The Long Slide

(By Tucker Carlson) (2021)

An anthology of magazine pieces by Carlson, author of the fairly recent Ship of Fools, serves not so much as exhibits for an argument against the decline of journalism; rather, as the author points out in an introduction, they are historical markers from times when political differences were perhaps more nuanced, less toxic and bellicose than our present discontent.  Or, to put it another way, it is “a collection of nostalgic writings that underscore America’s long slide from innocence to orthodoxy.”  (We’re not so sure about innocence, but still).

From abortion issues to cancel culture, from the hubris of Washington activist lawyer John Banzhaf and short grabs about James Carville, Ron Paul, John McCain, George W. Bush and lesser mortals such as Mike Forbes and Bob Smith, to trips to Liberia with Al Sharpton or to Iraq with U.S. contractors, Carlson is always witty, folksy and very often on target. His piece on Trump in January 2016 correctly identified his electoral appeal, and came to the heterodox conclusion that he could win (something this column also concluded a few months later).

Off politics, he also has some reflections on the amusingly perverse (Hall of Lame, telemarketers, the aesthetic of British Colonialism), the quirky (The Self-Revealers, Potato-cannons (and other dangerous toys), the maître d’ of “The Palm” in D.C., the elusive ‘Derek Richardson, working a summer job at a baked bean factory), or the moving things in life (the sad decline of Hunter S. Thompson, One Man’s Treasure). Whilst there are no deep insights here (it is magazine journalism after all), the collection is easy to read and a good general snapshot of thirty years in society, well worth a look.

The Long Slide : Thirty Years in American Journalism - Tucker Carlson

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The Closer

October 11, 2021 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Comedy, THEATRE, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

Dave Chapelle’s last (?) Netflix Special, 2021

Chapelle is almost always controversial, and worth watching (except for his Block Party Special, which was an ocean-liner-sized yawn) but in his valedictory show for Netflix, he seems to be intent – or resigned – to cancel himself.  He has been criticized for being ‘transphobic,’ and has obviously spent a good deal of time reflecting on (and deflecting) this.  It has affected his naughty boy comedy: the naughty boy is still there, twinkling at us through his not-so-innocent eyes, but the deconstruction of his often sensible stance is slightly chilling, and the effort to build a bridge to the LGBTQ+etc ‘Community’ is surely doomed, hence wasting what could have been a better time for all.  We liked his serious ‘closer,’ his account of the troubled trans amateur comedian, Daphne Dorman, but even that smacked of special pleading.  Just do your stuff, Dave, and let the people decide whether to be entertained, informed, offended, or all of the above.  Keeping it real can’t go wrong all of the time.

Best Keeping It Real Goes Wrong GIFs | Gfycat

A happier unhappy time

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September 1, 2021 | Posted by Lesley Jakobsen | CRIME, Drama, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS, TV SERIES |

Remake series 1 – 3 (Foxtel)

It is not Covid-19, but FLU-68 that is destroying Australian television.  Fervid Ludicrous Upscaling first infected Australian drama series writers (and directors) in 1968, causing them to throw Charlie Cousens off a silo in the eponymous town of Bellbird (ABC 1967-1977). Each generation of writers catches it from the last and is less able to resist its degenerative depredations, no matter how many doses of Edge of Darkness (BBC 1985) or Better Call Saul (Sony etc., 2015-2019) vaccine they have had. Perhaps there’s been a switch a la The Young Doctors (1976-1983) and the syringes are filled with Erinsborough tap water.

Australian tv drama scripts invariably start out enthusiastically with fresh ideas (fresh at least to Antipodean scripts) – five friends buy a big share house, foster parents set up in a caravan park, twins separated at birth fall in love. The writing is never brilliant, but in the early episodes it is considered and serious. After a short time, however (and there must be an equation for this), the characters morph into labile escapees from The Bold & The Beautiful, the scenes deliquesce into lazy melodrama and the plot becomes predictable and convoluted.

The writers of Wentworth resist FLU-68 until the end of series 3. Then, like Toadie driving off a cliff, the nuanced stories of inmates’ and officers’ crime and punishment plunge into the slough of mad staring, tired cliffhangers, child-napping and arson. Whether the following 6 series are worth watching depends on whether the writers can be purged of the FLU.  History and Chances (1991) suggest that they cannot.

