Monthly Archives: October 2012

Cockatoo Island Film Festival

The New Thing In Town

Sydney got itself a new film festival starting this year and it took place on Cockatoo Island. Out of an odd happenstance I ended up attending parts of it. I even made it to the Award Night where they handed pout their own inaugural gongs.

What’s Good About It

They’ve done a nice job selling it as a film maker’s festival, and it does take place on a beautiful part of Sydney. If you could conceive of a film festival in Sydney that was utterly unlike the Sydney Film Festival, this would have been the place to put it, and really, it has great promise for the future.

There’s a lot of enthusiasm to it, and one suspects that it is going to be even more unlike the Sydney Film Festival which has established itself firmly with a particular kind of film-viewing public. The potential is there for it to grow into something really different and good. If nothing else it is unique and breaks the mold of what film festivals should be like

What’s Bad About It

This year being the first time in Sydney – it’s grown up and out of the Dungog Film Festival – it felt like it was more form over function. The organisation seemed in most part chaotic and planning underdone. It compared very unfavourably if you were a regular punter to the SFF and suddenly were confronted with the sense of out-of-control-ness the festival betrayed.

Volunteers were talking into their intercoms on their collars a lot, but the flow of information was anarchic. It looked great, but it didn’t work as well as it looked.

Getting to and from the island can be a little haphazard, which is a minor complaint, but it’s a real one all the same. Once you’re on the island, you feel captive to the services and amenities available and they’re not exactly good or cheap.

What’s Interesting About It

There’s a lot of space for the festival to grow, and I guess that’s where the promise is. A few years back there was talk of slotting in a comedy festival in October on Cockatoo Island, which almost happened and never did. It might be an idea to run that concurrently on the Island as well as have a band competition.

The feeling I had while I staggered around the island was that there nearly wasn’t enough to see or do at the festival, once you staggered out of movies. The flipside of it is the feeling that it could in future turn into a really varied, multifaceted event that attracts great talent from all over the world.

It sure beats stumbling in and out of the State Theatre with a bustling throng in the rain.

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News That’s Fit To Punt – 26/Oct/2012

The Currency War

The Australian currency has been stuck above parity for some time and not even the lowering of interest rates has provided any ‘relief’ for the export industries of Australia.Except there’s no relief in sight.

Pleiades sent in this link today as a kind of heads-up.

According to (ANZ boss Mike) Smith, the Reserve Bank criteria for interest rate decisions should be dominated by the dollar. I pointed out yesterday that the currency wars and the money printing taking place in Europe and the US could send the Australian dollar much higher. Smith says that the huge liquidity in the system is going to start speculation on commodities and with the consequent higher prices will come an Australian dollar that goes even higher.

Interest rates become the only weapon the Reserve Bank has to prevent the further damage that is in store for our employment creating industries like tourism, education and manufacturing.

Mike Smith adds that central bankers are far wiser than he on these matters. I think Smith is absolutely right about everything except that last point. Smith is mixing in global markets every day and he is hearing concern around the regions about the repercussions of the US and European money printing and the currency war.

The contention there is that the Reserve Bank should probably cut interest rates in order not to  attract foreign interest in our currency. Forget the housing bubble, just go to near zero interest rates.

I’ve been pondering that on this afternoon, and I think this is a crock. The cost of living in Australia is so far out of line with the CPI that nobody believes the inflation figures any more – they think it’s much higher. This suggests that the interest rates should be sitting much higher than where they’ve been for at least a good decade. Mike Smith asking for the interest rates to be lowered is effective asking for there to be so much cheap money, it should inflate the value of property once again. In other words, the ANZ Bank chief is asking for a Price Keeping Operation to be staged out of the RBA.

One imagines the hope there is that if there’s so much cheap money around, surely it will get sucked into the property market and reignite those big gains in the banks’ balance sheets. You have to wonder if this isn’t just another vested interest mouthing off, because it sure sounds like it.

