Saturday, October 21, 2017

Fashion Down Under (Why It’s On Top)

“The assumption that Australia is a season behind is no longer relevant,” says Dion Lee,
one of several Australian designers taking the country's fashion global.

Australia is known for many things, most of them rooted in the natural world – koalas, kangaroos, kookaburras and Crocodile Dundee types strutting across the Outback when not surfing the waves of the country’s incredible beaches. Fashion has never been one.

But that perception is changing thanks to a growing number of Aussie designers turning Down Under into a top player in the global apparel industry. The past year has seen a greater number of Australian fashion brands leap from relative obscurity to international cachet, led by such trailblazers as Zimmermann. The flirty swim and ready-to-wear label has 25 boutiques across Australia and another eight internationally, including a first in London’s prestigious Mayfair district and East Hampton in Long Island. In Canada, the brand is sold through Holt Renfrew.

“We’re not trying to be like anyone else,” says Simone Zimmermann, who founded the namesake brand with her designer sister Nicky Zimmermann in Sydney in 1991. “We are always trying to be the best at what we do, and that’s made us different.”

Friday, October 20, 2017

Podcast: Interview with Wendy Hughes (1984)

Wendy Hughes and John Hargreaves in My First Wife (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 writers and artists from all fields. In 1984, I sat down with Australian actress Wendy Hughes.

With an acting career spanning four decades, Wendy Hughes is probably best known to North American audiences for 1979's My Brilliant Career and for her recurring role as Dr. Carol Blythe on Homicide: Life on the Street. In 1984, she was in Toronto promoting the film My First Wife, part of her long collaboration with director Paul Cox. Their most critically acclaimed film together was Lonely Hearts (1982), and their last was Salvation (2008). Wendy Hughes passed in 2014, at the age of 61.

– Kevin Courrier.

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

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Victory Vindication!: Studio MDHR’s Cuphead

Cuphead was released by Studio MDHR on September 29.

I had been hotly anticipating the release of Cuphead, the debut game from independent Canadian developer duo Studio MDHR, since its very first reveal trailers. I mean, how could you not? At a glance, it’s abundantly clear that the game offers something that has literally never been seen before in gaming: a vibrant visual style modeled after the Disney and Fleischer cartoons from the 1920s and 30s. Cuphead’s animation – and its general sense of polish and pizzazz – is so jaw-dropping that it almost didn’t matter what the game actually was. I didn’t care if the thing was going to be any good or not; I just wanted to bask in its aesthetic.

I was delighted to discover when it finally released last month that, in spite of my low expectations, there is indeed more to Cuphead than meets the eye, and that its pleasures in terms of gameplay precision, retro mechanics, and difficulty are a match for its visual (and sonic) delights. Much ballyhoo is being made about its level of challenge, and whether or not it may be prohibitive to those who just want to enjoy its unique style, but I think the way Cuphead handles its difficulty is exemplary. It’s the same type of punishing, balanced, satisfying design that I find so compelling in some other very different games that are also infamous for their difficulty.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Into That Good Night: The Image of Mortality in Art and Culture

Dylan Thomas.

In 1952, one year before his untimely passing at the far-too-young age of 39, Dylan Thomas wrote one of his most famous poems, "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night," in which that repeated chorus followed observations on why mortality seemed to bug him so much. “Old age should burn and rave at close of day; / Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” Ironically, in 1936, when he was younger and less literally at the doorstep of that diminishing light, Thomas had written a different but equally arresting poem, "And Death Shall Have No Dominion," which optimistically celebrated the fact that we could never be vanquished by that damn light switch. Oh, what a subtle difference one’s proximity to the darkness can make.

