The Wandering Muse
If you’re hankering for a wide sampling of different kinds of klezmer (or Yiddish folks songs, for us goyim), have I got a film for you! The Wandering Muse is Tamás Wormser’s meditation on all things klezmer, and how current cantors (using the term loosely) have adapted to both the times and the environs they live in. There isn’t too much more depth to it than that, but there’s enough variety and novelty in the performances to keep the film engaging until its done.
There was a similar film from the 2010 Hot Docs festival that this reminds me of: The “Socalled” Movie. Socalled (aka Josh Dolgin) is one of the performers highlighted in this film (personally, he’s also my favourite). But that film only focused on him and his, shall we say, uniqueness – not so much the entire diaspora of klezmer singers. This one tries to cover a lot more ground.
Jumping from New York to Argentina to Uganda to Russia and Montreal, The Wandering Muse teases us with snippets of Yiddish folk songs done in a wide range of styles (not only do the Ugandan Jews put their own twist on things, but Jeremiah Lockwood, a New Yorker, prefers his klezmer sung as jazz). In between performances there are moments of philosophizing, noting the similarities between Wandering Jews and the tribe of musicians they have assimilated into, but if you don’t like any of the styles of music they do their performing in, you really won’t enjoy this film.
Ultimately, this is a film for people who are curious about klezmer and who are open to a wide range of musical styles. If you think that’s you, then you’ve hit the jackpot. (Diane Carol Harder)
Director Tamás Wormser will participate in post-screening Q&As on Friday, December 5, at 6:30 p.m., and Saturday, December 6, at 8:30 p.m. The screening on Saturday, December 6, at 8:30 p.m. is co-presented by the Ashkenaz Festival, and will be followed by an after-party at The Tranzac Club (292 Brunswick Ave.). Get free admission with your ticket stub from this show only.
Awake: The Life of Yogananda
I almost feel bad saying that this look at famed and beloved yogi Paramahansa Yogananda isn’t a good film. It’s made with good intentions, and there’s great stuff in there, but overall it’s as cheesy and surface level of a documentary as something one might expect to be kicking around a thrift shop in the VHS section for ten cents. The subject isn’t bad. The film is just kind of crappy.
In the early 20th century, Yogananda was one of the first people to introduce yoga to the West in its purest form: a way to get better in touch with God. He straddled the line between traditional Hinduism and welcoming other faiths to start practicing. His teachings on self-reflection, meditation, and spiritualism as outlined in his book The Autobiography of a Yogi.
When filmmakers Lisa Leeman and Paola di Florio stick to the truths espoused by Yogananda himself and deliver the rich historical background of how he helped to gradually make the meditative mainstream, the film succeeds somewhat. The film stumbles greatly, however, thanks to a hokey, manipulative tone that feels the exact opposite of what Yogananda teaches, static narration from Anupam Kher, unbelievably chipper and almost annoyingly laudatory talking head interviews, and some really atrocious black and white recreations of events in the subject’s life.
I guess it’s nice to be reminded that yoga was originally intended to be a calming, introspective activity rather than the big business fitness juggernaut it has become in recent decades, but there has to be a better way of telling this story. Maybe just read the book instead. (Andrew Parker)
Filmmaker Lisa Leeman will participate in a post-screening Q&A on Sunday, December 7, at 3:15 p.m.
Also at The Bloor this week:
The Japan Foundation and the Consulate-General of Japan in Toronto have teamed up to present free screenings of a trio of Japanese films at The Bloor this week. The drama Til the Break of Dawn screens on Sunday at 6:00pm, the silly satire Kids Police plays at 6:30pm on Monday, and the comic book adaptation Akko-Chan: The Movie plays Tuesday at 6:30pm. Tickets for all screenings are available at the door.
The Humber Doc Experience showcase returns to The Bloor on Wednesday at 6:00pm. For $5 (with tickets available at the door) you can check out some student films from budding artists in Humber’s School of Media Studies & Information Technology.
Finally, there is a sneak preview of The Bloor’s annual screening of the winners of the Cannes Golden Lions Awards for excellence in commercial production on Thursday at 6pm, but if you can’t make it out, don’t worry. There will be a week long run of the program starting on Christmas Day.