Friday, December 29, 2006

Damn you Captain Jack!


John Barrowman, who plays the roguish bisexual leader of the Torchwood Institute in Dr Who spin-off Torchwood, on BBC 3, has tied the knot with his partner Scott Gill in a civil union service in Cardiff.

Any hopes I had of Barrowman sweeping me off my feet are now utterly dashed. Excuse me for a moment while I throw myself onto my chaise lounge and sob uncontrollably, will you?

On the other hand, at least I can console myself with the fact that an eyepatch-wearing friend with the habit of saying 'Arrrrr' a lot has a copy of the Dr Who Christmas Special for me to watch this weekend...

A set-up!

At the opening night of Entertaining Mr Sloane last night, a friend Stella said that she knew a bloke who she wanted to set me up on a date with, but added that he was afraid that I'd blog about him afterwards. I think he reads this.

Well yes, I admit that is entirely possible, but I am the essence of discretion, sir, I assure you. Should I decide to blog about you at all, you'd become an initial, nothing more.

Stella, get matchmaking, please!

That was the year that was: ELSEWHERE

Sedition was the buzzword in the arts sector in the first half of 2006, and political themes kept cropping up across artforms, although as previously noted, they were not always successful.


Something that was a success was the Festival Melbourne 2006, the free arts festival run in conjunction with the Commonweath Games. Expect to see more cash thrown at sporting events in the years to come...

Meanwhile, ‘Queen’ Mary Delahunty retired as Arts Minister, and also as the member for Northcote after seven years in state Parliament, prior to Victoria’s November 25 election.

Delahunty’s replacement, former Education Minister Lynne Kosky, was markedly silent for the couple of weeks it took to appoint her new Media Advisor after the election, but came out with guns blazing as soon as that appointment was finalised.

Arts push the boundaries,” she told The Age in a recent interview. “It's good to have controversy.”

Kosky’s comments were made during an interview conducted by senior arts journalist at The Age, Robin Usher, and were specifically in reference to a question posed to her regarding the decision by the Board of Directors of the Melbourne International Arts Festival (MIAF) to appoint Kristy Edmunds as the festival’s Artistic Director until 2008.

Given Usher’s self-appointed mandate to belittle Edmunds’ approach to arts programming, apparently (as far as can be judged) on the basis that she has failed to include the sort of archaic, 18th Century artforms that Usher values, i.e. ballet, opera, and classical music, his slant on Kosky’s comments should be taken with a grain of salt.

Nonetheless, I look forward to seeing if Kosky will defend the arts with as much passion in 2007 – especially if the Herald Sun is publicly opposed to certain causes.

Roll on the year of the Pig – also known as the year of the Boar, which I hope will be far from boring!

That was the year that was: VISUAL ARTS

There’s been no end of drama in Melbourne’s visual arts community this year.

Leading the way was the high profile imbroglio between influential curator Juliana Enberg, and young artist Ash Keating. Their very public dispute at an opening at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art (ACCA) in June, centered around Keating’s appropriation of artwork by Barbara Kruger, herself the focus of a popular ACCA exhibition this year (pictured at left) which he had recycled from a dumpster behind ACCA.

A compatriot of Keating’s videoed the slanging match between the artist and the curator (a potential invasion of privacy as far as Enberg was concerned) and the resulting tape became the art world equivalent of John Safran’s famous interrogation of Ray Martin (originally shot for the pilot of a subsequently axed TV series in 1998, but never shown – at least on the national broadcaster – until screened by Media Watch in 1999).

As far as I know, the video Keating’s mate shot of Enberg has never been screened, while after threats of legal action from both sides, and allegations that the influential Enberg had threatened to ruin Keating’s career, the whole affair slipped silently out of sight.

At another Melbourne arts institution, the National Gallery of Victoria, curator Geoffrey Smith became the focus of an investigation into his professional conduct because of his even then defunct relationship with private gallery owner Robert Gould.

Before the whole sordid story was aired in public, with the major ramifications that entailed for the way conflicts of interest are handled throughout the visual arts sector, the affair was settled out of court.

The total cost of the legal battle was $280,000 - almost $4,600 a day – which if spent on art, “would have allowed the gallery to purchase a major work by a famous Australian artist such as John Brack, Brett Whiteley or Norman Lindsay,” according to that bastion of art appreciation, The Herald Sun.

Most farcically, Smith had to sue the NGV before he was allowed to take his elderly mother to see the Charles Blackman retrospective (left) that he had spent more than two year’s preparing, which opened at the NGV on August 11.

A less public dispute, but one with potentially more impact on artists’ ability to incorporate pre-existing works in their art (a long-established tradition, and the visual equivalent of sampling) occurred at this year’s Melbourne Art Fair.

A work by artists Helen Johnson and Michelle Ussher, exhibited at the Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces project room, was removed from public display after a complaint that it contravened protocols with regard to the representation of Aboriginal people.

The resulting dispute recalled the drama engendered by Paul Goldman’s 2002 film Australian Rules, and highlighted the sensitivities associated with representations of indigenous Australians by non-indigenous artists; particularly when pre-existing images from the historical record are appropriated by contemporary artists.

The complex arguments associated with this issue cannot be done justice in this column, but readers who wish to know more about the event should log on to the forums at www.eyeline.qut.edu.au, where it is discussed in detail.

In other visual arts highlights this year, the Heidi Museum of Modern Art reopened after significant redevelopment; Next Wave Festival grew an international art village out of shipping containers in Docklands, and took over the old Police City Watch House in Russell Street for New Ruins; Mark Hilton’s Collective Autonomy at Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces challenged us to rethink our notions of contemporary Australian culture; and local artist Lily Hibberd cast a paranoid eye over our everyday surroundings in I Want To Break Free (pictured, right) at Richmond’s Karen Woodbury Gallery.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Review: Entertaining Mr Sloane (MTC)

There are very few writers whose names become synonymous with the style they championed. The American horror writer H. P Lovecraft is one. Another is the English playwright and social satirist Joe Orton.

Even before his death, at the hands of his hammer-wielding lover, Kenneth Haliwell, in August 1967, Orton’s fame was assured thanks to his savagely humourous attack upon the morals of the day. Through a series of plays, including Entertaining Mr Sloane (1964) Loot (1966) and What the Butler Saw (produced postumously in 1969) Orton mocked the pretentions of British society and the restrictive views of the day concerning sexuality. Today, the phrase ‘Ortonesque’ is used in literary and theatrical circles to describe work that is outrageously or hilariously macabre.

The Melbourne Theatre Company launched their 2007 season tonight with a new production of Joe Orton’s first, full length play, Entertaining Mr Sloane. The MTC describe it as "Orton's classic dark comedy about a handsome stranger with a secret, his libininous landlady, her gender-bending brother and geriatric father."

