Ingenuity and expression in books, art and design, music, and film
May we recommend to you Brian Brennan’s Brief Encounters, which first ran as a series in Facts and Opinions, now at Brian Brennan’s site. Brennan’s published titles include this compilation of columns about the celebrities he interviewed during his 15 years as an arts and entertainment reporter. It is available both as an e-book and as a paperback. Brennan blogs about literature, arts and politics at BrianBrennan.ca, here.
EX LIBRIS: … On Books
ARTS NEWS AND REVIEWS:
San Miguel de Allende: “NAFTA of Literary Festivals” , by Brian Brennan
A writers’ gathering in San Miguel de Allende (SMA), a colonial gem of cobbled streets and revolutionary charm, has been held annually since 2005, with an audience now of some 10,000. Its secrets to success include sun – lots of sun – a city that is culturally-rich and diverse, and some of the world’s best-known authors.
Adele Sweeps 2017 Grammy Awards, by By Jill Serjeant and Piya Sinha-Roy
Adele won the top three Grammy awards on Sunday, taking home the statuettes for album, record and song of the year in a shock victory over Beyonce.
Scandinavia Tackles Fairy Tale Gendering, by Gabrielle Richard, Université Paris-Est Créteil Val de Marne (UPEC)
In Stockholm’s Nicolaigarden pre-school, the teachers do not read Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to the students. Rather, its library holds children’s books that show different types of heroes and a diversity of family models (including those with single parents, adoptive children, and same-sex parents).
His Bob-ness joins Yeats, Beckett, and Eliot, by Rod Mickleburgh
In the winter of 1990, I waited with a handful of reporters and photographers in a grand salon of the Palais-Royal in Paris for Bob Dylan. More than 25 years ahead of the Nobel Prize people, the French had decided that Dylan’s lyrical prowess was worthy of the country’s highest cultural honour, Commandeur dans l’ Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. T.S. Eliot was one of the first to receive the award in 1960. Borges followed in 1962. And now, following in the footsteps of Sean Connery (1987), it was Bob’s turn.
No, Bob Dylan isn’t the first lyricist to win the Nobel, by Alex Lubet
A Bengali literary giant who probably wrote even more songs preceded Dylan’s win by over a century. Rabindranath Tagore, a wildly talented Indian poet, painter and musician, took the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1913.
Are Bob Dylan’s songs “Literature?” by David McCooey
Dylan’s Nobel Prize shows up what the Swedish Academy has so far ignored in their award system: film, popular music, and the emerging forms of digital storytelling. Perhaps what this Nobel tells us more than anything is that “literature” or “poetry” are categories of our own making. To move beyond the page seems long overdue.
Berlin’s The ONE Grand Show, by Hannibal Hanschke, Arts Photo-essay
French couturier Jean Paul Gaultier swapped the Paris runway for the German stage to create some 500 costumes for “THE ONE Grand Show”.From silver body suits with giant mohawks to revealing fishnet tops with huge feathers, colourful, extravagant costumes take centre stage at the new theatrical show at Berlin’s Friedrichstadt-Palast.
Fair and Foul in Edinburgh: Shakespeare’s Many Guises, by Elisabeth O’Leary and Zoe Daniel
Rapping, drunkenness and “Star Wars” are some of the twists given to William Shakespeare’s plays at the Edinburgh festival this year, marking the 400th anniversary of his death.
Corpspeak, Technosputter, MeMyBlah: Words as Spam, by Louise Katz
Our current cultural and political reality is one of neoconservative instrumentalism, and to maintain it we have to talk the talk. Here then, is my linguistic guide to this neoliberal world.
Harry Potter Has Cast Last Spell — J.K. Rowling, by Alexander Smith Arts report
Harry Potter has cast his last spell, his creator J.K. Rowling said at the gala opening of “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” in London’s West End.
Fearful Symmetry — a poem, by Stephen Collis, excerpt
A poem from the Chapbook New Life, available this month by Above/Ground Press.
