Wednesday 4 January 2012

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Tuesday 3 January 2012

The Ellis Classics (1): After The King Spoke

Several Australian commentators have lately noted that The King’s Speech hurt the republican cause in this country.
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

It was unwise, I suspect, of Gerard Henderson to say in his column this morning that the ABC was going leftward, ever leftward, since he himself is going leftward even faster.
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.
Think hard.
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.

Thursday 29 December 2011

As I Please: The Dear David Letter

Dear David,
There have been for these last nine days no respondents acclaiming or defending Nothing Personal. And this, surely, is the point.
I praised Don Parties On, and praised it in print, because I thought it good. I dispraised Nothing Personal because I thought it bad; and thought it, moreover, a minor scandal that the Ensemble had put it on when better plays were available.
You and Kristin however have said I panned it solely because I was a jealous of you, and a sad, sad man with a fameless, frustrated life. This would make some emotional sense if the play had any defenders, but there are none. Where are they? I ask you to drum up a hundred quickly lest your libellous claim that I had no motive but jealousy further enkindle the present, irritable situation.
I said one Williamson play was good, and, a year later, another Williamson play was bad because, what, I was jealous of you? and always have been? Please take some thought about this. An apology, appropriately worded, would be accepted.
In the meantime let us look at the revived Nation Review and your part in its extinction. When your lawyer's letter came in the printer/publisher Peter Isaacson said, 'I haven't budgeted for litigation!', cursed my 'love-hate relationship' with you,  kicked a chair and soon closed down the paper for a 'six-week Christmas break' after only ten issues. It never came back; and the subsequent shrivelled careers of Hepworth, Mungo, Cook and Leunig then followed, and within two years, the death of its layout-creator and food writer Sam Orr (Richard Beckett) at 52.
To say you did not 'sue' the paper may be technically correct, but by God you did the pivotal thing, after only six issues, in extinguishing it.
And a lot of fine writing consequently never occurred. I remember Les Murray mournfully asking when it was coming back, since he had never been paid a dollar a word before.
A sad, sad business. And why? Because I had said you had stolen the phrase 'a long thin streak of pelican shit' from Alex Buzo who used it in Norm And Ahmed thirteen years before and grumbled to me about it. You correctly pointed out it was in the common tongue. And thus extinguished the great adventure, probably, of The Nation Review.
You do harm, David. You do harm you do not acknowledge to other writers' careers. Bryan Brown was shaping up as a good correspondent, Laurel McGowan, Tony Morphett, Lex Marinos, Peter Jensen, Fred Hollows. You pre-emptively stepped on the neck of a lot of good writing. But, heck, how little does that matter when compared with the derivation of 'pelican shit' as Australian invective? The pelican shit outweighs it all; outweighs Fred Hollows; everything. Follow the thread. Follow the thread.
Kristin's odd view that any critic of any of your plays must be sad, lonely, jealous or mad is very, very close in its reasoning to the longtime Soviet policy of gaoling dissidents in lunatic asylums and should, I suggest, be reconsidered before it is repeated. For it does raise the question, does it not, since she is so protective of your work, of how much she did of your work.
A lot of 'research', she implies, for Nothing Personal, whatever that means. How much research for what else? And how much dialogue? For Sons Of Cain, for instance, which seems to be based on her years at The National Times? Did you give her fair credit for this in the programme? What credit was that? Perhaps the two of you should answer this one separately.
It's entirely possible none of this would have happened if you had simply held tight to your millions and not compained too vividly when a play of yours was criticised; and if Kristin had been more truthful -- and less triumphalist -- in her memoir. Or if you had given her what she first wanted, an acting career. 'I wanted to be his Monica Vitti,' she told me once. And I think it is true.
As thus the whirligig of time, as the Earl of Oxford once said, brings in his revenges.
Over to you.
Bob Ellis
P.S. Anyone wanting to see more of this correspondence will find it under my piece Tall Poppies: David Williamson's Nothing Personal in these pages now, and, later, under 'December 2011'.
P.P.S. David replied to this under Tall Poppies, and I replied to him in the column now called The Williamson Moment, but my words all vanished in the computer. I will try to rewrite them in the next few hours.
P.P.P.S. They are now rewritten. For further correspondence, see the ever-augmenting As I Please below.

