Monday, March 31, 2008


My last post was entitled Perceptions but I guess it really should have been called Perspective. At any rate, here we go again.

This weekend Collette and I caught up with a movie called The Brave One, starring Jodie Foster. Huge fan of this actor, I really think she can do more with silence than most actors of any gender, can do with pages of script.

This movie is Death Wish (and a little bit of Taxi Driver) with a female protagonist. That's a genuine POV. Often when I'm struggling with some fiction storyline, particularly something with an adventure/action perspective, I can ingest new life into it by switching out the gender of the hero. There are differences between men and women (really Vic? wow, make a note of that). Changing that perspective forces you to look at your character and their situations in a new light.
So now we have The Brave One, switch out Charles Bronson for Jodie Foster. Same locale (New York City) same basic situation (innocent person falls prey to violence and begins to feel helpless) same conflict (in an attempt to feel safe the hero buys a gun but in so doing have they stopped being a victim or become a vigilante)

I was more interested in the differences between the two movies rather than the similarities. In Brave One, Foster is the direct victim of senseless violence, along with her boyfriend. In Death Wish, it is Bronson's daughter and wife who are assaulted. I find this fascinating. In the movie with the male protagonist, we had to have someone close to him, perhaps even helpless (his daughter) assaulted in order to spring our hero into action; was it that if Bronson had been assaulted we couldn't imagine him feeling like a victim? He needed the "protector" reflex to make his actions seem plausible. In the Brave One its not enough for Foster to be assaulted, her boyfriend needed to be killed as well. Losing the male in her life gives Foster that feeling of total helplessness required to justify her actions. If she herself have been assaulted alone, well, she would have had the boyfriend to help her, he would have become the avenger. Was the addition of the male character something to distract us from the rumours of Foster's sexuality?

In Death Wish, after his wife dies of her injuries and the daughter slips into a coma, Bronson goes to Arizona and is introduced to old west gun lovery (no, its not a word and yeh, I'm still going to use it). He gets himself a six shooter and returns to New York for some old school retribution.

In Brave One, things are different for Jodie Foster. She is the victim (ah, the perspective is different even beyond gender). It is more difficult for her than for Bronson. She struggle to come to terms with the fear, struggles to even leave her apartment. How the two acquire their guns is interesting; Bronson the avenger is given the gun, Foster the victim gets the gun herself.
This is Taxi Driver territory; Travis Bickle in the hotel room with the suitcase full of weapons. Except, Bickle was nuts and trying to defend Jodie Foster. This time, Foster has to do it herself.

I love this point. Foster gets the gun herself. Perhaps she gets it out of a feeling of helplessness at first, but she gets it herself. Bronson, a peace loving man in his movie, even after this terrible thing happens to his family is given the gun. In Arizona is almost seduced by his gun loving buddies into taking the gun. He needs to be pushed because his motivation would be more vengeance than protection. He doesn't need to protect himself, Foster does. Is it because one is male and the other female? Or because one was a third party victim and the other the hardcore, first person real deal.

There are more parallels between the movies. Both movies have a police officer as an important character. Death Wish has Vincent Guardenia. Brave One has Terrence Howard. The Death Wish cop enters the story later, once Bronson begins his vengeance trail; in Brave One we meet the cop earlier on, although the character does not become involved with Foster until she, too, goes on the hunt. In Death Wish the cop is after Bronson, there is a certain grudging admiration, but he has a job to do, even after public opinion builds in the vigilante's favour. In Brave One (Spoiler Alert) the cop takes a much more active role.

What informs this different perspectives on the two cops. In Brave One there is a definite relationship between Foster and Howard. It never becomes sexual but they touch each other, they connect with one another. He is divorced, her boyfriend is dead. Howard is black but Foster's boyfriend was Indian so hey, she could be into the interracial thing. In 1970s Death Wish there could never be any thought of a relationship between two men (though the gun nut Bronson meets in Arizona definitely had a twinkle in his eye). Bronson is still out there on his own. In Brave One, Foster pretty much acquires the cop as an aid, he does in fact help her in the end. Could it be we could never have that single woman fulfill her mission of old west vengeance without a man by her side?

