peteg's blog

Beat the Devil

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More John Huston. A strange setup involving a lot of talking about acquiring uranium-rich land in Africa. Bogart is, as always, an improbable, pragmatic and entirely equal-opportunity babe magnet. Oscar-winner Jennifer Jones is one of those babes, constantly telling inventive lies. She's married to uptight/upright Edward Underdown, who Bogey's supposed wife Gina Lollobrigida conveniently wants to trade up to. He's unconvinced. The land was somehow going to be appropriated for cheap by four scoundrels led by Robert Morley. World War II Major Ivor Barnard spouts off about the superiority of the great fascists. It's a mess, and a bit fun. Written by Truman Capote.

Roger Ebert. Thirza Wakefield.

New Australian Stories 2 (2010) edited by Aviva Tuffield.

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Another almost total bust. I skipped at least half after two-to-three pages, and mostly regretted not skipping the others. Tuffield states in her introduction that this collection is intended to put new writers in front of readers.

Killer's Kiss

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Scratching for something to watch. Early Kubrick, last seen quite a while ago. None of the actors were big or went on to be.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Mid-afternoon wade at Coogee. The storms promised by the BOM were very slow to arrive. Quite a few people there but hardly packed. Seemed a bit cold going in but pleasant. The aircraft noise seems back to its old levels now.

Kaili Blues

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Over several nights. Did not live up to its intriguing reviews. Some beautiful cinematography exhibits provincial, small-town China where nothing much happens. There are a few distended motorcycle/car scenes that do little to further anything. Soporific but possibly meditative for those in the mood.

J. Hoberman. Ken Jaworowski is right, the final scene is ace.

Fat City

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Mining John Huston's directorial efforts. Stacy Keach in his prime, and a young Jeff Bridges. Susan Tyrell plays a wanton barfly. Briefly, a professional boxer a year and a half unfit introduces a young man to the sport, and shows he still has it while the youngster doesn't yet. Bridges accepts all blows uncomplainingly. The trainer's heart is not entirely in his salesmanship. Small-town Stockton is filmed like Altman would have. The farming scenes set in the San Joaquin Valley were an American staple. Relax and enjoy.

Roger Ebert.

NIDA: Directors' and Designers' Productions 2018.

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Booked 2018-11-24: $32.00 + 5.95 Service and Handling Fee = $37.95 for three of the six (?) showing. All in the Studio Theatre, notionally every hour from 7pm, but it took longer to adjust the sets than they allowed, so this opening night ended up dragging out well past 10pm. Every session was packed. In between I took a quick look at the costumery in the foyer, and the miniature set mockups where the cafe used to be. Loads of people; a big end of year scene.

First up was Molière's Le Mariage forcé ("the forced marriage"): well-executed commedia dell'arte. The set was fantastic and used to great effect by a tight cast. The usual stuff: a bloke (Tom Matthews) wants to get married until he doesn't. The bride (Charlotte Grimmer) says she expects tolerance and trust from her husband as she really wants to run off with her girlfriend. The father- and brother-in-law insist. A philosopher and a priest provide no help.

I was keen to see Hedda, based on Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler, as the Norwegian has previously been a very reliable source of raw material. Well, this production bowdlerised that play to the point of vacuity; gone were the elliptic approaches and repeated motifs that repay close attention. I got nothing from this.

Finally, Big Blue Sky, based on Peter Garrett's autobio and a smattering of Midnight Oil hits. The last time I met such unabashed Oils fans was in 1996. The cast enjoyed themselves right from the opening frame: pub trivia about Garrett's bio, a game of backyard cricket, later a meat raffle drawn by Julia Gillard (represented by her hair for the most part). Most took turns to sing and perform Garrett's signature dance moves to a decent backing band made up of a keyboard/guitarist and drummer, and some of the cast playing bass and guitar. The only slightly bum note in this story of onwards and upwards was his self-righteous approval of a uranium mine as environment minister back in 2009. The minor use of video (to make an ad for his 2004 Kingsford Smith election campaign) was effective. They worked up a sweat in the audience too.

The Best Australian Stories 2010 edited by Cate Kennedy.

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Kindle. Mostly a bust. I skipped anything that didn't grab me in two or three pages. The hits:

  • Gillian Essex's One of the Girls has lots to say in one big run on sentence: mothers at their daughters' gig, mining the generation gap, supporting each other as they all age, learning to accept what comes. Tight. She doesn't seem to have much of an internet presence.
  • Nam Le takes up the most space with The Yarra: a Romper Stomper-ish account of young brotherhood, a tad flat but executed with his customary technical excellence.
  • Joanne Riccioni: Can’t Take the Country Out of the Boy. A well constructed two-track with the thick Australian country patois and near horizons; the brittle prison of farm life.

