Aug 31, 2010

We Three



Father, son, holy ghost... or maybe Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe.

You decide who's who.

I've always been fascinated by trinities in all their variations -from biblical stories to ancient symbols to any number of torrid love triangles, there's something about the concept -and even look -of "three" that endears itself to me.

This concert, held Saturday in Arkansas, featured Patti Smith, Eddie Vedder, Ben Harper, Johnny Depp, among others, and was in aid of the West Memphis Three, a terrible kind of trinity that's long sought justice, peace, and freedom. Depp appeared on a special edition of 48 Hours a while back discussing the case, which is heart-breaking and awful on so many levels.

While I'm sad it took this kind of event to bring this calibre of artistry together, I hope it has the intended effect. I'm also hoping for more awesome trinities. I wasn't as nuts about Patti paired with some-or-other two gents at last fall's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame celebrations at Madison Square Gardens:



Then again, re-watching this clip after a long while, it strikes me that each performer has such a deep, personal connection with this (admittedly gorgeous) song, and really, it doesn't work to have it sung a la Muppets, in a big huge lump. Sometimes three really is a crowd.

And sometimes, as proven this past Saturday in Arkansas, it absolutely isn't. Bravo Eddie, Johnny, and Patti. More, please.

Aug 25, 2010

Shoot Me


Fame, it's not your brain, it's just the flame
That burns your change to keep you insane

-David Bowie

There's an interesting moment in Teenage Paparazzo, where the precocious teen of the title takes a look at himself onscreen, his eyes wide. It's arguably the most poignant moment in the film, where the shooter becomes the shoot-ee, and the house of mirrors crumbles away in one awful, shattering thonk.

Fame, and its variable spinoffs, is the theme of this documentary, which made it debut at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Teenage Paparazzo tells the story of 13-year-old Austin Visschedyk, and actor-director Adrian Grenier's evolving relationship with him. The two met when the precocious youngster snapped the Entourage star one day in Los Angeles more than three years ago; that particular shooting had a psychological effect just as much as an imagistic one, and it launched Grenier's desire to explore the twisted relationships between celebrities, corporations, and the hoards of paparazzi who can -and do frequently -make or break our public heroes.

Grenier understands this house of mirrors very well; he made his name in a television show that details the life of an actor who's on a successful TV show. There's a real irony at work as he films Austin hard at work following leads, trying to finish homework (he's home-schooled), rushing around the city of Angels on his skateboard or scooter, visiting the camera store, and interacting with the salty old pros who are more than twice his age. Inadvertently, he winds up making Visschedyk a petulant wannabe-star with a reality show in the pipeline, and oodles of toxic attitude leaking all over his fast-fading youth. That's after the actor becomes a pseudo-shutterbug-come-celeb-stalker himself, though he initially finds the paparazzi who used to trail him are less than open to being exposed themselves. The Hunter getting captured by the game has never seemed so skewed, or weirdly delicious.

Massive Attack - The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game feat. Tracey Thorn by user5776126

With so much going on on so many levels, it's easy to get carried away, and yet Teenage Paparazzo maintains a fine focus and an above-board perspective that exploits neither its young subject nor the camera-toting ilk he's part of. Instead, it maintains a smart balance between Grenier's personal relationship with Austin and his explorations into wider societal ideas around fame and celebrity. Divvying up the film into titled chapters, Grenier takes this hall -make that labyrinth - of mirrors and lay some lines along the ground to make sense of it -at least enough sense to show his young friend that relating is more important than shooting. Likewise, the many interviews Grenier conducts add nice spark to what could be a dreary exercise in self-indulgence; they include candid yacks with stars like LiLo, Matt Damon, and Eva Longoria, along with academics, authors, photographers (yes, some of they do eventually open up), Hello! magazine's editorial board, and members of Austin's family. What's notable is how the film doesn't judge any of them, but allows their own voices and actions to speak for themselves, adding subtle influence and subtext to the drama unfolding between pseudo-famous boy and firmly-famous man.


