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…

Election Day was a depressing experience

For political junkies like myself, election day is supposed to be something of a highlight. Actually living through a very long election campaign when you’ve made up your mind some years ago how you’re going to vote is not that much of a spectator sport. I just wanted it to end and for there to be a result – hopefully one that I liked.

But the actual process on election day was depressing, not just because I missed out entirely on a Democracy Sausage. For the first time ever I was handing out how-to-vote cards for a party other than the ALP. Following my decision to leave the party after more than twenty years as a member, I threw my lot in with the Greens. Particularly in the seat of Batman because of a particular dislike of the sitting member, David Feeney, a waste of oxygen from the ALP who was gifted the seat after being dumped from the senate. And a particular liking for for Greens candidate Alex Bhathal.

I was also roped into helping in the seat of Scullin, where I now live. And which is a very safe Labor seat. So for three hours in the afternoon I was handing out how to vote cards at a high school in Lalor. On the plus side, it was a fantastically diverse group of people there voting – I handed fliers to Kooris, folks of African extraction, retired migrants of a Mediterranean background, women in Hijabs, including a large number of feisty young woman, and a few in Niqabs. Lots of folks coming from works in the paint-cover clothes.

But then there was a fair percentage of folks who were completely confused by the whole process. Some were first time voters, tall teens who had never done this before. But a fair number were just perplexed, and were asking us, the how-to-vote folks how to fill in the ballot papers. I’ve always thought the voting process here in Australia was relatively straightforward, consistent between elections and explained a fair bit. But apparently not… We found ourselves explaining the two ballot papers, about how you had to number all the boxes on the green ballot, and who all the parties were. People were saying they’d only ever heard of Labor and Liberal, and were perplexed by all the other parties. I’m not sure what the percentage of informal votes where at the booth, but I suspect it was quite high. Which makes me sad that some folks didn’t get to express their preference.

The more depressing event was the two other how-to-vote folks there whom I ended up having a conversation with. The first was a chap from the ALP, who quite readily told me he was a member of the Labor right. The thing that impressed him the most while we were there was a Mercedes that pulled up. He was telling me how much it was worth. A lot, it would seem, the kind of money I would use if I had to have, say, half a dozen sponsor children.

Then I got into a heated discussion with a women from something called the Australian Christian Party. Her sole concern was her strenuous opposition to the Safe Schools Program. She told me an extraordinary stream of misunderstandings and lies about same-sex couples in general and the Safe Schools program. According to her one of the main creators of the program was a pedophile enabler. I asked her what on earth she was talking about, and she quoted me something from a paper this person had published. To me it sounded like the gist was “Teenagers who are same sex attracted, queer etc. need same-sex adult role models” – a perfectly obvious thing to say. But no, according to this mob that meant they were meant to sleep with adults. Other aspects of the program that made her angry: Role playing as Gay or Lesbians as a learning experience – this was teaching kids it was normal to be that way and no doubt converting them. That being LGBTI was being normalised, while claiming at the same time that there was nothing wrong with being gay so long as she could prevent anyone under twenty from ever hearing about it ever. Because of course no teen has ever been bullied for being out.

As you can imagine, she was vehemently opposed to same-sex marriage. Because, I kid you now, marriage is defined by god and science! She could not explain what that meant. I told that she was denigrating the relationships of some of my good friends, and that marriage was a social construct – which she didn’t understand.

And then the guy from the ALP chipped in that he too opposed same-sex marriage. Apparently all the religions he was familiar with opposed it. Which I would have disputed but I run out of breath and time. It seems words in a two thousand year old book, and indeed a 1300 year old book hold more import than the diversity of the modern world. Here I was reminded again why I left that political party… Which was confirmed firmly when I discovered they’d preferenced Derryn Hinch in the senate!!

I thought of my friends who are in same-sex relationships, or who a cross-dressing or indeed just not gender-bound. And I felt sorry for them, if this is the kind of frankly irrational opposition they face. I don’t have a problem with people being conservative, but I have a strong objection to people holding completely incoherent views that have no solid basis. I’m going to teach my kid how normal this stuff is in a fairly simple way – in fact I largely won’t need to, since he’ll be surrounded by gay and lesbian couples.

