Saturday, December 30, 2006

Arts and Letters

"The issue of belief in a political leader elides into that of the nature of political leadership itself. In a democracy, does a leader follow the wishes of the people, or does he lead them through the force of his own vision? In the best of circumstances, the political leader persuades the people of the correctness of his own beliefs. This, thus far, George W. Bush has been unable to do. But to expect him, because of this failure, to abandon those beliefs may be as unrealistic as many feel the president's own deeply held beliefs are. No one should be surprised, let alone shocked, or outraged, when he turns out to be unable to do so, and chooses to stand by his beliefs to the end."

"...(Günter) Grass writes: ‘Enough evasions. After all, I have for decades refused to admit to that word and those double letters. After the war, with growing shame, I was silent about something which I had accepted in the stupid pride of my young years. But the burden remained, and nobody could make it lighter.’ During training, he heard nothing about the crimes that the Waffen SS had committed. ‘But the claim of ignorance cannot, I consider, veil involvement in a system which planned, organised and carried out the extermination of millions of human beings. Even if I can talk myself out of the charge of active joint guilt, there remains a residue which to this day has not been lifted, something all too fluently called shared responsibility.’"

"A mid-nineteenth-century English newspaper report described cholera victims who were “one minute warm, palpitating, human organisms—the next a sort of galvanized corpse, with icy breath, stopped pulse, and blood congealed—blue, shrivelled up, convulsed.” Through it all, and until the very last stages, is the added horror of full consciousness. You are aware of what’s happening: 'The mind within remains untouched and clear,—shining strangely through the glazed eyes . . . a spirit, looking out in terror from a corpse.'”

Ahh...George W. Bush and the nature of 'true believers' in US politics, Günter Grass coming to grips with the fact that he joined the SS way back when, and a lively look at the bundle of chuckles that is cholera...all brought to you by the Arts and Letters Daily site, now part of the Amusing Sites menu bar to your deliberate right. Or accidental right. We don't judge here.

Friday, December 29, 2006

Still Pretty

This post has nothing to do with anything, but I've never heard a trio version of this particular theme by Ryuichi Sakamoto. Simple and haunting.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Reviewing Innocence

Working out a long-since inconsequential act of weirdness in 1994. Feel free to visit parts I, II and III and play along at home.

1987 to 1992. Let’s move on.

Want more details? There’s remarkably little. I attended York University in the film program at around the same time that I stopped thinking that the events in my life might make an interesting movie. Go figure.

I was there just before the digital revolution (we were still using linear editing suites, cutting 16mm workprints by hand and using Betacams for the most part). I did some acting in University productions (which apparently don’t count), in some Fringe and Summerworks shows (which, to some, do count), and finished up my credits at U of T taking a Philosophy of World Religion course along with the Philosophy of Sex (I figured that one course would balance the other out quite nicely). I won’t mention the fact that the Philosophy of Religion prof was later thrown out of U of T for (among other things) being a cult leader in his spare time since that would just be cheap.

University must have been a success since I graduated with the degree I wanted. Of course it was the early 90’s, the economy was still in full lousy mode. The tech boom was a few years away. The Zelda saga picks up when I was working in a well known retail chain where I introduced fellow staff members to ‘Mr. Biffy’, an aggressive sock which lived on my left hand and was my ticket to being labeled insane and thus kept in the stockroom where I would not be bothered with customers. It actually worked marvelously.

It was during the glorious T-shirt folding days (and let the record state I could cut a mean crease) when I met Zelda at a kinda-sorta high school reunion. It wasn’t a reunion proper, it just happened to be an anniversary of the start of the performing arts wing of my high school. Alumnae were invited to visit.

At the time I was convinced that it was the last thing in the world I needed, but it turned out to be very therapeutic. The post-ceremony pub evening offered the solace of shared experience. A one time musician (now sound engineer) stood up and said to the recent university grads (or non-grads):

“Okay, show of hands…who’s unemployed?”
(an impressive forest of palms)

“Looking good. Now who feels under-employed?”
(more hands, I joined their number)

(a few enthusiastic hands)

(a few resigned, if adamant hands)

“Living in sin?”
(back to the enthusiastic hands)
…and so on. Zelda was there, offered a warm hug, a few pints of beer and gave me her new address, and we were back to corresponding and meeting for coffee when she came to town.

This takes us from 1992 to 1994. I’ll skip the details of the letters but they could not be seen as intimate or even vaguely flirty. She had broken up with the high school boyfriend, was seeing a guy in Albany (where she was doing some Veterinary work) and wasn’t entirely happy with her situation.

Nor was I. I had been seeing a woman I’m going to call Louise for a long time and have nothing negative to say about her in his forum, or in any forum. Our particular story isn’t unfamiliar to the universe I’m sure - we were together for a long time. We changed. Things became difficult despite the best efforts of all involved. And that story has nothing to do with Zelda, other than the fact Zelda arrived a few months after Louise and I were no longer a couple.

I had been delivered from retail folding duties into a day job in software. I had written around 300 pages of dialogue and mission scenarios for an outer-space adventure game, and had the weird thrill of hearing my dialogue delivered by a cast of actors in a studio somewhere in California (the game, alas, was past its best-before date in technological terms by the time it was ready for release and was quietly shelved). The company had R&D money and all was well for awhile, but this R&D cash eventually ran low and the company was close to selling some products to an investor which was almost a sure thing, but wasn’t…quite…together…

…and the paycheques dropped to around half of what they were initially. It took care of the rent. And sometimes some groceries. That’s about it.

I won't blame my boss - he knew what was happening and what he was asking of his staff, and a job in software looks a hell of a lot better on a CV than retail or dragging cables on Due South or videotaping weddings. So we all bit the bullet and carried on. He was optimistic but honest when approached for dough:

Koyla, are we getting paid on the 15th?”

“Yes. On the 15th. Well, on-ish.”

“On-ish. So, the 15th-ish.”

“No no, on-ish the 15th. It’s a bit like the Amish. The on-ish.”

“How so?”

“Er…I’ll get back to you on that. On-ish the 15th or so. But let’s talk about the Amish instead. They eschew material goods, did you know that? A fine example to us all…”

And so on. Repeat until you realize that no cheque is forthcoming.

I wasn’t broke, but I was damn close to it. I was in a better mental state as a professional writer than I was as a professional t-shirt folder, but the stability/viability of the writing gig was very much up in the air. And the break up with Louise (and the firm conviction that I was not going to talk about it with anybody since it was none of their business) left me ...bitter might sum it up. Frustrated. The sense that a lot of time had been wasted and not being sure exactly what would have fixed the situation, sickeningly sure that the differences between us were decidedly irreconcilable.

I was still acting occasionally. I had appeared in and co-produced a two-hander as a benefit for an AIDS hospice the year before, and when Judy (a friend of Louise who continued to speak to me, for awhile at least, after the breakup) asked me to appear in another two-hander that she was directing, I thought it would be a good opportunity to do something that didn’t feel like being broke, lonely or bitter.

A good theory, at least. On the first day of rehearsal, Judy brought me a garbage bag filled with shirts, sweaters, a few books, some CDs. “Louise asked me to bring these back to you,” she said, with the distinct air of somebody who wants nothing to do with the fallout that such an act might incur.

I didn’t blame Judy but wasn’t impressed with Louise. “These aren’t mine,” I said. “I gave all these to her. She can keep them or throw them away. They weren’t on loan. They’re hers.”

Judy looked pained, and I didn’t want to put her in the middle of anything. I didn’t think that Louise or I were quite at the stage to scream something like ‘Are you telling me that these things aren’t good enough for you now that I’ve had them?’ into a telephone, but there had been a few truly awkward phone calls and that kind of response didn’t seem entirely impossible.

For that matter, the mature thing on my part would have been to quietly thank Judy for the delivery, speak of it no further and drop the bag into the nearest Goodwill box for distribution to those who required long sleeved t-shirts, heavy-knit sweaters or a copy of Tom Stoppard’s ‘The Real Thing.’ But I said “You can keep it. All of it. Or give it away to somebody who needs it. Or throw it out. It’s not mine. I can’t take it. Sorry. It's not mine.”

