Friday, 17 March 2017

Exposure to the elements: Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery

Rick Ball in front of three of his paintings
The artists featured in the Broken Hill Regional Art Gallery are unsurprisingly obsessed with the elements - many of the works incorporate earth, wind, fire and water (or rather, the lack of it). The area relies heavily upon the water found in the Murray Darling River systems, and it is diminishing rapidly. Apparently, when full, the four lakes of the Menindee Lake System hold more than three times the volume of water of Sydney Harbour.

Curiously, there has been a lot of rain recently, and Lake Menidee is full for the first time in three years. This does not lessen the ecological crisis gripping the region and environmental concerns for the future of the towns. When we visited, the exhibition, Contemporary Primeval, highlighted the work of Rick Ball and Ann Evers, and through paintings and sculpture they both addressed this issue.

Rick Ball's expansive canvases relate in an abstract fashion to his surroundings. Having lived in Broken Hill for the last 25 years, he also acknowledges the influence of mining in his images. He claims to be an interpreter for the land rather than a painter, and he layers natural pigments and substances onto each creation. Paint, sand, crushed shells, vermiculite and tennis-court whiting are all present, recalling handfuls of colourful mining deposits thrown against the linen.

Many of his works are triptychs or multiple canvases positioned side to be side to try to capture the enormity of the landscape. Sydney and the Bush is awash with purples, pinks, reds; great gobs and streaks of oil as the city seems to emerge from the bush over it's iconic bridge, or is it being swallowed up and returned to nature? In Evening stroll beside Lake Menindee before the water disappeared we see long human shadows at sunset, or are these aerial images of dried-up riverbeds? Questions are left unanswered, but the physicality of the work is unmissable. In a co-operative touch, each artist has supplied a brief introduction to the other's art.
“All ideas of art being a ‘beautiful illusion’ have been banished from the room. Instead we are surrounded by images that are both strange and familiar in equal measure. One is reminded of the stories of those first Europeans as they confronted this continent’s trees, animals and human culture. While very young, Rick says that he felt inundated by the ancientness of the natural world, while his human world was generally obsessed with newness.” – Ann Evers 
Singing in the Barrier Ranges by Ann Evers
In turn, he writes of her art;
Ann Evers’ unusual fibre art holds the element of surprise. Her clever use of materials as a weaver is like a bird’s use of skin, bones and feather for flight. Evers is no mere basket-maker. Each piece of her work, large or small, is a story of time and of place. She is a weaver of stories and materials, of nature and culture. She weaves the north to the south. Sharp humour abounds alongside an equally abundant earthy circumspection, obvious in any exhibition of her work.– Rick Ball
She incorporates found objects into her sculpture giving them elements of both traditional and contemporary reference. Into pit-fired pots woven with natural fibres, bark and wire, she places bones, sticks, rocks and seeds. Three tall twined vessels of Singing in the Barrier Ranges include arid land snail shells, baby clams, local seedpods and capsules; all held together with rock sida, lignum and sedge, used as uprights. 

Ann Evers with some of her creations
Waiting for Water comprises six figures in flight made from handmade paper and pigment, handmade string and linen thread. All other materials are collected on and around the beach of the "now-empty lake Menindee". Serving as monuments to times past and receptacles of foretold growth, these creations hang from the ceiling indicating impermanence and fragility. 

Waiting for Water by Ann Evers
The gallery is housed in the former Sully's Emporium and has won numerous heritage awards for the restoration and refurbishment of the building. Its wooden floors and dramatic staircases provide a fantastic counterpoint to the artworks. There are all the usual still lifes; portraits; landscapes; naïf art; abstracts; Aboriginal animal spirits; story poles; dot art and granite sculptures, but some pieces stand out to make a statement. 

Clarendon Spring, Make Sure the Sun Wipes It's Feet (1984) by John Olsen
I love the riot of colour primarily mustard yellows – as swirls and tendrils connect like cells in John Olsen's vivid Clarendon Spring, Make Sue the Sun Wipes Its FeetLana Roberts has rolled up ties and stitched them together, separated by beads, into a series of necklaces called Men’s Dress Ties Revisited­. Sidney Nolan's Little Boy Lost is both disturbing an uncomfortable as a small child all in white and wearing a sunhat stands starkly against a background of red earth and ominous sky, calling to a primal fear in all of us of alienation and abduction.

