Watching Movies: Death in the Outback

On Monday I took advantage of the cheap tickets at Cinema Nova in Carlton. Seriously, $6 for a movie before 4pm – if you’re not working, why wouldn’t you? I was tossing up between ‘Frank’ and ‘The Rover’, I chose the latter because it started sooner. I’d heard a bit about the film, I vaguely recalled Marc Fennel having talked about it on Triple J, and I like Guy Pierce so it seemed like a good plan.

The Rover theatrical poster

The Rover theatrical poster

I went into it with absolutely no expectations – I didn’t have much idea what the premise was, nor had I seen Animal Kingdom, the first film by the director David Michod. This may not have worked in my favour. My initial reaction to this is that it’s Mad Max but rewritten with George R. R. Martin’s penchant for death. It’s bleak, and I mean bleak. Walking out I felt quiet, a little overwhelmed, and with a feeling of ‘if this is where the world’s going, we may as well all kill ourselves now and save the bother.’ But let me deconstruct that a bit.

Firstly, the narrative. The opening of the film explains that we’re ten years after ‘the collapse’, no context is given for this. I becomes clear as we go along that there was some sort of serious global economic crisis thing, that law and order has fallen over, that Australia is a giant open cut mine, and that the money and work have run out. It’s a dystopian future scenario. The first thing that happens is Eric’s (Guy Pierce) car is stolen and the rest of the story is about getting the car back.

It is a slow moving film, with lots of atmosphere. This is built in part by the soundtrack, by Antony Partos, which felt very post-apocalyptic, all banging piano strings with hammers and bowing bits of metal. It was also very loud, which I expect was deliberate to create a sense of oppression of sound. At least it did for me. The rest of the atmosphere is developed by the lack of dialogue. As Fennel describes, it is not the words that matter here, but what is not said – the gaps between the characters, their PSTD-esque stares, in particular from Eric, who is a mysterious and hard-to-sympathise-with character. I suspect that this impression is heightened by the focus on listening – what I mean is how much of the film shows actors reacting to dialogue as opposed to acting dialogue. In particular a scene between Eric and Sgt Rick Rickoffersen in which Eric talks about how he got to this point and we watch Rickoffersen hear his story. The effect is powerful in a way that it wouldn’t be if we’d watched Eric talk.

Visually, this film is typical of the Australian outback film. These is a lot of dust, and sweat, and reds and browns and yellows. Everything is old and broken and dirty. I don’t know how well an international audience would relate to this, but I felt like it was very true to the tone of the outback, in this case filmed in South Australia – it’s hot, dry, brown and empty.

Still: The Rover

Still: The Rover

Finally to the acting. Eric and Rey (Robert Pattinson) are extremely different characters, and this was borne out very well in their physicality. Eric was still, almost zen-like in his demeaner, he stares straight ahead and barely seems to be affected by anything going on around him. Rey, on the other hand, is jittery, fidgety, scattered and potentially low in the intelligence stakes. Rey also has an almost unintelligible southern American drawl which is juxtaposed to Eric’s crisp Australian speech. I’ve always thought that silent acting is the hardest, being able to convey your whole character without words, and this film does really well in this regard.

So what didn’t I like? Well for one thing, this film has only two female characters who don’t meet, so it fails the Bechdel test miserably. Secondly, I’m not sure how well it will survive over time given that it leaves the viewer feeling absolutely defeated – I don’t know how many people will chose to rewatch a film that’s this intense. I felt similar about Nymphomaniac actually, it requires quite a lot from the viewer and doesn’t give much back.

In a nutshell, I’m going to give this 3.5 out of 5 stars, there are some excellent parts to this film but overall it was just a little bit much.

Watching Movies: Beautiful Vampires

I don’t think I got Jim Jarmusch until today. I saw ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’ at the magnificent Astor Theatre earlier today and it was glorious. The central characters of the film, Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) are vampires. They are impossibly old, they are reclusive – in the world but not of it, they are artistic, and they are so, so in love. If I had only two words for this film, they would be languid, and restrained.

Only Lovers Left Alive screenshot

Still: Only Lovers Left Alive

The film was beautifully realised in a number of ways, I will try to go each of them. Firstly, cinematographically, this film had some lovely themes. Adam, who lives in Detroit, is black – his clothes are black, his hair is black, his house is very dark, and all of the scenes in Detroit are dark. Eve on the other hand, who lives in Tangier, is white – her clothes are pale, her hair is pale, her house is pale, even the scenes in Tangier, which are at night, are much paler in comparison.

