Posts Tagged ‘X-Press Magazine’
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.”
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.
No song this week while a few issues get sorted out… so enjoy this blast from the past.
The Final Hoo-Ha
Kiss My WAMi 2002
By Sabian Wilde
“I guess it’d have started for us in around ’98. We kind of had this habit of releasing our CDs in late July, just before the Kiss My WAMis start, so we seemed to ride the WAMi wave each year – except we’ve blown it for the last two years,” says Temperley, laughing.
Given the success that the Joe have enjoyed in the intervening years, Temperley has a different perspective on the WAMis, one that is surprisingly positive. “I don’t know that it means as much to us as it does over east,” he said.
“You go over there and people are like, ‘Wow! You’ve won a WAMi!’ and you’re like, ‘It’s a chocolate cake, dude.’ Over here it’s like, ‘Cool, it’s the WAMis, let’s get drunk and check out some gigs.’ I think it’s good that people get excited about it, but it’s really more of a national interest type of thing, it gives them a good reason to come over and check it out,” he says.
“The fact that we’re so isolated and bands like us and Jebediah have stayed in WA, and you’ve got bands like Halogen, Cartman and The Fergusons as your really big up-and-comers, WA has created a scene that you can’t find anywhere else. No-one else has a scene – there’s no ‘New South Wales scene’, no ‘Victorian scene’.”
The strength and diversity of the ‘WA scene’ will certainly be represented in full force for the Closing Party even, where Eskimo Joe will be joined by Lash, Effigy, Sodastream, ASG, Purrvert and newcomers Josivac for a night that promised to one one hell of a musical experience — and of course, a lot of chocolate cake.
“They’re pretty hardcore chocolate cakes,” says Temperley. “You can only really eat one cake among a couple of people, so there’s always one cake that ends up going mouldy if you’re one of those lucky bands that wins more than a couple of awards. We won three one year, and my brother (Trilby Temperley, ARG) accepted the cake for us and we never even saw it. He used to be really skinny – he’s huge now.”
Many of the nominees in the categories have already been recognised by their inclusion of the Kiss My WAMi compilation, a comprehensive industry ‘sampler’ sent to radio stations across the nation, highlighting our local talent. The impact of this sampler is often underrated here in Perth, because most of the good work it does is interstate.
“That first CD on the new WAMi compilation is awesome,” says Temperley. “It’s the best WAMi CD I’ve ever heard. The Halogen song is unbelievable and the Sleepy Jackson song is really good and our song on it is…kind of crap…I joke, I joke!”
Needless to say, the sampler often acts as an introduction card for many acts who later on release their own albums and find that interstate radio stations are more than happy to pick up their work. This can easily be seen by the success of both out independents and major label acts, both recognised by the album and EP categories of the WAMi awards. Just as important is the fact that although there are major label entries in these categories, it’s by no means a guarantee to win.
“I know,” agrees Temperley. “It’s interesting, but I’d say it’s just the first time we’ve had major label releases to put in that category. I mean, Jebediah used to be the only one, but the thing is that you have people like Halogen and Cartman, who aren’t signed to a major label but are doing equally as good in terms of getting radio airplay. I would count that as being just as important, because in the end it really comes down to radio.”
So, as you can see, there are many forms of success and recognition, whether it be cake, compilation or gig – the Kiss My WAMis just make it bigger, better and more fun. Temperley couldn’t agree more, “It’ll be awesome to play the final show – a hoo-ha!”
Opening next Thursday, July 23, alt-icon director Jim Jarmusch’s new film, The Limits Of Control, has been described as an “anti-action action movie.”
Directed by Jim Jarmusch
Starring Isaach De Bankolé, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Gael García Bernal, Paz de la Huerta, John Hurt
There are very few auteur directors that have the kind of pan-indie/rock/arthouse credibility held by Jim Jarmusch. With his improbable white hair and effortless rock sensibility, it is easy to imagine how he has convinced artists such as Iggy Pop, Tom Waits, Joe Strummer or Screamin’ Jay Hawkins to enlist as actors in his films: coffee, cigarettes and ‘cool’.
There are many cinema fans who feel as if they’ve been waiting far too long for a new feature from Jarmusch, as up until this point, the noughties had only revealed one wholly original feature (Broken Flowers) and Coffee And Cigarettes, a composite of conversational short films going back to 1986.
Perhaps it is a testament to his bone-dry wit and love of extremely awkward pauses that watching The Limits Of Control will leave them feeling exactly the same way.
The Limits Of Control follows an inscrutable and fastidious assassin (De Bankolé) as he is commissioned for an unspecified job in Spain and told to wait further instructions. A series of cryptic encounters follows in which characters appear, offering awkward and often absurdist monologues to the assassin as a ‘cover’, while slipping him coded messages, the meaning of which are never revealed to the audience.
