Monday, 26 August 2013

Persephone's Summer Film Festival 2013

I mentioned a few posts back that when I'm in Victoria and the circumstances are favourable -- i.e. I have access to DVDs and a device on which to play them in private -- I hold the almost annual Persephone's Summer Film Festival. It seems a shame not to share what other films I got out from the library and Victoria's fabulous Pic A Flic, so here's a baker's dozen:

Stories We Tell - I grabbed this one at first opportunity as I've been attempting to see the film all winter. It kept popping up at various venues at the exact times I was unable to go. Sarah Polley was a Canadian child star before morphing into a serious actor and writer/director/producer. Stories We Tell is a documentary following a series of discoveries she made about her parents, also actors. You don't have to be Canadian, or interested in family history to find it interesting, but these were an added bonuses for me.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel - Demeter attempted to watch this in the cinema last winter when practically everyone she knew recommended it. She was only able to make out what the older actors said, so I got this out and played it for her with subtitles. I think we both agreed that she hadn't been missing much. A rather formulaic rom-com approach to the challenges of aging.

Harold and Maude (Criterion edition) - I've mentioned this movie before in a list I made four years ago of thirty-five of my favourite films, but I'm a sucker for DVD extras, so I got this out for the commentary, which didn't tell me much that I didn't already know, so I'll be hanging on to my own unadorned copy.

Spies of Warsaw - Yes, I watched it for David Tennant. Other than that, it's your run-of-the-mill spy story. Decent acting.

Shakespeare High - This was a gem I spotted on the shelves at Pic a Flic and grabbed on a whim. It's a documentary about an annual competition put on by the Drama Teachers Association of Southern California. Teams of four from area high schools compete in compact interpretations of various Shakespeare plays. This has been going on for several decades and alumni of the programme include Richard Dreyfus, Kevin Spacey, Mare Winningham, and Val Kilmer, who all make an appearance. The film focuses on a sampling of schools: one from a rough neighbourhood, an all-girls Catholic, the school which has a history of producing famous actors, and the school from a remote small desert town which always seems to win. Good fun.

Angels in America - I saw this when it originally aired on television in 2003, but my children were quite young then and I lost bits to the bedtime routine. This time, I could give it my undivided attention. It's glorious and it's got Emma Thompson, Meryl Streep, and Al Pacino (among others) in multiple roles. If you haven't seen it, you really should, and not just for the girl-on-girl action between Thompson and Streep. (Although I'm sure there's a market for that out there somewhere...)

A Merry War - This is an odd film that I hadn't heard of, probably because it came out in 1997 and I was up to my neck in diapers and kindergarten. Also, the British title was Keep the Aspidistra Flying, which makes a helluva lot more sense than "merry war" -- don't know by which title it appeared in Canada, if at all.  It's set in the 1930s and based on a novel by George Orwell. Not quite a drama, sort of an anti-rom-com with Richard E Grant and Helena Bonham Carter heading the usual rather wonderful British cast.

Elaine Stritch at Liberty  - A 2002 performance of her one-woman show, filmed in London. Quite entertaining, of course, with an almost racy anecdote about Marlon Brando.

Insignificance (Criterion edition) - I'm not sure why I don't have this on my list of favourite films; it certainly has one of my favourite quotes: If I say "I know", I stop thinking. I first saw this film when I was taking my Master's and whenever one of my classmates jumped on her/his invisible soapbox, I thought: "S/he knows. S/he has stopped thinking." (To be fair, I do my share of soapbox-clambering.) The story takes place on a fictional night in 1954 when a famous blond sexy actress visits a famous wild-haired physicist while on the run from her famous and estranged baseball player husband. Oh yes, and the scientist is being harassed by a famous Communist-hunting senator. None of the characters is named, but you know who they're supposed to be. Once again, I got this mainly for the DVD extras which reminded me that the Cold War tensions of 1954 had something in common with the Cold War tensions of 1985, the year in which this film was released. In a neat twist, Tony Curtis, who knew Marilyn Monroe, plays the senator.

The Big C - I've been watching the odd episode of this on television complete with editing, bleeps and commercials. Such a relief to watch this black and unsentimental comedy without interruption (and with DVD extras such as deleted scenes and interviews). I adore Laura Linney, here a 42-year-old woman sandbagged with the news that she has Stage Four melanoma. Oliver Platt, another favourite of mine, plays her bewildered husband. All four seasons have aired, and now I've seen the first two seasons and am dying (a bad choice of word, I know) to see the final two. I rather suspect it doesn't end well, as there is no Stage Five.

The Descendants - I don't fancy George Clooney, but I think he appears in a number of rather fine films, and is a perfectly good actor. (O Brother Where Art Thou is on my aforementioned list of favourites.) I think this was up for an Oscar or two, but didn't win. It's a pleasure just the same, another difficult-to-categorize film about loss and family set in a Hawaii the tourists probably don't get to see.