A typically Ortonesque production, the play is an entertaining period piece, but one which fails to totally stand the test of time, with the dialogue in particular seeming overly verbose. Too, Orton's misogynistic streak is uncomfortably pronounced, and despite its farcial nature, the play's savagery seemed to provoke more than a few winces and sideways glances in tonight's opening-night audience.

Of the cast, Amanda Muggleton as Kath (the landlady) was outstanding, in full grasp of her accent and character. Richard Piper hammed up the role of Ed, Kath's brother, complete with a laughter-milking nervous tic, while Bob Hornery as Kemp, their father, was understated but impressive in his relatively minor but nonetheless crucial role. Ben Geurens was appropriately handsome and seductive as the titular Mr Sloane, a bisexual bad-boy who seduces both Kath and Ed, and who seems to have them both firmly under his thumb, but he appeared to be labouring to maintain his accent; so much so that his dialogue failed to flow, especially in the first half of the play.

As I've previously complained, Simon Phillips, the MTC Artistic Director, directs satire with what strikes me as too heavy a hand. This was, unfortunately, once again evident tonight, with unfortunate results. In addition, his decision to merge the play's three acts into two resulted in the first half of the evening dragging somewhat, although this is also a fault in Orton's immature early text, which only really takes off after the death of old man Kemp, in the second act of this production.

The set design by Shaun Gurton was exemplary, hinting at the restrictive home inhabited by the characters, their social pretentions, and the division between their fantasies and grubby reality, while Matt Scott's lighting design was subdued but effective. Music by David Chesworth was occasionally contrived and invasive, but generally matched the tone of the production well. Overall, a safe and entertaining night out at the theatre, but not one I can fully recommend unless you want to view a production once considered shocking and confrontational, but which today is little more than an entertaining piece of period drama, adequately but unimaginatively staged.

The Arts Centre, Fairfax Studio, until February 10.

That was the year that was: THEATRE

The recent criticisms surrounding this year’s short play festival, Short & Sweet at the Arts Centre, which reverberated throughout the Blogsphere, was one of the major stories in Melbourne’s performing arts sector this year. Rather than rehash recent columns, I refer you to Alison Croggon’s informative and insightful blog Theatre Notes for the full story.

Also at the Arts Centre, the success of the FULL TILT program proved that the real creativity in Melbourne’s theatre scene is definitely happening on the fringes. That said, the Melbourne Theatre Company proved that their middle-of-the-road reputation was not necessarily deserved, thanks to their staging of Festen, an unsettling play by David Eldridge adapted from the Dogme film of the same name.

Elsewhere, the Store Room Theatre re-opened after being dark for too long, re-branding itself as the Store Room Theatre Workshop, and also installed air conditioning, thank the Muses; while the legendary La Mama Theatre, established in 1967, was put on notice by one of its major funding bodies, the Australia Council for the Arts.

My personal performance highlights this year included a star turn by iOTA in the local production of Hedwig and the Angry Inch at the Athenaeum Theatre; the visceral and moving Operation by Blood Policy (pictured left) which combined actors and puppetry to dazzling effect at Next Wave Festival; and the magnificently macabre Rubeville by Northcote’s Black Lung Theatre, presented during the Melbourne Fringe Festival.

I also enjoyed the restaging of Ross Mueller’s almost perfectly realised Construction of the Human Heart at the Malthouse’s Tower Theatre; Angus Cerini’s inspired and confronting Saving Henry v.5 at the Arts Centre; and Headlock, a visceral, vibrant and touching exploration of masculinity by Kage Physical Theatre, also at the Malthouse, and one of the few stage shows this years that engaged me emotionally as well as intellectually or aesthetically.

On the downside, I walked out of Bell Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, which lacked anything resembling pathos or passion, let alone chemistry between its romantic leads; and Gorkem Acaroglu's stridently political The Habib Show at Theatreworks (picture, right) failed spectacularly in its attempt to transplant documentary theatre onto the Australian stage.

Review: Happy Feet

Being that I'm on leave this week, I've been spending the last two days catching up on films, with more to see in the next few days before I head back to work next week.

First off the rank was George Miller's animated epic about dancing penguins, Happy Feet. This is the story of Mumble (adequately but blandly voiced by Elijah 'Frodo' Wood), the alienated young Emperor penguin who is cast out by his tribe because he expresses himself through tapdancing instead of singing. Consequently our young hero embarks on the sort of standard hero's quest that we've come to expect in fantasy films, in search of the alien outsiders whom Mumble's believes is responsible for the fish shortage that is slowly starving his tribe.

Along the way Mumble falls in with an endearing troupe of Adelie penguins, led by the irrepresible Ramon (Robin Williams) and faces off against a truly menacing leopard seal, a small pod of killer whales, extremely Ocker elephant seals, and eventually humans, who are responsible for the food crisis.

There is, of course, a love interest, embodied by the sleek and sexy Gloria (Brittany Murphy) as well as a heart-warming message about being true to yourself even in the face of oprobium, voiced most consistently by Mumble's mother Norma Jean (a breathy and irritating Nicole Kidman).

The film suffers from feeling too episodic, and despite the animation being superb, it suffers in comparison to the work of Pixar. Both the environmental message at the film's heart, and its 'be true to yourself' ethos are awkwardly handled, and the ending especially strained my credulity to breaking point. The music (because this is a musical, of a sort) was too artificial for my liking, being so carefully chosen so as to appeal to the broadest possible tastes that it felt manipulative and contrived.

On the other hand, I'm not a child, at which demographic this film is squarely aimed at, so what would I know?

That was the year that was: CINEMA

In a year that saw James Hewison step down as director of the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF), moving on to helm the Australian Film Institute, there were plenty of surprises in store for the film-going public in 2006.


Sadly, Hewison’s unveiling of the opening night film at MIFF this year, the identity of which had been kept under wraps in order to generate interest and boost ticket sales, was no longer surprising by the time the screening started. So many pundits had tipped that we’d be seeing the high school drama 2:37, directed by 21 year old South Australian Murali Thalluri, that any sense of mystery had long been lost by the time the film was introduced.

What was surprising was how derivative the film was of Gus Van Sant’s accomplished Elephant.

Another surprise was the controversy which developed in the weeks after the film’s Australian premiere, centered on suggestions that Thalluri had invented the ‘friend’ whose suicide allegedly inspired his directorial debut. Thalluri himself stridently denied the accusation that he had invented the story as part of the film’s marketing strategy. Regardless of who was telling the truth, the scandal quickly disappeared from the public radar, as did 2:37 itself, which grossed only $436,257 of its reputed $1,000,000 production costs at the Australian box office, according to the Internet Movie Database.

