Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Friday, March 24, 2006

Woody'n You

Even now, the idea of going to see a Woody Allen film triggers feelings of cheerful nostalgia. I have watched Woody Allen films with some of the nicest people I have ever known. (And they know who they are.) There was, of course, a time when he could do no wrong. One classic movie was followed unfeasibly quickly by another. Even a technical exercise like “Shadows and Fog” was never less than a pleasant diversion. But then something happened, something that put him in the public eye for all the wrong reasons, with many ramifications for all of the people involved, but also, it seems, for his view of humanity as reflected in his films.

Or perhaps he has simply kept on making movies, beyond his natural cut-off point, because making movies is what he does. One has to say, however, that the tank has seemed, of late, to be pretty close to empty. Still, his stock amongst moviegoers and critics remains high; each time a half-decent Allen movie appears it is hailed as a “return to form” (c.f., in the music sphere, recent releases by the Artist Formerly Known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince). Except that none of them are, really, a return to form. There would be nothing better in this world than for Woody Allen to make another “Annie Hall”, or another “Manhattan”, or another “Hannah and Her Sisters”, or another “Crimes and Misdemeanors”. (Or, for that matter, another “Purple Rose of Cairo” or “Broadway Danny Rose”.)

(Recent distribution calamities have meant that we haven’t even been able to see all of his more recent films in Canberra, because of blinking and thereby missing them. I think the last one I saw was the one where he tunnels under a building to rob the bank next door, or something. Come to think of it, recent Woody Allen films have been much like James Lee Burke novels, a neverending run of books with similar titles and storylines, so that one blends into the other and the reader really needs to keep a record of which ones he has read in order not to accidentally come home with the same book twice. The difference being that Burke’s novels are all of a consistently high standard.)

And so, in spite of all of the foregoing misgivings, it was with some excitement that Adrienne and I headed off to Manuka, the closest Canberra has to a “happening scene” (not that close, actually), to see “Match Point”, the latest “Woody Allen is back” moment. At least the hype has led to an extended run in the cinemas. And it does have Scarlett Johansson, the sensitive thinking man’s eye candy of choice. And it is shot in London, for a nice change.

But about 90 minutes in, I leaned across to Adrienne and whispered, “I wish this would end. I don’t like it.” It’s hard to say what went wrong. It would be nice to say “Woody, I’m sorry, it’s not you, it’s me.” But I don’t actually think the problems lay with me. The basic plot outline would have read perfectly well. And there were some clever ideas. But, man, I think it turned out to be one of the most misanthropic, miserable films I have ever seen. There is nothing to like in any of the characters (not, I know, always a valid criticism, but this is Woody Allen we’re talking about), but even worse, in a two-hour, character-driven film, all we end up with are character types, or ciphers, and not terribly well resolved ones at that. The two male leads were, one assumes, supposed to be polar opposites, and yet there is really nothing between them. (This may have come from an American making misguided assumptions about “the English class system”.) And then, there is the disappointment that comes with the realisation that Allen has already told this story, only so much better and with so much greater depths of moral ambiguity and complexity, in “Crimes and Misdemeanors” (probably his last truly great film - and it comes to me now, in another moment of sadness, that this may turn out to be a definitive statement).

Maybe it is telling that this film has been consistently referred to as “Woody Allen’s Match Point”, as if with this film he is serving for his career: if he wins, he can play again, but if he loses it’s curtains. He lost. I don’t know what happens next.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The eyes have it

Apparently the condition of my eyes is such that I am more likely than most people to get a detached retina. (My optometrist said that I should try to avoid activities such as bungee jumping. My optometrist doesn't know me very well.)

So I was pleased to find this helpful advice.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

We interrupt this temporary break in transmission with a temporary interruption to this break in transmission

Too gummed-up with a cold to put many coherent thoughts together, but certain things need to be said. No patience for inserting useful hyperlinks; obituaries for the fallen can be found in the usual places.

Firstly, we must acknowledge the contributions of those no longer with us:

Ali Farka Toure: known to many, and in his case to no detriment, for his groundbreaking album with Ry Cooder. But as, in many ways, the recognisable name of Malian music, Toure has perhaps enabled some of us lucky listeners to dig a little further into the music of that country (in a horrible generalisation, I am going to say, and live to regret, that I find much more to enjoy in the Malians than in the Senegalese). Only this week, I found in a second-hand-CD store a copy of “Djaam Leeli” by Baaba Maal and Mansour Seck, which I previously had only on a well-worn cassette courtesy of our good friend Peter Raisbeck.

Ivor Cutler: for some reason I always thought of Ivor Cutler and Vivian Stanshall as interchangeable. My problem. If you thought that the kind of “full” lives that used to appear in the obituaries pages of the London Telegraph had dried up with the deaths of the last of those wacky Victorians, Cutler provides something of a throwback. There wasn’t much he hadn’t taken on.

Octavia Butler: her name is better known to me than her writings. I remember her mostly from the book-review pages of such 'zines as Chemical Imbalance and Forced Exposure. My own interests, and chance discoveries, let me more in the direction of Haruki Murakami, Lucius Shepard, and William Gibson. Now she's gone; but then, I didn't read any Philip K Dick until after he had passed on.

Harry Seidler: being married, as I am, to an architect, it is hard not to be affected by the news of Seidler’s death, if only because of the hurt that will be being felt right now by many of our friends and acquaintances. Seidler introduced the heathens of this country to modernist architecture, mainly by being a damn fine practitioner of same. He built a house outside of Sydney for his mother which remains, to this day, a benchmark for domestic architecture (giving his mother tangential fame of a kind not seen since Whistler’s painting - "have you been to Harry Seidler's mother's house?" is a question I have been asked more than once). Seidler did fall victim to that well-known Australian phenomenon, the cutting down of tall poppies, but to his credit he was more than capable of meeting his doubters head-on, while never losing sight of the dividing line between criticism of him/his work, and his work itself.

And, having acknowledged the dead, let’s have a word about the living: John Zorn, whom I maintain to be the lasting musical genius of our time (cranky and obstreperous as he may be), has got a bit of a leg into the academy by being named a Presidential Fellow of the Arts at the University of Chicago. As we Australians are fond of saying, “Good on ya, Zorny.”


Nasty head-cold, 1; Haruki Murakami novel, 0.

Not a promising start.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Watch That Man

Things might be a bit quiet over here for the next little while, as I found a copy of Haruki Murakami's "Kafka On The Shore" at the local library. My guess is that someone will reserve it during the next three weeks, which would mean that I couldn't extend the loan. The same thing happened with William Gibson's "Pattern Recognition", forcing me to go out and buy the thing for myself. (Memo to self: are librarians and book publishers engaging in some kind of scam?)

So it's going to be like an entire season of "24" compressed into three weeks: Will he make it? Or is the whole thing gonna blow? (Frankly, I don't like my chances. That's a lot of pages for someone as slow as me to get through in three weeks. Don't put money on me.)

Friday, March 03, 2006

Keep thinking those happy thoughts

Nightmare scenario of the day:

1. India, provoked by one too many terrorist attacks on its territory, launches a nuclear strike on Pakistan.

2. China, not wanting to miss an opportunity, attacks India.

3. Kim Jong Il fires missiles at Japan, while China takes control of Taiwan.

4. Just for the heck of it, Israel launches attacks on Iran's nuclear facilities.

5. [insert preferred doomsday option here]

By the way, not too long ago I came up with a line, which I didn't use, about the effects of global warming being counterbalanced by the effects of a nuclear winter. A week or so later the same idea appeared in a cartoon in the New Yorker. Jinx!