Sunday, March 29, 2009

MQFF diary Part the Fifth

Work deadlines and other things have slowed down my festival viewing this week, which is why I haven't posted since Monday. I have managed to squeeze in a couple of sessions, though...

Jerusalem is Proud to Present details the turbulence leading up to Jerusalem's 2006 World Pride festival; a celebration of queer human rights which was marred by violence and death threats by religious extremists. How ironic that expressions of same-sex love should be the only thing capable of uniting feuding Jewish, Muslim and Christian religious leaders. The film's talking heads included various homo-haters, a gay Palestinian who had to flee Jerusalem after threats to his life from Hamas, staff from Jerusalem's Open House (an LGBT community centre) and a gay Jew who was almost killed in a knife attack by a Jewish extremist in an earlier pride march. Director Nitzan Gilady's fascinating feature wasn't as gripping a documentary as I'd hoped for, but his skill in encouraging those who both supported and opposed Jerusalem's pride march to open up on camera, and the skillful editing which nicely juxtaposed their comments, are certainly to be applauded.

Ask Not was another documentary that failed to achieve greatness, but which still provided a detailed view of another unjust situation: in this case the US military's ban on gays and lesbians serving opening in the armed forces known as 'don't ask, don't tell'. Directed by Johnny Symons, the film provided the historical background behind the ban (a failed attempt by then President Clinton to lift the ban on gays and lesbians in the military entirely) and interviewed a number of military personnel - although women's experiences were largely absent - including a retired Coast Guard rear-admiral, and a soldier on active duty in Iraq, about their experiences.

The film also follows a group of gay ex-army men as they visit and speak about 'don't ask don't tell' at US colleges and universities as part of the 'Call to Duty' tour;, and documents demonstrations by members of Soulforce's 'Right to Serve' campaign as they attempt to sign up and are refused on the basis of their sexuality. Frankly I could have done with less of the latter, and more interviews with actual military personnel, but knowing how difficult it can be to get people speaking on the record I imagine the filmmaker had to go with what he had.

The film makes many valid points, including comparing the ban on gays and lesbians in the armed forces to the way that African Americans used to be segregated in the military; and points out the futility of banning willing would-be soldiers on the basis of their sexuality at a time when violent criminals are being allowed to enlist in order to boost dwindling recruitment targets; but ultimately, I concur with another review of Ask Not which describes the film as 'well-intentioned but unfocused'. There's no emotional resonance to really hook you in, and too many story elements jostling for your attention for this documentary to really work. Its unjust subject is an important one, but this film lacks the polish and the punch that would really make viewers care.

The Spanish feature Boystown (Chuecatown) is a light and lively story of love, murder and gentrification set in Chueca, a trendy district of Madrid. Here, the lives of the comic-book loving Rey(Carlos Fuentes) and his driving instructor husband Leo (Pepon Nieto), two scruffy, slobbish bears, are thrown into chaos when psychotic real estate agent Victor (Pablo Puyol) starts killing Chueca's elderly women in order to get his manicured hands on their apartments. When their neighbour becomes one of Victor's victims and leaves her flat to Rey in her will, he moves his gorgon of a mother, Antonia (Concha Velasco), into the now-vacant apartment - much to Leo's horror. With their relationship faltering because of Antonia's dislike for Leo, the situation is complicated further when a neurotic police detective, Mila (Rosa Maria Sarda) and her son and partner, Luis (Eduard Soto) begins to suspect Leo of being the killer.

The central relationship between Rey and Leo, and the on-screen chemistry between Fuentes and Nieto, are the best things about this at times awkward film. The coarse, plump pair are a far cry from the slim, sophisticated gay couples usually seen on screen, and provide director Juan Flahn with an opportunity to mock gay body fascism as well as urban gentrification. While briskly paced and colourful, I found most of the comedy elements overplayed, with the saving grace being the barbed banter between the wonderfully vile Antonia and the beleagured bear, Leo. Overall, Boystown is solid enough, but the balance between comedy and drama is uneven, and the fact that Victor is shown early on to be the killer denies the film the opportunity to enter thriller territory, which could have provided the film with a sharper edge.

