"Art is not a thing; it is a way."

Elbert Hubbard

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


  1. (AM)
  2. Deadbeat Summer
  3. Laughing Gas
  4. Terminally Chill
  5. (If I Knew, I’d Tell You)
  6. 6669 (I Don’t Know If You Know)
  7. Should Have Taken Acid With You
  8. Mind, Drips
  9. Psychic Chasms
  10. Local Joke
  11. Ephemeral Artery
  12. 7000 (Reprise)

Electronica music walks that fine line between being understood and merely written off as messing around with technology. Mixing sounds and effects to create both songs of rhythm and intriguing melody is something that has been perceived to only be created by that human element within the musician. The problem is that that has fast become quite incorrect when looking at recent electronic music.

With the likes of M.I.A., MGMT, Frou Frou and The Presets, that electronic sound has become commonplace on the airwaves. Sure, pure-blood electronica is far more illusive than the likes of the aforementioned but with growing appreciation for the genre and a growing understanding of the elements of electronica audiences are fast becoming responsive to electronica artists.

Like any music, however, success depends largely on purpose. Whether or not that purpose is related to entertainment, information, experimentation or merely expression it is what will unite a listener with the material. For that common ground will determine a starting point where the listener is ready for what is about to be experienced.


In the case of Psychic Chasms that common ground, in this listener’s case, is never met. For a pointlessness pervades each track that ends up feeling repetitive and nothing more than a collection of sounds. Even when they’re on point like in the case of the title track, ‘Psychic Chasms’, which is a fun and bubbly foray into their music world, that sense that there is nothing new being said here still shines through. With a grungier edge to track 11, ‘Ephemeral Artery’ and an interesting funkiness to the closer, ‘7000 (Reprise)’, there are points of interest here. It’s just that they come far too infrequently and far too late.


“Nobody of any importance or self-regard, with even the slightest modicum of self-esteem, walked in Manila in those days but Dr Carriscant relished the short stroll from his fine house on Calle de la Victoria to the San Jeronimo hospital, not only for the pleasant sensation of libertarian fellow feeling it provoked in him but also because the interlude allowed him to calm down, to forget the irritations and frustrations of his home life, and clear his mind for the exhilarating but complicated business of the day’s work waiting for him in surgical wards.”

How on earth does a writer of the calibre of William Boyd deliver such an over-written, overwrought piece of drivel? That question is never answered after reading The Blue Afternoon but it does raise interesting ones regarding the regard with which certain authors are held. For Boyd won numerous awards for this novel including two citations as the best of the year by critics from The Sunday Express and The L.A. Times. It’s not as if Boyd cannot write either for his work in Brazzaville Beach and An Ice-Cream War is in fact incredibly good. How then does he go so horribly wrong with this love story cum thriller?

The problem lies within the bookended thriller elements to his Philippines-based story. For where the main story tells of a time and place rarely investigated, the beginning and end look at a Hollywood we’ve all read about and in a way that fails to convince either of its time, place or even character development. Kay Fischer is a complete contradiction and one that reads completely untrue in 1936. As an architect battling a greed-stricken ex-business partner and a failed marriage to a listless man she watches as her work is destroyed and an odd-ball eccentric enters her life. As the eccentric becomes know to her as Salvador Carriscant, Kay is driven into a world of history and story as he reveals to her that he is in fact her father.

From here the story jumps backward as Carriscant recalls his time as a doctor in the Philippines during the Philippine-American war in the early nineteen-hundreds. Recalling the problems encountered in surgical development and the class issues raised by the invading Americans and both native and Spanish Filipinos, the novel takes an interesting trajectory as it leaves its beginning behind and moves towards a far more interesting path. As Carriscant tells of his dalliances with the wife of an American officer the story becomes somewhat soap-opera driven and the history of the piece plays second-fiddle. This, like the story’s bookends, weakens the novel as a whole and once again brings into question Boyd’s position as a writer of worth. Is he a good writer or rather a good storyteller?

Of course that question is a subjective one and depends solely on the reader. For this reader, however, I long for the honesty and strong hand of an editor evident in his earlier work. The Blue Afternoon would have been an infinitely better novel for that intervention.

BRAN NUE DAE (Rachel Perkins)



Rachel Perkins


Geoffrey Rush

Magda Szubanski

Tom Budge

Missy Higgins

Ernie Dingo

Deborah Mailman

Jessica Mauboy

Rocky McKenzie

Dan Sultan

Ningali Lawford

88 min


There is a running gag within this adaptation of Jimmy Chi’s 1989 musical whereby the Australian chocolate bar, the Cherry Ripe, is held up as the apple of everyone’s eye as a treat of significant stature. It’s an interesting icon within the film because if anything it sums up Rachel Perkins’ adaptation to a tee. For whilst a Cherry Ripe is a pleasant-enough experience whilst being eaten it’s a chocolate bar far greater in style than in substance. The rich, dark chocolate is smooth and a nice antidote to the overwhelmingly sweet combination of the cherry-coconut mix in its centre, however, it’s not long after one finishes its consumption that the Cherry Ripe loses its charm and ends up being a slightly annoying if not forgettable treat. The shredded coconut winds up inevitably between teeth and the intoxicating sweetness soon leaves one’s tongue as that illusive piece of coconut is sought after by that ever-searching appendage.

