Saturday, November 11, 2017

Remembrance Day Podcast, Part II: Interview with Robin Phillips (1983)

Brent Carver, Martha Henry, and William Hutt in The Wars (1983).

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 1983, I sat down with actor and stage and film director Robin Phillips.

At the time of our conversation, Phillips's film adaptation of Timothy Findley's 1977 novel The Wars had just been released. (My interview with Findley himself was shared here yesterday.) This was a few years before Phillips would make his triumphant return to the Stratford Festival in Ontario, directing Cymbeline and The School for Scandal on the mainstage, along with a double bill that same season of The Critic and Oedipus Rex. Robin Phillips passed away in 2015 at the age of seventy-three.

– Kevin Courrier.

Here is the full interview with Robin Phillips as it aired on CJRT-FM in 1983.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Remembrance Day Podcast, Part I: Interview with Timothy Findley (1983)

Timothy Findley.

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 1983, I sat down with Canadian novelist Timothy Findley.

With Remembrance Day upon us, it is timely to revisit the conversation I had with Findley about his novel The Wars, set during the First World War. Originally published in 1977, The Wars follows Robert Ross, a nineteen-year-old Canadian who enlists in World War I after the death of his beloved older sister in an attempt to escape both his grief and the social norms of oppressive Victorian society. Adapted for the screen in 1983, the film was written by Findley himself and directed by Robin Phillips. (We will be be sharing my interview with Phillips here tomorrow in Part II of this special Remembrance Day post.)

– Kevin Courrier.

Here is the full interview with Timothy Findley as it aired on CJRT-FM in 1983.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Dreaming the Present: CBS’s Me, Myself & I

 Bobby Moynihan and Jaleel White in CBS's Me, Myself & I.

Optimism comes in many forms. In a person, it can describe a kind of unshakable belief, despite evidence to the contrary, that everything will work out for the best. On these terms, pessimism is the obverse: a similarly stubborn confidence that everything will, inevitably, fall apart. Both postures take advantage of the openness of the future, a time when this moment – whatever it happens to be – can (and will) be otherwise. Hope and hopelessness also come in comparable flavours, but being “hopeful” on these terms can be disappointing. In short, once tomorrow comes and shows itself, you can regret holding on to that hope for as long as you did (the way you can regret a financial investment that never pays off). Hope – understood as awaiting a future that you are certain will come – can, in short, be mistaken. That future may, in fact, never come, and that hope can thereby flip, quite naturally, to despair.

But hope for the future, as powerful as that can be, is not the only form of hope. There is also what Walter Benjamin called “hopeless hope” – a way of being in time that is neither optimistic nor pessimistic, because it is a kind of hope detached from any wish and so awaits neither confirmation nor disappointment. (French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas approaches something similar when he writes of “hope for the present” which, rather than deferring the present moment for the future, welcomes futurity and the fullness of possibility into the present.) These two forms of hope can, of course, be confused with one another, even for the one who holds them. And so we reach Alex Riley, the three-time protagonist of CBS’s now ill-fated comedy Me, Myself & I.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Perceptual Strategies: New Works from Yehouda Chaki

Orange Mountain meets Blue Mountain, by Yehouda Chaki. (Oil on Canvas, 80 x 136 in.)

“We are the bees of the invisible world. We perpetually gather the honey of the visible world in order to store it in the great golden hive of the invisible one.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
Originally studying art in Tel Aviv, Israel and then in Paris, France, before settling in Montreal, Canada, Yehouda Chaki has absorbed the light and energy of many locales around the world in his lengthy career as an observer of nature and its sensual machinery. If you’re fortunate enough to be encountering his intense landscapes and still lifes for the first time, you’re in for a tasteful treat. Indeed, even better, this time (at his forthcoming exhibit at Toronto's Odon Wagner Gallery, opening on December 1) there are also edgy portrait studies to engage the intrepid visitor: portraits that are saturated with the souls of their subjects and not merely facial representations, portraits that often even feel like microscopic mountains. The fact that he so expertly shifts his sensitive gaze from the formats of portrait (close up to) then to still life (nearby to) and then also to landscape (far away from) is for me one of the key hallmarks of his magisterial work.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Critic's Crypt: On a Century of Horror Cinema, Part II

