Saturday, December 23, 2017

Podcast: Interview with Canadian Novelist David Adams Richards (1988)

 David Adams Richards in 2008. (Photo: Bruce Peters)

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 1988, I sat down with Canadian novelist, essayist, and screenwriter David Adams Richards.

At the time of our conversation, Richards's novel Nights Below Station Street has recently been awarded the Governor General's Award for English-language fiction. Nights Below Station Street was the first book in his Miramichi trilogy, which includes Evening Snow Will Bring Such Peace (1990) and For Those Who Hunt the Wounded Down (1993).

Born in Newcastle, New Brunswick, Richards has over the course of his career published 16 novels (the most recent being 2016's Principles to Live By) and works of non-fiction, including Lines on the Water: A Fisherman's Life on the Miramichi, which won the Governor General's Award for non-fiction in 1998. This past August, he was appointed to the Senate of Canada by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

– Kevin Courrier.

Here is the full interview with David Adams Richards as it aired on CJRT-FM in 1988.

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Moving Gallery: Faces Places

Agnès Varda and JR in Faces Places.

On the surface, Faces Places, the new documentary gem co-directed by famed Belgian-born French filmmaker Agnès Varda (Cléo From 5 to 7, The Gleaners and I) and the French artist/photographer who goes by the name JR -- wherein the pair traverses the French countryside taking pictures of various villagers, blowing them up and then pasting them on walls and buildings -- may not seem like much. But despite its seemingly simple skein, Faces Places is a remarkable document, a poignant rumination on tradition, modernity, mortality, love, perception, imagery and many other subjects. It’s a film that you won’t soon forget.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Smashing The Mirror – Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Mark Hamill in Star Wars: Episode VIII - The Last Jedi.

Note: This review contains major spoilers for Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi.

I’ve shed a tear or two in a movie theatre in my time. A lump in the throat, a welling in the eyes. It’s been known to happen. But until now, I had never fully cried in a theatre. I’d never been in a situation where a film cracked open the floodgates and allowed undignified public weeping to overtake me. I’ve learned that it’s not sad stories that trigger this for me, but rather stories of hope and love, stories of support and cooperation. I didn’t cry at the sad endings of Logan or Blade Runner this year, but you put on The Return of the King? It’s A Wonderful Life? I’m a guaranteed mess. I honestly was not prepared for Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi to cut me so deeply, and it has as much to do with the way the film challenges the legacy of Star Wars and my connection to it as it does with the film’s own smart, subversive, deeply emotional storytelling.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

From Stax to Daptone and Back Again: Rob Bowman's Soulsville, U.S.A.

Jim Stewart and Estelle Axton (the ST and AX, respectively), ca. 1957, founding Stax Records.

Canadian music journalist Rob Bowman has given all of us soul music lovers a wonderful gift in the form of his deeply researched book, Soulsville, U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records (Schirmer Trade Books, 2003). It’s the inside story of the men and women behind what came to be known historically as the legendary “Stax sound.” His book, which he took twelve fetishistic years to compile, and which has made him the premiere expert on both the music and the business operations of a truly iconic label, simply has to be one of the most in-depth studies ever conducted and published on a single record company. In it, he explores the music, of course, but also the politics inside the organization, its finances, lawsuits, interracial harmonies and discords, studio location in an urban black neighborhood, key staff members, promotional strategies, distribution, every hiring or firing and, most importantly, the creative interplay between the soulful musical artists and their gifted producers. And what producers they were.

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Time Has Come Today: Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Denzel Washington in Roman J. Israel, Esq.

