All posts by Richard Cotter

As a child, Richard loved going to the pictures. He is still getting over the advent of the talkie which set cinema back a century but still sounds off on radio ABC, 2GB and 2UE etc about the state of cinema whenever invited. As well, Richard has been a theatre practitioner for the past 35 years and has been resident director for Big Splash Productions for the past 10 years.

ON ARTISTS: PAINS IN THE ARTS

Ashleigh Wilson’s essay ON ARTISTS is a pain in the arts.

Wilson quotes George Orwell- “If Shakespeare returned to Earth tomorrow and if it were found out that his favourite recreation was raping little girls in railway carriages, we should not tell him to go ahead with it on the ground that he might write another King Lear.”

No. We would incarcerated the dastardly Bard like we would any criminal and he would write another masterpiece in jail. Artists are not above the law and artistic temperament is not a defence against abusive behaviour.

At a basic level its impossible to detach the artist from the art. As long as humans are making art, then the context of their lives influences the work they produce. But how can we measure the extent of that influence?

Art by its very nature emphasises the strengths of the talent as well as the flaws in the character. It is the perversions or predatory proclivity not the performance or art that are abhorrent.

Wilson also quotes Rachel Campbell-Johnston, chef art critic for the times – “it remains the duty of a civilised society to preserve art works that reveal our human nature – even with its worst flaws.”

Should Spacey be expunged from his body of work, made give back his Oscars?

Should Wagner be proscribed in Israel because of apparent anti-Semetic leanings?

This is part of a much older discussion about the nature of aesthetic judgement. When the German philosopher Immanuel Kant described the conditions by which we evaluate the beauty of “an object or a kind of representation” in his aesthetic treatise of 1790,The Critique of Judgement, he stipulated the essential quality of “disinterestedness.”

Disinterestedness is the attitude that permits us to assess work without the influence of an internal agenda or external interference—a requirement, in other words, that we understand a work of art purely on its own terms, unmarred by historical precedent, biographical detail, political, social or moral implication. If Kant were alive today, he would probably argue that only the work matters—not the men behind it, or their deeds.

ON ARTISTS by Ashleigh Wilson is published by Melbourne University Press.

PETERLOO: PERTINENT 200 YEARS ON

Mike Leigh’s latest big canvas production, PETERLOO, is a magnificent class struggle epic of prodigious weight that plucks a pivotal event in English history from the dustbin of obscurity.

Pic begins on the last day of the Battle of Waterloo, with a young soldier, Joseph, shell shocked, dazed, bewildered, overwhelmed on the field of cannon fodder, a haze of gunpowder shrouding the carnage and confusion.

Brain battered and spiritually subdued, Joseph returns to his loving but poor mill working family in Manchester. No state restitution, no monetary repatriation, no trauma counselling.

The victor of Waterloo, however, the high born Wellington, is handsomely rewarded in Parliament, a staggering seventy five thousand pounds, while soldiers the likes of Joseph struggle to survive.

Parliament also pays the King £2 million per annum and the Prince Regent £1.5 million per annum.

Wellington, too busy counting his war booty, abrogates his responsibility and sends his subordinate, General Byng, to deal with unrest in the North of England as, post war, working people suffer unemployment, bad harvests, and restrictions on corn imports.

They have no vote, and popular pro-franchise meetings are held by moderate radicals and more extreme firebrands. Joseph, his father and his brother attend these, but his mother is sceptical.

The oppressive brutality of the Manchester magistrates impose severe punishments that include transportation to Australia. Local and government spies abound within a corrupt constabulary, and in London the Home Office intercepts mail. The Prince Regent is attacked in public, so Parliament suspends citizen’s rights.

Lancashire radicals Bamford and Healey return home from the capital,
enthusing about the famous orator Henry Hunt, whom they suggest be invited to address a proposed mass demonstration at St Peter’s Field.

This plan takes hold, Female Reformers join and momentum builds. Whilst the brutal anti-radical local yeomanry prepare their weapons, leading
young radicals are imprisoned.

