The Killing of a Sacred Deer

November 21, 2017 | Posted by Lesley Jakobsen | Drama Film, FILM, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

Directed by Yorgos Lanthimos (2017)

You have probably already worked out that the title, The Killing of a Sacred Deer, refers to the punishment meted out by Artemis to Agamemnon for his killing of one of her deer – he was doomed to sacrifice his daughter, Iphigenia. Now, I hear you say, isn’t that also a punishment of Iphegenia’s mother, her siblings and oh, I don’t know, Iphigenia? Of course Iphegenia is later avenged and the whole House of Atreus thing kicks off, but I digress…The point is that cardiologist Steven Murphy (Colin Farrell), the Agamemnon of this tale and his family, are being punished for something which Steven maybe / probably did to offend the gods. Their instrument – Martin Lang (Barry Keoghan) – stalks the Murphy family for his own reasons and strangely, it takes a while before Steven, Anna (Steven’s ophthalmologist wife (Nicole Kidman), Kim, their 14 year old daughter (Raffey Cassidy) and Bob, (their 12 year old son – a too-Indian looking Sunny Suljic) find this slithering, wet-lipped, gimlet-eyed weirdo at all frightening.

To say more about the plot would be to provide spoilers, but it is no giveaway, when talking about a Lanthimos film, to say that there is an nasty supernatural element (which is simply taken for granted by all) and that you won’t skip giggling out of the theatre at the end. Also fittingly for a Lanthimos film, there are some satisfyingly delivered slaps across the face, children dragging themselves about by their elbows, bleeding from the eyes, unerotic sex and the setting of impossible tests. The dialogue is, as in The Lobster, stilted, apparently irrelevant and repetitious – there is a lot of cool, carefully enunciated talk about watch straps and percentages of body hair.

The acting is flawless, although it’s hard to know when Nicole Kidman is acting and when she’s being a humourless block of ice. The performance of Barry Keoghan as Martin is a tour de force of poor posture, twitches and carefully assumed expressions. His spaghetti eating scene will haunt your dreams.

The weaknesses? Humour is not Lanthimos’s forte. The jokes (two that we counted) are heavy-handed and we could have done without them. The first half of the film is too slow, and it all takes too long to get to the real creepiness, violence and cringey suspense.

In theme The Killing of a Sacred Deer is reminiscent of The Box (essay topic – compare and contrast the representation of mothers in these two films)but unsurprisingly, in tone it is most like Lanthimos’ last feature, The Lobster. For TVC, The Lobster is the better film – denser and more complete. Where The Lobster is a weird meditation on the human condition, The Killing of a Sacred Deer is pure horror, but better than most.  And made for adults for once.



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Carmen (Opera di Roma)

November 19, 2017 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | FILM, MUSIC, Opera, OPERA, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

2017, Opera di Roma

Border Control, Under the Volcano and Breaking Bad meet in this production of Opera di Roma, disastrously staged & directed by Valentina Carrasco.  Of which more later, but whilst any dumb directorial decision cannot defeat Carmen, it may nevertheless diminish it somewhat.

Set impressively in the Roman Baths at the Terme di Caracalla (one was reminded of pop concerts at Red Rocks), the music stood out, with conductor Jesús López-Cobos content to let it do its own work in the main, and the leads in fine voice.  Veronica Simeoni is a fine exemplar of Bel Canto, although she is the inverse of Callas – singing good, acting not-so.  (Her response, we presume under direction, was to “go blue” in the acting department, and indeed there are quite a few ‘flashes’ throughout.)  Rosa Feola, as poor little discarded Micaëla, was the big hit of the night, perfectly balancing her beautiful numbers with a tasteful and meaningful dramatic performance.

Alexander Vinogradov as the Toreador, Escamillo, was more than adequate and persuaded us that Carmen would throw-over Don José for him.  In this effort he was aided by Roberto Aronica as Don José, stoic in a fairly thankless role.


The support was fine and given the demands of an outdoor production, the cast can’t really be faulted for their vocal work, although there were hints of disconnect twixt stage and baton at odd moments.

Which brings us back to…direction and another basket of modernist tropes, The Varnished Culture’s bête noire.

As a preface to the film, we were treated to several minutes of Carrasco wittering on about making Carmen relevant for today. The absurdity of such a statement was borne out in spectacular fashion once the party started.

