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.

It’s not about me

Last night about 10,000 people gathered in a silent vigil at Princes Park. They were there because last week Eurydice Dixon was raped and murdered there in the small hours of the night. Last week hers was a name few knew; today hers is a name renowned across the country, with vigils in Sydney and Canberra simultaneously.

The death of Eurydice has outraged and caught the imagination as sometimes shocking events like this do. She was a young comedian walking home after a gig. By all accounts she was a lovely, quirky individual. She was set upon in the dark in the middle of a vacant oval where she was raped, no doubt crying out for help and mercy, unheard, and died there, alone, the victim of a male persecutor.

It’s a terrible story and no wonder it has resonated, but it has echoed much louder than that because what happened to her happens to other women too with a terrible regularity, here, across the country and throughout the world, and for as long as anyone can remember. The vigil last night was for Eurydice, and it was also for every one of those victims. Enough is enough.

It has sparked much comment and commentary, with good reason. Much of it addresses the reality that the perpetrators of these acts are always men. For all it’s controversial. For women they’re sick of walking the streets feeling threatened and unsafe. For many men they refuse to be lumped in with the evil predators guilty of these heinous acts, or be associated with the toxic masculinity that so often leads to it. And for some of us we must sorrowfully accept that even if we might not be guilty ourselves we are a part of a male culture that makes it possible.

Little of this is terribly new, what’s new perhaps is the defiant rejection that this can be allowed to go on. This is why people gather, to show solidarity and to demand action.

Once upon a time I think I was probably one of those men who would refuse to be tarred with the same brush. I would never do that, could never do it, why should I then be reviled as someone who might? I’m still someone incapable of such things, but I understand how little that means to a woman who has endured sexism and harassment daily, who lives with the threat of even worse. They don’t know me; I am one of the group that oppress and threaten them. Like racism, like so many isms, this can only ever be truly judged from the perspective of the oppressed and disadvantaged.

It’s a very sad state of affairs but, as I said, not terribly new. I recalled the other day a time about 25 years ago when I would often walk the streets long after dark. I had a lot going on inside and to simply walk in the dark by myself was a way to get my thoughts in order and soothe my busy mind. Occasionally I would come across someone else on the streets, and sometimes they were women.

I had an instinctive understanding of the situation – late at night, no-one else about, and a big, brooding bloke stalking the streets. For a woman it was potentially a dangerous combination, and though I didn’t like it I would cross the road or go another way to avoid her and ease her mind. I felt shabby doing it, and almost angry. It was like an admission of guilt I didn’t deserve – yet I did it anyway, knowing it was the right thing to do.

This is where we are today. I tweeted a reply to something the other day and it has been shared and commented on since. I wrote as a male, admitting that as such I represented a potential threat. I’m not that man I said, but – and this is the critical aspect many men overlook – it isn’t about me. Or any individual man. It’s about what we have come to represent as a collective and, more particularly, it’s about the fear that we have come to engender in so many women.

It seems petty to get my knickers in a twist about what some are saying about men. Some of it is pretty general, even offensive, but I get the gist of it. For too long we have got away with it and been allowed to get away with it. The perpetrators might get locked up, but the conditions that allow for such perpetrators to emerge go unchecked, and so it goes on. It is a cultural issue that all of us must take responsibility for, but particularly men. As long as we continue to deny and defend, as long as we condone by our silence and inaction, the responsibility for those very few who commit these crimes will be borne by all of us.

Why, as a woman, would you think any different? We must be respectful of the legitimate fear held by women. Those who gathered overnight are right: enough is enough, we must do something. As a man I think the best I can do is accept and admit to this, to call out those who transgress, and be a role model for all.

In the news again

I was on TV this morning. I got off the train at Flinders Street station all set to go to work. As I approached the set of lights on the corner of Swanston and Flinders street I observed a ripple of excitement in the crowd there, including a bunch of schoolgirls getting very schoolgirlish, and everyone else craning their necks around to take in something over my right shoulder.

I’m prone to disregard such herd behaviour, but after a bit I dropped the nonchalant act and turned around to find there was a roving film crew from one of the breakfast shows. My immediate reaction was ho-hum, but as I turned back to the front I caught from the corner of my eye one of the hosts pointing my way, as if to say, that’s our man.

