Month: October, 2012

Creature From the Black Lagoon and Them!

I don’t know what was in the water in 1954 but it sure was potent. It was the year Doris Day had a Secret Love, Bugs Bunny was mixing it up,  Alan Freed was coining the term ‘Rock n Roll’, and Jerry Seinfeld, Oprah Winfrey, Cindy Sherman, Jackie Chan, Matt Groening, and Joel Coen were being born.  Along with Godzilla, 1954 spawned two of the other greatest monster movies of all time: Creature From the Black Lagoon and Them!  This Halloween treat yourself to a little good old-fashioned rubber suit action, shaky science, and giant pincers mayhem- in a time before men had a clue about equal rights.

Them! is a story about giant ants who have a thing for sugar and don’t mind taking out any fool who isn’t packing a flamethrower or has the common sense to shoot off their antennae. The story begins with a catatonic little girl found wandering a desert road  shocked into silence by something obviously horrific. The local police find the ransacked remains of a sleeper trailer with little cubes of sweetness scattered everywhere. As the patrolmen puzzle the strange scene we get our first listen to the eerie cry of Them carried on the desert winds. The actual sound they used for the film is of a choir of tree frogs. Tree-frog song in the desert! -better call the experts.

Enter Dr. Medford and her father Dr. Medford. They’ve seen this kind of thing before and have a hunch as to what might be the culprit. Joan Weldon plays the younger Dr. Medford. Her presence  provides plenty of opportunity for doctor/patient jokes from the rough around the edges FBI agent who doesn’t speak Myrmecology. After the little girl snaps out of her comatose state by screaming “them, them”, the gang heads to the desert. After poking around the dunes for a few minutes Dr. Medford hears the tree frog song and then is face to face with one of Them! The sheer delight of this film is the old school anamatronic design of the giant ants and the havoc they cause smashing through windows and walls to get at sailors and soldiers to crush in their pincers. Joan belts out a wonderful scream at first sight but then idly sits back and watches the guys unload their firearms into the creature. The handguns seem to have no effect, but luckily the trooper has a machine gun in the car and knows just how to use it.

Turns out all that atomic bomb testing in the desert had a few unforeseen side effects- like giant ants! Them! is a wonderful slice of low budget Hollywood magic. The original production was meant to be in colour and in 3D. Although the budget was cut at the last minute it went on to become one of Warner Brothers biggest money makers of 1954.

Joan Weldon                                                    Julie Adams

The Creature from the Black Lagoon trades the desert for the dense jungle of the Amazon and giant fury anamatronic insects for a rubber suited gill-man. The story begins with the finding of a strange fossilized hand protruding from a rock embankment deep in the jungle.  A few minutes later, a very similar all too alive hand slowly creeps out of the river uncomfortably close to camp. While the old scientist goes back to civilization to get his fossil looked at, the creature comes out of the water and makes short work of the two local amazonians who stayed behind.

Soon the Amazon is lousy with scientists heading up  the river in search of the body that the hand belonged to.  The shock and horror utter indifference of finding the slain workmen only sets the men’s minds to finding the rest of the fossil.  Kay Lawrence played by Julie Adams is along for the ride to offer a helpful towel or meaningful look when called for. After a sweat inducing montage of digging the men come up empty handed. Using science, they figure the bones may have originated in a different location up river. The colourful riverboat captain offers up a possibility know as the ‘Black Lagoon’. After packing up their pressurized spear guns – they’re off.

The underwater scenes of the Lagoon (filmed in Florida) are truly beautiful. The most memorable would have to be Kay’s mirrored swim with the creature.  Meanwhile, another two locals get taken out by the creature but the scientists crack on with business as usual. During one of the dives, the creature makes himself known and gets a spear in the ribs for his trouble. He escapes but is never too far away. The great thing about this film is that creature is never out of sight for more than 5 minutes at a time; it may only be a hand or foot but he’s always there. After he escapes their net, the environmentally irresponsible scientists decide to poison the lagoon to stun all the fish including the creature. Their plan works and they capture him. They fashion a Gilligan’s Island style cage to hold him but he quickly escapes severely wounding one of scientists in the process. Things just got real. Unfazed by the four locals, now that one of their own got hurt it’s time to weigh anchor and get the hell out of there. The creature and a strategically placed log have different plans.

