Slut: The Play, by Theatre Antigonish – A Review

Theatre Antigonish presented the bracing 80-minute work Slut: The Play at Mount Saint Vincent University’s multi-purpose room Saturday night, invited by MSVU’s Alexa McDonough Institute.

The drama was developed in New York using real stories told by young women. Katie Cappiello shaped it into an 11-character piece that jumbles storylines and builds up choral-like effects. The result was a brisk and satisfying theatrical experience.

The real point of Slut, however, is to confront contemporary issues of sexual assault in high school and university age groups. Because it is an all-female play, the point of view is aptly skewed to explore the current contradictions in sexual behaviour and expectations.

The play brings contemporary issues to the forefront. Its initial run in Antigonish ended in December, but the troupe has toured the play around the Province since then. I heartily recommend that you take the opportunity to see the play if it comes to a theatre or school near you. It is an important work of art that deals directly with an issue that touches all of us, in one way or another.

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William D. MacGillivray – An Iconoclastic Visionary

As he approaches his seventieth birthday this May, William D. MacGillivray is still a busy and visionary writer, producer and director. A recipient of multiple awards and retrospectives, MacGillivray has little to prove to anyone. Being the subject of doctorates and representing Canada abroad at prestigious film festivals like Berlin, he is a motion picture artist who could easily just rest on his laurels.

Instead, however, he’s continually upending expectations, as in the extraordinary The Panther Next Door and the moving Hard Drive, all the while still intent on locating the soul of the East Coast. And while that might always be something of a moving target, so is Bill himself – always shifting, always changing, always re-adjusting his vision.

It’s a vision that has brought the Atlantic Cinema into a very sharp focus indeed.

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Nova Scotia’s “Titanic” Filmmaking Legacy

Last month’s column on Nova Scotia’s Oscar connections generated some interesting discussion, particularly in the case of James Cameron’s 1997 epic Titanic. Most people don’t know that one-third of that motion picture was filmed in Halifax, and that the original ten-day shoot turned into a three month marathon.

If you don’t think the saga of RMS Titanic is at least in part a Nova Scotia story, the reaction to the event’s 100th anniversary, held around April 12th, 2012, certainly should have convinced you otherwise. The Atlantic Film Festival, for example, held four standing-room only screenings of non-Cameron Titanic-related films: the 1953 Hollywood-made Titanic, which won the Academy Award for Writing Original Screenplay; the 1943 German-made Titanic, commissioned by Nazi Propaganda Minister Joeseph Goebbels, who later banned it; The Unsinkable Molly Brown, a fictionalized account of Margaret Brown, who survived the sinking of the Titanic; and the 1958 British-made classic A Night To Remember, which most critics regard as the most historically accurate cinematic portrayal of the disaster. There was also a lively seminar on “Titanic in the Media” which I had the pleasure to chair.

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Robert Frank – The Man Who Brought Avante-Garde Filmmaking to Nova Scotia

Robert Frank is arguably the most important photographer of the post-WWII period. First published in France in 1958, then in the United States in 1959, his work The Americans changed the course of twentieth-century photography. Less well known is the key role he played in the development of the Nova Scotia film community.

Born in Switzerland in 1924, Frank was a legend of the post-war avante-garde by the time he came to Nova Scotia in 1969 as part of a wave of world-class artists who have lived in the province, off and on, more or less ever since (some of those artists include sculptor Richard Serra, screenwriter and novelist Rudy Wurlitzer, actor and playwright Sam Shepard, and composer Philip Glass).

While Frank’s extraordinary cinematic work can hardly be called mainstream by any stretch of the imagination, many of his techniques and attitudes still resonate within the more adventurous elements of the international motion picture community, including Nova Scotia, where he left an indelible mark.

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The NFB’s Legacy in the Nova Scotia Film Industry

The legacy of the NFB lives on, infused by the memory of a time when it was pretty well the only game in town. Its online presence is perhaps the greatest reminder of this famed public service production house of documentaries, animation and experimental cinema. Its role in the community, of course, is much harder to quantify on a balance sheet, but only fools would look to bean counters for a true valuation to society of the arts.

