The Social Dilemma, Netflix Film

This documentary is a must-watch film about how the tech industry has shifted from “tool-based” technology to “manipulation-based” technology, encouraging and utilizing addictive behaviours. They not only compile extensive data on people’s behaviours, but they mainly make money by encouraging an increase of your usage and trading in “human futures.” In short, they are able to manipulate all of us, the greater society. The online world takes over a person’s self-worth and identity.

A major problem today is that Gen Zs have significant social and emotional problems for engaging in social media heavily, as do other heavy online users.

Another big problem is that foreign countries work to polarize and destabilize our democracies by causing in-fighting. We, as a society, need to push back.

But what will it take? What will the cost be to our kids and our society before better laws are in place about the uses and abuses of social media?

A few actionable items: turn off all notifications. Don’t click on ads and rabbit holes on controversial topics online. Delete social media and email apps from your phone and set a time limit for yourself to be online. To avoid being polarized, read news from beyond your typical sources and follow/listen to opposing views.

This film is recommended.

*Keep in mind that Tristin Harris may be working for Facebook and advocating for a paid version where people can drive their own feed better. Watch This.

A free YouTube related talk is Here.

DB

Dilimma or Delimna?

Looking & Seeing the Painting

La France apportant la foi aux Hurons de la Nouvelle-France, (c. 1670).

In the article called “Absolute Faith, or France Bringing Representation to the Subjects of New France” (1997), Josephy Monteyne assembles an interesting collage of the various ways of “looking” at what is believed to be Frère Luc’s painting, La France apportant la foi aux Hurons de la Nouvelle-France, (c. 1670).  He disputes art critics Harper and Lord for the way they “look” at the painting; the first for only seeing the painting as one created in “the grand manner of art of the dying phases of Renaissance religious painting”; and the second for only seeing objects of religious and imperial propaganda (Monteyne, 18). While both perspectives have merit, Monteyne provides extensive contextual analysis of the painting, shedding light on the painting as we look upon it today, alluding to our own cultural references to help us self-consciously see the painting, and also show us how the Indigenous looked upon it.

            Monteyne describes the scene of the submissive subject looking at the gifted painting with all of its connotations. He calls it an “allegorical image” and hints at this through his explanation of “representation of a gift of representation” (Monteyne, 12).   This immediately demands that I, as the looker of the painting today, must consider how this frame I am seeing has been particularly selected, giving Lord’s position on the painting as propaganda credibility. Given the powers the Indigenous placed on the visual images, they were overcome by the works and therefore subjugated. Myself looking, I recognize a similarity to the painting of the painting of a pipe—the image in the image. There is representation here, but the code is hidden from me at the moment, but soon to be revealed through the detailed history Monteyne provides.

            The dense history of France, Louis XIV, the Jesuits, and the Recollets, as well as Laval who was appointed Bishop of New France by the king and pope, provides context which gradually opens the looker’s eyes to use of religious and political icons in the painting, the overall metaphor of the woman as King of France wearing a necklace with an “L” for Louis on it, and all the force of the king’s centralized and growing power stretching out to the far reaches of his colonies by ship with flutter flags, subjugating the indigenous peoples on new lands and bringing them into France’s labour force. Suddenly, it’s all there, even showing me that the fleur de lis on the blanket covering the Native man is meant to comfort and him with the idea that he will be taken care of under France. While the simple look revealed the final punch line which we are all familiar with, having the context makes every detail a motif, every colour symbolic, every image representational. Rather than simply looking now, I am now seeing.

            Furthermore, I was struck by how the struggle of the various religious orders under the crown of France is parallel to the struggle of the Indigenous peoples. Monteyne shows how indigenous arts were appropriated for the use of the colonizers; and the actual painting of the painting was an appropriation of Rome’s religious art for the purpose of subjugating the Indigenous because to them, images held great spiritual power. They looked upon the paintings, both the painting in the painting, and the actual painting, through their own cultural lens—and they were undone. They also needed to learn how to see the paintings.

Works Cited

Monteyne, Joseph. “Absolute Faith, or France Bringing Representation to the Subjects of New France.” Oxford Art Journal, vol. 20, no. 1, 1997, pp. 12–22. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/1360712. Accessed 11 Aug. 2020.

All Together Now, film

This is a perfect family film for a rainy day as fall knocks on the door.
 
