Monday, May 31, 2004

As the Blog World Turns...

Exciting news in the Arts Blogosphere this month, as The New Yorker's Alex Ross has set up a blog called The Rest is Noise, which I'll have to assume is a classy inversion of Hamlet's last words.

Regular readers of On the Fence will recall that Ross, who writes mainly about classical and new music for the NYer, was the Inspiring Arts Writer of the Week in March. While I don't actually listen to much of either of these styles, I still read everything he writes. And sometimes it even makes me want to listen to classical and new music. And sometimes I do. That's the highest praise I can give him.

Ross isn't the only one writing about music at the New Yorker with a blog either. Mr. Sasha Frere-Jones, whom my colleague Aaron "Beloved-by-Drudge" Wherry swears by, is a fine blogster as well.

Now, if we could only convince Anthony Lane and Seymour Hersh to start up blogs, we'd be set...
Monday Schadenfreude: Burn, baby burn

Somehow -- I blame the election -- I missed the news last week that Charles Saatchi's art warehouse went up in smoke taking much of the most celebrated/hated BritArt of the last decade with it. Among the losses: Tracey Emin’s "Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995," a tent embroidered with the names of her lovers, of which I have a picture on my fridge.

Many people disliked the controversial conceptual BritArt stored in Saatchi's collection -- say, Jake and Dinos Chapman's sculptures of children with penises where their noses should be -- and were non-plussed by the inferno. Other were even gleeful to see the art burn: You couldn't walk through a British tabloid's letters to the editor page with stepping in Schadenfreude.

One of the smarter anti-BritArt arts pundits is Terry Teachout. Teachout makes a good point about the BritArt movement on his blog, quoting from his old review of Sensation, a 1999 show from Saatchi's collection at the National Gallery in New York:
Artistic effects are not what "Sensation" is about; rather, the show is about ideas, meaning that you don't have to like these works in order to "appreciate" them. Once I've told you, for instance, that Marc Quinn's "Self" is a refrigerated Plexiglass box containing a bust of the artist sculpted in his own frozen blood, you know everything there is to know about "Self" that matters. Actually seeing it is superfluous. That's the nice thing about conceptual art: Once described, it need not be experienced.
Can't really argue with that. I, for instance, happen to think that Emin's "Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-1995" is worthy of my fridge door, but I've never seen the work in person and it probably wouldn't make a difference to my appreciation of it if I did. While the actual tent went up in flames, the idea behind it still exists. Frankly, Emin could make another one in a weekend. Heck, she could contract it out to a factory and sell them at Army Surplus stores. (I'd buy one for camping, for sure.)

The Guardian's David Aaronovitch, who is more sympathetic to BritArt than Teachout, had a really excellent piece yesterday trying to understand why so many Brits (and international observers) were so blase (or giddy) about the Saatchi fire. Among other things, Aaronovitch notes that we just can't preserve every piece of art from every moment in history forever:
Ecologists know that, far from being the disasters they are usually depicted, forest fires are an essential part of keeping things going. If the old trees don't die, there won't be new ones. If people never expire, there won't be any room for new people. If all old buildings and all old art and all our photos and scribblings and loved old toys - if all this survives, it will crowd out our attics, our warehouses, our museums, our TV channels and, ultimately, our brains. Can we cope with it?
Aaronovitch suggests that our obsession with preserving every piece from the past, makes it really hard to create new art: There's no room in our cluttered attics and our cluttered minds.

For the final word on the Saatchi fire, we turn to Emin herself, who told the BBC yesterday that she was irritated by the public's "sniggering" at the incident.
It is just not fair and it's not funny and it's not polite and it's bad manners... I would never laugh at a disaster like that - I just have some empathy and sympathy with people's loss.
Quite right.

She says, by the way, that she will not make another sex-partner tent. "I had the inclination and inspiration 10 years ago to make that, I don't have that inspiration and inclination now," she said. "My work is very personal, which people know, so I can't create that emotion again - it's impossible."

Well, not impossible, reeeeally. But probably wise considering what that kind of thing would do to the market value of her other work... You know: "Oh, don't worry. I can whip up another one anytime."

Sunday, May 30, 2004

Campaign Diary, Day 8 : The First Paradox of the Campaign.

From today's Ottawa Citizen:
Prime Minister Paul Martin said he would resign in two years if he breaks three promises he has made during this election campaign: improving Canada's health care system; enhancing living conditions in cities; and maintaining social programs without going into deficit.
Sounds curiously like he's taking a page out of his old rival Sheila Copps' book, no?

Coyne makes a good point: "He's promised to resign if he doesn't keep his promises? So what happens if he doesn't keep that promise?"

Ah! The first paradox of the campaign. Keep 'em comin' boys and girls!


Actually, Coyne doesn't make that point. His computer alterego does:
A little-known feature of Movable Type, the sophisticated blog engine now powering this site, is something called LogicCheck. You just plug in the argument, and it highlights the logical flaws in it.
I just had a tres amusing daydream in which Andrew Coyne's LogicCheck and Jeffrey Simpson's Uncle Fred from Gabriola Island meet in a cafe to discuss the current election. It ends when Uncle Fred accidentally spills chowder on LogicCheck's lap, electrocuting them both.

You've got questions... We've got answers.

To the person who reached this website by searching for "Is Peter Mansbridge still married to Cynthia Dale?" The answer you are looking for is: Yes.

To the person who reached this website by searching for "What people are looking for on the Internet." The answer is: They're looking to find out whether or not Peter Mansbridge is still married to Cynthia Dale.

Saturday, May 29, 2004

Urinetown: Look down.

For some reason, my just-written entry about Urinetown has appeared with Friday's posts three entries down. Who can explain these things?
Rodeohead (sic)

If you are an obsessive Radiohead fan, this bluegrass medley of their best songs will kill you. With laughter, not death.

If you are not an obsessive Radiohead fan, move along. Nothing to see here.

[Via Said the Gramophone and At Ease News.]
Why does Snoop Dogg wear a raincoat?

Fo' drizzle.


Um... Here's my review of Soul Plane.

Friday, May 28, 2004

Theatre Saturday: You Oughta Go!

Urinetown, now playing in Toronto at the Bluma Appel, is great. I loved it. It is smarter than The Producers or Hairspray, genuinely subversive, and the most fun I've had at the theatre in a long while.

Richard Ouzounian over at The T-Star loved it as much as I did, thus temporarily redeeming himself in my eyes. The Globe and Mail's Kamal Al-Solaylee on the other hand didn't like it and, in my opinion, that's because he didn't get it. Writes Kamal: "[T]he only thing that Urinetown ultimately stands for is the preservation of frat boys' bodily function humour and the sophomoric notion that setting plays to music is an inherently funny idea."

How RIDICULOUS! (So ridiculous I broke my blog's 'no capitalization' rule.) There's nothing sophomoric about the humour in Urinetown at all. There's only one pee-pee joke and it's the premise -- a town where a malevolent corporation has privatized peeing. I mean, they have a throw-away gag about Malthus for god's sake.

