Paris Is Burning, Clara Bow, and Zelda Fitzgerald – Musings, Monday, February 27, 2017

A still from the lost reels of Get Your Man.

Bear with while I try something new.

Nowadays, so many people start blogs and then abandon them because they feel they have nothing to say. Even if we’re blogging about a popular subject such as food, odds are someone’s already said it before. That recipe, that interview, that perfect Instagrammable shot – they’re all already out there, so why bother?

But what about if blogging went back to a form of journaling? You know, like how we all started with LiveJournal some 15 years ago. I know what you’re thinking – because I didn’t really care about reading other people’s journals back then either. But some people do. There are writers, Alan Bennett for instance, who have made a hugely successful career simply by publishing their daily diaries in book form. I’ll confess that I don’t find Bennett especially scintillating, but I get the point of his work and of his desire to publicly document his life.

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The Man in the Blue Jacket

I never met Bill Cunningham. He never took my photo and published in in the New York Times. But like millions of people around the world, the news of his death at 87 this past Saturday brought me to tears.

He seemed – from the 2010 documentary about him and from the voice-overs he did for his weekly “on the street” column – to be a truly genuine person. Eccentric as all get out, but honest, humble, hard-working and funny. Cunningham had an eye, you see, that not so much noticed trends, but that started them. He photographed everyone from the rich to the poor, the only criteria being that they were wearing something unique and attention-catching. He had no interest in celebrity (“I’m not interested in celebrities and their free dresses. I’m interested in fashion!”), and would not take so much as a glass of water when photographing events – meaning he was free of any obligation to include anyone other than those whose style he felt truly inspired by.

Cunningham started taking street photography in the late 1960s and always worked in film, keeping the negatives of every photo he’s ever taken, filling row upon row of filing cabinets, documenting the changing styles of the street for half a century. He was apparently approached once to do a book based on his archive but later backed out. I dearly hope that whoever takes control of his estate recognizes the value of his work and finally turns those photos into a book.

Scratch that – I want a series of books. Hundreds of pounds of books – to rival that massive molecular gastronomy collection from a few years ago – that literally documents western street fashion for the past half century. Donate the proceeds to FIT or the Met, or use it to create scholarships in fashion and photography, just please, can we have something tangible to remember him by?

Some other people whose writing I admire have documented their meeting with Cunningham. Check these out if you want more on the mahvellous man and his work.

Cintra Wilson for GQ Magazine

Forest City Fashionista

Idiosyncratic Fashionistas

My own Ode to Bill from 2014.

And if you haven’t seen Bill Cunningham New York, watch it now. If you have seen it, watch it again, it’s worth the 2 hours of your life.

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Film Review – Northern Soul

 

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Northern Soul is a little film by director Elaine Constantine that came and went without so much as a whisper. Released in the UK in 2014, Northern Soul debuted in North America at TIFF in September 2015 and opened to a limited release in October, disappearing the following week.

In as much as the plot was formulaic, Northern Soul the film mostly flew under the mainstream radar because so few people (especially in North America) know what Northern Soul music actually is.

Northern Soul grew out of Mod, separated from its skinhead twin in style and sound but with much of the same working class attitude. In the wake of Motown and other successful US R&B labels of the 1960s, many smaller, much more obscure labels began recording, pressing extremely limited quantities of discs by artists who would, for the most part, remain unknown. In northern England in the late 1960s and early 1970s, while everyone else was listening to prog rock, pub bands and more psychedelic-oriented mainstream rock, working class kids in the north were listening to soul music, competing to find the most rare and obscure titles. DJs would travel to the US specifically to comb record stores to find even more rare discs.

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What We Do in the Shadows – Review

For more than two decades, Nicholas Cage’s Vampire’s Kiss has been my hands down favourite vampire movie. But recently, that place of honour has been usurped by a group of flatmates from New Zealand.

