Wednesday, 30 November 2011

As I Please: Midsomer Murdoch Matters Old And New

1.45 am
Wrote all day with Ramsey the fiftieth to the fifty-eighth minute of our Murdoch miniseries Paper Tigers, in which he acquires by the usual duplicity, dishonoured handshakes and midnight suddenness The News of the World from an improvident, port-bibbing, horse-breeding, dog-fondling uppercrust dim family he promises to keep on as his partners but sacks one by one after issuing new shares, requiring his fearful new staff to buy up bundles of them and then sell them back to him after the Special General Meeting where their votes are needed to abash, unseat and unhinge his obese drunk predecessor Sir William Carr who has a stroke soon afterwards.
Good in view of this to see how Rupert behaved just as badly thirty years later when he asked a twelve-year-old female superstar to sing for nothing at his wedding to Wendi and after she did so, forgoing a hundred thousand pounds, her usual fee, he went after her family in his papers tooth and nail, driving her father to attempt suicide and in The Sun counted down the days before she turned sixteen after which, the headlines implied, she could, ha ha, have sex legally at last, unlike last week and the week and the year before.
I wonder if he could be charged under the Child Slavery Laws of England for this, for conning an unsuspecting prepubescent into a hundred thousand pounds worth of musical servitude for which she was then wrongly punished, or if this comes under some surviving feudal droit de seigneur that might still exculpate him from paying for 'wedding breakfast services rendered by a minor' in even the twenty-first century.
The famous Frost/Murdoch interview is next in the script, and the New York incident, also involving Frost, that lost Gough Whitlam his affection and political support, and the kidnap and murder of the woman who was not his wife but seemed to be, because she was driving her car, and her chopping up in pieces by irritable terrorists, his part in the Whitlam sacking, the rise of Thatcher, the forged Hitler Diaries, and so on.
We are planning eight forty-three minute episodes but it might get longer. It would be good to cast Steve Coogan, who so snarkily covets the role, to play David Frost at last, and Marton Csokas of course to play Rupert, as he certainly could, at both twenty-nine and eighty. Nicole Kidman would be perfect as Rebekah Brookes, but she is I hear like the devoted Kamahl a loyal Murdoch family friend and may say no.
The Wharf Revue Murdoch-Lear sketch remains as good as ever, the French Revolution sketch even better, and I will see it eight more times, dragging along what politicians I can, to this, the best thing of its kind in world history. Tickets are sold out but a February season in Sydney, and two days each in Hobart, Nunawading and Moonee Ponds have a few left.
Hurry, hurry. My contempt for those who will miss it is near-apocalytic.
Do not test me, sirs, you know not what you do.