Hewson Slams Vested Interests

There’s one thing about John Hewson we can all be certain about – he was Australia’ Mitt Romney without the Mormonism but with Economic Rationalism as his religion instead. If nothing else he gave the Liberal Party some kind of ideological frame work from which to work, and some of it has worked out well for Australia.

It’s interesting then when he pipes up and lobs a verbal grenade in the direction of the NSW government and its approval of Jamie Packer building a second casino for Sydney.

Dr Hewson said he wasn’t opposed to a hotel or a second casino license for Sydney.
However, the process had to be seen to be clean and above board, and the government shouldn’t give rise to concerns it was being compromised by vested interests.
‘‘This is sort of chipping away at the whole integrity of government process,’’ he said.

So, there’s that phrase again: vested interest.

Small Arts Companies Get The Squeeze

Pleiades sent in this one as well, about how small arts companies are getting less money now that everybody is having to look for some austerity.

Exactly why these companies are called “small-to-medium”, by the way, is one of the mysteries of the sector. Most turn over less than $2 million a year, the threshold the Australian Taxation Office considers a “micro-business”. Organisations that the arts calls “medium-sized” are in fact small in any objective sense of the word. Nearly all of them are run on the proverbial smell of the oily rag, with perhaps three or four full-time administrative staff.

This diminutive scale makes many small arts companies vulnerable to the slings and arrows of artistic fortune. They have few assets and little in the way of cash reserves. If the funding disappears, most can’t survive in the long term. In recent weeks, we’ve seen Fremantle-based Deckhair Theatre wind up after 30 years of independent production, and Adelaide choreographer Leigh Warren “go freelance” to keep his dance studio afloat. Both companies have been defunded in recent years.

The problem for the small-to-medium sector is that the funding appears to be drying up. With the Australia Council getting squeezed by the federal government’s efficiency dividend, Commonwealth funding is actually falling in real terms. Nor is any extra pot of gold awaiting beneath an unexpected rainbow. Arts Minister Simon Crean appears to have conceded that he can’t get the National Cultural Policy up this year.

You feel for these arts companies. They have a tougher proposition than film producers for a start.

One of the things that the Liberal Party embraced gingerly toward the end of their time before the Ruddslide was the fact that a lot of people in the arts were small business as well; and that the conservatives’ general disregard for the arts and arts funding had created a massive gulf between it and the arts community in Australia. Certainly, under most of John Howard’s tenure as PM, the prevailing mood was that all arts participants were left-voting scumbag and deserved not one iota from the public purse. When you realise how many of these small arts companies are around, you wonder why and how a party in favour of small businesses could have treated them with neglect for so long.

In turn, you’d have to say that the ALP for its money has taken for granted that people in the arts are generally more socially progressive and have bred a variety of arts bureaucrats that form a crazy subculture of their own, and choke off the promise of the arts itself. You get the feeling that the ALP is a latter day Stalinist apparatus that seeks to ideologically constrain discourse through the arts by funding particular kinds of things that never makes any money.

So I guess it’s not surprising they get slammed by the likes of John Roskam in the AFR:

The health of Australian democracy should not be measured by the number of students enrolled in gender studies.

In his An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding  published in 1748, David Hume described the work of a certain species of philosopher. What he said could apply to the academics in the humanities in Australia in 2012.

“Though their speculations seem abstract, and even unintelligible to common readers, they aim at the approbation of the learned and the wise; and think themselves sufficiently compensated for the labour of their whole lives, if they can discover some hidden truths, which may contribute to the instruction of posterity.”

The pity is that the majority who teach humanities at Australian universities are a long way from discovering any hidden truths or making a contribution to the instruction of posterity.

That’s a bit mean. earlier in the column is a castigation about French critics who forged a path to an unbridled kind of relativism in the late 20th Century that continues to appall moralists the world over; but that’s not surprising that a conservative think tank would take offense to Derrida and Foucault. Derrida, of course being that ‘Obscurantist Terror’ – and there’s a war going against terror to this day.

