Tag Archives: torontopia

Carl’s Tuesday Musics (belated): Jim Guthrie, “The Rest Is Yet to Come” (2013) (Animation by Dan Berry)

From the upcoming album Takes Time.

“Fire all the hired guns –
I know I’m not the only one.”

Dan Berry on vimeo.

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Filed under carl wilson, music, Tuesday Musics, TV/video

Tuesday Musics: “All Women Are Bitches,” Fifth Column, 1992

by Carl Wilson

All excited to go see Kevin Hegge’s documentary He Said Boom (that’s a great interview about it) on Toronto queercore/riotgrrrl-goddamnothers Fifth Column tonight in Hot Docs in Toronto. Was looking for the mid-8os zine/7″ flavour, but didn’t feel satisfied, and this is the better visual, but finally went for the hit.

(Tuesday Musics will get less nostalgic someday, promise.)

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Tuesday Musics: Les Mouches, “Carload of Whatever”

Les Mouches was Owen Pallett‘s band before Final Fantasy, and is (sometimes and in a very different sense) his band now after Final Fantasy.  The other flies in this ointment are Matt Smith (guitar, stuff) and Rob Gordon (drums, stuff). In this band Owen played guitar, mostly, not the violin or keyboards to which fans of his solo work are accustomed. Rob’s drums frequently burst into squalls of free-jazzish noise. Owen was in a deep Xiu Xiu phase. There was frequent screaming. They weren’t to everybody’s taste. I miss them.

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Tea With Chris: Which of Us Ex-Leninists…

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:

Carl: Astra Taylor wrote a Kindle Single on Unschooling that has sparked some useful debate: A Slate article slammed it harshly, advocating a position that I’ve long sympathized with, that we have an obligation to support and participate in the institution of public education; Conor Friedersdorf in the Atlantic took issue with that; and Astra herself wrote a thoughtful and balanced rebuttal in n+1. I strongly believe that (like most things about education) this is an ethical and political issue that doesn’t get rigorous enough consideration, and one with deep contradictions that are hard to work out. When I was a student myself, I spent a lot of time passionately reading and thinking about alternatives to the way schools restrict, control and segregate; as an adult, I’ve become more alarmed about the erosion of public schooling as a basic pillar of democratic society – I was even more gut-level enraged by Rick Santorum’s statement that as president he would homeschool his kids in the White House than by the rest of his idiotic stances. Whatever your personal stake in it, this conversation is vital to have and to expand.

On another note altogether, the great English singer and musician Robert Wyatt took a look back through his own lifelong sentimental education in music in a Pitchfork interview this week, including his struggles with alcohol, disability, anxiety and politics. (I suspect he’s a little revisionist about his Leninist past, but then which of us isn’t?) It is candid, funny, painful and enlightening.

Finally, in the Torontopian department, the Toronto Standard‘s Sarah Nicole Prickett takes a look at the diverse state of youthful collective creativity here, in a piece both heartening and informative, even if it never quite overcomes (though it tries) its historical nearsightedness.

Chris: Three decades ago, somebody watched a test screening of Videodrome and didn’t love it quite as much as me or Carl or (probably) Margaux.

Emma Healey wrote a sharply incisive response to “So Many Feelings,” Molly Fischer’s dismissive essay about “ladyblogs,” supporting “an acknowledgement of the fact that the experience of being a woman is inextricable from the need to waste time at work, or look at things that make you laugh, or find a community whose sensibilities and interests and tastes are familiar to you—whose existence makes you feel, in some small way, less alone.”


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Filed under carl wilson, chris randle, linkblogging, margaux williamson

Tea With Chris: Oblivion Scattereth

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: “The ruins of Wonderland.”

Owen Pallett started a Tumblr devoted to Toronto show posters (2000-09), and it’s already fascinating – not only for suggesting what the local musical topography looked like a decade ago to us babies, but for its explicit rejection of nostalgia. Who wants to live in a museum?

New John Ashbery poem, 11 perfect lines, the last one almost a wink:

Oblivion scattereth her poppy, and besides
it’s time to go inside now,
feed the aggressive pets, forgive our trespasses
for trespassing against us.

