Sunday, November 30, 2008

The Week in Review - 30/11/08

This weekend has been full on. My work Christmas party was on Saturday, and the weekend pretty much revolved around that and a child's birthday party. I've completely missed the Japanese Film Festival at ACMI as well as the 15 hour screenings of Berlin Alexanderplatz. As I have mentioned, November has been chock-a-block full of films to see, most of which I've missed. When I get my Christmas break, I could watch a film a day, but then there's nothing decent to see in the cinemas. I suppose that's when I'll catch up on a few of the 50 or so DVDs I have that I haven't yet seen.

With the end of the Pedro Costa season at Melbourne Cinémathèque this week, I feel a little sad. I just want the season to continue, even if it means repeating the same films. The man's work is incredible, though not for everyone (many cinephiles may struggle with some of the themes and the scenes). Next week is the start of the Howard Hawks season, which lasts for three weeks before we take recess for the holiday season. I'll miss the last week as I'll be participating in my university graduation ceremony.

I started my Bachelor of Business (Business Information Systems) at RMIT University in 2001 and did the first three years (of four) full-time and the remainder part-time. I had only one subject to complete the degree but needed to put in an exemption. It's taken me three years to get the exemption in and I've not done a subject in that time. I can't wait to have this formality behind me, to have closure. As a fellow student once said: "to finish that which one has started".

Those three years have not been without tumultuous times. My oldest child suffered psychosis and my middle child took his own life (nearly two years ago now). There's been stresses at home and I've taken up learning French at Alliance Française. I've often felt like bowing out of classes, but have kept up my determination for over 18 months now. I figure that if I just stick to it, I'll get to where I want to be. I figure once one bows out, it's all pretty much over. If I put the same time into it as I put into my uni studies, I'd be speaking fluent French by now.

FWIW, I'm quietly happy with my French progress. I still struggle listening to say the French news, but I can get a reasonable understanding of a newspaper article. I can make myself understood to a French person; they just have to speak very slowly back, often more than once. I hope to live in France one day, for at least a year and preferably more. There's something about the country's culture that draws me, and I feel that moving to a foreign culture is an experience and personal challenge I want to have in this life-time.

Slumdog Millionaire
(Danny Boyle, UK/USA, 2008)
No quarto da Vanda (In Vanda's Room, Pedro Costa, Portugal/Germany/Switzerland/Italy, 2000)
Ossos (Bones, Pedro Costa, Portugal/France/Denmark, 1997)
Il y a longtemps que je t'aime (I Have Loved You For So Long, Philippe Claudel, France/Germany, 2008)

  • Bande à part (Band of Outsiders, Jean-Luc Godard, France, 1964)

Slumdog Millionaire
I'll post a review of this film in the first week of December, closer to its release (which is 18 December, and 'sneak previews' on 12-14 December). In short, it's OK and I think most people will like it more than me.

In Vanda's Room
Wow! How did Pedro Costa get a film like this made? Could he have done it today? This is so raw and so bleak, that these questions kept coming into my head while watching this remarkable film. Audiences often think of the films of Alkinos Tsilimidos as bleak, but his are quite upbeat in comparison to Costa's (and that's not a sleight on either director's work, just observation).

The non-professional actors, residents of the Fountainhas slum being filmed, are all extraordinary, especially the two drug-addicted sisters, Vanda and Zita. They spend their lives in Vanda's room, smoking crack and occasionally venturing outside to sell vegetables to the neighbours. Their physical state is deplorable and I found my heart bleeding for them. Words fail me with both this film and Ossos (Bones). These films have been my favourite double of the three week Costa season, which has now concluded. Melbourne Cinémathèque screened all of Costa's feature films and three of his shorts. I feel like I need to re-watch these films to truly appreciate them. Costa is an awesome film-maker.

I'd have preferred to have seen Costa's films in chronological order, especially the trilogy of films featuring the Fountainhas slum. Of the trilogy, no. 3 screened on week 1, and no. 2 screened before no. 1 on week 3. C'est la vie ! In Vanda's Room is nearly three hours long, so it was good that Bones is not too long (94 minutes). It makes for a long night, especially when one has work the next morning.

