Monday, 30 April 2012

Mini-Reviews, Yet Again....

Dansels in Distress
This movie is so smart and funny that I can’t handle it. It’s about a bunch of nutty, sexy girls who are out to save the world with perfume and soap. I mean how could any movie be MORE topical than that?

The Deep Blue Sea
What a beautiful failure. It’s just all too slow, but very gay and tragic. And then there’s the Barber Violin Concerto (omg!).

Dumb and boring. Bullying is now politically correct which means nobody really knows what it means but we all say “Yes, bullying is bad.”

The Five Year Engagement / Jeff, Who Lives at Home
Wow again.
Now we have Hollywood movies that are really about something important but pretend not to be. The Five Year Engagement is about a man who has to shape his whole life around a woman’s work schedule and Jeff, Who Lives at Home is about an older lesbian coming out -- but each of these actually very interesting movies has to pretend that they are about dumb things like being engaged for a long time or a 30 year old guy living at home in order to get them made.
Double wow.

Mirror Mirror /21 Jump Street/Lockout
I fell asleep, sorry.

Why I’m NOT going to miss Aubrey Dan!

            Recently Richard Ouzounian took time out from NOT reviewing plays written by Canadian writers, directed by Canadian directors, and starring all-Canadian casts, in order to write two articles in praise of Aubrey Dan.
One of the articles -- “Why I’m going to miss Aubrey Dan” showered him with glowing hyperbole. For instance, Ouzounian wrote tearfully of Aubrey Dan’s struggle and his ideals  --
“If I love him for one thing, it was that he had the courage to bring Next to Normal to town, even if the theatre was too big, the run was too short and everyone knew it was going to lose money.”
And speaking of one of the openings of Jersey Boys, Ouzounian effectively deifies him:
“I like to think of that night as the high point of Dan’s five years as a producer, a time of communal joy and possibility.”
            So who is this Aubrey Dan?
            Frankly, I don’t care much for Aubrey Dan and his so-called ‘achievements.’ I’m sorry if Aubrey Dan is – to his closest friends and family -- a kind little man who wears funny hats. I have nothing, personally, against the man. But what he certainly represents to me is the sad decline of Canadian theatre.
            Dancap presented 19 productions between September 2007 and January 2012.
 Impressive, eh?
            Not when you understand a few other important details.
             I will not miss Aubrey Dan because he represents to me a celebration of death of Canadian theatre; he represents a dance on our theatrical graves.
            NONE of the nineteen Dancap productions were Canadian productions. What is a Canadian production – for those for whom it has been so long that they have forgotten? It is a play written by, directed by, and produced by Canadians, starring Canadian actors.
             I will not miss Aubrey Dan for reminding us that we are nothing but a bunch of dumb Canadian yokels, who can’t appreciate, understand, or create art.
            Most of the Dancap productions were remounts of productions that were hits on Broadway. When I first started doing theatre in the early 70s, Canadians had very little possibility of seeing their own stories written and directed and performed by Canadian actors, writers and directors. The theatre scene was dominated by American second-rate musical touring productions at the Royal Alexandra Theatre. The 1970s saw the rise of alternative theatres in Toronto – Tarragon Theatre, Factory Theatre and Theatre Passe Muraille, all of which celebrated Canadian work and talent. When Aubrey Dancap produced Next to Normal – much vaunted by Richard Ouzounian, it was, for me, the ultimate slap in the face to our Canadian theatre scene. Once again, in a kind of tragic return to 1970, we were being asked to run (not walk) -- not only to see a remount of a Broadway hit -- but one which starred second-rate (in this case not even Equity professional) actors in a touring production aimed at dull local provincials who don’t know better.
         I will not miss Aubrey Dan for his dedication to squashing radical thought and squelching originality.
            Most of the Dancap productions were either remounts of old or somewhat old chestnuts (South Pacific, My Fair Lady, Miss Saigon, Avenue Q, the 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) or remounts of lousy or somewhat lousy recent Broadway shows (The Addams Family, Come Fly Away, Happy Days, Memphis, Next to Normal, 3 Mo Divas, The Toxic Avenger) juke box Broadway musicals (Green Day’s American Idiot, Jersey Boys), nostalgic sing-alongs (Colm Wilkinson, Donny and Marie Live) or Canadian musicals that slavishly imitate Broadway models (Anne of Green Gables, The Drowsy Chaperone).
             I will not Miss Aubrey Dan for focusing a generation of young creators on producing silly, irrelevant work.
             When I think of The Drowsy Chaperone – that’s when my eyes really well up with tears. I certainly enjoyed the show for what it was (charming fluff, which ain’t easy to put together let me tell you). But to have all that Canadian talent focused on NOT offending people, and on ‘making it to Broadway,’ well, I’m sorry to say it, but the success of that show has gone a long way towards nurturing a generation of Canadian young actors and writers whose only goal in life is to be a success SOMEWHERE ELSE in plays THAT HAVE NOTHING TO SAY.
           Do you think I am being unfair to the cute little ‘chapeauphilic’ Aubrey?
            In case you haven’t had a chance to look around you lately (been watching too many musicals and listening to your ipod?) the world is kinda falling apart. We need writers and artists who think and create and challenge themselves and others. Aubrey Dan represents, for me, all those who would rather fiddle and let Rome burn.
            And Canadian culture, our culture, indeed all contemporary, indigenous, thoughtful, challenging art was not built in a day.
            But in no time at all it will be gone.

