Friday, March 25, 2011

A Heartbeat Away reveals gulf between Australian filmmakers and the public

I don't know why people talk about the Australian film industry, because it's not really an industry as such. It's more like a highly creative and skilled "work for the dole" program. But instead of handing out payments in the hundreds of dollars to its recipients, the Government gives them tens and sometimes hundreds of thousands of dollars.

So few movies have made even a small profit over the years, it's just a joke. Sure, we've got a small population. But that can't be used as an excuse when you look at the tragic box office figures for some of the lemons we've made.

I think it's a cultural problem. The Aussie film industry, like so many other parts of Artsville, is completely dominated by dreary, PC lefties who just loathe the wider Australian society. So they produce a lot of sanctimonious, turgid filmic fare about how racist, sexist and materialistic we are. Of course, people stay away from those movies in droves.

But even when they make films they hope will have wide appeal, they just can't seem to connect with he public. Take this movie A Heartbeat Away. Watch the trailer. It's looks excruciatingly lame and contrived.

It seems to be a hotchpotch of hackneyed elements, made with zero passion and integrity. There's the corporate greed theme which is almost de rigueur in Aussie films with a contemporary setting. Then there's the community musical angle, a la Brassed Off! The sleepy coastal town setting is reminiscent of Sea Change. Of course there's a love story. Then they've wheeled in that old standby of the son trying to redeem his crusty old man's honour.

It's just the kind of movie you'd make if you were a sneering inner-city lefty who thought mainstream audiences were full of sentimental, gullible meat heads. Of course they're not like that, which is why they've avoided it like the plague.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Jodie Foster on Mel Gibson's sensitive humanity

Artists in general, and performing artists in particular, tend to define themselves by their emotions more than anything else. There's nothing inherently wrong with that, of course. But it can cause you to have a bit of trouble distinguishing between reality and fiction. (Come to think of it, that's what the craft of acting actually requires!) If you spend a lot of time in this world you can end up with a moral and ethical compass severely out of whack.

Here's a very minor illustration of this: Jodie Foster, the director and co-star of Mel Gibson's new movie The Beaver, had this to say about him at the premiere he didn't attend because he was at a police station: "I think anybody who comes to see the film and understands Mel's extraordinary performance in the movie can't go away untouched by his humanity."

She's also said she loves him and called him "beautiful" and "sensitive".

Obviously she wants to say something positive because she's got a flick to flog. But her gushing, loving description of Gibson seems more than a bit weird considering the circumstances.

She seems to be saying that we should go easy on him for what he's done because he's sensitive and talented enough to make people cry in a cinema. It's a more muted version of that nauseating defence of Roman Polanski, which was basically: "So what if he's a child-rapist who fled justice? He's talented, so they should all just leave him alone!"

Yes, Mel Gibson is sensitive. But sensitivity doesn't necessarily make you a good person. Sensitive people can also be major arseholes. He's also a very good actor. He was acting in The Beaver, but somehow I don't think he was during those explosive, disturbing rants against his ex-partner that so many people have heard.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Rite, a thriller with a Christian theme starring Anthony Hopkins

Considering the long and sustained campaign against Christianity in the West, particularly in recent decades, you'd think you'd see less and less of it in popular culture. Certainly, it's not as dominant thematically as it was back in, say, the fifties. And in many mainstream movies these days Christians are presented as villains or fools. But there are still a surprising number of big budget films that are morally absolutist, and don't sneer at Christians. Hell, some flicks even present them as heros!

This is obviously because Christianity is still going strong, despite the best efforts of its detractors. So there remains a vast market of believers to sell to. Also, I think a lot of atheists flock to see such films. They don't accept the existence of God, but they do share a lot of that religion's values. And they do believe in good and evil, and enjoy seeing the former win in the end.

Hence the enduring appeal of the possession-themed thriller. The latest is The Rite, starring Anthony Hopkins.

Interestingly, Hopkins himself is a religious person. He says that surrendering to God enabled him to beat the demon drink.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Comedian Jim Davidson's play Stand Up and Be Counted

I posted earlier about Brit comedian Jim Davidson. He's one of the old school comics who does rough, rude  material that audiences love. The cultural commisars so powerful in the mainstream media (particularly TV) absolutely loathe it, however. So his career has suffered as a result.

This falling out of fashion due to political correctness has obviously had a big impact on him psychologically because he's written a play about it. It's called Stand up and Be Counted. In it he plays an attitudinally unreconstructed old comic who is clearly based on himself (or at least the public perception of him).

The background is really interesting:

The origins of the play go back to the winter of 2005, when Davidson was performing in Southend and decided to venture to a tiny comedy venue where a black comedian was playing to a small audience. "I really liked the guy's material," Davidson recalls, "so I went up to him and introduced myself. He looked at me and said it was because of me and my racist jokes that he had been tormented at school."

