Thursday, September 30, 2010

Movie Lover, Part 2

As I was saying yesterday, there were two significant events that altered my experience of watching movies. One of them was auditing a class with a friend of mine at York University. Out of a series of scheduling difficulties as a young mother trying to study art in a university with it's outrageous schedules...I landed up sitting in on a film lecture series with a friend at night. I always loved movies and had even had some experiences where I was beginning to learn how to articulate feelings and the movie viewing experience and to start to see movies as something other than entertainment.

I also explained how I wasn't exposed to the kind of cynicism about movies, the movie business and the aesthetic experience that is common today. Now everyone judges movies by box office, by whether or not it's Hollywood, or independent or for kids, or for women or mindless action or CGI, or sell-out or lowbrow. Or because they had such and such actors. So many people dismiss movies just because they don't like an actor or a director, or because they think it's too popular or mainstream. I was very lucky to land up in that film lecture with the fascinating Robin Wood.

Robin Wood didn't differentiate movies by popular versus artistic. He separated their quality and value by whether or not they were promoting "the establishment". As far as I could initially understand he believed that Hollywood couldn't produce movies that contradicted the status quo...which he believed was that the two foundations of North American society was patriarchy and capitalism. Believe me, when he first began speaking, i was so naive sometimes i didn't feel I understood what he meant.

I had no idea about his stature in criticism, I was there to watch movies with my friend, and maybe get some cake and coffee afterwards.

But Robin Wood changed my life.

I don't remember every movie we saw during that season, but I remember most of them. I think I remember them because every time the class was over and the movie had played and his lecture concluded...I felt like I had had reality pulled away from me, I had walked out of Plato's Cave. I don't think I knew who Plato was back then though. I just knew my eyes were opening up to a new way of looking.

I'm a terrible student and a very slow learner. This is true for when I was young and its still true today. I also didn't grow up with any kind of savvy about the world, or the human mind. I arrived at York University very unskilled at just about everything, but especially, about how to "read" movies or literature beyond entertainment value. I voted for the NDP to my parents horror, and was vegetarian and punk, but that was about the only self-conscious political action I had in my life. I more or less believed that socialism was better for all the people in a community than other systems of capitalism. (yes, socialism is a facet of least in Canada, it's focus is small-business and the community)

But I didn't know much else. I learned about politics from the lyrics and lifestyle of the popular band The Clash. I knew about the middle east, south america, dead-end economies all from listening to The Clash.

How can I explain the influence of Robin Wood on my small brain? Okay...he had an interesting format to his lecture. We were scheduled to watch Rear Window so the week before we watched it he showed us the first ten minutes. You know where we see the windows of the NY apartment complex, people moving about, and a cat walking up the stairs, Jimmy Stewart asleep, Grace Kelly wakes him with a kiss, he has a camera on his lap, his leg is broken in a cast and then Kelly turns on three lights...while saying her name out loud.

The projector goes off...only the first ten minutes and then Robin Wood talks about the images we just saw for about an hour. He says the cat represents Grace Kelly's sexuality. What? i thought my head popped off my shoulders. He says Stewarts broken leg is his castrated self, the camera is his virility and manhood, and that voyeurism is used by Hitchcock to make the viewer complicit in the events. I'm totally paraphrasing Wood and probably badly...but you get the gist. i simply had never heard these kinds of concepts and interpretations before. i was stunned. I don't think I slept that night and I couldn't wait to see the rest of the movie. That is the first time I watched Rear Window and it has remained in my top ten list ever since.

Compare what Robin Wood said to The New York Times review when the film came out in 1954:

Mr. Hitchcock's film is not "significant." What it has to say about people and human nature is superficial and glib. But it does expose many facets of the loneliness of city life and it tacitly demonstrates the impulse of morbid curiosity. The purpose of it is sensation, and that it generally provides in the colorfulness of its detail and in the flood of menace toward the end.

Robin Wood not only showed us artistic auteur movies like Rear Window but he also embraced popular movies including the horror genre. Among some of the films he showed he would focus on a way of approaching interpretation in a literary manner. With the movie It's A Wonderful Life he said it contained a thesis supporting socialism. Bringing Up Baby explored the philosophical notion of "the other". I had no idea what he was talking about most of the time...but he sent me off trying to work out these puzzles.

Wood also thought that many popular movies were great opportunities for studying history and prevalent views of the eras they were made. I totally was blown away. I again had just never thought of these things and was not taught to look at the history of narratives in this way growing up. We watched several mainstream popular movies and discussed what they told us about the world and the human condition by their stereotypes. Robin Wood didn't ever ever critique a movie in that class by saying it was either "bad" or "good". To this day, I still rebel when someone can only say a movie is "bad". For Robin Wood movies, especially popular movies, were windows into our culture and the human condition.

I I have written about Robin Wood on my blog before In 2006. And i am sort of repeating myself here with this post if you compare the previous entry. But this week on one of my online bookclubs, his name entered my mind...and later I looked him up on google. Robin Wood passed away last year and so I felt he was due some note here again, at the risk of repeating myself. I always had a democratic approach to movie viewing but Robin Wood taught me that it is an heroic way to appreciate movies regardless of whether they are "good or bad". And he taught me to watch out for Hollywood movies because they may not be able to portray reliable narrators when it comes to oppression. He felt movie and storytelling critics had the responsibility to help us see the oppression around us. And his main objection to the two foundations of North American society which are patriarchy and capitalism were that they corrupted relationships.

I think he was right and I thank him for that lesson too.

Here are the movies that I remember we saw in his lecture, and I had not seen any of these movies before, this was my introduction. I thank Robin Wood for that too. Just looking over that list of 14 movies I am so impressed by it's variety and that many of the movies were wonderful love stories, which makes sense seeing as Robin Wood was the ultimate soft=heart for studying the human and their relationships. R.I.P. Movie lover.