How to fix the Toxic State of Public Discourse, by James Hoggan, book excerpt
When I first began thinking about writing I’m Right and You’re an Idiot, I sat down with Steve Rosell and Daniel Yankelovich, two eminent pioneers in an evolving field that uses dialogue to deal with highly polarized public conflict. I wanted to learn more about the power of dialogue, how to mend broken conversations and achieve clear collaborative communication so we can triangulate issues in innovative ways and find creative solutions.
Shelter the focus at Venice Architecture Biennale, by Joel Dullroy
The Venice Architecture Biennale is usually a showcase of prestigious architecture projects from around the world, but Germany’s entry this year has taken a different angle, focusing instead on simple shelters used to house asylum seekers.
US election: manufacturing the masks, by Aly Song Photo-essay
There’s no masking the facts. One Chinese factory is expecting Donald Trump to beat his likely U.S. presidential rival Hilary Clinton in the popularity stakes. At the Jinhua Partytime Latex Art and Crafts Factory, a Halloween and party supply business that produces thousands of rubber and plastic masks of everyone from Osama Bin Laden to Spiderman, masks of Donald Trump and Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton faces are being churned out. The factory management believes Trump will eventually run out the winner.
Cremona — Italy’s City of Violins, by Stefano Rellandini. Photo-essay
Making violins is a passion in Cremona, the ancient Italian town that has been producing them since the 16th century, but turning passion into profits has not been easy.
Why children’s books are serious literature. By Catherine Butler
Once a generation, it seems, a cri de coeur goes out, in which a representative of the world of children’s literature speaks with revelatory authority to the literary establishment and makes it reassess the place of children’s books.
How GH Hardy tamed Srinivasa Ramanujan’s genius. By Béla Bollobás Report
Throughout the history of mathematics, there has been no one remotely like Srinivasa Ramanujan. There is no doubt that he was a great mathematician, but had he had simply a good university education and been taught by a good professor in his field, we wouldn’t have a film about him. Credit is due to GH Hardy.
How to write a best-selling novel. By Andy Martin
Maybe I shouldn’t be giving this away for free, but, beyond all the caffeine and nicotine, I think there actually is a magic formula. For a long while I thought it could be summed up in two words: sublime confidence. Don’t plan, don’t map it all out in advance, be spontaneous, instinctive. Enjoy the vast emptiness of the blank page. It will fill. … read more
Rescued from Slavery, Nepalis Rediscover Circus Magic. By Katie Nguyen
As a little girl, Doli from Nepal found it hard to resist the thrill of the circus. When scouts came looking, she was captivated. “The circus sounded like a magical place, so I wanted to go, too,” she recalls in a teaser for a documentary about Nepal’s first and only circus, made up of rescued victims of human trafficking. … read more
Scan of Shakespeare’s Grave Suggests Skull Missing. By Reuters
Shakespeare’s skull is likely missing from his grave, an archaeologist has concluded, confirming rumors which have swirled for years about grave-robbers and adding to the mystery surrounding the Bard’s remains.
Electronic or on calf skin, knowledge never more threatened. By Richard Ovenden, University of Oxford
Information is constantly under attack. A current debate around the longstanding use of vellum (a parchment made using calf skin) for printing key legislative documents highlights the continued concern over this. But books and manuscripts have been the targets of thieves for millennia.
Man Booker International 2016 Longlist. By Deborah Jones
Household, pseudonymous and new names are included in the longlist of 13 books in line for the prestigious Man Booker International Prize, released March 10.
RIP George Martin, the Fifth Beatle. By Mike Jones
George Martin was so integral a part of the Beatle’s story that he was called “the Fifth Beatle.” – a moniker that, in the 1960s, was also given to their then manager Brian Epstein. In both instances, the accolade is richly-deserved – without Epstein the Beatles would have not won a recording contract, and without Martin they would not have made records.
Can clean power plants be things of beauty? By Nicole Porter
Just as we marvel at Roman aqueducts or Victorian railways, so we could design power plants, solar panels, turbines and other infrastructure to be beautiful additions to the landscape. As we move away from ugly coal and gas, we have a great chance to celebrate low carbon energy with imaginative new designs.
