A veteran photojournalist on the arts and entertainment scene, Julian Bynoe is a Toronto-based cartoonist, artist and arts blogger. From 1996 to 2014, he was the arts/entertainment editor for the street publication The Outreach Connection, and has had articles featured in Realms Magazine, among others.
Updated: October 24, 2016
International Festival of Authors 2016 Reviews
Part 1 of a 2-part series
Clockwise: The Toronto Public Library-sponsored Book Bash various activites held around the Bill Boyle Artport held on October 22.
Bill Boyle Artport, 235 Queen’s Quay West
Saturday, October 22; 12-4 p.m.
The Toronto Public Library’s annual one-day Canadian children’s literature festival Book Bash, being held at the International Festival of Authors (IFOA) for the first time in a expanded venue was a qualified success by adding more to the line-up with Harbourfront Centre’s fine facilities to be able to accommodate, since their experience with having kids down there is top-rate and it went off without a hitch.
Among the free events like face paintings, demos with the Library’s musical instrument lending library section, a mini 3D printer and such, they also had kid-lit authors and illustrators on the bill that more than did their fare share in keeping their audiences entertained. Local storyteller and author Rukshana Khan did a write-your-own-adventure workshop up at the Main Loft – formerly the Architecture Gallery – as she told her true-life childhood memory about her younger sister and a prized lollypop she got at a birthday party goodie, and getting the kids to come up with their own conclusions how it ended (for those not familiar with her book, Big Red Lollypops.)
Left, onstage: Ruth Ohi
Author/illustrator Ruth Ohi of the popular Fox and Squirrel series in the Brigantine Room was just as animated as her artwork by drawing scribbles and getting the audience to use their imaginations to come up with what could be made from it, was fun to watch in discussing her creative processes and encouraging creativity.
The Applefun Puppetry company
Applefun Puppetry’s Halloween Show in the Studio Theatre, as performed by puppeteer Mike Harding; had his characters with main puppet Eddie and his friends ranging from slow-witted Frank the Frankenstein Monster, Juanita “Winnie” the Witch, Tiny Chef, Farmer MacDonald and a friendly vampire helping him get ready for Halloween while keeping ahead of the tricks of a mischievous monkey; was entertainingly amusing as one of the final events that seemed to make this segment replacing the YoungIFOA programme after so many years go all too fast.
Lunatics, Lovers & Poets
Lakeside Terrace, Bill Boyle Artport, 235 Queen’s Quay West
Saturday, October 22; 5 p.m.
Left-right: Hisram Matar, Marcos Giralt Torrente and C.C. Humphreys
2016 not only marks the year of Shakespeare’s death four hundred years ago, but also of Miguel de Cervantes, the author behind the epic Don Quixote and inventor of the modern-day novel. As part of the short story anthology about the two writers’ works Lunatics, Lovers & Poets: Twelve Stories after Cervantes and Shakespeare (And Other Stories), IFOA had two writers that were part of the book, American writer Hisram Matar and Spain’s Marcos Giralt Torrente to discuss their contributions as well as the about the subject matter behind the project themselves.
After each author read a brief segment of their parts, panel moderator C.C. Humphreys asked them on the influence of Shakespeare, Torrente admitted – as did Humphries himself – that he didn’t discover Stratford-upon-Avon’s most famous son’s work until much later in life, despite that his work is a fundamental part of the Western world’s education curriculum, if not global.
“First, I’d have to say that you cannot discover Shakespeare; Shakespeare is everywhere in society,” Torrente explained. “I didn’t discover him in school because with the Spanish (educational) system we studied history and other numerous material. I don’t know when I came into [finding] Shakespeare. I must have seen them in films, newspapers, but Shakespeare is everywhere. But I remember, since I was young I was trying to read Shakespeare, but I found it a bit too truthful. It was quite difficult for me to go to the theatre [to observe it] and it was too difficult to read Shakespeare when I was trying to read him. I was embarrassed at first, but now I am able to because I realized that Shakespeare had written what he had wrote for another stage in a way of enjoying it.
“I was reading Shakespeare when I was not prepared to, as it was very, very difficult in the English language and I tried to do it a few times where I was living in the summer and I remember going to different places with my family around Spain to see different landscapes, but I always had that Shakespeare book. My friend tried to learn English through Shakespeare, so I decided to try it again and some years after I started to get into Shakespeare through the films mostly and also through Lawrence Olivier. He was my first contact with Shakespeare through the films, and after when I was like twenty-something at the time, I started to read him.”
Regarding Cervantes, Matar could recall his introduction to the man behind the Man of La Mancha was only after his Arabic-only education was completed shortly after entering adolescence and knew about the writer’s presence was heavy. “I knew he was Spanish, but he thought like an Arabic writer,” Matar said. “In other words, the character of Don Quixote in mentioned in the colloquial storytellings, too, so the story had entered my imagination.
“I didn’t read much as a child actually, but I had a lot of books read to me. Various experiences of books to which you’re being read to while I was laying my head on my uncle’s chest and listening to them. I had a lot of books read to me; I don’t know why that seemed perfectly normal to me at the time. But we didn’t have much books for children, I didn’t read much children’s books, so I had my uncle read them to me like Arabian Nights, Don Quixote, lots of fairytales and Shakespeare all read to me, including poetry,” he recalled on his Libyan childhood.
“Later on as I developed as a reader, where my conference with books is direct, especially in English. With Shakespeare, yes, I think I totally relate to what (Torrente) said about, that reading his plays are tricky, but I had the benefit of my ignorance in a sense that I didn’t think they were plays, I thought they were just words. So you can have [something like] King Lear and I thought, ‘Oh, I thought they were just words.’ I couldn’t imagine people acting to them, so I read them in that way when I was very little.”
It’s how Shakespeare and Cervantes observed and interpreted the complexities and misunderstandings of the world of their time that still holds resonance today, following and surviving into the digital age that continue their popularity among bibliophiles and writers throughout the ages.
“And these are writers that anticipate this incredible space and uses in such helpful ways,” Matar suggested. “For example, I was thinking about in Hamlet when he is in grieving and he’s distraught and his mother is saying ‘Come on, get over it, this is the way of the world. People die; this is the most common thing.” And he then he goes on with his (“To be or not to be” soliloquy) and all of these ways where grief shows itself…to me, this is one keys of the incredible achievements of Shakespeare. A king is killed by his brother, marries the queen, the son is inconsolable, go mad: that’s the whole synopsis.
