Sunday, February 27, 2005
Friday, February 25, 2005
Thursday, February 24, 2005
After spending 10 weeks as a juror on the Johnathan trial, Toronto Sun theatre critic John Coulbourne's first assignment back on the job was to review a musical about a vampire.
Coulbourne panned Bat Boy -- but so did all the other theatre critics who didn't spend the last few months listening to sordid tales of teenage vampirism. It got 1 star in the Star and an incredible 0 stars in the Globe.
Wednesday, February 23, 2005
Tom Patterson, founder of the Stratford Festival of Canada, describing how he netted the Shakespeare festival's first artistic director in Robert Cushman's Fifty Years of Stratford:
Dora Mavor Moore said, "As far as I'm concerned, the greatest Shakespeare director in the world is Tyrone Guthrie." So I phoned his home in Ireland. He lived in a very small village and the woman on the switchboard thought I was a mad Irishman, because nobody ever called from Canada. She kept hanging up on me, and I kept phoning back. When she finally realized it was Canada calling, instead of ringing Guthrie, she ran out the door and call, "Mr. Guthrie, Mr. Guthrie, Canada wants you."Patterson died today after a long illness.
[For some neato historical footage of Stratford, check out the CBC Archives website about the first half-century of the festival. I've been enjoying perusing it today and wondering what happened to Stratford's old tent master Skip Manley...]
Monday, February 21, 2005
Here is a picture of me dressed up as the famed Gonzo journalist for Halloween a couple of years back...
My interview with Corner Gas/This is Wonderland star Eric Peterson, a Canadian actor who I have liked since watching Street Legal with my mother as a kid and really admired since see him onstage in the 20th anniversary remount of Billy Bishop Goes to War, is free online.
Saturday, February 19, 2005
Don't you hate it when you forget your own birthday? On the Fence turned two years old on February 9 and I didn't even bake myself a cake.
For those of you who have only recently started visiting here, a little (recent) history: I began this blog to archive a column I was writing called On the Fence for the McGill Daily in the last year of my History/English degree. Though I am now lumped in with the MSM blogging community, I began as a radical *cough* student blogger, standing up to the Man by posting excerpts from musicals about Marx and Engels that were never written.
I've been perusing some the old columns and they stand up fairly well. I think if my current self went back in time to right before the invasion of Iraq I would probably write a column very similar to the one I wrote in February of 2003. On the question of Canadian participation in the United States' Coalition of the Willing, I continue to think we made the right decision to stay the heck away from the libertinvasion of Iraq.
But the question facing Canadians right now isn't the same as it was when the war was being marketed as a "preemptive" one. What should we do if we are asked to help out in Iraq now? I'd be inclined to say we should send troops if asked, not asked by Bush but asked by Iraq's newly-elected interim government.
I probably would have said that two years ago too.
Friday, February 18, 2005
Funny quote by Stars' Torquil Campbell (On the Fence Frontman of the Year 2005) in this Maclean's article in reaction to the Spin, NYT, etc. stories: "I'm sure that everybody in America thinks that everyone in Montreal is now very excited. But the X factor of Montreal is that it's a francophone city with a rich, vibrant history that's been cool in the eyes of itself for decades. I don't think it's particularly affected by what happens with a few indie rock bands." [Emphasis mine, heh, heh.]
And here's another Maclean's article: Canadian Rock Music Explodes. (From 1995!)
What kind of a lame weekly poll is this on the Maclean's site?
In your opinion, Chrétien's theatrics at the Gomery inquiry:Uh... All of the above?
- were an attempt to retaliate against Gomery's earlier comments
- deflected attention from his testimony
- failed to detract from what he said on the stand.
Wednesday, February 16, 2005
Everyone knows about Ogilvy Renault's world-famous "Westmount cheap" golf balls. But did you know that the law firm that employs such notables as ex-PM Brian Mulroney, Gomery inquiry chief counsel Bernard Roy, and Gomery's daughter Sally Gomery produces all kinds of high-class give-away merchandise?
