Sunday, December 30, 2007
Saturday, December 29, 2007
Yesterday, my tempature-control plans saw me fleeing to the comforts of the cinema, at least initially.
One of the good things about living in Fitzroy is that the city is so close. At 10:15am, on the spur of the moment, I decided to catch the 10:30am session of The Golden Compass at the Melbourne Central Cinemas (comfortable seats, air conditioned, great sound system and - at such an early session - an almost total absence of screaming children to distract me from the story unfolding on the screen).
Now, had the film actually started at 10:30 I would never have made it in time; but knowing that there would be at least 20-30 minutes of ads and trailers before the film started gave me more than enough time to get out of the house and to the cinema on time.
The reviews for The Golden Compass (which is based on the novel Northern Lights by English fantasist Philip Pullman, the first in the His Dark Materials trilogy) haven't been great, with suggestions the story felt rushed, was too complex and confusing for its audience, etc. Having not read the book on which it is based, I thus went into the cinema in an ambivilent state, and came out enraptured.
With its feisty heroine, Lyra Belacqua (a wonderful performance by newcomer Dakota Blue Edwards despite her all-over-the-shop accent); a stellar cast including Daniel Craig as Lyra's uncle, the scholar-explorer Lord Asriel, the usually annoying but here convincingly cold and manipulative Nicole Kidman as the villainous Mrs Coulter (memorably described in a Guardian review as "an arresting mixture of Darth Vader and Veronica Lake"), and Sir Ian McKellen voicing the war bear Iorek Byrnison; and assured direction by Chris Weitz, who also wrote the screenplay, The Golden Compass is a thoroughly entertaining romp.
Without going into detail about the plot (which concerns, at its heart, a struggle over the choice between freedom and control of the human soul between free-thinkers and the Magisterium, a thinly-veiled portrait of the Church) the film is by turns enthralling in its detail, breathtaking in its scope, and inspiring in the message it subtly conveys.
The special effects-heavy production never gets in the way of the essential humanity (or lack thereof) of its characters, which include witches, sea-gypsies, child abductors, aeronauts and talking polar bears. While the film is not without its flaws (Lyra seems remarkably unsupervised for someone half the world is searching for, and constantly wanders off on her own despite the malevolent forces that are gathered against her; and the breakneck pace of the film certainly borders on the rushed) its skillful blend of story and spectacle, its rebellious heroine, and its essestial heart ensure that The Golden Compass is the best fantasy film to hit the screen since the conclusion of The Lord of the Rings, with significantly reduced machismo. Certainly it's a vast improvement on the blandness of Eragon and the by-the-numbers The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.
Highly recommended for children of all ages.
Thereafter, having had a brief lunch at a Vietnamese noodle bar, I ventured into the coolth of the State Library, and spent a happy hour or two perusing two of three permanent collections on display (the contents of which regularly cycle through the library's holdings, and so will not be the same in six months as they were yesterday).
Mirror of the World is an exhibition about books and their impact on civilisation, from the earliest form of the written word through to pulp fiction, graphic novels and contemporary literature. Whether exploring the 'religions of the book' (Islam, Christianity and Judaism, which each have a holy book at the core of their teachings) or the impact the publication of titles such as Darwin's The Origin of the Species and Mao's Little Red Book have had upon the world; this is a pretty cool exhibition for anyone with literary leanings. The exhibition is also situated in a gallery that runs around the library's great domed reading room, providing a perspective of the space I'd never experienced before.
Up another flight of stairs from Mirror of the World is another exhibition, The Changing Face of Victoria, which explores the evolution of Victoria's population, from pre-settlement to post-war migration, and much more. Here you'll find such treasures as Ned Kelly's armour and the Jerrilderie Letter, dictated by Kelly to his right-hand man, the opium-smoking Joe Byrne; the surveyor's chain with which Robert Hoddle mapped out Melbourne's grid; and paintings and photographs revealing all aspects of Victoria's cultural life and history. Given my own personal interest in the history of this city I call home, I found this exhibition enthralling. Perhaps you will too?
Thursday, December 27, 2007
This measured, magnificent film by British director Joe Wright (based on the novel by Ian McEwen) is all the more remarkable when you consider that it's only his second feature.
A period piece, a love story and a meditation upon the nature of fiction itself, Atonement opens with the film's titles seemingly typed on the screen; an aural and visual reminder that what we are about to witness is a story - a fitting motif given that a story, an untruth told by a jealous young girl, is the event upon which the film's drama pivots.
