The Zone of Interest

March 4, 2024 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Drama Film, FILM, HISTORY, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

(Directed by Jonathan Glazer, based on the book by Martin Amis) (2023)

Poland is one beautiful country; with a plethora of mountains, verdant meadows, sea-coast, and more lakes than most. Which explains why so many imperialists wanted their grubby hands on it. In 1939, for example, as a result of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, Poland was neatly sliced into two zones. One zone, the Russian one, executed an unknown number of Poles, sometimes with organisation, at other times in a haphazard panic. The German zone, where Poles (and others) were dealt with under typical Teutonic efficiency, is the ‘Zone of Interest’ in this film. That’s where Auschwitz was built, a complex of over 40 concentration and extermination camps which, over the period 1940 to early 1945, killed well over two million people.

Cue Jonathan Glazer (Under the Skin) and his take on Martin Amis’ 2014 novel, that channels Hannah Arendt, Schindler’s List, and all the rest. Many folks will think a film riffing on the well-worn trope of ‘banality of evil’ to be silly, or, worse, boring. For this reviewer, it is neither: rather, a riveting, edge-of-the-seat, domestic thriller, with amazing sounds, surreal touches (a phosphorescent Polish girl secretes apples behind the slave-worker shovels at night) and a dash of Wannsee Conference pathology. But it fails nevertheless, as all Shoah films must, for reasons we will attempt to explain.

Monarch of all he surveys

The film’s intent is clear, and on its own terms, works well enough. Rudolf and Hedwig Höss (Christian Friedel and Sandra Hüller) and their five winsome children are living the dream in an idyllic country manor, with attentive servants, food on fine china, abundance and a lovely large walled garden, including a massive greenhouse. The film opens on a picnic by the river, a walk through the woods, home in two splendid motor cars, and then packing the children off to sleep. But, hang on…peeping above that garden wall next morning is what looks like a death camp – and here’s Rudolf in uniform, riding though the camp gate – to carry out his basically administrative tasks (logistics of rubbish disposal cycles, energy supply, fertilizing the greenery, the selection of work force (including the Joy Division), chastising staff for picking the flowers in an unruly manner, having supply-trains met, etc.)

At Casa Höss, hand-me-down clothes, a fine fur coat and jewellry, and teeth, are wheeled in from next door. ‘Cars’ keep ‘backfiring’ in the distance, preceded by yelling and barking. Rudolf and eldest son go horse-riding, commenting on the fauna while men in striped pyjamas are marched through the sward. Some agreeable fishing and swimming is disrupted by unidentified river impurities. Hedwig’s mother (Imogen Kogge), from modest circumstances (she lost her bid for a deportee’s curtains) marvels at how well things are with her daughter, until she sees what goes on at night over the bad-neighbour fence (about the only peep we get, until the film’s end).

After Mother leaves her breakfast, and a note the next morning, Hedwig lashes out at one of her Polish servants, observing tartly that she could have her husband scatter her ashes. The juxtaposition, of interior scenes of quiet and occasionally noisy domestic life, with the heavy-hints of genocide next door, will pall with many while it will resonate with many.

“It’s a logistical challenge. They gave us lunch at Wannsee.”

After some bureaucratic shuffling, Rudolf is to return home to assume charge of the final solution as it goes into even higher gear. From a palace reception in Hungary, imminent target for deportations, he ambles among the guests in a distant manner, oddly reminiscent of the finale to The Leopard, has a desultory conversation with his wife, and then prepares to leave to assume his important new role, attacked by nausea as he descends the dark stairs. And that is about it. Interspersed throughout are some blank, coloured screens, dread musical tweaks that combine yawps, groans and burps from hell, and enough static, often silent, set pieces to fill an Ingmar Bergman festival.

From the river to the sea

It is difficult to know what to make of this. Certainly the film is watchable; certainly it is not for all tastes. The acting and production are first class. But what does it achieve, exactly, since it poses as much more than art or entertainment? The discretion in not showing us directly how the Final Solution is playing out, yet the continual coy hints at it, begin to look like a hollow cabaret-turn. The madness of crowds is a phenomenon that continues to baffle the best minds and give succour to the worst souls. As we see, the view of fellow humans as filth, or rodents, goes on and on, and is probably endogenous, such that peace for all time becomes unimaginable. But how do you film that?

