Tuesday, October 31, 2006
Rumour has it that Ms Doctor's next film will co-star Hung Long, Paul Fister and Eric D. Cheek, with special effects by Jonathan Wank. Director Glenn Gaylord and cinematographer Leon Knob will join soundman Dimitri De Cock in bringing off something special with the assistance of Guy Hands. Meanwhile, writer Sandy Kuntz has reportedly come down with a rash and has been replaced by Brent Butt.
The film? A remake of 1923's Bum Grafters. I can hardly wait.
Monday, October 30, 2006
Kingdom Come, J.G. Ballard. See my review.
Pale Fire, Vladimir Nabokov. I’m working through Nabokov at the rate of one book every six months; any more than that and I experience something akin to sensory overload. I liked Pale Fire, but not as much as Lolita and perhaps not even as much as Despair, which I read a couple of months ago. Kinbote, however, is a work of genius. I now plan to reread Pnin, Bend Sinister, The Eye and The Defence before (maybe) tackling Ada. That one scares me a bit.
The Meaning of Recognition, Clive James. See Jon’s review – I agree with pretty much everything he says. I skipped a lot of the essays in this collection, but as always with James there was plenty worth reading.
But Beautiful, Geoff Dyer. Dyer does jazz in his idiosyncratic way, fusing non-fiction with fiction to create a series of vignettes that attempt to capture the mood or atmosphere of jazz. There is some extremely evocative writing in this book, but overall I found the tone and style repetitive. It is a bleak book, really, and while that might be appropriate given the miserable men it describes it doesn’t do justice to the multi-faceted music those miserable men created. Then again, writing about music is bloody hard, so the fact that Dyer succeeds at all is admirable.
House of Meetings, Martin Amis. Yellow Dog, Amis’s 2003 novel, was widely held to be a “problem novel”, the problem being that it wasn’t any good. Given this, and given how much of an arse Amis has been making of himself in the press of late (of late? I mean of course the entire twenty-first century thus far), I wasn’t really looking forward to his new novel, House of Meetings. Turns out I was right to be apprehensive, because HoM is a comprehensively bad novel. I was going to pull it apart at length but I can’t be bothered. Amis used to be something of a literary hero to me, but now I wish he would just go away. The Rachel Papers, Success, Money, London Fields – great books all, but the man who wrote them is gone, replaced by a desperate, grasping fraud with delusions of relevance.
Stiff, Shane Maloney. I have read some of the later Murray Whelan books, so it is a bit weird to go back to the first book in the series. It’s still Maloney, and it’s still Whelan, but it’s not quite the same. Whelan’s voice, a glorious, living thing later in the series, here suffers from the author-ventriloquism effect so common in first novels with first-person narratives. The geographical/architectural riffs feel forced, as does much of the dialogue, and indeed monologue, even if you imagine it being delivered by David Wenham. Still it’s good fun, and interesting to see how Murray’s adventures began.
The Final Programme, Michael Moorcock. First and least of the Jerry Cornelius novels, I always feel I ought to plough through this whenever I feel like rereading the series. It’s pretty slapdash stuff, although amusing in its outlandish, 1960s way. Would love to see the movie.
Thursday, October 26, 2006
GUY: Now, Maddy, be on your best behaviour. Remember that we’re guests in this village.
MADDY: Yeah I know.
GUY: No pointing or staring or anything like that. These people are poverty-stricken, but they deserve our respect as human beings.
MADDY: Yeah I know.
Some children run past. One boy almost collides with Maddy’s wheelchair.
MADDY (pointing at the child): I want that one.
GUY: Now, Maddy, don’t cause a kafuffle.
MADDY: I want that one.
GUY: But didn’t you say that the adoption of African children by wealthy Westerners is merely a cynical ploy to gain media exposure by jumping on the bandwagon of the cause celebre du jour?
MADDY: Yeah I know.
GUY: And didn’t you say that said wealthy Westerners would be better off investing in long-term community assistance and engaging in political lobbying rather than simply spiriting off random individuals to a life of luxury on the other side of the world?
MADDY: Yeah I know.
GUY: Well, now we’re here in Africa, what do you have to say?
MADDY (pointing at the child): I want that one.
GUY: All right, Maddy, if you’re adamant I’ll go and have a word with the boy’s father. I’m not promising anything, though.
