Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Hallowe'en Scarometer

It's time again to crank up the Hallowe'en Scarometer, to let you know which book, which film, which piece of music are most likely to send you screaming from the room and in need of months of therapy.

Ghost stories are the oldest form of scaremongers, and there have been classic appearances of spectral figures--Banquo's ghost who appears to haunt Macbeth's banquet hall (not to mention the three Weird Sisters, brewing their diabolical broth) and the trio of spooks who drop in on Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas Eve. But while the characters are terrified, are we? Maybe not. Ghost stories of the kind told around Boy Scout campfires can be found in the classic tales of Montague Rhodes James, who spent most of his career at Cambridge, and whose stories often have a scholarly setting. Another academic who liked to spin ghost stories was Robertson Davies. While Master of Massey College, he presided at the annual Christmas party, during which he would read a yarn of the supernatural. (M.R. James's stories may be difficult to find, but Davies's were collected and published by Penguin Books under the title "High Spirits.")

However--our choice for best ghost story remains "The Green Man," a novel by Kingsley Amis, published first in 1971. The Irish Times found it "shimmering with panic." It is also very funny, good on food and wine, and including, as the Sunday Times wrote, "superb sexual comedy."

Scariest music for many may be the theme from "Jaws," but we still give top marks to Miklos Rozsa's score for "Spellbound," the 1945 Alfred Hitchcock film that also had dream sequences by Salvador Dali. What provides the chill in Rozsa's theme music is the use of the theremin, an electronic instrument that produces the aural equivalent of ectoplasm. Deliciously chilling.

And finally, the film. Many viewers would vote for "The Exorcist," which caused them to sleep--if they could--with the lights on. And ghosts have materialized in many movies, including the romantic ("The Ghost and Mrs. Muir," "Portrait of Jenny") and the comic (Bob Hope's "The Ghost Breakers," Bill Murray's "Ghostbusters.") But for our money, paltry sum that it is, the best of the films is "The Uninvited," which is not only suitably scary, but is also a clever and subtle mystery, a paranormal riddle, left for brave Ray Milland, ascending the haunted stairs, candelabra in hand, to solve. ("The Uninvited" also gave us Victor Young's lovely "Stella by Starlight"--bonus points for that.)

Enjoy a scary Hallowe'en. A most cordial "boo!" to all.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Minimalist Costumes

Fred and Myrna McGoogaley, longtime friends of this program, hope the weather is balmy and mild on Hallowe'en.

"It's because of the costumes we've chosen," said Fred.

"Yes," said Myrna, "Rain would ruin mine."

Which is what, Myrna?

"I'm wearing body paint."

And Fred?

"I'm wearing tattoos."

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Morals & Quarrels

As Municipal Election fever hots up (sheer irony, as voter turnout is predicted at roughly thirty percent, many voters preferring to stay home and watch re-runs of "Cheers") one candidate's platform is worth some attention. A woman offering herself for the mayor's job in Burnaby is running primarily on a campaign to stamp out public demonstrations of affection. These acts, which she considers offensive and harmful, leading, she contends to violence, include holding hands and the traditional matrimonial kiss after the minister says, "I now pronounce you man and wife." Clergy, under new civic rules, would be required to follow this with, "You may not kiss the bride. You may not shake hands. You may not give each other a high five." Couples would then set off on separate honeymoons.

In other news of moral concern, several parents have protested that some costumes intended for girls as young as five appear to have been modeled after the racier numbers of Madonna and Lady Gaga. What ever happened to Snow White and Little Bo-Peep? No news of costumes for boys, but if the trend continues you may find at your door a troop of six-year-olds dressed as The Chippendales, shouting "Strip or Treat!"

We plan to dress as Ironman, and will, as usual, be going door to door with glass in hand.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Jazz & Football

Saddened today to read of the departure from this planet, at age 72, from cardiac arrest, of Tim Hauser, founder of Manhattan Transfer.

The story or legend is that Hauser was driving a cab in New York and picked up a singer--probably Janis Siegel--going to an audition. They fell into conversation, found they shared similar musical objectives, and then, connecting with Alan Paul and either red-haired Laurel Masse or Cheryl Bentyne, formed one of the truly terrific jazz vocal quartets.

(And further on jazz singers--Jon Hendricks, of Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, continues to perform at age 97.)

Two companies have begun issuing CDs of jazz that should not be lost. One is JazzPlus, which has delivered, among other things, a memorable club session with Johnny Hodges, Roy Eldridge and Coleman Hawkins. The other is Original Jazz Classics, and among its releases is "Waltz for Debby" by the Bill Evans Trio in performance at NYC's Village Vanguard. It is the last disc on which can he heard bassist Scott LaFaro.  Evans--"the Chopin of jazz," in Louis Lortie's words--redefined the jazz piano trio, not restricting bass and drums to accompaniment, but giving them equal expression. This CD contains probably the best ever performance of "Waltz for Debby," as well as two other songs Evans played over and over through his career: "My Foolish Heart" and "I Loves You, Porgy." There is also a blistering "Milestones," recalling Evans's time with Miles Davis.

And turning to Slap Maxwell for football news: Jon Cornish once again bursts thru for 160 yards, well on his way to repeating as the CFL's top running back, despite missing several games at the start of the season after a nasty hit. We saw Cornish first as a teenage player at New Westminster's St. Thomas More School (not our favorite saint nor our favorite school, but that's something else). There probably aren't enough games left in Cornish's career for him to top Normie Kwong's all-time rushing record, but who knows?

