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by David Pullar

28 May 2008

Last week was my first Sydney Writers’ Festival—I somehow missed it completely last year.  Even this year I only managed a paltry two sessions, but it was sufficiently worthwhile to keep a close eye out for next time.

The first session, “Writing and Research”, was a panel discussion between four writers of creative non-fiction.  Alice Pung, who I’ve discussed previously on Re:Print, spoke engagingly about her desire to subvert expectations of Asian writing.  Her main point was the efforts she went to avoid what she called the “Tony Robbins” narrative of Wild Swans and Amy Tan’s books.  “The biggest adversity I’ve overcome was head lice in Grade Two,” she quipped.  I’m not sure what this had to do with research, but it was entertaining.

Most of the panelists struggled to get a word in, thanks to the gregarious investigative journalist Gideon Haigh.  He was meant to talk about his James Hardie exposé Asbestos House, but ended up giving a sneak preview of the upcoming abortion history The Racket.  A significant part of his investigation involved 1960s court transcripts from abortion trials and they make fascinating reading—so fascinating in fact that Haigh spent half his time reading them verbatim.

Junot Diaz

Junot Diaz

The closing address, the second session I was able to attend, was presented by Junot Diaz.  Author of buzz novel and Pulitzer Prize winner The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Diaz spoke on the topic “All Our Gratitudes, or Literature Is Not Forever”.

I didn’t like Oscar Wao’s style much, but it had a lot of heart.  The same could be said of Diaz’s speech.  His delivery was mostly in a monotone and read straight from a pile of A4 notes.  The overly formalist structure seemed more appropriate for an essay than a speech, but that’s to be expected from a writer—possibly less so for a college lecturer, though, which is what Diaz is in his day job.

The heart came through when Diaz talked about librarians and books and reading as the things that had “saved [his] life”.  Literature is not perfect, he told us, but we love it because it reflects our own imperfections.  Nor is it eternal, as his title pointed out, but we enjoy the ephemeral pleasures.  It was an appropriate reflection on the importance of books for a festival dedicated to their celebration and appreciation.

Diaz closed his brief (25 minute) address with a reference to the importance of outside voices.  As a Dominican, Diaz brings a different perspective to the mostly domestic line-up at this year’s festival.  On reflection, it seems odd that he didn’t take the opportunity to draw on that perspective in his closing address.

by Nikki Tranter

27 May 2008

A reviewer at Classic Images called it “the most detailed filmography I have ever come across”. Janet L. Meyer’s Sydney Pollack: A Critical Filmography is a comprehensive, painstakingly researched book on the late director’s entire career, from his early acting days through to his A-list position as one of Hollywood’s most respected producer/directors.

Publisher McFarland & Co. describes Pollack:

One finds that his style is marked by deliberate pacing, ambiguous endings, and metaphorical love stories. Topically, Pollack’s films reflect social, cultural, and political dilemmas that hold some fascination for him, with multidimensional characters in place that generally break the stereotypical molds of the situations.

Pollack, too, often shared his film experience with readers through introductions to reference works including Sanford Meisner on Acting (Knopf, 1987), Basil Hoffman’s Acting and How To Be Good At It (Ingenuity, 2007), and Timothy Bricknell’s Minghella on Minghella (Faber, 2005).

Sydney Pollack: A Critical Filmography by Janet L. Meyer was published in December 2007.

by Terry Sawyer

27 May 2008

I try as much as possible to avoid overtly political commentary in this blog, because it’s not usually germane to discussions of music.  Sadly, this is primarily because politically oriented music is almost as anachronistic as phrases like “artistic values”.  I couldn’t help but comment on a recent National Review post that suggested that Barack Obama’s 75,000 person rally in Oregon was due in large part to The Decemberists opening with a free show.  I’m hardly uncritical of Obama and his followers, but doesn’t this claim smacks of tone deaf desperation. 

