Sunday, March 18, 2007

Giving Lip(ski)

Avi’s back...
Man, sometimes I hate my degree. On Tuesday in class we spent three hours walking around the space embodying colours. I'm not fucking joking. "How does it feel to be indigo?" she said. I don't know, bitch, how does it feel to be a wanky hippie new-age Feldenkrais practitioner with no sense of humour? I don't WANT to be indigo, or orange, or turquoise, or a chameleon, or a school of fish, OR EVEN A FUCKING ACTOR FOR THAT MATTER - please, please, can't we all just sit down and have a nice conversation on the importance of Stanislavski?

Good idea.

After a month behind the sound desk of Homebody/Kabul, Avi lets rip in a typically literate purge.

There’s a whole lot more at The rest is just commentary.

Also on the rec. reading list for the day is Alison Croggon, who is absolutely on top of her game in this triple-header review. She does this, time after time... works stuff out from first principles. I mean, cop this for an aside:
A pulp novelist writes a story about a murder mystery that reveals the human search for order and meaning in a godless universe; a literary novelist will write a novel about the human search for order and meaning in a godless universe, using the shape of the detective novel as a device. As a result, very few escape the odour of slumming it.
I dips me lid...

Labels: , ,


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Red Stitch Actors Theatre: Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire

Rabbit Hole by David Lindsay-Abaire. Directed by Naomi Edwards. Set deign by Andrew Bellchambers. Lighting design by Stelios Karigiannis. Red Stitch Actors Theatre. Rear 2 Chapel St, St Kilda, until April 7.

UPDATE, APRIL 16: Rabbit Hole has won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for drama. The Broadway production at the Biltmore Theatre starred Cynthia Nixon as Becca and Tyne Daly as her mother, Nat. Nixon picked up a Tony award for her performance. According to a report at, Nicole Kidman will produce and star in a big-screen adaptation of the play with a screenplay written by the playwright.

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear...
-- CS Lewis

Grief and anger are tightly bound emotions. The more sudden and tragic a loss, the greater the need to lash out in its aftermath. Dearest or nearest. It doesn’t matter who.

Director Naomi Edwards shrewdly links the story of this play to the actions of the US government post September 11. Al Qaeda hit us, we’ll hit Iraq. Near enough. They’ve both got Qs in them. But, sensibly, Edwards directs the play as a family drama: detailed, complex, taut and intense. Every reaction is heightened, and amplified to emotional redline.

The play begins several months after the accidental death of a four year old boy. Becca (Kat Stewart) has gradually removed -- stored, hidden, given away -- every reminder of her dead child. She even wants to sell the family home. Her husband Howie (David Whiteley) resists. He wants the dog back, photographs back up and the drawings back on the fridge.

David Whiteley and Kat Stewart in Rabbit Hole

Becca’s tearaway younger sister Izzy (Erin Dewar) -- who has just punched out a woman at a bar -- announces she’s pregnant to her “working musician” boyfriend. Meanwhile, the young man (Martin Sharpe) who drove the car that hit the boy wants to visit the family.

The plot, such as it is, is incidental. The interest is in the rawness of the interaction and the rigid and brittle power balance between sisters, between Becca and her mother, between wife and husband. It’s also in the ancient pain and the glacially slow healing.

David Lindsay-Abaire’s play is wise without being preachy. It’s a bit humourless -- there’s none of the hole-black humour that the bereaved indulge in with one another -- but it’s touchingly, achingly, recognisably real.

Jenny Lovell (left) and Erin Dewar... “turning
thin caricature into someone we can walk around.”

As we’ve come to expect from Red Stitch, the production is utterly professional, timely (the play premiered last February in New York) and brilliantly acted. David Whiteley, surely, is the most consistent and versatile actor in Melbourne at the moment. And he’s in good company here. Erin Dewar, in particular, nails her role... turning thin caricature into someone we can walk around.

An edited version of this review was published in the March 16, 2007 edition of the Herald Sun.

