Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Rah, Rah Russell

I am the Rat's Arse (2012) Kodakotype by Pants

There is something about Russell Brand that just makes me want to drop everything and pen Rasputin - the Musical. What a pity it's already been done. I didn't see the show but, by the scant accounts available, 'sank without trace' would appear to be a compliment.

Check out the scary eyes here and tell me that you don't think the mad monk's moment might have just come hurtling back into contention. A rewrite may well be in order. There are some youtube videos available which I couldn't bear to watch. I noticed that there is a song entitled Murder is Easy. A little too banal for a present-day audience perhaps. Musicals are about fantasy. Murder is mundane. I'm already thinking of how that could be rewritten as a vehicle for RB. Is Mayhem is Easy too obvious?

Oh, and in the tradition of  'I've (literally) bumped into you backstage at one of these celeby thingies for the second time in a decade (because I so engineered it) and that must mean we're meant to be together for at least one Hello cycle, Russell has jiggied his way into the, er, heart of a women who is easily his equal in the incompetent-in-love department - Geri Halliwell.

Sugar'n'Spice and All Things Must Pass (2012) Kodakotype by Pants

So, that should go well...

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Three pussies and a patsy

Julian Assange by Pants

You know a world community is in trouble when not one person with the power to do so is prepared to stand up and say, 'oh come on now, this is just silly', when it clearly is. And this is because all of them have skin in the game, as they say. They are not interested in what's right any more, only what suits. It's a bad episode of Spooks meets an am-dram production of Guys and Dolls.

The Russian trial of Pussy Riot and the stand-off over the Ecuadorians offering asylum to Julian Assange have much in common. The only material difference is that no one can influence the jailing of the Pussy Riot women, probably, and the drama is unlikely to impact outside of Russia - although it could cause plenty of trouble within it. 

But, official buffoonery from all sides in both cases is comparable. Pussy Riot's farcical trial was met with a response from the international community that reduces diplomatic rhetoric to the status of a card swap. Too bad if you have a fistful of 'disproportionate' cards, everyone has those. 'Disproportionate' is, apparently, 'unjust' in diplomatic sotto voce. Except that the utterance of it is a completely meaningless gesture. If one believes that Pussy Riot's exercising of a right to free speech is just, then where is the 'disproportion'? Surely innocence equals no sentence, not a fanciful bit of one. Luck certainly was not a lady for Pussy Riot.

Julian Assange's situation is far more complex. You might say it's a Crapshooters Ballet. Clearly, he didn't hear the frantic chorus of 'sit down you're rockin' the boat' before stepping into the oldest established, permanent floating crap game in the world.

This is a long game. Assange has held himself together for nearly two years already while under admittedly luxurious house arrest in Britain. No one should be thinking that's a particularly brilliant state to be in if you have a life you want to be getting on with. Aung San Suu Kyi was probably grateful not to be in an actual prison too but not so thrilled with having to spend twenty years chilling while none of the wrongs linked to her detention could be put to right. International influence remained impotently agog throughout her ordeal too.

Assange is an Australian citizen with, (presumably), leave to stay in the UK, wanted for questioning by the Swedish, in deep shit with the US and now an Ecuadorian by adoption. But no one really wants him, (except his Mum of course - bless). Every single one of the aforementioned nations is denying this individual his human rights by putting their own interests ahead of those rights. This is, of course, perfectly understandable but, they should admit that this is what they are doing instead of carrying on a bizarre pretence that they are somehow working together towards a mutually fair and beneficial solution. 

Contemporary diplomacy simply equals fear. But fear of what? Fear of losing an ally? Well, I suppose wars have been sparked before by events this banal. Fear of looking stupid? The time for avoiding that has come and gone. No one is coming out of this with an 'A' Level in Government and Politics. We're in a multiple bluff situation here. 

