In my four years here, the McMaster Musical Theatre has consistently offered creative, exciting, and moving adaptations. Each year, the performances have been a full body experience; a delight for the eyes, the ears, and the heart. This year, with a lovely rendition of Fiddler on the Roof, was no different. With great poignance and craft, MMT tells the tale of Tevye, the father of five daughters, and his attempts to maintain his family and Jewish religious traditions while outside influences and times of change encroach upon their lives. Throughout the musical, the cast and crew skillfully unfold layer upon layer of the many relationships in the play, and reveal the complex and curious nature of the many different bonds that hold us together, and sometimes tear us apart.
The story takes place in the little fictional village of Anatevka against the backdrop of Tsarist Russia, circa 1905. It is a place where a promising marriage will determine a girl’s future happiness and security. Those marriages are decided upon by the families, with nudges from the matchmaker, requests from the wife, and the final decision made by the father. Of Tevye’s five daughters, the three eldest, in their own unique and honest ways, resist this tradition. And the result is a sophisticated and unpredictable vision of love – one that is constantly shifting, changing, and challenging accepted ideas. Can you love someone who’s dirt poor? Yes, because he’s your childhood friend. Can you love a political radical who finds all your customs and traditions outdated? Yes, because you have a unique intellectual connection. Can you love someone who’s outside your family’s faith – a faith that they have built their entire world around? Yes, because he likes books and you can talk about books together. Can you love someone you met for the first time on your wedding day? Yes, because you’ve shared a life with them for twenty-five years.
But this was not only a narrative of romantic love, because the most powerful bonds are the ones between family members. Jordan Hallin-Williamson is a kind, lovable, and patient Tevye, and he reveals the character’s vulnerabilities with both originality and thoughtfulness. Concetta Roche is an incredibly strong, but loving Golde, and creates a memorable portrait of a mother torn between the conflicting hopes she has for her daughters. In one particularly touching number, husband and wife shyly sing to each other about their quiet, but long-lasting love. Both sing beautifully, and together present a relationship that this is tired, but still sweet.
Other memorable aspects include the many facial expressions and hilarious lines from Yente (or the “matchmaker,” played by Lauren Tignanelli ) the palpable chemistry between the sisters, a dim stage lit up by candles, and the gorgeous sounds from both the live orchestra and the fiddler himself.
Shows continue on February 26, 27th, 28th, and March 1st at Robinson Memorial Theatre.
Senior ANDY Editor
There is no complete metaphor to express the loveliness and complexity that is John Ford’s House not a Home. The works do not announce, proclaim or insist. Instead, they quietly draw you into a world where broken lighters matter, where dirty little shoes are beautiful, and where chess pawns hold together entire structures. It’s a playpen for the imagination, a bed for sharing dreams and nightmares, a garden where discarded bits can grow again. It’s a mouth where “iloveyou” and “imissyou” can live, a mended human heart where blood cells and memories are stored. It’s a poem for things close enough to touch, but not quite close enough to hold.
I came to the exhibition in a restless mood, tired and anxious from all the noise and business around me. But when I walked into the dimly lit room, everything suddenly shifted and I felt somehow suspended. I had stepped into a slightly different realm, and I was both far away from and intimately connected to the works. The exhibition comprises three house-shaped vitrines that form a row across the middle of a large room. Each glass case is held together by a thin wooden frame and contains innumerable little objects. There are toy trains, toy airplanes, winding railroad tracks, playing cards, pulleys, ramps, a doll’s plastic thigh, maps, twine, tiny pictures of people, stickers, and stuffed cloth in the shape of hands and feet. In each “house,” the pieces create a complex architecture that resembles a small child’s elaborate science experiment, or an enormous toy factory, or the internal machinery of a fantastical music instrument.
The various parts are essentially bits of garbage, but they are placed as if they serve a specific purpose or fulfilled a particular, almost mechanical, function. They become valuable, as thought the whole thing might fall apart if a single object is removed. The parts work together and create a story. Perhaps that story is a symbol for a complicated family structure, or maybe it is a microcosm for the entire universe – in all its gorgeous order but ultimate meaninglessness. There is a dreamlike quality to the art, and the contraptions could be the hardworking hearts of stars drifting in a night sky.
I was immediately drawn to the installations at the centre of the room, but then felt disoriented as I looked for the title of each work. After some searching, I noticed the titles written on the floor, at the foot of the art piece. I took this as a clue, and thus noticed the writing on the walls. There is a strong contrast between the vitrines filled with objects and the empty space of the room. I was moved to make use of this space and go from wall to wall, collecting information about the pieces. This process creates a compelling connection between looking into the glass walls of the “houses” and looking outwards at the opaque walls of the gallery room. And I couldn’t help but wonder, who was peering into my room? Who was watching me and noticing my world and wondering how to make sense of it all?
The words on the walls seemed faint in the darkness of the room, and I felt as if I was looking at a material with writing that only appeared under certain lights at certain angles. So when I uncovered those writings, I was intrigued by the analysis they offered, but disappointed that they were not more ambiguous or peculiar. The works are expressive enough to convey powerful meanings, and the experience may have been more profound if I had attached only my own words to my experience with the works. The art calls for contemplation, slow reading, and careful observation (while also being playful in its game of how many different parts can you find?). The work requires viewers to walk around the “houses,” to unearth little treasures and to then try and assemble all those puzzle pieces. While the writing on the wall is poetic, the transparency of the information detracts from the work’s evocative subtlety.