Find Part the First of my MQFF journal here, Part the Second here, Part the Third here and Part the Fourth here. Additional MQFF reviews can be read here, and also on Twittter by following rperdio and walypala. Alternatively just go to Twitter and search for 'MQFF'.

Monday, March 23, 2009

MQFF diary Part the Fourth

An endearing Swedish drama about love and family, Patrik 1.5 aka Patrik, Age 1.5 sees gay couple Göran (Gustaf Skarsgård) and Sven Skoogh (Torkel Peterson) moving into a new home in preparation for the impending adoption of their baby son. Stresses soon arise over difficulties with the neighbours, not all of whom are thrilled about the pair moving in next door, and are compounded by Sven's drinking and his relationship with his ex-wife; but when, due to a clerical error, the couple are lumbered with a homophobic 15-year old with a criminal past (Tom Ljungman) instead of the one and a half year old boy they were expecting, fault lines rapidly begin to emerge in the Skooghs' relationship.

Like many genre films - for Patrik 1.5 is eventually a contemporary take on the rom-com formula - the joy of this movie is not the fairly predictable outcome, but the unexpected twists the story takes in getting there. Strong production values, a solid script that mostly manages to avoid trite sentiment and false notes, and excellent performances - especially from young Tom Ljungman, who gets Patrik's blend of bravado and loneliness just right - coupled with a light directorial touch by Ella Lemhagen, result in a rich, warm and charming feature that will have you smiling long after the closing credits have run their course.

Lesbian feature Hua Chi Liao Na Nu Hai (Candy Rain), a quartet of four loosely overlapping stories set in Teipei, the Taiwanese capital, is the debut feature from director Chen Hung-I. This fragmented, self-conscious drama is the sort of fare that's perfect for a relaxed Saturday afternoon, when you can ease into its eclectic pace and acclimatise yourself to its video clip-style sensibilities. On a Monday night, straight after a shitty day at work, I was too tense to really enjoy its Wong Kar-Wai-lite construction. After two of the four segments I retreated to the festival club for dinner and a relaxing glass of wine, and steeled myself for the next session.

After tonight, the gothic Mexican drama Quemar Las Naves (Burn the Bridges) is my favourite film at this year's MQFF to date.

Given the abundance of baroque elements which make up the plot - a decaying family home, a dying mother, a poisonously close relationship between a brother and sister, Catholicism, tortured homoeroticism and adolescent longing - and that it's the debut feature from director and co-writer Francisco Franco, it would have been easy for Burn the Bridges to descend into a maelstrom of cliche and stupidity. Instead, it's a remarkable, memorable and thoroughly beautiful film.

Helena (Irene Azuela, who rightly won Mexico's 2008 Mejor Actriz award for this role) and her younger brother Sebastián (Ángel Onésimo Nevares) live with their dying mother, Eugenia (Claudette Maille), once a famous singer, and Eugenia's devoted maid, Chaya (Aida Lopez) in a once-grand mansion in Zacatecas. The highly strung Helena and Sebastián are close - very close - but when Sebastián falls in love with a scarred and scowling new boy at his school, Juan (Bernardo Benitez), Helena begins to fret and fume that she might lose her brother and her control over him. The jealous devotion of Sebastián's handsome best friend, the pampered Ismael (Ramon Valdes), is the final spark that sets the film's smouldering tensions ablaze.

Featuring some remarkable visual flourishes, and excellent performances from its relatively young cast - especially Irene Azuela, whose portrayal of Helena could easily have slid into camp melodrama - Burn the Bridges is my must-see film of the 2009 festival. What a shame it only had one screening.

Find Part the First of my MQFF journal here, Part the Second here, and Part the Third here. Additional MQFF reviews can be read here, and also on Twittter by following rperdio and walypala. Alternatively just go to Twitter and search for 'MQFF'.

MQFF diary Part the Third

Like Cocktales, which I saw a few days ago, Short & Burly, is a collection of of gay-themed short films from around the world; and is definitely the stronger of the two packages.

