Thursday, July 31, 2008

Immer Wieder

Woah, momma. I'm being kicked in the head by this cold at the moment which hasn't been good for my MIFF viewing schedule. A pretty average show I saw tonight didn't help either, so I won't review it here. I will make mention of a couple of things very worth seeing before they finish up, though:

Holiday by Ranters Theatre at the Malthouse


Intimate Apparel by High Performance Company at Dantes.

Both really good, read reviews elsewhere.

Right now I need a bit of recovery time though so, for others equally afflicted by winter's cruel ravages, may I recommend:

Some gentle synth Krautrock - Harmonia has been getting me through.

Catch up on your educational reading.

Review your finances.

Redecorate the place.

Enjoy a few quiet nights in.

Catch some well-deserved shuteye.

And hope things get better in no time flat.

Melbourne International Film Festival Roundup 1

I'm sick with a bad cold so no preliminaries. Let us begin.


Before this film kicked off the guy behind me asked his companion what it was about. “It’s about a man who’s a teacher, and he doesn’t want to be a teacher any more, and then he gets a job in a supermarket.”

That concise synopsis actually makes the film sound more interesting than it is. It’s designed to appeal to that all-important niche market of “middle-class older people who decide that their lives hold no more promise for excitement, passion or surprise and don’t want to watch films that remind them that this is a stupid position to be in.” I’m sure Blockbuster has given it its own section by now.

Josef is a Prague teacher who is pretty sick of the lip he gets from his dumb teenage students. It all comes to a climax when he loses it and squeezes a dirty wet sponge over one loudmouth’s head. I actually gave the guy some props for that move since I’ll be adding it to my repertoire now, but once he packs in the teaching gig things lose any shred of interest or drama. Josef gets a job at the supermarket in a little booth people use to drop off their empty bottles. There he meets a small range of dull characters. When he’s not talking about boring things with them he’s standing around being unemotive with his wife at home.

I think it was when Josef and his wife were fixing the living room door that I began to question my decision to buy a ticket to this film. Whole minutes of screen-time were devoted to how they were going to get this thing back on its hinges, and while that might raise the pulse of any die-hard DIY nuts in the audience, I know I was wondering if this was some cruel joke being played on us. It pretty much summed up the film for me – flaccid sequences of everyday activity given the rhythm of bittersweet realist comedy (Josef looks a bit nonplussed by the world sometimes) that don’t add up to much of anything.

I was also really put off when Josef’s wife was going through the TV guide circling things she wanted to watch (again, riveting stuff) and she stopped to draw a big line around the Czech film Kolja. Guess what? Kolja was made by the same director as this yawn-fest! When you use your film to blatantly advertise other films you’ve made, you’re just abusing our relationship.

But the audience lapped it up, shrieking with laughter every time old Josef stubbed his toe or whatever. I guess if you’re one of those people who likes films that are completely lacking in any ideas, are artlessly shot and don’t possess any real emotion or challenge, you might dig this. To me, it seemed a deeply conservative number that aimed only to reaffirm our beliefs that nobody else’s life is more interesting than our own sad existence, and that we can be safe in our decision not to try to do anything more with ourselves. Oh and it’s Czech, so I suppose we can imagine that we’re being more cultural and open-minded along the way, too.


Not as boring, but a lot more irritating. This mockumentary follows a young black New Yorker big in the rock club scene who slowly begins to realise that there’s an entrenched culture of racism surrounding him. It’s a good premise, and the film’s best points make it subtly clear how young AJ’s race is used by others to define him while his ability to claim a racial voice is denied. When he asks why he can’t employ black women as dancers in the club, for instance, he’s told not to make it into a race thing.

The problem is that the mockumentary aspect of the film becomes more of an annoyance than anything else. The doco style it fakes isn’t even a good one – it’s a cheesy MTV-type style that might have been ironic if it was pulled off well but it feels like a uni project attempting to replicate something slicker. The characters are also deeply annoying, too. I suppose it’s hard to watch any pack of coolsie kids posing and preening for 90 minutes, but the film itself seems desperate to prove their (and its) hipness. Namedropping NY bands of the moment and having bands like Moldy Peaches drop by just seems lame.

And AJ’s transformation – reading a book by Malcolm X and going to a black club that suddenly (and literally) embraces him – isn’t really a journey. Still, this isn’t a bad film; its heart is in the right place even if its head lags behind a fair way.


I love Klaus Kinski and after seeing a snippet from this film in the outrageously good documentary My Best Fiend (about Kinski’s ‘troubled’ relationship with director Werner Herzog) I was overly excited to catch the full length version. It’s the recording of a solo theatre show the great, mad actor did in 1971 in which he interpreted Jesus Christ as a hippie revolutionary worker outcast bum for an audience similarly constituted. Unfortunately his violent megalomania and over-identification with the role – basically he saw himself as Jesus – turned a lot of the crowd against him, and their attempts to provoke him saw him flying into very entertaining rages.