Meanwhile, it would seem inevitable that Cornish's team, the Calgary Stampeders, will take the west and then the Grey Cup, but that's been said before. This is the CFL, where the name of the game is often surprise.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Butt Out, Carmen

An Australian opera company has banned a production of "Carmen" because, it says, the opera promotes smoking. As those of you who have seen this opera a dozen times know, it begins outside a cigarette factory where Carmen and friends are provocatively puffing.

We weren't aware that Bizet's opera promoted smoking. Cigarettes are not usually offered to the audience. The musicians in the pit aren't lighting up. There are no camels in the story.

How can this Aussie opera company come to terms with Carmen? Could the factory be producing e-cigarettes? Probably not.

Happily, Oliver Fieldhagen, an opera buff of long-standing, has come up with a solution: the cigarette mill will become a bubble gum factory. When the curtain rises, Carmen and her friends will blow gigantic pink bubbles. Bravo!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The Great Gobbler Getaway

The turkeys at the farm were getting nervous, watching the clock wind down to Thanksgiving Day.

"Until now," said one of the younger turkeys, "I thought a roast was one of those things where people got up and told jokes and honored somebody."

"And I thought," said another, "that 'get stuffed' was just a rude remark."

One of the elder turkeys sighed and said, "That's not the worst. Do you know where we'll be after Thanksgiving?"

"We'll be toast."

"No," said the senior turkey, "we'll be soup."

He went on: "Do you know that Benjamin Franklin proposed that the United States' national emblem should be the turkey, instead of the eagle? If Ben had had his way, we'd be on gold coins, and people would be eating roast eagle."

"If only," said one of the younger turks, "Steve McGobble were here."

"No chance," said the senior. "After he engineered last year's great escape, he moved to the big time. I hear he's in Hollywood, working for Pixar. Today, for us, he's just a legend."

"Oh, I wouldn't say that," came a voice from the back of the barn. The turkeys whirled around and saw a tom turkey in sunglasses and motorcycle helmet. "It's him--it's Steve McGobble," someone cried.

"Steve," said the senior turkey, "what are you doing here? It's dangerous."

"That's exactly why I'm here," said McGobble. "I'm going to get you out of danger."

"But how?" asked a young turk.

"Ever hear the story of the Wooden Horse?" said McGobble. "How Ulysses wheeled a wooden horse into the Trojan compound? The Trojans thought it was a gift, but inside that hollow horse was a troop of fierce Greek soldiers."

"You've got a wooden horse, Steve?"

"Something better. I've got a flock of rubber turkeys."

"Rubber turkeys?"

"That's right. I got the idea from those rubber ducks kids have in bathtubs. These turkeys look like the real thing. And, with wireless control, I can make them move around and gobble. On Thanksgiving morning, I'll set them loose in the yard. The rest of us will hide here in the barn. Then, while the two-legged tyrants are anaesthetizing themselves with various potent potables, I'll hot wire the farmer's truck and we'll make our getaway."

"Gee," gushed a pretty turkey, "you sure talk good, Steve. "

"I've been taking diction lessons," he said, "from the same guy who coached Donald Duck."

Everything went according to plan, and as the farmer's family and friends were sitting down to dinner, Steve McGobble and company were speeding down the freeway.

Back at the farm, one of the guests said,  "Candied yams are delicious. Biscuits and cole slaw are wonderful. Gravy is creamy and rich. But I gotta say, this turkey is like rubber."

The farmer said, "Shut up and have more turnip wine."

Thursday, October 9, 2014

And the winner is...

Jean Patrick (Patrizzio) Modiano, the 2014 Nobel laureate in literature. A name probably unknown to many North American readers, although there are English-language translations of at least five of his novels, and bookstores and libraries (and their patrons) will be hurrying to find them. The Nobel committee cited Modiano's capturing of memory, and he has been called "the Marcel Proust of our time," which isn't bad.

This isn't Modiano's first award--he has received the Prix Goncourt and other European literary prizes. The Modiano work many North Americans may be familiar with is the film "Lacombe, Lucien," for which he wrote the screenplay with the director, Louis Malle.

And in other prize news, this footnote: The Bay's search for the Great Canadian Beard has ended, and while we can't yet reveal the name of the winner, we can tell you that honorable mention went to Mrs. Eulalie Givinsky of Elbow, Saskatchewan. Well done, Eulalie--you came within a whisker of winning!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Put Down That Razor!

We have become accustomed to the Movember Moustache-Growing Movement, but this year The Bay has moved first on the facial hair front.

Despite tearful pleas and vigorous lobbying from Gillette and Schick, the Bay has announced a "Search for Canada's Best Beard." Men are challenged to cultivate a beard--anything from a goatee or Van Dyke to a full Castro--take a photograph of themselves, and send it to The Bay. Prize: $1,000 credit at the store. Contest, unfortunately (or fortunately, say thousands of women), closes October 9, which doesn't allow time for much more than a scruffy look, unless you apply Vigoro.

We believe, however, the winner is already assured. Canada's Best Beard? Undoubtedly Tom Mulcair's. Even Paul Calandra said so, tearfully.