Hannie Calder is an old Raquel Welch western. A true old west woman on the vengeance path flick. In that movie, Hannie needs the aid of a man (Robert Culp) to fufill her mission. But there is some practicality here, the Culp character teaches Welch how to handle a gun and kill men. In Brave One Foster teaches herself but in the final scene, she needs Howard's help; he saves her life and essentially grants her her freedom.

Death Wish is an ambiguous movie. Its a good movie. It certainly attempted to examine some of the issues around violence, vengeance, the vigilante myth. The Bronson character is never really portrayed as the Kick ass no nonsense Chuck Norris vengeance machine. Sometimes we see him going over the edge. And, in a truly great scene, we see Bronson, while going after a bad guy, try to illicit a gunfight that could result in his own death. As if he wants to die, knowing that all he is doing may have no purpose, cannot really correct all the wrong done to him and his.

Brave One takes a different tack. By having the cop actively assist Foster in getting the guys who hurt her, it feels more like justification of her actions. I think we are supposed to feel some conflict here but as Foster is leaves the scene, even able to recover her pet that the bad guys had taken from her, it feels more like a conclusion.

The last shot in Death Wish is chilling. The cop in that movie knows who Bronson is, knows what he is but, under the premise of "having no proof" allows him to leave. Is this aiding and abetting? Guardenia wants the vigilante out of his city and he feels there is too much public support for Bronson ever to go to prison. On the train platform, about to leave the city, Bronson kneels by his bag, looks up and with that enigmatic cryllic smile he could so well, cocks his finger and shoots. So perhaps there is some justification here as well.

These are two good movies. Two very good, very different performances. Changing the gender of the protagonists changes the POV, changes the perspective. Is one better than the other? Is either one more "honest" than the other?

Keep watching. Maybe the perspective will change again.

PS: Just a note from my POV, I wrote a blog all about vengeance and discovered I had no idea how to spell the word.

Thursday, March 27, 2008


This post was inspired by the witty and eloquent Elizabeth McClung ( who wrote her perceptions of a movie called He Was a Quiet Man ( The film concerns a disabled female character, and Ms McClung, herself a disabled person, had some interesting remarks concerning that.

I have yet to see this movie. That is not the point. My opinion of the movie may be different from those of a disabled female. I'm sure that it would different after reading Ms McClung's blog than it would have been before. It is all about perceptions.

As a film maker, I've become aware of the narrowness of vision. Through the lens, you are presented with an image that is separate from the one beyond the lens hood. A shot is not random; you've framed it, followed the rule of thirds (or not), set the tripod, set the exposure, opened the lens ... even in search of a "natural" shot, you have just altered reality, just by the mere fact of turning on the camera.

That is the point of it. As a film maker, that is what you are trying to do. You are trying to create a vision, a vision that other viewers may not share. Everything in your film, from the script to the shot to the editing, is designed to carry that vision right to the end of the project and into the eyes of your audience. I call that persistence of vision, I call that commitment.

Assembly line Hollywood crap like Will Farrell comedies or entirely redundant sequels (Speed 2, give me a break) leave me cold because I see no vision there, I see no desire of expression, it is just film making to make a film, 90 minutes of motion designed entirely to make a buck.

I love the works of Kurosawa and Ford and John Boorman and the Cohen Brothers because I see, in their work, a vision. Right (Seven Samurai, My Darling Clementine, Point Blank, Fargo) that vision is powerful and compelling and pulls you in and makes your appreciate it because it is not your vision yet you begin to see it. Wrong (Amazon, Hudsucker Proxy) it baffles and confuses you and maybe you just don't get it. Vision was there but some lack of commitment on the film maker's part (or some nagging interference by a studio) has weakened that vision.

Damn, its a difficult thing, expressing your perception to someone else. We are so different, so disparate, I am amazed we can communicate at all. In the field in which I work I find myself working for people often 20 years younger than me and although we should be united by our common interest, I often feel they have no idea what I am talking about. (OK, maybe its references like My Darling Clemenitne that leave these 25 year olds glaring at me)

As a sort of half assed artist, and even inmy most commercial of endeavours, I have often struggled with the need to get that audience to understand my point of view. In that need I find art even in promotional videos and commercials; I see it, but can you? Writing or editing, I become obsessed with that, to the point where something sometimes gets lost: What about my perception? Is the POV I am selling, the right one at all?

