Thursday, January 31, 2008
Thanks for the ticket, Ms Sam - I so owe you one!
Wednesday, January 30, 2008
A plague upon dealers who don't come through on such an important day!
Where was I?
Ah yes. Not quite right.
It was largely, I think, the fault of the venue. I have loved the last two years of BDO shenanigans at Princess Park, with its lush lawns underfoot and ample shade. This year, though, we were in the car park at Flemington Racecourse, which was essentially a gravel-strewn dustbowl upon which the sun baked, bounced back and glared. Footing was treacherous, and there was virtually no shade.
The conditions, as a consequence, took the edge of the bands I saw.
Arcade Fire, however, were superb - the highlight of the day; rich, orchestral, dramatic and inspiring. Spoon were good, but too mellow for the mood I was in. Local lads Little Red were an absolute delight: fun, focussed and passionate, and already much evolved since the last time I saw them during their 2007 residency at The Tote. Skip hop outfit Hilltop Hoods were also in fine form, and the Icelandic pixie Bjork was, as expected, also wonderful. At one point, complaining of her strained throat, she said in that adorable accent of hers, "I can't sing, but I can JUMP!" She made the whole crowd come to life.
But unless there's a drawcard like her on the bill next year I don't think I'll be attending. Especially not if it's at the same site, which kills the mood that should be generated at the prospect of seeing so many excellent local and international bands.
Sunday, January 27, 2008
Last night I had to go and take photographs for MCV at Midsumma Mooning at the Laird, which is an event where men show off their arses to the audience, with the most atractive arse voted as the winner. When one man made his arsehole wink the crowd went wild. It was about as tasteful as a wet t-shirt competition, and just as sexy.
This afternoon, I have to go take photographs at the Peel, which is hosting an underwear party. Yes, a party of gay men, dancing, in their underwear. Don't ask me where wallets will be kept, because really, I don't want to know.
Why do I sometimes get the feeling I failed Gay.101?
Gathered to celebrate two friends' combined birthdays at Riverland, which rapidly filled with noxious yuppies, I found myself growing uncomfortable because my flatmate was getting friendly with a bloke I've fancied for several years (but who I've never said actually said anything to about my feelings, since my own interest was obviously not returned).
Half an hour later I left in order to meet a work committment, eventually coming home and going to bed. An hour later, I'm rudely awoken by my flatmate and the guy I've been lusting after for two or three years bursting through the front door, chucking on the tv (loudly) and canoodling on the couch.
That's when I lost it. Frustrated and hurt that my flatmate is hooking up with someone I fancy (despite having earlier in the night told said flatmate to go for it, not for a moment thinking he actually would),I got angry, stormed into the loungeroom and demanded they turn the bloody tv down, and then stalked out into the night to seethe and make drunken, angry phone calls. Half an hour later I come home, tell them I'm acting so childishly because I'm jealous, and go back to bed.
To say that the atmosphere in the flat this morning was uncomfortable would be like calling World War Two a minor European altercation. Why does my love life (and the lack thereof) have to be so goddamn complicated?
Friday, January 25, 2008
Sydney music fans must be feeling crap , with word released last night that Bjork had cancelled her Big Day Out appearance scheduled for today. She's the main reason I'm going to the BDO this year (well, her and Canada's Arcade Fire but she's definitely my main attraction) so I hope to all the gods of Iceland that she's well enough to perform on Monday!
Thursday, January 24, 2008
Wednesday, January 23, 2008
I've just found out that an old friend and housemate of mine, Pip Starr, a talented and dedicated documentary maker who was passionately dedicated to social justice and setting the world to rights, took his own life yesterday.
I'm sad, and angry, and confused.
You silly bastard, Pip. What did you have to go and do that for?
Heath Ledger, the young Australian actor best known for his Academy Award-nominated role in the 2005 film Brokeback Mountain was found dead this morning at 9:30am Melbourne time in a New York City apartment. He was 28.
I never knew him. I never met him. And yet I am incredibly saddened by this news. It seems such a terrible loss; of a life, of a talent, of a future.
Tonight, when I get home from work, I think I will re-watch Brokeback Mountain, and cry.
