Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fumbling Towards the Weekend

What I want to do is blog about a weekend on a lake, theatre, film, food, Toronto, yadda yadda... but what I am doing is working what feels like non stop.

What I'm grateful for is so much, and today that's gerbera daisies that have lasted so long. Their rich, red elegance greet me every morning when I get up earlier than usual, and every evening after a very, very long day at work.


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Foot on the Brake

A long work day started early and ended late. At home this evening, I slowed everything down. There was so much to do between volunteer jobs and getting myself organized after a long weekend away. But I took my time, accompanied by the sweet sound of Loreena McKennitt in the background, as a spatchcocked organic chicken roasted its heavenly scents through my home.

Life is good. I'm grateful.

Time Changes

I'm looking out as the sun rises over the city. The shifting daylight throughout the year is always surprising to me, but I love early mornings, whether it's dark or light. I'm back from three days up north with - surprise, surprise - more pictures.

Here's just one.

Favourite moment of the weekend:

M: Look, a deer!
Me: Oh, Bambi!!!

A young deer will always be Bambi for me. Well done, Disney Corporation.

Friday, September 16, 2011


After years of Canadian viewers grumbling that their episodes of Coronation Street ran eight months or so behind the UK episodes, CBC has started doubling up episodes so we can catch up. That's a full hour of Coronation Street, every day, Monday to Friday. And last night we had the 50th anniversary episode, with the terrible explosion and tram crash.

It was so well done, very moving and gripping. I had tears in my eyes.

I have come to Corrie late, but I think I'm permanently hooked!

Monday, September 12, 2011

BPG Summer Movie Awards

Best Big Popcorn, Empty Brain

"This mortal form grows weak. I require sustenance!" (Chris Hemsworth as Thor)

I hadn't planned on seeing Thor, but I'm glad I did! So much fun, with a great cast featuring beefy blond Chris Hemsworth, Natalie Portman, Stellan Skarsgård and Anthony Hopkins, all directed by Kenneth Branagh.

Most Pre-Raphaelite Jane Eyre ever

"How very French!" (Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax)

Mia Wasikowska was a smart, prickly Jane; Michael Fassbender an attractive, rough-around-the-edges, thankfully-not-too handsome Mr. Rochester; and the cast is completed by a host of great supporters like Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax. The director is Cary Fukunaga and I have no idea where he's come from, except he's young and incredibly talented. I've seen every English-language version of Jane Eyre EVER, including all the TV adaptations. This one is hauntingly Pre-Raphaelite, as it lingers on exquisitely lit profiles of Jane, her abundant reddish-blonde hair, and dark, rumbling views of the moors, all naturally lit. I especially love the shot of Jane, after her escape from Fairfield Hall, curled up in the heather, seen from overhead. The Pre-Raphaelites would have gone nuts for that shot. PRB fans, look at Wasikowska and compare her to Lizzie Siddal (Dante Gabriel Rossetti's wife)... see a similarity? I certainly do. The first image is Lizzie Siddal as "Ophelia", painted by John Everett Millais. The second is Wasikowska as Jane.

Charmingest Woody Allen Film in Zonks

Luis Buñuel: "A man in love with a woman from a different era. I see a photograph!"
Man Ray: "I see a film!"
Gil: "I see insurmountable problem!"
Salvador Dalí: "I see rhinoceros!"

(Adrien de Van as Luis Buñuel, Tom Cordier as Man Ray, Owen Wilson as Gil, and Arien Brody as Salvador Dalí.)

Midnight in Paris is a total delight, dolloped with vintage neurotic Woody Allen (Owen Wilson in the lead role), and scattered with gems that hearken back to some of his writing (hint: "The Kugelmass Episode"). What a cast! Owen Wilson is the confused contemporary Hollywood screenplay writer who yearns for his imagined version of Paris in the 1920s and 30s. I'm not giving much away by telling you that Adrian Brody's take on the young Salvador Dalí is worth the price of admission alone. It's very playful and expansively quotable (so you know I had to love it), so... here's another, which gives you an idea of how much fun it is... a perfect summer movie.

Ernest Hemingway: "You liked my book?"
Gil: "Liked? I loved all of your work."
Ernest Hemingway: "Yes. It was a good book because it was an honest book, and that's what war does to men. And there's nothing fine and noble about dying in the mud unless you die gracefully. And then it's not only noble but brave."

(Corey Stoll as Hemingway and Owen Wilson as Gil.)