Jokes aside, the two articles give you the distinct feeling that the arts really are not valued or are important in our cultural life in Australia. More to the point, we’re a nation of hardened, committed, willful, fully ideological, philistines. It’s a shame the arts as a vested interest holds absolutely no sway over the conscience of this nation.




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An Odd Phenomenon

The Inflation That Wasn’t There

I’m trying to wrap my head around how something like this can happen.

The IMF’s database shows goods and services costing $US100 ($A97) to produce in the US now cost $US41 to produce in India, $US67 in China, $US105 in Germany or Britain – but $US161 in Australia.
Only Norway and Switzerland are more expensive to do business, or spend money in. Since 2002, the dollar has turned Australia from a relatively low-wage, low-cost country to a high-income, high-cost one outpacing even Japan.

Here’s the graphic from the page:

To be frank, I just don’ get this. For the last decade, the Reserve Bank of Australia has been pretty rigid in insisting on sitting on the inflation rate, keeping it under 3%. To that end, they’ve run their interest rates up when the inflation figure hated up. During that 10year span, there were plenty of moments when they insisted the inflation rate was not so high even though cost of living figures kept coming in higher than the CPI.

So when you get to the bottom of the article you find that Taiwan has been printing its money furiously to keep their currency in line with China – to keep their labour force competitive – and somehow have experienced a price deflation.

This is really curious. The RBA didn’t print money, sat on the inflation rate hard, and somehow Australia’s index prices have inflated from 77 to 161. Taiwan printed money and somehow its index lowered from 62 to 52. I’m sure there’s a tricky economics answer in there somewhere, but if I were to swing my Occam’s Razor, I’d say the RBA has been getting their inflation figures totally wrong for a good decade and the net result is this rather nasty bit of price inflation. The article attributes the rise to the Australian Dollar, but this seems arse-about. The Australian Dollar is high because everybody else is furiously printing money and we are not.

It would also go some way toward explaining the elephant in the room, the property price bubble. Because the RBA kept reading the inflation to be much lower than it really was, it ran interest rates much lower than it should have, which resulted in too many people borrowing money to buy property, contributing to the bubble. So in that way, it can be understood that Australia did “print money” without actually printing the dollar bills. – we simply re-calibrated our property prices to being too expensive.

Which brings me to this other article today…

So Do We Re-Inflate The Bubble To Save The Government Now?

Here’s Michael Pascoe saying that he thinks Wayne Swan is betting on a housing recovery.

Treasury’s MYEFO forecasts for the 2013-14 domestic economy  make grim reading with predictions of flat or declining performances in all but two areas: dwellings investment and farm product.

It’s a very brave decision, Minister, to get into the long-range weather forecasting business, but that effectively is what Treasury is doing by predicting that farm product will rise by 6 per cent in 2013-14, an upgrade from a 1 per cent rise guessed in the May budget papers.
More important for the credibility of the government’s outlook is the belief that the housing industry will finally turn the corner.

Says Treasury: “Dwelling investment is forecast to be flat in 2012-13, before growing 4 per cent in 2013-14. Dwelling investment declined 3.3 per cent in 2011-12 on the back of continued weakness in the detached housing market. Conditions across the sector are expected to improve gradually over the remainder of 2012, consistent with the solid growth in dwelling approvals and commencements seen in the June quarter.

“The recovery is expected to gather momentum into 2013-14, driven by a pick-up in home buyer demand, improved affordability following declines in house prices over the past two years and the assumption that interest rates will remain below average across the forecast period.”
It’s only housing and farm product and what seems a marginal improvement in net exports that hope to maintain real GDP growth at 3 per cent next year.

This business of the diminishing tax revenue for the Government is pretty drastic. The ALP government is gunning for a surplus as the world economy slips back into a double dip recession, and the commodity price boom comes to a shuddering halt.