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Shakespeare's Betters

It was not just to earn a few spare millions and world acclaim that my frequent collaborator Denny Lawrence and I, over twenty-five days of two Christmas breaks, co-wrote in rainy heat our genial confection Shakespeare in Italy wherein young Will is recruited in Rome as a Papist spy by Peretti, Pope Sixtus V, inventor of waterboarding. It was also to show that workaday writers like us could do it: could forge, in adequate Bankside fustian, a pastoral-historical-tragical-comical revel as good as at least a few of Will of Stratford's. And early reviews, one from John Bell, one from Bruce Beresford, one from John Ralston Saul, suggest we brought it off.
Will Shakespeare – whoever he was – has for too long stood in a circle of silence with a halo above his head as the godlike puppeteer of gigantic flawed heroes, a creative titan above and beyond the damns and cavils that attend upon, say, Baz Lurhman. He is largely faceless, always mysterious, and far removed from our hisses, flung fruit, foyer sneers and Monday morning quarterbacking. He knew it all, we are told, and you’d better believe it, buster. He knew it all.
But when they are looked at closely a lot of his works are not as good as works by other playwrights in his language. The Crucible, by Arthur Miller, whose narrative, theme and linguistic sinew rivals (and, I think, betters) both Will's problem plays Measure for Measure and Troilus and Cressida, must be therefore said to be in his league. And Robert Bolt’s A Man For All Seasons is clearly a good deal better than his (co-written) Tragedy of Sir Thomas More and his own (co-written) Henry VIII.
Bruno Heller’s Rome television series outflanks likewise all five of his Roman plays (Titus, Coriolanus, Julius Caesar, Antony and Cleopatra, Cymbeline) and betters them in impact, structure, narrative swiftness and female sympathy. And Love, Actually, dare I say, is up there with Twelfth Night, on a very high pinnacle indeed. Or am I wrong?
Pushing it further, I would rank Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman above the Yorkshire Tragedy, another study of maddened middle-class suicide; Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal above The Tempest;  Ray Cooney's Run For Your Wife above A Comedy of Errors, another fast-moving mistaken-identity farce of love misplaced and regained; and Timberlake Wertembaker's Our Country's Good, pound for pound, as a fair deal more accomplished, I think, as tragical-comical-pastoral-historical, than Much Ado About Nothing.
Why, then, the fuss? Why such craven obeisance as weekly clogs with clamorous revivalist bardolatry good theatre spaces that might else unveil the next O’Malley, or the next Away, or Victory, or Nickleby, or Paul, or Travesties, or Dead White Males? Why do we persist with this crook-kneed cringeing piety when there is better writing to be done, better plays to be imagined, put on, uplifted, praised?
Martin McDonagh, with The Cripple of Inishmaan, The Beauty Queen of Leenane, The Lieutenant of Inishmore, The Pillowman and In Bruges, has done work of constant, glowing, mesmeric Shakespeare standard. Howard Barker’s Victory and Howard Brenton’s Paul and David Edgar’s Nicholas Nickleby (adapted, yes, like many a Shakespeare work, from another text) are in the league. Sondheim’s Assassins, Sweeney Todd and Into the Woods, knock Richard II, Troilus and Pericles, in my view, into a cocked hat. Les Miz outclasses easily all of Henry VI. And yet we piously persist, like Mecca pilgrims, on our knees in front of this Clopton shoplifter's flabby-faced graven image. Why?
Well, part of it is to do with the King James Bible, which many of our ancestors thought had magical properties, and would if read and pondered secure them eternal life. And when World War 1 put paid to a lot of its crazed, sacrificial theology, and loved lost sons killed on the Somme could not be contacted in seances, a writer who told in similar cadence what some now call 'fairy tales for adults', the sonorous reverent piety thus lost by the Judeo-Christian Book Of Everything moved over to Shakespeare, a secular Old Testament soon taught in schools.
And on top of this came the genius that Gielgud, Olivier, Guthrie,  Guiness,Richardson, Redgrave, Scofield, Burton, Brando, Welles, Hall, Brook, Bell, Branagh, Streep,  Sims, Finney, McKellen, Geoffrey Rush, Bille Brown, Googie Withers, Emma Thompson, Peggy Ashcroft, Fiona Shaw and, yes, Rowan Atkinson and his faithful Baldrick added to words long reverenced with intonations, winks and twitches of their own. 'Shakespeare' became the sum of all their parts and grew in stature with each fresh incrementation, even those of Luhrman, Radford, Wright, Kosintsev, Sellars, Simon Phillips and Joseph Mankiewicz. Shakespeare, whoever he was, became more than himself. He became a piled-up groaning mountain of amendments and elucidations. We see not his Antony but Brando now, not his Shylock but Al Pacino's.
But it is wrong, I believe, to think of him in this way. Fiddler On The Roof (on stage, with Topol), is better than thirty-two of his plays, Morgan: A Suitable Case For Treatment a worthy down-market update of Hamlet, Guys and Dolls streets ahead of its rival gambler's-wager-romance Love's Labour's Lost. And Malory's Morte D'Arthur, as I have said before, boasts, as a rule, better English and better death-anguished soliloquies.
In Shakespeare In Italy we have interwoven sonnets by me and Will with speeches under the Sistine Chapel, and in the confessional under sentence off death, he might have given. Those who come and see it may embrace it, or disdain it, or not see the point, but they will be struck I think by its intimate
linguistic resemblance to the Bard and may then wonder if this dead white male is as good as he is cracked up to be.
(For any twenty-five minutes of In Treatment is better than any twenty-five minutes of Timon of Athens; discuss. Most Lake Wobegon riffs by Garrison
Keilor scrub up as better soliloquies than O That This Too Too Solid Flesh; compare and contrast. Shakespeare In Love outclasses The Two Noble Kinsman at every turn; please consider. Anonymous runs rings around A Winter's Tale; all those in favour?)
John Bell in the SMH put a plausible case for the Stratford Man (his daughters' literacy, his father's money, his round-the-clock Latin schooling, his eavesdropper's arras-peephole on Elizabeth’s court) which does not, however, smash or wound or much harm the Oxford theory. It may well be that Jonson, Webster, Beaumont, Burbage, Kempe, Ford, Greene and Henslowe thought he wrote indeed what he'd put his name to and toasted him unknowing, as others did Ira Gershwin for lyrics by P.G. Wodehouse in less skulduggerous midnights on old Broadway.
Because, as James Murdoch proved the day before, there are many secret things that happen that one's front-of-house underlings may not have bestirred themselves to know of: who killed the little princes; who sired Henry VII; whether the 'Virgin Queen' (an ironical nickname, surely) had multiple secret adopted and nobly unbastardized babies; whether Bloody Mary's wind-swollen false pregnancies were due to ovarian cancer or mere hereditary syphilis; or, as we say now, 'the placebo effect', an unstoppable belief that she was pregnant when she was not; whether Bess's deathbed cession of the Crown to James was achieved by Cecil's forgery, or not; and so on.
In an age so rich in hugger-mugger, lost wills and secret murders, it is not beyond the wit of a vigorous burrowing scholar thus to imagine a lofty courtier scribbling in secret by lamplight on many a rueful midnight plays that went by courier to another house and into a theatre that earned the acclaim of centuries.
Or perhaps you disagree.
(This article was rejected by Unleashed)

