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Archive for December, 2011

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Films haven’t always been obsessed with sex and its mechanics. In fact, before the pornographic film industry exploded, sexuality was a reality veiled or left unexplored on celluloid. In this bygone age of innocence, two streams of the film industry portrayed sex in remarkable different ways.

In the B-grade picture world – the drive-ins and the midnight movie theatres – exploitation was the dominant methodology. This was a world driven by excessive gore (cannibalism in Blood Feast) and bizarre sexuality (transgenderism in Glen or Glenda). If patrons were lucky, the director managed to coax a nude scene from his female actors. These films exploited bare flesh and sex for an audience hungry for sensationalism and something “new”.

However, in the midst of this perverse and questionable subculture, many directors were exploring sex in intelligent yet provocative ways.

Scenes of physical intimacy in 60s cinema had become a vehicle for deeper portrayals of human eroticism and personal drive.  Sex was no longer something to be viewed independent of the emotional and physical person; the human was seen to be a wholistic creation. One example of this was within Luis Bunuel’s “Belle de Jour”. A woman is placed in centre-stage (played by Catherine Deneuve), whose empty, passionless matrimony has led her to seek fulfilment as a prostitute. It was both a goad to a potentially prudish public, and a questioning voice against sexless marriages.

However, no director placed the microscope over the complexity and messiness of our sexual lives like Michaelangelo Antonioni. In his early masterpiece, “L’Avventura” (pictured below), sex becomes one of the major diagonostic tools for understanding his characters’ drives and desires. Ultimately, what is uncovered in the lives of the rich, by their hunger for physical intimacy, is a troubling spiritual malaise and yearning for deeper fulfilment. The coda to his oblique “L’Eclisse” merely serves to deepen this questioning of human behaviour. Sadly Antonioni would abandon these careful explorations of sexuality for a more fashionable and superficial tone in later films (Blow Up).

Like his fellow Italian, Federico Fellini sought to interrogate the upper class and their meaningless search for happiness through sex in “La Dolce Vita” (The Sweet Life). He loads the frame with visual stimulus and asks us in the audience, “isn’t this what you want as well?”, while simultaneously showing us the empty outcome of these things. While it lacks the intellectual rigour and surgical analysis of Antonioni, it still raises an empathetic yet interrogative voice to the viewer.

Both Antonioni and Fellini managed to do all this without explicitly filming a ‘scene’ between his performers. Rather, everything was in the realm of suggestion.

However, it would be films like “Blow Up”, “The Graduate” and the never-ending proliferation of James Bond titles which would provide an omen of things to come. Here the intimate act was merely a commodity to be used up without concern; sex and nudity were administered as a stimulant for a bored and anesthetised audience. Nevertheless, a minority of films would travel upon the intelligent and sometimes responsible path which had begun to be paved.

 

 

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Christmas reading

Reading books over the festive season seems to take on a very different character from the rest of the year – pages turn at far greater frequencies than normal. The narrative lives of others looms larger and more impressively than our own as we rest, perhaps with moribund languidity, in the bosom of our families. The real and fictional happenings of other, more interesting lives, have a way of filling our minds to almost obsessive proportions, in contrast to the sanitised nature of our own.

I remember as a twelve year old boy, wide-eyed and with considerable fear, reading sizeable chucks of Steven King’s “It” on the eve of Christmas Day. This time around, twenty years later, it was a very different nightmare. A friend lent me their copy of “Into Thin Air” by Jon Krakauer; a personal account of the Mt. Everest disaster of 1996. Suffice to say it is finished and I await Christmas 2012, when my next book will be voraciously read and wept over.

What were you reading this Christmas gone?

 

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The Pale Ale

This has become my new love of 2011. There is an exceptional range of brews within this seemingly no-thrills style.

They’re brewed largely from pale malts and present with a distinct hoppiness. Most people in Australia associate this style with the Cooper’s green beer, though this has few of the distinctive elements one should expect: strong hops, punchy fruit flavours and a tangy finish. Little Creatures has created a better exemplar with their lynchee infested Pale Ale.

However, it is the India Pale Ale which is currently flooding the boutique beer market. The IPA reared its ugly head back in the nineteenth century when the English had a major colony on the sub-continent. The brew became popular with the East India Company because it could handle the less than desirable conditions for sea travel and was in synch with drinkers living in a warmer climate.

Today a number of brewing houses create highly refined and complex IPAs. Many even concoct imperial examples within the style. Surprising for this drinker at least, the high alcohol content is an ideal bed-fellow for the strong hop flavours and bold tangyness. Brewdog (a Scottish brewery) produces the Hardcore IPA, which is my pick of an exceptional bunch. It is 9.2% and has a creamy passionfruit finish. It is a revelation. However, not to be outdone, Mikeller has a coffee IPA which goes down very nicely as well.

 

 

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Lars von Trier’s new film “Melancholia” opened in Australian cinemas this week and it is exactly what one would expect from the mad Dane.

The film is a metaphorical treatment on the character of depression. The narrative is split into two parts. Part I introduces the main theme explicitly. It is Justine’s wedding day (played by Kirsten Dunst) and the camera tracks the emotional ebbs and flows of her ostentatious marriage reception. Everything is not right though – Justine is disconnected from the celebration; at one point in the festivities she dashes off for a snooze, at another she bathes as the entourage wait for her to cut the cake. It is both sad and hilarious.

The second part of the film unveils the reason for Justine’s melancholy. A stray moon from another galaxy is hurtling towards Earth. With its impact the end of the world as we know it is imminent. The celestial body (named Melancholia) opens up an interesting visual metaphor for depression. It is a dance with death which stares at the end of our lives and our world.

Melancholia is a visceral experience which is unsettling and difficult. But with patience it will provide some food for thought. And it’s a little bit of perverse fun from a mocking trouble-maker.

 

 

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Earlier this week I went and checked out the new Henri Matisse exhibition currently showing at the GOMA in Brisbane. It is comprised of hundreds of sketches which the French painter drew and utilised as an aid to his works.

As my friend Ryan and I wandered around it was difficult not to see a never-ending supply of seemingly non-descript images. However,  it slowly became clear how this famous French artist was being represented in the exhibition: as one of the very first illustrators of other people’s literary works. This is best exemplified in the images he sketched for James Joyce’s great novel Ulysses (the 1930s pressing). In a funny anecdote of sorts, Matisse confessed that he didn’t have a lot of love for the modernist epic, so rather than illustrate one day in the life of an Irish man, he chose Homer’s Odyssey as his inspiration instead.

The most striking aspect of the exhibition however was the final artwork entitled Jazz.  This was later published, and focuses upon the theme of circus and the carnivale atmosphere. It is a striking creation. Below is one panel of the work entitled Icarus.

 

 

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Films rarely come by which deserve the tag ‘instant classic’, but I believe Abbas Kiarostami’s “Certified Copy” is one of those works. It follows a man and a woman as they drive and walk around Tuscany. We in the audience ask ourselves as onlookers, did they know each other before this time, or are they complete strangers?

Kiarostami is an Iranian director whose film oeuvre has been highly praised since the 1980s. “Certified Copy” is his first film shot and produced outside his native country. It is intelligently made in every respect and appears to be one of those pieces of cinema which can and should be analysed and discussed.

I hope to write more on this film over the coming weeks.

 

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