Tuesday, April 29, 2014


Wagner (1813 - 1883)
By the time Wagner got to composing Parsifal as the final, perhaps crowning achievement of his already dominating career, he was so steeped in story and myth and epic narrative that he had developed a whole personal science of their use and practical application. Each of his operas and music-dramas really spins out  its own mythic environment as the most important element of the evolving story. What eventually fascinates our attention when we get to know the 'Ring', are all the constant hints of the background mythology of that world and how it works, which all eventually coalesce into a coherent picture.

But two of his pieces, Lohengrin and Parsifal share the same underlying mythos of the Grail and its Knights sent out, agents of good sent to right wrongs. In Lohengrin we hear him speak of his father Parsifal and how the Grail sends it's Grail Knights out on missions.

After the Ring of the Nibelung, Wagner cast around for the plots of his final projects. That he was thinking about a religious subject is clear because he completed a scenario on Jesus [part of which found it's way to Hollywood] that he never used, and he was seriously developing another plot with strong Buddhist elements, whose ideas of re-incarnation forcing us through an inexorable cycle of lives, are taken up in Parsifal.

Then Wagner's life and career were transfigured by the patronage of Rudolph II, the king of Bavaria who worshiped Wagner and his Music Dramas: providing the apotheosis of his incredible career. The King practically fell in love with Wagner, and would have given him limitless money and support, but for the opposition of his own ministers, who eventually worked to keep Wagner and the Rudolph apart.

But the King did confide his most painful secret to Wagner, that he was a homosexual, but riddled by [the usual] Roman Catholic guilt about it, caught occasionally in the cycle of sinful debauch followed by rigorous self loathing and guilt and all the other auto-tortures the Church has always fostered.

Rudolph's self-loathing and guilt powerfully impressed Wagner and it began to influence the gestation of the Parsifal material. He consciously began to address the King's sexual guilt with metaphors of cleansing and purifying, and the idea of sexual defilement of the most sacred started to enter the middle of the story. The sexual components form a really trickster-like element to the whole plot, giving it a real archetypal depth-psychology jolt of power. If anyone tries to parse the plot of Parsifal along conservative religious values they are bound to fail to understand it. In typically Wagnerian fashion the myths have been so jammed together they become confused and inseparable. That is why this final, not even 'Music Drama', but now 'Bühnenweihfestspiel' : a 'Stage-Consecrating -Festival Play,' as Wagner insisted on designating it, has become a wild playground for countless different formulations and directorial solutions during the last few decades. It has become something like a vast operatic Rorschach test the Opera Director interprets for his audience. And yet its very convincing, almost overwhelming evocation of the sacred, of awesome spiritual power, always really does give a sense of presenting some sort of exalted drama of redemption which metaphorically purifies us, and even the stage itself.

Since any allusions to homosexuality were still impossible in that society, Wagner softened the focus of the transgressive act here, to sinful sexual seduction and to who is seduced and how he might be again purified. To provide the background myth of the despoliation of something sacred he began with the ancient medieval myth of the Sangraal which he read about  in 1845 in a 13th century play by Wolfram Von Eschenbach--which becomes the Grail which is still the best metaphor in our own culture for the elusively attainable supreme ideal: we hear of the search for the Grail of Cold Fusion, the Grail of simultaneous orgasm. It has become a trope.

* * *

When the Roman soldier Longinus pierced Jesus' side on the Cross, Mary Magdalene collected some of the flow of blood in a cup and saved it. The spear was later added to the sacred keepsakes from the crucifixion, and the mystic power of Christ's blood achieved a life of its own, evolving around itself a brotherhood dedicated to keep the Sacred Blood undefiled [a metaphor for the Christian Church, and of monastic enclave]. Eventually, in Wagner's vision, the Monk-warrior knights withdrew to the Pyrenees with their Grail and, at its direction, built a fortress-temple Montsalvat, to house their sacred objects and protect them from all mundane contamination.

A culture and hierarchy developed amongst the monk-knights who have a modern echo in the Chinese idea of the Shaolin Warrior Monks, similarly sent out on missions of good, or even in the comic book super heroes who are dedicated to fighting evil.

