Thursday, September 30, 2004

Swimming with the Phishes...

Once upon a time, I wrote a letter to my old university newspaper The McGill Daily. It was the first issue of the year and the commentary editor, a friend of mine, asked me to write her something to fill the letter page. I wrote about Phish, because I wanted to tease some of the editors who I knew were fans:
Dear Editor,

I don't know if you've heard of this band Phish, but I really don't get what the big deal is. First of all, I have issues with their name. Phish. It's like Fish, but with a ‘Ph’ in front of it. And no ‘F.’ That's not very clever. It's more, like, lame. Like Phat and, in particular, Phat Pharm.

And could they maybe finish a song? Like, maybe, once in while? Phinish, even? I understand the concept of the “jam band,” but is all that jamming really going anywhere? Is that the point? The journey versus the destination? That's nice and all, but really, if they smoked a little less pot, maybe they could end a song before I fall asleep. Because I inevitably fall asleep when someone puts Phish on. Sorry, phall asleep. Or I get a craving for phalaphals.

And tie-dye? Like, get a liphe.
Hardy-har-har, very funny, yadda-yadda. Anywho, today some Phish fan linked to the old letter on a fan message board and then some other poster discovered my blog and linked to it too. Now, I'm getting bombarded by Phish fans who think I'm a "phagg."

My phavourite comment so far? "It's a bummer that there is no "F" sound in ASSHAT, because thats what that guy was wearing." Runner up: "I bet she probably wants to seperate too. Damn Quebecois."

Oh, the Internet! But there's a lesson here: If I ever want to boost my hit count, all I have to do is insult a popular band and voila!

Welcome Phish fans! I bear you no ill will. I'll admit I think your favourite band sucks, but I have friends who want George W. Bush to be re-elected too... I even am buddies with some Nader supporters! We can work it out!

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Keep despairing, Bliss...

The New York Times wrote about Canada today. Brace yourself: It wasn't to call us cool.

According to reporter Clifford Krauss, Canadians are down in the dumps because their country is soooo boring and never does anything interesting like start wars and stuff. He says this is "the view of a growing number of historians, foreign policy thinkers and columnists from some of the nation's top newspapers."
Many see themselves as part of an informal school that has no name or single mentor, but all are writing the same assessment: Canada is in decline, or at the very least, has fallen short of their aspirations.

For these thinkers, Canada is adrift at home and wilting as a player on the world stage. It is dogged by not only uninspired leaders but also by a lack of national purpose, stunted imagination and befuddled priorities even as its economy prospers.

"I'm in almost total despair,'' Michael Bliss, a University of Toronto historian, said in an interview. "You have a country, but what is it for and what is it doing?''
Actually, there is a name for this nameless school, which includes such historians as Bliss, J.L. Granatstein and David Bercuson, as well as wannabe historian Andrew Cohen. They're called conservatives. And they're depressed for many reasons, one of which is that their party of choice lost at the last moment in the last election.

It used to be really easy to tell a conservative from a liberal. A conservative believed that a mythical Golden Age existed just a few decades ago, while a liberal believed that this mythical Golden Age would come to exist in the future.

Nowadays, that's all mixed up, of course. Liberals are isolationist and Conservatives are eager to change the world and everything's all topsy-turvy.

Bliss et al., however, are old-school conservatives -- at least in that sense. Their books all imagine that there was some sort of idyllic Canadian past as evidenced by the titles of their books: "Who Killed the Canadian Military?" (Granatstein) and "While Canada Slept: How We Lost Our Place in the World" (Cohen).

The truth is that Canada remains very respected in the world, though mainly now because of domestic policy rather than foreign policy. Why, for example, did 43 North Koreans scale the wall to the Canadian Embassy today desperately seeking asylum? Because we are still a beacon of hope to the world, folks.

Of course, whether or not Canada is a beacon or a warning signal depends on your politics, especially in the United States. John Kerry, Michael Moore, same-sex couples wanting to get married and people who think the War in Iraq was a mistake? Well, they think Canada is a pretty great country. Republicans and the fine folks on FOX News? They think we are sucky asshats.

