Regularly added bite-sized reviews about Literature, Art, Music & Film.
Voltaire said the secret of being boring is to say everything.
We do not wish to say everything or see everything; life, though long is too short for that.
We hope you take these little syntheses in the spirit of shared enthusiasm.
(By Victor Davis Hanson) (2021)
This is a thought-provoking argument that the classical concept of citizenship (the essence of a democratic nation) as developed and refined from the Greeks, Romans, and ‘aristocratic’ revolutionaries, is becoming denuded of meaning or relevance, and that a new tribalism (subject to a new “balkanized spoils system“) is fast replacing it, per the convenience of the governing elites (on the divide-and-rule paradigm). The author ranges wide but without attenuation, contrasting citizens with peasants (we prefer the more colouful term ‘peons’), residents and tribes, and then showing how the very concept of American citizenship – necessary in a diverse nation of 350 million people – is fast fraying; due to the permanent state of unelected bureaucrats, governing elites that treat the citizenry as roadkill on the golden highway to utopia, and, on a higher and more abstract level, the rise of (in practice, totalitarian) globalisation. As Lionel Shriver, with reference to this book, put it*; “Globalisation, mass unassimilated immigration and the left’s cultivation of self-disgust have steadily turned us into mere residents, with no fervent commitment to a shared culture and past.”
“In The Dying Citizen, Hanson outlines the historical forces that led to this crisis. The evisceration of the middle class and the rise of inequality have made many Americans dependent on the federal government…open borders and the elite concept of “global citizenship” have rendered meaningless the idea of allegiance to a particular place…identity politics have eradicated the idea of a collective civic sense of self. A vastly expanded bureaucracy has overwhelmed the power of elected officials, thereby destroying the sovereign power of the citizen.”**
Some examples from the book:
“Simply put, corporate America wanted cheap imported labor without the bother of unionization. Hand in glove with business, the progressive Left agreed with virtual open borders. Progressives assumed either that massive influxes from an impoverished Mexico and Central America would eventually lead to a politically useful new demography or that the United States should use its resources to help the foreign poor by inviting them to enter America.”
“How odd that America’s current progressive turn to tribalism and primary self-identification by race and gender is reactionary to the core…identity politics is at its essence precivilizational…Once tribalism takes hold, it is almost impossible to thwart this ancient narcotic or to prevent it from destroying the centuries-long and much harder work of establishing multiracial nationhood and citizenship.”
“…the charge that…'”systemic racism,” permeates all of American society is rarely demonstrated. Still, the charge is put to good use by the industry of diversity that must find ever-subtler ways of tracking down biases by employing terms like “microaggressions” and “implicit bias” that reveal by their very qualifiers a poverty of such overt pathologies.”
The ‘deep state’ emerged howling from the swamp when Donald Trump was elected President. A cabal of forces – the bureaucracy, the arms of government, corporate America, including Big Tech, State houses, and, critically, the Fourth Estate – allied in an effort to sweep him away, in Wotan fashion. It worked. But what of the cost? As the author observes: “…when journalistic bias is institutionalized and serves the state with the speed and electronic massaging of the internet, the citizen becomes orphaned from the world around him.”
Of the absurd aspects of globalisation, Hanson is particularly on song: preening Davos hypocrites; virtue-signalling, treacherous billionaires and academic groves both extolling the humanity of their commercial overlords, the Chinese Communist Party; jet-setting warmists; the deeply woke deep state; traitorous ‘citizens of the world’ who deprecate border walls whilst building them around their residences, for whom a national constitution is but a guideline. Referring to governance in California, where he lives, Hanson notes the global symposia held there where handwringing over foreign poverty and destitution occurs, while that great state degenerates into a basket case, where the fabulously rich and the most wretched untermensch live almost side by side, akin to the stark divide one sees in places such as Rio. His take:
“In sum, globalization rests on few poorly examined laws…Discussions of abstract cosmic challenges – achieving world peace, cooling the planet, lowering the seas, dismantling secure borders – are psychological ways to square the circle of failure to solve concrete problems at home from war to poverty.”
Hanson ends the book with a comment on the rise of a nationalist (Donald Trump) and how his somewhat inchoate attempts to revive American citizenry were done down by the very forces now hell-bent on turning the idea of America into an irrelevant and irrational confusion, as seen in that wrought by the puppeteers of the current administration. Under President Biden, the southern U.S. border is a porous catastrophe, with some 2 or more million undocumented and un-vetted illegals entering and at large, along with hefty supplies of Chinese-supplied fentanyl and Covid-19; An emotive and brain-addled foreign policy conducted by officials who seemingly can’t read a map or have never won a war; An education establishment bent on Marxist indoctrination, gender propaganda and racked by anti-Americanism; Soaring inflation higher than any in the last two or three generations, amounting to a new payroll tax; Burgeoning crime left undisturbed by law enforcement and prosecution; Mass confusion over which tribe is in the ascendant at any time and tribal identifiers drawn from wish and affect rather than logic and fact; An Executive that flouts Court Orders and carries little weight with the Legislature, and two people occupying the highest positions and authority in the U.S. who are manifestly unequipped for the role.
