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Wolfville, Nova Scotia
Canada

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Mermaid Avenue

Chris Campbell


Ain't nobody that can sing like me
Way over yonder in the minor key

One of my favourite singer / songwriters is Billy Bragg who is not afraid to combine music and politics together. He's able to mix the personal and the political in an entertaining way that also enables change. I'd heard a few of his recordings of some Woody Guthrie songs, but I didn't know the story until I saw the documentary about the recording of Mermaid Avenue, Man in the Sand. The film follows Billy Bragg as he works with Woody Guthrie's daughter Nora, who gave Bragg access to the huge library of unrecorded Guthrie songs to record some for the first time. Bragg brought the band Wilco to the project to collaborate with and the film about the project hints at some tension between them, but the music transcends that. The documentary is narrated by Nora Guthrie and she tells the story of her father as we see Bragg collaborating with the members of Wilco as well as Natalie Merchant in adding music to the lyrics that Woody wrote. It's fascinating to watch the process and to see Bragg with Nora as they talk about the man and his music. It's a great documentary that combines music, history and people together.
My favourite song from the project is She Came Along to Me (with the acoustic version from Live at the Barbican my preferred recording), closely followed by Birds and Ships, featuring Natalie Merchant's vocals. Overall the recordings are solid but some of them feel a bit overproduced. I also purchased some Billy Bragg bootlegs with Guthrie songs and I prefer the live versions. Maybe the live performances fit in better with Guthrie's lyrics or it's just hearing a great performance live, but the different versions are fascinating (as well as Billy's banter between the songs). With the recordings and the film, I'm realizing what a huge influence Woody Guthrie has had on folk and popular American music.

Breakfast on Pluto

Chris Campbell

Breakfast on Pluto
What matters is the journey.

Cillian Murphy is wonderful as Patrick "Kitten" Braden in Neil Jordan's latest film, Breakfast on Pluto. It's based on a novel by Patrick McCabe (who cowrote the screenplay with Jordan) and there is a wonderful novelistic tone to the film which is divided up with handwritten chapter titles. The story is told from Kitten's point of view which gives the events a relentlessly positive tone, no matter how horrible things become. Set in Ireland and London in the 70s as Kitten the transvestite looks for his mother against a landscape of political conflict and violence. Gorgeously shot by Declan Quinn, it manages to mirror the spirit of the main character with perfectly composed and lit frames.
While the film is over 2 hours long, I was surprised how quickly the time passed. Jordan lovingly fills the film with music of the time and frames the entire story with two Robins who provide some narration via subtitles. The subtitled birds kick off the magical tone which functions like an Irish "Candide" where Kitten's spirit overcomes all obstacles. It's the type of film that make you appreciate seeing a team of people all working at the top of their game. I loved it from start to finish and will hopefully be able to see it again in a theatre.

It's All Gone Pete Tong

Chris Campbell

It's All Gone Pete TongThe music mockumentary is a difficult form due to some outstanding films that established the genre. It's All Gone Pete Tong starts off as an over-the-top mockumentary about a DJ that has many funny bits in the opening act, but they start to seem a bit routine. But then the film begins to shift tone as our hero, Frankie Wilde, begins to lose his hearing. The performance by Paul Kaye is amazing and he manages to go from slapstick to serious as the film progresses. His manager, played by Mike Wilmot as a sleazy self-absorbed show business-type perpetually on the verge of a heart attack serves as Frankie's connection to the world. Things start to fall apart for Frankie and his manager can't make any more excuses as the world goes silent for the DJ.
Up to this point I was a bit confused by the shift in tone, but one scene with the appearance of Beatriz Batarda as a lip-reading teacher, completely won me over. The film is visually and sonically gorgeous and the critical scene where Frankie learns to lip read is an amazing use of sound and visuals. The lighter tone of the earlier scenes didn't prepare me for that scene and it hit me just right and all my doubts about the film were erased. For the first time I have more of an appreciation and understanding of how it is possible to read lips. With the shift in tone in that scene the film pretty much becomes a drama that worked very well for me.
Shot and mixed in a bold and aggressive style, it's sophisticated and polished and I was even more surprised when I found out it was shot on HD. Structurally and in technique I loved the film. It begins as a mockumentary, then some of the over-the-top elements begin to drop out as it looks and feels more like verité, and finally it moves into more traditional drama. It's an unconventional structure and that's what threw me off, but I'm very glad that I stuck with it.

