Sunday, 30 September 2012

Starvecrow on Street View

Today I decided to search for my birthplace.....on Google Street View. 

Since my origin was rural Ontario, I wasn't sure if this was possible, but it proved easy. Clicking down on some likely sideroads, I soon found the brick farmhouse where friends of my parents, who my Sister and I knew as "Uncle" Jack and "Aunt" Mabel, had farmed. Although we had lived in the area only a few years, we had returned frequently for a visit. I then zoomed down the road a mile or so and found the bridge over the stream where I had fished as a boy. OK, I thought, lets see if I can find the house I was born in, so I clicked down on the road at a good starting point, just east of Leaskdale. I did a quick 360 and there it was, unmistakable in its simplicity!  

A rectangular box with a door dead centre and two flanking windows, the symmetry only broken by a chimney on one end, the wood plank construction having neither the elegance or cachet of brick, stone or log. This is the house my parents called Starvecrow, because they joked even a crow would starve there. This is the house where I was born in the middle of a blizzard, with only my Grandfather to assist my Mother. My Father had gone for the doctor, but was unable to make it back in time because of the huge snowdrifts. 

A screen crop of the Street View image is above. Below is a detail from a watercolour presented to my parents and dated at what would have been around the time of my conception. It shows that a chimney has been removed and a vertical siding added to the present structure. The inscription reads "with best wishes to a happy couple, Edgar Pauliof, July 3 / 46".

Thank you Google.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Pleasures of the Harbour - Phil Ochs

Pleasures of the Harbour was an album released in 1967, which I remember hearing back then, but only became reacquainted with recently. The artist is Phil Ochs, a folk singer of that era, who somewhat rivalled Dylan as a composer and performer of topical protest songs. And like Dylan he began at a certain point to create music of a more personal and experimental nature. Pleasures of the Harbour, although having protest songs on it, also had two lengthy songs (eight minutes plus), Pleasures of the Harbour and The Crucifixion, of a completely different direction from Ochs previous music.

Both songs, in my opinion, have been severely damaged by overproduction, in one a swelling orchestral score, in the other an electronic soundtrack. Nevertheless, both songs are powerful, moving, unique. Even though I had not heard them for over forty years, they immediately leapt into my memory and took me to the same beautiful and haunted place they had 45 years before.

Ochs voice is unique, a sparse, earthy, noble and deeply human sound, the lyrics are poetry, the cadenced melodies unfold in hypnotic progression.

There are a number of shorter live versions of these songs on youtube, and although not ideal, I find them better than the original studio versions.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Take Shelter

Hollywood is tripping over itself to do vampires, zombies, superheroes, remakes of foreign films, reissues in 3D. Then these little films like Take Shelter come along and make me believe in the magic of film again. Any film that really surprises me, that keeps me guessing, that sticks in my mind for days after to be digested, gets my vote.

I love quirky little films by unknown directors with unknown actors. Well, unknown actors at the time, Michael Shannon and Jessica Chastain have since achieved enviable reputations.

Good films have a unique flavour, a mood, like a dream, that persists in the memory. A singular flavour created by the actors faces, the story, the music, the film making style. Cliched films have no residue because there is nothing new, but a good film creates its own mood unlike any other.

This film, somewhat of a harrowing experience, concerns a very ordinary man living a very ordinary life who begins to realize that something deep and ominous and unknown is beginning to form in his world and no one else can sense it.

The ending stands as the most powerful and perfectly realized two minutes of film-making I can remember. And the musical score is brilliant and perfectly suited to the film.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Black and White For Sure

Saw these cormorants down on the breakwater, Sunnyside, Toronto. Interesting how they all line up, evenly spaced (there were more, but this is all my lens would include). Then this swan swims by, an interesting contrast. I had no hesitation in making this a black and white photo !