peteg's blog - noise

Tim Winton: Dirt Music.

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Kindle. I read this a long time ago and remember the outlines of the story: wayward, wilful woman falls out of love/arrangement with an affluent fishing scion and falls in with a rough, soulful yet manly artist. Winton set himself a tough challenge in constructing not only the female lead but also female friendship. It's similar to Morton's recent memoir in its description of harsh landscapes, communities, men and dynasties. I felt it was masterfully constructed up to around halfway, up to when Winton needs to get the third leg of his love triangle north of Broome: Jim is too closed a book for us to understand why or how he might be redeemed by finding Fox. It's cinematic, won the Miles Franklin in 2002, and there's a movie in the works (but there pretty much always is).

Reviews are legion.

Scent of a Woman

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I might have seen this one before. A Pacino jag, and also James Rebhorn (as a milksop headmaster). Nothing more than Oscar bait for Pacino, who is better elsewhere. Chris O'Donnell is not great as his seeing eye scholarship student. Tailor Anh Duong is striking in her almost non-speaking role. A very young Philip Seymour Hoffman. Overall it's mawkish American hokum. Loosely based on a book and something of a remake.

Janet Maslin. Roger Ebert.

Rick Morton: One Hundred Years of Dirt.

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Kindle. Got the pointer from the Guardian staff book list for 2018. Briefly this is a memoir by a still-young bloke from far western Queensland who became a journo in the big smoke (in fact all of the east-coast big smokes). He gives some insight into why Queenslanders vote in what looks like beggar-thy-neighbour fashion, incidentally fueling the argument for epistocracy. (I'm not in favour of an epistocracy.) There is a lot of poverty (of means, experience, hope, goodwill and much else), addiction, domestic violence, feudal families, so forth. It reminded me strongly of Nicholas Cowdery's Getting Justice Wrong in saying many powerfully obvious things — often backed by recent, timely and relevant data and economic narratives — that will somehow go unheard by those with power.

Widely reviewed.

Carlito's Way

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Second time around. De Palma and Pacino decided to make a Godfather Part III / Scarface / ... mashup in 1993. It's a world-weary gangsta sort of thing set in generic mid-1970s NYC. Sean Penn has his moments as a lawyer in Jewfro. Viggo Mortensen is a depleted good-time host. The plot unfolds entirely predictably. There's some fancy cinematograpy but everyone was better elsewhere. It's an exercise in style.

Roger Ebert at the time, and Janet Maslin.

Ned Beauman: Glow.

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Kindle. I couldn't make it past the first page of The Teleportation Incident, and this one is shorter.

The Beauman ingredients:

  • Some sort of McGuffin to hunt
  • At least one character with a kooky malady, probably genetic and hence essential
  • Corporate surveillance, marketing, public relations
  • Inventive, descriptive, evocative similes
  • A massive vocabulary with shallow insights, like a TED talk
  • Deus ex, as much as need be and keep going

— and yeah, it's getting a bit tedious by now.

In this instance we have a very willing Burmese girl and a similarly willing London boy enjoying the vestiges of the druggy dance scene that produced drug memoirs that Beauman himself observes he is palely imitating. The plot is incomprehensible and not worth recounting; the author concurs by babbling at every fracture. Glow is the drug equivalent of civet coffee, and I'm so sorry to spoil the whole book for you. Japanese girls are apparently magnificent objects; it's the casual racism of low expectations easily met, like an ABC show. Information comes from anywhere and everywhere. It's a string of scenes. There's some naff commentary on commentary (at Lotophage, the amateur neuroexperientialist's forum) — of course people don't talk about enjoying activity x as typically the pleasures of x speak for themselves. Analysis is a means of reliving it, or bragging, or some other thing. Come on editors, run a ruler over this stuff.

Edward Docx at the time.

After Hours

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Second time around for this mid-1980s Scorsese time capsule. I bracket it with Bonfire of the Vanities but somehow IMDB doesn't; someone there suggests Desperately Seeking Susan. Once again NYC consists of about five people and a pitchfork-bearing posse. "Word processsor" must have been the first autocausality of the IT revolution. Meh.

Vincent Canby felt a bit ripped off back in the day. Roger Ebert at the time, and in 2009, for a total of eight stars.

Short Cuts

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Third time around with this Altman early-1990s time capsule. Some of it is still fun. Other bits have gone rancid.

Roger Ebert. Vincent Canby.

Ned Beauman: Boxer, Beetle.

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Kindle. I figured I'd see if Beauman's earliest work (from 2010) was an improvement on his most recent. It is mercifully short. Once again we're on a McGuffin hunt, skulking in an England of Nazi sympathisers and memorabilia hunters and unsympathetic Jews. Poland serves as a place of ethnic hatred and entomological discovery: after exposure to the right kind of thinking, a slightless species with swastikas on their extended wings morph into hardy flesh eaters, or a crass metaphor for those who took eugenics seriously. Much of the (British) Fascist exposition is bald unchallenged assertion (sounding a lot like what was trotted out for BREXIT), presumably because Beauman cannot empathise with, imagine or even look into the faces of these people. Conversely he seems at ease with American quantities of violence. There's little insight here, and the cut-up narrative suggests the author thought the story too weak to chug along by itself. Once again I felt he doesn't deliver on the promises made early in the book, or live up to his gift.

