Archive for the ‘Conversation’ Category
Originally published in the print version of X-Press Magazine.
To Sur, With Love
Upon Ayr is Australian-born musician Fletcher’s first solo album after years with Bluebottle Kiss, his own band The Devoted Few and a couple of years playing in the backing band for his good friend Sarah Blasko. Signed in the UK to Mike Batt’s Dramatico label, Fletcher speaks to SABIAN WILDE for it’s Australian release.
In Jack Kerouac’s novel Big Sur, the writer is in seclusion in the majestic forests of Big Sur, seeking isolation and time to reflect after the madness following On The Road‘s publication. For Fletcher, the book had a special resonance as he wrote his album, alone amid the forest of people that is London.
“Big Sur is such an intense novel and it really spoke to me,” Fletcher says. “I felt I understood it because it really makes you question what you’re doing; what friends and family mean. A big thing for me on this album is, ‘what is home?’.
“London is amazing if you have contacts, but otherwise it’s just a cold, dark place. I mean, obviously it’s cold, but their music industry can be very cold too, stand-offish,” he says.
“They just don’t have much time for anyone — especially if you’re an Australian singer. It doesn’t matter how big you are back home — they’re like, ‘We’ve got seven of you’.”
Upon Ayr was written and recorded as part of a demoing process, started using using stolen time and facilities in a university dorm that his friend had kept a keycard for after completing his studies.
“There were a couple of hairy moments of sneaking around, hiding from security guards,” Fletcher laughs, “but in retrospect, they probably wouldn’t have cared or known as long as we had the keycard. It was just a funny way of starting to make this record.
“A lot of what you hear on the album is from those three or four nights — just relaxed, first-take vibes. The album as a whole just came about over a year as I kept building on those demos before making a ‘proper’ album.
“I toured with Paul Kelly last year and he kind of blew my mind when he told me he never demos. He writes the song on a piece of paper, takes it into the studio and records the song. He doesn’t go through the act of demoing, which makes sense now, but blew my mind at the time. My brother always demoed before recording, so that’s just how I thought it was done,” he laughs ruefully.
“I always loved my original demos more than the finished products, just a little bit,” he admits. “I didn’t think of Upon Ayr as recording a record so much as just making demos until Sarah Blasko told me, ‘This is totally fine. This is done’.”
In addition to playing in her band, Fletcher says Blasko is one of his best friends, and that the two of them communicated regularly while writing their albums; he in London, she in the UK seaside city of Brighton.
“It’s a cold, dark place there as well,” he laughs. “It’s hardly a beach, it’s horrible, and it has the saddest seagulls anywhere. But it was good to get Sarah in for my record, in particular on this duet called The Simple Life.
“We both moved over to the UK about three years ago and it was kind of a tumultuous time for both of us. You spend a lot of time either touring or head down writing and then you look up and wonder, ‘What am I doing with my life?’
“She was in Brighton and I was in London, so there were a lot of texts back and forth where we were both wondering… Maybe I should just become a teacher? Surely it would be nice to have a simple life? A house? Kids? Suburbs?
“I think artists throughout the ages have both loved and loathed that situation, which is kind of how I played it in the song, casting Sarah and I as a sort of suburban Bonnie and Clyde. I was really glad I was able to sing it with her on this record.”
Fletcher admits that his circle of musical friends and the social aspects of touring provide a form of friends and family, “but only to a point”.
Here, Fletcher moves to another literary giant, author of You Can’t Go Home Again (1940), Thomas Wolfe – not to be confused with Tom Wolfe (Bonfire of the Vanities, Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test).
“There’s a song called Open Up which is influenced by You Can’t Go Home Again,” Fletcher says. I really felt like I was becoming the book’s main character, Eugene Gant, who was essentially Wolfe. Especially when I come back to Australia and realise people are moving on with their lives. Things happen in your absence and it’s not the same.
“The death of relationships always freaks me out,” he considers. “Friends of mine had been dating for twenty years and then one day, the guy wakes up and says he feels like he’s sleeping next to a stranger. That sounds like a horror movie to me.”
