Tuesday, February 9, 2016

GASLIGHT: WEAPONS SHEATHED IN THE FLICKERING LIGHT

Once upon a time there was a movie called Gaslight. I remember watching it when I was quite young and being bored because there were no cowboys in it

I caught it again, years later, in my early teens because I realized it had Ingrid Birgman in it. Yes, I had grown away just a bit from cowboys. This is a 1944 film also starring Charles Boyer and directed by George Cukor. I remember watching the film, I remember enjoying it but aside from the bare bones of the plot, I don't remember much else. After all, there were no space ships in it

There is an earlier version of Gaslight, from 1940, which I've never seen.

I recently learned that both movies were based upon a play, from 1938, written by Patrick Hamilton. I can now say that I've seen that play ... well yes I can, actually. Because there is a new production of Gaslight running at the Ed Mirvish Theatre

The Mirvish Theatres love to run big productions: Kinky Boots, Titanic, Cinderella (yes, Cinderella, it was great so shut the fuck up) but it's nice every now and then to see a smaller more intimate production. Gaslight qualifies as such. The entire play enfolds in one setting, the living room of a Victorian house in 1800's London. There are seven characters in the play and two of those are essentially walk ons

The plot, as well, could be typified as "small" A psychological drama, really, about a young wife and her powerful husband and her very delicate state of mind. The Victorian setting is perfect in many ways. The temporal atmosphere; a foggy London night, creepy old houses, the flickering gaslights that give the story its name

Also perfect are the social conventions of the Victorian era, where women were expected to defer to their husbands and that the questioning of that authority could be seen as hysteria, and madness

Mrs Manningham is just such a woman and here husband is the kind of man who make any woman begin questioning ... things. Mrs Manningham begins to question her own sanity. Is she forgetting things, is she misplacing things, is she taking a picture down from the wall and if so why and if so why can't she remember These are questions of some import, her own mother died in the madhouse and Mr Manningham is quite afraid that he may have to send his wife there, for her own good

Yeh, right. That doesn't stink at all, does it

It stinks so much that shortly into the play a detective, or former detective shows up. There is history here, and suspicion and like all good Victorian stories, something nefarious going on behind locked doors in the attic

The storyline veers between mystery and psychological thriller. When Gaslight adheres to the latter, it gains it's greatest strength. The interplay between the married couple provides the play with its most powerful moments

Power comes from the performances. The wife is portrayed by Flora Montgomery and she has a heady task ahead of her; she has to keep her Victorian housewife authentic but we need to see her as a fully capable woman, both victim and hero, at the same. Montgomery is more than up to the task. She gives us a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown, a young wife clinging to her husband for strength, a woman who realizes that her strength must come from within and a woman who finds her voice all combined together. It is a credit to her performance that we never

Power also comes from the performance Owen Teale as the husband. If you watch Game of Thrones you will know, and despise, Teale from his portrayal of Ser Alliser Thorne, the lovely gent who is responsible for the death of John Snow

Take a breath. I'll give you a minute

So, another villainous turn for Thorne in this play. And damn, the man is good. He exudes a slow, smoldering rage that threatens to erupt at any minute. His sense with Montgomery, when he is attempting to impose his will upon here provides the production with some actual goose pimply moments

Another Game of Thrones alum graces the stage here. Ian McElhinney plays Ser Barristan on GOT, recently slain in his service to the Khaleesi. He plays Inspector Rough here and strikes the only off key notes in the play. He wants his detective to be more Columbo than Holmes; a doting old man disguising a steel trap mind. Problem is, occasionally, he is just a bit too jaunty and humbly. He had a little issue with his lines but being a professional was able to sail past it, with aid of his cast mates

The plot of the story is not exactly complex but it doesn't need to be. The meat of this play is in the interplay between husband and wife, a kind of battle where the psychological knives are sheathed for most of the duel and only bared at the end; but a deadly battle at the end. Montgomery and Teale are more than up to the task and when they are locked in they battle of words, you can't take away your eyes

