Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Drawing to an end...

It's the second-last day of the year; another of these pleasantly cool so-called summer days Melbourne has been having lately. In fact it's been the coldest December on record for years, which no doubt annoys the sun-lovers and beach-goers (not to mention gives weight to the 'there's no such thing as climate change' wingnuts), but which this particular heat-hating homo is rather enjoying - especially since I'm off work until January 5 and lack air-conditioning in my inner-city domicile.

Speaking of work.... Sigh. A couple of weeks ago, my boss announced that he was going to axe my brand new baby - the arts magazine Canvas - after only five issues, because the economic downturn meant that it wasn't attracting enough ads and so publishing it was no longer financially viable. Instead of being a stand alone magazine, it's now a two-page 'supplement' in MCV, the LGBT newspaper I was editor of until three months ago; a depressing situation to say the least.

At least I still have a job: as of January I take over as the online editor for Evolution Publishing's centralised website, which hosts the various titles the company publishes around the country. The only problem is, I'm not really sure I want to be the online editor - partially because I lack the necessary skills, and would need some major re-training; but also because I'm a bit disheartened by the way Canvas was dropped so quickly. Basically, I'm questioning my future at the company, I guess. Probably not a sentiment I should be writing about online, as I never know who's reading this blog, but what the hell. I self-censor myself enough on here as it is.

That said, I've also had a couple of friends suggest that retraining is a good thing - a new skill set always looks good on a resume - and besides which, becoming the online editor could lead in all sorts of interesting and creative directions in the future. We'll see. Certainly I'm not going to quit overnight. I just need to keep my options open, I guess.

So, since I have the week off, I should be making the most of the opportunity to bring my CV up to date and starting to consider said options. Do I want to keep working in publishing? Should I go back to arts administration? Maybe it's time to step across into the corporate world? I dunno...

I should also be writing - either working on a screenplay I've been contemplating, or re-drafting my novel; doing something creative at any rate. Instead I spent most of yesterday recovering from a karaoke-induced hangover (Sunday night was well worth Monday's pain however - a few good mates in a private booth and a lot of booze makes for a most entertaining evening) and watching some brainless DVDs: namely, the mildly amusing Hollywood satire Tropic Thunder, and Neil (Dog Soldiers, The Descent) Marshall's exceptionally silly post-apocalypse movie Doomsday, featuring: A killer virus! Scotland sealed off from the outside world! Punk survivors on the rampage in Glasgow! A rival community led by Malcolm McDowell as a mad doctor who are re-creating the Middle Ages ! A leather-clad heroine with a remote-control artificial eye! Explosions! Adam and the Ants and Siouxsie and the Banshees on the sountrack! Severed heads aplenty!

Daft as it sounds, and as mad as much of the plot is, Doomsday looks good and has an appropriately kinetic, retro feel that's part Mad Max II, part Escape from New York, with a hefty dash of 28 Days Later; so even while I was laughing at the often ludicrous set-up of the story, I still enjoyed it - sort of. Certainly the stunts, set-pieces and gore quotiant are high, if you like that sort of thing - which I definitely do. Just don't expect any originality, intelligence, well-developed characters or a coherent plot from Doomsday and you'll be fine.

This morning I've just been procrastinating - and trying to get Outlook to work properly, since it's suddenly decided to stop sending and receiving email. Stupid fucking computer programs.

Hmm. That's odd. I was going to make this entry a look back at the year and a wrap up of some of the cultural highlights and lowlights I've experienced in the last 12 months. It was also going to be a recap of what I've been up to lately - watching The Day The Earth Stood Still at IMAX (The Day The Earth Fell Flat more like it), DJing at The Laird, surviving another family Christmas in Canberra with my religious relatives, reading the latest Torchwood novels (and at this point I'll give a quick shout-out to James Goss, whose novel Almost Perfect is something that every Torchwood fan should read) - but it seems to have got away from me.

Oh well. Maybe later.

Happy new year, everybody. I hope it's a good one for you. For me, I'm hoping for change...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Normal service will resume as soon as possible

I'm in Canberra, at my mum's place, for Christmas. Back in Melbourne late Boxing Day, at which time I shall recommence blogging - no doubt with some head-slapping 'huh?' annecdotes about family life at this particularly deranged time of year...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Thursday, December 11, 2008

In memoriam: Dorothy Porter

Dorothy Porter, one of Australia's greatest ever poets, died on Wednesday from complications arising from breast cancer, aged 54. She is survived by her partner of many years, Andrea Goldsmith.

I was privileged enough, over the years, to have performed alongside Dot at poetry readings at Melbourne Uni, the Builders Arms and elsewhere. During my time as the Artistic Director of Express Media, supervising our mentorship programs, I witnessed Dot's laser-precise intelligence, compassion and passion for the poetic form hone in those young writers in whom she saw creative potential above the ordinary as well as the drive and comprehension necessary to match her own boundless enthusiasm; and I saw how she encouraged them, nurtured them, transfigured them. And I witnessed firsthand the alchemy by which she transmuted ordinary words into gold.

Dorothy Porter will be sorely missed by all of Australia's arts community. My most sincere and heartfelt condolences to Andy for this most grievous of losses.


Every night
shines through my hospital

big blue neoned letters
aimed vertically
at the thick dark sky
like a rocket
steadying its nerve
on a launching pad.

Whoever you are
you look like
you're going places.

Take me with you.

(c) Dorothy Porter, 2005

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Culture corner

It's been a busy week, with a few memorable events in the social diary. To whit:

The opening of the MTC Theatre

The Melbourne Theatre Company has long been without a home of its own. Now, after many years, they've officially opened a new home on Southbank, beside the new Recital Centre. So, last Saturday night I trooped along (albeit glowing with sunburn after an afternoon playing in a charity soccer tournament - and oh, my aching thighs and calves the nest day!) to check out their new digs.

The venue itself is very impressive, and an excellent match to the new recital centre next door; I'm particularly impressed by the lack of a balcony in the theatre proper, as I find being seated in the balcony has a distancing effect that removes me physically and emotionally from the performance. The aesthetic of the theatre, with its walls illuminated by lines of text from Australian classics, is also impressive. I also appreciated the nod to the MTC's former home in Russell Street, it's size and tattered state recreated on stage at the start of the show.

That said, the performances proper at this opening night were a bit naff - I mean, Rhonda Burchmore? Twice? Puh-leaze. It struck me as a wasted opportunity to look to the future and celebrate what is to come in the years ahead; instead we got a performance that wallowed in the past. Still, kudos to Geoffrey Rush for programming the revue-style opening night show in six weeks flat (and for playing an excellent Lady Bracknell - could we please have him starring in a revival of Earnest in 2010 please, Simon?), and congratulations to the MTC Chairman, Ian Renard, for allowing himself to be so completely the butt of the joke on stage after his speech.

