Sunday, August 28, 2016

Lazy Sunday #433: Pachelbel's Cannon

Yes, I'm aware that the correct spelling in the title should only have one "n" in canon, the correct name for a contrapuntal musical composition featuring a lead melody and a following imitative melody, but I'm trying to make a point here.

Johann Pachelbel was a relatively obscure German composer of the baroque era (approx. 1600 - 1750) who probably remained ba-roke throughout his life because his canon was about the only notable thing he wrote.

And even it disappeared for a couple of hundred years until a French orchestra recorded the piece in the late 1960's. That version was picked up by a San Francisco classical radio station in the 1970's and before long there were dozens of best selling versions everywhere.

I first heard it while rehearsing a play in Toronto sometime in the 70's because the director, who loved the tune, had decided it should background a lengthy monologue I had in the final act.

There's a thing about monologues in theatre, especially the long ones in shows that have really long runs. An actor prepares for a monologue the way a long distance runner maps out a marathon. The content and emotion dictate changes in pace, the same way a runner handles hills or being in the middle of a pack. 

But overtime, you can fall into a pattern of making a meal of it for a full house or being tired and speeding it up to get the damn thing over with, which aren't good choices.

So the background music helped me keep track of where I was and I could also place the more emotional moments where the music would swell or soften behind them, helping move the audience in the direction the playwright wanted them to go.

It got so I really like Pachelbel's Canon. Until the run of the play was extended. And then extended again. And extra shows were added on Friday and Saturday nights. Then it became this annoying earworm.

And even when I wasn't onstage, I couldn't escape it. Though I hadn't been aware of ever hearing this 200 year old composition before that play, it now seemed to turn up on CBC Radio a couple of times a week. They even used snippets for transitions on news programs and their jolly little quiz shows.

For all I know, the Program Director had been caught up in the success of the play or had found a version he didn't have to pay royalties on. Whatever the reason, I finally just stopped listening to the CBC to maintain my sanity.

Eventually the show's run ended. But Pachelbel's Canon didn't go away. To this day, I still turn off the car radio if it comes on. And yet, when other music plays, it somehow still seems to be there.

There have been times I've felt like the tormented killer in Edgar Allen Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart".

And then I learned it wasn't just me. That Johann Pachelbel had managed to use his canon to blow up the rest of music.

Listen and Learn.

And Enjoy Your Sunday...

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 432: Thunder Road

Perhaps it was the lengthy eulogizing which preceded last night's farewell concert by "The Tragically Hip". Perhaps it was all of the passings of icons and friends which have marked 2016. Or maybe it was my own desire to avoid attending an upcoming funeral.

For whatever reason,  I was led this week to a lovely article by Deirdre Sullivan at NPR on the importance of turning up for those things.

I think a lot of people avoid wakes, final viewings and funerals because they're not sure how you're supposed to behave. Everybody grieves in their own way and it's tough to know if you're offending someone by appearing either too upset or not upset enough.

Walking that tightrope is especially tough for those asked to speak at a funeral. Your fondest memory of the departed might actually be the last thing they or their loved ones ever wanted revealed, let alone shared in their darkest hour. 

And appearing too flip or casual can make others wonder if you ever gave a damn about the deceased in the first place.

That fine line -- and what it reveals about us -- has been wonderfully captured in Jim Cummings' film "Thunder Road", this year's winner of the Short Film Grand Jury Prize at The Sundance Festival.

A long-time Indy producer, Cummings became intrigued by a Ricky Gervais quote "It's never too late. Until it's too late. And then it's too late." and decided to try his hand at not only producing an original short, but writing, directing and acting in it as well. 

The final product is not only a brilliant little film, it's touching and hilarious and encapsulates pretty much every emotion everybody feels at a funeral. It's also proof that being compassionate and considerate can be a truly miserable experience.

Enjoy Your Sunday...

Thunder Road from Jim Cummings on Vimeo.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 431: Courthouse Comics

Like most kids, I was addicted to comic books. If I went missing, my parents knew I could be found sitting on the floor of the Rexall Drug Store or Larry's Confectionery chewing a wad of Double Bubble and reading the latest from the circular rack.

