Amazing India

April 9, 2019 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | MUSIC, THEATRE, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

Music and Dance provided by alumni of Kalalaya School of Performing Arts, 6 April 2019, Dunstan Playhouse, Adelaide Festival Theatre

The Varnished Culture has great admiration for Indian accomplishment (mixed with a fair bit of ignorance, but profound for all that). But we were not quite prepared* for the Amazing India experience, pretty much a Hindustani eisteddfod featuring all levels of students and tutors of the local Kalalaya School of Performing Arts.  From old-style classical dance forms such as Bharatnatyam and cadenced Kathak, to modern, salacious Bollywood numbers, an enthusiastic (at times, overly enthusiastic) audience were treated to 140 minutes of some 20 different numbers of variable quality in a packed programme that pleased, and occasionally palled.

Many of the costumes, particularly the traditional garments, were dazzling in their flowing colours. When the tots, some too young for primary school, came on stage in their pattu langa, they were as cute, small and (choreographically speaking) random as buttons. The numbers ranged from dances of religious significance, modern dance numbers and soft rock riffs made for Eurovision, variety Indian style torch songs and a fusian of twirling.  The dancing was a tad patchy – the singing, in the main, was good.

Overall, this was an entertaining evening (despite the continual use of smart-phones to make blurred films of the proceedings for posterity in the darkened auditorium), but we have a few quibbles. The length was inordinate, some 30 to 45 minutes too long.  Certain of the acts seemed repetitive; it struck us that the School wanted to ‘give everyone a go’. Much time was expended moving the stage for instruments from and to the wings; some rearrangement of the running order would have limited this. There was a screen at the rear of the stage that could have been used better: the sponsors were credited a number of times but each of the 21 performances could have screened the title and a brief description – many in the crowd used their phones as torches to peer at the 5 page programme in small font provided. And the screened photographic backdrops, whilst often showing the flower of Hindu sculpture and architecture, also roamed weirdly over inapt scenes as diverse as Paris, New York, Vienna, and Shiva knows where else.

Previous year’s flyer

2019 Programme:

  1.  Prayer: Sooryam Sundara Loka Natham
  2.  Invocation: Bharatanatyam – Ajam Nirvikalpam
  3.  Bharatnatyam: Chidambara Natesha Kauthvam
  4.  Kathak: Tarana
  5.  Bharatnatyam: Kannane Kandayo Mallikkudiye
  6.  Bollywood dance: Bole Chudiyan
  7.  Bharatnatyam by toddlers: Venkitachala Nilayam
  8.  Bollywood song: Tumse Milne Ki
  9.  Bharatnatyam and Kathak: Raas Leela
  10.  Bharatnatyam: Siva Siva Siva Enarada
  11.  Bollywood song: Channa Mereya
  12.  Bollywood dance: Mujhe Rang De
  13.  Bharatnatyam: Bho Shambho
  14. Bollywood dance by toddlers
  15. Bollywood song: Duet Medley
  16. Bharatnatyam: Alaypayuthe
  17. Bollywood dance by pre-teens
  18. Instrumental – Mehbooba
  19. Bharatnatyam and Kathak: Thillana
  20. Tribute to Bollywood
  21. Finale
[*TVC attended as guests of the Adelaide Festival Theatre.] Continue Reading →

Greta

March 21, 2019 | Posted by Lesley Jakobsen | Drama Film, FILM, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

(Directed by Neil Jordan) (2018)

This tedious, derivative piece of trash begins when nice, naive young Frances (Chloë Grace Moretz, using every tic and twitch she can summon, and that’s a lot) finds a chic handbag in a subway carriage. Oddly enough, no-one else is interested in it. Even more oddly, all of the lost luggage offices in the entire New York subway system must have been permanently closed, if this film is to make any kind of sense at all. But there we are. Back at home in their luxurious loft apartment, Frances and her flatmate Erica (Maika Monroe, a poor man’s Chloe Sevigny) argue about what to do with said handbag and they continue arguing, although they really love each other, as will be proven in the not-sock-o-certainly-did-see-that-coming-ending. Frances returns the bag to its owner, Greta (Isabelle Hupert gamely slumming it) at her home and goes inside for a cup of tea. Sigh. “No, stupid!” We shout at the screen. “Have you never seen a stalker film? Don’t you know what happens when you befriend a kind, lonely stranger who has a silly accent and cakes?” We weren’t surprised though, that knowing, foreign Greta is just a bit whacko and becomes fixated on the twitcher. We won’t tell you anymore. It’s not because we expect that you will fall for the misleading advertising and go to see this turgid rubbish, and so are avoiding spoilers; but to be honest, it’s because we can’t be bothered. Read the following list of bad stalker movie tropes if you really want to know where it goes from there, but you already do.

In the style of The Babadook List of Bad Horror Movie Tropes we give you The Greta List of Bad Stalker Movie Tropes.  There is of course an overlap with the Bad Horror Movie Tropes, viz –

  • A cute, shaggy pet dog. Preferably white.
  • A concerned and mild-mannered neighbour or work colleague of the opposite sex.
  • Contemptuous police.
  • A large, unnaturally dark house; the topography of which is unclear. Curtains, a basement and lamp-lit corners are mandatory.

