June 28, 2013

June 27, 2013


AB: The Human Scale documents that 106,000 ideas were submitted for the Christchurch rebuild. What would be one idea you’d leave for Christchurch?

AD: I think the really interesting story about Christchurch is not the specific ideas that came up, but the fact the citizens became engaged in what kind of city they wanted. Suddenly they had this shared story about what they wanted for their city. Everywhere it’s always a struggle between different interests, economic interests, political interests, and so forth. In Christchurch they managed to create this unified public voice about what they wanted: a low-rise city. There were huge economic interests pushing for that idea not to prevail. But the government wasn’t able to overrule it simply because they would get in so much trouble with the public. So I think the big story of Christchurch is how can you create this public shared story?
AB: Tell me about a strong memory from your visit to Christchurch.

AD: I’ve been one of the few people who were actually able to go in to the red zone and spend time there. Most citizens of Christchurch have been blocked out of the city centre, the red zone, for security reasons. They haven’t been inside their own city centre ever since the earthquake. I was able to move around this dead city, with everything just left the way it was the day of the earthquake. Coffee cups were still standing on the tables, some of them with coffee in them still. Walking around this landscape that was without people, it really made a very strong impression on me, that cities are really about people. Because once the people are not there, it’s just empty; it’s like an empty stage set. There was a really weird, really eerie feeling to walk around this death city. It was an incredible experience.

-- Alexander Bisley talks with Andreas Dalsgaard (The Human Scale, 2013) ahead of its New Zealand Film Festival screenings. Read it at Lumiere Reader.

To produce this spectacle meant colossal engineering works. For 20 years it was dust, dust, dust. Vienna, said the writer Karl Kraus, was being ‘demolished into a great city’.

-- from The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal, 2010.
Image from Christchurch City Libraries.

June 22, 2013

June 14, 2013

What F Scott Fitzgerald said

Ladies and Gentlemen, the Rolling Stones (Rollin Binzer, 1973).

'You know what F Scott Fitzgerald said, don't you?' David mutters as I flop down beside him on a couch.
'No,' I say, 'I don't know what F Scott Fitzgerald said.'
'He said that everybody's youth is a dream, a form of chemical madness.'

from Mick Jagger, by J Marks (Abacus, 1973).

June 11, 2013

Think of this as time travel

A piece on Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, looking ahead to Before Midnight, up at Werewolf now.

June 10, 2013

This drinking life


Dream double bill: before and after the 60s. The Servant (Joseph Losey, 1963). Withnail and I (Bruce Robinson, 1987).

June 9, 2013

In Xanadu, in 3-D

Whether you’re a fan of the book or have never read it, you would have to agree that the framing device in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (2013) – narrator Nick Carraway is drying out in a sanatorium, telling his story to a doctor and then writing it up – is a bad idea. Not only because “the story I’ve been telling is also a book I’ve been writing” is an ancient cliché but because it depends so heavily on Tobey Maguire, woefully miscast as Carraway. But as I wrote back at Werewolf, Carraway is probably the hardest Gatsby character to cast: readers depend on his perspectives, his judgments, and he remains in important ways, an outsider, a bystander, as well as (an unreliable) conscience and narrator. At times in this Gatsby, he is also an over-explainer: his voice-over in the “shirts” scene interrupts the Gatsby/Daisy dialogue to explain why she is crying (and it’s a generous interpretation …). But I think that Luhrmann gets other key parts about right: Leonardo DiCaprio is a charismatic, proud, sad and (importantly) comic Gatsby, Joel Edgerton is an overbearing and entitled thug as Tom Buchanan (Lurhmann and co-writer Craig Pearce kept the racism which had at least one unprepared audience member gasping) and Carey Mulligan is … well, you can never perfectly cast Daisy because everyone has their own idea, or ideal. She is different things to Gatsby and to us – even the notion that her voice sounds like money means different things to Gatsby and to us, or at least it should.

It may not sound like an achievement, but this would be the best Luhrmann film since Romeo + Juliet, not just because of the strength of those central performances, but because an established text keeps Luhrmann relatively grounded as well as gifting him and Pearce great dialogue. Nothing Luhrmann does here – and he does a lot – can undermine a straight-forward and contained story that should never have gained a reputation for being unfilmable, although it is true that the book’s visual metaphors (the Eckleburg billboard, the valley of ashes, the green light) can seem clumsy in a film. Overall, the familiar Luhrmann-isms – the excessive artificiality, the anachronisms, the choreography, the half-hallucinated sets – work this time, with the film taking place both in its own era and ours, in an imaginary 1922 and in 2013 at the same time. How else to explain the quotes from movies made since, with DiCaprio’s Gatsby not just resembling Charles Foster Kane in appearance but ending his life gasping “Daisy” like Kane dropping the snow globe, as well as a quote or two from Sunset Boulevard? Better a version this imaginative and individual – and as willing to take liberties – than the play-like dullness of the Jack Clayton version.

June 8, 2013

Beyond the valley of the dull

How did paunchy, middle-aged hair rock – thinking of Journey, purveyors of the endless “Don’t Stop Believin’” – survive and adapt? Track the song’s meaning, its … journey. On the soundtrack of Monster, songs by Journey were the kind of thing a mass murderer in Florida in the 1980s would slow-dance to. “Don’t Stop Believin’” was playing at the very end of The Sopranos, when the lights went out. Once this kind of thing was a disgrace, now it pretends to be the great American songbook: the first song on the first Glee CD is a Journey cover, followed by a REO Speedwagon cover. (I blame American Idol.) In Darren Aronofsky’s tragic, brilliant The Wrestler, hair metal was the natural soundtrack (songs by Ratt, Quiet Riot and Guns N’Roses), with Mickey Rourke’s ruined, terrified Randy the Ram as a version of Axl Rose.

A crowdpleasing musical had to be the next step. I was going to watch Adam Shankman’s film of Rock of Ages (Adam Shankman, 2012), in which Tom Cruise is the part-Axl, part-Vince Neil hair farmer Stacey Jaxx, and I was going to quote Dennis Potter’s famous thing about popular music, which is an impenetrable defence against accusations of bad taste:
I don’t make the mistake that high culture mongers do of assuming that because people like cheap art, their feelings are cheap, too. When people say, “Oh listen, they’re playing our song,” they don’t mean, “Our song, this little cheap tinkling, syncopated piece of rubbish is what we felt when we met.” What they are saying is “That song reminds us of the tremendous feeling we had when we met.” Some of the songs I use are great anyway but the cheaper songs are still in the direct line of descent from David’s Psalms. They’re saying, “Listen, the world isn’t quite like this, the world is better than this, there is love in it,” “There’s you and me in it” or “The sun is shining in it.”

So-called dumb people, simple people, uneducated people, have as authentic and profound depth of feeling as the most educated on earth. And anyone who says different is a fascist.
That was Potter’s view, and it was fair and wise (it was cited by Greil Marcus in his book about the Doors). And then I actually watched Rock of Ages, and saw that there was simply no defence. First scene: passengers on a bus from Oklahoma, bound for Hollywood, break into song. The song is Night Ranger’s “Sister Christian”. The girl who wants to be a star sings, the bus driver sings, they all sing. It was worse than we could have imagined. Glee metal! The songs may contain those feelings Potter speaks of, but the film has drained them. We lasted one minute.