Star readers shine at Word on the Street, Bright Star and the Dalai Lama
I've been lucky enough to have been on a panel at the Toronto Star's tent at the Word on the Street festival before, however yesterday was something special. The crowd was bigger and questions were great. No soft peddling. The audience told us what we're not covering adequately. That readers want more issue journalism during election campaigns came through loud and clear to my group: Ian Urquhart, editorial page editor, National Editor Tim Harper and me. Our session, gracefully moderated by the Star's Geoff Pevere, delved into Canada-U.S. relations and the differences/similarities between the two systems. Readers (and I assume we had a lot of Star readers, if not, please subscribe because you're my kind of reader) commented on the genesis of 9/11 (The massive 9/11 Commission Report provides some interesting reading) conservative talk show radio including Rush Limbaugh and, of course, medical care north and south of the border, or lack thereof. And those topics were for starters.
I carried my little Sureshot so I could take photographs for PoliticalDecoder but, became so lost in the discussion, I left it in my pocket. Smart. Next time.
It's often hard for journalists to judge how readers respond to our work because so much of it is done online these days with anonymous commentary. I'm not against that, although I think an opinion worth having deserves a name, but I'm frustrated with the breakdown of a comment feature that seems increasingly dominated by (mainly) Conservative and Liberal war room/cap-P-Partisans to whom the individual story means nothing. They sit in basements growing their toenails and twiddling their little typing fingers ready to hit the keyboards for the party line. (I'm kidding, the war rooms aren't underground.) Then, there's a smaller percentage of people who aren't Partisans but have their minds made up on an issue beforehad and use the story to get their views across. Now that's fine, although they too often attribute statements or facts to the story that aren't there. We invite comment and I applaud readers with opinions who take the time to write to us. (I'd still like names.) But my favorite comments come from readers who clearly have read the story involved and react - negatively or positively - to the actual contents. These readers appear to compose a very small percentage of the online commentators and you can pick out their offerings, just as you can the Liberal or Conservative professionals. When I have time to read comments on mine and other stories, theirs are most interesting because I know the story has added something to the debate. Whether they agree or not is secondary.
My hearty thanks to all the people who came to our panel (I could describe some of the crowd, but next time I'll bring my camera) and assure them we took their comments and suggestions seriously. The only thing I regret yesterday was Tim didn't get a chance to talk more about covering the Obama presidential election campaign. Last year, he wrote about one meaty piece about being on the road with Obama - "too much bad coffee and an unhealthy dependence on MapQuest" - that had me on the floor laughing. I've walked in Tim's shoes as Washington bureau chief and it was the best piece I've ever read. Terrific, so take the time to read it now if you can. I could have brought it up yesterday on the panel but then all the questions would have gone to Tim, leaving nothing for Ian amnd me. I know, I'm such a noble soul. Again, just kidding. Sorta.
From what I hear, our other panels were a hit as well.
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Bright Star, Dark Hole: In the I'm-no-critic-but I saw Bright Star on the weekend, on the recommendation of Star movie critic Peter Howell, who has evolved into one of the best critics anywhere. (Peter, I like you even more than Anthony Lane.) Yesterday, as he finished his Word on the Street panel I hustled over to him to insist he owes me a Saturday night movie of my choice. Peter was dead right when he said Campion strived for "everydayness" in his Howell review, but then went on to give the flick 3 stars. Well, she got her everydayness, and the next and the next . . . Bleeeccccccchhhhhhhhh.
It was awful. I rate Campion's The Piano among my favorite films of all time, so I had high expectations. Bad script, dull, dull acting, great cinematography. I should have been forewarned last week by her comment to Howell and another piece iby Rick Groen - The Power of her Restraint - in which she talked about having to strip her actors down to the basics.
“For example, we didn't rehearse this in the normal way. I didn't like the idea of doing a big period-piece bio, so we were already working against the fact that we had costumes on. It was quite a challenge for some members of the cast to feel that they didn't have to present a character, but just to slip into that quiet space. It was uncomfortable for them. They were getting grumpy. I'd see them doing stuff, I could see the gears turning, and I'd look at it and think, ‘I'm so not interested in what you're doing. Can you stop? Can you just stop ?' They were scared at times, but it was weirdly inside me that I just couldn't react to anything fake. ‘When you stop acting,' I said, ‘I'll look.' It's such a relief when screen actors don't act.”
Thought, I'll wager the stuff they were doing was thinking. Without it, the characters came across as dumb as spoons.
The relationship between Fannie Brawne and John Keats had to be passionate and compelling for their immortal love affair to carry the movie.
I should note the animal who played the Brawne family cat was terrific. When he/she played with the pages of a slim book of poetry, you totally forgot this was an actor cat. Kudos there, and let's keep it in mind at award time.
Even though there were loud yawns throughout, people sat at the end and listened to the dull Keats character read a very long poem as the credits rolled. I don't remember the name because my mind was screaming to get out but I was too polite to push my way down the row. (I know my friend would have died of embarrassment.) But it was like being in church as a child; somebody farts, keeps farting even, and everybody smells it but sits respectfully, without expression, as if nothing has happened, waiting for to be dismissed at the end of the service. Thast's how the crowd reacted Saturday night, as if walking out would have shown them to have been incapable of understanding the genius of Keats. They sat as if nobody had farted.
But read Peter's review to make up your mind. As I said: I'm no critic.
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You can never be too careful. The Stephen Harper government has given the Dalai Lama a wide berth during his trip to Canada this week. Even the Governor-General cancelled a meeting with the Tibetan spiritual leader upon whom Harper bestowed honorary Canadian citizenship a few years ago.
Thoughts are contagious. Anybody that calm obviously must have something up his sleeve, other than freedom for Tibet. Could the Dalai Lama have something to do with that 2 minute 17 (or so) second blackout on FlashForward?
I know, China would frown. But jeez. What's next? Book-burning? I've heard approved book lists will be ready for circulation in Canada next spring. Joke.