MADDY: Yeah I know.
Guy walks off to talk to the child’s father. While his back is turned, Maddy gets up out of her wheelchair, chases after the small boy, catches him and stuffs him under her grubby t-shirt. Maddy is just climbing back into the wheelchair when Guy returns.
GUY: I’m sorry, Maddy, but the boy’s father says that although he thanks you for your generosity, he couldn’t bear to part with his beloved child. I suppose there is a lesson in all this: no matter how rich and powerful you are, you just can’t have everything.
MADDY: Yeah I know.
As Guy wheels Maddy away, she smiles and discreetly pushes a small dark arm back under her t-shirt.
Tuesday, October 17, 2006
Tonight’s theme is “Idol’s choice” so I suppose there is a slim chance that one or more of the contestants might use this window of opportunity to choose to give up singing. That said, whatever happens tonight can only improve on recent weeks. “Norwegian black metal” night was a disaster (note to Chris Murphy: you’re supposed to sacrifice small animals on stage, not fry them up for dinner), and the less said about last week’s “Tuvan throat singing” night the better.
Anyway, the first performer tonight is everybody’s favourite, Bobby Flynn. After scoring last week with his hauntingly-ululating rendition of “Crunchy Granola Suite”, Bobby has clearly decided to change tack and sex things up, bounding onto the stage and launching into 2 Live Crew’s “Pop That Pussy”. “Rub that ass and play with that clit, you know I like that freaky shit” Bobby sings as his mum smiles proudly from the front row. Judging by the looks they’re giving him, most of the women present would gladly pop their pussies for Bobby, if only they could figure out what that would actually involve. When it’s all over Bobby looks like he could do with a cold shower and a lie down; Mark Holden, however, looks like he could do with lying down with Bobby. “You’re the shizzle, for real, the fizzle in my dizzle,” he tells Bobby. “You’re in like Flynn, man,” etc, etc. Marcia says she would rate the performance a touchdown if Holden didn’t own the rights to the catchphrase. Kyle adds that he likes being touched, and once saw a pussy in a magazine at a friend’s house. Then it’s time for an ad break.
Next up is Damien Leith who has been chastised by the judges in recent weeks for his safe song choices and predictable interpretations. Luckily he pulls out all stops tonight with a version of Val Doonican’s “Paddy McGinty’s Goat” that will go down as one of the great Idol moments, along with Anthony Callea singing “The Prayer” and Shannon Noll having a bucket of pig’s blood dumped over his head. Damo starts out nice and gentle – as we all imagine he would, eh girls? – but by the time the eponymous goat is battling Germans off the west coast of Eire the intensity of Leith’s performance is almost too much to bear. As usual, Mark says what we’re all thinking: “Mate, that was like Wagner in a head-on collision with someone Irish who is also intense and grandiose and stuff”. Marcia agrees, and tells Damien to “keep it real, girlfriend”. Kyle is out the back resculpting that blond massif that sits atop his head, but sends word via a lackey that he thinks Damo is “shit or the best thing ever, I dunno, you decide which one to say…aw fuck it, I’ve got gel everywhere again!”
This is turning into the best episode of Idol ever, and it can only get better because here comes Lisa Mitchell! Is there a vertebrate in this country who is not completely charmed by this talented little songstress? Tonight, Lisa has made the brave decision to accompany herself on the glockenspiel. “I grew up with this instrument,” she tells Jon Foreman. “It’s like my best friend. I call him Gary the Glockenspiel. Sometimes we have tea parties together.” Lisa has chosen a song that has stumped many seasoned performers, the immortal “Theme From ‘Snappy Tom’". Lisa, however, is up to the challenge. When she sings “’Cause the cats of Australia have made their choice” you know, even before she drawls the next line, that that choice is, and can only be, Snappy Tom. As Lisa silences Gary with a sensuous caress, Holden goes into hysterics. “Touchdown!” he shouts, putting his feet behind his head and spinning around on his pointy arse-bones. Marcia says that Lisa is “quite honestly the best singer ever in the history of the universe”. Kyle tells Lisa that he likes her style, but he’s not sure that we’re getting to see “the real Lisa Mitchell. By that I mean: you’re sixteen and nubile – why not get ‘em out, for chrissakes!” Mark tells Kyle to shut up, Marcia covers her ears, then Kyle stands up and starts shouting and everybody sees that he is wearing shiny red briefs over his trousers. The audience laughs and jeers, while Kyle screams at them to shut up. “You smellyheads!” he says. “It was meant to be a secret, but ok, I’m bloody Superman, aren’t I?” Further laughter and jeering. “Just fuck off will ya,” snivels Kyle, sinking to his knees. “Don’t make me use my [sniff!] laser vision on youse…” Then it’s time for another ad break.
