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  • Starry Night, Blood Moon: Observing a Blood Moon with the Royal Astronomical Society

    I was buzzing with excitement when I heard that The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC) Montreal was hosting a public observation night, plus McGill’s Astronomy club had organized a trip to Morgan Arboretum—a forested reserve ideal for night sky observations—all to witness the much-anticipated total lunar eclipse between September 27 and 28.

    I eagerly bought a ticket a few days prior to the main event, and started counting the days. The clear skies of Sunday night promised a spectacular, out-of-this-world view of the blood-orange moon, and accordingly, I amped up my level of expectations, and set off, backpack and all, to the main entrance of McGill, where two buses awaited arrivals.

    We arrived at the observatory around 8:00pm. We dismounted from the bus, and the organizers led us to an open field surrounded by acres of forest.

    Looking up, down and around, I studied my surroundings, and found absolute darkness. It was pitch black, with the silver moon hanging above our heads, anticipating the passage of time, itching to put on its red cloak. In the heart of the open field was the fancy 14” robotic observatory.

    About 200 people had gathered and quickly dispersed about the field. Some had set up their private telescopes, others were tinkering with their HD cameras and some others were lying on the grass, wrapped up in blankets, watching the starry night.

    There we were, about 30 minutes away from the hustle and bustle of downtown, in the remote areas of Sainte-Anne-de-Bellevue, and I felt thoroughly detached from the strained life of late assignments and Saturday night parties. This was a different kind of excitement; like going back home after years of wandering.

    In one of the cabins, Andrew Fazekas, a member of the RASC and an astronomy enthusiast, gave a brief presentation on the Total Lunar Eclipse: The moon would enter the penumbra at about 8:40 p.m., and gradually be bitten into crescents (Earth’s shadow on the moon), until, at 10:11 p.m. the moon would enter the umbra and turn a red-orange shade.

    It was also pointed out that this year’s lunar eclipse was the convergence of three distinct lunar events: a total eclipse, coinciding with a supermoon, when the moon is at its closest to the earth, and a harvest moon, or the moon nearest to the fall equinox.

    This was a truly rare event, and not wanting to miss another second of it, I hurriedly made my way out of the cabin, out into the open field and lied on the wet grass gazing at the heavens.

    The night sky was a spectacle, truly a feast for the eyes. The twinkling stars seemed to dance in celebration of the silvery moon, giggling as if full of the majesty of the universe’s secrets. Coming out of my imaginative state of mind, I realized the moon was slowly making its way into the Earth’s umbra.

    There was a half-bitten moon suspended in the sky. It was happening. I could almost see an orange spot that would potentially dominate the moon’s shade. Finally, at about 10:09 p.m., the moon was completely blood-orange.

    Everyone scrambled to find their cameras, or get in line for the telescope to see the beautiful blob of red up close. Unfortunately, our moment with the red moon was short-lived. No sooner had it undergone its color transformation than the sky got overcast! The clouds completely obstructed our view of the moon; we had reached the anticlimax, and it was time to go home.

    The trip, however, was well worth it in the end. On the bus ride back home, I began to realize the immensity and depth of astronomy, and how it truly humbles the soul. Astronomy challenges you to look outside yourself; to peer into the farthest galaxies a billion light-years away, only to realize the insignificance of the ordinary, the quotidian; the insignificance of the quest to find those red shoes that match perfectly with your lipstick.

    Witnessing these amazing celestial events always reminds me that we are all part of something much bigger than ourselves.

  • K8 Hardy’s Outfitumentary

    New York based artist K8 Hardy, whose talents primarily rest in performance, photography, and sculpture art, has recently completed yet another piece; Outfitumentary, an experimental film that Hardy started working on in 2001, documents, ostensibly, what the artist wore for ten years.

    Filming herself and what she wore in small snippets on a near daily basis, viewers not only get a look into Hardy’s wardrobe, but also get some insight into what the artist’s day-to-day life was like; the audience will hear small bits of phone conversations or talks with friends, how Hardy’s attitude and personality evolve as she gradually becomes more comfortable in front of the camera, her changes in hairstyle, and the switch in surroundings that take us from different rooms in her apartment to her studio where she does most of her work, and even the different radio broadcasts and music she would have on at the time. Hardy didn’t look at any of the footage until last year, and ended up with about six to seven hours of film, edited together into Outfitumentary.

