Meistersingers of Melbourne

November 27, 2018 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Classical Music, MUSIC, Opera, OPERA, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS, WAGNER |

Monday 19 November 2018 (Arts Centre, Melbourne)

Royal Opera’s then house director, the notorious Kasper Holten, originally designed this production.  The Spectator’s Michael Tanner declared of the London version, “Nothing could prepare me for so deep an abyss of idiocy.”  We know what he means, but speaking personally, apart from some (very large) grumbles, we were not overly bothered by the sets or the “reinterpretation,” no doubt due to a combination of our own jaundiced lethargy and contempt. Also, Meistersinger is perhaps the only Wagnerian piece which is impervious to Regieoper, even when the Guild Hall in Act I is reconstructed as a men’s health club (all that sauna-like wood) and Hans Sachs’ workshop is fashioned as an industrial-scale factory, with giant automata straight from the world of steam-punk – at the close of Act II, two chaps dangled from a spinning wheel most impressively.

What was lost was any sense of Nuremberg as an actual village of actual people. And when the fight was supposed to break out it looked more like a casting call for a Fellini film, complete with the night watchman (earlier seen on his rounds with what seemed to be a prosthetic heel) reincarnated as Pan, fully cloven-hoofed!  We will give the direction one tick, however – at the conclusion of Act I, when Walther von Stolzing, the knight errant (Stefan Vinke) spurns the Guild Hall in fury and frustration, charging up the stairs to the door while the Mastersingers and their retinue are immersed in hubbub, all of a sudden, as the orchestra swells, the light changes from a warm gold to a metallic blue strobe, and all but Walther freeze as if in an old-fashioned daguerreotype (emphasising that the old order passeth, giving way to new).  It was highly effective, a brilliant touch.  Alas, they tried something similar at the close of Act II, without success.

Act III had problems too. The first half was rather anodyne; the second had colour and pizzazz, yet lacked emotional resonance because Hans’ longing had been a little too muted, the setting lacked cohesion and the pomp was too redolent of a night at the Grammys. But the greatest error was yet to come. When Walther has won the contest (Hanslich’s…sorry, Beckmessers’ disastrous rendering of the prize song had pretty hilarious adulterated lyrics) he is prevailed upon to accept the laurels and enter the Mastersingers’ guild.  But Eva, whom he has also won, spurns him as though he has joined the Hitler Youth.  It is a piece of textual vandalism; not because Herr Holten has changed the libretto – even Wagner could stomach that – but because the new scenario is simply ludicrous.  Eva has reluctantly bowed to her father’s wishes to marry the winner of the songfest – she has wanted Walther to win, or failing that, widow and Mastersinger Hans Sachs, as a consolation prize – so why at the successful realisation of her hopes does she turn and run? Why the sudden contempt for tradition? Is this some dumb #MeToo / New Feminist trope, or worse, an adaptation of Godwin’s Law?  If so, it shows once again how some progressives fall into the trap of believing we’re all as stupid as they are.  ‘Enjoy other people’s pain: go to the opera’ was a Staatsoper Stuttgart  tagline that Holten adores: he seems to wear it as a personal badge of honour.  Only he’s the one having fun: we suffer.

Natalie Aroyan as Eva and Dominica Matthews as Magdalene

We can’t much criticise any of the musicians or players (full list below).  Conductor Pietari Inkinen and an expanded Orchestra Victoria were first class, as were the members of the Opera Australia Chorus.  Michael Kupfer-Radecky wasn’t quite up to Sachs, his voice at times smothered by the goings-on and his acting daftly muted – the performance of Shane Lowrencev in the concertised version of Act III in Adelaide struck us as superior. Natalie Aroyan was splendid as Eva (she had the good grace to look a little dazed at her absurd exit at finale), Stefan Vinke gave us a cardboard knight but sang extremely well, and Nicholas Jones was droll as the Master’s Apprentice.

Warwick Fyfe was the hit of the evening in the comically villainous role of Beckmesser. Fyfe is the Peter Lorre of contemporary opera, creating a burgeoning gallery of operatic rogues and rascals: Klingsor in Parsifal, Alberich in The RingFalstaff, and Dr Bartolo in The Barber of Seville. He was perfect here in his malice, paranoia and isolation. He also had to deal with mock-playing of a celeste, a trickier matter than playing ‘air-lute.’  His “song” was a laugh riot and his pedantic adherence to old rules and forms would have even made Wagner chuckle.  Another great turn from Mr. Fyfe.

