The stars have lost their glitter…

I was just talking to friends last night over dinner about how much the New York we loved was dying when we lived there, how that inspired my short film, how the city isn’t even capable of acknowledging its own declining culture and then someone I know told me today that the Ziegfeld Theatre, late 20th century New York movie history at its most luxurious, is closing. To which I can only sigh in sadness.
ziegfeld_theatre
Again, another movie venue that can’t pay its rent in Manhattan. I’d say “end of an era”, but the sad truth is that era died a long time ago. As I did last night with these friends, I continue to remind Parisians who think Paris has lost too much of what it once was that it’s all perspective and that old Paris is very much alive and well, albeit a bit beaten up in places. Old New York has practically vanished, and that truly is an enormous shame.
As is often the case, Ira Gershwin can be counted on for having the best words for most situations:
“The night is bitter,
The stars have lost their glitter”

Sweet Sue

SusieSusie, you’ve rendered your otherwise long-winded, annoyingly talky owner rather silent with an achingly heavy heart and a tightly knotted throat.

We gave you perches on windows and beyond those windows we gave you Manhattan and Paris and inside those windows all the things worth living for (…namely prosciutto, comté, and Cumberland sausage). Funny how many people knew you over your 18 years, especially those you met in your short time here in Paris.

So long, ma petite puce. I’ll play the song for you, once again…

Incidentally… on animal conservation

bears

Being from Canada, it embarrasses me and frankly sickens me that a Canadian conservation officer was just suspended without pay for NOT killing two healthy, harmless, and still nursing bear cubs because the Ministry of Environment allowed their mother to be killed (and not tranquilized) for repeatedly eating out of someone’s fridge. That’s right, Conservation Officer Bryce Casavant was suspended because he chose NOT to kill the eight week old cubs, but rather to take them to a vet and Wildlife Recover Centre. You’ve replaced THEIR natural habitat with a house, noise, a giant white box full of fresh food and enticed them with smelly, rotting garbage outside in metal cans and then you get mad because these bears show up on your front porch? And for trying to get food for their young because they’ve got nowhere left to hunt anymore, you kill them instead of relocating them? And we’re supposed to be the country that takes animal rights seriously? You know what, you don’t like bears going through your garbage and your fridge?.. don’t live in a forest!

The Oxford English Dictionary (I think we can all agree that they know a thing or two about language) defines conservation as: “Preservation, protection, or restoration of the natural environment and of wildlife”, not “destruction of any wildlife that comes near my frozen pizza”. Preserving wildlife. Protecting wildlife. Conservation Officer Bryce Casavant deserves a medal, not a suspension. And the philistine cretins who suspended him should be smacked with animal cruelty charges. As for those people who got their fridge broken into, you wanna get that “nice house in the woods” and “live surrounded by nature” away from the big city and from all that crime and pollution, well then accept what that entails. These baby bears are now motherless and if you know anything about raising wildlife in captivity (which you should quite frankly, just a little, it’s the least we can do for systematically destroying our planet’s wildlife) you’ll know that it will be a long, difficult road being nursed by humans in the slight hope that maybe they can one day be released to survive on their own in the wild and continue to populate the species. All because someone’s fridge got raided by a bear for crying out loud. We’re pathetic creatures and my country should know better, because yeah, we do nature better than pretty much anyone else. At least I was raised to think we did.

There is a petition to have the officer reinstated, if you’re interested in signing: https://www.change.org/p/ministry-of-environment-mary-polak-reinstate-conservation-officer-bryce-casavant

The link to the story: http://t.co/mpzZldrowU

A new home for a new friend…

There is a new addition to our home who only recently became officially ours. He is a rescue cat that had been living on the streets in Paris, we don’t know for how long but it’s safe to assume that it had been for some time.

We found out about him online when we came across a post on an animal rescue forum from a woman who acts as an independent rescue shelter and was trying to find him a home. This cat and another cat he was with had been used on the street by a homeless man, as happens often in Paris, and had been chained (to not get away, I imagine). These are not often loving companions, but rather a means to get people’s sympathy. As this woman went to her full time day job every day and passed this man she began to see this cat in a state of declining health to the point where one day she even had to check to see if the cat was breathing because he was so lifeless. She began befriending the homeless man in the hopes of convincing him to give up the two cats. She told him that if he ever got tired of having them to let her know. One day, he told her he was leaving Paris and asked whether she wanted to take the two cats and she agreed. The two first went to stay in a veterinary office. The other cat, a gorgeous long haired persian was adopted very quickly. But this guy went so long without being adopted that he needed new lodgings because it was taking too long to find him a home. I can’t imagine why nobody was interested in him for several months. Perhaps people thought he looked too common, perhaps people are afraid of a cat that’s been on the street having problems of some kind. If you know us, we have a bit of a mission to find shelter cats or those with difficulties in finding a home because several cats over several years have turned us into rather well versed cat behaviourists. That’s the part in the story where we came along. We spoke with this woman, followed a very professional adoption process and after a one month trial period (in truth, after about an hour) we decided this cat would be fine with our current cat and just this past week we became his official owners.

