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Thursday, 13 September 2007
Farewell to the little Aussie battler
Topic: politics

Ok, I admit it, I'm a non-believer, so I'm going to stick my (metaphorical) neck out and state that I'll sign up to, well, one of the three great religions, if (a) John Howard loses the Australian election for his rag-tag, bloated, hubristic ruling coaltion and if (b) he loses his own seat (Bennelong) to Labor's bright, sassy Maxine McKew. (McKew chose to contest this seat rather than the safe seat she was offered).  Howard's preening performance at the APEC conference where he played to an international audience was a disgrace, (although Fox News Channel's E D Hill thought he was from Germany) and there's nothing impressive about his decision "not to quit" in the face of ever-increasing opposition. (Didn't Richard Nixon say the same thing, prior to his resignation.)  But, hey, don't take my word for it.  Some comments from others who've been able to see through Howard's smokescreen:

"Some people are born with so great a talent for brazen effrontery that they have no choice but to become politicians.  One is Australia's Prime Minister, John Howard."  So states internationally syndicated columnist Gwynne Dyer in a devastating assessment of Howard and Australia's foreign policy. As for the citizens of the 'lucky country', Dyer continues: "If some Australian voters believe that the invasion of 2003 did not already 'completely destabilise and destroy Iraq and create chaos', and that only a US withdrawal would bring about that outcome, then they are free to vote for Howard, and he is free to solicit their votes."

Sydney Morning Herald columnist Andrew West in an attack on Australia's "cringe culture," suggests that "the TV programme Big Brother adds nothing to our understanding of a complex world. (But) it reflects the ethos of the Howard era: minimum investment, maximum profit.  The same profit-driven ethos has infected our education system.  Far from being in thrall to the far left, as the Prime Minister (has) claimed, the schools, and especially the universities, are beholden to free marketeers."

And from Howard himself -  this least intellectual of Australian leaders - speaking in Melbourne a few months ago: “Our future is open-ended, rather than a fixed, pre-determined destination. It relies as much on the local and the particular as on the bold, grand design. The American writer Virginia Postrel makes this point in her stimulating book The Future and its Enemies.” Postrel mentioned Howard's quote in her Dynamist blog: "The Melbourne-based Institute for Public Affairs sponsored a speaking tour for me back in 2000 and has promoted the book's ideas from time to time. Since the book is not available in Australian stores (no publisher bought the Commonwealth publication rights), I can only assume that directly or indirectly that's how it came to Howard's attention." I'd say it's a dead cert; I didn't hear him speak, but I'll bet that he sounded - much like George Bush - as if he'd never seen the words before his speechwriter put them in front of him.


Posted by lindsay at 12:01 AM NZD
Updated: Thursday, 13 September 2007 8:57 PM NZD
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Thursday, 14 June 2007
Out of the Mouths of Babes
Topic: culture

I don't follow motor racing any more, but occasionally I'll stop and watch the closing laps of a big race if I'm waiting for something else.  So it was with the Indianapolis 500 last Sunday, which TVNZ somehow managed to squeeze in between the America's Cup and other sports stuff.  Anyway, the winner Scotsman Dario Franchitti was upstaged by, who else?, wife Ashley Judd (soon to be seen on-screen in William Friedkin's Bug).  She was soaked to the skin - this was hard to miss - and when asked for her reaction to hubby winning the controversial race, drawled, "Well I just wanna say, he won the race like a true gennelman, he came from 14th place to first, picking the others off one by one, but I repeat he won the race...like a gennelman."  Judd's Southern charm came across as suitably sincere soundbite.

Then, later that night I heard a repeat of a November, 2006 Prairie Home Companion, with Garrison Keillor.  He was reminiscing about working with Robert Altman, who'd died the previous week.  Apparently, a sign of the veteran movie director's approval during the shoot was his use of the expressions, "Not bad" or "That's pretty adequate".  Remember the outcry when Lindsay Lohan (who was terrific as the troubled teen in the "Prairie Home Companion" movie) scrawled her heartfelt but grammatically suspect tribute to Altman after his death, finishing with the line: "Be Adequate"?  The English-usage pedants gave Lohan a hard time over this.  Turns out - in retrospect - it was an in-joke, though Lohan wisely chose not to respond to those on the outer.  Radio man GK even had his guests, Richard Dwrosky and Guy's All-star Shoe Band do a ditty slyly entitled, Be Adequate.


Posted by lindsay at 3:17 PM NZD
Updated: Saturday, 7 July 2007 1:08 PM NZD
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Tuesday, 5 June 2007
Quentin v. Harvey
Topic: movies

Most of us eagerly await a new Quentin Tarantino film.  The rest, it seems, eagerly await the downfall of a smart-ass filmmaker who’s self-indulgence outweighs his boyish, movie-geek enthusiasm and undeniable talent.  Those garish, giant standees promoting Grindhouse which appeared in cinemas months ago were full of promise; a hommage to the old B-grade double- features which Tarantino and his mate Robert Rodriguez so admired.

