Reviewing an Australian film from 1970 – 2000 Weeks

Recently I became aware of an Australian film which I’d never previously heard of. Which is not that unusual, many of them fall through the cracks or are so awful they deserve to be forgotten, and I’m by no means the film aficionado I once was.

The film was 2000 Weeks. I was interested in it because of the unusual title and because when I looked it up, it appeared to be the first of a wave of Australian films after literally decades in which none had been produced. The title refers to how much time the lead character has left in his life in which to achieve his goals.

2000 Weeks

Actually getting to see it proved difficult. It had never been issued on video let alone DVD, and appears to have not been shown since it’s first run nearly fifty years ago. It had made a loss when first shown, and had been savaged by critics and audiences, hence the lack of later releases. I searched the usual locations, and could only find a few clips on something called Australian Screen. But the clips fascinated me, if only because of the what they showed of Melbourne and it’s people back in the very late sixties. Here were some people of my parents generation in the city they lived in. In fact I bet if I did some digging I could find some connection between my parents and at least an extra from the film.

Eventually I made contact with the National Film and Sound Archive, who had at least six copies in various formats. I thought it woulkd be a struggle to see a print, since the NFSA is based in Canberra. But to my delight they have a small office in Melbourne, crammed into the back of something called ACMI X. If you ask nicely, they’ll let you view any item in their collection at their shoebox office.

The print I saw was a washed-out VHS copy complete with timecode. And… I can see why it was not a huge success. It’s a very interesting film mostly for the time it documents, the way people dress and talk, and the views of Melbourne. But it’s almost like it’s three or films or plots mashed into one. There’s a story there about the lead character’s father being on deaths door. He was, by the way, the one who utters the phrase “two thousand weeks”. The lead character also having an affair, which seems to at most trouble his wife. Meanwhile an old friend returns from the UK and there is some quite interesting arguments with him about what we’d call the “cultural cringe”. Oh, and the lead character is also busy writing for a major newspaper, which appears to the The Age.

The film is full of details that interested me. There are a number of locations that were probably accurate for the time, but seemed odd to my eyes. For example the protagonists house, which he shares with his wife and two young children, is large, spacious and well furnished, which seemed at odds with his apparent struggle with his job and ambitions. There’s a long party scene in the middle which takes place in a house that looks like what would have been a modern home on the fringe of Melbourne at the time, and is decorated with paintings by Boyd, Tucker and other Australian artists. Works that these days would fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not millions.

The film is all over the place. The plot, such as it is, revolves around Will Gardiner, a frustrated journalist who wishes to be something more – a play write or screen writer, telling uniquely Australian stories. But he’s also having an affair with another young woman, openly it seems. And is father is in hospital, dying. And finally, and probably most interestingly, old friend has returned from the UK, where he appears to have evolved into an arrogant elitist prat who looks down on the art and culture of his home country.

The print I saw was so washed out – it’s black and white – that in a few scenes I wasn’t too sure if it was his wife and or his girlfriend whom he was interacting with. And the film jumps about with no real structure. In one scene Will is talking to his boss in his office. In the next scene he’s suddenly on a beach with a woman who turns out to be his wife. The next he’s on a ship saying goodbye to his girlfriend who is, of course, heading to London like everyone from Australia does. And his children seem to feature in only one or two scenes, and then are not mentioned nor is their welfare of any concern to any of the characters. This was confusing to me as a parent, and added to an air of unreality for me. And in there Will is visiting a hospital room where his father is dying, but somehow manages to terribly over-act. Or Will is driving or drinking or often drinking then driving with his old friend, arguing about Australian culture or lack thereof.

There’s one particularly stupid flashback, where Will catches his wife cheating on him. His response is to strip off her dress and burn it in a fireplace. This was accompanied by an overwrought voice-over by Will talking about Love and it’s meaning. The voice-over is present in most of the film, when Will is not actually talking at one of the female characters. Both of whom would have been well advised to give him the arse.

