Saturday, December 3, 2011

Opening Your Ears: Stan Rogers' Fogarty’s Cove

First time I met Stan Rogers I was watching my friend John play at a little coffeehouse at the Jewish Community Centre in Hamilton. John was in the middle of a song, probably “If I Was a Carpenter,” when the door swung open and a giant silhouette back-lit by the streetlights proclaimed, “hi! I’m Stan Rogers, just back from playin’ little honky-tonks and bars all across northern Ontario…and I’d be happy to play for you!” John never quite recovered.

Next time I met Stan was at Bill Powell’s third floor apartment just off Gore Park in downtown Hamilton. I was there to audition for a folk festival. I knocked on the door, heard a voice call, “come on in; it’s open!” Stan was listening to a young duo. I took my guitar out of its case to tune up. The duo left. Stan said, “Before you start, I have to show you something.” We walked the length of the apartment to the front bedroom. Bill Powell, painter, head of Creative Arts, founder of Festival of Friends, and all 'round local legend, lay stark naked, passed out on the bed not unlike Santiago at the end of The Old Man & the Sea

Friday, December 2, 2011

Not So Jolly: Cinematic Carnality and Corruption

Michael Fassbender and Carey Mulligan in Shame

Profoundly damaged men are the focus of two new films with one-word titles and bleaker-than-bleak outlooks. Just in time for the holidays! In Shame, the troubled New York City protagonist is Brandon Sullivan (Michael Fassbender), addicted to anonymous and increasingly rough, grim sex. The central character in Rampart, Dave Brown (Woody Harrelson), is a longtime Los Angeles cop whose lies, brutality and arrogance have begun to erode his very being. Joy to the world!

While both movies are hard to watch, Shame provides some measure of compassion for the handsome Brandon as he navigates between his upscale office job and a secret life of compulsive seduction, masturbation, hookers and porn. Director Steve McQueen, who co-wrote the screenplay with Abi Morgan and gives the dire proceedings a deceptively stylish look, does not provide any examination of what early experiences might have dragged a person into such self-destructive lower depths.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

On Courage and Cowardice: Criterion’s release of The Four Feathers (1939)

The Four Feathers – the classic 1939 Alexander Korda production recently released by Criterion in a spanking, spiffy new digital restoration – is an uneven, but entertaining movie; one that doesn’t entirely balance its large scale and very impressive battle sequences with its quieter, dialogue-driven scenes. More significantly, it sends out a mixed message about courage, cowardice and doing what one believes in.

Based on A.E.W. Masons’ 1902 novel, and brought to film an extraordinary seven times, this version, directed by Zoltan Korda, Alexander’s brother, is the most famous one, an adventure film cast in the spirit of Rudyard Kipling’s lauding of all things British, including its imperialistic adventures abroad. The latter is the subtext of The Four Feathers, which centres around Harry Faversham (John Clements), a sensitive young man whose family tradition  has seen all its men serve in the military. When his unit is sent to Egypt – to engage the Sudanese in an attempt to retake Khartoum, captured by Arab armies a decade earlier – he resigns his commission. That act, which he carries out because of a fervent wish to concentrate on his home life, such as his impending marriage to Ethne (June Duprez), a daughter of a general, has him labelled a coward by his three closest friends. They each send him a white feather as a sign of their disapproval of his ‘cowardice.’ (White is the colour of peace, of course, but that option doesn’t seem to exist in the gung-ho build-up to war.) But it’s the final feather, the fourth one, given to him by Ethne, albeit not without him daring her to do so, that prompts him to take drastic action to regain his honour.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Message Meets Medium: Collecting Digital Art Through s[edition]

Although I am neither a collector of art, nor a frequenter of social media, somehow s[edition] intrigued me. Launched a few weeks ago, s[edition] is not just a digital art gallery, it’s a gallery for digital art. Here’s the difference: the art you can browse, buy and collect through s[edition] is not a digital representation of artwork, it is art using the digital medium. Like a traditional print, there is a limited number of pieces available. Unlike a traditional print, you can view the creation you purchase in a variety of ways and sizes on your iPad, Blackberry, PC, TV, digital photo frame, or any other connected device. You can store your artwork in s[edition]’s digital vault and access it anytime, anywhere – provided you have the proper hardware and internet connection.