Tuesday 27 December 2011

As I Please: The Williamson Moment, The Maggie Movie, The Ashes Of '011, The Beresford Fireworks Party, The Thatcher-Kristin Comparison, The Wikileaks Admonition, The Beresford Intervention, The New York Production, The Onion Sandwich At Wayne's, The Reading List, The Marples Distraction, The Guilt Of Gabriel Byrne, The Voting Trends Thus Far, Williamson The Liberal, The Popjie Intervention, Applause, Applause, And So It Goes

Saw The Iron Lady and wrote about it for Unleashed a piece they may not want and I'll put up here if they reject it. The short summary is two great performances in a film unworthy of them, sluggishly confected by two dull women with much more interest in dementia than politics, and no interest whatever, it seems, in how Thatcher changed, and pretty much wrecked, the western world.
On Thursday morning I became aware that Kristin Williamson had fingered me again as a sad, lonely, jealous, friendless failure and bade me get off the earth in her usual regal proud magnanimous way, and had foolishly done so in these pages, whose only editor is me. I had some green tea and Vegemite toast and a think, and after some vacillation decided to exhume our old sexual relationship, and a theory about her attitude I got from it, one chill, horny night in Diamond Creek.
It's in the correspondence under Tall Poppies.
I may also publish the missing Ellis-Brooksbank-Williamson letters from Days Of Wine And Rage that Kristin had suppressed.
It could be an interesting summer.
Saturday, 31st December, 2011
No correspondence yet from anyone who liked Nothing Personal and no more from the Williamsons. It's possible they will now do nothing but they could sue, I suppose, and strive to take the house. This is Annie's great fear, and my son Jack, who's a lawyer, pointms out how much Marieke Hardy had to pay for a wrong accusation that was up for only one hour on her blog and named the wrong male pest as her hate-bloggker and had to withdraw, apologize and fling sheaves of money at him. It's a new world. And not a brave one.
The difficulty David and Kristin risk in all this is contained in what she wrote about me in her book and in her recent ballistic reply, and what I wrote about her in mine that Penguin asked me to take out. It wasn't libellous but would make her 'uncomfortable', the editor said. Maybe it should be reprinted.
Here, say.
Their technique has been remarkably successful to date: just say 'You're jealous of our success, just look at the money we're making by writing plays that people want to see' and watch the befuddled critics crawl backwards out of the room. And for decades the critics have done so. It's worked very well.
But they've never acknowledged, not even for a minute, the part that timing had in their success, as it did in the life of Andrew Lloyd Webber, turning up with Jesus Christ Superstar just when the sixties youth culture was heating up to its clitoral climax and the censorship of the stage (forbidding dramatisations of Christ in the theatre, and nudity, and coarse language, and impertinent political comment) was being lifted at last in England and America.
In David's case it was the arrival of Don's Party a few months before Whitlam was uproariously elected, which made him overnight the limelit laureate of that particular eloquent, colourful, poignant, passionate era.
But had he done it a year later, and had John Doyle, for instance, come up with his Changi musical, or some early draft of Pig Iron People in the same big year, 1972, it would then have been John not David who became the flagship comedy-dramatist of the decade and the bankable brand-name of the nineteen-eighties, and it would then have been David who was writing Certain Women and A Country Practice, as Annie my wife did, and I did for a while, and stifling under the storylines. And it would have been John who was having glamorous opening nights at the Opera House and the West End. And deservedly so, because he is, as we all now know, the better writer.
But the ongoing Kristin Doctrine of Williamson Exceptionalism (other people also write good dialogue and raise laughs in plays that succeed but we are exceptional, chosen, apart from the common herd in a somehow royal, somehow predestined way) has an alluring touch to it -- of magical realism, of pixie-dust and rainbow's ends and wishes made on a star -- that has drawn too many female interviewers into the Legend that, until now, has been the scenario.
If you say you're the best, and you imply you have a particular gift for something or other -- Baz Luhrman comes to mind in this context, Stephan Elliot, Benedict Andrews, Barry Kosky, Alan Jones, Kyle Sandilands -- there will always be a few dull tycoons out there somewhere, and a few fearful bureaucrats in government boardrooms, to admire your impertinence and fund it, and often, not always, a large unlettered audience to reward you. Kristin to her credit understood this. But she did not reckon on the Legend outstaying its welcome, which it has.
These anyway are a few drear midnight thoughts on my seventieth New Year's Eve to heaven that may guide and shape and sweeten the days and days and days of Kristin ruckus that is to come.