The Other Kevin

I haven't read and so can't say what the famed Lionel Shriver novel We Have To Talk About Kevin was like, but the film Lynne Ramsey made out of it was unsettling, upsetting, disruptive, traumatic and for some life-changing, suicide-inducing for others, abortion-inducing for at least a few, and, at its heart, a tremendous, fraudulent wank.
It is not circumstance, this fool film asserts, that creates evil mass-murderers, but, as we are told in Rosemary's Baby, a 'bad seed'.
'The Devil's got into you, Robert,' my mother used to say, and this film's emotional delving is no more percipient than she.
Shriver does a quite unforgiveable thing. She moves what is common to poor single mothers -- being trapped in a room with a choiceless, resentful, defiant infant -- into the country mansion of a famous author, Eva Katchadourian, and her amiable millionaire husband Butch. She has no housemaids, no nannies, no helpful in-laws, no neighbours, no gossiping friends, no agent, no editor, no publisher, no Algonguin Round Table, no book-reading circle, no mother, no father, no sister, no brother, just a tiny dark-eyed gremlin, pooping his pants and refusing to talk or smile or play roll-the-ball with her and screeching till she is nearly mad. He is not autistic, the doctor says, just a little shit.
Soon he is a bigger shit, murdering a pet and blinding his late-arriving tiny sister. He charms his gullible father, though, and gets a big steel bow and arrow, a lethal insrtrument which, three days before his sixteenth birthday, in the school gymnasium, whose doors he first padlocks ....
It is very convincing, very well made (the opening shot of a blowing white transparent curtain is especially evocative and threatening) and superbly acted by Tilda Swinton, whose map of emotions -- fragile, furious, hopeful, aroused, affronted, paranoid, scared she is insane -- is big as the sky now and sure to get her another Oscar for this reassertion of the fears of a pregnant woman or a suckling mother (who is this intimate enemy? what does he want from me?) writ large, and Ezra Miller, whose dark unforgiving eyes forbode the next Brando, and the always lumpy-peasant-brilliant John C. Reilly as xxx, her patient thick-witted husband and provider.
But it's a big, big lie and it shouldn't go unchallenged. Mass-murderers have usually had several parent-figures and many, many changes of address, unlike this one. They are usually bashed, like Hitler, by their fathers very frequently, unlike this one. They are sometimes sexually molested, by uncles, fathers, cousins or (yes) mothers or bullied at school. They have usually undergone some significant failure in school or Summer Camp or on the sporting field. They often have some physical injury, or a visible defect humiliating to them.
None of this applies to this watchful, smirking, well-heeled evil genie Kevin. And the film is (probably) a fraud. It offers mothers the cop-out they have so long sought: it's not my fault, it was nothing to do with my neglect, some kids are like that, some DNA is riddled with evil that can't be ameliorated, he did this on his own.
I have a friend with a difficult child who shouldn't see this, ever. In territory very similar to Bowling For Columbine it tells, I suspect, a pack of lies.
Or perhaps you disagree.

