Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Darkness without Light: House of Cards Season 5

Frank and Claire Underwood's scheming in Season 5 begins to feel meaningless. The viewer is left wondering why they should still care.

"With all the foolishness and indecision in your lives, why not a man like me?"


Season 5 brings the return of Netflix's first original series, House of Cards, into our living rooms and bedrooms. The show continues to chart the political rise and schemings of Frank (Kevin Spacey) and Claire Underwood (Robin Wright), though this season felt tired and un-anchored the closer I got to the final episode.


Perhaps the best example of this is a speech by President Underwood announcing his resignation to Congress in the second last episode of the season. It starts off strong - Spacey's monologues have always been a high point of the American version of House of Cards. However, by the end he is going on about the, "end of the age of reason." Spacey's saucy humor (it's in the smile) and steely aggression are both evident - yet something feels off.

It probably has to do with the departure of Beau Willimon, the writer at the helm for House of Cards first four seasons. Without his writing, I sometimes found myself wondering why I should care about the characters. Frank and Claire's plotting, Doug Stamper's (Michael Kelly) covering his boss's evil tracks, and a host of supporting characters sometimes left me shrugging and saying, "Meh..."

The dramatic tension evident in the first four seasons is noticeably missing from large parts of Season 5. Another reason for this is because at five seasons, House of Cards has clearly outlived the Shakespearean frame it was built upon. Our anti-hero's journey was supposed to fall into three distinct stages. 


First Stage: coveting power from afar and scheming how to obtain it. We saw this in Seasons 1 & 2 when Frank and Claire worked to pull the rug out from underneath President Garrett Walker (Michel Gill).

Second Stage: Obtaining power. This happened in Season 3 when Frank Underwood assumed the Presidency. Here the character's weaknesses start to become apparent as they deal with the burden of power. "Uneasy lies the head that wears the Crown," as Shakespeare would have put it.

Third Stage: The Fall from Grace where the protagonist loses their power. This third and final stage has been delayed, by necessity, from the series long run. Instead of being dragged down, Frank and Claire just keep on winning. 

In the current season, there is no better example of this than when the Underwoods take down Governor Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman). As Frank's Republican rival for President, he has the election yanked from underneath his feet when Frank orchestrates the closures of key polling stations. Having his prize stolen works a number on the Governor's mind, causing him to lose mental stability. Eventually, leaks of the Governor's private meltdowns make their way to the Underwoods - who then use this evidence to finish what they started.

I hope House of Cards can finish strong on its Sixth Season. If the show goes on for too much longer, more viewers will be left wondering why they should still care.

***

Fiction vs. Reality


Perhaps the problem is that House of Cards can no longer compete with the grim reality of the world. I'm not just referring to Donald Trump's presidency when I write this. For too long in the developed world we've had so much (materially) and given each other so little in terms of human warmth and love. In this way House of Cards no longer feels like a fictional show, but one that is in lock step with the place we wake up in every morning.


A personal note to end this blog entry - I will be finishing a second draft of my fictional novel of short stories over the fall. It is my intention to share excerpts of the first chapter of that book here on my blog when it is ready to publish. The book will be darkly humorous with a moral core. More or less my version of Larry Kramer's Faggots.

I look forward to sharing it with all of you. Until next time.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

On Berlin

Berlin has Risen and Fallen More Than Once. We're About to See it Rise Again. 


Sunset over Schlüterstraße. Berlin, Germany. 01.19.2017
Germany has come a long way since the days of Otto von Bismarck and his famous, "Blood and Iron" speech. If one were to trace Germany, and Berlin's, history on a graph it might resemble a Sine Wave. 

Going up with Bismarck's unification of Germany, and then down with Kaiser Wilhelm II and the First World War. With the ascension of Hitler and the Nazi Party a brief period of economic growth followed by the destruction and death of World War II.

Having just spent a month in Berlin, I think it's safe to say the city is coming 'up' once more. There are construction projects underway in several neighbourhoods, and Germany can only become a more desirable place to do business in. Particularly with the United States under Trump being so unpredictable for at least the next 4 years.  

