Tag: Italy

Day 987: Wolfgang Mozart’s Love Of Poop

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The deeper I claw through the muck-pit of history, the more perverse and bizarre clumps of trivia get crammed beneath my fingernails. And just when I think I’ve scraped the scabby floorboards of curiosity, I stumble across the intensive breadth of study that academics have placed on Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s apparent obsession with poop.

I’m not judging, mind you; it’s not like Mozart was passing off his digested lunch as foie gras at cocktail parties, and he certainly never pooped in a janitor’s mop bucket or anything – he simply had a penchant for scatological humor, that’s all. And don’t we all? Isn’t there an inherent absurdity in the most gastronomically magnificent entrée becoming the same wretched stink-pile you would have made had you snarfed a box of Pop Tarts? Just as a well-timed emission of flatulence can crumble even the most stoic of facades, every soul on the planet can share in a clever poop joke.

Not according to some historians and psychologists though; it’s not acceptable to assume that Mozart simply hit a few grounders for his fellow aficionados of the low-brow. No, a man who has crafted some of the greatest melodies in the history of sound must also possess a ribald wit and sophisticated gauge of appropriate merriment, right?

Guess again.

I mean come on - he was played by Otter from Animal House.

I mean come on – he was played by Otter from Animal House.

What some have interpreted as a slight defecatory obsession on Mozart’s part has been the subject of much debate and even some concealment by historians and scholars. In 1798, when a batch of his letters were posthumously sent to publishers Breitkopf & Härtel for a biography they were compiling, his wife Constanze expressed in her accompanying letter that while Mozart’s letters to his cousin were chock full of wit and wackiness, perhaps they should be somewhat downplayed in the finished book. You know – focus more on the music and less on the turd-gags. Read more…

Day 969: Pound-For-Pound Performances

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If anyone asks, I’m currently beefing up for the lead role in the upcoming biopic about Orson Welles’ final days. I haven’t been cast yet, and to my knowledge no such movie exists, but when Hollywood finally comes around to making it, I’ll be ready. So yes, I will have that second bag of deep-fried Oreos.

Screen actors – and perhaps stage actors as well, but that information is trickier to find – must occasionally alter their physical weight to slip into a part. Sure, they can cheat like Chris Evans in Captain America, whose 220-pound bulk was deflated to a scrawny pre-Atlas sand-faced wimp through the magic of CGI, but outside of the superhero genre, you’re not likely to see that. These self-abusatory body-wallops are a good reminder that some of the faces speckled across movie screens are actual artists who are willing to endure physical torture for their craft.

In tracking down some of the wonkier stories for this piece, I tried to uncover an actress who has made a similar transformation, but there aren’t many. Renée Zellweger snarfed back some pastries to gain twenty pounds for Bridget Jones’ Diary, but her final appearance was hardly extreme. I’m more impressed with Anne Hathaway’s 25-pound drop for Les Miserables, much of which occurred throughout the filming process. If anyone knows of any other actresses who pulled off feats like these, please tell me in the comments section. It’s quite the sausage-fest on this page.

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Considered to be one of the greatest actors of the last 50 years, Robert De Niro has yet to win an Academy Award since 1981. While I’ll withhold judgment on some of the scripts he has chosen in the last 20 years (I still can’t scrub The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle from the part of my brain upon which it splattered back in 2000), watching him perform usually justifies the cost of admission. If you have somehow deprived yourself of seeing 1980’s Raging Bull (for which he won his most recent Oscar), then you must immediately stop calling yourself a film fan until you do so – particularly if you have seen even one Tyler Perry movie. Read more…

Day 933: The Thin Red Line Of Being An Offensive Jerk

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As a writer whose surrounding landscape is the unfiltered cessbucket frontier of the internet, I don’t spend much time worrying about offending my audience. Conversely, as a Canadian awash in synaptic decorum and apologetic genetics (or, apologenetics as we call them here), I feel compelled from the meaty core of my innards to fight the potentially offensive word choices that might trickle untowardly from my fingertips. This is why I don’t refer to my friends as my ‘niggaz’, why I reserve the word ‘Oriental’ to describe an avenue in the game Monopoly and not a collective of people, and why I won’t likely pen a kilograph on the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The issue has arisen – both here in this compositional marathon as well as in “real” life – regarding the appropriate label for that group of peoples whose presence in this part of the world predates that of us whiteys. We grew up calling them Indians – a game of Cowboys ‘n Indigenous Peoples doesn’t sound nearly as fun.

It seems as though every few years I am told that the politically appropriate appellation I’ve been using is incorrect. With only 68 remaining opportunities to explore the weird wide world in this project, I think it’s time I put this issue to rest.

