Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Poetics of Space: The Big, Big Pictures of David Burdeny

David Burdeny, Rockpool, Australia 2016, 5 x 5 feet.

 “The poetic image is a sudden salience on the surface of the psyche." – Gaston Bachelard

Well, I know that “they” always say that size doesn’t matter, and also that we know others who counter that with a rhetorical flourish and an easily understood "Size does matter." Both are clearly true. But in the case of visual art after the official invention of photography in about 1840 – and subsequently the inception of an art form that I consider to be not just a highly pertinent part of formal art history but actually its progressive culmination, leading eventually to the ultimate medium of expression, cinema – size tends to impact our perception in very valid ways.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Burned in Memory: Napalm Girl Kim Phuc’s War Story

Phan Thi Kim Phuc, with Nick Ut's 1972 photo. (Photo: Stephen Uhraney and CNW Group/MISTMA Consulting Inc., 2012.)

Kim Phuc was just nine years old when, on June 8, 1972, a U.S.-sponsored air attack on her village of Trang Bang, about 30 minutes north of Saigon, engulfed her in flames.

Running naked down a road, her arms outstretched and her mouth open in agony as napalm burned holes through her tiny body, she, in that moment, moved from the anonymity of a rural peasant existence and into the spotlight of international headlines.

Associated Press photographer Nick Ut (himself Vietnamese) captured her horrifying image in a shot that would become one of the century's most infamous portraits of wartime suffering.

Just how much that little girl suffered that day has often been left to the imagination. Kim, who today lives in a bedroom suburb of Toronto after coming to Canada in 1991 as a political refugee, has rarely spoken of the depths of her ordeal, nor discussed the full extent of her victimization. That is, until she she opened up to Canadian writer Denise Chong, bestselling author of The Concubine's Children (1995), who put the first authorized account of Kim Phuc's story into a book as remarkable as the subject herself.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Load Checkpoint: Metal Gear Solid 3 (2004) – Virtuous Mission

"Naked Snake" in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater.

“Light is but a farewell gift from the darkness to those on their way to die.” – The Boss, Metal Gear Solid 3
The release of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater in 2004 was met with the same fevered anticipation that many franchises experience on their third entry: trepidation about the new material that’s needed to keep the series fresh, hope that missteps from the second installment might be addressed, and general excitement at the property's being back at all. By this point, whatever its perceived flaws, the Metal Gear series had established itself as one of the most singularly creative and expressive franchises in video-game history. Anyone with even a passing interest in the industry looked to Snake Eater’s release with wide-eyed curiosity. How could director and writer Hideo Kojima possibly follow up the expansive, mind-bending experience of Sons of Liberty?

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Podcast: Interview with George Miller (1985)

Tina Turner in a scene from George Miller's Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985).

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 1985, I sat down with Australian filmmaker George Miller.

With George Miller celebrating his 73rd birthday earlier this month, it feels timely to revisit this conversation from 1985, which took place as the director was promoting the release of his third Mad Max feature, Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Mad Max (1979) marked Miller's debut as a feature-film director. His other credits include the "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" chapter of Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983), The Witches of Eastwick (1987), Babe (1995) and Babe: Pig in the City (1998). In 2006, he won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature for Happy Feet. In 2015, Mad Max: Fury Road garnered him Oscar nominations for Best Picture and Best Director.

– Kevin Courrier

Here is the full interview with George Miller as it aired on CJRT-FM in 1985.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

The Cinema of Stillness: Painting With Film

Above: some of the uncanny overlaps between frames from films by the Russian cinema poet Andrei Tarkovsky (left) and the great American realist painter Andrew Wyeth (right).

"What is art? . . . Like a declaration of love: the consciousness of our dependence on each other. A confession. An unconscious act that reflects the true meaning of life – love and sacrifice."
– Andrei Tarkovsky
Recently, culture critic and film scholar Hava Aldouby illuminated a unique zone of viewing pleasure by reminding us that the great Federico Fellini professed a desire to create “an entire film made of immobile pictures.” For me, the most tantalizing of films are those that draw extensively on art history, and particularly painting, as a reservoir for their highly retinal and idiosyncratic visual imagery. David Lynch, for example, said he liked making “moving paintings.” Something like Goya in action.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Hello, Dolly! Redux

Bernadette Peters in Hello Dolly! (Photo: Julieta Cervantes)

I had a great time watching Bette Midler and David Hyde Pierce in Hello, Dolly! last fall, but Bernadette Peters and Victor Garber, who have replaced them in Jerry Zaks’s gleaming Broadway revival, bring something new to the roles of Dolly Gallagher Levi and Horace Vandergelder: heart. Up to now my favorite Dolly has been Barbra Streisand in the otherwise bloated and worn 1969 movie version. She gave a sensational showmanlike performance – like Jimmy Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy or Robert Preston in The Music Man. But she was so absurdly young to be playing the widowed Dolly, who fastens on Yonkers shopkeeper Vandergelder as a way to refurbish a life grown dull, that the semblance of naturalism that’s meant to undergird musical comedy, even in something as stylized as Guys and Dolls, vanished utterly and you watched Streisand as if she were starring in her own revue. (And that certainly wasn’t the case with Cagney or Preston.) Peters, who, like Midler, is the right age to play Dolly, gives her a core of vulnerability from the get-go – from the moment she apostrophizes to her beloved dead husband, Ephraim, that she’s tired of living life as she has since he passed on. Both Streisand and Midler played Dolly’s bid for remarriage to Horace as situation comedy and farce; Peters motivates it psychologically.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Crime, Politics and Spectacle: Netflix's Babylon Berlin

Severija Janušauskaitė as the cross-dressing singer Svetlana Sorokina in Babylon Berlin.
 "The rise of the Nazis, and the devastation of WWII and the Holocaust, have been widely depicted in film and TV. Rarely seen is the period just before, when democracy – in the form of the idealistic, if flawed, Weimar Republic – was still fresh in Germany and the country was in the midst of a cultural, political and social revolution."
                                           – Tom Twyker, a director of Babylon Berlin
Babylon Berlin (on Netflix) is an exhilarating, gritty sixteen-part series that is a mash-up of genres. On the most basic level, it is a propulsive police procedural and political thriller that has been adapted from the crime novel of the same name by Volker Kutscher (Picador, translated in 2016), the first in a series planned by the author that will culminate in the 1938 Kristallnacht. More importantly, the drama – reportedly the most expensive German television production to date, involving three directors in every episode – is a vivid evocation of 1929 Berlin a few months before the crash of the American stock market, accented with film noir. Ten years after the end of the Great War veterans still carry its scars; the war's consequences accelerate extremist politics from the left and the right, threatening the rule of law and destabilizing the fragility of the Weimar Republic; pockets of poverty in the city remain with its attendant political and social ramifications, particularly for vulnerable women. And the attempt to blot out a humiliating defeat and, for most Germans, a shameful peace treaty explains in part its frenetic cultural, social and sexual life. Very little of the political, social and cultural tapestry of Berlin portrayed in the series is based on the novel. The series' other strength is its focus on character development, which enables the actors to grow into their roles and deliver strong performances.