Wentworth is of course a new Prisoner (Network Ten, 1979-1986)a womens prison story, set earlier than the original series (in events, if not chronological time). Some character names and biographical details are retained, but the characters themselves are different. Wentworth’s Lizzie Birdsworth (Celia Ireland) is not a younger version of the wizened, cackling Lizzie Birdsworth (Sheila Mary Florence) we all know. Vera ‘Vinegar Tits’ Bennett (Kate Atkinson) is not Fiona Spence’s Vinegar Tits (although we learn where the name rather imaginatively originated). The Prisoner theme song On the Inside is used cleverly at the end of the first episode to remind us where it all began, and then mercifully dropped.

The plots are, even from the beginning, to be taken with a bucket of salt. Women who have their hands neatly ironed in the famous steam-press (an over-used trope this time around) suffer nothing worse long term than a little light scarring. Characters recuperate from multiple kicks to the stomach and teeth-shattering punches with an afternoon lie-down. The governor takes a personal interest in prisoners’ personal lives. Male prisoners work with the women in a prison garden. The governor puts out a prisoner’s eye with a pencil.

Performances are uneven. Pamela Rabe is magnificent as the handsome, steely and clearly insane governor Joan ‘The Freak’  Ferguson. Sally-Anne Upton plays the predatory Lucy ‘Juice’ Gambaro with verve. The aforementioned Celia Ireland is real and solid as the empathetic Lizzie Birdsworth. Kathryn Beck is a standout as the all-too-briefly-seen swivel-eyed junkie Skye Pierson. Old-style Kris McQuade‘s villainous Jacqueline ‘Jacs’ Holt is also gone all too soon. Nicole da Silva captivates as the sexy, grinning, hardened Franky Doyle (although we wish she had been allowed to be tougher yet). Katrina Milosevic shines in the comic role of Sue Jenkins (known as ‘Boomer’ because she always comes back). Unfortunately some main characters are miscast. Danielle Cormack, although engaging, cannot sink to the nasty depths required of top dog Bea Smith. Shareena Clanton portrays indigenous, soft-hearted Doreen as the rolling-eyed idiot in a school play. There are corresponding examples of clever (or lucky) casting. The fingernails-down-a-blackboard qualities with which Tammy MacIntosh and Libby Tanner are blessed come in handy in their roles as an annoying activist and an irritating psychologist.

The few male actors (Aaron Jeffery, Robbie Magasava, Martin Sacks) are clearly chosen for their charms, which makes a nice change (even if they fall short of the mark in TVC’s opinion).

We hope that the writers of series Wentworth 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and 9 are not yet too far gone with FLU-68 because Wentworth is an addictive entertainment, up to the shark-jump in late series 3. It may yet be rehabilitated. We fear, however, that FLU-68 is as inescapable as a maximum security life-sentence without parole.

Wentworth (season 2) - Wikipedia

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Ex Machina

September 1, 2021 | Posted by Lesley Jakobsen | FILM, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

(Directed by Alex Garland) (2015)

Caleb Smith (Domnhall Gleeson), a lowly programmer with a Google-like company, wins a week-long visit to the fabulous home of Nathan Bateman, the remote Bezos-Jobs-like founder of the company.

Bateman (Oscar Isaac) is a cool guy. He asks Caleb to spend time with Ava (Alicia Vikander) the humanoid robot built by Bateman. He wants Caleb to determine whether Ava is conscious and aware. Can she have a really, truly relationship with Caleb? Wow! What an opportunity! Not only is Ava a stunningly advanced type of AI, she’s pretty, except for the robot body bit. (But that’s ok, Bateman is quick to assure us, she has the most important asset of any female, and that’s not a predictive algorithm).

You, the viewer, are conscious and aware. You have seen many films. So let us ask. Is what follows likely to be:-

(A) A meditation on what it is to be human in the 21st century?

(B) A tense morality tale focusing on the ‘uncanny valley’? Or:

(C) Just what we fear from the moment we see Bateman’s silent housekeeper Kyoko (Sonora Mizuno) get her gear off?

Yes, C is the correct answer. That’s right, nothing eschatological to look at here. After Dr. Frankenstein and his witless David Wenham look-alike guest have waffled on a bit about whether robots can fake affection, it’s just a lot of naked female sex robots, fabulously submissive and quiet until they go all weird and hostile, as women do.

The twists are as shocking as a flat battery. Offensive. Limp. We’d give minus points if the AI would let us.