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Vinyl (HBO) – Season 1, Episode 3

HBO’s Vinyl continues its shift downwards into a slowly unfolding long-form drama after its spectacular 2-hour start. In the latest episode, “Whispered Secrets,” Bobby Cannavale’s record company owner Richie Finestra is attempting to salvage his sagging imprint while a murder, the mob, and changing tastes and technologies all swirl around him.

The drug and drink-taking excesses still punctuate the series. And punk and rap are still germinating, cockroach-like, under the suffocating rubric of the still dominant mass music scene. The sense of aesthetic pregnancy still manages to promise greater things to come.

For the moment, however, Vinyl is drifting a bit dramatically, even though the series been renewed for a second season by HBO amidst some rather tepid and ultimately disappointing ratings. Hopefully it begins to fulfill its considerable promise soon.

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Nova Scotia and the Academy Awards

Nova Scotia has a rich Oscar history. Three Bluenosers have actually been awarded the golden statuette – producer Michael Donovan for the documentary “Bowling For Columbine,” choreographer Onna White win for 1968’s “Oliver,” and actor Harold Russell in a rare double win for 1946’s “The Best Years Of Our Lives.” Others have been nominated – Ellen Page is the most recent example, for “Juno.” Just as interesting, however, are the many lesser known Nova Scotian Oscar connections sprinkled about cinema history, from French New Wave director Francois Truffaut’s “The Story of Adele H” to the various films based on the life of Anna Leonowens.

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Pioneering Canadian Filmmaker Don Owen Dies at 84

One of English Canada’s pioneering filmmakers, Don Owen, died at age 84 on February 21st.

While Owen made his films mostly in Toronto and Montreal in the 1960s, ‘70s and 80s, he lived in Halifax for almost a decade after he finished his final feature, Turnabout, in 1988, which screened at that year’s Atlantic Film Festival. He made his mark mostly at the National Film Board of Canada, particularly with the breakout feature Nobody Waved Goodbye, a 1964 long-form film that gained international acclaim and distribution in the US, at rarity at the time. Judith Crist of the New York Herald Tribune called it “a remarkable film,” and the New York Post hailed the film as “a masterpiece.”

Don Owen was a colourful character, generous with his opinions and time. His cinematic legacy, celebrated during his lifetime, will undoubtedly endure.

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The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution

Emmy Award winning filmmaker Stanley Nelson’s stunning new documentary, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution, is the most balanced and effective portrait yet seen on the screen of the radical African American organization of the late 1960s and early 1970s. Nelson deftly places the big ticket moments – the trials, shoot-outs, exiles and comebacks of various important persons – within the context of a broader and richer portrait of the whole movement of resistance and cultural celebration. The result is a documentary that is a remarkably fair and balanced look at a tremendously complex social movement.

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Vinyl (HBO) – Season 1, Episode 2

After the frenzy and fireworks of Vinyl’s premiere two-hour episode directed by Martin Scorsese, the new HBO series Vinyl has geared down to a single-hour format with a bit less star power in the director’s chair, this time by veteran television director Allan Coulter (best known for his work on Boardwalk Empire and The Sopranos). The second episode has downshifted to refine its plot-lines for further developments. The show still excels at its re-creations – the Dolls, Robert Plant and now the Velvets have all been impeccably re-done, revealing one of the best art departments working today – but at Vinyl’s heart is a struggle to keep music alive amidst a overwhelming sea of compromises.

While I guess every episode can’t be directed by the likes of Martin Scorsese, there is still enough going on in Vinyl to keep me watching, even if the second episode didn’t have the punch or consistent focus of the premiere.

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Philip Glass: Words Without Music – A Review

As satisfying as Bob Dylan’s wonderful memoir Chronicles, Philip Glass’ Words Without Music charts the relentless ambitions and risk-taking of one of the world’s most important musical and aesthetic figures. The narrative drives steadily forward, attempting to catch up with his own prolific nature, where his works – operas, symphonies, and chamber music – seem to pour out continuously in a rapid stream of inspiration. It’s a great read, by any measure.

