Thursday, September 30, 2010
Shepherd's performance is part of the Global Cabaret Festival (formerly known as the Canwest Cabaret Festival) which involves 150 artists playing 60 concerts over four days from September 30 through October 3. Check out the festival site (www.globalcabaret.ca) for schedule information and tickets. Those who won't be able to make it out to the Distillery District to see Shepherd this evening, she'll be returning from her stateside jaunt to play a full show at the El Mocambo on Sunday (October 17).
Elizabeth Shepherd's US Tour
Oct 1 - Nighttown Cleveland, OH
Oct 2 - Cliff Bells Jazz Club Detroit, MI
Oct 4 - Shadow Lounge Pittsburgh, PA
Oct 6 - Rockwood Music Hall (6 pm) New York City, NY
Oct 6 - Goodbye Blue Monday (11 pm) Brooklyn, NY
Oct 7 - Lily Pad Cambridge, MA
Upcoming Canadian dates
Oct 10 - Divan Orange Montreal
Oct 15 - OCFF Ottawa
Oct 16 - Mercury Lounge Ottawa
Oct 17 - El Mocambo Toronto
Elizabeth Shepherd discusses Heavy Falls The Night
High (studio take)
Elizabeth Shepherd site http://www.elizabethshepherd.com/
free four-song sampler
Last October, gifted British arranger Robert Kirby passed away at the age of 61 following emergency heart surgery. Best remembered for his studio work with Cambridge pal Nick Drake – Kirby's gorgeous string enhancements have helped make Five Leaves Left and Bryter Layter timeless classics – the affable string master continued creating wonderful arrangements long after Drake's untimely passing. Elton John, Linda Thompson, Elvis Costello, Paul Weller, The Magic Numbers and Nick Lowe are just a few of the many artists who've benefited from Kirby's rare artistry.
To honour Kirby's lasting legacy, his son Henry has put together The Robert Kirby Memorial Concert at Cecil Sharp House (2 Regents Park Road) in London starting at 1:30 pm and featuring performances by Vashti Bunyan, Teddy Thompson, Luke Jackson, Steve Ashley, Ben & Jason (who've reunited for the show), Harvey Brough & Clara Sanabras and a one-off appearance by Fab Cab, Kirby's Caius College choral group who last performed in 1967. In addition, the special guest show closer is rumoured to be Paul Weller although there has been no confirmation as yet. For tickets, check the site http://www.wegottickets.com/event/93603. For more information, go to ww.robertkirby.co.uk
Originally planned for last November, with Kirby flying in from the UK to conduct the strings, the show was cancelled with the news of Kirby's sad passing on October 3 just a week before the concert was to be announced. So that tribute concert in honour of Nick Drake has also become a Robert Kirby tribute now rescheduled for Trinity St. Paul's on Sunday, November 28.
Performers for the evening will be Kevin Kane, Stephen Fearing, Mary Margaret O'Hara, Tom Wilson, David Celia, Emm Gryner along with Jackson and a special mystery guest all backed by a string octet led by Kevin Fox and a solid house band featuring Don Kerr, Kurt Swinghammer and Maury Lefoy. It promises to be a stellar night out with proceeds benefiting the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. Tickets for the Nick Drake Tribute Night are now available through ticketpro.ca right here. You can check Jackson's site (www.lukejackson.com) for more details.
Robert Kirby interview circa 2002
This Life by Luke Jackson (in the studio with Robert Kirby)
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Jim Jarmusch spills on his Stooges film
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
Brett Callwood www.myspace.com/brettcallwood
MC5: Sonically Speaking http://wsupress.wayne.edu/books/1180/MC5#news1
Entitled Caribou Vibration Ensemble featuring Marshall Allen, the double vinyl plus DVD package is a splendid document of Caribou's All Tomorrow's Parties performance last year which involved an expanded line-up bolstered with Sun Ra Arkestra saxophonist Marshall Allen, Kieran Hebden and Snaith's nutty Dundas pal Koushik among others. It looks like that Polaris Prize money has been well spent.
According to Mr. Snaith:
“In September 2009 the Flaming Lips invited us to play at the All Tomorrow’s Parties New York festival which they curated. We wanted this show to be something special so we put together a 15 piece band including all of our friends – Kieran Hebden (Four Tet), Luke Lalonde (Born Ruffians), Koushik Ghosh (Koushik), a five piece horn section, four drummers and Sun Ra arkestra band leader and legend Marshall Allen.
The show was something of a dream come true for us and so we’re very excited to announce that we will be releasing a limited double vinyl recording of the concert. The album will also come with a DVD video recording of the show. This record will only be available at our upcoming concerts and not available in stores.”