Perhaps most surprising is how the recently-busted Paris Hilton comes off; her impressions and ideas around fame aren't nearly as vacuous as you might assume. Less helium-voiced ditz and more throaty maven, Hilton conveys a total understanding her celebrity, its demands, its image-upkeep (seriously, does anyone think cocaine possession will harm it?), and its absurd, if utterly enjoyable nature. She neither criticizes nor condemns, but accepts, puts on a smile, and plays up whatever role she's chosen to play that day, knowing full well the paparazzi will eat it up, editorial boards will make it up, and the public will buy it up. There's a brilliant scene involving Hilton and Grenier staging a series of appearances together in order to create, from scratch, a feeding frenzy among the paparazzi and itinerant gossip-mongers; it appears the public will buy anything so long as there's photographic proof.




Thing is, as Grenier smartly points out, that trusted photographic proof can be staged, and, as Alec Baldwin wittily, wisely notes, the same circle of large companies control the outlets around the star anyway: magazines, movies, TV, internet sites all exist within the same massive, chugging machine. Paparazzi may be, true to their name, pests, and they are undoubtedly intrusive, but their connection to the corporate entertainment machines isn't incidental at all. There's a huge public thirst around the honey their buzzes give, and, as Visschedyk learns, a huge buzz from being around the honeys. At one point his mother laughs off girls coming to see her son at all hours of the morning, though when Austin is shown with his young catches, he shyly ducks the camera. The last vestige of an awkward youth, or the first inklings of a celebrity?

Adrian Grenier offers no easy answers, neither in the film nor in person. I was in attendance at a special screening of his film last week here in Toronto, and I found that the Byronic-looking Entourage star comes off thoughtful, well-read, and deeply insightful. In interviews, he's spoken of his deep curiosity around plumbing the depths of the superficial world he occupies. To a few insipid, self-aggrandizing questions from his old-school print journalist interlocutor, he politely smiled, responding with care and consideration. But at one point, when he was thrown a hoary "T. S. Eliot/Wasteland-what-is-the-deep-meaning-here" quote (surely the mark of smarmy pseudo-intellectuals everywhere), Grenier slyly quoted Socrates as a response -and, it should be noted, without a hint of malice (though certainly with a playful spirit; I could've sworn I saw a twinkling of the eye). With one foot firmly in the "old" world of books, art, and classic celluloid film (he cited Werner Herzog as a favorite filmmaker and influence), and the other in the high-tech, fast-paced world of pop culture and the internet (he said more features and an adjunct, interactive site to TP is in the works), Grenier is certainly more than a pretty face, and I'll be very curious to see what he offers in his next film.

For now, he's firm about keeping his private life... well, private. That includes his friendship with Visschedyk. The wide-eyed boy of Teenage Paparazzo, staring at his precocious, arrogant self grows gracefully into a more thoughtful teen, as we see at the film's end; it's interesting to hear him talk about respecting the privacy of the people he used to make money off of, especially in light of his adventure with LiLo last fall. Less interested now in celebrity than in being a confidante, Visschedyk has, at least partly, Grenier to thank -or damn, depending on your viewpoint.

But you probably won't look at those tabloids at the checkout quite the same again -or the ads in and around them, or indeed, the people buying them. Even if those people happen to be friends, lovers... or you.

Photo credits:

Top photo still from La Dolce Vita, 1960, Federico Fellini.
Photos of Austin Visschedyk and Adrian Grenier taken from the 2010 Sundance Film Festival.

Aug 23, 2010

Inside Looking Out

The latest offering from Soulpepper Theatre Company's venerable Academy is the lovely, whimsical work Window on Toronto. With a mix of movement, dialogue, and music, the show is a brisk 50-minute dip into the world of the Big Smoke through the eyes -make that window -of a hot dog vendor parked at Toronto's City Hall.

While director Laszlo Marton states in the program notes that "I love Toronto" and the show has its focus in the Canadian city, in watching the work, it's entirely conceivable that the series of scenes and vignettes presented could be from any large urban area. There's a beautiful universality to the range of people and experiences that Marton and the Academy present to us, from the surreal to the gross to the touching; everything one might experience over the course of a day, a month, a year, in a city is here, if only we look.