Sunday, January 20, 2008
Now, ten years later, Thieving Boy and Like Stars in My Hand have been restaged; this time by Fly-On-The-Wall Theatre at La Mama's Carlton Courthouse, again for Midsumma, under the direction of Robert Chuter.
Conigrave, who died in 1994 of an AIDS-related illness, was an actor, playwright and activist best known today for his remarkable memoir, Holding the Man, which details the 15-year love affair between he and his partner, John Caleo.
(In case you've been living under a rock, Griffin Theatre Company's acclaimed production of Holding the Man will be staged in Melbourne in a few months time, which makes this revival of Conigrave's plays even more timely.)
Of the two works, the first, Thieving Boy, was my favourite when I first saw it in 1998. In retrospect, my attraction for it was due in part, I think, to a crush I had at the time for a knockabout young sex-worker who I was seeing a bit of, and who reminded me of one of the play's main characters. Ten years later, it's now the second work, the more ambitious, impressionistic Like Stars in My Hands, which resonates for me more strongly...
Both plays are simply produced, with minimal set dressing: projection and a few props helping to flesh out the scenes. Performances are passionate, though not always entirely appropriate to the material the actors are working with (see below for details); and while the lighting predominantly counterbalances the lack of set dressing, it can't always do so. Additionally, the short production time afforded Chuter and his cast, which he refers to in the programme, shows in a few clumbsily blocked scenes. Opening night jitters also distracted on occasion, but overall, I thought most of the cast across the two plays rose well to the occasion.
Thieving Boy, as detailed in chapter nine of Holding the Man, had already been extensively workshopped prior to Conigrave's death.
The play tells the story of Moxy (Daniel McBurnie) a 22-year old inmate of Malabar Training Centre at Long Bay Jail, who is let out on day release in order to enable him to visit his dying father, Brian (Chris Gaffney). Waiting for Moxy on the outside are his mum, Jude (Francesca Walters) his little sister, Tracy (Stephanie Lillis) and unwitting ex-boyfriend, law student Tom (Heath Miller) who we first meet while he is working as a department store Santa, drying his costume after an incident with an excitable three year old's bladder.
It's a simple, naturalistic story; the drama propelled by Moxy's complex relationship with his father, his feelings for Tom, and his own carefully guarded emotions. The play's emotional punch on opening night was slightly reduced due to an at-times uninspired performance by McBurnie, whose accent and bearing as the cocky, working class Moxy failed to thoroughly convince; while the spartan production meant that, in some scenes where they were peripheral to the action, actors stood about awkwardly. Some 20 minutes into the play, however, the cast clicked, and by its final scenes I was wiping away tears. (And to be fair to McBurnie, who I spoke to after the show, his performance on opening night was affected by his fretting for the first 20 minutes or so that he'd forgotten his director's instructions about his character's signature gesture upon first walking on stage.)
Overall, Thieving Boy remains a simple yet powerful play about grief, love and family; themes which are explored in greater detail, and to better effect, in Conigrave's second play, to which we returned after the interval.
Like Stars in My Hands was incomplete at the time of Conigrave's death, resulting in some substancial changes to the script by editor Tony Ayres.
A meditation on love and loss, it's a considerably more complex work than the kitchen-sink drama of Thieving Boy; and focuses on the complex relationship between Simon (a superb performance by David Forster) his lover Marcello (a understated Luke Arnold) and their friend Jimmy, an up-and-coming commercial photographer (Gary Abrahams).
Simon is dying, but doesn't want Marcello to be lonely when he's gone. He's identified Jimmy as a potential new boyfriend for Marcello, and goes about setting them up together despite the jealousy and anguish this causes him. Prickly, demanding and difficult, Simon is a complex character whose fear of his impending death is tempered by his conversations with Ganesh, the elephant-headed Hindu god of writing and beginnings and the play's fourth character, voiced by Francesca Waters.
Conigrave's grasp of theatre's visual language is considerably more developed in this play than in Thieving Boy, as typified by its opening scene; which shows Simon standing naked in a bath, after which he is tenderly dried by his lover. Already Simon is isolated, the scene tells us; and while it shows us the strength of Marcello's love, it also tells us that, already, at least physically, Simon is relegating their relationship to the past, as his immediate concerns - death, and its impact on his lover - come to the fore.