Margaux: This sort of feels good, this video “#nov30 WHY I AM STRIKING”. “I’m going to try to do this, actually, without swearing and shouting.” (he doesn’t succeed)

Speaking of which, fuck you my Canada! for being the first to pull out of Kyoto.

I kind of like our lack of manners in the  age of WikiLeaks, but I like this article Good Manners in the Age of WikiLeaks from Slavoj Žižek too. “The only surprising thing about the WikiLeaks revelations is that they contain no surprises. Didn’t we learn exactly what we expected to learn? The real disturbance was at the level of appearances; we can no longer pretend we don’t know what everyone knows we know.”

A magical Spanish man named Eduardo Sousa has maybe provided one solution the nightmarish foie gras problem – as part of a slightly more Peta-friendly This American Life “Poultry Slam” broadcast.

This would be a nice service for adults too, What children’s drawings would look like if it were painted realistically.

This seems easy and useful – ethical fashion options.

“They’re making everyone do socialism to each other” – a wonderfully unrigorous rant on Ayn Rand and a Lulu Lemon misstep.

Carl: For my sins, I’ve been reading a shitload of year-end music lists. For my virtues, I have gotten to see this: A blog in praise of older women’s “advanced style”.

A man with a great many sins and virtues, Christopher Hitchens, died today. My closest personal connection to him was sometimes in the early 1990s being in the same room in which his Nation column was being edited, over the phone, by the fantastic and patience-of-a-saint-having JoAnn Wypijewski. So his death makes me think of her.

Also died this week: George Whitman, the 98-year-old proprietor of Shakespeare & Company bookstore in Paris (the successor to Sylvia Beach’s famous institution). Whitman would let writers and artists live in the (filthy) upstairs of the store if they would either work there a day a week, write a one-page autobiography, or pledge to read a book a day. The illustrator Molly Crabapple joined that tradition at 17: She made this picture today in tribute.

And on top of that, RIP to Russell Hoban, who managed in his life to write both this and this, among many other things. That’s a life.

If I were in New York this weekend I would go to this conference, “Occupy Onwards,” at the New School on Sunday.

But first, if I were American, I would do something about this Internet censorship bill in Congress: David Rees entertainingly helps explain why shit is fucked up and scary

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Tea With Chris: Florizona –> Torontopia

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: Back in grade school, the George Grosz drawing that I came across in a textbook rattled me more than anything this side of Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark. The sheer ferocity was disquieting. I mention it because a Grosz design is featured in this arresting collection of Weimar-era book covers, images of industrialism, intrigue and distorted forms from a world on the cusp of annihiliation.

Bill Blackbeard, who passed away last month, saved innumerable pieces of comics history from mouldering decay. Here’s how, and why.

This is not Vince Foster. This is not Swiftboating. This is the dude who passed health care reform as ‘the biggest Affirmative Action in history.’ This is the whitey tape. This is ‘you are an Indonesian welfare thug.’ This is the host of ‘Celebrity Apprentice,’ questioning the intellect of the past editor of the Harvard Law Review. This is the scion of inherited money as populist, and the scion of a teen single-mother as elitist. This is, if you were white, you and the black dude who came before wouldn’t be here. This is we don’t believe you. In other words, this is a racism of the bone.”

Carl: It’s a bit ridiculous how often I bring Ann Powers to tea, but she’s now officially writing and broadcasting for National Public Radio now, and she’s had an especially prolific week. But her fine piece about “lifer bands” – the ones you stick with for decades – stands out especially because it’s about the ever-underappreciated Silos, who’ve got a new album out called Florizona, with this lead single, “White Vinyl,” which is simultaneously hilarious and genuinely sexy in a way that’s very tricky to pull off:

That video confused me a little, because the level of artwork done for it seemed to be disproportionate to what one does for a video, especially for an indie band. But then I discover it was actually a wholesale import of the art by photographer John Eder (who actually cowrote the song), from his book, Florida House (that link on the title should get you to an online flipbook of the whole thing – if it doesn’t work you can get there through the “Portfolio” link on his site), which tells plainspoken tales of growing up in south Florida in the 1970s, with tons of Eder’s work in a vein that I might classify as Googie-Photoshop Expressionism or something. Checkitout.