Labels: , , , ,


Monday, March 12, 2007

CD Review: Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man (motion picture soundtrack)

Leonard Cohen: I'm Your Man
Various Artists (Verve Forecast)

I just don't get tribute albums... various artists dicking around with great songs, rarely matching them, at best making them their own. Unless you're doing it for Burt Bacharach -- to stop him from slaughtering his own songs -- why do it?

Of all the tribute albums I've heard, I can only remember one song: the Cure's take on 'Purple Haze' on Stone Free: a tribute to Jimi Hendrix. In 1993, Robert Smith and the boys turned '60s psychedelic into new age designer drug.

Two years earlier, a bunch of guitar bands and no-names massacred 17 Leonard Cohen songs ('Tower of Song' got it twice!) on I'm Your Fan. That CD is so bad, it astonishes me that anyone would risk another tribute-to-Cohen album with a single letter separating golddust from bulldust.

It's not a mistake producer Hal Willner would ever make. Willner was the man behind the Came So Far for Beauty concerts, a handful of dates across three continents culminating in some magic nights at the Sydney Opera House in January 2005... where this recording was made.

Willner gathered some superstar musicians, two of Cohen's most passionate backing singers and a list of soloists most of whom only need first names: Jarvis, Antony, Rufus, Martha...

Perhaps all it takes is a music director and some vision. But these concerts -- these covers -- were unforgettable. Thrilling.

Lian Lunson's film is less than thrilling. It captures none of the buzz of the event. I wondered if we were seeing dress rehearsal footage rather than real live performances at times. The selection of songs, too, is a puzzle. How could you not include Rufus Wainwright singing 'Who By Fire'? Or Linda and Teddy Thompson singing 'Alexandra Leaving'? Antony singing 'The Guests'?

Inexplicably, the single CD doesn't have Brett Sparks singing '1000 Kisses Deep' or the Wainwrights and Joan (as Police Woman) Wasser's amazing version of 'Hallelujah'. (They're in the film at least.)

Only 15 out of the 34 songs on the set list make it onto the CD. 12 of those were in the second half of the concert. Much of the power and playfulness has been stripped away. There's a churchy feel to what's left. Where's Jarvis Cocker and Beth Orton's 'Death of a Ladies Man'? Nick Cave's 'Diamonds in the Mine'?

But, while the CD might disappoint the 8000-odd "chosen few" who were there, who remember, what's left is indispensable. Passionate, moving, considered, clear-eyed and elegant interpretations of some of Leonard Cohen's greatest songs.

This review was published in Edition 274 of The Big Issue.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,


Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Everything’s Archie: the 2007 Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes

A relatively uncontroversial Archibald prize, this one. Of course, the best paintings never win. But that’s part of the judging process. The entry that pisses the fewest judges off usually gets the proverbial guernsey. And $35,000!

Artists continue to paint themselves and each other as well as their partners, kids, dogs and dealers... not to mention art critics and gallery trustees. (The sitter in this year’s winning portrait, installation artist Janet Laurence, is a former AGNSW trustee. She’s not the first.) Ho hum. Celebs and politicians -- and especially celeb politicians -- are also well represented. Too well represented.

I normally avoid exhibition openings like the plague. It’s just too damn hard to get anywhere near the art! But the Archibald is something else.

It’s exciting to see a gallery packed out with camera crews; to see Angela Bishop and Peter Harvey pondering portraiture. It’s also a rare opportunity to take photographs in a major gallery without being tackled by security. (At the National Gallery of Victoria sketching is forbidden!! I’ve been harassed for scribbling notes in a tiny pad!)

Apart from the (uncredited) top photograph of the scrum, which comes from the AGNSW web site, these pics were taken by yours truly... with my dogs bone. (I can’t be stuffed lugging my Canon around. The only feature my new K610i lacks is focus!) (Ahem!) Speaking of photo credits, I’m guessing that the photograph above was taken by this dude on the step-ladder, left.

As they say in the (pulpy non-fiction) classics, every effort has been made to contact copyright holders, yada yada yada...

If you’ll forgive a sporting mixed metaphor, here’s my ruckman’s view of the scrum. That’s Janet Laurence in the thick of it with the winning portrait (of her) by John Beard.

