LEARNED FROM HISTORY

Greetings,

I got myself into a bit of an intellectual dust-up today with a friend. It’s kind of stupid and a bit precious, but here’s a question:

Can someone truly understand a region of the world and its history if you have never actually lived there?

I can recall watching this fascinating show back in teen years called The Day The Universe Changed (I was a super-nerdy kid, not like now… oh wait a minute…) hosted by this mad-scientist-like character named James Burke. Brilliant man and easily made science and history accessible and even fun. He talked about how during the Middle Ages, particularly during the High Middle Ages in 14th century Northern Europe, the importance of direct personal experiences in understanding the world was one of the preferred methods for the masses to earn knowledge (well, that and the fact illiteracy was rampant and the Church enjoyed the comforts of an educated Church elite that kept them in power). All of this came crashing down to the Black Death and subsequent movements towards reason, science and literacy over the coming centuries, but that’s for another day.

I sometimes wonder if we’re moving back towards this way of thinking in the post-literate age, maybe this time for the better. Personally, given how many misunderstandings and bloodshed we’ve had throughout history due to assumptions about individuals, groups and nationalities we know nothing about, it makes sense to avoid making big assumptions about regions of the world at this point in time. Isn’t that the essence of liberalism? To talk based on meaningful dialogue and debate and to challenge yourself and your own built-in biases?

But even at that, I can only have these discussions with people from other regions of the world and put myself in their shoes to a point. I can only learn so much about another culture if I have never actually been there or lived there. This is one of the positives of globalization; it encourages people to move around and live in different parts of the world. It’s beyond belief arrogant and foolish to assume I’d ever have a real clue about Russia or Burkina Faso if I’ve never actually been there. If I rely only on mediated content, there’s just no bloody way I’d learn anything meaningful.

So this leads into another question. What’s the role of an artist to interpret reality? In theory, good artists take an interpretative idea and change it into a creative one. You take an idea you have a good foundation of and make it beautiful, that’s the idea. That means learning as much as you can about a topic before you even attempt to create some art. Otherwise, it’s either bad stuff or irresponsible material (yes, even today, artists have some degree of responsibility to their craft, yes?).

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MONOCLE & OSCAR PREDICTIONS, LAST ONE!

– Tyler Brûlé, CBC

Greetings,

This story is a bit old now, but I picked up a copy of Tyler Brûlé’s newest creation: Monocle, which is a compendium of international affairs, business, culture, design, art and all that good journalistic stuff thrown in-between high-end advertisers (think Prada, Gucci, Cartier, Hugo Boss) and a price tag in Canada of – wait for it – $12.50. Per issue (hey, times are tough for magazines, going super-high-end or getting scooped up by a media conglomerate seems to be the only two routes one can go nowadays successfully for magazine start-ups). I know, it’s a costly indulgence, but really, it was completely worth it. This is the kind of magazine that student journalists dream about working for and professional journalists rarely work at. It’s that good.

As an aside, Brûlé is this super creative-type that founded Wallpaper back in 1996. Read the Wiki on him, he’s a really impressive guy. He’s also Canadian and an ex-pat living in London.

Alright, back to the gushing.

Have to say: Monocle’s really awesome. As in it could be one of the best magazines I’ve ever read. As in it’s not just a magazine, it’s a transcendent journalistic experience (okay, I know, it’s going a bit far now, but you’d understand my love if you see it). Opening up the slick cover, the textured, rich front-of-book looks like it was designed by Swedish architects. The font is perfect on the eyes, the photos rich, colourful and lively, the style irreverent-but-informative.

The only analogy I can give here is that it combines The Economist’s intelligence and gravitas with Wallpaper’s of-the-moment appreciation of design.

OSCARS: Okay, last round of these predictions. Go!