My favourite film of 2006 was Ang Lee’s already controversial Brokeback Mountain, which sparked further furore, and claims of Hollywood homophobia, when it failed to win the Oscar for Best Film at this year’s Academy Awards.

Also noteworthy were David Cronenberg’s troubling study of aggression, A History of Violence; British film-maker Paul Greengrass’ stunning United 93, about the events of September 11 2001; the AFI award-winning Ten Canoes, the first Australian feature shot entirely in indigenous languages; Jafar Pahani’s gender-bending Iranian soccer caper, Offside; and most recently, Pedro Almodovar’s triumphant Volver.

On the downside, some real stinkers hit our screens this year, including two spectacular failures from Australian directors.

Ana Kokkinos gave us the painfully over-intellectualised The Book of Revelation, while Geoffrey Wright’s take on Macbeth lacked drama, pathos and tension – not to mention actors who could do justice to Shakespeare’s verse.

The appallingly wooden remake of 1976 film The Omen­, for some reason re-titled The Omen 666­; and the frenetic failure which was Underworld Evolution were among some of the other cinematic train wrecks of 2006.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The new blogger

Seems to be spectacularly unsuccessful so far. I just tried transfering my blog, and it didn't work. Guess I'll just keep posting here for the time being, and see what happens in the coming days...

All quiet on the blogging front

After a remarkably pleasent Christmas Eve, Christmas and Boxing Day, there's really very little to report that's blogworthy.

Christmas Eve saw me hanging out with old friends Hugh and Chiara, who I met within my first year of moving to Melbourne in 1986 . Although we only catch up a few times each year now, we slipped straight back into easy banter and rapport over lunch in the Westgarth cafe strip, around the corner from their home.

That night I rang my girlfriend Cerise to wish her the compliments of the season, only to be invited on the spur of the moment over for a roast dinner with her and her housemate Melody, and a couple of their friends. Much wine, champagne and absinthe was also consumed, making for a delightful evening.

Christmas Day saw me open a bottle of bubbly at breakfast, a bottle of red at lunch, eating prawns with lime juice and chili, grapes, a fruit platter, icecream and shortbread, and watching the first three episodes of the US TV series Rescue Me, which features a fireman who talks to the ghosts of his dead friends, among other characters. I'm really enjoying it, and I'll write more about it later.

That night I went to my DJ partner Peter's house, and hung out with a grand crew of people at a sort of alternate Christmas party. Booze, powers and pills were consumed, and there were grand conversations and hugs throughout the night and into the early morning.

Yesterday I didn't crawl out of bed til late in the afternoon, and only stopped feeling seedy at about 7pm. That's the price you pay for a delightful couple of days, I suppose, but goddamn it was fun. I hope you had a good couple of days too.

We now return you to your normal schedule.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Debauched and Degenerate

The liver is evil, and must be punished, so the saying goes.

I certainly gave mine a good workout last night.

With my friends from Glasgow, Bec and Bob in town (and temporary residents of my loungeroom) last night saw us head out to dinner at an Indian restaurant with a few other folks, including our mutal friends Craig and Sarah, both of whom Bec and I met through the youth arts organisation Express Media, where we were co-CEOs for a couple of years. The service at Guru Da Dhaba was chaotic, but the food was divine, and I highly recommend it if you haven't eaten there before. Six or seven bottles of wine were consumed between eight people, which was an excellent start to the evening.

Then it was on to Abbotsford, for a house-party thrown by my lovely friend Lisa. One of the many highlights of the party was drinks around the kitchen table and intense discussion about how apparently picky I am as far as potential boyfriends are concerned, as a light rain fell outside and more alcohol was consumed - two stubbies of Mercury dry cider in my case.

Picky? Moi? Heavens, next thing you know people will be accusing me of leading a debauched and degenerate lifestyle...

After an hour or so we returned to my flat and drank absinthe while watching the film clip for the Sigur Rós song 'Viðrar Vel Til Loftárása' from ágætis byrjun, the band's second album, which always leaves me with tears in my eyes.

Leaving Bec and Bob to sleep, given that they were heading off to Bec's parents' place in Venus Bay the next morning, Sarah and I strolled down to Control HQ, which soon descended into sweet debauchery as it was the venue for an Even afterparty. There were bloggers, there were friends, there was far, far too much alcohol - shots, champagne, cider - and several lines of speed.

At about 2.45am I walked Sarah to a taxi, after which I decided to drop into the tail-end of a queer hip-hop night, Down Low, at Alia. Vodka was consumed.

After that things are a little blury. I seem to recall visiting The Peel for an hour or so, and on my way home at about 6am being cruised by a cute boy in a ute, which led to drunken but rather satisfying sex in an alleyway. Eventually of course I collapsed into bed, although I don't actually remember getting home, let alone divesting myself of my clothing and drawing the blinds...

To say that I was seedy today, after rising, would be a massive understatement. But what the fuck, it's the festive season after all. So here's a picture of a drunken Santa.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

That was the day that was

Spent the morning doing the laundry because Mum was coming down from the country to stay the night (and then the next two nights my friends Bec and Bob from Glasgow will be staying over) and I wanted to make sure I had clean sheets for the sofa-bed, and clean towels for the morning, for all.

Then this afternoon I had a long overdue lunch with the one-of-a-kind Ms Fits, worked on next week's 'Art of the City' column for Beat magazine, and did more housework.

Tonight I took Mum out to an opening at ACCA - British artist Mike Nelson's Lonely Planet, which is an evocative, melancholy and superb installation - then to see the new Barry Humphries show, Back with a Vengeance at the Art Centre.

Not until we arrived at the theatre did I casually mention to Mum that we were having drinks with Barry after the show. You should have seen her face when I told her - this is, after all, the woman who introduced me to Barry Humphries (as well as The Goon Show, Monty Python and The Hobbit).

Her expression when we actually met Barry after the show, and he thanked her for introducing me to his material all those years ago, was utterly priceless.

Best Christmas present I've ever given her, I reckon!

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Hello and welcome to...

...the last 100 visitors to my blog! You've come from all over the world, including:

  • Istanbul, Turkey
  • Fairbanks, Alaska
  • Somewhere in Morocco
  • Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia
  • The Leap, Queensland
  • Madison, Wisconsin
  • Riga, Latvia
  • Bayan, Kuwait
  • Lakemba, New South Wales
  • Leatherhead, the UK
So why have you come to my blog, that's what I want to know? WHY? Over to you, dear readers...

Roll on 2007

I just had a meeting with the General Manager of Evolution Publishing, in whose publishing stable MCV is a part.

