Saturday, March 12, 2005

More from Melbourne Queer Film Festival

Currently listening to: Godspeed You Black Emperor, Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennae To Heaven

The festival is now into its second full day, and I thought it was time for an update - which is also why I'm listening to Godspeed, because the best film I saw today featured them in the soundtrack. At the time I thought it might have been Explosions In The Sky, but I stuck around for the credits to find out who it was, and was pleasently suprised. The other beautiful thing about the credits was the closing dedication: 'For the boys who love boys, the girls who love girls, the boys who love girls and the girls who love boys.' Coupled with the rousing soundtrack at the emotional climax of the film (a rooftop scene featuring a real shooting star at the perfect moment) it brought tears to my eyes.

The film was Blue Citrus Hearts (USA, dir Morgan Jon Fox, 2003), a coming out drama lifted from the everyday by its zine-like aesthetic, its endearingly inarticulate leads, and its insightful grasp of teen life. One of the opening scenes, in which a domestic family dinner suddenly reveals a repressed brutality, made me sit up and think 'This film is gona be good' and it was. One of my standouts so far. One of the best things about it was the fact that - unlike most films about queer teens - the leads were real people, not muscled beauties or pretty boys.

I've also seen the Irish drama Cowboys and Angels (dir David Gleeson, Ireland 2003, 35mm, 89 mins) - which was a little simplistic, although I was inclined to like it, partially because I think Irish accents are dead sexy, and because the lead actor was a short, stocky young lad who was just my type (Michael Legge, if you're out there, I'd like to marry you - well, at least for 15 minutes). If that sounds flippant it was also engaging, heartwarming and rather sweet. Another coming of age film, the film centred on a young straight boy who worked in the public service but who was a frustrated artist - something I can relate to, being a country boy who only moved to city thanks to a clerical job in the Ministry of Education. Said character, Shane, moved into a city apartment which he shared with a gay fashion student, while a drug dealer downstairs complicated the situation in more ways than one. Performances were strong, and while the story wasn't startling, in won points for not taking the obvious route.

The annual OZ SHORTS package included several duds this year, but it was heartening to see that local young director Dean Francis has finally learned how to make a decent film - Transgression, a film about a young M2F transsexual - after several painful experiments. Craig Boreham's short drama Transient was definitely the pick of the bunch - a docu-drama about a gay couple's relationship that was moving, modest and beautiful.

The German drama Love In Thoughts 'Was n├╝tzt die Liebe in Gedanken' (dir. Achim von Borries, Germany, 2004, 89 mins) is a sensual, subtle film based on a real-life murder/suicide in 1927. Paul and Gunther are students and best friends; Paul is in love with Gunther's free spirited sister Hilde, who is also sleeping with Gunther's boyfriend, but to her brother's distress. In part an exploration of the lives of the decadent rich in the heady 1920's Weimar Republic from the point of view of a young working class lad caught up in their dramas, as well as a complex study of passion and romatic conflict, the film is poignant, beautifully shot (thanks to cinematographer Jutta Pohlmann) and subtle without being slow. Not a crowd-pleaser, but definitely a cinematic pleasure.

I'm seeing another two or three session tomorrow (yay for free gold passes!) but right now it's time to hit a local bar - Control HQ is looking good...

Friday, March 11, 2005

Opening Night, Melbourne Queer Film Festival

Currently Listening To: These Were The Earlies, The Earlies

It's 11.30 on Friday morning and I'm sitting here recovering from the opening night of the 15th Melbourne Queer Film Festival, which was held at the art deco Astor Cinema last night. The festival runs for the next 10 days, with a range of shorts, features and docos from around the world. This year's programme includes more Australian films than ever, as well as a panel which I'm moderating called 'Vocal Locals', featuring a range of film-makers (including the Oscar-winning Adam Elliot, and Matt Campbell, head of programming at SBS TV). For more details about the festival check out

The opening night film was D.E.B.S. (USA 2004, 91 mins, directed by Angela Robinson), and was a bit of a hoot. A tongue-in-cheek teen lesbian spoof of the espionage thriller, it featuring star-crossed lovers, pleated skirts and an 80's pop soundtrack. Imagine Heathers meets Charlie's Angels as directed by John Hughes and you'll get some idea of what the film was like. It was shot on digital video and blown up to 35mm, which meant the film's depth of field suffered on occasion, but for the most part its strong production values, witty script and string of jokes held together well, and it certainly entertained the crowd if the laughs during the film and the smiles at the patry afterwards were anything to go by.

The opening night party was held in the foyer of the cinema, and of course, I had too much champagne... Ah well, I've felt worse.