Best Director

I think that if Martin Scorsese doesn’t win this for The Departed, it will be a huge upset and a major insult to one of America’s greatest filmmakers ever. Still, kind of a bitch though he’s probably going to win it for a film that, while excellent, isn’t Raging Bull-Taxi Driver-Goodfellas masterpiece-like in quality. Seriously though, if he doesn’t win, what’s wrong with you voters? No really, do you people need a timeout from the sun? Does he have to direct a film about a megalomaniacal Hollywood filmmaker to win your approval? Wait a minute, he did that already!

Most likely to win: Martin Scorsese
Who I want to win: Martin Scorsese

Best Documentary

While An Inconvenient Truth is a near-mortal lock for this award, don’t discount Iraq in Fragments. With the culturally conservative but politically liberal (?) Hollywood intelligentsia digging anything anti-war since Michael Moore’s surreal Oscar speech in 2004 after his win for Bowling For Columbine, there’s a chance – a very small chance, but a chance – Iraq in Fragments could win this one.

Most likely to win: An Inconvenient Truth
Who I want to win: An Inconvenient Truth

Best Foreign Film

Isn’t it funny, the Oscars? Here’s a year when three of these films could have very easily been in the running as part of the “B” team for Best Picture. They’re all very good (oh, but thank the sweet Lord that Volver didn’t get in here).

First off, The Wedding and Paths of Glory. I don’t know much about The Wedding, but it is the long-shot here. Same deal for Paths of Glory, which is a French-Algerian film about war, identity, all that stuff the Oscars love.

Lives of Others and Water both have gotten a tonne of praise and have some strong qualities going for both of them. Both would be equally worthy of this award – if it weren’t this particular year. Neither film is going to win it, for if one does, it will be a big upset. There’s another film far more deserving.

Pan’s Labyrinth is simply too good and overpowering a force in this category to not win. It’s been universally loved, seen by a lot of people who otherwise would not go to see a subtitled film and would make a strong case even for Best Picture, even ahead of The Queen. I think one of the strongest gauges for this particular category is whether or not it inspires people to move beyond their traditional filmgoing comfort zones – Labyrinth did this while the other four did not. It’s a gorgeous, heartbreaking film that really speaks to people.

Most likely to win: Pan’s Labyrinth
Who I want to win: Pan’s Labyrinth

Okay, that’s it. No more of this prediction business for me.

OSCAR PREDICTIONS, PART 2

Greetings,

Alright, so after an absolutely brutal flu bug on Monday and Tuesday, I’m slowly getting back into this blogging thing. I’d better finish this Oscar prediction business.

Best Actress

Normally, this would be a damn competitive category. Penelope Cruz’s performance in Volver was easily her finest work ever (even though Volver itself is really overrated – I found it tedious, pretentious and whimsical to a fault). Kate Winslet, still dealing with the Titanic Curse, really smoked her role in Little Children. There’s the now-legendary turn of evil by Meryl Streep in The Devil Wears Prada. The only real question-mark in this category is Judi Dench. While Dame Judi is an extraordinary talent and one of the greatest actors in British history, does the Academy really not have any other choices for this category every year? Hello, Toni Collette from Little Miss Sunshine?

None of these choices matter this year. It’s Helen Mirren’s to lose. This is as close as it gets to a slam dunk this year.

If you haven’t seen The Queen yet, you should, because the film is owned by Mirren from start to finish. No other performance comes even close to this one in this category.

Most likely to win: Helen Mirren
Who I want to win: Helen Mirren


Best Supporting Actress

Man – this is tough. Really tough. This is the first time in a long while that a strong case for four nominees could be made here. There’s no clear winner at all. Rinko Kikuchi and Adriana Barraza both made Babel truly special, in particular Barraza. Both are highly deserving of this award. The only truly iffy choice here is the always-awesome Cate Blanchett, while amazing in Notes On a Scandal, didn’t really have the impact the following two choices did.