A big part of this emotional resonance comes from the huge range of characters the eight-member troupe play: flirty girls, corporate Bay Street types, homeless people, workmen, yuppies, activists, musicians, immigrants, eccentrics, even friendly fast-food competition. They're all here, refreshingly free of predictable stereotypes. The choice of using the music of Aram Khachaturian further conveys the international flavour of the work. After all, there are any number of local, beloved bands that could've stepped up (Broken Social Scene, anyone?) but with Marton at the helm, Window On Toronto takes on a uniquely worldly air. Yes, it is intended to be squarely in Toronto, but... it's really everywhere.

The show maintains the Hungarian director's European flair for timeless imprecision -which, in turn, gives Toronto a kind of European quality (take that, Montreal!). The famous "Saber Dance" is played a few times as cast members hurriedly move back and forth, in circles, up, down, and whirling into pace, within the frame of the vendor's window, though the show starts simply enough, with raindrops covering the window. Marton adds a nice, meta-theatrical touch, by having the vendor himself (Jason Patrick Rothery, named, appropriately, "Jason") sit in the front row seat, in effect becoming the audience to a continuous cavalcade of drama, comedy, and absurdity that unfolds before him over the course of a year.

That cavalcade includes a series of recurring, and deeply fascinating, characters. These include a Korean immigrant (played by Ins Choi) who befriends the vendor, and regularly comes around, first to introduce his wife, and later, his baby. There's a braided flirty girl who loves sauerkraut (Karen Rae). There's a quietly menacing man on a bike who comes to the window, looks around the window, silently takes notes, and rides off (Gregory Prest). There's a lawyer-type who keeps our fearless vendor apprised of the ever-changing social situation, and leaves with a mantra-like "call me!" (Brendan Wall). There's a hungry-looking woman in a hijab with a baby in her arms (Tatjana Cornij). There's a protestor with hurting eyes (Ryan Field). There's a potential love interest (Raquel Duffy) whose own pregnancy offers a quietly poignant moment. There's a gay couple (who display remarkable "skating" skills during the winter scene, which comes complete with Strauss music to accompany). There are also impressive musical interludes performed by the cast. Touching on mime and even commedia traditions, these interludes aren't so much diversions as they are vignettes in and of themselves. The play of colour, light, and shadow in these moments is truly inspiring, and offers some poetic grace amidst the urban hustle, in the same way that stopping and sitting on a park bench in Nathan Phillips Square -or any piazza - might.

Director Marton, together with designer Ken Mackenzie, gracefully make use of the small square in the middle of the stage, utilizing all manner of colour, texture, light, and shape. Faces, bodies, and various objects (except, interestingly, food or money) are placed in and around the frame, offering us a small peek at the world. White gloves pop up in one vignette, with thumbs and forefingers acting as hungry mouths. Eyes peek from around the top sides. What's shown is every bit as interesting as what isn't; bikes go by, people rollerblade, there are shouts and laughs and various bits of drama that remind us about all the untold stories in any given urban area. With one small window, Mackenzie effectively conveys the vast expanse of the space around City Hall through one heck of a great design that incorporates a number of different elements. For instance, when a piano is (mistakenly) delivered to the vendor, it's conveniently used in that particular vignette, and in subsequent scenes, both within and without the frame proper. Its music echoes past the walls of the set, going past a visual experience of theatre and embracing an intimate aural one. Never has the music of the city seemed so obvious or lovely.

Along with noise and energy, there are moments of quiet and contemplation. There's something enchanting in these moments -past the comedy, the chaos, and the bustle. It's like a reminder to all of us who rush between emails, Starbucks, meetings, and bars: just stop, sit, listen, and look at the world around you. Maybe you'll chomp on a hot dog. Listen, look, feel. It's so simple. That is the magic of Window On Toronto, and indeed, of urban life everywhere.

Production pho
to (middle) by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Aug 20, 2010

Salty and Sweet

First things first: don't bring anyone who's sensitive to the f-word to see How Now Mrs. Brown Cow. It gets a workout in the hands -make that mouth -of the formidable Mrs. Brown, also known as one Brendan O'Carroll, Irish comedian and super-performer. For two hours, any easily-offended ears will be singed by its extensive and creative usage.

