Tuesday, July 26, 2005



This is Skander, my brother. On the weekend of August 12, if you live in New York or Los Angeles, and if you appreciate pitch-black comedy and "jaw-droppingly inappropriate" social satire, do go and see Pretty Persuasion, the movie he wrote. (You can view the trailer on the website.)

Pretty Persuasion was a Dramatic Competition pick at Sundance 2005. Critics either love it or hate it; I'm still snickering over the fact that A.O. Scott, in his Sundance roundup review for the New York Times, described it as "rancid." Directed by Marcos Siega, it's a high-school comedy starring Evan Rachel Wood as a sociopathic teen, Ron Livingston as her somewhat creepy teacher, James Woods as her very creepy father, and Jane Krakowski as an easily corrupted television reporter.

Some other things Skander is working on these days: He has written some scripts for a vaguely Buffyish YTV show called "Dark Oracle", which I haven't seen. (Yes, my brother writes for television, and no, I don't own a TV. Shut up.) He has a hell-raisin' article in the July-August issue of Script Magazine, exhorting young screenwriters to write the screenplays they want to write, rather than trying to pander to the market. He is working on getting a studio to back his directorial debut, to be titled The Perfect Ghost -- it was supposed to shoot in Romania this summer but that fell through, as these things so often do. Also, his longtime fascination with online cult-celebrity film reviewer Outlaw Vern has led him to write a screenplay about Vern -- not a biopic, but an insane satirical fantasy in which Vern singlehandedly overthrows Hollywood's grip on the public imagination and turns America on to esoteric subtitled art films instead. Vern seems uncertain what to make of the whole thing (scroll halfway down), but is being a good sport about it. True to form, the script is ridiculously funny and will offend every single human being who sees it. So far everyone Skander has shown it to has described it as "unmakeable," but that's what they said about Pretty Persuasion.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Scream Festival roundup

All right, all my Scream photos are up now. Go look! Maybe there's a photo of you! If there is and you hate it, just ask & I'll take it down.

A brief rundown of what happened:

The Gala: Everybody got gussied up and danced to the music of Luther Wright and the Wrongs. Pies made another appearance: two were raffled off as door prizes. Bill, who nearly kills himself every year organizing this whole thing, was given a bag of presents which included a staggeringly rare Ezra Pound first edition, courtesy of book dealer Nicky Drombolis. Also, a Playmobil nun.

The Squirm: The Squirm in High Park happens every year, sometime before the Scream. It was a somewhat attenuated event this time around, as original Squirmer Jesse Huisken is in Paris, and most of the other regulars couldn't make it. However, I was there, as were Mary, Maggie, Kyle, Bill, Ailsa, and the worm in the bottom of the tequila bottle.
Bill reads at Squirm
We went into the park in the dark, armed with flashlights, and read creepy texts aloud to each other. All was right with the world.

The Mainstage:
Karen Hines reads at the Mainstage
The Scream in High Park's freakish no-rain record held for the 13th year in a row. (Well, okay, there have been years when it drizzled a bit, but it's never been rained out.) The weather was lovely, and hundreds of people showed up and listened attentively. Here, early in the evening, Karen Hines performs one of her satirical, painfully funny Pochsy monologues.

And then we cleaned up, which went really fast, and then there was much drinking at the afterparty, and then a bunch of us wound up at Happy Seven at a quarter after four in the morning.
Chloe, Maria, Travis
It turns out Jordan Scott is not only an accomplished poet, but also a karaoke king; he knew every word to every cheesy soft-rock ballad that came over the sound system. Also, he kept ordering the "special tea," which made me happy because I've often heard about the "special tea" but had never seen anyone actually order it. You can tell it's "special" tea because of the condensation on the outside of the teapot...

Thanks to all the organizers who made the Scream happen this year, especially Bill Kennedy, Maggie Helwig, Daccia Bloomfield, Kyle Buckley and Mark Higgins. I hope you've all gotten some sleep by now, finally.

Monday, July 18, 2005

"See you again in some delightful moments."

Things have been a little slow around here, sorry -- I'm a bit swamped at the moment. However, Alan Hunt has posted something truly great for you to look at. Behold Nagraj Vs. Shakoora The Magician, an Indian comic book about a superhero who can shoot poisonous snakes from his wrists! Tough enough to rescue Batman, Superman and Spiderman when all three are incapacitated, Nagraj still needs the divine intervention of a powerful guru to get him out of a tight spot. This comic has everything: Elephants! Romance! Um, giant rampaging pro wrestlers!? Wow.