We can do no better than quote Clive James, in a slightly different context, here: “As with Stalin’s Great Terror, only a madman could guess what was on the way. Even the perpetrators had to go one step at a time, completing each step before they realised that the next one was possible. The German Jews were the most assimilated in Europe. They were vital to Germany’s culture – which, indeed, has never recovered from their extinction…The whole Nazi reality was a caricature. The more precisely you evoke it, the less probable it looks…There is no hope that the boundless horror of Nazi Germany can be transmitted entire to the generations that will succeed us. There is a limit to what we can absorb of other people’s experience. There is also a limit to how guilty we should feel about being unable to remember…Santayana…said that those who forget the past are condemned to relive it. Those who remember are condemned to relive it too. Besides, freedoms are not guaranteed by historians and philosophers, but by a broad consent among common people about what constitutes decent behaviour. Decency means nothing if it is not vulgarised. Nor can the truth be passed on without being simplified. The most we can hope for is that it shall not be travestied.“*

[*”The Observer”, 10/9/1978, reviewing Holocaust.] Continue Reading →

One Day (Netflix 2024 British television series.)

February 20, 2024 | Posted by Lesley Jakobsen | Drama, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS, TV SERIES |

If you can be bothered starting this listless series, we recommend that you binge watch all 14 (!) episodes because once you switch off, you’ll never bother going back.

To start with, the plot is suspense-free. Rich golden rich boy Dexter meets socialist Emma (a girl from the wrong side of the tracks and of another race) at a posh university. They go their separate ways until..! Whatever could happen?!

Even this hackneyed story could be worth watching – Leo Woodall (previously seen in White lotus 2) is terrific as the languid upper-class Dexter – although he could do with some concealer around the eyes. He is desperately and steadfastly in love with feisty Emma (Ambika Mod) for reasons best known to bad casting agents. Mod has a perpetually miserable long sad face. She barely smiles for the first twelve (!) episodes. Dex becomes a tv presenter. Emma becomes a socially aware teacher (of course). They remain best friends, which is difficult to accept, given that Emma meets everything that Dexter says or does with a contemptuous sneer and insults – he’s a privileged hedonist, his tv career is a measure of how shallow he is, he is not politically aware.

When he takes her to a swish restaurant and demonstrates a development of sophisticated tastes, Emma throws a public tantie. When the selfish, cruel, boring and smug Emma calls him these names (and others) the audience wonders why he bothers with her at all. Leo’s Dex is vulnerable, unanchored and has the patience of a saint. Emma is a nasty, self-obsessed sad sack.

After some years of taunting and deriding Dex, Emma decides that she might as well give him a go. It’s not clear why, because, after all, it’s not like she has to settle – she is also inexplicably irresistible to all men – not just poor Dexter,

The support actors are very good and do what they can with the standard roles of faithless spouse, jealous spouse, aristocratic parent and supportive friend. Add the clichés of the genre – unhappy separate marriages, humiliation at a baronial pile, a friend’s hilarious wedding, Paris, a surprise return to the turgid plot – stir with a misery stick and you’ve got One Day. The last episode is, admittedly, quite affecting but that is entirely due to Leo Woodall and it is not worth the long journey.

“Wow! This is as good as Dostoevsky must be!”

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Dinner at Antoine’s (Frances Parkinson Keyes)

(1949).

“Keyes” rhymes with “skies” not “keys”.  Being privy to arcane pronunciations is the sort of marker which separates those who are in New Orleans Society from those who are not. Only the former know that the sidewalk in 1940’s-50’s New Orleans is called the “banquette”. Only the former are admitted to Antoine’s Restaurant on St Louis Street without a long wait on the banquette, if at all. Orson Foxworth is certainly one of the former and, on a warm afternoon, is immediately lead into the special lunch room when he entertains his niece and several intimate friends.