It should be noted, however, that the word, within the context of the show, is made musical, magical, and even poetic. I mean, hell, it's an Irish show -you have to expect the salty and the sweet, the dark and the light, the low and the high, the profound and the profane, all mashed up in one gorgeous, overwhelming package of funny, naughty, heart-tugging hilarity. How Now Mrs. Brown Cow is the fifth in the wildly popular Mrs. Brown series, which started life two decades ago as a radio series before extending into TV, movies, books, and videos. O'Carroll, donning a big wig, glasses, frumpy dress and dowdy shoes, takes on the persona of a working class Dublin mum. In this show, she's readying her home for the family, including her beloved Priest-son Trevor, and tangling with her other three sons, daughter, and "granddad", who becomes the unwitting guinea pig for Mrs. Brown and her friend Winnie (Eilish McHugh) to test mail order products on. The scene involving country music, a baking sheet, and a crash helmet is especially memorable; like the show itself, this single scene is a smart blend of dark humor and gleeful slapstick. Politically correct it ain't, but funny... hells yes.

The humour extends itself to local references, with O'Carroll playing to both the Toronto crowd (with mentions of local discount store Honest Ed's) and Irish expats (jokes about son Mark's "Prod" wife abounded). Later I overheard an audience member remark that some of the show's references were "too obscure" for most Canadians, which is true. Equally, O'Carroll's portrayal of Rory (Rory Cowan), Mrs. Brown's gay son, could be construed as stereotypical and offensive- but as I recall it, some Northside Dubliners (and indeed some Irish) have a pretty narrow idea and tolerance of homosexuality altogether. Should O'Carroll soften the writing? The Mrs. Brown series concerns rough people who say (and do) offensive things, many of which are specific to a cultural time and place. The write and director is full aware of the ridiculousness of Rory, and perhaps, knowingly, portrays partner Dino differently, clothing him not in gold lame pants, but suit trousers, like everyone else. To moan about the "offensiveness" of this show conveys a huge ignorance around Dublin culture, and, to be frank, a poe-faced Canadian seriousness that doesn't match the larkish nature of the material. There are many other forms of entertainment that portray gay people (and others) in far more offensive ways; this show isn't one of them.

Indeed, Mrs. Brown is fierce, feisty, and very, very funny -she's no cuddly Mrs. Doubtfire or cutesy Golden Girl. She's a lot closer to the tough Northside ladies I once knew (and would occasionally borrow hoovers, tin foil, and window cleaner, or buy fruit and veg from). Mrs. Brown's shouts at the unseen drug-users outside her door -"injectin' yer cannabis!" -may be momentarily funny, but reflect a darker reality, one those of us who lived in Dublin around that time vividly remember. Mrs. Brown is tough, loud, and weirdly, very real, with echoes of Dublin echoing with her every word, whether it's a curse or a blessing.


The potent mix of dark and light is brought to the fore again and again, with sometimes hilarious, sometimes touching results. O'Carroll creates short, simple scenes involving friends and family to explore elementary, albeit timeless themes of human connection and bonding, especially in tough times. Part story, part sitcom, the material leaves plenty of room for improvisation, something that cast members take full advantage of. At last night's North American premiere of How Now Mrs. Brown Cow (produced by Toronto's Mirvish Productions at the historic Canon Theatre), cast members Danny O'Carroll (as local boy Buster Brady) and Gary Hollywood (as Dino Doyle, companion to Mr. Brown's son Rory) couldn't keep straight faces, as O'Carroll, consciously but keeping in character expertly chided them. One telling moment saw Hollywood's lack of composure become so acute, he was doubled over hysterically laughing into his hands. Rather than being unprofessional or distracting, the reaction worked beautifully with his character's extreme horror within the context of the scene. After all, extreme horror and extreme giggles really do look the same at a distance. Salty and sweet indeed. (And, for the record, O'Carroll's deadpan response -in character -was, "I remember writing this – it wasn't this feckin' long." Ha.)