Little Boy Lost (1983) by Sidney Nolan
Another iconic Australian artist, Kevin Charles (Pro) Hart is featured with The Yabbie Catchers, as little figures in bright colours both stand out from and are dwarfed by the enormity of their environment - the trees and river are far more timeless and enduring than their uncertain activities.

The Yabbie Catchers (1987) by Pro Hart
Images of Broken Hill itself range from the sublime to the surreal. Sam Michael Byrne gives us bright colours and highlighted dots to display prosperous streets with a Toytown perspective in Silver City (1957), whereas Eric Minchin's North Mine (1970) is in bleached tones with dramatic greys and streaks of orange. Meanwhile the houses in the foreground of May (Florence) Harding's Broken Hill, Nocturne (1967) are all but overshadowed by the burning orb and the looming mine, which dominate the landscape. 

Silver City (1957) by Sam Michael Byrne
Broken Hill, Nocturne (1967) by May (Florence) Harding
A spectacular red gum sculpture highlights the work of Badger Bates and his symbolic lino cuts. Plesiosaur and Ngatyi: The Past, the Present and the Future (2003) represents the future of the Darling River through the fact that an opalised Plesiosaur was found at White Cliffs, bringing tourists, scientists and historians to examine the archaeological marvel. Ngatyi is the Rainbow Serpent of Aboriginal mythology; a creator god, which gives life through its association with water, but acts as a destructive force when angry - once again reminding us of the elements and the regional geography. In this carving the two beasts are intertwined with their heads together symbolising reconciliation, as we must work together to protect our country. 

But I'll finish this post with this powerful picture of a flood of pink flowers in calming, swirling patterns; blooming with unexpected beauty in the middle of the desert - just as Broken Hill itself is a small oasis of society in the middle of a vast swathe of nothing.

Wildflowers Dreaming by Emily Kame Kngwarreye

Monday, 20 February 2017

Middling Mediterranean Novel

Not Quite Nice by Celia Imrie
(Bloomsbury) Pp. 326

This is the passable but not outstanding writing debut from the superb actor, Celia Imrie. It centres on a group of ex-pats living in Bellevue-Sur-Mer, a town near Nice in the South of France. The cast of characters are dealing with marriage break-ups, awful children and failed careers; most are retired and all are attempting to start a new life. In a 2015 Guardian interview, Celia Imrie said, “All the parts I’m writing are parts I’d like to play”, and that is obvious in this mixture of Marigold Hotel and Year in Provence.

The fluffy, comfortable, undemanding style of writing envelops unrealistic, pantomime characters and ludicrous plots. The women: Theresa, Sally, Carol and Faith are practically interchangeable, and the men include a gay couple, an ex-con and current fraudster, and an Australian lothario who refers to the set as “mollycoddled or henpecked men [and] their female jailors” – he’s not far wrong. There are dramatic events but they are all resolved with no lingering ramifications, and everything seems a little too easy. When one of the characters sets up a cooking class to make a little extra money, it all goes wonderfully, and of course the recipes are included, which is all a bit passé.

A resounding theme is that the younger generation are all mercenary and mean, and the older generation struggles to come to terms with the way they have turned out. A couple of the women are bullied mercilessly by their children and are tied to their lives to the exclusion of their own. They are obsessed with their offspring, and this is pointed out to them by those who don’t have any. “You never stop talking about your children. You spend your hours tirelessly maundering on about your tiresome adult offspring. Don’t you realise that there is nothing so boring as other people’s children, except, perhaps, other people’s dreams?” Quite.

It’s unsurprising that Celia Imrie writes about women of a certain age rediscovering their sense of self rather than their obligations to others, and all of these characters have come to this village for a fresh start and to lead the life they want. Of course the towns are picture-perfect and delightful. Her descriptive passages are derivative and it’s depressing to think one can publish any old tosh as a celebrity, whereas this would never be accepted from an unknown author.