At career days at law schools, Ogilvy Renault cereal (pictured here at Verstehen) is always a hit among the soon-to-be lawyerati. In fact, a McGill law magazine recently ranked Ogilvy Renault's custom boxes of Muslix as "Best trinket of the year" beating out Goodman and Carr's black backpacks, Aird Berlis calculators, Perley Robertson pens, Gowlings mugs and Weir Foulds juggling balls.
(Imagine if Ogilvy Renault had plunked its logo on juggling balls... How much more fun would Chretien's circus act on the stand last week have been?)
Over at the Shotgun, Paul Tuns has a fine post on the artistic merits of Arthur Miller’s oeuvre. While there’s no doubt that Miller is a significant and influential playwright, I must concur with Tuns that I don’t think he was a particularly good one.
I have a number of complaints about Miller’s “problem plays”, the main one being that his characters always play second banana to whatever point he wants to make. He has no qualms about, for instance, making his protagonists commit suicide to bring a play to a convenient (lazy) ending. (Three of his early plays end this way -- is it any wonder he is popular in Japan?) Especially in his earlier work, he preferred fables to nuanced narrative. His plays often did nothing more than reinforce the beliefs of the New York audiences he was writing for, so that they could all walk out patting themselves on the back, saying, "Boy! War profiteering sure is bad, huh?"
On a different note, his female characters were rarely as fleshed-out as his male characters. His plays about male-female relationships were fascinating as autobiography, but felt kind of gross because of that. His treatment of Marilyn Monroe in After the Fall understandably alienated his audience -- and he never had a hit in the States again.
But, while I generally agree with Tuns' literary criticism, he oversimplifies Miller’s politics when he calls him, "a communist sympathizer (in the least)..." Miller certainly was sympathetic to the Soviets in the early forties, but so was official American policy. "Uncle Joe" Stalin was an ally during World War II and Hitler couldn't have been beaten without the Russians. When the Jewish-American playwright saw his country turn against its former friend, he didn’t immediately understand what they were really dealing with.
Miller was hardly a radical, though. Though his first Broadway success – All My Sons (1947) – was described as "party-line propaganda" in his FBI dossier, it was denounced by the Daily Worker for not being critical enough of capitalism.
By the time Miller defied the McCarthy hearings, he was even more disillusioned with Marxism. The fact that he was not a Communist makes his refusal to give into the HUAC bullies that much more courageous.
It’s true that Miller did not truly come to realise the scope of the crimes of Communism until he became the president of PEN International in 1965. (Keep in mind, however, that some of the old left still haven't...) But then, especially after a visit to Czechoslovakia evaporated the last remnants of his wishful thinking, Miller wrote a play critical of the Soviets called The Archbishop’s Ceiling (1977) – certainly one of his better later works. In a Guardian article, it is described like this:
Set in an unnamed country under totalitarian rule, based on Czechoslovakia, the play has overtones of absurdism. It is as close as he has come to writing in a European voice. The former archbishop's palace in which the action takes place is bugged; the characters talk in code; the dissidents may be indistinguishable from the informers; the American visitor, soaking it up with relish while preparing to leave on the next plane, is regarded with suspicion by all.One of the things I like about the play is that it’s not a Play about Oppression in Czechoslovakia, but rather about the effects of living under constant surveillance and the difference the way we act in public verus private.
While the play was popular in Europe, it bombed on Broadway and has rarely played in North America. I think that's rather telling...
Friday, February 11, 2005
Golf Balls for Sale
Ogilvy Renault golf balls on eBay.
[I haven't written anything about Chretien's appearance in front of the Gomery Commission t'other day, because, well, I can't think of anything to say beyond: Awesome!
And, of course, anyone complaining about the former Prime Minister's lack of decorum -- and getting a cheap, but brilliant!, shot in at the expense of the judge's daughter is a decorumless as heck -- will just have to deal with the fact that Judge Gomery was the first to set that tone.]