Judging from that interview he comes across as being far more thoughtful than his on-stage persona would suggest. There's also something quite touching about the fact that the young black comic with a grudge against him - comedian Matt Blaize - is starring in Davidson's play as well, also as a heightened version of himself.

If Davidson is such a racist, then why would he write such a play, and have one of the young guard work with him on it?

The interview ends with this summary:

I wonder whether this was Davidson acknowledging and apologising for his past and seeking some kind of rehabilitation: has he turned from hateful bigot to soft liberal? He laughs. "Well, by the end of the play," he says, "it's the Guardian one, the Sun nil."

Of course the interviewer was from that left-leaning paper, so it's possible Davidson was just trying to charm him and his readership in an attempt to get more bums on seats. Nonetheless it's an intriguing answer.

Obviously it's hard to make a judgement on the play itself if you haven't seen it. But from what I've read it seems like quite an ambivalent, introspective work, and not just some bitter old bloke paying out on the leftie thought police for ruining his TV career.

And ultimately ambivalence is what all good drama (and comedy for that matter) cannot do without. It's also what political correctness so sadly lacks. The huge, tragic irony of it is that it simply censors one bunch of simplistic stereotypes while encouraging another lot that are arguably just as destructive. By constantly defining women, gays, and ethnic minorities as victims who must not be criticized by anyone not belonging to those groups (which is a racist, sexist, homophobic rule in itself) it actually dehumanizes them in ways comparable to the stereotyping of the past. It's just not overt, that's all.

I've met a lot of people in the arts world and watched their behaviour at close quarters over many years. From these experiences I have no doubt whatsoever that those who most loudly proclaim their "cultural sensitivity" and "tolerance" are consistently more bigoted than the people they condemn. They are certainly "protesting too much". 

Davidson obviously has his prejudices. But he also seems to be a more mature and honest individual than any of the lefties and luvvies I've known. I hope Stand Up and Be Counted is a roaring success.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Charlie Sheen is crazy, but Hollywood is crazier!

Even though Charlie Sheen is obviously going through a major crisis, and he's been expressing some pretty ugly thoughts, there's no denying that he's got a unique and memorable way with words. It's quite impressive in a weird way. It's as if this ordeal has allowed him to tap into his real talent. I think that if he managed to hone and develop it he could be a far better writer than he's ever been as an actor. Really, he should pen a screenplay with Quentin Tarantino!

That makes this whole saga seem even more ridiculous than it is already. The big story has been how his drug habit and crazy impulsiveness have resulted in his hit sitcom Two and a Half Men being shut down. But it's a mediocre show, and he seems to phone in his performances, even though he's paid over a million bucks per episode. You really wonder how he even got the gig in the first place ...

It also seems odd that the producers would want to keep the show going. Surely his meltdown and drug troubles have completely overshadowed it? How could anyone watch it in the same way again? (Although in the end I suppose it's not so much how people watch it; just how many do. And all publicity is good publicity, as they say.)

It just shows how crazy Hollywood is. It's really is all about money, power, marketing and image - not to mention addiction and ego.

UPDATE: It appears that in Australia at least all this bad publicity may have had a deleterious affect on the sitcom's ratings after all:

First-run episodes of Two and a Half Men on Nine are down around half a million viewers compared with a year ago. The show has also collapsed in the 7pm repeat timeslot.

But it's a different story in the US where his bizarre rants have seen ratings rise.

Of course correlation doesn't always imply causation, but it seems likely the ratings drop had something to do with Sheen's meltdown. It is a pretty big plunge.

It also makes sense that it hasn't impacted viewership in the USA - or may have even lifted it. Americans seem to be much more at ease with celebrity culture and are probably so inured to such bizarre behaviour that they just take it in their stride.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Performing artists feel guilt about Gaddafi

This act of conscience by well known singers who took money from Gaddafi's regime in Libya is interesting. Why express shame now? Surely they must have known how oppressive it was back when they performed the gigs.

Their motivation is that it was wrong to accept money from a dictator, since it was stolen from the people. Given that, is it much of a moral improvement to pass that money on to charity as they are doing? If you were intending to cancel out the wrong committed, then shouldn't you give the money back to Libyans, in particular those fighting for freedom and democracy?

I'm also wondering how many in the Hollywood left are reconciling this. I'm sure most of them - or at least some - think that what these singers have finally done is a good thing. But prominent liberals in the entertainment industry constantly argue that the USA is a greater force for evil than Libya ever was. Which begs the question: Why do they accept money from their own country's government and economy?