In the midst of all the financial problems of the world, Australia has somehow managed to dodge the most lethal bullets. That doesn’t make us bullet proof, as the world’s problems really have started to impact on our receipts.  There’s no telling how property prices could unravel if unemployment should go up; and nobody is saying it’s going to go down. The most recent report somewhere had it that 12.5% of mortgages were in negative equity – that’s 1 in 8 mortgages out there, which is no small number. 3% were in serious mortgage distress, if not defaulting. Property prices are still falling if anything – and the RBA wants it to be a slow deflation rather than a big bursting of the bubble.

So you have to wonder how on earth there can be a housing recovery if there are all these bad mortgages and distressed assets all over the place. A lot of people are going to have to swallow losses and be pushed to the wall before the sector can really  improve. I don’t think the RBA has the stomach for such an outcome – probably because all those bureaucrats have properties too and don’t want to take the loss. You can chalk that up to being a vested interest all of its own.



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Whither Oil Prices?

Not Feeling The Pinch In Australia

I just had a thought today that we haven’t really felt the ups and down of crude oil prices in Australia as much as parts of last decade. I remember 2005-2008 being particularly painful for petroleum price rises, and oddly enough calls by the public to look at public transport a lot harder. Since then a few things have happened, namely, the Australian Dollar has appreciated to almost twice what it was, and the price of crude has come off the peaks. As of this writing it’s siting at about US$115 /barrel, which is about 20% off the peak of US$ 145/barrel reached in 2008.

Of course during the GFC it fell down to $35/barrel, and yet the US$115 it is sitting at is above the price point that people in Australia started feeling the pinch. In short, we’re being protected from this high price of oil by the high Australian Dollar. Judging from all the people driving their gas-guzzling 4WDs in Sydney, it’s fair to say they’re not feeling the price point of US$115 as they did in say, 2007. Also as of this writing, they’re reporting record prices for gasoline in the USA.

This leaves me to ponder a) how soon will parity break for the Australian Dollar, b) how much it will go down, and then c) how soon we’ll start hearing about oil prices and gasoline prices then.

At the moment, Nick Greiner and his cronies are pushing for WestConnex, a crazy tollway-driven project as part of their so-called Infrastructure NSW plan, which is mostly devoid of public transportation plans and seems to assume a great many things including the relative stability of oil prices, continuing for a long time in the future. A quick look at the crude oil prices and exchange rate tells you that this assumption is way off base, and that Nick Greiner and his vested interest cronies are asking the people of NSW to foot a massive bill to build roads that will maybe be too expensive to drive upon, and will in no way solve problems of congestion, for a future where car use may decline as a result of skyrocketing gasoline prices.

It is entirely possible that they build this crazy tollway and there won’t be enough users to drive over it. It’s possible this thing is going to be worse than a white elephant project.

Anyway, just some random thoughts watching the price of Brent Crude.

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‘Garni du Jour’ Again

That Ain’t The Music, They’re Just The Lyrics

Here’s good ole David Dale, frustrated by contemporary pop music’s total inability to come up with a sophisticated lyric that tickles David Dale’s fancy. The headline says ‘the day the music died’ but really, his complaint is about the poor abstraction and bad taste in the lyrics; and really can one blame him?

Australia’s top-selling singles of the past 10 years (and typical lyrics)
❏ Party Rock Anthem, LMFAO (sold more than 800,000 copies): ”I’m runnin’ through these hos like Drano, I got that devilish flow, no halo.”
❏ Somebody That I Used To Know, Gotye (700,000+): ”No, you didn’t have to stoop so low, have your friends collect your records and then change your number.”
❏ Sexy and I Know It, LMFAO (600,000+): ”We headed to the bar, baby don’t be nervous; no shoes, no shirt and I still get serviced.”
❏ Call Me Maybe, Carly Rae Jepsen (550,000+): ”You took your time with the call, I took no time with the fall; you gave me nothin’ at all, but still you’re in my way.”
❏ Moves Like Jagger, Maroon 5 (550,000+): ”You say I’m a kid, my ego is big; I don’t give a shit and it goes like this.”