Caribou Vibration Ensemble featuring Marshall Allen
1. A Final Warning (9:43)
2. Barnowl (10:40)
3. Brahminy Kite (5:29)
4. Every Time She Turns Round It’s Her Birthday (8:48)
5. Hendrix With Ko (4:31)
6. Melody Day (5:20)
7. Sandy (4:25)
8. Skunks (6:18)
North American tour dates
Sept 28 Winnipeg, MB - West End Cultural Centre &
Sept 29 Saskatoon, SK - Amigos &
Sept 30 Edmonton, AB - Starlite &
Oct 1 Calgary, AB - Republik &
Oct 3 Vancouver, BV - Vogue &
Oct 4 Seattle, WA - Showbox &
Oct 5 Portland, OR - Wonder Ballroom &
Oct 6 San Francisco, CA - Regency &
Oct 7 Los Angeles, CA - La Cita [DJ SET]
Oct 8 Los Angeles, CA - Music Box & %
Oct 9 Tempe, AZ - The Clubhouse &
Oct 11 Salt Lake City, UT - Urban Lounge &
Oct 12 Boulder, CO - Fox Theatre &
Oct 14 Austin, TX - La Zona Rosa !
Oct 15 Baton Rouge, LA - Spanish Moon !
Oct 16 Tallahassee, FL - Engine Room !
Oct 17 Tampa, FL - Crowbar !
Oct 18 Orlando, FL - Backbooth !
Oct 19 Miami, FL - Grand Central !
Oct 20 Mexico City, Mexico - Lunario [LIVE & DJ SET]
Oct 21 Guanajuanto, Mexico - Mutek/Cervantino Festival
Oct 30 Asheville, NC - Moog Festival
Oct 31 Chapel Hill, NC - Cat's Cradle
& with Emeralds
% with Nite Jewel
! with Arp
Monday, September 27, 2010
Along with Kaleidoscope, you'll also notice a cigarette puffing Serge Gainsbourg sitting at the piano off to the side getting ready for his performance with France Gall who seems to be getting into the Kaleidoscope groove.
Peter Daltrey recalls the strange event:
"One of our first outings under the new banner was to Paris to appear on a live TV show," explains Daltrey. "We entered the studio to find ourselves in the midst of unorganized chaos. They complained about our frilly white shirts; too white for colour transmission. Suddenly we were dragged on set and we realized the show was on air. A group of guests sat on a sofa smirking at a tasty young girl; someone threw their arm in our direction and we grinned.
"Then everyone began wandering around; we were off air. In fact we had to wait for hours for the real show. Ed fell over a cello and then we mimed expertly to the single and then we were in the street, in a taxi, in a plane and off home before you could say, `J`taime."
Kaleidoscope on French TV 1967
Serge Gainsbourg and France Gall
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Tired of all those Nashville pretty boys crooning silly tunes about their laidback lifestyle? Well, hairy-scary Alabama shitkicker Jamey Johnson definitely ain't the hot tub type as you'll find out on his bold new 25-track double disc set, The Guitar Song (Mercury Nashville).
Back in 2006, the ex-Marine Corporal broke out with the promising debut The Dollar (BNA) and then was dropped by his label just as quickly – evidently celebrating his sudden success a little too much – but came back with a load of new material for That Lonesome Song. Originally available exclusively online, the independently recorded album was snapped up by Mercury Nashville on it's way to Gold certification and a slew of award nominations.
Whether or not Johnson knew that his album's impressive retail sales in conjunction with winning 2009 ACMA Song of the Year for In Color and dual Grammy nods for High Cost Of Living in addition to his writing credits on the chart-topping hits of Trace Adkins and George Strait would all but ensure a rubber stamp label approval for his follow-up recording, it sure looks like he got it.
By Music City standards, putting anything over the commonly accepted 10 songs on an album is considered unwieldy. More than 12 tracks is unadvisedly grandiose while anything beyond 15 songs is usually reserved for posthumous career retrospectives and tribute compilations saluting really popular artists. So something like Johnson's The Guitar Song – a 25-track concept behemoth – is pretty well uncharted territory in Nashville.
Despite Johnson's stunning creative accomplishment – just getting the whole damn thing released is an achievement in itself – it may be a bit premature to claim that The Guitar Song's arrival marks the official return of outlaw country. Although it's a promising sign that the album is already confusing critics, used to busting out superlatives for any release with three worthwhile tunes out of 10, who now need a whole new scale to figure out where a prodigious singer/songwriter like Johnson fits amongst the hat acts. In any case, aging mavericks like David Alan Coe and Billy Joe Shaver should be relieved to discover that they're no longer the last ones holding the fort.
Lonely At The Top by Jamey Johnson
Saturday, September 25, 2010
It's not all about amp-melting power chords and fist-pumping anthems for Soundtrack Of Our Lives, sometimes the Swedish stadium rockers just like to chill out with a quiet ballad. After enjoying some splendid baked treats at Vienna's historic Café Sperl last November, Ebbot Lundberg and his Soundtrack sidekicks serenaded unsuspecting coffee and strudel crowd – including one lucky visitor from Ottawa! – with an impromptu acoustic rendition of Lifeline from their Communion (Yep Roc) album which you can check out below. There are no plans as yet for a Soundtrack Of Our Lives restaurant tour but it might be worth considering. I have a feeling Ebbot wouldn't be against the idea.
Lifeline by Soundtrack Of Our Lives
Friday, September 24, 2010
The new Neil Young album Le Noise, which Hamilton's own Daniel Lanois produced at his Silverlake home studio, won't be in stores until Tuesday but the thoughtful folks at MOJO figured you might be tired of waiting to hear it. So they've exclusively posted all eight tracks from Le Noise which you can temporarily stream right here. A couple more Le Noise video clips have also recently appeared which you can check below.
