Posts filed under ‘Stuff I Like’
LENNY BRUCE: 13 DAZE UNDUG IN SYDNEY
presented by the Tamarama Rock Surfers, April 2013
Newcastle, 1999. We were partying just as the Prince song had instructed us to. Benito “The Fooz” Foozolini was out on the street corner sharing a rolly with some laser beaked debonair dressed as a Pterodactyl while I took Polaroids of passing trade and swapped the results for beer. It was the Young Writers’ Festival and about twelve hundred people had crammed into a dance studio to sneer at Margo Scotch Finger for being too mainstream. Margo wrote the first political blog on the Sydney Harbinger and as such she was appropriately crucified by super fucking hip fucking radicals for being a part of the establishment. Then she lit up a ciggie and we all looked like fools for being abashed. Nobody was allowed to smoke indoors those daze. Not even radicals. At one point a naked man ran through the crowd carrying a flat cardboard box that smelt like smoky barbeque shouting “all pizza is theft” but that was fine. We just kept at our self-assigned task of mocking squares. Fucking Squares, Man.
“Over the last eighty years the campaign against government censorship has been almost completely a success story… in the case of blasphemous literature they have had only trivial setbacks”
Obscenity, Blasphemy, Sedition – John Coleman, 1962
Some cat was passing ’round spliffs and space cake in the name of research and I said to Van Bingham – “hey- that’s John Brown, he wrote some childrens’ book I used to love. That guy basically taught me to read!” Van said no, that’s the Midnight Cat, his cousin. They look exactly the same. I’d already spent half the night sponging cash off him for ginger ale so it’s just as well. Man if he ever finds out I’ll have to pay him back that tenner. Booze was cheap in those days so you could live cold on the dole and still sleep in a park for five days, and still have some extra dough for a night at the Crowne Plaza, where you could swap post-midnight semillon for LSD and MDMA… I spent the following day in a kimono heckling sound artists and holding court outside the festival club. I think that’s where The Fooz first noticed my talent for spectacle but I can’t be sure
“in the 1930’s and 40’s writer’s organisations such as The Australian Fellowship of Writers and The Australian Journalists Association would one minute defend our right to read banned novels because they were expressions of the True and the Beautiful and the next would denounce American Comics as Jewish-Negroid-Southern-European inspirations unfit for White Australians”
Obscenity, Blasphemy, Sedition – John Coleman, 1962
Around that time I ran into the Ghost of Bob Ellis. He told me to change my name back to Sanchez. So I did. I asked him to come up for a reading of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties in an abandoned shop window on Hunter St but there was no-one to read Gwendolen or Cecily, not even for ready money. It was already 9am but we found Maryam Lion out and about and she stepped up to the crease like Allan Border in the mid-eighties. Sans moustache of course. Later she became the only Australian guest on lateline or Q and A to ever walk away with dignity. Dig? They never had her back. The reading went well. I played Tristan Tzara but the only thing I’d had for breakfast was the space cake I’d got from John Brown’s cousin’s friend the night before. In the play he’s hanging out with James Joyce and by the time he takes on Ulysses my vision was doubled and I had the appearance of the Rumanian Undead.They started calling me ‘Vlad The Inhaler’ but Any attempt at Eastern European accent was fine but for some reason all I could speak was fluent Oscar Wilde.
Meanwhile Van Bingham had red and blue ribbons in her hair and was quietly becoming a destroyer-of-worlds. Some ten years later I bribed her friend Lucy Grayskull ten thousand cubits to cast me as Sergei Petrov in a ten minute reconstruction of the life of “The Glimmerman” or Blind Boy Ziesel, as he preferred. The Fooz had wrote it on the back of a red-wine hangover coaster and it seemed to make sense. it was the begining of the end. Soon we would all become legitimate artists in our own right. Humiliating.