    In an artist discussion conducted by Dr. Rebecca Duclos, dean of Concordia university’s Faculty of Fine Arts, Hardy was asked if there was a particular target audience that she had in mind while putting Outfitumentary together. In response, Hardy stated that she viewed her audience as “multifaceted” and that “anybody who was interested in art, fashion culture or queer culture could watch this, even those that may not be be into experimental film at all.” Hardy felt there was a resistance for young artists to point a camera at themselves, that there was a lot of potential and that this was an important medium “that has to keep growing and changing with time”. Her main inspiration behind this film, she said, was the idea of capturing the moment of what she was wearing for posterity.

    During a Q&A session with Hardy after an advance screening of Outfitumentary that took place on the 18th of September, Hardy made it clear that she didn’t put clothes on for the camera, but
    that it was simply what she was wearing for the day whether she was going to work, or if she stayed at home. “If it looked like I was dressed up,” Hardy said “it was probably because I was going out that night. I realize that I wore a lot of cowboy boots.” Ultimately, Hardy’s aim was to make this as natural and authentic as possible, that in the end it wasn’t all about fashion, but rather, “a portrait of time, an evolution of time in front of the camera, so to speak, and a change in personality.”

  • What A Time To Be Alive: The Review

    • What A Time to Be Alive will go down as one of the most noteworthy projects of 2015, as the two hottest names in hip hop this minute, Drake and Future (pictured above), blessed Twitter timelines and Apple Music subscribers with their collab on Sunday, Sept. 20. Photo Eddy Rissling

    What A Time to Be Alive will go down as one of the most noteworthy projects of 2015, as the two hottest names in hip hop this minute, Drake and Future, blessed Twitter timelines and Apple Music subscribers with their collab on Sunday, Sept. 20.

    After days of teasing and fake album covers, WATTBA sold over 330,000 copies in its first week. It’s almost a peak for the Freebandz/October’s Very Own—Future and Drake’s respective labels—hype train, but not exactly for their material.

    Drake and Future have captivated their audiences with their musical stylings. “Where Ya At,” a Future and Drake collaboration off of Future’s Dirty Sprite 2 album, may stand out as one of the best hip hop tracks of 2015. Naturally, both rappers have put together an album that will guarantee to get fans to wild out, bang heads and enjoy the “bangers” put forth.

    But what’s unfortunate about this project is the lack of togetherness and synergy. In fact, some fans have gone so far as to say it’s Future’s mixtape, and Drake is rapping over it. I haven’t found anyone or anything who believes vice-versa. You can even find a Future only version of WATTBA if you look hard enough.

    The project feels as if the rappers verses were kind of slapped together on tracks, and if there is any sort of crossover between the two in terms of vocals, it feels as if it was done out of necessity and not naturally.

    “Diamonds Dancing” is the album’s best track by a mile, and it’s probably the closest you can get to a track that rivals “Where Ya At”. A catchy bridge and hook will get people “balling in the middle of the club, no jersey” every time. Diamonds Dancing is the track on the album that has executed that formula to perfection.

    Despite the lack of cohesion, full marks must be given to Metro Boomin, the popular producer whose name and handiwork is all over the album (literally—Young Thug keeps moaning his name before almost every track; a watermark). Come for the appeal of a Future and Drake collaboration, stay for the addictive and stellar production.

    While this project can still appease one’s appetite for bangers, it’s clearly not the duo’s best work of 2015. But Drake and Future can be forgiven for this project, however. Future’s been on a roll all year and the project won’t be a speed bump on his dominance.

    As for Drake, the album is seen as a palate cleanser, before he jumps into his much-anticipated project, Views From the 6, which has the makings of an effort that will go away from the “bangers” that can be found all over WATTBA and his surprise mixtape, If You’re Reading This, It’s Too Late.

    If you’re a fan of the hype that Drake and Future have started, you’ll enjoy WATTBA, especially if you aren’t trying to make it bigger than it is; a stepping stone to bigger things.