Admittedly, those lyrics look pretty bad. But if the group is called ‘LFMAO’ then maybe it’s not quite right to be expecting lyrics of any depth or meaning. Or maybe the apparent banality is implicit to the times in which we find ourselves living? In which case, should we be surprised?

Still, the whole article brought me to think about the real death of music, and I have to say it is these reality TV singing contest shows like X Factor’ and ‘The Voice’. For the love of god, if there is one place music is being killed, it’s on these TV shows where people who have no insight into the songs they’re singing are judged on rather subjective, obscure, arcane performance points while session musicians pump out 2minute abridged versions of classic songs.

No, really, they’re terrible, and they have nothing to do with the qualia that makes music good. It’s freaking glorified Karaoke put to the service of TV stations and advertisers, dressed up as music, with semi-pro singers fronting for the execrable business. So if David Dale really wants to take a hatchet to the death of music that he liked, well, he can have a go at these awful shows, one of which produced Adele (to whom he gives a free pass). No, Mr. Dale, it’s worse than that.

Once upon a time, there was rock music, and it had a shot at being something tat could really communicate something important. Then, the cultural mainstream bought into it and the record labels sold the artists down the river, ever in the search of wider profits. And to this end it was all about packaging and looks and style; not writing and performing – As Frank Zappa called it, the ‘Garni de Jour’ phenomenon. You slap a piece of burnt meat between two bits of bread, and it’s a burger. You add a tired piece of parsley next to it, and that’s ‘Garni du Jour’ – and somehow this dried bit of parsley is meant to make the whole dining experience better.

Frank Zappa also made the observation that people also hate music, but love the packaging. People say they like music, but what they really like is the ‘Garni du Jour’; and if the mass market is saying that the music business is crazy to focus on the segment of the market that -*gasp*- is actually interested in music being music for the sake of music.

That’s how music died – when the music business decided the ‘Garni du Jour’ was much more important than the quality of the meat in between the bread making up the burgers they were peddling. Similarly, all these reality TV singing contest shows are all judging on the ‘Garni du Jour’ elements of each of these singer’s ‘marketability’. If they win, they can go on to sing the incredibly insightful lyrics David Dale so detests. It’s not about the music, it’s not even about the lyrics. Truth be told, it’s all about all those *stupid* performance notes handed out by the likes of Simon Cowell and the rest of those ‘judges’.

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In The Shadow Of PEDs

Lancing the Boil? I Don’t Think So

This whole Lance Armstrong situation with his alleged PED use is getting much attention and I was going to write something about it yesterday when the USADA released the dirt it had on Lance Armstrong. The fallout from that report has been far reaching, and once again cycling is embroiled in a scandal about performance enhancing drugs. What’s even more dramatic is how Lance Armstrong has had his seven Tour de France wins taken away from him in the record books, although you wonder if the guys who came second in those races automaitcally get declared winners; and whether they’re going to get their big recognition in a group presentation event. I doubt they’ll do that.

As with all these things, it’s all circumstantial evidence, but a good mountain-load of it; meanwhile Lance Armstrong has quit the sport and won’t address the issue at all. We can only conclude from this that he probably did PEDs, and now he’s going to play the plausible deniability strategy right down to the line of utter, abject, total, improbability. You can only wish him luck in trying to persuade the world. Cycling is consequently in another one of its terrible turmoils, but in some ways this is no different to Major League Baseball. You could argue that at least the cheats are getting caught, even if it’s too late.

I might have blogged this a long while ago, maybe in one of the earlier incarnations of this blog, but I’m basically a great sceptic when it comes to sports and the record book. I have no choice, given the times I have lived in.