Without going into detail about the film's plot (which you can read about elsewhere; and besides, I want to write this post quickly, as I have to bet up in less than five hours) I will say that Wright handles his emotionally-fraught narrative with restraint and subtle flair. Performances are excellent throughout, as is the sound design - driven, at key points, by the repetitive sound of typing to signifiy a shift in scene - and especially the cinematography. A long, complex and deeply moving sequence on the beach at Dunkirk, during WWII, is especially breathtaking, shot as it is in one long, beautiful, terrible, all-too-human take.
The film plays with point-of-view and time, providing overlapping, alternative viewpoints of key events as seen through the eyes of different characters; displays a mastery of cinema's visual language (a welcome nod to the intelligence of its audience); and in its concluding scenes and its coda, reminds us again, through a curtain flapping in a window and a heartfelt performance by the magnificent Vanessa Redgrave, reminds us of how strong something as malleable as fiction can be.
I haven't read McEwen's novel, but watching Atonement tonight makes me want to start reading it immediately.
Wednesday, December 26, 2007
It was circa 1990 that I announced I was no longer celebrating Christmas on the basis that it was fundamentally a Christian capitalist feeding frenzy that at its core enshrined the heterosexual family above other social groups. Being neither religious or straight, and avowing anarchist politics at the time, I wanted nothing to do with Christmas, I said; telling my family that I would no longer be participating in their rituals, and that I neither wanted to be given nor intended to give, Christmas presents.
Yes,I was rather an insufferable idealist in my mid-20's, if you hadn'talready guessed.
I've mellowed since, but I confess that ever since those days, I've found it hard to re-engage with the spirit of Christmas, though I do still celebrate it in my own way. Yesterday, for instance, involved fruit, seafood,champagne and wine, and hanging out at different points of the day with three different sets of friends; all of them women, coincidentally.
It also involved brainstorming the basic plot for what may turn out to be a new young adult novel involving vampires, racisim and coming out with Jodie; walking out of the latest Wes Anderson film, The Darjeeling Limited, after about half an hour (sorry Karen - Anderson's humour and mine just don't mesh) and coming home to watch half of V For Vendetta before taking a nap; and ending the night at Cerise's eating freshly-shelled prawns dipped in lime juice and chili, and drinking more champagne while happily talking about nothing in particular.
Had I spent the day with my family, there invariably would have been an argument about religion or politics at some stage, which quite frankly, I can definitely live without and am glad I avoided.
The Christmas presents thing though, I'm still thinking through...
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Yes, I'm going to celebrate having 10 days off work by getting up at 5am in order to play tunes, read the news, and generally banter with two charming co-hosts: the dashing Declan Kelly in week one, and the super-sonic Camila Hannan in my second week.
Feel free to tune in Monday-Friday at 102.7 FM or streaming at www.rrr.org.au for all the fun - as well as the tired, grumpy, why-the-hell-am-broadcasting-with-no-sleep lunacy of New Year'sDay; the bah-humbuggery of Christmas Day; and much, much more!
Trust me, it'll be frabjous!
(As I said last night, it's been a shit of a week: I don't usually go around beating up innocent keyboards, honestly.)
I think yesterday's Shiatsu session has unblocked quite a bit of emotion, judging by last night's grumpy post and how relaxed I feel this morning. And speaking of yesterday...
Though I only caught the second half of the show, A Very Bella Christmas at Trades Hall last night was great fun, in an occasionally shambolic way. 'Not bad for a first rehearsal,' Mike McLeish muttered after he and musical chameleon Casey Bennetto had almost butchered then magnificently saved a Christmas carol or two. And a reggae version of 'Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer' that segued into The Specials' 'A Message for You, Rudy'? Fucking inspired, Casey. And god I love Geraldine Quinn's voice.
There's something about seeing musicians creating songs live before your eyes and ears, almost improvising yet somehow always pulling it together, that's incredibly delightful. It also makes me that tad bit envious. I should have persevered with those bass guitar lessons back in the 80s I guess!
Later in the night I dropped in on the last ever Control HQ, but wasn't really in the mood to make drunken and drug-fucked small talk until close (being neither drunk nor drug-fucked, and both unwilling and unable to get into such a state) so I came home, watched part of a doco about Bladerunner, and went to bed.