No one believes that Sweden would go to that much trouble for a couple of women. Everyone believes the US wants Assange to answer for publishing its cables - even though they only confirmed what everyone already knew. The Australian authorities put out a statement that it could find no 'evidence' that the US was seeking the extradition of Assange. Well, of course there's no evidence. It's a strategic ploy, innit? Everyone knows that Ecuador is just doing this to piss off the US and that Assange picked it not because of its exemplary history of protecting the right to free speech (feel free to lol here), but because it's one of the few countries in the world from which the US cannot legally extract him.

So, what to do? There really is only one solution - as, plainly, no one is going to step in and call a halt to this silliness. The British simply have to bungle it and allow him to slip away and onto a plane, post-haste. British Police have a fine record of the calibre of Keystonedness that's required here. Perhaps they could send the guys who were in charge of looking after the Wembley Stadium keys or sub-contract out the watch detail to G4S. Then they could go on a tea break while Assange escapes in a Dial A Pizza van. Someone should smuggle in some hair dye though. That grey mop makes quite a target.

But a serious question still remains. Fortunately, the Question Why has just come along to pose it. How much longer can 1960s-style posturing and play-acting survive as diplomacy in a global community where people are not fooled by crude devices masquerading as ethical positions? People who are supposed to be smart enough to lead us are reduced to scrabbling around looking for obscure points of law or precedents in protocol to support their shaky stand and save face instead of striving to do what is morally right and responsible. It's time to outgrow all that.

Dear world 'leaders' - follow the flock and stray no more. We, the people, suggest that if you act in the common interest instead of your own, we would have no need to waste our time protesting against your dictatorial idiocy. Seriously, we all have better things to do with our lives...

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Road to Tweedom is Paved with Hood Pretensions

What were they thinking? (2012) Kodakotype by Pants

The dignity of Britain came to within a wimple of being restored. Danny Boyle had drawn a firm line in the sand with his opening ceremony. A mend'n'make-do celebration would be in keeping with the nation's straitened circumstances and provide an opportunity to showcase its reputation for ingenuity in the face of adversity. Remember the bouncing bomb? Mmm, bad example maybe. I know, cracking the enigma code. The invention of radar. Dame Vera Lynn singing, 'there'll be bluebirds over the white cliffs of Dover' in a dress made from a decommissioned parachute.

And then this. If one could pick any fly on the wall to be, I would be the one buzzing around the heads of Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe when the headgear discussion was had. Taking the piss out of yourself is a fine art. The chances of looking like a right prat are quite high, and escalate to around 100 per cent if you put a bag over your head - or even the heads of those chauffeuring you on, er, tricycles? Try to imagine yourself as the fly hearing a sentence like, 'coneheads is always a good fallback look. I know where we can get some cheap.'

That whole made-from-scrap shtick almost worked. The overall design was part community centre papier-mâché class and part Dr Who set circa 1968 with a smidge of Prisoner thrown in for good measure. The bowler hats with light bulb garnish were eerily Clockwork Orange but obviously very practical. There was half a good idea there, or rather lots of halves of potentially good ideas. 

The bouncy castle renderings of landmark structures, copious inflatables and dirigibles, black cabs, psychedelic buses, high wire and other variety acts - all very London summer festival. In fact, all very British summer festival - especially when you throw in the Morris dancing and dustbin-lid beating. Fatboy Slim in a plastic octopus - wicked. Eric Idle and roller-blading nuns - beyond wicked. Zounds, it was almost decent knees-up-mother-Brown musical hall.

Here's where it came unstuck. Creating a show out of whatever and whoever can be pulled together from the back of cupboards and advanced-care facilities is very brave and blitz-spirited and all but it's not too far in before you start to notice what's missing. The projections of really quite important people in British post-war popular culture who have been dead an awfully long time only served to amplify a certain threadbaredness in the canon department. My second most desired fly-on-the-wall moment would be the one where the decision was taken to construct the Lennon death mask out of Styrofoam blocks. Is it just me or was that a bit of a downer in this context?