Arriving in Manchester, Hunt, furious to discover that the meeting has been postponed, reluctantly stays with the owner of the radical local newspaper. Committed to peaceful means, he overrides Bamford, who wants some marchers armed, and gets the hostile magistrates to promise he won’t be arrested. They in turn discover that General Byng plans to be absent from the meeting, attending a day at the races, sending a deputy instead.

Thousands of peaceable, law abiding citizens walk miles on the day, August 16, 1819, Joseph and his family among them. The magistrates dither and bicker before ultimately sending in the yeomanry and the military.

A massacre ensues.

Surveying the carnage, journalists, recalling Waterloo, dub the event The Peterloo Massacre.

Mike Leigh’s brilliantly rendered and beautifully realised film highlights the significant contribution that the so called ordinary folk have on the development, security and expansion of democracy. Terrible things will happen in any great revolutionary enterprise, the powerful must be held to account, the people must prevail.

To its honour, PETERLOO is no romanticised vision to working class life nor does it make Henry Hunt a hero.

Rory Kinnear’s performance as Henry Hunt is superb as the charismatic orator and pragmatic peacock strutting peacenik, grandiloquent and elegantly attired.

In stark contrast, Maxine Peake is terrific as Joseph’s mother, perennially pragmatic, sceptical, cynical, knowing full well that merely existing is exhausting, without expending time and energy on external forces but is willing to support the community in its challenge for change.

Two hundred years on from the event, PETERLOO is as pertinent today as it was then, and shall be ever so.

MUSIC FROM THE MOVIES: SYDNEY PHILHARMONIA CHOIRS

 

Sydney Philharmonia Choirs’ MUSIC FROM THE MOVIES kicks off with the monumental Millennial megahit, Frozen, then proceeds to navigate a course of varying degrees of nostalgia, mingling classical compositions used in movies and music written specifically for film.

A first section marries Mozart and Williams that incorporates Wolfie’s Requiem pieces used so dramatically in Milos Forman’s film version of Amadeus to John William’s choral cuts from Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Private Saving Ryan, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace and Amistad.

Under the sub title, Religion – for better or worse, the programme then launched into Introitus from Lux Aeterna by Morten Lauridsen, used in the film Angels and Demons, followed up by On Earth As It Is In Heaven from Ennio Morricone’s sensation score for The Mission. As fine as these selections were, under such a moniker, I yearned for the choir and orchestra to tackle Ave Santani the Oscar winning score for The Omen by Jerry Goldsmith. Continue reading MUSIC FROM THE MOVIES: SYDNEY PHILHARMONIA CHOIRS

THE EXTRAORDINARY JOURNEY OF THE FAKIR: TASTY BOLLYWOOD EURO PUDDING

Move over Exotic Marigolds, THE EXTRAORDINARY JOURNEY OF THE FAKIR is the new champ of sub continental romanticism, taking us on a wild ride of coincidence and circumstance with charm and elan.

In this Euro-pudding of a picture, Aja, a young fakir (magician) from the streets of India arrives in Paris in search of his past and his future.

He falls head-over-heels for American ex pat, Marie, whom he meets amongst the cabinets and couches in an IKEA store, and plans to meet up with her again the next day.

When he accidentally gets stuck in a wardrobe that is shipped in the night to the UK, Aja finds himself on the run from border police and bandits alike.

In England, he is interrogated by a belligerent border control officer who breaks into a Bollywood song and dance routine that assigns the mistaken asylum seeker to Spain.

Back in continental Europe, Aja comes into the orbit of a glamorous film star and pompous producer. On his travels, Aja has written about his adventures using his shirt rather than paper. The actress persuades the producer to take an option on the shirt, which leads to a ton of cash in a briefcase that becomes a pivotal plot device.

Director Ken Scott’s film is an adaptation of Romain Puértolas’s novel, The Extraordinary Journey of the Fakir who got Stuck in an IKEA Wardrobe, and unfolds as a fabulous fable of a magical quest.

It boasts a charming central performance by Dhanush as Aja, with strong international support from Berenice Bejo as the glamorous movie star, Erin Moriarty as Aja’s true love, Barkhad Abdi as wise Somali asylum seeker, Gerard Jugnot as a wiley Parisian taxi driver, and Ben Miller as the British bust-a -move border patrol officer.

