Monday, May 30, 2011

The changing face of me (part one in a series)

Sharing a laugh with horror film maestro George Romero at Triple R on Monday July 28, 2008. (Photo by Donna Morabito)

May, 2008: Melbourne Zombie Shuffle (Photo: Brian Villamin)

Anti-racist protest, Fawkner, March 1997 (Photo by Grebo)

A punk pub-crawl, Melbourne, circa 1996 (Photo: Ian Cook)

Sarah Sands Hotel, Brunswick, circa 1990.

March, 1986, shortly after moving out of home aged 17.
(Photo: John Stewart)


Photo by Jeff Busby

On Saturday night, the Australian premiere of a significantly overhauled Love Never Dies - the latest blockbuster musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber - was held at the Regent Theatre. It wasn't as dreadful as some people were perhaps expecting/hoping for, but it was definitely far from brilliant.

I've written a detailed review over here, for Arts Hub, but here's a short extract to whet your appetite:

Saved from the hands of a vengeful French mob a decade ago by choreographer Madame Giry and her ambitious daughter Meg, and secretly installed as the master of a Coney Island freak show and music hall, The Phantom pines after Christine, his muse, without whom his life has no meaning and his music no inspiration (opening number ‘‘Til I Hear You Sing’).

Reunited (‘Beneath a Moonless Sky’), the Phantom begs Christine to sing for him one last time, in return for which he will pay off all of Raoul’s gambling debts and leave them in peace at last. Their reunion, of course, cannot be so easily engineered, sparking tragedy, madness, murder and betrayal before the final curtain falls.

For fans of the original The Phantom of the Opera – which this reviewer is not – the story of Love Never Dies presents several significant challenges. Characters have changed considerably in the intervening decade – romantic hero Raoul has become a boozy, bad tempered gambler, while The Phantom, formerly a masked madman who killed without compunction, is now an altogether blander, less threatening figure.

A key plot detail is equally problematic. In the parlance of fandom, the events of Phantom have apparently been ‘retconned’ (from the phrase ‘retroactive continuity’) in order to create a paternity drama that drives Love Never Dies.

Even for theatre-goers who are not ‘phans’, the story lacks cohesion. It ignores Chekhov’s advice about guns fired in the final act being visible in the first, and introduces a character’s derangement so abruptly, and so late in the piece, that it comes across as pure deus ex machina. The conclusion of the tale is anti-climactic in the extreme.

Also problematic are the musical’s songs and lyrics. The latter are leaden and expository, while musically, despite lush orchestrations, there simply isn’t a showstopper; that one grand song which catches the heart in the throat and which audience members find themselves still humming a few days later.

Still, it looks fantastic, and technically it's extremely impressive. The after party, too, was great fun, though I didn't stay too long.

So what did you think of Love Never Dies?

Sunday, May 08, 2011


Lucas Pittaway as Jamie Vlassakis in Snowtown

Last week I had the pleasure - if pleasure is the right word to describe such a disturbing but powerful film - of seeing the new Australian film Snowtown. I've written a detailed review over at Arts Hub, which you can read here, but here's an excerpt to whet your appetite:

Thanks in part to Adam Arkapaw’s accomplished and voyeuristic cinematography, the movie quickly and deliberately distances the audience from the events it depicts. This is not a film which asks the viewer to identify with its protagonists; rather, its actions unfold with the viewer held resolutely at arms length. Tight editing and an ominous score ensure that it remains a compelling and unsettling experience.

The involvement of mostly non-professional performers ensures that the audience is never distracted by stars pretending to be members of a socially and economically deprived underclass (a jarring flaw of Ana Kokkinos’s Blessed); and their presence, coupled with the film’s subdued realism and the filmmakers’ decision to shoot in the locales in which the movie is set, ensure an immediate and unsettling verisimilitude.

Conveying a palpable sense of menace and unease, Snowtown draws power from what it does not show, though its brief scenes of violence are disturbing in the extreme. Shaun Grant’s script is excellent, as is Kurzel’s direction. As Bunting, Henshall is a revelation: an attentive, charming monster, and utterly compelling.

The film is not entirely successful – the large cast of characters lack definition, and are occasionally indistinguishable as a consequence; while the final act of the film ... lacks the palpable sense of tension that makes the first two thirds of the movie so memorable – but overall, Snowtown is a remarkable, albeit disturbing film, and a compelling portrayal of the banality of evil.

I will be discussing Snowtown with fellow critics Cerise Howard and Tara Judah at a special 3RRR subscribers' preview at Cinema Nova this Tuesday. Perhaps I'll see you there?