So much for not feeling bitter.

Judy sighed and kept some of the sweaters and probably gave the rest away. I was well on my way to deciding that I was either wrong for the part and that I didn’t want to deal with the woman she’d cast in the second role since I didn’t know her very well and had the distinct feeling that she didn’t like me very much. I wasn't fond of myself at the time, so at least we'd have something to chat about during the forthcoming cold, brittle, and seemingly pointless rehearsals.

To top it all off, after rent, phone and hydro I had around $100 to get through the month. $100 in 1994 was around as much as $100 is in 2006 in that it is not a lot to get through a month with. The only high point was being taken to a preview screening of The Age of Innocence, which is a film that’s much easier to admire than to actually enjoy.

But if you like Wharton, or have a weakness for strangled-passion films (or just for Michele Pfeiffer), there’s something wistful and beautifully sad about it. The short version - Newland Archer manages to find the love of his life and lose her due to propriety and society. And yeah, this is a rather simple reading of the book/film.

Call me a sentimentalist, the sense of longing in it is palpable, and reminded me that I was not happy at the time, and reminded me of lying around not kissing Zelda years before and getting a too-long hug from her months before and maybe…in all those letters…something was in the subtext. From either side.

Not a lot to go on.

And one of the weirder moves of my life up until then, and feeling inexplicably like Newland Archer (mostly the throttled repressed part), I sent her a letter with one of the better reviews of The Age of Innocence. I think I underlined this passage:

For him (Newland) it is a tragedy, because he has been made aware of joys anticipated, delayed, crushed. Frequently he rewrites the tryst in his mind: one moment when Ellen might have caressed him, another when she could have turned around, smiled and changed his life.

I also remember writing “You should see the movie, it’s a good version of the Wharton novel and maybe we can both relate to it.”

Let’s call the above exchange some kind of a leap. Into what, I don’t know. Maybe just the idea that Zelda would read it and understand that if there was an unspoken chemistry or attraction, maybe one of us should clear their throat and see what happens.

Oblique? Hell, yeah. I was 25. I thought that if she understood it, then maybe there was something out there worth coming to Toronto for.

Or in simpler terms, sum it up to the fact that reaching out for something that might be out there was better than being lonely. I’m not saying any of this makes sense or was the smart thing to do or was even sensible. It was what felt like sense at the time, at least as far as leaps of faith go.

And she came less than 2 weeks later, which led to an afternoon, which led me to standing at the Bus Depot wondering whether or not to go to Albany. But there’s still a lot left between point A and B. With patience, all will be revealed. And if you're lucky it might get a little blue.

Click here for part V. And it doesn't really get blue at all.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

And the whole Christmas thing...

Christmas 2006. Right y'all. Here we go again.

Remember the 'Christmas Kills' Morrisey-inspired t-shirts in the 80's that featured a turkey about to be beheaded? Now really, that's the season for some. I knew several Smiths fans at the time who were active carnivores and still wore the t-shirt because they (and let me see if I remember this right) agreed with the right to express such a sentiment, and were really just supporting free speech desipte the fact they were going to enjoy such a turkey themselves over the holiday. Not the same turkey on the t-shirt of course, perhaps that was a factor.

I have a townhouse with carefully out-of-reach bits of Christmas bunting, a collection of Christmas mp3s and the usual assortment of relatives, visiting, etc. And by the way, how does one get duck fat off Emile Henry? The dishware, not the dude. If M. Henry was fond of being covered in duck fat, that was his business. More importantly, how does one get duck fat off of me, since I appear to have a faint rainbow sheen upon my person this morning?

I've wanted to watch a Christmas movie. Of course, I don't like most of the 'must watch at Christmas' flicks. I've gotten away with never watching 'The Sound of Music' in this lifetime, 'It's A Wonderful Life' gets a bit old (and is surprisingly dark by the end), the 1951 'A Christmas Carol' is pitch-perfect but committed to memory long ago. Never into the whole Grinch phenomena. I did find the 'Charlie Brown Christmas Special' and remembered watching it projected in a grade 1 class waaaaay back when, complete with a Coke spot before and after the 16mm ran through the reels.

If you're sick of the holiday, you could do an anti-Christmas film festival, where the action takes place at that time of the season but isn't really a pivotal plot point. Dan Ackroyd eating stolen salmon covered in fake beard in 'Trading Places'. Andy Garcia finding a serial killer with a fondness for blind women in 'Jennifer 8' (which also has the creepiest version of Silent Night ever put on celluloid). Don't forget the first 'Die Hard'. Either version of 'Black Christmas', although really, why would you want to? If you must, do the original, at least it had the merit of some great atmosphere. 'Less than Zero' begins with a Christmas party, how about that? Or better yet, how about not?

If you've got patience, 'Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence' actually manages to be a very powerful peace-on-earth statement, even if it is set in a Japanese prisoner of war camp with David Bowie as an Australian soldier who gets the attention (and I mean attention, wink nudge say no more) of the camp commander. Oh, and it also becomes a completely different movie for around 20 minutes, sort of a boarding school melodrama. It's very weird. It's very Japanese. Bowie gives an amazing performance. And Tom Conti's deadpanned line "He thinks he's Father Christmas" is worth the wait.

For my part...why not just call a truce with the world and read A Child's Christmas in Wales, or better yet listen to it here. In goes your mind into that wool-white bell-tongued ball of holidays resting at the rim of the carol-singing sea. If you're not into the season, just enjoy the prose. If it resonates, fill in the rest yourself.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006


More about trying to define what stays or does not stay in one’s memory, and what parts of that memory remain relevant, if any. Why bother remembering something that doesn't matter at all? So back to the 1980’s, we’ll be leaving fairly soon. Catch up with Part I and Part II if you’re late to the party.

Zelda’s nap on my shoulder took place in early ’87. By mid-year it was the waning days of high school and I was thoroughly sick of it as an institution, a life-experience and a social scene. Early in the year I had mentioned to Alice that these were reportedly the best years of our life. She took a second before holding her flat hand over her eyebrows, gazing into the wide-reaching empty horizon and said “Where?”

The near-ending of Zelda’s story comes at the end of Grade 13 on a slow Friday night near the end of May. Her boyfriend wasn’t in town – I seem to recall that he’d gone off to University early – and I was invited over to her uncle’s house to watch movies. The fact that I wouldn’t have to deal with her weird mother was a plus, and the fact that Zelda was house-sitting her uncle’s decidedly empty place was intriguing.

Such an offer is welcome to an 18yr old boy who plans on watching movies all evening. Or even more welcome to an 18yr old boy who had no plans whatsoever related to watching movies and has a multitude of other activities planned. Use your imagination.

I’m not saying it didn’t cross my mind, but it didn’t stay in my mind. I had been invited over to watch movies, so being the literal-minded type (and a film buff) I came well armed with recently acquired copies of Blue Velvet and Out of Africa.

Yeah - one of the weirdest double-bills ever assembled. Blue Velvet had come out the year before and had very legitimately messed with my head, so I was showing it to anybody who’d watch to see if it messed with theirs (this eventually gave me a reputation for being strange – I'd told a girl in my 1st year film studies class that I’d seen it a dozen times or so, she’d been traumatized by one viewing and gave me a very wide berth for awhile before finally deciding to make out with me after a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, so take from that what you will).

Out of Africa shamelessly tapped into my romantic side (I had a weakness for the narration). So it was a cinematic evening planned either by a freaky David Lynch fetishist or a shameless sentimentalist with a thing for Meryl Streep’s weird Danish/Kenyan accent, take your pick.

The lines around the evening itself get blurry as much from the time passed as from...what? Relevance? I remember which movies I brought and the fact that I took a bus to the house, I don't remember what we talked about but I remember that we never got to watch either film. I remember a pot - not a cup - of cranberry tea and a backgammon board, but don't remember playing. I remember Zelda waxing rhapsodic about her boyfriend and how they'll be together in Victoria, or at least within blocks of one another. And I remember the duvet, the one I was pinned to. I remember my face being close enough to hers that I could feel a faint breeze each time she batted her long lashes.