“It’s about all of these distances from such a fascinating play when there’s so much plays written about fathers and sons, and one of the things that it’s about is the distances between fathers and sons and also the distance between…one’s grief and how it shows and the questions of fidelity and how we behave.”
“I think they were quite different (men),” opined Torrente, “and Spain, at that moment, was more complex country than Great Britain was [of their times]. Spain is closer to the Mediterranean Sea and we were affected by what was happening in the (region) of the Mediterranean Sea and their complexities. We had an Arabic population, we had Jewish...It’s true that we were a poor country and Great Britain was looking to be the next empire of course, but they even they had America and it was far away. So we were very isolated, in a sense.”
Five Artists, Five Ways: The Modern Graphic Novel
Lakeside Terrace, Bill Boyle Artport, 235 Queen’s Quay West
Saturday, October 22; 8 p.m.
Left-right: Jon McNaught, Nina Bunjavec, Seth, Chris Oliveros, Michael DeForge and Nick Drnaso.
A name coined by comics great Wil Eisner and loathed by diehards, Art Spiegelman, is one; who want to separate themselves from literary circles, the graphic novel still holds debate almost twenty-five years after its become part of the everyday lexicon of literary genres. And to what definition does it earn respect among its peers was the Five Artists, Five Ways: The Modern Graphic Novel forum as hosted by Canadian cartooning legend Seth and five of his fellow contemporaries engaged in it.
Attendees Nina Bunjavec, Michael DeForge, Nick Drnaso, Jon McNaught and Chris Oliveros – who also are part of the Seth-curated Five Ways fall exhibit in the Artsport Gallery (click here for review) – all regaled their influences of the medium ranging the usual from Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts and Berke Breathed’s Bloom County to Euro-art staples Tintin and Asterix, but it was McNaught who mentioned a surprise influence: a well-known kid-lit illustrator and writer.
“The person who really sticks in my mind that’s British is Raymond Briggs” said the soft-spoken British cartoonist of the author behind classics The Snowman, Father Christmas and When the Wind Blows. “It was somebody that I grew up with…and he’s incredible with nuanced stories. They may be children’s books, but the funny thing is that they fit in with the latest art and that’s Raymond Briggs. His kind of vision of storytelling is packed with detail and he was a real favourite of mine as a kid.”
Studying linocut arts in art college, McNaught turned to comic making in wanting to make landscapes with his work and making a series of prints. “The first comics that I did grew from wanting to do repeats and create a quiet atmosphere with them…I enjoyed DC Comics as a kid, but they never did sink in. I still think I’m kind of still learning about storytelling.”
“I’m in it for the money!” Bunjavec joked on how she got into comic work. “I grew up reading Disney comics, Franco-Belgian comics in Yugoslavia. So we really had the best of all worlds, because on one side we had DC and Marvel superhero comics and on the other side we had Hergé. I read any comics except for the Italian editions of Zagor, they were these kinds of Western-themed comics and also there was this kind of superhero living in the woods of Canada who wore a raccoon hat or something like that. Only grownup men read those, so children really weren’t into them.
“We also had a really rich domestic production of comics in (prewar) Yugoslavia; we had a number of magazines that employed people full-time. It was a thriving industry and you walked to a newspaper stand and get all kinds of comics, which were just wonderful,” she remembered. “It doesn’t matter that even during the (1991-95 Yugoslav civil) war when there were economic sanctions that the underground comics thrived. It’s just really embedded in the culture.”
The Toronto-based Bunjavec got into comics production in 2005 after being thwarted from doing comics studies in art school and for several years working as a graphic designer, commercial illustration and teaching plus doing sculpture on the offside, discovering the artistic narrative behind both disciplines before going into it full-time. “I didn’t even know it was something I wanted to do until I started working into comics,” she admitted. “In the beginning I was totally clueless and was working with the right side of my brain – image, narrative or three images at a time – I can’t really work with a script. Fatherland, for example, was a completely different. It was a story that had to come to me, it was a story that had to be told and it was a completely different animal, for sure.”
Oliveros, who made a name in setting up the premier independent comic publishing house Drawn and Quarterly in Montréal and establishing national (Seth, Chester Brown, Guy Delisle) and international (Marguerite Abouet, Shigeru Mizuki, Lynda J. Barry) cartooning stars for 25 years before retiring from the editing desk and getting back to his first love of cartooning in publishing his debut book, The Envelope Manufacturer (Drawn & Quarterly).
“I think it was unusual [to start now] because cartooning was different back then, but I was influenced by the people who made these comics and this would be around 1989 or 1990. Back then people used to call them ‘alternative comics,’ now they’re called graphic novels. Most cartoonists were doing four-paged stories, six-paged stories and I was going to start doing that. And you were the guys that first started doing the longer pieces...and I was thinking ‘what kind of story could I tell in six pages?’.”
He recalled that comics in the 1970s were the bleakest period for the medium after the golden era of Marvel and the underground comics in the 1960s ended. “My father brought home these magazines, he bought Heavy Metal and Mad Magazine and if you liked Mad Magazine in the Fifties, it was their peak period. So I didn’t know what kept me going, kept me hanging on until comics got good [again].”
“I pretty focused on comics actually,” said DeForge on his early days with getting support from online cartoonists and supporters. “It wasn’t until I dropped out of college that I decided to, like, this is the one thing I wanted to pursue fully, I mean not just do this on the side. I didn’t want to get another job to support the comics…I was already making mini-comics and tending to give them away at shows, whatever.”
“My story is similar to Michael’s,” answered Drnaso. “I was eighteen, going to community college and I had a friend who used to draw in his notebook and sort of forced him to become part of a team to get into this job in comics, and I was just following his lead to get to self-publishing this stuff. And he eventually lost interest in that and I just picked it up. We really didn’t have really a plan to pursuit it and he quit…he was doing these crude humour comics and he wasn’t taking it that seriously and I would try to force him to draw with me. So it was a good thing to have someone sitting in the basement with me, to try and encourage each other.”
