Learning from the movies

Over the weekend I caught a Danish film director discussing how Nicholas Roeg, and his film Don’t Look Now, influenced his vision and style. It was a fascinating and thought provoking conversation. What I knew I could agree with. I’m a fan of both the director and the movie, which is a classic. What I didn’t know – or hadn’t thought of until then – was intriguing, and sent me off in a new direction.
What caught my interest particularly was a conversation about how Roeg edited the movie, and how effective it was in communicating mood and sense. It was discussed how the things left out shape a story – a not unfamiliar notion as Hemingway was big on this from a literary perspective.

I like talks like this because I’m curious and have a passion for the arts (and most things actually), and like to understand. I especially like how discussions like this set off different trains of thought in me. Things like this can reverberate in me for days. I’ll examine it a bit at the time before letting it go, but it’ll keep coming back to and until I have my own, 360 degree perspective of it. I have an objective understanding, but I’ve also got a personal understanding of it.

Occasionally there are more practical applications for such information. As my mind span off on Saturday it naturally occurred to me that I can apply these tricks to my writing. It’s a different medium, there’s no vision I can play with, but I can break things up and dictate the flow easily enough. Till then it was something I’d given only cursory consideration to.

As it happened it was a very timely reminder – but then these things reverberate especially strongly when there’s something to attach to. This time it was a section of prose I was uncertain about how I should proceed. Here was the answer.

It worked, too. I took the lessons of Nicholas Roeg and applied them to this writing and it changed entirely the feel and mood to exactly what I wanted.

Last week I explained how some weekends I’m more productive than others. This was a productive weekend. I managed to put down a couple of thousand words, on top of sketching out in some detail the scenes to come.

All art is a form of communication. How you communicate is just as important as what you communicate: substance and form.


Why it’s always good when Collingwood loses

There was a lot of talk last week before the grand final about who neutral supporters should follow in the contest between the Melbourne team, Collingwood, and the team from interstate, the West Coast Eagles. A few naïve souls, as well as many hopeful Collingwood supporters, proclaimed that as Victorians we should set aside our tribal hostilities and barrack for the local team. Fat chance that. Those tribal hostilities trump any regional loyalties, slim as they are, and it’s odd to me that anyone might think different.
We love our football teams, we identify with the history, the guernsey, the colours, and the players. Over time rivalries blossom as our team takes on others, and tribes clash. A great part of the joy of following a team is in getting the better of bitter rivalries. We take great joy from our team’s success, but we also celebrate the failures of our rivals. It happens everywhere, in every sport and in every land. It’s human nature.

That’s not an issue for the inoffensive teams in the comp. That’s why most of Victoria plumped for Footscray a couple of years ago. Perennial losers, no-one was about to get their nose out of joint if they won for a change. And certainly, in that case, we would support the local team over the interstate.

That was never a chance this year. Every right thinking Victorian hates Collingwood – the wrong think Victorian’s barrack for them. The thought that Collingwood – a team I don’t mind – could very well win gave me goosebumps. But I note that Fremantle captain when asked who he wanted to win said “anyone but the Eagles.” See, it cuts both ways.

In fact in the lead-up to the game I postulated my ideal outcome: Collingwood lose to a kick after the siren from a dodgy free kick. And, you know what, that’s just about what happened.

It was a great game. Probably the best grand final since 1989. The maggies got out of the blocks quick, as they have all finals series. They led by up to 28 points in the first quarter, before the Eagles got the last two, very important goals. From their on in they gradually ground Collingwood down. They hit the lead briefly in the third quarter and scores were level at the break. Collingwood jumped quick in the last again, kicking two goals in a minute. The Eagles pegged one back before Collingwood got another – all in the first five minutes. From there on in though the Eagles took a stranglehold.

Had they kicked the goals they should the Eagles should have taken the lead with ten minutes to go. As it turned out the game was much the better for their inaccuracy. A extraordinary passage of play with about ninety seconds to go led to a mark taken by Sheed on the boundary. It was a low percentage spot to kick a goal from. Maybe one in twenty would be kicked normally. On this occasion Sheed’s kick was dead straight and the Eagles took an unlikely lead. They were never threatened after that, and so went the premiership.

It was a just result. The Eagles were clearly the better team on the day. They were jumped early, but controlled the game thereafter.

The contention regarding the goal was regarding an alleged block that allowed Sheed to take the mark. I thought the umpiring was excellent throughout the game (not something I’ll say often). They let things go, which always makes for a better game. It was a borderline free in my view. Given that there’s about a 50/50 split in opinion I think it’s fair it was let go. In the wash-up the Eagles were disadvantaged by the free kick count, but it’s gratifying to hear the Collingwood fans squeal, and to see fat Eddie (a great reason to dislike the pies) go red in the face.

