Category Archives: Television

Coming Out Of Hibernation

Salman Rushdie Speaks At Opera House

It’s not everyday you get to see and hear Salman Rushdie speak live, so I went along to the Festival of Dangerous Ideas. I’m not so convinced these ideas at the festival are so dangerous – they seem more like ideas that would make great clickbait on Facebook, but I’m not really certain they’re so damn dangerous. Mr. Rushdie was speaking to the notion whether Television was the New Novel. He spoke at great length of his experience in development hell for 18months but said “No, it’s not.”

The conversation could have been more interesting but the panel seemed to favour talking about the process whereby television writers are commissioned to write scripts and whether novelists were good at adapting to that challenge or not. Mr. Rushdie indicated he was surprised to find he was more resistant to it than he initially thought. Hardly earth-shattering. I could’ve told him that at the front end before he went into development hell.

He did say a couple of interesting things. One of them was that the bigger a TV series gets, the less likely it would end on a satisfying note. All such series should be finished with a comma and not a full stop, was his observation. The other notable tidbit was that novel writing is entirely processed internally, but script writing for television drags that process out into the open so that it can be shared with other parties. That much is true.

He also told a joke featuring two goats.

Short Film Screening

I attended the screening of a short film up at the Chauvel tonight. My good friend Guillermo managed to finish the film we shot last year. All I did was sound record it, but it was kind of gratifying to see my name in the credits. I hadn’t seen that in a few years.

Anyway, the DOP and I got into a conversation with one of the producers about film funding in this country and I was surprised to find that there is a widespread belief that the funding system in this country is rigged so the same people keep getting grants, and that the better thing would be to stop the government doing direct funding and go back to a 10BA tax driven thing. Everybody’s thinking it. The system is rigged, and it’s part of the problem and not the solution. The belief is so widespread that nobody trusts the government to do the right thing. Now, this is just film making – not medical or legal policy. However, if the government was to screw up the medical and legal industries like they have screwed up the film industry, there would be picket lines and molotov cocktails on our streets. The fact that it doesn’t happen is merely a reflection of how dejected the film industry is about how the government keeps working to make the business smaller in this country – even if it is inadvertent – and how small the business has become.

I’m just reporting this here because others in the business would want to know. And yes, it is always a bitch-fest when filmies get together.

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‘Mad Men’

The Nostalgia Machine

I’ve been away from writing about films for a number of weeks because I’ve been working my way through the 6 seasons of ‘Mad Men’. I had the DVDs piled up all year and sort of traipsed past it because there seems to be a deluge of good TV content that has to be surveyed and unlike movies, they all demand serious time commitments that come in tens of hours. Six seasons consisting of 78 episodes is a lot to digest. That’s in the ballpark of the original Star Trek episodes. Consequently it has taken me 6 weekends of binging through seasons to watch the whole damn thing, bringing me up to date.

The other reason I had avoided it is because the world of advertising, even set in the 1960s didn’t really seem like a novelty. Having worked for an advertising giant once-upon-a-long-time-ago, I’ve had my fair share of awful anecdotes that came from hanging with hard-drinking advertising execs. There are some truly awful things that you can witness when you get into the accounts servicing end of the business and layering it on with nostalgia in a bid to explore classic sexism racism and generally unpleasant sexual misconduct didn’t seem like a recipe for much fun.   So truth be told, I resisted it as long as I could until I found I had cleared the decks of all other viewing material. Maybe that it is what it takes to be receptive.

We all think we know what the show is about. What is surprising is what it actually is.

In an early season Don Draper is asked to brand the Kodak carousel projector and when he finally explains it, he hits upon the device being a time machine that takes people back through nostalgia for moments. What the show does is effectively service everybody’s nostalgia through these fabricated episodes of people that might have been there. The experience of Mad Men is to evoke an era with as much verisimilitude as possible while attempting to dissect the origins of our own mores. In one sense it’s a ‘Downton Abbey’ for 60s fetishists, but on another level, it is a show that boldly goes to a place that brought us our contemporary consumerist culture. It is a ‘Back to the Future’ trip back to the 1960s where we in the audience are Marty McFly.

What’s Good About It

Just about any part of the craft from cinematography and production design through to choice of music and sound mix are extraordinary in this show.

The casting is equally impressive. There are some great actors putting in some extraordinary performances.  The characters they inhabit are filled with unspoken angst and desperation. It is an amazing show that allows us to be Buddha-like, feeling a compassion for all these people for their weaknesses foibles, doubts and self-loathing.