“The comics medium is a interesting medium because it’s a long history primarily as a ‘junk’ medium,” opined Seth, who kept the whole talk entertaining and light but was grounded in the seriousness of the genre and respectability it has earned after many years. “But I think in the last twenty or thirty years it has moved into recognition that there’s a wide variety of approaches on how to tell a story with pictures and surprisingly be more sophisticated than people thought. One of the key elements that regular people will attest when they look at comic books, is (the) drawing style. And drawing style is a funny point – I find a lot of cartoonists are very hesitant to talk about drawing style. It’s like it’s something shameful; you spend time thinking about what the art looks like and I’ve always been very anxious about (discussing) drawing style.
“The funny thing about cartooning is that, all of us here were visual artists. But there’s comes to some point where you want to tell something and that’s why…drawing an image is powerful, but there’s something about telling a story. I think that’s a nice thing about the comics medium and that it has opened up a door to a wider variety of people to tell a story.”
Koffler@IFOA: Olive Senior and Ravi Jain
Lakeside Terrace, Bill Boyle Artport, 235 Queen’s Quay West
Sunday, October 23; 12 p.m.
Left-right: Ravi Jain and Olive Senior
Two of Canada’s noted Indo-Caribbean artisans, author/poet Olive Senior and playwright Ravi Jain took to the stage to discuss about heritage, family and identity and how it shapes the art and their personal lives at the Koffler Centre-sponsored talk as the award-winning Senior (The Pain Tree) sat down with critically-acclaimed Jain (A Brimful of Asha) in talking about each others’ work.
“I write through character, my fiction anyway,” started Senior, whose latest novel The Pain Tree (Comorant Books) is set in her native Jamaica, “and I like the elements included in the characters are invested with emotions that are universal. We all have, as human beings, have the same desires…we deal in love, hate, revenge, whatever.
“And so, I write in such a way that I hope that my readers can put themselves into the story because everybody has had similar experiences, although the setting is different and the characters are different because we’re talking about a lot these days about making literature more diverse. We talk a lot about diversity, but my whole approach to that is not to talk about people as separate but to recognize that they’re all the same at heart. And to me, this is what literature can do, can convince us all or should that we are connected in a way through our consciousness or our emotional life, through our human experience. And that’s the whole basis of where I’m coming from in terms of my work.”
“I’m not even a playwright in a traditional sense,” explained Jain, “I’m a theatre-maker. So I make plays and we end up publishing them, so in a similar way I feel that so much of what I do resonates for me and my perspective is diverse, so I am too. I am Canadian and I am Indian, even though I was born here I grew up in a house that really valued Indian traditions. And so, no matter what the work I do, be it Hamlet or a very specific story about arranged marriages, that perspective is going to be informed, too.
“So, it’s similar in looking for that universal connective tissue or experience that doesn’t rely on a specify of a race in a story. It’s really there to make it more universal, so the specify of my story of my mother trying to arrange my marriage (in A Brimful of Asha); all those dynamics are and the fact that we were in India and the things that really happened are there to open up a world into how all mothers and sons have this same relationship or what parents want the best for their kids. They have a way how things should be done and kids have a way on how that should be done, so yeah, looking at universal things are super-important.”
The two also discussed the dynamics of writing for the stage and that not all writing is the same, although Senior’s attempt at it ended in failure mainly over the fact that she writes for the page, not the ear and that she has a controlling nature over her work. “I see everything, everything that I am writing. So I was writing this play giving instructions, I had the entire setting in my head, the cast and everything. But then I realized that, ‘no, this isn’t how it works.’ It’s collaboration, which I’m not accustomed to as a writer of poetry and fiction and so on.”
Jain had recalled in working on the script with his mother for A Brimful of Asha that became a hit at the local Soulpepper Theatre for the last two engagements with both him and her performing mainly through improvisation. “My mother is not an actor and we tell the story how that in 2007 how my parents tried to arrange my marriage. And it’s very funny because, it’s a terrible story,” he chuckled humorously. “My mother and I talked together so much of the process of that was being in front of an audience. Because she’s not actor, so we didn’t sit in front of a computer, it was thus improvising in front of an audience and eventually it became a text that was published and I was saying to Olive earlier, like plays I don’t often read plays because I find them quite boring. I like to see plays, I like to see them. I need that immediate moment of a relationship of two people in a problem and I find that challenging and I find that interesting when you write, when someone reads your writing they are imagining the world that they’re in. It’s a very individual experience.”
Heike Steinweg: Writing in Berlin
Bill Boyle Artport, 235 Queen’s Quay West
Through October 30
Clockwise from top left: Janne Teller; Ilija Trojanow; Katja Petroskaja; Gail Jones and Nathan Englander.
Across from the Stories We Tell exhibit in the Artsport Gallery is the Writing in Berlin series, an ongoing project by German photographer Heike Steinweg and her photos of international authors working and living in her native Berlin, for reasons of cultural creativity and/or political exile.
Along with the portraits of black and white and colour capturing the mood, tone, time of date, location and personality of said subjects, she includes the writers’ final line of their recent (or favourite) works and their words to describe the feeling they got in wrapping up a story.
Habila Helon (top) and Marie NDiaye.
Some express relief, sadness or inconclusiveness of the work itself and how it makes them wonder what could be said or even guessing their next project at hand. It’s a humbling mini-exhibit to view – perhaps the first from IFOA in ages – that the feeling, personal or artistic, never wanders away from their minds and in probably wanting the viewer to go pick up the copy of that book in order to immerse themselves into that world or worlds that they themselves can find meaning to.
Photo Essay: IFOA 2016 Happenings
Clockwise: A sample of veteran Globe and Mail editorial cartoonist Anthony Mars Jenkins’ caricature slideshow of Canadian novelists past and present have a Al Hirschfeld-like influence and quaintness in the Bill Boyle Artport (through to October 30).
Taken at the Studio Theatre stage, PEN Canada’s IFOA annual spotlight on persecuted authors focuses on Azimjon Askarov, an Uzbeki investigative journalist from Kyrgystan initially jailed in 2010 for ethnic incitement and a life imprisonment sentance that led to the death of a police officer, but charges were politically motivated due to his stance against government corruption and being the founder of the human rights group Vozduh. The murder sentance was overturned by the Kyrgyz Supreme Court earlier this year, however Askarov still remains in prison for unexplained reasons.
