Monthly Archives: November 2010

Politics By Paranoia

Rudd Removal Gyrations

Here’s a blow-by blow account of how Kevin Rudd was removed from office.

In the third week of June, the week before Rudd fell, Richardson rang one of the infamous faceless men, the factional convener of Labor’s Victorian Right faction, David Feeney.

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The Rudd government and Labor were doing badly: “And what the f— are you doing about it?” Richardson demanded to know.

Feeney replied: “Well out here on Pluto, I’m doing what I can, but it’s cold and dark and lonely.”

Like many others in the Labor caucus, Feeney felt that Rudd had shut him out and treated him with disdain.

The former Hawke cabinet minister universally known as Richo urged: “You have to start talking to Mark.”

This meant Mark Arbib, the convener of Labor’s NSW Right, Feeney’s Senate colleague, another of the faceless men and one of the most powerful people in the party. But this was distasteful to Feeney: “I don’t trust Mark.”

Although they should have been as close as lips and teeth, in the Chinese aphorism, they had fallen out in 2008. They no longer spoke.

The reason? Feeney was angry that Arbib had ingratiated himself with Rudd, made himself Rudd’s go-to political adviser, and captain of Rudd’s Praetorian Guard.

Arbib had advanced his own authority but neglected Feeney and the rest of the Right.

Feeney was not righteously indignant. He was just envious. As he had told colleagues: “I came to Canberra determined to be a prime ministerial sycophant and found all the positions taken.”

The rest of it makes for marvelous reading. The election that ensued was so disgusting it was quite a pleasure to watch all the main party squirm with the hung Parliament that resulted from it. I swore off writing about politics because I thought it was getting too stupid for words, but then again it isn’t as stupid as what is going on in America and Richo always makes for a good talking point.

The sequence of events seems to have gone:

  • Mark Arbib convinces Kevin Rudd to drop the ETS
  • ALP polls plummet as a result.
  • Richo looks at the poll and decides Rudd has to go. No explanation why he came to that conclusion, but he decided to act upon it.
  • So he calls Feeney to get together with Arbib, even though a) Feeney’s uncomfortable about Arbib and b) It was Arbib’s call to drop the ETS that resulted in the poll drop.
  • Feeney and Shorten and Arbib then put into play a move to remove Rudd – but surprisingly they don’t have replacement.
  • Thus they prevail upon Julia Gillard to be that challenger – even though she just wants to be the loyal deputy.
  • Lines get crossed, everybody gets paranoid about what the other group is thinking, so Julia Gillard eventually takes the plunge and by plunge we mean she plunges the knife into Rudd’s PM-ship.

Just reading that it strikes me that while Richo was as conniving and dynamic as ever in putting in motion such shenanigans, he ended up rounding on the wrong guy and ended up hurting the ALP’s standing immensely, as shown by the election result.

Logically, it was Mark Arbib’s dumb call to drop the ETS that hurt Rudd’s standing so much, you’d think they would have censured Arbib instead of pull down a popular Prime Minister. I guess that’s the perversity of the ALP we normal citizens will never get to understand.

Julia Gillard doesn’t come across as exactly the type of person who wanted to be Prime Minister. It seems it was thrust upon her more than she seized the day; which makes for depressing reading because we may in fact have a reluctant Prime Minister who is learning on the job because she probably hadn’t thought about it too deeply until the tidal wave of Labor Party politics swept her up and into office.

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Odds & Sods – 24/11/2010

Japanese Film Festival 2010

For some crazy reason, the good folks at Japan Foundation asked me to MC the opening reception for this year’s Japanese Film Festival. This year’s special guests were Tadao Sato, Tsutomu Abe and Shigeki Chiba. I had a few choice words to say about cinema in general but also got to put the boot into the state of the Australian Film Industry.

I also sat in as interpreter for the panel discussion for film students whereupon somebody asked what Australian Film can do to change things from its current plight. Tadao Sato praised Australian Cinema ans then said, “Stop being subcontractors for Hollywood and make your own films.” It drew a rapturous applause.

