Saturday, September 27, 2008
I couldn't help but love Paul Newman. I loved his politics and humanitarianism, never cared much for his salad dressing or tomato sauce, but as an actor he was almost beyond reproach. He was one of the most compelling screen personalities of his generation, the type of presence that would captivate you from the moment his character was introduced in the dozens of films he made. On screen he was the type of man you wanted to be - seductive and cool, smart and worldly. In movies like "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", "Cool Hand Luke" and "Hud", he personified the anti-hero, long before it became a cinematic cliche. Whether playing a criminal, washed up hockey player, drunk lawyer, pool hustler, or cowboy, you sensed he was right - the world was corrupt and oppressive and his existential dilemna was an unwillingness to comply with the dishonesty and corruption around him. You respected his cynicism as the product of the rugged individualist, not that of a crusty underachiever. He was part of the generation of American actors who perfected a new,natural style that could reflect insecurity and volatility, tenderness and ambivalence.
Paul Newman was born in 1925, more than a generation before my friends and I. Despite the gap in age he was a role model - the kind of person we wanted to emulate during invented battles on the playground, and the man we hoped to become when we stumbled into puberty and its pleasurable and playful offshoot-dating. I loved his portrayal of a man struggling with his sexuality and failure to live up to his potential in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof". Despite the sexual chemistry between his character and Elizabeth Taylor's it was clear he was confused - and portraying "confused" in 1957 Hollywood and anesthetized America was not easy. Fifty years later it is also hard to say goodbye - recent photos of him looking ill in public were difficult for his fans to reconcile with. We wanted his blue eyes and sly grin to endure forever, luring criminals into jail and beautiful women into bed. Hopefully, despite the instantaneous and disposable celebrity of contemporary popular culture, it will.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Slim Gaillard, some time in the mid-1940's. One of the most interesting music personalities of the time. He invented a bizarre form of scat singing with nonsense syllables, played the piano with the backs of his hands and sang songs about cultures seemingly foreign to him. In this video,it is refreshing to see African American and Jewish American culture not at odds with each other. He had a song called Yip Roc Heresay, which was based on a dish he found at an Armenian restaurant. Almost eight, he finished off his long career appearing on rap songs in the late 80's. He also teamed up with Slam Stewart, a remarkable personality who would sing along with his bass and dance between breaks:
Where the hell are unique performers like this now? I have beaten the whole "It ain't like it used to be" critique of music to death, but I would sure like to listen to the radio and not hear recycled Clash filtered through recycled Green Day pass for alternative music or punk, or self indulgent singer songwriters who have traded in the profession's socially conscious mantle for endless navel gazing and ruminations about relationships that fail. Maybe you split up because emo boy and girl are a little narcissistic, no? Well I guess the accountants in the music industry won. A good tattoo and endless music lessions triumph over individuality every time. Every reality show features the same R & B "stretch every note so I can be heard" vocal intonation, designed to make mama and daddy in Kansas or Texas proud. Pretty, but much like breast implants. Despite the subjective aesthetics, the real thing, flaws and all, is so much more pleasurable to the touch. To be fair, Slim and Slam died poor, and Frank Sinatra rich, so the same thing happened then. It just seemed as though entertainment existed in the purest sense. You just have to look around at the endless nostalgia that exists among the youth for the music of the 60's, 70's, 80's and now the early 90's. Since that time, I can think only of Beck, Fatboy Slim, The Hives and the Dandy Warhols as a last stand for some sort of defiant indivuality, albeit ironic. There are other groups out there surely, but I'm not really listening anymore.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Thursday, September 18, 2008
I "confess" to having used the office confessions site on more than one occasion and you know what, it feels good! Sometimes you just have to push your inner thoughts out. It's actually a cathartic experience. Posters have admitted to using their workday for everything from masturbation to childish pranks, and some of the declarations on both this and the other sites are funny but often painful to read, especially if they ring true personally. There is talk of discontentment, disappointment, resentment, and infidelity, and the end result is not judgement, but that we are merely human, trying to make sense of a society that places constraints on our behavior that act in conflict with human nature and primate behavior. Others reveal with honesty the dilemna of the modern person- from Dr. Spock to Baby Einstein, parenting over the last 50 years has created several generations of selfish and self-absorbed kids who don't grow up, but still have to share their lives with families, friends and co-workers who have the same problem. It's likely the reason why so many people I know are single and so many couples I knew are now divorced. We don't worship God, or our country anymore, we are devoted entirely to self-love. How many times does the average Canadian say in a day "I do so much for them and they don't appreciate it." How can we when we don't think of anyone but ourselves? I shouldn't be blogging right now - I should be upstairs with Jake reading to him or watching the awful kids movie I allowed him to see. I just can't help but wish I was out in the sun going for a long walk and taking a few photos of the early Fall we seem to have in Montreal this year. Ok, the movie has ended and he wants my attention. I can't resist his smile.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
It doesn't take a Sociologist or Psychologist to understand that people with a history of subsistance living do not know how to save money. It is analagous to leaving your dog with a plate of food for each day you are on vacation, assuming he/she will ration their eating. People are not dogs, but there is a serious problem with capitalizing on people's dreams (like the right to own property), while setting them up for failure. It ties in with a culture of immediacy that encourages us to consume rapaciously without the thought of how and when we are going to find the money to pay for it. I see it as an analogy to the awful state of Montreal's roads. After a century of amusing ourselves to death, someone looked beneath the beer bottles, concert tickets and used condoms and found out that our plumbing is about to disintegrate. What a drag on the party scene!