Ford uses objects that make direct references, but then arranges them such that the relationships are more ambiguous. For example, the toy train raises ideas about nostalgia, childhood, and how we collect memories by collecting items (and effectively compiling garbage). But the train travels through a tunnel of key chains and around a mountain of lighters. The reason for this curious architecture is unclear, and alludes to subjective metaphors. Ford is therefore able to pull from the obscurity of abstraction while also pointing to far more specific concepts. This proved to be a very effective technique, and as a viewer I was guided towards certain interpretations, but I was also able to claim personal ownership over those ideas.
And for me, the most coherent and moving narrative is about the fragility of human relationships. The glass cases look incredibly delicate, like they might shatter if you came too close. The wooden frames look quite brittle, like they might splinter and break if a gust of wind somehow swept into the gallery. I was unsettled by such vulnerability, and wondered whether the living, feeling human body is equally helpless and susceptible to damage. The “houses” seem so unclothed, so exposed – is it this nakedness that makes them in danger of breaking? Is such nudity unsafe for humans? Is it honesty, authenticity, and the revealing of our inner thoughts, dreams, and secret collections of toy trains what makes us fragile? How might we draw the curtains while also forming intimate relationships? Does reaching out and making contact require a potentially heartbreaking vulnerability?
As I walked around, I kept returning to the name – House not a Home. “Home” implies warmth, love, and relationships. “House” suggests construction, stoicism, and cold hard bricks. Why were these naked things houses, but not homes? What makes a house not a home? Was my world a house and not a home? How to build a home? The exhibition was safe and soothing, but also unnerving. I remembered the tenderness and shelter of my childhood, but was troubled and challenged by the dirtiness of the pieces and my almost intrusive gaze into the private space of a “house”. How to reconcile the desire for closeness with the fear of falling apart? How to accept that while memories and relationships can be meaningful and fulfilling, they also sometimes create an insufferable nostalgia and a vast emptiness?
In an age of globalization and in a world where technology both connects and disconnects us from one another, these are important questions and ideas to consider. It will become increasingly important to explore the nature of human relationships and to articulate the things that bring us and hold us together. Moreover, this work challenges concepts of consumerism and asks us to take notice of the little things, and to reevaluate their worth. This too is an idea that our contemporary culture needs to understand, unpack, and allow into our collective consciousness.
Ford attempts to “connect viewers to small things in order to gain in our understanding of what it is to be human.” He hopes to offer “a sense of wonder and the potential for shared experience, for self-reflecting, imagining, creating, and telling stories.” The exhibition was successful on both accounts, and was able to utter certain longings and melancholies that we all must feel but can rarely express. The artworks are cathartic in this way, and while they are sweet and sentimental they also evoke a homesickness – a lovesickness – a loneliness that likely connects us all.
Senior ANDY Editor
I have grown up loving Woody Allen. I have been inspired by his ability for storytelling, by his witty humour, his incredible creativity. I have found his films emotionally engaging, intellectually stimulating, and entertaining for their beautiful cinematography and vibrant settings. My love for Woody has grown and developed over the years and has allowed me to negotiate complicated ideas. I can relate to many of his female characters while also being critical of the way they have been portrayed. I can find his love stories funny and honest but also unrealistic and weird. I can be comforted by having human anxieties articulated but also accepting of the undeniable condescension of those some narratives. I have read his biographies, watched the documentaries about him, and even looked beyond his cinema at his ventures into theatre and literature. He has been an important creative role model in my life and I stand first in line for every new film (which is an admirable feat considering how prolific the man is). But now I feel lost and disgusted, both with myself and with Woody.
This past weekend, Dylan Farrow, 28, the adopted daughter of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, released a scathing letter that accuses her father of sexually molesting her when she was seven. In it, she throws down the gauntlet to the entire Hollywood establishment, which has recently honoured Mr. Allen for a lifetime of achievement. Anyone who’s a friend of Mr. Allen, she charged, is no friend of sexually abused children. Of course, in the days that have followed, articles have surfaced with details of the story that support Woody, or at least complicate the issue. At the time of the alleged abuse, he and Mia Farrow were locked in a custody fight. She was furious over his affair with Soon-Yi (her 21-year-old adopted daughter) and Allen believes that Mia coached Dylan to tell the abuse story. There is evidence to back him up. Dylan’s story changed several times, the doctors found no physical damage at the time, and Allen’s psychiatric and lie-detector tests support his stance. Mia has been cited as being unstable, and she apparently sent Woody a Valentine’s card that told him, “You took my daughter, and I am going to take yours.”
Of course, none of this information is particularly compelling. Woody Allen is rich and powerful, and his influence almost certainly helped his case. This would not be the first time that a celebrity has evaded criminal charges through their position. And calling Mia crazy and unstable is not a new defense against women seeking to resist injustice, and for me, the sexism undermines its validity. Abuse victims have always been silenced by our society and regularly blamed for their traumas. It would be easy for me to call upon Woody’s defense in an attempt to reassure myself that it is okay to keep liking him. I could use the additional information that the headlines have likely purposefully excluded and tell myself that I can carry on – both Woody and his fans are innocent until proven guilty! While this might allow me to remain selfishly steadfast in my love for the man and his work, it would be shallow and hypocritical. If I can recognize at least some of the hegemonic structures at work in this story, I cannot simply discount them because they involve an artist who has deeply influenced me.
