Thursday, 31 December 2009

Farm Fotos

Interesting Stuff from a holiday stop in Madoc

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Disclaimer Time

Every now and then, I'd like to restate that this is a personal blog and that the views contained herein are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

[Not] Silent Night: Clay's Christmas Music Preferences

There are some I know who relish the chance to bathe in Yuletide tunes 24/7 come 1 December, but I am not one of them.

Sometimes I feel bad that I'm not more excited about Christmas Music. Perhaps it's because, having been accused of harboring tendencies toward music snobbery, I can't get past the fact that most Christmas Music - or, more specifically, most treatments of Christmas music - are really really bad. The Onion's AV Club had this debate a while back, which made me feel much better about my reluctance to turn up the volume every time a new version of Jingle Bells or Rudolph comes over the radio. They also provide a list of some not-so-treacly TV specials and music here.

So, in an effort to clear the air and dispel any notions that I am The Grinch reincarnate, I provide, in no particular order, my favorite Christmas music and criteria for music that could become my favorite Christmas music in the future.

Clay's Christmas Faves:

  1. Feasts and Spirits: Finest Kind with John Huston. All kinds of amazing. Lesser-known carols sung in close harmony, interspersed with a reading of the Dickens classic. Their annual concert at the Black Sheep is now an essential part of my holiday season. Their version of Please to see the King cuts through the treacle like nothing else can.

  2. The Mystery of Christmas, by The Elora Festival Singers. Neatly combines traditional carols with lesser known songs and The Huron Carol, one of the first from the New World. Equally reverent as hushed and spooky.

  3. A Charlie Brown Christmas, Vince Guaraldi Trio. Not entirely surprising, except perhaps for my preference for the more melancholy "Christmastime is Here." Guaraldi died at age 47 in between sets at a gig, which also adds something.

  4. How the Grinch Stole Christmas. Again, not a surprise. But a great story well-told. I've always found the title odd, as he really doesn't steal christmas. But Max looks like my dog Findley, so it balances out. The less said about the Jim Carrey version - one of Ron Howard's many cinematic sins for which he's yet to atone - the better.

  5. The Ventures' Christmas Album: A revelation courtesy of Derek S., you haven't heard Frosty the Snowman until you've heard it mashed up with Tequila. I manage to sneak this one into the CD player when the gifts are being opened.

Clay's Christmas Music Criteria:
  1. In no circumstances must it involve Kenny G, Michael Bolton or any combination thereof.

  2. It must have a discernable melody. No time of the year says "singalong time" better than Christmas, and, conveniently, most Holiday Favorites are the most tuneful I know. Yet, perhaps in an attempt to be different, many contemporary "interpretations" feature tempos so slow that you'll be breaking out the New Year's champagne before they're over.

  3. It must be simply adorned. A corollary to point 2, most modern interpretations fill in the spaces where the melody used to be with strings, backup vocals, bells and other fussiness. The power of the Christmas story is in its simplicity. Why all the gilt?

  4. If possible, I'd prefer it not be Silent Night. I just don't like the tune.

  5. See number 1.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Olympic Elaine

Most of you in my immediate orbit have probably already seen this, but I'm posting it here for posterity and for the world. Last Saturday, my friend Elaine carried the Olympic torch through a stretch of Gatineau, located across the river from Ottawa. Quite the posse turned out to cheer her on, touch the torch and be part of the moment.

Here's a shot of her starting the run. The rest are on Flickr. Enjoy!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

The Delaney Turner Collection, Item #45

Tobacco Tins, Provenance & Era Unknown

Two more entries in the "Smoking Paraphenalia" category, most likely purchased at the same time as Item 7, or else purchased at an antiques place on Highway 55 near Niagara-on-the-Lake. Though no longer available, the Hickory blend produced a "pleasant" room note and was "somewhat recommended" by Tobacco Reviews. Walnut, apparently still available though not in such a cool container, creates a "pleasant to tolerable" room note and is "recommended" over its budget bretheren in the red tin. Having never smoked either and in it purely for the aesthetics, the owner will have to take their word for it.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

The Delaney Turner Collection, Item #7

Bishop's Move Tobacco Tin, Circa 1910

Were the owner still 20 and into getting high, this would no doubt make a perfect stash. Cheerfully blasphemous and, according to the vendor, at least 100 years old, this tin was purchased during a trip to London's Portobello Road Market. Though it was at the time the only one of its kind the owner had ever seen, he has since discovered many other examples available on eBay for about 15 bucks. Though his friend attempted to discourage the visit because, sigh, "only tourists go to Portobello Road," the owner enjoyed himself immensely and found a stroll down the street a perfect way to fight off jet lag. During the visit he also saw American actor Aaron Eckhart shooting pictures of people on the street, evidently taking advantage of some down time while shooting The Dark Knight. Later, the owner saw some of Eckhart's photos in magazine, but not of the people he was shooting that day.

The Delaney Turner Collection, Item #97

Prince Albert (in a) Can, Provenance and Circa Unknown

Acquired (most likely) during a trip to Portobello Road Market in London, this rusted yet still recognizable tobacco can is a further example of the owner's infatuation with smoking stuff. Having discovered it and, subsequently understanding the punchline to a very tired joke, the owner had no choice but to pick it up. Though this particular brand of tobacco is named after Queen Victoria's long-time paramour, it was actually a product of the RJ Reynolds company of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Writing on the side reads "For Pipe and Cigarette Smokers."

Sunday, 29 November 2009

The Verdict on The Road, aka Received Wisdom

i was going to write pretty much this, but then the New York Times scooped me. Damn. But seriously, coming out of the theater i thought, "hmmm....not grim enough." or, at least, "not grimm enough to justify the ending."

Thursday, 26 November 2009

It came from my brain

On the drive into work:

"Are you kidding me? Most rock bands today couldn't carry Patti Smith's jock strap."