That question might worry a thoughtful and principled person. But not those guys.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Hilariously pompous PIAF events for UWA's Cultural Precinct

Here in Perth different tertiary institutions have long had different reputations. Particularly when it comes to the arts Curtin University and Murdoch have always been seen as wildly left-wing and politically correct, kind of like Berkeley in California. Yet the University of WA had a more fusty and conservative image. It was known as the kind of place you might still find the odd pipe-smoking, classics-loving prof who would actually defend Shakespeare and other "dead white males" against accusations of racism, sexism, and homophobia. 

Nowadays, though, I think that even that picturesque campus has been overtaken by the cowardly, bullying anti-Western left. Look at the UWA website. The main page states

The University of Western Australia acknowledges that its campus is situated on Noongar land.

The first thing to ask is: Well, academics, if you're on "stolen" land, then why don't you destroy all the buildings, remove the rubble and just bloody well bugger off?

I can imagine a lot of Aussies of European descent being annoyed by this but the greater insult is to Aborigines. It's clearly just a mealy-mouthed, symbolic gesture that's demonstrably insincere. 

Then there's the creepily named UWA "Cultural Precinct". It has details of a plethora of art events being held for the Perth International Arts Festival. They are called "Dialogues with Landscape" which does seem appropriate, since by seeing them you might as well be "communing with nature".

Many of these creative happenings seem more pretentious than anything coming out of Curtin or Murdoch. Reading them, I couldn't help thinking that they were all part of some painstakingly constructed self-parody.

Nope. They're real. Take this, from the fantastically named George Egerton-Warburton:

Following on from his whimsical Chicken Stampede project for the 2010 Next Wave Festival, George Egerton-Warburton presents The Stalactite Love Review, a series of nine performances delivered to groups of five atop a small buggy.

Driven around the campus by the artist, participants will watch as panting actors deliver a shambolic narrative inspired by conversations with students, academics and university staff about the perceptibility of ley lines within the UWA campus. The performances can be revisited through freecall hotline places marked at various sites around the campus.

I won't say anything. I'll just let those words settle in your brain.

Then there's this deep green offering from Nien Schwarz called Radicle:

The title refers to the first part of a seedling to emerge from a seed.

Sleeping bags are rolled to form soft-sculptural planters that support the growth of 100 native plants within a temporary arboretum. Each plant is fitted with an identifying tag that contains a reference to complimentary research papers developed by faculty and students.

The work is designed to complement UWA’s Centenary, its heritage-listed gardens and its vast chambers of research while provoking consideration of historical and contemporary relationships to Western Australian flora.

Radical, alright.

Finally, there's artist Bennett Miller. "He will work with greyhounds" in an upcoming piece. But now, he's collaborating with peacocks. He does seem to have crafted some actual physical objects, which is good to know. So many so-called artists these days can't even be arsed doing that. Still, the promoted events seem a tad underwhelming:

Enticing the peacocks to their new hangout is a series of sculptural arches inspired by UWA’s stately architecture. The arches lead the birds outside the New Fortune Theatre, where three times a week viewers are invited to watch the happy peacocks being fed by the artist.

So, it's art when some grungy-looking dude feeds the birds?

Well, at least the plumes are visually interesting ...

Charlie Sheen's meltdown is both funny and sad

I find it fascinating that people still crave fame. It's long been known that living in a fish bowl is not good for your mental health. But the damage it can do seems to be worse than ever these days.

Take the case of Charlie Sheen. He isn't the first famous actor to go off the rails because of an excessive lifestyle of sex, drugs and celebrity. But his case is very different to most others. You usually hear all the sordid details after they occur. But Sheen is courting the media as his life, career and mental state are falling to bits. And because of the reach and immediacy of modern technology you can watch it all happen almost in real time. 

He's just joined Twitter, and immediately garnered hundreds of thousands of followers. But surely the motivation most of those people had in following him so quickly wasn't that they greatly admired him and his work (which is the usual reason tweeps follow the famous). It was to be first in line to get the latest crazy utterance from him.

He's stuck in a real Catch-22. If he's ever going to regain his equilibrium he's got to take a step back from the spotlight. But he clearly doesn't want to. And even if he did, he'd be aggressively pursued by the media. It's like the poor bastard sold his soul to the devil of celebrity culture, and he'll be devoured no matter what. 

Sure, the whole thing is pretty funny. Stand-up comics and talk show hosts are going crazy with it all. It's also proving to be good fodder for cartoonists. But it's also really sad. The guy may well never work again. And even if he stays off the drugs, which is unlikely, he's almost certainly got a serious mental illness to deal with. Unless some kind of miracle happens he'll either be dead or in a mental institution before too long. And millions of people will have watched every sordid step of his descent.