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On Bill The Quill

Today marks the anniversary of Shakespeare’s death in 1616 (and, some might argue, his birth in 1564).
Much has been written, of course, about the playwright who left an indelible mark on drama and culture. It’s impossible to imagine life without him; like Andy Warhol (more on him in a future post), his influence is felt everywhere. Amidst the volumes of academia and the wide-eyed worship, I frequently feel as if the human -the regular, ordinary, beer-swilling, bum-pinching Bill -gets lost.
Filmmaker Anna Cohen seeks to find him, with this wonderful stop-motion animation video, Shakespearean Tragedy (A Comedy), that reminds us that Shakespeare probably suffered from something that afflicts writers everywhere. Hey, we all know Romeo And Juliet was inspired by various poems and stories, but it’s fun to see the figures come to life on the blank pages before him, and I love the contemporary touches.
I never enjoyed reading Shakespeare myself; when I’d have to do for high school or university, I’d go to the library and borrow the RSC audio or video performances. There’s something about hearing those words aloud, in all their rhythmic, dancing, shimmying glory, that makes them -and their creator -feel more alive.
The clever thing about this video is that there’s no dialogue -it’s entirely visual. What would Bill say? What should he say? It’s refreshing to see a figure held in such high regard by so many has been rendered more human, even in clay.

We Write (and Draw) The Future

There are few things as good as starting the week calm, focused, and full of inspiration. I happened upon the creative video, above, via Facebook, that seeming- springboard for inspiration and revolution lately.
What I love about this is that the visionary is rendered into actual vision; it isn’t spoon-feeding with cutesy drawings so much as rendering ideas into something understandable -and comfortingly familiar (and all done with a trusty sharpie, I suspect). The other thing I love about this video is that it stands for something, not against it. Ireland, facing serious economic problems, is holding an election soon; with all its woes, it’d be easy for candidates to attack others, claiming fault, pointing blame, and engaging in nasty attacks against fellow candidates.
There’s an ad on Canadian television right now, in fact, that doesn’t mention the ruling party (who clearly paid for it) but attacks the leader of the opposition for, in their view, being out of the country for too long to be a credible leader (a charge that has an ironic ring to it right now). It’s this kind of advertising -and the altogether-yucky instincts beneath it (petty, mean, small-minded) -that, I think, turn people off, whatever their political persuasions. And yet it’s so easy to be seduced by the “no” side of the equation.

The weekend filled my head with images of contradiction: is it revolution or chaos in Egypt? good change or bad change? It’s been encouraging to hear a number of voices who are coming out with their own vision for the country’s future. “No Mubarek” and “yes democracy” has been a theme, which well and good, but… who then? Who are people looking to? Answers aren’t easy, but I hope they become clearer this week.
Egyptians are writing their future, right now. We are watching them. The scenes being drawn for us -on TV and the internet -are indeed a puzzling collage of violence, thuggery, community and hope. I’m betting on those last two to provide a vision for a solid future -one that extends past Egypt’s borders, to Ireland, to Canada, and beyond. And Dylan Haskins? Great ad. Thank you for the inspiration.

Break The Rut

Nothing like starting the day with a bit of animated inspiration.

Coming back to the familiarities of home has been both a sharp shock and a return to, borrow a phrase from Jim Morrison, to the “woolly cotton brains of infancy.” Nothing was easy while I was in New York; I got lost on the subway, my phone died, my dirty accommodations had spotty wireless and scatty heating, I stepped in ankle-deep puddles wearing good leather boots on the way to a job interview.
Yet there was something enlivening about it all, because it wasn’t, to use Basquiat’s phrase, “Samo”. It wasn’t a rut. And that’s the thing about a place like New York: it would be almost impossible for me to get into a rut. I suppose I could just stay in, “looking out of the window, staying out of the sun“, and rely solely on work for my single daily diversion… but why? The spiritual, mental, and the artistic are on an equal playing field in my world, and to deaden the outer will inevitably affect the inner, leading to a domino-like tsunami of depression and unnecessary isolation.
In the video (which does contain a swearing, so a word of warning if you’re sensitive to that kind of thing), the wise, witty host simply if effectively outlines the dangers of The Rut while simultaneously showing us how the silly, the bizarre, and the random work in unison to provide something hugely valuable and important. (This makes me wish I hadn’t missed the Paul Thek exhibit at the Whitney, which closed days before I visited; if anyone knew a thing or two about the silly, the bizarre, and the random, it was Thek.) The advice around the whys and wherefores of ruts is interesting; if you do anything artistic, Lev Yilmaz (the talented host/animator) notes, you’ll fall into a rut because you’ll “make art based on what people expect of you rather than what you’re actually thinking about.”
I actually stopped the video – twice – to re-listen to that line. It hit on the precise reason I don’t look at Google Analytics too minutely (though I’m bowled over with gratitude at my readership -thank you!!); my blog isn’t (and will never be) about what people expect of me, but rather, what I’m thinking about, what’s inspiring me, interesting me, and making me bust out of the rut. Maybe Play Anon is my perfect rut-busting routine. Wait, not “routine” but… unroutine. Maybe it’s the same for you, too.

