Saturday, December 25, 2010


Form over function. Style over content. Looking good vs thinking good .. gooder .. well .. whatever.

Does one trump the other, are they mutually exclusive, these are questions that have been kicking around for a long time. Almost as long as: Which came first, the chicken or the egg OR If a tree falls in the forest does it make a sound OR If Donald Trump is one of the richest men in the world why the fuck doesn't he get a better weave?

But let us shy away from any heady philosophical question (you do know which blog you are read correct?) and remain in a context that I understand. No, not beer, movies.

This is certainly an old topic of discussion when it comes to movie. There have always been those movies that looked great, from stunning full colour vistas to eye dazzling CGI effects but once you strip away the eye candy, all you had left was a crunchy frog .. that was a Monty Python reference, just to see if you were paying attention

A few years ago, Jennifer Lopez starred in a movie called The Cell, which concerned a woman who was able to get inside people's dreams, to help them with psychological issues

The concept was enticing, and the imagery was breathtaking .. even aside from Ms Lopez. There was an attempt at establishing an emotional connection, the plot involved Lopez "rescuing" someone from a serial killer. But in the long run, I felt more attention was paid to the visuals than the story, or even to the concept itself

Last year we saw Inception, another movie about people who are able to enter someone's dreams and alter their reality.

Certainly, the visuals, the look of the movie was breath taking. Like The Cell, this story also had an emotional connection but it's concept was about as fully realized as anything I've ever seen in a movie. This elevates the movie. You don't need the effects, the look, for this film to be compelling, the story (along with the fine ensemble acting) did that.

So, story over look, form over function? For me, usually, but not always. Film is, after all, a visual medium, and there are some film makers how can use the visual to tell their story.

Probably one of my favorite examples of this is Blade Runner directed by Ridley Scott

Blade Runner is one of those movies that had an immediate impact on and that has lasted for many years. There is a story here, sort of in a way if you really want there to be. I will not delve into the rumour that this movie was based on the Phillip K Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. I in fact do not want to delve into the situation of all the movies that have been based, if that is the term, on the works of one of my favorite authors of all time. That will be a rant for another post (and it will be ugly, if I ever publish it, you may want to look away.
I prefer to consider Blade Runner as an entity all unto itself. And yes, it is an entity with a story. Beyond all the gobbly gook in the film (and my goodness there is a lot of gobbly gook) it is an examination of what makes a human, human. Or it is supposed to be. The script only lightly dwells on this topic and much of the action seems entirely unconnected with the basic premise.

But then there is the look of the movie. From the sets, to the camera work, to the costumes, the film had a very distinct look. It put you in a time and place, which is cool, because it is a time and place that never existed. That movie was very much about the look. The grimy, multi cultural, used up, low tech, environment trashed look of the thing said more about this world. While the plot unfolds it is the constant rain, the bombardment of commercial messages, the babel of many languages, the "worn out" high tech that informs us about this world as much as any dialogue.

Then you have Avatar. Another world, one entirely dependent upon effects.

The planet of Pandora is, of course, artificial. In more ways than one. Movies have always created pretend worlds but this was one of the first where not only every aspect of the planet existed in a computer, so did some of its most important characters.

I love this movie and I love its story. It is filled with emotion, with a sense of wonder, with a sense of outrage and in the character of Jake Sully, it is a story of redemption, one of my favorite themes. But it is also gorgeous to look at. But it is not just eye candy. James Cameron needed all the detail so that we were sucked into his world, that we totally bought Pandora and, more importantly, that we soon forgot that the Na'vi are computer generated fantasies and not flesh and blood creatures and allows us to fully experience the emotional core of the story

Which brings me to the movie that inspired all this ponderous pondering: Tron Legacy.

Tron, I think, is very much like Blade Runner in that the stunning visuals are integral to the telling of the story. Much of Tron takes place inside a computer, a place as artifical as the planet Pandora but a place that we have to "buy", that we must believe in, in order to care about the characters and the story. Both of which, by the way, are worth taking note.

We saw Tron in 3D and it was as good as Avatar, an immersive experience that totally makes sense to the setting. Some of the movie takes place in the real world and those scenes are in 2D. Inside the Grid, the computer, the scenes are in 3D. The film has a definite colour pallette, with lots of blacks and muted colours with sudden and dramatic splashes of bright yellow and neon blue. It all makes sense to the story, its all there for a purpose.

The look of this movie is important, the colours are like a kind of code that begin to make sense as the story unfolds. The colours and the animation are like a kind of dialogue, as much as the costumes and lighting designs of Blade Runner.

As I side, movies are a visual medium. M Night Shyamalan used the colour of red in The Sixth Sense to indicate when we were in the presence of a ghost. Kansas is black and white, Oz is in colour. In the original Stairway to Heaven, earth was in technicolour, Heaven was black and white. What we see can tell us a story as well

So form over function? You still need a story and characters and chicks with swords .. ok, maybe that last part is just for me. But you see my point. But in some cases, the form serves a function.

And there is never a function that cannot be served by a chick with a sword ...