Singing In The Rain
It's Alive
Oh Lucky Man
Rear Window
The Manchurian Candidate
Bringing Up Baby
Some Like It Hot
Citizen Kane
It's A Wonderful Life

Related Links:

1) an interview with Robin Wood
2) Why Robin Wood matters
3) From Vietnam to Regan and beyond
4) New York Times obit.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Editor Extrodinaire, R.I.P.

No matter whether you like his movies or not, Tarrantino's movies are worth respecting just for the editing alone. Can you imagine the laughs and pacing of Pulp Fiction without that precise editing? Tarantino's writing style incorporates the visuals of so many edits it is hard to not be amazed by how the films drag a viewer along.

Tarantino's editor, Sally Menke, has passed away today.

Tarantino has been quoted as saying, "The best collaborations are the director-editor teams, where they can finish each other's sentences," and that Menke was his "only, truly genuine collaborator."

Tarantino used to say "Hi" to Sally as he was making film anticipating the long hours of solitude she would be working under when it came to post-production. See above video.

Sally Menke's editing is probably the strongest foundation in the movie that died with lacking critical acclaim and box office, All The Pretty Horses. One of the best things about that movie is the editing.

Movie Lover, Part 1

Two significant moments in my life changed how I experienced watching movies.

There are some people who we cross paths with or have even the smallest encounter with and they influence us our whole lives. Like most of us, I have several people like that in my life. And some of these influencial, or inspiring people I barely knew, they may not even be friends or family. One such person for me was the Prof from a film class I audited. I didn't know him, didn't sit and talk with him, didn't know much about his life, or he mine...but his influence was massive. When I first moved to Toronto to study art and film I was late for the fall registration so i landed up taking a couple of classes at night and on the weekend. I took a hands-on film workshop downtown at Ryerson university. We made a short film during that course as a group of about 20 of us. It was a lot of fun, with real filmmakers as our teachers and I made a few friends. I also had a friend who was taking a film theory class at night at York University where I was taking a couple academic courses. I had a small child and couldn't really attend classes full time. I managed to get a friend to babysit at night and I asked the Professors of this night class if I could audit their program.

I had always liked movies growing up. When we lived in a small town sometimes movies were the only activity for kids and teens. I often would see the same movie a couple of times during it's run. The movie theatres didn't get first run big blockbuster movies as they were released. They optioned on B-movies and movies that had already gone through a first release in big urban centres. So we were years behind, or sometimes decades behind seeing movies. I think the total lack of entertainment for kids created a sort of democratic approach to judging movies. We were just damned glad to see any movie.For girlfriends and I probably saw The Birds about three times when it was shown on Vancouver Island at our little local theatre. My best friend and I thought Suzanne Pleshette was a god because she gets her eyes pecked out int he movie. We adored her. We saw oscar nominated movies usually years later than when they first were released. I guess there was such a difference in price for theatre owners they knew teens would watch anything so they didn't care except to make as much profit as possible.

I really remember taking all movies at equal value. i didn't differentiate the quality or acting between a made-for-tv movie or an Oscar nominated movie. I just liked a good story and movies were a growing obsession. My family always went to the drive-in as I was growing up and they also spent a lot of time talking about movies. Especially when my parents saw something hip and controversial. i remember my parents talking about movies and thinking...I wished I could see them. I remember them seeing movies they would try to talk about so my sister and I couldn't hear what they were saying. Movies like I Am Curious Yellow or Prudence and The Pill or Bob and Carol, Ted and Alice. I distinctly memorized these movie titles so i could watch them someday and see what all the fuss was about.

But for the most part...i thought all movies were the same. I remember the first time I saw a movie and it really freaked me out. It freaked me out because when I left the movie theatre I felt completely humbled and I thought "Gee, there might be more to this movie thing than I thought". I was about 15.

I was in Kitimat B.C. way up by Alaska and it was Halloween. Horror movies have always been big business for theatres and when it comes to halloween it is like the theatres major time to schedule horror movies and make a few bucks. I think this must be especially true for the kind of small run down movie houses I was going to as a teen in Canada. I went to a double bill with a bunch of my friends. the two movies were The Daring Dobermans and Don't Look Now.

I didn't think about directors back then. They were completely off my radar. I had several favourite actors though and would get very excited if they were in any movie. I loved Pacino, Sutherland, all the actors in the Godfather, Richard Harris, Bette Davis, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, Louise Brooks, Clint Eastwood, Marlon Brando, Elizabeth Taylor, Joan Crawford. And Suzanne Pleshette. She got her eyes pecked out by birds.

I watched the oscars for as far back as I can remember in my life. In order to see the actors.

so I knew going into the double bill, it was Halloween, we wanted to be scared and Donald Sutherland was in one of the movies. I thought the Daring Dobermans was fantastic. I love stories with interspecies relationships. All my favourite novels and movies often have interspeies relationships. I grew up enjoying animal adventure stories and I still to this day prefer novels with animals in them. So, I loved the premise of this movie it was a bunch of bank robbers who had trained their dogs to do heists. How great is that? Let me remind you, I did not differentiate between B-movies or even tv movies. I don't even know if I'd ever heard the term B-movies until i was older. I really liked this dog heist movie...but the second film blew my mind.

I was scared by this second movie in a really new way and I also had the overwhelming feeling that how this movie was made was unusual and significant. It's a psychological suspense film set in Venice and the imagery contains a conscious use of the colour red. A red ball, a small child in a red raincoat, a ghost, a small person, an axe murderer and aman with psychic powers. It was at that time the most incredible movie experience. i felt I had my head opened up and mysteries and magic were being employed on purpose. It's the first time I wondered..."who made that movie?....

I have since seen every movie that film director made.And all of them were compelling. His name is Nicolas Roeg. He is known for a deconstructing film style.