Bones is nowhere near as bleak as In Vanda's Room. There is more colour and the people's lives have a little more hope. I can't say it's a better film, just less downbeat. Mind you, the story is no Hollywood theme: suffice to say that the Dardenne brothers' L'enfant (The Child) covers similar territory. These Costa films simply have to be seen, to be experienced.

I Have Loved You For So Long
You'll enjoy this film much more if, like me, you know nothing about it prior to seeing it. There is a central mystery, and the unravelling of it could have resulted in a much stronger film if it hadn't played out conventionally at the end. Suffice to say, I'm not giving any plot details here.

Kristin Scott Thomas is impressive in the central role of this film. As an English-speaking actress, her French-speaking seemed impeccable, though her character in the film is written as having an English accent, so obviously the French would pick it up. This is perhaps the best role I've seen her in, though I generally haven't been impressed with her. This role required a fairly repressed individual, and as Thomas' acting is generally quite wooden, she is perhaps perfect for the role. This probably sounds less kind than I mean it to be, because she does play the part well.

Thomas appears with little makeup for most of the film, and seeing her bravely bared before the camera like this gives the film a visual rawness that enhances the verisimilitude of the story. For most of the film, there are unexpected turns that feel natural rather than being contrived twists. After about the three-quarter mark, the initial setup is, well, I'll call it cheapened, though what it's doing is catering to populism. I could start to predict what some of the outcomes would be and the story really tugs at the heart strings.

The French are excellent at producing gutsy arthouse films, of which this is not one. But nor is it a middle-of-the-road family melodrama (which I usually hate). This is a solid drama, with some great arthouse aesthetics that should be very popular with most arthouse audiences (think Nova or Como). The film's compromises are what make it accessible and enjoyable, but left me feeling just ever so slightly disappointed.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Three Blind Mice wins another award

My MIFF newsletter informs me that Matthew Newton has just won the Best Screenplay Award at the Thessaloniki International Film Festival for his feature debut Three Blind Mice, my favourite local film of the year. This follows the London Film Festival's awarding Newton the FIPRESCI International Critics Award. There may be others, but I'm not sure.

Three Blind Mice has a strong ensemble cast and terrific screenplay. I've heard first-hand that the film is about to secure a local distributor, and second-hand that it may get a February release. I look forward to seeing it again.

What a load of ...


My internet start page is iGoogle which, for those that don't know, includes customisation of the basic Google website to include all kinds of handy little tools. I have embedded applets for an online dictionary, Wikipedia, Babelfish Translation, French radio and RSS feeds from Le Monde, and ABC News. Among other useful little gadgets, I also have these world clocks, which you can customise.

This afternoon, the Google ad (for 2008: God's Final Witness) in the applet caught my eye and I decided to click the link and check it out. Can you believe that in this day and age, we still have these doomsday sayers? The link takes us to a page that declares "The Prophesised End-Time Revealed".

It goes on to declare:
"From now until the latter part of 2008, many prophecies are going to begin to be fulfilled, especially the Seven Thunders of the Book of Revelation, which the apostle John saw but was restricted from recording. Those thunders are revealed in this book, as well as detailed accounts of the final three and one-half years of man's self-rule on earth, which are recorded in the account of the Seventh Seal of Revelation.

Some of these prophecies concern the demise of the United States over the next year, which will be followed by man's final world war. This last war will be the result of clashing religions and the governments they sway. Billions will die! This time will far exceed even the very worst times in all human history.

As these events unfold, the world will increasingly become aware of the authenticity of the words in this book and realize that Ronald Weinland has been sent by God as His end-time prophet.

This book is primarily directed to the people of the three major religions of the world (Islam, Judaism and Christianity), whose roots are in the God of Abraham. Ronald Weinland has been sent to all three."
Go check out the website. It's a blast. Heck, they even have it in Dutch, Italian and French. You can download the free book. You know you wanna be saved...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Three Weeks in Review - 23/11/08

So much has happened, so little time to write about it. I've been sick, I've been busy, I've been watching films as usual. Today I saw Francis Ford Coppola's Youth Without Youth, and I say fuck the luke-warm reviews and just go see it. We need more films like this, films outside the square, films that challenge conventional narrative, films that challenge an audience. This is screening exclusively at the Kino and may not last long. Race out and see it while you can.