CAST & CREW (Thanks to Opera Australia’s website):

CONDUCTOR Pietari Inkinen
DIRECTOR Kasper Holten
REVIVAL DIRECTOR Dan Dooner
SET DESIGNER Mia Stensgaard
COSTUME DESIGNER Anja Vang Kragh
LIGHTING DESIGNER Jesper Kongshaug
CHOREOGRAPHER Signe Fabricius
ASSISTANT DIRECTOR Matthew Barclay
EVA Natalie Aroyan
DAVID Nicholas Jones
MAGDALENE Dominica Matthews
WALTHER VON STOLZING Stefan Vinke
HANS SACHS Michael Kupfer-Radecky
SIXTUS BECKMESSER Warwick Fyfe
VEIT POGNER Daniel Sumegi
FRITZ KOTHNER Luke Gabbedy
NIGHTWATCHMAN Adrian Tamburini
KUNZ VOGELGESANG John Longmuir
BALTHASAR ZORN Joshua Oxley
AUGUSTIN MOSER Kanen Breen
ULRICH EISSLINGER Robert Macfarlane
KONRAD NACHTIGALL Andrew Jones
HERMANN ORTEL Michael Honeyman
HANS FOLTZ Gennadi Dubinsky
HANS SCHWARTZ Richard Anderson

Opera Australia Chorus

Orchestra Victoria

[Photos by Jeff Busby] Continue Reading →

First Reformed

November 24, 2018 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Drama Film, FILM, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

Written and directed by Paul Schrader (2018)

As Chesterton is said to have said, ‘When you stop believing in God, you start believing in anything.’ This small but intense film about loneliness, isolation and moral agony, centred upon a narrator in crisis, echoes to an extent Schrader’s script for Taxi Driver, and its catharsis is similarly flawed, albeit more ambiguous. Much of the initial reaction has been to declare this film Schrader’s masterpiece, but we are of the view that his best film by far is the superb Affliction (which, again, bears some superficial resemblance to that on display here).

Ethan Hawke (in an internalised, trembling, taut performance) is Reverend Toller, in charge of a dinky little church in a dinky little parish, more visited by passing tourists than his flock. Toller has lost his wife and son and is rapidly losing his faith, seeking to view his despair as the necessary adjunct to hope, finding solace in the bottle.  He starts a journal (always a bad thing for loners) and becomes embroiled in pastoral care for a man ( Philip Ettinger) who has worshipped at the altar of dangerous anthropogenic climate change.  He tries to assuage but ends up absolving, and the audience, believers or not, hanker for some old time religion, a bit of blood and thunder, dispensed by, say, Max von Sydow from The Exorcist or Elmer Gantry or the honey-and-horse-sense of W.G. Fay in Odd Man Out.  Of course, Toller’s help is no help – a fish out of water cannot assist another – and after his parishioner blows his brains out (as Noel Coward might say, he must have been an incredibly good shot) – Toller and the widow (Amanda Seyfried, good in a muted role) discover a suicide vest secreted in the garage. That vest becomes a sort of plot trope and emblem of Schrader’s theme of destruction and despair, as it did briefly in Wiener Dog.

Here the film veers into knight-in-shining-armour territory. Like Travis Bickle, washing the scum from his cab, deciding to go postal and wash the scum off the sidewalk, the reverend becomes the defender of Gaia herself, leading the charge against the various (small town) corporate forces degrading the earth.  It is tempting to see this not-so-smooth segue in purely subjective terms, a measure of Toller’s confusion and need for certainty, meaning and a mission – a defiant signal of virtue; alas, it seems all-too clear that we are meant to spoon-down the gruel of Schrader’s eco-message, one that shows considerably less courage than might have been applied, with more interesting results. It does facilitate the entry of handy villains in the form of the local industrialist who quarrels with Toller about climate change, and the ‘enabler,’ a very likable, common-sense, flexible, and thus dangerous Church leader (Cedric Kyles, in a terrific performance).  

But despite flaws and uneven tone, First Reformed is still of definite morbid interest, beautifully shot and played, with surreal touches on the nature of faith, transcendence, blood and soil, and a finale that resonates without inspiring, where Hawke wrestles with both angels and demons in the vestry, while the various evil dignitaries await him in Church, and there is terror, frustration, flagellation, and a kind of freedom.

“Mark, ix, 43…’

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La Bohéme

November 23, 2018 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | MUSIC, Opera, OPERA, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

Melbourne, 20 November 2018

An interesting but not trouble-free evening at the Arts Centre for the virtually indestructible La Bohème. Pointlessly but harmlessly ‘re-imagined’ (by director Gale Edwards) to Berlin in the last days of the Weimar Republic, 100 years after the work is actually set, and not in Paris (the cast still sing incongruously in Italian – why not stage it in Rome and replace Benoit with Mussolini?). Sets were appropriately stark (the garret – it still looked like a garret to us, and the tollgate, replete with pretty and lethal snow falling outside) and lush (the Café Momus, looking more like the Folies Bergère than Cabaret, in an ‘AO’ scene possibly designed for chaps arriving late from the races) and most of the cast were in fine form.  There’s no flat spot in this work, and whilst the story is close to the purest sentimental trash, what trash it is!  The Higher Trash, in fact, and better than most works of Art.

