Wednesday, December 31, 2008


As I write this it is now 2009. A couple of hours ago it was still 2008. Like, this isn't going to screw me up. By the time I finally remember that it is no 09 it will be 2010 ... are we going to call it '10? Now that is really going to screw me up.

The change of a calendar date has very little significance for me, especially this one . I mean, it just isn't natural. We are in the middle of a season, not the beginning of one (OK technically this is not the middle of winter but since we've had half a dozen major snow storms and its -22 C with the windchill, it sure as hell feels like the middle) so it doesn't really feel like anything has changed. It's been a year, but a year since what? Since the last time we said it was a new year ...

Perhaps this is me being incredibly egocentric (really Vic, you egocentric?), but I judge the new year from my birthday ... that's a year, folks. One year older, deeper in debt, and even more grey. Making me think that the year is changing now makes me feel even older ... gee, thanks a lot.

Was a time where the main significance of New Years was the part possibilities. I remember one year, in Kingston, just before I met Collette, I was still cooking; I was hopping into a cab in front of a hotel as Ma was hopping out of it ... yup, party party party.

Unlike Christmas, Collette and I have spent New Years in our own home, in our city. For a few years our New Years tradition was going to the Laugh Resort, a local comedy club, where you could have dinner on the main floor, go to the third floor to the see the show then to the sports bar on the second show afterwards. We loved that. It was in that bar that Collette discovered that the little green circles in the Nacho Grande were not olives ... OK, many cocktails had already been consumed and once she bit into it, she did indeed realize that it was a jalapeno.

We have also spent many New Years with my family in Kingston. We are pretty lucky in that my family does a New Years Day dinner where everyone comes together so if we spent Christmas up north, we could still see all of my fam. That was not on the agenda this year. Quite honestly, we were just too tired. If it wasn't for Collette's being alone on Christmas, we would have stayed here ...

So we decided to hang out in Toronto. The Laugh Resort is long gone (fuck you Mark Breslin) but they put on a "comedy extravaganza" at Massey Hall. I haven't seen this show, but it doesn't have the same funky feel to it as the comedy club and it was 60 bucks a pop, so we decided to pass on that.

Toronto puts on a free event at Dundas Square in front of City Hall. They call this First Night ... why isn't it New Years? Is there something offensive about the phrase New Years that we had to change it? No .. don't tell me .. I'm sure it would just piss me off. We briefly considered it, thinking it might be fun to do something outside but ... we didn't recognize any of the acts that were playing, we knew we would be jammed in there to the point that would get my claustrophobia ringing like a DefCon-4 alert, and it was going to be -22 C .... so the old folks decided to stay at home.

So I picked up a couple of sirloins, a bottle of wine, some shrimp ... and since we have been buying movies non stop since we got home from Christmas, we decided to just stay in, stuff our faces, and watch a few movies. Oh .. and I know this will shock you ... there was also beer.

So, a quiet New Years eve, but a very satisfying one. We actually went out last night. We went to a restaurant where the waitresses wore skirts that I thought were belts and they had half price margaritas .. and we went to see The Spirit. I may write more about this later, but let's say it was a unique movie, mostly in a good way. Hell, it has Samuel Jackson in a Nazi uniform, Scarlett Johanssen in lingerie and Eva Mendes in a wet suit ... really, how can you go wrong?

New Years is supposed to be this time to get sort of philosophical, reflect on the year just past and project to the one ahead. Um, sure. I ate steak, drank beer, cuddled with my woman, and watched movies where shit blew up. That's my notion of philosophy.

Happy New Year.

Friday, December 26, 2008


Yeh, yeh, yeh, it's been a while since my last post. My business has a large seasonal element to it which means the month or so before Christmas I am editing into the morning hours and dodging the whining calls from my studios on the cell phone.

Christmas also means our travelling season is upon us. Collette gets a couple of weeks off for the Christmas holidays and since our families live in different cities, we usually spend a good percentage of that holiday on the road.

In the 25 years that Collette and I have been together, we have never spent a Christmas by ourselves, in our own house. Look, for me, being as atheist as one can get, the only significance Christmas has is a calendar date to get together with our families so it is something I look forward to. Still, it would be nice to spend at least one Christmas in the city where we actually live .... or some southern resort getting sun burnt and getting some rum-inspired tattoo I just know I will regret later.

The other significance Christmas holds for me, is that it's the anniversary of my mother's death. This is not a sad occasion. Ma has been gone long enough, now, that I can use this time to remember her, the person she was, the major influence she was in my life, and how much I miss her.

Which brings us to this Christmas just past. Collette's father, Nick, has just moved into his new condo and although he has a room mate, Fred, it's his first Christmas without his wife. There was not going to be a big family gathering this year so we wanted to go up and at least cook the old guy Christmas dinner.

So up we go to Parry Sound. This winter our entire country has been inside a giant snow globe of crazy weather but if you want winter, go to the Canadian Shield. I cut a little video (at the bottom of this post) that will give you a brief a glimpse of a true Ontario Christmas ... even if one day was more snow than rain.

There was no room for us at Nick's place but luckily his old house had not closed yet .. but it was empty. So we packed up our double air mattress, one of my small monitors and the Xbox I got for Christmas, loaded up some DVDs, a couple of games, some beer (you knew there would be beer didn't you?) and set ourselves up all comfy.

Collette spent a lot of time with her dad and Miss Hayley and I tramped around town, taking video and playing with the ball and exploring the Fitness Trail. Christmas Day Collette did the chef honours (being back north always brings out her domestic side) and we had a quiet time with Nick.

We didn't get to spend much time with the rest of the family as they live 40 minutes away from Parry Sound and the weather was sketchy. But the purpose of the trip was to spend as much time with Nick as possible, which worked out as his room mate, Fred was away for his own Christmas day.

So, a quiet day, without the usual chaos and clutter, giving something to someone who needed it, even if it was just company, some attention. For a guy who doesn't believe in Christmas, that works for me

Untitled from Victor Kellar on Vimeo.

Sunday, November 30, 2008


Last month Collette and I made our annual pilgrimage to the Women's Blues Review here in Toronto. The event has been hosted for 22 years and I don't think we've missed more than two shows. It began at Trinity St Paul church and is now hosted at Massey Hall, where they generally sell out.

Anybody who knows me, knows that I love the blues. It is a musical passion that Collette and I share. Although I can say that I love pretty much the entire spectrum of blues music, from the Delta, to Chicago, to the current day, I have always had a fondness for female blues singers.

Women like Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Sippie Wallace and Memphis Minnie were the original superstars of blues music; they toured in fairly large shows (at least Smith did) and had the first well selling recordings. Minnie was an innovator in both guitar playing and song writing and you can hear her influence to this day.

Women sang about everything, but they were primarily know for their raunchy songs. And of course women record the blues to this day, but their commanding popularity did wane, and men began to dominate the blues field in the early days.

When I talk to people about the blues, particularly women, a common lament is that they find it difficult to relate to the music. The complaint is too many of the songs are by men crying over the no good woman who done him wrong ... My thought has always been that just switch the genders in the song to suit you. Make it a man doing you wrong, accept it as universal constant.