I upped sticks from that booth and headed over to a primary school in the seat of Batman. Happily the mood was different there. I stayed after the polls closed to scrutineer. In this seat the contest was been the Green, my candidate, Alex, the ALP and in distant third at Liberal candidate. There as a total of eleven candidates, but in the booth I was at some of them attracted all of eight to twenty five votes each.

They sort the lower house ballots into piles by first preference votes. There was three notably piles – ALP, Green and Liberal. And one other pile of note – the informal votes. This grew depressingly large. I watched the ballots that went into that pile. A number of them were people who clearly didn’t give a stuff, they’d left the ballot blank or crossed the whole thing out. But a large number of them really had tried, but they’d messed it up. Putting a tick or a cross in one box. Numbering only six of the eleven boxes, probably confused by the new Senate voting rules. The informal pile grew till it numbered nearly 10% of the total votes cast. Which depressed the hell out of me. Batman is likely to be decided by a margin of less than 1%, and here was a huge number of people who wanted to vote a certain way and failed.

The next step of the process is to distribute preferences. The three piles were roughly 1000 votes for the ALP, 450 for the Greens and 415 for the Liberals. The Libs were distributed between Green and ALP, because across the whole seat the contest would be between the other two parties. And so I got to watch still more votes head towards the ALP… The Liberal how to vote card had preferenced the ALP tenth and the Greens eleventh. So some 70% of them went in the ALP pile. There I was watching a party I intensely dislike deliberately sabotaging the chances of a party they intensely dislike. I know it’s not sabotage but it certainly felt that they hated the Greens more than they hated their traditional rivals the ALP.

I eventually headed home, despondent, and watched the results come in on ABC. And here I was bummed out yet again. I’ve spent that last three years watching in horror as the conservative government in Canberra has demonized minorities for their own gain, in the process enabling a number of racists to rear their ugly heads. And trying to destroy fabled institutions like Medicare and the ABC and the union movement, repealing working carbon reduction legislation, lying about their being a refugee crisis, nobbling the NBN and… Well, it felt to me like every day there was something new they were doing to get angry about. And here they were on election night in with a fighting chance. Rather than being dumped out office by an outraged nation, there they were sitting almost neck-and-neck with the opposition. Rather than having a prime minster having to make a humiliating speech of defeat, we had smug blue-tie wearing Liberals saying they were hoping to form government again in a few days. I’m not sure what the combination of rage and despair is called but that is what I felt. And to find that the senate is going to be worse than the last term. Pauline Hansen, the prototype racist nutjob is back. Derryn Hinch, a loud angry white man may be in there. Jackie Lambie will be back possibly with a friend. The next three years are going to be grotesque.

I had a fitful nights sleep. I’m going to be spending the next few days refreshing the AEC’s website for results.

If Abbott and the Coalition Win The Election, We’ll Need to March in the Streets

My minimal following of the election campaign – which occurs largely by accident since I turned off the radio and stopped visiting the news websites – suggests that a certain Tony Abbott might well become prime minister in a few weeks.

I can’t tell you how unhappy this makes me. The level of bullshit that man, in cooperation with the news limited papers, has gotten away with is astonishing. Claiming hat the Australian economy is in dire straits, when in fact it is the envy of the world. That we are inundated with “illegal” boat people, when the numbers are actually quite small, and nothing compared to the 1.5 million refugees who have fled Syrian into neighbouring countries in just the last two years. That the country has unsustainable debt when in fact we have one of the lowest government debt to GDP ratios of any country in the world.

I could go on, but I begin to froth with rage, and wonder out loud how it is this can perpetuated. Facts, it seems, have become completely irrelevant.

If that arch conservative and his creepy cronies and advisers get the keys to the government, here are some predictions about what we will be in for. Hopefully, at best, they will prove an incompetent and incapable administration that tries and fails to implement any of their terrible policy ideas. It would not surprise me if Abbott barely lasts two years as prime minister before his blundering causes his party to knife him. Or one of several impending court actions makes his position “untenable” as they say. This, people is the best case scenario.

At worst, well, I’ll meet you on the streets to protest the following:

The return of Work Choices, and other attacks on workers rights, pay, conditions. And indeed organised labour.

Climate Change, which apparently doesn’t exist. Tell that to the polar bears.

