11 December 2011

Xmas Season Movies, Day Three: Eyes Wide Shut

Eyes Wide Shut (1999)
Directed by Stanley Kubrick
Country: U.S.A.
Based on a novella by Arthur Schnitzler

The Lowdown
Age: 16 and over (explicit sexual content, extremely tame compared to what your 12 year-old has seen online)
In-laws, relatives: DON'T do it. Like the character Alice, your partner may use this film to start a rather uncomfortable discussion on what constitutes cheating and so on. If your relationship is going through a rocky phase, better watch this when alone.
Required level of sobriety: whether you drink or not, watching this film will feel as though you've been dragging a long, depressing night of drunkenness.
Audience: Mid-Atlantic mentality, mix of New York and London, maybe? It's not a film for the Bible belt-minded. This film is particularly satisfying to students of literature and amateurs of filmic semiotics.
Christmas Spirit: Yes, in the sense that Christmas is a time of year out of time, outside of our daily routine, when flames can unexpectedly shoot up from unseen, icy crevasses in our path.

This film is based on the aptly titled narrative Dream Story. I haven't read the Arthur Schnitzler novella so I don't know whether it was set around Christmas, but Kubrick was right to keep at that time of year or switch the action to the end of December. The film dedicates one day to routine, in between a Christmas party and a descent to darker recesses of humanity just before Christmas, and that routine day is an anomaly. There are times in life when the daily grind is a distant reality whereas the dream world, intoxicated, stoned, nightmarish feels like the most tangible layer of being.

This film was made for students of literature, every scene has its double, a degraded, dehumanised version of the first which in some cases was troubling to begin with. There is one woman in this film, duplicated mother, low-class prostitute, high-class prostitute, teenage prostitute with pimp father, daughter (the one with the dying father, and the main couple's daughter), they all have that reddish hair and statuesque figure. Colour coded, verbal reflexivity, scenic mirrors, Eyes Wide Shut is imbued with postmodernity and the bourgeois concerns of modernity. 

Here, I should pause to link to this very good essay about the film, Introducing Sociology: A Review of Eyes Wide Shut. It's certainly worth the read and, written in 2000, the essay was produced in the midst of that academic obsession with "commodification". But what, I ask you, in our world, is not subject to commodification? I just find the subject too facile. Still, the article provides many insights -- I'd been wondering about Alice's paintings too.

Back to the bourgeois and modernity: one of the many reasons why so many of our narratives centre on the wealthy is because those without daily contingencies possess the luxury of focusing on existential problems rather than counting pennies. 

A quality film can be watched over and over though Eyes Wide Shut loses some of its appeal  upon repeated viewings. Despite this being a supposed "art house" film, tension and anxieties around plot developments make for much of the interest here. A second viewing will allow you to complete the decoding of semiotics to your satisfaction. After seeing the film several times over more than a decade, I still discover tidbits. Nick Nightingale, pianist and a character who propels the plot and its main character forward, is a character who always stayed with me. This time, I looked up the actor who plays him, Todd Field. Sydney Pollack, also in a supporting role, is a natural, pitch perfect, but Field is magnificent. Also, I enjoyed Sky Dumont's performance. His character is some wealthy, European, sleazy seducer who tries it on with a drunken Alice Harford, a character who, like her wonderland namesake, is easily affected by potions and poisons.

I'm not giving anything away here by referring to the orgy. If you've ever heard anything about this film, you've heard about the "orgy" scene. So boring. Kubrick was a genius and I'm sure this is deliberate. I've never been to an orgy but I'm sure they are nothing like that. If the lighting was orchestrated by Kubrick and we could all look so airbrushed and look so good from any angle in any position, then we'd all be having orgies, wouldn't we? Except that luxury and perfectness makes it all appear rather sterile and, if not dehumanising, decidedly non-human. The orgy scene is the opposite of sexy. Eyes Wide Shut isn't a sexy film and that's how Kubrick intended it.