These Grail-Knights, are led by their Chief-like Abbot, whose task it is to reveal the Grail daily to the Knights, which is their only sustenance, and which they depend on for renewal--an Eucharistic metaphor, of course.

The Grail is further protected by it's almost extra-dimensional territory which is unapproachable by normal mortals except by the express permission of the Grail which seems to have become like an autonomous conscious entity emanating from the Divine.

Why ever all this protection and separation?

The Grail has a Super-Enemy!  Klingsor is a Satanic denier bent not only on destroying the power of the Grail, but in subverting and using it's power negatively through black magic. In an H.P. Lovecraft like setup, Klingsor needs both the sacred spear and the Grail to subvert their power to rule the world after the exercise of specific rites which involve the sexual seduction and thus destruction of any or all of the Grail Knights. Since they are so chaste and locked away from the world in their ecstatic daily Beatific Vision, it is surprising--or perhaps inevitable--that the animal-sexual side of their natures should become vulnerable.

Klingsor has set up an elaborate trap outside Montsalvat: a fantastic pleasure garden peopled by voluptuous sexually alluring women, who try to seduce any Knights who come into their clutches.

Montsalvat was built by Titurel when he was the leader and because of the power of the Grail, he lived for many centuries, and eventually had a son Amfortas. [The married side of the Grail Knights lives is, amusingly, never discussed or alluded to by Wagner: perhaps the Knights take unexplained wives at some point--thank goodness they are not gay!]

Amfortas became King of the Grail-Knights, but Titurel has still been kept alive preternaturally by the constant revelations of the Grail, although Amfortas reigns, Titurel is sustained alive, zombie-like, in a special niche in the Temple where he awaits his daily sustenance from seeing the Grail.

Klingsor is a fantastic villain who seeks supreme power and has even somehow castrated himself trying to marshal the black powers. He has an unwilling ally that he keeps in control with this power, Kundry, the most fascinating and troubling character here, who dramatizes in this plot the situation of laughing at someone else's misery, of the person lacking all compassion, which by extension can be understood as one of the most asocial and harmful human potentials: that of the psychopath who has no remorse and thus is capable of any crime. Kundry also shows evidence of schizophrenic dualism, in that she is in Klingsor's power only part of the time, and when not, seeks only to serve and help the very Knights she is compelled to try to destroy when his power is working on her.

If this were not complicated enough, we eventually find out in Act 2, that Kundry is the 'Woman Who Spurned Christ on the Cross,' who laughed at him when his compassionate gaze fell on her. Wagner seems here to symbolize the Jewish situation of ignoring the Christian message. Even worse, Kundry has been cursed because of her rejection, to wander the earth undying, forever seeking salvation which will only happen for her when she again encounters the same look of compassion that she saw, and rejected in Jesus' face. Only then will she be able to die.

She seems to go through cycles of dormancy after which she wakes like a zombie, either to come alive to seduce and be beautiful through Klingsor's power, or to humbly serve the Knights as a desiccated wraith. Most of the Knights are not aware she works for Klingsor at least part time, but Gurnemanz suspects.

Before the beginning of the action of this, let's still call it, opera, Amfortas has happened into Klingsor's pleasure garden. He is armed with Longinus' spear as part of his equipment.

He is confronted by Kundry in her most seductive appearance, and she manages to seduce him, knowing that this will negate his power, at which moment Klingsor takes the spear and wounds Amfortas with it and keeps it. This defiles the spear, and also the purity of the Knights who are now all compromised because of his sin. In a magic twist to rival any fairy story, his wound is dolorous, that is, unhealing: cursed to bleed and fester until it is touched again by the holy spear. [Since the appearance of AIDS the dolorous wound in Parsifal has come to provide a metaphor for the condition to many AIDS sufferers.]

The wounded Grail King is in constant agony: the part of Amfortas is by far the most suffering of Wagner's characters. In the worst ironic twist his wound bursts forth every time he ritually reveals the Grail, which he is forced to do because of the needs of his knights. This intolerable situation begins years before the action of the opera starts.

There are two more characters in the action: Gurnemanz, a senior knight who has witnessed and suffered through all these events and acts as a kind of historian, and finally the eponymous Parsifal, about whom nothing is known and who knows almost nothing about himself except that  he used to live with his mother.