The layout and history of the restaurant are expanded upon in great detail, as are Foxworth’s equally ridiculously named guests –  Leonce St Amant, Caresse LaLande, Sabin Duplessis. Foxworth’s guests are beautiful and fabulously dressed. Meet Amelie – a youthful and soigne widow. “Her corn-coloured hair lay in great coils above the soft ringlets which framed her radiant face. Her big blue eyes snapped and sparkled. Her delicately rouged lips parted over tiny white teeth. Her svelte figure triumphed over the exacting cut of her dress“.  Keyes never met an adjective or adverb she didn’t want to work to death, sometimes to unintended effect. “Snapping eyes” and “tiny teeth”? Don’t feed Amelie after midnight. Foxworth’s Washington niece, Ruth Avery, “attractive and intelligent and well poised and pleasant and dependable and sincere” is the only one with the name and hair (natural chestnut curls) of a real human. Ruth is visiting her suave Louisianan uncle in louche New Orleans and looking to get hitched.

Nor are we spared descriptions of the the food at Antoine’s – presumably on the real menu of the real restaurant in the immediate post-war period. It sounds revolting. Take huitres Foch, “So he spread toast with pate de fois gras, and heaped fried Louisiana oysters on top of that, and poured Madeira sauce over the whole thing“.  If you don’t like the sound of that, you can have “glistening, ruby-coloured” globules of shrimp in aspic.*

The clothes of past beauties are given a similar close study, including annual pageant winners from 1900. The present belles are described  too. We already know that Clarinda has dreamy eyes, a slow, charming smile, slow grace, tapering white fingers and exquisite oval nails. Now we see her….  “evidently on the point of starting to a large afternoon party, for she was dressed as if for some festive occasion. Emerald green plumes swept gracefully across her glossy hair from the crown of her small sable hat; her close-fitting jacket and full, ankle-length skirt were make of emerald green velvet, sable trimmed, and she was carrying a large sable muff. Framed as she was by the white columns, she might have stepped straight from a canvas by Goya; yet this exquisite picture seemed to have been mysteriously modernised by the hand of some still greater master.” The sort of great master who imagines Sherwood Forest/Gone with the Wind themed afternoon parties.

The mansions are equally lovely and outdated. “The regalia which Odile had worn as Queen of the Pacifi completely filled a glass-walled cabinet and several similar cabinets were crowded with Dresden china, Dutch silver, snuff boxes, and other miscellaneous bric-a-brac.  A series of antique fans, encased in frames which followed their shape, and a set of bisque figurines, representing amorous shepherds and coy shepherdesses, added to the general effect of artificiality and uselessness.”

The staff and servants do not have beautiful visages, figures or minds. They are not quite human. “The maid’s prompt appearance suggested that she might have been lurking nearby hoping for just such a summons. At all events, when she entered her expression was one of eager anticipation. And this became even more marked as she rolled her large velvety eyes from one pile of clothing to another. ‘You may have all the things on the bed, Lop,’ Caresse told her. ‘That is, you may take them away and divide them with Ona. Mind you don’t try to play any tricks though. I’ll check with Ona later and find out whether you’ve been fair.’ ‘Ain’t gwine play no tricks, Miss Caresse. Ah don tol’ Ona already you was a-fixin’ to give us some of yo’ pretty clo’es. Us’n mightly proud to git ’em, Ah kin tell you.’ Lop reached over the bed and swept the clothing that lay there into her covetous arms….She laid down the others and bent to pick up the straying garments, gasping with incredulous delight.”

An international merger and a murder mystery scaffold all of this. A pistol appears in the first act. There’s a faithless husband, a saintly doctor, a missing note, a purloined key, a fake alibi, a roving reporter, shadows on a blind, inscrutable foreigners and long discussions about opportunity and motive. These shenanigans do not convince. Nor does the rather odd incident in which a lifelong playboy bachelor suddenly ditches the chaste object of his many years of adoration when she says the wrong thing; spurns her utterly, and almost immediately thereafter, falls instantly in love with the perfect (much younger) woman who has admired him from afar and is only in the book for that plot point.

So, this book and its characters are vapid, generally pretty, overrated and rather amusing. We feel that at times Keyes is as contemptuous of her characters as she is adoring. She knows that they are all rather silly and tasteless. If you like that kind of society, now and then, then this will amuse you.

[* Sounds like the kind of Louisianan fare described by A.J. Liebling – ed.]

Ezekiel 25:17. “The path of the righteous man is beset on all sides by the inequities of the selfish and the tyranny of evil men.”