Urinetown is just not his type of show, I guess. Kamal, just returned from wankeriffic trip to New York where he reviewed shows that have been open for years, has a real a hard-on for The Producers. You may remember his glowing Producers review, which began with the sentence, "Hooray to the American musical comedy!" His Urinetown review echoes that insipid opening and confirms that Kamal is incapable of writing a smart lede. "Poor musical theatre!" it begins.
Compare it to The Producers, that sublime, smart and sassy homage to musical theatre, and you'll find it lacking in every possible way. At the heart of the Mel Brooks musical is a clearly defined target and an endearing affection to musicals, sorely missing here.
Apples and oranges, baby. It's like the difference between the Royal Canadian Air Farce and The Daily Show. Look, The Producers is a good time, but its jokes are old, as is its structure and aesthetic. It's a fond look back, not a way forward for musicals. It's the last hoorah of classic American musical comedy.

Now, I'm not so sure that Urinetown shows the way forward either. But it shouldn't be dismissed as simply a spoof. It is a clever satire, one that attacks not a single ideology or belief, but delusions from across the political spectrum. It has fun at the expense of faceless and greedy modern corporations, but also mocks our idealised and patronizing notions of the nobility of the poor. It questions ideas of romance and revolution, freedom and environmentalism. And somehow it does this without becoming cynical. It is a decidedly "On the Fence" musical, I'd say.

Here's why you shouldn't trust Kamal's review. He writes: "We expect our satire to be savvy but not preachy, and Urinetown is that ultimate contradiction: a spoof of the nobler sentiments of musical theatre with hokey, pseudo-environmental sentiments of its own." To use an Ecklerism: Gaa! It's like he wasn't in attendance for the second act at all, where everything is turned on its head (reminding me of the second act of Sondheim's Into the Woods). There's nothing preachy about Urinetown.

Later, Kamal attacks the play for its "deconstructive, postmodern pretensions (which it doesn't even do well, and when it does, it hammers you over the head with it)." The way I read it, the show is mocking postmodern, meta-theatrical fare as much as it mocks Kander and Ebb or Les Miserables or Fiddler on the Roof. Kamal seems to have taken the show at face value and missed a crucial level of what makes it funny. In brief: He's taken it entirely too seriously.

Finally Mr. Speaker, despite what Kamal writes, Urinetown has a fine score. At least two songs have been stuck in my head since Thursday. I am humming one right now.

Well, this has been an interesting week indeed. Ouzounian is back in my good books and Al-Solaylee is back out. What is the world coming to?

Hooray for Urinetown, biatch!

[Speaking of Thomas Malthus, father of the idea of over-population, this is, believe it or not, the second time I have ever heard him referenced in a musical, the other being Job: The Hip-Hop Musical. I ran into Jerome and Eli from Job the other day. They're going to be performing at Just For Laughs this year, doing a fifteen minute Hip-hop for Dummeez routine. In fact, they're testing out the material over at the Tarragon Theatre arts fair right now, if you're in the 'hood.]


Here's my article about Urinetown's title, which sprung from a rumour that was going around -- spread by the Globe and Mail's James Adams in his Saturday gossip column -- that advance sales were for the show were less than expected because Canadians were squeamish about the title.

CanStage's Marty Bragg was understandably irritated by Adams' piece. That kind of buzz can sink a show. When I spoke to Bragg about it, he said: "I don't know who the hell [Adams] was talking to."

Well, Adams was talking to one of the CanStage publicists it turns out, who explained her side of the story to me in an e-mail: "Vis-a-vis James Adams. He was a bit of a pill. He and I were chatting about the show, which is a lot of fun -- but with an awful title. We never talked about tickets, let alone ticket sales --- he just assumed since we were discussing the challenge of the title that tickets sales were slow."

So there you go. Oops! I said 'go'. How sophomoric and frat-boy of me!
Why am I so obsessed with moustaches?

I'm really not sure. It's not just politicians' moustaches either. Tell me if I went a little too far with it in this introduction to my interview with Super Size Me's Morgan Spurlock:
Morgan Spurlock, the director and star of the documentary Super Size Me, isn't sure his moustache is really working for him.
"Do I look trustworthy?" he asks on a recent stop in Toronto. "Or do I look like that guy who used to kidnap the girl and tie her to the railroad tracks?"
It depends on who you ask.
In Super Size Me, Spurlock brings his moustache with him on a journey to the clogged-artery heart of the U.S. obesity epidemic. For a month, he hardly exercises and eats all of his meals at McDonald's, emulating what he calls "the typical American lifestyle." By the end of his experiment, he has gained 25 pounds, his liver has nearly turned to fat, and his girlfriend is complaining that her Big Mac daddy just can't flip her burgers the way he used to.
At the Sundance Film Festival, where the film premiered last January, Spurlock's moustachioed mug walked away with the award for best documentary director.
To the viewers who have enthusiastically greeted Super Size Me on its trek across the North American festival circuit, Spurlock's red moustache has signalled that he is one of them -- a common man standing up to the big, bad food corporations that are fattening up Middle America.
To the fast-food executives of the nation, however, Spurlock's moustache has seemed decidedly Snidely Whiplashesque.
To them, Super Size Me is a huge locomotive of bad publicity barrelling down the tracks toward them...
Yikes! Maybe it's just because I wish I could grow facial hair?
Campaign Diary, Day 6: Keeping tabs on the lip hair

The Montreal Gazette's Andy Riga is keeping an excellent election campaign blog. It's quite good, but -- being a blog -- a few errors slip in from time to time. For instance, yesterday, Riga wrote that Robert Borden was the last Canadian Prime Minister with a moustache. Your resident political lip-hair historian set him straight (see May 27, 2004 5:04 PM entry):

Yesterday, in an item about Jack Layton's moustache, we said Robert Borden was the last PM with hair on his upper lip. Today, unlike Layton, we will come clean.

“No way, dude! Louis St. Laurent was the last mustachioed PM,” was the response we got today from J. Kelly Nestruck, a National Post arts reporter, who covered the moustache beat while at The McGill Daily.

That would be correct. Our lame excuse: St. Laurent’s was a tasteful, modest one, barely visible on his official portrait.

We apologize for the error.
It's true. I did cover the moustache beat. Here's an article I wrote for The Daily about Alex Trebek's decision to shave his moustache:
According to a recent story in The National Post, the Sudbury-born Trebek recently surprised contestants and producers when he returned from a lunch break with his famous moustache shorn. The new clean-shaven look has lead some political analysts to speculate that he will retire from Jeopardy! and run for political office.

An Ottawa Citizen poll, conducted in 1998, showed that Canadians prefer their politicians to be devoid of beards, moustaches and mullets. "Canadians have historically, postwar, preferred politicians without facial hair. They feel that clean-cut faces are more trust-worthy," said Michael Marzolini, who worked on the poll. "As a result, clean-cut politicians usually have an edge in elections..."

Canadians may prefer non-moustached politicians because of the strong association between moustaches and child molesters. According to some figures, 75 per cent of sex offenders in Illinois have facial hair.