NEXT: Part 2 – Slave to Mortal Rage, Graphic Sonnet Exchange, Weaving Canada’s Story and more. IFOA 2016 continues through to Sunday (October 30); For tickets and information, call 426-973-4000 or visit ifoa.org
Left-right: Tomb reliefs from the Syrian ruins of Palmyra that survived the destructive clutches of ISIS and an illuminated qu’ran from the mid-14th-century are part of the Syria: A Living Exhibit, an initiative of the Aga Khan Museum to show the cultural treasures of Syria than what current headlines will tell you about the Middle Eastern country.
Syria: A Living Exhibit
Venue: Aga Khan Museum, 77 Wynford Drive
Dates/Times: Through February 26; Tuesday-Sunday 10 a.m.- 6 p.m. (Wednesdays 10 a.m.- 8 p.m.)
Admission/Information: Adults $20, Seniors (65+) $15, Students $12, Children/Youth (6-13) $10, Wednesday evenings 4-8 p.m. FREE; call 416-646-4677 or agakhanmuseum.org
Revolutions can often create many inconveniences that spill over borders in human and political costs, such as the one currently running in Syria, which has brought into our timeframe. And yet, it has been at the crossroads before in a cultural sense with five millennia of Mesopotamian, Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Persian, Ottoman and Arab influences that it used to reflect that the Aga Khan Museum wants to convey in Syria: A Living Exhibit, to show the world that there’s another side to the country before the Arab Spring offshoot turned it into a far-reaching and seemingly endless bloodbath.
Several works from partnering museums worldwide have greatly contributed to this exhibit from Dubai, France, Germany, the United States and Canada about the confederacy created by the Semitic tribe known as the Aramaeans, previously known as Aram; with ancient and modern pieces abound. The Mesopotamian era has carved works ranging from eye idols made from gypsum that used to protect temples made around 3200 BCE to a “Stele of Teshub” made in the 9th-century BCE in honour of their storm god.
A falcon-headed sphinx panel created in an Egyptian style is quite striking in its features in carved ivory found in Nimrud that used to be the centre of the Assyrian Empire in the 8th-century BCE. As the exhibit starts moving into the Islamic era, another panel depicting the Prophet Muhammad’s sandals and two burning candlesticks under a lamp in reference to the Qu’ranic Chapter of Light (Qu’ran 24:35) made in the 17th- or 18th-century CE on underglazed-painted fritware that was once part of a mihrab (a semicircular niche in the wall of a mosque, at the point nearest to Mecca’s Kaaba) in Damascus.
Left-right: A 13th-century copper alloy incense burner with silver and gold inlays; fragment of a Roman-era floor mosaic from 64 BCE depicting parrots and a 19th-century backgammon or chess box from the Syria: A Living Exhibit show the prosperity that came from the fortunate position of global and cultural trade routes that crisscrossed Syria.
Proof of the multicultural makeup of the country lies with a gilded silver repouseé plaque of St. Paul from 550-600 CE showed that Christianity flourished and was readily accessible prior to the Syrian Revolution. Other impressive works go to a carved ivory lion head from its Archaic period in the 9th to 8th century BCE as a rare intact example when its symbolism stretched from Syria to Anatolia of the many trade roads that crisscrossed the region like the Incense Road, Persian Royal Road and Silk Route.
As further examples involved, there’s this 13th-century CE copper alloy incense burner made of two hemispherical halves with a gimbal cap regaling excellent detail of regal life of equestrian and hunting scenes with gold and silver inlays surrounding it; a intricate Italian millefiori (meaning “a thousand flowers”) method on tiny mosaic glass bowl dated 25 BCE to 25 CE and the geometric panelling so connected with Islamic design can been seen on a 19th-century backgammon box made out of wood, bone and mother-of-pearl inlays.
Contemporary art also plays a part of Syria: A Living Exhibit, with pioneers of modern Syrian artists like Fateh al-Moudarres’ surreal minimalist representation of one stage of the Passion of Christ in “The Last Supper” using abstract expression in a loosely geometric fashion and Mahmoud Hammad’s “Bsmallah al-Rahman al-Rahim,” a oil on canvas swathed in serene blues and greys to make out in Arabic writing “In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful” and a couple of amazing wooden sculptures from Lotfi Romhein and Aktham Abdul Hamid.
Clockwise from upper left: Contemporary art from Syria: A Living Exhibit features Tamman Azzam’s “Gustav Klimt The Kiss (Freedom Graffiti)” that became a internet viral sensation worldwide; a untitled Aktham Abdul Hamid wooden sculpture; “Deluge: The Gods Abandon Palmyra” by Elias Zayat and the cool abstract subtleness from Mahmoud Hammad, “Bismallah al-Rahman al-Rahim.”
Then there are the ones who are making a statement about the Revolution against Bashir al-Assad – and brave enough to stay within the frontlines to do so – such as the grandiose multi-canvas acrylic “Deluge: The Gods Abandon Palmyra” by Elias Zayat mixing tales of the Old Testament story of The Great Flood and the Epic of Gilgamesh that greets the viewer to the exhibit with roughen brushstrokes and swirls and the signs of resistance to destruction.
And while the works of Tamman Azzam may show the bleak and battle-scarred buildings common with the experience of war, they represent hope from the digital reproduction of his well-known piece “Gustav Klimt The Kiss (Freedom Graffiti)” of the Klimt masterpiece brazenly painted on a half-destroyed apartment wall to cover its ugliness with beauty (while allowing visitors to clip on words or art about home and/or survival) to the photo-realistic acrylic “Storeys Series” of a seemingly silent street could either mean a lull in hostilities or awaiting the future reconstruction of a post-revolutionary Syria at peace.
See these all these past and present works while you can in the museum’s noblest exhibition to date, which includes a virtual-reality interactive from Johannes Kramer, “Aleppo Room 17th Century (Google’s Tango Tablet)” of a Syrian Christian merchant’s home of that time with “paintings” representing the Old and New Testament; to remind what sense of humanity and civilization is left and can return to this land again.