One wonders if American citizenship is dead, or just coughing up blood. Truly, there are signs of a re-set. One can but hope.
[* The Spectator, 19/3/22.] [** From the blurb.] Continue Reading →
(2018 translation from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori)
Keiko Furukura isn’t a convenience store worker, she is part of a convenience store. “I was wasting time talking like this. I had to get myself back in shape for the sake of the store. I had to restructure my body so it would be able to move more swiftly and precisely to replenish the refrigerated drinks or clean the floor, to more perfectly comply with the store’s demands”. Keiko is content living as a cell in a convenience store, but her family and her (very few) friends are not content. “‘Keiko, aren’t you married yet?’ ‘No, I’m not.’ ‘Really? But…you’re not still stuck in the same job, are you? ‘ I thought for a moment. I knew it was considered weird for someone of my age not not have either a proper job or be married because my sister had explained it to me.” Keiko has to have things explained to her because she truly has no idea how to be ‘normal’. She mimics other people. “I’d noticed soon after starting the job that whenever I got angry at the same things as everyone else, they all seemed happy…Now, too, I felt reassured by the expression on Mrs. Izumi and Sugawara’s faces: Good, I pulled off being a ‘person’. I’d felt similarly reassured any number of times here in the convenience store.’
Keiko has worked part-time at the Hiiromachi Station Smile Mart for eighteen years. Five or more mornings each week, Keiko recites the shop pledge and the six most important phrases for customers. Then she follows her routine; restocking shelves, working the till, shouting greetings and the details of the daily specials at the top of her lungs. (Those daily specials include such delights as the mango chocolate bun and chocolate-melon soda). At night Keiko nourishes and rests herself in her tiny, cockroach-ridden apartment so that she can efficiently serve the store the following day. On her days off she visits her friends, not because she enjoys doing so, but because it’s the only connection she has “to the world outside the convenience store” and it seems to be the normal thing to do. These friends, and particularly their husbands, think that Keiko is very odd indeed, but she doesn’t notice. Her sister is at her wit’s end. “‘Ever since you started working at the convenience store, you’ve gotten weirder and weirder. The way you talk, the way you yell out at home as if you were still in the store, and even your facial expressions are weird. I’m begging you. Please try to be normal!’ She began crying even harder. ‘So, will I be cured if I leave the convenience store? Or am I better staying working there? And should I kick Shiraha out? Or am I better with him here? Look, I’ll do whatever you say. I don’t mind either way, so please just instruct me in specific terms.
There are hints that Keiko, lacking understanding and emotion, could be dangerous. She hits a boy with a shovel and thinks how easy it would be to silence a crying baby with a knife.
In order to be more socially acceptable, Keiko has moved a male former co-worker, the ghastly Shiraha, into her apartment. It’s a beautiful relationship. (Shiraha speaks: “People who are considered normal enjoy putting those who aren’t on trial, you know. But if you kick me out now, they’ll judge you even more harshly, so you have no choice but to keep me around,’ Shiraha gave a thin laugh. ‘I always did want revenge, on women who are allowed to become parasites just because they’re women. I always thought to myself that I’d be a parasite one day. That’d show them. And I’m going to be a parasite on you, Furukura, whatever it takes.’ I didn’t have a clue what he was going on about. ‘Well anyway, what about your feed? I put it on to boil, and it should be done now.’ ‘I’ll eat it here. Bring it to me, please.’ I did as he said and put the boiled vegetables and white rice on a plate and took it into the bathroom. ‘Close the door behind you, will you?'” )
Shiraha’s endless references to the Stone Age don’t bore Keiko particularly. Nor does she understand them. Shiraha again: “‘ That’s why contemporary society is dysfunctional. They might mumble nice things about diversity of lifestyles and whatnot, but in the end nothing has changed since prehistoric times. With the birthrate in decline, society is regressing rapidly to the Stone Age, and it’ s going beyond life just being uncomfortable. Society has reached the stage in which not being of any use to the village means being condemned just for existing.’ Shiraha wasn’t just picking on me; he was openly expressing his fury against society. I wasn’t sure which of us he was angrier with. He seemed to be just throwing out words randomly at whatever happened to be in his sights.”
Due to her new relationship, and to her amazement, Keiko, becomes an object of interest to her co-workers. “I was shocked by their reaction. As a convenience store worker, I couldn’t believe they were putting gossip about store workers before a promotion in which chicken skewers that usually sold at 130 yen were to be put on sale at the special price of 110 yen. What on earth had happened to the pair of them?”