This cat needed a home that knew how to address his fear issues, his high sensitivity to people, and his slightly defensive behaviour. In our experience with cats, we don’t think he was abused but he was clearly treated as an object and very roughly physically. It is at once a particularly alarming and heart breaking thing to see a cat react so abruptly and so full of fear upon just seeing a hand move. He definitely was never given anything resembling affection or care or proper food. What’s most important today is that he and Susie, our current cat, are fine together. This of course was after a strict and detailed process of proper cat introduction to which they both responded well. He adapts more each day and we hope he continues to do so. What we can promise him is that he’ll never sleep on sidewalks night after night, he’ll not feel weak from a lack of food, he’ll not hide during rainstorms and cower from thunder, he’ll not fear hundreds of noisy footsteps and buses as he tries to sleep through the day outdoors. The cat in him will be nurtured so he can be who he’s really meant to be and not who a human is forcing him to be.

While I’ve had cats in my life since childhood, there haven’t been that many. Learning how to properly care for them and give them what they need to be happy and balanced has afforded me the privileged company of three cats who lived well into their late teens, with the exception of my first who died at 14. Susie, our current cat, turns 18 this summer. My life has been accompanied at all times by cats and wherever I’ve gone they’ve gone with me. They’ve all been very lucky to have such a caring home but ironically it’s we that feel lucky to have had their company as late-night study partners and screenwriting partners, sous-chefs (albeit only observing and never helping), and all around companions. There isn’t a part of our lives our cats haven’t touched; lying on instructions while building Ikea furniture, diving into boxes while packing for a move, coyly commanding the attention of all our friends during dinner parties, watching as video game worlds are explored, sleeping and waking and then sleeping again through countless films, living not only through the agony of defeat during sports events (this is, after all, a Toronto Maple Leafs household) but also through the thrill of victory and the excitement of being raised in the air like trophies for what to them must seem absolutely ridiculous. Even if you were to have a momentary lapse and think your existence was little more than survival to them, it is in the moments when you wake in the middle of the night to turn over or adjust your pillow and find one of your cats joined as if magnetically to your body that you realise that the completely exposed and vulnerable belly, the limp paws, and the slightly ajar mouth with dangling tongue are all signs that you are, in terms any animal would understand, trusted. And that ability of an animal (be it feline, canine, or ‘otherwise-ine’) to sleep so defenselessly and deeply next to you is, even mid-sleep, capable of touching a part of you that few things know how to even reach.

Because of the little marking on his head that we immediately thought looked like a hairstyle with a strong part on one side from the 1930s and because of the delicately high-pitched voice that he has, we named him ‘Bowlly’ after one of our favourite singers from the ’30s, Al Bowlly, who possessed the same hairstyle and a similarly high-pitched tenor voice and strong vibrato. Al Bowlly was English and grew up in South Africa but spent the majority of his life in London. Though he’s not widely known today, if you study the development of popular music vocalists,  he is essentially the first real solo ‘crooner’ or singer in the world. I’ve always loved his music and as you may have noticed from my film work and other social media ramblings I’m particularly obsessed with music from the 20s, 30s, and 40s. In our home, we’ve always thought of him as someone truly special. Guys like Bing Crosby and Rudy Vallée started out by singing as part of a band or vocal group, but Al Bowlly was the first to be just a solo artist and found bands to sing in front of and record with. He was one of the first artists to have his records sold around the world and often found as he toured early in his career that people already knew the songs because of his records. While this is something that’s normal today, that degree of distribution was rarely heard of 100 years ago. It’s shocking when you know his music, that he’s only known today by scholars and aficionados but one reason is surely because he didn’t live long. Al Bowlly died tragically in 1941 in his sleep during a Nazi raid on London, when a parachute mine detonated outside his flat in the middle of the night. He was only in his forties. Time hasn’t been kind to the pioneers of what we today call popular music so I like to pay tribute when and how I can. Bowlly, the cat, has a grand name and we’ll see that he gets an equally grand life. I’ll be sharing some of his moments online in addition to those I already share of Susie with those of you who are kind enough to keep in touch via social media. Welcome, Bowlly!