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A Poor Thing Indeed

February 3, 2024 | Posted by Lesley Jakobsen | FILM, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

Poor Things (Directed by “Yorgos” Lanthimos – 2023)

What do Lanthimos’ “Poor Things” and M. Night Shamalayan’s “The Village” films have in common? They are the latter works of erstwhile promising directors. Lanthimos’s “The Lobster” is fabulous. As is the rightfully feted Night Shamalayan’s “The Sixth Sense”. Original, surprising and engaging works. After that, Shamalayan made the hold-your nose “The Village.” Lanthimos took a step down to the so-so “Killing of a Sacred Deer” and then nosedived. “Poor Things” is twaddle. Sadly, it looks like it’s all over for these two.

“Poor Things” has beguiled critics with its steampunk, big-sleeved art direction. But that’s all there is. The task of the aesthetic is to distract the poor viewer from the tired plot, the thin characters and heavy-handed message. Dr. Godwin “God” Baxter (Willem Dafoe) is a mad scientist of the old kind. (Yes, like Frankenstein, yawn). He creates “Bella”, a monstrous meld of an adult suicide and the brain of her baby. Bella lurches about à la Elsa Lanchester and refers to herself in the third person. There’s no sense to the rate at which, or how, she develops. We are enjoined to see the uninhibited toddler in a woman’s body, which seems counterproductive, given this film’s alleged “feminist” purpose.

Bella wants to be independent, so she goes off with seedy adventurer Duncan Wedderburn (Mark Ruffulo). Ruffulo is too old and soft-centred for this role. Dashing and irresistible he is not. Bella enjoys her independence – being locked in a chest, abducted, dancing like a maniac, working in a brothel – all the great feminist desires. She has already decided that when the fun is over she will go home and marry weedy needy Max (Ramy Youssef). As all good feminists do.

By the time Bella gets home, the viewer is sick and tired of seeing Emma Stone in every kind of see-through outfit, writhing away joylessly. Hitched to a sadist who caused her inner adult to suicide, she escapes and takes over God’s conceit of playing Dr. Moreau.

Stone does well enough with the clumsy script. The viewer cannot, however, say how Willem Dafoe performed because his entire performance is a mass of gruesome facial scar makeup and stomach tubes.  Like Bella herself, “Poor Things” is a ghastly, humourless hybrid, with no sense of timing and no soul.

OK, she dances better than Florence Foster Jenkins

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Maestro

January 3, 2024 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | Classical Music, FILM, MUSIC, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

(Directed by Bradley Cooper – Netflix, 2023)

Maestro is not a biopic of Leonard Bernstein, a popular and influential conductor, composer and musicologist. We do follow his career, but high and low points are marked by whirls of scenic grabs and musical snatches. The film’s focus is on Bernstein’s long and bumpy marriage to Felicia Montealegre, going from breathless first-flush intimacy, to star couple, to cold understanding, to a final tenderness. Whilst this renders the film a little thin, putting it mildly, it succeeds upon its chosen horizon.

This is due to great turns by Bradley Cooper and, in particular, Carey Mulligan, as the happy/unhappy/tolerating couple (who converse at His Girl Friday speed and with Robert Altman-style clarity). At their fashionable apartment during Thanksgiving, she tells him “you’re going to die a lonely old queen” if he is not more careful (and discreet). This prediction turns out to be true, emphasised at the moment of that prediction by the passing of Macy’s giant Snoopy balloon. There are many soirées that convey an empty Truman Capote feel, although we may have missed the famous ‘radical chic’ party as the scenes hurtled past.

Music being more talked-about than heard throughout, the longest performance piece is Bernstein’s famous conducting of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony in Cambridgeshire, where Lenny and Felicia resurrect their relationship to an extent. Bernstein was very much a ‘hands on’ emotional conductor, and this part of the gnostic discipline comes out, but we learn nothing. However, the film is well worth watching, even if it cannot teach us.

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Dream Scenario

December 29, 2023 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | FILM, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

(Directed by Kristoffer Borgli, 2023)

The general function of dreams is to try to restore our psychological balance by producing dream material that re-establishes, in a subtle way, the total psychic equilibrium.” (Carl G. Jung, “Approaching the Unconscious.”)

