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.
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