Sunday, August 23, 2015

Amy: the documentary

I cannot remember how I came about Frank by Amy Winehouse. I think I heard Valerie and loved it and bought it on a whim, sounds about right. It's a great album, and her voice on those songs are stunning. There was a truth and an old sensibility to it that has not dated to this day.
I do remember the first time I heard Rehab, on the radio, I loved it and its 60s soul stylings, I was hooked. The voice was familiar, it took me a while to realise it was Amy, as the song was so different to those on Frank. More polished, more joyous sounding (despite the lyrics), the snappy filmclip was king and she was backed by Sharon Jones' Dap-Kings. I bought Back To Black and was impressed, but not surprised, with what Mark Ronson had done. I knew a little bit about Amy prior to this, but not a lot. I'm not that interested in the lives of musicians unless they are talking about the musicality of their art. Of course, some musicians you cannot help but learn more about if they become huge and Amy's success with her second album had her everywhere.
So I watched as her body got smaller, her hair got larger, and her fame started to destroy her. As did everyone else. We read about her addiction, laughed at her Rehab song when we realised, loved her gumption and guts, worried about her father and her husband. But stayed in love and in awe of her talent.
And that's the thing...she could really fucking sing. She had a voice unlike any other modern female pop singer, except maybe Aretha. She was in the league of Billie Holiday or Ella Fitzgerald. She could REALLY sing. That voice killed me and the more I listened to Back To Black, the more I re-listened to Frank. It was superior, maybe not as polished, but deeper, rawer, more real, more Amy. To this day it is still my preferred album. I did grow tired of Back To Black, you just heard it everywhere. My theory has always been no matter how superb something is, over saturation will kill it. Well for me, it does...and it did...sort of.
Watching the documentary, made me understand Back To Black a lot more, the poetry of those songs mirrored the life she was living at that time. And there came a point where she simply couldn't sing those songs any more, she wanted to more on from them and the subject matter. Of course the public still loved and revered that album and wouldn't let her. This was part of her undoing, and for that alone I will struggle to listen to that album. It almost seems wrong to do so. I am sure in time Amy would have overcome those thoughts and begun to love those songs again, but the thing is we will never find that out.
My favourite memory of Amy was The Grammys at the height of all of this. Amy was clean, sober, but couldn't get a Visa to attend the ceremony. She performed live from London, it was a great performance. I remember her childlike excitement and Amy-like honesty when she spoke. It broke my heart she wasn't there to perform, meet her idols (she was introduced by Tony Bennett and Natalie Cole), or receive her awards. I felt those around had let her down. Yes, she obviously had issues, many do, but who was looking after this headstrong, but fragile young girl?
It was at that precise moment in the Film Documentary, Amy, that I broke down. I was surprised I had held it together for so long. But it showed additional footage and you could see the awe of her presenters and the realisation she had missed the boat (or plane) in getting to meet them. Her eyes were so wide in surprise and her voice childlike, saying, "Look Daddy, it's Tony Bennett." I just lost it, not doing so well keeping it together writing this now to be honest.
Amy, is directed by Asif Kapadia. Asif directed Senna, another superb documentary and as soon as I realised he was behind this I knew she was in safe, considered hands.
The thing about documentaries today is all the raw footage to be used, everything is documented regardless and Amy being a star at this time presented so much for him to work with. It was seamless in look and story - as was Senna - but you knew it was cleverly crafted to appear so. The film delves more into her pre Back To Black days, and there was much I didn't now or only minorly suspected. Her lifetime friends, and early management and working partners were interviewed throughout the film as voiceovers and it was heartbreakingly effective. These were the people behind the scenes trying desperately to save her. But the gravy train was working hard and they had much to get in their truly altruistic ways.
To see her life and it highs and lows presented in roughly two hours was a rough watch, even when it was lovely and beautiful you were thinking, well this could have been... And when things were rough, they seemed concentrated and moreso up on the big screen. But harsh as her reality was, there was much empathy for the girl. My friend J said she had the talent of an old soul but the emotion of someone much younger than she actually was, and she couldn't reconcile the two. This is true, add in addiction and some enablers and it kind of writes itself.
Of course we all know how this story ends, but it is rough to watch. I remember when I heard about her death, I was so upset but not at all surprised. It seemed inevitable, to me, and to anyone I talked to. And that is what hurts the most about it all, if the world knew, why didn't those around her know. Well, some did, the friends and her bodyguard seemed to be the only ones trying but she had so many more not trying, the walls were too high.
It's not the first time this has happened, so many have had similar experiences before her, and I suspect many more to come. This continues to make me sad.
And whilst I paint a depressing portrait, I assure you this film is worth watching. Because you get to see the joy when she is enjoying her music, her writing, her singing. That alone is worth the price of admission.
My favourite bit in the film is when she is recording with Tony Bennett, for his duets album. She is beside herself with joy, nerves, and everything in between, you can tell in her eyes, her body language, and she says it too! Tony is just lovely, he knows how she is feeling. She is singing well but asking the recording to stop. She sounds great, but not great enough in her mind. To a lay person, you think she is being precious. Tony says it all when he says something like it's ok, I understand, you want to get it just right, I have all day. She starts to relax and then nails it. It's spine tingling, she knows it, Tony knows it, the camera cuts to this wry smile of delight that Tony gives her. They finish the song and embrace. I wept for all that could have come and all that we missed. I wasn't alone in my tears. 

