May Media Musing

Some of the stuff I watched in May…

Film

Her Smell
We almost bailed on this early in the film — the drugged-up, erratic Becky Something (Elisabeth Moss) wandering around the green room of a concert venue screaming at people was a real turn-off. However we stuck with it and were glad we did. Moss delivered a nuanced and engaging performance as a messed-up rock star whose addiction and mental health problems destroyed herself and those around her. Brutally annoying in parts, but there is some peace and optimism in the ending.

Stiv
Speaking of the rock star life, this documentary about the life of Stiv Bators of The Dead Boys shows just how intense that life can be. With interviews from friends and former bandmates (although, notably, not any of the members of the current line-up of The Dead Boys, including Cheetah Chrome), the film details Bators’ life from the early days until his death in 1990. The irony of someone who did all the drugs and booze and who liked to car surf for kicks getting hit by a taxi and walking away only to die of internal bleeding hours later is not lost. And the story about his girlfriend snorting his ashes is true (many of the funeral attendees did as well).

The Lion’s Share
It’s not “wimawe” it’s “mbube”, and a real South African man named Solomon Linda wrote the line decades before The Tokens recorded The Lion Sleeps Tonight, or it was used by Disney. This story of Linda’s children trying to win back royalty rights and be compensated for the work their father created is fraught with that special flavour of racism found only in South Africa (the lawyer hired to defend the adult daughters talks about them as if they’re mentally-challenged children). Ultimately they win… something, but after all the lawyers get their share, Linda’s daughters aren’t left with much.

Television

Back to Life
Daisy Haggard (best known for her role in Uncle) plays Meri, fresh out of an 18-year stint in prison, returning to her hometown to try and restart the life she lost as a teenager. The viewer doesn’t find out why Meri went to jail until the end of the series, and the plot is full of twists and turns. Great performance by Adeel Akhtar as Miri’s neighbour.

Ghosts
The original Horrible Histories cast returns as a collection of ghosts haunting a derelict country pile. Based partially on the story of West Horsley Place (where the show is filmed), Alison (Charlotte Ritchie, Save the Midwife) and her husband inherit an estate. Alison falls out a window, lives through a coma, and when she returns she can hear and see the ghosts. Much hilarity ensues. There’s a caveman, a headless Tudor courtier (presumably based on Sir Walter Raleigh, whose family owned West Horsley Place and whose head was supposedly kept in a bag found on the premises — the bag, not the head), and a whole host of other characters. Oh, and a pile of plague victims in the basement. This might be my favourite show of 2019 so far.

A House Through Time
Historian David Olusoga traces the history of a single house in Newcastle, using census reports and other records to find out more about the building’s occupants. In Series 2, Olusoga discovers the Newcastle house was the home of IRA members and the famous naturalist Joshua Alder. This is a really engaging series (third season is in the works) and I love Olusoga’s laid-back but engaged presenting style.

It’s Bruno
This is one of those great little series of 15-minute episodes (like Special and Bonding) that Netflix has picked up recently. You couldn’t have made TV like this even 10 years ago but the need for piles of content means that fun, quirky little shows this this one about a guy and his dog in Brooklyn, not only get picked up but become hugely popular. Solvan “Slick” Naim plays Malcolm, a man devoted to his dog. Everybody loves Bruno. Well, except his rival Angie and her owner, and the guy who runs the supermarket and makes Bruno stay outside. Every episode is drama-packed and full of charm.

What We Do in the Shadows
I wasn’t loving this series as much as the movie it is based on, but it picked up significantly about halfway through the season. I’m even warming to Matt Berry (Lazlo), who I was never a real fan of previously. Every episode is better than the last, with notable highlights including werewolves, the pub crawl episode and the massive, amazing cameo-filled vampire council episode, made up of actors who have previously played vampires including Tilda Swinton and Paul Reubens. The real question is can they convince Catherine Deneuve to take part in another council episode next season?

Deadwood The Movie
Aw, y’all. This is still my favourite TV series of all time, and like so many others I’ve been waiting for some closure for more than a decade. It was good. Lots of references to the series (although I felt the flashback clips were superfluous), including those fucking peaches, and lots of circular references that echoed events from the series that did, ultimately, give us some closure. (Most of) the people you want to see have a happy ending get one, and the bad guys get their comeuppance. Which is pretty much what you want from a Shakespearean western, right? (Did y’all catch the uncredited cameo by Deadwood alum Garret Dillahunt? He’s there!)

Musings, May 6, 2019 — Hail Satan!, Special, Hollywood, How to Be Alone

I’m going to try this whole Musings idea again. Just because I want to keep track of the media I’m consuming in a more concrete way, but also to share my thoughts on things that interest me.

At the Movies

Hail Satan!
This documentary by filmmaker Penny Lane follows members of the Satanic Temple (not to be confused with the original Church of Satan created by Anton LaVey) in their fight for religious freedom as well as the separation of church and state. They’ve taken on various campaigns but the most well-known is the one to have statues of the ten commandments removed from state capitols, or in the name of religious freedom, to have a statue of Baphomet erected next to the ten commandments. (Turns out all those stone ten commandment statues were erected as a promotional stunt for the Charlton Heston film back in 1956.) Tensions arise when this group that started out as three individuals grows to tens of thousands of members, and the necessary organizational structure cannot accommodate rogue members calling for the assassination of the president. Sadly, this is one of those preaching to the choir movies as the people who really need to see it won’t make the effort to do so.

TV Party Tonight

Special
We dug this Netflix series by comedian Ryan O’Connell. Each of the eight episodes clocks in around 15 minutes so it never overstays its welcome, but instead delivers its message in a fun and succinct manner. Outstanding performance by Jessica Hecht as Ryan’s mother, who has the hardest time letting her disabled son finally go off on his own into the world. Except when he calls her to come do all the stuff for him. Also, Olivia, Ryan’s boss (played by Marla Mindelle), comes across as a cold bitch, but is way wiser that she lets on.

Hollywood
As in Hooray for. We recently finished working our way through a 13-part series about the silent film industry, from the stars and directors to the stunt people and camera/effects crews. The series aired originally in 1980, and includes interviews with Louise Brooks and Colleen Moore, who, in her 80s looked almost exactly as she did in her 20s, except with glasses. I’m probably the last silent film fan to have discovered this series but it was so informative regarding the process of movie-making during that time.

Sheryl’s Bookshelf

How to Be Alone
Lane Moore
I nabbed this originally thinking it was a book on psychology and self-acceptance, but it turns out Moore is a writer, comedian, and musician who escaped a troubled home riddled with FLEAs (frightening lasting effects of abuse), and is just trying to find healthy relationships, both in terms of friendship and romance, that don’t trigger issues from her past. The writing is slightly too meandering train-of-though for me, but I empathize with Moore’s life situation, although it does feel disingenuous for a writer to claim they have nobody to spend Christmas with and then include hundreds of people in the acknowledgements.

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.

Film Review – Northern Soul

 

northernsoul

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

poppies
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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Awesome Thing – 3D Gifs

3D_gif_01

I hate those 3D glasses at the movies, they give me killer migraines. But it turns out that someone has discovered a way to make gif files look 3D. At the moment, it involves adding two white lines to the image, but here’s hoping that this can be tweaked to apply the technology to images and film.

Check out the full article and many more images at Viralnova.

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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