So, yeah. What these so-called "prophets of pessimism" are saying is that they don’t personally like what Canada is doing in the world. But, for many people, our inaction rather than action in the current upheaval around the world is seen as a smart idea. As they say, the road to hell is paved with good intentions. (And, I should add, that used to be the conservative point of view!)

I’m going to give the last word to my old prof, Desmond Morton, who is also quoted in the New York Times article:
Morton, a McGill University historian who has written jointly with members of the school of thought but is not a member himself, said nations that sit next to countries with far more power and confidence - like, say, Belgium beside France - share "these envy problems."
But pooh-poohing his colleagues, he said, "They would love to be greater, but being great has a cost - usually to the foot soldier.'"
[Note: Links come via Mader Blog.]

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Mayor Bloomberg to Poor: Shut up and watch The Simple Life...

This just in from today's New York Daily News:
Mayor Bloomberg had little sympathy yesterday for New Yorkers who find the new $20 admission to the Museum of Modern Art a bit steep.

"Some things people can afford, some things people can't," said Bloomberg, whose estimated personal fortune is $4.9 billion.
Dear Mayor Bloomberg: You are an ass.

The News article continues:
"MoMA is a private institution. It's not a city institution. And they have a right to set their own pricing policies."

Over the past five years, the city funneled $65 million in taxpayer money to help fund MoMA's expansion.
Zing! The Daily News's headline, by the by, is pure genius: "Mike: If tix too pricey, stay HoMA ."

The MoMA's price hike from $12 to $20? Debatable. Bloomberg's comment: Despicable. Access to great art should be a basic human right... I'm willing to trade in "freedom of peaceful assembly" or "shelter" or something.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Spotlight on ‘Acqua-man

So who is this Maurizio Bevilacqua fellow, the MP who Jane Taber reports has started campaigning to replace Paul Martin as Liberal leader in, oh, a million years or so. Well, he’s 44, has been a Liberal MP since the young age of 28, and has held a couple of minister of state and parliamentary secretary positions, including that of junior minister of finance. Let’s go to Google and see what else the Internet can tell us about this suburban-riding, Blue Liberal, shall we?

M.B.'s campaign website is full of your usual electoral blandness. It tells us that the Italian-born MP has spoken at a lot of high schools, “helped over 20,000 constituents cut through government red tape” and “has shown that building partnerships between government, business and the community is the most effective way to create opportunities for residents.” [It also offers up this marvelously horrible family portrait.]

Very interestiii…. Snore!

Wait, what’s this here in his campaign bio? Apparently, Mr. Bevilacqua holds the key to the city of Dallas, Texas. He was presented it for his help in improving US/Canada relations, so they say. If he ever runs for P.M., surely the NDP will have some fun with that. [As soon as it gets a sense of humour, I mean.]

Bevilacqua was one of the first MPs to support Paul Martin’s leadership bid in 1990, but Martin didn’t exactly reward him once he finally came to power. No, the ‘Acqua-man got nothing, reportedly because Martin felt he had already appointed enough Italian-Canadians to cabinet. [I guess Martin feels that Canada’s mangia-cake population will only tolerate so many Eyeties in power at a time…]

There was also a little disagreement with Martin about how to handle Chretien’s announcement that he was retiring. Apparently, even if you openly support Martin, it’s not wise to privately voice your own opinions to him. Which explains why Bevilacqua is currently in cabinet exile and feeling out his leadership potential in The Globe and Mail, the newspaper of choice for MPs wanting to feel out their leadership potential. It doesn’t, however, explain why the only picture of Bevilacqua with Paul Martin on his website is from back in the days when Junior had hair. [Remember when you used to be able to search for “unfortunate combover” in Google and get PM P.M.’s website? Those were the days.]

Of course, there have been rumours about Bevilacqua and leadership before and they were greatly exaggerated. Back when the scuttlebutt was that he would challenge Martin, an MP told the National Post: "Nobody takes him seriously… No one would support him." This may have something to do with his purported support for more continental integration and a common currency with the U.S. [Yoicks! That proposal certainly wasn’t in his campaign literature. Wonder why?]

Anyway, On the Fence will endeavour to keep an eye on this back-bench MP from henceforth and keep you up to date. But for the time being, he seems like a dark horse candidate to me. Cauchon all the way!