If you were a fan or even if you were not, this is a great film, an important film, and one very much worth watching.

How to kill a Mockingbird...or not

It goes without saying To Kill A Mockingbird is one of the world's most beloved books, and certainly a favourite of mine; one I return to and re-read regularly. But it doesn't make my top ten, possibly not even my top twenty (I've never done a top twenty books so I have no idea).
However, it is one of the most perfect books I've ever read. Beautifully written, powerful subject matter, melancholy and sentimental without being too schmaltzy (as some American novels can be), important historically, and really nothing you can find fault with.
It won the Pulitzer Prize for goodness sake!
The author, Harper Lee, is a thing of legends. One book. No more, no less. One perfect book and goodbye. A handful of interviews and no more.
I loved she was friends with one of my favourite authors, Truman Capote. Such an odd pairing, my fascination of them has always been piqued. There was always the rumours that Capote wrote To Kill A Mockingbird, but I never believed a word of them. Capote loved himself a bit too much to let someone else get away with all the glory that came with To Kill A Mockingbird. There is no way he would have stayed quiet on that one!!
This has been my truth and reality for most of my life having first read To Kill A Mockingbird when I was about 14. I have revisited it many times since, and the story never changed...until now.
When I first heard - quite early - rumblings of a 'second' book by Lee, my first - and ONLY - thoughts were, No good will come of this!
And I still think that...
Then all the articles came flying out, oh boy there were many. And like a good Librarian I did my research. So many about how wonderful it all was, so many about how awful it all was. Nellie - as Harper Lee is affectionately known - wanted this, Nellie is not of sound mind, her sister wouldn't let her do anything, her sister looked after her legacy. For every good article I read, I found a bad and vice versa. Everything balanced out so evenly you just couldn't be sure what was what! And to be honest, I do not think we ever will.
It does seem incredibly strange to me that her sister - who had looked out for Nellie all her life - dies and boom here comes the book. I don't think I can ever get over that. It seems quite foul to me.
The book - we now know as Go Set A Watchman - is not a prequel or a sequel, but a first draft. Yes, the kind of thing that most authors really wouldn't want anyone seeing. A first draft her publisher knocked back but sent her away with to make significant changes to. And who knows how many other drafts there were until To Kill A Mockingbird sung as it does. (And please please please do not say there are other drafts that may be published unless you want to see me really really really mad!)

This is what is being published, that first draft.
And so I waited and hoped it would die a quick death, but unfortunately this didn't happen. During this time, nothing was revealed, and all I thought to myself was if this does go ahead - and boy I wished it wouldn't - I really hope it doesn't denigrate the actual book, To Kill A Mockingbird. But I calmed myself with the thought that nothing could denigrate or taint the Pulitzer Prize winning International Treasure.
Then just before the publishing day, three major newspapers revealed (albeit under embargo) the plots in their reviews. I didn't want to read the reviews, I like to make up my own mind on things - even if it did seem I had already made my mind up - but I just couldn't help myself. I have no idea why! And for that I am ashamed. Now I must say here, I never do 'Click Bait' on the Internet, I consider myself a person of integrity, at the very least in my profession as a Librarian where - despite what you might have heard - books are still king!