Another cinema release that really stands out is Hunger. Again, just go see it. Don't think about it, don't go on what you think it's about. It's a remarkable film that, regardless of what you perceive of its subject matter, it demands attention.

I watched a couple of films for the Human Rights Art and Film Festival, but was very sick at the time and regret that I didn't get the opportunity to post reviews of the films (Chicago 10 and The Nothing Men). I'd have liked to have seen a number of films at this festival, and also attend a number of the forums, but time just didn't allow.

While I was sick, my son had his 8th birthday. I took him and a car full of his friends to Luna Park and a Johnnie To film at ACMI. It was a really educational experience, seeing how the different boys related to a G-rated film with sub-titles. Because of my illness, I was unable to write about this subject, but it's on my to-do list. I even interviewed my son on video; if I get the chance, I'll edit that and post it with an article.

The program for the Festival of Jewish Cinema also looked great. I managed just the one, My Father, My Lord, another extraordinary film. It has little dialogue, filmed beautifully with a really moving story about love and loss, parents and children. Top stuff.

A top film of the last three weeks is Gonzo: the Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson, which has a separate post and is still screening at the Nova. Again, catch it while you can. We seem to be having a wave of unusually good films on theatrical release. With the so-called festive season coming up, there'll be a vacuum of good films real soon.

  • Gonzo: the Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (Alex Gibney, USA, 2008)
  • Comment je me suis disputé… (ma vie sexuelle) (My Sex Life… or How I Got into an Argument, Arnaud Desplechin, France, 1996)
  • Bi shui han shan duo ming jin (The Enigmatic Case, Johnnie To, Hong Kong, 1980)
  • Gat sing gung jiu (The Fun, the Luck and the Tycoon, Johnnie To, Hong Kong, 1989)
  • O sangue (The Blood, Pedro Costa, Portugal, 1989)
  • Juventude em marcha (Colossal Youth, Pedro Costa, Portugal/France/Switzerland, 2006)
  • Hunger (Steve McQueen, Ireland/UK, 2008)
  • Hofshat Kaits (My Father, My Lord, David Volach, Israel, 2007)
  • Casa de lava (Pedro Costa, Portugal/France/Germany, 1995)
  • Où gît votre sourire enfoui ? (Where Does Your Hidden Smile Lie?, Pedro Costa, France/Portugal, 2001)
  • Australia (Baz Luhrmann, Australia/USA, 2008)
  • Youth Without Youth (Francis Ford Coppola, USA/Germany/Italy/France/Romania, 2007)
  • Chicago 10 (Brett Morgen, USA, 2007)
  • The Nothing Men (Mark Fitzpatrick, Australia, 2008)

Baz Luhrmann's Australia

Australia (Baz Luhrmann, Australia, 2008)
I’d like to preface my review of Baz Luhrmann’s Australia with some discussion of the film’s context. I’m generally not a fan of blockbuster films nor epics, and Australia is both. I’m quite selective about the media previews I attend, as time is usually an issue and, unlike a general cinema screening, you can’t select your session. There are a number of reasons that I went out of my way to see Australia.

Luhrmann has been particularly ambitious with Australia. While it’s not a genre of film that usually interests me, the project he has embarked upon has a significance beyond the film itself. Luhrmann is attempting a breakthrough film, something that hasn’t really been attempted. He’s taking on Hollywood on its own terms, playing their game, and attempting to win over both the local audience and ultimately an international audience.

Luhrmann wants Australians to change how they look at local films. People often roll their eyes when it comes to Australian films. I know, I often do it myself. He is unashamedly putting our culture (or a reimagining of it) before us and saying, “let’s be proud of our culture, of our way, of our stories… let’s change the perception that ‘Australian film’ means ‘boring’.” For this, I admire him.