The last prime minister to have a moustache was Louis St. Laurent, who was PM from 1948 to 1957. According to a government website, "His rapport with children proved particularly appealing and he was dubbed ‘Uncle Louis.’"
Disclaimer: I'm sure Uncle Louis just liked kids, that's all.

Guest Blog Entry: Only three more smoking days left...

I got this e-mail today from my friend Greg. I have his permission to share it with you (though I've edited out a few names and places):
Smokers, moochers, non-smoking sympathizers,

Next weekend the city of Toronto will shed another basic civil liberty and ban smoking in places where people go to smoke. I blame the Liberals. And ------. But I say we all make the most of the precious time we got left. I say smoke while the smoking is good. Smoke free, young man... smoke free.


I propose a weekend that will maximize the amount of time spent smoking indoors. I say on Friday we convene immediately after work is finished... and proceed to saturate our lungs with holy, righteous nicotine. After a couple of lungfuls of glorious hydrogen cyanide, I propose we weeze our way on down to the Opera House to watch My Morning Jacket. This concert promises to be one's last chance to fire off a lungrocket during a truly bitchin' guitar solo... After the classic post-concert cigarette, I say we head back into town and indulge in some more lungcandy.
Saturday promises to be the penultimate day of indoor bronchial tastiness. However, I say we build up our anticipation by visiting the smoke-free environment of the Skydome for a little Rangers-Jays action. Following the game there's gonna be a bar-b-q at my place... Bring some grub, or cigarettes. After a coupla burgers or steaks I say we go to town on our respiratory systems in the cozy confines of (perhaps) the Stone's Place. We can hack a butt while getting all misty-eyed in remembrance for all the indoor cigarettes of our youth, and shudder with fear at the draconian prospect of smoking outdoors FOR THE REST OF OUR LIVES!
This is the end of an era, people. Are we just gonna cave in to these healthy fruitcakes? Are we just gonna butt out and let our lungs regenerate themselves? Hell no, we're gonna go down in a blaze of Belmont glory. Damn straight.

Only three more smoking days left... Enjoy.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

Campaign Diary, Day 5: The Myth of Fingerprints

Spotlight on Kwangyul Peck, Liberal candidate for Port Moody - Westwood - Port Coquitlam. Here's something you don't see every day in a candidate's bio:
Between academic degrees, Kwangyul worked and traveled in Paris, London and New York. He holds a particular fondness for his time in New York as a vegetable delivery truck driver. The constant wear and tear of lifting heavy boxes full of vegetables resulted in the loss of all of his fingerprints.
Wait, sorry... No fingerprints?

Make this man Minister of Human Resources Development Canada immediately!

[Via Kinsella.]
The New Censorship: MTV vs. Super Size Me

Well, first Disney refuses to distribute Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 and now this: MTV has refused to air an ad for Morgan Spurlock's documentary Super Size Me, allegedly because the ad is "disparaging to fast-food restaurants," ie. their biggest advertisers. From the Hollywood Reporter:
According to [film distributor] IDP spokesman RJ Millard, because Spurlock's award-winning documentary is expanding into additional theaters this weekend, IDP approached MTV about an ad buy that would see its commercial play on the youth-oriented music net over the Memorial Day weekend.
Millard said MTV told IDP that it would not accept the spot without revisions and that it would not run the spot, once revised, in any commercial pods that also featured ads for any fast-food restaurants. IDP declined to make the changes and issued its release instead.
Of course, MTV denies that their decision not to take IDF's greasy money has anything to do with pressure from McDicks or Burger King or their lucrative advertising dollars:
"The edits were not about conflicting with other advertisers," an MTV spokeswoman said. "It was about the content of the advertisements."

The content MTV initially found objectionable in the "Super Size Me" commercial was a shot of Spurlock vomiting after ingesting a hamburger and a reference that Spurlock makes about how the hamburger could "kill."
Yes, of course. MTV -- home to such family entertainment as Jackass and the Tom Green show -- is just keeping the airwaves safe from the sight of vomit. Yes, they have such standards compared to Fox, CNN, MSNBC, Comedy Central, E! and the Food Network, where this offending ad has run.

Of course, IDP and Spurlock have been very clever in all this. They've sent out a press release and will get plenty of free advertising for Super Size Me as this is discussed over the next week or so.

Where did Morgan Spurlock learn his media savvy? Hmmm.. Maybe it was the years he spent working at MTV. Maybe you remember his show I Bet You Will, which involved stunts like "greasing a guy up with pizza oil and making him strut his stuff down Times Square in nothing but an 'I Bet You Will' thong."

Return the prodigal son...
Campaign Diary, Day 5: Olivia Chow on Squash

Well, it's official. Olivia Chow, my (now former) city councillor and NDP Leader Jack Layton's wife, is running for the Feds in Trinity-Spadina, which also happens to be my riding. She was acclaimed as the NDP candidate yesterday evening.
[Chow's] arrival was greeted with foot-stomping that thundered through the packed and stifling Holy Trinity church - a suitable venue for NDP business given the congregation is known for its political activism and has long ties to the party.

Her acceptance speech, delivered while the 53-year-old Layton stood behind her in the dutiful spouse role, standing ever-ready with a supportive smile and timely applause, prompted several standing ovations...

If Chow and Layton are elected, they would become the first husband-and-wife team to sit together in Parliament, according to NDP officials.
Chow will be given a run for her money, mind you, from incumbent Liberal MP Tony Ianno, who seems to be fairly popular. Even my neighbours across the street, the ones with the dog named Trotsky, have an Ianno sign up.

Now, I haven't met Ianno, but Chow always seems to be around in the neighbourhood. I've seen her a few times now and talked to her two weekends ago, while she was pre-campaigning at the local Boys and Girls Club. We discussed, among other things, where good places to play squash in the neighbourhood.

She seemed to have a very good knowledge of the local courts, encouraging me to join the University of Toronto gym, where her husband plays.

So, before I decide who to vote for, I'm waiting to test the other candidates on their squash knowledge. I'll keep you, fair blog readers, up to date.


Are there any other bloggers in Trinity-Spadina? I can name one: my colleague and neighbour Mark Evans, whose blog is about "tech and telecom." I don't understand it at all, but it looks smart.

Know any others? Drop me a line.
Campaign Diary, Day 4: Quote of the day

Well, actually, it's the quote of Tuesday. From the Ottawa Citizen:
TORONTO - Preceded by his controversial budget, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty personally marched into the federal election yesterday as he dismissed Prime Minister Paul Martin's multibillion-dollar pledge to health care as a campaign promise and said he won't be rushed into a medicare deal in the heat of a campaign.

"What we're talking about now ... (is) a campaign promise made in the thick of the campaign. Let's wait to see the outcome of that campaign so we can better determine exactly what we're going to end up with," Mr. McGuinty said.
Okay, then. Thanks Dalton. Wise words. Good advice. But, uh, maybe you could have mentioned this to the Ontario people before they elected you? Given us a little warning maybe?