If you’re looking for a movie this Halloween you can’t go wrong with these two. Both films offer thrills, science lessons, fun and laughter. What exactly was in the water in 1954? Besides the lovesick fish-man I mean.


Art Toronto 2012

Meghan Hildebrand

It had been quite a few years since I last had the opportunity to hang out with my friend Meghan Hildebrand. Unfortunately living on opposite coasts of a very large country prevents the casual drop-in. Meghan was in town from Powell River BC for Art Toronto Toronto’s International Art Fair.  Meghan’s artwork is an exercise in endless innovation and improvisation. Her command of colour, mark making and line create visual ebbs and flows that imbues her work with a sense of visual play and fun. The images she creates allude to a much larger narrative that we only get glimpses of. I find that Meghan’s new paintings make me think of  Cy Twombly embracing the landscape.  Two of her paintings were part of the booth display for Mayberry Fine Art, so we made arrangements to catch up and wander the aisles together.

People have radically opposing views of Art Fairs. They are engineered for consumerism and label art as a commodity. The buying and selling of art is the 2nd biggest unregulated market in the world. Prices are what the market can bear. The biggest story of the past decade for the art world has shifted from the object to the price tag.  While the rest of the world suffered at the hands of a global financial crisis, not the art world- prices kept going up. Art Fairs have become the  shopping malls for the well to do. Toronto is pretty low key on the global stage compared to places like Basel, New York and Miami but it still has something to offer people who know what to look for or know someone to tell them what to look for.

Many of the usual suspects were present: Warhol, Hirst, Murakami, as well as great examples of Canadian art’s elder statesmen including David Milne, Harold Town, The Group of Seven and what seemed like an endless supply of Riopelles. Also, prints and drawings by the titans of modern art could definitely be acquired for the right price. Meghan and I window shopped with glee. We looked at what we wanted but didn’t feel compelled to see the whole thing (it is very easy to suffer from art fatigue at these events). We talked art, old times and laughed.

Art Toronto was the perfect backdrop to catch up with an old friend. After the fair we headed over to the Power Plant and caught a few hours of The Clock. Definitely time well spent.


Crime* 2002

This image is part of a series called alphabet. I was teaching myself Photoshop, so I decided to make 26 images all centering around a different letter. Some interpretations are literal while others are a little more  broad. In Crime* I turned a Tom Thomson painting into wallpaper.


Oh the Horror, the Horror

The over the top circus that is  American Horror Story tickles me to no end. I was thrilled this week when season 2 premiered; shifting gears with a whole new premise and story arch. Although we have moved from a modern day residential Californian neighbourhood to an asylum for the criminally insane circa 1964 all the elements that made the first season so compelling are still intact.    The thing I really like about A.H.S. is that it wears its influences on its sleeves. They have no problem with paying homage to or directly ripping off scenes from countless Horror films. In the season 2 premiere alone we see references to Fire in the Sky, Carrie, Silence of the Lambs and a not so subtle tip of the hat to A Clockwork Orange amongst others. It is obvious that the writers of the show are also huge fans of the genre.

When it comes to Horror I’m conflicted: I really love the themes and creativity that it reflects but I have no real interest in watching a whole movie nowadays. As a social barometer it is brilliant, the trends in Horror say so much about the times we live in.  Right now we are fascinated with the imminent  zombie apocalypse and the ghosts that we have lurking in our own homes. Horror’s job is to prey on our fears and what people fear most right now is the perceived instability of the economy and the breakdown of society that it may cause. The real estate crisis is the real evil presence that  has crept into our houses. Foreclosure becomes the poltergeist and the safety we once felt about the place we reside is shaken. People don’t feel safe in their own homes anymore and movies like Paranormal Activity, Insidious and Sinister all play on this to some level.

Another aspect that a movie  like Paranormal Activity addresses is our overwhelming fascination with documenting everything. Technology has come so far that everyone has the capability to film every waking and in the case of P.A. sleeping hour of the day. We have become addicted to the small screen and we may be dangerously close to losing the big picture. You don’t need to watch The Walking Dead to see zombies, just go to your local mall. Everywhere you look people are lumbering along, heads down, completely disengaged with their surroundings and enamored with their handheld devices. What happens when you put a bunch of zombies in a room together? Nothing; for a creature that is constantly surrounded by their peers they are horrible at socializing. What happens when you put a bunch of people around a table who all have cell phones? You do the math.

