Monthly Archives: June 2011

“Boom!” (1968), by Joseph Losey

by Chris Randle

An aging, infamous figure dies isolated at their elaborate compound. Elizabeth Taylor in Boom!, that is, which I happened to be watching last month around the same time that Osama bin Laden made his unmourned exit. The film was presented by my friend David Balzer, an elegiac climax to the “Lizploitation” series he screened with his boyfriend Derek Aubichon. Joseph Losey adapted Boom! with Tennessee Williams from the latter’s 1963 play The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, which had already flopped twice on Broadway. Whatever the medium, Williams rendered his symbolism in neon: Liz’s rich, expiring grotesque is named Sissy Goforth. She says things like “he was wildly beautiful and beautifully wild.” John Waters called this “the greatest failed art film ever made.”

Every actor seems to be inhabiting a different film. Christopher Flanders, the uninvited poet-stud who may be the angel of death or just a helpfully symbiotic parasite, is supposed to be much younger than Goforth, but the role went to Richard Burton, seven years Taylor’s senior and looking it. Burton wanders around in a samurai costume, reciting Kubla Khan and, one imagines, yearning for a drink. As Goforth’s martinet of a security chief, Michael Dunn makes with the quasi-fascist salutes and smug grins favoured by generations of Bond henchmen. Then our socialite is visited by “the Witch of Capri,” and it’s Noel Coward (!!!), playing a camp vampire from some unwritten Derek McCormack story. When Coward assures his hostess that “I have always found girls to be fragrant, in any phase of the moon,” the delivery really cannot be improved upon. Let’s call it indelible.

Liz herself is a bit of a mess, her accent going to so many places simultaneously that it proves the existence of quantum mechanics. Certain moments anticipate this unforgettable scene (1:21:00 or so) from her ’80s TV movie There Must Be a Pony, a highlights-reel highlight described by one of David’s friends as “the burrito of pain.” But a naturalistic actor probably wouldn’t have found whatever skewed pathos Williams’ script contains. Taylor imbues the role with all her dissolute charisma. As Chris and Sissy take their death-dance to its predictable conclusion, they seem ever more like Dick and Liz, starring in a hopelessly glamorous home movie.

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Little Boxes #50


Lady Gaga by Hellen Jo, from Prison for Bitches, 2010)

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Tea With Chris: Salvador Dali’s Flower Shop

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Friday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Chris: Usamaru Furuya doesn’t just draw gory black comedy. Sometimes he makes heartwarming comics about following your bizarre dreams:

Via Douglas Wolk: “Archie Comics illustrator Dan DeCarlo, who had befriended Eno while lecturing at the Winchester School Of Art, was invited to witness one of Roxy Music’s earliest rehearsals. His impressions of the experience—in particular, Eno’s use of the VCS3 synthesizer to filter the group’s sound—formed the basis for his cover to That Wilkin Boy #10.”

Michael DeForge has been writing a cartoonist’s diary at The Comics Journal all week. One entry mentions Therafields, a cultish psychoanalytic commune from Toronto’s Aquarian period. I’d never heard of it until now, but their leader’s lover seemingly had a gift for…book design?

Carl: Geeta Dayal pays tribute to the late Martin Rushent: His career stretched from Jesus Christ Superstar (he was the engineer) to the Pipettes, but his name is forever linked to the still-underappreciated Human League. In particular Geeta recalls the League Unlimited Orchestra – a remix album before that was a thing, and “one of the most relentlessly avant-garde records in [her] collection.”

This is a question I’ve always wanted to ask but was embarrassed to admit I didn’t already know: Who set the roof on fire? A friend pointed me to this post from February that has the answer, although I think there remains a little uncertainty about whether the chain definitely goes Rock Master Scott –> P-Funk or, possibly, the other way around.

New Yorker/Berliner David Levine is in Toronto right now. He’s a very nice man and he’s directed Habit, a show in the Luminato festival that is free and freaky: an all-day performance of a 90-minute play “on a loop,” with the same lines but improvised staging every time, that you watch through the windows of a house built inside another building. It’s live theatre, it’s reality TV, it’s a parody of kitchen-sink American drama, it’s an acting study, whatevs, I’m excited to see it.

And now … it seems like a day for some Carmen Amaya.

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Friday Pictures – Laura Owens

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Little Boxes #49

(from Thor #160, script by Stan Lee and art by Jack Kirby, 1966)

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Tea With Chris: The Lies of a Baby

Tea With Chris is a roundup of recommended links, posted every Friday. Here are a few of our favourite things from the Internet this week:

Chris: Ariel Levy’s New Yorker article about the many trials and depredations of Silvio Berlusconi is unsurprisingly filled with great quotes, from the crony who approvingly equates his Presidente with Mussolini to the former cabinet minister who explains: “His lies are like the lies of a baby: he gets caught with his hand in the cookie jar and says ‘I’ve never eaten a cookie in my life!’” Levy meets Italians who delight in their buffoon of a leader and ones who cringe at being represented by a human stereotype, but she zeroes in on the oligarchic control that allowed Berlusconi to make his own appalling sexism omnipresent in the media: “If your only information about female people came from Berlusconi’s channels, you would likely conclude that they exist specifically to be sexually humiliated in public.”

