March 2012

Marionettes much more than mere muppets

But Ronnie Burkett's Penny Plain disappoints

March 23, 2012, OTTAWA — I did something I seldom do Wednesday night: went out to the theatre. To the National Arts Centre, no less, having spent a full day's wages on the tickets to take the chance — as the artist put it during a post-performance question and answer session — of being badly disappointed, but guaranteed a unique experience.

The show was Ronnie Burkett's seventh, Penny Plain, and it is one that will never show up on video. Burquett is the singular artist and craftman who has made his career as a marionette artist: he writes the plays, builds the puppets and performs every part.

Burkett's craft is an ancient one and, like other ancient arts — fairy stories, for instance, or poetry — one often perceived as belonging to that oft-maligned, low-status realm of "children's work" (never mind that there is nothing inherently inferior in art meant for children; that is an argument for another time). But Burkett's stories are not intended for children, nor is his love for the art and the craft of puppetry a childish one.

His latest show is not his best, but if you get the chance to see Penny Plain, you should. The technical achievements alone are worth the price of admission. My full review is behind the link: Housebound apocalypse less than the sum of its parts.

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Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris, reviewed

'Midnight in Paris' poster

March 14, 2012, OTTAWA — It seems like the American cinema comes up with a good time travel film of a certain kind once every decade or so — Peggy Sue Got Married and Pleasantville come immediately to mind, as does Groundhog Day, in its own way.

Not strictly-speaking science fiction, these movies are more like fables, presenting time travel as an arbitrary fact which allows their protagonists to learn some life lesson, sometimes leading to acceptance of what is, more often leading to some sort of important life change.

That grand old man of American cinema, Woody Allen, is the latest to offer us a nostalgia-steeped visit to the past, along with a cinematic love-letter to a city that is not New York (for a change), but Paris. Paris now and, especially, Paris then.

The Oscar-winning Midnight In Paris has become Allen's most financially successful movie. Though flawed, it is the work of a master-crasftmen that tells its slender tale with style and efficiency, generating laughs and dramatic tension despite its decidedly old-fashioned pacing.

Does it deserve its awards and critical acclaim as Woody Allen's return to form? Click here for my full review (yes, with spoilers), Twilight of an auteur.

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The Ballad of Saddam Hussein (and me)
      — Sung to the tune of Joe Hill

Sigmund Freud
Siggy says: "I give up. Vut do you zink it means?"

I dreamed I shot Saddam Hussein,
Left a flechettte in his eye.
But that arrow only slowed him down,
Saddam he didn't die.
Saddam he didn't die.

It started when he walked by
With his ageing Labrador.
That vicious mutt leaped for my throat,
But I blocked him with my arm.
I blocked him with my arm.

The humiliation of his dog,
Angered Saddam, you see.
Right then and there, like Daffy Duck,
He swore revenge on me.
He swore revenge on me.

So I shot him in the head,
The bullet pierced his brain.
Though he collapsed upon the floor,
The wound only made him mad,
It only made him mad.

When I saw that he was coming to,
I kicked him in the side.
He rolled away and called his dog —
The chase was on again.
The chase was on again.

While making plans to kill me off,
He rubbed his hands with glee.
'Twas not only me he wanted dead,
He had a list of enemies.
A list of enemies.

The last I saw, he stood in a line,
Protected by robots.
He was going to torch my house,
And things seemed pretty dire.
Things seemed pretty dire.

Heart-breakingly, I then woke up,
With no resolution found.
For all I know, Saddam's still there,
Plotting my demise.
Plotting my demise.

But that isn't why I will never be president (of anything).

Spread the word!