So what now then? How to reconcile the possibility that a brilliant artist might actually be a horrible man? The question of should we and could we separate the art from the artist has always been with us. From Roman Polanksi to Coco Chanel to Pablo Neruda to Orson Scott Card to Wagner to Esra Pound to T.S. Eliot. Anti-Semitism turns up so often in the résumés of 20th-century artists that it almost seems part of the job description.
Perhaps it’s relevant to consider the extent of immorality. Is a rapist more deplorable than a racist? A misogynist worse than a homophobe? A child molester worse than a murderer? Maybe in the case of comparing a psychopath to a sexist the seriousness of the crime becomes relevant. But otherwise, the area is so gray and so subjective that these debates of moral relativism are likely not relevant.
It’s easy to point out that in the case of the artist, badness or goodness is a moral quality or judgment; in the case of the art goodness and badness are terms of aesthetic merit, to which morality does not apply. But it seems confusing and contradictory. When you experience art, it seems ennobling. It challenges our assumptions, changes our discriminations, broadens our horizons, and indirectly asks us to be more sensitive, human, vulnerable, honest. Surely, we imagine, art makes us better people. And if art has this power over those simply experience it, then it must have endowed something far more inspirational in the creator of the art. Clearly this is not necessarily the case.
Woody Allen has a new film coming out and I was looking forward to seeing it. Especially since it’s starring Emma Stone and she seems perfect for an Allen script. I want to support the art, but not the artist. But this is impossible – the two seem inextricable. It will be easier to draw the lines when Woody dies, but given that he’s going strong at seventy-four, this is not currently a viable (hah) option. And what kind of person does that make me, wishing death upon someone so I can go to the movies?
So far, there have been two couples in my life that have made the strongest cases for marriage: my parents, and Beyoncé and Jay-Z.
The former has been an ongoing persuasion since as long as I can remember, where I grew up watching two people as they brought out the best in each other. The latter, however, were almost as swaying in a matter of moments and in a midst of smoke at the Grammys three nights ago. Although it’s true that what they offered was still part of their public image (it was on a stage after all), it was nonetheless a product I might someday be willing to buy.
They sang Beyoncé’s “Drunk in Love,” which is essentially an anthem for their fantastic and enthralling sex life. And their performance was definitely sexy – but also fun, playful, and showed a partnership that seemed adventurous and exciting and powerful. Rarely do we see a portrayal of marriage in this light. It’s often about settling down, slowing down, reorganizing priorities so you are no longer at the top, having kids, getting a mortgage, staying home from work – being responsible and respectable and wearing white.
Although there’s nothing wrong with any of those decisions, none of it seems particularly appealing to me. I found it refreshing to watch a performance celebrating marriage for the professional, sexual, and creative fulfillment it can offer.
At this year’s Grammy Awards, the only thing bigger than Pharrell Williams’ hat was the social media backlash. I didn’t watch the whole ceremony, but I was frequently checking in through Facebook, and amid the deluge of posts about the awards’ outrageous irrelevancy, one in particular caught my attention.
Aside from some grammatical polish, the comment was essentially as follows: “The music industry has changed, it’s not the 1970s anymore.” A few others echoed this sentiment, although names have been withheld to protect the innocent.
Such golden-age thinking should be familiar to anyone who has ever watched a Pink Floyd video on YouTube. Of course, the obvious rebuttal is that a lot of uninspiring music was also popular in the 70s. Over time, the chaff gets forgotten.
But this commenter’s paean to the music industry of yesteryear became especially ironic at the end of the evening, when the biggest award went to an album that sounds, for the most part, like it was recorded in 1979.
Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories won Album of the Year, and the helmeted duo shared the honour with a host of collaborators who rose to prominence four decades ago.
Before Nile Rodgers’ infectious strumming on “Get Lucky” made that song the official anthem of H&M change rooms worldwide, it could be heard on 70s disco chart-toppers by Chic and Sister Sledge.
Giorgio Moroder, in turn, was used to working with machines well before the robots recruited him. His synthesized backing tracks for Donna Summer laid the groundwork for electronic dance music in the mid-70s.
It is almost certainly true that the Grammys are irrelevant and pointless, although everybody who made this complaint online while simultaneously watching the telecast kind of undermined themselves.
But the stance that the awards somehow demonstrate the music industry’s fall from grace seems wrongheaded, especially in the year of the robots.
Jai Paul (Unofficial)
Who is Jai Paul? His website (www.jaipaul.co.uk) does not answer this question; it is a blank, white page. His Twitter feed is equally unhelpful. Jai has tweeted once, only to announce that that he does not endorse this release. All other information about the enigmatic UK artist must be gleaned from his collection of self-produced demos.
As early as “Track 2” it becomes clear that Jai Paul is an extreme musical force. The song is a triumph of sonic fusion: electronic hip-hop meets Bollywood on an MDMA-fuelled dance floor. Jai Paul’s sensual vocals are complemented by Vani Jairam’s singing on the sampled, “Bala main bairagan hoongi.”
Two of the collection’s sixteen songs have been officially released. Track nine, “Jasmine,” is a subdued, pulsating slow jam. In the final track, “BTSTU,” Jai Paul alternates between haunting falsetto verses and a banging hook driven by electrified synth riffs. The music world has taken notice. “BTSTU” has been sampled by Drake and Beyoncé, and Jai Paul was signed to the British independent label XL Recordings on the strength of these two songs alone.