Convenience Store Woman is often called funny, comical. It is, but in the wry manner of Flannery O’Connor, John Kennedy Toole or the Evelyn Waugh of “The Loved One” (although these were greater authors of the grotesque than Murata (yet?) is.) It is also a perceptive study in, to use the woke term, ‘neurodiversity’. At a mere 163 pages, Convenience Store Woman is just the right length, best downed in one gulp, like a chocolate-melon soda. Unlike the soda though, it’s worth trying.
Continue Reading →
The first volume of Jonathan Franzen’s saga of contemporary American family life, “Crossroads” (2021) promises less to come.
The Hildebrandts of New Prospect are falling apart and they don’t know it. Worse still, they are unremittingly dull, and the author doesn’t know it. The hypocritical, craven pastor father, Russ, lusts after a parishioner. He despises his peculiar and repressed wife, Marion. He loathes a popular youth worker at the church ‘Crossroads’ group. He acts inappropriately with teenaged girls. That’s about all he does. The Hildebrandt parents barely register their children – the all-American elder son, the thinly-realised daughter, the drug-addled middle son and the barely-there youngest child (who is clearly being saved for the sequels). However, after a crisis Russ and Marion are shocked into noticing and indeed, doting on one of their turgid offspring at the expense of the others.
The Hildebrandts and their circle are all generally unobservant, unpleasant people which wouldn’t matter if they were of interest, but they are not. Russ and Marion’s pasts are probably the best parts of the novel, but by the time of the current action, they have become dreary people raising dreary children. Franzen spells out every character’s every thought. Characters talk things through in just the way real people don’t. “‘I don’t know how it happened,’ Russ said. ‘How I came to hate you so much. It goes way beyond pride – it’s basically consumed my life, and I don’t understand it. How can I be a servant of God and feel this way. Just being in this office is a torture. The only thing I can say in my defence is that I can’t control it. I can’t think of you for five seconds without feeling sick. I can’t even look at you now – your face makes me sick.’ He sounded like a little girl running to her parent with hurt feelings. Mean Rick made me feel bad. ‘If it’s any comfort,’ Ambrose said, ‘I don’t like you, either. I used to have a lot of respect for you, but that’s long gone.”” Marion even gets her own therapist to explain herself to in expository dialogue.
There is a long late section about a church working camp supposed to benefit Navajo communities. It feels manufactured and allows Franzen to patronise the reader with his views of ‘spirituality’ and ‘social justice’. Just what this book needs; a sermon.
There are some nice scenes – a frightening car ride in Italy; the teenaged drunken Perry disgracing himself at a clergy party:-
“Reverend Haefle placed a gentle hand on Perry’s shoulder. More roughly than necessary, Perry shook it off. He knew he needed to calm down, but the heat in his head was extraordinary. ‘This is what I’m talking about,’ he said very loudly. ‘No matter what I do, it’s always me who’s in the wrong. You’re all saved, but apparently I’m damned. Do you think I enjoy being damned?’ A sob of self-pity escaped him. I’m doing the best I can!’ The living room was now completely quiet. Through tears, he saw twenty pairs of clerical and spousal eyes on him, among them, near the front door, to his shame and dismay, were his mother’s.”
Franzen has taken on big issues. The dangers of sliding past family members until you collide, wasted years, blinkered self-absorption, responsibility to the community, individuality, how to be good, God, Jesus, sex, drugs, long hair, sex, Jesus and drugs. But the book has no depth. Franzen’s efforts to evoke the numinous and ineffable are given in trite discussions between clergy or Perry’s drugged ravings.
Perry Hildebrandt, by the way, is alleged to have an IQ of 160. We see no evidence of his supposed genius other than his rants when high. Which read like a paraphrasing of a Wikipedia entry. “‘…She’s a total F-O-X. And I don’t mean some esoteric oxyfluoride salt of xenon, although, interestingly, they’ve synthesized some salts like that, in spite of the supposed completeness of xenon’s outermost electron shell, which you’d think couldn’t happen, and, yes, I realize I digress. My point in mentioning chemistry was that it’s not the point, but you must admit it’s pretty incredible. Everyone assumed that xeon was inert, I mean it’s such a credit to the fluorine atom – its oxidizing powers. Wouldn’t you agree that it’s incredible.”
The book takes no risks with character or plot. That is not to say that either should be unrealistic – this is, after all, a study of mundanity (with aborted sojourns in the foothills of philosophy) but we feel that Franzen is husbanding the people and the twists of fate for the later books in the trilogy. For example, a character who should be dead is spared. The reader is not.
[Editorial note: the subtitle to this book is “A Key To All Mythologies” (after the dud unfinished work by a dud who’s finished, in Middlemarch.) Enough said.] Continue Reading →
(Directed by Justin Kurzel) (2021)
Suspense need not be a mystery. Out of the so-called 7 plots, the dramatist’s art is to finesse the selected one. As with Shakespeare, it matters not that we know the ending. In Nitram (‘Martin’ backwards, as is Martin), the story (about Martin Bryant, going ‘postal’ in April 1996) is notorious. Here, the director creates an intimate, very private background to a very public tragedy, and does it with great depth of feeling and beautiful pacing.