“It’s Changed My Life”

A lot of people whose work I adore passed away last year.

People I’ll very much miss speaking with, listening to, and/or drawing inspiration from include Lhasa de Sela (my blog here), Peter Christopherson, Ari Up, Louis Bourgeois (more on her in a future post), Sylvia Sleigh, Mira Godard, Elaine Kaufman, David French (my blog here), Graham Harley, and Gina Wilkinson. Jazz giants Abbey Lincoln, Lena Horne, and Billy Taylor, as well as photographer Herman Leonard, also passed away in 2010.

Abbey Lincoln’s voice was the second female jazz voice I ever heard, the first being Ella Fitzgerald. Her mix of sexy and mournful, expressive and restrained, operatic and plaintive, all wrapped up in a deep caramel tone, stopped me in my tracks at seventeen. When everyone else was moshing to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”, I was lying on the floor of my bedroom sighing to Abbey and her masterful recording of ‘Bird Alone’.

Lincoln wasn’t solely a singer; she acted in film and TV, and was especially active in the civil rights movement. Equally, Lena Horne, who passed away in 2010, was well-known as a singer, actor, and civil rights crusader. She blazed a trail for people women like Halle Berry; Horne was smart, tough, and ridiculously talented. Her voice always had a sexy smirk that makes listening to her recordings joyful and dramatic- but behind the smirk was (and lives) a resolution and confidence as strong as steel. Horne was a siren, in every sense, and she knew it.

Every bit as joyful is the work of jazz pianist and educator Billy Taylor. He was a vital figure who felt compelled to make jazz more than a brew of pretty sounds -who, in fact, viewed jazz as America’s cultural legacy and gift to the world. I took for granted just how influential he was, how vital a figure in broadcasting and education -and just how many recordings he’d actually written and been on. His Jazzmobile idea was genius, and one could argue it has a corollary in the work John Legend is doing with Show Me. In fact, Legend calls education “the civil rights issue of our time.” His work with The Roots (“Wake Up!“) suddenly begins to make a lot of sense on both sonic and social levels.

I came across this fantastic clip of Taylor chatting with Charlie Rose; his comments around the role of music in his life are illuminating, and, like his work, continue to inspire.

“Quiet” is probably too mild a term to use when describing my public adoration of jazz and its role in my life; looking through old posts and other work, the silence is positively deafening. Why? There’s a perception that enjoyment of jazz implies an intellectualism I feel totally bereft of. I don’t get out to see a heck of a lot of live jazz -though it’s my favorite music live -and I know very few people with whom I can share my love. As a child piano player in the Royal Conservatory System, the thought of improvising scared me to bits, even as it thrilled and fascinated. Kind of like the way I feel about painting now.

The passings of Taylor and Lincoln last year were wake-up calls to announce, and express, my love to the world -love of jazz, love of noise, love of motion, love of integrating all my artistic passions. The outcome? Unclear. The process? Delicious.

Photo (top) by Herman Leonard.

Laughter In The Dark

The man behind one of my favorite movies of all time passed away today. I write one, but really, it’s a collection. Blake Edwards‘ influence was so massive in my life, it’s easy to lose track of what he did, when. Reading the excellent obituary in the New York Times, I’m struck by not only his influence cinematically but in a larger cultural sense.

Laughter was one of the foundations of my childhood. My memories of life as a little one are coloured by giggles, smiles, and sometimes, hard-to-control howling fits that frequently happened at the worst possible times (ie church, funerals, big weddings). Humour may be personal, but its effects are universal. When I was a kid, I had a direct through-line to experiencing primal emotions with somewhat astonishing rapidity: sadness came just as fast as fits of hilarity, to be quickly replaced by joy, anger, fear. Like some manic depressive hobbit, I’d cry if someone snapped at me and laugh until my stomach ached at the silly antics of the Marx brothers and, of course, Inspector Clouseau -whom my buddy hilariously imitated, felt moustache, fake accent, and cocked eyebrow in place. Forget The Pink Panther cartoon; I’d seen the real thing (thanks to my super-duper VCR) and I was hooked.

The 1964 movie A Shot In The Dark ranks as one of my favorite comedies. It’s a blend of child-like lunacy and very-adult sexiness. The story of Maria Gambrelli and the corrupt Parisiennes depicted within Edwards’ world delighted me, and indeed, still does. I didn’t get that sexual references as a kid, nor did I care -and really, it didn’t matter. I knew it was naughty without being gross, and I liked the kind of glamorous world Edwards seemed to be both mocking and milking in his work.

That intriguing mix -playing the game of high society/fame/notoriety/in-crowd while simultaneously, unapologetically riping it to shreds -found incredible expression through his famous early work, Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961 -written by Truman Capote), through the Clouseau movies, into the mad, surreal world of The Party, and even into Edwards’ angry, cynical S.O.B. (the sight of Julie Andrew’s slurring “I’m going to show my boobies!” is one I’ll never forget); it also seeped into 1982’s Victor/Victoria, a movie I loved so much I wore out my tape from repeated viewings.

