Critical Pursuits: Shock and Awe on the Big Screen


The programme.

The programme.

The Spanish Film Festival hit town earlier this month, and, despite the best of intentions, I only managed to see two films in the enticing lineup.

The much anticipated, award-winning film, The Clan, was the first on my list. I went with three wonderful comrades, all of whom happen to speak Spanish. Masterly Mateo, who comes from Argentina, was in his teens when the criminal kidnapping family scandal depicted in The Clan occurred; funky young Zoe had just arrived back from a Uni study exchange experience in Buenos Aires. She had seen the tremendous box-office hit The Clan there, and was looking forward to experiencing  the film again with English subtitles, in order to pick up any subtleties she may have missed in the original. Mateo was curious to see how this notorious historical case, rather hazily recalled from his earlier life, had been translated onto the big screen.  The glorious Joanna bought our tickets and we headed off to Palace Barracks, looking forward to viewing the film and discussing it afterwards over a Spanish meal – a very Spanish affair all round.

The Clan - full of promise

The Clan – full of promise

We waited for 20 minutes after the supposed starting time of our session, but nothing came on the screen. Then there was an apology from a rather timid young girl,  and finally the film began. We all breathed a sigh of relief. A little over half way through, however, the film shuddered to an abrupt halt.

These days, of course, screenings are digitally operated, and there is no one sitting up in the projection room anymore, monitoring the progress of the film. Most of the audience was in a frozen state of indecision and mild shock, sitting in the dark. No one came to the rescue for quite a while. Trembling even more, Miss Timid Girl eventually re-materialised, this time with a fistful of free tickets for those who wanted to leave. After telling us the manager simply wasn’t available, she went to each person, quietly asking them if they wanted to stay or go. This wasn’t really helping the rather confused situation, as most of the audience couldn’t hear her,  or work out what was going on.  Some people decided to cut their losses and go; we agreed to wait it out.

After another seeming eternity, the film came on again, but in a different spot in this powerful film. Frustrated, we figured we had lost at least ten crucial minutes, a factor adding a different kind of tension to the already tense narrative. Then, at the ultimate climax, the film shuddered again to a halt.  What on earth were the chances we would ever see this much anticipated film through to the end?

Further chaotic, spluttering negotiations ensued, along with a wide-eyed surge of new people arriving with their glasses of wine, popcorn and choctops in readiness for the next film. Those of us who were left had to admit that, finally, we had been defeated by faulty technology and even more faulty management, and that our experience of The Clan was in tatters.

Naturally quite disgruntled, we queued up at the box office for a full refund along with our free tickets for another film one day – hopefully to be screened from timely start to smooth finish. We did manage to enjoy some tasty tapas at Peasant afterwards, chatting about the film event that wasn’t. Hopefully we will manage to see The Clan right through one day.

Other cinematic disasters at the Barracks

Funnily enough, the 20-minute ‘delayed start to nowhere’ experience had also happened to Comrade Pietro when he rocked up to the Barracks a few weeks earlier, hoping to see A Bigger Splash. The film never even started after the lengthy blank screen time in the dark, and, following a hasty apology and a meaningless explanation,  the audience members received a refund and a free ticket. To make matters worse, the same Comrade Pietro, ever optimistic, and accompanied this time by Comrade Geronimo, had gone along to a French film session, also at The Barracks, only to find the version of that film did not have subtitles. More refunds, more free tickets, more inconvenience. Not a very good track record, Palace Barracks!

A gritty heart-warming film

A gritty heart-warming film

Hope springs eternal – Ricardo Darin and a beautiful dog

Still warily licking my wounds, my next Spanish film festival hope was Truman starring one of my favourite actors, Ricardo Darin. He is usually a signal of a quality cinema experience. I went with Comrades Carlotta and Jake to Palace Centro, fingers crossed that there would be no technical hitches there.  Furthermore,  Jake gently teases me that I often take him to the most gruelling, difficult films, so I was hoping that this one would strike the right chord.

Fortunately (for my track record, as well as for my pleasure), Truman was a heartfelt, definitely not gruelling or overly sentimental, film set in Madrid, at a crucial time in the central protagonist’s life. As he has chosen not to continue with further treatment for his rapidly worsening cancer, he needs an old friend and his female cousin to help him manage his affairs. This includes his fervent desire to make sure that his dog, Truman, will be cared for after his inevitable death.  We warmly recommend this film, and hope that it will gain a general release in the future. This time, mushroom pizza at Tinderbox was the go, along with very acceptable red Spanish wine. I thanked my lucky stars that this Madrid-based film was nothing like the appalling film Madrid 1987, endured with Comrade Juanita several years ago.  This latter film involved a creepy old dude and a bright young woman trapped naked in a small, grotty bathroom together for most of the film.  I have never recommended that one.

Botched recommendations: a dangerous game-changer practice

Speaking of people enduring films which I do, in good faith, recommend, I was reminded the other night how fiercely some people can react and take any recommendation personally. Last Friday, I was enjoying a visit to the cinema once again, this time with esteemed Comrades Bella and Savannah, to see the documentary First Monday in May.  We all enjoyed the film, a great one for undemanding Friday night consumption, and we loved seeing behind the scenes at the Met. However, we agreed that Bill Cunningham New York was the best film about the fashion industry we have seen in recent times. Just for the record, we met up with Comrades Jose and Pedro later, savouring a delicious meal at the ever-reliable Beccofino in Florence Street Teneriffe  – although I can’t help wishing that this restaurant, along with its equally superb brother Julius in South Brisbane, would allow bookings…

In a conversation on the actor John Turturro, Bella mentioned that she had once excitedly recommended the Coen brothers’ film, Barton Fink to some friends; subsequently, they failed to share her enthusiasm – indeed they totally hated it.  This triggered for me several repressed memories about extreme, game-changing reactions to my own innocent, well-meaning recommendations.  For instance, Comrades (and cat devotees) Suzette and Brian have never really forgiven me for Bad Boy Bubby.  On my urging,  they journeyed across town to see it at the old Boomerang theatre in Annerley, only to be totally mortified by the memorable ‘glad-wrapping of the cat’ scene.  Years later, Comrade Wolfgang also definitely did not like Steve Mcqueen’s film Hunger, with Michael Fassbender.  Wolfie recoiled in horror; by contrast, I thought Hunger was an amazing, groundbreaking film by an exciting new filmmaker. We agreed to differ. You can’t win them all.

Film studies – a veritable minefield

Thinking back over the many films I have taught in the past, I recall that I also triggered some memorably extreme reactions to several that I chose for indepth study. It is sometimes hard to predict which films will be particularly divisive and disturbing, although, saying that, I always tried to screen and present for critical analysis, challenging, thought-provoking films. I guess it is inevitable that some would elicit unpredictable, intense responses.

                                Three quick snapshots: some vivid teaching moments 

*A girl suddenly gets up and runs from the dark lecture room in the middle of a screening of the Australian film by Paul Cox, Man of Flowers.  I quickly follow her, concerned that she is ill.  Trembling, she finally tells me that she has become a ‘born again Christian’ three weeks ago. Apparently, part of her new belief system is to reject all lesbian and gay sex. Consequently, she has rushed out just after a mild lesbian scene in this beautiful, unconventional film. I try to calm her down,  attempting to persuade her that, if she doesn’t see the film through to the end,  she will miss out on being able to participate in the tutorial discussions. I also say that she is most welcome to put forward her views to the class, based on her reading of the text. All academically substantiated, well argued points of view are welcome in my class. She doesn’t take up my offer.

*Another girl is shaking and crying alone in the auditorium after a screening of the film, Shame, starring Debra Furness as a bikie barrister, fighting an insidious rape culture in a Western Australian country town. The students mostly love this film, finding it very provocative and interesting, with its feminist play on the American western genre. However in the film, a frail grandmother is kidnapped, but luckily rescued by Debra and others, from an imminent gang rape. Apparently, this poor student has a grandmother who had been gang raped a few years before. I comfort her as best I can, also advising professional counselling. While I always warn students that there could be graphic scenes in films that may disturb some viewers, coming face to face with such distress really shakes me up as well.

The Boys - one of the best Oz films ever.

One of the best Oz films ever.