True to it’s story-telling form, Upon Ayr features a song titled Strangers Sleeping in the Same Bed.
“The death throes of relationships, even though we all go through it and we all come out the other end; when you’re in it you can’t believe it’s happening, you feel like you’re on another planet. But there’s a great feeling when you realise you can never really run out of love.
“It’s a very romantic notion to think that your heart has been broken into pieces, but I think there’s an inextinguishable light, that never goes out — until obviously you die,” he laughs. “But even when you’re heartbroken, [love] doesn’t run out. It’s not a battery, and that’s kind of nice, I suppose.”
At this point, we return to the loving/loathing of deceptively simple concepts such as the heart and home. Fletcher agrees that artists sort of add to this contradiction by writing songs of isolation and loneliness that inexplicably comfort the listener, reminding them that loneliness is itself a shared part of the human experience.
“That’s definitely how I feel, but it’s hard to explain to your mum or your sister who think that you’re going crazy and want to kill yourself,” he laughs. “Leonard Cohen has some of the most deeply troubling and depressing themes, but obviously, we love it. That is some hardcore shit.
“Robert Smith is always ‘woe is me’ and black eyeliner and shit, and I loved that too… I always used to tell people I was the only ginger goth in Bondi. Then I realised that even goths hate gingers,” he laughs warmly.
And there it is again; that recognition that even in the home he sometimes longs for, he began as an outsider.
“It’s a mystery to us… the simple life,” he says happily. “Something that pulls us towards it even though we feel we can never have it. London could be my Big Sur. Kerouac was mostly homesick for alcohol and parties, missing all the things that were killing him, so I guess you can be homesick for different things and different reasons, but it feels the same.”
Did you know that you can mark a blog entry ‘private’ so that only you, the author, can read it?
I’m telling you this so you’ll know there are things you don’t (and quite possibly can’t) know.
Also, there’s the off-chance one of the C4Biz Marketeers might be checking up on me, so here’s a few tips. For them. If you’re not them, just come along for the ride…
If you write often, you’ll (probably) write better.
(Yes, I saw that too!)
I’m a big fan of writing often (despite the frequency of public/published posts on this blog).
I’m sure there are people out there who believe bloggers are usually just shouting fervent, self-important declarations into/at the void, but this will not always be the case… especially not in mine.*
Writing isn’t always about “committing” thoughts to paper.
Writing can be a process in which a subject/concept can be teased and tested, questioned and quartered – but there is also a simultaneous internal audit taking place for the writer; all the nebulous thoughts, feelings (biases?) that inspired the desire to write must be corralled into some sort of order before we can begin.
Do this enough, and you may end up appreciate writing as a process, rather than the means by which we make statements.
I like to believe a writer that attempts to understand their own place in the world will be better able to articulate a meaningful position on the subject.
It’s all just triangulation really, innit?
Having made a short story long – editors hate that – I’d encourage anyone, even my Marketeers, to try some ‘invisible’ blogging.
Seriously:it’ going to be huge.
Invisibloggers© will be the new “hipsters”, and I should know; I’ve been doing it since before this batch of hipsters had even been born.
Don’t write to commit your thoughts to paper;
Write to find thoughts worth committing to.
* Cool! You totally noticed that asterisk way back there which indicated… well… not so much an ‘edit’, as musch as an acknowledgement that sometimes I get i:the way of my own flow.
“I’m sure that there are people out there who believe that bloggers are simply shouting fervent declarations into the void, but this will not always be the case… especially not in mine.
Except for those times when I clearly have the right of a situation and none of you do.
Yes, it happens – and it’s not my fault that it happen so very, very frequently. Those times when we are all of us trapped together in a House of Mirrors (not literally) – a state of existence in which Life begins to imitate Comedy (which itself started by caricaturing Life)… endlessly reflecting….
Until I prove definitively that Society is indeed to Blame, only to be reminded by all of you both ironically and definitively that I’m NOT observing Society from some abstract ‘other’ state and thus I too, must acknowledge my complicit involvement; must bear my share of the Blame.
