From the archives: January 2008

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LEGO, Escher, Bach

Monday, 28 January 2008 — 5:08pm

The LEGO brick turned fifty today, which makes it fairly young if you think about it. Personally, I find it quite jarring to reflect on LEGO from a historical perspective at all. As one of the… four activities I have any recollection of doing before the age of seven (the other three: reading Schulz, creating HyperCard stacks on my Macintosh SE, and knowing everything there was to know about dinosaurs), clicking those bricks into place and struggling to pry them apart with my little fingers was something that was always there, and always needed to be done.

It’s not something I ever outgrew, strictly speaking; my interests merely gravitated elsewhere to things no less appealing to the obsessive-compulsive. I have the utmost respect for the people who steadfastly refused to stop playing with LEGO bricks, and it grows every time I see an accomplishment like Andrew Lipson’s sculptures of Escher paintings in impossible spaces, or tributes like “The Knights of the Round Table”. The further apart you are from your childhood, it seems, the higher the tide of nostalgia.

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The Oscars strike back; so do the writers

Tuesday, 22 January 2008 — 9:12am | Film, Oscars

Oscar nominations are up—and while I’m not as equipped to comment as I usually am, given that I haven’t caught up on all the films I missed on account of being out of the country, but I’ll dispense some initial impressions nonetheless. At this point I’m not going to pay too much attention to whether the ceremony will have any of its usual glitz if the presenters and nominees continue to show solidarity with the WGA; for me, it’s about recognizing the films, and the ceremony itself is mostly window dressing. So here we go.

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Where no Grand Inquisitor has gone before

Monday, 21 January 2008 — 11:37pm | Adaptations, Film, Literature

Just shy of three weeks ago, I stayed at the decidedly unhygienic Ambassador City Jomtien, which was by all appearances Thailand’s number one tourist destination for indulgent Russian oligarchs. It was timely, then, that when I endeavoured to head to the beach for a spot of reading under the palms, the next book in my endless queue was none other than The Brothers Karamazov.

This was my first time through Dostoevsky’s magisterial opus, and at more than one juncture I observed that with its high moral intrigue, impassioned cast of players and unreserved Biblical ambition—not to mention the best courtroom speeches in prose fiction (themselves capable satires of psychoanalytic narrative analysis decades before the study formally existed)—surely somebody has had the bravado to attempt a film.

As it turns out, Richard Brooks wrote and directed an English-language film adaptation back in 1958 (read the contemporaneous New York Times review) starring—get this—Yul Brynner and William Shatner. For those of you with access to Turner Classic Movies, it plays 7 February.

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Absolutely Scrabulous

Wednesday, 16 January 2008 — 3:53pm | Scrabble

Hasbro and Mattel (who own the rights to Scrabble in North America and Everywhere Else, respectively) have jointly requested that Facebook remove the popular Scrabulous application; here’s a more thorough and disgruntled look. As someone who’s done his homework on the occasional legal absurdities surrounding his favourite sport, I am—how did Palahniuk so crudely put it?—Jack’s complete lack of surprise.

I’ll say a few things regardless, since this will be the first direct encounter with said absurdities for most people who play Scrabulous. Remember, kids, it’s not Scrabble—it’s the SCRABBLE® Brand Crossword Game.

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The song is ended, but the melody lingers on

Monday, 14 January 2008 — 10:58am | Jazz, Music, Pianism

Saturday’s Oscar Peterson tribute concert is now available online. You can listen to it in segments, but I obviously recommend sitting through the whole thing; if you do have to pick and choose, though, make it Herbie Hancock’s speech and performance. (More on him later.) Having just returned to school after three weeks out of the country, I wasn’t able to make the pilgrimage to Hogtown, but after listening to some of the heartfelt eulogies I’m beginning to think I should have stood out in the cold for ten hours on the steps of Roy Thomson Hall with the rest of the throng of ladies, gentlemen and music-lovers all who, like me, would not have the sense of personal identity they possess today were it not for the inspiration of the greatest jazz pianist there ever was or ever will be—and my favourite musician of any stripe, period.

The myriad tributes in O.P.’s honour, both in print since his passing and in the concert, offer a personal underscore to something I always knew about, but only on paper—that he was not only an exemplary musician, but an extraordinary role model in every respect: someone who demonstrated that you can have your cake and eat it too—that great jazz doesn’t have to come at the price of drug addiction or poisoned race relations. The real condition of its production is the will to be the calibre of artist you want. And the kind of man who realizes that is the kind of man who will play his way through a debilitating stroke and live to the ripe old age of 82.

I’m not a sucker for biography. I like to imagine that you can appreciate art apart from its creator, and that in the majority of cases, you should. But sometimes, I have to wonder how much of that is a matter of burying my head in the sand—not wanting to acknowledge that Bill Evans’ sentimental figurations were paying the tab for the heroin coursing through his left arm—and it’s a relief to look up to someone like Oscar Peterson and not have to make a single excuse.

That’s when you know you’ve picked a hero. For Nicholas Tam, that moment came at the age of fifteen.

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