For those of you that are curious, here’s a recording of Al Bowlly: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bw5h-WPYBQ

Bowlly.. (you’re moving along quite nicely, pal)
WP_20150331_003

 

 

 

 

 

 

…and Al Bowlly.
al_bowlly

Incidentally… News coverage of recent events in the US

It’s a bit depressing as a Canadian to say this, but the people handling the Twitter account for the CBC have been exhibiting for months now, on a weekly basis, a carelessness one doesn’t associate with their fine network. I grew up with the CBC, it taught me how to spell, how to play, everything about hockey, and made me feel like I was part of a community of people that stretched from coast to coast even if I had never gone to other parts of the country. Unfortunately, there is often a blatant disregard for grammar that goes from being comical to at times even bordering on insulting on CBC’s Twitter feed. And yes, grammar does matter. Particularly by the press. And no it doesn’t matter that it’s “only Twitter”, a pathetic excuse I’ve often heard when talking about news outlets on Twitter.  Whether you like them or not, a news organisation with the pedigree and standards that the CBC has should not be making mistakes as often as it does, even on social media.

I’ve started retweeting these tweets, calling them the “CBC Ridiculous Grammar and Photo Tweet of the Week”. For the most part they demonstrate a shocking, stupefying lack of even the basics of elementary school grammar which result in unintentionally comical tweets that are fun to share. But today’s tweet felt different because if you’re aware of what’s been going on in the United States, and I have to assume that the CBC is, you’d have to be quite frankly not very bright (ok, a bumbling idiot) or intentionally and unsuccesfully trying to be witty to not notice their error. I can tell you as someone who lived in the US for a long time and still has family and friends there that this recent tweet’s bad grammar and horribly insensitive photo are insulting. I’ve posted it below. Not because bad grammar in and of itself is insulting (although I do personally think it can be extraordinarily depressing) but because in this case, the failure to notice the grammatical error has painted the title of this article and its tweet as potentially comical which could be taken as inappropriate at a time when this particular wound in American society is very much unhealed, I’d say even exposed, untreated, raw and getting infected to be more precise. It causes a –…laugh…oops, I shouldn’t be laughing at this — reaction and several replies to the tweet mocking the grammar prove that a lot of people have seen the same thing. And then, what exactly is the point of THAT photo with THIS story? That black people are mean and confrontational and white people are innocently just trying to stay out of their way with a smart-ass smirk on their faces? Is there anyone that photo doesn’t offend when tied to this particular story? What may seem like just a dangling modifier speaks to a larger problem by the network of not realising the sensitivity required to properly address this unfortunate news item from yesterday, especially in the midst of recent events in the United States. I don’t care if the story came from Reuters, you’ve got editors. Change that headline.

Come on, CBC News and CBC Social, wake up.cbc

Thinking of March 2nd instead of Rosa Parks and December 1st…

On March 2, 1955 a young black resident of Montgomery, Alabama got on a bus and refused to move to allow a white woman to sit down when no more ‘white seats’ were free. She was spending a lot of time learning about the civil rights movement and it must have been from there that she summoned the strength to say out loud on that bus with enough white people to take up all the ‘white seats’ that “it’s my constitutional right” to stay seated. She continued to shout the same thing as she was handcuffed, arrested, and forcibly removed from the bus.

Three other women had the same experience that year. The fourth one, on December 1st, was Rosa Parks. And yet the name Rosa Parks is probably more familiar to most people than that of the first person from March, Claudette Colvin. In fact, another bus incident isn’t even something people usually know about, much less the four other incidents before Ms. Parks’. Why don’t we talk about Claudette Colvin? Rosa Parks was a woman in her 40s, a seamstress, and had the appearance of a middle-class person. Claudette Colvin was 15, unmarried and pregnant. In the end, while building a case against bus segregation, the NAACP and other organisations they were working with felt Parks was a better face for the cause ignoring entirely Colvin’s heroic first act.

For her bold and daring actions standing for the rights her country claimed to empower her with, Ms. Colvin, clearly a remarkable child, was convicted in juvenile court for disturbing the peace on the bus where she defended those rights. There is nothing unheroic about Ms. Parks’ actions. She, along with several others, helped hold a microphone up to the muffled whispers of people suffering in silence. But in a world where we often champion the pioneer and the ground breaker, Ms. Colvin’s omission from our collective consciousness seems an unjust and insulting tribute.

Miss Colvin lives in New York today, more than 50 years on from her historic albeit forgotten moment. In an interview when describing having been nudged to the side at the time and only having gotten a little credit several years later, she simply said, “I feel like I am getting my Christmas in January rather than the 25th…”

Claudette Colvin, at age 15, around the same time as her arrest.

Claudette Colvin, at age 15, around the same time as her arrest.

The little film that could… and then couldn’t stop.

PosterThe short film that began the slow journey of experimenting with completely independent distribution only on my website and then generated a following on Twitter and other social media platforms, and helped me make connections with several people I didn’t know before, has now gone the extra mile. I’m proud to say that it has been chosen in a local short film festival here in Paris. It has no cash prizes but does give awards for the usual categories and involves the participation of the city, local film lovers and film industry members.