Conductor Pietro Rizzo helped Orchestra Victoria bring out all the creaminess of the score, Puccini’s various musical flourishes well interspersed so as to complement the singing. It has been noted that his Bel canto can be difficult to sing, often reaching points of white-hot intensity that it can be more of a strain than much in, say, Wagner, which tends to be more deliberately-paced. Alas, so it proved this night, when South Korean tenor Yosep Kang, obviously most comfortable in the middle register, showed signs of breaking down in Act I, during the great love duet with Mimi, O soave fanciulla. Kang creaked, and laboured, and we feared for him, but he manfully avoided disaster and closed-out the wonderful conclusion to the Act.  But after the interval, Lyndon Terracini (no less)* came out to explain that Kang had retired hurt and a replacement – whose name we are still endeavouring to ascertain – would carry on as Rodolfo. (Already Tom Hamilton had replaced the first choice for the minor character Alcindoro). Thus another fellow from the interchange bench rose, and would provide the haunting O Mimì, tu più non torni and seek to persuade us that after splitting-up with Mimi, he was a changed man. The voice was a tad weaker but entirely adequate, and worthy of the warm applause he received at finale for a true trouper’s effort.

The stand-outs on the night were Latvian soprano Maija Kovalevska as Mimì, baritone Christopher Tonkin as Marcello and Soprano Jane Ede as Musetta – they were all very fine and strong of voice and whilst the roles don’t require much nuance, they do call for natural playing and a touch of charm, which they provided.  Richard Anderson, a plangent bass, was also a stout Colline (looking with his full beard like Durin in Moria).

In sum, a pleasant and moving, conservative production, that is free from too-much tinkering, and which paid entertaining and apposite homage to one of Opera’s pillars.

[* Mr. Terracini made a pleasantry about Kang getting hay fever from Melbourne’s plentiful plane trees, but we wondered if something more fundamental was going on.  After all, Terracini wouldn’t often be called on to front a crowd with such bad news, even if Melbourne is much more forgiving than Milan.  As Gough Whitlam commented when the coalition government drafted Garfield Barwick into its ranks: “The Government must be in trouble. It has long been said in the courts: ‘If you are in no trouble any lawyer will do, but if you are in real trouble send for Barwick.'”] [Photos by Jeff Busby] Continue Reading →

Bohemian Rhapsody

November 5, 2018 | Posted by Lesley Jakobsen | Drama Film, FILM, Modern Music, MUSIC, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

(dir. Bryan Singer) (2018)

(Click here for our review of the book of the same name by Lesley-Ann Jones.)

If you don’t get a shiver down the spine during the opening scene of Bohemian Rhapsody, as we follow Freddie Mercury (Rami Malek) onto the stage at Live Aid, you don’t deserve Freddie, or this terrific film – a goose-pimpling, foot-stomping bio-pic with heart.

Yes, it follows the usual trajectory of ambitious boys putting their all into their music, despite evil managers and uncaring music company execs.  Yes, we know the story, and the film may not be entirely historically accurate, but like its namesake song, the whole is more than the sum of its parts.  Some viewers may be bothered that Malek doesn’t look a bit like Freddie – he lacks the handsomeness, the hardness and – did Farrokh Bulsara have blue eyes?  It doesn’t matter, Malek’s singing, miming and – my word – his prancing, do Freddie proud. Everyone else looks like who they are meant to look like, despite some bad wigs. Ben Hardy (Roger Taylor), Joseph Mazzello (John Deacon), Gwilym Lee (Brian May), Ace Bhatti (Bomi Bulsara) and Meneka Das (Jer Bulsara) are standouts. But we give a special special mention to Allen Leech as Paul Prenter, who brings depth to his thankless role as Mercury’s manipulative and ultimately traitorous partner. The final scene between the two, in the pouring rain, is marvellous. Lucy Boynton as Mary Austin does as good a job as can be expected in an underwritten role.

The  music is superbly handled – it stops and starts just as it should.  The scenes at the Wembley Live Aid concert in 1985, the concert which brought Queen back from near obscurity, are breathtakingly good.

