Tuesday, 24 February 2015

The Subjectivity of Art

Okay, folks. Here we go.

I didn't like Lady Gaga's performance at the Oscars.

Deal with it.

I will acknowledge that maybe my initial posting was a bit harsh, but hey... give me a break. It was past 11:00pm, the show was grating on my nerves, and for many reasons best left unexplained, Gaga was trampling on an area of musical theatre which I hold sacred. But because of my exhausted state, the vast number of people who called me out on my opinion, and the fact that I am apparently in the slimmest of minorities on this subject, I went back and re-watched her performance. And you know what?

I still didn't like it and I am comfortable saying so.

I am also very happy that so many of you were so very passionate about it and that you felt it necessary to express your opinions.

Why? Because that is what art is supposed to do. It is supposed to spur conversation. And emotion. And spirit. And enthusiasm. And heat. And ardour. And fervour. And dissent.

Many years ago on a trip to Rome, The Husband and I found ourselves face to face with Michelangelo's La Pieta.

It occupies a place of enormous stature and honour inside The Vatican. There were throngs of people trying to get an up close and personal view of the great masterpiece. Many of them were brought to tears by its beauty and image.


 I was underwhelmed.

There are many reasons for this reaction, not the least of which is that I have little feeling for the religious fervour that it so obviously invokes. But as a piece of art? It did little for me. I had the same experience upon my first in-person viewing of Mona Lisa. (Cute smile, pretty girl. But, meh!)

And guess what? That's ok. It is ok that these great works of art didn't speak to me the way they so obviously do to so many others. I am certain if I gave a list of the many artists that I consider geniuses in their fields, most of you would scoff at my choices. (Pssst...Much to the consternation of The Husband, I loathe Bob Dylan the singer. Bob Dylan the songwriter is a savant, but the singer....OY! I am certainly not on the side of the angels on that one either.) But, that is one of the best things about art. We are given the freedom of critical debate, and encouraged to engage in it.

There is irony in this particular conversation. I actually like Lady Gaga. I think that she is enormously talented and an incredibly brave performer. I just didn't enjoy her Oscar moment. But I have enjoyed the spirited debate accompanying it and through it, I certainly have enjoyed watching people become more passionate about the arts. It is a whole lot more invigorating and exciting to me than is politics.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

My Facebook Diet

For the past week, I have been on a Facebook diet. Not a fast nor a total abstention, mind you. A diet.

You see, lately I have noticed a more intensive polluting of my Facebook feed. I have been dismayed by the level of mindless shares, toxic discourse, junk science, and disheartening advertisements that have grown exponentially on the site. I thought that if I could dramatically cut back on my postings and instead become an acute observer of what was developing on my homepage, I might begin to bring Facebook back to a level where I once again feel comfortable in engaging. I really wanted to become a leaner, sleeker, better informed user of the product, so I decided to conduct a little experiment.

For one week I didn't "like" anything on Facebook. Nothing. Nada. Rien. I didn't wish anybody a Happy Birthday with the exception of Younger Son which I managed by way of a photographic post. (If I missed your birthday this week, I apologize and wish you all good health and many many more!) I didn't share a single article, blog post, (mine or anybody else's) newspaper article, and with only one exception last evening, I didn't post a single status update. I did post pictures relating to my latest strange obsession, bird watching, but I limited them to one per day. I did engage in a few short conversations on those particular photos and I did visit the site often in order to observe what was happening on my feed.

Here are a few things that littered said feed this week that I pointedly avoided.

  • The Grammys
  • Kanye West vs Beck
  • Brian Williams
  • Jon Stewart
  • Measles
  • Anti-Vaxers
  • Bibi's congressional speech
  • Bibi's perhaps cancelling of his congressional speech
  • Rob Ford
  • John Baird
  • Stephen Harper
  • Barack Obama
  • GMOs, Gluten, Toxins that might be invading my foods, vitamins, makeup, or beverages
  • American Sniper
  • Stupid or Cute Cat, Dog, or any other animal videos
  • Animal rights stories
  • Sun News
  • 50 Shades of Grey and BDSM (Thank God!)
  • The Leafs (Are they still playing?)
  • Stories that were clearly anti-Islam, anti-Israel, anti-Jewish, anti-religion, anti-liberal, anti-conservative, anti-democrat, anti-republican or anti-anything.

And that is only a small sampling. There is not a single thing on this list that I feel as though I missed out on, but I did learn a great deal.

Here are a few of my observations after a week of Facebook dieting.

