peteg's blog

Apocalypse Now (Redux)

/noise/movies | Link

Over two nights, as three hours is too long to sit still for. I last watched this about two years ago. It remains unique to me: literate, not entirely coherent, knowing, expansive. I have grown to like the redux version, especially the encounter with the French, where the visceral attachment to their ancestral land is explored in more depth and ambiguity than modern cinema seems capable of.

Belvoir Downstairs: The Only Child

/noise/theatre | Link

My first time at Belvoir in more than two years. I dragged Dave and his friend Belinda (contemporaneous ex-BKK AYAD) to their cheapie Tuesday downstairs performance: pay at least ten bucks and run the risk of seeing some theatre that might be OK.

Well, The Only Child was more than OK. Set entirely in a bathroom, embodied in an ornate bath tub and shower fitting, the cast of four savage a marriage under stress. The acting was excellent, the dialogue taut and the narrative gripping for the most part. Structurally and thematically there were some obvious parallels with Closer, and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?: trust is violated, restored, vulnerability displaced by vengeful capriciousness. Humor prevents things spiralling down the plughole.

The set and lighting designers are genii, and I'll be keeping an eye out for other things by the Hayloft Project from Melbourne.

Jason Blake's review for the Smage is spot on.

Kayaking on the Lane Cove River

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Iain had the brilliant idea of going kayaking on the Lane Cove River this afternoon. The weather was perfect, and we (Ellen, Iain and I) timed it quite well, apart from the traffic snarl caused by the Sydney Marathon: I spent about 30 minutes on Wattle St, trying to get onto the Anzac Bridge.

We got our boats from the Sydney Uni boat shed at Black Wattle Bay, as Iain is a member of the canoe club. I plumped for the Volvo 240 of boats, a wide heavy touring kayak, figuring it would be more stable and hence I'd have less chance of capsizing and losing my glasses. Ellen and Iain wisely plumped for smaller, more agile ones. Strapping the three boats to the roof rack on Ellen's car took some time but wasn't too difficult (for Iain).

The paddling itself was quite fun, but I struggled to go straight for any significant distance. I think it had something to do with how I was holding the paddle, and also not judging the angular momentum of the boat too well. The views are excellent, through to the CBD and the Bridge. Of course I fell into the river when trying to get out of the boat, but the glasses stayed on this time.

Lukas Moodysson: Mammoth

/noise/movies | Link

Moodysson goes to Hollywood, New York City, Bangkok, the Philippines, and the locals everywhere go aah... The parallels with Babel are several and manifest, and both are mediocre ruminations on globalisation. At his best Moodysson is unsubtle and troubling, whereas this work is merely coarse, riffing on misunderestimating the intelligence of international English audiences.

Mammoth

/noise/movies | Link

I watched this by complete accident; I had intended to view Moodysson's latest of the same name. This one's a turkey, for the Summer Glau fans only.

John Brunner: Manshape

/noise/books | Link

I didn't get into this one; perhaps I read it too quickly or wasn't paying attention. The central conceit is suicide institutionalised at the cultural level, and the book explores the putative causes thereof. Too much plot-furthering explanatory dialogue, not enough action.

Some other bloke has been ploughing through Brunner this year and posting his thoughts. His grasp of the genre is admirable.

Dennis McIntosh: Beaten by a Blow: A Shearer's Story

/noise/books | Link

A somewhat dreary memoir, reminiscent of the Victorian weather, but a page turner nevertheless. The episodic structure wears a bit thin as variety dries up: escape to a shearing shed, so-and-so shore so many sheep per unit time, hit the booze, wake up and wonder about the (future) wife and kids.

The hook is the entirely Australian and now entirely alien life of the shearer, addicted to increasing productivity, always needing to be faster. The sketch of the industrial relations history is somewhat interesting as it covers the time immediately preceding the disintegration of unionism in Australia; the key issue in the early 1980s was the use of the wide comb.

I reiterate the general complaint that the ending is too sudden; we start with a car crash and end with a whimper. Apparently he got a Masters in English literature in the not-too-distant past, and the story of getting from the shed to there might've been worth wiring in. Drawing a parallel with Henry Lawson is a long bow, for this bloke is not pretending to be a poet.