Using Greta as our template, we add, to the Bad Stalker Movie tropes, in no particular order:-

  • an (apparently) chance meeting.
  • a nice, naive person, generally seen in extreme close-up.
  • a knowing stranger (if they are foreign, all the better).
  • an incriminating item left in an easily accessible place.
  • a view over the shoulder as a victim studies something revelatory so intently that they forget that they are in extreme danger.
  • a meeting in a cafe.
  • banging on a locked door.
  • drugging.
  • a bad wig.
  • photographs.
  • something creepy seen outside, through a window.
  • the discovery that a character is not dead, or locked up, or where they are supposed to be.
  • the return of the nice, naive person to an unsafe situation for no good reason.
  • the sudden resurrection of someone who seemed to be dead.
  • a final, chilling coda.

If some sadist ever gags you, ties you to a bed in a small room, and forces you to watch Greta, squeeze your eyes shut really tightly and hum loudly to yourself throughout, but for the obligatory scene when Greta goes nutso and starts shrieking and tossing crockery around in frustration. That’s the one good bit. We think that that was not acting on Mme Hupert’s part.

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Daisy Jones and The Six (by Taylor Jenkins Reid)

Daisy Jones and the Six is a fictional 1970s Fleetwood Mac style-ensemble fronted by a bewitching, raspy voiced woman (the eponymous Daisy) and a handsome, brooding guitarist-singer. The number is made up by a less ravishing woman on keyboards and a couple of other people not worth bothering about. Don’t bother reading Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel either, just wait a while and you can watch it. The front cover declares deliriously that Renaissance Woman Reese Witherspoon “devoured” this book in a day, and you can bet that she’s put it on her shelf marked Miniseries? Netflix? Role for Ava?  We suggest that Ms Witherspoon should eat food, rather than paper, and learn to read more discerningly. For her assistance though, here are our casting suggestions (we’ll assume that this is a magic world and all of these actors are still alive, the right age and can at least hold a guitar or mime along. This is soft rock n roll, after all.)

DAISY JONES (Vocals, Tambourine and Stomping)  – Amy Adams.

Daisy is rich, tall, thin, has wavy red hair, defined cheekbones and REALLY blue eyes. “Stunning big blue eyes – dark, cobalt blue.” “They looked like the middle of the ocean. Not the shoreline, not that light blue. They looked like the dark blue of the middle of the ocean. Like deep water.” We are constantly told (often by Daisy) that she is gorgeous and naturally talented. She’s impulsive and her own woman too!  “I had absolutely no interest in being somebody else’s muse. I am not a muse. I am the somebody. End of fucking story”. As Daisy always said, “The Italians know hair”.

 

 

 

BIILLY DUNNE  (Vocals) – Rufus Sewell

Billy is dark, handsome, smouldering, brooding, obsessive, dictatorial and charismatic.  He’s slim, muscular, confident and has lovely eyelashes!

 

 

 

 

GRAHAM DUNNE – (Lead Guitar)  – Jeff Bridges

Billy’s younger brother Graham is sexy and handsome in a broad-shouldered, rough-around-the-edges kind of way. Looks a little dangerous, but is actually very gentle.

 

 

 

 

KAREN KAREN  – (Keyboards) Ali MacGraw

 

Graham: “Karen Karen was a great addition to the band. Made everything better. And she was beautiful too. I mean, in addition to being talented. I always thought she looked a little like Ali MacGraw…Karen was so fucking sexy in those turtlenecks”.

 

PETER LOVING (Bass), EDDIE LOVING (Rhythm Guitar) and  WARREN RHODES (Drums)  – Anyone Really

The other three.  Resentful Eddie, quiet Pete and cynical drummer Warren.

 

SIMONE JACKSON (Disco Star)

Daisy’s concerned friend.  Never described.

 

 

 

 

CAMILA MARTINEZ DUNNE (Billy Dunne’s Girlfriend, then Wife).  Holly Marie Combs

Camila has long brown hair and brown eyes, is wifely and maternal, earthy-smelling. She is endlessly patient and persuasive, if not pushy. Knows how to get her way…Camila “I think you have to have faith in people before they earn it. Otherwise it’s not faith, right?”

 

TEDDY PRICE  (CEO, Runner Records) – Richard Griffiths.

Tall, fat, ugly, British.  We can be sure that he will either (a) cheat the band, or (b) die tragically.

 

 

 

 

 

Despite Ms Witherspoon’s confusing pies and prose, this is pulp at its most “devourable”. It takes little effort to digest. The chronologically sequential parts, from 1965 to 2012, take us through Daisy Jones’ rise from wild child bumming cigarettes on the Sunset Strip, to Lori Mattix type groupie, to Stevie Nicks style rock goddess and beyond. Daisy meets The Six, clashes with Billy Dunne, has a hit song with him and then joins the band (although her top billing seems unlikely). The band reaches juggernaut status and then implodes.