10 December 2011

Xmas Season Movies: Day Two, The Thin Man

The Thin Man (1934)
Directed by: W.S. Van Dyke
Country: U.S.A.
Based on a detective novel by Dashiell Hammett

The Lowdown
Age: all ages.
In-laws, relatives: yes, yes.
Required level of sobriety: the movie is still good sober but I suggest lining up five martinis at a time. It just seems rude not to keep up with the characters.
Audience: not for brutes, a certain level of sophistication required. Leave your socialist tendencies at the door. Yes, we know there was a depression going on. The whole point of these films was to forget about it by fantasizing about abundance.
Christmas Spirit: Plenty. If being passed out on martinis every night and giving open house Christmas parties out of your hotel suite is your idea of Christmas spirit -- and whose isn't?

What can I say? William Powell just sits there, shooting his gun at a Christmas tree for what seems like twenty minutes. If you don't appreciate the perversity in this, you might still like The Thin Man, but you won't feel its a part of you like so many of us do. It's one of my test when I'm getting to know someone. If they don't like The Thin Man, it gives me pause.

Yes, another whodunnit set around Christmastime. I wish there were more. Here, the plot twists aren't important as much as style and characterization and the style of the characters. William Powell and Myrna Loy made many Thin Man movies together. They were icons in their day, and they still are to people like me who go into shock every time some mundane person reminds them that, no, they are definitely not a reincarnation of Irene Bullock.

Christmas in New York in the thirties. To be transported there is all one needs to feel joy and I can ask no more of a movie.

09 December 2011

Xmas films day one: L.A. Confidential

L.A. Confidential (1997)
Country: USA
Director: Curtis Hanson
Based on a novel by: James Ellroy

Age: 12 and over. References to prostitution, drugs and porn but your kids are online, right?
In-laws, relative suitability: Should be fine with it but at 2.5 hours running time, fidgety and easily distracted people are out.
Audience: low, middle, high brow which is why this is one of the best films Hollywood has made in the last forty years.
Holiday sobriety meter: sober to tipsy. This isn't The Third Man, but you need to be able to pay attention.
Christmas spirit: not so much

I prefer films set around the Xmas season to straight Xmas movies. L.A. Confidential, based on James Ellroy's neo-noir novel is so carefully plotted and brilliantly executed, it is the sort of film I watch mesmerised whilst feeling a burning pit in the depths of my stomach because I didn't come up with the story. In my mind, when I write books and make movies, they're like L.A. Confidential, intelligent (especially for an American movie), stylish, captivating, and entertaining.

I'm a bit tongue-tied when talking about L.A. Confidential: great plot twists, great characterization, great atmosphere... so I turned to Roger Ebert's review and despite him giving the film the maximum four stars, I don't find his review particularly more illuminating than my open-mouthed awed.

I can't tell you what it's not. In L.A. Confidential, the plot resolved through raw intelligence. Only someone who has tried to write a mystery before can tell you how difficult it is to achieve this without making the "mystery" too simple or without having "off camera" information the investigator only reveals at the end. Or, the solution is so ridiculously convoluted and obtuse, only a pure genius would figure it out. Our Confidential hero, officer Edmund J. Exley, is just very smart and Ellroy conceived of a crime entanglement that's just good enough for his hero to almost fail to resolve.

The film attracted some of the best actors at the time, Crowe, Spacey, Cromwell, Strathairn, Rifkin probably because every part is written as though the character has a whole life, not just a half-life for a few scenes supporting a plot. The film gave Crowe and Basinger a lot of attention. I'm weak in the knees for Guy Pearce as Edmund J. Exley. I always was one for the incorruptible man. What makes his character perfect is that Exley is so intense, if you saw him walking towards you on the street, you'd cross for fear he'd start telling you Jesus Christ is your Lord and saviour. You know, the kind of character who is spellbounding onscreen and who you think about afterwards but the kind of person you definitely wouldn't want in your kitchen.

Aside: Prostitution, pornography, racism, political corruption, L.A. Confidential is as American as apple pie.

I hope I've inspired you to watch or re-watch L.A. Confidential, my first movie of the Christmas season 2011.