I took my friend Mike to the party - a gay school teacher mate of mine who recently broke up with his boyfriend. Mike and I have only known each other for a couple of years, but we seem to be becoming good mates. We had a drunken fling once, and while it would have been nice on an intellectual level for us to become lovers (we have similar senses of humour, and the same taste in films and music) the physical chemistry between us was never strong, and would have quickly fizzled out. I think it's better that we're friends.

Speaking of friends, I said I'd write something about my friendships, didn't I?

Cut to Richard biting a fingernail nervously and looking abstracted.

When I was a kid my parents moved around a lot, and I had to find new friends at each new school every couple of years. Without wanting to sound too melodramatic, I think that's affected me in some way - I seem to have these committed friendships which last for several years, and then after a while I drift away and develop a new friendship group.

It's certainly not something that I do deliberately, and I still have a couple of friends that I've known since the 1980's; I just don't see them that often any more, as our lives have grown more complicated and I've developed new friendships and other committments.

People like Mark and Penny, Hugh and Chiara, Martin, Dermot and Chris will always have a place in my heart, but I guess I feel guilty that I spend more time with newer friends such as Mike and Glen instead of with the people I've known for over a decade.

I'm trying not to censor myself here, but am also aware that I'm posting in a public arena, and that people who listen to my radio show as well as my friends will be reading this, so I'm trying not to be either to specific and revealing or too general and vague. Damn, this blogging malarky is harder than I thought...

It's a complicated business, this friendship matter, and sometimes I think I have friends who care about me more than I care about them; I once described myself as living behind a glass wall - people can see me and interact with me and there's an illusion of closeness, but there's a little part of me that's cold, in the frozen sense, and so I come across as a little aloof.

Oh dear, this is all getting far too introspective and self-analytical isn't it?

I might sign off here, as I have to go and finish reading someone's poetry manuscript. I'll save the navel-gazing for another session.

The poet in question has asked me to provide a quote for the back cover of his next book; something along the lines of "His poetry is wry and gently mocking, but simultaneously offers great insight into his life, and by extraction, the human condition..." Hopefully whatever I end up writing won't be so pompous and cliched.

The only problem is that I haven't finished reading his manuscript yet and I have to meet him in an hour. I've been sitting on the manuscript for almost a month. I just haven't found the time to sit down and give it the attention it deserves because of all my other committments. I don't have enough time for my own writing dammit, let alone someone else's!

Oh well, I better go and try and read at least some of it before I meet the poet at 1pm...

Thanks for reading, and feel free to post a comment at some stage, whoever you are...

Sunday, March 06, 2005

V For Vendetta

I just found out that the film version of Alan Moore's comic V For Vendetta has begun production. If you've never heard of the comic you can get a crash course about it here:

Will this be a good film, or a crap one? In light of the Wakowski Brothers' last two films I fear the latter, but we shall see...

Saturday, March 05, 2005

Another quiet Saturday night in Melbourne

It's been a couple of weeks since I posted anything, and since I just stepped through the door after coming home from a new dance work, and since I have at least an hour before I head out to a party at a local bar I hang out at, I thought it was time I wrote some further rambling observations about life, art and everything.

Currently listening to: Second Storey, Art of Fighting

My friend Jeff e-mailed me last week to ask if I would go and see a new dance work with him tonight. Contemporary dance is not something I'm big on - partially because it's so outside my comfort zone that I don't know how to react, review, critique or process it. It's not totally unfamiliar to me: I actually did a year or two's classes in modern dance back in the 1980's while I was still in high school (and yes, I was the only boy in the class, but what else do you expect in a country town in the tail end of the last century?), but it's so far removed from what I'm familiar with that I don't know how to relate to it half the time.

Okay confession: it wasn't really 'modern dance', that's far too highbrow a term for what I did. Back then it was called jazz ballet, but compared to what I knew of dance as a gawky, insecure gay teenager in a redneck country town, it seemed pretty modern to me...

Anyway, tonight's show was called 'High Maintenance' and was a work in progress supported by the modern dance company Chunky Move. It seemed to revolve around the theme of how people behanve at parties - drunken fights between best mates, sensuality, orgiastic dancing, that sort of thing. It only went for about half an hour, and I actually liked it: on a physical level, the movements of the three dancers were quite remarkable, and there were some sequences that were both clever and telling.

We ran into Marcus Westbury there, who is the Artistic Director of Next Wave, a biennial youth arts festival:

I've known Marcus since about 1997, when he helped stage the first ever National Young Writers' Festival
in Newcastle, a regional city in New South Wales that had until then been dominated by heavy industry (and which is now best known for its rugby league team, the Newcastle Knights, who like most rugby teams in Australia were involved in yet another sexual assault case a couple of weeks ago; charming fellows these thugby players - not that AFL is much better).