It was really the absence of people still very much alive who apparently found that the gig clashed with important hair-washing duties coupled with the inexplicable decision by director Stephen Daldry to carry on with inferior substitutes that fatally undermined the event. This weakness was compounded by the idiocy in allowing a star turn to sing a song that no one knew instead of the one that everybody remembers - that would be you Annie Lennox. And then to immediately follow it with letting George Michael do a song that was (1) brand new when this is supposed to be a retrospective, duh! (2) really crap.

Bowie hasn't performed since his heart attack in 2004 and washes his hair a lot, by all accounts. The last sighting of Kate Bush was in about 1987. We had a nice photo-montage of Bowie to remind us of the many different ways he can do his hair. Kate Bush was represented by Styrofoam blocks. Should we be reading anything into that?

One's beloved Guardian has conveniently provided a list of performers who turned down the gig. The Rolling Stones and Sex Pistols get a mention. The no-drugs rules and strict weapons surveillance were going to put some off, obviously. But what about the ones who don't appear to have been asked? Like Elton John. Candle in the Wind is the biggest selling single of all time in Britain. Oops. Sorry. Okay, moving on. Sting? And what about Adele and Leona Lewis? Both were born within a bus-ride of the Olympic stadium and can actually sing.

Odder still are the groups that only partially turned down the opportunity to participate. Pink Floyd was represented solely by drummer Nick Mason. The feud between David Gilmour and Roger Waters is legendary but they got together for a whole 23 minutes in 2005 for Live 8. Surely they could have managed five for the Olympics. Instead we got an incongruous performance of Wish You Were Here by Ed Sheeran, rendered utterly ridiculous by a high-wire artiste shuddering nervously towards a dummy who would be set on fire to replicate a cover-art piece in which an actual man not being approached via tightrope was really ignited back in the low-tech 70s. Somehow, cheap substitute doesn't quite cover it.

Only slightly sadder than seeing the perpetually warring Gallagher brothers together, is to witness one of them trying to do something alone. Liam looked dismal singing his absent brother's song Wonderwall

And that typified what was wrong with this whole Closing Ceremony. It was far more notable for what wasn't there than for what was there. We won't even go to the place where Victoria Beckham is named as a 'top' British designer but Stella McCartney - designer of the Team GB kit - is not. 

It all miraculously held together, but only in the way that the end-of-year pageant at a not-terribly-good school does. I found myself relieved that everyone got through it - although I admit I was praying for one of those Spice Girls to topple off the top of her taxi.

And the finale? A couple of grand-dads talkin' bout their generation. Even the surviving half of The Who, who really have nothing else going on, apparently turned the gig down twice before finally being persuaded to close out the show but, crucially, not to smash stuff up! Talk about a missed opportunity to remind everyone of how mightily defiant British youth culture was two actual generations ago. I'm guessing the riots of last year were too firmly embedded in recent memory to risk it, but what fun that would have been.

It could have been worse. Susan Boyle might have been persuaded to sing Wild Horses


Thursday, August 09, 2012

Return of the Native

Robert Hughes (1938 - 2012)  by Pants

When the news came this week of the death of Robert Hughes, the most commonly played soundbite was from a television show in which he explained that his prodigious career as an art critic had come about entirely by accident. He had 'wangled' a job as a cartoonist at a magazine called The Observer, then edited by Donald Horne, a noted Australian literary figure himself. The story, in Hughes's words, goes,

'... [Horne] came blasting and blazing into the outer office, where we were all sitting around, drunk, after lunch, and he said, "I've just fired the art critic. Who here knows anything about art? You must know something about art - you're the cartoonist. Well, you're the art critic now." And that's how it all started.'

The persistence of this caricature struck me as odd given the towering shadow Hughes cast in the international art world for more than thirty years. It was so dominant across local news media that it forced me to give this curiousity some serious thought. The conclusion I reached was that Australia is still unable to tolerate a 'talent' in one of the posher professions unless it can be belittled down to something that any one of us could have achieved given the same spin of fortune's fickle wheel. By inferring that underneath all that big-worded bluster, Hughes was just a knock-about 'larrikin' and a bit of a chancer, it allowed us to reclaim him as one of our own. 