In effect Perkins’ film falls victim to that same problem as one is swept away by the insane silliness and effervescent joy on screen, following each frame with ever-awaiting eyes and a smile firmly set. It doesn’t take long, however, after the film’s eighty-eight minutes concludes that one begins to wonder what the hell went on and whether or not the insipid tunes actually held any substance or merely that pop-catchiness that makes the likes of Britney Spears or even its star, Jessica Mauboy, sell records. Sure there are the likes of the show-stopper, ‘Nothing I Would Rather Be (Than To Be An Aborigine)’ which raise interesting questions,

There’s nothing I would rather be
Than to be an Aborigine
and watch you take my precious land away.
For nothing gives me greater joy
than to watch you fill each girl and boy
with superficial existential shit


Now you may think I’m cheeky
But I’d be satisfied
to rebuild your convict ships
and sail them on the tide.

I love the way you give me God
and of course the mining board,
for this of course I thank the Lord each day.
I’m glad you say that land rights wrong.
Then you should go where you belong
and leave me to just keep on keeping on,

and express incredibly valid and heartfelt opinions, however, they’re sandbagged by a silly romance that’s made to look plausible by the even sillier antics of a hypocritical German priest (Geoffrey Rush) and the religion-obsessed mother (Ningali Lawford) of one of his pupils (Rocky McKenzie). Like the Cherry Ripe so lovingly longed for within the film there are strong parts to Perkins’ work – Dingo is ingeniously cheeky, Sultan appropriately sexy, Mauboy naturally charismatic and Lesnie’s cinematography wonderfully picturesque – yet they don’t amount to more than a good time that seems far less with each passing thought of the film.

In the end, Bran Nue Dae, is fun but silly and pretty to look at but ultimately a blip on the year that will hopefully be 2010 in film.

STRICT JOY (The Swell Season)

  1. Low Rising
  2. Feeling The Pull
  3. In These Arms
  4. The Rain
  5. Fantasy Man
  6. Paper Cup
  7. High Horses
  8. The Verb
  9. I Have Loved You Wrong
  10. Love That Conquers
  11. Two Tongues
  12. Back Broke

“Once, once
Knew how to talk to you
Once, once
But not anymore”

If anything those very lyrics from the Hansard-penned title track from the film highlight that while that may have been the case, since the success of Once both Hansard and Irglová have very much worked out what to say. For Strict Joy is a true gem in the world of folk-inspired rock-pop. Melodically strong and vocally and lyrically impeccable even the questionable in the likes of ‘Fantasy Man’ seem more charming than irritating.

The strength of Strict Joy is undeniably in the relationship between both Hansard and Irglová and the honesty they are able to bring to the table with fellow band members Colm Mac Con Iomaire, Rob Bochnik, Joe Doyle, Graham Hopkins, Stephen Bernstein & Clark Gayton. Nothing seems forced and it’s striking to hear such passion invoked through a combination of gorgeous music and words of a combination of both hope and sad realisation in tracks like ‘In These Arms’:

“cause maybe i was born to hold you in these arms
maybe i was born to hold you in these arms

cause maybe i was born to hold you in these arms
maybe i was born to hold you in these arms

and your saints
and your mantra
and you…… to keep you calm
if you stay
with that asshole
is gonna do you harm
as the voice singing loudly on the radio”

For this is an album by true musicians with very little fanfare or editing in the studio. You won’t hear synthed voices or the introduced techno beats of a heavy-handed producer and in fact it’s the likes of the percussion on the track ‘Paper Cup’ that rings fresh and once again highlights the level of musical understanding of the band’s lead duo.

The album truly reaches heights by the time it reaches ‘High Horses’:

“and even on our worst days
we were never quite like this
we’ve gone as far as we can go
without crashing”

a truly beautiful examination of what it means to get to a summit and not know where to go next. The fear and doubt are truthfully dealt with in such a way that one cannot help but want to reach out to the likes of Hansard and merely say, “Don’t worry.”

Irglová whispers late in the piece:

“so forgive me, lover, for I have sinned
for I have let you go.”

She need not fear for it’s doubtful that if The Swell Season continue to make offerings of this quality they’ll ever have that problem with their listeners. Strict Joy is exactly that.

Monday, March 29, 2010

RUPERT BUNNY: ARTIST IN PARIS (Art Gallery Of New South Wales)

Nobody can have any idea…unless they have lived in Paris and in Paris art circles of the intense vitality of art there. Out here [in Australia]…art is not the living breathing thing that it is in Paris…Here art is an entity; there an atmosphere…

Rupert Bunny, 1911

In essence that statement describes Bunny’s canon of artwork collected at the Art Gallery of New South Wales from the end of November 2009 to the end of February 2010. What lies at the heart of this exhibition is the sheer talent developed within Bunny by being exposed to a way of life absent from his home shores. Supported by a cast of other artists and a country built around a sense of nurturing creativity, Bunny flourished during the period of time he spent in Paris from 1886 until his departure in 1933 when he returned to Australia, a widower and verging on penniless.