Anything else? I barely remember the circumstance of the pinning. It was incidental to the act itself - there was a TV and VCR in the master bedroom, so I think there was a brief discussion as to whether or not to watch the movies in there. I remember sitting on the bed, then Zelda pushing me over and rolling onto me, not giggling exactly but smiling. Glowing. If it was intended to feed my ego, it wasn't exactly working - I was more confused than anything else. She was glowing towards me, elbows on either side of my shoulders.

"Let me up," I remember saying.

"Nope," she grinned.



I paused for a few seconds and said "I'll kiss you if you don't let me up."

Admittedly, this wasn't a wise move for somebody trying to get off a duvet. And there were other girls I was far more interested in kissing at the time (mea culpa - I was 18), and something about Zelda and this was not expected. Not part of a plan, hers or my own.

Of course, I kissed her. It lasted around .5 seconds. I at least had a 50-50 chance of finding out what the hell was on her mind depending on how she responded to a kiss. I justified it at the time as a 'ha-ha, now let's stop being silly and get back to the tea and backgammon' kind of thing. My eyes were open. Hers were shut.

Bette Davis eyes.

This was the point where she was supposed to either kiss me back with fervor (which would have led to..any ideas? no, seriously, any ideas??), or smile politely and say that this wasn't a good idea for any one of a dozen good reasons...but this didn't happen. She snuggled further onto me and lowered her lips to mine, dipping her chin to keep our lips together as I settled back on the pillow.

If I remember little else about the evening, I'm sure of the fact that we were not kissing. Our mouths were together, as if it were some kind of a cheat. As close to kissing as one could get without dipping into the dictionary definition which would get somebody (probably her) in trouble.

I waited for this to become a kiss so that I could either enjoy it or leave it.

I waited for a giggle or a sigh or even a nap to interrupt it.

Nope. Lips to lips. Soft breathing and traces of cinnamon Dentyne. The sweet waxy scent of lipstick. Some kind of perfume, I think Joy. The settling of the feathers beneath us. The click of the bedside clock.

For 45 minutes. A long limbo.

I finally moved my lips from hers and said something like I care about you a lot but this is feeling strange and I have to go. And she moved off of me like we had been simply checking the duvet for structural integrity and the kiss - the non-kiss - was a thing of the past. I refused to feel guilty either for holding it or guilty for walking away because it wasn't really there on either side. It was something undefined. Even at 18 I knew what a mind-game felt like (oh, it didn't keep me from falling for them, frequently) and all of Zelda was feeling the time.

This event would have disappeared into memory along with most of the evening, if it hadn't ended strangely. I'd called a cab to get me uptown, Zelda offered a chaste hug goodbye, we might see each other over the Christmas holiday when she was back from Victoria.

And when I looked back from the cab, she stared from the open door. Her smile was gone. There was longing in the look which followed me down the road, which perhaps galvanized part of the evening for the two of us, in the future at least if not that very evening. You can accept or deny a kiss. You can be amused and act on an infatuation, or choose to explain your way out of it, or ignore it. I hadn't expected longing, and wasn't sure if it belonged entirely to her.

We wrote letters for a few months and they were just extensions of notes in English class. If there was subtext, I missed it. And didn't write any. And the letters stopped and we lost contact until after university, with little thought to each other. Which...flips...back onto itself into yet another infuriating not-definable what-the-hell-is-going-on new thing in 1994 which led me to stand at a bus depot, wondering exactly what the sane thing to do would be.

This does get wrapped up neatly eventually. But for now, to be continued...
Click here for Part IV

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Black back tires

Further adventures of a should-I-stay-or-should-I-go mid-20's individual wondering if he's been seduced & abandoned or just part of somebody else's casual comedy. Part I is here if you're not into scrolling.

Back to the 80's. Lord knows, you can't stop it. I saw acid-wash on a model the other day and acid-wash wasn't even a good idea at the time. I'm actually more disturbed at the not-quite-dead-yet 70's revival since the 70's are far enough away to have mouldered further than the 80's. Sort of like being given a choice between a meal of a 20 day old cheeseburger or 30 day old cheeseburgers that have been found in a dumpster somewhere. One can probably catch more exotic diseases from the older cheeseburger, and the bloom of fungus will be just that much more piquant. Really, lets just get away from the whole rotting concept, since it will eventually be lunch and we don't want that ruined.

Still, back to the 80's. The brief rundown on Zelda is that we had an English class together, she had a boyfriend named Tom who went to another school who she famously (and loudly) adored, and she had a fondness for me which I thought was weird and contradicted her famous and loud adoration of Tom. She also had a rocky relationship with another girl I knew, a friend who I trusted, lusted after (I thought it was subtle) and was frankly afraid to cross. So anything Zelda did/said was filtered somewhat with the following provisos:

1) She was a bit of a drama queen. This doesn't necessarily count as a strike against her. I went to a performing arts high school. There were a LOT of drama queens.

2) She could be mean-spirited (which I never saw, or at least it was never aimed at me).

3) She was weird.

'Weird' is a very broad word. Most - perhaps all - of my friends count as weird, then and now. And once again, since this was a performing arts high school, weird was often cultivated. The weird I'm speaking of was a lower level kind of background noise, which I attributed to difference in personality and development, rather than weirdness.

If you cast your mind back to a certain type of grade 12 girl who sighs and says "High school boys are so immature, I'm looking for a mature first-year University boy," you'll also be reminded that both 'maturity' and 'immaturity' are pretty broad, context-dependant terms. Zelda's 'weirdness' was on that level. She had plotted out her post-graduation years with boyfriend Tom in alarming detail, was a New Yorker cartoon kind of gal, and was well-versed with the American classics (had a special thing for Fitzgerald). We wrote volumes of notes to each other when class got boring, and I was in a deep Gatsby stage at the time. To wit:

Zelda: I wasn't here on Friday. Miss me miss me miss me?

Me: Everyone did. They all painted their rear left tires black as a sign of mourning.

Ha ha chuckle frightfully witty to high school students who have recently read Gatsby. Hit of the season and what have you. It made sense at the time. A lot of strange things make sense at the time during adolescence. I was also very much into Eugene O'Neil when I was around 14, since I'd been so impressed by the way Jack Nicholson played him in Reds. When one is walking around, assuming the Jack Nicholson drawl, and heavily influenced by The Iceman Cometh at 14, this can at best be seen as a good idea only at the time. I eventually grew out of the Nicholson/O'Neil stage when I realized that O'Neil wasn't really a happy sort, besides, Warren Beatty got all the girls and perhaps he served as a better role model.

I did mention that I was 14 or so at the time, I hope?

Back to Zelda. She had a beloved boyfriend, but was cozy with me. Not that cozy. I wasn't interested, nor was I offered. But I a way that confused me at the time. Numerous things confused me at the time. Adolescent traits and rules that make less sense at time goes by.

My example: I was invited to watch a TV program which featured Amanda, a girl I had been dating (and was alternately played by and dumped by) a few months earlier. She was having a party of the faithful and had invited me, probably because I was still staring at her with wide cow-eyes, and Zelda probably because of the English class. The party wasn't going to be at Amanda's place, it was at Chloe's place waaay out in the Beaches.

Amanda had called me 24rs before the viewing to explain in very adult terms that she wanted to be sure that I knew that she didn't want to get back together. Or end up making out on that couch in the sunroom like that time before. And that there would probably be other guys there that she might want to talk to, so I shouldn't get hurt or pissed off if she didn't talk to me all night.

"Why are you telling me all this?" I asked.

"Well, I was hoping we'd go together. Not like a date exactly but I need a drive," she said.

I don't know if I was stupid, or just impressed that she could go through all that with a straight face. Either way I drove her and skipped the cow-eyes. I picked up Zelda as well.

