Monday, August 27, 2007

Susan Cooper's 'The Dark is Rising' series

Having recently seen - and been aghast by - the trailer for the new, US movie adaptation of The Dark is Rising, a Young Adult fantasy novel first published in 1973, I decided to go back and re-read the series, which I'd loved as a teenager growing up in the Latrobe Valley.

I'm so glad I did. Not only has it been a delight to revist the adventures of Will Stanton, youngest of the Old Ones, a servant of the Light in the ageless battle against the powers of the Dark; it's been wonderful being re-exposed to Cooper's magical ability with language, words and mood.

If you're not familiar with the books, you can learn all about them, and their author, over here at her official site, The Lost Land.

In brief, the series begins with Over Sea, Under Stone (1965), the most traditionally 'children's adventure' style title of the series, in which Simon, Jane and Barnabas Drew recover a lost Grail, and learn something of the battle between the Light and the Dark. The tone of the novel is a bit Enid Blyton-esque, though darker; while the volume also introduces Cooper's contemporary reworking of Arthurian mythology, a glittering thread which runs through the tapestry she weaves.

But very quickly, with the second book on the series, The Dark is Rising, Cooper finds her own voice and her own take on YA fantasy. In this book, we meet Will, a boy on the eve of his 11th birthday, who soon discovers that he is much more than he appears to be after he is appointed on the quest to find and unite the six signs of power, made by the Light long ago and vital if the rising Dark is to be defeated.

It's in this book that Cooper's skillful writing comes to the fore; such as with this description of Will's slightly older brother:

"James stood fuming on the landing like a small angry locomotive..."

I love that phrase. It instantly conjures up an image of a small, compact boy, so angry that steam is almost coming out of his ears.

This second volume is a more complex book than its predecessor, both thematically, structurally and dramatically. Whereas the villains in Over Sea, Under Stone are almost cartoon-like; here, characters such as the The Rider exude real malice and malevolence; while the tragic figure of The Walker is both contemptible and pitiable.

In the third volume, Greenwitch (1974), Cooper successfully unites the characters from the first two books, in a story set in Cornwall, and involving both the Dark, and the old, Wild Magic. Importantly, it's the only book in the series written from a predominantly female point of view; a fact which has considerable bearing over the way the story, involving ancient tradition, ghosts, guilt and greed, plays out. It's certainly a step up from Over Sea, Under Stone, but it still seems to lack a certain something; a complaint I could never make about my favourite volume in the series.

Set in North Wales, The Grey King (1975) fuelled a long fascination in Welsh mythology that had previously been sparked by exposure to Celtic legends, but that's not the main reason this is the book of Cooper's that I love best. It's because of the friendship she evokes between Will Stanton, now aged 12, and the strange young albino boy Bran Davies, whose birthright, we eventually learn, is even more important to the struggle of the Light than Will's own. It's because of the epic scope of the story, told over a concise handful of days; and the way Cooper contrasts the power of the High Magic with all-too-human tales of grief, loss and love. Dispatched to Wales to recover from a childhood illness, Will soon finds himself battling the forces of the Grey King, and aided by Bran, and his dog Cafall, embarks on a desperate quest to find a magical harp and awaken the Six Riders, before the Dark claims them for all eternity...

Lastly, the culmination of the saga, Silver on the Tree (1977) brings the books' many characters together in the final, epic battle against the last great rising of the Dark. Jane's role is an important one; Will's quests play their part; Bran's heritage is invaluable; but in the end, it is perhaps that most human of emotions, love, which proves most important in the face of the battle that is to come.

Lyrical, passionate, magical; capturing the joy of childhood, and written with imagination to rival the likes of many other fine writers of YA fantasy, such as Diana Wynne Jones and Alan Garner, The Dark is Rising series remains one of the highpoints of the genre. I cannot recommend the series highly enough.

When the Dark comes rising, six shall turn it back;
Three from the circle, three from the track;
Wood, bronze, iron; water, fire, stone;
Five will return, and one go alone.

Iron for the birthday, bronze carried long;
Wood from the burning, stone out of song;
Fire in the candle-ring, water from the thaw;
Six Signs the circle, and the grail gone before.

Fire on the mountain shall find the harp of gold;
Played to wake the sleepers, oldest of the old;
Power from the green witch, lost beneath the sea;
All shall find the light at last, silver on the tree.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Out of the blog, into the world!

Should your life be so lacking in stimulii as to wish to see the author of this blog creep out from behind his keyboard and into the real world, then you'll have your chance this week; both physically and audibly.

This coming Thursday, I'll be facilitating two panels at the Melbourne Writers' Festival; in other words introducing two seperate groups of writers who will in theory be discoursing about the precise topics of the panels in question, but who really are engaged in little more than a marketing exercise designed to promote their latest books. Moi, cynical? Heaven forfend!

At 3:45pm in the Bagging Room at the Malthouse Theatre, I'll be chairing a panel called Refined Tastes, featuring authors John Lanchester and David Hewson, and discussing the differences and similarities between author and character when it comes to writing about art, architecture, food and wine, and similar subjects.

Then, at 6;30pm, in the Merlyn Theatre, I'll be facilitating a discussion with authors Janine Burke and Philip Jones called Collector's Edition, on the psychology of bringing things together. Festival Director Rosemary Cameron should have been a panellist on this one, methinks, although maybe the collective commercial demands of the publishers who seem to run the MWF from behind the scenes prohibited her from doing so.....?