Of all the great contemporary actors, is it possible that Denzel Washington is the most mystifying? As the defiant private who stood up to his hated sergeant in Norman Jewison's A Soldier's Story (1984), Washington sent currents of electricity through the film. But though he seemed a perfect fit for the charismatic black power leader in Spike Lee's 1992 Malcolm X, he resembled a lifeless icon. His spellbinding matchmaker, Don Pedro, Prince of Aragon, in Kenneth Branagh's 1993 adaptation of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing was answered later the same year with the dull and earnest attorney who finds redemption defending a lawyer with AIDs in Philadelphia. When he plays the snappy private investigator Easy Rollins in Carl Franklin's crackling Devil in a Blue Dress (1995), Washington has some of the quick reflexes of Bogart's Sam Spade, but when he portrays the wrongly imprisoned boxer, Rubin Carter, in The Hurricane (1999), his energy gets sucked up by the character's nobility. Washington is exciting to watch when he gets to fill a role using a card shark's bravado, as he did as the hostage negotiator in Spike Lee's 2006 Inside Man, or when he underplayed the veteran railroad engineer trying to stop a runaway train in Tony Scott's Unstoppable (2010). But more recently, in Fences, he adds little imagination to the role of the embittered sanitation worker. That's because the character is completely worked out in the soapbox speeches playwright August Wilson wrote for him, and when the part is already fully thought through, Washington seems to simply fall back on his actor's skill and leave out his personality. He either becomes part of the scenery or he ends up chewing it. But if the role leaves more room for him to move, he can find surprising corners of the character that can magnetize the camera – and the audience. That's what he does in Tony Gilroy's new picture, Roman J. Israel, Esq., where he has plenty of space to be inventive. He gives an exciting and original performance – even when the film eventually gets muddled in dramatic confusion.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Young Marx: Catch as Catch Can

Laura Elphinstone and Rory Kinnear in Young Marx at London's Bridge Theatre. (Photo: Manuel Harlan)

The big news on the London theatre scene this fall was the opening of the Bridge Theatre near London Bridge, the first new commercial theatre in the city in eighty years, under the artistic direction of Nicholas Hytner (who held that position at the National Theatre during its most recent prestigious period). The Bridge’s inaugural production is Young Marx, a new play by Richard Bean – whose One Man, Two Guv’nors was a gigantic and deserved hit for the National – and Clive Coleman. Hytner has directed a cast led by Rory Kinnear, in my estimation the most talented English actor of his generation, as Karl Marx, Oliver Chris (memorable in One Man) as Frederick Engels and Nancy Carroll (last seen in the splendid Woyzeck at the Old Vic) as Marx’s Prussian-aristocrat wife Jenny Von Westphalen. I caught the show in the NT Live series a couple of weeks ago, and I had a pretty good time. It’s juicy and sumptuous, and the action on Mark Thompson’s revolving Dickensian set (the setting is 1850 London) moves at a clip, though Mark Henderson has underlit it excessively. The ensemble is flawless, with all three of the principal actors cavorting in high style. The problem is that it’s not a very good play.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

To Gather No Moss: Alex Gibney and Blair Foster's Rolling Stone: Stories From the Edge

You're likely to be disappointed by Alex Gibney and Blair Foster's two-part four-hour HBO documentary Rolling Stone: Stories From the Edge if you're expecting a thorough exposé that trolls through the pop culture magazine's turbulent fifty-year history. For instance, you won't find much of a nuanced portrait of its boy-wonder founder, editor and publisher, Jann Wenner, when they parse through his struggles with sexuality and drugs. They avoid entirely the paradoxical life of Wenner, whose contradictory impulses – both personally and professionally – came to shape the personality of the magazine for half a century. Since the documentary was made under Wenner's aegis, Gibney and Foster also stay pretty clear of addressing directly the popular perception that Rolling Stone Magazine may have begun as an avatar of the counter-culture in 1968, but eventually it became yet another celebrity journal for aspiring yuppies.Yet even if Rolling Stone: Stories From the Edge skirts some of the more complex dimensions built into Jann Wenner, and the turbulent direction the magazine would take in its long history, Gibney and Foster don't whitewash their subject either. “[Rolling Stone is] not just about music, but also the things and attitudes that the music embraces,” wrote Wenner earnestly in an editorial published in the debut issue to define its promise. Yet the film recognizes that promises can't always be kept, especially if the culture itself changes in ways you can't possibly predict. So Rolling Stone is currently up for sale, perhaps recognizing that its potent synergy with popular culture is now gone. In light of this coming event, Rolling Stone: Stories From the Edge decides to look back at some of the key stories the magazine covered over its fifty years, along with the writers who penned them, to see if (despite the changing tenor of the times and the journal that chronicled those changes) they still managed to live up to their promise.