I've officially been offered the job of MCV Editor, four days a week (which is perfect for me) starting from early February.

Whoo-hooo!

Monday, December 18, 2006

I hate Christmas


Bah, humbug. It's a stupid season. People shopping themselves stupid, maxing out their credit cards, fighting with relatives, drinking themselves into oblivion, praying to a non-existent god, and generally behaving like cunts.

Stay safe and sane, people, especially if you're spending the day with relatives!

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Updates

It's been a busy week, post Meredith, and as you'll have noticed I haven't been posting a lot. There's been the usual things going on - work, writing, Board obligations, that sort of thing, but it's all a bit dull and I'm sure you don't want to hear about it.

Some of the more interesting activities I've got up to this week have included:

  • Telling the Managing Director at Evolution Publishing that I'd be interested in throwing my hat into the ring when Troy Gurr, the editor at MCV, steps down in February. It would mean a few changes in my life, taking over as the editor of the paper instead of just working there two days a week, but I think I'm ready for that.
  • Attending the launch of the Midsumma Festival on Wednesday night, and the final week of the Short & Sweet short play festival immediately afterwards at the Arts Centre. This Sunday night is the Gala final performance and awards presentation - I'll be presenting the Media Judges' award, so say hi if you see me there. Week Three of Short & Sweet was, I'm sad to say, the worst week yet, especially the first five plays before the interval, which I scored very low indeed.
  • Lunch with several members of the Board of Directors of the Melbourne International Arts Festival on level 41 of the Hyatt Hotel on Tuesday, together with their newly appointed General Manager (very new indeed - she'd been in the job for four hours!) Kristy Edmunds, the festival director, and several other hand-picked members of Melbourne's 'most important and influential' arts media (stop it, I'm blushing). The occasion was the announcement that Edmunds had accepted an additional and unprecedented fourth year as Artistic Director of MIAF - and judging by some of the antagonistic questions from at least one member of the media present, not everyone was happy with the idea. Alison Croggon at Theatre Notes explores the issue further...
Catching up on a couple of films:
  • The fascinating documentary Hunt Angels, about Australia's own Ed Wood, film-maker Rupert Kathner, which employs animated black and white still photographs to bring 1930's and 1940's Australia to life; not an entirely successful film, but still one which engaged my interest, and which definitely taught me more about the era in question.
  • The lacklustre, limp and muddled The Black Dahlia, directed with little flair, let alone any evidence of interest and engagement with the story by Brian De Palma; and featuring a hopelessly miscast pretty-boy Josh Hartnett as a boxer-turned-cop in 1947 Los Angeles. The screenplay tries to cram too much of James Ellroy's complex plot into the film; there's absolutely zero chemistry between Hartnett and Scarlett Johansson, as his pouting love interest Kay Lake; and several of the supporting cast chew up so much of the scenery that it's a wonder there were any sets left by the time they finished shooting the film. Save for one or two superb tracking shots - such as the scene where the body of the Black Dahlia is discovered - there's very little to recommend in this movie. By the way, Ellroy's novel was based on an actual murder, which you can learn about here, if you care to.
  • The new James Bond film, Casino Royale. I've never been a Bond fan; I've never seen any of the previous installments in the franchise at the cinema, and I suspect the most recent Bond film I saw was 1964's Goldfinger. Nonetheless, I was intrigued to see this film because of the furore over its casting, and because of claims the cliche had been stripped away from the plot, leaving it a leaner, meaner film. It's still a Bond film, replete with chases, cars and flashy set-pieces, but it was entertaining, in a banal sort of way. Some superb fight scene and action sequence choreography and editing, however. Too long, though - the last 15-20 minutes definitely needed trimming.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Monday, December 11, 2006

More on Meredith

Arriving home yesterday afternoon from the Meredith Music Festival, I went straight to the shower and washed off two and a half days worth of dust and dirt, then went to bed for four hours. I felt so much better when I woke up.

I'd had about three hours sleep on Thursday night before leaving for the festival, as a result of having far too much fun seeing fantastic Scottish group My Latest Novel at the Corner. On Friday night I drank heavily and partied hard, and consequently didn't get more than three or four hours sleep - I woke up at 7am because of the sunlight streaming into my tent and couldn't get back to sleep. Then on Saturday night I had virtually no sleep at all, due to a combination of heat, noise and too much speed...

Consequently I was exhaused by the time we left the festival around 11am Sunday. I was also on edge due to the homophobic mutterings Glen and I had overheard that morning from the group of straight country boys who were camped next to us. They'd only just cottoned onto the fact that 10 of the 11 guys in our posse were queer (as a result of one of our party, Danny, being particularly unsubtle in perving on them that morning) and seemed particularly unimpressed....

To top it off, the combination of the struggling air-con in our hired minibus, and me bouncing around in the back, made me nauseous on the drive home to Melbourne.

Combined with the ridiculous heat, the dust, and the ever-present smoke from the bushfires, it was not the best Meredith experience ever!

Nonetheless, I still had a good time in between everything else. To prove it, here's a couple of pics. Because I don't have a digital camera, here's a brief selection of photos courtesy of No Necked Monsters' flickr stream.


Homosexuals in their native environment.

Three of our crew - Glen, Andrew and Darren



Random boy in head-dress at the Supernatural Ampitheatre.


Friday night highlight - The Presets
(when this was taken I was dancing down in the front of the speakers)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Too darn hot

Things that were good about Meredith this year:

Great company
Shirtless boys
Midlake
The Presets
Massages
Staff passes that let you bypass the queue of cars at the gate

Things that were bad about Meredith this year:

Heat
Dust
Bushfire smoke
Heat stroke
Homophobes
Rose Tattoo
Sleep deprivation

Thursday, December 07, 2006

On SmartArts today...

...my guests were:
  • John Bailey filled us in on the latest news and gossip in the arts scene, in Shoot the Messenger, including word on the latest war of words in the theatre-blog scene over Short and Sweet. You can learn more about the original drama at the cached version of her blog here, and fill yourself in on the ruckus about her comments over at Alison Croggon's Theatre Notes.
  • Amy Dobson came in to talk about new theatre piece The Maya Project, based on a Hindu text that posits the world and all who live in it is but illusion... On at McCulloch Gallery, 8 Rankins Lane Melb. (off Lt Bourke St, between Elizabeth and Queen Sts.) until Dec 10 - Bookings: Ph FireEngineBlue on 03-9347-5530
  • Novice documentarian Benj Binks joined us to chat about the new movie he's making, Mongolian Bling, all about Mongolia's burgeoning hip-hop scene.
  • It's the end on an era for the graduate students from Box Hill Institute who've been studying their Diploma of Visual Arts for the last two years - not only have they finished their course, but it's never going to be offered again at this campus. Check out their end of year exhibition:

2006 "Shoot the Breeze" Graduate Visual Arts Exhibition

From baby boomers to Generation Y this graduate exhibition comprises a diverse collection of works by all twenty students, showcasing edgy contemporary art at its finest. These emerging artists have sculpted, printed, photographed, painted and installed an eclectic mix of works that indicate a solid future in the arts world. They are affordable now. An exhibition not to be missed.