Something like, "People of Ontario, I promise not to raise taxes... Also, it's opposites day all through the campaign."
This Week in Blogging News

Item A: Andrew Coyne is has fallen off the wagon and is blogging again. Meanwhile, Noam Chomsky has stopped blogging again. You can't tell me this is a coincidence. (Well, you can, but I won't hear you. This is the Internet. Try a phone.)

Item B: There are Liberals in Calgary. Don't believe me? Read Calgary Grit, a political blog written by an alleged Calgarian Liberal. (I say alleged, because the site doesn't have a single reference to the Flames on it.)

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Campaign Diary, Day Three: Perth-Wellington

Well, I just got back home from a day-long excursion to the new Perth-Wellington riding, which is located about two hours West of Toronto.

The riding's already tight race is getting tighter. Early frontrunner King Henry VIII -- running for the Conservatives -- is losing ground, mainly because of a recent scandal over his misogyny, wives with their heads cut off, etc. But King Henry's chief rival, Timon of Athens, just isn't taking advantage of his competitor's weaknesses. He seems to be alienating many constituents with his campaign slogan: "Destruction fang mankind." Also, many are turned off by the fact that this cynical Liberal lives in a hole in the ground in the forest.

Given that those two are both underperforming and the NDP elected an unnamed messenger as its candidate, this could be a good riding for the Green Party to break through in in Ontario. The Greens' local candidate is a remarkable woman: Titania, Queen of the Faeries. Her only political weakness is a trophy husband who's a bit of an ass.

Yes, Perth-Wellington is home to Stratford, Ont., home to the Stratford Festival, where I was today doing interviews and catching plays (Anything Goes and Timon of Athens).

Shakespearean silliness aside, the riding is an interesting one to watch. Incumbent Gary Schellenberger, a Progressive Conservative who was recently elected in a by-election (at the time considered a good sign for the now-defunct PCs), is being given a run for his money by Brian Innes, the Liberal contender. As the Stratford Beacon Herald informs me:
[J]ust over a year ago, voters in this riding voted in a federal byelection. The riding swung to the Progressive Conservatives from the incumbent Liberals who managed to lose this riding through a series of faux pas.
For starters, we had no representation for an extended period as MP John Richardson suffered from failing health. Then, there was the Liberals’ mismanaged nomination process — initially, Rev. Rick Horst was chosen as the candidate but there were enough problems with the voting that a revote was ordered. And the next time, Brian Innes emerged the victor.
The political veteran then lost to Gary Schellenberger, another political veteran, in the byelection.
Also in today's Beacon Herald, unfortunately not available online, is a special section dedicated to the 50th Anniversary of the local FAG Bearings plant. Actual quote:
[The invention of the ball grinder in 1883] lead to the precision bearings produced today at FAG Bearings which creates balls to within millionths of an inch of specifications points out Mr [Robert] Leeming [President of the retirees' committee.]
FAG balls. Heh.

Yes, I am incredibly immature.
Campaign Diary, Day 3: Every vote counts!

No, seriously. I'm not bullshitting you. As John Ibbitson explains in his Globe and Mail column today, thanks to Bill C-24 -- the campaign finance reform bill -- every vote is now equal to $1.75 in funding for the party you vote for. No longer are you throwing your vote away on the Marxist-Leninist party; now you're giving them enough money for a cup of coffee or a good icepick sharpening.

It's like proportional representation. But less democratic.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Theatre Tuesday: Gardening is the new Theatre
Er... Sort of. The Guardian's Michael Billington reviews the Chelsea Flower Show.

Monday, May 24, 2004

Smashing Pumpkins? Finding Children.

Aaron writes:
On a much more serious note, Billy Corgan's blog has posted an alert for a missing Toronto girl (see the 05/07/04 message). Seems she was last seen in Chicago at one of his recent solo gigs. A picture is attached. As is information for the Chicago and Toronto police if you have any information.
Anyone seen her? Go, go blogosphere.
Campaign Diary, Day 2: Whatevah.

Despite Paul Martin's hyperbole about this being the Most Important Election in the History of Mankind, there really isn't a heck of a lot of difference between any of the parties. Canadians have basically settled into a consensus: fiscally conservative, socially progressive. NDP, Conservative, Liberal, Green... Whatevah.

So there. It's the end of history. All that's left to do now is make fun of party slogans:
Rainy morning in Brockville, Ont. A Conservative organizer wearing a Conservative-logo raincoat opens a Conservative-logo umbrella and walks me to one of the two Conservative-logo media buses. Big mug of Stephen Harper on the side, with the slogan: Demand Better
It is quickly becoming the joke of the campaign, so quickly I bet it’ll be old and tired by Wednesday: “You call this a lunch buffet? I demand better!”
Harper organizer: “I demand better media coverage!”


Others -- those who aren't enjoying their holiday weekend with as much insouciance as I -- see the lack of differentiation between the parties as a more sinister development. People like, say, Murray Dobbin:
[The election] will be a competition for who will get to guard the henhouse, the fox or the coyote. Both Paul Martin and Stephen Harper, and their parties, will dismantle medicare and swing the doors wide open to private health care if we give them the chance.
This poses a question: Who is the fox and who is the coyote? Personally, I've always seen Paul Martin as more of a giant ostrich. I'm not sure why.

Anyway, all worried hens can take refuge in Murray Dobbin's beard. That thing's huge...

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Campaign Diary Kick-off: The Writ-ing on the Wall

Hoorah! The election has been called. Yes! Now we can finally get down to having a serious debate about private involvement in public healthcare, the Kyoto Protocol, the Sponsorship scandal and... and...

Oh look! Sunshine! And scantily-clad men and women beating drums in Parc Jeanne-Mance!

See ya later, skater.


Just kidding. Of course I still am fascinated by Canadian federal politics. And in the lead-up to the election you can expect lots of serious stuff here about those serious issues and Jean Lapierre and things.

For instance: While playing Frisbee in Parc Jeanne-Mance today, I noticed a few posters for Parti Vert (duh, the Green Party) up already. Are the Greens really set to take their first seat this election?

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say yes. And not just one seat, but two. This is my prediction based entirely on spending the afternoon lying in the sun.

Friday, May 21, 2004

Film Friday: Canadian Lament

So I just took a shower and spent the whole thing thinking about the sorry state of Canadian film distribution. Really.

It's ridiculous. I was looking at the movie ads in the Post. (Yeah, in the shower; I've got a system.) There are reasonable-sized ads for movies like The Delicate Art of Parking (which I didn't really like, but others seem to love) and 19 Months (which two people whose opinions I trust have recommended to me now). But these Canadian films are only showing in one theatre each in the entire Greater Toronto Area. We're talking Toronto here, the biggest market in the country, so I'm not really expecting them to have any better distro in the rest of 'Nada.

Basically, in order to see a Canadian movie in this country, you have to work to find one. No wonder domestic films only made up 3% of the box office this year. That was the highest in a decade by the way and I believe the figure drops to 1% if you take out Quebec.

