We share some of our favourite finds from around the internet this week.
Take a coffee break and have a long look at these eerily stunning images of 30 abandoned places from around the world – most of them caught in the process of being reclaimed by the natural world. (Though a few of them seem more the result of beautiful photography than intrinsic beauty.)
The internet has been buzzing with debate over Tony Abbott’s ‘women of calibre’ paid maternity leave plan. Eva Cox has asked whether feminist criticism of Abbott’s plan is personality rather than policy based. She believes that Abbott’s version of paid parental leave ‘meets so many traditional feminist demands’ and supports its basis that parenting leave is a workplace entitlement, rather than a form of welfare.
On Overland, Zoe Dattner takes a radically different point of view, arguing against the idea of paid maternity leave altogether, calling it ‘a toxic and potentially harmful idea’. She argues for employers to find ways to integrate children and family life into the workplace, rather than paying women off to go away and parent.
There’s a terrific interview with actor, writer and film-maker Rashida Jones in the current edition of The Believer, which touches on the changing movie business, roles for women, why she doesn’t want to date actors, her writing partnership with her best friend, making Celeste and Jesse Forever and growing up as the daughter of Quincy Jones.
I do think that if we’d made this film ten years ago, we wouldn’t have gone through so many machinations. Executives are so into their ‘quadrant language’ that they don’t know what to do with a movie that is romantic, and has some comedy, and is also a drama. You can’t have movies like Broadcast News anymore because they’re like, ‘We have a romantic comedy here… and we have a drama over here… and we don’t know where to put this.’
Is Oprah’s book club saving literature as a pursuit for the masses, or trivialising great novels – and patronising reluctant participants like Cormac McCarthy and Jonathan Franzen? A New Yorker article looks at the growth (and approach) of Oprah’s book club, and asks whether the quintessentially female mark of approval of an Oprah’s Book Club sticker on a book’s cover might scare away male readers. (As Franzen famously feared.)
she seized on the novel’s dedication page and, leaning forward, asked [Cormac McCarthy] gently, ‘Is this a love story to your son?’
It was the quintessential Oprah moment, the kind that made the Book Club thrive and her critics cringe. She was taking a novel about the end of the world, one that includes an image of a baby roasted on a spit, and making it palatable for talk-show television.
This short video, made by Canadian university students, delivers a sharply effective (and occasionally chilling) message about how advertising persistently casts women as the lesser sex – in highly sexualised terms. It then cleverly reverses the roles in some of the ads it shares, including a topless man in suspenders suggestively licking a lollipop, kneeling on the floor wearing knee socks. The violent advertising images for high-end brands are especially shocking – like the Jimmy Choo ad featuring a woman lolling in a car boot in the desert, while a man beside her digs a hole.
Warning: some of these images are disturbing.
We bring you some of our favourite finds from around the internet this week.
Steven Soderbergh (Traffic, Magic Mike, the Oceans Eleven series) has recently announced that this year’s Side Effects will be his last film; he blamed his decision on the way directors are too-frequently sidelined by studio executives who know money better than they know movies. ‘I think that the audience for the kinds of movies I grew up liking has migrated to television,’ reported the Guardian.
Last weekend, Soderbergh gave the keynote address at the 56th San Francisco International Film Festival – and delivered a rare (and scathing) behind-the-scenes insight into the state of the movie business, right now. You can read it online or watch it below.
On The Millions, Michael Bourne argues that the traditional ‘play-by-play’ book review is now defunct. ‘In an age of instant information … anyone writing about books is … entering an ongoing conversation.’ He argues that these days, we can quickly and easily find out what a book is about – and what people thought of it – by accessing Amazon or Goodreads. What professional reviewers can offer is not opinion, but a deeper kind of sense-making, replacing traditional reviews with a kind of ‘ mini-essay using the book under review as the focal point of a larger, more interesting story’.
Sonya Hartnett’s haunting, much-loved (and very Australian) 2002 novel has been made into a film, The Weight of Elephants – written and directed by New Zealand filmmaker Daniel Joseph Borgman. The setting is transported to New Zealand, too; the film is billed as ‘inspired by’ Hartnett’s novel.
Influence is a strange thing. For some writers, it’s a dirty word – something to avoid at all costs. Others wear it proudly, like a badge. Andrew O'Hagan recently spoke to six different novelists about their influences in mediums other than the page. There’s Kazuo Ishiguro on film, John Lanchester on video games, Colm Toibin on opera, and more.
There’s a growing unease in modern society with the line between disease and difference. In the New Yorker, Gary Greene, the author of a new book on the creation of the DSM, traces the historical roots of how we define disease – and how we gave doctors the power to decide. ‘The line between sickness and health, mental and otherwise, is not biological but social and economic,’ he writes.
We bring you our favourite findings from around the internet this week.
Groundhog Dog is one of those quietly classic films – it’s not showily clever, it didn’t win any Oscars, but it remains much loved, and admired by contemporary filmmakers who do win Oscars. ‘I would give my left arm to have written that f—-ing script … It makes me mad because I would so like to make a film like that. Oh man, I could go on forever about that movie,’ says David O. Russell (Silver Linings Playbook) in this anniversary tribute to Groundhog Day.
In a fun exercise that’s become an annual affair, The Millions compares the US and UK covers of their Tournament of Books contenders.
Esquire publish some truly terrible celebrity profiles, but they also publish some fine journalism that pretty much makes you forgive them. This week, there’s a long profile of the man who killed Osama bin Laden – simply referred to as ‘the Shooter’. He tells the inside story of the raid, his opinion of Zero Dark Thirty’s version of events, and (most importantly), the personal aftermath for himself and his family … and the startling lack of support from the US government.
The Shooter will discover soon enough that when he leaves after sixteen years in the Navy, his body filled with scar tissue, arthritis, tendonitis, eye damage, and blown disks, here is what he gets from his employer and a grateful nation:
Nothing. No pension, no health care, and no protection for himself or his family.
The Occupy movement is about to get its own superhero comic series, courtesy of DC Comics. The Movement, to be launched in May, will be a chance to ‘Meet the 99%… They were the super-powered disenfranchised — now they’re the voice of the people!’ In the same month, a new series about teen trillionaires who use their riches to make people’s lives better is also being launched. The Green Team is being touted as ‘the adventures of the 1%’.
As the New York Review of Books turns 50, the Financial Times takes editor Robert B. Silvers out to lunch – and discusses the art of editing, the importance of long-form reviews in the digital age, and his renowned work ethic.
‘He is in the office seven days a week, often until midnight, where he keeps a bed in a cupboard. He edits every piece in the NYRB himself. Contributors speak of his long polite memos revealing an encyclopedic knowledge of even the most obscure subjects, as well as a disregard for normal working hours.’
We bring you our favourite findings from around the internet this week.
Crikey’s Amber Jamieson has interviewed digital marketing staff at a number of Australian publishers to find out what they’re doing to sell books online, and what the costs and benefits are. A book trailer usually costs around $5000, but most don’t attract enough clicks to really make a difference. Brett Osmond, marketing and publicity director of Random House Australia and New Zealand, says ‘ young adult books aimed at female readers are the only trailers he’s found very popular’.
The book trailer for The Rosie Project is Text Publishing’s first foray into the medium.
A New York Times reporter was on set for the making of the micro-budget film The Canyons, directed by Paul Schrader (Taxi Driver), written by Bret Easton Ellis and co-starring Lindsay Lohan and porn star James Deen. This article chronicles the casting, star-wrangling and crowd-funding (the film was mainly financed by Kickstarter, and had a budget of roughly $250,000.
The Other Slant has interviewed Schrader about the NYT feature, and how the original angle changed (shifting the focus from the innovative funding model to the difficult celebrity) after Lohan was hired for the film.
In this fascinating essay, Jennifer Egan gives us the inside track on what it’s like to have huge success as a writer, and how that affects the writing process when it comes time to write again. She also admits that Goon Squad could have been better, that she’s afraid all the praise might make her afraid to take risks, and that her favourite book is not Goon Squad, but the ‘flawed’ Look at Me.
Everyone with a blog or Twitter account seems to dole out writing advice these days … but this no-bullshit list of 25 truths about the business seems pretty on-the-money. You’re not just competing against other books – you’re competing against all forms of entertainment (film, TV, games) when it comes to attracting eyeballs, and purchases. Don’t respond to bad reviews, no matter how much you may want to. Word of mouth is the only thing that reliably sells books. And Twitter followers do not necessarily translate to sales (and nor does blogging).
Neil Gaiman has teamed up with Blackberry to create a Twitter storytelling project, A Calendar of Tales. He’ll write a story a month based on Twitter prompts sent in by fans, with a different theme each month. This month’s theme is, ‘What’s the strangest thing that ever happened to you in February?’.
When The First Tuesday Book Club asked Australians to vote for their favourite Aussie books of all time, Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief was ranked number two, beaten only by Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet.
The book has also been a smash-hit overseas, with five years on the New York Times bestseller lists. When the First Tuesday Book Club was taped, late last year, the book was still number three on the list – and had been there for 270 weeks.
‘I thought it was just wonderful,’ said Jennifer Byrne. ‘I totally loved it.’
It’s just been announced that the book will become a film, starring Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, and French-Canadian actress Sophie Nelisse in the title role.
This is Nelisse’s second film, and the her first English-speaking role. Her previous film, the comedy Monsieur Lazhar, was released in 2011 and nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.
The Book Thief centres on Liesel (Delisse), a spirited young girl who witnesses the horrors of Nazi Germany while in the care of foster parents (Rush and Watson). The girl arrives with a stolen book and begins collecting other tomes, learning to read while her stepparents harbor a Jewish refugee under the stairs.
Zusak’s parents were World War II migrants to Australia.
Downton Abbey director Brian Percival is rumoured to be directing.
The Book Thief is set to hit theatres on January 17, 2014. Production begins later this month in Berlin.
By Andie Fox
Middle age can make you a more savvy audience for art … but also a lazier one, as it must be squeezed into an ever-more time-poor life. Andie Fox realises that she’s become so risk averse when it comes to books and films that she’s missing out on the unexpected pleasures and new ideas art can offer.
Last year there were at least a dozen books I started reading and did not finish. When I grew tired of the way a book was unfolding or the style of its writing, I didn’t persist, I simply put the book down regretfully and moved on to the next novel in my pile. Actually, in all honesty, I began to find myself gleefully discarding them. After the first few times you give up you discover a certain reckless abandon in subsequent disappointments.
Partly, I wasn’t picking the best novels and partly, I wasn’t in a generous frame of mind. The rejections were like a new freedom for me. Each one emphasized the importance of my own time. There’s so little of it, you see, that isn’t now claimed by work and family responsibilities. I never used to be like this – to be such a scanning, flicking, rejecting kind of consumer of the arts. It is not that my taste is particularly niche or peculiar now, it’s that through necessity I have attained ruthless efficiency in assessing the things I love. I have never surrendered so many loves at once as during my thirties.
Some of the things lost were smashed and chipped and pulled apart, but others were neglected so badly they stopped calling, or interrupted so many times I forgot how to do them or even, to want to do them. The sacrifices began to highlight the trade-offs. This book or more sleep, or this book or that film, or this book or seeing a friend, or this book or reading to my child (who will only be little for a couple more years). Occasionally, all the weighing up is paralysing and I simply can’t choose and so instead I miss out on everything.
Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote recently in The Atlantic that at this stage of his life he no longer prioritises ‘difficult books’. Instead, he wants to read books that make him work, not so much as a reader, but as a thinker. My refusal to finish certain books last year was less about the difficulty of those books and more about an intolerance for frustrations of all varieties. But I relate to this sentiment of Coates. I’m tired and rushed, as I imagine him to also be, but I’m still hungry for thoughts. More than ever now. I am skipping breakfast, racing to catch a train, rewriting drafts, reading reminder notices on unpaid bills and arguing with my children about cleaning their teeth – so, I’m dying for big thoughts that will weave their way through my head for weeks or months to come.
In fact, if I had to pick a difference between me in my twenties and me in my thirties I would say that this is it. When I was young I looked to the arts for ideas about everything and anything. In a way, I asked a lot of what I viewed while bringing very little myself. In my thirties, I look to everything with particular puzzles in mind, hoping to find something to excite new ways of resolving them. This is what I think Coates referred to when he said he wants to work as a thinker. And when I find these insights in someone’s creation I am awestruck, because not only do I understand the hard work involved in its realisation, but through the artist’s astute observations I am released from some of my own struggle. Frankly, I am a better audience at this age than I was in my twenties. But there’s a catch.
Like Coates, I want the big, interesting thoughts but I don’t want to run a gauntlet for them. As I’ve described, I’ve become impatient. And it is not just books, I’m impatient with film, too. My current short-cut to an evening of thoughts comes via a diet of HBO and Showtime television series, that I watch for minimal cost in my lounge room, with a glass of cheap wine. In comparison, the cost of an evening at the cinema involves not only my painful awareness of the opportunity cost of other longings denied, but the ticket price must now include $80 worth of babysitting too. At this price, one does not need to try very hard to be cranky enough to find a film disappointing.
On the other hand, an evening watching Walking Dead or Mad Men is as cheap and reliable as a franchise restaurant menu. And for someone like me, struggling to keep up with much of anything at the moment, there is undeniable pleasure in seeing something current enough to have me re-join the dinner party conversation.
