Battle of the celebrity killers

Back then, the O.J. Simpson trial was called the “trial of the century.” Now it’s the twenty-first century, and O.J.’s legacy has been stretched rather thin. His recent misbehaviour—attempting to cash in on a belated confession through a book and television deal, followed by an attempt to rob a sports memorabilia dealer—calls his status as Hollywood’s number one wife killer into question. It’s time we delivered the crown to its rightful owner: Robert Blake.

O.J.’s story may be the stuff of bad TV movies, but Blake’s would make one hell of a lurid feature film. Courtroom theatrics—from Johnnie Cochran’s excessive race-card playing and much-satirized hyperbolizing to Judge Ito’s non-sequitur field trips— helped make O.J.’s case one of the mostly widely reported criminal trials in history, but Blake’s comparatively modest ordeal had substance. He may have shuffled through four different lawyers over the course of his trial, but his backstory is far more compelling than any of his post-arraignment antics.

O.J.’s story—former football hero batters and eventually murders his pretty, blonde wife and her male counterpart— is predictable at best. Aside from a pre-teen stint in a street gang, his history is bland, at least compared to Blake’s. A former child star and born underdog, Blake claims to have suffered appalling abuse at the hands of his alcoholic father. After joining the army, he reportedly fell in love with a 16-year-old girl, an affair which culminated in Blake aiming a gun at her disapproving dad. Blake had a successful career in film and held a starring role on the TV series Baretta, but the role he’s best known for (to university students, at least) is that of the Mystery Man in David Lynch’s Lost Highway. When we heard that the lipsticked gremlin who so eerily informed Bill Pullman that he was “at his house” had been charged with murder, we shuddered with primal fear. The handsome athlete, with his chiselled features and pathetic eyes, is not as disturbing as a villain. Blake, unlike O.J., is infinitely quotable to boot. His profanity-laden, borderline-psychotic rants are an important part of his mystique.

O.J. and Nicole were equally goodlooking, and formed an all-American couple; that is, they had your textbook abusive relationship. Bonny Lee Bakley and Robert Blake were a perfect match as well: she was embedded in a netherworld of scandal and depravity parallel to his own. Nicole had been making an honest living as a waitress when she met O.J. Bakley, by contrast, had been pulling “lonely hearts” schemes, taking out personal ads and sending nude pictures to respondents in exchange for cash. She stalked faded fringe celebrities, and managed to trap Blake in a loveless marriage via a trick pregnancy. Though she didn’t have Nicole’s looks, her rotten character added a philosophical dimension to the Blake trial: if one contemptible human being gets rid of another, is the universal balance of good and evil really offset?

Finally, compared to O.J., Blake’s post-trial conduct has been exemplary. After their respective acquittals, both were slapped with civil suits, and both were ordered to pay damages of over $30 million. O.J. has paid little of the $33.5 million he owes to the Brown and Goldman families, although he enjoys a legally untouchable NFL pension, which reportedly pays him upwards of $20 thousand a month. To supplement this, he had the now-infamous If I Did It ghost-written, and set up a dummy corporation to receive payments from Harper Collins. After his plans were thwarted—the publisher got cold feet, legal troubles erupted, the Goldman family obtained the book rights and published the hypothetical confession without the hypothetical angle—he lost his head, held up a sports memorabilia collector, and got himself arrested yet again.

Robert Blake on the other hand, filed for bankruptcy. Though Bakley’s children claimed he was hiding assets, it’s not hard to believe that Blake is genuinely broke. Now in his mid-70s, he reportedly works as a stable boy. He resides in a small apartment, lives on a Social Security and Screen Actors Guild pension (presumably much smaller than that provided by the NFL), stays out of trouble, and hopes to act again before he dies. No contest.

Kicking grass!

With the struggles of University of Toronto’s football and rugby teams so well documented, one could certainly say (metaphorically) that the grass is greener on the other side of the pitch (since the Varsity Centre field is actually synthetic turf). The women’s soccer team is off to its best start in five years (5-1-2) currently sitting in second place in the Eastern Conference, behind the Ottawa Gee-Gees. But head coach Beth McCharles, recalling her early experiences, can empathize with her Blues colleagues: “I can’t speak for the other coaches, but it takes a while to build up a team. You need to have patience to get there. It’s like you’re starting from zero–it’s going to take a long time to get to ten.” Its only four years and already, Mc- Charles’ hard work is starting to pay dividends. From recruiting players to instilling a new philosophy for the team, it really has been a grassroots revival. The lady Blues are a formidable team, well-balanced and skilled. Many of the players McCharles brought in when she first took over in 2003 are also entering their fourth years, and that maturity has shown on the field.