Ricky Muscat is next and predictably he lets the side down with a frankly bizarre take on a Bee Gee’s disco hit. The Rickster has chosen not to play an instrument, but has rewritten the song so that the popular ballad is now called “Bald Headed Woman”. Ricky's performance consists of gazing deeply into the cold dead eyes of a mannequin’s head he has impaled upon a microphone stand. “Bald headed woman, woo-hey-hey,” he sings lustily, “bald headed woman to me-ee-ee, yeah-ee-yeah-yeah”. It is difficult to watch, especially when the band strikes the closing note and Ricky begins repeatedly licking his bald headed woman from crown to chin. Mark announces in an uncharacteristically sombre voice that to judge such a performance without first undergoing training as a mental health professional would be inappropriate. Meanwhile, James Mathison and Andrew G have captured the slowly vibrating Ricky with the aid of a large net on the end of a pole. Mathison has sustained serious injuries as a result of being hit in the face with Ricky’s plastic lover and will presumably be out of action for the rest of the show. Nobody seems particularly upset.
Fortunately Dean Geyer is next, although at first it appears he is going to be joining Ricky in the loony bin. What is he wearing? It turns out that he is clad in a special “bra suit” – some twenty-five bras have been wrapped around his body, mummy style. “I’m King Tuten-Wonderbra!” he announces to a baffled Andrew G, but it all becomes clear when he begins to sing. Dean’s choice is none other than Tamara Jaber’s classic “Ooh Aah”. “Ooh aah, I lost my bra, I left it in my boyfriend’s car,” croons Dean as he unfastens bra after bra, letting them fall to the floor or throwing them to the crowd. Surely this is the finest piece of transvestite theatre to grace the Australian Idol stage since Marty Worrall slipped into something more comfortable for his version of “Like a Virgin” way back in 2004. Trailing brassieres, an almost-naked Dean walks over to the judges where Kyle, now in full Superman outfit, sits with his face in his hands. “Oops there goes my pantyhose,” Dean breathes into Kyle’s ear. Kyle, clearly enraged (and possibly engorged) by this homoerotic parody of his girlfriend’s song, leaps to his feet and attempts to crush Dean using his superhuman strength, only to fall to the floor, quivering, as Dean removes his final, vital bra, and the screen is suddenly pixilated for the good of us all. When the picture returns, Dean has been covered up, Kyle has been wheeled off to the Ricky Muscat Memorial Psycho Ward, and Andrew G is wearing Kyle’s Superman undies on his head and one of Ricky’s bras around his chest. Mark wonders if somebody has been handing out brown acid at Idol HQ, but adds that he thought Dean’s performance was good “but could have used more bras”. Marcia says she liked Dean’s interpretation – “That song is a classic, man, a standard, and you treated it with the respect it deserves” – but questioned his provocative stage act. “I like a man dressed entirely in female underwear but, you know, there is a time and a place. That time is after the show and the place is my place. The spare key is in the usual spot.”
Given the show has now run forty-five minutes over schedule, it comes as a relief to hear that Jessica Mauboy will not be performing tonight. Andrew G: “Unfortunately, Jessica is now in quarantine having been attacked by the monkey that was to accompany her on clarinet this evening. I’m sure I speak for everybody when I say that I look forward to Jessica rejoining the competition once she stops dripping gore from every orifice.” After that downer, it’s up to Chris Murphy to end the show on a high note. In the spirit of dear, deranged Ricky Muscat, Chris has reworked the lyrics of a 70s classic to better reflect his personality. Thus: “Cheezels are just all right with me – huh! Cheezels are just all right, oh yeah!” As he sings, Chris throws handfuls of Cheezels into the air. Unfortunately, just as he is leading the crowd in a clap-along chorus, he attempts to catch one of the lofted snacks in his mouth. The Cheezel lodges in his throat, and Chris’s vocal suddenly gets all death metal. “Grrrreeoowww!” he growls, maintaining the melody despite dropping several octaves and turning extremely red about the face; Chris is clearly a consummate professional. Andrew G appears on stage, grabs a handful of Chris’s grubby mane, plunges his other hand deep within Chris’s golden throat, and extracts the deliquescing Cheezel. The two men exchange a look, and with a wink – ever the showman! – Chris takes the Cheezel from G’s open palm and gulps it down. The crowd is on its feet, Holden is swinging from the rafters, Marcia declares Chris Murphy “the real deal”, and from somewhere backstage Kyle is heard muttering something about Kryptonite sapping his powers. It's the end of another episode of Australian Idol, and frankly I'm already hanging out for next week.