The program was fine. Amanda was charming. The other-guys warning was in vain since I turned out to be the only guy there. A few of the girls asked if there was any significance in the fact that Amanda and I arrived together whenever Amanda left the room. I rolled my eyes.

Amanda and Chloe got into cheap red wine in enough quantity that Amanda decided just to spend the night at Chloe's place and Zelda had gotten into enough wine that she really needed to go home.

I drove her home, she asked me in for tea, which was not a code. Wine notwithstanding, I thought she wanted tea. We never made it. We sat on the couch and chatted, before she took a long pause and said 'Stay right there' as she leaned towards me, put her arms around my neck, swooped her legs up onto the couch to get all comfy and...immediately fell asleep with her head sinking from my shoulder to my chest as her body closed down for the evening.

I thought it was the wine talking. I stayed for around 10 minutes, watching her breathe, seeing her smile fade only slightly as REM sleep got its teeth into the drunk and the late evening. It felt like she wanted to stay close enough to me to relax, to snuggle on a couch on a Friday night outside of the adored boyfriend and maybe it was something she'd want to do without the wine. I left her on the couch and went home amused, ever so slightly warm and fuzzy. She didn't mention it for months, but the issue was raised again.

More (and hopefully some kind of point) to come later.

Click here for Part III

High Jumping, Gold Hatted

(first geek to get the title reference without resorting to the search engine of your choice wins the people's ovation)

I was heading to (considering heading to, at this point really) Albany, New York based on an either long-awaited or entirely unexpected fling with a high-school friend (a good 8yrs after graduation), after a slow and painful breakup with an entirely different woman and a very different story. But back to the bus depot, and my provisions - I had a good book (which I think was Raymond Carver's All Of Us) shoved into a well-packed travel bag with a change of clothes and some sundries, a relatively unchained VISA and nothing to do for the weekend. The fling had caught me unawares, and I wasn't sure if it was out of curiosity, desire for thrills or simply loneliness which was leading me to Albany. I know that it had led me at least as far as the Toronto Bus Depot.

I had reasoned that if nothing else, I'd have 2 days in Albany. I could pick up a dog-eared copy of Ironweed and get the full Albany experience (or at least get a good view of it in the 30's). I was sure that there'd be some kind of motel near enough to the bus station that even I could afford. If upon arrival she (and why not call her Zelda?) met me for coffee and said that our, let's say encounter was a bad idea, there would at least be bookends around the whole situation and I'd get to appreciate the best that Motel 7 had to offer the lonely traveller. Perhaps there would be cable TV.

If Zelda fell into my arms, that would be lovely. Or scary. Not knowing which condition would result was what was aiming me towards Albany. I didn't know if it would get me onto the bus.

Confused? It is a bit weird. I had written Zelda a letter a few weeks before citing The Age of Innocence, but I think blaming Edith Wharton will only go so far. I can bring Scorsese into the mix for his movie of the same same which is long and slow and subtle (boring is another oft-used title, but I personally would label it with subtle instead), which for some reason made me thing of Zelda, who I was lonely for after a bad breakup. Not Zelda in romantic terms, Zelda in intellectual terms because she'd always been smart. I didn't think the romantic terms were there outside of a tumble in 1987 which I pointedly left because it was...weird.

And tumble is the word for it. When one is pinned on a duvet at the age of 17 by a girl with Bette Davis eyes, one will either tumble further onto the duvet or out the door. I chose the door. It took 45 very slow minutes to do so, but the door was the final choice.

The rest was relative radio silence for 5 years, then 2 years of correspondence, then the aforementioned encounter. Then...but that would be giving things away. If you have to write about the odd resonance of things past (and I guess I don't have to, but it's better than writing about my father and Christmas and lack thereof which makes me sad), you'd better at least hit the touchstones and let the reader know what meant something at the time, if not now.

And 12 years later, the ratio of 'meant something' is very, very low. But the statement 'this will be funny in 10 or 15 years or so' muttered under one's breath will eventually come back to bite you. Whether it's funny or not has yet to be delved.

So why not leap back to the bus depot? And what was a confused 26yr old to do? Curiosity, enthusiasm and loneliness (rather than lust, believe it or not) were vying for attention, and curiosity seemed to be the one which was carrying the others. Is curiosity worth a bus ticket and access to upper New York State?

If I just wanted out of Toronto and away from the memories of an ex-girlfriend and dealing with a job which was paying half-paycheques at the time (and God knows I did want away from all that) I had a good friend in Guelph. I could arrive at his doorstep for less cash than the ticket to Albany was costing, and I knew that

a) he was a good cook,
b) would have a ready supply of beer and
c) was at a stage where target-shooting with air pistols in his apartment at 2am was an acceptable evening's entertainment.

Good times. Low budget gonzo.

It was was a bit lower than Albany on my list of priorities however, since Albany could have been a trip that defined the edges of whatever Zelda was on about, or at least let me out of the trees to peek at the forest that I'd either been in for a few years or had just entered. I was balancing the ideas that Zelda might meet me, might never speak to me again, might suggest that the whole fling had been the result of a bet gone wrong (in which case, I wanted to meet the winner of that bet and have some words with them), or she might want...something...which I may or may not want have wanted to deal with.

And if that looks cryptic, I think confused would say it better. I don't know why she kissed me urgently in 1994. Or 1987 for that matter. So let me put it - all of this far-past angst - into a package (since everything - everything - has to be catalogued and verified, no?) and wrap that package into something I can describe a bit later. For now, consider the conundrum at the bus depot in 1994. Stay or go? Shades of age of innocence or acting on old (perhaps unwise) impulses clean as New York snow.

Click here for part II.

Friday, October 27, 2006

What stays in the brain

Sense memory doesn't make a lot of sense. I saw this video over 20 years ago, and have for some reason or another remembered all of the lyrics to the song and most of the shots in the film itself. It's a non-descript song from a forgotten Canadian band, but for some reason it lingered.

And thanks to some guy who kept a videotape from days of yore (in a barely sychronized transfer), and thanks to You Tube wasting everybody's time...I give you The Extras performing "I Can't Stand Still," beating the hell out of an unfortunate cartoon cat.

The line about "was she kinky or mean?" reminds me of Martine. Who was never mean.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

No? Well, maybe this'll work...

Minister Proposes One-Deployment Limit for Afghan War

Gordon O’Connor told the Commons defence committee Wednesday that with a little luck and good planning, the army won’t have to ask soldiers to return again and again to battle Taliban insurgents.

Yeah. Luck and good planning. That pretty much sums up our involvement in Afganistan thus far. Everything's just coming up poppies.

Liberals, Tories in Dead Heat

The leaderless Liberals and Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservatives were in a dead heat in public support, a new public opinion poll has suggested.

This is interesting. Sort of like saying “Okay, you’ve got the choice of getting into one of two buses. One bus has a driver. One does not, but there are a bunch of guys sitting in the bus arguing over who should be driving. Which one do you want to get into?”

It’s pretty clear that the bus with the driver is actually moving. The other bus is stationary, but will get around to moving in the near future. Exactly where is unclear. But it won’t take the same route that the bus with the driver is taking. Again…which one do you want to get into?

Aside from suggesting that at least half of Canadians think that Harper isn’t so hot as a driver, I don’t think this poll accomplishes much. We’ll have to wait until the Liberals choose a leader and then see who’s going to stay in their bus and who's running after the other bus, arms waving in the air, begging for Harper to slow down.

Bush Accepts Iraq-Vietnam Comparison

Stephanopoulos asked whether the president agreed with the opinion of columnist Tom Friedman, who wrote in The New York Times today that the situation in Iraq may be equivalent to the Tet offensive in Vietnam almost 40 years ago. "He could be right," the president said, before adding, "There's certainly a stepped-up level of violence, and we're heading into an election."

Bush is noting that the Tet offensive featured a lot of violence. And yes, Tet did precede an election, although since Tet started in January ‘68 and the US elections were in November ’68, it’s a stretch to say that it occurred just as the US was ‘heading into an election.’

