Tag Archives: film review

Video night experiment succeeds

Video Art @ Garrick’s Head Pub, Victoria, BC
Featuring works by Rick Raxlen, Janet Rogers, Scott Amos, Carolyn Doucette, Pamela Millar, Alejandro Valbuena, Constance Cook, Carrotkid Films, and Morgan Tams.

Reviewed by Julian Gunn

I recently attended an experiment. There were no electrodes involved, though electronics played a key role. Open Space Gallery, MediaNet, and the Garrick’s Head Pub hosted a showcase of local video artists.

The Garrick’s Head expansion crowns Bastion Square and has a friendly, over-scale feeling, with a mixture of ordinary seating and enormous banqueting tables attended by stools. Our party of three occupied a corner of one such edifice, facing the large screens arrayed along the south wall above the bar. Another filmmaker (not part of the show, but very friendly) and an artistic associate sat down across from us, and another pair of viewers joined us further down. There was a general sense of creative camaraderie. The evening was a little ad hoc, in that there were no printed programs, but Doug the MC very kindly lent me his script so that I could make notes on the titles and creators of the works.

The night began with Morgan Tams’ Killer’s Crossing, subtitled “A Pacific Northwestern”–a surreal cow-metal rock opera in miniature, with words and music by Brooke Gallupe (of the late lamented Immaculate Machine). Richard Raxlen‘s playful envisioning of Jane Siberry’s “Everything Reminds Me of My Dog” followed. Raxlen showed two pieces; the second was a visual accompaniment to “Mumbles,” the jazz tune known for its cheerfully incomprehensible vocals, a kind of virtuoso glossolalia. Raxlen’s jumpy, layered lines and half-seen figures worked similarly at the edge of interpretability.

The pub noise sometimes presented a challenge during the quieter or more verbal pieces. Victoria Poet Laureate Janet Rogers‘ contribution, Just Watch, used a simple juxtaposition to powerful effect. Tiny silhouetted figures crossed an unstable surface that seemed to rise and fall above a brightly coloured static scene. I won’t explain the trick of it here, since I found the disorientation so effective, but it’s worth seeking out. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really hear what the speaker in the video was saying.

Scott Amos‘ highly textured experiments in Primordial Soup stirred O’Toole to comment wistfully that it was “Very NFB,” and it did have the exploratory feeling of the golden era of NFB film-making. (A YouTube description notes that Primordial Soup is “an experiment with acrylic paints, India inks and drain cleaner on an old 16mm film.”) In contrast, Paul Whittington‘s L19 Disposed is a bleakly funny dystopian animation that accomplishes a lot of (non-verbal) storytelling in two and a half minutes.

Originally shown on Bravo!, Alejandro Valbuena’s Caffeine uses a cafe and the delicious drug it dispenses to frame dance sequences. My favorite segments reminded me of the risk-taking momentum of Québécois dance troupe La La La Human Steps. Caffeine was followed by Carolyn Doucette’s Little Plank Walk, in which live-action foraging to chanted vocals gave way suddenly and delightfully to experimental saxophonage and edgy animation. Pamela Millar’s Blue Minute Bridge is a metallic noise poem, a visual and auditory dissection of the Johnson Street Bridge, previously screened as part of the BC Spirit Festivals. The evening ended with Constance Cook‘s Anarchist Footwear, a playful depiction of a community’s feet that filled me with reminiscences.

Even with minor sound issues, the night was a success. Many of the video pieces shown are available online through YouTube, Vimeo, and other sources. I recommend that you look them up.

Julian Gunn is a local writer with eclectic tastes.



Poet’s team video undermines bullying

Shane Koyczan and collaborators
To This Day – TED Talk

Reviewed by DJ Fraser

Vancouver resident Shane Koyczan is already a fully fledged Canadian poetry star, and that is no easy stardom to come by. Koyczan appeared at TED this past February, where he performed the now-viral multimedia performance of “To This Day,” with violin accompaniment by Hannah Epperson and animated segments executed with the help of dozens of animators.

The animators who collaborated with Koyczan for this performance are not one-time colleagues–all are collaborators for the To This Day project, a continued effort to prevent childhood and adolescent bullying. This outreach project aims to connect and inspire those willing to stand up to bullying and to “find the beauty” in the world.

At any live TED talk, there are two screens onto which animations, graphs, charts or live feed footage are projected. Koyczan’s performance was augmented with an introduction that is not in the original video for the To This Day project, which exists as a animated video work. Throughout the performance, the rhythm of Koyczan’s words guides the visuals painstakingly through images that break apart, split at the seams and shatter to reveal new scenes of mixed media, from cut-out paper animation to pencil drawings. Breaks in the imagery shift back to the performers and the audience at TEDquarters, their rapt attention turned to Koyczan on stage.

If you view the TED talk from home, the segmented animation often occupies the entire visual space, with Koyczan’s sweet, impossibly fluid then abrupt, hopeful narratives as a sound track.  The conscious synthesis of Koyczan’s poetry and the graphic styles of literally dozens of animators remind the viewer of the absence of a monolithic style or predominant medium accompaniment to Koyczan’s poetry.