Anyway, I hereby lament. But we can do more than moan. Why not implement Australia's model where movie theatres have to devote 20% of their screens to local films? We have similar CanCon rules for TV and Radio. So why not movies?

So, go see a Canadian movie this long weekend, okay? If you can find one. Otherwise go get smashed in a camping ground.


Here's a suggestion for that long weekend movie: Robert Lepage's The Far Side of Moon (La Face cachee de la lune). I loved it, really loved it. I liked it better than a certain other recent Quebec film that won an Oscar. But I'm sucker for any non-sci-fi film where people float in zero gravity. Watching people float makes me cry for some reason.

Here's my review from The Post.
The NDP thinks ahead...

Check out It's that kind of forward thinking that will help the NDP steal a lot of votes away from the Liberals and get the Conservatives elected. Heh.

Thursday, May 20, 2004

The Montreal Mystique

Alway in tune with Montreal's hidden history, The Mirror's Kristian Gravenor interviews author Francine Bernier, who suspects Montreal was founded as part of a mysterious church order's mission to "create a new Avalon." Bernier has also discovered something odd in the Notre Dame Basilica [via Montreal City]:
A sounding board on the ceiling at Notre Dame Basilica is at the root of a major local mystery. Sounding boards are common in churches as they amplify the voice from the pulpit. They're often painted gold with a triangle surrounded by a cloud and sunrays and the Hebrew name of God, "YHVH." Francine Bernier noticed that the one in Notre Dame, which probably dates to around 1672, is missing a letter. She rented a long-lensed camera and took a close-up. The Y is missing.

"I sent the photo to religious experts in Israel, England and Rome. I didn't say where it came from. They all came back saying it was a mistake. Then I showed it to the monks at St-BenoĆ®t-du-Lac, to theologians, historians and Hebrew experts. They looked and fell off their chair." It says HVH. "That's what the Torah calls the first woman (aka Eve), so it says, ‘God is a woman.'"

High-ranking clergy initially asked Bernier to keep it quiet but have since offered a puzzled confirmation of the lettering. "I don't want to harm the Sulpicians. They're wonderful people but they don't know what happened 300 years ago."
Who doesn't love this stuff?

Jack Layton Said

Post editorial writer and blogger-par-excellence Adam Radwanski reminded me that Team Martin did start up an anti-Layton page earlier this year called Say Anything.... Jack. As Radwanski says, "[I]t's astonishingly lame and they gave up on it extremely quickly."

Never were truer words written in an e-mail. I'm looking forward to future anti-NDP sites by the Liberals named after John Cusack movies: Sixteen Candles... of Deceit; Grosse Pointe Blankety-Blank Layton; and High Fidelity... NOT!
Memo to Colby Cosh

When other people say that your columns are prescient, that's cool. Unironically calling yourself prescient on the other hand... well, that takes a lot of chutzpah.

That said, Cosh makes a few good points about the new campaign-spending law, which was recently upheld by the Supreme Court. A reader of his, Matt Fenwick, makes some good points too:
What happens if every day during the campaign, the National Post decides to run a full-page ad, free-of-charge, for "Doctors for Private Hospitals"? Is [Elections Canada head] Jean-Pierre Kingsley going to busy himself with assigning arbitrary cash value to this, and hold DFPH or the Post in contempt? What if instead, the Post runs a guest column every day by Dr. Nick Riviera, chairman of DFPH? Is this acceptable? What if instead, they run a Colby Cosh column every day, and each one starts, "I'd like to pass on some more thoughts from my friend Dr. Nick Riviera, chairman of DFPH?" Is this acceptable? And I twitch at the thought of Elections Canada trying to decide what costs to attribute to a mass-emailing campaign.
Why should only established political parties and those with good media contacts be allowed to spread their messages during an election campaign? What does this mean to the Greens and the Marijuana Party or environmental lobby groups who want to press the Liberals on Kyoto? Or gun lobby groups and the NCC for that matter?

As Chief Justice McLachlin said in her dissenting opinion [via Gunter on Across the Board]:
The law at issue sets advertising spending limits for citizens -- called third parties -- at such low levels that they cannot effectively communicate with their fellow citizens on election issues during an election campaign. The practical effect is that effective communication during the writ period is confined to registered political parties and their candidates. Both enjoy much higher spending limits. This denial of effective communication to citizens violates free expression where it warrants the greatest protection -- the sphere of political discourse.[Full decision.]

Speaking of the Marijuana Party, I ran into Enza the Supermodel, the famed transgendered woman/drag queen who ran for mayor of Toronto. She told me that she had been approached by the Marijuana Party to run in the soon-to-be-called federal election and she declined. Well, then...

Tuesday, May 18, 2004

Excerptastic Theatre Tuesday: Nothing Changes
When I was in therapy about two years ago, one day I noticed that I hadn’t had any children. And I like children at a distance. I wondered if I’d like them up close. I wondered why I didn’t have any. I wondered if it was a mistake, or if I’d done it on purpose, or what. And I noticed that my therapist didn’t have any children either. He had pictures of cats on the wall. Framed.
He may have changed since then, but my therapist was the kind who, if you asked him a personal question, would take the entire session to answer. You had to take the responsibility to stop him. You had to learn to be selfish. So I always said that he was like drinking partner, except we never went drinking and I paid for the drinks.
I asked him, “Why didn’t you ever have any children?”
And he said, “Well, I was in Auschwitz when I was nineteen and the death marches were moving out as the Russians moved in. And I said to my friend, who was also nineteen, ‘I think now we have a beneficient Gestapo. Now we must run for it.’ And my friend said, ‘No, I am too tired. I must first rest.’ So I am watching him sleeping and I see blood from the corner of his mouth and I realise he is dead from exhaustion. So I run and escape and I make it to the border of Poland and Germany, and another death march of twenty thousand goes by, not so beneficient this time. They are shooting from horseback, and I surrender.
“They take us to the edge of this great pit and machine gun the whole lot of us. Everyone falls dead except maybe some twelve or fifteen who fall into the snow and live. I am one. I am shot in and around to the genitals so it’s a kind of vasectomy. Two days later the Russians find me in the snow.”
I said, “Two days in the show and you didn’t freeze to death?”
“What…,” he answered, “it was just snow.” (And I was the one in therapy?)
“Listen, this is going to sound weird, but I really envy you.”
“What, are you one of those who think suffering ennobles?”
“No, it’s not that. We’re all born by chance, no one asked to get born, but to be reborn by chance, to live like that, it must have made your life – you know – much more conscious and vital. Things must have changed enormously for you. Also, you don’t have to make a decision about whether or not to have kids. It must have changed your life is a very dynamic…”
“No. Uh-uh. Nothing changes, no. We thought that, you see. In the first reunions of the camps everyone was swinging, like a big sex club with the swinging and the drinking and the carrying on as though you die tomorrow. Everyone did what he wanted. The next time, not so much, not so much. The couples stayed together. The next time, we were talking about whether or not we could afford a summer home that year. Now when we meet, years later, people talk about whether or not radioactive smoke-detectors are dangerous in suburban homes. Nothing changes.”

