Friday, November 18, 2005


I sometimes wonder what I would do if my chosen profession hadn’t chosen me. With age comes the wisdom that there is much in this world at which I would prove hopelessly inept, rather than passable mediocre (which is what I am now). But something of the invincibility of youth remains, which is why I am quite unreasonably certain that if (and when) called upon to “step up”, I could (and will) be able to do the following:

- Drive a burning double-decker bus
- Withstand a bullet to the arm/knife wound to the stomach
- Save a child/animal from a house afire
- Win a game of high stakes poker against international criminals
- Leap from an out-of-control motorcycle heading cliff-wards
- Wrestle a shark (not a crocodile or alligator, though)
- Win the Eurovision Song Contest
- Defeat any kind of rabid dog
- Land a small single- or twin-engine plane
- Swim out from a rip
- Survive on grass and twigs and things

I’m not entirely delusional. There are many, many things I know I couldn’t do. If I got into a fight with a robot, any kind of robot, I’m almost absolutely certain my fleshy human ass would be whupped. Also, I don’t think I would be able to play guitar like a pro just because I was onstage in front of millions. And as a friend pointed out the other day, I will never, ever be a wetnurse.

But as I was saying, if things had taken a different turn career-wise, there are a few jobs I think I would be both capable and happy to do:

Sewing machine repairs: I have no experience with sewing machines, but given a little training I think I would like to run a little shop somewhere fixing the things up. Do such shops exist? I think they must.

Ad copywriter for breath mints: I saw an ad for breathmints the other day and thought hey – I could do an adequate job doing that. It would be good to have such a focus too. Just breathmints.

Tending the gardens in the middle of traffic islands: If I ever have to do community service for crashing a burning double decker bus into a kindergarten, I think I’d like to do this.

Elevator Attendant: obvious really.

Designing book covers: wouldn’t that be the sweetest deal? Especially for airport novels. Do you know anyone who does this? What a job.

Crossword composer: They probably have computers for this nowadays.

Fact checker: This might get boring after a while, but you’d learn some facts in the meantime.

I also like to think I’d be a good photographer, but despite learning at school for years and years I was never more than average. Unlike those at the RMIT Photography graduating exhibit I went to the other night.

It’s on at Fed Square in the Atrium to the NGV (I think that’s what it is) and some of the stuff is awesome. The opening was a pretty lavish affair, much bigger than a lot of openings I’ve been to lately and certainly unexpected for a student thing. Very high-falutin’. The exhibition is on for a while longer, all day and night, and it’s free, so wander by. I don’t think the photos are for sale, but if you like something give the photographer a call and hire them for a big international shoot which requires them to travel all over the world.

Or else.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Old School

Do you remember the days of the old school yard? That's the question posed to me by this guy Cat Stevens on one of his old LPs. I don't know if it was addressed to me personally, but I have two cats and so this uniquely qualifies me to answer this poser. Also, I knew a guy called Steven once (actually his name was Stuart but close enough in my book. The book is called WHY I AM RIGHT. It's a page-turner.)

Contemplating Cat's query, I was motivated to dust off the old photo album and reacquaint myself with my old school chums and chumettes. Here's a photo of my class as we looked way back in 1914. Good times, good times. I'll walk you through them.

What a winsome bunch.

This is Gustav. We always thought he was a little strange - notice that he is the only boy wearing a completely different colour suit to the rest of us. He thought he was a bit special that way. Also, his eyes weren't so much eyes as oversized blackcurrants. We never spoke about it. It was one of those things.

Carmelina was another odd one. Mainly because she wasn't all there - this photo does a good job indicating how she was more fuzzy apparition than actual person. She ended up working at David Jones, I think.

Dudley here was probably the meanest-ass mofe I've ever met. He would just as soon stick you with a screwdriver as look at you. We, all of us, had our "Dudley Stories", usually about how he'd torn off one of our toenails or shoved a rusty spoon between two of our vertebrae at recess. Whatever happened to Dudley?

Man, I had the hots for Juanita. She never even acknowledged my existence. Looking back at her hair in this picture, I'm actually now beginning to wonder if she wasn't kind of unbalanced.

Jeremy. Insisted we call him 'Emperor' for three years, then dropped it.

Marion played the tuba. Ended up going on postal in a Coles.

Clarissa was named "Most Likely To Die Of Consumption" but she's still going strong and re-married last winter!

Funnily enough, I don't remember this guy at all. My notes state that his name was Tommy "Knuckles" Tonito but it just doesn't ring a bell. Huh!

And of course our teacher, Sister Geoffrey. We never, ever thought to question this somewhat unusual name. Now it all makes sense.