It is clear that there are some individuals who are all about sharing other source's content rather than creating their own. When I first started using Facebook, I was excited to have a social conversation with friends and family. I loved the reconnections. I loved the photos and the catching up. Sharing the odd article of interest is certainly part of that conversation, but many people on my feed are sharing 20 or more posts from outside sites or other users a day. A day! That level of sharing is going to dilute anything of value that you may wish to convey, because believe me, I will, and have already begun to ignore you. If you are one of these people who over-share other people's content rather than create your own, you probably have been muted in my feed.

Avoiding the "Like" button, even for a few days, has certainly led to an increase in the diversity of posts I am seeing. I know absolutely nothing about algorithms and the manner in which they function, (that's math, right?) but I do know that being more judicious in my "liking" has cleaned up some of the more distasteful ads on my feed. If I haven't "liked" your posts this week, please know that I probably really did. I will most likely go back to "liking" certain things, but I will be far more attentive as to when I press that insidious little button.

Too many of us are lazy users. If Facebook is to function properly, it requires the collective masses to have a basic working knowledge of how it works. Today, a friend posted that Miep Gies, the lady who helped Anne Frank, had passed away. The problem? She died four years ago. A closer reading of the date of the article would have cleared up the confusion, but this friend didn't take the time. It happens with old photos and statuses as well. Please take care not to "like" a photo that is older than three months. All it takes is one person and the damn thing jumps to the top of everybody's feeds.....AGAIN! Just look at the top left hand corner of the post to discern the date and be careful what you are "liking".

By thinking more carefully about my own postings, I became far more conscious about things and opinions that might have been better left unsaid by many. That was a difficult lesson for an opinionated b**** like me, but it was a very worthwhile one. Look, I am fairly open, honest, and vocal about my preferences and interests. You can read all about them right here in this space. But, I refuse to get drawn into hateful discussions with trolls who clearly revel in their anonymity on social media in order to advance an agenda. If you have expectations that you might possibly be able to bring me around to your position,  I will only engage if the conversations contain meaningful, rational, and polite debate. If you cannot follow these simple rules, you are blocked. Facebook is supposed to be fun. It has become less so.

Facebook is an amazing tool. It affords introverts like me an opportunity to interconnect while maintaining a safe environment in which we feel comfortable. But it has lost it's focus and it is up to us, the individual users to bring it back to a place of usefulness. There is much that I love about the site, but I have learned a small amount of judiciousness goes a long way.

Be wise, be wary, and be careful.

That said....I saw a black swan today. No picture, so no Facebook post, but it was just as exciting.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Dawn's Personal Movie Awards

I have spent the past few weeks catching up on this year's crop of Oscar hopefuls. Like every year, some of the nominees have left me extraordinarily puzzled as to what the various branches of the Academy saw when they handed out their lists of finalists. While I am not a critic nor am I in any way involved with the movie industry other than being a fan of great work, I thought it might be fun to share with you, my twenty or so devoted readers, my personal film awards for this past year.

Here are the rules.
  • Any film which I have viewed during the past 12 months is eligible.
  •  Since this is my space, all decisions by the judge (me!) are final and binding.
  •  These awards do not mirror the actual categories, because...well...I made them up and they involve some very worthwhile films that many will not have seen. 
  • As for the actual Academy Awards which will be handed out on February 22nd, I have managed to view most of the top contenders. (Boyhood is next in my On-Demand queue and will probably be the last, because I frankly have no interest whatsoever in American Sniper nor in Foxcatcher, although I might still change my mind about the latter.)
Here we go.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role: David Oyelowo for Selma. Whomever does win the actual statuette in a few weeks, should understand that he will always have an asterix following his name. The fact that Mr. Oyelowo wasn't even nominated for his transformative performance in one of the best movies of the year (historical inaccuracies notwithstanding), is a travesty that Oscar might spend years trying to live down.

Actor/Actress Most Deserving of the "Career Oscar": Julianne Moore for Still Alice. I really liked this movie and I thought that Ms. Moore was incredible and heartbreakingly authentic, but let's be honest. It's her turn. She has been nominated five times and the Academy loves her. It is a rare year where a women in her fifties is even in the conversation come awards season, so I am willing to put aside my bias for Marion Cotillard in order to back this one.

Best Musical: This one is easy. Into the Woods isn't just the best musical this year, it is the best movie musical in more than ten years. I had serious reservations about Hollywood turning one of my all-time favourite stage musicals into a film, but I was richly rewarded. Having James Lapine and Stephen Sondheim intimately involved with the adaptation of their project was a wise decision and one that is rarely made. And...Meryl Streep isn't even the Best Actress in the film. Emily Blunt was a revelation and might have been nominated by the Academy had her name been Emily Streep instead.