Such deep poetic insights into the human condition invite us to consider the importance of three key subjects and themes that have recurred throughout human history: the fact of our mortality, the potential for immortality, and the opportunity for transcendence. Art and cultural history are both replete with a perpetually challenging wonderment relating to these basic human subjects, whether it is in the form of poetry, philosophy, religion, mythology, painting, sculpture or movies. In addition, these themes are explored equally through liturgical and sacred as well as secular and entertainment formats. In a sense these themes are tied to the elemental subjects expressed in art throughout its long history from the cave wall to the computer screen: the mysteries of the self, of society, of nature and of the spiritual.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Critic's Notes & Frames Vol. XXIV

Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers (photo by Mary Ellen Matthews)

I didn’t realize how much I had taken for granted my love of Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers. While I have collected and enjoyed Petty’s music for years, I’ve never taken the time to contemplate why his best songs (and there are many) have always brought me such happiness. But for the last 40 years, Petty and The Heartbreakers helped keep some of the idealistic dreams of the sixties alive. They didn’t, however, do it by showing a nostalgic reverence for the era and its music. Rather they captured the music’s urgency, its uncompromising demand for freedom which lies right at the heart of all rock & roll. Whether it’s in an anthem like “I Won’t Back Down,” a plaintive ballad like “Southern Accents,” or a scorching rocker like “You Wreck Me,” Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers created an immediacy that made each song sound both fresh and fully alive with possibility. For those who remember the joy they felt when a great song came through their tiny earphone on their transistor radio, Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers brought that instant delight to the music they played. I think critic Stephen Thomas Erlewine nailed Petty’s appeal and longevity perfectly when he said that he and The Heartbreakers "didn’t break from tradition the way their punk contemporaries did. Instead, they celebrated it, culling the best parts of The British Invasion, American garage rock, and Dylanesque singer/songwriters to create a distinctly American hybrid that recalled the past without being indebted to it.”

Monday, October 16, 2017

Time and the Conways: Time Lost and Found

Elizabeth McGovern, Matthew James Thomas, Cara Ricketts and Anna Camp in Time and the Conways. (Photo: Jeremy Daniel)

The English playwright and novelist J.B. Priestley was fascinated by time and wrote a series of plays about it, though only one, An Inspector Calls, has tended to get performed on these shores. But now Roundabout Theatre has elected to open its 2017-18 season with his Time and the Conways. First produced in 1937, the play was inspired by J.W. Dunne’s theory of time. It’s set shortly after World War I, at a 21st birthday party for Kay Conway, one of six siblings in a moneyed British family, and nineteen years later, when the Conways have fallen into financial disaster and personal unhappiness; act three – performed, in Rebecca Taichman’s production, after the sole intermission – is continuous with act one.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Enigmatic Reunions: Linden MacIntyre’s The Only Café

Author Linden MacIntyre.

Ari Folman’s animated 2008 quasi-documentary Waltz with Bashir is the filmmaker’s cinematic effort to address and perhaps atone for his complicity in the 1982 massacre of thirty-five hundred unarmed Palestinian civilians in the West Beirut refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila. Folman was a nineteen-year-old Israeli soldier at the time and he repressed almost all memories of the events until, twenty years later, a friend recounted a recurring nightmare of a pack of ravenous, fanged dogs running through the streets of Tel Aviv before stopping at an apartment building and snarling up at a silhouetted figure in a window.

This visceral nightmare is the opening scene in the film and the effect is electric and immediately engages the viewer. Both Folman and his friend are convinced that the dream is related to what happened in Beirut years earlier because the dreamer recounts how he killed twenty-six watchdogs during the war. Folman seeks out friends and compatriots to interview who recall their experiences, which often bleed into fantasies of that surreal time. The animation is particularly effective in visualizing these fantasies. The interviews became the film’s fulcrum as animated versions of likely very real people speak about their memories with Folman’s avatar. With the assistance of one of his own recurring dreams, Folman is able to piece together what did happen when a Christian Phalangist militia committed these atrocities with the unwitting assistance of the Israelis, including his personal role in that massacre. At this point, the animation gives way to actual footage of the slaughter's aftermath and its effect is extremely powerful.