There is an element of that smug middle-class Englishness that is inherent to these living-abroad-with-all-the-charming-but-peculiar-foreigners novels. None of them speak French, quite patronisingly expecting the French to speak English to them, and to mix with their ‘own people’. Why don’t they either move somewhere English-speaking or make more of an effort? A few sentences later they are declaiming, “What made Bellevue-Sur-Mer so nice was that it still kept hold of an everyday reality – the majority of shops and restaurants were for locals, not tourists.”

Celia Imrie may want to play these people, but they are quite ghastly and snobbish; hard to like and harder to care about.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

My Newest Favourite Thing: The Royal Flying Doctor Service

The Royal Flying Doctors Base and Bruce Langford Visitor Centre at Broken Hill is a place of information and inspiration. The film showing in the theatre combines tales of remarkable heroism with the history of the service, tributes to the doctors, pilots and flight nurses who work for the Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), along with the outback folk who rely upon their skills and expertise in everyday situations.

The mission of the RFDS is to provide excellence in aeromedical and primary health care across Australia. The RDFS is one of the largest and most comprehensive aeromedical organisations in the world. Using the latest in aviation, medical and communications technology, they deliver extensive primary health care and 24-hour emergency services to those who live, work and travel throughout Australia.

The base is the headquarters of the South East section, covering all of NSW, Tasmania and Victoria. All of the administration, medical, and aviation teams pertaining to this area are centred here along with the tourist facility. While the RFDS is best known for emergency retrieval work, they also provide GP clinics, telehealth, dental care, mental health services, rural women’s health services, aboriginal health services, health promotion and education, patient transport services by air and road, as well as research into rural health issues.

The friendly tour guides are happy to supply statistics and figures, including the fact that the RFDS national fleet has 66 aircraft, 23 aero-bases, and 48 road patient vehicles, and that they had over 290,000 patient contacts in 2015. I think their favourite facts, however, are that in the last year they flew the equivalent distance of seven times to the moon and back (26,157,502 kilometres), and that the RFDS helps someone every two minutes of every day.

Viewing the planes from the platform in the hangar brings everything a little closer. In Qld, NSW, Victoria and Tasmania, the planes used are the King Air B350 C and the B200 C. Each of these specially modified aircraft is like a flying emergency room. As well as carrying medical equipment like resuscitation devices and neonatal incubators, RFDS aircraft are also fitted with an additional battery to provide medical power, a medical oxygen and suction system, and a special communications system for interaction between the pilot and the medical staff in the cabin.

As well as the medical knowledge of the RFDS personnel, the organisation also relies on the expertise of the pilots who have superior flying skills, dealing with extreme weather storms and rudimentary airstrips without lighting, which have to be cleared of wildlife before landing. The official handbook explains, “The presence of holes, cracks and ruts will degrade the aircraft's performance and handling and will increase the possibility of structural damage. The smoothness of the surface can be tested by driving a fully laden 3 tonne vehicle along the runway at a speed of 80kph. If this is accomplished without discomfort to the occupants, the surface can be considered satisfactory.

The Mantle of Safety Museum contains examples of early communication, medical and aviation equipment as well as a plethora of pictures and information to explain the history and progress of this phenomenal organisation, beginning with the founder, the Very Reverend Doctor John Flynn, OBE, DD. Born in 1880 at Moliagul, Victoria, he worked as a country teacher and missionary before training for the Ministry of the Presbyterian Church. Following his ordination in 1911, he took up an appointment to the Smith of Dunesk Mission in the Northern Flinders Rangers, S.A.

The Very Reverend Doctor John Flynn
Within a year Flynn was commissioned to survey Northern Australia for the Presbyterian Church. This led to the establishment in 1912 of the Australian Inland Mission, of which he became founding superintendent. Opening under the motto ‘For Christ and the Continent’, the mission’s objective was to administer to the spiritual, social and medical needs of outback people. As he worked in rural and remote Australia setting up hostels and bush hospitals for pastoralists, miners, road workers, railwaymen and other settlers, he witnessed first-hand the rigours of outback life.