It was no surprise a few moments later to feel a hand on my shoulder. When I turned around there was a camera pointed at my face, a couple of smiling hosts, and a bunch of production crew and promotional staff arms full of chocolate.

They asked my name. I told them. They urged the gathered crowd to give H a round of applause. The crowd applauded. I was told if I could identify this ‘noted celebrity’ – the man next to me – I would win the block of chocolate he was holding.

I knew his face, and his name was somewhere in the depths of my mind. I ventured a guess. “Andrew?” I said speculatively.

Yes, they erupted with pleasure, then said they would come back to the rest of my answer after this weather forecast. I stood there while the host did his weather report from the street. I chatted to the noted celebrity, who was a lovely bloke. I murmured to him that I couldn’t remember his name. His eyes darted to the camera, then he leaned in and whispered in my ear “O’Keefe”.

The weather report done they turned back to me, poised expectantly for my answer. “Andrew,” I repeated, pausing theatrically, then, with a speculative, uncertain note in my voice, “O’Keefe?”

The crowd exploded. The bewildering cheer of breakfast TV people was dialled up to 11. I was congratulated on air, all of it by now a blur to me, as Andrew O’Keefe generously offered me all the chocolate.

There were smiles all round and laughter as I was plied with chocolate, probably 40-50 bars of it. I still had a way to go to work, so had to put it down. I opened my bag and my new mate Andrew helped me shove chocolate bars into it, taking the time to compliment me on my overcoat. I probably managed to jam in about 30 bars, but had to leave the rest with them. We bid smiling farewells and off to work I went.

I then discovered how many people watch breakfast TV – more than I imagined. By the time I got to work there was a photo of me on screen posted to Facebook by a friend. I received messages. A business acquaintance sent me an email with another photo proclaiming me famous now.

All very embarrassment for a humble character like me.

That’s about 5-6 minutes of fame, but when you add it to other episodes – a vox pop years ago, and an interview I did for a lifestyle program after I’d bought a house at auction – then it probably adds up to about 15 minutes so, theoretically, I’m done.

Little do they know…


I consumed my weekly allocation of alcohol last night, but it was worth it.

I caught up with people who have known me for a very long time, and who care for me a lot. That’s a very small demographic these days.

One of the topics of conversation was my Facebook status updates since the new year. Since deciding to open up I’ve been a lot more candid and intimate. Over the journey I’ve received some puzzled responses from long-time friends struggling to reconcile this new and open character with the inscrutable person they knew. Not everyone has been fully understanding, but overall the reception has been good.

I was surprised to find how much interest my updates had roused in my friends; and even more surprised to discover how positive they were.

One is an old friend of mum. She knows me well, and knows how close-mouthed I’ve always been when it comes to things personal. I knew she would be receptive. Her husband, however, a lovely, intelligent bloke, a self-made millionaire and hard-nosed entrepreneur, was equally supportive – and very curious. Where did it all come from he asked, before adding “I think it’s great”.

So I explained the genesis of it all and then, taking a deep breath, began to explain some of the hardship I’d suffered. I didn’t go into every detail, and the telling was in dribs and drabs rather than one, single confessional outpouring.

Over the course of the evening we ranged across different subjects sitting in the courtyard bar of Collins Quarter. I was urged to get hopping now that I had opened myself and find a girl. I was reassured it was not too late to become a father, and told I would be good at it. It was explained to me what an attractive proposition I was, unlike many, being sensitive, intelligent, articulate, well educated, and so on. I was told repeatedly, and with some surprise that “you look great!”. I was even told I had a different spring to my step and a changed demeanour.

I was grateful for all of this. I hadn’t really thought of it much beyond knowing that I wanted to finally settle down.

That’s a destination, vague and generic. The actuality of being the person who might achieve that was not something I had considered. I think I probably accepted I had the goods, but I hadn’t translated those qualities into a concept of an attractive commodity.

I was on the train this morning feeling thirsty and reflecting on some of this. Directly in my eye line was a tall and attractive Chinese girl, beautifully dressed. I looked at her as someone I might like, and then – and this was different from before – as someone I might possess. I felt as if I could go across to her, whisper in her ear, and have her lean into me affectionately. What a powerful feeling that is, and somewhat intoxicating. Yet I knew that is not what I want now.

Getting into work I found waiting for me an email from the girl here. She’s been away sick and I haven’t seen or spoken to her for over a week. There was a backlog of emails from me waiting for her though, and now she began to respond.