You get the feeling that he’s either forgotten or simply has chosen to ignore that Tet was a horrible blow to previous US claims that things in Vietnam were, if not peachy, at least containable. Public opinion of the war went south rapidly and most people see any comparison to Tet as a bad thing.

Not in the case of George W. It could be that he simply has decided to ignore what Tet signifies for a lot of people. If its also true that the violence in Iraq is no longer containable, there can be a conscious decision to plow through any Tet comparisions as if perhaps they’re not necessarily a bad thing. A two-for-one; It reinvents Tet and quietly begins to erase the everything’s-getting-better philosophy on Iraq from the White House and buddies.

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Policy of Truth

"What I need to do to heal myself and to be assuring and allay the fears of others and to heal them if they had any heart...wounds from something I may have said...So, this is the last thing I want to be is that kind of monster."

Before the topic gets pounded any further into the ground (before? says the reader, before??), consider Mel Gibson discussing the drunken rant about Jews being responsible for all the wars in the world. He didn't specify which Jews. I have numerous Jewish friends who've been busy recently, so maybe he didn't mean them. Maybe he meant the rest of the Jews. Burton, who refers to himself as The Jew Media from time to time, said that nobody calls him about any world-domination plans and frankly he's a little miffed at the snub.

Around a year ago I wrote about The Passion of the Christ and said that while I didn't like the movie, I didn't think that Gibson's intentions were necessarily malicious. Here's what I said:

I don’t think Gibson’s smart enough as a director to be actively or even subliminally Anti-Semitic. I don’t think he believes that the Jews in toto are responsible for the death of Christ. I think he believes that the guys with the beards in the tall hats killed Christ, like he remembers from those illustrated bible lessons in Sunday school. If he believes otherwise, it doesn’t come across in the film.

It's possible that Gibson is a nutbar and a drunk separate from being Anti-Semitic, and that any Anti-Semitism is sort of the sprinkles on the icing on the crazy-cake which is our Mel. Or he's smart enough to want his crazy cake and eat it too. In the spirit of full disclosure, I didn't watch the actual post-rant Diane Sawyer interview. These quotes are taken from ABC's coverage on the issue. So if I've missed any revelations that ABC's decided not to post on their own webspace, mea culpa.

When asked why he thought that Jews were responsible for all the wars in the world (its not been made clear if he included the war on drugs), Mel sayeth:

"That's fear related, OK? So, you know, you have your own fears about these things...Now, maybe it was just that very day that Lebanon and Israel were at it, you know...Since I was a kid in the '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s and now in the new millennium, you can read of an ever-escalating kind of conflagration over there in the Middle East that...I remember thinking when I was 20, man, that place is going to drag us all into the black hole, you know, just the...the difficulty over there"

Ok. Dance Part 1: A Tapdance. Footwork flies. He's saying that his comment was just an association between good old fashioned armageddon fears and the local news. Theme and variation on t'were Hezbollah, the Israeli army, the Associated Press and the booze talking, not me. It's not a showstopping tapdance, it might even have lead to an apology proper, something along the lines of "I should not have said it, I don't believe it, let me make amends."

However. When Diane Sawyer leads with "...there's a difference between saying that place is a tinderbox and the constellation of things happening there could take us all down, and saying the Jews are responsible for all the wars," Mel starts Dance Part 2: A Tango.

"...Strictly speaking, that's … that's not true because it takes two to tango...What are they responsible for? I think that they're not blameless in the conflict. There's been aggression, and retaliation and aggression. It's just part of being in conflict, and being at war. So, they're not blameless."

He's steered the conversation away from whether Gibson is anti-semitic or not, and it starts to be a meditation on Hezbollah vs. Israel in very broad strokes. He might as well say "You know, war is bad for everyone." It's a simple reading but on the surface, hard to disagree.

According to the ABC page, he's given a few more questions about the Middle East and finally gets back to the issue of whether he truly believes that the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world. He says:

"Let me be real clear, here. In sobriety, sitting here, in front of you, national television...That I don't believe that Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world. I mean that's an outrageous, drunken statement."

This is as close to a proper mea culpa as he'll come. It's nice to know that there are some conflicts in Asia and Africa that he feels have nothing to do with the Jews. I don't think he'd bring Chechnya into it either. And the various wars on drugs and high retail prices appear to be right out of the picture. So be it. Mel Gibson has made a step towards clarifying his rant. And that step rapidly moves into Dance Part 3: The Martyr Mambo.

" you know, a couple of years ago I released the film 'Passion.' Even before anyone saw a frame of the film, for an entire year, I was subjected to a pretty brutal sort of public beating."

This can be contested, both the 'public beating' and the 'before anyone saw a frame of film' parts. Keep in mind that he was inviting prominent US Evangelical Christians to take a peek at the product before wide release, while not having the time or inclination to share screenings with the ADL or other Jewish organizations. It's not that the film wasn't being seen, it's that it was being screened for a particular audience, the very same audience which made the film a hit.

And to be fair to Gibson, in earlier interviews (and I can't find examples to link to on short notice, feel free to slam me if I'm wrong) he claimed that he made some changes to the subtitles to address concerns from Jewish groups (or probably Jewish individuals who'd managed to see the flick, since he didn't have a formal screening for groups), in particular removing some mention of blood libel. We don't have a rough-cut to judge by, so this can't be confirmed.

"The film came out. It was released, and you could have heard a pin drop, you know. Even the crickets weren't chirping...But, the other thing I never heard was the one single word of apology."

So. Mel's film did not launch an American pogrom, and even despite the chatter of hundreds of media outlets and discussions over whether he did or did not have his script vetted by members of the Jewish community, and a rather dodgy quote from the late Pope over the quality and integrity of the film (the right-wing den mother Peggy Noonan ruminated on the wonder of it all, and was fair enough to follow up and discuss that it was suspect at best) all came down to this: Mel's feelings were hurt and he got drunk and all that hurt came out. Mea not-quite culpa.

"I thought I dealt with that stuff. All forgiveness, but, the human heart's a funny thing. Sometimes you can bear the scars of resentment. And'll come out, you know, when you're overwrought, you take a few drinks...there was anger from that, I think...My resentment stemmed from certain individuals treating me in a certain way."

And the apology about an admittedly Anti-Semitic statement has segued into an explanation of why Mel's feeling a little hurt, and even a gentle admonishment of 'certain individuals' treating him badly.

"...people every day say things they don't mean. And things they don't feel. They may feel them temporarily. I mean we're...we're all broken."

We're all broken, so it's not my fault. My feelings were hurt, so its not my fault. Great chatting with ya. But enough about me, what do you think about me?

It's possible that he will take Abraham Foxman up on his offer for a chat, I'd love to hear what both sides say after that afternoon. I don't think it's going to happen. Gibson has left rehab and has done the ABC gig and made a few appearances to plug his Mesoamerican movie, but there's been no mention of any in-roads with the Jewish community. Unless it's going on behind closed doors, it looks like Mel has decided penance has been paid and he's moving on. He's looks canny enough to not want to be seen as an Anti-Semite, but not quite a good enough actor to pull off contrition. And he's not the kind of person to say 'I am what I am' and fill in the blanks.

There's not a lot left to say. Gibson doesn't think he's Anti-Semitic, maybe he's convinced that he's just pissed off at a few Jews. I'm wondering if Diane Sawyer asked, in as many words, whether Gibson agrees with his father's opinion that the Holocaust has been exaggerated. Gibson has dodged the question in the past, saying that he doesn't speak for his father. We don't know if he agrees or not. He won't say. That, in itself, speaks volumes.

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Friday, October 13, 2006

Oh, Goody...

David Frum has decided to liveblog the Woodward book, an interesting bit of jargon that means he reads a few pages until inspired, then types out his thoughts as separate blog entries as he goes.