Friday, July 15, 2005

CN Tower Village

Last week I had this great dream. I know, I know, but listen:

I dreamed that I met up with someone I've recently met, and he wanted to show me where he lived. It turned out he lived in the CN Tower. In the dream, the top 2 decks of the Tower were, and had always been, a kind of co-op housing complex. My friend showed me around. It was vivid and fantastic, compact and 3-D-mazelike and ingeniously designed, like a cross between Habitat '67 and a cleaned-up, Canadianized Walled City of Kowloon. It had that slightly shabby, faded-'70s-utopian architectural aesthetic that I associate with the Tower and with Ontario Place. The units at the very top had rooftops open to the sky. You could go up there and sunbathe -- nude, if you wanted to, because who was going to see? A ten-foot, inward-curving wall circled the rooftop so you wouldn't be blown off by the wind. Inside, there weren't a lot of windows, but lots of indirect natural light, thanks to cleverly constructed lightshafts. Light-filled stairwells, tunnel-like corridors that were two or three stories deep & roofed with windows. The village was very self-sufficient, with a school and a grocery store and even some hydroponic farming. All the bathrooms were grouped together to allow for energy-efficient plumbing, and all looked out at one end on a large vertical narrow square space, where the sunlight got in. You could stand in this space and look up at this big square of uniformly dark-blue bathrooms, listening to the splash and hum of activity: the sounds of people showering, children being bathed.

The residents were a great crowd, like Ward's Islanders but a bit younger and hipper. Most of them seemed to be writers or artists. They took a lot of pride in their community, keeping the village in excellent shape and producing a weekly newsletter. A group of them stood around telling me anecdotes about life in the Tower. One of them told me how just last week he'd been having some beers with friends in a cool new Tower bar, and after a few they'd decided to investigate a trapdoor in the floor, and had found themselves in a barn room with a couple of goats. The others cracked up at the memory. "Now where else in Toronto are you going to see something like that?"

What I remember most is the feeling of cosy seclusion, like I was a thousand miles away from Toronto and yet I could get back there in minutes if I wanted to; it was kind of like Ward's Island, and kind of like a space station. Of course, later I told Leslie about it & she said, "OH MY GOD, that's SUCH a penis dream. It was the CN Tower! And you were on top of it! And you were naked!" etc. Well, all right, that's one way of looking at it. Personally, I can't look at the Tower now without dreaming of seeing the top half requisitioned as an artists' co-op, gutted and redesigned by Rem Koolhaas. After all, the broadcast transmission centre that's up there now is rapidly becoming obsolete. Maybe the next time we get an NDP provincial government.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Book-Length Reading at the Scream: Sheila Heti reads Ticknor

Sheila Heti reads Ticknor

I have a ton of photos from the Scream events of the past week; I think I'll start with Sheila Heti's full-length reading of Ticknor at Grano on Friday.

Early last week, advance ticket sales for this reading were weak enough that the organizers were starting to worry. The solution they and Sheila came up with was classic Scream, and a perfect example of what happens when you set brilliant and completely impractical people to work on a practical problem: They decided that, in order to make the event more appealing, they would hire a man to eat a pie for the entire duration of the reading. Thus, actor Ed Fielding -- visible to the left in the above photo -- was brought on board, along with Rob Clutton, centre, who provided incidental musical accompaniment on upright bass.

The resulting performance was, I thought, stunning. Many of us were mesmerized from the beginning by the remarkable discipline, precision and deliberation of Ed's pie-eating. (He never broke character, remaining perfectly immobile at his desk during breaks.) It soon became apparent that he, Rob and Sheila were functioning as a perfectly orchestrated group: when Sheila reached an emotional peak in the narrative, the bass would speed up, and the look of deep abstraction on Ed's face would be replaced by one of bottomless sorrow, or wistful nostalgia, in keeping with the text. A sound recording was made of Sheila's reading; Carl was sorry they hadn't thought to make a video of Ed as well. A four-hour video of a man slowly eating a pie, with Sheila's reading as voice-over: it would have been like a Victorian Andy Warhol film.

As it turned out, the room at Grano was filled nearly to capacity, and it was really heartening to see how many Torontonians (plus a few out-of-town visitors) were happy to listen for four hours to the reading of an entire novel.

Ticknor audience 2

I'd read Ticknor a few weeks ago, and enjoyed it a lot; I think my familiarity with the text helped me get more out of the reading. You hear such different aspects of a work when it's read aloud; for one thing, it always seems much funnier live. More reading and listening photos on flickr.

Friday, July 08, 2005

Shoulda sent her an e-mail

I love u Maryanne, originally uploaded by squiddity of toronto.

Post-it Notes found in a copy of Hubert L. Dreyfus's On the Internet, from York's Scott Library.

Eye Scream

I spent all day Tuesday and Thursday watching the info/merch table at the Eye Scream exhibit, part of the Scream festival. It's in the lobby of the Carleton Cinema and runs until the end of the festival (last day's Monday), if you want to check it out.