*A film that also reverberates strongly with the students is the superlative Australian film The Boys. In my lecture before the screening, I highlight the grim context of this film,  relating the appalling,  true-life rape and murder of Anita Cobby. I mention that, although no actual rape and murder scenes are shown in the film, it is still a powerful, even visceral, rendition of the circumstances building up to the shocking incident, as well as the aftermath. Of course, the men who committed this atrocious crime have been sentenced to never be released from prison.

One girl is profoundly affected by her first encounter with this film, recognising her own abusive relationship with her current partner, in the menacing treatment of the Toni Collette character by the sinister David Wenham character. I help her after the screening. I hear later from some rather cranky male Journalism colleagues, that this promising final-year student was about to graduate and that she has dropped out, thanks to having seen The Boys. They suggest I strike that disturbing film from the teaching unit.

However, on the plus side, I find out that she leaves her boyfriend and has lots of counselling, graduating successfully the following year.

I always defend the inclusion of this film in the course, as I argue that, if it does resonate in such a profoundly personal way, there can be positive, even life-changing outcomes, if not immediately, perhaps later. I win that battle.

Ah, the power and wonder of film…





Celebrating film festivals and slippery festive moments

The three-week-long, highly successful  27th Alliance Francaise French Film festival has finished in Brisbane. In this blogisode, I will write about several of the nine films I managed to see. I had planned to write instead on another topic dear to my heart, a personal story about a dreaded qi vampire, the she-devil ‘Shauna’, who has unexpectedly re-emerged in my life, a story that may or may not find its way into a novel and/or film script. Who knows, this may one day become a film screened at a festival.  I am getting ahead of myself here of course. As it turned out, I wasn’t happy with that writing effort, and I have put it on the backburner, for now.

Talking about films already crafted – some treats for cinephiles and Francophiles

As signalled in my last posting, the political film about refugees from Sri Lanka, Dheepan, was certainly worth a look.  This is a gritty study of a ‘family’ of strangers suffering from post-traumatic stress, struggling to adjust to a new culture in a difficult crime-ridden banlieu in outer Paris.

A fascinating film showing the grim reality of being a new arrival in France

A fascinating film showing the grim traumatic reality of being a new arrival in France

This film was directed by the distinguished Jacques Audiard (The Prophet, Rust and Bone). The final sequence seemed to be an absurdist dream rather than reality, and did not really gell with the rest of the narrative, which was probably the point. The film won the Palme D’Or at Cannes in 2015, though I gather Audiard had to hurry to complete the film by the Cannes deadline. Nevertheless, I would rate this film highly. The group of six of us who saw it together, agreed.

Another great film with a very different tone was L’Hermine / Courted, tightly scripted and directed by Christian Vincent, starring the wonderful Fabrice Luchini as a grumpy judge, and the beautiful Danish actress from Borgen, Sidse Babett Knudsen, as a mysterious juror.

The imposing judge with unexpected depth

The imposing judge with unexpected depth

A looming slippery slope..

I ended up seeing this beautifully modulated film twice, not by accident, as I am easily persuaded to see a good film again, especially when a cosy dinner with close friends will follow. However, the second time, I arrived, bright-eyed, at the wrong cinema complex. Thankfully I managed, after some consternation, to get to the correct place across town in peak hour, with just 30 seconds to spare. This was a low point in my formerly impeccable film-attending career, impeccable at least where time and place are concerned. Is this the stark beginning of a slippery slope for this floundering film buff? After that slip, I now rather neurotically check and recheck all film programs, in order to halt any more signs of such a dithery decline. Savannah Burgundy was very pleased, and even quite smug, that for once I was the late one, while Bella was simply patient and amused at our rather wild crosstown dash…

A madness of two…

Mon Roi - a powerful film

Mon Roi – a powerful film

Another highlight for me was Mon Roi, directed by Maiwenn, a very interesting woman director.  This emotional rollercoaster film starred one of my favourite actors, the breathtaking Vincent Cassel. Who can ever forget him bursting onto the screen as Vinz in the superb La Haine, a film still evergreen after 20 years. The main female role in Mon Roi was played astonishingly by Emmanuelle Bercot, who won the Best Actress award at Cannes. The film explores a turbulent relationship that hurtles into a ‘folie a deux’, a madness of two.

The closing film on the final night, Godard’s Le Mepris / Contempt, starring the glorious Brigitte Bardot also explored a marriage descending into a kind of vicious, claustrophobic hell.

Stunning Bardot in classic Godard fare

Stunning Bardot in classic Godard fare

I am still haunted by the dizzying design and endless steps of the film producer’s house in Capri, improbably clinging to the cliffs. Charlotta and I were astonished that no one in the cast and crew actually slipped and crashed into the sea.

Thanks to my dear friend and former film studies colleague Marguerite, who gave a stirring introduction to this screening.

A saga of opening nights…

A less complex film journey was with Rosalie Blum, a surprisingly enjoyable film with a clever script and great performances.

A pleasant surprise - warm, funny, quirky.

A pleasant surprise – warm, funny, quirky.

I had been a bit wary of this film, unfairly and simply because it was featured on opening night, an event which, more often than not, I tend to avoid these days. Having been to more festival opening nights than I care to remember, I do have many happy memories of dressing up and hanging out with a buzzy crowd  over a swag of film years. Sadly, however, I have been finding that festival films showcased on opening nights have slowly but surely descended in quality, hence my wariness about Rosalie Blum. Moreover, the event itself has not really been delivering value for effort and money. Blandness has descended on a spirited event, once full of memorable twists and turns…However, I am still ever-ready to be proven wrong!

In recent times, the often broad middle-of-the-road appeal of the films chosen on opening nights is grudgingly understandable,  as the sponsors, PR people and sundry VIPs are invited to come. This bunch of invitees don’t usually go to foreign films, rocking up on opening nights mainly for the bubbly and the socialising.   Who can really blame them? Such people also may not wish to be confronted by an edgy film, and are, in any case, rarely sighted again throughout the festival.

The deteriorating standard of the opening events themselves, however, is inexcusable, given the high cost, the sparse, rather boring food and drink, and the lack of meaningful cultural entertainment, allowing for dancing…. Hence, unless the film is a precious standout, I have been rather ‘ho hum’ about opening nights across the board, especially with the national festivals.

I saw Rosalie Blum in the main body of the festival, as, luckily, most films were repeated several times across two cinemas at the French Film Festival, giving greater flexibility – but also keeping everyone on the alert. Lorelei, Lillibelle and I enjoyed seeing it in a packed house on Good Friday evening. This was 15-year-old Lillibelle’s second favourite French film of all time, her favourite being the magical Amelie.

Checking the festival calendars

A new surprising addition to the extensive annual lineup at Palace cinemas is a small festival targetting ‘oldies’ like me, called the Young at Heart, tucked in between the more lavish French and Spanish festivals.  I am looking forward to seeing  Grandma, starring the irrepressible Lily Tomlin. This film also screened at the recent Queer Film Festival. Unfortunately I missed getting a ticket there, as it sold out so quickly in that program. One to savour.

Hot on the glamorous French heels, with a little detour into the spry young-at-heart, the dashing Spanish Film festival will commence on the 19 April at the Palace. I am feeling a little sad about the Spanish, as my dedicated Spanish companion, the delightful Juanita, will be overseas. Together we have experienced some wonderful films from Spain and other Spanish-speaking cultures, such as Chile and Argentina. We have also endured some cringeworthy downers, although that is, inevitably, part of the risky fun of any film festival. Later in the year, after several more mini-national festivals here (Italian, German, whatever), I plan to attend the amazing Melbourne Film Festival again, experiencing many great films there over several packed days, hopefully turning up to the right film in the right place at the right time…






A film buff’s personal rocky horror show: the good, the bad and the ugly

French film festival program guide 2016

French film festival program guide 2016 – currently screening in Brisbane

These have been rocky, heady times for this film devotee so far this year, with a rather messy overdose of Awards and Festivals. For instance, after a viewing binge of the Golden Globes, then the BAFTAs, culminating in the Oscars, I have experienced a peculiar form of Awards indigestion and heartburn. The three look-alike ceremonies have all blurred into each other. As, by now, there has been Awards entrail-dissection overload, I will certainly limit my observations here to a sprinkling of Oscars moonshine, mixed with some spicy French films as the icing on the rather doomed, indigestible cake.