Knowing this extensive and very dense back story will set anyone up to better experience the subsequent plot as it unfolds, as it is usually described in the plot's synopses.

Parsifal appears in the sacred Montsalvat territory and draws attention to himself when he kills a swan. Gurnemanz accuses him of murdering one of the enclave's protected animals, Parsifal is sorry. He sees the daily rituals of the Knights unfolding in the Sacred Forest of Montsalvat: they have to bring Amfortas, suffering now for years in his wounded agony, to the lake to bathe his wound. Kundry arrives as if coming from far away with Arabian spices to help manage Amfortas' wound. After this we hear the giant bells of Montsalvat calling the knights to the daily ritual in which Amfortas has to reveal the Grail and renew his agony.

Gurnemanz is surprised to see this interloper here at all, but remembering a phrase that has emanated from the Grail, that gives them all hope: "Through Compassion Knowing: The Pure Fool-- await him, whom I have chosen.", suspects that this may be the expected saviour, and invites him to come to witness the awesome spectacle of the revelation of the Grail.

The following music describes the mystic transition to the Grail Temple during which, as Gurnemantz says, time becomes space and space time. He hopes that when the newcomer sees the Grail he will reveal himself as the hoped for saviour, but when the spectacle unfolds with giant clanging bells and Wagner's most awesome music, Parsifal seems to be nothing more than stunned by it all,  and Gurnemanz has him unceremoniously thrown out.

But Klingsor seems to have noticed through magic that Parsifal is in fact the saviour and in the second act, attempts to have him seduced by Kundry and her harem of seductive vamps. The garden and its sirens do not attract Parsifal, and finally Kundry is revealed in her most beguiling incarnation. She lures him by telling him facts about himself and then telling him his mother is dead to weaken him. She almost has him interested, but as she begins to seduce him, he, through his compassion, notices her conflicted agony because she knows that by drawing him into coitus, she will also be destroying him. She remembers and re-lives her rejection of Jesus trying to elicit Parsifal's pity for her. Just as she almost has him, he has a flashback of what happened to him when he saw the Grail revealed at the end of the first act and describes hearing the Grail screaming for help as it is being revealed by its defiled keeper, because of the constant sacrilege of his open wound and the stolen spear. Parsifal suddenly is able to make the connection and understands everything in terms of compassion. Klingsor realizes he is powerless against him and in final desperation, throws the spear at Parsifal hoping to wound him like Amfortas.

He hurls the spear but it floats miraculously before Parsifal who seizes it, and waves it against Klingsor and destroys him and his illusory garden.

The third act happens many years later. Parsifal has sought but has not found the Grail a second time. He is presumed to have had many adventures as a knight errant and has even  gone to England to be part of King Arthur's Round Table as Sir Percival.

The last act at first unfolds in the Sacred Forest again.

Parsifal arrives in black armour, realizes that he has finally found Montsalvat, removes his armour, and falls in thankful prayer. It happens to be Good Friday to emphasize the Christian connection.  Gurnemanz witnesses his arrival and recognizes Parsifal as the savour after all and conducts him to the Grail Temple.

The Knights are in total disarray by this time, unable to sustain their discipline, and are forcing Amfortas, who has refused to reveal the Grail, to do it one last time, as a funeral service for Titurel who has now finally died as a result of being deprived of the Grail vision. The giant ceremony unfolds in clangorous despair as the knights bewail their destruction and the final view of the Grail one last time.

Amfortas seems to be ready for suicide in his last agony. Parsifal enters with the Sacred Spear which he has been carrying all along, touches Amfortas' wound with it, and heals him, and assumes the Kingship of the Knights. Kundry who has lingered alive all this time recognizes his look of Christ-like compassion and is finally able to die. We hear the newly sanctified choirs of knights and acolytes and holy children in the dome of Montsalvaat reach an ecstatic choral resolution in Wagner's most glorious harmonies.

Everything has been made new.

 * * *

Wagner just had the time to finish this final work perfectly and see it through its first Bayreuth production, before he died in Venice in the fall of the same year 1883. He should not be held responsible for all the subsequent theorizing and extrapolating of its many confusing and contradictory themes and poetically compacted ideas, which were then further twisted and pressed into service to support the German National Socialist theories of blood purity and racial defilement. The similarly complex and contradictory Bible has been used non stop to support such destructive  and hateful arguments.