Cradle Will Rock - This was one of my favourites from a past Persephone's Summer Film Festival -- probably in 2005. I wanted to see this again because 1) it isn't available at the Ottawa Public Library (it is in the Greater Victoria Public Library); 2) I had just seen another rather good film involving Orson Welles -- Me and Orson Welles which is available at the OPL; 3) I wanted DVD extras -- and didn't get them. It's a remarkable movie anyway, a huge cast directed by Tim Robbins playing out the historical context of an 1937 theatrical event that rung down the curtain on the Federal Theater Project.

The Mill and the Cross - I watched this at the end of my Victoria stay after having it out of the library for weeks. I was scared, because I had read the reviews and I am squeamish. On the other hand, I love Brueghel. And Michael York. When I finally summoned up the nerve to watch this (mainly because I was running out of time and the DVD was due back at the library), I was mesmerized. We enter the painting The Procession to Calvary three ways: as a living tableau visited by Breugel the Elder (Rutger Hauer) and his patron (York); as a typical day in Flanders in 1564; and finally, a contemporary Crucifixion. I meant to watch only twenty minutes of it, to avoid the violence I was fearing, and ended up watching the whole thing.
The Mill and the Cross

In short? Skip the Marigold Hotel and the spies in Warsaw. See Stories We Tell, Angels in America, The Big C, and The Mill and the Cross.

Oh heck, see the others too.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

The best way to deal with this kind of thing

Well, anyone with ears has been exposed to this summer's big hit "Blurred Lines". I haven't paid it that much attention, but elder daughter is really ticked off by the video and the lyrics. This is the girl that got all defensive when I got ticked off by the film Social Network. However, I agree the words and images associated with this song are pretty depressing, and smack of sexual coercion and misogyny.

I think parody is the best dismantler here, and heaven knows there are plenty available. My particular favourite is the following where a University of Tennessee student named Fadi Saleh makes Bill Clinton blur the lines. Normally, Mr Saleh has Barack Obama spin the hits -- how the hell does he get his coursework done? -- but given Mr Clinton's track record, he is the perfect choice for this ditty:

Thursday, 15 August 2013

A gathering of merry wives

I was really disappointed when the weather forecast changed. We'd been promised a fair day, but by afternoon Environment Canada was threatening us with showers and yet another thunderstorm. It was our one opportunity to see A Company of Fools' production of The Merry Wives of Windsor. It's not ending until this Saturday, but the other parks are rather out of our reach for an evening's entertainment.

The thing is, The Merry Wives of Windsor is one of the few Shakespearean plays that I've neither seen nor read, and this summer, we had the opportunity to see it twice. Here's a snippet of a recent production at London's Globe Theatre, done in Elizabethan costume. (Although John Falstaff is a dramatic contemporary of Henry V, MWoW is set in the England of Shakespeare's time.)

In Victoria, we saw the Greater Victoria Shakespeare Festival's version for this summer, which is set in the Interior of British Columbia (somewhere near Salmon Arm, I think) in 1972.
So we were treated to polyester, sideburns and such early seventies ditties such as "Sweet City Woman". (There were much better songs, but I can't remember what they were.) There was also a real motorcycle. It was quite fun. This is the first GVSF production to be performed in Na’tsa’maht which is Salish for "The Gathering Place".
It's designed to look like a Salish hat.
We sat in the risers of this extraordinary theatre-in-the-round on a mid-July summer's evening listening to Shakespeare performed by a company which draws their actors from the community, the University of Victoria's theatre programme and some visiting professionals. Through the openings in the sides of Na’tsa’maht, I could see a full Buck Moon rising like a peach beyond the Garry Oaks (if peaches actually could rise). There are worse ways to move into twilight.

Forward to another evening in August and I've been hauled back to Hades again and a Company of Fools is one of the few things that make that tolerable for me. We made our way to Strathcona Park with our folding chairs and umbrellas, wondering how the heck we were going to put up umbrellas with people sitting behind us. The clouds rolled in, tumbled over our heads and piled on the far side of the Rideau River, looking like a range of Mount Kilimanjaros.

And that's, thank heavens, where they stayed put, while one of the largest casts I've seen for a Company of Fools' production (six! six whole actors! -- and three puppets) told the story of how conniving Sir John Falstaff is outwitted by a pair of middle-class housewives. The scene changes were managed with snatches of song (I recognised Faure's Pavane for a Dead Princess)and a moveable door in the same shades of pastel as the costumes which were quasi-Edwardian. The door also doubled as a table-top, just as the performers doubled up on roles by quickly removing and adding layers of clothes (with the occasional hat or wig change). Of course, in the Fools' tradition, unsuspecting (and sometimes suspecting) audience members found themselves pulled from the audience: two burly fellows faced with the task of carrying off a laundry basket with the very burly Falstaff inside, and a half-dozen eager young "fairies" dashing in to circle and pinch the hapless knight at the end.

