Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Cabaret la Tulipe, Nov. 4
One of the greatest fortunes of living in Montreal is to have Godspeed as our community house band, a band that trudges out on a lonely Monday, the night after daylight savings time fucks with time itself, two nights into a three-night stint, and summons up their spirit with muster. Godspeed you, Godspeed.
Lucia di Lammermoor, Opera de Montréal, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, Nov. 9
The mood after Lucia di Lammermoor on a cold November night was grim. An opera that ends with everyone getting stabbed could really use some uplifting walkout music, like Harry Nilsson’s “Coconut” after Reservoir Dogs.
The Irishman, dir. Martin Scorsese, 2019 (Netflix)
Martin Scorsese rocked the motion-pictures boat earlier this year when he contended that comic book and superhero films aren’t cinema. To Scorsese, these movies veer far from John Ford’s sweeping vistas or Alfred Hitchcock’s cerebral thrillers and toward theme park territory, exploiting all manner of expensive special effects for simple, cheap thrills. Personally, I agree. I would rather watch a pink print of any third-rate Spaghetti Western any day than suffer through Avengers: Endgame in the theatre. I get that people enjoy these movies. I don’t judge them, just as I wouldn’t judge anyone for preferring a certain kind of food or drink. Taste is personal. Nevertheless, Marvel movies are not cinema like Raging Bull is cinema.
I have some bad news for Scorsese, though. His latest picture, The Irishman, which premiered in a very limited theatrical run and now streams on Netflix, isn’t cinema either. It is … television. It may be exquisite television — possibly some of the best television ever made. It is certainly lavish, high production value television. I liked it. At times, I loved it. But it’s not cinema in the sense that Scorsese himself defines and defends it.
The filmmaker has pulled off some amazing feats here, rustling every conceivable actor, not only from his trademark gangster stable (De Niro, Pesci, Welker White), but also raiding The Sopranos (Kathrine Narducci, Robert Funaro) and his own underrated HBO series, Vinyl (Ray Romano, Bobby Cannavale). Scorsese directs Al Pacino for the first time, and it’s a natural match. Indeed, the movie is composed of flawless performances. The acting, cinematography, montage and music all snap together perfectly, as if waved into place by a Scorsese-brand magic wand. But even on the big screen, the film has little of the risk-taking and rollicking energy that made Goodfellas or Casino or Bringing out the Dead so exhilarating to watch.
There is nothing here that hasn’t already been successfully road tested elsewhere, either by Scorsese himself or in other productions, like The Sopranos, that emulate his style. Just as with the Marvel movies, there is no room for experimentation. It’s algorithmically formulaic, like a greatest hits (pun intended) of mob movies. Every scene, every shot, is precisely pitched and delivers exactly the necessary amount of information; nothing less, nothing more. It’s dramatic, but not spectacular. In the film’s most unexpected moments, still there isn’t anything genuinely unexpected. Particularly the movie’s pivotal scene plays out like a sanitized, Ikea version of Joe Pesci’s demise in Goodfellas, something we’ve been waiting for two hours and 30 years to see again. Scorsese scoops together all the ingredients we’ve come to expect from the gangster genre but serves it up like a tray of prison food. It satisfies, but it doesn’t excite the appetite.
The Irishman’s much discussed de-aging effects aren’t cinematic either. In days gone by, what a director might have done when portraying characters in their younger years is to cast young actors of remarkable physical similarity and talent — someone like, say, Robert De Niro playing a youthful Marlon Brando in The Godfather Part II. Surely there are younger actors who could have played Frank Sheeran at 35, rather than deploying distracting digital masks for De Niro and company. It’s not lasers and spaceships, but it’s still special effects-heavy, and that ain’t cinema.
The way that Netflix withheld The Irishman from a regular theatrical run is decidedly uncinematic, too. I wanted to see this film in a big room at the Forum on opening night, and again a week later, and again in 17 weeks. But that won’t happen because Netflix wants a measure of exclusivity, and for $160-million, rightly so. Netflix would like us to see The Irishman — on our own screens. Martin Scorsese is one of America’s greatest living filmmakers. But he’s now directing made-for-TV movies. I’m more than a little concerned that it is where it’s gotten.
Underworld & Ø [Phase], “Border Country,” Drift Series 1 (Caroline International)
One of the most delightful surprises of the decade has been Underworld’s indestructibility. Their 2016 album Barbara Barbara, We Face a Shining Future was one of my favourite albums of the 2010s and hinted that Karl Hyde and Rick Smith’s best work might still be ahead of them. Drift Series 1, the year-long project for which they created a weekly track, might be it — a techno-situationist epic and a testament to the art of perseverance.
Rebecca Foon, “Dreams to be Born,” Waxing Moon (Constellation Records)
I’ve been keeping a dream diary since 2015 and have written down nearly 1,000 dreams so far. My dreams tend to cycle through places and themes and people. I’m often living somewhere that is not my home, somewhere that I’ve never been to in waking life, but nonetheless feels familiar. I used to have recurring dreams of finding a secret room that I never knew was there, the feeling of discovery and liberation and relief washing over me as I slept. Lately, though, I’ve been having recurrent panic dreams that involve moving through smaller and smaller spaces until I’m trapped and can’t move. Usually I’m late in these dreams, too, and madly rushing around to do something for which I’m unprepared. I wish I could find that big secret room again; my subconscious could use the space. ■