Saturday, March 4, 2017

Podcast: Interview with Author Angela Carter (1984)

Angela Carter, in 1984. (Photo: Alamy)

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 1984, one of those guests was British novelist and journalist Angela Carter.
  When I sat down with Carter in 1984, she had authored over a dozen books, including eight novels and multiple collections of short stories, and her acclaimed novel Nights at the Circus had just been published. Nights at the Circus went on to win that year's James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction. (In 2012, the novel would be honoured again when it was selected from among almost a century of winning novels as the Prize's "best of the best.") In 2008, Carter was ranked at #10 in The London Times's list of "The 50 greatest British writers since 1945." Angela Carter passed away in London, in 1992, at the age of 51.

– Kevin Courrier

Here is
the full interview with Angela Carter as it aired on CJRT-FM in 1984.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Neglected Gem #97: Hollow Reed (1996)

Joely Richardson, Sam Bould (centre), and Jason Flemyng in Hollow Reed (1996).

The ostensible subject of the 1996 English drama Hollow Reed is child abuse, but the writer, Paula Milne, the director, Angela Pope, and a superb cast move into deeper themes of isolation and the desperation for love. Martin Donovan plays Martyn, a gay doctor living with his lover (Ian Hart); his wife, Hannah (Joely Richardson), has custody of their son Oliver (the delicately expressively Sam Bould). When Martyn suspects that Hannah’s live-in boy friend Frank (Jason Flemyng) has been beating Ollie, the unresolved tensions close to the surface of these complicated lifestyle decisions – fear of abandonment, competition for affection, bitterness over old losses – burst through. And the boy, who’s become a magnet for these knotted adult impulses he can’t comprehend, retreats farther and farther. Pope’s handling of Ollie’s buried feelings, which he can convey only by indirection, is the most compelling aspect of the movie: it recalls the lacerating scenes with the little girl in Roger Donaldson’s classic New Zealand troubled-marriage picture Smash Palace.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Childhood's End: "Strawberry Fields Forever"/"Penny Lane"

A few months ago, director Ron Howard described his documentary, The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years, as an adventure story and a tale of survival, and he tells it as if caught up in the tidal drift of its momentum. Retracing the familiar tale of the meteoric rise of Beatlemania, Howard wastes no time in showing both the endurance and the astonishing skill of a young group of musicians who became the pleasure principle in an age of social and political change. Beginning with footage from November 20th, 1963, at Manchester's ABC Cinema where the group performs "She Loves You" and "Twist and Shout" to an ecstatic crowd, Eight Days a Week goes on to chronicle their growing international acclaim as live artists – while also contrasting those shows with the astonishing quality of studio album after studio album despite the band's having to swim daily in a sea of madness.

Howard, whose first documentary was 2013's Made in America, about Jay-Z's music festival of the same name, provides a few choice observations, including The Beatles' stand against racial segregation, while deftly revealing how they always stayed ahead of the cultural curve by making everyone else play catch-up. Although most people who didn't live through that era have today experienced their music in its totality, Eight Days a Week brings you closer to the evolution of their sound so that you hear how remarkably canny they were at resisting being derivative and never repeating themselves. By the end of the film, you can't imagine this feat ever being duplicated again. The footage both familiar and new still carries an explosive charge of adolescent exuberance. Yet Eight Days a Week doesn't shy away from displaying how that adoring adulation would soon turn turtle into the kind of violent fan worship that took the band off the road and later claimed the lives of John Lennon and George Harrison. As Devin McKinney pointed out in his Critics at Large review, however, Eight Days a Week doesn't go far enough into the shadow side of The Beatles' utopian spirit. But it does catch the jet stream of their impact with a full-force gale. Since it only deals with the touring years, though, Eight Days a Week doesn't delve into the radical changes that followed their departure from the road.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Night of the Living Dread: Jordan Peele’s Get Out

Daniel Kaluuya in Jordan Peele's Get Out.

 Note: This review contains spoilers for Get Out.
Jordan Peele, one half of the sketch comedy duo Key & Peele, has made his directorial debut with a comedy horror film that is not only a box office hit – taking in nearly $35 million on opening weekend on a $4.5 million budget – but an artistic triumph, too, approaching Robert Eggers levels of cinematic near-perfection on his first crack at bat. Comedy and horror are probably the two easiest genres to screw up (where one flat joke or failed scare can bring the whole thing tumbling down), but with Get Out, Peele walks that tightrope effortlessly, delivering a movie that is both terrifying and hilarious. That it’s also brilliantly smart is just icing on the cake.