But when the New York Times is reviewing a book that has so much history you want to hear what they say...until of course you read it and realise your worst nightmare is reality and what they say about Go Set A Watchman makes you feel physically ill....for much so you wish you hadn't ordered a copy to buy yourself.
But, intent on all things truth and being a good librarian, I headed to my local bookshop and purchased the book. The fact I paid full price for it - where seemingly everywhere else had it discounted - added to my pain and honestly, I will remember that betrayal for a long long time. It sat in its paper bag for a long time.
An aside: I read many bookshops in the US were offering full refunds for those unhappy with the book - now that is customer service!!
And let me say while all of this is going on I had decided - in my un-infinite wisdom - to schedule a discussion on it at my Bookclub. Feelings were mixed, some were keen, some were not, others hated the idea, I came very close to pulling the plug and changing it to something else. I knew I had to read it, I feel it is part of my job to be informed on these titles. To comment on something I had not read seemed to lack backbone. So I put it out for a vote and most of the group felt we should discuss it, let's face it there was a lot to discuss.
Also during this time I was approached by local radio to discuss my feelings about it on air. I had so much to say - none of it terribly good - but I had not read the book. It would have been unwise to do so at that point so I declined.
10 days prior to Bookclub, I very wearily started the book. Over a couple of days I read it on and off - it is actually a book you could whip through in 1-2 hours, but I didn't have the stomach for that with this title - and then with about 30 or 40 pages to go stopped. I had intended to keep going, but I was busy and this meant leaving those pages to read until the day of Bookclub. This may not have been wise!! I finished the book, and being overly tired and mentally exhausted I slept for an hour and woke very confused. I still had time to write some words for this blog and to gather my thoughts for Bookclub and I ended up in tears, it was all too much. I guess that sounds overly dramatic. For the record, I am an emotional person, a cryer, I think most know that about me. But this was much more than that, I felt violated, sad for denigrated characters within the book, and concerned for how our lovely Bookclub would handle this...more on that later.
So the book - spoilers will be written from here, so approach with caution!
Scout - or Jean Louise as she is known now - is travelling from New York (where she lives and works - it never says what she does there) home on her yearly break, she is in her mid 20s. She is met at the train by her 'beau', Hank. Whilst she is home she is fussed over by her family and Hank, and then she comes across some very racist paraphernalia that belongs to her father and all hell breaks loose (for everyone involved, but especially the reader, the poor poor reader!) There are also flashbacks to her childhood, which is the time where To Kill A Mockingbird is set.
After Jean Louise finds these booklets, she follows her father to a 'meeting' at the Town Hall, and watches from above in the balcony. The white men of the town are meeting to talk about what to do with the black folk. It was a very disturbing scene - for Jean Louise and for me and I imagine for anyone who ever held To Kill A Mockingbird dear to their heart. Not just because you see our beloved Atticus as a foul racist, but it is set very similarly to one of my favourite scenes in To Kill A Mockingbird where Scout sneaks in to very same spot to see her father at work and for the first time sees him for the magnificent man he really is. Yes you can see the provenance - and indeed the ironic juxtaposition of the magical scene, but it still bites.
Later Jean Louise has it out with her beau - who was also at the meeting - it is a bad fight. Atticus finds them on the street, and wants to talk to his daughter. He is cranky with her, even calls her a bigot - because a bigot is someone who doesn't listen to the opinions of others (oh vey). She is very upset with her father and gives him what for. This goes on for too long. It is awful and clunky to read. He explains he initially joined the clan (WTAF!!) because he wanted to know - as the town lawyer - who was behind the masks, it was a kind of infiltration. But, of course, he didn't really stop anything. The meeting at the town hall was not the clan, but it may as well have been. Their reasoning was the blacks were an inferior race and if they - the whites - let them proceed they - the blacks - would not have the intelligence to handle the white way of life...sigh. The fight continues, Jean Louise leaves to pack and go back to New York never to return. Her uncle comes to chat her about her fight with their father, he HITS her, Atticus returns, they fight some more and he convinces her to forgive him and she does. There is more to it than that of course, but you get the idea. White, southern men do not come out very I guess some things never change.
Nothing about any of this (in terms of the characters) rang true to me, it all felt forced, and nothing like the people we know and love. The flashbacks were more enjoyable, they felt right, and made me smile. But you know, for that feeling, I could have just re-read To Kill A Mockingbird. And this is where we need to remember IT IS JUST A DRAFT, IT IS NOT AN ACTUAL BOOK!!!!! And you can see why the original editor turned her away and asked her to concentrate on the childhood narrative and flesh that out more.
It wasn't well written, it wasn't badly written, it seemed like a turbulent mix of thoughts and ideas poorly put together. G, our wisest Bookclub member, felt it was an extraordinary editor to see that it could be turned into something better, something that became the masterpiece that is To Kill A Mockingbird. She is right!!!
I think that this book should not have been published. I feel very annoyed and betrayed at the system, at publishers, and at booksellers who push this. I'd love to know who is really benefitting financially out of this, and believe all proceeds should go to charity. I also have a lot of questions about the manuscript/draft that was published, was it really written by Lee and for real, and if it was for real, was it touched in anyway? My theory is it was real, but was not meant to be published, and that it was touched or tampered with. Jem, Scout's older brother, is barely a footnote in Go Set A Watchman, 'neatly' written off as he died, this is hardly mentioned. I believe he wasn't in this draft at all, and because people would want to know why (because as much as you explain it is a draft, some people will never quite grasp that concept!!), they added him briefly, but killed him off. It is messy and silly. There are a few other points that seem added, I don't know. I guess we'll never know and there is not much written out there about this part of the 'story'.
Bookclub was an interesting discussion as you can imagine, everyone had slightly different versions of the same thing. No one liked it, some hated it, no one loved it. We talked a lot about the different eras, that technically - as much as it was disliked - this draft of the book was probably a more 'correct' presentation of race relations of that area at that time, whereas To Kill A Mockingbird was more the ideal. And the ideal was infinitely a better book. We discussed the provenance of the draft, and what a great lesson in intellect and writing it was, to try and see how the draft turned into that masterpiece. This led to discussion on whether the draft was real, written by Lee, embellished by publishers, made up by publishers and every other scenario we could think of. Then even Mockingbird's authorship was discussed. I reluctantly wondered out loud if Capote had indeed assisted made me feel sick to even say that, but the publication of this draft has undone my faith a little. Some felt the truth would come out at some point, I'm not too sure about that. There was talk about who would play who in the inevitable (Grrrr) movie of Go Set A Watchman.  We decided a younger Hilary Swank and Matthew McConaughey would be Jean Louise and Hank, lol! I really hope there is no movie!!!!!!