Singer directs with love and zest. Hearts lift when Brian May comes up with the clapping and stomping for We Will Rock You and when John Deacon stops an argument by playing the opening riff of Another One Bites the Dust. Although the story is, as Sacha Baron Cohen famously said, ‘sanitised’, it is not coy about Freddie’s promiscuity. His visit to an Aids clinic and the symptoms of his final illness are treated with delicacy and pathos.

There are in-jokes.  When Mike Myers as Ray Foster (a fictional EMI executive) says that he can’t stand Bohemian Rhapsody (although rhapsody is not a word he can get his mouth around) because it is not the kind of song that head-banging kids will listen to in the car, we immediately see Myers as Wayne in the opening scene of Wayne’s World.  If you don’t shed a tear when the screen fades to black and the inevitable titles remind us of how it all ended, then you are not worthy.

[P agrees, but adds that (1) Joseph Mazzello has grown up since his role in Shadowlands; and (2) He was annoyed by the fact the other band members made fun of Roger Taylor’s I’m In Love With My Car – what a great song!] Continue Reading →

Look Now

November 4, 2018 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Modern Music, MUSIC, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

By Elvis Costello and the Imposters (2018)

Elvis Returns! With a typically eclectic record containing hints and echoes of the grand past.  There’s a little spirit of Painted From Memory, Imperial Bedroom, and Mighty Like a Rose, but the material is still starkly new.  We’ve only had time for about 10 spins so far, but at this early stage, we particularly like his #me-too classic, “Under Lime,” about a louche, washed-up star waiting in the Green Room, which is both hip and wise, and witty. Likewise his re-working of “Unwanted Number” is terrific, and we love the melody of “Dishonour the Stars” and “He’s Given Me Things,” and the depth for feeling of “Burnt Sugar Is so Bitter.”  Repayment with compound interest on multiple playing.  Don’t be put off by his Worst Album Cover Ever.

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Carl Barron – “Drinking With a Fork”

October 31, 2018 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | AUSTRALIANIA, THEATRE, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

Adelaide Entertainment Centre, 30 October 2018

A Queensland doppelganger for Paul Kelly, stand-up Carl Barron rapidly (almost obsessive-compulsively) circled the stage at a packed Ent. Cent last night, and his act went over a treat.  We might have missed a reference to his titular joke, ‘Drinking with a fork,’ but then, The Varnished Culture was locked-out for 7 minutes with several other unfortunates, having queued at length for some overpriced Bundy-and-Coke (to fire-up for the Man from Longreach’s act) – thanks, Entertainment Centre!  Nevertheless, Barron was true to form, and stayed mainly on script, with his usual array of observational and occasionally literate, sometimes scatological, often sideways comedy.  His upbringing by fairly pitiless parents featured (His Dad’s chastisements seemed to 10 year old Carl symptomatic of early-onset dementia: “What did I just say?”) as did his knack for puncturing euphemisms, pretension, faux outrage, and cant.  And we enjoyed his whining, incoherent country song that seemed to consist of random squawks and mumbling.  When asked about his favourite topic for comedy, Barron has said “Me, and how stupid you can be.  It’s an endless source of inspiration, because if you bag yourself, you’re bagging everyone.”

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Frank, My Dear, We Don’t Give a Damn

East West Street, written by Philippe Sands (2017)

“To do a great right, do a little wrong” (The Merchant of Venice, Act IV, Scene 1)

It was a dilemma – in the smoking ashes of WWII, there were several handfuls of Nazi insiders scooped-up by the Allied forces. What to do with them? Hitler and his main henchmen were gone, bullets in their brains or cyanide caps twixt their clenched teeth (sometimes both) – and the residue claimed the time-honoured defence, ‘Befehl ist Befehl.’  Whilst the ‘odious apparatus’ of the Third Reich assiduously documented their outrages, prosecutors yet faced awesome evidentiary gaps, witnesses with axes to grind, and the limits of the human brain which found it hard to believe how low human perfidy could go. A new jurisprudence was required (i.e., they had to make some stuff up), and how this was done makes up a large part of this curious but interesting book.

Adding to this, occasionally oddly, are grabs of memoir and thriller.  Sands, a human rights barrister in London, recounts the lives of three men from or near the same village in Poland (Lemberg) – his grandfather, Leon, an innkeeper who came to Vienna and then fled west as Hitler’s reach extended; Hersch Lauterpacht, professor of international law, who developed the legal concept of “crimes against humanity” to combat the excesses of the nation state emblematised in Nazi Germany, and Rafael Lemkin, a lawyer and agitator who invented the concept of “Genocide.”  (Leon’s and Lautepacht’s family both lived on East West Street.)  We get their potted biographies, interspersed with ruminations about the State vs the Individual, and in a cavalcade featuring these and minor players (pawns and rooks), there are no heroes (as Goering said at Nuremberg, those who defied Hitler were heroes, but they are all dead heroes).

