Liar, liar, pants on fire

Just got out of Forbidden Lie$, a film by Australian filmmaker Anna Broinowski that starts out as one thing and turns into another. In fact, by the time the film ends, you’re not sure how much of what you just watched was true and how much of it was bunk. All I know for sure is that I loved it!

It’s about Norma Khouri (aka Norma Bagain, who may or may not be wanted by the FBI among others), the author of the best-seller Forbidden Love which is about an alleged “honour killing” in Jordan (wherein a Muslim woman was killed by her family to avenge her dishonouring the family because of a romance with a Christian man). This book is alleged (and generally accepted) to be a hoax. To say that Norma is manipulative and convincing, sneaky and smart is an understatement. She and her massive nerve command and dominate the screen and it is easy to understand how she manages to get away with such amazing shit. ‘Cause, y’see, the book she wrote may not be true at all. Or it may be partly true. Or it could be all true. And she might’ve been abused by her father and her husband and she might’ve stolen $40,000 and a house from her Chicago neighbour (who may or may not have been senile at the time) and she might be wanted by the FBI and she might’ve known somebody named Dalia (or maybe the name was something else) who was killed by her father (or brother). Or mebbe not. Hard to say for sure. This is definitely one of those things that you can draw your own conclusions about, but it sure seems like we meet the World Champeen Con in this film. Continue reading


My ascetic life

The first thing I thought of when I opened my hotel room door this aft (well, the second thing… I hafta admit the real first thing I thought of was “oh my, I’m gonna be able to getta blog post outta this!) was that it is the size (and aspect) of a cell. Monk- or jail-, I waffle.

The one window is a skylight that is set into the slanted roof that runs from about two feet over the head of my bed up to about 10 feet at the opposite wall. I’m not particularly tall, but I’ve already bumped my head. Twice. Stucco scrapes.

The bed is a single and the furniture midget-sized (including this desk–which is no deeper than this laptop–the Barbie-sized bedside lamp, and the 13″ tv). It was a very small monk who lived in this room, I gather. Mini-fridge, microwave. Do you sense the theme? I was worried that when I opened the washroom door I would find one of those teeny toilets they had in grammar school. And a sink to match. Was relieved to find grownup-sized facilities, however. And–perplexing–a walk-in closet. I mean, you couldn’t swing a cat in here, but there’s a walk-in closet. I’m not sure monks have more than one or two robes, either, so go figger.

But it is convenient, and that’s what I wanted.

I am in Tronna for 10 days for the Hot Docs film festival. I am going to try to update this thing fairly regularly. But for now I’m just going to crawl into my teensy bed and dream small dreams of holidays in Liliput.

→ originally published 2007-04-20

FuckedUp Lite

I’m getting a little tired of the fact that the things that could happen so seldom do happen. I don’t want it to happen every time but I’m sick and tired of it never happening. I often look at women and think of the promise they represent…

Sometimes the weight of all the time that’s passed, all the time that I’ve been alone, all the friends in my life who’ve moved on in the normal course of things, and I just stayed behind waiting for the normal course to find me… Sometimes the weight of all that is pretty… crushing.

(I’ve) been worshipping at the altar of All That’s Fucked Up, and a little too dismissive of All That’s Healthy And Not Fucked Up. I think I’ve been a little too quick to accept the idea that if it’s not “fucked up” it’s not “compelling”. I put my finger on the hot stove again and again and again. And not only did I put my finger on the hot stove but I actually celebrated the idea of putting my finger on the hot stove, like “Hey, I’m just the guy who puts his finger on the hot stove and, y’know, I think it’s kinda cool that I do that.” I like being fucked up like that. Maybe I’m here saying I gotta stop celebrating All That’s Fucked Up.

But there’s still a little immature voice inside of me bemoaning the fact that this Nice Jewish Boy part of me prevented me from ever being as gloriously fucked up as I wished to be. I don’t have great stories of having month-long drunks, high on peyote buttons, waking up with Mexican hookers.

