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Holding the Man

holding the manTimothy Conigrave’s autobiographical story of his love for John Caleo has turned into one of the finest Australian films ever produced. In fact, I should strike the Australian from that sentence, as it’s really one of the finest films ever produced in the world, but having seen it, I’m rather more proud to be an Australian than I was yesterday, so it’s staying.

Adapted for the stage (and subsequently the screen) by Queanbeyan playwright Tommy Murphy, Holding the Man follows the story of Tim and John from when they meet in high school and Tim pursues John. The story follows their love through homophobia, infidelity (of sorts), moderate success and finally AIDS. The characters are portrayed skilfully by Ryan Corr as Tim, and Craig Stott as John. Despite a strange, forced accent from Corr (he insists on pronouncing every T as if he were dining with the queen and it annoyed me throughout), their performances are truly impeccable.

The film matters in a sociological sense because it is set against the backdrop of the changing Australia of the late seventies through early nineties, which was when the bulk of social attitudes about the rainbow community shifted. And yet, despite the significance of these political shifts, this story is firmly grounded in the experience of the two men at the heart of this tragedy. And therein lies its greatest strength.

If you really hate spoilers, you might want to stop reading now, but really, the ending is clear from the very opening moments of the film, anyway. It is rare, I think, that this tactic works, but this is certainly one of the circumstances in which it serves well for keeping the story on track and focused. One of the benefits of knowing that John dies is that as the film delves into some very dark places the audience doesn’t question whether he will pull through. And because we know he is going to die, we are able to concentrate on the way in which the characters deal with their circumstances. It really is very strategic storytelling, and shows a master of the art was at work.

Despite the darkness of this story, this film is, at its heart, a celebration of love. It truly demonstrates a spectacular skill on the part of Tommy Murphy, to delve into such dark plotlines with such pathos and not lose sight of the heart of the story, which was the love between the two protagonists. Few writers can manage this with such dexterity.

I simply cannot recommend this film highly enough. Get it. Watch it. Share it.

 
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Posted by on Wednesday, 26 August 2015 in Australian Film, Film, Goalpost Pictures

 

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The Sapphires

 

We’ve seen plenty of films centred on the victories of the Civil Rights Movement. Most are quite interesting but the bulk of them seem to float in the ether of the social and political significance of their subject matter, and don’t make a particularly smooth landing in the grit and grime of reality. That criticism can’t be levelled at The Sapphires.

Inspired by the true story of the writer’s mother, who toured Vietnam during the American WarThe Sapphires portrays three sisters and a cousin, young Aboriginal women who in 1968 are discovered by a drunk Irishman who can barely hold down a job but has a great passion for Soul music and recognises a talent. Auditioning for an American military talent scout, they are recruited and find themselves on their way to a war zone.

The story veers close to the heavy themes of racial discrimination, the Stolen Generation, and the moral predicament of the Western powers in Vietnam, but deftly avoids wallowing in them, instead focusing on the narrative of a family. It is remarkably how carefully balanced this story is, since it could so easily drop into a tirade on the heavy themes it skirts, but instead focuses on the triumph of hope and perseverance.

The Sapphires is distinctly the product of the early twenty-first century. It looks back at this period as a critical juncture in world history, a point when the usual shift in cultural values across the western world took on seismic significance and fundamentally altered the way we see things. And unlike most films that try to do this, it doesn’t preach, it doesn’t overstate the political and cultural significance of its subject matter. It just tells the story of five young people experiencing change at the crossroads of world culture. This is cinema at its best.

 

 
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Posted by on Friday, 10 August 2012 in Australian Film, Film, Goalpost Pictures

 

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A new theatre blogger is about in Canberra!

So I was scrolling through Facethingy for something interesting this morning, and lo and behold, I was successful. That doesn’t happen often!