Now, where was I? Oh yes…
Writing isn’t necessarily “committing” your thoughts to paper.
I recently had the privilege of speaking to Li Cunxin, writer of Mao’s Last Dancer and Jan Sardi, the Australian screenwriter who adapted it for the screen.
It was the kind of interview that you need to have once in a while, to remind you why you do what you do.
The interview was conducted on behalf of (Cool) Shite on the Tube, courtesy of the very good folk who represent Roadshow in WA.
This is a great, primarily Australian production (directed by Bruce Beresford, produced by Jane Scott and written by Sardi) that places Australia’s artistic and technical talent as the foundation of a compellingly told international story.
Robert Connolly is fast becoming an important figure in Australian cinema, both as a producer and a director. In 2001 he received a Centenary Medal (marking 100 years since Federation) for services to the Australian Film Industry, just four years since the debut of his first feature film as a producer, The Boys.
As a director, he has released The Bank and Three Dollars (both starring David Wenham) and his latest feature Balibo, which tells the story of the invasion of East Timor by Indonesia in 1975 through the lives and deaths of six members of the Australian media – a story that flatly contradicts the official version of events that has been maintained by the governments of Indonesia and Australia for more than thirty years.
First of all, congratulations on Balibo, it’s an amazing piece of work. How did you find out about the story and what drove you to bring it to the screen?
I found out about it back when I was 26 from Tony Maniaty, who was the ABC journalist in the film. Tony wrote the short film that launched my career, Mr Ikegami’s Flight. He was on a literary board attachment at the AFTRS where I was studying and he told me the story – I couldn’t believe it – then of what had happened to him when he was much younger.
But I didn’t pursue it as a film until many years later, when Anthony La Paglia brought me Jill Joliffe’s book Cover-Up. Anthony and I had been looking for something to do together after The Bank, and I guess initially it began a journey of wanting to tell the story of the Balibo Five, but then ultimately, by going to East Timor and getting to know that country and the experience of being there, falling in love with the country and wanting to tell the story of the tragedy that befell East Timor as well.
I think it’s a journey that parallels the way a lot of Australians find out about East Timor through the Balibo Five, and then learn more about what happened to that country.
There’s a scene in the film in which a young José Ramos-Horta [now President of Timor-Leste] and Roger East [veteran Australian journalist] have a fight about whether the Australian media cared about the plight of the Timorese and East replies, “Yes, I do care about those people, but my readers don’t”… Obviously, Horta knew that the journalist’s experience would raise awareness of his people’s position, but it does raise questions: If Horta is one of the central figures in the story of the Balibo Five, why hasn’t the story been told until now? It’s not as if he’s been quiet for the last thirty years.
I wanted to show that aspect – as a politician early in his career, he knew the value the journalists would have in telling the story. This was late in 1975, and we know that one of the reasons Vietnam came to an end in early 1975 was because journalists got footage out, which turned public opinion against the war.
This would have been very much in Ramos-Horta’s mind; this idea that these journalists could help his nation’s cause. I think the ideals of the politician that he was to become isn’t quite evident, in that there are times when you’re not sure of his motivation, but I think it does become clear that his motivation is to save his nation at whatever cost.
That’s why that scene with him and Anthony [LaPaglia, Roger East] fighting is really interesting – I think Australians have to ask, ‘Would we have cared as much about East Timor and helped it become independent in 1999 if five Australian-based guys hadn’t been killed there in ’75 and the story hadn’t stayed alive in our national story as a result’?
It’s interesting to look back at that time and see what has changed and what has stayed the same. The rivalry between Nine and Seven – it’s not until the Timorese ask them why the invasion is happening that they realise that the imperative has changed from the ‘news imperative’ of being first to the ‘journalistic imperative’ of telling the truth…
That’s why in the morning, you see them sharing and hiding footage together for the first time. In my mind, that’s when they became the Balibo Five; when they woke up that morning, and it didn’t matter what network they were from because the story had become bigger than any of their own personal ambitions or rivalries. They became a collection of Australian-based guys who found themselves in a point in history with the possibility of documenting this invasion.