Daniel Lanios discusses the song Walk With Me
Walk With Me
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
Anyone who considers themselves a serious fan of Canada's national pastime knows of some unjustly overlooked candidate for the Hockey Hall Of Fame and they'll gladly tell you why the selection committee are idiots for the unforgivable oversight. Whenever the discussion arises in a place where drinks are served, there are always a few present either eager to argue to the contrary or detail an elaborate conspiracy theory to explain why the unfortunate player has been shut out of hockey's most hallowed hall.
Over the years, rational arguments have been made for a number of seemingly worthy players who've already earned a place in history, namely former Montreal Canadiens' captain Guy Carbonneau who took the Frank J. Selke Trophy three times and has as many Stanley Cup rings along with another well-respected defensive forward Marty Pavelich, the Red Wings' penalty killing ace whose superb shadowing skills helped Detroit win four Stanley Cups during the early 50s. Cases have also frequently been put forth for Eric Lindros, Doug Gilmour, Mark Howe, Pavel Burre and netminder Lorne Chabot who took the Vezina Trophy in 1935. You'd think being the first-ever hockey player to grace the cover of Time magazine would be enough to secure entry – evidently not.
Another apparent Hall Of Fame shoo-in given the cold shoulder thus far is Maple Leafs great Paul Henderson who scored the game-winning goals in the last three games of the 1972 Canada Vs. Russia Summit Series, including the dramatic series winner. The fact that legendary Soviet goaltender Vladislav Tretiak – whom Henderson beat in Game 8 – has already been inducted only makes Henderson's exclusion all the more puzzling, particularly for those who consider the "shot heard 'round the world" to be the greatest moment in the history of Canadian sport.
Whether it's because Leach's numerous achievements with the Flyers and Flin Flon Bombers have been overshadowed by those of his attention-grabbing linemate Bobby Clarke or his notorious battle with the bottle negates all of his on-ice accomplishments in the eyes of the Hall's image-conscious selection committee, the troubled star has been left out of the ongoing dialogue almost entirely.
At least everywhere but Manitoba where Leach isn't considered a failure for his past problems, the current coach of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League's Manitoulan Islanders is a beloved cultural icon admired for the way he turned his life around and has so selflessly given back to his community. His hometown peeps in Riverton definitely haven't forgotten the "Rifle."
http://www.petitiononline.com/TheRifle/petition.html) which inspired John K. Samson of Winnipeg's Weakerthans to write and record a song about the grassroots support for Leach's longshot bid.
Cleverly titled Petition, Samson's tune has just been released on his three-track Provinical Road 222 (Anti-) seven-inch EP and on iTunes (see links below), the second in a high-concept series of recordings dealing with stories connected by the roadways running through his home province of Manitoba.
Contrary to what you might expect, Petition isn't the sort of fist-pumping anthem that Leach fans will be busting out at Flyers' games but rather, a gently strummed and sensitively crooned folk ballad. Although it doesn't really convey why Leach deserves Hall Of Fame consideration, it's pleasant enough not to put off the hockey-hating segment of the Weakerthans' loyal following. It doesn't sound out of place alongside The Last And, a heady number informed by Edna Krabappel's relationship with Seymour Skinner on The Simpsons.
Even if The Petition falls short of making a convincing case for Leach, the release seems to be raising his media profile. If nothing else, it should get Samson an opening spot on the next Blue Rodeo tour and possibly some decent seats at an upcoming Manitoulan Islanders game.
Reggie Leach's historic five goal playoff performance
John K. Samson http://www.anti.com/artists/view/75
A petition for Reggie Leach sponsored by Samson http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/rivertonrifle
Provincial Road 222 on iTunes
Monday, September 20, 2010
In a shocking upset, Montreal altern-rockers Karkwa – affectionately known as the francophone Coldplay – beat out heavily favoured frontrunners Broken Social Scene and the Besnard Lakes to win the coveted 2010 Polaris Prize tonight for their dreamy fourth album Le Chemins De Verre (Audiogram).
The Polaris Prize is awarded annually for the best Canadian album, regardless of genre, as selected by jury based on artistic merit rather than sales.
Karkwa perform at the 2010 Polaris Prize Gala
Karkwa site www.karkwa.com
This recent CBC news report (see clip below) about the downside compact fluorescent light bulbs might cause you to think twice about replacing all of the incandescent bulbs in your home with those energy-saving curly ones. Evidently, the potentially hazardous mercury content isn't the worst of it.
The Darkside of Compact Fluorescent Lights
The last time Pernice held a book launch in town, it started with him reading passages from his novel but quickly turned into a solo acoustic performance with Pernice playing more than half of the cover songs from the book's accompanying "soundtrack" album and culminated with a set of tunes from his time with the Pernice Brothers, Scud Mountain Boys and Chappaquiddick Skyline.
Charlie Huisken's literary event at Clinton's may not turn into another career retrospective night, it's sure to make for an entertaining evening and you'll also be among the proud few who can lay claim to observing Pernice in his new habitat. The cover is just $5 and doors open at 7 pm.
