Saturday, May 30, 2009

Meet the Doctor's new Companion

This is 21 year old Scottish actress Karen Gillan, who previously appeared in Doctor Who in the fourth series episode The Fires of Pompeii. Filming on the new series will start in July, to be screened at Easter 2010. Squee!

And in other Who-related news, here's an extended trailer for season three of Torchwood - Children of Earth. Again, squee!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Talking Shit

Richard Watts talks with filmmaker Bert Deling about his 1975 masterpiece Pure Shit, which has just been released on DVD after years in the wilderness.

In 1975, the soft-focus historical melodrama Picnic at Hanging Rock was the acceptable face of the Australian film industry. It, not Burt Deling’s low budget junkie drama Pure Shit, was the movie the Australian Film Commission took to Cannes the following year.

“The Film Commission had given us money to make Pure Shit and when we showed it to them, two thirds of the way through… they simply broke their contract! Never done it before and as far as I know never done it since; [they] just said ‘Sorry, we’re not giving you the money to complete it’,” Deling tells MCV.

“We got the money together to complete [the film], and then we got banned. We got it unbanned – the Film Commission refused to take it to Cannes with all the rest of the crinoline films. All those people were doing their damndest to make sure that this film was never seen by anybody!

“Never underestimate the brutal power of middle class taste, because they just went after us, you know? We were hammered.”

Inspired in equal parts by the French New Wave and by Deling’s desire to respond to the first wave of the heroin epidemic, and the equal dangers of the early methadone program (“Within two years, that [initial] level of methadone was killing people. People were dying of renal failure, which is of course one way to solve the drug problem…”), Pure Shit enlisted real addicts both in front of and behind the camera to present a scathing mix of black comedy and social commentary.

“I thought I was making a drive-in movie with a political message,” says Deling.

Instead, he created a masterpiece.

Film critic and former Sydney Film Festival director Paul Byrnes describes Pure Shit as “an assault on the structures of society as well as its forms of expression. The film is a scabrous comedy, made roughly and on a tiny budget, but with extraordinary energy and commitment.”

Featuring performances by the then-unknown Helen Garner, Max Gillies and Greg Pickhaver (H. G. Nelson), it’s an often hilarious tale about desperate junkies in search of a fix, set in and around the streets of Carlton, then home to a vibrant artistic community centred around The Pram Factory and the Melbourne University Film Society.

“At that time there were some filmmakers starting to come out of Czechoslovakia and places like that,” says Deling, “and we used to say, ‘Isn’t it amazing how these guys can make films with a buried message with that sort of government control?’ Well, we have government control over our film industry, but no one seems to even know about it, you know?”

Such control, through the established funding system, results in a state-sanctioned form of culture which Deling has little time for.

“There are people in the Film Commission who’ve been doing this job for ten years and they’ve never made a film that’s covered its costs. Now, what the fuck is going on? Why hasn’t somebody put the spotlight on these buggers, you know? Asked them to justify their existence?”

It’s a question no-one will ever need to ask of Bert Deling.

Pure Shit is out now through Beyond Home Entertainment.

This interview first appeared in MCV on Thursday May 28.

Review: Red Stitch's LEAVES OF GLASS

A dark family drama about grief, guilt and denial, Leaves of Glass is the second play in British playwright Philip Ridley’s so-called ‘Brothers Trilogy’; and while lacking the bite of his visceral fable Mercury Fur, it is equally unflinching in its clinical dissection of familial secrets.

Steven (Dan Frederiksen) is a buttoned-down businessman married to his materialistic former secretary, Debbie (Amelia Best). His younger brother Barry (Johnny Carr) is an alcoholic, drug-addled artist. Both are haunted by the past, and by their father’s early death; a subject their mother, Liz (Jillian Murray) – who favours trivialities and banalities over hard truths – would prefer to avoid.

The play unfolds in a series of fractured scenes which force the audience to piece together the plot, hinting obliquely at the undercurrents in the brothers’ lives rather than spelling out the painful details. When the shocking truth is finally revealed, it is truly gut-wrenching - one of the most painful and poignant revelations I have ever seen at the theatre.

Peter Mumford’s stark set, divided by transparent sheets of plastic which the actors slide open and close around them, highlights the emotional void Ridley’s characters dwell in; and Simon Stone’s direction of this starkly savage play is restrained and assured. The cast are equally impressive, especially the relatively recent graduate Johnny Carr in a demanding role.

Another fine production from Red Stitch.

Season concludes June 30.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

So, what's up?

Quite a lot, actually.

I haven't posted much in recent weeks, as you might have noticed. It's been a strange month all considered. Two friends died - Leigh from cancer, Josh by his own hand - which has left me in something of a solemn and contemplative state. Consequently, compared to April, when I was seeing comedy several times a week, in May I've been spending a lot of time at home, reading, drinking, brooding and watching DVDs.

Both the guys' wakes were held last weekend, one on Saturday and the other on Sunday.

I like wakes. They're much more preferable to the glum solemnity of most funerals. As you'd expect from such occasions there were tears, but also laughter aplenty, and the opportunity to catch up with an array of old friends, some of whom I've slowly drifted apart from over the years for a variety of reasons...