Scarlett Thomas seems to have forgotten about the people at the Fascist conference dinnertable. Goodreads suggests his next two are superior.

Marcy Dermansky: Very Nice.

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Kindle. I enjoyed the previous two things I read from Dermansky — The Red Car and Bad Marie — but with this the well has run dry. I think she's trying to capture a moment in time (the northern summer of about 8 months after the pivotal 2016 US election IIRC) by portraying a rich, disintegrating Jewish family with a fabulous house in Connecticut, a pair of fabulously gorgeous passably-white-but-actually-black twin sisters, a fabulously irresistible but negligible Pakistani author and perhaps most sympathetically his fabulous apricot-coloured standard poodle. (Hang on, I thought Muslims weren't big on dogs...) We're sometimes taken to Brooklyn but mostly remain in the house, unless we're visiting the crazy Republican family across the way.

The focus is on contemporary sexual politics. Ladies, young or old but all willful and desirous, need to make the first move these days. Blokes are passive, excessively risk-averse unless they're holdover alpha males of the Gordon Gecko variety. Lesbianism is apparently the safer bet on the NYC dating scene, especially if you want to make it big in featureless finance. A Chekhovian device is introduced very late and used to unsatisfactorily terminate a very slight plot.

We're told all this in rotating first-person. Are the voices distinct? Sometimes! Khloe (the not-Kardashian) provides no deep ruminations on finance and what that really means; she's just in it for the money and not the bros. Her twin sister Kristi is a similarly underdrawn literatti. The 54 yo mother deals with bereavement by poaching the dog. The father is Wall St. Daughter Rachel, the fulcrum, is a confused 19 yo who has far more than most. Everyone is an abyss of want. A repetitive, iteratively-deepened narrative? Mostly! — maybe this is how Philip Roth rolled.

I felt that to get even this much out of this book required more of me than it had to offer.

New Theatre: Collaborators by John Hodge.

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$20 on their cheap Thursday, two rows from the front. It was perhaps half to two-thirds full. I had a mediocre dinner at a bright vats-out-the-front Indian nearby on King St. after a pleasant but unsensational coffee at Ferah's Turkish. Gould's has reopened down that way, and it is so strange to be browsing books on shelves; the wall of obsolete Australian political books is heartbreaking. All this after an afternoon at Sydney Uni where all (OK, most of) the libraries are now "learning labs".

I went along despite Jason Blake's review, and as I suspected, he got it about right. The actor playing Stalin took his cues from Christoph Waltz's effort in Inglourious Basterds. It's an attempt to draw humour from the USSR stone, cf The Death of Stalin; there's no message in the script, and a willing cast is not going to make up for that. Dave Kirkham as landed gentry reminded me of A Gentleman in Moscow. I got a bit bored, which is surprising — John Hodge was the scriptwriter for Trainspotting.

Ned Beauman: Madness is Better than Defeat.

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Kindle. Entirely too much is trying to go on here. It's impossible to summarise and also probably impossible to successfully execute. A classic McGuffin hunt by Americans in the Central American jungle running from the 1930s to the late 1950s through NYC, Hollywood and some Mayan ruins. The title comes from an unmade Orson Welles film (Hearts in Darkness) which doubles as the movie in this book. It is a sprawling mess. There are endless segues. It is difficult to follow. Most annoying is the periodic retconning, or maybe it's the actively misleading assertions ("met the gods"), or perhaps the iteratively-deepened narrative. There's some Hunter S. Thompson, some Will Self quantity theory, some magic realism, and many voices that sound about the same. Beauman wears his learning heavily.

Is this a story of when America was great? The greatest generation tropes made me wonder if Beauman was playing a commercial angle. Our principle narrator morphs from a journalist into an OSS/CIA Quiet American without even a montage, and as we all know, even Rocky had a montage. Beauman wants to be taken as seriously as Ken Kesey with his account of a brutal, lobotomising Texan mental health clinic and slight readings of Leibniz's patently inadequate monadology. There are shades of the old Australian utopias (hint: don't try this in Australia) but none are as utopian. There's a nod to Lenin's sealed train. I heard the faintest of echoes of a far more impressively erudite effort from a long time ago.

I wondered if Beauman was commenting on surveillance capitalism by proposing a drug that opens the doors to the panopticon; the concept is used too erratically to be sure. Sometimes it put me in mind of a quote from Becker's The Denial of Death, that we've been suffering from the overproduction of truth for quite a while now, and at others that this must be the essence of Atlassian's appeal to the command-and-control classes. Similarly the imperial ambitions of the camp's company scrip made me think of Facebook's recent corporatist movies with their borderless Libra currency. How long until they try to make their staff subsist entirely on bits made out of people?