Never have we had such an intriguing, intelligent, passionate, and interesting discussion at Bookclub, especially with such a large attendance. I thank everyone for their kindness and support (to me, for daring to suggest such a book), their passion, their love of literature, their dedication to talking about this book, and every other book we discuss. Despite the fact none of us really liked it, it was a thrilling discussion. How nice it is to sit at a long table with smart, feisty women, and discuss and debate such things. I feel blessed to call each and every one of them my friends.
I am still very much thinking about all of this, it is still too fresh in my mind. I know when I push this blog - this very long blog - out into the ether there will be a zillion more things I wish I added, but it is already too long. Maybe I will revisit it in a month or so and write some more, but to be honest I am hoping that in a month or two I no longer think about the book at all, except to realise it was a complete and utter debacle!
Though I have realised this: I still revere To Kill A Mockingbird, my love of it and its perfection has not been tainted too badly, and I think in time the dints will disappear. And whilst I hated this new/old story, I didn't really see any of the characters as the characters I loved - except in the flashback scenes - Gregory Peck was still the righteous and perfect man he always was as Atticus. The 'new' Atticus seemed very one dimensional, I couldn't picture Peck (Peck and Atticus are forever one in my mind) as him, I read those sections almost numb and disbelieving. In fact, most of the characters seemed one dimensional and not fleshed out. So whilst it is horrific and this first version of Atticus is the thing of nightmares, the final evolved version of Atticus and indeed all of the characters are the correct ones, and the ones that will continue to live in my memory. The versions of them in this book are merely scribblings yet to be developed. This reasoning makes it easier to digest. And yes whilst the horror of Go Set A Watchman will most probably stay with me for a while, I was glad to have read it, and glad my gut - as always - was spot on. 

In the forthcoming weeks I will re-read and re-watch To Kill A Mockingbird to cleanse myself of this debacle, but I still need a little time before I can.

I would love to hear more thoughts and opinions, so please feel free to share them if you please.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Australian Ballet presents The Dancers Company

I've always loved the Ballet, though it's not something I see that often. As a child my paternal grandmother, Nanna, used to take my sister K and I to the Ballet often. Our youngest sister A was not yet born, and it was before Nanna became ill. So we would have been well under 10 and I have vague memories of this. Sort of an all blended into one memory. This has given me a lifetime love of all things cultured and experiencing them in The Civic Theatre. 

Every time I enter it's hallowed grounds I get all the feels, there is a lifetime of shows and memories there. It's difficult to articulate, I've never known any different, if you want to go to a class show in Newcastle, you go to The Civic. I never tire of her beauty and excitement.

All great buildings are female I think...

I've seen many different types of shows at The Civic over the years, but to see the great types of shows in that stunning theatre is something else.

Ballet, Opera, Shakespeare...there are only three!!!!

And this time I got to take my gorgeous friend C to her very first Ballet!

The Dancers Company are students, the young dancers, often with a principal in a small lead role. I've not seen anything by them before so was hopeful it would be ok. 

And they were great, not perfect, cause well, that's why they are The Dancers Company and not the Australian Ballet. A few shakey legs and arms but really nothing to complain about at all!

They did three pieces each divided by an intermission and it truly was the most perfect introduction if you hadn't been to the Ballet before.

The first piece was Paquita (Ludwig Minkus) and a simple dance piece featuring glorious tutus in reds, rose, creams, and white. Glorious precision lines, stunning solos, and it just made you smile.

The second piece was contemporary called Rimbombo and featured mostly males, in Kabuki style face paint. It incorporated classical moves with contemporary attitude and was incredibly funny. It moved at a break neck speed only to be slowed down by the tiniest, cutest little ballerina towards the end.

Finally, Act III of Swan Lake! Sumptuous costumes at the ball where Prince Siegfried is to choose his bride despite being in love with Odette. But Siegfried is tricked by Rothbart into thinking his daughter Odile is Odette...ahhh, ballet, you gotta love a drama. I have always been curious about this plot point, cause if Siegfried really loved Odette, shouldn't he have realised it was not her but Odile he was dancing with??

Crazy storylines aside - and let's face it most Opera and Ballet have crazy storylines, that's part of the appeal - Swan Lake is a stunning Ballet and the music is supreme. Tchaikovsky is such a romantic composer. I have so many cherished memories of dancing around my grandparents house with my sister in our tutus (bought especially for that very thing, because why not?) to Tchaikovsky with Nanna following us and twirling with us.