But like fast food, these television shows never quite deliver the complexity and spectacle that truly amazing films will when seen on enormous cinema screens. My consumption decisions have become so risk-averse that not only am I avoiding the so-so events and the tedious flops, I am also missing the chance happenings – those nights out when you are unexpectedly transformed by the art you see. And short-cuts can become ruts. I lack the conservatism to believe all the great books and music have already been made and I’ve seen them, but I worry I’m losing my skills to appreciate experimentation.
For instance, I have long adored surrealism but for those years when I had a toddler, my appetite for the surprise juxtaposition was significantly reduced. Toddlers are the original Dada practitioners – leaving utterly random items in your handbag and spilling out phrases of charming nonsense incessantly. They will exhaust you with the abstract, and in this state I found myself bored by any art trying to change its parameters. Possibly this problem is not exclusive to mothers.
Some of my childless friends work twelve-hour days, chewing through endless piles of 30 second email interactions, and say they now struggle with the attention span required for a one-hour episode of HBO television, let alone a languid three-hour film. Another friend of mine, a playwright and the father of a young child, says he finds it tough to summon the energy for seeing live performance now that he realises he is not also there to get laid or loaded. You can see how we become the kind of dreary consumers the art world hates, only able to cope with linear plots in bite-size format and wanting it all to be finished in time for an early night. One way or another my friends and I, like Coates, are all doing the equivalent of avoiding difficult books. It seems that we are being changed by the years entering middle-age.
Except, some out there make different decisions. Some art-lovers continue to prioritise the difficult books and choose the path less travelled into middle age. (I assume it is a path also involving less time with toddlers). And I’m grateful these people exist, because this year I made the resolution to prioritise similarly and I need their advice. I won’t see and read and listen to everything, as I used to – for I love my new life, too – but I will allow myself more of a chance to try the difficult things.
Because the problem with risk aversion in my art consumption is that I’d accepted a bargain with certainty, rather than possibility. After a time, I stopped questioning my sacrifices.
So, for a year I will read difficult books again, and see new art, and turn off the television sometimes to watch films on big screens. I have new puzzles to solve and I want very big, new thoughts.
Andie Fox blogs regularly about motherhood, feminism and what’s on her mind at Blue Milk.
David Sedaris has long been opposed to seeing his work adapted for the screen. He told the New York Times that a decade ago, he began work on a movie adaptation of his essay collection Me Talk Pretty One Day – but stopped after his sister Lisa ‘worried that someone fat would portray her’.
‘It just became an automatic no’ after that, he said.
Enter Kyle Patrick Alvarez, a 29-year-old director with a small budget and just one (small) film on his CV. A passionate fan of Sedaris, he’d wanted to film his essay ‘C.O.G.’ since he was 14 years old.
The essay is based on Sedaris’s experiences in his late twenties as an apple picker in the orchards of Oregon, where he found himself at odds with the locals and the religious right.
‘I saw it as dark and funny and a chance to hopefully make something special,’ says Alvarez. ‘It’s also not about his family, which made me think I had a shot at getting him to say yes.’
After being knocked back by Sedaris’s agents, he took a chance by turning up to a book reading and pitching his idea for filming C.O.G. in person. He left Sedaris (who was ‘polite’) a DVD of his movie, Easier with Practice.
A few months later, home with nothing to do, Sedaris decided to watch Alavarez’s movie – and liked it it a lot. ‘I guess I just really liked Kyle,’ he told the New York Times.
C.O.G., which stars Jonathan Groff (Glee), Corey Stoll (Hemingway in Midnight in Paris) and Denis O'Hare, will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this week. It was made in 18 days, on a budget of less than $1 million.
We share five of our favourite links, articles and issues from around the internet this week.
‘Climate change denial is almost a national pastime in Australia,’ wrote George Monbiot in the Guardian this week. ‘Australians now burn, on average, slightly more carbon per capita than the citizens of the United States, and more than twice as much as the people of the United Kingdom. Taking meaningful action on climate change would require a serious reassessment of the way life is lived there.’
He concludes that Tony Abbott has ‘nothing to offer’ Australian politics unless he changes his views on and approach to climate change – and that the current heatwave is evidence that Australia is in desperate need of cultural change and ‘a politics capable of responding to an existential threat’.
The Hatchet Job of the Year award, rewarding the best annual roasting of a book in print, was launched amid much controversy last year. While some welcomed any activity that would raise the profile of criticism, or greeted it as a bit of fun, others were concerned that the award would encourage negative reviews.
Most of us are getting pretty sick of the whole 50 Shades phenomenon by now … but this video of David Sedaris reading aloud from the book on a Dutch television show is pretty funny. ‘Is that what’s in this book?’ he says disbelievingly as he finishes.
In the mid-1980s, investigative journalist Joel Sappell embarked on a five-year investigation into Scientology for an LA TImes series. His dog was poisoned, his colleague’s home was leafleted with funeral home brochures, he was falsely accused of a mysterious assault, and his wife was harassed. Decades later, he meets with former Scientology spymaster Mark Rathbun – now defected – to talk about his former employer and get the inside story of his own harassment.
Romantic comedies, once a box-office staple, are in decline. The failure of movies like the Reese Witherspoon vehicle This Means War and the James L. Brooks (Broadcast News, As Good as it Gets) rom-com How Do You Know (also starring Reese) have been cited by Vulture as evidence. Of course, this could well be evidence that most rom-coms these days are terrible, as much as than the genre being out of fashion … Includes interviews with directors, agents, producers and screenwriters on the state of the industry.
We share five of our favourite links, videos and articles from around the internet this week.
Love, Actually, Richard Curtis’s celebrity-packed ensemble film that launched a thousand holiday season copycats (Valentine’s Day, anyone?) was on television again last night. Karen Pickering watched it and wrote down all the reasons it’s ‘offensive garbage’ – from a savvy analysis of the way the women characters are all mere vehicles for the men, to locating it as the cause of a truly awful movie trend.
FYI, telling your best friend’s new wife that you’re in love with her (using twee flashcards) is about the most selfish, creepy, dick move imaginable and if she doesn’t tell her husband then I fear for their embryonic marriage.
The subject of whether writers should write for free – and if so, under what circumstances and how often – has been one of our hottest in this year’s Dailies. We’ve hosted discussions by Karen Pickering on why you shouldn’t write for free and Helen Razer on why writing for free can pay off.
This week, the conversation exploded all over Twitter when Marieke Hardy asked Mia Freedman why her commercially successful website Mama Mia doesn’t pay its writers (you can read Freedman’s response here). Elmo Keep has written about the subject this week too, saying the argument is ‘so old it needs cassettes’ – but questioning online publications whose business models don’t plan for paying their contributors.
And here’s writer Harlan Ellison getting pretty fired up over the whole issue of not paying writers (and of the free work given by amateurs affecting his own bottom line). ‘I sell my soul but at the highest rate,’ he says.
We’ve shared images from Chasing Ice, James Balog’s mission to document the Arctic ice being melted by climate change, in a past Friday High Five. Now, we can share a video from the forthcoming film, showing the largest iceberg calving ever filmed. ‘It’s like Manhattan breaking up in front of your eyes.’ Breathtaking and terrifying.
Flavorwire has uncovered the original storyboards for a whole host of classic films, from Spartacus to Sound of Music. It’s pretty cool to see the seeds of some of the most popular and ingrained images of popular film culture.
Are you spooked that the Mayans knew something we don’t? Are you ticking off the items on your bucket list, expecting it all to be over in a matter of days or weeks? Well, NASA is here to tell you that the world will not end in 2012 after all. And to explain how to accurately interpret the end of the Mayan calendar. Sit back, relax and figure out how you’re going to live the rest of your life, after all.
By Rochelle Siemienowicz
Go to your local cinema on any given day, and more likely than not, the screens are dominated by recycled superheroes in suits, animated animals voiced by celebrities, and gross-out comedies for teenagers. Why are there less movies made for grown-ups these days? The answers are about budgets, audiences and money.
Rochelle Siemienowicz, editor at the Australian Film Institute, gives us the lowdown – and shares some good news about grown-up movies on the horizon in the new year.
‘We now green-light fewer movies that are just OK … You have to feel a movie is special enough to have a chance to get the teenager off the couch from playing ‘Call of Duty’ with his friends.’
Rob Moore, vice-chairman of Paramount Pictures, quoted in the New Yorker.
‘The studios say, “Well, no one else is coming to movies reliably these days except for young males, so we’ll make our movies for them.” And yet if you make movies simply for young males, nobody else is going to want to go. So Hollywood has become like Logan’s Run: You turn 30, and they kill you.’
Vince Gilligan, creator of Breaking Bad, quoted in GQ.
Hollywood wants your teenager, because your teenager – and their middle-aged equivalents (the kind of adults who keep comic book collections, play video games and read vampire romances) are the people who’ll turn up in droves to see a ‘special’ film on its very first weekend at the multiplex. Your teenager is the kind of ticket-buyer who goes to the movies more than twice a year, to see ‘event’ movies that are – more often than not – shown in 3D.
These are the films that make big money, and if such a film doesn’t make big money in its first weekend, it’s basically considered a flop, it will quickly lose screens, and heads will roll at the big six studios in Hollywood (Paramount, Warner Bros, Columbia, Walt Disney, Universal and 20th Century Fox).
To succeed in this tight time cycle, a ‘special’ movie needs to be sensational, in the true meaning of that word. It must deliver big explosions, thrilling action sequences, supernatural romance, spine-chilling scares, and gut-wrenching laughs. A film like this can cost $220 million (the budget for Marvel’s The Avengers) and cost half that again in promotion costs. Even with an advertising budget as mammoth as that, in order to cut through into mass consciousness, the title must come with massive ‘pre-awareness’ – from an existing comic book, board game, action figure, superhero, movie franchise or bestselling young adult novel. (A simple graph has been doing the rounds of the internet showing the decline of original stories, and the explosion of adaptations and sequels in Hollywood’s last decade.)
Thus the ‘special films’ – or the biggest box office hits of 2012 so far – are: Marvel’s The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hunger Games, The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2 and The Amazing Spider-man.
The next most attractive audience, after adolescents (and the adolescent at heart) is kids. They’re gold because they come in groups, with supervising adults, who all purchase tickets and buy up big at the candy bar. It follows then that just down the list of box-office blockbusters for 2012 are the animated films Brave (‘radical’ because it has a female lead), Madagascar 3 and Dr Seuss’s The Lorax. This is a typical year. The kids are alright. But what about the adults?
Which begs the question, how do you define a film for grown-ups? One possible rule of thumb is to look at the winners of the Academy Awards, which rarely favour animated films, frat comedies or sequels. Whatever you think about the Oscars – and they certainly have their critics – the voters within the Academy are generally adult males of a certain age, who have a memory and knowledge of popular cinema that stretches back to the golden age of Hollywood. (A time when films for grown-ups were the main game, and films for kids were just a sideline and blockbusters were films like Gone With the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia and The Godfather.)
Which is not to say Hollywood has traditionally made deep, meaningful or mature films. Or that the movie business hasn’t always been a mercenary game where the bottom line counts for almost everything; where great artists have always made their films in spite of the system rather than because of it. Hollywood has always been predominantly about money. It’s generally accepted, however, that the emphasis on big money made fast has increased dangerously in the last 15 years, with the rot arguably beginning in the 70s with films like Jaws and Star Wars setting the teen-loving precedent. These days, a film for grown-ups is, almost by definition, arthouse, speciality or niche.
The winners of the Oscar for Best Picture over the last five years have been The Artist, The King’s Speech, The Hurt Locker, Slumdog Millionaire and No Country for Old Men. Whatever you think about them, they’re not aimed at teens, and there’s not a comic book hero or bloodsucking Prince Charming among them. But these are the kinds of specialty films brought out each year for a brief golden period in the lead-up to the Awards season.
So yes, Hollywood still does make movies for adults – or rather the mini-majors and the arthouse divisions of the major studios tend to make them (Dreamworks, Lions Gate Entertainment, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Relativity Media and The Weinstein Company). But as a whole, the studios are making less movies than they used to, and less movies for adults. According to the Motion Picture Association of America, the number of films released by specialty divisions of major studios fell to just 37 movies in 2011, down from 82 in 2002 (that’s a drop of 55%).
Every critic worth their salt, including most recently the New Yorker’s David Denby, has had a say about the dire situation facing movie-goers who prefer adult fare. Denby has even written a book titled Do the Movies Have a Future? arguing that unless Hollywood returns to modestly budgeted and culturally relevant filmmaking, its days are numbered.
Ultimately, films for grown-ups are a big risk, financially. Such movies reflect aspects of real life and adult psychology, which is by its nature complex and complicated, and stories that reflect this are difficult to tie up in an easily marketable 90-minute package.
In the real world, grown-ups go to work. They rarely wear capes or gadget-laden suits made of iron, and they don’t singlehandedly save Gotham City in one cinematic swoop. Grown-ups go to war both physically and mentally, but their fights are rarely spectacular or easily understood. Legislative reform, career-building challenges and artistic blocks are hard to depict on the screen. Think of any number of stupid films about writers and painters maniacally throwing typewriters and canvases around.