I came across a link to a new blog about theatre in Canberra. Again, anonymous, and seemingly a little critical of Canberra’s slightly longer-standing anonymous critic, Max, who’s had a six-month head start and has ruffled a few feathers. This blogger, who goes by the title That Guy Who Watches Canberra Theatre is rather more modest and wants to increase conversation about theatre in Canberra, which I appreciate rather more than Max‘s claim that whatever s/he thinks is Gospel. Well, I congratulate That Guy on that, and wish him all the best. I also look forward to offering the odd pingback where we happen to post about the same show.

My one little hesitation is that I’m not fond of the anonymous critic idea generally. It has some merit, since it allows the critic to be completely candid about people s/he might otherwise just pay lip service to, but it also encourages that most useless form of criticism, the attack. Max has been known to tear artists down under the rather bemusing motto of being “objective, honest and accurate” (objectivity is of course impossible in a critic, who by definition must take a position; and an accuracy of opinion is hardly something to distinguish any individual critic from any other (for all anyone knows every critic’s expression of his/her opinion has always been accurate); though I value the honesty). Max is rarely as aggressive as the worst of the critics at the Crimes (a significant achievement!). So while I can understand why a critic might want to remain anonymous, and don’t really object, I just don’t see enough value in anonymity. If opinions are personal, they should be owned by a person and not paraded about as gospel.

I’m aware I’m sitting in a glass house here; I haven’t always focused on what I like, which was my intention for this blog when I started it four years ago. But nonetheless, I stand behind my opinions and own them. My real name is all over this blog and everything that links to it, and anyone can click through or search for my Facebook or Twitter accounts to hurl abuse right back at me. There are photos of my face so that if you don’t know me and you object to something I write you can approach me the next time you see me in a theatre foyer and punch it. Even my phone number is here, freely available for you! Anyone can post a dissenting point of view in response to my posts, and know who they’re having a conversation with. When I review for Australian Stage, I need to be more forthcoming, and I don’t get the privilege of simply not writing about shows I really don’t like. On my blog, though, I can just speak my mind about what I do like and save my vitriol for Andrew Lloyd Webber, who truly deserves it for his criminal aversion to character and plot.

At times, I’ve found myself and people I’ve worked with desperately discouraged by the Crimes’ most viscous and disreputable reviewers, and though their reviews aren’t anonymous, I fear the same level of vitriol could develop as a result of Max and That Guy‘s anonymity. It doesn’t really help, and this kind of critic potentially leads great artists to quit and exit the field based on one irrelevant person’s opinion before they’ve created their greatest work or found what they’re really good at. I prefer the philosophy of pointing out what I value and hoping the artist does more of that. I certainly hope that no artist I’ve been critical of sees my opinion as being more important than anyone else’s.

The two posts currently up on That Guy‘s blog are reasonably balanced and positive, so I guess time will tell whether the anonymity will be a blessing or a curse. I just hope it doesn’t become a haven for discouraging the wonderful artists who make up Canberra’s theatre community. Overall, it’s just great to have another blog about Canberra theatre around, and I’m looking forward to a greater diversity of opinions being expressed (especially because That Guy‘s no great fan of Andrew Lloyd Webber). Have a look at his review of Free Rain’s Cats here.

 
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Posted by on Sunday, 22 July 2012 in blog, Canberra Theatre, news, Theatre

 

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The Bugalugs Bum Thief

Playing at The Street Theatre this week is Monkey Baa’s latest incarnation of one of Australia’s best-named plays, The Bugalugs Bum Thief. No, it’s not quite Shakespeare, but it’s closer than one might assume.

Its central character, Skeeter Anderson, just one young member of Bugalugs’ coastal community, wakes up one morning to find his bum is missing, which proves inconvenient for him. He soon finds that just about everyone in town has had their bum stolen, including his friend Mick Misery, for whom it is not so inconvenient, as it means his mum can’t smack him. The advantages of life without a bum, however, do not prove to outweigh the disadvantages, and Skeeter sets out to identify the bum thief and locate everyone’s bums.

