Wednesday, April 20, 2005

On watching 'Birdy'

I started watching the DVD of Alan Parker's 1984 film Birdy tonight. As the opening credits rolled I remembered - or perhaps had a false memory of - the last time I watched this film. I think it was with my dad, a couple of months before he died.

It makes the process of watching this film, which is already laden with memory and nostalgia, an even more poignant experience.

In 1984 I became friends with Mark Morrison, who a year or two later introduced me to this film, which stars Matthew Modine and Nicholas Cage (before he became just Nic), and which features an evocative and stirring soundtrack by Peter Gabriel.

Sitting down to watch Birdy tonight is such a strange experience, with so many layers and moments of memory attached to it...

Watching it with my dad, in our old home in Trafalgar, in country Victoria in 1985 or '86; realising then and remembering now how laden this film is with homoeroticism, and how awkward that made me feel at the time and realising now how naive I must have been then....

And also realising now how much I miss my dad, and that sensation of old grief (so old the sharp edges have been slowly ground away) is mingled with the sensation of squirming in front of my dad the last time I watched this movie...

Simultaneously it makes me recall being introduced to this film by Mark, although I can't remember the first time I saw it, which makes me fondly remember the heydays of our friendship. It makes me ponder, too, how many years have elapsed since I first saw Birdy, and how much I, and my life have changed since then, and how much I've experienced, and how much more I've already forgotten....

So many memories, so much contemplation upon loss and love and life and time - and all this from a simple film.

If you haven't seen Birdy, here's the IMDB url for the film:

You might hate it, but I think it's worth checking out...

Monday, April 18, 2005

Latest CD reviews

Woman King – Iron and Wine
[Sub Pop]

This six-track EP from Iron and Wine (a.k.a. Sam Beam, one of the masters of modern blues-folk) sees the singer-songwriter taking cautious steps away from his earlier lo-fi approach to composition and production. Its six warmly and cleanly recorded tracks display a rich texture not previously audible in Iron and Wine albums, a beautiful setting in which to display Beam’s narrative lyrics and his simultaneously plaintive yet robust tunes. Evoking misty mornings that turn into brilliant days, these rhythmic, emotive, coolly passionate songs take the heartfelt passion of folk and filter it though tastes more akin to contemporary urban sensibilities. If the taste of Iron and Wine on the Garden State soundtrack wasn’t enough to whet your appetite, thus EP certainly should be.

I Am A Bird Now – Antony and the Johnsons

The second album from this exquisite New York artist is a heart-breaking collection of songs that captivate, move and engage in equal measure. The singularly titled Antony possesses a voice that encompasses both the falsetto of Jimmy Sommerville and the throaty heartbreak of Billie Holiday, while guests of the calibre of Lou Reed, Boy George and Rufus Wainwright also contribute to the vocals. The rich simplicity of the strings and piano which form the bulk of the backing for Antony’s vocals tend towards the mournful, but for anyone who has ever appreciated a torch-song, this is an album to treasure. From the heartbreaking opening lines of the first track, "Hope there’s someone who’ll take care of me/When I die," to the empowering ‘Today I Am A Boy’, on which Antony sings "One day I’ll grow up and be a beautiful woman," this is an album so beautiful it literally brings tears to my eyes.

Go Slow – Cam Butler

Cam Butler is the guitarist and song-writer of acclaimed Melbourne band Silver Ray. His second solo album is basically an extension of his work with that band: sweeping and passionate guitar-based soundtracks for non-existent films, enriched by the inclusion of a string orchestra. Go Slow is tightly structured, evocative and elegant, but I can’t help feeling that it sounds a trifle too similar to the work Butler has produced before.

Funeral – The Arcade Fire

Inspired by death but bursting with life and creative flair, Funeral is the debut album from Canadian band The Arcade Fire, fronted by the husband and wife duo of Win Butler and RĂ©gine Chassagne. Influences from bands as diverse as The Pixies and Talking Heads can be detected in their music, but these passionate songs have a style all their own. The beautiful yet solemn opening track ‘Neighbourhood #1 (Tunnels)’ evokes love flowering in a grief-haunted and snowbound town, while ‘Neighbourhood #4 (Kettles)’ juxtaposes post-punk guitar hooks with 60’s-style vocal harmonies and a pulsating, irresistible beat. Art-rock without the pretension that usually haunts that genre, Funeral is a complex, dense and richly textured album, and utterly engaging.

Superwolf – Matt Sweeney and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy

This album, a collaboration between Wil Oldham (under his ‘Prince’ Billy non-de-plume) and Matt Sweeney had its origins when Oldham challenged the ex-Zwan and Guided By Voices guitarist to a song-writing duel. The resulting tunes drift gently between electric folk and alt-country, matched by Oldham’s lyrical tales of dysfunctional love and the animal kingdom. At first the album sounds sparse and almost slight, but before long its sombre insights work their magic. Both graceful and bleak, Superwolf is sure to delight Oldham’s fans and rope in numerous new converts to his cause.

