By Jaime Weinman - Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - 0 Comments
One of the last refuges from smartphones is now embracing the technology of instant communication
From the reaction, you’d have thought a theatre was going to destroy the world. It was something even more controversial: the Tateuchi Center, a new theatre being built near Seattle, announced it was going to encourage cellphone use. Executive director John Haynes spoke proudly about his plan to allow texting and Twitter. What he got in response was a barrage of posts and emails that startled him—he hadn’t been expecting negative reaction. “Most of them were ﬂame mail: ‘I hate texters, I hate cellphones, I hate people who talk on them.’ ”
For people who are ambivalent about smartphones, the theatre has been the last refuge, a place where their use is universally discouraged. Theatre stars like Patti LuPone have chided phone users. Earlier this year, New York Philharmonic conductor Alan Gilbert brought a symphony to a halt when a cellphone rang. But theatres, ballet companies and opera houses have been quietly opening their doors to tweeters and texters. It even arrived on Broadway Feb. 19, when a production of Godspell held a special performance with “tweet seats.” “The 18 of us chosen for this event were chosen because of our love for Godspell and for Twitter,” says Caryn Savitz, who live-tweeted the Biblical action.
This kind of talk alarms those who think there’s something special about an unconnected performance. “It goes against what going to the theatre is all about, which is to have a communal experience,” says John Karastamatis, director of communications for Mirvish Productions. But even as he speaks, theatres have to grapple with the question of how to deal with a world where instant communication is part of most people’s lives.
By Brian D. Johnson - Wednesday, November 2, 2011 at 3:42 PM - 1 Comment
It’s amazing how much the eye can take in a span of 12 hours. Yesterday I experienced a perfect storm of artistic extravagance. It began with watching one of the more shocking scenes of projectile vomiting I’ve ever seen outside a gross out comedy—at a morning press screening of Roman Polanski’s Carnage—Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, Jodie Foster and John C. Reilly play two couples whose Manhattan civility goes to pieces in a human train wreck reminiscent of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. Then I began the afternoon ogling a bazillion-dollar 144-diamond tiara at a preview of Grace Kelly: From Princess to Movie Star, the new exhibit at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, while fantasizing about staging a Lightbox heist. In the evening, I attended the Canadian Stage premiere of Orpheus and Eurydice, an outrageous dance piece by Quebec choreographer Marie Chouinard, which reinterprets Greek myth in a high-art orgy of bare breasts, black dildos, primal screams—and puppet serpents wriggling from mouths and loins. If the road to excess does indeed lead to the palace of wisdom, by the end of the night I should have been filthy rich with enlightenment
I’ll catch up to Polanski’s Carnage in another blog—and maybe I’ll even get around to reviewing the glittering gowns and jewels in TIFF’s Grace Kelly exhibit, which premieres tonight with a royal visit from “Their Serene Highnesses” Prince Albert and Princess Charlene of Monaco. But I’m still reeling from Orpheus and Eurydice, which showed that avant-garde dance—goosed by a shameless kick of Vegas vulgarity—still has the power to shock. The warnings before the show were explicit. Audiences were told to expect mature themes, nudity and 15 seconds of strobe lighting. As I looked around the audience at Toronto’s Bluma Appel Theatre, I wondered how this elderly-skewed theatre crowd would handle the onslaught of flesh they were about to witness. There’s something supremely weird about seeing an acrobatic performance of convulsing half-naked bodies attended by folks whose limbs are so ancient that navigating the stairs to the washroom becomes a heroic odyssey.
By Brian D. Johnson - Wednesday, October 26, 2011 at 6:33 PM - 2 Comments
Bob Marley was a superstar and a revolutionary whose music circled the globe. Now he’s a brand. On Monday night, I attended the Canadian launch of the House of Marley’s new headphone line, a collection of eco-friendly products with names like Soul Rebel, Revolution, Conquerer, Positive Vibrations, Zion and Trenchtown Rock—which are sponsored by Future Shop. The House of Marley? Yes. It was created by the late singer’s family as a commercial enterprise to market merchandise under his name and siphon some of the revenues to charitable causes via an organization called 1Love.org.The pitch: “eco-conscious, innovative products that adhere to the Marley family core values: equality, unity authenticity.”