Joe Pernice reads from It Feels So Good When I Stop
Tell Me When It's Over (Dream Syndicate) by Joe Pernice
Sunday, September 19, 2010
Following the release of the first Grinderman album, the Birthday Party references came quickly and steadily from music critics looking for a place to slot the latest Nick Cave side project which didn't seem to be a natural progression from what he'd been doing with the Bad Seeds. But rather than a regression for Cave as if part of an ill-advised bid to reconnect with his glory days as some have suggested, Grinderman is a bold step forward. He's not aiming to relive his youth, just merely trying to shake out the cobwebs.
Like many artists of Cave's advanced age – he turns 53 on September 22 – he has come to realize that those unequivocally great songs aren't filling up the pages of his notebooks as effortlessly as they once did. Plus, he no longer has longtime collaborator Mick Harvey as a sounding board who announced the end of their 25 year-long creative partnership for "personal and professional" reasons in January 2009.
Rather than settle for recording mediocre material or searching out some worthwhile covers as many of his singer/songwriter contemporaries have done after hitting the wall, Cave commendably decided to try shaking up his tried and true writing process instead. That means no more sitting alone in his office waiting for inspiration to move him over to the piano to plunk out a new idea. With the Grinderman project, Cave is now in a room face-to-face with his musical cohorts Warren Ellis, Martyn Casey and Jim Sclavunous verbally playing off whatever riffs and rhythms they come up with not unlike the way some rappers use a beat to spark their flow. Consequently, rather than the grandly plotted narratives populated with sharply drawn characters commonly associated with Cave's pre-war ballads and blues-inspired work with the Bad Seeds, his Grinderman lyrics are much more impressionistic and abstract as if he's working to reconcile the disparate influences of Howlin' Wolf's Smokestack Lightnin' and Scarface's The Diary while maintaining that delightfully dark sense of humour.
The album's first single Heathen Child is their best song yet with the atypically tender B-side Star Charmer not far behind. Although it's still to early to tell whether Heathen Child and the other arena-ready whumpers they've included on Grinderman 2 (apparently only a fraction of the songs recorded made it onto the album) will connect with an audience beyond the Bad Seeds' loyal following. If it doesn't, it won't be from lack of trying.
Check out the startlingly demented Heathen Child video directed by John Hillicoat (The Road) which manages to one-up Peter Serafinowicz's similarly laser-enhanced clip for Hot Chip's I Feel Better for sheer bizarreness. We can only hope that Grinderman will be using those nutty Roman Centurion get-ups as stagewear for their upcoming tour which brings them to Toronto for a show at the Phoenix on November 11.
Worm Tamer by Grinderman on Later with Jools Holland
Saturday, September 18, 2010
With his new Le Noise album due on September 28, Neil Young has started circulating some interesting video clips online. Check out the creepy black and white time-lapse video for Angry World right after watching Daniel Lanois explain how he encouraged Young to make an album with a relevant message rather than merely a collection of decent songs.
Daniel Lanois discusses making Le Noise
Angry World by Neil Young
Daniel Lanois discusses making Le Noise
Angry World by Neil Young
Trying to follow the many Quantic-related recording projects of tirelessly searching producer/bandleader and jet-setting DJ Will Holland can be a difficult task, not to mention all the other ones he drops on the down low.
So much for past history. Those interested in finding out where Holland is at currently and perhaps get a better idea of the route through cumbia, reggae and funk DJ Quantic might take during his guest set with the Turning Point crew tonight (Saturday, September 18) at The Garrison (1197 Dundas West) should check out the Tropicalismo #1 mix which you can get gratis here.
Sorry, diggers, no track listing but I can tell you that it was recorded on a hot night at Mikasabar in Cali, Colombia with Quantic spinning first followed by his Mochilla DJs Eric Coleman, Sabo and Brian "B+" Cross.
Quantic on the road
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
For the last couple of years, the Anti- label has been jump-starting the flagging careers of old-school soul greats like Solomon Burke, Bettye LaVette and Mavis Staples with remarkable success. Their strategy is really quite simple and basically involves a bit of studio matchmaking in which a veteran performer with impeccable vocal chops is set up with a fanboy musician for whom the chance to compose songs and produce an album for an idol is a dream come true.
If everything goes according to plan, it can be a cost effective method for a respected older artist to make an album which appeals to a much larger audience than the people who remember their 45s. To date, the series of novel cultural-collision experiments undertaken by Anti- have delighted music critics and award show juries alike. Yet in spite of all the hoopla surrounding the unusual pairings, the resulting recordings from Burke, LaVette and Staples haven't been terribly memorable. They certainly don't stand up well against the artists' best loved work of their peak years, or even the lesser known songs from the same period. That has much less to do with the singer's vocal strength or control than with the selection of repertoire, arrangements, limitations of the session musicians and the production choices.
As for Staples, she had no idea who Wilco was when Tweedy first met her backstage after a show at the Hideout in the Windy City, but she was willing to give the recording project a shot. No doubt having her touring unit with her in the studio, joined by Wilco keyboardist Patrick Sansone and backing vocalist of the stars Kelly Hogan, raised her comfort level considerably during sessions at Wilco's homey studio, The Loft.