In the real world adults struggle with chronic health problems, tedious parenting issues and imperfect romances that resolve in whimpering heartbreak or boredom rather than neat euphoric closure. There’s sex involved in adult life too – lots of it –and it’s not always pretty, romantic or even hilariously gross. And if a film depicts sex in any real detail, it’s going to earn an MA15+ or an R rating, which necessarily excludes a huge chunk of the movie-going audience. However, there’s always an exception to the rule and this year’s stunning outlier happens to be Steven Soderbergh’s Magic Mike, a serious but eye-poppingly saucy film about male stripping that cost a mere $7 million to make and has gone on to gross more than $160 million worldwide.
The moral challenges of real adult life are complex and intricate – and no matter how dark and troubled you write the character of Batman or James Bond, the nature of the genre requires a certain amount of black and white; good versus evil, with the outcome assured in a favourable manner. In the real world, people are mostly a mess of grey, which is actually the stuff of great novels and, thankfully, the stuff of great long-form television drama, the kinds of HBO drama series that we adults are eating up like addicts getting our fix of sophisticated candy.
But such complexity is hard for a kid to understand, and even harder for a movie marketing department to sell to mass English-speaking audiences (let alone international markets). And as the US domestic box office has been falling in recent years, with 2011 hitting a 15-year low, Hollywood is increasingly relying on international sales to burgeoning markets like China and Russia. No prizes for guessing which kind of stories travel best. And which kind of stories lend themselves most to merchandise spin-offs and Happy Meal toys.
Hollywood does make movies for grownups, but such films are not the main game anymore – and really, can we complain? Hollywood is in the business of making movies for people who pay to go to the movies. And let’s face it, most grown-ups we know prefer to stay home and watch illegally downloaded or borrowed box sets of Breaking Bad, Mad Men and Game of Thrones. (Incidentally, Australians are the worst in the world at illegally downloading Game of Thrones!). There are questions about whether the economic model exists to sustain such wonderful television if nobody is willing to buy it, but right now adults are actually incredibly well served for screen stories –it’s just that they’re being made for the small screen, not the big one.
You still want great movies on the big screen? Be thankful it’s not just Hollywood that makes movies. According to Screen Australia, in 2012, approximately 20 per cent of Australian box office revenue came from films that weren’t from the United States. Put another way, it’s sobering. About 80 per cent of Australian box office revenue did come from American films, and predominantly ‘Hollywood’ ones. And in case you’re wondering, Australian films made up just 4.8 per cent – and this is considered a fairly ‘good’ year, because of successful local films like The Sapphires.
If you live in a big city, you’ve probably got access to a greater diversity and variety of cinema than Australians have had at any other time in their history. Things could be better, but they could also be a lot worse. To prevent that, support your local arthouse cinema, and see good movies in their first weeks of release, especially if they’re Australian – it helps them to survive and convinces financiers to make more of them. If you love cinema on the big screen, make it a priority. Book a babysitter, go out into the world, and remember that somebody has to pay for that top-notch drama you’re loving – whether it’s on the big screen or the small one.
Rochelle Siemienowicz is editor at the Australian Film Institute | Australian Academy of Cinema & Television Arts. She tweets at @AFIeditor.
In the months ahead over the Australian summer (in the lead-up to the Awards season in early 2013), we adults have much to look forward to at the cinema – even in the crass popcorn stink of the multiplex. While The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey will dominate worldwide screens from Boxing Day, there are going to be other options for those uninterested in wizards and dragons. The following films may or may not be great cinema, but they’re certainly aimed at a grown-up audience.Les Miserables (26 Dec)
Directed by Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech), this musical tragedy adaptation of the Victor Hugo novel stars Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway and Russell Crowe.
Quartet (26 Dec)
Dustin Hoffman’s directorial debut set amongst operatic retirees, stars Maggie Smith, Tom Courtenay, Billy Connolly and Pauline Collins. Written by Ronald Harwood, the Oscar winning writer of The Pianist and The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.
Life of Pi (1 Jan)
Ang Lee’s adaptation of Yann Martel’s Booker-winning novel.
Hitchcock (10 Jan)
A drama about the legendary filmmaker’s defining career moments making Psycho, starring Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren. You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger (17 Jan)
Woody Allen’s annual comic foray into the foibles of unfulfilled couples, starring Josh Brolin, Naomi Watts and Antonio Banderas.
This is Forty (17 Jan)
Judd Apatow revisits Pete (Paul Rudd) and Debbie (Leslie Mann), the bickering married couple from Knocked Up, as they grapple with a middle age rut.
Silver Linings Playbook (31 Jan)
David O.’Russell’s adult drama about a young man (Bradley Cooper) recovering from a nervous breakdown after a marriage collapse. Stars Jennifer Lawrence, Robert DeNiro and Jacki Weaver.
Zero Dark Thirty (31 Jan)
Kathryn Bigelow’s action thriller about the decade-long hunt and eventual assassination of Osama Bin Laden. Stars Jessica Chastain and Australian actors Jason Clarke, Joel Edgerton and Nash Edgerton.
Lincoln (7 Feb)
A political biopic directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Daniel Day-Lewis (as Abraham Lincoln), Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones.
Cloud Atlas (21 Feb)
Lana and Larry Wachowski’s ambitious time and space travelling adaptation of David Mitchell’s novel. Directed in collaboration with Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run), and starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving and Jim Sturgess.
Adam Zwar, creator of Wilfred and Lowdown, will direct a dramatic live reading of the classic film 12 Angry Men for the Wheeler Centre this month. We spoke to Adam in advance of the event about the appeal of 12 Angry Men, the challenges of making it with women as well as men, and why American accents get in the way.
12 Angry Men is a play about justice and the responsibilities of democracy, set in 1950s America. How relevant does it remain – and do you think it speaks to contemporary Australia?
The play appears to be about justice, but its really about human relationships. It’s about 12 people from different cultural and socio-economic backgrounds being put into a room and negotiating whether someone lives or dies. The themes are as relevant in Australia as anywhere else.
The characters in 12 Angry Men were, as the title implies, originally 12 men, each of them intended to represent a different archetype of the ordinary American. What made you decide to cast the play as men and women – and were there any challenges in making this transition?
That came from a discussion with The Wheeler Centre. We didn’t want it to be a man-fest. And there were characters in the play that didn’t have to be played by men.
How were the roles allocated to each character? What kind of factors played into your casting decisions?
We only require the actors for one night, so we had access to some pretty extraordinary names. When you see how well the characters in the script are written, it’s not hard to think of actors who could play them.
Have you adapted the original film script in any way, or is this a faithful adaptation?
We’re being faithful to it. But, hold onto your seats, we’re not using American accents. This is a universal story and American accents get in the way. We want the audience to see into the character’s heart, not to be scoring the actors’ American accents.
I hear that the idea of a performed script reading was originally yours. What appeals to you about that concept? And what kind of experience can the audience expect?
It’s not an original idea. The film critic, Leigh Paatsch, sent me a link to a similar thing they’re doing in LA. And I thought it would be fun to do here. So I pitched it to Michael Williams and he went on Randling and became famous and I didn’t hear from for eight months. And then he got back to me and said, ‘Let’s do it. You can start off with 12 Angry Men.’
Adam Zwar will direct a live reading of the 12 Angry Men film script, with a cast of talented Australian actors (both men and women), for the Wheeler Centre on Friday 14 December. 12 Angry People will be at the Athenaeum Theatre at 8.30pm. Bookings are open now.
By Adrian Martin
In the lead-up to 12 Angry People, our dramatic live reading directed by Adam Zwar, film critic Adrian Martin takes a fond look at the Oscar-nominated 1957 film 12 Angry Men. He praises its ‘classic plot’, expertly crafted script and describes its lasting appeal as ‘a dramatic essay about justice – what it takes to arrive there, how hard that process is, and how easily it can be deranged’.
The property known as 12 Angry Men – which has travelled across media, through decades, and survived many tinkerings and permutations – began in a particular, hothouse intersection of creative forms. Reginald Rose (1920–2002) conceived it as a television play in 1954, for what is now regarded as the golden era of ‘live broadcast drama’. Many of the directors who would go on to remarkable careers in the 1960s and ‘70s – Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde, 1967) and John Frankenkenheimer (Seconds, 1966) among them – cut their teeth in the highwire setting of such tele-dramas.
12 Angry Men is a highly theatrical piece, and has subsequently often been adapted for the stage, or for play-readings. But its cramped, confined, claustrophobic location and basic set-up – guys talking to and shouting at each other across a table – is not ideally suited for the particular visibility allowed by a proscenium arch; it’s an invention for the televisual age, which allows a new way of getting inside and opening up dramatic interaction.
The plot of 12 Angry Men is simple and classic: what begins as a jury room vote of 11 to 1 ‘guilty’ score, in the trial of a Latino teenager accused of stabbing and killing his father, is gradually talked around to a unanimous vote of ‘not guilty’. The righteous hero here – and no Hollywood actor was ever better suited to an understated, gentle but firm mode of heroic action – is played by Henry Fonda (the film’s co-producer with Rose), who is identified as Davis only in the closing coda, outside the courtroom. His principal adversary on the jury, played by Lee J. Cobb in a style suggesting barely controlled hysteria, passes through common-garden racial bigotry and impatient, bullying behaviour to finally reveal a deeper, more personal complex of neuroses and fears.
In between the extreme poles of Fonda and Cobb, the other characters (and the actors who incarnate them) stand for a carefully graded set of social and psychological types: some are passive, easily led; some are indifferent, eager to get home or to a sports game; others are touched, in ways they did not expect, by the plight of the boy whose fate they are deciding, and of the everyday, legal difficulties in discerning and enforcing the truth. 12 Angry Men is a dramatic essay about justice – what it takes to arrive there, how hard that process is, and how easily it can be deranged. This is, at the most elemental level, the secret of its lasting appeal across the world. One or two films about law courts and their knotty procedures may be objectively better – my vote for the very best would go to Otto Preminger’s masterpiece Anatomy of a Murder (1959) – but they tend toward studied ambiguity or cynicism, whereas 12 Angry Men still believes that justice and truth can win the day.
And so 12 Angry Men has had its incidental references (to movies or sports matches or pop fads) periodically updated or adapted to a specific historical time or national place; it is sometimes played with female cast members (something that US society of the time had not quite yet accommodated in its real-life legal system, at least not in all states of the Union) or with black actors (as is the case in William Friedkin’s 1997 version for television). But the script and its word-heavy action remain essentially the same every time. And Rose was a dab hand at crafting such a piece.
Any dramatic (or comedic) situation involving twelve main characters of roughly equal importance poses a special problem to a writer, who must strive to keep clear and distinct the different identities in the spectator’s mind. Rose had several canny cards up his sleeve here: deliberately opting for anonymity – the characters are known, to anyone who stages or acts in this material, as Juror no. 1 through to 12, and they refer to each other only as ‘that guy’ in its innumerable variants, eschewing the need for them to get to know each others’ names – he exploited, instead, a simple but brilliant physical arrangement. At the beginning of the deliberation, the chairman (Juror no. 1, played by Martin Balsam) suggests that the others sit around the table according to their jury number; this is the spectator’s basic orientation throughout everything that follows. Without it, we could easily be lost in trying to follow all the hectic back-and-forth of opinions and refutations, charges and counter charges. The film even reprises the same 1-to-12 order in the final credits for the actors.
Of course, no one stays seated for very long, or for the entire piece. The essential work of staging or mise en scène (to use the term popular in cinema) is built into the script: the jurors stand up to make a point, they pace around, go look out the window, try to get cool on this hot day in New York; they occasionally go to the toilet, or call in a few evidential exhibits … All this movement is quite naturalistic (however carefully choreographed), but sometimes the effects are subtly telling – as when one juror spontaneously sits, for a moment, in another juror’s temporarily vacated chair. And sometimes a greater drama is made of the space of the confined, claustrophobic set, as when Fonda recreates the ailing walk of an old man, timed in crucial seconds … Above all, the fixed seating arrangement serves the purpose that every good dramaturg knows well: ‘laying down the axis’ (or, in this case, multiple axes), the line of sight along which performers can face-off each other and glare, wordlessly or volubly; 12 Angry Men does this particularly well in the central conflict between Fonda and Cobb.
12 Angry Men marks, as I have so far argued, a historic hybrid of theatre and television. But it took the celebrated director Sidney Lumet (1924-2011) – who came to this project with precious experience in both camps – to pull off its final, cross-breeding transformation: into cinema. In this, his feature film debut, he adds – in small, discreet but powerful doses – a supple, cinematic language to the already crafty mise en scène of Rose’s script. Around its mid-way mark, when developments in the jury room become particularly intense, Lumet deploys a slow crane shot moving into Henry Fonda in close-up: the effect is electrifying, and all the more so because it has been held back until this point. Likewise, a surprising ‘frontal’ shot – elderly Juror no. 9 (Joseph Sweeney) looking straight into the camera, again in close-up, exclaiming his change of opinion – marks a veritable ‘turning point’ in the proceedings. As the situation gets tougher, Lumet goes even tighter, into ‘choker’ close-ups (a favourite photographic device of his generation of auteurs) that distort and even uglify the faces a little. And – easier to control in film than on stage – he adds the element of a hard, insistent, downpour of rain.