It started with Ben Johnson at the 1988 Seoul Olympics, and since then there have been a great deal many names who have been outed and hounded. Yet, Ben Johnson’s record stood unofficially for many years until quite recently when Usain Bolt started running amazing times. Carl Lewis ended up with the gold medal from Seoul in that event as Ben Johnson was disqualified, but years later, Carl Lewis himself was linked to to PEDs. More recently, Car Lewis has cast aspersions on the Jamaican sprint team suggesting they were doping in an elaborate manner.  If you said that Carl Lewis’ suspicions were credible, it would mean that Ben Johnson’s time in Seoul can only be beaten with more PEDs. And that’s just one example of how vexing the record book has become.

After Ben Johnson in 1988, I came to the conclusion that the PED problem was a problem of technological advancement, and that as new drugs were developed, there would have to be ever mew ways of testing for them. Whatever the case, no record book was going to be safe. I imagined a world where some sports would simply smash record after record with PEDs, while others stayed relatively inert, and with little excitement surrounding them.

Of course, the way this played out in the 1990s was that Major League Baseball’s players embraced PEDs, giving rise to amazing historic seasons by the likes of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds, all on the backs of PEDs. After a long dearth, suddenly these hitters were producing seasons that matched or broke the feats of Babe Ruth’s greatest season. It was unthinkable if you exercised a rational statistical analysis, but suddenly McGwire and Bonds were not only smashing past Ruth’s single season mark of 60 homeruns in 154 games AND Roger Maris’ mark of 61 homeruns in 164games, they were posting 70+ homeruns.

Then, in the 2000s, they were all found out. Some said the record books were tainted, others argued that the record books were already tainted by ‘Greenies’ (amphetamines) in the 1950s and 1960s. It was worth asking, even if only rhetorically, what the hell did all of this mean? Consider for the moment that 3 out of the 4 members of the 40HR-40SB in a single season club Barry Bonds Jose Canseco, Alex Rodriguez were linked to steroids in their careers. The fourth member is Alfonso Soriano, and who knows if he was on PEDs that year that he accomplished the feat? It may come out yet.

And in some ways, this is the exact crux of the biscuit that Ben Johnson sits on in Seoul 1988, and Lance Armstrong with his 7 Tour de France wins, and the 70 McGwire homeruns and the 73 Bonds homeruns, and whoever else that won on the back of PEDs and got found out. The feats themselves cannot be undone. As per the joke, you cannot unfuck the goat. We may never know about Usain Bolt, but if we ever find out that he used PEDs, then it’s him on the same crux of the biscuit as Ben Johnson.So now, Usain Bolt is in PED purgatory with Alfonso Soriano and other record-setting athletes. Is it even fair that they get suspected?

What can these accomplishments possibly mean? If Lance Armstrong didn’t really win those 7 Tour de Frances because he was on PEDs, then what can it possibly mean to win the Tour de France?

It’s a mess – And we’re doomed to go through this again, some way down the track. Somebody is going to invent something that will enhance performances, and it will slip through the testing net; and as long as it’s there slipping through, we’ll never be sure that hat we’re seeing is what we think we are seeing in sport. The old adage used to be that only the sport scores were the unvarnished truth and facts reported in the newspaper. We find ourselves that even that is no longer true. It’s a fine mess.

So back to this Lance Armstrong thing. I can’t offer up anything for fans of cycling as to how to digest this fact. Armstrong was on PEDs, and he did it so well and systematically, he never got caught red handed. By doing so, he won an un-Godly 7 Tour de France titles – and that is likely so off the charts that you will never witness that again if you lived to 100 in the absence of PEDs. It’s so off the charts that even a non-cycling fan like me knew about it. It’s going to take a long time to digest and understand what exactly all that means in the sport of cycling. I sure as hell don’t know what to make of all these steroid tainted records I witnessed in the making. If there is one bit of advice I have, it is this: no amount of moralising is going to make this reality better. That much is most certainly sure.