I’ll come right out with it: I feel awkward talking about this film as a white critic. Get Out is deeply rooted in the so-called “black experience” (a phrase that is itself harpooned in the film), going to extreme lengths to express the fears, anxieties, reservations, and petty cruelties that people of colour live with every day when they interact with a predominantly white culture here in the Western world. It’s perhaps very appropriate that I feel awkward, because the well-intentioned yet tone-deaf approach that the film’s white characters take to interacting with the protagonist, Chris (Daniel Kaluuya), are equally cringeworthy. But with that said – and with you now forewarned to take my view on the film with a grain of pure white salt – it’s undeniable that Get Out has mass appeal, because no matter its politics, it’s just a goddamn great movie.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Tectonic: The Quantum Paintings of Curtis Cutshaw

Stream by Curtis Cutshaw. (Oil Enamel, Earth and Rust on Multiple Birch Panels, 2016)

“We are gazing at the solemn geography of human limits.”  Paul Eluard

There is an undeniable elegiac quality to the elegant and enigmatic paintings of Curtis Cutshaw, a Calgary-based artist whose work over the last fifteen years has followed a deep and discernible trajectory exploring an organic interior dimension which is at once compelling for the heart and captivating for the eye. When he first began being represented by the Jennifer Kostuik Gallery in 2000, he was already investigating a hidden realm of seed-like forms and spore-like structures, through an almost mystical presentation of their patterns and formations. These early works seemed to hover in a shadowy neon domain, a powerfully theatrical stage set within which curtains of pure matter were being pulled aside to spectacularly reveal their atomic identities, often with the optical drama of scientific slides, providing us a glimpse of what takes place inside matter itself: they appeared to portray the secret life of energy. Even back then he was clearly establishing himself as a master of both physical depiction and metaphysical reflection, and as a purveyor of quantum paintings par excellence.

Monday, February 27, 2017

All the Criticism That's Fit to Print: Revisiting The Rolling Stone Record Review and The Rolling Stone Record Review II

Led Zeppelin (courtesy of Getty Images).

In March 1969, writer John Mendelsohn was given the assignment for Rolling Stone to review the debut album of Led Zeppelin, a high-octane blues-rock outfit that had just emerged out of the ashes of The Yardbirds – a popular British Invasion band with a string of hits behind them including "Heart Full of Soul" and "For Your Love." Although there were no great expectations that this new ensemble would make history, Mendelsohn's words came to suggest that they might just become history. Chalking up their sound to formula, Mendelsohn remarked that Zeppelin "offers little that its twin, the Jeff Beck Group, didn't say as well or better..." Robert Plant's "howled vocals" were described as "prissy" on their cover of Joan Baez's "Babe I'm Gonna Leave You," and Mendelsohn went on to add that "[Plant] may be as foppish as Rod Stewart, but he's nowhere near so exciting." Jimmy Page gets complimented as an "extraordinarily proficient blues guitarist," but he's also singled out as "a very limited producer and a writer of weak, unimaginative songs." Criticizing them as wasting their talent on "unworthy material," Mendelsohn saw little from that first record that suggested that Led Zeppelin would be talked about fifty years later. "It would seem that, if they're there to fill the void created by the demise of Cream," he wrote, "they will have to find a producer (and editor) and some material worthy of their collective attention."

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Penguins Can't Dance: APB

Justin Kirk and Natalie Martinez in APB on FOX.

We've now seen three episodes of FOX's new crime drama APB and I'm going to call it: APB is the most depressing seemingly upbeat show on television. Ostensibly following the now-too-familiar model of the independent consultant working with police detectives to solve crimes (CastleThe Mentalist, Numb3rs, etc.), APB is somehow so derivative and insipid that it takes most of its progenitor shows down with it – no easy feat!

Created by television writer and producer David Slack (Person of Interest) and developed by Matt Nix (Burn Notice), APB gives us a hero tailor-made for 2017: a "maverick billionaire" who is convinced he knows better than anyone how to fix what ills American society. In the series' opening scenes, tech mogul and engineer Gideon Reeves (Justin Kirk, Weeds) watches his friend get gunned down in a liquor store robbery in urban Chicago, gets frustrated by the slow response of 911 and the police, and decides that the best way to get "justice" is to take over the neighbourhood's underfunded precinct. He accomplishes this by publicly paying off the city's $89 million police pension deficit – with a personal cheque! – and by bullying/shaming the city's mayor and city council. Over a weekend, he brings in an eager young team of coders and engineers who upgrade the 13th District's obsolete equipment, providing (among other things) shiny new tasers, military-grade vests, and bulletproof squad cars. (Paperwork? Irritating, and apparently pointless. Tasks like logging evidence? Civil rights? Not in Gideon's district!) What follows is precisely what you'd expect if you've ever seen a single episode of Numb3rs: every week offers a new crime, and a new problem, that only our hero's unique talents can solve. Along the way, sure, Gideon learns a lesson or two about 'real' law enforcement, but ultimately the show never wavers on its basic premise that this is what we need to really fix our broken society.