November 22, 2007

Great Canadian Music

A brief discussion in my Film and Lit class prompted me to write a post. One of the books and films we've been studying has been Atom Egoyan's The Sweet Hereafter. The overwhelming consensus was that both the book and the film are absolute masterpieces, brilliant gems in a landscape of dust and rock. But one comment in particular got me to thinking. An intelligent young woman, savvy and knowledgeable commented that this is the first time she's ever experienced something Canadian and enjoyed it. In fact she professed a dislike for all Canadian television, film, and music. Heavy words to me, but there were a lot of nods of agreement after the comment was made.

Frustration with Canadian film and television is a topic all on its own. I'll tackle Canadian music for now. Brilliant music can be found buried in the Canadian Music scene, but it's hard to know where to start. The sad truth is, the bands that take the forefront are often talentless and generic. One only has to listen to the great musical rip-off known as Nickelback to understand what I mean. Truly horrifying.

There is the proverbial list of the well knowns --The Tragically Hip, Sarah McLachlan, Chantal Kreviazuk, Avril Lavigne all who have achieved success in their own rights. But there is so much more beneath the surface here, so many bands that have come in and out of the music scene without the acknowledgment they deserved. Most of them, in my humble opinion, more interesting and unique than the artists I've already mentioned (and yes, I do like The Hip).

Bands like Chore (in my mind one of the best ever), Alive and Living, A Northern Chorus, create amazing atmosphere with their non-mainstream, lyrical and often beautiful work. Their use of violins, distortion, clear melodic voice, and hints of the prairies embody many elements of what I consider to be Canadian music. And we can dig into other indie greats too, the magnificent punk band The Smalls. Check out My Saddle Horse Has Died. Brilliant. Of course, they've disbanded as well. But their bassist, Corb Lund has written some intelligent, alternative country that many are taking note of (not much for country myself). If you check out the record label Sonic Unyon you'll find a ton of lesser known, but amazing bands.

It's out there people, but you gotta dig. Find the Indie bands. There are so many bands and genres I've left out, much of it due to my own ignorance. But surely we all can find music with substance, songs that actually illicit a genuine response. Find them, let me know about them. Support the Indie music scene. Say no to generic, boring, tasteless tripe that sounds like everything else you hear on the radio.

November 5, 2007

Film Adaptations (Part 1: The Introduction)

Film adaptations are common fare in the movie industry. Books, comics, and now even video games all stand the chance of cashing in on one of North America's largest forms of mass entertainment. And why not? The skeleton for such enterprise is already there. Comics, especially the graphic novel, are steeped in visual connection, freeze-frames of static action arranged into the kinetic. Books, the most obvious choice, reach an even wider audience when their delicate and careful narratives are transposed into a visual feast. Even video games, though I loathe to admit ever considering an adaptation of one of these, also contain the basic core elements needed for film: protagonist, conflict, action, resolution. In fact, video games may be a step beyond film in that they take cinematic experience and make it interactive, immersible. So, in some ways their adaption to film can be viewed as regression. But the film adaptation is a money maker to be sure, regardless of what form it adapts from.

Converting books to film is still the most common form of adaptation. We've all had the experience being moved by a delicious piece of literature, perhaps
Michael Ondaatje's The English Patient or
Russell Banks' The Sweet Hereafter or

But often we are disappointed when the book appears on screen. To some extent it's a matter of course. Books, especially well written ones, rely wholly on the imagination of the reader. The author uses their skills, their terse prose or poetic narrative, to relay the story, but the reader gets to construct it all in their mind. The reader has the opportunity to put the blue eyes on the round face or see the fields of barley around a dilapidated barn. The reader takes cues from the author, and then revels in the unending possibility of imagination.

Film is not the same. The audience is presented with the interpretations of others, and they are many. A book is a solitary effort. Films are the result of collaboration. The imagination, at least on the audience's part, is removed --though the suspension of disbelief may be forced to remain. I remember when I saw the first installment of The Lord Of The Rings, I marveled at Gollum on the screen. He fit my experience of him in Tolkien's books to the letter. Same with Aragorn. But this is nothing more than coincidence. Each of us have our own visions of a particular character or setting. The chances of a director and crew, who for the most part are complete strangers to the audience, satisfying every member of an audience is near impossible, and not conducive to creativity at all.

What I'm getting at here is that mass disapproval of film adaptations often stems from a misplaced ethic. The reader wants the book to be represented exactly, and this is impossible. The creators of a film are not privy to the minds of their audience, but on top of that the mediums are quite separate --their own language if you will. Converting a particular story from book to film is really a translation from one language to another. Each medium has its own strengths and limitations. Direct translation is not possible, or if it is possible it certainly is not pragmatic. Decisions are made, risks are calculated, and someone else's interpretation and vision is being captured. If we can accept this from the start, our perception of the final product on screen takes a different quality. We begin to notice the decisions made and question why. We begin to treat the book as a separate work of art from the film. And from here we can generate true criticism.

More to come...