Monday, 30 August 2010

The Summering Up. . .

I'm back. It's been a hot, muggy summer (never my favourite season), and I've spent a good chunk of it lying lazily on my couch, under the ceiling fan, watching DVDS in the dark. Too sluggish to blog, I'm afraid, although I've also been busy with all the various festivals in and around the city. Highlight of the Toronto Jazz Festival was seeing the Dave Brubeck Quartet, the master just as nimble on the keys as ever - at nearly ninety! Best production at the Shaw Festival this summer was Shaw's own The Doctor's Dilemma, though I also very much enjoyed their production of Kurt Weill's One Touch of Venus, even though the lead was miscast. Lots of great cabaret at the Toronto Fringe Festival this year too which was a terrific addition to their usual fare.

And this summer was the last season of Cinematheque at its old location before moving next month to the Bell Lightbox with its much higher movie prices and new policy of letting food into the theatres (which means the talking and cell phones and texting will follow, alas). It's the end of an era and I'll miss the old place, the regulars and the reverence the audience had for the films themselves. I feel it will all change now into something resembling your average noisy multi-plex. I'm rather pissed that there are now two membership tiers (you have to make a $300 donation in order to get the usual $6.00 member price for films; my second tier membership - which has doubled in price - now gives me the privilege of buying tickets at $9.00 a pop!). I certainly won't be going there 3-5 times a week any more, which I'll really miss, but prices and principles will prevail.

This summer, the unexpected surprise was the Akira Kurosawa retrospective. I had never seen a film of his before, thinking they were all about samurai, but having now seen 18 of his movies, I'm in awe of his scope of subject matter and the longevity of his career. My favourites were two of his stylish gangster movies - 1949's Stray Dog and 1960's The Bad Sleep Well; the latter has been called his "Hamlet", and while there isn't a play "to catch the conscience of the King" there's certainly an unforgettable cake! I'll also be buying Criterion's Eclipse set of Post-war Kurosawa Films, all of which I saw this summer - and want to rewatch - for their interesting insights into a Japanese society trying to recover after the war. The set features his version of Dostovesky's The Idiot which I read in preparation for the film and found to be a fascinating adaption, true to the spirit and rough plot of the novel but rather scary and intense in its striking but violent imagery. I saw his famous movie Ran as well, but as much as I admired it, I think I prefer the earlier black and white films, although a later movie - 1975's Dersu Uzala - was so heartbreakingly beautiful and touching, I'm not sure if it wasn't my favourite after all.

My summer reading has been modest, given that turning on a lightbulb most nights has been unbearable for the extra heat it gives off. But I'm back in the groove now and my most recent reads have all been ambitious fictional looks at the turn of the 20th century. C by Tom McCarthy is an intelligent, multi-layered novel about the science behind early radio and communications networks and contains a wonderful chapter describing the aerial aspects of the First World War. Aurorarama by Jean-Christophe Valtat is my first venture into contemporary steampunk, but I loved this political adventure story set in the utopian city of New Venice, complete with suffragettes, wicked magicians, mysterious dreams, a Polar Kangaroo and even the odd zombie. It was like an adult version of Philip Pullman with lots of clever word play and northern lore. And this weekend I started a wonderful novel about the inevitable changes that occur on the island of Guernsey, through two world wars and their aftermath. The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by G.B. Edwards is a touching and very funny tale narrated by an elderly, lonely and opinionated man, nostalgic for a way of life that has disappeared with the advent of tourists and television on his beloved island. It's the perfect book to end the summer with.