Those fifty years spent abroad are mapped beautifully by the exhibition curator Deborah Edwards as she outlines his time as a mischievous twenty-four-year-old in the late nineteenth century right through to the days just before he left Paris to return to Australia as a seventy-year-old. Showing the influences upon him by the artists with whom he worked throughout his time in Paris we see Bunny’s focus move from painting what he saw around him to the world of mythology to his fascination with capturing the lives of the women of the time.

His feminine period is perhaps the most interesting part of the exhibition as he records the daily goings-on of the well-to-do and creative women of Paris. Central to these works is his eventual wife, artist’s model, Jeanne Morel and she plays a huge part in the development of his work throughout this period. He in effect is creating what amounts to a reality-television record of the Paris Hilton and Britney Spears’ type of the day, representing the lounging and sheer excesses of the wealthy and free-spirited. It’s an interesting section of the exhibition and a nice contrast to the following shift in Bunny’s work presented.

The move towards his extreme use of colour in his pre-World War I series depicting his interest in the world of dance and then towards his tapestry-like paintings of the 1920s are then again contrasted by his intriguing and ultimately disturbing production of both monochrome and colour monotypes. It is this inclusion of a slightly unexpected experimentation in texture that highlights Bunny’s move away from an influenced young artist to a rather influential one in his own right later in his career.

What one gets ultimately from this exhibition is a sense that here was a handsome, talented and inspired young Australian who sought a chance to grow and experience and eventually express in the best environment he could. For viewers of Rupert Bunny: artist in Paris it’s a joy to behold and an ode to a city to which we, like Bunny, owe a lot.

AVATAR (James Cameron)



James Cameron


Sam Worthington

Zoe Saldana

Sigourney Weaver

Stephen Lang

Joel Moore

Giovanni Ribisi

Michelle Rodriguez

Laz Alonso

Wes Studi

CCH Pounder

162 min


According to Parker Selfridge (Giovanni Ribisi),

“This is why we’re here; because this little gray rock sells for twenty million a kilo.”

In essence that’s actually not too far from the truth for it could be suggested that it’s not really merit that has made Avatar the biggest grossing film of all time but rather the hoopla surrounding the film and the history of Cameron as a filmmaker. His films have their admirers but Titanic, True Lies, The Terminator, The Abyss, Terminator 2: Judgment Day and now Avatar all point to a director of ideas rather than sheer skill or ability. History may say that he is a major filmmaker but even with the truckload of Oscars and gazillions in cash one surely must look at the product and judge it for it what it is and in Avatar’s case, as with his other films, there’s not much there beyond some pretty mind-blowing images.

Sheer size does not a great film make and whilst it may blind some to the minutiae of the piece most will surely be able to acknowledge that nothing in Avatar is new and as entertaining as it may be it is as about original as the formula followed on television shopping networks or on news broadcasts. All begin with a bang to grab you in and then slowly reveal each new part slightly less important than the first. The thing with Avatar though is that even with a formulaic structure it couldn’t find anything new to say within that structure. The NPR raised interesting questions about the films from which it is suggested to have borrowed i.e. Pocahontas, The Last Of The Mohicans, WALL-E, Dances With Wolves and Lawrence Of Arabia. Ulaby and Chace in their article go on to point out that once again the inherent colonialist fantasy of white films about the invasion of minorities brings nothing more than a pat on the back to make us all feel okay. And whilst the film is an entertainment this cannot surely be excused for the inherent racism that is evident within Avatar.

Look beyond the fact that he bludgeons white Capitalism with as blunt an axe as he can, he finds a saviour for the minority in the world of those very same white Capitalists who masquerades and then learns from the minority in question. It’s always going to be a problem when a film about the bringing of trauma upon a minority is made by someone who belongs to that very majority who is bringing the trauma which is unfortunate because as much as the minority is born into their situation so too are those who form part of the majority. What causes the main problem, however, is the sheer arrogance and sense of self-righteousness Cameron manages to inject into his world of Pandora.

This isn’t a film that should be remembered for Cameron but rather his money which has managed to obviously bring some of the most talented technical staff in the business to the fore. Avatar is a technical marvel as the images that present themselves are beyond extraordinary but they’re failed by nearly everything else on show. Beyond Zoe Saldana, who is quite extraordinary as Neytiri, the cast on the whole sits firmly in the realm of bland bordering downright bad, with both Worthington and an overwrought Lang embarrassingly awful as the main protagonists representing the worlds of good and evil.