Director Carrasco made the following decisions:

  1. Set the scene in the present day;
  2. Set it on the U.S. / Mexican border, complete with tumbleweeds;
  3. Feature bric-a-brac from the Day of the Dead;
  4. Garb the cast in back-alley street clothes;
  5. Parade numerous images of an anti-American bent;
  6. Introduce choreography that wouldn’t pass muster at Eurovision;
  7. Have the smugglers traffic in economic refugees;
  8. Feature kids playing with American guns;
  9. Have a conga line of awkward, out-of-step skeletons;
  10. Make Carmen (try to) twirl seductively with a limp, lifeless snake; and
  11. Shove on a little girl in angelic white as a portent of fate (shades of Tadzio!).


Further comment is probably superfluous but we would respond, seriatim, as follows:

  1. 1. OK, but why? On the other hand, it nicely explains the plane slowly trekking across the sky about Act III.
  2. 2. Not OK, and why?  As an excuse to bash Donald Trump? The Director’s Argentinian loathing of the U.S. was prevalent throughout, from the tearing-up of an American flag to the projecting of Mount Rushmore’s Presidents when the U.S. Border goons assaulted wetbacks or pocketed bribes.
  3. 3. Again, this is a decision unlikely to be commended to posterity.
  4. 4. Edith Head would be spinning in her crypt.
  5. 5. See 2 above.
  6. 6. The skeleton dance was particularly naff but there were shades of Kath and Kel Knight cast over the production.
  7. 7. Oy vey!
  8. 8. See 7 above.
  9. 9. See 6 above, and the danse macabre image.
  10. 10. Yep.  Didn’t work.  Though we didn’t mind the toreador on a high platform, treating the golden bull like a piñata.
  11. 11. Unlike the lad from Death in Venice, no one seemed to have explained what she was meant to be or represent. This meant that she came across as a sort-of handy work experience student.
 So there we are. We might add that there was some interference in the photography for the film, which appeared in a series of ghostly green lines hurled across the top of the Caracalla baths like radio static. We were warned in advance of this and it didn’t unduly affect our enjoyment. The same cannot be said of the high talking, chip-wrapper-scrunching members of the audience at our session.

Carmen is said to be bullet-proof. It is certainly Bizet’s finest compositional moment. Yet in watching this filmed production one found oneself, god help us, wishing they’d build that wall!  One found oneself, god help us, wishing we could vote for that nasty opportunist.




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OK, Corral

November 10, 2017 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Drama Film, FILM, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

Gunfight at OK Corral (1957), directed by John Sturges; Tombstone (1993), directed by George P. Cosmatos.

This legendary reckoning between the Earps and the Clantons was a lot more ambiguous than portrayed in these films, it didn’t take place at the OK Corral, and it only lasted 30 seconds or so.  Tombstone is a lot closer to historical fact than John Sturges’ 1957 effort, yet it takes a fair while to get going, and somehow lacks the cohesive force of the earlier film.  Kurt Russell is a stout and steely Wyatt Earp and Val Kilmer (who has the best lines) is impressive as consumptive card-sharp, gunslinger and retired dentist Doc Holliday.

Earp has done his violent tours of duty, cleaning up Dodge City and so on, and hankers for a quiet life of commerce and recreation.  Why not, therefore, settle in a town called “Tombstone”?  His brothers are there and for a good chunk of the movie, we see them sampling life’s pleasures, going to the theatre, playing cards, dancing with the ladies, all the while ignoring the fact that the Clanton-led “Cowboys” treat the place as their own squalid fiefdom. Eventually, elder brother Virgil leads by example and pins on a star (soon, he won’t have two hands for this task) and the trouble begins.

What we think is the showdown (it happened on 26 October 1881) merely serves as a preface to the surviving Earps’ kill-crazy rampage, in which they seem impervious to bullets, and the ultimate demise of the Cowboys.  Thereafter, Wyatt retired to Los Angeles and died a ripe old age, with Tom Mix a teary pall-bearer at his funeral.  (Dana Delany, as Wyatt’s new squeeze, is spectacularly left adrift in the film, with little to do apart from model some new bustles.  And we would have rather seen Robert Mitcham than heard his narration.)