There were few surprises along the Oscars pathway awakening me from my near-comotose state, after weeks of trying to see all the nominated films (I failed). Spotlight was an unusual Oscar winner choice for many, because it was widely thought that The Revenant would shoe it in. I was pleased that such a topical film about criminal child abuse by clergy and the massive coverup by the Catholic Church won the top award, mainly because of the horrific issues highlighted, rather than for its superior excellence in film craft. (Please note those issues, Cardinal Pell and Pope Francis…)

I will never retrieve those, what some would say, ‘lost’ hours both at the cinema and glued to my television screen – which is fair enough, given that I actively chose to indulge in these events and their ramifications, in all their decadent, tainted glory.

My own Oscars horror movie

The local cinema brightly advertised an Oscars viewing event with champagne, cheese, biccies, and cake. How could I resist, even though I don’t like champagne all that much.   Figuring that I could overcome that particular beverage obstacle,  I relished the idea of enjoying the awards for once on the big screen. Joan graciously agreed to come with me,  and we arrived around the corner just after 10 am, as scheduled, drinking coffee instead of champers. There were about 40 – 50 people there, and by 10.30 am, we lined up to go into the big cinema.

The talkative woman in front of us kept complaining about having to wait to get a seat. However, she said something worth hearing: while our tickets were only $15 a head, a rival cinema had an Oscars screening event on at 11.30 am, where you had to dress up and compete for a ‘best dressed’ award on a mini red carpet.  And that event cost $35 for champers etc. Joan and I were glad we didn’t have to parade in front of the fashion police, and also apparently we had landed ourselves a bargain.

Then came the big shock. The flustered manager came out to open the cinema, apologising that he had mistakenly thought the red carpet build-up would be currently on Channel 9, but alas it wasn’t. Nine was still playing the morning show called Today Extra, and the Oscars would start now for us at 11.30, at least an hour later. He muttered that they wouldn’t finish until about 2.30.

Lurching from crisis to crisis

The people in the queue became pretty fidgety at that news, and cake and glass in hand, consulted earnestly with each other. Joan and I decided to sit it out until 11.30, watch the Awards for the first hour, and then go to lunch nearby. In any case, I was taping it all at home, and would eventually catch up with anything we missed. I must confess that I had initially been mystified by the advertising for this event which claimed the Oscars lasted from 10 am – 12 pm, but, foolishly, I thought they must know what they were doing…

The fiasco continued with Nine’s Today Extra program repeatedly insulting our intelligence, with advertising overload and the inevitably inane advertorial segments. On the big screen, this program loomed as even more offensive. Some young women rose imperiously after about 15 minutes, announcing to all that this was a total disgrace, and they would demand their money back. They stormed out and a few others followed their lead.

One woman near me had her mobile phone on and was listening to some other loud program on that device. Usually in a cinema I would ask such an ignorant person, firmly but politely, to please turn off her phone. But I didn’t have the heart, given the already derailed circumstances. Trash horror overload was coming at us from all angles. We lasted another 15 minutes, until Today Extra became too much even for me, a longtime academic in film and television, who had been seizing the whole experience as a multilayered semiotic text, hurtling, like most reality television programs, towards inevitable disaster.

A flashback to a film love-in

Eventually, after skipping out and negotiating free tickets to another screening, after a bite of real food, I came home and caught up with the whole Oscars gig, fractured though it was, time-wise. Many media commentators have discussed at length the Oscar statues bestowed, the deeply offensive all-white nominations issue, as well as the insults to Asians. Chris Rock’s opening gig was quite impressive, his very presence holding it all together, despite some awkward, difficult moments. I was pleased that Leonardo, Alejandro and Emmanuel received their Oscars for The Revenant.  I have been in love with Alejandro G. Innaritu’s work since I first saw his debut film Amores Perros (Love’s a Bitch).

A memorable first film.

A memorable first film.

After a preview screening of Amores Perros earlier this century for a motley group of us reviewers, I simply couldn’t move from my seat for quite some time. I was so overwhelmed, devastated and impressed by the film. This was in the old Dendy cinema in George Street, Brisbane, which permanently had a unique musty smell. This film certainly transcended the olfactory and comfort limitations of those memorable surrounds.

My students thereafter had to endure studying this amazing three-hour long Mexican film, as one of many confronting films in my unit International Cinema. Happily, I know that most of them completely ‘got’ Amores Perros too, along with Innaritu’s later films. One of those students, I am proud to say, subsequently worked in the camera department on The Revenant. She wrote to me from on the set, knowing how much I loved his films.

A diet of French films: sweet and sour love triangles and the tart money shot

As a prelude to the currently screening French Film Festival, I went along a while ago to see a special one-off film buffery screening of the controversial film by Gaspar Noe, Love 3D.  I had found his most famous film, Irreversible, incredibly powerful and disturbing, and I looked forward to catching this film, although it had received very mixed reviews and opinions. As one reviewer from The Guardian graphically puts it, “Gaspar Noe’s Love is a fantastically doomy, porny melodrama of erotic despair, all in super-strength 3D…Sex is the main star…in all its fleshy, messy, dreamlike, 3D glory.” The money shot was overkill, but to be expected…

The love triangle is a well-worn cinematic trope. This triangle recurs in a French film I have seen more recently –  In the Shadow of Women, a dire, barely digestible film by another French auteur, Philippe Garrel.

At the French Film Festival - a disappointment

At the French Film Festival – left a bad taste in the mouth

In both these films, the male protagonist is supposedly a filmmaker, although neither of them has any real, demonstrable talent. The filmmaker hero who is sexually involved with two beautiful women appears to be, in both films, some kind of masculine directorial fantasy projected and reenacted on screen. No irony here.  Thank heavens the self-indulgent film In the Shadow of Women wasn’t in 3D. One of those in a year is sufficient, although after In the Shadow, I am liking Love 3D a lot more.

A scene from Love 3D

A scene from Love 3D

Cinema audience: not so musical chairs

Yesterday during the day, I went to a French film at the Festival called La Belle Saison directed by Catherine Corsini. I have been heartened to find that the French film industry can claim about 50% female filmmakers. The USA and Australia do not compare at all well on this gendered score, although Australia is better than the US. This film by an up and coming female director, depicted the moving story of a lesbian relationship in the 70s. It was well directed and the main actors performed their roles very capably.  This was a pleasant film, with interesting insights into sexuality and women’s politics issues in the 70s, as well as the tensions between rural and urban France.

La Belle Saison. Not so belle in the audience.

La Belle Saison. Not so belle in the audience.

The problem this time was with the audience, not the film. There were only about 10 people in the largest cinema at Palace Centro. I moved up a couple of seats in my empty row to be more centred, only to be confronted by two bossy latecomers who practically sat on top of me. No flexibility was evidently there, so I sighed and moved back to my spot. Mea culpa. I should have waited until after the film began. I also hoped for reasonableness to prevail regarding seat allocation rules when hardly a soul is there.

Meanwhile, a young disabled man in a wheelchair was sitting not far away with his carer, and he was moaning loudly before and during the film. All power to him I thought, although I was a bit concerned when the bossy women arrived. I thought they might complain. Then a crippled man on crutches came into the cinema; not finding his allocated seat comfortable,  he and his companion moved to other seats where he could stretch out his injured leg. Just as the film was about to commence, a woman came in and insisted on moving him and his companion, so that she could sit in her allocated seat, despite the fact there were many better seats for her across the aisle and towards the centre in the same row. So the poor crippled person had to move again.  I found all this personally quite disturbing. I know when the cinema is crowded, the Festival seat allocation system works well. But when there is only a sprinkling, some give and take is ok surely…

Some friends had to walk out of the screening of another promising Festival film The Bureau, as the subtitles didn’t show up at their screening. They didn’t stay and did get a refund. I had hoped to see that film, but now I am not so sure. I do hope that the Cannes award-winning film Dheepan will live up to its reputation…fingers crossed for a very satisfying, tasty film treat this time.

Hoping for a great film here in the tradition of La Haine...

Hoping for a great film here in the tradition of La Haine…




SURPRISE: Interview about this blog direct from NYC

Here is a little surprise.
Hope you enjoy this interview about this very blog. The lovely Jess from Breakthru radio in New York contacted me after she scanned the blogisphere searching for blogs dealing with film. It was very early in the morning Brisbane time, so my mind and voice were both a bit foggy. Anyway it is what it is, along with some groovy music which you can include or skip through.