“We’ve been in development mode for the past couple of years,” said team captain Katie Hill, a freshman when McCharles arrived. “We’re really coming together this season, the young players are stepping up, and we expect to go all the way.”

It’s the kind of confidence that only comes with experience. The right defender has seen a team that struggled to win even one game in 2003 (1-4-5) grow into one that can’t seem to lose even when they, aren’t playing well.

Coach McCharles certainly wasn’t pleased following a 1-0 victory over Carleton this past weekend. The Blues strayed from a strategy of forcing the competition to adjust to their line up, one that has made them successful so far this season.

“When a team plays a direct game against us, we need to keep it on the pitch and play a possession game,” said the Blues coach following the game. “We started playing too much of a direct style ourselves, keeping the ball in the air, and that’s one thing that we need to improve on.”

The Blues will need to work this out before they face Queen’s later this week. Last year’s OUA silver medalist, Queen’s eliminated U of T in the 2006 OUA quarter-finals. They find themselves in unfamiliar territory this season, trailing the Blues by a point in the standings. Still, coach McCharles remembers last season’s defeat well.

“Of course there’s always revenge against Queen’s. They’ve eliminated us twice in the last two years. But we’re a better team this year and I’m very confident in saying that. We just need to take it to them and put the ball in the net, and we’ll come up with the win.”

If the Blues had difficulty playing against Carleton, it is imperative that they learn from their mistakes by Saturday, as Queen’s employs a similar offensive approach. “Queens is traditionally a very offensive team. They play direct style and keep the ball in the air,” McCharles said. “They’re not as physical as Carleton, but they’re better technically, and are always a good rival for us.”

This past weekened, facing the afforementioned Carleton Ravens, the Blues had to remain patient in order to grind out a 1-0 victory. The game, though quick-paced, was beset with sloppy play, which Blues captain Katie Hill attributed to a lack of communication. Carleton came out aggressive, keeping the Blues’ defence on their heels by playing the ball in the air, but overall there were few scoring chances early in the game. The pace especially wasn’t conducive to the Blues style, as their skilled players usually allows them to play a more creative and controlled game. It wasn’t until the 29th minute of the first half that their patience finally paid off, as second-year forward Erica Basso scored her fourth goal of the season on a cross from the 18 yard box.

Basso, one of the top scorers in the OUA (currently ranked 7th) is just one of the many accomplished players on the roster this year. Striker Rebecca Vos is also having a solid season, as is mid-fielder Guinevere Kern. But the story in this game was all about defense. Blues goaltender Mary-Anne Barnes, recently named the OUA’s athlete of the week after her fifth shutout of the season, made several key saves throughout the game. Late in the first half with the Ravens pressing, she made the play of the game stoning a Carleton player in front of the net after a defensive breakdown. The game as a whole may not have been the best example of what this Blues squad is capable of, but make no mistake, these women are a force to be reckoned with.

Finally, justice

The Canadian government began the process of doling out over $1.9 billion in the country’s largest- ever class-action settlement last Wednesday. The beneficiaries of this money are over 80,000 First Nations people who suffered abuse while studying at residential schools across the country.

The historical importance of this settlement cannot be overstated. Over a period of 150 years, more than 150,000 aboriginals were forced to attend residential schools, which were designed to deal with Canada’s “native problem” in two generations by destroying indigenous culture and assimilating First Nations youth. Physical and sexual abuse were rampant at the schools, most of which were run by the church.

Since the earliest days of Canada’s existence, the prosperity of the majority has come at the expense of aboriginal communities. The government is using taxpayer money—collected from the general population—to compensate some of the people who suffered most acutely in the course of Canada’s progress, in a symbolic attempt to tip the scales of history towards some kind of balance.

Former residential school students who lined up to fill out claim applications at government offices across the country last week can expect to receive an average of $28,000. For any who think that such amounts are over-generous, consider the major report on the schools, which found that mortality rates in some institutions averaged between 40 and 70 per cent. Many of those who filled out claims last week can count themselves lucky to be alive.

Phil Fontaine, National Chief of the Assembly of First Nations, called the settlement a “turning point” in Canadian history. While the Canadian government’s unprecedented acceptance of blame in this scandal should be praised, it is what happens next that will truly determine the nature of this so-called turning point.

The driving force of the residential school program was vile racism that sought to relegate First Nations people to a subclass of humanity. It is too soon to believe that such racism is dead in this country, as news of the government settlement was marred by editorials and news stories expressing concern that aboriginals would blow the settlements on drugs and alcohol.