Roeg's films are known for having scenes and images from the plot presented in a disarranged fashion, out of chronological and causal order, requiring the viewer to do the work of mentally rearranging them to comprehend the storyline. They seem, in the words of one critic, "to shatter reality into a thousand pieces" and are "unpredictable, fascinating, cryptic and liable to leave you wondering what the hell just happened. . . ."Roeg displays a "freedom from conventional film narration," says another, and his films often consist of, at least, an "intriguing kaleidoscopic multiplication of images." Often, Roeg will edit his stories in disjunctive and semi-coherent ways that make full sense only in the film's final moments, when a crucial piece of information surfaces; they are "mosaic-like montages [filled with] elliptical details which become very important later." These techniques, and Roeg's foreboding sense of atmosphere, have influenced later filmmakers such as Steven Soderbergh, Tony Scott, Ridley Scott and Fran├žois Ozon. (from Wiki)

I went back to the movie theatre and watched Don't Look Now a couple more time during it's run trying to understand what made the movie so compelling and thereby awakening a new way of thinking about stories for me.

I love the memory of seeing Don't Look Now and how it was a paradigm shift for me as a young person who loved watching movies.

I began this post about an influential Prof...and since I have written such a terribly long post...I will continue my reminiscence in Part 2, tomorrow.

Do you remember the movies that gave you a jolt? Or a shift in how you looked at things?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Now Showing

Quite a few movies have just come out that we want to see. So we tend to get a little movie plan in order and this week here are some we are going to see and I am pretty excited.

Stagg and I both loved the Freakonomics books...and now there is a movie!

We're also going to do a double bill of Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps and The Social Network. When I first heard there was a "Facebook movie"...I thought why? How can they make a movie about a guy who writes coding all day. Like film a guy writing coding? But then I saw the trailer and that two of my favourite artists are involved. David Fincher is the director! Fincher made several of my favourite movies...Seven, Fight Club, The Game and Zodiac... So I perked up when I saw him on this film. Then Aaron Sorkin! Who wrote The West Wing and The American I really am curious now.

I also have a review of I'm Still Here in the works in a day or so...

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Cool Article

Yes, it's true. I read a fair bit. Like a lot. I read a lot of non-fiction and I read several magazines a month and I have been loyal to these magazines for years and years. Like Spin Magazine. Or ELLE Decor. But I get really excited when my Vanity Fair subscription arrives in the mail. Heart palpitating. I love how even if I think I won't be interested in a topic, the writing is so good, I get caught up. I am not a big fan of biographies. I probably read about one biography a year. It usually is about someone I am fairly obsessed with. The thing is, I prefer the art of a person, and really don't study too much about their life. There are exceptions though. The first biography I ever read was about Charlie Chaplin. I was about 15 and I couldn't put it down. It was juicy and shocking about all the young women he was with and after I read it I felt sad. I also read a couple of books on Buster Keaton. I am nuts for Buster Keaton and I also read about Louise Brooks and Fatty Arbuckle. See a theme here? I really used to love old silent films. Which astounds me today about my young self. It just seems so cute. We used to go to see old silent films all the time. I also went through a phase of big bands. When I was about 17 and in Calgary I used to go with a couple of friends to dance to big bands that would pass through town. ( I also used to sneak into disco bars to go dancing). Anyways...I really was a little nutty for the swing. I loved the swing resurrection in the 90's massively. This month's Vanity Fair has an incredible except from a biography about Frank Sinatra by James Kaplan. You can read this whole excerpt online here. I really recommend it. It's so good I think I'm going to get the book.

Riding, riding through the night. As the rest of the band played cards and laughed or told dirty jokes or slept and snored, Sinatra sat by himself in the back of the bus, his jacket folded over his eyes, with one thought in mind, over the Rockies, across the Great Plains, across the unendingly huge country that did not yet lie at his feet but would: On the bill at the Chicago Theatre would be Tommy Dorsey.

He was one tough son of a bitch, the second son of a horn-playing family from the coal-mining hills of eastern Pennsylvania, one of the starkest places on earth. He was just 35, but 35 was more like 45 in those days, and coming from where he’d come from, and having done what he’d done, Tommy Dorsey had a hundred thousand miles on him. He was five ten and ramrod-straight, with a square, pitiless face, a hawk nose, cold eyes behind little round glasses. He looked just like a high-school music teacher—he knew it, others knew it, and he tried to shift the impression by dressing more elegantly than other bandleaders (he had an immense wardrobe, more than 60 suits and sport jackets) and standing taller (he wore lifts in his shoes and tended to pose for the camera with his trombone slide extended alongside him, to emphasize the vertical line). His ambition was titanic, his discipline incomparable. He could (and often did) drink himself into a stupor after a gig, sleep three hours, then get up at six A.M., play golf, and be as fresh as a daisy for the day’s work. No matter how long the road trip or how taxing the engagement, he was never seen in rumpled clothes. He did precisely what he wanted, when he wanted, took shit from nobody, and played an absolutely gorgeous trombone. “He could do something with a trombone that no one had ever done before,” said Artie Shaw, who was stingy with compliments. “He made it into a singing instrument…Before that it was a blatting instrument.”

Dorsey had a massive rib cage and extraordinary lung power. He could play an unbelievable 32-bar legato. What he couldn’t do, precisely, was improvise. He hopelessly idolized the legendary Texas trombonist and vocalist Jack Teagarden, a great jazz artist, a man who could transform a song into something new and sublime and dangerous. Dorsey didn’t transform; he ornamented, he amplified. But when he blew those glorious solos, measure after silken measure seemingly without a pause for breath, you forgot about jazz: Tommy Dorsey made his own rules. His theme song, “I’m Getting Sentimental over You,” spoke for itself—and gave him a deliciously corny nickname, the Sentimental Gentleman of Swing.

Isn't that just wonderful?

here is a Tommy Dorsey piece...

this one is really beautiful...

and Stagg wants me to send you over to his place to hear Sid Vicious sing "My Way"

Do you read biographies?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

What Does The Future Hold For You?