First up was Grímur Hákonarson's Wrestling (aka Brædrabylta, literally 'Brother Tumble', a word from the vocabulary of 'glima', as Icelandic wrestling is known, which describes a move in which both contenders fall to the ground and no one wins). This subtle, sombre film tells the story of two wrestlers living in rural Iceland who are struggling with their love for one another. Denni (Halldór Gylfason) gives Elnar (Björn Ingi Hilmarsson) an ultimatum: leave your wife or our secretive relationship is over. But Denni, who lives with his elderly and infirm mother, has problems of his own. Beautifully lensed and featuring excellent performances, as well as a haunting soundtrack by Hilmar Örn Hilmarsson, Wrestling uses silence and open space to great effect. Masterful and beautiful.

A Scandinavian comedy about the Greek diaspora directed by Nicolas Kolovos, I Am Gay (Jag Äm Bög) is a vividly realised film focusing on Nicolas, a gay man contemplating coming out to his conservative migrant family over dinner. How will his father, his dotting but highly-strung mother, and his yob of a brother react to the news? In a succession of entertaining dream sequences, Nicolas imagines the consequences to his announcement, washing down his thoughts with glass after glass of wine.

Matchstick (Drvce od kibrit) directed by Tony Radevski, is an Australian film that continues Radevski's exploration of the tensions that arise when sexuality and Macedonian culture collide, albeit in a tangential way. Shot in a distinctive style which some viewers found abrasive but which I found compelling, Matchstick explores the impact of childhood sexual abuse through the figure of a man who is literally haunted by his past. Claustrophobic and compelling.

Next up was the Canadian short film Hirsuite, written and directed by A. J. Bond, who also stars as the film's lead - twice. It's rare to see a gay science fiction film, and rarer still to see one that so deftly engages with the paradoxes of time travel. While feverishly working out the complex equations which will enable him to make a time machine, Kyle (Bond) is visited by a future version of himself; a Kyle who is cooler, more stylish and considerably less kind - as well as much less hairy. An imaginative set decorated with post-it notes and billowing sheets of butcher's paper covered in in countless scrawled equations; strong performances; and a thought-provoking plot exploring the way one's actions at a specific moment can cause history can branch off in unexpected directions; add up to a richly rewarding and enjoyable short film.

Writer/director Josh Kim's delightful drama The Postcard concerns two female post office workers competing for the attentions of a handsome young customer who is conducting a subtle flirtation with his postman via a series of postcards. Lushly shot on 35mm before being transferred to digital video, The Postcard is an elegant-looking and beautifully paced comedy of errors, and thoroughly enjoyable.

Last up was US comedy Mano-a-Mano, a lighthearted look at the gay phone sex industry from the perspective of two competitive straight men who are desperate for the one job that's available. Compact and entertaining, it wrapped up Short & Burly on a light note.

Find Part the First of my MQFF journal here, and Part the Second here. Additional MQFF reviews can be read here, and also on Twittter by following rperdio and walypala. Alternatively just go to Twitter and search for 'MQFF'.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

MQFF 2009 diary part the second

As mentioned in my last/first MQFF post, I skipped seeing anything on Friday night in favour of grabbing an early night. That said, I'd already seen a work-in-progress version of SHANK (see my interview with the film's co-writer/producer Christian Martin, and director Simon Pearce on the MCV website, here), so I wasn't entirely missing out, even though it would have been good to see the film with an audience.

Saturday's festival-going commenced with the charming US feature Ready? OK! at 1:15pm. Written and directed by James Vasquez, Ready? OK! is a slight but sincere drama about Andrea Dowd (Carrie Preston), a mid-career woman and mother struggling to deal with her 10 year old son Joshua's fondness for dolls and dresses, and his determination to become a cheerleader.

Josh (Lurie Poston) is aware that he doesn't fit in, but is seemingly unconcerned by this fact, although he struggles to conform to the expectations of his Catholic school teachers, and his mother's wish for him to fit in as one of the boys on the school's junior wrestling squad. The absence of Joshua's dad complicates matters, as does the reappearance of Andrea's apparently good-for-nothing brother Alex (John G. Preston).