Then, this coming Friday, I'll be shirking off work for an hour or so and wandering over to the Southbank studios of the ABC, to co-host The Conversation Hour with Jon Faine on 774 ABC. Our guests will be musician Mia Dyson, and a couple of writers who are in town for the MWF - which means above and beyond my usual stupid workload I have a thick stack of books to work through. Oh joy!

Attention Sigur Ros fans!

Just received this from the publicity team at the Melbourne International Arts Festival:

"Attention Sigur Ros fans - Melbourne International Arts Festival announces a change to Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s Program B: Views on Stage/Split Sides. Due to international scheduling conflicts, Sigur Ros will now only be performing in Split Sides on Saturday 27 October. The two parts of the score for Split Sides were composed by British alternative rock band Radiohead and Sigur Ros, who will perform their part of the score live."

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Proof at last!

Although I didn't really need convincing, today's mail has provided the clinching piece of evidence confirming my belief that the world has definitely gone mad. Nothing too dramatic, I should point out: no religious tracts promising eternal life through cloning (hi Rael*) or eternal hellfire (of course I'm going to hell: I'm a godless sodomite - duh!). Not even a severed finger or a gift-wrapped dog turd.

No, just a letter. Specifically, an invitation from Who's Who in Australia ("Australia's famous biographical reference title," it burbles, with all the charm of a stagnant brook. "Packed with difficult-to-find biographical details about Australia’s most high profile and inspiring people.") to submit my details for a listing in their next edition.

To quote Groucho Marx, "I don't care to belong to a club that accepts people like me as members".

[Exit stage right, laughing wildly.]

* Don't you just love a prophet whose website describes him as "Singer/Songwriter, Racing-car Driver, Messenger of Elohim"?)

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Meredith Music Festival 2007

The first part of the line-up for this year's festival has just been announced:


Once in a while along comes a band that is ahead of the curve in such a way that you cannot work out what on earth inspired them to do what it is that they do. And as for how well they do it at a relatively youthful age, well… forget about it.….presenting the grooviest white R&B group in the world: Little Red.


There’s a great Australian tradition of small club / pub rock and roll bands. The very best of these have something wild and mercurial about them, some powerful element that takes them beyond….beyond standard, beyond their peers, beyond reasoning. When one of those bands form, then plays for a few years, then really starts hitting their straps…well, that’s something to see.

Eddy Current Suppression Ring is one of those bands.

Four people on the same wavelength, all antennae tuned fine to the fuse as it works its way inevitably towards explosion.



Your back's against the wall

There's no-one home to call

You're forgetting who you are

You can't stop crying

The Saturday Night Sea of Excitement in the Supernatural may reach a new high water mark this year.

There were attempted cartwheels, excitedly-forwarded-emails and exhortations of “I’m going out RIGHT NOW” when news of this particular band saying YES to our invitation came through.

It's part not giving in

And part trusting your friends

You’d do it all again

And I'm not lying

Live and direct from Portland Oregon, via naked magazine covers, tabloid paps and every single swinging scene worth its salt this side of Arkansas…


Ooooooooohhhhhhhh oh-oh…oh oh oh oh ooohhhhhhhh-oo-oo-oo-oooo




Cue craziness x ten hundred billion. Yes, it’s The Gossip at Meredith.



Would you like some flat-out fun with your unhinged rock n roll, madam? Care for some seriously slurred swashbucklers living out the ultimate teenage dream?

How The Black Lips manage to walk through the perfumed garden of life is a miracle of modern bullshit, but a miracle nonetheless. Their substance is real, their new album is prerequisite, and their message is disturbingly clear. Rock'n Roll is soul-stirringly powerful and unpredictable, and there's nothing more important than that. From Atlanta, Georgia, for the first time in Australia, we present to you, The Black Lips.


There’s a reason why this next guy is one of the biggest cult phenomenon (pl.) this country has ever known. It’s because he makes wonderful music, and presents it in a very pure way. No pretence, no marketing, no superfluous frills, just supreme quality propelled by word of mouth and a tenacious desire to treat the audience with total respect. He blazes his own trail. His name is Wally De Backer and he makes music in his bedroom. He is better known as Gotye. Big stage, intimate amphitheatre, sun setting. Glorious.


Ok. So now how about something that truly lives up to Meredith’s reputation for uniqueness? Things you just don’t see on the circuit? Maybe this will tick that box. Some people are about to fall off their chair. Andrew WK is coming to Meredith, for a Special Solo Performance. Who or what the artist known as Andrew WK is, is a difficult thing to put simply. At the least he is an enigmatic, somewhat conceptual, very natural, cerebral and party-rocking connoisseur of excitement. First known internationally for an album of hard rockin’ party anthems called I Get Wet, Andrew has since shown so many more facets to his artistic output. He had his own TV show (“Your Friend, Andrew WK”) where he helped viewers with their lives. He gives motivational free-form lectures. Instead of a regular tour, he recently drove a Cadillac around the US stopping each night to have a party. He played piano with Hanson (yes, Hanson) and played on TV with Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. He had a stated desire to make simply the most exciting music he can make.

A picture tells a thousand words, sure, but sometimes a thousand words is actually required to describe what’s going on. We recommend you acquire some knowledge of Andrew WK before Meredith. Best information is here: - scroll down to the text to read his biography. Remarkable. Yes, Andrew WK is coming to Meredith. And he will be thoroughly, infectiously entertaining.