Some facts…
This the first time I’ve been accepted to any festival. (Not a big shocker)
It’s the first festival I’ve applied to here in France at all.
Naturally, this will be the first time I screen a film to European audiences.
This will be the second time this film has gotten a public screening, the first time was in New York.

For a film that cost a little over 100 dollars to still be amassing viewers every month, to have been screened in New York and Paris, and to have been a major part of getting the visa that brought me to France to make my next feature is mind-boggling and proof that independent, truly independent distribution is entirely possible. Not without struggles, of course.

More details soon on the venue and the festival. Thank you all for continuing to support.

Incidentally… So long, Crumbs

crumbs

This article is why so many people like me get so bothered by fad, chain food places that descend like plagues on neighbourhoods in cities like New York, causing local business to close and completely erasing parts of city streets. It’s because when the fad dies and the cupcake place, or the frozen yogurt place, or the infantile candy shop for adults, or the criminally overpriced hamburger joint eventually close as they invariably do, the incessant and gluttonous need to have a location every ten blocks means neighbourhoods that once were… well… neighbourhoods, now have massive spaces that are empty and impossibly expensive to rent even for the kinds of high end chains that create them. And the bodegas and laundromats and diners and family restaurants and bars and even hospitals they replaced are gone forever because what people don’t think when they delete a bar or a diner is that neighbourhood staples are almost impossible to recreate or even move to another location. When a local business has a story, and is a meeting point for locals, and has spent time developing a relationship with its environment, you can’t just take the roots and replant them in less expensive soil in another neighbourhood. The roots are severed and are often impossible to repair.

So, good riddance, Crumbs. And thank you for the twenty or so locations in and around New York that you’ve now left with giant unrentable holes where a part of a neighbourhood once stood.

Incidentally: On Michael Sam

michaelsam52I’ve spent 10 minutes looking through Michael Sam articles today and not one of them tells me why his being drafted matters from a sports perspective so I can’t tell you how good of a football player he is. But what I CAN tell you, for those of you that perhaps don’t follow sports, is that while being drafted into the NFL at all is an extraordinary achievement, being drafted 249th overall in the 7th round is, in the world of entry drafts, a relatively insignificant signing. Not being able to find one news source talking about his statistics and talents as a defensive end among any of the top news items on any search engine, and instead all of them talking only about him being gay is NOT a sign of tolerance and progress in sports. It’s a sign as clear as day that no matter what an athletes talents are, their sexual orientation still matters more than their numbers.

Yes, this is and should be a source of pride and hope and inspiration for the gay community in and out of sports, but for everyone else and for the following and analysing of sports it couldn’t possibly be less relevant or be less of a story. And journalists and news outlets do this athlete and any other gay athletes a disservice when they only talk about his sexual orientation and not the skills that he’s spent the greater part of his life honing to try to be the best at what he does. You want to know the only thing that’s going to matter to the Rams (the team that drafted him) in winter when the season is over if he even makes the team (which at this point is not definite)? Sacks, Hurries, and Tackles for a Loss. You’d celebrate him more, if that was your aim, by learning what those stats are than learning the story of his sexual orientation and I have a feeling that like many other openly gay people in the public eye, he’d say the same thing.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Lorenz Hart

Composer Lorenz Hart Wearing Suit

When I think of writers like Lorenz Hart, and find myself listening intently to lyrics I’ve heard thousands of times, if not more, as though they were words I was hearing for the first time, I often wonder if people at the time were aware just how rare it was to be witnessing a lyricist with his talents.

Loneliness is one of the themes perhaps most explored by popular song and thoroughly so in the infinite stacks of sheet music that comprise the American popular music songbook. But in all those thousands of songs, did anyone ever write a line that summarises the discovery of being alone after a failed relationship more than, “Now I even have to scratch my back myself…”

Harlem born and raised to Jewish immigrant parents who gave him every tool possible for that ‘better life’ so many arrived in New York seeking, he made his way from the halls of Columbia University to the floodlights of Broadway where his career flourished. But his own dissatisfaction with his appearance and with his life, and the pain of society telling him that being a homosexual made him unacceptable could only be drowned out by crippling amounts of alcohol. It is a stark reminder not only of the brutality of intolerance but of what it is to suffer from depression. As Stephen Fry often puts it, people tell you to just snap out of it and find a silver lining and that’s simply not how it works.

It seems almost wrong to find joy in the creations of such a sad person but if there is a silver lining in this story it is that the work of Lorenz Hart exists today for us to enjoy, and that his lyrics represent some of the finest words ever crafted in popular song. Good lyrics go beyond technical brilliance and strike that chord deep within us that make us feel like someone else understands. The song below, “It Never Entered My Mind” is one such example which has been recorded countless times, but in my opinion nobody makes you listen to its lyrics like Frank Sinatra does. Please listen to it again, or for the first time.

Happy Birthday, Mr. Lorenz Hart.