Review: GERRY, dir Gus van Sant (DVD)

(Madman Entertainment)

Director Gus Van Sant clearly experienced an epiphany after making the turgid coming-of-age melodrama Finding Forrester (2000). After - presumably - contemplating his recent oeuvre in comparison to such uncompromising works as Mala Noche (1985) and Drugstore Cowboy (1989), Van Sant wrote and directed, in quick succession, two of the most hauntingly beautiful and non-commercial films to have originated from the USA in recent years: the Palme d’Or-winning Elephant, released in 2003, and its immediate precursor, 2002’s Gerry.

Make no mistake: this is a movie that many people will deride as pretentious and unbearably stilted. Even hardened cinephiles may find it witless, trite and painfully slow. Personally I believe it to be one of the masterpieces of contemporary film-making. Bear with me while I explain why.

Cinema is a visual language. All too often, dialogue is used for exposition, with clumsy film-makers telling us what is happening instead of showing it to us. In Gerry, Van Sant (together with co-writers and leads Casey Affleck and Matt Damon) relies on the visual narrative to convey not only the plot, but the overwhelming helplessness of the film’s main characters, both called Gerry, who within a short space of the languid opening sequence are lost in a desert without food or water. Thereafter they wander helplessly, communicating with each other in stilted, comical phrases (perhaps representing the loss of contemporary cinema’s ability to speak at any other level than the most trite) while slowly dying of starvation and dehydration.

Whether this thin plot is a parable about humanity’s relationship with the fragile planet we dwell upon, or an opportunity to explore a non-sexual relationship between two men without relying on the cliches of the ‘buddy movie’ is largely irrelevant. What we are forced to ponder while watching Gerry, with its almost painfully long takes that transpose the mundane with the sublime, is the way so many recent films rely on forced drama, artifice and preposterous narrative; the way they seek to entertain us with spectacle rather than try to move or enthral us by telling a passionate and thought-provoking story.

At every level, Gerry is a work of sublime beauty that bespeaks a mastery of cinematic language, and hints at an elusive hunt for meaning. Whether this movie will bore you or enthral you I cannot say. I can guarantee that it will stir a passionate and extreme reaction in anyone who watches it, which perhaps was Van Sant’s purpose, in the face of films which only aspire to help sell merchandise or placed products, and little more.

Sadly, DVD extras on Gerry are as minimal as the movie itself. The trailer, a filmography and biography of Van Sant, and a brief, unilluminating ‘featurette’ of the shooting of one of the film’s most poignant and beautiful sequences, are all we are offered. Thankfully the film-to-DVD and sound transfer are crisp and clean, maintaining the haunting images and soundtrack of this beguiling, maddening cinematic experience.


Saturday, April 16, 2005

Insert Witty Title Here

So work has been utterly insane and I've been stressed to the gills and not particularly productive of late, which means I haven't updated my blog for ages. I'll try and rectify that this weekend with a couple of quick posts to bring it up to speed.

Speaking of which, I've been doing far to much speed lately. Speed, and strawberry ice-cream. Not simultaneously I hasten to add. Eww, imagine trying to snort strawberry ice-cream. Its bad enough that speed makes your nose burn - imagine having it freeze as well!

Last night I went to the opening night of the German film festival, which like far too many film festivals was marred by having a bland, cheesy crowd-pleaser as the opening night film. Depressing, really, when there are so many potentially stronger films in the program - but I guess they wouldn't want to show a film about Nazi Germany at the opening night when your main sponsor is Volkswagen and their local CEO is in the audience...

After that it was off to see The Lucksmiths launch their new album at The Corner Hotel with my mate Jeff - nice gig but as Jeff pointed out, after half an hour of The Lucksmiths you know you can safely leave as they aren't really going to pull any surprises...

So we headed into the city for the latest Trough faggot party, which I got bored of after about half an hour - generic gay party with lots of guys standing around who vaguely knew each other, although at least the music was better than somewhere like The Peel...

After a quick detour via the Comedy Festival club I dropped in at Control HQ, a private club run by Wally Kempton from The Meanies and Even but there wasn't really anyone I wanted to hang out with there - and as you may have guessed, I wasn't exactly in the 'standing around casually' frame of mind - more a 'twitching with uncontrollable energy' sort of I went downstairs to A Bar Called Barry where my friends Wendi and Francis have started DJing a new retro night, where they play everything from Barry White to The Blues Brothers.

I didn't dance, but I did enjoy people-watching for a while.

Finally I ended up at The Peel, the local gay bar, where I tried to pick up a 23 year old straight football player and failed. Probably good that I did - by that hour, after a couple of lines and far too many vodkas I was in no fit state for lurve. We came back to my place for a couple of drinks anyway - nice guy, whatever his name was.

Mad night. Good fun though. Time for more strawberry ice-cream now.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

At last - real humour!