I've no idea what I'll do today - maybe a movie (yay for free films as a consequence of being a registered film critic)? Maybe curl up in the sunshine with a book? One thing I do know I'll have to do is my washing: there's a pile of dirty laundry building up in the corner of the room that will shortly be able to crawl out the front door under its own volition if I don't do something about it shortly!
What an enthralling blog post this isn't. *grin* But that's blogs for you. A mixture of the mundane and the scintillating; insights into a daily life that's not your own which can be both rewarding and trivial. Coming soon, Richard writes about scratching his head, and a detailed post about only owning three pairs of shoes!
Also - did you know that if you go to www.bloger.com, as opposed to www.blogger.com, you end up at a site that describes itself as 'The Leading Genealogy Site on the Net'? Neither did I until a couple of minutes ago...
Oh, and if you're waiting with bated breath for my detailed wrap-up of the year in arts? Keep waiting: I'm sureI can squeeze in another film or two between now and December 31st, especially with The Golden Compass opening on Boxing Day, which I'm very much looking forward to seeing!
To say that I've been stressed would be an understatement.
On top of which, I've been finalising the appointment of a new General Manager for Melbourne Fringe, and trying to arrange to get home for a couple of days over Christmas, which isn't going to happen now that I've agreed to co-host Summer Breakfast on 3RRR for the next two weeks, starting this Monday.
I really must learn to say no sometime.
On top of all that, a colleague's partner was killed in a motorbike accident last week (I went to the wake today) which if nothing else puts some of my own personal dramas into context, and helps me realise how insignificant they are.
I didn't go to the Meredith Music Festival with Glen, Darren and the boys because I had to go to a wedding instead, for an old friend who's been living in the UK for five years, with whom I haven't really kept in touch. It was a very, very Catholic wedding, which quite frankly left me cold - there was nothing of the couple in it at all.
And right now it's a Saturday night at 1:20am, I have only $45 to last me through until Thursday; I have no drugs to power me through the next few days; and I really dislike Christmas.
Oh yeah, and I'm missing the Irish mate I befriended earlier this year, and who I've hung out with almost every weekend since we met. I had hopes of romance, it became a bromance, and then - I hope - has developed into what I hope will be a solid, long-term friendship. But yeah, right now I miss my drinking partner because he's at home in Ireland until late January.
What a depressing post this is. Normal service will resume as soon as possible.
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
In the pantheon of openly gay and lesbian pop and rock musicians, singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright is one of the brightest stars. More importantly, he is also one of the most talented.
The son of folk music royalty (his father is the acclaimed American folk singer Loudon Wainwright III, his mother the Canadian singer-songwriter Kate McGarigle), Wainwright came out as gay when he was a teenager. Consequently, unlike some of peers, he has explored same-sex romance and desire from the earliest days of his career; such as his former habit of falling in love with straight men, or as Wainwright once put it, “guys I would occasionally have sex with, maybe only make out with, but never be allowed to say they were my boyfriend.”
It’s a situation many a gay man pining over a heterosexual friend can identify with; and many a lesbian too.
“For me, after a brief therapeutic period, it was apparently revealed that it was a fear of abandonment,” Wainwright explains. “At the end of the day you’re not going to get dumped, because you never started anything to begin with.”
Nonetheless, love has always been important to him.
“I’ve always worshipped at the
Certainly love, its pursuit and its loss are integral to Wainwright’s richly textured album, Release the Stars, which was released in
Ironically, Wainwright says, he had originally envisaged the album, which he recorded in
“I had every intention of paring down and hipping up, getting a straight hair-do and then hanging with the kids in the basement, but that’s not what happened,” he says wryly.
“I blame a lot of it, as people do, on
Surrounded by the restored grandeur of
“In hindsight I was a bit of a fool to think that I, Rufus Wainwright, great lover of opera and romantic sensibilities and grand gestures could go to
While Wainwright’s deep, dramatic voice is as striking as it’s always been, there’s a more hopeful tone to many of the songs on Release the Stars than was evident on its predecessors. Even as he castigates himself for his much-publicised crystal meth addiction (which at one point was so extreme that it caused him to become temporarily blind) for instance, on the track ‘Sanssouci’, the song sparkles.
There are a number of reasons for such optimism, Wainwright explains with his usual candour.
