Friday, November 23, 2018

Remembering Kevin Courrier: A Friendship Cemented Through Music

Kevin Courrier passed away on October 12. He would have turned 64 years old today.

I was already very interested in movies when I became friends with Kevin Courrier, the late co-founder of Critics At Large, in the late eighties/early nineties, not long after I graduated from Ryerson Polytechnic Institute (now Ryerson University) in Toronto and began reviewing films professionally on a freelance basis. We bonded over our affinity for American filmmakers Brian De Palma and Steven Spielberg, who were disdained by many of our colleagues, and shared a love of other directors, such as Satyajit Ray (The Apu Trilogy) and Louis Malle (Lacombe, Lucien, Vanya on 42nd Street). But I think I learnt more about music from Kevin than from anyone else. As much as Kevin knew cinema, and he certainly did, I’d say he knew music even better.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Weeps Happiness: The Dysfunctional Drama of the White Album

The Beatles' "Mad Day Out" (July 28, 1968). (Photo credit: Apple Corps Ltd.)

Devin: I'd love to follow up on that White Album idea for CAL we discussed at the Toronto gathering. I'll write back more in the coming weeks as today I am caught up in medical appointments. But I wanted to let you know right away that I'm in.
By the way, Habs is short for Les Habitants which were, at one time, the farmers of Quebec in the 17th Century.
Best to you both.

– An email from Kevin Courrier, July 24, 2018.

This is the modified text of a talk delivered at “The Beatles’ The White Album: An International Symposium,” Monmouth University, West Long Branch, NJ, November 11, 2018. It was, and is, dedicated to Kevin Courrier.

*   *   *

All art is, at once, surface and symbol.
Those who go beneath the surface do so at their peril.
– Oscar Wilde

With Wilde’s words in mind, listen again to the White Album, or simply its opening. About seven seconds into the first track, “Back in the U.S.S.R.,” as we hear the descent of a jet – a masterful, momentous sound, universally recognized – there’s another, much odder sound: a sound that is not monumental at all, and that no one could recognize. If you know The Beatles, you know the sound; you can hear it in your head this moment if you try. But what is it? A throat imitating a guitar? A guitar imitating a throat? It’s like something out of Spike Jones. Yet it isn’t to any apparent purpose, comedic or musical. It’s simply there. It has always been there. And whether we’ve thought about it or not, it has influenced how we hear every sound that follows it.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Bernhardt/Hamlet: The Player’s Life

Janet McTeer in Bernhardt/Hamlet. (Photo: Joan Marcus)

It’s hard to imagine that devout theatrephiles wouldn’t fall for Theresa Rebeck’s new play Bernhardt/Hamlet, which has just completed its run at the Roundabout’s American Airlines Theatre. It’s a gossipy, diverting backstage comedy, set in 1897, about Sarah Bernhardt’s decision, relatively late in her career, to play Hamlet. Rebeck has taken considerable liberties with the historical facts. In her version Bernhardt (played by Janet McTeer) and the neo-Romantic playwright Edmond Rostand (Jason Butler Harner, hamming with fervor), in several of whose plays she starred, are also lovers, and she begs him to rewrite Shakespeare’s text for her so that it’s more prosaic; she complains that she’s getting mired in the poetry. And the play builds to a second-act encounter with Rostand’s wife Rosamond (the talented Ito Aghayere, impressive in Mlima’s Tale at the Public last spring), who begs her to liberate him from the task, which is driving him to distraction and getting in the way of his completing Cyrano de Bergerac. It doesn’t matter very much that these details are Rebeck’s invention, since Bernhardt/Hamlet has a grandiose, tall-tale style and the narrative ideas are very amusing.