At the concert, the amazing Lily Frost took an old Koko Taylor song and deliberately changed "all the boys" to "all the girls" which of course made the crowd go crazy. It was a cute little tribute and quite fitting but it got me wondering about all this "gender stuff" in music. Does it really matter if a woman sings a song from a male perspective and doesn't change the lyrics to affect the difference in gender? I remember Linda Rondstat never did that, she would sing "she" or "him" as originally written in the song, it was unusual at the time and it made me take notice.

So the Women's Blues Review is all women .. duh. Women singers and an absolutely smoking all women band. That changed this year. ShoShona Kish is a native Canadian singer who performs with a partner, a stunning guitarist named Raven Kanatakta and she brought him to play with her. I don't know if a male ever graced the stage at this particular event. It caused a ripple through the audience. Collette and I were sitting alongside a large group of women who seemed convinced that Raven was a female. Well, he has his long hair of course and in our white culture most Raven's are female but there was little doubt to his gender. I think they just did not want to accept that a man was involved in this all-woman event. And, while I don't go to this concert to watch male singers, Raven's inclusion did not bother me. From all accounts he and ShoShona work as a unit, they have never performed apart .. and damn, it was something to watch this guy play with Marg Stowe, who has been playing guitar with this from (I think) day one. It gave me chills.

But was it appropriate to have a male perform in an event designed to be an all female event? One of the appeals of the show is that it does give women an opportunity to play this music and to play with each other. I can't think of many other instances where that occurs. In the past glory days when women were the stars of the blues, they were backed up by male bands. Most of the female blues performers I can think of play with men. And here you have a show that is all female ... it is refreshing.

This show clearly appeals to women. Many men attend, but I would say the numbers tip in favour to the female side. What is it that draws women to all women events? What is it that bothers some males when women become involved in some "boy's club" ritual? "Why is that girl playing hockey? She can't play hockey!" Maybe she can, maybe she can't, it doesn't seem to matter, she shouldn't be there.

Generally, I don't care about gender mixing in these kinds of situations. Yes, I like the Women's Blues Reviews because it is unusual and I do enjoy female musicians and I love watching women perform this music because for the last forty years or more it has been a male dominated musical form and I just naturally gravitate towards anything that goes outside the box. And I love women's voices and the perspective they bring to the table. But I've gone to all male blues shows and enjoyed them as well.

Many years ago when I was living in Kingston I was in a used a record store (yes, records, you've seen them in museums) where the owner was piping music into the store. It stopped me cold. It was a woman singer and her voice and her lyrics immediately caught my attention. The guy told me her name was Ferron and I could buy the record he was playing, and I did

A couple years later I was playing one of the songs from the album and someone said "Oh yeh, the lesbian anthem" It had never occurred to me that Ferron was a lesbian or that any of her music was an "athem" The songs were about love, loss, redemption, struggle, joy ... life. Stuff I experience, stuff lesbians experience, stuff everyone experiences. I just don't care about the gender pref of the singer/writer. Its the stuff we share, not the stuff we don't, that interests me. Hell, I am big fans of Indigo Girls and Melissa Ethridge ... I'm also a fan of Muddy Waters and Lonnie Johnson, neither of whom could ever be considered .. um .. feminists. I can't get into music (or any art form) that is blatantly misogynistic, but I don't expect artist to tip toe through the politically correct tulips either. Life is life. I want singers to take that on. Deal with it.

So boys sing about girls, girls sing about guys, men sing about men, women sing about women and Tom Waits sings about Tony Franciosa ... Women can sing about things exclusive to their gender, like child birth, which I will never experience but it doesn't mean I can't connect to it, as long as it's honest. That's all I want; give me the truth and even if it's beyond my experience, I can relate to it. Hell, that's what I want out of art, a different experience.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


Last night was Halloween .. yay! We love Halloween. Dress up, be silly, watch religious people have a coronary. Collette and I have always loved this holiday ... which is why it is our anniversary. Anniversary of what, exactly? I'll get to that.

We decided to make a night of it. This was anniversary number 25 ... that's a little less than half my life. That's significant. So downtown we go, first to have dinner, then up the Panasonic (Utptown) Theatre to see We Will Rock You, the Queen musical. Collette and I saw this once before, at the Canon (Pantages) Theatre and really loved it. The Panasonic is a more intimate space and this performance featured musical powerhouse Camilla Scott .. in a role traditionally played by a male. And we got a good price, so it seemed a good night out.

The restaurant was several blocks away from the theatre but we had a beautiful, even balmy evening on hand so we walked up Yonge Street, dodging sexy nurses, naughty school girls, many Asian kitty cats and a spectacularly drunken Spiderman. As we walked along we passed a tattoo shop where I have had some work done in the past. I mused about getting another tattoo, Collette said we should get an anniversary tattoo, I thought maybe a simple black kanji for the number 25, we had some time to kill, and we were in the place ...

Seems there are no kanji for the number 25, so we started flipping through symbols. We wanted the same piece, of course, so it had to be something that represented both of us and this anniversary. Husband & wife .. um, no. Love .. no. Marriage ... er, no.

You see, we are not married. We are one of the most "married" couples you have ever met, but we are not married. We live in sin. This has been pointed out to us for a long, long time. Stand up comedian Charlie Fleischer pointed me out once in his act "Commit damnit! Commit!" Collette's mother once gave us a set of pots and pans. She was quick to point out "You didn't get the really good set, because you're not married." That's right, we live in sin. And there it was, the kanji for sin. An attractive graphic symbol. I was looking at a simple black piece but Collette likes colour .. and you see, this was to be her first tattoo and she wanted colour. So she found a Sin kanji in colour. So we made an appointment and went off to see the show.

So, skipping a review of a really, really good musical .. two hours later we were back in the tattoo shop. Getting inked. Collette decided to incorporate the number 25 into the piece ... 25 years of sin. Yeh, I was so down with that. We did a little customizing with colour and shadows but we got the exact same tattoo.

And I have to say: My girl is tough. She walked 60K over two days with no adverse result and when I asked her how the tattoo felt she replied "I really just wanted to take a nap, except for when it tickled"

Here are close ups of the tatts (still healing, of course). I got mine on the inside of my right forearm, Collette got hers on her right calf.

So here is mine ...

And here is Collette's ...

So an impulse? Sure. But an impulse 25 years in the making.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


Collette and I will celebrating our 25th anniversary this weekend, on Hallow e'en (more on the irony or appropriateness of this later) and as sometimes happens in long relationships, it was time for a change. I love Collette. I think she's beautiful, but after 25 years I needed something new, I needed something different .... yes, I needed some strange.

So this evening I invited into my house a beautiful, sexy, vibrant new woman. Yes, she had some resemblance to Collette:

Yet this woman was enticing, glamorous, and oh so different:

Ok, I just have to say .. yum. In all our time together Collette has been the hairdresser maybe four times and this, without a shadow of a doubt, was the biggest change she has made. Oh yeh, lucky me.


