Saturday, March 19, 2016

Podcast: Interview with Umberto Eco (1983)

On February 19, author, philosopher and semiotician Umberto Eco passed away at the age of 84.

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 artists from all fields. 

One of those interviews was with Italian novelist, philosopher and semiotician Umberto Eco. On February 19, Eco passed away at age 84. When we sat down together in 1983, his soon-to-be bestselling first novel, The Name of the Rose, had just been translated into English. 

– Kevin Courrier.

Here is the full interview with Umberto Eco as it aired on CJRT-FM in 1983.

Tom Fulton was the host and producer of On the Arts for CJRT-FM in Toronto for 23 years, beginning in 1975. 
Kevin Courrier is a freelance writer/broadcaster, film critic and author (Dangerous Kitchen: The Subversive World of ZappaRandy Newman's American Dreams33 1/3 Captain Beefheart's Trout Mask ReplicaArtificial Paradise: The Dark Side of The Beatles Utopian Dream). Courrier teaches part-time film courses to seniors through the LIFE Institute at Ryerson University in Toronto and other venues. His forthcoming book is Reflections in the Hall of Mirrors: American Movies and the Politics of Idealism.  

Friday, March 18, 2016

Local Girl Doesn’t “Get” Deadpool, Can’t Understand Fuss

Ryan Reynolds as Deadpool in Deadpool.

This is it. This is the moment where people are going to read something I wrote and tell themselves that I dislike the thing they love because I just don’t understand. “She just doesn’t get it,” they’ll say, “she’s a girl/doesn’t read comics/probably drinks pumpkin spice lattes; Deadpool goes over her head.”

While that characterization isn’t totally accurate, it’s also not entirely wrong. I don’t get Deadpool. I’m putting it out there and I’m not taking it back. I’ve never read a Deadpool comic and I had no idea what he was about until I started researching for this piece. All I know is that my nerdiest male friends were raving about this movie and I had to see it. My critical opinion is that… it was alright, I guess.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Cultural Musings: Son of Saul, Jacques Rivette, Downton Abbey and The Mindy Project

Géza Röhrig in Son of Saul.

Son of Saul: I can see why the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences chose László Nemes’ Hungarian Holocaust drama Son of Saul as the Best Foreign Language Film of the Year. It’s a grim and uncompromising art house movie that easily personifies the perceived intelligent non-Hollywood virtues of movies made in other countries. However, the story of Saul (Géza Röhrig), a concentration camp inmate in Auschwitz, who becomes determined to see that a boy he says is his son be given a proper Jewish burial, also possesses the problems of so many foreign language movies. It’s emotionally dry, quite arid in its execution and in terms of its storytelling, more than a little monotonous.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Toppling Pretensions: The National Ballet of Canada's Mixed Program

Artists of the National Ballet of Canada in Cacti. (Photo: Aleksandar Antonijevic)

At the risk of Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman rolling his eyes, I will now self-consciously pass comment on Cacti, the prickly but popular work which the National Ballet of Canada performed last week as part of a mixed program at Toronto's Four Seasons Centre. A delicious parody that had the audience laughing start to finish, his 30-minute dance is a critique on art criticism, especially the kind of arid discourse that gives the discipline a bad name. First created in 2010 for Nederland's Dans Theatre 2 and now performed by companies around the world drawn to its irreverent sense of humour, Cacti erupts beneath a pompous voice-over teeming with cringe-worthy pronouncements comparing artistic creation to ant hills and dancers to emotionally stunted delinquents. The verbal drone culminates in the dead-end question, what does it all mean? Answer at your peril. This isn't to suggest that Cacti, a co-production shared by the National Ballet, the Boston Ballet and the Atlanta Ballet, is immune to criticism. It's more that this physically daring piece, set to live musical accompaniment and the dancers' own percussive poundings on large Scrabble-like ivory tiles serving as mini stages, makes meaning take a back seat to sheer enjoyment. Give it up for the needle in your side.