While I don't expect the world to divest itself of interest in the American economy (afterall, other investment companies were bailed out to avoid the financial repercussions associated with their demise) it would be nice if every Economics program in North American universities featured mandatory courses on ethics and consumer behavior in relation to socioeconomic status. Ah, I'm so naive!
Saturday, September 13, 2008
As painful as this is to say, the reviews for the new Coen brothers movie "Burn After Reading" are surprisingly bad. The follow up to the Oscar winning "No Country for Old Men" was supposed to be a return to comedy for the remarkable team that brought a litany of laughs to discriminating film goers and the odd smirk to the faces of film snobs with movies such as "Raising Arizona", "Barton Fink", "Oh Brother Where Art Thou", and my favourite, "Miller's Crossing". I am wondering what went wrong and have a small theory or two. Brad Pitt and George Clooney are accomplished actors and have proven that handsome features are no impediment to comedy. However, we see them all too frequently, whether it's the latest sequal to "Ocean's 11" (are we up to 16 now?) or as fodder for the Sarah Palin set, on the cover of terrible gossip magazines, like "The Star" and "Entertainment Weekly". It's kind of like being in a relationship for too long. The things you find adorable about your partner when you first tickle their toes under the sheets are later found to drive you crazy when you are both painting the bathroom in your underwear. There are other problems with familiarity too - how many stories featuring CIA operatives must we see on the screen? Answer-plenty. Since the Central Intelligence Agency is well, involved in clandestine activities, their very essence of mystery leaves them wide open for the creative minds of screenplay writers with a couple of espressos in them. Still, like Brad and George, the genre may be getting tiresome.
I guess I should see if first - after a long day of student advising and attempts at personal growth, I many not be all that discriminating.
Thursday, September 11, 2008
George Bush, circa, 1992, at a time when he was about to unseat the popular Governor of Texas, Anne Richards. Whether his sense of humour and rather odd eloquence is the result of his beverage or not is still a source of conjecture, but as "W" prepares to leave office after eight years of questionable judgement and logical flaws, it is clear that a very strong and poweful public relations machine was behind getting this underachieving son of privledge into office.
It's 2008 and we are about to have two elections, one Canadian, one American in the next two months. The former is significant because, hell, we live here, and the latter is important because, hell, they run the world. Four frontrunners are offering themselves up to public scrutiny and the numbers game, and it's the first time in a long while where I don't really like any of the candidates. My brief analysis follows:
1) Barack Obama - Surely me, liberal leaning bleeding heart lover of minorities and embracer of change should be bowled over with enthusiasm for the Democratic candidate in the United States. Unfortunately, I am not. I have not heard Mr. Obama say anything concrete in almost a year of campaigning, and he seems to be better at spewing Oprah like feelgood slogans than actually putting forth daring ideas that will shape his political future. It seems a little bit like cowardice to me, or at worst very superficial. Not good when you are up against other politicians/thinly veiled dictators, who are not particularly forgiving of your inexperience. He is smart, and knows he cannot take the troops out of Iraq or reform health care to any great degree. His dynamic aphorisms provide a veil of hope, but are really just icing on the cake that is his candidacy, which is remarkable, but sad considering this is the 21st century, and he should not have to be the first anything at this point in American history.
2) John McCain - How can you not like a war hero? Well, there are plenty of reasons. Did you ever go to a friend's house and meet their father who made you instantly uncomfortable and tense? This is how I seen Mr. McCain. There is a sense of volatility about him, as if he would crack under the pressures of the Presidency and make statements and decisions that would undermine whatever program his party still has. Given his age and health, the prospect of his Vice Presidential candidate assuming the Oval Office would truly be the final anti-intellectual nail in the American coffin. I can't wait to meet "Levi", her future son-in-law, who didn't even see fit to cover his dick.
