Thursday, September 02, 2010

Guy Laliberte: Visionary

Cirque du Soleil founder Guy Laliberte - born on this day in 1959 - had a dream, and he followed it; what makes him a visionary isn't that he had the dream in the first place, but that he followed it at all...

Given how zealously the powers-that-be in all the arts guard access to their respective establishments, accomplishments like Laliberte's are certain to become increasingly rare in the coming years. Likewise, to a generation raised on being told yes - namely my own - the amount of rejection heaped on artists early in their careers as a matter of course is certain to dissuade untold numbers of budding young geniuses to take up bookkeeping to feed their bellies, and so to let their souls wither from malnourishment.

It is the most fervent wish of the Pop Culture Institute that new media will not be similarly overtaken by degree snobs and cultural bureaucrats, so that dreamers like Guy Laliberte can continue to inspire us all based on merit, rather than connections.
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In Memoriam: Lili'uokalani

It hasn't been that long, as these things go, since Hawai'i was a sovereign nation - whether as a loose association of chiefdoms in the Polynesian manner, as a Kingdom (during Hawai'i's earlier 'British' period), or as a Republic immediately prior to its annexation by the US.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThough Queen for less than two years before the monarchy was abolished by US President Grover Cleveland, Her Majesty is still fondly remembered today, most notably by a statue of her in the grounds of the state house in Honolulu; the nearby 'Iolani Palace owes much of its splendour to her efforts.

Nevertheless the reign of Lili'uokalani was marred by a certain inflexibility on her part, especially given that she spent most of it staring down the barrels of American cannons. Even though her overthrow was eventually determined illegal by the Blount Report issued by the US Congress, the Queen refused amnesty to those involved, and her ouster was maintained.

Lili'uokalani was probably a better writer and composer than Queen, given her disdain for diplomacy; one of the songs she wrote, Aloha 'Oe, is probably the most famous song in the Hawaiian language. Chances are, in a film or TV show depicting Hawaii, the lilting strains of the song (and thus a remnant of the soul of its last Queen) will accompany the establishing shot.

Born on this day in 1838 - the daughter of High Chieftess Analea Keohokalole and High Chief Caesar Kaluaiku Kapaʻakea but adopted at birth by Abner Pākī and his wife Laura Kōnia according to Hawai'an custom - Hawai'i's last sovereign Liliʻuokalani died in November 1917.
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Remembering... Russ Columbo

Although he was one of the biggest stars in the world on the day he died, Russ Columbo is barely remembered today, despite the truly bizarre circumstances surrounding his demise, which if nothing else ought to have assured his enduring fame; fortunately, recent scholarship is reviving interest in both the man and his legend...

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at PhotobucketThe handsome singer and violinist - lover of Carole Lombard and like her a film star and object of much fervent adulation - was accidentally shot and killed on this day in 1934. He was 26.

While visiting his friend the photographer Lansing Brown at his studio, Columbo tried to light his cigarette by striking a match against the stock of an antique pistol. Heat from the match set off a long-forgotten charge inside the gun. The bullet ricocheted off a table and shot Columbo in the left eye, killing him instantly.

Brown was later cleared of any wrongdoing, but the death of his friend scarred him for life; Lombard, already a highly emotional sort, was said to be inconsolable for months.

Recordings of Russ Columbo's crooning are somewhat rare, and those held in the collection at the Pop Culture Institute are highly treasured for this very reason. His signature tune You Call It Madness, But I Call It Love especially shows off Columbo's smooth baritone, not to mention his gifts as a peerless interpreter of pop music.
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Gratuitous Brunette: Keanu Reeves

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Whether or not birthday boy Keanu Reeves is a good actor is beside the point. Since such an assessment is necessarily subjective, as long as you've been moved by one of his performances he's good; if, even after you've watched him acting up a storm, you remain unmoved, then you can choose to blame it on his lack of talent. Or...

There's another theory, which I alone may hold: it's entirely possible that he was simply born with a modern voice. Such an affliction might have never been noticed if only his ambition as an actor didn't drive him to play historical characters. It's an illness which afflicts many of Hollywood's brightest stars; if you don't believe me, watch Kate Hudson in Almost Famous and then in The Four Feathers.

Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, My Own Private Idaho, even The Matrix; I enjoyed all of them. Yet every time he opens his mouth in Dangerous Liaisons, Bram Stoker's Dracula, or Much Ado About Nothing I can barely suppress my gag reflex. I have yet to see Little Buddha all the way through for this very reason.

Until such time as a cure is discovered, it's the recommendation of the Pop Culture Institute that he stick to the contemporary and sci-fi movies; they serve him far better than any costume picture ever has, no matter how good he might look in a doublet and hose...
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Now Showing: "Yes, Prime Minister"

In reviewing all of the episodes of Yes, Prime Minister (strictly for research purposes, of course, in order to select a suitable one to post here) I came across this one; entitled The Key, it's actually the fourth of eight in that show's first series, and was originally aired on January 30th, 1986.

Yes, Prime Minister, of course, was the sequel to Yes, Minister - both of which programs were deftly written by Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn - and all of which follow the career of Jim Hacker MP (brilliantly played by the equally brilliant Paul Eddington) over 38 episodes as he fails upward from the back bench to 10 Downing Street. In my heart of hearts, I always wanted to see a third series, Yes, M'Lord, that would have followed Hacker into the House of Lords, but it was not to be...

A n y w a y ... The reason I chose to post this episode is that it features a bit of role reversal; not only is Hacker more masterful than bumbling for once, Sir Humphrey Appleby (played by Nigel Hawthorne) loses his usual supercilious cool and Bernard Woolley (played by birthday boy Derek Fowlds) is forced to stand up to Sir Humphrey when normally he would never do such a thing. Hilarity generally ensues on this show, but on this episode it ensues even more!

It seems that the Prime Minister's political advisor Dorothy Wainwright (Deborah Norton) has lost her prime office space to the machinations of Sir Humphrey. By and by, as these things go in this elegantly constructed Whitehall farce, Sir Humphrey manages to find himself hoisted on his own petard.

For proof of the unifying power of quality art - even if it is 'only a sitcom' - consider that not only is this show one of my favourites of all time but it was also the favourite of Margaret Thatcher. As much as I am loath to admit to any common ground between us (the more I read about her the more I've begun to suspect that we're not even the same species) I am forced to accept that this is one of them*.

Both Yes, Minister and Yes, Prime Minister are available in their remastered, commercial-free, glory on DVD.

*In the interest of full disclosure, my support for the pound over the euro is almost the only other.
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Pop History Moment: The Great Fire of London


As long ago as 60 CE - when Boadicea, Queen of the Iceni, first burned what was then called Londinium to the ground - Londoners were well aware of the risk posed to their city by fire. That particular blaze of hers was so successful that modern-day archaeologists still use the layer of ash it produced to determine the age of any new findings beneath the ancient city. Again and again - in 675, 1087, 1133, and 1212 - the city's warren of narrow streets and wooden buildings have succumbed to ravaging flames...

What started at Thomas Farriner's bakery in Pudding Lane just after midnight on this day in 1666 would, within three days, leave 70,000 of the city's 80,000 inhabitants homeless; having destroyed more than 13,000 homes, 87 churches (including Old St. Paul's Cathedral), and all administrative and government buildings, the fire was kept from Westminster (and so spared both Whitehall and Parliament) only after stores of powder held in the Tower of London were used to create fire breaks. Despite the toll the fire took on the city's infrastructure, there were relatively few deaths directly related to the fire.

Although much has been written about the Great Fire which devastated most of London in 1666, the account of record is still that of Samuel Pepys. His gossipy, slightly bemused accounts of life in London before, during, and after the Great Fire are great fun to read; they are available online here (as well as permanently in the blogroll at right) but have yet to come to the descriptions of the fire that would establish his reputation posthumously.

From the ash and cinders of the medieval city consumed by the mighty conflagration arose the London we know today, including a new St. Paul's Cathedral whose dome refused to fall even under a much worse threat than fire, namely bombardment by the Luftwaffe nearly 400 years later*. Bubonic plague, which had, well, frankly plagued the city in 1665, never did return with the same ferocity again - providing the silver lining to the clouds of smoke and ash that hung over the smoking ruins of medieval London.