How people are falling for this film beyond its roots in pure entertainment is beyond this viewer but perhaps if they’re interested in truly looking at the effect of Capitalism, environmental degradation, colonisation and cultural putrefaction they should look beyond the world of Hollywood and let their eyes, ears and minds wander beyond the words of a visually talented hack. Avatar isn’t the dawn of a new age; it’s merely a borrowing of many, many things that have come before.

DISGRACE (Steve Jacobs)



Steve Jacobs


Eriq Ebouaney

Antoinette Engel

Jessica Haines

John Malkovich

Fiona Press

119 min

Australia ׀ South Africa

In 1999 Disgrace, a novel written by J.M. Coetzee, won the Booker Prize and would later be named as one of the greatest novels written in the last quarter of the Twentieth Century. This was his second Booker-Prize winning novel and in doing so he became the first writer to ever win the award more than once. He has only been matched by Peter Carey since. He went on to be shortlisted again last year. Coetzee was also named as a Nobel Laureate for literature in 2003. So, why this brief history lesson? Well, it’s important to know how highly esteemed and how regarded the quality of the source material is when looking at Jacob’s filming of the adaptation. And it is for this reason why when one sits down to watch this Australian-South African co-production they should be appalled by the ineptitude evident in Anna Maria Monticelli’s adaptation.

David Lurie is a professor at a university in Cape Town when he is faced with a career-breaking situation after he is found out for having a seemingly coerced sexual relationship with one of his students. Escaping the hubbub of the crisis he takes refuge with his daughter on her farm. Lucy has recently ended her relationship with her partner and David appears an interesting if not completely welcome visitor to break the monotony of the coming-to-terms with the end of the relationship. Lucy lives a simple life, farming off her land and working with her black African neighbour, Petrus, who is also farming the land. In this post-Apartheid setting the situation becomes catastrophic when a vicious attack takes place that leaves everyone’s motives in question.

Everything about this film screams misunderstanding. From the casting of Malkovich, the lack of investigation into the actual relationship between Lucy and David, the lack of tension developed throughout the main incident of the film, the poor performances from the subsidiary characters and the complete and utter waste of Ebouaney in the pivotal but misused role of Petrus. It’s as if the people behind Disgrace have jumped on the most potentially troublesome parts of the story without actually looking beyond the surface. Coetzee’s novel works because of his insight into the people that actually exist in the situations, not simply because of the occurrences that take place. This is completely missing from Jacobs’ film.

Sure there are interesting elements and the cinematography is nicely put together but not a single thing about the film adaptation of Disgrace sounds as genuine. This lack of sincerity leaves it as one of the worst films of the year, which is made all the more disappointing considering its source material.




Quentin Tarantino


Brad Pitt

Mélanie Laurent

Christoph Waltz

Eli Roth

Michael Fassbender

Diane Kruger

Daniel Brühl

Til Schweiger

153 min

USA ׀ Germany

“My name is Lt. Aldo Raine and I’m putting together a special team, and I need me eight soldiers. Eight Jewish-American soldiers. Now, y’all might’ve heard rumours about the armada happening soon. Well, we’ll be leaving a little earlier. We’re gonna be dropped into France, dressed as civilians. And once we’re in enemy territory, as a bushwhackin’ guerrilla army, we’re gonna be doin’ one thing and one thing only… killin’ Nazis. Now, I don’t know about y’all, but I sure as hell didn’t come down from the goddamn Smoky Mountains, cross five thousand miles of water, fight my way through half of Sicily and jump out of a fuckin’ air-o-plane to teach the Nazis lessons in humanity. Nazis ain’t got no humanity. They’re the foot soldiers of a Jew-hatin’, mass murderin’ maniac and they need to be dee-stroyed. That’s why any and every son of a bitch we find wearin’ a Nazi uniform, they’re gonna die.”

And so continues my adoration for Tarantino’s sheer love of films. The man’s a genius of entertainment, creating a world so believable in its intensity that one cannot turn one’s head away even when wanting to and there are times in this when one really wants to do just that. For Tarantino amps everything up in this World War II epic of violence, vengeance, romance and history to such a point of audience involvement that even when the film skirts perilously close to absurdity it does not matter.

With an almost tongue-in-cheek approach to his storytelling, Tarantino introduces us to the goings-on in German-occupied France. It’s a tense introduction that brings forth one of this decade’s most horrendous villains to appear on film. As Col. Hans Landa (Christoph Waltz) steps into the house of Perrier LaPadite (Denis Menochet) it is obvious that things are not safe and sound. Landa in the hands of Christoph Waltz is a silent maniac. For as he injects a calm charisma and seemingly nice demeanour into the presence of Landa, the silence that follows him is deafening and we know from the reactions of the characters on-screen with him that here is a man not to be annoyed. This is proven through the massacre which takes place and the ensuing chase after a fleeing girl from beneath the floorboards on which Landa was just standing. But she escapes and so truly begins the goings-on of Inglourious Basterds.