The novel is devised as a series of grabs from interviews with the band members and their associates (similar to the style of Funnymen by Ted Heller, although Funnymen is a much better novel). This construction is, of course, annoying and artificial; the interviewees would have to have been present at the same time, commenting on each other’s remarks. But if this gimmick is overlooked, the various commentators’ contradictions, lack of insight, misunderstandings, resentments and false memories work quite well. The dialogue is not without wit, including gems like – “[she had a] smile like a virus”, “showing up on time is something she does by accident” and “men often think they deserve a sticker for treating woman like people”. The time is evoked well. Venue names include The Cow Palace, the Inn of the Beginning and Exit/In. Bands are called Midnight Dawn, and the Breeze. Tours, albums and songs by Daisy Jones and The Six include Seven Eight Nine, Aurora, Chasing the Night, Turn it Off and Impossible Woman.

There should have been less exposition about the writing of nonexistent songs which cannot be heard (full lyrics are given at the back – Ms Witherspoon take note) and more about the actual intricacies of this kind of multi-player endeavour.  As anyone who has read a decent rock bio knows, the day to day, week to week, month to month lives of the members of major bands are complicated and multilayered. This book is not.

Much of the book consists of Billy twaddling on about his born-again sobriety; his shame and remorse for the past; his struggles with temptation and his love for his wife and children. Camila goes on a lot about trust within a marriage and the redemptive love of a good woman and daughters. Daisy witters on about how wonderful it is to get high, until it isn’t.  We at TVC have not read Reid’s other books, but suspect that this preachy tone may be typical.

There is a silly minor ‘reveal’ at the end of this novel and a nod toward a romantic sequel. While waiting for the miniseries, do read this or this or this or this rock bio instead of Daisy Jones etc (but give this one a miss).

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Stan & Ollie

March 11, 2019 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | FILM, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

(Directed by Jon S. Baird) (2019)

Stan’s cry, or the frequent sight of Oliver, prostrated and turning up his face in speechless appeal, may seem unfunny at first acquaintance, but gradually grow upon one until they are hilarious, irresistible, looked-for, and cherished.”* And once you watch a few of Laurel and Hardy’s short and longer films (try Way Out West (1937), which we watched to get in the mood for the film under review, or Laughing Gravy (1931), which you can see on YouTube), the appeal starts to soak in: you sense something deep and loving under the chaos, peevishness, and incompetence – whether in the odd pace-changes from the manic to the introspective, as in a Ren and Stimpy cartoon – or the peculiar and destructive havoc they wreak à la the Dumb and Dumber franchise – or the “funny and astonishingly beautiful dance duets, moving ever more ecstatically into their private world…“** (see below).

Which brings us to this account of the team’s dog days in post-war Britain. Long after the heady days when they were among the top ten box office draws, Stan & Ollie presents the lads well past their prime, reprising their routines on the minor music hall circuit. Laurel, the soulful, creative one (Steve Coogan) still simmers with resentment over the time when, at their peak, Hardy (John C. Reilly) failed to support him in his fight for a better deal with studio head Hal Roach (Danny Huston) – Ollie is vexed that the schedule for their comeback film about Robin Hood seems so vague and fluid.  We get the highs and lows of the tour, the spats, the run of the PR mill, the heart murmurs and heart-warming reconciliation, and that’s about it.


“Stan, I’d rather work with a sick elephant.”

There’s really nothing exceptional about the film – even the well-made scenes of post-war Britain and Old-Hollywood seem fake, and with such a thin and predictable plot, filled with mawkish sentiment, one finds oneself hankering for the one-reeler where the real Laurel & Hardy deliver a piano. That means the actors must come to the fore, and of course here the two leads have to carry the piece, but there’s a problem: Steve Coogan, for all his comic brilliance, is not a good straight actor. To put it bluntly, his response to the less-than-heavy dramatic demands of the bitter, alcoholic Stan Laurel, is to play a querulous customer in a Lancashire pie shop. Reilly has natural charm, but the role is one-dimensional. Of the supporting cast, most are ‘types’; but we liked Nina Arianda as Stan’s exotic wife, Ida – she had a good double-act going with Ollie’s missus, Lucille (Shirley Henderson) – and Rufus Jones, obsequious and shifty as their English booking-agent, Bernard Delfont.

“Did you see them in ‘The Big Noise’?” “Did anyone?”

About 40 minutes in, The TVC reviewing staff whispered to each other: “We’ve made a dreadful mistake.” The film actually improved after that, but by then, we viewers doubtless had come to accept it in its own limited terms. Neither noxious, nor incompetent, nor opportunistic, it had some nice things in it, certainly, but ultimately ’tis bland and inconsequential as dust.

Now let’s cheer up and watch the original cabaret turn from Way Out West, which Coogan and Reilly do quite nicely in Stan & Ollie (and then again, but not as well):

[* David Robinson, Sight and Sound (1954), quoted in David Shipman, The Great Movie Stars -The Golden Years (1982).] [**Shipman, op cit. page 345.] Continue Reading →

The Light and The Dark (C P Snow)

(1947)

Roy Calvert has a light, quick, graceful stride. He is over middle height, slightly built but strong, upright and slender, full of ease and grace. His eyes glint a clear transparent hazel yellow and his expression is mischievous and grave when it is not sad, grave, stricken and haunted by a wild melancholy. His voice is clear, light and reedy. His smile is intimate and kind, or it might  be demure and secretive*. His is a style of extreme elegance and ease, he hits a cricket ball with statuesque grace and measured power. He is young, gifted and high-spirited. His creator, Sir Charles (“C P”) Snow is fond of adjectives.