-- Spalding Gray, Swimming to Cambodia.
He Said, He Said

So in response to the Liberals' Team Martin's Stephen Harper Said site, the Conservatives have launched a website called Team Martin Said with quotes from Liberals on a variety of subjects like Same Sex Marriage and Health Care.

Apparently the Conservatives came up with their website really fast last night [so saith Kinsella anyway] after hearing about the Stephen Harper Said website. It's actually quite good. Much more comprehensive than the Liberals' site

What I find interesting is that if you feel that Canada was wise to stay out of the Iraq War and you are opposed to private involvement in public health care -- as the majority of Canadians are -- then if you put the two websites together, you would be left with a negative impression of both the Conservatives and the Liberals. It's like the two websites combined are a free advertisement for the NDP.

So what I'm waiting for is the Jack Layton Said website. I'm sure it's coming. (Or has it already come?) The Liberals in particular can't afford to ignore the NDP. But they're fighting a three-front war, so their resources are all tied up. Just like Hitler...
Gmail Fever

Some people want a Gmail account so badly that they are willing to give you a bottle of scotch, a postcard from Amsterdam or 40 hours of professional copy-editing. That's the beauty of a little website called Gmail Swap.

Monday, May 17, 2004

This Week in Blogging News

After conservoblogger Andrew Coyne abandoned his ambitious blog at the end of April, leftoblogger Noam Chomsky started his up again.

Coincidence? I think not.

Oh wait, sorry. Did I write, "I think not?" I meant, "I think."


By the way, it's kind of fun to read the comments being left on Coyne's blog as his disappearance from the 'Net continues into its third week. Writes Tim:
I'm actually quite appalled at Andrew right now. No, he doesn't owe his faithful readers anything... except basic respect. A simple post of a sentence of two explaining the status of the blog would suffice. I mean, here is a guy who repeatedly droned on about new fonts, changes in layout etc. but now can't be bothered to tell us anything.

I'm pissed mainly because Andrew is a great writer and a welcome counterbalance to the crap I normally have to read in the Canadian media. The latest Antonia Zerbisias flap has me jonesing for a Coyne smackdown. At least we still have Steyn.

PS I live in the US. Is Andrew still writing in any Canadian newspapers or is he rotting in a ditch somewhere? Maybe Copps busted a cap in his ass?
Maybe I should abandon this blog for a couple of weeks to see if you folk really love me or not. All dozen or so of you.
Fahrenheit 9/11 Reviews

Ian Youngs of BBC Online may have written the very first review of Michael Moore's new documentary. Youngs says to take it with a pinch of salt:
[I]f viewers take the film at face value, they will think George Bush is a fraudulent and possibly corrupt president who went to war in Iraq because of a half-baked motivation of grudge, greed and thirst for power.

But this is a Michael Moore film and, while that does not mean he is wrong, it must be watched with a critical eye...

The film's conclusions are reached through a mixture of firm evidence, interesting information, moving scenes and tenuous theories.
And Mary Corliss of Time Magazine may have already written the worst pun to appear in a review of Michael Moore's new documentary Fahrenheit 9/11:
A few years ago, Michael Moore spoke with then-Governor George W. Bush, who told the muckraker: “Behave yourself, will ya? Go find real work...”
In one sense, Michael Moore took George W. Bush’s advice. He found “real work” deconstructing the President’s Iraq mistakes. “Fahrenheit 9/11” is Moore’s own War on Error.
I hereby give that pun [emphasis mine] a twenty-minute standing ovation.
The Longest Standing Ovation in the History of Cannes

The French spent 20 minutes on their feet today applauding Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11. So saith Drudge. [Apologies for the homophobic ads on the link.]
Monday Schadenfreude: In which a toe is stubbed.

I stubbed my toe this morning on the frame of my futon.

This has been your Monday Schadenfreude.

(Okay, so I'm not terribly inventive this morning.)


Alright, let's jump into Theatre Tuesday then. Sheridan: Playwrighting and plagiary in the 18th Century.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Simon Houpt discovers the Meta

Today's Globe and Mail Weekend Review section has an article by Simon Houpt called "FrankenArt: The mix and mash future" about "the new big thing: Take existing works, mess around with their content and form, and create your own art." Writes Houpt:
Separated by thousands of miles and decades of technological advances, [videogame hacker artist] Arcangel and [Grey Album DJ Brian "Danger Mouse"] Burton are together at the forefront of a new kind of culture. Rather than creating something out of raw paints and canvas or chisels on untouched stone, or coaxing sounds from a musical instrument with their own hands, their preferred medium is premade art, prerecorded music, and other media that already exist.
All I can say is this: Holy Fuck. You mean artists are taking samples of other artists' work and remixing them into something new? Stop the Presses!!! FrankenArt, indeed!

Seriously, The Globe and Mail and its readers can't really be that behind can it? Next week, will Michael Posner write about his discovery of this new movement called "Post-modernism"?

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Theatre Thursday: Diddy or Didn't He?

Pursuivant to our previous conversation re: Acting Rappers, P. Diddy has been getting decidedly mixed reviews for his Broadway debut in a revival of Lorraine Hansberry's classic A Raisin in the Sun:
With a lot of pent-up hostility about the Hollywoodization of the Great White Way and Combs's nerve in taking on a role originated by the great Sidney Poitier, some sharpshooters went straight for the jugular in critiquing his portrayal of Walter Lee Younger, an angry 34-year-old man still living with his widowed mother in 1950s Chicago's black ghetto. "Sean Combs, otherwise known as rap mogul and fashion impresario P. Diddy, is giving a sadly N. Adequate performance," Variety squawked gleefully, dipping into a previously untapped reserve of Diddy-related wordplay.

In a review headlined "A Raisin shrivelled by laughter," the Washington Post reported that hip hop's jack-of-all-trades could not get up the gravitas necessary for the part. His flaccid acting abilities made members of the audience laugh at inappropriate moments, critic Peter Marks wrote: "When he drops to the floor in a heap, sobbing at the realization that he's lost the family's entire savings -- 'That money is made out of my father's flesh!' he cries -- it's about as persuasive as a Teamster dancing Swan Lake."

Not all critics were so quick with the harsh zingers, however. Newsday gave the American classic's revival a positive review, writing, "Combs is better than OK. He has presence playing someone besides his own formidable self. He projects."
[That's me I'm quoting, from my round-up of Diddy's reviews a couple of weeks ago in the Post.]

I'm sure P. Diddy's no Sidney Poitier, but I imagine a lot of the wrath comes from theatre people who feel threatened when non-actors invade their stages. There's a significant desire to project the image that acting is difficult, takes years and year to learn, takes more years to master, and requires a certain amount of innate talent, too.

I don't disagree with that, really, but I do know that some of my favourite theatrical experiences have occured while watching amateur or student productions in small black-box theatres.


I've seen some theatre of late, but I've been horrible about writing about it here. Last week, I caught the opening night of Hairspray and then on Tuesday I went to see The Last Five Years at CanStage. Neither of them really knocked my socks up, I'm afraid.