A green tea, I think, and bed.
2.05 pm
It was David not Kristin that came back again to these columns, to correct and embellish a few 'facts' about his and Kristin's money, mentioning no amounts and not denying the sex or Kristin's part in his writing, and perhaps unwisely libelling me by saying my 'vitriolic attacks' on Kristin are because she doesn't treat me with the 'reverence' I think I deserve from 'the opposite sex'; though I never sue; I never sue.
But he's wrong, really wrong, about why I'm doing this. It's actually about good table manners, in the end, in table talk like this. For I would respond to Kristin's apparent guiding belief that all criticism of her and David is somehow a breach of royal protocol with the same splenetic annoyance if she and I were still committing adultery together; and I would by God resent, and resent in public, as I do here, her lofty disdain for better talents than David if we were still the threesome we briefly and brashly and lustily were in September 1974.
David says in his letter he will do now what I suggested a week ago, put money via the Writers' Guild into the upkeep and care of new playwrights. He hasn't said how much, and he emphasises it was all there in the pipeline before I suggested it, and it will start, a happy coincidence, next year; and whatever the sum it turns out to be for this good work it will be welcome.
He also reminds me, correctly, of some of his past kindnesses to me and Annie: of the money he put into my run against Bronwyn Bishop (a thousand dollars, Annie recalls, a sum only Peter Garrett equalled and no-one bettered) in late1993, and of the money he gave us, the total I don't remember, when our house burned down a few months before; and I thank him now of course without caveats for his generosity twice in that far-off calendar year. And I in turn, of course, can also remember, not that it matters, how twenty years before that I helped make Maggie Fink fund the Removalist film, and with O'Malley helped create the theatre, the Nimrod, and the director, John Bell, that launched his career in Sydney.
We have had our ups and downs, as Eleanor of Aquitaine coldly jested in The Lion In Winter. He praised Down Under and A Very Good Year. I praised Petersen, Phar Lap and Duet For Four and bagged Gallipoli, and he sued me for it. We travelled in Bali together, quarrelled in foyers, saw the same great British theatre, got drunk in Chinese restaurants and shared a few girls, or I think we did; two for certain. He mocked me so accurately in Celluloid Heroes that Graham Blundell was excised from the Ellis role in the Belvoir production lest I note the close resemblance and sue them for it. I so esteemed Dead White Males I saw it four times and commanded my grumbling family to it. He said I was 'unequalled as a rhetorician in the Australian context', high praise for him. We were civil at writers' festivals. We never shared a bed again. We exchanged affectionate letters. I really liked Face To Face. My review of it was never published. We planned once to write a musical together but Kristin, territorial as ever, put a quick stop to that.
Kristin is like that. She defends her patch with ferocity, and any intruders are soon cast out of partnership with her meek and sorrowing tall obedient consort. Like Margaret Thatcher or Bronwyn Bishop she believes the past can be removed from a nation's brain cells if a tough bright girl just has the will to say 'it never happened' or 'how dare you bring that up, it was a long time ago.' David has caught the disease of denial, and in his latest response now says, in effect, 'I know I can't write, of course I can't write, but I must be paid millions for failing to do it. I think this is only fair.'
But the pigeons are coming home to roost in the eves of elden memory and it's time perhaps he revealed how much he lately paid resurging litigants, and how much of its wording had to be changed or abolished for legal reasons before Kristin's memoir was printed last year, if the Penguin rumours are true; and how happy he was in the end with a book that aired so many of their marital difficulties and cast him as an adulterous goof and her as a loyal wife who only took lovers when exasperated by the number, frequency and foolishness of his, a book he said in interviews he had begged her not to write. And if her decision to do no more writing is connected to this.
And it's time he said -- though of course it makes no matter in a legal sense -- what sort of work she did on plays like Sons of Cain and Corporate Vibes and Top Silk and Nothing Personal which seem to some to more echo her voice and style than, say, Don's Party, The Club or The Department and if she will get a credit in future (like, say, 'With Kristin Williamson') for the research work she occasionally does for her hardscribbling spouse, if this indeed is the case. When she told my wife in 1974 how lucky she was that I let her put her name on plays that we wrote collaboratively, David was preparing, or conceiving, or working on A Handful Of Friends and this could be added to the list of their joint projects if the theory is true.