Increasingly ‘Flynn of the Inland’ as he was known became aware of the need for an aerial medical service, and developed a vision to provide a ‘mantle of safety’ for the people of the bush. His revolutionary scheme was realised in 1928 when Flying Doctor operations began at Cloncurry, Queensland. The growth of the RFDS in those early days was rapid and soon reached right across the vast continent. By the late 1930s there were sections of the RFDS operating in Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia, New South Wales and Northern Territory as well as Queensland. By the 1950s the RFDS was acknowledged by former Prime Minister Sir Robert Menzies as,

“perhaps the single greatest contribution to the effective settlement of the far distant country that we have witnessed in our time.”

After his death in 1951, John Flynn was succeeded by The Very Reverend Dr Fred McKay, AC, CMG, OBE, ME, BD, Hon. LLD, who himself became an outback legend. In 1934 as a student Presbyterian minister, McKay was planning to pursue theological studies abroad, until a visit from John Flynn changed the course of his life. Flynn’s vivid descriptions of the Australian Inland Mission’s work persuaded McKay to become an itinerant parole padre. 

Ordained in 1935, McKay spent the next six years on the track in Western Queensland becoming Flynn’s principal assistant. His parish, extending from Innamincka to Cape York, included Cloncurry, nerve centre of the newly established Flying Doctor Service. After serving as a RAAF chaplain in WWII and a brief ministry in Brisbane, McKay succeeded Flynn as Superintendent of the AIM in 1951, and retained the post for 23 years. He died in 2000 aged 92.

The Flying Doctor radio network was used also for education. In 1934, the inventor of the pedal wireless, Alfred Traeger, spoke of constructing ‘a suitable set for the children of the interior at very reasonable cost.’ (Fred McKay, who was also a keen historian, wrote the book, Traeger the Pedal Radio Man, which was published in 1955). The first to take up the idea of using two-way radio for the education of isolated children was Adelaide Meithke, a South Australian educationalist and friend of John Flynn.

In 1944 while travelling to Alice Springs as a councillor of the Flying Doctor Service, she noticed the shyness of the outback children. Seized by the idea of ‘bridging the lonely distance’ she set up, as a branch of the Flying Doctor Service, the world’s first School of the Air. It began operating from Alice Springs in 1950 and was officially opened the following year.

The experiment was repeated elsewhere and soon children once solely dependent on correspondence lessons could now speak directly to teachers and interact with other children. By the end of the 1950s there were already three more Schools of the Air operating in Australia: at Broken Hill; Port Augusta, SA; and Meekatharra, WA. Since then the schools have proliferated across the continent.

Over the years the school has bridged the isolation of many outback children but, thanks to recent advances in communications, no longer depends on the Flying Doctor network. In 2003 radio communication was replaced by a satellite system enabling students to talk to teachers using computers. This has allowed them to experience visual learning while improving their technical skills.

On 10 August 1955 the Flying Doctor Service added the prefix Royal to its name. This honour was granted by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II in recognition of the Service’s outstanding contribution to the Outback. The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh witnessed the Service’s work first-hand during their visit to Australia in 1954. On this, the first visit by a British monarch, the royal couple spent two months touring the continent, visiting 58 centres from Cairns to Fremantle. On Thursday 18 March 1954, the Queen and Duke arrived at Broken Hill, the 45th stop on their tour, and visited the Flying Doctor base, where the Queen spoke over the radio network, saying 

“I have heard so much of the Flying Doctor Service, and of the security and comfort it brings to the Outback. I would like to take this opportunity of paying a tribute to its founder, the Reverend John Flynn, and for expressing my admiration for those, past and present, who have contributed to its splendid work.”

The Flying Dentist also became involved in this organisation. Until relatively recently, professional dental services were beyond the reach of most people in the Outback. Here dentists were even scarcer than doctors, and people accepted dental problems as a fact of life, to be endured with the aid of oil of cloves or a mouthful of rum. When pain became unbearable, a sufferer would have a tooth extracted with a pair of pliers or treat an abscess with battery acid; there was no thought of ‘conservative’ dentistry.

In 1960 the NSW Flying Dentist Service was established to bring relief to the people of the far west, a co-operative arrangement whereby the Department of Health provided a dentist while the RDFS Base at Broken Hill supplied transport and clinics where the dentist could operate. Initially children were targeted, with the dentist making systematic visits to schools and townships in the area.