AFTRS Revisited

I hadn’t been inside the new AFTRS digs down in the Entertainment Quarter. The special guests were invited to inspect the school so I went along as their interpreter for that one as well. It’s so strange how they managed to bring across the musty, angst-ridden, repressed-violent-anger vibe into the new building. As far as vibe goes, it clearly was a case of “different building, same old shit.”

Behind the counter at the reception was Cathy who went through with me back in the early 90s. She said she was now studying Egyptology and had left Sound behind. She also said it’s just not as good as it used to be for students and that perhaps we went through at a really good time.

Turns out they’ve axed the 2 year Masters allegedly because it takes them out of the industry too long. Umm, what industry?

Anyway, the tour showed that they still had state of the art gear and all the whistles and bells, but basically they’d gotten rid of their Masters course and replaced them with 1 year professional Graduate Diplomas, and a 1 year Foundation course for young people. In other words, AFTRS had completely given up on its original mission. The amazing thing was nobody seemed to have noticed or said anything.

Maybe it’s a good thing. I’d been saying for some years that the day when AFTRS could be that premier institution was long in the past, given the parlous state of the industry. I guess if Cathy’s at the reception desk – and she was as die-hard as anybody for the biz – then what chance is there really?

Still Get No Fucking Respect

In the AFTRS library, they had a shelf of graduate works on video. My guests pulled out my graduating year’s tape and asked which one was mine.

Sure enough ‘Wired and Running’ was on it, but it was listed as a 16mm production. Um, no, it was 35mm. I can’t believe it. After all these years, they’re still trying to belittle my tiny bit of accomplishment at the school. Worse still, it had been mislabeled ALL these intervening years. I can just hear them saying, “oh it’s no great consequence.”

Well, here’s the thing. 2 things you should never let people screw you with is your payment and your credit. They’ve been fucking with my credit for years and years and years.

‘Wired and Running’ was 35mm. We busted a gut to do it in 35mm. You did your best to stop us. It was 35mm!!! Get that right, you assholes!

As I left I told Cathy, “I’m still angry. I can’t forgive this school. I just can’t. After all these years, they still disrespect me. Why the hell should I go out there and say nice things about this place?”

A Film School In Japan Handing out Degrees

I got my BA from AFTRS. I didn’t go there to get one. I went there for what they had in gear and the opportunities to make things. The irony is that after I left, they felt compelled to turn that 3 year BA program into a 2 year Masters. Shigeki Chiba from Japan was so impressed with the tertiary qualification aspect of it, he and Tadao Sato lobbied the Japanese Academy of Moving Images to be able to hand out tertiary degrees. Therefore it is ironic that AFTRS has backed away from their big courses.

The Ministry of Arts & Sciences in Japan grilled the pair  Mr Sato and Mr. Chiba when they made their submission to make their school a tertiary academic body. One even went as far as to say, “we hope you don’t lose something essential and good by becoming just another tertiary institution.”

It’s unlikely to be the case. They actually have a thriving industry over there. What killed AFTRS’s own flagship program was how disproportionate it was with the negligible growth rate of the Australian Film Industry.

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Parity Pain

Nice Work If You Can Get It Part 2

Back in the 1990s, the Australian Film Industry made a significant push to snare productions from the US. It made a lot of sense at the time  because there was a surplus of good crew in Australia and Rupert Murdoch had just bought 20th Century Fox, with Mel Gibson wanting to open a joint venture with Fox with his Icon Productions. Added to that was the exchange rate of the Aussie Dollar that sat about 53cents to the US Dollar, and you had a potent argument for some pretty big pictures to head to Australia for their principal photography and post-production.

Now that the Australian Dollar has hit parity, this sector of the Australian film industry has essentially dried up.

”We’re really struggling,” said Alaric McAusland, the chairman of Ausfilm. ”There is no production inbound from the US and the message is pretty clear from American producers: it’s not going to come back. The rebate is not competitive.”

Runaway production worth more than $2 billion over the past decade has provided regular work for everyone from studios and post-production houses to hundreds of actors and crew. But McAusland said the lack of foreign production was forcing businesses to cut staff and spending on new facilities.

While some see Australian films as more valuable to the country than Hollywood production, the president of the Screen Producers Association of Australia, Tony Ginnane, believes the two are closely linked.