All in all, this is not a bad film but it doesn’t resonate quite like the classics of the genre, such as The Ox-Bow Incident (1943) Red River (1948), High Noon (1952), Shane (1953), The Searchers (1956), The Good the Bad and the Ugly (1967), The Wild Bunch (1969), or an earlier OK Corral emanation, My Darling Clementine (1946).

We prefer Burt Lancaster and coughing Kirk Douglas as Earp and Holliday, and Rhonda Fleming establishes a presence beyond the merely decorative. (Earp has her arrested for the offence of playing poker – shades of Saudi Arabia – so you know they’ll get together at the end.)  And while Gunfight takes liberties with the historical record, when it comes to the Wild West, as another notable western has it, “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”


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November 7, 2017 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Drama Film, FILM, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

Directed by Michelangelo Antonioni (1966)

As part of the British Film Festival in Adelaide, this 1960’s classic returned to the big screen on 6 November 2017.  It is the film encapsulation of ‘swinging London’ – Preening celebrity photographer Thomas (David Hemmings) swings from high art to low fashion to taking random snaps of lovers in Maryon Park.  But the girl (a typical vacant, open-mouthed Vanessa Redgrave) protests, too much methinks; regretfully, Thomas has too much sex and drugs and rock ‘n’ roll on his giddy mind to notice.

"Nothing suss..."

“Nothing suss…”

After parrying the girl’s entreaties to return the film, he develops the roll and notices some incongruities.  And when he blows up the series of photos, it begins to look as though he has stumbled upon a capital crime.

"Nothing suss..."

“Nothing suss…”

There’s not much more we should tell you about the plot, other than that it unravels in fascinating, unhurried vignettes, typical of Antonioni in his wandering mood. The ambiguity is just right; the clues and signposts are never overdone, and the feel of the thing is uncannily authentic.

The pace is perfect, as are the various (beautifully filmed) scenes of London, including the nightlife and the demi monde, none of which seem tame even 50 years later – one can see why there was much censorship fuss when Blow-Up was originally released.

Central to the interest of the picture is Hemmings as the dissolute, bored, strangely passive creature, who caroms about town as whim, desire and fear take him. His classic lounge lizard face and snippy, offhand air fit the character exactly.  Pauline Kael, who famously chose to dislike the film, described him as “with his Billy Budd hair-do, he’s like a Pre-Raphaelite Paul McCartney.”  But we can set silly and twisted old Pauline aside just for once.

Sarah Miles simpers as usual, but to advantage here. Jane Birkin and Gillian Hills are amusing as needy wannabes lusting after Thomas. Peter Bowles is aptly suave and smug as Thomas’ agent. Curious occurrences, that often annoy in ‘art’ films, here enrich the fabric – Thomas leaves a doss house and hops into his Rolls Royce convertable – Thomas dickers with an antique-shop nazi – he skips out of a shoot and wanders the kind of park where people get raped – he flees a nightclub with the broken neck of a guitar – slightly stoned, he watches some hipsters play imaginary tennis.

The overall effect is hypnotic.  Antonioni made heaps of trash in his career, but with this one, he gave us a genuine work of art.

An homage?

An homage?

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Veronica, by Nicholas Christopher

Waverly Place, Manhattan.  (Image by Beyond My Ken)

The cover of Nicholas Christopher’s A Trip to the Stars bears the fiat, “A novel by the author of Veronica“, as if that were an enticement. Had I read Veronica first, I would not have read A Trip to the Stars, which is a literary proof of the fact that fate is fickle.

Veronica commences thus –

“In lower Manhattan there is an improbable point where Waverly Place intersects Waverly Place.  It was there I met Veronica, on a snowy, windy night.

She was looking for her keys on the sidewalk in front of a brownstone beside the Convent of St Zita.  She communicated this to me in pantomime: turning an invisible key in a lock.  She wore a black coat and a wide-brimmed hat from which long black hair streamed over her shoulders.  The hat shadowed her eyes, like a mask.  I found the keys – a large, odd assortment on an oval key ring.  Thanking me with a nod, she put it into her handbag and glanced over her shoulder toward Christopher Street. Following her gaze, I saw nothing but the streetlight on the corner, snow slanting through its cone of light, burying the fire hydrant in a drift.”