Other moments where O'Carroll purposely broke the fourth wall included his character's attempt to place a star atop the Brown Family Christmas tree. After trying a variety of chairs, s/he balanced on a railing in the set, and then took hold of the upper edge of the set itself. It was a good example of O'Carroll's extreme, and extremely happy, disregard for theatrical convention. He definitely play with panto, with improvisation, and with his castmates in the most jovial of ways, but when it comes to delivering the more serious moments, there's no horsing around. He goes straight for the heart, without any compromises. Talking with the lone daughter of the family, Cathy (Jennifer Gibney), Mrs. Brown delivers a heart-rending speech about the closeness of mothers and daughters, one that brings to mind possible parallels with fathers and sons, which is made all the more poignant with the knowledge of the comedian losing his own son some years ago. The square emphasis on family, and on the ties that bind between people, generations, faiths, lifestyles, and ideas, couldn't be more apparent, F-bombs or not.



How Now Mrs. Brown Cow definitely has fun exploding a few proper theatrical conventions, but it also leaves you wondering just where you stand in terms of your relationship to family and those closest to you. Wandering down Victoria Street after the opening, I overheard comments confirming this connectedness. One man remarked to his friend that the title character "is so much like your own mum!" to which the man readily agreed, while another pair of friends noted that the show's premise, with its mix of stress and joy, "looks just like our Christmas." Several Irish grannies stood outside the stage door, one with a mobile phone to her ear.

"It's lovely show, just grand," one said, waving a cigarette around, "Now what time will you be over for dinner tomorrow?" Pause.

"Don't be f*ckin' late again."

Good advice.

Photo credits:
Top photo of Brendan O'Carroll as Mrs. Brown courtesy of Mirvish Productions.
Photo of "Shadowplay - O'Connell Street, Dublin" by Dave Walsh, blather.net
Photo of Moore Street courtesy of goperimeter.org

Aug 17, 2010

Across A Crowded Room

What surprised me most about attending the Toronto opening of South Pacific recently wasn't the smart Bartlett Sher direction, the hot dancing sailors, or the strong, ballsy singing. No, it was the fact that so many people I met and spoke with hadn't seen either the film or any other stage productions. Just like me! Here I thought I was the only SP virgin in the audience. Guess not.

South Pacific belongs, at least to my mind, to another time and place -one where everyone had a crush on either Mitzi Gaynor or Rossano Brazzi, the stars of the 1958 film version of the beloved Rodgers and Hammstein musical. The story, set on a tropical island during the Second World War, revolves around Ensign Nelly Forbush (Carmen Cusack) and her relationship with Frenchman Emile DeBecque (Jason Howard). Nelly's all fine and dandy canoodling with a man she hardly knows, until he introduces his Polynesian children to her, and she figures out he's been with a "coloured." Remember this musical is set during the 1940s, before MLK and the civil rights movement proper existed, and the ugly spectre of racism was still haunting every part of society.

Dated and yet weirdly timely in its attitudes and portrait of a closed, hypocritical paradise, Sher's multi-award-winning Lincoln Center production has kept every ounce of James Michener's intoxicating, if occasionally uneasy atmosphere from his Tales of The South Pacific collection. There's romance, there's boredom, there's a dangerous restlessness, and the huckster-slickness of island trade. There's also latent, if noticeable racism; for instance, the black navymen stand apart from their white counterparts in most scenes, even when they're dancing and singing. This is no never-never-land where supposed "difference" is ever forgotten. Never for one moment does Sher let us forget this is a very segregated, racist society singing those cutesy, toe-tapping songs.

It's also, at least to my twenty-first century feminist mind, staged to be vaguely chauvinistic -quite purposely. The hummable, weirdly addictive number "There Is Nothing Like A Dame" is sung by the gaggle of bored, restless navy boys, with heavy legs and wide gaits, like they all have the worst case of blue balls in history. The way they shout and enunciate their lines (particularly the pelvic-thrust-inducing "ANYTHING like ... a dame!") is both smirk-inducing and slightly disturbing. I got the feeling watching them that I wouldn't want to be stuck in a tiki bar near any of them. Sher's desire to portray, honestly and without the cute, coddling frills, the sort of wild loneliness that's endemic to military life -a loneliness that transforms into predatory, dangerous energy in such isolated, testosterone-fueled circumstances. You have to wonder what those soldiers would do if they all got to the island that's across the bay. At the same time, you can't blame the French Polynesians for locking their daughters away. Yikes.