I'm largely indifferent to Frum's opinions, choice of friends, and any skills he may or may not have as a writer. But this exercise proves that he is officially a lousy editor. Why would you willingly inflict a play-by-play on your readership instead of judging a product as a whole? It's clear that Frum's going to dismiss the book (as one of Bush's speechwriters, he's got his own spin on the action), and I can accept that. Everyone gets an opinion and all. But since we all know (Dave included) that all of these breathless I've-just-read-this-part-and-I've-GOTTA-tell-you missives are going to boil down to "I read the book, it sucked," maybe he could trim it down to those 6 words and spend more time on his hobbies?

And speaking of Canadians with US sympathies and ambitions, Stephen Harper claims that 'virtually all' of the Liberal leadership candidates are anti-Israel. I respectfully disagree, Ignatieff notwithstanding. I think Ignatieff's far more likely to be a bad public speaker with an inflated sense of self importance than anti-Israel. I'm more interested in the fact that Harper, having dropped the comment, has conveniently not backed it up with anything.

He could have made this a real issue by discussing the candidates, pointing out their positions and comments in the press, illustrating exactly why he thinks most (unspecified, of course) of the candidates are anti-Israel. He hasn't bothered. is this part of his strategy, or simply a passive-aggressive 'because I said so' theatric? My problem with Harper is that I never know.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Poetry (you don't have to read any)

Been surrounded by bad organization, bad communications, bad screenwriting, some truly bad political posturing, and came home to read The Whole Motion, a very good collection of poetry written by James Dickey, who according to his exhaustive and exhausting biography was a bad human being and a good liar. But the good poetry reminds me of the level of bad poetry out there. And a lot of bad writing that might count as bad poetry.

Good poetry is dance, because dance is probably the only real poetry, with the definition being 'a state of mind or emotion outside of the medium upon which the sentiment is carried.' With that in mind (and lifted from a chance encounter with Krimson News), this is good poetry:

Eryn Dace Trudell, Dancer and Choreographer, explains, “You have to be open to anything –any possibility. There is no… well, there’s no controlling the situation. You have to be able to change direction.”

Anna Asimakopulos reports, “Which is why Eryn Dace Trudell choreographed a piece with just about every contingency planned –and kid’s toys just in case.”

Monica Gan, Dancer, explains, “In a way, the mother overrides the dancer, because, you’re always looking out for the safety of your child –first of all.”

Anna Asimakopulos informs, “Trudell came up with the idea in the months after her daughter was born.”

Eryn Dace Trudell, Dancer and Choreographer, explains, “I mean, it’s my passion. And I would want her to share that passion –not that I want her to be a dancer or anything. But I also don’t want her to feel excluded from, you know? I think it’s important to integrate our children into our lives.”

Anna Asimakopulos adds, “Being able to rehearse and perform with a baby is something dancers don’t usually get to do –which is why Trudell had mommas lining up to perform with her.”

Monica Gan, Dancer, explains, “I hadn’t danced yet since giving birth, so that was a great opportunity –a really nice entry back into dancing.”

Anna Asimakopulos continues, “And maybe more than that. These mommas might just be onto something. Momma Dances is running out of free spots for its shows –proving that there is an appetite for the beguiling mix of babies, and dance.”

The most exasperating talent in the world is when somebody does something planned and impossible, deliberate and conceived...and makes it look easy. See above.

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Saturday, October 07, 2006


Those fine people we all know and endure, considering the day's events at eventide...

Harper Complains to Bush about Arar

Bush, heading to bed early with a map of Iraq under his arm and Dick Cheney ready to tuck him in, considers Stefan Hooper's complaint and says "I'll get right on that," with a sleepy yawn, sure that he'll remember it sometime after his upcoming vacation.

40th Canadian Soldier Died in Afganistan, NATO Confirms

Prime Minster Harper, heading to bed early with a signed Peggy Noonan book under his arm, quietly practices saying "We all appreciate the sacrifice" with a sincere but not overly-emotional look, reminding himself to use it when asked how many more Canadian soldiers have to die for the next week or so, and wondering if there are any more crullers left in that Tim Horton's box downstairs.

North Korean Soldiers Cross DMZ Amid Tensions

Peter MacKay, heading to bed exactly when Stephen Harper has told him to do it (with a glass of milk and a picture of Condoleezza Rice for under his pillow), is wondering if Canada should comment on the tensions between the two Koreas, his Palm Pilot still warm from a game of Yu-Gi-Oh! in his Spiderman bathrobe pocket, the flashing 'To Do' list reminding him to cancel that dinner with David Orchard for the 53rd time and waiting on a response from Belinda about his 'friends with benefits' offer, remembering that it worked so well for Ross and Rachel on TV.

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Thursday, October 05, 2006

Such a difference...

After 4 days of watching a frantic blame-mongering scandal in another country, I'm pretty much ready for a nap.

Saturday, September 30, 2006

"Turning a new page" takes an unintended meaning...

I'm not an American citizen, so the outcome of the US midterms only affects me in as much that the Bush administration will either be allowed to continue status quo, or will at least be under a little more scrutiny if the Democrats get enough seats to get power of subponea.

That my my. What. A. Mess. A good old-fashioned, nobody looks good, hard to back away while attempting to look self righteous, dyed in the wool scandal.

See here.

And the original nitty gritty here.

Let's not forget Slate's take on it (by page three, the level of conversation stops being something that can be passed off as "ill-advised", "badly worded" or "easily misinterpreted" and just gets low-grade dirty).

And of course, the "Did I know him? Vaguely. Quiet guy. Kept to himself..." post-mortem begins here.

The primaries leap from dull and depressing to sordid and depressing. The Republicans will discuss Foley (and the actions/lack thereof around him) as little as possible while acting appalled that the Democrats keep bringing it up for - heavens! - the sake of politics (Powerline has that kind of a take on it, while conveniently stressing a few related Democratic scandals over the last few years).

The Democrats will continue to mention that a) they had nothing to do with this, b) Foley was allegedly the kind of person who'd spent years working for causes to prevent this kind of thing (it didn't take long for the term 'predator' to show up), and c) pointing out the conduct of Foley's friends (by now rather former friends), asking if Mr. or Ms. Q. Public wants to retain these losers in office (while trying not to look gleeful about it).

To be fair, the aformentioned losers were only aware of the letters (presumably the same weird but not quite actionable ones that have been released) and not the more explicit IMs. The public will have to figure out whether those emails were some kind of warning sign, if they were worth further investigation (or at least a chat and a handshake) and whether they were discounted, hushed up, or ignored by those in high places.

It's all so fresh that the jokes haven't even started yet. It's a matter of time. Theme and variation on the classics I suppose:

How do you get a GOP lawmaker out of a tree?

Get a dishy 16yr old congressional page to wave and say "Yoo Hoo!"

Heh heh. But seriously folks...this is about as unappealing as is possible for a pre-election. The cycle of this story will probably spin double time over the week. Jon Stewart is going to have a field day. The blog types already are. Check out Unpartisan for their RSS fed listings of stories along with the left/right commentary (here and here for especially interesting takes) And somebody on the National Review's blog page (The Corner) has gone one step further than that:

Nobody just starts being a underage-boy-chaser-seducer past the age of 50. This sordid and disgusting story is far from over, and may end up with Foley in jail. He may avoid jail. Hell is another story.
-John Podhoretz (12:58pm)

I didn't know that the God-fearing National Review loyalists had managed to skip the whole 'Judge not, that ye be not judged' paradigm and had secured franchise rights to judge the quick and the dead. Although given the usual level of ego involved with the National Review, I shouldn't be surprised.

Podhoretz is probably flinging people into hell a bit early. After all, this is still just an issue of optics (at least so far). I don't know what the Florida laws are relating to luring, but exactly how could one be prosecuted for writing dirty stories without actually doing anything about it? Not a bright thing to do when you're in public office, but unless Foley actually met (or arranged a meeting, booked the hotel room), I don't think any law has been broken. If he's distributed what's considered pornographic material to minors (and the page was 16 at the time), that's an offence. We don't know if that's what happened yet.

Bad judgement or incompetence? Political opportunism or a genuine alternative? Florida is going to be a lively place.

Meanwhile, Oh Canada. We've got Tie and Belinda. Really. The less I know, the better.

