There is this song.
I have listened to it obsessively. Usually at night before I turn off the lights. As a remedy, as a tonic, as an anthem for the work I’m doing and the work I hope to do.
I’ve written about music and memory before (see here), but this is different. This is about now and the way this music spurs me on in the current social and political climate.
This song is a spark. A spark that is a component of the antidote we need in these dark times of hate, intolerance, and evil.
It’s from a movie I’ve never watched and perhaps there’s a risk in viewing only one four-minute segment from a feature-length film. This video is also now almost a year old. I only discovered it because of YouTube’s algorithmic operation. The same algorithms that have contributed to so much of the strife and misinformation that contaminate our news and information diets.
The song is from the movie The Greatest Showman. “This Is Me” is sung by Keala Settle who plays Lettie Lutz in the movie (Annie Jones in real life), the Bearded Lady and one of P. T. Barnum’s original nineteenth century cast members. Leaving aside the nature of Barnum’s commercial project and even the commercial project from which this song is drawn, absorb the lyrics as you watch the video.
As much as the words move me, there is magic in the choreography. It’s that magic that pulls me in — every time. That resonates in my heart. The earthiness of the stamping feet, the power of the arms punched into the air, the rhythmic staccato of the bodies swaying. It’s solid, it’s demanding, it’s asserting the right of these bodies to exist as they are in all spaces. In the light, not the dark, in amongst you and me. In amongst us all.
There’s that moment when the performers are suspended in air. They’ve transcended the chains of exclusion and the labels of derision to float above their cares and their worries, but the truth is in the thud of their landing. That landing on two feet. That is when they reclaim their place. The true power of their existence is in the human groundedness of their experience.
And as much as I appreciate the beauty of the production values in this video, the version of the song that I treasure is this one.
Here, Keala Settle is not singing the song from the character’s perspective. As authentically as she might inhabit the character in the film, she is not Lettie Lutz. That is the masquerade.
In the workshop version, Settle embodies the song. She embodies the essence of the words, the heart of the matter. Here, she is singing her life story. She is reliving every struggle, every hurt, every joy, every triumph, and every hope. It’s that uncloaked look into who she is, who she is without adornment or disguise, that opens up the whole performance, hers and that of every other person in the room. You can see it in the ecstatic communion of their spirits and voices.
And the universality in the message of this song, the truth of it, is that we are all different. Our differences do not make us less than any other. They only do so when others associate difference with inferiority, with lack, with less-than.
Unfortunately, it is also a truth that those with power and privilege have gained their rank through a long historical process of magnifying and demonizing difference. Manipulating fear to validate sacrificing others for profit and prestige. For control.
So, there’s a radical — if not revolutionary — message in this song despite the fact that it’s embedded in a cultural artefact that itself is a product of our systems and structures of consumerism and privilege.
And it is this.
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious
Each and every one of us.
And don’t let them, those who benefit from the exploitation of difference, ever tell you differently.
If they do, fight back.
Do not give them a platform to amplify and broadcast hateful messages.
Vote them out.
Hieronymus Bosch. A late-Medieval Dutch painter and an artist whose work intrigues my son.
This month the Vancouver International Film Festival Society (VIFF) is screening a movie about curators preparing an upcoming exhibition of Bosch’s work. How interesting! How cultural! How … wait a minute: what do you mean I can’t take my son to see the film?
It turns out that if a film is unclassified, the regulations prohibit the sale of a ticket to anyone under 19. How absurd! Furthermore, when a film is classified and those under 19 are able to attend, the VIFF theatre concession can no longer serve its adult patrons alcohol. How ridiculous!
So, I’ve written a letter to Minister Oakes urging her to cut this red tape and I will mail it this evening.
If you share my point of view on this, please write the Minister, too.
The more she hears from BC voters, the more likely the government will address these anachronistic provisions, which make a mockery of consumer protection.
September 2, 2016
Honourable Coralee Oakes
Minister of Small Business, Red Tape Reduction
& Responsible for the Liquor Distribution Branch
P.O.Box 9054, STN Prov Govt
Victoria, BC V8W9E2
Dear Minister Oakes,
I had wanted to buy tickets for my family to one of the Vancouver International Film Festival Society (VIFF) screenings of a movie about Hieronymus Bosch, the visionary late-Medieval Dutch painter.
Unfortunately, I’m unable to do so since the movie is unclassified and I cannot buy a ticket for my fifteen year-old son.
My son is an artist and has long been intrigued by Bosch’s work. As his parent, I’m very comfortable in accompanying him to this movie. Its content is cultural, informative, historical, and fascinating. It is in no way a threat to his well-being or his psyche. I think anyone would be hard-pressed to argue that he doesn’t have the maturity necessary to watch this particular film.