Most Frustratingly Almost Brilliant

"The only way to be happy is to love. Unless you love, your life will flash by." (Jessica Chastain as Mrs. O'Brien)

Terence Mallick is a visionary artist. I went to The Tree of Life humming with wonder at what I would see. I was so moved by the story of this family of three boys growing up in 1950s Texas, and the flashforwards to one of them (Sean Penn) in the middle of a personal crisis. SPOILER ALERT: You may have heard about the beautifully created footage of the birth of our world, and the existential life-after-death exploration. I've no doubt it's supposed to meld together seamlessly and powerfully. It didn't for me, and I was gnashing my teeth for days afterwards, thinking on how close it came to being something... more... I don't know what. I still applaud Mallick for doing what he does, for trying what it is he's trying to do. I'm still glad I saw it. I'm grateful that such an artist exists. I just wish... GRRRRR.

Best End to Remarkable Series

"Harry Potter, the boy who lived... come to die." (Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort)

Wow, they did a great job with the last two Harry Potter films, which covered the last book of J. K. Rowling's amazing series. I finally saw Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part Two and was left blissfully happy in how they served the story, and gobsmacked by the effects and visual splendour. J. K. Rowling's own story is amazing... the fact that the seven books are the triumph they are is the stuff of film; and the films themselves!... eight great romps through Harry's story, in a series unmatched by any in film. Of course, part of me is also relieved that it's over, but not because of any negative feeling; I just wanted completion, and that's what we got most satifsyingly.

Worst Value, Best Arse

"You don't remember anything?" (Olivia Wilde as Ella)

There's only one thing worth remembering about Cowboys and Aliens (2011), and that's the best bottom on earth or in space; what can I say?... Daniel Craig looks great in chaps.

A fine cast and a great premise (why shouldn't aliens have landed 100 years ago?), which soon devolved into a... SPOILER ALERT... shoot-'em-up-like-we-have-a-hope-in-hell-except-oh-wait-of-course-we-do-because-this-is-a-Hollywood-movie. Sigh. Save your time and money.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A Day Like no Other

"In the time of your life, live - so that in that good time there shall be no ugliness or death for yourself or for any life your life touches. Seek goodness everywhere, and when it is found, bring it out of its hiding-place and let it be free and unashamed. Place in matter and in flesh the least of the values, for these are the things that hold death and must pass away. Discover in all things that which shines and is beyond corruption. Encourage virtue in whatever heart it may have driven into secrecy and sorrow by the shame and terror of the world."

From the prologue to The Time of Your Life, a play by William Saroyan which celebrates Life with a capital "L" and its possibilities. I find this prologue very moving, and more so today, when we remember the 10th anniversary of those dreadful events of 9-11, and how the world, for so many, was changed forever.

It was earlier this summer that I saw a performance of this play, in the remount of the Soulpepper production at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts. The playbill featured an eloquent artist's note by actor Stuart Hughes (Kit Carson in the play) and the reprint of the prologue to the script, by Saroyan. I quoted from it above. Here's another:

"In the time of your life, live - so that in that wondrous time you shall not add to the misery and sorrow of the world, but shall smile to the infinite delight and mystery of it."

In grievous times the artist finds solace from the world in his art, as do those observers that are lucky enough to live where art is freely and widely expressed. There is an example of the seeking of that solace in Mahler's incomparable Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen. In late September 2001, the Canadian Opera Company had the opening night of its season. Before the performance started, the great Canadian baritone Russell Braun stepped before the curtain and sung this haunting song, accompanied by the company's orchestra, in a tribute to those who had died on that dreadful day. Here's it's sung by José van Dam.

Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen
(Words by Friedrich Rückert, Music by Gustav Mahler)

Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen,
Mit der ich sonst viele Zeit verdorben,
Sie hat so lange nichts von mir vernommen,
Sie mag wohl glauben, ich sei gestorben!

Es ist mir auch gar nichts daran gelegen,
Ob sie mich für gestorben hält,
Ich kann auch gar nichts sagen dagegen,
Denn wirklich bin ich gestorben der Welt.

Ich bin gestorben dem Weltgetümmel,
Und ruh' in einem stillen Gebiet!
Ich leb' allein in meinem Himmel,
In meinem Lieben, in meinem Lied!

English translation by Emily Ezust:

I am lost to the world
with which I used to waste so much time,
It has heard nothing from me for so long
that it may very well believe that I am dead!

It is of no consequence to me
Whether it thinks me dead;
I cannot deny it,
for I really am dead to the world.

I am dead to the world's tumult,
And I rest in a quiet realm!
I live alone in my heaven,
In my love and in my song!

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Rambling Thoughts: Frankenstein to Ranyevskaya

Recently TCM (Turner Classic Movies) showed the Spanish film from 1973, El espíritu de la colmena (The Spirit of the Beehive). The plot of this strange and beautiful film revolves around Ana, a little girl living in the Spanish countryside in 1940s Spain. A travelling cinema arrives in her village and holds a screening in the village hall of Frankenstein (1931). This film has a strong effect on the little girl. Her sister tells her the monster is alive, and Ana starts roaming the open, windswept land around her village in search of him. She ventures deeper into a fantasy world, but I won't say more than that.