Horror is the perfect mirror that shows us our inner monsters and ridiculous attitudes. It allows us to safely exercise these demons with an adrenaline inducing jolt or spine chilling shiver. Where Horror lost me was the trend towards more jump scares and torture. I feel torture has very little social commentary or entertainment value. I’m not opposed to the odd bit of gore but in this everything’s been done/nothing’s shocking climate, I long for the days of the straight forward masked psychopath stalker of the seventies and eighties. Those movies were the perfect morality plays. They banked upon society’s irrational love/hate affair with youth. Teenagers were always up to no good. It seemed all they did was sneak off into the woods and get wasted and have sex. If this was the kind of conduct you would engage in, then you would obviously suffer some grizzly fate. Horror as moral compass, the contradiction is sublime.

These days television has picked up the Horror gauntlet in a new and refreshing way. Both American Horror Story and The Walking Dead are taking the genre into the realm of serial storytelling where characters and plots have time to grow and evolve over the course of a season. The story is the armature in which to build the scares around. After an engaging first season The Walking Dead nearly lost me during season 2. It devolved into one earnest conversation followed by an even more earnest conversation with every episode finishing with a shocking reveal. I hope season 3 has a little more to offer. American Horror Story: Asylum has definitely something to offer and that something is Jessica Lange. Her role may be new but her presence is always exhilarating. I would put her in the same league as Edie Falco; actors who can totally inhabit a character and then shed it to define a new persona. Jessica Lange’s Sister Jude  exudes both menace and pathos in equal measure. She is doing wrong in the name of right, oh the horror, the horror.



Autumn lunch.


Minimally speaking.

The Family Fang: Book Review

Child A and Child B are the titles that Caleb and Camille Fang bestowed on their children: Annie and Buster. Needless to say, Annie and Buster aren’t too jazzed about these particular monikers or a number of other things that their parents have foisted upon them as they were growing up; all done in the name of art. Having famous performance artists for parents may sound like a dream come true for some, but these Fangs have teeth and sometimes they bite.

What people can get away with all in the name of Art can make you think twice. Artists have free reign to shock, amaze, horrify, titillate, entertain, bore, critique and push the boundaries of what’s socially acceptable.This is exactly what we want our artists to do. They are often the ones out on the front-lines pushing things forward. They make the large sacrifices of body and spirit to keep the gears spinning. We appreciate their hard work in the safety of galleries or the spontaneous happenings in public places but how far can you go in the name of art? Is there any sacrifice too large?

Joseph Beuys‘ Coyote: I like America and America likes Me would be an example of a sacrifice not a lot of us would be willing to make. It takes a certain level of commitment to lock yourself in a gallery with a live coyote to make a statement  about a country you’ve never visited and have it as your only experience of that place. Beuys’ performance is thought provoking, beautiful and a little crazy. The problem with crazy is that there are different types of crazy: good crazy and bad crazy. Artists like Joseph Beuys and Matthew Barney are the right kind of crazy. They have singular visions that are both complex and well executed.

On the other end of the spectrum, some performance pieces can veer into the realm of weird for weird’s sake or fall into the category a friend of mine from art school coined called: ‘poo-poo clever’. Most poo-poo clever pieces adhere to all the nouveau art speak and hit all the marks but never get beyond the ‘that’s interesting’ in a really boring way. Making art is difficult at the best of times but performing it just adds a whole new dimension. Luckily for us, you would never accuse the Fang family of being poo-poo clever. They approach Art with a Coyote level of enthusiasm.

Kevin Wilson paints a picture of a family where there is never a dull moment. The story is told in the present day from the perspective of  Annie and Buster peppered with flashbacks chronicling various performance pieces executed by the family over the years. The Fangs revel in the mayhem they cause and to them all the world’s a stage. After experiencing some unexpected setbacks in their personal lives both Child A and Child B find themselves once again under the roof of their parents’ Tennessee home. Will the kids participate in the grandest performance of their parents’ lives or do some wounds run too deep?