Coincidentally the author is currently reading the book on Radio National's First Person.

/noise/politics | Link

Conroy might not be smart enough to implement or kill off the Great Firewall of Australia, but perhaps he is pigheaded enough to actually split Telstra along its natural cleavage, viz retail and intertubes. I'm curious as to what kind of restitution the Government will offer the dudded shareholders; the stock is held far and wide, which might make for some electorally-significant anger in a year or so.

Incidentally the Smage's much vaunted National Times masthead seems to think that recycling aged (but no less insightful) John Quiggin opinion is worthy. Fairfax's skillful rebranding of the emperor's clothes remains threadless.

David Halberstam: The Best and the Brightest

/noise/books | Link

I picked up this book on the strength of Fred Kaplan's citation in his Wizards of Armageddon, hoping for more insight into Robert S. McNamara's decision making. Well, wasn't I disappointed; Halberstam's take is that it is indeed turtles all the way down, until we get to the one with the weak knees.

This book is expansive, a reporter's in-depth reconstruction of the decision making processes surrounding the U.S. engagement with Vietnam from the post-war period up to about 1968. Structurally it is a narrative with mini-biographies of the major players embedded at mostly opportune points. Clearly Halberstam immersed himself in Vietnam itself in the 1960s, mined the Pentagon Papers and made the most of his time with Daniel Ellsberg.

Most interesting to me was Halberstam's narrative of how the substantial expertise on Asia in the State Department was sidelined and purged by the the irrational U.S. policy towards post-revolutionary China, from circa 1950 to the early 1960s. Roughly McCarthyism (exemplified by the platitude that only Nixon could go to China and not be red-baited by Nixon) gave rise to the idea that those interested in China were by-and-large fellow travellers, whereas those following the Russians were apparently OK because of the big-boy issues of missile gaps and atomic tensions.

Hence by the time that Kennedy and his best-and-brightest were taking decisions that would severely limit Johnson's options in 1965, Communism had become this atomic red monster that ate all the dominos before it. It was quite late in the day, 1966 or so, that McNamara acknowledged that the Vietnamese just might be fighting on nationalistic grounds, quite at odds with the idea of the Comintern (etc). As Halberstam wryly observes, at the time the dominoes themselves didn't seem to mind too much.

Unlike so many other books on this time in history, much attention is paid to the antecedents to the American involvement. News to me was how the preeminent general of the time, General Matthew Ridgeway, kept the U.S. out of the French disaster at Điện Biên Phủ in 1954. This wise consul went unheeded a decade later. Eisenhower comes out sounding like a man of rare reason to me, winding down the military in a way that slipped away from McNamara. Also Halberstam pointed to events I wasn't aware of, such as the Brinks Hotel bombing. (These days Wikipedia's coverage of just about anything is superior to just about any non-principal source — which publisher could ever devote so many pages to so much arcana? — but this book still provides a top-notch jumping-off point.)

Generally the decision making mechanisms in the various bureaucracies (Defence and State in particular) seemed debased by the all too familiar cover-your-arse selective hearing that we get so much of now. Truth tellers were marginalised, 'yes' men rose rapidly, systems were implemented that kept the noise and discarded the signal. In essence, rational the best-and-brightest may have been, but also quite disconnected from reality: evidence-based activity was M.I.A. The why and how of Johnson (et al) hiding of the escalation from the congress and the citizenry is quite plausibly constructed, and perhaps the saddest part of this debasement of the American deliberative apparatus.

It seems that McNamara understood the limits of force (at least in Vietnam) by about 1966, about two years into the escalation. Eerily familiar is the absence of a plan for winning, let alone what to do after winning: was the U.S. going to occupy South Vietnam for decades?

The text itself is slightly flabby, and could have been more tightly edited in a few places. It sometimes got a bit too repetitive, going beyond the rehashing that makes such a long narrative tractable to the casual reader.

Pointers to recent material:

The Man Who Fell To Earth

/noise/movies | Link

Mid-70s David Bowie anti-classic. If anything the plot gets in the way of a thoroughly mediocre piece of cinema. They may as well have followed Bowie around doing his everyday sort of thing, and pretended this was some sort of doco. Ah, I see it was directed by Roeg, who did Walkabout.

