Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category


Ogden Nash said that progress might have been all right once, but it had gone on too long.

Consider electronics. E-readers for example. E-readers will soon become multi-media devices (it’s probably happening as we speak), with interviews in real time with the author, and clips from his new novel and the trailer for it’s upcoming movie; pix of his dog fetching a frisbee; and his PR flack’s comments on the book. It’s no longer a book, it’s a production, a Cecil B. deMille movie with a cast of thousands! People will go back to printed books for a quiet evening.

Poets won’t write books of poetry. They’ll step into your life via the e-reader: “Hi, I’m Liz Browning, and I’ve written some terrific stuff, like ‘How do I love thee?’ Then I count the ways. Neat, eh? Bob thought it was great!”

Apple’s iPad *

I don’t need to tell you how far this sort of thing can go. Ask Steve Jobs. His iPad already does everything but shine your shoes.

Frankly, I’m with Ogden Nash: Enough, already. Almost every room in my house is lined with books. Thousands; more than half a century of books, collected, read with pleasure, and retained to surround me with a lifetime’s reading. To have all these books, books that carry meaning beyond their content, invisibly stored on an e-reader is meaningless.

Yeah, meaningless. I guess. But I have to be frank. I’m human. I’m weak. I’ve had half a dozen computers over the past 25 years, and I simply can’t see myself without one. And these days I’m lusting for an iPad. The only reason I haven’t bought one is my immutable common sense. I’ve tried everything, but I simply can’t justify its purchase. iPad: $500 (plus tax!); pocket notebook, and pencil: $1.95 (tax included).

If you can come up with a way of rationalizing the iPad purchase, let me know. Until then I’ll just keep sharpening that pencil.


* Photo:  Glenn Fleishman


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You’re not going to believe it, but picture this: A friend loans me one of those DVDs of a recent highly successful movie. As in most movies of today, the actors speak in low, tense, dramatic voices. Sixty years ago my teacher would have given them a D for pronunciation. I can’t understand a word the actors say, and it’s made worse by the noise from the Special Effects. But this is a DVD, says I to myself. I should be able to switch to subtitles. Can you picture it? There’s me, an English-speaking viewer, watching an English-language movie, with English subtitles. (Sigh … Only in America).

Further to DVD watching, we can sit down in my work room, where the computer is, stick in a DVD, and watch a movie. But as I mentioned before, about all we can do is watch; we can’t understand anything. Makes you pay closer attention, but I wonder if that’s the real point. Actors today all seem unable to enunciate the language they’re speaking. I’m going to reclassify them: Forget D; make it F, all would get a straight F on their report cards. North American movies are bad enough, but British movies are worse: Lots of muttering, plus incomprehensible regional accents that make Jamie Oliver sound like an elocution prizewinner. Watching a British movie, my comprehension level is close to that of a Braille-literate bilingual visitor whose second language is Morse Code.

Cinematic dinosaur that I am, I only understand movies from the ‘40s and ‘50s. So I do a lot of reading.

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Sometimes, in return for services rendered — like producing an attractive poster to advertise an event, or writing an introduction for someone’s brochure — I am given an appropriate non-monetary gratuity: Free tickets, free copies, or something similar.

One evening recently I attended a musical soirée for which I had produced a small program. My thanks was a free ticket to the evening and the supper that preceded it.

During the supper the attendees were entertained by canned music. The organizers had placed loudspeakers at strategic corners of the hall, speakers that poured forth a bunch of classical music — Wagnerian opera I believe it was — at a decibel level that cracked my glasses.

ENRICO CARUSO. Great voice. The very symbol of opera

“That’s what’s wrong with opera,” said the prim matron next to me. “It isn’t what it used to be.”

I had to laugh — to myself, of course; I had a free ticket to this soirée, and I felt it carried a moral obligation to be charming and above all tactful — but I was amused because my table companion’s words reminded me of Noel Coward’s remark: “People are wrong when they say (what’s wrong with opera), that opera is not what it used to be. It is what it used to be. That’s what’s wrong with it.”

So much for opera. My own feeling that night was that what was really wrong lay with the supper’s incidental “background” music that was not in the background. The evening’s audio technicians, all of whom seemed to be 14 years old, appeared to feel that anything that didn’t break the windows wasn’t really music. And I agree. It did, and it wasn’t.

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You’re undoubtedly familiar with the Olympics — it goes back three or four thousand years. You are also familiar with the version we enjoy today, the one that mirrors the noble values of the original Olympics of ancient Greece. Well, maybe not quite so noble over the last few decades, perhaps, what with advertising and the natural rivalry of nations. Still, it’s the thought that counts.

There is also the unavoidable recent phenomenon, the spin-off. For some time now, unsatisfied with just the standard Olympic Games, we have enjoyed the Summer Games and the Winter Games. There is also the Commonwealth Games. Shortly there will be the Early Spring Olympics, and maybe the Second Thursday In August Olympics.

I mean, what next? A Beer Drinking Olympics? I know people who would be real winners, guys with years of semi-pro experience.

But different Olympics … interesting idea. You know what? I think I’ll inaugurate one of my own. The World Utter Incompetence Olympics, with a logo featuring five interconnected rings, and a sixth one off to one side that they couldn’t find room for. It will take place every three days, because there will be millions of potential competitors. Politicians especially will be lining up for the gold medal. The speed skaters and hockey teams could sensibly give it a pass. They wouldn’t stand a chance.

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Comments on Music

Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849), by Delacroix (detail), 1838

Music sure is a subjective thing. Classical, Rock, Jazz, Country & Western—you name it. Love one and hate the rest. I’ve heard many comments on every kind of music imaginable, but the best I ever heard was from Igor Stravinsky (see Vox Populi below), though I have to say that, to me, Stravinsky sounds worse than my neighbours’ dogs. Generally, musicians do most of their commenting on the keyboard. They’re not often big on talk. Take Chopin for example. Note-wise, his compositions give three-volume novels a lot of competition.

Don’t get me wrong; I like Chopin. But just listen to some of his

Étude Op. 25, No. 11, designed to develop stamina and dexterity. It has been called “an epic study”; the very term, indeed; you could drown beneath the arpeggios. Chopin must have got writer’s cramp from laboriously producing those reams of sheet music. After maybe three or four bars he must have begun to feel the carpal tunnel stress in his arm.

compositions. Twenty-five notes per second. You’d need three hands. His students, who only had two hands, would thus be looking at 2.5 notes per second for every single finger. Even more, actually, because the middle finger would be for Chopin, behind his back.

W. A. Mozart (1756-1791), by D. Stock, 1789

And the compositions go on forever, with some passages and liaisons that are compositions in themselves. His études are recognized as among the most challenging works for concert piano. You’d swear there were a couple of chords buried in there somewhere that required six fingers. After an hour’s instruction the students must have been waiting for him in the alley, their hands aching and barely able to hold the baseball bats and brass knuckles. But for Chopin, of course, the compositions were the easiest thing in the world; he was a genius, with mind-bending manual dexterity.

Mozart was the same exasperating kind of kid. Both he and Chopin were child-prodigies, playing their musical compositions before the

National Theatre, Warsaw. (photo: Sfu)

crowned heads of Europe when they (that is Chopin and Mozart, not the crowned heads) were still in their diapers. Those kids must have been impossible to live with. Imagine telling them to take the garbage out, or shovel snow off the driveway. Mow the lawn? For pete’s sake, the kid had just parked his tricycle, barely got his coat off. He’d just come from a standing ovation at the Metropolitan Opera or the National Theatre in Warsaw, and you’re asking him to take care of the garbage? That would be the only time you’d get a comment from those musicians.

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