What follows is basically a cat-and-mouse ordeal as we meet the Basterds and then a rag-tag of professional soldiers and spies who fight, wine and dine with the enemy in the attempts to kill Hitler and his convoy of fellow murderers. Through convenience we enter a situation where the Germans’ love of propaganda film comes into play and so too does the simmering threat of violence so present in Tarantino’s films.

Its conclusion is a good one and the cast is splendid in getting us there – Pitt is hilarious; Laurent and Kruger in career-best form; Roth and Brühl really solid; Schweiger and, once again, Fassbender fantastic; and Waltz in the year’s best performance – but it’s Tarantino at the helm to whom this film truly belongs. He dares to go where few other current directors are and is in no way afraid to test the audience’s expectations, film knowledge and stomachs.

As Landa would say,

“That’s a bingo!”

BROKEN EMBRACES (Pedro Almodóvar)



Pedro Almodóvar


Penélope Cruz

Lluís Homar

Blanca Portillo

José Luis Gómez

Rubén Ochandiano

127 min


It’s not hard to see why Penélope Cruz would inspire a filmmaker of the ilk of Pedro Almodóvar. He’s a filmmaker who has in the past built films around women with such adoration that one is left with no misunderstanding of his love of the so-called ‘fairer sex’. The difference between Cruz and the bevy of other talented women with whom Almodóvar works is that there seems to be an almost tangible connection between the pair – her in front of and him behind the lens of the camera. From the way he frames her and the way she responds, to the way he uses her innate ability to be simultaneously touching and hilarious, there seems to be something beyond just mere friendship at play here. This comes too from someone who has never been a huge fan of Almodóvar’s films. That is until at least the last couple.

Both Volver and Broken Embraces have really embraced Cruz for the sheer comedic and dramatic genius she possesses. In fact it’s not such a stretch to say that she is quite possibly the strongest actress to truly emerge from the last decade. Her work has been so consistently fantastic that one might suggest that this role of muse she seems to have played for Almodóvar has been reciprocated in some way in the effect he has had on her. For even her performances in non-Almodóvar films have hit new heights. Don’t Move is a prime example of a top-notch actress in stellar form.

The most impressive element of this relationship seems to be, however, that it doesn’t dominate the films they make together. Almodóvar’s ensemble is a consistent one and he relies heavily on the relationships he has obviously managed to develop with his uniformly strong cast. For Cruz, Homar, Portillo and Dueñas have all appeared in previous Almodóvar films and it’s with varying degrees that they seem to do so. Dueñas for example, so significant in Volver, is fleetingly seen here but it’s a presence still noted as an important part of the ensemble. And that’s one of the differentiating factors of this ensemble that seems to make it work.

The ensemble never grows stale or recognisable in a way that hinders an appreciation for the new characters on screen. While ensembles have been used before, the Guest and Allen films spring to mind, there inevitably ends up being a slightly distracting and almost community-theatre approach that negatively impacts on one’s appreciation for what is going on on-screen. With Almodóvar’s films this hasn’t yet been a factor but I’m not sure that that’s necessarily down to their gifts as actors or more that the melodrama Almodóvar employs seems to sweep the audience along on a journey wracked with affection, heartache and humour.

Only Almodóvar could get away with a film, for example, that has a blind writer, using a new Anglicised moniker, recollecting the story of his lost love killed in a car accident to the son of his friend and former colleague. In retelling the story he recalls the last movie he ever made as a director and the sheer tragedy of the situation leading up to the end of his lover’s life takes hold. The twists in the story and the ending are so overtly over the top but Almodóvar doesn’t care investing so much raw emotion into the story and trust in his actors that they are capable of making this real that in the end it does just that. It appears real.

The convoluted elements to the plot projecting the film’s thriller-like thread forwards harks to the strengths of Hitchock’s work and Almodóvar employs music beautifully to create real tension within the film’s folds. But again, this is something that Almodóvar has always done well as he often fuels the fire of sex he creates with beautiful score-work, again by his regular collaborator, Alberto Iglesias.

What happens to one during an Almodóvar film is questionable but what can rarely be argued, at least about his last couple, is that one walks out of the cinema overwhelmed with a sense of joy that what he or she has just bore witness to is something made from a real sense of love for story, cinema and above all the human element of us all. It’s in a sense like coming out of your favourite grandma’s house having eaten a huge plateful of your favourite hearty food.

Broken Embraces is a fantastic film from a very good director. It features outstanding work from its cast – they’re all great; exceptional use of colour and a wonderful sense of composition; and that glorious use of music. What’s left to say other than to proclaim that even with the film’s final revelation not entirely unforeseeable, one cannot help but feel good knowing that they’ve seen a film by a filmmaker who not only loves his creative compatriots but his audiences in equal measure. Broken Embraces is a treat.