Film list…a quick blog episode before January disappears – or before I do

Hope the list gives some hints for other film lovers

Hope this list conveys some hints and happy memories for other film lovers. Do look now!

When friends start sending me their top ten films, carefully calibrated in A, A -, B+ etc categories, at the same time inquiring about my progress, I start to get the hint.

So here is one film lover’s ramble/scramble through some of the most remarkable films that I experienced in 2015 –  at least, those I can actually remember. I haven’t as yet managed to see Carol, Spotlight, The Danish Girl, The Big Short… given their mid-late January release dates. In any case, I will be overseas at a magnificent wedding when their seasons begin. Realistically, those probable Oscar nominees  will have to wait to be considered by me next year, as I didn’t view them in 2015 anyway.

Of course, I also haven’t managed to see many films that other people have loved and recommended. But within my fairly dedicated, if rather limited, film-viewing diet, here is The List for general digestion. Of course some of these were made in 2014, or even earlier, but my excuse is that I wasn’t able to view them until 2015…

From Far from Men to The Assassin: foreign language films extraordinaire

An early one I loved was Far from Men, a beautifully executed film set in 1954 in Algeria, with Viggo Mortensen in the leading role, and with a score by Nick Cave. This profoundly moving French film is based on a short story by Albert Camus, and this was a brilliant start to the year for me. I saw it twice in quick succession. A second international film that impressed me in the new year was Leviathan, a Russian film that evoked another kind of dark grandeur, depicting an ordinary man being persecuted relentlessly by corrupt officials.

A superior neo-noir Spanish film screened at the Spanish Film Festival was Marshland, a crime genre film that was quite delightful and grim at the same time.

Another memorable film festival film I thoroughly enjoyed was the wry, moving, funny, sad Italian film, Mia Madre (My Mother), directed by the amazing Nanni Moretti, whose films I always seem to enjoy. This one did not disappoint. Moretti also plays a key role in his film, as per usual.

Clouds of Sils Maria, directed by Olivier Assayas, is another excellent French film that, while being wordy and complex, is also involving and gripping.  Juliette Binoche and Kirsten Stewart are particularly outstanding in their roles as ageing actress and her personal assistant. Life and art certainly mirror each other in this intriguing film.

At the new Queensland International Film Festival, the outstanding fare for me was the beautifully made, achingly fierce opening night film, Timbuktu, and an off-the-wall, unexpectedly delightful French cinematic TV series, screened as a three hour film – or was it five? – Li’l Quinquin. Directed with a quirky, lighter touch by the formidable Bruno Dumont,  this serial killer/police procedural production set in the French countryside has lingered with me for a long time – always a great sign of a different kind of masterpiece. Thanks Huw!

The end of the international film festival year was marked by the Brisbane Asia-Pacific Film Festival.

Discussion on The Assassin and martial arts films, conducted by the wonderful Kiki Fung and Sam Ho.

Discussion on The Assassin and martial arts films, conducted by the wonderful Kiki Fung and Sam Ho.

Amidst this feast of films in November, I enjoyed many, and a few stood out for me. Amongst them were Small Town, Early Winter and The Assassin. Small Town was a deeply personal film, made in 1997, by the great Turkish auteur Nuri Bilge Ceylan. This is his first film, and, as a dedicated admirer of his later films, it was a great treat for me to see this early work. Early Winter is an impressive Canadian/Australian co-production, directed by Michael Rowe (an Australian currently living in Mexico). Trish Lake from Freshwater Pictures, based in Brisbane, is a co-producer. This is a powerful, suitably claustrophobic film, wonderfully shot and edited, intimately revealing a marriage in crisis.

The dazzling, award-winning martial arts film The Assassin (by Taiwanese director Hou Hsiao-Hsien) is visually stunning and a great portrait of a female assassin. While the narrative arc is quite mysterious, it is best just to relax and immerse oneself in the exquisite poetry of this beautiful film.

English language films

Two Australian films I particularly relished were the very moving Holding the Man, and the wild spectacle of Mad Max: Fury Road. I saw the latter in a New York cinema which was a special treat. With the former, I had not read the book by Timothy Conigrave, nor had I seen the play based on that book. However I thought the film was very sensitively handled.  It also provided  a realistic, visceral portrayal of the AIDS crisis in the Eighties. Many of us lost dear friends at that time, making the film doubly poignant.

Inherent Vice, directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, was my favourite American film of 2015. What a terrific roller coaster ride this enjoyable film was, with Joaquin Phoenix playing a stoned private detective in Venice Beach. Another  English language film I hold in high esteem is Macbeth, with Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard in the key roles. directed by the Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel. This was a dark, brooding piece, tightly drawn.  I also was impressed by Lobster, a dystopian black comedy film by the extraordinary Greek auteur Yorgos Lanthimos,  and starring Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz. That one has kept me awake at night…Then I caught Locke on Foxtel, and thoroughly immersed myself in Tom Hardy’s remarkable one man effort, driving his car to his destiny.

Regarding documentaries, it is hard to beat the extraordinary Amy, a towering film. Directed by Asif Kapadia, Amy explores the life and death of the diva Amy Winehouse – a gut wrenching experience. Other worthwhile documentaries I enjoyed are What Happened. Miss Simone? a gritty biopic on Nina Simone’s tragic life. And of course, Iris, a fun film on the flamboyant, eccentric fashionista Iris Apfel. I also commend the uncompromising Frackman, an inspiring Australian documentary on anti-fracking activism, again co-produced by Trish Lake.

Now comes the hard part – ranking the films. I know also that sadly I have missed a couple of Iranian films I enjoyed at the lovely Iranian film festival, but, regrettably, I can’t find the program details for those at present.

This is my top ten in order, for now:

Far from Men, Inherent Vice, Amy, Clouds of Sils Maria, The Assassin, Leviathan, Mia Madre, Holding the Man, Lobster, Li’l Quinquin.






SCREEN CULTURE: My favourite tv treats of 2015


My head is reeling from perusing the overload of lists by too many popular culture commentators, proclaiming their 10 or 20 best/worst tv series for 2015. Some of these lists I tend to agree with, by and large, while others I wonder what planet they are on. But that isn’t the point here; in the best ‘seeingmeout’ blog tradition over the past several years, I am shamelessly contributing to the overload,  boldly placing my television highlights list in the mix, for dialogue, for enjoyment, for serious thought about the delights of a year’s viewing. I will publish my 2015 Best Film list sometime soon.

I now have Netflix, Foxtel and free-to-air television available, along with web/internet fare via the computer. This is definitely overload binge mania potential indeed, although I think my efforts are pretty small scale, compared with some other people’s secret indulgences. This glittering multi-platform flexibility both enriches and muddies my viewing experiences on the small screen.  I am also still having some problems with my technological setup here at home. Hence, I think I will need to acquire a new tv set with some more whizzbangery. Hopefully, this will eventuate in the not-too-distant future, if the budget will allow such indulgence, if I can find a willing, non-patronising whizz kid to help me set it all up, if…

 THANK YOU TV GOD: SBS & the ABC are still standing, wobbly though they may be

The Sydney Morning Herald TV Guide is pretty reliable and essential reading every week

The Sydney Morning Herald TV Guide is pretty reliable and essential reading every week

I mainly watch the ABC and SBS on the free-to-air viewing option.  The highlights of television drama viewing for me in 2015 on free-to-air, definitely came courtesy of SBS. It is hard to rank these particular gems, but I will try. The ABC drama was not of quite the same overall standard, though I am enjoying the very promising Exile early this year.

Probably the best drama for me was FARGO series 2. This series  became better and better as it progressed to its dazzling finale. The delights were manifold:  the antics of Kirsten Dunst and her butcher spouse; the grimness of the real villains on both sides engaged in their epic fight to the death; the folksy homespun goodness tinged with tragedy of the lawman and his sweet family, including his father- in-law, played by Ted Danson…

A close second was a very different drama from Denmark called THE LEGACY, concerning the vicissitudes of a family in crisis after their artist matriarch dies. I liked how it was written, acted and directed so flawlessly – the viewer’s sympathies were often  twisted around in unexpected ways. I trust that series 2 will be forthcoming very early in the new year.