In inquiring as to why I was unable to take my son to the movie, I have learned that it is provincial law, not VIFF policy, which demands the classification of films before they can be shown to teenagers. Apparently this law covers only theatrical screenings and DVD releases, but not television nor the internet.
This regulatory policy is based on a logical fallacy that an unclassified film is the same as an unsuitable one. It is a level of red tape that not only hinders operations at VIFF, one of Vancouver’s outstanding cultural institutions, but it also assumes that parents are incapable of determining which movies their teenage children may watch.
The same anachronistic regulations prohibit VIFF from allowing liquor in the theatre on Seymour Street when youth under 19 are present. This seems like an unnecessary duplication of restrictions given that concession staff would be prohibited from serving minors. It also diminishes the experience for older patrons who are denied their full privileges simply because the broader classification of a particular movie expands the audience for that particular screening.
I am writing to ask that you review these particular regulations and amend them at the earliest opportunity. Allow teenagers to attend unclassified movies with their parents’ approval and allow liquor service when a movie audience includes those under 19. That would be an effective red tape reduction and a positive support for small business in the cultural sector.
Thank you Minister Oakes for your consideration of the above. I hope that you will take the measures necessary to introduce a more enlightened approach for screenings of unclassified films in Vancouver, whether at the VIFF theatre or at other locations. Such an approach would facilitate the attendance of teens at film events. It is an approach that will draw in younger audiences, not shut them out and without diminishing the experience of older patrons.
Honourable Suzanne Anton, Attorney General & Minister of Justice
Jacqueline Dupuis, Executive Director, VIFF Society
Rob Gialloreto, President & CEO, Consumer Protection BC
In a recent blog post, Chris Kennedy, Superintendent of Schools for West Vancouver, issued a challenge which involves providing 11 random facts about one’s self, answering 11 questions, and posing 11 questions for others to answer.
I don’t have an athlete’s competitive gene in the way Chris does, but I’m not one to pass up a challenge — particularly one which offers an easy way into kickstarting my blog for the year.
So here goes:
11 Facts About Me
- I’m the eldest child in my family and I use birth order psychology to rationalize my tendency to be bossy.
- Athletic competition is not my forte, but I was a competitive swimmer when I was younger.
- And while I may not be an athlete, my competitive instincts do tend to arise if faced with a New York Times crossword puzzle, a game of Trivial Pursuit, or any sort of game involving my five nephews.
- I was one of the original hosting staff hired for Expo 86 in Vancouver. I worked in the pre-fair period, first at the display pavilion conducting tours of the site model, and later at the Expo Centre which eventually became Science World.
- Although I did have that experience with Expo, I resigned my position before the Fair actually opened – not one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.
- I lived in Toronto from 1986 to 1992 and worked for a variety of companies including Addison Wesley Publishers, Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation, and Rogers Cablesystems. I also obtained my MBA from the University of Toronto while there.
- During my time in Toronto, I took creative writing lessons through the Continuing Education department at the U of T. My instructor, for two terms, was Anne Michaels who subsequently found much acclaim with the publication of her novel Fugitive Pieces among other works.
- I still have the letter Ms. Michaels wrote to me at the end of one term (she wrote a letter for to each student) encouraging me to give myself the gift of time to write. I have to admit, I’ve never quite learned how to do so, but I still may.
- While working for CMHC, I was seconded to the G8 1988 Economic Summit and worked in the media centre. I think I may have caught a glimpse of Margaret Thatcher once from a very great distance!
- My return to Vancouver in 1992 was prompted by a number of factors, primarily the impending birth of my first nephew. That’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made because it brought me back home and allowed me to play a bigger part in his life, and the lives of his brothers, than I may have been able to from far away.
- September 2014 will mark 40 years since my family moved to British Columbia and settled in West Vancouver.
Questions from Chris Kennedy:
- If you could only watch one television station what would it be? CBC Newsworld
- Looking back at your schooling, what was the silliest rule your school had? I don’t remember which is probably a clear indication that school rules aren’t as effective as we’d like them to be. Or it may only be evidence of my memory issues!
- Who is the greatest ever Canuck? I’m sure I’d answer this differently every day and we’re lucky to have so many choices. Today I’m going to pick Lester B. Pearson because I believe he was a man who had a vision of how Canada could operate on the world stage in a manner which promoted peace and reconciliation. Our political leadership now seems to have abdicated that position. [Editor’s Note: I realize now Chris meant the hockey team and not Canadians in general in which case I’ll say Trevor Linden although I was also a Harold Snepsts fan. Oh, and Kirk McLean.]