What’s the proof of my fucked-up-ness? Stayed up all night downloading and smoking. Met another woman who broke my heart. I’m alone and I smoke and I eat and I’m fat and I’m inflexible and I’m sarcastic and I watch too much tv. I’m FuckedUp LiteTM

– filmmaker Alan Zweig, in Lovable

At turns funny, sad, hopeful, scary, poignant, comforting, and always courageous, this is a thoroughly beautiful film (my favourite in the Hot Docs festival, as a matter of fact). If you didn’t watch it when I toldja to then you suck.   Continue reading

Whut? I thought they said something about hot dogs

Okay, well, my internet access and available time has been rather more limited than I’d envisioned… Right now, I am happily ensconced in a charming room at the Madison Manor Boutique Hotel, listening to the drunks stumble outta the nextdoor bar after last call. This room is probably six times the size of my room at the Castlegate Inn, and more than six times as comfortable. I even have a little balcony with a table and a couple chairs where I would be sitting if a big thunderstorm hadn’t torn through town a few hours ago and put such a dent in our mild temperatures. (In between the two hotel stays, I was lucky to be able to stay with a friend in her beautifully appointed apartment in the eastern part of town. Thanks, Sharon!!)

Here are a few short (and sometimes judgemental) descriptions of some of the films I’ve seen so far at Hot Docs. I’ll put some more up as soon as I can… Continue reading

Rawkin’ the fest

Aside from the fact that Girls Rock! should be spelled Grrrlz Rawk! (and have you voted in the second round of Rawk the Puck yet?), the film is flawless. And it’s a blast!

It’s a look at a week-long Oregon “rock camp” for girls that features counsellors from bands like Sleater-Kinney and The Gossip (among many others, who generously donate their time to this fabulous cause). The girls–whose ages range from 8-18 and musical experience may be nil– form their own bands, write their own songs, and perform before a live audience. All in one week. And they’re surprisingly good! Of course, the camp is about more than just music–it’s a place where the mission is ‘to empower them with tools for self-reliance as a means to enhance and affirm positive self-esteem’. This is a very impressive debut by filmmakers Arne Johnson & Shane King. There is some cool work with graphics used to impart statistics and poll results about how young girls feel about themselves and how the world perceives them. And, naturally, it employs a cool soundtrack by the bands that form within the film and also the bands of the artists who are there to help as counsellors. I wish every girl could go to this camp. Shit, I wish I’d been able to go to this camp! (BTW, in the Q&A afterwards, one of the filmmakers directed the audience to BlüBird–a band that formed during the making of the film and which is still together.) Continue reading

7 Dumpsters, A Corpse, 4 Protagonists, and a Typeface


My interest in semiotics–or the study of signs and their meanings–is what drew me to Helvetica.

It is interesting to me to learn just what I am conveying (consciously or not) when I choose to use the typeface Helvetica. Which I’m doing right now, in case you didn’t realize (your fugbox may not be set up to display it that way but, hey, I’ve done my part)…

But there seems to be some disagreement about just what meaning is couched in Helvetica’s firm verticals, smooth curves, and the white spaces between them.

Many of the world’s top graphic designers are interviewed by American director Gary Hustwit on the subject and opinions about this particular sans serif typeface run the gamut from giddy love to sneering hate. Some suggest that its simplicity and clean lines suggest universality, unity, openness, and humanity while others turn up their noses and declare it utterly bereft of meaning because of that same simplicity and clean lines. Lots of opinions are expressed–some with considerable emotion–but none takes precedence. What is notable about this film to me is how fascinating, articulate, and witty these designers are. Their enthusiasm is palpable and I have to marvel at how entertaining this little film about a font is.

And I’ll bet that if you look up from your computer screen right now and gaze around you, you’ll find Helvetica all over the place.   Continue reading

What to watch on tv tonight

Alan Zweig

One of my favourite films of the festival is being aired on TVO’s “The View From Here” tonight at 10pm Eastern. I urge you to make time for it. Lovable is the third “first person” documentary director Alan Zweig has made. The first was Vinyl (about record collectors) and the second was I, Curmudgeon (about grouches)—neither of which I have seen but would love to.

Lovable is about the (sometimes difficult) search for love. On this subject, he interviews a whole slew of smart, funny, charming, interesting, single women who range in age from their twenties to their fifties and, as in the two aforementioned films, he addresses the question himself, too. I absolutely loved this film.

There is so much I want to say about Lovable—and the whole idea of “first person” documentary form itself—but I just have not had time to marshall all my thoughts and then write ‘em all down. But I wanted to make sure I posted this alert about tonight’s screening on TVO. And I will write more about the film later. (I also have a few other films I want to tell you about but, again, it may take a few days to find the time…)

I hope you will let me know what you think of Lovable!

It repeats on Sunday night at 10pm Eastern. And then next Wednesday & Sunday (same time), “The View From Here” is showing another film I enjoyed at the festival: Last Call At The Gladstone Hotel, which is about the fate of the fabled Gladstone Hotel (and the people who lived & worked there) in Toronto’s Parkdale neighbourhood.

→ originally published 2007-05-02