PS22 chorus covers “Energy” by Austra and former choir kid Katie Stelmanis, kills it.
Margaux: I love Peter Galison and his concrete ways . He wrote a book about how it was probably pretty relevant that Einstein had a crappy job at the patent office where he had to think about how to synchronize clocks for train schedules – a very big problem at that time. It’s an obvious idea once you think about – the obviousness a natural sign for a real genius idea. It feels better to think that something as abstract as the theory of relativity could originate from a problem in the world so newly created as “how to coordinate train schedules”. One’s mundane job feels better too. This New York Times article surveys his incredibly varied works.

Speaking of grounding the symbolic realms, this reminds me of how, reportedly, Buckminster Fuller had a pretty hard timeas a child understanding that the dots on the blackboard represented points in the world – and lines drawn between them represented connections. And how he tried to change the phrase “worldwide” with the more grounded “world around” but didn’t have any luck.

Which makes me think of how strangely grounded the artist Rebecca Belmore‘s repetitive gestures are. Sometimes, when people are trying to be more direct with their art, they occasionally think to take their work off the canvas or pedastal or loom. Sometimes the results of this freedom can, unfortunately, become even more trapped by the medium of the gallery – as it can be a challenge for irregular forms or complicated messages to keep their shape outside this context. But the artist Rebecca Belmore always succeeds to escape both the mediums, the gallery boxes and the confusion.

If you’re not familiar with Rebecca Belmore’s work, Daniel Baird’s article in Walrus Magazine is a good survey of her work. Even if you haven’t seen Belmore’s work, it is hard not to be horribly moved by even Baird’s simple descriptions of her most famous performance pieces. The works are made up of ideas and gestures and performance. They performances’ power are just as undiminished through video or account (though Daniel Baird is to be credited too here). Rebecca Belmore’s repetitive gestures seem to be the gestures that she knows are missing in world – gestures of grieving or acceptance or making things right or simply known. Her gestures became part of the concrete world through sheer force of will, repetition and need. Though unconventional, the work communicates directly to anyone who can look.

Carl: The best thing I’ve read about class in a long while is Polly Toynbee’s spare-no-fistpower column on the British equivalent of the (less commonly thrown around) North American  “white trash” slur, “chav,” the most successfully bruited-about socioeconomic bogeyman since the 1980s-90s welfare-mom/crack-mom in the U.S. The spectre of the chav, she writes, is a tool in “the conspiracy to deny the very existence of a working class, even to itself.”

Killer bars: That brief period between 1917 and 1979, when British wealth, trembling in fear of revolution, ceded some power, opportunity and money to the working classes is over. There is now no politics to express or admit the enormity of what has happened since the 1980s – how wealth and human respect drained from the bottom to enrich and glorify the top.

She was inspired by what seems like a fantastic new book on the subject, Chavs: The Demonisation of the Working Class, by Owen Jones. Put it on your summer reading list. The whole thing reminds me of a joke I heard this week somewhere I can’t recall: A corporate executive, a union member and a Tea Party member are sitting at a table. On the table are 10 cookies. The CEO reaches out and takes nine cookies at once and then turns to the Tea Party member and says, “Look out! That union guy is trying to take your cookie!”

Nobody in the past 30-plus years has sung about such subjects better than the late, great Gil Scott-Heron, and nobody has sung in prose about the death of GSH (or many other topics this year) than the great Greg Tate this week in the Village Voice. A truly heartbreaking eulogy. A few killer bars among many:

George Clinton once said Sly Stone’s interviews were better than most cats’ albums; Gil clearing his throat coughed up more gravitas than many gruff MCs’ tuffest 16 bars. Being a bona fide griot and Orisha-ascendant will do that; being a truth-teller, soothsayer, word-magician, and acerbic musical op-ed columnist will do that. Gil is who and what Rakim was really talking about when he rhymed, “This is a lifetime mission: vision a prison.” Shouldering the task of carrying Langston Hughes, Billie Holiday, Paul Robeson and The Black Arts Movement’s legacies into the 1970s world of African-American popular song will do that too. The Revolution came and went so fast on April 4, 1968, that even most Black people missed it. (Over 100 American cities up in flames the night after King’s murder—what else do you think that was? The Day After The Revolution has been everything that’s shaped America’s racial profile ever since, from COINTELPRO to Soul Train, crack to krunk, bling to Barack.)

This recollection of being taught creative writing by Scott-Heron early in his career is also well worth reading.

Finally, as a little ray of sunshine through that beautifully rippled gloom – hey, it’s really nice outside! – here’s a video that seemed to me this week as if it was everywhere on the social networks, but in fact it was only everywhere on my social networks, because where 80s anarcho-collectivist-folk-punk and Torontopian twang-rock intersect you apparently automatically find all my contact information. It’s a joyful shambles of a hootenanny by the Mekons and Toronto’s own Sadies on one of my favourite songs, “Memphis, Egypt,” from one of my absolute favourite albums, Rock N Roll (1989). Apropos of the above: “We know the devil and we have shaken him by the hand/ embraced him and thought his foul breath was fine perfume…. Just like rock ‘n’ roll.” It is sung in Zurich, where the proverbial fiscal gnomes reside.

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Friday Pictures – Katharine Mulherin

Never A Bride / self-portrait series as seen in dressing room mirrors

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