I tend not to get caught up in what is going on storyline wise with the Ballet. So me it's costumes, costumes, costumes, the romantic music, and the strength yet lightness of these talented individuals. So much to take in, so much to sense, it's a privilege and a delight.

I am pleased to say C thoroughly enjoyed her experience, I think I took more delight in her delight if that makes sense, and we are keen to get to a 'proper' Ballet very soon.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Art of McCartney and why can't people who cover The Beatles do them justice!?!

The Art of McCartney by Various Artists 

I got this for Christmas and it's been sitting on my to listen to pile for ages. It is not great, but then I find covers of The Beatles, specifically McCartney songs never are. Sure there are some gems, but they are few and far between. 

Why do so many good musicians fall over with these classic songs? 

Some artists really ruin songs that would have sounded like a sure bet on paper, Billy Joel doing Maybe I'm Amazed, just awful and he gets a second go on Live and Let Die, which in my mind was already a bad choice, and then he whistled on it...whistled...on Live and Let die...really? Harry Connick Jnr singing My Love sounds like a match made in heaven, but it was beyond awful, he sounded off-key. It should have been a lifted, symphonic performance we all know Connick is more than capable of, but it was not.

Does The Beatles cannon scare people that much? Is it far more difficult musically than it sounds? Do people think they can muck around with perfection? The answer is probably times three! 

Those that respect the melody and sing it as intended, but how they sing, make it work the best. Two perfect examples of getting it right are The Cure doing Hello, Goodbye, they sing it exactly as it is meant to be sung, but they still sound like The Cure and it sounds great. Alice Cooper (surprisingly - or maybe not - a huge Beatles fan) does a great version of Eleanor Rigby, same thing, sounds as it is meant to but still sounds like Alice Cooper. 

There is a real clarity and crispness to a lot of McCartney's song, the guitar riff on Band on the Run for example, and in these covers the ones that mess up loose that clarity and turn it into murky, and somehow it doesn't work. It's fascinating and almost amusing to listen to...almost...cause technically it is sacrilege! When someone with a voice like Jamie Cullum makes a sweet tune like Every Night sounds dirgy and dark you know something is just wrong.

Def Leppard do well on Helen Wheels, Owl City lift Listen to What the Man Said beautifully, Perry Farrell kills on Got to Get You Into My Life, and The Airborne Toxic Event are great on No More Lonely Nights. The songs sound right, but not exact copies, and you can hear their own uniqueness over the musicality of McCartney. This is how they should be covered.

Then there were the versions that were almost carbon copies, but just don't cut it, because why bother? Corinne Bailey Rae does this with Bluebird, she should have brought an extra sweetness to it, but it never happened. It was technically perfect and she sounds good, but it was lackluster.

George Martin worked on a project with a range of songs being covered by unlikely people over a decade ago, and most of the songs covered sound good. But that is to be expected, if anyone knows how to arrange a Beatles song it is Martin. So why did this project, supposedly overseen by McCartney himself go wrong? Is he just too nice to say to people, you suck? Probably.

There had been some great covers of Beatles songs over the years, my favourites being Joe Cocker's With A Little Help From My Friends and U2's Helter Skelter. And a highly commended to Zoot's Eleanor Rigby. And I do love Roxy Music's Jealous Guy. There are probably a few more, but off the top of my head I cannot think.

What are your favourites? Or ones you cannot stand?


July got off to a lovely, peaceful start with an impromptu dinner out on the Friday night with J and A to Sprout dining at the Crown and Anchor hotel, and a laid back birthday lunch for K with V and N at Milanos on the lake at Pelican on the Sunday.

In between I headed to Sydney to participate in Marina Abramovic in Residence. J and I took an early train down on a lovely sunny day, had brunch at Circular Quay, and a wander and shop around the Quay and at The Rocks Markets before parting ways. You can read about my experience at Marina Abramovic in Residence here.

After a month of ups and down mental health wise, it was nice to have a fairly grounded month, with minimal issues, lots of time to contemplate and meditate, and to just try and get my mojo back, and I am pleased to say I feel better than I have in a long while. Don't get me wrong, there were still moments, but they were few and short stayed.

I do think the Abramovic experience really set the tone and helped me immensely. I've also gotten back on track to a small schedule of exercise (my foor is raelly on the mend but not quite there), and trying to be as healthy as someone who loves food and hates exercise can be.

I've managed a lot of lunches and catching up with wonderful people this month. My friends and family really help ground and grow me, thank you everyone, you know who you are. J and I had lunch at Cafe 56. Talulah, as always, was the backdrop to out fabulous bookclub. R, C, and I indulged at Coco Cubana, highly recoomend if you haven't experienced it! C and I had morning tea at Qs. B and I had lunch at the Jones Sisters. A was in the city, so C, J, L, and I caught up with her for breakfast at The Locale. J, C, and I had a great meal at Pippys prior to seeing Love and Mercy at Lake Cinema.