The scripts are always surprising, witty, insightful and compelling. The sense of existential agony sits side by side with the banalities of consumerism, giving rise to a beautiful aesthetic irony.

What’s Bad About It

In the earlier series you feel the budget doesn’t stretch far enough so you end up seeing a lot of interiors and hardly any exterior shots. It doesn’t get claustrophobic, but you get the feeling the limit of the show’s misc en scene, is just beyond the frame of the shots. At times this feels quite hokey but as the seasons progress you can see more money being thrown at it and it becomes less of a problem.

Considering all the naturalism in the acting and realism in the production design, you get the feeling that Don Draper’s sexual stamina is superhuman. Especially when you watch the episodes back-to-back. As the seasons progress, these sense of the exaggerated sexual stamina becomes utterly laughable that it begins to tear at the carefully crafted fabric of the show’s milieu.

Apart from that odd sort of unintended hilarity, the plot lines can meander into the kind of soapiness one associates with things like ‘Days of Our Lives’ or ‘Beverly Hills 90210’. Sometimes the performances are a little spotty and you notice it as the tenor of the performance jumps from one shot to the next. Maybe it’s bad editing, but it leaves you a little cold because it takes away from the otherwise perfect, seamless presentation.

What’s Interesting About It

Quite simply, ALL of it, actually.

1960s Through The Po-Mo Glass

The year 1960 where the series kicks off is quite a foreign place to us. We think we have a great grasp of what exactly happened in the 1960s thanks to the mass of media artefacts form the 1960s but Manhattan in the year 1960 is closer to Holden Caulfield’s hatred of phonies in ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ than the Manhattan of Lou Reed and then Punk rock – That is all in the distant future and what we witness are the dying embers of the New York City in ‘The Age of Reason’. America is at its peak power, the pinnacle of its omnipotence and New York City is the crown jewel in this prosperity. The city then slowly goes into decay as certainty in social cohesion and cultural unity begins to break up.

The six seasons combined – as we still await the seventh to be fully concluded – traces the fall of Don Draper, white male top executive against the rise of Peggy Olsen, the proto-feminist creative executive into the top offices. And it is against this double dynamic we see all the other characters essentially flower into their full weirdness. Through this process we come to understand what the events we know in the 1960s, such as the Kennedy assassinations and the Luther King assassinations as well as the Vietnam War did to American society. America reached the top, and then quickly turned the corner into a decadent phase just as had the Roman Empire. In one sense, having reached the top America had nothing better to do but to fuck around, which is exactly what Don Draper does as he slowly loses touch with the America that allowed him to succeed. In its place emerges an  America with which he can only loosely relate.

It’s a curious thing, this change. Over the years white conservatives have unleashed the culture wars against the progressives as if they are the disenfranchised. This has manifested in accusations of ‘reverse racism’ or ‘moral decay’ but what the show presents to us is that economic growth happened in such a way to enfranchise the other more rapidly than it presented more growth to the established white demographic. It wasn’t the white establishment that got disenfranchised; it was that America grew so fast it enfranchised everybody beyond just the white establishment. When you consider ‘the other’ as a group, it includes women, immigrants, Blacks, Jews, Italians and eventually the gays. The show doesn’t show too many instance of affirmative action. It does however capture the bewildering change, season by season. At first it is like a whisper. By Season 6, the change is like a roar.

Beyond Memory, Beyond Broken Homes

American cinema is decidedly about the formation of families, just as American TV is about the maintenance of families. This is true of things as broad as ‘Bewitched’ and ‘Brady Bunch’ through to ‘Game of Thrones’ and ‘Breaking’Bad’. The glaring exception to date was ‘Seinfeld’, which was revolutionary in the sense that no families were formed, and the central quartet were decidedly not a family but a coalition of disparate single entities. They were disparate single entities because they were in some ways all exiles from the ideological construct of family, trying to avert the mistakes of their parents. Thus, ‘Mad Men’ arrives as an explication of how American families fall apart.

