Culture & Conversation

2014: an arts odyssey

Clockwise from top left: Venus in Fur, Godzilla, Nabucco, Chapman Brothers

Clockwise from top left: Venus in Fur, Godzilla, Nabucco, Chapman Brothers

So it’s farewell to another year, and Rover is seeing in the New Year with a look back at some of the cultural highlights of 2014. We’ve chosen five from each category, each with a line or two from the original review. No doubt there are some glaring omissions which we invite you to make good in the comments section below.

And so, in no particular order (either of chronology or merit), here are some of the most memorable artistic events of the last twelve months. Click on the titles to link to the original reviews.

Film

Mommy:   What the plethora of reviews did not prepare me for was the tightly wound violence of the piece. From the get-go, this movie is a ticking bomb.

The Great Beauty   Magical, delirious, frenetic, Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty is a film which demands to be seen on the big screen. It will grab hold of you, entrance you and, without you realizing it, transform you in a deep and unspeakable way.

beauty

Tony Servillo in The Great Beauty

Godzilla   That Edwards has managed to create such visual grace notes amidst the obligatory but satisfying mayhem suggests he’s effectively tamed the mightiest beast of all, namely the film’s $160 million budget.

Gone Girl   Gone Girl manipulates clichés expertly, then morphs into a full-blown crime thriller. A seamless transition, remarkably exciting.

Her   Through this fantasy, Spike Jonze is able to create a world so alluring and seductive that we, as the audience, are drawn in to the story of Theodore Twombly (Joaquin Phoenix) as he meets and falls in love with his new operating system, Samantha (Scarlett Johansson).

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Theatre

The Odyssey  In this new rendition by Geordie Productions, adapted by Peter Smith, Odysseus is vulnerable, noble and touching. Quincy Armorer made his plight and voyage something with which everyone could identify. 

Top Girls   A word about silences: Amidst the dense and clever barrage of dialogue, two of the best moments are the silences exhibited by each of the sisters after a heated argument between them as they collect their thoughts alone with nary an audience peep.

Venus in Fur   The storm raging outside the fictional theatre is an enjoyably campy clue that, cell phones and modern hang-ups aside, we’re in a world of Gothic artifice where fantasy role-play might well lead to a bloody, Hammer Horror-style reckoning. 

Unseamly  Her skirt is terribly short but otherwise there’s nothing about Malina (as played by Arlen Aguayo Stewart) to suggest she’s a scheming seductress bent on destroying her ex-lover, a charismatic corporate genius. Such is the power of Oren Safdie’s provocative new play Unseamly that you don’t know what or whom to believe.

Mies Julie  The breakdown of class race and gender is inexorable and beautifully realised by the actors who inhabit the stage like the physically lithe and beautiful animals of the lush country they inhabit.

A scene from Mies Julie

A scene from Mies Julie

Books

All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews  Led by her trademark combination of smooth prose and quirky wit, the reader will soon understand – definitely with elation – that Toews has created a whole new book, an ambitious and beautifully crafted masterpiece of compassion, storytelling, and love.

US Conductors by Sean Michaels  In Us Conductors, Michaels takes the life of Russian scientist and theremin inventor Lev Sergeyevich Termen as his blueprint, and skillfully building him up to near epic proportions, invents a whole new man who takes on a life of his own.

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill  Ensconced in a beautifully rendered version of Montreal in all its grit and glamour, The Girl Who Was Saturday Night revisits familiar territory (it’s set across the street from Lullabies), but pushes in new directions as the beguiling young protagonist tries to overcome the odds stacked against her.

Heather O'Neill Photo by Kate Hutchinson

Heather O’Neill
Photo by Kate Hutchinson

My October by Clair Holden Rothman  Let’s just get this out of the way: this is one of the most politically audacious novels I have ever read. Claire Holden Rothman crawls under rugs most of us in this province have left untouched, and the dust she stirs up is impressive.

Portrait of a Scandal : The Abortion Trial of Robert Notman by Elaine Kalman Naves  Sex is always a good sell, but there were other issues at stake that made this story emblematic of the 1870s, namely race. What alarmed newspapers like the Montreal Gazette was the spectre of a declining birthrate among white English-speaking middle-class Protestants.

 

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Visual Arts

The Chapman Brothers at DHC/Art   Gallery viewers share the space with mannequin observers draped in Ku Klux Klan robes…As you stand with the Klan and gaze into the vitrines, one sees that among the piles of zombie Nazis contorting in hell are crucified Ronald McDonalds.

So, what’s going on here?

 

Transpose at Arsenal Contemporary Art   In many ways then, the subjects in the photos are people who have made themselves into works of art. Constructing their lives their ways, rather than fitting into the path society, culture or even biology has set for them. 

Transpose at the Arsenal

Transpose at the Arsenal

Destinies : Small Format at the Han Art Gallery   The portraits are deceptive on many levels. They seem to be copies of old photographs of famous people as children: Elvis, Rosa Parks, JFK, Andy Warhol, James Joyce, among many others. But if you compare the actual photos, you can see what Boudreault has added. The eyes, often guarded or shaded in the originals, spring to life on the gallery walls.

Micropolitiques at Maison des arts de Laval   At the margins are armed green Lego soldiers and in the centre of the garden lying face down is a solitary minifigure with a small, red, paint-smeared hole drilled into its back.

C41 at Musee d’art Contemporain   As part of this year’s Biennale internationale d’art numérique (BIAN), Montréal is fortunate to receive the audio-visual work of award-winning Japanese minimalist artist, Ryoji Ikeda. His exhibition C4I…features the exactness and purity of the digital aesthetic that we’ve come to expect from the artist, yet also integrates very real-world elements, both in auditory and visual contexts. 

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Music

Bass Drum of Death   Bass Drum of Death’s slogan is “Bass Drum of Death Hates You” – perhaps as a play on Nobunny’s “Nobunny loves you” – and in any case, that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Punk music is essentially music of love. 

Juliette Greco   The lady is now 86 and still has the sultry pipes that made her famous…Accompanied by her husband, Gerard Jouanest, on the piano, and an accordionist, she sang Jacques Brel songs for one hour, never sitting, never halting for water, all the while matching her deep velvety voice with her trademark hand movements.

Juliette Greco

Juliette Greco

VivaVoce   Four vocal ranges (three each of soprano, alto, tenor and bass) polyphonically weave through and around each other, like different coloured snakes, sinuously entwined but distinct. The passages of pure harmony (also exquisitely executed) are all the more thrilling in contrast.

Jesus Christ Superband    The show opens with Jesus appearing to his disciples after a 17-year absence…Groupie-type disciples gather, eager for him to resurrect his super band to counter the depression of the times: Romans with watchtowers everywhere, pot holes galore, and the price of olives is out of sight.

Nabucco   The Opéra de Montréal Chorus once again demonstrated their ample capacity to handle chorus-heavy Verdi’s vocal demands, and the almost equally important requirement of moving around stage with purpose, whether en masse, in groups or singly. Their rendition of Nabuccos big hit, popularly known as the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves, was unquestionably a highlight of the performance. 

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Thanks to the writers of the reviews from which these extracts were taken. And Happy New Year to all our readers and contributors!


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