Type Books, which is just short of being the only remaining independent bookstore in downtown Toronto, is having a birthday party featuring “pop-up” readings from 18 writers tomorrow. You should pop in.

Simple idea but the execution is perfect: Way funnier than I expected.

But the main thing I did this week was write this piece, primarily of local interest. You may want to avoid if you acquired an allergy to the term “Torontopia” in the past decade, but I am hopeful that it recharges and redirects the conversation on some level. Maybe more to follow in the future.

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Tea With Chris: Crazy Love

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:

Margaux: Chris and Carl are at the Pop Conference in L.A. this week so I will attempt to cover tea alone.

Mainly – I highly recommend the latest New Yorker magazine. It is action packed.

So far I have just read two articles, the first: An incredibly cautious and thoughtful article on Scientology by Lawrence Wright. The article is framed through the story of a movie director’s eventual descent from Scientology after 35 years as an active member. The most hilarious thing about the article is the lack of nuanced lying, there is a lot of “I wasn’t even in that country!” or “I met no such person!” rather than the more expected, subtle massaging of the truth. This made the hunt for truth seem kind of hilarious. The saddest thing about the article is that, with the collected and convincing evidence mounting, it is appearing very likely that anyone supporting Scientology through services or donations is helping to support (however unwittingly) the continuation of human rights abuses.

The second article: Tiny Fey, who turns out to write a fine New Yorker article, ponders the dilema of either making things a tiny bit better for her family by having another child or making things a tiny bit better for the entertainment industry by staying around long enough so she can make sure older female comedians will continue to be hired rather than continue to be deemed “crazy” and unemployable. As she explains:

“I have a suspicion – and hear me out – that the definition of “crazy” in show business is a woman who keeps talking even after no one wants to fuck her anymore.”

I went, “hahahahahahahahahaha”. Tiny Fey continued:

“The only person I can think of who has escaped the “crazy” moniker is Betty White, which, obviously, is because people still wnat to have sex with her.”

I thought, “True enough”. And then I thought about Betty White. And then I thought about Tina Fey some more.

Chris: Carl and I are indeed in L.A., but here’s some very quick links before I race over to the Pop Conference:

New! Lynda Barry! Interview!

Flannery O’Connor, another secret cartoonist.

The funniest gimmick-Tumblr concerning the British class system you will see this week: http://davidcameronpretendingtobecommon.tumblr.com/

I haven’t actually finished watching this vintage documentary about rap in Toronto yet – Pop Conference papers tend to be written at the last minute – but it looks pretty great:

(Via Noz.)

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Toronto in Moving Pictures: Notes on Scott Pilgrim and No Heart Feelings

by Carl Wilson

Usually Toronto appears in movies dressed up as another specific city (frequently you will see New York patrol-squad cars parked on our street corners) or as generic Anytown, with specific geographic markers minimized, generally in American movies. (Torontoist’s Reel Toronto series has a good time pulling back the camouflage.) But sometimes it plays itself, in movies made by Torontonians such as Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg and, increasingly, even a few non-Torontonians.

I’m an easy touch for localism, my own or others’, fetishizing site-specific references in songs, in art, on TV shows. I’d be unlikely to watch the striving-for-sparkling CBC show Being Erica if it weren’t set in Toronto; I’ll always be grateful for Kids in the Hall. This applies less to films. Perhaps setting is so vital to a film that the stakes are too high. It’s as if movies don’t do justice to Toronto and Toronto can’t do justice to movies. Perhaps the city’s not the right scale for feature film?

Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983) may never be surpassed as a Toronto film: It documents Toronto when it was in the throes of post-adolescence, changing from provincial centre to metropolis, from sheltered Toronto the Good to a punchier, punk-rock city of dirty diversity. But it does not do so only with its background scenery – it’s actually about that process, choosing CITY-TV (“CIVIC-TV” in the film) and its soft-core porn (“Baby Blue movies” in real life) as the fulcrum of the change; the station’s Moses Znaimer (as more WASPishly incarnated by James Woods) as its instigator and eventual victim; the transformation’s psychic content as seeming to come from Asia but actually from America; its general theoretical content as coming from Marshall McLuhan; and Debbie Harry as making it all sexier.