Alex Garland Reunites with A24 for New Movie, Jessie Buckley to Star | IndieWire

[Ed.: Asimov’s Fifth Law of Robotics: Don’t make films based on Svengalis and their sex toys.] Continue Reading →


Unsettled: What Climate Science Tells Us, What it Doesn’t, and Why it Matters” By Steven E. Koonin (2021)

There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,

Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”

This book posits facts, hypotheses, and urging which we are not qualified to judge.  It is also full of graphs that gave us acute conjunctivitis.  So what we will do here is attempt a summary of what Mr. Koonin is saying, much of which he says very well, and attempt to explain our reaction to the work, located somewhere on the spectrum between skepticism and a resigned capitulation to doom.

Koonin is a professor of theoretical physics and was the Undersecretary for Science in President Obama’s Department of Energy.  That, we guess, does not make him a climate scientist per se, but that branch of science seems to be nascent, protean, absurd or fraudulent, depending on your outlook.  Unsettled concerns global warming / climate variability (or change).

The author accepts the mantra of Climate Change and a degree of forcing by anthropogenic activity.  But he thinks we don’t know nearly enough to be drawing firm conclusions about what climate we can expect in the future, how we can respond, and whether the weather (‘extreme’ events) are linked to our modern, filthy, narcissistic materialism.  He also doubts that mere reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, even to zero, is going to be of great assistance, since the concentration of CO2 is a greater problem than emissions per se.

The United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change just put out out its further raft of apocalyptic predictions on Monday 9 August 2021.  But if you read Koonin, you see the following:

“…Even as human influences have increased almost fivefold since 1950 and the globe has warmed modestly, most severe weather phenomena remain within past variability. Projections of future climate and weather events rely on models demonstrably unfit for purpose.”


The uncertainties in modeling of both climate change and the consequences of future greenhouse gas emissions make it impossible today to provide reliable, quantitative statements about relative risks and consequences and benefits of rising greenhouse gases to the Earth system as a whole, let alone to specific regions of the planet.”

There are high levels of uncertainty involved in detecting trends in extreme weather” [e.g. droughts, forest fires, hurricanes, floods, heatwaves, etc.]  “…the science says that most extreme weather events show no long-term trends that can be attributed to human influences on the climate.” [In fact, the more you study the infernal graphs, the more the Earth’s climate appears to be cyclical in the long-term, such that an assessment of one slice of a cycle will give you the result you choose, rather than the reality].

As for the biblical boiling and surging of the oceans (where the heat goes to hide):

“…the dynamics of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are quite uncertain…absent some very dramatic acceleration, it would take two hundred years to achieve even the lowest mapped rise of 30 cm (one foot)…” [Based on a NOAA tide gauge record for Honolulu].

Apart from the virtual worthlessness of modeling (‘always wrong but sometimes useful’), the media mangling facts, deliberately to make an earnest point, deliberately to juice-up copy, or from sheer ignorance, doesn’t help, and neither do slacktivists, many upon whom western civilization has an emetic effect; and scientists that feel the need to megaphone their theories rather than quietly submit them to honest peer review; or their grant-reliant, rent-seeking institutions and journals. And then there are the demagogues who aim (per H. L. Mencken) “to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, most of them imaginary.”

Over the course of this century, cumulative emissions (that is, the total amount emitted) from the developing world will be larger than those from the developed world…under current trends, every 10 percent reduction that the developed world makes in its emissions (a reduction it has barely managed in fifteen years) will offset less than four years of growth in the developing world…the aggregate impact of the reductions pledged by all nations would reduce global emissions by less than 10 percent in 2030…the world is very unlikely to zero out its net emissions by 2075, let alone by 2050…”

Koonin’s warning about uncertainties would probably get him fired if he were still in government: a number of his colleagues have already accused him of running straw men arguments, or pooh-poohing his quibbles about modeling. (He mentioned to some about the actual, not reported, climate assessments, and was immediately asked whether he was a Trump supporter). But no one seems to have credibly challenged his central thesis that the models are an ingenious, heroic, yet consistently failed attempt to predict what (or even reliably reproduce what we know went before!) the largest, oldest, most mysterious, and most complex system on earth – that is Earth – is going to do, and whether we have much say in what she does.