Fragments of Berlin's history can be found everywhere; sometimes you almost trip over them because there are so many. It's almost impossible to understand the Berlin of 2017 without knowing something about the city's long and sometimes dark history. Reading Rory MacLean's Berlin: Imagine a City sheds light on this history by using each chapter to tell the story of a person who did something of consequence while living in Berlin.

Many of MacLean's subjects are famous - Marlene Dietrich, David Bowie, and to a lesser extent Christopher Isherwood are all household names. 

Dietrich made her career as a film star who fled Nazi Germany for the United States. You can still find plenty of artwork, including one of Berlin's famous bear statues, devoted to her at the Intercontinental Hotel on Budapester Straße

David Bowie arrived in Berlin in 1976 to kick a Cocaine addiction and re-energize himself creatively. The result was his 'Berlin Trilogy' of Low, Heroes, and Lodger. At the Hansa Studios located at 38 Köthener Straße he made wonderfully edgy electronic music with Brian Eno and others that has stood the test of time.

My personal favourite chapter of Berlin: Imagine a City is devoted to author Christopher Isherwood. While in Berlin he lived near Nollendorfplatz, now one of the city's defined gaybourhoods. There Isherwood wrote Goodbye to Berlin, which depicts a city on the edge of becoming something else under the Nazis. Much is hinted at, and deeper meaning is left for the reader to piece together.

Part of the point of coming to Berlin for Isherwood (and many other gay men) was the opportunity to act on his desires and live the life he wanted for himself.

As MacLean writes: "Isherwood didn't want to live forever in his head. He wanted to touch, and be touched. He was a sensual boy, hemmed in by an English timidity of physical contact... (In Berlin) Isherwood could touch and be touched, stroke and sink into surrender." 


Today Berlin is still a place where you can do this, regardless of whether you're gay or straight. The wonderful directness of many Germans, together with the existence of certain clubs and venues, is a gift. The emphasis here is on having sex and a good time - not on endless game playing. Which is as it should be.

Even with the armies of tour guides and pieces of history all around you, what's worth paying attention to most is Berlin's future. 
Having been there for a month, it`s not hard to imagine a time when Berlin is the beating heart of Europe. A capitol for tech savvy, open minded, curious people to grow and thrive in. 

To all the Earthbound Extraterrestrials and Misfits reading this - take note. 

Berlin is a place for you. 

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Closet Monster is the Best Movie of 2016 - Warm, Sensual, and More than a little Freaky

Closet Monster's Hero Oscar Madly (Connor Jessup) and Wilder (Aliocha Schneider) share an intimate moment.

I first noticed posters for Closet Monster around downtown Toronto in mid to late July. Vividly colourful, it features the faces of the film's three principal characters overlapping each other in red, blue, pink, and green tones. My decision to see the movie was made by gut instinct and some chatter among my friends.

I was not disappointed. Director Stephen Dunn's movie about Oscar Madly's coming-of-age in small town Newfoundland is 2016's best movie. It takes you like a street fighter while dispensing with the genre's tired clichés in favour of something more aggressive and visceral.

We are introduced to a very young Oscar, who has just received a talking Hamster (Isabella Rossellini) from his parents, who are divorcing. Mom we never get to know very well. Peter Madly (Aaron Abrams), Oscar's father, is a charismatic fellow with dark emotions he keeps in check - just barely.

Soon after his parents separate, Oscar witnesses a gay bashing near his school. Of the most brutal kind. The victim has a metal rod shoved up his ass. We are left to surmise that, if he survives at all, he lives on as a paralyzed wreck.

Sitting at home with his Father, Oscar watches a news report on the bashing. He asks Dad why this happened. Peter tells him it's because the kid is gay. He follows this up with a suggestion that young Oscar cut his hair - the idea being that long hair is effeminate. Something only a queer would have.

Then we fast forward in time. An 18-year-old Oscar played by Connor Jessup is applying to schools to further his budding interest in monster makeup. Best friend Gemma (Sofia Banzhaf) doubles as Oscar's model and muse.