It is hard to believe that the other fourteen tracks are demos, for they sound no less complex or complete. Songs bounce across genres and moods. The cowbell-accented future-funky “Track 5” is worlds away from the undulating tropical vibe on “Track 15.” The album’s disparate sounds are made cohesive by Jai Paul’s vocals, which are at once distant and foreign, yet deeply intimate.
Some might argue that this leak deserves no place on a top ten list. Doubters, I bid you, listen to Jai Paul. His are among the most innovative sounds of 2013. Once you have listened through, relish the idea of an official debut album. Let us hope to hear it soon.
- Josh Spring
Trouble Will Find Me
When life gets overwhelming, we reach for a security blanket. It may not be with the same consistency as Linus van Pelt, but sometimes the tumult of the everyday can prove to be too much (as wretch-inducingly Thought Catalog-ish as that sounds).
The National’s sixth album, Trouble Will Find Me, comes at the apex of their decorated career and provides the same wholesome comfort for the melancholy population as a tub of ice cream and shitty rom-coms do for spurned lovers. After suffering through relative obscurity and being pegged as sleepy miserabilist dad-rockers, all the acclaim the band has enjoyed in recent years could not be more deserved. In an industry saturated by one-hit wonders — Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, anyone? — it’s been refreshing to watch a band work their way up to widespread respectability.
I was surprised to face staunch opposition when I suggested this album for ANDY’s year-end list. Even though I’m a pacifist, I would have fought several bears or listened to Imagine Dragons to ensure its position. Though not as grandiose and immediately accessible as 2011’s stunning High Violet, TWFM is easily the most subtly brilliant record to come out last year.
It bears more of a sonic resemblance to 2003’s underappreciated Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers than its immediate predecessor. Although his young daughter Isla must be keeping it at its end, Berninger’s wit remains razor sharp. The baritone frontman will have you silently sobbing during the cathartic “I Should Live In Salt” (an ode to his younger brother) and laughing at the faux-morose lyrics on “Demons” (i.e. “When I walk into a room, I do not light it up”).
Jaded detractors have long labeled the National as overtly solemn, but they’re missing the obvious tongue-in-cheek nature of the music. Guitarist Aaron Dessner described the offerings on TWFM as “songs you could dance to—more fun, or at least The National’s version of fun.” After all, how could you insist that these guys take themselves seriously when the best song on their latest record is named after a nauseating cocktail, “Pink Rabbits,” and full of lyrics like, “I was a white girl in a crowd of white girls in the park”?
- Tomi Milos
Sometimes I repeatedly write the word “Rhye” in the margins of my notebooks. Mike Milosh and Robin Hannibal have refused to reveal the meaning or origins of their musical project’s name, and I am not even confident that I know how to pronounce it properly. But I just love how those four letters look together.
In this way, it’s the perfect name for a duo crafting soulful R&B music that, while perhaps not complex or profound, offers immense sensory pleasure. Horns, harps, and pianos are perfectly placed across Woman. Yet these flourishes always leave ample space for Milosh’s sublime vocals, which do not definitively register as either male or female.
His delicate, unplaceable voice enables Woman to deftly sidestep the hyper-masculinity and sexual aggression that frequently surfaces in male-fronted R&B. The cover art for R. Kelly’s recent record Black Panties, in which Kelly plays a naked woman like a cello, pretty much encapsulates this tendency. In contrast, when Milosh cries out “make love to me,” it’s a desperate plea, not an order. Of course, there is nothing wrong with sexual confidence, but Milosh’s style invests all the familiar pillow talk on Woman with a universal and somewhat subversive twist.
It’s true that a lot of other artists trade in similarly wounded, brooding R&B. In 2013, Autre Ne Veut, The Weeknd, and even Drake released albums in this vein. There is also some darkness on Woman. But perhaps better than any of their counterparts, Rhye balances such angst with the joy and jubilation of deep intimacy, even if there’s just “three days to feel each other.”
Woman opens with the couplet: “I’m a fool for that shake in your thighs/I’m a fool for that sound in your sighs.” It may not be subtle, but what else is there to say?
- Cooper Long
To call Yeezus an album seems to do it a disservice – it is a scattershot of punk, a flurry of electric, and a hard-hitting pulse of hip-hop. It is a political statement, a diatribe on the overinflated monstrosity of celebrity status, and a lyrical tornado scathing a music industry that produces pop tunes that leave a listener feeling diabetic. Misogynistic slurs, challenges to racism, and helter-skelter screams pepper the measures. It is disorder. It is calm. It is everything and anything in between.
And that’s just the first song.
Kayne West’s Yeezus is an exhausting, powder keg of music, if it can even be called that. Unlike Kanye’s other six albums, the classic soul sounds are almost entirely absent. There isn’t the vintage word flexing or pencil pushing to produce smooth beats. Instead a progression of dissonance with shrieks and deep bass lines, chaotic melodies and emotional layers grate the ears for forty minutes.
Listening to it all in one go is a marathon. The tunes come in torrents, thud after thud after thud, and just when it feels like it’s too much, when you can’t take the discord, jerkiness, and sudden tiredness, the song ends and the next one ambles on with shrill screech.
This is not to say the album is bad. It isn’t. The greatness comes in exactly what makes it disconcerting: a reversal on the perceptions of regular musical composition, as well as the artist’s ironic assault on himself and everything that has made him.
That, or the album could just be the loud grumbles of a narcissist parading as complexity. Like the album’s title suggests, God only knows, and I’m sure even he has trouble listening to some of the fubar ricocheting throughout the songs.