Like a modern take on Around the World in 80 Days, THE EXTRAORDINARY JOURNEY OF THE FAKIR is a cavalcade of adventure, misadventure, love lost and found against a panorama of exotic locations that span India, Europe and the UK.

LONG SHOT: CHARLIZE THERON FOR PRESIDENT!

Can Fred Flarsky ever forget Charlotte Field and find true happiness?
It’s a long shot brought to short stop in LONG SHOT, a deliciously captivating, deliriously romantic political comedy.

I don’t think its drawing a long bow entertaining the idea that LONG SHOT is the type of movie Frank Capra might be making if he were alive today.

Socially, sexually and politically pungent, LONG SHOT delivers over lumbering charades of contemporary comedy that are unsparingly insipid and uninspiring.

There’s a mordancy in LONG SHOT that is refreshing and congenial.

Charlotte Field, played with dazzling glamour and poise by Charlize Theron is the Secretary of State for the United States government. Smart, sophisticated, and accomplished, she’s a powerhouse diplomat with political ideals.

When The President, a former TV actor who played The President to great acclaim and then was elected to the Office – shades of recent Ukraine antics – announces that he wont be running for a second term, Charlotte asks for and is given endorsement to run for the Office.

Enter Fred Flarsky played in affable everyman mode by Seth Rogen, a gifted and free-spirited journalist with an affinity for trouble. The two have nothing in common, except that she was his babysitter and first crush.

When Fred unexpectedly reconnects with Charlotte, he charms her with his self-deprecating humour and his memories of her youthful idealism. As she prepares to make a run for the Presidency, Charlotte impulsively hires Fred as her speechwriter, much to the dismay of her trusted advisors.

A fish out of water on Charlotte’s elite team, Fred is unprepared for her glamorous lifestyle in the limelight. However, sparks fly as their unmistakable chemistry leads to a round-the-world romance and a series of unexpected and dangerous incidents.

LONG SHOT takes a long, laugh filled look at the pressures of keeping true to your ideals in the world of politics, how compromise, a sometimes positive thing, can be corrosive and cynical.

It presents a vain and narcissistic ninny in the White House and a reptilian media tycoon pretty much calling the shots, that tips the comedy into satire.

COMMANDER IN CHEAT: WHO’S FOOZLING WHO?

Does Robert De Niro play golf? On principle, he probably proscribes the putting and Penfold 7s , seeing how totally opposed he is to the golfing megalomaniac Donald Trump.

Bobby will probably like a new book out that seeks to explain Trump though.
Titled, COMMANDER IN CHEAT, it’s a scathing and insightful look at the current leader of the free world and self proclaimed leader boarder of the fairway.

Rick Reilly, a veteran writer for Sports Illustrated and ESPN and eleven times voted National Sportswriter of the Year, tees off with Trumps personal view of the game before chipping in to his professional interests.

Trump, it has to be said, has talents and skills as a golfer, but his achievements as a champion have been exaggerated no less truly by the man himself.

Like Auric Goldfinger, Trump likes to win, and cheating on the fairway is, to him, a fair way to win. Like Auric Goldfinger, Trump also owns most of the courses he claims club championship of.

With so much foozling, it’s bamboozling his score card is so low. For Trump it truly seems a case of different strokes for different folks.

And then there’s foreign policy.

Why did Trump turn his back on Puerto Rico after the 2017 hurricane?
Why wasn’t Indonesia on the travel ban list? or the UAE or Saudi Arabia.
Why reverse the Cuban travel relaxation set up by Obama?

Golf is the answer.

In page after page, Reilly illustrates how Trump tramples the etiquette of the game. A cad to caddies, coarse on the course, the bogeyman of the bogey, Trump appears to be an A hole in one.

Reilly writes: “You cant kick and throw and foozle your way through a presidency. You cant cheat and fudge and fake running the world, for one good reason: You don’t own the course.”

COMMANDER IN CHEAT by Rick Reilly is published by Headline.