In this play, the production's stark set comes into its own, thanks to a beautiful set of projections by Ian de Gruchy which enrich the drama and flesh out the proceedings, suggesting at various times the industrial confines of Jimmy's warehouse apartment, the night sky, a gay and lesbian dance party, and the half-world in which Simon's conversations with Ganesh take place.
Direction and performances are excellent, with the emotional intensity of the play's relationships displayed through a handful of passionate sexual encounters as well as by the emotional fireworks of Conigrave's dialogue. The play doesn't flinch away from the ugly side of dying, nor from the urgency of need; typified by two wonderfully staged, concurrent scenes where we see Marcello cleaning Simon's bedsores, wincing in pain at the hurt the process causes his lover; followed by a passionate and sensual sexual encounter.
Considered as a whole, Like Stars in My Hands is a more complex, confronting and rewarding work than Thieving Boy; although like Conigrave's earlier work, by its conclusion tears were once again freely coursing down my face.
It seems to me, in retrospect, that perhaps a little more care and time has gone into Like Stars in My Hands than on Thieving Boy, but some clever touches ensure connections between both plays (such as a cameo by Forster as Simon, clutching a Minnie Mouse doll, in a hospital scene in Thieving Boy).
Despite some minor flaws, these were well-realised and deeply affecting productions, reminding us once again of the major theatrical talent Conigrave would have undoubtedly become had his life not been cut so tragically short.
Fly-On-The Wall Theatre's production of Thieving Boy and Like Stars in My Hands
Now showing at La Mama's Carlton Courthouse Theatre, 349 Drummon Street, Carlton, until Saturday February 2.
Bookings: 9347 6142 www.lamama.com.au
Friday, January 18, 2008
Six exhibitions and one cabaret show in five days - it must be festival time!
The 20th annual Midsumma Festival hasn't even officially kicked off yet, and already things are hotting up. Admittedly two of the exhibitions I saw on Sunday had nothing to do with Midsumma, but still...
Thanks to the social joys of Facebook, on Sunday I trouped off to the NGV Ian Potter Centre with a fine group of folk to catch the final day of the Gordon Bennett exhibition. A major retrospective of this important Australian artist's career, it was a dazzling exploration of his themes of appropriation, identity and history over the three decades of his career. Some of Bennett's work I'd seen before, such as The Apotheosis of Captain Cook, as it's part of the NGV's permanent collection; but much of the work, such as his Notes to Basquiat paintings were new to me. Fascinating stuff; particularly his most recent, minimal work, which displays remarkable vigour within its non-representational lines.
Thence it was off to the Arts Centre, and the Nick Cave exhibition (on until April 6), which was extremely well attended; the majority of viewers being under 30, so far as I could tell, so the Arts Centre must be very happy with the demographic it's attracting to the show. While the exhibition's degree of devotion, almost worship of Cave was a little off-putting, certainly the assemblage of ephemera, diaries, scribbled lyrics and explanatory notes and interview snippets from Cave himself was fascinating in the extreme. An accessible, quirky and exhaustively detailed look at the life and career of Melbourne's gaunt grandfather of goth.
On Wednesday I attended the launch of Queer City, Midsumma's CBD-based visual arts program, a conga-line of viewers traipsing from 45 Downstairs to the City Library, the Majorca Building's display cases, and thence to Loop.
The work at 45 Downstairs left me cold. David Lehmann's detailed bead works, while intricate, struck me as little more than decorative fetishism that failed to explore the subject of masculinity, and its commodified delivery via the internet, in any depth. His premise reads well on paper, but felt shallow. Equally empty was a series of works by T.J. Bateson; drab tonal pieces allegedly evoking nature, but for me at least, saying nothing at all. The most successful of the three artists showing at 45 was Tim Craker, but even then his piece, Mixed Marriage, left me unfulfilled; as if the work, a net of plastic cutlery and chopsticks and a visual meditation upon cultural difference, was a work in progress or an idea that had yet to be fleshed out.
Sunsets, Troy-Anthony Baylis' work at the City Library, was more complex in its execution; warm woolen works with an almost painterly texture, making me think he's definitely an artist to keep an eye on; while Glass Wing, a video work by young queers from the YAK project (a social support group for same-sex attracted youth in the CBD), was more than competent in its juxtaposition of the personal and the emotional with the impersonal nature of the landscape in which our relationships are born.