While Josh may or may not be gay (though his interest in one of the boys on his wrestling team suggests his sexuality is pretty much a given), the real drama in the film comes from Andrea's difficulty in accepting her son's difference. Andrea's caustic yet sincere gay neighbour, Charlie (played by Michael Emerson - Lost) and her own mother both support Josh in his dream of cheerleading, much to Andrea's discomfort. As an aside, the beautifully underplayed scene in which Charlie chides Andrea for her refusal to allow Josh to truly be himself brought tears to my eyes.

As written, Josh is less flamboyant than the titular character of last year's bland MQFF opening night film Breakfast With Scot, but he definitely doesn't conform to gender stereotypes. Those of you who have seen the superior 1997 French film Ma vie en rose (My life in pink) will be familiar with the ground Ready? OK! covers, but while its dramas are relatively low key, the film never slips over into schmaltz, maintaining believability and charm, assisted by the real life sibling relationship between Carrie and John G. Preston, and a warm, honest and well rounded script.

Although not without its flaws - including unimaginative lensing and a too-easily achieved rapproachment between Andrea and Alex - overall Ready? OK! was a sweetly sincere film that got my Saturday afternoon off to an excellent start.

After a decadent lunch at tapas bar MoVida Next Door (across the road from ACMI, and well worth visiting if you want a break from the fare served in the Festival Club) my next film was Irish cannibal horror/thriller Insatiable, directed by Jessie Kirby. Sadly I missed the first 10 minutes of the film due to mistakenly getting the screening time wrong. Nonetheless, once in the cinema I quickly settled into my seat hoping for a good time. I was sadly disappointed.

Set in the not too distant future after the economy has crashed and the world is faced with famine, this film totally failed to adequately represent its supposed dystopian small town setting (there's no food, people are starving to death and social collapse is imminent, yet electricity is still readily available, people dress well and watch TV/listen to the radio. What? They're not eating bark and boiling their leather jackets for food? You call this a famine?). It also lacked tension, suspense and fear thanks to extremely leaden direction - typified by a laughably bad scene in which a soon-to-be-murdered woman is scrabbling in 'terror' along the ground trying not to outcrawl the killer lumbering behind her. Her badly staged death, when it came, was a relief; at least it meant we could cut away to another (lacklustre) scene.

A poor script and extremely uneven acting - especially from the film's scenery-chewing lead villain, supermarket owner Mr Harvey (Jon Kenny) - added to the film's multiple woes, although some credit must go to Brian Keegan's moody but over-used score. In short, Insatiable was so bad I walked out of the cinema after 50-odd minutes. Life is too short to waste on bad cinema, which is a shame, as the film's cannibalistic premise could have been a winner in more competent hands.

Thereafter I bailed on the festival for the evening; not because Insatiable left a bad taste in my mouth, but because first I wanted to see a visiting theatre production from Wales, Floating (and god I'm glad I did), and secondly I was DJing at The Laird from 9pm. The latter, of course, meant that I was dog-tired on Sunday, impacting on my ability to see as many films as I would have liked, but more of that shortly...

Find Part the First of my MQFF journal here. Additional MQFF reviews can be read here, and on Twittter, by following rperdio and walypala. Alternatively just go to Twitter and search for 'MQFF'.

Review: Hoipolloi's FLOATING

Welsh theatre company Hoipolloi are 'committed to creating new work for theatre that imaginatively engages our audience and makes them laugh' and aspire to the 'creation of strong stage worlds that are unbound by the confines of reality'. With Floating, which has a very limited season at Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, ending tonight, they have more than met that brief.

A fantastic exploration of islander identity; a wild and whimsical ride at the far fringe of theatre; a lo-fi multi-media spectacular about family, community and belonging; Floating is all these things and more: hilarious, surreal, vivid and delightful.