BRIGHT STAR (Jane Campion)



Jane Campion


Ben Whishaw

Abbie Cornish

Kerry Fox

Paul Schneider

Edie Martin

Thomas Sangster

119 min

UK ׀ Australia ׀ France

There is a point in Bright Star where Fanny Brawne pines, aching in the agony of first love proclaiming that it hurts. It’s funny how much we forget how awful those years are for us when we are no longer amongst them. We tend to roll our eyes and bitch and moan at the ridiculous egocentrism of an age that we forget is still a learning one. Sure, Fanny throws tantrums and borders, if not dives headfirst into, selfishness but she has no other way of knowing what is going on within the very inexperienced walls of her romantic heart. For while she uses her passion and creative skills to make her clothes and develop her burgeoning sense of her fashion self, she struggles to truly comprehend what it is that is occurring within. And it doesn’t help that the object of her affections, John Keats, is coupled in an artistic relationship to fellow writer Charles Brown with whom Fanny does not get on.

Brown acts as that voice we so often turn towards when bearing witness to the actions of those currently in their teen years. He is frugal with his efforts to be civil with Fanny and quite often deliberately goads her into reacting to his lack of warmth. Part of Campion’s intent here is not to merely create a villain in Brown but rather to show the importance of the relationship an artist has to his or her peers. Brown really does for the most part seem to have the interests of Keats firmly at fore in his mind and sees the invasion of Fanny into Keats’ life as a possible interment of his future writing. For Keats’ lack of positive reception is something Campion delivers subtly throughout Bright Star.

The public response through a lack of purchase of his poetry continues to bite at Keats even though his talent is easily accepted within his inner circle of fellow writers. It is this representation of these relationships that identifies the importance of colleagues and friends when doing one’s work. A common ground allows one to relate far more easily and whilst Brown relates to Keats in his attempts to write he cannot comprehend the importance Brawne is beginning to have on Keats as his muse.

As their love develops so too does the presence of Keats’ work within the film. For whilst we get very little of his writing we have this ever-growing sense of his ability to convey the true beauty and pain of falling in love that he so eloquently conveyed in his words. And the relationship between Keats and Brawne is a relationship seemingly doomed from the start.

For one, Keats was an artist and an artist with little return from his craft. Success did not follow him during his lifetime and for Brawne’s family it is quite apparent that he simply cannot provide what they perceive to be of importance for Fanny, that is financial support. Fanny fails to understand this thinking as she argues that it is not the financial situation which drew her to Keats in the first place. If it was of importance surely she would have been more aware of it in the beginning.

At this point in the film it is not this mere factor which begins to impede on their burgeoning romance. Keats is struck down with tuberculosis and as his health continues to deteriorate so do the relationships that exist within the shared Wentworth Place, Brown’s house. The antagonism between Brown and Fanny becomes unbearable and as Keats grows ever more sick so does the realisation that Brown lays blame squarely on the head of Fanny as to why Keats cannot overcome his illness. In an attempt to gain better health Brown approaches the rest of Keats’ literary friends to help with the funding of Keats’ move to better weather in Italy.

At this stage of the film for those who know little of Keats’ life the realisation that the love affair between he and Fanny is not going to end happily hits hard. When Brown enters the house and proclaims,

“I failed John Keats. I did not know til now how tightly he wound himself around my heart,”

it is with an appalling sense of loss that we see the effect of Keats’ death. For here at the age of twenty-five dies a now much-lauded poet void of any realisation of his achievements, void of any realisation of how much he was loved and void of the actual sense of belonging he had when held in the arms of Fanny and amongst his circle of writer friends. For the sadness of his life ends not at his death but forever as his request for what adorns his tombstone are the words,

‘Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water.’

It is through Campion’s sure-hand that this immense loss and sadness takes hold. For whilst the focus is on the relationship between he and Fanny and the effect that the end was not a blissful one, Campion manages to reiterate that the loss of Keats was a far greater one for the world at large. Keats’ story would be nothing without the trust instilled in the performers Campion employs to enliven it. Both Whishaw and Cornish are splendidly beautiful in the realisation of young lovers. They are complex characters and both actors manage to completely embrace delivering on every nuance that set their love apart. The whole cast is splendid in this regard with Kerry Fox and Paul Schneider both central to the success of this story also.

What lies at the centre of the film’s success, however, is that Campion fails to lay judgment on the raggedness of the teenage love. She embraces the loudness of the teenage protestations and imbues the film with a sense of a real understanding of the pain of growing up. In the end I found Bright Star a beautiful film. The sheer honesty of Cornish’s performance, particularly on the news of Keats’ death, matched with the blue-ish ordinariness of the film’s look make Bright Star a film that lingers.


  1. We’re Too Young
  2. Young Man
  3. She’s A Ghost
  4. Small Town Girl
  5. One Thing You Should Know
  6. Girls!
  7. Do You Recall
  8. Go Outside
  9. Grown Folk
  10. You Make It So Hard To Love You
  11. Sum Of All My Dreams

How does one strike such a point of difference and not be known for it? Well, I ask the question as a follower of music because for Bull, a 23-year-old Sydney-sider, it's hard to imagine that he wouldn't be recognised almost instantaneously in as small a music industry as we have here in Australia. For the striking difference amongst the eleven songs on Andy Bull's debut album isn't the fact that he treads a line few other Australian artists are, that is within the world of soul, but rather the uniquely feminine quality to his voice.