Why we need 'red team' scrutiny of climate science Steven Koonin, red team, critical review IPCC, US National Climate Assessment,

Koonin closes with a chapter on Plans B, given that the requisite reduction in emissions is doomed, and won’t reduce carbon concentration in a hurry even if achieved. But the B-plans seem to be straight out of James Bond.  In any case, whatever your beliefs about Climate Change, everyone – from Greta Thunberg to Ian Plimer, from George Monbiot to Bjørn Lomborg, from those who vote Green to those who leave their greens untouched beside their T-Bone steaks – should read this book, if they haven’t already.

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I Think You Should Leave – Again

July 22, 2021 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Comedy, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS, TV SERIES |

Created by Tim Robinson and Zach Kanin (Netflix, July 2021)

For those who like their comedy dark, psychotically dark, and salted with real tears, the first season of I Think You Should Leave was hysterical, although we can understand why some people might absolutely hate it.  The Varnished Culture has to report that the 2nd season is even darker, shorter, more arbitrary and occasionally jaw-dropping..


An employee hides, snacks and chokes on his hot dog at an impromptu meeting because ‘you can’t cancel lunch.’

A man disguised for a prank candid-camera show loses his will to live at the mall.

‘Corn Cob’ TV may be going offline, depriving us of that classic show, “Coffin Flops.” (see main image)

The parade of “Little Buff Boys” at a corporate gig massively misreads its audience.

Tim misunderstands the rules of conduct for the adult haunted house tour.

An expert panelist on a ‘Dragon’s Den’ type show is obviously barking mad: “I’m scared how much I need wine…my mouth is purple.”

Mike lounges on the conference room sofa, hungry and frazzled, having spent all his living expenses fighting to purchase Dan Flashes shirts with the “complicated patterns.” (see foot of post)

A man tells a white lie to his young daughter. The man at the next table in the diner (Bob Odenkirk) backs him up but there’s a forfeit to pay for that.

I Think You Should Leave Season 2 GIF by The Lonely Island

The man with a past (slicked-back hair, sloppy steaks, etc.,) is “worried that the baby thinks people can’t change.”

The venerable professor appropriates one of his student’s hamburger and then threatens the group to keep silent about his rather dark life.

We sit back and enjoy the trailer – and touchy interview – for Detective Crashmore.

Incriminating text messages revealing insider-trading also show what some think of Brian’s Fedora hat with the safari flap at the back.

We learn to avoid credit-card roulette, Calico Cut Pants, the Sci-Fi café, parties hiring the ‘Stable of Stars’ (at a certain price point, the Johnny Carson impersonator can hit), the Tammy Craps Doll and Chode jeans.

If you don’t know how to drive, you won’t get far by attending the seminar by the distracted driver whose job is “tables.”

Little girls, and others, are shown a video to reassure them about getting their ears pierced at ‘Claire’s’. Unexpectedly, the video features Ron Tussbler (aged 58) who observes, to his own berserk laughter, “I’m sitting in an empty room laughing my ass off to trick my dead self I had a great life!

I Think You Should Leave': The Story Behind 'Dan Flashes'

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Never Let Me Go

Book written by Kazuo Ishiguro (2005)

Film directed by Mark Romanek (2010)

Ishiguro, Romanek, please let us go, you heartless bastards.  Not since Chris Lilley killed Pat Mullins (We Can Be Heroes: Finding the Australian of the Year of the Year, ABC TV, 2005)  have we at TVC been rendered sleepless by an afflicted fictional character. And we could laugh at Pat. Laugh at any of the characters in Ishiguro’s book or Romanek’s film of the book and you will go straight to hell.

It is best perhaps to watch Romanek’s realisation before reading Ishiguro’s pitiless novel. The film transforms the book for the first time reader in much the same way that Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock elevated Joan Lindsay’s book from into something magical and haunting., although the book alone is very fine.

Ishiguro’s story is narrated by Cathy H, who assumes that the reader is a fellow traveller on her life path. So it is not until well into proceedings that the essential fact about her life is revealed.  The  long and sometimes baffling story of her education at a boarding school known as Hailsham  (beautifully evoked in the film as a once grand manor, now somewhat shabby) can puzzle the reader, but builds menace and doubt.  The children’s lives are curiously constricted and desolate. Cathy is a conscientious and compassionate reporter who chronicles her peculiar interactions with her friends – the controlling Ruth and thin-skinned Tommy – in minute detail.  This opacity is missed in the film, where the fate of the children is made clear at once. Just as the film cannot provide us with the depth of thought of the characters, the book diverges substantially in that two major events happen off stage, but are seen on centre stage in the film (to devastating effect).