- What is the greatest rock group of the 1980s? Please see the note above re memory issues. I was a Fleetwood Mac enthusiast and also a fan of the Little River Band, but I think that may have been more reflective of the 1970s.
- What is something education related you have changed your opinion on over your career? Assessment although not necessarily academic honours and awards.
- What is the warmest place you have ever been — and how warm was it? China in July 2009. My eyeglasses would fog up as soon as a I stepped out of the hotel lobby and I remember being drenched in perspiration from morning to evening.
- Poorest fashion trend you have seen in schools in the last 10 years? Ugh to Uggs.
- What was more frustrating to deal with in your school — Pokemon cards or silly bands? Luckily my role precluded the need to deal with this issue.
- Describe your favourite high school teacher in four words. Miss Lysell: dramatist extraordinaire inspiring imaginations.
- What is the best reason to go on Facebook at least once a day? For a smile while refreshing connections with friends and family, near and far.
- If blogging was outlawed tomorrow — what would be your reaction? Phew!
11 Random Questions for You:
- When you think back to your time as an elementary and/or high school student, what’s the one thing you wish had been done differently?
- What’s your favourite movie and why?
- If you were asked for one piece of advice to offer a first year student at a post-secondary institution, what would it be?
- What was your favourite song of 2013 and why?
- Who would you say serves as the best role model for young people today?
- Think about the work you’re doing now. Is it part of a career you had planned on or are you doing something you had never thought of doing when you were younger?
- If you could pitch an idea for a television show, what would it be? (Credit for this question goes to my son!)
- On a sunny day, do you make every effort to get outside or do you sometimes prefer to stay at home?
- If you had to choose one animal to best describe who you are, what would it be? (I was once asked this question in a job interview!)
- What do you think is one thing we could do to encourage more young people to vote in municipal, provincial, and federal elections?
- What is one change you hope to make in 2014?
I Challenge the Following People to do their “Homework”:
As Chris did, I extend the challenge of this activity to the educational community in the West Vancouver School District including parents and students who write and maintain blogs. I’d also like to extend the challenge to Trustees throughout British Columbia. It’s an interesting way to allow our communities to get to know us just that little bit better beyond our role as advocates for the public education system.
I had lunch with friends recently. Our conversation turned to favourite movies and I mentioned Truly, Madly, Deeply starring Juliet Stevenson and Alan Rickman. I also said how tough it was to track down a copy to play at home. The DVD had been discontinued and anything I’d found online was expensive.
Later that day I received an email from my friend: she’d ordered a copy of the movie for me. She didn’t realize it at the time, but the copy she’d tracked down was reasonably priced because it was a VHS tape. Not a problem: I have a working VCR at home.
I first saw Truly, Madly, Deeply when I lived in Toronto (1986-1992). There were any number of cinemas within walking distance of where I lived and a quick subway ride could get me to movie theatres on St. Clair or further north along the Yonge Street corridor.
I went to the movies often during this time and often alone.
Because when you live on your own, you learn to take yourself out. You can’t always count on having someone there to go with you, whether to a movie or for dinner or to special events. It’s tough to do, especially as a woman, but it’s key to surviving the isolation and loneliness of city life.
I remember enjoying many new releases in Toronto including Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I was much older than the target demographic but was enticed by the reviews which described Belle as a new-style Disney heroine. She reads!
I saw Thelma and Louise in Toronto although I’m not sure the stranger who sat beside me understood the film given how his hand drifted over during the screening to fondle my thigh.
There were also movies I enjoyed with friends or with visiting family members. Dirty Dancing, Dances with Wolves, Terminator 2 (at the time, the most expensive movie ever made). I also remember going to see Silence of the Lambs (it made me nauseous) and The Princess Bride which had me laughing as much as I’d ever laughed.
Those memories may not be as vivid as they once were, but the stories, the images, the feelings, the impact of that time and those movies have stayed with me.
So as I anticipate the click of the VHS tape in the machine and the whirl of the spools as the tape begins to play, I’m also a little nervous. Will the movie live up to my remembrance of it? Will it move me in the same way as before? Will I go through piles of tissues the way I did when I first saw it?
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter. I’ll enjoy the film, but the memory I’ll latch on to is that of a friend who went out of her way to help me recapture the magic of a darkened theatre and a brilliantly acted story of love, grief, healing, and life.
Thank you A.E.!
An excerpt from La Muerta (The Dead Woman), a poem by Pablo Neruda, which is recited in Truly, Madly, Deeply
No, forgive me.
If you no longer live,
if you, beloved, my love,
if you have died,
all the leaves will fall in my breast,
it will rain on my soul night and day,
the snow will burn my heart,
I shall walk with frost and fire and death and snow,
my feet will want to walk to where you are sleeping, but
I shall stay alive …