And here’s the ’Bald winner himself. (John Beard, incidentally, sat for the 1988 winner Fred Cress. What goes around comes around.)

It took about thirty minutes to get anywhere near him. The paparazzi are like bears. Don’t step between them and their cubs. Or their prey. You might get clocked over the head with an 85 kilogram gadget bag. (sic) [That’s sic gadget, not sic bag I hasten to add.] [Sic bag, heh!]

At the height of the media feeding frenzy, I chucked a lap. Checked out the art. I was delighted to find a portrait of brilliant tattoo artist and watercolourist eX de Medici and her beloved mangy old dog.

eX and Reg (detail) by Sue Taylor

Finding Lily-Rose, below, I scratched my head and wondered how the subject made it by the 85 year-old Archibald criterion: man or woman distinguished in arts, letters, science or politics. She’s famous, now, I guess. QED. A plaque next to the portrait tells us that her dad, artist Daniel Henderson, wanted to make an exquisite portrait of his daughter. I don’t know to break this to him... I reckon the image looks like a plastic doll with the good-evil switch flicked to psychotic. (Sorry, Daniel. I hope you’re not reading! And, Lily, here’s hoping you can’t read.)

Lily-Rose by (doting dad) Daniel Henderson

I also wandered through the still deserted Wynne and Sulman Prize exhibitions. This is a detail from the Sulman Prize winner.

Axis of Elvis (detail) by David Disher

And this is a finalist in the Wynne.

The Double Island by Alexander McKenzie

Standing in front of a massive canvas in an otherwise empty room -- part of the Sulman section -- was a vision in pink. A girl. Two years old, tops. It was a brilliant, if somewhat cliched, photo op. And I wasn’t fast enough on the draw.

Her mother later re-staged the pose... for her own camera! I had to settle for a shot of the kid doing marble angels...

Portrait of the artist’s daughter Paloma

Paloma -- Paloma blanca as I re-christened her -- turned out to be daughter of the charming and talented Evert Ploeg, an Archibald finalist with a rare talent for doing hands. (Well, with a name like Paloma, chances are your dad flicks the acrylics around, no?)

George Ellis by Evert Ploeg

Paloma’s dad has the dubious honour of finding his contribution in a sort of anteroom to the main exhibition. It’s a preface begging to be skipped. On the plus side (I think), Ploeg’s canvas sits opposite the painting that received the most publicity in the lead up to the Prize exhibition, Robert Hannaford’s self-portrait. Quite by accident, I appear to have cropped out his penis.

Tubes by Robert Hannaford (self portrait)

I was struck by the number of portraits, this year, executed in the time-honoured style of William Dargie and Ivor Hele. Stylish, stylised, good old fashioned likenesses. Nothing succeeds like success, I suppose. (How often did Bill Dargie pick up the prize?!) Still, it’s hard to dislike brilliant and sensitive portraits of the outside of the sitter.

Brian, the dog and the doorway (detail) by Adam Chang

Bill Leak is more like a Pugh or a Dobell, I guess. But even at his darkest and most probing, as here, there’s an unmistakable air of caricature... an observation not (necessarily) a criticism.

Portrait of Paul by Bill Leak

Cherry Hood’s work is bloody impressive, as ever.

Ben Quilty by Cherry Hood (detail)

If you click on the one, below, you’ll get a megapixel reproduction. (Most of the rest are VGA, dear reader.)

Zhong Chen self portrait

Here’s another Wynne finalist:

The Rising Tide by Paul Haggith

And a choice little detail from a Sulman finalist.

The Pornography of Hope (detail) by Andrew Frost

The Archibald Prize exhibition is at the Art Gallery of New South Wales until May 13. Then Myer Mural Hall, Melbourne, from May 18 to July 1. It then tours to a number of regional galleries. Firstly Manning (July 6 to August 12), Grafton (August 16 to September 23), Bega (September 28 to November 3), Orange (November 9 to December 16) and Broken Hill (December 21 to February 3, 2008).

Labels: , , ,