The combination of this multi-perspectival poem and multimedia presentation (at the live performance as well as in a home viewing) crosses media boundaries:  narrative, visual representation, graphic animation and music are cast together. Without any doubt, my favourite aspect of this TED video/performance was Koyczan and collaborators’ clever balance of media with poetry, and how this aspect of the work conveys a multitude of experiences, rather than Koyczan’s singular view. Calling attention to the universality of the bullied child in all of us, Koyczan and his team turn a singular work into a global movement.  Different voices speak out, turning words into shields, drawings into livelihood, casting collective hopes with each other. The presentation and intermedia experience offered by Koyczan’s performance reinforces the idea that collective strength, through art and self-expression, enables survival and success. On a bad day, this performance could bring tears of happiness to my eye in spite of the world. On a good day, it could bring tears because of it.

Subscribe to #ToThisDay for project updates.

DJ Fraser is an MA History in Art student at UVic and the online gallery curator for Plenitude Magazine.


Films worth revisiting: The Kid Stays in the Picture

The Kid Stays in the Picture
Directed by Brett Morgen and Nanette Burstein
Written by Brett Morgen. Narrated by Robert Evans

Reviewed by Joshua Zapf

1957: Robert Evans is plucked from the poolside by Norma Shearer to play her late husband and renowned producer, Irving Thalberg. From there Evans, driven by lust for the movie industry, works his way up to become producer for the lowliest movie studio around–Paramount Pictures. He goes on to pull the studio out of a nose dive with titles like The Godfather, Love Story, China Town, and Rosemary’s Baby. Having done the impossible, he falls in love and gets the home of his dreams.

Right there, we have enough drama to make a cute, based-on-real-life, film. But Morgen and Burstein follow Evans’ story to its bitter end–through divorce, alleged associations to a murder and drug scandals. We are privy to every up and down in the life of a man who seems to have had it all handed to him on a silver platter.

The Kid Stays in the Picture is more than thoughtful documentary. It is a heart-wrenching tell-all narrated by Evans himself. His growling baritone supplies the film with a seen-it-all veracity that leaves you–at least, it did me–sympathetic for every decision, challenge and heartbreak.

And that’s the satisfaction this movie offers. Everything that seems lined in silver is, in fact, coated with Evans’ blood and sweat. Each of those movies listed earlier was crucial to Paramount’s success and each was pocked with drama during all stages of production. The film’s ability to divulge freely is maddening at times. Honesty, as poignant as Evans, is the base of all sad stories.

The documentary is told almost purely in a photo-collage style, but Morgen and Burstein work cinematic wizardry by making scenes feel animated. They weave the exposition of personal life and career through motifs; by the end of the film, viewers are left feeling nostalgic, as if Evans were a close uncle they’d like to see more of. Despite Evans’ first-person narration, it’s easy to forget the movie is a documentary. Morgen and Burstein have masterfully adapted from Evan’s autobiography to make an enchanting, sorrowful movie to watch.


Joshua Zapf  loves to research older movies

Films Worth RE-visiting: The Illusionist (L’illusionniste)

The Illusionist (Lèillusionniste)
Directed by Sylvain Chomet
Original screenplay by Jacques Tati,
Adapted by Sylvain Chomet.

Reviewed by Joshua Zapf

The Illusionist is beautiful for many reasons, but most of all because it is believable.

The story takes place during the 1950s. The protagonist, Tatischeff, is an illusionist and a master of his craft.  We follow him, and a handful of other entertainers, as they struggle to make ends meet. In desperation, Tatischeff travels to Scotland and, after a small performance in a local tavern, he settles into his room. A young maid becomes so perplexed by Tatischeff’s abilities that she is convinced he is magic. She follows the illusionist to escape the humdrum life of her village, a place that has seemingly just seen its first electric light. Tatischeff, awash in her admiration, shows fatherly affection for her. He attempts to give her everything her heart desires but cannot prevent the slow disenchantment that comes with time.

The film does not incorporate hard dialogue. You might suggest, if you had to explain it, that there are no spoken lines. That’s why I nearly overlooked this film; I figured the premise too lofty, the design too avant-garde for my liking. Nevertheless, The Illusionist is one of the finest films I have ever had the pleasure of watching. I predict that after just twelve minutes you will be enchanted.

The Illusionist is a cartoon of the highest quality, drawn to the grandest scale. Scenes sprawl like photographs. The music, originally pieced together by the director Chomet, guides you seamlessly through scenes. No spectacle is spared as background characters move with their own accord giving life to every scene–more life than most live action movies could ever hope to attain.

At times the movie is like rolling artwork. The trip from Kings Cross to Scotland is outstanding. You could review that segment a dozen times and continue to discover new and wonderful details (the advertisement on the bus, the gulls meandering near a cliff, the Border Collie managing his flock, the change of passengers, the name of the Scotsman’s boat.)

Chomet has done a masterful job. The music, the sentiment, the novel characters, the idiosyncratic movements of the lead are all threads woven into a touching storyline. The Illusionist is a resounding achievement–a film that that should not be missed, no matter how old or young you are.


Josh Zapf just committed himself to Co-op Studies in Writing at UVIC; he  was mesmerized by Star Wars and Indiana Jones as a kid.