The characterisation is lovely too, Adam is a reclusive, musician who is pretty grumpy, fascinated by the world of science and weary of the zombies (humans). Eve is light, but thoughtful, she reads every language, she is fascinated by the world of humans and has a zest for existence. They are the quintessential yin and yang, and they were small charms of the other’s colours as a token of their difference and their love.

Thirdly, the acting by Swinton and Hiddleston is delightful, much of which is without dialogue. The whole film is quite minimalist in some ways, but the affection between the two leads is very real. I saw an interview with the two of them, along with Jarmusch and John Hurt (who plays Christopher Marlowe) and it was clear that the affection between them was not only on screen. Their ability to portray a love which is literally ageless but still just as potent was truly remarkable - their complete comfort with each others’ presence while still having a burning desire for the other were equally believable. Together, they achieve a level of sexiness that is rarely seen, and is heightened by their never consummating it on screen.

Music also plays a huge part in the effect of this film. I commented to a friend as soon as the credits were finished that I must get hold of the soundtrack immediately. Most of the soundtrack is by Sqürl, Jim Jarmusch’s band. It manages to be moody and atmospheric while also being able to drive the action – lots of wailing guitars and slow beats, giving the film a sort of timeless urgency.

Only Lovers Left Alive theatrical poster

Only Lovers Left Alive theatrical poster

I have to give big ups to Jarmusch for this film. Having seen ‘Dead Man’ and finding it beautiful but confusing, I was ready for this movie to be somewhat inaccessible, but I was pleasantly surprised as I let the film wash over me. The Marlowe as Shakespeare conspiracy theory is interesting, but probably not something I want to go in to here, I suspect it may have created some tension between Jarmusch and Hiddleston, who has very successfully performed Shakespeare (see also this post). I could be wrong, but the interview I mentioned before includes some interesting body language between them when the interviewer asks about the issue. It is a credit to everyone involved that with so much to work with and such talented people on hand the film is so restrained, so understated, and that this is one of the things which makes it so great.

Overall, it gave me some excellent food for thought. A poignant and thoughtful look at love, life, humanity, pleasure, despair and death. I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

All this stuff

Tell us the story of your most-prized possession.

 

For the final day of the Writing101 challenge the prompt is to tell the story of my most prized possession. But I’m not going to do that. I want to talk to you about material things. I’ve spent a bit of time over the last few days thinking about, no, obsessing over, the stuff I own and whether I actually need it. Now that I’ve quit my job and have a more uncertain income situation I’ve been considering whether it might be time to move house.

There are pros and cons to every living arrangement. The room I have now is pretty cheap and it’s in a great location. On the other hand, the room I have is weirdly shaped, cramped, and drafty and there are ants in summer and there are four people living here (not to mention with various overnight guests). So, pros and cons.

I looked online for other places that would be less expensive, just assessing my options, and I started thinking about what I would take with me if I moved. There are some things that I’ve been carrying around with me for years that I hardly use, but for whatever reason I’ve been hanging on to. Objects which are associated with memories, with times in my life.

Take my stereo for instance. It was a present for my fifteenth (or possibly sixteenth) birthday from my parents. My brother sourced the components from the second hand hi-fi place he was working in, it’s chunky and old and I love it. It also comes with the two speakers I got at fifteen and the two much bigger speakers I inherited from my second boyfriend (the gothy one from this post). I’ve taken this stereo with me every time I’ve moved house since I left home, and if I’m honest, it’s really awkward, because it’s massive and loud and analog and and and.

It feels like a betrayal to consider getting rid of it – I’ve had some really great times with it, listening to music on my own, or using it to blast the neighbours at parties, but not lately. I’m beginning to realise that I’m a pretty big nanna; I don’t like parties or late nights, and for the most part I’m happy to listen to music through my computer. Which means I don’t need, or use, the stereo.

What other stuff am I hanging on to ‘just in case’ I want to use it? How often do I catch myself buying stuff just because it seemed like a good idea? I feel myself being a mindless consumer, wanting something just because it’s there, and it’s shiny, and someone else has it.

I know that things can have a lot of significance based on where you got them, who you got them from, what memories you’ve created with them, but in the end everything is just stuff. We’ll remember the stuff that’s great without the thing to remind us, especially if it’s a good memory. We’ll remember the hard times that we’ve had, deep in our hearts, whether or not we have the objects there to remind us.