BATCH: SEASON OF NEW WORK AT GRIFFIN

Like a trance Ted talk, David Finnigan, fearless writer of Kill Climate Deniers, tears through a litany of tropes that might make the subject of climate change more palatable and conversational in YOU’RE SAFE TILL 2024.

That’s only five years away, the clock is ticking, and we’ve got to take action.

Finnigan doesn’t like figures but he’s stuck with them. Seventy is a figure that looms large. Seventy years, since the end of World War II, the world has been hurtling towards exponential catastrophe – degrading bio diversity, superphosphating our fowl and polluting the planet with plastic.

It’s time to take our foot off the accelerator to oblivion, but how do we do, and how do we convince the populace to participate.
Simple, we babble on in blockbuster talk, using musicals like Hamilton and movies like Titanic to illustrate, inform and educate. Continue reading BATCH: SEASON OF NEW WORK AT GRIFFIN

FRIDA KAHLO: VIVA LA VIDA

Frida Kahlo, as her personification on stage tells us, is the artist who gave birth to herself.

It takes a little while but Kate Bookalil gives birth to Frida in a wonderfully theatrical way in FRIDA KAHLO: VIVA LA VIDA by Humberto Robles, adapted from the Spanish Gael Le Cornec and Luis Benkard.

Literally drawing her character, she starts to paint her face, not in cosmetic prettifying, but in establishing facial recognition of the artist, applying pencil and brush to create the famous mono brow and moustache.

The narrative plays out on the Day of the Dead, and skeletons and skulls adorn the set. Under her skirts and under her skin, her own skeleton bears the scars of an excruciating wound. Her virginity was taken by a bizarre impaling by a streetcar without desire.

We hear of her emotional scars as well, inflicted mostly by Diego Rivera, whom she married, divorced and remarried – he who seduced her sister, but held a stranglehold on her heart.

And we hear of her opinions on Mexico, France, The United States, the art world and a little about her politics. A sketch rather than a portrait.

Its not all tell and no show, however, with some imaginative illustrating of her inner turmoil, obsession with her own anatomy, and, by extension, mortality, by the use of a naive self portrait having limbs in various states of disintegration or repair being pinned to it.

Some of the directorial choices by Anna Jahjah are challenging to audience sight lines, having the character sit in the bleachers, as it were, is a frustrating fracture of the fourth wall. It leaves the central space bare for far too long. A mistake when you have such an iconic figure as Frida presented by such an energetic performer as Ms. Bookalil.

ALICE IN SLASHERLAND: FRIGHT NIGHT FUN AT THE OLD FITZ

The Old Fitz Theatre is turned into a kind of drive in for ALICE IN SLASHERLAND, a grind house pastiche of contemporary horror movies.

Running the gamut from B to Z grade in the trauma tropes of teenagers in Zombie lope, Qui Nguyen’s ALICE IN SLASHERLAND evokes the glory of the gory and the suspension of disbelief that’s been the staple of slasher films like Friday the 13th, Prom Night and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, but for laughs rather than screams.

At a Halloween party, where he was to open his heart to Margaret, Lewis unwittingly opens the gates of Hell, conjuring Alice, a ring in from The Ring, silky long hair and creepy crawl.

Also emanating from the unhallowed unhinged portal come Edgar, eye patched Teddy Bear, a hessian headed hatchet handling Bunny Bogeyman, and Lucifer herself, in possession of the body of the teen queen, Tina.

And so the stage is set for an apocalyptic confrontation between good and evil, where the geek will inherit the mirth and blood will run free from several severed arteries. Front rowers beware: blood splatter alert.

A dementedly committed – (Yes they should be committed!) – cast keep the scatter gun narrative moving, although a superfluous intermission tends to puncture rather than punctuate.

Indi Redding’s creation of Edgar the Teddy Bear is a triumph, a nuggety little toyminator, expertly handled and voiced by actor Justin Amankwah.

Laura Murphy gives a firecracker performance as teen queen Tina before and after her possession by the Devil. Her Lucifer is impish, fiendish, frightful and funny, brimstone and treacle with a great set of lungs.