Enter Jennifer Hudson and Abigail Breslin. Hudson stole Dreamgirls away from fembot Beyonce (that’s right, I said it, she’s officially a robot) with the kind of earthshaking work that you don’t see often anymore. This being said, Breslin’s got a lot on her side for this award, namely the Academy really seems to love awarding Oscars to even above-average kid performers (*cough* Anna Paquin in The Piano).

My own thoughts are, in the end, the Oscar will probably go to Breslin – she’s the safe choice (even if it is the wrong choice). Kikuchi and Barraza are both worthy, but Babel itself is too challenging to warrant serious attention for much awards. The real winner is Hudson, who deserves this award, but unfortunately, most likely won’t get it.

Most likely to win: Abigail Breslin
Who I want to win: Jennifer Hudson

Best Picture

Ah, the long-awaited Best Picture.

It was a damn good year for cinema in 2006, easily the strongest since Chicago’s onslaught in 2002. But here’s why Little Miss Sunshine’s going to win this puppy.

The Queen will not win this award. While a brilliant, entertaining film, it’s just not worthy of the big prize. While any other director would call The Departed their master work, it’s not Martin Scorsese’s best work (although it is exquisitely directed – more on that in a minute). Plus, given how violent The Departed is and the generally conservative tone of the Oscars, it’s just not likely to get this honour.

It comes down to a few factors here. Babel is very deserving of Best Picture, but it generated some fiercely divided reactions and didn’t have the near-universal love that both Letters From Iwo Jima and Little Miss Sunshine did.

Letters From Iwo Jima is easily the best film of 2006, bar none. Ken Watanabe was royally snubbed from a Best Actor nomination for this film. But aside from that, it’s easily the most cinematically realized, sensitive and stunning film effort by Clint Eastwood ever (not the very, very, very overrated Million Dollar Baby). Thing is, while the Oscars love Eastwood, it could be a case of too many trips to the well if they give him this prize.

So, the winner? Little Miss Sunshine. I’m of mixed feelings on this one. While it’s a great little film and would be a nice antidote to the inexplicable choice of last year’s Oscars for Best Picture (if Jack Nicholson was surprised when Crash won, you know that Hollywood’s made a big mistake), the quaintness of it does make it a bit of an odd duck in this year’s pantheon of choices. Still, given how contentious this year’s category is and how, after several years of some really dark films winning Best Picture, the quiet, simple approach might just be nice this time.

Most likely to win: Little Miss Sunshine
Who I want to win: Letters From Iwo Jima

Alright, my final wave of nominees will be tomorrow. Yeah, waiting with baited breath… heh, right. 🙂

OSCAR PREDICTIONS, PART 1

Greetings,

Well, I know I said I wasn’t going to care, but I’m going to write out my Oscar predictions for this coming Sunday. I’m making only claims in the big categories, as I can’t really be bothered to write out all the Oscar categories this year. Here’s the first part of my view on this topic.

Best Actor

Of all the major categories this year, Best Actor is easily the hardest and most competitive of them all. Still, it’s easy to rule out two nominees early on – DiCaprio for Blood Diamond and Ryan Gosling for Half Nelson. DiCaprio, whom had an amazing 2006 with The Departed and Blood Diamond, is terrific in Blood Diamond but it’s not a groundbreaking performance (really, when is DiCaprio going to get a year when he’s a mortal lock to win? Never? Stupid Titanic jinxing him forever). Gosling is reportedly outstanding as well in Half Nelson, but he’s a long shot.

Now comes the usual Hollywood Politics that could make this a toss-up. Will Smith, who was probably robbed of an Oscar for Ali back in 1999, made The Pursuit of Happyness ostensibly as a worthy crowd-pleaser, but really, he also did it as pure Oscar bait, and that’s a worry for Forest Whitaker and Peter O’Toole. Smith, I’ve been told, is marginally successful in the overrated tripe Happyness, but it’s not the tour de force work of O’Toole or Whitaker. So Smith has to be the outside shot here at best.