Cusp Gallery - 238 High Street Northcote

hours: tue-thu 12-6, fri 12-8, sat 12-5

(03) 9482 2731 www.cuspgallery.com.au


  • Next up I was joined by two of the members from Scottish quintet My Latest Novel, Gary Deveny and Paul McGeachy, who are currently touring Australia on the back of their debut album Wolves. They're playing the Corner Hotel tonight, which is where I'm headed as soon as I finish this blog post! Lovely guys, lovely accents, great band...
  • Thereafter Kristen Condon, the Curatorial Director of Teknikunst 06: Gendertopia
    came in, to chat about the arts and technology festival, now in its third year, and this year running from Saturday 9th December – Sunday 17th December 2006 at the Meat Market and North Melbourne Town Hall Arts Houses.
  • Peter Rose, the erudite gentleman who edits Australian Book Review was on next, discussing two new memoirs: North Face of Soho by Clive James (which he praised) and Things I Didn’t Know by Robert Hughes (which he didn't).

  • Finally, Tai Snaith and Alex Martinas Rowe dropped in to give me an Art Atack - our fortnightly visual arts review segment. Today they lavished praise upon the new exhibition by Tony Garafilakis, Paradise Slaves @ Uplands Gallery in Prahran

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

I need a holiday

It's been a stressful couple of weeks, what with some Fringe drama, three days full of interviews at the National Gallery of Victoria for the next round of Young Ambassadors, and the usual chaos of my existence.

Last night I dragged Mike along to see the opening night of Robert Reid's play about dissociative disorders, A Mile in Her Shadow - great performances and lighting, not to sold on the script and direction - at the newly re-branded Store Room Theatre Workshop. Go check out his blog for a far more detailed and lucid review of the play...

I just got home half an hour ago, giving me long enough to check emails and return a couple of calls and quickly update my blog; after which I'm going to grab a shower before heading back into town to catch week two of the Short & Sweet play festival.

I'm feeling pretty knackered, and I definitely need a holiday - all I can say is, thank the gods the Meredith Music Festival is on this weekend. Two and half days of country-based debauchery, rock'n'roll and great friends - I can't wait!

Monday, December 04, 2006

This is how I plan to spend New Years Eve...


This is Limp Wrist, a queer hardcore band from the USA. They're playing the Arthouse on NYE, and I am so going to be there!

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Short and Sweet

Ten, 10-minute plays a night for three, one-week seasons at the Arts Centre.

Last night, everything from comedy to mature drama, and dysfunctional relationships to cyber-sex and traffic accidents.

What's not to like?

Friday, December 01, 2006

This week on SmartArts...


...my guests were:

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Happy birthday Q + A


The club I run every Thursday, Q + A, has its 11th birthday this week. Feel free to come for a visit, a drink and a boogie!

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Emo boys kissing


I found this at work while looking for an image of emo boys pashing for an article. No, really, I did!

Monday, November 27, 2006

MELBOURNE BIG DAY OUT STORE TICKETS SOLD OUT!

This just in from the BDO publicists:

"Store tickets for the MELBOURNE BIG DAY OUT have SOLD OUT in record time!

This is unprecedented!

Final tickets for the MELBOURNE BIG DAY OUT are only available through Ticketmaster ph 136 100 and www.bigdayout.com

Be quick or you will miss out!

Do believe the hype!

I love anonymous bitching

I just received this delightful, anonymous piece of vitriol in my inbox.


Re: Your Bloggy Thing
From: Anonymous Sender [anonymous@remailer.metacolo.com]

Your Interests:
Should have read: Just a past it, burned-out, tedious old queen who can't write for shit.


Don't you love the way anonymity allows cowards to say whatever they like? I wonder if it's from someone I know? Assuming I do, it's clearly also from someone whose opinion I don't give a fuck about. LOL!

Loving the linkage

I've taken a couple of minutes to update my blog links, folks, so without further ado, please welcome:

Blather Blog
Sublime-ation
Keep It Foolish
A Wild Young Under-Whimsy
Fluffy as a Cat
Broken Left Leg

And in the Gay Blogs section:

The Pink Pen
Stephen from Melbourne
My Life in the Slow Lane
Evol Kween
Best Gay Blogs
If I Bite You Hard Enough

Click, read, enjoy!

Bond. James Bond.


For the first time in, well, ever, I'm actually looking forward to the new James Bond film, Casino Royale.

The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw has described the film as 'ridiculously enjoyable', and says that Daniel Craig is "a fantastic Bond, and all those whingers and nay-sayers out there in the blogosphere should hang their heads in shame... He's easily the best Bond since Sean Connery, and perhaps even - well, let's not get carried away. "

By all accounts it's a grittier, grimmer take on the Bond franchise than has ever been seen before. That, coupled with the fact that Craig is bloody sexy (watch Love is the Devil if you don't believe me, in which he plays the rough trade lover of artist Francis Bacon) means that I'm actually enthused about seeing the film, which opens next Thursday. Me, I'm going to see it next Monday night at a media preview.

I have a plus one for that screening. I wonder who I'll take...?


By the way, if you're the person I've lent my copy of Love is the Devil to, can I have it back now, please?

Give us the old...

Razzle Dazzle is a new Australian film opening next year, which I was lucky enough to catch last Wedbesday night at the Palace Films Christmas party (do some companies like to get in early, or what?) at the Westgarth Cinema.

It’s a rare experience to walk into a cinema knowing absolutely nothing about the film you’re going to see. Razzle Dazzle, directed by Darren Ashton (Thunderstruck) is a mockumentary that bills itself as ‘a journey into dance.” It’s a bright, breezy comedy about the world of competitive dance eisteddfods, a sort of Strictly Ballroom about the under 18 set. The focus is firmly on the adults, including a single-minded stage mum played by Kerry Armstrong, and the rival directors of two dance academies, the well meaning but foolish Mr Jonathon (played by English actor Ben Miller) and the snide Miss Elizabeth (Jane Hall).