Next on this sub-list is the US TV police procedural series, BOSCH, based on the Michael Connelly books. As I have read all the Bosch books over many years of dedication,  I had my own image of my favourite character Harry Bosch of course. The actor in the central role, Titus Welliver, didn’t really live up to my own image of Harry, although I did warm to Titus more as the series progressed. While the plot lagged a little at times, and the love interest was rather limply handled, the production values were high. The mood was gritty LA noir, although not as darkly existential as the variable but interesting True Detective Season 2.

A very good Australian series was THE PRINCIPAL, with old favourite Alex Dimitriades in the leading role. Like East West 101, this was a standout gritty multicultural drama. I am also anticipating similar high quality in a different way, with The Family Law sitcom series coming up very soon in the new year.


The ABC excelled for me in 2015, particularly in the arena of well-produced shows which struck just the right note – e.g. the engaging Please Like Me, and the witty, satirical fare of Utopia, Gruen, and Sean Micallef’s Mad as Hell. These shows rarely disappointed.

Of course, the news and current affairs offerings from the ABC were largely superlative. My evergreen favourites were Insiders, the 7.30 Report, Four Corners, and the Drum. 

Other free-to-air fare

Channel 10 continued to screen the new series of The Good Wife, a legal drama that I enjoy following.

And thank heavens channel Eleven screens The Late Show with Stephen Colbert; I was missing his wonderfully outrageous wit and interviews when The Colbert Report finished on Foxtel during the year. In the new format, he is particularly acidic and insightful on the current presidential race, and has some great guests. While he is rather trapped in that standard late show format that Americans seem to love, he manages to break some of the corny rules and embed his own classy imprint on the genre.

NETFLIX: one free month slipped into a subscription…

On Netflix, fairly recently acquired (the line of least resistance), I find the pressure to binge is not working too well. However I have thus far enjoyed GRACE AND FRANKIE with Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, Martin Sheen and Sam Waterson. What a sterling cast for this entertaining and quite moving comedy drama. I am looking forward to Series 2.

Another favourite has been NARCOS. It is hard to beat a ‘true’ story about the Columbian drug cartels in the time of Pablo Escobar and Ronald Reagan. On the downside,  the rather highhanded voiceover narrative can be a bit irritating.  This patronising device supposedly emphasises the subjective, verisimilitude factor, but can also be used to underline the key points, just in case the viewer is a bit slow in grasping it all. However, overall, I have found Narcos a quite fascinating and gripping drama. I have always been a sucker for mafia-style crime stories, hearkening back to that great Italian series The Octopus (La Piovra) which ran from 1984 – 2001and of course the superlative HBO series The Sopranos.

RITA has its  flaws,  yet this is quite an eye-catching Danish series, particularly if you aren’t up to the challenges of more demanding fare all the time. When it comes to tv production, the Danes certainly have class, e.g. Borgen, The Killing, The Bridge. On the other hand, Rita is more melodramatic, more mainstream than those superlative dramas. While each Rita episode isn’t always a stunner, there are some great moments. The key protagonist Rita is a feisty woman teacher in her forties, who has always made a mess of her private life, but is inspirational with her students – pleasant viewing for a rainy afternoon. Also it was heartening to find some non-American international TV programs on the frustratingly limited Netflix suite offered here in Australia.

I also enjoyed LONGMIRE, a police series with a difference. It doesn’t measure up to JUSTIFIED (Foxtel), which is also part cop show, part contemporary Western. While Justified is well written and fastpaced, with the bonus of a gorgeous main protagonist, Longmire moves at a slower pace. However the characters are involving, and while the plot lags at times, this series did engage and earned some  pretty high points from me.

I started the British series RIVER about a world-weary detective who sees and engages with dead people. It is worth further exploration, as is BLOODLINES, with Ben Mendelsohn. Time is of the essence here. Again bingeing isn’t quite my thing…



A snapshot of some programs that I have recorded on Foxtel

A snapshot of some programs and films that I have recorded recently via Foxtel. A pressing smorgasbord, never finished.

The most extraordinary television experience overall for me this year was definitely the HBO series THE JINX: THE LIFE AND DEATHS OF ROBERT DURST. This brilliant documentary series was actually watched by me on the long haul flight from Brisbane to New York. On my return home, I fortunately caught the episodes again on Foxtel, and I was just as captivated the second time. Unmissable.

THE DAILY SHOW WITH TREVOR NOAH is also unmissable. It used to be hosted but the extraordinary Jon Stewart, of course, but the handover occurred in 2015 when, much to my dismay, Jon decided to step down. However, the youthful South African seems to be filling the role creditably. Also AMY SCHUMER’S stand up routines, as well as her own comedy series, have been very entertaining. I also didn’t want to miss the new series in 2015 of LOUIS CK. While Louis seemed to be perpetually in crisis, and the series was often quite dark and even difficult to watch, this is still innovative television.

Another enjoyable program I discovered last year on Foxtel channels was the cop show BABYLON, about an American communications hotshot, trying to work on changing the image of the Metropolitan Police in London. Sadly I think this one isn’t continuing into a second series. Meanwhile, I have been enjoying the droll comedy drama THE DETECTORISTS about two bungling guys with their trusty metal detectors looking for mediaeval treasure troves on the fields of England. THE SYNDICATE is another well-crafted British series I have been following, concerning the plight of those who win the lottery and how things don’t always turn out as planned. There is excellent casting on all of these British series.

I also have tuned into the program SCREEN, hosted by Margaret Pomerantz and Graeme Blundell, who review the latest TV and films. They are joined by a bright young internet program reviewer, whose name currently escapes me. Informative and quite enlightening.

The Best Viewing,  Spoiling the Best and Failing Memory

And last, but not least, I have to mention MR. ROBOT – a highly recommended American series about computer hacking and capitalist corruption that I started watching compulsively, after an initial resistance to the title. However the problem now is that I ceased watching it rather abruptly, when the program started getting rave reviews on many Best TV of 2015 lists. Much to my horror, one reviewer casually gave away a crucial spoiler, thereby indeed spoiling my viewing pleasure. Subsequently, I can’t really include this in my final list. I will no doubt return to the series, but…

I have sketched here my small screen highlights overall. No doubt I have forgotten some good ones along the way.  I find it hard to recall when, for instance, the excellent Broadchurch screened here. Was there a new series in 2015 or am I thinking of the repeat, or the American remake version? I know I shouldn’t let things slip in my viewing / tv research memory, but that is how it is for now. I am starting to think my short-term memory  (i.e. second half of 2015) is more functional.

In any case, with all these reservations, I guess my Top 10 ranked list would be:

The Jinx, Fargo, The Daily Show, The Legacy, Bosch, Grace and Frankie, Utopia, Amy Schumer, Please Like Me, The Principal.



Episode 22: Confessions of a Grumpy Old Woman

Savouring delights and horrors

In recent times, I have been indulging in the happiness-inducing activity of compiling a random list of things that especially irritate me. Grumpy old woman that I am, I want to vent about these delights /horrors here in blog land.  To some, this blog episode, in itself, may well be very annoying, having a certain strident, soapbox flavour. Fair enough. Yet, everyone probably has her or his own list that they may feel compelled to shout from the rooftops occasionally.

Hopefully, I will strike some chords with several like-minded people along the way. Alternatively, I will certainly get up the noses of others on some issues.  For light relief, I do end the episode with a short celebration of a few of life’s pleasures, at least as I see them.

The ‘annoyances’ list is not in any particular order from least upsetting to the most upsetting,  or vice versa.

      Aside: One annoyance for you, dear reader –  the pictures this time are only in   the happier zone below. The difficult stuff is harder to illustrate, although I wish I could. Maybe if all the points were joined together visually and aurally, they would make an unusual documentary film…

1. I want to start with an English usage irritation first.  Of course, there are a multitude of headaches in this zone, and many books and blogs have been written on the subject. Nonetheless, I am particularly distressed and even, dare I say, disgusted, by how few people are able to distinguish between ‘bought’ and ‘brought’ anymore. Illiteracy is sadly on the rise from all angles. Even quite competent journalists trip up here. Therefore, I probably have lost this battle, but I refuse to retreat. For instance: ‘He bought the suitcase over and displayed it to the media.’   Shudder. He didn’t buy it, he was bringing it there. Bought/brought. I rest my case. 