During his first visit to Wilcannia, Dr Bob Burns, the first flying dentist, filled 120 teeth in a day. Not surprisingly, his leg gave out after working the treadle drill for hours and the Flying Doctor pilot, Vic Cover, had to take over; until his leg, too, failed and he ended the day down on his knees, working the treadle with his hands. Later the dentist’s drilling equipment was powered by a 12-volt battery, but this also had a limited life and sometimes it had to be replaced with car batteries.

In collaboration with the NSW Government, the dental service has expanded, now providing regular clinics and services to remote communities. As well as treating cavities and disease, dentists educate patients on oral hygiene and preventative dental care.

The Mantle of Safety Museum has an interesting display on the development of the RFDS logo, which has transformed eight times over the last eighty years to reflect the changing nature of the Service and to modernise its look. It was originally black and white featuring a Maltese cross (to represent medicine), wings (aviation), zig zag flashes (radio) and the map of Australia (although Tasmania was omitted). Over time medicine came to be represented by the caduceus and aviation by eagle’s wings. The design incorporated a propeller and a laurel wreath, Tasmania was added to the map, and words were placed around the symbol.

The modern logo (most recently updated in 2009) acknowledges historical associations with earlier logos by retaining the traditional symbols of medicine (the caduceus), aviation (wings) and the map of Australia. The wings have been softened to better express the sense of caring and protective mantle of safety, compared to the militaristic association of the earlier eagle’s wings. The design incorporates the national colours of red, white and blue, and the contemporary font has an increased weighting between the symbol and the words.

In 1994 the Reserve Bank of Australia included the image of the Reverend John Flynn on the $20 note. Other images on the note include the fabric bi-plane ‘Victory’, which flew the first Flying Doctor mission from Cloncurry, QLD on 17 May 1928, a camel signifying the five camels Flynn purchased in 1913 so that his Patrol Padres could complete their mission work throughout Central Australia, and the pedal radio invented by Alfred Traeger in 1929 enabling the people of the outback to call on the Flying Doctor for assistance. The body chart depicted was created by Sister Lucy Garlick in 1951 and is still used today. It enables patients to describe the region and intensity of their pain or injury during a remote telehealth consultation.

The RFDS has been recognised as Australia’s most reputable charity for the last five years running, and is registered with and regulated by the Australian Charities and Not-for-profit Commission. Naturally, none of this medical or aviation equipment is cheap, and the organisation relies on donations to keep it flying. The Bruce Langford Visitor Centre has a variety of merchandise on sale, the proceeds of which all go to the RFDS.

For the past six decades, the Broken Hill Women’s Auxiliary Members combine hundreds of kilos of fruit, flour, spices and eggs into 2,000 Christmas puddings. These puddings are in such demand that they sell out each year while raising many thousands of dollars for the RFDS. There are also delightful calico tea-towels commemorating this feat of home economics, and last year the Women’s Auxiliary raised over $75,000.

RDFS Christmas puddings
Other community groups and benefactors include the RideWest Charity Bike Ride, which covers 1,237km over seven days as fundraisers cycle from Brisbane to Longreach. The terrain they traverse typifies outback Queensland, and all the corporations and individuals ride to give something back to the heart of Australia’s community culture. Further awareness of the organisation comes from the sale of DVDs of The Flying Doctors TV programme (all 221 episodes), which is particularly popular in the UK and Netherlands, leading to large charitable donations. As stranded tourists and ‘grey nomad’ travellers become an increasing subject of the RFDS rescue missions, it is fitting that they make these contributions.

This is now my newest favourite charity and I urge you to donate if and when you can to keep these secular angels in the sky.

Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Race to the end

Visible Spirits by Steve Yarbrough 
Pp. 273

In this novel of post-reconstruction Mississippi (Loring, 1902), although slavery is illegal, racism is rife and respected by many, blacks and whites alike. Leighton is mayor and runs the local newspaper, using it as a platform for moderation; his younger brother Tandy returns after losing his money gambling and whoring in New Orleans. The two brothers have opposing outlooks, especially over the issue of the black postmistress, Loda, in this bleak view of passion, politics and race.