Calvert is an oriental scholar, a member of the Cambridge college of which his friend the narrator, Lewis Eliot, is a fellow. Much of the plot of the first part of the novel is concerned with Calvert’s application to be elected a fellow of the College.  The several fellows entitled to vote are, despite their over-description, difficult for the reader to distinguish (the preparation of a reference list is advised). Calvert is admired by some and disliked by others. He bemuses and repels the more “stuffed” fellows by mocking them in a tone of “mystifying solemnity“. For Calvert, despite his many clearly-indicated good qualities, is his own worst enemy and does not resist the temptation to parody and antagonise. He suffers a bipolar or manic-depressive sort of condition which causes him periods of agonising despair, culminating in the bouts of sparkling cheerful malice which Eliot has come to dread. Snow’s prose is leanest and best when showing us Calvert enduring his terrible bouts of blackest depression.

Despite the pitiless bombardment of adjectives, Snow conveys incisive psychological insight. The wife of the Master of the college, Lady Muriel, is stiffly built, a formidable and grandiose snob, a woman of character and power but “there was something baffled about her, a hidden yearning to be liked – as though she were a little girl, aggressive and heavy among children smaller than herself, unable to understand why they did not love her.” So Roy, who is acquainted with suffering, and who delights in Lady Muriel for her heavy-footed, unperceptive self, also “came into immediate touch with her as with so many people.  He knew how she craved to be liked, how she could never confess her longing for affection, fun, and love. It was his nature to give it. He was moved deeply, moved to a mixture of pity and love, by the unexpectedly vulnerable, just as he was by the tormented, the failures and the strays.”

The Light and the Dark is the fourth (in narrative time) of the Strangers and Brothers sequence. The back of our 1964 edition tells us that Sir John Betjemen called it a “novel written with the intuition of a woman and and the grasp of broad essentials generally reserved for men.” Lady Muriel similarly declares (on behalf of the author, we feel), that intellect is for men, while woman have intuition.**  Her daughter Joan (diffident, whose glance can be heavy, brooding and possessive, who has a strong coltish gawky gait) is the foil to Rosalind, (nervous, kind, sensitive in her fashion, hard, ruthless, determined, single minded and unscrupulous). But both are desperate to marry, and they each sit around patiently waiting to be insulted and used and abandoned by Calvert. But to Snow’s credit, Rosalind is good at her job and Joan is permitted to be intelligent (but not attractive at the same time). Snow is also less than PC about the lower classes. The one servant we meet is a thief. But we do not confuse the art with the artist and Snow is a very good artist.

Eliot is really a fleshless cipher and sounding board: his wife’s death is a throwaway line. But this book is not about him; he is the Nick Carraway, and here he is at his best when engaging with Lady Boscastle (sister in law of the Master and Lady Muriel). Lady Boscastle was once a great beauty but now, Snow tells us, she is delicate and frail, with brilliant porcelain blue eyes, puckered brown skin and resembles a delicate humorous and distinguished monkey, with a faint, sarcastic and charming smile (phew). We can say that she is an engaging and brittle character, as well possessed of intellect and as interesting as any man in this story.

The latter part of the book deals with the outbreak of World War II and is less successful than the first part. The panelled, candled rooms of Cambridge give way to dull sojourns in Germany and some silly spy stuff. Calvert toys with Nazism. It’s all rather leaden and we wish everyone back safely in Snow’s college – given over to beauty, learning and exclusivity.

[*Just for the exercise, try to smile in a “demure and secretive” style. Difficult.] [** Vide Prof. Christopher Riley in Shadowlands who explains the ‘otherwise puzzling’ difference between the sexes thus: “Where Men have intellect, Women have soul.” (!) – Ed.] Continue Reading →

Kosky Blows His Magic Flute – And it’s a Catastrophe

March 2, 2019 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Opera, OPERA, THEATRE, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

(Directed by Barry Kosky, Festival Theatre, Adelaide, 2 March 2019)

A filthy hot early autumn, Adelaide buzzing with stock car racers; construction blocking easy access to the Festival Theatre, its bars cash-free to absolve staff from learning to do sums in their heads; refugee photos on the gallery walls; no paper towels in the men’s to conserve resources (you use a dodgy blower the size of a cigarette packet – wonder what is available in the ‘female and unisex’ facility?) and a sweaty, sun-burnt matinee crowd, applauding every number performed by the ‘B’ team – What else could one add to the mix?

Well, Mozart for one thing. His fantasy opera has some of the most glorious music, from brilliant overture to the moving final chorus, with a number of famous pieces along the way (the Queen of the Night’s famous aria, for example). As long as one doesn’t take the fantastic elements of the libretto too seriously, rejects the bait of hidden motifs and freemasonry, and retains the sense of humour and fun without sledgehammering them, you can’t miss.

Director Kosky, regrettably, has a ‘german’ sense of humour, and here he served us Mozart with a noisy, distracting, infantile production, full of visual touches and daddy jokes straight out of early Disney, middle Warner Bros., late Terry Gilliam and the lesser films of F. W. Murnau.