What We Do In the Shadows is a mockumentary-style film about a group of vampires living together in Wellington, New Zealand. Ranging in age from 183 (Deacon, played by Jonathan Brugh, is the baby of the group, and, oh yeah, also happens to be a Nazi) to 862 (Jemain Clement plays Vladislav, who keeps a dungeon full of sex slaves and is known as The Poker) the trio (including Taika Waititi’s vampire Viago, a 379 year old dandy) share a flat along with 8,000 year old Petyr, doing the things that flatmates mostly do, which is to squabble about the housework and rent, go out clubbing, and try to stay out of the sunlight.

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War Stories – The Great War as Seen on Television

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Ceramic poppies in the moat of the Tower of London, one for each British fatality of World War 1. Photo: BBC

Canadians have given more attention to Remembrance Day this year, mostly due to the death of Corporal Nathan Cirillo, the Hamilton-based soldier who was killed last month by a lone shooter who also breached security on Parliament Hill. The death of a soldier defending a cenotaph is most definitely an understandable reason to set aside one’s ambivalence and embrace a sense of patriotism, but I had expected that Canada would have made more of an effort to acknowledge the fact that this is the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the first world war.

With Britain from the very start, Canada’s contribution included 67,000 dead and 250,000 wounded. Yet there appears to be little mention of the Great War, or the important anniversary, at all this Remembrance Day.

Quite the opposite from the activity in the UK where massive memorials are taking place – over the summer, the moat of the Tower of London has been progressively filled with 888,246 poppies created by ceramic artist Paul Cummins.

On the telly, much of the year’s programming has included shows about or referencing World War 1, including a number of regular historical drama series.

Here’s where to learn more about The Great War:

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Here, There, Everywhere Vermeer

Vermeer

The inscrutable Johannes Vermeer – a limited number of photo-realistic paintings, not a great deal of information available about the painter himself (at a time when artists tended to be very proud of the CVs), x-rayed works that show no sketches on the canvas meaning he worked without an outline, and an ongoing furor over his works – and techniques – more than 300 years after his death.

I’ve had a whole lot of Vermeer synergy happening lately – he’s popping up everywhere, it seems, and here are a couple of things that I’d recommend to anyone interested in his work and, almost more intriguingly – the interest that others have in his work.

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Film Review – 20,000 Days on Earth

20000days

For what I am about to admit, the great Goth council will show up at my door and take away my Goth Card ™. But… I’ve never been a fan of Nick Cave.

I appreciate what he does. I understand and respect his influence. But his music has never moved me, and he doesn’t make me swoon. So I was able to go into 20,000 Days on Earth with no expectations, knowing very little about it, waiting to see if it made me like Cave more… or less.

Knowing something about the film beforehand would have helped, actually, as 20,000 Days on Earth is a fictional documentary. It’s Nick Cave playing Nick Cave. There is no official Nick Cave archive in a bunker in Brighton, England. Friends and co-workers such as Kylie Minogue and Blixa Bargeld don’t actually appear in Cave’s car for a chat as he drives through the rain. (Digression – can I please have a documentary about Blixa Bargeld? Please?) Cave’s chat with his therapist is not real (the therapist, Darian Leader is a real psychoanalyst, but does not, apparently count Cave as one of his patients).

So what is the point of 20,000 Days?

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Awesome Thing – Artsy Sunday – Malkovich, A Clockwork Orange, Chalk Art

Some awesome art I’ve come across online this week…

malkovich
Sandro Miller, Albert Watson / Alfred Hitchcock with Goose (1973), 2014

Yes, that is actor John Malkovich, recreating the photo of Alfred Hitchcock by Albert Watson. Photographer Sandro Miller teamed up with Malkovich for an exhibit entitled Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich, Homage to Photographic Masters in which the actor poses for recreations of 35 iconic images from American Gothic to Marilyn Monroe with roses. The show runs from November 7th to January 31st, 2015 at the Catherine Edelman Gallery in Chicago. Most of the photographs are on the gallery website.

davidzinn
Cat Prisoner by David Zinn.