Yes, I suppose I get what I deserve for reading on.  What follows are some scraps of lovely imagery and a few evocative ideas, glued together with clumps and lumps of horrid clichés – a delicate blind Japanese girl, a zany jazz combo, cats with mysterious markings, living tattoos, enigmatic old Tibetans, disappearing footprints, identical twins and ancient magicians. There are symbols galore, signifying nothing – blue and yellow birds, zigzag markings, hourglasses, oranges, the moon.

Our hapless protagonist, Leo, thrown instantly into another world, evinces no surprise.  On the rare occasion when he ventures a question, he is enigmatically deflected –

“Where have you been,?” I asked.

“Right here.”

“Since when?”

“A long time.”


“You do have a twin sister named Viola,” I said.

At first I thought she was going to remain silent.  “Yes,” she said suddenly.  “But we have to see Otto now.  And I need to tell you about him before we do.”


“Was it Veronica I followed to that house?”

Keko compressed her lips, but did not reply.”


When Leo returns from a trip or a dream or whatever it was – in the Amazon, or at Ralegh’s execution – (picturesque but pointless vignettes) he isn’t really surprised or worried, just hungry and thirsty and there’s a lot of eating and drinking in this book; detailed descriptions of New York takeaway Chinese food become tedious really quickly. There’s an unconvincingly mysterious woman and some (thankfully very little) creepy sex .

By now any normal human would be off, but not Leo. No, he stays for the denouement at the top of the Empire State Building (of course), even though he’s been warned about the blindingly obvious.  As you have been warned.  Don’t bother with Veronica.  Go straight to the Stars.

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Manolo: The Boy Who Made Shoes for Lizards

October 30, 2017 | Posted by Lesley Jakobsen | Documentary, FILM, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

(Directed by Michael Roberts) (2017)

Do you know the name of that adorable green shoe in the poster for this film?  Do you know where its creator Manolo Blahnik finds inspiration?  Or what sort of outfits he anticipates his shoes will be styled with?  Or why they are as comfortable (relatively speaking, of course) as they are?  Or which are his most popular designs and why?  Nor do we, and this film did nothing to enlighten us.

We at TVC (one of whom is an adorer of the great man) went to see this film expecting to learn something about the issues raised above and to see the iconic styles, the sourcing of their materials, their production, their outlets and their wearers.  Instead we saw Rhianna stomping about in some Blahniks, scowling at people as is her wont, and Anna Wintour, sitting in a shoe shop (as if). Rupert Everett mentions that his friend Manolo makes men’s shoes.  John Galliano sits on the couch with the Spanish shoe chap. All of them like his shoes. Lots of people like his shoes.  Blahnik is a genius shoe designer. Yup. Got that. Now show us some of the shoes themselves and let Mr B tell us about them, we beg.  It doesn’t happen.

There are lots of lovely shots of Bath, where Blahnik now lives.  But why?  No-one seems to think to ask him.

We had expected Blahnik to be an intimidating, unsmiling cross between Karl Lagerfeld and Pablo Picasso; rather he is a genial, likeable, Dickensian sort of man, in elegant linen and round glasses. Roberts has obviously shot lots and lots of footage of him talking to everyone and anyone about everything and anything, except the one thing the audience wants to know about – SHOES! The shoes are barely included as afterthoughts or background props, until the final third of the film which becomes more interesting.  We see the man himself filing a wooden heel mould and see him drawing some sketches and that’s about it for his method. We barely glimpse the famous Hangisi style of Sex and the City fame – just a tantalising moment of shelves of them in different colours.  What? They come in other colours?  I wonder how Mr Blahnik chooses the colours?







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Taming Toxic People (by David Gillespie)

(Image by Suma Iyer)

(The science of identifying & dealing with psychopaths at work & at home) (2017)

David Gillespie is neither a dietician, nor a psychiatrist.  And yet he warns us against sugar* and against psychopaths, the latter being the slightly less dangerous of the two, it seems.