Peter Carey wrote movingly in one's beloved Guardian of how the Australian public turned against Hughes following his near-fatal car crash in 1999, and how devastated he was by the betrayal. I wasn't around then so can't give a first-hand account but it does sound like the kind of brutality at which Australia can excel with the right kind of incident, players and media participation. One only needs to recall the ferocity with which the country devoured Lindy and Michael Chamberlain after their baby was taken by a dingo. (And I was around for most of that.) Throw in the hysteria that inevitably accompanies any motoring accident, the 'outback' setting and, well, I can imagine.

The truth is that Australians don't now and never have liked individuals, especially ones with strong and firmly stated opinions. The 'egalitarianism' we value so passionately is not an appreciation or even a tolerance for differing points of view but rather an insistence that everyone conforms to the same narrow band of Australianness. The 'right to a fair go' we so vehemently defend comes with plenty of caveats. One's entitlement to fairness is frequently conditional on mob agreement and can be withdrawn on its collective whim. The relentless and ghastly group bullying of our (female) Prime Minister is a case in point.

Hughes scurried back to his home in New York City following the accident, declaring that the birth-mother country could sink into the sea for all he cared. He accepted with a great deal of ill-grace a fine for dangerous driving under the ominous threat that things could get a lot nastier for him if he continued to bleat about it. Carey suggests that the rift between man and birth-mother country was never fully resolved.

And yet, the tributes in our media this week have been unequivocal. It appears he is recognised here more for his convict history The Fatal Shore (which I have not read) than The Shock of the New (which I read often). The accident and its toxic aftermath have not been mentioned by anyone other than Carey who lives in New York City and writes in a British newspaper. 

Hughes, like Lindy Chamberlain before him, seems to be destined for national treasure status. Just as Lindy Chamberlain had to be punished for a crime uncommitted and then re-imagined in the national psyche to achieve acceptance, so must he. 

I propose a toast to the accidental, yet brilliant, career of one Robert Studley Forrest Hughes.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Gore Blimey!

Gore Vidal (1926 - 2012) Image from Wikipedia

I don't recall ever reading a Gore Vidal novel. I remember the film of Myra Breckenridge though - very odd indeed. I am, however, a fan of his short essays. There are plenty available on line. Vanity Fair has an open archive with six or seven pieces and the New Yorker has made a couple available to non-subscribers. 

And then there are the film scripts - it was news to me that by his hand (not literally, you understand), the homo-erotic tension between Ben-Hur and his childhood BF turned ME (mortal enemy) Messala was created. It was, apparently, also news to the homophobe who played Ben-Hur, Charlton Heston. He wasn't aware that oiling up, donning scraps of leather and gazing smoulderingly at another similarly attired male carried a 'subtext'. Vidal is not credited on this film and Heston reacted violently to his claims that he had persuaded director William Wyler that the relationship between the two men had to be a love affair gone wrong to make any sense. It is rather funny in retrospect as you can't have an historic story with two man pals these days without the assumption that they'd had it off at some point.

I don't think I'm alone in speculating that Gore Vidal will be best remembered for being a post-war American cultural icon. Every time one of these stately raconteurs passes on to the great cocktail hour in the sky, it's a reminder that there is no equivalent class to replace them. It's also a reminder of how important these white, alpha-male wits have been to American arts and letters. It is a line only the towering Dorothy Parker was able to successfully cross.

One's beloved Guardian has today published a list of some of Vidal's memorable bon mots. These include the much rehashed, 'every time a friend succeeds, I die a little', and a favourite of my pal Anne O'Dyne, 'no good deed ever goes unpunished'.

Missing from the list is my personal favourite, 'write something, even if it's just a suicide note'. 