I want to be able cherish the things I have and use, but to be able to disconnect myself from them when it’s time. Stuff is just stuff. The more you have, the more you have to lose. The more you carry the heavier the burden. I don’t need stuff to be happy. Most of my memories are stored in digital form anyway – my writing, my journals, my photos, are all on hard drives (and some websites), I won’t get rid of those, but what else do I need? I just need something to eat, somewhere to sleep, something to do, and people to love and to love me.

I’m going to repeat that to myself that over and over until it’s true.

What if?

Today is a free writing day. Write at least four-hundred words, and once you start typing, don’t stop. No self-editing, no trash-talking, and no second guessing: just go. Bonus points if you tackle an idea you’ve been playing with but think is too silly to post about.

 

I identify as a feminist. Usually I’m completely happy with this, but sometimes, I find myself wanting things that are decidedly unfeministy. Like a boyfriend and a baby and a house in the suburbs. I’ll turn 30 later this year. It keeps feeling like this should be a big deal, like I should have sorted my shit out by now, but it is pretty clear to me that I really, really haven’t got anything sorted out.

I’ve just left a perfectly good, if soul-crushing, permanent part time job for nothing. I haven’t really got another job to go into. I plan to study full-time next semester, but without Centrelink/welfare payments I’ll have to get a job of some sort to survive. I have been in a romantic relationship for a total of four weeks out of the last (nearly) three years. I’m generally not doing well in the ‘being a grown-up department’.

The difficulty for me with these conflicting desires is that I know, intellectually, that I’m capable of being happy without a husband, baby, house and white picket fence. I also know, intellectually, that having these things does not guarantee happiness, and that many people would look at my free, arty farty lifestyle with envy, but I still want them. I guess there’s that part of me, having grown up with all of those expectations of normality, that wants to fit in.

I always saw myself as a parent, a mother, and the idea that it might not be a reality for me is kind of hard to fathom. I’m not so invested in the idea for a baby that I would have one alone, I don’t mean any disrespect to single mothers/parents, but it seems like a lot of hard work, and I’m not up for that.

On the other hand women who don’t have kids are supposed to be focussed on their careers. In a lot of ways I am focussed on my career, my aims to be a writer, but that’s not usually what people mean by career. I don’t want to climb the corporate ladder. I don’t want to work really hard so I have lots of cash and no time. I often feel like a massive failure on lots of different societal measures of success, although I seem to be pretty good at academic pursuits which is supposed to be desirable, but usually only on the way to career or babies.

So how do I make peace with myself, with my path, if I won’t achieve ‘success’? Even if I don’t want to. How do I tell the part of my brain that wants money, husbands, babies and houses to be quiet so the other part, the part my heart knows is right for me, can guide me? And what if my chosen path is never ‘successful’? I might get a few things published here and there, but I might never be a full time writer. Maybe I’ll be working in admin a few days a week and churning out writing that no one will pay for and hardly anyone will read when I’m 75. I really want to be ok with this. I will always have ambition, and that’s great, but I want to be able to be happy without those things.

What if I’m a bad feminist because I want those things? What if I can’t achieve the things I want? What if the things I want aren’t socially acceptable? What if I’m a failure as a human being? What if I want things that won’t make me happy?What if… What if…

But what if I just stop worrying and start living? How about I try that and see how I go from there.

Yaya’s house

When I sit out the front of our house, on the verandah, with my legs pushed through the gaps, my feet don’t touch the ground. Mum has a flower garden in front of the house – she likes it to look nice for people who walk past. Depending on where I sit, I can scrunch the leaves of her bushes between my toes. She doesn’t like me doing that, but sometimes I do it when I’m not thinking about it. It’s not really my fault you know.

There’s a little old lady who lives across the street, Mum says she’s a Yaya, she said that’s what a Nanna is called when she’s Greek. I don’t think she looks any different from my Nanna, so I don’t really understand why she’s called a Yaya. She’s lived in that house since before I can even remember. Sometimes she has her grandchildren over to play. I don’t like to play with them though, they’re a bit younger and I feel weird going over there, they yell a lot and always throw their balls over the fence, it’s really annoying. Mum says it’s because I’m shy, but I just don’t like going to other people’s houses that I don’t know. Anyway, there’s a big truck outside her house today. It’s full of all sorts of weird stuff, boxes mostly, that they’ve been putting in her house. I asked Mum what was happening, she said she didn’t know but that maybe her daughter was moving in with her. She also said that meant that the kids who come to stay will be living there now and that I should make friends with them. But I don’t think I will.