The main character, Amber Appleton (played by Auli’i Cravalho), struggles with homelessness alongside her abused, alcoholic mother (Justina Machado). This story has all the ingredients for a modern-day YA fairy-tale, with the added depth provided by song, poetry, and drama utilized at various times by the students as a means to rise above circumstances.
 
The director has chosen key scenes from the novel, authored by Matthew Quick, to compress time and move the plot rapidly keeping viewers engrossed; and he connects jumps in time with an off-beat,  occasionally fun, and otherwise melodramatic soundtrack. This is not a sugary Disney film; it could appeal to a more serious teen.
 
The musicality of the film is similar to “Pitch Perfect,” with less singing and more somber notes. The themes explored through dialogue, setting, and characterizations are: race, homelessness, poverty, abuse, child neglect, disability, death, and grief, offset by the light of hope, resiliency, dreams, and aspirations. Additionally, it was refreshing to see the depiction of affluent people of colour alongside those who struggle, as opposed to the film industry’s racial stereotypes of the past.
 
Recommended for children aged 10 and up; suitable for family viewing.
 
Director: Brett Haley
Writers: Marc Basch, Brett Haley, Matthew Quick (novel)
Actors: Auli’i Cravalho, Carol Burnett, Justina Machado, Judy Reyes, Fred Armisen
Rating PG
Running Time1h 32m
Genre: Drama
 
Official Trailer:
 

Impressions of “‘Almost True’: Peter Rindisbacher’s Early Images of Rupert’s Land, 1821-26” (by Laura Peers)

            Laura’s Peer’s article, “‘Almost True’: Peter Rindisbacher’s Early Images of Rupert’s Land, 1821-26” (2009), thoroughly interprets the socioeconomic context of the art Rindisbacher produced as well as the artist who was trained in Europe. By reading this article, I discover similarities between Rindisbacher’s visual culture and the current visual culture. Just as Rindisbacher is a product of his time and culture, so too are we all. He used his European training to construct images which were not “natural,” but instead utilized a vraisemblance to pique the desired responses of the viewers. The imperial expeditions financed by the centre, created an appetite for panoramic views which drew in the intended viewers. This act of spatialization by definition produced and reproduced expected and stereotypical images of “savages” in other lands, justifying the colonization by the homeland.

            Rindisbacher creating images using the artistic conventions of his artist training, with subject matter depicting the expected vistas and exotic subjects with material details affording them authenticity, as if he were a journalist-artist. These kinds of works are instructional of discourses of power structures and, not as obviously, about the economic conditions which brought them about. Additionally, the patriotic forces of multiculturalism in the present-day have conditioned us for festivals around the calendar: we expect shows of “otherness” on certain days of the year, performed by well-defined ethnic groups. We purchased souvenirs and display them as symbols of my own adventures, much like Rindisbacher’s culture of explorers and colonialists. These are artifacts of primitiveness, a material culture which populates visual representations. Peers explains:

Material culture functioned as affirmations of the reality of their experiences […] Many such men made collections of Aboriginal objects: moccasins, coats, leggings, sashes, garters […] often purchased as souvenirs on the point of departure from the Northwest, or the return to ‘civilization’, where their wearing would have signified that the wearer had ‘gone native’ – not merely eccentric, but corrupted by the primitive. (Peers, 58)

I wonder, does the intention of the display, being appreciation rather than subjugative, afford it redemption? It is a complex issue. Peers discovers the same thing when she shows how Rindisbacher learned to paint in such a way as to imbue his work with “Western knowledge and power structures which were deeply embedded in colonialism,” (Peers, 60). He was interested in producing works which he knew would sell, and he produced works on commission. Rather than create art as an expression of his own impressions, he stepped into the travel narrative handed to him through the imperialist practice of colonialism, creating panoramas and other works which functioned much like stock photos of today.

As Peers’ work attests, there is much to explore and uncover with the production of art, the producers of art, their intentions, as well as the cultures in which they exist. I believe we are all explorers of the world, searching for a point of entry; a place to either perpetuate found narratives of inherited visual culture as Rindisbacher did, or a place to create new narratives, without using stock images.

 

 

Works Cited

Peers, Laura. “‘Almost True’: Peter Rindisbacher’s Early Images of Rupert’s Land, 1821-26.” Art History vol. 32, no. 3, June 2009, pp. 516-544. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1111/j.1467-8365.2009.00683.x.

