Sunday, 28 February 2016


Oscar Night in Edmonton

The marquee of the Princess theatre on Whyte Avenue looks particularly sad after dark, so many bulbs have burnt out. Judging from the exterior architecture and what’s left of the flaking interior design flourishes, the Princess must’ve been rather grand when it opened its box office in 1915. She’s a bit of a dump these days but the Princess is Ann’s and my preferred cinema; they don’t, and won’t, build them like her anymore.

We like the neighbourhood, its proximity to our home. We like the $6 Monday admission price. We like the illusion of dating in a bygone era. We like having a pint and a blast of blues next door at the Commercial Hotel after a film. I like the cheap and tasty tacos available around the corner in a cockroach cubbyhole with a dodgy toilet in the rear that for some reason prompts me to sing Iggy Pop’s ‘Lust for Life.’ The Princess screens films that don’t play well with others at the multiplex. She is where Ann and I have seen at least three of the Oscar best picture nominees.

Awards shows of any ilk are like viruses and infirmities, best avoided. While goofing around in the kitchen last week to a song on the radio Ann mentioned that she might like to watch tonight’s Oscars as we enjoy going to the movies together. I thought, well, given that Ann’s had to sit through a Terminator flick, a James Bond flick and innumerable televised sports games, this seems a reasonable request. I said, ‘But you’re not going to want to see Ben Mulroney gushing over gowns on the red carpet.’ She said, ‘Oh, yes I am. That’s like the pre-game.’ Touché. We are interested in the fates of two provocative films.

‘Spotlight’ details the Boston Globe’s investigation into the systemic and almost sanctified child abuse endemic within the Catholic Church. The paper’s exposure of the far-reaching, sordid scandal in the face of complicit and powerful opposition was dramatic enough. Ann and I retired to the Commercial to discuss another equally important message delivered by the movie. In the wake of newspaper closures all over the continent and Postmedia’s ongoing cuts to finance its horrendous debt, what will become of our society if competent and ethical journalists no longer have the resources to do their jobs, to call douche bags of any stripe to account? Have we devolved so stupidly as to accept TMZ, The Rebel and suggested or shared posts on Facebook as legitimate news? Worse, will we soon gum the Pablum of uninvestigated and unexamined press releases issued by government departments and corporations? There’s no sifting, no filtering app for that; our phones aren’t that smart.

In 2008 the sign of the times was absurdly and gleefully encapsulated in a single panel by Brian Gable, the Globe and Mail’s editorial cartoonist: profits were soaring at Downward-pointing Economic Indicators Manufacturing Inc. (The Globe recently sent me an inscribed copy of that cartoon, unrequested though prompted by a letter to the editor. I was touched and thrilled. That small gesture illustrates the bond between a newspaper and its reader, the mutual trust and respect that must be earned and maintained.) Around that time I began reading ‘The Gathering Storm,’ the first volume of Sir Winston Churchill’s extensive history of the Second World War. In it he wrote (and I paraphrase) that the Great Depression was largely the fault of the United States because of its poorly regulated banking system, easy access to cheap credit and the false entitlement of wanting. I thought, well, here we go again. I tried to figure out what was happening to my savings, why portions were evaporating. Nothing made a lot of sense until Rolling Stone reporter Matt Taibbi described Wall Street banks collectively as a ‘vampire squid’ (a description I was delighted to encounter in a recent issue of The Economist albeit without credit but in quotation marks).

‘The Big Short’ brought everything home and explained complex financials succinctly even if a Batman was chewing up the scenery. Everyone’s a winner with a sub-prime mortgage, baby. Jesus, how do you sleep at night betting on average people not being able to afford their modest goals? The film alludes to sanctioned institutional fraud on a massive scale. Ann and I found ourselves sympathetic to the dilemmas of the few sharks cannier than the greasy New York banks and Washington’s inept partisan regulators. Imagine seeing ‘The Sound of Music’ and cheering for the Nazis. (Christ, I’ve done that. Okay, anyway, Oscar time.)

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