New MIAF AD comes out

Brett Sheehy, the new Artistic Director of the Melbourne International Arts Festival (MIAF), had his public 'coming out' in the old-fashioned sense of the word at Comme (formerly Miettas) on Tuesday night; one of several corporate schmooze-fests happening simultaneously that evening. (I attended another, thrown by the City of Melbourne, earlier that same evening at Transit, overlooking the temporary Homeless World Cup stadium that's been erected at Federation Square.)

Full points to Sheehy for being so forthright about his desire to make MIAF Australia's pre-emminent arts festival, and for the audacity to speak so bluntly of money in front of a corporate and political crowd - I had a direct sightline of the Arts Minister's face and her smile faded rapidly at that point, I can tell you!

Unfortanately, too much of Sheehy's speech seemed to consist of arts buzzwords, with too few real details of his 'artistic vision for Melbourne and the festival' (as promised by the invitation) actually revealed on the night. He also lost me by waxing lyrical about opening his festival with opera and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra: it was as if his speech was contrived to please The Age's conservative chief arts scribe Robin Usher (whose antipathy for the programming of former festival AD Kristy Edmunds is well documented).

Still, until specific details of Sheehy's program are announced, I'll try not to form an opinion of the man and his programming either way. One things for certain, he's a great public speaker, and has energy to burn.

J.J. Abrams' Star Trek preview

I was never a huge fan of Star Trek, although I do remember watching episodes of the original series on Saturday afternoons back in the late 70s and early 80s; and I have seen at least a couple of the big screen adaptations actually at the cinema, such was my interest in the franchise. But I long lost any real interest in Star Trek, which meant that Next Generation and all its subsequent sequels and prequels failed to kindle my imagination. But having read enough interwebs geek-goss on Ain't It Cool and related sites about the rebooting of the franchise by Lost wunderkind J.J. Abrams, I have to admit to being intrigued by his forthcoming Star Trek. Which is why I jumped at the chance to see a few sneak preview snippets of the movie on Tuesday morning.

And - wow. OMG, like WOW! The four seperate scenes that we watched at the Crown Village cinemas were startling and exciting; both a homage to Gene Rodberry's original Star Trek stories and an entirely new story. We meet James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine) for the first time; an angry young man who tries to pick up an equally young Uhura (Zoe Saldana) in a bar before getting involved in a brawl. We see him smuggled onto the Enterprise by Bones McCoy (perfectly played by Kiwi actor Karl Urban: no only does he gets the character's voice right, but even the body language, noted fellow RRR broadcaster Rob Jan, who was seated next to me at the screening) where he has a run-in with the Vulcan, Spock (Zachary Quinto from Heroes). In the third scene, Kirk meets up with an elderly Spock from the future (Leonard Nimoy) and has his first encounter with engineer Scotty (Simon Pegg). The fourth and final scene was a big action set piece featuring Kirk, Sulu (John Cho) and a hapless red-shirt.

Like I said, I was never a big Star Trek fan; but there's an energy, a vigour about the four scenes we were shown on Tuesday, that got me really excited to see more. Bring on May 7, 2009!

Monday, December 01, 2008

When celebrities get old

For your Monday amusement: photoshopped potential portraits of what Tom Cruise, Gwen Stephanie and Tobey Maguire may look like in years to come, courtesy of UK newspaper The Telegraph ...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Macbeth Re-Arisen

White Whale Theatre's audacious, hilarious, horror movie homage is a sequel to Shakespeare's Macbeth. That's right, a sequel. Turns out the witches' magic is stronger than Macduff's sword; so even though he's been decapitated, Macbeth manages to return from the grave and wreak havoc upon Scotland once more, aided and abetted by the witch-goddess Hecate, his reanimated wife Lady Macbeth (who's now seeing damned spots everywhere, not just on her hands) and a ravening undead horde.

Written and directed by David Mence in 2004, and originally staged at Melbourne University that same year, the play and its players then embarked for the Edinburgh Fringe in 2006, where they garnered rave reviews ("Macbeth meets Shaun of the Dead in B-grade movie schlock-horror splendour!" raved The Scotsman). Now it's been remounted at Trades Hall, with a cast of 13, a magnificent set of crags and standing stones that's more lavish than most independent theatre companies would ever dream of (kudos to set & costume designer Christina Logan-Bell and set constructor Shane Lee), and some truly spectacular gross-out special effects.

On one level, Macbeth Re-Arisen is a serious exploration of the themes of Macbeth: the natural order has been disturbed by Macbeth's murder of the King, and the resulting chaos is spinning out of control. Characters and scenes from the original are seamlessly wrought into Mence's text, which is audaciously written in iambic pemtameter, and scattered with references not only to 'the Scottish play', but other works by the Bard, as well as evoking the gleefully pitch-black humour of Sam Raimi's Evil Dead trilogy.

Opening with the original 'blasted heath' scene when Macbeth firsts meets the weird sisters, the play leaps to Macbeth's death at the hands of Macduff, then segues smoothly into new material: Malcolm is crowned king, a heart-sick Macduff becomes a hermit, and Macbeth rises from his shallow grave, his neck a gaping, gory wound.

Soon, blood is fountaining across the stage (the scene where Macbeth murders a young man who has interrupted his soliloquy by plunging a hand through his chest is to die for), a zombie army is on the march, and things look black for Scotland. The only light is cast by the appearance of Banquo's ghost, who sets Macduff's feet on the downward path to Hell itself, where salvation in the form of an accursed tome writ in human blood may yet be found...

As pastiches go, Macbeth Re-Arisen is a right bloody marvel. It's full of sly digs to literary convention, and revels in the fact; and is also a gloriously gory homage to 80s horror films. Performances are strong throughout, especially Craig Annis' gleefully scenery-chewing turn as Macbeth, Grant Foulkes as a suitably sombre and sick of life Macduff, and Michael Finney as young Fleance, Banquo's son. As you can tell, I adored it. It's last performance of the season is tonight: see it, or rue that you've missed it for the rest of your miserable life.

Bookings: www.easytix.com.au or 9639 0096, or on the door at Trades Hall's New Ballroom.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Let's do the Time Warp again...

The Rocky Horror Show is so good I've now seen it twice, the first time on opening night, and again just last night. The magnificent iOTA was born to play the 'sweet transvestite' Dr Frank'n'Furter, and Paul Capsis makes a suitably manic and malevolent Riff Raff. On opening night, the role of the narrator was performed by Derryn Hinch; thankfully last night's show was someone brand new, and much better; ditto last night's stand-in Rocky, who unlike his predecessor could both sing and act, as well as flex his muscles.

The simple but effective set design evokes a tattered and fading theatre (appropriate for this rock homage to 50s horror and SF B-movies), striking costumes riff on the designs we're all familiar with from the film, and the tongue-in-cheek perversity of the show's central conceit stands up well despite the passing of time. Raunchy, rollicking good fun.