If 12 Angry Men has gained an extra ‘retro’ appeal by 2012, that is largely due to the consolidation of an image of the American 1950s that many of us share through our experience of film, television and fiction. The wildly popular TV series Mad Men, although set in the early to mid ‘60s, has been the determining agent in this retro fascination – and there is even a rhyme, in their respective titles, between these groups of guys who are, at all times, either angry or mad. There is an ‘imaginary urban America’ – not entirely dissociated from reality – associated with the ‘50s, peopled with advertising copywriters, travelling salesmen, architects, teachers, retired professionals, sportsmen, guys in ‘grey flannel suits’, and fallen, seething patriarchs. Everywhere in representations of the ‘50s, male privilege and authority is both affirmed – it’s still basically a man’s, man’s world – and brutally brought to heel, surveying its own ruin in a changing milieu. This is precisely the scenario played out, between the lines, by Lee J. Cobb here.
The other key figure in this social panorama of the 1950s is glimpsed only once in Lumet’s film, but forms the obsessive centre of all conversation: the 18-year-old Latino on trial (silently incarnated, in an immortal, lingering close-up, by the uncredited John Savoca). He is another mythological media figure of the era: the juvenile delinquent. His ‘absent presence’ caps a long decade of movies, novels and plays addressing disturbed, violent, yearning youth as a ‘social problem’ – and trying, sometimes with an overly parental or institutional touch, to sociologically categorise, explain and quarantine this strange, new breed of ‘aliens in our midst’. 12 Angry Men oozes anxious paranoia – as well as genuine concern – about this juvenile delinquent.
But let’s not get too far away from the gritty specifics of the drama fashioned by Rose and Lumet. If jury duty cannot quite count as a ‘universal’ experience, it is certainly shared by many citizens within the Western, democratic model of law. I myself have lived through a ‘12 angry people’ situation (at least it had gender equity!) in a Melbourne jury room when I was in my early 20s – with reality uncannily following some of the lines of Rose’s script. What can seem like dramatic contrivance on Rose’s part – the gradual talking-around of jurors until they are brought to change their initial opinion on the case – is probably far more common to real-life legal experience than we imagine; I certainly witnessed the very same process in action, with me taking the Henry Fonda role! Also true to the script, alas, is the assumption that jury duty brings out the worst prejudices, irrational obstinacies and, indeed, base idiocies of some individuals.
When I hear Juror no. 11 (George Voskovec) say, with such calm reasonableness, ‘Maybe you don’t fully understand the term “reasonable doubt”?’ – only to be shot down with derision – I hear myself, over thirty years ago, trying to convince the one person who would not budge in her conviction that the person (again, a teenage boy) on trial was guilty. Reasonable doubt never clouded her judgement. ‘How do you know it?’, I asked. ‘Because I believe it’, she replied. ‘And why do you believe it?’ ‘Because I know it.’ We maddeningly went around and around that unshakeable kernel of the most profound irrationality until we all had to call it a day – and declare (much to the consternation of the presiding Judge) a hung jury. Time for a retrial. Or for another viewing of that particularly bracing, idealistic fantasy of justice known as 12 Angry Men.
Adrian Martin has been a professional writer and film critic since 1979. He was film reviewer for the Age between 1995 and 2006.
Adam Zwar will direct a live reading of the 12 Angry Men film script, with a cast of talented Australian actors (both men and women), for the Wheeler Centre on Friday 14 December. 12 Angry People will be at the Athenaeum Theatre at 8.30pm. Bookings are open now.
We share five of our favourite links and articles from around the internet this week.
Wired senior writer Mat Horan was famously targeted by cyberhackers earlier this year, who managed to crack the password for one of his (linked) Apple, Gmail and Twitter accounts – and then had access to all three. The hackers wiped his iPad, iPhone and Macbook – including all his messages, documents and photos. Since then, he’s been looking into the world of online security. His conclusion? Our passwords are essentially useless.
Just as the end of bookshops was being declared (this was right before they declared the end of book publishing itself), author Ann Patchett decided to put her time and money where her mouth was … and opened her own bookshop in Nashville, where both local bookshops had closed down. She writes about Parnassus Books in the Atlantic.
The New York Times published a dig at irony and the hipster generation last week, taking an Attenborough-style approach of identifying the characteristics of a species: ‘the hipster haunts every city street and university town’. Gabrielle Carey (aka ‘the serious one’ from Puberty Blues, also an acclaimed author of essays and memoir) has taken a more philosophical approach to the same subject on Meanjin’s blog this week, where she asks whether irony has gone too far – and whether its co-opting by advertising and corporations has rendered it meaningless.
Oslo Davis is one of Melbourne’s most recognisable and loved illustrators. This year, he’s been hard at work on Melbhattan, a short film that mimics the opening sequence of images at the start of Woody Allen’s 1979 film Manhattan – both an homage to and a pastiche of our beloved City of Literature. Melbhattan is screening before each feature at the Rooftop Cinema this summer. You can read more about Melbhattan at The Design Files.
It’s that time of year when publications start gathering their choices for the best books of 2012. The New York Times has a hefty list of 100 books – worth checking out to see if there’s something obscure worth adding to your ‘to read’ pile. Publisher’s Weekly has put together a snappy top 10. Slate staffers have chosen their favourite books of the year. Justine Jordan of the Guardian has compiled her favourite novels, short stories and graphic fiction. And coming back from the US and UK to Australia, Melbourne bookseller Readings has posted a fistful of top 10s (and a couple of top fives) in a range of categories, chosen by their staff, including the stalwarts of fiction and non-fiction.
We bring you our five favourite links and articles from around the internet this week.
Ernie Button really, really loves cereal. He’s spent the past decade working on a series of photographs that ‘explore the texture, color and marketing wrapped up in these niblets of nourishment’. Takes playing with your food to a whole new level. Maybe it’ll catch on for kidults? ‘The landscapes were often influenced by the Arizona desert that surrounds him, but other times he let the shape of the cereal guide the project.’
There’s a terrific (if ominous) article in the New York Review of Books about the inevitability of Hurricane Sandy in an age of global warming. Bill McKibben points out that researchers had been warning of a disaster just like this, and had even produced documents describing the exact risk to the New York subway system. Seas are rising faster in the northeastern United States than almost anywhere else on the planet.
The same researchers who predicted events like this week’s horror have warned that unless we cease burning coal and gas and oil the planet’s temperature – already elevated by a degree – will climb another four or five. At which point ‘civilization’ will be another word for ‘ongoing emergency response’.
No, we’re not talking about black-framed prescription glasses for hipsters, berets for poets or lots of black for all publishing folk … the Guardian has some examples of book-based fashion wear. Want the Anna Karenina look? Banana Republic has a clothing range inspired by the movie. How about some Catcher in the Rye sneakers? And one fashion designer, Carlos Campos, has created a whole collection inspired by Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera.
David Simon (creator of The Wire and former journalist) has written about what the re-election of Obama, and the coalition of disparate voters who returned him to the presidency, means for a changing America. His conclusion: white men are no longer the definition of normal. ‘There is no normal.’
America is different now, more so with every election cycle. Ronald Reagan won his mandate in an America in which 89 percent of the voters were white. That number is down to 72 percent and falling. Fifty thousand new Latino citizens achieve the voting age every month. America will soon belong to the men and women — white and black and Latino and Asian, Christian and Jew and Muslim and atheist, gay and straight — who can comfortably walk into a room and accept with real comfort the sensation that they are in a world of certain difference, that there are no real majorities, only pluralities and coalitions.
A new movie about the making of Psycho stars Anthony Hopkins as Alfred Hitchcock, Helen Mirren as his wife, Alma, and Scarlett Johanssen as Janet Leigh. Judging from this trailer, it looks promising.
Hitchcock will be released in Australian on 10 January 2013.
Speaking about filming that famous shower scene, Scarlett Johanssen said:
You have got to be brave, get into the shower, and face Anthony Hopkins as Hitchcock jabbing you in the face with a 12-inch kitchen knife. As much as Anthony Hopkins is a pussycat, he’s terrifying. Maybe I watched Silence of the Lambs too many times when I was a kid. Maybe I was having some flashbacks. So I didn’t need too much preparation for the scene.
Scriptwriting professor John Glavin told the Washington Post recently that turning a book into a film works best when the writer is willing to reinvent the book to suit the film medium, rather than attempt to be too faithful to the original.
‘That’s why there are very few great movies made from great books, but any number of great movies made from deeply forgettable books,’ he said. ‘We can’t forget Vertigo, and we can’t recall D’Entre Les Morts, the book it adapted.’
Similarly, Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather is a film classic, while the pulp fiction original by Mario Puzo is largely forgotten.
But of course, great books are usually more attractive to filmmakers than mediocre ones, despite the challenge of doing justice to the books – and the risk of alienating or angering fans. When it works, the payoff is well worth it.
Here are just a few great books making the transition to a cinema screen near you in the coming months.
The trailer for Cloud Atlas
The Wachowski siblings, the creators of the Matrix trilogy, are about to release their version of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, one of those books that’s often labeled notoriously unfilmable. We’re about to see if the Wachowskis can turn the label around.
‘In all honesty, I’m amazed that of all my books, this is the one that filmmakers of that calibre and reputation would want to make,’ David Mitchell himself has said.
‘We actually weren’t sure it could be done,’ said Andy Wachowski. ‘We were skeptical going into the writing process. That was a sort of exploration, just to see if it was even possible.’
Cloud Atlas will hit Australian cinemas in early 2013.
The trailer for Les Miserables
An all-star version of the hit musical Les Miserables (itself based on Victor Hugo’s novel) will open on Boxing Day in Australia, with local stars Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman alongside Ann Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried and others. Tom Hooper (The King’s Speech) will direct. All the actors were apparently required to sing their parts live
The trailer for The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
Peter Jackson’s first film of The Hobbit is about to be released. And New Zealand, where it was filmed, has banked on it delivering another tourism boost. The national tourism slogan ‘100% Pure New Zealand’ has become ‘100% Middle-earth’, reports the Guardian, while in the days leading up to the premiere, Wellington will be ‘renamed’, ‘Middle of Middle-earth’.
The film will be released in Australia on Boxing Day. It is the first film in a projected trilogy.
We bring you our favourite links and articles we’ve found around the internet this week.
Apple maps has to be the most embarrassing product launch in Apple history (and a landmark in the history of products, generally). The ‘most beautiful, powerful mapping service ever’ is so seriously defective that Apple CEO Tim Cook has issued a public apology and Apple has taken the extraordinary step of instructing users how they can use other mapping products while Apple maps is fixed.
What’s a disaster for the most successful company in the world is a gift for satirists, though. Check out the latest cover of Mad magazine: a spoof of an iconic New Yorker cover, with a map of the city wildly distorted (‘now using Apple maps’). 10th Avenue has become the Champs Elysees, the Hudson River has become the Sea of Galilee and Canada has become Chad.
The New Yorker’s David Denby is the latest in a line of film critics to write about the dearth of movies for grown-ups these days, in amidst all the Judd Apatow gross-out comedies and chick flicks about shopping and weddings (the only things girls care about, don’t you know?). He is depressed about the way that opening weekend grosses get more and more important, meaning that the the types of viewers drawn to see movies straight away are the ones who increasingly determine what gets made.
Since grownups tend to wait for reviews or word from friends, they don’t go the first few days the movie is playing. That means, as it has for years, that people from, say, fifteen to twenty-five years of age exercise an influence on what gets made by the studios way out of proportion to their numbers in the population. My friends under about forty-five accept this as normal: They don’t know that movies, for the first eighty years of their existence, were essentially made for adults.
The Awl has a nifty little humorous piece on the stages of grief after publishing your first book, from denial (‘If they want to low-ball me on the film rights, that’s fine, but in that case I will need a piece of the back end and final say on casting’) to acceptance (‘Remaindered? You mean I can buy my own hardbacks for a buck twenty a piece? Oh. Hell. Yes.’)
And on the ‘thinky’ side of the same subject, Australian writer Rachel Hills has written about the challenge of book writing – and the serious hunkering down in a quiet room, alone – it involves, particularly to the fragile writerly ego of a long-time freelance writer, addicted to the rush of being regularly published. ‘It is countless hours spent alone, perfecting ideas that are too complex to explain to strangers you meet at cocktail parties. It is enforced humbleness (or at least enforced daily stomping on that ego and desire for affirmation).’
Hardly a day goes by without another article about the plague of sexting (particularly teen sexting) and the perils of mobile and internet technology when it comes to privacy. But, as an Atlantic article points out, before there were mobile phone ‘selfies’, there was the Polaroid camera, which also lent itself to the kind of pictures you wouldn’t want your photo lab technician to see. Mia Farrow sprung Woody Allen for his affair with her adopted daughter Soon Yi after she found some naked Polaroids. And Robert Mapplethorpe experimented with Polaroids when he was just starting to play with photography, much of it homoerotic.
It’s tough times in the publishing world. So, perhaps it’s no surprise that Penguin are suing several authors for failing to deliver contracted books for which they’d already received an advance. Among them are Prozac Nation author Elizabeth Wurtzel, darling of the grungey nineties, for a book to help teenagers deal with depression that never materialised (the contract was for $100,000 and she was paid $33,300 in advance) and New Yorker writer Rebecca Mead, for a collection of her journalism (which seems odd – had she lost her press clippings or her laptop since she signed the contract?), who owes $20,000; Penguin also wants $2000 in interest.