East’s character was introduced after you’d already decided to do the film, but apart from the gravitas La Paglia has, I think there’s a real advantage to the story in having the older journalist included… just in terms of how young, and how little the Five knew. That point at which it goes from gung-ho to the point where they realize its not a game, and they’ve lost – so badly.
I think the age issue in the film is really important. When I was casting the young men, I tried to find actors of similar ages. Often you have stars in their thirties who can play people in their twenties, that’s the tradition. I wanted people to watch the film and think, ‘God! They were so young!’ Also, it highlights the contrast between the young journalists and Roger East, who was 52. I think the age was very important to the telling of the story.
With The Bank, you created a carefully constructed suspense thriller, and an intense character study with Three Dollars; when you’re attempting to tell a ‘true story’ such as Balibo, you obviously have to serve the narrative in a different kind of way…
It’s like an evolution through my work, trying to move away, actually, from the sort of storytelling I was doing with The Bank. It’s interesting being here, with that homeless thing [ABC 720 Drop Your Jocks] that’s happening in the malls. In Three Dollars, the scenes in the homeless refuge was the beginning of me thinking about a whole way of working with non-actors. The whole philosophy is to observe the drama with the camera, rather than construct the drama.
We set up the drama with real people in real places, and put our actors in that situation and then observe them with the camera; we get a sort of visceral authenticity from that. Part of that was taking the actors to East Timor and to Balibo, in an attempt to get them emotionally into that headspace.
The production notes say you had access to Balibo Five journalist Greg Shackleton’s East Timor diaries – how did they get unearthed?
The Indonesian Government handed over a whole heap of personal belonging to the Australian Government after their death, including a box of bones which were buried in Jakarta. That’s how the diaries got back… and they’re really comprehensive. Damon Gameau used it as a guide to his character. It was an incredible resource to have, those diaries and some of the letters that the men sent back.
Because they’re so young when they die, I’d already started thinking of Breaker Morant – it has that kind of ‘shoot straight you bastards’ emotional depth, even though there’s no dialogue in that scene… and then you surpass it with the death of Roger East … You’ve created an incredible moment in Australian cinema.
It was a very particular choice in the death of the five men not to use slow motion, not to use any of those cinematic techniques; it’s just a brutal, observational thing. I didn’t know if it would work when we were doing it – the danger is that its in the film, and if you just have brutal, simple coverage of it, does it just dissipate the tension? The Hollywood thing to do is to ramp up the tension, slo-mo of knives going in and out. But the observational style did work, although I wasn’t sure until the edit.
You’ve chosen to tell a true, untold story, which means you have a strong obligation to keep to the facts wherever possible… but in the climax, I have to ask; was East really separated from everyone else when he was murdered on the pier?
Well, they had a kind of process line on the pier, killing hundreds and hundreds of people. They liked to shoot people in the back of the head, but he refused, he looked them in the face and they pushed him up against the pier, and he just refused. There were guards telling him to turn around, but in the edit, it seemed to work better to stay on him screaming ‘no’ and witnessing the horror that was happening to the East Timorese.
There were lots of witnesses to his murder. That’s the only thing that two Australian Government enquiries have confirmed – there’s no doubt that he was murdered on that pier.
The film weaves three timelines together, two of which are just weeks apart. In a sense, it kind of maintains the ambiguity of Ramos-Horta’s motivations as you discover he’s been involved with all of the journalists… Has Ramos-Horta seen the film?
Yes, he came to the Melbourne Film Festival opening and I sat next to him. He was very affected by it and he got up on stage and made this amazing speech. He said, ‘this film makes me feel the great tragedy of the atrocities post WWII’; he spoke of the film in terms of the greater question of how it is that human beings can do this to each other. It was such a moving speech, he talked off-the-cuff for twenty minutes and everyone was silent… it was very moving. He’s been so supportive, and it was great to have him up on stage with the families of the Five – it was incredible.
It’s an Australian story, but one would think it would be very significant to the Timorese as well… the production of Balibo was structured to provide additional support to the Timorese so that they can tell their own stories. How did that work?