On at The Comedy Theatre until March 8, 2009.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Avast II - The Welshman Cometh

The latest offering from Melbourne's The Black Lung Theatre is the result of a three month residency/creative development process at the Malthouse Theatre, where the The Black Lung boys became, effectively, the mad relatives in the attic; locked away from daylight in the Tower Theatre and dreaming feverish and macabrely beautiful dreams. The results are amazing.

A nominal prequel to the company's first ever production, Avast (a new development of which is also showing at The Malthouse, although I haven't had a chance to see it yet), Avast II - The Welshman Cometh is an all-immersive, anti-theatrical experience; a gothic western exploring abject masculinity in a post-apocalyptic world where God is most definitely dead: the audience actually see him shot down before their eyes.

The Tower has been transformed for Avast II, resembling less a theatre and more the outpost of another world, adorned with skulls and lanterns and graffiti; a suitable setting for the intense yet darkly comical tale that unfolds unpredictably and erratically before your eyes.

Opening with an Old Testament-style preacher (Thomas Wright) offering up a child's hand in sacrifice to his God, we then flash forward a decade or two, to where The Welshman (Gareth Davies), a loner reminiscent of Eastwood's The Man With No Name, encounters said handless cowering child (Dylan Young), now grown up. Seeking shelter at nightfall, they are denied entry to a frontier town whose inhabitants, including the wheelchair-bound Mayor (Thomas Henning) and the Blacksmith (Sacha Bryning) live in terror of the beast that lurks outside their walls. Things progress apace from here, and describing details of the plot become as unnecessary as the plot itself is to The Black Lung.

The mutability of gender and familial bonds, and the threats posed by religion and hero worship are just some of the elements touched upon in this deranged yet perfectly and professionally realised production, which also features a haunting live score (including a touching song towards the end of the work performed by Dylan Young), superb lighting, and a commitment to emotional honesty which is almost painful in its intimacy. Highly recommended.

The Black Lung's Avast II - The Welshman Cometh at The Malthouse, Tower Theatre, until December 6. Bookings: www.malthousetheatre.com.au or 9685 5111.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Movember update - look, it's growing!

So we're now well into Movember, and if I say so myself, I think the growth on my upper lip is starting to look half decent. That said, I would feel better about it if a few more people were donating to the Movember cause (prostate cancer and men's depression, remember?): please go here to donate should you wish to do so...

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Film review: MILK

The latest feature film by director Gus Van Sant, a biopic of assassinated gay rights activist Harvey Milk, is a restrained and subtle masterpiece.

Cinematically, it's an elegant blend of the more traditional narrative structures of Van Sant's confidently commercial films (Good Will Hunting, Finding Forrester) leavened with just a dash of the avant-garde approach displayed in more recent works such as Elephant and Paranoid Park, and richly rounded out with the most judicious, insightful use of archival footage I think I've ever seen. Emotionally, it's a rich, warm, tragic and inspiring film that will inspire audiences as well as reduce them to tears.

Milk, a New Yorker who relocated to San Francisco in the early 70s, became - in November 1977 - the first openly gay man elected to public office in the USA. Instrumental in defeating an amendment that would have seen gay and lesbian teachers sacked from their jobs in California, Milk was an inspiration to thousands: a proudly outspoken homosexual who, by example, showed that bigotry and self-hate didn't have to dictate how you lived your life.

On November 27, 1978, Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone were gunned down in City Hall by an embittered colleague, former policeman Dan White.

Milk opens with archival black and white footage from the 1950s and 1960s of police raids on gay bars: a grim reminder of the world that gay men of Milk's generation grew up in. When we meet Milk himself (Sean Penn), he is sitting at his kitchen table making a tape-recording to be played in the event of his death. It's this narrative device - based on an actual recording Milk made due to the number of death threats he received only weeks before he was killed - which frames the film. We return to this scene intermittently, with Penn as Milk providing a context or an rationale for certain sequences, but for most of its running time the film unfolds seamlessly, without need for narrative interjection.

Screenplay writer Dustin Lance Black's meticulous research, and the production's attention to detail (the look and style of the 70s is deftly re-created, but never feels forced or laid on with a trowel) bring the story to a beautifully realised, three dimensional life. And unlike standard biopics, which are often so intent on covering key events in their subject's life that they lack cohesion or flow, Milk binds its various aspects - political drama, romance, social justice, character study - into a seamless and fluid whole.

The addition of archival footage, as previously mentioned, not only adds to the film's air of historical vermisilitude, but helps advance the story in a classic example of the filmmaker's mantra, 'show, don't tell'. We see the changing nature of Castro Street as Milk and his ilk transform the district from decaying working class neighbourhood to burgeoning gay ghetto; we witness firsthand the emerging gay subculture of the 1970s which Milk was mobilising as a cultural and political force; and - in a sequence which still shocks - we see a shaken City Superviser Dianne Feinstein announce the assassinations of Mayor Moscone and Milk to a stunned crowd of reporters.

Much of the credit for the success of Milk must go to Black, whose screenplay is a masterpiece of insight and structure; and Van Sant, obviously, is the steady but unobtrusive hand on the tiller that keeps the film on an even course, never veering into melodrama or didacticism. But the core of the film is Sean Penn's performance as Harvey Milk. He utterly immerses himself in the role, displaying Milk's tenderness, versaility and gentle, impish charm, as well as the man's steely determination, ego and a boundless energy that burns up the screen. He is magnificent, and I'll be very suprised if Penn doesn't get at least an Oscar nomination for this role.

James Franco as Harvey's sweet young lover Scott Smith is also superb, both in the early, passionate stages of the men's relationship, as well as in later scenes where his eyes betray Smith's bewildered but painfully enduring love as the couple are driven apart by the demands of Milk's political career.

Emile Hirsch as street kid turned activist Cleve Jones is also excellent, as are the majority of the supporting cast, with the qualified exception of Diego Luna as Milk's unstable, tempremental lover Jack Lira. Lira lacks the definition of the film's other characters (possibly - and this is only conjecture on my behalf - because he was unpopular with Milk's inner circle of friends and colleagues, from whose collective recollections Dustin Lance Black gathered the details which form his screenplay over a long series of interviews) although Luna does his best with the material he has to work with.

The most surprising character in this rich drama, however, is the man who would become Milk's killer: Dan White (James Brolin, pictured at left with Sean Penn).

White, who gunned down Mayor Moscone and Harvey Milk at point blank range on November 27, 1978, ultimately served only five years for the two murders he committed. But while it would have been easy for Black and Van Sant to portray White as a remorseless and violent homophobe, they are instead at pains to show us a complex, conflicted man. At one point in the film, Harvey wonders aloud whether Dan might be "one of us", and shortly thereafter, in a memorably vivid and subtext rich scene, Brolin plays out his character's conflicted nature perfectly, and with admirable restraint, as a drunken Dan White launches into a choked, inarticulate conversation with Harvey at Milk's birthday party.