I could make a movie about a woman in a wheelchair. I know women. I know people in wheelchairs. But after reading Screw Bronze, I've come to understand that I probably don't know either one very well at all.

Years ago I watched an Australian movie called Shame ( Briefly, the movie involves a tough, biker lawyer chick who rolls into a small town and confronts violence and ignorance and solves it all with her physical skills. I loved the movie, I saw it as a film about female empowerment (like, yeh, now she's cool because she's reacting like a man) and shared it with my female friends. I could not have anticipated the reaction. Every woman who saw the movie found it sad and scary instead of the "Yeh! Kick their ass!" reaction I had.

I began to realize the true difference in perception between men and women. I had always considered myself a guy who understood a woman's POV, all my strong role models (OK, I won't leave my older brothers out of this, they did their work too) are women. I often listened to my male friends talking about women and thought "Boys, you have no clue" Apparently I had no clue either.

I watched Shame again and began to understand its title. The hip urban lawyer chick avenges the rape of the young country girl. She takes the yahoos to task. But the young woman had still been raped, the town still saw the yahoos as boys expressing themselves and the lawyer realized that she really had no power to have prevented the abuse, and even her actions afterwards would really not change a thing.

Back in a century different from this I made a student film that went before a judging panel. In the movie, the main male character is deliberating trying to leave this reality for one of his making; yeh, he's going insane but he thinks he wants to do so. His girlfriend sees him slipping away and tries to pull him back to reality. Our hero responds by going to her house and trashing it. In the writing of the movie, I had envisioned him using a baseball bat but we didn't have one at hand so I gave the actor an aluminum table leg (gosh, I love guerrilla movie making) One of the judges told me she loved the scene where Danny went to town with his "silver sword of justice". For years I laughed at the judge's interpretation of the instrument but the salient point is really this: Danny wasn't out for justice, what he did wasn't right, he was motivated by fear and rage and hatred and if his girlfriend was there, what would he have done? The judged missed this, and she was female. Judge's fault? Or film makers? Irony is, I won Best Script for the movie, even though I may have totally failed in expressing my POV to the judges; didn't matter, they liked the one they saw.

So what do we do? As film makers do we gather 3,000 opinions before making our art? As humans do we refrain from every trying to understand someone else's POV?

You can't create art from a committee and you probably can't ever really know how everyone feels.

But you can try. And when you frame the shot, think of another pair of eyes.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Its spring in Toronto. That's what they tell me. When Hayley and I went for our walk today we were being pelted with snow and there was ice underfoot. But its spring. Sure. And the check's in the mail.

But it has warmed up recently and the snow has been melting and that means two things: Mud, muddy dog, dirty muddy dog, dirty icy muddy dog, dirty icy muddy dog who jumps up on the couch before we get her to the tub ... Ok, that counts as one thing. The other thing that spring means to a dog park? Poop. Lots of poop. Poop everywhere. (Hayley glares at me. OK, not your poop.)

There is just an awful lot of dog poop in our little local part. As Cheech Marin might say "Homes, thats a lot of cheet" Where does all this shit come from? OK, I know where it comes from in terms from where it was issued (again, Hayley glares at me, like her golden bum could ever issue forth such organic dread). A lot of dogs come to our park on a daily basis, I know most of them. But really, there is more shit than mud. And shit in the mud. Or mud in the shit ... ok, that is way too many occurrences of the word shit in one paragraph, sorry. But you get my point.

What it all means, is that people in this city have no no real concept of dog park etiquette. I mean, rule number one "Pick up your shit!" (I said shit again but its a new paragraph, I do it like that) That seems an obvious rule, golly, they even have signs and illustrations and everything. Still, people ignore it. Cause people have no idea of dog park etiquette.

Another terrible breach of etiquette is the situation about toys. My toys (Hayley cocks an eyebrow) OK, her toys. We bring them, we want them back. Often, in the case of sticks, I hunt them down like Steve Irwin in search of sting ray stingers thru mud, snow and (you guessed it) dog poop. They are our toys. We want them back.

