Friday, January 16, 2009

Week Two, 2009

Thursday January 8

Was spending the evening adjusting the subtitles on my recently acquired Gomorrah so they actually matched up with people speaking, when I got a call from Bec offering spare tickets to that night's Bill Callahan gig at the Thornbury Theatre. YES PLEASE. So we went. I missed the support, The Middle East, but was entertained by an impromptu time-filling Henry Wagons performance. Then Bill Callahan came to the stage with Jim White and Mick Turner. I had really been looking forward to seeing Bill's hair again, but it had changed. It was halfway to shoulder-length. And he was bearded. And his shirt wasn't tucked in like I was used to. And he didn't have excellent shoes on. Rather, his feet were bare. I noted all of this, you see. And then didn't really think about it, because he was on stage AND performing with the cool ones from Dirty Three. So I was transfixed by things like Bathysphere, etc. But at certain other moments I caught myself thinking, "You look like a man who was broken up with by his girlfriend 3 months ago, or something. Consequently, I am reading sadness into everything you do." I have no idea if he has recently had a heart-rending break, but it's the impression I got. And this impression informed my other responses on the night. Let's catalogue some of them: 1) I respected that he didn't talk a lot, and that he only brought the legs out in a subdued fashion, which still made me smile. 2) I felt protective when that guy leaned over the bannister after Truth Serum and informed Bill, "Just so you know, that song was really boring." 3) I respected Bill's silence in response to that.

Friday January 9
I watched The Wrestler. Mickey Rourke's face was perfect for it. Evan Rachel Wood's inability to bring nuance to her same-old was not.

I also watched Vicky Cristina Barcelona. I liked Vicky the most, as I believe I was directed to. I also liked the words people used when they spoke to one another.

Saturday January 10
Watched the Brideshead Revisited film from last year, with Matthew Goode as Ryder. I felt suitably prepared for it - although I read the book quite a few years ago and it's a little hazy now, I had recently spent a bunch of Sunday nights watching the Granada series on ABC2. I had also read quite a lot of negative reviews about the film adaptation. But we'll get to that later. What I remembered from the book is that I liked Charles Ryder - yes, in formal company he is necessarily a little blank and polite, becoming gradually more comfortable and expressive as time goes on, but we were in his mind so we have some sense of him, even early on. What struck me about the Granada series is that it didn't display this, so we are left with very little grounds on which to understand Sebastian's particular attachment to him. Why would he like Jeremy Irons' silent lunch guest so particularly and from the outset, especially when our feelings are there to be won by Nickolas Grace's Anthony Blanche - he who is so entertaining/precise/bold and the slights against him so unheeded by others. So, what I liked about the film was that I could like Charles Ryder again, and could see why others did too. I concede there might have been a bit of cheating in this.

CHEAT #1: In the Granada series, Ryder just leaves Sebastian's vomit on his floor overnight and wakes to find Lunt, his Oxford-appointed servant, cleaning it up. He left vomit on the floor of his room overnight! Who does that? AND, who leaves it for someone else to clean up? (Sidenote: when we expressed these questions as a family watching the series, we realised that my brother Simon had done precisely that. Coming home one night and vomiting into the bathroom sink. And then JUST GOING TO BED AND LEAVING IT THERE. For me to wake up to in the morning. It took the combined efforts of my father and me to scrape, wipe and unblock. Oh, how we laughed at the memory.) Anyway, my point is, the film cheats on this point a little. Yes, Ryder leaves the vomit on the floor of his room all night (again, who does that?) but in this version wakes in the morning to clean it up himself. Good boy. But then, wouldn't you know, Lunt walks in and says, "No no sir, that's my job." It's still troubling, yes. But at least in the film there was some discussion demarcating the roles of Sir and servant, whereas in the TV series you got the feeling that Ryder blithely assumed what the extent of Lunt's duties were, and Lunt didn't really get to correct him on any of it. A minor point to focus on, maybe, but it really was an obstruction to liking Ryder early in the TV series, and one which the film version awkwardly stepped around.