Humani nihil a me alienum puto” (“nothing human is alien to me”) – Terence.

If the ‘ Viennese quack’ (according to Nabokov) Sigmund Freud is correct, all dream content is disguised wish-fulfillment. So mind what you wish. In Dream Scenario, Professor Paul Matthews (a sublime Nicolas Cage) is a balding, middle-aged academic, the type Dirk Bogarde used to play – bright, ineffectual, wistful, querulous – who is neither published (well, he’d have to write something), nor quoted (unless plagiarized) nor noticed. His wife (Julianne Nicholson) cares for him in a condescending fashion, and his daughters and his biology students find him uncool, harmless and unmemorable.

Then comes the event sociological: Matthews starts turning up in people’s dreams. Even people who have never seen or heard of him. Initially, within vividly-filmed sequences of ‘elusive dreams of private persons to which we hold no key’, he’s just there in the background, a self-conscious extra: walking by a bad car accident; raking leaves, ambling by while a girl seeks to avoid alligators by climbing on a piano; loitering during an earthquake at the college; inspecting mushrooms while a man is hunted by a blood-drenched assailant. He’s thrilled to find himself famous, and seeks to exploit this fame to get his swarm-theory book (not yet written) published. But the social-media-savvy talent agents (Michael Cera, Kate Berlant, Dylan Gelula) want him to become the face of that tempestuous refreshment, Sprite, and in the case of Gelula, to re-create an erotic dream, which turns out rather badly in real life.

The dreams start turning quite dark, in a way that sees Matthews go from curio to outcast, in an amusing and provocative reflection on the transience of fame, superficial and fragile social mores, and cancel culture, reminiscent of the recent Black Mirror episode, “Joan is Awful.” But then, like a discarded meme or an over-extended twitter-fight, the film runs out of puff, focus, and ideas, and folds like a cheap suit.  The Professor (unlike ‘Frank Underwood’ (aka Kevin Spacey, another negation victim) from House of Cards) spurns an offer to be interviewed by conservative pundit Tucker Carlson; meant as a hip, woke, smirking, cultural reference, it was in fact a big ‘miss’ – The Prof. should have appeared with Carlson; it would have resurrected the character, and beguiled us in a way that the film’s conclusion did not.

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The Ring in Brisbane

December 16, 2023 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | MUSIC, Opera, OPERA, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS, WAGNER |

(Lyric Theatre, Queensland Performing Arts Centre, Second Cycle: 8, 10, 12, 14 December 2023)

Like Wagner’s monumental work, the first ever staging of The Ring in Brisbane grew in the telling. It was commissioned in 2017, and advertised in early 2019, with bookings in a ‘shuffle format’ scheduled from 13 June of that year, for performances in November/December 2020. Then a Sino/American research project let a bat loose from Hell, and gross inconvenience, and death, ensued. The Ring was set aside, although not as long as Wagner did while he fretted, and tinkered, and researched. With a revised cast, it was finally staged up-north in December 2023. Touted as the first ‘digital’ version of the production (cf. Ulrich Melchinger, Kassel 1970-74; Harry Kupfer, Bayreuth 1988/1992), we’ll have a bit to say about that below.

But the 2nd Cycle was, overall, a triumph. [TVC has a few quibbles, stated below, but really, who cares?] Early mail insinuated that the Queensland Symphony Orchestra had been a tad scratchy in round 1; however, by the time cycle 2 came around, conductor Phillipe Auguin, a Ring veteran, had knocked all into shape. (I think Donner’s hammer was out of synch with the orchestra, and Siegfried’s hunting horn missed a beat once in Götterdämmerung, but these don’t even count as quibbles.) White-haired, smiling, and seemingly avuncular, Auguin, we understand, is selector’s choice in a long line of disagreeable Conductors (e.g., Toscanini, Solti, Fritz Reiner, and in the land of make-believe, Tár). But he and his musicians get kudos for a magnificent performance over 4 long evenings.