The trope of ‘First Wives Club’ is that the husband cashes in his success by divorcing the first wife with whom he has a family, with a much younger wife with whom he just has fun. This is no ordinary trope, because there were many kids I knew through my childhood who were from these ‘broken homes’ where the “father ran off with the secretary” and other such narratives. It was a phenomenon that silently ate away at corners of our existence – how some of our friends had fathers who would never come home, and their homes would never be whole again. And all the while the engine of desire for being whole or for your friends’ families to be made whole is there. The yearning and the pain that gets repressed and folded into interactions is exquisitely rendered. The show goes through the various scenarios on which the classic nuclear family setup is torn asunder by the very consumerist society that purports to support them through wondrous products. It leaves one devastated exactly because failure is more common than success, and so many people fail so willfully in the show. Except you come to realise that this is also true in the people who populate our real lives.

The show sheds a light on why the institution of marriage in the American nuclear family of the 1960s failed so spectacularly, so often. Nothing so schizophrenic can survive without actuating the schism.

The Dream Of The World Of Our Parents

I only have a sense of the 1960s through old photographs. My memory of the 1960s is too far back to make any kind of sense. The Vietnam War was there by the time I had any inkling of the world. Demonstrations and marches were regular news items. The context for the sturm und drang has always sat behind records books and movies. Robin Williams joked that if you could remember the 1960s, you probably weren’t there. There’s a weird compelling quality to that joke because as a toddler at the time, I hardly remember it. The 1960s I know of lives in my head through the media construction but strangely there is nothing in it that offers a wider view of society. The fragments of first hand accounts that have actually come down to me through anecdotes remain blurry. The Cuban Missile Crisis, day President Kennedy was shot, Beatlemania, and the day Martin Luther King was shot – these events only form a kind of diorama in my head without the context of the world. Thus it is singularly enlightening to see these events at arms length, sitting in the lounge room with these characters.

The 1960s sits at the precipice of the moment when human history goes from having more people dead than alive, to having more people alive than there ever lived. The post modern explosion happens at 1970, necessarily as the ancien regime of hierarchies begin collapsing, disintegrating bit by bit. As such, the rigid certitude in things such as gender roles and social rank that characterises the earlier seasons seem distant and alien to us, but as the show moves through the decade, we sense the accelerating change barreling towards our contemporary awareness. If the world changed this quickly on our parents, then it sort of makes sense why our upbringing for Generation X was so fractured and cognitively dissonant. They must have thought they were raising us for a world that had the certitude of 1960 when in fact we were always going to grow into a world of ever increasing moral and ethical relativism.

De-Witched

The show that kept getting evoked by the earlier seasons was ‘Bewitched’ where Samantha was the perfect housewife and her husband Darrin was the advertising executive. It’s funny because Samantha was played by Elizabeth Montgomery so the name Betty goes to the wife; and Darren was played by Dick York and Dick Sergent, and so Don Draper’s secret identity is Dick Whitman. Don has a white-haired boss Roger Sterling, just as Darrin had Larry Tate. The rest of it is completely off the rails that flies in the face of the theme of maintaining a family. Instead of a happy housewife who uses magic to make things perfect, Betty is bored and un-empathic with her kids; instead of  being a bumbling doting husband, Don Draper is a philandering alpha male. ‘Mad Men’ posits an American household that disintegrates under the very desire stoked by advertising. The irony is that the central characters are deeply committed to the business of advertising and are fully aware that they are there to fan the unending fires of desire.

‘Mad Men’ effectively posits that the marriage of Samantha and Darrin from Bewitched is doomed to fail exactly because they are in a particular kind of nuclear family arrangement that maximises household consumption but dissatisfies more people than it helps. Darrin, if he were genuinely an ad exec of his times, would have had too may opportunities to philander. Samantha, without magic, would be too vulnerable to the pitfalls of being a suburban housewife, through isolation, boredom and depression. ‘Mad Men’ is partially a tart retort from the 21sst Century towards the cultural delusions of the 1960s. It is on the whole unsparing and unkind.

Don Draper’s Elegant Existential Angst

It’s interesting how the character Don Draper is laden with backstory. They place so many extreme situations in his background, he is practically the other even if he is white. On one level this makes sense because in order for a white male character to have insight into the other, they must be laden with elements in their life that would enable them to share empathy with the other. This gap in turn informs the degree of alienation the main character feels from the mainstream of society. As with the Great Gatsby, Don Draper has arrived at the Big Time in the Big Apple, but he has arrived as an imposter. His origins are worse than humble, his identity is fractured, and he is busy covering his tracks.

In order to portray the great sea tide of change in people’s attitudes through the 1960s, they had to devise a character who is at once very conservative on the surface but is deeply mutable and given to impulses and therefore endless infidelities. What is peculiar as a protagonist about Don Draper is how he is consumed by a silent self-loathing quite unlike any other character in America TV except maybe Walter White in ‘Breaking Bad’. At this moment in history, the most interesting aspect of American masculinity on screen is not self-assuredness, but the depth of self-loathing combined with a troubled existential malaise and affliction.