Wagner's underlying message was about compassion.

This might have increased in him to encompass all humanity. All his plots seem to be on the search for an ever increasing humanity in spite of his well documented but inherited and socially fostered racial bias. He at least seems to have worked to keep direct mention of all that out of his plots. As in the Rorschach test, we project our own biases onto the material. Great art frequently has this reflexive effect.

Michael Doleschell keeps mostly to non-fiction, and is deeply devoted to music and culture and never tires of history, and is fascinated by science and the scientific method [as long as they are well explained]. He broadcasts a program of Classical Music for 3 hours every Saturday afternoon from noon till 3 on the U of G's Radio Station: CFRU.

Sunday, April 27, 2014


Canada Films Days 2014 marks the eighth anniversary of our annual celebration of recent Canadian film productions. This year, for one week, we will feature three films and host visits from the creative forces behind two of those films, The Husband and Algonquin.

On Friday May 2 (7pm), the writer and star of The Husband, Maxwell McCabe-Lokos will be on hand to introduce the film and participate in a Q & A following the screening.

On Saturday May 3 (9:15pm), The Husband director Bruce McDonald and co-star Stephen McHattie will be in attendance to introduce the film and answer questions after the screening.

On Friday May 9 (7pm), the director and producer of Algonquin, Jonathan Hayes and Jane Motz Hayes, will attend the screening and be available for a Q & A afterwards. 

This year's Canada Film Days films include:

The Husband
Directed by Bruce McDonald
Canada 2014 | 80 minutes
Rated 14A (coarse language)

MAY 2-4 From venerable Canadian director Bruce McDonald comes The Husband, an uncompromisingly honest look at what it means to be humiliated by the person we love most. Henry (Maxwell McCabe-Lokos) is the titular husband, humiliated by his wife's infidelity with a minor. When she is sent to jail for her crime, Henry is left to care for their infant son under the pall of his wife’s actions. For two and a half decades, McDonald has been making films like no one else in Canada, and the darkly funny The Husband (written by McCade-Lokos and Kelly Harms) continues his streak of incomparable sensibilities.


Cas & Dylan
Directed by Jason Priestly
Canada 2014 | 90 minutes
Rated 14A
MAY 6-8 Jason Priestly hops into the director's chair and his stars, Richard Dreyfuss (Cas) and Tatiana Maslany (Dylan), hop into the vintage VW for an odd couple road trip west. Cas is a curmudgeonly old doctor from Winnipeg, driving his terminal diagnosis to rest in BC. Dylan is trying to dodge some bad life choices and an old boyfriend. Despite, or perhaps because they are polar opposites, Cas and Dylan brush out most of each others burrs along the way. Their journey is musically propelled by the likes of Old Man Luedecke, The Sheepdogs, and Whitehorse, in this comedic drama that's been gathering awards as it tours the country.

Directed by Jonathan Hayes
Canada 2014 | 101 minutes
Rated PG (mature theme, language may offend)

MAY 8,9 Jake ( Mark Rendall) is shaken from the boredom of his high school teaching job by the return of his estranged father, Lief (Nicholas Campbell). A once famous travel writer, Lief proposes a co-authored father-son book about his beloved Algonquin Park. Upon arrival at their cabin, Jake discovers Carmen, Lief's former mistress, and her son, Jake's half brother, Iggy. What began as a father and son quest to discover the past they never shared, becomes a journey of discovery and acceptance of a family Jake never knew. 

WATCH TRAILER: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fL23CVx-cA0

Monday, April 21, 2014


For a long time, the story goes, we supported a Victorian regime, and we continue to be dominated by it even today. Thus the image of the imperial prude is emblazoned on our restrained, mute, and hypocritical sexuality. - Michel Foucault, "The History of Sexuality, Volume 1"