Sentiments like this are grounded in a distorted image of Canada’s indigenous peoples. They paint First Nations people as essentially irresponsible and childlike, a characterization that spawned the brutal assimilative policies of the residential schools in the first place.

Many of Canada’s Aboriginal Peoples are forced to live in abhorrent conditions, impoverished and largely cut off from important government services. Although these conditions are not solely the fault of the national government, we disgrace this country by allowing them to persist. General attitudes towards indigenous peoples, which often carry this undertone of racism, have kept the state of First Nations communities from becoming an important part of the national agenda.

This settlement is a landmark decision, but let us hope that it is one of many on the road towards an equal standard of living for Canadian First Nations.

Ravens lose? Nevermore!

If Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven” is about loss and madness, the Blues’ most recent loss to a Carleton team of the same name can be said to exemplify frustration. Carleton came into the game this past weekend having only lost one regular season game since 2005, and they didn’t appear interested in experiencing another defeat for a while. Playing against the same Blues team that eliminated them from the OUA quarter-finals just the year before, Carleton must have had revenge in mind.

It didn’t quite turn out that way, much like the protagonist of Poe’s famous poem, the Blues turned out to be their own worst enemies in the end. The Raven’s did not have to do much to take the win. Toronto started out flat and just couldn’t seem to get an offensive game going. When opportunities presented themselves, the Blues either hit the cross bar or the side of the net.

“We lost the game in the first half,” said head coach Anthony Capotosto, “we didn’t follow our game plan, we came out flat, our intensity level was too low, and I’ll take responsibility for that.”

It has been a frustrating season so far for the Blues, a team with championship aspirations. Toronto has taken home the consolation prize in the last three OUA finals, but coach Capotosto is taking it all in stride. The third-year coach put this season in perspective, saying, “We definitely have a lot to look forward to. We are interested in how we finish the year, not how we are doing at the middle or the beginning. We got off to a very slow start this season by our standards and we’re looking to improve as a team and play our best soccer in October.”

Last season, Toronto finished third in the conference with an 8-3-3 record. But with 2 losses and 3 ties to open the year, they will have to run the table the rest of the way to match their impressive 2006 performance.

It will be a tough feat against Queen’s who comes into this weekend’s tilt second in the OUA, behind Carleton, and has only lost once this season (5-1-2). As Coach Capostoto explained, “Queens is an organized team, a high pressure team. They have good spirit and good energy, and they’re going to come in here and try to take three points from us. There’s no doubt about it.”

Against Carleton over the weekend Toronto’s lone goal came courtesy of defender Dustin Chung, as the team could only muster four shots on goal compared to the Ravens’ nine. Goaltender Matthew Willis tried to keep the game close for Toronto with six saves, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Evan Milward led Toronto with three shots, while striker Mike Bialy, last seasons CIS MVP, was neutralized by the Ravens’ defense and finished the game without registering a shot on net.

With October fast approaching, the Blues will have to find their groove in a hurry, or at least have a few four-leaf clovers in tow. Blues captain Joe Reeny saw the Ravens game as a case of bad luck, not in the superstitious sense, but rather in terms of missed opportunities and bad bounces that could easily have been goals or saves.

“I agree with the coach, we came out really flat in the first half. But we had a few bad breaks, balls just bouncing through, with weird goals that put us behind. In the second half we tried to come out hard and got one goal back, but we also hit a few posts and cross bars. We had our chances, but in the end they were a better team today.”

The anti-Feist

Julie Doiron has found herself living the stuff of a good country song. Woke Myself Up, Doiron’s 7th Polaris-nominated full length on Jaguwar Records, is a 30-minute saga detailing Doiron’s domestic bliss—and angst—as a mother of three and touring musician in Sackville, New Brunswick, recorded after the disillusion of her marriage to illustrator Jon Claytor. Produced by ex-boyfriend Rick White and featuring a restored roster of Julie’s former Eric’s Trip bandmates, it is Doiron’s most vulnerable work to date, no small feat for her usual lo-fi fare.

“When I was writing these songs, I was happy to be in my home, happily married, happy not be on tour, happy to be alive. Most of these songs aren’t even about relationships, they’re about being sick of the music business. Everyone has this idea that my album is about a relationship going wrong, but it’s more about not wanting to be a touring musician, to stay in my nice house, plant things in my garden. And for years I’ve tried to make that happen, but then someone offers me a good tour and I go,”said Doiron, her voice froggy and strained by a bad cold, late Friday afternoon over the phone.

A demanding schedule placed Julie in the precarious position of touring constantly to support a family she rarely saw.

“I guess it does seem like it’s about a relationship going wrong, and maybe in a sense it was. It was my relationship to what I was doing, my marriage failed because I was touring musician, and most of my songs are pretty much about that when I think about each one…When you really think about it, I’m a mom now, I have three kids, and this is my job.”