“One of them was my boyfriend, who at that time I was courting, really. It subsequently worked out, but he was working at the Staatsoper, the main opera house there, and we spent a lot of time going to a lot of operas, which was fabulous. As was falling in love.”
While some might find the notion of courting a trifle old-fashioned, Wainwright’s telling use of the word says much about his outlook on life, and his timeless sensibilities.
“I’ve never been one to put much faith in the need to be current,” he says.
Nonetheless, his own music has especial currency at present. Following the success of Release the Stars, Wainwright is poised for an Australian tour in January. He has also released a new album; a live recording of his concert dedicated to the music and memory of the late Judy Garland, whose death in 1969 was one of the events which sparked the Stonewall Riots and the modern gay rights movement.
“I think I definitely share a love of gay men with Judy,” he laughs, “and I share her tragic idolisation of the unattainable, although for me it’s become much more of a kind of hobby rather than a reality lately. When I was younger I was in that net, and with drugs and drinking and stuff that really kind of kept me there. Since I’ve had more of an emancipation, it’s been easier to put that in perspective.”
Such frankness is typical of Wainwright, who has never shied away from publicly discussing his personal life, including his tumultuous relationships with his family.
“I’ve always had a strange, missing component in my personality dedicated to the private,” he says slowly.
“I mean, I’m okay at keeping secrets about other people; but when it comes to myself, I don’t see the need for protection. On one hand it’s kind of treacherous, but I really also think that all those experiences and views, once talked about, then eventually it dissipates you know? It’s no longer as harmful and you can deal with it. I’ve never had a strong need for privacy.”
Rufus Wainwright and band play The Arts Centre, Hamer Hall on Friday February 1 and Saturday February 2. Tickets through Ticketmaster: 136 100.This interview originally appears in MCV issue #363, Thursday December 20.
And yes - with the year winding down and less theatre and gallery openings to go to than usual, this blog is more reflective of the fan-boy part of my personality. Never fear, my inner critic will return 2ith gusto in 2008 - or before!
Oh yeah, and here's a picture of Torchwood season two guest star, James Masters (Buffy the Vampire Slayer) as a rogue Time Agent, together with John Barrowman (Capt. Jack) just to whet your appetite...
Monday, December 17, 2007
Sunday, December 16, 2007
The teaser trailer for the new Batman film was leaked a couple of days ago: I've seen a very bad pirated version obviously shot in a cinema which I won't post here, as I'm lead to believe that it will be officially released today, US time, which means we can all see it soon.
In the interim, here are the latest teaser posters for The Dark Knight. Kinda cool, huh? There's a third one, a distorted picture of The Joker bearing the words 'Why so serious' that is freakishly cool, but I haven't been able to find a good image of it so far...
Friday, December 14, 2007
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?"
These two, simple lines by W.B. Yeats are among some of the best-known and oft-quoted fragments of poetry in the world, I suspect. I say this without any particular authority; it's a claimed based on suspicion and possibility, nothing more; and yet somehow I rather suspect it to be true.
So, why am I quoting from Yeats' 'The Second Coming'?
Fear not; I haven't become a Theosophist, nor a prophet of doom hoping to immanentize the eschaton; nor for that matter am I presently overwhelmed with existential dread despite the perilous state of the modern world (my ennui has been temporarily abated by Rudd's championing of Kyoto, Australian literature and intimations of a move against Japanese whaling in the Southern Ocean, although I'm sure this unusually cheerful state can't possibly last).
Quite simply, the title of this latest, overdue blogpost was inspired by reading the end-of-year wrap-ups by a couple of fellow arts bloggers; and also because, as always, the universe seems to have an uncanny knack of balancing things out - though not always for the better. Consequently, I've combined what could have been two seperate threads - a portmanteau blog-post if you will - rather than write two individual, rambling entries on my blog instead.
My own art wrap-up of 2007 will be written some time next week, I suspect, as there's still a few productions and exhibitions I'm going to try and squeeze in between now and the year's end.
If I can find the energy that is. Thus the slowing of blog entries in recent weeks.
Work is, quite simply, exhausting at present - I'm trying to produce two newspapers in one week at the moment, instead of just the usual demanding one; as well as pull together a 64 page magazine between now and January. Put it this way - on Wednesday night I was at work until 11pm and I'm going back in tomorrow morning to get more editing out of the way. Gag.