Much of the area known today as the City of London was rebuilt by Sir Christopher Wren over the next half century, supervised of course by Charles II, James II, William and Mary, and Queen Anne each in their turn. The fire is commemorated today by the Monument to the Great Fire of London, located near the site where the fire began.

*In fact, the events of December 1940 have been referred to as the Second Great Fire of London.

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POPnews - September 2nd

[A memorial to the victims of Swissair Flight 111 was placed on The
Whalesback, a promontory 1 km north of Peggys Cove, Nova Scotia.

44 BCE -Egyptian Pharaoh Cleopatra declared her three-year-old son Caesarion co-ruler of Egypt as Ptolemy XV.

31 BCE - The Battle of Actium, the decisive battle of the Roman civil war, saw the forces of Octavian defeat the combined fleets of Mark Antony and Cleopatra off the coast of Greece near modern-day Preveza. As a result of their loss the lovers would individually take their own lives; Octavian later killed Caesarion, Cleopatra's son by Julius Caesar, to ensure no challenges remained to his reign as Caesar Augustus.

1649 - The Pope Destroyed Castro! (Okay, okay... It was Pope Innocent X, and the Castro in question is a town in Italy, but I made you look.) Anyway, despite the fact that the siege ended the so-called Wars of Castro, the Vatican's very real war on a very different Castro persists to this day...

1752 - The United Kingdom adopted the Gregorian Calendar, nearly two centuries later than most of Western Europe; that year September 2nd was followed by September 14th.

1789 - The US Department of the Treasury was founded; the first Secretary of the Treasury was Alexander Hamilton, who'd been suggested for the position by Robert Morris, who himself declined it despite being President George Washington's first choice.

1792 - During what became known as the September Massacres of the French Revolution, rampaging mobs slaughtered three Catholic bishops, more than two hundred priests, and prisoners believed to be royalist sympathizers.

1807 - England's Royal Navy bombarded Copenhagen with fire bombs and phosphorus rockets to prevent Denmark from surrendering its fleet to Napoleon.

1833 - Ohio's Oberlin College was founded by John Shipherd and Philo P. Stewart.

1867 - Mutsuhito - the Meiji Emperor of Japan - married Masako Ichijō, following which the Empress consort was known as Lady Haruko; since her death in April 1914, she's been known by the posthumous name - as per the tradition of Japanese royalty - of Empress Shōken.

1898 - At the Battle of Omdurman British and Egyptian troops commanded by General Sir Horatio Kitchener defeated Sudanese tribesmen led by Abdullah al-Taashi and established British dominance in the Sudan.

1901 - US Vice President Theodore Roosevelt uttered his famous phrase, 'Speak softly and carry a big stick' at the Minnesota State Fair; henceforth Big Stick Ideology would provide a handy corollary to the Monroe Doctrine, allow for the establishment of an American Empire, and give rise to the impression that, diplomatically at least, the United States is something of a bully.

1935 - The worst hurricane in American history struck the Florida Keys, killing 423.

1945 - Envoys from the Empire of Japan and dignitaries from various Allied nations attended the signing of Japan's Instrument of Surrender aboard the battleship USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay; the first to sign was Japan's Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu.

1960 - The historic first election of the Parliament of the Central Tibetan Administration was conducted; the Tibetan community in exile still observes this date as Democracy Day.

1967 - A micronation called The Principality of Sealand, ruled by Prince Paddy Roy Bates, was established on a disused Maunsell Sea Fort located off of England's Suffolk coast.

1969 - America's first electronic ATM was installed at Rockville Center, New York.

1979 - The body of a young woman named Barbara Leach, thought to be the twelfth victim of the so-called Yorkshire Ripper, was discovered in an alley near the centre of Bradford.

1990 - Transnistria was unilaterally proclaimed as a Soviet republic, which decision Mikhail Gorbachev declared null and void by presidential decree the following December.

1998 - Swissair Flight 111 crashed near Peggys Cove, Nova Scotia, killing all 229 on board.
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