The best parts are in My Best Fiend – I didn’t realise that apart from some juicy exchanges he actually got through most of the monologue over the course of the night. So here we have not so much a compelling film about an actor breaking apart as a long film about Jesus in a patchwork stripy shirt and corduroy slacks. It’s way more impassioned than your usual church service but it’s otherwise not that different. Apart from the awesome 70s outfits and occasional screaming tantrum. It’s worth it if you’re already a fan of the guy and want to complete your collection but otherwise grab Aguirre, Wrath of God or Fitzcarraldo.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Just Got In From the Windy City

As I step into the windy streets of Wellington, the adrenaline occasioned by an international flight and the memory of New Zealand’s friendly hospitality buffer me from the cold. The locals are a kindly and obedient people who will welcome with open arms their new master (me).

Then a young woman with no footwear comes screeching around the corner pursued by urgent screams. She slips in a puddle and disappears behind a parked car. The shouts grow louder and she re-emerges crawling manically around the vehicle to hide behind a rear wheel. Another woman arrives and spots her.


“GO AWAY!” screams Rachel.



Rachel sprints away shoelessly. Her newly-homeless friend stumbles back the way she came.

I stare at the suddenly-empty street. A pack of twenty drunken warriors parade across the road I was heading towards, indecently assaulting rubbish bins.

Maybe I misremembered New Zealand. Actually I also forgot my toothbrush.

My flight hit the tarmac around midnight. The rain outside the cabin window was horizontal. The streets below were all orange, like something prehistoric preserved in amber. Lots of mountains, too. The wings of the plane seemed to skim the hillsides during our descent.

I shouldn’t say ‘our’ since I arrived alone. The other people on the flight were strangers, but share a cabin with people for a few dull hours and they become acquaintances. The shaven-headed Buddhist teen who counted beads the whole way. The rasta dude who strummed a guitar in the immigration queue. The businessman who described an epic saga of underwear theft as he made his way to the taxi rank. Apparently he had at least 30 pairs of expensive Calvins pinched from his office over an 8 month period. Though the great undie black-market taking Wellington by storm does command a certain amount of interest, I must be off.

I’m in Wellington for two days for work. It is a miserable cold ice-dunk of a city. It is known as Windy Wellington for a definite reason. It is also very pretty, nonetheless. But damn it’s cold.

The check-in lady at Melbourne Airport was from Wellington. She told me with an unreasonably gleeful attitude that the chilly weather we’d been having in Melbourne was heading towards New Zealand, so it would be even worse there. I completely missed the chance to make a NZ joke about always taking the weather with you. Still beating myself up about that one.

The morning after arrival I catch up with my old housemate Jess, whose dad lives in W-town. We meet out the front of Te Papa Tongarewa, the fancy new Wellington museum. Normally I avoid museums on whirlwind trips because they’re full of things that actual locals don’t have any connection with, often from countries other than the one you happen to be visiting. But I’d heard that this one had an earthquake simulator so I had to pop in.

The earthquake simulator was rubbish – a tiny weatherboard room done up like a crappy house that shook disinterestedly for about five seconds. I can accurately conjure up the experience for any Melburnian through the following two words: a tram. And not even one going around a corner, just a tram going at a reasonable pace on a flat stretch.

On the way in, though, we noticed a sign referring to a section called “Golden Days”, which was described as “The Junk Shop that Comes Alive!” Being both a fan of junk shops and life, I was intrigued.

I don’t recall the exact wording of the sign outside the exhibit itself, but it was something along the lines of CONTAINS NEW ZEALAND HUMOUR WHICH MAY NOT TRANSLATE. GRAPHIC SCENES NOT SUITABLE FOR THOSE UNDER 15. Well bang my gavel and consider me sold.

The Golden Days ‘experience’ goes for about 17 minutes. But as Jess said about five minutes in, it felt like someone was about to rush in and prop our eyes open with matchsticks and force us to endure this unspeakably horrific act of mind-fucking until our heads exploded (I am paraphrasing).

Here’s a quick rundown of my interior commentary.

1 minute: Oh how quaint we are walking through ye olde shoppe of Kiwi antiques and bric-a-brac from the Golden Days which give this thing its name. Luverly. And now we enter a room with some comfy couches and lots more old crap.

2 minutes: Now that I am seated in one such comfy chair I notice that the video projection behind the crap is probably the focal point of this show. Judging by its image of a street scene, it appears we are supposed to be sitting inside an old antique shop which is being closed up by an old man as an old grandfather clock strikes five. Got it. Although that is an early closing time.

3 minutes: My goodness, after gramps has tottered off the opp shop comes alive! By which I mean the grandfather clock starts speeding up and a few antique items are jiggling about in a really unexciting manner (could be an earthquake, then). Ah, an album of faded photos has flicked open and obviously we are going back in time or somesuch nonsense.

5 minutes: What are these projected video images supposed to mean? This couple are lugging a baby around town and occasionally we see random sequences of historical footage. There’s no connection between the original scenes and the found material.

6 minutes: Sweet Jesus this is becoming a Dadaist nightmare. There are ships going to battle. And then there are Olympians. And then there are earthquakes. CONTEXT PLEASE?

7 minutes: The baby is being walked by a young mother and another man appears with a video camera and the baby is violently pushed into the camera’s lens.

8 minutes: And now there is a cow being gutted and its innards spill out.

9 minutes: Scenes of war and cheese-making.