A program glitch meant that the Degraves Street subway display cases run by the Platform Artists Group were unavailable; so after a quick inspection of the cabinets they operate in the Majorca Building, I headed home, rather underwhelmed, to prepare for Thursday morning's radio show. I suspect there are much stronger works in Midsumma's visual arts program this year; I just have to find them.
Certainly Chaos and Revelry, an exhibition at Brunswick's Counihan Gallery, raised the bar for Midsumma art; if you like the neo-Baroque and camp, that is. I dropped in to last night's opening for half an hour; finding some of the works deeply satisfying (Ex De Medici's piece for instance; and a video work by Alex Martinis Roe) while other works, such as William Eicholtz's deliberately kitsch sculputures, weren't to my taste at all.
Finally, I ended this week's art diet with the opening night last night of Vaudeville X at the Arts Centre Black Box.
This barbed and clever cabaret takes aim at the foibles of the middle class; from snobbery to social welfare to the vapidity of backpackers and society's thinly veiled contempt for the poor; but as much as I occasionally shrieked with mirth during the show last night, something about it didn't quite gel. I'm not sure if it was the venue - the Arts Centre Black Box is an appallingly lifeless space, lacking good acoustics and atmosphere - or the jaded opening night crowd, who really didn't seem to be as engaged as they could have been; or perhaps it was simply the case that, being three years old now, Vaudeville X simply doesn't resonate as once it could. That said, while I found it weaker than Intimate Apparel, Michael Dalley's latest show, and one of my personal highlights at last year's Melbourne Fringe; it was still extremely entertaining, with predominantly strong performances only occasionally weakened by the odd spot of lacklustre sound.
Michael Dalley and High Performance Company in Vaudeville X @ the Arts Centre Black Box, until February 2. Details at www.theartscentre.com.au or www.midsumma.org.au
Sunday, January 13, 2008
In the week before Christmas I had to put two issues of the paper to bed in three days. Then I co-hosted Summer Breakfast on RRR for two weeks; the second week of which I was back at work at MCV, and having to put the year'sfirst issue of the paper to bed on the same day that the office re-opened.
Then, this week, I had to put a 64 page magazine to bed, which I signed off on at 8pm on Friday; as well as the regular weekly issue of the paper, which went to the printers as per the usual course of things on Tuesday.
No wonder I've slept in until 11am the last two mornings; I've been exhausted.
So, now I can try and get my life back to its usual chaotic state of affairs, rather than the turned-up-to-11 intensity of recent weeks. In fact, I'm actually going to try and gear down even more; not a New Year's resolution so much as a New year's re-programming. There's a few things about my lifestyle that I not only need to change but want to change; there's debts I have to pay off, new priorities to set and a mixture of both new and old goals to achieve.
As I write this, things are still turbulent and out of focus, but I'm hoping that in the coming days, I'll begin to develop a clearer picture of where I stand, where I want to be, and the best way to start moving forward. Good heavens, I'm actually sounding optimistic for a change!
Monday, January 07, 2008
I can't believe I got excited about seeing this film when I heard it was being made. That will teach me to get excited about yet another butchered Hollywood adaptation of a classic novel. *sigh*
Based on the book by Richard Matheson (who also gave us The Incredible Shrinking Man and numerous episodes of The Twilight Zone, including the classic Nightmare at 20,000 Feet; as well as writing several classic screenplays for British horror studio, Hammer), I Am Legend stars Will Smith as Robert Neville, a military scientist searching for a cure for the mutated cancer cure that has swept the earth like a plague, transforming those it infects into daylight-shunning vampires (although they're never named as such in the film).
Neville spends his days in an underground lab using captured vampires as lab-rats, driving around the deserted streets with his faithful canine companion hunting deer for food, and working his way through DVDs at his local video store. Several years after the end of the world as he's only up to G. Guess he doesn't really like movies all that much, huh?
Oh yeah, he also spends his time going mad from loneliness and solitude, expressed somewhat unconvincingly in his holding rather one-sided conversations with shop dummies.