04 November 2011

Tolerance for Theatre Goers

Never him on the cross. Unwrap that candy! Josh Young as Judas Iscariot (foreground) and Paul Nolan as Jesus (background) in Jesus Christ Superstar. Photography by David Hou. 

This blog is in reaction to a blog by BraeHockey I saw tweeted about this morning. It's another one of those "rules for attending theatre" blogs. BraeHockey must bare the brunt of my reaction to all those blogs, I'm afraid. I'm tired of them. It's as though people who go to the theatre don't see what a precarious art form it is and don't want anybody new to attend. 

Theatre should be for people of all walks of life and we should stop writing tax codes for them. I have never been accused of misbehaving in a theatre and I started going long before these "regulations" became rampant. I'm not talking about eighteenth century codes of dress, we all know what I mean. These laundry lists which attempt to enforce behaviour on others are partly a product of the internet and those millions of pulpits but not entirely. These "rules" started propping up on playbills and in the theatre section of newspapers before then. We need to think about who we could potentially be alienating here and not shoot ourselves in the foot. With our shoestring budgets and unglamorous daily contingencies, we forget there is an entire world out there that sees theatre as an elite. Some are narrow-minded twits who hate the arts but many are just people who are intimidated and waiting to be initiated. My philosophy is that we need them. We need to make them feel at ease with the idea of theatre being a part of their lives. The numerous posting of "rules-rules-rules" is counter-productive.

This is addressed to people who have a sake in the expansion of an ever-shrinking theatre audience and to those who are too intimidated to attend.

BraeHockey's blog seems only to refer to Stratford but there are all kinds of venues out there. The only time I felt out of place at a theatre was at Covent Garden. We'd just got off the plane, didn't want to miss that opera. We looked scruffy. Everybody there was dressed to the nines, something you don't see at the ENO (English National Opera) or any other venue I know of in London. In Canada, even the COC has a wide range audience-wise.

When in London, I go to the Globe with its mosh pit. It reminds one that theatre was never meant to be a formal occasion. Same with Ancient Greece. We call them plays because that is what they are. My point is that if one only attends Stratford one might get a semi-formal view of what theatre is. Not all theatres are like that. Some small venues in Toronto  and Montreal are positively hazardous to delicate clothing.

Stratford is a theatre for all. Poshos can wear their ball gowns. I wear jeans. The sites of the Stratford Festival Theatre are a place of great ease. The staff are super kind, no matter what you look like. Many on staff are townspeople, including students, who are trying to make ends meet. You will feel entirely comfortable there. I'm stating this because it might not feel this way from reading BraeHockey's blog. Let me address a few of the blog's points. 

3. Must you fidget? Here, Brae recounts a theatregoing experience about a woman digging around in her purse during the play. Brae says, the patron spent "the whole show" digging around in it. 

After having seen hundreds of plays, I have never seen anybody do this, but I must admit, I am guilty of digging through my handbag. Mea maxima culpa.

Yes, this year, I did a terrible thing at the theatre: I sneezed. Nope, I didn't have a cold, didn't have allergies. It was one of those uncontrollable human things. So, I dug around in my handbag, looking for a tissue. And then I actually had to blow my nose. The horror! Does it help if I say I felt very bad about it, very bad about something I had no control over?

Going to the theatre means being surrounded by other human beings. Stuff happens. We make noise. I find it's actually far more disruptive to my appreciation of a play if I work myself into a tizzy. Someone makes a bit of noise, I try harder to focus on the play. It really works and it's surely much better for my BP.

Note to potentially new theatre-goesr: I know you won't be digging through your handbag for the entire play and the chances of you sitting next to such a person are so infinitesimal, they are not worth considering.

4. Unwrap NOW! I've come around to the candy unwrapping for, I admit, very perverse reasons.

Yes, festivals like the Fringe and Summerworks attract young people, but, I have had to surrender and concede the point: Theatre is, largely, for me and little old people. Years ago, I used to see the "unwrap your candy before the show warning" on the programmes but that obviously wasn't good enough. Now at Stratford, a whimsical (or uncomfortable?) Des McAnuff speaks to us from the heavens and tells us to disrobe our confections before the show begins. Even funnier, at Jesus Christ Superstar, he tells us to unwrap away throughout the show since the music is going to drown out our activities anyway.