I'm afraid the idea of egregious sex will do as much good as it will harm in attracting an audience for Nymphomaniac. One campaign features the major players naked and in the throes of or contorted by pleasure--just in case you hadn't already heard that there are scenes of unabashed "doing it" in Lars von Trier's new two-parter. The first report resembling press that I saw a few years back was a snide piece about how Shia LeBeouf's piece would be featured in the movie, and that the use of it for prurient purposes would be "unsimulated." Since then, the former-child star's anti-star shenanigans have rivaled the rumors of rampant sex in the public's impression of this film. With everything we're being given and everything we're gathering for ourselves, it's sort of impossible to suss out what Nymphomaniac actually is.
A horny hullabaloo was similarly made over Blue is the Warmest Colour, and it's a shame that something which took up only a few minutes of a very long, lovely, and excruciatingly emotional film dominated people's thoughts of it. Indeed, what sex there was in that film was more graphic than what you find in some Shannon Tweed movie that comes on the TV at 12:35am. However, most boinking you see in most movies is meaningless, contributes nothing more than some boobies between shooting and explosions. The sex in Blue plays an important part--as it does in von Trier's film. The graphic pleasure of two people in love mirrors the graphic pain of two people disengaging for love. Being witness to Adèle's sloppy pain over losing Emma felt just as intimate and awkward as watching the two of them being young in bed together. In fact, snot-covered expression of grief and desperation ranks among the most graphic, difficult-to-watch things I've seen in a film. In both cases, the awkwardness comes from some actual creation of a real person in film, to the point where you feel you're observing stuff that is none of your business.

How we respond to sex in film tells us a lot about what movies really are, I think--or what we want them to be. If the film fits generically, we expect and laud its representation and highteneing of some true emotional and situational reality. But what happens when elements in a film get too close to real life? With 3D animation, there's something called the Uncanny Valley, a concept that describes the discomfort and sometimes revulsion experienced when an artificial creation gets close to representing reality, but misses slightly. I wonder if this holds true for elements of realistic cinema.

Of course we're all reasonable grown ups, and understand that even though a film may skim the surface of what we consider real life to be, there is always a frame, an intention, some intellectual mechanics keeping it distinctly separate from reality. However, when we see naked people up there on the screen, slapping their bodies against one another--as maybe we've done from time to time--we get uncomfortable, are reluctant to include that active nudity as something that's like real life, but isn't exactly. It's an Uncanny Valley of Gettin' It On.

I wonder if audiences are more comfortable with meaningless, interstitial sex in films. In some ways, I imagine we're inured to it like a refrigerator's hum. That toss away sex is more often than not a pantomime, something that we know isn't real, and so can either enjoy or ignore. And, unless it's needlessly egregious, little fuss gets made.

There is some sex in Nymphomaniac, there is some sex in Blue is the Warmest Colour, but to define these films based on the inclusion of some dirty flesh stuff feels like a severe disservice to the ideas and the emotions that the sex is there in support of.

The fact is, you're much more likely to have sex in your life then you are to fire a gun, or have one fired at you, yet guns are all over films. I've never held a gun or seen one in real life, but I have some working knowledge of how to use the thing. I've seen them loaded and fired since I was a kid; I'm not sure if I'd know how to do sex based on what I've seen in mainstream films. But, for the most part, audiences have few problems with watching people getting shot, people dying. We don't bat an eye at a bloody chest, but screw up our faces and titter at a sweaty, naked one.

I can't help but wonder what action movies would be like if every time someone was being killed, a breeze caught the curtain, pushing it into the frame, obscuring the violence just as it was getting good.


Sunday, April 20, 2014


Daughter retraces the fortunate journey that saved her father from the Holocaust
By Brenda Lewis

Henry Lewis with daughter Brenda
My father, Henry Lewis, born Heinz Laufer, was more fortunate than most people. From a Czech Jewish family, he was, at age 14, one of the lucky children sent to safety in England in 1939 just before the outbreak of the Second World War. 

The person responsible was a 29-year-old London stockbroker named Nicholas Winton. Understanding the urgency, Winton organized an effort to evacuate, and relocate to England, as many Jewish children as possible before the Nazis nvaded Czechoslovakia. He managed to save the lives of 669 children, including my father. They eventually became known as Winton Kinder.

The rest of my father’s family did not fare so well. His mother succumbed to tuberculosis at the concentration camp in Terezin, the holding camp for Czech Jews en route to Auschwitz, where both his father and brother perished at the hands of the Nazis.