”A director of photography who works for $20,000 [a week] on Green Lantern will work for $1500 on Red Hill 2,” he said. ”That moves across the eco-system of crew and related people. They can afford to be very generous with supportive deals for the newer, emergent members of the production community.”

The downturn, which includes the comic book movie Green Lantern being snaffled by Louisiana, has made it tough to be in the studio business. Allan believes the dollar would need to drop below US80¢ for the country to become attractive again.

”If you look at how we were performing at our peak a couple of years ago, we’re 40 per cent down on that level of revenue. And I’m sure the post-production businesses that cater for bigger international productions would be feeling the same way.”

It’s a bit of a drag reading that. At one point when we were doing all that work for Hollywood, our industry that catered to Hollywood were referred to as “Mexicans with Cellphones” or “Techno-Mexicans” in America. The tragic thing is how it’s considered tragic that a DOP works for 1500 a week on ‘Red Hill 2’ when in fact, that’s actually decent money if you had a constant supply of work. The reason there isn’t a constant supply of work is because the domestic industry is moribund, regardless of the exchange rate.

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More Dumb Ideas

And Dumb Comparisons

I’ve been abstaining from writing anything snarky about the Australian Film Industry for some months now because I figure if I keep talking it down, it’s never going to get even half a chance to get off the mat. There’s also the growing feeling amongst my own peers who went through film schools and training in the late 1980s and early 1990s that basically the industry has been mismanaged and mishandled for so long that it’s literally too late to really change the structure of the industry itself.

It’s a tough thing to admit to yourself that you may never get a shot because there are no bullets left to load up into the breach. If that’s the wrong metaphor and by saying never getting a shot is a camera thing, then well, we’re literally coming to the end of the film era, so it may work even better.

Jokes aside, it is against this context that Margaret Pomeranz had this to say:

The feature film industry in this country is, in the vernacular, a “mug’s game”. We cannot expect our top filmmakers to exist on one film every five years. But how do we ensure continuity of work for our talented people?

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I have an idea. Up to four successful filmmakers a year – and maybe there will be only one – are given $100,000 to develop their next project with a guarantee that there will be government funding of at least $2 million. You have to give them a head start, you have to give them a reason to stay here. What is David Michod going to do next? Animal Kingdom will take a large chunk out of his year as he promotes it around the world. I think we ought to encourage such a talent to stay here, make his next film here, give him a major incentive to hone his skills in this country.

We have to commit to rewarding success, investing in our talent, just as we do with sportspeople.

So much of our investment in film is skewed, it seems to me. It’s about a business model, about the market, it’s not about the talent. Even the word “investment” has connotations. It implies a monetary return for a cash outlay. We ought to be thinking in much broader terms about return. We ought to be thinking about the cultural nourishment of investing in talent.

I remember there were a few years when Australian films didn’t do so well at the box office and it was assumed we hadn’t made good films. We did make good films but either they were marketed badly or they were just a bit too challenging for audiences to engage with.

That actually made me wonder if she’s seeing the same industry I’m seeing. Most of the successful domestic film industries around the world that aren’t Hollywood share the one characteristic that they have a language barrier. Whether it be Bollywood or Japan or Sweden, the main point is that they survive because they don’t speak English. At the same time their film making talent travels to America less often than ours. What happens is that Hollywood buys out the rights to re-make their films – creating a different kind of angst but that is another story.

Australia, by dint of being just another anglophone country gets to plug itself directly into the Hollywood hierarchy but at the same time relinquishes control over its talent. We are the minor leagues to the Major League in America. So if the director of ‘Animal Kingdom’ scores any kind of success, the logical move is to go work in LA. If he doesn’t then it will be five years before he makes another – and you can bet your bottom dollar he’s not interested in that proposition.

Margaret Pomeranz is deluding herself if she thinks a domestic career in feature film making can be nurtured here through government intervention. It’s exactly the kind of thinking that wrought the disaster that was the FFC.