Becoming easy

It’s a sunny Thursday a couple of days before the AFL grand final, which means tomorrow is a public holiday. That means I can go out for a few drinks tonight and tomorrow I can sleep in. I’ve also applied to have Monday off, so I have a four day weekend.
Because tomorrow is a day off we’re having a casual dress day in the office today. At lunchtime there’s a handball competition in the break room, as well as free pies, pasties and sausage rolls to celebrate the occasion. I’m in a t-shirt, feeling relatively mellow, and look forward to a free pie later and, even more so, a drink after work.

It’s been a productive week for me. As I promised, I set aside the things I couldn’t change. I’ve withdrawn from the things – and the people – causing me grief. I’ve concentrated on my work and on the people around me I value. There’s some adjustment in this – I still itch – but I think it’s the right thing, and it seems to be working well. Touch wood.

In the ebb and flow of all this your eyes alight on things and for a few moments you contemplate. You accept you shouldn’t be so disappointed by mediocrity and compromise, not at your age. And you wonder whether you should even be an environment when questions of it arise: you wonder whether it’s time now to move on in a more substantial way. No hurry for that, something to ponder over a period, and more so as other pieces fall into place. Some of those pieces are people. You fall back, and you see the people about you, friends and friendly acquaintances. Now you’re not expending futile energy you have the mindspace to better appreciate them, and to engage with them. The pleasure that inspires comes as a small surprise. A lot of it is on the surface, fun and sometimes flirtatious, easy words and manners, authentic and light. There’s a part of your mind which is never shut-off which, at times like these, lights up still more because it seems all of a piece. Who am I? What do I do? What do I want? And some of that want is very personal.

It feels like a settled thing. After all the doubts and misgivings, the to-ing and fro-ing, it seems that I’ve accepted at least some of the things I want. Not written in stone – the names may change – but I’m good for what I reckon now.

The funny thing it frees me up a little, maybe because it’s not so intensely mysterious anymore. It frees me up, but for the most part also it means I’m happy to navigate between most possibilities. I’ve become that easier person I aspired to be earlier in the year, as I once was always back in my twenties. I’m light-hearted, fun, witty, maybe a little acerbic. I engage. I’ve always been more popular with the women here than the men, probably because I like them as a gender more. But of course a woman always knows when you like them as a woman, even platonically, and it adds some frisson to the dialogue. That goes two ways.

I mentioned the other week how there was a gap toothed woman who had started who I found some connection with. I really like her, she’s fun and smart and a bit cheeky and she likes me. It’s always nice when they like you. She has a partner so there’s nothing in it, but she can’t help but smile when she sees me. I like her too, but even if she wasn’t partnered up I wouldn’t be interested in anything more than friendship. That doesn’t stop me from flirting, and I get on a bit of a high from the whole, sheer fun of it, as she does too, I think. It feels like great, innocent fun.

I’m happy to be this man, a man people like, a man some might even find alluring, but a man also decent and honest. I got called a go-getter the other day. In the same breath I got called roguishly good looking. Both compliments please me more than they should, but I accept that too – vanity is a flaw, but an acceptable, largely inoffensive flaw. I hope it’s one of the things that make me endearing in a way, oh H, he gets so full of himself sometimes, but he’ll never let you down.

That’s the point. I can be all this. I can clap myself on the back, I can flirt, I can open myself up, I may even engage in the occasional dalliance, but end of day I hope I’m true, and I hope that whoever it ends up being will indulge these other aspects with some affection, and love me still for my individuality and honesty and the devotion I bring.

This is one thing I want, and I’m closer to it now than for a long time.

All that jazz

It was a disappointing weekend of footy finals and after a few beers with the boys on Saturday afternoon watching the second of the games I set footy aside and reclined on the couch to watch a movie.
The movie I chose this week I think is a classic, though perhaps not as widely recognised as it should be. I don’t remember the first time I watched All That Jazz, and all I took from that were fragments. The next time I watched it was about eleven years ago, I reckon. It was a Sunday night and I was flying out the next morning for a week of work in Darwin. I watched as I ironed and packed, before I settled down to watch the movie properly. It had a vivid effect on me.

I think this is a great film. I love Bob Fosse as a film-maker, and reckon he’d have been interesting off set too. He has a distinct style and sense of adventure. Another of his movies, Cabaret, is also a favourite, but he was cutting edge throughout. It’s interesting that given his background as dancer and choreographer how that might have influenced his film making.

All That Jazz focuses on a choreographer much like Fosse, a character called Joe Gideon, played by Roy Scheider. He’s a dissolute genius, a chain smoking womaniser and heavy drinker, living right on the edge. The movie focuses on a show he’s preparing for, while in the background he is putting together a movie of a comedian (based on Lenny Bruce – and a movie Fosse himself made a few years before). The comedian riffs on death, and on Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ seven stages, which becomes a theme. Around him are the people in his life – a mediocre dancer he’s having an affair with, the loving girlfriend he’s cheating on, his dancer ex-wife and daughter, as well as the investors in the show.

