For every good television program, there are a thousand bad ones. For every new idea, there are a thousand recycled ones. Sacrifices need to be made on the alter of good taste in order for things to move forward. Some of these sacrifices are unnerving and painful to watch. If you’ve been with American Horror Story from the beginning, then you’ve already seen your fair share of flinch worthy material. We’re entering the third season, and are now deep into the labyrinth of nightmares and pain and lucky for us; the pain is delicious.
Many centuries ago on the Greek Isle of Crete, King Minos suffered a moment of doubt and prayed to the Gods to show him a sign. Poseidon hearing his prayers sent forth the most beautiful white bull any human had ever set eyes on rising from the sea foam. Poseidon had planned for Minos to sacrifice it in a ceremony in his honour, but Minos had other plans. He substituted one of his own prize calves instead and kept the white bull for himself. Poseidon was not amused with the deception, so he decided to teach Minos a lesson. Poseidon bewitched Minos’ wife Pasipha to fall in love with the bull and she in her delusion employed the great architect Daedalus to construct a wooden bull decoy for her to climb into to fool her new love. The plan worked and the Minotaur was born.
Minos found himself the foster father to a hideous monster. Daedalus was once again called and a labyrinth was built to house Minos’ problem child. The Minotaur was imprisoned but not forgotten, Minos arranged annual sacrifices by tyrannizing nearby Athens who had to supply seven youths and seven maidens for the Minotaur to devour. On the tenth year of the sacrifice, the hero Theseus counted himself among the seven. On his arrival to Crete, Minos’ daughter Ariadne fell in love with the Athenian. She couldn’t bear to have her crush chomped by her half-brother, so she came up with a way to help him. She gave Theseus a ball of string and a sword and had him hide them near the entrance to the labyrinth. He used the sword to kill the Minotaur and the string to find his way back out of the maze. He swiftly left Crete, taking Ariadne with him, later abandoning her on a island while she slept. You can see his ship sailing away on the left side of Titian’s Bacchus and Ariadne. Jerk.
Apparently, the Minotaur didn’t die that day in the labyrinth, but was resurrected at the hands of Madame LaLaurie (played by the tour de force that is Kathy Bates) in 1832 Louisiana. Bates’s character is based on a real woman who actually did unspeakable things to the people in her charge. According to AHS lore she was cursed for her atrocities with immortality and buried for 180 years by Marie Laveau -Voodoo witch played by Angela Bassett. Madame LaLaurie is dug up in modern day New Orleans and is quickly whisked off to the local finishing school for young witches. In the first two episodes of Coven we’ve been introduced to death by sex, franken-boyfriend, a homicidal child star, a human voodoo doll, Stevie Nicks and our good friend the Minotaur among other things.
American Horror Story Coven is already deep into the labyrinth, how far you might ask? Who knows, I threw the string out seasons ago. I’ll go anywhere they want to lead me as long as Jessica Lange’s the tour guide. This show is so over the top it transcends both good and bad and has become its own thing. AHS jumped the shark halfway through its season one opening credits. You don’t watch American Horror Story for the subtlety or what passes for substance these days, you watch it to see Jessica Lange chew through everything in her wake. (This season judging by the cast, she has some fine sparring partners to go toe to toe with.) I’ve been lost in this maze of Horror tropes, mixed messages, great one liners and paint yourself into a corner plot-lines for a few years now and have grown very fond of the monsters and dead ends I’ve found here.
Our first VCR was a behemoth of a machine. It was a top loading silver monster with buttons the size of dinner plates. The year was 1983, and all over the world budding cinephiles’ lives were being changed forever. My true love for movies was born that day my father unwrapped the box. The family now had their own personal movie theater. Not only could I watch Star Wars a million times, I had tentative access to movies I never could have hoped to see in the theater cause of my age. The VCR was a doorway to a whole new world.