I well understand why even the free-thinking Guardian might not want include it. Suicide, like cancer and motoring fatalities, we now think of as whole-of-society failures resulting in needless deaths. Imagined in context, Vidal's lighthearted quip can only have been a plea to humans to express themselves - whether in pleasure or pain. It now translates as a taunt to the vulnerable.*

Readers should note that the Question Why has just entered the conversation  - and provided me with a much needed liquid top-up. TQW posits that there may have been times before antibiotics, superannuation and cosmetic surgery when humans, even in the arrogant and bloated 'first' world, might have had the humility to perceive themselves as, er, mortal? I send him off for peanuts while I try to think.

I've always believed that suicide is a valid answer to the question of life. People whose work I most admire chose it - Virginia Woolf, John Kennedy Toole, Mark Rothko, Sylvia Plath, David Foster Wallace, Diane Arbus. Who can say why?

To help us try to understand, some conveniently thoughtful person has compiled a list of famous people's suicide notes.

They range from the utter despair of Virginia Woolf's, 

'I feel certain that I'm going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to hear voices.'

to the world-weary George Sanders's,

'Dear World, I am leaving you because I am bored. I feel I have lived long enough. I am leaving you with your worries in this sweet cesspool - good luck.'

to the pragmatic and frankly uplifting farewell of Kodak founder George Eastman,

'To my friends: My work is done. Why wait.'

He was 76, in chronic pain and departed leaving neither heirs nor debts. Who could think that this had been anything but a good decision on his part?  

I'm going to write more about this in the future because it interests me. I'm wondering why what we used to instinctively know about life and death has been annexed by the medical profession and/or political interests.

Over on Art of Pants I've quoted John Updike. So, let's square the circle with this quip from him,

'We do survive every minute, after all, except the last one.'

* Please note that Gore Vidal did NOT die by his own hand.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Beady eyes on the bleedin' prize

Greedy Bird (2010) by Pants

Olympic competition is supposed to bring out the best in people but frequently brings out the worst. A display of this polarisation has been on show at the London Aquatic (or Arkwodik here in Australia) Centre this week. Firstly, there was the cultural cringe induced by more Australian swimmers than is decent sobbing into their Gatorade when their presumed right to come first in everything was usurped by some upstart competitor of the foreign persuasion. 

That unsporting ghastliness was immediately and spectacularly superseded by the outrageous bullying of 16-year-old swimmer Ye Shiwen by the international media pack. She was left to face ferocious and very personal accusations of 'doping' without any support from Chinese officials or anyone else for that matter. Nice.

Where on the one hand, we have 'competitors' who would seemingly bet their entire future happiness and both sets of grandparents on winning a swimming race that lasts for a couple of minutes, in other Olympic venues, we have 'players' who are just as determined to lose. It would appear that some badminton teams and maybe also some basketball teams have been deliberately trying to throw early round games, either for strategic or political reasons. How frustrating for the 'play up, play up and play the game' ethic. Who knows what this even means any more?

The host nation's haunting howl of 'oh God, not another fourth-place' and its visceral terror of failing to run down a single gold medal at its own games, not to mention the descending gloom of rain for the remains of the days, threaten to dissolve the paper-thin jiggy-jiggy. Britain does try desperately hard not to mind being overtaken at everything it is pretty sure it invented or owned by divine right or something. Let's hope the nation's stiff upper lip has more endurance than its athletes' feats.

Of course, it's very easy for Pants and her consort the Question Why to pontificate from the comfort of their respective recliners in Larrikin's End, especially as they're usually watching DVDs rather than the Olympics. AND, it's only fair to declare that Barney is an official sponsor. And, we have friends in London who tell us that they're loving it all. And, we've already written about how gloriously thrilling we found the Opening Ceremony. And, we will declare right now how much we're looking forward to the bad-tempered reunion of the completely ridiculous Spice Girls and can only hope that it breaks some kind of irony record. Is there a gold in irony on offer?

But the sports part of it does suck though, right?

The card game Five Hundred - or Idiots' Bridge - is popular in Australia. In this game you can win with a losing hand by playing a 'lay down misere'. You just have to lose every trick. How hard can it be?