Upon hearing Rick Holmstrom's spot-on recreation of Pops Staples' trademark guitar vibrato on the album's opening reprise of the Staple Singers' fave You Don't Knock, it momentarily seemed like this unusual collaboration might work out after all. Checking the track listing, the third song was another Staple Singers' gem Downward Road which suggested that maybe Tweedy took the time to familiarize himself with Staples' definitive early recordings and would use their entrancingly eerie sound as a jump off point to create an appropriate new sonic framework for her spellbinding voice. But sadly, all hopes of Tweedy building on power and glory of the Staple Singers' Vee-Jay period for You Are Not Alone were dashed with the second track, Tweedy's own strummy title tune which signals the unfortunate descent into a hand-clapping folk mass-style singalong of frightful campfire kumbaya dimensions.
As a producer, Tweedy has the good sense to keep the arrangements spare and give the genuinely gifted singer room to move. However, many of the song choices – including album highlight tunes from Allen Toussaint and John Fogerty (either of whom would've made a better producer of this album incidentally) – don't seem to have any real connection to Staples or the furtive Chicago gospel scene from which she arose. That's a problem for a stand-up belter like Staples who relies so heavily on the power of her conviction to connect with an audience.
You have to wonder how Tweedy and Staples arrived at the seemingly random repertoire selections. The old Episcopal hymn In Christ There Is No East Or West for the album might appear to come totally out of left field but the choice is a telling clue which may help solve at least part of the mystery of how this whole strange project came together.
Originally titled Unclouded Day by it's composer Josiah Kelley Allwood, an Ohio-based minister in the Church of the United Brethren in Christ when it was written in 1879, the song later became more commonly known as Uncloudy Day and became a gospel hit when it was revamped in 1956 by – you guessed it – the Staple Singers who turned it into their signature song.
Tweedy is sharp enough to know that turning You Are Not Alone into a Fahey tribute album wasn't a surefire recipe for commercial success – however delighted his pal Jim O'Rourke would've been with the concept – but coming up with other suitably churchy numbers could be a challenge for a rock-schooled heathen out of his depth.
Thanks to Staples' supremely soulful voice and exceptional interpretive skill, what easily could've been a confusing hodgepodge of random Jesus-free spirituals has turned out to be an engaging showcase for an artist who, at 71, remains one of the truly great singers of our time. And while You Are Not Alone doesn't come close to Staples' finest work – for that you need to go back to the Staple Singers' Uncloudy Day and Swing Low Sweet Chariot albums for Vee-Jay along with the Stax recordings Soul Folk In Action, Staple Swingers and Be Altitude: Respect Yourself – it still makes for a more enjoyable listen than either of those two forgettable albums she did with Prince.
Wrote A Song For Everyone by Mavis Staples with Jeff Tweedy
Mavis Staples http://www.mavisstaples.com/
Goodbye, Babylon http://www.dust-digital.com/goodbye-babylon.htm
Wilco's Numero Group mixtape
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Contrary to what their misleading group name might suggest, Brazil's Garotas Suecas – who've unfortunately had to cancel their Silver Dollar show Monday (September 13) – has no female members of Swedish origin. Sorry. It's just the new Tropicalia threat's wiseass way of commemorating the numerous Scandinavian hook-ups enjoyed by their soccer-playing countrymen during their World Cup winning trip to Sweden in 1958.
São Paolo with not only an uncommon familiarity with their musical heritage but the capacity to build on it in an exciting new way.
So despite the fact that Garotas Suecas happen to be Carrie Brownstein's favourite band of the moment, they're still well worth checking out. The enjoyably unhinged jams on their excellent Escaldante Banda recording very nearly live up to the super dope sleeve art.
Bugalu by Garotas Suecas
Garotas Suecas http://www.myspace.com/garotassuecas
American Dust http://www.americandust.net
Saturday, September 11, 2010
What Casino Jack director George Hickenlooper learned about Jack Abramoff, Kevin Spacey and the difficulty of getting a decent latte in Hamilton
Among the most hotly anticipated premieres at TIFF 2010 is Casino Jack starring Kevin Spacey as the slick but shady political lobbyist Jack Abramoff at the heart of the Washington influence-peddling scandal during the Bush Administration.
There have been a couple of dry "true crime" documentaries about the whole sordid affair but the reason Casino Jack is stirring controversy prior to its release is that director George Hickenlooper (Mayor of Sunset Strip, Hearts of Darkness) – who's drawn to the stories of colourful personalities dwelling on society's fringes – used a series of exclusive jail house interviews with Abramoff to enhance his film. It should make for a revealing and highly entertaining glimpse into the dirty business of Capitol Hill – even if it was filmed in Hamilton, Ontario.
Casino Jack premieres at Roy Thompson Hall on Thursday (September 16) at 6:30 pm and shows again at the Visa Screening Room (Elgin) on Friday (September 17) at 2:30 pm.
Here's my interview with director George Hickenlooper...
Which aspects of the Jack Abramoff story in particular were most intriguing for you to explore in developing your concept for the film?