Ultimately, Milk is a film about one man's passion for equality, and how his ideas inspired others even as he himself was gunned down. It's a remarkable cinematic achievement; a vivid tapestry of emotions and ideas and performances woven together into a rich, restrained whole. Van Sant directs with quiet confidence, knowing that he needs no flashy tricks when working with a script, cast and crew of such quality. Without doubt, Milk is the best film I have seen this year.

Milk opens nationally on January 29, 2009.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Herding Kites: A celebration of Australian writing

The National Young Writers' Festival (NYWF) in Newcastle is not your average writers' festival. It's a place for discussions about writing - about the craft, the practise, the point of writing - instead of existing primarily to promote book sales.

Every year the NYWF features a vibrant mix of performance poets, bloggers, novelists, screenwriters, journalists, zinesters, short story writers, comic book authors and more; mixing it up, arguing, drinking, engaging, speaking and thinking; and they comprise the audience, too, which results in some truly feisty questions being asked of the speakers on a standard festival panel.

I was invited to attend the very first NYWF in 1998, where I spoke about queer zines on one panel and the art of spoken word performance on another; and for several years thereafter, the trek up to 'Newie' each October became a much anticipated annual event.

For the 2000 festival I programmed the spoken word stream of the program, while for a few years after that, in my then-role as Artistic Director of the youth literature organisation Express Media, I helped ensure that some of the country's best and brightest young writers were part of the festival program.

I haven't attended the NYWF for a couple of years now - at 41 I think I'm a bit too old to be considered a 'young writer' - but god I miss its energy, and the sense of validation attending the festival bestows. Which is why, when earlier this year I was asked to submit a piece of writing for potential inclusion in a new anthology commemorating the NYWF's first decade, I jumped at the chance. When I heard that my submission had been accepted and would be published in Herding Kites: A Celebration of Australian Writing, I was overjoyed.

Herding Kites had its belated Melbourne launch on Wednesday evening, at Trades Halls' Bella Union Bar. Edited by Michael Williams (one third of the Triple R Breakfasters and a freelance editor and reviewer, among other things), the book is a collection of play scripts and poems, short stories and essays, comics and zine extracts, that's as ecclectic as the festival it celebrates.
To quote a review in The Independent Weekly, Herding Kites features "well known and lesser-known talent", a line-up which signifies "the NYWF ethos – ‘open to all’ and ‘infectiously participatory’."

Authors - apart from myself - include 'established' names such as novelists Linda Jaivin, Max Barry and Sophie Cunningham, and writer and illustrator Shaun Tan, alongside many of my friends, peers and fellow festival-goers: including spoken word performer and Going Down Swinging co-editor Lisa Greenaway, zinesters Vanessa Berry and Luke You, poet alicia sometimes, comic book artists Mandy Ord and David Blumenstein, artist Tai Snaith, and many, many more. There's writing for every mood and moment, and every taste.

Herding Kites
is a fantastic collection - and not just because my short story 'It's Not Just Cricket' (written in 2002 for a performance featured in the cultural program of the Gay Games VI in Sydney) is included within its pages. Please support Australian writers, and go buy a copy immediately.

Herding Kites: A Celebration of Australian Writing, edited by Michael Williams, published by Affirm Press (paperback, 288pp, RRP $27.95, ISBN:9780980374643)

A book of blood about the crime which inspired the Beats

And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks is an early novel written collaboratively by Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs over the winter of 1944-1945. Narrated in alternating chapters by the young merchant seaman Mike Ryko (Kerouac) and barman turned private investigator Will Dennison (Burroughs), the book is a semi-fictionalised account of a murder and the events leading up to it - the murder of one of their friends by another - written in terse, unaffected prose.

On a muggy summer night in the predawn hours of Monday August 14, 1944, Lucien Carr, 19, stabbed his constant - to the point of stalking - companion, 33 year old former teacher David Kammerer. Thinking Kammerer was dead - he wasn't - Carr weighed the body down and threw it in the Hudson River, where Kammerer drowned.

Both Kerouac and Burroughs were retained as material witnesses to the crime, as the following day Carr had confessed to them both about the killing. Burroughs urged Carr to get a good lawyer and turn himself in; Kerouac helped Carr dispose of evidence, including the murder weapon and Kammerer's glasses.

After a court case in which the killing was represented as an 'honour slaying' - an act of self defence to prevent Kammerer committing rape - Carr was found guilty of manslaughter. He served two years in the Elmira Reformatory for the crime.

As James W. Grauerholz, Burroughs’ literary executor explains in an afterword in Hippos:

'The enmeshed relationship between Lucien Carr IV and David Eames Kammerer began in St. Louis, Mo., in 1936, when Lucien was 11 and Dave was 25. Eight years, five states, four prep schools and two colleges later, that connection was grown too intense, those emotions too feverish. As 'Will Dennison writes in Hippos, 'When they get together, something happens.'"

Although Carr's lawyers presented an easily digested version of the crime to the court, in which the slender young Columbia University student was depicted as defending himself from the unwanted advances of an older, sexually aggressive gay man, the truth of the matter is much more complicated. Writes Grauerholz:

'David is reduced to a pathetic caricature: the obsessive, older male homosexual who increasingly oppresses his innocent, heterosexual victim, finally leaving the younger man no alternative but to "defend his honour" with violence. This was, in fact, the theory of Carr's legal defence, intended to be palatable to a judge, as well as the public - especially in 1944.

There is much more to be said, however, about Lucien Carr's early life and youthful bisexuality ... Lucien did, for example, share a number of sexual encounters with [Allen] Ginsberg in 1944. So did Kammerer: that became clear when Ginsberg's early journals were published in 2006 ... But Lucien never had any sexual contact with Dave - not even once, according to what Burroughs remembered Kammerer telling him often, and undoubtedly Dave would have told his old friend Bill if anything at all had ever happened.'

It's clear from Grauerholz's afterword, and from the events depicted in Hippos, that Kammerer and Carr's relationship was dangerously complex. It's unfortunate, then, that Kerouac and Burroughs lacked the literary skills to fully explore this amour fou at the time Hippos was written.

As written, the characters of 'Phillip Tourian' (Carr) and 'Ramsey Allen' (Kammerer) may get to speak for themselves, but their voices lack clarity, and their characters are far from detailed. Readers hoping for psychological insights into their passive-aggressive relationship will be sorely disappointed. Rather than a complex rendering of their fatal attraction, Hippos presents a thinly fictionalised account of the facts surrounding the murder without ever getting to the dark heart of the matter. Consequently, readers will know how things happened after finishing the book, but are left to wonder why.

Nonetheless, Hippos is still a fascinating book for Beat Generation devotees: presenting as it does a detailed snapshot of New York City life in the midst of the Second World War, and simultaneously providing an insight into the early development of two significant American writers.

Writing as 'Dennison', Burroughs aims for hard-boiled prose but has yet to acheive the narrative clarity and precision which he would later display in his first published novel, Junkie (1953). His eye for detail and fascination for the demi-monde, however, are already on display.

