Archive for the ‘Journalism’ 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.”
First published in X-Press Magazine
CAPITALISM: A Love Story
Directed by Michael Moore
Starring: You, Me… Everybody, Everybody.
Few people could say there’s no need for a hard-hitting documentary providing insight into the people, institutions and circumstances that combined in what is now known as the GFC. Capitalism: A Love Story has already grossed over US$13.6M at the box office, and that doco still needs to be made.
It’s been said before, but in light of the latest promotional chutzpah Moore has been spraying through Australian media channels in the last week, perhaps once more is appropriate; Michael Moore is the Johnny Knoxville of socialist (or humanist) film-making.
Moore has said he ‘tricked’ his studio backers by saying he was making a sequel to Fahrenheit 9/11, then using their money to make his story on the GFC. Well, it wasn’t much of a trick – Moore’s shockumentary tactics are now so well-established that future films may well use roman numerals for titles.
Importantly, given that the GFC has been the subject of more media scrutiny, financial analysis, vox pops, international policy etc – than any other event or phenomenon since 9/11, the truth is that there is very little or new or surprising in Capitalism… it’s Michael Moore weighing in with his two cents.
As a documentary film, Capitalism isn’t exactly a taut, well-executed argument. There are sympathetic vignettes about the real struggles faced by various communities; inspirational stories of solidarity; alternate business models that empower all participants – but nothing much that hangs them together other than Moore himself.
The first half of the film is designed to connect with audiences the important idea that the economy is not an abstract entity, but the sum of the endeavour of the majority, under the control of a select few. The failure of the system – incrementally, over decades – has a social cost, and Moore succeeds in putting ‘human faces’ to the flood of red numbers on Wall St stock tickers.
The second half of the film is, in theory, Moore’s attempt to explain the global financial crisis, and some of the self-interested parties that either (a) caused it and/or (b) found a way to profit at the public’s expense from the collapse of the free market – or ‘life as we know it’, if you’re one of those evil Republicans or their Wall St cronies/overlords (depending on how you look at it).
Moore’s attempt to explain the sub-prime market is no attempt at all — just a pretext to rail against the complexity of a scam that has been perpetrated on the American people (and countries like Australia that invest in their financial instruments and institutions) – incidentally, there’s an interesting take on it that most people can understand here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=EsA9lR2XB3A.
Moore requires the bad guys to be bad, so he can be the white knight storming the gates. He names names, points the finger and then films himself being refused entry to a number of buildings. Rinse, lather, repeat.
Where Moore does succeed, is in his look back on recent US history – in reminding the audience of Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ and the proposed Second Bill of Rights, of the importance of the collective will to improve life for all – in short, the promise which America made to itself, and then sold… and then hope, again, with Obama.
In Michael Moore’s latest film, we learn ‘Greed is Bad’, OK? Sure Oliver Stone made the phrase ‘Greed is good’ famous 21 years ago in Wall Street, but apparently the ironic overtones were lost on some people and now we all have to pay.
There’s a saying that goes like this: In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.
In the world of American film-making, it is all too easy to imagine Michael Moore and Oliver Stone beating each other to death over who gets to have the eye. Come to think of it, that would make for pretty entertaining television. Perhaps Simon Cowell can get on that.
But until that happy day, we will get to live in a world where certain American film-makers feel that it is their duty to explain America to itself, knowing that a significant percentage of the ticket and DVD sales will come from other territories eager to hate the U.S. a little more for being… well… so gosh-darn arrogant and smug about everything, despite aggravated terrorism and a few armed conflicts around the world.
Well screw that. That is a job for film reviewers.
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.
Getting my head straight…feeling my way through a few projects I have delayed for far too long…
And distracting myself with an incidental project called “The Bumper Sticker Graveyard”, in which creative concepts are rejected by imaginary clients.
Lots of other stuff on the go, but not necessarily in keeping with the gravitas you’ve come to expect from In Conversation With… do stay tuned… an interview with the screenwriter (Jan Sardi) and the subject (Li Cunxin) of Mao’s Last Dancer will be coming soon!
Also, a review of Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, Whip It — a roller-derby hero’s journey/coming of age flick starring Ellen Page (Juno).
On Thursday, 29 September 2005, I managed to become the number one Google search result for ‘Booty Fever’, bypassing hundreds of adult-ass-oriented sites with the following story, written for the now defunct http://www.AutomationIndustryNews.net…
Robot sparks Robinson Crusoe booty fever
CHILE-based Wagner Technologies ignited a fierce fight for gold after the company claimed it had discovered an 18th century treasure-trove of buried pirate booty worth $US10 billion using a metal-detecting robot named after the movie Star Wars’ R2-D2.