UPDATE 12:17AM: Okay, clearly I forgot how to code earlier today. All the links are working now.
My buddy, my buddy... My buddy and me.

Oh, the New York Observer... What a truly fine weekly newspaper, always full of insightful articles like Farewell, My Fuck Buddy.

Absurdly well-researched for what essentially amounts to a fluff piece, this article tackles the pressing question: What exactly is the difference between a Fuck Buddy and a Friend With Benefits, anyway?

Alas, the article also falls into a common trap: Mocking guys who turn down casual sexual encounters. It's my observation -- and I think most other youngsters will confirm this -- that young women are equally, if not more sexually aggressive than young men these days. But while it's acceptable for a woman to decide to keep it in her pants, it is still a big old joke when a guy wants to cuddle or turns down a one-night stand.

Will we ever get past this? Different people have different sexual appetites and desires -- and this has little or nothing to do with gender.

Of course, Noelle Hancock's article makes up for its shortcomings with its concluding quote: "Friends with benefits’ is a great idea, but so was communism."

Indeed. The best plans to get laid of mice and men gang aft agley...

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Oh, Nellie... The truth finally comes out.

The first time I saw a picture of quirky chanteuse Nellie McKay, I expressed doubts that the whimsical cabaret-rapper popstar was a mere 19 years old. In her album photos, she could pass for someone in her late twenties or even early thirties.

Well, it turns out I was way off. She's 22, a Buffalo News reporter wrote today. Also, most of the stuff she's been spouting about her childhood has been a little, as the Brits say, sexed up:
McKay has also been stretching the truth about other things. She told [a reporter] she spent her childhood in a drug-infested area of Harlem, is the granddaughter of a murderer, the great-granddaughter of a bullfighter and a cousin of Dylan Thomas.

[Time Out New York] reported McKay's Forrest-Gump-esque claims in [a] 2003 story, under the now-ironic headline, "The Real McKay."

While neither Nellie McKay nor McKay's mother, Robin Pappas, returned a call seeking comment for this story, her father denied many of these claims. Dylan Thomas' daughter, Aeronwy Thomas, denies that the McKays are related to her.
Well, I suppose the truth had to come out. Artistic personae, alas, are personae non gratas these days.

That's the problem with the world today, my blogochildren. An entertainer is no longer allowed to create poetic myths about him or herself anymore. Imagine Leonard Cohen emerging today, his romantic lady's man image slowly picked apart by journalists reporting each time he prematurely ejaculated...

Nellie's fictional upbringing -- muggers and children sharing the same paradise -- is part of her art, I'd say. The age fib, mind you, is a little different: It points to the pressures of women entertainers to have success ridiculously young, when they still have that magic suffix "-teen" attached to their age.

I recognize that this demythologization was inevitable... And, yes, Anne Neville has done a fine job of tracking down the right date of birth, etc. -- that is her duty as a journalist.

It's her "liar, liar, pants on fire" tone that I find annoying. This isn't catching the President in a prevarication about a war, Ms. Neville. It's going up on stage and taking off the magician's cape to show the hidden pockets inside. An illusion is not the same thing as a lie.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

Happy 70th Birthday Mr. Leonard Cohen
Poem

I heard of a man
who says words so beautifully
that if he only speaks their name
women give themselves to him.

If I am dumb beside your body
while silence blossoms like tumours on our lips
it is because I hear a man climb the stairs
and clear his throat outside our door.
- From Let Us Compare Mythologies, 1956.

[See Guardian: "At McGill University, he was president of the debating society," CP, Star. Also, check out today's Post for a special Arts & Life section devoted to the man.]

Sunday, September 19, 2004

Gmail: inquire within

While just a few months ago, Gmail invitations were worth their weight in postmodernist books, now the market is fairly flooded. Gmail swap no longer offers trips over the CN Tower in a helicopter, just a lot of postcards, prayers, and e-hugs.

So, since I have a bunch left, if any of you faithful readers of this blog want a gmail account, e-mail me and I'll hook you up. Gratis!

UPDATE, SEPT. 22: After a frenzied rush, I am now out of Gmail invites. Hope you all enjoy your new electronic mail accounts.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

Blogs: Get over ourselves!

At a time where everyone in the blogosphere is patting themselves on the back for Memogate or the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth or whatnot, there's a very good piece in the New York Observer today by Tom Scocca that skewers blogging and brilliantly.