"The Son of Man", by Magritte
and "Golconde"

Right from the start there was a contempory sound attached to the trailers for Boardwalk Empire. Dead Weather and Jonathan Tyler & The Northern Lights provided songs for different trailers. Still...I was surprised when the opening credits of this new HBO series began. First I was more surprised by the surreal setting of Steve Buscemi looking like a Magritte painting. Then a very electronic sounding guitar works it's way into the visuals. The surrealistic atmosphere continues with massive amounts of booze bottles floating everywhere and time lapse photography in the clouds. Buscemi's feet get covered with the rising tide and waves...then the water recedes and his shoes are bone dry. What?

Something is going on here and we are being shown that this project has a self-conscious awareness of it's history and somehow ties into us today. Why? What? The music for the opening sequence is none other than the brilliant band Brian Jonestown Massacre. Wow. What the heck?

Production rumours had already circulated about the rigorous research and attention to details this program was making from building an entire recreation of the Atlantic City boardwalk (in Brooklyn) to a purists wetdream of a soundtrack. Really, a pop band from today was included in the opening segment? Really?

The soundtrack is incredible. I had to look as soon as we finished watching the first episode to see who had worked on the music. It is Randall Poster who did the music for one of Stagg's and my favourite movies, Velvet Goldmine. They also did the music for School of Rock, The Darjeeling Limited, The Life Aquatic, I'm Not There and Zodiac all outstanding soundtracks. Poster has found some beauties for Boardwalk Empire and it's going to be a lot of fun just to try and catch and identify these songs in the new series.

Martin Scorcese is all over this first episode. From the clothing to the montages and the result is really good and violent and compelling. I was really impressed with the casting and the actors are super charismatic and solid. I was especially surprised by Michael Pitt (Last Days). I love Steve Buscemi though.

Buscemi is just one of those actors who is capable of making you care about him. Maybe it's his huge eyes. He's been in a lot of great movies often not playing a lead. One of the first times I really fell for him was when he was cast as a lead in Living In Oblivion and I remember thinking, wow, he's more sexy and compelling than I originally had thought. I had always seen him as a sidekick. He was lively and handsome when playing that lead. I went to Germany in the late 90's and was taken by surprise that Buscemi was in a major ad campaign. He was suave and handsome in print ads and billboards all over the city and I was impressed that in Europe he was recognized as a real stud. Of course. During the days of 9/11 my girlfriend and I hunkered down in her basement ordering in food and watching the news 24/7. We just didn't know what else to do. We stepped out only to buy special editions of the newspapers. A Toronto paper issued an afternoon edition with a picture of the Twin Towers on fire and the word "Bastards!". (how very Canadian huh?) We watched all kinds of interviews and just went nuts. One segment had a firefighter recalling the day before. He said his firehouse was digging through the ruins and there was tons of smoke and through the smoke they thought they saw a ghost. They saw a man in old firefighting gear digging through the wreckage. They went over to him and his fire uniform was decades out of date. He pulled off his mask and it was Steve Buscemi. He used to be a NYC firefighter and he just grabbed his old gear and headed down to help.

The deal was sealed for me then. I will watch every thing Buscemi ever does. I only loved him more.

And that very quality of compassion and action is powerful in Buscemi taking this role as politician and scoundrel. He managed to be violent, and greedy, decadent and loving and he supports this longform story already. I can't wait to see what happens to his character and this town.

So why a contemporary psychedlic punk rock band playing the opening segment?

At one point in the premiere episode Buscemi's character walks past a fortune teller on the boardwalk and looks in to see a gypsy reading a palm. Painted on the windows is the question "What does the future hold for you?" and we also see the words inverted. Making such a story about the past gives us a choice if we want to tell the rotten truth and we have to turn it inside out from all the romantic images we have of victory from war, lively smiling singers and dancing, the partying, good old fashioned family values that are pumped into us all the time about "the past". Inverting the time period and exploring what made some of these corrupt citizens tick might tell us how we came to our society today. Scorcese says it's the "dark side of the American Dream". (he should know, he's portrayed the dark side with genius so many times with Casino, Goodfellas and Gangs of New York) We are connected culturally with the birth of organized crime in America to this era in Atlantic City, New York and Chicago. The problems we have with education, gangsters, the stock market are related to this war between prohibitions and opportunity to live the high life that emerged full force in the 1920's. Our urban centers are a direct time capsule of the people and desires of that jazzage rising. The music that was popularized by the nightlife then is also connected to the music we listen to today. In this way, mixing visual surrealism and an innovative band, The Brian Jonestown Massacre, with a moniker reflecting the violence of our own times , seeped in drug culture, somehow makes sense.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Don't Forget Dave Tonight!

It's the return of Joaquin tonight on David Letterman. I am so excited. I love me some Phoenix and his new movie looks brilliant. As good as Grizzly Man or Exit Through The Gift Shop !

I thought his Letterman performance was hilarious...Really in all the kinds of public anger and outrage that has been trendy in the last few years, the anger towards Joaquin Phoenix after his Letterman performance was probably one of the most perplexing.

I was also surprised how angry so many people in the media or viewers were about lady Gaga wearing a meat dress. I like it that these artists are doing something that makes people wake up and take notice or think about the significance of how we live. Yea artists!

(I posted about Canadian artist, Jan Sterbak, who made a meat dress a couple years ago. Politicians had a meltdown about spending money on art)

Card Lessons

I almost always travel with a pack of cards. These are ones I had with me traveling back and forth the States and Canada the last few years. One is a generic deck I got from a casino. Another is the Iraqi Most Wanted deck I got as a gift from my brother -in-law when we were in D.C in 2001. And the Happy Faces are just a smooth sweet deck I like to play Solitaire with sometimes. I will play solitaire when i'm processing thoughts or trying to make a decision or am trying to write or think something out. An almost compulsion. One of my best friends plays Solitaire on her computer every morning. She played so much she had to give her self new restricitions by only allowing herself to play hearts on clubs and spades on diamonds. That's compulsive. Ha ha.

