Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Tome After Tome

In high school, there was a poster near the staff room that featured beloved televisual stereotype Con the Fruiterer appealing to the community, in his inimitable and rather irritating way, to care for their backs. "Bad Backs!" read the text above Con's head. "Watch out for him!"

It seems I haven't been watching out for "him" as well as I should have been, because this week I have been struck down with an achy breaky spine that has pretty much killed my enthusiasm for anything beyond slumping on the couch in front of the cricket. And now that the cricket is over I have nothing to do but fan myself with the tv guide and try not to think about all the work I'll have to do when my summer semester starts next week.

Obviously I need a project. I contemplated beginning my long-awaited novel (the semi-fictionalised story of my time as a transexual cabaret dancer in pre-WW2 Berlin), but that seemed too much like hard work so I turfed the idea. But what to do, what to do...

I know! On my book shelves are a number of big books. Big, motherfucking books that I fully intended to read when I bought them, but that have sat there unmolested for several years, collecting dust as only books large enough to have their own gravity wells can. The solution is clear: read one of these behemoths and blog about it as I go. Or until I get sick of blogging about it, or sick of the book. Given my predilection for books under 300 pages, the latter seems a likely outcome.

The question is, which book to read? Well, who better to decide than you, the loyal Sterne reader? (The answer is: anybody. But you'll do.) It's a toss-up between the following:

1. Underworld by Don DeLillo. Modern classic or turgid housebrick?

2. Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. Modern classic or even turgider housebrick?

3. Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid by Douglas Hofstadter. Turgid? Housebrick? What's a Gödel? (As if I'm ever going to understand this book...)

Cast your votes and seal my fate!

(I just know this will be one of those posts that nobody comments on. So fuck you in advance.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Bad Sex

The Bad Sex award is given annually to the author of the most risible sex scene in mainstream literature for that year. The 2005 longlist has been announced, the nominees including such heavyweights as John Updike, Paul Theroux and Salman Rushdie. Theroux's "offending passage", which purports to describe a male character's orgasm, is as follows:
"...not juice at all but a demon eel thrashing in his loins and swimming swiftly up his cock, one whole creature of live slime fighting the stiffness as it rose and bulged at the tip and darted into her mouth."

Although it is tough to compete with such bad, bad writing, I'm still a little shocked that this scene from my yet-to-be-published novel failed to make the cut. (You can see where this is going, so if you insist on a mature attitude regarding sex, or object to the word "knobcrackle", please stop reading now):
As Butch cunnilingered in her loins, Maria felt her woman-juices stir, and abandoned herself to his skilled exertions. He lapped her like Michael Schumaker overtaking a particularly sluggish backmarker, coming up occasionally to wipe his mouth with the back of his hand, as though, Maria thought with a thrill, he was auditioning for the role of "satisfied drinker" in a VB commercial. When finally she came, Maria squeezed Butch's head between her thighs, as the pleasure-demon coarsed through her veins, its tiny demon-penis releasing inside her what felt like a cocktail of sulphuric acid, tabasco sauce and love that set her every nerve ending on fire.

With her bosom still a-quivering, Maria sat up and smiled at her flushed lover before reaching down for a handful of knobcrackle. Butch groaned and closed his eyes as she took him to paradise, as though she were some kind of ocean-going catamaran and he the eager tourist looking to travel to some moist, tropical destination where sensual delight was all but guaranteed. When it seemed that Butch could take little more, Maria allowed him entry to her anxious tunnel, and after a minute or so Butch cried out with joy, his manly fluid bolting from him like puréed oysters fired from a shotgun. Satisfied, they lay in one another's arms and counted sheep, until Maria asked Butch to shoo them away, saying that she'd prefer it if it were just the two of them next time.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Leslie Converts to Ninjaism, Silences Critics - Forever!

In a surprise move, Australian model Michelle Leslie, who returned home last week after being convicted of drug possession by an Indonesian court, has converted to ninjaism.

"I know I've only been a Muslim for three months," Ms. Leslie said in a statement released today, referring to her conversion to Islam while awaiting trial in Denpasar, "but that was long enough to realise that it wasn't for me. Ninjaism feels like the right fit at this stage of my life - and don't tell me it isn't, or I'll cut you with this big freakin' sword!"

Some commentators have alleged that Leslie's Islamic faith was nothing more than a cynical attempt to curry favour with the Indonesian judiciary. This time around, the pundits appear to be rather more tolerant of Leslie's caprice.

Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt told Sterne that he has spoken to Leslie about her latest conversion, and he is satisfied that her motives are sincere.

"When I came home and found Michelle in my lounge room, in full ninja garb, throwing shirukens at the cat, I admit I was sceptical. It just seemed too convenient. But as the evening went on, and Michelle explained to me what she could do with the still-beating heart of a victim, I realised that I was speaking to a young woman of great probity. She also has excellent aim, as anybody who saw the photos of what she did to Derryn Hinch will attest."

Ninja Council of Australia president Akimoto Ibuki said that Leslie has widespread support amongst Australia's ninja population.

