Culture on repeat play

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Published: Aug 21 2014, 01:01:am

Thursday, August 21, 2014

     Under the headline Past is present with culture stuck in time, the Vancouver Courier's weekend op-ed columnist Geoff Olson drew my attention to the "phenomenon of stalled time . . . in which the present would be defined in terms of the past, with people orienting themselves towards ideas and aesthetics that are antiquated or 'old timey'."

    Olson, who is the community newspaper's political cartoonist as well as its most consistently entertaining writer, takes the business of humour seriously. He reads widely and, because he views the world through an artist's eyes, Olson makes those connections that so many of today's stenographic journalists neglect. In doing so, he's fulfilling what Marshall McLuhan defined as "the role of the artist," creating "an anti-environment as a means of perception and adjustment."

    In his August 15 column, he suggests that our current cultural stasis actually serves the somewhat darker purpose of insuring stability for things as they are, freezing the worlds of finance and politics in place so that power and privilege remain unchallenged by significant change. And he manages to make his point with fine, mordant humour.

    So here am I, the proprietor of a restored-review website founded on the idea that "everything old is news again," left to wonder: am I part of the problem, or the solution? Like Olson, I'm in favour of creative change. I like to think that knowing where we've been is a positive thing.

    I'll have to think about that "stalled time" idea some more, though. In the meantime, I'll continue to read his columns, and keep on posting to this Reeling Back website. My ten most recent reviews were:

WHITE ROOM — Politely Canadian, writer/director Patricia Rozema's 1990 tale of "the watcher and the watched" offers style in place of anything like new emotional vistas. (Posted August 20)

THE ASSASSINATION OF TROTSKY — Blacklisted American director Joseph Losey's 1972 account of the exiled Leon Trotsky's 1940 murder was not among the the best of his European-made features. (Posted August 20)

STAKEOUT — The first of three features that director John Badham filmed on location in Vancouver, this 1987 cop comedy introduced audiences to actress Madeleine Stowe. (Posted August 18)

MACBETH — A reinvention of screen Shakespeare, director Roman Polanski's Playboy-financed adaptation of "the Scottish play" was a matter of considerable controversy in 1972. (Posted August 18)

BLACK ROBE — Australian director Bruce Beresford already had an Oscar nomination to his credit when he took on the task of bringing novelist Brian Moore's tale of cultures clashing in 17th-century Quebec to the screen in this 1991 feature. (Posted August 16)

ALIENS — When you think about it, writer/director James Cameron's sequel to Ridley Scott's 1979 sci-fi shocker Alien is a surprisingly romantic tale of martial skills in the service of maternal instinct. (Posted August 15)

SUPERGIRL — After the success of Christopher Reeve in the first three Superman features, hopes were high for newcomer Helen Slater's arrival in 1985 as "The Girl of Steel." (Posted August 15)

FANTASTIC VOYAGE — Richard Fleischer, who'd directed Walt Disney's 1954 adaptation of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, was at the helm for this 1966 sci-fi tale in which micronauts navigate the inner space of the human bloodstream. (Posted August 14)

I LOVE A MAN IN UNIFORM — Currently directing episodes of such watchable TV fare as Rookie Blue and Saving Hope, Toronto's David Wellington demonstrated his command of genre filmmaking with this sharp 1993 urban thriller. (Posted August 13)

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS — A major Hollywood presence in both the silent and sound eras, Cecil Blount DeMille directed 77 features during a 42-year career. This 1956 Biblical epic was his farewell exercise in Scriptural excess. (Posted August 12)