Of the many things that bug me about the recent American coverage of Montreal’s hotter than hot music scene – the “next Seattle” enthusiasm in recent copies of Spin, New York and the New York Times – one thing irks me more than anything: the idea that Montreal’s sadsack economy is somehow to thank for this flurry of artsy activity.
The New York Times article, full of decade-old stereotypes about Montreal and eye-rolling references to “Canadian liquor stores” being on strike, was just as bad as the others:
The city shares a few key elements with temporary-musical-capital predecessors like Austin and Seattle. Being the biggest destination in a region almost guarantees an influx of musically inclined, disaffected young people to both play in and listen to bands. Bad weather helps, because it keeps songwriters inside and bands rehearsing. And perhaps most important, a nascent musical scene requires lots of cheap real estate for musicians and their fans to hang out and play in.For anyone from Montreal, the reference to “cheap real estate” is laughable. Especially in the hip districts of the Plateau and Mile End, where most of these bands live and play, rents have been on a steep rise for the past six years. There are no more cheap apartments in those areas – at least by the old Montreal-cheap standards.
But in Montreal, those durable elements of musical invention are accompanied by a surprising political twist. Ten years ago, Anglophone-oriented money, people and resources pulled out - much of it for Toronto - leaving vacant buildings and a simmering conflict between the French and English speakers of Montreal. The threat of succession was supposed to end Anglophone viability in a majority French culture....
...Meanwhile, Montreal has become such a cultural magnet that some Americans are relocating there. "We are a five hour drive from New York, and most of the flights are about $150," said Jon Berry, owner of Regenerate Industries, a public relations firm that works with various dance and electronic acts in Montreal, including Les George Lenigrad. "From a cultural and economic perspective, it makes perfect sense. It is a cheap place to do business and to live."Look, I’m not a fan of the word gentrification, a term that makes poverty into some sort of virtue, but all the Montreal anti-gentrification activists have been up in arms about the Plateau and Mile End being gentrified for years. And, yes, it has been gentrified, the final nail in the coffin perhaps being when that shiny new pharmacy took over Warshaw’s. The real poor, rather than the fashionably poor, live further east or in Verdun or in Cote-des-Neiges, but certainly not in the Plateau and Mile End.
Mr. Berry, who is from Vancouver, visited Seattle often when it broke through to national prominence, had a taste of Austin when it was bubbling, and says that the current rage in Montreal carries some of the same energy. "Up until a few years ago, bands were skipping Montreal," he said, sitting at Laika, an industrial-feeling lunch spot/club on St. Laurent, where people were dining on pastries and cigarettes. "But then shows started taking off in the lofts, and suddenly you have a big neighborhood full of people interested in music. It's like Williamsburg, but it hasn't been gentrified."
The depiction of Montreal as some sort of bohemian paradise is more a product of romantic illusions than anything. The fact is, Montreal hit its economic bottom around 1997 and has been on the uptick ever since. As anyone who has been there recently to see the construction boom or had his cheap apartment on MacKay turned into a $300,000 condo (that’s me), it’s a prosperous city getting more prosperous every day.
In fact, Montreal’s return from 30-years of economic decline has been news for at least five years. (Here’s a Washington Post article about the city’s “recent revival” in the year 2000.)
But most arts and entertainment writers seem to prefer the myth that good art and poverty go hand in hand to the reality that strong economic centres are often the most creative centres. (Why else would so many artists move to New York City or Paris, ridiculously over-priced cities?)
It's particularly evident in Montreal: When were it’s last "most artistic" years? The 60s and early 70s, the years when Montreal was the shit and home to Expo 67 and the 1976 Olympics. Then, a necessary and quiet revolution took place... and now the city is getting back on its anthropomorphized feet. Is it any surprise that art should be flourishing? Could it not be that Montreal’s recent economic success helped make the city a success, helped give enough young hipsters a steady enough income that they can patronize the Arcade Fire, The Unicorns, Stars, Pony Up! concerts on a regular basis?
Not that musicians do anything to dispel the myth that a diet of cheap poutine gives them super-artist powers.