Sitting in the lobby of the Carleton Cinema all day is interesting. It never got very busy when I was there, even in the evenings. There was a surprising preponderance of elderly people, and a high ratio of gay guys, which was less surprising given the cinema's proximity to Church and Wellesley. Elderly gay couples on an afternoon outing. Chatty groups of older women in flowing summer dresses. Young couples out on dates, all the girls in tank tops. The people come in waves, then it's very quiet while the movies are playing, then the people all emerge again at once. There's a pleasing rhythm to this as the hours go by. Years ago, like more than a decade ago, I used to spend a lot of time hanging out in a rep cinema in Ottawa where a friend worked, and this reminded me a lot of that. In the quiet times while the patrons are watching the movies, the staff don't have much to do. They're all film students or aspiring actors or screenwriters, and they spend a lot of time together in this weird windowless extemporal space, clustering around the snack bar, having long involved rambling conversations about obscure short-lived 80s TV shows, gender differences, the day's headlines, etc. I overheard some of them today working out story puzzles: "Okay, you're on an island with 2 tribes. One tribe only lies, the other one only tells the truth..."

I can't remember the name of the artist who made these wonderfully odd, friendly-looking, crocheted whatsits -- fungi? viruses? cartoon characters without faces? When I find out I'll post it.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

The Screaming continues

The Scream Festival is in full swing. I'm going to be sitting the info/merch table at Eye Scream, in the Carleton Cinema, again this afternoon -- not the most exciting volunteer task in the world, but I did manage to read all of Kant's introduction to the Critique of Pure Reason when I sat the exhibit on Tuesday, so at least it's likely to be a productive afternoon for me. It is an exciting exhibit to visit and look at, so if you haven't seen it yet, do drop by.

Last night's Coach House Blingo went really well. If you've ever wondered what would happen if you crossed a poetry reading with a rousing game of bingo, I can tell you: good times! I even won a prize during Margaret Christakos's reading. My prize pack included a copy of Secret Wars by Oneida, kindly donated by Three Gut Records. Also a copy of Margaret's book, a Rice Krispy square and a scary pair of earrings purchased at the Dufferin Mall.

Upcoming Scream events that will be well worth your precious time include: Sheila Heti's full-length reading of Ticknor over dinner. Last night Maggie and I came up with an idea for the Worst Scream Event ever: a full-length reading of Moby Dick. We figure we will lock Darren O'Donnell in a room with a copy of the book, audience members will be allowed to wander in & out, and the reading will take about 4 days. Possibly Darren will be naked. This will never actually happen. Sheila's book-length reading, on the other hand, a) will actually happen, and b) will be fun. Buy tickets now! Also, the Gala, featuring Luther Wright and the Wrongs, will happen Saturday night at Hugh's room. Pick out a party dress (or a nice shirt, if you are a boy) and swing on by! And, of course, do not forget the Mainstage on Monday, starting at 7:00.

On a poetry-related, but totally Scream-unrelated note: Leon Rooke, longtime head of the Eden Mills Writers' Festival, has written a number of novels, short story collections, etc, but the brand-new Hot Poppies is his first volume of poetry. I like this one a lot, it keeps coming back to me while I'm reading Kant:

Between the general
and the specific
I'll take the general.
You're excluded
because you're my honey.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Literary small furry animals

Lately the twin obsessions of this blog seem to be 1) the Toronto cultural scene, and 2) small furry animals. In this post, those two worlds collide. Squirrels have invaded the Coach House!

On Friday I went on the literary walking tour of the Annex presented by the Scream Festival. It was fun -- Sharon and Stephen had pulled together a lot of interesting local trivia and relevant poetry, and I enjoyed Emily's anecdote about living next to Lee's Palace, watching the Magnetic Fields from her balcony as they unloaded their gear there one afternoon, and wanting to invite them up for toast but being too shy.

The walk ended at the Coach House, and Alana gave a tour of the building. I'd been on the tour before, but the squirrels had really been busy since the last time I was there. We actually saw a squirrel in the bindery, but it hid behind boxes of paper and it kept running dementedly back and forth -- RUNNING! RUNNING! RUNNING! RUNNING! -- so I was unable to get a photo of it. However, the squirrel and its compadres had left traces throughout the Coach House.

Exhibit A: Nutshells on the Polar Paper Cutter.
Nutshells on the Polar Paper Cutter
This is the machine used to trim books to size after they have been bound. Note the walnut shells scattered all over it -- my favourite is the one that has been tucked carefully above the control panel.

Exhibit B: Footprints on the Original Heidelbergs:
Footprints on the printer
All the printing at the Coach House is done on these splendid German offset presses, built in the '60s and still going strong. Note the squirrel footprints on this one. You can see a close-up here.

Should you find peanut crumbs in the spine of your copy of Nellcott Is My Darling, or should fluffy clumps of shed black fur make you sneeze upon opening American Standard/Canada Dry, you'll know who is responsible.