As I Please: Albo, Mick and the Luck of the Labor Party

Sunday, 11.05 am
At Evan Williams's pre-Christmas lunch party yesterday (with John Bell, Ross Gittins, Gill Appleton, Myfanwy Horne, Leo Schofield, Viv Skinner, John Edwards, Geoff Lehman, Ed Campion and a goodly number of greybeard eminences with faces I know and names I forget, but not, this year, Gough Whitlam, or Margaret), I found Brian Johns aghast at at having heard of that morning's Insiders' comparison of Albo with Mick Young, Mick who could quiet or quench or quash a month of bad headlines with a mild one-liner on the floor of the House. Albo is fine, we torpidly agreed, but not, no, not, no, never, in Mick's class.
Faced with Craig Thompson's night of overpaid strumpets on an ill-used union credit card, for instance, he would have said, 'Well, you get lonely in Melbourne. Next question?' Besieged by the current Murdochist-Marxist theory that Labor's work is nearly none, its agenda now largely enacted, and it should henceforth withdraw from the scene and go to bed with a hot water bottle, Mick would have said, 'Yeah, it's like someone saying, 'Well, Edison's invented the light bulb, so his life work is done. Let's fire him before he invents the movies.'
If Mick had survived and Kim Beazley Senior died in 1996, we sluggishly agreed, Kim Junior would have become PM in 1998 and the Howard Era aborted eftsoons and Kim now on a twenty-five majority and affably yielding the throne at sixty-three to Tanner, Shorten, McKew or Combet after thirteen years in power. But he needed Mick's help with those three extra seats in '98. And it's a pity.
At his funeral Kim said, 'In politics, there are no friends, only allies. And Mick Young was my friend.'
And Gough Whitlam said, 'Mick was the luck the Labor Party had, and now it's gone.'
It's fifteen years on and that great good fortune has not returned.
And so it goes.
If some spiritualist whiz can put me or McTernan or Hawker or his disciple Swanny in touch with Mick I am keen he do so.
We need his counsel, sorely, now.
And so it went.
2.05 pm
Ross Gittins appears to detest me.
I wonder why that is?
2.21 pm
We left at 5 and saw We Need To Talk About Kevin at the Roseville Cinema at 6.
I was I must admit struck by the reclusive, dark-eyed mass-murderer Kevin Katchadourian's behavioural similarities to those of Kevin Rudd: the unforgiving hatred of those kind to him; the defiant refusal of the most ordinary social politeness; a willingness to masturbate while others are watching him; the continuing contempt for all of the rules of the game as it is commonly played; the curious belief that he is Chosen while all his allies and friends are mere grubs beneath the harrow of Time which he alone is driving; a willingness to smash up the whole community, and the peace of mind of the town, or the democracy, just to reassert his primacy, his overweening specialness, his underacknowledged or unsung genius, his command of all creation.
I am told by my friend Steve Ramsey he has Asperger's Syndrome and is a classic case of it. I will write more on this later, or Ramsey will.
My review of the movie is above, or below.