By Clementine Ford
In this edited version of her Lunchbox/Soapbox address, Clementine Ford asks why men like Alan Jones think women are ‘destroying the joint’, exposes how Hollywood contributes to assumptions that the default gender is male, and presents some damning statistics to prove that we’re not, in fact, all equal now.
To be a woman at the close of the 20th century. What good fortune. That’s what we keep hearing, anyway. The barricades have fallen, politicians assure us. Women have ‘made it’, the style pages cheer. Women’s fight for equality has ‘largely been won’, Time magazine announces. Enrol at any university, join any law firm, apply for credit at any bank. Women have so many opportunities now corporate leaders say, that we don’t really need equal opportunity policies. Women are so equal now, lawmakers say, that we no longer need equal rights legislation.
So begins Susan Faludi’s Backlash. The backlash she spoke of manifested the idea that women had been somehow damaged by all that equality. That the reality of being equal had somehow made them miserable – that newspapers fretted about how women were coping with the infertility crisis, the man shortage, the betrayal of being told they could ‘have it all’ and, once getting there, realising that having it all was bloody hard work.
Backlash was published in 1991. And 20 years later, the backlash continues. My feminist peers and I, scrapping for our minute share of the media pie, are, in amongst the anonymous abuse, the repeated accusations of misandry and the violent threats of rape, constantly instructed that ‘equality has been achieved, so shut your mouths you hairy-armpitted feminazis!’
I mean, God. Even the insults are carbon dated.
Let’s have a look at how equal we are, here in 2012. This year alone, prominent US republicans have coined phrases like ‘legitimate rape’, voted to further diminish women’s reprodutive rights, including legislating in some states to subject women seeking abortions to an internal ultrasound (which is not legitimate rape, because rather than a man in a balaclava in a park and a woman out jogging, it involves state legislators and sluts who should have kept their legs shut). And they’ve called women sluts on the radio because they didn’t like them running off their mouths about state-funded birth control. At every turn, they have frozen women out of the conversation about their own bodies and reproductive health, because, as powerful white men elected to government, they are apparently more entitled and qualified to speak on these matters than those who their decisions will affect.
Our own radio shock jocks in Australia call women ‘sluts’ and ‘fat slags’ on air when discussing pack rape scenarios involving famous sporting ‘heroes’ or women who’ve given them bad reviews – recently, Alan Jones went on an on-air tirade about how disgusting it was for Australia to provide aid to Pacific nations in order to empower more women to become legislators and business leaders: ‘She [the prime minister] said that we know societies only reach their full potential if women are politically participating,’ he told listeners.
‘Women are destroying the joint!’
Our own prime minister has endured a campaign of sexist abuse ever since she took office, demonstrated most insidiously by people’s belief that they’re entitled to refer to her by her first name. To those for whom equality has not just been granted (as if it was theirs to give), but has been done so grudgingly, Gillard’s status as PM is sufficient evidence that feminism has succeeded and feminism’s continued campaign for more ‘equality’ is simply greed. The subtext is clear: ‘What more do you want?’
Now, aggrieved men’s rights activists are growing in numbers, and they still insist that women – all of whom have apparently achieved not just equality but actual superiority – are trying to destroy men. That in a mere 40 years, women have not just managed to quell the tide of gender oppression that has for thousands of years seen them be the victims of sexual assault, violence, forced marriage, financial dependence, sex trafficking and a general silencing of their voices, but reversed it to the point where men have now become the abused chattel, the dismissed, the voiceless.
Thousands of years of oppression. Reversed and redirected. In 40 years. Who knew it was so easy?
Of course, such a thing is ridiculous. Because the problem with the idea of equality is how difficult it is to measure. When people say, ‘equality has been reached’, what they really mean is that it is now (mostly) illegal to directly legislate in a way that disadvantages women over men. It is illegal to say that a woman can’t be made CEO of a Fortune 500 company – but does that mean she will be? No, because now we have insidious indicators of sexism. And every woman who takes on a role previously legislated (whether officially or socially) to belong to a man will now be seen by some to have stolen that ‘right’ away from men in general. To men fearful of feminism, equality is so tied up in their idea of their own rights to power that to share it can only mean relinquishing some of the things that they feel belong to them.
In Peggy Orenstein’s book Girlhood, on the matter of girls’ education, she recounts the tale of a teacher who, convinced she didn’t prioritise boys over girls like some studies suggested, tracked the number of times she called on boys to answer questions. She was astonished to see that, despite her fervent belief otherwise, she subconsciously favoured boys when it came to seeking answers and opinions. She immediately set out to rectify this, creating a system whereby she could visually track a fair alternation of the girls and boys she called on.
Within a couple of days, boys in the teacher’s class approached her to complain about the new system. They accused her of being unfair – they saw it as girls being given more at the expense of the boys, even though they were at last getting exactly the same.
The conclusion is simple, and very worrying. For these boys, Orenstein writes, equality was perceived as a loss.
Such little boys grow up to be the kind of men who believe women’s liberation comes at the expense of their own power; that for them to respect it, support it or even acknowledge it, it must prioritise the needs of men first and foremost, and ensure they never have to give anything up. Essentially, to the men’s rights activists, the only legitimate form of women’s liberation is one that has no affect on them at all because it happens in a realm peripheral to men – much like the concerns and lives of women in general.
Frankly, there is so much evidence to offer in favour of the idea that equality is still merely an illusion. I could talk about the still-horrifying rates of rape and sexual assault, both the actual experience of it and the social impetus to provide excuses for it. I could tell you about the female judge who, in sentencing an off-duty police officer to probation for the sexual assault of a woman in a bar, told the woman that she’d hoped she’d learned a valuable lesson – that if she hadn’t have been there, this would never have happened – that if women would take more care of themselves, and not dress like sluts, drink in public, run their mouths off, then men wouldn’t be forced to rape them. I could talk about the 11-year-old girl who, after being gang raped in Texas, had the New York Times run a story suggesting she may have ‘dressed older’ and questioned why her mother wasn’t watching her.
I could question the fact that of all the approximately 30 AFL players ever accused of sexual assault, not one has been convicted. I could mention the pay gap, which is well documented and consistently ignored by people who refuse to see any gender disparity in the workplace, and like to argue in favour of a merit system – as if the majority of people being given promotions and high-paying jobs and who also just happen to be men are just naturally more meritorious than women.
I could talk about the beauty industry and the empowerment industry, and how the two have joined forces in an unholy marriage to try and convince women the world over that the most liberating choice they can make is to rid their vaginas of hair. I could talk about the co-opting of empowerment in general, and how calling every choice a woman makes ‘empowering’ by virtue of the fact she’s been allowed to make it just shows how very far we have to go.
But today, I want to demonstrate how women, in all this mass of equality we’re enjoying, are only allowed to lay claim to a certain percentage of the public space. That for most people, equality means things not being quite as bad as they were before. Women may only hold 17% of positions of public office, but don’t we know that the job of prime minister has ten magic points? We’re destroying the joint, remember.
The Global Media Monitoring Project recently produced a report called Who Makes the News? The report assessed the breakdown of gender across international news outlets – radio, print, TV and the internet. Specifically, the percentages of stories that focused on women or men as their subjects. The research covered just under 17,000 news items, just over 20,000 news personnel (announcers, presenters and reporters) and just over 35,000 total news subjects, i.e. people interviewed in the news and those whom the news was about. Basically, this was no simple Daily Mail UK study about women preferring shoes to sex.
Here are some facts:
In 1995, only 17% of news stories featured a woman as their subject.
In 2010, when women are equal, that figure had limped ahead to a pathetic 24% – a mere 7% jump in 15 years. Overall, the analysis showed that men were overwhelmingly more likely to be the subjects of media focus – three to one in fact – and that when women WERE the subjects of a news story, they were more likely to be presented as victims, to have their family status mentioned or to simply be photographed.
But the stats get more depressing when you examine how women function within these stories. Their greatest contribution, at 44% of exposure on the news, is to represent ‘popular opinion’, compared to men’s 56% contribution in this area.
So, in the area where men’s voices are LEAST sought out, they still dominate the space where women have been given the MOST opportunity to speak.
Women feature least in news stories as official spokespersons or experts, at 19% and 20% respectively. Compare this to stats of men’s representation in these areas: when called on as a spokesperson or expert, men feature in at a whopping 81% and 80%, their highest showing.
I realise that sounds like a lot of numbers, but put simply, this is what it means. That in 2010, when men and women have supposedly achieved equality, where women’s voices are supposedly considered equal to those of men, where women who dispute this are told to shut up because feminism’s over, and to go and burn some more bras, the very essence of what drives our public dialogue – the news cycle – is not only dominated by stories about men by 3:1 but that four fifths of people sought after to speak as experts on issues of national and international interest are men. Four fifths. 80%. I’m going to repeat that, because it goes to the heart of how equality is a lie. Eighty per cent of spokespeople and experts sought after to speak in the media and the news are men.
If you are uncritically consuming the news, as most people do, how can you possibly not internalise the idea that men’s voices carry more weight and authority simply because they are the ones you hear the most? How can you fail to link the idea that men are more trustworthy, because if they weren’t, we wouldn’t ask for their opinions so often? On any given week, Q and A will feature four men (including host Tony Jones) and two women. This is considered gender parity – any more is the ABC ‘pandering’ to political correctness, sacrificing expert voices to satisfy feminist banshees.
Equality is perceived as a loss.
How can we expect children, who consume and internalise the messages of media in frightening levels, not to assume that public dialogue and space belongs to men when we demonstrate that to them on a daily basis?
And speaking of children, let’s talk about the world girls and boys learn about on screen. The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media is instrumental in spearheading groundbreaking research into the representations of girls and women on screen, particularly in family-centric films. As the centre says, we live by the myth that family films are a kind of ‘haven’ for girls – that in a world of sexualisation gone mad and gender inequality, girls can at least find solace in seeking out Strong Female Characters (and more on that later) in the films and media they consume.
In fact, the institute interviewed 108 content creators from the leading box office family films made between 2006 and 2009, and questioned them about female representation in these films. They confirmed their own findings: that of all the speaking roles in these films, only around 29.2% of them were female. To put that into more context, for every female who was allowed to speak in a leading box office family film made between 2006 and 2009, there were 2.42 male characters given voices.
Is this the fault of the creators? Females are also underrepresented behind the camera. Across 1565 content creators (at the time of research), only 7% of directors are female. Only 13% of writers are female. Only 20% of producers are female. As the Institute says, this translates to 4.8 working males behind-the-scenes to every one female – a fact that may explain why, in these same leading box office films, only 19.5% of characters with jobs were females. The other 80.5% was taken up by men, who, as I’ve already pointed out, were given two thirds more opportunity to speak.
A friend of mine, Emily Maguire, last year wrote an article called Girls on Film in which she recalled some of the attitudes of children in the writing workshops she facilitates. Emily talks about one of her eight-year-old students – a girl – who wrote a story about a fierce but heroic pirate called Jessica. ‘Pirates aren’t girls!’ one of her classmates protested, and several others agreed.
‘What about Anamaria in Pirates of the Caribbean,’ the writer shot back. ‘She’s not a main one,’ came the reply. ‘The main pirates are all boys.’
The main pirates are all boys, Emily writes. So are the main robots, monsters, bugs, soldiers, toys, cars, trains, rats and lions.
You’re allowed to include a girl in your motley group of ragtag heroes – but she’ll never be one of the main ones.
One of my favourite indicators for gender bias in the study of films is the Bechdel test. Named after Alison Bechdel, the wonderful cartoonist and author of cult classic Dykes to Watch Out For, the test is applied to a piece of pop culture and has to answer yes to the following three questions in order to pass.
When you apply the test, even to your favourite films, films you would swear blind were progressive and feminist and nuanced, it’s amazing how many fail. One of the most lucrative franchises of the past decade, Harry Potter, dismally fails the Bechdel test. Does this mean that we need to strike Potter off the reading list, do away with him in a book burning frenzy, lead a feminist charge against him? Of course not. It’s a wonderful tale about good versus evil, morality, friendship and the quest to try and do what is right rather than what is easy. But because it features an eponymous hero who is male – and this is key – there would never have been any question of its universal appeal.
Harry Potter can be read by all people, because his gender is irrelevant. He can tell a universal tale, because the tales of men are seen to be universally interesting. Unlike stories about women, you don’t need to have any kind of special qualification to read about men. You don’t need any niche experience, or interest in the peripheral affairs of some strange subset of humans whose stories would probably hold very little interest for you given you don’t have their weird genetic makeup.
If Rowling – an author who abbreviated her name in part to remove the stigma of connecting the idea of femaleness to a book that was supposed to be for everyone – had written a book about Harriet Potter, a witch who saved the world, would it have had anywhere near as much universal appeal?
Of course not. Everyone knows that the main pirates are all boys.
Of the 12 films to win Academy Awards for Best Picture since 2000, only two pass the Bechdel Test. Our culture is so little interested in women’s participation that we fail to see the problem with rewarding art about the breadth and depth of the human experience that doesn’t even feature them.
When Jennifer Kessler, founder of the website The Hathor Legacy, a discussion of women in print and film, wrote the following about studying script writing at UCLA:
‘My scripts had multiple women with names. Talking to each other. About something other than men. That, my lecturers explained nervously, was not okay. I asked why. At first I got several tentative murmurings about how it distracted from the flow or point of the story. I went through this with more than one professor, more than one industry professional. Finally, I got one blessedly telling explanation from an industry pro: “The audience doesn’t want to listen to a bunch of women talking about whatever it is women talk about.”’