I read somewhere that if you keep a blog and you run out of things to write about, do a list ... the top ten .. the best five ... the suckiest thirteen ... My first instinct was that this was kind of dorkish ... but, then, I look at my life with my collection of science fiction novels and samurai movies and have to admit that, well, I am a bit dorkish.

Then we have the movie High Fidelity with John Cusack and Jack Black. This is a movie about some guys who work in a vintage record store who occupy their days creating lists of things that nobody could possibly care about. The guys are dorks. But they are funny dorks. So maybe that makes them cool. Which makes lists cool. OK, I'm stretching here but self justification has always been one of my greatest strengths.

In my post on the death of Paul Newman, I noted that Cool Hand Luke would be on my list of top ten movies of all time. So I guess I sort of am in the list game. And the more I think about it, the more I realize that I have several lists banging around in my head (what they bang against I can't imagine, I hope it isn't my memories of the 20 gallon pot of chili I made when I was a cook, that could get messy)

I have never put any of these lists to paper. One reason is that these lists can be rather ephemeral, changing as often as my memory and preference may change. You can have a list of your ten favorite movies but there is no way it can contain the great movies you have yet to see, they have to be added later, so thusly the list changes. Also, I don't consider these lists to be of any great import, they are just me thinking about shit; but you know, that is what this blog is all about. Really, I just should have called it The Shit That I Think About.

So I guess this blog is a perfect place to drop down a few lists. Take them for what they're worth. Feel free to comment. Feel free to disagree or to add to the list. Feel free to dance the Lindy Hop while wearing a giant pink armadillo suit ... I don't judge.

This first list is one I have been thinking about for quite some time. It has changed a bit over time and I'm sure it will in the future. This my Top Ten Best Soliloquies in movies .. you can call them Monologues as well. I am not the first to blog about this of course ... can you be the first to blog about anything, now? I doubt that I am the first to blog about how you probably can't be the first to blog about anything. Wait, there has to be a first, doesn't there? Maybe I will be the first to think about the significance of being the second to blog about something .. but I doubt it .... OK, the preceding thought was a pointless ramble, I hope you took the opportunity to go get a coffee or a diet royal honey elixir or something.

OK, so here we go, rated ten to one but in a few cases the ordering is pretty random:

10: MALICE - ALEC BALDWIN - "I AM GOD" A great moment of cinematic arrogance:

"I have an M.D. from Harvard. I am board certified in cardiothoracic medicine and trauma surgery. I have been awarded citations from seven different medical boards in New England; and I am never, ever sick at sea.

So I ask you, when someone goes into that chapel and they fall on their knees and they pray to God that their wife doesn't miscarry, or that their daughter doesn't bleed to death, or that their mother doesn't suffer acute neural trauma from postoperative shock, who do you think they're praying to? Now, you go ahead and read your Bible, Dennis, and you go to your church and with any luck you might win the annual raffle. But if you're looking for God, he was in operating room number two on November 17th, and he doesn't like to be second guessed.

You ask me if I have a God complex?

Let me tell you something:


9: GRAPES OF WRATH - HENRY FONDA - "I'M EVERYWHERE" I never tire of hearing this one, simply and beautifully framed by John Ford and delivered in Fonda's soft, lightly accented voice that never gets loud but becomes totally steely by the end:

"I'll be all around in the dark. I'll be ever'-where - wherever you can look. Wherever there's a fight so hungry people can eat, I'll be there. Wherever there's a cop beatin' up a guy, I'll be there. I'll be in the way guys yell when they're mad - I'll be in the way kids laugh when they're hungry an' they know supper's ready. An' when the people are eatin' the stuff they raise, and livin' in the houses they build - I'll be there, too."

8: MALTESE FALCON - HUMPHREY BOGART - "A MAN'S PARTNER" For me, this speech perfectly sums up the cynical romanticism of both film noir and hard boiled detective fiction. Sam Spade lives by a code, and in a world where everyone is motivated solely by greed and self-promotion, he sticks to his code, even when it makes no sense:

"When a man's partner is killed, he's supposed to do something about it. It doesn't make any difference what you thought of him. He was your partner and you're supposed to do something about it. And it happens we're in the detective business. Well, when one of your organization gets killed, it's-it's bad business to let the killer get away with it, bad all around, bad for every detective everywhere. "

7: APOCOLYPSE NOW - ROBERT DUVALL - "NAPALM IN THE MORNING" We all know it, we all love it, we all misquote it whenever we can:

"You smell that? Do you smell that? Napalm, son. Nothing else in the world smells like that. I love the smell of napalm in the morning. You know, one time we had a hill bombed, for twelve hours. When it was all over I walked up. We didn't find one of 'em, not one stinkin' dink body. The smell, you know that gasoline smell, the whole hill. Smelled like... victory. Someday this war's gonna end... "

6: WALL STREET - MICHAEL DOUGLAS - "GREED IS GOOD" Oh, this just perfectly sums up my views on Wall Street, capitalism, corporate North America and rich guys in expensive suits and too much hair gel:

"The point is, ladies and gentleman, is that greed - for lack of a better word - is good. Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms - greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge - has marked the upward surge of mankind. And Greed - you mark my words - will not only save Teldar Paper but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA. "

5: BITE THE BULLET - BEN JOHNSON - "THE PRIZE" This is a great western with a great cast (Gene Hackman, James Coburn, Ian Holmes, Candice Bergen) and a compelling script by Richard Brooks. There are several outstanding monologues but the one that stands out is delivered by Ben Johnson, to Hackman, in the dark, halfway through the brutal cross country horse race as Johnson, the nameless old man who Hackman has just rescued, explains why he is participating in the race:

"God, what ain't I tried. Pony express rider, Overland Stage driver, lawman, gambler, riverman, rancher, rodeo hand, barman, spittoon man... old man. Never much to remember. Of course, there ain't much to forget, either. Nobody's got much use for an old man. I can't blame 'em much. That's why I'm going to win this here newspaper race. When I cross the finish line, I get to be a big man. Top man. A man to remember. "

4: THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN - STEVE McQUEEN - "WHAT IT GOT ME" The hardened pro gunfighters try to dissuade the kid from picking up the gun and he says "That gun has got you everything you have" and McQueen, the absolutely coolest human in history, leans against the bar, eyes lowered and recounts all that his gun has earned him:

"Yeah, sure. Everything. After awhile you can call bartenders and faro dealers by their first name - maybe two hundred of 'em! Rented rooms you live in - five hundred! Meals you eat in hash houses - a thousand! Home - none! Wife - none! Kids... none! Prospects - zero. Suppose I left anything out? "

3: BITE THE BULLET - GENE HACKMAN - "SAN JUAN HILL" I told you this movie had some great monolouges. Hackman plays an ex Rough Rider and here he recounts the famous charge up San Juan hill to Candice Bergan. First, he gives her the politically correct version of dashing bravery then returns and gives her the truth:

