The evolution of the music video, part II (1950s - 1960s)

Posted by Eric Brightwell, August 6, 2009 01:45pm | Post a Comment
As persuasively and incontestably argued in The evolution of the music video, part I  (1890s - 1940s), the music video began not in the '80s, as is often wrongly assumed, but the '90s... the 1890s (if we accept the basic concept of videos being one stand-alone work of one song/one visual). From the humble sound experiments at the dawn of the celluloid age through the artistic flowering of Soundies, many musical promos were created of high historical and artistic importance. In the 1950s and '60s, videos moved from bars and clubs to the living room, as television became the new venue for music promotion.

Cineboxes, Scopitones and Color-Sonics
According to the Quixotic Internet Accuracy Project, the term "music video" was coined by DJ (VJ?) J.P. "The Big Bopper" Richardson in 1959. That year, the Cinebox hit the scene, essentially following in the footsteps of Soundies by manufacturing videos for what was essentially a jukebox with a visual component. In 1965, the Cinebox was re-branded the Colorama in the US. The following year it was again re-branded, this time as the Cinejukebox.


Canada Day -- I Passed For American -or- A Day Without a Canadian

Posted by Eric Brightwell, July 1, 2009 05:00pm | Post a Comment


Today is Canada Day, a day no doubt celebrated in a manner designed not to attract too much attention. Canada is the home of the quiet revolution, after all. Most likely, their national day is marked by knowing glances. Such is the Canadian character that their national day is not marked with fireworks, guns in the air or vuvuzelas. Though Candians are stereotyped as quiet, harmless and polite pacifists who eat ketchup chips, how do we reconcile that peaceful image with the knowledge that their main export seems to be ice beer and that when they're not knocking each others teeth out in the hockey rink, they're clubbing baby seals with Neil Peart-like percussive overkill? Indeed, how much do we really know about our neighbors north of the border and the threat they pose? What harm is there in Canadians running Hollywood, you ask? They’re only doing the work Americans won’t, you say. In one three year stretch, the best actress category of the Oscars went to Canadians. Mary Pickford, Norma Shearer and Marie Dressler all took the Oscar back to Canada. That’s $1,500 of gold-plated britannium, or 1,303 loonies.


If movies and TV series like Blade Runner, V, Alien Nation, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Battlestar Galactica and The Day the Earth Stood Still have taught us anything, it’s that when aliens are allowed to live in peace amongst us it’s never a good idea. Though they invariably claim to come in peace, the proper response is that they to go in pieces. Due to blissful American ignorance and our welcoming disposition toward immigrants, most of us are wholly unaware when and how many Canadians are among us. Although a phrenologist could see right through their smiling faces to their true nature, your average American when near a Canadian merely gets a tingling sensation and an inexplicable unease. With good reason too, when one becomes aware of how far reaching Canadian tentacles are in our society… *tingle* cos (Canadian over shoulder)…

The Great Black North

Posted by Eric Brightwell, February 10, 2009 12:56pm | Post a Comment

One fact that’s widely overlooked during Black History Month is that it’s not only Black History Month in the US. Besides having the stated aim of highlighting the contributions to human history made by the entire black diaspora, BHM is simultaneously observed in Canada. People who've never been to Canada may not believe that black people live there. While it's true that the black Canadian population is minute compared to the black American populartion both in terms of numbers and percentage, black Canadians have contributed significantly to Canada's mostly overlooked music scene and their contributions are surely worth honoring (oops! ...honouring). [Special thanks goes to MuchMusic].

Dream Warriors - Wash Your Face in My Sink

Maestro Fresh Wes - Let Your Backbone Slide

Interspersed with exemplars of black Canadian musical contributions, allow me to ponder the controversies surrounding terminology used to discuss black Canadians and hopefully in the process shed a little light on history. No doubt we'll never come to a consensus on what's the most accurate/least offensive/least ridiculous terminology, but just thinking and talking about it is worthwhile far as I'm concerned... or at least fun.

Oscar Peterson - Waltz For Debby


Posted by Whitmore, November 20, 2008 03:50pm | Post a Comment

Debby, the world's oldest polar bear has died. Suffering from multiple organ failure, she was euthanized earlier this week, just a month shy of her 42nd birthday. Some polar bears living in captivity make it into their 30s, but few in the wild reach 20 years of age. Earlier this year the Guinness Book of World Records certified she was the oldest polar bear on record and one of the three oldest bears ever documented from any of the eight bear species.

Born in 1966 at the height of the Cold War in the former Soviet Union’s Arctic Island’s Region, Debby was orphaned at a very young age, but was rescued by the Assiniboine Park Zoo in Winnipeg, Manitoba. In her years at the Canadian zoo she gave birth to six cubs with her mate of almost thirty years, Skipper, who died in 1999 at age 34. All of their offspring are still alive today.

As tributes pour in from around the world, a memorial is planned at the zoo this coming Saturday at noon at the zoo's Animal Tracks Café.


Terror en Pointe: Maddin's Dracula proves that holiday ballet is not just for Christmas anymore!