The production's co-creator, Hugh Hughes, plays a character - also called Hugh Hughes - whose plans to leave his island home of Anglesey, off the north-west coast of Wales, are rudely interrupted when the entire island breaks loose from its moorings and begins to float away across the Atlantic at the mercy of wind and tide. This is the basic premise for the story, but long before it gets underway the show has already turned itself inside out.

Hughes - admirably assisted by the quietly charismatic Sioned Rowlands - engages with the audience by speaking directly to us, handing out props to be passed around and examined, stopping the show to explain to a couple of latecomers what they've already missed and encouraging them to apologise to the rest of us for holding things up. His wide-eyed enthusiasm and delight is infectious; the whole show burbles with his energy and vim.

There's a song about the village with the longest place name in Britain: the wonderfully named Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch. There are flow charts and maps, philosophical meanderings and a breath-taking tableau. A vast bridge comes crashing down before our eyes. Audience members ask questions - in the middle of the show!

There's a marvellous sense of controlled chaos at play here - you never quite know what's rehearsed and what's not - and the laughter that is generated by this willfully eccentric production is matched only by the sense that, collectively, the audience is experiencing something wonderful. Floating is a remarkably sophisticated piece of theatre presented in the guise of shambolic disarray. It has the freewheeling energy of stand-up comedy and the pinpoint precision of the best circus acts, where failure is only a split second away. It's a deranged, delightful, madcap and marvellous experience, and I thoroughly recommend you see it if you can.

Hoipolloi's Floating at Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, season ends tonight. Book online or on (03) 9639 0096. If you miss the Melbourne season pop over and see Floating in Tasmania as part of Ten Days On The Island: Launceston, March 28-29; Hobart, April 2-5.

Doctor Who Easter Special: The Planet of the Dead

No news yet on when The Planet of the Dead, the next Doctor Who special for 2009 will be screening in Australia that I know of, though it's scheduled for an Easter screening in the UK. Promo images from the episode have been released though; the above being one of them, naturally, from a sequence for the episode that was filmed in Dubai. Heaps more great images, set shots, news and more over at one of the blogs I follow: Life, Doctor Who and Combom (beware spoilers!).

Friday, March 20, 2009

MQFF 2009 diary part the first

The 19th Melbourne Queer Film Festival kicked off at the Astor on Wednesday night with the usual speeches, sparkles and not-entirely-fantastic opening night film.

This year we were served up the sweet confectionery of Were The World Mine, which two unforgiving friends described as "a trainwreck". They were a bit harsh, I thought. True, the festival does prefer to open with a party-friendly feel-good film rather than a movie of real quality (the year they opened with Infamous was a pleasant exception to the rule; usually we're lumbered with the likes of last year's Breakfast With Scot (ugh) or But I'm A Cheerleader), but I honestly didn't think Were The World Mine was that bad. Yes, its first 30-odd minutes dragged rather badly, but once the actual plot (gay student discovers secret love charm hidden in the pages of A Midsummer Night's Dream and uses it to make all the homophobes in his town walk in his shoes for a while) really got underway, there was some real charm displayed in this low budget cross between Shakespeare and High School Musical.

That said, the entire viewing experience would have been far more enjoyable if a 35mm print of the film had been available; watching a poorly lit, washed out video copy of the film on the big screen at the Astor, accompanied by distorted and muffled sound, definitely did not do the film justice.

The after party was certainly good fun, though unfortunately as I had to present a three-hour radio program the next morning, I didn't kick up my heels as much as I would have liked. For an impression of the party, I refer you to this review by my homosexually-challenged friend Andrew at the damn fine website The Enthusiast, over here.

On Thursday night I chose to limit myself to two sessions. First up was lo-fi indie US indie charmer, The Art of Being Straight, one of several films in this year's program that really is queer in that it explores the mutability of contemporary sexual identity. Written and directed by Jesse Rosen, who also stars as the film's male protagonist, John, the film is a remarkably astute and affable tale of 20-something self-discovery, featuring a straight boy who is starting to realise he might not be a Kinsey Zero, and a charmingly foul-mouthed lesbian, Maddy (Rachel Castillo) whose insecurity about moving in with her girlfriend expresses itself as a crush on the new man next door. Its 77 minute running time was just enough to establish the film's tone and milleu thanks in part to clean, simple cinematography and strong performances, and never outstayed its welcome. A friend disliked the lack of a clearly articulated ending, whereas I felt the open-ended nature of the narrative suited the film's questioning tone just perfectly. Like its protagonist, The Art of Being Straight is a definite charmer. If you missed it at the MQFF, keep your eyes peeled for a DVD release through FQ Films later this year.