"It's great to see young people devoting themselves to ninjaism. It is a pathway to peace and enlightenment, and the ability to catch bullets with your teeth, which is pretty fuckin' cool, huh?"

Leslie declined Sterne's request for an interview, but did say that she not only has the ability to kill a man with her little finger, but she also knows where we live. So, good luck, Michelle. May Ninja be with you, always!

Bound and Free

There's a big pile of unwanted books next to my computer, and I have finally figured out what I'm going to do with them. No, I'm not going to give them to an op shop or sell them to a second-hand store. I'm not going to offer them to friends or give them away as pre-loved Christmas presents. What I am going to do is leave them in public places and hope that an interested party will pick them up. It's littering with altruistic intent, with the added geeky bonus of (possibly) being able to track whether somebody does indeed adopt them.

So if you are keen to nab some free books, you'd better sign up and watch for alerts in Melbourne's east.

Friday, November 25, 2005

Thanksgiving For Dummies

For you and I, gentle readers, today will be spent like any other, i.e. practicing swallowing smack-filled condoms in preparation for the 'Big Event'. But for our trans-Pacific cousins, it is a special day indeed. Let us extend warm congratulations to the Americainians: today (our time) is their Thanksgiving day.

For those poor dullards not in the know, Thanksgiving marks the end of the virulent Turkey Plagues of 1621, the worst natural disaster to beset continental Americainia since Chicxulub played corner pocket in a game of cosmic snooker. Thousands of hapless Pilgrims died - drowned, their buckle-hats slowly sinking under flash floods of fowl. Beaks everywhere, there were! With the unlooked for assistance of the Americainian Indians, the feathery hordes were eventually beaten back. As a token of their deep gratitude for help in a time of trial, the descendants of the Pilgrims presented the Indians with infected blankets and the opportunity to open casinos on their reservations. A pretty good deal!

To remember their triumph over adversity, Americainians will today butcher the remnants of their Old Foe, for to eat their tasty, gamey flesh. Enjoy your stuffed bird, noble cousins! We salute you.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Aussie Battler Trapped In Asian Hell-Hole

In a year during which it has had to cope with scandal after scandal, the Department of Immigration is yet again in a fluster with the news just come to light of another Australian citizen repeatedly forced overseas against their will. Surprisingly, however, instead of pursuing its usual modus operandi - i.e. rushing for cover, denying all knowledge, casting aspersions against the unfortunate exile’s character and refusing to sack any responsible parties before sweeping the entire matter under the carpet – the federal government has quickly stepped into the thick of the affair, and vowed that the situation will be righted with all due haste.

In a hastily convened press conference, handsome Prime Minister Howard declared, “It is neither right nor fair that this man has been sent from our fair shores, and we are endeavouring to rectify matters as soon as possible. However, let me make it perfectly clear to you: this sad turn of events is not the responsibility of my government – the fault lies with the Australian people themselves. If they weren’t constantly whinging about ‘falsely deported’ this and ‘on death row’ that, then poor Alexander Downer would not have been forced out of the country time after time.”

Last seen gulping white wine on a garden terrace and indulging in a hearty giggle with Asian diplomats, Downer’s health and safety are feared for. The wine was revealed to be a distinctly second-class Chablis, and it is uncertain just how long the Minister can survive on tax-payer funded caviar, especially considering the silver spoon jammed in his mouth keeps getting in the way of food.

“Never fear,” said the Prime Minister at the close of the conference, “This travesty will not stand; Alex will be brought back home safe and sound, as quickly as humanly possible. We’re not going to leave this Australian national stranded or under threat. I mean, it’s not like he’s mentally ill or one of those chinky nip types, or anything.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Sweet Memes Are Made Of This

Memes. They're annoying, pointless, and self-indulgent. I have even read pundits who say that they're elitist, and anything that pundits say is elitist has got to be bad, right? Well, fuck it, I'm elitist, and I've been tagged, so here is my contribution to the rather unwieldy meme of the moment. Hopefully Jon will post something tomorrow so you won't have to put up with this at the top of the page for too long.

10 Years Ago:
I was drunk, or stoned, or both. In other words, I was in Year 11. My girlfriend's name was Nicole, I spent my spare time seeing bands and writing for zines, and I had as little going on between my ears as any seventeen-year-old. I also had long hair, ripped jeans, and a penchant for flannelette shirts.

5 Years Ago:
I had just met the future Lady Sterne, I had no idea what I was doing with my life apart from drinking and writing zines with Jon. I had recently cut my hair, and in about six months I would give up smoking.