This should have been two or three films really. At most it’s a very interesting document of the times, the attitudes and even just the cars, clothes, buildings and the endless cigarettes. These were young people at the time, but look today like that group of baby-boomers whom are now the establishment. I envied their enormous houses filled with great art, and their relatively untroubled lives, and their lack of concern for anything like money or having spare time. This film made today would have been set in some much smaller spaces, and paying the rent would have been a plot element. The one theme that particularly interested me, the lack of an Austrlian cultural voice, is well and truly not an issue. At least in part because of films like this, it must be said.

A footnote: In response to the commercial and critical failure of 2000 Weeks, the director Tim Burstall, whose previous work included Sebastian the Fox, helping found La Mama Theatre, and documentaries about Australian artists, went on to make the cringeworthy “sex romp” Alvin Purple. Which, by contrast, was a huge financial success… can’t beat boobs…

Fifteen Years Since September 11th

Apparently a previous generation would at social events ask each other “Where were you when Kennedy was assassinated?”. It was a touchstone event, the kind of event where you remember when you first felt that sinking feeling when you heard the news.

The terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 are an event like that. News so extraordinary it is burned into ones memory.

I was living in a share house at the time. I was about to leave one morning when my housemate turned on our shitty little television. This was Wednesday morning, the 12th, our time. The first thing I saw footage of the second plane hitting the World Trade Center. I can still see the shot – a female reporter interviewing a man in front of the burning tower, then in slow motion a plane destroying itself hitting the second tower. The two people in the foreground cringed in terror.

For a few moments I thought I was watching a movie. I said “What movie is this from?” My housemate said “It’s not a movie, it actually happened.” I asked what had happened to the towers. She said “They’ve both collapsed.”

The next thing I said was “Oh fuck, there’s going to be a war.”

As a student of history, the first thing I thought of was the 1993 Bombing of the World Trade Center, which was committed by Al-Qaeda. I assumed, and it was eventually borne out, that they had tried again to destroy the World Trade Center. This time they succeeded.

I had not visited New York at that time, but when I did finally make it there in 2009, I visited the area. By then, it was a massive building site. But mostly what I noticed was what an amazing, diverse and inclusive city New York is. One that happily welcomed people of all faiths and backgrounds. The attacks revealed this, those killed were from all over the world, including significantly a number of Muslims. Why, I wondered, would you attack a city like that? The Pentagon and the White House as targets makes significantly more sense. If your angry with the United States, those are two of the centres of power and two powerful symbols. But the twin towers in New York, what did they hold that made them targets? They were mixed-use commercial buildings, owned by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. But they were also for a time the tallest buildings in the world, and dominated the New York skyline. If your view of United States included New York as the centre of American capitalism – which is not an unreasonable assumption – then the Twin Towers become a powerful symbol and indeed target.

After the attacks I called my sister, who was living in Indonesia at the time. I worried that there might be more attacks about to happen. She’d been up all morning fielding calls from people.

The television here in Melbourne played American news channels almost solidly for nearly two weeks after the attacks. It took a long while for the shock to wear off and for normal programming to resume. And I watched it, day and night. In fact that’s what I had been doing the night, our time, the attacks happened. If I’d have stayed up for ten more minutes I’d have seen it unfold in real time.

Can anyone else remember the extraordinary wave of sympathy that the world had for the United States? In the weeks and months afterwards everyone the world over was hugely supportive of the US. And what did the leaders of the United States do with this? Did they harness the help of the entire world to catch and persecute the people who had attacked them? Did they use the diplomatic help of powerful allies to make sure this never happened again? Did they start a global movement to address the root causes of terrorism and try and cure the ills that make people angry enough to fly planes into buildings? No they did not. The neoconservatives in the White House, Bush and Cheney chief amoungst them, but particularly Cheney, used the attacks and the aftermath as an excuse to start two wars in Afghanistan and Iraqi. Like I said within minutes of hearing of the attacks, there was a war.