Monday, October 16, 2006
Indeed, Nine has a lot to answer for. Who could forget the infamous premiere of the fourth season of The Sopranos, when the network decided at the last minute to forego the new episodes in favour of repeating season three. Then there's its treatment of Rome (axed after two episodes), The West Wing, Gilmore Girls, Frasier, Friends, Survivor, The Late Show with David Letterman, Star Trek, and let's not forget the cricket. (No, let's not, especially when Nine is running those self-righteous "save my sport" ads calling for the support of the masses in its fight against changes to antisiphoning laws. Nine, of course, was the network that decided not to broadcast last year's Ashes series, potentially leaving cricket fans with no option but to sign up to pay tv. Fortunately SBS - which is not a member of Free TV Australia, the industry lobby behind the "save my sport" campaign - stepped in and Nine was left to watch in horror as the "most thrilling series ever" (BBC) ate into their prime time ratings.)
Nine may be the bad guy in all this but the viewing public is not without culpability. Look - just fucking look - at the legless crap that somehow gets up and runs when Nine deigns to push it: What's Good For You, 20 to 1, Family Feud, What a Year, Australia's Funniest Home Videos, a million nostalgia specials, a billion CSI franchises/rip-offs, A Current Affair, Dancing on Ice, Amazing Medical Stories, RPA, McLeod's Daughters - in fact, just about every show on the schedule deserves to be taken out the back and stuffed full of live hand grenades. And people are watching it in droves! That the majority of tv is shit is nothing new, but now we're being denied even those few nuggets of gold amidst the avalanche of leavings, and it's all the fault of ordinary Australians, you pathetic, tasteless worm-people!
By the way, it was my birthday last Thursday. I'm sure you've all noticed my new-found subtlety and grace.
Sunday, October 15, 2006
House of Leaves, Mark Z Danielewski. I have wanted to read, or at least own with the intention of reading, this book for some time, but the price tag has always been a turn-off. Today I picked up a fine paperback copy from Camberwell market for $6. Inside was a gratis invoice from Random House, addressed to none other than The Age critic Peter Craven. How, um, exciting.
Laughter in the Dark, Vladimir Nabokov. Another market bargain - 80 cents for a ragged-but-readable old Penguin.
Europe Central, William T. Vollmann. Instead of this evocative cover art...
...my copy sports this daft image:
Twilight in Italy, D.H. Lawrence. Speaking of covers, has there ever been a volume of Lawrence that wasn't clad in a dour, uninteresting cover? This one, a collection of travel jottings, features a photo of some Renaissance statue or other, all very boring, although it is pictured with birdshit scarring intact, as all statuary should be.
The Rites of Spring, Modris Eksteins. One of the great cultural histories of the First World War, up there with Paul Fussell's The Great War and Modern Memory; I'm looking forward to revisiting this.
The Meaning of Recognition, Clive James. Good in parts, not-so-good in others. I pretty much agree with Jon. Amusingly, I bought this from a remainder store.
Also purchased: Already Dead, Denis Johnson; The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollinghurst; The Etched City, K.J. Bishop; But Beautiful, Geoff Dyer.
There. Wasn't that informative?
Friday, October 13, 2006
Born Harry Sinclair Lewis in Sauk Centre, Minnesota, he began reading books at a young age and kept a diary. A dreamer, at age 1 he unsuccessfully ran away from home, wanting to become a porn star in the Spanish-American War.I could edit it, but I'd rather leave it and hope that some lazy student uses this biographical snippet in an essay.