I could have used much much more of that duel but I'll take what I was given and be happy about it. And every time the lights flicker, I'll be looking up at the ceiling (Now you have to find the movie to know what the hell I'm talking about)






Thursday, January 21, 2016

THE MUSICIAN MAY DIE, THE MUSIC DOES NOT

It's been a rough couple of weeks for music and those who love it

As I write this Glenn Frey of the the Eagles has passed. Earlier, of course, David Bowie died. And shortly before that, Lemmie of Moorhead shuffled off his mortal panhead

It's sad for anyone who was a fan of these musicians. It's remarkable when you think about it, that you can actually be saddened by the passing of some person whom you've never met. But that's how music affects us, it literally affects us, in that it can change our mood, our emotions, perhaps even our outlook. It's powerful stuff and when one of our artists dies, it can affect us powerfully

I've written before about this compulsion we seem to have to try to quantify things. Everything. And yes, to some extent, you can quantify music. That note was off. That refrain is derivative. What the hell kind of rhythm is that. But you can still like the music. It doesn't matter, even if you can quantify the piece of art, it can not and should not change how you feel about it

Yet there are those who want to do exactly that. They are called music critics. And generally, I guess they do that job cuz their local McDonalds wasn't looking for new help

Some of the stuff written about the Eagles has me wondering if some of these so called critics actually listen to music or even enjoy it at all. I have a feeling they don't care. Because a lot of the crap I have been reading is more grade school social commentary than music appreciation

Apparently I should hate the Eagles because they are from California. I should hate them because they were really successful. I should hate them because they made music that people wanted to hear. I should hate them because that over their career they generally stuck to their guns, musically speaking

The proximity of Frey's death to Bowie's was an unfortunate temporal event. Although people shouldn't compare the two, of course they did. Bowie was an artist who had a major impact on music, whose career spanned decades and who constantly reinvented himself. The Eagles were integral to a sub genre of music, California southern rock, they also spanned decades and they really never tried to reinvent themselves, even with the late addition of Joe Walsh

Bowie was probably a genius. Frey was a gifted songwriter and performer. You liked them or you didn't Really, that's what it comes down to. I am a huge Bowie fan, I've been listening to his music since high school. I am not a huge Eagles fan but I enjoy a lot of their music. If Take It Easy comes on the radio, it's getting cranked

I can give you reasons why I like both artists. To a degree I can quantify why that is. If we were discussing music, I may share that with you. As you would with me. But really, that doesn't mean very much in the long run. The long run is all about how the music affects you, how you relate to it, how you feel. There is no right and wrong in this

I guess music journalists have to write about something. It's actually a pretty specious exercise. Cuz, you know, they can't tell you how to feel about music. They can tell you how they feel and that can be legit but it has nothing to do with how you feel

But these articles are trying to do exactly that; here is how you should feel about the Eagles. And since they can't really speak to our emotional and deep personal connection to music they have to come up with all this grade school sociology and weak urban commentary to justify their point. The point is, they have no point. It's just air. Black marks on a white screen

Yes, and these are my black marks on a white screen. This is my air ... you may want to open a window. But I'm not trying to change your mind about how you feel about music. I could not and I would not (I channelled Dr Seuss just for a moment there)

What I'm trying to do is the opposite. Love the Eagles. Revile the Eagles. Worship David Bowie. Think David Bowie was a weirdo (though he'd take that as a compliment) It doesn't matter how I feel or how anyone else feels

You feel. That's it. Just do that. Just play the music and feel it

Roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair (Bruce Sprinsteen) And when Lemmi grunts out The Ace of Spades, just turn the radio up








Saturday, January 9, 2016

WURDS BE DIFF OCCULT EH

Yup. Words. So tough to deal with sometimes. So obtuse. Good thing we don't need them in order to communicate. Eh

Two stories that highlight the problem with trying to communicate with words, one from the big old scary world and one from less big but equally scary personal world

Let's start with the real world. A tale of words and how the enemy of all humanity, Political Correctness, wants to use them to control our very thoughts.