Posted by Kells, October 31, 2008 11:43am | Post a Comment

Last year, for a few nights before Halloween, my roommate and I enjoyed a brief, Dracula themed movie marathon. Nested on the saggy couch in our 100 year old Chinatown flat, the two of us watched Dracula after bloody Dracula, eventually lighting on a few nuggets of pure entertainment delight. By the end of our brief waltz through several cinematic portrayals of Transylvania we discovered that we'd yet to hear a satisfactory soundtrack to F.W. Murnau's silent and beautiful Nosferatu (we alternated between two musical interpretations that were ultimately disappointing), that we loved the excellent extras that accompany the recent, two disc reissue of Francis Ford Coppola's heady and deeply symbolic Bram Stoker's Dracula (the mini-doc about the in-camera, naive effects employed in the film making is absolutely amazing), and that we sat awestruck in front of the TV while a brilliant collaboration between Canada's Royal Winnipeg Ballet and Canadian cult director Guy Maddin tantalized our eyes with their film Dracula: Pages From A Virgin's Diary (a marriage of said ballet's interpretation of Dracula and Maddin's singular, super-charged visual style). I have seen and loved many dance movies, but this has to be one of my very all time favorites because the dancing is more than just a part of the film, it is the film! Add to this the touch of Maddin's hand and I swoon like Lucy ready to receive her eternal kiss. It's that entrancing.

Part of what makes this movie work so well is the way in which it blends certain aspects of Victorian era appeal (fairy story settings, men with attractive hats, tall ships) and politics (xenophobia, fear of 'the other,' repressed sexuality) relevant to Stoker's demented story while maintaining an early film, silent-era aesthetic. Indeed, Maddin must have realized the best way to film a ballet, particularly this one, would be to treat it as if it were meant to be a silent movie. This totally works in that there could be no better, more expressive actors for a silent film than professional dancers, whose only medium is their physical form. Standout performances by sensuous and stalwart ballerinas like the pale and nimble Tara Birtwhistle (as Lucy Westenra), the suave and sinewy Zhang Wei Quiang (as Dracula), and the gracful and doe-eyed Cindy Marie Small (as Mina Harker) make unconventional movie stars who earn constant praise from Maddin in his entertaining commentary, during which he repeatedly refers to his preference for women with big, expressive hands. It is worth noting also that the story is danced to the melodramatic strains of Gustav Mahler's first and second symphonies -- yet another element of the production that supports the silent film treatment, as the music plays just as important role as the dancers do.

The visual impression this film makes is huge. Rather than film the ballet in a straightforward, this-is-a-ballet-made-for-the-stage manner, Maddin employs the use of deep shadows, blurred vignettes, and tinted colors to overload the film's sumptuousness index. Nods to more than one Dracula film of the past are dashed here and there throughout the production without ever feeling like anything has been lifted outright from any other movie. The reason for this familiar-yet-fresh-feel of the film is, in my opinion, that for all its eccentricities, this film remains largely faithful to Stoker's original story, something that is just not all that common in most Dracula adaptations. Also, shocker, Maddin is doing things his way with this film which is to say that he's doing things that are rarely, if ever, done. For example, the grainy, antiquated look of the film is at least due in part to the fact that it was almost entirely shot in black and white Super 8, many of the scenes captured in a such a manner as only can be achieved by using hand held cameras, which I love. I find this simple, intimate way of filming ballet dancers totally exciting -- it's so close that one almost feels the swish of the air displaced by the dancers' movements. This in-your-face, hand held footage also allows for the capture of miniature tableaux where the dancers are framed almost like a still life within a revolving point of view. Unlike the ballet performed in a theater or opera house which unfolds two dimensionally, Maddin's Dracula: Pages From A Virgin's Diary is so 3D it could almost take you in and it probably will if you succumb easily to hypnosis, or vampires, or ballet. 

Seeing a ballet in person is a glorious thing and I urge anyone who hasn't done it to at least take a date or the kids, or a maybe flask, down to your local production of the Nutcracker (or, if you happen to be in Charleston, South Carolina, the Charleston Ballet Theatre is performing an interactive interpretation of the Rocky Horror Show this Halloween). As a little girl I took ballet classes for a few years and learned enough about the discipline and dedication of the beginning ballerina to ask my mom to get me involved in something else (I then found out the hard way that ballet is way easier, and more agreeable in my case, than karate.). I almost lost all interest in it until I went to see a production of Prokofiev's  Romeo and Juliet when I was about nineteen. Though I went solely for the dark, dramatic music, the production as a whole tore me apart. I remember tears streaming down my face as Romeo danced with the limp, "dead" body of Juliet in their final pas de deux. I realized then that even the most structured of dances cannot suppress physical expression of the soul. It moved me deeply. I know it's corny, but I believe Madonna's right when she says, "you can dance...for inspiration." Don't let anyone tell you you can't. I only wish I had known about the Royal Winnipeg Ballet's Dracula when it made a brief stop in San Francisco on its world tour a few years ago. How I would have loved to see it on the stage (even though I can see Maddin's vision of it any time I want to.)!

But what if ballet is truly not your thing? Well, there are enough little oddities in Maddin's mad ballet movie to keep everyone interested: sick people in glass cases, demonic perverts, bugs for dinner, oral sex in a convent, arms that leak gold coins when they're cut, near death by choking on money, a castle made of vaginas, death by impalement... the list goes on and on. And if you think Maddin's commentary would seriously clue in the curious viewer who questions any weirdness, think again, for his commentary is probably the most misleading yet enjoyable of any commentary I've ever bothered to listen to. He may not be as crazy as, say, Paul Verhoeven, but he is a little bit wacky and he clearly loves a good pun off the cuff. In the end a Maddin movie is a Maddin movie and viewers should come to expect the unexpected. I strongly suggest to anyone who fancies a gander at this flick to watch it twice, or at least once with the director's commentary on; it simply rules. One more thing: this film makes for excellent fodder for academic deconstruction, especially if your area of interest and/or expertise is any kind of political science or ethnic studies. I earned myself a big fat A+ thanks to falling in love with this gem of a movie. Oh Canada, how I love you and not just for your maple syrup and aurora borealis and Anne of Green Gables anymore.

BACK  <<  1  2  3  >>  NEXT