Screening with The Art of Being Straight was the US short film The Young and Evil (directed by Julian Breece), about an African-American youth who wants to be infected with HIV and does everything in his power to achieve that goal. Strong performances and production values but not especially memorable.

Next was was the men's shorts package, Cocktales; a collection of five short films from around the world. The moving Auld Lang Syne (dir. Joon-moon So) was a Korean film depicting the belated, awkward reunion of two elderly men who were lovers in their youth; and other example of an open-ended narrative, as well as a rare exploration of the lives of LGBT seniors. Next up was the Turkish film Lot's Wife (dir. Harjant Gill and Koray Durak), a simple but elegant portrayal of the conflicting demands of family and sexuality (pictured, right); followed by an excellent Israeli film with a similar theme, Tryout (dir. Nimrod Rinot), in which a gay man struggles to be true to his lover while being the father he thinks his son needs. This theme - and again, the same ambiguous ending displayed in all the films I'd seen so far on Thursday night - was echoed in US short Traces (dir. Rachel Zisser), in which a father learns the truth about his son's life only when it is too late. Alan Feinstein as the father, Sydney Kessler, gave an admirably wounded yet internalised performance in this quality short.

Last up was the unfortunately jarring stop-motion animation Rick & Steve: The Happiest Gay Couple In All The World, a trite, shallow stop-motion animated comedy which featured a couple of funny lines, but which was otherwise tedious, and quite at odds with the tone and quality of the rest of the Cocktales package.

So far for MQFF 2009, so good. I was supposed to see another three films tonight, but having had a shit night's sleep I really wasn't in the mood; and after hearing a mate's flat-out loathing for one of the films I'd planned to see, Dog Tags, I'm actually rather glad I stayed home to blog instead...

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Lovecraftian School Board Member Wants Madness Added To Curriculum

This article in The Onion is the funniest thing I've read all week. Admittedly it's only really funny if you've read the gothic horror stories of American author H.P. Lovecraft, which I have: thus, I think it's fucken hilarious!

Friday, March 13, 2009


On Wednesday night I had the pleasure of attending the world premiere of a major new work by my favourite Melbourne playwright Lally Katz, Goodbye Vaudeville Charlie Mudd.

Directed by Chris Kohn (whose previous collaborations with Katz have resulted in two of my favourite theatrical experiences of this decade, The Eisteddfod and The Black Swan of Trespass) and staged in the Beckett Theatre at The Malthouse, Goodbye Vaudeville Charlie Mudd - henceforth Vaudeville for short - is a darkly comic gothic melodrama set in the damp, decaying theatre of one Charlie Mudd Esquire, impresario and MC, on the eve of the Great War in 1914.

To Charlie Mudd's Vaudeville Castle on the banks of the flood-prone Swanston River comes Violet (Julia Zemiro), a singer of some renown. Strangely, her new employer Mr Mudd and her fellow performers - the pianist Mr Bones (Mark Jones), illusionist and magic-worker The Great Allarkini (Alex Menglet), ventriloquist Maude (Christen O'Leary) and her foul-mouthed puppet, and Mudd's mute acrobat brother Knuckles (Matt Wilson) - insist on calling Violet by the name of her predecessor, Ethelyn Rairity. Apparently it's because Mudd isn't good with names, but as we soon learn, there are darker reasons for Violet's new nomenclature...

Little of substance happens in the first act of Vaudeville: characters are introduced and the scene set, although watch for the way Violet/Ethelyn suddenly and unexpectedly inhabits her role as a hint of what's to come...