Podcasting

Chris Campbell

CDs of Podcasts I Listen to While Driving HomeIt's odd, but I realize now that I haven't written very much about podcasting here. It's been over a year since I started regularly listening to podcasts and now is a very good time to contextualize it all.
While I'm pretty good at staying near the leading edge of trends, I'm not as quick in creating things that are part of those trends. While I followed blogging for a long while, my domain and online presence didn't include a blog until I launched bitdepth in May of 2002. Soon I'll be launching a podcast along with a new site (but I'll save that for another time), so let me lay the groundwork here.
The first podcast that I listened to was Adam Curry's Daily Source Code, which is still one of the highest-profile podcasts out there. I used the beta of iPodderX to download the files and listen to them on my computer (since I didn't have an iPod) or to burn them on to CD to listen in the car during my 1 hour plus commute twice a day. Some time around December of last year I found Marie-Chantale Turgeon's Vu d'Ici / Seen From Here podcast and I really liked it. The combination of her unpretentious voice and great music exemplified all of the promise and magic of podcasting and she's still an inspiration to me. Another early inspiration was Tod Maffin who has been covering technology and the web for the CBC for quite a while. When I saw that he was going on a podcasting meetup tour across Canada and was stopping in Halifax, I knew that I had to go. Tod's site is filled with great resources and information about audio and he's a driving force within the CBC and will hopefully transform the corporation into a more relevant public broadcaster in the podcasting sphere.
The meetup was a lot of fun (with 10 people) and it was very cool to meet people who I had listened to and watched for a while in person. I also was embarrassed to admit that I hadn't listened to some of th epodcasts from the province, but now I think I'm up to speed with the local activity.
I arrived a bit early and realized that maybe it wasn't a good idea to meet at the Economy Shoe Shop unless you identified an area earlier to meet. It's a great bar, but it's made up of many smaller rooms. I knew that I'd recognize two of the people since I've seen Tod on tv and in photos as well as Jeff MacArthur from commandN (a great vidcast). As I wandered around the bar, someone guessed that I was looking for the meeting and I met Howard Harawitz (who I later realized that he wrote the first HTML editor that I used!). In talking with Howard I found out that he worked for the College and that we knew a lot of the same people. It's a very small world.
The new discoveries that I made were of the Spine.cx podcast with Steve Dinn along with Jeannine McNeil (who did a live version of the podcast) and Bruce Murray of the Zedcast, who recorded part of the evening. While I brought my minidisc recorder, I didn't record much, but decided to ask Tod for an ID at the end of the night outside. It became more complicated as a fairly intoxicated woman showed up with her friend and started talking with us. Of course, I kept rolling (and I may be able to work it into something later), and eventually got the IDs from Tod (who rescued me by moving away, which gave me a way to get out of the situation).
As I drove home late at night I was determined to get my podcast going, so it will show up very soon. I was tired the next morning, but I found that m-c had a new Vu d'Ici up. Driving in to Halifax while listening to m-c's voice, the warm blanket of the internet surrounded me as I remembered again that podcasting allows people to connect and share their stories, which is the most wonderful thing of all.

Niceland

Chris Campbell

Niceland
What is the purpose of life?

Niceland is a quirkly little film that takes us on a search for meaning. It's a simple story constructed out of complex characters. Set in a vaguely Scandanavian city and with an international cast with a range of accents but pretty much all in English (with English subtitles). All this results in a film that is set in a place that seems to be a strange hybrid that allows broader points to be made about consumer society. The good thing is that director Fridrik Thor Fridriksson wisely chooses to focus on the personal stories rather than the social commentary. The main characters are mentally challenged, but it's never explored or explained in any detail... it's about the people and how they relate to each other. I loved the characters and the answer to their problems is quite obvious from the beginning, but we watch as everyone tries to make things much more complicated than they are. It may not be for everyone, but I found it sweet and refreshing.