Love and Mercy is part of the Brian Wilson story and it was magnificent. It mostly covered the Svengali part of his life with flashbacks to the Pet Sounds/Good Vibrations recordings. None of this was news to me, but it still broke my heart. Brian was a genius, and like most geniuses he could be a little difficult, and had some mental health issues but people kept pushing and pushing, no one helped. And then the wrong kind of people take advantage (think Cobain, Winehouse, Elvis, and many more) Why does this happen?

My only minor issue with the film was John Cusack - who I love - played him in the later stages, he was very very good, remarkable in fact, BUT you always knew it was Cusack, which was a bit of a shame. Paul Dano as the flashback Brian was a revelation, he became Brian, I believe a lot of the singing was Dano too. Elizabeth Banks - who has always irritated me - was stunning as Brian's savior - it's always an amazing woman who saves the hero, this I love! And Paul Giamatti as the evil Dr Landy was deliciously bad.

And then there was the music, and you got many, many scenes about the behind the scenes creation of those glorious sounds, I revel in this sort of thing, the scenes and music brought tears of joy to my eyes. Watching songs like God Only Knows and Good Vibrations take shape was one of the most glorious things I have ever seen on film. As a music geek this rocked my boat more than I can say.

The films concentrates on the late 60s and the 80s, and there is much much more to the story than that, but it works and I think adding in more would have blown the movie out too much. Whilst there are some deep dramatic parts to this movie there are also great highs and joy. You don't have to be a Beach Boys fan to love this movie, but if you are you will love it as I did.

A, L, and I ate at the French Market and watched the fabulous Me, Myself, and Mum at French Friday.

Me, Myself, and Mum was a wonderful film about a very feminine boy and his relationship with his family and all the boys he had crushes on, told as a one man show, with flash backs to the times he acted out. He also played his mother. It sounds a little contrived and complicated but it was not. It was very funny with a couple of dramatic bit and a huge twist at the end. Well worth looking out for.

C and I took time to head to Caves Beach for a High Tea/Fundraiser to help N and J and Life Project Cambodia.

J and I supped at McGrourty's (without incident!!!) and saw the wonderful play, Seminar.

Seminar is a Pulitzer Prize nominated play about 4 young writing students who hire an ex professor to help them with their novels. He is a dubious character and factions start to form within the group. It was funny, modern, and on topic, with excellent acting, especially from Carl Caulfield as the professor.

And for something different, J, C and I met up with L and S at The Newcastle Museum for University of Newcastle Professor's talk on The Earth. This was a fascinating, intellectual lecture that showed us how The Earth was measured over the centuries and how the changes to The Earth are effecting us now - which is rather scary indeed. 

Work was busy, I'm working on a few interesting projects and slowly progressing all of them, plus some physical changes to the library had me flat chat and happy, we ended the month with East of Eden as our After Hours Movie.

As always I spent time at the Lake Macquarie Farmers Markets, and walked at Green Point.

Finally, some photography

Sunday, August 2, 2015


What I've been watching

Orange is the New Black S2 - picks up directly where S1 finishes up, but in a different way, so much so it leaves you wondering what is going on. It took me a few episodes to get back into the rhythm of this exemplary drama. It's all about the supporting characters to me, they are wide and varied and simply wonderful. This is just superb viewing and the ending, woah, what satisfaction!

Death comes to Pemberley - this is based on PD James' books about what happened next in Pride and Prejudice after Elizabeth married Darcy. I love Pride and Prejudice but have never really gotten into all the sequels that have appeared over the past few decades...and there is a lot! I started off enjoying this story based on a death in the woods at Pemberley before a ball, but found it dragged on too much and didn't hold my attention.

Downton Abbey S5 - nowhere near as brilliant as S4 but still better than the first three seasons, S5 continues on into the 20s with the younger characters moving on with the times and the older ones holding back. It is interesting to watch things we take for granted like radios and shorter dresses or haircuts being looked down upon. Downton Abbey is like a comfortable old cardigan, nice to wear occasionally and dream about in.

Nashville 2.1 - Continuing on where we left off, no one died in the cliffhanger car crash but it has set a series of pain in motion for the key characters. I call Nashville, Dallas with country music rather than oil. It's definitely a soap opera, but it sucks you in and the music is great. Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere are outstanding as the leads, singing their own songs too. Also the supporting cast, in particular the two actual sisters that play Britton's girls are brilliant, stars in the making.

Miss Fishers Murder Mysteries S3 - Is there anything Miss Fisher can't do? I wouldn't think so and what a great role model. It's always more about the fashion, the relationships, and the stunning attention to detail with the remarkable Deco sets than the mysteries, but that's what makes the show!