'The place where I worked is called the Continental Cafe. It is open all the way across the front in summer; with doors that fold back. There are tables where you can sit and look at the sidewalk if you want to. There are several waitresses/hostesses who will let you buy drinks for them. Inside is the usual chromium, red leather, and incandescent lights.

As I walked down the bar I noticed a fag, a couple of whores with two Broadway Sams, and the usual sprinkle of servicemen. Three plainclothes dicks were drinking scotch at the far end of the bar.

... I went up to the other end of the bar and waited on two sailors. The jukebox was playing 'You Always Hurt the One You Love', and one sailor said, "Hey Jack, how come that machine never plays what I want?"
"I don't know," I said. "People are always complaining about it."'

Overall the book lacks depth, and its tone is repetitive and listless. There are, however, moments in which one can glimpse the writers' emerging voices, such as in a long, lyrical account by 'Mike Ryko' of a days-long drinking binge during one of his trips in the Merchant Marine:

'It was all a blur to me. I remember later on we were standing in a courtyard somewhere in midtown Boston and the seaman with me was calling up to a second-story window where a whore was supposed to live. The window opened and this big Negro stuck his head out and poured a bucket of hot water down on us.

Well finally, the sun came up, and I was lying on a city department toolbox on Atlantic Avenue, right on the waterfront, and there were all these little fishing smacks docked right beside me with the red sun touching their masts. I watched that for awhile, then I sort of dragged myself to North Station to get my gear, and then had to go across town in a taxi to South Station and buy a ticket from New York. I’ll never forget that glorious return to our fair shores.

It's passages like these than indicate the emergence of Kerouac's own, original voice: a voice which merges the opulent, impressionistic prose of Thomas Wolfe with William Saroyan's autobiographical observations of everyday American life, although the final catalysing influence - the frank, colloquial, first person narrative of Kerouac's muse, Neal Cassady - was still some years away.

And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks is not the suppressed masterpiece some Beat fans and scholars may have been hoping for; its simplistic structure and two-dimensional characters see to that. But as an early collaboration between two writers who collectively, along with poet Allen Ginsberg, cast a long shadow over popular culture and the canon of 20th century literature, it's a fascinating insight into the Beats' creative development; and a valuable documentation of New York City's bohemian subculture before a self-publicising mythology took hold.

And The Hippos Were Boiled In Their Tanks by Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs, $35.00 (Hardcover, 214 pp, Allen Lane, ISBN:9781846141645).

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Dead or dormant?

Richard Watts explores the state of Melbourne's independent theatre scene

A few years ago, things suddenly started happening in Melbourne’s previously-moribund theatre scene.

A rash of new independent companies formed – including Theatre in Decay (established in 2000), The Eleventh Hour (2001), Stuck Pigs Squealing (2001), and Red Stitch Actors’ Theatre (2002) – presenting exciting new work and rapidly winning both critical and popular acclaim. New productions were being staged in inventive locations – cramped basements beneath inner city homes, and in the front seats of parked cars – or in brand new venues, such as The Storeroom in North Fitzroy and Fitzroy’s The Eleventh Hour Theatre.

Today, however, The Storeroom stands empty; and many of the companies who were part of Melbourne theatre’s new wave, including Theatre @ Risk and Theatre in Decay, have either folded or are on indefinite hiatus.

What went wrong? And where are the new theatre-makers of today?

Michael Kantor, the Malthouse Theatre’s Artistic Director, concedes that Melbourne’s “vibrant theatre scene” has “rested on its laurels that were established about five years ago”.

“Everyone’s been trying to, as much as they can, make more opportunities for those [independent] artists; but fundamentally it’s hit a bit of…” Kantor trails off, sighing.

“It either needs new people to come in now, into the independent scene; or it needs, I don’t know. It needs a kick, doesn’t it?”

Kantor’s programming approach has seen some of the best independent productions of recent years re-staged in the Malthouse’s Tower Theatre; an approach echoed by The Arts Centre, where the Full Tilt program was established in 2006 in order to support independent theatre artists and expose their work to a wider audience.

Vanessa Pigrum, who manages Full Tilt, points out that the so-called “explosion” in Melbourne’s independent theatre sector a few years ago was a response to events occurring a decade earlier.

“That explosion … in many ways was a reaction going back to the demise of Anthill, Woolly Jumpers, all those mid-level, medium-sized companies back in the early 90s,” she explains. “There was this vacuum of mid-range companies for young graduates to get their apprenticeships in, so my experience was that many of the young graduates coming out of the VCA, or young theatre-makers around the mid to late 90s went, ‘Ok, there are no companies to aspire to work with, so we’ll create our own’.”

It was this ‘do it yourself’ ethic which fuelled the much-vaunted creativity of Melbourne’s independent theatre scene over the last few years, but as Pigrum points out, such independence comes at a cost.

“When you talk about Theatre @ Risk and Theatre in Decay and Stuck Pigs changing, or going quiet, a lot of that has to do with the personal choices of the individuals involved, the driving forces behind the companies,” she says.

“By this stage, six to ten years down the track, people are in their mid-to-late 30s; they have different priorities and different needs in terms of finances and security. Perhaps for once they want to actually get paid for the work that they do. So then what happens to the company that’s potentially operating in name only, because the initial driving forces behind it have moved on to other pursuits?”

What happens, of course, is that such companies close down or change tack, as do the people running them.

Writer and director Chris Kohn is best known for his work with the independent company Stuck Pigs Squealing, including the acclaimed productions The Black Swan of Trespass and The Eisteddfod. Today he works as the Artistic Director of the well-established and government funded Arena Theatre Company.

“I certainly wouldn’t say that there’s more opportunity now in Melbourne compared to when I was … starting up a company and trying to make some independent work,” Kohn tells CANVAS.

But it wasn’t just opportunity that fuelled that creative boom, Kohn believes. There were other factors at play.

“Probably also around the same time there was a bit of a boom in making work in unusual spaces, in houses and shopfronts, as with Uncle Semolina and Friends and their shopfront, and Stuck Pigs with the basement we had; and our first shows in Melbourne were at Bar Open and Pony Bar.”

While such creativity is still evident in Melbourne today, the nature of making theatre has changed, Vanessa Pigrum believes.

“What I have noticed – and you’re right, I don’t see a lot of new independent companies coming through in that [early noughties] model, but what’s happening is this explosion of work that is in a different, shorter, more transportable form; that sits within a club setting, or an installation setting…

“It’s like there’s a lot of activity on the independent performance scene, rather than independent theatre; independent performance is flourishing, but the form is changing, to more bite-sized, free or short shows that you do six times in one night. It appears to be the generation that’s in their mid-20s that are doing that, so I’m really curious to know, in a way, what happens to that work now?”

Next issue: the future of independent theatre in Melbourne.