1 Year Ago:
Much the same as now, minus blogging.

Five Yummy Things
Yummy? Doesn't sound like a word I'd say. Anyway: Lindor balls, beer, butter popcorn, lasagna, ginger beer

Five songs I know by heart:
Ah yes. There's always a place in every meme where you get to show off your musical taste. So, in the spirit of the occasion, I'll go you one better and list five albums - amongst many others - I know by heart. Note for note, word for word. In my head, of course, not on the piano accordian or anything, so don't ask me to run through them. Just take my word for it that my aural memory is prodigious. (I'm also very fucking cool, as you've probably already worked out.)
We're Only In It For The Money, Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention
Chairs Missing, Wire
Yankee Hotel Foxtrot - Wilco
Animals, Pink Floyd,
Hi Fi Way, You Am I

Five things I would do with a LOT of money:
Erect billboards all over town with technically inoffensive yet strangely disturbing words written on them. Eg. "Fist".
Walk into JB Hi-Fi and other decent record stores and tell disbelieving shop assistant to grab a trolley, 'cause I'm taking the lot to go.
Ensure my kids could follow their dreams without having ever to utter the words: "Can I help you?" or "Would you like fries with that?"
Do something for Africa, the forgotten continent. (Bit grim, I know, but this is fantasy with a moral dimension.)
Buy the Herald Sun and run the fucker into the ground.

Five things I would never wear:
A McDonald's staff badge.
An Elvis costume.
Overalls (suitable only for pregnant women, tradesmen, and Nintendo characters)
A flannelette shirt.
A bib.

Five favourite TV shows:
The Simpsons
The Sopranos
The Office
Er, can't think of a fifth.

Five things I enjoy doing:
Leaving aside the obvious physical activities...
Listening to music.
Thinking about music.
Writing or reading about music.

Five people I want to inflict this on:
Some people get shirty when you tag them, so please note: you don't have to do the meme if you don't want to! Like, if I told you to jump off a cliff would you do it? You would? Well, that is interesting...
Agent Fare Evader

Something Fishy*

What smells like fish and rhymes with "punt"? Why, Rex Hunt, of course. Australia's favourite fish-kisser/footy commentator/street brawler has a gnarled finger in many fishy pies, and it seems that if there's a dollar to be made Rex will not hesitate to stick his rod in, often in conjunction with aforementioned gnarled finger. (And you thought this was a classy establishment.) One of Rex's crowning achievements is his Port Melbourne fish 'n' chippery, D'Lish Fish, where the sights, smells and oily ambience of a suburban fish 'n' chip shop are painstakingly recreated for the benefit of snooty locals who would not be seen dead in a suburban fish 'n' chip shop.

The key to this kind of thing is to make the experience as "authentic" as possible while never ceasing to remind patrons of the inherent faux-ness of the place. It is dining as theme-park experience, and D'Lish Fish pulls it off with aplomb. The decor is all formica benches and vinyl stools - as in seats, although the other sort of stool is present in the form of seagull shit, which drips like a Dali clock from several of the outdoor tables. From the hand-written menu (the hand in question being that of a professional sign-writer, rather than a chalk-weilding proprietor) to the open kitchen area, no effort has been spared in approximating a proper fish 'n' chip shop without deigning to actually become a proper fish 'n' chip shop. It's all surface, no substance. Some will see in this nothing to complain about. I, however, like my fish 'n' chip shops to have a bit of atmosphere in the air, a bit of honest grease on the walls. Oh, and a semi-derelict Street Fighter II arcade machine in the corner. D'Lish Fish doesn't even have pinball!

Then there are the meals. Wrapped in faux-newspaper (all the "stories" concern the exploits of one R. Hunt), the food does a good impression of hearty fare - until you start eating it. Then the chips are revealed as sub-standard, with more eyes than a bucket-full of jumping spiders. The fish itself is terrible, a sliver of pallid flesh encased in three inches of batter that appears to be flavoured with some kind of fish-extract in order to give the impression that you're getting what you paid for. The potato cakes aren't bad, but you're not there for potato cakes. You're there for fish, preferably fish that has been caught, kissed, and beaten to death by Rex himself. And what do you get? A travesty, that's what.

*Can you believe I actually used that title?


Say you're reading a book that runs to about 400 pages. The first quarter is excellent, but over the next eighty pages it becomes repetitive, the plot lags, and you start to wonder why you should care. With just over half the book to go, do you a) put the book aside and instead read that brisk, funny Nicholson Baker novel you've got sitting on your book shelf; b) continue reading for another fifty-odd pages in the hope that things will pick up and with full knowledge that even if they don't you'll probably end up finishing the thing out of a misplaced sense of duty; or c) finish reading it because you've come this far and you might as well see how it turns out.

The book is The French Lieutenant's Woman, by the way. Perhaps I ought to add a fourth option, d) flick through until you find the sex scene, read it, then put the book aside and read the Baker.

Monday, November 21, 2005

Freaks and Geeks

The Guardian lists the twenty best geek novels in English since 1932. The Morrow smells a meme: "Bold the ones you've read and show the world how big of a geek you are."