To call Forest Whitaker’s work in The Last King of Scotland incredible is an understatement. The guy doesn’t just perform as Idi Amin, he’s full-on transcendent in the role. This being said, O’Toole, a seven-time Oscar nominee that’s now passed royalty status in Hollywood to Legend In His Own Time, is well overdue for this award with his work in Venus (not a brilliant film, but O’Toole is remarkable).

So, all this being said…

Most likely to win: Peter O’Toole
Who I want to win: Forest Whitaker

Best Supporting Actor

Again, another difficult category with no clear winner at the outset. First off, the two gentlemen that will not win this award: Djimon Hounsou for Blood Diamond and Mark Wahlberg for The Departed. Again, like DiCaprio, Hounsou is excellent in Blood Diamond but it’s just not breathtaking work compared to the other nominees. Wahlberg, a surprise entry in this category, is fantastic in The Departed as a bona fide hard ass cop, but it’s too small a role without the appropriate level of impact, say, Jack Nicholson laid down with A Few Good Men back in the early 1990s.

Now comes the hard part. Alan Arkin is terrific in Little Miss Sunshine, easily his finest work in years. Thing is, the other two guys in this category, Eddie Murphy for Dreamgirls and Jackie Earle Haley for Little Children, are as good.

Murphy’s performance was the biggest highlight of Dreamgirls; he channeled a role, while very natural for a larger-than-life personae like Murphy, incredibly well. Haley, who hasn’t been in the movies for years, is amazing in Little Children. But, given that Arkin’s been a workhorse in Hollywood for years, and considering this is shaping up to be the Redress Oscars (i.e. Hollywood fixing long-time injustices at awards shows), he’s got to have an edge. Murphy’s got a bit too much baggage outside of his acting work to be worthy of instant Oscar glory, and Haley’s been out of the scene a long time and his performance wasn’t seen en masse by a lot of people.

Most likely to win: Alan Arkin
Who I want to win: Alan Arkin

DRM ON THE DECLINE?

Greetings,

The bandwagon has gotten a little more crowded today when it comes to Digital Rights Management (DRM) and music labels; Yahoo’s Dave Goldberg came out today regarding the futility of having DRM embedded in music files. This in the wake of Steve Jobs’ interesting (yet ultimately self-serving) statements on why record labels should stop insisting on DRM for their music downloads.

Funny thing about DRM: I own an iPod and have downloaded some tracks from iTunes, which effectively binds me to Apple (God, Apple marketing is such a clusterf**k sometimes) now. Hey, I made the choice. No big deal. But it is a real pain to have .AAC files that are useless beyond iPods.

DRM is symptomatic of more than just record label paranoia over illegal copying. It’s an old school response to an economic model that simply doesn’t work anymore. The record labels still don’t get it (although some labels are doing better at recognizing the lunacy of DRM than others).

First off, let’s go on the assumption that record labels view intellectual property as an immutable legal and conceptual axiom. Let’s also assume that record labels use this argument as a morally and financially convenient excuse to garner more control over legally purchased music by consumers. Finally, let’s make a guess that labels do want more interoperability between music players (hey, who wouldn’t want a slice of the iPod market?) but have a serious issue with abandoning DRM (i.e. wanting it both ways).

It’s not exactly news that entertainment industries take way too long to evolve with the times, but come on guys. The genie has been out of the bottle for years now. First the music industry resists the Internet and goes on a legal Battle Royale against its own consumers. Then it finally wraps it head around providing high quality legal downloads as opposed to the plethora of so-so illegal music downloads out there, and what do the labels do? Insist on restrictive DRM that serves no purpose but to maintain control over what consumers do with their media. Again, what gives? The endless distrust over your own market is just plain nuts in the Web 2.0 era. It bucks every single notion of “audience is king” and just drives people into the arms of pirates.

