Saturday, November 24, 2012

In Fact, It’s a Gas: The Stones on Celluloid

“It’s about the time we were living in,” Mick Jagger contends offscreen in a new documentary, explaining why his band’s songs, stage persona and lifestyle spoke to the counterculture of the 1960s. But the time we’re living in now still seems linked to a Rolling Stones calendar, as the ensemble celebrates a half-century together. A contemporary tour begins in London on November 25 and 29, before hitting the U.S. in December. Crossfire Hurricane, which premiered on HBO this month, is a fascinating collection of archival footage periodically narrated by rock ‘n‘ rollers who’ve gone from anarchic youngsters to mischievous senior citizens before our very eyes and ears.

Jagger, the lead vocalist who remains an unparalleled master at shaking his skinny hips and pursing his bountiful lips during performances, notes in a long-ago television interview: “I can’t express myself in the right way when I’m satisfied.” Asked about the screaming teenagers who turned early Stones’ concerts into a contact sport – numerous snippets show them lunging at, tackling and toppling the musicians – he suggests “that shows dissatisfaction with something.” Quick cut to the propulsive “Paint It Black,” with various glimpses of boys fighting police outside Stones’ concerts around the globe.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Pastiche: Sam Mendes' Skyfall

My original intention was to look at the last 50 years of cinematic James Bonds, ending with the just-released Skyfall. I was planning to write about how each generation gets the Bond that suits the times. Sean Connery was the Bond for the men (and women) who'd fought in World War II. He was a man's man who fought the good fight, drank like a fish, smoked like a fiend, bedded a couple of “broads” and saved the world from diabolical evilness (i.e., Hitler). He was also the Bond for the first of the Baby Boomers who were born just after the war, so they would have been hormonal 16- or 17-year-old boys when Dr. No (1962) was released (they all drooled over Ursula Andress and her bikini). By the time Connery made his last original Bond in 1971, Diamonds Are Forever, he was the Bond for the end of the hippie era (the ideals destroyed, now usurped by scum such as slightly hippieish/psychopathic Mr. Wint (Bruce Glover) and Mr. Kidd (Putter Smith)).

I was going to talk about how Roger Moore's first Bond, Live and Let Die (1973), was an attempt to come to terms with blacksploitation films such as Shaft (1971). I watched it again recently, having loved it when I was 14. My God, is it terrible and borderline racist. The Me Decade was encapsulated with the rest of Moore's work, with its disco overtones and not-funny quips. The new-seriousness of Timothy Dalton failed because the screenwriters seemed to forget that Moore had retired. The less said about the Pierce Brosnan era the better. Daniel Craig, in Casino Royale (2006), was the first post 9/11 Bond working in a world filled with confusion and trust being constantly betrayed.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Neglected Gem #29: Judy Berlin (1999)

Edie Falco as Judy
In Judy Berlin, the exquisite film debut of writer-director Eric Mendelsohn, a Long Island town in early September, that magical, touching time of valedictories and new beginnings, is the setting for a Chekhovian tragicomedy of emotional revelations. The characters are all interconnected. Judy (Edie Falco) is putting in one last workday at one of those American heritage villages; at the end of it she’ll hop the local train into Manhattan and take a flight to Los Angeles, where she hopes to break into movies. Her mother Sue (Barbara Barrie), a strained, uncomfortable woman whose relationship to her daughter is tense and awkward, teaches at the local elementary school. Bob Dishy plays Art Gold, the principal, who is married to Alice (Madeline Kahn). They barely seem to make contact with each other; as he heads for the door, there’s anguish in his eyes – mourning for vanished feelings – when she coaxes him to join in a worn exchange that begins, “Who’s your best lady?” You can see the pain of all the living the Golds have shared; it feels as though they can hardly bear it any longer.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Oh What a Feeling: Crowbar at Hamilton's McIntyre Performing Arts Centre (Nov. 17. 2012)

Kelly Jay & Roly Greenway (composers of “Oh What a Feeling”)

As memorable as “Shoo-doot-n shooby-doo” or “Awopbopaloobopalopbamboom” and every bit as meaningful, “Ba-bada-baaa ba-bada-baaa!” is the war cry of Canadian rock’n’roll.  Or, it was for a generation of us, and recent events have shown just how important that simple chorus was.  Roly Greenway and Kelly Jay Fordham were inducted into the 2011 Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame for their classic one chord tune “Oh What a Feeling”.  And this weekend, their band Crowbar received a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Hamilton Music Awards.  The award was presented at a long ceremony on Sunday night, but on Saturday night, Crowbar rocked the joint at Mohawk College’s McIntyre Performing Arts Centre.