1. The HitchHiker's Guide to the Galaxy -- Douglas Adams
2. Nineteen Eighty-Four -- George Orwell
3. Brave New World -- Aldous Huxley
4. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? -- Philip Dick
5. Neuromancer -- William Gibson
6. Dune -- Frank Herbert

7. I, Robot -- Isaac Asimov
8. Foundation -- Isaac Asimov
9. The Colour of Magic -- Terry Pratchett
10. Microserfs -- Douglas Coupland
11. Snow Crash -- Neal Stephenson
12. Watchmen -- Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons
13. Cryptonomicon -- Neal Stephenson
14. Consider Phlebas -- Iain M Banks

15. Stranger in a Strange Land -- Robert Heinlein
16. The Man in the High Castle -- Philip K Dick
17. American Gods -- Neil Gaiman

18. The Diamond Age -- Neal Stephenson
19. The Illuminatus! Trilogy -- Robert Shea & Robert Anton Wilson
20. Trouble with Lichen - John Wyndham

Just over half. So I'm a geek, but I still get girls. Neat.

Meanwhile, here's something about Proust that I haven't read but that may well be interesting.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Blogrolling (In My 5.0)

I'm slowly cleaning up our blogroll, a process that has involved a small amount of culling. If I've deleted you and you think I oughtn't have, have a whinge in the comments and I'll see what I can do. Meanwhile, there are a few new/recent additions that are worth highlighting.

- I just discovered - like, literally, half an hour ago - that Martin Newell, poet, writer and pop music genius is also a blogger, and a damn interesting one, too. So he's on the 'roll.

- Rejoice, for Rex (late of Rex in the City) has returned to analyse, comment upon, and generally mock the powers that be at LabourFirstBlog.

- Of the many literary blogs I read, the one I have been most enjoying lately is The Mumpsimus. The emphasis is on sci-fi, but Matthew is broadly read and regularly offers some nice insights.

- A couple of local blogs I've been enjoying: Things I've Written, which features some excellent film reviews and other pop cultural observations. I particularly like the regular feature in which Ben pans the Herald Sun's ridiculous "55 words" section. Then there's Sorrow at Sills Bend, a superior culture blog whose author is both witty and intelligent.

There, that filled in a post and allowed me to make a Vanilla Ice reference. Bravo.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Public Transport Challenge

That is it. I've had enough. I am mad as heck, and I'm only going to take it a little bit more.

Readers who have been bothering to pay attention will remember that I have not had a wholly successful career as a regular commuter. But damaged dwarfs, flagrant fellatio, occasional knife fights, gang vendettas and cult activity are just the exciting tip of a decidedly annoying iceberg. I ride the rails on a regular basis, and I don't enjoy it. Three guesses why, anyone?

Melbourne's public transport is consistently as late as a whore without protection.

Every month, Connex posts a self-congratulatory little notice at every station announcing that 97 or 98 per cent of its trains run on time. How is this possible? I don't think I've been on a train in the last 2 months that's run on time. Is there a different definition of the phrase 'on time' that I'm not aware of? If it was only a few minutes late, fine: that's irritating, but I can live with it. Lately though, and with no explanation, entire trains have apparently gone missing - they just never arrive. And in the last week alone, I've been on trains that sat at the station for over 20 minutes, waiting while the driver hummed and hah-ed about technical difficulties.

I concede the possibility that I'm the only one this is happening to, that I'm under some sort of curse. And it's true, I should never have urinated on that gypsy woman. But surely there are others of you out there in blog land who have been forced to regularly endure similarly poor service. If so, why not join me in a little project.

For the next month, every time a train, tram, bus, hovercraft or autogyro arrives late, or fails to arrive at all, or breaks down and the driver does not arrange for an alternate method of transportation, or whatever, I intend to make a note of when, where, etc, and at month's end send this to the services in question and ask for an explanation. I invite anyone else who regularly takes PT to join me on my self-righteous little crusade. C'mon, it'll be great! Everyone loves a whinger, don't they?

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

By guest reviewer Lynne Truss

Kiss Kiss Bang Bang? I'm fairly certain there ought to be some punctuation in that title. Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang, perhaps. Or Kiss, Kiss; Bang, Bang. I'd even accept Kiss, Kiss; Bang! Bang! Luckily, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang (as it insists on being known) makes up for its title's lack of punctuation by featuring several scenes in which characters correct one another's grammar. Obviously writer-director Shane Black is, like all sensible people, a fan of my book, Eats, Shoots & Leaves. (Available now in paperback just in time for Christmas.)

In any event, grammar and punctuation are last year's bees in last year's bonnet. This year, I'm establishing myself as a manners nazi with my new book, Talk to the Hand. (Available now just in time for Christmas.) Kiss Kiss Bang Bang fares poorly in the politeness stakes, and I intend to give it the verbal equivalent of a rap over the knuckles with a hard, blunt object - say, one of my early, justifiably-overlooked novels. (Available now in a budget-priced bulk set just in time for Christmas.)

I ought to preface this talking-to by asserting that, contrary to what you might construe from the way I'm always telling people off, I am in fact a liberal. I mention this to pre-emptively assuage the guilt I will feel later on when I quote approvingly from the right-wing polemic of Theodore Dalrymple. I will also serve up a smidgen of self-deprecation and say that I am by no means perfect myself, so any criticisms I make are more in the way of grumbling than preaching, even though it is painfully obvious that my analysis of society's ills is based on the presumption that I am right and everybody else is wrong, and the world would be a better place if everybody would just do as I say. Yes, I have authoritarian tendencies, but I feel bad about them - yet more proof of my left-wing credentials.