View Peter Rindisbacher’s Early Images of Rupert’s Land Here.

Winning Chance, by Katherine Koller

Katherine Koller has written a vivid and compelling collection of short stories set in various locations within Alberta. Each of the vignettes, like acts of a play, puts the off-beat characters centre-stage in their complex social struggles, from a mother with a baby who fails to thrive and retired lovers wanting to travel, to a differently abled young man dangerously learning to navigate his precarious life when the most important people in his life cease to be. All of these scenes present sense of place palpably, with rapid dialogue which lives in the boroughs of Edmonton and small town Alberta.

No matter the desperation of each main character’s plight, Koller scripts a second chance for them. The honest realism, which tempts the reader to look away from difficult topics, is offered-up with optimism–a striking combination, like a salty and sweet treat.

In these troubling times, it is a surprising and refreshing read.

Recommended for youth and adults.

A Canadian Read.

 

 

 

 

 

Read more about Katherine Koller and her work on her website by clicking here.

Watch her interview on YouTube by yours truly, funded by a generous grant from the Rozsa Foundation, powered by The Writers’ Guild of Alberta.

There are no current events.

Join Dorothy online for a LIVE reading of her picture book, published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside, on Tuesday July 21st, 7:00 pm (Mountain Time), with the Writers’ Guild of Alberta. Check back here for a link to the event: dorothybentley.net – click on “News & Events”

Gather children for this lively romp through the seasonal activities of children in Alberta.

Q & A to follow.


	

Fishing~ Gardner Lake & Georgia Straight

As we approach the Alberta Free Family Fishing weekend, I can’t help but think back on several great family fishing trips. Some stand out because of the stunning location, others because of the fish that were caught.

My first serious fishing trip came when I travelled to Gardner Lake, a fly-in lake in Alberta. Also on the trip was my new (at the time– I’m still married to the same guy) husband and three of his friends. Okay, so they planned the trip and I invited myself. The tiny plane with floats landed on the pristine lake and we were taxied along to a dock where we disembarked and unloaded our gear. We followed the path to a rough cabin with– one room. It held three sets of bunk-beds, a tiny kitchen along one wall with a window looking out over the lake, with a propane cooker, wood stove, old chrome and formica table and chairs, and no running water. Oh, and the “bathroom” was out back in it’s own little house, otherwise known as an “outhouse.” We all slept in our clothes and there were no showers that weekend, although I took a dip in the lake. I have never heard snoring like that before or since, and I vowed I would leave the men’s trips to them in future, and my husband I would have our own family fishing trips.

The first thing one of the guys did was to set-up a contest. Each day, the one who caught the largest fish would win a prize. Dan had brought little prizes with him, including lures and other outdoor/fishing miscellany. I’d brought along my SLR camera, so while I was preoccupied snapping stunning white pelicans (in northern Alberta?), my husband fished in our boat while the others were also fishing in aluminum boats at other spots on the lake.

After I grew tired of taking photos, I dangled my line in the water. There were a few schools of White Fish around, so we would pull anchor and move; when we catch that type of fish, we did not seem to catch Walleye, which was our goal. White Fish are very boney and the Indigenous people fed them to their dog teams rather than eat them. Once we found a good spot with some variation in the bottom topography, we began to get bites. One of the guys, Brian, was extremely competitive. He determinedly fished all day. Every now and again, my husband and I could hear a shout from another boat some distance away as someone pulled-in a nice one. Towards the end of the day, when we were hungry, not when the sun went down since in the north the sun barely goes down in the summer, we were about to call it quits when I felt a strong tug on my line. I thought I had snagged bottom. Then the “bottom” began to move.

I was careful to keep the tip of my rod up and the line taut. I reeled in slow and steady. As it neared the boat, the Walleye thrashed and shook its head, making me tense-up, thinking I might lose it. I kept the pressure on and finally had it close enough to the boat so my husband could scoop the net under it and pull it safely into the boat. We pulled anchor and headed for shore.

Once on the dock, we did the weigh-in of the day’s catch. Brian was beaming as he had caught a Walleye that looked like the largest of them all. His weighed in at four and half pounds. He was already bragging and strutting around with his chest puffed out. My fish was weighed last.