Das Rheingold opened the batting, and was fine, although one’s first encounter with Chen Shi-Zheng’s design felt like having chugged one too many martinis. Some of the staging was annoying. Alberich as a toad was woefully inadequate. The piling-up of gold to “hide” Freia was another visual fail. At the conclusion, the ascent to Valhalla, the rainbow bridge through the mist was represented by a long, luminous spike piercing  the roily heavens, akin the end of the old Dr. Who programme. No problem with that, but moving side panels blundered into view, containing a digital decorative meld of colours and shapes straight out of William Morris, Leon Bakst and the Saville studio. Wotan’s and Fricka’s introduction was straight out of The Mikado.

The cast were wonderful, particularly Warwick Fyfe as Alberich (though his costume made him look like a cross between Gregor Samsa and Grizzly Adams). Deborah Humble as Fricka, and Hubert Francis, as Loge, were also stand-outs. We thought Daniel Sumegi was strangely muted as Wotan, but he roared back in Die Walküre. The lithe Rhinemaidens skipped and slid down the props with élan.

There was a closing, irritating, thigh-slapping dance number that added approximately nil, a superfluous trope appropriated from some Maoist wet-dream opera such as “Taking Tiger Mountain by Strategy,” or “The Red Detachment of Women.”

Die Walküre

Perhaps the most crucial chapter in the saga was very forcefully played and sung: Lise Lindstrom has grown since her Brünnhilde in 2016 and here she was sublime, matched by Sumegi’s Wotan, their urgent discourse under a digital backdrop of circles and cobwebs, which we thought appropriate. Humble as Fricka was superb, as were Anna-Louise Cole and Rosario La Spina as Sieglinde and Siegmund. (I spoke to one of the musicians afterwards, who described playing Walküre as “fun.” We wouldn’t have put it like that, but 10/10 for enthusiasm.)

Once again, some grumbles about staging are apt. On the whole, minimalism (à la Wieland Wagner) reigned, thankfully. We didn’t understand the speedboat chassis on which characters respectively lounged and then dragged, or the table in Hunding’s hut which bastardised Brancusi, Henry Moore and the worst of modern plastic art. But the dragon of fire encircling the sleeping Brünnhilde was terrific, evoking memories of Elke Neidhardt’s Adelaide Ring.

Siegfried

The night belongs to Siegfried and Stefan Vinke, who continues to grow in the role, along with Lindstrom’s Brünnhilde. Sumegi, now the ‘Wanderer’, his bête noire Alberich (Fyfe), Andreas Conrad as Mime, Andrea Silvestrelli as the voice of Fafner, and Celeste Lazarenko as the athletic Woodbird (actually, her stand-in), are very good. Liane Keegan sings at low volume, which suits the portent of Erda’s warnings, undermined as they are somewhat by her strange garb, making her seem like the fifth Banana Split. And there are more dancers, twirling their infernal ribbons, which might have put the orchestra a bit out of time.

Götterdämmerung

This is the closest Wagner gets to the Nibelungenlied, and it is a most satisfying closing-of-the-circle, well done by all, in particular the real hero of the whole saga, Brünnhilde. Once again, we worried that either she or Siegfried would fall off the rock – it looked over 15 feet high, with no guard rails. Also, while it was pushed into position by the camouflaged minions, it creaked quite noisily (WD-40, anyone?). We did, however, like the Wizard of Oz-like door under which Alberich gets into a sleepy Hagen’s head, and the hunting ground, a wintry array of Patagonian mountains and a moon that went from Melancholia to Lord of the Rings.

The director had decamped after Cycle 1, we heard, having urged his players to declaim impassively (!) – We suspect this bit of directorial chauvinism was disregarded by the players once the director left, given the work represents one of the loftiest heights of romanticism, and is a pre-Freudian masterpiece, fortunately played as such. But if our mail is accurate, it does explain something of the sterility of aspects of the operas in this production. Chen has been reported as saying “Opera as a performance, as theatre, isn’t my cup of tea.”  However, the production did spurn the wan flatulence of Regietheater.

In any case, and notwithstanding the truly idiosyncratic staging of the world’s final immolation – Brünnhilde and a Mechano warhorse around and atop a pile of generic supermarket tins, doused in bleach, while a truly crazy bunch of CGO swirled about – could not defeat the simply gorgeous music, song, and emotion as we all ‘saw the world end.’ Andrea Silvestrelli, highly effective earlier as Fafner and Hunding, was, as a sonorous and vigorous Hagen, outstanding in a crowded field of sheer brilliance. The audience gave a long standing ovation that was neither phony nor excessive.