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

And this week's 'No, really it's not about me' award goes to...

Jan Wong has written something that keeps her name in the Google searches, causes a certain low-yield amount of fuss, and which she claims has caused a response she did not anticipate. Poor, poor Jan.

Why is any of this news? Or worse yet...encouraged?

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Monday, September 04, 2006

The Hand Powered Flashlight

The humble hand powered flashlight. Available at most gadget shops, great stocking stuffers. The one above is like the one I carry in my car for some kind of unspecified emergency. It works by some electromagnetic quirk, there's a plug of magnetized metal in the middle which shakes past a solenoid, creating a small charge which is held by a small battery which lights a low-draw but very powerful LED. It's even clear plastic, so it serves as a handy peekaboo-look-over-here kind of beacon.

When one is on the side of a country road in the dark of night, wearing a black t-shirt, with an infant strapped to one's back, standing behind an effectively invisible black Volvo (where the battery has died and the hazard lights are perhaps as bright as a cigarette), waiting for a tow-truck sent out by a helpful agency who does not seem to grasp that there is only ONE road between Arthur, Ontario and Orangeville, Ontario that matches the critera of the road you told them you were on...a little light comes in handy.

Even if you're without an infant or a black Volvo, consider this to be the most sincere endorsement ever written for the hand powered flashlight. You can have it on for hours and not be afraid of your battery dying and losing the only source of light you have to stay visible for the tow truck that is allegedly on its way, or to show any swervy drivers that the shoulder is NOT clear. It do come in handy. More on this particular debacle later, suffice to say that the infant is fine, the car is minus an alternator (easily replaced, relatively cheaply) and the efficacy of CAA is largely in doubt.

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Sunday, September 03, 2006

Noise or Music.

There's an errata at the end of this piece, so take the points with a grain of salt...

Got time to waste? Want to avoid writing short stories or editing a friend's resume or plotting out the next 4 months of finances? That's why You Tube has been brought into existence. To wit: Experiment IV, a one-off video from Kate Bush in '87 or so.

Yes, around 20 years ago. Don't remind me.

Consider Burton, my film critic friend. One of his first acts in film school was to coerce our class to skip some of the more obscure Czech new wave films and go downtown to see the rereleased Manchurian Candidate (at least a different flavour of old), which seemed far more relevant to whatever we wanted to be seeing/doing those days than the Czech new wave. Numerous snippy comments about the professors being stuck 20 years in the past were thrown amongst the popcorn and after-movie Guiness.

Said the man who has chosen to write about a Kate Bush video. From 1987. The irony ain't lost here.

Back to Terry and Kate. I never forgot the video, which at the time I found pretty cool. I was armed with the knowledge that it was directed by Terry Gilliam who was just taking some serious acclaim for Brazil at the time, so, you know, that almost made this particular video art, in italics yet (I was around 17, so I also thought that Red Dawn and Streets of Fire were pretty legitimate cinema as well, let's not get into that). And how has it dated?

How well could it date, really?

It's definately Gilliam, the wide angles and deep focus give it away. He'd directed Bush's video for Cloudbusting and they must have shared taste in weirdness. Anybody who'd (deep breath) base a song and video on a book by Wilhelm Reich's son has what can best be described as a creative mind, and for Gilliam to transplant that decidedly American hysteria into a very British countryside...takes guts. Or at least a dedicated vision. Look up Reich and Orgone and Orgonon (no relation)for yourself, it'd take too long to explain his particular flavour of strange.

Let's get back to Bush and Gilliam. The line between eerie and cheesy is thin at the best of times, Experiment IV leaps over the line more than once (the maquette doesn't play well at all). But the sense of chaos and the fear of something fast and unpleasant still has a kick. Gilliam can turn it back into horror simply by slowing down the film, breaking a few windows and flinging a Pana-glide (if that's the term) down a hallway with inconsistent lighting. Yeah, it's a 20 year old Kate Bush video. But the pedigree has dated better than most.

Dancing with Tears in my Eyes for example. Both cheesy and depressing. Cautionary tale for yesterday's war (although it's a nuclear meltdown that wipes out the locals in this one, rather than a nuclear war). Reeks of bad agitprop. And there is such a thing as good agitprop (by good, let's instead say effective). I finally managed to see The War Game recently, and a 40 year old take on post-Nuclear England still makes you consider the humanity, the futility, the waste, rather than Tears' bad filters and guitar solos.

I cringed at remembering that the Tears video existed and even more so knowing that somebody put it on You Tube. But I actively looked for Experiment IV, proving that I either care for Gilliam more than I admit (love 12 Monkeys and Fear and Loathing, but never liked Munchausen, thought Grimm was a bad idea, and a little Monty Python goes a long LONG way), or I should really do some work and stop procrastinating. Perhaps both.

Errata Sept. 5th: Sheepishly here...while the videos might look like Gilliam's work, they were apparently not directed by him, the anonymous Reza left comments on this post that pointed to two quotes from Kate Bush where she discusses the videos. Proving once and for all that I'm old, I remembered the term Gilliam tossed around with both videos years back and assumed that he directed them. Thanks Reza, sorry Kate, hi Terry.

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Sunday, August 20, 2006

"There are those who will say I have no right..."

Stephen Lewis lets it all out at the last day of Toronto's AIDS conference:

I am bound to raise South is the only country in Africa whose government continues to propound theories more worthy of a lunatic fringe than of a concerned and compassionate state. Between six and eight hundred people a day die of AIDS in South Africa. The government has a lot to atone for. I'm of the opinion that they can never achieve redemption.

There are those who will say I have no right, as a United Nations official, to say such things of a member state. I was appointed as Envoy on AIDS in Africa. I see my job as advocating for those who are living with the virus, those who are dying of the virus - all of those, in and out of civil society, who are fighting the good fight to achieve social justice. It is not my job to be silenced by a government when I know that what it is doing is wrong, immoral, indefensible.

Lewis' supporters are saying that he's put South Africa's AIDS strategy under the microscope and pointed out that they're using strategies that simply don't work. The transcript of his speech can be found on a few places on few places on the web, I found this particular instance at

The South African government, already regarded with scorn at the conference for including garlic and lemon juice as treatment for HIV positive South Africans, has not dealt well with Lewis' diatribe. Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang (who is not without some supporters for her immune-system boosting theories) is taking flak in South Africa and the rest of the world, dismissing most of it as politicking or simply changing the topic. Reuters gives one look at it here, where the offical party line boils down to:

While such confrontational posturing may be necessary for the maintenance of the TAC's international profile, it does nothing to strengthen the country's comprehensive response to HIV and AIDS...What Africa needs now is not unsubstantiated attack on democratically elected governments, but delivery on the many resolutions made with regard to addressing poverty and underdevelopment which increases the vulnerability of our population to disease.

Stephen Harper conveniently didn't attend the conference (previous engagements defending large pieces of ice up North, or for fear of being yelled at by strangers, we don't judge here) and instead sent Tony Clement who decided against announcing any new Canadian AIDS strategies for fear of that same kind of politicking that Tshabalala-Msimang is complaining about. Tony said that "That conference, in our view, was becoming a place where you couldn't have a rational discussion." With Tshabalala-Msimang getting snippy about nobody wanting to listen to her beetroot HIV treatment, he might have a point about the lack of rational ideas.

But I don't think that's quite what Tony was trying to get across - it feels like he was trying to get away from the strangers yelling at him, pure and simple, and saying that Canada's AIDS strategy won't be mandated by those strangers shrieking in his direction. Its also a fine excuse not to listen to any of them (and when you're part of a government who appears to pride itself on not being ruled by polls, it fits the script).

This is a collection of people who are working very hard to change the subject - Tshabalala-Msimang thinks that examining garlic and lemon is worth a try, why not further accentuate the positive? Harper wants out of the equation entirely and heads north. Tony insists that Canada's doing enough and whatever happens next will not be the result of the conference. Of course, nobody in Harper's regime wants to take the actual hit for not attending - Tony's guest-shot is a sop to prevent people from saying that there were no federal representatives. Of course, the federal rep is there to say that he didn't really have to be there and wasn't responding to anything happening there and...