While the humour never gets as black or as savage as I felt it needed to be to really make this film work, its gentle humour and PG rating should ensure Razzle Dazzle a broad audience next year when it opens nationally on March 22.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Partying like its 1976

Last night was 3RRR's 30th birthday party, held in the appropriately baroque surroundings of The Forum, and what a splendid affair it was. With the theme of 'Party like it's 1976', almost all the crowd made the effort to dress accordingly. There were some truly disturbing suits on display, some wonderfully garish frocks, an entire gang of Sharpies, several tennis players, footballers, superheroes, and sundry other 70's personalities.

Myself, I donned a rather charming kaftan and a fetching wig, and proceeded to have an excellent time. So excellent in fact that the sun had well and truly risen by the time I got home...

This afternoon has been spent curled up on the couch with a good book, James Ellroy's The Big Nowhere, and a quick visit to the local polling booth where I voted Green, having given up on Labor several years ago after their disgraceful response to the Tampa affair.

Tonight's going to be a quiet one - just me, a bottle of red, and the ABC's election coverage. Cheers!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Pagan Greens threaten future of Victoria!

Shock, horror!


MEDIA RELEASE

Wednesday, 22nd November 2006

Pagan Green Party Threatens Future Of Victoria

The Rev Fred Nile, Leader of the Christian Democratic Party, has issued a warning to the voters of Victoria concerning the pagan Green Party.

"The voters of Victoria only have to study the anti-Christian agenda of the pagan Green Party to know what will happen to Victoria if the Greens win the 'balance of power', the 'balance of blackmail' in the Victorian Upper House.

In the NSW Upper House the pagan Green Party has strongly opposed the daily Opening Prayers of the NSW Parliament and have twice unsuccessfully moved Motions to have them removed (2001 and 2003) but were defeated both times, by 30 votes to 7 votes in 2003.

The Greens strongly supported the Religious Vilification Bill that had draconian gaol sentences and have persecuted the two Victorian Christian Pastors, Daniel Scot and Danny Nalliah.

The Greens have introduced a number of anti Christian Bills such as the legalisation of same sex homosexual 'marriages' and to force Christian Schools to go against their conscience and employ practicing homosexual and lesbian teachers.

The Greens have tried to legalise marijuana and supported legal heroin 'shooting galleries' (injecting rooms) in NSW towns, suburbs and prisons.

If the Green party wins the balance of power they will use that power to ruthlessly adopt their anti Christian policies.

I urge the voters of Victoria to reject the Green 'watermelon' party - green on the outside, red and pink on the inside. Instead vote for the Christian Democratic Party candidates, Spero Katos, Sandra Herrmann, Jenny Zuiderwyk, Phil Seymour, Ewan McDonald, Wolfgang Voigt and Eddie Brockhus" said Fred Nile.

Bwah-hah-hah-hah-haaaaaa!

Two parents decide to play a prank on their young son and his friend who have been watching horror movies. The result? Fucking hilarious! (Thanks to Evol Kween, who I stole this from.)

RIP Robert Altman

One of the great auteurs of modern American cinema is dead.

The caustic and irreverent director of movies including M-A-S-H, Nashville and The Player died on Monday night US time, at the age of 81.

There's a beautiful salute to him here, at Salon.com, which I urge you all to read.




He's not bloody dead you know!

So Ian Thorpe has retired. So what? Does that really justify the outpouring of grief, the wailing and moaning in the media? Anybody had think he'd bloody died or something!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The ALP is telling porkies

Any suggestion that the Greens are preferencing the Liberals or Nationals anywhere in this weekend's Victorian election is entirely false.

Despite anything that might be in the media, or in any garbled reports you may receive, the Greens are NOT recommending preferences to the Liberals (or Nationals) in any seats. We ARE recommending a preference to the ALP in the vast majority of the marginals that matter, and in most other seats.

In some seats, we will leave it to the voters' choice, by providing a split or open ticket that allows them to Vote Green and then preference whichever major party they choose.

In the Upper House we have already determined to provide all preferences to like-minded parties first, then Labor, then the Conservatives, then the candidates with the most extremely opposed position to The Greens.

By contrast, the ALP has preferenced the so-called Country Alliance ahead of the Greens. This Party is essentially a Shooters-and-Loggers Party.

Please visit our website to view how Greens preferences are being distributed: In the lower house: www.vic.greens.org.au/2006Election/how-to-vote

You can see how preferences from above-the-line votes will flow in the upper house at www.vec.vic.gov.au/statecandidates.html.

Please feel free to pass this email on to others.

Best Wishes

The Greens Campaign Team

Australian Greens (Victoria)
1/377 Little Bourke St, Melbourne 3001
(PO Box 4589 Melbourne 3001)
(03) 9602 1141
www.vic.greens.org.au

Authorised by Bronwen Mander, 1/377 Little Bourke St, Melbourne 3001

Monday, November 20, 2006

"I don't belong here"

Maybe it's because my so-called best friend (yes, I mean mean you, Andrew Plozza, formerly of Trafalgar East) threw a bucket of cowshit over me in front of a group of friends in 1983, when I was 15, to distance himself from Trafalgar High School's token poofter; but I've always been a trifle insecure...

At the launch of the unauthorised biography of 3RRR tonight, I was constantly mentally pinching myself, reminding myself that I'm actually a part of such an amazing, integral part of Melbourne. I felt shy, awkward and out of place, so I did what I normally do in such circumstances: I got drunk, and I overcompensated for my nervousness.

To quote Radiohead:

"But I'm a creep
I'm a weirdo
What the hell am I doing here?
I don't belong here
I don't belong here ."

The fact that apprently I actually do have a place at 3RRR makes me realise how incredibly fucking special the station is, in that it has a place for neurotic bastards like me.

If you're already a 3RRR subscriber, please buy Mark Phillips' excellent book (published by the Vulgar Press) or come along to one of the 30th birthday events.

Alternatively, if you're a freeloading listener, please subscribe.

Thank you and goodnight.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Review: Tomfoolery @ the Playhouse

Last Wednesday saw the opening night of the Melbourne Theatre Company’s final show for 2006, Tomfoolery. A musical review based upon the deliciously satirical works of American Tom Lehrer, the show strings together everything from standards such as ‘Poisoning the Pigeons in the Parks’ and ‘The Masochism Tango’ to songs the mathematician-turned-musician wrote for children’s educational television in the 1980’s. A framework of witty quotes based around Lehrer’s ability to send up seemingly every musical form in existence holds the show together.

The cast of Rhonda Burchmore, Mitchell Butel, Gerry Connolly, Bert Labonte, Melissa Madden-Gray gave uneven performances, as well as the unfortunate impression that they weren’t quite ready to open. Words were forgotten, and cues missed. The lighting technician was also off his mark several times throughout the evening.