You might argue that this is oversensitivity on mine and Kessler’s part, that we’re trying to see things that aren’t there.
Well, we’re certainly expecting little kids to see things that aren’t there to save us from having to show them. In 2011, Disney Pixar released a movie about a girl trapped in a tower for 18 years with only 70 feet of golden hair to keep her company. Everyone knows this story. Everyone knows that it’s called Rapunzel. But Disney Pixar announced early on that it would be changing the title of the story to the less female-centric Tangled. Ed Catmull, president of Disney Animation Studios, said, ‘We did not want to be put in a box. Some people might assume it’s a fairytale for girls when it’s not. We make movies to be appreciated and loved by everybody.’
Equality is perceived as a loss.
What Catmull’s saying here is that if you make people think it’s a movie about a girl, they’ll think it’s a movie only FOR girls. Because why would boys be interested in watching a story that has nothing to do with them? The marketing campaign for Tangled emphasised the role of the male lead as sharing the spotlight with Rapunzel.
In their research, the Institute found that films with more than one woman working in a position of director of resulted featured significantly more women in speaking roles than films with a heavy male production quota. But of the 13 senior crew working on Tangled – the directors, the writers, the producers, the music composer and the film editor – only one was a woman, Aimee Scribner, an associate producer. And consider this: Tangled, one of the few films across any target bracket whose protagonist was a girl (in 2011, women accounted for only 11% of lead protagonists in mainstream cinema, DOWN 5% from a decade earlier) also features 35 other speaking roles. Of those total 36 speaking roles, only 12 are female. Of the ten speaking roles with actual names, only two are female.
And Disney was so concerned that this film would appear too female-centric that they not only changed the title, but repackaged the marketing to assure boys that there would be something in it for them.
When you are shown repeatedly that you are only worth taking up a certain amount of space in the cultural dialogue, you’ll start to believe that you have no right to ask for more. To have real equality, we need to be equally represented. Our opinions need to be thought of as equally important. Our expertise needs to be equally sought out as worthy and meaningful.
Equality? Hardly. Everyone knows that all the main pirates are boys. And equality is perceived as a loss.
In this week’s Lunchbox/Soapbox, From Prim to Poledance, Michelle Smith will look at girls, sex and popular culture. Take your lunch break at the Wheeler Centre on Thursday, from 12.45pm to 1.15pm.
In the tradition of the Ryan Gosling ‘Hey Girl’ meme, lovestruck conservative ladies have started a tribute Tumblr dedicated to blue-eyed Catholic boy Paul Ryan, aka the Republican vice-presidential candidate. No matter which side of the political divide you fall on, you have to admit it’s pretty funny.
In last night’s event, we asked, Has America Finally Gone Mad? Here’s some evidence that it has – and that we’re actually pretty lucky to have our compulsory voting system, which makes it tough to edge anyone out of the process, with suspicious loopholes like the one Sarah Silverman points out (in typically hilarious style) in the below video. (Language warning applies.)
It seems that laws in some states require voter ID with a photograph and an address (like a driver’s license) before someone can vote. Student IDs, veteran cards and senior cards are often ineligible – though gun licenses are perfectly valid. (Hence, the argument for getting Nana a gun.)
To mark the release of Zadie Smith’s new novel, NW, Brainpickings has republished her ten rules of writing. There are some gems in there, including this one:
Don’t romanticise your ‘vocation’. You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no ‘writer’s lifestyle’. All that matters is what you leave on the page
The Philippines has a population of 92 million people but fewer than 700 public libraries. And despite a 1994 act pledging ‘reading centres around the country’, books are a luxury few can afford. Enter 60-year-old Guanlao, who operates a ‘no rules’ library out of his Manila home. Eager readers can borrow or keep the books from his collection of thousands, which ranges from crime paperbacks to technical manuals and fashion magazines. Guanlao takes books into other neighbourhoods on a specially adapted bike and has helped friends set up similar schemes in ten other neighbourhoods.
The new film adaptation of Wuthering Heights, by UK filmmaker Andrea Arnold, has cast black actor James Howson in the role of ultimate romantic hero Heathcliff, described in the book as ‘a dark-skinned gipsy in aspect’. This is clearly not a departure from the 1847 novel, though the casting is a departure from previous film versions, where Heathcliff has been played by actors like Ralph Fiennes and Laurence Olivier. Arnold says, ‘I think it’s very clear that he wasn’t white. I think his difference was certainly very important in my story and very important in the book.’
Hollywood icon Clint Eastwood gave a memorable performance at the Republican convention last Thursday. But he was thoroughly upstaged by his co-star: an empty chair.
Eastwood spoke to the chair – and an imaginary Obama – for much of his speech. ‘Obama’ seemed in a cantankerous mood: he told Eastwood to shut up more than once and, it seems, asked him to tell Mitt Romney to perform sexual acts on himself.
Eastwood’s message (when not bantering with the chair) was that, with 23 million people unemployed, ‘possibly it may be time for someone else to come along and solve the problem’. Bizarrely, he suggested that lawyers shouldn’t be presidents. ‘It’s time for maybe a businessman.’ Perhaps he forgot that Romney has a law degree.
‘Politicians are employees of ours,’ he said. ‘When somebody does not do the job, we’ve got to let them go.’
The internet has exploded in response to the speech: #eastwooding has become a trending topic on Twitter, with thousands tweeting photos of themselves with (or berating) empty chairs. Even Obama himself got in on the action, tweeting a photo of himself in a chair with ‘This seat’s taken’.
Obama was unfussed by Eastwood’s speech; he says he’s still a fan. ‘He is a great actor, and an even better director.’ Asked if he was offended, he said, ‘One thing about being president or running for president – if you’re easily offended, you should probably choose another profession.’
It’s fair to say that while the Romney campaign was delighted to have the support and endorsement of such an icon (one who was a politician himself – Eastwood was mayor of Carmel, California for two years) – it didn’t quite work out as they’d hoped. But while the star’s performance met with mostly ridicule and amusement, it won’t hurt people’s perceptions of Romney and it’s unlikely to hurt him.
The big misstep of Eastwood’s chair act is the way it dominated coverage of the Republican convention and completely overshadowed Romney’s speech.
The most retweeted tweet of the campaign was Obama’s ‘This chair’s taken’, at 51,400 times. Romney’s top tweet of the convention was, ‘Our economy runs on freedom, not government. It’s time we put our faith back in the American people’, retweeted about about 4,800 times.
Left-wing comedian Bill Maher, a financial supporter of Obama, gave props to Eastwood for his performance. ‘As a performer, as a stand-up comedian for 30 years who knows how hard it is to get laughs, excuse me, he went up there … without a net, on a tightrope. There was no teleprompter. He did a bit with just an empty chair and killed,’ he said. ‘He committed to it, it was consistent and it worked.’
Roger Ebert, long-time film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, also defended Eastwood, in a fascinating column. ‘It takes brass balls to ad-lib for 12 minutes in front of 30 million people on live TV, just working with yourself and an empty chair.’
After watching the Eastwood speech several times, I believe that what we saw was a combination of two speeches: (1) Clint delivering what was intended as ironic wit, and (2) his half-hearted attempt to recycle some of the “talking points” we now know the GOP staff pumped him with backstage. Speech One was a miscalculation and Speech Two contained some of the right words floating in a muddled void.
At the end of the speech, Eastwood says, Okay, you want to make my day? in an offhand manner, teasing the crowd with his famous punchline. ‘I’ll start it, you finish it,’ he says. ‘Go ahead …’
And they chant, as one, MAKE MY DAY.
Clint Eastwood has made a lot of people’s day recently. But, just possibly, he hasn’t had the best couple of days himself. He’s not giving interviews and has said that the next interview he gives will be about his forthcoming film – that, and nothing else.
This week, we’ll be celebrating Melbourne’s arts festivals at the Wheeler Centre Dailies.
Today, we interview Michelle Carey, artistic director of the Melbourne International Film Festival, finding out from the source what it’s like to put the programme together, what the highlights are – and what we can expect from literary highlights like the film of Christos Tsiolkas’s Dead Europe and the series of Illustrated Film Talks on Charles Dickens and Film.
What’s your favourite thing about programming the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF)?
I just love watching films – I am forever inspired by filmmakers and cinema, as art, as entertainment and as a pedagogic experience. I also love putting together a kaleidoscopic mosaic of genres and styles for Melburnians to explore!
What’s your biggest challenge in programming the festival?
The scale of it makes it an incredibly huge undertaking to mount – a year-round endeavour. It is just so big and unpredictable. This is a challenge, but also the thing that makes it such an adrenaline rush. With 430 sessions, there is more margin for error and it doesn’t matter how much you plan – spanners are always thrown into the works from unpredictable directions.
We know this is a bit like asking you to choose your favourite child, but … what are some of the films (or programming strands) at this year’s festival that you’re most looking forward to?
I love the curated spotlights and this year there are so many great ones. The Swedish strand is incredibly diverse and we have some great guests here for that. The Latin American strand (Through the Labyrinth) has me dying to visit South America; there is really something for everyone there. I always love documentaries and of course, the retrospectives. The middle weekend. We have some great new Australian films too – including Save Your Legs! (in our centrepiece gala), Dead Europe, Mental (our closing night film) and all the shorts films, for a very different experience.
Your opening night film this year was The Sapphires, the Australian film about four Aboriginal girls who are branded Australia’s answer to the Supremes, and who tour Vietnam to entertain the troops. What made you choose it to open the festival?
It was a no-brainer: just such a joyous colourful film, with real heart and a brilliant cast. Finding the right opening (and closing) film is one of the most difficult parts of the job – it is under such close scrutiny, with so many disparate groups of people to please, and sets the tone for the whole festival.
One film Wheeler Centre audiences will be particularly interested in is Dead Europe, the film of Christos Tsiolkas’s award-winning novel. Can you give us a taste of what to expect from this film?
Tony Krawitz is perfectly suited to adapt a Christos Tsiolkas novel. He is from the same generation and like Christos, is very socially aware with a very strong artistic style, one that favours gritty realism over shiny artifice. I have yet to read the novel, but from what I can tell, the film is different in terms of scale – it hones in on one part of the story in particular. But I will leave it for the expectant viewers to make up their own minds. Ewan Leslie and Kodi Smit-McPhee in particular are brilliant in it. I love it!!
Former British Film Institute and London Film Festival director Adrian Wootton will be presenting a series of Illustrated Film Talks, focusing on Charles Dickens and Film, to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the author’s birthday. What can we expect from these talks?
I could listen to Adrian Wootton read the phone book, and not just because of that lovely accent! He is an incredibly articulate and film (and book) literate man, who presents film history in a very accessible and direct style. He has a huge passion for Dickens and especially film and television adaptations of Dickens. In talking with him, I was stunned to learn just how many Dickens adaptations there have been since the beginning of cinema. Definitely a lot to learn in these lectures and I am sure they will be very entertaining.
What’s your favourite film (or director) of all time – and why?
This is very hard to answer, but I would have to say Jean-Luc Godard. As an impressionable teenager, seeing his work transferred me from a film appreciator to a film obsessive. His works undoubtedly reward repeated viewings. They are fascinating and enjoyable in themselves, but also portals to countless monumental (and lesser known) works of art, literature, music, other films. Like Dostoevsky, his is an infinitely questioning world that reveals new ideas with each visit.
Film reviewer Anthony Morris responds to Bruce Guthrie’s recent suggestion that violent films might cause real-life violence. He argues that if you’re looking for answers to the Colorado killings in your local movie theatre or on your television screen, you’re looking in the wrong place.
In the 15 or so years since I started reviewing movies professionally, I have been in exactly one fight. Not that you could call it a fight: a man who’d been behaving erratically at the train station I was at suddenly ran up to me and punched me in the face without saying a word, before just as quickly running off. I was too surprised – and later, too busy bleeding from my nose – to try and chase him.
My reaction (or lack thereof) may come as a surprise to you if you read ‘Biting the Bullet’, Bruce Guthrie’s most recent column in the Fairfax papers on the weekend. In the wake of the recent shootings at a Colorado cinema, he argued, ‘any intelligent person would have to at least acknowledge the possibility that some violent films could cause violence’.
Going by Guthrie’s logic, the vast number of violent acts I’ve seen on the big screen over those 15 years should have inspired me to instantly throw my assailant in front of an on-coming train – or better yet, wait until the train had come to a stop, then used the doors to scissor his head off. I’ve seen all that and more take place on-screen – what stopped me from acting out what I’d seen?
The obvious answer is that, despite a decade and a half spent watching over 250 movies a year, I’m not a murderous lunatic. Or as Guthrie calls them, ‘some people’. (As in, ‘are filmmakers too quick to depict violence without any thought of the effect these scenes might be having on some people?’) You know he doesn’t mean people who dress up as Na’vi from Avatar, either.
Trouble is, if simple moving images on a screen can set ‘some people’ off, then clearly pretty much anything can set them off: the Bible, a bad relationship, being cut off in traffic. And if that’s the case, why are we only blaming movies? When a parent acts up at their child’s sporting match or a coach punches a hole in a wall of the coaching box, we’re rightly appalled and concerned … about the person involved. No one says ‘any intelligent person would have to at least acknowledge the possibility that some violent sports could cause violence’. America’s seen plenty of workplace shootings over the years; no one seems to be worried that workplaces might be turning people violent.
