Reliving SeaChange

I think you’d be hard pressed to name a show that captured the zeitgeist of late nineties Australia more than SeaChange.

Re-watching it now, I am pleasantly surprised at how current the show remains. Don’t get me wrong, the opening theme and the CGI fish are dated, and some of the outfits look like they were designed by Ken Done. The idea of a sea change is cliched now, and those baby boomers who headed to the coast in what Bernard Salt dubbed the “Sigrid effect” have gotten bored and moved back to the city. But the show still cuts through, probably because of the humanity at its heart; social commentary aside, fundamentally the show is about human relationships and the big questions which plague us all- where am I going, and what does it all mean?  I have been genuinely moved to tears in some scenes, and am getting caught up once more in questions like: will Laura ditch Warwick for Max? Will Angus and Karen ever get married? And when will that bridge be fixed? Read more…

The Bookshop

Penelope Fitzgerald’s novel tells the story of a middle-aged widow, Florence Green, and her mission to open a bookshop in a derelict and damp house that she acquires in the fictional East Anglian town of Hardborough. Yet this is not a book about books. This is a book about injustice.

The challenge of adapting a film into a book is to capture its essence in an art form which relies on completely different conventions. If the book is well-loved, a filmmaker runs the risk of alienating the audience by not being “faithful.” The portrayal of the characters may disrupt readers’ preconceived ideas, resulting in viewers’ antipathy towards the whole production. In the case of The Bookshop, the challenge is to portray dynamics which mostly occur below the surface.

Isabel Coixet’s film succeeds in translating these forces into film, capturing brilliantly the claustrophobic and small-minded nature of Hardborough, and the injustice that is perpetuated against Florence, who is played with both radiance and understatement by Emily Mortimer. It is visually arresting and quirky, eliciting characters that the audience feels strongly about while executing a devastating portrayal of the book’s central premise, that people in life are “divided into exterminators and exterminated, with the former at any moment predominating.” Hopefully the film will spark a renewed interest in the work of Penelope Fitzgerald whose writing is beautiful, simultaneously comic and dark, spare and profound. Read more….

Another Day In Paradise

Another Day In Paradise is an exhibition of paintings by Bali Nine detainee Myuran Sukumaran, curated by Sukumaran’s mentor Ben Quilty and Campbelltown Arts Centre Director Michael Dagostino. After being found guilty of heroin trafficking by an Indonesian court in 2005, Sukumaran was imprisoned for ten years in the notorious Kerobokan Prison, where he painted prolifically and started an art school within the prison.

After all avenues of legal appeal were lost, Sukumaran was executed by firing squad at 12:25 am on 29 April 2015. Sukumaran’s art captures with poignant dignity the reserve of inner strength that he found to call on. In many works, there is the sense that art was a vessel for him to capture and preserve a part of himself as he faced the knowledge of his certain death. The act of painting provided more than respite from the violence of prison life and the emotional tumult of death row- it allowed him to look to his legacy, one that is inescapably both personal and political.

Another Day In Paradise, according to Dagostino and Quilty, “invites us to consider how art has the power to provoke change and how justice could be sought if, rather than punishment and penalty, human rights and rehabilitation were at its core.” The challenge of the exhibition is to peer into the darkness, and to keep looking. Read more…

Death Denial and Red Tape

My first essay on society. I entered this into the 2017 Horne Prize.

We have an abundance of clichés about how to live and die well: approach each day as if it is your last, have no regrets. Yet, for a society that breezily acknowledges death is part of life, we have a profound lack of understanding of our own needs as we age and move towards death.

Moreover, the clichés overlook the great paradox of our existence- that we need to deny death in order to go about our daily lives. Georgia Blain wrote in her memoir The Museum of Words as she was dying from a brain tumour that perhaps we can only live with our mortality by denying it.

As bearable as it may make our existence, denial, unfortunately, does not bode well for negotiating the bureaucratic realities that have embedded themselves in the process of departing this world. A routine check-up, an operation or the onset of a chronic condition can lead to a medical and bureaucratic maze. This was made disturbingly clear to my family in 2016 as we watched my maternal grandfather die a horrible death in a Queensland hospital. Read more…

The Crown

Peter Morgan’s film The Queen, starring Helen Mirren in the eponymous role, poignantly skewered the flurry of corporate image control deployed by the Royal Family and its apparatus of advisers in the wake of Princess Diana’s death. The Crown continues in this noble tradition, contrasting the god-like status of the monarch with the reality of the incumbent’s powerless in the face of custom, protocol, cabinet and constitution, not to mention the perpetual stage management to stave off overthrow through a popular rebellion. Paradoxically, this strive for survival comes at the cost of the family itself; despite the imperative for the clan to stick together and preserve the institution of royalty, relationships crack under the strain of expectation and the cloistered stuffiness of privilege (not to mention the spectre of in-breeding).

Read the full review…

Review of Jackie

Jackie is a fictionalised account of the private and public battles of Jackie Kennedy between the assassination of her husband, The President John F. Kennedy, and his funeral. I was completely absorbed in this film, partly because it was a sumptuous period piece and also because it delved into two key interests of mine- the nation and the way its myths are made. I would go so far as to say that this is the central preoccupation of Jackie.

I feel that a serious examination of the lives of the Kennedy women as individuals in their own right is a positive development in our ongoing appraisal of that family’s enduring legacy and mystique. Incidentally, I read a biography of JFK’s sister Kathleen, affectionately known as Kick, during 2016, and it shone a whole new light on the dynamics within the Kennedy family. The film Jackie did a good job of walking the line between portraying Jackie as an individual with her own agency, her own ambitions and her own career, and the way she was disempowered by being part of the Kennedy dynasty and through the institution of the American presidency.

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Fifty Shades: faux liberation or feminist project?

When the first Fifty Shades was published in 2012, women of all ages wanted to read it, and if you weren’t into it you were told you were missing out. Though the hype has died down a little, the commercial viability of the franchise has remained. In Australia, the release of the films has coincided with a time of increased awareness-raising about domestic violence.

So how is it that a series of badly written books about a woman who gets into a relationship with a man who beats her became increasingly popular while our society simultaneously condemned domestic and gender violence? And why were women, the series’ target audience, seemingly lapping the series up?

I argue that the Fifty Shades trilogy is emblematic of a cultural shift whereby the meaning of female empowerment has been turned on its head. We need to understand that “raunchy” and “liberated” are not synonyms. Read more…