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Saturday, August 3, 2019

Some Toronto Imagery

50 years from now or so, people may find these photos of what Toronto looked like in 2019 interesting.

People waiting in line for ice cream at Knockout Ice Cream on Northumberland Street near Geary Ave. 

Construction at Bloor and Walmer looking southwest

Looking southeast from Bloor and Walmer during sewer replacement construction

Baldwin Street

South view on Robert Street, south of Bloor, from supermarket parking lot

Friday, May 24, 2019

The 5 Best Adaptations of Shakespeare on Film

There's a reason that William Shakespeare's plays have survived and remain relevant over four centuries since they were written. Politics and elements of social conventions get wrapped up in wild, often bizarre trends, but the human condition remains constant.

The motivations we have, and our emotions are burned into our biology, no matter how much social theorists would like otherwise. Love, jealousy, ambition, greed, hare, fear and courage are part of us all, and no dramatist has demonstrated so great an understanding of these basic elements of human psychology than Shakespeare. These aspects of us are universal, which is why Shakespeare has been successfully adapted to just about every culture on earth.

While there have been spectacularly wonderful adaptations of Shakespeare, notable among them are Akira Kurowsawa's Throne of Blood (Macbeth) and Ran (King Lear), and of course some have even morphed into musicals (West Side Story), the language of the original is poetry.

With that in mind, the following are, in my opinion and in no specific order, what I believe to be the five best examples of Shaespeare's work which have been made into motion pictures, and are faithful to the respective plays, some edits due to the length and the time limitations of feature film notwithstanding.

I won't go into much description of them, as there's plenty of information which can easily be found online about each of these movies.

Julius Caesar (1953)

Julius caesar.jpeg

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, starring James Mason, Marlon Brando, John Gielgud, Deborah Kerr, Edmond O'Brien, Greer Garson, and Louis Calhern.

This movie raised skeptical eyebrows with its casting of Brando as Marc Anthony. His, like the rest of the cast's performances, was outstanding.

Richard III (1995)

Richard III 1995.png
By Source, Fair useLink

Directed by Richard Loncraine, starring Ian McKellen, Annette Benning, Robert Downey Jr., Jim Broadbent, Nigel Hawthorne, Kristin Scott Thomas, and Maggie Smith.

This version's visual presentation reimagines the play into a 1930's fascist England, but as the dialogue and plot are faithful to the play, it still qualifies for this list, and it's outstanding in its direction and acting.

The Taming of the Shrew (1967)

Directed by Franco Zeffirelli, starring Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, Michael York, Cyril Cusak, Michael Hordern, Natasha Pyne, Alfie Lynch

This is, along with Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the best screen pairing of Burton and Taylor. The rest of the cast is tremendous and Zeferrelli's direction is lush and lavish, far better than his other attempts at Shakespeare, including his popular version of Romeo and Juliet.


Macbeth (1971)

File:Original movie poster for the film Macbeth.jpg

Directed by Roman Polanski, starring Jon Finch, Francesca Annis, Martin Shaw and Terence Bayler.

Whatever one may think of Roman Polanski, he knows how to direct movies and this was Polanski at the height of his talent. Great performances, beautifully filmed,  and faithfully transcribed from Shakespeare in a screenplay by Polanski and Kenneth Tynan.

Hamlet (1948) 


Directed by Lawrence Olivier, starring Lawrence Olivier, Jean Simmons, Basil Sydney, Eileen Herlie, Anthony Quayle, and Norman Wooland.

You didn't imagine there was going to be a 'best Shakespeare on film' list without at least one of Olivier's movies, did you? Lawrence Olivier is generally considered the best interpreter of Shakespeare in the 20th Century and Hamlet was his most famous role.

Directed by the star, this is the archetypical Shakespeare movie, with performances and direction that make it essential viewing.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Social media may be toxic and stupid, but that doesn't justify censoring it

There are ideas that are dangerous and which cause social unrest, therefore it is for the good of the people that they must be censored and those who would spread them in the public sphere must be punished.

Every dictator in history has made an argument to the basic effect of the above sentence. 

Writers and thinkers from Galileo and Thomas Paine, and great thinkers of the Enlightenment, all the way to D.H. Lawrence, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, J.D. Salinger and a list that could take up pages were all the targets of authorities seeking to consolidate power and authority by prohibiting the expression of ideas they though might undermine the status quo. Certainly there's a big difference between some idiot ranting about the alleged racial superiority of white people on Facebook and James Joyce's Ulysses, but the central issue remains - who gets to decide what ideas you're allowed to read and hear and which you aren't.

In the case of social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter, the matter is less clear cut. They're corporations which effectively operate as private media, and like any similar entity, they have the right to determine what content they wish to publish and which not. But the threat to basic freedoms comes in when governments and authorities tell them what they can and cannot allow on their platforms.

In the days of Voltaire, or Charles Dickens or H.L. Mencken, there were fewer people with the means and the will to have their ideas disseminated to the public. The history of print is not always a positive one. Just as there were Ben Franklins to advance public discourse, there were Father Coughlins to drag it into the gutter. That is the price of a free society.

That price may be getting higher now that every idiot with a smart phone and a data plan can now broadcast their deranged conspiracy theories or invective and on occasion lull other idiots into believing them. But the technologies that have emerged in the last two decades have also added great wealth in the marketplace of ideas. The ability of citizen journalists, alternative media, and regular people who have specialized knowledge means that some of the distortions disseminated by the establishment media can be seen for what it is. 

Yes, there is Fake News created by people trying to manipulate the public. But as we see frequently, much of that Fake News comes from established, legacy media which is often just as guilty of lying as a clickbait website based in some fat guy's garage. 

Check the veracity of a report by looking at lots of credible sources. Don't believe anything because just one person says it is so if you don't know that person to be an absolutely honest, credible source. And then, still verify if you can. If your emotionally fragile facebook friend puts up a post telling you about some new horror or danger, the odds are it's about as accurate as the reports of an invasion from Mars that people who tuned into the middle of Orson Welles' radio broadcast of H.G. Wells' War of the Worlds though had beset them. 

Indeed there are some horrible, hateful, bigoted things being said online. There are also some truths being told and some important insights being shared. You're smart enough to be able to distinguish one from the other. And if you aren't, then neither is the government. Because the government doesn't manufacture some special breed of genius who can provide unassailable wisdom, it's made up of people just as stupid, and sometimes a lot stupider and often a lot more malevolent, than you or me. And those are not the people you want dictating your information flow.