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.

More Thoughts on Marie Kondo… and Sheet Folding

I’ve now watched all of the episodes of the Marie Kondo series on Netflix, and I’ve been reading many of the reviews and articles that the show has spawned in the media, and there are a few things that are just not jiving with me…

  • In the de-cluttering of a whole house, there seems to be a lot of emphasis on folding clothes and arranging stuff in drawers — how is it that everything beyond clothes, books, papers, and sentimental items falls into one category? Spices, power tools, and computer cables are all together? This is the case in Kondo’s books as well, and it always felt weird to me, especially since people tend to buy things like cosmetics and food with a similar “instant gratification” mentality that they have to clothes and books.
  • Perhaps there’s more that we’re missing in the process, due to editing of the video, but de-cluttering is, first and foremost, based on hard logic. Does this fit? If not, get rid of it. Does it need repairs, re-dying, or a complete overhaul to be usable and is there a reasonable expectation that the person will actually make those repairs? Will it honestly be used again (for instance a book that was read once and not particularly enjoyed)? I didn’t really see this process, nor did Kondo really seem to promote it, favouring her “spark joy” philosophy that really allows people to keep all the broken, ripped, faded, ratty, and useless crap in their lives just because they still love it.
  • Kondo has softened her “just get rid of it stance” a bit for the series, with many reviews emphasizing the fact that she seems pretty laid back about not judging people for their stuff or wanting to keep it. There’s nothing wrong with this, but it’s not exactly the same sentiment the book was based on.
  • The idea of expressing gratitude to your belongings can seem a bit kooky at first, but it’s actually something we should be doing all the time, not just as we’re getting rid of an item. This is far easier to do when you are able to pare your belongings down to things that you love using or having around you, so you experience joy every day because of the things in your life.
  • I screamed out loud in horror as I watched Kondo put a fitted sheet on the floor in order to demonstrate how to fold it. What the actual fucking fuck? Two thoughts immediately came into my head during this segment; first, generations of mothers and grandmothers making that “tsk” noise, both at Kondo’s placing a clean sheet on the floor (!!!) and the fact that most people don’t know how to fold a fitted sheet; and second, could I somehow turn this into an opportunity to offer classes to teach people how to properly fold a fitted sheet (that didn’t involve throwing it on the floor, or using a flat surface at all… Yes, I can actually do this. Yes, I am a witch). My method involves a puppet show, if that helps…
  • In the spirit of Miriam (“Don’t say ‘like’, dear, it makes you look ignorant”) Margoyles, I would like to offer a language de-cluttering course. I would offer this for free to the woman in episode one, who dropped 4 or 5 “likes” into every sentence. Cluttered speech is as bad as a cluttered home.
  • De-cluttering is well and good but would be mostly unnecessary if people didn’t feel the need to buy so much stuff in the first place. Folding shirts nicely in response to a shopaholic/hoarding problem is a bit like sticking a band-aid on a sucking chest wound. Dealing with the psychological why of accumulation doesn’t make for terribly enthralling TV, of course, unless you hired someone to follow the shopaholic to the mall and jump out at them from behind the sales racks yelling, “You don’t need that, Barb! You know you don’t need that! Put it back!” (Yes, you’re damned right I want to host this show.)
  • I was also a bit disappointed at the follow-up in terms of what the guests were meant to do with their stuff once they decided it no longer sparked joy. Some episodes showed participants dropping off items at local charities, but not all. And there was no point in Kondo’s sorting process, in any of the episodes, where we clearly saw participants sorting stuff into sections of donate/trash/sell. I presume this did happen, but it should have been more prominent. (And the guy with the massive collection of sneakers could likely have sold many of the pairs in his collections as “vintage” and made back some of the $10,000 of debt he accumulated buying all those sneakers he never wore.)

I binge-watched most of the series one afternoon when I was immobilized by a migraine, and it mostly left me feeling really dissatisfied. To be fair, I did go refold all the clothes in my dresser drawers, but I don’t feel that Kondo’s system is truly comprehensive in terms of a start-to-finish whole-house purge that deals with both the reasons for the clutter and what to do with the stuff you’re getting rid of.

And I’m happy to demonstrate to her how to properly fold a fitted sheet while standing up anytime she’d like to learn.

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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TV Party Tonight – The Royle Family

theroylefamily

There’s some serendipity in how Greg and I came to find ourselves marathoning all three seasons and five specials of The Royle Family recently. We had been watching a UK series called Born On The Same Day, which followed three notable Brits who were all born on the same day. On July 2, we watched the episode that included Ricky Tomlinson, who played Jim Royle, only to discover the next day that series star and creator Caroline Ahearne had died of cancer on the 2nd. Greg found a torrent of the whole series, and having read many gushing recaps of the show in the wake of Ahearne’s sad death, we started watching.