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The Social Network

Face To Face With Facebook

There’s been so much written about this film to date that it’s really not likely I’m going to be able to write anything groundbreaking about it. Needless to say, the very tempest of words and crits surrounding this film is in a sense part of the maelstrom that is the Facebook phenomenon. It’s quite odd having biopics made of twenty-something millionaires whose stories are yet to be completed. In that sense this film shares a problem – if you will – with another recent film that tackled events in the recent past, ‘The Informant.

What’s Good About It

The good thing about a David Fincher film is that you know you’re going to be in for a hell of a ride and this film doesn’t disappoint. The film paints a very tense and strained picture of a difficult birth of an internet phenomenon.

The film tackles the recent past as if it were the unfolding present, which is interesting because you’re also painfully aware of where you were and what you were doing when Mark Zuckerberg was busily building his little empire. It’s an interesting effect that comes out of Fincher’s approach to the very recent history.

What’s Bad About It

Again, it’s just too recent to know if any of these descriptions or analysis are even close to the mark (pun unintended). The real Mark Zuckerberg seems to be a lot more light, happy and upbeat sort of guy compared to the man on the screen who comes across as  a borderline personality disorder case. He may well not be that, was the conclusion I came to, having watched it to the end.

That kind of characterisation would work better for fiction but as Zuckerberg has since commented, the reality was a lot more tedious than that. he denied the dumping by the girl motivated him, but even if he were lying about it, I don’t think it explains anything to do with the success of  Facebook.

In that sense the film’s thesis is surprisingly weak. Let’s face it, if you were Mrs Zuckerberg, mother of Mark, you’d still be proud of our boy and there’d be nothing wrong with that.

What’s Interesting About It

The Facebook phenomenon is astounding. Seemingly out of nowhere came this social network site and pretty soon, everybody got on board. In its short time of existence, it has come to such prominence that we talk of it like it was Google or Yahoo or Apple or Microsoft. It was as late as 2004 that the characters portrayed in the film were scratching around for something to do.

The compressed sense of time intertwined with exchanges in legal negotiations heightens the drama, but what’s even more interesting is how seamlessly American Capital finds something like Facebook (or Google before it) and pumps investment dollars into it. The reason there are asset bubbles is precisely because people are looking for the next Facebook, but at the same time it speaks volumes for the resilience of American finance and industry. After all, Facebook is still there after the GFC, never having lost a beat.

Thus, all the film serves is to show us the rather strange beginnings of Facebook, but at the same time one gets the feeling the story is only just beginning. Maybe in 10years time there will be more to tell and there might even be a sequel to this film, but the subject matter is so fresh, you can see the material is only half-digested and thrown up on the screen.

Hacking Chops

Chops are everything when you’re young. Whether it’s guitar chops or martial arts chops, when you are young, the search for more chops fuels competition. Thus is was with hacking, and suddenly we have a generation of kids grown up, ready to take on the world with their hacking chops. One wonders if there’s ever been anything like it.

The film goes some way towards capturing this enthusiasm and there’s something really disjointed about the whole enterprise. It seems the shunted libido of youth powers so much of the intellectual energy needed to create the site and make it appealing. At the same time you get the feeling that the desires of these kids are genuinely muted or stunted compared to generations that have come before. It is as if the engine of desire itself has been hacked, but the kids don’t know that they’re so strange, compared to generations that came before.

The extraordinary accomplishment of Facebook is a sideshow in this film which attempts to place these documented conflicts in the foreground but it seems the real story may have eluded everybody because it happened all inside Zuckerberg and his hackers’ collective heads.

Lone Nut Theory

One of the great ironies of the internet/web age is how it has truly created the virtual Global Village. We can find friends from anywhere on the planet, sometimes from places we may not expect, and yet just as McLuhan said of television being an isolating medium, the process of sitting at the computer to type stuff can isolate you from people in the next room.

Accordingly, the character of Mark Zuckerberg as represented in this film is actually a deeply lonely figure. The irony of course is not lost on the writer and director of the film – in some ways the Mark Zuckerberg in this film has more in common with Travis Bickle than Dale Carnegie. It just so happens that instead of his sociopathy heading towards guns, this film Zuckerberg is focused on code and hacking.