Here is where reality begins to bend in the film - to wonderful effect. Oscar's interest in Monsters goes beyond a desire to photograph Gemma when she's done up like a Sea Creature. In Oscar's mind homosexuality and monstrosity are intimately linked. His fear of the gay beating he witnessed as a young child is holding him back from finding true connection and intimacy.

Oscar's work at a local hardware store brings him into contact with Wilder (Aliocha Schneider). Wilder is the most deliciously blunt of free spirits. At one point while Oscar is stocking shelves, Wilder taps him on the shoulder and asks: "How much for a blowjob?" This blond haired Adonis is only in town for a summer. Beyond that Wilder's future will take him to the sensual overloads of Berlin - or so he claims.

Things only become more intense from here on in. I won't give any more away. It's best experienced by watching the movie.

Director Stephen Dunn has done such a wonderful job on so many levels that it's difficult for me to overpraise this film. When Oscar finally maneuvers Wilder into bed (or maybe it happens the other way around) there is one of the most satisfying, sensual scenes I've ever watched.

The central question Closet Monster asks the viewer is this: How do you unfuck yourself after a difficult experience?

Rest assured, the question is answered in a powerful, definitive way.

***

Musings on 2016 - The Death of David Bowie and Rise of Donald Trump


For me, personally, 2016 has been a mostly good year. I'm very much looking forward to moving ahead with various projects in the New Year. Projects that include finishing a long delayed first draft of my novel Marginal People.

2016 was a crappy year if you believe all the memes floating around on Facebook and other social media platforms. It's easy to see why, given all the deaths of important artists and cultural figures. As well with Donald Trump's election - it's hard to stomach the fact this orange haired, spray tanned carnival barker will be the next President of the United States of America.

There is so much I could say about why Trump's election does not bode well for the world. I'll leave it with re-posting a quote from an older blog entry that was spoken by Trump's former rival in the Republican primaries, Marco Rubio.

"The politics of resentment against other people will not just leave us a fractured party. They're going to leave us a fractured nation. They're going to leave us as a nation where people literally hate each other because they have different political opinions."

If only Rubio had stuck by those words instead of changing his mind and endorsing Trump. So many Republicans did - men whose careers would suggest they have principals. People you would think are capable of standing up to the Cheshire Cat smile of the Donald. Apparently not.

A second event that marked 2016 for me was David Bowie's death on January 10 in Manhattan. He was a singer, songwriter, actor, painter, and earthbound extraterrestrial to be reckoned with. Even today much of his music still feels like the future.

Particularly the 1977 album Heroes. It was Part 2 of Bowie's Berlin Trilogy. Tell me that you don't feel the future coming at you, head on, in the crisp mix of pianos and synthesizers on Beauty and the Beast.

"Nothing will corrupt us, nothing will compete. Thank God Heaven left us, standing on our feet. My, my... Beauty and the Beast."

Have a wonderful New Year's Eve - make sure the people you love know it. We have an unpredictable year ahead of us.

See you all in 2017.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Equals is a Touching, Artfully Directed Love Story

In cool blues and greys, Drake Doremus's new film encourages you to, "Find Your Equal."

The tagline for Director Drake Doremus's new movie Equals challenges viewers to, "Find Your Equal." The script, written by Doremus and Nathan Parker (Moon) tells the tale of a future 'utopia' where physical contact and intimacy are forbidden. It stars Nicholas Hoult as Silas and Kristen Stewart as Nia, graphic designers affected by Switched On Syndrome (S.O.S.).

Nathan Parker knows a thing or two about writing stories set in cold, futuristic environments where the protagonists struggle with alienation and isolation. He co-wrote the script for 2009's Moon with Dunan Jones; another futuristic movie about a lonely miner extracting natural resources from the lunar surface.

Equals colour palette is all cool blues and greys. Meant to reflect the emotional distance and isolation enforced by this future world's Collective. From the background given it would seem that humanity nearly destroyed itself some years earlier. Survivors pegged human emotions as one of the prime culprits and sought to genetically eliminate them.

