Category Archives: Video

October Crisis

An NFB documentary about the October Crisis

Today is the fortieth anniversary of the October Crisis, which began with the kidnapping of British Trade Commisioner James Cross by the FLQ, or the Front de Liberation du Quebec.

Frye in the Preface to The Bush Garden:

Quebec in particular has gone through an exhilerating and, for the most part, emancipating social revolution.  Separatism is the reactionary side of this revolution: what it really aims at is a return to the introverted malaise in which it began, when Quebec’s motto was je me souviens and its symbols were those of the habitant rooted to his land with his mother church over his head, and all the rest of the blood-and-soil bit.  One cannot go back to the past historically, but the squalid neo-Fascism of the FLQ terrorists indicates that one can always do so psychologically.  (CW 12, 415)

Janis Joplin

Joplin singing “Cry Baby” at Varsity Stadium, University of Toronto, June 1970, barely three months before her death.  A beautiful, heartbreaking performance: heartbreaking because you can see her unravelling around the edges and hear that mighty voice threatening to break here and there, and she’s only 26 years old. The sound is excellent, and the cameraman gets it right — he stays focused on that remarkably expressive face for most of the performance.

Today is the fortieth anniversary of Janis Joplin‘s death (born 1943).

Saturday Night at the Movies: “Beat the Devil”

(Not embedded: Click the image above and then hit the YouTube link.  This version is of a very high quality: excellent sound and picture.)

Frye seemed to like going to the movies, and he regularly mentions during his diary writing years (intermittently between 1942 and 1955) what he’d seen on a Saturday night at a time when double bills were still the norm.  One of the oddball classics of the era was John Huston‘s Beat the Devil (1953).  Maybe “John Huston’s Beat the Devil” doesn’t really cover it.  In point of fact, it was co-written with Huston by the very young Truman Capote, who leaves a distinctive mark upon this shaggy dog story which proceeds on the assumption that it is the journey not the arrival that matters, but then barely manages to go anywhere at all.  In point of fact, it has such a tremendous cast — Humphrey Bogart, Gina Lollobrigida, Robert Morley, Peter Lorre, Ivor Bernard — that it’s hard to imagine the movie having any life without them.  And, in point of fact, that’s before you even factor in Jennifer Jones, who is so wonderful that she almost steals the entire movie from this pretty formidable ensemble.  (In point of fact, she makes the phrase “in point of fact” all her own as a leitmotif for escalating delirium.)

Now it’s true that the film depicts the last gasp of Old World colonialism, when European scoundrels could still saunter into Africa and expect to make personal fortunes by foul means (and, yes, there’s a cringe-inducing amount of Orientalism at work too in the depiction of the Arab characters).  But the white mischief on display here is absurd and is foiled at every turn as though that were an inevitability.  At least one tragic historical cycle had come all the way round to farce, and the film — released just a few years after the end of the Second World War — captures that, if only on a hunch.

In a nice coincidence, Capote’s birthday was on Thursday.


Footage of the sentencing of the Nazi leadership

On this date in 1946 the surviving Nazi leaders were sentenced at the Nuremburg Trials.

Frye in “The Knowledge of Good and Evil”:

The Nuremberg and other Nazi trials even raised the question whether a (necessarily hopeless) resistance to the demands of a perverted social order was not only morally but legally binding, and whether one who did not make such a resistance could be considered a criminal. It was feared at the time, no doubt correctly, that the nations who prosecuted these trials would not show enough moral courage to respect this principle where their own interests were involved. In contrast, the more powerful the social structure, the more apt one’s loyalty to it is  modulated from concern to concerned indifference.  The enemy become not people to be defeated, but embodiments to be exterminated.  (Stubborn Structure, 28-9)

Henry IV

The closing moments of Shakespeare’s Richard II: the death of Richard and rebellion against the new king, Henry IV

On this date in 1399 Henry Bolingbroke became Henry IV of England after deposing Richard II.

Frye on Shakespeare’s Richard II and 1 Henry IV:

Richard II was, we said, written entirely in verse, the reason being that the action is centred on what is practically a ritual, or inverted ritual: the deposing of a lawful king and the crowning of the successor who has forced him out.  At the beginning of Henry IV, the hangover has set in.  Bolingbroke, realizing that there is nothing worse for a country than a civil war, has determined at the outset to get started on a crusade.  The idea, we said, was partly that God would forgive anyone anything, even the deposing of an anointed kind, if he went on a crusade.  But even more, an external enemy unites a country instead of dividing it.  Shortly before his death, Henry IV tells Prince Henry that when he becomes king he should make every effort to get a foreign war started, so that the nobles will be interested in killing foreigners instead of intriguing against each other and the king — advice Prince Henry is not slow to act on.  But at this point the new king’s authority is not well enough established for a foreign war, much less a crusade.  Henry finds that there are revolts against him in Scotland and Wales, and that many of the lords who backed him against Richard II are conspiring against him now.  So Henry IV contains a great deal of prose, because this play is taking a much broader survey of English society, and showing the general slump in morale of a country whose chain of command has so many weak links.  Falstaff speaks very early of “old father antic the law,” and both the Eastcheap group and the carriers and ostlers in the curious scene at the beginning of the second act illustrate that conspiracy, at all levels, is now in fashion.  (On Shakespeare, 69-70)

Leonard Cohen

The 1965 NFB documentary Ladies and Gentlemen, Mr Leonard Cohen

Today is Leonard Cohen‘s birthday (born 1934).

An excerpt from Frye’s 1957 review of Cohen’s first collection of poetry, Let us Compare Mythologies:

The poems are of very unequal merit, but the book as a whole is a remarkable production.  The erotic poems follow the usual convention of stacking up thighs like a Rockette chorus line, and for them Mr. Cohen’s own phrase, “obligations, the formalities of passion,” is comment enough.  But it is an excess of energy rather than a deficiency of it that is his main technical obstacle.  Sometimes moods and images get tangled up with each other and fail to come through to the reader, or allusions to books or paintings distract the attention and muffle the climax, as in Jingle.  In short, this book has the normal characteristics of a good first volume. (CW 12, 165)

A 1979 television performance of “Famous Blue Raincoat” after the jump.

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Salem Witch Trials

The ugly absurdity and mass hysteria in this kind of thinking is nicely satirized in this famous sequence from Monty Python and the Holy Grail

On this date in 1692 Giles Corey was pressed to death after refusing to plead in the Salem witch trials.

Frye on “witch-finding” in Denham’s Northop Frye Unbuttoned:

Reading Margaret Murray’s book on witchcraft, one can’t believe any part of her argument that assumes an actual religious organization, but that some subconscious demonic parody of Christianity was extracted from all those poor creatures under torture is quite obvious, and its consistency doesn’t surprise me: it’s the same kind of thing primitive tribes produce, often by self-administered torture.  The witch-finder himself was a psychopath, or soon became one by sticking pins all over naked women, and so they were linked in a communal dream. (311)

Saturday Night Video: Brits, 90s

After the 90s the English influence on North American music goes into an unmistakable decline.  Here are some tunes that were part of the last hurrah.  See “Brits, 80s” here.  Frye’s observations on rock ‘n’ roll here, here, and here.

My Bloody Valentine, “Soon”

This remarkable band is one of a kind but had a tragically short career that never allowed it to rise above the cult status it still retains.  Rumor has it that the readers of NME in Britain voted Loveless the best album of the decade, but that the editorial staff intervened and replaced it with Radiohead’s OK Computer; a great album to be sure, but maybe they should have left well enough alone.  By the way, the lyrics are supposed to be unintelligible and merely part of the dense of weave of sound that is the band’s hallmark.

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