That, of course, is the second most annoying thing about the American media coverage: The musicians’ reactions to some good publicity. This is from a reaction piece to the Spin article that was in the Montreal Gazette over the weekend:
"It's absolutely f---ing terrible," said Torquil Campbell, singer-songwriter for pretty popsmiths Stars. "There is a scene. They are correct. But they didn't reveal anything that would interest anyone."Poor Smith knows that that’s the line you have to take to “keep it real” in Montreal. The only way to be admired in certain Montreal circles is to pretend that you don’t want to be successful. (But if you don't want people to listen to your music, why are you a musician?)
Still, for upstart band Pony Up!, a splash in Spin is a huge opportunity. But "it's so hard to see it objectively," said bassist Lisa J. Smith. "Part of me is like, wow, our city is being commodified and simplified and packaged. That's weird.”
Anyway, I dislike being reminded of this typically Montreal mindset, a place where artists believe that having enough financial success to buy groceries or move into a nicer apartment or, god forbid, purchase a condo will ruin their art, rather than allow them to focus on it.
Thursday, February 10, 2005
In other Post news, I interviewed not one, but two of Carol Shields' daughters for today's paper. You can read the interview with first-time novelist Anne Giardini, author of The Sad Truth About Happiness, for free online. But to read about Sara Cassidy, who helped her mother adapt her last novel Unless into a play before she died, you are gonna need an online subscription or a trip to the corner store.
Tuesday, February 08, 2005
Monday, February 07, 2005
A January 3, 2004 On the Fence entry:
Thanks to Canada's life + 50 years copyright laws, all published works by people who died in 1953 have now entered the public domain in this country.
So I'd expect an Eugene O'Neill (1888-1953) festival to be started by some enterprising Canuck any day now. (In the States, his copyright still holds. See this Law Blog entry for confusing details.)
Let's see... I can see the programme now: Long Day's Journey Into Night, Desire Under the Elms, and The Iceman Cometh, with a couple of obscurer plays thrown in, Hughie and More Stately Mansions. Plus, an innovative updating of one of his plays titled mourning.becomes.(e)lectra.
A February 8, 2005 newspaper article: "As the curtain fell last night on Manitoba Theatre Centre's fifth master playwright festival, TremblayFest, MTC announced its sixth festival next winter will be dedicated to Nobel and Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright Eugene O'Neill."
Clifford Krauss, the New York Times' most mediocre foreign correspondent, had a piece yesterday with this most formidable lede:
To read the newspapers here, it might seem as if gay and lesbian couples are beating down the doors of Toronto's City Hall for marriage licenses. But no: While they talk a lot about marriage, they don't do a lot of marrying.I think this is the case with the majority of heterosexuals as well. All those months -- if not years -- of being engaged and having showers and picking out bridesmaids dresses, and then Bride and Groom spend but a single day getting married. Sometimes they devote just an afternoon to marrying. The gall!
My favourite "factoid" in the article is that "[T]he gay and lesbian marriage rate has been falling in Canada over the last year, after an initial burst of weddings..."
So they track the "gay and lesbian marriage rate" on a month by month basis, do they? Could it not be falling because homosexuals -- just like heterosexuals -- prefer to get married in the summer?
Perhaps they should track this figure on a day to day basis... My bet is that the there is a dramatic decrease in gay and lesbian weddings on weekdays.
Yeah. Good article there, Kraussy. Good one.
Ooh! Withering sarcasm! Take that Old Grey Lady! If you can't stand the snark, get off of the Internet! Zammo!
For those of you dying to know the conclusion to my Scruples dilemma of Friday, I did come clean in the end. I brought my disabled phone in to Telus and told the truth about my mobile-loo fiasco. (I found Ian King's advice -- just buy a new phone and write it off on my taxes -- the most convincing and delightfully On-The-Fence-esque.)
Now here's the good part: After I explained to the Telus dude what had happened, he tried turning the phone on and it started up okay for the first time since it had sunk to the bottom of my toilet. After turning it on and off a couple more times, the signal came back and everything was back to normal -- no new phone needed.