Update (14/10): Somebody has changed it. Now he was 13 and wanted to become a drummer boy. I bet he really wanted to be a porn star, though.
Wednesday, October 11, 2006
To: All members
From: The Institute of Journalistic Cliche
Subject: The 2006 Man Booker Prize
Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of Loss has been awarded the 2006 Booker Prize. IJC advises members reporting this story to follow the standard protocols; in particular, the IJC mandates the use of the adjectives "prestigious" and "esteemed", in addition to the verb "triumphed". The phrases "relative unknowns", "literary heavyweights" and "shock exclusion" are optional but recommended.
Furthermore, IJC directive #4253 states that: "Any article, opinion piece or blog post discussing Kiran Desai's Booker win must mention Desai's relative youth - she is the youngest woman to win the prestigious award - and her mother, the esteemed novelist Anita Desai. If you can squeeze in something about the continuing potency of Indian fiction, that would be good too."
Quotations ought to be used sparingly and with a preference for the hyperbolic. For example, John Sutherland provides a model of nonsensical verbiage: "Desai's novel registers the multicultural reverberations of the new millennium, with the sensitive instrumentality of fiction... It is a globalised novel for a globalised world."
Articles should end with a perfunctory mention of the usual criticism directed at the prize, and perhaps some suggestion that you, the journalist, have not fallen for the hype you have just spent five hundred words regurgitating. Australian members are reminded that mention of Peter Carey's "shock exclusion" is compulsory at this point.
IJC Administration OfficerCross-posted at Sars.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
There's an awful lot of blank, empty space there. We've definitely been hit by a bad case of the dreaded Slackening.
Luckily others are more productive. See our new Bookmarks feature on the sidebar for links to stuff we're reading when we ought to be writing.
Thursday, October 05, 2006
J.G. Ballard is guilty of just this kind of idea-stretching in his new novel, Kingdom Come. Ballard discusses the novel’s central concept – suburbia as the crucible of a new fascism, driven by consumerism, sport and boredom – in several recent interviews, but rather than developing and deepening the concept Kingdom Come merely reiterates it. This is not to denigrate Ballard the thinker; on the contrary, his take on the world is as fascinating and challenging as ever. Still, Kingdom Come is functional literature, designed to say something but not, perhaps, be something.
As a novel, Kingdom Come is redundant. Its existence is predicated on its driving ideas to such an extent that its other elements are irrelevant. Characters do not speak, they make speeches; events unfold in order to provide yet another opportunity to state the novel’s central premise. At first I found the relentless flow of ideas intriguing, even exciting in the way all dystopian fantasies are exciting. However, once you get the concept – and this is a novel that makes certain you get the concept – there is little left to be going on with. This has the effect not only of dampening one’s enthusiasm for the novel qua novel, but also of diluting its vision. If you pick up Kingdom Come because you are interested in its ideas, you may well put it down not wanting to think about them ever again.
Kingdom Come might have been saved from redundancy by some kind of aesthetic sensibility. Of course Ballard is not interested in “traditional” characterisation, plots, and so forth, and that’s all to the good. The problem is that Ballard is apparently too lazy to come up with any kind of counter-aesthetic, relying instead on a kind of elementary pastiche of novelistic devices. It hasn’t always been so. 1970’s The Atrocity Exhibition, for example, is a novel in which style is commensurate with subject matter; it is valid as a novel in that it both transcends and incarnates its subject matter. Kingdom Come fails to achieve anything approaching a connection between style and ideas. I find it odd that somebody so professedly at odds with “tradition” chooses to convey his ideas in such a straightforward manner – and then does not bother to do it well.
The ideas and themes of Kingdom Come could be explored in a myriad interesting, arresting ways, whether as a novel or as a kind of Borgesian short piece. Instead, Ballard adheres so strictly to traditional novelistic forms that one begins to question his motives. Surely Ballard, of all people, is not merely trying to sell us something.
Cross-posted at Sars.
Wednesday, October 04, 2006
Not that I intend to dish the dirt on restaurants that are merely bad, though heaven and the health inspectors know there’s enough of them in Melbourne to keep stomach pump manufacturers gainfully employed for decades to come. Rather, consider this your Michelin guide to dining experiences that are entertaining through no fault of the food - places undergone rather than enjoyed.