Silas and Nia work in the same office creating graphics and spoken word descriptions, respectively, for television programming. Silas works in the company's Speculative Non-Fiction department. In this world Silas, Nia and their co-workers wake up alone, take the subway to work alone - eyes focused on giant monitors - and spend most of their work days essentially alone tapping on enormous touchscreens.

Sustained eye contact is avoided and physical contact forbidden. As we learn in a public service announcement less than 10 minutes into the movie, some members of the Collective suffer from S.O.S. which is divided into 4 stages. Essentially their emotions are taking hold.

Equals is pointed social commentary that sticks it to corporate mandated conformity and a smartphone obsessed world.

After several lingering glances and much mutual pouty-lipped staring, Silas and Nia fall in love with each other. Silas has been diagnosed with Stage 1 S.O.S. and is soon ostracized by co-workers who give him his own mug and seat themselves far away at lunch. Just in case S.O.S. is contagious.

Nia is a Hider, someone who knows she has the condition and does not want to be diagnosed and labelled.

When Silas and Nia share the screen, the movie's colour palette warms up so they appear as actual flesh and blood humans to us. The contrast between people who can love and those who are loveless is obvious.

In one memorable scene Silas and his boss Leonard (David Selby) exchange words late at night after everyone else has gone home. Leonard is worried that Silas is developing a crush on Nia. As they talk Leonard's half of the screen remains icy blue and grey while Silas's outline is illuminated with colours that remind me of sunrise.

I love Equals because it affirms the power of touch, and of intimacy as being key to growing and fulfilling our potential. There are comparisons to be made between Equals and Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

First proposed in 1943, Maslow's Hierarchy is often represented graphically by a pyramid. According to the theory, human beings must have their deficiency or 'd needs' met before they can progress further. The most basic needs Maslow listed are: Physiological, Safety, and Love/Belonging.

Love and Belonging are about an individual's ability to be accepted as part of a group. If we don't fulfill our needs at this level, we risk being felled by depression and anxiety. Interestingly, in Equals there is overlap in the symptoms of anxiety & depression and the Collective's so-called Switched On Syndrome.

Our smart, attractive protagonists soon realize the Collective is trying (and failing) to suppress basic human needs.

At one point in the film, members of the Collective gather in a large atrium to view a spaceship launch on yet another giant screen. As children Collective members are told the answers to humanity's problems lie in the stars.

They might.

Or they may be just a kiss away to quote the Rolling Stones Gimme' Shelter.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Toronto 2016: The Meaning of Pride

Staff from Toronto's Glad Day Bookshop circa 2000. L to R: Toshiya Kuwabara, Andrew Cecil, then store owner John Scythes, Alex Rowlson, Marcin Wisniewski, and Prodan Nedev. Photo Credit: Jearld Moldenhauer

"I hope we can keep finding new ways to be closer. There must be lots of joys of being closer that we haven't found yet. I hope you're hopeful and not discouraged about us."
Sam Wagstaff in a letter to Robert Mapplethorpe 

Just over a week from today Toronto will celebrate Pride weekend 2016. More than 40 years after the Gay Liberation movement came to Canada, Pride is now a city sanctioned month-long happening. It's a chance for events usually packed into 2 days to be spread across an entire month, which I'm all for.

I've always believed Pride does an important service for Toronto's gay community. It of course serves as a giant party where people can dance their asses off, and is a chance to see friends and acquaintances you wouldn't normally cross paths with. Secondly, Pride is a chance to connect in meaningful ways with friends and foes alike. It demands we answer an important question - which I'll get into later in this post. 

Pride allows us to celebrate our community's achievements and remember the people and institutions that made our victories possible. Two of those institutions are Pink Triangle Press and Glad Day Bookshop. Until 2015 Pink Triangle Press published print editions of the Xtra! newspaper in Ottawa, Toronto, and Vancouver. For decades the press has been vital to LGBT intellectual life and community building in these 3 cities. 