On first listen one might be forgiven for thinking that they were listening to a young female singer-songwriter had they not seen the album's cover; however, as the lyrics take hold and one takes notice it becomes quite evident that here is a thoughtful young artist struggling with all the same problems young men do in their search for what it is that makes them unique within the world of masculinity.

It isn't the necessarily obvious songs about masculinity that grab the listener straight away, however, as is the case with 'Young Man'.


For whilst it plays well amongst his eleven-long lineup it's a little less interesting than his lyrical work in the likes of track 3, 'She's A Ghost', and track 4, 'Small Town Girl'.

For 'She's A Ghost' is hilariously lighthearted in its recollection of a bad relationship.

Oh oh oh
She's in my bedroom
Oh oh oh
She's in my dreams
Yeah, but, no no no
It's not as nice as it might sound
She's a ghost ghost ghost
She's haunting me

Anne Boleyn you know you never did belong here anyway
But you stayed you stayed anyway
So i'll cut your head off and I'll throw it away

And he's wonderfully honest in a naive-wracked way in 'Small Town Girl'.

No you don't have to say
I know where I go astray
It was gunna go down anyway
I only wish that I could've known what I know now today


In the end We're Too Young surprises with its ability to hark back to the days of Motown Soul and yet still sound fresh. The fact Bull is a young Aussie lad belies the fact that he's been able to channel such authenticity in his sound. It's a good 'un and a bright, sunny start to what will hopefully amount to a strong year in musical releases.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

OLIVER VII (Antal Szerb)

Antal Szerb was born in Hungary's capital in 1901. The son of Jewish parents he was baptised Catholic and lived in Hungary until the age of 23 when he obtained his doctorate. He spent the next five years of his life living in France, Italy and England. He wrote his first novel, The Pendragon Legend, in 1934, a year after being elected President of the Hungarian Literary Academy. He was only 32. His second novel Journey By Moonlight followed in 1937. Oliver VII was his third and final novel released in 1942 and published as a translation of an English novel as there were strict limitations on the publishing of Jewish work at the time. Deported to a concentration camp in 1944 he was beaten to death after numerous refusals to take opportunities to be removed from the concentration camp at the expense of others close to him.

The interesting thing about Oliver VII is the immense humour found within its pages. An almost illogical farce it centres on the life of the Alturian King, Oliver VII. As his kingdom fast approaches major bankruptcy and his people begin to revolt he manifests a coup to overthrow himself in guise as a secret captain. Escaping the situation he and a colleague leave for Italy where they end up shedding the royal garb in line for a more simple life with a group of conmen out to make a quick buck at the hands of the talented artist, Sandoval, the former Alturian painter. As the mess of the scam becomes ever more convoluted so does the realisation that the reader is in the hands of a master storyteller. For Szerb's use of humour is extraordinary in that amidst the chaos he intersperses clever little one-liners often about the cultural differences of the ever-dividing Europe at the time. His jibes at the French in particular leave a smirk on one's face.

"Being French, Marcelle liked to talk in moments of passion."

In the end Oliver VII is a funny but ultimately sad tale of a man born into a position he has an obligation to rather than a love for, which links poetically to Szerb's real-life end as he found himself amidst the mess of the Second world War. For here was a man who was a voice of a nation and he was in no way going to run from the affront being brought to his country and people. What is most sad, however, is that I stumbled across Oliver VII and Szerb merely by accident. A throwaway in the cheap section of Dymocks, Oliver VII should be a book held high as the words of a man we all should know far beyond the realms of his Alturia and Hungary.

DEAR FATTY (Dawn French)

I find biographies a bore. For the most part I find them an endless list of things gone by that have significant meaning to the person in question but which to me bear no real semblance of interest in the slightest. There are obviously the exceptions but I find it very difficult to read of one's history and connect. I think mainly because I find it difficult to actively capture the author's voice when reading the work that I really end up reading it in a way that probably doesn't serve the author's story well at all. I'm not willing to completely lay blame on the author for that either as I am fully aware that as a reader I do have an active job whilst reading but I will say that for the most part biographies and I do not really get along.

It was with hesitation then that I read Dawn French's biography, a series of letters, telling her story from her days as an RAF youngster to the last days of French and Saunders to the stories surrounding her marriage to her fellow comedian Lenny Henry for now over twenty-five years. What strikes the reader most about this spin on the biography is that French is foremost in your face as the author. Her voice is all over the work with her endless, 'punctuation-less' sentences joined by her regular catchphrase, "anyway, anyway, anyway...," recalling to each of her loved ones, to whom she writes, the many stories of their relationships throughout her life.