There are always two names on the plays and screenplays I co-write. It halves my income from each of these projects but I think it only fair.
Sunday, January 1st, 2012, 7.53 am
Went with difficulty to Beresford's fireworks party in the house he bought from the Williamsons by the water in Birchgrove, walking for fifty minutes from a blocked-off Darling Street and sharing my map with other pilgrims enthused by water and fire and the turning of the year as I to their surprise was not.
The first thing Bruce said at the door was 'The Williamsons aren't coming'. We agreed it was a pity.
The guests who made it through the policing and watched on the verandah the great flowering of beauty above the Bridge included John Duigan, whose new movie Careless Love is terrific and reviwed in these pages, and who may or may not direct in partnership with Bruce, if we can fix it, our Murdoch miniseries; his sister Virginia Duigan, Bruce's wife, whose novel The Precipice, lately launched by Barry Humphries, Annie says is really good; the cinematographer Don McAlpine who shot Breaker Morant and Driving Miss Daisy, now in his middle seventies and shooting 'a science fiction film' in New Orleans; the playwright-academic Larry Buttrose who is unabashedly still at work on his vast and punishing Don Quixote Project; the American-born actor and writer Nicholas Hammond who was one of the children in The Sound Of Music and lately played Arthur Miller in Intimate Strangers in the reading Bruce directed at the Wharf; and his partner Robyn Nevin, content she said to be touring in the Doll at 69 (she is six months younger than me) as it meant she was 'still working'.
She wasn't pleased I was fighting, again, with the Williamsons -- 'Still at it are you, darling?' -- but agreed I think with my dim view of Nothing Personal, though Beresford liked it a lot. 'It was my idea,' she said. 'I was up at Pearl Beach at a lunch with some semi-retired arts bureaucrats and I looked around the table and thought a play about people who were losing their influence in the world, and how this affected them, would be a good thing to do. And I soon asked David to write it. And he did. And it wasn't what I wanted at all.'
'And you rejected it?'
'Yes. Yes, I did.'
'Have you seen this production?'
'No. No. I haven't.'
She'd directed Corporate Vibes, of course, and may not have liked the experience.
And the fireworks banged and crackled and bloomed and faded above the Opera House and the Bridge and the dark, boat-bobbing water.
David and Kristin would have loved to have seen this from the old verandah, I thought.
But not, perhaps, tonight.
11.55 am
This blog racked up 1196 hits on Friday-Saturday and 1154 on Saturday-Sunday not counting my own interventions and on these figures, I am told, it just might attract some advertising, from cinemas and theatres, for instance.
Not, I would think, from the Ensemble for a while.
Kristin's resemblance to Margaret Thatcher is worth brooding on. She lacks the whisky component, but other qualities are similar; the David-Denis comparison merits attention also.
I will ponder this more closely.
6.45 pm
Beresford has written in defending Nothing Personal under my piece about boat people and constitutes, thus far, the Williamsons' only advocate in these pages.
It may not prove a breach between us, the first in fifty-one years of acquaintanceship, friendship and collaboration early and late, but then again it may.
And so it goes.
11.50  pm
The hits on this blog this New Year's Day look like totalling more than two thousand; proving, I guess, that the lovers' quarrels of even septuagenarians draw audiences when honour's at the stake (in Hamlet's words) and the arguments well put.
Or it may be that the Williamsons' world is one of corporate secrets hidden for generations from prying eyes and this is the world of wikileaks where everything soon gets known by everybody.
Let's see what the morrow brings.
Monday, January 2nd, 2012
7.25 am
My co-writer Denny Lawrence emailed while I was asleep that there will be a staged reading in New York of our Olivier-Monroe-Miller-Leigh-Coward play Intimate Strangers to scare up backers for a full production Off-Broadway this year. The Curtis-Branagh film on Monroe and Olivier has at last alerted interest in the bleeding obvious and the excellent script, praised alike by Bell, Carr, Collins, Williams, Beresford, Nevin, Forsythe, Ralston Saul, Al Clark and Greta Scacchi, and rejected, of course, by the Ensemble three years ago, who preferred the work of the Williamsons.
Twelve years in the writing, during which our audience died, and three years in the waiting after the economic downturn hobbled its first, fresh London hopes, the touring New York version and a proposed new West End one with Barry Humphries as Noel Coward may fund some part, I guess, of my extreme old age, now imminent, and show the world at last some measure of the Williamson Effect, which is to stop good work getting on in significant Australian theatres, and interrupting careers that might have else brought joy to many audiences.
Andrew Upton has for three years refused to read it, saying 'I'm just so busy'.
9.40 am