  • Showgirls Is A Silly, Fun Cum-Stained Adventure Into 90’s Racial Blindness

    I squirmed in my musty cum-stained seat at Cinema L’Amour. The dilapidated porno theatre is a throwback to the glamorous heyday of The Main. I wondered what the place would smell like if it weren’t for those barely hidden incense candles poking out of some seats.

    Drunk on cheap gin and high on caffeine, my newspaper colleagues had dragged me to POP Montreal’s 20th anniversary midnight screening of Showgirls; director Paul Verhoeven’s infamous nineties bomb that failed to launch Elizabeth Berkeley’s fledgling career—or, as some might quip, nipped it in the bud.

    Despite head-spinning female nudity, Showgirls is a woman’s bildungsroman. The plot—full of baffling holes—follows a down-and-out Nomi Malone (Berkeley) making her way through Las Vegas like a duck out of water aiming to become the most sought-after showgirl in town.

    Starting out at a Vegas strip joint, she is noticed by Stardust Casino entertainment director Zack Carey (Kyle MacLachlan) and its star showgirl—and rival—Cristal Connors (Gina Gershon). Feeling threatened but mesmerized by the headstrong Nomi, Cristal gives her the chance to perform and dethrone her at Stardust. A thankless Nomi claws her way to the top, meeting friends and foes, and learning that not all that glitters is gold. It is Vegas after all.

    Like Cinema L’Amour, Showgirls is a reminder of just how garish and outrageous Hollywood was in the nineties. Considered one of the worst and least profitable movies of all time, I expected a vivid, incoherent dud. And yet, as a movie buff, I could barely contain my excitement when the lights went out in the pervy grotto.

    POP Montreal aficionados are a rowdy bunch. The movie hadn’t even started yet and some guy was already playing chorus. Imagine my disappointment at seeing the cheap screen’s tiny size. I felt like I was watching a movie from a giant TV in some horny dude’s basement. Still, I laughed my guts out at the chorus’ crude jokes.

    Winner of two Golden Raspberries for worst picture and screenplay—here’s looking at you Joe Eszterhas—of 1995, the movie isn’t half as bad as what the critics would say. Now, I don’t know if this speaks to my lowered expectations or the state of Hollywood movies in 2015. Still, Showgirls is a hoot. Critics be damned; female nudity in this chick flick—though prevalent—isn’t near as lurid as what one might suppose.

    Verhoeven ( Total Recall, Basic Instinct ) treats the divested female body matter-of-factly; as if it were normal to be undressed most of the time. Yet, far from off-putting and humiliating, nudity in this case becomes empowering. When Nomi dances, she becomes stronger than any man or woman.

    Ask Zack Carey when she pins him down with her thigh during a lap dance. Or when she fucks him in a swimming pool creating ridiculous pulsating waves—the sole sex scene in the movie. She wears her nakedness like an eighties power suit. The movie is a precursor to this era’s female sexual empowerment trend—see Sex And The City and Girls.

    She ditches her first Vegas beau—a would-be pipe-dreaming pimp who helps her out of jail—to pursue her goal of dancing at Stardust. And she does it with hawkish aplomb despite the macho show director who tries to demean her. Even a jealous Cristal can’t stop her. Nomi Malone is the female answer to every Tom Cruise character of the eighties and early nineties—see Top Gun, Cocktail, Days of Thunder.

    At the end of the movie, after Nomi fucks and battles her way to the top only to throw it all away with youthful insouciance, every person in the theatre clapped and whooped.

    It’s no wonder this story speaks to women everywhere; Nomi is no damsel-in-distress. She is a maverick forging her own path in the American West—living the dream of making a quick buck on her own terms, classy or not.

    Yet, of all Showgirls‘ failings, none is more egregious than its depiction of female black characters. The magical negro—or in this case negress—acts as a plot device in Nomi’s blossoming from stripper to showgirl diva. Cristal Connors’ private costume designer Molly Abrams (Gina Ravera) helps out Nomi when she clearly didn’t need to—she even saves her life.

    Meantime, Abrams barely has a life of her own letting the transient sleep in her tiny trailer. Instead, mammie is used as a plot device to ease Nomi’s backstage access into Stardust and first meeting with antagonist Cristal Connors.

