Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Last Hurrah: Le Carré’s A Legacy of Spies

Photo: Sang Tan

“We must live without sympathy.”
                                   – John le Carré, The Spy Who Came in from the Cold 
“If I was heartless, I was heartless for Europe.”
                                  – John le Carré, Legacy of Spies

We can probably attribute the Soviet and East German governments’ decision to build the 1961 Wall between West and East Berlin for turning the spy novel into high art. When British agent David Cornwell stood before that Wall, he felt disgust and fear. He later wrote that “the Wall was perfect theatre as well as the perfect symbol of the monstrosity of an ideology gone mad.” In five weeks using the pen name John le Carré, he wrote his masterpiece, The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, referring to the Wall as “the backdrop of a concentration camp.” Although he had already published two well-received novels, it was The Spy that firmly established his reputation for conveying the authenticity of the tradecraft of spying, for evoking the often squalid settings, and for exploring the uncertainties and cynicism that characterized the security forces during the Cold War. The last scene of The Spy, in which the despairing agent, Alex Leamas, joins Liz Gold in death, set the gray tone of moral ambiguity that became a trademark of le Carré’s subsequent Cold War novels.

Friday, October 27, 2017

Podcast: Interview with Cuban Poet Heberto Padilla (1982)

Heberto Padilla in 1981. (Photo: Elisa Cabot)

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 1982, I sat down with Cuban poet and exile, Heberto Padilla. 

Though he was an initial supporter of Fidel Castro, Heberto Padilla's public criticism of the regime led to his jailing in 1971 under the charge of "plotting against the powers of the state." He was released after a month of brutal interrogation, but his writing was subsequently banned in his native Cuba. An international campaign allowed him and his family to eventually leave for the United States in 1980. Heberto Padilla lived in exile from Cuba until his passing in 2000 at the age of 68.

– Kevin Courrier.

Here is the full interview with Heberto Padilla as it aired on CJRT-FM in 1982.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Snowman: Deep Freeze

Michael Fassbender as Harry Hole in The Snowman

The images in The Snowman, Tomas Alfredson’s adaptation of one of the Norwegian novelist Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole thrillers, are alternately crystalline and misted over. Alfredson, too, is Scandinavian (he was born in Stockholm), and his movie, set in what feels like endless winter, gets the feel of a country embedded in deep freeze. In visual terms the film is about winter as a state of mind, as an objective correlative for psyches that have been chilled by bitter experience, as a landscape for the dead. The snowmen that the serial killer being stalked by Hole (Michael Fassbender) and his young partner Katrine Bratt (Rebecca Ferguson) leaves as signposts to murder have sinister, hollowed-out faces and their clumsy stick arms suggest primitive atrocities. I can’t think of another movie that does more lyrically with the ghostliness of the season. Beneath the snowfall, Alfredson and his cinematographer Dion Beebe suggest, are frozen hearts and damaged souls who haunt the country like the undead.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

A Going Concern – T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit by Lloyd Sachs

Elvis Costello and T Bone Burnett (right) at McCabe’s Guitar Shop, Santa Monica, California, 1984. (Photo: Sherry Rayn Barnett)

Some of the most prized albums in my collection have the name T Bone Burnett attached to them. These include the marvelous duo recording Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, the remarkably personal No Better Than This by John Mellencamp, Low Country Blues by the late Gregg Allman and the outstanding soundtrack to the Coen Brothers' picture, O Brother, Where Art Thou? So I was keen to learn more about the man and his earthy approach as producer on these great records. Lloyd Sachs’s book called T Bone Burnett: A Life in Pursuit (U of Texas) tells that story and reveals much more about this versatile artist. His short but concise biography, released last year, tells the story of Burnett with a critical eye on his output as a producer, but also focuses on his own life in music. The “pursuit,” as Sachs puts it, is a little vague but no less a driver for how Burnett’s approach to music creation makes him so special. Says Burnett, who’s quoted extensively throughout the book, “All Art comes out of community and when communities can get together and not fight over who gets what piece and instead can say ‘this is ours, let’s make it great’ it just ends up being better . . . so to get to the spirit of a piece of art right, everyone has to be generous.” So it goes for Burnett, who has been a part pf a music community over the past 50 years, since he was kid growing up in Texas.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Dancing Betwixt and Between: Andrea Nann’s Dual Light

Kristy Kennedy and Brendan Wyatt in Dual Light. (Photo: Jeremy Mimnagh)

Vancouver-born, Toronto-based choreographer and dancer Andrea Nann lights a spark with Dual Light, a multifaceted work whose world premiere took place at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre Theatre last Thursday.

A presentation of Danceworks, the city’s premiere producer of independent dance, the hour-long piece deftly balances sculpted and rolling passages of movement on top of deep pools of intellectual thought. Spoken monologues bring artful clarity to a dance that is as philosophical as it is sensual in exploring the transitional period in a rite of passage.

Monday, October 23, 2017

A Guide for the Homesick: Buddy Melodrama

Samuel H. Levine and McKinley Belcher III in the Huntington Theatre's A Guide for the Homesick. (Photo: T. Charles Erickson)

In Ken Urban’s new play A Guide for the Homesick, which the Huntington Theatre is producing in its South End space at the Calderwood Pavilion, two young Boston men meet at an Amsterdam bar and wind up in a hotel room. For Teddy (McKinley Belcher III), the encounter is a pick-up, but when he hints around, Jeremy (Samuel H. Levine) assures him that he’s misread the signals – though we’re not so sure. The set-up is familiar: this is a strangers-with-secrets play. Teddy has been vacationing with a work friend who’s about to get married, and for some reason his traveling companion has disappeared and his fiancée keeps calling Teddy’s cell phone. Jeremy went to Africa as a medical aid worker after graduating from Harvard and something went disastrously wrong, prompting him to return – reluctantly – to the States.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Leading with Love: Reflections on the End of Survivor’s Remorse

Mike Epps, Tichina Arnold, RonReaco Lee, Jessie T. Usher,  Teyonah Parris and Erica Ash in Starz's Survivor's Remorse.

Deshauwn: When Cam hit and all the big agency vultures started circling, how'd you keep your boy?
Reggie: I did my job.
Deshauwn: That's it?
Reggie: That's it.
Deshauwn: I feel like I should be paying you or something for dropping all these gems, man . . . You want some cocaine?
Survivor’s Remorse, “One-Love” (Season 2, Episode 5)
Last Sunday, Starz aired the final two episodes of the fourth season of Survivor’s Remorse – five days after the cable network announced the show’s cancellation. After four increasingly strong seasons, the LeBron James-produced and Mike O’Malley-created rags-to-riches pro-basketball dramedy came to an abrupt end. The series premiered in 2014, but chances are that you have never heard of it – or, if you have, you may have (like myself) been long put off by its unrevealing title. But if you have been watching, news of its cancellation will have gutted you – and not only because the ad hoc series finale left numerous storylines hanging. Ballsy, insidiously provocative, and philosophically inclined, Survivor’s Remorse just may have been the smartest show on television.