Now, on with the review. Kiss Kiss Bang Bang is funny, exciting and often very clever. Nevertheless, I loathed it. (Just so you know, when I wrote the word loathed, I actually mouthed it to myself and felt a small thrill at the way a single word can simultaneously summarise and justify one's carefully cultivated superiority complex. I must use it again soon.) Yes, I loathed it. (Ahhh...) Why? Because it is rude. A rude, grotty American film about rude, grotty Americans doing rude, grotty American things. (Editors of syndicating American newspapers, please remove previous sentence and replace with: "Because of Val Kilmer's double chin.")

For one thing, the narrator constantly interupts the story. Some call this "post-modern", but in a better time (i.e. whenever I get around to ruling the world) it will be known for what it is: rudeness. Likewise the excessive swearing. Yes, one of the characters does apologise for the heavy use of the f-word, but no contrition is evident concerning the c-word, which makes a surprise early appearance. Oh, but Lynne, I hear you say (by the way, I prefer Ms Truss, thank you), the f- and c-words are so common, even children are using them these days, surely nobody could possibly find them offensive. Well I find them offensive, and I'm clearly the one that matters. As Theodore Dalrymple says, "People who swear should be hung." (I'm paraphrasing. Dalrymple actually says that people who swear should be hung, drawn, and quartered and the pieces mailed to potential swearers as a deterrent.)

Then there is the total lack of courtesy shown by the characters. Yes, Robert Downey Jr. does mumble an apology when he cuts in front of somebody in a doorway, but other than that it's all hanging up phones without saying goodbye, punching people in the jaw, and generally behaving as if civilisation as we know it has ended, which, by the way, it has. The actors are complicit in this display of poor manners. Take the female lead, Michelle Monaghan. Her attractiveness is very rude to the unattractive women in the audience, not to mention their husbands who might find they tumesce, quite unwillingly, every time she is on screen. How dare she impose her perky breasts on an innocent audience. Finally (although I could go on), I dislike the lifestyle depicted in the movie. Sex and drink and murder and girls with dyed pink hair - is this the contemporary world, or some post-apocalyptic, Mad Max-esque scenario? Whatever it is, I find it highly offensive. As Theodore Dalrymple says, "People with dyed pink hair are scum." (I'm paraphrasing again. Dalrymple actually says that people with dyed pink hair are scum who should be killed and their bodies rendered into nutrient-rich feed for battery hens. The man is nothing if not an astute analyst of the modern condition.)

I loathed this film with my every fibre, especially since the time I spent watching it and writing this review could have been more profitably spent supervising the production of my forthcoming book, Can't Truss It: The Collected Works of Lynne Truss. It will be available just in time for next Christmas. If you don't buy a copy, you are obviously a rude person who probably doesn't understand punctuation, and I shan't hesitate to drive over your legs if I see you in the street.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Another Review? What Fresh Hell is This?

The Proposition has been out for, oh, couple of months now, I think. But is the fact that everyone who was going to see it has probably done so by now going to stop me adding my two cents? What, and be relevant? Piss on that.

There’ve been several excellent reviews by local bloggists kicking around the inter-web for a while now: click here for Ben’s and here (scroll down) for Lucy Tartan’s if you’re desperately looking for an excuse to navigate away from this post, you churls. However, as Monsieur Cave’s little riff on post-colonialism is one of those films that everyone seems to have a decidedly different take on, I feel completely unabashed in throwing my belated opinions into the ring.

For those few not in the know, the plot of The Proposition is a fairly simple one. Rubicund Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone), anxious to assert his authority over the surly locals and having captured two-thirds of the notorious Burns brothers following their latest episode of rapine and pillage, offers middle sibling Charlie (Guy Pearce) the eponymous deal: to go and kill his older, madder, badder brother Arthur (Danny Huston), or watch his handsome but half-witted younger brother dance the Tyburn jig. Charlie takes the deal, and Cap’n Stanley heads home to his wife (Emily Watson) to await the fruits of his labour. This being a Nick Cave story, said fruits inevitably arrive rotten.

Lucy Tartan has made note of the similarities between this film and Jarmusch’s superlative Dead Man, but I think such an assessment is perhaps unfair. There are a couple of superficial parallels, true - although Lucy is spot-on about the “misanthrope” scene, a piece of dialogue apparently torn wholesale from Jarmusch and shorn of proper context; this is both annoying and bewildering – but elements like the episodic journey through the wilderness, the spear which pierces Pearce close by the heart: these are not the central aspects of the plot, but merely devices by which to drive it slowly forward.

It’s the plot that rules The Proposition; everything hinges on its ineluctable movement from points A to B, and character, script, and subtext are often left floundering in its wake. Stanley’s deal with the reluctant devil lies at the heart of the film, and everything that occurs after can only do so as an expansion on or consequence of that pact. This results in, for many including myself, the film’s greatest problem, as the story bifurcates early, and we are essentially left with two different films pushed to arrive at the same conclusion without ever really intersecting: Charlie’s shoot ‘em up outlaw tale, and Stanley’s psycho/sociological exploration of colonialism. The upshot of this is loose ends and characters whose actions are justified only by the auspices of the plot, and not by internal logic – witness that the cruel, hypocritical Stanley who dreams up the proposition is largely irreconcilable with the stern but just Stanley with whom the audience is asked to sympathise thereafter. The script often appears to reflect this schizophrenic approach as well, and veers between period-piece realism and heavy stylisation, either of which would be fine, but not both.