Thankfully I get a week off between December 22 and January 2 - which is one of the reasons I have to get two papers to bed next week, mind you - during which time, for some foolish reason, I've agreed to co-host Summer Breakfast on 3RRR. That's right, in my week off I'll be getting up at 5am to do volunteer radio shifts. I must be mad.
Anyway, this particular post was going to be called 'Slouching towards New Year's Eve' but I thought better of it. William Butler Yeats is no doubt wildly grateful.
As for the swings and roundabouts?
My housemate, who I dearly love, has been considerably despondent of late due to affairs of the heart. This week, however, he seems to have rallied, which is lovely to see.
So what does the universe do? It lets the partner of a Fringe collegue get killed in a car accident as he was riding his motorbike home. Geoff was a top bloke. It's totally unfair. My heart goes out to Kath at this difficult time.
And as far as Christmas goes - basically, it can fuck off as far as I'm concerned.
Now, if you'll excuse me I have a bottle of New Zealand chardonnay demanding my attention, together with Season Two of Shameless. Enjoy your weekend.
Monday, December 10, 2007
Thursday, December 06, 2007
That said, on Wednesday night I saw what is without doubt the most engaging, stunning and vivid dance work of the year; the latest production by Melbourne's avant-garde dance company, BalletLab, Brindabella.
I hoped to like it. I didn't expect to find it as fascinating as I did.
In this 70 minute work, choreographer Phillip Adams leaps effortlessly from the camararderie of the gang to the violence of the pack, from humour to sensuality, from the freedom of self-realisation to the trap that is the way others see us. Part homage to queer culture; part reinvention of Beauty and the Beast; and part memorial to a boyfriend Adams lost to AIDS, and whose hand he held as he died: Brindabella is a complex, challenging and sublime work that deserves far more than its all-too brief season at the Malthouse.
Monday, December 03, 2007
Richard Watts investigates the latest production by Melbourne dance company, Balletlab.
Inspired by French poet, film-maker and designer Jean Cocteau's La Belle et le Bête, the latest production by avant-garde
“The thing that drew me to Phillip is this common language,” says composer David Chisholm, who worked previously with
“I think it was a queer aesthetic initially, but when I started looking at the work he was doing, I thought that he was probably the most inventive choreographer that I’d seen.”
Chisholm had spent time previously in Glasgow, a city he describes as “a real melting pot of contemporary work; yet when I saw Phillip’s work I was struck by it; I hadn’t previously seen anything like it.”
“I liked the layering of his choreographic language … and the fact that he wasn’t working just from a choreographic perspective, but engaging external disciplines, like architecture, like fashion, like music. I thought he had an opinion about how to work, and he brought together a group of artists to tease out how to work around a particular theme or a central idea.”
Not surprisingly, such an approach to the creation of new work did not develop overnight. As a company, Balletlab has been steadily developing for 10 years.
“I’m just finding now that its identity has become apparent,” says Phillip Adams. “I put that down to experience, but I also feel that it takes that long for a company or an organisation to [distil] its own profile, what it wants to say to the world."
"In the case of Balletlab, it pays homage to the proscenium arch ballet. We’ve transformed it … and I’ve lent from and bastardised from as many cultures as I have inherited, being a queer artist; so I’m finding that Balletlab is able to engage with various cultures. It just so happens in the case of Brindabella that we’re identifying with the queer culture.”
Essentially, for his latest production
“Dance … has to remain constant in my focus,” Adams says, “because … I’ve fallen into this lifestyle of what it means to be an artist, and at age 42 it seems to be now my vocation my life."
"I am, and will be always, artistically inclined to make dance. It’s not that I’m unemployable; it isn’t that at all,” he laughs. “It just becomes part of your blood.”
“Ballet is a technique that has been used so much that we can’t better it; that’s all been done. Instead we’re going back, retrograde, down, right back to the end of the line to look at the morphing of the body in a hallucinogenic state, like a fairytale.”
Like Cocteau’s surreal 1937 version of Beauty and the Beast, Phillip’s new ballet strives to adapt the classical fairytale to a modern stage. He may not be the first to create such a melange of images, times and ideas, but
“Beauty and the Beast is the starting point at which I began to imagine Brindabella, but then I began to play to play with costume, with homoerotica, with queer culture specifically related to bears … the Beast morphing into the Plushy cult… all these little subliminal images play a role in my work,” he says.