Having declared the battle against government censorship a varied success in 1962, John Coleman went on to briefly become Chief Censor in NSW. In twenty-thirteen, a movie depicting gay sex is banned. You still can’t say “cocksucker” on free-to air TV but you can replay video of the deaths of thousands of people again, and again, and again, all through the day and night. You can promote gambling and booze to children in prime-time because ‘free markets’ and these are acceptable forms of self-abuse. But a woman breastfeeding her child in public? There’s no political will to defend that. We’ve always been uptight about banning books in this country (famously including Nabakov, D H Lawrence and of course, Ulysses). But in the context of Mr Coleman’s comments, one cannot help but wonder – was it Mr Bruce’s obscenities which caused him to be banned? Or might the journalists of the time been more forgiving if he happened to be white?
This play is probably the most important new work I have seen all year (and I’ve seen a few). It’s a vital piece of Sydney history, painstakingly researched and developed for the stage, with tight, powerhouse performances, laughter and music to boot. We can’t add anything to it because there’s simply so much there to enjoy, and learn, and laugh with, and cry for. With one week left, you would be mad to miss out.
Lenny Bruce, 13 Daze Undug in Sydney, by Benito Di Fonzo, directed by Lucinda Gleeson. Featuring Sam Haft, Lenore Munro, Damien Strouthos & Dorje Swallow.
Playing at the Bondi Pavilion until May 4th, 2013.
PLEASE GET OUT OF THE NEW ONE IF YOU CAN’T LEND YOUR HAND*
Brilliant session at the Vivid Ideas talkfest last night with inspirational discussion around the institutional social divisions that prevent access to creative learning. A lot was covered, and we highly recommend listening in on the podcast here – but for those tainted by short attention spans we can provide a highlight reel of the broad socioeconomic and educational landscapes drawn out between the symbiotic poles of science and the arts. In short; the ‘digital divide’ is the gap created by institutionalised imbalances in gender, language, literacy or geographical distance. These are complex equations, factoring in cultural & financial issues with historical precedent and ingrained preconceptions about fundamental concepts of society (such as ‘learning’ or ‘creativity’ or ‘engineering’). While it’s refreshing to hear people talking about breaking down these walls rather than the usual blithe acceptance of things-as-they-are-and-ever-will-be (this is a discussion we are very much a part of here at 5WHQ); beyond refreshment, the folks at Vivid Ideas have served up terrific examples of people who are actually implementing solutions in the real world, to tear down access barriers, to build new concepts of learning and creativity. Humbling, to say the least.
Each speaker offered an insight into the kinds of things they are trying to implement in the name of opening new channels of learning, and between these broad strokes it becomes awe-strikingly clear just how close to the cusp of massive social change we are getting.
I can only recommend people get down and try to catch whatever sessions they can at this event (previously known as Creative Sydney), now in its fourth incarnation at the top of the MCA and other select venues, it has come into it’s own. Always enlightening, surprising and entertaining. And there’s pretty lights too.
*with apologies to Robert Zimmerman
…Within about ten minutes of the preview starting one of our actors was somehow bleeding gently from the face. And we kept going. And the audience thought it was makeup and stayed with us. And we took them to a place that I don’t think anyone expected to end up.
presented by Company B Belvoir, June 2011
I have always maintained that the most cogent critiques about art come via the art itself – a theory which may explain why (unfortunately) few stage practitioners will bother to engage in the essay style short-form criticism that makes up the majority of theatre comment on the interwebs and occasional news broadsheet. A mere thousand words is inadequate when one’s ideas about the form reflect a full complement of overt and internalised sensibilities that can only truly be expressed in the unique metaphorical context of live performance. Critics will invariably cast their aspersions or approvals on the various aesthetic or cultural merits of any given work but these comments are secondary to the actual creative conversation happening between artists at all levels who seek to change or improve the conventions of theatre. That is the real battleground; between the traditional and the experimental forms of theatrical language. Everything else is academic.