An exception to this is a Ms Elsie Tilney, an Oskar-Schindler-character (if not in persona, in courage), a devout protestant and spinsterish lady from Surrey, who carried out missionary work and while interned by the Germans in France after hostilities broke out, managed to smuggle several Jews to safety, including the author’s mother. She (‘une femme remarquable‘) gets a slight but riveting chapter, as do various ghosts – a man in a bow tie, for example; there’s reference to an unidentified girl in a red dress. On the other side of the coin, we have a long chapter on Hans Frank, the “Butcher of Warsaw,” Hitler’s principal lawyer, who was sent to the provinces as Governor-General of that charnel-house known as occupied Poland.  Frank, a cultured, educated, cynical opportunist who re-discovered Jesus under the shadow of the gallows, was largely responsible for the notorious Nuremberg Laws, but these were baby steps compared to what Der Führer had in mind, hence the demotion. Frank responded by cheerily shoving Poland’s entire Jewish population (one and half million of them) into ghettos and in his own good time, having them deported for liquidation, meanwhile consigning the remaining Poles as a stock of slave labour.

“I declare myself not guilty.”

Sands documents all this, and more – using a number of sources (including Trial Records, Lemkin’s unreliable diary, old photos, museum visits, chats over lunch, a good amount of speculation) and generally barges into the story a tad like Germany barged into Poland, in what we have come to know – and dread – as the “immersive approach,” where the author “pored over archives,” is asked if he’d like to see the classrooms where Lauterpacht and Lemkin studied? “Yes, I replied, very much” and where he says “only now, many years later, have I come to understand the darkness of the events…” “We looked at a few black-and-white photographs I’d brought. One was a postcard of the famous seventeenth-century Zólkiew synagogue in a state of dilapidation. Did she remember the building? ‘No.'”  “‘Who was Miss Tilney?’ I asked my mother. ‘No idea,’ she replied, without much enthusiasm.”  “I read the poem, unable to discern any immediate clue that might explain his solitary state or the poem’s relevance.”  And seemingly every sigh, or shrug of the shoulders, by his interlocutors must be documented, with the fervour of a Hans Frank keeping his lethal diaries.

There is an irritating amount of repetition, sometimes poor use of language.  “If occasionally impecunious, McNair helped with a small loan.” “Seemingly on the up…”      On a birthday present to Frank, Himmler’s “deep-blue signature, slightly smudged, was unforgiving.”  There is a fair helping of bland, unnecessary information.  Do we really need to know that “As we talked, Inka poured cups of dark Russian tea,” or that, at Nuremberg for the trial, Lauterpacht “was lodged at the Grand Hotel, an establishment with a fine bar that is unchanged today“?  Sands points out, at least 4 times in 2 pages, that Hartley Shawcross based his opening address to the Court largely on text supplied by Lauterpacht.

But despite these flaws, the narrow degrees of separation of peoples, the cultural salad, and sheer magnitude of the depravity, that obtained in the Europe of those days are generously and compellingly told here and, to a commendable degree, humanised.  Sands has worn out a lot of shoe leather: he has visited all the key sites, tracked down and talked to as many witnesses as possible, including the sons of Lauterpacht and Frank. The personal approach, whilst almost cloying at times, helps us deal with the ghastly facts. For these reasons, we would – with qualifications – recommend this book.

As an afterthought, we remember the only race of people that really counts is the human race – apt to be forgotten on occasion (Yes, it’s OK to be white, but not at the expense of the spectrum). Sands has some apt words in closing that folks tend to ‘team up’: “…the sense of group identity is a fact…It seems that a basic element of human nature is that ‘people feel compelled to belong to groups and, having joined, consider them superior to competing groups.'”  (This is essentially how and why Homo sapiens saw-off the Neanderthals.) We also bear in mind that there are two sides not only to every story, but to every human law. For example, the 1950 European Convention on Human Rights – formulated in the wake of the rise of communism as well as the destruction of fascism – was heavily criticised at the time, particularly by the Left, as a reactionary return to personal rights at the expense of social and collective ones. So it goes, and the tension between individual freedom and social cohesion remains.

We’ll let former Governor-General Hans Frank have the final word, from his gaol cell, where (perhaps) the example of Jesus was beginning to sink in:

I tell you the scornful laughter of God is more terrible than any vengeful laws of man. Here are the would-be rulers of Germany, each in a cell like this with four walls and a toilet, awaiting trials as ordinary criminals. Is that not a proof of God’s amusement at a mass, sacrilegious quest for power?” [cited in 22 Cells in Nuremberg by Douglas M. Kelley, M.D. (1947) @ p. 150.]