They were contributing two discrete films: Planet Terror and Death Proof, to run as a double feature, complete with trailers (for films which would never arrive) and all kinds of “faults” sprinkled throughout, a total 3-hour run-time.   All this for the bargain-basement price of $100 million and the backing of Harvey Weinstein, the self-appointed godfather of American independent film. Personally, I was chuffed to see someone I’d championed since her defiantly brilliant, lynch-pin performance in Greg Araki's The Doom Generation, Rose McGowan, appearing in both films. (That's McGowan in the magazine held up by Rosario Dawson in a scene from Death Proof, below). Plus there was a breakout (speaking) role for NZ stuntwoman Zoe Bell, who had doubled for Uma Thurman on Kill Bill.  What could go wrong?   

 

Plenty. After the disastrous opening weekend in the US, everything went pear-shaped.  It was decreed by the film’s previously enthusiastic financial backers that audiences didn’t want to see the films together—they were too young to appreciate the “Grindhouse” aesthetic. (This is probably true).  The two films would now be lengthened and screened separately, without the “Grindhouse”  references. Death Proof, in its new form, would be premiered at Cannes. Weinstein was being disingenuous when he declared: : "It's like saying you cut Sin City and Kill Bill to a 70-minute version because you want to call it Grindhouse."  Of course, it’s nothing of the sort; those films were designed and made to be shown as they were, with Kill Bill produced as a two-parter from the outset.

Two reactions from Cannes demonstrate how Tarantino polarises critics, and also, how he’s often way ahead of them.  From Stephanie Bunbury (The Age, Mebourne):  What’s gone wrong for Quentin Tarantino? Much quoted and much copied, his films have contributed images and phrases to popular culture that may even outlast the memory of the films: the suited robbers walking in slow motion towards the camera, for example, is as immediately recognisable as anything in cinema history.”  Hmmm, Stephanie seems to have missed the point that Tarantino has continually “quoted and copied” from films he admired.  The “suited robbers walking towards the camera” (from Reservoir Dogs) is a reworking of the iconic (sorry!) shot which opens the bloody climax of Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch.

James Christopher (The Times, London) was more generous—and more perceptive: “How joyous it is to see such shameless trash in competition for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. Critics here are infinitely more familiar with a wrist-slittingly sincere masterpiece from Uzbekistan, so Quentin Tarantino’s black B-movie farce arrives like a breath of  fresh air.”  Not only that,The utter shoddiness of the film makes you exquisitely aware of how carefully it is assembled…But if you can't stomach the jokes, or reference the references, the film might leave you utterly cold.  But it would be wrong to write this film off simply as a sophisticated homage to the B-movie. It cleverly parodies a rich seam of classic road movies such as (Richard Sarafian’s 1971) Vanishing Point, (Spielberg’s) Duel and David Cronenberg’s Crash.”

Of course, nothing beats seeing the film for yourself, and I’m desperately hoping that both films get a release “at a cinema near you”.  And I don’t mean one of those wimpish “DVD lounges” thank-you, I can do that at home.  I’ll settle for nothing less than a true 35mm presentation.

 

 

 


Posted by lindsay at 6:45 PM NZD
Updated: Saturday, 7 July 2007 1:09 PM NZD
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Sunday, 27 May 2007
Just Call Me "HRC"
Topic: politics

It was movie-maker Francis Ford Coppola who famously decreed "never trust a man with three names." So what are we to make of Americans' penchant for affectionately referring to their presidents in such a fashion?  They've had Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Richard Milhous Nixon, Lyndon Baines Johnson, James Earl Carter, William Jefferson Clinton and now, here she comes...Hillary Rodham Clinton, who is, in case you haven't noticed, a woman.  On the other hand, not everyone refers to Mrs Clinton with affection.  She is, as the cliché goes, a “polarising candidate.”  But as PBS News commentator Mark Shields pointed out, “Americans have elected polarising candidates before: Nixon, Reagan, George W Bush.” 

Jason Horowitz in the New York Observer describes a recent campaign stop in the state of Iowa:  “Flying in directly from a high-dollar fund-raiser at a wealthy supporter’s house in Indiana, Mrs. Clinton brought with her the most formidable political operation that money could buy (underscored by her current campaign anthem—Right Here, Right Now by Jesus Jones) and the most recognizable name in Presidential politics. She was, for all intents and purposes, the intimidating front-runner.”

Some of Clinton’s harshest critics are women, and they don’t hold back.  Camille Paglia in Salon unflatteringly compared Clinton with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during her controversial Middle East tour:  “I thought Pelosi looked fabulouscrisp, stylish, graceful and warm yet authoritative. It was a step beyond Condoleezza Rice's commanding but steely Amazonian aplomb. And it was a world away from Hillary's stiff, guarded, sanctimonious unease, which her toothy smiles and barking laugh never quite conceal.  Pelosi is as hard as nails and is no man's puppet…she gave the best seat-of-the-pants performance yet of what a woman president might look like.”