Laurentian University in Sudbury has a psychology professor named Persinger who teaches a course in which he uses "salty" and profane language. In this day and age where our precious little school students would rather Instagram than think about things they find icky, he realized that some of his pupils would find this language offensive and, god forbid, "micro aggressive"

So Persinger had the students sign a waiver. It included examples of the language which included the f bomb, the c word (no, not cat) and an insulting term for a homosexual person that resembles an old expression for a bundle of sticks. If you didn't like this sort of language, perhaps this course would not be for you

Well. A student complained. About the form. About even having to think about something they may find offensive and dealing with it. "Er, you want me to decide what I find offensive? Um no, Mommy said I don't have to think. You think for me, and just don't offend me. Or I will cry. And Mommy will sue you"

Well, universities, apparantly these days, are places for suppressing thought, not encouraging it. So when the little darling got his Gap nappies in a twist, the administration came to his rescue. "There there darling, no need to think, this institution of learning will save you from that. Now just make sure Mommy keeps writing us those cheques"

And Persinger has been pulled from teaching the class. The admin says this has nothing to do with freedom of speech, it has to do with the prof overstepping his station and asking the students to sign a contract. Tsk tsk. The university does not allow this sort of thing, this is interfering with curriculum and had they been aware ...

Well Prof Persinger has been handing out these forms for ten years. On the recommendation of his dean at the time. So, yeh. If the admin was unaware of this practise .. well let's just say I find that concept fishie as fucking hell (You did sign the waiver before reading this post didn't you)

Now, I live for irony and there is some major pants swelling irony at play here. The course that the prof was teaching? It was on the power and impact of language. Hence his use of possibly offensive words. THE WHOLE FUCKING POINT OF THE COURSE WAS THAT SOME PEOPLE GIVE WORDS THE POWER TO OFFEND. Well, I guess we now know that that is true.

For the love of god, if the little sphincter of yours that mommy wipes every day cannot deal with "bad words" why the hell sign up for the course in the first place.

Of course, the Political Correctness Nazis know all too well the power of words. And they want to take them away from us

OK big sigh now. And let's move on to something not quite as contentious. I know you need to dry your eyes and wipe your sphincter

I walk dogs. Or rather, I play with dogs. I play with them in a private lot owned by the man for whom I work. It's a fenced in lot, with trees and grass. It's in an old industrial area just on the northern border to Toronto's portlands. It is tucked behind a waste management company and a bus garage, there are no signs and there is no yellow brick road. It is private and we like that you can drive right by the place and never know it's there. In this city where people poison dog cookies in public parks, we like our anonymity.

I describe this place as a park. I always call it a private park. And oh my goodness, that seems to confuse some people.

When I say park, even when prefaced with "private" people think they know this place. "Oh Cherry Beach, I go there"

No, not Cherry Beach. That is a public park. This one is private.

"Oh yeh right, I know the place, south of Lakeshore"

No, we are on Lakeshore, the north side

"Right, in the offish area"

No. You are thinking of a public park. This is a private park

"You can't have a public park"

Well, we do

"Right, I know where that one is ..""

Yeh, big sigh.

Wurds bee diff occult

Friday, January 1, 2016

THE ROM POMPEII EXHIBIT: THE LIVING CITY THAT DIED

It's a new year so let's start it off with a little death, shall we. In actuality, a lot of death

In the year 79 AD the Italian resort town of Pompeii, and its sister Herculean, were destroyed by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. It has become one of the most famous volcanic eruptions of all time, and one of the most well known mass tragedies of human life

The carnage and sadness has been brought to Toronto through an exhibition at the ROM. It's the Holidays, let's go celebrate!