The reimagining of our culture may be a total fantasy, but if the uniqueness of Australian culture is imbued/imbibed, in a way that we can feel good about ourselves, and have a good time, then that’s got to be a something good.

But wait, didn’t this film cost something like $130 million to make? No local film can recoup that kind of serious moolah; Luhrmann has clearly made this film for a global (or at least a US) audience, of which conquering the Australian market is just one step in a larger battle plan. The marketing of the film has been inspired by the Hollywood model. This film was being hyped before filming had even started some two years ago. Even the film’s title is an audacious emulation of American-style movie-marketing, which often proudly proclaims “America-this”, “New York-that” or just plain “Chicago”, “Philadelphia”, etc.

I’ve spoken personally to local directors, as well as questioned others at post-film Q&As. I have concluded that generally, foreign distributors are only interested in Australian films that enable them to market our films with just the type of clichés that Paul Hogan exploited with Crocodile Dundee, for example. I sense that Luhrmann is going for broke with Australia, crafting a film that is designed to appeal to as wide a global audience as possible, and perhaps through its desired success, lead a resurgence of interest in Australian films overseas. Much of the Australian film industry could reap the benefits if this strategy is successful. Again, I laud this attempt. For these reasons, I decided that Australia was a film I wanted to see, regardless of whether I like it or not. So, the verdict?

I like it, a lot. On most (but not all) accounts, Australia beats Hollywood at its own game. It uses over-the-top caricatures like those in Luhrmann’s Strictly Ballroom to excellent comedic effect, with Spielberg-like family adventure (think Indiana Jones) and blends in indigenous themes used in Noyce’s Rabbit-Proof Fence and the magic and story-telling in Rolf de Heer’s Ten Canoes. All this with an aesthetic that also recalls epics like Gone With the Wind. The result is a great romp that both reinforces and reimagines Australian mythology.

The film looks absolutely fantastic, with excellent use of the widescreen to frame the landscape and the characters. I’m familiar with the area in which the film was shot, and I’ve often commented on how beautiful it is. For example, it’s great to see boab trees depicted, which are specific to the Kimberleys. The film is a joy to watch.

There is more CGI in use than one can detect. I’m not a big fan of CGI, but I didn’t feel it detracted from the film (like it did in say, Lord of the Rings, which relied on it way too heavily). It doesn't draw attention to itself and is used to support the film, as it should.

Some critics bemoan the clichés. Oh for fucksake, the whole film is one giant cliché and that's an intrinsic part of its appeal. This is fantasy, it's caricature, it's over the top, it's what people expect of a blockbuster. Others have commented on the use of the word “crikey” as if it’s a Steve Irwin rip-off. I find this petty nitpicking. Crikey is a term I grew up with; my mum used it all the time, and its use was much more common in previous times. I think Luhrmann is effectively tapping into that Banjo Patterson sort of Australian mythology, with a kind of cheeky wink at Irwin without resorting to Irwin’s buffoon-like use of the word.

When Nicole Kidman’s character is first introduced, it is with an over-acted performance that I initially cringed at. Kidman-haters will have a field day with this. However, when the same scene is replayed from a different perspective, it then seemed quite in context. From that point on, I had no problems with her acting at all, and am impressed with her ability to do comedy. By the way, that trailer that had Kidman doing that “whoosh” thing really didn’t do the film justice. I had no problems when that scene played out.

I generally don’t like Hugh Jackman as an actor, but he played the part of The Drover with gusto and was perfect for the role. My favourite characters are Nullah (Brandon Walters), the young aboriginal boy from whose perspective the film’s story is told, and King George (David Gulpilil), the boy’s grandfather who plays an almost guardian angel-type role for the boy. Their stories are the most moving and I love what Luhrmann has done with these characters.

There’s an extensive support cast that includes Jack Thompson (in one of his best roles in a long time), Tony Barry (as a dead-ringer for Chips Rafferty), David Wenham, Bryan Brown, Barry Otto, Ben Mendelsohn, Ray Barrett, Bill Hunter, John Jarratt, among many others.
“Here I am, this blockbuster-sneering film-snob, getting caught up in the emotions of a highly contrived film. Luhrmann must be doing something right”
The film is unashamedly sentimental. You know where the film is going, you know you’re being manipulated, yet I still couldn’t help shedding a tear at all the right spots. Here I am, this blockbuster-sneering film-snob, getting caught up in the emotions of a highly contrived film. Luhrmann must be doing something right.