CHEAT #2: There are no children in Charles Ryder's marriage to Celia. In the TV series, he seemed like such a shit to go away for two years and have no wish to see his children at all on his return. Not having children in the film version means you don't despise his callousness in leaving to paint and then leaving the marriage for Julia. Which I suppose is a cheat. But I think the film tried to even out this cheat by not mentioning Celia's adultery at all, so we weren't invited to blame her either.

CHEAT #3: The film rather dimmed the excellence of Anthony Blanche. As a real and substantial person, he wasn't there in the same way. I was glad the film retained his pointed criticism of Ryder's jungle paintings, "simple creamy English charm playing tigers", but it didn't deliver the same wallop as when the words issued forth from the Anthony Blanche brought alive to us by Nickolas Grace. He was just a copy. I think even the early blankness of Jeremy Irons' Ryder could have stacked up well against him.

What's not a cheat, however, is that the film manages to convey why Charles Ryder is worth spending time with. It translates that internal access we have to him in the book into words and behaviour that are apparent to others around him at the time. Yes, I grant that Jeremy Irons' narration explains the internals to us, I just think we still needed to see a basis for others connecting to him. The film does this well, I think. For example, I decided I liked Matthew Goode's Ryder when he actually said something at that initial lunch with the plovers' eggs. It had a different impact to watching Jeremy Irons eat lunch and say nothing of consequence, while his future self talked over the scene. Do you get me.

Oh, I have not said my main point yet, and it is this; I really liked this film. I don't know why people didn't like it. I want it to be praised, not derided. Because I think it did really well... Actually, more. I think it succeeded. There was a piercing clarity to the sadness that I had not expected considering the time constraints. Yes, there are some shortcomings, and I will name them now:
  • Aloysius not consulted nearly enough
  • Ryder's father not as hilarious as John Gielgud
  • the aforementioned Anthony Blanche problem
But otherwise I support the film entirely. One thing I thought would be a problem for me is the number of instances where people say to Ryder that all he wants is to possess Brideshead. Because I don't think that's true, I thought I would have a problem with this implication. But I found that actually, this was not a concrete implication made by the film. People are wrong if they think the film paints Ryder as heartlessly acquisitive. See, when things like that were said to or about him, they were presented as people's suspicions. So they were a question about him, rather than an answer, and one that we get to decide - or not decide - ourselves. I like that he himself is not sure. I think he's lovely.

Another concern I've heard expressed is, does the film quash the queer by showing Ryder's attraction to Julia early? I don't think so. It does bring it on early, yes. But I think the film shows the same amount of queer - actually, slightly more - as the TV series did. There was always something undecideable about whether the romantic friendship between Sebastian and Ryder was carnal or not. Both the TV series and the film display an ease with male affection, but what the film does - which the TV series never did - is have a scene where Sebastian kisses Ryder with something more than platonic intent. The kiss is not shown as unwelcome, but as a sign of anything more, it's still undecideable. So I don't think the queer was quashed. There was just more history provided to the - yes, carnal - relationship that later develops between Ryder and Julia.

Another criticism I've heard expressed is that Emma Thompson's Lady Marchmain is inaccurate. I can't really remember what she was like in the book, but in the TV series Lady Marchmain presented with very little force - I couldn't really see her shaping anybody's debilitating guilt. There is more force to the Emma Thompson version. It appears people object to this - I don't, because there's also more despair. I preferred it.

My final point: the last scene in the chapel is entirely PERFECT. Just EXACTLY. So, there you are.

Later that evening I went to the Napier to farewell my friend Camille and her boyfriend Ben, who are going to Berlin for a year on ostalgie-related PhD business. I'm still not really sure what a year's absence from Camille will feel like. Unless a psychological extrapolation can be drawn from the fact that I burnt her many many DVDs of many many TV shows and films that if watched will amount to hours and hours and hours of her time in Berlin, as if to make a passive-aggressive claim that my absence in her life had better be thiiiis big... But, Guy is the one studying psychology. Anyway, as I couldn't consciously conceive of what a year without Camille might be like, I didn't really try. I spent more thought on what a year without Ben would be like. And I discovered that I felt it as a loss. Because Ben submits to me seeking him out at parties to talk about music and politics somewhat, and is polite enough to engage with me at my level. I realise I have never even considered whether he minds or enjoys these exchanges, only that I do. And I will miss the opportunity to heedlessly impose myself like that.