The East West Link. A dumber piece of infrastructure would be hard to imagine. It’ll cost $1 million per metre, and even the toll road operators don’t want anything to do with it.

Abortion and Women’s Rights in general. Mr Abbott has been known to say that abortion is “the easy way out”. Trust me, he’ll be trying to legislate about women’s reproductive rights.

Gay and Lesbian Rights. You filthy queers will be feeling god’s wrath.

Who knows, he’s even made noises about change the laws around divorce, like that’s a battle that wasn’t fought and won some 30 years ago. We can also probably look forward to a wholesale importation of the War on Women currently taking place in the USA.

If you listen carefully you can hear the aging white men in their suits salivating at the prospect of telling us all what to do, building some fancy new roads to make a buck or two, and getting put all them vagina owners in their place.

In the words of Le Tigre “Get off the internet, I’ll see you in the streets.”

This is Not a Blog

This is not a pipe
“This is not a pipe” – René Magritte, 1928

“The Beatles were just content providers” – Doonesbury.

This is not a blog.

This is a website that uses common blogging software as a way of managing content.

This is a just a site, in the old fashioned sense. The web has seen more than enough blogs, millions upon millions being created every day. The have evolved from their original purpose – a kind of web diary – into something that purports to be more. However, aside from blogs written by actual journalists, most of them can only be opinion pieces. Millions of opinion pieces.

Blogs entries often also take the form of “Check out this cool thing I saw on another site”, which almost has the effect of making the web a self-referential closed system.

I will endeavor to avoid both these extremes, and will infrequently post “check out this cool thing” and “Another episode from my life” type of entries. I have another, personal blog on one of the major blogging sites for that, and that mostly because I have formed a small community of people on it. Most of whom I knew offline already. I’m also using it as a kind of externalised memory. This is an outlet for my more serious writing.

And my only real source for “look what I found” posts are sites that you could just as easily browse yourself. Such as slashdot, digg, b3ta, and so forth. See post to follow.

And here are too many blogs out there already anyway. I tried to demonstrate as much early in 2004 when I created the entirely fictitious “Goatboy Diaries”. The life and times of a poor wage slave in a cubicle somewhere. Ok, so that part is true.

Yes folks, I intend to create Original Content.

Having said that, I can’t pretend that I am a writer or journalist. Like 99% of people online, I rarely have access to original sources, nor do I have the backing of a large organisition with the ability to do research. This is what distinguishes most efforts from actual news organizations. I do have access to a very small number of People of Interest and News Worthy events, which I will exploit and publish here. Even if I have to generate news myself through my efforts as an activist.

My interests are diverse, and in some way’s counter to each other. For example, the last five magazines I acquired where Flight International, the New Yorker, Viz comics, New Scientist and Time magazine. I also regularly read Adbusters and other journals of that ilk. More on these later.

Self published sites like this are necessarily promoting a (hopefully unique) point of view. I will let you guess what my political leanings are through the content I create. I am a member – just – of one of the major political parties here in Australia, but out on one edge with a love-hate thing going on. I suspect this is the case for all free thinkers attempting to graft themselves onto a larger, more cumbersome organization.

Another thing that differentiates a blog from serious journalism is the used of the personal pronoun, the inclusion of the reporter into the story. You will see the words “I” and “me” and “myself” on this site frequently. I could pretend I’m channeling Hunter Thompson, who was frequently the story himself, but no – I just never went through a course or cadetship to learn the pyramid story structure or the exclusion of self from the narrative.

I will publish here as frequently as the muse and my time allows me – which may not be often, I am after all employed full time and have many other things on my plate.

And finally, a few guidelines on the site itself. I used WordPress software simply because I’m familiar with it. And a slightly tweaked version of a template because I don’t know enough PHP to create my own. If I had the time I’d learn how to use joomla but for my purposes, this setup is sufficient. I will by default place most links at the end of an entry, rather than breaking up the flow with highlighted blue text. I find that when reading webpages I read a few sentences then jump off to the links as soon as I see them, one of the downfalls of Tim Berners-Lee’s little invention here, and my short attention span. Also, there are no ads on this site, and so it will remain until the unlikely day that I can’t afford my web hosting due to the number of hits I get.

And finally I am verbose. As you can see. Get used to it.