It is a small town saga (the south-east coast of Victoria standing in for Port Arthur, probably for political reasons, or perhaps basic human sensitivity), as we meet Martin (never, by our reckoning, named throughout), an overaged child, obviously challenged and with arrested development, apt to do dangerous things, and his desperately miserable parents. The futile efforts to treat his mental problems are disturbing and overfamiliar, evoking a desire for the building of a new, kinder Bedlam. Inevitably, the issue of access to guns arises – a worthy debate, discussed in our account of the real event (linked above) but here it is not sledgehammered home (and probably does not need to be).
After want and emotion conquer logic and fact, Martin moves out, and then in with the crazy cat lady, for whom he has failed to mow the lawns. She turns out to be a rich eccentric (natch) who stakes Martin in his absurd ambitions – till it all goes wrong.
There can be no quarrel with the acting. Judy Davis, as harsh-but-fair Mum, and Anthony LaPaglia, as weak, defeated and ineffectual Dad, are superb. Essie Davis is wonderfully blurry as Helen of the dogs and cats. The supporting cast are all good, particularly the not-so-nice surfie (Sean Keenan) who decides, in good time, to stop razzing Nitram. The film belongs to Caleb Landry Jones, however, as the man-child. He has specialised in portrayals of damage (Get Out, Three Billboards…) and here he is vibrant with anger and confusion, and with an authentic Australian accent to boot.
The conclusion may be discreet, even tasteful, but the build-up has been so vivid by then as to leave the viewer vaguely cheated of a violent catharsis. Ignoring the massacre is a plausible move from an interesting director prone to strategic mistakes – vide his Macbeth. Elephant managed to show a rampage without being exploitative: surely here a way could have been found (perhaps showing Nitram on his lethal errand without displaying the bodies piling up). Along the way, there are touches here and there that whilst satisfying dramatically are freighted with the baggage of elucidation: for examples, Nitram recalls burning himself with his beloved firecrackers – and resolves to keep on lighting them; Mum tells Helen about the time sonny went missing and laughed at her fear and pain. These would apply to a thousand healthy boys: there really need and perhaps should be no attempt in an entertainment such as this to even try to explain.Continue Reading →
(Robert Moses and the Fall of New York) (by Robert A. Caro, 1974)
That this brick of a book (well over a thousand pages) about public infrastructure is so compelling is due to, first, its traverse of key decades in the rise of America (1920s to the 1960s); second, the author’s awesome depth of research and keen grasp of his subject; and third, the subject himself: the most famous public official in New York (perhaps America), Robert Moses (18 December 1888 – 29 July 1981), a humanities man, without engineering qualifications, who yet singlehandedly matched the Pharaohs and the Romans in empire building. Under Moses’ forty odd years in power, his list of NYC credits is staggering (this link is not exhaustive: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Category:Robert_Moses_projects) and includes over 650 playgrounds, over 100 state parks, over 400 miles of parkways, countless urban expressways, bridges linking the NYC boroughs, tunnels linking them under the waters, man-made beaches, boat basins and aquatic infrastructure, low rent housing apartments, causeways and dams, the United Nations complex, the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Shea Stadium, the NYC Coliseum, the Astoria Pool, the 1964 World’s Fair, and a myriad other bits and bobs. He “built public works costing, in 1968 dollars, twenty-seven billion dollars.”
Obviously Moses was the greatest planner (and, crucially, implementer) of public works in the history of the United States, perhaps of the whole modern world. Caro tracks and acknowledges the tremendous achievement, but he also does what few did during the reign of Moses – count the cost. Moses conceded that:
“You can draw any kind of picture you like on a clean slate and indulge your every whim in the wilderness in laying out a New Delhi, Canberra or Brasília, but when you operate in an overbuilt metropolis, you have to hack your way with a meat ax.”
Moses destroyed as fervently as he created. And he did whatever it took, engaging in corrupt behaviour so noxious that he would have faced charges but for the key fact that he never lined his own pockets. Indeed, power was his drug, not love, fame, nor money. As Lord Acton said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.” Robert Moses is a classic example, a perfect specimen, at whose door many floral tributes lie, and for whom the operative word is “lie.” He brooked no arguments; he never changed his plans.
Caro follows Moses from his fairly comfortable youth and student days at Yale and Oxford. While an idealist, he displayed early signs of sharp practice. And after his attempts at public service reform (pursued by him with enthusiasm, naivety and arrogance) left him bruised and blackballed by the New York Tammany machine, he became “scornful…of what he had been.” Forming a deep alliance with NY Governor Al Smith in the 1920s, Moses became not only adept but supreme in the dark arts of governance (persuasion, intimidation, dissembling) – and got his first taste of power. He learned by watching Smith “twist arms, offer incentives and drop, one by one, with matchless guile, the veils from in front of threats.” But Smith had a strong social conscience and tried hard to help the helpless. Moses was less idealistic: he preferred to use power to realise his dreams.