This is all pretty accurate. Also, sometimes Toronto does make you feel like your guts are collapsing.

My next-favourite (at least excluding total art films) is probably Monkey Warfare (2006), which might be flawed and fidgety, but seduces me anyway. Its story, which centres on biking, pot, age-inappropriate relationships and soured idealism, could easily have taken place in Vancouver, where director Reg Harkema comes from. He had recently moved here, but I think the film mainly needed to take place in Toronto because it relies on the performances of Don McKellar and Tracy Wright (RIP), a couple playing a couple (I’d say couples are unusually important in Toronto), in their and my own gentrifying (in both film and real life) neighbourhood of Parkdale.

There’s metafiction and self-satire (local film-and-theatre “power couple” plays “loser couple”) in these doublings. But it is also a matter of camera angle – the eye-level view, slightly tilted down, that preoccupies the camera seems true to this city’s visual field. We have more and more tall buildings but we have not physiologically adapted to the idea that they are there. Toronto also seems an apt setting for any film about inertia, especially compulsively lively inertia.

This year, there’s been an unusually large number of openly, even proudly Toronto-based films. I haven’t seen Bruce McDonald’s This Move is Broken or Sook Yin Lee’s Year of the Carnivore or Atom Egoyan’s Chloe (or upcoming TIFF movies like Trigger, in which Wright also stars). But the last two movies I’ve seen are Scott Pilgrim vs. the World, a movie based on a manga set in Toronto by a local artist, but produced by Hollywood and made by British director Edgar Wright, and No Heart Feelings, a film made by a group of Torontonians and set here.

It needn’t matter that much that Scott Pilgrim is set in Toronto, as what dominates the production are the colourful comic-book and video-game effects that pop up on the screen. But the wryness of the movie depends on all the fantastical elements balancing off with the more drab, routine existence of its 20-something characters, who have bands that suck and live in little dark apartments where they make garlic bread for dinner. Wright was smart enough to realize Toronto could out-mundane just about any American city, at least any city that could simultaneously support a nightclub. The movie loves the city enough to make fun of it. It has the audacity to open with the words, “once upon a time in Toronto.”

The number of inside-Toronto-jokes may even have ankled it at the box-office – are Americans supposed to get why it’s funny that Ramona, the female romantic lead, is American (because, like her funky dyed hair, it’s part of what puts her out of Scott’s league)? The story takes place in winter, when any Canadian city is more itself (and less fun) than in the summer. Ramona has moved to Toronto looking for something mellower than her life in New York, but her (evil) ex-boyfriend told her it was “one of the great cities.” That boyfriend eventually follows to open a nightclub here, which is called Chaos, and reminds me strongly of another nightclub opened by a scenester New Yorker in Toronto, the late and unlamented Circa, which would equally have wished to describe itself as a “cathedral of cutting-edge taste.” A band is asked what they’re going to do for fun while in town, and the bass player says, “Fun? In Toronto?” This is funny because he’s a vegan from Montreal. When they’re going to rubberneck at a film shoot at Casa Loma, somebody says, “They shoot movies in Toronto?”

But ultimately Lee’s Palace, the defunct club Rockit, Honest Ed’s, Pizza Pizza and all the other landmarks are backdrops. The effect is not to have the movie set out an essay on Toronto – hell, Scott and Ramona blithely skip town out a magic door at the end – but to have Toronto altered just a little, forever after, by being used as a landscape for fantastic adventures. Next time I look down the Baldwin Steps, I can imagine a dumb skateboarding superhero being duped into doing a grinder down them to his doom. Next time I see a lousy band at Lee’s, I can envision someone headbutting the bassist so hard he explodes into a shower of toonies.

This is what the “telling our stories” trope of cultural nationalism gets wrong. Yeah, there is a hunger to have our lives, the places we live in, ratified in a sense by art: To have stories told that take place here sends the simple message that you can tell stories here. If you never hear stories about your place then you assume stories only come from elsewhere. But once that permission is clear you don’t have any obligation to “represent.” You have a mandate to transform.