So anyway, that was my youth around the time of the Great War. We were mostly sheltered from the reality of that particular world event.

Eleventh Hour Theatre are currently performing Australia's first production of Shakespeare's King John, and it's a humdinger. Go see it if you like Shakespeare, and don't if you don't. But it's not just the Bard on offer: what you actually get is a bunch of World War I officers and nurses in a military hospital putting on their own production of King John to pass the time. It's hilarious: watching actors play non-actors playing historical characters adds layers and layers to what was probably a pretty dry text to begin with. And they go for the entertainment angle, too, featuring lots of gags based on bad acting, funny accents etc. But underneath it's a very strong and insightful rendering. Anyway, I've already written a bunch of reviews elsewhere so I can't be bothered go over its strengths again. Suffice to say, little Gustav, Juanita and Jeremy (and the rest) would have loved it.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Look Who's Stalking

Ah, the lessons of life. Or better yet, the lessons of Hollywood. Anyone growing up in the past century (I'm guessing that's most of you) will know deep in their hearts that's the real classroom is right there in front of the silver screen, and that TV is the most important homework. It's where we learn the vital secrets of human interaction, of courage and shame, desire and fear. It's where we discover ways to interpret the subtleties of interpersonal communication, and how to hot-wire a car. How to knock out a guard and steal their clothes. How to laugh at random barnyard animal attacks.

And of course, it's how we know that whenever someone says "I love you", a kiss will probably follow. And if someone says "I will love you forever", you just know they're going to end up dressed in a bloody wedding gown putting an axe through the bedroom door as they scream "YOU PROMISED! WE WILL BE FOREVER IN DEATH!"

It's just one of those things you wouldn't know if it weren't for the movies.

We've all seen The Woman Before, the new show by Theatre @ Risk. Slotting neatly into those tracks carved into the road by Fatal Attraction, Play Misty for Me and any number of truly awful but compulsively watchable straight to video releases (usually titled a mix 'n match of "lethal/fatal/deadly/crimes of" and "passion/obsession/the senses/erotica") it features all the standard elements: neat family unit of Daddy, Mummy and teenage son; creepy woman from Dad's past turning up unexpectedly; hints at pre-existing familial tensions underlying the veneer of domestic bliss; increasingly crazy behaviour from the intruder; various attempts at seduction by said intruder; lots of murder and bloodshed and stuff to wrap up proceedings.

It's highly watchable since the plot unfolds quickly and economically along the lines of a Hollywood thriller, and there's some outstanding direction by Chris Bendall. I liked the performances given, too. But I'm just unsure about the play itself. The writer, German Roland Schimmelpfennig (translates as 'mouldy penny' - now you know) is one of the most performed playwrights in his home country, and wrote Arabian Night, also produced last year by the same company. Now, that was one hell of a show - a line from one of my reviews is used in a lot of publicity material printed by the Risk folks (apparently a line from a different review of mine is going to be used in the next brochure from one of Melbourne's big theatre companies - hallowed doors will open). And I can't say I've seen such a consistently good output from another group in the last few years. Bendall's got the goods, it seems.

But at the afterparty of The Woman Before's opening night, one playwright told me it was the most angering, misogynistic thing she'd seen in ages. A director disagreed; thought is was a metaphor for the main character's fear of women, stuff like that. And an actor friend didn't like it much because he thought the performances were lame. None of these were my reaction. But I can see merit in all of them.

What I think is this: it's a play worth a look. It's weirdly archaic in its way, and gestures towards other texts (some reviewers even invoked Medea) without necessarily adding a new twist on them. But it is a rip-roaring ride of a thriller of a horror of a play, and I think that in terms of pacing and direction, some other local theatre people could learn something from it. It's certainly not flawless (God, far from it) but its flaws are kind of as interesting as its strong points, and probably as instructive.

It's like Hollywood in that way, too.

Friday, November 04, 2005


It's always a pleasant surprise to be able to review two openings in one hit. That's the case with this week's Melbourne premieres of Tess de Quincey's Nerve 9 and Yumi Umiumare's dasShoku Hora! The shows are completely unrelated, technically, but share a common thread which can only be described as CRAZY BRAINMELTING MONSTER WOMAN!

Nerve 9 is really, really difficult. Academic. Theoretical. Abstract. And last night someone told me that a friend described it as one of the most boring shows she'd ever seen. I think that's a bit harsh (although, you know, each to their own). But it certainly wasn't a hot bucket of giggles. My plus-one confided to me afterwards that when it began, in near darkness with just a miniscule dab of light grazing what seemed to be someone's neck or back as pulsing, dark beats flooded the space, she "was seeing things you can't imagine." And when the light eventually spread to reveal the black-clad, awfully contorted form of de Quincey, she thought she was "seeing a monster!" This meant in all seriousness, from a grown adult.