This article first appeared in issue #03 of CANVAS magazine.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

CANVAS issue #3 out this week

The latest issue of CANVAS - my new 'arts magazine with a queer sensibility' - is out this week. As always, you can go to the website for highlights from the issue, or pick up a hard copy where you'd normally find copies of the LGBT street press (as well as a heap of extra galleries and other places we've added to the mix).

And what's in this issue, I hear you ask? Well for starters, there's a special look at the art of The Conceptual Villains, an image from whom - Ancestors (2008) - adorns our cover this week, and is reproduced in its entirety above. Plus there's a special look at the state of independent theatre in Melbourne (part one of a two part article), a introductory guide to collecting Aboriginal art, a feature on the Human Rights Art and Film Festival, and much, much more...

Monday, November 10, 2008

Oh, those seductive pirates...

Believe it or not, the Queensland Criminal Code Act still has the following law from 1899 on its books:

83 Aiding pirates
Any person who—
(a) brings a seducing message from a pirate; or
(b) consults or conspires with, or attempts to corrupt, any
master or officer of a ship or any sailor, with intent that
the person should run away with or yield up any ship,
goods, or merchandise, or turn pirate, or go over to
is guilty of a crime, and is liable to imprisonment for life.

A seductive message from a pirate? Arrrr me hearties! It puts International Talk Like A Pirate Day in a whole new light!

Monday, November 03, 2008

What will a new president do for the arts?

That's the question asked by British journalist Matt Wolf in The Times today. Interviewing a range of arts industry types, and playwrights such as Tony Kushner and Edward Albee, Wolf looks at everything from McCain's position on arts funding, to Obama's detailed arts policy:

'Early on in his campaign, he convened a 33-strong National Arts Policy Committee, including the novelist Michael Chabon and the founder of the American Film Institute, George Stevens Jr. The team then issued a two-page document laying out Obama's vision for the arts. There's much talk of arts education, “to create complete human beings capable of leading successful and productive lives in a free society”. Obama wants an “artist corps” to go into schools and ginger up disadvantaged schoolchildren, and there's talk of more money for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).'

The feature also looks at some of the possible impacts of the global economic crisis, drawing parallels with the arts during the last great depression:

'More seriously, Lahr predicts hard times on Broadway. “In times of fear, people don't want to think, so you tend to get musicals, spectacle, documentary. It tends to lower the literary quality of work. And producers aren't going to take risks with unknown products.” Similarly, Goodridge sees poor fare at the cinema. “Film is the cheapest form of entertainment and it has ridden out recessions repeatedly, but Hollywood as a corporate society has suffered terribly over the past year; there have been massive lay-offs.” And that is going to have an effect. “Mamma Mia! is about as mindless as you can get in terms of escapist entertainment, and look how successful that's been. Whereas the failure of the Iraq war films has just made the studios more keenly aware that they just have to produce blockbusters.”'

It's an interesting read - see the full article here.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

CANVAS issue two...

...is out now, and features an interview with Melbourne author Christos Tsiolkas, as well as an exclusive extract from his new novel The Slap (out November 7 through Allen and Unwin). Other highlights in the issue include an interview with Malthouse maestro Michael Kantor and - if you're in the mood for a holiday - a sneak peak at Adelaide's queer Feast Festival; while our visual spotlight in this issue is on the beautifully visceral art of Sam Jinks.

As usual, you can read the whole issue here. Enjoy!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Time this homo grew a Mo!

I've decided to get with the hirsuite crowd next month, and have signed up for Movember. Come Saturday 1st of November, I'll be shaving myself smooth then seeing what sort of hairy growth I can encourage on my upper lip over the following weeks. And yes, I promise to post photos as we go so you can track the development of my brand new mo (I'm thinking a waxed, melodrama villain style mo might be the go, but that might be too ambitious: we'll just have to see what I can cultivate in the time available...).

The money raised by Movember is used to raise awareness of men's health issues and donated to the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia (PCFA) and beyondblue - the national depression initiative. The PCFA and beyondblue will use the funds to fund research and increase support networks for those men who suffer from prostate cancer and depression.

Did you know:

* Depression affects 1 in 6 men....most don't seek help. Untreated depression is a leading risk factor for suicide.
* Last year in Australia 18,700 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer and more than 2,900 died of prostate cancer - equivalent to the number of women who will die from breast cancer annually.

To support my Movember fundraising experience, please go here and donate using your credit card or PayPal account; or you can write a cheque payable to ‘Movember Foundation', referencing my Registration Number 1529901 and mail it to:

Movember Foundation
PO Box 292
Prahran VIC 3181

Remember, all donations over $2 are tax deductible.

Thanks - and go the mo!


David Tennant announces he's leaving DOCTOR WHO

Sad news, but not entirely unexpected: after three years in the TARDIS, David Tennant will step down at the end of 2009. Still, at least we have the Christmas Special this year, and four more specials next year before he goes...

And over here you can see the follow-up interview in which Tennant reflects on his involvement with the show, and talks about what's still to come.

So, who would you like to see as the next Doctor? Any takers for Russell Tovey...?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The nature of optimism

What does the Malthouse Theatre have in store for the first half of 2009? Michael Kantor spills the beans.

“It feels like it’s a season that is attempting, in some way, to respond to a very unstable world,” Michael Kantor says of the first of his two Malthouse Theatre seasons for 2009. “There’s a big focus on making sure we’ve found space to wryly sit back and laugh at ourselves.”

Kantor, the Artistic Director of the Malthouse, has programmed nine productions for the first half of 2009, including three world premieres of new Australian works, and three Malthouse Theatre commissions. Central to the season is playwright Tom Wright’s Optimism, a reworking of the classic satire Candide by the French writer Voltaire.

“This great story … was a satire about the nature of optimism, and yet 350 years later we’re sitting thinking ‘How can we continue to feel optimistic?’ It’s still the same question, because there’s a natural desire for optimism,” Kantor says.

“It’s something that’s always intrigued me, because I’m naturally an optimist, and yet every indication around us should be proving to us again and again that there’s no reason to be optimistic, really, and that things end badly.

“It’s a wonderful story to look back on because its last line is the very famous Voltairean line, which is open to a lot of analysis: Candide, after seeing all the worries of the world and thinking about what is the best possible of all worlds, simply says ‘We must cultivate our garden’, which is exactly right in my mind.”

But not every work Kantor has programmed for 2009 is so cheerful.

To be staged in the Malthouse’s Tower Theatre (an intimate space created for more experimental works) Adam J.A. Cass’ I Love You, Bro is a one man play about obsession, desire and the internet. Based on a true story, the play explores the double life of ‘Johnny Boy’, a teenage chatroom junkie who conspires to murder himself.

“It’s a devastating little piece,” Kantor observes. “It’s a really bizarre and macabre story, but it also talks about how we’re increasingly interacting with each other through mediums that allow for huge subterfuge, and which can be very dangerous, with all the pretence that’s possible through electronic relationships.”