2. On a more visual level,  I cringe when I witness someone drinking directly out of large milk bottles, juice bottles etc from the fridge, then putting the unfinished bottle back for the unsuspecting next user, as if the perpetrator is  innocently sharing these beverages. Pour it into a glass! This practice gives me a shiver down my spine. To me, this is selfish and inconsiderate, as well as unhygienic. When this bottom-feeder cultural practice is portrayed in films and on tv,  usually self-centred men or abominable teens are the perpetrators.  I hear this is also quite common in some households.  When I mentioned this abhorrence recently, a friend shook her head and said slowly, ‘You can never stop a bloke doing that’.

3. Another quite maddening, homespun practice that is often shown in the screen media is the following: the  long-haired heroine has an evening shower, then she goes to bed with dripping wet hair. Why does she not use the drier prior to settling down for the night?  As my mother would say, this is a sure way to get a chill – dear Mum was always worrying about us in relation to catching chills. Recently in the ABC TV series The Beautiful Lie, the heroine performs this ritual very late at night, after having consorted wildly with her lover. The wet hair in this case symbolises infidelity, as she crawls into bed beside her betrayed husband. Enough said.

4. Picnics and camping are outdoor pursuits holding little appeal for me. I don’t mind enduring an occasional companionable picnic, if there is a pleasant view, if the company is tolerable, if it is held in a shady spot, if there are no biting insects around, if I don’t have to sit directly on the ground, if the food is tasty, and if there is a strategic escape route readily available. That statement contains several big ‘ifs’.

And now to camping. In 1970, I travelled across much of  Europe over several months with my partner at the time. We were young, healthy and adventurous. And we camped. Our tent was supposed to be able to resist a Force 10 gale – luckily we weren’t tested to that extent. The campsites were of variable quality, some of them grotty, as well as overcrowded and quite remote.  I particularly disliked the brash, loud American college guys who would hog the showers and use all the hot water, as if this was their god-given right.

After a long time on the road, we were inevitably behind schedule. Thankfully, we had to withdraw from a Kontiki camping trip to Russia and Poland, which we had impetuously pre-booked with some friends. We were both very glad that this adventure didn’t eventuate, particularly after hearing the rather grim post-trip stories from those friends. Also, throughout Europe, we had witnessed, firsthand, the ubiquitous Kontiki expeditions, replete with drunken, gormless Australians. Cringeworthy reality checks can be very useful indeed. Camping and I parted ways long ago.

5. I don’t like certain fads.  Paleo diets, quinoa, kale, rocket, those green shots in a glass…no matter how supposedly good for me, all such food fashions leave me cold. Also  ‘Bondi Hipster’ posing can be galling, whether it be in relation to food and beverage fads or healthy-living fads. While I enjoy the satirical comedy, I dislike the faddishness of gentrification-on-overdrive once again. I do, however, like the trend of preparing food from farm to fork. On the other hand, I suffer the passion for ‘gluten-free’ fare by those people who aren’t genuine celiac sufferers, but who are just super trendies. And I dislike being served food on flat wooden platters. The other day I dared to ask for an alternative china plate, which I received without a patronising comment, so resistance is possible.

6. I hate clowns, sad or happy. Need I say more?  I am also becoming very weary of circuses, particularly the excessively over-produced extravaganzas.

7. Mobile phone contracts give me the heebie-jeebies.  I inevitably become confused and I am invariably ripped off, experiencing difficulty with the rehearsed language  used in these so-called negotiations.  Newspeak is rampant. I am made to feel out-of-date, incompetent and powerless. Anything to do with Telstra these days is a major downer…

8. Earnestly performed Interpretive Dance, while often a source of unintended humour, tends to give me a splitting headache.

9. Anti-intellectuals and rightwing, racist partakers of the history wars all make me fume.

10. I cannot bear all forms of fundamentalism, including happy clappies/tea-party types and ISIS. Or far-right, reactionary Catholics like Tony Abbott. Religious dogma is the scourge of the world – so many crimes and horrors have been perpetrated in the name of religion. I think our governmental institutions should be completely secular in more than name only, and one’s religious beliefs should never be allowed to influence decisions in Parliament. Hence the powers-that-be should stand up and meaningfully embrace secularism, making policies and laws that allow, for instance, equal marital and other rights for the LGBTIQ communities, and the long overdue legalising of abortions in Queensland…

12. I abhor Islamophobia and racism. Too many people think simplistically that all Muslims are bad because of the maniacs on the fringe, who often take the name of the religion in vain. It is like damning all Christians because of the rabid Ku Klux Klan. I am very ‘pro’ a humanitarian approach to all those seeking asylum here.  People seeking asylum are not at all illegal, and there are no queues when you are fleeing persecution and violence.  All our appalling off-shore and on-shore concentration camps should be closed immediately, and alternative, in-community processes should be enacted. I do not hold with smug, defeatist rhetoric, nor do I passively accept the tyranny of the supposed majority. These apathetic, often deeply racist views and practices can be changed. Thank heavens for heroes like Julian Burnside and many other outspoken activists against social injustices perpetrated in our name by people like Peter Dutton.

In a similar vein, the whole Adam Goodes’ saga has been painfully racist, revealing a chillingly ugly side to our culture, fuelled by such lying shock jocks as Alan Jones and Andrew Bolt. I am also disturbed by the increasingly normalised use of that ghastly word assimilation. This word and the outdated, horrendous practices it evokes are definitely racism-driven, conjuring up the stark shadows of Australia’s disgraceful colonial policies and unjust, discriminatory practices inflicted on Indigenous people and migrants during the often shameful invasion history of Australia.

This is a rich, multicultural society, strengthened by diversity and inclusiveness. I try not to despair when new fringe political parties spring up, catering to blatant neo-fascism.

12. Of course, being a feminist, I find misogyny hateful in all its monstrous forms, often manifested in horrendous trolling, domestic violence, oppression and non-equal wages.

13. As far as human beings and their personality traits are concerned, I cannot bear meanness or mean-spiritedness. I also find people who continually manifest narcissistic, self-serving, non-empathetic characteristics, very upsetting and hard to deal with. I deplore mischievous treachery and arch game-playing of all kinds.

14. Petty though this might seem, I also cringe every time I hear someone say ‘haitch’ instead of ‘aitch’, when spelling aloud a word like ‘Helen”…

15. Last but not least, I dislike the Moreton Club, a snob-ridden establishment, situated very close to my dwelling place.  While I like the distinguished historical building very much,  I recoil from the overly well-dressed women who park their posh cars and trail regularly into this club, day and night, at times with their male partners who probably belong to the Brisbane Club, the Queensland Club or Tattersalls. This prominent show of exclusivity by monied snobs represents the power of the social class elite, along with a particular form of gender discrimination, etched here in stark relief.

As I have calculated that the youngest women I see regularly entering the building are about 50,  the place won’t wither away for quite a while yet. Hopefully the progeny of this privileged elite will find the club too retro, stuffy and boring in the not-too-distant future.

A friend who had reciprocal membership there invited me to dinner one night, even though she was very concerned that I wouldn’t talk the talk or even walk the walk of the upper class. I was instructed to dress very conservatively – no slacks allowed, only dresses or skirts – and to indulge in polite, meaningless conversation, thereby not at all revealing my apparently shocking left-wing views. As I was curious to see inside and soak up the ambiance in this enemy territory, I agreed, through gritted teeth, to behave myself on their terms. Never again!

Let There be Light…

Now, surprise, surprise, I want to document a tiny, bright clustering of my delights.  Enough of that darker list for now, although letting it all hang out can be uplifting and even therapeutic.

I derive pleasure and joy from many delightful people and cultural pursuits. Strong friendships and deep-seated loyalty are very important, while betrayal is anathema to me. Here is a small selection of things I like, also chosen at random, but all precious to me in different ways…


Enjoying a recent chat with the wonderful Sir David Puttnam, producer of many films including Local Hero (1983) – one of my all-time favourite films. Back in the early 80s, I was offered a job as production assistant on this film, but sadly I had to forego that privilege. Ah, the road not taken…

At the Frick Museum - one f my favourite places

At the Frick Museum in New York – one of my favourite places

Watching films and tv series at home in New Farm

Watching films and tv series at home in New Farm



Bruce and Obama – two American heroes

Another of my heroes,  Paul Keating – a very recent conversation with Kerry O’Brien at the Opera House in October, 2015. (Bring back Keating…!)