About a month and a half ago, I was interviewed by a Ryerson student about blogging. While I confessed to loving blogs and enjoying having one most of the time, I urged him to take people who say that the blogs are revolutionary or democratize the media with a grain of salt. There is, after all, a tendancy among people to overestimate the power and influence of new media, to believe that they will save the world or ruin it.

I thought that this was common sense, a reasonable bit of tempered enthusiasm. But at the end of the interview, the student told me that I was the most pessimistic of all the bloggers and journalists he had spoken to.

The worst thing is that if Bush wins the next election, you just know there's going to be a Hurricane Jerry of articles about how bloggers beat Kerry. Then, just you wait, it'll become enshrined in books and passed down from generation to generation, the way the myth that television defeated Nixon in 1960 is.

Do you folks even remember Howard Dean? Get over ourselves, blogosphere!

Friday, September 17, 2004

TIFF: Keeps on Turnin'...

Here's my latest from the film fest, notes from the press conferences with Helen Hunt and Andy Garcia.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

TIFF: Cat Killing Mania!

I hate defending this Casuistry: The Art of Killing a Cat documentary all the time, because I keep hearing that it's a pretty thin pic. Still, it must be done. Folks: Making a documentary about a bad thing is not the same as doing a bad thing. Also, the film does not show the tape of Kensington the Cat's torture and death. Calmez-vous.

Anyway, animal rights activists -- outraged that anyone would make a doc where some interviewees defend cat-killer Jesse Powers -- were out yesterday to protest the screening of Casuistry. When Powers, the Feline Felon himself, appeared, all heck broke loose. According to the Star, Powers told a protestor: "I felt sort of bad about it after, but I haven't had a chance to (feel guilty), because everything sort of barraged on top of me... When was there time to feel guilty? In the end, I got to bring the wrath upon myself."

Sigh. Okay, so I don't feel so bad that the whole thing ended up with Powers being arrested for breaching the peace... What an idiot.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Final curtain for Glassco

Gee, with the film festival on, I complete missed that Bill Glassco passed away earlier this week. [Globe, Star, CBC.] Among his many contributions to Canadian Theatre, Glassco founded the Tarragon theatre and was the first English translator (with John van Burek) of Michel Tremblay's plays. Recently he founded the Montreal Young Company with Chris Abraham.

I once had the privelege of being directed by Glassco when he came to teach a workshop on performing Shakespeare at McGill in January 2002. I auditioned for him with Richard III's opening speech and he cast me as Panderus in a scene from Troilus and Cressida.

I've been searching my harddrive for the notes from those sessions, but alas I think they are back in Montreal. Relying on my shaky memory, all I can recall is that he had such a quiet, calm presence. And he invited students over to his house to rehearse, I remember that.

Anyway, it's a loss for Canadian theatre. And it was genuinely surprising when I heard this today, because Glassco was only 69.
Sean Penn: Mightier Than the Sword

My latest film fest piece is free online. It's all about a moody Sean Penn, who is in town promoting The Assassination of Richard Nixon (a film, not the act):
Penn and director/writer Niels Mueller believe there is a lesson in the film that can be applied to a different era with another president engaged in an unpopular war. "I think that administrations have to look at how they oppress their own people and the people in other countries and understand that when you take people's hopes and dreams away bad things can happen," Penn explained. "Because if we just turn our eyes in the other direction and say, 'Well there's just no excuse for the bad thing,' that's fine but your babies will be killed."
This has been your Stars Talk About Geopolitics moment of the day.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Sex and the Linney

As if you care in the least, Laura Linney considers herself "predominantly heterosexual, but more than incidentally homosexual." So she let the world know yesterday at a press conference I was covering. Overall, these Toronto International Film Fest pressers are fun, mostly because of the questions journalists from Palm Beach and Cincinnatti ask with much preamble. (Not that I don't cringe at my own questions sometimes when I listen to tapes of my interviews...)