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We all know Chris Columbus plopped his feet down on Antilles soil believing he had found the fast-track to India. His bewildered hosts were dubbed ‘Indians’ as a logical consequence, though it didn’t take long for Chris to figure out his mistake. The misnomer stuck, however. The Caribbean islands were dubbed the West Indies, and every explorer who nudged their hull against the east coast called the locals ‘Indians’. It was easier to adopt and embrace the mistake than come up with a new word, I guess. Read more…

Day 925: The Titanic’s First Cinematic Splash

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Mention the 1997 James Cameron film Titanic to someone and you’re bound to get one of these responses:

“What an overpriced piece of CGI crap!”

“I loved that movie!”

“Not just a great film, but that Celine Dion song is the best!” (these are the people with whom I won’t spend a lot of my free time.)

There’s no question that Cameron’s movie – despite its mostly unnecessary formulaic love story – best captures the realism of the mighty liner’s demise. Other movies have focused on various passengers and dynamics aboard the RMS Titanic: The Unsinkable Molly Brown (1964) is a musical about the American socialite, Titanic (1953) is a movie filled with historical inaccuracies – also with a fictitious love story crammed into its frames, and A Night To Remember (1958) was a British film praised for its attention to detail.

But the first movie about the Titanic to hit the silver screen? We’ll have to venture deep into the realm of silent cinema, years before the advent of talkies and even years before the first World War. The first movie to capture the horrors of that fateful April night in the cold claws of the North Atlantic was called Saved From The Titanic. It was released on May 14, 1912. Twenty-nine days after the ship sank.

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The story of this lost classic begins and ends with the beautiful and talented Dorothy Gibson, a singer, dancer, Broadway performer and one of the first ladies of silent cinema to earn top billing as a genuine star. She was a natural comedic actress, working briefly at Lubin Studios but getting her big break with the American branch of Éclair Studios, which was based out of Paris. In the early spring of 1912, Dorothy took a six-week holiday with her mother in Italy. She was booked to sail home aboard – what else? – the Titanic.

Dorothy and her mother – both of whom had been up late playing bridge – were awake when the Titanic became intimate with that iceberg (or whatever actually happened – I’ve been over the conspiracy theories already). Along with the other bridge players they raced to lifeboat #7, which was the first to be lowered into the water at 12:40am, one hour after the collision. For almost six hours Dorothy Gibson bobbed through the waves, watching the unsinkable vessel’s final descent into the shadowy brine and listening to the desperate and doomed souls, fighting fruitlessly against hypothermia and/or drowning. Dorothy’s mind slipped off its axis; she was heard muttering “I’ll never ride in my little grey car again” over and over.

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Jules Brulatour, a successful movie producer with Éclair and (coincidentally?) Dorothy’s lover, heard of the disaster and immediately dispatched a fleet of tugboats dotted with cameramen to New York to capture the return to port of the RMS Carpathia, the ship which had rescued a heap of Titanic survivors. He stitched together his footage along with a few shots of the Titanic’s official launch, some old clips of Captain Edward Smith aboard the RMS Olympic, and some stock footage of icebergs. The newsreel was rocketed around the country in less than a week. People were buying tickets to movie houses just to see the footage.

This gave Jules an idea – why not throw together an actual film of the disaster? After all, he had the Carpathia footage, he had a top-notch studio at his disposal in Fort Lee, New Jersey (the pre-Hollywood Hollywood), and he also had a girlfriend who had actually been there, and who could provide details that no other screenwriter could possess. Whether Dorothy was persuaded to participate in the picture out of tribute to the lost souls who perished that night or because it would be a huge career boost, we’ll never really know.

The term 'Oscar Bait' had not yet been invented.

The term ‘Oscar Bait’ had not yet been invented.

The production was filmed at Éclair Studios and also aboard an abandoned transport vessel in New York Harbor. It took only a week to shoot, and the studio insisted on racing through the editing and processing stages so the film could land in theaters as quickly as possible. This was before the era of the feature film, so the entirety of Saved From The Titanic fit onto a single reel – it was only ten minutes long.

Dorothy Gibson starred as “Miss Dorothy”, a fictionalized version of herself. Miss Dorothy is shown arriving aboard the Carpathia and meeting her mother, father and fiancé. She tells the story of the sinking in flashback, after which the mother pleads with her fiancé to quit the US Navy, as the sea is simply too dangerous. The fiancé asserts his patriotism and the film fades to black. The lesson here is yes, people died and it was a tragedy… but AMERICA!

Kind of brings a tear, don’t it?

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Dorothy, who was said to have burst into tears several times throughout the film’s production, added to the realism by donning the same dress and overcoat she’d been wearing on the night of her rescue. I’m no psychologist, but it seems that reliving an unfathomable tragedy immediately after having experienced it – even wearing the same clothes – is not an advisable route to mental recovery. Critics picked up on the look of shock and devastation on Dorothy’s face throughout the movie. She probably didn’t have to do much actual acting.

