Saturday, February 17, 2018

Critical Drinking – Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars


Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars, Lili Fini Zanuck’s documentary, is a well-intentioned film seeking to understand the complicated life of the British guitarist. But when Zanuck tries to make connections between Clapton’s addictions and his failed relationships while he pursued a career in music, she gets too bogged down in the details and misses the bigger, redemptive picture. Zanuck is best known as a film producer and the wife of the late Richard Zanuck, who died in 2012. She won an Academy Award for producing Driving Miss Daisy in 1989 and she’s directed a few music videos including Clapton’s “Tears In Heaven” and “Pilgrim.” But this is her first full-length documentary, produced for Showtime, which recently made its debut on television. The movie premiered in 2017 at TIFF. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Post: The Old Hollywood Machinery

The Post, about how its daring 1971 coverage of the Pentagon Papers put The Washington Post in the front rank of American newspapers, is a newspaper picture with a pedigree. Steven Spielberg, working with his usual team of experts – cinematographer Janusz Kaminski, editor Michael Kahn (working with Sarah Broshar), production designer Rick Carter and composer John Williams – directed from a screenplay that Liz Hannah co-authored with Josh Singer (co-writer of Spotlight). And his cast, headed by Meryl Streep as publisher Kay (Katharine) Graham and Tom Hanks as editor Ben Bradlee, presents the most impressive collection of character actors, culled from stage, movies and TV, on screen in the past year, all of them working at the top of their game. Bruce Greenwood plays Robert McNamara, Defense Secretary under JFK and LBJ, who ordered the Pentagon Papers, forty-seven volumes that documented the history of White House obfuscation about the Vietnam War; Matthew Rhys (of The Americans) is an uncanny visual match for former Marine Daniel Ellsberg, who, having drafted the study in 1966, brought it to light by having a copy left on the desk of a general assignment reporter at The New York Times. Bob Odenkirk is Ben Bagdikian, assistant managing director for national affairs at The Post, who guesses that Ellsberg – a one-time colleague of his at the RAND Corporation – is the source of the leak and tracks him down so that, when an injunction from Attorney General John Mitchell ties the hands of The Times, preventing it from offering any further coverage, The Post can pick up the ball. Tracy Letts is The Post’s chairman of the board, Fritz Beebe; Bradley Whitford, looking like an old-world southern gentleman in a bow tie, is Arthur Parsons, a composite character based on several Post advisers who discourages Graham from publishing articles about the papers; Jesse Plemons (of Friday Night Lights) is the senior legal counsel for the paper, whose youth amuses Bradlee. Sarah Paulson plays Ben’s sculptor wife Tony. Carrie Coon plays editorial writer (and future editorial page editor) Meg Greenfield and Jessie Mueller is Judith Martin, who, when the main part of the narrative begins, has been denied an invitation to cover presidential daughter Tricia Nixon’s wedding because she crashed Tricia’s older sister Julie’s wedding three years earlier. The ubiquitous Michael Stulhbarg, who also appeared in two other high-profile Christmas-season releases, The Shape of Water and Call Me by Your Name, is Abe Rosenthal, managing editor at The Times. David Constabile and Johanna Day are Graham’s close friends Art and Ann Buchwald.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Love Thy Neighbour: Paddington 2

I haven’t seen the first Paddington film from 2014, but after sitting through its sequel, that feels like a mistake I should rectify not because I feel like I missed some crucial backstory, but simply because I need more films like this in my life. Paddington 2 is a sweet and charming piece of family entertainment, never stooping to the treacly in its celebration of kindness, friendliness, and tolerance. It treks into some dark places in its effort to brighten up the world, while staying lively, fun, truthful. . . and full of marmalade. I loved it.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Fabula: The Mythological Mind of Joachim Waibel

Telephone, Sculptural Object, 2015: rotary phone, tarred and feathered.