Ok, so Danny Bhoy from Scotland - Glasgow, to be precise - may have stood me up on my arts program on 3RRR but he was very funny. Occasionally dragged a joke out too long (eg 'muuuuuuuUUUUmmmm!') and his defensiveness re his heterosexuality was sometimes a touch tedious, but otherwise he was the funiest person I have seen in the festival to date.

I also saw The Bedroom Philospher aka Justin Heazlewood, a Melbourne boy who combines self-depreciating awkwardness with genuine wit and whimsical wordplay. His show needed a director to help tighten it, but it was still good fun.

Lawrence Leung and Andrew McClelland's Somewhat Secret Secret Society Show was sadly nowhere near as strong as McClelland's last show (a hit of both 2003 Fringe and the 2004 Comedy Festival), A Somewhat Accurate History of Pirates. Emma Westwood gave them a glowing review in The Age but perhaps she saw them on a night when they were tighter and funnier. Perhaps. Or maybe she's just more generous than I am...Anyway, while the idea of an illustrated lecture about cults and secret societies could be fun on paper, it was, in my opinion, a classic example of a funny idea stretched thin: in other words half an hour worth of good ideas padded out into an hour. Shame, really...

Saturday, April 02, 2005

Comedy Festival lacks laughs

Maybe I'm just going in with my expectations set to high, or perhaps its because I'm a cynical fucker, but I've been underwhelmed by the shows I've seen so far at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival this year.

Charlie Pickering's 'Betterman' is a one-man show from this up and coming young Australian comedian which outlines his quest to improve his body, mind and soul. While occasionally provoking guffaws, Pickering was let down by his reliance on a power-point presentation of images, quotes and visual gags; his constant fiddling with the remote drained the show of any momentum every time he tried to cue up a new image. Ironically the funniest moment in the show came about when Pickering accidentally set the computer into fast-forward, resulting in a rapid succession of images being thrown up on screen out of sequence, and causing a flustered Pickering to almost panic.

Wil Anderson came on stage sweating so profusely he had to towel himself down every three minutes or so, and talking so rapidly that he gave the impression of being totally off his dial. Sadly the quality of the material he was presenting didn't match the pace of his delivery, although the audience were lapping up his hit-and-miss comments - the benefit of having a JJJ profile I suspect. They would have laughed at anything. Five or six years ago Anderson was a genuinely astute and funny stand up comedian. Having such a sycophantic audience seems to have resulted in Anderson becoming lazy; he needs to cut out at least half his material and work a lot harder at being funny, in my opinion, if he is going to recapture his former strengths as a comic.

Rod Quantock is still bloody funny, but I can't help thinking that he is perhaps a little past his prime. His rambling delivery and tangential stories were lapped up by his left-leaning audience in yet another case of preaching to the converted, although to be fair, Quantock was often extremely entertaining, although mostly in a constant smile and occasional chuckle kind of way. Certainly he didn't make enough of an impression on me to enable me to remember most of his material a week later, save for his lecture on the causes of the recent rise in interest rates... Compared to Anderson, who I saw on the same night, he was significantly harder-working and more consistently funny, however.

Sue-Ann Post in 'God Loves Me He Just Hates What I'm Doing' has so far been my festival highlight - especially her vigourous demonstration of rooting bunnies, and her presentation of a lighting-rod just in case God tried to strike her down. While the constant spruiking of her new book and TV show (which tie in neatly with the festival show, and which explore her recent trip to a Mormon gay and lesbian convention in Salt Lake City) became a little tiresome, she still presented a tight, strong and bloody funny one-hour show.

That same night I went to see The Umbilical Brothers in 'Rehersal', a show who's conceit is that we're watching the performers rehearse their new show, and which rapidly become tiresome. There's only so many pratfalls I can watch; ditto clowning around with a video camera, and pretending that the angry producers are waiting off in the wings, wondering when they're actually going to see the show they've paid for.

Rebecca De Unanumo is a winner of the Moosehead Award from last year, which gives her the money to stage her own solo show in this year's festival. This is the only show I've walked out of so far, although I gave her a full half hour. While her ability to switch between characters was good, and the characterisations of a taxi driver, a jaded british peer, and a socially awkward and obsessive school girl were strong, her script wasn't. Most of the time it was plain unfunny. Shame really, as a couple of industry people have told she's a fantastic improviser...

Gavin Baskerville is another Moosehead winner, and another comedian whose weak show was let down by stretching gags about TV into a full hour, and by the performer's over-reliance on his prop television. Like Charlie Pickering, his momentum was lost by his reliance on the images appearing on the tv screen. Trim the weakest gags back by half an hour and he could have had a much better show.

Sean Lock from the UK didn't do much for me either - his style of stand-up is very old school, very deadpan, and jumps around randomly from subject to subject without bothering to link the material. Rather dull really.

That's it so far - I'm off to see a few more shows this week so I'l let you know my thoughts...cynical as they are! I'm hoping that Scottish comedian Danny Bhoy will be good - he better be, seeing as he stood me up for an interview on 3RRR!