"That's not the way it happened at all. It wasn't anything like it was in San Antoine where we did our trainin'. That's where I ran into Luke and a lot of other men from every other country who wanted to be Roughriders. Bakers and barbers and Congressman, cattlemen, ballplayers, farmers and porters... cowboys. No, we didn't rough ride up that hill, 'cause we didn't have any horses. We didn't charge up there, either. We crawled up there on our scared bellies. There was only one horse and one rider - that was Colonel Teddy. He went chargin' up that damn hill and they shot his glasses off. He put on another pair and they nipped him in the elbow, and he said, "Follow me!" And we did, 'cause we was too damned ashamed not to. "

2: THE WIND AND THE LION - SEAN CONNERY - "I AM THE LION" This is a monologue, by Connery, in voice over. It is a letter written to Teddy Roosevelt by Connery's Barbary Sheik, after the former has defeated the latter, ending Connery's nomadic way of life, and confirming the US's power in the world:

"To Theodore Roosevelt - you are like the Wind and I like the Lion. You form the Tempest. The sand stings my eyes and the Ground is parched. I roar in defiance but you do not hear. But between us there is a difference. I, like the lion, must remain in my place. While you like the wind will never know yours. - Mulay Hamid El Raisuli, Lord of the Riff, Sultan to the Berbers, Last of the Barbary Pirates. "

1: JAWS - ROBERT SHAW - "THE INDIANAPOLIS" What can you say? Number one, little doubt in my mind. This is a long speech. It lasts for a few minutes. A couple of cutaway shots but it is all Shaw, and all script. Words and performance so vivid you can smell the ocean and hear the waves and sense the sharks moving through the water ... more effective than any filmed flashback sequence:

"Japanese submarine slammed two torpedoes into our side, Chief. We was comin' back from the island of Tinian to Leyte... just delivered the bomb. The Hiroshima bomb. Eleven hundred men went into the water. Vessel went down in 12 minutes. Didn't see the first shark for about a half an hour. Tiger. 13-footer. You know how you know that when you're in the water, Chief? You tell by looking from the dorsal to the tail. What we didn't know, was our bomb mission had been so secret, no distress signal had been sent. They didn't even list us overdue for a week. Very first light, Chief, sharks come cruisin', so we formed ourselves into tight groups. You know, it was kinda like old squares in the battle like you see in the calendar named "The Battle of Waterloo" and the idea was: shark comes to the nearest man, that man he starts poundin' and hollerin' and screamin' and sometimes the shark go away... but sometimes he wouldn't go away. Sometimes that shark he looks right into ya. Right into your eyes. And, you know, the thing about a shark... he's got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll's eyes. When he comes at ya, doesn't seem to be living... until he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white and then... ah then you hear that terrible high-pitched screamin'. The ocean turns red, and despite all the poundin' and the hollerin', they all come in and they... rip you to pieces. You know by the end of that first dawn, lost a hundred men. I don't know how many sharks, maybe a thousand. I know how many men, they averaged six an hour. On Thursday morning, Chief, I bumped into a friend of mine, Herbie Robinson from Cleveland. Baseball player. Boatswain's mate. I thought he was asleep. I reached over to wake him up. Bobbed up, down in the water just like a kinda top. Upended. Well, he'd been bitten in half below the waist. Noon, the fifth day, Mr. Hooper, a Lockheed Ventura saw us. He swung in low and he saw us... he was a young pilot, a lot younger than Mr. Hooper. Anyway, he saw us and he come in low and three hours later a big fat PBY comes down and starts to pick us up. You know that was the time I was most frightened... waitin' for my turn. I'll never put on a lifejacket again. So, eleven hundred men went in the water; 316 men come out and the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb."

So that's the list. As I said, I could change it in a year but a few them aren't going anywhere, especially Shaw's and Ben Johnson's. Most of them come from great movies. Malice was a good movie, it just happened to contain a great soliloquy. I just hope with all this CGI and green screens, and MTV style frantic editing, we never forget the power of some choice words and some sincere expression.

Sunday, October 19, 2008


Recently I've been thinking a lot about "art". Maybe it all started with Nuit Blanche. Or maybe it began earlier, with the Word on the Street, a huge open air book fair we have here every year.

For the first time in a long time I found myself gravitating towards a stall of comic books, graphic novels and manga/anime. I used to be a major comic book freak. Mostly the super heroes, mostly Marvel, though I like Batman before Batman was cool and I had a thing for the Flash, though I really don't know why ... I pretty much learned to read through comic books. I can remember my brother Ed sitting down with me with an old Daredevil comic book (when he still had the yellow and black costume) and reading it to me while I looked at the pictures. I wrote about this here

When I was a kid I had a pretty advanced vocabulary and I credit that entirely to comic books. I remember doing a book report on Greek mythology and writing how Hercules was pretty much invulnerable .. this may have been grade four or five. My teacher clearly did not believe that I knew what the word meant so I explained it: "It means you can't hurt him .. like Superman"

I was still reading when the graphic novel phase began. I read the Dark Knight of course, and I remember a one off graphic novel called Empire, illustrated by Howard Chaykin and written by Samuel Delaney, one of my favorite science fiction writers .. or any other kind of writer.

One of the last comics I remember reading was Watchmen, but I only read a couple of issues before it finished its run. Which brings us to Word on the Street. The booth I went to had all of the issues of Watchman in a single book form; I've heard rumours of a movie being made and I always wanted to finish reading it, so I bought it.

There were also a lot of manga/anime books at the booth. This is not a world with which I am overly familiar. I've seen Akira and Be-Bop Cowboy and bits of pieces of other anime on TV. But I can't say I am overly familiar with this art form, though I've always liked the look. My friend Elizabeth however is a total anime goddess and often features beautiful artwork on her blog. There were a few books of assorted manga art so Collette and I decided to pick her up a couple .. one of them I liked so much I bought myself a copy.

A winged girl with a sword, armour .. and a skirt ... what's not to love? Well, maybe the only thing lovelier is this girl in her kimono
When I sent the books to Elizabeth I made notes on some of the pictures that I particularly liked. I was looking at the images as works of art, and making comments like "I like the way he does the hair and makes it look like it is alive" or commenting on the use of shadows and light. Beth contends that this is because I work in the video business; as a novelist, she looked at the same images and created little stories for each one. I did the same thing .. except I wanted to put all the pictures together and make a storyboard with them.

Beth calls herself a storyteller (which she certainly is) but I too can wear that mantle. I have always been a writer .. poetry, fiction, plays .. I used to write voraciously. For a big part of my life that is probably the one thing that people knew about me ... "oh, that's Victor, he writes" When I got into the video business, the "creative" writing tapered off (I still write scripts for a living) largely because I found a new outlet for my storytelling.

I consider editing to be the true storytelling aspect of the video creation process. Whether or not the script is mine, regardless of who shot or produced the video, it is in the editing that the story is put together. Videos and movies are shot out of sequence, of course, if you have five scenes in one locale they are all shot at the same time, regardless of the time line .. so Scene one, scene six, scene twelve, separated in the story by years perhaps, are all shot on the same day. Later, in my editing computer, they are put in their proper sequence. Then, adding elements like music .. so important to video, I look as music, even background music, as a kind of wordless narration or even another character ... and colorizing and titles ... all of this helps to tell the story. So yes, I'm still a storyteller.

