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.