionated, impassioned, memorable.

“Write from the heart. That is what I learned from Kael from reading her and [from] that conversation I had 30+ years ago,” he says.

“I have never tried to imitate her style (who could?), but I have tried to make the personal public as she often did. Bring your guts, your life, and your point-of view into everything you write.”

Oh how sorely I shall miss that spirit.

Deirdre Kelly is a journalist (The Globe and Mail) and internationally recognized dance critic. Her first book, Paris Times Eight, is a national best-seller. Her new book, Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection, has just been published by Greystone Books (D&M Books). Check out www.deirdrekelly.com for book and event updates.






Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tribute to David: Bob Douglas

David Churchill (1959-2013)

Given the sad passing of our friend and colleague David Churchill, we've decided to honour him in a manner totally fitting to our memory of him. Since he was such a strong advocate of Critics at Large from the beginning, he was quick to initiate ideas. One thing he was quite fond of were omnibus projects like the Remembering 9/11 collection (which led to our first e-book) and the Titanic 100th Anniversary commemoration. Therefore, we felt strongly that we could best salute our late columnist by creating an Omnibus of David. From April 16 until April 24, we plan to publish – daily – the best of David Churchill as chosen by our writers.

Today's piece is from Bob Douglas.
The Editors at Critics at Large.

I met David Churchill when we both played Sunday softball games about thirty years ago. He was reviewing films with Kevin Courrier at CJRT-FM, and because the radio team needed more players, I was invited to participate. Even then his enthusiasm made him a powerful presence. After the team disbanded about five years later, I had no contact with David until 2011 when I contacted him shortly before my first volume was to be published. He had self-published his novel, The Empire of Death, and I was interested in the ways he promoted it. He was most generous with his time and support for my book. After it was published, he conducted an interview with me that was posted in Critics at Large. When I posted my initial piece in January 2013, he was the first person to welcome me aboard with a wonderful email. Unfortunately, it was about that time that he became ill and we had little future contact. Had David lived, I am certain we would have had many lively exchanges and some disagreements. With his passing what I will most remember and treasure was his generous spirit.

When Kevin invited the writers at Critics at Large to choose one of David’s pieces and to write an introduction, I read back over his pieces and was impressed by the wide range of his interests – film, television, theatre, politics and books – and the infectious brio that infused what he liked and the mocking disdain for what he abhorred. Since we both shared a passion for the Bernie Gunther novels of Philip Kerr, I decided to choose one of these reviews.

David Churchill took great delight in writing about the Bernie Gunther novels of Philip Kerr. He wrote three reviews of this series for Critics at Large. Although we did not always agree – he was far more critical of Prague Fatale – you always knew where David stood and his reasons for taking that critical stance. What David understood most about Kerr’s novels was that plot was always secondary to atmospherics and character. David keenly appreciated the research that Kerr undertook whether the novel focused on Nazi Germany or Batista’s Cuba. Although we learn about the texture and mood of the eras that Kerr is writing about, perhaps even more important is the character of Bernie Gunther himself. Gunther possesses an idiosyncratic moral code reflective of the times, where one does not hesitate to lie, cheat and murder in order to survive. David seemed to savour Gunther’s world-weary cynicism, his way with alluring women and the basic noir elements of Kerr’s novels. As a tribute to David, I am reposting his review of Field Grey.

Bob Douglas is a teacher and author. His second volume to That Line of Darkness: The Shadow of Dracula and the Great War (Encompass Editions, 2011), titled That Line of Darkness: Vol. II The Gothic from Lenin to bin Laden, is available now. For more information, please visit www.thatlineofdarkness.com.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tribute to David: Tina Libhart

David Churchill (1959-2013)

Given the sad passing of our friend and colleague David Churchill, we've decided to honour him in a manner totally fitting to our memory of him. Since he was such a strong advocate of Critics at Large from the beginning, he was quick to initiate ideas. One thing he was quite fond of were omnibus projects like the Remembering 9/11 collection (which led to our first e-book) and the Titanic 100th Anniversary commemoration. Therefore, we felt strongly that we could best salute our late columnist by creating an Omnibus of David.

From April 16 until April 24, we plan to publish – daily – the best of David Churchill as chosen by our writers. The only exception we made was the inclusion of Tina Libhart, a fan of the site from Waco, Texas, who also became David's friend when he wrote about the television series,
Endgame. Her piece begins our week of tributes
.

The Editors at Critics at Large.


There once was a little Canadian TV show called Endgame. It ran 13 episodes during hockey season in 2011. Although I am a native Texan, even I knew that was a death sentence for a TV show no matter how brilliant or unique it was in a sea of formulaic programming and plastic characters. Despite the odds, a few fans from all over the world rallied to save this show. We started a petition, a Facebook page, and a Twitter campaign trying to get someone, somewhere to hear our outcry of injustice at the cancellation. While we made a bit of a ripple and got some exposure, we were not successful in getting our beloved Arkady Balagan back into the Huxley Hotel.