I was fascinated with how the politics of democracy had become the politics of greed and no one seemed to notice. The culture in Washington like the rest of the U.S. over the past 30 years had become a culture of consumerism. It's like, "what can I get for myself without having to give anything back?" Lawmakers in Washington, rather than being leaders, were now locusts feeding off the tattered remains of our Republic. This may sound like a liberal position but it's not. I was once a hardcore Regan Republican and even believed in the progressive George W. Bush who was staunchly pro-education and pro-immigration while serving as Governor of Texas.
But something insidious happened to our great country where our leaders adopted a corrosive way of looking at the world through a monetary prism to the point where our whole way of life had become commodified in every sense of the word, from politics to popular culture. We lost our way as a nation. The U.S. had lost its sense of humanity and its soul. I believe Abramoff was one of these lost souls, an idealist who believed in the power of the individual as steward of civilization but his views were warped by the money, power and hubris of capitalism run amok.
What exactly was your goal in making a film about the Abramoff scandal?
As with any of my film projects, the goal is to make an entertaining movie, something that has laughs yet at the same time, says something about who we are as people and where we're going. As a filmmaker, I'm not a great believer in having a mission beyond entertainment. I think movies become heavy handed or ostentatious if you step beyond those initial intentions.
Having Kevin Spacey play the lead role is an inspired bit of casting. Did it take some coaxing to get him on board?
We were lucky with Kevin. We sent him the script and two weeks later he invited me to lunch in London and he signed on immediately. He loved the role and the challenge of humanizing someone who had been vilified and demonized by the media like no other Washington political figure since Richard Nixon. I think we were both attracted to the idea of creating an empathetic anti-hero which is rare in contemporary cinema. It was delicious to venture into that shade of character.
What did he bring to the film?
Kevin is one of the great actors in the history of the American cinema. I would place him up there with Brando, Newman, Tracy and Fonda. He brought life to Abramoff's character like I could never have imagined. I think we both benefited from visiting Jack in prison. When Kevin sat with him, I could see Kevin soaking up everything about Abramoff like a sponge.
Over the course of your series of jail house interviews with Abramoff, did you find him eager to set the record straight about certain events? What did you discover that had a direct impact on the film?
My guess is that Abramoff was willing to meet with us because he felt there was an opportunity to be heard and he was. Many of his stories from those jailhouse interviews wound up being played out on the screen. What I got most out of meeting Abramoff was a sense that he was thrown under the bus by his own party. I think that President Bush and the Republican-held Congress and Senate were eager to see Jack go away because it would create the illusion that "the problem" had been dealt with. In reality, the problem is worse than ever.
How did your perception of Abramoff change after spending time with him?
I was surprised by how very charming and funny he is – I mean stand-up comedian funny. He has the kind of sense of humour that could get him his own TV show or a guest spot on Saturday Night Live. Of course, I shouldn't be too shocked by his charm. It makes sense why he was such an outrageously successful lobbyist. There's a certain warmth and delight you feel when you meet Jack. I suspect much of this is calculated but I have to admit that I really enjoyed his company. Ultimately what I gleaned from those interviews with Jack gave our picture a heart and soul in addition to a strong point of view. Not to undercut Norman Snider's magnificent contribution as a screenwriter but there's no substitute for having access to the real deal.
Abramoff, who has had some dealings with Hollywood, apparently fancies himself a bit of a film buff. What sort of discussions about cinema did you get into?
The first film discussion we had concerned my script about his life and why he felt I shouldn't make it into a movie. Jack went into lobbying mode and tried hard to convince me that his story was not that interesting. He went on about how it would just bore audiences and how no one wants to see movies about politics. He tried to convince me to do an action film instead. I assured him that there was plenty of action in his story which brought a laugh out of him.
Did he have any specific advice to offer about making Casino Jack?
His advice came in the form of the wonderfully colourful stories he told, most notably how he didn't want to plead the fifth during the McCain-led Senate hearing. He said he fantasized about telling all the senators present who were about to hang him out to dry that they were all hypocrites for taking money from him when they were seeking re-election. During that moment where he sat silently behind the microphone he momentarily had this fantasy of becoming irate like Al Pacino's character in the film And Justice For All. So I literally incorporated that dream into the film and Spacey masterfully brought it to life.
How important was it for you that the script remain true to the historical record with regard to the extent of Abramoff's contact with President George W. Bush and his inner circle? Did you feel free to include previously undisclosed incidents gleaned from the interviews, knowing Abramoff's tales may have been embellished?
First, let me say that my film is not a documentary and neither is it a traditional biopic. If you come to the film looking for either, you will be disappointed.
The narrative is told from Jack's point of view and as such, doesn't try to objectively present the facts. Once I had direct access to Jack, I approached the making of Casino Jack much like I did Hearts Of Darkness. Even though Eleanor Coppola did not make that film, it was still her story and I wanted to tell if from her point of view. So I used her diary notes in addition to contemporary interviews with her to make it feel like a subjective sojourn into the events surrounding the making of Apocalypse Now.
