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. (more…)

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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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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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She Works Hard for the Money

In my last post (really? August 24th? Whoops.) I ranted on about how bloggers shouldn’t solicit or accept payment for endorsed posts on their own blogs. And I still firmly believe that. But there is a way for bloggers, especially those with a specific area of expertise, to work with companies and corporations, and that is as a consultant. The oft-touted theory of “I deserve to be paid for my time and effort” doesn’t ring true when you’re being paid to say nice things about a product on your own blog, but when a company comes to you, asking for your help with something they’re producing, you most absolutely deserve to be paid a fair price for your work.

I bring this up now because I have been contacted, yet again, by a corporate entity that expected me to “help” them for free.

The person in question represented a very well-known show on the Food Network. The host of this show has a product line and endorsement deals. Their show is aired internationally. It is safe to presume that the major players involved are making a decent amount of money.

The request I received was for me to call the show’s researcher (long distance) and advise on some places in the Toronto area that would be appropriate for the show to visit on an upcoming trip here. I am familiar with the show only peripherally; I watched part of an episode once and didn’t much care for it, and since we cancelled our cable about six months ago, I haven’t watched anything on the Food Network at all. So I calculated how much research I would have to do to learn about the show and the types of places they covered, as well as how much work I’d have to do to come up with a short list of places that would be appropriate, and I replied via email stating a rate for my consulting services.

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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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Girls, Girls, Girls

I spent last week not working away diligently on my book but flat on my ass in front of the television. After successfully avoiding every cold, flu and virus for the past 12 months, something finally caught up with me and it was as if all the cooties that I had avoided for the past year were rolled up in one great dose of coughing, hacking and snot. And because my throat seemed to take the worst of it (I swear, every time I get a cold, my speaking voice drops another half octave, and stays that way. I can live with sounding like Kathleen Turner, but eventually I’m going to sound like Barry White, and that’ll suck.), I downed a gallon of iced green tea (yes really, homemade, plenty of honey and lemon) every single day just to keep the coughing fits at bay. (Dudes, I have ALL the anti-oxidants.)

I couldn’t get my eyes to focus long enough to read a book, so for four days I set up camp on the sofa, much to the chagrin of a cranky dog who is used to having the whole thing to herself.

Of course, timing being everything, my cold had chosen the week after we disconnected our cable to hit me. So I couldn’t just sit there and channel surf, I had to actively decide on something to watch instead of passively choosing the least offensive thing I could come up with. (Actually we still had a connection the first day… holy crap, those daytime housewife shows are terrifying, aren’t they?)

I figured it was time to bite the bullet. A few months ago, a friend had lent me the full series of Gilmore Girls on DVD, and I had been meaning to get around to viewing it. I had adored this show when it aired – not only did I love the dialogue and pop culture references, as someone who also left home as a teenager, I felt a weird bond with the lead character of Lorelai, who leaves the home of very rich parents at the age of 17, along with her newborn daughter, to live on her own and work as a maid, rather than deal with her over-bearing mother.

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TV Chefs Need to Clean Up Their Acts

When I was a kid, my Mom had a plaque on the wall that said: “My house is clean enough to be healthy and dirty enough to be happy.” Never one to be happy living in dirt, or even disorganization or clutter, I was never really fond of the damn thing.

Sure, there are times when a little dirt won’t hurt us. And yes, studies are all very clear on the fact that children exposed to dirt and germs end up being much healthier than kids brought up in sterile environments, particularly because all the cleaners used to make the environments so sterile are probably making them more sick than the dirt might.

In the kitchen though, poor sanitation habits can indeed make us sick.

The problem is that we have really poor role models.

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Stuff It


It’s almost like a secret shame but I’m ready to admit it to the world. I’m addicted to those “hoarding” TV shows.

First it was Hoarders on A&E, and now Hoarding: Buried Alive on TLC. Yes, I know TLC is often totally exploitative – both hoarding shows are, to be fair, but I can’t stop watching. It’s like rubbernecking while driving past a car crash.

I think my fascination with the shows is that they terrify me so much. Especially the ones where people who were formerly neat and tidy suffer some huge emotional loss and then are inclined to surround themselves with stuff – and not just good stuff, but piles of old newspapers and soft drink cups. The people who were already happy to live in clutter – you expect that they’ll live in their own sloth – but when the neatfreaks have their brains snap, that’s some scary shit.

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Buried Treasure – The Hidden Gems of the Food Network and Why You Can’t Find Them

It’s no secret that I would rather watch UK food shows than anything made in Canada or the US. Chefs like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Jamie Oliver, Valentine Warner and even Gordon Ramsay do a lot of good work for Channel 4 and the BBC when it comes to promoting seasonal, local, sustainable foodways. For years, Greg and I have had no choice but to download these from online file-sharing sites (shhh!!) because they seldom get shown here and there’s few, if any, domestic equivalents.

Except, bit by bit, Food Network Canada has been picking these shows up. Heston Blumenthal’s Big Chef Takes on Little Chef series that ran last year recently got aired here. Likewise his feasts series in which he recreates (with his own twists, of course) historic meals. Jamie Oliver is a big commodity on this side of the pond, so most of his stuff eventually shows up, but sometimes up to a year after its original air date.