The launch, a bizarre mix of old time Rasta vibes and corporate chic, took place at the ultra-slick Ultra Supper Club—formerly the Bamboo, Toronto’s unofficial reggae clubhouse. And it was attended by an impressive contingent of Jamaican royalty, including Bob’s wife Rita Marley, who looked positively regal in a purple gown and turban. I was seated next to Bob’s son, Rohan Marley, the family’s official representative at the House of Marley—a dreadlocked Rasta who once played in the Canadian Football League with the now-defunct Ottawa Rough Riders. Rohan, an exuberant pitchman and raconteur, was hilarious as he regaled us with stories of how he ended up playing ball in the Great White North. He didn’t set out to play football. It was soccer he loved. But there were no soccer scholarships, so he ended up as a star linebacker with the University of Miami Hurricanes. When he got an offer to play in the CFL, he refused at first (“I was retired from football.”) But as he tells it, Rita applied pressure: “Mama Rita, she said, ‘You really love football. You should give it another try. You should go to Canada!” Rohan reminisced about how he stoked his on-field energy with herb, how he used his energy and speed to run circles around much bigger opponents, and how he feuded with his intolerant coach. Continue…
By Martin Patriquin - Thursday, October 20, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 0 Comments
Quebecers aren’t allowed to submit captions for the magazine’s famous cartoons
Anyone who has ever tried to come up with a zinger for The New Yorker’s caption contest knows how challenging it is to seem effortlessly clever. Quebecers, though, will be further frustrated should they come up with a suitably droll caption for the magazine’s weekly back page cartoon. It turns out they are barred from the exercise, which welcomes “any resident of the U.S. or Canada (except Quebec) age eighteen or over.”
Some Quebecers may be tempted to suggest an anti-Quebec bias is at work. The New Yorker, after all, famously ran a lengthy article by Mordecai Richler in 1994, decrying the province’s language laws and history of anti-Semitism. Reality, though, is more banal. The Quebec government requires companies to register their contests with the province’s gaming authority, something done to “protect people who participate,” says Joyce Tremblay, spokesperson for the Régie des alcools, des courses et des jeux.
Rather than navigate Quebec’s red tape, some companies are deciding to skip it altogether. “The same thing happened last year,” says Tremblay, miffed that The New Yorker has “decided to exclude Quebec.” The NFL had a contest for Super Bowl tickets, and “Quebec was excluded then, too,” she says.
By Brian D. Johnson - Monday, October 17, 2011 at 10:39 AM - 1 Comment
I thought I was going to see a play, something I always brace myself for, like a potentially tedious hike in uncertain weather. I was wrong. I Send You This Cadmium Red is a film, a painting, an essay, a concert—and, yes, a play—all at once. Therefore none of the above. It’s something else entirely. And it’s extraordinary. It’s a contemplation of colour via words, music, words and projected animation. Colour is explored as a substance, a medium, a mood—an opaque fact and a window into infinity—but also as something tangible, almost human. And I can’t remember the last time I saw a play or a film in which the inevitable apartheid between form and content, style and substance, was so elegantly obliterated by a piece that is so utterly what it’s about.
Directed by Daniel Brooks, and produced by Andrew Burashko’s Art of Time Ensemble in association with Canadian Stage, I Send You Cadmium Red was originally commissioned as a radio work by the BBC and scored by British composer Gavin Bryars. It’s based on a book of correspondence about the nature of colour between two Johns, the visionary writer and painter John Berger and his painter/filmmaker friend John Christie. The original music was recorded in studio, and the Art of Time production is the first instance of it being performed live onstage. Continue…
By Jonathon Gatehouse - Monday, August 29, 2011 at 11:00 AM - 2 Comments
Lloyd Robertson, 77, is signing off. We think.
It was two decades ago that the media first started asking Lloyd Robertson when he was finally going to retire. We’re talking 1991, the year of Bush the elder’s Iraq war, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Brian Mulroney was prime minister and the GST came into effect. Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas and that Coke can were a hot topic. A time so distant that a Kevin Costner movie won the Best Picture Oscar. Nirvana, then the world’s hottest band, is now played on “oldie” stations.