The reviews are provincial and boosterish.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Lunch on the Coogee headland then a snorkel off the southern rocks at Gordons Bay. Cool, cloudy but still the rain forecast by the BOM has yet to happen. Some people hanging around but few to none in the water. Cleanish in some spots. Five or six stingrays, a large female groper, a couple of large wrasse, loads of small fry.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Early evening paddle at Gordons Bay. Almost no-one around due to the rain clouds that blew over from late morning; no more than a drop so far though. Flat with the tide running out. Seemed a bit cold getting in. Clean. Tried to read some more short stories on the Coogee headland. Had the last of the leftover curry.

The Other Side of the Wind

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A new Orson Welles, sorta. John Huston in the lead as some kind of Hemingway-esque dinosaur. A film satirising the making of a 1960s-era art film: nudity (Oja Kodar mostly), impressionism, crassness, plotlessness. Some very Wellesian bellowing. Apparently filmed from 1970 to 1976, then hacked a bit by Welles until his passing in 1985, then finished by others over the past 30 years. Can't say I got into it.

Manohla Dargis. Glenn Kenny.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. I'd left it a bit late: the sun was waning, the wind was up, the clouds coming over. Flat and low tide. Pleasant in, seemed clean. Very few people there. Dried out on the Coogee headland and ate my leftovers. Read a bit more of this Australian short story collection from 2010, which is mostly failing to grip.

Macao

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Robert Mitchum and Jane Russell meet cute again, this time in black-and-white Macao. The plot is a simplification of His Kind of Woman: the local casino operator of American criminal heritage simply wants Mitchum gone, thinking him to be a cop. He and Russell make plans to spend their lives managing a plantation on a tropical island of much paradise. The three-mile limit apparently provides immutable protection from the international (read Western) forces of the law. Gloria Grahame helps out when she can. Flat. Straight up exploitation. Lots of set work by the looks of it. Russell doesn't seem to get into it at all.

Bodied

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Battle rap! On the strength of a warm review by Jeannette Catsoulis. It's something of a guilty pleasure: a portrayal of the spaces where that intense reptilian need (some feel) to insult the living bejesus out of the bloke (almost always) opposite can be indulged in relative but possibly fallacious safety. Nothing is sacred any more — feel free to climb over the bodies of your mates! — until, of course, it is. There are some sharp jabs at cultural appropriation, the general irrelevancy of the academic humanities (at least those of liberal Berkeley), intolerance of intolerance, misogyny/chivalry, gangstas, cluelessness, the L.A. scene; and yet it plays a lot safer than Bamboozled. Director Joseph Kahn is Korean and has done a bazillion music videos, so perhaps the parallel is Fincher's Fight Club. His other features are poorly rated at IMDB. The cinematography and effects are pretty good, evoking an unreal AR vibe, like tourists will soon experience everywhere. I missed loads of refs for either generational or trans-Pacific reasons, or maybe I do need the closed captions. Financed by YouTube, Eminem produced; I'm pretty sure I've seen 8 Mile (Kim Bassinger played his mum) but it's not on the log.

Jake Cole. Matt Zoller Seitz. André Hereford.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. Still warm and beautiful out, but few people there. Almost entirely flat. Seemed clean. Dried out on the Coogee headland afterwards.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Late afternoon soak at Coogee. I spotted a huge blue bottle on the shoreline. Again there were some larger waves. Quite a few people about but not packed by any means. Windy, sand flying about. Very pleasant in.

His Kind of Woman

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A Jane Russell jag from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes. Robert Mitchum joins her in slumming it in black-and-white with rich Americans in a secluded, inaccessible enclave in Mexico. Vincent Price has a ton of fun as a ham actor who wants to get divorced. The plot doesn't try to make too much sense — a mafioso has some unsound plans for Mitchum involving plastic surgery, boats, and the USA. Sorta amusing for what it is.

Tidbinbilla is not so cold in December.