Despite this unimaginable tragedy, my father worked past his grief, going on to live a life of gratitude, with a commitment to teaching the human rights lessons of the Holocaust. Both he and my mother were very active in organizations for survivors, such as himself, of the Kindertransport movement.

A year ago, I learned of plans for a re-enactment of the Winton train journey – which saved my father and the 668 others – that would mark the 70th anniversary of what was to have been the final Kindertransport trip from Prague in September 1939; a trip that never took place because of the war’s outbreak when the Nazis invaded Poland on September 1 that year.

The Winton Train pulls into Liverpool Station in London, September 4, completing a four-day commemorative journey from Prague.
I was determined to participate in this historical train and ferry trip, which was being created for the purposes of thanking Sir Nicholas Winton, now 100, and of inspiring contemporary and future generations to know that we can each make a difference in our world. It was also a way for me to honour my father – who passed away in December 2007, after a rich, full life of almost 84 years – and our family’s memory.

Two months ago, from September 1 to 4, my dream became a reality. So much happened over those four days that I am still reflecting back with wonder. Early the first morning, a group of 22 actual Winton Kinder, and dozens of us from “the next generation or two” representing our parents and grandparents, arrived at the train station in Prague. One of my two most emotional moments hit suddenly, as I heard that first high and lonesome train whistle and saw a billowy puff of steam from the train dissolving into the sky.

By day’s end, we were in Nuremberg, Germany. All along the way, it was so touching to see people lining railroad crossings, waving at us as we passed. They brought their children to meet us when we pulled into each train station where fire engines refilled the train engine’s water supply. The children’s presence was very symbolic.

On the second day, we spent two hours winding along parallel to the stunning castle-lined Rhine River en route to Cologne. I continued to meet many survivors and their families, as I believe that is what Dad would have done. They had many fascinating stories to tell. My father would have looked for potential connections from their shared past. I felt that the best way I could represent him was by being his ambassador – as well as by singing a few jazz numbers with our traveling “1930s band” – also a highlight!

On the evening of the third day, we boarded a huge ferry at the Hook of Holland and crossed overnight to Harwich, England. A final steam train chugged us off to Liverpool Station, London where we were met by Sir Nicholas Winton.

The survivors disembarked right away, to be the first to meet Sir Nicholas.

Brenda meeting Sir Nicholas
From the corner of my eye, I spotted this dear, humble man and was overcome by emotion for the final time on this journey. A few minutes later, I at last had the chance to thank him for saving my father’s life – and for making possible the lives of my siblings, my niece and me. I now know how gratitude truly feels.

 Visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Winton_Train for more information about the Winton Train 

This article first appeared in the Ottawa Jewish Bulletin, Nov 2 2009 (p 17)

The documentary "Nicky's Family," presented in commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day, plays Sunday April 27th at 2pm and Monday April 28th at 6:30.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

DID YOU EVER CLOSE YOUR EYES? A mom reviews "Nymphomaniac."

The unfortunate focus on Lars von Trier's new film is the inclusion of some somewhat graphic sex, but behind all that flesh (there's really not that much nudey stuff, guys) is a typical von Trier film of fertile ideas. Our favourite testament to this comes courtesy of a sort of review that appeared in January's Variety.

Director Craig Johnston attended a 'secret' screening at the Sundance Film Festival with his parents. Johnson was showing his film The Skeleton Twins. Variety contacted 64-year-old Julee Johnson for her thoughts on Nymphomaniac. Have a look at her thoughts on the film. This doesn't mean that you need to bring your parents, but, if you do, brace yourself for how much they might like it.

VARIETY: What happened that night?

JULEE JOHNSON: I didn’t even know what a secret screening was. Craig kind of gave us the heads up. He said, “Mom and dad, there’s a rumor going around it could be a Lars Von Trier movie ‘Nymphomaniac,’ but it could also be the new Wes Anderson movie and you’d probably enjoy that.” Frankly, we were just thrilled he would think of his parents to include in this sneak preview. We were pretty excited to be there.

And then you learned it was “Nymphomaniac”?

My first reaction was to turn to Craig, who was looking mildly panicked. We sat purposefully on the aisle, so we could make an easy escape if need be. Once they announced it, I remembered that we had all of Craig’s suitcases in the trunk of our car, so I wasn’t going anywhere.

