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: 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: 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... 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!