The Family Fang explores unconventional family dynamics  in delightful and unexpected ways. Kevin Wilson deftly combines moments of laugh out loud humour with elements of raw emotion. The author leaves you with more questions than answers which is a testament to the fondness you feel for these characters. In the end, I’m not sure if the Family Fang are the good crazy or bad crazy but that’s all part of the performance.


Pick up the Pieces

Pick up the Pieces

Found an old ink doodle in a sketchbook the other day. Added a little colour in Photoshop. Just picking up the pieces.

Louie C.K.

Louie C.K. is a champ: that’s short for champion. This year has been a big one for the stand-up comedian; between the awkward award show moments, a critically acclaimed 3rd season of his show on FX and the beginning of a brand new stand-up tour, Louie’s been busy. The greatest thing about his success is that he is in complete control of it. He is one of the rare performers who has total creative freedom to do what he wants to do. What we get is exactly what Louie wants us to get. This fact makes his success that much more sweet.

Last week I had the pleasure of seeing the first stop on his new stand-up tour in Toronto. He played 4 sold out shows as part of a new Just for Laughs festival. Louie has taken a page from the late great George Carlin: who would scrap his stand-up routine every year and start from scratch. You would never know that this was the first time that these jokes were being road tested. Mr. C.K. never faltered and had the crowd in the palm of his hand from the moment he stepped on stage. He covered topics ranging from the joys of middle age, the psychology of strangers and the envelope of compassion. My favourite bit involved him inadvertently inheriting an old woman at an airport. Louie has an astounding way of articulating the things that people think way in the back of their minds but would never say. The beautiful thing about these observations is that he is never mean about his subjects. He  only draws attention to the frustrations we all share about the society we live in.

This is a major theme of his television show Louie. He plays himself navigating through life as a single dad of two girls performing stand-up along the way. Although the premise sounds pretty straight forward, it’s like no other show on T.V. Louie is an extended character study with moments of laugh out loud hilarity, unconventional narratives, awkward moments that start to spiral before your eyes, absurdest surrealist vignettes and then in the middle of all that, you’ll get these quiet reflective moments on the small pleasures of life. Sometimes I feel it’s more of a drama with comedic moments thrown in. Whatever it is, it’s completely satisfying.

The outstanding season 3 just finished and I would count it among some the greatest television of the day. He had a long line of guest stars that included: Sarah Silverman, Robin Williams, Jay Leno, Chloe Sevigny, Garry Marshall,  Chris Rock and Jerry Seinfeld. In all that talent, the two that stole the show were David Lynch as a talk show life coach and Parker Posey as a damaged quirky bookstore clerk that takes Louie on a wondrous first date. Parker Posey’s performance inflates your heart to the point of bursting and then she pops it like a balloon. She is a true champ and that’s short for champion.

Ceiling Unlimited

La Sagrada Família

The unfinished majesty of Gaudi’s Cathedral in the heart of Barcelona is a hot bed of controversy. The construction continues long after the original plans were burned in 1938, during pro-Franco protests. Purists are horrified by the guess work while enthusiasts are thrilled with the progress. The exterior suffers from a form of multiple personality disorder while the interior feels unworldly. Light fills the space and the ceiling resembles a mad burst of crystal like  stars unfolding  ad infinitum onto themselves. Your neck will crane and your eyes will pop.

Libyan Sybil    The Sistine Chapel

The ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is unparalleled in the history of art. The frescoes executed by a man who was mostly known for his sculpture, enrapture all that step foot into their presence. Michelangelo’s genius can not be understated. He designed his own scaffold, painted above his head the whole time, compensated for the the distorted perspective of painting on a vaulted surface as seen from 80 feet away and in the process changed the history of painting. For all his genius; the female figure kind of eluded him.

Great Mosque of Cordoba

A building so beautiful; it is impossible to capture in a photograph. Within its endless red and white striped pillars lies a church: a cathedral wrapped within a Mosque. A definite must see.


The dome of this ancient Roman temple opens itself up to the sky. A single massive spotlight pours into the Pantheon, along with the rain when the weather turns. Raphael: the boy wonder of the Renaissance’s final resting place.

The Scrovegni Chapel

The ceiling of the Scrovegni Chapel could be considered Giotto‘s version of The Starry Night only painted nearly 600 years previously. The visits are timed so there isn’t a chance to linger but the impression it makes will last a lifetime.