This delay is annoying enough, but makes sense – Channel 4 wants to rerun these shows before selling the rights to anyone else. My frustration is that when Food Network Canada finally gets them, they do very little to promote them.

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Stupid Is as Stupid Does

The foodie intarwebs are abuzz about a recent post by cookbook author Michael Ruhlman claiming that Americans are being taught that they’re too stupid to cook. While I get Ruhlman’s point (lots of people are making a profit on processed food because people are scared to try and cook food themselves), there’s a condescension to his words, a pompousness to his tone, that does a disservice to his message.

If you know how to cook, then yes, cooking is easy. Ruhlman uses a basic roast chicken as an example; sprinkle it with salt, bang it in the oven for an hour, ta da! And those of us who know how to cook understand this. But we also understand many things that a non-cook might not know; things that Ruhlman doesn’t mention in his post. Like washing and patting the chicken dry first, and taking care to clean all surfaces to avoid salmonella. Or to take out that bag of gizzards if there is one. Or whether to cook it on a rack in the pan or directly in the pan itself. Or whether to truss or not (it’s not mentioned in the “look how easy this is” post, and a small chicken doesn’t need to be trussed, but the accompanying photo shows a trussed roast chicken, which might cause confusion), or how much time to add for cooking if your bird is bigger than the size he mentions, or how to check for doneness when the bird comes out of the oven. A commenter even points out that, hey, not everyone, especially people who don’t cook regularly, might have an appropriate pan to cook a chicken in.

Ruhlman knows all these tricks of course, but he misses the point by not sharing the information, and the information is really what it’s all about. Seriously – compare his directions to these from Chef Claire Tansey. It’s the same basic recipe, but Tansey actually addresses all the little questions that can make a difference in both the final product and the cook’s confidence.

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My Cat’s Breath Smells Like Catfood

They say that a truly great writer has the ability to adapt their tone and style to the publication and audience they’re writing for. I can write a sharp scathing business letter that reads like it has come from a lawyer’s office (much to the chagrin of my apartment building manager). I can write a soulful article about a food artisan and truly convey how much they love their work. I can write flowery essays so vivid that they utterly capture one brief moment in time.

Yet when I speak, I am prone to cursing, slang and most of all, the catchphrase.

Not clichéd phrases, but little sound bites culled from popular culture.

After seeing the award winning play I, Claudia twice, Greg and I now refer to almost everything as “HIGH-larious”, a phrase used regularly by the 12-year-old title character.

When cooking, or completing any task, really, I will loudly pronounce “Done!”, something I’ve picked up from Gordon Ramsay’s The F-Word show.

From The Simpson’s, we’ve collected 20 years of catch phrases and word play. I now regularly (and jokingly) refer to the book place as the “lie-berry”, call the elevator the “uppity box”, and have used the phrases, “donuts, is there anything they can’t do?” and “Haha! Your Dad’s not handy!” on more than one occasion.

The problem is, I’m 41.

I don’t know if this makes me hip or really lame.

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Blood, Sweat and Takeaways – The Other Side of Local

This weekend marks the opening of Food. Inc, a film about the food industry in North America. Early reviews describe it as shocking and life-changing, revealing aspects of food production that most people are blissfully unaware of.

We are encouraged to know where our food comes from, and mostly that means local food. Know your farmer; know what’s in season; eat organic, sustainably produced food. And be willing to pay for it.

But as much as we can all sing local until the cows come home, much of the western world still relies on majority world countries to supply our foodstuffs. And we want it cheap.

The BBC 3 series Blood, Sweat and Takeaways, which ran over the past four weeks, followed 6 young British people (who were all accustomed to eating cheap junk food) as they travelled across southeast Asia, working in factories and rice fields to find out the human cost of their cheap food.

The 6 Brits try their hands working at a tuna factory in Indonesia cleaning and gutting fish; a prawn farm (where they spend their days rebuilding a mud levee to keep the prawns from being washed away in a storm); and a prawn factory where some of them are fired for not working fast enough. During the first two episodes they stay in the homes of  factory workers, and are appalled by the living conditions and outdoor toilets. They can never keep up with the local workers and are often embarrassed when a job they’ve been assigned has to be assisted or redone by locals.

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Channel Surfing

Somewhere in the transfer of cable services from home A to home B, we ended up with a bunch of cable channels we didn’t have before. Besides the fact that we are cheapasses and refuse to pay for a bunch of channels that we mostly don’t watch, we made the well-thought-out decision to cancel all but basic cable a few years back for one specific reason.

I yell at the Food Network.

Honestly, I am flabberghasted that there are unsuspecting housewives out there, tuning in to the Food Network, thinking that they’re going to get decent advice on anything to do with cooking.

(NOTE – with the possible exception of Alton Brown. He’s an alright guy.)

Of course, the extra channels that we are now burdened with include the Food Network, and I have quickly gotten sucked in again. It’s been a few years, so many of the faces are new (although I see that BAM! guy is still there, mucking things up), but it’s reassuring to see that one can get a job hosting a cooking show without any damn idea of how to cook. Note that many of the people I mention below appear on the Canadian Food Network so you US folks might not recognize everyone. [1]

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