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

TIFF Dispatch: Apan (The Ape)

I'm not going to write a lot about Apan, the Swedish film I saw at TIFF waaay back in August. This is because:
  • It was about the 8th movie I had seen that day and they were all starting to blur.
  • It was showing at around 5:30 PM (nap time)
  • I had downed two pints in rapid succession moments before going into the theatre.
For a while this was the only trailer I could find.

Then, after some more searching, I found this one:

I will admit that I had every intention of staying awake during Apan. I've liked some of the newer films coming out of Sweden, and not only because they're in color. Its premise was interesting - a man wakes up fully clothed in his bathroom after something has gone most definitely wrong in a most violent way. We're not given any explanation as to his identity or his motivations. We're not really sure what city he's in. I don't even think we get to know his name. Over the next 90 or so minutes a shaky handheld camera struggles to keep pace as he races around town trying to deal with the aftermath and carry out a normal day. He shouts into his cel phone. He argues with his mother. He awkwardly flirts with young boys in the gym sauna. He buys power tools. He clearly has a temper, a fact no doubt related to the mess back home.

This is not a pretty film. The digital video is drab. Our protagonist is drab. The city where he lives is drab. I have a feeling all of this was done on purpose. What that purpose is, however, I have yet to completely understand.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

The Delaney Turner Collection, Item #995

Hand-carved Gourd, Circa 2007

Purchased after much haggling at the Otavalo market in Ecuador for a now-forgotten sum, this is one of the owner's favourite pieces and enjoys premium placement on the knick-nack shelf. A common sight in many of the craft markets around Quito, this particular example is decorated primarily with musical motifs (harps, horns, etc.) and agricultural scenes no doubt familiar to most Otavalenos. A piece marvelled at by the owner for the sheer number of hours it must have taken to create and the tremendous attention to detail. "I absolutely love this piece," says its owner.

The Delaney Turner Collection, Item #008

"Cedar Saint," circa 2007

Purchased with much enthusiasm in San Antonio de Ibarra, Ecuador, this "Cedar Saint" is indicative of the craftsmanship of the many local artisans (the village is  renowned for its carvings of both sacred and secular objects).  Currently, this Saint stands in silent prayer on the owner's dresser, no doubt bestowing his blessings on assorted socks, sweaters and underwear.

The Delaney Turner Collection, Item #9

Winston Crush-Proof Cigarette Box, most likely tin, era unknown.

Purchased with minimal haggling at the flea market at the Porte de Montreuil, Paris in the mid-1990s, this item, like Item 4, dates from an era when smoking was much more socially acceptable than our current era. Though well-preserved, it does display evidence of having at one time contained cigarettes. For its current owner its duties have primarily been limited to containing smaller items - some of which, no doubt, will appear at a later date in the Delaney Turner collection.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

And they say...

that Chelsea fans have no class.
I'm not sure if this guy confirms or denies that accusation.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

A tale of two Stevies


Fortune Magazine names Steve Jobs the "CEO of the Decade." Jobs, having survived two brushes with death, one securities-law scandal, an also-ran product lineup, and his own "often unpleasant demeanor" has become the dominant personality in four distinct industries, a billionaire many times over, and CEO of the most valuable company in Silicon Valley:

"Remaking any one business is a career-defining achievement; four is unheard-of. Think about that for a moment. Henry Ford altered the course of the nascent auto industry. PanAm's Juan Trippe invented the global airline. Conrad Hilton internationalized American hospitality. These entrepreneurs turned captains of industry defined a single market that had previously not been dominated by anyone. The industries that Jobs has turned topsy-turvy already existed when he focused on them."

Not bad.

Last week, Newsweek called the last 10 years under Steve Ballmer Microsoft's "Lost Decade," having seen the company go from "the meanest, mightiest tech company" into "something of a joke." Yes, Ballmer did triple revenues and built a successful enterprise division, and the Xbox isn't doing badly, either. Still, says Newsweek, in that time Microsoft stock fell by nearly 50 percent (from $55 to $29).

The reason? Unlike the techie Bill Gates, Newsweek writes, Ballmer was a business guy first and had blind spots - big ones, like Web and Search:

"Google got so big so fast that by the time Microsoft recognized the threat, it could not catch up. With Apple, the threat was not the iPod player itself but the Internet-based iTunes store; by the time Microsoft could create a credible clone of the Apple store, Apple had the market locked down."

Not great.

Now, I have friends who work at Microsoft (at least I hope they'll still my friends after all this) and I know it must be difficult to see their company so endlessly ridiculed at every turn. Still, I'm also an industry watcher and I gotta pose the question:


Is the reason for these two nearly parallel reversals of corporate fortune related merely to decisions made by the principal players, or does it speak to a broader shift in business and culture?


In other words, will business fortune (and Fortune Magazine) smile more brightly on techies who bend businesses to their will, or on businesspeople who run tech companies like they would one that makes soap?

If your answer to the first question is the former, then I think you could make the argument that the last 10 years have seen the technology brought to market by Mr. Ballmer (and more importantly, Bill Gates) has driven a profound transformation of the market and the public's buying patterns. Bill Gates built the market for home computing and in doing so built a giant. So did the wider-ranging impact of all those PCs change the DNA of the technology market?

Or, could it be that if you're the CEO of a tech giant and your name happens to be "Steve," maybe your chances of success are 50/50?

I have ideas on this, but what are yours?

Friday, 30 October 2009


The AV Club started it, so I'm adding my contributions. What are yours?

Clay's All-time Scary Movies list, in descending order of terror:
  1. Eraserhead / Dead Ringers (tie)
  2. Audition
  3. The Exorcist
  4. The Vanishing (Dutch version)
  5. Ils (remade as The Visitors, with Liv Tyler) 
  6. The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (original)
  7. The Orphanage
  8. Night of the Living Dead
  9. Dawn of the Dead
  10. Let the Right One In
  11. Psycho

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Extraordinary Canadians, both Living and Dead

Oh, if only.