Yes, we have a shared history… there were a layer of trainees throughout the production. I had a trainee Timorese director, and every department had a Timorese trainee. Part of our process was to make sure that when we left, there would be a team able to keep making film. I believe there’s a television series they’re going to make up there. It would be wonderful to see them going forward, but it was also incredibly helpful to us. My trainee director knew the people, spoke the language and was able to advise us on cultural issues I may not understand, or wouldn’t have even known without him.
How has this story not been told?
It’s staggering, really. Gallipoli took 70 years to make – Breaker Morant took 90… this is 34 years, which I guess you could consider to be quick. But why has it taken so long? That’s an interesting question. But I don’t know the answer.
You’ve received funding from the Australian Film Commission for Balibo, so you’re receiving funds from a Government to tell a story that they still deny or do not acknowledge?
We’ll wait and see what happens this year… The coroner has made findings that the Five were murdered. Those findings have gone to the Attorney-General and are now with the Australian Federal Police. The Australian Government is going to have to make at least a decision on whether they accept the findings of the coroner that they were murdered.
And they clearly were – the coroner was very rigorous in her findings. With our legal system, it’s very rarely – if ever – that a Government would stand up and have a conflict of view with the coroner… that’s not how it works. That’s going to happen in the next month or so, so we’ll soon see.
You’ve worked on this project for a long time, but it sounds like that the release of this film is in some sense the beginning, that the film will play a role in helping the story resolve itself.
I hope so. I hope it plays a role in telling the truth – a lot of people don’t know what happened there. I’m hoping this will be a chance to see the truth of what happened.
Just as a matter of trivia – The Boys was 98, and you won an award for your contribution to Australian cinema in 2002… that’s pretty quick!
[laughs] Well, I’m still contributing.
WEAVING AT THE WHEEL – In Conversation with Hugo Weaving for Last Ride.
For fans of Australian cinema, the rise of Hugo Weaving has been bittersweet; of course we’re happy for his success, but by and large Hollywood doesn’t make the sort of films that he excels in, and he knows it.
Outside the multiplexes where he can be heard gleefully killing Optimus Prime, Weaving brings a totally different kind of evil to life in the Australian film, Last Ride, opening this week.
“I live here and I want to live here – and I want to work with people over here,” Weaving says quietly and passionately.
As a formidable actor more than a decade of experience before he played Agent Smith in the Matrix series, Weaving is a great catch for any first-time director, but he’s an actor who is driven by challenge, rather than the opportunities of his new-found status as a ‘star’.
“Sometimes you might be offered something for the wrong reason. I think you have to be mindful of that, that you’re being asked for the right reasons… that someone really wants to work with you because of what you’ve done, rather than what you might represent to the production,” he says.
“I try to choose material I think is challenging for me, that I respond to on a gut level and work with people I genuinely respect and admire and am interested by – those are my criteria.”
Superficially, Last Ride is the story of small-minded, small-time crook, Kev (Weaving), who takes his 10 year old son ‘Chook’ (Tom Russell) on an unscheduled trip to the Flinders Ranges, trying to avoid the consequences of his crimes.
As a lead character, Kev is almost beyond flawed, with virtually no redeeming features, other than a love of his son, but even that supposedly ‘natural’ human response is overwhelmed by poor impulse control and a violent temper.
Given that Weaving is a man of keen intelligence and sensitivity, Kev is in some sense the anti-Hugo.
“The whole idea of intelligence was a really interesting one for this film,” Weaving says. “What kind of intelligence does Kev have? He’s a survivor to some extent – but there’s something about him… He’s his own worst enemy and self-destructing – but there’s a certain intelligence in him, which I found fascinating. You have to kind of measure his brain in a completely different way.”
In preparing for the shoot, Ivin had conducted interviews with a variety of Australian ‘characters’, the sort that you’d normally find alone in a pub, channelling their rage into the bottom of a middy. Weaving says these tapes were enormously useful as tool for working his way into Kev, and reaching a point where his violence, cruelty and “different way” brain made sense internally.