‘Spotlight’ wins top Oscar amid race-related critiques.By Jill Serjeant, Reuters
Catholic Church abuse movie “Spotlight” was named best picture, the top award at Sunday’s Oscar ceremony, after an evening peppered with pointed punchlines from host Chris Rock about the #OscarsSoWhite controversy that has dominated the industry.
Bridge of Spies’: The True Story is Even Stranger Than Fiction. By Tim Weiner
Bridge of Spies tries to be true to life. But it reconstructs five grim years in two hours and twenty-one minutes. As it often is, the truth was stranger than its fictional portrayal.
‘Spotlight’ Gets Investigative Journalism Right. By Stephen Engelberg, ProPublica
“Spotlight,” the film based on the Boston Globe’s investigation of the Catholic Church, is a remarkable achievement. The movie, which has been nominated for six Academy Awards including best picture, vividly captures the mix of frustration, drudgery and excitement that goes into every great investigative story.
Bagpipe bandits: how the English blew Scotland’s national instrument first, by Vivien Williams
Bagpipe studies has undergone a revival of late – and it’s emerged that the English were playing the pipes hundreds of years before the Scots got their hands on them.
Deepa Mehta: pushing boundaries with Beeba Boys. By Penney Kome
All of Deepa Mehta’s major films have caused controversy, including the latest, Beeba Boys. Just released, Beeba Boys (kind of a Sikh Sopranos) depicts the stylish, violent world of second- and third-generation Indian gang-bangers in metro Vancouver. The topic is timely, but not one that the local South Asian communities particularly want aired. Deepa Mehta is used to pushing people’s boundaries.
Schiff sonatas score, Super Bowl blanked. By Rod Mickleburgh
While gazillions tuned into the greatest annual event in the history of the world, aka the Super Bowl, which surpasses even the Eurovision Song Contest in global importance, I sat entranced, with hundreds of others at the packed Vancouver Playhouse, for András Schiff’s virtuoso recital.
Woody Guthrie, ‘Old Man Trump,’ and a racist foundation. By Will Kaufman
Woody Guthrie’s two-year tenancy in one of the buildings owned by Fred Trump — father of “The Donald” — and his relationship with the real estate mogul of New York’s outer boroughs produced some of Guthrie’s most bitter writings.
Pantone, the global authority on color standards for the design industries, recently announced its colors of the year for 2016: Rose Quartz and Serenity, which are muted shades of pink and blue, respectively.
What Pantone’s colors of 2016 mean for the future of design. By Ryan Russell
Pantone chose to blend two shades instead of one for its 2016 colour in an attempt, said the company, to break from tradition and “transcend cultural and gender norms.” For decades, pink has been associated with girls and blue with boys. Could Pantone’s decision to focus on gender influence the designs of everything, from clothing to house paints?
Cancer claims music legend Davie Bowie, 69. By Paul Sandle and Guy Faulconbridge
David Bowie, the visionary British rock star who framed hits such as “Space Oddity” with flamboyant pop personas like “Ziggy Stardust” and androgynous displays of sexuality, died January 10, aged 69 after a secret battle with cancer.
David Bowie, an extraordinary innovator, by Mike Jones
DAL RICHARDS: The bandleader who almost lived forever. By Rod Mickleburgh
How often do you get to shake hands and say ‘hello’ and ‘thanks’ to a living legend? Vancouver’s King of Swing had a gig every New Year’s Eve for 79 years, which, as the whimsical Richards never tired of pointing out, must be some kind of world record.
Auld Lang Syne changed en route to world domination. By Kirsteen McCue
Auld Lang Syne was famously written by the Scottish national bard, Robert Burns. What is less well known is that the melody was not the one he intended. The one that became famous was first attached to the song in the late 1790s and Burns, who died in 1796, knew nothing about it.
Disneyfied Star Wars an iconic kids’ flick. By Penney Kome
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: as the sun rises, the camera pans in on a droid rolling across barren dunes, burbling and tweeting to itself, on an errand to deliver a crucial message to the Resistance. Spoiler alert: in some ways, The Force Awakens is a mirror image to the very first Star Wars movie, the 1977 space opera that was so fresh and inspiring that it became the only movie I’ve ever paid money to see in a theatre three times.