A tragic aside: cinematographer Luis Cuadrado was already going blind when making this film (what vicious irony). He finally lost his sight entirely and committed suicide in 1980.

The little sweetheart who plays Ana is Ana Torrent, all grown up now and a successful actress maybe best known to English-speaking viewers as Katherine of Aragon in The Other Boleyn Girl (2008).

Well, that got me flicking through Mary Shelley's Frankenstein and wondering, not for the first time, how such dark and awesome genius could be present and so well expressed in such a young person, for she was only 19 at the time she wrote it. I *did* return for the National Theatre's second HD transmission of Frankenstein, this time with Jonny Lee Miller as the monster and Benedict Cumberbatch as Frankenstein. As expected, the change in roles changed the experience somewhat, and I feel so grateful to have been able to see both. Thank you NT Live!

NT Live's The Cherry Orchard was one of those productions that I couldn't imagine being performed better: set, performances (Kenneth Cranham - one of my all-time favourites - and Zoë Wanamaker as Ranyevskaya), lighting, all magnificent. But I didn't have a good time: I don't know much about Chekhov translations, but I found the modern references jarring with the very traditional look of the piece; if they'd updated it to a more modern time, it wouldn't have bothered me so much. I'm not sure who's in complete control of the sound quality in these NT Live broadcasts, but we complained twice to the Scotiabank Theatre management part way through the performance, that it was wayyyyy too loud; my ears were ringing. Even when I blocked my ears the sound was overwhelming. I was also coming off a long, intense period at work with many long hours and - to be honest, I was not in the mood to hear a bunch of whiny, once-rich, now poverty-stricken aristocrats going on about their lot in life. My Italian communist grandfather's blood runs through my veins, and I just wanted to get up and shout, "Oh shut up, and go out and get a job, you twits!" And they wonder why the serfs rose up. Blimey! I know in another mind set I would have been moved by their plight, but my mind was not open to it that evening.

For some reason I omitted to blog about an earlier offering in the NT Live season: Dion Boucicault's London Assurance. Pure delight, although not surprising with Nicholas Hytner directing Simon Russell Beale and a host of great actors, including Mark Addy, Richard Briers and Fiona Shaw as Lady Gay Spanker (what a great character, and what a name).

There's nothing like seeing it live, but - as I've said before - if you can't, this Live HD gets a big BPG two thumbs up!

Friday, September 9, 2011

Too Few Nights... or Too Many

Another reason I plan to see less live in HD theatre transmissions this year, is that I definitely saw less *live* theatre last year and that's not a good thing; there is nothing to replace the live experience, with that energy coming off the stage and flowing back from the audience. A film is a different animal, but an HD performance is not a film, and has not been designed to be one. It's a fine experience, but I don't like the idea of it replacing the live one.

I find myself often pondering what is for me a successful performance, versus what isn't. There is something about art that cannot be just categorized by whether you liked it or not; part of the decision comes from whether or not it was well done, but in any case I do seek to be affected in some way. At last year's Luminato Festival, I was moved and affected permanently by the performance of 2b Theatre Company's Homage (by Anthony Black). the question of who does art belong to, and who has the right to destroy it stayed with me and always will, I know, thanks to this very fine play.

This year, I only saw one performance at Luminato, and, in this instance, it was only the first half of the first of two parts! So, I saw a quarter of One Thousand and One Nights. I was very excited to see it, and took my father, not just because it was Father's Day, but that was a happy coincidence; also, he spent many years working in the Middle East, and we are both very drawn to the different cultural esthetics of that part of the world. The stories were adapted from the original legends by Lebanese novelist Hanan al-Shaykh and directed by Tim Supple. I read the director's notes and was intrigued by his discovery that these stories are not the sweet and childish fantasies of magic carpets and genies in lanterns. The entire performance was performed in English, French and Arabic, and part of the problem for me was that there was so much dialogue, that I spent most of my time reading the translations on the screens mounted at inconvenient places around the auditorium; it left me with little time to concentrate on what was happening on stage. What did happen felt very rushed. It was as though they were desperate to cram 1,001 nights into the entire performance time. It felt rushed and devoid of meaning; in the sheer quantity of stuff, there was little depth. Maybe it was for this reason that I felt disengaged, and, as we left at intermission - not to return - we commented on the fact that explicit violence and sex, including a stage full of huge strap-on black dildos, could not save what - to us - felt like an empty performance.

We retired to Mangia e Bevi and followed their advice: we ate and drank. Now there's some style and substance.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Quote of the Day

"As for what launched the newfound affection between Rudy and his complicated father, credit must be spread around. Some acknowledgment is due a dumb dog who ate her own poo, as well as that long-ago single-sex glee club at Deerfield, where Zajac first got the mistaken idea he could sing. (After the spontaneous opening verse of "I Am Medea," both father and son would compose many more verses, all of them too childishly scatalogical to record here.) And there were also, of course, the stove-timer game and E. B. White."