With production values Samuel Z Arkoff would approve – spooky and evocative lighting by Benjamin Brockman alternately illuminating and plunging into shadow a set design by Lauren Peters, ALICE IN SLASHERLAND offers a frivolous fright night at the Old Fitz.

A LITTLE PIECE OF ASH

Cutting through the clumsiness of condolences and the crippling guilt that courses through grieving, A LITTLE PIECE OF ASH is a little piece of theatre with a big heart and a whole heap of soul.

Chain smoking Jedda finds it hard to cope with the sudden and untimely death of her mother, Lily. She feels guilt that she was in attendance as she took her last breath, a distress that sends her on a destructive bent of booze, sex and ciggies.

An assortment of friends offer cold comfort consolation, showing their ineptitude at grieving as well, tenterhooks on eggshells, foot in mouths, platitudes and cliches, well meaning as a casserole but a dish of bitter herb for the distraught bereaved.

The action of the play takes place in Lily’s living room, and aptly, Lily still “lives” here, sitting in the corner, a chorus of one commenting on the actions of her daughter.

Playwright director Megan Wilding plays Lily, a charming cheeky tongued lady, the eternal maternal, a mother mirth of love and caring.

Stephanie Somerville is intarissable as Jedda, both physically and in her emotional range of rage, a largesse of the various stages of grieving.

Moreblessing Maturure is sparkling as the first friend trying to navigate the awkward stream of sincere condolence, her gentle approach in direct contrast to Luke Fewster’s Chuck, with his “shit happens” so let’s get “shit faced” on cheap wine approach.

Alex Malone invests a spikiness to Ned, an estranged pal of Jedda who considered Lily as a second mom and wants to push and explore the spiritual with her old mate.

Toby Blome puts in a scene stealing show stopper as Eddie, a would be comfort fuck, whose truth and dare, show and tell shtick is schmick and utterly hilarious.

A little piece of The Dreaming, A LITTLE PIECE OF ASH stirs the embers of remembrance, joyous and sorrowful, and there’s a lot to sift through.

A Little Piece of Ash was shortlisted for the 2017 Patrick White Playwrights’ Award and presented at the Yellamundie National First Peoples Playwriting Festival. It plays at Kings Cross Theatre till April 27.

BURNING: YOU’RE KINDLING

Where’s there’s smoke there’s fire and there’s plenty of smoke and a slow burn of mysterious ambiguity in BURNING, that threatens to ignite but never quite reaches kindling point.

Director Lee Chang Dong collaborates with screen writer Oh Jung-Mi to fashion a screenplay based on a short story by Haruki Murakami called Barn Burning.

Hardly a barnstorming film, the film maker takes a short story and makes a long film, nearly two and half hours duration, a running time that stalls to a walking time, and proves a smidge too far.

Filaments of Faulkner and F. Scott Fitzgerald run through BURNING but it’s Gatsby that predominates in the sound and fury.

Ah-In Yoo plays Jongsu, a wannabe writer who hooks up with Haemi, played by Jong-Seo Jun.

Haemi is a model and mime who knew Jongsu when they were kids. Back then, Jongsu told her bare faced, point blank, that she was ugly. In the intervening years, she tells him she has had cosmetic surgery.

Is it the truth or a lie, an elaborate illusion, like her perfected mime?

“You’re pretty talented,” he tells her. “This? It’s easy. It has nothing to do with talent. What you do isn’t make yourself believe that there are tangerines there. You forget that the tangerines are not there. That’s all.” she says.

She seduces him then decamps for Africa, asking him to feed her feline during her absence. But does the cat actually exist? Attending to her pussy in the empty apartment prompts him to melancholy masturbation.

She then returns with a boyfriend in tow, Ben, played in laid back playboy mode by Steven Yeun. And then she disappears, seemingly vanishing into thin air.

Gradually the sense of reality is sucked right out of everything around Jongsu, with tasting notes of abduction, arson, and grievous bloody assault.

If nothing else, BURNING will probably prompt you to read the source material, a good exercise in discovery of Murakami’s work and the mechanics of adaptation from one form of art to another.
.