Friday, June 10, 2005

What the ... ?

In which I cram as many links as possible into a single post.

Jessica writes for, among other things, my second home on the web, Television Without Pity, where she was keeper of the The Scully and The Mulder Action Figures. Jessica is one half of the Fug Girls, and one of the funniest people you could hope to read.

This is probably desperately wrong - the situation is certainly highly confusing. But that didn't keep me from nearly peeing myself with laughter.

And then I scratched my head. Again. Some more. What is going on with these two? And why, exactly, do I care?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Book Blather

In which I quote from the book I just read. (You should expect this to happen from time to time.)

They waited, father and son, without speaking, until finally the darkness fell and the first breath of music stirred from someplace far below them. Tiny people, insects really, slipped out from behind the curtain, opened their mouths and with their voices gilded the walls with their yearning, their grief, their boundless, reckless love that would lead each one to separate ruin.

-- Ann Patchett, Bel Canto [on Rigoletto]

It's not necessarily great art, but Bel Canto has moments of real insight, and includes some of the most crashingly romantic (or perhaps that should be Romantic) language that I've seen in a while. The rumour is that the main character is loosely based on the American soprano Renée Fleming.

Also: Louis Quilico, the greatest Rigoletto there ever was.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

An Open Letter

Dear CBC Radio:

Please understand that I am an unshakably loyal listener. CBC News is my news; As It Happens is the best thing ever to happen to the telephone since the invention of the pushbutton. I have Radio Two on all day Saturday and all day Sunday. Stuart McLean has a permanent place at the breakfast table, as far as I'm concerned. Rick Phillips is similarly welcome any time. My Saturday afternoon isn't complete without Saturday Afternoon at the Opera. So I say this in the most loving and constructive manner possible: Stop it already with the Songs of the Auvergne.

Today was the last straw. If you play the G-D Songs of the Ferkakte Auvergne one more time, I'm going to pitch a hissy the like of which has never been seen. What is it, like eight times in the past year alone? Get a grip. I mean, I love Karina Gauvin, too - she's aces. But enough is enough! I've heard the things so much I could sing them myself. Honestly, I'm dreaming in Auvergnais now. I can't take one more airing; take them out of the rotation or somebody at the shiny new broadcast centre on Sparks Street is in for the frowning of a lifetime. I'm talking foot-stamping, peel-the-paint-off-the-plaster, full-bore tanty. With bad words, even.

Seriously: quit it.

Much less love than usual,

Sandman

Thursday, June 02, 2005

A Long Time Ago, In A Theatre Far, Far Away

If you haven't seen the last Star Wars movie, look away now.

I saw Episode III: Revenge of the Sith on Friday, and I have to say I enjoyed it more than I expected to. (I thought Episode I: The Phantom Character Development was dreadful, and Episode II: Attack of the Clowns was worse. And that's the last concession to Big Georgie's pretentious naming convention I'm going to make. Just typing out the colon in the middle of all those titles gives me a pain in mine.) I knew that the dialogue would be cheesy, because, come on. And I knew there wouldn't be much (hah!) in the way of psychological complexity, because Georgie Boy doesn't do that. And yet.

I somehow cared about what happened to these characters, even though I'm not entirely sure why. Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen are given dialogue which is almost literally unspeakable. The relationship between Padmé and Anakin is about as passionate as a bowl of jelly beans: sugary and full of pretty surface colours, but sickening if you get too much of it. And they're not the only ones who are forced to emote around mouthfuls of Lucas's undercooked expository wodge. Poor Ewan McGregor fares better at finding a consistent character buried under all the mythic expectations surrounding Obi-Wan. Others, like Samuel Jackson, sink without a trace. When he is allowed to express something like honest emotion (in other words, to behave like a human being, instead of a Living Embodiment of Wisdom) McGregor does fine, even moving, work. (Obi-Wan is the real hero of this story, it seems to me.) When Lucas gives Portman and McGregor scenes together, something good happens: the story (such as it is) moves along, and it's even involving. There were moments where McGregor and Portman made me shed tears - when they were allowed to use their expressive faces. And I admit I cheered when Yoda kicked about six different kinds of nasty droid butt. But I shouldn't care, really, at this point, what happens to Anakin Skywalker. After all, in - ::sigh:: all right - Episode I - he's a whining, selfish brat with an obvious talent for destruction. In the next film he's a snot-nosed teenager in a galactic sulk. I don't envy Christensen having to pull together a performance out of Anakin's raging sense of entitlement, incomplete motivations, short-sightedness and passionate self-regard. And yet.