I love playing cards. Probably the main thing I miss about not being in Toronto and the move to Chicago is I don't know anyone who plays cards. Usually i am part of some card game about at least once a month for decades. My sister and I grew up playing Crib. Our greatgrandmother was a wicked Crib player as well as one of our grandmothers and we just basically could play it in our sleep since we were old enough to count. I'm sure that's how we learned to count!

I'm not the best card player...but I'm okay. I'm decent at Crib and Canasta. I'm okay at Poker. I miss playing Poker a great deal. often after a shift bartending a few of us would start up a low-stakes Poker game (20 bucks). I also miss playing Poker with a group of friends in Toronto. we had a couple years where we had Poker night once a month. I lost a few bucks to Mister Anchovy on one occasion but thats another story. Mister Anchovy and I also used to play Canansta for a while. I have never been able to beat him at Canasta...but I can kick ass of everyone else I've ever played with in Canasta.

I love the history of Card Games too. I love card shark stories and card movies and card tricks, and, I have even made decks of cards myself. I once created a character for a film who was a homeless guy, who had a handmade deck of crads that I constructed. i still have that deck of cards. He was an oracle of sorts and read fortunes with his handmade deck. The magnificent Aidan Devine played him in our 16 mm 25 minute short film called "Poodle". I have a ol pal from the late night Poker games after the bar who is a card hustler. He was a protegee of Harry Andersen. He had this repertoire of tricks and he would never take a bet unless he knew he would win. Which was a nice thing to know when you played Poker with him.

Stagg doesn't play cards. I was kind of surprised the first time I realized he wasn't a card player. It was almost inconceivable to me. I would guess that game playing is a pretty major thing in Canada. We have long cold winters and playing games is a national past time on some level. So...I've been threatening to teach Stagg how to play cards for a couple of years. He was afraid. He sees cards as some mysterious activity he was never privy to. I'm like we can do this. so we did some analysis. He vaguely remembered playing Fish. Okay. good start. Any other card things? He said he might know how to play War. I had intended to begin by playing really. but when he said he sort of had played War...well then we can go straight to Crazy Eights for our first lesson and game!

We got some snacks set up on the kitchen table, some beverages and off we went. Stagg was a born card player! I beat him the first three games...after our fake run of going over the rules. And then he beat me the next four games! All right. I am so excited!

I am a fairly strict teacher of card games. i don't have a light touch. I'm kind of staunch that way. But...I am super patient so it evens out. I'm like that with most of life...and it's probably from playing cards. It's an understatement to say i don't have a light touch.

There is a huge number of variations of this game, and many alternative names. It is sometimes called Crates, Switch, Swedish Rummy, Last One or Rockaway. In Germany it is Mau-Mau; in Switzerland it is Tschausepp; in the Netherlands it is Pesten. Some British players call it Black Jack, which is unfortunate as it can lead to confusion with the well-known American banking card game Blackjack. (From here) And...The name Crazy Eights dates to the 1940s, derived from the military designation for discharge of mentally unstable soldiers.( From Wiki).

We're going to keep up with the game of Crazy eights for a while till he is ready to learn Crib. Crib is a lot more demanding.

Cribbage in England is primarily a pub game - indeed, it is one of the few games allowed by Statute to be played in a public house for small stakes. A game of low animal cunning where players must balance a number of different objectives, remain quick witted enough to recognise combinations, and be able to add up, it is perhaps not the most obvious of games to be so firmly associated with the English pub. It is a game where experience counts for a great deal - though luck, of course, has a large part.

It is also a game where etiquette is important. The rituals associated with cutting and dealing, playing and pegging, as well as the terminology, all serve the useful purpose of keeping things in order - and they help to give the game a flavour of its own. In card playing, as with food, authenticity matters.
Also from here.

According to John Aubrey, cribbage was created by the English poet Sir John Suckling in the early 17th century, as a derivation of the game "noddy". While noddy has disappeared, crib has survived, virtually unchanged, as one of the most popular games in the English-speaking world. The objective of the game is to be the first player to score a target number of points, typically 61 or 121. Points are scored for card combinations that add up to fifteen, and for pairs, triples, quadruples, runs and flushes.

Cribbage holds a special place among American submariners, serving as an "official" pastime. The wardroom of the oldest submarine in the fleet carries RADM Dick O'Kane's personal cribbage board onboard, and upon decommissioning it is transferred to the next oldest boat.
(From Wiki).

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Verse Speaking, Poetry, Re-Visiting

I love Youtibe so much. How did we live without Youtibe all these years? I don't know how many people this video would I guess I'm posting it here for my own reference and as a way to keep track of the interview. A few of us are reading Antony and Cleopatra and we often track down various performances online or rent film versions of Shakespeare's stuff if we can find it. A friend in Britain found this and I thought it was fantastic. I have never seen Trevor Nunn speak before and it was delightful to see Patrick Stewart with so much hair. Weird! Stewart compares two performances he does of the charming Enobarbus in the play, once in 1973 and then later in 1978. His second exploration of the character is very close to how I see the play. I feel Antony went through an initiation ceremony and he is awakened to a way of living that is Egyptian in its spirituality and magic and a huge contrast to Roman logic and materialism of his time.

Some crazy word counts in Antony And Cleopatra:

Three, 7
Three-nook'd, 1;
Thrice-nobler, 1
Triple, 1
Triple-turn'd, 1
Treble-sinew'd, 1
Triumvirate, 1

and words with etymologies from three:

tribunal,1 (related to tribe)
triumphing, 1
triumph'd, 1
triumvirate, 1
triumph, 1 (the OED links triumph with a three tiered arch)

Fortunate, 1
Fortune's, 2
Fortune, 25
Fortunes, 17

World's, 2;
World, 42
World-sharers, 1

epiphora: A rhetorical term for the repetition of a word or phrase at the end of successive clauses. Contrast with anaphora (rhetoric). Also known as epistrophe.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Check This Out!