Jon Hamm is remarkable as Don Draper because he is able to milk the nuance of the character as well as deftly play apart the many, many fractured facets of this man. He seems to have so many different smiles, all of them memorable for suggesting different parts of his psyche. The leery lewd smile, the condescending patronising smile, the genuine seductive persuasive smile, the gimme-five smile; all of these smiles are played differently and with great control. The series is essentially an Odyssey through the 1960s with Don Draper who is a kind of Odysseus of advertising – except unlike the Odyssey, it is not certain just where home/Ithaca is for Don Draper. The vast number of episodes allow the story-tellers to really go into every episode of the man’s life, with the sort of detail that would have made James Joyce jealous, for Don Draper is the 21st Century rendition of Odysseus/Ulysses.

Betty Draper, The Emotionally Austere Mother

January Jones’ performance as Betty Draper is the other amazing performance in the earlier seasons. The character drops back significantly after the third season and she’s not that great in season 3 as she becomes this sort of bitchy harridan ex-wife. What’s extraordinary about Jones’ performance is how much she loads into a casual glance or a look away. She raises her eyebrows, or wrinkles her forehead to show displeasure, and generally works through a quick array of conflicting emotions. As a kind of latter day Grace Kelly, she gives off the impression of the perfectly manicured ice queen but there is so much ironic layering in what she does. I don’t think I’ll forget some of the subtle gestures or expressions of disapproval.

The evolution of Betty Draper gives us a sense of how American whiteness preserves itself as an identity. She’s a fantastic character in the fist two seasons. It’s sad that she gives away the stage to Don’s next wife as her 50s kind of beauty gives way to Megan’s swinging sixties vibe. It is as if she is forced to retreat off the stage exactly because what she represents belongs in the past that has died.

The show is in many ways quite an exercise in metonymy. Don Draper in our parlance might just be a sex addict, but because we are watching a time and space where such language does not exist we end up witnessing the drama. Similarly with Betty she might just be a classic ‘First Wife Club’ member, but because she is operating in a time and space without that concept we witness the drama of her emotional disintegration and reconstruction in a different way. Don and Betty as played by Jon Hamm and January Jones are so perfectly matched with their beauty in their scenes in the car as they drive, you almost wish like Goethe’s Faust that their time stands still. The grand tragedy of ‘Mad Men’ – as it is in real life – is that time simply cannot stop for anybody, and all we can have is memory and nostalgia.

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‘True Detective’

Journey To Carcosa

These TV series that HBO produce are so compelling you can’t help but sit there and binge episode after episode. Part of the beauty is that they let the writers take the lead and just let them go. The results have been far more rewarding than your average run of the mill Hollywood Action movie or Crime movie. The expanse of time allows for exposition to occur more naturally while we get to know and understand the characters. The ambiguity and ambivalence of many characters in the HBO TV stable stands in deep contrast for the need to resolve everything in the allotted time in the cinema. It is a little bit like the tables have turned. It used to be cinema that was afforded the time and TV had to rush from one commercial break to the next.

‘True Detective’ sits on the more exploratory end of story telling as well, with its non-linear narrative across many episodes. It takes its cue from classic buddy cop formats but veers wildly from the normal/standard sort of story lines, leading us into a very dark kind of universe.

Here is the obligatory spoiler alert!

What’s Good About It

The standout element is actually the performances of both Woody Harrelson and Matthew McConaughey, followed by the script and direction. The directing is notable in that is one person doing all 8 episodes of season 1 and and the consistency is noticeable when compared to something like ‘House of Cards’ where they had a bunch of different directors handling different episodes.

A lot of the philosophical issues being brought up by McConaughey’s character Rust are very germane not only to the events in the script but to the wider world that encompasses the viewer. The film also harks back to the horror episodes of ‘The X-Files’ while not being as arcane.

What’s Bad About It

Sometimes I felt that I wasn’t all that interested in Woody Harrelson’s character Marty and his impulses towards infidelity. Something has to be there, but half the time it seemed the sexcapades were pretty gratuitous and there to make up HBO’s quota for T & A. Marty’s marriage as a topic seems there to fill airtime. You can’t but help feel they might have had a better thing they could have put in there in its stead.