Fetching seems an arcane skill these days, rarely practised, barely understood, whispered about in shadowy alley ways and cloisters and kept back from the masses. It seems such an easy thing; human throws sticks, dog brings stick back. Or, it Hayley's case, human throws stick, border collies chases stick, runs with it for a time and drops on command. That works for us, keeps us both moving.

Now, Hayley, being a border collie and all, would much rather fetch dogs than sticks. And since people seem to object when I snatch up their pekipoodlelabdoo (or whatever) and hurl it across the park we've worked out a compromise: Human throws stick. Average-unfortunately-not-smartest-dog-in-the-world chases stick, border collie chases dog, dog returns stick, border collie slides in after the dog and smugly asserts "There, I brought his hairy hide back" Applause and happiness ensue.
Buy it doesn't happen that way. What happens is I throw the ball, dog chases the ball, Hayley lunges off in pursuit, dog catches ball, runs with ball .. runs with ball .. runs with ball ... Hayley stops, stares for a second and looks over her shoulder at me saying "Now, where the hell is he going?" I pose the same questions to his human and the response is usually "Oh, he won't bring it back" and off they walk, after their dog. With Hayley's ball. Sadness and regret ensue.
If they are not fetching they are also not dropping. And if they are not dropping I am the one running after them (ok, its more like a hobble but I've grown fond of it) putting them into a stay and prising the toy out of their jobs. All the while their owners stand there, muttering "Gee, he never gives it up for me" To which I respond "No shit, have you ever tried?"
Its annoying. And its rude. There are more breaches of dog park etiquette but its late, the morning comes early, and I have to go out and buy me some new dog toys

Tuesday, March 25, 2008


This past weekend Collette and I attended a performance of We Will Rock You here in Toronto. This is the musical based on the music of Queen. You remember Queen; big hair, big guitars, big hits, big music, big ambiguous lyrics filled with big words that had some of my high school buddies scrambling for a dictionary. "Hey, look up Bohemian ..." Well, at least they had finally opened a dictionary. Hell, they had finally opened a book ...

I digress. Not surprising, really, because I think digressing is the whole point of this blog. So when I don't digress and stay focused and on point, I am defeating the whole point of this exercise. Except defeating pointless points is also the point of this blog. Again. With the digressing.

Back to We Will Rock You. This won't be a review of the show but it was great. Collette and I are Queen fans of varying degree and we like the music, the performances and singing were solid and the "book" (see, I took theatre in school) was quite funny.

The story concerns itself with the homogenization of music. One of the characters states "The music began to die with the creation of something called American Idol that produced singers whose careers were shorter than the songs they sang" (Paraphrasing, imagine a more humorous and melodious syntax) Real music made by real guys with real big hair wearing their sisters make up in their daddy's garage had been replaced by corporate created muzac distributed over the Internet.

The instruments were taken, the leather jackets where shredded and people's ability to create had been compromised by commercial pablum. Well, hard to argue that. But, when did this happen? A recent phenomenon? Was there actually some long grace period where free spirited artists made their music as they wanted and everyone was able to hear it?

Maybe in the Delta, in the juke joints and the booze parties, where Leadbelly and Robert Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson played for pennies and still liquor, often making it up as they went along cause nobody read music or knew the words. (OK, my blues name will now be Sighted Tangerine Kellar, just cause I can)

I grew up at the tail end of rock and roll, pre Brit invasion rock and roll, the era that We Will Rock You casts as some kind of musical utopia. Cept it was during this era that Fabian was signed to a recording contract before anyone ever heard him sing cause he had wet eyes and a taut butt. And Pat Boone was doing Little Richard covers and selling them. I often bemoan aloud that in this day of the music video, people get record contracts based on their looks; but Fabian was there already there and the Beatles really didn't get huge until they were on Ed Sullivan

Image has always been a part of rock and roll. Maybe rock and roll was so hugely successful because of its image. The leather jacket and blue jeans are visual icons really, associated with an aural art form, can you have one without the other? Rock and rollers enjoyed mass market success long before the bluesmen even though rock began as an expression of blues. Why is that so?