Why does the fact that Anakin is so easily manipulated bother me so much? I wouldn't care at all if Christensen didn't bring something to the role. On some level, I wanted Anakin to remember that Padmé and Obi-Wan loved him and valued him, even though I knew it wasn't going to end well. Lucas's biggest problem isn't that he has an ear for dialogue made of purest tin, though he does: it's that, even with his infamous absolute control over every aspect of these movies, he can't be consistent within his own creation. It's never satisfactorily explained, for instance, why all the secrecy around Anakin's marriage to Padmé is even necessary. (Hey, kids - one of you is the Chosen One, and one used to be the Queen of her own planet; make a plan like grownups - it's not like you're gonna get shipped off to the Mos Eisley Home For Over-Dressed and Unwed Mothers. Also, a little backbone wouldn't be out of place. I'm just saying.) And if the Jedi Council is made up of the wisest, most evolved minds in the galaxy, why can't any of them make a decision where Anakin is concerned that displays the sense God gave a lemon? The kid is ignored, excluded, manipulated and just plain bossed around in high-handed fashion just for funsies, as far as I can tell. (I’m tempted to think that the ever-so-fetching Padawan haircut - with its soul-destroying combination of militaristic buzzcut and punk-ass asymmetrical rattail - was the thing that pushed young Anakin over onto the path toward the Dark Side, but Obi-Wan appears to have survived the experience. Aren't there interstellar conventions against cruel and unusual punishment that would cover that horror? Yeek.)

Worst of all, though, is the fact that Anakin's transformation into that wonderfully hissable villain known as Darth Vader never feels like tragedy - because it doesn't feel inevitable. Clearly Lucas wants us to think that it is. But he allows Anakin to be convinced on the slenderest of pretexts that the Jedi are corrupt, and has the Jedi attempt to counter Palpatine's obvious ploy with equally hamfisted tactics. Strategy, it would seem, is not the Jedi way. So when Anakin's dark night of the soul finally comes, it’s entirely forced (if you'll pardon the expression) on the audience. It's meant to be horrific, but it lacks the power it might have had, because it could have been prevented if any of these laser-powered dunderheads had given over the solemn speechifying and talked to each other. (Worst in this category is Jackson's Mace Windu, whose sour-pussed, pompous windbaggery ensured that I would have kicked him out of that pretty CGI window myself if no one else had got the job done.)

What frustrated me most about this movie is how good it could have been. The talk around the final installment is that it's the best one since the original Star Wars, and certainly it comes closest to the breathtaking feeling of that very first movie. When that iconic line appeared in blue phosphor in front of me on Friday night, and then the introductory crawl started up the screen away from me, I held my breath and waited for magic. I was transported backward to the moment when I was first drawn into that galaxy far, far away. That moment is part of my childhood - it's part of me. I suspect something like it belongs to all of us. In spite of his grip on all aspects of the Star Wars universe, more crushing than Grand Moff Tarkin at his most ruthless, Lucas does not own that moment where we all waited, breathless in the dark, for something wonderful to happen - we own that moment. We want to feel swept up in that magic again. We want him to recreate it, to fulfill his original promise to us. To the extent that he lets McGregor and Portman and Christensen act honest emotion, he does honour that promise. For the rest, forget Jar-Jar and General Grievous and all that computer-generated, ultra-expensive noise. Rent Star Wars again and boo Darth Vader. Feel that shiver you get when his ominous theme rumbles out of the speakers in martial 4/4 time. And think that maybe, somewhere, a long time ago, even Darth Vader was loved. What a pity we didn’t get that movie.

Postscript: Sarah said it first, and better