Invading Afghanistan made some local sense. That lawless nation was host to terrorist training camps and other support for attacks outside their borders. But attacking Iraq made no sense at all. History has shown that they had planned that before the attacks took place. For the record, Iraq and Saddam Hussein and his regime had nothing to do with September 11th.

And so, not eighteen months later, in early 2003, I found myself with millions of other people marching against an unnecessary war. One which everyone said at the time would end up lasting for years and kill hundreds of thousands of civilians. And how right we were….

Discours sénateur Robert Byrd ( IRAK ) by sattva

Watching the Count in the seat of Batman

For reasons of history, I’ve been most interested in the seat of Batman this election. I lived in Batman on and off for more than twenty years. I was there when Brian Howe was the member, then Martin Fergusson, and finally David Feeney. I was distantly involved in the preselection that chose Feeney, supporting one of two fine women who were running for the seat. Needless to say the factions and the stacked branches decided that rather than a local woman, a certain Feeney would be parachuted in after losing his seat in the senate. This was a major factor in my eventual leaving of the ALP.

So in stepped Alex Bhathal, a Greens candidate who had run in the seat four times prior to the 2016 election. The contrast between her and Feeney are striking. Having walked away from the ALP, I decided to support the Greens.

The contrast between the two parties is striking. The branch meetings I made it to had become dull affairs. Of an official hundred or so members, maybe seven would turn up. I’d seen the members list for the FEA (Federal Electoral Assembly, the group that chooses who will stand for the ALP in a given federal seat). There were some thousand members in Batman, a suspiciously large number of which shared surnames and postal addresses.

The Greens meetings, however, are lively affairs. A huge diversity of people and opinions. And a striking number of former members of the ALP. I imagine the Labor party of old was like this, before it became a machine for gaining power and not a broad-based party of involved members.

I popped in a few times to Alex’s campaign office. My estimate of the average age of the volunteers there was about twenty.

Election day, I was scrutineering in a booth in North Reservoir. The booth was heavily Labor, nearly half the votes cast going to Feeney. I watched sadly as the third place getter, a Liberal called George Souris, had his preferences flow largely to Feeney. Which is not the say they were preferenced high in the order, the Liberal how-to-vote card had Feeney tenth and Bhathal eleventh.

There was a huge swing to the Greens in the seat, over 9%, but it was not enough. As I watched the tallies on the night I knew it was not looking good. To not be leading on the night is never good. Postal votes and declaration votes tend to flow to the conservatives. Which in this case meant they were flowing to Feeney. So despite Bhathal getting more first preference votes than Feeney, she has trailed since the night by around 1.5%. I watched the count with sadness, reloading the AEC page over and over hoping that somehow the lead would change. At the time of writing, the seat still hasn’t been declared, but the ALP has held on.

Why do I care so much? I have an instinctive dislike for Feeney. He’s not a good nor representative local member – indeed he is not even local. His elevation to the seat was not a transparent nor democratic. If it was it’s likely Mary-Anne Thomas would have gotten the nomination. And she’d have been a popular member. But no. He represents what is wrong with the ALP and with politics in general. The machine has spoken.

And once again the Greens, a party who regularly poll 10 to 12% of the vote across the nation, are left with but one seat in the lower house, and not, say, the fifteen they would expect from that level of support. And for another three years there will only be a tiny number of voices in Canberra railing against the offshore detention of children. I despair of our leaders and our representatives, and the callous nation we have become.

Further Thoughts About Election Day

I’ve recalled a few more conversations and events from election day. On top of those I documented a few days back.

While I was handing out how-to-vote cards at a booth I’ve now discovered was called North Reservoir, we were approached by a woman with a very confusing question. She asked me and my fellow Green what would happen if she voted Green and Alex Bhathal was elected – would it still be a Labor seat? For a moment we had no idea what she meant, did she mean that if there was a hung parliament that the Greens would side with Labor to form government? After a few minutes discussion it turned out that she didn’t understand that one electorate has one member who can be defeated by another candidate at the election, from a different political party. After we explained she was most relived, took a flier and went and voted.