“You spend time with someone like that and hopefully, those sounds and inflections come through by osmosis if you like… rather than a conscious or technical decisions,” Weaving says.
“I never want to be in a situation when I’m judging a character, because then I can’t understand them or empathise with them. But at the same time… he’s the sort of man that if I met, I would be scared of him and want to walk away. So I understand that he’s a scary character, but I always had sympathy for his plight and situation.”
While talking to Weaving, it’s clear that he’s a man who is serious about acting as a skill, one that he continues to develop at a time when he could easily just put on the pointy ears and the dress, pontificate in Middle Earth for a bit and wait for the cheque to clear. With Last Ride, it’s clear he relishes the opportunity to do contemplative and hard-driven character work of a kind not normally associated with the box-office ‘smashes’ he’s been doing lately.
“Well, that’s true, by and large… but not always,” he laughs gently. “The sort of work I’d do for Last Ride is much more complex, I suppose, and therefore more rewarding. It’s not always the way, but generally that’s true.”
At its heart, Last Ride is a father and son story that explores the kinds of cruelty that can only take place in a relationship that is bound by unconditional love. Weaving’s on-screen son ‘Chook’ is performed by Tom Russell – chosen by director Glendyn Ivin specifically for his natural and unaffected approach to acting.
“He’s delightful,” Weaving says. “Just spending time with him, because he’s a lovely kid. But it was challenging as well, because he is an actor, but on the other hand, he has a very different experience of what being an actor is, and what the process is.
“I was obliged to swing with him, because he just wasn’t interested in talking ad nauseum the way I am, about the process, or the way I might do with an actor who’s had a similar experience as I had… so I just couldn’t go there,” he laughs.
“We did talk about the characters in a very minimal way – it was more to do with just hanging out with him – establishing a kind of easy and friendly relationship. That’s something that just sort of happened, so that side of it was pretty great.”
In another sense, Weaving’s co-star is the South Australian outback, as the father and son head into the bleak, unforgiving and yet sometimes stark beauty of the Flinders Ranges, which Weaving says reflects his character’s inner conflict.
“I think all films need to have a sense of identity, even if thematically, they speak to a broader audience or have universal themes – and I think Last Ride does – it could have been made anywhere in the world, really, but it’s in a very specific part of Australia, with very particular Australian types and characters, with specific and unique complexities,” he says.
“To me the film has a very strong sense of being ‘of’ this country – and yet, it does have broader resonances. I think that makes for a very powerful experience and certainly for people seeing it overseas. It’s actually what they’re interested in (from Australian film), seeing the difference between their culture and ours.
“For us, it’s a much better reflection of who we are…”
But is it really? The predominance of outback settings in Australian film is overwhelming, especially given that about 90% of Australians live in cities and hardly anyone lives in the areas that get the screen-time, because in modern terms they’re uninhabitable.
“It’s a vast country we live in, absolutely vast, and we are an urbanised society, living on the fringes of this continent. I think there’s a great mystery in that vastness, that sits in the heart of our physical environment. That’s somehow a great place for all sorts of things, whether it’s spirituality, fear or to do with loneliness… or a mixture of all of those things.”
Don’t leave me hanging
No chance of happy endings
Imagine the scene
The death of David Carradine
Was he trying to rub one out or tie one on?
Either way, it all went wrong
Grasshopper has come and gone
But then again, maybe he’s just gone
Now here’s a random thought;
The French call orgasm ‘la petite mort’
In English that means ‘little death’
Try telling that to Michael Hutchence
Carradine was not the first
But at 72, it seems a little worse
Nothing like the humiliation
Of death by auto-erotic asphyxiation
Except for trying to tell your Mum what it is and how it works
While watching your nephew celebrate the two years since his birth
Happy 2nd Birthday Maxie!
There’s a time and place for everything
A hotel wardrobe was the place for Carradine
His hourglass is out of and
And that’s not a pebble in his hand
At least he’s out of the closet now
And on the internet – he would have been proud
Celebrity ain’t that much fun
When your private life comes undone