3) Stephen Harper - In every way, our current Canadian Primeminister is the ultimate strategist, from repackaging himself as a Westerner to his attempt to win over Quebec with his acknowledgement of their distinct society status. He represents the triumph of the technocrat - strip Canada of everything that will hinder its ascent to fiscal success that is unnecessary, such as funding for the arts and cultural and political sovereignty - so long as the economy improves to the extent that we can buy a better hybrid (forget about signing the Kyoto Accord), and an extra cell phone. Unlike blowhards in the past (Trudeau, Mulroney, Chretien), he is not likely to say anything to undermine his party publicly, which is not a problem since he avoids the press anyway.
4) Stéphane Dion - Uggh, the intellectual. Maybe I am surrounded by too many professors at work, but there is nothing aesthetically appealing about this guy. He delivers his political agenda with all the charisma of a bored lay priest, and his experience as leader has consisted almost solely of avoiding the vote on key issues that would force and election. Now he is stuck, as he actually has to campaign knowing that he is not popular in his own province (Quebec), and is seen by the rest of Canada as the adult version of the kid who was bullied in the schoolyard and went directly to the teacher. A debate between him and Stephen Harper will be as lively as listening to your most embarassing cousin recording a rap video.
There you have it, the men who may form your next government. I am saddened that there isn't a choice who is dynamic, courageous, and intelligent, but with age comes diminished expectations.
Tuesday, September 9, 2008
Montreal, 1975. I was 11, not even in puberty, and only beginning to see signs of the nose that would define my insecurities for the next six years. I lived for the Montreal Canadiens and "Welcome Back Kotter". I love the people in this video - they are so unassuming and unselfconscious. There seemed to be a freedom of spirit that I don't see in young people anymore, as the pressures to conform to a standard of acceptable behavior are so culturally legislated, it is hard to stand out. I know a couple of young twentysomethings who do, and they are special to me.
I'm feeling pressure too. 1975 was 33 years ago, and I am now 44, likely having lived the first half of my life. I took a walk at lunch today and seemed to be ultrasensitive to the presence of elderly people around me. I know I will get there one day, and it is hard for me to accept it. This is the first time I've been hit with a sense of a midlife crisis. I met someone after work today and could barely talk, everything sounding trite and awkward. I was forcing out words to keep a conversation going when I really just wanted to reach out and confess my sudden insecurity, but was deathly afraid to drop my guard for fear of looking foolish. Ridiculous, ain't it. 44 and so much more! 44 is the new 35, or is it 33! Brad Pitt is 44, and so is Lenny Kravitz, if the latter doesn't actually fall into a category more embarassing than praiseworthy. I feel great, healthy and fit, and am happy with many aspects of my life. I know some wonderful, incredibly talented people. There are other things I must work on, as the secret to staying young inside is to always try to develop and as I like to say in office meetings "embrace change". Well, maybe it's time to take that envigorating walk. Meanwhile, I hope the kids in the video have dealt with this already and are doing well, looking back on this period and smiling. Afterall, it's a great city!
Postscript next day: A walk 'll do ya good!
Monday, September 8, 2008
Sunday, September 7, 2008
Two generations later, the university I work for has its own Frank Serpico. I have had the pleasure of knowing Jeremy Cooperstock for a couple of years. Both of our boys share a class at the McGill Childcare Centre, and I become friendly with Jeremy and his family. A professor in the Faculty of Engineering, this guy is brilliant, almost to the point of intimidation. He is the type of person who will analyze almost any statement - not to criticize - but merely to see if it makes sense or whether or not another solution is possible. As a professor, he is a hard ass, and students are expected to work a fair amount for a decent grade. They are also expected to do honest work. I know little of the Faculty of Engineering, except to say the students are for the most part, conservative and bland, and will be staunchly successful, managing projects to develop the type of bedroom communities that will enable them to live in peace with their efficient, sensible, and equally bland partners. There, prejudices revealed. In any case, it appears that the definition of honest work varies somewhat from faculty to faculty, and there appears to be a "define what you mean by zero" tolerance in his own. After seeing cheating students threaten to sue the University and succeed in passing (a new concept of extra work for a grade), my buddy has had enough. He has launched a website http://www.degradingmcgill.ca/ to take on what he feels is an administration that claims to take a stance on academic integrity, but really uses this term for a little public relations exercise. It will be a tough fight, as the Goliath in this case is powerful, and the David is virtuous, but not.
