Friday, February 29, 2008

Tilda before the big time

When Tilda Swinton reacted with disbelief upon hearing herself named 'Best Supporting Actress' for her role in Michael Clayton, she mirrored the reactions of many around the world, including mine. Having been a longtime fan of Tilda, I never would have imagined that such an outsider would be named the Hollywood equivalent of the prom queen.

For me, Tilda Swinton was the only good thing about The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. She was chillingly memorable as the villain in an otherwise bland piece of Christian propaganda. Without a doubt, this role prompted Hollywood to sit up and take notice when she went on to play a role in Michael Clayton.

I first noticed Tilda when she starred in the 1992 film, Orlando. I had read a review of the movie in Eye Weekly and, at the time, I was crazy for the Quebecois actor, Lothaire Bluteau. He had a small part in the film so I invited a longtime friend to make the trek downtown to the one artsy cinema that was actually screening the movie in Toronto. My anticipation for the film was so high that when a car in front of our bus burst into flames, instead of marvelling at my front row seats to a spectacular explosion, I worried that we would not be able to make it in time for the screening. (To put this in context: the car was empty and parked on the side of the road, and missing the screening time meant not seeing the film at all since my friend and I both had curfews and we couldn't come downtown very often.)

We actually arrived and settled into our seats just as Orlando started. Orlando encapsulated everything I was into at the time: Lothaire Bluteau, strong visuals in art house films and androgyny. Tilda Swinton transformed from a male to a female effortlessly and looked great doing it. After the film, I was completely exhilarated and expected the same reaction from my best friend since Grade 3. "It was okay," she said, "When Orlando spoke directly to the camera, it was annoying." Our friendship was never the same afterwards.

This being a time before the dominance of the internet, I had to feed my obsession for Tilda Swinton and Orlando the hard way. I collected as many newspapers and magazines with reviews and photos of the movie as I could. What I could not acquire, I stole from the public library - for instance, a beautiful photo spread featuring Tilda Swinton wearing the Orlando costumes in an issue of Vogue that was no longer on the stands.

Unfortunately, Tilda Swinton drifted in and out of my consciousness afterwards. She appeared in films like The War Zone, The Beach and Young Adam - none of which I have seen because she looked so grimy in all of them. I did not see Tilda on film again until 2005, which turned into a breakout year: the Keanu Reeves vehicle, Constantine, in which she once again played a male character, the archangel Gabriel; a brief role in Bill Murray's Broken Flowers; then came The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.

I have not yet seen Michael Clayton but fully intend to. I'll admit that I had forgotten about Tilda Swinton and Orlando until Tilda's Oscar nomination and then, her surprising win. Who would have thought that popular approval would bring back memories of being an outsider in love with a celluloid one.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Pouting in the trenches

Since Toshiba threw in the towel in their battle against Sony for High Definition DVD supremacy, I suddenly understand how it must have felt to be a Confederate/Nazi/Maple Leaf fan. You invest all your hopes and dreams into one side of a war (HD DVD) and then the leaders of your camp throw up the white flag while you're still engaged in battle (at the cash register).

A less offensive comparison to the HD DVD vs Blu-ray Disc (BD) format war would be the Beta vs VHS showdown of the 1980s. VHS won out in the end as the people's choice due to its longer tape time. A lesser known fact is that VHS's win was helped by the support of the porn industry and its legions of fans; Beta's creator, Sony chose a strict anti-porn stance. Several years after Beta sales became flaccid, Sony abandoned Beta and joined the VHS bandwagon.

Yet, I'm going to return to my previous 'soldier betrayed by the officers' analogy because it is more accurate. Sales have not dictated the winner in the HD DVD vs BD battle since consumers have pretty much waited on the sidelines. It was the slow sales of both formats that prompted companies like Warner Bros., Wal-Mart and Best Buy to make the choice for consumers. And unfortunately for consumers, they chose the format that will probably cost more down the line because it is more expensive to produce.

Having chosen the HD DVD side during the most recent Boxing Day frenzy, I feel resentful that my choice, or any buyer's choice, has factored so little in the final result. Adding salt to the wound is how quickly Toshiba has chosen to surrender rather than support their market.

As Toshiba shares rise in the aftermath of their seppuku display, we'll be burning and pillaging our way through HD DVD fire sales that have already begun.