Gillespie points out that the term “psychopath”  is not defined in DSM, (the book of psychiatric diagnoses), “Antisocial Personality Disorder”  being the closest thing to it, a term which makes one think of Banksy, rather than Ivan Milat.  But Gillespie likes the word ‘psychopath’ – it’s colourful and it’s useful shorthand for “Someone Like Ted Bundy or Idi Amin But Not Necessarily a Murderer”. A psychopath, Gillespie says, is charming, impulsive, needs stimulation and has a grandiose sense of self-worth; but “the single biggest defining psychopathic trait is their total lack of empathy” (which may be due to an anomaly in brain structure). Interestingly, avoiding punishment does not motivate psychopaths, but trying for rewards does. Gillespie posits that psychopaths experience emotions (“gut reactions” such as fear), but do not experience feelings (“the higher order thought models we create based on emotions” such as anxiety). “To the psychopath, information has no emotional weight.  It is all just information. Telling them you like red cars has the same weight as telling them your daughter attempted suicide”.  Gillespie uses the word ’empaths’ to describe the rest of us “neurotypicals”.  Their sense of superiority, absence of interest in the welfare of others and reward-seeking behaviour makes them bad news. In Taming Toxic People Gillespie seeks to advise the sugar-eating, non-psychiatrist empath how to deal with the psychopaths in his or her life, how to minimise their deleterious effects, not how to “tame them”, it being impossible to change a psychopath.

According to Gillespie, psychopaths are so prevalent that he is “absolutely certain there is at least one in your life” (just not, hopefully, an axe-wielding one). No, not all  are violent – he or she might be – gasp – Mother Teresa. Norman Bates and Hannibal Lecter were too crazy to be true psychopaths, but Gandhi and Jesus might have qualified. Gillespie says that your mother, neighbour, child, spouse or boss may qualify. Gillespie’s advice, for those within the purview of a psychopath is – run.  If you can’t run, deal with them, limit their chances of attacking you. If your boss is the psychopath,  “…you must leave your passion for your job at home.  You must become a well-mannered, honest, polite, compliant, precise employee who does whatever they are told no matter how pointless.”  Document and confirm everything and look for another job – but not one at the late Sister Teresa’s “Order of the Missionaries of Charity” which, Gillespie claims, financed the saint’s lavish lifestyle and very little charity .

Gillespie, tells us that the key characteristics of a psychopath are that he or she is-

  • charming
  • self-obsessed.
  • a fluent liar
  • emotionally manipulative
  • completely lacking in remorse or guilt
  • emotionally shallow
  • callous
  • not going to take responsibility for his or her actions
  • impulsive
  • parasitic
  • fearless
  • highly controlling
  • vindictive
  • aggressive and intimidating.

This is an interesting book and contains some excellent advice, but the list above demonstrates its flaws well.  This sort of list appears useful at first and has the appeal of certainty and concision, but its pop-science, tick-a-box nature means that it could apply to a non-psychopath whom the reader just doesn’t happen to like.  Similarly, the statement that as many as 1 in 80 in the general population and 1 in 5 in senior executive ranks could be psychopaths calls for challenge.

His rules for surviving the psychopath “at home” are:-

Rule #1 – Accept you are with a psychopath (“You will not be able to change them…”)

Rule # 2 – Emotionally disengage. (“They do not feel anything for you and never will.”)

Rule #3 – Assume they are cheating on you.

Rule #4 – Work on relationships outside your relationship with the psychopath.

Rule # 5 – Keep your finances separate.

Rule # 6 – Do not have children with them. (“To a psychopath,a child is a means of binding you to them.”)

His very sensible rules about “three important things to remember when leaving a psychopath” are :-

Rule # 1 – Do not confront them.

Rule # 2 – Threats do not work. (“Psychopaths do not fear consequences.”)

Rule #3 – When you decide to leave – leave. (“Don’t look back.”)

These are wise words, as every divorce lawyer knows, and it is these sorts of hints which make the book valuable, despite its sometimes dubious and sensationalist claims.

Gillespie says that psychopaths are drawn to jobs which give them power over other people; they believe they are superior; they can be charming and they will lie, so he says that “the higher you go in any organisation, the more likely you are to encounter a psychopath”. The no-doubt rigorously scientific “The Great British Psychopath Survey” tells us that the professions most likely to attract psychopaths are “CEO” (rather a wide grab-bag) and Lawyer.  Accounting is said to be among the ten professions with the least number of psychopaths, (which anyone who has anything to do with bean-counters knows is just wrong). A surprisingly small number of criminals are said to be psychopaths – although those that are, are lethal. This is all questionable too.  Common sense tells us that there is likely to be a greater percentage of psychopaths in the lower socio-economic strata, because the traits which enable some psychopaths to flourish just as surely doom the rest. And any of the aforementioned divorce lawyers (whether psychos themselves or not), can tell you that the chances of a client’s spouse being a psychopath are rather greater among those spouses who moved into the client’s house the night they met her at the pub, than among those who met the client at an exclusive cocktail party in Cannes.