Similarly with Casino Jack, I incorporated stories Jack told me, whether true or not, because I made the decision early on that the film would be from his perspective. So when it came to the Bush White House, even though President Bush's administration was denying ever knowing Abramoff, Jack was telling me that he was over at the Oval Office having lunch with President Bush and Karl Rove all the time. Furthermore, Jack told me his two sons would often hang out with the President to the point where Bush had a running gag with Jack's youngest son. Jack's boy would ask the President why he didn't have a business card of his own which flustered Bush. So the next time they'd see Bush, they'd ask him again about his business card to which the President would respond with a card that was handwritten.
What was it about Hamilton, Ontario of all places that made it a suitable location as a surrogate Washington, D.C. for the shoot?
To be honest, it was the half million dollars worth of financial incentive that made Hamilton such an attractive location. We had a tight budget and we were looking for money wherever we could get it. So it wasn't so much that we chose Hamilton as Hamilton chose us. McMaster University had a lot of nice architecture and served well for the bible study group in addition to the closing sequence in prison which was actually the McMaster science lab. It all seemed to work, thanks in no small part to the magic of CGI and the good folks at Invisible, an outstanding Toronto-based computer graphics company.
Did you gain a new appreciation for Tim Horton's while on location in the Steel City?
What I discovered about Hamilton is that there's only one goddamn Starbucks which made my getting a hot latte every day quite a challenge. Considering that Hamilton is Tim Horton's home base, somehow I don't think it's a coincidence that there's only one Starbucks in the city. Do you?
[Note: There are actually two Starbucks locations in Hamilton but the other one is way out on Upper James on the Mountain]
What affect, if any, did Alex Gibney's documentary Casino Jack and The United States Of Money have on your project?
None at all. I've only seen part of Gibney's doc. I just didn't find it that compelling. It lacked an interview with Abramoff so in a way, the film had no heart and soul. It seemed like a lot of facts made to look slick and stylized what I like to call Pottery Barn Cinema. I was a much bigger fan of Bill Moyer's Capitol Crimes PBS documentary about Abramoff.
There's some confusion about the title "Casino Jack." Who came up with it first and who has the legal rights to use it?
Abramoff's commonly known nickname in Washington was "Casino Jack." The fact that Gibney is trying to claim proprietorship of the name seems silly to me, particularly since we announced Casino Jack as being the title of our film first. When Alex started whining about both films using Casino Jack, I just found it amusing. He was jumping up and down and he even sent us a legal letter. It just seemed a bit presumptuous of him to claim that he owned "Casino Jack." Anyway, his film is a doc and mine is a narrative so it's apples and oranges, right?
What's so good about The Toronto International Film Festival?
There's no doubt in my mind that TIFF is now the most important and most relevant film festival in the world. It's not only the launch pad for the Academy Awards but even more significantly, it introduces the most important films of the English-speaking cinema. Many of the other major festivals, particularly Sundance and Cannes have lost a bit of their currency. TIFF remains consistent and I think it's because Canadians have impeccable taste. I know, I've lived here.
What do you enjoy most about Toronto?
I'm actually toying with the idea of taking up residence in Toronto. I've shot numerous times in Toronto, I've lived here for over a year now. I find the culture more livable, literate and more interesting than what's happening in most of the U.S. Sure I love New York and Los Angeles as much as anyone but Toronto has a European sensibility about it which better suits my tastes. Maybe the Dutch blood in me runs strong, I don't know, but I just love Toronto. And the film people are incredible. Gary Howsam is one of the finest producers I've ever worked with.
Since you've probably already started work on your follow-up film, what can we expect next?
Well, I've got a project with Pierce Brosnan, a wonderfully rich romantic drama called How To Make Love Like An Englishman that I'm really excited about. Then I've got another project with Dean Zanuck which we're hoping to start shooting in Italy next year and there's also a script I'm developing that's set in Spain so I'm definitely feeling that European vibe stronger than ever.
Thursday, September 9, 2010
If you haven't already heard, the Toronto International Film Festival starts today so I thought I'd knock out a quick list of the cinematic marvels you need to check.
Cave of Forgotten Dreams – Many will be relieved to learn that Werner Herzog's first foray into the world of 3D isn't a sword and sorcery epic but rather, an intriguing exploration of rarely seen 32,000 year old cave paintings at Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc in Southern France, which the great director artfully turns into an investigation of what makes us human. The New Yorker article First Impressions by Judith Thurman which inspired Herzog's film can be found right here.
Monday September 13 TIFF Bell LighBox 1 at 9:45 pm
Wednesday September 15 AMC 7 at 5 pm
Saturday September 18 TIFF Bell LightBox 1 at 9 pm
Fire of Conscience – One of this year's Midnight Madness highlights, Dante Lam's magnum shoot-em-up opus turns up the typically fast and furious Hong Kong action movie mayhem up a few frenetic notches while maintaining a ruthlessly gritty realism. No arty camera angles or Woo-esqu slo-mo balletic flights of fancy, Fire of Conscience is a street fight and Lam puts you right in the middle of the cacophony of violence.