Standing out as the pirate-like ringleader of this band of un-merry men is Luther Bellis, played with sexy aplomb by Matthew Saldivar. With his tattoos, bead necklaces, open shirt and goatee, he's like Captain Jack by way of New Jersey, and, to my mind, is absolutely magnetic whenever he's onstage, even if he isn't talking. He's just as good demonstrating his player attitude as he is conveying a boyish awkwardness, particularly in his scenes with Nelly. There's a beautiful vulnerability at work in those scenes, as we sense that, behind the aggressive boys-club aplomb is a truly good man who is all too aware of his position, both in and outside navy life. In short, it's a star-making performance, and I'm curious to see more from Saldivar in future.

The other notable performance comes from Anderson Davis as straight-arrow Lieutenant Cable, who comes to the South Pacific island as a Princeton straight-arrow, but is soon fumbling to find a center to the spinning madness. Davis is mesmerizing in conveying Cable's entrancement and accompanying panic with the new world the island shows him, notably in the form of Liat (Sumie Maeda), daughter of souvenir hawker Mary (Jodi Kimura). Sher brilliantly plays up the opportunism and exploitation at work in both Cable and Mary's machinations; the former, delivering a gorgeous, blistering "Younger Than Springtime", brings to mind vague, troubling hints of pedophilia, while Kimura's throaty, if hypnotic delivery of "Bali Ha'i" is sung like the huge, musical sales pitch it's supposed to be. She's played as a desperate mum eager to give her daughter a better life, and immediately recognizes Cable as just the man to do that. With her crooked grin, low-lidded gaze, and slow, deliberate walk, Kimura delivers a nuanced, fascinating performance that could easily fall into racial stereotype, but never, ever does.

As to the leads, Jason Howard (as Emile) has an amazing, beautiful full singing tone, and really fleshes out the emotional undercurrents of his character in his numbers (especially "This Nearly Was Mine"), but his French accent is sometimes more Pepe Le Pew than Paris, and his acting feels a bit too "Big Romantic Lead"-hammy at points. I don't want to see Emile trying to romance Nelly -I want to know he can (and does), and I wasn't always buying it. Maybe it was opening night jitters, or to much Wagner (Howard just came off of playing Wotan in the German composer's ring cycle in Strasbourg). As his love interest, Carmen Cusack is solid and reliable, with a beautiful, clear soprano tone. But... she's weirdly distant; her hot-blooded Southerner seems strangely Polar, and it takes away from the character's essential, unpretentious earthiness. The famous "I'm Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair" is staged with inventive choreography and props (including a vintage tropical shower), and the chorus of Nurses around her is certainly vivacious but there's something insincere in Cusack's delivery. I got the feeling she'd be more comfortable doing a solo show of R&H hits than getting her hair wet.

Perhaps most importantly, Cusack and Howard lack the crucial to make their scenes together really sizzle. A bit more consistency with the leads and a little more sincerity (though really, you can't fake chemistry) might make for a more moving experience, especially considering the theme of the work -racism -rises or falls based on the characters' sincerity. When her character finds out Emile's first wife was, as she put it, a "colored", she says it as though she has something unpleasant affixed to her shoe; never for a moment did I believe Nelly harbored a massive racist streak , one that serves as a huge symbol of the deep conflict at work within both the musical and it earlier forbear. Thing is, I needed to feel her utter disgust and repulsion -however uncomfortable -to really feel the full force of the work. I found it more with Cable, the sailors, and Bloody Mary than with the leads. Maybe I was just looking too hard for meaning, but I also believe Sher fully intended for the horror of racism to be keenly felt by audience members, and, certainly it is, at least in some scenes. It just isn't consistent, especially where it needs to be.