Unsurprisingly, the first half of 2009 also continues Kantor’s exploration of non-text based theatre, including a new focus on dance.

Dance Massive is something that we’re doing with Arts House and Dancehouse; and I think it’s great for us to focus for two weeks on just celebrating that extraordinary thing, which is the absolute vibrancy of Melbourne’s contemporary dance scene,” he explains.

As part of the collaborative Dance Massive programme, which is also supported by Ausdance Victoria, the Malthouse will be presenting Rogue, a triple bill featuring recent graduates from the Victorian College of the Arts.

“We’re hoping to make this a biennial or even annual focus, and built it into a kind of important festival in the process of how Melbourne interrelates with its art,” Kantor says.

Recent Malthouse productions, such as last year’s Sleeping Beauty starring Renee Geyer, and more recently, Vamp, have included a strong musical element, and in 2009 this continues with a new production of Georg Büchner’s modernist classic, Woyzeck, starring You Am I’s Tim Rogers, with music composed by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis.

“I think there’s a little Nick Cave revival going on at the start of next year. He’s doing a tour, he’s doing that big concert that he’s curating up at Mount Buller (All Tomorrow’s Parties), and then in February we’re doing this work with seven new songs by Nick Cave which no-one’s heard.

“Well, I’ve heard them,” Kantor adds, laughing, “and they’re great.”

The Malthouse Theatre’s season one, 2009, January 31 – June 27.


This article originally appeared in CANVAS magazine issue #03, published Thursday October 30.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Canvassing your opinion

As you might know, I've moved over from editing the weekly LGBT newspaper MCV to heading up a brand new fortnightly arts and entertainment magazine called CANVAS.

It's both an arts magazine and a gay magazine, but it's not capital G gay. Think of it as an arts magazine with a queer sensibility, if you like, rather than a magazine about gay art. Quite apart from the fact that there's not enough gay art out there to warrant such a narrow focus, my guidelines for the inclusion of anything in CANVAS are about quality, not sexuality. If it's good art, I'm interested.

Two issues of CANVAS have been published to date, and so far the feedback from both the arts sector and the queer community has been extremely positive. The new issue hits the streets this Thursday, so please check it out - especially if you're a fan of contemporary Australian fiction...

And hey, if you run a gallery, or an artist-run initiative, or maybe a theatre company, please please please think about taking out some advertising in CANVAS. I want this new magazine of mine to reflect and support the diversity of Melbourne's creative communities, but to do that I'll need some reciprocal support, you dig?

Creating a brand new publication from the ground up is not exactly a simple task, and certainly I would have liked more time to develop the magazine, to plot and plan its design, its audience and its content; but that said, I have to say I'm pretty bloody happy with the results so far.

You can check out the CANVAS website here; alternatively you can examine each issue page by page, should you prefer, which will not only let you digest the content, but will provide you with a sense of our emerging design template. Things aren't prefect yet - we're still tweaking and exploring and experimenting - but we're getting there.

Issue zero - the teaser issue - can be viewed here; while issue #01 - featuring a special look at the forthcoming Rennie Ellis exhibition at the NGV, as well as an interview with queer American humourist David Sedaris, and a preview of the 2009 MTC season - can be read here. Enjoy!

And of course, feedback about either issue, and expressions of interest from would-be CANVAS freelancers, are always welcome: contact me at richard.watts@eevolution.com.au or via the website.

Comment away!

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Doing the Beats

Thanks to excellent film blog My New Plaid Pants, I've just discovered that producer par excellence Christine Vachon has greenlit a new film called Kill You Darlings, which is based on a little known murder that helped catalyse the birth of the Beat Generation: the 1944 killing of David Kammerer by Lucien Carr, the youth Kammerer had ardently pursued (read stalked) for several years.

Both Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs were connected with the murder, indeed Kerouac was jailed as an accessory after the fact; an event which he touches on in both his first novel, The Town and the City, and many years later in The Vanity of Dulouz.

Interestingly, a novel which Burroughs and Kerouac co-wrote about that murder, And the Hippos Were Boiled in Their Tanks is about to be published by Grove Press next month.

Yeah, daddy-o!

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Four nights in Copenhagen (part one)

Let's get one thing clear right from the start. My first ever international media junket was paid for by the 2009 World Outgames, with money provided by Wonderful Copenhagen, the city's official tourist body.

In return for flying me over for a crash course in cultural tourism and putting me up in an ideally-located boutique hotel, they want me to place articles about Copenhagen, the Outgames and the games' major cultural event - the OUTcities project - in both the LGBT and mainstream media. So I plan on doing just that. However, that won't stop me being frank and honest about my time there. If I had any negative experiences, trust me, I won't hold back from blogging about them.

But I don't think I really have anything bad to say about Copenhagen. My all-too-brief time there was, in all honesty, fan-fucking-tastic. I so didn't want to leave.

Anyway, that disclaimer aside, here are some impressions - and the occasional photo - of my four all-too-brief nights in the Danish capital.


Flying in to Copenhagen airport from London, the first thing I noticed from above was a fuck-off big bridge stretching out across the ocean which appears to end in the middle of the water (I later found out it was the road link between Copenhagen and Sweden). Then you notice all the modern windmills along the coast generating electricity. Then you land. Bump. In my case at 7pm, but with any tiredness from my loooooong trip allayed by exhilaration at being on the other side of the world.

It cost me 235 kr (Danish krone, plural kroner) to get from the airport to my hotel, Hotel Twentyseven, in the centre of the city. Not somewhere I would have chosen to stay if I was paying my own way to be honest: backpackers are more my style (and price range). It has both a cocktail bar and an ice bar for fucks, and drinks ain't cheap in either, but what the hell; I wasn't paying for the room.

I quickly met up with Jennifer, the Australian freelance producer overseeing Melbourne's element of OUTcities who's here for the conference that my visit coincides with. We share a couple of (expensive) glasses of wine downstairs, and I learn that the city's name is pronounced Copen-HAY-gen; not Copen-HAAG-en, the latter being offensively similar to the German pronunciation; and given that the city was occupied by the Nazis during WWII, that's something to avoid...

After about an hour I decide to go for a short stroll before bed. I don't go far: down the street past a small square, down another, cobbled street between high, narrow buildings that looked distinctly medieval, and which opens out onto another square beside a canal. It all screams age and elegant atmosphere. Okay, I think to myself. I like this city already. Another 10 minutes later I've passed a large statue and found a huge square, and what I thought was the royal palace - I later discover it was, but it was the old palace, now occupied by the Danish parliament. Awe-struck and delighted, I stroll back to my hotel and fall into a deep and dreamless sleep...


...only to be woken by the sound of tolling bells at 8am. Rise and shine: help self to free organic breakfast buffet downstairs, and out into the city. As I'm not meeting my fellow press junket journalists (thought it turned out to be a journalist, singular) for a couple of hours, I have time to explore.