The origin of the children is not mentioned until page 137 in the Faber imprint, but rather oddly is not explained at all in the televised version of the film reviewed here (in which a key scene had been cut from the earlier version). Of course the story of a full-length novel must be sped-up and simplified to suit the structure and length of a film, but in any event Romanek captures the essential pity and horror of it with authenticity and imagination.

Carey Mulligan is simply astonishing as the adult Cathy H, her performance a tour de force of dignified acceptance, repression and exhaustion. Keira Knightley is affecting as Ruth, despite the usual Knightley grimacing and chin-acting. Andrew Garfield as Tommy is as damaged, bewildered and alone as he needs to be.

There are obvious flaws in the central idea. While we are asked to accept that in an alternative recent past scientific achievements have outstripped anything thinkable today, we are also expected to believe that we, in that recent past, would look away from hideously immoral concomitant behaviours. We are also tasked to accept that the victims of this cruelty would not attempt to escape it. Although the film makes a passing reference to a form of electronic surveillance, the book suggests that indoctrination from earliest childhood is the cause of this passivity. The reader or viewer will do well however to put these questions aside, favouring pity and terror over credibility.

While Mulligan, Knightley and Garfield are the star performers, (together with the actors who play them as children),  Domnhall Gleeson and Andrea Riseborough deserve kudos for their performances as Rodney and Chrissie, housemates of the trio when they leave Hailsham. Their desolation after learning that there are some things even children brought up Hailsham – to them an almost mythical haven – cannot procure is heart-breaking.

Other performers worthy of mention are Charlotte Rampling as Miss Emily, the Hailsham head guardian, and Nathalie Richard as Madame, a patron of the school (whose important scene is the one that has been cut to the film’s depreciation). Rampling gives the ghastly line toward the end of the movie which knocks even the steadfast Cathy. This scene is more gothic and obscure in the book but perhaps the better for its economy in the film.  However, we feel that there is a miscasting here.  Ishiguro’s Miss Emily is not “especially tall…always very straight with her head right up…She wore her silvery hair tied back, but strands were always coming loose and floating around her….We were all pretty scared of her.” His Madame is “a tall, narrow woman with short hair… with a chilly look” who is in her turn scared of the children. The roles would have been even better reversed.

It is best to go into both of these works with as little fore-knowledge as possible, and we have been careful to avoid spoilers. If you can read the book without weeping, that is perhaps explicable given its slowness and evasion. But if you can watch those two film scenes mentioned above and the final scene of Cathy alone by the roadside amid England’s green beauty and the roadside rubbish, then you have no heart.

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(by Ted Heller) (2012)

Dying is easy: comedy is hard.”* As is tragicomedy, which Funnymen achieves magnificently. Presented in the literary version of cinéma vérité, the book recounts (to a diligent interviewer called ‘Ted’ via sound-bites from a cast of over a hundred characters) the life and career trajectory of Sigmund Blissman (aka Ziggy Bliss) and Vittorio Fontana (aka Vic Fountain), who hook up in the Catskills and take their haywire mugging, kvetching, crooning act on the club circuit in the ’40s, forming a team that puts them on the top, from the Copa to Vegas to Hollywood and all points of the compass.

Along the way lie treacherous bandleaders, groupies, wives, ex-wives, agents, critics, nightclub owners, film-studio execs, magicians, musicians, drug addicts, homosexuals, forlorn offspring, minders and hangers-on, the lot, a dense cabal nearly all of whom have walk-ons and contribute to a rich pastiche of the slice of garish, grubby, funny-sad Americana that was its popular culture in that time. Whilst Fountain and Bliss are strongly redolent of Martin and Lewis (see main image & below), the author’s great achievement is to render them as genuinely lifelike, their own people, even when they seem larger than life.

Lewis and Martin at the Copacabana | Sonic Editions

At the Copa in 1949.

Vic’s ‘appeal’ is straightforward enough: the smooth Italian lothario-look, the turquoise hair, the lazy, insouciant, throwaway singing style, the casual aspect: one hand permanently clutching a Chesterfield or a scotch, the other up someone’s skirt. Bliss (like Lewis, whose appeal we still can’t fathom – his only decent film is King of Comedy, in which he isn’t comic at all) is more complex: an ugly Jewish misfit with a guilt complex, megalomania, and resentment issues. He’s a paranoid but then there are the lovely moments when the sun breaks through the clouds and self-awareness, then even kindness, make a break from cover. Vic and Ziggy have a love-hate relationship that grows over time to hate-hate, and finally, in their dotage, acceptance.