10 minutes: And now there is a man stepping over a fence and being electrocuted in the gonads.

11 minutes: And the baby is back unharmed but the couple are holding it out over the edge of a ten-storey building. And a couple are getting married in a TV soap.

12 minutes: A bunch of 1700s English colonialists are demanding entry to New Zealand and a Maori leader is denying them their visa and then holding up an anti-nuclear sticker and there is canned laughter.





17 minutes: Oh, it’s over. Well, that was unusual.

Jess has a theory: if we want to find the hup places in Wellington, we should head for the gay district. There’s always something happening in the gay district. The theory sounds sound. Neither Jess nor I are gay but she has short hair and I’m politely skinny so we shouldn’t be turfed out as tourists. A few hours and a little research later we find ourselves smack-bang at the centre of Wellington’s throbbing party heart, literally surrounded by the entire mass of the city’s gay community, each of whom are lining up for a moment of our attention.

I should mention that Wellington’s gay district consists of one wine bar and when we arrive it’s just a handful of guys in attendance.

Scotty and Mal’s is worth a visit, though. There’s a weird tradition in Wellington: there’s only ever been one gay bar in existence. When a new one opens the old one closes as punters move on. And the old owners are forced to retire. Scotty and Mal were bartenders at many of the previous bars that filled this position, so their recent decision to open their own venue might alter the trend. That’s the goss as I remember it from Adam, who discovered Jess in Scotty and Mal’s while I was out the front on the phone. Adam became our new best friend in New Zealand and turned out to be one of the best city guides you could imagine. He has had a fascinating life and is moving to Melbourne so you should seek him out.

As I’d hoped after my last trip to New Zealand, my night out involved meeting many colourful locals. Kiwis on their home turf are quite simply some of the friendliest people in the world, and I don’t mean that in a patronising way. Even Adam was surprised when we wanted a photo taken with an exotically-dressed passerby. “Of course they’ll have a photo with you. They’re from Wellington! They’ll love it!”

So here’s a catalogue of the night’s encounters:

A guy inexplicably wearing a Mexican wrestler mask and just hanging around.

A six-foot four Maori tranny in a sequined white dress who spoke EXACTLY like Ja’Mie from Summer Heights High. She arrived announcing that she was incredibly pissed to everyone in hearing distance. Then strode off towards a jazz bar. “Just one more.”

A pretty man who kept hitting on me in a really obvious fashion and who, when he admitted he was from Auckland, instantly earned the enmity of the Wellington folk around. We all happily snuck away from him.

A sturdily built guy who approached us at Scotty and Mal’s and kept denying he was gay despite pointing at the Auckland fella and instantly introducing him as his ‘bottom’. This dude made Quote of the Night when he stood up decisively and declared his intentions for a late-night snack. “Whatever, bitches. I’m off for cock and crayfish”. And disappeared down the street.

A drunk girl with the world’s worst gaydar, who kept attacking Adam in the (straight) Establishment despite his a) wearing a tight coloured tank-top to dance b) dancing at all and c) dancing to disco hits. Then again, as Adam pointed out, even though Wellington lacks much of a gay nightlife, it’s incredibly gay friendly. Also, I noticed that even the straightest joints seemed to play the most iconic gay music around.

The Noodles, Wellington’s finest cover band. They did Bon Jovi and the like. I think they need to consider a name change.

A guy seething at the Noodles. He was from Wellington’s other finest cover band, Supermodel, and was dissing their set. He was into Kaiser Chiefs and the like. The Noodles were too 80s for him. If he was to do the 80s, it’d at least be The Smuths or something.

A beatbox world champion. I’m not sure of this guy’s credentials since he never did any beatboxing, but when we met him he and some mates had just decided to start dancing on the street, which won me instantly.

The next day Jess and her dad picked me up for a drive to somewhere interesting. I was feeling a bit peakish after the night before, so what followed was a four and a half hour drive during which my stomach occasionally felt like it was going to exit via any means available. It was mainly the Tararua mountain range, which was a winding 30 minute journey along tight roads with sheer drops of 500 metres or more. There were sometimes a few fence posts tied together with wire, but they didn’t make me feel much safer. I preferred the few odd metal barriers that separated drivers from CERTAIN FLAMING DEATH but when Jess’ dad jovially pointed out that such barriers were erected only when someone had gone over the precipice to said CERTAIN FLAMING DEATH, I felt the old woozies coming on again.

Anyway, we made it eventually to a beach and found ourselves separated from the shore by a few metres of rushing creek. Sucks to be me, sometimes. We were freezing, but I was determined to ford the river and so found some logs.

Logs floated off down river. Back in the car. As we drove back up the embankment, we played an exciting game of “spot our log”. See if you can spot one here.

Another half an hour of driving and we found another Beach That God Forgot but which thankfully had been overlooked by any creek builders as well.

Pretty freakin scary, still.

So: back to Wellington after four-plus hours of driving for two five-minute beach stops in Mordor and I’m a bit shaky. I’d only had a hasty bagel that day (and may I heartily recommend the fare at Wellington’s Wholly Bagels) so I wasn’t up for much of a big night. In fact, about all I could handle was – at Jess’ suggestion – a nice movie.