Still, there's no doubting the musical chops -of the leads, or indeed, anyone - for one minute; the ensemble belts out all the beloved Rodgers and Hammerstein hits like they were born to do it, and, in the end, I suppose that's what many -most -people come for. Between the Catherine Zuber's lovely costumes, Christopher Gattelli's sprightly musical staging, and Michael Yeargan's super-inventive sets, this is an evening of musical theatre you won't soon forget. And you might just look at the sunny film version a bit differently, too. Sometimes darkness amidst the sun and sand is a refreshing change. And sometimes, across a crowded room, you're smacked in the face with something ugly you didn't expect. It isn't always a bad thing, even if the sunshine is awfully nice.

Photo credits:

Photo of Matthew Saldivar and sailors, and Anderson Davi with Sumie Maeda, both by Peter Coombs.
Photo of Carmen Cusack and Jason Howard (bottom) by Kim Ritzenthaler.

Aug 15, 2010

Starry Night

Considering Toronto is cold at least half the year (if not more), anytime there's an opportunity to get outside, in the nice weather, to ... do stuff (read: anything!)... us locals take it. We'll even sit on a beach that isn't a real beach.

One of these carpe-diem-esque activities in watching movies out of doors. True, other locations around the city have had this very-same activity -including screenings at the loud and cruelly bright (and equally chaotic and utterly manky) Yonge-Dundas Square. I love Y-D Square for live music shows and some other live events (World Cup time is always interesting... if a bit dangerous if you're a small woman) but for movies? Hmm. Would it be silly of me to want something intimate in an outdoor arena? Or is that being a bit... outre?

Enter Open Roof Films. Started by a group of art-minded Torontonians (including Michael MacMillan, former Executive Chairman and CEO of Alliance Atlantis), the series has a special focus on showcasing Canadian talent, as well as building community among the vast network of Toronto's numerous cultural and economic pseudo-villages. I interviewed one of the founders of this newly-minted series a couple weeks back on the radio, and during that interview I was told the series is based on a similar idea out of New York City, and arose from that, as well as casual conversations between people who just... love movies (a lot), and, like me, were seeking a way of bringing people with similar passions together. Seated in a group, illuminated by a screen's glow and a canopy of stars, one becomes enraptured with the night, the sound, the music, and the crowd. Really, you can't much more intimate.

Part of what gives the Open Roof Film series this special brand of intimacy is its location; situated in the parking lot of a local brewery, the space is nestled between a raised highway (and Lake Ontario) to the south (and yes, you can actually see the lake), the thick-set brick building of the Amsterdam Brewery to the West, and a massive screen and sound system to the north . The East opens to the spectacular light show of the CN Tower and the cluster of skyscraper in the financial district. You're close enough to the lake that you can actually see stars when the sky darkens. A gaggle of portable chairs is set up where the seriously filmy-minded can situate themselves, while a wide bar runs the length of space at the back, for the more social among us. It's a nice set-up that encourages interaction and conversation, while providing a respectful option for those who want to sit and concentrate.



Not that there was a whole lot of that happening the night I attended. This Movie Is Broken, the film featuring band Broken Social Scene, was being screened, and the evening had the distinct feel of a gigantic party, much like the band's own concerts. Observing the crowd swaying and smiling (some even danced), I couldn't help but wonder how many had (or hadn't) gone to see Bruce MacDonald's movie when it was shown in a cinema proper. How much did being outside on a beautiful summer night influence their decision to see it? To go to a place where they could drink beer, smoke, dance with their girl/boyfriends, and laugh and chat with their friends? Probably a whole lot.


This Movie Is Broken is just the sort of film that was perfect for an outdoor film series; with a romantic storyline interspersed with some genuinely excellent concert footage (taken from a Toronto show last year), MacDonald's dreamy, gorgeous homage to love and music was a genius choice to play at Open Roof Films, and a great example of the power of outdoor event to draw disparate group of people together. While the age of attendees ranged from anywhere between 25 and 40, there was no "average" anything (other than the challenging parking, which is de rigeur in Toronto, alas). There was a nice casual vibe to the entire evening, even though the audience maintained a respectful (ahem, Canadian) silence through much of the movie's running time.