This is so cool from a record company in Nashville...

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Thursday, September 16, 2010

And Yet Even More Wallpaper Photos

We took some of my wallpaper downstairs to the back alley to get a look at it the other evening. We laid the wallpaper out along the building so cars could still get by if they needed to. I'm standing on the second floor fire-escape and a lot of the photo is out of focus...but the florescent "tree" shape is the area of painting that the camera could focus on. I have been using about %99 recycled materials.

(above) You can see Stagg in the upper left hand corner of photo to give you an idea of scale. I took this pic from the third floor.

I've got a small container of watered down black paint so I can "take notes" on the laid out wallpaper.

These are two separate pieces but I can see now how to attach them...and I'll tape them up on my studio wall to do so...

Back upstairs...I made a set of paper to go between the two segments and glued and painted them to blend.

The following two pictures you can see some of the details I fixed up in these sections and finished off. Stagg is holding up the next section which I haven't attached yet to the far left of the picture.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Response Song

When I bought my first copy of David Bowie's Scary Monsters I remember the strange feeling of listening to a "song sequel" of Major Tom, titled Ashes To Ashes. How amazing! Revisiting a character in a song! I was stunned and exhilarated because I had no experience, or rather, no awareness of the idea of "response songs". This practice is more easily tracked in radio and recorded popular music but two of the most classic response songs come from older songs, in the blues, by Muddy Waters responding to Bo Diddly, (Mannish Boy and I'm A Man) or Buddy Holly responding to his own work. (Peggy Sue and Peggy Sue Got Married)

What do you do when you write a dark, evil novel filled with aimless, cruel, addicted people who become wildly popular and sentimental favourites to readers?

Kill off your novel with a sequel. That is what Ellis has done. In the same way when David Lynch created an frightening lexicon of images and characters in the mini-series Twin Peaks and networks gave him an opportunity to create an actual tv show...he had to hit us over the head. Evil is at home. Evil is not supernatural. The original mini-series tells us who is "BOB" (the name of the devil in the series)...but the packaging was so wonderful we wanted more and seemed to miss the thesis!

I was/am a huge fan of the novel Less Tahn Zero. So I guess I am partly responsible for Ellis having to go back and hit us over the head with "these are awful people"...and god, why on earth would I want to read even more about them?

Well, I did. I don't know why. Maybe because I loved the novel, and it was a so-called voice of my did encapsulate what it felt like to be a young person in the 1980's. It had violence, drugs, sex and existentialism and the feeling of hopelessness. Duh. It was brilliant.

Sentimental? No. I don't believe I was sentimental...but the movie version of the novel...and the fact that almost every hip urban person I knew had also read it and loved it and felt it reflected something about urban life, contemporary life...meant something. I also went on to follow all of Ellis's novels and am a big defender of American Psycho. To this day, I think it is one of the best novels out there, surely from the 80's. I put it alongside Blood Meridian and Cities of The Red Night.

Imperial Bedrooms will bother a lot of readers. It is sick and disturbing and depressing. What becomes of the 1980's characters who were sick, sadistic, addicted, lazy, remote and how could you build a plot about them in the future? How could you take it up a level and what could be worse than rape, drugs and mindgames? Hollywood.

I was excited to see Bret Easton Ellis interviewed on Tavis Smiley a couple months ago. Tavis wanted to address a few things about the sentimental attitude towards Less Than Zero (the movie version is beloved) and the generation involved which includes Ellis and Smiley (and me). You can see this interview here. I find Ellis very well spoken and interesting. He says something cool about American Psycho..."about a lot of things happening in financial world today. I think (American Psycho, sic) is a portrait of those men (AIG, Goldman-Sachs) when they were very young". Ouch.

Imperial Bedrooms isn't for everyone. I don't even want to recommend it to you. It is depressing. It is violent and perverse. There is something wrong with the people in the novel, but that's the point. Ellis has been likened to Philip Roth and F. Scott Fitzgerald, and I think those are good comparisons. But I see Ellis as more closely related to Jim Thompson, Raymond Chandler, William Burroughs and Aldous Huxley. He has always portrayed his culture at the very moment of it's setting...and this new novel is really in the noir, transgressive genre, like those writers Huxley and Burroughs and Thompson.

Imperial Bedrooms is also quite beautifully written. There are parts of the novel that are so poetic and one was more surprised than me. Except when I read his other recent novel, Lunar Park. Ellis plays a terrific "meta-fiction" kind of trick in the beginning of the novel which allows him the complete freedom to murder off any sentimentality us fans might have harboured for the original novel. He writes a response song that reveals passivity and composure might just be evil in disguise. In Ellis's world being a mannered successful person isn't all that cool. The quiet ones are the bad guys. And like the Lynchian worldview, if you don't act, then, the killer is inside you.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

In The Studio...

Just a little bit more work on some wallpaper. i also have some small canvases while I'm working on the wallpaper...I can knock out some small paintings for busking while working on the larger wallpaper. I did some washy style stuff...then added more white onto the globular strings...and then by the bottom, I added a dark outline. Done and done for this section. Can use some of the same colours for the smaller paintings. Time management people!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Walking/Exercise Part 2

We went for another crazy walk for getting some exercise. This one took us about 2 and a half hours. We were pretty tirred when we got home. Here are a few pics from some of the fun things we saw...

How could we resist this place? We had packed some lunch with us...but when we saw that this joint served "Ghetto burgers" we had to try one. also Oreo Milkshakes! The Ghetto Burger was delicious with old sharp cheddar and hot peppers. Wow!

Grandma Stagg, R.I.P.

