Saturday, January 7, 2017

A Year of Reading: My Favourite Books of 2016

Author Julian Barnes. (Photo: Graham Jepson)

As many have also said, 2016 has been a terrible year. One of my consolations has been deriving pleasure from reading, and offered here are some of the best books I have read. One criterion for inclusion on this list is whether they stayed with me long after I read them. In some of the following, that quality became more important than literary excellence. – Bob Douglas 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Podcast: Interview with Author Richard Adams (1988)

Richard Adams, author of Watership Down and Plague Dogs, passed away on Dec 24. (Photo: Greenwood/ANL/Rex/Shutterstock )

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. In 1988, one of those people was novelist Richard Adams.

On December 24, Richard Adams passed away at the age of 96. Though Adams wrote almost twenty books for both adults and children over the course of his writing career,
he will likely be best remembered for his very first, Watership Down (1972). At the time of our conversation, Traveller   his historical novel of the American Civil War had just been published.

– Kevin Courrier

Here is the full interview with Richard Adams as it aired on CJRT-FM in 1988.


Thursday, January 5, 2017

From the Inside Out: Hyper Light Drifter

 Hyper Light Drifter was developed by Heart Machine, and released in 2016.

The floodgates have opened, and independent game developers are enjoying unprecedented access to tools for making and releasing games. Anybody and their dog can make a game nowadays, so for the gamer, it’s just a matter of sifting through the chaff. For every diamond, there’s a lot of rough – it’s a market flooded by cheap imitations, cash-ins, low-effort knockoffs, and the like – and at a glance, it can be tricky to separate the good stuff from the bad. I’ve seen countless pixel art retro-style indie games, and so Hyper Light Drifter by Heart Machine, which looked like a better polished version of this dime-a-dozen archetype, slipped under my radar. It was only after it surfaced on almost every gaming outlet’s end-of-year “Best of 2016” lists that I sat up and paid proper attention, and by god I’m glad I did: Hyper Light Drifter is a beautifully made work of art and a satisfying, memorable action game. Had I played it in time, it would have made my list too.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Harry Callahan and Edward Hopper Walk Into a Bar

Atlanta, 1984, by Harry Callahan.

It’s easy to think that the American artist Harry Callahan was one of the most canonical figures in both fine art and photography as an art form in the 20th century. It’s also logical and natural to think so, since it’s largely true. To be a part of a canon, as Callahan is, or even to initiate one, as his peer Walker Evans did, means, as the critic Harold Bloom has so effectively demonstrated, that you occupy a special place in the cultural stratosphere, a location which requires everyone after you to be placed in a contextual relationship to you and your work. There is a canon in every medium, be it literature, painting, dance or photography. There are also a classical, a romantic and a modernist canon, with, say, Caravaggio, Turner and Hopper, to name only a few, as part of the hierarchy of painting. Just as clearly, photography has its own historical epochs and a similar aesthetic canon: Stieglitz, Evans, Callahan.

As Aldis Browne has astutely and allegorically noticed, “Callahan’s eye was to the camera what the painter Edward Hopper’s was to the canvas."

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

West Coast Wonder: Goh Ballet’s The Nutcracker in Vancouver

Goh Ballet's The Nutcracker ran at The Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts from December 15-20. (Photo: Louis Li)

Vancouver never had a Nutcracker tradition until Goh Ballet gave the city its own version of the holiday classic in 2009, the same year former National Ballet of Canada principal Chan Hon Goh took over the company her dancer parents had founded on the West Coast almost 40 years ago. None of this is apparent, however, from the full houses which greeted the ballet's recent week-long run at the 1,800-seat The Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts.

The shows, which ended on Dec. 20, were mostly sold out, attracting audiences from as far away as the coastal islands and across the border from nearby Washington State. The draw is a charming ballet that many readily identify with Christmas, if not the entire month of December. Gorgeously nostalgic, the sets and costumes invoke a bygone era when the Christmas festivities came shrouded in glamour and mystery. Drosselmeyer (guest dancer Adonis Daukaev) is here an actual magician whose conjuring and disappearing tricks highlight Christmas as a time of enchanting transformations. With its scenes of dancing snowflakes, bears and sweets, The Nutcracker speaks to the child within, never failing to cast a spell.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Telling Stories: No Man’s Land, The Babylon Line & The Encounter

Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in No Man's Land. (Photo by Johan Persson)

Harold Pinter wrote No Man’s Land for John Gielgud and Ralph Richardson, who performed it in the West End in 1975. The current revival, with Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, toured in rep with Waiting for Godot for three years before returning to London; I missed it in New York but caught up with it on HD in the NT Live series last week. The play is constructed around a meeting between two old men, a famous writer, Hirst (Stewart), and a minor, down-on-his-luck poet, Spooner (McKellen). Hirst has picked Spooner up at a pub and invited him to his posh Hampstead home for a drink, where Foster (Damien Molony) and Briggs (Owen Teale), his two manservants, who are also his bodyguards and appear to be gangsters (and perhaps also lovers), treat Spooner alternately as an intruder, a prisoner and a house guest. He spends the night locked in the living room; the next morning Hirst, whose memory is failing, claims to recognize him from their Oxford days – and even to have slept with his wife – but calls him by a different name. Spooner goes along with the misapprehension, which suits his purposes. Eventually he attempts to sell himself as a candidate for the post of Hirst’s secretary.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

The Upside Down: Musings on a Year Watching Television

Pamela Adlon in FX's Better Things.

Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. And discontent is a good thing: people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different...
Neil Gaiman, from The View from the Cheap Seats

2016 has been a long year, an awful year… even (to paraphrase Judith Viorst) a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. As I type this, news of the sudden passing of Debbie Reynolds has emerged close on the heels of the woefully premature death of her daughter, Carrie Fisher – adding to the body count of a year that seemed to be almost gleefully stealing our brightest lights. But, eager as I am to finally see the back of this year, taking on the task of reflecting on the past twelve months of television has been genuinely heartening. It has been an eventful – too eventful – year in the real world, but for television it has also been a time of innovation, and further strengthened my belief that TV has never been as good, as smart, as brave, and as human as it is now. It may feel more like a decade ago, but it was only last January that Louis C.K. unceremoniously gifted us the first episode of his stripped-down and ground-breaking Horace and Pete, and only six months ago that Netflix premiered Stranger Things, the Duffer Brothers’ unabashed and brilliant homage to the best of the 80s, from Steven Spielberg to John Carpenter to George Lucas and Stephen King. And then last September, Netflix pulled the curtain back from its small corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and introduced us to Luke Cage – a series that, despite some plot weaknesses late in its first season, jumped with both feet into our difficult times and provided us with some of the year’s most compelling hours of television. In a year when reality threatened to overtake our imagination, both in menace and absurdity, television kept pace – providing escape, insight, and regular and much-needed reminders that the human race has more up its sleeve than the ever-darkening headlines suggest. A small caveat: what follows is not a complete ranked list of what television has offered these past 12 months, but rather a few reflections on where television has taken me in 2016.