Corpses at Treblinka Death Camp (Frank’s territory)

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Adelaide (Short) Film Festival Thoughts

October 16, 2018 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Comedy Film, Drama Film, FILM, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

GU Film House, Hindley St. Adelaide, 15 October 2018

It’s hard to tell a story.  It is an Art. And part of the art is in selection and concision. That said, there are several feature films that run for a couple of hours which we never want to end.  P feels this way, for example, about Accident, and Vertigo.  Others, like Picnic at Hanging Rock, seem to begin and end at exactly the right time…and place.  But others are quite long enough, thank you – think Lawrence of Arabia, which L wishes would terminate early, when Lawrence’s motorcycle goes off road (P disagrees). But generally, feature-length films could do with a drastic edit: there’s thousands (tens of thousands?) that could be trimmed to 90 minutes, or less (Darkest Hour and All the Money in the World are recent examples).

Cue the Adelaide Film Festival [place their address into your preferred search engine: http://adelaidefilmfestival.org/program] – Heavily featured are short films, some complete in themselves (an amuse bouche), others episodic, serving as an entree. They have the great advantage of concision, often paring-away the padding that marks time in standard-length fare.  There’s simply no space for fat and fluff when you’ve 10 to 20 minutes to tell a story or present a character.  They are cheaper to make – digital and other technologies enable auteurs to create without the slog of hawking a project around the festivals or film studios. Short films have their limitations, of course: they need careful handling in a different way to a feature film, in the same way that short stories must be managed differently from a novel. If care is not taken, they can play like a grab from a larger context and leave you wondering why bother with a scenario that was adjudged inadequate to develop more fully. At least one of the short films The Varnished Culture saw this evening fell into that category.

But we can say this about the 9 short films we saw: all were beautifully made (the editing was 1st class, apart from a couple of jump cuts), many were visually stunning, utilising technology and / or South Australian landscapes superbly, and none of them left one wondering about the point, or peering at one’s watch in the murk. Nor, thankfully, were the pieces freighted with agitprop, as can obtain from festivals such as Tropfest.

We’ll attempt brevity in review, in the spirit of the work under consideration:

Davi (See main image) – this for TVC was the hit of the night: a dystopian tale of the Numi, who in a dry forest of the dead, retain the unique ability to produce water (not by micturition) and are hence sought-after by hunters to exploit this resource through subjugation and slavery (think Hunger Games). Tender, violent and moving, it completely satisfied the demands of plot, character and denouement in its 18 minutes. A special shout-out for Holly Myers as the deputy leader of the hunters, in a startlingly lithe and vibrant performance. [Directed by Victoria Cocks **** (4 stars)]

The Big Nothing – We liked this episode concerning an inquiry into murder at a mining station located on a moon of Saturn. This first instalment featured an interview between a (perhaps overly bumptious) investigator and one of the prime suspects. It was well-played, and visually stunning – the planetary images recalled Douglas Trumbull’s brilliant work from Silent Running. [Directed by Lucy Campbell and Peter Ninos ***1/2]

Running 62 – This was basically a short doco about Zibeon Fielding, who attempts to run 62 kilometres through the remote APY lands to raise funds for indigenous healthcare. Mentored by famous marathon runner Robert de castella, Zibeon finds out that such a feat is hell on the feet and the rest of the body…and that the actual distance required is 63k!  There’s nothing outstanding about this film (the drone photography was excellent) but the likable people involved and the light, un-fussy way in which they are presented, made it the feel-good piece of the night. [Directed by Zibeon Fielding ***]

A Stone’s Throw – Apart from the odd surrealistic touch, this was a straight little drama about a troubled girl in hospital, and her equally troubled parents.  The acting is the star in this one. [Directed by Luke Wissell **1/2]

Freedom – This looked and sounded great – 2 brothers owe a gangster big money, so carry out a robbery. Then they get other ideas and things go pear-shaped. It has real possibilities, extended as a feature or tele-play but didn’t suit the 6 minute format, although filmed and acted with real flair. [Directed by David Muggleton **1/2]

Wild – Although this could easily fit into a skit from “Black Comedy,” that’s no mean feat. A woman turns up at the police station to bail out her truant younger brother; then she decides to inflict a bit of punishment of her own. Funny and over-played well, cleverly balancing the pathos and the comedy. [Directed by Kiara Milera ***]

Lucy and DiC – Lucy is a young (well, 29, going on…30) woman who aspires to self-help, but only with additional help.  She’s not served too well by her support drone, DiC, a talking, floating, opinionated bot, the bastard offspring of R2D2 and Wilson from Castaway, who can be a bit like his name implies. This is entertaining, amusing and looks like a series that could be popular, maybe with a few stronger jokes. [Directed by Jeremy Keller-Baker ***]