What’s Interesting About It

This is an interesting series because it leads you down a path thinking it’s a psychotic serial killer that’s doing the killings and then it becomes clear there’s something about the symbol and cult that is doing the murders as ritual. The evidence is so grisly at some point, the characters are traumatised by the sight of the video and get very angry that they cannot “un-see” what they have seen. It is immediately reminiscent of the world of H.P. Lovecraft’s fiction featuring the Cthulhu mythos and the various evil cults that carry out ritual slayings.

The ambiguity of the cult and whether it is supported by the fictional universe or not is also interesting.  It is not clear for a very long time whether there really is a metaphysical evil to which the sacrifices are made, exists in the fictional universe of these characters. To this end, the show spends a great deal of time with social realism stylings as well as extended speeches by Matthew McConaughey’s character Rust where he gives remonstrations to the effect that the universe is essentially meaningless and there is no benevolent God. indeed, in the early going these speeches are so fantastic you think the series is about the bleak existentialism of this character juxtaposed against the existentially stunted Marty played by Harrelson.

The writers make a good deal out of covering their tracks  as to the metaphysical status of the diagetic space. The unknowability is undercut by several factors. One is the structure of the narrative for the most part involves the two main characters being interviewed by police officers in recalling their version of events. In some instances we are shown the recollection presented is an outright lie, which opens the door to the possibility that what we hear from these characters is definitely not the gospel truth. Half the time you are watching to see if the inconsistencies somehow fractures the narrative to reveal that maybe one of the characters is crazy enough to be the serial killer – It’s that well-covered, most of the time you’re looking at the wrong clues on screen.

There are of course hints along the way, with the mention of ‘Carcosa‘. The curious thing about it is that you don’t know if the cult is acting on the fiction written about Carcosa or whether Carcosa actually exists as an entity within the fiction of ‘True Detective’. When they finally track down the last remaining killer, they are led into a space that the killer identifies as Carcosa, but then Rust has a transcendent, inter-dimensional experience that is totally out of tune with his character. He has a fundamental shift in his perception of the universe as a result of what he experiences.

Pulp Fiction Style

It’s 20years since ‘Pulp Fiction’ won Cannes and we are still seeing the far-reaching influences of that film. The relationship between Rust and Marty get introduced to us through a series of conversations in cars which is a technique straight out of ‘Pulp Fiction’. The two characters have metaphysical concerns which seem wildly at odds with the apparent evidence on screen. The vagaries of the odd things that happen to people, the coincidences an chains of consequences are tightly wound in this series. It even shares the same concerns – where somebody is concerned with the metaphysical, nattering on and on about it until it is revealed that the metaphysical is of the deepest concern. In this instance, Rust is entirely concerned with Nihilism and the meaningless ness of everything only to come across the darkest secret of the universe and it shatters his sense of reality.

Inevitably Harrelson’s Marty is equally imbued with overtones from Harrelson’s previous characters as Marty proves himself to be a very unimaginative cop who is way too easy on himself. He is too likeable to be a genuine anti-hero, and he’s too dislakeable to be a hero, and so his journey meanders in a way that dots the ‘i’s an crosses the ‘t’s of cop show staples such as the affair, the drinking, the divorce, the domestic discord. All this is used as a foil for what is essentially a story about Rust’s uncovering of the metaphysical mystery.

The back-and-forth narrative structure also lends itself to the wobbly story progression as the audience is led through at various points, the possibility that Rust is in fact the killer on the loose.

‘Call of Cthulhu’ Sanity Checks

You always have to laugh when a character is shown something and it is so hideous they react violently. The audience never gets to see the contents of the VHS tape, but the people who are shown the tape are never the same again. it’s like something straight out of the ‘Call of Cthulhu’ role playing game where players have to roll for a ‘sanity check’ every time they come across a hideous fact. While nobody has successfully brought a genuinely sanity-twisting version of Cthulhu story to the screen, it is cool to see the name of Carcosa in the story leading to a truly Lovecraft-ian sanity-bending moment. Especially when you get to the end and realise that what you had been watching was a ‘Call of Cthulhu’ scenario.

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Things I’ve Been Watching

There’s So Much TV To Watch

One doesn’t really want to go into a situation where one ends up waiting for the next episode. But once one goes down the alley of ‘Game of Thrones’, one must then confront the reality that one must wait an awfully long time for this story to unfold so in the mean time one had better get used to it by filling the intervening time with other TV content. besides which, one can be advised most frequently on any number of splendid shows one must ought watch to keep up with the one’s discourses with one’s friends and family.