It was interesting when, peeking through the brewery windows (that lead to the loos) at one point, seeing the tiny dots of enraptured faces sitting mute and staring at a screen as the CN Tower flashed sades of blue and red past them. It says something about the power of cinema, music, and togetherness that simply can't be replicated in a multiplex. Combined with the gorgeous after-film visuals of artist Brian T. Moore and the shining skyline, one couldn't help but be intoxicated. Noise, motion, light, stillness, silence -and lots of gravel: I think this is the beginning of a beautiful romance... or maybe a re-introduction to an old lover -movie-going -I thought I'd forgotten the smell and taste and touch of. What bliss.

Aug 11, 2010

Appropos Of Nothing



Get on your celery glove.

Somewhere, somehow, Dali is twirling his moustache and cackling.

Aug 9, 2010

The Last Dance

Last week, Andy Warhol would've celebrated his 82nd birthday.

There's been a flurry of interest around his work the last while. The National Gallery of Canada's Pop Life exhibit, running through September 19th, covers Warhol's artistic and aesthetic legacy via living artists like Tracey Emin and Damian Hirst, as well as Warhol contemporary Keith Haring and some later works of the man himself. I'm dying to see it. There's something eerily timely as well as timeless about not only Warhol's work, but his world-view and observations on (to paraphrase Oscar Wilde) the deep superficiality of popular culture -something many of us take for granted. I have to wonder what he'd make of the internet too, especially (ahem) blogs on the arts. Hmmm.

Another Warhol exhibit I'd love to get to before it closes is the one happening now through September 12th at the Brooklyn Museum. Thirteen New York recently had a fantastic little feature on their Arts round-up about the exhibit, called Andy Warhol: The Last Decade. It features 50 pieces from 1978 to his untimely demise in 1987.

As curator Sharon Matt Atkins notes in the WNET clip, the exhibit provides "an opportunity to see another side" of someone most people associate with Marilyn Monroe prints and soup cans. Pop proper was only seven years; Warhol's career spanned over forty. The show looks like it has a distinct focus on Warhol's painting activities, particularly those he did with Jean-Michel Basquiat. Some pieces bear a distinct stylistic similarity to Jackson Pollock's untamed, energetic works. There is a palpable reaction to polite painting techniques of the past, with Atkins explaining how Warhol and assistants actually urinated on pieces to produce various patterns.

The work with Basquiat is especially moving; each one shows a mad dance of inspiration, competition, and robust masculinity at play, though, interestingly, the lines between each artist become less and less distinct in paintings that span the three year collaboration. There's a kind of passing-the-mantle in artistic and spiritual senses too, which makes their shared output even more poignant when you consider that Basquiat himself passed a year after Andy. In fact, this Thursday marks 22 years since the Haitian-American artist died. Weird.

That blurring between the two doesn't diminish Warhol's work-horse, style, however; the effect is rather the opposite, because it clearly shows the scope of Warhol's curiosity and imagination. And just looking at at his Last Supper series reminds me of Lou Reed's comment in a past interview where he recalls the white-wigged artist calling him "lazy." Warhol as workaholic? The last decade of his output certainly implies as much.

I have to curb my own workaholic-ism in order to get away to see these exhibits. With the rain pelting down lately and the turn of seasons just around the corner, spending a few afternoons in Ottawa and Brooklyn feels like the absolutely right thing to do -and a great way to muse over what Andy might've been doing if he was with us now.

Painting credits

Top:
Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987). Self-Portrait, 1986. Acrylic and silkscreen ink on linen, 80 x 76 in. (203.2 x 193 cm). The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Founding Collection, Contribution The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. © 2010 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Middle:
Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987), Jean-Michel Basquiat (American, 1960-1988), and Francesco Clemente (Italian, born 1952). Origin of Cotton, 1984. Mixed media on canvas, 50 ½ x 71 in. (128 x 180.5 cm). Private Collection, Courtesy Galerie Bruno Bischofberger, Zurich. © 2010 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Bottom:
Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987). Self-Portrait (Strangulation), 1978. Acrylic and silkscreen ink on canvas, ten parts, 16 x 13 in. (40.6 x 33 cm) each. Anthony d’Offay. © 2010 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.