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I set off for Canberra around 10:30am. The BP at Campbelltown ate some time. Lunch around 1pm at a rest stop in the ACT. I got to the NGA via Fyshwick, overshooting the turnoff due to a lack of signage (surprise). Blue Poles is still there, as is loads of explicit photography. Coffee at their cafe. Cartoons at Old Parliament House; the Museum of Australian Democracy in decline, Backbenchers Cafe no more. Sat in the NLA for a bit finishing off Peter Carey. Peak hour traffic to the Asian Noodle House on Northbourne. Their laksa is based on a thick (yellow?) curry. Tasty. Essen was closed. Gelato for dessert. BP in Braddon wanted $$$$ more for fuel than the Shell on Alison Road, Randwick. There is loads of motorcycle parking everywhere.

Woods Reserve.

I got to Woods Reserve Recreation Area around 8:15pm, perhaps 30 minutes before last light. One roo on the road, two at the grounds. All hopped off quickly. A couple was cooking at the facilties near the entry. I hurriedly pitched my tent on a non-flat bit of hardened dirt; a beginner's mistake due to the age since I last used it. Loads of hangable trees, but given my previous experiences I figured it'd be too cold. Well, I got a worse sleep than any I had in the hammock. It's been many years since I was at this campground: it's no longer bookable and the amenities block is unlocked. (I remembered afterward that I had a plan to hang somewhere out of the way, closer to the city.) I woke with the dawn chorus at 5:30am-ish to a cool but not cold morning, with low cloud that burned off by midday. The shower is hot and remains on a three-minutes-on, two-minutes-off duty cycle. The ride up to ANU through the heavy morning traffic was easy.

Peter Carey: A Long Way From Home.

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Kindle. Peter Carey's latest novel, and his first Australia-focussed one in how long? The alternating male/female first person narrators tell us a story about Bacchus Marsh, Holden versus Ford, parenting, Aboriginality and the Redex Reliablity Trials of the early 1950s; topics (mostly) beyond the pale of John Howard's nostalgia for that era. The somewhat tiring setup introduces the supposed novelty of a female driver, and just like in Kushner's novel, she's actually really good. Cue the eyerolls, and more when the father in law turns out to be an overbearing white man who can’t deal with her and his son’s relative success. Quiz champ protagonist and apparent ladies' magnet Wilhelm Bachhuber is given a German gloss that allows him to take on aspects of Voss and his tormentors, for instance by being at a suitable remove from the horrors of the real, internal Australia. Carey wants Aboriginal culture to have innovated since 1788, but his "new Law" is apocalyptic, millennial, unimaginative: a new Noah’s ark and holocaust for those very same reasons found in the Bible. Similarly the proposal that you can go home again, or at least rework your earlier stuff (Until the End of the World etc.) in the museum of your mind is sterile. I like to think his juxtaposition of Banjo Paterson and Jack Brabham, Orange boys as I understand it (sorta?), was a wink to those of us brought up in small towns.

Reviews are legion, of course. Craig Taylor wants more. Ron Charles bemoans the beginnings of what to him becomes a worthy narrative. Andrew Dickson. Natalie Quinlivan wades into the mucky politics of cultural appropriation. Goodreads has the unvarnished truth.

Sydney Theatre Company: A Cheery Soul by Patrick White.

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A beaut sunny day. I met up with Pawel for a mid-afternoon coffee at Cabrito and had another at the Studio Cafe at the Sydney Opera House closer to time, after reading a bit more Peter Carey in the Botanic Gardens. For some reason there were loads of dolled-up young ladies out with their oldies (mums and grandmums), gloriously, indifferently blocking the pedestrian flows. My bag got checked twice on my way to seat C13 in the Drama Theatre. That spot is B grade ($75 + $7.50 booking fee = $82.50, booked 2018-11-22) but OK if you're tall; the stage was slightly above my eye level, and I could see its floor if I stretched. Packed.

The draw was to see a Patrick White play I hadn't seen before. Briefly we get a woman of "militant virtue," Miss Docker, who outlives her landlady then outstays her welcome with a middle-aged couple only to end up in an old-people's home. The opening scene is one of 1950s realism, similar in this way to The Ham Funeral; the intricate rotating set has a period stove, and the housewife recounts the dishes from my 1980s childhood: lemon delicious, macaroni cheese. After that things get surreal and internalised, and possibly shocking in its day; now it seems dismal and dated. Humour flees at some point, and it is clearly difficult to keep this uneven piece moving along. The focus on the mores of the Anglican Church is very stale: there are plenty more things to do on Sundays now than endure an inarticulate pastor. Ultimately it degenerates to a series of skits with little discernible message for us. I found the witchy chorus tiresome, and Miss Docker mostly a pile of tics. This urban horrorshow is not very deep but probably easy for many to feel pity for or superiority to. It has a modernity like the Opera House: externally promising but internally inferior, ruefully signalling what once could have been.