Tandy is trouble, and not in an attractive romantic way. He wants to stir things up in his old home town, and agitates Sarah, Leighton’s wife, with whom he clearly had a previous relationship. He is the embodiment of white male entitlement. “Until now, he’d never done any real work, because he’d always felt he was destined for something bigger. Of that he was no longer certain, but he could see one thing for sure: work was work, and he’d been wise to avoid it as long as he could.” Tandy and Leighton inherited half of the proceeds of the farm each when their father died and they sold it, Tandy to gamble it away and Leighton to invest it. Now Tandy wants to reverse fate, but without any exertion on his part.

Tandy claims that Loda encouraged a black man, Blueford, to behave insolently to him, and requests her dismissal from the post office, as he covets her job. After he brutalises Blueford, Loda tenders her resignation to avoid further conflict, but Theodore Roosevelt's administration decides to make a civil rights stand by refusing to accept it.

In the escalating dispute, Leighton becomes a pariah for siding with Loda, and Sarah despises him for putting her into a controversial position. She doesn’t share his views but knows that she is judged for them, asking, “What am I but an extension of my husband?” One of the strengths of the novel is the multiple viewpoints; different perspectives are raised and the reader is asked to take sides. We may not agree with Sarah’s racial stance, but we may react more sympathetically to her gender impotence.

Tandy continues to incite unrest with half-truths, slander, misinformation and downright lies. Preying on the people’s need for nostalgia and heroic pasts, he twists terrible events to suit his own ends, making his deeds fit a principle that he never held. “He’d work his way backwards from the action to the reason, discarding all the garbage in between.” Having lit the powder keg, he stands back and watches the spark ignite.

Many reviewers have criticised the novel for its lack of a definitive ending, suggesting that the author never really resolves the crisis, or creates a lasting peace. Surely, however, this perfectly represents contemporary social politics, where outsiders guide communities to make snap decisions with lasting consequences, and then hold up their hands and walk away. Who can really claim to be blameless? This is a disturbingly bleak novel with an elegant style and a deceptively straight-forward plot.

Friday, 20 January 2017

Friday Five: The Ham-over

Omelette for breakfast
For Christmas, Him Outdoors gets a ham from work. It's a really nice gesture, and I like ham a lot, but it's a little big for two of us. I tend to slice it into portions and freeze them. We buy a load of mustard, cheese, tomatoes, cucumber and pickle, and have variations on the traditional ham sandwich for our lunches. We take ham salads to every meal to which we get invited. We also try to get creative with breakfasts and dinners, and slowly we get through the ham, by about July.

Salad for lunch
5 Meals with Left-Over Ham:
  1. Ham, cheese, tomato and red pepper omelette
  2. Snowpea and ham risotto
  3. Ham, leek and egg pie
  4. Mediterranean lemon, ham and feta pasta salad
  5. German-style potato and ham salad
Pie for dinner

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

Menacing McCabe

Hello and Goodbye by Patrick McCabe
(Quercus) Pp. 272

The two stories, Hello Mr Bones and Goodbye Mr Rat, share many similar themes and horror tropes. They can be read in either order and they meet in the middle, both literally and metaphorically.  Hello Mr Bones concerns a man who was abused as a boy and later becomes a Christian Brother, only to still be haunted by the undead spirit of his former tormentor. In Goodbye Mr Rat a woman takes the ashes of a man back to his hometown in Ireland to be met by a very unwelcoming committee who cannot forgive his perceived deception and execute their revenge on the hapless woman.

The tales are both narrated by the unhappy dead, who are pursuing and tormenting the living; they have selective, ‘convenient amnesia’ and are highly unreliable. Religion, priests and angels also feature prominently – these are Irish tales, after all. Naturally where there are angels, there is evil and abuse. In Goodbye Mr Rat, Beni Banikin is raised Amish; her mother warns her, “Beware of rogue angels”, and then she meets Gabriel King, former IRA soldier. But although they are heavy on religion, the stories are light on faith: bad things happen to good people for no reason. People act ‘out of character’ and are ‘influenced’ by an evil presence.