From The Fourth Hand by John Irving. So quotable, quirky, moving, and laden with semi-colons, my own favourite punctuation.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Two in the Hand

"Once out of the hospital, Patrick Wallingford moved quickly back to New York, where his career blossomed. He was made the anchor for the evening news; his popularity soared. He's once been a faintly mocking commentator on the kind of calamity that had befallen him; he'd heretofore behaved as if there were less sympathy for the bizarre death, the bizarre loss, the bizarre grief, simply because they were bizarre. He knew now that the bizarre was commonplace, hence not bizarre at all. It was all death, all loss, all grief - no matter how stupid. Somehow, as an anchor, he conveyed this, and thereby made people feel cautiously better about what was indisputably bad."

From The Fourth Hand by John Irving

It was Hand Transplant Week here in BPG Land... first of all, I finished reading John Irving's surprising The Fourth Hand, an unlikely love story, one which was inspired by a question posed by the author's wife: what if the widow of a man whose hand was donated asked to have visitation rights with the hand, once attached to its recipient?

Then, TCM showed the 1924 German Expressionist silent classic, Orlacs Hände (The Hands of Orlac, 1924). Conrad Veidt plays a pianist who loses his hands in a terrible train accident. He's given the hands of a man, freshly executed for robber and murder. He finds that his hands seem to have a mind of their own... you may be able to guess what happens... or maybe not.

In both book and film, the hands take on an erotic power, coupled with the notion of not just muscle memory, but pure memory and desire of personality.

The film had some compelling imagery, as might be expected. The first scene showed Orlac's wife eagerly anticipating her husband's return from a concert tour, as she reads a letter in which details how his hands will touch her. Her husband's caress is a powerful source of their love and erotic bond, so when he hesitates after surgery to touch her with the murderer's hands, their relationship takes a downward turn.


This nightmare scene was breathtaking.

I couldn't place Conrad Veidt's face for a long time... then it came to me: Major Strasser in Casablanca!

You didn't need 3D to feel the power of those hands.

As I watched the film, I performed my weekly manicure. What irony, I thought, and how lucky I am to have two working hands. Completely blessed.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Summer Continues... or Does it?

The humidity came back, with stunning skies and one wonderfully pink sunset. Everything was being seen through rose-coloured glasses, just without the glasses.

And, just as suddenly, the humidity is gone and it's deliciously cool.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Opera and Apatow

Saul: "Like if you were on it, [the radio] I would listen to it."

Dale: "Thanks, man!"

Saul: "It's like when my bubbeh is always playing opera, I was like I hated it! But my bubbeh loves it... you know what I mean?"

Red: "And it grows on you..."

Saul: "Yeah..."

James Franco as Saul, Seth Rogan as Dale, Danny McBride as Red in Pineapple Express (2008).

Opera didn't so much grow on me, as leap on me and sink its fangs into my neck. I was a goner since that first afternoon after school when I played my parents' LP of Maria Callas singing Carmen.

This year, I'll see all the live opera I can, and a few Met HD broadcasts in the cinema. I watched them all last year, and that was too much... not that I begrudge the time, but I didn't like spending all those precious Saturday afternoons inside... I work too damn hard to spend weekend time tucked away like a mole. The last few were memorable: Juan Diego Florez welcoming the birth of his first child, 25 minutes before curtain up on Le Comte Ory; the battle of words versus music with Renée Fleming in the Met's super-stylish Capriccio; music to die for, or to, in Die Walküre (and lots of fun debating the new Met Ring); a hyper-romantic and Gothic Lucia di Lammermoor (oh, I know the Met released the Netrebko DVD a couple of years ago, but I pray they release the Dessay one too... that ending! that music! those wolfhounds!); and Trovatore with all its convoluted plot insanity and glorious music.

Just as instantly bewitching was my first Judd Apatow film experience, Bridesmaids (2011), in the cinema. That was followed in quick succession, either by DVD rentals or PVRd viewings of The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Funny People and Pineapple Express. Funny, vulgar and immensely clever: I'm hooked.

Dale: "I go visit her in high school and all the guys she goes to school with are, like, strong and handsome and really, like, funny and do good impressions of Jeff Goldblum and shit like that. And, like, I just feel like a fat, dumb fuckin' stinky-ass turd when I'm there."

Saul: "What?"

Dale: "It sucks for my ego."

Saul: "Fuck Jeff Goldblum, man!"

James Franco as Saul, Seth Rogan as Dan, Danny McBride as Red in Pineapple Express (2008).

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Bubbly Good Times



Not to worry... steamed lobster tail...

And clams ... and mussels. Deelish!