- Kacper Niburski
Modern Vampires of the City
Whatever you call it, Vampire Weekend’s third record is one that defies both labels and my writing ability to express how fucking amazing it is. It is both the ambitious conclusion of a coming-of-age trilogy as well as an impressive sign of things to come.They were originally pegged as just another buzz-band when they arrived in a musical landscape replete with twee and lazily ironic acts. But Ezra Koenig, Rostam Batmanglij, Chris Baio, and Chris Tomson have proven their critics wrong at virtually every turning point in their careers. 2008’s self-titled debut was a buoyant amalgamation of classical influences Batmanglij picked up at Columbia University (no one ever said a V-Dubs song needed more harpsichord) and African-pop. 2011’s Contra built off the debut’s inventiveness while remaining accessible even when making references to typography (re: the oxford comma). As Pitchfork put it, the band was “in an enviable position: semi-popular and sincerely idiosyncratic.”
Perhaps that’s why the band’s utter domination of 2013 wasn’t surprising. Although Batmanglij was the sole producer of the first two albums, the band enlisted Ariel Rechtshaid to lend his deft touch and fresh ears to the proceedings. To call the resulting fruits of their labour “magical” wouldn’t be hyperbolic.
MVOTC is a barbaric yawp proclaiming the virtues of America and a brave confrontation of solemn issues like mortality and religion. “Step” functions in the same vein as Kanye West’s “Homecoming” as a clever love song about a city, with the metropolis in question being poignantly depicted in its accompanying video. The number of references to fire that pepper Koenig’s lyrics on tracks such as “Unbelievers” and “Don’t Lie” makes one wonder whether he was reading Dante’s Inferno in the booth. The songs are as grave in subject matter as the epic poem, but with the band’s trademark tongue-in-cheek still shines. “Ya Hey” is an ethereal conversation with a higher power, but that doesn’t make it any less fun to gyrate your hips to. Considering the sheer infectiousness of the remaining songs on the album, the sparse and intimate “Hannah Hunt” is certainly not the one you’d pick for radio play, but it’s easily their best yet. The sheer ecstasy it induces during its final minute is enough for anyone to produce a full-fledged Patronus.
No words of mine can really do this immensely important album justice, so I’ll just stop here and give you a chance to listen to it.
An inventive and often ingenious futuristic sci-fi/romance that’s subtle with the sci-fi, but a little heavy with the romance. From the design to the concepts, it really delivers on creating its world and in evoking thoughts with its many “what if” scenarios.
Scarlett Johansson’s voice-acting, Jonze’s directorship, and the way Joaquin Phoenix interacts with the Artificial Intelligence all come together to convincingly humanize something that doesn’t have a body, and is present mostly as just an earpiece.
Although it’s a bit too long and begins to lose sight of its central ideas, the relationship drama was always at the forefront. It’s a love story that’s not unlike many we have seen for decades on the big screen, but this man is in love with his computer. It’s a frightening, disturbing, but nonetheless heartfelt, moving, and an utterly original account of loneliness in the modern age.
- Todd S. Gallows
4. The Past
Marie has asked her ex-husband Ahmad to come to Paris from Tehran so that they can have a proper goodbye and finally some closure. To Ahmad’s dismay, and for unexplained motives, she hasn’t booked him a hotel but instead offers him space in her own home, where she lives with her three children. The film carefully unravels a web of complex relationships – each one tragic, confused, and compelling in its own right. Director Ashghar Farhadi unearths a vast and intricate mosaic of details, stories, and emotions. Each moment feels purposeful, but not contrived. Farhadi is a brilliant and skillful storyteller, and some of the themes from A Separation carry over in this film – themes about marriage, domesticity, family, and where and how we place our various histories. The Past is compelling on every level – entertaining with all its plot twists, intellectually engaging with all the questions it asks, and emotionally moving with its beautifully and honestly drawn out characters.
- Bahar Orang
3. Blue is the Warmest Colour
I prefer the French title of this film, La Vie D’Adele: Chapitres 1 et 2, because to me, this was not a film about Emma’s blue hair, but instead the story of Adele, a story that has only just begun. We see her as a shy, confused, and frustrated teenager. We see her as a lover, filled with desire, intensity, strength, and compassion. We see her as a teacher, quiet, patient, careful. The film is composed almost entirely of close-ups of Adele’s face – her blushed and embarrassed cheeks, her loving smile, her tearful eyes. The camera follows her through every little moments – and while some details prove immediately important, others are just part of a larger landscape of her life that is constantly, shifting, growing, and becoming more complete.
There is the moment when she first catches Emma’s eyes on the sidewalk, there is the moment where she leads her students in a dance, when she sits around the table with her parents discussing her future plans. Things happen, the movie, ends, Adele walks away, and we know that she will keep walking and her life will keep going even after we’ve turned away from the screen.
This is the power of the film: its incredible vitality. The stories are honest, the relationships are present and real, the characters are complex and flawed and lovable. It’s gained a certain amount of backlash for the long and explicit sexual encounters, but I defend those scenes. They are not the crux, the pinnacle, or the main event of the film. Nor are they meant to be visual signifiers – telling the audience that they slept together. The sex is a part of her life, and we see it in the same full and unadulterated honesty as we see the way the lovers meet, fight, fall apart, move on, and then look back. Perhaps the sex scenes are not necessary, but then nothing is.
