Here’s what we’ve been watching lately…
The Tube (1982 – 1987)
Some lovely person has put up every episode of The Tube on YouTube. Minus a few videos that have been cut, likely due to copyright issues, these look to be from the master tapes of the music magazine show based in Newcastle, England. This is a loopy trip on the wayback machine with awkward interviews, super-snarky fashion segments, and the general confusion of live TV, especially one that aired over the supper hour; almost every episode has someone cursing, or apologizing for cursing, or defending curse words said on the last episode that viewers complained about. For non-Brits who never saw The Tube back in the day, and who are likely more familiar with live performance footage from BBC shows of the era, this is a lot of fun. We’re working our way through the first season now and it’s a nostalgic trip.
Beauty’s Worth (1922), with livestream accompaniment by Ben Model
First the film – if your only knowledge of Marion Davies is from Mank or references to her in Citizen Kane, then you might owe it to yourself to check out the back-catalogue of her films. While the works are often of the simple and sweet genre prevalent in the early-20s, Davies was actually quite a brilliant, talented actor. She is completely captivating in this Pygmalion-style story and like many actors of the day, she emotes in a way that is both vibrant and subtle.
We watched Beauty’s Worth because it was this month’s selection from the Cinema Arts Center in Long Island, NY. Pre-covid, many arts/rep cinemas offered live accompaniment to silent films. Here in Toronto, Silent Revue has included everything from an opera singer for the screening of Carmen, to small orchestras for films such as Metropolis, and this type of live musical accompaniment brings a different level of enjoyment to watching silent films. Hosted by the immensely talented pianist Ben Model, this monthly feature is something we make a point of watching and it’s one of the treasures of the pandemic; Model’s weekly silent comedy watch party and monthly features with Cinema Arts Center are the only livestreamed silent film performances on the web. Check out Model’s website for upcoming shows or to read about the work he does creating scores for old films.
Ghosts (US) (2021)
I was ready to hate the US version of Ghosts, but I don’t. It’s as brilliant as its UK counterpart. This is partially because the writing team is mostly folks from the UK series, but it’s different enough, with US-specific characters and stories, that it’s fresh and bright and just as funny — in a US-sense of humour kind of way. A few characters and story lines are similar (Pete the scout leader, for instance) but many are completely unique (Alberta the jazz singer, Thor the Viking, Flower the hippie chick) to the locale. Even the use of US-specific slang (the ghosts refer to getting “sucked off” when they ascend to heaven, but most of them don’t understand the context of the phrase in current language) makes for jokes that are spot-on. Like the original, this is sweet, hilarious, and addictive. The bonus being that a US TV season is many more episodes than a UK series, so there’s so many more episodes to enjoy. (Just got renewed for a second season as well, so yay!)
Given the scathing viewer reviews on Imdb regarding the amount of swearing in this Australian series about a washed-out bad boy chef returning home to restart his career, maybe don’t watch this if you’re a pearl clutcher. But if you’ve ever been in a restaurant kitchen, or worked in the food industry at all, the dialogue in this 6-part comedy is bang fucking on. Easton West (Erik Thomas) returns to Adelaide after he’s fully cancelled for throwing a side of pork at a restaurant critic. His Gen-Z niece Denise (Natalie Abbott) is a talented pastry chef looking to get a foot in the door, but takes no shit in that refreshing Gen-Z way. The two pair up, both hoping to ride on the others talent/reputation, bullshit is everywhere (literally), and much hilarity ensues, all while they work their way through decades of family drama and deceit. Most importantly, Aftertaste so thoroughly takes the piss out of every single aspect of the food/hospitality industry, and not just the archaic, narcissistic Michelin-starred chef, but also many of the cliched tropes of farm-to-table, passed-down family recipes, and food as artistic self-expression, that we watched most of it with a combination of bemusement and horror.
Jay Blades: Learning to Read at 51 (2022)
Anyone who has ever happened upon an episode of The Repair Shop will know the smiling charm of host, Jay Blades. Despite owning his own business, have run various charities, and written an auto-biography, Blades has lived with dyslexia his entire life and at the age of 51 decided to overcome his disability. In this hour-long special he admits to how he’s cribbed his way through life (getting others to fill out forms, using a ghost writer to create his book), and allows viewers an intimate look at his lessons (done with a tutor via Zoom) as he progresses through months of effort to finally be able to read a book to his daughter.
Most importantly, this documentary explores how kids with dyslexia are often left behind, as there are few resources to offer kids with reading challenges the extra help and attention they need. Enlightening, heartwarming and important, especially after two years of school closures due to the pandemic, as it turns out kids with reading challenges are falling even further behind than in previous generations.
Cabaret Berlin, The Wild Scene (2010)
We were expecting this to be a bit more… wild. Cut together in a Julian Temple-esque montage, the film uses bits of street footage, clips from films, live performances, and art of the day, with a narrative voice-over that is less about the decadence of the kabaret scene and more directly relating to German politics of the 1920s and 30s. Think more ‘clips of Louise Brooks from the films of G.W. Pabst’ and less ‘Anita Berber writhing around naked onstage’. A nice primer perhaps, for anyone not familiar with Weimar-era culture, but likely redundant for those with an established interest in the era. Found on the JFlix section of the Toronto Jewish Film Festival site.
Greg and I make it a point to check out all of the plays by Nova Scotia-playright Daniel MacIvor, so I’m not sure how we missed this film of his when it was released.
It’s 1976 and Kit (Dylan Authors) and Alice (Julia Sarah Stone) are on a road-trip from Antigonish, NS to Sydney, where Kit plans to move in with his mother. They’re accompanied by an imaginary Andy Warhol who talks to Kit when Alice is not around. After some Nova Scotia-specific road trip adventures (which include pitching a bottle of lemon gin into the bushes — that was every weekend of 1986 for me), it turns out Mom’s house is not exactly the place where Kit should be.
In typical MacIvor fashion, Weirdos is a plain spoken but deeply meaningful piece that by its ending encompasses themes of coming of age, coming out, mental illness, and a love of Nova Scotia. Directed by Bruce MacDonald and presented in black and white, it’s a slight homage to other Canadian films like Goin’ Down the Road. With a cast that includes Cathy Jones and Molly Parker, this is a stellar film that speaks to modern sensibilities.
Available on CBC Gem and Kanopy.