It was the largest fish I had ever caught. It had barbed fins and bulging eyes. Since I was quite new to fishing, I was not into holding them up for the camera. I let my husband do that. He scooped the scale-hook through its gills and lifted it up. The needle slid back and forth for a few seconds until it settled on five pounds. “Dee is the winner!” Dan called out, using my nick-name. I beamed, but feeling a twinge of pity for Brian who had wanted to win so badly, I patted his back and said, “It’s okay, Brian. Mine is only half a pound more.”

All the guys laughed uproariously. Brian had been beaten by someone new to fishing.

 

Since that trip, my man and I have fished in many places in Alberta as well as British Columbia. We spent many hours fishing on Canada’s West Coast, particularly on the Georgia Straight: fly fishing on the Little Qualicum River, and down-rigger fishing out between the little islands, such as Gabriola and Lasquitti. We were surprised by sudden gales a couple of times with ocean swells as tall as a two-story house, and I kissed the ground when we returned to shore, but it won’t stop me from going out again.

My father-in-law, who raised my husband to be a fisherman, always had one sort of boat or other. We caught an incredible variety of sea-life from his boat: ling-cod, blue-backs (young salmon), larger Coho and Springs, and several sharks which he snagged with his gaff-hook. I miss those early-morning trips, when we would set-up the down-riggers with our lines clipped on, put them in the rod-holders and then I’d catch a few winks until the bell on the end of a line jingled. I’d start up and grab my rod and reel-in like a son-of-a-bride because the line was down fifty or eighty feet. Most often there was nothing on, but Tom had a fish-finder so we tried to find the schools of salmon and follow them around the Straight. When the bite was on, we really cleaned-up. Tom had a routine of filling his quota and then canning fish in a giant pressure-cooker filled with glass jars. Every year, he would give us cases of canned salmon. As for the blue-backs, they were best enjoyed straight on the BBQ, including their crisped-up skin.

I really miss those fishing trips, all the canned salmon, and Tom–but mostly I just miss my father-in-law, Tom. He was a great dad. We enjoyed many great outings fishing as a family.

Phantom Thread, written & directed by Paul Thomas Anderson

Costume Designer: Mark Bridges, Musical Score composed by Jonny Greenwood

Phantom Thread (2017) is a lavish period film set in 1950’s London. The main characters are Daniel Day-Lewis, who plays a haute couture designer, Lesley Manville, who plays his sister, and Vicky Krieps, as a waitress who becomes his lover whom he eventually marries. This film is brilliantly executed from the stunning scenes, sparse but intense dialogue, complex characterizations of the principals, and the storytelling which includes a surprise.

Female viewers should be put-off by the narcissistic and misogynistic designer, Reynold Woodcock, who (it is implied), preys upon a string of young women he uses for muses, models, and lovers, but he unsuspectingly meets someone different in the simple but charming Alma Elson, a foreigner. They soon fall in love and she moves into his grand house in London where Reynold’s sister Cyril runs matters. Cyril is the only one able to stand up to Reynolds’ spoiled child repertoire. He seems only able to love his dead mother whose image, wearing a wedding dress, haunts him. When Alma is at risk of becoming another cast-off of Reynold, she tries to lure him back with a surprise dinner, which is a disaster. When she is loving and kind, he is mean and hurtful. The fact that Alma persists in her loyalty to an abusive person reveals her own troubling character.

Eventually, Alma decides to injure Reynold with poisonous mushrooms. This leaves him ill and at her mercy as she nurses him, just as his mother would. While ill, Reynold sees his mother and once he is recovered, he proposes to Alma.

This film begins as a strange love story, but soon turns into a psychological thriller with a sinister edge. While rated R for mature themes, it may be worth watching for those who enjoy a well-made film.

 

Educated, by Tara Westover

Tara Westover has written a scathing memoir about her experience as a “home schooled” kid. The truth of it is, however, that her parents, especially her father, did everything he could to prevent her from becoming educated. She was not allowed to read anything except the Bible. If she wanted to read a math textbook, she had to hide with it or secretly study elsewhere. It was her brother, an older escapee, who encouraged her to covertly study for the entrance exam to a college which accepted home schooled kids. If it was not for him, she may very well have ended up dead, or at the least, physically and emotionally scarred or brain-damaged like one of her brothers who was continually injured, oftentimes working alongside their father in unsafe work conditions.