The video store was the new candy store. I loved the experience of walking the aisles as a kid, surveying the boxes with their covers alluding to forbidden worlds of sex and violence. B movies always had the best artwork, from atrocious slasher films to ridiculous teen comedies. The shelves were loaded with monsters, UFOs, freaks, geeks and heroes.
As I grew older, my friends and I bonded over our shared viewing experiences. We watched everything and anything from the classics to underground cult movies. We craved the weird and the unusual. Foreign films slowly seeped into our viewing stratosphere and the world opened up again. Movies were the go to viewing entertainment. TV in the eighties was its own brand of fantastic, but it couldn’t compare to the silver screen.
When I went away for university I ended up in a town with a brilliant video store. You could always judge the caliber of a video store by the number of its rare and obscure movies and this one outdid itself. You could spend hours looking through walls of forgotten gems, discussing the choices with the staff, friends and complete strangers who you knew shared your passion. A good independent video store was a meeting place for informed, engaging people and I miss them.
Our beloved meeting spots are slowly disappearing, but there are still a few out there keeping the spirit alive, and that is why this Saturday is the 3rd annual Independent Video Store Day. So this weekend, instead of cueing up Netflix try your local Star Video and see what they recommend, those guys know movies.
I even miss Blockbuster. Sure they mainly catered to all the new releases but it was still fun to walk by an entire wall of something. One of my favourite memories of the failed franchise was the scene right before the store around the corner from my house closed its doors for the last time. Everything in the store had been picked clean except one rack right up at the front. It was full from top to bottom with only two titles: Robsessed and Justin Bieber: Never say Never. It was a kind of beautiful nail in an unfortunate coffin.
I always say “the best place to be at a party, is to be working for the party.” Helping to facilitate someone’s else’s good time is way more rewarding then worrying about your own. For this year’s Nuit Blanche I worked for the party. Over the years, NB has become one giant open air art party more concerned with spectacle than true artistic contemplation but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there, you just have to seek it out.
This time around, I had the pleasure of working for artists Martha Griffith and Marian Whihak at their installation Take a Penny. My job was to help hand out mints; each one hand printed with an image of our lost copper friend: the penny. 30 000 mints in total were on display and ready for consumption or to be rolled into coin rolls. The piece was set up inside one of the concourses at Scotia Plaza in Toronto’s financial district.
I really liked the piece, and it was perfect for this kind of event. It worked on many levels, from eye candy to pun to labour intensive process to conceptual idea. It included a participatory element that encouraged people to roll their own coin rolls, along with the idea that each person got to take a piece of the art with them. Inevitably the mints would melt away just like the penny.
I got to hand out free candy to literally thousands of people. For me, the most fun was the split second it would take people to contemplate whether they wanted a mint or not. Roughly 80% of the people when asked, would pause for a second, mull it over in their mind and then emphatically say “Yes, yes I would like a mint.” About half the people who initially said no, would come back a few seconds later smiling sheepishly, cause let’s face it ‘Who doesn’t want a mint?’
At about 5 in the morning I got an opportunity to go do a little exploring. This was the perfect time, the bulk of the crowds had made their way home out of the light drizzle that was falling. There were still a number of people around but you had clear access to all the work. My first stop was to Kelly Richardson’s large video projection Mariner 9. It shows the Martian landscape littered with space junk. Next, I made my way to Ai Weiwei’s Forever, set up in front of City Hall. This was the center piece of this year’s Nuit Blanche and was a nice compliment to his exhibition at the AGO. Inside City Hall was a long line of toys holding protest signs called The Little People by Work Party. Next stop, Shrine by John Notten which was a cathedral made out of garbage bins.
The highlight for me on my brief tour was Tadashi Kawanta’s Garden Tower Toronto made from hundreds of chairs.
This year’s theme seemed to be multiples: multiple chairs, multiple toys, multiple bicycles and multiple mints. NB is over for another year and now I need to catch up on my sleep.