The only movie on was the one lowest on my list – Get Smart. Universally panned and pandering only to that all-important niche market of “people who should know better but have nothing else to do”. My demographic, then. It was brilliant.

And now I'm back. More to follow.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

I'll Tell You Later

Today I saw a preview of the new X-Files movie which may indicate an undiagnosed brain injury in my brain. I should get that checked out. In any case, it was a pretty average affair with a few points of interest for people who may have watched the series until its conclusion but such people are like aliens or leprechauns or Scientologists in that we all suspect that they could exist but have never actually met one. The film doesn't offer any real surprises apart from the altered Facebook relationship status between Mulder and Scully (I'm not sure that it really has an option for their new status but I don't really care either).

There is one truly paranormal moment early on that deserves recounting: our protagonists are walking through one of the countless vaguely defined government offices that seem to populate the show (probably just the studio conference room with some fancy insignias photocopied and pasted on the walls) and at the door they stop to look at a framed photo of George W. Bush grinning idiotically at the camera. The annoying X-Files theme tune pipes in for no reason and they exchange a Meaningful Glance. Then the camera moves to a shot of J. Edgar Hoover and they nod knowingly. It was all completely out of place and reeked of giggling high schoolers including an in-joke in their final assessment project (do it! no, we can't! come on, let's do it!).

I was more disconcerted by an encounter I had while I was waiting outside the cinema. A young dude comes up to me and asks if I have a cigarette. Normal looking kid, maybe 20, white, smart casual.

Me: Uhhh... nah.


Me: Uhhh.. yeah.

Dude: (matter-of-factly) Thanks.


Dude: So what, are you coming from Uni or something?

Me: No, I'm just going to work.

Dude: Where do you work?

Me: [classified]

Dude: Oh right. So what do you do?

Me: I write stuff. What about you, are -

Dude: So are you satisfied with that job?

Me: Yes.


Me: And are you a student?

Dude: How would you describe your writing style?

Me: I don't know.

Dude: Would you describe it as more masculine or feminine?

Me: I don't really know what that question means.

Dude: Well, is it more aggressive or is it more gentle and descriptive?

Me: I don't know. I suppose it's more feminine if those are your labels.

Dude: Right.

Me: What do you-

Dude: Ok thanks, seeya.

And off he strode. It felt like being interviewed. He wouldn't give up anything about himself and he seemed to arrive armed with a list of questions that didn't really suit the conversation.

Which reminds me, I never mentioned a show I recently saw at La Mama. Interviews with Famous People was a great little piece of theatre. It's finished now, so sucks to be you if you missed it. If it has a return season, try to catch it.

It was almost entirely made up of actual interviews between famous people and, well, interviewers, which sounds pretty uninspired. It was much more than that, though, and shed a big old light on the dynamics of conversation and the effects celebrity has on our perception of people. I won't review it properly here since it's finished, but I'll give two thumbs up to director Bob Pavlich for a damn fine piece of theatre.

Here's another celebrity interview I've enjoyed recently.

"One must never underestimate the power of a good hairdo. I'd like to write a song about hairdos. Not about the people under 'em. Then the dos have the power by themselves."

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Whoo paa!


So my bike was stolen last night and now I’m listening to Supertramp (see above) and remembering the good times. It’s a bit of a mystery really, perhaps worthy of one of the great amateur fictional detectives of our age such as Encyclopedia Brown, Bubbles Yablonsky or the Great Merlini. If you know anyone looking to start a career in low-level sleuthing, drop me a line.

It began some months ago (well, I suppose it really began when I forked out $600 for the thing a year back). But back in May when I went off to Japan, I got an email from my housemate. The day after I’d left, a neighbour had knocked on the door asking if a bike had been stolen. Someone had left a bike out the front of their place with a note attached.


I love the “HEY!” that kicks things off in a friendly, non-criminal manner. From there, the inclusion of public drunkenness, weird logic (too stinko to get home but able to ride a bike), a late dramatic twist which puts some of the blame back on me and an ambiguous conclusion – sorry but thanks – underscored by a nice, impactful stroke… well, it’s a nice piece of writing that deserves commendation.

Anyway, the drunk bit probably explains why they couldn’t remember the right house they’d stolen my bike from. And though I doubted that I would leave my bike unlocked, I put it down to the frantic giddiness of preparing for an overseas journey. I keep my bike locked to the front fence, I should mention, by the way.

Flashforward a month or two. My girlfriend mentions that my bike is unlocked out the front, not secured to anything but its own sense of self-worth. Again, I’m surprised since I’m pretty wary of locking it up properly after the previous incident.

Since then (a week back maybe) I’ve been totally super careful about ensuring that it is securely fastened to a stable bit of fencing. You have to believe me on this one. I’m 100% sure it was locked up. But somehow someone made off with it! I suspect they had a key to the same kind of lock or were nifty with their lockpicking skills. OR MAGIC.

But here’s another weird thing: they left a different bike in its place. Not a bad bike, either. Way too small for me and without great breaks, but hey. What kind of thief does a swapsy? It didn’t fit me so I left a note on it offering it to anyone else who wanted it, and I saw a dude take it this afternoon. He didn’t look shifty at all and seemed quite happy for a free bike.