The great triumph of The Proposition is its cinematography. Here there can be no similarities with Dead Man. In the latter film, the landscape, the camera angles, all are drenched with a slow, elegiac lyricism – entirely appropriate to the subject matter. The Proposition does exactly the opposite, with the Australian landscape presented as a Drysdale painting: stark, severe, wracked and tormented. It is deeply compelling and deeply ugly, shorn of all lyricism and romantic notions. It eats romantic notions for breakfast, in fact, and this is surely the point of the movie. All efforts at civilizing, poeticising, beautifying, quickly evaporate in the heat: the Stanleys' garden, pathetically pretty with its white picket fence a poor shield against the encroaching wasteland, which will come charging violently in before the end; Arthur, crouching on the ridge, mouthing poetry into the great emptiness and decorating his cave with scraps of erudition – and then burning them, in favour of decorating the walls with John Hurt’s spattered blood. Australia is presented as a killer of meaning, turning attempts at civilization into exercises in brutality.

If any direct comparisons can be made, more applicable ones might be to Heart of Darkness or, of course, Apocalypse Now – studies of the horror (if you’ll forgive a particularly bad reference) of colonialism and the imperialistic mindset. The similarity is particularly true when considering Pearce’s sojourn into the wild to find and kill his brother. It is no accident that his character is named Charlie. And it is to Danny Huston’s great credit that he manages to keep his character from becoming Brando-esque, which it so easily could. Instead he plays Arthur as a terrifying yet avuncular figure, apt to switch from jovial bonhomie to murderous rage with lightning speed.

Would that other roles were played so well. Hurt attempts to chew as much scenery as he can fit into a toothy mouth, and knock over everything that he can’t with his flailing arms. And David Wenham... egads. That horse! That accent! That moustache! What was he thinking? Dick Dastardly by way of Little Lord Fauntleroy? Both are normally fine performers, but whether it was their own poor choices as actors or the film trying to beat us over the head with unsubtle subtext, as it does on a regular basis, I’m uncertain.

The other two major criticisms I’ve heard launched at the film are its violence and its use of Aboriginals, but I found neither to be major problems. I have no trouble with the level of violence portrayed – it’s entirely suitable to a colonial society – only in the way it’s meted out. A lot of blood gets spilled, and it’s aesthetically unpleasing. The Proposition takes the gore to splatter film proportions, and while I love splatter films, this shouldn’t have been one. It’s the implied violence that is most effective – it’s not the sight of the flogged boy’s back or the moment when his screams stop, but the buzzing of the flies and the number “38” that had me squirming; not Winstone’s mashed-up mug, but the look on Emily Watson’s face as she listens to the muffled thuds coming from the next room.

As for the film’s portrayal of Aboriginals, I fail to see the problem: no, we don’t see them or their plight much past the middle of the movie, and at the beginning it's all dealt with a bit simplistically; important though this subject is, however, it is not one that the film claims as key. This could easily, like Dead Man, have been a film about race, or about the treatment of women in colonial Australia for that matter, but it couldn’t have dealt with those issues while retaining the same plot – which is, as mentioned, of greater importance to Cave. Instead, and laudably, the film allows for the existence of these concerns, and more than acknowledges them, before going on to play out the consequences of Stanley’s bargain.

The Proposition is, to be fair, a long way from being perfect; that said, it is utterly and refreshingly different from all other recent Australian fare, is mostly well acted, and is fascinating ugly. Go and see it before it closes. All four of you who haven’t already, and bothered to read to the end of this spurious review, bless your little hearts.

Friday, November 11, 2005

Down And Out And On Fire In Paris

The promo for Sunday night's edition of 60 Minutes features Peter Overton standing before a burning car saying, "I never thought I'd see something like this in Paris."

Two thoughts spring to mind. First, this is fucking Paris we're talking about. Paris, home of the mob, winner of the most-barricaded-European-city award 1789-1968, a place so fond of revolt that they had to redesign half of it to allow artillery ease of movement. Yeah, you'd never expect to see fires and riots in Paris!

Second, anybody who has been to Paris and brought their eyes with them would know that the City of Light is not all snogging honeymooners and snooty waiters. There are some serious class divisions present, and they're easy to spot because they are conveniently colour-coded for easy reference. Simply, if a given person is of Arabic, Eastern European or African descent, chances are they're cleaning toilets, begging for change, or engaged in petty crime. Sure, there are poor white people, too. But the majority of menial workers and derelicts are, going by empirical evidence, first or second-generation immigrants with little in the way of hopes or prospects.