The men in the truck are standing around a tall piano that they have rolled out of the truck. I can’t quite hear what they’re saying but seem to be saying it really loudly, and waving their hands at each other like they’re mad. The Yaya has just come out of her house and she looks really tired. She is talking to the men with the piano, they’re waving their hands at her too but they’re being a lot more calm now. Maybe you can’t yell at a Yaya like you can’t be rude to a Nanna.

My feet are a bit itchy, so I rub them on the boards. It’s really nice on the verandah out here in the school holidays. Mum takes the day off sometimes when it’s holidays and spends it with me, and sometimes I go stay with my Nanna. Sometimes my Gran comes to visit us too, that’s my Dad’s mum. She doesn’t come very often because my Dad died and it makes her sad to see me I think. I don’t really know. That’s what Mum said anyway.

Mum’s going over to see the Yaya to see if she needs anything. I don’t know what she would need, she’s got two men from the truck to help her unpack and three kids and a grown-up daughter, but she said it was polite. It seems weird to me. She wanted me to go over there too, but I told her I didn’t want to. I watch Mum until she does inside the Yaya’s house, then I start squishing the leaves with my toes. She won’t know, I’ll only do the leaves at the back.

Fear

I’m standing on a windswept cliff top, everything below is whipped into a rage by the winds, the sea throwing itself against the rocks. I’m cold, wearing only the jogging clothes I came up in, damp with sweat. Slowly I turn back to the thing that frightened me, your face, crushed by the conversation we’re trying to have.

“You can’t break up with me. You said you loved me.”

I take a step towards you, my hand outstretched,then let it fall as I release the breath I had been holding.

“I do love you, I will always love you. But I can’t do this.”

You’re crying, I watch the trails that the tears make down your cheeks.

“You know it’s for the best, in the long run. I’m holding you back, you know I am. You’ll never do what you need to do while we’re together.”

“I can’t do it without you,” you protest.

“You can. You have to. I can’t hold your hand anymore. It’s not fair on me, and it’s not fair on you.”

I kneel beside you in the sandy grass, taking your hand in mine.

“It’s ok. Really. Trust yourself. Take the job, go to New York, make a new life for yourself. I can’t leave, but I don’t want to stop you from achieving your dream.”

You look so small, bewildered that I can’t follow you, but there’s a steely resolve in your eyes.

“Everything we have had was beautiful. I will always cherish it,” you say with a sigh.

You turn away, getting up to leave.

“I always hoped you would be able to conquer your fear and come with me. I hoped my love would be enough, but I see now it’s not. I’m sorry.”

You’re still holding my hand, but you drop it as you walk away.

“I’m sorry.”

I know. I’m sorry too.

Lost and Found

During my adventure on Sunday in the laneways of Melbourne, I came across something that looked like discarded drawings. In a laneway near the law district which was a weird combination of old and new, on the cobbled street next to a big blue skip, was a large, forlorn looking piece of paper. When I first saw it, I thought it was just rubbish, but then I realised it was very white.

As I walked up to the paper I saw, in the fold, a half-hidden charcoal sketch of a nude figure. I wanted to know why someone would have thrown it away, and looked around for other clues. Further down the laneway, where I assume the wind had taken them, were other pages of drawings. I couldn’t have told you exactly why, but these pages, lying dead in an alley, filled me with an intense feeling of melancholy. Someone out there had hated their own work so much that they’d discarded it. They had hated themselves so much that they couldn’t bear the reminder of what they saw as their own inadequacy.

Flanigan Lane - discarded art

Flanigan Lane – discarded art

Perhaps I’m being overly dramatic. It’s just as likely that this artist didn’t care about the drawings. Maybe they were doing a life drawing class with their partner, or a friend, and didn’t have any room in their heart for the scribblings that they made. It’s almost as sad to think of people who don’t have room for art – people who are too busy, or who just aren’t paying attention. I suppose it reminds me of the person I used to be when I didn’t have time to work on my art, at time when I discarded my work, didn’t value it, or nurture it. I remember how sad I was, how there was a deep wound inside me that I didn’t even realise was there. Occasionally I look at my life now and think about how stressful it is, or how far away from my goals I am, or how I’m a bit lonely, or sad, or whatever, but sometimes I remember where I came from. How distant that person who started on this path seems. Now when I’m sad I know it. When I feel something I can really feel it. Before I didn’t even know I was unhappy, I thought that this was as good as it gets.

There is no way that an artist can keep everything that they produce, of course there will always be a selection process going on, there must be in order to grow. I do it with my writing all the time, get half way through some ill-formed concept and decide it’s never going to work, but it really reminded me that sometimes you can’t see the value in your own work and we have to be gentler with ourselves sometimes.