Sunday January 11
For some reson, I bought tickets to the Black Keys/Gomez/Dr. Dog concert at the Palais. I can't remember why I did it. I think it was to make up for missing Dr. Dog last time. But still, a weird choice. Oh, maybe it was also because of that pretty hilarious interview the Black Keys gave last year on RRR's Breaking and Entering, where there was a discussion of Los Angeles as an addling place where people who should know better start to think things that aren't anything at all are actually a good idea, the main punchline I remember fondly being the Black Keys drummer telling host Simon, "Your mind is too open!" But otherwise, I can't really explain the impulse to buy tickets. I like the Black Keys fine, but I saw them enough a few years ago. Anyway, we went. If the aim was to see Dr. Dog, well, we only saw three songs. There was no aim associated with Gomez, but good lord, I found that I hate them. And the Black Keys live were as great as ever - giant inflatable dream-catcher aside. But being there just wasn't necessary. Oh well.

LISTENING Tuesday January 6-Tuesday January 13. says this week was spent in the company of:
Faux Pas, Inquiet "Rose Rose" remix versions 1-4 and Waterfalls EP
NPR Fresh Air, featuring Seth Rogan, Josh Brolin, Steve Martin, Carbon/Silicon, R.E.M., Jenna Fischer, Rainn Wilson
Smog, Dongs Of Sevotion and A River Ain't Too Much Love and Rain On Lens
Steve Martin, A Wild And Crazy Guy
Silver Apples, Silver Apples/Contact
Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby, Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby
Handsome Furs, Face Control
Tenniscoats, Tan-Tan Therapy

3CR Tuesday Breakfast Show 13 January 2009
  • I spoke to Jeff Sparrow, editor of Overland magazine, about the hoax on Keith Windschuttle and Quadrant. I wanted Jeff to help me value the hoax in a way that reflected well on me as a person. He did, thoughtfully and with substance.
  • I spoke to Damien Moyse, Energy and Water Advocate at the Alternative Technology Association, for the ATA monthly update. Today we discussed the Federal Government's decision to scrap the $8000 solar rebate scheme by the middle of this year, replacing it with an alternative solar credit incentive scheme. Damien talked about how some aspects of the plan might lead to the production of less renewable energy.
  • Lucy spoke to Damien Kingsbury, from Deakin University's School of International Studies, about the current escalations in government military action by Israel in Gaza and by the Sri Lankan government in the Tamil region, and how people's understanding of resistance movements and the scale of the violence is obscured by the framework of terrorism.
  • Lucy spoke to Ula Majewski from Still Wild Still Threatened, about the police action the day before against community forest protesters in the Florentine Valley in Tasmania, and the ongoing blockading actions to stop logging in Tasmania's old-growth forests.
Sly Hats - Windy Harmony - Liquorice Night
The Tokey Tones - Summerwind - Butterfly
Electrelane - The Valleys - The Power Out

That afternoon I went to see Slumdog Millionaire. People have collapsed telling me how much they loved it, but I have to admit, I didn't so much.

Wednesday January 14
I watched the NewsHour coverage of Hillary Clinton's confirmation testimony.