It’s a high-wire life and he lives it recklessly, almost daring it. Throughout the first half of the movie it jumps between these scenes, with the odd fantasy diversion. There are some brilliant set-pieces, fantastic imagination at play throughout. It’s daring and inventive, but in the second half of the movie it really becomes an artistic expression.

By then Gideon has had the inevitable heart attack and is in hospital. The movie takes on a psychedelic vibe as it alternates between fact and fantasy, with Gideon confusing the two. His life and background are explored as his health declines further, leading into the final musical number with Joe Vereen singing Bye, Bye, Life to Joe.

The whole movie is a tour de force, and I can think of few other films who carry such an imprint of their maker. It’s brilliant.

It’s funny what you remember. Things stick in your mind. For me there were three things I recalled whenever I thought of the movie before watching it on Saturday. In my memory the scenes featuring the comedian were more significant, like a commentary on Joe. There’s another lovely scene when the girlfriend and the daughter perform to Joe to Peter Allen’s Everything Old is New Again. Then there’s the final scene, where Joe’s life and death are played out musically.

All of this melded into my mind creating an overall impression. They were the elements my psyche was drawn to, and I think influenced one of the ideas for a novel I’ve had in my head for the last 18 months.

This novel is more extroverted and fantastical, and in fact occasionally when I stopped to think about it I was reminded of another movie, Fellini’s . It was only after watching All That Jazz again that I realised the influence of that, unknown till that point. In fact the two movies have many elements in common, so it makes sense. Both protagonists are auteurs, of different types. Both are troubled, intense souls living on the edge. Both movies feature fantasy elements and a sort of cinematic stream of consciousness. Both, in their way, are intellectual movies – movies that provoke and explore and ask questions. And both have a distinct directorial perspective with an autobiographical inspiration.

Funnily enough that’s pretty much how I conceived my novel too. I love that stuff.

That time of year again

The footy finals began last night and I love this time of year. There’s a vibe, a throbbing pulse, even if your team isn’t involved. I got home last night dead-set looking forward to the first final between Richmond and Hawthorn. Tonight the Dees take on the Cats in a match I’m really looking forward too, before tomorrow the Swans play GWS at the SCG in a bit of a grudge match, and in Perth the Eagles host Collingwood. Fair bet I’ll be glued to the screen for most of that.

Richmond are the favourite to go back to back, and logic dictates they’ll probably play the Eagles in the grand final. For me, Melbourne are the big dark horse. They hit good form at the right time and finally broke through a crucial psychological barrier. They have the talent and on their day are irresistible. Their consistency has been an issue, and occasional flakiness, and though I rate Goodwin, I think some of their coaching has been too funky at times. I suspect most of those issues have been ironed out – the big query now is finals experience.

We’ll know tomorrow. Geelong are a seasoned finals team, and have some all-time champs on their list. They had two cracking games during the year, both of which Geelong won, both of which Melbourne should have won. Geelong go in with the experience, but they don’t bat deep. I expect Melbourne to win and will certainly be cheering for them. As my team didn’t make it I’m on the Dees, and I think they can go a long way.

While this has been building up I’ve been listening to a podcast about my favourite season of footy, 1993. There’s a pdcast about that year because they believe it to be the best year of footy too.

I remember it well because my team went from wannabe to contender to ultimate premier. It was a very even year of pure footy and high scores. There was drama along the way, and seminal moments, and in my recollection a series of close, thrilling games. It was also an era of great key forwards – Ablett, Lockett, Modra, Dunstall, Carey, and sundry others.

As an Essendon supporter there are particular games that stand out: the draw against Carlton when famously Kernahan kicked out on the full when he only had to score to win; the shoot-out against Geelong when Ablett kicked 14 (and Salmon 10) and we still won; I remember a cracking game against Fitzroy at the G when we won on virtually the last kick of the game. 1993 was the year when Sheedy famously waved his jacket after we beat the Eagles by a few points at the MCG. There was also a loss against the Kangaroos when we led into the last quarter before Carey – the best player I’ve seen – put on a show; and the night we absolutely flogged Collingwood. I watched from a corporate box and very merry it was. All that was before the finals.

We flogged the WCE at the MCG with Hird putting on a clinic. We lost by a few points to Carlton on a Friday night with a half a dozen of our best players missing – sorry to lose, but very encouraged too. The next game was the famous preliminary final against Adelaide. Down by 43 points at half time we stormed home to win by a couple of goals. What a pulsating game that was. I remember sitting behind the goals at half time almost resigned to the fact that we’d thrown our chance away.

After that we were never going to lose the grand final, and we duly flogged Carlton by eight goals. Michael Long was electric. Good times.

So, let me recommend it to you: The Greatest Season That Was ’93.