The entire town is brought to life through the generous energy of just three performers who present mums, dads, teachers, police and sailors as well as their main role as a child. It may not be universally accepted as a compliment, but Gideon Cordover, Carl Batchelor and Mark Dessaix make excellent children, which is particularly helpful when…

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 

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The Piano Diaries

I’m a sucker for an immigration story, and Joanna Weinberg’s latest offering, The Piano Diaries, starts with one, so I was engaged from the get go with both her story, and her intoxicating voice.

I know I commented on a recent post that I might not be a particular fan of cabaret, but this was marvellous. While The Piano Diaries doesn’t have a plot in the conventional sense, Weinberg’s autobiographical stories are wonderfully full of the froth and bubble of life, flowing from the joys of a child’s fascination with her parents’ happiness to the darkness of witnessing racial vilification. These stories, fragments of a life story, provide a backdrop for the seemingly-effortless grace with which Joanna engages her audience.

London-born Weinberg grew up in South Africa (yet another reason for my interest; stories of South Africa fascinate me) and much of the material for this show is inspired by her childhood and youth in South Africa, with much of the remainder relating to her migration experience in coming to Australia. The Winds of Fear explores this, with its humble reference to the South African migrant as the “privileged of the refugees”. The unique perspective of South African Australians on this topic is refreshing, and Weinberg’s stories really speak to the immense value of a diverse society.

Weinberg took joy in complimenting Tuggeranong, even likening its Town Centre to Florence, repeatedly! No compliment was received with anything less than a hearty laugh by Tuggeranongians, who apparently take much less delight in the simple beauties of a well laid-out urban entity. It is Weinberg’s simple delight in the varied experiences of her life that make this show so charming, though. It is wonderful to just hear stories gleaned from life experience that then translate so beautifully into song, and the articulation between story-telling and song is what makes this show really special.

If nothing else, I’m finally sold on cabaret.

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 30 June 2012 in Cabaret, Canberra Theatre, Theatre, Tuggeranong Arts Centre

 

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Toomelah

Toomelah is a particularly interesting film, if not especially engaging. Writer and Director Ivan Sen went into the New South Welsh township of Toomelah, which began life as an Aboriginal mission, and filmed this story with the local community performing the roles. As characters and performers, they offer a lot. They are, in a sense, playing themselves, and although the story is fictitious, the setting and the circumstances of life in Toomelah is very real.

After the screening at Arc, Sen described the experience of making the film in this community. He went alone, with no film crew, in order to get unhindered access to the community, and to allow the performers more scope to ignore the camera. The effect is remarkable; these characters come to life, despite having just about the thinnest plot I’ve ever seen. There was one point while watching the film when I wondered whether the story was actually just Sen following Daniel Connors around and filming his real life.

The reality, though, is that this is a fictitious story about a real community, played by the people of the community. The slowness of life in this community is, presumably, captured faithfully, but unfortunately I don’t think this verisimilitude does the film any favours. It asks a lot of the audience to keep watching, and while I think this is often acceptable, it is more effective when the story is more engaging.

I think it is particularly important that we tell the story of diverse Aboriginal communities, but I still think these stories need to be told in the dominant storytelling form of our society. While Toomelah is a film worthy of our attention, I doubt it will get much. With a plot arc this slow, it takes pre-established empathy with the characters for an audient to sit through it.

So I find it sad that I don’t think Toomelah will get much attention. It is worthy of every Australian’s attention, but its interest lies in the way it was made and what it offers as a picture of life in this community, rather than being intrinsic to the film.

 
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Posted by on Saturday, 29 October 2011 in Australian Film, Film

 

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Four Flat Whites in Italy

I suspect this may be the first time I’ve seen a New Zealand play on an Australian stage. It’s a novel irony to hear actors we know to be Australian making disparaging remarks about Australia in a New Zealand accent!

The rest of this post is published on Australian Stage.

 

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