Kosky gets that The Magic Flute was designed “to amuse suburban audiences by means of machines and decorations, a bright and variegated mixture of marvellous events and coarse jests…”* but he doesn’t seem to understand that it is so much more.

The Queen of the Night (not from the Komische Oper production)

So we have comedy flourishes straight out of Weimar cabaret, moving animation that alternately pleases and palls, interesting exits and entrances at dizzying heights, and visual comedy below high-school level. It does not help that there is always someone (seated quite close) who laughs uproariously, like an orientalist^, at comedy already leaden when Schikaneder penned the libretto. The animatronics quite overwhelmed the production, which was otherwise pretty good: the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra under Hendrick Vestmann was fine; so was the Komische Oper Berlin Chorus. Of the players, we were impressed with ‘Mum and Daughter,’ (Christina Poulitsi as the Shelob-like Queen and Iwona Sobotka as Pamina), Insung Sim as a grave and sonorous Sarastro, and Ivan Turšic as the Nosferatu-like Monostatos (a Moor in white-face, in a bit of reverse racism).

Someone needs to take out an intervention order against this director, on behalf of opera houses everywhere.

[* Alfred Einstein, Mozart; His Character, His Work (1946), p.464.] [^ Now, that’s a joke – from Franny and Zooey by J. D. Salinger ] Continue Reading →

At Eternity’s Gate

February 24, 2019 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | ART, Drama Film, FILM, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

(Directed by Julian Schnabel) (2018)

It takes some men a long time to grow up. Julian Schnabel began his career as an artist, allegedly; his notorious ‘plate paintings’ moved Robert Hughes to say of him: “Schnabel’s work is to painting what Stallone’s is to acting: a lurching display of oily pectorals.”*  Then he produced a memoir, when only aged in his mid-thirties, without having achieved anything of note – if you want a nasty laugh, read Hughes’ review of it in The New Republic.**  Then he found the medium of film, where his talents and sensibilities obviously lie: after Basquiat (1996) a poor biopic of the completely talent-less American pop-artist, he showed promise with The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (2007).  Now he turns his attention to a true Giant, Vincent van Gogh, in a new bio-pic that strays from the path of fact but manages to find new truths.

In short, happily (perhaps miraculously), Schnabel’s film is magnificent, a truly moving, revelatory work of art that manages to persuade us of, though not necessarily prove, Vincent’s compulsion to ‘rest the imagination’ through his pictures, to “express what he felt, and if distortion helped him to achieve this aim he would use distortion.”^ Much of the film is dialogue-free, and we get numerous scenes of the artist out bush, communing with and imbibing nature, straining to paint what he sees. The script, incidentally, is not often more than adequate, but what works so well is the “vibe” – the pulse of Gogh’s genius and madness that drive him to do ugly things, paint some very ugly pictures, and produce at least a dozen masterpieces, the stuff that will one day make and break the fortunes of others.

Schnabel uses a restless, almost too inquisitive camera, resting on characters’ chins and stalking them through the shrubbery. P liked, although L didn’t, the director’s conceit of a partially smudged camera, especially when we viewed the world through the artist’s eyes, a comment perhaps on defective vision, frustrated comprehension or simply post-impressionism.  Like the dissonant musical score, a splash of piano keys and the odd violin beaten black and blue, the home-craft nature of the production sorts beautifully with the rural squalor on show.

Here we peer, there we trudge, seeking to clear away the smudge

Time to do what actors most like: talk about them.  Willem Dafoe is magnificent as Vincent. Though much older than the artist in his last years (Kirk Douglas looked much more like him in Lust For Life) Dafoe channels him perfectly, capturing all of his fears, inhibitions, his social ineptitude, crazes, anger, sense of doom, gentleness and fervour. We see an almost comprehensive sketch –  a minor miracle in film biography, as he moons about the countryside; crouches defensively in the asylum or the rectory; and talks with his gentle and protective brother Theo (Rupert Friend) or his painter colleague Paul Gauguin (Oscar Issac, below, in a quiet but sharp performance, rendering the brilliant synthesist in a much kinder portrait than we find in, say, The Moon and Sixpence). Defoe’s playing is so good that we confidently expect him not to win an Oscar, even as a late career present*^.

A number of actors appear, amusingly, as the models for some of Vincent’s greatest hits (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_works_by_Vincent_van_Gogh): Dr Gachet, Madame Ginoux, the mad soldier in Saint-Paul Hospital, the postie Joseph Roulin.  Vincent’s paintings are his biography, so much of the visual script, mainly locations in Paris and Arles, has been done already. But Schnabel’s taste and discretion make a hitherto rare break from cover in this film: we are generally spared touristy flourishes – no bedroom at Arles, thank god. What we do see is the driven genius, happily free from cliche. For example, when Vincent returns to a grim, mistral-frozen, window-rattling, spartan room, he doesn’t make a fire and take a little wine: he takes off his boots and starts, and finishes, a picture of them. By the way, the painterly and sketching activities are beautifully done.

There are some odd jarring notes. When Mads Mikkelson (below), as a priest supervising the artist’s treatment, suggests gently (but persistently) that perhaps Vincent has missed his calling, he draws a riposte from Gogh that he will be appreciated by later generations. This struck us as as a flourish: false, and dumb…not Vincent at all. Dare we suggest that the script was channeling ‘the Plate Man’ at that point?