Glad Day Bookshop is North America's oldest gay and lesbian bookstore. It was founded in 1970 by Jearld Moldenhauer, who also founded the University of Toronto Homophile Association (UTHA) and had a hand in the creation of the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA). His website is an excellent resource for those who want to learn about Toronto's queer history. I was involved with Glad Day for several years as then owner John Scythes's personal assistant and sometime Cashier.

Though little known, Glad Day and Pink Triangle Press started out as two halves of a whole. The Body Politic movement for a time shared space with the bookstore at 65 Kendal Ave., and later at 139 Seaton St. Members of the Body Politic Collective shared living space as a sort of gay commune. Moldenhauer would later break from the Collective to make a full-time living as a bookseller - a smart business move in the movement's early years. Glad Day Bookshop would later have a Boston location as well.

Both the Boston and Toronto stores thrived for much of the 1980s' and 1990s'.

Fast forward to 2016 and the game has changed. Xtra!, the paper that succeeded The Body Politic after TBP folded in 1986, is now found only online. Glad Day Bookshop remains at 598A Yonge St., where it has been for several years. Though not for much longer. The collective that currently owns the store is fundraising to move to an undisclosed location on Church Street. Given the sums owner Michael Erickson mentions in interviews, the stakes are high.

“We’re hoping to crowdfund $50,000, we’ll probably borrow $120,000, and then we’ll raise $50,000 from the current owners and some new owners,” Erickson told Xtra's Jeremy Willard. Since they purchased the store in 2012 from John Scythes, collective members have faced the challenges every independent bookseller faces. They've done their best in the face of those challenges.

If Glad Day Bookshop closes, Toronto would lose one of the most vocal advocates for freedom of expression and freedom from censorship. Jearld Moldenhauer and John Scythes put their necks on the line many times to fight court battles with the Ontario government. The Joy of Gay Sex, Descent, and Bad Attitude are just a few of the titles that sparked these battles.

Pre-Internet Glad Day was a major gathering point for the community and an important stepping stone for many people. Both Glad Day Bookshop and the gay press have been there through the 1980s' bathhouse raids, the fight for gay marriage, and too many other important events to name here. 

As someone who helped out behind the counter and behind the scenes at Glad Day, I will always be proud of the work I did there. It's my hope that the proposed move to Church Street goes smoothly, and the new business model of a hybrid café / bookstore / event space proves profitable.

I've also worked with the gay press. For a brief time I interned at Xtra!, and I wrote several articles for fab magazine, Xtra's competitor from 1994 through 2013. As the, "gay scene magazine" it provided a counterpoint to the sometimes dry and serious tone Xtra! struck. It was at fab where I met Paul Bellini - who, as far as I'm concerned, is the best columnist Toronto's gay press ever had. 

Bellini is known for being The Towel Guy from Kids in the Hall. This was a walk on role - he was primarily a writer for the CBC comedy series. We've been friends for years now, and have worked on several fun side projects together. 

Back to my main point - with the press gone from our newspaper boxes and Glad Day's future uncertain, it's more important than ever to be visible as a community and continue the fight they started. The dangers of being complacent and resting on our laurels are succinctly stated in Ken Popert's 2014 article While we weren't looking. The article is about Rob Ford, and more broadly the dangers of politicians who don't have our best interests at heart. 

Popert's article concludes: "I’m looking at Ford and looking at a possible future. That future does not look friendly. But it is just one possibility; if we start looking, the future can still be ours to make."


Coming Together for Pride

Which brings me to the key part of this entry: because we risk losing the gay press and bookstore - the voices of our community - this Pride is more important than ever. Jearld Moldenhauer would sometimes refer to Pride as, "Bury the Knives Week" with his uniquely dark sense of humour.

He meant that people forgive each other for slights both perceived and real. And that for one week we come together and treat each other well.

This touches on what I think is the heart of the matter. The heart of the question Pride asks us, even as we dance to the beat. "What kind of people should we be? How should we treat each other?" The question applies to friends and foes alike. The quote that leads off this entry is from a book about Sam Wagstaff.