Which brings us to Watchmen. This is a great book, period, comic or not. I won't go into a review of the story but you should really read this thing ... it will totally change your opinion about superhero books. It is a very literate graphic novel, not only does it involve lots of dialogue, the story is relatively complex, with lots of characters, flashbacks, parallel story lines, philosophy, psychology, etc. It references popular culture, ancient cultures, politics, science, religion .. it really is a novel. But it also really is graphic.

Reading the book again, I could see why they want to make it into a movie. Dave Gibbons frames his panels like a movie ... extreme tight close ups, so tight they don't even make sense then, through three or four panels, he pulls back to reveal the entire scene. It is really quite breathtaking. Sometimes these panels are accompanied by script, sometimes they are just images and I found that to be extremely effective.

If I was to make a "movie" whenever I start blocking one out in my mind, it is the images I deal with first. When I did my student movies, years ago, I started with scripts ... long, dialogue heavy, description-rich scripts. I was still into my writing stage then, it was quite common for me to blast off a hundred page science fiction story in a couple of days. So when thinking "movie" I thought word first. Making those movie taught me a lot, of course, but even later when I created a couple of "fictional" short films, I started the creation process with scripts, written words; when I envisioned a scene, I did it in terms of describing it like a passage from a novel: "The scene begins outside, in a park at night with autumn leaves laying on the ground, almost seeming to glow in the crepuscular light ..." In my mind, I could see the scene perfectly, but I was still conceiving it in literary terms.

Working as an editor for so many years has changed that. Yes, I consider myself a storyteller. Yes, I still enjoy writing, that desire to write is pretty much why this blog exists. But when working in a visual medium ... I think visually. (wow, I am just a genius of the obvious, aren't I?)

Now, when I think about creating a movie, I think of the imagery first. Instead of a script, a page filled with words, I would rather do a storyboard, with actual images to block the scene out. In my editing software, I have a timeline where I take video clips and drop them down into this workspace, connecting one clip to the other, to create a linear sequence. The clips can have audio attached, can have dialogue and obviously that it a way I build the timeline, but I like the idea of moving the clips around like little pictures. Whereas Elizabeth looked at the pictures in the anime book and perhaps wrote a story in her head for each page, I wanted to put all the pages together, lay them out like images in my timeline, and create the story that way.

One of my favorite movies is Rio Bravo, a western by Howard Hawks starring John Wayne and Dean Martin and Claude Akins.

One of the things I love about this movie is the opening scene. In it we are introduced to Akins, the town bully. We meet Martin, a man who was once a dapper lawman and who is now the town drunk. We meet Wayne, the current sheriff and Martin's former friend. In the saloon where Akins is drinking with his buddies, Martin debases himself by begging for money to get booze; Akins makes him retrieve a coin from a used spittoon. Martin, a once proud capable man allows himself to be abused in order to get his drink. As if inspired by the drunk's subservience, Akin kills a man "just to watch him die" (OK I felt a need for a little Johnny Cash reference). In comes Wayne and he lays Akins out with his carbine and drags him to jail; before he leaves, Wayne addresses his old friend Martin, expressing his disgust and sadness about what he has become ...

What makes all of this truly interesting is the fact that there is no ... or little ... dialogue in this scene. It is several minutes long and without any words we learn so much: Akins is a bully because he is a man of power and position and the town allows him to be cruel, Martin has fallen a long long way and sees no way to pull himself up,l Wayne wants to help his friend but his cowboy code restricts him in how he can do that .... all without words. Is the very first scene in the movie and with out any dialogue at all, Hawks efficiently sets up the rest of the story to come. Hawks began his movie making career in the silent era so it is really not surprising that he could stage the scene in this way to such great effect.

Dialogue still has its place in movies. One of my favorite movie makers of recent time is writer/director David Mamet. A former playwright, his movies are some of the most plot based, dialogue driven movies you will ever see. House of Games, Things Change, Homicide, The Heist, The Spanish Prisoner ... all great movies, heavily plotted and filled with some of them most dizzying and intricate dialogue you have ever heard. Mamet's movies work due to his tight plotting and relying on fine actors like Joe Mantegna, Gene Hackman and Steve Martin. Not options generally available to us amateur film makers.

The Nuit Blanche exhibits showed me that art takes a lot of forms and sometimes those forms .. be they sculpture or words or video or big plastic things hung in the ceiling of the Eaton Centre .. define the art. I don't really see that with the video. I may storyboard a scene instead of creating in the word processor but I am still telling a story, it is just a different way to view it. When I looked at the pictures in the anime books I saw the stories, I wondered who these characters were and what they were doing and that is a testament to the skill of the artist ... even with a single panel, he was able to convey a sense of time, place, personality ... so he is a storyteller too.

Monday, October 13, 2008


In Lily Tomlin's one woman show Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe aliens come to Earth searching for .. well .. signs of intelligence. Judy the bag lady argues to the aliens that humanity's ability to create art designates us as having true intelligence. "What is this art?" they ask her. She reaches into her shopping cart and pulls out a can of Campbell's tomato soup "This is soup" she says. Then she pulls out a copy of Andy Warhol's print of a can of Campbell's tomato soup and says "This is art" She pushes her two hands back and forth "Soup, art, soup, art .."

Collette and I recently sojourned through the streets of Toronto in search of art; it was Nuit Blanche, which I posted about earlier. This "festival of art" was one of those events that stretched the definition thereof. We are not talking just paintings and sculpture here. We are talking huge "installations" some of which invited interactivity. One of these installations was a lighted drop ceiling draped over an existing alley way

So what they ended up with was ... a really bright alley way. The artists had staged garbage around but our nephew Jeff told us he wandered into this work of art and didn't realize that it was art till he came out the other side and saw the sign.

Was it art? I suppose some sort of aesthetic was involved, things had been staged but from a purely visual sense, it really did little for me. I found myself on my usual high ground and stood up there with my camcorder, taking in the scence. I liked the reactions it envoked, I liked watching people walk through it and discuss the experience ... is shared experience art? Is it art when a bunch of people gather, take in the experience and say "This is art"?

Several years ago the Ontario College of Art exhibited the work of one of their graduates. A young woman had purchased a 40 pound cube of chocolate and a 40 pound cube of lard, took a bite out of each, and placed them in a gallery space. Was it art? The young woman contended that the pieces themselves were not art but the fact that she literally "put herself into them" made it art. So, the chocolate and lard was not the art, the teeth marks were not the art, but the biting was the art, or was it the woman's need to make art .. made it art.

Another Nuit Blanche "installation" was called Sketching Beauty, also hosted by the Ontario College of Art.

This was a project where anybody who wandered in was given drawing materials then all the artwork was assembled both inside and outside of the college; art created out of art. So you had all these individual works of art, all created entirely independently, to the taste of the individual artist then assembled by seperate artists in a seperate space ... was the art created by all those folks sketching? By the assemblers? Or by the people who came up with the concept in the first place. Was the art the final product, or the act of creation itself.

