Table Talk: Bob Ellis on film and theatre.
Bob Ellis has been for forty years reviewing films and for forty-one years writing plays, films, novels and essays on the performing arts. In this, his seventieth year, he finds himself drawn to continue these midnight habits, and set down some of his conclusions on these art forms. A further section of this blog, As I Please, named after Orwell's column in the 1940s, will explore some larger questions of life, and reprint some articles refused publication elsewhere.
Wednesday, 4 January 2012
Tuesday, 3 January 2012
The Ellis Classics (1): After The King Spoke
It had an Australian hero, an Australian co-star, Australian producers (Geoffrey Rush, Emile Sherman) and that unique Australian melding of the piss-take and the lazy salute. And it showed the late king, Bertie, to have been a game, disabled, conflicted, suffering, crotchety, valiant fellow.
But it did more than that, not just for him but for the Royals in general. It put into our minds the thought that worse people make more money. And now, today, this week, when men of power routinely order the killing by drones and hit-squads of the daughters, sons and grandchildren of their opposite numbers, it is nice to have a Head of State who speaks up now and then for good behaviour, and peace in our time and is head of the least offensive Christian sect on earth.
Bertie kept his family in England under the Blitz, and in Buckingham Palace, a visible target, served as their human shield. He struggled with his affliction to utter great words of comfort and fortitude in London’s hour of catastrophe. His daughter Elizabeth served in the army, as a driver, his eventual son-in-law Phillip in the navy, as a lieutenant oft-times in peril on the sea. His grandson Andrew flew a helicopter in the Falklands War, attracting and evading heat-seeking missiles. His great-grandson Harry served in Afghanistan. His faraway heir, King William V, in his day-job pilots a rescue helicopter, a not-always safe contraption through the buffeting winds of coastal England.
In a past era of terrorist attack, the royal males walked behind the coffin of Lord Mountbatten, war hero and victim of an IRA bomb, for miles through London streets alive with possible threat. They are a bloodline not easily daunted. They show up for the service. They speak the speech.
And it is thought by the Murdoch press that because in a bugged phone valk a prince once used the word 'tampon' in private converse with his lover he shoulf not be king; but not by me. It is thought that because Prince Andrew is, like other ex-RAF survivors of war, a womaniser, his money should be cut off; but not by me.
And I’ll tell you why I think this.hy
It’s because if there were no royalty in England there would be instead a presidency, elective or not. And the president might not as good a fellow as Bertie, or Andrew, or William, or Harry. He might be Rupert Murdoch. He might be Richard Branson. He might be Tony Blair. He might be Conrad Black or some equivalent of James Packer, or Robert Maxwell, or Donald Trump, or someone with the money and the vulgarity to run for the position, run hard, as such men do for the presidency in America. And what a pity that would be.
Worse people make more money than Wills and Kate. George Bush makes more money, and knows less what to do with it. The Winklevi make more money, and want more and more of it, for having had a rather ordinary idea in 2003. A quarter of a billion they want now.
Those who watched the Royal Wedding were struck, like me, by the intellectual force of the occasion. Great music, chosen by the Prince, great words from the burnt martyr Cranmer, adequate, modest advice from the sonorous agnostic Rowan Williams, a man who has read a book or two and thought a bit about life’s meaning. And the young man who wed, at last, the girlfriend he met in a provincial university ten years ago and is obviously keen on her still, and who lately said at the site of the Christchurch earthquake, ‘Grief is the price we pay for love,’ of his mother who died violently and scandalously, and who goes to work in a rescue helicopter, seems to me a better role model for my grandson, soon to be born, than Rupert Murdoch or Jamie Packer, or Alan Jones, or Gerry Harvey, however much money they push towards the cleaning up of their act. (I would certainly accept Sir David Attenborough as the elective Uncle of England, but he is too decent and busy a man among his fossils, bugs and lizards to seek that improbable new position.)
The best countries on earth are constitutional monarchies: Holland, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Spain, Japan, Canada, New Zealand, Australia. Some republics are good places too: Austria, Germany, Switzerland, France. But the worst countries in the world are republics: Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Libya, Israel, Italy, Russia, China, Somalia, Mexico, the United States, and far outnumber the good ones.
And the reason for this is what it is supposed to be: tradition, good form, a royal example, a way of doing things that is legal, affirmed, accustomed -- unlike the shooting in the face before his grandchildren of a man accused but not arraigned for a crime the FBI did not suspect him of. Such things do not usually happen, now, under monarchies; but under republics, all the time.
The Royals of England pay for themselves in the tourists they attract, the films and miniseries they summon from the rogues of showbiz (are there better costume films than The Young Victoria, The King’s Speech and The Queen? I doubt it) and the sheer joy they bring to working-class women; and they rarely murder anybody - unlike George Bush, an elected president, who murdered fifty thousand children, and Ehud Olmert, an elected prime minister, who murdered three hundred. Their gaucheries, adulteries, power-plays and small corruptions cost their nation less than those of Berlusconi. They mostly mean well, and they do some good.
And they stayed in London under the Blitz. And who can say that was wrong?
God save the Queen.
Or perhaps you disagree.
This article was first published on the ABC website Unleashed, on May 16th, 2011.
