Jan 12, 2010

Happy 100th Birthday, Luise Rainer

Today, actress Luise Rainer turns 100! Although this lady's filmography is short, she has an impressive body of work. She won two consecutive Best Actress Oscars for The Great Ziegfeld (1936) and The Good Earth (1937). Ah, to be in London on Feb. 1, when she appears at the National Theatre, in conversation with the renowned author Sir Christopher Frayling. I surely hope someone is recording the event.

Jan 1, 2010

MAGIC AND LOSS: Goodbye to the Uh-Ohs.

What exactly did we call this previous decade? The 2000's? The zero-zeros? The double O's? The O-Os? Well, considering the simpletons in power for most of the time, and the fear in which we commonly live, I'd prefer to call it the uh-ohs. And as we wave our handkerchiefs to these past ten years, while we usher in a new decade, I'd prefer not to eulogize them with any kind of "best of" lists which seem to be the recent trends in the blogosphere and beyond, but rather I'd like to do a "before and after" kind of test. ESR has been in existence for almost the entire decade- indeed it was early 2001 when I finally became serious about doing the publication after spending much time in the backburners of my mind. And in many cases, the changes in lifestyle and technology have occurred alongside its publication.

Movie watching in general has changed dramatically. In the analog past, I would steal time on the weekends in front of our wonky two-head VCR. Now, being able to watch a film has never become more convenient. I no longer need to stake a flag in front of the TV to watch something perhaps only of interest to one in our household. With the birth of the portable DVD player (which I still take everywhere with me), and even with an iPod, I can fill those hours of downtime (usually in transit) by getting caught up on research. However, because a one-way commute seldom lasts as long as a feature, I'm given to watching films in fragments, rather than enjoying them in a complete session like I always did.

Over the past few years, we've also seen a dramatic dip in public movie theatre attendance. The reasons for this are numerous: inflating costs to have a night out; earlier street dates of DVD releases prompt people to wait to see it on video; and of course, Hollywood would like to blame it on piracy, but the majority of the generic crap they put out these days hardly warrants a night out (let alone a top ten list). Locally, we lost a lot of our bragging rights four years ago when our repertory cinema chain closed. And even though a couple of those theaters re-opened, albeit singly, it was the end of that era. However, in comparison, my theatrical moviegoing has not changed. Ironically, it is more prevalent than ever, once one includes attendance at such independent venues as Trash Palace or The Loop Collective. If anything, the widespread jeopardization of the theatrical experience has only enforced my desire to support non-mainstream venues from not having a similar fate.

And it wasn't until the year 2000 that I even had a computer at home. Prior to receiving that Mac 2SI with a whopping 68 megabytes of hard-drive space, I still wrote everything longhand, and today can barely write a legible sentence upon spending untold hours pecking away at a keyboard. And rather than store back issues of ESR on a pile of 1.4 MB floppies, now I can carry the entire series (and more) on a USB key! Yes, technology has improved- Alvin Toffler was right in his "smaller is better" prophecy.

With YouTube, torrents and other digital advances, any information we seek can instantly become available to us, but in the meantime, we've lost that feeling of discovery and accomplishment after spending so much time researching or uncovering something in the analog years. We've never had it so good, but we've forgotten what it's like to enjoy it. Ten years ago, I used to travel with -wait for it- a walkman that played cassettes! And now instead of carrying around a few tapes, we can put several days' worth of music onto an iPod. And of course, such a volume of choice perhaps decreases our patience, allowing us to flip to something else on a whim. With each new advance, some tradition obviously becomes replaced, but in this ever-increasing age of gentrification, we are in fear of becoming as mechanical as the gadgets we cling to.

The older we get, we creatures of habit become nostalgic for a way of life that has passed us by, and it seems with each year we lament over something else that has left us. In 2009, I was rather saddened to hear that my old stomping grounds Centre For The Arts has moved to a new location, and because of those circumstances, no longer rents space. Admittedly, in the past, I bemoaned the poor attendance of many screenings I held there, and stopped renting the space for shows once I was recruited to Trash Palace. And although it was no longer economically feasible for me to do other shows there, I missed the "film club" aspect that developed among the regular attendees, who sadly did not migrate with me to Trash Palace. But for all that, I sincerely miss those days- loved the centre's cozy environment and creative vibe. "Beatnik Movie Night".... sigh.....

Earlier in the year, I attended this big sale by The Toronto Film Society, which was unloading his impressive library of books, magazines, press kits, etc. And the Saturday morning our friend David and I spent was truly a moment of discovery. While I'm happy that I managed to buy a gym bag's worth of books, magazines and videos for a mere twenty bucks (including, be still my heart, two of the old annual program guides for Elwy's Saturday Night At The Movies), I was also saddened, because it meant the end of an era.

Retrospectively, I am reminded of a passage in Larry McMurtry's book, Walter Benjamin At The Dairy Queen, which I read this summer, where upon visiting an archive of old books, he truthfully laments that most of them will never be read again. Once I revisit some of these old ephemeral newsletters or heady magazines from the 1950's, I share his thoughts about how these pages stand for something that will only be resigned to shelf space in some private collection. Over the summer, we had gotten whispers of a film inventory sale previously owned by the late owner of The Nostalgic Cinema. And although someone else beat us to the punch and we turned away empty handed, this experience was another reminder that we can't go home again.

Memories, pages, and flickering movie images all become emblematic of the past that is otherwise unattainable to us. As we usher in a new decade, with an ever-changing way of life, we still can uphold our histories.