What were you expecting?

I didn’t know what to expect with a title like that!

Did you think the story was interesting?

I thought it was an interesting story, and my husband Steve was pretty reluctant to stay for the movie. But when we got to the part where the older gentleman [Skargard] pulls out the Izaak Walton book and they start comparing graphic sex to fly fishing, Steve leans over and says, “This looks interesting. I’ll stay awhile.”

What about all the nudity?

I wasn’t put off by the nudity. But I thought the montage of all the different male genitalia was totally unnecessary.

And the love scenes?

Well, I wouldn’t call them love scenes. She’s a nymphomaniac. She wasn’t even really paying attention. I don’t know much about nymphomaniacs. But my understanding is they are kind of insatiable. She had her schedule, and she had those partners coming in, sometimes four or five a night. And the scene with Uma Thurman, didn’t you think that was amazing? I can’t even remember the last thing I saw Uma Thurman in.

How did you feel about the train scene, where Joe and her friend wander

through the cars having sex with multiple strangers?

As a mother, that was difficult for me. No parents wants to see their daughter behaving in that manner. And yet, it was pretty intriguing to watch. That last gentlemen — I was curious to see how she was going to make this work, and boy, she sure did.

Did you ever close your eyes?

That’s something I told Craig I would do if it got too bad. But I did not. I might have looked away a little bit during the montage of penises, because frankly that wasn’t very attractive. I have to tell you a funny thing Craig said when we were walking out of the film. He turned to me and said, “Well Mom, how did that compare to ‘Frozen’?”

Will you see the “Nymphomaniac: Volume 2?”

I did send Craig a text, “I can hardly wait to see part two.” You know what? I’m serious. Not with Craig, mind you. I’m curious. To me, that’s a sign of a good film, when you connect with the characters. I want to know what happened to her.

Would you recommend it to friends?

Uh, probably not. We’re still not living down the day we recommended “Trainspotting.”

What are some of your favorite films this year?

“American Hustle,” “12 Years a Slave.” Let’s see, what else have I seen? Shoot, this is the kind of question that a 64-year-old woman’s brain can’t remember. I recently saw the new Sarah Polley film, “Stories We Tell.”

Nymphomaniac Part 1 plays Wednesday and Thursday (16/17) at 8:30pm. Part 2 plays next week (23/24) at the same time.


I’m a little behind this month, so this post is doing double duty as the announcement post and the voting post for Guelph Movie Club.

First thing’s first. This month, we’re seeing E.T. I have a real soft spot for this movie – it’s the first one I ever saw in the theatre. Come on down to the Bookshelf on April 24th at 6:30 p.m. and wax nostalgic with me, Drew Barrymore, and an alien. Please note the early start time, which is 6:30 p.m.

Next order of business: What will we watch in May? If you’re new here, here’s how we pick the movie club movies each month:

1.      Each month, we watch a classic movie.
2.      Before that movie, you get a ballot and fill it with any five flicks you’d like to see on the big screen.
3.      We take those ballots and create a shortlist of five movies for your voting pleasure.
4.      You vote via this blog.
5.      The winning movie becomes the next movie club selection.

Here are your choices for May:

Cast you vote on the poll provided below. Note, you can only vote once. After that, the poll won't appear when you view this blog. Results will be revealed when we watch E.T. 

‘Til then, see you at the movies!



Which Movie Would You Like To See For May Movie Club?

Monday, April 7, 2014


Early on in Finding Vivian Maier, John Maloof (the man who paid $380 for the trove of mostly undeveloped street photography) wonders, rhetorically, "Why is a nanny taking all these photos?" Of course, this wondering is mostly for dramatic effect: Maloof, also co-director of this documentary, is simply trying to bring us into his thought process as he went about fathoming his windfall and building the life of a person based on just her work and a few personal items. But this question is cloaking another: "Why didn't this nanny try to get rich and famous with these photos?" Reviews of the unearthed corpus compared Maier's work to the likes of Diane Arbus and Robert Frank, implying that, had Maier attempted to promote her compulsion, she may have--or deserved to be--appreciated in her lifetime.

One of Vivian's closest friends--as close as one could get to Miss Maier--answers the question matter-of-factly. "That was her babies," she said of Maier's photography. "She wouldn't put her babies on display."