Turner Prize must not restrict Assemble to ‘art’. By Emma Curtin
The collective Assemble, winner of the Turner Prize 2015, had a major role in a successful urban regeneration project. It’s a significant project worthy of recognition by a major national award –although an art prize may surprise.
What Frankenstein and Krampus tell us. By Natalie Lawrence
Two new monster movies are being released in the lead-up to Christmas: the man-made creation of Victor Frankenstein, and Krampus, the evil counterpart to Father Christmas. The etymology of monstrosity suggests the complex roles that monsters play within society. “Monster” probably derives from the Latin, monstrare, meaning “to demonstrate”, and monere, “to warn”.
Ron Hynes: the man of 1000 songs departs for Cryer’s Paradise. By Greg Locke
Newfoundland singer-songwriter and musical legend, Ron Hynes, died Nov. 19. He was 64. In an ironic coincidence there was a power failure in downtown St John’s around the same time. Across the bar I heard someone say, “I guess Ron turned the lights out when he left.” Hynes’ music and writing marks a generation that began with Newfoundland’s cultural renaissance.
Spectre: James Bond in an age of cybersecurity. By Joseph Oldham
Daniel Craig’s entry into the Bond world was more than a change of face: he also brought in an abrupt about turn in style, from the fantastical to the gritty. The fourth Craig Bond, Spectre, takes us further down this road: unambiguously into a world that we all recognise.
Sicario: a movie that haunts. By Sebastian Rosella, ProPublica
I saw the movie “Sicario” the other day. And it reminded me why the border still haunts me. “Sicario” is an important contribution to a cinematic genre that examines the dark realities of the U.S.-Mexico border. The film centers on an FBI agent in Arizona who joins a shadowy, CIA-led task force pursuing a Mexican drug lord. She becomes alarmed by secretive, brutal methods that leave a trail of corpses. She discovers that the unit’s mysterious Colombian “consultant” is an assassin (sicario) unleashed by the U.S. government on the cartels.
Adios, Buena Vista Social Club. By Rod Mickleburgh
It was a magical night, mixed with a heavy dose of poignancy, as the vaunted Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club made its final appearance in Vancouver, Canada. There will be no more tours. Many of the aging Cuban music stars we got to know and love from Ry Cooder’s venture to Havana in the 1990’s are no longer with us.
Homage to Mad Max, by Mario Anzuoni, Arts/Photo-essay
Being a product of the seventies, my first post-apocalyptic vision of earth was the 1979 film “Mad Max”. So I was intrigued about attending Wasteland Weekend, a festival inspired by that dystopian vision.
The Martian — and Robinson Crusoe, Matt Damon and Viola Davis. By Victoria Anderson. By Victoria Anderson
In The Martian, directed by Ridley Scott, Matt Damon plays Mark Watney, an astronaut left stranded on Mars. Alone, presumed dead, he must work out a way to survive. If this storyline sounds vaguely familiar, that’s because it is.
WES CRAVEN: the scream of our times. By Jane Witherspoon (video) and Lance Duerfahrd (essay)
Only an obituary as messy as an autopsy could honor the passing of Wes Craven, the slasher-film maven who died on August 30 at age 76. Blood flows generously in Craven’s films, which tread a delicate line between visceral impact and franchise-worthy digestibility.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. proves spy spoofs are back in business. By James Smith
The hammy spy spoof is back in the game. And now Guy Ritchie has jumped on the bandwagon. With the release of The Man from U.N.C.L.E., a remake of the popular 1960s television series of the same name, he joins a long line of authors and filmmakers who have satirised spying or spoofed the conventions of the spy thriller.
Ballet in Brazil’s ‘Crackland’. By Nacho Doce
On the outskirts of Sao Paulo in Brazil, the rough Luz neighbourhood – known as Cracolandia or “Crackland” locally for its widespread use of crack cocaine – might seem a world away from the beauty and grace usually associated with ballet. But there’s another side to life in Luz, in a country that’s among the world’s biggest consumers of crack cocaine.
