Saturday, April 29, 2017

Ghosting: Olivier Assayas' Personal Shopper

Kristen Stewart in Personal Shopper

In the last few years, when attending various parties and gatherings, I started noticing some unusual new social behaviour among people (often women) that I'd never encountered before. When engaged in a conversation that took on its own momentum from the various subjects it raised -- as opposed to the more careful chatter where familiar anecdotes and social gossip provided ample protection from revealing yourself -- there would reach a point when the person I was talking to would simply disappear without a word. Unlike in the past, where a fascinating conversation could lead to friendship, a relationship, or simply a nice evening that the person you were talking to recognized as she disappeared from your life, these folks would simply vanish. There was no way to discern whether it was something you said, fear of a particular kind of intimacy, or even a perfectly legitimate need to move on. The simple courtesy of closing a conversation was replaced by what someone who had acted towards me in this manner justified as 'ghosting.' The point of 'ghosting' seems to be to remove yourself from a conversation without acknowledging that you are in the process of having one. By asserting control in a situation not predicated on needing it, you can protect your sense of self by making yourself disappear. You experience each encounter as one in a series with equal value, where nuance and feeling are erased, or perhaps never even considered. It 's as if the conversation left no residue because the person who does the ghosting never offers a clue to why she needs to disappear. Just as I've started to wonder how much technology and social media and phone texting have had to bear on this capacity to control the uncontrollable, Olivier Assayas's new picture, Personal Shopper, picks up on this new phenomenon in a fascinating way.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Dancing Machine: Antony Hamilton & Alisdair Macindoe's Meeting

Alisdair Macindoe & Antony Hamilton in Meeting, at Toronto's Berkeley Street Theatre until April 30. (Photo: Gregory Lorenzutti)

In Meeting, man doesn't just encounter a machine; man is like the apparatus itself, a whirring, ticking, mechanized instrument measuring and maneuvering through space. Created and performed by Australian choreographer Antony Hamilton together with fellow Aussie Alisdair Macindoe, designer of the 64 custom-made robotic instruments encircling the performance on the stage floor, the roughly hour-long dance is a showcase of mental and physical stamina, utterly fascinating to watch.

Part of Spotlight on Australia, a six-week festival of interdisciplinary dance, theatre and circus art which Canadian Stage is presenting through May 7, Meeting opened this week at the Berkeley Street Theatre – the same night as Tamara Saulwick's Endings, an evocative and elegiac theatre piece about death. Meeting closes on April 30, and is a must-see for anyone interested in knowing why dance from Down Under is in a class of its own.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Driving It Home: The Fate of the Furious

Dwayne Johnson in The Fate of the Furious. (Photo: Matt Kennedy/Universal Pictures)

Thank god for The Fate of the Furious. Thank god for stick shifts, nitrous, and roaring engines. Thank god for fisticuffs, explosions, and cheesy one-liners. Thank god for beautifully toned bodies and huge flexing muscles. Thank god for Dwayne Johnson! Thank god that one of the highest-grossing worldwide franchises is as sensational, self-aware, and exciting as this. If you’re not on board, I understand – it’s easy to be cynical about the blockbuster movie market, and sometimes it’s hard to just relax and have a good time. But boy oh boy, are these Furious movies ever a good time. I don’t understand exactly how they keep getting better and better… but they do!

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Palimpsest: The Overlapping Visions of Hans Sieverding

Untitled 16.1.2017 by Hans Sieverding. (Acrylic on Canvas, 2017)

“Like a great poet, Nature knows how to produce the greatest effect with the most limited means.” – Heinrich Heine
The accomplished Germany-based painter Han Sieverding is a senior-career artist whose overall body of work indicates both a purity of intention and a persistence of invention. The continuity in his image-making practice is very impressive in that it reveals an ongoing and restless search for new forms of expression which are all embodied within the tightly disciplined aesthetic approach of modernism. He possesses a vitality and energy which younger artists can only dream about as they struggle with their perpetual appetite for newness and novelty and are seduced ever further into the digital domain and its post-sensation agenda.

These vividly alive paintings palpitate: one can almost feel them breathing beneath their swirling liquid surfaces as they flow across the canvas and arrive at their whirlpool-like destinations. Executed in acrylic on canvas, a water-based medium that arose in the 60's and permitted more rapid drying and thus more effective ways of creating transparency and more multi-layered viewing experiences, they simply prompt me to call them palpable. They are definitely immersive and deeply sensorial: we are surrounded and enveloped by their presence and become drawn into their drama, which often appears to almost memorialize the moment in which they were made.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Out of Vogue: Joan Juliet Buck and The Price of Illusion

Joan Juliet Buck and her father, Jules Buck, in London, 1968. (Photo courtesy of Joan Juliet Buck)

The shiny surfaces in The Price of Illusion reflect a high-gloss world of celebrity and glamour which the author, former Vogue and Vanity Fair editor and writer Joan Juliet Buck, has polished to brittle brilliance. As the title of her recently published memoir suggests, the book is less a hedonistic romp through a high life made fabulous by the ubiquitous presence of Hollywood royalty and designer labels, and more an archly ironic reflection on the pitfalls of vanity and a preoccupation with appearances. Witty and stylishly written, it is an absorbing and entertaining read, a richly sashed window looking onto a whirlwind time. It has just the right amount of A-list love affairs (Donald Sutherland and Brian De Palma figure large) mixed in with insider fashion gossip concerning the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Bergé and André Leon Tally, to make it juicy, even as the narrative skirts the edges of personal tragedy.