You’ll need to consume this Dickens-rich, Richardson-dense, Rabelais-ribald work for yourself, but here are some snippets that hopefully serve as an amuse-bouche:

Vic said to him, “Ernie, I don’t care if you like boys, girls, black, white, purple, or sheep or cats. You just keep cranking out them songs. Oh yeah. And just keep your paws offa me.”

“What would your parents want you to do, Ziggy?” I asked him. “That’s really a moot point now,” he answered.

“[He] sent flowers to Lulu when he returned [to Codport] and got her a nice hat with a kind of fur trim. That really bowled her over. Lulu’s first boyfriend was Vic Fountain. And her last.”

“When we heard Vic talking on the radio it was just amazing. It was the first time Papa ever really paid attention to the radio other than to shut it off or listen to Mussolini or the NBC Symphony. He was so proud.”

“I’ll sing. I’ll play with the kid. I’ll do whatever. The only paperwork I want you to give me has George Washington on it.”

“Jack Klein and Sally had been at Ciro’s the night before and Jack was laughing so much he’d had a mild heart attack. He would be okay, though, she told me, unlike the man three nights before who had seen the show, gotten in his car with his wife, and was still cracking up so much he drove head-on into another car and killed two people.”

“I’ve known a lot of funny people who weren’t ever in any kind of agony, who weren’t ever miserable or lonely, and I’ve known lots of unfunny people, believe me, who were.”

“I have to admit, I was getting nervous.  I didn’t really know if he was on the stage. “Jesus, do something,” Arnie softly muttered. But Ziggy was so funny that he could make silence hysterical, and people started laughing. And he let them laugh. “It was like silence was his partner now”…”

“”You were very, very funny,” I told him, and when I got into my car I almost started to cry.”

“He and Ziggy ran into each other that day, in the Sunset Lounge. They had Ziggy on medication, to take him off all them pills he was taking. He didn’t look any more like the Ziggy I’d seen on the TV than I did. He just looked like a little bent-over bald Jewish man to me.”

“I sunged ‘Malibu Moon’ without you Vic,” Ziggy said, “I’ll have you know.” “Oh yeah? How’d it go over?” “Well, for the first time ever, the audience was awake at the end of it.”

Funnymen By Ted Heller

[* Attributed originally in another form to Edmund Gwenn: lines actually spoken as written by Peter O’Toole’s character in the film My Favourite Year.] Continue Reading →

RocKwiz Salutes Eurovison (2021)

June 29, 2021 | Posted by Lesley Jakobsen | Modern Music, MUSIC, THEATRE, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

Adelaide Cabaret Festival, 25 June 2021

We thought nothing could stop the Eurovision Song Contest.  The plastic glitter tv extravaganza that has been jauntily assaulting our eyeballs, ears and self-respect since 1956 is proof against international conflict, political controversy and stage-bombers.  But a little virus from a non-competing country cancelled the contest in 2020 and Eurovision tragics had to content themselves with The Story of Fire Saga . The SBS music quiz tv show RocKwiz is keeping the legend alive in 2021 for those Australians who cannot travel. From the Gershwin Room in St Kilda’s Esplanade Hotel in Melbourne to the Festival Theatre in Adelaide they travelled, despite everything, for the 2021 Cabaret Festival. Brian Nankervis, Julia Zemero (the antipodean queen of Eurovision – joint narrator with Sam Pang for 8 years), the RocKwiz Band, Angus the shirtless scorekeeper and all.

Following the usual format, four audience members qualified to join the celebrities on the two panels. They were three people eligible for the Astra-Zeneca jab and the teenage Max who, in year 10, knows far more about Eurovision than is good for anyone.

Jay Zee dazzled in a gold wizard dress and a Kate Miller-Heidke crown which, she claimed, she put together at Spotlight. The crowd was wowed by the Eurovision-relevant celebrities; Montaigne, fresh from her near miss, performed “Technicolor” superbly, disappearing for a while to allow Adelaide’s own Hans – who, we are told, is Australia’s 2022 Eurovision entrant – to outdo JayZee in the sequin department, spinning and sashaying through “Cabaretbefore joining the panel and adding nothing at all to their score. Alan Cumming, the director of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival stoutly stood in for in Dami Im – true Eurovision royalty – who fell victim to timetable conflicts and COVID entanglements. He did a ripping version of “Mein Herr” from Cabaret. Renowned guitarist Olympia gave us Dami Im’s “Sound of Silence”, a little shrilly.