This was the problem with a movie I really wanted to like better, No Heart Feelings, directed by Sarah Lazarovic, Geoff Morrison and Ryan J. Noth, which I saw at the Royal Theatre on College Street (it’s now playing at the Carlton). I’ve been leaving out of my survey a few set-in-Toronto works that friends have made lately, in part because I figure in them; I nearly have that issue with this movie: While none of the people who made it are my friends, they could easily be stunt doubles to my friends. Some friendly acquaintances show up in the backgrounds. I go the places the characters go and do a little too much of what they do.

So now I know what it’d be like to be an Upper West Sider watching a Woody Allen movie. I do not entirely recommend the sensation.

The film itself is a light cotton ball of partly improvised, mumblecore-style interactions, minor angst and sexy hangs that rolls pleasantly through the brainpan and leaves few threads behind. A couple of the actors (Rebecca Kohler, Steve Murray) are memorable, and several jokes. (At one point the characters, gathered at a cottage, are kidding around over dinner and someone says, “Didn’t you think that by now you’d be having serious intellectual dinner conversations? Are we even capable of talking about, like, politics?” “Perfectly capable,” another says, “but not interested.” Pause. Third character: “I once farted 12 times in a row.” Everybody laughs. “Was anyone else there?” “Yeah,” he says – “Jean Chretien.”)

Nothing much else happens at the cottage that we can’t predict. When characters in a movie about a city leave the city, it’s normally an opportunity for a transgressive turn, but this is a movie again about lively inertia, about people who are having trouble changing – nominally from youth to adulthood, but really from frivolity to substance. The movie doesn’t seem to have much to say about this problem (one guy makes art) except that one should try not to fall for the wrong people (which to be fair is about all Woody Allen movies often have to say).

This is in part because it is too preoccupied being a “love letter to Toronto,” specifically “our” Toronto of Kensington Market, College Street, bicycling, coffee shops, art openings, etc. After the initial wave of familiarity, the warmth becomes claustrophobic.

I do like little comedy-of-manners details the movie picks up on, in the particular ways Toronto life is shaped by bumping in to people on the street, or the dynamics of its yard sales and house parties. (Scott Pilgrim addresses the latter too). If it were as funny as prime Woody Allen, or the characters as engaging, it might get away with it more completely. Instead I start missing the escapist function of films – and realizing that for me any movie not set in Toronto is automatically more escapist than one that is, and more generally any emotional register is more escapist than everyday banter, and that a story that simply returns reality to you unaltered is not exactly a story, although it is a skill.

Next time I am at Ideal Coffee, I’ll remember the conversation in this movie about how it’s a place that can make you feel not cool enough to drink coffee, but that won’t alter the place much more than an iota. Where’s that shower of golden coins?

The question of privilege is hard to avoid – of what kind of cultural position might make dissatisfaction and self-satisfaction so hard to tell apart. But there are lots of middle-class movies in that zone. Maybe if I’d been Argentinian and seen it in Buenos Aires, or even Canadian and seen it in Kingston (it played festivals in both places), this wouldn’t bug me as much. But five years ago when a bunch of us were talking cheekily about “Torontopia,” the notion was something like this passage from Ivan Chtcheglov:

And you, forgotten, your memories ravaged by all the consternations of two hemispheres, stranded in the Red Cellars of Pali-Kao, without music and without geography, no longer setting out for the hacienda where the roots think of the child and where the wine is finished off with fables from an old almanac. Now that’s finished. You’ll never see the hacienda. It doesn’t exist.

The hacienda must be built.

All cities are geological; you cannot take three steps without encountering ghosts bearing all the prestige of their legends. We move within a closed landscape whose landmarks constantly draw us toward the past. Certain shifting angles, certain receding perspectives, allow us to glimpse original conceptions of space, but this vision remains fragmentary. It must be sought in the magical locales of fairy tales and surrealist writings: castles, endless walls, little forgotten bars, mammoth caverns, casino mirrors.

The hacienda was there to be built, the materials there to be found. Scott Pilgrim seemed to me to know that the casino mirrors can then become glittering lakes, or at least waterslides. It’s like Videodrome that way, although a much more cotton-candy version. No Heart Feelings casts its eye across the building materials, then sits down on them and has another beer. Come on, folks. Break’s over.


Filed under carl wilson, movies