I know this is largely a reactionary move on part of the record industry to hold onto whatever vestige of control they still have (and in a few years when CD buying effectively stops stone cold dead, they’ll have no influence at all aside from being marketing companies) but the only way they’ll survive into this century is to play to the give-and-take approach: don’t stop selling a high-quality product, as getting paid for a product is all cool, but assume that your audience has control and won’t be handing it back.

I mean, if Vanity Fair is making this argument now, it’s time to pay attention to this idea. Seriously.

NEWSPAPERS: Mark Evans is reporting that the World Association of Newspapers has data that supports the idea newspapers are actually growing in demand, not declining. Evans rightly points out that these statistics are somewhat deceptive; paid broadsheet circulation has undoubtedly declined, but free commuter dailies are exploding in growth (Web 2.0 in the offline world, what a concept). Personally, the newspaper organizations that are going to survive into this century are evolving into more multimedia organizations that use a trusted brand name to get written news out there; The Globe, the New York Times, the Star all do this very well.

GRAMMY GONG SHOW

“Dude, we’re the only good part of this show! I know, tee-hee…”

Greetings,

That’s it. I officially give up on award shows, those self-indulgent, culturally irrelevant ego trips par excellence. Stick a fork in them, they’re done. I’m even tempted to not watch the Oscars now, which, admittedly, lost a lot of credibility when this film won Best Picture ten years ago, but hasn’t exactly been hitting home runs recently either (sorry Paul Haggis, but you ain’t David Lean yet).

The final nail in the coffin for me was the gawd awful Grammys a couple days ago; while the Grammys have near-bottomless capacity for farce and unintentional humour (let’s give it up for Toto and Milli Vanelli!), this year’s show demonstrated two irrefutable facts about the record industry (read: not the music industry, which is doing great):

1) The record industry still clings to Baby Boomer notions of what is “cool” and “hip” with plodding, hubristic musical numbers that pay tribute to bands that haven’t been cool since 1980;

2) The folks in charge of the Grammys are a bunch of homers that have no clue.

Now, let’s go on a couple of assumptions here about the show. First off, the way the Grammys were structured this year felt like the music producers decided “hey, let’s get the kids in by making the music acts line up like an iPod Shuffle – you never know what comes next!”

This was done with, *gulp*, Carrie Underwood, Rascal “We’re Only A Cover Band, Really” Flatts, James Blunt, Earth Wind & Fire, *sigh*… arragh. Ok, you get the point here. Lameness all around…

Second, who thought it was a good idea to create the American Idol-inspired My Grammy Moment? Justin Timberlake’s one moment to shine and do his thing with T.I. for My Love… and he sings with someone whom has never actually had a recording contract? Please, is this how the old folks in charge of the Grammys view the young of America today? Man, that’s lame.

Finally, while it’s pretty common knowledge that country is one of the few musical genres that still retains decent CD sales, how much of an insult is it to artists like Corinne Bailey Rae that Carrie Underwood won for Best New Artist? Sorry, but didn’t she already win a major industry prize that essentially manufactured her into being a star?

Just like the even more lame Junos, the Grammys may have jumped the shark years ago but people still flock to them en masse.

Music award shows are officially dead and irrelevant. Good on Pink to show her obvious, soul-deadening frustration at awarding The Doors (man, what year is this?) a Lifetime Achievement Award. At least someone had the balls to admit what a gong show the Grammys are.

TORO MAGAZINE: Crappy news – Toro’s been cancelled. Yet another major Canadian magazine bites the dust after only four years of operation (although in Canada, that’s pretty good).

I’M BACK

Greetings,

One of the hard things about being a writer for a living is how the creative impulse outside of your work efforts is dictated by how much energy you’ve got, how much there really is to say on stuff out there, and finally, how much stress you feel.

Being as this is the thick of a very cold winter and it’s been uber-stressful for me over some personal issues the past week and a bit, I’ve just been lacking the blogging impluse.

Well, I’m back, albeit there still won’t be a lot of posts for a bit.