So, one must necessarily watch this stuff. And one is amused.

Newsroom

Aaron Sorkin is at once the lauded TV creator and the much reviled target of envy in the world of TV productions. Was ‘West Wing’ so good? I have friends who thought that was just the pinnacle of political fiction on TV. I guess in the years of GW Bush, people would want to see a liberal riposte to the sorts of challenges GW Bush was bungling. So it’s with great interest that Newsroom presents itself as a show about a bustling newsroom that tackles current events and the limits of news media on television.

It’s a nice show, with nice characters and if you can get used to the incessant ping pong dialogue of way too many words filling the air, it has its witty and well-observed moments. Jeff Daniels’s Will McAvoy is a varied, interesting character around whom they have built the show, and it’s nice that he bears watching. On the other hand, his comic foibles place him as a close contender with Will Ferrell’s marvelous creation, Ron Burgandy.

You can do worse than spend time watching these characters. They all seem like really nice people that you might like to have as friends. Maybe it’s the one show that doesn’t lean on personality disorder as a crutch to tell exciting stories.

House Of Cards – US Version Season 1 & 2

In stark contrast to the nice people inhabiting ‘Newsroom’, the US version of ‘House of Cards’ is pretty intense and misanthropic. I think the creative team were probably aiming for Machiavellian but end up more in the psycho ward. This show is filled with personality disorder and psychopaths. It’s essentially “Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright do some crazy spooky wicked things to get to the top” kind of story.

It’s sort of a picaresque, and draws greatly on the device where the character addresses the audience. Kevin Spacey has likened it to playing Richard III. The story of a party whip taking control doesn’t play so well in the American context because the American two party system is in some ways more diffuse thanks to the geographic enormity of America itself. All the same, the logic of how things tumble and fall, giving rise to interesting scenarios is eminently watchable.

Having watched two season and seen how it ends up, I’m not so sure there’s a whole lot more to this story that it could go beyond Season 3. You hope they finish this thing properly rather than let it bleed and hang on for many a dead season. One of the mercifully great things about ‘Breaking Bad’ was how decisively they were able to end it.

House of Cards – UK Version

Having watched everything that’s available for the US version,it seemed logical to go hunt up and watch the old BBC version. Of course, the machinations of a chief whip makes much more sense in the British Westminster system. Knocking off a Prime Minister who crosses the path of Francis Urquhart is much more feasible in its native context.

It’s enough to make me wonder what this might look like in the Australian parliamentary context. I have a hunch we might find out in the coming weeks, what with the dreadful polls for Tony Abbott. Can the Tory pollies really stand not to be loved?

It’s a good bloody question. 🙂

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Slack

I’ve Been Slack, Yeah

The writers’ guild called me on my mobile today wondering if it was their administrative error or my lapse that I hadn’t paid for my membership this year. I told the lady it was a bit of both – that I decided to let the thing slide while I thought about it. She asked what I had to think about and so I asked her if she wanted the short version or the long version. She said I should try the short one first.

The short version is that I made all of $1000.00 writing a draft for a screenplay this year. This $1000.00 is an advance against if-and-when the film gets up. The rest will be paid if and when the film gets up. Out of which if I paid my GST, and then full guild membership, I’d be left with about $550. Which makes me wonder why I’m handing over so much for my only writing income. Especially when they did nothing to help me negotiate my contract. I wouldn’t have and couldn’t have called upon them because their standard contract would have been laughed out of the room.

Besides which, the producer was my friend from Film School. I had to help him get the script sorted before he footed a bill to fly to Cannes to try and raise finance, another process in which the guild would prove utterly useless. Thus, it’s really hard to justify the guild membership when there’s so little to show for it; and a bunch of workshops and discussion groups and a newsletter and a glossy book each year where screenwriters get interviewed about writing… simply isn’t much value. For that money I could head to the pub and hang out with people of my choosing, and the ensuing conversation might actually be more interesting.

The industry has changed greatly. It’s not the bustling hive it once was where development led to things. Only a handful of films get made – and none of them get made without the government funding production costs. It’s really hard to conceive of a guild in the context of an industry that’s only there as an extension of the government.

I then asked her if she wanted the long version and she declined. I can’t say I blame her much. I told her it’s not something I hold the guild responsible for, but really it couldn’t be just me, and the industry couldn’t be supporting so many writers to call the writers guild a guild. And hence I told her I was thinking whether I should stump up the money for the membership or just spend it on my dentist – which, would have literally palatable results compared to a membership in a clan of writers equally hungry, disenfranchised, and broke as I.