The first thing I discover is Copenhagen Town Hall, the source of the bells. A stately, authoritarian building overlooking the city square and guarded by stone walruses and god-knows-whats. Then I look for an ATM and try to withdraw cash from my savings account. Can't. Oh fuck. Start to worry about how the hell I'm going to get through the weekend seeing as my credit card is already maxed out. Decide I'll worry about that later.

Stroll around a bit more. return to hotel. Use free internet to discover I can't access internet banking either. Panic a little. Completely fail to realise that all I have to do is get a phone card and call the usual telephone number I use here in Melbourne for telephone banking, transfer cash from savings to credit card, and all will be okay. Eventually think of this solution at Heathrow Airport on Monday, while returning home. Doh!

Shortly afterwards am met in the hotel foyer by the urbane, informed and charming Erik Madsen, a former high-ranking member of the Danish Department of Foreign Affairs, now retired, who is volunteering with the Outgames and is coordinating the press tour. He introduces me to the other journalist on the trip, from Mexico City; gives me my itinerary and a huge dossier of media releases, flyers and other info compiled by Wonderful Copenhagen; and - oh bliss oh joy - gives me a crisp 500 kr note to cover last night's taxi from the airport, and the taxi I'll have to catch back out there on Monday morning.

Finances sorted, it's time to get down to business. First things first: wheels.

Copenhagen is one of the most bicycle-friendly cities in the world: the roads are constructed in such a way that the bike lanes are physically separate from the car lanes; raised up above the level of the road so that even a non-cyclist like me quickly felt at ease. I was constantly struck by the lack of cars on the road and the vast number of bikes parked casually all over town. And where the bike lanes cross over intersections there are clearly designated paths across the tarmac showing you where to go; and even separate traffic lights for bikes, cars and pedestrians respectively. Brilliant. It wasn't long before we were confidently whizzing around the city on the bikes Erik hired for us for 400 kr for three days from Køpenhavns Cykler ApS ( Reventlowsgade 11, 1651 København) located in a street beside the main Copenhagen Railway Station.

Said bicycle hire place is, it must be said, located right at the edge of Copenhagen's red light district, and virtually next door to what I think was a homeless shelter and/or methadone clinic, judging from the number of obviously homeless guys and junkies standing around in the street outside, but it didn't feel at all threatening; though it might be a different story at night.

Then Erik took us into the red light district, which is very small - don't expect a Danish version of Amsterdam's notorious red light district; this is more akin to the sleazy end of Melbourne's Swanston Street!

Next, in quick succession, it was on to the Copenhagen City Museum, the Danish Design Centre (did you know that design and fashion are considered among the most prestigious industries to work in, in Denmark? Me neither, til last week.) and then on into the old city: up narrow streets where cars gave us right of way; stopping off briefly at an amazing cake shop, La Glace, founded in 1870; past the University of Copenhagen, founded in 1479, and on to - and up - Rundetaarn, the Round Tower: the oldest functioning observatory in Europe, from which you get a fantastic view of old Copenhagen.

Here's a photo of the Round Tower: it's not one of mine, though.

Next we had a late lunch with Henrik Thierlein, the international press officer at Wonderful Copenhagen, at Cafe Oscar, a popular gay cafe. Henrik, who's quite a character, shouted us lunch: in my case three traditional Danish open sandwiches topped with roast beef, egg and shrimp, and potato and bacon, respectively. Together with a glass of wine, they went down very easily!

Thereafter it was back to the hotel to change, and onwards to the Town Hall, for a formal reception for all the international OUTcities delegates from cities such as Tel Aviv, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City and Melbourne - sadly Reykjavik's delegates had to pull out due to their country's financial meltdown - as well as Denmark's second largest city, Aarhus. Not only was Copenhagen's Mayor of Culture, Pia Allerslev (the city has several deputy mayors who are dubbed 'mayors' of their respective departments) in attendance, but so was the Australian Ambassador to Denmark, Ms Sharyn Minahan, as well as the Mexican Ambassador and other dignitaries!

At this stage, things really started feeling surreal.

Formalities were thankfully brief, and after about an hour the reception wound up, and those of us who were present for the OUTcities conference - about 25 of us in total, including the Outgames organisers - trouped off through the city for a relaxed dinner at a very pleasant restaurant, Madklubben (Store Kongensgade 66, 1264
København). While I would have loved to have spent the evening drinking, eating and getting to know the Outgames and OUTcities crew better, I left soon after the main course was served.

I was, after all, working. And given that I plan to write at least a couple of articles about Copenhagen's cultural highlights, I wasn't going to let this night of nights go to waste. You see, Friday October 10 was Kultur Natten (Culture Night)!

Natten is an annual event that sees Copenhagen's cultural venues - 300 of them - throw open their doors until midnight, simultaneously programming a vast and fascinating array of events and activities. (You can read one tourist's experiences of this year's Culture Night here.) It's been running for about 15 years, and is overwhelmingly popular. It was like being in Melbourne on the night of the Grand Final, but instead of pissed footy yobs staggering through the streets there were throngs of art-lovers, average families, huge groups of friends, excited teenagers, elderly couples and more. Provided you purchase a badge (at a cost of 75 kr - approx €10 or AUS $20) entry is free to everything on offer, as is public transport. It's an amazing night. Just stunning. This is one of the photos I took on the night, which should give you some idea of how the city was transformed on this particular evening:

Leaving the restaurant, I retraced our party's steps to the hotel to change out of my formal attire. On the way, I stopped off at a church that had been been converted into the contemporary art gallery Kunsthallen Nikolaj, as the Outgames' cultural programme manager, the lovely Jane Rowley, had recommended a work of video art that was screening there. I'm so glad I took her advice.

Split across three screens, Romantic Delusions by the Danish artist Jesper Just is an exploration of gender, identity and the fragility of masculinity enacted by Udo Kier. Operatic in its intensity, and coupled with a haunting and evocative score, it's a stunning meditation on impermanence and decay. (Melbourne readers can see some earlier Just works at the current ACCA exhibition, Intimacy, now showing until November 30.)

After changing, I jumped on my bike and happily and slightly tipsily cycled through the busy city centre back to the Copenhagen City Museum. As I'd told Erik that I was keen to see some local bands during my visit, he'd asked around, and discovered that two young indie pop outfits were playing at the Museum for Culture night: Messy Shelter and Jong Pang. While I missed the first band by about 20 minutes, I caught most of Jong Pang's set - which was performed in an 18th century ballroom on the top floor of the museum, and featured a piano, cello, guitars and carefully harmonised vocals.

Afterwards I seriously considered swinging past the Danish Design Centre, where Trentmoller was playing a set, but I was pretty certain it would be a capacity crowd; on top of which I hit a wall, very rapidly deciding that sleep was the most sensible option - especially as I had two more tightly scheduled days to come!

To be continued....

(This was supposed to be a brief post - it's taken me four hours to write so it's probably full of tense changes and spelling/grammatical errors. Stuff it!)