I'm convinced that this was a sign that I had done the right thing. So, to all the kids out there who read this blog, this is my message to you: Always tell the truth. But always procrastinate a good 24 hours before doing so. The metaphorical inner workings of your metaphorical cell phone will dry in that amount of time.
This advice may not apply to all situations. But in certain situations, it will save you a couple hundred bucks.
Also, stay in school.
Friday, February 04, 2005
Here is the first paragraph of my review of Michael Radford's The Merchant of Venice starring Al Pacino as Shylock from the National Post a couple of weeks ago:
The latest film version of The Merchant of Venice begins with a lingering shot of a Torah burning, as the painstaking research that director Michael Radford has done into the treatment of Jews in 16th-century Italy scrolls across the screen. This prologue may not be particularly relevant to the comic drama about to unspool -- certainly Shakespeare didn't write the play as a ripped-from-the-headlines inquiry into Venetian anti-Semitism -- but it does act as an important audience advisory: Put your helmets on, ladies and gentlemen. You're about to get bludgeoned over the head repeatedly. [Read the whole thing.]Here is The Globe and Mail's Rick Groen’s first two:
In a brilliant opening montage, before a word from the text is spoken, director Michael Radford puts his dark stamp all over The Merchant of Venice. A brief crawl fixes the date, 1596, and lays out the historic plight of the city's Jews: Systemically persecuted, locked in a ghetto each evening, forced to wear a red hat to identify themselves. The camera roams the canals and settles into a bustling marketplace, where a scowling Antonio — the merchant of the title — spits into the bearded face of the Jewish money-lender Shylock. Suddenly, at the sight of handsome young Bassanio alighting from a gondola, Antonio changes his expression to a lovelorn look of deep yearning. Cut back to the angered Jew leaving the synagogue with his daughter Jessica, a dusky beauty who is seen to excite the passion of a man lurking in the shadows.Slightly different interpretation, no?
So, in mere seconds, the essential themes are revealed — intolerance, revenge, love — but with a sombre, almost menacing overlay. The stage is set, and only then does the actual play start. In perfectly resonant silence, Radford has prepared us for, and even helped to explain, those famous first words, the most startling line that ever began a romance comedy: "In sooth, I know not why I am so sad." [Read the whole thing.]
The thing with The Merchant of Venice is that you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. As I wrote in my review, "The play is a convergence of two old folk tales that could, and perhaps should, be films of their own. First, there's the famous story of a Jewish moneylender named Shylock, who, having recently been cheated out of daughter and ducats, demands a pound of Christian flesh from his debtor Antonio when he defaults on a loan. (After adjusting for inflation and exchange, that's about 120 pounds in today's Christian flesh.) Then, contrasting with this dark tale of vengeance and out-of-control money markets, there's also the lighter fairy tale of a jet- setting (gondola-setting, maybe?) heiress named Portia, who is yours for the marrying if you just pick the right treasure chest. Striking the right balance between these two parallel narratives is a little bit like trying to cram a Schindler's List subplot into an episode of The Bachelorette."
Richard Ouzounian explained the Shylock dilemma in a recent article in the Star. Most directors of The Merchant of Venice in the past half century have "solved" the play by making Shylock into a tragic character (instead of the comic villian, he was likely intended to be) and by adding some twinge of regret or sadness to the last act (in which Shylock does not appear). "The trouble with such inventions," writes Ouzounian, "is that they not only fail to remove the rancid smell of hatred from the script, but they destroy any delight still available from the sweet perfume of its romance."
While I agree with Ouzounian for most of his article, I can't endorse his conclusion: "To produce The Merchant of Venice exactly as written is unthinkable in this post-Holocaust world, but to attempt any kind of whitewash is an act of artistic desecration. Perhaps the only solution is to leave the play on the shelf out of consideration for everyone's feelings. That may not seem just to some people but, in the words of Portia, 'earthly power doth then show likest God's when mercy seasons justice.'"