Anyone that references 90s ‘saxophone visionary’ Guru Josh is alright by us. Infinity indeed. And is just me or has Dan perfected a European, English-as-second-language accent on “Hearts on Fire”? Genius. Yes, it’s time to put your Pink Flamingoes together for a very welcome return to Meredith for Cut Copy. They have been doing what they do since back when it wasn’t fashionable, they are serious about honing and exploring their craft, and they are also serious about putting on a sensuous, terrific live show. Good people. Fantastic band. Cut/Copy. Forget Officeworks, just be at Meredith Saturday night.

Thankfully, coming from London in winter to Meredith in summer proved irresistible to Art Brut. And frankly, they proved irresistible to us. If you don’t know them, prepare yourself for some rudely honest lyrics and pogo-punk dynamics. Frontman Eddie Argos has one of the sharpest wits in the Free World, and live this band is an unfettered, energetic joy to behold. First time to Australia for this band. Wild critical acclaim from many corners of the planet, fair enough too. Saturday afternoon.

Latest clip:



The very first act to play Meredith’s sister festival, Golden Plains, was a one-man show from country Victoria. That was also that one man’s first festival performance. He was a crowd favourite. A lot has changed since then. A lot of very good things have happened. What can we say? Muscles is unreal. Ice cream is gonna save the day.


There’s a newish album called “From Beale Street to Oblivion”, and it’s a future classic. If you like 80’s synth, angular basslines and shimmering guitars, you probably won’t like it at all. If you dig heavy blues, surrealistic wordplay and about the most committed live delivery possible then perhaps you will. It’s by a band from Germantown, Maryland called Clutch. Clutch are something of a sensation for fans of a certain type of musical emotion. It will be a pretty sweet way to nod your Friday night away. By ‘nod’ I mean moving your body to a massive surging rhythm that makes you squint in intense joy and almost bang your head… with the occasional involuntary arm extended in the air. Very, very good stuff. Friday Night. Ease it into third.


Dancehall legend Junior Reid had a tough upbringing in West Kingston's Waterhouse district, notorious for being one of the most dangerous places in Jamaica, in the politically turbulent mid-'70's. He started recording from age 14, going on to be a musician and producer of world renown. His classic tune "One Blood" remains a staple for dancehall DJ's and was recently reworked for The Game's west coast anthem "It's Okay (One Blood)". You may also know Wu-Tang flipped the Junior Reid hook for their 'One Blood Under Wu' track. Sly & Robbie, Augustus Pablo and Sugar Minott championed him in his early days, recent collaborators include everyone from Lil Wayne to Buju Banton. Expect deep roots, big hooks and blazing dancehall from the one they call Junior Reid.





What is dancehall?

Here at Meredith we rate Ned Collette as one of the most sublime singer-songwriters going round (the planet). He gets a bit of attention from the media but it’s miniscule in relation to the depth and breadth of his talent. And his new bandmates add more than the sum of their parts; The Ned Collette Band also features ex-City City City-siders Ben Bourke on bass and Joe Talia on drums and keyboards. Deceptively simple songs suddenly veer left then plunge downhill then turn into spacecraft and rush through the time-space continuum with wild free barrages of guitar squall….its got a homespun honest familiarity to it courtesy of Ned’s friendly, true demeanour and intimate lyrical portraiture but MY GOD it flips your wig.. Ned’s a natural resource. Trio is a magic number.

Nothing to watch or listen to yet. It’s that new. Test-driven without badges.

As we have said before, finding new or smallish acts that we think might blow your mind is one of the most satisfying and exciting parts of creating a new Meredith each year. Because of the Meredith One-Stage-Fits-All Policy, these smallish acts play to a whole lotta people, and over the years some of the biggest hits of the festival have been these sorta bands. This year’s highly recommended time to be in front of the stage is when Lady Strangelove play. They’re from Adelaide, and they play an experimental style of psychedelic progressive rock dance, fusing influences ranging from early prog rock thru electronica; they fuse their material together to create one epic, adrenalised, atmospheric soundscape. Electric Ladyland.

Wow. DJ Mu-Gen. Primarily known as a DJ, he is also a producer, and in a band called The Inflatables who have an album out soon. Recently he won the Victorian leg of an Australian DJ Championship, and flew to Sydney for the final. In a bizarre fiasco, the venue controversially shut down the final before a winner could be decided, after one DJ got nude and started throwing out condoms. A new final couldn’t be arranged in time for the next leg in L.A., so the organisers sat down with the finalists and asked them who they thought should move forward and represent Australia. Who did they all pick? Mu-Gen. The cardinals pick the Pope. Holy smokes. Mu-Gen rocks the Sup.

Q: What is a Midnight Juggernaut?
A: That's a long story. Many centuries ago the priests of the society of Jesus, or the Jesuits as they're commonly known, developed a series of missions in the region of Paraguay. These settlements brought the Roman Catholic religion to the indigenous inhabitants via spiritual instruction, commercial endeavors, trade and regular midnight ceremonies known as Sodomatres. These ceremonies required Jesuit Tigrates to dress in lama fur and throw spears into the air. Where the spears land would mark the borders of consciousness.