The Girl on the Train (Universal/DreamWorks)
Cast: Emily Blunt, Haley Bennett, Rebecca Ferguson, Justin Theroux
Director: Tate Taylor
Producer: Marc Platt
Screenplay: Erin Cressida Wilson; based on the Paula Hawkins novel
The runaway international bestselling mystery-thriller The Girl on the Train gets its onscreen treatment and it plays it well for all of its twists and turns it offers with its well-rounded cast and skilfully nadir direction maintained for its audience constantly guessing on edge.
Narrated mostly throughout by Rachel Watson (Blunt), a train commuter who aimlessly ventures into New York and back in a daily state of drunken despair after the collapse of her marriage to Tom (Theroux) who left her two years ago for second wife Anna (Ferguson) and their newborn daughter in their former homestead she passes by that tortures her even more, as much as it does of a pretty young blonde housewife (Bennett) next door to them she also notices with envy of her seemingly happy marriage.
When she catches the housewife one morning with a man she doesn’t recognize as her husband in a tender embrace, Rachel goes off the deep end on a huge bender and blacks out. Waking up the next morning with unexplained bruises, her clothes all muddied and bloodied and no memory of what happened, she’s investigated by police detectives Riley (Allison Janney) and Gaskill (Mac Tavares) when she learns that the housewife, named Megan Hipwell; has reportedly gone missing by her husband Scott (Luke Evans).
Fearing she may be a suspect to her disappearance, Rachel struggles to conducts her own sleuth work in trying to piece together the events from that hazy night where she fantasized doing something cruel over Megan’s infidelity and her failure to achieve the motherhood she so longed for. As she gets more entangled in getting closer to the truth, Rachel can only deduct whether it has to do something with a jealous Anna, Scott, Megan’s incredibly handsome shrink (Edgar Ramírez) or that mysterious bearded commuter (Darren Goldstein).
Screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson does a relatively decent adaptation of Paula Hawkins’ electrifying 2015 book by successfully altering its original London setting to a New York one that won’t offset the whodunit’s fans too much visually, and keeping intact the mystery wrapped up in one after another under the helm of Tate Taylor (Get on Up; The Help) using a interesting pattern as the events unfold in going over and back in a masterfully interlocking and complex timeline through editors Andrew Bruckland and Michael McCusker, Danny Elfman’s mood-inducing score and the darkened cinematography of Charlotte Bruus Christensen.
Blunt puts on a great performance as the emotionally-battled Rachel going through memory recall with strength and fragility; Bennett gets seductive and manipulative in her mystery role with ease as she bares her soul and tragic back story; Theroux as the unworried ex-husband trying to calm insecure Ferguson’s Anna is a clever act and Ramírez gets to be the psychiatrist unwittingly caught between moral and professional boundaries during the therapy session scenes.
Fans who loved the novel will equally like the film for all its stances as the characters go from urban to suburban and the façades that cover up their lives so cunningly encased within The Girl on the Train’s rollercoaster ride and physiological nuances throughout a top-notch thriller.
Kevin Hart: What Now? (Universal)
Cast: Kevin Hart with Halle Berry, Don Cheadle, David Meunier
Directors: Leslie Small and Tim Story
Producers: Jeff Clanagan, Blake Morrison, Valerie Bleth Sharp and Pookey Wigington
Screenplay: Kevin Hart, Harry Ratchford and Joey Wells
The stand-up comedy concert film is quite the antiquated dinosaur when it got herded off to the confines of cable television – and nowadays, online streaming services like Netflix – about twenty-odd years ago. While others have tried unsuccessfully over the years to recapture those halcyon days of unfiltered laughs with the crowd (Martin Lawrence is a prime example, with his pathetically unfunny attempts You So Crazy and Martin Lawrence Live: Runteldat ), current comic superstar Kevin Hart manages to do his best with What Now? with fairly good results, yet it would be highly premature to say that particular cinema genre has made a comeback.
Shot at his hometown of Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field Stadium to a sold-out crowd of 50,000 on August 30, 2015 – the first-ever comedy act to do so in that venue – Hart, who has had a impressive string of box office hits of late with the two Ride Along films, Central Intelligence and The Secret Life of Pets; definitely has the audience eating out of his hand with his hyperactive humour ranging from relationships with his fiancée (now wife) Eniko Parrish, his kids from his first marriage and his father whom he’s reconnected into his life to dealing with the suburban critters that lurk in the dark he’s afraid to face.
Director Leslie Small keeps this quite basic and to the point following Hart’s salty rapid-fire material and shots of the crowd in talking about handling fame and family while trying to keep his street cred with his homies. As he would put it himself he’s a drastic thinker with his comedy that’s almost reminiscent of the Eddie Murphy concert masterpiece Raw he’s really trying to emulate here isn’t anything new, but at least Hart is talented in his presentation and delivery.
Sandwiched in between this concert is a pretty funny James Bond-like parody skit “Casino,” as directed by Tim Story, where Hart plays Agent 0054 (relating to his 5-foot, 4-inch stature) trying to procure millions to fund his world tour in a downtown casino high-stakes poker game. With Halle Berry by his side in slightly sending up her Die Another Day Bond Girl role and Don Cheadle good as a rival if hot-tempered agent cameo; he also goes up against a Russian mobster (Meunier) and his goons who aren’t simply going to let him walk away from his winnings unscathed, complete with car chases and showdowns galore displaying Hart’s action-comedy prowess.
The only time Hart stumbles is when he tells a rather tasteless rape joke that, fortunately, is quite brief in passing but in this day and age could have been best left on the editing room floor or not told at all when we’re trying to defuse rape culture being used as a punch line. Other than that, What Now? makes for a likeable throwback to those times when the kings of comedy like Murphy and Richard Pryor could convince studio heads to back such a project and command the audiences to fill up the cineplexes.
Rock-folk icon Bob Dylan, 75, has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, won Grammy Awards, a Pulitzer Prize, a Golden Globe and an Oscar for his music. On December 10 he’ll be awarded the coveted Nobel Prize for Literature, cited by fans and critics alike as a long overdue recognition for his lyrical work.
“I consider myself a poet first and a musician second. I live like a poet and I’ll die like a poet.”