Good food and wine

Good food and wine in Bologna, Italy

image                                                               Bob and Joan…

And now – a Photo Montage of some friends I love and who bring me joy. Wish I could post pictures of everyone who is equally special to me. And, thankfully, I am not always an Old Grump…

Some lovely friends...










                                           Happy times everyone… 
















Making room for the women: the subversive power of reading

Making Room for the Women: the subversive power of reading

A famous novel from the Seventies...

A famous influential novel from the 70’s women’s movement…


In 1978, I lent my friend Judy the novel The Women’s Room by Marilyn French, and because of this, her husband Nigel accused me of breaking up their marriage. Judy loved this powerful book, which has been considered a key lightning-rod text of the women’s movement. Soon she was questioning the whole basis of her marriage. She subsequently packed up and left with their young daughter.

I suffered a form of collateral damage when Nigel’s rage rained down on my head. He shouted that I had deliberately initiated their irreparable marriage breakdown. That was not my intention. Maybe this incendiary book-lending event was a subversive trigger, and maybe not.

Germaine and Gloria - feminist inspiration

Germaine and Gloria – feminist inspiration at different stages in the journey

At the time, this novel certainly was one of many controversial books circulating in the West – for instance, those written by authors such as Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer, Simone de Beauvoir. In many forums, including women’s consciousness-raising groups, their prominent symbolic presence, as well as their landmark books, inspired a critical explosion of conversations and actions focusing on the misogynistic chains of patriarchy. Definitely, women were on the move, marching on the streets, challenging gender and sexualities stereotypes. Many of us also demanded access to further education.

The Second Sex - another key feminist text

The Second Sex – another glittering  feminist book eagerly consumed

Seductive education: sweeping aside superficiality 

A Mature Age Entry scheme facilitated free entry for older, less qualified people into the University of Queensland. I was a researcher on a project examining the impact of this phenomenon of Mature Age Entry, charting the narratives of older women returning to study. Excited by this open tertiary study opportunity, Judy enrolled the following year in a Bachelor of Arts, specializing in Women’s Studies and Sociology. This gave her dangerous access, according to Nigel, to even more taboo, transformative ideas.

I guess her burning desire for the illuminating offerings of Higher Education was also my fault, in Nigel’s mind at least. When Judy and Nigel met, she worked as a glamorous air hostess. Their eyes locked romantically across a crowded domestic flight. From his perspective, Nigel, an average kind of guy, had definitely gained a valuable asset, a prestigious, beautiful prize attached to his arm, a desirable handbag for both social and business events. This glittering object also perfectly performed her fabulous domestic goddess role, delivering smart dinners at home, impressing his work associates with her divine table settings and her delicately stuffed mushrooms.

Stuffed mushrooms - a Seventies timewasting masterpiece

Stuffed mushrooms – a Seventies timewasting masterpiece

Yet she hankered after more enlightened stimulation in this claustrophobic, private space, where he paraded his ego as well as his public achievements. To her, motherhood was indeed a very fulfilling part of this package.  On the downside, as both wife and mother, she was even more trapped in a stifling financial and emotional dependency vortex, from which there seemed no escape.

At no stage did Nigel engage in critical self-reflection and face the reality of their marriage breakdown situation. He could not and would not recognize that the fault might have lain, in so many ways, with his deep-seated, masculinist assumptions and attitudes. Their relationship bargain was entwined inexorably in the whole fossilized notion of traditional marriage, based largely on a cultural web of outdated romantic myths and lies.

Monogamous marriage as an institution was then about gendered and sexualised power, privileging a masculinist, heteronormative view of the world. Such an ideology positioned a woman as an inferior, docile person within society, to be largely seen and not heard. The women’s movement of the 70’s, aka Second Wave Feminism, fundamentally challenged these deeply ingrained values, beliefs and attitudes.

Changing patterns: beyond entrapment

At least women’s voices are being heard today in Western democracies, and great advances have been made. We might even see a few more conservative women appointed to the front bench in the Australian Parliament, now that our regressive, sexist Prime Minister/Minister for Women, Tony Abbott, has been removed from office. However, all such seeming advances are often muted trappings both here and globally, a form of ‘one step forward and two steps back’, even for educated, middle class, cisgendered women in the privileged West. Also conservative women often reinforce the dominant ideologies and vehemently deny being feminists, further blocking progress for women’s equality.

The hegemony of the heterosexual couple also still prevails, often bringing a false sense of power for the woman within such a seductively comfortable relationship framework. Single people, particularly women, who do not conform to this normative, exclusive structure can often be isolated and treated as inferior, or even as a threat. Single men don’t seem to suffer the same negative experience in couple-land. As comedian Judith Lucy says, they are socially acceptable as long as they still have their own teeth – not much to live up to.

Regrettably, New Millennium versions of Nigel’s patriarchal view of the world still tend to hold firm. As for people from the Australian LGBTIQ community, basic equal human rights are still, on many levels, a long way off, including within the domain of marriage equality as well.


Doris Lessing, Mary Wollstonecraft, Kate Millett - amazing women writers

Doris Lessing, Mary Wollstonecraft, Kate Millett – amazing women writers challenging the bounds of patriarchy


Explosive 70’s stories

In my early research on mature women returning to study, I encountered many variations on the Judy story. After their return to study, quite a few women were suffering abuse on the domestic front and immediate financial hardship, but gaining in knowledge and power in the arduous long term. Often these were women from conservative backgrounds, experiencing an extraordinary knowledge ferment and a radicalising metamorphosis.

One extreme case that I encountered in my study was that of a northern European migrant woman. Her tradesman husband forbade her from achieving her ambitions. Over many years, she had to go underground and study part-time externally, hiding her books, and any evidence of her notes or her communication with the University. This was doubly hard, given that he had total control over the money she could spend every day. She had to account for every last cent, and therefore posting assignments back to the University, as well as any bus fares and so on, had to have receipts.

From this repressive environment, she managed to attain a degree in Education. She finally plucked up courage and broke the news, inviting him to come to her graduation. His fury knew no bounds, as, to him, his male authority had been challenged on so many levels. Things did not work out well for her. Her heroism still astounds me.

Simone's marvellous autobiographies…what a goddess.

Simone’s marvellous autobiographies…what a goddess.

Fear of feminism

I gave a paper at a conference on Higher Education in Sydney about the women I had interviewed in this study. Of course, the daily papers and radio show hosts latched on to one section in particular in my presentation. Unsurprisingly, the media players sensationalized my argument. They claimed erroneously that the phenomenon of mature women returning to study directly related to the steep increase in divorces within Australia. Women who were intellectually on the move therefore ’caused’ untold familial and societal havoc and wreckage. ‘Down with feminism’ was the blatant subtext of the right-wing media coverage.

This fear of feminist power still prevails in many quarters. Perhaps there was a direct cause-effect link to a long ago innocent, yet explosive, lending transaction regarding a timely book, The Women’s Room. A little forbidden knowledge is indeed a dangerous thing.

Thanks to Laurie Penny for her Masterclass at the 2015 Brisbane Writers’ Festival. She thought the Women’s Room story was worth pursuing.

Chapter Nineteen: Adolescent sex, drugs and rock n roll, Brisbane style

Going to the movies at the Boomerang picture theatre was fun, until some boys put chewing gum in our hair. Ah, the miseries of adolescence! Going to the movies at the Boomerang picture theatre was fun, until some cheeky boys rubbed chewing gum into our hair. Ah, the miseries of adolescence! I turned the mammoth age of 70 this year. Hence I have been reflecting more on my so-called journey along several crooked often tortuous paths, containing good and bad choices, not just in relationships and career paths, but also, cool and uncool fashion, flattering and horrific hairdos (sometimes with chewing gum damage). Memories of key moments in adolescence loom large…

Recently I heard a contemporary update on the state of play in adolescent land in 2015. A friend has expressed concern about her early teenaged daughter’s being admired and clumsily wooed by boys. One unpleasant boy was particularly aggressive; he has been dealt with, satisfactorily consigned to the dustbin of history.  Meanwhile, a more respectful boy is seeking the beautiful girl’s attention. Hopefully things will all go swimmingly;  but as those of us well past adolescence know, that phase of life can be an exciting, fun-filled and, at the same time, often painful physical and emotional roller coaster.