Saturday, 26 November 2011

Anonymous: The Oxford Heresy Recalled to Life

Anonymous gives us a grimy, cluttered, unsanitary, conspiratorial, suspicious, truth-managed and bastard-swapping England of Elizabeth, Essex, two Cecils, the sonnetee Southampton, Ben Jonson, Dick Burbage, Chris Marlowe, Henslowe and Kempe-- and the great Globe itself -- that beggars disbelief, so fine is the costuming and the dusty heaped interiors and the muddy Bankside vistas over miles of authentic City.
It gives us torture chambers, a paranoid court, a dotty, teetering monarch and a mob of low-bred groundlings hissing Richard as they must have been. It gives the first hushed impact of the Bard's words -- and the maddened, hand-linked huzzahs that greeted the Crispin's Day battle-speech -- as they surely occurred in life. It gives us the pocky strumpets and beggars and bear-baiting and, wonderfully, the fairground stalls and whirligigs on the frozen Thames of 1603. And it gives us as well a theory, long scorned, of the authorship of Shakespeare that suddenly seems plausible.
I'd read three books espousing the Oxford heresy, all of them intriguing, and noted in them his work as the Master of the Queen's Revels and the 'entertainments' he put on in Court, now lost, whose program notes closely paralleled the early Shakespeare love-comedies; the surviving letters home from Europe, in prose like Shakespeare's; the surviving verse which can be intermingled with Will's indistinguishably; his upbringing in the house of the Cecils, the younger a devious hunchback, the elder a verbose and strutting royal intriguer known to be the model for Polonius; his dynastic marriage to a Cecil daughter whom, when he found her pregnant on his return from two years in Europe, he banished into a nunnery; his reclusive scribbling, royal quarrels, exiles, and melancholy returns; his early, stormy courtship of the Virgin Queen; his close and pained relationship with the beautiful young tawny-headed Southampton; his part-ownership of a theatre; the occasion when his wife got pregnant by disguising herself as another woman, and so on.
But I thought it all too neat, really, and his absence from rehearsals and his death in 1604 when seven of the Canon were as yet unwritten - or unstaged - insuperable. And I was as well I must admit in the room when Ian Richardson said to Sir Derek Jacobi, the fanatical Oxfordian, 'Derek, you came from the wrong side of the tracks, and were under-educated. But you crossed the Thames, and began to perform, and within very few years you were the toast of the town. Acclaimed. Unstoppable. If you could do it, Derek, why couldn't he?' And the irritable, wet-eyed twitching of Jacobi's contorted face was a wonder to behold.
But, like Malvolio, he has been reveng'd upon the whole pack of us. And this film, which he loftily comperes, the result of twenty years of feverish, Iagoish plotting, has moved me once more in his direction and against what he scornfully calls 'the man of Stratford', showing how a tremendous forgery might have been contrived, in an era of false identities and double-agents who (like Ralegh and Marlowe, poets both), moonlighting in Satanist, Papist and sodomite circles, brought information back to their spymasters.
So, then: Edward De Vere, Earl of Oxford, a wealthy, promiscuous, vagrant and well-travelled man, wrote in secret, in hugger-mugger, like the Hollywood Ten, plays which a front man, the semi-literate Will, jobbing actor, grain merchant, real estate speculator and pub bore, put his name to. And he watched them from the Gods, imbibing ruefully the groundlings' brutish delight, and that was reward enough, though it cost him his fortune and his private life. And the male subject of his sonnets was not his young lover but his ill-begotten bastard son Southampton, the son as well of the sluttish Bess, his monarch, who forbade the boy's beheading for treason within an hour of the axeman's stroke and set him at his liberty. And this explains, in turn, the first sonnets' urgent theme, a wish that he must marry, and procreate sons (like Dorian Gray) as beautiful as he.
Though the film has a certain, perhaps deliberate, scholarly dodginess to it -- Marlowe speaks of Hamlet, which he did not live to see; it was a specially staged performance of Richard II, not Richard III, that roused the London mob, or some of it, to follow with shouts and pikes and war cries Essex's impetuous, doomed rebellion; the Globe burned down in 1613, not 1603; Elizabeth might well not have had sex with her son and borne his baby -- it is nonetheless a joy of abundant recreative probability: Redgrave's Bess, addled, querulous, fearful, stubborn, refusing James the Crown to her last hour, Rhys Ifan's Oxford a massive deep-etching of imperturbability, remembrance and sadness; Rafe Spall's Will Shakespeare a revelation by any count, the screeching mediocrity one finds in Writers' Guilds and Green Rooms the world over. It is good to swim backstroke into its time machine, and be there, on certain opening nights of the greatest texts of the recent millennium, and think, 'This is how it must have been'.
And as to who wrote them, well, the most damning evidence against Will Shakespeare is uttered by my pert, pernickety friend Jacobi in the first five minutes of the movie. No letter he wrote has ever turned up. No book he owned, with his name in the front, has ever been discovered. His wife was illiterate, his daughters never taught to read. The signature on his will seems to be by a hand another, steadier hand guided. There is no evidence of any speech he gave, in any church or town hall or school reunion. There were no 'headlines', no public mourning, no royal or state celebration of his life and work in the week he died, or thereafter, the truth by then being out perhaps. He gave evidence in a trial once, his testimony was noted, and that was that.
And, most significantly I think, though not mentioned in this film, was his friend Ben Jonson's verse on the First Folio of his collected work, under an engraving of the Man of Stratford's dim sluggard's face:
You who would on gentle Shakespeare looke,
Gaze not on his picture, but in this book.
First published in ABC The Drum Unleashed 7/11/11.