Having revealed that it’s only ‘some people’ at risk of being turned into killers by movies, Guthrie decides that ‘surely it is time for another discussion about whether the entertainment industry is fuelling, rather than just reflecting, societal violence’. Considering western society has been getting less day-to-day violent since the invention of movies (while presumably movies have only been getting more violent since the Lumiere brothers), this shouldn’t take long.
To have a proper discussion though, first we need to agree on what we’re talking about. For starters, how do you define ‘violence’ on film? A film might contain a scene of brutality and then spend 90 minutes showing the devastating results in such a way that it’s obvious that violence is a horrific, appalling thing (Boys Don’t Cry). A film might contain a scene of violence that society considers perfectly acceptable to depict in a positive way (The Passion of the Christ). A film might contain a scene of violence that’s obviously being played for laughs (The Three Stooges). Which is the bad kind of violence? ‘If a story needs an arsenal of weapons and a litany of killings to be told, then perhaps it’s not worth telling,’ Guthrie says. There goes coverage of Anzac Day.
But it seems narrative and context isn’t really what matters here, because for Guthrie movies exist solely to push emotional buttons: ‘we accept the proposition that a TV ad can influence behaviour – in fact, an entire multibillion-dollar industry is built on that very premise,’ he writes. ‘So there must exist the possibility that a 165-minute film carefully plotted, planned and executed to press all kinds of emotional buttons could quite possibly affect people’s actions.’
This sounds like it makes sense, except for one thing: that’s not how advertising actually works. Advertising doesn’t create desires out of nothing. Rather, it seeks to shape and exploit desires we already have. The goal with a fast food commercial isn’t to drive you instantly out of your house shrieking with hunger and racing manically for a specific burger joint. It’s that next time you feel hungry, you’ll think of the burger joint you saw advertised and – hopefully – stop off there.
Movies don’t advertise murder, because murder isn’t a product they’re trying to sell. Why would they? Having your audience end up dead or in jail is a pretty poor business strategy. Murder is part of the story they’re trying to tell, alongside human kindness, the value of friendship, helping those less fortunate, finding someone to love and dozens of other positive elements. Those sinister ‘some people’ who see only murder in movies have problems that go a lot deeper than their choice of evening viewing.
Guthrie’s solution to the concerns he raises is as difficult to follow as the rest of his article. ‘I don’t want more censorship or regulation,’ he writes, ‘just good old common sense and sensitivity.’ The question is, who’s going to define this ‘common sense’?
Clearly, Guthrie and I disagree on what is common sense as far as violent films are concerned, and no doubt many film-makers would also disagree with him. Without imposing the evils of censorship and regulation that Guthrie deplores, they’re just going to keep making the movies that Guthrie also deplores.
Maybe it’d be easier to just call for tighter controls on guns?
Anthony Morris has been writing about films for the last 15 years. He writes regularly for Empire magazine, among other publications, and is the DVD editor of the Big Issue.
We share our favourite internet reads and discoveries over the past week
The New York Times has reported that the French are doing things differently (as is their habit) when it comes to bookshops. Bookshops aren’t closing there; instead, they seem to be booming. From 2003 to 2011, book sales in France increased by 6.5 percent. ‘There are two things you don’t throw out in France – bread and books,’ said Bernard Fixot, owner and publisher of French publishing house XO.
Looking deeper, what’s saving bookshops (and books) in France is government intervention, with the prices of French-language print and ebooks fixed. While French-language bookshops are doing fine, the Parisian English language bookshop Village Voice, which has hosted everyone from David Sedaris to Mary McCarthy, has recently closed its doors.
It’s the ultimate hipster accessory: Vulture has made print-out paper dolls for the cast of Girls. Fans can now get their Hannah, Marnie, Shoshanna and Jessa fix while they’re waiting for Season 2. The dolls come with fun (paper) accessories like Shoshanna’s ‘just smoked crack’ face, Hannah’s bare chest, diary and memoir manuscript and Marnie’s assortment of overbearing gifts from Charlie.
For hipsters who’ve graduated to having kids, there’s a whole new world of toy fun. Buzzfeed has compiled a list of essential toys for hipster kids, including a Fisher Price record player (or ‘phonograph’), a scarily hip dollhouse, an assemble-yourself acoustic guitar made of sustainable wood and a plush moustache.
In The American Prospect, a fan revisits Louisa May Alcott’s much-loved Little Women and discovers a subversive element to this moral tale, and the intriguing contradictions between a story that ends traditionally, in children and marriage – and the author’s alternative trajectory, finding fulfilment in literary fame. There’s much background information here on how Louisa May Alcott came to write the Little Women books and on her complex relationship with her eccentric father, Bronson Alcott.
Little Women is brutal, a ferocious wolf dressed up in the curly white sermons and sentimental homilies of children’s stories. Though full of references to a kind and loving father, its fundamental faith lies not in God but in books: in life as a literary construct. It is a great and complicated work, Louisa May Alcott’s American response to English writers like Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters who had posed similar questions about life and love and ambition.
This year’s annual Woody Allen offering, To Rome with Love, is about to hit cinemas. And he’s back on the screen in this one, though he’s given the ‘Woody Allen’ role to an actor surrogate (Jesse Eisenberg). Flavorwire have created a video mash-up of Woody’s surrogates over the years, from the child actors playing young Woody in flashbacks to the likes of Owen Wilson, John Cusack, Kenneth Branagh, Larry David and Michael J. Fox.
Ten years ago, Stephen Spielberg called a summit of top science and technology thinkers to an ‘ideas summit’, where they were invited to share their thoughts on what society might look like in 50 years. It was in preparation for the film Minority Report, which eventually featured ubiquitous iris recognition technology (used in place of ID and to personally tailor billboard ads at passersby), self-driving cars, ‘predictive’ policing, ‘sick stick’ police batons that can make you spontaneously throw up, and – of course – jetpacks. Wired looks at how close we are to making ten of these technologies real.
And there’s also a fascinating interview with many of those who were at the ideas summit, recalling how it went down. Screenwriter Scott Frank remembers, ‘These are some of the brightest people in the country and they’re helping us make a movie. I couldn’t get over it.’
The talk of Twitter today is the surprising announcement that HBO rejected the pilot for the planned series of Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections. Not only does The Corrrections have that rare combination of popular appeal and critical acclaim, but the pilot was adapted and directed by Noah Baumbach, with a cast that included Dianne Wiest, Ewan McGregor and Maggie Gyllenhaal. Opportunity missed?
To cheer you up with some good news, here are some upcoming literary screen projects on their way:
Charlie Kaufman will adapt The Knife of Letting Go, the first book in Patrick Ness’s YA trilogy Chaos Walking. A meeting of two great writers with strong cult followings; sure to be something worth seeing.
Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman are set to co-star as macho literary lion Ernest Hemingway and his feisty second wife Martha Gellhorn, a legendary war correspondent, in Hemingway and Gellhorn. Interesting casting.
The first pictures from Ang Lee’s forthcoming film of The Life of Pi were recently released. The film co-stars Gerard Depardieu, Adolfo Celi, Irrfan Khan, Adil Hussain and Tobey Maguire as the film’s narrator. The release date is December 2012.
Keira Knightley and Jude Law will star in Anna Karenina, with a screenplay by Tom Stoppard. Director Joe Wright worked with Knightley in previous literary adaptations Atonement and Pride and Prejudice. Release is slated for November 2012.
Peter Jackson’s long-awaited The Hobbit will finally be released on Boxing Day 2012.
Scarlett Johansson will make her directorial debut with an adaptation of Truman Capote’s posthumously published novella, Summer Crossing. Her role will be strictly behind the camera, not in front of it.
And Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, filmed in Australia, will hit cinemas in January 2013.
Fans and sceptics alike will enjoy this chuckle-worthy breakdown of a typical Murakami novel. there’s cats, classical music, bizarre dream sequences and jazz. It’s all there; the only thing to disagree about is the percentages. Personally, we think 25% cats may be overstating it a bit.
Three years ago, architect and blogger John Bertram ran a competition asking designers to come up a better cover for Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, a novel that has been often misinterpreted as portraying a teenage sexpot and seducer. ‘We are talking about a novel which has child rape at its core,’ says Bertram, who challenged the designers to do justice to its dark complexities. The competition has spawned its own book, with 60 new designs. A Salon article shares a few of them.
We all know that The Hunger Games is the new Twilight, which was the new Harry Potter. When books strike such a chord with such a broad and populous fan base, they usually says as much about our culture – and the fears, desires, fantasies or questions it’s tapping into – as it does about the book or its author. On the eve of The Hunger Games movie, Salon’s Andrew O'Heihr takes a deeper look.
‘The Hunger Games taps into a vibrant current of pop culture and indeed of Western civilization in general, one that never really runs dry. It’s the idea that our species remains cruel and barbarous at heart, that the strong will always rule the weak by whatever means necessary, and that our collective obsession with sports and games and other forms of manufactured entertainment is a flimsy mask for sadism and voyeurism.’
Ten years after Fast Food Nation was published, Eric Schlosser reflects on what’s changed and what hasn’t. It’s sobering. He reports that the annual revenues of America’s fast-food industry have risen by about 20 per cent since 2001. The annual cost of the nation’s obesity epidemic (‘about $168 billion’) is, alarmingly, the same as the amount Americans spent on fast food in 2011. And in 2008, 143 million pounds of meat (one fourth of it purchased for federal school lunch and nutrition programs) had to be recalled.
On the other hand, there is a significant growth in those who are embracing a new food culture, championed by the likes of Alice Waters and recent Wheeler Centre guest Jamie Oliver, involving farmers' markets, organic food and school gardens. ‘The contrast between the thin, fit, and well-to-do and the illness-ridden, poor and obese has no historical precent,’ writes Schlosser, in a piece published by The Daily Beast.
Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City is now officially middle-aged: the series celebrates its 35th birthday this year. To mark the occasion, Maupin – whose life was so entwined with his stories that he used Michael Tolliver’s coming-out letter to his parents to come out to his own – has written a gorgeous reflective piece for the Guardian. He was often at odds with his editors over his insistence that ‘gay folks’ were part of the human landscape and deserved equal billing in his chronicle of modern life. ‘One of them even kept an elaborate chart in his office to insure that the homo characters in Tales didn’t suddenly outnumber the hetero ones and thereby undermine the natural order of civilisation.’
We share five of our favourite links to news, reviews or articles that we’ve discovered over the past week.
Fans of Game of Thrones, the series based on George R.R. Martin’s novels, shouldn’t miss eyeballing the medieval feast staged to celebrate the DVD release. But they might want to miss out on actually eating it. Complete with bloodied pigs’ heads, ‘eyeballs’ and ‘dragon’s eggs’ drizzled with liquid gold, it’s a feast for the eyes, but not one that will necessarily work up an appetite.
Rachel Cusk’s latest memoir, Aftermath, about her separation from her husband of ten years, includes lines like, ‘My husband said he wanted half of everything, including the children. No, I said … They’re my children … They belong to me.’ Cusk caused a scandal – and spawned the ‘mummy memoir’ genre – with her brutally self-analytical memoir of early motherhood, A Life’s Work, in 2001. She sharply divided critics, who either loved or hated her for laying bare the dark side of motherhood. The Guardian says of Aftermath (April): ‘She has again mined her life and told of her experience of being a woman, in a Read the extract and make up your own mind.
Stephen Colbert is making bookish news this week, after a gag during a two-part interview with Maurice Sendak (which he began by saying ‘I don’t like children or books or children’s books’) has turned into a book deal. After pitching an idea for a sequel, While the Wild Things Are: Still Wildin’ (starring Vin Diesel), Colbert joked he was writing a picture-book-in-verse, I Am a Pole (and So Can You!) and read a preview aloud. Sendak, who told Colbert that most children’s books are ‘very bad’, admitted, ‘The sad thing is, I like it.’ So did Grand Central Publishing, who has signed him up, with a publication date of 8 May 2012. ‘It’s been a lifelong dream of mine to write a children’s book,’ said Colbert. ‘I hope the minutes you and your loved ones spend reading it are as fulfilling as the minutes I spent writing it.’
Wondering what to read this year? Readings’ Martin Shaw has asked a handful of Australian writers to share the books they’re most looking forward to in 2012 for a series of posts for Kill Your Darlings. Nam Le is looking forward to new books from Chloe Hooper, Hilary Mantel and Richard Ford – and the second novel from Rachel Kushner. And there were multiple mentions of Texts in the City host Ruby Murray’s first novel, Running Dogs (Scribe, May) and Paddy O’Reilly’s Fine Colour of Rust (Harper Collins, March), which will be released simultaneously in Australia and the UK. Israeli comic short-story writer Etgar Keret, who will be appearing at the Wheeler Centre next month, also earned a nod for his new collection Suddenly a Knock at the Door, which got a rave review in last weekend’s Australian.