I’ve never thought our system of democracy here in Australia was particularly complicated. The nation is divided into seats, each of which is represented by one member in parliament. Every three years or so an election is held, you number some boxes on a green piece of paper, eat a sausage, and the votes are tallied. The candidate with the most votes wins, and represents the people of their seat and their party in parliament. I’m going to suggest to the AEC that they do some kind of refresher course, a broadcast perhaps, just so every knows the basics.

I’ve also recalled more of the conversation I had with that revolting woman from the Australian Christians. We were arguing the merits of the Safe Schools program, which at heart is designed to reduce the bullying of LGBTI teens. I said “You know gay and lesbian teens have one of the highest levels of suicide?”. She ignored me. On the subject of same-sex marriage, I said “You’re effectively denigrating the relationships of some of my good friends.” This also had no impact. In retrospect I should have told her that I am a known donor for two lesbian couples – that would have sent her into a lather. Her arguments all boiled down to a veiled homophobia and a very very traditional view of the nuclear family.

As I said, I felt sad for my cross-dressing, queer, lesbian and gay friends. When it’s getting so people are afraid to show affection to their same-sex partners in public, it makes me feel like intolerance is in the ascendancy. Everywhere should be a safe place. Every school should be safe.

I’m an atheist, but I’m relatively certain that Christianity claims to be a peaceful and inclusive religion, where people are taught not to judge. I might be an atheist, but sometimes I’m a better christian than those who profess the faith. A better christian than those who organise a political party with the sole aim of imposing their beliefs on everyone.

In the past I’ve retained people in my circle who are more to the right of the political spectrum than me. I know where I stand, and I felt the need to hear other points of view, to hear what they other side was thinking. But I was disappointed. To a man, and indeed woman, these people I tried to interact with turned out to be unpleasant and reactionary. Someone would post an anti-Islam picture on Facebook, and I would try and explain why I thought it was wrong. My arguments fell on deaf ears. Islam is bad, that is it, like this was some kind of fact of nature. I had folks from the right making snide and rude remarks when Joan Kirner – a lovely woman I met briefly once – passed away last year. They didn’t say “Oh how sad”, rather there was mocking of her polka-dot dresses. I disliked Fraser, despite his attempts later in life to resurrect his image. Or, it would seem, he stayed the small-l Liberal he’d always been and the Liberal party lurched to the right. Either way, when he died I was sad. No matter how old and no matter their politics, it’s sad when someone passes. But no such sympathy for Kirner or Gough from these supposed adults I knew. And the pattern repeats itself. I had a heated discussion on Twitter just before the election over asylum seekers. A women who was actively proud of her migrant background was perfectly happy that we are locking up children who had dared to try and enter the country. The hypocrisy was extraordinary, but she couldn’t see it.

I like to think the things I believe are based in fact. I like to think that my beliefs are rational and that I can defend them. And, importantly, if someone can show me clearly that I’m wrong, I’m willing to change. If someone can provided clear evidence that the world is not warming, I’ll change my stance. Trouble is the folks I engage with on this that subject can’t and don’t create a decent argument. All one hears is “are you shouldn’t believe anything you read in that newspaper” or “Ah it’s clearly all a conspiracy”. I once got called a Socialist on Twitter, like that was some kind of insult. I was troubled – I quite readily self-identify as a socialist. Or at least someone who doesn’t have a “I got mine, fuck you” attitude. I like to think there are conservatives out there who can muster an argument and defend their point, but I have yet to meet one.

Meanwhile, at the time of writing, the election counting goes on. Meanwhile the current prime minister is sure he can form some kind of government. The seat I put the most effort into, Batman, still hangs in the balance. And the UK has no government to speak of, and some orange-coloured freak in the United States is making disturbing stabs at the presidency. All the while the planet keeps warming, the reef keeps dying, the children and babies are still in an off-shore prison camp, and people continue to be maimed in Iraq a decade after it was “liberated”. It would be so much easier to not care. To just cover one’s ears and go “La la la”. Or the suburban equivalent, sitting on the couch with a beer watching some kind of competitive cooking show…