It's all going swimmingly - interspersed with some flashbacks of the end of the world as we know it, and the death of his wife and child - until A) the vampires start fighting back, and proving that they're not the mindless monsters he thought they were; and B) another survivor just happens to show up at an extremely convenient moment. At which point the film turns to shit, abandons the original, magnificent ending of the book, and left me with a sour taste in my mouth.
To be fair, the scenes of dead New York are evocatively captured on screen (keep your eyes peeled for a Batman vs Superman poster in one scene, fanboys) and there's a couple of scenes, including one involving a diminishing band of sunlight and a couple of hellhounds, that are both tense and memorable. But when the monsters show up, they're basically just CGI cannon-fodder with little to distinguish them; and a couple of interesting subplots contrasting their growing intelligence with Neville's apparent ease in experimenting on his fellow human beings, are completely abandoned.
And God. GOD! Who the fuck thought it was a good idea to take our nice, rational story and let it be hijacked by the religious right? 'Cause that's what happens in the final scenes of the film. The pace and tension of the film completely collapses in the final act, supplanted by some tedious religious bullshit, while the ending feels like it belongs to another film altogether.
There's a great review analysing this particular aspect of the film over here, at Canada.com (and thanks to Jeremy Aarons to pointing towards it). Be warned though, it contains spoilers.
Basically, worth seeing for its first hour, but once the other survivors appear on the scene, time to abandon the cinema. But if you do want to see it, catch it at IMAX: that way you at least get to see the special preview of the opening six minutes of the new Batman movie, The Dark Knight...
Two bloodcurdling screams out of five
Call this an informed guess, but reading between the lines in a media update I've just received from dvd label Force Queer (FQ) Films, I'm betting my arse that we're going to be seeing the indie gay surfer flick Shelter at the Melbourne Queer Film Festival this year.
Want to know more?
Here's the blurb from the Frameline film festival website, at which the film showed last year:
Ok, so it could be terrible, but colour me intrigued!
A year out of high school, Zach is stuck in San Pedro, California working as a fry cook, skateboarding and stenciling guerrilla artwork on abandoned buildings. His bedroom is his oasis — he draws on the walls, in his notebook, in sketches piled up on the floor. But he’s squashed his dream of attending Cal Arts in order to help his sister, Jeannie, raise her five-year-old son.
Enter Shaun, the gay older brother of Zach’s best friend and a writer taking a break from Hollywood to recover from a bad relationship. Zach and Shaun start hanging out, surfing and drinking too much beer, much to Jeannie’s concern. “You’re not a fag,” she tells Zach. Wishful thinking! It isn’t long before Zach and Shaun are falling asleep in each other’s arms.
Zach’s slow awakening to desire is at the heart of this gritty, romantic debut from talented writer/director Jonah Markowitz. A sensitive performance by handsome newcomer Trevor Wright anchors the classic story of a young man forced by responsibility to grow up fast —with strong support from Tina Holmes (Six Feet Under) and Brad Rowe (Billy’s Hollywood Screen Kiss). With a pitch-perfect emo soundtrack and plenty of guys in wetsuits riding waves under gorgeous sunsets, Shelter is a sensory treat.
The MQFF isn't until March, but program details will be released next month. Stay tuned for updates as they come to hand...
Sunday, January 06, 2008
Highlights included the stark, simple and powerful Checklist For an Armed Robber, presented by Theatre @ Risk; Barry Kosky's rivetting production of The Tell-Tale Heart at the Malthouse for MIAF; the Malthouse's remounted production of Stuck Pigs Squealing's The Eisteddfod; and Adam J Cass' remarkable I Love You, Bro, and the equally delightful I've Written a Letter to Daddy (soon to have a short new season at the Butterfly Club as part of the Midsumma Festival), both at the Melbourne Fringe.
I was also enthralled by several dance works, including the masculine beauty of Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake; Angus Cerini's minimal, rivetting dance-theatre hybrid, Detest (this thousand years I shall not weep); the sublime beauty of Merce Cunningham's Split Sides; and most recently, the deranged genius of BalletLab's Brindabella, which is without doubt the single-most remarkable dance piece I have ever witnessed.