If there were power in "hear hears," solemn nods and sensible sweaters, then the crowd assembled in the basement of St. Brigid's church earlier tonight could truly move mountains. See, this was the last night of the Ottawa International Writer's Festival, and to send it off in style we (yes, I was there, too) were treated to a panel discussion featuring four bona fide heavyweights of the Canadian and international literary scene: Mark Kingwell, Daniel Poliquin and Jane Urquhart, moderated by his former Excellence and, for one brief shining moment years and years ago, personal correspondant, John Ralston Saul.

Yes, it was indeed a tweedy crowd. But it had assembled in the basement of St. Brigid's (though given that the heat was off you could call it St. Frigid's) to hear the authors discuss their respective entries in Penguin Canada's new biography series of "Extraordinary Canadians." With 18 Canadians profiled thus far, you could make a joke that it's a pretty short list. But the subjects in this first go-round are indeed impressive and the matching of authors with subjects is apt. Also innovative is the approach: the subjects must first be dead and their stories can take no more than 200 pages, perhaps Penguin's nod to our shrinking attention spans.

In the series we have Margaret MacMillan profiling Stephen Leacock; Nino Ricci looks at Pierre Trudeau; Adrienne Clarkson takes on Norman Bethune.  For our purposes, Mark Kingwell took on Glenn Gould, Daniel Poliquin smoked a pack with Rene Lesveque and Jane Urquhart went to the strawberry social with Lucy Maud Montgomery.

Sweaters and chinstrokes aside, it was a fascinating evening. The discussion started off with each author commenting on the relationship between the biographer and subject - whether, for example, the author actually liked the person he or she was writing about, and whether or not their opinion of their subject changed over the course of the work. By the sounds of it, each author had a difficult relationship with their subject. Jane Urquhart was the most vocal about her difficulties spending time with Montgomery via her extensive and intensely private diaries - an experience she likened to spending time with a relative you don't really like. Yet each author expressed a deep respect for their subject as well, if only because their subjects themselves had the same difficulties relating to themselves or their times. In Montgomery's case, the international acclaim she achieved through Anne Shirley brought her no closer to being accepted into her Presbyterian society, an acceptance Urquhart says she desperately craved. In Gould's case it was the need to control his image, his surroundings and his art to preserve his aesthetic vision. I found Mark Kingwell's comments the most interesting, if only because I was already a big Gould fan and most familiar with his (and Kingwell's) work. I also found Kingwell's take on Gould - about whom he had little prior knowledge - to the be most interesting. As befits a professor of philosophy, Kingwell viewed Gould as a philosopher whose art was an invitation to his aesthetic vision. With Gould, Kingwell says, art and thought are one and it's only through careful, attentive listening that you can begin to understand what the man was trying to say.

I also got some Christmas shopping done.

And to think, Smithers...

" laughed when I bought Ticketmaster: Nooobody's going to pay a hundred-percent service charge."

"It's a policy that ensures a healthy mix of the rich and the ignorant, sir."

Well, consider me ignorant; because after paying Ticketmaster service fees twice, I sure as hell ain't rich.

See, here I was, ordering tickets over the phone for two different concerts. The first, in November, is to see The Sunparlour Players. The second, in December, is to see Finest Kind at their annual Christmas concert.

Both are at the Black Sheep Inn. Tickets for both are available through TicketWeb.

Seems simple enough.

And yet.

Follow me as I relive the painful and expensive ticket purchasing experience!

"Hello, my name is Josh*, thank you for calling TicketMaster."

I thought this was TicketWeb. I'm confused. But let's proceed.

"Ok. I'd like to order some tickets for two different concerts, please."

"Ok. What's the first one?"

"Sunparlour Players at the Black Sheep, Nov. 14."

"Ok, one second. I have to log into my system first."

Odd. I'd have thought you'd have done that already. Anyway, onward...

"Ok, here it is. How many would you like to buy?"

"Two, please."

"Ok, I have to mention that for this purchase there will be a service charge of seven-fifty."

Jesus. That's half the price of a ticket.

"Ok, fine. But before that, can I order the other tickets?"

"Um, I actually have to complete this purchase first. Your credit card number, please?"

---Some time passes, in which our protagonist provides his address, credit card number, email and phone number----

"Ok. Can I order the other tickets now?"

"Yes. But one second. I have to switch into our other system. What was it again?"

"Finest Kind at the Black Sheep. December thirteenth."

"Yeah, it's not coming up on my screen."

"But on the site it says they're both available through TicketWeb"

"Yah, well, some are TicketWeb, some are TicketMaster."


"I hope the system picks this up, otherwise I'm going to have to ask you for your address and credit card again."

Seriously? The system doesn't know who I am now?

"Yah, sorry about this. What was your address again?"

---Some time passes, in which our protagonist provides his address, credit card number, email and phone number----

"Ok. For four tickets, the service charge for this purchase will be thirty-five dollars."

No, no it won't. This is one purchase, not two. It's only two because your stupid systems don't talk to each other. That's not my problem. It is, however, my money.

"Ok. Thank you."

Ticketmaster, you are pure, concentrated evil. 

I tried finding that Simpsons clip on Youtube, but only found something close in Spanish. For some reason Fox doesn't care about Simpsons clips on youtube, provided they're in Spanish.

Enjoy. I know Ticketmaster will.

*Not Josh. I can't remember the guy's name. Nor is this a complaint against Josh. He was as much at the mercy of his systems as was I. Poor guy was probably just starting his shift, too.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

(Yet another) TIFF Dispatch: Valhalla Rising

"These aren't pacifist vikings."

And with that intro began my highly anticipated trip through Valhalla Rising, the latest from Nicolas Winding Refn (the latest from Danish wunderkind behind The Pusher trilogy) and starring Mads Mikkelsen, also known as Le Chiffre from Casino Royale.

The story is simple. Essentially it's an exploration of the nascent culture clash between Pagan and Christian Danes. I'm not really up on my Danish history, but if Valhalla Rising has any ring of historical truth to it, there was something rotten in the state of Denmark centuries before Hamlet's uncle slipped into mommy's sheets.

Centuries before designer teak furniture.