I left the theatre feeling both empty and fulfilled; elated by the film’s ability to express my human longings, but my head was clouded as I wondered, inevitably: what is the meaning of all this – Adele’s life and my own life?
- Bahar Orang
2. Upstream Color
Upstream Color takes place in what the French impressionist filmmaker and theorist Germaine Dulac called “the realm of nature and dream.” Writer-director Shane Carruth’s elliptical screenplay bridges images that are beautiful, disturbing, and inexplicable. Frequently, the film is all three at once.
Carruth imagines a mysterious, multi-stage ecological cycle that ensnares two ordinary people, Jeff (Shane Carruth) and Kris (Amy Seimetz). The film is a love story in the sense that they develop a profound, metaphysical bond. But Upstream Color is the antithesis of a romance like Before Midnight, in which the characters expound on their love and life together. Instead, Carruth proposes that it may be impossible to unpack a relationship in long monologues. Sometimes the forces that draw people together defy description or comprehension.
Even when Jeff and Kris try to engage in the obligatory banter of a new couple they are foiled. At one point they exchange childhood stories, only to realize that they hold the same overlapping, fragmentary memories.
“I was six,” Jeff tells Kris.
“No, I was six,” she replies gravely.
This blurring of identity feels at once deeply erotic and disquieting. Yet true intimacy necessarily involves exactly this type of shared experience and loss of self. Any pair of lovers could be seen as a microcosm of the complex ecosystem that links Jeff and Kris’ consciousnesses.
Rather than verbalizing these themes, Carruth paints them. In a series of striking shots, Jeff and Kris argue over whose memories are whose, while black birds fill the sky. As the flock makes tightly coordinated loops and arcs in the twilight, the individual birds seem guided by some collective intelligence or invisible hands. Jeff and Kris are similarly subject to unseen powers. They too are flying wingtip to wingtip, but they cannot understand how or why.
Carruth’s first feature was the labyrinthine time-travel story Primer. The 2004 film felt like a puzzle that could eventually be solved with enough viewings and maybe some flow charts. It is not clear that Upstream Color has the same entirely coherent internal logic. Regardless, it is a dream that still cries out to be experienced more than once.
- Cooper Long
1. Frances Ha
I thought I would hate Frances Ha.
I morbidly expected the movie to mirror in hipster style (the film is in grayscale) my own sense of uncertainty and aimlessness in life, to draw on some profound, abstract philosophy too deep for my meagre mind, and then to end cynically as if celebrating the process of being lost.
But (thankfully) it wasn’t what I expected. Instead, I fell in love.
Instead of caricaturizing an empty girl obsessing over unattainable dreams, Greta Gerwig beautifully portrays the everyday self, full of desires, contradictions, and expectations. I was taken with the desperate curiosity in Frances’ eyes, her languid but graceful posture, her wanderlust, her unintentional awkwardness and how she embraces that awkwardness. I love the way she inexplicably pushes people away when she all wants to do is pull.
The movie doesn’t excuse wantonness or laziness. It doesn’t celebrate the indulgence in staying lost or unknowing. Instead, it offers hope. It tells me that it is ok to be lost, for a little while. To want something but not know how to get it, or to get something even if I don’t know if I want it. To be free. To not be ready when society relentlessly demands for you to “settle down”.
Frances Ha (both the movie and the character) never pretends to be bigger than itself. It is bold but unpretentious, it is honest, it is raw, it is charming and it is so satisfyingly humorous. I recommend it to every lost soul out there.
- Karen Wang
When I was nine years old, I had a daydreaming problem. I woke up each morning just as the sun was rising, and in a warm bath of golden light, I would drift away to another world. My daydreams were so elaborate, so dense, that I can still recall particular scents and sounds of those childhood fantasies. I remember one especially long story, where I was riding a beautiful brown horse all over the world. Everyday I imagined the next chapter, and I saw myself in empty meadows, fantastical villages, and on the streets of Tehran. My mother would come in to ready me for school almost two hours later. I was always excited for bedtime, because I knew I could imagine things until I fell asleep. In class, this became a bigger problem because I regularly sat somewhere in the back and dozed off to far more exciting places.
I was lucky to have an extremely kind and thoughtful teacher that year, because she promptly diagnosed and cured my problem in one simple request. She offered me a copy of Anne of Green Gables and asked that I read it. She told me that it was her favourite book and said that if I read it carefully enough, it would belong to me. She explained that I might find a friend in Anne. My teacher, Mrs. Parker, knew that I was a gluttonous reader. I was always so insistent on knowing the end of every story that I often read far too quickly. I ate books in one swift gulp, leaving no time to really taste them. So she asked that I read Anne of Green Gables with some patience. And because I was relieved that this was her punishment for catching me looking out the window, I did just as she said.
I sat at the front of the school bus on my way home that afternoon and spent the twenty-minute drive fondling the book. Even though it was so tattered that the spine was almost falling off, I held it like were a stack of newly printed photographs. I only touched the edges, afraid of leaving my fingerprints on its body. I loved Mrs. Parker dearly, and I was immensely pleased that she thought we might enjoy the same story. Reading assumes a kind of shared intelligence, and it was this realization that made me determined to rise to the occasion. I would be the new custodian of this book, I would unpack its contents like it were a suitcase stuffed with fragile gifts. It felt brand new in my hands, even though it must have been decades old.