Worst Musical: Jersey Boys. Clint Eastwood directed this hot and holy mess. They actually took the music out of a musical. What a horror show.

Best Movie that I'll Bet You Haven't Seen or Even Heard of: Begin Again Keira Knightley and Mark Ruffalo are perfect in this piece about a struggling record executive and a talented, but yet undiscovered singer/songwriter who collaborate on a unique project. Both Knightley and Ruffalo are nominated this year for higher profile films, but they are incredible in this indie gem. From the director of Once, I cannot recommend this movie highly enough. (Note: The Academy did recognize it for a Best Song nomination. Not enough!)

Best Feel Good Movie: Chef I am not a foodie, but I loved everything about this movie, including the food porn. Sometimes a movie's sole purpose is to entertain and this one does it magnificently. Jon Favreau should act more often.

Movie that Was Saved by Critics' Best of Year Lists: Whiplash This is hands down my favourite movie of the year. It was first screened at last January's Sundance Film Festival and was all but forgotten until the critics' lists started appearing in November. This is a story about how much the artist is willing to suffer for his art. J.K Simmons is flat out fantastic and is proof positive that a great part and a great actor are often symbiotic. If he doesn't win the Oscar, I will need to buy a new television because I will have thrown a brick through it.

Weirdest Movie of the Year: Birdman I thought that the technical aspects of the film, i.e the fact that it appears to be one long take, and the amusing hook of Michael Keaton's real-life portrayal of Batman interesting, but I am still trying to figure out what the ending was all about.

Most Overrated Movie of the Year: The Imitation Game I like Benedict Cumberbatch, (hello Sherlock!) but I was disappointed in this movie. Maybe it was the hype or maybe I just wanted more details about the genius of Alan Turing. Mostly, I just wanted it to be as good as the documentary Codebreaker which told Turing's story much more effectively.

Best Animated Film: The Lego Movie I need to admit that I didn't see all that many animated films this year, but I loved this movie. So clever and so artistic. How this was overlooked by the Academy is anybody's guess.

Best Foreign Language Film: I loved loved loved 2 Days, 1 Night and Marion Cotillard was phenomenal, but it wasn't even her best performance of the year. The Immigrant was a stunning pictorial of the miseries faced by single immigrant women when they came through Ellis Island. Ms. Cotillard spends chunks of the movie speaking Polish. (A third language?) She is a remarkable actress. But my favourite foreign language film this year was Ida. I don't want to give it away. Trust me. See it. (As an aside....put some effort into foreign language film viewing. It is so worth it.)

Best Movie I had Never Heard of But Discovered on Netflix: Girl on a Bicycle Once again, put some effort into those foreign films.

Best Documentary: Elaine Stritch: Shoot Me Come on!! It's Elaine Stritch. Enough said.

Best Comedy: To be fair, really good comedies are in short supply these days, but I loved The Grand Budapest Hotel. I love anything and everything that Wes Anderson makes. Ralph Fiennes is great and a true Oscar snub.

Most Authentic Romance: Stay Starring Aidan Quinn and Taylor Schilling, (Orange is the New Black) this film deals with real people and real problems.

Two Hours I Will Never Get Back: The Interview What a piece of crap.

Worst Remake of a Foreign Film: The Grand Seduction Oh, how I wanted to like this movie. It is Canadian, set in Newfoundland, and an English language remake of the excellent French film Seducing Dr. Lewis. It was missing so much.

Movie I Should Have Enjoyed More: Mr. Turner It was just so very long and so very pretentious.

Best Adaptation of a Book: Gone Girl Rosamund Pike is the creepiest leading lady since Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. Once again, it helped that Gillian Flynn wrote the screenplay adaptation of her book. Where is her Oscar nomination?

Best Historical Drama: Belle I love period pieces and this is a really good one.

Best Special Effects: Bwahahahaha!! This is MY list.

So there you have it. My Personal Movie Awards for this past year. I realize that there is much that I have yet to see, but I am simply calling it like I see it. By the way, if you are not already a subscriber to a movie streaming service, you are missing a lot of great films. Most of these were in theatres for about five minutes. Netflix is my personal choice, mostly because Amazon Prime Video is not yet available in Canada and Apple TV is more costly, but do yourself a favour and sign up for one of them. Don't let the studios dictate what you watch. Support the industry and the art. I welcome your comments and criticisms of my list, and I would love to hear some of your favourites. I'm always looking for something new to watch.