We spent most of the weekend with Stagg's family and friends and heard so many memories and stories. Saying goodbye to Grandma was really hard but everyone pulled together and the services and reception were really lovely and she would have been pleased.

I entered the Stagg family after Grandma was not mobile, but she was full of love and life for her family and she welcomed me as if we knew each other all our lives. The whole family totally accepted me and welcomed me to their huge network, especially after we got married (two years ago next month). Grandma couldn't dance like she used to but she was very mobile emotionally and had a great love for company and people. She was of a generation that believed in family, neighbours and friends all getting together for any occasion. In this way, she really reminded me of my grandmother who was similar in her extended capacity for opening their homes to everyone. On any given holiday during the course of the day a trail of family would appear and check in with each other, even if it was only once a year. This kind of draw seems so rare these days when people must move all over for work, or separate due to dysfunction or lack of focus, interest or the false feeling that we have "lots of time".

Grandma seemed to know that "time" was best spent with others...making food, serving food and sharing food with each other...for any excuse or reason. Grandma would light up when Stagg and I entered the room as if we were the only people around. She really had that special quality. As soon as Stagg saw her last week, she asked "Where's Candy?"

Stagg's cousins had made a poster board of photos from over the years and we're going back a hundred years of family picnics, celebrations and just household happenings. it was really amazing. there was Grandma in her sexy 60's dresses. there was Grandma in a halter top at Disneyland! there was Grandma in her flowers and lace for communion, in black and white photography. There is Grandma and Grandpa when they got married. It was amazing to see Grandma up and about...doing the polka at a church picnic. A whole life recorded hanging out with everyone who came to her final visitation. Among the stories and memories shared was that Grandma and Grandpa danced on The Lawrence Welk Show!!!

Whenever i would go to visit Grandma, I would sit on the floor beside her big comfy chair where she watched all her "stories" and hold her hand. The tv was always on full blast and she really had a lot of opinions about popular culture, politicians, and was sure to share them.

One of the main reasons that we have stayed in Chicago was because as soon as Grandma heard that Stagg was in love with a Canadian, she was so afraid he'd move far away. It has really been an honour to be here and to have been so accepted by the matriarch of his family. One of the most overwhelming feelings the past couple of days was a sense of dread that we wouldn't see the same people we have seen because Grandma's house was a meeting place.

Grandma's children created a weekend of beautiful respect for her life, and we were all able to make sure we not only said goodbye to Grandma in style....but that we could also touch base with each other. Sometimes, it seems like we lose the importance of "rites of passage" in contemporary culture. There is a reason on so many levels why we have these "rites of passage" occasions...and one of them is to remember to stay in touch.

I don't care what anyone says...spending time with the people we love is the most important thing we can do. Staying loyal to our friends and family as best we can...despite all our various flaws and follies is one of the most life-affirming acts.

it is so easy to get tricked into the illusion that "we have lots of time"...or that friendship or relationships with family, neighbours is something we can do when it's convenient. Or if this relationship doesn't work out...we can find another. It's so easy to not practice tolerance and patience with our friends and family and their flaws...we expect people to be perfect. Grandma was a woman who loved even when people weren't perfect. i can vouch for that.

But most of all...Grandma Stagg gave me a second chance to experience family that was so close to my own Grandmas approach to life and community...and I am so grateful.

From the Chicago Tribune...

Mary B. Stagg, age 96; beloved wife of the late Frank; loving mother of John (Leona), Frances (Gerald) Lukasik, Maryann (Patrick) Quinnett, and the late Robert; cherished grandmother of Kim, Anthony (Candy), NoeIle (Anthony), Kathy (Stan), Nathan (Kim), Renee (Brennen); proud great-grandmother of Jack, Aidan, and Alex; dearest sister of Chester Hudyka, and the late Edward, Josephine, Helen and Genevieve; dear sister-in law of Ted Stagg; loving aunt of Diane and many nieces and nephews. Visitation Friday, 3 to 9 p.m., at the Skaja Terrace Funeral Home, 7812 N. Milwaukee Ave., in Niles. Funeral Saturday, 9 a.m., to St. Eugene Church for Mass at 10 a.m. Interment Maryhill Cemetery. Funeral info: 847-966-7302

Click here to read Stagg's beautiful post for his Gramdma

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

A Long Life

Stagg's grandma passed away this evening. Stagg was at the hospital yesterday to visit her and she was a trooper, but she took a turn tonight. I'm going to write a little something about her in a couple of back then. Stagg's doing okay. You know, grandparents are the best and it's hard. Back in a couple of days...

Exercise Part1 ?

We have been making a set up plan of walking trips. The map above is where we walked yesterday. It was just over 4 miles. I usually pack a lunch and we get an area we want to check out in the city. A couple weeks ago i had landed up on my own at a new Whole foods store which is the size of a small town. I had to get Stagg to check it out because they had tons of wine, and the store features a wine bar. So we walked from our place to this neighbourhood over by Steppenwolf. So yesterday we landed up walking past the pizza company Peqoud's that Anthony Bourdain had enjoyed so we stopped in impulsively and had a small deep dish pizza. It was pretty good. I would say it is tied for the other deep dish pizza I like at Ex Chequers. I am still not a convert to deep dish, but those two places make the ones I like the best.

Isn't that a beautiful label? Our point in getting to this particular Whole Foods is because it is so huge and has a wine and cheese bar! We ordered a Portuguese wine and the one above which i forgot what it was. We had two plates of antipasto too. Stagg was pretty freaked out how big the new store is and we walked all around the layout. All I bought was yoghurt...of course. It's a dollar cheaper at Whole foods per package than Jewel grocery store. We had an amazing afternoon of walking. We walked over 4 miles and it took us an hour and a half to walk a little slow but we're getting warmed up.

How about those snacks huh? Delish!