It was probably there that my fascination with gender began; what constitutes “female” / “male”? And why should it matter? Edwards’ work was, and remains, curiously subversive; it’s shrewd in its expression of the in-crowd as being both deliciosly desirable and disgustingly debauched, hailing and applauding the “new” and “daring” so long as it doesn’t threaten their power structure or upset any positions or expectations. Phooey to that, his work said, lightly, if with a knowing wink, ever well-dressed and classy.

What appealed when my cinematic appetites were still budding was the mix of madcap comedy and flair for the aesthetic, along with the unmissable trait that smart and beautiful were natural soul-mates. Elke Sommer’s Maria (in Shot) wasn’t stupid -just good at seeming like she was, especially to smitten men. In Victor/Victoria, Julie Andrews exuded a different, if no less potent form of sex appeal that clearly had roots in the likes of Marlene Dietrich and Josephine Baker. She played a poor pretty woman pretending to be a rich man who went onstage to be a glammy hot woman. (Oh, and she/he wound up having a macho-man fall in love with her/him.) It was funny; it was touching; it was in Paris and featured beautiful costumes, and amazing music. Casting Music Man Robert Preston as “Victor’s” impressario was genius. And yes, it was entertaining as all hell, but there existed within Victor/Victoria some important questions -ones we’re still grappling with, singing about, dancing around, and celebrating.

Blake Edwards will be remember in many different ways, by many different people. I remember him as being the filmmaker who taught me some of my earliest lessons about the nature of art, comedy, and what exactly Groucho Marx meant by not wanting to be a part of any club that would have me as a member. Amen to that, and thank you, Mr. Edwards. I’ll be watching A Shot In The Dark tonight, on my old VCR, laughing, smirking, and remembering.

Swirling

A little piece of inspiration, amidst the Christmas/holiday nutties.

The ocean has always been a source of inspiration for me. When I lived in Dublin, I used to have to take the DART south for work twice a week; I loved being along the Irish sea and looking out at the swirling waves. It was a hell of a public transit ride for a wide-eyed Canadian girl more used to seeing concrete and tracts of homogenous suburban town-boxes along commuter routes. I marveled at the many people who simply fell asleep on the ride. How can you miss this?, I thought. Maybe it’s something you get used to, and sick of, the way us Canadians are about snow and winter scenes.

On the (few) days the sun shone in Dublin, the watery landscape turned into a glinting kind of jewel; I only wish I had been painting then. Still, I had my trusty Minolta with me. The photos I took are languishing somewhere in Ireland. I don’t know if I’ll ever see them again; the feeling of seeing that dance of sky and sea will be with me, though, forever. Another ride along the DART is inevitable, both physically and otherwise.

It’s Time

I felt the need to share this on World AIDS Day. It’s a simply-done work about the numerous NYC-based artists who’ve died of AIDS. Keith Haring, David Wojnarowicz, and Robert Mapplethorpe are just a few of the names here.

Yes, there are millions who’ve died, many of whom never achieved the fame many of the people in this film did, any who will die nameless, faceless… but to us North Americans, the victims are far away, out of our reach, outside our scope of experience. Aren’t they? This film (and accompanying website) “Last Address“, challenges that attitude.

With simple shots of New York life, including birds, cats, people, roads, traffic, etc, the film shows the abodes (with addresses) of all the artists who died. The absolute ordinary-ness is striking. These are people, not statistics. People like you and I.

Ordinary people get AIDS. We are all ordinary, and we can do something that is ordinary, logical, and .. ridiculously right: demand a cure. It’s overdue.

Painting: © All rights reserved by Keith Haring.

Desperately Seeking

Amidst LG Fashion Week, theatre openings, a benefit gala, and a sure-to-be-kick-ass concert, I’m also looking for this, in book and film form:

Also: I fully intend on posting audio from my interviews with Ivy Knight and Kristina Groeger as well as Matthew Jocelyn this weekend. Furthermore, I’m hoping to post my long-overdue recipe for Moroccan vegetable stew very soon, especially since I’ve been recommended on Twitter by more than a few people for my food writing. Aww.

In the meantime, seeking the punk-rock cabaret-glam of Breakfast on Pluto. McCabe, Murphy, Jordan, Rea, Friday, yes please, more. Amen.

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Appropos Of Nothing

Get on your celery glove.

Somewhere, somehow, Dali is twirling his moustache and cackling.

Funny Friday

Between nibbles of knotted fruit bread and sips of green tea this morning, I came across this hilarious video, courtesy of Oxfam UK. It’s all about Kenyans raising money to support British theatre. Wearing ruffs in the fields are just a small part of the support; wait until you see the other costuming, banners, and building projects.

Taken from Scottish comedian Armando Iannucci’s comedy sketch show that aired on Britain’s Channel 4 in 2001, the episode also featured a promiscuous Priest and TV executives setting up a reality series in a Buddhist monastery. There’s no denying this video’s clever, creative spirit; it’s a kind of gentle mockery of the patronizing attitude that can go hand-in-hand with much aid effort to African nations. This excels at milking and mocking that patronage, showing how ridiculous it looks -and in fact, is -to all involved. You’ll be literally laughing out loud, even as you consider the brainy subtext. Excellent.

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