Childhood innocence is destroyed through physical abuse, and the perversion of innocent pop culture references. The image of the evil clown and the malignant puppet is equated with the torture of children and Ian Brady. From Sooty and Sweep to Toy Story, the puppets are pulled by strings of malevolence. In a nightmare relating to previous traumatic event, Beni sees grimacing figures as though in masks, “As the commedia dell’arte pictures began to form.”

Shannon Valentine escapes Ireland to live in Manchester in Hello Mr Bones, where he works as a teacher and tries to rebuild his life. Gabriel King heads to America where he lives until dying of prostate cancer in Goodbye Mr Rat. But one can never leave the past behind. Gabriel is warned that ‘A frightful fiend doth close behind him tread’. Poetry from Coleridge, Milton, and particularly Yeats runs through both narratives. 

In mid-life, Yeats became obsessed with Japanese Noh, a form of theatre which utilises a dialogic process between reality and illusion, the living and the dead, artifice and nature, and he adopted this style to reinterpret Celtic myths and ancient symbols. After her mentor explains how, “Noh plays often focus on ghosts seeking release from passionate sins or errors of judgement committed when living”, Beni writes a successful drama based on Yeats’ Noh plays.

The masks of Noh theatre are a recurring theme, and the sense of paranoia is pervasively chilling. Gabriel writes, “There indeed can be few sensations to compare with that of being watched.” Beni is watched by the people inside her head and those who break into her room; Valentine Shannon is watched by Balthazar Bowen, both when he was alive and now he is dead. Balthazar killed himself after Shannon informed on him, Gabriel turned informant, and there is a terror in coming forward and telling the truth.

McCabe is certainly macabre. These tales are as psychologically disturbing as his novel, Winterwood. It seems that he has an extremely bleak outlook on life, so it is calculated and creepy when he expresses, “What a magnificent place, I really have to say, this wondrous world in which we all wander.”

Friday, 6 January 2017

Friday Five: Favourite Films of 2016

As I believe I've said before: my blog; my rules. The films for consideration are those with Australian releases in 2016. Also, I can't settle on five films of the year, so I've picked seven, and here they are in alphabetical order.

7 Favourite Films of 2016:

  1. Embrace of the Serpent – Black and white and red all over, this film is art-house darkness to its heart. Even the massacres, perversion and demonic shamanism are beautiful. The mysteries of lost civilizations are sublime.
  2. Eye in the Sky – Helen Mirren and Alan Rickman (in his last film appearance) attempt to justify strike action against the few for the greater good. Tellingly, just because modern warfare has become remote from the ground due to high-tech surveillance; it doesn’t make the decision-making and the personal involvement any easier. The film is utterly thrilling, and buying bread has never been made to look so tense.
  3. Hail, Caesar! – There is so much fun and talent in this film as the Coen Brothers mock every genre movie genre with reverential affection. All aspiring American comedies should take note: “Would that it were so simple.”
  4. I, Daniel Blake – A film full of heart and passion that exposes the dehumanising effects of a capitalistic institution while espousing the power of humanity that attempts to stand up to it. But don’t expect a happy ending – this is Ken Loach, after all.
  5. The Lady in the Van – Maggie Smith plays Alan Bennett’s nemesis, the irascible Miss Shepherd, in this touching, funny, glorious film. Alex Jennings plays Alan Bennett the writer and also Alan Bennett the human, proving the dichotomy between the two. Written by Alan Bennett, directed by Nicholas Hytner, and featuring a fine cast of British theatrical talent (including a cameo appearance from Bennett himself), the film translates beautifully from stage to screen and is a masterclass in just about everything.
  6. Room – Despite the obvious horrors inherent in the story (a woman kidnapped and forced to live in a small room where she bears a son in captivity), this is really a tale about a mother’s love for her child. Written by Emma Donoghue, on whose original novel it is based, it’s touching and emotional with honest performances (Brie Larson as mother; Jacob Tremblay as son; the small supporting cast) and without mawkish sentiment or excessive manipulation.
  7. The Wait/ L’attesa) – Sparse but hypnotic Italian film directed by Piero Messina in which a mother (Juliette Binoche) entertains her son’s girlfriend (Lou de Laage) while they both wait for him to come home, which he doesn’t for an increasingly uncomfortable period of time. The lead performances are spectacular and it’s a delight to see two strong women at the height of their game work together.