Glitch - I cannot begin to tell you how much I loved this unique homegrown drama. It's only 6 episodes and it's stunning, easily the best new series I have seen in a long, long time. Basic premise is a handful of people rise from their grave in a country town. The local cop and doctor find them, the cop's recently deceased wife is one of them. They are all from different eras and times, some being dead for over 100 years. It is played for real, as opposed to a fantasy, zombie type film. it's a drama/thriller with outstanding stories and acting, the production values are outstanding. It has you on the edge of your seat wondering what next, and is a little bit creepy. Why and how did this happen and what does it mean? I shall say no more!

Julia Zemiro's Home Delivery - great new series from Julia, she is such a natural, and interviewing interesting people like Jo Brand (oh I adore her!), Kurt Fernley, Alan Davies, Ian Thorpe, and Leigh Sales. Humorous and heart-warming, something for everyone.

Locke - this is brilliant, easily my pick for movie of the month. Set entirely in a car over one particularly life changing night for Ivan Locke (Tom Hardy). The film is him driving and taking phone call after phone call, which sounds ridiculously boring, but trust me, it is not. It is a thriller of sorts and you will be on the edge of your seat wondering how things will end!

The 100 Year Old Man - I loved this book but the movie was a bit of a let down. No surprises there, the book is fully packed with two intertwining stories that would be very difficult to get right on the screen. The main story is about an elderly man who climbs out of the window of his nursing home on his 100th birthday and sets out for adventure and boy does he find it. He basically gets himself unwittingly caught up in a hilarious and slightly dangerous caper. The other storyline is a series of flashbacks about his life, his love of blowing up things and the people he met along the way (mostly notorious figures from history - think Zelig). The story is equal parts drama and equal parts comedy, but the movie eases up on the drama, and concentrates on the comedy which I think is a shame. But it's a fun little flick, worth having a look at all the same.

Map to the stars is a bit of a mess, but that doesn’t mean it is unwatchable. Watch it with the humour it was supposedly written in and you will get some broad laughs. It follows two storylines, one about the Weiss family, an atypical Hollywood family with a large secret, the other an older actress desperate for ‘that’ role. The link between these storylines is Mia Wasikowska. The Weiss family consist of Dr Weiss (a consultant, guru, therapist, cult like figure played a little bit too well by John Cusak), his momager wife, and their young son, a precocious child actor just out of rehab. They are all recovering from the actions of their daughter, a pyromaniac – amongst other things – who is in a sanatorium, or so they thought. Julianne Moore is Havana Segrand, a precious, over the top, older actress, desperate for any attention and particularly interested in playing her own mother in an upcoming biopic about the deceased actress. She hires an assistant at the suggestion of Carrie Fisher and things start to unravel.

Moore is by far the stand out in the flick, she seems to reveal in the cheapness and ridiculousness of Havana. The storylines are melodramatic and when a truly shocking event takes place you aren’t sure whether to gasp at the drama or laugh at the bizarreness of it. This is not Cronenberg at his best, but you can see what he is trying to do. I didn’t love it, but it was a bit of fun to ponder over.

Hawking - this is the original biopic about Stephen Hawking with Benedict Cumberbatch in the lead. it focuses more on his younger life, at University, and meeting his first wife, and then the initial part of his disease. It's good, but more a movie of the week, compared to the newer academy award version. Cumberbatch is good though.

The Judge - urgh, what a lot of drivel this was. Robert Downey Jnr and Ed Duvall deserve better, I suspect they jumped at it as it looked like Oscar bait, but it was a melodramatic mess, give it a miss!

Life itself is a documentary made about Roger Ebert, the legendary US film critic. It was filmed during the last year of his life and whilst that aspect can be distracting, the film is a love letter to the great man and his love of film. It traces his rise at the Chicago Sun-Times as a film critic from 1967 until his death in 2013. His writing was formidable and was the source of praise from Pauline Kael, the doyenne of film criticism. He won the Nobel Prize for criticism in 1975, the first award of its type. He was also a womaniser and heavy drinker. And in the 70s he scored a role as film critic on PBS, a few years later joined by Gene Siskel, film critic from “across the road” (The Chicago Tribune). The pair sparred about films, often arguing intensely with each other.  

The documentary explores Ebert’s private life and interviews and interactions with his wife and family and is well presented. It goes into the films he championed or dissed and you get to hear and see spectacular writing in action. His theory was to write intelligently about film but in a such a way all films were accessible to any person. Martin Scorsese was a friend and a fan, and he is interviewed with tales of being reviewed by Ebert, still suffering the pain from the harshness of the review for The Colour of Money, but he also said Ebert reignited his career by writing and talking up Raging Bull. Errol Morris believes he wouldn’t even have a career had it not been for the championing of Ebert (and Siskel) and their love of his first documentary, Gates of Heaven.

If you love film and know of Ebert, this is a must see, it made me smile, laugh, and cry.

Ken Burns, Statue of Liberty - this is a short documentary by maestro, Ken Burns, about the Statue of Liberty, with old footage and stills and an array of talking heads explaining their love of the monument and all she stands for. What I didn't know was she was originally designed as an Egyptian statue for the foot of the Suez Canal, as a love letter to the Sphinx, a monument Bartholdi (The statue's sculptor) admired.