My article about yesterday's Kinsey and The Motorcycle Diaries press conferences is online, gratis.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Filmtastic: You Schmooze, you lose

I realise that all I'm doing these days is writing blog posts about my lack of posting, but that's the way it is. The Toronto International Film Festival is on and work's a-calling. Among the celebrities I get to spend ten to fifteen minutes in a hotel room with this week: Sigourney Weaver, Jeff Daniels, Nick Nolte, Maggie Cheung, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Joseph Fiennes and Don McKellar.

Aside from the TIFF main site, you may want to check out tiffreviews.com.

Of the 13 or so films I've seen so far, I'd like to recommend two by first-time German directors, because I don't think they'll get the attention they deserve. Here are the hastily-written mini-reviews I had of them in the Post yesterday:
OFF BEAT

Germany / Directed by Hendrik Holzemann

Young paramedic Crash (Matthias Schweighofer), a loner haunted by the death of his parents in an automobile accident that gave him a brain injury, cruises the streets of Cologne, treating the same group of addicts and drunks every day. After meeting a gorgeous pregnant widow (Jessica Schwarz), literally from his dreams, Crash must make the difficult decision of whether or not to join the emotionally alive or continue to cloister himself in his head. Stylishly shot with a hipster German soundtrack, Off Beat is full of spunk and panache. Rating Three

THE PITCH: Bringing Out the Dead meets Goodbye Lenin.

Screenings: Sept. 11, 9:30 p.m., Varsity; Sept. 13, 9 a.m., Cumberland.


THE FOREST FOR THE TREES

Germany / Directed by Maren Ade

Small-town girl Melanie (Eva Lobau) leaves her parents and long-time boyfriend for a job teaching high school in the big city, where her desperate attempts to make friends and influence students all fail. Lobau is pitch-perfect as that socially inept person we all know, so pathetic and eager it hurts, but just too annoying to befriend. Ade masterfully creates an atmosphere so cringingly awkward it will make you want to hide under your chair. Despite the cop-out ending, a truly original film. Rating Three

THE PITCH: Dangerous Minds meets The Office -- sans humour!

SCREENINGS: Sept. 16, 7 p.m., Cumberland; Sept. 18, 5 p.m., Cumberland.
Yeesh. "Spunk and panache," eh? That's writing on deadline, folks. So yeah, go see those two movies if you're looking for something off the beaten path. These are two filmmakers to watch, I think.

Post-script

Finally, via Cinetrix, a Detroit News article that claims that 10% of DVDs purchased haven't been watched yet. The best part of the article is this:
One day, when he gets enough time, David Hayes of Detroit says he’ll sit and watch some of the 80-odd DVDs he’s amassed. But for now, he’s too busy with his rap group, the Mountain Climbaz, to sit around and watch movies.
“I keep telling myself, ‘One day you will be able to sit down and watch these,’ and when I do, it’s like I’ll have the ultimate collection,” says Hayes, 30.
Silly as the article is, it's true. My cabinet is full of DVDs I picked up somewhere, but haven't watched yet. Some day I will get around to viewing the entire first season of Lost in Space. But for now, I must concentrate on my hip-hop career as D.J. J. Kelly.

Monday, September 06, 2004

Sunday in the Park with Bill.

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.
- Touchstone, AYLI.

Went to catch As You Like It in High Park last night. It was the production’s last performance, a nice symbolic end to the summer.

I had avoided going to see it for a couple of months, mainly because I had been badly burned by ShakespeareWorks’ excruciating semi-outdoor production of Romeo & Juliet earlier this summer, a production so infuriating that it almost made me swear off outdoor-summer-Shakespeare for good.

I’m glad I didn’t: CanStage’s Dream in High Park production of As You Like It was everything outdoor Shakespeare should be. This isn’t to say that it was a revelation artistically. The goofy songs and choreography were ridiculous, corny to the max, and its production design (was it the ‘50s or the ‘20s or what?) was lacking in originality.

But it was fun. It was just good fun. This was a production truly aimed at families and young people. It was such a pleasure to see the hillside packed with audience members laughing and having a genuinely good time.

Most importantly, it was unpretentious, the kind of production that I remember getting me excited about Shakespeare in the first place. It let the beauty of the language shine through without making a big deal about it. I was transported back to my high school days, when I used to go see Shakespeare in the Park in Montreal with my theatre geek friends.