The 60 Minutes promo cynically ties the French riots to terrorism. Over scenes of scrapping gendarmes, an announcer with a triple-broken voice asserts, "This is why we need to crack down on Muslim extremists." Another lesson we might draw from the French experience is that excluding "foreign types" from mainstream politics and society, creating economic ghettoes, and generally behaving in a heavy-handed "do as we say" manner is a fast track to civil unrest. Create an "us and them" environment, and you may suddenly find that "they" have a lot more supporters than they might otherwise have had.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Two Things

1. Anybody know of any decent Australian music blogs? There's plenty of North American and English kids (and non-kids) out there doing their bit for the greater sonic good, but where are the Aussie efforts?

2. What the frack is going on with Sterne's blogroll? Why have parts of it become detached from the rest and turned bold? Why?

Monday, November 07, 2005

A Little Ray of Moonshine

Ray Martin, in a Herald Sun interview last week:
"If someone had suggested to me 40 years ago, when I applied for a cadetship at the ABC, that over the next 40 years I'd get to talk to almost every US president from JFK to Clinton...I'd never have believed them."
And indeed why would he, given that JFK was assassinated in 1963, two years prior to Ray taking up his clipboard at the ABC. Either the Herald Sun journalist made a mistake when transcribing the interview, or Ray has let slip that he not only communes with, but actually interviews, the dead. No wonder Nine is so keen to retain his services...

Sunday, November 06, 2005

There's No Gism Like a Neologism



1.To bloat dramatically; 2. To alter one's appearance to such a degree that only one's curly hair and nasally voice remain to indicate who, in fact, the hell one is; 3. To squander one's talent; to become a hack. After the actor Jon Favreau, who in a few short years has gone from looking like this, to looking like this. And from writing and starring in this, to plugging this on this with this.

Friday, November 04, 2005

I Know Where You Live #5

So far we have limited our travels to Melbourne's outskirts. There comes a time, however, when the lover must cease tracing his partner's areola and gently but firmly apply his thumb to the nipple proper. That time is now, and the nipple in question is none other than Camberwell.

The standard adjective for Camberwell and its environs is "leafy". And indeed, Camberwell is be-leafed to remarkable degree. Large, stately European deciduous trees abound, gardens are well-tended and tasteful, and some locals even wear special hats with bonsai trees growing from them, thus carrying a symbol of their verdant suburb wherever they might roam. Home to Peter Costello, a bustling Sunday market, and more skivvy-clad orthodontists than you can poke a Saab at, Camberwell is truly a place to be, especially if you're not somewhere else.

It's no secret that Camberwellians think well of themselves, and why wouldn't they? They've got nice cars, even nicer houses, and they can afford to send their kids off to be buggered at expensive schools so that there's more time to spend pampering their dogs, many of which are anthropomorphised to a disturbing degree. Yet lurking within Camberwell's collective psyche is a suspicion that beneath the quality knitware and sensible slacks, Camberwell is really just a slightly upmarket Box Hill. Hailing from a slightly downmarket Box Hill (i.e. the actual Box Hill), I'd like to reassure any Camberwell folk reading this that while your accents might lack the polish of a Balwynite, your careers the glamour of a Toorak type, and your rear ends the gym-honed shapeliness of a South Yarra trendy, you are still appreciably better people than most Melbournians. There is no need to worry or change your ways. Simply continue walking around as though there is a pole shoved up your arse, basking in the warm glow of your affected superiority, and everything will be just fine.

Yes, Camberwell residents are special people. This is clear from the fact that, as indicated above, their local "sitting member" is the human hyena himself, Peter Costello. Yet Camberwellians are not your typical staid, buttoned-down conservatives: witness the intermittent hoo-ha over plans to develop the suburb's train station. Camberwellians might have consistently voted for a senior member of one of the most morally reprehensible governments this country has ever had, thereby implicitly supporting any number of inhumane, absurd or just plain bad policies, but don't go fucking with some old building or they'll have you for brunch! As the slogan says, "Camberwell - We've Got It All" - including, it seems, a nice line in upper-middle-class hypocrisy.

That said, Camberwell is a pleasant-enough suburb to warrant a visit, blessed as it is with the art deco Rivoli Cinema, and a number of second-hand book stores of varying degrees of preciousness. Despite vestigial temperence tendencies, Camberwell even boasts a pub, the Palace, which used to be a regular meat market on Saturday nights, until a vegan action group forced its closure. While you're in town, be sure to check out the world-famous man-who-plays-his-saxophone-poorly-while-his-baffled-poodle-looks-on. He is usually located outside Hungry Jacks between nine a.m. and whenever the police move him along.

Camberwell: four trophy wives out of five.

The Lance Armstrong of Blow-Jobs

By the age of twenty-five, Samuel R. Delany had written nine novels. A fair effort, especially considering that at the time he was having sex each day with up to twenty different people. By contrast, at age twenty-five I had written zero novels and would have been lucky to find twenty people willing to give me the time of day, let alone an orgasm. I feel like such an underachiever!