For someone who said the previous quote but then later on stated: “It’s not easy to define poetry,” surely turned both the music and literary world on their ears when the Swedish Academy of Sciences announced the winner of the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature going to the American rock and folk singer/songwriter Bob Dylan on October 13 in Stockholm, in their simple and succinct wording: “for having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”
Sara Danius, the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, said Dylan had been chosen because he was “a great poet in the English speaking tradition. For 54 years now he’s been at it reinventing himself, constantly creating a new identity,” she had told reporters in Stockholm. In her citation, she said that although the choice might seem surprising to some, “if you look far back ... you discover Homer and Sappho. They wrote poetic texts which were meant to be performed, and it’s the same way for Bob Dylan. We still read Homer and Sappho, and we enjoy it.”
Then jokingly answering to whether music will now being considered as poetry to the Academy, Danius replied: “The times they are a changing, perhaps,”
The troubadour behind such immortal classics “Blowin’ In the Wind,” “The Hurricane,” “Gotta Serve Somebody,” “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and “All Along the Watchtower” had been cited by fans and critics for over 20 years to be recognized for his lyrical prowess and deeper meaning that sits among the likes of Tennyson, Keats, Browning and Frost; drew a mixture of vindication and ridicule over handing the prestigious honour to Dylan – born Robert Zimmerman, but changed his last name after another famous poet, Dylan Thomas.
Famed British poet laureate Andrew Motion has stated that Dylan’s lyrics should be studied in schools to future Nobel hopeful Salman Rushdie, who tweeted it best: “From Orpheus to (Pakistani revolutionary poet Faiz Ahmad) Faiz, song & poetry have been closely linked. Dylan is the brilliant inheritor of the bardic tradition. Great choice.” Then came the opposing sides like Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh, which he bitterly tweeted: “I’m a Dylan fan, but this is a ill-conceived nostalgia award wrenched from the rancid prostates of senile, gibbering hippies;” or journalist/author Anna North wrote in a October 13 New York Times op-ed piece: “Popular music is such an endeavour too, but, for the most part, it already receives the recognition it deserves. And apart from a few spoken-word awards, no one would expect the highest honours in music to go to a writer – we won’t be seeing Zadie Smith or Mary Gaitskill in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.”
And some critics that championed other much worthier writers like Kenyan playwright/novelist Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, Syrian poet Ali Ahmad Said Esber a.k.a. Adonis or Japan’s Haruki Murakami who deserved a chance other than the guy who used to be part of the ‘60s golden oldies supergroup The Travelling Wilburys back in the 1980s and once shilled for Victoria’s Secret lingerie in a 2004 television ad.
But let’s look at why Dylan’s Nobel matters and is most deserving. For the record, I’m pretty much a casual Dylan fan. I don’t collect his music and have only seen him perform once back in 1988 at the Calgary Saddledome and vaguely remember the playlist, other than him doing “Mr. Tambourine Man” and that then-rising folk/pop star and protégé Tracy Chapman was his opening act on that leg of the tour that I really wanted to see (and later joined him on a finale jam – but hey, I’ve seen him!), so these are not the words of some rabid devotee writing here.
If one looks very closely at his lyrics, one will see the artistic expression behind them, inspired by other poetic giants that had gone before him. When Sotheby’s, New York was auctioning off in 2014 the original lyrics of “Like a Rolling Stone” written on four sheets of hotel stationary in 1965, auctioneer Richard Austin had said: “Before the release of ‘Like a Rolling Stone,’ music charts were overrun with short and sweet love songs, many clocking in at three minutes or less. By defying convention with six and a half minutes of dark, brooding poetry, Dylan rewrote the rules for pop music.”
Other defenders who champion his golden era when he did successive mid-‘60s masterpiece albums Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde, music critic and Dylan fan Mike Marqusee summed it up: “Between late 1964 and the middle of 1966, Dylan created a body of work that remains unique. Drawing on folk, blues, country, R&B, rock ‘n’ roll, gospel, British beat, symbolist, modernist and Beat poetry, surrealism and Dada, advertising jargon and social commentary, (Italian auteur Frederico) Fellini and Mad magazine, he forged a coherent and original artistic voice and vision. The beauty of these albums retains the power to shock and console.”
Take such rich examples, among the other thirty-seven studio albums he’s recorded; as “Every Grain of Sand” on his 1981 album Shot of Love : “I have gone from rags to riches in the sorrow of the night/In the violence of a summer’s dream, in the chill of a wintry light/ In the bitter dance of loneliness fading into space/ In the broken mirror of innocence on each forgotten face.” Even some his one-liner quotes are deeply poetic all by themselves. Check out my personal favourite, “No one is free, even the birds are chained to the sky.” To say there’s no poetry in a Dylan song is like looking at a Picasso painting and saying there’s no colour in it.
And Dylan has more than put words to music. Intermittingly over the years he’s written prose with his debut (and only) novel 1971’s Tarantula, 1973’s Writings and Drawings by Bob Dylan, three printed collections of his lyrics (1985’s Lyrics: 1962-1985; 2004’s Lyrics: 1962-2001 and 2014’s Lyrics: Since 1962) and a 2004 memoir, Chronicles: Volume One, so nobody can’t seriously say the man has never written a book in his life.
Perhaps, in a subconscious move, the Academy also chose him as a reward for – and really, let’s face it – an annus horribilis in music where the greats have left us so unexpectedly in 2016: David Bowie, Prince, heavy metal god Ian “Lemmy” Kilmister of Mötorhead, The Eagles’ Glenn Frey, Earth, Wind & Fire founder Maurice White, master jazz vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson and the innovative producer behind The Beatles, George Martin.
In their bold and courageous move, the Nobel Committee gave the world a balm that was sorely needed this year to counter those losses in recognizing a living legend wordsmith who changed the face of popular music when he rebelliously went from acoustic to electric during the 1965 Newport Folk Festival and contributed anthems to the hostile environment of the 1960s when the United States underwent the turmoil of the Civil Rights Movement, the antiwar movement of their involvement in Vietnam and the changing social attitude and nature of the population. As U.S. President and fellow Nobel laureate Barack Obama said it himself in 2012, “There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music.”