    Molly is the Jiminy Cricket to Nomi’s Pinocchio.

    While Nomi’s depths are quasi-Shakespearean, black characters only serve as props. She channels a nail-painting Richard III with her power moves. The audience can only wince as they find themselves rooting for the bad girl. She sells her already damaged soul to become top showgirl—the face on Vegas billboards.

    It takes Molly’s out-of-the-blue sexual assault—a real sucker punch to the audience’s suspension of disbelief—to set her back on the right track. This is Nomi’s crowning moment. When Zack refuses to press charges, her honour returns triumphant. She exacts revenge on the rapist—a bizzarro Kenny G—with the power of her long, lascivious but deadly legs. The movie sacrifices the magical negress to restore balance to the protagonist’s moral virtue—and an otherwise unraveling plot.

    Despite its many faux pas—not to mention that the movie is over two hours long— Showgirls is a thrill to watch. It’s an action movie set in a feminine world where men play second fiddle, women are rivals but never enemies, life is cruel and—just like in Hollywood—black women get the short end of the stick.

  • McGill Hosts 14th Annual Pow-Wow

    • Photo Marie Briere de la Hosseraye

    Last Friday, McGill hosted its 14th annual pow-wow to jumpstart its Indigenous Awareness Week.

    Every year, McGill Pow-Wow offers a meeting point for Aboriginal people living in Montreal. A pow wow is a social gathering meant to link the indigenous community, creating connections between would-be strangers, and sharing the community’s heritage.

    One of many aboriginal Quebecers at the event, Don Barbaby, a Mi’kmaq man living in Listuguj in eastern Quebec, travels the country to dance in pow wows, around 40 a year. In a hurry to go back dancing, he quickly ended our discussion.

    “I dance for those who can’t dance, I sing for those who can’t sing,” Barbaby said.

    From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. a steady and smiling crowd strolled around the lower field of the university. Under a warm sun, the rhythm of the drums cadenced the day. The mood was festive, exuberant, performers only leaving the dance to invite the audience to join them. From children to elders, all age and origins united to dance together.

    Traditional and inter-tribal performances alternated under the main tent. Occasionally, the audience was asked to neither take pictures, nor participate, when sacred songs were chanted. Later on, the pow wow welcomed spoken word and storytelling from Inuit artists.

    Midway through the day, an Inuit throat singing competition began. This unique and fascinating contest mesmerized the audience. A vocal duel, the competition involved two women holding and facing each other, attempting to match each other’s vocals until one either fell out of rhythm or ran out of breath.

    For a few moments the field was filled with their low and sensual growling, setting a new harmonic and musical language. Historically this competition was organized for women to win a hunter’s heart, or materials and clothing. Now, there are no stakes, other than an captivating show of vocal prowess.

    Outside of the main tent, artisan vendors sold their art, from jewellery to dream-catchers. The field also served as a window for student associations and Indigenous organizations.

    The Native Women’s Shelter of Montreal was present to raise awareness and recruit new student volunteers. The shelter welcomes women fleeing domestic violence or struggling to integrate into the city.

    “Women are allowed to stay for 10 weeks and offer a healing program, including affordable housing, support to get back into the workforce and personal counseling, for the ones who went through traumas,” said Marcelle Durrum, therapist for the shelter. “As the only native shelter in Montreal, traditional therapies and ceremonies have a central place. It helps women regain some cultural pride.”

    A few tables away, the Concordia Aboriginal Student Resource centre was answering questions and promoting their next cultural event. Nadine Montour, coordinator of the center, described the pow-wow as a great networking and recruitment event to reach out to new Aboriginal students, as well as “a fantastic, positive engagement for the community.”

    Last year, the centre organized Concordia’s first Aboriginal Student Week, titled First Voices week. Always in process of building the community and organizing new events, they aim to raise awareness, offer moral support and celebrate aboriginal cultures.

    This annual pow-wow is defined as a welcoming place for new students to connect with their community and preserve their traditions inside the city. The week of Sept. 21 to 25, McGill will be holding workshops, film screenings, and discussions on reconciliation and First Nations and Inuit cultures. Here, an open and inclusive space will be offered for the vibrant community of aboriginal people living in Montreal.