...and so on. I am left wondering exactly who Harper was trying to impress with his level of well-placed (and public) indifference to the event. I'm wondering why the party line switched from 'we will be making announcements about our AIDS strategy' to 'no announcements yet - the atmosphere is too politicized.' I'm wondering if Harper is so thin skinned that the option of being screamed at in absentia is preferable to gritting his teeth and facing criticism in public (where he won't appear steadfast and unflappable). I think I know the answers to these questions, but there seems to be so little intelligence and strategy behind the actions that I wonder what else there could be.

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Saturday, August 05, 2006

Ethan H. and Jay G.

I watched Before Sunrise on a tiny television with a sad eyed, petite, very pretty blonde woman with a nose piercing and a weakness for snuggling in front of movies on cold winter nights. I was a bit too old to relate to it (and had not gone the European tour route after university, believing that I would come back to Canada still unemployed and directionless but with additional debt), but respected Linklater's direction and his clear affection for the characters. I loved the idea of finding a perfect connection with a stranger in a strange city, but that's between you and I.

9 years later, I watched Before Sunset on a larger television sitting on a comfy couch with a fat orange cat and my very pretty wife (a friend of the blonde with sad eyes, but that's another story), observing Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy stagger their way through a past infatuation a long time gone. It's a good film. It manages to sum up the 'what if's' of a moment without falling into any kind of narrative trap (sentimentality, overt cynicism, the deus ex machina of your choice). The film stops, rather than ends, which is probably the point. Or at least makes one, elegantly.

It all reminded me of The Great Gatsby,
both the novel and a particular version of the film. Damned if I know why. It's probably a circular, reptile-brain thought pattern: I was a Fitzgerald fan when I was Hawke's age in Sunrise, if I had ever been on a train en route to Prague I might have been reading Gatsby or Fitzgerald's short stories.

Or maybe it's something much simpler: Hawke's character wrote a novel about l'escapade Delpy in Sunset to get her attention nine years after their meeting. Gatsby built a mansion and an entire life simply to garner Daisy's attention 8 years after he was just another doughboy sent to the front after being left at the docks by a pretty girl. Any similarities between the two stories (let alone the two films) ends there. Linklater's Sunrise/Sunset films are extended conversations (the term 'talkfest' will not be used in this journal) which are difficult to pull off at the best of times, especially if you're an American filmmaker.

The Great Gatsby has been filmed at least four times; a lost 1926 silent, a pretty much lost 1949 version with Alan Ladd (where Gatsby's played as a Jimmy Cagney styled gangster; it does not work for a second), and an A&E version which was literal and bland. I have a fondness for the 1974 version with Robert Redford (directed by jouneyman Jack Clayton), despite the fact it is an undeniable misfire. Vincent Canby summed it up in 1974 by saying that the film:

…moves spaniel-like through F. Scott Fitzgerald's text, sniffing and staring at events and objects very close up with wide, mopey eyes, seeing almost everything and comprehending practically nothing…It completely mistakes the essence of Fitzgerald's novel, which is not in its story but in its headlong, elliptical literary style that dazzles us by the manner in which it evokes character and event, rather than with the characters and events themselves.

Amen. That said, I still have a fondness for it, maybe because it makes me want to re-read the book. It manages to be evocative of its source material, even though the best aspects of Gatsby are either unfilmable or are incredibly difficult to impose a tone upon.

On the plus side, there is:

Mia Farrow as Daisy- If you go into the film assuming that she's an alcoholic who is still pulling the coquette schtick that surrounded her with cute society boys when she was 17, everything will make perfect sense. If you assume that it's just Farrow overacting (rather than playing Daisy as slightly nuts and the type to be consciously overacting), you'll have far less patience for it.

Sam Waterson as Nick- He's pretty much pitch-perfect, if perhaps 10 years too old for the part. Everyone else is as well, so let's let it slide. He's also got a great speaking voice for the narration...Clayton and screenwriter Francis Ford Coppola must have at least have agreed on the importance of letting Fitzgerald's prose frame the action from time to time.

Bruce Dern as Tom- Manages to be a brute and sociopath with the ability to appear genuinely sympathetic when he gets mopey after hitting you. The novel's Tom was too well bred for such things (or believed hiself to be), while Dern makes himself interesting by being a snob who's decided to be a brute to amuse himself, rather than the brutality being the side-effect of snobbery.

Coppola's Screenplay- Let me crib from Salon's Michael Sragow, he's already written the point I want to make:

After hearing about the virtues of Coppola's script for a quarter-century, I finally got my hands on it -- and it's wonderful...Coppola gets everything there is to get out of Fitzgerald's book while supplying, in a long and brilliantly concocted romantic centerpiece, the dramatic ballast a film adaptation needs. Lines that the finished film glided over -- like Daisy's statement, "That's the best thing a girl can be in this world ... a beautiful little fool" -- are in the script positioned just right, both to take on emotional weight and to arouse intrigue.

What else? Oh yeah...

Robert Redford as Gatsby- Deserving of being damnned with faint praise. As long as he doesn't have to speak any of the dialogue written for him, he's very good. You have to wait until around the halfway point to see that Redford actually can act, he just can't wrap Fitzgerald's dialogue into a believable human being. The fact that he can actually get a palpable reaction when facing Daisy (where he's tongue tied), and during the scenes where he's waiting for his happy ending that he obviously doesn't can see him not-feeling.

Okay. So that wasn't poetic. Or well explained.

To be fair, few actors could say "What do you think of me, old sport?" with any conviction and he just can't get away with it. For the first third of the film, Clayton keeps him in meaningful mid-shots against the setting or rising sun, and he does look like a Gatsby ideal, enigmatic and untouchable.

And then the music comes up, and it's...Batman. Not even the Tim Burton Batman, which would be a bad enough idea, filled with cheap portent. Its the 60's version of Batman, pretty much. Gatsby's soundtrack intro sounds a lot like the orchestral 'sting' from all those Batman episodes that composer Nelson Riddle was responsible for, and the impact of Gatsby's character goes downhill from there.

Riddle's not entirely to blame. His arrangements can be glorious (he orchestrated Nat King Cole's Stardust for Pete's sake) and his version (s) of the old chestnut What'll I do fits the overall melancholy. But somebody (Clayton, or one of the producers) decided that the audience Needed! A! Big! Show! At! Redford's! First! Shot! get the idea.

When the film is quiet, it's rather haunting. There is something poetic in the way that Redford acts with his eyes. The scenes with Daisy where they're not talking are far more effective than the muted fireworks that bring them to that part of the action. This applies to the rest of the cast as well- the film is cohesive enough that you begin to see what the characters are lacking, and how they are keenly aware of what they want and what they simply do not have.

However, it all falls into itself because Dern, Redford, and Farrow are all acting in different films. Only Waterson is actually in Gatsby itself, and Clayton can't get away from early 70's fetishes (zooms and fogged lenses) so the final product is far less than the sum of its parts. After awhile, the Charelstoning partygoers who leap into Gatsby's fountain (and one can only hear the Charelston so many times before it begins to wear on one's nerves) all look the same.

It's a failure. An interesting failure. It would have been one of the best films of 1966. But 1974 was in the wake of The Godfather films, Chinatown, Cabaret, McCabe and Mrs. Miller and more, making it appear impossibly old fashioned. I still keep a copy and pull it out when feeling wistful. It feels like Fitzgerald, even when it doesn't get away with it. Gatsby has a good pedigree, fine performances (more or less) and striking moments. They just don't all belong in the same film.

Clayton kept the potential melodrama from careening out of control, at the expense of some passion. Which is a shame. Charelstoning like there’s no tomorrow is no substitute for getting one’s freak on, even in the 20’s. We need an update, not a remake. Let the id out. Give it to Kevin Smith. I think it needs Jason Mewes. "Jay M. is Jay G." The rest writes itself.

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