Yes, even centuries before LEGO.

In Valhalla, Mikkelsen plays One-Eye, a man so dangerous he's kept chained to the rocks by his own tribe, let out only to fight intruders and dispatch of them in the most brutal fashion possible. And oh, fight he does. We hear the wet crunch of every bone as it cracks beneath One-Eye's club. His only human contact is from a small boy who feeds him some filthy-looking sludge between the bars of his cage. Once One-Eye earns his freedom (the details of how escape me now), he and the boy set forth to return to his homeland.

It's here that he encounters a group of Christian vikings, intent on taking their crusade to the holy land but not terribly skilled in navigation. Somehow (again, the details escape me) their boat ends up somewhere that looks like North America, where against their better judgement they must rely on One-Eye and his youthful companion to either find Jerusalem, build a new Jerusalem, or get back into the boat and start again.

Things don't really go well.

Valhalla Rising has lots to recomend it - the stark Scottish scenery makes what I can only guess is a great stand-in for Denmark some time during the Dark Ages - some scenes will chill you straight to the bones. Mikkelsen is a brooding, brutish presence whose silence (he has not a single word, let alone line, in the film) makes him doubly threatening. And hey - who can argue with Vikings? I did, however, find the pacing as tedious as the translatlantic boat ride and after a while found myself not caring if any of them really made it back home.

Need other opinions? Here's The AV Club's take and here's the TIFF page

NEXT UP: The Ape

Thursday, 8 October 2009

TIFF Dispatch: The Invention of Lying

I'm going to play around with the order here, seeing as The Invention of Lying is now playing and a review after the fact probably won't be of interest to anyone except me and the people from the future who read this blog as some sort of archaeological evidence of what people did to pass their time in our era.


"I just thought of vanilla and skunks."

Perhaps the biggest (and most amusing) lie in The Invention of Lying is that screenwriters (and writers in general) enjoy such a high profile and are held by our culture in such high esteem. What's not a lie is that Ricky Gervais is not attractive. He knows it. We know it. And he puts this shared (if unacknowledged) understanding at the heart of The Invention of Lying, inviting us to go along with him as he exposes the uglier points of our collective humanity.

Wait. Let me back up. In case you're still unfamiliar with the premise, Gervais has invented a world where no one has ever told a lie. It looks just like ours - actually, it looks like a small town in New England where they take pictures for LL Bean catalogues. It's not that people are exceedingly honest by choice; no, they're simply incapable of lying.

Early on the premise does offer up some genuine laughs as Gervais presents a variety of everyday scenarios where it's very, very common to lie. When he shows up for a date with love interest Jennifer Garner, for example, she bluntly declares "I don't find you attractive." Their waiter greets them with a deadpan "I'm embarrassed I work here." TV ads for Coke reveal "it's really just sugar and fizzy water, but we'd like you to continue drinking it." The rest home where Gervais' mother lives is adorned with the sign "A Sad Old Place Where Old People Come to Die."

And so on.

Things get really interesting (and the film gets its title) when through some unexplained synapse malfunction, Gervais - having lost his job as a screenwriter and behind on his rent - tells the bank teller that he has more money in his bank account than he actually does. From there we follow along as his newfound ability first presents unlimited opportunities for selfish fun (To a gorgeous blonde he says "The world will end unless we have sex right now.") through to his, seemingly inventing religion in a hilarious echo of Graham Chapman's "I'm not the Messiah" scene from Monty Python's Life of Brian.

The film does follow some rom-com conventions - we don't know why Gervais finds Garner so desirable, for example - we're just expected to go with it, and the film does bog down in the third act as you sense the gears winding down. But it also contains some amusing cameos - watch for nearly unrecognizable Edward Norton and Rob Lowe delivers a pitch-perfect performance as a smarmy climber and Gervais' chief rival for Garner's DNA. "I don't understand you," he declares flatly. "And I fear things I don't understand." There's a question at the film's heart - are we really as ugly as all that? In Gervais' willingness to mine his self-loathing for comic gold the answer, sadly, may be "yes." What you'll gain from it as well is a new appreciation for the ways white lies, embellishments and selective omissions keep us from killing each other, or in some cases, ourselves.

Oh - nearly forgot to mention: The Invention of Lying is brought to you in part by the fine folks at CVS/Pharmacy, Budweiser and Pizza Hut.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

TIFF Dispatch: The Damned United

Long time no post. Been otherwise occupied with my other calling - namely, tagging photos over on Flickr. But now that Michael Sheen's face is in all the popup and banner ads on all my favorite Web sites, it must mean that The Damned United is quickly approaching its U.S. release date.

This was, I think, my first gala premier - meaning there would be a good chance of seeing some of the principals involved in making the film, and I was not disappointed. Festival CEO Piers Handling (at least I think it was Piers Handling - balcony seats at Roy Thompson Hall are serious nosebleed territory) introduced Tom Hooper, the director, who subsequently introduced Michael Sheen - he of Frost/Nixon and The Queen - and who plays Brian Clough, the main subject of The Damned United.

"I wouldn't say I'm the best manager in the country, but I'm in the top one."

There are (at least) two ways to watch The Damned United. The first is to enjoy it as a straightforward accounting of the managerial career of Brian Clough, the football manager who took sleepy Derby County to the top of England's Premier League and who for 44 fateful days helmed the famed Leeds United following the departure of Don Revie, who had taken Leeds to the top of English football in what Clough saw as an ugly, brutish style.

Taken at this level, the film succeeds marvellously - the period detail is perfect, the pitches are soggy and the players - even those playing for Leeds - are a scraggly bunch who despite their champion status still travel by bus. The Barclays Premier League this is not. Jim Broadbent is a hoot to watch as the crusty Derby owner who's content to keep the team playing (if not exactly winning) and Timothy Spall is equally impressive - as always - as the late Peter Taylor, Clough's right-hand man and talent scout.