I once saw a piece of "video art" where a guy stood in front of the camera and bounced a tennis ball off the palm of his hand ... for an hour. One long unbroken, unedited shot. Where is the art in this project? The skill of the guy to bounce a tennis ball for that long, the fact he thought to record it, the fact that it was presented in a gallery ...

One of my favorite Nuit Blanche installations was the Cocoon Garden erected in this tiny little public square behind a market off of Queen St West.

The artist created their cocoons by wrapping sheets of plastic around chicken wire forms. They hung lights inside, some flickering, some static. So the cocoons themselves were art, pieces of sculpture fairly easily related to. The cocoons were mostly hung in the trees but there was also one mostly hidden under a park bench.

The cocoons were obviously carefully placed in the trees, I'm sure that it was not random. So there was art in that, grouping and placing all those individual cocoons so that they became one piece. Inside every cocoon were little boom boxes, and at certain intervals, they would activate and play snippets of jingles and radio commercials. I will straight up admit I didn't really get the message here ... what was the point of the commercials coming out of the cocoons? I liked the way the jingles were cut together but I wasn't able to grasp the big picture (now that is an unintentional pun when discussing art ... "the big picture") But I wondered about it .. and perhaps that is the art.

Out on College Street an artist had created this enormous installation called Waterfall, created entirely out of recycled plastic water bottles.
There was an obvious environmental message here, using man made materials to approximate a natural situation. For me, the message, so obvious, did not make it art. The enigmatic message of the cocoons seems more artful to me; perhaps that is my own ego saying "If I can't figure it out, it must be really really creative" But then, I couldn't figure out the message of the partially eaten lard and honestly, that didn't seem artful to me at all. There was something there, in the cocoons; the rest of the installation had a kind of integrity so I just made the assumption that the inclusion of the sound bites had integrity as well.

I have seen lots of things called "art" that I didn't understand and just thought it was bullshit. I have also seen art I "didn't get" but felt there was something there. I think that word "integrity" has something to do with it, another word would be conviction. I don't have to get it, I just need to feel that there is something to get ... how that comes about I don't know if I can totally explain.

I can pull out two examples from the film world: Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers and Wes Anderson's The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou.

The Oliver Stone movie is certainly "arty" Different frame rates, back projections, colour schemes, flashback, flash forwards, radical camera angles and camera movement, off kilter art direction .... and I just think it's a piece of crap. Why? Because it was just arty for the sake of art. Like many Oliver Stone movies he had a point to make .. in fact, he had about 500 points to make and he wanted to shoe horn them all into this movie. There are so many techniques used here I really sense a lack of conviction. John Ford or Akira Kurosawa didn't need back projections and cartoons to make their points, they used the beautiful, simple, powerful langague of a perfectly framed shot, a good actor and an understated score. All of Stone's furious activity was not art; it was more like camoflauge, disguising the fact that he really had very little to talk about at all.

The Life Aquatic is one of those movies that I really like but find it difficult to reccomend to people; it's weird. On the surface it is a parady of Jaques Cousteau but there is more going on here; what that is I am not exactly sure. There is family stuff, relationship stuff, stuff about knowing your role, stuff about the importance of art over science, a lot of stuff about the artifice ... I don't get all of it. But I accept that something is there. Why? Because there is an integrity to the movie, the creators had a plan and they followed it even if it left behind.

In the Leonard Cohen song Take this Waltz he has a line that says "take this with the clamp on its jaws" I have no idea what the hell that means but I know it means something. Largely because it's from Leonard Cohen and I can't think of better example of artistic integrity.

Nuit Blanche had an installation at Dundas Square that, at first blush, did very little for me at all.

The artist was up in this watchtower with a big search light that he would focus on people in the square below. The installation had the title of Fifteen Seconds, a reference to Any Warhol's concept that in our modern age, everyone would have their fifteen seconds of fame (interesting how many Warhol references there are in this post) I scoffed at this at first, but as I think about it now, I am wondering about the concept of art being what people make of it. Was the guy in the tower art or were the people upon whom he shone his light?

You can watch Natural Born Killers and think it is the greatest piece of cinematic art ever, you could listen to that Leonard Cohen song and think it is dreck. Art is interpretive. Art has no existance without us, the audience. We experience the art, we access it with our minds, our hearts, our emotions, we make some kind of value judgement, we in that moment just for ourselves, decide whether or not it is art.

At the end of Lily Tomlin's play, Judy the bag lady comes back out on stage. She takes out the can of soup, she take out the Warhol print, looks at them for a moment, then puts them back in her cart. Then she looks straight out at the audience. She puts her hand to her breast "Soup" she says, then points out to the audience "Art"

Thursday, October 9, 2008


Just when you thought there would be no more street festivals in Toronto this year ...

This is the third annual Nuit Blanche but the first one we attended. It is basically a visual arts festival, running from seven pm to seven am. Over 120 exhibits and installations all over the central core of the city. The city basically stays open all night, very rare in this town and many of the installations made use of public buildings and spaces.
With so many exhibits we had to find some reasonable way of establishing criteria. The night turned out to be surprisingly lovely, quite mild for October and ... a rarity this year .. dry. So we decided to stick to the outdoor venues; turned out to be a great idea, they estimated a million people were milling around downtown and the sidewalks were crowded enough, I can't imagine what a gallery would have been like.

The next criteria was to avoid installations that featured video ... I do video all day long and while I can appreciate it as an art form, I don't need to see it on my night off. We had a vague idea of what some of the exhibits were but mostly we were going in blind. We stared off at Dundas Square, right down at Yonge and Dundas, an area that has become nicely revitalized lately. Tons of people out, which became a theme of the evening. It was quite exhilarating to see so many people .. so many you couldn't get on the sidewalk .. out in the city at night. Even later, at three in the morning, there were literally thousands of people roaming around; even downtown that is extremely rare. It gave the night this great energy so that us old folks didn't feel tired at all ... much.

The installation in the square was called 15 Seconds. The artist built this wooden tower (doesn't that remind you of the guard towers in The Great Escape?) He was up there with this spot light and the idea was that he would randomly shine it down on individuals in the crowd, giving them their Andy Warhol 15 seconds of fame. An interesting idea I guess but unfortunately most of the people there did not seem to be aware of the script. Perhaps if people understood the concept better, there were would have been more interaction; they should have put the tower on Church Street ... then we may have seen some audience participation.

Right across from Dundas Street is the Eaton Centre and it was featuring an installation called Into the Blue, by a Japanese artist. It was this enormous cone shaped balloon hung up in the big space inside the mall.

From this angle it was interesting, the thing was just huge. But it became truly interesting when you got under it and shot upwards.

The thing took on a whole different dimension from the angle ... in the video (at the bottom of the post) you will see that it was turning and you got this real sense of motion, like a vortex, strong enough to induce some mild vertigo.

After the Eaton Centre we moved down the street towards Massey Hall. There was an interesting installation called Domaine de l'angle by a Montreal artistic collective. What they did was build a drop ceiling over the alley way that runs down beside Massey Hall.

