Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Pop History Moment: The Dalai Lama In Exile


On this day in 1959 Tibet's spiritual leader Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, crossed the border into India after an epic 15-day journey on foot over the Himalayan mountains... His Holiness' exile came after a failed uprising in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa in March of that year during which thousands of civilians were slaughtered by the Chinese military.

Once settled in Dharamshala (known today as 'Little Lhasa' as much for his presence as for that of the 80,000 refugees who followed him into exile there) the Dalai Lama established the Government of Tibet in Exile; also established were the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts and the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies, which is the foremost institution of higher learning for Tibetans in exile in India.
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"Come What May" by Ewan McGregor and Nicole Kidman

Baz Luhrmann's 2001 film Moulin Rouge! is a frenzied mess - obviously edited in a Cuisinart - a purported musical in which the hard work of the dancers isn't effectively shown, lest a snippet of film longer than three seconds accidentally find its way into the print; believe me, when I say something is too busy it's too busy, and this makes Hong Kong on a Friday rush hour in summer look as activity-free as Paris Hilton's CAT scan.

I realize that in saying this I am leaving myself open to assassination, as I once made the same point (although far more diplomatically) at a gay dinner party, and was nearly defenestrated; fortunately there were only six of them, and the spindly buggers couldn't lift me. I stand by my original assessment, though: if you don't have ADD going into this film, you will when you come out!

Still, I love the song Come What May for the honeyed tones of Ewan McGregor... And what's-her-name; she's good in it too.
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Happy Birthday Ewan McGregor

They're subtle, these charms of his, or at least they were. He was amazing in Trainspotting, of course, but at the time it came out he didn't make much of an impression on me. I do remember thinking, 'Why would they use a real junkie?' Of course, he was just... ACTING!

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketHe more than compensated for Jar-Jar Binks in The Phantom Menace, though, turning his Alec Guinness impression into the most gracious homage when it could have so easily been the same kind of grotesque Stepin Fetchit-esque burlesque his animated costar was.

But when McGregor opened his mouth to sing in Moulin Rouge...? I can't remember a moment in cinema for five years that electrified me like that, mainly, I guess, because I hadn't been prepared for it. Come What May indeed; by the time he'd finished singing it there wasn't a dry seat in the house.

Since I originally posted this two years ago today (!) I've also had the chance to see him in Down With Love, co-starring David Hyde Pierce and Squinty Fatface-McBonerack; as an homage to Sixties sex comedies of the Rock-and-Doris variety it was pretty good, but for all the time they took on costume, set design, and hair they got the lighting wrong. It was too dark to evoke the Technicolor gaudiness of the era, and since it didn't show Ewan bathed in the same golden light as my admiration for him it wasn't as good as it could have been.

Still, given the choices he makes, I have a feeling the Pop Culture Institute will be celebrating Ewan McGregor's birthday for many years, come what may...
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Pop History Moment: Newfoundland Enters Confederation


If you believe in omens, then the original date determined for the completion of the Canadian Confederation is a doozy; negotiations had already been concluded - and the date set - when someone pointed out that April 1st is also April Fool's Day. Only the quick-thinking diplomacy of Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent was able to literally save the day, by moving the moment at which the independent Dominion of Newfoundland became the subordinate Province of Newfoundland back one minute. Newfoundland, therefore, became part of Canada at 11:59 PM on March 31st rather than at midnight the following day as originally planned.

PhotobucketThe province's first premier, Joey Smallwood (shown, at left), was vehemently pro-Canadian; so much so that for many years - and even unto this very day - he's been accused of employing much villainy to make his country's transformation into a province - via two national referendums, both in 1948 - a fait accompli. Rumours of vote rigging are the least of them; his own campaign speeches are masterworks of political bribery, promising jobs, pots of money, health care - everything, in fact, that the majority of Newfoundlanders had been struggling to obtain ever since John Cabot arrived in June 1497, or at least since John Guy's plantation opened at Cuper's Cove in 1610.

Smallwood's opponent Peter Cashin favoured a continuation of Dominion status, foreseeing a time when that would lead to independence for the island colony. Britain, on the other hand, was still reeling from the effects of World War II, and was glad to offload the money-sucking (albeit prestigious) holding, which Sir Humphrey Gilbert had claimed for Elizabeth I as Britain's first overseas possession in August 1583; the prevailing sentiment in London at the time was that if it must go, it should go to Canada all at once rather than to the United States by attrition.