He started on Long Island. Put in charge of State Parks, he wheeled-and-dealt with breathtaking deviousness, flair and diligence. Appropriating, haggling, exploiting the good will, slow wit and altruism of others, he grabbed or re-claimed land and created some 20 major state parks on the island (not Arcadian glades that some of his old-money patrons desired, but ‘working parks’ which were often “banal“) – with major expressways or parkways to access them from the boroughs to the west. For a man that never learned in 93 years to drive, he enabled New York over time to be engulfed by the automobile: creating great new expressways through his autonomous vehicle – the commissions and authorities gathered under the heading ‘Triborough Authority,’ which became (through private bonds and public tolls) richer and more powerful than the City of New York itself. He used that power to blackmail (and at times avenge) the so-called powers-that-were. Sheer talent and hard work were not enough: at some point, this remarkable man, who had long studied and tried to repair local government, concluded that the only way was to skirt, ignore, and supplant it. With Smith’s complicity, he tweaked legislation and executive action to ensure that he kept total control of planning, finance, acquisition, construction, and remuneration. He made a quango not dependent on public finance. He became a one-stop shop, if you wanted any development done in NYC.
Along the course of such development, he rode roughshod over the rights of landholders. He evicted (sometimes prematurely and capriciously) a quarter of a million poor people (many African-Americans and Hispanics, not his preferred people) from rent-controlled apartments and left them to find other accommodation. He ignored the law, often ordering his construction crews to demolish before an injunction was granted, sometimes even afterwards. He would misrepresent the costs of a project, knowing that by the time it was underway, elected officials were compromised and powerless not to appropriate further funds. “Misleading and underestimating, in fact, might be the only way to get a project started.” He hid inconvenient facts, demonized opponents or even those with legitimate questions, and viciously used and abused the power of the press, especially of his friends at the New York Times and The Daily News. Having made one disastrous run at the Governorship in 1934, he instead skirted, ignored and supplanted democracy. But he also out-thought and out-prepared adversaries and generally bested them in argument (and invective). It is significant that, with no driver’s licence himself, he turned his limousine into a mobile office, working and planning and plotting as he was chauffeured all over the City and State of New York: he was simply more driven than anyone else.
NYC Mayors, from the formidable Fiorello La Guardia to the dilettante John Lindsay, tried to control or eject him: they failed. Governors, from Franklin D. Roosevelt to W. Averell Harriman, tried to do so: they failed. (FDR even tried when he became President in 1933 – he failed, asking an aid, “Isn’t the President of the United States entitled to one personal grudge?” to be told “No“). Moses would threaten to resign, knowing he was indispensable, which for quite some time, was true. He would threaten to go to the press. He would call in all his rent & fee seeking pals and partners in the unions, banks, construction companies, et al to write memos, make calls and spread smears. He would bully anyone. Once Triborough was established, it was financially independent and all-powerful, and virtually untouchable until bad decisions and decay started to afflict Moses’ built legacy, lost fights tarnished his reputation and hold on a new generation of the pressmen, age weakened his grip, and a Governor whose wealth and ambition put him above everything, prevailed: Nelson Rockefeller.
The Power Broker is a superb study of politics and power, and a biography that brilliantly proves Solzhenitsyn’s dictum, in The Gulag Archipelago, that “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.”
Continue Reading →
Adelaide Oval’s Village Green, 8 February, 2022
‘Icehouse’ were never really the techno-guys they were painted as – Nothing to Do from their first (best?) album (when they were ‘Flowers’) is a song Lou Reed would have liked to write and perform – and this terrific retrospective, conceived around the 40th anniversary of the inaugural release of Great Southern Land, written by Iva Davies in homage to Australia and its landscape while homesick on the band’s first overseas tour, showed how their hits were basically great rock/pop, performed by a band that is pretty much as cohesive and professional as ever.
As we recall, the song list was: Icehouse; Walls; Electric Blue; Street Cafe; Crazy; Hey Little Girl; My Obsession; No Promises; Touch the Fire; Man of Colours; I Don’t Believe Anymore; Baby, You’re So Strange; Great Southern Land. Iva Davies voice is undimmed and he has worn so well he took the chance of presenting his young self in some of the 80s videos to accompany the songs (in fact, the visuals to this concert were outstanding for taste and clarity.) He was very well supported by rhythm guitarist Paul Gildea, Michael Paynter on keyboards and vocals, Hugo Lee impressing the crowd, particularly the ladies, on sax (that exemplar of the 1980s), Steve Bull (bass) and Paul Wheeler on drums. Your reviewer always thought Great Southern Land a tad monotonous and dirge-like: but live, it came startlingly awake, complemented by William Barton’s great work on the yidaki (didgeridoo).