On that day 2,000 people lost their lives, many to suffocating ash, some to the boiling pyroclastic flows from the volcano. What the ROM always does well is giving you an opportunity to see beyond the numbers and get an impression of what the town was, before and after the tragedy, and who it was that lived there


The first part of the exhibit gives us glimpses of what life in Pompeii was like before the eruption. Most of the pieces are arranged to show us the bustling, living town that was kind of the little jewel of the Roman empire at the time. They loved their theatre and they had two, both of which would have been as good as any in Rome at the time


Theatre was not their only form of entertainment. Of course they loved their gladiators and they sported a coliseum long before Rome did Here is some gladiator armour excavated from the site


But it wasn't all violence in old Pompeii, on no sir. You gots to have some sex mixed in with that, and golly gee, did they ever lover their sex. Prostitution was legal in the pre Christian Roman empire and the citizens of Pompeii were very much into expressing their legal rights. There were many advertisements for brothels and even in the homes of regular citizens you could find art depicting a wide variety of, er, adult fantasies, like this nymph being seduced by a satyr


Like all Romans, the people of the city sure did love them some religion. Not only worshipping their own gods (well the ones they liberated from the Greeks) they were eager to bring more exotic deities into their households, in particular the Egyptian goddess Isis, around whom they manufactured their own particular brand of worship. They worshipped something called Isis and their town got blowed up .. yeh, let's leave that one alone


The people of the town were fairly wealthy by common standards but in the long run they were just people, into their gardens and the bounty of the sea on which they feasted



Who knows what the future had in store for the city of Pompeii. Probably it would have grown, it would have lasted, maybe as a resort town you could visit today. But Vesuvius had other plans. In the course of a day the volcano wiped out the city. And years later it was rediscovered, literally dug out from a mountain of ash. Ash that fell down from the sky, burying all those humans, hardening, remaining intact as time dissolved the bodies and left their impressions so that archeologists could pour in plaster, and in a sense, reanimate the citizens of Pompeii


Some sought shelter in wine cellars yet were still overcome by the ash. Some left their shelter when the ash seemed to stop falling, only to be caught by a pyroclastic flow. Humans, overcome by something greater than themselves




Some seemed to be able to come to peace with their fate, and simply waited for the darkness to take them



 Humans were not the only ones to fall to the volcano. The people of Pompeii loved their dogs, as evidenced by this famous entranceway tile. Cave carnem it says. Beware of dog


And beware you should be. He guarded his house right till the end.


All sad stuff, much of which I knew, or had read about. But the exhibit brought the reality home. By giving me a view of Pompeii as a living, vibrant city, I truly felt the tragedy of its death. Sad that all those people died. But the remnants they left behind, even the impressions of their own bodies, really serves to remind us of their lives, lived so long ago


Monday, December 14, 2015

Y I DO THESE THINGS, I DON'T KNOW

I was in my yurt playing yahtzee with a yeti when you began yelling about yawls on the Yellow River filled with archers with yew bows. The yeti yelped  about wanting fresh yams could we go yonder to the Fresh Mart but you were still yowling about the youthful archers on the yawls so I placated you by giving you some Young and Restless videos for which you always yearned.

I yawned as we watched the show and thought I should go weed the yard but you passed me a bowl of yogurt that you bought in Yonkers and and that was great cuz I always had a yen for yogurt. The yeti began yodelling and you broke out some yarn to knit him a sweater.

The yogurt was pretty yucky so I yielded to temptation and ate some yolks instead. You yelled "Yikes!" and told me that that "that's no yolk, that's boiled yucca"

Of course you were wrong. Cuz, you know, these are the yolks folks



That was in my head. Now it's in yours. You're welcome



Friday, December 11, 2015

HEIL THE DONALD

Oh The Donald

I have been trying not to pay attention to Donald Trump and the republican sideshow happening in the US. I try not to pay attention to Trump in general

I've watched The Apprentice. I knew very little about Trump before that. He built stuff. He was some sort of shady real estate guy who began building a casino in Atlantic City and didn't finish and got called on for violations and said he was out of money then he finished it and said the gov't somehow needed to support him. He seemed very typical of North American big, big business people who found ways (campaign funding, pork barrelling, threats of job loss) who maneuvered governments into supporting their bottom line, with everything from cutting regulations to special tariffs to tax breaks

Whatever. Dime a dozen in our much ballyhooed "free enterprise" system

Then I began to watch the Apprentice. The first seasons, before it became a detox centre for washed up "celebrities" I liked the little marketing assignments the participants went out on, it spoke to some facets of my education. And I learned something.