Memoir is an artful retelling of one’s life, with carefully selected scenes strung together to produce a narrative arc, usually on a particular theme of interest, climaxing with a pivotal moment in one’s life. While Westover’s tale does chronicle her finally leaving her abusive and manipulative home, before she does, she continues to go back, and go back, and go back, even when her life is in danger. It was upsetting as a reader; I cannot image how difficult it was to live through it. Sadly, unlike most memoirs which comfortably resolve, this one leaves the reader feeling unsettled. There is a major family rift and I was left wondering if Westover had waited long enough to tell her story; where is the redemption? Where is the reconciliation and forgiveness? Sadly, this convention of memoir is not possible in some families. She was not able to save her family, so she saves herself.

Well worth the read.

Little Women, directed by Greta Gurwig

The latest version of Little Women hit the big screen on Christmas Day 2019. I’d read the book most recently over a decade ago, and watched several other film versions. How does this one rate?

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This edition is not only based on the Louisa May Alcott’s novel about the March family, but also on Alcott’s journals; therefore there are a few interesting additions.

Stylistically, the movie has lush deep tones in indoor frames much like the period paintings Gurwig studied. The outdoor scenes are satisfying with period details as well as fresh and delightfully lingering which accounts for the length at 2 hours 15 minutes.

The movie is set in Orchard House and surrounding area, the actual Alcott home (now museum) in Concord, Massachusetts, across the lane from Laurie’s grand mansion, presided over by his grandfather, (Chris Cooper). Father is off to the Civil War, and Marmie (played by Laura Dern) sympathizes with the poor of the town and leads her girls to give away their sparse foodstuffs and care for the sick. Jo (played by Saoirse Ronan), is wilder in this version than the others, least likely to succumb to matrimony; her sisters not so much. There are subtle religious overtones as the family prays true to the original book, but more stark are the overt feminist comments not present in the original novel or the previous films, apparently borrowed from a speech in Alcott’s novel Rose in Bloom and elsewhere in Alcott’s later writings, perhaps indicative of Alcott’s growing outspokenness. While women’s social standing is a predicament of the time, the “little women” being so self-aware is doubtful. It smacks of didacticism, aimed at educating the young who may know nothing of women’s former plight and the true work of feminism to win suffrage, property, and parentage rights. Again, not true to the novel, but in retrospect it is a truthful addition in light of Alcott’s values.

The character of Laurie (Chalamet) is rendered in a believable light, immature and a brother-match to Jo, while more suitable as husband for the younger more adoring Amy. His growing love for Jo and her refusal is put forth as the main story-line, but kudos to the director, Gurwig, for also giving us glimpses of Meg’s (Watson) romance with Laurie’s tutor John Brooke (Norton), poignant scenes during Beth’s (Scanlen) illness, and more of Amy (Pugh) in Paris with Aunt March played spectacularly by none other than Meryl Streep. Unfortunately, the role of Marmie March (Dern) was underwhelming, as was that of Father (Odenkirk). However, the comic banter and rich poetic dialogue provides hints of Thoreau’s Walden and other transcendental writers and thinkers of the time. In fact, I quite expected actual appearances by the Alcott’s neighbours, but they appeared only in the script.

Jo’s friendship and ensuing romance with Friedrich (Louis Garrel) is a good fit as he is closer in age to Jo than the version with Wynona Rider, therefore more believable, somewhat reminiscent of the updating of Pride and Prejudice with younger protagonists. More of their relationship would have been interesting. However, the final scene, as sweet as it is, does not at all seem true to the story as it doesn’t lead well into the following novel Jo’s Boys where Friedrich and Jo have a school for boys. Instead, it adhere’s to the comedic form for a gathering of community.

Another stylistic update was the switching back and forth repeatedly in time between the girls’ childhood and their adult lives, unlike the chronological treatment in the Gillian Armstrong’s 1994 version with Wynona Rider and Susan Sarandon. I personally loved this treatment, but my movie-friend who hadn’t read the book or viewed previous versions was confused.

I recommend reading Louisa May Alcott’s novel Little Women first then watching the 1994 Armstrong version before seeing this one in order to truly appreciate the vision which Gurwig brought to screen.

 

Recommended for all ages.