"Like The Rapture with John Carpenter on keys, their pummeling space-disco is the perfect bridge between Bloc Party's indie elegies and a synapse-shredding Justice DJ set" - NME

Favourite new band: Midnight Juggernauts. Favourite songs of the Year: Midnight Juggernauts - Into The Galaxy- Pitchfork (chosen by Justice)

"listening to Midnight Juggernauts leaves you with dirty thoughts... dark and mischievous-sounding music fit for dingy nightclubs and even dingier bedrooms." - Fact Magazine UK

"A stunning record, Dystopia flows from one surreal track to the next, with the resonance of a film score that could have been produced in 1981 or somewhere in the distant future, giving it a sense of timelessness achieved by few." - Lifelounge

"Euphoric, Tangerine Dream cum The Psychedelic Furs cum Daft Punk synth-pop."
- Timeout UK

"If music this good keeps coming out of Australia, I'm just going to have to pack up and move there. This is getting nuts." - Big Stereo

"shimmering, majestic, synth-pop gem... Midnight Juggernauts as the likely successor to the indie-dance throne" - The Age



Little Red, Eddy Current Suppression Ring, The Gossip, The Black Lips, Gotye, Andrew WK Special Solo Performance, Cut Copy, Art Brut, Muscles, Clutch, Junior Reid, Ned Collette Band, Lady Strangelove, DJ MuGen, Midnight Juggernauts.

The Meredith Music Festival 2007.

At the Meredith Supernatural Amphitheatre, Meredith, Victoria.

December 14, 15 and 16.


Tickets on sale:

STORE ALLOCATION OPENS Monday 10 September (Polyester Fitzroy, Greville Prahran, Missing Link Melb CBD. Capricorn Leading Edge Geelong, Karova Lounge Ballarat and Swell Café Jan Juc).

ONLINE ALLOCATION OPENS Wednesday 12 September at

Tickets are $149.95pbf for a Regular Weekend Ticket, and an additional $34.95pbf for an optional Friday Entry Ticket.

Everything You Need To Know will be at

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Two films in as many nights on Sunday and Monday; who needs a film festival for a satisfyingly cinematic time?

Sunday I caught This is England, UK director Shane Meadows' new film about a skinhead gang being infiltrated by the National Front, at Carlton's Cinema Nova. It must be said that I'm not a huge fan of the Nova, having had too many film experiences ruined by poor projection; but on Sunday night, in the company of an Irish ex-bootboy, and a gay Singaporean skinhead, I had no problems whatsover - save for the fuckwit sitting one row in front of me who decided to send someone a text message during the film's climax. Aaarrgh!

This is England focuses on 12 year old Shaun (a superb performance by young Thomas Turgoose), whose father has recently died in the Falklands War. Adopted by a local skinhead gang led by the likeable Woody (Joseph Gilgun), Shaun is caught at the crossroads when the much older Combo (Stephen Graham) appears on the scene. Recently released from jail, the charismatic Combo is a violent racist, and has soon split the gang in two. Shaun, looking for a father-figure, trails along with Combo and his thuggish friends, with tragic results.

This is England is influenced by Meadows' own experiences, and set firmly in the early 80s, prior to which skins were very much a working class youth subculture, not the violent racists they are generally perceived as today. Performances are strong throughout; especially Graham's turn as Combo, which makes us empathise with the character's emotional pain even as his deeds sicken us.

The use of archival footage to set the scene of the depressed English Midlands in 1983 is restrained but effective; as is the use of period music. Cinematography, too, is used to strong advantage to simultaneously convey Combo's dangerous mental state and his very real bond with Shaun, the fatherless boy he's taken under his (broken) wing.

It's a surprisingly endearing and humorous film, as typified by a scene in a greasy cafe where the gang are confronted by Shaun's simultaneously angry and warm mother; but nor does Meadows shy away from the ugly side of his story. Children and threatened and a shop owner is terrorised as Combo's gang spread their racist wings, and the climax, when it comes, is as shocking as it is revelatory. At no point does Meadows resort to stereotypes, and even the minor characters are well-rounded and well played.

It's also worth noting that a touching coda at the conclusion of the film adds a hopeful note, suggesting that Shaun might yet reject the racist indocrination he has received, and find a gentler path in life.

This is England is Meadows' best film to date, and highly recommended.

Then, last night, I caught up with an old friend, Chiara (who first introduced me to The Sisters of Mercy, among other things) for a screening of the Canadian-UK co-production, Snow Cake.

This simple, strangely satisfying film tells the story of Alex (Alan Rickman), recently released from prison and now traumatised after the death of a young girl in a road accident; and his developing friendship with the dead girl's mother, Linda (Sigourney Weaver), a highly-functioning autistic.

This could have been awful; a sacharine, cloying film; and indeed there were parts of it that I found predictable and trite. That said, it constantly reduced me to tears which never felt the result of being manipulated.

Yes, Weaver's performance as Linda is straight out of the Hollywood guide to playing the mentally disabled; she grimaces and waves her hands in the air with glee, but despite being sometimes heavy-handed she also finds an emotional truth to the character that makes her strangely convincing all the while.

Yes, the film's central concept - the world-weary healed by an encounter with the child-like - borders on the banal. But I still liked it.

Rickman's character is a total misanthrope. "I don't have baggage," he remarks at one point. "I have haulage." His slow thawing (shown literally, in one heavy-handed moment, by a shot of melting ice; an irritating error from director Marc Evans, who at other times uses similarly lyrical moments well) is nonetheless believeable, partially because the character of Linda is never whitewashed; she's not a saint, and together, the two actors work wonderfully together. The score by Canada's Broken Social Scene also goes a long way to making the film work; it never resorts to swelling strings to tug at your heart.