Yeah, but Portia's idea of mercy is converting Jews to Christianity, lest we forget.
I think shelving the play is a horrible idea, the worst whitewash of all... Personally, I'd love to see The Merchant of Venice put on as written just once. Such a production would force audiences to examine what they see on stage critically, even if it is written by Shakespeare.
Okay, so let's say that my camera cellphone fell out of my pocket and into the toilet this evening. Just hypothetically, of course. Should I:
A) Bring the non-functioning phone to Telus and tell them what happened; or
B) Bring the non-functioning phone to Telus and pretend that I don't know why it stopped working?
At least this didn't happen to me.
Remember that time Pedro Martinez found my cellphone and returned it to me? Surely it was the good karma from that that helped the Red Sox finally win a World Series...
Thursday, February 03, 2005
Conservative MP Jim Prentice's statement in support of same sex marriage is very smart. It clearly indicates the differences between civil marriage and religious marriage, and links his "defence of the constitutional right of homosexual couples to civil marriage" to his defence of religious freedom.
Kudos to the Calgarian for his principled stand. I've always felt that, if you took it out of the political arena, same sex marriage would an issue that both conservatives and liberals could support. In fact, I almost see same sex marriage as more of a conservative than a "progressive" cause.
Wednesday, February 02, 2005
Surely there are few things sweeter in life than watching Ann Coulter get the smackdown from CBC's Bob McKeown. Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy.
To be much, much fairer to Coulter than she deserves however, Canada can not be said to have been entirely neutral in the Vietnam War. Canadian bases were used for training exercises and testing of weapons including Agent Orange, we sold an estimated $300-million of arms and ammunitions to the States every year of the war according to Charles Taylor's book Snow Job, and there are even some rumours about Canadian negotiators spying for the Americans at the beginning of the war with the knowledge of the Pearson government. [Here's an okay Wiki entry.] Compare this support to, say, how the U.S. supported Britain in World War II before Pearl Harbour.
In addition, some estimate that as many as 40,000 Canadians defied the Foreign Enlistment Act and crossed the border to enlist with the Americans to go fight in Vietnam, including one Medal of Honor recipient. That's roughly equal to the number of American draft dodgers who came to Canada during the Vietnam War. There's a memorial in Windsor, Ont. honouring Canadians who died in the Vietnam War and veterans have fought unsuccessfully to be included in Canada's Remembrance Day ceremonies for years...
Which isn't to say that McKeown isn't completely correct and Coulter completely wrong: Canada did not send troops to Vietnam. Na na na na na.
Tuesday, February 01, 2005
Par Émile Nelligan
Ah! comme la neige a neigé!
Ma vitre est un jardin de givre.
Ah! comme la neige a neigé!
Qu'est-ce que le spasme de vivre
À la douleur que j'ai, que j'ai!
Tous les étangs gisent gelés,
Mon âme est noire: Où vis-je? où vais-je?
Tous ses espoirs gisent gelés:
Je suis la nouvelle Norvège
D'où les blonds ciels s'en sont allés.
Pleurez, oiseaux de février,
Au sinistre frisson des choses,
Pleurez, oiseaux de février,
Pleurez mes pleurs, pleurez mes roses,
Aux branches du genévrier.
Ah! comme la neige a neigé!
Ma vitre est un jardin de givre.
Ah! comme la neige a neigé!
Qu'est-ce que le spasme de vivre
À tout l'ennui que j'ai, que j'ai!
My friend Marci told me to take this quiz. Turns out I'm most in tune with a retired Justice... How depressing.
are were the Honourable Mr. Justice Frank Iacobucci.
Born: 1937, Vancouver, B.C.
Key word: "experience"
You are the longest-serving of the current puisne Justices, and represent a voice of experience and authority. In our sample of ten cases, you followed the majority on all of them - or maybe the majority followed you. You co-wrote important opinions in Trinity Western (anti-homosexual code of conduct at teaching college) and Doucet-Boudreau (French-language education/right of trial judge to retain jurisdiction).