Saturday, Sept 18 Ryerson at 11:59 pm
Sunday Sept 19 Scotiabank Theare 11 at 3 pm
Casino Jack – A strange but true tale of rampant politcal corruption and fraud based on the outlandish true crime story DC lobbyist Jack Abramoff played by Kevin Spacey and filmed by George Hickenlooper (Hearts of Darkness, Factory Girl, Mayor of Sunset Strip) in lovely Hamilton, Ontario.
Thursday September 16 Roy Thompson Hall at 6:30 pm
Friday September 17 Visa Screening Room (Elgin) at 2:30 pm
Inside Job – With his eye-opening directorial debut No End In Sight about the Iraq conflict, Charles Ferguson demonstrated he could make sense of a complex issue in a concise way. With Inside Job, he lays out the contributing factors for the global economic meltdown, grills both government officials and financial biz barons on what they knew and when they knew it, and then explains in infuriatingly clear detail how it all could've been averted.
Thursday September 9 Ryerson at 9 pm
Saturday September 11 AMC 8 at 10 pm
Cold Fish – Japanese cult director Sion Sono became a J-Horror superstar overnight upon the release of 2001's deeply disturbing Suicide Circle which he wrote and directed in two weeks. His latest thriller concerns a serial killer who deals in tropical fish. Not for the squeamish but expect the screenings to sell out quick nonetheless.
Sunday September 12 AMC 6 at 10 pm
Friday September 17 AMC 3 at 8:30 pm
Sunday September 19 Scotiabank Theatre 2 at 12 noon
Machete Maidens Unleashed! – Director Mark Hartley who uncovered the dirty underbelly of the Australian film biz during the 70s in Not Quite Hollywood turns his probing camera lens on low budget movie-making in the Philipines where just about anything is possible for a price. As you might expect, Hartley's findings are troubling, offensive and sometimes absurdly hilarious.
Sunday September 12 AMC 10 at 8 pm
Tuesday September 14 AMC 10 at 5 pm
Saturday September 18 AMC 7 at 12:30 pm
A Night For Dying Tigers – On the evening before going off to prison, the convicted man has a cordial get together with his wife (Jennifer Beals), his dysfunctional family and friends. Black comedy ensues. See interview with director Terry Miles right here
Friday September 10 AMC 3 at 8:45 pm
Saturday September 11 AMC 2 at 11:45 am
Friday September 17 AMC 6 at 3:30 pm
Boxing Gym – A documentary about some unknown amateur boxers from Texas might not sound terribly compelling but put a masterful filmmaker like Frederick Wiseman in the gym with them and it's a whole different heavy-bag game.
Saturday September 11 AMC 7 at 3:30 PM
Sunday September 12 AMC 7 at 3:15 PM
Saturday September 18 AMC 2 at 2:30 PM
Boxing Gym from Quinzaine / Directors' Fortnight on Vimeo.
FUBAR II - Hoser heroes Terry and Deaner get in their beat-up Cutlass Supreme and head to Fort McMurray in search of lucrative pipeline jobs but will gladly settle for some sweetass worker's comp instead. The Canadian dream?
Thursday September 9 Ryerson at 11:59 pm
Saturday September 11 Varsity 8 at 12 noon
The Light Thief – You can always count on the TIFF programmers to toss in a couple of charmers out of left field which become word-of-mouth faves and Aktan Abdykalykov's tragicomic Light Thief looks like this year's model. The intrigue begins when Svet-ake an affable handyman who steals electricity to help poor families in his Kyrgyzstan village, encounters Bezkat, a greedy politician who seems eager to make all of Svet-ake's dreams of generating cheap wind power come true.
Friday September 10 AMC 4 at 6 pm
Saturday September 11 AMC 3 at 9:30 am
The Light Thief (Clip 2) from Quinzaine / Directors' Fortnight on Vimeo.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Returning once again to pay tribute to the legendary Hall of Fame singer and her monumental recorded legacy, the 5th Annual Patsy Cline Birthday Show takes over the Lula Lounge (1585 Dundas West) tomorrow night (Thursday, September 9) and it's another stellar gathering of the many fine vocalists and musicians on Toronto's roots music scene bolstered with a few special guests.
Host Heather Morgan has assembled a stacked house band for the evening led by the Bebop Cowboys' Steve Briggs with Dennis Pendrith on upright bass, Luther Wright's sidekick drummer Cam Giroux keeping time and former Blue Rodeo keyboardist James Gray on piano. They'll be providing superbly tasteful support for the vocal performances of Alex Pangman, Kathryn Rose, Lori Yates, Caitlin Hanford, Paul Reddick, Sonya Cote, Treasa Levasseur, Jadea Kelly, Laura Hubert, Kirsten Jones, Michael Brennan, Alejandra Ribera, Rosita Stone, Helen Stewart, Lady Sarah and others along with of course, the event's coordinator Heather Morgan. Tickets are $15 and a portion of the proceeds is being donated to ArtsCan Circle who offer creative arts experiences to indiginous at-risk youth in remote communities in Northern Canada.
It's shaping up to be the best party in town for grown-ups Thursday night and since TIFF will be officially underway, don't be surprised to see a few familiar Hollywood types walking or maybe crawling after midnight.
I've Loved and Lost Again by Patsy Cline on Ranch Party