For people who know me, it's no secret that Wagstaff: Before and After Mapplethorpe is one of my favourite books. In addition to being Robert Mapplethorpe's boyfriend, Sam Wagstaff was a friend to many and patron of some of America's most well-known Pop artists.

This excerpt is from a letter he mailed to Mapplethorpe when they lived mere blocks from each other in downtown Manhattan.

To the question, then: What kind of people should we be?

I think he gave us the answer.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Beyond Marriage: House of Cards Season 4

Underwood and Underwood for the win. Season 4 sees Frank and Claire maneuver to become running mates on the eve of a U.S. Presidential election.

"Beyond Marriage" 


House of Cards stormed back into our imaginations with the launch of a fourth season on March 4. It's no coincidence that four years marks the series length so far because it's also the span of a single Presidential term in office. For those who felt Season 3 ended with a whimper instead of a bang, you won't be disappointed with the new episodes. Season 4 of Netflix's political drama has more twists and turns than a rollercoaster at Canada's Wonderland.

The drama begins where we left off — with our protagonists (antiheroes?) squaring off against each other. Frank (Kevin Spacey) is in the midst of a tightly contested re-election campaign. His wife, the formidable Claire Underwood (Robin Wright), has left Frank to jumpstart her own political career, away from her powerful spouse's shadow.

Seeing them crisscross the United States while trying to out-network and outsmart each other is great fun to watch. As is the return of Doug Stamper (Michael Kelly) Frank's conflicted, emotionally troubled Chief of Staff. His character walks a fine balancing line — though he has done horrible things, you can't bring yourself to hate him. As the season progresses we see the effect of some of Stamper's decisions on his moral and spiritual well-being (or lack thereof).


Then, just when you think you can see around the next curve on the track, the tone of Season 4 changes dramatically after Frank is shot at a political rally by Lucas Goodwin (Sebastian Arcelus). Goodwin, formerly an Editor at The Washington Herald was sent to jail by Frank and his associates in Season 2 for trying to uncover the crooked politician's trail of murder and lies. During the gunfire Frank takes a bullet in his liver and is left clinging to life on a Hospital bed. His bodyguard Edward Meechum (Nathan Darrow) is killed by Goodwin, though not before taking down the would be assassin.

While waiting for a liver transplant Frank enters a dream state where he is haunted by the ghosts of Peter Russo (Corey Stoll) and Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara). One moment he is in a crowded train car that's rattling along toward some unknown destination. Then he sees Zoe, her hair cut short. Perhaps the train is a reference to the subway car that Frank pushed Zoe under at the beginning of Season 2. The next moment he is together with Peter and Zoe inside the Oval Office. Claire is only just visible outside the window. Inside the dead are more real than the living, inviting the corrupt President to enter their world.

It's nail biting stuff to watch, and one of Season 4's best episodes.

Frank survives his near death experience by receiving a last minute liver transplant. Unsurprisingly, people die for Frank to get back into the game. One of those deaths weighs heavily on Doug Stamper, and is a thread that follows through the rest of this season.

To heal a rift with Claire, Frank agrees to maneuver her into place as his running mate on the Democratic ticket. This plot arc provides even more tension and genuine surprises. The Underwoods decide on an open convention to play up the theater of politics, only to have Catherine Durant (Jayne Atkinson) their Secretary of State, make a play for the Presidential nomination herself when she discovers the Underwoods have betrayed her.

In my favourite scene from Season 4, Frank uses intimidation and fear to force Durant to abandon her challenge. One-on-one he drops his southern gentleman mask to show her what lies below the pleasant surface. From there, the Underwoods' path to secure the nomination is guaranteed.
 

From personal terror to fear on a large scale, the Islamic Caliphate Organization (ICO) enters the picture in the last third of the season. A stand-in for ISIS, the terrorist organization is spreading fear in the Middle East and provides a means for Republican Governor and Presidential hopeful Will Conway (Joel Kinnaman) to portray Frank as a weak and indecisive leader.