Widely reviewed. Helene Stapinski sold it to me. Cal Revely-Calder. Something of a self-review by Beauman. Joe Blessing asks why.

Mother

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Bong Joon-ho completism. This one is from 2009 or so. Over several sittings as it didn't really grip me. Something of of Twin Peaks small-town epic: a popular (?) girl gets murdered, a mentally-deficient bloke gets hooked for it and his everloving mother does the necessary to get things sorted out. I wasn't engaged enough to figure out how his playmate rolls: is he a cop? a stringer? the murderer? Everything always ends up in the bottom of the rice barrel. Set (? - at least shot) in Busan, in the deep south of Korea. Lush cinematography, sometimes bit dark. The lead actress (Kim Hye-ja) is magnetic.

Roger Ebert uses it as a vehicle to rail against the mouse. Manohla Dargis. Dana Stevens.

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Another very late summery day — warm (20C and more) in the sun, a light cool wind, cool in the shade. Ate lunch (a felafel roll from Erciyes and a pleasant chat with the owner), read some book on the northern headland of Coogee. There was some large-ish surf rolling in. I went for a paddle at the southern end, and there were more people in than I would have expected. Quite a few people walking around.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Took a mental health day down in the Royal National Park. The ride down was slow but pleasant; I guess the traffic was fairly light. The day was as pleasant as the BOM forecast: 20 plus degrees and a light not-too-cold wind. Had a coffee at the tourist centre at Audley on the way to Wattamolla. While I was there a Kookaburra stole a lady’s bacon right off her plate. The Cockatoos were very friendly too. Quite a few swamp hens.

After that I headed to Wattamolla to find that they're finally making good on their promise to refurbish the pathway down to the beach, and the sweet sounds of wealth creation followed me on the long walk from the bottom car park to the repaired stairs at the south-eastern corner of the sand, near the outflow from the lagoon. They've removed the pontoon. A waterfall was going strong. Cool in but not too bad. Warm to hot in the sun. A few people about. Bluebottles on the high tide line. Epically flat.

Afterwards I rode down to Stanwell Park/Coal Cliff and walked across the Sea Cliff Bridge. I'm still wondering how much of the old road still exists. The ride back to Randwick on the motorway took ages. Bought some groceries at East Village on the way past.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

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I hate apologies. Especially for the truth.
Whatever you did, don't apologize.
Just don't do it again.
— Big Daddy.

I passed on the recent Sydney Theatre Company production and am regretting it now I've seen this classic Richard Brooks production of Tennessee Williams's archetypal Southern Gothic. It's been on the pile for ages, and seeing Paul Newman again reminded me to dig it up. So many things I've seen now seem like footnotes. There are some very funny lines, and I enjoyed a Liz Taylor performance for maybe the first time ever: so bitchy! — and of course she's the cat. Newman is on the slow burn. Burl Ives is a bit too self-aware for so much to be revealed to him so late in the day.

Bosley Crowther at the time.

John Brunner: The Whole Man.

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Kindle. More Brunner due to a lack of imagination or bravery on my part. Telepathy, mentalism of a pedestrian kind, written in a world that already had Foundation and Stephen Hawking. The hard-scrabble upbringing (in an unreconstituted Chicago?) in an otherwise utopian world is married to some inevitable psychoanalytic BS. Maybe he hadn't yet found himself a reliable dealer. It passed the time, I guess.

The Sting

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Second time around with this oldie but a goodie. Paul Newman and Robert Redford buddy up in a justified scamming revenge movie that is still #102 in the IMDB top-250. It's set in 1930s Chicago and just maybe some of the locations are still recognisable.

Roger Ebert at the time, replete with spoilers. Vincent Canby also.

Waterloo

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Rod Steiger completism, with the bonus of a young Christopher Plummer and an indulged Orson Welles as a French king. I think this was an attempt to say something about Napoleon (Steiger, still playing A Fistful of Dynamite) and Wellington (Plummer, born to it) at the Battle of Waterloo. It may have done so if they hadn't spent so much on sets and extras for the vast battleground scenes that nothing was left for dramaturgy, scripting, etc. Director Sergei Bondarchuk initially equivocated between the David Lean or Sergio Leone modes of epic before firmly plumping for frenetic vacuity: the odd moment of beautiful cinematography is killed by our complete befuddlement at the state of the battle. IMDB provides a partial list of perplexities.

Roger Greenspun and Roger Ebert at the time.

John Brunner: The Traveller in Black.

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Goodreads suggested this collection of Brunner shorts wasn't totally dire, and perhaps it isn't if you like moralising fantasy. Reading further down that page I see that this is a work firmly in genre.

Kiss Me Deadly

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A pointer from a recent Dendy newsletter trying to flog one of their DOA horses (Under the Silver Lake). This was bracketed with other famous L.A. noirs like Chinatown but is for mine a pulpy clunker with excess dodgy acting and editing. Made in a time when actresses could proclaim to be of the incomplete sex and everyone was satisfied with a relentless winner like private dick Mike Hammer. I didn't enjoy any of the performances: Ralph Meeker was a cardboard lead.