For the most part restrained, yet deeply affecting, Snow Cake had me wiping away tears constantly. Recommended for the less cynical; others will find it cloyingly sentimental, I'm sure, as evidenced by this review in UK paper The Guardian, whose quiet vitriol I couldn't help but enjoy.

THIS IS ENGLAND: Three and a half stars
SNOW CAKE: Three and a half stars

Monday, August 20, 2007

Aaarrrg, me (gay) hearties

Reading about Robert de Niro playing a gay, cross-dressing pirate captain in the new Neil Gaiman film, Stardust, makes me want to see this film even more!

Kevin Rudd in strip club shock!

Good god.

What do you know? Kevin Rudd is human after all, not some bland blancmange of a man who's all soundbite and no soul. I can just imagine the Liberal Party rubbing their greasy hands when they heard Rudd had got blind in a US strip club; and the Hun editors salivating in tabloid glee. "This will take the wind out of his sails," they must have tittered to one another over their port and cigars in a backroom at the Melbourne Club, as they warmed their fat arses over a fire of burning peasants. "This will bring the little oik down a peg or two."

But you know what? I reckon it might actually help, rather than hinder Rudd's election chances.

"Geez, he's just a regular bloke after all," the great unwashed might start to think. "He likes his beers and strippers too, just like the rest of us."

What's next in the (increasingly desperate-seeming) arsenal of smear campaign tricks, do you think?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Spring has sprung

Spring has sprung,
The grass is ris,
I wonder where the birdies is?
The bird is on the wing.
But that's absurd;
I always thought the wing was on the bird?

Forgive me the doggerel, the origins of which are unknown (although in my head, I hear it said with a strong Brooklyn on New Jersey accent, so that 'birds' becomes 'boids'; presumably a clue to its origins).

My first signs of Spring are here.

The jasmine is flowering in the back laneways of Fitzroy, its masses of blossoms spilling out over cracked and splintered fences and rusty sheets of corrugated iron, sending out tantalising wafts of subtle fragrance; and the magnolia trees in Gertrude Street have begun to flower, transforming that grey thoroughfare, briefly, into something softer, gentler and purple-hued.

I love this time of year, even though it means my first bout of hayfever can't be far away.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Highs, lows and Radiothon

So far this week:

  • I've been accused of being misogynistic and anti-lesbian, and learned that the fractious and divided GLBT community is even more touchy than I'd previously imagined;
  • I've presented my most stressful radio program of the year, as part of RRR's annual Radiothon - and thank you, thank you, thank you, to the 131 people who subscribed this morning during SmartArts;
  • I've stressed on more than one occasion about my drug and alcohol consumption;
  • I've started thinking about looking for a new job; one that actually pays superannuation and sick leave;
  • I've told the man I'd like to be in love with, but am not, that I'm neither in love with him nor crying myself to sleep over the fact that we're not romantically involved; and also told him that I'm worried about calling him and hanging out with him too much in case he thinks I'm falling in love with him;
  • And I've wished I didn't over-analyse things quite so much.
So how's your week been?

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Artists & arts workers please read this

Media Release
Monday 13 August 2007

Your Shout
Arts Forum with Peter Garrett, Shadow Federal Arts Minister

Shadow Federal Arts Minister, and ex-Midnight Oil frontman, Peter Garrett will be in Melbourne, this Sunday 19 August at 2.30pm to host Your Shout at the Trades Hall in Carlton – an arts forum where local artists and arts supporters will be given their chance to tell Peter what they think the Government should be doing for the arts and artists in Australia.

“As the Shadow Arts Minister it’s vital to hear what grass roots artists working in our community have to say on the issues that affect them,” explained Garrett. “Your Shout is a chance for those artists to come and talk about what is important to them and to have their opinions heard and considered.”

The forum is the first of a number of events that will be held across the country over the next few months as Peter give artists right across Australia a chance to speak out about the issues that affect them.

“The ALP values the arts as a vital component in everyday life,” continued Garrett, “and understands the crucial role artists play in fostering a healthy and productive community.”

“As a working artist myself for many years I understand the challenges and obstacles that artists in the community face on a daily basis and in refining our Arts policy we want to make sure their concerns and ideas are taken into consideration.”

The forum has been organised by Melbourne based film director and producer Robert Connolly (Romulus My Father, The Bank) and playwright and arts worker Alex Broun, who is Artistic co-ordinator of Short & Sweet at The Arts Centre, and is open to all arts practitioners and arts supporters.

Your Shout
Arts Forum with Peter Garrett, Shadow Federal Arts Minister
Date: Sunday 19 August 2007
Time: 2:30pm-4.00pm
Location: The New Council Chambers, Trades Hall
Street: 54 Victoria St, Carlton South

Review: The Cure live @ Rod Laver Arena

I am, it must be said, a Cure fan. I last saw the band live in 2000, during their tour in support of the Bloodflowers album, at which they focussed on dark, atmospheric album tracks from the likes of Pornography, Faith and Disintegration. This time around, it was very much a greatest hits package they offered over an epic, sometimes self-indulgent three hours at Melbourne's Rod Laver Arena on Sunday night (and incidentally the reason why I didn't go to the closing night film and party at MIFF).

I really expected to like the concert, but confess that there were actually times when I was bored. Playing as a stripped-back quartet, with only bass, drums and two guitars to create what is usually a richly textured soundscape, meant that several of the songs they played lacked depth and drama. Instead, the band made up for what they lacked in volume, but I wanted more than just loud guitars.