The claims of hidden treasure are being given credence because the robot, Arturito, is something of a local celebrity, credited with discovering a large weapons cache belonging to a right-wing militant colony in southern Chile.
Arturito also discovered the remains of businessman Francisco Yuraszeck, who went missing in 2004. In both investigations officials called in the Wagner Technologies robot after being unable to solve the cases by traditional investigative techniques.
Arturito is equipped with advanced sonar technology able to scan the atomic composition of materials such as water, metals and petroleum buried up to 50m underground.
Wagner claims its crime-solving robot has discovered the missing treasure buried by Spanish navigator Juan Esteban Ubilla y Echeverria on an island off the Chilean coast in 1715. The treasure was believed to be found by British sailor Cornelius Webb, who proceeded to bury it elsewhere on the same island.
The island is also famous as the place Scottish sailor Alexander Selkirk was marooned for five years in 1704, inspiring Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe novel. The island was officially named Robinson Crusoe Island in 1966.
Wagner’s claims of discovering the missing treasure has sparked a battle for rights to the treasure, with participants including the Chilean Government and the 600 residents of Robinson Crusoe Island.
Wagner has refused to divulge any details on the location of the discovery until it is assured of a 50% stake in the treasure. Because Arturito uses sonar techniques, no digging has taken place at this stage.
The island itself is part of a World Biosphere Reserve due to its unique flora and fauna.
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.
Balibo Film Review – originally published in X-Press Magazine.
Directed by Robert Connolly
Starring Anthony LaPaglia, Oscar Isaac, Damon Gameau, Gyton Grantley, Nathan Phillips, Thomas Wright, Mark Leonard Winter.
The year is 1975, and rumours of a pending invasion of East Timor by Indonesia have begun to gain a small amount of attention in Australia. Just as the ABC TV news team is preparing to leave, declaring the situation too dangerous, two rival news crews from commercial stations arrive and are directed by the Timorese to Balibo, situated against the Timor-Indonesia border.
Days later, the five members of these rival crews are declared dead. The Indonesian Government reports that the men were killed in crossfire. The Australian Government accepts this story and does not intervene when Indonesian forces invade and occupy East Timor.
More than thirty years later, using a range of sources including the testimony of thousands of Timorese interviewed for the Timor-Leste Commission for Reception, Truth and Reconciliation, the 2008 Glebe Coronial Inquest into the death of the five men and the reclaimed diary of one of the journalists, director Robert Connolly has attempted to recreate the final days of the men who would become known as the Balibo Five.
Cinematically, Connolly has worked his way into Balibo with the story of veteran Australian journalist Roger East –powerfully portrayed by Anthony LaPaglia – an aging foreign correspondent who seems resigned to putting his best work behind him and hacking away at his career in Darwin, until he is approached by a young José Ramos-Horta (Oscar Isaac) and invited to take up a position as head of the East Timor News Agency.
Although East is unenthusiastic about taking the job, Horta seals the deal by promising him unrestricted access to the full story of the Balibo Five, who had been declared dead just weeks before. The two men travel to Dili, and the film Balibo begins.
There is an inherent danger in the cinematic retelling of any ‘true story’, and this danger is always magnified when the story is one that is intended to expose a conspiracy or collusion between governments to keep the public from discovering the truth. On the one hand, the medium demands tension and drama, and on the other, the film-maker has an obligation not to overtly heighten or exaggerate events; the events can’t be changed to serve the story if the purpose of the story is to tell the events.
Connolly has already proven himself to be a masterful suspense/thriller director with his first feature The Bank (also featuring Anthony LaPaglia), which he followed up with the intensely character-driven drama Three Dollars (both starring David Wenham).
Although he is keenly aware of the balancing act required of any cinematic true story, the decision to structure the film through East’s investigation, intercut with dramatisations of the journey and ultimate deaths of the Balibo Five, has provided a classic suspense/thriller of a story.
In terms of characterisation, the relationship between the young Horta and veteran East carries most of the film’s weight, while the arc of the Balibo Five is clearly tragic, transforming from friendly, almost naive rivalry to a true understanding of the situation that they’re in – and more importantly, what it means to the East Timorese people that they’ve come to document.
Balibo is an unapologetically political film that demands the viewer’s attention and involvement – while it purports to tell the truth of actual events, it raises many other questions, such as the involvement of the media in foreign affairs, our complacency as a nation to take a stand in foreign affairs (unless guided by bigger Western nations), and the biggest question of all – why has it taken so long for this story to be told?
Is it a true story? Well, there’s a lot of evidence that supports Connolly’s claim. Is it a good film? No… It’s a great film – possibly one of the great Australian films, in the tradition of (and ranking alongside) Breaker Morant.