Winner of many awards, much-loved by Brits since the show first ran in 1998, The Royle Family is a slow-moving comedy of the single camera variety with no laugh track and not much action. Much of the humour comes from the repetitiveness of the dialogue (mother Barbara asks her daughter and son-in-law what they’ve had for their tea in every episode), and the family dynamic of a council house family in suburban Manchester.

Billed as a slice of life of the typical low income family, the general appeal of The Royle Family seemed to be that the characters were so relatable. Stories abound of perfectionist Ahearne agonizing over ever syllable of dialogue, and accents, inflection and facial expressions play a big part in the humour of this show that is predominantly about a family sitting around watching telly. Continue reading “TV Party Tonight – The Royle Family”

Chauffeurs, Hairdressers and Tambourine Shakers – Girl in a Band: Tales From the Rock’n’Roll Front Line

I have a great tattoo on my right wrist – a bracelet of cartoon cameos of old Hollywood movie stars, all women. I’ve always wanted to add another bracelet tat just above it – the same concept, only with cameos of the great women of rock (or at least the ones I admire enough to put permanently on my skin), except that there just aren’t that many to choose from. This is mostly because rock music, even today, is still all about the guys.

Sure, there have been fantastic female musicians, solo acts like Adele, and bands like the Go-Gos. But the number of women working side by side with men, who are considered equal to their band mates (and not just a sexy tambourine shaker) are actually pretty few.

Kate Mossman, the pop culture writer for the New Statesman thought the same thing, and recently completed a documentary on the subject. Girl in a Band: Tales From the Rock’n’Roll Front Line (inspired by the autobiography of Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon, released earlier this year) ran on BBC on October 30th (UK residents can view it on the iPlayer, the rest of you need to find yourself some VPN access).

In it, Mossman explores the ongoing struggle that so many female musicians encounter. She starts with session guitarist/bassist Carole Kaye who worked with everyone from Richie Valens to Phil Spector to Sinatra and the Beach Boys. Kaye’s extensive catalogue should have set a bar for both respect and equality for female musicians – she did well for herself because of both her talent and her refusal to take any shit. Unfortunately, Kaye was a rarity and women in bands, even when they were as (or more) talented than their male counterparts, often found themselves not just playing music but, as Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads recounts, playing chauffeur and hairdresser as well.

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Style Icon – How to Dress Like Miss Fisher

Like a good detective, she managed to slip in without us realizing. The Australian hit series Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries starring Essie Davis, based on the books by Kerry Greenwood were, for a time, only available in North America on the small UK-centric streaming service Acorn and select PBS stations. But once Netflix picked it up, many more viewers have become fans of the charming, rich and totally stylish lady detective of 1920s Melbourne.

While the plots are decent, and the simmering romance between Miss Phryne Fisher and Detective Jack Robinson make for enjoyable television, most of us, let’s be honest, are watching (and re-watching) for the incredible outfits by costume designer Marion Boyce.

In fact, the costumes are so popular that they’re on display in Australia; beginning as part of Melbourne’s Festival of Phryne back in May, they’re now touring the country.

There’s an absolutely brilliant interview with Boyce in Vanity Fair, discussing the many ways she’s had to adapt the costuming to accommodate the show (more pants than would have normally been worn, due to the very physical stunts, but no modern fabrics; a handbag that allowed easy access to Phryne’s gun), and why they couldn’t use actual vintage pieces.

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Up The Women – Lady-Positive TV

psychobitches

A few days ago, I came across an article on Bust that made me terribly sad. The article was about how women are mostly left out of Superbowl programming and the best we can hope for, if we don’t like football, is a selection of assorted oddities on other channels, including a marathon of Law & Order SVU (really, on Superbowl Sunday, you want to watch multiple shows about sex and violence and rape and other triggering stuff?), Downton Abbey on PBS, and – the saddest thing I’ve ever read on the Internet ever – that “Ghost will play multiple times on E!”

Ghost? The worst movie of all time is the best that someone could come up with on a day when women are relegated to the small TV in the bedroom? What is your problem, American TV programmers?

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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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The Best of British TV

 

Happy Valley

Best may be a loaded term for a list such as this. Let’s say “best” given my own interests and predilections, which tend to run to the dark, weird, and slightly kooky, as opposed to more mainstream offerings. Because while my preference of UK over US shows is obvious, there are still travesties such as The Only Way Is Essex out there; the Brits can do trashy as well (or better) than the next guy. But because the seasons (or series, as they call them) tend to be short, and they’re usually not afraid to present a show as a 6-part series and have done with it, I find that UK shows tend to be able to do more in terms of pushing characters and developing plots.

To find this stuff you’ll have to make a bit of an effort. Some have made it to Netflix, some DVD, and some you’ll just have to break the law and download if you ever want to see it (seriously, I can’t wait for the day when we all abandon network TV and demand that everything be available on demand).

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