There were some standout tracks - 'One Hundred Years' from Pornography and 'Pictures of You' and 'Fascination Street' from Disintegration - but for my tastes, it wasn't really until the encores that the night came alive for me. A string of hits, including '10:15 on a Saturday Night', 'Jumping Someone Else's Train', 'Friday I'm in Love', 'Let's Go To Bed' and 'Why Can't I Be You?' brought the audience to their feet, and ended the night on a high note.

I still missed the keyboards, though...and I was definitely glad I didn't fork out $100 for a ticket!

MIFF 2007 Sat 11 August

It's been a relatively quiet festival for me this year, and a quiet week on the blog-front too, I'm sorry. Promise I'll try and get up to speed soon!

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA (dir Rupert Julian, USA, 1925)

It's not often you get to see a decent print of this silent horror classic starring 'the man of a thousand faces', Lon Chaney; let alone a screening in the suitably-chandeliered Regent Theatre with a live accompaniment on the Wurlitzer organ.

It was with glee that I attended this second screening of the film on the second weekend of the festival; and with rapture that I took in the various delights the film had to offer, including some wonderful scene composition (typified by Christine's first descent to the Phantom's underground lair, deep below the opera house), lavish sets, the iconic unveiling of Chaney's skull-faced Phantom, and - a scene that I knew existed but had somehow forgotten - an early and striking sequence in primitive Technicolour in which the Phantom appears as the Red Death, from the Poe tale, The Masque of the Red Death.

Even for a film from the silent era, the cinematography in Phantom is remarkably static - zooms and pans had already been introduced, though none are visible here; the plot is thin and two of the main leads are awfully wooden. But oh, Chaney's performance is excellent, from simple gestures to murderous fury, making us sympathise with the monster he plays even as we fear him; and the lavish production of the film, including the full-scale sets of the Paris Opera House, is still remarkable even today.

Not the world's greatest horror film, but certainly a landmark one. Maybe next year we could have Nosferatu or Der Golem screened in similar circumstances?

BLACK SHEEP (dir Jonathan King, New Zealand, 2006)

My final film for MIFF 2007 was, alas, something of a disappointment. I had high hopes for this horror-comedy about genetically engineered killer sheep terrorising the inhabitants of an isolated farm; but while the gore factor was high, the comedy lacked the black bite I'd expected; going for the safer, broad option instead.

The plot is a simple one: estranged farm-boy, Henry Oldfield (Nathan Meister), returns to the family estate just as older brother Angus (Peter Feeney) is preparing to reveal - and sell - the results of his highly-profitable and rather taboo animal husbandry on the world stage. Unfortunately, an interfering pair of animal rights activists intervene, and before you can say 'the sheep are revolting', they are. Heads fly, blood spurts, and the hills are alive with the sounds of screaming. The premise is made even more challenging - at least for Henry - by his crippling ovinophobia, a fear of sheep (due to a traumatic childhood incident seen in flashback at the start of the film); or as Henry himself describes it, "the completely unfounded and irrational fear that one day this was going to happen!"

There are some nice gags, and some truly breathtaking moments - seeing a couple of sheep nibbling on human entrails is not something you forget in a hurry - but ultimately, I was disappointed by Black Sheep. Maybe I was expecting too much; if you're planning on seeing the film, which opens in cinemas tomorrow, I believe, keep your expectations low and you should have a good time.

THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA: Three and and half stars
BLACK SHEEP: Three stars

So, overall a good festival experience; skipped quite a few films I'd planned to see for scheduling reasons and work committments, which meant that some of the more esoteric titles I'd planned on catching I missed. That said, I only walked out of one movie, which is a pretty good success rate.

With MIFF over, that mean's it's time for The Age Melbourne Writers' Festival, which will be closely followed by the Fringe, then MIAF... Ah, festival season, how I love thee!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

MIFF 2007 Tues 7 August

Sorry about the delay in blog updates; real life keeps getting in the way: Radiothon launches, newspaper deadlines, the National Day of Action, drunkenness... Anyway, enough excuses; another review:

THE BUBBLE (dir Eytan Fox, Israel, 2006) Set in Israel's second city, Tel Aviv, The Bubble is the third feature from US-born director Eytan Fox, who relocated to Israel with his family at the age of three. It tells the story of a trio of friends, Noam (Ohad Knoller, previously seen in Fox's superb Yossi and Jagger), Yali (Alon Friedman) and Lulu (Daniella Virtzer); their dramas in love; and their lives in a nation which lives under permanent threat of attack.

While serving as a guard at a military checkpoint, Noam briefly encounters Ashraf (Yousef "Joe" Sweid); after which he returns to Tel Aviv and his job as a sales assistant in a hip record store on bohemian Sheikin Street - think Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, King St, Newtown, or the equivilent faux-bohemian district in the city of your choice.

Soon, Ashraf resurfaces, and the two begin an intense relationship. Meanwhile, Lulu is dating a self-obsessed magazine editor, and Yali has begun dating an applicant for the waiter's position in the cafe he manages.
Meanwhile, all three are involved with organising a 'rave for peace'; an inflamatory gesture in Israel, as one scene soon shows.

These characters could be seen as ignoring the conflict waged around them - but as Eytan Fox himself sees it, they live life in a bubble, "as a survival mechanism.
It’s a system where they say ‘I will deal with this today, I won’t deal with this tomorrow’. In Israel, if you don’t have that monitoring, that bubble system, then reality comes in and attacks you from everywhere."