The premise of an assassin comfortably alone in a country where he doesn’t understand the language provides a context in which many of Jarmusch’s readily identifiable themes are played out: chance encounters, protracted pauses, dissociative characters and a cinematic style that is broad and static – the visuals are there for you to observe, discover and interpret (if you can), and the camera rarely directs your attention to specific details.
Jarmusch has said that he tends to work backwards with regard to narrative, discovering characters first, situations and conversations next and then ‘joining the dots’ to create a plot. In this sense, The Limits Of Control is a highly consistent addition to Jarmusch’s canon of work, but disappointingly, it is not one that is likely to inspire new audiences to seek out the films upon which his career has been built.
During the ’90s Jarmusch was at his iconic best, releasing his meandering and funny film conversations such as Mystery Train (three stories in a hotel – a theme that would later be borrowed by Tarantino for Four Rooms), Night On Earth (five stories in taxis across the world in one night) and the wholly ethereal Dead Man starring Johnny Depp and introducing nausea-inducing ‘wobbly-cam’ years before the Blair Witch Project.
Having said that, The Limits Of Control does offer an impressive cast, obviously keen to work with Jarmusch if and as often as they can. Tilda Swinton is, of course, naturally brilliant and abstract and John Hurt is always a pleasure to watch. Because of Jarmusch’s emphasis on character over plot – although character-driven is not the appropriate term – it is easy to see why actors would be eager to take the opportunity to take roles in his films, no matter how small the part.
Despite his minimalist approach, Jarmusch ensures that every character in his films is the star of their own story – which he feels no obligation to tell.
One interesting feature of The Limits Of Control is the use of Spanish architecture – particularly the assassin’s hotel room, all curves and features; clearly a building that was intended to be a statement of intent and individuality when it was built, but not having aged particularly well. Sadly, it’s sort of an inadvertent metaphor for this latest collection of Jarmusch’s themes and memes.
As a series of disconnected conversation/monologues, Jarmusch does offer a vague continuity in The Limits Of Control with recurring phrases (not quite gags), and the nature of these individual conversations is eventually provided a context near the film’s conclusion… although it never climaxes.
In some ways, it’s one of the longest and pointless ‘shaggy dog’ stories ever told.
Such is Jarmusch’s reputation that viewers and critics alike may find themselves in an ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ scenario, and phrases such as ‘post-modern’, ‘contemplative’, ‘meditative’ and ‘cerebral’ may be offered instead of taking the risk and saying ‘needlessly slow, indulgent and only vaguely amusing’.
The things that Jarmusch can do with an awkward silence should make Ricky Gervais weep with lust and envy – just watch the conversation between Tom Waits and Iggy Pop in Coffee And Cigarettes III. It is not necessarily the lack of plot that makes The Limits Of Control so infuriating, so much as the lack of humour and perhaps disappointment following the excitement of seeing Jarmusch’s latest work.
Jarmusch has pre-emptively defended himself from these criticisms by saying that he doesn’t make films to please critics – which would be fair enough if it wasn’t for the fact that he is in fact a favourite of critics around the globe. The question that remains unanswered: is he making this film for anyone but himself?
— SABIAN WILDE
First published in X-Press Magazine, July 16, 2009 (Happy Birthday to me).
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.”
This Tuesday, I’m honoured to have the opportunity to perform live at the Hyde Park Hotel for What I Have is Gold II, a night dedicated to the incredible songs that have come out of Perth over the last couple of decades.
For Facebookers, the info is here: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=79149253348
In essence, it will be local artists playing covers of local artists and it promises to be a good night for punters.
For me, it’s the opportunity to demonstrate something I never felt I was able to adequately express in all my years of music journalism — exactly how much I love music and how deeply I respect the talent of the hundreds of songwriters that by and large, most people will never hear of or about.
In recent years, Perth has been more successful than usual with its ‘shout it from the rooftops’ approach of publicising it’s local musicians, but the real local music devotee (regardless of where they come from) must come to terms with the fact that the vast majority of their favourite tunes will fade into near obsolescent obscurity the moment that the band in question calls it a day.
Local stations such as RTRFM, which pride themselves on unearthing new talent, play a massively important role in the promotion of new artists/bands: this necessarily means that once a band has folded, the impetus or excuse to play the ‘best song of last year’ is exponentially undermined with each new artist that requires their assistance… and that’s as it should be, for the most part.
But on Tuesday night — possibly (at least rumoured to be) the last night of live local music at the public bar ‘fuck no, we don’t have a stage‘ institution that has been the Hydey front bar — I’ll be taking the opportunity to pay homage to some of my favourite bands and songs of yesteryear… (with one notable exception).
It’ll also be my first non-comedy solo show in 6 years. It’ll be my privilege to play, and a pleasure to see you there if you’re able.