The questions ranged from the piece of cake, “‘which Icelandic country has not yet won Eurovision?” to the less cakey, ”what was unusual about the song with which Sandie Shore won for England in 1967?”  (No, it’s not just that England heaved itself up from ‘nul points’, to which it returned in 2021. It was the first English-language winning entrant). Max knew almost all of the answers. TVC foresees dry ice and contortionists in his future.

Montaigne belts out 1974’s Song for Europe while Alan Cumming and Hans channel Agnetha and Frida

The audience’s response to it all was delighted hand-waving and answer-shouting. Everyone delighted us at the end with an ABBA song which need not be named, complete with side turns from Hans and Alan and a finale of “Volare” (3rd place in 1958).

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ERN – Australia’s Greatest Hoax

June 28, 2021 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | AUSTRALIANIA, THEATRE, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

Festival Theatre, Adelaide, 25 June 2021

First, the back story.  The Ern Malley affair is Australia’s most famous literary hoax. Max Harris was a precocious Adelaide poet who edited Angry Penguins, a literary review in the style of the Wyndham Lewis-inspired Blast from several decades before. A couple of traditional poets, Harold Stewart and James McAuley, on a slow day in 1943 at the Melbourne barracks where they were stationed, fabricated a brief folio of poems by an obscure artist, Ern Malley, who had died tragically at the age of 25. Imitating the modernist poetry they despised, the hoaxers wrote hilariously bad and hackneyed verse in the ‘new’ style. They also confected a letter from Ern’s sister, Ethel, to Harris, enclosing the collection and stating humbly “I am no judge of it myself...”

Unfortunately, this ‘discovery’ was to have no bittersweet ending such as the publication of A Confederacy of Dunces.  Harris was enchanted and thrilled with the collection, seeing in them authentic traces of Kafka, Owen, Rilke (yes and no doubt Eliot, Pound and Rimbaud besides).  Nearly all artistic work is derivative, of course, but Harris should have dug a bit deeper before going out and publishing an entire edition dedicated to the genius of Ern: all that came of it were opprobrium and ridicule, an early end to his poetical ambitions, the eventual folding of an heroic literary periodical and a 1944 conviction for publication of ‘indecent’ material (£5 fine; £21/11 costs).

Malley’s faux oeuvre did not vanish, however (unlike the original manuscript that, intriguingly, did). In fact, many artists, poets and critics regarded the surreal effusions and literary allusions as having real value, and they would in time provide inspiration for a new generation of poets as well as poetasters. Which brings us to last Friday evening.

ERN: Australia’s Greatest Hoax, was created by the singer/songwriter Max Savage in collaboration with composer Ross McHenry and realist oil painter Josh Baldwin. A mini concert of songs that alternated between the leisurely long works of Peter Gabriel and the white-hot concise rockers of punk and grunge, Savage and his entourage synthesized rather than transcribed the works of Malley, the painting created during the performance a sort of obbligato to the music. The Varnished Culture, revisiting Malley’s poems later, couldn’t detect them in the actual lyrics presented on the night but no matter – the homage was symbolic rather than literal.

Savage has a real presence, a raw but clear voice reminiscent of Tom Waits singing Tom Traubert’s Blues, and a stage presence hovering between Joe Cocker getting-into-the-song, and a swaggering-and-exhorting-of-band á la Mick Jagger. The band was very smooth and handled the cut-up style of the songs (jazz, rock and roll, country and soul thrown into the pot): they were: Julian Ferraretto (violin), Brenton Foster (piano), Ross McHenry (Bass, Moog), Steve Neville (drums), Adam Page (clarinet) and Django Rowe (lead guitar, banjo).  Unfortunately, we had to leave about 10 minutes early to attend another show, so we trust we have done the performance justice: A solid effort.

The Ern Malley Affair by Michael Heyward - Penguin Books Australia

You can read all about the hoax in Michael Heywood’s 1993 book, the cover featuring Sydney Nolan’s “portrait” of Ern (aptly housed in the Art Gallery of SA)

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