This being a drama, however, none of the characters can ignore the outside world for long, and events all too quickly intrude upon their lives with drastic consequences.

I found some fault in this film - its pacing felt too rushed, with relationships hastily sketched out (but nonetheless believable thanks in part to some fine performances) and events in the final act seemed to occur to quickly to be truly believable. That said, The Bubble left me sobbing in the cinema, deeply moved by the events that occur towards the film's climax, and once again enamoured of Fox's storytelling skills.

THE BUBBLE: Three and a half stars

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

MIFF 2007 Monday 6 August

EX-DRUMMER (dir Koen Mortier, Belgium/Netherlands/Italy/France, 2007)

Oh. My. GOD! What a complete and utter headfuck this film was!

The debut feature from director Koen Mortier, and based on the book by Herman Brusselman, Ex-Drummer is an undoubtedly accomplished, deeply disturbing, remarkable, bloody mess of a movie.

Dries, a famous writer who lives a life of pleasure, fame and literary acclaim, is asked to play drums in a punk band made up of disabled misfits. The lead singer, Koen, has a speech impediment, and the unpleasant habit of beating women into a bloody pulp when he's not walking around on the ceiling. The bass player, who is incapable of bending his right arm due to a surreal childhood incident, keeps his father tied to the bed, and is gay. Oh, and his bald, obese mother is fucking Koen. Ivan, the guitarist, is a deaf drug addict who lives in complete squalor with his wife and child.

Other characters include a donkey-dicked musician, the gay man he rapes in a public toilet, and the young student who sleeps with Dries and his wife, whose thesis Dries mocks yet adopts as a constant question to all he meets.

Opening with a beautifully surreal scene, in which the three band members ride backwards on bicycles as the film's credits appear as stickers, signs, words in windows and on car doors, Ex-Drummer rapidly takes us into a dark and grisly place. Rape, murder, rampant misogyny, homophobia, poverty and racism abound, all shot with spectacular beauty by cinematographer Glynn Speeckaert. The film's tone veers from savage satire to cold observation to frenetic rock video style and back again.

Surreal moments abound also. I've already mentioned Koen, who strides about on the ceiling of his apartment while others stand on the floor below, but there's also a scene in which Dries and Big-Dick step inside the now-cavernous vagina of Big-Dick's harried wife to illustrate the accuracy of his nickname.

There are moments of sublime albeit fierce beauty in the film, too; such as a sequence at a punk gig late in the film. The music throughout the film is fantastic, whether furious original punk tracks, or the sublime sounds of Scotland's Mogwai. The violence is hardcore, particularly the violence against women; this is not a film for the faint-hearted.

Ex-Drummer is a stunning cinematic debut. That said, it's also a deeply disturbing, deeply confusing film. I read it as an indictment of the middle class and their patronisation of the working class, but I'm sure other viewers would have a totally different view of the film and what it means. Did I like it? Oh yes. Did it confront, shock, sometimes anger and often disturb me? Indubitably.

EX-DRUMMER: Three and a half stars

MIFF 2007 Sat 4 Aug

OUT OF THE BLUE (dir Robert Sarkies, New Zealand, 2006)

This confronting and moving docu-drama details the events of a 1990 massacre in the New Zealand village of Aramoana, in which thirteen people died at the hands of resident David Gray (Matthew Sunderland), an unemployed farmhand, a loner, and a gun collector.

Boasting stunning cinematography and confident direction, the film slowly builds to the fateful events of November 13-14, when Gray stalked the town overnight, shooting at anyone who crossed his path. The lead performance by Sunderland is excellent; providing glimpses of humanity among the madness, so that while one doesn't feel sympathy for the character, there are nonetheless flashes of empathy for him (such as a scene early in the film where a terrified Gray hides from the postie, imagining her knock on the door to be armed police with baying dogs). Conversely, a scene where he sits down impassively to eat after shooting his victims conveys the character's almost total lack of empathy and humanity.

The film's style, too, is notable, making good use of visual narrative to convey, for instance, in a scene where Gray sits indoors smoking yet is hidden from view, just how isolated from and invisible to those around him he is.

Nor does Out of the Blue pull its punches. It's a harrowing film, and doesn't shy away from shocking the audience; however it is thankfully never gratuitous, retaining compassion for its viewers as much as the real-life survivors of the event. Skillful lighting, structure and editing build the pressure to almost unbearable levels, but avoid traditional thriller cliches; matched by the screenplay's need for narrative concerns, such as scenes where we revisit an elderly woman huddled on her kitchen floor as the killer stalks outside.

A powerful film that reduced me to tears and numbed shock, and a remarkable cinematic triumph that doesn't attempt to explain or rationalise the terrible events of 1990, but presents them to us in a starkly poetic and minimal way, as to ensure that we will never forget them.

SNOOP DOG'S HOOD OF HORROR (dir Stacy Title, USA, 2006)

Schlock horror at its simultaneous best and worst, this blackly comic and very bloody trilogy of modern morality tales tried to catch the timbre of the old EC Comics but failed to do so in any meaningful way. Rapper Snoop Dogg plays our supernatural narrator, a cocky Crypt Keeper, as nasty things happen to nasty people: graf artists impale themselves on their own bottles of booze, Southern white racists get what they deserve. Nothing about this film was especially new, or especially good, save for some excellent animated sequences, and while Hood of Horror provided a few laughs, its grand guignol approach lacked wit or bite, and the script left me extremely unsatisfied. So much so, in fact, that I walked out - my first early exit of the festival. Next!