In Gillespie’s opinion, the number and expression of psychopaths are rising and that is due to the growth of individualism – “We didn’t mean to do it, but we have created a perfect world for psychopaths. If I were to sit down with the express aim of designing a society where psychopathy could flourish, it would be almost identical to any modern capitalist society, or at least, where most are heading very quickly.” On a so-called “individualism score” – Australia came second on the list of countries where you are most likely to find a psychopath “being themselves.”  You know what country came first. You’re pretty unlikely to encounter one in Guatemala, apparently. This chapter seems rather forced, an attempt to push mental difference into the mould of Gillespie’s world view. This becomes rather irritating when the reader is subjected to Gillespie’s fervent Trump-bashing.  Have some empathy.


*(See David Gillespie’s “Sweet Poison” books).

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Being Wagner


(by Simon Callow) (2017)

Wagner was the Richard Nixon of Art: Revered, and reviled. Hugely accomplished and hugely flawed. Shining Knight and Scaly Dragon. So many words have been written by him, about him, for him and against him that when our literary friend Janelle sent us this book as a gift, it evoked a wan sigh – another Wagner book by an enthusiastic amateur, you might say!  Quelle Horreur you might say!

Well, you all ought to be ashamed of yourselves!  This is a lovely book, full of sound insight and as easy to slip between its sheets as with the Siegfried Idyll. That Callow (last seen assuring a dim American dowager that he has Oscar Wilde’s fax number) is the author is not so odd: a long-time devotee of theatre and opera, he uses his theatrical sensibilities and wide research to unlock the artistic and egotistic impulses of the Maestro, all to good purpose.

We don’t know that it is possible or even sensible to try to get into Wagner’s massive skull, but his drive, energy and burning artistic ambition are brilliantly described, in appropriately majestic, theatrical prose:

The Flying Dutchman was the first real music he had ever written, the first music, as he put it, that he had written not from his conscious but from his unconscious mind. Its failure taught Wagner a lesson. The singers in the Dresden Dutchman had had no idea what to do with the music or the words he’d written for them. How could they? They’d never come across anything like it. He began to understand that, if the work he intended to write was to make its due effect, he was going to need a new kind of singer, a new kind of orchestral playing, a new kind of production, a new kind of theatre. Above all, he was going to need a new kind of audience, one educated by him. And he was going to have to do all this by himself – he understood that very clearly. It was a matter of willpower.”

If he was to write the work of art of the future, as he fervently intended, he needed to be very clear about what it was. Exiled, of utterly uncertain future, he decided to write no more music until he had achieved that clarity. It took him five years. For a man out of whom music had poured unstoppably for fifteen years, simply to switch off the flow and take stock for five entire years borders on the heroic.

Cosima and Wagner “made an odd couple to look at: she was Amazonianly tall, with severe, beaky features; he was uncommonly short, with a somewhat simian lope. But it was a perfect match. They were of one mind: his. She saw him as a Sublime Master, which helped him; Minna had always seen him as the needy, difficult, gifted boy she had first fallen in love with. Minna had tried to provide a nest for him; Cosima built him Valhalla…She gave him, in fact, a life fit for a hero.”

Wagner “had transcended the spirit of the Greek theatre into German form, rescuing German art and the art of the stage from the triviality and mediocrity which threatened to engulf both.”

Before Freud and Jung, Wagner made the old myths mean something again; like them, he looked beyond the rational brain. He saw man as a turbulent, troubled, writhing, longing, betraying, creating, destroying, loving, loathing mess of instincts and impulses so deeply buried within us that we scarcely dare look at them. He forced us to do so. He was all of those things himself. Had he been anything other than a musical genius, he would have been locked up.


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La La Land / The Umbrellas of Cherbourg


(La La Land directed by Damien Chazelle) (2016)

(The Umbrellas of Cherbourg directed by Jacques Demy) (1964)

I’ve not been to Los Angeles for years but the town stays in the memory. It’s full of brand identification – Sunset Blvd., the Chinese Theatre, the film studios, the Roosevelt Hotel, the Beverly Wiltshire, The Viper Room…the beaches! The hills! The outlets! The orange smog!