There’s an old and hackneyed joke about insolent waiting staff evincing a restaurant’s high credentials and exclusivity: they don’t need your money, and can afford to treat you any old how. Camy Shanghai Dumpling and Noodle House in Tattersalls Lane puts the lie to the notion that the right to be rude to one’s customers is bought with quality, reputation and opulence, but demonstrates the old saw's accuracy in as much as that fantastically awful service, as opposed to merely poor, really does improve your meal. If you are lucky, one of the staff will notice you within five minutes of pushing through the grime smeared doorway, and with withering scorn will wave somewhere towards the back of a room decorated charmingly with chipped plywood and linoleum, with sneered instructions to “sit over there... somewhere”. If you'd like a drink, you'll need to fetch your own rather damp plastic cup from a shelf near the kitchen - although if you haven't brought your own, you'll have to make do with the single communal water jug. In time, and with luck, a menu will be hurled at you by a passing waiter; in much the same manner, your food, if they deign to bring it to you, will be flung rather than placed on your trestle table. Any further request for food, extra crockery, a bill, etc, will be diligently ignored. If a perversely contemptuous ambience ain't your thang, be consoled: the lack of quality is more than compensated for by surfeit in quantity, and for about five dollars you'll receive more dumplings than you can or should eat, and they're pretty frikkin' edible too. Just don't peer into the kitchen. You'll regret it.
If you happen to live in the eastern suburbs, as all the best bogans do, and require a pleasingly filling and relatively inexpensive meal eaten in absolute silence, why not try the C. Pot House in Station Street, Box Hill? The ‘C’ thankfully does not stand for ‘chamber’, but given this was the conclusion I jumped to, and therefore the natural one, it might explain why the place tends to be empty bar the staff, who look vaguely surprised when you walk in. The ‘C’ in fact refers to the claypots that are the speciality here (why this could not be made clear on their signage is a mystery): tasty peasant food served in a clean but thoroughly unremarkable setting, which might have passed without comment were it not for two items on the menu which make the C. Pot worthy of note here – ‘Funny Taste Peanuts’ and ‘Funny Taste Chicken’. I kid you not, these are actual dishes, and perfectly named. The peanuts, an entrée I unreservedly recommend, taste odd but delicious; the chicken…the chicken forces you to re-evaluate your understanding of the word ‘funny’. Possibly the joke is on you for ordering. The bird in question is boiled and served cold on a bed of clammy, gelatinous glass noodles with a viscous sauce derived either from nuts or grout, I’m not sure which, and is not so much eaten as experienced. If you’d like to know what it’s like to vomit in reverse, I can’t endorse this dish highly enough.
Last and most impressive is Il Gusto in Lygon street, the closest I’ve been to a theatre restaurant without actually being in one. As is common on the Via Lygon, the proprietor lurks by the door to spruik at you annoyingly as you pass; the difference here is not just the impressive wen on his head which he will use to distract you, but the fact that he will actually demonstrate the quality of his fare by walking over to some of the street-side tables and asking the other, deeply mystified, customers to give you their testimonials. Once inside and cringing at the cheesily clichéd ‘Italian’ décor, he will begin to sing to you. Loudly. And if he stops, his waiters will encourage him to start again. And while I have heard worse renditions of Anthony Calleja’s version of The Prayer, largely from Anthony Calleja, the three tenors are unlikely to feel threatened by your host’s upstart talent. Mind you, he doesn’t appear to know any song the whole way through, and will often launch into a different one mid-chorus. Confused and embarrassed, swearing that next time it’s McDonalds or nothing, you will likely plough through your pleasant though unexceptional meal as quickly as possible, hoping your table will avoid another blitzkrieg serenading. But the best, and most confusing, is yet to come – for while some restaurants compliment their guests with after-dinner mints, Il Gusto goes one better: when your meal is done, a saucer of healthy, nutritious trail mix is placed before you, topped with two Fruit Tingles. No doubt about it, Il Gusto is special; special like your cousin Ronny, who went into the asylum after the thing with the ferret and the jar of Vaseline - you visit him every so often out of pity, but always come away confused and a little terrified. The only difference is you’ll emerge with the delicious effervescence of sherbety Fruit Tingle on your tastebuds, which haunts the mouth for significantly less time than the murdered pop arias haunt the sensibilities.