I even drew my own comics which, since photocopiers hadn't been invented yet, were passed hand to hand among my friends.

Years later, by then an actor, I met a lawyer on a Scottish train who was defending a woman accused of murder and invited me to the trial.

It was a fascinating case, filled with as much emotion and drama as the play I was touring, but with far higher real life stakes. That experience turned me into a more than occasional visitor to courthouses, witnessing human conflicts that informed the fiction I was writing.

A couple of years ago, my experience of comic books and courthouses combined when I was hired to write a comic book  that's now used in every Canadian University and hundreds of American law schools to teach Aboriginal law.

But none of this prepared me for what the creators of Cartoon Network's "Rick and Morty" were able to come up with from a brief Floyd County, Georgia preliminary hearing

The real court transcript can be found here.

But the animated version will make your day.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Sunday, August 07, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 430: How Hollywood Uses You to Sell Movies

This week, a fairly crappy movie entitled "Suicide Squad" opened in North America. The reviews and early word-of-mouth on the $200 Million film hadn't been good.

Now in another time or with another movie, that would've been that. Those who had no interest in the film wouldn't have gone anyway. And those who wanted to see it would've gone anyway, or decided to spend their money on something else realizing a poor box office showing would mean it could be on Netflix before Labor Day.

Instead, we heard a lot about mobs with torches and pitchforks marching on Rotten Tomatoes and other movie review sites. The fanboys had been moved to action and were taking to the barricades to save a beloved comic book franchise while convincing the rest of us we just had to see this picture.

But were they? Or was all that entertainment news and social media activity thunk up by some Hollywood publicist to generate interest in a film that couldn't generate any interest in itself.

Well, it just might be the latter -- and no matter which side of the argument you were on, you were used by corporate Hollywood to make sure nobody at the studio loses their swimming pool or Tesla Model X.

And you need look no further than an earlier Summer flop, the "Ghostbusters" reboot to find proof.

For those not paying attention, Sony recently released a female cast version of the iconic 80's film, investing $144 Million in resetting a beloved tentpole.

But reaction to the film's trailer was decidedly tepid.

And some of those reacting negatively used the film to trash the general idea of women ghostbusters or women in general.

Suddenly, a social media storm arose in which many sprang to the defense of a film they hadn't seen while simultaneously defending feminism or damsels in distress -- concepts which don't exactly share the same ballpark.

Supporting "Ghostbusters" became synonymous with being a strong independent woman or an intelligent and progressive man.

But what if that was all a ruse?

What if the whole debate had been a marketing tool to get people to go see a film that everybody at the studio knew was kinda crappy?

Would you feel used?

Well, you should.

Because you were.

Enjoy Your Sunday.

Monday, August 01, 2016

Lazy Sunday # 429: The Shining Star of Losers

I was watching the Democratic National Convention this week as Bernie Sanders made an eloquent speech, stoically acknowledging that his run for the presidency had come to an end. TV Cameras panned the tear-stained and disconsolate faces of his followers, none of them accepting the reality that he had lost.

While it's well known that everybody loves a winner and I wasn't personally a fan of Senator Sanders, I couldn't help being moved and I started wondering -- why do we all have such a soft spot for losers?

Being a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, you'd think that I'd've figured this out by now. 

But I think it comes down to the fact that we've all experienced losing. We've all failed to achieve something that mattered to us. And we all know how much that hurt.

And no matter how much we disliked, maybe even hated, the person we see being defeated -- a part of us shares their pain, maybe even appreciates how hard they struggled or how they hung onto their ideals in the process.

And part of it too is the fact that they tried. 

No matter how often they were knocked down, no matter the odds, they kept trying.

There's something especially admirable in that.

And maybe no better example than a Japanese race horse named Haru Urara, a horse with a pink "Hello Kitty" mask, an unbroken record of losing and a nation of millions cheering him on.  

Everybody may love a winner. But I think we identify more with the losers.

Enjoy Your Sunday...

The Shining Star of Losers Everywhere from The All-Nighter Room on Vimeo.