She said she would relay back to management my concerns. I have no idea how ‘management’ is going to respond to my feedback. I doubt they would have anything to say. I’m not expecting anything, but at least they got a piece of my fucking mind.

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The Schadenfreude Budget

Nothing To Delight In But Pain Of Others

This is going to be a mean budget. I was talking about it today with some people and they were saying yes, it’s going to hurt but that they hope it hurts other people too. Like Liberal voters who thought voting for Tony Abbott was such a good idea. If you’re a left-leaning voter, this budget promises to be a pile of misery heaped upon with fear-and-loathing sauce. The only sweetness will be the bitter-sweet Schadenfreude of seeing others suffer.

In my case, I’m hoping for a big scythe like the one carried by death to hack a swathe through Screen Australia, which may or may not according to leaked information, get rolled into one entity with the Australia Council. That would be cool to seethe perennial same people who always get the funding, go without for once. Screen Australia’s a bit of a bug bear because they keep funding the same people and they keep rewriting the rules so nobody else gets a look in for funding. In other words, it’s more a rort and a slush fund than a proper funding body these days so… heck Joe Hockey, cut away with impunity. I’d rather see it get the full-arse chop than a half-arsed trim. I really would enjoy those people “having to look for a job in the real world”. Screw them.

On a more general scale, you ave to think that Abbott and company are going to make the kinds of cuts that the ALP could not. This would be true, particularly in health and welfare. And while the rhetoric is that this targets the weakest in our society, I think we’ve all seen a few cases that have made us do a double-take. If you think about it, 6million people are on some kind of Centrelink payment. Then, Julia Gillard’s government added Family Tax Benefit B as a bribe to lather through the Carbon Price. It was classic ‘Keep it Greasy So It Goes Down Easy’. As a single person who got nada out of that deal because I have a job – even though I’m in the “low income bracket” according to the tax office – it sure wasn’t a break that was headed my way.  So, I wouldn’t miss Family Tax Benefit B disappearing. heck, cut away, I say.

Be that as it may, there are plenty of things that piss me off  that are mooted in this budget. The wholesale destruction of environmental agencies and science and technology funding seems beyond the pail. I’m just hoping if the cuts hurt everybody enough they’ll be motivated at the next election to vote these bums out.

Retiring At Seventy

I didn’t know this until the good folks on Insiders pointed it out but 70years old is going to be oldest retirement age in the OECD nations. Most nations are topping out at 67 or 68. The average life expectancy in Australia is currently 81.85 so assuming that goes up a little bit until 2035, one would think the government is hoping to keep the lid on the retirement years at about 15.

The budget is talking about offering $10,000 incentives to hire people over 50. Right now, people over 50 are Baby Boomers. I can’t imagine the government could fund such a policy forever into the future, given the logic of how little tax they could get back from such a worker, so once again we see the government trying to feather the nests of the Baby Boomers, just to get this idea over the line.

I keep trying to imagine myself at say, 65 going for a job interview to find work that will take me up to 70. I keep wondering what that job might be and whether there would be a 10k incentive to hire me then (or if that 10k would be worth anything in that future). Having spoken to a number of my fellow Gen-Xers the feeling is “fuck off, we’re going for a revolution!” You get the feeling that the inter-generational conflict is going to heat up from here on in. The Treasurer sure lit a fire there.

We’re Dumb Ignorant And Uncultured, But We Can Build Roads

The carrot dangled in front of Australia for all this budget pain is that the Federal Government will spend 40 billion on roads for the next 4 years. This is going to be matched by 42 billion from State governments and the private sector. 82billion over 4years is a lot of road building. And the look of smug satisfaction as they’ve been leaking this bit has been a bit much.

Most countries that try to stimulate their economy by general construction end up building white elephants. This is true of Asian countries and European countries. Bridges to nowhere and ghost cities of apartments with nobody living in them happen exactly because a government thinks a general construction spending spree will stimulate the economy. It would have in the 1950s but clearly in an age when GM, Ford and Toyota are closing up factories, we’re entering a post-industrial phase of the economy, like it or not. If you are going to build 82 billion dollars’ worth of infrastructure, are roads really where you want to put your money?

Keep in mind that this is the same luddite government that wants to dumb down and dismantle the NBN, another infrastructure project that might be more appropriate for our stage of development.