Not until after interval, during which one year passes by, does the plot really gets underway. And what a plot! A story of possession, incest, multiple murders, ghosts and more plays out on a remarkable set, designed by Jonathon Oxlade, which brings Mudd's theatre to life in all its intricately detailed and faded glory.

From its opening moments, when Mr Bones steps out from behind the curtain in blackface and addresses the audience in the cliched cadences of a black and white minstrel, these production is steeped in period flourishes, thanks to Katz and Kohn's detailed researches into the popular theatre of the day. With its original songs inspired by music hall melodies, its stunts, illusions and circus tricks, the play both evokes and eulogises the faded days of vaudeville; and by employing the casual racism of the day, brings an edge to what could otherwise have been an gleefully eccentric exercise in comedic nostalgia.

Performances are excellent overall, especially the melancholic clowning of Circus Oz alumnus Matt Wilson, and Jones as the by turns bumbling and heartfelt Mr Bones; the hilariously vulgar jokes made by Maude's dummy had me hooting with mirth; and as mentioned above, the production design is magnificent. As well as performing, Mark Jones also composed all the music for the show, and he performs it magnificently.

That said, Goodbye Vaudeville Charlie Mudd is a flawed work. While the first half of the show is too light, lacking much in the way of narrative development, the second half is too thickly crowded with plot hooks and narrative twists; so much so that the ending - or rather multiple endings - felt over long and slightly laboured, despite the emotion implicit in many of the play's final scenes. The character of Charlie Mudd himself felt underdeveloped in comparison to the rest of the cast of larger-than-life characters, as did the all-important relationship between Mudd and Violet/Ethelyn, resulting in a hollowness at the heart of the play where there should have been a tangible and passionate tension.

That said, Kohn's direction brings so many of the play's grotesque moments to vividly realised life; and for the most part the story rattles along with gusto. I was almost always enthralled by the vivid evocation of the lost art of vaudeville which fuels this generally fine production, and as its season continues I have no doubt that its narrative will tighten up and find the cohesion it deserves.

Goodbye Vaudeville Charlie Mudd at The Malthouse until March 28. Bookings on (03) 9685 5111 or

Wednesday, March 11, 2009


Populated by two dimensional characters - a Big Brain (script doctor Ben Hecht), a Big Guy (director Fleming) and the Big Shot (producer David O Selznick) as they're referred to at one point, and the Big Shot's secretary (the little seen Marg Downey) - and mechanically directed by Bruce Beresford, Moonlight and Magnolias is a laboured and lacklustre play about the behind-the-scenes dramas involved in writing the screenplay for that classic Hollywood melodrama, Gone With The Wind.

The backstory for the play is fascinating - production on the film had ground to a halt and Selznick was losing $50,000 a day, so the movie magnate (played by Patrick Brammall) pulled in Hecht (Nicholas Hammond) and Fleming (Stephen Lovatt) to help him hammer out a workable screenplay based on Margaret Mitchell's sprawling Civil War novel.

In theory this should be the basis for a great production, but Ron Hutchinson's script never goes anywhere: it's full of sound and fury - well, arguments, anyway - but is drawn in such broad strokes that there is no room for character development or subtlety. Hecht's politics - his desire to engage with the novel's questionable stance around issues of race and class - are used as clumsy jokes; and the play's three streams - slapstick, social commentary and cinema history - rest uneasily together, never gelling together into a believeable whole.

As Selnick, Patrick Brammall was the outstanding cast member, aided by having some of the best lines, though his second act line about "sucking the collective dicks of the great unwashed" struck me as lacking any real emotion.

Ultimately I found this play rather lacking in entertainment value, though be the fair the opening night audience around me were lapping it up and laughing uproariously, leaving me to suspect once again that I'm not really the right demographic for the MTC...

Melbourne Theatre Company presents
Moonlight and Magnolias
by Ron Hutchinson

Venue: the Arts Centre, Playhouse
Dates: 21 February to 28 March
Opening night: Thursday 26 February at 8:00pm
Tickets: From $58.20 (Under 30s – $30)
Bookings: MTC Theatre Box Office 03 8688 0888 or