Getting the literary Nobel Prize caps a momentous year for Dylan with having two recording releases, the Great American Songbook covers album Fallen Angels in following 2015’s Shadows in The Night and the forthcoming 36-CD box set Bob Dylan: The 1966 Live Recordings, that covers all his concert tours of that year, coming out November 11. With eleven Grammy Awards, a special Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for “his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power,” and both a Golden Globe Award and Academy Award for “Things Have Changed” in 2000 and a inductee in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame already underneath his belt, Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize for Literature completes a storied five-decade career in bringing circumspective thought and social action to the contemporary song and finding audiences and academics alike in agreement. Dylan is not the first songwriter to get a literary Nobel Prize (Indian poet and pro-independence hero Rabindranath Tagore got his in 1913 for his Gitanjali anthology of works, along with some songs he had composed in his lifetime); hopefully he won’t be the last.
Maybe now’s the time to seriously consider Leonard Cohen in getting one while he still can?
Noises Off (Soulpepper Theatre)
Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 50 Tank House Lane
Monday, October 10; 7:30 p.m
While a popular contemporary theatre piece, the classic 1982 British bedroom farce spoof Noises Off isn’t the easiest production to pull given the physicality involved not only with the actors but the stage schematics itself of a play-within-a-play concept (despite the forgotten film version made with John Ritter, Carol Burnett, Christopher Reeves and Michael Caine back in 1992 that made it look easy, but losing its characteristic feel in the process). Surprisingly, the Soulpepper Theatre company has done it for the first time it’s ever been staged in Toronto and they certainly pass with flying colours.
Broken down into three acts is the touring sex comedy Nothing On with an eclectic cast involving serious thespians Dotty Otley (Brenda Robins) playing housemaid Mrs. Clackett and Garry Lejeune (Matthew Edison) as real estate agent Roger Tramplemain sneaking in tarty tax assessor Vicki played by airhead Brooke Ashton (Myrthin Stagg) for a naughty romp upstairs, while tax exile couple Phillip and Flavia Brent by Frederick Fellowes (Christopher Morris) and Belinda Blair (Raquel Duffy) unexpectedly return for a brief romantic getaway in their home, creating utter slapstick chaos.
Trying to glue this all together is the diva stage director Lloyd Dallas (David Storch) who seemingly lives to torment his cast and a couple of harried stagehands (Oyin Oladejo, Anand Rajaram), plus keep doddering, half-deaf stage legend Selsdon Mowbray (Oliver Dennis) as a bungling aged burglar in check; from last-minute dress rehearsal to its final performance as every little mishap conceivable occurs among these drama queens and kings onstage and backstage using whatever adlib and makeshift prop available in maintaining the old showbiz credo “the show must go on” going.
Ted Dykstra juggles the two-hour love triangle production deftly as he’d done with the previous Soulpepper production of Jitters, pacing and language to float evenly. Even better, the 1970s-period stage set décor by Patrick Clark and costuming from Kaileigh Krysztofiak stays true its style for all its wood tones and earthy colours (the in-between intermissions watching them move the mobile set front-to-back-to-front again is a real treat) in keeping it real for the audience and cast.
And the casting choices are great throughout and kudos all round during Act Two’s backstage shenanigans getting crazier by the minute, mostly performed in semi-pantomime, captures the average ongoing goings-on behind the curtain is pure satire in itself. While all the aforementioned cast is sound, Storch’s short-tempered director is achingly great in his scenes as he tries to handle this sandlot group and whatever workplace politics happens to explode.
Certainly hope Soulpepper will tackle Noises Off again in the foreseeable future and for a much longer run, as something like this can’t always be caught immediately upon first sight to get all of its details of Michael Frayn’s hilarious homage to theatrical antics and the sex farce like Boeing Boeing; No Sex Please, We’re British and Don’t Just Lie There, Say Something! with careful grace and frantic fun for all its sexual double-entendres flung about. Highly recommended.
Noises Off continues through to this Saturday (October 22). For tickets and information, call 416-866-8666 or soulpepper.ca.
Denis Arcand and Adad Hannah: The Burghers of Vancouver
Venue: CIBC Gallery, TIFF Lightbox, 350 King Street West, 4th Floor
Dates/Times: Through December 16; Tuesdays-Saturdays 12-5 p.m.
Admission/Information: FREE; call 416-599-8433 or tiff.net
Since the Great Recession that hit around 2008, the financial world has been looked at under very heavy scrutiny from a jaded majority that bore the brunt of layoffs, stock market calamity and a weakening of the middle class – and continue to do so – which gave way to the Occupy Wall Street Movement to, more recent times, the Panama Papers. Perhaps this is what the six-channel travelling 2015 video installation The Burghers of Vancouver is trying to convey and it does so well in exposing the eternal greed that exist within the human breast.
A collaborative effort of two respected Canadian artists, the Québécois filmmaker Denis Arcand, better noted for films Jésus du Montréal and the Academy Award-winning The Barbarian Invasions; and photographer/video artist Adad Hannah have taken the Auguste Rodin bronze masterpiece “Les Bourgeois de Calais” and given it a contemporary twist as a performance art piece shot near at a urban plaza in downtown Vancouver using “amateur” actors to pose as a recreation of the figures and sandwiching segments of the real statue located in Paris in the six stand-alone screen panels of each member daily routine from rising up, doing the paid gig from a anonymous employer and returning to their homes at night.
Each nameless member come from all walks of life: a poet, a elderly Asian woman, one ex-junkie, a athlete, a laid-off journeyman and a former smuggler; whom for two weeks come together to stand the same positions in ragged costumes and makeup with a few eye blinks and subtle body twitches, enduring disinterested passers-by (except for a few mockers) and the elements for hours on end.
The installation preparation of The Burghers of Vancouver at the Canadian Cultural Centre in Paris.
In the stand-alone panels, most of them discuss their lot in life from the journeyman feeling bitter about his job prospects at his age and unable to cope with the new economic reality; the fragile ex-junkie struggling to stay clean, trying to find her place in society and learning to trust again; the poet coping with the recent death of his wife and the loss he feels without her and his direction while getting the artistic aspect of the project; the elderly Asian living with her tween granddaughter and speaking Cantonese throughout; the chiselled francophone athlete throwing himself completely into his role to sate his ego, if nothing else and the well-fit ex-smuggler in his fifties seeing the darker side of what the project is really about as him being the little fish who got caught with the filthy lucre.