Each piece in your vault is yours and yours alone. It is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity and can be “identified, verified and traced.” Skeptics among us might wonder what all the fuss is about. There is a myriad of images you can find for free online and use similarly. Naturally, this begs the age-old question: what makes art, Art? Some say art is anything that's made with love or intention, or simply a thing of beauty. Others say art is something that challenges the way we think about the world. Whatever your definition, s[edition] for certain challenges the way we think about art itself.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

To Die For: 50/50 & The Walking Dead (Season Two)

Seth Rogen and Joseph Gordon-Levitt in 50/50.

The French existentialist philosopher and novelist Albert Camus once wrote that the real injustice of life is our recognition that everyone we know and love one day will die. It's what, he said, makes our life truly absurd. But you'd never know this from most of the movies made on the subject. The idea of death its very final reality might be the subject of many stories, yet rarely is its injustice (or absurdity) ever fully acknowledged. When Cary Grant and Irene Dunne lose their adopted child in George Stevens' popular 1941 melodrama Penny Serenade, for example, our sympathies don't concentrate on the dead infant but on the grieving parents instead. We're made to feel for their loss and pain, not the cruel and random taking of a child. It's as if the idea of death a subject that gnawed hungrily at Camus in books like The Plague was too terrifying to confront so movies concentrated instead on the moral struggles of the living.

Terms of Endearment
In pictures like Penny Serenade, the drama isn't worked out so that we come to terms with death, but instead with our trying to avoid it. Melodramas in particular always repress the notion of death, recognizing that our greatest fear of death, besides losing loved ones, is in our own terror of having not lived fully enough, of having perhaps pissed away valuable time that we can't get back. So this is why, especially when you add a recognizable disease like cancer to the mix, the stories resolve with the living having finally learned life's important lessons and then becoming better people. When you watch tear-jerkers like Love Story (1970), Brian's Song (1971), and especially, Terms of Endearment (1983), the survivors settle all rifts, resolve painful grievances, and improve their behaviour. These movies maybe even give us the impression that we can live forever, if we'd just improve our character. They make us feel edified, thanks to those who've died on our behalf, so that our own mortality gets comfortably buried with the bodies being grieved over. However in the recent dramatic comedy, 50/50, not only does death get stared directly in its face, but the picture also dares to laugh at it. Like Camus, 50/50 sees the absurdity in the subject. And it does so without cheapening or avoiding death's victories and temporary losses.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Captors: Eichmann – The Nazi Monster as Performer

Louis Cancelmi & Michael Cristofer in Captors
Evan M. Wiener’s new play Captors (at the Boston University Theater until December 11th) manages to be both emotionally and intellectually engrossing. It tells the story of the kidnapping of Adolf Eichmann in Buenos Aires in 1960 by three Mossad agents who held him in a safe house outside the city while devising a plan to transport him to Israel to stand trial for war crimes. Their success was dependent on getting him to sign a release form permitting them to take him out of Argentina, where, under an assumed name, he was a legal resident. Wiener’s narrative, which is based mostly on Eichmann in My Hands, a memoir by one of the agents, Peter Malkin (co-authored with Harry Stein), is divided in two parts. In the first act Eichmann (Michael Cristofer) struggles to reassert power over his captors – mainly Malkin (Louis Cancelmi), the youngest of the three – by reaching across the enforced barrier between captive and captor and getting him to engage in conversation. In the second act Malkin throws over entirely the device of objectivity and uses their relationship to manipulate Eichmann into not only accepting the idea of a trial but welcoming it.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The 99 Percent Speaks: Observing the Movement for a More Just Society

Thursday, they were enjoying “occu pie.” Their slices appeared to be made with pumpkin or apple but nobody mentioned the ingredients as I watched an Occupy Wall Street live video feed that showed a crowd chowing down at a live Thanksgiving feed in New York City. The multitude was gathered at Zuccotti Park, named Liberty Plaza until 2003, in Lower Manhattan. That’s where the original occupation began on September 17, with many demonstrators camping out round-the-clock in tents to protest the concentration of wealth among the top 1 percent of Americans while the remaining 99 percent – the rest of humanity – endures varying degrees of hardship.

The Zuccotti inhabitants established a small community of like-minded citizens with a kitchen, a field hospital with volunteer doctors and a library that sheltered thousands of books. All these things disappeared or were destroyed when police evicted the occupiers just after midnight on November 15 on orders from the normally moderate Republican mayor, billionaire Michael Bloomberg. Invariably denouncing the occupiers, he has morphed into an enemy of the people. The 33,000-square-foot park within spitting distance of the Stock Exchange now remains the site of lengthy gatherings but no one is allowed to sleep over any more.