I only had four hours sleep last night and was a bit concerned whether I'd stay awake for the 165 minutes. The film captured my attention and I didn't nod off at all, though there was a flat spot mid-way. This was when the film reaches a kind of natural conclusion, the end of a chapter. Then the film’s main flaws kick in. It goes into epic-mode and, in doing so, loses the momentum and coherency of the first half. It also loses some of the comedic edge.

Luhrmann was reportedly working on the editing of the film right up to the night before the film’s premiere. I can guess the parts he was working on, and it didn’t seem as well put together as the first half. It’s probably too late for Australian audiences, but hopefully the studio will allow Luhrmann to tweak the film before it is released overseas. I didn’t find these flaws by any means fatal, but I’m sure it’s what some critics will focus on.

In conclusion, Luhrmann has crafted a film that demands a viewing, and it really needs to be seen on the big screen. It will appeal to a wide audience and I’m sure my 8-year old will enjoy it immensely. It’s a lot of fun, a lot of adventure, good old-fashioned story-telling. It’s contains some nice messages, without being preachy or ramming political correctness down our throats. It succeeds in being unashamedly entertaining, poking fun at Australian mythology while also reinforcing and reimagining it. I enjoyed the film much more than I expected. I’m sure it will do well here, and hopefully it will do well overseas.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Human Rights Arts & Film Festival 2008

One of my favourite aspects of cinema is the humanistic, social and other issues that are raised, either explicitly or implicitly. Such matters give rise to discussion of those issues in the context of what amounts to my favourite art form. It's probably one of the reasons I started writing about film in the first place, culminating in this blog. I also take every opportunity I can to attend Q&A sessions, which invariably add new insights and perspectives to any given film.

The Human Rights Arts & Film Festival is screening in Melbourne from 13 - 23 November* at the Kino and RMIT Capitol cinemas (as if we didn't already have enough choice of films screening this month). Not only does the breadth of films look impressive, but nearly all of them include post-screening Q&A sessions and panel discussions. The list of speakers is awesome, including such prominent personalities as Dee McLachlan (director of The Jammed), comedienne Corinne Grant, Waleed Aly (one of my favourite writers and speakers on recent social issues), Tim Costello, Julian Burnside QC (president of Liberty Victoria, who has acted pro bono on several human rights cases, including the Tampa incident) and journalist Martin Flanagan (who once interviewed me in my home many years ago - I'm still waiting for the return of some photographic slides I lent him).

Chicago 10 (Brett Morgen, The Kid Stays in the Picture) opens the festival, as it did for Sundance 2007. It's a 'creative documentary' about the Chicago Convention of 1968 and its aftermath, that visually recalls Richard Linklater's Waking Life and Ari Folman's Waltz With Bashir. This looks terrific.

The festival program is ambitious, with films from around the world. Some are documentaries, some dramatic fiction and many shorts. Subjects covered include sexual slavery (Trade, fiction, Marco Kreuzpainter, Germany/USA and Behind Forgotten Eyes, documentary, Anthony Gilmore, Korea), the Dalai Lama and Tibet (The Unwinking Gaze, documentary, Joshua Dugdale, UK), workplace tolerance and rights (The Nothing Men, fiction, Mark Fitzpatrick, Australia), homelessness (Kicking It, documentary, Susan Koch & Jeff Werner, USA), justice (USA vs Al-Arian, animated documentary, Line Halvorsen, Norway) and many others.

Several sessions are accompanied by shorts, and there are four dedicated short film sessions: Screen Dreaming (indigenous Australian stories), Par Avion (international shorts), Reel Change (short films on the impact of climate change) and In Our Backyard (Australian shorts).

