Saturday, November 21, 2015

1+ – The Beatles on Video: What They Are, What They Are Not

 The Beatles filming “Hello, Goodbye” in 1967. (Apple Corps Ltd.)

Under the collective title of 1+, the promotional music videos made by or for the Beatles, both during their career and since, are now reclaimed, refurbished, and gathered in one place. It’s a marvelous place, and its provenance is only moderately confusing. Though a definitive collection of these videos would seem to have some historical, cultural, and archival importance of its own, it’s appearing as a kind of mega-bonus to the reissue of 1, the compilation of Beatles chart-toppers first released in 2000, which itself topped the charts of 35 nations. And the bonus DVD, with a video for each of the 27 original songs, comes with its own bonus – 23 additional videos including alternate versions, outtakes, and post-Beatle creations.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Brother's Keeper: Bob Zappa's Memoir Frankie & Bobby

Bob Zappa (right), with his brother Frank (left) and his son Jason (centre). (Photo courtesy of Bob Zappa.)

Memoirs can be tricky to write. The reader is at the whim of the author who is empowered to reveal as little or as much about themselves and other people as they want to. A memoir provides a writer with the opportunity to scorn some people, praise others and to embellish their own history. As Canadian writer Farley Mowat once said to Michael Enright on CBC Radio, “why ruin a good story with the truth?” For Robert (Bob) Zappa, younger brother of Frank Zappa, who recently published his own memoir, telling the truth was painful yet rewarding, “it was a cathartic experience; it has given me a tremendous sense of relief from the sadness that I have felt on so many occasions over the years since his [Frank’s] death.” Bob Zappa’s book is called, Frankie & Bobby: Growing Up Zappa. It was self-published in September and it’s one of the most revealing books about Frank Zappa that I have read.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Songs of the Earth: Canadian Art Song Project and The Living Spectacle

Photo by Karolina Kuras.

Art song is a centuries-old musical practice that the Canadian Art Song Project has made avant-garde. The Living Spectacle, the first in a series of recitals that the Toronto-based organization is presenting as part of its 2015/16 season, was a startlingly original show whose experiments with the art song genre resulted in a polyphonic experience which engaged all the senses.

The performance that took place within the mirrored walls of downtown Toronto dance studio, The Extension Room, showcased the individual talents of a small group of artists who came together on the night of November 7 with the shared intent of reviving tradition with a jolt of electricity down the spine.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Talking Out of Turn #38 (Podcast): Clive Barker (1987)

Author and filmmaker Clive Barker, circa 1987.

From 1981 to 1989, I was assistant producer and co-host of the radio show On the Arts at CJRT-FM 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. In 1994, after I had gone to CBC, I had an idea to collate an interview anthology from some of the more interesting discussions I'd had with guests from that period. Since they all took place during the eighties, I thought I could edit the collection into an oral history of the decade from some of its most outspoken participants. The book was assembled from interview transcripts and organized thematically. I titled it Talking Out of Turn: Revisiting the '80s.

With financial help from the Canada Council, I shaped the individual pieces into a number of pertinent themes relevant to the decade. By the time I began to contact publishers, though, the industry was starting to change. At one time, editorial controlled marketing. Now the reverse was taking place. Acquisition editors, who once responded to an interesting idea for a book, were soon following marketing divisions concerned with whether the person doing it was hot enough to sell it.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

By Iron and Fire (and CGI): The Last Witch Hunter

Vin Diesel in The Last Witch Hunter. (Photo: Scott Garfield/Lionsgate)

I’m stepping into the ring for The Last Witch Hunter. There is a large demographic of people who will be baffled, annoyed, or bored to tears by this out-of-the-blue fantasy action picture, but I am not one of them. I am part of the small subset of moviegoers who are thrilled by weird, brave, original material like this, and who are excited by the idea of a Vin Diesel action vehicle that doesn’t involve souped-up Detroit muscle cars and product placement for shitty beer. Is The Last Witch Hunter a perfect movie? Hell no. Is it an unabashedly dorky fantasy adventure that delivers exactly what it advertises? Absolutely. You can hate this film all you want, but you can’t call it dishonest.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Phyllida Lloyd's Henry IV: A Paucity of Ideas

Clare Dunne (as Prince Hal) and Jade Anouka (as Hotspur) in Henry IV at St. Ann’s Warehouse. (Photo: Sara Krulwich)

The Donmar Warehouse’s all-female Julius Caesar, which St. Ann’s Warehouse brought over from London two years ago, was an exciting and provocative reimagining of Shakespeare’s tragedy, but Henry IV, from the same venue and the same director, Phyllida Lloyd, has little to recommend it. The production, which runs for two hours and fifteen minutes (without intermission) but feels much longer, is really Henry IV, Part I with three scenes added from Part II, and like Lloyd’s Caesar it’s set in a women’s prison. Seriously? That was an illuminating way to stage Caesar, which is about power. Henry IV is a male coming-of-age story, and secondarily it concerns the burden of kingship; all that the omnipresence of tough women in the roles does is to underline and render ironic the notion of machismo, which isn’t a theme of the play. And you really have to wonder: doesn’t Lloyd have any other ideas?

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Power of Art to Mobilize: The Wind in the Reeds

J. Kyle Manzay and Wendell Pierce in Waiting for Godot in New Orleans, Lower 9th Ward in 2007. (Photo: Paul Chan)

“At this place, in this moment in time, all mankind is us… Let us do something while we have a chance.”
– Samuel Beckett, Waiting for Godot

“Art is not a sideshow for the real business of life, it is at the heart of what it means to live as a human. At its best and highest, art changes people’s hearts, minds and even their lives.”
– Wendell Pierce, Wind in the Reeds (Riverhead Books, 2015) 

Rarely does a memoirist write so passionately and eloquently as actor Wendell Pierce does about the power of art in his The Wind in the Reeds: A Storm, A Play, and the City That Would Not Be Broken. His subtitle reveals the one of its two interrelated subjects: the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that barrelled into a vulnerable New Orleans in August 2005 turning what should have been only a natural disaster into a social, political and environmental tragedy killing fifteen hundred people. The second is a poignant love letter of sorts to his mother and father, both towering influences in his life and who owned a “modest little house” since 1953 in the Pontchartrain Park neighbourhood, the first African American middle-class subdivision in New Orleans, and the site of some of the worst damage.