In the lead-up to this week’s Oscars, the Independent talked to five novelists about their books’ transitions from page to screen. Kaui Hurt Hemmings, author of The Descendants, said director Alexander Payne ‘met my whole family, and they all ended up being in the movie’. He said, ‘Almost every line of dialogue was right out of the book, every sequence, the music I’d mentioned, the clothes they wore, the places they went to.’ Lionel Shriver thinks Lynne Ramsay’s movie of We Need to Talk About Kevin is ‘rather wonderful’, though ‘the movie does lean towards Kevin being evil from birth, whereas that’s more up for grabs in the novel’. Fay Weldon, however, enjoyed the money for the rights to her book The Life and Loves of a She Devil, but says the movie (starring Roseanne Barr and Meryl Streep) ‘missed the point entirely’. She’d still do it again, though.
We began our Monday morning at the Wheeler Centre with a bit of a giggle, after stumbling on a very funny website that brings literary characters to (startlingly) real life.
The creator of The Composites has gone through some of literature’s most beloved books – and run passages describing their characters through police composite sketch software. The results are very different from Hollywood imaginings of the same characters.
Flaubert described Emma Bovary thus:
She was pale all over, white as a sheet; the skin of her nose was drawn at the nostrils, her eyes looked at you vaguely. After discovering three grey hairs on her temples, she talked much of her old age…Her eyelids seemed chiseled expressly for her long amorous looks in which the pupil disappeared, while a strong inspiration expanded her delicate nostrils and raised the fleshy corner of her lips, shaded in the light by a little black down.
Here is Emma Bovary, as imagined by The Composites:
And here she is, as imagined by Hollywood in 1949 (played by Jennifer Jones):
And by the BBC in 2000 (played by Frances O’Connor):
This clever little exercise by The Composites is a bit of fun, but it’s also a stark illustration of the issues that can arise in translating the world of the page – which leaves gaps for the reader’s imagination – to the visual realm.
What’s a more faithful translation: the strict adherence to details that results in the eerie police sketches of The Composites, or those of film and television makers? The latter tend to present unusually attractive versions of even the most ordinary characters – using props such as messy hair, sloppy cardigans, glasses or unflattering make-up to signal that they’re supposed to be ordinary mortals.
So, a literary character made flesh is almost always more glamorous than the version on the page. But then again, Emma Bovary is an attractive, charismatic woman – not reflected at all in the strangely empty composite sketch, but captured in the screen versions. It’s the essence of the character rather than their physical description that’s most important, surely?
One of the most controversial literary casting decisions of recent times was that to cast British-Nigerian actor Sophie Okonedo as Aisha in The Slap. This meant her character’s background was changed from Indian to Mauritian. Some fans of the book protested, but author Christos Tsiolkas was unbothered. What mattered for Tsiolkas, said producer Robert Connolly, was that ‘Aisha regards herself as an outsider to mainstream Australia, a common bond that links her to Hector and his close-knit Greek family’. And she did a brilliantly job of capturing ‘Aisha’. Carbon-copy looks had little to do with it.
As The Slap writer Kris Myrska told the Wheeler Centre, translation from literature (or real life) to the screen often has nothing to do with upping the glamour quotient – decisions can be made for practical reasons, like how difficult a scene is to shoot. Also a writer on The King, the telemovie about the life of Graeme Kennedy, Myrska said complaints made about the ‘accuracy’ of that show included that Kennedy was depicted drinking brown spirits, when he preferred white. Why? ‘Clear fluid reads as water on the screen, while brown liquid says booze.’
In Moneyball, an adaptation of Michael Lewis’s non-fiction book, similar casting decisions were made for practical reasons. Jonah Hill plays Peter Brand, whose real-life counterpart, Paul DePodesta, asked to have his name changed for the movie. The real-life DePodesta looks nothing like the chubby, child-like Hill; he’s lean and handsome. And far from being an Ivy League baseball outsider (like Hill’s character), he started his career as an advance scout for the Cleveland Indians. But the script – and the casting decision – made changes to amp up the dramatic contrast with Brad Pitt’s golden boy Billy Beane. ‘I was jarred by it when I first heard it, and then I thought, “My god, it could be brilliant,”’ Michael Lewis told Hollywood Reporter. ‘[Jonah Hill] is physically so unlike everybody else in this environment that it has a metaphoric power and it works brilliantly. His performance is spectacular.’
Sometimes it’s the other way round. What works on the page doesn’t ring true when translated too faithfully to the screen. Reviewing Stephen Daldry’s adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close in the New Yorker recently, David Denby made just this point. He called the film, about a bright 11-year-old boy coping with his father’s 9/11 death in his own eccentric fashion, ‘an example of what happens when an author’s fluent literary conceits give way to the sight of all-too-human people moving and talking in the real-world spaces of a movie’:
‘Onscreen … the sound of a hyper-articulate boy talking semi-nonsense becomes very hard to take … Embodied, Oskar is a pain. After a while, we find ourselves thinking not of grief but of entitled kids who have been praised for every bright remark they’ve ever made.’
Of course, not everyone agrees with Denby – the film is nominated for Best Picture in this year’s Oscars race. Six of nine nominees in the category are literary adaptations.
And it’s been suggested recently that, in the wake of The Slap’s success, more screen adaptations could provide a much-needed boost to Australian books.
It seems that, for all its issues, the relationship between page and screen is more popular than ever.
In a nice departure from the traditional Australia Day focus on flags and sporting heroes, The Sunday Age has marked the lead-up to the occasion with an editorial decrying our ‘tendency to anti-intellectualism’.
It lamented the fact that Australia’s ‘great writers, artists, soldiers, politicians and scientists … take second place to footballers, cricketers, swimmers and tennis players’.
‘As we approach Australia Day and make our plans for the beach or the backyard, it’s worth reflecting on what we are losing through this neglect of our classics. They are our stories written in our voices, and give us specific clues as to how we became the country we are today.’
In an opinion piece published alongside the editorial, Michael Heyward, publisher of Text Publishing, argued that while Australia has come a long way in recent decades when it comes to valuing and celebrating our homegrown authors, we ‘seem not to care’ about the great authors and books of our past, neglecting to keep them in print and to consistently teach them in our universities.
‘Those of us who choose and influence what people might read – publishers, professors, teachers, journalists, commentators, editors – have done a lamentable job of curating the primary materials of our literary history,’ wrote Heyward.
He said it will take ‘all kinds of effort’ to change both publishing and academic cultures. Increased adaption of Australian novels to film and television was one proposed solution, while he also suggested that the rise of the eBook ‘may liberate some writers from the dungeons of neglect’.
Text will release a new series, Text Australian Classics, in 2012, featuring titles such as David Ireland’s (currently out of print) The Glass Canoe, winner of the 1976 Miles Franklin Award, as well as earlier works by current favourites such as Kate Grenville and Peter Temple.
It’s not the first time Text has dabbled in resurrecting neglected works of Australian writing. In 2009, Madeleine St John’s debut novel The Women in Black (1993) – never before published in Australia, though set in Sydney – was published in a handsome new edition, packaged with accolades from much-loved Australians like Barry Humphries, Helen Garner and Clive James. The novel, a sharp-witted, affectionate portrait of a group of women working in the ladies department of a store much like David Jones, was embraced by both critics and readers; it was followed by new editions of St John’s subsequent novels.
The endorsement of a popular writer was also integral to the recent renewal of interest in Christina Stead, after The Man Who Loved Children (1940) was given a rave review by Jonathan Franzen in The New York Times. Melbourne University Press published a new edition, with a stylish cover and introduction by Franzen, shortly afterwards. This was followed by new editions of Letty Fox: Her Luck (with a foreword by Carmen Callil) and For Love Alone (with a foreword by Drusilla Modjeska).
Stylish new editions and canny endorsements or introductions designed to lure new readers seem to be an integral (and, it seems, effective) part of the publisher’s bag of tricks when relaunching forgotten or neglected classics – literally making the old new again.
Another Australian classic, Kenneth Cook’s Wake in Fright (1961), enjoyed a resurgence thanks to these tricks (an introduction by Peter Temple and afterword by David Stratton) when the 1971 film was restored and re-released in 2009. The film attracted a wave of media coverage and allowed an accompanying film tie-in edition (again, from Text Publishing, who had also published a 1993 edition).
Barbara Creed, head of culture and communications at the University of Melbourne, told The Age that she agreed with Heyward about the need for more Australian novels on the screen. She said, ‘Whenever a novel is adapted to screen … there is a boost in sales of the book as a result.’
Creed also said that a dedicated Australian literature course was back on the university’s syllabus this year. Last year, a group of students had started their own Australian literature studies, in the absence of such a subject. (‘An unusual situation,‘ Creed said.)
This enthusiasm from students so actively keen to steep themselves in Australian writing is, at least, a good sign.
The Wheeler Centre will run a free series of ten events entitled ‘Australian Literature 101' from next month. Details will be released, along with our February-April programme in full, next Friday 3 February.
Is it too soon? Just 11 years after it was first brought to screen, Bret Easton Ellis' novel American Psycho is set to be remade. Variety reported last week that Lionsgate has a remake of the film in the early stages of development. The news prompted Ellis to tweet, “I have warned Lionsgate that I will not approve a new version of "American Psycho” unless it stars SCOTT DISICK or MILES FISHER.“ Watch the video of Bret Easton Ellis' 2010 appearance at the Wheeler Centre.
Meanwhile, not-so-young adults who enjoy reading young adult fiction – and there are a lot of us who do – may recognise themselves in a new film starring Charlize Theron. Written by Juno writer Diablo Cody, Young Adult tells the story of the author of young adult novels who goes to great lengths to seduce her high school boyfriend, who’s now married with a young child. Here’s a glowing review of the film by a writer of young adult novels.
What would Shakespeare’s plays have looked like had they been published as kids' books? Maybe something like this.
The reviews are starting to come in on the film adaptation, by Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson, of The Adventures of Tintin: Secret of the Unicorn, the classic detective-adventure hero whose eponymous books have sold 350 million copies. Tintin’s creator was a Belgian artist, Georges Prosper Remi, who published under the pseudonym Hergé. He began improvising the the adventures of his eternally adolescent hero in 1929 at the tender age of just 22, although a mural discovered in 2007 of a Tintin-like Scout character called Totor drawn by a teenage Hergé indicates Tintin had long been on his mind.
Hergé’s boy’s-own plotting, pacing, characterisation, sense of humour and drawing style – an economic blend of the stylised and the realistic – proved popular. He continued to draw Tintin strips until his death in 1983, at times taking risks with the format’s generic conventions as audacious as his hero’s adventures. In The Castafiore Emerald (1962), for example, there is much action but there is no plot. And the final Tintin book drawn by Hergé, the unfinished Alph-Art, was a genre-defying exploration of the world of modern art.
The film is an adaptation of three Tintin books, The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure. Interestingly, these three titles were published between 1940 and 1943, in the midst of the second World War, when Belgium was occupied by Nazi Germany. The Crab with the Golden Claws was the first of six Tintin adventures written under the occupation. It was serialised in a French-language newspaper that was the official mouthpiece of the Nazis in Belgium during the war after the Germans closed the newspaper that had previously published Tintin. To avoid controversy, Hergé dropped his habit of scripting adventures based on current events and began using more exotic plot devices, such as the mystery and treasure hunt that animate The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham’s Treasure. Although his politics were on the whole humanist and mainstream, Tintin’s ideological tendencies varied from the anti-corporate left to the anti-Semitic far right. Anti-Semitic frames were originally published in the newspaper edition of The Shooting Star, another wartime Tintin adventure, but were later expunged in the book version.
After Belgium was liberated, Hergé was interrogated on suspicion of having been a collaborator. His defence was that he’d simply done his job, much like a plumber. Later, in a 1973 interview, he accepted more responsibility: “I recognize that I myself believed that the future of the West could depend on the New Order. For many, democracy had proved a disappointment, and the New Order brought new hope. In light of everything which has happened, it is of course a huge error to have believed for an instant in the New Order.”
Reviews of the film have been largely positive, praising its thrill-a-minute pacing. The Guardian’s Xan Brooks, on the other hand, had a quasi-existential reaction to the film, lamenting the lifelessness of the 3D characters on celluloid: “How curious that Hergé achieved more expression with his use of ink-spot eyes and humble line drawings than a bank of computers and an army of animators were able to achieve… There on the screen we see Hergé’s old and cherished protagonists, raised like Lazarus and made to scamper anew. But the spark is gone, their eyes are dusty, and watching their antics is like partying with ghosts. Turn away; don’t meet their gaze. When we stare into the void, the void stares back at us.”
Margaret Pomeranz and David Stratton, co-hosts of the ABC’s At the Movies, recently visited the Wheeler Centre to speak about the Elia Kazan film On the Waterfront, starring Marlon Brando, for our Texts in the City series. During their presentation, Stratton described the film as “nothing more or less than a justification for betraying your friends”.
In a profile of on the Waterfront’s director Elia Kazan published late in 2010, John Lahr wrote, “Between 1945 and 1962, onstage and on the screen, Kazan was, by his own admission, ‘the most successful director at work in America.’ A sort of entrepreneur of emotional complexity, he had a gift for releasing the articulate energy of actors and for turning psychology into behavior”.
Elia Kazan remains one of the most controversial figures in the history of cinema. He was undoubtedly one of Hollywood’s greatest and most influential directors. He was also willing to give testimony to the House Committee on Un-American Activities in 1952, identifying friends and colleagues he knew to have been members of the Communist Party, and destroying their careers in the process.
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