Back in the heady days of President Bill Clinton’s first term, that most acerbic critic of US politics, the self-exiled writer Gore Vidal, welcomed Hillary and entourage to his Ravello home when the Clintons visited Italy in 1994.  He recounted the meeting in his memoir, Palimpsest.  “Hillary is small, stocky, with large round blue eyes, a beautiful smile, and an easy manner…”  Vidal was clearly stricken, and claims that when Hillary said on leaving that, ‘Meeting you has been the high point of this trip…’  “Radiant blue eyes looked up into mine.  Yes, I thought, I am now ready to replace Warren Christopher as Secretary of State,” until she added “the deflationary coda—‘for my Mother.’”

My own prediction – as an outsider looking on from afar – is that HRC will be the Democratic Presidential candidate in 2008, based on the current contenders.  Her support is a solid, unwavering 35% and will firm up rather than soften as the field narrows.  I cannot see how Barack Obama can overtake and maintain a lead when the real pressure is applied.  Even the two new Hillary Clinton biographies apparently contain no new damaging revelations.  Few seemed to care about her recently un-embargoed 1969 senior honors thesis, `There Is Only the Fight...': An Analysis of the Alinsky Model, as MSNBC's Bill Dedman pointed out in Reading Hillary Rodham's hidden thesis. "...it has been speculated about, spun, analyzed, debated, criticized and defended. But rarely has it been read, because for the eight years of Bill Clinton's presidency it was locked away."  The subject of the idealistic 21-year-old's thesis, Saul Alinsky, who died in 1972, "was a sometimes brutal seeker of power for others, schooling radicals with maxims such as 'Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it and polarize it'," claims Dedman. With its title phrase from T S Eliot's line: There is only the fight to recover what has been lost and found and lost again and again, an unwary observer of U.S. politics might assume that a thesis which gives a clue to the philosophical underpinning of a Presidential candidate might be a plus.  But apparently not.  With everyone scrambling for the centre ground, studiously avoiding being tarred as "liberal", such a document, even though it's almost 40 years old, would be rich pickings for candidate Clinton's opponents wanting to mark her as a dangerous radical.  Nobody seemed to notice the Freudian slip when Hillary spoke recently about her strategy in the coming campaign: "You have to size up your opponent...and then deck 'im."

There may or not be as Hillary once famously said, "a vast right-wing conspiracy" in the US media but for a sample of the kind of opposition she is facing check out  Myths and Falsehoods about Hillary Clinton  where Josh Kalven documents and rebuts the..."erroneous claims (which) reinforce the baseless and often demonstrably false characterizations of Clinton commonly perpetuated by the media -- that she is "calculating," "dishonest," "vicious," "ruthless," "unelectable," "unlikable," and even "unqualified."

Back in 1999 I predicted (in the Hillary Clinton Quarterly online) that she would win her New York senate seat, even before Rudy Giuliani withdrew.  Even then, she had the money and the momentum, and it looks as if she’s going to do it again.

Posted by lindsay at 12:01 AM NZD
Updated: Saturday, 7 July 2007 1:10 PM NZD
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Monday, 21 May 2007
Cannes Do
Topic: movies

My idea of finally starting a blog and running it concurrently with my moviexpress website, with the forlorn hope that it would force me to update it (more) regularly was partly foiled by a collapsed hard drive at a vital time...(Is there ever a non-vital time?)  Anyway now I'm up and running again I'll begin with a burning topical (non-political) issue and slot in the various retrospective posts when I get a chance.  I'm told this is approved blogging ettiquette.

One of the movies entered in the currently Cannes Film Festival (the 60th!) is Julian Schnabel's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, based on former French Elle magazine editor Jean-Dominique Bauby's account of his life after he was stricken with "locked-in syndrome", a form of stroke which left him virtually totally paralysed, unable to move any part of his body except one eyelid.

Sounds like the basis for a great film - indeed it was the basis for one of the most brilliant, horrifying documentaries I've ever seen.  Jean-Jacques Beineix's 27-minute Assigné à residence showed Bauby's last few months of life in a hospice near Berck(?) on the French coast, south of Calais.  In unflinching detail we are shown Bauby laboriously "dictating" to his stoic assistant.  As she runs through the alphabet: "a...b...c..." he blinks his eyelid to indicate each letter, gradually forming words, sentences, pages.  Between this there are periods when he is left sitting in a deckchair to gaze out to sea while a huge lighthouse nearby sweeps a golden beam across the ocean.  (It's a location which might well have come from the director's earlier feature, Diva.  He also made the visually dazzling Betty Blue.)  In another shocking moment, a well-meaning nurse checks Bauby at lights-out and calmly switches off the football match he appears to be watching on TV - presumably one of the few pleasures he has left.

This film does not appear to be available on DVD, leaving me kicking myself for not taping it, when I had two opportunities, off SBS-TV in Australia.  Schnabel has surrounded himself with a top cast and crew for the feature-length version, but I cannot imagine it having the same terrifying power of Beineix's short.


Posted by lindsay at 9:40 PM NZD
Updated: Saturday, 7 July 2007 1:02 PM NZD
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