A film did, however. I loved The Far Side of the Moon (originally La Face Cachee de la Lune) by Robert Lepage, whose work I've only ever seen on the stage before.

It's been in and out of the theatres in Quebec already. English-Canadian, go while the goings good. I'll stick up my Post review soon.
Sartre Thursday

My boss just handed me a slip of paper with the following quotation on it:
Everything is gratuitous, this garden, this city and myself. When you suddenly realize it, it makes you feel sick and everything begins to drift ... that's nausea.
Funny, Mr. Jean-Paul "Smartypants" Sartre, defines nausea as:
1. A feeling of sickness in the stomach characterized by an urge to vomit.
2. Strong aversion; disgust.
So there.

Amateur linguists will be interested to know that nausea comes from the same root as nautical: nau, the Greek word for ship. [Tangent: My favourite linguoblogger is Language Hat. You should check it out.]

Speaking of gratuitous, I felt gratuitously good bicycling to work through the Don Valley this morning in the sunshine -- no drift whatsoever.

Anyway, my point is this: What kind of boss gives you existentialist quotes before lunch?

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

New, Improved, On the Fence

As you have no doubt noticed, On the Fence has undergone significant renovations lately. What the ol' blog has gained in aesthetics, however, it seems to have lost in functionality.

I've lost all my links on the side, but will endeavour to have them up again soon. As for the new comments function, it seems to only allow you to post if you are a blogger or anonymously, which is kind of dumb. If you're having trouble figuring them out, feel free to e-mail me your comments until I get the bugs worked out as I probably won't get a chance to do that until the weekend.

In the meantime, how about helping me come up with a slogan for the new and improved On the Fence? Here are some I've been toying with:

- Ideology? We don't need your stinkin' ideology.
- A greyer shade of grey.
- A Hamlet for the naughts.
- Everything's stupid.

What think you?
Thom Yorke: Just another tool of The Man

John Harris, author of The Last Party: Britpop, Blair and the Demise of English Rock, thinks popular music is one of the IMF's many cattle prods:
Put bluntly, Anglo-American popular music is among globalisation's most useful props. Never mind the nitpicking fixations with interview rhetoric and stylistic nuance that concern its hardcore enthusiasts - away from its home turf, mainstream music, whether it's metal, rap, teen-pop or indie-rock, cannot help but stand for a depressingly conservative set of values: conspicuous consumption, the primacy of the English language, the implicit acknowledgement that America is probably best.

Even the most well-intentioned artist can't escape: once you have run onstage, plugged in your guitar and yelped "Hello, Tokyo!", your allegiances have surely been established. I once saw Radiohead's neurotically ethical Thom Yorke address a crowd in Modena as follows: "Sorry, we don't speak Italian. We're sad fucks." Even a clumsy "grazie mille" might have underwritten his public fretting about the effects of corporate power - but no. This, after all, was rock. [The rest from The Guardian]

Apparently Harris has never heard of a little thing called file-sharing. Also he clearly missed the memo: The kids are alter-globalization now, not anti-globalisation. Try as I might, I can't see the evil in Brazilians rocking out to R.E.M.

Some days you lose a sweater. Some days you get a sweater back that you thought was long gone.

Such is the nature of life. The circle.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Monday Schadenfreude: The Mansbridges of Madison County

Today, a Very Special Schadenfreude, sent in from Edmonton by guest blogger Sean Carrie:
Peter Mansbridge calls Cynthia Dale from his cell phone, asking whether she’d heard a weird noise coming from the BMW when she’d taken it out to aerobics that morning.

“No,” is the wife’s reply. “But I was singing selections from Camelot, so I might not have noticed.”

Mansbridge pulls the car off the Queensway moments later, gingerly edging his tried-and-true automobile up a quiet street in the direction of a nearby, Licensed BMW Auto Body Shop. There’s a definite ‘ping,’ there. Especially now with the freeway’s noise muffled by the sound barrier. Although, could he be just a little overprotective? Little too worried? ...No. Definitely something like a ‘ping.’

The auto mechanic wears an unsmeared, gunmetal-grey coverall. He has a salt-and-pepper brush-cut. Mansbridge thinks he smells like a warship might smell. There’s a signed Street Legal cast photo on the wall. All except Chuck, that is, missing for all these years in the forests of Gabon. Next to the photo a 5x7 glossy of his wife. Next to that a 5x7 glossy of Mesley. That bitch. And, curiously, one of Bruno Gerussi.

“I think it’s the drive-shaft,” Mansbridge says. “Probably the drive-shaft. Or maybe the carburetor.” Mansbridge shifts from one foot to another and ventures another stab at affecting just the slightest shred of automobile know-how: “Could be both.”

The auto mechanic is digging deep into the engine’s core. Tinny teutonic expletives emanate from underneath the hood as he inserts his wiry frame nearly completely inside the front of the car. After some minutes of work he emerges, dangling a (rag?) from his index finger.

“Is this your toupee?” he queries. Mansbridge looks sheepish. A nearly imperceptible smile bends the very corner of the auto mechanic’s otherwise latitudinal mouth. Mansbridge had misplaced the toupee years ago, while restoring the car’s antifreeze.

Mansbridge blushes.

“No, no. Ha ha. Funny you should ask,” he ventures... “It’s actually my wife’s.”

The automechanic’s severe mouth affects an even more pronounced curve. He shouts something in german to the other mechanics, who join him outside and begin belly-laughing. Mansbridge assumes the wheel and makes for the Queensway in something of a hurry.
This has been your Monday Schadenfreude.
Van Helsing, Van Crappy.

So, last night, a couple of friends and I went to see the 10:20 pm showing of Van Helsing. It was bad, as I'm sure you had an inkling it might be.

Anyway, a twelve-year-old kid chastised my friend S. for laughing at the movie. "You're ruining the movie for everyone!" he yelled at her about an hour in.

The movie only got worse from that point, however. And, until it got tedious, it was kind of bad good, i.e. laugh-at-able. It was hard not to snicker when Frankenstein's monster, inexplicably encased in a cube of ice, said to Van Helsing, "Go. Save yourself!"

This, however, was too much for the earnest twelve-year-old. "You're such a bitch!" he yelled at S. His father, sitting next to him, did not intervene.

Several questions arise:

1) Shouldn't screenings of horror/action/monster movies after 10 pm be designated for ironic and/or drunk and/or stoned viewing only?

2) Should multiplexes have separate sections for ironic and non-ironic viewing?

3) What is wrong with kids these days?


Bonus Question: Why, oh why did Van Helsing pull in US $54.2 million this weekend?

Friday, May 07, 2004

Adios Amigos...

"Can I tell you something, honestly?" Jon Stewart said on The Daily Show last night. "I never watched that show -- and I'm sick of it."

I've probably watched a dozen or so episodes of Friends. It seemed funny enough, but I never really got pulled into the will-they, won't-they, will-they-again antics of Ross and Rachel.