I guess there’s someone else happy with the free bike they scored last night. I wonder what adventures it will have in its colourful future. Will it travel the world? Was it a birthday gift for a poor youngster who will never suspect its illicit origins? Will it become part of a novel circus act involving skilled and flexible artistes? Will it go on to achieve quasi-stardom during a solo national ride-around-Australia campaign for a worthy charity? These are the questions that haunt my waking hours.


This is getting me through though (along with the Supertramp). I don’t know anything about either except video that they are pure, hypnotic awesome.

YOU JUST DROP IN WHOO PAAA. Words to live by.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Review: The Inhabited Man

While everyone in Melbourne was off at the MIAF launch last night I snuck along to the preview of Richard Murphet’s The Inhabited Man at VCA’s Space 28. Well, not everyone was at the MIAF thing obviously, since somehow this new show had found a full-house on its preview run. This included the guy who was sitting near me and who seemed to be sweating booze from every pore, such was the infernal stink of wine that kept wafting past me every few minutes. And after half an hour of The Inhabited Man’s steady and insistenting head-screwing I just wanted to lean back and mutter “pass the bottle, brother”.

I’m not saying The Inhabited Man is a bad show, since that’s not true at all. But it’s kind of one of those shows where notions of quality go out the window early, and I can distinctly recall several moments where I sat staring at various goings-on going on onstage and thinking to myself “I have no freakin’ idea what I’m meant to be making of that”. Which, most of the time, is a feeling I like.

Leo's a Vietnam vet still struggling with a war that broke him body and soul – a leg and a liver that don’t work, a marriage that couldn’t handle the weight he brought home and memories that can’t be eradicated. He’s holding down a steady gig as a security guard at a motel and taking it day by day but a weird eastern European couple arrive in cabin 7 and he starts to suspect them of no good. This is where I sort of lost it (and Leo did too, I guess).

Now, I’m from that post-Vietnam generation who were raised on videogames and comic books and repetitive electronic music so my sense of historical consciousness has pretty much gone the way of my attention span and ability to distinguish between reality and fantasy. My understanding of the Vietnam war is mostly conditioned by Hollywood and I can’t say for sure if what I was seeing during The Inhabited Man isn’t an accurate, realist representation of post-war trauma. But when this kooky couple in cabin 7 started dancing in slow-motion to David Bowie, stripping down and pulling out druggy doodahs and electrodes and appearing soaked in blood and then blabbing on about their infinitely extensible cyborg bodies and stuff, I thought “Woah! That takes me back to university days!” Is Leo being haunted by the ghosts of an unjust war or the ghosts of a course in postmodernism? I don’t know which would be worse.

In any case, on one side we have Leo unravelling as his memories of childhood, his tour of duty and the disintegration of his relationship crowd in on one another, and on the other we have these people auditioning for a David Lynch film. Leo’s stuff is great theatre in a modernist, stream-of-consciousness way but when the cyborg illuminati spies or whatever they were kept pulling out more head-scratching routines, I kept pulling a face like I’d bitten into something and felt it squirm. I still have no idea what was going on there. Maybe it was a meeting of two theatrical aesthetics, the modernist and postmodern, or maybe their obscure antics were supposed to put the audience in Leo’s shoes, identifying with his paranoia toward the world. Either way, it unexpectedly works, since I found myself surprised to be really empathising with the poor guy throughout. It helps that Merfyn Owen is sublime in the lead role, and he’s given a bunch of songs to sing which prove very effective. The composition, lighting and design are all first-class, the set so full of shadows and twisting structures that we never – not once – get a sense of its boundaries, and the soundtrack creating an equally boundless world of night-time noises and deep, rattling music.

Would I recommend it? Well, yeah, I think. It’s one of those pieces that give newcomers to theatre reasons to laugh and deride the form as meaningless wankery, but for those with any interest in performance it’s the kind of show that challenges your ability to make real sense of what you’re seeing, which is a fine ambition for any theatrical work. It’s full of meaning, rather than lacking it, but none of it can ever be pinned down with much certainty. Either way, you wouldn’t understand because you weren’t there, man. You weren’t there!

Hey also, here’s this awesome piece of… something.

MUTO a wall-painted animation by BLU from blu on Vimeo.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The Orphanage/I Love You, Bro/Only Leone

While all the other kids laughed and taunted him for his disfigurement, only I found the heart to truly understand my childhood friend Tomas - or, as I affectionately called him, "Ol' Sack Head".

Has there ever been a kid in the movies who claimed to have an imaginary friend that didn’t turn out to be a ghost? I tell ya, if I ever end up with a tyke of my own who starts blabbing on about how his or her invisible buddy has been dropping by for a how-do at midnight and rearranging all my homewares or breaking the framed happy snaps I have sitting above the creepy fireplace where another kid with the same name was burnt to death 100 years ago (pure coincidence, obv), I’m going to skip the whole child psychologist rigmarole most parents go through and head straight to the paranormal investigators. Luckily, these same movies always dose out paranormal investigation units as if they were 7-11s, even though I’m not sure that the real life ghost hunting market is really lucrative enough to support that level of industry. They probably have a strong union or something.