However, one of the most amazing things happened to me as a result of this little cancelled Canadian TV show; I met David Churchill. I had written something brilliant on the Save Endgame Facebook page about why I loved the show, and he messaged me to tell me he enjoyed it. He then told me he was writing a piece about the show for Critics at Large and asked if he could mention my involvement in the campaign. I immediately became a follower of 'CAL' and was also privileged to meet Kevin Courrier as a result of my friendship with David.

The last time David and I chatted was March 16, 2013. He and his wife Rose were in Florida, and his last words to me were, “Love back at ya. Just about to shut down, so hope to talk soon.” When Kevin wrote me on Saturday regarding David’s passing, I could not breathe. The three of us had talked about them coming to visit me in Texas once David had kicked cancer’s ass. So I am saddened there will be no more chats on Facebook with him, and I will never again get excited to see him online or read his newest blog post on 'CAL.' Moreover, I am gutted that we will never meet in person, I will never hear his laugh, and I will never embrace my friend or look into his eyes or hear him say my name.

David Churchill believed in me. He encouraged me. He inspired me with his brilliance and awed me with his positivity. He deemed me an honorary Canadian and made me feel like I mattered during a time in my life when I desperately needed it. Therefore to be asked by my friend Kevin to participate in this tribute to our friend is indeed an honour (I spelled that like a real Canadian should!).

Kevin suggested the article about Endgame as the one I should use, and I could not have agreed with him more. This is the one where I first learned just how good of a writer David Churchill was. If you read his words, you will find for yourself that the world has lost an incredible writer and an even greater man. However, I take comfort in the fact his genius will live on here and in all of his writings, and his spirit will forever remain a part of those of us who were lucky enough to be loved by him.  

Tina Libhart is a guest contributor from Texas, who was introduced to Critics at Large by David Churchill. She is a former English major, teacher, and public relations goddess, who now writes when the mood strikes on her blog Verbalizations and Such.


Monday, April 15, 2013

Lucky Guy: Trying to Resurrect the Newspaper Play

Tom Hanks and Courtney B. Vance in Lucky Guy (Photo by Joan Marcus)

The posthumous Broadway production of Nora Ephron’s play Lucky Guy is handsomely staged by George C. Wolfe, against stylish sets by David Rockwell, and it generates considerable energy. It’s a newspaper play, a rousing genre that now, in the twilight of print journalism, rarely gets tapped by playwrights or screenwriters. (Probably the most recent newspaper movie was Hollywood’s 2009 version of the British TV miniseries State of Play; the last one I can recall before that is The Paper, made a decade and a half earlier, in which the columnist played by Randy Quaid is a fictionalized version of McAlary.) Ephron’s subject is the life and career of Mike McAlary (Tom Hanks, making his Broadway debut), who wrote mostly for The New York Daily News in the eighties and nineties. He rose to prominence when he covered the poisoned Tylenol story in 1985 – which he caught by chance because it broke on a Friday night and everyone else in the newsroom was eager to get home for the weekend – won a Pulitzer Prize for his coverage of the brutalizing of Abner Louima by racist cops, and died of cancer at forty-one. Except for the Julia Child section of Julie & Julia, I was never hot on Ephron’s screenplays, but she came up as a reporter, and for a little while you hope that Lucky Guy, with its speedy tempo and its colorful collection of cheerfully profane newsroom characters, might turn out to be a good entertainment. But it’s barely even a play.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

The Biggest Secret: Jake Arnott’s The House Of Rumour


The House of Rumour (New Harvest/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) is the seventh and most ambitious novel by Jake Arnott, an English writer of what some call “faction” fiction constructed around real people and events, some famed, others obscure. Engrossing as pure story, the novel is also an education, as the broad outlines of World War II and the ensuing half-century are reconfigured in and by the voices of people whose split decisions nudged the levers of history, or whose visionary hunches foretold its outcomes. The blurbs draw comparisons with Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad (at the high end) and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (at the low); reading the novel, I thought of Robert Anton Wilson (especially Masks of the Illuminati, which germinates from similar principles), James Ellroy (American Tabloid, in its interconnections and narrative density), Thomas Harris (canny prose incorporating deep research into language, history, art, science), and David Thomson (Suspects and Silver Light, novels built from the secret parts of familiar, albeit fictional, lives).

The House of Rumour begins and ends with Larry Zagorsky, a minor pulp science fiction writer living in Los Angeles just before Pearl Harbor, who joins the Mañana Literary Society, described as “the closest thing to a salon that science fiction had at that time.” The Society is unofficially chaired by future SF giant Robert Heinlein; among its members are Anthony Boucher, mystery writer and editor, and L. Ron Hubbard, another pulp workhorse, not yet the creator of Scientology. Also in the Society orbit is Jack Parsons, a charismatic genius researching solid fuel for the newly established Cal-Tech Jet Propulsion Labs as well as a practitioner of ritual magic and priest of the Ordo Templi Orientis cult. Parsons, like the Mañana Literary Society, actually existed; and if, like me, you hadn't known that, you have plenty to discover as the novel veers back and forth in time, its speculative web drawing in wartime spy capers and UFOs, gender and sexuality, prophecy and the occult, how James Bond was created, and why Rudolf Hess flew to Scotland.