It’s also 82 billion that’s not going into education and training because this government wants to get out of tertiary education altogether and make it completely user-pay. It’s 82billion that’s not going towards building a metro in our major cities, and it’s definitely not going towards an inter-city bullet train. What it is, is a decidedly backward looking commitment to build more of the same on the assumption that Australia’s economic needs are going to be roughly the same as they were in the 1950s and1960s under Menzies. It’s willfully stupid because clearly “more roads” is not what Australian needs more of over the other options that do not even get a look in.

And this is before we even look at the problems of petroleum as fuel for cars, and the economics of crude oil going into the future where we’re spending increasingly greater amounts of money to extract the same amount of crude oil. When we cease to be able to afford the oil, we’ll cease driving our petroleum-engined cars. When that happens you wonder what good these 82billion dollars’ worth of roads are going to be for an economy moving away from moving things around on the back of the petrochemical industry. Nobody in government has even looked at the ramification of higher energy costs on this economy and whether it is a smart move to put all our baskets into roads in anticipation of even greater road transportation. Even with a multiplier effect, this 82billion is going to be money badly spent.

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‘Anchorman 2’

I’m Completely Stupid And So Are You

Broad comedy has one saving grace – it never has to get too profound so one thing it will never get mistaken for is Critical Theory. We are never going to mistake a film starring Will Ferrell with ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. This is a good thing because it shows our understanding of genre protects us from exposing ourselves to ideas and notions we would rather not have. Thus comedy draws the most knee-jerk critics when in fact the comic vision sustains the sharpest critique of our milieu.

That being said there are comedies and there are comedies. Some are more cutting than others while broad comedy has an anodyne quality that makes it seem like it is neither poison or medicine. ‘Anchorman’ was such a film and became such a hit that many years later, it spawned this sequel.

What’s Good About It

The bits that make you squirm in your seat with laughter. This one is probably funnier than the first but in bursts. The awfulness of Ron Burgandy can be pretty intoxicating. The inappropriate lines come flying one after the other. The study of Ron is better when he is on top and commanding more than when he is down and out. When he is down and out, the humour is just too maudlin. When Ron thinks he’s in a commanding position, the inappropriateness grows bolder and sillier.

What’s Bad About It

The bits that make you cringe in your seat with laughter. Political correctness gets a right bollocking, but it’s actually hard to say things have come a long way in 30years. It’s not the film’s fault, but the gap is uncomfortable.

What’s Interesting About It

This is the weird thing. The film is a celebration of network news and around-the-clock news coverage while it posits a problematic that say the demand for 24hour news creates the need for increasingly spurious stories. So, on the one hand you have the glorious 24 hour news channel feeding news to the world non-stop as it comes off the feed, but not everything that comes down the feed is of equal importance. Then there is the problem that Television is more given to sensational topics than thoughtful pieces. It’s the nature of the beast as long as it must chase ratings for revenue.

The film is actually quite didactic about this problem. While Ron’s desire to get ratings essentially drives down the average intellectual content to the lowest common denominator, it is also true that he drives the stories to their most sensational apex. All the stylistic quirks we know of contemporary news programs are explained away through Ron Burgandy’s idiotic need to be sensational all the time. You’d almost think the film was a savage satire instead of a simple, broad comedy. But then it quickly abandons this project in favour of a plot-line where Ron loses his sight and therefore his job. With Ron’s eyesight goes any pretension at explaining what made news programming so awful.

The Perils Of Stardom

In the intervening years between the first film and this film, Steve Carrell’s star has risen considerably. This has meant his character Brick Tamland has got the B-plot over Paul Rudd, Christina Applegate and David Koechner. The problem is that Brick was such a minor character the first time through, and such a moron that the plot really doesn’t go anywhere smart or interesting. instead, Carrell gets to play what can only be described as ‘dueling idiots’ with Kristen Wiig.

Yes he gets second billing behind Will Ferrell, but brick is such an idiotic character they have tremendous difficulty extracting anything meaningful out of the B-plot.

I am guessing this sequel is going to do nothing to rescue Chrstina Applegate’s star. She’s really not doing a good job in this film. I never thought I’d say this but, she’s actually bad in this movie, when it’s exactly the kind of film that should be her bread and butter.

Harrison Ford’s cameo is beyond perplexing. He was sort of re-doing his Morning Glory role of Mike Pomeroy, but it was a strange choice.

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