The main set closed with two great early hits that had the audience chanting along and up on its Covid-infringing feet: Can’t Help Myself and We Can Get Together, and the encore featured Midnight Oil’s Put Down That Weapon (from ‘Diesel and Dust’) and, in a nice nod to Adelaide, an early Angels song, Marseilles. Icehouse closed with their very boppy Nothing Too Serious.
Iva Davies IS the man he used to be. A great time was had by all.Continue Reading →
By Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov/ Directed by Barrie Kosky (Adelaide Festival, 9 March 2022)
Pushkin’s slight morality fable of the idiocy of war-mongering autocracy (1835) was taken up (1907) by Rimsky-Korsakov as a reflection of the faltering reign of Tsar Nicholas II, who made Joe Biden seem like Pericles.
The so-called dark wit, surreal burlesque, and satirical messaging is, regrettably, lost in this production. A colossal, over-extravagant Russian in-joke makes a not very good opera…and Mr. Kosky has, with his peculiar genius, turned it into an excruciating, absurdly repetitive, extended Monty python skit (we recalled Terry Gilliam’s filler cartoons from that series). The dancing, whilst impressive, recalls You Can’t Stop the Music. The staging, again quite impressive, is redolent of a Beckett play. And the sundry macabre touches would complement a Hammer horror film.
You couldn’t seriously fault the stars: British-Ukrainian Pavlo Hunka, and Russians Venera Gimadieva and Andrei Popov, or the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra under Arvo Volmer. But it really is time to stow directorial over-ambition that turns minor works into travesties. As we find at the conclusion of the opera, it was all a dream. As Merlin would say, “A dream to some. A nightmare to others.”
Co-production with Festival d’Aix-en-Provence, Adelaide Festival, Opéra National de Lyon and Komische Oper Berlin in association with Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.
Tsar Dodon Pavlo Hunka
Queen of Chemakha Venera Gimadieva
Astrologer Andrei Popov
Tsarevich Aphron Samuel Dundas
Tsarevich Gvidon Nicholas Jones
Polkan Mischa Schelomianski
Amelfa Alexandra Durseneva
Golden Cockerel’s Voice Samantha Clarke
On-Stage Cockerel Matthew Whittet
Dancers Sam Hall, Chris Mills, Rowan Rossi, Loci Walmsley
ADELAIDE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA & ADELAIDE FESTIVAL CHORUS
Conductor Arvo Volmer
Director Barrie Kosky
Associate Director Denni Sayers
Assistant Director Eugene Lynch
Stage Designer Rufus Didwiszus
Costume Designer Victoria Behr
Lighting Designer Franck Evin
Choreographer Otto Pichler
Assistant Costume Designer Nathalie Pallandre
Assistant Choreographer Joseph Gebrael
Makeup & Wigs Assistant Marie Jardine
Assistant Lighting Designer Laurent Quain
Technical Director Fred Amiel
Head of Stage Mado Cogne
Language Coach Maria Timofeeva
Russian Translator Nadejda Levings
For Adelaide Festival
Producer Tess Appleby (until Dec 2021)
Producer Janelle McKenzie (from Jan 2022)
Program Assistant Amanda Ashley
Production Manager David McLean
Stage Manager Jess Nash
Assistant Stage Managers Emily Barraclough, Jess Wolfendale
AC Arts Secondment Dylan McBurney
Head of Wardrobe Kathleen Szabo
Fittings, Alterations and Maintenance Ashleigh Thomas
Costume Cutters / Maintenance Enken Hagge, Martine Micklem
Dressers Nadejda Levings, Sally-Jayne Chapman, Anna Perry, Nick de-Rohan, Kent Green, David Adams, Wendy Todd, Chris Rektsinis
Head of Wigs and Make Up Jana DeBiasi
Wigs and Make Up Matthew Ping, Teresa Scriva, Beverly Freeman, Dina Giaccio, Natasha Stone, Danielle Veltmyer, Charlotte Wilson, Kat-Arena Lean, Natasha Keneally, Jennifer Rossiter, Megan O’Mahoney, Sam Dawe, Marie-lyn Morant, Sharon Hage, Dominique Keeley
Head of Props Ashley Ng
Surtitles Catriona Herriott
(Australian Haydn Ensemble, Adelaide Town Hall, Saturday 5 March 2022)
Haydn’s 30 year gig with the company-store-bound Esterházy players, players fed and watered by a family a bit like the Rockefellers of another age and place, was productive. His very first hits were symphonies 6, 7 & 8, the so-called Morning, Noon and Night symphonies, the first of some 80 that were written for the Esterházy clan. The programme notes put it well, albeit well-baked:
“The top minds of Europe were abuzz in 1761. Venus was transiting the sun for the first time since science had twigged that it could pinpoint our place in the solar system. Meanwhile, the most enlightened of Austria’s ruling families needed a composer to provide what we’d call content for their pre-eminent orchestra. It was a dream gig in some respects: yes, you had to wear servants’ livery but you got to live in a palace. Your bosses were no fools though – they could spot hackery a mile off – and even scarier were the musos’ demands.”