Went to Wayne's for an onion sandwich, a Vegemite sandwich, a peanut butter sandwich, a Coke and a latte and a brisk walk round the block and began to wonder if I should sell now from this address the DVD we did of Beresford's reading --- with Muldoon, Heather Mitchell, Amanda Bishop, Nicholas Hammond, Terry Clark and Patrick Brammall as Olivier, Leigh, Monroe, Miller, Coward and Tarquin Olivier -- of Intimate Strangers for five dollars each; or four. It might convince some theatre managements of its superiority to Nothing Personal and Dog's Head Bay and encourage them to put it on in my lifetime and make me a few spare millions; but you never know.
Best, I think, to do a few more readings with that fine cast and then sell shares in it. The Olivier-Monroe market is hot for a few weeks and we should move now.
And so it goes.
2.15 pm
A biscuit and a latte at the Bookoccino after going for half an hour to The Skin I Live In which seems to be rubbish, and a look at what the politicians are reading over the summer (Shorten Richard Mahony, Mawson, and After America; Swanny Keynes/Hayek, Kissinger on China, and Keith Richard's Life; Rudd The Tyrannicide Brief, Ruby Blues, Civilisation, and Why The West Rules -- For Now; Penny Wong some baby books and There Goes The Neighbourhood, and Gillard of course Tony Bilson's 'culinary memoir' whilst curled up front of her role model Miss Marple wittering and solving things on the television) and listing in my mind, for what it's worth, what I am also reading.
Niall Ferguson's Empire; Peter Ackroyd's The History Of England: Foundation; Eric Lax's The Mold In Dr. Florey's Coat; Wodehouse's Carry On, Jeeves for the eighth time; Hitchens' Unacknowledged Legislation for the second; David Marr's Panic; W.H. Auden's Prose, Volume IV; Arthur Miller's Echoes Down The Corridor; Thomas Harris's The Fear Index; Ian Kershaw's The End: Hitler's Germany, 1944-45; and, if I can get them, Fred Raphael's Letters 1978-79 and Hugh Trevor-Roper's wartime diaries.
It is a little amazing to me that the Prime Minister has not yet read her first book on Asian or European or Middle Eastern or American affairs; or any novel on any subject whatsoever since high school; but who am I to criticise our Blameless Leader In This Time Of Enormous Global Challenge for such a tiny oversight. No doubt there will be someone in the office to tell her what to think; what to think, say, when Gaza is next bombed to smithereens, on January the tenth or so, I am told, and to write the pro-Israel speech and coach her through its delivery; the one that says that like 007 Israel is licensed to kill, and kill in particular children 'in self-defence', on any Christmas holiday of their choosing, and that will be that: only a few dozen immolated schoolkids, Prime Minister, who will miss them, only their immediate family, only people unapprised of the big picture; people much like, well, you, Prime Minister.
But, hell, by then Miss Marple will have solved nine Home County homicides; and that, of course, is what matters.
3.05 pm
No defence but Beresford's yet of Nothing Personal in the fifteen days since I called it a sort of war crime. Perhaps the North Shore audience is uncertain about it.
I ask them to speak up, if they will, and say why they liked it so much. And anyone who detested Intimate Strangers, of course, when it was on, and why they found it so bad, boring and feeble-minded.
I invite contributions.
9.30 pm
Watched four episodes of In Treatment marvelling at the dialogue and the performance in particular of Mia Wasikowska, then seventeen, and the subtle, shaded reactions of Gabriel Byrne, the guilt-smitten psychologist, who can hint aggression, lust and moral fury better than almost any living Irishman other than Peter O'Toole. The  blog hits for today are now 2,501 in only eleven hours, not counting mine, and should top three thousand by this long night's journey's end. Would Kristin Williamson call this a 'success'? I doubt it.
Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012
8.50 am
A good exchange with a Liberal-voting fool who seems to be a Williamson friend in the columns below this entry.
It would be interesting to track the Williamson audience from Labor in 1972 through Democrat in 1985 to Liberal now. It has nothing to do with his politics I think, just the social circles which he, an Engineering graduate resident in Coastal Queensland, grew more familiar with.
And so it goes.
11.40 am. The final figures for yesterday now in: 3,978. Tendulkar already in.
4.45 pm
India's innings a debacle. How foolish it is to bowl so well. It loses the SCG millions, and saddens a billion batting enthusiasts, here and on the Subcontinent.
The more I think about Thatcher and Kristin the more appropriate the comparison seems. Will-power. Gorgeous legs. Lofty flirtatiousness. Implacability. I suspect Maggie too would have been terrigic in bed.
Is 'terrific in bed' libellous? Under the Higgins Rules, probably.
It could be seen to imply the woman was 'unchaste'.
What a proud Sustralian coinage.
11.25 pm
A very funny send-up of all this by Ben Popjie on his blog shows good writing did not end when Rodney Cavalier by ministerial fiat abolished good spelling.
It should go in any future update of Dwight MacDonald's classic collection, Parodies.