Small Town P.D. – Very silly, but hilarious: the town’s entire, useless cop-force cracks down hard on misdemeanors (often committed within their own ranks) whilst overlooking major felonies. A cross between Inspector Clouseau, the Keystone Cops and Reno 911. Nicely played and set-up. [Directed by Indianna Bell and Josiah Allen ***]

The Way – Telekinetic couple (lovers? father and daughter?) are on the run but one evening, sick of life in the bush, they check into a small motel, with disastrous results. A little predictable perhaps but faultlessly executed. [Directed by Jeremy Keller-Baker ***]

All in all, a great night – we’d much rather spend 100 minutes with these offerings than sit through First Man or A Star is Born (version # 4) any day!  The opening speeches by politicians and various bureaucrats were short and sweet as well. And the after-party at the resuscitated Queen’s Theatre was fun.

Rave On

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More Hanging Than Picnic

October 7, 2018 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | AUSTRALIANIA, THEATRE, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

“Picnic at Hanging Rock” – the Theatrical Adaptation (Directed by Geoff Brittain)

Adelaide University Theatre Guild, 6 October 2018

If you don’t know the story, you’ve been living on Mars.  Young ladies from Appleyard College set off with some of their teachers to picnic at Hanging Rock.  It’s a warm day; the students have been forbidden any ‘tomboy foolishness’ by exploring the Rock; what could go wrong? This saga of Joan Lindsay’s has galvanised generations of readers and film-goers – such has been the hype over the years that people have started to regard the mystery as True Crime.  And there is now a pay-TV series based on the 1967 novel, the 1975 film, and the 1900 scenario.

In this theatrical adaptation by Tom Wright, five performers struggle to solve the Big Mysteries: What Happened? Did it Happen? And if it did, where are the three missing ladies?

It deeply disappoints The Varnished Culture in having to reveal that this adaptation fails on almost every level.  It represents a desecration of the book, and the film. At times, this production annoyed us materially; at times, it amounted to a surprise (and unintended) comedy hit.

Script-wise, its purpose is opaque, indeed impenetrable: though the cast bear names of contemporary characters, these are virtually irrelevant, and certainly not the names of the principals in the story that they are, apparently, re-enacting. The piece dissolves into tableaux that plod along the well-worn plot path and deposit the weary spectator, 90 minutes later, at (hopefully) the nearest bar. It is not so much an adaptation or a ‘re-imagining’ but a plonking Pathé newsreel of an incident – Marat/Sade without the interest. And whilst the juxtaposition of arrivistes in a strange and savage environment poses one of the dramatic flourishes in both book and film, here it is trashed, at times by sheer negligence and at others by the script’s pandering to a kind of hysterical anti-colonialism. It is difficult to see the point in this mangled re-vamping of scenes from the film.

The set is so dreary as to become almost fascinating: some chairs and an over-used period cot, scrub resembling spinifex and some cheap bark chips scattered about, under a framed backboard that served as something to clamber up, and hovering over it, a curtain on which a hokey (when intelligible) bundle of phrases (meant to represent cosmic wisdom but more closely resembling the fumbling and empty effusions written in the programme by the set designer) are sloppily projected, complete with the same font that obtains from Peter Weir’s film.  When Sarah – sorry, “Sara” starts spinning on the floor in a fit of rage, we were reminded of the Director’s earlier offering, The Crucible! (a much better show, by the way).  The lacklustre settings didn’t assist the bewildering and disparate scenes to cohere in any meaningful way.  Occasionally, some simple lighting effects worked well, but on the whole, the sound effects didn’t enhance either the action or the atmosphere (but at least we didn’t have someone capering on stage dressed as a faun, working the pan pipes.  Thank heaven for small mercies).

Direction: The Director’s notes promised “a poetic mystery…a chilling, thrilling, unexplainable horror story, but above all, an entertaining piece of theatre.”  Guess you can’t win them all, but sadly, nothing along these lines was delivered, and even someone who had directed nothing before would have a hard time producing something as poor as this.