The artists put on a delicate balance of art and statement in the videos, which each run for about less than under ten minutes in contrast of what the original “Burghers” was about when Rodin was commissioned by Calais in 1884 and finished in 1889 to commemorate an event there during the Hundred Years’ War, as British forces surrounded the French seaside town of Calais and demanded the six of the town’s powerful mercantile figures to be handed over to them to spare the citizenry from a possible onslaught, which they complied and saved their citizens and themselves for the common good.
As the ex-smuggler amusingly points this out as well in his segment, he is sceptical that anyone in the corporatized world of today would do the same situation if given the chance to do something that completely selfless as a laugh in a rich town like Vancouver (or anywhere), as some of his fellow artisans speak on being the one-percent getting the scant leftovers and hardships that follow every downturn. The viewer also gets to read the body language of the profilers as an extensive exercise without the benefit of subtitles, as seen with the athlete and Asian woman, who one can easily see her fatigue in being statuesque all day afterwards.
TIFF Lightbox’s tiny CIBC Gallery space fits the piece fine, despite that the sound bites from the speakers could be a bit better and clearer volume-wise to be able to pick up their words. It’s also a keen observance that Arcand and Hannah do not ever let the actors mingle together before, during and after and keeps them complete strangers to each other in The Burghers of Vancouver as just faces in the crowd that find a temporary commonality in a uncertain future filled with instability as subversive and provocative urban public art, just like the original was over a century ago.
The Glenn Gould Award honours its eleventh prize to American avant-garde composer Philip Glass this November
Among the great composers of the last century, Philip Glass defies description from his neo-classical works for cinema like Kundun, The Hours and Koyaanisqatsi to the stage with The Voyage and his operatic magnum opus Einstein on the Beach which was performed at Luminato a few years back for its fortieth anniversary, including a world premiere piece on The Americas; and working with many of the music, stage and film world’s distinguished members such as Laurie Anderson, David Byrne, Yo-Yo Ma, Martin Scorsese, Ravi Shankar, Twyla Tharp and David Bowie. He’s even been parodied in the first season of South Park ’s “Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo” with the kids doing a “happy, non-offensive, non-denominational Christmas Play” with them dancing around in black costumes to a minimalist song he performs himself and the comedy troupe All in the Timing’s “Phillip Glass Buys a Loaf of Bread” that still can illicit laughs, showing his position in pop culture.
Announced last April of the award jury that consisted of iconic British entertainer Petula Clark; Canadians author/broadcaster Adrienne Clarkson, author Michael Ondaatje, Prospero Pictures president and ACTRA Chairperson Martin Katz and actor/director Sarah Polley; American opera tenor Jay Hunter Morris and soprano Deborah Voigt; the arts philanthropist HRH Julie of Luxembourg and Grammy-nominated Chinese pipa virtuoso Wu Man, the Glenn Gould Foundation executive director Brian Levine was exuberant in the choice made for the biennial award that has been given to the likes of Leonard Cohen, Yehudi Menuhin, Oscar Peterson and more recently Robert Lapage.
“Our jury has made a brilliant choice in selecting Philip Glass,” said Levine. “At the start of his career his music was seen as radical and even derided for being contrary to the prevailing musical current, but his work advanced solidly until it permeated our cultural consciousness; it has exerted a profound influence on a whole generation of composers, filmmakers, dramatists and operatic directors. In his work and life, he reveals himself to be a man of deep spirituality and conscience as reflected in the themes of his operatic creations and film scores. We are honoured to present the Prize to an artist of such originality, conviction and vision.”
“I am thrilled with our choice of Laureate,” echoed Bob Ezrin, the chair of the Glenn Gould Prize Jury. “Philip Glass is one of the towering figures of modern music. With an iconic career that has spanned fifty years, his body of work is unrivalled in its breadth and depth. He not only helped to reclaim tonality as a vital force in serious music, he took minimalism and brought it from the fringes of the avant-garde to the mainstream where it has literally provided the subscore to most of our lives. We hear his music and music he has influenced on stage and screen – virtually everywhere. Finally, he is a man of principle and deep spirituality who has used his art to help elevate humanity. On behalf of the jury, I can say that we couldn’t be more proud of this decision.”
“I am very pleased to be the winner of the Eleventh Glenn Gould Prize,” Glass commented upon hearing his award. “It is for me a special honour as I am one of the many musicians who have been inspired by him. Glenn Gould’s name is associated with a lifetime of excellence in music interpretation and performance. Also I am aware that this award places me in the company of some of the most celebrated names in the broad spectrum of the music of our time. It is, therefore, with great pleasure that I accept this award.”
Along with $100,000 cash award and a statue by Canadian artist Ruth Abernethy, Glass also was given the choice of selecting the City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protégé Prize given to an artist of great promise, which goes to fellow pianist and composer Timo Andres. Already into his young career at age 31, the Yale- and Juilliard-educated Andres has done commission work for Carnegie Hall, the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, plus two recordings under the Nonesuch label, 2010’s Shy and Mighty and 2013’s Home Stretch.
American pianist/composer Timo Andres at his New York apartment, to be given the City of Toronto Glenn Gould Protégé Prize by Glenn Gould Prize laurete Philip Glass at a concert in his honour this November in Ottawa.
“I’ve known Timo Andres for the last four to five years, both as a composer and performer,” Glass said in his decision to recognize Andres with the prize. “He is one of the regular performers on the Etudes project. He combines a brilliant compositional mind with a wonderful sense of interpretation of music. I am very pleased to have him present in this very special way at this concert.”
At Ottawa’s National Arts Centre (NAC), the NAC Orchestra concert will putting on a special musical program on November 26 at its Southam Hall (53 Elgin Street), The Genius of Philip Glass, where the ensemble will play highlighted selections of Glass’ symphonic, chamber ensemble and solo piano works that will include his “Symphony #2,” conducted by noted conductor Dennis Russell Davies; followed by Andres’ performance where Glass will reward him with the Protégé Prize and its $15,000 purse award afterwards.
©2016 Julian Bynoe/Snow Leopard ArtsEntertainment. All rights reserved.