How did the two productions compare? Well, the Greater Victoria Shakespeare Festival, as I've said, gets its performers from a wide range of places, resulting in a wide range of experience and talent. They tend to tackle the plays very much as they appear in written form, although the times and settings are often very imaginative (Julius Caesar in eighties punk; Hamlet as a woman, etc.) The Fools, by contrast, usually present a play in about ninety minutes, stripping it down to essentials and using four to six actors. Their productions are deliberately accessible and meant to appeal to both young children as well as the more sophisticated. (I like to think I'm in the latter group, but self-delusion is my middle name.)

In short, I was amused by the Merry Wives of Na’tsa’maht, and enchanted by the Merry Wives of Strathcona Park. I'm grateful to the company of the Greater Victoria Summer Shakespeare Festival, and a Company of Fools for introducing TMWoW into my mental repertory of Shakespeare's plays.

Monday, 12 August 2013

Only in Britain

So Absolute Radio in England was collecting listeners' memories of their dead dogs (as you do), and someone got the idea of putting these to music and making a loopy video. Would this happen anywhere else?

Thursday, 8 August 2013

Toodle-loo, Toulouse

I dress early and finish my packing so I can slip down by myself to the coffee house near Demeter's condo and drink in the beautiful sea-cooled morning one last time, along with my caffe mocha.

The barista with whom I began this year's stay in Victoria is there this morning, cooing over a visiting dog on the patio. A few minutes later, as I wait for my order, she's bubbling excitedly to the young man who is creating a beautiful pattern on my caffe mocha in chocolate syrup: "I get to take care of two little weiner dogs! It's my very first dog-sitting job!" Then she excitedly outlines her dream of getting a cat: "I'll call him Toulouse just so I can call 'Tou-looooose!"

Her companion frowns slightly but continues his deft strokes across the foamed milk. "Uh, I'm not sure I get that," he says. "Try spelling it?"

I grin at him. "Toulouse-Lautrec," I explain. "The really short French artist from the nineteenth century."

The bubbling barista gapes at me in delighted astonishment. "Are you kidding? I was thinking about Toulouse in The Aristocats; y'know, the kitten who paints with his paws?"

"That's right," I nod. "He's named after Toulouse-Lautrec."
"Wow! Can you spell that?"
"Wow! I never knew that!"

I sit outside, reading the local paper and watching people stroll up and down Cook Street. Some are walking dogs; others are clearly on their way to work. I silently envy them for living here, as I used to do. (Live here, I mean.) I can't stay long. The Resident Fan Boy is helping younger daughter pack and Demeter is fixing breakfast before we leave her to head to the airport. Reluctantly, I rise and take my mug back.

Bubbling Barista beams at me.
"Thanks for telling me about the artist!"
I wave genially. "Toulouse-Lautrec," I remind her. "Look up his work. He was good."

I walk out into the morning sunshine. I only look back once.

Monday, 5 August 2013

The new Doctor as a very young man

I'm rather thrilled that Peter Capaldi is going to be the new Doctor in Doctor Who. A chief reason (aside from the fact that he's a skilled actor) is that we're going to get an older Doctor. The Resident Fan Boy informs me that Capaldi is older than William Hartnell when he got the job. Of course, Hartnell looked older, while Capaldi looks younger than his age.

He was really young when he appeared in Local Hero which was 1983, I think, or thereabouts. I can't find my very favourite scene from that movie when Capaldi's character is the only person noticing the entire village sneaking out of their emergency meeting at the parish church, so here's a Pet Shop Boys video which shows a lot of him:

Thursday, 1 August 2013

An odd sort of joy

Last December, I blogged about the discovery of a great-great-aunt-by-marriage buried in the churchyard where my late in-laws' ashes are interred. (This is only extraordinary if you know that both my husband's family and mine came to Victoria many years after said great-great-aunt's demise.)

At that time, the Resident Fan Boy decided that we should schedule a churchyard visit on the date of his parents' wedding anniversary. Today was the day and we escorted a resigned younger daughter up Cedar Hill, stopping only to pluck some early ripening blackberries above the sloping sidewalk.

We know where the RFB's parents are; there's a particularly embarrassing story surrounding my late mother-in-law's interment, so the RFB and I searched rows of more ancient graves, splitting the task while younger daughter wandered dreamily up and down the dusty rows of headstones and watched a young family of deer retreat ahead of us, nibbling.

This was my very first graveyard search as a family researcher -- the vast majority of graveyards I need to search are in Great Britain -- and I didn't have high hopes of finding the tomb in question, noticing quite a few stones were illegible. However, in less than ten minutes, the name appeared at my feet and with it, the difficult-to-explain surge of joy that assails the family researcher. I feel a version of it every time I find a confirming record, but to the uninitiated, it may have seemed rather morbid to hear my gleeful whoop.

Seasoned genealogists will understand. It's more than finding a name. It's the odd sensation of reclaiming a family member. This aunt, not even a blood relative, died long before I was born. I know little of her aside from her dates of birth, marriage and death, and the names of her children. In a way, it's better. I have no judgements to offer on her life or her personality, only the feeling that she has been acknowledged, that someone remembers her place in my family.

Today, I was able to stand at an ancient burial place and say, "Welcome back, Auntie Ellen." It's an odd joy, but I'm taking any joy on offer.