The other way to watch The Damned United is as a character study of a brash, overconfident and driven man who's convinced that there's no point in playing the game unless you can beat the best and be the best. It's hard to argue with Clough's philosophy of the game - "Football is a beautiful game. And it should be played beautifully," he tells anyone who will listen. Clough is talented, hardassed and convinced of his own greatness, even if he's not always sure of his next move. Still, you want him to succeed - he clearly loves his players and he does bring out their best. But his decision to take the Leeds job without Taylor and his subsequent failure reveals his flaws as well.

Clough is often referred to as "the best football manager England never had," and it's not hard to see why. A pre-credits postscript recounts his continued success while his predecessor Revie fades into obscurity.

Whichever way you choose to watch The Damned United, you're bound to enjoy it. GOAAAALLLLLLLLLLL!

Sunday, 4 October 2009

Salvation in shag carpeting

Coupons to the Home and Design show say "YOU MUST TAKE THIS TO THE EVENT FOR REDEMPTION"

how good can these fixtures be?

Thursday, 1 October 2009

More Corn!

DSC_1342, originally uploaded by claydevoute.

These were at least 10 feet high if they were an inch.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Morning at Hog's Back

From our morning with the pooches at Hog's Back. They seem to enjoy it. More to come. 

Thursday, 24 September 2009

TIFF Dispatch: Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould

"His life was a performance."

Here are some of the things I know about Glenn Gould:
  • He was an only child.
  • His mother had had several miscarriages before he came along.
  • He could read music before he could read words. 
  • When playing on the piano as a small boy, he would press a single key down and wait for the sound to fade away completely; not, as would a typical small boy, bash away at the keys making a godawful racket.
  • He quit the professional concert circuit in 1964 at age 32, calling audiences "a force of evil."
  • He made several experimental radio documentaries with CBC producer Lorne Tulk, including the quite excellent "Idea of North."
  • He had the habit of wearing heavy winter clothes even in the middle of summer, sang along as he played (a habit that drove audio engineers bonkers), and communicated with friends primarily through the telephone.
  • He was a hypochondriac.
  • He bequeathed his estate to the Salvation Army and the Toronto Humane Society.
  • He is buried in Toronto's Mount Pleasant Cemetary.
I could go on, but suffice to say that I already knew quite a bit about Glenn Gould, largely from many fine documentaries, an exhibit at the Museum of Civilization and Francois Girard's Thirty-two Short Films About Glenn Gould.. What more is there to know?
  • He had a girlfriend. In fact, he was involved in a rather complicated international love triangle with  painter Cornelia Foss.
This and many more previously unknown facts we learn about Canada's most famous musicians in the the most-excellent Genius Within: The Private Life of Glenn Gould.

That I chose to see another film about Gould 25 years after his death speaks not only to my appreciation for his incredible talent (Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier is exquisitely torturous to play) but to my fascination with his approach to electronic communications. Had Glenn Gould not existed, it would have been necessary for Marshall McLuhan to invent him.

Genius Within compiles never-before-heard studio recordings from his 1955 Goldberg Variations sessions for Columbia, recordings from his immensely successful tour of Eastern Europe and insights from Gould's surviving friends, including Foss herself. As one friend remarks, music is a means artists use to connect to the world. And Gould's entire life was a performance. Sadly, though, as he progressed into his later years, Gould fell victim to playing the Gould persona more often than his (or anyone else's) music. Though it makes an argument for Gould as ultimately a sad and lonely man, it is as beautifully constructed and as beautiful to experience as any of the music he left behind. Highly recommended.

NEXT UP: The Damned United

Having fun with iPhoto

I really like signs. I don't know why.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

TIFF Dispatch: Harry Brown

"You've failed to maintain your weapon."

Sadness pours off the screen in Harry Brown, the directorial debut of Daniel Barber. Sadness - and its frequent dance partner, Decay, permeates the early frames - and, no doubt, the lonely life of the titular character played by Michael Caine.

A long-retired marine and Falklands veteran, Harry now lives in a dreary council flat somewhere in suburban London (This is a long, long way from anywhere listed in any tourist guide). He spends his days playing quiet games of chess with his friend Leonard, paying quiet hospital visits to his ailing and unresponsive wife and shuffling quietly from room to room in his dreary little flat.

The location may be dreary, but Harry has his dignity - in the early scenes we see the care he takes in simple tasks like washing dishes and dressing for the day. The problem is that Harry's England no longer exists. It's been replaced by vicious teenage gangs who congregate - at all hours of the day, it seems - to make out, get high and as we learn, harass Leonard, with tragic results. That's when Harry gets mad - at the gangs and particularly at the police, who alternate between the sympathetic but ineffectual and the cynical and expedient. It's then that Harry - who had put his violent days behind him the day he was married - sets into motion a chain of events that leaves many characters dead and the survivors irrevocably scarred.

There's nothing particularly new or innovative in the story of Harry Brown - it draws quick comparisons to other "Lone man pushed over the edge" movies like Falling Down and DeathWish. And its portrayal of urban rot owes more than a nod to Dirty Harry. But it has far more on its mind than simple vengeance. Harry's revenge against the gangs doesn't leave you with any real satisfaction. Instead, you'll be more likely to feel defeated, and wonder how those affected by violence are to deal with the wreckage that's left behind when personal gestures spiral out of control.

That's not to say the film isn't worth watching. Barber's command of the camera is impressive - a slow tracking shot of smoke in a corridor will transfix you with its menace. A harrowing interrogation sequence reveals the scope of the rot that can't easily be cleaned up. Leonard's funeral scene will kick you in the gut and the film's sound design will beat you about the ears the way the gang members beat on new recruits.

I don't know if Harry Brown's been picked up for Canadian distribution (it starts a UK run in November), but if it does, I'd make a solid attempt to see it. Between anarchy and decay lie no easy answers.

NEXT UP: Genius Within: The Inner Life of Glenn Gould

Spooky Pumpkins!