All of this can be put down to opening night nerves, and is definitely not damning. It didn’t seem to faze the audience in the stalls (who were “of a certain age” as The Australian’s Peter Burch delicately put it.). They clapped and cheered at the end of the evening. Those of us in the dress circle, however, had a rather different experience of the night.

The fact that sightlines from the Playhouse balcony are so painfully acute that you end up focused on the crowns of the performers’ heads rather than their delivery, did not assist with my appreciation of the evening, but I did not walk away from Tomfoolery impressed. Certainly my companion for the night was underwhelmed: he fell asleep three times.

The songs themselves were great fun, although it helped that my 1970’s childhood means I’m just old enough to be familiar with some of them (Lehrer had his heyday in the 1950’s and 1960’s). Mitchell Butel displayed extraordinary versatility and Melissa Madden-Gray was also excellent, but Bert Labonte’s singing was often flat (although he did give a superb rendition of ‘The Old Dope Peddler’) while the stars of the show, Connolly and Burchmore, definitely failed to live up to their reputations, with Burchmore wooden, and Connolly painfully underprepared.

The biggest problem with Tomfoolery, however, was that the production was overblown. The performers were hamming it up when they should have been restrained, and jokes and gimmicks were hammered home with a startling lack of subtly.

It has been said that the best comedy is performed with a straight face. Under the combined direction of Ross Coleman and Simon Phillips, Tomfoolery is wearing a forced and manic grin.

“That’s what happens when you throw too much money at a simple idea,” opined the bloke seated behind me last Wednesday night, after the final curtain call.

I’m inclined to agree.


(Another review of the show appears here, in The Age.)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

"Do you eat meat?"

I've just had a very peculiar conversation at my local milk bar, which I'd gone to in order to drop off some dry cleaning (two dress shirts - one white with a wing collar, the other a black Gothic number - and a suit coat in case you were curious).

As the tired-looking Vietnamese woman behind the counter was serving me, a younger woman was serving a bearded bloke in his mid 40's at the counter opposite. He had the gaunt, ruddy look of an alchoholic, and as she rang up his single purchase, he began talking, although not actually conducting a conversation with anyone save himself. Two plump children, sapped of energy by the heat, lay prone on the floor behind the counter.

When the younger woman spoke to one of the kids in her own tonugue, her scruffy, bearded customer snarled, "Speak English!"

Without thinking of the possible consequences, I snapped, "Why should she?" across the counter at him.

He glared at me. I glared back. The two women behind the counter went about their business.

"What'd'ya mean by that?" he demanded querolously.

I just glared, and after a brief moment he glanced away.

"I was only joking," he muttered, before arcing up again. "5RAR battalion, Vietnam. You should join the Army, mate, instead of protesting."

Then he slowly meandered out of the shop carrying the single can of VB he'd just purchased, together with two white polyurethane trays he had tucked under one arm.

I took my drycleaning docket and strolled out, wondering if the bloke would be waiting outside.

He was. He was smaller than me, thinner, and fixed me with a stare from under the brim of his baseball cap that was both puzzled and irate.

"I'm not a racist mate," he said after a moment. "I've got an aboriginal wife. I was only joking."

I paused, sized him up, decided he wasn't going to try and deck me, and answered, "You may have been joking, but no-one else knew that. What you said sounded racist. It's what it appeared to be that's the problem, mate. You should be more careful."

He blinked, staring at me with bloodshot and uncomprehending eyes. Then he said something really strange.

"Do you like meat?'

I blinked.

"What? Uh, yes. I'm not a vegetarian, if that's what you mean."

He proffered the two shrink-wrapped polyurethane trays towards me, displaying an assortment of chops.

"I just stole these from Safeway..." he said, trailing off.

He was trying to sell them to me.

"No thanks mate," I told him. "I hardly ever cook."

I turned away, came home, and wrote this.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

God help me

They caught me at an impressionable moment, the bastards.

After three hours of radio, a voiceover production session for the National Gallery of Victoria, and a steak for lunch, I was waylaid and coerced into agreeing to appearing on TV - Channel 31 - at 8.15 in the goddamn morning tomorrow, after a late night of DJ'ing, to spruik 3RRR's 30th birthday shenannigans.

God help me!

Interview: Dame Edna Everage

FAR FROM EVERAGE

RICHARD WATTS shares a salacious word with the housewife superstar, Dame Edna Everage.


ON DECEMBER 19 1955, a humble suburban housewife from Moonee Ponds made her first appearance on a Melbourne stage.

Then known as Mrs Norm Everage, today she is one of Melbourne’s most famous residents. Her trademark spectacles, her purple bouffant hair and spectacular yet tasteful costumes are recognised and celebrated around the globe.

“I’m basically still a Melbourne housewife,” Dame Edna Everage trills. “I am. And I’m a realist. Women are. I think it’s because we bring children to the world. Or, in the case of Madonna, we import them.”

This year she returns to Melbourne to celebrate her Golden Jubilee.

“I couldn’t imagine life without stage shows,” Edna confesses. “People may think of me as a television person, or just as a legendary figure in Australian history, but I’m so much more than that.”

Next month she appears in a new stage show at The Arts Centre, while simultaneously ACMI will screen a series of her classic television moments. Additionally, a recreation of Edna’s Moonee Ponds home circa 1955 opens this Friday, alongside a display of her many gowns, also at the Arts Centre.

“I respond to all kinds of art,” Dame Edna reflects, “although on the whole, sculpture leaves me cold. Except for those old Victorian sculptures that you see in our parks and gardens; generally of forgotten Lord Mayors with bronze trousers.”

There has been talk of them putting up a sculpture of me at Docklands,” she adds, “which is a pity, because no-one will ever go there to see it.”

She also has reservations about the sculptor’s proposed design.

“It was most unsatisfactory. I look grumpy, badly dressed, with terrible legs.”

Dame Edna has every right to be concerned about how she may be portrayed. As Booker Prize winning novelist A.S. Byatt, herself a dame, once said, “It’s her legs that allow Edna to get away with so much naughtiness. If it wasn’t for those legs she couldn’t do half of what she does.”

“I’d never known that little A. S. Byatt had written about me, or had been quoted,” Dame Edna says quickly, laughing off the writer’s prurient interest in her physical attributes.

“I’m not a beautiful woman, but I’m an attractive woman, and isn’t that more important?” she says gracefully.

The Dame’s high spirits fade when the conversation touches upon some of the gentlemen she has been associated with over the years, such as the colourful theatrical identity Barry Humphries, an entrepreneur so lacking in modesty he has named Edna’s forthcoming stage show after himself.

“That is so typical of him,” she sighs.

As Dame Edna tells it, Humphries was in the audience at her one of her earliest stage appearances. “I think he came to sneer,” she confides.