Delany went on to become a legend in the gay, sci-fi, and gay sci-fi communities. His sex life has kept pace with his writing career, with Delany estimating that he has had between 5800 and 7000 "encounters of unprotected receptive oral sex with different men, many of whom were complete strangers". Even if you don't approve of Delany's promiscuity, you've got to admire his wank ethic. I mean work ethic.

Delany revealed these fascinating autobiographical statistics in a speech at Dartmouth College. (Let's just let the college's name pass without comment, ok?) Of course, his purpose extended beyond simply bragging about how much action he gets. (Which, by the way, is still an awful lot, even though he's getting on a bit and looks a lot like Santa Claus.) Matthew, of The Mumpsimus, was there in person, and even took notes, so check out his post for more detail. Frankly, I am far too immature, and far too in awe of Delany's sexual and creative stamina to do his argument justice. Basically, I just wanted to use that title.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


Threat! You and I are under threat. We are being threatened. Presumably by threatening people, but we can't be certain of this. Because, well, we don't actually know what the threat is. But it's pretty damn bad, that's for sure. We think.

But we do know that someone's out to get us. Probably. I mean, it's not a specific threat. We know that, 'cause we've got laws to deal with specific threats. This is more of a generic sort of threat... not that we know exactly what a generic threat is.

The Honourable (like Brutus!) J.W Howard has emphatically assured us that the threat is very real, though, crossing his heart and hoping to die if it isn't. He just can't tell us what it might be - in case those doing the threatening feel so threatened that they decide to alter the nature of their threats. Instead, he's going to change the existing legislation so that the police can eliminate anything that looks like a threat before it actually becomes threatening.

However, despite the grave and imminent danger posed by this threat, the national threat-levels are not going to be raised. "We only change the threat-levels if there are real and specific threats. While we've seen materials which specify that the threat is a reality, we can't say that the threat was specific until we change the law and neutralise it. At which point there'll be no need to raise the threat-levels, even though it was a specific threat, " said Attourney General Major Major. "And look, why debate things any further. We'll all be even safer after we change the laws: afterwards, no-one will even be allowed to threaten to threaten us."

"What does this mean specifically? Specifically, it means we're going to kick seven kinds of shit out of anyone who looks vaguely shifty. See how hard we're protecting your rights?"

No Thanks For The Memes

You know this "twenty things" meme that's circulating at the moment? Well, I'm sure glad nobody has bothered to tag me with it! Yeah, I've got better things to do than list twenty factoids about myself in a desperate bid to appear interesting. And it's not like I'm jealous that just about everybody else has been tagged, or even that some people have been tagged twice, while I've been sitting here, twiddling my thumbs, and not caring about not being tagged. It just doesn't worry me. Like, whatever!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

The Job That Ate My Brain

Searching for a job can be a disheartening experience, especially if, like me, you can't actually do anything. With no qualifications, you are limited to the standard range of unpleasant-sounding jobs, from customer service to labouring to chicken boning (although I do like the concise frankness of "labouring"). It's even more frustrating if, like me, you are in the process of achieving a qualification that will (hopefully) ensure that you never have to service or bone anybody ever again, unless you really like them. So, yes, there is an element of snobbery involved: "Chicken boning? I'll have you know I'm a third year undergraduate who can use the word 'flocculent' in a sentence. How dare you suggest I waste my precious time investigating the insides of deceased fowl?"

The language used in job advertisements does not help. As a rule, any ad that features multiple dollar signs, extensive capitalisation, and the promise of riches beyond your wildest dreams is to be avoided. While it might be nice to have "$$$ 4 XMAS!!!", chances are the job will involve traipsing around dodgy neighbourhoods, knocking on people's doors, and trying to convince them not only to buy whatever crap it is you're selling, but to please, please, lower that shotgun and call off the dog. Likewise any ad asserting that you'll be joining a "crazy team of wacky funsters" (or similar) who "play as hard as they work" should be dissolved with acid before you have the chance to even consider applying. Unless, that is, you find appealing the idea of working with a bunch of irritating extroverts, alpha males and narcissists, in an highly competitive environment where the only concessions to "play" are a Coke machine and a tattered pool table that it would be bad form to actually use.

Then there's the frequent non-correlation of employer/employee expectations. You want a brainless, easy-to-learn job that will pay the bills until something better comes along. Your prospective employer, on the other hand, wants somebody who will devote heart and soul to the chicken boning trade, and maybe even take on some sort of traineeship and rise the giddy heights of Junior Assistant to the Assistant Manager (Chicken Boning Division). The only solution is to lie. Yes, you tell Mr Boner in your interview, boning chickens has long been my dream, and now I wish to make it a reality. Although I am only months away from finishing my PhD in aeronautics, I am willing to forego that qualification and sign on to your exploitative in-house training programme. In short, Mr Boner, I offer you my soul. Now, allow me to sign the contract. What's that, you don't have a pen? Well, never mind, I believe my own blood will work just as well...

Luckily, in a couple of years I'll be done studying and ready to begin my career. Until then, all I have to do is go without food and shelter. Sure, I could get a job, but frankly it all seems too much like hard work.


Yet another sword-related fatality.

When, oh when, will people listen to me?