Emma Stone (the fresh-faced, bug-eyed lass from Birdman) is Mia, a waitress with dreams of stardom. Sebastian (Ryan Gosling) is a jazz bore par excellence, struggling away in obscurity. She has dud auditions; he has to play 80s horror-tunes at parties. Girl meets boy – boy hates girl – girl hates boy – so what could possibly develop from there?






Well, they could fall in love, and he could compromise his principles by going on the road, being cruel to her at dinner, and missing her one-woman show. But all will be well (kind of) by the last reel.

There is nothing new here, but who cares?  The film is actually a delightful throwback, updated to show Los Angeles in splendid montage.  The City of Angels never looked prettier – no East LA scenes!  The director and cast work overtime to charm, and they do charm. Cyd Charisse and Fred Astaire they ain’t, but Stone and Gosling dance and sing better than 60% of the population. Singin’ in the Rain it ain’t, but it’s a perfect antidote for all the real, contemporary, crushed and broken dreams, scattered on the LA sidewalks.

Primary colours (a la Targets, but washed real nice) abound and there are nice surreal touches. There’s a most attractive, ‘hackneyed-freshness’ about the routines, and particularly the fantasy elements – like the leads, you feel alive, imbued with a unique joy that passes all others by. That is the magic of a movie musical. La La Land achieves it.

Whilst watching it, the throwaway, faux-live warbling of the cast reminded The Varnished Culture of a film from a long time ago. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg was ahead of its time, a wistful love story offered to us as a wafer-thin singalong.

Geneviève (Catherine Deneuve, France’s beautiful ice queen) is in love with Guy, a garage mechanic. Before he goes off to the war in Algiers, they pledge their undying love and name their first child ‘Françoise’. Geneviève will eventually have her Françoise, but she won’t be rearing her with Guy.






As David Shipman described it (The Great Movie Stars, 1980): “a story of lovers who part, marry each on his side, and meet again too late. The difference here was the non-cloying charm, the delicacy of the emotion, and the fact that it was all sung – to lilting melodies by Michel Legrand.”






La La Land is pretty good, but if you want real urban charm, the sort of thing the French do best, watch Les Paraplutes de Cherbourg….

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Wake in Fright: Conclusion

October 16, 2017 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | AUSTRALIANIA, Drama Film, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

October 2017

We have spoken with fervent admiration of the book and the film but nevertheless found some good things in the first part of this television re-make, updated to render the appalling bleakness of the story more palatable, and credible, to a new generation. The point of the original film was its grand mix of hedonism and nihilism, which needed no explanation and would actually have suffered for it. To a more prosaic audience, perhaps (one arguably a trifle less worldly?) more needs to be explained, or constructed. And such scaffolding over the underlying story dissipates its elemental power.


Part Two opens with the infamous kangaroo shoot, an Australian bush initiation ritual where lads get tanked and fire rifles, at anything that moves, from a ute driving over rough and tricky terrain.

Whilst the lass in charge here is impressive, and tough as teak, the shoot is fundamentally a male ritual, and whilst we at The Varnished Culture are equal opportunity critics, it doesn’t ring true.

Even more troubling is the idea to have the druggies commit murder under cover of ‘sport’ so as to set up our naïve pedagogue.

This also does not ring true, and whilst it is well done, the whole production starts to morph into a kind of Wolf Creek.  (With a bit of Tom Jones thrown in, as virtually everyone in the ‘Yabba seems to want to bed John Grant.)

Worse, John Grant gets assistance. The whole point of the story is that he is utterly, crushingly, alone. Any misunderstanding of this is fatal to the integrity of the story. Whilst we can therefore accept that this production essentially tells us a different story, we were disappointed, not so much by the theft of a seminal Australian fable, but that more was not done with the stolen goods.

Again, there are good things here – sincere performances, pretty good direction and solid production values. We liked the side-story of local realtor Tim Hynes (Gary Sweet), who seriously, pathetically, believes he can sell Grant some land, and the sexual frustration of his unrequited wife, Ursula (Robyn Malcolm). This show is neither sloppy, nor sentimental, but a tad predictable. Overall, we could only mark this as a pass.

Meanwhile, us oldies can re-visit Tiboonda, circa 1971, and wonder, what would John Mellion make of it all?


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