On the redeeming side of the ledger, I did enjoy director Kip Williams's use of live video, which was more effective than the last thing I saw by him: some classic noir shots and effective compositions. Nikki Shiels, last seen in They Divided The Sky, was effective in all her roles, but had it better in that two hander. Bruce Spence stopped up many but not all of the gaps. The cross dressing sometimes worked.

I grabbed a quick Maccas after.

Jason Blake. Julian Meyrick on the play itself. Steve Dow spends more time on history than this production. John Shand was glued to his chair. Diana Simmonds. Kevin Jackson digs into Williams's preference for style over substance.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Early evening wade at Coogee, just for a change or a hope of dodging the seaweed clogging up Gordons Bay; success was at best partial. Loads of people, many leaving. Brain bustingly hot earlier, with a strong southerly blowing for most of the day, sand flying everywhere. A cool change blew through while I was there. The water was mostly placid with the occasional large-for-Coogee wave that I remember from my childhood. I didn't last too long as I'd lost the willingness to have salt water pushed up my nose: it’s been a while. Afterwards I read a bit more Peter Carey on the headland.

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

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A Marilyn Monroe jag from Some Like It Hot. Also Howard Hawks's direction. She's about the same here: a dumb blonde who is only dumb because men prefer her that way. The title is strange as I preferred Jane Russell (the brunette sass, a Hawks staple), and in any case the ladies from Little Rock apparently prefer diamonds anyway. Russell's bio at IMDB suggests she was ill-used by Hawks careerwise, and not much of a thinker. It's a musical, an extended advertisement for becoming a showgirl, going gold digging on ocean liners, spending your last dollar in Paris and not ever being afraid to stereotype. The best part was the self-knowing court scene where Russell gets all breathy in her parody of Monroe and all that.

David Free: Get Poor Slow.

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Kindle. David Free writes ridiculously high-brow reviews for The Australian, for instance this one about Peter Garrett's autobio, which some NIDA students have recently turned into theatre. This book appears to be his attempt to imitate Peter Corris by retooling his wordsmithing from reputable yet penurious criticism to that grand Australian moneymaker, crime. Is that trick still working for those who started in 2017? From his sickbed Clive James provided a cover blurb that identifies the genre as psycho thriller, and throws around accusations of excellence.

It's funny with a strong intro and high culture referentiality that comes for the ride. The humour is mostly of the predictable, oxymoronic kind: comfortable and effective. I'm guessing the implausible storyline is a fantasy recreation of the author's own biography: a bloke living in the Blue Mountains reviews books in return for (sub-)subsistence income having failed to get his novel published. He occasionally ventures into the city to what I pictured was the old News Ltd. offices in Surry Hills. A woman on the make uses her sexuality for personal gain in that old fashioned way and winds up dead; something similar for a TV interviewer. There are love bites that draw blood, freely given and received. Some graphic murders. A police inquiry, more in sorrow than in anger, that leads to a do-it-yourself investigation because they won't. A dutiful sexy scene. A final brawl following a less terminal one. An outro that is not much of anything after a few too many iterations without deepening. All of this is made possible by alcohol and pills: pain killers for nerve damage suffered literally as a kid and figuratively in the present.

Thematically Free bangs on about the culturelessness of Sydney, the death of the Australian book and newspaper industries, the emotional shallowness and fragility of Australian men, that sort of thing. He gestures at every loose literary reference he can think of; for instance T. S. Elliot's classic "distracted from distraction by distraction", an apposite observation of the new manners, of making people wait while you play inessentially with your phone. Never be lonely again, except with others. I probably read in a critique of any or all Australian writers, with Ern Malley representing some kind of excellence (in fraud if not art) contrary to the use Peter Carey made of him. Disappointingly Free reaches for the Goldberg variations and not the cock rock he writes so fondly about; it's a kick in the teeth to all those Australian males who are totally prepared (without having undertaken any specific preparation) to engage in extreme existential violence.

B. C. Lewis on the local boy done good. GoodreadsRake? Sure, why not. Man Genius of OZ Lit. has given him the review he deserves.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. High tide, and vast piles of seaweed on the beach; had to climb over the boat storage area to reach the southern rocks. One dog barking its head off somewhere. A labrador with a family around where I usually get in. Pleasant in the dying sun. Not much swell. Seemed clean. Dried off on the Coogee headland afterwards. Read a bit more Peter Carey. What I think was a brown falcon spent some time nearby.