Honourable mentions go to the MTC's solid production of The History Boys and the Malthouse Theatre's production of Melissa Reeves' The Spook; Miriam Margolyes' Dicken's Women; and Julia Britton's play about Bloomsbury artist Duncan Grant, The Object of Desire, at La Mama during Midsumma.
On the cabaret front, I can't praise Kiki and Herb: The Year of Magical Drinking at MIAF highly enough; ditto Michael Dalley's wonderful satire of artists and the arts, Intimate Apparel, at Fringe (keep your eyes peeled for the return of his previous cabaret, Vaudeville X, which puts the middle class squarely in its sights, at the Arts Centre for Midsumma).
Highlights in comedy in 2007 included the Kafka-esque surrealism of The Receipt at The Malthouse for the Comedy Festival; the equally surreal and magnificent The Glass Boat at Comedy@Trades; Daniel Kitson's Barry-award winning It's the Fireworks Talking; Kate McLennan's The Debutante Diaries; Phil Nichol's The Naked Racist; and at Fringe, Every Movie Ever Made.
Then there were the productions that didn't work; the (very few, thankfully) shows I walked out of, and the gems I missed due to time constraints, workloads and other committments. *sigh*
Ah well, there's always this year; and with Midsumma 08 just around the corner, I won't have long to wait before I'm reviewing, blogging and delighting in some magical performances all over again!
Friday, January 04, 2008
Tuesday, January 01, 2008
Rachel Cook and Richard Watts catch up with alternative hip-hop artist Buck 65.
Hip-hop has long been synonymous with homophobia. Artists such as Diamond f have been accused of inciting violence against queers with lyrics such as, “Your faggot ass better stay to dancing/don’t even look at me, I might break your jaw for glancing,” and Common’s equally offensive, “Homo’s a no-no, so faggots, stay solo”.
Thankfully, Canadian hip-hop artist Buck 65 prefers a subtler, more intelligent approach to making music; with his latest album, Situation, proof that you don’t have to be pumped up on machismo to make great hip-hop.
So what makes him so different to other hip-hop artists?
As Buck 65 (born Richard Terfry) himself suggests, perhaps it’s the fact that he’s a man in touch with and comfortable with his own emotions.
“I was joking with my girlfriend recently that I’m more like a woman and she’s more like a man, in how those roles are classically defined anyway; but really that’s what differentiates me and my whole approach to hip hop at large,” he tells MCV.
“Almost by definition, hip-hop is a real macho world, and that has proven to be almost problematic over the years for me. If you’re talking with a really macho male in the hip-hop world they see emotions as a weakness, and by extension as something feminine; they then make this weird jump that a man who can talk about emotions must be gay. So people dismiss me as being gay, but I am very secure in my position and I see the insecurity as something that exists on the other side.”
Part of a wider community of alternate, or ‘conscious’ hip-hop artists, who avoid the sexist and homophobic stereotypes pumped out by most commercial hip-hop, Buck 65 has been recording and touring constantly since releasing his first recordings in 1993. Though no stranger to controversy (sparking a storm in music circles in 2004 by telling a journalist he ‘hates’ hip-hop) he seems more than happy to go his own road, writing rap songs that are as much influenced by the eccentric, storytelling flair of Tom Waits and the movies of director David Lynch as by other hip-hop artists.
Indicative of his left-of-centre approach to music is the title of his latest album, Situation. It references the Situationist International movement, formed in 1957 by a group of avant-garde European artists and thinkers who called for major social and political reforms; and who suggested that humanity’s behaviour will remain consistent as long as our situation remains the same.
“The title was a way for me to intentionally compare 1957 to 2007, to show how things have stayed the same for 50 years. There is a lot to be said about parallels,” Buck 65 shrewdly observes.
“The album was a way for me to raise questions and food for though but not so much to provide answers. But having said that I didn’t seek to make a concept record. I wanted people to be also able to enjoy it on a surface level, and if they choose to look deeper into it and hear the questions I am asking than hopefully that will be rewarded.”
Throughout his career Buck 65 has recorded under various pseudonyms, including Stinkin’ Rich, DJ Critical and Johnny Rockwell. Each pseudonym allows him to conveying his message via different personas, as opposed to sermonising as himself.