I saw The Orphanage yesterday and was surprisingly frightened. After a pretty slow beginning with lots of those boring scenes in which parents deny what is stupidly obvious to the audience (kid’s chatter about imaginary friends signals actual haunting) it quickly starts ticking off all the boxes I hope to see checked in a film of this sort. We get a creepy old woman hanging around with a suspicious secret, some scary-looking kids in masks running around just out of clear view, lots of banging doors and rattling windows and of course some weirdo ghost hunters with lots of newfangled doodahs supposed to pick up unearthly radiances or spectral frequencies or SkyNews or whatever these poindexters are actually supposed to be tracking.

Laura and her husband (I couldn’t remember his name as his chief talent seemed to be not making any real impression on the viewer whatsoever) move into the abandoned orphanage where she grew up with the intention of re-establishing it as a home for special kids. They also bring their own bundle of joy, Simon, who is about as annoying a brat as any movie has doled out recently. I think he even gave Laura the shits since early in the film they go wandering along the neighbouring beach and he disappears into a very scary and dangerous looking cave. She stands around collecting seashells and after way too long ambles into the cave where he is talking to an imaginary friend just out of view. She tells him that whoever is behind that rock shouldn’t be down here because this cave is pretty ding dang dangerous. Uh, Laura? Why did you let your kid run around in here for so long? You’re more concerned about an imaginary kid’s well-being than your own?

"Regrets... I've had a few..."

Anyway, pretty soon a bunch of real and not-so-real peeps are traipsing around the old orphanage keeping Laura up at night. I say pretty soon, because it does take a good 40 minutes before the real film kicks in. At about the half hour mark there was a really exciting treasure hunt scene complete with urgent action-movie soundtrack, and though I was undeniably enjoying the sequence I had to wonder why we were getting so much screen time devoted to a treasure hunt and so little directed towards anything of actual interest.

I saw the film on cheap day at the Nova and the cinema was packed. Best of all, the crowd were the most vocal I’ve ever witnessed, and were mostly older people. Once things kicked into gear they were screaming – top-of-the-lungs screams – and gasping and laughing. During a tense, quiet moment one well-spoken woman couldn’t help calling out “PLEASE DON’T GO IN THERE” and that had me pretty chuffed. It’s a pretty jump-out-of-your-seat flick, but the fact that this crowd were sharing the experience in such a performative way was awesome. Better than watching a film with a crowd who may as well be your imaginary friends.

Last week I went to one of the benefit nights Three to a Room were having to get a couple of shows over to Edinburgh. I saw the first of the two, I Love You, Bro, which turned out to be very excellent. I didn’t expect so much from the show, but it was as riveting as a one-man monologue with no real set to speak of could be. Ash Flanders was outstanding and should be a hit in Scotland. The show (which was on in last year’s Fringe if memory serves) concerns the true story of a kid who built up a massive web of deceit on an internet chatroom that culminated in his being stabbed in an alleyway by his best friend and convicted for inciting his own murder. Flanders does an ace job lending credibility to the kind of story you wouldn’t believe if it was just fiction – the dude’s made-up characters included secret service agents and serial killers and people fell for it – and even though it's really just a weedy 14-year-old at a computer, you actually build up your own mental realm in which these persona are real. It’s an excellent metaphor for theatre, too – the way that his ‘victims’ gave credence to the reality of his characters isn’t too far from the belief we accord theatrical characters based on ‘real’ people. Fascinating stuff, but unless you’re heading over to Edinburgh you’ve probably missed it.

You probably missed Phoebe Robinson’s solo dance piece Only Leone, too. A great short number that I’d highly recommend if it wasn’t over. It was also really hard to write about, so I’ll give it a proper review somewhere else. In brief, it was a really really abstract riff on Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns (amongst other things) that played on their juxtaposition of cold, reticent performance and heightened dramatic land- and sound-scapes. You could easily miss that and see it simply as contemporary dance with no relation to anything except its own formalism. I don’t usually enjoy that kind of dance, preferring an emotionally connected style, but the isolated, lonely and introverted mood of Only Leone seemed really powerful to me. That didn’t seem to be the impression that the Age’s reviewer got when she wrote that “most of the work seems flat and detached, as evidenced by Robinson’s disinterested expression.” This kind of seemed the point, but everybody is going to react to a minimalist work like Only Leone in a different way. Not everybody will enjoy it, because not everybody comes from the same place. Everybody's got a special kind of story. Everybody finds a way to shine. It don't matter that you got not a lot; so what? They'll have theirs, and you'll have yours, and I'll have mine and together we'll be fine. Because it takes different strokes to move the world.

Yes it does.

It takes different strokes to move the world.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Important Egg-Based Announcement

This may be the last thing I ever write. Probably not, but if so, please blame the really weird egg I had for breakfast. This thing was nuts. And this post, I realise, is a timely corrective to today’s Age article about blogging as an intelligence-enhancing and happiness-making activity.

Anyway, this egg. I first noticed something awry when I took it from the fridge. It was unexpectedly heavy, and I softly murmured “what have we here?” for dramatic effect. I paid it no mind, however, and this egg’s companion was already a-sizzling away in the pan so I shrugged off my trepidations and continued in a neat and orderly fashion.