I saw every Stratford show this year and at every single non-Superstar show, I heard some candy unwrapping. The first few shows I saw, I was a bit annoyed, but then, it just became funny: "I'm eighty years-old and I'm gonna unwrap my godamn candy in the middle of the play if I damn well please. Was Des nest to me when we took that beach in Normandy? No? I didn't think so."

Not a bad rule but since theatres have decided to make such a huge deal of it, I now take pleasure in hearing octogenarians sticking it to the man.

5. Dress Decently

Apart from clothes which smell and could trouble the theatrical experience of everyone around you, I find this rule elitist and irrelevant. My ripped jeans have nothing to do with your theatre experience. Some of us don't spend money on clothes so we can afford to go to the theatre. Brae uses the term "have some respect" -- the straw that broke the camel's back and initiated this blog. ­­

Please, take it from me, I actually know several Stratford actors, and they couldn't care less what you are wearing. They have worked very hard for you to appreciate their performance no matter who you are, where you come from, no matter the contents of your wardrobe. I'm here to tell you that the large majority of people who work in theatre dress shabbily. They are open-minded, tolerant people. So are most of the patrons. 

Eight times out of ten, I wear jeans and a t-shirt because I usually attend matinees and on my own. At night, I tend to play dress up and go with a special one or friends. Theatre is a part of my life and I adapt it to my life. Sometimes, it's a grand occasion most times it isn't. I wish more people viewed theatre this way because then more people would go to the theatre.

Theatre lives from hand to mouth and survives thanks to the taxpayer. It cannot afford snobbish attitudes.

7. "Critique Elsewhere!"

This is baffling. Basically, according to Brae, you are not allowed to say you're not enjoying the show when others can overhear you. 

And I loved Kim Jong-Il. North Korea much?

Of course, you can bitch about the show! This is a democracy. During intermissions and after shows, I have overheard theatregoers make points I hadn't thought of and their contribution have sometimes enriched my enjoyment of the show. Sometimes, you don't enjoy a show that was designed to make you think and, for whatever reason, you didn't realise this until you heard a friend or overheard a stranger make a comment. There are layers of understanding to any show of substance, good or bad. You, sir, madam theatregoer, are by no means an omniscient genius and I encourage you all to listen. You might learn something.

Brae isn't even interested in positive vibes. Any comment is out of bounds until you are in your car. I disagree. A critical mind is one of the greatest asset you have in your life. Use it! If you are at a show with friends, you ARE absolutely within your rights to criticise the show with them. Don't anybody tell you otherwise. 

This year, a teenager who saw I was alone, struck up a conversation with me during the intermission of Titus. He was bursting and just had to tell someone what he thought of the show. This Stratford kid works a minimum-wage job and couldn't find anybody who could afford to go with him. He's loves everything having to do with history so he saved and saved to see Titus and Richard III. It was obvious he had to gather courage to go to the theatre alone but his love of history was too much to keep him away. He was over the moon and planned on seeing more Plays. Hey, theatre makers, we've got a new one! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!

Theatre is all about being open to new experiences. Good theatre opens us up in our lives as well. That is what happened that night. I have enjoyed much of what I've seen on stage this year at Stratford, but my moment with the teenager was very special. We don't all have art-minded people around us. I may very well have been the only person that young man could have spoken to. This helped make his theatre experience an even more positive one. He found someone who was on the same vibe with him. If it had been up to Brae's most odd theatre "rules", this experience would never have happened. I'm sure our collective enthusiasm was overheard.

9. Shoes/You're not at home!

Ok, this is going to sound like I'm really coming down on Brae for the sake of it, but the problem with al those "rules" is that things are rarely black and white. It just so happens I have had a counter experience of the "shoes" rule this year. We were at Homecoming. A girl sat with her father in the row ahead of me. She unwrapped a lollipop thirty minutes into the play. Then, she removed her shoes and put them up on the empty seat in front of her. She didn't make noise apart from that. She was ensconced in her father's arm leaning the back of her head on his collar bone. She was watching the play intently, I could see because she was at a diagonal to me.