"It is a morality tale," says Buck, 69, during a recent telephone call from her home in the Hudson Valley countryside outside New York. The bucolic setting is deliberate. Buck recently chose it over Manhattan to be as far away from her former life in the fast lane as she could comfortably get. A pop-culture chronicler whose four-and-a-half-decades-long career started at age 23 when she became the London correspondent for Andy Warhol's Interview Magazine and then features editor for British Vogue and a foreign correspondent for Women's Wear Daily the same year, she speaks through drags of an ever-present cigarette, a habit picked up around the time a young Tom Wolfe made her the subject of "The Life and Hard Times of a Teenage London Society Girl," his essay about the 1960s counterculture. Her voice sounds dry, and slightly gravelly. But her intelligent commentary is as sharp as her prose. "I was always looking for the truth,"she exhales. "But growing up I didn't have many guidelines."

Monday, April 24, 2017

Iconic Shows of the 1960s: Hello, Dolly! and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead

Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly! at Broadway's Shubert Theatre. (Photo: Julieta Cervantes)

Hello, Dolly! opened in January 1964 and stayed open for just under seven years. It wasn’t the best musical on Broadway in those years – it was no Fiddler on the Roof – but it represented, and continues to represent, the end of the golden age of Broadway musicals. It was a big, brassy star vehicle, built around the rather specialized talents of Carol Channing but flexible enough to be refitted for the long line of older women who made comebacks in the role of the widowed matchmaker Dolly Gallagher Levi. (The source material for Michael Stewart’s book was the Thornton Wilder comedy The Matchmaker.) There was some controversy when Barbra Streisand, at only twenty-seven, inherited the role in the 1969 movie, but her stupendous performance was its lifeblood; the movie, directed in a stifling, museum-piece style by Gene Kelly, would have sunk under its own weight without her. And it contained one of the great moments in movie-musical history: in the middle of the title song – certainly the best-known item in the Jerry Herman score – Streisand, decked out in a golden Gay Nineties gown with feathers on her head, harmonized with Louis Armstrong, whose cover had been as big a hit as the show itself.

The new revival, starring Bette Midler as Dolly and David Hyde Pierce as Horace Vandergelder, the wealthy but parsimonious Yonkers shop owner who is supposedly her client but really the object of her own romantic machinations, arrives with more anticipation than any Broadway show in years. Advance hype aside (and God knows there’s been plenty), how could it not? Midler hasn’t appeared in a book musical since she played one of Tevye’s younger daughters in the original run of Fiddler, before she became famous; aside from the (non-musical) solo performance I’ll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers in 2013, her only New York appearances have been in a couple of revues – one of which, Clams on the Half Shell, I was lucky enough to see back in 1975. Her Broadway comeback, at seventy-one, is not going to disappoint her legion of fans. She plays Dolly with one foot firmly planted in the Jewish vaudeville tradition, grinning that famous cat-that-ate-the-canary grin, and the highlight of her performance is indeed culinary: in the middle of act two she dispatches a stuffed chicken with dumplings at a table stage right with hilarious gusto while most of the rest of the ensemble, gathered in a courtroom upstage after the evening’s hijinks at Manhattan’s Harmonia Gardens Restaurant, waits for her to finish so the plot can take its final turn. And she could hardly have landed a funnier scene partner than Pierce, who revivifies a role that has generally brought out little in the men who’ve played it besides a side of undernourished, overbaked ham. Pierce’s first-act number, “It Takes a Woman,” performed with a male chorus, is one of the evening’s surprising highlights – the choreographer, Warren Carlyle, has staged it wittily – and “Penny in My Pocket,” written for the original Horace, David Burns, but cut out of town, has been restored to give Pierce a second-act number.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sugar and Spice: CBS's Superior Donuts

Judd Hirsch and Jermaine Fowler in Superior Donuts.

"You know, Fawz, in this crazy and uncertain world, what could be more comforting than a doughnut and a cup of coffee? To be the one to bring that to people … there could be no higher calling than that. " – Arthur, in Superior Donuts
I began watching CBS's new midseason sitcom Superior Donuts the night it premiered back in February, and at the time I never expected to enthusiastically recommend the show to anybody. Adapted from a 2008 stage play by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Tracy Letts (August: Osage County ), for its first two episodes Superior Donuts seemed to be an entirely watchable, and not especially notable, multi-camera sitcom. Set in a struggling doughnut shop in urban Chicago, the show's main selling point seemed to be the welcome return of television veteran Judd Hirsch (Taxi, Numb3rs) to primetime comedy. Now 82 years old, Hirsch's last regular television role was the aged son to the immortal lead character in ABC's Forever (cancelled in 2015 after a single season). Though there are few gaps in the actor's almost six-decade-long career, you'd have to reach back to 1997's George and Leo (where he co-starred with Bob Newhart) to see him helm a network comedy series. Here, Hirsch slips almost too seamlessly into the role of Arthur Przybyszewski, the grumpy and grizzled 75-year-old doughnut shop proprietor. Joining Hirsch are an ensemble of other recognizable faces, including Katey Sagal (Married… with Children, Sons of Anarchy), as Randy DeLuca, a local beat cop and daughter of Arthur's now-deceased best friend; comedian Maz Jobrani as Fawz, an Iraqi-born self-made entrepreneur and real-estate developer; and David Koechner (Another Period), as underemployed shop regular Tush. If you watched only those first two episodes, you saw a sincere, well-delivered but entirely unremarkable example of the soundstage laugh-track sitcom – with the television veterans serving to make you feel like you'd seen this all before.