(sung to the tune of the Hallelujah Chorus for maximum effect)

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

TIFF Dispatch: George Romero's Survival of the Dead

The first film I saw at TIFF this year was, apart from Bitch Slap, the one I was most excited about seeing. I hadn't seen Diary, but really liked Land. And, it must be said, I kinda like zombie movies in general. Survival was part of the "Midnight Madness" program, home to some of the festival's more outlandish entries. You can read the description here.

Essentially, the story follows a small band of zombie hunters caught between two long-feuding clans on an island thought to be a safe haven. One clan wants to shoot the zombies on sight. The other views them as family and prefers to keep them around, chained up in the yard. Into this generations-long feud fall a wisecracking troop leader, an unconvincingly played lipstick lesbian, a super-religious Latino commando and some geeky teenager who scoffs at vinyl records. I was hoping for him to get eaten, actually, but no such luck.

You can read the Onion AV Club review here, seeing as it's better than anything I could have written. Instead, here are my notes from the screening. I'd use writing in the dark as an excuse for the crappy handwriting, but I don't think I'd fool anyone (see previous post.)

They read, from top to bottom:

  • "I think I like the Burger King gravy better."
  • "That's better cheese."
  • "Zombies don't run." The answer, according to the Midnight Madness program director (who also shouted the above), that Romero gives to the question you're not supposed to ask him; namely, "Do you like slow zombies or fast zombies."
  • "She's beautiful." "She's dead." "She's my daughter. (you'll have to see the movie for this one)
  • "Wow. Do people's scalps really pull back that easily?"

Next up: Harry Brown (Or, Michael Caine is still a badass)

Brain Droppings

Things that fell out of my head on the train to TIFF.
  • I think my socks are on inside out. Are my socks on inside out?
  • Why don't we get the Globe and Mail?
  • What is it about electronic communications that once you're immersed in it you need it all the time? If it's analgous to oral culture, then I can see how the sudden lack of it can cause major dislocation. But that's a post and PhD for another time. 
  • Eating outdoors - even if it's next to the train tracks - is one of life's great joys.
  • Railroads are the spine of this country. Rail ties are its ribcage.
  • I remember every photo I didn't take. I would describe them for you, but that would take too long. 
  • Sometimes we lose sight of the amazing things our brains come up with when we're not constantly stimulating them with crap from YouTube.
  • Jesus, my handwriting is awful. Even for me. Those aren't even letters. What the hell are those? The last vestiges of print-based culture, no doubt.

Monday, 14 September 2009

The movie map

5 movies, 1 day.  Here's the map. Reviews to follow.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Dragon's Den Musings

ok, this is a repeat. i've seen these magic people before. still, i think this show is a hoot.
ok folks, maximize the lump. the coal thing is good. cute. cottage industry. i can see buying it at sugar mountain. or joint ventures with candy companies. go that way. don't do the lump of love way. that just sounds wrong.

ok, electricity guy. nice self-deprecating touch with the tshirt. looks like someone who'd invent something like this. 3rd time - still can't explain his concept. needs marketing help.
"after i electrocuted myself the second time..."
maybe some first aid, too.
he wants to build power plants. ok. nice idea. isn't electricity regulated?
guess not. he got the deal.

next up...
math game. um, ok. count me out. i hate sudoku. the guy's excited.  that's hard to kill. oh, now he looks crushed.

"oh, perfect. another board game."

"because i'm stupid." but...can i still have your money?

eesh. board games are a difficult business. killer.

in other news, canadian kids eating habits lousier than ever. sometimes more information doesn't change behavior, people. everything about our approach to food is wrong.

Jason from Windsor looks nervous. i admit it can be terrifying to do this.
his wife doesn't exude confidence. still not sure what they're selling. jesus, i feel for these people.
plus, google calendars are free. bingo.

womens' workwear. cool. nice work.

i really don't like these commercials for this probiotic drink. i'm not going to name it, thereby giving it some more free publicity. but this whole campaign looks cheap and rushed. kinda like a non-election ad from the Liberals.

I like this Jim Treliving guy. he rarely invests but he's pretty shrewd. I never eat at Boston Pizza, though. I hear it's not bad, kinda, if you need pizza. Though they did do those insufferable talking baby ads.

well, that's enough. time to play with photos.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Some new shots

I'm pretty happy with them and getting more comfortable with the whole editing thing. You can see them over on the 'book.  

Notes from the master

Seeing as (a) I've had more time and opportunities to get to know my new toy and (b) more people (i think) are looking at my shots, I thought I'd share a few notes from and about the master - Henri Cartier-Bresson. One of the reasons I was so long in making the transition to digital was I sensed that too much of the conversation was about the technology and the lenses - not enough about the actual image or the process / approach the person followed to arrive at the image. I admit this is a tough example to follow and I doubt that in our hyper-sensitive, media-saturated world it's damn near-impossible to replicate his approach.

This content is taken from Photography - Venice 1979, a book I bought second-hand somewhere:

"Fabricated" or contrived photography does not concern me...There are those who take photographs arranged beforehand and those who go out out in search of the image and seize it. The camera for me is a sketch book, the instrument of intuition and spontaneity, the the master of the instant which visually questions and decides at the same time. To "signify" the world, one must feel involved in what one cuts out through the view finder. This attitude demands concentration, a discipline of the mind, sensitivity and a feeling for geometry...To photograph is to hold one's breath when all one's faculties are joined in the face of a fleeing reality; it is then that the capture of the image is a great physical and intellectual joy. To photograph is, in a single instant, in a single fraction of a second, to recognize a fact and the rigorous organization of visually perceived forms which convey and signify that fact. It is to bring one's head, one's eye and one's heart into the same line of aim...[P]hotography is a manner of crying out, of freeing oneself, and not of proving or asserting one's own originality. It is a way of life."

There's also a pretty good interview with him and Charlie Rose that you can watch on YouTube. Given that he even hated to be photographed, this is worth a watch.

Now, I do know that this is only one approach to shooting, and there are amazing photographers doing amazing work with vastly different and/or diametrically opposed ways of working. But I still think that his work has had the biggest impact on my photographic forays and the strongest driving factor in leading me to see things the way I do. In other words, it's why I'll suddenly stop on the street and shoot mailboxes, bicycle seats, stop lights, and so on. When I want to challenge myself with my shots, it's his examples and approach that I always return to.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

We can do better!

