Friday, January 22, 2016

Joel Ivany is a pretentious. . .

Joel Ivany is a pretentious blowhard who ruined ruined a perfectly good production of Mozart's Requiem.

There. That's all that needs to be said really. Anything else is just expanding on the point.

Pity - no, tragic - because Requiem really is an amazing work, and I was looking forward seeing this production. And let it be said, the singers and musicians were simply beautiful. Let's be clear on that. But under Ivany's asinine hand, they are wasted utterly. The latest TSO production is exactly the sort of piss-up-circle-jerk you'd expect from a fine arts wanker with an ego. A sycophant surrounded wanker who's never been told he's full of shit. How else to explain the nonsense going on here?

 Ivany is not the conductor - he is the "stage manager". What does a production like this need a stage manager for? Well, this is Requiem is "semi-staged". Yes that is what it says in the program. Now what the fuck does "semi-staged" mean? In this case, "random movements and unnecessary gestures which serve no purpose except to distract the audience and give Joel Ivany something to do".

So, the choir raise their hands, cross their arms, stand up, sit down, clasp each other's shoulders. . . it is staggeringly, shockingly, mind-bogglingly pointless. It rather feels like sitting in the audience while the people around you keep getting up to go to the bathroom. It not only doesn't add anything to the music, it is a really awful distraction and constant interruption. We are never allowed to absorb and process the music; there's not a single moment where Ivany doesn't thrust his existence upon our consciousness.

The problem is that Requiem isn't an opera. There is no story, no narrative, no characters. There are no actions to perform. It's a requiem. A religious song for the dead. Have a look at the words:

See what I mean? At no point does it say "now raise your right hand with your palm to the ceiling". This isn't Simon-fucking-says! "Stand up, sit down, raise your other arm, cross your arms, turn to your left! Wander around." Apparently such gestures are considered meaningful.

I suppose the idea is to put a new spin on things. My question is: why??? It never occurs to anyone in these circles that the reason works like Requiem have been performed a million times is because they're brilliant, and they deserve to be performed a million times. No one needs to raise their arms.
What guys like Ivany are really saying when they pollute such works like this, is that they have no faith in the source material: they really don't think it can stand on its own. It needs to be tweaked .  Furthermore, tweaked their way. It's not much different from pop-music videos really: superfluous imagery imposed over music without regard to content or intention. It's why we've got gang rapes in Rossini now.

 It's why classical music is dying.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

On Star Wars

             To call Star Wars a little derivative is a bit like calling Donald Trump a little irresponsible. It’s more than an understatement, it’s a redundancy. The original Star Wars concept was derived from every previous fairy-tale archetype known to man, and this new one is derived from the original. It’s a mirror image copy of the original, with bits of episodes five and six thrown in completion. Watching it, I thought two things:

           First: Did it need to be? Did we need to begin with a young orphan in a desert? Did we need a cute little droid with secret plans hidden within him? Did the super-villain need to wear a mask? Did we need a cantina scene, complete with mock bar-band? Another planet-sized planet destroyer, with more holographic visitations from the Big Boss guy? More familial strife? More long dog-fights through stretches of impossibly lengthy duct work? Did we need to undo three films worth of Han Solo’s character development to bring him back exactly as we found him[1]? Did we need to restore the status quo to this mythical world?  Sure. Why not?

            Second:. This is so fucking cool. Despite all the above, I loved every minute of it, the contrived plot, the cliched dialogue, the snarling villains, the blatant self-reference and the shameless melodrama. Especially the shameless melodrama. I loved it all. I didn’t think they could do it anymore; I thought space opera of this kind was extinct forever, banished in the wake of disco-dancing irony. Hallelujah! There’s no irony to be found here. And no disco songs! Abrhams and company aren’t joking around here: they mean it. They believe it. And it shows. Despite all the above, traits which I normally despise in a movie, it’s done here with such panache, gravitas and wide-eyed sincerity, I could not help but be swept along for the ride, my reservations left far-far behind.

            Best of all: there is no trace of the prequels. No Jar-Jar Binks, no planet Naboo, no crude racial stereotypes. The rules of good (if simple) story-telling and tasteful aesthetics apply here – the villains are menacing, the heroes are charismatic, there is emotional investment in the story, and it actually looks good. We get a world here that looks like people actually live in it, not the blue-screen barf of the prequels. In fact, there’s not a trace of the garish, asymmetrical ugliness that defined the prequels. We can finally pretend they never existed. That is probably the best thing of all.

            I probably could pick it apart and find all sorts of things to get annoyed with. Let’s be honest here, this is more of a video-game than a movie, written by committee, designed for merchandise, specifically constructed to appeal to our sentimental attachment to childhood memories. But I think it’s high time someone respected my sentimental attachment to my childhood memories. In this rotten world, where ISIS exists but Motorhead no longer does, and where even Doctor Who will let you down, I’ll take what I can get. I want my adventure stories back, and finally I got one.


[1] To be fair, this is sort of explained – he was reacting to trauma, the only way he knew how. Fair enough. 

The Man who Sold the World meets the One to Sing the Blues: on Lemmy and Bowie

            No sooner did Lemmy shake off this mortal coil than David Bowie followed close behind, stealing most of his thunder. Bowie was more respected, and so got more coverage, most of which was sincere and heartfelt (though there was on piece from the Toronto Star – typical – which pissed me off. Less a tribute to Bowie than a passive aggressive snipe at some of his contemporaries and – presumably – their fans. I even detected a bit of dig at some Bowie’s own material, the “stadium-friendly” stuff of his earlier days (which this author happens to overwhelmingly prefer). It made me wonder who gets to decide what’s “cool”, respectable, credible and worthy of notice. More on that another time).

Grizzled veteran
            Bowie surprised me. I hadn’t realized he was as old as he was, and had no idea he was sick (not sure anyone did besides his doctor). See, Lemmy looked his age. He always seemed on the cusp of death, playing poker with Pinhead, if not chess with the Reaper. His lifestyle was about as unhealthy as was possible, and mortality was a constant theme in his music, as if he’d come to terms with it long before it became an issue, unlike his fans who thought that if it hadn’t killed him already, it probably wouldn’t. But Bowie? I didn’t realize he even aged.

            Immortal each, but in pretty much opposite ways.  

            Among Metalheads, Lemmy was a sort of revered grandfather figure, whose approval we all craved. His songs all had the aura of hard-won experience born of having been there and done it all first.  He was already a grizzled veteran by the time he started Motorhead, and did the whole grizzled veteran thing so well it was impossible to imagine he was ever young. He was walking monument, a museum, a historical tome, etched in stone, ageless and eternal.

Bowie was the other side: he always struck me as some kind of font of eternal youth - always being
Always young
reborn, regenerating Doctor-like every few years into new forms, always at the forefront of what was new and innovative, always inventing and creating, always new and vital.

There are pratfalls to both: obsession with age can lead to conservatism and stagnation – I’m always amazed how many older Metalheads simply refuse to support younger bands. The cult of youth can bring about cultural amnesia, neurosis, and art with the lifespan of a mayfly. Nor would it surprise me if it contributed to the deaths of so many young musicians. But there's a right way to go about it as well. 

I daresay these guys were the best of their kind. . .