The ceiling was made out of bright white tile and was well illuminated. So this alley, normally dark like most allies at night, was brightly lighted. They staged some "trash" around the alley, I suppose this stuff was all meant to represent something, I just found it a little odd.

At first this "installation" did nothing for me but as we hung out for a bit, seeing this normally dark, unused (but not dirty, this is Toronto after all) alley way transformed by the white ceiling and fluorescent lighting, the colours of the "trash" jumping out at you ... and just the fact that so many people were moving through it, the video will give you a good sense of the number. As I said, the sheer number of people moving through these art pieces was something I found very compelling. People interacting with art .. almost regardless of what that art is ... is pretty sexy and people using their city in any new kind of way definitely has an appeal to it.

From Massey Hall we made our way over to Nathan Phillip Square and Toronto City Hall. On our way we passed by some "unscheduled" art, including some incredible sidewalk chalk drawing.

We also came across this young woman who was doing the "living statue" thing but apparently her statue was a little frisky in the cool autumn air because she was not shy about moving.

Then it was over to City Hall to see an installation called Stereoscope, out of Germany. This one was pretty cool. The artists put lamps behind every window in both city hall windows .. all 960 of them ... and used them to display a variety of images in shadow and light, essentially transforming these two huge buildings into a giant canvas.

Here, Collette captured one of the images, a human silhouette that moved from one tower to the other, its shadow following it. Again, check out the video. From City Hall we moved west along Queen Street. It was great to see the street so busy; this time of year, around midnight, even a street like Queen W is normally sparsely populated. We made our way to St Patrick's Market Square and found that some very strange fruit was growing in the trees.

This was the Cocoon Garden, created by some local artists. Translucent plastic wrapped around chicken wire forms, illuminate from within by different colours.

Some of the cocoons had speakers inside them and they played snippets from commercials and jingles; some of the recordings were on a loop, others were activated when someone pushed the cocoon. That was one of the things I liked about this installation, many of the cocoons were at eye level and you could physically interact with them.

Obviously, if you have a public arts festival, the Ontario College of Art is going to be involved. We went there to take a look at just a couple of the many events which they featured.

Sketching Beauty was another interactive installation. Hundreds of people were given paper and pencils and made their own sketches, messages etc and everything was posted up all over the square.

Another installation at the OCA was A Dream of Pastures, a big shadow projection where people participated in the illusion that they were riding horses through a flickering woodscape.

Another big installation ... that wall is huge, about half a block long .. and one that invited participation. You can get a sense of the crowd here, and this is probably after 1 am.

From the OCA we made our way over to College Street .. which, means of course, a pit stop at John's Italian Cafe on Baldwin Street, a funky little stretch of restaurants right on the edge of Kensington Market. The weather was still surprisingly mild and John's was staying open all night so we took advantage of the patio and had a pint. Did you think we'd get through an entire street festival without beer .....

From Baldwin Street back up to College, close to Queen's Park to the Ontario Power Generation buildings. Here was an installation called Waterfall.

This huge installation was fashioned entirely from recycled plastic bottles. It doesn't really come across very well in the video and I don't honestly know if it made me think of a waterfall but it was impressive for its sheer size and the work that must have gone into it.

From Queen's Park we made our way up to Yonge and College to the College Park shopping/condo building. Here we found zombies ... well, Zombies in Condo Land to be exactly.

The idea here was having people off the street get dressed and made up as zombies and then participate in an ultra low budget movie. So it was really a movie shoot and as anyone who has ever watched a film being made ... about as exciting as watching hair grow (even my hair, which we all know is fabulous) Still, the idea of making a movie on the spot, with random actors is interesting and I wait to see the final product

After watching the zombies ... and girls getting naked in the pond beside College Park (which is another post altogether) ... it was time for a late night snack ... and more beer. Then the long bus rides home, arriving at our door step around 4 a.m. So a successful night indeed and we look forward to Nuit Blanche next year.

A quick note about the video: I went into my wayback files and pulled out a club track called Sandstorm. This tune is probably familiar to a lot of people. I used to use this to cut fast moving promo's to in the 80's and it is definitely a fun track to edit to.

Friday, October 3, 2008


Just a quick post about a little in-blog phenomenon I've noticed. Recently I wrote this post about tracking those who visit this site and the searches that bring them here. As an after thought, I mentioned my Audie Murphy post that had attracted some attention. Since that time I've noticed that Audie seems to be a pretty popular search topic. I have even had a comment from an Audie fan to my post, something I very much appreciate.

In the last 15 days or so, search engines have directed six different people to this site, searching for Audie Murphy. For the amount of traffic I get, that is a pretty significant number. Not totally shocking; Murphy was the most decorated American soldier in WW II and I understand that his exploits are still being taught in the U.S. armed forces. From an historical or military point of view, Murphy is a pretty important figure. What does surprise me somewhat is the number of Europeans who are searching for Audie; mind you, he fought in the European conference so he has some significance there. I wonder how popular a film actor he is in Europe. Primarily a cowboy star, Murphy seems like such an "American" icon.

Audie's war record gets more searches than his movie career but there are still fans of his films out there. Considering that Murphy mostly made Drive-in style B westerns, and his last real film was released in 1967, I find it rather heartening that Audie's movies still live. We can give a lot of thanks to DVDs of course and maybe even eBay.

The searches that have brought people to my original Murphy post are varied; at least two different people were searching for memorabilia, particularly his holsters and his pistols. There are the military searches of course, particularly his medals and one that was looking for the kind of tank destroyer he .... well .. destroyed. Searches about his family and searches about some of the darker aspects of his personal life; there were rumours of drug abuse and a story about Audie beating up some guy and what that may or may not have been about.

In the short history of my blog, Audie searches are right up at the top, behind dogs/dog parks and ... well .. hairy stuff. Let's not discuss this last one, it is, frankly, a little disturbing. So all I wanted to say is: Audie lives. Go check him out, if you are a military buff, read up about the battle for which he receive the Congressional Medal of Honour. For sure, check out his movies. Sure many of them are little unpretentious western adventure stories (for me, that sounds pretty much perfect) but he was an actor capable of humour, humanity and he really could carry a movie.

I will be very curious to see if my recent Paul Newman post gets the same number of hits. Paul was certainly the bigger star and objectively the bigger actor. But Paul has just left our eyes and there is lots of material readily available. Audie is a more historical character and literally so, in terms of his military career.

So rock on, Audie, rock on all you Audie fans. Let's keep the tough little Texan alive.

Saturday, September 27, 2008


At the time of this writing, Paul Newman died today at the age of 83. Another icon out the window. First George Carlin, now Newman. Not quite as disappointing a passage; the man was 83 and working right up to the end.

While Carlin was an artist that had some direct influence on my life, like the way he approached comedy, the fact that someone from the "counter culture" could succeed in the mainstream, Newman was simply an actor I admired. There was something of the anti-hero about him, a contrast to the John Wayne character I grew up with (and I love John Wayne) and that was very appealing to me as I grew up in the sixties. Fast Eddie Felson in The Hustler was one of his iconic characters and although I think this is a good movie it is not one of my personal favorites, I actually the sequel, Color of Money, much more. Paul Newman as Hud, was perhaps his first role that really jumped out as something different.