Can Iggy garner the 236,000 views on YouTube, like the singing cats did? Maybe, if he had an auto-tuner.

For an ongoing project, before I forget the important details

These probably won't be interesting to anyone but me, and even then that's probably a stretch. 

Paris Metro Ticket - day pass, zone 1. - from the day i spent in Paris during a trip to london. Chunnel first class, bastille, lots and lots of walking in the old haunts.

Bronze Medal Game, IIHF World Junior Championship, Jan. 5, 2009 - they booed the russians, cheered the slovaks. a lot of people had paper hockey helmets on their heads.

Shania Twain, Corel Centre, Sept. 27, 2003. A thin, reedy voice and a range of about three notes. None of this mattered.

Ozzy Osbourne, Corel Centre, Jun 12, 2003: Sunken old-man chest. Doddering old-man walk. Sad, really.

More to come, but now i gotta walk the dogs.

Saturday, 5 September 2009


Did you see the look on Roy Halladay's face after his 1-hit complete game masterpiece over the Yankees yesterday?

I did.

And I never want to see it again.

Things that fall out of my head (a series)

"What's the 'O' stand for?"

Friday, 4 September 2009

Adventures in Retouching

Took advantage of a so-called floater day to do the "tourist in your own backyard thing." A lot of tourists go to the market, so I went there, too. I went there specifically to see the "From Raphael to Caracci: The Art of Papal Rome" exhibit, from which I derived a few things:

  1. I need to get to Rome very very soon.
  2. The National Gallery of Canada is a great place to find the right wall color. Finally - the right one for the downstairs bathroom!
  3. Reading The Agony and the Ecstasy over many, many (many!) years does have it advantages; one of them being that you get to read about the Popes and see the very sketches that Michaelangelo did as mentioned in the book.
  4. Generally, I prefer exhibits at the National Gallery to those at the Museum of Civilization. Though the IMAX screen across the river does make up for that a bit.
  5. Apart from the Picasso exhibit the Gallery did a bunch of years back, this was probably the best exhibit I've seen there. Way, way (way!) better than those big people, that just creeped me out.
Also, I had some fun with retouching and stuff, which, as a follower of the Cartier-Bresson approach, is not something I do that often, or ever. You can see the results here.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Old Testament Soccer

How was last night's game? It was like playing against Moses. Actually, a whole team of Moseses. The ball was his people. And our defenders were like the Red Sea. Over and over and over again.

Oh well, at least no one got hurt.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

This the best TV you will ever watch. Guaranteed.

And it's not just because of the pretty girl...

It's the "Jet Set" episode from season 2 of Mad Men. It's everything I love about Gal Dove, Roger Thornhill, Bunny Yeager, Oceans 11 and 12, Alfred Hitchcock and Hugh Hefner all rolled into 44 minutes.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Long time, no post

Eesh. Been on the road and such. Work and play.

The latest is that I am getting ready to do the MS Bike tour again this year and rather than ply you with all kinds of stats about how many people get MS or detail the awful things it does to your body, i thought i would post this amazing video instead. It is not directly for the MS society of Canada, but it's for the same cause. If after watching it you wish to sponsor me, you can do so here.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Critical Mass is Cool

"Cork it!"

"Who's leading this?" 
"I dunno. Whoever's in front."

"Put a fuckin' engine in those things."
"We are the engine!"

"You're blocking traffic!"
"We are the traffic!"

I'm late the game again, but had perfect timing tonight to join up.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Take that, little kid in the Microsoft ad!

iMovie is lots of fun. Took some pics, some iTunes selections, and voila!

I know it ends abruptly (a guy's gotta sleep) and that i repeated the shot of the kids on the big head, but i was too happy about the music/visual synch to mess around with it.

Music used is "Music is Math," by Boards of Canada. From the Album "Geogaddi," copyright 2002 Warp Reccords, Inc.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Future blog topics

Ok - they're out there now (as opposed to in my head), so if you're reading this, feel free to vote on what (if any) you're interested in reading:

  1. Things I love.
  2. What songs mean.
  3. Moments I remember.
  4. The DLT Collection

Friday, 17 April 2009

Some thoughts on Susan Boyle (before it's too late)

Susan Boyle is a firecracker. 

Now before you go and get the wrong ideas about me, I consider the Dove Evolution spot and this week's Domino Pizza fiasco firecrackers, too. 

But that's another post.

I debated even posting this, seeing as there are signs the surfing public is starting to fatigue of Susan Boyle as quickly as they fell in love with her, but I wasn't happy with what I had written about her on a flippant Facebook post. But seeing as you're reading this, you can see what side I came down on in that debate.

If you've been under a rock over the past week, Susan Boyle is the plain, frumpy and perfectly, almost painfully average church lady from Scotland whose stirring rendition of I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables turned into an instant sensation on Britain's Got Talent.  At the time I wrote this, the term "Susan Boyle" had generated almost 4,000 pages' worth of Google News in less than a week. 

What many people seem amazed by is that such an ordinary person could have such a fantastic voice - a classic "Don't judge a book by its cover" story. 

Susan Boyle was so extraordinary because she was so ordinary. I don't want to take anything away from Susan Boyle - despite a few flubbed notes she does have a great voice and people's response to that voice was indeed genuine. But why should we have thought this woman would embarrass herself? Susan Boyle was only extraordinary within the context and aesthetics of a reality show, which  - given her meteoric rise to fame - have skewed our own ideas about what it means to be truly talented. Our response to Susan Boyle says more about our current cultural values than her own talent for song.

But don't take my word for it, read this instead.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

iPoem via email

The People.
The Battlecry.
The Mandate.
The Lifestyle.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Disclaimer Time

So, it's occurred to me that now that this thing is getting some legs and more and more people are seeing it, I thought it was best to say that this is a personal blog, that the views contained herein are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

Friday, 20 March 2009

still more iPoems, two lines only

still find it odd that this hasn't caught on. Maybe if i do it on twitter.