Robertson, CTV’s éminence orange, was just 57, but had already been anchoring the network’s national news for 15 years, and before that had been a CBC fixture for another 22. “I always thought I’d be out of there by now, that someone would come along and tap me on the shoulder and say, ‘Hey, you’re getting long in the tooth—get out,’ ” he told the Montreal Gazette. Absent the push, the trick, said the anchor, was to “pick a time that’s obvious to you and your audience.” He mused about the big 6-0. It’s possible that some people even believed him.
Should all go according to plan, Robertson will actually step down this Sept. 1. Now 77, and with a combined 41 years behind the anchor’s desk at CBC and CTV, he is the longest-serving national anchor in North American TV history. Not exactly a retirement, since Robertson plans to continue on in his other job co-hosting the current affairs show W5, and will appear for some special event coverage. But it brings an end to his nightly television presence, and an era in Canadian broadcasting.
By Alex Ballingall - Thursday, August 25, 2011 at 9:10 AM - 0 Comments
Once an online colossus, AOL is trying to become a modern media company
A decade ago, AOL was one of the most promising firms in the online world. Tens of millions of North American users relied on its dial-up Internet access services and came to know its trademark greeting, “You’ve got mail!” Today, its future appears murky as the former giant tries to claw back into the fold as a major Internet presence.
The company took a walloping on the stock market last week when its shares fell almost 26 per cent, hitting their lowest point since AOL ended its disastrous merger with Time Warner in December 2009. The sell-off occurred after it released second-quarter earnings, which showed total revenues were down eight per cent over last year. In response to the hit in share value, the company approved a scheme to buy up US$250 million of its own shares.
The market shellacking was a major blow for a company that’s been fighting for the past year to reinvent itself as a new media firm. It bought the news website the Huffington Post for US$315 million in February and the tech website TechCrunch last year. After installing Arianna Huffington as the head of its new Huffington Post Media Group, AOL opened several new websites—17 during the last quarter alone. AOL now boasts nearly 10 million unique visitors to its websites every month. That’s more than the New York Times, according to the company’s CEO, Tim Armstrong.
By Allan Fotheringham - Thursday, July 28, 2011 at 1:55 PM - 0 Comments
A daring explorer and teacher, Brady was the bravest man I ever met
My number one son Brady Fotheringham, born in Vancouver in 1964, was named after Mathew Brady, a New York photographer whose iconic images of the Civil War made him a father of photojournalism.
Such was the eloquent impact of his battlefield photographs that even the New York Times said he brought “home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war.”
Brady had the usual helter-skelter youth, which ended at the age of 13 when he suddenly collapsed while wrestling with his younger brother Kip in the family garage. The doctors discovered that he was an epileptic and devised that a medical prescription of 20 pills a day would let him live an ordinary life.
By Jaime Weinman - Tuesday, July 19, 2011 at 10:10 AM - 0 Comments
The News of the World scandal is a lot like the comedy The Front Page, only without any redeeming qualities
The News of the World turns out to be a lot like The Front Page, but somehow that fills us with disgust, not nostalgia. The often-performed, frequently filmed newspaper comedy has defined much of what we know about the good old days of journalism, and it seems a lot like today’s bad days. The lead character of the play, reporter Hildy Johnson, describes his job as, “Peeking through keyholes! Running after fire engines like a lot of coach dogs! Waking people up in the middle of the night to ask them what they think of companionate marriage. Stealing pictures off old ladies of their daughters that get raped in Oak Park.” It turns out that today he’d simply be hacking into a computer to get the pictures, but otherwise, not much seems to have changed.
Hildy’s editor, Walter Burns, will do anything to get an exclusive story and the advertiser dollars that come with it: he hires a small-time gangster to do dirty work for him (including kidnapping an old woman), lies to everyone, plants evidence, and violates all kinds of ethics and laws in his 1½ acts of stage time. The result was a beloved comic rogue who was portrayed by Cary Grant in the movie His Girl Friday. It’s a little different with similar alleged behaviour on tabloids today: instead of getting played by Cary Grant, you get busted by Hugh Grant.