This great all-day concert showed glimpses of the early masterworks in that acoustic Elysium that is the Adelaide Town Hall.
It began with 20 + players on stage, tuning up. An elderly lady, near your correspondent, thought they’d started (but first, the now risible welcome-to-country, the risible face-mask strictures, the unnecessary mobile phone warnings and yet more limbering up) – then Erin Helyard, Conductor and harpsichordist, appeared.
TVC, addicted to sleeping in on the weekend, and with other plans for the evening, plumped for the noon session, featuring some great nascent works by Haydn and others:
C.P.E. Bach: Sinfonia in F Major Wq.181
Mozart: Keyboard pieces: Keyboard Piece K.2-5 (written when Amadeus was about 5 or 6)
Haydn: Keyboard Concerto in F Major Hob.XVIII:3
Haydn: Symphony in C Major Hob.I:7 Le Midi
The ensemble, some 20 plus players, were impeccable; even better, they were so cohesive, lapping-up Haydn’s generosity in passing-out cabaret turns to each instrument (as with a death-metal band, every one gets a solo), and the tone of the music seemed to emblematize the myriad noon-time shades – serene, hectic & bustling, sleepy, prandial. Helyard is a genius on the spinet; this one an original, that he played with verve and great taste, while conducting, which kept him as busy as a bee – and we were all transfixed for an hour and ten. Another great coup for the Adelaide Festival.
Credits at this link:
https://www.adelaidefestival.com.au/events/haydns-solar-poetics/Continue Reading →
Pablo Larrain’s fiction about an imagined few days in the life of Diana, Princes of Wales at Sandringham Castle, Christmas 1991 will make you feel really sorry for that woman. Not Diana. Heavens no! But Kristen Stewart. The poor thing does very well in portraying Diana despite a poor Sloane Ranger accent and a script as leaden as the lining of a butler’s sink. Stewart gives Spencer’s Diana just as much weight as she merits – none. Spencer’s Diana is a whiney, entitled, disrespectful, self-centred fool. She’s world-weary and heartily sick and tired of the demands that those nasty Windsors make. She’s different, wild and modern! It’s rotten being a princess. She throws a tanty whenever a servant bothers her by knocking on her door to request that she come out because she’s late again. She stamps her feet when told that people are waiting for her. She tears her hair out in misery and despair when shown the luxurious, custom-made clothes that are set out for her every engagement. She goes so far in her defiance as to wear her Boxing Day lunch outfit to church on Christmas Day. So there!.
Oddly enough, the only two other viewers in the cinema saw things differently. They felt sympathy for Diana’s position and tut-tutted indignantly every time she was asked to do something unreasonable – such as dress for dinner (there’s a lot of dressing for dinner) so perhaps this is a film for fans of the late Princess of Wales (although even that seems doubtful). It is certainly not a film for fans of good film-making.
Kristen Stewart does rather overdo the Diana mannerisms, which she has down pat. We know that Diana artfully arranged her pose when she saw paparazzi – although why she considered looking up through her fringe to be appealing is anyone’s guess – so it’s doubtful that she really moue’d and tripped about like that in private, but that’s a fault of direction (one of many in this turgid production). This unpleasant portrayal of an obviously mentally unwell woman could be fine and interesting if Spencer was a good film, but it is not. It is shallow, turgid, silly and – worst of all – boring. This reviewer nearly walked out after 40 minutes of Diana vomiting, Diana bingeing, Diana sulking, Diana being late for every course of every meal.
Yes, the British Royal family are stuffy and insular. Yes, there is a lot of rigmarole involved in being a royal, even in private, but isn’t that obvious and kind of the point? After a decade as the Princess of Wales and as mother of the heir to the throne of England, Spencer’s Diana has to be told by Prince Charles (a very good Jack Farthing) in a nice bit of expository dialogue, that she needs to shut her curtains when she’s undressing and put on a bit of a mask for the public.