Artist David Zinn has been been covering Ann Arbor, Michigan with street art for years. Using existing elements and adding cute and quirky characters, his ephemeral pieces done in chalk and charcoal last only until the next rain. He’s got a website and a Facebook page if you want to see his latest pieces. There’s also a book of his work from 2013 if you’d like to have these cute critters all to yourself. Or if you’d like to help support an independent artist.

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Artwork by Ben Jones from The Folio Society edition of A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.

Finally, if you’ve only ever seen A Clockwork Orange and haven’t read the book, The Folio Society has just released a new edition with work by artist Ben Jones. Dangerous Minds has more of the artwork and a video of the illustrator.

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Advanced Style Documentary – a Review

advanced_styleI’m still sorting out my thoughts about the Advanced Style documentary I saw on Saturday as part of the Hot Docs festival. Based on the incredibly successful blog and book by photographer Ari Seth Cohen, the film introduces us to a number of Cohen’s regular muses/models; a collection of stylish, creative women who have stood their ground in the face of society’s patronizing attitudes towards older people, and have refused to go to a quiet, beige place and crochet doilies.

Each of the women has their own style and their own story, but nothing feels especially in-depth. I learned more about each of the stylish women by reading an article in The Guardian than I did from the film, and instead of focusing on their personal style – how it developed, how they put together outfits, how they manage on budgets, etc., the film instead centres around the growth and popularity of the blog. We follow Cohen and the ladies to Los Angeles where they appear on the Ricki Lake show, and we see a couple of the women model for a Lanvin ad campaign. Throughout it all, there’s an odd undertone of… cattiness. These ladies are not friends, they come from different walks of life, are different ages (ranging from mid-60s to mid-90s) and have been brought together only by their shared interest in Cohen and his project. There’s a weird feeling of competition that is uncomfortable coming from a piece of work (and a group of people) that is supposed to be celebrating diversity, creativity and really, self-esteem.

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Alternative Christmas Viewing

Does the “bumbumbum” of Bing Crosby send shivers of fear down your spine? Do you secretly hope that when the little girl pulls Santa’s beard that it will come off and expose him as a fake? Maybe you even hope that Ralphie really will shoot his eye out with that BB gun. You, my friend, have Christmas movie fatigue. What hides under the guise of tradition mostly means getting stuck watching the same five movies every single holiday season, year after year after year. Apparently some people find comfort in this, but few movies are good enough to warrant such reverence – or repeated viewings. So here are a few truly alternative alternatives, most of which can be ordered from Amazon, or found online for download if you’re into that sort of thing.

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Me, I Disconnect From You, Part 2

The film God.Bless.America played last year at the Toronto International Film Festival. I didn’t see it there – too many people. I hate crowds. But I did get a chance to see it recently, and despite a few flaws, it’s probably in my current Top 5 movies of all time. Because who hasn’t dreamed of picking off stupid people with an automatic weapon?

Okay, maybe some of you don’t have that fantasy. Maybe some of you aren’t misanthropic curmudgeons. But I know quite a few people who, given the right circumstances (such as a series of life disasters and a terminal illness) might just say to themselves, “Why the hell not?”

This is not actually a post about who I’d take out if I were in the same situation as Frank, the lead character in Bobcat Goldthwait’s movie. (The husband and I discussed it, though – he’d go after specific celebrities, whereas I’d just stand on the street corner and take down people who text while driving or ride their bikes on the sidewalk), but rather a discussion about the changes in society that lead Frank to snap.

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The Processed Way of Eating

Despite my plan to avoid social media while working on my book, I’ve spent the earlier part of this afternoon over on FaceBook discussing meat glue (why yes, I am procrastinating, how did you guess?), and its implications in the greater food service industry, aside from its use in molecular gastronomy. Because it seems that there are a few restaurants and food supply companies that are taking chunks of stewing beef and mushing them together with meat glue to make what looks like a reasonable facsimile of a filet mignon.