Reputedly he was so impressed by her performance that he offered Edna a contract on the spot.

“He had a certain charm, which he has since lost, and he gave me a piece of paper, which I signed. It was the biggest mistake of my life,” she says, struggling to hold back the tears.

Already despondent, Edna’s thoughts naturally gravitate towards the memory of her late husband, Norm.

“Poor Norm. He was an invalid for most of our married life, which I would recommend. Marry an invalid is the advice I give to young women, because it gives you freedom. Wonderful freedom.”

“Of course I hero-worshipped Norm,” Dame Edna hastens to add. I put him on a pedestal. And in the end, I put him on a pedestal two or three times a day.”

Ednaville, November 17 – February 11, Arts Centre, George Adams Gallery.

Barry Humphries and Friends – Back with a Vengeance, December 19 – February 11 at the Arts Centre. Bookings on 9281 8000.

Ednafest!

This interview first appeared in MCV #306 on Thursday November 16.

THE EYES HAVE IT

If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to visit the magnificent Eyes, Lies and Illusions exhibition at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) then you’re missing out on one of the best screen culture events of the year.

I swung by Federation Square on Sunday afternoon, assuming that I’d be able to skim through the exhibition in half an hour before getting to another show at the National Gallery of Victoria. Instead, I spent an engrossing two hours in slack-jawed, wide-eyed wonder.

Eyes, Lies and Illusions presents the pre-cinematic entertainments of the past, from the Renaissance to the Victorian era, in a seven-part exhibition drawn from the collection of German experimental film-faker, professor and curator Werner Nekes, via London’s Hayward Gallery. Exploring the history of optical trickery, and a world of wonder that pre-dates the modern moving image, this collection of magic lanterns and magic mirrors, camera obscura and praxinoscopes is truly a marvellous show.

Unlike some exhibitions, which tend towards the static and unengaging, Eyes, Lies and Illusions teases you into becoming active and alert to the possibilities of the exhibits and the entertainments they provide, whether it’s giggling at your reflection in a distorting mirror, stepping into the warping angles of the ‘Ames Room’ or peering into the viewer of a kinetoscope.

Works by several contemporary visual artists, integrated into the exhibition, demonstrate how visual trickery continues to fascinate and entertain in the modern world. Of these works, one of the most delightful is Crowd (pictured above; an interactive artwork by Melbourne-based design specialists Eness) a suspended, disembodied community of eyeballs that tracks your movements about ACMI’s screen gallery.

Eyes, Lies and Illusions runs until February 11 2007. For details go to www.acmi.net.au

For more arts news and gossip read my weekly column Art of the City every Wednesday in Beat magazine.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Young lesbian faces death

A YOUNG LESBIAN who fled Uganda in 2004 after her father threatened to kill her faced deportation from the UK on Monday night.

Faridah Kenyini was only 17 when she arrived in Britain. She settled in Newcastle, where she met her partner, security guard Sarah Garanette, 25.

At an earlier asylum hearing, the judge implied that she was lying about being a lesbian and the danger she faced. Consequently, her plea for asylum was refused.

An attempt to deport her last week failed because of an administrative error

Garenette, Kenyini’s partner, has voluntarily offered to travel to Uganda with her following the registration of their civil partnership.

Uganda’s record of persecuting homosexuals is well documented. The country's president, Yoweri Museveni, once proposed the arrest of all homosexuals. He has also called for a return to days when “these few individuals were either ignored or speared by their parents.”

Kenyini dreads returning to Uganda.

“I am afraid that my removal documents will have details about my sexuality and that I will be handed over to the police and abused,” she said.

***

More details can be found at UK Indymedia.

Interview: John Cameron Mitchell

A FRESH, FRANK and life-affirming story about the search for love in post-September 11 New York, John Cameron Mitchell’s new film Shortbus generated an instant buzz when it premiered at the Cannes Film Festival this year.

Critic James Rocchi said it left him “wanting to invent new adjectives - Fucktastic! Cocktacular! Breastalicious!” Industry bible Variety called it “Unquestionably the most sexually graphic American narrative feature ever made outside the realm of the porn industry.”

According to John Cameron Mitchell, sex has been cheapened by porn. In making Shortbus, he says, he wanted to use sex to show “the emotional lives of its characters.”

“We had an open call for actors on the web. We avoided agents and stars, because they barely have sex in their own lives, let along in front of camera. We reached out to people who were interested in working with us for a very long time to create something new.”

An intense period of improvisation followed, so that by the time the crew were ready to begin shooting, the actors were not only comfortable having sex in front of the cameras, they were comfortable with their characters as well.

“I realised that the actors would feel exposed and perhaps unsafe on set in a film of this nature,” Mitchell says, “so the way to really make them comfortable was to let them be creative partners in the making of the script.”

This organic approach has resulted in a movie populated by complex, flawed and endearing individuals, including Sofia (Sook-Yin Lee) a sex therapist who has never had an orgasm; James (Paul Dawson) and Jamie (PJ De Boy) a gay couple struggling with monogamy; and Severin (Lindsay Beamish) a lonely dominatrix. Over 102 minutes the film traces the characters’ lives as they converge on Shortbus, an underground New York salon.

A threesome between James, Jamie and Ceth (Jay Brannan) the wide-eyed young man the couple meet one night, features the film’s most-talked about scene, in which one character rims his partner while singing “The Star Spangled Banner”.

According to Mitchell, it’s a deliberately provocative moment, while simultaneously a heartfelt and patriotic statement.

“Someone singing the national anthem up someone else’s bum is a statement about liberty and the pursuit of happiness, which is supposed to be enshrined in our Constitution, though it seems to be ignored lately,” he says.

“The boys, someone might describe their situation as indulgent, as opposed to happy, but there’s true joy in that scene. All the characters are trying to connect in a good way. It might be fumbling and hilarious, but they’re laughing together; they truly are together in that moment.”

Like Hedwig and the Angry Inch, his first film, Shortbus is a film about outsiders and their place in the world. It’s a theme that Mitchell says is largely inspired by his sexuality.

“Being gay certainly marginalised me when I was younger,” he says, “as it does most people, I think. I was an outsider, and I’m sure that I’ll continue to write about the outsider in society, and his or her special place as both observer and participant.”

That said, Mitchell places little importance on the issue of who he is attracted to.

“To me, being gay is a pretty boring fact in and of itself,” he explains. “It’s what you do with it that’s interesting. If you were a non-conformist from birth, as a lot of gay people are, why not take advantage of that and create something beautiful and new?”

Shortbus is now showing in cinemas nationally.


This interview first appeared in MCV #304, Thursday November 2.