Today 'Newie' is best known - at least among my circle - as the home of This Is Not Art - an annual festival which incorporates the NYWF, and several other festivals including Electrofringe, and which is largely - as far as I know - Marcus' brainchild.

I have a strange relationship with Marcus - I wouldn't say we were friends, as I feel that there's a degree of distance between the two of us, and I'm not sure where that distance comes from. Is it because we're both essentially shy, insecure types? I know I am, although I apparently overcompensate beautifully, especially when I've had a few lines of speed or several drinks.

I know we both tend to think of ourselves as outsiders and observers, but I know that from my side there's a degree of intimidation that prevents me from being as close to Marcus as I'd like to be. He's one of the most effortlessly intellectual people I know, capable of the most astonishingly profound statements about art, culture and society which he appears to utter without even thinking, as if such astute observations are a natural state for him. I just blink, and nod, and mutter nervous agreement and sip another glass of wine, or gulp another stubby of cider.

Anyway, it was nice to run into him, even though the restaurant in Chinatown the three of us went to afterwards was crap. It was just nice to go out and have one of those evenings where we talk about art and culture without feeling like wankers. It's nice to hang out with people who are on the same level as yourself sometimes.

I've only known Jeff for just over a year, but he's becoming a close friend. I'll write more about him in my next post I think; in fact I might write in detail about my relationships and friendships next time, as there's quite a lot I want to say - not about Jeff, but about how I interact with people generally. Suffice it to say I really like Jeff - and you should all go and check out the website for Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces, which is where he works:

To bring this long and rambling post to a close, last weekend I went to see the Canadian band The Dears play at the inaugural St Jeromes' Laneway Festival (which was indeed held in a lane in the Melbourne CBD) and they were astoundingly good. Go and listen to their second album No Cities Left now, and rejoice at what you hear.

Last night, I was even more deeply moved by a local production by the Act-O-Matic 3000 (a small, independent theatre company) of the play The Laramie Project, about (among other things) the fatal gay-bashing of 21 year old university student Matthew Shepard. It moved me to tears, and was truly wonderful. Here's my formal review of the show, written for the website - I hope you like it, and if you live in Melbourne, that you get the chance to go and see the show:

The Laramie Project
By Richard Watts

A composite map of suffering and small town life, and a moving and magnificent theatrical experience.

Following the brutal hate-crime murder of 21 year-old Matthew Shepard in Laramie, Wyoming in 1998, Moises Kaufman and members of the Tectonic Theatre Project made repeated visits to the town, interviewing its residents and documenting the impact Shepard’s death had upon them. The resulting documentary-style play is a composite picture of the responses and reactions of Laramie’s citizens to a particularly brutal murder.

It is not a play about a crime, but a play about the place where a crime took place; about the people who live there and how they feel about the murder of a young gay man. It is also a personal response by the Tectonic Theatre Company to Shepard’s murder, as well as a reaction again the sometimes stagnant language of theatre, which has too often remained mired in the traditions of previous centuries instead of finding new ways of telling the stories affecting us all.

This stark new production of The Laramie Project by independent Melbourne theatre company The Act-O-Matic 3000 is directed by Chris Baldock, and stars eight actors who play an average of eight roles each. The minimalist staging focuses audience attention on the text and performances: instead of marvelling at the artifice of the production we are made to focus upon the lines delivered by each actor in turn. These lines are sometimes moving, sometimes clumsy, but in remembering that these were words spoken by real people struggling to describe the pain and confusion they felt over young Matthew’s premature death, their awkwardness becomes all the more engaging and convincing.

While all the cast are strong, Brett Whittingham as hire-car driver Doc O’Connor is particularly memorable (although the engaging character of Doc goes a fair way towards aiding his performance; he is equally impressive as the venomously anti-gay Reverend Fred Phelps, who picketed Shepard’s funeral). Act-O-Matic co-founder Olivia Hogan (who among her roles plays Shepard’s friend Romaine Patterson, and in an especially moving performance, Aaron Kreifels, the young cyclist who found Shepard after the attack), and Paula McDonald (whose performance in a range of roles, notably as Officer Reggie Fluty, the first official on the crime scene was flawless) are both outstanding. Ron Kofler, who plays Matthew Shepard’s father Denis in one of the final scenes in the play, is also tremendous.

While the play occasionally falls into self-indulgence and loses a little momentum in the second act, this is the fault of the text itself and not this production. The Act-O-Matic 3000’s presentation of The Laramie Project is heartfelt and intensely moving, as evidenced by the tears in the eyes of the actors as much of those dampening the cheeks of the audience (and especially this reviewer). Having suffered through much mediocre theatre in the past 12 months, especially productions mounted by Melbourne’s largest and best-funded theatre companies, it delights me enormously to be able to say that The Laramie Project is the first must-see theatrical production of 2005.