Friday, 6 April 2012

The Hunger Games: Homophobic Garbage

First of all, can we get out of way the notion that this movie ‘leads young people to reading’? I can’t remember exactly what I  was reading when I was 14 years old, but around that time I had discovered Ayn Rand -- as well as J.D. Salinger,Victor Hugo and Dostoevsky. Perhaps my interest in reading can be traced to Hortense O’Dell, the librarian at Harlem Road Public School in Amherst, New York. Once a week we would go to ‘library class’ and she would read to us, mostly from Charles Dickens. I remember her kittycat glasses, and her left leg thrust forward forcefully in her long skirt -- poised to seduce us, through literature.
Nowadays it’s a different matter. Young people are not expected to read adult books. There is instead a wealth (and believe me it’s all about wealth) of ‘young adult’ titles.  Increasingly, these books are tied – as nearly everything is – to multi-media mass marketing schemes. Harry Potter was not a book; it was a video game, a movie, as well as countless promotional objects. The idea of ‘getting young adults/children to read’ was merely the first phase of a marketing tool aimed at tricking gullible young people into buying products.
This is one reason I get so angry when people celebrate the latest tween phenomenon -- The Hunger Games .
I haven’t read The Hunger Games and I don’t intend to. I am here to speak about the movie. While watching it at a matinee in Hamilton, I had the treat of sitting behind a group of breathlessly quiet teens who gazed up at the screen as if in church, while two much older working class denizens in the back row chatted loudly. In a quite unprecedented switch of roles, the young people felt obligated to shush the septegenarians.
So what’s going on in this movie? As film fare, it’s a pretty straightforward action flick peppered with ‘touching’ moments. Nothing special. In terms of race issues the movie manages to foreground a touching non-white character named Rue (whose moniker is reminiscent of a flower that Ophelia tosses during her mad scene in Hamlet -- a book that, sadly, most fans of The Hunger Games will likely never read). Rue dies in a moment of particularly nauseating sentimentality. The presence of this non-white character in the film has apparently offended some young moviegoers who expected the characters to be white. Apparently they didn’t ‘read’ the novel too carefully. Well, so much for anti-racism!
When it comes to sexual politics the movie tries to cover its misogynistic ass by featuring as its central character a woman who is also an archer. But she is also (surprise!) pursued by two young men. Is it just a co-incidence that the heroine of Twilight was also pursued by two hotties? I don’t think so. If these movies tell young women anything, it’s that -- whatever their actual talents might be -- their actual worth is only to be measured through the eyes of attractive males.
Then there’s the homophobia. The heroine Katniss (um, what’s up with that name?) lives in a poverty stricken, mountainous American rural mining town – it’s obviously meant to represent Appalachia. The people who live in that town appear to be predominantly God-fearing white country folk. If they lived in present day America they would be members of the extreme Christian right. But alas, Katniss must desert this tough yet wholesome country life and travel to a big city that somewhat resembles the Emerald City of Oz, except everyone who lives there appears to be homosexual, or at least ‘homosexualized’. The men are all effeminate and wearing make up and bizarre dandyish outfits, and the women appear to be men in drag. This is no accident. The romanticization of  Christian, wholesome country life and the demonization of amoral corrupt city life (i.e. Sodom and Gomorrah) is promulgated daily by the Christian right. Born-agains  believe that evil people  (i.e. desiring women of all ilks and homosexuals) are created by cities. This message is masterfully concealed in The Hunger Games by the notion that the city folk in the movie are merely a symbol of dystopian ‘decadence.’ Well they are, but if they were decadent macho men and their feminine wives, being decadent with their decadent families, it would present a very different picture than the image of queer party people as a God-loving heterosexual’s nightmare.
Okay, I recognize that the movie contains no crosses, and no mention of the word God, or Christianity. But the images speak to a Christian worldview.
True, using homosexuality as a stand-in for decadence is a time worn tradition. After all, it makes sense. (Queers can’t make children and contribute to the ‘future’ unless they do something unqueer – copulate with the opposite sex -- in real life, a test tube, or in mommy’s belly). And on the bright side, I’m sure this movie gave tons of work to unemployed gay actors who were more than grateful to portray the depraved cityfolk -- unless of course the director (as is so often the case) thought homosexual urbanites were best played by heterosexual actors stretching their ‘instruments.’
If what I’m saying about the film seems crazy to you, then it may be that the idea of the effeminate male as queer, decadent undesirable/impotent figure of fun is so incredibly entrenched in our culture these days (especially with the rise of the gay male TV designer fag) that we don’t even notice it.
Well…. speaking of dystopias….