Old-school portrayals of unethical journalism are easier to love because, for one thing, they’re fictional. But they’re also about a time when we could believe that reporters, however awful, served a noble purpose. The story of The Front Page is that by pursuing a sensationalistic story, the journalists manage to expose the corruption of the city government. Most of them don’t seem to care about anything more than their headlines, and they’re happy to ruin people’s lives (including driving a woman to attempt suicide) to get them. Many of their tactics, like bribing the police to get information, would seem at home in a story about News International. But in the end, the play promises us, muckraking reporters will make politics more honest.
By Jaime Weinman - Monday, July 18, 2011 at 9:45 AM - 3 Comments
For someone who hates the ‘lamestream media,’ the rogue politician sure invites them in a lot
“You know, she definitely knows,” Bristol Palin said when asked if her mother had made up her mind about running for the highest office in the U.S. “We’ve talked about it before. Some things just need to stay in the family.” The daughter of Sarah Palin, former Alaska governor and possible U.S. presidential candidate, said this on Fox News, as part of a countrywide media tour to promote her book, Not Afraid of Life. It seemed appropriate somehow that she would say that only the decision to run for president was private and off-limits. Everything else with the Palin family is open to the public in a way we haven’t seen since English aristocratic families allowed tours of their houses. We’ve seen the Palins on reality shows, and in tabloids fluffy and ferocious alike, and soon they’ll be starring in the upcoming documentary The Undefeated, a film director Stephen K. Bannon created to defend Palin against her enemies. The Palin blitz even involves a case of duelling books: Bristol’s just-published memoir, in which she trashes her child’s father, Levi Johnston, will be followed in September by Johnston’s own book, Deer In the Headlights: My Life in Sarah Palin’s Crosshairs. Sarah Palin is famous for her dislike of what she calls the “lamestream media,” meaning every news outlet except Fox News. But when it comes to other types of media, she and her whole family have built up an empire that most political families can’t compete with.
No one knows if this kind of media attention will translate into a presidential campaign, particularly with recent polls showing President Barack Obama beating Palin even in her home state. It might not even matter. Sarah Palin is considered popular enough with ordinary Republican voters that she can still be a formidable presence in the nomination race if she chooses to enter. Still, some of her thunder has recently been stolen by Michele Bachmann, another former beauty contestant with ties to the Christian right. Though the Palin family seems to consider her an upstart (“I think she dresses a lot like my mom,” Bristol told Popeater.com), Bachmann is more popular with journalists, holds a full-time political job, and can recite political talking points more fluently. That loss of the spotlight may have made it harder for the Palins to sell books, the tool a political dynasty uses to promote itself. Jessica Lussenhop of Minneapolis City Pages reported that when Sarah and Bristol showed up in the heart of Bachmann’s native Minnesota to promote Bristol’s book, “one estimate put the number of autograph seekers at about 300 people,” and the autograph signing session ended “at least a half-hour early.”
By Jaime Weinman - Thursday, May 19, 2011 at 11:45 AM - 1 Comment
Scott Adams’s recent posts have been controversial. So was the fake name.
Dilbert creator Scott Adams once described himself as “an early user of the Internet.” Now the Internet is hurting his reputation. For two months, Adams has been taking time off from drawing comic strips about office life to make controversial statements about race and feminism—and even to come to his own defence under an assumed name. Asked by Maclean’s to comment on the online fracas, Adams replied: “Which fracas? Is it the one where I’m an evolution denier, a Holocaust denier, a racist, a misogynist, a troll, or just the biggest douche in the entire world?”
Adams has always used blogging to express his proudly libertarian views. But recently he’s been writing some things that sound worse than just hating government regulation. It began with a post where he said that “the reality is that women are treated differently by society for exactly the same reason that children and the mentally handicapped are treated differently.” When a Republican official sent out a picture portraying President Barack Obama’s parents as monkeys, Adams argued that the incident proved how “non-racist” the official was. And he later wrote that a journalist should admit the “advantages” her career had gotten from being “a brilliant, smoking-hot African-American woman.”
Popular websites jumped on Adams’s gaffes, though he says they weren’t gaffes if you knew what he was really saying: “No one who has read my writing in its proper context, and understood it, is angry at me.” But his attackers might not have had as much ammunition if it hadn’t been for Adams’s attempts to defend himself. After the post about women got him in trouble, he deleted it, causing other blogs to re-post it and accuse him of trying to hide his shame. He also referred to Gawker, a site that has been particularly relentless in making fun of him, as “pure evil” and “Nazi wannabes.”