The entire program has been added to my Calendar of Film Events which you will find at the very bottom of this page (click the button beneath the calendar to subscribe to it), or you can view the full version.

Check the HRAFF website for full details.

* Ignore those Melbourne dates in the flyer above - they're wrong.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

And the winner is...

... the United States of America. And the rest of the world.

Never have I seen so much interest in an US election. Never have I been so keen to see the outcome of a US election.

When almost a year ago Kevin Rudd ousted the weasel, I felt relief. With the ousting of the mega-fascist, war-mongering Republicans, I feel joy. Congratulations Obama.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Week in Review - 2/11/08

  • La sentinelle (Arnaud Desplechin, France, 1992)
  • En jouant 'Dans la compagnie des hommes' (Playing "In the Company of Men", Arnaud Desplechin, France, 2003)
  • Etz Limon (Lemon Tree, Eran Riklis, Israel/Germany/France, 2008)
  • Rekopis znaleziony w Saragossie (The Saragossa Manuscript, Woyciech Has, Poland, 1965)
Desplechin's La sentinelle & Playing "In the Company of Men"
It occurred to me within the last couple of days, that my experience with the cinema of Arnaud Desplechin somewhat mirrors my discovery of the music of REM. I first heard them in 1992, when Losing My Religion was blitzing the airwaves. At the time, I was losing my religion and, though the song has nothing to do with that, it took on special meaning for me. Yet when I first heard it, I couldn't work out if I loved it or hated it. I now understand that REM's music is so densely multi-layered, working simultaneously on different levels, and it was so unlike any music I was accustomed to, that I was unable to digest it immediately. In fact, I heard the song some 40 or more times before I started to realise that I absolutely loved it. It became my favourite song for many years, and REM remain one of my favourite bands.

It's too soon to say that Desplechin will have a similar effect on me, but I get the sense that his work is so dense, so complex, so unique that I have no common reference points, no easy way of digesting everything that is projected on-screen. Having seen two of his films last week, I was a bit more prepared this week, and I felt more at ease with his work. At ease? It's not something you really feel for Desplechin's films, but I can't think how better to explain myself.

La sentinelle is an elusive film (aren't they all?), Playing "In the Company of Men" less so. I enjoyed them both, but like last week's films, I feel I need to see them again to digest them. I like Desplechin's films, I'm fascinated by them, but I can't say yet that I'm at the point I got to with REM. I do not yet love them.

Lemon Tree
Superficially, this is the type of film one typically sees at the Como. It's a fairly standard piece, a David versus Goliath, with a Palestinian widow going head-to-head against the Israeli Defense Minister, who orders the latter's 50 year old lemon grove be demolished in case it provides cover to terrorists. What raises it above the normal pulp is that it represents a shift in Israeli cinema that allows for a bit more honest introspection. It questions the morality of modern Israeli security policies such as the building of the wall (reminiscent of Berlin, and everything that wall represented), forced evacuations and destruction of Palestinian properties. The film didn't completely win me over, but I was impressed by its honesty. It's worth a look.

The Saragossa Manuscript
An absurdist piece, reminiscent of Valerie and Her Week of Wonders, and made around the same period. I like absurdist cinema, but this one is very long, and it really demands repeat viewings to digest it all. It contains stories within stories within stories, and not meant to be understood. One character even admits to being confused by the convoluted stories himself. It was OK, but I can't see myself rushing to watch it again anytime soon.

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

Gonzo: The Life and Work of Dr. Hunter S. Thompson (Alex Gibney, USA, 2008)
Until Taxi to the Dark Side (2007), which won best documentary Oscar this year, I'd not noticed the name Alex Gibney, though I saw and liked his earlier Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005). Knowing nothing about Hunter S. Thompson, but intrigued by the aura that surrounds the mention of his name, I thought the defacto long weekend that Cup Day brings was a good opportunity to see this new documentary.

Regular attendees would know that ACMI often has single screenings of films, with sometimes disappointing attendances. Gonzo has no less than 21 screenings programmed, three on the day I attended. Expecting maybe 40 or so, I was a little surprised to see the smaller Cinema 1 (capacity about 190) almost full, and I'm told there's been at least one sell-out session. The crowd was mostly young (20s and 30s), and I'm wondering why so many of this age group know enough about Thompson to come and see this, but not to the plethora of other worthy films at ACMI. Thompson clearly has a big reputation among a certain fringe demographic.