Funny, since my reaction afterwards was something like waking from a nightmare (I don't mean that figuratively - as in "what a nightmare of a show"). I couldn't remember a lot of it, and some I didn't want to think about for some reason, and the hour I'd just sat through seemed completely disconnected from the bright world of reason once the lights had come up. I'd been lulled into a kind of trance-like sleep state by the performance, and during that time some scary stuff was happening which must have seeped into my brainstem. The show itself seemed inspired by notions of the abject body, the body we can't confront directly, with its awful interior and its gaping holes and uncontrollable bits and its inability to be rendered in speech. While de Quincey jerks around like a creepy doll from some Eastern Bloc experimental animation, the air is filled with the sound of heavily edited and visceral vocalisations (popping, breathing, groaning etc) and noises like unearthly insects cracking their knuckles and flexing their cartilage. Icky, entrancing and bewildering.


A different monster showed its face at the Malthouse last night when Yumi Umiumare uncovered an equally insane but far more engaging creation: dasShoku Hora! gives us a wretched old Japanese hag coming down from her mountain, all screams and writhing and birthing two shaggy men-freaks who proceed to rut and crawl and howl. Over the next hour the crone morphs into a freaky eroto-Hello Kitty character, a spray-tan karaoke ganguro girl, the faceless woman of Japanese folklore and a whole lot more I can't even begin to understand. There's a lot of horror, but it's all done in a certain style I last saw in Moira Finucane's Gotharama (Finucane is dramaturg on Hora!) whereby the monstrous is portrayed with such glee and sheer exuberance that you can't help being infected despite the yuckiness being offered up to you. It's very physical, often incomprehensible but more fun than a sponge cake covered in red blood and lollies being shoved down your gullet (to take an image from the show). Also, it was great to see Yumi and cohorts writhing all over people in the front row, shoving their crotch in the face of Malthouse staff, dry humping people who'd worked on the production and interrogating a Japanese woman over her fashion sense. Crazy crazy nights.

After Nerve 9 it was a weirdly fruity white wine (again, not metaphorical usage of 'fruity'), some cheesy/curry/something balls, veg spring rolls, veg sushi, veg rice paper rolls - my goodness! Very fine. After dasShoku Hora! it was time for me to rush home to bed. But I'm sure a good time was had by all.

I'm off to see Theatre @ Risk's The Woman Before tonight, and since it concerns an obsessive Fatal Attraction-type scenario, I'm guessing that this week's theme will continue unabated.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Read all about It.

Last Friday I was one of a handful of Melbourne folks to turn up to a not-very-highly-promoted press conference with Chloe Sevigny, the nonchalant star of movies like Boys Don't Cry, Kids, Melinda & Melinda, American Psycho and one of my favourites, The Last Days of Disco. She's perhaps better known as someone you kind of recognise but don't know where from, and needless to say she's equal parts glamour and complete dag.

The conference was a little confused. Nobody quite knew why she was here, including perhaps herself, and the afternoon was characterised by hugely endearing pauses where nobody (guest/interviewers alike) knew what to say.

"Who are your favourite Australian fashion designers?"

"[Pause] Uh....]

[Long look from Tsubi robots, er, guys sitting next to her]

"Tsubi. Of course."

After the questions were done with, we went out for some photos, and she was sort of befuddled when we asked her to hold up a fist and give us something tough-looking. She did a double-take and said "what is this for???" before pulling the least-tough tough-face you could imagine.

Then my photographer gushed "I'm moving to New York next year; I want to live in the East Village!" and Chloe returned with a "uhhh..." and so we ran off (not literally).

The encounter was exactly as I'd pictured it, and Chloe lived up to my expectations as someone so ordinary that they have no reason for being famous. Outstanding stuff.

It's partly this that makes her, according to the press release, and "It Girl". My definition of an "It Girl" is someone whose level of publicity far outstrips their level of actual activity - that is, someone who receives a lot of press but hasn't done much lately to warrant it. I've sent some questions to Ms Sevigny following up on this:

Q: What does it take to become an "It Girl"?
Q: Is there an annual membership fee?
Q: Do you get discounts at stores?
Q: Do you know other "It Girls"? Do you get together for pajama parties?
Q: Is there a secret handshake? Underground lair?
Q: Could...I "It Girl"?

She has, thus far, not responded.

I live in hope.