Saturday, November 7, 2015

Buffy Sainte-Marie: She's Still Rocking!

Buffy Sainte-Marie's 18th album, Power in the Blood, was released in May. (Photo by David Gahr, 1960)

What can you say about Buffy Sainte-Marie? She appeared on the American game show To Tell the Truth in January 1966. Panelists Tom Poston, Peggy Cass, Orson Bean and Kitty Carlisle questioned the three contestants for ten minutes and guessed which one was the real Buffy Sainte-Marie. The questions were a bit insipid. “Do you have any musical training?” “Are there any more Indian singers?” “Where does Joan Baez live?” When they voted, Bud Collyer asked the panel to “Mark [their] wigwams.” Mr. Bean actually drew a cartoon war bonnet on his numeral 3. They were different times. I remember watching the show when it first played, and you can still watch it on YouTube. The best part is when Buffy does “Goin’ Up to Cripple Creek” accompanying herself on mouthbow, and then she picks up her guitar and sings “Until It’s Time For You To Go.”

Friday, November 6, 2015

Podcast: Interview with Scott Young (1984)

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 Canadian journalist, sportswriter, and novelist Scott Young (1918-2005). Along with publishing over 45 books in his lifetime, he was also the father of musician Neil Young. In 1984, McClelland and Stewart published his memoir, Neil And Me. I sat down with Scott Young to talk about the book, his life, and his famous son around the time of the book's publication. Often, as readers, we're used to devouring memoirs by the sons and daughters of famous people where they assess the legacy that parents leave their children. With Neil And Me, the reverse takes place, as a father takes stock of the famous son he helped raise with the added bonus of trying to glean from his songs when and where he might be a character within them.

Kevin Courrier.

Here is the full interview with Scott Young as it aired on CJRT in 1984.

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.  

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Rebels With a Cause: Sarah Gavron’s Suffragette

Carey Mulligan in Suffragette.

Suffragette’s setting of 1912 East London is a strange paradox. Sarah Gavron’s film takes pains to distance itself from being a stuffy period drama; the action is so real and filmed in such a way that were it not for the bustles and fancy hats, the story could be taking place today. On the other hand, the political environment it showcases is so shockingly archaic that one can hardly believe it was just over a hundred years ago. Poverty is rampant. Working conditions are abject. Women are overworked, abused, and voiceless. More specifically, British women in 1912 are unable to vote. As iconic Suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst (played by iconic actress Meryl Streep) reminds them in the film, peaceful demonstrations in the name of “votes for women” have gone nowhere prior to 1912. Suffragette tells the story of a band of women who recognize this and, like many other women at the time who were longing for a better life, turn to civil disobedience in the pursuit of equality.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Something in the Way It Moves: The Restored Manos

The Master (Tom Neyman) in the newly restored Manos: The Hands of Fate.

Like most people, I knew nothing before January 30, 1993, of a low-budget, no-talent horror movie shot in 1966 by Texas insurance salesman Hal Warren. That’s when Mystery Science Theatre 3000 plucked Manos: The Hands of Fate from its obscurity for a ritual roasting, with astral exile Joel Hodgson and his mechanical sidekicks Servo and Crow T. Robot tossing barbs from the silhouetted theater seats of their spaceship prison, the Satellite of Love. Though fondly recalled by fans, it was a good-but-not-great MST3K episode. The premise of Manos was familiar—a Middle American family on vacation wander off the main road and drive straight to the hell house of a prairie cult—but everything about it, from the dialogue to the framing to the narcoleptic acting, was so hopelessly, unamusingly off that even these cleverest of cosmo-hecklers never quite found the funny zone. (The best joke came early: “What are we, about a half-hour into this movie?” “I’m afraid it’s more like a minute.”)

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Walking The Path – The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Writing a review of the phenomenon that is CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a daunting task. How would you judge a film that took five months to watch, or a book you kept reading for hundreds of hours? How do you evaluate the success of a story that changes as you experience it, whose peaks and pitfalls are of your own making? The simple answer is: I don't. There's no question that The Witcher 3 was a wild runaway success, not just in terms of worldwide sales, but for me, personally, as one of the best gaming experiences I've ever had (and one which, thanks to the recently-released expansion, I'm still having). After such a period of time, I find it gratifying – and somewhat relieving – to finally have the chance to reflect on what it is that this game does to earn such dedication from me.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Nut Cases: Rear Window and Choice

McKinley Belcher III and Kevin Bacon in Rear Window at Connecticut's Hartford Stage.

Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 Rear Window is gripping and playful in equal parts. It puts us solidly on the side of a voyeur, “Jeff” Jefferies (Jimmy Stewart), who – amusing himself while laid up with a broken leg by peering at his neighbors across the courtyard through a pair of binoculars – determines that one of them (Raymond Burr) has murdered his wife and disposed of the body somehow, and nearly gets himself and his girlfriend Lisa (Grace Kelly) killed trying to uncover the evidence. Jeff and Lisa and Jeff’s part-time nurse Stella (Thelma Ritter) follow the lives of the people across the way, watching them as if they were characters in a play. The set design by Joseph McMillan Johnson and Hal Pereira is like an advent calendar revealing the honeymooners, the quarreling couple, the struggling songwriter, the perky, exercising young woman with a raft of suitors, and Jeff’s favorite, an increasingly desperate spinster whom he nicknames Miss Lonelyhearts. So it’s easy to see why a playwright might want to convert the ingenious John Michael Hayes script (out of a Cornell Woolrich short story) into an actual stage play.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Hail to the King: Ash vs. Evil Dead

Bruce Campbell (centre), with Ray Santiago and Dana Delorenzo, in Starz's Ash vs. Evil Dead.

“They're comin' in… and it ain't for Shabbos dinner.”
                  – Ash, in the premiere episode of Ash vs. Evil Dead.
Full disclosure: I began thinking about this piece months ago, right after the trailer for Starz's Ash vs. Evil Dead dropped in July. That trailer appeared at roughly the same time as the one for ABC's The Muppets, and both generated in me a bittersweet mixture of celebration and melancholy – because it turns out that before something can make you feel young again, first you have to be involuntarily reminded to feel old. The year was 1988 and, still a pup of 17 years, I had just arrived at college. My very new friend (and currently now one of my oldest) held up an already-battered video copy of Evil Dead II and soundly declared it to be the best movie he'd ever seen. The film had been in theatres the year before, but I had never heard of it. Perhaps it hadn't ever made its way up to Montreal, but even if it had, I doubt I would have gone to see it. Even as a teenager I was already a pop culture purist – how could I see a sequel before I'd seen the original? Most damningly, it was obviously a horror film, and, 80s monster romps like Gremlins and Critters notwithstanding, gore had never been my taste. (It still isn't.) Matt made a compelling case however, and I grudgingly sat down to watch it. My aesthetic sensibilities have never been the same.

Evil Dead II – with its low-budget special effects, over-the-top acting and cheesy dialogue, and Three Stooges meets Japanese horror movie qualities – was a revelation. For years I believed it to be the epitome of low culture perfection: it knew exactly what it wanted to be and it achieved it with a style and energy all its own. Cartoonishly gory as it was (the Evil Dead films are more Monty Python than Eli Roth in their use of blood), it awakened me forever to the unadulterated pleasures of gleeful camp and ironic self-awareness. (As a young man with creative ambitions of my own, I long felt a deep envy for Sam Raimi and company at what they'd accomplished so early in their respective careers.) Almost 30 years later, Evil Dead II still sits atop my list of favourite films of all time. I've rewatched it more than practically any movie, even Night of the Hunter (1955) which until recently I would screen almost every Halloween eve. That first viewing also set me off on a three-decade Sam Raimi/Bruce Campbell habit – both of whom thankfully have had remarkable and entertaining careers in the interval, even excluding their collaboration on the third Evil Dead film, 1992's Army of Darkness. Raimi would later helm such mainstream Hollywood successes like 1998's A Simple Plan and the rebooted Spider-Man films, and Campbell would make a healthy living harnessing the hammy energy he perfected as Ash in the Evil Dead movies. With equal enthusiasm, I would tune in to Bruce in his recurring role as Autolycus in the Sam Raimi/Rob Tapert-produced TV series of the 90s, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess; to his title roles in single-season wonders like Fox's The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr. and the tragically underseen Revolution-era romp Jack of All Trades (which Tapert produced on the heels of Xena); and his more recent co-starring turn on Burn Notice – not to mention some B-movie gems like the Elvis-themed zombie film Bubba Ho-Tep (2002). And last night, with the premiere of Ash vs. Evil Dead on Starz, I sat down to watch our one-handed working class hero return to fight off evil with smarmy comments and a chainsaw. Fortunately, the whole gang returns with him – and it looks like we are in for one heckuva ride.