Thursday, April 14, 2016

creativity, play, friends


As part of a visual self portrait at school Hazel listed "partying" as something she was 'good at'. So you can imagine with her sixth birthday was a big event. In the lead up she wrote list after list covering categories such as guests, food, games, music and themes. A little closer to the date she collated these into a book, the party book. The themes were elaborate, ambitious and resource-wise, demanding. In total seriousness she requested Taylor Swift. This was when the Gym bus party was sitting at top of the list. As in, Could Tay Tay sing on top of the Gym bus? I'm sure Tay Tay could pull it off but as I explained, she had tour commitments. Closer to the date I became more nervous. Any attempt to firm up plans was met with tears. So we put the lists, the book and the talk to one side. And while all the party planning was on hold I got to thinking about parties and how the art of throwing a party was being lost in a culture of outsourcing. Goddammit, I thought, we are going old school. Breaking the news was tough. Hazel cried and cried and cried. Holding her wrapped in a blanket after her epic sob session we gazed at the empty yard and hills hoist against a grey sky. That hills hoist would make a great frame for some streamers, I ventured. Eventually, my little party animal looked up and agreed. Her spirits lifted. She loved the days of preparation, all of us working together on baking, games and decorations (including a purpose-built "Welcome" booth for Otto in the front yard). Sure, I had a crisis on the morning. I was literally puffed from tidying the house at double speed. If I was throwing a pool party I wouldn't be puffed, I'd be holding a latte. 

But Hazel welcomed her friends with pride. They had a great time. My favourite thing? Watching the kids tear around in an hour-long game of hide and seek. They didn't need anything other than each other and a glass of water. Parched hunters and nervous, excited prey. It was a Happy Birthday.



Sunday, March 20, 2016

ACMI: Future Manifestos


My decade at university pursuing an arts education grounded me in the significance of manifestos. But I haven't really thought too much about them since the early noughties. You know, too busy earning a crust and keeping myself and my brood clean and fed to be pouring over declarative sentences with a call to action (though domestic routine does take me to a rage-full place and in alignment with a midlife crisis a couple of years back things got pretty close to revolutionary). But I got invited to the ACMI /RN talks Sunday 13 March on the topic and I thought 'What the heck!' There must still be room for Ideas in life, right?

Outside ACMI it was one great thrill ride. Moomba, people throwing themselves off bridges, ferris wheels, overstuffed soft toys and jam donuts. Inside studio 1 it was a more serious affair. I enjoyed the intro into manifestos by a proper academic - it was scholarly, engaging, detailed - before Paul Barclay (Big Ideas, RN) took to the stage with broadcaster and author Jeff Sparrow and early career researcher Max Halupka talking Political Activism. How much do we hear and how much do we see? I saw a very warm, smart and competent compere. Jeff Sparrow looked hungover, a tiny bit hostile and not impressed with his sparring parter: Max Halupka. It was like watching a wolf and a peacock. Sparrow was taking things back to the Enlightenment. Halupka was excited by politics in the age of Twitter.

Next up was Professor Anne Marsh and Clementine Ford for a 30 minute bout on Feminism. This session was tricky for Barclay: the ghost of himself as a young man navigating second wave feminism, at a guess. Marsh was very sure of herself and clearly persuaded by the importance of universities in being the epicentre of good ideas (apparently gender politics is really influenced by Deluze's ideas on sexuality right now - though pretty sure he wrote about them forty years ago). I'll probably read about it in a watered down first person confessional story that is so popular in The Age sometime next year. Ford was less certain of herself. She may have been intimidated by the context and who can blame her. I read her writing regularly and I got a better sense of her project and method: call it like it is and then throw a spotlight on the misogynistic men that troll her.

Last up Amanda McKenzie (Climate Council, CEO) and Guy Abrahams (CLIMEART) took to the stage to discuss Environment and Sustainability. Away from the mucky bizness of men versus women, I felt like the room brighten. Sure, the planet and it's demise was at stake but Abrahams brought a very expressive pair of hands to explain how art could make a difference. McKenzie brought a sense of purpose. They steered the conversation to Paris and the Climate Talks. Both had been present for them. It was in their session and this moment that the Future Manifesto's event found momentum. Trading anecdotes of the Paris Metro, billboards and delegates from far-flung places sitting down to discuss the future of carbon emissions and targets they built something - a story that held hope for the future - together.