Despite having worked at McGill for 18+ years, I am not the type of employee who would have the University Martlett symbol ( a fictitious bird, much like the aformentioned concept of integrity) tattooed on my ass. I have an attitude problem. I love my job, advising undergraduate students. I try to help them work around an administration that is often disorganized, ill-informed, or apathetic. If I have a run in with a student, they should seriously examine the flaws in their personality that led them to piss me off. If I have a run in with an employee - its because I think they may be taking themselves a little too seriously or they are unfairly contemptuous of students whose youth and potential they envy. With that attitude, if I am forced to work with you, I will not do so quitely.
I wish Jeremy the best of luck in this campaign. While I am morally indifferent to the concept of cheating - we all bend the rules in some way - the idea that a student can use their finanical or political power to threaten an institution and win is disgusting, and if rewarded, is just another example of one bully protecting another. When they make the movie, I can see a role for Jon Cryer as Jeremy Cooperstock. It will allow him to escape having to share a sitcom with notorious rule breaker, Charlie Sheen.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
Well, in a state of blissful semi-relaxation, I thought of ten good memories - ten being a standard number for any kind of list. In this case, they are ten films that, no matter how tired I am, I could not resist sacrificing a night's sleep over. Here they are:
Shadows – John Cassavetes - The great director's first -largely improvised with amateur actors. A take on race relations and the concept of the "one drop of blood rule" and "passing for white" in America. Three siblings deal with their various shades of colour. Very hip, with a New York jazz aesthetic, before that became a cliche.
Repo Man - Alex Cox - Punk meets nuclear war paranoia. Likely dated, but wonderful for its subtle mocking of the middle class punk scence, and some great performances by Harry Dean Stanton, Emilio Estevez, and Jennifer Tilly.
After Hours – Martin Scorcese - My favourite Scorcese film and one of his few comedies. I identify with Paul, the ordinary guy caught in the artsy Soho neigbourhood in New York because of a pretty woman, and the need to disrupt his mundane daily life.
What Happened Was – Tom Noonan - Noonan, a bit part player in some action films, made this serious two person drama about the awkwardness of dating, the pain of being single and lonely, and remarkable shift in power than can occur when levels of education and self esteem clash.
Watermelon Man- Melvin Van Peebles - Great satire on race relations. The bigot's nightmare - waking up one morning to discover that you have become black.
Tampopo- Juzi Itami - My first Japanese comedy. Noodles meet old spaghetti westerns. Great parody of American machismo, with a nod to the trucking industry, who afterall, put food on the table. I would come to love ramen noodles a decade later though.
Amarcord – Frederico Felini - Ok, so I did not come of age in Facist Italy in the 1930's, but what boy hasn't fantacized about a teacher or tried to make sense of chaos around him?
El Norte – Gregory Nava - Probably the most serious of the lot. Two teens from Central American try to make it as migrant workers in the US. Heartbreaking and very real, and the protagonists' journey is exciting and exhausting. Not as emotionally manipulative as it could have been.
Down By Law – Jim Jarmusch - A satire on the prison break film and male bonding. Great soundtrack from Tom Waits, who demonstrated reasonable acting skills, although his fight scene was more reminiscent of a Martha Graham than John Wayne.
Men- Doris Doerrie - Julius is 40, successful, but his wife leaves him for a hip artist. Shattered, he reinvents himself. Since the film is German, there is some deep seated reflection of how the baby boomer generation saw its ideals become corrupted. Very funny.
Quite a diverse list, and an extraordinary number of these films are from the 1980's, when I started to take movies a little more seriously as a form of entertainment. Pretentious as all hell, but I will talk hockey at some point too.
Friday, September 5, 2008
So I am on my way to work this morning and the song above blares over the oldies station designed to trigger nostalgia and good feelings. In this case, there was that odd feeling of Deja Vu. As I looked at Jake
I realized that I was the same age when this was the most popular song in North America, or likely behind some Herb Alpert instrumental on the charts. I was transported back to 1968, sitting in my sister's room as it was slowly transforming from the child's chamber of opression to an assertion of her own unique and rebellious personality. It was one of the first songs I remember hearing on the radio and it sounded a lot tougher than "All You Need Is Love" and "Mrs. Robinson".
I used to loathe 60's nostalgia, largely because I was too young to appreciate it. Now that the baby boomers are looking old and reflective, I can claim the music of this period as my first foray into musical appreciation, although my man crushes on The Rolling Stones have dissipated somewhat. It would also help if the music industry could produce something somewhat interesting. To quote Frank Zappa:
"Modern music is people who can't think signing artists who can't write songs to make records for people who can't hear."
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Since I am not a gun nut or prone to violence, let's just say I substitute gun shots with food groups I am trying to avoid: One shot for cake, one for Coca Cola, one for french fries, and several for the product that has been the undoing of my families waistlines for generations - bread. I've lost 12 lbs already and have 3 to go. There, said it, no need to bother my friends.