Stuff I Like #5: DEADWOOD
Enough happens in the first fifteen minutes of the opening episode of Deadwood to hold repercussions throughout the entire three seasons, so intimately have the writers and producers crafted this subversive take on the mythology of the Old West. Not for the faint-hearted, it manages to fuse the intense violence and extreme vulgarity with a strange nostalgia – although anyone who actually found themselves in such a place as the Deadwood ‘camp’ would likely be not prone to happy memories. That is of course assuming they make it out alive. The body count in episode one alone sets up a precedent of such tension that from here on in almost any scene seems like it could turn sour. Such is the lawlessness and greed on the gold rush frontier, populated with a swathes of anti-heroic men and women; some the stuff of legend, like Wild Bill Hickok or ‘Calamity’ Jane Cannery. Both these real-life characters are represented in a kind of broken fashion, shadows of the glory that was. Other characters also drawn from history (although lesser known) make up the real dramatic grunt, in particular the sweltering rivalry between the self-righteous, decent settler Seth Bullock and the proprietor of the local saloon (with a slightly looser set of moral values) Al Swearengen.
That these are all real-life figures depicted in a real-life town is a neat device to add gravitas to the storyline, much of which is straight out of the books. It’s hard to tell where poetic license begins, not that it matters with a cast carrying it’s weight in gold; Ian McShane, Powers Boothe, William Sanderson and Timothy Olyphant among the heavyweights, but it’s the (relatively) unknown actors stepping into the female roles that really open up the stakes in camp Deadwood. It’s not that they’re as tough as the men (although some will hold their own when necessary) but the portrayals open up all manner of empathy and complexity in what otherwise is a stark and brutal political power struggle. From the murderous whore Trixie to the stately Mrs Alma Garrett, it’s the womens’ journeys that truly mark the transformation of Deadwood out of the lawless pit which so many of the men are pitching themselves to control.
And that’s the metaphor, as so many of these events are based on history, it’s a fascinating microcosm for the birth of the United States; a creeping and corrupt Caesarian it seems, brought forth from a brawling and bloody thirst for wealth. All the elements of the modern culture we know are visible in seedling form: celebrity mythologisation, vice, liquor and sex, multiculturalism (and the ugly racist cousin), the free commercial press, the thirst for knowledge, the fascination with all forms of entertainment and of course – Capitalisation. What starts as barely civilised and unrecognised muckhole grows into the American Dream, or at least some bestial version of the overtly classical hype and fervour surrounding the traditional view of American History (as written by the victors).
Far be it for me to unveil plot spoilers, but it’s an extraordinary piece of work from the writers and creative team that Al Swearengen and his cronies manage to become the eventual heroes of the story. At least insofar as heroic archetypes can exist in a show where complexity and flawed characters are the rule. On dramaturgical examination it’s easy to see how and why this is the case but the language and poetry of the staging is so brutal; even the staunchest of critics will get lost in the moment and forget their analytic urges as the foul-mouthed saloon manager lets fly with a well phrased and dryly threatening riposte at one of the morons he seems invariably surrounded by. For an absolute hateful dope-dealing pimp bastard, he’s got an educated charm and an unscrupulous sense of fairness that becomes as much an endearment as a puzzle. Like a king-of-exiles, all the misfits of Deadwood fall under his spell at one stage or another. Until that is, his home away from everything starts to become a part of civilisation again. But I’ve said too much… suffice it to say the true believers will follow through to the end and be rewarded with one of the greatest fight scenes ever staged for television, the stakes of which are not just symbolic, but metaphorical, like a struggle for the heart and soul of America herself.
DEADWOOD screens on ABC2 from August 3rd.
If you missed that, a DEADWOOD Marathon is screening at The Stables Theatre, Sundays in September
Buy or rent Season One and (after watching) listen to the commentary on DVD. It’s a masterclass in casting, and for that matter directing – writer/creator Shawn Ryan riffing with director Clark Johnson on the development process in episode 1 give SO MUCH insight on how to get an original show off the ground. Johnson comes with his own cop show pedigree dating back to his work on Homicide: Life on the Street, precursor to The Wire, in which he also features. But it’s the acting that lifts everything to the next level.
FILM REVIEW: District 9
…this world is one of transition, epic change and uncertainty, so when things start to unravel – you really wonder where this might end. And that’s why I’m predicting District 9 to be another cinematic milestone in science-fiction.