Crowbar was the first band to benefit from Pierre Juneau’s new Canadian Content legislation (a law designating the implementation of 30% mandatory Canadian content by all radio stations) in 1970.  Because of this legislation, everyone in Canada could finally hear on the radio just how great our own music was. Their success, mixed with the fact that Margaret Trudeau was a fan, led to photo-ops with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau.  They achieved huge success in Canada, but because people south of the border thought “Oh What a Feeling” was about some illicit substance or other, they received little airplay in the USA.  On Saturday night, they made enough noise to wake our neighbours from their slumber, and keep the rest of us dancing for another 40 years.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

“We Interrupt This Commercial To Bring You Your Regularly Scheduled Program”

Corn flakes, sliced peaches, and Emilio Estevez in Repo Man

Reading Catharine Charlesworth’s recent review of Wreck-It Ralph on Critics at Large got me thinking about the remarkable way that brands and commercial products have so effectively permeated our lives – becoming so much a part of who we are, and the stories we tell about ourselves. For some, this may be a kind of tragedy, but I don’t really think it is. The degree to which popular culture and personal identity has become bound up in particular brands and products isn’t in itself something to mourn or something to embrace with any enthusiasm, but it is a reflection of our particular moment of modernity. Apple versus PC, Coke versus Pepsi, iPhone versus Android – these choices genuinely matter to many people, and running from it in the popular representations of our reality only serves to make those representations less, well, representative.

Catharine notes, rightly I think, that the integration of certain real video games into Wreck-It Ralph seems to genuinely add to the universe it portrays, and even gives real entertainment value to the viewers, who (like anyone) are always delighted to see themselves, and their interests, reflected back to them in the movies and television shows they watch. Of course, that isn’t the only reason why we are seeing more and more product placement (what is often more politely now called “brand integration”) in our TV shows and movies, but nonetheless it is worth pointing out that there are still better and worse ways of going about it.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Vestige of the '60s: The Last of the Haussmans

Helen McCrory, Julie Walters and Rory Kinnear in The Last of the Haussmans

The Last of the Haussmans, the second National Theatre production to be transmitted this season in the HD series NT Live, is the first play written by the actor Stephen Beresford, but you’d never guess because it’s bursting with confidence and it has a distinctive vision. Like the Lisa Cholodenko movies Laurel Canyon and The Kids Are All Right, it’s a high comedy that focuses on the repercussions of the sixties, but it doesn’t go soft (as Laurel Canyon did) or rigid (as The Kids Are All Right did); it’s a resolutely fair-minded satire that turns unexpectedly poignant. The great Julie Walters gives an exuberant, high-style performance as Judy, a hippie whose tireless quest for self-exploration led her to abandon her two children to be raised by her parents.  Now she’s in her sixties, they’re fortyish, and brother and sister are drawn to the house on the Devon Coast she inherited from her parents when she undergoes surgery for melanoma.  Libby (Helen McCrory), the elder sibling, has been raising her fifteen-year-old daughter Summer (Isabella Laughland) by herself – until Summer’s long-absent dad decides to re-enter her life and invites her to spend part of the summer with him and his new wife in France. Libby is on the rebound from her latest unsuccessful amour. Her brother Nick (Rory Kinnear) is a gay man in a perpetual state of heartbreak; he’s also a recovering junkie. Their relationship with their mother is sometimes strained, often ironic, and irresolvably complex. The other characters are Judy’s doctor, Peter (Matthew Marsh), who is cheating on his wife with Libby, and a laconic nineteen-year-old named Daniel (Taron Egerton) who arouses Peter’s paternal instincts, Nick’s libido and Summer’s teenage interest, but develops his own crush on Libby. However, the household revolves around Judy, who is just as free a spirit, just as outrageous and irrepressible and infuriating, as she must have been when she walked away from her children to join an ashram decades ago.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Bad Guy Affirmation: Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph

Ralph (John C. Reilly) and Fix-It Felix Jr (Jack McBrayer) in Wreck-It Ralph

Ah, the arcade: that glittering portal to dozens of impossible worlds, where adventure and heroism get prized above all. While the titles and technologies have changed since the 70s, some characters remain staples in these childhood haunts. Year after year, they get shot by the same spaceship, stomped by the same hedgehog, or tossed off the same buildings into the same puddle of mud. Being a hero every day might be great, but a villain? Despised by children everywhere, with no recognition for that work? I know I’d long for a change after a while.

Wreck-It Ralph opens as Litwak’s Arcade shuts down for the night, when its pixelated inhabitants come alive. This prompts the obvious parallel with Toy Story, and Pixar’s John Lasseter even served as an Executive Producer here. As in the earlier Disney film, these game characters have lives of their own when humans aren’t around, venturing from game to game during the night. How to link these game cabinets and their respective worlds together? Use their power cords as a subway system of course, complete with a Game Central Station. Too cheesy for you? We're just getting started!