OUT OF THE BLUE: Four stars
SNOOP DOG'S HOOD OF HORROR: One and a half stars

Sunday, August 05, 2007

MIFF 2007 Fri August 3

TEETH (dir Mitchell Lichtenstein, USA, 2006)

A cleverly observed horror-comedy that never settles for cliche or the easy way out; a refreshingly unique take on the classic male castration complex; a startling story of female empowerment; and a wild ride: that's Teeth, the debut feature by US writer/director Mitchell Lichtenstein.

Screening as part of the 'Forbidden Pleasures' package at the festival this year, Teeth could just have easily have been included in the horror package, 'Full Moon Fever', or even in the International Panorama: its accomplished, subversive and satirical take on genre-busting so defies categorisation that it could be at home anywhere.

Dawn (a stunning performance by Jess Weixler) is so committed to saving her virginity until marriage, despite the temptations of the pleasures of the flesh that are embodied by Tobey (Hale Appleman), that she's become her high school's spokesperson for a chastity group. However, when Tobey attempts to rape her at the local swimming hole, Dawn discovers that she has a unique adaptation that enables her to fight off his advances.

This wickedly witty take on the vagina dentata myth - that's Latin for 'teethed vagina' in case you're wondering - is beautifully shot, captivatingly performed by its female lead, and gets the gore factor just right. What could have been an awkward juxtaposition of schlock horror and serious issues in another director's hands are admirably balanced here; puns and sly winks to 50s B-movies are balanced out with a sensitivity that ensures Dawn's character never slides into characiture. Severed penii abound - a warning for the faint-hearted and the weak-stomached - and a coupled of notes in the film don't quite ring true (such as Dawn's dying mother) but overall, Teeth works wonderfully. Without doubt, my festival highlight to date.

TEETH: four stars

Thursday, August 02, 2007

MIFF 2007 Wed 1st August

GLUE (dir Alexis Dos Santos, Argentina, 2006)

Sex, longing, defining boundaries and getting high: the timeless concerns of teenage life are beautifully captured in this film set in rural Argentina. Instead of a slickly-shot OC faux-reality, director Dos Santos has constructed a version of teen life that is as loose as its gangly teenage protagonist, Lucas (the magnificently-quiffed Nahuel Perez Biscayart, right) yet equally endearing.

Lucas is 16, and may or may not be in love with his best friend and band-mate, the handsome, masculine Nacho (Nahuel Viale). His life is complicated by a difficult family situation, with a temptestuous mother and philandering father caught in a yo-yoing pattern of seperation and passion. Into this picture comes Andrea (Ines Efron), a bespectacled young woman seeking her own independence from her family yet constrained by them; and both an object of desire and a facilitator of mutal exploration between Lucas and Nacho.

Certain scenes late in the picture depicting family life could be excised to speed up the running time and make for a tighter, less frustrating ride, but that concern aside, I found few flaws in Glue, and much to enjoy. The vibrant cinematography, which cuts from from the wildly-roaming objective viewpoint to subjective Super-8 footage in which the teen characters speak more directly about their concerns and feelings, plays a strong part in creating the milleu in which Dos Santos' characters live; but the actors themselves also give stirling performances. A key scene in which a drunken menage a trois plays out provided real frisson; an all-too-rare sense of the genuinely erotic which many directors could learn from.

Contemplative, raw, beautiful and sensual, Glue is one of my favourite films at the festival so far. If this brief synopsis intrigues you, tough luck; its brief screenings have already concluded. Somehow, though, I suspect we may see it again at the Queer Film Festival next year...

GLUE: Three and a half stars

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

MIFF 2007 Tues 31 August

BUG (dir William Friedken, USA, 2006)

Part of the 'Full Moon Fever' horror program at MIFF this year, the latest film from the director of The Exorcist is an exploration of paranoia and psychological terror. Had it descended into full, infectious body-horror I think I would have liked it a lot more. As it was, Bug just sort of bugged me.

Agnes (Ashley Judd) is a waitress in a down-at-hills lesbian bar, and is pretty down on her luck herself. Her estranged husband (Harry Connick Junior) is in jail, and she's dreading him getting out. She lives in a motel room, and it's here, one night, that a chance encounter with a drifter, Peter (Michael Shannon) leads her into a nightmare of bad acid trip proportions.

Peter, you see, is infected. There's bugs in his blood, and before long, bugs everywhere - soon, they're in Agnes, too...

The second act of this traditionally-plotted three-act drama is high-strung and effective, and certain key scenes - including an ominous nighttime shot of the hotel from high above - are quietly unsettling.

Unfortunately the tightly-buttoned nature of the story - adapted by Tracy Letts from his own stage play - felt constrained rather than claustrophobic, and neither Judd nor Shannon developed the level of intensity needed to convince me of their characters' shared desperation.

The third act, which could have taken us to a much darker and more disturbing place simply by showing us more of what the two main characters were convinced they could see, definitely failed to rachet up the terror, even as the actors themselves grew more frenzied. There's a nice scene late in the film of a free-flowing, stream of conciousness conspiracy theory being generated before your eyes , but overall, the film failed to unsettle me (save for a gruesomely effective little sequence involving teeth and a pair of pliers).

Great cinematography and a director who is clearly trying to do something inventive with the material, but overall, the plot itself and especially the characterisation by the two leads for me, let this film down.

BUG: Two stars