I responded to her. Soon enough we were talking on the phone too.

Our email communications are quasi affectionate, quasi flirtatious, and our phone conversations seemingly close and authentic, candid and natural. These modes of communication we can handle well, and become a form of outlet between us. It is less easy face to face, though it’s improving.

It’s like when we’re in each other’s presence we become aware of the subtext which we discard – or maybe embrace – when we communicate in other ways. It’s too real when we’re together, but over the phone or by email it’s more instinctive and pleasurable, almost as if by mutual consent we relax the rules governing our behaviour. (and as I write this another email comes in from her).

As before I’m being no more than myself, and in this case that’s someone fond and affectionate and with a wry, teasing wit. I’m happy for that to be what it is – and if something more comes from it all the better. No pressure though. What will be, will be.

How the sums add up

Went after work on Friday for drinks with JV. Donna joined us later.

We started at Union Electric sipping cocktails in the upstairs extension. I was in a buoyant mood and the cocktails helped that along nicely. After an hour or so Donna joined us for another drink, before we headed out for dinner at Ombra.

Had a good meal and interesting conversation. Donna left us to visit a friend and JV and I went to Long Son for another cocktail. Then home, James.

Had a fun night, but there were a couple of notable things to come out of it.

First is just an observation – I’m in the middle of one of those patches where I’ve become very interesting to the opposite sex. I’m enjoying it. You notice it at first in the lingering glances and friendly smiles and eye contact, and the prickling knowledge that others are aware of you. Often there’s even a sense of deference. Everything seems to revolve around you, with others waiting to take their cue. Conversation follows, and the rest of it.

This I remembered from when I was a lot younger and better looking, but I’m getting it again. I look okay – better than I have – but I expect much of it is attitude and confidence – which brings us to the next thing.

JV attended the Forum/Landmark recently and we sat and discussed some of the things he got out of it. He explained the concept of the Winning Formula – the instinctive fall-back position we have to get what we want, or where we feel most comfortable.

For JV he said his winning formula was to please people to avoid confrontation. Donna said hers was her interactions with other people and her soft skills in that area. So what was mine?

You know, I couldn’t answer directly. I made a quip about having some losing formulas, then finally offered up my intelligence. It’s rare that I feel myself intellectually flummoxed, and I actually enjoy the challenge of surmounting complex ideas and systems. I tend to think of it as my ace – there’s nothing I can’t get my head around and master. I can see and think my way through things.

Donna had a different take, though it’s not unrelated. She said my winning formula was self-belief.

She has long lauded my confidence but I haven’t taken much notice of it – maybe because I’m aware of the moments of doubt and frailty. I can appear a certain way, but it’s far from being 100%, and even so there’s a good component of fake it till you make it.

Self-belief I think is slightly different. If confidence is the outward expression, then self-belief is the wellspring from which it flows.

I know that I could never have survived my troubles without a fundamental faith in myself – call it self-belief. In that context it us a defensive attribute. But as Donna offered that up, and JV has no cause to disagree, I stopped to wonder where this self-belief has come from.

I remember many years ago I struggled with my confidence. I was the type of kid who would try and overcome it by acting differently. I was never timid, though I could be shy. My habit then was to defy it, as it has been ever since with anything that challenges me.

Somewhere along the line it changed – from having little confidence I became someone with the confidence to take on anything. I agree, it has empowered me along the way to challenge myself to greater achievement, and even to greater risk.

You could argue that my self-belief was forged in the act of doing things and achieving them. I put myself out there, was recognised for my efforts, and over a period consistently rewarded with promotion and responsibility. I could see that others valued and trusted me. I also discovered that I was smarter than most people. Was that it?

Perhaps it was, but there’s a difference between quiet self-confidence and ringing self-belief. I achieved the latter, not all of which can be easily explained by keeping score. The answer is I don’t really know, unless there is something innate in me which was fed by my relative success.

So here I am today and as I reflect on that I think my travails lately have strengthened me having survived them. I am more tender, but I know also that I have the flexibility of mind to endure most things. Certainly that leads to self-belief, but I wonder if I am accorded this almost by exception? For me I’ve done the sums and they add up to good reason for self-belief; where in others, for their own reasons, they factor in elements that lessen the sum?