Cacti  so named because dancers actually perform with potted plants in hand  made its Canadian debut last week as the fantastically refreshing finale to a three-part program dominated by two modernist ballets by the late George Balanchine. The Four Temperaments, created in 1946 to Paul Hindemith's commissioned score, and Rubies, a dazzling excerpt from 1967's full length Jewels set to Igor Stravinsky's rollicking Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra, complimented the Ekman work by similarly challenging perceptions and toppling pretensions.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Children, Behave: 10 Cloverfield Lane

John Gallagher, Jr., Mary Elizabeth Winstead and John Goodman in 10 Cloverfield Lane.

Note: This review contains major spoilers for 10 Cloverfield Lane.
The title of 10 Cloverfield Lane shouldn’t have the word “Cloverfield” in it. Its original title, "The Cellar," would have been just as mysterious and gripping as the film itself – but it wouldn’t have put butts in seats the way an association with the 2008 Matt Reeves film would. Trailers for Lane popped up only two months before release, to everyone’s surprise (“What? There’s a new Cloverfield movie? Wow… okay!”). I can’t help feeling, however, that slapping a recognizable title on a film that – spoiler – has pretty much zero to do with Cloverfield was an incredibly disingenuous move, one that is made that much more irritating because Lane is a great film in its own right whose branding only weighs it down.

Monday, March 14, 2016

The Color Purple: Voices

Cynthia Erivo in the Broadway revival of The Color Purple at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theater. (Photo: Sara Krulwich)

When Cynthia Erivo opens her mouth to sing in the Broadway revival of The Color Purple, she looks as if she’s been touched with grace, and the music that pours out is honeyed gospel. I can’t remember the last time I heard a musical-theatre performer who commanded so much unfiltered power and possessed such purity of tone. The songs by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray were obviously written to be delivered with this kind of full-throated intensity – singing that carries the force of the north wind behind it. (I didn’t see the original production, which starred LaChanze and opened in 2005.) The first ensemble number, “Mysterious Ways,” a hymn by a black Baptist preacher (Lawrence Clayton) in small-town Georgia and his congregation, practically rips the seats out of the theatre. It’s in the tradition of “Leavin’ Time” from Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer’s St. Louis Woman and “Walk Him Up the Stairs” from Gary Geld and Peter Udell’s Purlie.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Of Wire and Wood: Two New Albums from Borealis Records

Tom Taylor, Shari Ulrich and Barney Bentall, a.k.a. BTU, have a new album with Borealis Records, Tightrope Walk.

"...a guitar is made of wire and wood’s just a tool when pushing comes to shove..."
Those lines come from a song I wrote a few years ago, but in essence it’s a true statement of how I feel about guitars. They are tools to make music with. In the hands of a gifted player, a guitar can bring an almost endless variety of emotions from both player and listener. On Friday night, Feb. 26, at St. Catharines FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, Ron Sexsmith used his Taylor to display his incredible skill at songwriting. The following Monday night, Feb. 29, at Hugh’s Room, Simon Townshend owned the small stage, passionately attacking three different axes and a mandolin, and he had The Who’s guitar tech on hand to tune up. There’s no denying it: a guitar is a potent instrument, and probably the one thing that gives me the most pleasure in life apart from my family. That’s why these two new albums from Borealis Records are worth having around.

BTU is not British Thermal Units. It stands for Bentall-Taylor-Ulrich. That’s Barney Bentall, ex-Legendary Hearts, who after spending a few years as a cattle rancher has recently been hyperactive on the Canadian folk scene. Last year saw him release a solo album Flesh and Bone and take part in The High Bar Gang (a gospel bluegrass band whose debut album was one of the year’s highlights. Shari Ulrich was also part of the High Bar Gang, and she released a quality solo CD last year as well.) Tom Taylor hails from Vancouver where he was part of the band She Stole My Beer. Together Bentall-Taylor-Ulrich have crafted a folky new CD entitled Tightrope Walk.