I learned that Donald Trump is a moron. No, really. I'm not just talking about his opinions. Smart people can have stupid opinions. I think I'm passably bright and I think William Shatner is one of the most interesting actors alive. I feel that this belief is insightful and well informed, other people have expressed that it is stupid. In the words of the noted philosopher Patrick Swayze in Roadhouse, "opinions differ"

Beyond his beliefs, Trump is just not bright. The man could never catch even the most obvious cultural references, even ones available to people his age. It was clear this guy lived in some kind of Faberge bubble, he had very little clue what was happening out in the world. He struggled with his vocabulary. I was often shocked by the words he did not understand. Someone would use a Grade Ten level word and The Donald would throw up his hands and proclaim "I've never heard that before"

The guy claims he graduated college. It was a business degree but really, his vocabulary is about the Grade Eight level

I don't think he really listens to people or doesn't have the capacity to understand them or both. He sure as hell doesn't possess critical thinking. If someone made an analogy he wouldn't get it, he's very literal. He would take someone's innuendo at face value and could not be swayed away from it. If it was pointed out to him that he misunderstood some reference he would grow angry and embarrassed and shut down; smart people, when faced with something they don't understand, figure out a way to acquire that knowledge. Stupid people just get angry

So, through his current run in politics I've just not really cared what the guy says. He's a moron. He's going to say moronic things. That's how it goes

But I paid attention to the dumb guy when a smart guy recently made a comment about him. I'm a fan of Kareem Abdul Jabbar. I think he is one of the greatest pro basketball players of all time. No argument. Don't even try. He is at least top two, I don't care what you think. Let's just move on

But I also like Kareem the man. He's a bright guy. He's made mistakes in his life, he's gotten things wrong. His early experiences with racism had him turn to the Nation of Islam, the Black Muslims, as a way to feel better about himself. Of course that organization was akin to a cult and used the religion for their own often criminal agendas. Kareem has admitted that he was wrong about all that. He remains devoted to his faith but he knew, as a young man, that he had been hoodwinked and taken advantage of. He's been able to learn from that and make himself better

That's what smart people do, after they've done something stupid

In a recent article, in response to Trump's proclamation that a president of the US should deport all muslims, Kareem compared The Donald to Isis. He was using terror, Kareem contended, to bend people to his will

Comparisons to Isis have become the new versions of comparing people to Hitler. If someone was presenting a point of view contrary to yours, certain people would compare them to Hitler. Now it's Isis. Here in Toronto we had a taxi strike, the crabbers can't compete with Uber X and they don't like it, one driver compared Uber to Isis

In the case of The Donald and his comments about muslims, I would not compare him to Isis. For once, in a very long time, you could actually compare him to Hitler and be in the ball park.

Hitler isolated a large part of the population by a religious/cultural/racial definition. Although numerous, these people represented a minority and a religious perspective that differed from the majority. He pointed at these people and said "Look, there is the enemy, these people are dangerous, even if many of them were born here, even if the majority have never participated in any crime, they are the enemy. They are different from us. They are the enemy"

He needed an enemy. He needed to take the focus away from his own designs in order to drum up popular support. It's the old magician trick of distraction. Don't pay attention to this hand, look at my pretty assistant. Don't watch me convert the nation's economy to war production, look at that Jewish bank over there

Donald Trump has no political platform. None. Zero. He is stupid. He need a distraction. He needs to prey on fear, he needs people staring at the burka so he can bust trade unions and put banks in his back pocket

I wonder if The Donald has figured out that, if he could actually deport every muslim, he could have access to all their assets. As did Hitler. Seizing all the wealth and assets of the Jews helped him prop up his shaky economy. Trump wants to fix the US economy. Perhaps that's his plan.

