Eclecticism at its finest

A picture of eleganceHere’s the first part of this weekend’s updates, which will close out April and its seriously wonky weather patterns (not that summer will return us to climate normalcy in mighty hot, humid and hazy T.O.).

In tune with things gone bad is Darwin’s Nightmare, from Austrian director Hubert Sauper, who doesn’t offer any distinct POV or solutions, but assembles enough interview material to illustrate the grotesque reality of locals who can’t afford to buy the fish they’re catching for European consumption. Some have called it Euro-bashing, marking the Western World as the lead reaper and rapist of Africa’s wealth, while a closer look at the doc shows the mess is a mix of several awful events that have devastated a former farming community. Nominated for an Oscar, we review Maple's DVD, released in Canada prior to Homevision’s U.S. edition on June 26th.

Farming of a different kind is profiled in Jorge Cervantes’ how-to video, bannered as part of the High Times Growers Series, and distributed by MVD Visual. Cervantes’ Ultimate Grow DVD is a practical and straightforward production on how to build your very own growroom for premium weed. The video’s mere existence is a prime example of the weird loopholes that allow for the dissemination of information regarding the smokable bud and hash when the very act of imbibing isn’t legal - except in pockets where medicinal use under government authority & control makes it kinda possible.

Why review a how-to DVD on marijuana? Curiosity, and to see what’s actually involved in growing a plant that’s been described as a top gateway drug. Check out our review, which also explores some of the video’s subtext, Cervantes’ discretionary advice, and a few omissions that make it appear the whole endeavor is no different or affecting than growing some fancy schmancy plant with special needs in the family basement.

Another doc we’ve reviewed is Einstürzende Neubauten - Hör mit Schmerzen / Listen With Pain. Commissioned to mark the group’s 20th anniversary in 2000, it’s a short but engrossing doc of the German industrial/performance art group, profiling past and current members, and containing a plethora of rare concert, promo, and performance material, along with candid comments from roadies, and fellow musicians such as Nick Cave. (Next week we’ll follow up with a vintage Einstuerzende Neubauten short film.)

A more intriguing fusion of image + sound is Gravitas: Portraits of a Universe in Motion by Toronto Astrophysicist John Dubinski, with original music by John Kameel Farah. Parts of Dubinski’s galaxy simulations appeared in the documentary Hubble: 15 Years of Discovery, and those intrigued by the archived samples on that DVD can get the complete animation segments (plus some optional commentary, and a 3-D segment!) in Dubinski’s self-distributed DVD at

There’s little doubt Dubinski and Farah have crafted works that transcend their educational and instructive intentions; each simulation is elegant in its colour and finely animated detail, and with Farah’s score, the 44 mins. of material (well worth buying) recalls the fun many Torontonians had when the McLaughlin Planetarium was still part of the museum trip that schools chartered during the seventies and eighties.

This once-beautiful building managed to educate and entertain families and adults in search of trippy space and star simulations, and like Dubinski’s technical audio commentary, which as an option on the Gravitas DVD compliments some of the segments, the words of our guide into the cosmos formed a kind of techno poetry, while eyes gazed at cool star patterns, and bodies was tilted back in cozy and cushy chairs. (Later on came Pink Floyd and laser shows, but that's another blog.)

The release of Gravitas may well trigger some fond memories of former visitors, and perhaps rekindle the push to establish a new planetarium in T.O.

The McLaughlin building was eventually disfigured by upgrades to the Royal Ontario Museum, and due to budget cuts (attributed to the mean Mike Harris regime and its disregard for local culture and education), the planetarium was shuttered, gutted, and rendered into an ugly storage and office vessel.

While the link at Wikipedia offers a brief breakdown of the once elegant building, a Google search offers more info on what was lost and is still missed by locals. Gravitas hyper-focuses on simulations of galaxy collisions, so it’s hardly a substitute, but it demonstrates how engrossing and enlightening space can be when modern technology is used with an artistic eye and a sense of showmanship – something the McLaughlin Planetarium and its staff certainly achieved during its ridiculously short lifespan.

Incidentally, those curious about the building’s interior and the Astrocentre room can actually get a glimpse of it in a 1985 ABC TV movie called Starcrossed. Deemed an el cheapo and gender-flipped version of John Carpenter’s Starman, the film starred James Spader as the human, and Belinda Bauer as the alien, with both lovers running through Toronto locations like Ontario Place, and at one point ending up at the McLaughlin Planetarium, with its giant Zeiss-Jena projector (which fleetingly looks like some super-rhinovirus).

Coming shortly: Death of a President from Maple, more music from the dwindling Buena Vista Social Club via MVD Visual, and more!


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