Here was this big star, this gorgeous leading man with a great sense of humour and brother, Hud was a bad, bad man. Rebellious to the point of being anti social. Anti social to the point of being pathological. Newman held nothing back from this portrayal; one moment Hud was charming and entertainingly bad boyish and the next moment just plain mean. Hud the movie is not a breezy entertainment, it is, in parts a tough movie and Newman's performance holds it together, he is just compelling.

A good movie to illustrate the "against the grain" that Newman brings to a movie is Harper.
Harper is a private eye movie from the 60's based on the Lew Archer series of novels. These are pretty solid, straight ahead stories but Newman brings this great "what the fuck attitude" to the role, like he had this great smirk almost hidden that derided the entire private eye structure and it worked perfectly for the time. He was equally good in the sequel, The Drowning Pool where he would just throw away lines with this incredible nonchalance. At one point, Harper tells a cop that his day rate is 500 bucks. "That's good money" says the cop and Newman replies with this little shrug "Not if you work 5 days a year"

Whereas the two Harper movies showed Newman's kick the establishment side, Hombre puts him back in Hud mode. Newman made a lot of good westerns, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid is a classic, but Hombre may be my favorite.

A straight forward western suspense tale about a stagecoach full of people being held hostage by a bad guy, Newman's performance gives it some extra weight. His character, half Apache half white, is a man entirely disassociated from mainstream culture. He's turned his back on the white world and really doesn't give a rat's ass about what happens to his white companions. He is the perfect anti hero here, a reluctant hero who takes a leadership role quite against his will.

But let's face it, there really is one home run, define the rest of it, Paul Newman anti hero counter culture stance. And I am talking about not only my favorite Newman movie but one of my top ten movies of all time. Cool Hand Luke.

This is it, isn't it? One of the most iconic movies of the 60's that still stands up today. Good Ole Luke, a guy who ends up on a chain gain for the cutting the tops off of parking meters and ends up being shot inside a rainy church in the deep south. Luke is cool. Cool to the point of personal retreat. Luke may have been the first slacker, except he was way smarter and took better care of his body. There is some Hud here, the man not in touch with his feelings and some of Harper, the bad boy smirk too cool to care. I have watched the movie at least a dozen times, and I never tire of it. I am bound to quote this movie at any time, for no particular reason. "Luke, nobody can eat 50 eggs" is one of my faves and it just pops out apparently out of context but for me, it just means: Fuck, do it, even if you know you don't have a hope in Hell of succeeding, just do it.

Some of my favorite later Newman movies works more for his intelligence, maybe, than that rebel 'tube.

Nobody's Fool from 1992 is a great movie because it tells a simple story without a lot of drama and Newman's character is his bad boy at the end maybe; the man who had spent a great deal of his live alienating everyone around and ends up on the verge of being alone ... but he doesn't want to be alone and he struggles with how he can regain those connections with his family.

This movie Twilight from 1998 puts Newman back in private eye mode. This is Harper, older, more beat up, almost burned out .. and even more cynical. This is Nobody's Fool with a gun in his hand but instead of seeing redemption, he sees good people doing bad stuff for some pretty shallow reasons. Great hard boiled stuff. The final scene between Newman and James Garner is as low keyed and suspenseful as you'd ever want to get.

Then we have Road to Perdition. Newman in a small role here, and one where he is as about as stripped down and cold and cynical as any he ever played.

I love the scene in this movie between Newman and Tom Hanks, where they are playing the piano together; in just those few seconds we learn everything we need to know about the relationship between these two men, and I think most of that silent telling comes from Newman.

There are a lot of other great Newman movies of course, including The Sting and The Verdict but I just wanted to concentrate on these few that touched something in me. If Newman had only made Cool Hand Luke he would still be one of my favorite actors. The fact that he made so many more means that even though he has passed, he will be hanging around in our minds for a long time to come.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


Well, not SPAM as in electronic junk mail, or Spam as in the luncheon meat .. well, yes Spam, sort of but not really .... ok it was actually Spamalot, the stage musical base on Monty Python's Holy Grail. This past weekend we saw the show with my brother Ed and his partner Eartha.

This was a belated birthday celebration for Ed and it has some special signficance for the two of us. See, Ed was actually born during the Dark Ages and ... oh, that was just uncalled for. No, it was called for but I was the one calling .. so that makes it just plain mean.

At one point, when I was still living at home, Ed had his own place right around the corner; he had a TV, we did not .. or he got more channels ... at rate he could access television shows I could not. One day Ed came flying around the corner, yanked me out my of my chair and dragged me to his house, yelling "You have to see this" Indeed, I did.

What I saw was something that, quite literally, would change my life forever. Deceased parrots, fatal jokes, a man called Two Sheds, mountain climbers rapelling up a sidewalk and a song about Spam ... it was Monty Python's Flying Circus.

Ed and I became devotees of the series and soon became able to quote entire episodes word for word. And often did. Including accents. People loved that. No, they really did, people often begged for more .............................. ok, so I used to smoke pot, what's your point?

For me, it would only get better. That was with the release of Monty Python's Holy Grail. To this day, without a shadow of a doubt or moment of hesitation, I consider this one of the funniest movies I have seen, if not the funniest. I love history, I love the myth of Arthur and this movie totally destroyed both of those .. as well as music and gender and heroisim and even movies themselves. One of the first times I literally laughed till I cried. I quickly became adept at quoting almost the entire movie at will. And did. An thrilled the masses, moving them to adore me .......................... ok, I did acid too, leave me alone.

So all of this means that we learned the musical stage version of the movie ... Spamalot .. was returning to Toronto, we knew we absolutley had to see it. It was being staged at the Canon theatre, which seems to bear an eerie resemblence to the Pantages theatre where we saw Phantom of the Opera, the Lion King and most recently We Will Rock You.

To say that I enjoyed the play is an understatement. Half way through the first act I was laughing so hard my face hurt. If I was an American perhaps I would be considering litigation. The play definitely used the movie as its base, stealing dialouge and scenes directly from it, but it was pretty wide open, poking a lot of fun at Broadway and musicals in general. There is one scene with Lancelot and the Lady of the Lake where they sing a love duet ("This is the song that goes like this") and come out in a little boat, a chandelier hanging over them, al la Phantom .. the fact that we were in the Pantages was hilarious.

We got to hear a couple of Pythons. Before the play started we heard the voice of Eric Idle saying "Feel free to use your cell phones during this performance but please be aware that there are several heavily armed knights about and if they hear you, you will be impaled" Later on, when Arthur and his men recieve his quest, the voice of God was played by John Cleese ... well, duh, that is type casting. I think John Cleese may be the funniest human ever to live. John Cleese just walks into a scene and I break down in laughter.

I will spare you having me recite the entire play but trust me, you would be thoroughly entertained and thrilled to no end ............................ ok, I still drink, stop bugging me about it.

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