A few minutes later as I sat down to eat and as I raised a forkful of egg and toast towards my waiting gob, the egg went flying off to hit my chin. This is a really unnerving experience which I won’t dwell on. Suffice to say, egg is a horrible thing to have on your face, although I was wishing someone else was present so I could make a joke about literally having egg on my face. Since that joke wouldn’t have been particularly funny and the image would be a bit gross, I would then figuratively have egg on my face too and I could round out the rest of my days on earth knowing that at least once in my life I had been a human pun.

Anyway, the point about the egg was that it leapt off my fork as if it were a sentient being with no desire to be eaten, just like me or you. Well, assuming you’re not one of those people who goes trolling the internet looking for someone to eat them (or to offer to be eaten by them) in which case: Hi! Why in God’s good name are you reading this site? How do these posts relate to your interests? Really, I’m genuinely interested.

I mean I suppose I should unpin that prejudiced scowl currently affixed to my face and consider the fact that even internet autocannibalism fetishists probably have other interests too and that it’s only my small-mindedness that makes me think that everything they do must somehow relate back to the whole dinner-for-one part of their lives. I suppose it’s common for us to see someone with a marked difference to ourselves and reduce them to that difference, but of course that’s a mean-spirited thing to do.

So some dude enjoys being rolled naked in egg and flour and pelted with breadcrumbs and then dipped in hot oil. There’s no reason why schnitzel-man mightn’t also enjoy mixed tennis, Grey’s Anatomy and the weekly office footy tipping competition.

But I can hear you all clamouring to hear more about the egg, so let’s return to that mysterious yet compelling scene. Not long after finishing the egg, I was outside and noticed a little bit on my jumper that had obviously made a break for it during the egg-on-face moment. It took me a second to work out what it was because it was the most radioactive orange you can image, this thick, bright, iridescent colour. I was a bit shocked because, well, a whole heap more of that stuff had just gone into my stomach. So here I sit, facing an uncertain future of digestion or death or something unimaginably worse.

Also, I bought this huge orchid yesterday.

I’m not sure why. I think I harbour a secret desire to be an old man doddering around his rooftop conservatory in a silk dressing gown, trying to breed the elusive black orchid while entertaining callers with tales of my adventures battling psychic leprechauns and inventing a three-way mirror and the time I infiltrated an insidious occult organisation’s annual fundraiser in a gorilla suit. Since I’ve never managed to keep a plant alive for any measurable length of time, I might be a bit ambitious here.

Well, I think this extended bit of tomfoolery is enough to have supercharged my brain a bit and even as I type this I feel a tiny part of me running around yelling LEVEL UP! Though really, I don't think blogging makes anyone smarter or happier. That's just toxic egg talk.

I caught Toby Sullivan’s new solo show Not Quite Right the other night and it’s really really good.

Toby is the Business Manager (I think) for the Comedy Festival but has been doing his own comedy stuff for years now. He doesn’t perform very often, though, and this is the first extended thing I’ve seen him do on his own. It’s a simple little story about a trip he took to Sydney, but it’s seriously packed with more funnies than most shows you’ll see in the comedy festival itself. It comes across as someone who has been able to study the form for a long time and has learnt a lot. Plus he’s a very skilled performer with a pacy delivery and plenty of smarts. It’s on for a couple of weeks at Trades Hall.

I also saw Mike Leigh’s Happy-Go-Lucky on Sunday and it’s easily my favourite film of the year. Some people will hate it, others will be unmoved either way, but I think it’s a profound and brave film with some unforgettable moments and brilliant characters. In fact, I don’t think that character is even the right word, since Leigh’s process really produces people as much as types. There’s no sense that anyone is ‘acting,’ but equally there’s no earnest attempt at the kind of non-acting that usually makes such films very boring. Whatever. It’s about a primary school teacher with an indefatigably sunny outlook on life and a desire to just make the people around her happy. Of course, that’s put into contrast with various other ways of living, and there’s lots of undercurrents concerning different kinds of teaching and the unnoticed effects we have on others. Plus some irresistibly funny parts – the juggernaut bit, the ‘My Space!’ flamenco, En Ra Ha. You must go see it, and apologies if it’s not your thing.


I’m just back from the premiere of Brit kids’ 1927 Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea at the Malthouse and I raaaather liked it. 1920s-style mayhem celebrating silent cinema on the cusp of sound, but not quite there – the road not taken. An art form that could have gone another way – if the Big Five production companies hadn’t ganged up to force the talkies on us unsuspecting folk.

1927’s shtick is charming nostalgia for a time we postmoderns never experienced but know too well. It’s a mostly B&W combination of live action and silent film – often cunningly blurred – telling post-Victorian tales of animated mayhem and cautionary tale nastiness. The cast is three-girled, finger-curled and eye-kohlled, their victims gingerbreaded and innocently pantalooned. Coles’ Funny Picture Book tales with unexpected shadows. It’s lovely, fun, terrible strangeness. Sit in the fourth row and be transported to another realm. I dare ya.