So it goes through to Season 4's logical conclusion - a hostage situation. A situation the Underwoods take advantage of to horrifying effect in the last episode. Season 4's ending feels like a punch to the gut. Frank and Claire anticipate and allow the execution of an ICO hostage to take control of the situation when Tom Hammerschmidt and The Washington Herald publish an
exposé on Underwood's path to the White House.

The ending hits uncomfortably close to some of our biggest fears in the western world. The fear that tomorrow we could be next.

Frank concludes: "That's right. We don't submit to Terror; we make the Terror."

***

A small digression to end this blog. This time about two real life politicians:

Rob Ford, former Mayor of Toronto and longtime city councillor, died of a rare form of Cancer on March 22. His death is tragic, and I feel sorry for the Ford family. However, as Mayor, Rob Ford's politics held the city back. Simple slogans like: "Subways, subways, subways" and the former Mayor's view that Toronto should be run like a business didn't just miss the mark. They stopped us from evolving and moving forward. Complex problems cannot be solved by sloganeering and refusing to read briefing binders.

Which brings me to Donald Trump. The billionaire's rhetoric on the campaign trail makes all of Ford's shenanigans pale by comparison. Promises to build a wall along the U.S. / Mexico border, to deport Muslims, singling out certain ethnic groups, and the list goes on. Not only does spouting this kind of hate not solve anything, it turns people against each other.

When Marco Rubio failed to win his home state of Florida, he pulled out of the race for his party's nomination. What he said that night should be a wake up call for all American voters, regardless of who they intend to vote for.


"The politics of resentment against other people will not just leave us a fractured party. They're going to leave us a fractured nation. They're going to leave us as a nation where people literally hate each other because they have different political opinions."

Food for thought.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Loving the Alien: Remembering David Bowie (1947 - 2016)

David Bowie from one of the promotional stills shot for 1977's 'Heroes' album. There was always something extraterrestrial and freaky about The Man Who Fell to Earth. And it wasn't just his unequally-sized pupils.

"The song itself… is made up of juxtapositions and fragments of information. [It] doesn’t have a straightforward coherent message to it. None of the album has any message; it’s really a compression of information, it’s just information: make of it what you will... The filthy lesson in question is the fact that life is finite. That realization, when it comes, usually later in life, can either be a really daunting prospect or it makes things a lot clearer."

-David Bowie on the track The Heart's Filthy Lesson from a promotional film for Outside, 1995

Loving the Alien: Remembering David Bowie (1947 - 2016)


There was always something freaky about David Bowie, wasn't there? And I don't just mean his unequally sized pupils that were the result of a childhood fight. Looking at photographs of him from the 1970s you're struck by just how... unusual this man looks. Thin face, craggy British teeth, thinner lips, and then your attention returns to those eyes again.

David Bowie, musician, actor, painter, and well-rounded extraterrestrial being died just days after his 69th birthday and the release of his final album, Blackstar. In a career that spanned several decades and enough different artistic influences and costume changes to make your head spin, Bowie took music lovers and his fellow Outsiders on a wild ride.

His music often addressed hard subjects that many people shy from in polite conversation. Alienation, isolation, spiritual pain, and struggling with inner demons — what the late William S. Burroughs once referred to as, "the Ugly Spirit."

The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
from 1972 was the album that really jump started the man's career. Before Ziggy, with his vivid red hair and unforgettable costumes, Bowie had been a long-haired folk and rock n' roll singer not widely known.

Post-Ziggy almost any serious music lover in North America and Europe could name at least one song from the albums that followed. Heroes, the title track from the album of the same name, was recorded at Das Hansa Tonstudio in Berlin during Bowie's time in the city. The studio's location was right next to the Berlin Wall, which divided the city from 1961 to 1989. Bowie watched his longtime producer Tony Visconti and a backing vocalist making out beside the wall as Bowie looked out from one of the studio's windows; this served as the song's inspiration.

The half German version of the song Heroes / Helden has always been one of my favourite Bowie tracks. I discovered it as a teenager living in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories. Heroes' theme of lovers facing impossible odds has a power that's undeniable. It will remain one of Bowie's signature achievements.