By Leah McLaren - Tuesday, May 17, 2011 at 9:50 AM - 5 Comments
Should government or the courts draw the line between free speech and the right to privacy?
No one can whip up a scandal quite like the British press. In a country in which the kiss ’n’ tell splash is both a lucrative and time-honoured tradition, many publications here view it as their right—in some cases raison d’être—to be able to publish the raunchiest details of a celebrity’s sexual indiscretions with impunity.
But the British courts don’t always agree. For several years now, British judges have been granting anonymizing court orders, commonly known as “super-injunctions,” which prevent U.K. media outlets (usually tabloid newspapers) from publishing stories that may be damaging to the parties involved. In some cases, the orders prevent the claimants themselves from being named, and in the most “super” of super-injunctions (a slang—not legal—term), the injunction itself is also banned from public mention. The injunctions cost between $30,000 and $80,000 on average to take out, prompting widespread criticism that they are an option open to only the already rich and famous.
If there is only one thing the British press like less than being scooped, it’s being muzzled. While super-injunctions have long been an irritant to the scandal sheets, they have only lately boiled over into front-page news, after the Wikipedia entries of four protected public figures were rewritten with lurid details inserted. In response, a number of others jumped at the opportunity to speak out against these gag orders, which some see as both hopeless in the digital era, as well as a dangerous infringement on freedom of the press.
By Anne Kingston - Tuesday, May 10, 2011 at 9:00 AM - 5 Comments
The TV journalist who famously ‘got’ Charlie Sheen has a surprising Canadian target in her sights
It’s 10:30 on a Sunday night in mid-April, and ABC TV’s Andrea Canning is gently grilling a 17-year-old girl about the serial killer who allegedly murdered her sister. The hunt for the prostitute-killing psychopath is big news in New York; Canning has just snagged the first on-air interview with the Buffalo, N.Y., teenager who says she received calls on her sister’s cell from the man two years ago. The girl is filmed in shadow to protect her identity. Before tape rolls at an ABC studio in Manhattan, Canning expresses her sympathy, then breaks the ice by joking that some days she’d like to be filmed in shadow. “No hair and makeup!” The southern Ontario native then bonds with the girl’s entourage: “I grew up knowing too much about Buffalo news,” she says. Then she gets down to extracting enough footage for a one-minute clip for her regular stint on Good Morning America (GMA) the next day. It’s a challenge: the girl’s answers are monosyllabic. The scene has a mutually predatory aspect to it. The lurking question, “Why are you risking your life?” isn’t asked. The answer is obvious: it’s her 15 seconds of fame.
For Canning, the girl is a minor prize in her roster of high-profile “gets,” a list that includes fugitive actor Randy Quaid and his wife, Evi, 13-year-old Rebecca Black, whose song Friday elicited Internet snark, and, most famously, an unhinged Charlie Sheen. Canning’s 90-minute February sit-down with the actor, his first network interview after being fired, was a sensation. Sheen’s mash-up spoof of the encounter, now part of his North American tour, was a YouTube hit. It propelled Canning’s rising star at a time when it’s not enough for network news to simply report the news; it now has to make news itself. Celebrities and scandal are the ideal vehicles. “Gadhafi is important but Sheen pays the bills,” Canning says, quoting an ABC executive.
Coaxing ratings gold from Malibu’s “warlock” is a world away from Canning’s childhood in the Collingwood, Ont., area, where her grandfather founded the Blue Mountain ski resort, now run by her father. A “shy kid” who skied competitively, she majored in psychology at the University of Western Ontario before a summer acting course at the University of California led to the TV journalism program at Toronto’s Ryerson University. A gig as a Baywatch intern (David Hasselhoff remains “a good friend”) paved her way to an intern position at the tabloid TV show Extra. While in L.A., Canning shared a house with the then-unknown Ryan Seacrest, who was “very driven,” she recalls. “We say there was something in the water in that house.” Extra provided her first taste of the adrenalin rush of breaking scandal when she confirmed a 1997 phone tip that the woman accusing sportscaster Marv Albert of sexual assault faced criminal indictments.