Silent cinema has been on my mind of late. I’ve been listening to the Norwegian band Je Suis Animal.

Je Suis Animal’s sound is a reminder of the stuff I listened to 15 years ago – the Brit shoegazer stuff experiencing a revival in mainland Europe right about now.
Je Suis Animal most remind me of Stereolab’s early years.

Stereolab was one of my favourite bands when I was a teen and after making it to England at 19 I hunted the bastards down and scummed an interview. I was there in Tim and Laeticia’s kitchen being served red cordial and asking questions they couldn’t answer about songs they couldn’t remember. They were hardly older than I was, but I was their biggest fan, so I blagged the story – well, my sociable buddy Mr Monk did – after we ran into Stereolab’s backing singer Mary at another band’s gig. Mary was from Queensland, and the national connection was enough to score us an afternoon with the band I’d been idolising for years. We drank the cordial and talked the music. That was a good day.

Mary was cycling through London a few years later and was killed by a car.

Je Suis Animal also remind me of Lush, another shoegazer band I was once familiar with.

Monk and I spent a few nights with the Lush kids. We went on a pub crawl with singers Miki and Emma, and in the wee hours Miki walked us through her family photo album. We slept on her couch and gawked at the guitar pedal setup as we snuck past the band-room in the morning. We felt part of the band now, and a few nights later went drinking with drummer Chris – he's the guy at the start of the clip above. Soon after, Chris hung himself. He was a fan of Red Stripe Beer. That’s about all I remember.

Hey Theatre! (and Circus)

Hey, theatre! What’s with the not-being-that-good – except sometimes! I’ve been with you for ages now and I think we’ve been out 68 times this year not that I’m counting. Well, obviously, I’m counting. And you’re still not that good, sure. But we’re old friends. Like, I’m the old friend who turns a blind eye to your staggering inadequacies and you’re the old friend who promises to turn up in a tailored suit for an evening of sparkling wit and fancy-dancing and ends up falling out of a taxi with vomit on your Crocs and a banged-up tale of how you got waylaid by Billy Bragg and a Russian wolfhound and then proceeds to label your drunken alley-bound urinary antics “theatrical graffiti”.

Even though a goodish part of my life is misspent knocking elbows with theatre crowds, I’m not really one for plays. Plays have all these hang-ups about characters and story and theme which really get in the way of a good production. Not that those things don’t interest me, but it’s obvious that nineteenth century realism left a big dirty pawprint that no amount of modernism has managed to squeegee away. And modern theatre, too, has a lot to answer for, but I’ll conduct that trial another day (perhaps employing The Trial as an ironic model, but more likely just pretending that the inclusion of the term “trial” and some shitty acting and a judge in a bowler hat will allow me to review my uninformed rant as “Kafkaesque”).

The idea of psychologically “real” characters, for instance, would be the first casualty of my fantasy one-man crusade against theatre. Actors are as intrinsically fascinating as anyone else who walks past my window, but usually when I see an actor trying to cosset themselves into the character a playwright has managed to burp up, I feel like I’m watching an Hieronymus Bosch painting being used as a placemat. I guess that’s the point of acting, though. If someone we met was painfully trying to appear to be someone else, we’d likely edge away slowly. The miracle of theatre is that we pay for it.

Finally, most plays just don’t speak to my demographic. That might be a demographic of one, but I don’t really care to see stories about most of the things that plays seem to be about. I’ll put it bluntly: I want to see plays about monkeys, robots, ghosts, and zombies. Of that list, I’ve only seen two shows about monkeys in the past month and nothing dealing with the rest. And contemporary theatre pretends to speak to the people.

I was a bit wary of The Devil’s Dictionary for a few reasons. Firstly, it’s by a first-time playwright. Secondly, the promotional material noted that it deals with big themes like Ambition, Art, Law and Marriage. Thirdly, it’s a play.

Thank god it was pretty good.

I don’t know much about Ambition, Art, Law or the other thing. I don’t know much about anything capitalisable.

The Devil’s Dictionary is exactly what the MTC aims for but fails to deliver when it programs David Williamson. It’s a complex and sophisticated think-piece shrink-wrapped into the kind of accessible packaging even the simplest viewer could enjoy – Sex and the City in the hands of Sondheim. Easy laughs with an undercurrent of contemporary urgency. Theatre, are you starting to redeem yourself?

At 61, this is Helen Heritage’s first play. I was worried at first, not by Heritage’s age but by my own fear of first-time playwrights. I’ve been one, once. I was rubbish. Heritage is better.

Recently I made it to the opening do for Circus Oz’ 30th Birthday Bash. It was a lot like my 30th, but with more people and a massive freak-out circus. Not much like my 30th then, but there were no animals which wasn’t unlike my 30th (as I pointed out to an ABC doco crew who seemed uninterested in interviewing me).

The Circus Oz 30th Birthday Bash was pretty sweet. I’ve seen C-OZ do better. But then, I’ve looked out my window and seen uni-cyclists casually pedalling their way to non-stardom, and six-year-olds quad-back-flipping their way to anonymity. Right now there’s a man in a three piece suit bench-pressing the grass while a three-year-old makes sport of his dog. Australia knows how to circus, and Melbourne is the hub of it.