The title paraphrases Robert Heinlein, just to get that out of the way
Our moon of course. The night of December 21, the winter solstice, a rare event by all understanding. Even more rare was a sky so clear that even with the high background of Toronto city lights, Collette and I were able to camp out in back yard and watch the whole thing unfold. And of course record it
The recording was made easier by a couple of early Christmas presents. The photo's in this post were taken by Collette, with her Nikon D-80, using her new telephoto lens with a maximum range of 400 mm.
She was able to get some nice images of the shadow passing over the moon and another thing that makes this eclipse special, was that as the shadow progressed, it made old Luna seem more Mars like. That is, red
It was a pretty cool effect I must admit. It really did remind me of Mars, but the with the imprint of the Moon's familiar craters. The whole thing took about 2 hours and were lucky that the sky remained clear for the whole thing. It was quite cloudy less than 2 hours before the eclipse began

At one point Collette, Jeff and I were all out there but Collette was the real trooper, she hung in for the whole event, sitting in one of the lawn chairs, in the snow, in her pajamas and a parka. That's my northern girl
It was an interesting event, an interesting night and a great opportunity to try out some new tunes. Here is a short video with images from Collette's Nikon, my venerable XL1 dv camcorder and my new Sony HDR-SR350 HD cam

Lunar Eclipse from Victor Kellar on Vimeo.

Thursday, December 23, 2010


The other night Collette and I took a journey. That was kind of accompanied by Journey. To a city in time, a city that was built by rock and roll, filled with people who want to rock, who want to know what love is, people who ain't gonna take it anymore and where strangers wander up and down the boulevard ...

We went to see the musical Rock of Ages

Rock of Ages is a musical review. The music existed first and the story was built around it. The music in question is from the 80's, provided by bands like Journey, White Snake, Twisted Sister even the Allan Parson Project (be honest, when was the last time you thought about the Allan Parsons Project, if at all)

Musical reviews are tenuous things. Often they are essentially concerts, usually performed by people not near as talented as the original artists. Story, if any, tends to be sketchy

It is essential that you like the music. The play Jersey Boys ran to packed houses here but there was no chance I was ever going to see it. Jersey Boys is based on the music of The Four Seasons and I would rather have my beard trimmed by Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre to sit through a show of Four Seasons songs

The musical We Will Rock You was based on the music of Queen. While I can't confess to be a true Queen fan, I enjoy the music .. and the play was so good Collette and I saw it twice. And would see it again

I was a bit nervous for Rock of Ages. I like a lot of that music but I didn't want to see a disguised concert. And it was not. It was actually one of the funniest shows I have seen in a long long time

The story is what it is, fairly standard for this sort of thing, boy and girl, meeting and leaving, getting lost, finding their way back to each other yadda yadda. Where the book of this play stand out is the presentation of the whole thing.

One of my favorite theatrical techniques is Pirandello, essentially a kind of slight of hand where you are told "Hey, we are about to fool you, you know we are going to fool you, but you're going to let you" During the show we were never left in doubt that we were watching a show.

At one point, the lovelorn male lead is feeling lost and confused. "I don't know what is going on" he moans. So he is handed the script of the play and asks what it is. "It's Rock of Ages" he is told, "the play you're in?"

The male lead, a wannabe rocker, is played by Yves Pedneualt, from We Will Rock You, a performer with a genuine rock and roll scream and a charming Quebecouis accent. In the the play he explains that he is from south Detroit (to set up the Journey song, Don't Stop Believing) but adds "by way of Montreal, to explain my noticeable French Canadian accent"

The person who informs Yves of his actual place in the universe is Lonny, sound man at the rock and roll bar where much of the action takes place and, essentially, the play's Greek chorus
Lonny is played by Aaron Walpole and for all the reasons to see this show, he may be the biggest one, in more than one sense. Mr Walpole is a rather large fellow but with an energy and physical grace that reminds you of John Belushi at his best. His energy is manic and you can't take your eyes off him. He played the audience like the live band played their instruments and his wit was a sharp in live impromtu asides as it was reading the script. On top of everything else, the man can sing.

There were other strong comedic performances. Cody Scott Lancaster played Franz, the disenfranchised son of a German real estate magnate who wants to tear down the Sunset Strip and kill rock and roll. Franz really wants to make candy and expresses himself with hilariously effeminate hip tosses and wrist flips. When he falls in love with a woman someone declares "I thought you were gay!" Franz replies "I'm not gay. I'm German"

As I noted earlier, most of the voices were strong. With the acception of Yves, who is a genuine rocker, these are stage performers. Their voices are beautiful but can you fairly compare them to David Coverdale or Mick Jones or Steve Perry. It's really a specious discussion. This was not a concert, it was a play and the performers were more than capable to that task.

Angela Teek, who played strip club owner Mother, particularly stood out. She has a sultry, snarly R&B voice that could belt Motown, blues and this lovely 80's puffery

I enjoyed the performances, I admired the way the songs were integrated into a story but really, it was the script that carried the day for me. There were times I was laughing so hard there were tears in my eyes.

I've heard people saying "I love this show, it really reminds me of the 80's" Well, perhaps the quality of the illicit drugs I did in the 80's weren't that good, I think this was an entertainment, not a time capsule. As Collette noted "I didn't think there was that much pole dancing in the 80's"

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