Götterdämmerung, at curtain

Digital Effects

The digital effects were generally impressive (hundreds of LED screens, video material and sensors in the ensembles), although often they were too busy, distracting, or intruded for reasons unclear to this correspondent at least (“Effects without causes”?). The technology will enable future productions to be more portable and economical, but as tended to be the case in this production, the risk is the temptation to explore the medium at the expense of clarity and concision. The drizzled titles at the start of each opera included Chinese characters (we surmised, translations), which were neither ‘provocative’ nor ‘insightful.’ But the visuals were often beautiful: for example, the falling golden leaves in Die Walküre, which owed much to digital effects; and the funeral procession to the Trauermarsch in Götterdämmerung, which did not. It was brave to try it and it has, quibbles notwithstanding, succeeded. 

The Ring remains one of the peaks of western art, a necessary rampart, still, against the barbarians and their scrobbling retinues.

A Thank-you to the Richard Wagner Society in Queensland

At the splendid Tattersalls club in Brisbane on the afternoon of 9/12/23, RWSQ gave one of a series of receptions to celebrate the Ring in its fair city. Wagnerians had come from far and wide. The President of the Society, Rosemary Cater-Smith, was regrettably indisposed; Professor Colin Mackerras AO gave the welcome and introduced the Society’s new patron, Heldentenor Bradley Daley, who belted out Siegfried’s song whilst he forges Nothung. Being within a few paces of Bradley, the force of his voice was particularly powerful.

(Incidentally, TVC, as usual, funded attendance at the Brisbane Ring out of its own shallow pocket.)

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Back to Otto’s

December 16, 2023 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | FOOD, Restaurants, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

(Southbank, Brisbane, December 2023)

We were last at Otto in 2021 – and had a wonderful lunch. Dinner this time, and just as good, actually even better. It was prefaced by a 90-odd minute power cut at our hotel (and the Queensland Premier hadn’t even formally stepped down yet) but after we were able to return to our room and freshen up, it was a short walk along the Brisbane river to this lovely restaurant.

Service was impeccable; tables were not too close but not overly distant either. We were under cover but over the water’s edge, making us feel both daring and comfy.

L had Paccheri ai Frutti di Mare, long tube pasta with Moreton Bay bug, squid, blue swimmer crab, confit tomato, garlic, chilli and basil. Despite the abundance of ingredients, it was light and finely balanced.  P plumped for Anatra, duck breast sliced into bite-sized chunks, with rich cherries, roasted baby onions and almonds – lovely. By the time we’d helped that down with a Le Battistelle Montesi Soave Classico, the only room for dessert was a glass of champagne.

Otto is a perfect special occasion restaurant.

View to the bridge

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Saltburn

November 22, 2023 | Posted by Lesley Jakobsen | Drama Film, FILM, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

(Directed by Emerald Fennell, 2023)

Why would any middle or working class young person accept an invitation to their aristocratic University chum’s stately pile? Every movie-goer knows that the guest will have the wrong clothes, the butler will despise them, something bad will happen and lives will be Changed Forever. There is of course the very slight chance that the young person will end-up filthy rich as a result of their visit. Perhaps that’s why they keep turning-up on foot at the magnificent iron gates, having somehow missed the serf who was sent to the station to meet them.

“I have always depended on the kindness of strangers.”

We’ve all seen this film before. Indeed, we at TVC saw it only last week but then it was called ‘The Lesson’ and the visitor was a tutor. As in the ‘Lesson’, the aristocratic family in ‘Saltburn’ has an elder son called Felix (here played as a blithe and gilded type by Jacob Elordi) but there’s a maze rather than a pond. As in ‘The Lesson’, the aristocratic father is played by Richard E. Grant but whereas in ‘The Lesson’ he could have been Withnail’s QC cousin, here he has nothing at all to do. Rosamund Pike has a lot more to do as Elsbeth, the family matriarch who is – for reasons which are not at all clear – quite taken with Felix’s lower class guest Oliver (Barry Keoghan). In fact, Keoghan is completely miscast. He is odd looking in a Joel-Egerton-with-a-fake-nose way but entirely without silky charm. He jars. Unaccountably, the aristocrats all love him, until they don’t. Oliver is a fish out of water everywhere – at home (in one of the best scenes he ‘pays’ a surprise visit to his parents), at Oxford, and of course, at Saltburn.