Cause more rockers were white, more rockers were young, and more rock and roll happened in the age of TV than did the blues. Sullivan, American Bandstand ... I am not forgetting or ignoring racism. Blues records weren't sold to white kids and blues music wasn't played on white radio. Though, even this art form was chained to commercialism; many blues greats, including Sonny Boy Williamson got their start on the King Biscuit Boy radio show. King Biscuit Boy was a flour label.

Lets face it, if music didn't have ties to commercialism we would never hear it. Guerrilla radio stations aside, most of the music we hear is because some one is making money from it. And if someone is making money from it, that someone damn well has their hand in the creative stew.

Early blues music was organic, shows sometimes just happened spontaneously and bluesmen often "duelled" with other (and duelled with each other, like with guns and razors "You bring the knife, I'll bring the gun, we'll go down to the alley and have us some fun" Hoyt Axton sang) Early rap music was similar. Totally uncommercial, a form of expression devoid of instrumentation cause no one could afford it. Now look at it. Queen Latifa (who once declared on black person could be racist so don't jail them) hawks lip stick and Run of Run DMC has a reality show that looks like the Cosby show.

In the mid sixties a lot of old bluesmen were "discovered" by a white audience and were applauded as real, organic, "folk" music. You could actually "find" a Bukka White album and pass it around and be pretty sure no one else in your circle had ever hear of him. I heard KT Tunsall on a little underground internet site and it seemed before I could write her name down, she had her own Bravo special. Technology has made that different, as We Will Rock You declares. But is it bad? Bukka White never got to sell a million records or play to thousands of peoples and sign and endorsement deal and make a sex tape that gets onto the net and go to detox and national TV and clean up and become a Christian for four seconds before going back on tour and producing some tiny little white chick with big tits who makes him even more money ...

But I bet he would have liked too.

Oh yeh, one final irony about the whole thing. We Will Rock You, the musical that denounces the commercialisation and branding of everything was staged in the beautiful old Pantages theatre ... except now it is called the Canon.

And life goes on.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


What is the hairy edge?

It is a place that exists inside my mind. Its as real as the memories in my head and as fantastical as all the fiction I have written. As concrete as the faces of the people of love and as ephemeral as the piece of music I've been writing for twenty years and don't have the ability to record.

"The dreams made of smoke and the reality hewn in Stone" Gunter Grass

It is an almalgam of all that crap that has filtered through my brain in 50 year. It reads like Samuel Delaney and James Dickey and Phillip Dick and Margaret Atwood and T Jefferson Parker and Harlan Ellison and bill bissett. It sounds like BB King and Leonard Cohen and Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rankin and the Rolling Stones. It looks like frames created by Sam Peckinpah and John Ford and the Cohen Brothers and Ridley Scott.

The Hairy Edge falls between the things I've done, the stuff I'll never do, the work I will most certainly do, and the dreams of "someday I'll get to it"

The Hairy Edge is the moments when I am physically alone yet still connected to the people all around me. Like walking through a snowstorm for two hours, the flakes on my eyelashes, the city all quiet and frozen and not moving and I don't see anyone but I'm thinking of what I'm going to buy my wife for Christmas. When I'm driving from Toronto to Kingston at 2 am, the highway empty, the wheels humming, John Lee Hooker rumbling in my ears and my mind is thinking of my brother and how the next day I am just going to get him drunk. Solitary. Not alone.

The Hairy Edge is a space I create when I am writing, not the words on the screen or my fingers on the key but just that moment, that place, between the words forming in my mind and the letters appearing. That place is quick and temporal and the most salient of all.

The Hairy Edge is out there. Well, not really out there. I was out there once when I was young and I came back with less teeth, more hair and underpants that smelled like Jose Cuervo tequilla. I am old now. I don't want to be out there. I want to be in here. In here with my wife and my dog and my John Wayne westerns. I live in here and its a nice place to live. But sometimes I have to be away from here so I got someplace that is not here and not out there but perhaps some place just south of both of them, where my sould remains the same but my mind kind of bleeds off a little.

The Hairy Edge, for purposes of this site, is my musings. The ones I usually keep in my head. The thoughts that compell my wife to ask "Hon what you thinking about" and when I don't answer she knows where I am

Now the Hairy Edge has a space.

Lets see if I can fill it
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