Brisbane in the late Fifties and early Sixties was rockin’ and rollin’ with the rapidly burgeoning Western Capitalist phenomenon – the construction and the exploitation of the shiny new baby boomer product, the ‘teenager’.  And we embraced it all. Well, most of it. My mother wouldn’t let me own an Elvis Presley record, nor would she allow me go and see the film Jailhouse Rock, which she thought was an outrageous, immoral step-too-far for her teenage girl, who was apparently in danger of screaming, fainting and ripping her clothes off in ecstasy.

Hanging out in the front yard with Pippa & Pedro in 1959 -60. Hanging out in the front yard with Pippa & Pedro in 1959 -60.

Devils, God and Barbarism in early Teen Land

Between the ages of 13 and 15, my friends and I were each attempting to manoeuvre our own private roller coasters, at the same time communally attending random parties and school dances, all of variable quality, sometimes with dud blokes, at other times with seemingly gorgeous (if a bit pimply) crushes.

With other teens in the local neighbourhood, I also went to monthly Scout dances at the local hall in Yeronga Park, and the occasional Fellowship dances at the Yeronga Church of England Hall. These were all pretty innocent really, although there was the occasional outdoor assignation for a bit of a pash in the dark with someone called Kevin or Noel or Lennie….

My brother Pedro and cousin Godfrey did get into terrible trouble after decorating the church hall with dramatic posters they designed. These imaginative posters featured provocative quotes from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and other iconic sub-cultural sayings such as ‘Live fast, Die young and Be a good-looking corpse’, along with art works similarly confronting to conservative older people. The two were henceforth deemed to be Devils Incarnate and were summarily banished forever from church dances, a ban that certainly didn’t scar them for life.

Meanwhile, that same sanctimonious church minister who banished my devilish relatives, was rubbing himself up against my back whenever, at age 14, I practised alone on the church organ in readiness for Evensong. I found this creepy activity decidedly  discomforting,  and I always shrank from him, knowing it was wrong but not able to say anything.  Then I had no words to name this unwelcome advance, and to articulate my outrage – sexual abuse, harassment etc are concepts from later in the 20th century.

And this was a man of intimidating stature and power, not one of the dirty old men who flashed occasionally at Pippa and me in Yeronga Park as we rode our bikes past them. When that same minister visited me in hospital at the age of 18, just after I had been critically injured in an accident, proclaiming that my injuries were all part of his God’s plan for me, I turned my back on him and his religion forever.

 Let’s Dance: Endearing and Not-so-Endearing Mating Rituals

The scout master and his henchmen would try to block bodgies and widgies from coming along to those dances.  There was a sprinkling of such disengaged young people in our neighbourhood, and I recall once getting a cigarette burn on my arm from one of the bodgies. I wasn’t sure why he did that – lashing out against the type of person I represented to him I suppose, or even some kind of weird mating ritual.

On Saturday mornings, Joan and I would go fairly regularly to O’Connor’s Boathouse at North Quay, ostensibly to learn how to dance with equally gormless and awkward partners, and, in reality, mutually sifting through the chaff hoping to find someone worthwhile for future assignations. Other dance classes were held around town, sometimes after school, also quite useful for meeting boys. As many of us were at single sex schools, meeting anyone of the opposite sex was tricky, given the tough school rules on consorting with boys after school hours. On such dancing afternoons, we were awkwardly and self-consciously grading the talent on display in their distinctive school uniforms, a glaring form of social labelling. We Grammar girls, for instance, were always competing for the boys’  attention with the snobby girls from St Mag’s (St. Margaret’s) and Somerville (Snobberville) House.

What School Did You go to? A Pertinent Aside..

At that time, and even today, the strong residue of such labelling still holds in some quarters.  Brisbane was then an inward-looking white tribal culture, primarily built around the suburb you lived in,  what family you came from, and very definitely what secondary school you attended. This narrow GPS culture of privilege and exclusion is (hopefully) gradually changing. However, when I was growing up and mixing  in various social circles at school and at Uni, and even being interviewed for jobs,  ‘What school did you go to?’ was a front-and-centre defining moment.

The ripple effect of such parochial assumption and identification  is integral to the toxic phenomenon of homosocial reproduction, where ‘like picks like’ – historically, mostly white males from elite schools – for the top drawer, privileged career placements, scholarships, and advancement of many kinds. It becomes all about whom you know, whom you recognise that you would feel comfortable with; merit and equal opportunity tend to fly out of such elevated windows.

Party Central: let’s pash

While I found that some worthless boys from a more ‘upper class’ suburb and a posh school would turn up their noses, dropping me when they discovered where I lived, our modest home in Annerley was actually a very handy one for teenage parties. It had a large yard containing various secret nooks and crannies such as ferneries, rock walls, and even a leafy hill out the back for scrambling up and hiding behind the large tennis practice board which was centre stage. As well, there were convenient ‘hidey holes’ under the house, as long as you avoided the ping pong/billiard table, and also managed not to trip over my ever-optimistic, home handyman Dad’s gaggle of rusty motor mowers and swag of old washing machines scattered around in various states of disrepair.

Dressed for a Friday night beatnik party - the boys came along later. Photo 1 (left) ~ Beatnik-themed party at my place. The boys arrived after tea.
Photo 2  (right)~ pre-party practising on a bongo drum

I can only now recall two kissing games we played at such parties – I think there were more, but time has clouded my memory. We did of course dance to the latest rock and roll records, trying to be so groovy.  We would also start with the rather tame game of ‘spin the bottle’.  As the evening hotted up, we played Kissing in the Dark, which involved a boy and a girl separately going around and shining torches on couples to find out those who weren’t kissing someone.  As you had to kiss someone for such a long time in this game, it was difficult to breathe, and you often suffered some form of lockjaw. If you were found coming up for air, and you were therefore not clenched in an endless passionate embrace with the person beside you in some dark place, the ‘springer’ would replace you, and the ‘springee’ would become the roaming torch person. The couplings were invariably heterosexual. Any variation on this theme was unthinkable back then, though Pippa and I would occasionally practise kissing so we could get better at it when we encountered the next boy we wanted to kiss.

Amongst the group of guys at these parties, you soon got to know which ones were the best kissers, and make a beeline for them at the start of the game. Joan and I also gloried in the ‘older brother syndrome’ – we were fortunate enough to have on hand a core swag of available blokes to select and invite, friends of either my brother Pedro or her brother Godfrey, who happened to be a couple of years older than the female peer group, a state of play which certainly suited us girls. Mostly we wouldn’t have been seen dead partying with boys our own age – so uncool.

Me and cuddly Dudley - one of my brother's friends who shared the Party Central Annerley house with him Me and cuddly Dudley – one of my brother’s friends who shared the infamous Party Central house in Annerley with him. I spent the occasional boarders’ weekend here in Brisbane when I was 16 -17, while our parents lived in Cloncurry. More on that epic phase in the next instalment…

Party Postmortem time: unveiling the sexual riddle

One important aspect of all this Sixties pashing was the underground cult of Numerical Sexual Activity. Long postmortem conversations always followed any social events. During these forensic examinations, my girlfriends and I would carve up and examine the entrails of, among other topics, how far anyone went with a particular boy. This truth or dare game became quite mathematical and technical.


Party Postmortem back at school Party Postmortem back at school – 1960

The following is a rather illuminating sexual activity grid we employed, replete with euphemistic labelling. As far as I’m aware, several variations on this grid were prevalent at the time:

2 = kissing

4 = Upstairs outside

6 = Upstairs inside

8 = Downstairs outside

10 = Downstairs inside

12 = penetration with condom

14 = penetration without condom

This of course doesn’t really bear too close an examination. It was girl-centric, in a strange way, and, ironically, most of us had a very hazy idea what variations on 10: downstairs inside actually entailed in real life, for instance, or why 14: penetration without condom was the pinnacle sexual activity. I am not at all sure whether boys had a similar grid framing their own sexual wish list/variations. Theirs was probably more crude and more basic – just a hunch.  Of course my research is purely speculative and conjectural here, and I know this adolescent arena deserves more serious empirical investigation…

More to follow (probably) in the next blog instalment…