The movie was released worldwide on May 14, 1912, less than a month after the events that inspired it. Motion Picture World praised the film and in particular the braveness of Dorothy’s performance. Éclair made a point of emphasizing the actress’s actual participation in the disaster, and promoted the authenticity her involvement had provided. The New York Dramatic Mirror was less kind with their review, finding it “revolting” that Éclair – and Dorothy herself – would capitalize on the worst maritime disaster in history.

This sounds about right. Had there been a 9/11 movie released within a month of the atrocities of 2001, most of us would have been disgusted, but ticket sales would have nevertheless been through the roof.

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Unfortunately, a 1914 fire at Éclair Studios destroyed the only known prints of Saved From The Titanic. All that remains are a handful of production stills and the movie’s dubious legacy of questionable taste. For Dorothy, making the film plummeted her fragile sanity into a frothing crisis. She retired from movies immediately after the film’s release, and despite being neck and neck with Mary Pickford as one of the two highest-paid actresses on the planet, she never made another movie again. She returned to stage work, and eventually moved to Paris, then to Italy, where she became an alleged intelligence operative and Nazi sympathizer.

Éclair eventually shifted their focus from movie-making to camera-making (the makers of the Woodstock film used Éclair cameras), but they found their curious niche in cinematic legend with this film. Was it a good movie? No one who has seen it is alive to say. Was it in poor taste? Perhaps. But at least it didn’t feature that deplorable Celine Dion tune. So that’s something.

Day 890: Put Your Head On My Shoulder, Neck, And Everything Else

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In honor of our species’ unending quest to concoct our own mythical creatures from the depths of our creativity and our most depraved scientific know-how, I give you the head transplant. I’m not referring to the overplayed movie trope in which Jamie Lee Curtis swaps minds with Lindsay Lohan in an effort to see if one another’s bodies could handle their respective addictions to poop-inducing yogurt and cocaine, but rather the physical exchange of crania.

It has happened. Not with humans – you didn’t miss out on some freakish sci-fi tale of weirdness in the news, but our able-handed doctors have performed some rather cunning re-assignments among the brain enclosures of the animal kingdom. Some believe it’s only a matter of time before we get around to a human swap.

We have the technology. Sort of. There isn’t a doctor alive who can reattach a severed spinal cord; full and complete functionality is not at play here. But some variant of this could happen within our lifetime. We just need the right alignment of desperate patients, extreme circumstance and a doctor who has nothing to lose. Sounds like a movie treatment if nothing else.

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American physiologist Charles Claude Guthrie’s work on vascular surgery with the Frenchman Alexis Carrel should have earned the guy a Nobel Prize. But Carrel won the prize by himself, likely because the weird experiments Guthrie was into probably freaked out the Prize committee. In 1908, Guthrie became the first to graft one dog’s head onto the neck of another, creating a two-headed beast. Unfortunately, too much time had occurred between the decapitation of the second dog and the restoration of circulation. It wasn’t a lively second head, but it was technically alive. Read more…

Day 859: The Deliciously Dandy Fashion Zing Of The Macaroni

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As soon as I am catapulted to the pinnacle of my fame (which should be any day now I’m sure), I fear that the omnipresent gaggle of “star analysts”, “celeb-watchers” and “yammering space-fillers” will be particularly cruel when they analyze my sense of style. I am intentionally one of the most tedious dressers I know, opting for a rotating selection of blue jeans, grey socks and non-descript, logo-less T-shirts. I dress for comfort and convenience, with a rickety line in the sand that keeps me clear of anything stained or torn. Usually.

I can appreciate nice-looking fashion, to a point. I simply have no desire to strain the limits of my bank account to impress others, nor am I a fit for the Goodwill-ultra-value hipster wear. Years of sampling bacon and beer (for research, of course) has led to a modest expansion of my mid-section, so when I dress in an antiquated cardigan and form-fitting pant-wear I look less stylish and more like I should be selling used office furniture from the back of a van.

Perhaps I should expand my horizons and seek out a new look. My wife – who always looks better than me, though I blame nature for that one – has expressed a handsome disdain for my monotonous frockery, and she applauds fiercely when I deign to sport something with a subtle whiff of snazz when we go somewhere nice. It might be time for a drastic leap into the world of the macaroni.

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Before there were metrosexuals, before flamboyance became a cocktail for the masses, there was the macaroni. These were young men, hungry to wrap their tendrils around the extremities of weirdness with no shame about flaunting it all to the public. Years ago (and I relish the opportunity to dip back into when this project was in the double-digits) I wrote of the Grand Tour, a rite of passage among northern European men in the 18th century. These men would venture into the cradle of art and culture – through Spain, Italy, Greece, and faraway locales that most Englishmen would never see. This is where it all began. Read more…

Day 836: When Wars Simply Won’t End

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I don’t like to get overtly political on this site, but I’m going to roll the dice and potentially alienate some of my audience by taking a firm stand: war, for the most part, is not good. What’s worse is a war that doesn’t end when it’s supposed to. You know the deal – people sign papers, citizens throw parades, social studies textbooks get updated and B.J. spells out “GOODBYE” in rocks for Hawkeye to see as he’s flying away. Wars end.