“I see myself as being something of a story teller, and different characters come up along the way. I strive to get the message across in a subtler way, that’s why I haven’t addressed homophobia head on,” he says.
“I don’t approach anything head on. I want to paint a picture free from judgment and allow people to come to their own conclusions.”
Buck 65 plays the Northcote Social Club on January 2. Bookings on 9486 1677 or www.northcotesocialclub.com
Interview by me; transcribed by Rachel. This article first appeared in MCV #364 on Thursday 27 December 2007.
2003: 103 films
2004: 100 films
2005: 58 films
2006: 69 films
2007: 49 films
2003-2004 was when my film watching peaked, as you can see; and was also the worst possible year to ask me to help chose a DVD to watch: "Seen it, seen it, seen it, heard it was terrible,seen it..."
But enough about numbers; let's talk details...
The first cab of the rank is Au-delà de la haine, or Beyond Hatred, by director Oliver Mayreu, which screened in the 2007 Melbourne Queer Film Festival. In 2002, a young gay man, Francois Chenua, was brutally murdered by neo-Nazi skinheads in a regional French city. Rather than dwell upon the crime, Mayreu's film focused on the victim's family; and followed their attempts to understand and forgive the deprivations which warped the lives and souls of their son's killers. An austere, remarkable and deeply moving exploration of the traits that make us human. My favourite doco of 2007.
Another remarkable festival experience was the total brain-fuck of Ex-Drummer, by director Koen Mortier. A co-production between Belgium/The Netherlands/Italy/France, this was a brilliant yet bleak, confronting, beautiful and deeply disturbing film about class and contemporary culture set to a driving punk rock soundtrack, and boasting some truly exquisite cinematography. Some six months after catching it at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) in August, I'm still not sure what to make of it, save that it was the single-most memorable film I saw in 2007.
Also seen at MIFF was the deranged and inventive Teeth, from US director Mitchell Lichtenstein. A cleverly observed horror-comedy that never settled for cliche or the easy way out; a refreshingly unique take on the classic male castration complex; a startling story of female empowerment via the myth of vagina dentata; and a wild ride that still doesn't have an Australian distributor yet, as far as I'm aware. Definitely one to track down if you get the chance.
Among the films I caught in general release, one of the real standouts was UK director Shane Meadows' superb This Is England, ostensibly about a skinhead gang being infiltrated by the National Front and the calamity this causes. This Is England was a remarkably delicate drama considering its robust characters; wonderfully acted and deftly told; and a film which never descended to sentimentality or cliche to get its point across. A work of rare truth; a subtle indictment of Thatcherism; and a chilling yet moving exploration of prejudice and despair.
Equally as affecting, yet worlds removed from This Is England, was John Carney's Once. It's rare to see a film which so perfectly captures the joy of creativity; the fraught, awkward, painful pleasure of bringing a new work of art into the world. It's equally rare to see a film about love with is so refreshingly free of mawkish cliche and sentinmentality. Told with paucity and restraint; and focussing on emotional honesty and truth instead of flashy cinematography or incidental detail, Once was without doubt my feel-good film of the year.
Finally, and most recently, I saw Atonement, only the second feature from talented British director Joe Wright, and a triumph. A period piece, a love story and a meditation upon the nature of fiction itself, it features spectacular cinematography, great acting, a concise script, and best of all, shows consideration of its audience's intelligence. As I wrote in an earlier post about the film, Wright handles the emotionally-fraught narrative with restraint and subtle flair; resulting in an accomplished work which I'm pleased to say is my number one film of the year.
There were, sadly, plenty of films I missed this year, most notably Dee McLachlan's acclaimed story of human trafficking, The Jammed; and many other films that were good, but not great (the Ian Curtis bio-pic Control, for instance; and the Australian period piece, Romulus, My Father) but of the 49 features I saw in 2007, it's the six films listed above that stayed with me the most, long after the house lights had come up and I'd left the cinema.
Then, of course, there were the films I wish I'd never seen in the first place...
Steven Soderburgh's The Good German was deeply disappointing; featuring miscast leads (Tobey McGuire seemed to be acting in a completely different film to everyone else); a hybrid style that aimed for film noir homage merged with contemporary sensibility, but which failed to gel; and a laboured plot that strove for convoluted but which failed to spark interest in its audience. Essentially, a giant exercise in self-indulgence that worked as an experiment, but nothing more.