Monday, February 22, 2016

Double Blind



Double Blind, dancer and choreographer Stephanie Lake's inaugural piece for Stephanie Lake Company had its Melbourne season last week on the back of a stupendous Sydney run as part of the Sydney Festival. I'd been following crowd funding efforts and rehearsal updates across Facebook and clicked through to some pretty excited reviews.

The title Double Blind alludes to the now infamous social psychology experiments conducted in the USA in the 1960s that explored obedience in test subjects. Knowing this ahead of the show made me a little apprehensive, anticipating as I was some formal investigation into pain, terror and possibly science lab sadism. It is only heightened by the sight of composer Robin Fox – himself a formidable presence – guru-like at the side of the stage at the ready at the deck.

Apparently stress levels are higher waiting to get on a roller coaster than when you are actually hurtling through the air. Waiting for Double Blind to start I could relate to that piece of research. It opens with Fox's digital sound manipulations – a series of rhythmically varied and unpredictable pulsating bleeps  – that animate the still dancers who move, investigate and respond to the space and one another. The sonic intensity is electric.

I was totally absorbed by the dynamics between the four on stage: Alana Everett, Alisdair Macindoe, Amber Haines and Kyle Page following their every movement in sequences that were richly varied.
The phrases and gestures oscillated between human and machinic registers, shifts that complicated agency in curious ways. I wondered more than once, who or what is in control?  Harriet Oxley's costumes reiterate the institutional flavour: uniform in colour, gendered, with an open slit at the back much like a very refined hospital gown.

If it sounds a bit  menacing it's not. Lake, a keen observer of people, has a wry sense of humour. It is a work that is well modulated, drawing on a range of techniques: calling on the audience to participate at times, deploying props to great effect and, in one hilarious moment, dialogue.

Double Blind's investigation into manipulation and experimentation circles around trust, disclosure, pleasure, curiosity and limits. As the performance progressed I became increasingly aware of the physical demands of the piece, the dancers total exhaustion, plain for all to see. I was most moved by this, on reflection. Lake seems to have something to say about limits, of what happens to us when we are taken there: vulnerability, defencelessness,  surrender. I received it as a disturbing gift.


Monday, February 15, 2016

Carol/The Revenant/Spotlight



I've been listening to the BBC's Kermode & Mayo's Film Reviews on podcast for sometime now and it's got me thinking how much I enjoy listening to conversations about films. I think I like listening to them even more than having actual conversations myself.

It was on Kermode & May's program that I heard Cate Blanchett describing working with Todd Haynes on Carol, Leonardo DiCaprio disclosing the 'transforming' experience of working with an 'artist' shooting a 100 minute film with dialogue that covered half an A4 sheet of paper for The Revenant and my new Hollywood Husband Mark Ruffalo - sorry Edward Norton, you've been displaced  - on ensemble acting in Spotlight. They were all wonderful subjects: serious, engaging, generous, totally committed to their craft and getting their films seen. I can report in the world of professional film people at the top of their game seem to try hard and give it their best.

I know that probably sounds cynical, it's not intended that way. Some days I just feel like the distance between our private and public selves is a gap so wide it pulls apart logic and sense. I got to thinking about this recently reflecting on my feature film rewrite which was a herculean effort. Writing every day for a month was gruelling. Doing it with two monkeys on school holidays with Christmas in the middle felt like a folly of the highest order. Moving between work and home was something akin to daily time travel, right down to edgy camera shakes to signify the awkward transition. It was discombobulating in every way and felt harder with each passing day. The needs of small children –  their moods and variable temperaments – and the exhausting detail of domestic life, as well as the demands of a complex and large creative project almost broke me, except it didn't. Even virtual strangers stopped me to tell me "Looking gggreeeaat". Go figure.

It's even stranger to consider that writing is an imaginative interpretation of the space between those different spheres - our public and private selves - and how we feel and behave as we inhabit them. Off air at BBC headquarters maybe Mark Ruffalo kicked himself for describing himself as an 'activist' - and not just a wealthy movie star. Cate Blanchett could have disconnected and thought "Banging on about the theatre, AGAIN". Leo? I couldn't even speculate. What I'm imagining is not really for sharing publicly. It's staying private.

By the way they were all fine films. All three of them.


Thursday, January 21, 2016

(Re)writing Three Point Turn



You might have noticed that I post usually every three weeks. That's generally the length of time between posts when I feel the itch to write or compose a few words. Not this month.