Monday, September 06, 2010

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Second Shot

There are fair bit of movies I've seen 2 or 3 maybe even 5 times. Then there are a lot I've seen 10 or so times. And a group that I've long lost count how many times I've seen them. I am a Star Wars and Indianna Jones freak and have seen them beyond counting. 50? Yeah, probably at least 50 times. And then I've lost count how many times I've seen Apocalypse Now, Citizen Kane, Rear Window, Vertigo, Breakfast At Tiffany's, The Deer Hunter, The Matrix, Casablanca, The Wizard Of Oz or The Godfather series. I just can't tell you. Probably 20, 30 times.

I was at my friends Jenny and Monique's house the other night and babysitting their two kids. The kids had gone to bed and I started channel surfing and The Deer Hunter had just started without I thought, "Hey maybe I'll watch this..." It is a little dark to watch on your own but I felt like I was really tired and maybe I'd get into it although I have seen it so many times. I hadn't seen ot for a number of years though, maybe ten years since I last watched it. It really turned out to be an incredible experience watching it the other night, almost as if I hadn't seen it before. I can't say i gave it a second shot since I'd seen it so many times before but I really hadn't expected to see something or feel something different. I was very surprised how experimental it felt. I was quite jarred when the movie moves from Pennsylvania to Vietnam just like that in mid-manuever to find DeNiro's character passed out cold in a military battle. I just didn't remember how innovative the narrative was in this movie. I also didn't remember that there were 3 distinct Russian Roulette scenes. I knew there were two. The movie is structured in such a way that it is cut into three Acts. The 3 suicide games appropriately mirror or accent that structure. I was also surprised how absolutely attractive and beautiful DeNiro, Christopher Walken and Meryl Streep look. Meryl Streep is a good looking woman and in Bridges Of Madison County she seems sexier and more beautiful than she had all through the 80's and 90's. But I think her looks just weren't fashionable in the 80' to the masculine athletic preppy looks of supermodels Evangelista, Crawford and Brinkely. Streep is more of the etheral beauty of Faye Dunaway and Kate Moss. Christopher Walken is gorgeously androgynous...and I hadn't ever thought of him as being good looking before, but somehow it's like i saw him for the first time in this role. He is delicate and thoughtful and shy which makes his storyline even more tragic.

-The Deer Hunter was partly an amazing film when it came out because there was a rule against making Vietnam movies at the time. Also, the film deals with family abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, suicide, and without a morality looks at how patriotism sometimes makes us not ask questions.

-The movie seems massively sensitive and forward-thinking of its times and profound today as it did when I first saw way back when. There are so many layers you could explore with this movie...the town of Pennsylvania is a Russian (Rusyn) American community. Russia is communist, Vietnam was resisiting the Communist invasion, America also resisted by invading Vietnam....and then the game of Russian Roulette. So many cultural labels and layers are delicately here but without heavy moralizing and with poetry.

-Sure, it's an anti-war movie, sure Michael (DeNiro) doesn't want to kill anymore, something has happened. In the idea of patriotism and customs and following the responsibilities of our culture was the idea of not thinking or questioning...and the repercussions of going to war under that kind of climate. But...the other night I noticed something that not only can traditions and customs control us and cushion us from challenging our life...they are also comforts when we are tramatized or under duress. When the friends sing "God Bless America" in the past, and with many critics the image is one of a cynical attitude towards patriotism. I saw it as Dzunda's character is making them breakfast and there is a lot of sorrow and tension (because Michael/DeNiro brings back the suicided Nick/Walken). A funeral is an uncomfortable social setting. Contrasted with the heavy rituals and customs of an Orthodox wedding in the movies opening where traditions guides the community...again tradition guides the community. In both celebratory and in tragic circumstances.

-I did some reading and one of the actors was in end-stage bone cancer and Meryl Streep was engaged to him. The producers didn't want to keep him on the movie and he couldn't get insurance. But Streep and the director both refused to work if he wasn't allowed to keep his part. He knew he was dying and he wanted to finish his last role. DeNiro apparently paid for his insurance.

-And...notice the photo above? I was so taken aback when I saw the ring leader of the gambling joint conducting the betting on Russian Roulette after the match stand in that pose. I wondered if that is where B-Boys, Breakdancers and Rappers adopted that stance?

I think giving movies that excite or challenge or mystify us a second shot is one of life's pleasures.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Some 70's Music

We have a place down the street we really like to eat at, in fact, we ate there three times this week. They have a killer Cobb Salad which I ordered all three times we went there in the last few days. I've posted pictures of Glenn's Diner here before. click on the hypertext to see visiting with my daughter and one of her friends from Toronto. Glenn's Diner isn't really a diner but has some of the best and freshest seafood in the city. Which makes it kind of mental I always order Cobb Salad. I don't know if it's me or what but we've run into a number of places that are playing super cloying 70's music. The cafe I worked at was also playing it all the time but I figured that's because my boss really liked that era and style of music as it was popular with the U.S. invasion of Vietnam when she left to move here. Most restauarants and bars have to deal with how to play music and pay royalties so often they subscribe to a satelite music venue that they pay for which covers the royalties on songs. Maybe playing the top 40 70's tunes is some kind of cultural backlash against all the classic rock stations out there. Well, you can't really have a dinner restaurant and play classic rock unless you're the Hardrock. Most people don't want to hear The Killers, U2 or Dylan while they are eating or visiting friends in public eating establishments. (that's why i go to the Hardrock...they aren't playing Terry and Susan Jacks or the equivalent Britney Spears). Anyways, this era of pop music has been on in a lot of places lately. I don't mind it. I don't even hate it. Sometimes it even gives Stagg and I a good laugh, some Neil Diamond, Edward Bear, Al Stewart, Jackson Brown...sometimes a little cocaine-fueled overproduction makes for some humourous easy-listening. The thing is...what does put me on edge...I keep thinking my parents are about to start fighting.
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