I'm no expert on documentary as a film genre per se - I certainly don't go to many at the cinema - but it seems to me there's a number of factors that combine to make one good or not. The starting point is a good subject. Anna Broinowski's Forbidden Lie$ (2007) is compelling, not so much because it is well-made, but because of its compelling subject. Gonzo has both. Thompson is so fascinating - his life story, his writing and his social impact are each a worthy subject. It's Gibney's putting together what must have been a mountain of source material into a coherent two hour digest that makes the film. I found it educational, entertaining and thoroughly absorbing.

Gibney picked a cracker with Thompson. The guy was a real live wire, an eccentric, a man on the edge. Substance abuse was a constant in his life since at least his late teens, while still at high school. Combined with an undying anger and a brutal frankness, he lived his life as if there were no tomorrow. Alcoholism is, after all, a form of suicide, though it was the self-administration in 2005 of a bullet from one of his many firearms that ended Thompson's life. While that may be seen to be tragic - and everyone that knew Thompson well during his last twenty years seemed to know that that was how he was going to die - the real tragedy was his addictions, the destructive power they had over him and how that affected both his work and his relationships.

The film's screening in the build-up to the US elections is quite ironic. Thompson was very depressed about the re-election of George W. Bush in 2004, a fact that must have contributed to his decision to depart this world. In this respect, I could really relate to Thompson. Like the US, we had our own brand of neo-fascism, championed by a weasel in the form of John Howard. Many times I felt despondent over his political success. What was most depressing was not that one person or one political party could implement such nasty and self-interested policies, but that those people who were most disadvantaged by them rewarded him at successive elections. It's for that reason that, in spite of the Rudd government's shortcomings, I welcome them regardless.

Fortunately, the US puts a time-limit on their despots, though nothing would have saved Bush from today's election. His war-mongering and his leading the country - indeed the world - to the edge of the economic abyss would have sufficed to have him evicted from the White House regardless. Hopefully the next twenty-four hours or so will see the ushering in of a new era with Barack Obama at the helm.

There was something primal or savage about Thompson. "You can't handle the truth", shouts Nicholson's character in A Few Good Men. And that pretty much sums up society. Paul Keating and Mark Latham were both castigated for their brutal honesty. The former has hit the news again this week for just that - daring to challenge the myth of the birth of the Australian character at Gallipoli. It's certainly a charming myth, but a lie nonetheless.

Thompson didn't care whether we could handle the truth or not. He proclaimed it anyway, or at least he proclaimed it as he saw it. Perhaps the drugs and alcohol gave him the swagger to not give a shit. He was smart enough to know bullshit when he saw it, and truth be told, the bullshit is everywhere and no-one has the guts to say it. Thompson did.

One of the most memorable lines in the film was when his writing on politics was described as the most accurate but least factual. I find the concept both amusing and inspirational. I'm no Gonzo, but I might try shooting a bit more from the hip like Thompson. If you get the chance, see the film. Great stuff.

[EDIT: this film has a theatrical release, screening at the Nova. It opened today, 6 November]

By the way...
Ironically, just before I saw Gonzo, I turned up for the viral "Frozen at Flinders St. Station". I stumbled upon this online some time ago and planned to attend to film the event. I remembered seeing this once before on the evening news, with hundreds of people freezing at the same time, then going back to normal after five minutes, as if nothing had happened.

It was strangely surreal with actual commuters quietly making their way through the maze of human statues in silence. Police patrolled bemused, confused.

I was blown away by how many people who also attended; they were by far the majority of those at Flinder's St. Station. My guess is that there was well over a thousand people participating. I appear in the below video for 12 seconds, from 3:25 - I'm in the background, to the left of the ticket box, in black and grey motorcycle gear. When the clock hit 7:00pm, I spontaneously decided to participate rather than document, though I'd like to film it next time around.