“This is semi-autobiographical, but it’s not a coming out piece, it’s not an AIDS piece; it’s about beauty: transferring Beauty falling in love with the Beast to the dacking of jeans in a back room. There’s something beautiful and masculine, something absolutely desirable about men being together. It’s more than VicBears, its more than Club 80; it’s about desire. Human desire.”
Balletlab’s Brindabella shows at The CUB Malthouse Theatre, 111 Sturt Street, Southbank: Wednesday 5 – Saturday 8 December at 8pm, 2pm and 8pm Saturday. Bookings 9685 5111.
This article originally appeared in MCV #361 on Thursday November 29 2007.
Sunday, December 02, 2007
This eight minute micro-episode was produced for a BBC TV special, Children In Need, broadcast on November 18, and bridges the end of the last episode of Season Three, and the forthcoming Christmas special, Voyage of the Damned (which will guest-star Kylie Minogue).
Billed as being "lovingly ripped off" from the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the award-winning Broadway musical Spamalot, which opened in Melbourne last night, is both a satire of Broadway musicals, and a homage to the iconic English comedy on which it's based.
The original film was created by the well-known troupe of Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin. It was a low-budget exercise in which the quest for the Holy Grail undertaken by King Arthur (Chapman, now deceased) and his knights was presented both seriously (period costumes and settings, complete with extremely mucky peasants and plague, instead of the clean and sanitised version of the past usually depicted in cinema at that point) and satirically (a historian strides about between scenes discussing Arthur's battles and their significance; the peasants are members of an anarcho-socialist collective).
Many of the film's best jokes and key scenes are translated wholesale into this musical production created by former Python member, Eric Idle; as are the main characters, including the cowardly Sir Robin (originally played by Idle) and his annoying band of minstrels; and the almost-psychopathic Sir Lancelot (a role created by Cleese).
Unfortunately, despite actors who generally do a worthy job in re-creating the originals' accents and characterisations, the show itself falls rather flat.
To begin with, Billie Brown as King Arthur cannot sing: in the first act last night, his voice was so flat as to be wince-inducing. Brown's poor vocals highlight one of the major flaws of this production: with all the performers miked for sound, overall both live band and actors/singers alike felt strangely thin, leached of power, impact and projection. Instead of feeling the music wash over me, it felt strangely distant and tinny; more like listening to a record rather than experiencing a live event.
And speaking of flat, the entire first half of Spamalot was just that. Performances didn't feel engaged or as switched-on to the degree that they required; which coupled with the afore-mentioned problem with the sound, really seemed to hamper the production. Maybe it was just first-night nerves, but there was a distinct lack of atmosphere and engagement among the audience by the time we filed out into the foyer at interval.
Over a glass of bubbly and beer, my friend Martin and I pondered some of the other flaws in the production so far.
Spamalot basically felt like a lame reproduction of Holy Grail with a few new lines and a handful of limply-rendered songs tacked on. The 'bring out your dead' sequence perfectly illustrates this flaw: when the cart-load of plague victims suddenly leapt to their feet and burst into song, it didn't feel clever or funny, just awkward and contrived; like Idle felt a song was required rather than actually necessary at this point in the show.
The first half did have one shining moment, it must be said: 'The Song That Goes Like This', a parody of musical romances generally and Andrew Lloyd-Webber's bombastic The Phantom of the Opera specifically; performed with gusto by leading lady Lucinda Shaw as the Lady of the Lake.
"Once in every show
There comes a song like this
It starts off soft and low
And ends up with a kiss
Oh where is the song
That goes like this?
Where is it? Where? Where?
A sentimental song
That casts a magic spell
They all will hum along
We'll overact like hell
For this is the song that goes like this
Yes it is! Yes it is!"
And so on.
Another thing that struck me about the show - and which I was actually quite offended by - was Idle's preference for attractive, scantilly-clad female performers. Was it entirely necessary that they showed off so much flesh? Methinks a certain middle-aged ex-Python was living out some of his sexual fantasies with this aspect of the production... It also, to be blunt, felt like someone desperately wringing out the last vestiges of novelty from their faded creativity in order to make a buck.