Do the Portland, faux Brit Oregonians really have that level of mass magnetism?  This is what happens when your clueless stepdad tries to politicize pop culture in order to denigrate an opponent at all costs.  Would the same undercutting claim be made if Toby Keith opened for John McCain?  Clearly, the Decemberists were not the draw all the Obama rally and nothing nefarious is going on by giving a free concert before a political rally a tradition as old as driving people to the polls and the far more questionable practice of “walking around money”.  God knows, “My Mother Was A Chinese Trapeze Artist” is certainly as frenzy-inducing as “We Will Rock You”.  But the worst part of the post are the unsubtle McCarthyite gestures suggesting that The Decemberists are a bunch of communist radicals purely based on selected lyrics from “Sixteen Military Lives”.  I mean, they make negative gestures about the flag pin in their video.  Clearly, The Decemberists are terrorists.  Surely, Obama deserved to be smeared for associating with a Molotov-tosssing librarian like Colin Meloy.  Next thing you know he’ll be drawing a crowd of a 100,000 by getting the Jesus Lizard to open for him.

by Terry Sawyer

27 May 2008

I’ve always loved this song even if Dwight Twilley was probably the poor man’s Cheap Trick with many more misses than he ever had hits.  Even though this is more properly categorized as power pop, I love tamped down glam aspects of the song, particularly the flirtatious mouth movements, batted eyelashes and scrawny boy hip swivel. Not to mention Susan Cowsill barely breaking a sweat in her shades as she blasts out “Free, Free, Free” like Queen singing songs from “Hair”.  Even though they were contemporaries of T. Rex, they’re clearly avoiding the tarted up look that would soon overtake and eventually undermine glam rock.  Nothing says we’re power pop like your mom’s sweat shirt.  Still, the song has some absolutely soaring moments even if you can’t tell if it’s a straight-up come on or an insult wrapped in a come on.  Essentially, it’s a riotously harmonized chorus telling the object of his affection that she/he doesn’t have a love, so, well, why not?  And, if I’m not mistaken he also seems to suggest that he couldn’t wait to be single, but now he’s “on fire”.  Of course, this pre-dates the hair band days where everyone’s eyes were suddenly “on fire” and the metaphor became duly limp.

by Alexis Pauline Gumbs

27 May 2008

The new Gnarls Barkley video looks like a Saturday morning educational video invoking. The 1970s, tomorrow and beaded yesterdays still to be imagined. This video about a group of friends who find a portal to another dimension says that the future is mystical and not technological.  It says that the future happens in Africa, however vague that is.

But what starts out an exuberant celebration for many becomes a strenuous journey survived by few. For the leaders, or the “brave leader” and his fierce girlfriend, exuberance becomes fatigue and anxiety, whittled down to reverence by the time we get to the end. The two remaining heroes kneel like sprinters before the do or that they set up at the meeting between worlds. Their victory offers more questions than answers.

These two heroes a man and a woman, are lovers, and champions. Maybe we are meant to understand that these two heroes are Gnarls Barkley, an odd couple “going on” to another world that the rest of the music industry isn’t strong or brave enough to enter. 

The heroism of the final duo is complicated by the gender politics and love relationship that the song and the video present. I wonder about what levels of love are meant and residing there in words that seem to be spoken by the male hero. The video put the words into the mouth of the lead man, and projects them onto the sometimes smiling, sometimes pained, sometimes pensive face of the lead woman. I wonder if the words about there “being a place for you too” are for her? Who exactly is supposed to get left behind gender of us to be left behind while male explorers forge forward again?  What divides her from the “lead man” what connects her to him? Their movements are similar, the framing of the video makes it seem that a love relationship connects them, but the words to the song, which seem to be about leaving someone behind while also projecting that person into the future seem to divide the two characters.

Most explicitly the command “don’t follow me” made in words that seem to come out of the portal doorway after the man jumps could be meant for the woman who follows and jumps through the doorway, just as athletically anyway. If the words come to the viewing audience from both of the jumpers… why are they timed between the two jumps? Is the woman actor or audience in this video?

Either way… I’m going to keep watching.

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