Then there was the animated excess of 300. Zack Snider's ambitious epic about the Battle of Thermopylae in 480BC, when 300 Spartan soldiers mounted a suicide mission, guarding a narrow mountain pass against a million-strong army of invading Persians, was based on the graphic novel by Frank Miller. Apart from being simultaneously homoerotic and homophobic (see, straight boys? It's ok to ogle the flesh of muscular almost-naked Spartan warriors, because we've given you an offensively stereotyped, evil gay villain in the Persian king, Xerxes, on which to project all your discomfort and fear!) it was also tedious, lacking in dramatic tension, 3-dimensional characters and anything resembling a narrative arc.
And speaking of blockbuster crap, if nothing else,2007 was memorable as the year of the dreadful sequels. Spider-Man III suffered from too many villains, including the alien spider-suit that manifested Peter Parker/Spidey's darker traits in a ludicrous emo dance routine; and a frankly tired, two-dimensional plot. Pirates of the Carribean: At World's End jettisoned anything that was fun or exciting in the first film in its franchise in favour of bombast and hollow spectacle; and of The Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, the less said the better.
But have I learned my lesson, to avoid big-budget Hollywood excess in favour of arthouse, independent and foreign language screen experiences? Yes and no: I'm already looking forward to the new Batman movie later this year, as regular readers would know, as well as the screen adaptation of Sweeney Todd...
To conclude this post (which has taken way longer to write than intended; dammit, Ihave real work to do this afternoon) my cinematic diet was dominated by mainstream releases this year; perhaps a side effect of taking in so much theatre and visual art in other aspects of my life - more of which in the next post!
I'd planned to get up at 4:30am, affording me enough time to shower and sort through CDs before being picked up by my erstwhile Breakfast co-host for the week, Camilla Hannan, at 5:30am, but as it was I woke slightly earlier as my sweaty and exhited housemate barrelled through the door on his way from New Year's Eve party A to party B.
I confess to pangs of angst and loneliness that I didn't spend New Year's Eve in my traditional fashion, getting drunk and drugged-up in a club or clubs somewhere surrounded by friends and their friends. This year the plan had been to spend the night with Mike, Darren and others at Blood, Sweat, New Years, at a Brunswick strip club taken over for the night by a rag-tag bunch of queers. The crew behind the night had thrown a similar party earlier in the year, Sweaty Betty, which I'd thoroughly enjoyed; but sadly it was not to be.
After an hour or so at my one and only party for the night (a subdued but enjoyable gathering thrown by my girlfriend Lisa on a rooftop in East Melbourne, which provided a superb view of the 9:15pm fireworks) I walked home through the hot and oppressive night and went to bed. It was still almost 40 degrees when I went to bed, and I slept restlessly, woken by the sound of fireworks at midnight, and shortly thereafter by a short flurry of text messages bearing greetings and salutations.
Still, since I didn't get trashed, at least I was in a good state to co-host Summer Breakfast on 3RRR this morning: three hours of music interspersed with news and gentle banter. Nothing too strenuous: the theory being, after all, that anyone listening to us this morning was probably coming down from partying hard the night before, or slowly crawling out of a sweat-soaked bed to face the heat of the day.
It was already 30 degrees when Camilla and I got to the station, and it's even hotter now. As I write this, I can feel beads ofsweat slowly trickling down my ribs.I think I'll need to put a towel on this chair soon. I also think I'm going to have to purchase a portable air conditioner soon, if summer in this flat of mine is to become vaguely tolerable.
I know, air-con is bad for the environment; but heat prostation is bad for me - especially on a day like this, when I actually need to be productive, prior to returning to work tomorrow, after 10 days off. One day to put the paper to bed instead of the usual two: and then immediately afterwards a flurry of writing and design in order to finish work on the 64 page summer special magazine we're publishing this month also: what fun!
But enough rambling.
Happy new year, dear reader! Wherever you were and whatever you did last night, I hope you had a wonderful evening; and may 2008 brings you inspiration, passion, surmountable challenges, love, delight, satisfaction, rewards and richly memorable experiences. Cheers!