Saturday 24 December 2011

Blanchett, Unbuttoned

I saw Gross Und Klein on Wednesday night and in the middle of the second row of the stalls underwent an experience unlike any other in my life thus far: an intimate exposure to one of the world's great stage performances by a female, and a play so jagged and bewildering I wanted to leave the theatre.
It's about a woman seeking lodgings, friendships, family love and personal fulfilment who may be a little mad. Her husband beats her; she leaves him; she begs him to take her back; he beats her again, inexplicably; some people she stays with for a while evict her; her best friend from school won't invite her up as she stands forlorn on the street and presses the button; she attends a family gathering at which a mad son pulls down his father's beach shorts exposing his genitals; at one point she talks to the audience about the dreary time she's having at a conference overhearing conversations in the restaurant and saying the word 'amazing' a lot and 'I love voices'; she bleeds from the crotch at one point and holds up bloodied fingers in wonderment. It's all very puzzling, and I'm not sure what to make of it. It's as if there was a missing first act and I got there an hour late.
In the lead role Blanchett flings herself about in a kind of puppet-dance, a dance of death, a terminal frenzy, a Pinocchio becoming human. She leers, winningly. She sings, beautifully, then stops. She confides in us. She tells of her nightmares. She slumps; seems dead; revives. Her luminous communicativeness, if that's the right phrase, is an unrivalled, confronting experience for an audience, like being stuck in a lift with Sarah Palin when she is speaking in tongues, and her long ovation, and the religious fervour of it, at the end of the show entirely deserved, I think. Benedict Andrews' direction was wonderful at times, using the great depth of the stage to see a faraway nervy conversation in a phone box, for instance. The set flew about and reassembled itself as if it had a mind of its own. Every minute of it was impressive and every fifteen minutes made me pine for a hip-flask and an absorbing novella.
And I couldn't get over the the rising thought that the play was a series of jottings, randomly jumbled together and flung at a fine director, a really good cast, and a great, great actress to make sense of somehow. Like Pinter, really, but crazier. Out of similar female disorder Hare made Plenty and Jean-Jacques Beineix Betty Blue, and the audience understood. It could be seen as a female Hamlet or a sort of Mistress Courage or a modern metropolitan Odyssey or an updated Edible Girl or Sterile Cuckoo or Dud Avocado or, on the other hand, a glad-bag of tampons, mouse droppings, Fantale wrappers and postcards from the edge.
It's all very hectic, depressive, post-modern and German, and never mentions the war. The writer, Botho Strauss, may be one of those travelling loud Germans in tiny swimsuits who fail to make friends on foreign beaches; or not. It's hard to tell. The title apparently derives from Alice, in Alice in Wonderland, being either too big or too small for the various magical places she fetches up in.
I should see more European theatre, clearly; or less.
I wonder what it all means.