Redrafting my feature film Three Point Turn to a deadline, I've had to roll my sleeves up and got to work like a farmer at harvest time.

Writing every day is so different to life as I usually live it and so completely different from any other January I've had that it almost feel like I tripped and slipped into a parallel universe.

My other work, all of my other work, has been put on hold. I have children but they have a nanny, aka Stevie, on duty all summer. My only obligation is to write five pages a day.

Sounds so easy! It's. So. Hard. For starters I'm an extrovert. What am I doing sitting in a room alone all day, even half a day? I have come to think of my office – an eco oasis nestled looking out over Merri Creek – as a (very productive) prison. I've started to wonder if I am a genuine masochist.

And I am not writing in total isolation. I have a team, a crack team (executive producer Tony Ayres, producers Tania Chambers and Verity Fitzgerald, director Maziar Lahooti and script editor Matthew Dabner - they are an excellent, smart and kind hearted bunch). I have a lot of good fortune to have them on my side.

Of all the genres of writing I do – blogging, art writing, reviewing –  screenwriting is the most mysterious.

Even on days that it has me completely beat, days when I crawl home, lie prostate on the couch, pinch the area between my eyes and make small moaning sounds, moments I am a suffering animal, it has my attention.

Breakthroughs – writing a good scene, rewriting a scene so it reads better, rearranging scenes so that the plotting is tighter –  are rarer. Those hard-won moments bring me a terrific sense of satisfaction. They are not, however, what keep me rooted to the keyboard.

Curiosity with its little friend Tenacity keeps me writing even when I am beset by doubts and fears. I have an ambition to write a truthful, moving, and elegant story. I just keep at it: trying and failing, trying and failing, trying and failing until, hopefully, one day, I succeed.



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Image: Lee Grant, part of the Sudanese Portraits series.









Monday, December 14, 2015

Festivities/War



I'm tapping this out at my dining table surrounded by the detritus of Christmas a little overloaded, over excited and more than a bit over it. I am staggered by the amount of social obligation sandwiched between work responsibilities not to mention a host of free floating ideas from early 2015 that want to assert themselves right now, propelled by a motor that seems entirely independent of my conscious will.

Even as things get hectic both internally and externally I am finding myself undertaking a process of reflection of the year just past (hard-as). Rather than filling me with any particular sorrow, I am mostly overwhelmed by my sense of gratitude for good friends and the enormous care and love that has been shown to me and my peeps (hospital visitors, you especially). Amazingly, there's still been time and inclination for celebration. The very best moment  has been hosting a bbq for family and close friends this past week in the dustbowl of our backyard (water colour scene above captured by guest and artist Piers Lumley).

The kids were the best. Fresh memories of children snaking out the kitchen patiently waiting for a scoop of ice cream in a cone have been keeping me strong through Christmas elf duties that involve malls and the CBD and the mail which includes the Medican Sans Frontiers magazine Pulse. This issue opens with an editorial about the Coalition forces bombing of the hospital in Kunduz, Afghanastan. Honestly, fuck those cunts and the havoc they wreck.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Depreston


On Friday I heard Courtney Barnett's single 'Depreston' for the first time. I know what you're thinking. Am I living under some kind of rock? I'm last to hear anything and everything, my music know-how so low, since my car radio is tuned to Fox, PBS and Radio National depending on my companions and my own state of mind.

I'd been hearing good things about Barnett's album and its barnstorming ways up charts here and in the States so my response to hearing her now award-winning song surprised me. I liked it but I think I expected a bigger song, instrumentally and its canvas, though press articles about the "telling detail" in her writing should have alerted me to the fact that specificity – being attuned to the spaces, places and emotional texture of life at this point in time as a 30something north sider – is her thing. She sings about going to an open for inspection in the now gentrified former working class suburb of Preston with a light, comic touch, though the subtext of the song is economics.  I wondered whether 'Depreston' has struck a chord with people because of its truthfulness: on the subject of Preston we are in total agreement.

In life we are rarely given the opportunity to feel into another person's inner world, even our family and friends remain essentially mysterious. That inner world is the place where working life intersects with intimacy and love, the place where our bank balance and our aspirations face one another. This is the the land of self-talk, a patter that veers between hopefulness and resignation that circles around questions of self-worth and the material. Some days it veers off towards questions of security and safety, other days it strays towards worries over power and influence but it always begins and ends with the question: how much is enough?