As for the acting?  Well, when neither script, nor staging, nor direction are on your side, it is usually time to start chewing the scenery, such as it is.  Usually, but not this night. The 5 actors, who took various roles, tried very hard, were sometimes OK, and often were not, trying far too hard, but not, alas, working very diligently to listen as well as speak. The declamatory style, referred to by Anthony Hopkins as “shouting at night,” recalled panto too often.  For example, the interviewing copper had a most intriguing accent and an interrogation method worthy of Keystone. Michael Fitzhubert kept doing florid double-takes at the mention of Miranda. And Mrs Appleyard, dressed in a villainous cape larger than Rodin’s work-smock, stalked about and screeched, a cackling catastrophe, giving us “The Freak” from Prisoner, Snidely Whiplash and the Wicked Witch of the West in one body.  At one point, we feared it would not be enough for Appleyard to whip “Sara” with her cane – it seemed she would twirl her moustache and tie the wretch to a railway line.

The Varnished Culture loves the Theatre Guild. We have also seen these same cast and crew members turn in exemplary work, more often than not matching and quite often exceeding that of fully professional production companies.  So it pains us to say that this production is an epic fail.

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The Football Solution

By George Megalogenis (2018)

First, one disclamatory reason for liking this book. At a pub on the south side of Adelaide on AFL Grand Final day, 2017, I was the sole Richmond supporter (wearing my Glenelg Tigers scarf and barracking for my 2nd team) which earned plenty of dirty looks.  Outside a restaurant in town after the match, I caught the eye of an Adelaide Crows fan, bedecked in all the gear, packing his sullen family into a people-mover.  Without a trace of sarcasm (because I’ve seen a few losing Grand Finals, and you don’t rub it in in such circumstances), I said to him “Bad luck mate – the Crows will be back.”  To which he charmingly replied “You’ll be dead before Richmond win another flag.”

Megalogenis is obviously a Richmond tragic, and it might be the best thing about him.  For whilst we here get a potted but entertaining reprise of the Club’s history and travails over their 150 years and 36 year premiership drought, and a fairly glib analysis of how the Board, Football Department and Team turned it around in 2017, this is still a rather silly book. Indeed, it reads like a vanity project, dripping with nostalgia, with a tacked-on argument – the Richmond experience can inform a return to the type of politics the author prefers – that is trite, unsubstantiated, and embarrassing.

Yes, George, it is true – whilst football has (arguably) been refined, developed and improved, our politics have deteriorated immeasurably. Yes George, it is true, its no longer John Curtin and Bob Menzies (see main image and below) in charge over in Canberra, not even Bob Hawke or John Howard.  But to suggest that when Richmond President Peggy O’Neal and CEO Brendan Gale held their nerve in 2016 and resisted a challenge to the Board’s direction for the Club, they “conducted themselves like politicians from another age“, it begs the question, “which politicians? Billy Hughes? Neville Chamberlain? Doc Evatt? Arthur Calwell? Billy McMahon?”

The sporting analogy in politics gets pretty tired.  And it usually reflects partisanship, the lifeblood of team sport. When the author asserts “Richmond’s premiership contained the very elements of leadership and community that are missing in our politics today – power exercised without ego, a united team, a dash of charisma and a committed supporter base” you know he is thinking of his hero, staunch Collingwood fan Paul Keating (the man who took a vow of insolvency for Australia and then dissipated his term as Prime-Minister in gestures), rather than, say, Tony Abbott, of whom he comments “Every week of the Abbott government felt like White Pride Round.”

Megalogenis concludes with 7 steps that took governance down the low road from 1992 to date: the turbo-charging of Newspoll (i.e debasement of democracy), Bronwyn Bishop’s show-grilling of the Commissioner of Taxation in a parliamentary inquiry (i.e. debasement of the public service), the 1993 scare campaign against a broad-based consumption tax (i.e. debasement of policy and a primer for Abbott on negativism), Howard’s middle-class welfare (i.e. profligacy with the public purse), Labor electing Mark Latham as its leader in 2003 (i.e. factionalism), Howard’s industrial reforms (i.e.union-bashing) and the failure to reduce carbon emissions.

You could counter this by saying, “It was ever thus.” You could counter with a dozen more examples than that which the author has, inexplicably, selected.  You could counter that if we scrutinised the ‘Football Solution’, as applied by the AFL, we’d get: a ridiculously biased and Melbourne-centric competition, with heavy overtones of unbalance in scheduling; a nauseating commercialisation, including relentless rule-tinkering, oppressive officialdom, a troubling degree of organised gambling, and deference to the media dollar; a virtual command economy, dictated by the AFL; faddish social initiatives; an illicit drug culture; destruction of loyalty to guernsey; and vast numbers of worthless contests. When the game is good, it is very, very good; when it is bad, it stinks on ice. Like politics, and everything.

Megalogenis has written an entertaining football record.  “Go, Tiges!”  It’s a pity that he couldn’t resist the temptation, perhaps fostered by the publishers, to append a simpering, soft-left cris de coeur that is, to quote Paul Keating, “all tip and no iceberg.”

Navy blue-blood

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