Thankfully the second half picked up significantly, though not enough for me to ever really enjoy Spamalot. Performances lifted, thanks in part to a rendition of Always Look on the Bright Side of Life (from Life of Brian) and the show finally found its feet by virtue of moving away from overly-faithful homage into new territory (albeit territory that I suspect the film's original co-creator Terry Gilliam would have hated, as it was largely his argument for keeping the film set in period that quashed scenes some of the Pythons propsed, which would have seen King Arthur and his knights end up looking for the Grail in modern-day Harrods).
Instead of a quest for the Grail, Arthur and his knights are given a new goal: to stage a Broadway musical. Cue a borderline-offensive song about the neccessity of Jews in staging a successful Broadway show; a satire of The Boy From Oz complete with maracas and camp costumery (tied in with a newly-added gay subplot involving one of the film's major characters - but why said macho character has to be associated with such camp stereotypes just because he's finally admitted he likes cock is beyond me); some self-referential Australian jokes; and a hastily engineered climax.
When it was all over, complete with an encore that - judging by the expressions of some of the actors, and also Eric Idle, who'd joined them on stage - didnt get the rapturous response they'd expected - it was time to stroll off to the NGV for the well-catered after-party. Nice food, good drinks, but a word to whoever hired the DJ - he was fucking terrible. Talk about bland and safe - rather like Spamalot as a whole really, so at least he was appropriate to the overall tone of the production.
In summary, while the costumes were great, ditto the set design and the infrequent but effective intergration of multimedia into the show; this is not a show I would recommend to anyone except the most hardcore of Monty Python tragics. I mean, I adore Pythonesque humour, and I walked away from Spamalot far from satisfied.
Two occasional chuckles out of five.
Saturday, December 01, 2007
Grossman, a game designer, has written a novel about superheroes and supervillains in which he attempts to get behind the mask and explore the psychology of individuals who are driven to wear capes and masks, and obsessed with either taking over the world, or stopping others doing the same. It's a nice idea, and done well, it could have been captivating. Unfortunately, due in part to the novel's pacing, and also to the author's inability to convincingly differentiate the two, alternate first-person narratives of the book, he fails to pull things off.
The first of our twinned narrators is Doctor Impossible, a nerdish genius gifted with superpowers following a scientific experiment which went horribly wrong. When the novel opens he is in prison, following numerous failed attempts to take over the world with a series of doomsday devices, as well as hypnotising the US president, taking the moon to ransom, and much more. Of course, as you would expect from an over-confident criminal mastermind diagnosed as suffering from Malign Hypercognition Disorder ('evil genius syndrome', in layperson's terms), he's not in prison for long...
The book's other narrator is Fatale, part human part machine; a cyborg, and newly apprenticed to the reformed superhero team The Champions. The victim of a terrible accident in South America, Fatale's only chance at life was to sacrifice almost everything which made her human. Now, her body irretrievably merged with a complex array of computers, bionics and sophisticated technological weaponry, she waits to see if she'll be accepted into the greatest crime-fighting super-group in the world...
It's through the eyes of these two characters that we learn about an array of archetypal superheroes, such as the borderline autistic Blackwolf (closely modelled on Batman) and the supremely powerful Damsel (Wonder Woman) when the Champions are are reformed several year's after an acrimonious breakup, due to the threat posed to the world - again - by Doctor Impossible.
As previously mentioned, Grossman's writing style never really brings his two main characters to life. Consequently the alternating narratives are too similar in style and tone to be convincing. The pacing of the plot and story too, is off-kilter - the story feels drawn out, at times even cumbersome - and while capable of sketching out his characters quickly and effectively, he never really gets beneath the surface to convincingly explore their motivations and personalities.
Additionally, the tone of the book is settled uncomfortably between satire and homage, while the overall story is so formulaic that it didn't sustain my interest after the first 100-150 pages. I really had to struggle to finish the book.
Comic fans, obviously, will get a kick out of Soon I Will Be Invincible, though some may find that Grossman's overly-faithful homages to various iconic superhero scenarios and characters begins to wear thin after a while. I suspect that more general readers will basically find the whole thing more than a little silly, and more than a little dull.
If you want strong psychological exploration of the motivations of superheroes, pick up a copy of Alan Moore's superb graphic novel, The Watchmen, because there's really not a lot about this book to recommend, unless you're after some light, relatively mindless reading.
Although, if if you visit the website hyperlinked above at the start of this post, you'll be able to determine whether you're at risk of developing Malign Hypercognition Disorder yourself. It seems I certainly am. Mwah-hah-hah-ha!
The King of Shadows