“You never see further than your headlights. But you can make the whole trip that way.” E.L. Doctorow
Joachim Waibel works with fabricated dreams. A mixed-media visual artist and poet, his art practice is interdisciplinary and multi-faceted and has one common denominator: he uses whatever symbolic form in whatever medium best conveys his philosophical interests at the moment of creation. From drawing and painting to photography and film, from conceptual sculpture to concrete poetry, his creative approach is living proof that the medium is the message. Originally from Germany, where he was born in 1959, he relocated to North America in 1973 and has since explored many avenues of self-expression, in keeping with his eclectic cultural upbringing and diverse experiences as a maker. He is very German but he is also an international citizen of a conceptual country without borders. He is in fact a neo-faber, a new maker, and his active Vancouver-based studio is exploring fresh and flexible ways to operate above and beyond the traditional gallery system. He is also a postmodern renaissance man of sorts. A new maker of what? A maker of tall tales told visually, of fabula, the original name for all our stories and narratives. Out of the seductive stories that he weaves he also manufactures a steady stream of hypnotic miniature worlds for us to contemplate and even to dwell in temporarily.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Barenaked Lady: The Life and Times of Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker, the dancer who shook Paris to the core.

Her ass, if you'll pardon my French, made Josephine Baker famous. It was as expressive as her face and she bared it on the stage of the Folies Bergère in Paris for all to see, when she made her European debut in 1925 wearing only a belt of bananas. Everyone wanted a piece of it impresarios, politicians, journalists, even royalty and while she exercised ultimate control, her croupe, as the writer Georges Simenon affectionately called it, succeeded in wiggling its way into the popular imagination as a brash new symbol of the times. Her dancing was natural, untaught, rhythmic, sensual, writes the late Jean-Claude Baker, in Josephine: The Hungry Heart, and she could do it for hours without sweating.

La Baker, as her adoring French fans called her, personified the shedding of inhibition that came with the Jazz Age.

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Film Critic as Moral Haranguer: A.O. Scott on Woody Allen

Diane Keaton and Woody Allen in Play It Again, Sam (1972).

Though I often disagree with his esthetic judgments, I have always had a great deal of respect for the New York Times film critic A.O. Scott – for his intelligence, for his literacy, for his skill at advancing an argument, and above all for the quality of his prose. And until now I’ve always thought him fair-minded. But his article, “Coming to Terms with Woody Allen,” which appeared in print in the Times on Friday, February 1, is shocking: a spurious and opportunistic personal attack masquerading as an analysis of Woody Allen’s movies. (You can access it online here.)

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Yes They Can: Naomi Alderman's The Power

The 2017 publication of Women & Power: A Manifesto by the eminent classical scholar Mary Beard offers a witty and caustic literary and historical overview of how women have been ridiculed, demeaned and silenced. She begins with the moment that Telemachus in The Odyssey told his mother Penelope to shut up, go to her room and resume her own work leaving public speech to men. Eventually, Beard spotlights the moment over two millennia later when Senator Elizabeth Warren was silenced for quoting from a letter by Coretta Scott King (the widow of Martin Luther King), while others, like Bernie Sanders, were not. Beard is a particularly apt scholar to pen this manifesto considering the inflammatory vitriol that has been hurled at her for her speaking publicly about controversial issues. Her manifesto could be read in conjunction with Naomi Alderman's speculative-fiction novel, The Power (Little, Brown and Company, 2017) since she speculates what would happen if men were removed from their perches of power, demeaned, violated and silenced.

The Power is couched as "a historical novel" written by Neil Adam Armon. It is framed by an exchange of letters thousands of years into the future between Neil, who pleads for patronage from an address at "The Men Writers Association," and a woman called Naomi. He explains to her that he has written a novelized history after his academic studies have been ignored. Naomi’s responses, especially in the back end, are flecked with ridicule, charged with sexual innuendos, and downright condescending. Even before we read the novel within the novel, this literary conceit signals that we are entering into a vastly changed reality: the traditional schematics of sex and power are reversed with women exercising the real power while men are the disrespected other.