Except when they don’t. Every so often there’s a logistical glitch, a “diplomatic irregularity” that causes two sides of a conflict to skip out on writing the war’s final chapter. Sometimes the paperwork just doesn’t seem necessary – the fighting ends, the troops go home and have little troop-babies, and the historical record simply reflects the moment when hostilities ceased as the end of the war. But paperwork does need to happen. A declaration of war gets filed, and a declaration of peace should follow suit.

This is how World War I and World War II are still – technically speaking – underway. This is how our official records tell us that one war lasted for over 2000 years before finally being settled. This is the weird side of peace.

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The Punic Wars were a trio of individual wars fought between Rome and Carthage – currently a suburb of Tunis in Tunisia. These were the two big muscle-flexers of the ancient world and they were well matched. Carthage had a kick-ass navy that Rome couldn’t possibly fend off, but Rome had the most powerful army on the planet. The two empires started fighting in 264 BC, and it was fierce. The third Punic War wrapped up when Carthage was burned to the ground in 146 BC.

So… Rome won? Read more…

Day 815: Warriors Of Virtue

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While the bulk of our news sources have us scouring the globe for a missing plane, watching for the next drunken act of buffoonery by Toronto’s mayor or collectively pretending that Kim & Kanye’s pampered offspring has any relevance to anything, the mainstream western media has skipped a few stories. Perhaps not ‘skipped’, but ‘demoted’ beneath the whodunit-appeal of the Malaysian aircraft and the partisan theatrics in local and national politics. For example, did you know that 89% of the population of Veneto, the Italian province which includes the seductive city of Venice, voted to secede from Italy last week?

I will begrudgingly admit that my own ignorance is self-imposed. I plow through news-hungry waves, gobbling up current events stories like they were crab legs and bacon strips at the MGM Grand buffet. Then, once I find myself teetering upon the brink of abandoning all hope for humanity, I stop. I insulate myself with escapist entertainment and blissfully allow the world to shimmy and quiver on its own, on the other side of my heavy black curtains.

This is how I missed the extraordinary tale of Aitzaz Hasan. Here’s a kid who, at the age of fourteen years old exhibited a greater demonstration of pure cajones than everyone I knew at fourteen combined. It sickens me (with a slightly hypocritical acceptance of my own cross-cultural ignorance) that so many people are willing to pay hundreds of dollars to watch an unrepentant douche like Justin Bieber in concert, yet they miss out completely when someone like Aitzaz makes the news.

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Aitzaz Hasan was in the ninth grade, fifteen years old. He was a good student, perpetually busy and with no shortage of friends. His home was the Hangu District in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan, where a number of Shiites live, and where the local government has come under fire for attempting to negotiate peacefully with Taliban militants. One such militant, a fetid splotch of sub-human filth who had aligned himself with the extremist Sunni group known as Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, crossed paths with Aitzaz on the morning of January 6, 2014.

(Perhaps this is what sours me on reading the news – most news sources will refrain from referring to people like this as ‘sub-human filth’, even when it applies.) Read more…

Day 808: Gnomes Akimbo

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Somehow I have resisted the overwhelming urge to adorn my lawn with kitschy trinkets and cutesy personalization. I prefer to express my individuality with my neighbors via the curious stench of empty liquor bottles and spring-thaw dog poo that meanders with the wind around my block. If someone opted to drop a plastic flamingo, a giant painted ladybug rock or a foot-high windmill replica into my possession as a gift, I would not display it in my yard.

I wouldn’t worry about offending that someone either – obviously if they gave me a gift like that they don’t know me at all.

But I don’t judge. Some people like to scatter tchotchkes around their yard like arbitrary sprinkles on a big green donut. That’s their thing, and as long as they don’t overdo it, I won’t criticize. Hell, it’s probably an effective way of giving people directions (“Turn right at the gas station, left at the tree shaped like two copulating ferrets, and mine is the brick house on the left with the sexy flower goddess out front.”).

So simple! And so disturbing.

So simple! And so disturbing.

But what really gets me is the gnomes.

Garden gnomes. They’re mythical creatures, I get it. But you don’t see a lot of homes with a minotaur or a three-testicled bat-wing unicorn out front (hey, I make up my own myths. So what?). The gnome phenomenon is no more offensive or weird than the pink plastic flamingo displays, except that they have inspired a bizarre wave of deviance among those who feel the lawn statuettes should be “liberated” in order to grant them the freedom that their mythical equivalents would treasure. Read more…