“How terrible art thou in thy works!”

And the conclusion was somewhat odd. There is no evidence that we know of to suggest that Vincent was shot dead by two boys playing Cowboys and Indians. And we did not quite know what to make of the last scene: a closing-down sale of Vincent’s paintings, with the artist lying in his coffin amid them.  This a shot at the rapacious modern art world, we guess, but it sat ill.  The better end came after the credits: an epitaph spoken by Gauguin, the screen painted a luminous yellow, Vincent’s favourite colour.

At Eternity’s Gate

[*Time, 7/8/2012.] [**1987: Hughes’ review is reproduced in his collection Nothing if Not Critical (1990).] [^ E.H. Gombrich, The Story of Art (1950), p. 423.] [*^ As we predicted, Dafoe did not win. As Vincent might have said: “Zo is het leven” (that’s life).]

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The Aerodrome

February 17, 2019 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Fiction, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS, WRITING & LITERATURE |

(by Rex Warner) (1941)

Prima facie, this is a poor book: clunkily written, slurpily edited, wildly uneven, as devoid of depth in characters or the forces moving them as any book can be. And yet, it has something; it tackles the great theme of the 20th Century, and beyond – totalitarian cohesion and ‘cleanliness’ vs the chaos and mud of ‘normal’ humanity.  And the dry, deadpan way in which high tragedy and low comedy are presented here seem in a screwy authentic way to mirror the keep-calm-and-carry-on fashion of the time in which it was written.

Roy (i.e. Rex) is an orphan brought up at the Rectory in the kind of rural village one finds in Boulting Bros. comedies, adjacent the sinister Aerodrome, which steadily acquires and reshapes its ground and mores. The Air Vice-Marshal is the implacable overlord – his crimes must continue so that the world may be clean. By ‘clean’, he means free of the detritus of the old way, such as family, home, love and marriage, deistic traditions, private property: all words without wings, not to be uttered or indulged by airmen.

Roy, close to a blank-slate, becomes a Speer to this Hitler-figure, who will ultimately be disappointed in him (as all fathers and sons eventually are in the other). It is not just Roy who has a patchy past – the village could have been named Peyton Place.  And up at the Aerodrome, despite all the Gestapo-style gung-ho, there are secrets and lies too. The scofflaw Flight-Lieutenant, a cipher if there ever was, has his fingerprints everywhere, including on Roy’s fiancé. At one stage, he accidentally kills the Rector whilst demonstrating a machine gun at a village fair (naturally) and informs the victim’s putative son, Roy: “Of course, it was quite unintentional, but I can’t help feeling a bit cut up about it.”

The plot, loopy and jerry-built as it is (Nineteen Eighty Four it ain’t) has Roy lapsing in his fascistic fervour (which disappears as fast as it arose) and choosing the natural muddle of mankind, the old world, “clean…and most intricate, fiercer than tigers, wonderful and infinitely forgiving.”  Warner was a Kafka groupie but unlike his idol, he is an optimist, and so the underdogs muddle through to triumph, though without honour, or much of it.

“The man is dead. His family is, I believe, well provided for. That, on this subject, is all, I think, which needs to be said.”

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Eurovision Australia 2019

February 11, 2019 | Posted by Lesley Jakobsen | AUSTRALIANIA, Modern Music, MUSIC, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |
[Eurovision Australian Heats, February 9, 2019.]

Since Australia’s first Eurovision entry in 2015 Guy Sebastian’s “Tonight Again’, we have cheered Dami Im (second in 2016 (she was robbed)) and have cringed at Jessica Mauboy, notably referred to by ‘The Spectator’ magazine as a ‘vast caterwauling aboriginal‘.

Finally we antipodeans have had the opportunity to vote (as if it hasn’t all been decided beforehand) on our entrant. The final, from the appropriately kitsch Gold Coast, Queensland, was shown on SBS and hosted by a chipper Joel Creasy (“trilingual” in English, Millenial and Drag-Queen) and an uncomfortable Myf Warhurst in unflattering hot pink.

Each of the ten entrants was introduced with cheery footage of them at their usual daily activities aboard a rollercoaster, on a segue, in a harness, and so on.

We explain our Euro Points System here.  But really it’s the vibe of the thing. This year we scored each act out of 5.  We also awarded Song Points, that is to say, the higher the score, the more likely that we could bear to listen to this song in the real world, when not suffering ‘Eurovision Delusion Syndrome’.  We also noted Euro quotes this year.  These are the usual vapid and cliched statements made by the contestants. There is an exception. We were too gob-smacked by Ella Hooper’s camel toe to recall a word that she had said.

So here we are – The Official TVC Australian Eurovision Final votes for 2019

1 – Ella Hooper, (ex Killing Heidi) plump in a curious lace leotard-legging outfit with an unfortunate centre seam – Eurovision gold!! 1 Song Point for a forgettable number, Data Dust.  3 Euro Points for the outfit, the Ruby Wax look alike on guitar and a mosh pit dive.