What I've gleaned from analysing the final show's ratings today, however, (for work, not pleasure) is that network television's influence's declines apace.

Back in 1983, when cable television was still shiny and new, M*A*S*H's final episode pulled in 105 million viewers, according to Nielsen Media Research. Ten year later, Cheers' last call was watched by 80.4 million people. Five year after that, in 1998, Seinfeld's final bow was watched by 76.2 million viewers.

In comparison, despite the feverish hype, Friends brought in a meagre 51.1 million viewers in the United States for its finale. Blame the usual suspects: Cable! Digital cable! Satellite dishes! The Internet!

Will there ever be a television show with even Friends' amount of cultural influence ever again? Has our culture become permanently fragmented? Is that a bad thing? Will Joey's spin-off flop?

Only one of these questions can been answered definitively.
Film Friday: Inquire Without

Anyone want Elvis Mitchell's old gig as a film reviewer for the New York Times? The job is cool, apparently. [Via Gawker.]
To the staff:

Culture is looking for another film critic, who could come from inside or outside the paper. The job is cool, but also very demanding, with regular and unrelenting deadlines.

A candidate should love the movies, know something about them and their history, have a wide range of tastes and interests -- as wide as the range of films themselves -- and write boldly, with a mix of empathy, wit and critical self-confidence. We are looking also for someone who can write essays and critic's notebooks, can find themes and threads through the mass of movies out there, and can help us all decide what we really want to see.

Please contact me soon at erlanger@...

Steven Erlanger
Culture Editor
[Psst... The e-mail suffix is]
Film Friday: Barney's Rubble

Is video artist Matthew Barney's Cremaster Cycle brilliant or bunk? So you don't have to, I sat through all SIX AND A HALF HOURS of Mr. Barney's epic, named after the muscle that regulates the position of the testicles. Verdict: Visually stunning, semantically empty, mind-numbingly boring.
The first half of [the 3-hour Cremaster 3] goes a little like this: A female corpse digs her way out of the basement of the Chrysler Building and is placed in the back seat of a Chrysler Imperial New Yorker in the lobby. Five Chrysler Crown Imperials begin battering the makeshift hearse, until is is reduced to the size of a large potato. Then, the condensed car is brought up to a dentist's office on the top floor and fitted into the Apprentice's mouth. This causes the Apprentice's intestines to fall out of his rectum. He then excretes his teeth, which melt and resolve into an ivory rod.

While this is jaw-droppingly inventive, it is also pretty darn well meaningless. Nancy Spector, who curated Barney's big Guggenheim exhibition, writes that, "In his work, Barney is transcribing a new post-Oedipal myth for our contemporary culture." But, frankly, that don't wash with me: I just watched a man put a car in his mouth and shit out his teeth.

This isn't a question of whether or not the emperor is wearing any clothes: Matthew Barney is decidedly post-clothes.
I rated the films The Square Root of Negative One Star. You can read my full review here.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Waters Wednesday: The Pope of Trash in T-dot

After spending yesterday morning ingesting director John Waters' Hairspray, Pink Flamingos and a documentary about his early underground films called Divine Trash, I went downtown to interview the man himself:
Wearing a pair of puke-green and meatball-brown striped socks under his pointy black leather shoes, cult director John Waters looks like the Wicked Witch of the West, daring the sky to drop a big ol' house on him while he sits in the lobby of Toronto's Princess of Wales Theatre.

"All young people need somebody bad to look up to," says Waters, grinning beneath his trademark pencil-line moustache. "I try to be a negative artistic influence on young people. And parents now bring me their youths. They offer them up to me. They bring them to me for help."
It's in the paper today -- and free online.

(Tonight, I go see the musical version of Hairspray at the PoW. If nothing else, the Mirvish gala openings are great for people watching. At The Producers opening in December, former defence minister Art Eggleton butted in front of me in the buffet line. Then, he paid his girlfriend to stand in line for him at the oyster bar. Okay, that second part isn't true.)

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Theatre Tuesday: Theatre Idol

The Guardian's Dom Phillips asks why so many rappers turn into successful thespians, while pop stars suck at acting:
The evidence is overwhelming - it's just that nobody knows why. From Mick Jagger's wooden Ned Kelly to Mariah Carey's toe-curling Glitter, to Madonna in, well, just about everything, pop icons rarely convince on screen. But it's the opposite for hip-hop stars: Tupac Shakur in Gridlock'd, Eminem in Eight Mile, even Queen Latifah in Chicago - the list of rappers who have made the transition to acting just goes on. Some cross over completely: Will Smith and Ice Cube have become movie stars. Others split careers - like Mos Def, who starred on Broadway and at London's Royal Court in last year's Topdog/Underdog. P Diddy, too, is now on Broadway. What does pop throw up in response? S Club: The Movie.
In order to find out what's up with that, Phillips takes a rapper and a pop star to acting class and they throw it down, Stanislavski-style. Read it here.

Monday, May 03, 2004

Is my blog down?

Monday Schadenfreude: In Which NAFTA Backfires

Imagine Lewis Lapham and Brian Mulroney at a family picnic.

This has been your Monday Schadenfreude.


Previous Monday Schadenfreude: Paul Martin, Teenage Pol Pot, Tony Robbins, Dame Judy Dench, Donald Trump, Kissinger.


From The Globe's Michael Valpy's 2002 interview with Harper's essayist Lapham:
"Speaking of which, how do you get along with Brian Mulroney?" I ask. Lapham's son Andrew is married to the former prime minister's daughter Caroline.

"I find him a very interesting guy," Lapham says. "I find him a very engaging, informed, generous man. I had lunch recently with him and said to him, 'Brian, explain Canada to me.' "

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Excerptastic: The road to hell...

From Down to This: Squalor and splendour in a big-city shantytown, Shaughnessy Bishop-Stall's account of the year he spent living in Toronto's now-bulldozed Tent City squat:
The old crew say there haven't always been rats in Tent City. They got them for Christmas just last year.
There were less than a dozen people here last winter, and it just so happened that they all had somewhere to go for the holidays. There'd already been a lot of media attention and someone brought down a dozen cooked turkeys and left one on each doorstep. By the time the residents returned to their shacks a couple days later, the turkeys were gone and the place was crawling with vermin.
So, yeah. I'm reading a book. It's true. Bet you thought I did was go to the theeee-tah and watch films. No, no. There's more to me than meets the eye.
Excerptastic: Funny, because it's true.

From Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love by Brad Fraser:
Kane: Sometimes I think there's something wrong with me.

David: I've never known anyone born after 1960 who wasn't incomplete somehow.

Kane: Why's that?

David: [Shrugs] Microwaves.


Reminder: Torontonians, take note. Unidentified Human Remains... is being remounted by Crow's Theatre at Buddies in Bad Times until May 16. Well worth your time and money. If you like fun, that is.


The Toronto Star's Robert Crew agrees, giving it a full four stars. And the Toronto Star doesn't even like fun!

(The Globe's Kamal Al-Solayee is a little more ambivalent.)