I read a few chapters every day. I’ll admit, it was difficult to stop myself from reading ahead, but I was able to fight the urge by spending some extra time reflecting on Anne’s most recent adventures. I was a little alarmed at how intensely I could relate to Anne. How could this red-haired girl from Prince Edward Island, who lived over a hundred years ago – how could her story somehow reveal the writings of my mental diary? But the words of the novel had a kind of vitality, a kind of clarity that my own messy thoughts could never muster. I can remember Anne’s face as clearly as I can remember Mrs. Parker’s face. I was breathing when I read that book, and Anne was more than my best friend. Our identities were completely fluid – I influenced her as much as she influenced me. Just as I coloured the shades of her auburn hair and molded her friendship with Diana, she shaped my shapeless daydreams. I too was an open book, and the intimacy of our friendship was not an escape like my daydreams were, but instead a way to contend with my reality.
I lost the book for several months that summer. I eventually found it somewhere in my house, but until then I was thoroughly panicked. My parents even bought me a replacement copy, and it was a shiny new edition with a fancy cover. But I angrily rejected it. I wanted Mrs. Parker’s version – my version. So for some reason, I decided that the logical course of action was to rewrite the story I knew. I opened an empty notebook and tried to write everything I could remember. First I just wrote all the events I could remember, then I rearranged those moments, and then I started adding details and quotes. I wrote only a few sentences at the top of each page, leaving the rest of it blank with the intention of filling in more specifics when they came to me. Of course, my memory reached its threshold and after that I could not remember much more.
So instead, I wrote about my own life in the empty spaces on each page. I connected the fictional stories to my lived experiences, and it thus came to be a process of thoughtful, careful introspection. My experiences helped me to make better sense of Anne’s story, and Anne’s story helped me to make better sense of my life. The two were literally inextricably inside that notebook, and they informed one another in deep and powerful ways. I took complete ownership over Anne of Green Gables. It was different from the story anyone else had ever read.
The world of the text does not exist until it is taken up, imagined, configured, and undergone by each individual reader. This experience awakens and organizes certain memories, thoughts, and desires. We nourish ourselves with the stories we hear and read, we metabolize them and incorporate them into our tissues, derive energy from them, and become more of who we are by virtue of their fuel. Reading is a human act; we do what we do as readers not only for our own good but also because our lives depend on it. Anne of Green Gables allowed me to see myself and my reality more authentically and I felt a sense of responsibility to confront my detachment from life. Anne’s story was my story, and likely the story of so many other children. Novels use the particular, like Anne’s struggle through her circumstances, to reveal valuable knowledge about the universal. My intimate relationship with Anne meant that I could absorb that knowledge so deeply that it moved to action. This is the power of reading; we come in such close contact with stories that they seep into our skin to form our identities and structure the way we think and act.
Photo c/o John Beales on Flickr.
When I saw Kim’s Convenience at Theatre Aquarius on Friday evening, I couldn’t help but think about my own family for the full two hours.
I am not Korean, I don’t live in Regent Park, nor does my family own a convenience store. But the whole time I felt that Apa, Janet, Umma and Jung were telling my story – my family’s story. When Apa revealed his disappointment with Janet’s career as a photographer, I remembered my own mother’s confusion four years ago: “Why not just science? Why art and science?” When Umma explained how Apa had sacrificed his whole life, his whole self, for his children, I thought of all the stories my father always shares so longingly about his home country. When Janet twisted her father’s arm to squeeze out of him the words “I love you,” I wanted nothing more than to immediately call my parents to remind them how much I care.
The production is hilarious, moving and honest – often brutally honest. My loud laughter was regularly cut off by a sudden wave of emotion. The story shifts gracefully from humour to heartbreak and thus offers a highly nuanced and realistic image of Canadian immigrant life.
But it doesn’t always paint a pretty picture. Apa might very well embrace a black husband for his daughter, but he will systematically practice racial profiling while running his business. And in the one instance that we see on stage, the audience gasped when Appa catches a Jamaican man stealing from his store. Janet is a kind and caring daughter, but we still see her in moments of extreme selfishness. And the story of Jung, the son with so much potential who ends up in a dead-end job with a baby and a girlfriend he doesn’t love, left me wondering about the futility of it all. Would their life have been different, better, more fulfilling if they had never come to Canada? Was Apa’s life a waste if his children were unhappy and unsuccessful? Could he have done things differently? Does there come a point when parents should not be held responsible for the decisions and failures of their children? When does that day come?
I was the probably the youngest person and I was also very clearly a racial minority. The room was filled with older, white men and women. And the whole time I wondered – what are these people thinking about? How are they relating to this story? Is there empathy? Do they too feel like they are contained within Kim’s Convenience store, that they too can find their own stories somewhere between the aisles and the shelves?
Kim’s Convenience reminded me of the power of theatre - of how a simple, everyday story suddenly becomes startling and special.
Kim’s Convenience is playing at Theatre Aquarius until November 23rd.
I remember when I was sixteen years old, I heard “I Kissed a Girl” on the radio for the first time. As I danced around my room, I felt confused. Katy Perry sings, “I kissed a girl and I liked it, I hope my boyfriend don’t mind it.” Katy’s voice was a little raspy, a little deep. It could potentially pass as a male’s voice. I tried to piece together this love triangle between the singer, the boyfriend, and the girl who had been kissed. I instinctively tried to neatly fit the song into a heteronormative storyline. I eventually gave up and thought, maybe I’m missing something. Maybe I’ve heard the lyrics wrong. Maybe it’s like that time I thought generic viagra cheap Wyclef was singing, “she make a man wanna see spandex” to Shakira, when he was actually singing, “she make a man wanna speak Spanish.”