Some background to my lens on this: when Obama was announcing his selections, I clamped on to this article in Time to bolster my hope that his choices were not necessarily a bad thing. Especially this bit:
It's precisely because Obama intends to pursue a genuinely progressive foreign policy that he's surrounding himself with people who can guard his right flank at home. When George W. Bush wanted to sell the Iraq war, he trotted out Colin Powell--because Powell was nobody's idea of a hawk. Now Obama may be preparing to do the reverse. To give himself cover for a withdrawal from Iraq and a diplomatic push with Iran, he's surrounding himself with people like Gates, Clinton and Jones, who can't be lampooned as doves.
It could be true! You don't know everything! But still, when he announced Hillary, I was a little "hmmm" about it. Because I think Obama could be great if he combines how really really nice he is with some courage. And on international issues, there'll need to be courage to break out of the box, thinking-wise. And Hillary strikes me as someone firmly inside the box. (I realise it's unfair to only focus negatively on her, but I really have no idea about the Generals and so forth who are other Obama appointees.) But still, her confirmation testimony didn't inspire confidence. I'm so glad that the NewsHour had Phyllis Bennis on to better articulate my feelings:
GWEN IFILL: So, Phyllis Bennis, what did we learn today from Hillary Clinton at this hearing about what kind of secretary of state she would be?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: Well, I think, Gwen, that we learned that her stated commitment to making diplomacy the vanguard of foreign policy is a very important commitment, but it's one that is already somewhat undermined by specifics that she gave, for example, the idea of not talking to Hamas until certain criteria that externally are met.

At a moment of crisis, you need to talk to both sides. She said that we are not giving up on peace in the Middle East. But it seems to me that you are giving up on peace if you refuse to talk to both sides. It means you're even giving up on a cease-fire.

So, I think that was a bit problematic. She also said very little about the fundamental point that president-elect Obama had made such a stirring commitment to during his campaign, which was this idea that we need to change the mind-set that led to war.

He was very clear about that, and it was, in my view, one of the key reasons that his support grew so exponentially, that it wasn't only about ending the war in Iraq. It was also about changing the mind-set.

And it seems to me that Hillary Clinton, as we heard today, is not representing change. She's representing that same mind-set that leads to war, despite some words that indicate to the contrary.

Also, this bit:

GWEN IFILL: Phyllis Bennis, that hearing today went on for four or five hours. And that answer that you just referred to that she made about Hamas and Gaza was basically the only time the subject came up. Were you surprised at that?

PHYLLIS BENNIS: I was. I think that there -- we really learned very little detail about new policy ideas.

But that's particularly disturbing when you have this extraordinary crisis in Gaza right now. The -- the deaths of Palestinians is now over 950, more than 300 -- 3,500 injured. Thirteen Israelis, almost all of them soldiers, have been killed. But the numbers of Palestinians, it's about half civilians.

It's a dramatic crisis that cries out for real leadership. There's a United Nations resolution that has been passed. It would not have been untoward, I think, for the -- the -- the new incoming secretary of state to say that one of the goals of the new administration would be to implement all United Nations resolutions, including the one calling for an immediate cease-fire.

GWEN IFILL: Well, let me ask...

BENNETT: The fact that she didn't was unfortunate.

Anyway, I spent the rest of Wednesday evening listening to BBC Worldwide documentary podcasts, and to Philippe Sands on NPR's Fresh Air, and to Helen Thomas on Democracy Now! And then, uh, Matt Damon read me some of A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn.

The BBC podcasts were:

  • Obama: Professor President (which underlined for me yet again how really really nice he is. Srsly guyz!)
  • Soft Jihad (which was pretty excellent. It's about some creepy campaigns against Islamic academics in America. BBC's Pascale Harter also made that doco about Roberto Saviano and the Camorra. I like her.)
  • The My Lai Tapes, Parts One & Two

I also finished reading John Berger's Hold Everything Dear. This is what I underlined while reading it, from "The Chorus In Our Heads":

it is not only animal and plant species which are being destroyed or made extinct today, but also set after set of our human priorities.

I found that "set after set" bit quite expressive.

Thursday January 15

I went to 3CR for some meetings. The sub-committees are starting up again for the year. Yesterday it was Programming, a planning session for 2009 priorities. And then Promotions/website group met up to go over some design changes. These things are not as dry as they sound, in the right company.

Friday January 16

Tonight I'm going to The Lifted Brow magazine launch at East Brunswick, to see Bachelorette et al.

And tomorrow I want to go to Tom's exhibition with his brother at Brunswick Bound.

And finally, the Gossip Girl update. As of S02E15, I cannot take any more of this Chuck-spiral. I will not say "I'm done" because that's not how I feel either. I just want Chuck and Blair to be happy. And that means being together. And still they are not. Quit toying with my feelings, Gossip Girl!

So there you are, until the next bit.

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