2 – the duo Electric Fields  with 2000 and Whatever. 3 points for a not too bad song, despite its being incomprehensible whether in English or indigenous language.  A massive 4 Euro points for gender fluidity, a big hair reveal, bad dancing and lava lamp backdrop. Electric Field’s Euro quote – “Cos at the end of the day we are more similar than we are different”.  (This sentiment must be uttered during every Eurovision telecast, at least once. Preferably in French).

3 – Mark Vincent with This is Not the End.  Mark has the speaking voice of Santo Cilauro and the singing voice of a psuedo opera singer.  3.5 for a pretty decent James Bondish song. 1 Euro point – for the Khamal-like effect. Euro quote – “Music for me is everything.  It is my life”. This is also a compulsory Eurovision statement.

4 – Ayden.  Ayden believes the urban myth that affecting a single name improves a mediocre act’s chances of winning Eurovision. It doesn’t . You see, ABBA were appealing and talented. Ayden is neither. Ayden worked his way through Dust, using every trick Ayden learned at Boy Band School, pointing at the camera and at random 12 year old girls in the crowd, and casting smouldering, self-loving looks. Nil points for the song. Nil Euro points. Ayden’s Euro quote – “I feel like I’m starting to discover my sound”.

5 – Courtney Act.  We smiled at Courtney’s pre-song film when she wobbled across a rocky coastal outcrop wearing 4 inch stilettos, and that was the end of the amusement.  Courtney cannot sing and her Fight for Love was blah. 0 for the song. A solid 4 Euro points for the creepy, crotch-skimming shiny red rubber outfit, the contortionists (!), more gender fluidity and releasing a red heart-shaped balloon. Courtney’s Euro quote was the weakest attempt of the night – “[I’m] fighting for refugee rights….it’s kind of a protest song”.  Sigh.

(We pause here for Myf’s Euro quote :  “There is such a diverse range of genres on stage tonight”, and Joel’s lovely reference to “fruity lexia and a cube of cheese” (Although in true Eurovision style this does not seem to be entirely original. We suspect Mr Creasy of owing something to Two and a Half Men’s “box of wine and can of aerosol cheese”).

6. Leea Nanos, a halfway decent turn. Leea, who is 16, as we were constantly reminded, had her hair done-up like Get Smart’s Barbara Feldon, put on Agent 99’s lace-up jumpsuit and warbled Set Me Free. A bit Italian Variety Style but worth 3.5 for the song. 3 Euro points for the huge backside, a lot of hopping up and down, odd gestures and laser effects. Because she is 16, Leea gets more than one Euro quote: “I can express myself through music the best…I’m not the best with words”,  “[It’s about] my own experience with a guy I liked”, and “I may be 16 but I’m chasing my goals.” Bless.

7.  Sheppard.  A true (does that mean fake?) Eurovision contender here – one band member wore a crown and blue hair, another gamely donned a sequinned mini dress and strummed a guitar. On My Way gets an average 2.5 Song Points but the whole effort gets 4.5 Euros. Their Euro quote is suitably odd. “We’re actually siblings”. Hmm.

8.  After banging on and on about his nonna, Alfi (on no! Ayden will be angry), an over-muscled narcissist, sang To Myself (no surprises there). Lyrics included the lines, “I can’t blame nobody else. Did I do this to myself? It was wrong”. We think he was referring to his astoundingly complex facial hair. Finishing with a seductive look to camera, Alfi gets 0 points and 0 points. Alfi’s quote is beautiful- “It goes down into the roots of my teenage years and struggling with my sexuality”.

9.  Kate Miller-Heidke (see main image).  Now, this is Eurovision.  It is no spoiler to tell you that Ms Miller-Heidke won the Australian final and is odds-on to win the whole thing. Wearing a 12 foot high Statue of Liberty get-up and doing a fabulous squeaky impression of that other Kate – Bush – she fake-operetta’d her way through Zero Gravity, backed by a dark shadow witchy person on a bendy stilt. Again, there is nothing new in Eurovision and we were reminded of Estonia’s Elina Nechayeva in Lisbon in 2018. Kate is not the opera singer she thinks she is, but she IS Eurovision, also giving us the grown-up version of one of Leea Nanos’s Euro quotes (Leea is 16), “it uses the metaphor of a bad relationship”. But that’s not Kate’s Euro quote, her winner in that category is another Eurovision compulsory, “It’s a hard song to sing”. 5 for the song and 5 Euros.

10 – Tania Doro.  Poor Tania.  She had to go on after the dark shadow on the bendy pogo stick…also she is too old for Eurovision.  (Leea Nanos is only 16.) Tania’s song, Piece of Me was ok, as was her voice. 2 points for that. 2 Euro points for the weird fat dancers and asymmetrical purple pant suit. Tania’s Euro quote though is a Eurovision rhinestone!! “We’ve had quite a bit of interest from it including JLo” and the ever-wonderful, boast “…as a working mum…”.

Left to Right above then Left to Right below: Kate Miller-Heidke; Mark Vincent; Electric Fields; Courtney Act; Alfi; Ayden; Leea Nanos; Ella Hooper; Tania Doro; Sheppard.

SBS did a terrific job.  Joel and Myf are likeable, although Myf was nervous. Julia Z and Sam P were missed.  The show was snappy and awkward, glitsy and quick.  In particular, the voting was mercifully fast, although we would have enjoyed some Face-time links, “Hello from Pymble and thank you SBS for a great show….”  4 Euro points.

