Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Guest Post

May 8, 2011

Just a note to say that my piece on the Great Ocean Walk has been posted on Roaming Tales, Caitlin Fitzsimmons’s fine blog – she’s had twins recently and has invited other writers to contribute pieces. It’s worth a look…

The death of Osama bin Ladin

May 2, 2011

I write on the night, as it happens, that Osama bin Ladin has been killed in his compound about 60kms from Islamabad, in a town, as I understand it, much used by the Pakistani military. Never mind that the compound had 3-6m high walls and, extraordinarily, (although it was clearly the home of a wealthy man) no internet or phone connection, never mind all the reasons why such a place would, one would have thought, attracted some suspicion in Pakistan sometime during the last six years since it was built, what astonishes me more are the people dancing in joy over his death. That, and the language used by our leaders, (“Tonight is a testament to the greatness of our country… we are reminded that America can do whatever we set our minds to,” posits Mr Obama.) The Americans have, so it seems, buried him at sea so that there can be no shrine to his death, but really what their language suggests is they wanted to cut off his head and put it on a pike outside the White House till the birds picked out his eyes. They wanted to hang his corpse at the crossroads until the world had seen the flesh fall from his bones. We appear to be trapped in some medieval world of violence here, a barbaric place far distant from civilisation. A place similar, perhaps, to that of the Afghanistan or the Taliban, with their ritual stonings.

Bin Ladin was, clearly, a murderer, and I neither question his guilt – he himself has laid claim to the deaths of thousands – nor do I mourn his death any more than I would mourn the death of Gaddafi, but neither do I proclaim it a Victory for Democracy. I do not dance in the street, my fingers held up in the churchillian sign for success. If asked I would have him brought back to America, or, better, to The Hague, for trial. Darkness falls on us all when we celebrate the killing of another in this manner; when we hear the sententious words of our own Prime Minister, welcoming his killing: “This is not the end of the War on Terror,” bringing to mind all those other meaningless and disastrous wars our betters have proclaimed over the last decade or so. Meanwhile we note that those doing the dancing are, by their pictures, young people who can hardly have any experience of this man’s evil. They appear to have been no more than ten years old when the Twin Towers fell. Wherefore now do they dance?

Julius Caesar

February 26, 2011

I can’t help myself. I see theatre company adverts for Shakespeare and I want to go. It’s something to do with ur-performances – the young Tom Courtney as Hamlet in Edinburgh when I was seventeen, or The Footsbarn Theatre’s Macbeth in Sydney in a tent, circa 1985 – these performances enact a deep subconscious pull towards the possibility of what these plays can be and might be again. And why not? The same urge presumably informs the companies that continue to put them on.

But oh, how often I am disappointed. Rarely as badly as I was by Brendan Cowell’s Hamlet, which dredged a new low in what is achievable from a major company, an interpretation in which he seemed to deliberately destroy every possible cadence of the words, ripping the heart out of the play until it was no more than a vainglorious slash-fest, a self-indulgent rant, leaving no room for the audience to relate to the characters. Enough to make even the most dedicated fan think twice about stumping up the fee.

What strikes me as little short of weird is how often directors fail to recognise that the essence of Shakespeare lies in the text. Not in the plot. Not in cleverly managed sets or lighting or elaborate costume. In the words alone. It is the words that we go for. To hear well-trained voices bring to life the lines. And yet, time after time, we find them cut to pieces, obscured by loud music or special effects.

Last night it was Julius Caesar at La Boite, in Brisbane. In the round. A brave production, one of the better, with some fine acting, but nonetheless marred by this same reluctance to give us the text of the play, to bathe us in language, to give us the great gouts of words that we crave to wash over us, never mind if we even understand them. What we get instead are songs and story, shaved of its reason for existence. As if the audience can no longer be trusted to sit through simple words but must needs be distracted with music and tricks of light.

Don’t get me wrong: this was a good performance, and if you are hungry for Shakespeare you will get good meat here, especially in the performances of Brutus, Marcus Antonius and Cassius, but there is still something missing. By the end I do not weep for Brutus. By the end he and Cassius and all their ambition (for which crime they so readily slew Caesar) moves me not.