Your Love Your Lies

You've got her in your pocket. You've got everything now.

You've got everything now. You've got a lot of nerve.

You shook me. You send me.

You never wash up after yourself. You never give me your money.

You gotta move. You got to go home.

Welcome to the working week. Welcome to the occupation.

We're the same. We're not alone.

We are all on drugs. We are all alone.

Tukka Root's riddim. Tubas in the moonlight.

Tiny voices, Tiny dancer.

Thought it would be easier. Thought I knew you.

Thou sweet Thorn in my side.

There goes the fear. There goes my gun.

That's not the issue. That's not really funny.

Friday, 13 March 2009

I give up

I'm never going to write as well as the AV Club.

"Craven’s Last House existed in response to the carnage coming back from Vietnam and the sense of disillusionment and nihilism that was rippling through the culture; it’s a little like the Gimme Shelter of horror movies, where even the hippies are driven to savagery."

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Why I love The Onion's AV Club

From this week's "My Year of Flops" review: The Love Guru

A smart, talented, accomplished writer-actor like Myers spending years meticulously creating, rehearsing, and refining an obnoxious one-note cartoon like Guru Pitka is a like a group of brilliant scientists working around the clock for a decade to build a malfunctioning fart machine: a surreal waste of time, energy and manpower.

No line, indeed

Dear Bono,

I know you care. No one would doubt that. And hey, I respect that. It takes a lot of guts to care and be seen to care, what with the risk of looking the fool in front of everyone you know. Maybe that's the reason behind those D&G shades.

I know you care because in the liner notes to many of your albums, including your new one, you ask us to support Greenpeace. As we know, Greenpeace is an organization dedicated to preserving and protecting our natural world. One of its tenets is recycling. I know because i went to its web site and looked.

Which is why i was so disappointed with the packaging for your your band's new album, No line on the horizon. As i struggled to release the disc from its protective plastic film, i wondered: Such an innovative band. They care sooooo much. Yet their art comes in such environmentally hostile, not to mention mundane, packaging.

I was disappointed not because I know how many jewel cases end up in landfills each year or how how many toxic chemicals were used to manufacture them. No, I was disappointed because the impression it had on me: that a band so concerned with its image, that understands the power of symbols and simple messages would be so inattentive to this, its most visible product. The medium, it seemed, was at odds with the message contained within.

If it's any consolation, Bono, i really like the new album. Even if the critics apart from the suckups at Rolling Stone are pretty much so-so.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

In the future....

Every show on television will be a home renovation show.

Friday, 9 January 2009

The Delaney Turner Collection, Item #4

Ashtray from Walt Disney World, circa 1973

From an era of the pervasive and socially acceptable cigarette and before Disney and ClearChannel carved out the entertainment universe for their mutual gain, this almost quaint item was acquired from the home of his grandmother following her death. Though now clean, this item was no doubt a well-used receptable of many an Export A. Now it occasionally holds loose change.

Thursday, 8 January 2009

The DLT Collection, continued

Item #GGHFFFFWXSS-3433w-s
Netsuke Figurines, Slightly Houndish-looking Dog and Hippo, era unknown.

Neither made nor purchased anywhere near Japan, the collector acquired them at a flea market on a day trip to Greenwich in 2007. He should have bought the leather bag at that other stall, too, but made amends with a much nicer one on a later trip to Quebec City in 2008. The dog figurine's expectant, somewhat puzzled expression reminds the owner of that of his real dog, Findley. The hippo is, well, just a hippo.

Truly Astounding

For those who think their tea isn't musical enough:

Theremug from Kyle McDonald on Vimeo.

The DLT Collection

Item #AAXTTF-556
Soviet-era Train Conductor's Watch, era unknown.

Purchased after minimal haggling at an outdoor flea market in Ljubljana, Slovenia, this well-preserved pocket watch features mechanical movement, cyrillic characters and bas-relief locomotive icon on reverse.  Plus, it's built like a tank and has a really nice feel to it.


Monday, 5 January 2009

At the 2nd intermission

What's with all the sticks flying around? Don't the players hold onto them anymore? And what's with all the broken sticks? Aren't these, like, $300 jobs? for that money you'd expect them to stay in one piece, esp. when you're winding up for a one-timer. Sheesh.

Friday, 2 January 2009

Happy New Year (and an observation)

The last day of my holidays finds me writing my first post of the last of the "oughts". Odd how nine years have gone by without humanity finding an acceptable name for this first decade of the 2000s.  How will we brand these 3,205 days? What will we call our retro nights to come? Will next year start the "20-10s?" Put it this way - if it's the biggest challenge we'll face all year i think it will be a blessing for all. But, the promise of beach bunny Barack notwithstanding, I think somehow it's a tad optimistic.

So I had planned to spend my last day quietly musing and reading in our newly relocated and Cloverrific coffee shop. Acting on one of this year's resolutions - to read the pages between the covers of the books i own and not just the spines - i had brought with me Fabrizio's Return, by former colleague and Ottawa resident Mark Frutkin. It would be a good way to close out the holidays, I thought, being one of those people straight out of central casting who populate coffee shops in the hours between 9 and 5. You know, those people who, when you see them on a quick jaunt between meetings at the office prompt you to ask yourself, Don't these people work? 

But no, dear readers, 'twas not the case. For you see, coffee shops are no longer conducive to quiet. Between the jackass on the cellphone,  the constant shuffling of patrons in and out (the only available table was near the door), the low-level fiddling with all computer cables of the woman beside me ("Oops, sorry."), it was sensory overload. Caffeine-powered cacophony. Were I John Cage i'd simply record 4 minutes and 33 seconds of it and call it music. But it was hardly conducive to a literary journey back to 16th century Italy.

Yuppie problems, I know. But I think there's something bigger, something telling about the whole experience. In any case, the clover coffee was really good.