HBO’s “Show Me a Hero:” Q&A With David Simon. By Marcelo Rochabrun, ProPublica
HBO’s TV series Show Me a Hero: In an America generations removed from the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, the young mayor (Oscar Isaac) of a mid-sized city is faced with a federal court order to build a small number of low-income housing units in the white neighborhoods of his town. His attempt to do so tears the entire city apart, paralyzes the municipal government and, ultimately, destroys the mayor and his political future.
Battling the Brit Invasion: the fight for American pop independence. By John Covach
This is the 50th anniversary of the British invasion of the US – at least, in music. The biggest hits on the American pop charts had come from British bands since The Beatles’ pivotal first appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in February 1964. The British success was significant enough to force a revolution in American pop music.
Photographic manipulation: trickery, art, or illusionism? By Phillip George
The very act of picking up a camera and raising it to your eye to frame what lays before you is a form of photographic illusionism. What was it that made you reach for the camera in the first place? And what compelled you to frame one part of the scene and not another? Why do so many people take particular photos – say of unusual weather – and post them online? Games around what is real have been a dominant theme throughout the history of art, from the trompe l’oeil (literally meaning to “fool the eye”) of the 5th-century artist Zeuxis to the tricksters who faked images of a waterfall descending off Australia’s Sydney Harbour Bridge.
On graffiti: art, vandalism, and advertising. By Liam Miller
The opinion that street art is vandalism (that is, not art) is widely held. Many people despise graffiti – but we are more than happy to line our public spaces with something much more offensive: advertising. That’s the bigger story here, the use and abuse of public space. At heart, I think this is why people don’t like graffiti. We see it as someone trying to take control of a part of our public space. The problem is, our public spaces are being sold out from under us anyway. If we don’t collectively protect our public spaces, we will lose them.
A feminist nightmare: women of the myths. By Marguerite Johnson
The first of the “race of women”, Pandora, was a trap – gorgeous on the outside, and evil on the inside – and she marked the end of paradise. Unwavering in her curiosity, Pandora could not resist opening the lid of a jar entrusted to her, releasing all the sorrows of the human condition. Intriguingly, only hope remained trapped inside. The details of the original myth, sidestepped for the kiddies in Enid’s version, may be a feminist’s nightmare, but in antiquity such sacred narratives were not uncommon.
Zombies for a globalized, risk-conscious world. By Joseph Gillings
Bookshops, cinemas and TVs are dripping with the pustulating debris of zombies. And it is no coincidence that our societies are also dominated by an overarching anxiety reflecting the risk associated with each unpredictable scientific development.
Oscars’ snub to world cinema reveals outdated worldview. By Stephanie Dennison
By privileging English-language production, the Oscars promote an incredibly old-fashioned worldview in which UK, Australian and Irish films, for example, are not “foreign.” It’s a preposterous notion, proposed, lest we forget, by a private enterprise whose function it is to promote American movies (the Motion Picture Association of America), but we all play along. A whopping 83 countries played along in 2015 and submitted entries for the competition.
Creativity: nature/nurture, or just waiting for the muse? By Josephine Scicluna
One of the hardest ideas to grasp is the seeming paradox that creativity has little at all to do with the intellect. But saying don’t try too hard, or try not to think too much, is far too easy and not all that helpful.
Chill, jazz critics: Whiplash is a horror flick. By Nicolas Pillai
Amid Golden Globe recognition and Oscar buzz, Damien Chazelle’s film about a young jazz student and his abusive teacher is pulling in viewers who would normally run screaming from the words “drum solo”. The exhilaration of the last ten minutes, a performance of Duke Ellington’s Caravan, has encouraged a new audience to investigate the jazz pantheon. Despite this, there is a growing feeling in the jazz world that Whiplash is hurting the music.
Michael Jackson: Posthuman. By Susan Fast
Some argue that the boundaries of our bodies and intellect are not as firm and finite as we want to believe. Posthumanism also argues for the dismantling of the hierarchy that puts humans – largely because of our ability to “reason” – above other forms of life and technology. Both of these ideas were central to Michael Jackson’s life and art.