These filet mignon, so far, seem to exist within the realm of large-scale lower-end food service – school cafeterias and catered weddings were two such examples given. I wouldn’t expect to see them at high-end steak houses or places that are known for the authenticity or terroir of their beef, but it’s reasonable to assume that they will eventually show up (unannounced, no doubt) on the menu of low- to mid-range restaurants across both the US and Canada.

(Note that the meat glue itself is perfectly safe. The concern comes from creating a “steak” out of various cuts of beef and then cooking it to less than medium well-done because of possible bacteria that may have been on the surfaces of the various pieces of meat that are now in the centre of the steak and might not be cooked to the appropriate temperature to kill said bacteria. A standard steak has no such problem since the centre is untainted and could not have come in contact with any kind of contamination.)

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You Can’t Fool the Children of the Revolution

Back in January, I posted a rant on TasteTO, asking where were the Canadian chefs, activists, TV shows and documentaries that would advocate for better food in our country, as is the case with chefs in the UK such as Jamie Oliver. I specifically called out CBC, suggesting that they should start running food-related documentaries, especially related to various political issues.

A couple of weeks ago I received an email advising me that CBC would be running a 4-part documentary series called The Great Food Revolution. The first two episodes ran last night, and the final two will run next week.

Now I know these docs had to have been in the works well before I posted my rant (part of the second episode was filmed at an event I attended in November – my chest makes a cameo appearance), so I really can’t bitch too much about the fact that they don’t exactly address the issues I mentioned. But part of the problem is, they don’t exactly address much of anything – and what they do address is kind of scattered and incomplete.

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Do Coincidences Travel in Packs of Three?

There’s a book called The Celestine Prophecy, a novel based on some new age spirituality, mostly rooted in some old spirituality. This post is not about that book, which has a number of detractors, as well as a number of fans, although having read the book, it’s what I tend to think of when coincidences occur.

Basically the premise of the book is based on 9 spiritual insights. The Third Insight – A Matter of Energy – is based on the theory that there are no coincidences, that things or people come to us because of a draw of energy, and the more times a theme occurs, the more attention, or energy, we need to focus on it.

No doubt every person has had the experience where something will come up in conversation, and then a day or so later, it will come up again. The phrase “speak of the devil” works on the same premise – you can be having a conversation about someone and then they’ll unexpectedly appear. These things happen all the time, but when they start happening in groupings, then it begins to get a little weird.

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Food Flicks

We spent Saturday in the darkened confines of Innis Town Hall, a theatre on the U of T campus, watching films from the Planet in Focus film fest. It was a very foodie day with very foodie films.

The morning started off with the organic pancake breakfast prepared by Real Food for Real Kids. For $10 you got two hemp pancakes with organic maple syrup, organic green salad with organic brie, fresh fruit, breads made from the ovens at Dufferin Grove Park, plus a selection of organic jams and hemp spreads. And of course organic fair trade coffee and Happy Planet juice. The price included a free travel coffee mug, and the juices retail for $1.99 each, so it was not only delicious, but a really good deal.

A Fallen Maple
The first film was called A Fallen Maple and looked at one family’s issue with lead content in the maple syrup produced on their farm. Turns out, while the maple syrup industry is highly regulated in Quebec and Vermont, in Ontario, this is not the case, and small family producers using older equipment often have problems with lead in their syrup. The only solution is to replace the entire production system, which, for this family, would have cost in excess of $100,000. The kicker is that the woman running the farm, one of the few women maple syrup producers in Ontario, had voluntarily agree to test the province’s “Best Practices” system, only to discover that they actually caused higher levels of lead in her syrup than she would have had otherwise. The maple syrup production, which had been in the family for generations, had to be shut down because they couldn’t afford to upgrade the equipment.

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