What is also interesting about this film is that it does replay the formation of the family myth but it supplants it with the formation of a circle of business interests that try to pass itself off as your friends. Zuckerberg remains the lone nut on the virtual streets. He’s still that metaphorical punk with a metaphorical gun – and he’s nutty as hell. It’s almost as if he is the Dirty Harry of hackers, oblivious to societal norms and practices.

Gen-Y Sucker Punch

I’m over at Facebook. This crit will go over to Facebook overnight, where more of my ‘friends’ will read this than over here on WordPress. WordPress has been around longer I think, and in some ways is more respectful of the needs of its users, but it’s Facebook that has the eyeballs – much as Youtube and Myspace before it has managed to grab.

The really odd sensation of watching this film was the dawning realisation that we’ve all collectively fallen into the hands of a Gen Y sociopathic hacker, and we’re giving away information about ourselves. It’s actually kind of creepy all on its own. Here we are, grown people, benefiting greatly for being able to get in touch with old friends and yet somehow denuded of some part of our data privacy by this upstart cyberpunk. It’s like we’ve all been sucker punched and we haven’t even woken up to it just yet.

The film might be misplaced in its critique of just how sopciopathic Mark Zuckerbeg in real life might be, but it does shed a light on just who it is that you think you’ve handed over data about yourself. It’s pretty darn weird and spooky that way.

The power of creating something or writing a blog has nothing next to the power of harnessed eyeballs.

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Blast From The Past

Love Over Gold

Way back in the day of LPs, it was a big deal for me to stump up cash and buy one of these things. It took some saving of pocket money to do it, and you had to be sure you were going to like it. I bought ‘Love Over Gold’ by Dire Straits on the strength of a snippet I heard on radio, which was the nylon string opening section to ‘Private Investigation’. It’s weird but I was sold on just the opening 24bars or so.

It was also the first album I thrashed on my portable cassette player. It’s weird that I don’t remember what was on the other side of the cassette. Maybe it was a D-46 cassette so it only had ‘Love Over Gold’. Anyway, if there’s one album that returns the sense memory of sitting on the grassy slope by the school oval in summer, it would be this album.

Douglas Adams wrote a small passage in one of his Hitchhiker books about Mark Knopfler’s playing, saying how Mark Knopfler would make the Stratocaster sing. It’s odd how that description stuck in my head, because I think I’ve reflected on that description quite a bit, wondering how must one play to let a Stratocaster ‘sing’? In all likelihood, Adams was probably thinking about this album when he wrote that description.

Over the years, I’ve gone back to listen to this album from many different angles. I love the guitar playing, the monumental arrangements, the furious keyboard playing, the dripping-with-digital-reverb production, and the deft lyrics as well as the haunting tonality of the whole darn thing. Amazingly, it still holds up exceptionally well after years of listening abuse. I know this because my iPod dredged it up from its stores this morning and suddenly it was all there. The nostalgia sort of exploded in my car.

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Blast From The Past

Bongo Fury

Years ago, I got ‘Bongo Fury’ back in the day when buying CDs was still a relevant cultural activity, before Napster and mp3s and peer-to-peer sharing sent the music business to the wall. I bought it out of all the Frank Zappa CDs lined up in the shop that I didn’t have on the recommendation that it was Vaclav Havel’s favourite album.

If you think about it today, for one brief moment, all manner of wild things became possible in history. The Berlin Wall came down. Eastern Europe was liberated from the yoke of Soviet Russia. A Playwright was President. He was inviting Frank Zappa over to be the culture minister. Then, George Bush snr. and his administration stepped in and put the kibosh on that one. Yet for a brief moment, the values found in ‘Bongo Fury’ might have had a chance to step forward and do something real.

What values might that be? I don’t know – but I’ve always liked the carnality of  ‘Carolina Hardcore Ecstasy’ and ‘Muffin ‘Man’. I particularly like the sardonic ‘200 years’ and ‘Poofters Froth Wyoming Plans Ahead’.Quoting from it infuriated the faux-American-patriotism of the Angry Fat Man. That’s always good value.

Anyway, somebody brought a copy into work and thought I wouldn’t know this one. Like, uh, yeah.

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