Cobain: montage of heck - this was a rough documentary to watch. Watching the downfall of a deeply talented but deeply flawed human being is always devastating. What made this documentary different was the huge amount of stock footage, stills, old home movies, footage of Nirvana and other personal footage. And it was either sheer joy to watch, young Cobain as a kid or him playing with Frances which made the fact he is no longer here more difficult and just horrendous to watch. They used a lot of his drawings, and writings as animation which added to this. There were some interviews with his parents, his father in particular very disturbed by it all, and other players like old girlfriends, Courtney Love, Krist Novoselic. It's not bad and worth watching, and what I got out of it was what a prolific artist he was, how great the music was, and how much we have lost without him continuing to write.

What I've been reading

She's having a laugh: 25 of Australia's funniest women on life, love, and comedy. This book of humorous essays was an excellent read and had me actually laughing out loud, but with funny writers like Fiona Scott-Norman, Clementine Ford, Annabel Crabb, Monica Dux, Tracey Spicer, Sarina Rowell, and Anita can you not laugh!

Fury: women write about sex, politics, power, and violence This is a collaboration that I found disturbing, for the subject matter and mostly the fact something like this even has to be published today. But it does, focusing mostly on rape, domestic violence, abuse, and men's power over women, writers including Anne Summers, Margo Kingston, Van Badham, Mandy Sawyer, Helen Razer, and Natasha Stott-Despoja write about the statistics, the stories, and the wrongfulness of the ill-treatment of women. Powerful stuff indeed.

The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer I love Amanda Palmer, there is no denying. She does push the boundaries and at times make you squirm, but that's a good thing. I have had this for ages and started it a long while back, but thought it would be good for our Book Club, so held off getting into it until I could schedule it. There was so much to love in this book, but also a lot that made me (and some other book clubbers) a little put off. It is a self help book of sorts on the back of her popular Ted Talk, mostly about freeing yourself up and asking for help. For her this related purely to her career and the things she did to get through harsh economic times. This was fascinating, especially in terms of her busking/bride phase early on in her career. I felt she didn't show how you could utilise these skills in other circumstances well enough. She is lucky - privileged even - to have a supportive fan base, so her successes have been high and lows few and far between. I also felt at times, she didn't present herself in a positive way, although I am sure she would beg to differ. I wept at the beauty of her realtionsip with Neil Gaiman, but does she even realise how lucky she is, maybe I am biased for my love of Neil knows no bounds. Ultimately I enjoyed the book, and would recommend it for sure, there is much to love in there, but the bits that made me frown may have had Amanda drop a bit in terms of my love for her. But we shouldn't put people we don't actually know on a pedestal, so I guess that's not such a bad thing. 

Something quite peculiar by Steve Kilbey - I loved this autobiography, it is so beautifully written, especially the section about his childhood. This really should not be a surprise as Kilbey is quite the wordsmith, not only with his haunting lyrics, but his poetry and talks. I was lucky enough to see Kilbey talk about his life and work a few years ago and he was magical in his ability to tell a story. This book is an extension of that, the honesty and realness of his life is portrayed beautifully. This is worth reading, regardless of whether you are a fan of him and The Church or not.

The World of Post Secret by Frank Warren Post Secret has been around for a long, long time. It is Frank Warren's baby. People post him postcards annoymously with their deepest and darkest (though sometimes light and amusing) secrets written on them and he publishes them in book form. There was a website, unsure it still exists, but I think there was some controversy surrounding it and some trolling of the secrets. Anyway, it's always a thrill to flick through these books and read what goes on in the deepest recesses of our minds. 

The Men who Stare at Goats by Jon Ronson Jon Ronson is fast becoming my favourite author. He writes subversive non-fiction, mostly in essay form. I read Lost At Sea last month. This is a full formed book on one subject, that can most aptly be described as weird shit that happens in the military that people try to cover up, mostly to do with paranormal and the occult and it is absolutely fascinating. I listened to this on a talking book, and at first I wasn't sure but by the first 10 minutes I was hooked. Ronson goes down a worm hole of crazy, fucked up characters, who tell stories that seem true but really make you open your mind and think. I love how he writes and presents this material, he goes on the trip with the characters, following them into crazy situations and yet never judges, he simply presents his findings and the stories in the most real and yet enjoyable way, with just a slight hint of dry humour. It's simply perfection!! 

What I've been listening to

24 Karat Gold (songs from the vault) - Stevie Nicks  - this is superb album, songs never finished, but retrieved and made new. You can hear her soul from over the years of her recording but the voice is of today. It's an album of beauty, and well worth a listen, even if you are not a Stevie fan. I, of course, worship Stevie, and have since I was a kid. Lovely to hear this album of gems so late in her career.

Style Council - been getting my groove on this month to their best of, so cool, so funky, makes you want to get up and dance. Paul Weller will never go out of style!