Interstellar’s spectacular view of hard science. By Alasdair Richmond
In Interstellar’s near-ish future, our climate has failed catastrophically, crops die in vast blights and America is a barely-habitable dustbowl. Little education beyond farming methods is tolerated and students are taught that the Apollo landings were Cold War propaganda hoaxes. Against this unpromising background, a former space pilot receives mysterious directions to a secure facility. Therein, he finds the American space agency NASA’s last remnants devoting dwindling resources to sending a spacecraft through a new-found wormhole mouth orbiting Saturn.
Graffiti Interpretations of the Berlin Wall. By Gavin Kennedy
The Berlin Wall was one of the greatest Cold War symbols. When it came down in 1989 it marked not only the reunification of Germany, but a wider collapse of communism in Eastern Europe. A quarter century later — years in which Germany grew to become an economic leader in the region, and a world leader in providing clean energy — the wall remains a potent symbol. Policy analysts, historians and urban planners have myriad interpretations of its symbolism, but the most vivid are surely by Germany’s graffiti artists. Here, they have the last word.
War photography shocked and sanitized, but changed little. By Jonathan Long
Taken immediately after the ceasefire that ended the first Gulf War in 1991, Kenneth Jarecke’s photograph of the charred corpse of an Iraqi soldier in his burned-out jeep is one of the few memorable images of that conflict. Yet as a recent article in The Atlantic explains, high-level editors of news periodicals in the US refused to publish the image at the time, despite being urged to do so by their photo directors. The problems and debates that surround such images of war, violence, and atrocity, never quieten. And it is striking how many of the problems they address emerged during and after World War I.
SHORT REVIEW: The Hundred-Foot Journey, an amuse-gueule. By Deborah Jones
The film The Hundred-Foot Journey is delicious, an amuse-gueule — no more, no less.
The haunted painting of Sir John Franklin’s ship. By Laura MacCulloch
At Royal Holloway College at the University of London, Edwin Landseer’s picture Man Proposes, God Disposes (1864) is covered by a Union Flag every year during exams. Not because of any fears of cheating during history exams but because students believe they will fail their exams (or even go mad) if they look at it. This fear of the painting goes back a long way in the history of the college. The subject matter of the picture is highly grisly and macabre.
Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart Beats Again. By Brian Brennan. (Subscription)
After almost 30 years of seeking Hollywood’s attention, New York playwright Larry Kramer has finally gotten his wish. A film adaptation of his 1985 AIDS-crisis drama, The Normal Heart, will be shown Sun. May 25 on HBO in Canada and the United States. It stars Mark Ruffalo, Julia Roberts and Taylor Kitsch.
The drama is deeply rooted in Kramer’s own experience as a gay rights activist during the years, 1981-84, when the authorities looked the other way while a mysterious disease — never identified before — began to claim hundreds of lives. The playwright’s angry indictment of government, the media and the public for failing to recognize the gravity of the unfolding crisis made the play a j’accuse that could not be ignored.
A co-founder of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis in New York in 1982, Kramer was edged out of the advocacy organization a year later for — in his word — “merchandizing” the AIDS epidemic in mainstream magazines and newspapers across North America …
Norway’s Void (Public access)
A “memory wound” was chosen this month by a Norwegian panel to memorialize the 2011 massacre of 77 people, most of them teenagers, by a political extremist. The winning entry in the July 22 Memorial design competition is by Swedish artist Jonas Dahlberg. Its several parts are dominated by a void – literally, a slice to be removed from the island where Anders Behring Breivik slaughtered 69 children attending a political camp.
Critical Assembly: A Drama Critic Remembers Berlin. by Brian Brennan (Subscription)
We came to Berlin, a city politically divided, to talk about theatre criticism. We were 140 writers from 40 countries and for the better part of a week we wrangled like arms control negotiators. It was the autumn of 1987, the year marking the 750th anniversary of Berlin’s founding. During the previous centuries, the city had survived wars and destruction to become one of Europe’s great centres of arts and culture. Though split by realpolitik, it remained united artistically.
Dolly Hopkins: from Gumboot Lollypop to the Olympics. By Deborah Jones
The Rankin Family: A down-east band on the cusp of stardom. By Deborah Jones. 1993
The Fourth War: John Frankenheimer’s cold war relic. By Brian Brennan. 1989