Poetic licence is one thing, but it has to be poetic, not pointless. Luckily, in Spencer, Diana’s deserted childhood home just happens to be next door to Sandringham. So in the night she goes wandering over to the fence with a pair of wire-cutters and breaks in. (Oh, security hate her, she’s so uncontrollable). She wanders about in a boofy evening dress and goes all misty-eyed when she sees her childhood bed and toys that are mysteriously and picturesquely still there. She’s wearing the necklace of eyeball-sized pearls that the Prince of Wales has given her, Charles having forgotten (or never known) that he gave the same item to Camilla Parker-Bowles (Emma Darwall-Smith, seen briefly). Diana finds the necklace asphyxiating and repeatedly rubs the back of her neck. A ghost appears. We don’t want to include any details that might spoil the subtle and surprising elements of this script, (by Steven Knight) so we’ll only hint at whose ghost it is. You’d never work it out. It’s the unhappy wife of a former king of England who got an axe applied to just that part of her neck. That’s all we’ll say. When the Page of Sandringham, Major Alistair Gregory (the always excellent Timothy Spall, looking a bit thin now), tells Diana a meaningless story about a friend who had his face blown off in Belfast, just as he (the friend) was recounting a story about a wild horse that could not be tamed, Diana responds, (just as we pray she won’t), “I hope they never tamed the horse”. That is the standard of the dialogue. The lovely Stella Gonet as Queen Elizabeth has about two lines; something to do with having one’s face on a coin. Otherwise, all she has to do is make that face look disapprovingly at Diana.
The Sandringham interiors are glorious. The viewer though, is constantly denied scenes which it could be expected that the target audience would want to see. For example, much is made of the imminent and family opening of Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve (SO tedious) but after all the teasing, we see only the aftermath. Instead there are long scenes when Diana stands outside or sits in a basement kitchen expatiating on all her personal problems to the kindly military Chef, Darren (a truly marvellous Sean Harris).
There are a few good moments which demonstrate what this film could have been. Diana’s lovely relationship with her sons (Jack Nielen and Freddie Spry) is blighted by her sharing of adult issues with them. William is sensitive to her issues and desperately tries to keep her on the rails. A fine performance from a young actor, and a tribute to the real William, if there is any truth in his portrayal. Well done also is the revelation made by Diana’s preferred dresser (Sally Hawkins is captivating as Maggie). It’s an out of place moment shoe-horned into the story, but amusing nevertheless, and the only surprise in the audience’s nearly two hours of trudging misery.
Every bad film has to have a montage and Spencer is no exception. It’s Diana through the ages; Diana running, running, dancing and running, twirling and dancing and running. She wanders about the gardens in her wedding dress.
The ending is utterly ludicrous. We won’t give away what happens, but suffice it to say, it is the low point of this shocker.Continue Reading →
(Directed by Jasmila Zbanic) (2020)
If you were told that a mortal enemy was approaching your town, in force, what would you do? Would you up stakes (family, dog, cat, photos, bread and water)? Or would you wait and hope for relief from a UN Peace Keeping brigade, lacking both air support and Sun Tzu’s well-known power to keep peace (i.e. by preparedness for war)?
After Tito, who had ruled Yugoslavia for some 34 years under Soviet patronage (although he was not exactly a puppet) died in 1980, it was inevitable that the country would list, containing as it did a salad of ethnic, religious and political diversity, dressed with historic enmities. With the collapse of the Soviet Union a decade later, the prospect of general global war vanished (for a time), to be replaced by the ‘agony of the little nations.’ Yugoslavia broke into pieces. These pieces had surprisingly sharp edges.
Quo Vadis, Aida? tells the story of one of those pieces, the Srebrenica massacre, where Ratko Mladic‘s Bosnian Serb forces killed some 8 thousand Bosnian Muslim boys and men, on 11 July 1995; the worst mass murder in Europe since WWII. After taking the town (what’s left of it) and having the Mayor and his administration ‘recalled’ in the most brusque way imaginable, the army descends on an abandoned factory/warehouse where some 4,000 villagers huddle under the ‘protection’ of Dutch peace-keepers, many thousands outside the gates, in the scorching heat, clamouring to get in. (Beautifully shot, the plight and manifest despair of the civilians is eerily reminiscent of scenes at Hamid Karzai International Airport last year).
Aida, a Bosnian translator, has to afford communications between the city councillors, her fellow villagers and the UN forces, all the while striving to save her husband and two sons from a fate she fears will be deadly. It makes for a very sad, indeed, harrowing film, told in the most clear and pure terms, with none of the hand-wringing or false moralizing we tend to get nowadays. The coda to the film, the same village in winter now, years hence, is as satisfying as it is almost surreal and vaguely ominous: evil casts a long shadow and may replicate. The direction here and throughout is as sure and tastefully stark as possible.
The entire cast is superb. Without detracting from anybody, we must single out Johan Heldenbergh as the frustrated and feckless colonel of the peacekeepers; Raymond Thiry as his exasperated 2IC (both abandoned by the UN and left to negotiate with – i.e., be shoved aside by – Mladic); Izudin Bajrović as Aida’s husband; the magnificent, malignant, cynical and truly formidable Mladic (Boris Isaković) and his henchman (Emir Hadžihafizbegović). Best for last – Jasna Đuričić, as Aida, gives an astounding performance.
Continue Reading →