Maloof's windfall
Maloof and Charlie Siskel interview a thin copse of subjects who knew Maier in her life, and all them seem equally stumped why a person would accrue such a wealth of work without trying and do something with it. As much and as far as Finding Vivian Maier goes to explore the gears that may have been turning in this enigma's head, it can never quite accept the fact or admit the possibility that the act of photography itself was enough for the photographer.

"The Music Lesson"
The other week we played Tim's Vermeer (if you missed it, you really screwed up, buddy), in which an inventor who had never painted in his life attempts to recreate Vermeer's "The Music Lesson" using undocumented technologies he thought Vermeer might have employed to achieve his unprecedented realism. Tim Jenison duplicates the means with entertaining aplomb--because his is an inquiring mind, and, in uncovering the technology, he's comfortably in his wheelhouse--but when it comes to the actual day-in-day-out task of painting, he struggles. Reconstructing Vermeer's realism through the methods Tim came up with requires an astounding amount of patience, concentration, and siting.

Shortly after I saw Tim's Vermeer, I was listening to an interview with talk show host Conan O'Brien where he discussed the idea of "following your dreams." Medical whizs', he was complaining, are putting aside their cancer research and taking improv classes; rocket scientists are really trying to get their romcom screenplay into shape. In my own world, the ease of digital publishing has turned everybody with a penchant for describing vampires having sex into an author. Had Maier not been born in 1927, perhaps she would've abandoned her nannying to pursue her shutterbugging. O'Brien points out that the idea of dream-following is (like the idea of the teen-age) a new, circa post-WWII notion that now seems like it's been around forever.

Not to overload this with too many anecdotes, but I can't stop thinking about my first year doing a university creative writing course. Sheila Heti, then twenty-five, had just put out her first book with both McSweeney's and Anansi--maybe the hippest presses out there then. I was surrounded by twenty-year-olds declaring that if they didn't get a book published by the time they were twenty-five, they'd stop writing. Of course your early-twenties are a time defined by histrionics, and I'm sure not a single person stuck to that oath. If they stopped writing--and so many have--it wasn't on account of not getting published, but because they didn't really like doing it.

Because it's my bailiwick, it's the only thing I'll comment for sure on: if you want to "make it" as a writer, you need to seriously enjoy the process of writing. Everything that follows is beside the point. If you never have a story accepted and let that stop you from writing, then probably you aren't a writer. You may be good at writing, but you're not a writer, bud. In his wonderful book How to Write a Sentence, Stanley Fish makes an argument that love of the mechanics of language is just as important as what you're doing with those sentences, and refers to an anecdote of a painter's fundamental reason for painting being a love for the smell of paint.

All of this has me thinking about why on earth anyone makes art--or "follows their dream"--at all. Do you do it for yourself, or for the world? How important is it to you that someone sees what you've done and tells you you did it well? I have to think that, for as much as Vermeer was driven by capturing the nuances of light on a wall, he must have also loved sitting. One of the subjects in Finding Vivian Maier asks of Vivian taking a picture that she would never show anyone, "What's the point of taking it if no one sees it?" The answer feels simple: she either wanted to or she had to. So much was and has been made about J.D Salinger--to add another anecdote here--giving up on publishing, but the situation has always seemed simple to me: love for writing does not equal love for publishing.

As much as there is a mystery that's interesting as hell in Finding Vivian Maier, there's also this subliminal story about letting art be part of your life. The trend of following your dreams that O'Brien mentions is troubling, not on account of the impulse, but because of the binary it implies.  

Since that post-war liberation of how we're permitting ourselves to view our purposes in life, activeness in art has maybe lost its place in our day-to-day. It's become easy to view art, the creation and consumption of it, as separate from the jobs we work or what we do when we're done those jobs. I get the sense that art has become something we need to go out of our way to do, or make a revolutionary change in favour of. A dangerous thesis thrumming underneath Maloof's project and the documentary is "Art's only as good as what's done with it." 

But no matter what the market's doing, or whether or not you're getting the recognition you feel deserving of--if you're looking for recognition at all--I feel like the most important answer to why we do any of this crap will remain terse and perfect:

Just because.