The film looks marvellous, but that’s easy. There’s Oxford porn, fashion porn and big house porn. Actually there’s plenty of real porn as well, which is ugly and completely cringy. 2000’s music is nicely used, in particular, MGMT’s ‘Time to Pretend’ during the obligatory brilliant young things’ debauched party scene, and ‘Murder on The Dance Floor’ (Sophie Ellis-Bextor) for the splendid mad dance through the house.

“..but does the collar match the cuffs?”

Alison Oliver is the fragile and rather stupid daughter Venetia and does well enough. Archie Madekwe as Farleigh, a cousin and hanger-on, is very good; he’s likeable despite himself. Reece Shearsmith appears briefly as a bootlicking tutor. Special mention goes to Ewan Mitchell as a nasty and probably insane mathematics student. The always excellent Carey Mulligan is a delight as eccentric friend of the family and another hanger-on, Pamela. (But see her in as an avenging angel in director Emerald Fennell’s sensational 2020 film, ‘Promising Young Woman’).

The film is slow to get going. There are improbabilities in the script and it’s undercooked. We don’t even know what Felix is reading at Webbe College. (Naturally Oliver is reading English). On the whole it’s amusing enough, at times shocking. Perhaps the whole thing is best thought of as a fairy tale, but it is certainly not a morality play. We have all seen this class warfare, fish-out-of-water film before and we know where it’s going. Six Degrees of Separation, The Go-Between, The Talented Mr. Ripley and – towering over even these – The Servant  – got there earlier and did it better.

[Minority Report: A new low in high-born squalor. Bloody and yet at the same time, anaemic. P would rather watch Accident or read Brideshead Revisited.

But not Harry Potter…]

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Raw

November 16, 2023 | Posted by Peter Jakobsen | AUSTRALIANIA, Documentary, LIFE, THUMBNAIL REVIEWS |

A film by Lumin Sports, produced by Henry Jones, shot by Henry Jones and Jack Shephard (November 2023)

The Great and the Good (plus your correspondent) gathered at Glenelg Football Club on 8 November to view an advance screening of this short, brilliantly produced, and exhilarating view of the 2023 finals campaign, viewed from within the inner sanctum.

Lumin ( https://luminsports.com/ ) is an expert qualitative data company, specialising in enhancing sporting analysis and performance. It’s flagship visualisation platform, “Arc, was launched in early 2019 as a way for technical and non-technical decision-makers in professional sporting teams to interpret complex athlete and team data to ultimately make better, more accurate and faster decisions.”

Lumin has been informing the Glenelg Football Club’s work for a little while now – its core competency is in high-quality data delivery. It is not a documentary company. However, its short piece, “Raw,” recently released on You Tube, outshines most of the documentary films washing though the internet, podcasts, and legacy broadcasting. It started life as an off-topic curio, a 10 minute focus on Matt Allen. Then the Tigers finished on top at the end of the minor round and so the story grew in the telling. The Lumin team had full access to the inner sanctum during the campaign, and so the film documents the tactics, strategy, analysis, psychology, camaraderie, media commitments, blood, sweat and tears, as the Bays drove for Premiership # 6.

All the key personnel are in view and the interviews are insightful. Just one example: High Performance Manager Tom Stevens explains that whereas a normal week’s regime will be about 21 kilometres, in the week before the GF it’s dialled-down to 16.5 (because there’s no game a week later). Prominent throughout of course is the Senior Coach, Darren Reeves, and we are reminded at the start by Head of Football, Paul Sandercock, how remarkable it is that he was only appointed less than a year ahead of Grand Final day. An envious supporter of another team commented on our post on the Grand Final thus: “What team starts the year with no coach and a Club in disarray and then takes all the toys…?

Some of the language in the film is a bit ‘raw,’ but that’s footy. “Raw” is a little gem. Check it out on You Tube (and if you have a smart TV, it is even more impressive on a large screen).




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