And perhaps Trump can follow the Hitler plan, for all those muslims he can't deport well they can be stripped of all their rights and used as slave labour. Hitler employed that technique to build highways. Trump could do that to build casinos

None of this could happen of course. There is no possible away the US constitution could allow millions of innocent people from being deported. Did people back in World War II Germany feel the same way?

In this case, no I don't think this can happen. But Trump is following the model and people are swallowing it. It's a popular concept among certain people. Stupid people. That makes me wary. After all, they outnumber us

Sunday, December 6, 2015

WHO INVITED GOOGLE TO THIS PARTY

"Let me look that up" "Hold on, I can find that out" "Um, no I don't think that's right, let me Google it" "Right, well I can find out who that was"

The internet, my friends is a wonderful thing. I've actually lived without it as long as I've lived with it and it is a wonderful thing. As is Google and all the ways we can search for infos and answers. Not 100 per cent reliable, not completely accurate but an easy and quick way to confirm some info or begin a more proper detailed search for answers

Google has its place. And its times. As do most things

But not everything has to be certain. Some things don't need to be answered, right now, immediately, at this moment. Sometimes, being uncertain is just part of being human

I'm a fan of conversation. Some would say I'm a fan of hearing my own voice but hey, what I do in my own bathroom with a Walter Cronkite wig is my business

Seriously, I love conversation. Just talking. Real talking, face to face. Texting and phone has its place but that's more for an exchange of information like "When are you coming" "Do you need me to bring anything" "Did I leave my Walter Cronkite wig there"

Real conversation: Unstructured, reactive, perhaps even meaningless but to be always remembered, always takes place face to face. Not face ON face. That's a whole different deal. Let's move away from that image. Quickly

People just sitting around, having a chat, seeing where it goes. Invariably there may be some discussion of cultural media; books, music, movie, TV. "Hey do you remember that show?" "Ever see that movie?" "Did you ever consider that Price Is Right is a conspiracy of American big business to get us to associated overly made up models with Kraft Dinner?"

There are answers to these questions, probably, but back before our wonderful internet we didn't worry much about that. We didn't really need to find the answers. Because the questions weren't important, in reality they don't mean anything. It was just part of the conversation. Just a jumping off point to the next topic. "Oh you know that movie, the one with the guy who does that thing" "Yeh I love that movie, and that guy he was in that other movie where he does that other thing" "Yeh, what was that movie called" "Oh it doesn't matter but you know the thing he does, I saw someone do that once and .."

And the convo continues. Making its own way, finding its own path, not being consciously guided, just wandering as we make these connections; oh you like that too? Oh you never knew about that? Oh you dated her as well .. um, how bout them Blue Jays .. that's a convo. An organic thing, moving from connection to connection

Now we have convo's with phones in our pockets and when someone says "who was the guy that does that thing" screens light up, eyes move down and thumbs start flying. The convo ebbs as we turn away from the connections created by our own thoughts to seek the connections created by our new electronic superconsciousness. Google enters the convo and there is always that risk that it will now be given an equal role

As you search for that thing it shows you another thing "oh hey look, did you see this" and the connections start sparking from the glowing box you hold in your hands. Is this so bad? Maybe not, perhaps it's just another way for the convo to flow

But I still like the organic path. Where we have eye contact with each other, not that glowing screen. And our mistakes or uncertainty have a part to play in that moment, in that convo, in that chimerical thing exists only for that moment, never to be repeated

Don't worry if we can't remember that name, that title, that date. It really doesn't mean anything. Sitting there together, bouncing ideas off each other, stoking each other's memory or thoughts, that's what important.

Put the phone down. Time to talk with Google later. For this moment let's just be human. And accept the fact that we don't know every single answer and that that doesn't matter. Because we're not knowing together


Q
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