In 2013 I had a chance to visit the David Bowie Is exhibit at the Art Gallery of Ontario. One of the pieces from the exhibit is Bowie's handwritten lyrics for Heroes. It was very moving to see the genuine article close enough to touch — separated from my hand by only the thinnest piece of Plexiglass.

Fast forward several years in the man's career to 1995's Outside concept album where Bowie played Nathan Adler, a detective out to solve a grisly art crime. My personal favourite song from that album is The Heart's Filthy Lesson. In the music video Bowie played up the idea of tribalism, body art, and a future where everyone belongs to his or her 'tribe.'

The 'Filthy Lesson' from the song, according to Bowie, is that our lives our finite: "I'm already 5 years older, I'm already in my grave, I'm already..."

David Bowie's career had too many highlights and songs that I love to mention in this short space. What impressed me most about the man is his continuing need to experiment and push the envelope artistically. He may have been singing to us as Major Tom, Ziggy Stardust, The Thin White Duke, or another character. Repeated listens reveal the truth was in the lie. He used pain we all feel, no matter what walk of life you're from, and turned it into timeless art.

Lazarus, the music video for the single from Bowie's final album Blackstar was released on January 7 — just days before his death from Cancer. In the video we see Bowie sing, "Look up here, I'm in Heaven." People who know this kind of trivia will remember Lazarus as someone rising from the dead.

Bowie is lying on a bed with white bandages wrapped around his head - jacket buttons for eyes. Near the end he bolts upright and sings, "Oh, I'll be free. Ain't that just like me?" Before falling back onto the pillow. He is smiling throughout this moment.

Lazarus was his goodbye note to us.

Sitting here, looking out my window at the snow drifts outside, I'll tell you this:

I will always Love the Alien. Thank you, David.

Rest in Peace.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Spectre Brings Out the Best of Bond

The Sam Mendes directed Spectre show the best James Bond, and the spy movie genre, has to offer.


"Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell. And when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough." -Ernest Hemingway

I saw this quote a few days ago while browsing at the Chapters / Indigo store located at Bay & Bloor. It's been placed on a jewellery tray that's part of the book chain's 'Hemingway Collection.' The quote is also a good summation about what makes a James Bond movie so satisfying to watch.

Spectre, 007's 24th outing in movie theaters, is no exception. Under Sam Mendes's direction the story comes alive with beautiful tracking camera shots, a solid plot, and moments of genuine suspense.

It opens with Bond finishing some business left to him by the previous M (Judi Dench) who was killed at the end of Skyfall, also directed by Mendes. Bond is in Mexico City on the Day of the Dead to do some killing.

Wrapping up loose ends is a good way for the movie to open — as the title sequence makes clear Spectre ties together all the villains and Bond women from the last 3 films in the series (Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall). Turns out the bad guys were all working for the evil organization that shares the movie's title. Spectre will be familiar to old school Bond fans from the days when Sean Connery started the franchise.

Bond's work in Mexico lands the new M (Ralph Fiennes) in trouble with 'C' a bureaucrat intent on doing away with the '00' spy program to make way for a brave new world of electronic surveillance. He's also secretly helping Spectre chief Ernest Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), who makes a weak Bond villain. He fails to inspire much feeling.

The action in Spectre moves Bond and the woman he's saving this time around, Dr. Madeleine Swann, from Italy, to Morocco, and back to London, England for the finale. All the action — particularly a fight with one of Blofeld's thugs on a moving train — has real suspense. Death's closeness is what makes Bond live more.

And that's the main appeal of the James Bond movies — living life to the fullest. We're going to die anyway; we might as well squeeze as much pleasure as we can from traveling the world, driving fast cars (if you can afford the ride), and playing the game. The added bonus of being Bond is that you get to kill the bad guy and save the world.

Spectre's theme song by Sam Smith foreshadows Bond's decision to run away with (marry?) Dr. Swann after Blofeld is defeated. Knowing 007 this won't last long — the writing's on the wall.