On the whole, Dear Fatty, is like most of French's humour, that is a bit of a mess, in that she meanders around a lot of the time taking her own route to get to the point of any one story; however, that is one of the identifiable features of her unique voice as a comedian. It's an enjoyable mess that manages to identify both the joyous and incredibly sad times in her fifty-so years. And whilst French is very able to find the humour in most stories, even the desperately sad ones as in her final letter to Scottie towards the end of the book, it is the gravitas she is able to create with the sincere and honest observations about the relationships that have brought real times of sadness to her life that ring true the most. For while the humour lightens the mood at times it gets in the way of determining what she is truly trying to say. One is often left wondering what she is hiding when tempting the reader with a sideline joke.

In the end what differentiates Dear Fatty from other biographical offerings is her willingness to truly set forth a chain reaction of memory dominoes which bring her to her last two letters to her father and her partner in comedic crime, Jennifer Saunders. If anything you're struck by simply how normal the seemingly heralded celebrities who grace our screens and airwaves are when it comes to the very human facets of their existence. As French points out in her recollection of her daughter's achievements at an athletics carnival when she recalls the feelings of sheer anger she felt towards an official who had made mention of her presence over her daughter's achievements when announcing winners over the ground's loud speaker. She asks a simple question,

"How dare he sully this lovely, pure, clean, happy moment with the filth of 'celebrity'?!"

And it's a valid question that perhaps everyone needs to ask. For I know I've read biographies in the past with the attitude that what I was reading was written by exactly that, a celebrity, rather than the human so caught up behind it all.


As I sit here at my friends' table, Justin Timberlake playing in the background, the doors open in front and behind, I can feel myself in the mirror to my right. The sliding door to the toilet is ajar and in the far right-hand corner of my right eye, I can make out the dark smudge that is my hair and the black of my singlet. A noisy silence abounds and Jason sits looking at his computer with Amanda hidden on the floor on the far side of her bed. In a sense this picture is indicative of the urban road-trip, that is, the quiet times where each is doing something on his or her own in the context of something they are doing together as a whole without necessarily actually really concentrating on doing that task as a whole.

An observer of this situation would notice the direction in which Jason is faced or the fact that Amanda has escaped upstairs; or the way that the Havianas sit near the door - the blue pair askew; or the way that the volume of the music has increased since last being on; or the way that Eisha, the skin-and-bones cat content with her seventeen starts to new years sits behind it all, foetal-like atop a maple leaf-lined kerchief. None of this is related to anything in particular other than to point out that whilst people co-exist they must in effect exist singularly first.

Beyond the parent-child relationship when a child is first born - and even this is questionable - there are no relationships that exist where at least one party starts with nothing. Everyone comes with something. Those things are what make some relationships work and what make others fail. They can also be what set some up for the seemingly easy-ride and others up for an adventure of the nature of tour-de-force. What then makes one want to write about this? For is it not a situation we all find ourselves in? Is this not a situation that is almost rites of passage in nature? Do we really need someone telling us about this in the narrative format yet again? Ethan Hawke thinks so and in his second novel, Ash Wednesday, he brings forth Christy and Jimmy, a young couple on an actual road trip to the destination of their shotgun wedding to investigate the pains and pressures of letting another in on the journey that is self-discovery.

Jimmy is about to go AWOL on a cross-country journey chasing after his recent ex-girlfriend, Christy, when we meet him delivering news of death to a fellow army family. Stoned and unable to string more than a few words together we are left with a rather unfavourable picture of this man on the doorstep of thirty. Where is his sense of responsibility? Where is his sense of will? Where is his sense of simply being real and good? Well, these questions are answered as the story progresses and as the news of Christy's impending birth of their child is passed on to him.

Reminiscing about familial realtionships - failed and troubled - the two begin to encounter a chance to actually get to know each other as they decide to marry and head for Houston to return Christy home one last time. The interest lies here for each of them. For is there anything beyond just sex that bonds these two? Will the tension and fear of the unknown claim them? Or will the situation somehow right itself in time for the two to begin the role of parents towards which they are seemingly headed?

This sounds typically 'Hawkeian' in the sense that his persona within film and press is one of an affected, artsy type, who likes to pose questions about the potentially inane. This was what dogged his debut novel, The Hottest State, in that for every little gem he managed to create he bordered with an overwhelming sense of self-righteousness. And Ash Wednesday doesn't escape this either. His proliferation of the word faggot and its derivations and his tendency to rely on the woe-is-me defence wears thin very quickly and helps very little to keep a discerning reader interested in what's going on throughout the 221 pages.

And this brings us back to that question I posed earlier. Do we really need someone telling us about this in the narrative form yet again? Hawke suggests in his own words towards the end of the narrative that he is in fact aware of the lack of originality of his story.

"I know you think I'm a walking bag of cliches, but the reason cliches are true is that none of us is unique, all right? Our experiences are not in the least bit fuckin' exclusive."

That still doesn't make it okay to say nothing new or nothing at all as some may argue is the case here; however, there is enough to know that within Hawke is a story of actual heart that relies not upon what he thinks the literary world wants him to say but rather what he, himself, finds true. When that happens he will have something along the lines of a success.