Growing up in Montreal, this sort of sight would not be uncommon in theatres when the venue isn't packed. I understand that Ontario is more conservative. Even Ontario theatre is more conservative. I acknowledge how that sight, as heartwarming as it was to me, might not be perceived as acceptable to others. My take on this is that I would much rather see this girl enjoying her theatre experience than her being at home sat in front of the TV or comp. This is someone from the next generation who might very well be back at the theatre. She didn't bother anybody else. I didn't see any reason to intervene and nor did the theatre staff. 

Parting words

Outrage is a decision. We have complete control over what we are outraged at. I live in a world with seven billion people. Very few of them will ever go to the theatre and this makes me despair. Personally, I don't have rules for theatre. My motto is tolerance. I just hope it rubs off.

24 October 2011

Mitt Romney Doesn't Know about the Birds and the Bees

A young woman completely stumped Mitt Romney at a Iowa town hall meeting when she told him that his support for an amendment to the constitution that would claim life begins at conception would prevent her from using birth control. Romney tells the women he is not against birth control but the very eloquent young woman goes to explain to Romney that he doesn't to understand that hormonal forms of birth control "prevent implantation, not conception". Rachel Maddow reports on this below, mentioning how the proposed constitutional amendment means a miscarriage could trigger a criminal investigation.

As Rachel Maddow explains, Romney's campaign should have prepared him to answer such a question. She goes on to give Romney and other "Cave Men" a simple lesson in reproduction and an explanation on how hormonal contraception works.

Must see TV.

Girl Power

Girls can change the world. A Sesame Street video.

Don't forget to visit our main page for "Occupy" news and more. 

Occupy's Canadian Origins

the ad that started it all

Read this Wikipedia entry for a history of the Occupy movement. 

And this NPR radio story about Adbusters, the Canadian magazine that started it all: "The Occupy protest seems to have come out of nowhere but the early participants like John Garcia in Seattle point to a specific catalyst: "I get Adbusters, so that's how I heard about it." Adbusters is an anti-consumerism magazine based in Vancouver British Columbia. This Summer it proposed a September 17th occupation of Wall Street and the idea caught on. Adbusters doesn't claim any control of the protest and it wouldn't give NPR and interview because it doesn't want to overshadow the movement. It sees itself more as an idea shop."

Legal enforcement bodies and the military join the movement #ows

Police officers who want to support the Occupy movement have their own website and twitter feed now. Occupy Police say they were hacked yesterday, but they are more determined than ever to go on with their protest.

Marines on non-active duty also have a website.

22 October 2011

St. Paul's Cathedral Closes for the First Time since WWII: Occupy London

Listen to the BBC Today Programme radio interview.

Obama's Risky Embrace of Occupy Wall Street

WaPo article about the Obama supposedly embracing OWS. I'm not sure he has but you can follow the link to the ABC News interview in the article. WaPo focuses on the potential pitfalls of such an alignment for the President.

17 October 2011

Right-Wing Hacker Releases Thousands of Occupy Wall Street Emails

Gawker reveals that Tom Ryan, a computer security expert from NYC, has leaked 3900 emails sent to Occupy Wall Street.

How many millions of African lives for your mobile?

Did you know that your mobile phone is directly linked to the war in Congo which has killed 5 millions and to the enslavement of children who work in mines?

Children work in those mines, digging with their bares hands. Poulsen's documentary "Blood in the Mobile" explores this. One of the reasons the media hasn't talked much about this is their inability to go to the Congo, something Poulsen does at great risk. The second reason of course is that we don't want to hear it. What are the lives of 5 millions Africans compared to your mobile?

Read an article about the film and watch the trailer

10 Ways to Support Occupy Wall Street

At Common Dreams

15 October 2011

Guardian coverage of OWS

The Guardian offers coverage of the protests in Europe, with an amazing photos of what looks like ten of thousands of protesters in Madrid.

BBC coverage of Occupy in Asia

Commentary and photos

Reuters. Caption says: "Taiwan is not used to demonstrations of this sort" BBC