Welcome back to this special Critic’s Crypt retrospective, where I explore almost a hundred years of horror cinema over a marathon month of screenings. In Part I, we covered the classical 1930s, the subversive 1950s, and the revolutionary 1970s. Now, for Part II, we pick up the trail of horror history with the loud and lurid 1980s.

– Justin Cummings

Monday, November 6, 2017

In Pieces: Rags

Sean MacLaughlin, Samantha Massell, and Christian Michael Camporin in Rags. (Photo:Diane Sobolewski)

Rags failed spectacularly on Broadway in 1986, closing after eighteen previews and four performances. Rumors of trouble during the Boston tryouts may have dogged the New York opening, though my recollection is that they focused on the unreliability of the star, opera diva Teresa Stratas in her musical-theatre debut, who kept missing performances. (That’s the reason I didn’t make an effort to see the show – I didn’t want to be disappointed if Stratas, a great actress as well as a great singer, didn’t appear that night.) So I was staggered when, on the advice of a friend, I bought a copy of the original cast album, recorded with Julia Migenes-Johnson substituting for Stratas. It’s not just that the score is lush and thrilling, Charles Strouse’s music inviting comparisons to Jerome Kern and Kurt Weill and Stephen Schwartz’s lyrics displaying a specificity and emotional authenticity that none of his previous work for the theatre could have led anyone to anticipate. It’s also that the story the songs develop and embellish, as the plot synopsis in the liner notes confirms, is a complex and multi-leveled examination of the experience of Jewish immigrants living in New York at the end of the first decade of the twentieth century. The book writer, Joseph Stein, was most famous for writing Fiddler on the Roof, and Rags seems intended as an unofficial sequel.The protagonist is Rebecca Hershkowitz, who comes to America with her little boy David to escape the Russian pogroms, though her husband Nathan, who preceded them to these shores, doesn’t know they’re seeking him and she doesn’t connect with him until the end of the first act. In the meantime she works in a sweatshop and is drawn somewhat reluctantly into the life of her new home. The musical is her coming of age, which is prompted not only by the hardship of her time in America but also by the people around her: David’s curiosity and openness to the new world, the anger of her friend Bella Cohen at the poverty they can’t rise above, and the labor organizer Saul, who at first unsettles her and then gets her thinking. (They’re also attracted to one another.) Nathan, it happens, has changed his name to Nat Harris and gone to work for the corrupt Tammany Hall political machine. When they find each other again, he promises to take her out of the slums to a sheltered, luxurious uptown existence, but Bella’s death in the Triangle Factory fire radicalizes her and she leaves Nathan’s world for Saul’s. The finale is bittersweet: Rebecca’s moral triumph and her self-discovery are filtered through the tragedy of Bella’s death and the deaths of her co-workers and mediated by the reprise of the first chorus number, “Greenhorns,” which views the wave of immigrants as mere grist for the economic mill rather than as human beings striving to find happiness. That’s the view that Saul and Rebecca have pledged to fight, and the fight has just started.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Sibling Lament – Frankie & Bobby: The Rest of Our Story by Bob Zappa

Frank Zappa in 1969. (Photo: Ron Case)

Two years ago I wrote a review of Bob Zappa’s first self-published book, Frankie & Bobby: Growing Up Zappa. It was an invaluable resource considering I just finished the manuscript to my own book about his brother Frank slated for release the following spring. I was in contact with Bob Zappa regarding his first memoir and, at the time, he told me that a follow-up volume was in the works since his first book only took the story of his life with his brother until 1967. This new volume, also self-published, picks up where the first book left off by bringing Bob’s life and times to the present day.