A job that Julie has been diligently working towards since unexpectedly playing bass in Eric’s Trip, one of the first bands to be signed to Sub Pop igniting the Halifax pop explosion in the early 90’s who recently played a small reunion tour across Eastern Canada. Since slipping away to record solo work under then-insightful moniker Broken Girl, Doiron’s hushed vocals often reveal the painful, desperate moments of love and loss (occasionally in French, such as 2001’s Desormais). And when it comes to indie, Doiron is the anti-Feist—raw, effusive and shockingly real.

“The whole thing about the Polaris is that it’s supposed to be for the best album of the year. I think there’s a few artists or albums nominated that are doing just fine on their own. And while it’s good to bring attention to the other lesser-known nominees, artists who are already doing just fine internationally probably don’t need the prize.”

“It’s a unique experience to be nominated for something that seemingly garners so much attention from the press. All of a sudden CBC is playing Polaris nominees all the time, the Globe and Mail is writing profiles about me. I feel happy about it, ‘cause I never imagined when they called me that’s what they’d be calling me about. It’s more the possibility or the idea of what I’d do with the money. To be honest— I’m trying not to think about it too much,” she admits.

Julie Doiron headlines Ladyfest this Thursday, Sept. 27 at the Tranzac. Ladyfest was started in 2000 in Olympia, Washington, spearheaded by riot grrls Neko Case, Cat Power and Sleater- Kinney. Toronto’s Ladyfest runs from Thursday, September 27 to September 30, and features music performances, video screenings and live theatre. Visit ladyfesttoronto.ca for more info.

Brushing up on Austen

There wasn’t a whole lot of reading Jane Austen on the set of the romantic-comedy The Jane Austen Book Club. Just ask actress Maggie Grace, the 24-year-old actress best known for playing Shannon Rutherford in the television series Lost. She approached rehearsals for this film with the vigor and enthusiasm of a grad student.

“We had a fake book club, and we were supposed to read Emma,” recalls Grace, who went above and beyond writer/director Robin Swicord’s course requirements by not only reading her assigned book but also the rest of the daunting Austen canon.

As for the rest of the cast, Oscar-nominated actress Maria Bello (A History of Violence) sums up their literary progress bluntly. “Some of the cast members who will not be named watched the movies. Some cast read the cliff notes.” Shame on them.

The Varsity caught up with Swicord and some of the film’s stars last week during the Toronto International Film Festival. Grace, and Bello joined actors Amy Brenneman, Kathy Baker, and Jimmy Smits to discuss who read what in preparation for the shooting of The Jane Austen Book Club.

When Smits claimed to have “revisited” Emma, a book he says he read back in university, Amy Brenneman (of Judging Amy fame) was quick to pounce his dubious verb choice. “Did you actually re-read it, or did you just think about it a little?” Needless to say, Smits dodged the question.

It’s possible that this lackluster approach to primary sources could have something to do with Austen’s overall relevance in the film. Dealing with the romantic trials and tribulations of five modern-day Sacramento women, The Jane Austen Book Club presents the Regency-era novelist as merely a framework for which the problems of the group are viewed.

Absent from the film, which itself is based on Karen Joy Fowler’s novel of the same name, are Austen’s scathing critiques of the aristocratic class system and her calls for a more modern approach to everyday life. “Those are themes that recur through all of her novels,” admits Swicord. “And I didn’t go after that. It just didn’t exist in the novel that I was adapting.”

By shamelessly stripping Austen of what so many contemporary critics have prized her for, and leaving only the romantic skeletons of her works, it’s easy to see why many might consider The Jane Austen Book Club nothing more than a formulaic chick-flick, which was a label that Brenneman was not pleased to hear.

“I was in a Michael Mann movie,” Brenneman retorted, referring to her role alongside Robert DeNiro in the popular crime drama Heat. “I was in a hugely macho movie, and I did it because I thought my character was worth doing. I feel like our job as artists is to break up these stereotypes and actually depict humanity.”

Brenneman, a Harvard graduate, makes a valid point in defending her shameless choice to take on The Jane Austen Book Club and any other film that may cater to a specific gender niche. Yet it is still to be seen how this film will sit with actual Austen buffs (they do exist!).

However, one indication may be hiding in Maria Bello’s response to the question of whether she now has a new appreciation for Austen’s novels. Her answer, “Nope.”

The Jane Austen Book Club opens in Toronto on September 28.

Spotlight On: Laura Barrett

Uof T alumnus Laura Barrett plays the Tranzac, Sept. 27 for the festival’s opening concert. The Varsity caught up with her in Kensington market as she spilled the beans on calimbaplaying and robot ponies.