If all this seems like the ideal recipe for a slew of conspiracy theories you're either as cynical as I am, or already familiar with the story; again and again the results of the final referendum have been investigated. Close as they were - 51% for Canada to 49% for Newfoundland - they seem to be legit. Yet legends persist of boxes of pro-independence ballots turning up in cellars and attics, even though surely evidence as damning as that would have been long ago burned.

Wayne Johnston's superlative 1998 novel The Colony of Unrequited Dreams deals with the events of Joey Smallwood's life before, during, and after Confederation, and comes highly recommended; just as highly recommended is the film Secret Nation (1992), starring Cathy Jones as a doctoral candidate determined to get to the bottom of the mystery.
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POPnews - March 31st

[This 1901 map of Vancouver Island - which, at 32,134 km² (12,407 sq mi), is Canada's 11th and the world's 43rd largest island - doesn't even begin to demonstrate the myriad charms of the place, unlike the website it links to...]

1146 - In a field outside the French village of Vézelay and in the presence of France's King Louis VII Bernard of Clairvaux preached a sermon urging the necessity of a Second Crusade, which convinced the King if no one else.

1492 - Under the terms of the Alhambra Decree, Queen Isabella of Castile ordered her 150,000 Jewish subjects to convert to Christianity or face expulsion.

1717 - In the presence of King George I the Bishop of Bangor - aka Benjamin Hoadly - delivered a sermon entitled The Nature of the Kingdom of Christ which argued that no temporal Church government had any spiritual authority, provoking the Bangorian Controversy.

1774 - In the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party Parliament in London ordered the port of Boston closed with its passage of the Boston Port Act, one of the so-called Intolerable Acts which precipitated the American Revolutionary War.

1778 - Captain James Cook first landed on and then claimed what later came to be known as Vancouver Island for Great Britain.

1854 - Commodore Matthew Perry signed the Convention of Kanagawa with Shogun Tokugawa Ieyoshi as the representative of the Empire of Japan (on behalf of Emperor Kōmei, who by custom and temperament was neither allowed nor cared to interact with foreigners); the treaty opened the ports of Shimoda and Hakodate to American trade, albeit against their will and at the end of a cannon, ending a two-century period of insularity known as Sakoku.

1889 - The Eiffel Tower was inaugurated.

1917 - The United States took possession of the Danish West Indies after paying $25 million to Denmark, renaming the territory the US Virgin Islands.

1959 - The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, crossed the border into India and was granted political asylum at Dharamsala, where he established the Tibetan Government-in-Exile.

1964 - The Dictatorship in Brazil, under the aegis of General Castello Branco, began.

1968 - US President Lyndon B. Johnson shocked the nation when, in a televised address, he announced that he would not be running for re-election; although he would have been eligible for another term (since his 'first' term was technically the remainder of President Kennedy's) his health was poor and his popularity was suffering due to the ongoing Vietnam War.

1970 - Explorer 1 re-entered the Earth's atmosphere after 12 years in orbit; having discovered the Van Allen radiation belt, it made its last fiery flight over the southern Pacific Ocean.

1979 - The last British soldier left Malta upon that country's independence; the day is still celebrated as Freedom Day, or Jum il-Ħelsien, as well as being commemorated by a monument in the town of Birgu (Vittoriosa).

1986 - The Thatcher government abolished six metropolitan county councils under the terms of the Local Government Act 1985.

1990 - 200,000 protestors took to London's Trafalgar Square to show their displeasure at the Thatcher government's newly introduced Community Charge. The so-called Poll Tax Riots lasted more than ten hours, during which time 45 police officers were among the 113 people injured; 20 police horses were also hurt in the fracas.

1991 - In the Georgian independence referendum nearly 99 per cent of the voters supported that country's independence from the Soviet Union.

1992 - The US Navy's last active battleship - the USS Missouri (BB-63) - was decommissioned in Long Beach, California.

1995 - 23 year-old Tejano superstar Selena Quintanilla Perez - better known as Selena - was shot and killed in Corpus Christi, Texas, by Yolanda Saldivar, the president of her own fan club.

2008 - Aloha Airlines permanently ended passenger service following bankruptcy.

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