ShakespeareWorks should take a serious look at what CanStage does in High Park. It does exactly what ShakespeareWorks summer performances are supposed to do, allow “students and their families to be able to attend high quality productions locally, at a price that is accessible to all.”

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

There's more than one way to do it.

The convicted cat skinners/alleged video artists Jesse Power, Anthony Wennekers and Matt Kaczorowski are back in the news thanks to a new documentary called Casuistry: The Art Of Killing A Cat premiering at the TIFF. Some self-righteous character named Rondi Adamson at the Toronto Star is refusing to see the film:
[P]eople tell me I should also see Casuistry: The Art Of Killing A Cat, scheduled as part of the Toronto International Film Festival, before making a judgment.

No, I don't need to. I can make a judgment. I am willing to make a judgment right now and stand by it.

The movie is sick, and I hope no one goes to see it.

Better yet, I hope the people at the film festival will come to their senses and consider pulling it out of their lineup before the festival begins.

The movie, a 90-minute documentary, examines the videotaped skinning alive of a stray cat at the hands of Jesse Power, Anthony Wennekers and Matt Kaczorowski in Toronto in 2001 (for which our justice system delivered some stern slaps on the wrist).
Adamson isn't alone in her froth. A group called Freedom for Animals has asked the TIFF to cancel the screening of Casuistry. Writes FFA's organizers: "If this film is aired as scheduled, we will be organizing protests and a boycott of the Festival. We will also contact many of the celebrities who might be planning to attend the Festival, and urging [sic] them not to come. (As you are probably aware, many prominent celebrities support animal rights, and will share our disgust with this film.)"

Given the huge national outcry over Power et al.'s savagery, it seems to me like the Kensington cat murder is a great topic for a doc. This cat's death, after all, did provoke more outrage than 95% of human murders or, say, the genocide going on in Sudan.

Nowhere in Adamson's article or on FFA's websites is it apparent whether or not the cat skinning footage is show in the documentary. It isn't. One would imagine that -- like screening snuff films -- would be illegal. (Can anyone confirm that for me?)

The film may feature many apologists for the kitty-killers and may be produced by an associate of Powers as FFA claims, but that shouldn't preclude it being shown at the TIFF. If people were allowed to defend them in print and on television before the trial, why shouldn't they be allowed to in a documentary?

The Kensington cat torture case attracted a lot of sympathy for animal rights organizations. Why would they squander that good will by seeking to stifle free speech?

Hey, wouldn't the Cat Skinners be a great name for a band?

UPDATE: I see now that one of the TIFF's producers has now received a death threat. More animal rights activists destroying their credibility. The Globe's Gayle MacDonald reports:
Sean Farnel, who programs TIFF's Real to Reel program, received a call in the morning at his home from a woman who, among other things, threatened to "skin him alive" and "shove knives in his eyes."

The festival has received a steady stream of angry e-mails, faxes and phone calls since the Toronto-based Freedom for Animals posted on their website a letter asking TIFF to pull Montreal director Zev Asher's 91-minute documentary. The film investigates the infamous Toronto animal-cruelty case in which art student Jesse Power and two friends kill a cat, posthumously named Kensington by animal-rights supporters.

Power claimed his intention was to make a video that protested the unthinking consumption of factory-slaughtered animals by killing, cooking and eating a cherished domestic pet. The documentary quotes Globe and Mail columnist Christie Blatchford as saying, "I know a lot about artistic freedom and it matters to me. But, I think that [killing a cat as an art project] is a crock of shit."

Yesterday, TIFF organizers vowed, in an interview with The Globe and Mail, that they would not pull the film from its program.

TIFF co-director Noah Cowan defended the work, saying "the film is a journalistic essay . . . classic investigative filmmaking in the tradition of Errol Morris that identifies the crime, and all the issues that surround it, and tries to come to a larger social understanding of what the debate represents."

Cowan added that he takes exception to the fact that many of the scores of people writing or calling to express outrage at the feature film have not even seen it. "A huge number of radical activists have decided, without seeing the film, the best way for debate to take place around the issue is to have the film banned.

"It's always nice to have civilized debate over films that people have seen, but it's a whole other matter when it comes to films people haven't seen."

Cowan acknowledged that there is disturbing imagery in the documentary, but no clips from the notorious cat video.
To be continued, I suppose.