The Varsity: So how did you get started with the calimba?

Laura Barrett: It was just a product of coincidence… I was making electronic music at the time, searching for something portable on eBay and I bought one on a whim. There was this Weird ‘Al tribute show at the (now defunct) Bagel that I heard about and I decided to prepare a cover. The next theme was “robots” and I wrote “Robot Ponies.” It just took off from there… I finally feel like I’m starting to tap into new aspects of the instrument. Before, I was still trying to work it into this 4/4 pop convention and now everything’s like 12/8 and divided in different ways. I’m having a lot of fun with it.

V: Where do you get inspiration for songwriting?

LB: A combination of cognitive science and sociology… I’m pretty academic. I’m drawing on personal experiences more, but I’d rather look at things from the more universal way … I’ve never done confessional, therapeutic song writing, although I could try. I generally look at things around me, and either try to turn a large-scale idea into a small metaphor, or vice versa.

V: Are you excited about playing Ladyfest?

LB: I’m just happy to play on a bill that has more women on it…just in terms of numbers. I talked to Liz Piesen from Picastro and we commiserated about always being on these bills loaded with dudes. And there’s nothing wrong with it, except for the perception that it spreads. It perpetuates just this idea that they’re the only ones who can, or are sustainable. Some people even feel like girls can’t play guitars, I almost feel a little frustrated that I’m not out there playing in a thrash metal band just to prove everyone wrong. But it’s not really about pitting genres against each other. It’s just important to continually have events like Ladyfest that raise awareness.

Shadow sheds light on lunar exploration

The British documentary In the Shadow of the Moon was made for people like Sherri Shepherd. Last week, while co-hosting an episode of The View, Shepherd stated that she didn’t know whether the earth was flat or round, citing her need to “feed her child” as more important than thinking (or learning) about the nature of our world.

Shepherd, along with other lunatics like Bill Kaysing and Bart Sibrel—who both deny that man has actually walked on the moon—are the people who need to see this moving doc the most, but almost everyone can benefit from a reminder about the amazing scope and accomplishments of the Apollo program.

From December 1968 to December 1972, NASA launched nine spacecrafts on the longest voyage of human exploration ever attempted. 24 Americans journeyed the 500,000 miles from the Earth to the moon and back, and of these, 12 actually walked on the lunar surface. These 24 men are to-date the only humans to ever travel beyond Earth orbit, and the only people to see the Earth from an alien world. In the Shadow of the Moon features archival footage (brilliantly re-mastered in HD) cut together with present day interviews with nine of the Apollo astronauts, including Buzz Aldrin (LM pilot on Apollo 11 and the second man to walk on the moon), Jim Lovell (one of only three astronauts to make the voyage twice and the ill-fated commander of Apollo 13), and Harrison Schmitt (the first scientist, and last human, to set foot on the moon as LM pilot of Apollo 17).

The film chronologically covers all of the incredibly risky aspects of an Apollo moon-landing mission, from the blast off a top the mighty, three-stage Saturn V rocket, where the capsule is accelerated to speeds exceeding 30,000 km/h—bullets, by comparison, only travel 5,400 km/h—to insertion into lunar orbit, the lunar landing, walking on the moon, lunar blast off, lunar orbit rendezvous, and finally re-entry through the earth’s atmosphere where temperatures outside the craft reach a staggering 11,000˚C. Hearing interviews with people who actually endured all of this, and lived to tell about it, is nothing short of remarkable.

Shadow also gives special pause to important moments in Apollo history: the fire that killed the crew of Apollo 1 during a launch pad training exercise, Apollo 11’s history-making moon landing, Apollo 13’s close brush with death, and the premature cancellation of the Apollo program by the U.S. Congress. It also combats the sad reality that anyone under the age of 35 is not old enough to remember a manned lunar mission firsthand.

In our current stunted state of space exploration (the space shuttle and International Space Station have kept manned missions tethered to earth orbit since Apollo) and with our less-than hopeful view of major American projects (the “re-building” of Iraq), it is inspiring to revisit a time when major risks were taken with vigor, and lofty, peaceful goals were achieved in the name of all mankind.

So, just as Dan Quayle received a dump-truck full of potatoes after misspelling the word at an elementary school spelling bee in 1992, let’s hope someone sends Sherri Shepherd several copies of this film, just so she can watch Bill Anders, Frank Borman, and Jim Lovell videotape the first recorded earthrise, shot as Apollo 8 emerged from the shadow of the moon and saw, for the first time, the full splendour of our strikingly spherical planet.