Thursday 22 December 2011

The Pilgrim Soul In You: Darren Hanlon's Apparent Innocence Partly Explained

I'm not sure what brand of buoyant innocence drew four hundred and eighty fans to see Darren Hanlon singing in St Stephen's Church beside the mossed and crumbling graveyard to his guitar, ukelele and banjo in Newtown last night, and the twelve-old-girls behind me, one with braces on her teeth, to sing along word-perfect his complicated lyrics for the ninety minutes he was on stage. But it was a rare and luminous Christmas event, thronged with non-believers and tottering infants in wet nappies but stirred by the cheery, stoic, benevolent knowingness he has made his own special flavour since he first looked eleven years old, and beguiled a kindergarten audience in, I guess, the 1980s. He looks about thirteen now and, at thirty-seven, carries the burden of his middle years with equanimity, wiliness, honour and grace.
One song was about hating Lismore, my home town. One was about the need for more songs about squash. One, as good as a Simon and Garfunkel classic, was about 'The Last Night Of Not Knowing You.' He was joined on stage for two numbers by Holly Throsby, and their joint song, by him, about them wondering what country, and what city, or town, or village, they should now, as glum and wandering musos, at last settle down in, was as good, in its way, as 'Rock 'n' Roll I Gave You All The Best Years Of My Life'; and the special melting wifely softness of Throsby, who looks like a cross between her mother and Liza Minnelli and has a voice like a midnight autumn fog in Paris, added a further wayfaring innocence to the pilgrim flavour of the evening, much like the one you get on TCM from the Mickey-and-Judy Backyard Musicals of 1939 and 1940.
Lucy Lehmann, beside me, explained young Darren's apparent unblemished vagrant pure-hearted winningness with the one word 'Queensland' -- and, coming from up that way myself, I could see, and hear, what she meant. It was not quite innocence, but a big-skied starlit mixture of innocence-and-cynicism one sees in other Queenslanders, Gerry Connolly, Judy Morris, Jim Killen, Geoffrey Rush, George Miller, plus the blithe-and-quirky John Denverish or do I mean Doris Dayish quality that irradiates him from within, a product of many, many years on the road, and talking back to his audiences with guile and good humour and perspicacity.
He's worth looking up on YouTube, if I've got that name right, for one particular rock clip especially, Looking Beautiful For You, which he enticed the ninety-two-year-old Eli Wallach to make with him a couple of years ago. He shows big, easy skills as a Capra-like auteur, with a smattering of Woody Allen and Richard Curtis, as well as a songwriter-singer in the league of McLean, Simon, Kelly, and, on a good day, Dylan.
He apparently has, Lucy Lehmann tells me, small covens of devoted fans in many countries across the world, but he should in my view be doing better. He has taken up my proposal of a film of him touring several countries, shot in 3D.
Lucy Lehmann would be in it, of course. Her song of urban exile, Six Hours West, is one of the best two hundred of the last hundred years.
Watch this space.