Those ur-performances I mentioned before had one thing in common: bare stages, and an overwhelming respect for the text. When Macbeth knelt down to mourn his wife there was barely a dry eye in the audience, so engaged had we all become in his struggle. We had not been watching a Scottish king play out the politics of an ancient time in fancy words, we had watched a man such as ourselves come undone. We were riven by it.

I say it again for those directors who would listen. It is not the plots of these plays that interest us. It is how the men and women who enacted that history were driven to it. That is what we want brought alive before us. The means of it is in the text. Cast aside your gaudy lights, your fancy stages, your pop songs and clever devices. Speak well and speak strong. That will carry us.

(ps There was an odd choice made in this production where the two women in the company also played other leading male characters. Metellus had become Metella, Decius, Decia, Lepidus, Lepida. It didn’t work. It served as a distraction. This was a tale set amongst men who lived in a time in which they would not, could not, accept women as equals in valour. To ask us to pretend that they were otherwise undermines everything we know of them. However valiantly they were acted it made it hard for us to believe in them and those who would truck with them. This is not to say that in such an ensemble piece women should not take on the roles of men, only that in this case the women were playing women, and it is hard to imagine a woman as one of the actual murderers of Caesar, putting in the knife.)

Woolworthlessness. Not just in Maleny

August 11, 2010

photo by Colin Beard

The site is being cleared in Mullumbimby for the new Woolworths store. Perhaps it might be useful, then, as a reminder, to post a couple of photos from our own debacle, as well as a link to Mandy Nolan’s blog in the Byron Bay Echo. Here’s a taste:

‘The dozers are rolling into town. Woolworths has won. Turns out, that unlike the Bible story, this supermarket Goliath couldn’t be brought down by the stoned.

The state government has offered up Mullumbimby as the reluctant bride in an arranged marriage to be right royally buggered by the Fresh Food People. Our organic small town cherry is just another multi-national’s pavlova topper, another town’s hymen which needed to be broken so the mega profit making machines that drive economy could park their fat arses in our town.’

While we believe there are certain anatomical problems associated with this idea we agree with the sentiment. You can read the rest here

Picart and Bernard

June 17, 2010

In the early 1700s Bernard Picart and Jean Frederic Bernard produced a series of volumes entitled Religious Ceremonies of the World. The books were radical in a number of ways, not least in that they presented all religions as equal, being concerned to offer an insight into the ceremonies and practices of these religions rather than proposing any one as more important or correct than any other.

The June New York Review of Books contains an insightful review of a new book about Picart and Bernard, (here) but it also, fascinatingly, gives a link to the UCLA website where all the engravings by Picart are presented. This is an extraordinary resource: every picture from the more than seven volumes can be searched and then enlarged on screen so that the smallest detail is beautifully revealed. Treat yourself here.

Revisiting America’s steps towards war

June 10, 2010

The June 10 issue of the NYRB has an article by William Pfaff reviewing Lessons in Disaster: McGeorge Bundy and the Path to the War in Vietnam by Gordon M. Goldstein. Bundy was a National Security Adviser for both J F Kennedy and Lyndon B Johnson. In his old age, and particularly after McNamara publicly announced he had been wrong, Bundy came to reconsider his role in guiding America to war in South East Asia.

Pfaff, in this article gives a potted history of America’s involvement prior to and after Dien Bien Phu (after which the French withdrew) and leading up to the Gulf of Tonkin incident. What I found particularly fascinating was an account of Douglas McArthur’s opinion given to Kennedy:

‘With respect to Vietnam, the new President sought the advice of another eminent American soldier. He invited Douglas MacArthur to Washington. According to Robert Kennedy’s account, MacArthur said that it would “be foolish to fight on the Asiatic continent,” and that “the future…should be determined at the diplomatic table.” Kennedy’s aide Kenneth O’Donnell has added that MacArthur said to Kennedy that “there was no end to Asia and even if we poured a million American infantry soldiers into that continent, we would still find ourselves outnumbered on every side.”’

Kennedy was persuaded, and it seems that had he not been assassinated America would have drawn down its troops and advisers in Vietnam.

The article is interesting, too, in its description and analysis of America trying on the role of the disinterested policeman of the world after the Second World War, and where that has led us all. Find it here

of e-books, i-pads and kindles

April 21, 2010

A long and fascinating article on the battle for how to price e-books, on what publishers do for authors and whether Amazon can do it instead, and how difficult it is, generally, to force art into tight spaces, here


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