Monday, 2 January 2012
As I Please: Henderson Agonistes: A Fool For All Seasons
In 1997 he was urging that the ABC be privatised. Now he is brazenly taking money from it; for appearing irregularly on Insiders, whatever money that might be ('your thirty pieces of silver,' his mentor Santamaria would have called it), on top of the ninety thousand a year or so he gets from the lazy louche leftist-latte-elitist rag the smh now that its sister elitist rag The Age has fired him for premature fascism, or whatever the sin was, and the drifty-eyed somnolence he induces in bus commuters every Tuesday morning. He even favours boat people now, and urges they get a fair go, an extraordinary thing to do, and very irritating I would think to his secret backers whoever they are -- and he must not say, he cannot say -- and their alleged secret backers ASIO, or the CIA, or MI6, or Mossad, or Hughes Tools or whoever.
He says in this morning's piece that Margaret Thatcher was right, entirely right, to turn the Falklands dispute into the Falklands War by sinking the General Belgrano when it was on its way home to safe harbour and threatening no-one, and six hours away from any possibility of imperilling any servicemen, and thus ensure the death of hundreds of sailors and soldiers and civilians on both sides of a war that none but she was keen on; and Julie Rigg by contrast wrong, very wrong, to call her 'a tyrant' merely because she allowed her political foes to starve to death in prison and ordered the assassination of 'terror suspects' in another country, Gibraltar, in breach of that law of nations which thinks this kind of thing premeditated murder. The ABC should have made Rigg apologise for saying this, Gerard humphed. A balanced broadcaster would never say this, even thirty years later, of even Suharto, or Kim Jong Il, or Francisco Franco.
Gerard claims very few right-wing voices are to be heard on the ABC though Peter Reith, who was very nearly Liberal Party President, has an Unleashed column each week and Tony Abbott is printed whenever he writes in and about a third of its contibutors are Liberal voters and half its respondents Liberal staffers or climate change deniers and its boss Mark Scott, a Howard appointee, continues in office unharassed by latte-lapping mutineers, a passionate Christian, Liberal voter and Sunday churchgoer like Gerard himself.
But for Gerard this is not enough. Perhaps the ABC should be privatised after all. When did he stop believing it? He should tell us about this. When did the Saviour appear to him on the Damascus Road saying, 'Keep the ABC, my son, and use it for my glory, and for the earthly mission of John Howard, my Chosen One'?
Gerard's view in 1997 was that the ABC should be put on the market and bought up by a consortium headed by Singo or Packer or Murdoch or Alan Jones. He has never recanted from this or apologised for it, and behaves as if he never said it. He also called George Bush 'the Winston Churchill of our time' for invading Iraq and going on quest for those atomic bombs which all sane folk well knew were buried, for some reason, under a sandhill there. He also called me 'the false prophet of Palm Beach' for saying John Howard would lose his seat and jeered at me for six years in his quarterly for saying it, calling me a writer of 'doggerel' and never quoting any. He has a convincing tone of voice, rather like that of Rudd, and he writes rather well from sentence to sentence, but he is nearly always wrong. And he follows the CIA line so strictly it's hard to believe they don't buy him the odd lemon squash from time to time, or send him a box of chocolates.
He has refused to debate me for twenty years, afeared that I might assault him, or use bad language, or take off my clothes or something, though Tony Abbott did once, and found it quite a nice experience, and me a fairly civilised fellow, and did it again a year later.
The great problem for Gerard, and for most of the Right, is the old oriental one of 'saving face'. They were wrong about Vietnam; wrong about Kruschev; wrong about Utzon; wrong about the Birthday Ballot; wrong about Nixon; wrong about Che; wrong about Dubcek; wrong about Allende; wrong about Whitlam; wrong about John Lennon; wrong about Dunstan; wrong about Hawke; wrong about Deng; wrong about Gorbachev; wrong about Ortega; wrong about Greiner; wrong about Carr; wrong about Rann; wrong about Kennett; wrong about Bracks; wrong about the yellowcake of Niger; wrong about Bin Laden being already dead or on dialysis; wrong about Hicks; wrong about Habib; wrong about Haneef; wrong about Howard; wrong about Nelson; wrong about Swan and the world economy; wrong about Obama's chances of election; wrong about the intellectual grunt of Sarah Palin; wrong about the sanity of Glenn Beck; wrong about safe nuclear power; wrong about Iraq; wrong about Afganistan; wrong about Karzai; wrong about Murdoch; wrong about the speed of global warming; wrong about the strategic intelligence of Alan Joyce; wrong about the viability of the Arab Spring; wrong about Bachman, Perry, Huntsman, Huckabee, Paul and Santorum, and yet they have to behave, as Gerard always does, with a kind of Mandarin unflappability as though they are always right; and they never are.
And yet they get up each morning and go on television and pretend they are. And they never are. And they never have been. If anyone can give me an example of them being right in the last fifty years he or she should inform this website in the next fortnight or so.
Which is one way of saying, I guess that they're very good actors, nearly all of them. Nearly all of them look unconflicted, but Gerard twitches a bit in the clinches.
Gerard is worse off than some of the others because he also believes in a human-sacrifice and hellfire-burning religion that requires him to eat Christ's living flesh most Sunday mornings and burned a lot of Jews in its time, and must somehow pretend to believe that God is in charge of things and a very nice fellow who loves us very much though he's killed nine billion of us thus far and lots and lots of Jews in ovens lately and visits earthquakes on Christchurch so often that the city fathers soon might change its name. I hope he drinks a lot of whisky before bed, because he's in a lot of intellectual trouble with his Christianity and his humanist wife and his guru Howard who likes locking up children in hell-holes though Gerard, lately, oddly, changeably, does not.
I invite him to come to Gleebooks at a time of his convenience and have a chat.
We could call it 'The Right Thing To Do'.
He would be, in Kingsley Amis's wonderful phrase, 'Christendom's premier fucking fool' if he does not.