Josh's wake was the same day as the Eurovision final, which I watched in the company of my friend Sam and a gathering of like-minded souls at the Bella Union Bar at Trades Hall. It was Sam who introduced me to the kitsch delights of Eurovision some six or seven years ago, and I've taken to it like a duck to water.

Unfortunately on Sunday, to continue the animal metaphors, I was also drinking like a fish, which meant that the last half hour or so of Eurovision is something of a blur. That will teach me to go straight from a wake to a Euro-party. To say I was sozzled is a major understatement; on par with saying that the surface of the sun is a little bit hot. On the other hand, I did rather need to blow off some steam, which I proceeded to do in a somewhat raucous fashion.

Drinking certainly isn't the best way to deal with grief, but fuck, it sure helps.

Speaking of Eurovision, once again my favourite entrants - which this year again included the Ukraine, as well as Armenia (pictured) and Turkey - failed to win. Sigh.

In other news, I started a new part time job at Arts Hub - one of Australia's leading websites serving the creative and arts industries - two weeks ago. I'm working there two days a week, with the official title of Arts Editor, essentially as a journalist; generating unique content for the site, including analysis of issues of concern to the arts industry and the cultural sector in more depth and detail than you'd find in the arts pages of a daily paper. That's the idea, anyway.

So far I've written about the federal budget in depth over two features, and explored the impact of a new partnership between the Australia Council and the Queensland Government on the regional arts community in that (currently waterlogged) northern state. It's a great opportunity, and a good job. I'm looking forward to getting to know the sizeable Arts Hub team better in the coming weeks, too - there's quite a few of them!

Let's see, what else has been happening?

Heaps. Some good, some bad.

For starters, Melbourne University is fucking around with the Victorian College of the Arts, to the point where VCA staff and students are seriously concerned about the institution's future. There's already been one or two articles in The Age about the situation, which you can read here and here; and the issues as stake are discussed in depth on the Save VCA website - please visit, read, and consider signing the petition.

Equally concerning is the fact that the City of Melbourne - despite having a surplus of almost $8 million this year - is cutting its arts funding by 20%, or $300,000, which will have a major impact on the independent arts sector in the coming months. Essentially it will result in 25 less exhibitions, events or arts jobs in the next year, which in the middle of a recession, which usually sees people flock to the arts to escape the grim reality of their everyday lives, is a thoroughly fucked situation. I'll be writing about it for Arts Hub this week, and cross-posting some of the details here.

I've only been to see one theatre production so far this month - highly unusual for me - Red Stitch's production of Leaves of Glass, which I'm going to briefly review later this afternoon. The show closes at the end of the month, so you still have time to see it. There have been at least four other shows I meant to see, but as I mentioned at the start of this post, I've not really been in a going out mood lately.

That will change, starting this week. There's so much to see and do in the coming few days and weeks! The Emerging Writers' Festival, which I helped found, is now in its sixth year and bigger and better than ever. The St Kilda Film Festival opens on Tuesday night! The new Circus Oz season is coming up!

In other good news, last week I was overjoyed to hear that an old friend whom I deeply admire, Preston author Christos Tsiolkas, was awarded the prestigious £10,000 (AUD $20,018) Commonwealth Writers' Prize (which means he also gets to meet the Queen - mad!!) for his latest novel The Slap, ; and then to top it off, this week fellow blogger and theatre critic Alison Croggon won Australia's only critic's award, the $15,000 Pascall Prize.

Hurrah, and congratulations to you both!

Now, if you'll excuse me I have lunch to prepare, a flat to clean, dishes to wash, a review to write; and then I have to put up another, well overdue blog post about a series of forums I've curated and am facilitating at the Arts Centre, starting in a couple of weeks.

Time to put my brooding behind me and re-engage with the world.

Monday, May 11, 2009

4th annual Melbourne Zombie Shuffle

Saturday May 9th, Melbourne, Australia.
More than 1000 undead lurched through the streets of the city.
We came, we saw, we ate the flesh of the living.
Or something like that...

Sunday, May 03, 2009

An update

It doesn't feel like a week since the Comedy Festival ended. Did I really see 31 shows and generally laugh myself stupid at acts such as the Barry Award-winning The Pajama Men, The Bedroom Philosopher's Songs from the 86 Tram and Eric: The One Man Sketch Comedy Show? It already seems so long ago.

The last week has been emotionally exhausting. A friend committed suicide, and there's been a work situation that's taken up a lot of my time. Together, these two events have left me totally knackered.

On top of all that, I've been offered a new part time job as a journalist at Arts Hub, which I'm still weighing up; I've been to see a shit film (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, which makes X-Men 3: The Final Stand look good by comparison); some gorgeous visual art by Peter Madden and Joanna Langford at Gertrude Contemporary Art Spaces; and a semi-good play (Leaves of Glass by Philip Ridley at Red Stitch Actors' Theatre in St Kilda, more of which shortly).

I'm stuffed. Time for a Sunday afternoon nap, I reckon...