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‘Dark Shadows’

American Gothic As Irony

You sometimes hear Australian intellectuals say that Americans don’t get irony. I don’t see how that is even possible given that they speak English and there is cause for much irony in the English language alone. What I think they really mean is that Americans are not into rhetorically couched irony the way the English – and by colonial extension – Australian and New Zealanders like to practice. There is certainly plenty of irony in ‘Dark Shadows’ and it is the more delicious for it.

The problematic in American Gothic as a sub-genre is that the Americas were not as we know it in the Gothic era, and so welding on the narrative traditions of Gothic story telling is that there is always going to be an underlying tension between the consumerist modern world and the Dark-aged murmur of an echo from Europe’s deep history. New England with its Puritan settlement and witch trials and generally stuffy cultural sensibility is ripe for the ironic treatment.

I would venture to say that it would be next to impossible to mount a Gothic horror narrative in Australia without irony and still make it a good movie; but that’s another discussion for another day. Today, we have ‘Dar Shadows’.

What’s Good About It

Gothic is hard for me to like. All that darkness and blood and gloom and white shirts wit fluffy bits just leaves me un-enthused. It’s not a genre I go looking for and I certainly never looked forward to a vampire or werewolf movie except the one time I was a kid and tuned into some BBC adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Still, there are times when I don’t mind the mannered style and narrative conventions. The nice thing is that this film turns the massive stodginess of Gothic into a laughable curio.

Tim Burton’s oeuvre is bursting at the seams with Gothic style and motifs, and sometimes they work when the irony is right – like in Ed Wood – but sometimes they flop miserably in the absence of ironic distance. Of his films, this might have more ironic distance than some of his other work.

Eva Green as Angie Bay is the eye-opener in this film. She is at once, voluptuous, sensual, insane and frightening. She is at ease with both the melodrama and the comedic siting side by side. by contrast, I’m sure Johnny Depp really wanted to play Barnabas Collins, but there’s something not quite right with his performance. it’s a lot harder to forget we’re watching Johnny Depp yet again in a Tim Burton movie. There seems to be no line between the acting and the schtick and the bizarre surroundings.

What’s Bad About It

The climax is plain silly, even for this tongue in cheek film.

Tim Burton’s always an interesting director with strong visuals, but in this film, it just comes off as his usual schtick with no added dimensions. A such the film seems a little tired in style and undercooked in the thematic department.

It’s also trying to cram in as many of the subplot from the TV Series so there is something rushed about the story telling.

What’s Interesting About It

The film spends a good deal of time trying to come at much of the melodramatic story from the old TV series. There’s a whole lot of exposition going on seemingly at every turn, but it doesn’t get too out of control. It mostly hangs on the Back story of Barnabas Collins and Ange, and what really keeps the intrigue of the backstory alive is Eva Green’s manic performance as Ange.

One wonders why we keep on rotting out these story tropes – witchcraft in New England, vampires, werewolves, ghosts and crypts. Gothic as a style as one thing, but the narrative constraints of Gothic one would imagine would get tired. And yet here we are with yet another film, putting yet another spin on these tropes. Still, it’s interesting to ponder what they are being thrown at.

1972, A Gothic Tale For You

The most joyous gag about the film is that instead of waking up today, Barnabas’ far future is 1972, a good deal of history ago for us today; for 1972 comes replete with a sense of tired Americana, like the afterglow – or hangover if you like – from the swinging sixties, and a sense of waiting for the denouement of the Vietnam War. The cars, the clothes, the music, all work in wonderful sympathy to undermine the Gothic Horror until of course Barnabas simply has to kill people and suck their blood.

Still, the choice of 1972 proves to be quite interesting, as it offers up a mirror to us in unexpected ways. For instance, we in 2012 are awaiting the draw down of troops from Afghanistan, and that gives us an emotional parallel to the weary grim view of the world, where something is out there sucking out the life blood from our society. That something is called war.