Looking back now, well – what in the actual fuck? The fact that I had a very liberal family, that I was quite open-minded, that I hated when people said, “that’s so gay,” that I had gone to the Toronto pride parade since I was a little girl – none of this meant anything in that moment of truth when the song came on. I did not resist, nor was I even aware of, the sheer oppressiveness of heteronormative culture that still permeates pop music.
I can now recognize this grossly problematic oversight on my part, but I am no less confused about “I Kissed a Girl.”
On the one hand, it does offer something alternative to the love stories of mainstream music. Most of the he’s sing about the she’s and most of the she’s sing about the he’s. And even when people do covers of different songs, they’ll be thoroughly committed to every last note of the original song – except for those pesky pronouns. They’ll adjust them so that the he’s and the she’s still “match up.”
But the song describes an extremely sexualized encounter. It is sensual and erotic and focused entirely on her lips and her soft skin and her cherry chap stick. There is no depth, she even admits that she doesn’t know her name and it doesn’t even matter. She describes their kiss as wrong and naughty and dirty. Was this just Katy’s attempt to tantalize a male fantasy? Does this then just perpetuate the eroticization or exoticisation of queer relationships? Was it just an attention stunt on Katy’s part?
And yet – can we ignore or discount the broad and blurred spectrum of human sexuality? Maybe Katy simply does prefer a long-term relationship with her boyfriend, and just likes feeling up other girls. Should we deny her the right to feel this way and express this perspective? Is it helpful in a broader cultural context that eliminates, and subjugates queer identities? Or does the song just propagate stereotypes? And does it make any difference that the song is fun and catchy and I still like dancing around to it in my room?
And if we move away from the content of the lyrics – what about the singer? A white, presumably “straight,” Katy Perry playfully singing about a lesbian experience – is that okay?
And to that end – what position do I have in this discourse, as someone who has never kissed a girl – do I have any position at all?
This idea of who can speak for whom only gets more complicated as we move forwards a few years in the pop music timeline and think about Macklemore. I firmly believe that “Same Love” is a beautiful song and I find it more moving every time I listen to it, but it still begs the question: what does it mean to have three white people (Amy lambert, Macklemore, and Ryan Lewis) – two of whom are straight – be the voice and the rallying point of gay rights in hip-hop? Is it unfair that white people get mainstream recognition for talking about homophobia in hip-hop, when queer hip-hop artists of colour are routinely ignored? And all that being said, is it still nonetheless helpful that these ideas are actually present in the billboard charts?
Maybe all these things can be true at the same time. Maybe we can answer ‘yes’ to all these questions even when the answers directly contradict each other. Either way, I’m still waiting for a pop song that somehow manages to address all these issues.
Senior ANDY Editor
This is a very quiet film. Most of the story is told through careful glances, silent movements, and even an inaudible whisper at the end between Bob and Charlotte. Everything is undramatic but still feels fragile.
Both of them are adrift in different age-specific life crises, and the bond they form is based on shared feelings of displacement and dissatisfaction in their lives. I don’t feel that Coppola ever tries to analyze or unpack these characters. She only finds honest ways to show two people who are bored and restless, and we never find them boring. I could identify with both of them. Charlotte, the young woman who doesn’t know who she is supposed to be – and even with Bob, the older man who is lost and weary.
Despite an intimate kiss at the end, in the middle of the Tokyo streets, they aren’t lovers. The physical attraction between them doesn’t really matter. Their friendship is a kind of nothing – talking, laughing, lying down beside each other – but the longing and the loneliness of it all is so relatable that each time I watch the film I feel strangely fulfilled by the end.
Assistant ANDY Editor
He spies the audiobook case on her cluttered hotel room table and picks it up. “Whose is this – A Soul’s Search: Finding Your True Calling?” he asks.
Suddenly, her smile vanishes. “I don’t know,” she answers, with a playfulness that does not match her darting, downcast eyes.
Even though he cannot see her face, he senses her embarrassment and masterfully pivots the conversation. “I have that,” he says.
She laughs. “Did it work out for you then?” she asks, beaming.
“Obviously,” he quips.
This exchange between Bob (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) occurs at the midpoint of Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. To me, it is the linchpin of the entire film. In only five shots and five lines of dialogue, Coppola defines the ineffable bond between her two protagonists.
Although they attempt to stifle their feelings with alcohol, cigarettes and karaoke, Bob and Charlotte are profoundly aimless. Her vulnerability and self-doubt are exposed when Bob spots the audiobook case. Yet, rather than questioning Charlotte or changing the subject, Bob outs himself as similarly adrift.
Bob and Charlotte’s mutual ennui binds them together, and I would argue that this type of willingness to appear vulnerable in front of another person is essential for deep and lasting friendship off screen as well.
The tenth anniversary of Lost in Translation’s release is an admittedly esoteric topic for an entire issue of ANDY. Indeed, I sometimes questioned whether Sofia Coppola’s accomplishments truly warrant such a retrospective. Certainly, there are many other young writer-directors with similarly sized, but perhaps more consistently impressive filmographies. Paul Thomas Anderson, Jeff Nichols and Ramin Bahrani come to mind.
But then I think back to Charlotte’s face in the scene that I just described, and how the essence of an entire relationship is inscribed in the rise and fall of her lips. If one scene can define a film, then one film can certainly define this issue.