/noise/beach/2009-2010 | Link

Mid-afternoon snorkel with Rob along the rocks between Bare Island and Congwong Beach at La Parouse. (Apparently Little Congwong Beach is naturalist, news to me.) This time Rob wore his spring suit, and I went in as kitted up as I could, but was still too cold to really enjoy it. Saw a couple of fish with reasonable visibility.

District 9

/noise/movies | Link

At the apparently unbranded last-cinema-standing on the venerable George St strip, whose box office area now looks like the guts of an old Grace Bros store. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing with Jacob after a fine meal at the incredibly popular Mamak.

In many ways this is precisely the movie one might expect to emerge from modern South Africa, a coarse tale leavened with many sharp insights told with unflinching firmness. Issues of race and origins are never far from the surface, nor is the possibility of transmogrification. The plot was a bit holey but my brain didn't object too strenuously.

The Hosts at Carriageworks

/noise | Link

I've had a soft spot for the Performance Space for many years, though I haven't been back since they moved to the Eveleigh rail yards under the Carriageworks moniker. Last thing I saw from them was a sprawling production of The Wages of Spin at their old Cleveland St premises. Well, today was the day.

Wade Marynowsky's The Hosts is an installation of several tall, orotund and frankly Dalek-ish robots in a fairly large, partially-lit, hermetically-sealed space. Being the early afternoon, I was the only one there, which added to the general spookiness and claustrophobic ambience. I got the impression that the robots were probably sound activated, or at least there was some way to interact with them, but I didn't figure out how. I expected some diversity amongst them, something closer to the kinetic sculptures at the MIT Museum, something less uncanny. Perhaps I should chase up the reference to Masahiro Mori, The Uncanny Valley (1970).

Planet Terror

/noise/movies | Link

The superior half of the Grindhouse pair. Rodriguez has a lot of fun here, leavening his self-aware splatter horror with corn and myriad semidressed chicks with guns. Effortlessly trashy cinema.

Jackie Brown

/noise/movies | Link

Recovering from an overly large night with Albert and Sandy, I got sucked into this, the most feeble of the first three (the canonical three?) Tarantino efforts. The plot is almost entirely linear, and there's not much going on beyond the twisty heist. I last saw this back in 2004 on LaserDisc.

The Splinter Orchestra at the ABC.

/noise/music | Link

Albert and Sandy joined me on a foray to the ABC at 10pm to be part of the small audience for this live broadcast on ABC Classic FM's New Music Up Late with Julian Day. I don't remember having been inside the ABC's Ultimo facility before this.

The Splinter Orchestra's schtick is mostly unstructured improv, unattractive to the masses and hence rarely heard on mainstream radio: something more likely to be on 2SER at two in the morning. I found the ambience quite restful, albeit slightly industrially claustrophobic at times. Chris Abrahams was mutely on the piano. The gig can be found somewhere in the ABC's sprawling website, best of luck finding it.

We headed to the Clare afterwards, which was within twenty minutes of closing.

Afterwards I found that the ABC has an entire website devoted to offbeat music.

Loading URLs in Emacs.

/hacking | Link

Put (url-handler-mode 't) in your .emacs, and then saying C-x C-f followed by a URL will yield a buffer full of webstuff.

Everything is bright and shiny.

/hacking/mac | Link

Last Friday I decided to get the MacBook's case fixed again — due to a design flaw the top keyboard panel tends to crack in the bottom right corner. This is probably related to how I carry it around in a backpack. They also replaced (at least) the caps on the keyboard, which are perhaps a part of the same assembly (?).

I also took the opportunity to buy a copy of Snow Leopard from the pushers at CompNOW on the UNSW campus, thinking my poor little MacBook could benefit from the decreased memory pressure. In brief:

I'm slow: a new Carbon Emacs has been out for a month.

Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness

/noise/books | Link

I last read this book about a decade ago and don't remember much from the experience. Conrad's prose is of the old school, more Dickens than Orwell, and the occasional locution sometimes jangles. The story itself is quite edgy, quite gripping, with the occasional lapse in continuity and allusion to current-time events to keep the reader awake.

I feel, as with most classics, it is a bit pointless trying to say much when so much has already been said.