1972 is of course merely two years into the “Big Now”, which began at the inflection point when there became more people living than there had ever lived, which was 1970. It is the beginning of the process where age old customs, certainty, social stigmas all began unraveling – and in doing so exposed us to the metaphorical monsters. At least one reading is that the Big Now allows all the freaks to come out and be normal. After all, imagine being buried alive in 1972 and being awoken today. It might just be as big a gap as being buried alive between 1770 and 1972.

Eternal Love

Of course one of the institutions that completely broke down in the 1970s was marriage. Divorce, became mundane and created a whole generation – Generation X – of people who grew up with the forced, yet keen, understanding that love and relationship and the word forever do not mix as well as the old understanding might have presented them. Love is, fallible and ephemeral to Generation X.

And so we are given a very strange re-envisioning of an ‘eternal’ love. Ange’s love for Barnabas in this film proves to be a great mystery. She loves him so much, she makes him into a vampire, so that he can be the undead and exist forever; and while he exists forever, Ange feels there is hope that he may love her (in spite of the fact that she turned him into a vampire). It’s hard to argue that this is eternal love, but it actually presents it self as an odd thesis about the fallibility of love.

Equally, Barnabas banishes David’s father Roger Collins from the family. Considering many American films have an impulse to forge families, Barnabas Collins is willing to re-engineer his descendants’ family. It seems morally righteous, but it’s also coming from a vampire who sucks the blood of unsuspecting hippies. The moral authority is undercut pretty hard by Barnabas’ own actions.

Melodrama Re-Packaged

The tenor of what love is, within this text is actually a lot more strained; and by strained I mean restrictive and restricted by conventions of older horror texts where the monster has a secret love and yet it cannot come to be. It’s a well-worn trope that got trotted out for ‘The Mummy’ for instance, and it seems to run in every story about the monster like Frankenstein or Dracula. In this context, desire itself becomes this very inflexible emotional problem because there simply is no cure for the broken heart in these stories.

Melodrama is a hard sell at times because the characters are set pieces. A vampire is entirely ascribed by what a vampire is and does, and so it has a way of limiting the options for the character. Similarly, having characters such as witches, werewolves and ghosts has a way of making the story inflexible at points where human – or more precisely more volitional – characters would exercise options.

So the tragedy that befalls Barnabas at the beginning in the long exposition is in many ways a ruse to set the stage for the melodrama to follow, but once the character is set as a vampire, there’s a lot less for there to happen. The film loses quite a bit of narrative momentum when it dwells on Barnabas being a vampire. The story picks up steam when Barnabas is forced to make choices.

Speaking of Choices

Speaking of choices, apparently this is one of those films where Johnny Depp really wanted t play Barnabas Collins and that’s how it got made. it’s interesting that the other film he rely wanted to make was ‘The Rum Diary’. Between the two films, it might be possible to tease something out that relates to Johnny Depp’s aesthetic. Surprisingly, these two films are miles apart in their concerns, but now that I consider it, it seems apparent that both films centre around the schtick of the main characters.

A Quick Note About Anachronism Jokes

I was expecting a few more of these gags, but they weren’t really plentiful. I guess poking fun at 1972 is hardly the stuff of comedic ideals. Still, the film sets up a nice opportunity with the double anachronism of us looking back at 1972 as Barnabas comes into 1972 from a deeper past. The gag about television and the people inside was nowhere near as funny as the gags involving Alice Cooper who does make an appearance as himself.

The best time travel anachronism jokes were in the ‘Back to the Future’ trilogy that exhausted the genre in the 1980s (as well as predicting the 1997 World Series), while ‘Hot Tub Time Machine’ attempted to recreate that magic by going back to the 1980s, so it seems there were other reasons in not coming into a date later than say, 1985.

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