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The World In His Arms

Nova Scotia once ruled the waves in the world of sailing ships. So much so, in fact, that Hollywood came calling in the early 1950s for our help in the making of The World in His Arms, a swashbuckling classic starring Gregory Peck and Anthony Quinn, directed by the great action helmer Raoul Walsh and adapted from a Rex Beach novel.

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“Vinyl” (HBO) – Pilot episode review

The new Golden Age of Television carries on with the first episode of the new series Vinyl, which premiered Sunday evening on HBO Canada. Set in 1973 at the apex of the then booming record industry in New York City, the premiere uses the real-life event of the collapse of the Mercer Arts Center as its dramatic fulcrum. The characters who populate this urban inferno are shockingly cynical and debased. The record industry in the mid-1970s revealed humanity at its most decadent, with fraudulent business practices melding with ruthless exploitation, all peppered with relentless drug use, manic sexual practices and out-of-control personal behaviors.

The resonance of these stories – based in hard-luck narratives from the likes of Tommy James, who states in his autobiography that Morris Levy owed him 40 million dollars in unpaid royalties – powers what promises to be the long, twisted and engrossing plot lines of Vinyl. The first episode sports a shocking, drown-out murder, along with domestic discord and the kind of drug-fueled excess that will undoubtedly bring on an avalanche of dramatic possibilities.

Vinyl is off to a fantastic start.

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I Was a Teenage Punk Rocker… in Halifax!

Before Sloan launched the 1990s Halifax “Pop Explosion,” there was the late 1970s “Punk Explosion.” Punk and new wave scenes were popping up all over at the time – Moncton, Halifax, St. Johns… all had something going on. What once was mere a rumour echoing from distant New York City and London was manifesting itself in youth culture clear across the Western world. The Vacant Lot were the first in Halifax, and the Trash Kanz, of which I was the male lead singer, was the second. We came not out of downtown – or the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, as several sources have mistakenly stated – but rather from the leafy suburbs that fed Halifax West High School. Clayton Park. Wedgewood. Rockingham. Prince’s Lodge. Bridgeview. Those were our stomping grounds, until we broke free and began to stomp around downtown Halifax as well

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Graham Steele’s “What I Learned About Politics” – A Review

After a life in politics where he might have been considered the ultimate party man, Steele comes off as remarkably unsentimental, with some industrial-strength insights into Nova Scotia’s rote inability to change. Railing against the “Status Quo,” the former Finance Minister provides an extraordinary portrait of practical politics in a period where the old-line parties are creeping back to the unsavory ways that got us into our current mess. Steele’s vivid and focused view of his time in government from 2009 to 2013 is marked by a refreshing candor that can only help our understanding of the massive challenges Nova Scotia faces, not least of which is a dysfunctional political culture.

For anyone interested in Nova Scotia politics, it is absolutely required reading.

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AFCOOP’s 2016 Winter Meeting

A cold Thursday night in late January saw an explosion of warmth at the annual Winter Meeting of the Atlantic Filmmakers Cooperative. With the film industry in Nova Scotia confronting the catastrophic effects of changes in provincial government film funding policy, anyone and everyone interested in film scene should consider getting involved with AFCOOP. Whether you’re a recent film school graduate, or a grizzled veteran, AFCOOP offers equipment rentals, training programs, screenings and an indie film festival, along with a place for advice and sympathy in a rapidly changing motion picture milieu.

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Chrissie Hynde’s “Reckless” is Essential Reading

Rock legend Chrissie Hynde’s autobiography is essential reading for anyone interested in the history of modern rock music. Her prose is vivid and telling as she details how ‘60s counterculture swept everyone and everything before it into a miasmic mess. Once she gets to the punk and new wave years, she provides an insider’s view of yet another seismic cultural shift that is still sending reverberations down the spine of Western culture.

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