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Bohemian Rhapsody (by Lesley-Ann Jones)

“Bohemian Rhapsody.  The Definitive Biography of Freddie Mercury” (by Lesley-Anne Jones) (1997; recently re-issued)

This biography (not to be confused with the 2018 film Bohemian Rhapsody – click here for our review) is a sympathetic look at the life of the Queen front-man, from his lonely boyhood as Farrokh Bulsara, diligent Parsee schoolboy at an Indian boarding school, to his lonely death at age 46 as Freddie Mercury, adored British rock star. Some of those from his Zoroastrian background do not see this as an upward trajectory – his cousin Diana said, “He gave up his family name.  He did not live like us.  He was nothing at all to do with us.  He never came back.  He wasn’t proud of Zanzibar.  He was a stranger.  He was of another life.”  Certainly, Freddie kept his sexuality and the more sordid aspects of his lifestyle from his conservative parents as well as he could, although it is hard to believe that they were as naive as he hoped.  They could read the newspapers, after all.

It’s always a mistake to call a biography “definitive”.  (See our review  of Gold Dust Woman : The Biography of Stevie Nicks although Jones’ book is much better than Davis’s).  Several earlier biographies are mentioned by Jones, “Mercury and Me” 1994, by Mercury’s partner Jim Hutton (and Tim Wapshott) apparently is an undignified tell-all about their sexual practices and Mercury’s final days.  This one, although not “sanitised” sufficiently to horrify Sacha Baron Cohen (see review above), is light reading and not sensationalist. It is kind and generous to Freddie, who although kind, generous and polite himself, could be vicious and demanding – not surprising given that he was part of a multi-million dollar business which sent tens of tons of equipment by sea and air in advance of international dates.

The pivotal place of Mary Austin, an early friend and former lover, in Mercury’s life is well-documented. The image of Mercury in his long-haired, velvet-and-satin bohemian days lunching with Mary in the Rainbow Room is too much for this Biba aficionado. Mary was with Freddie until the end, finally as a sort-of paid friend and hard-edged keeper of the door. It is suggested that in part she used Mercury’s guilt about having not fulfilled his promise to marry her to retain her closeness. Mercury’s liaisons with Jim Hutton and countless nameless men are well known. Less well-known and surprising is his relationship (and yes, it was sexual) later in life with Barbara Valentin, a plump, middle-aged former actress whom he seemed really to have loved.

Jones’ book suffers from the fault of all biographies written by an “I was there journalist”, who really wasn’t there all that much. A breathless piece in the Introduction details the conversation Mercury had with Jones and other journalists who happened to be in the same pub (Mercury having apparently not yet “sussed” them). Jones –  “We were keeping a lid on it. Trying to be cool. Willing the killer instinct to subside, the one that would have had us flying at the phone to call our news editors with the scoop of the year, that we had rock’s most sought-after showman cornered in a foreign boozer; we swallowed a couple more shots and waited.  This was a priceless opportunity”. And the off the record – until now – scoop?  Freddie ‘mused’, “I’ve created a monster.  The monster is me.  I can’t blame anyone else.  It’s what I’ve worked for since I was a kid.  I would have killed for this.  Whatever happens to me is all my fault.  It’s what I wanted.  It’s what we all strive or.  Success, fame, money, sex, drugs – whatever you want.  I can have it.  But now I’m beginning to see that as much as I created it, I want to escape from it,  I’m starting to worry that I can’t control it, as much as it controls me.”  Freddie, no more naive than his parents, could read the papers too.

As is usual in this sort of biography, there is a lot of regurgitating of things said by the subject’s fellow band members, family, assistants, managers, hangers on and other musicians – usually not to Jones herself.  Oddly, photographs of Jones with these types of people (none with the subject of the book) are included in the photos. These, and other pictures should have been excised and the money saved spent on better quality paper.

Criticisms of the book have included the claim that it jumps around time-wise. That is so, but typical for this kind of soft biography. There are a helpful Chronology and Discography and an unhelpful Index at the back. A list of the major players would have helped, as the various sound engineers, managers, PR people, musicians and accompanists quoted are difficult to differentiate. Perhaps Jones should not have asserted that in the film to be made after publication of her book, “Freddie is played by Borat and Bruno star Sacha Baron Cohen…”

From this reviewer’s personal point of view, it is surprising that there is no mention of Queen being booed off the stage in Victoria, Australia in 1974 (“go back to Pommyland, ya pooftahs”).  Nor is there mention of Queen’s tour of Australia in 1976, which the reviewer knows happened, because she saw them on stage in Adelaide on the 15th April that year.

Naturally, a book about Freddie Mercury will contain much about his sexuality and partiality for orgies. This is not a book for musicians, but perhaps a little more about the actual mechanics of Queen’s music and Mercury’s talent would have brought it up a stage.

This seems a lot of criticism for a three star book. Do not let these fore-warnings deter you if you are a Queen devotee or simply interested in the horrors of the rock world.  It is an ordinary rock biography, just a cut above average, unlike its subject. On other hand, it is charming and fast-moving, like its subject.

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