As I Please: The War of Jenkins' Tears

As always, Gillard knows how to add but cannot hear the inner music of the numbers. She's gained a vote but lost the Jenkins Effect from a parliament that will hereinafter seem a cage of whooping, leaping Neanderthals.
She is also the stupidest dramatist ever to kiss hands and take the oath in our democracy. To force Harry out of the post that he and his father aspired to all their adult lives and allege he left of his own accord, copping a hit of two hundred thousand a year and a loss of his grumpy superstardom on the boadcast news because he so hungrily craved the crabbed life of an impotent backbencher is to insult the intelligence of even Joe Hockey. Harry was pushed, and was forced to lie to the House about it. Gillard pushed him, and at least fibbed a bit about it also.
And had he gone straight into a Ministry -- Arts, the Regions, the Murray-Darling -- it would have made, as in good drama, emotional sense. But as always with Gillard, it never does. She sticks up for heterosexual marriage, but lives in sin. She damns the monarchy but fawns over Prince Frederick and Princess Mary. She swears Australian soldiers shot dead by their trainees did not die in vain. She claims Kevin Rudd is 'part of the team' with no higher  hope of advancement than Foreign Minister.
Like most Martian visitors, she underestimates the human factor in human affairs. Had she given Rudd the Foreign Ministry on the day after she displaced him and not left him twisting and snivelling in the wind, she would have won, unharassed by leaks and howls of treachery, an early election comfortably, or a Christmas election by twenty seats. Had she offered Faulkner anything other than Defence -- he is drained and bruised by soldiers' funerals and thinks the war a strategic folly -- she would have kept him in the Ministry. Had she given Mike Kelly Defence -- a triple war hero, he both deserves it and really wants it, as Harry did the Speakership, and could do it very well -- she would not have lost, as she will now, the only Labor candidate who can hold Eden-Monaro, having made him, insensately, insultingly, untidily, Minister for Cheese. Had she given Maxine McKew a Ministry -- Communications, Arts, the Future -- she would have preserved this most articulate of politicians in her swinging seat. Had she made Bob Debus Attorney General, she would have kept both him and his seat. Had she restored Duncan Kerr back to Justice, she would have kept him too, and spared us the sometimes worrying Andrew Wilkie.
But she is not made that way. She can see no further than the Deal, the moment, the instant crisis, the midnight compromise, the group handshake, the champagne toast. And this chess move, too clever by half, will end with Speaker Slipper in flagrante on YouTube or something like it, the Opposition loudly challenging his every ruling, the democracy in uproar, his seat lost soon to the LNP and Malcolm Turnbull Opposition Leader by June, unbeatable in that role by any move of pawns or knights that she can come up with. And, oh yes, Campbell Newman as  Queensland Premier, campaigning in every seat.
He that troubleth his own house, the Bible noted, shall inherit the wind.
And Gillard, as always, has done it again.

Ages of Love: The Overwhelming Question

From earliest times the drama of Rome has been about lovers caught at it, and the big lies that underpin respectability in the upper-middle classes. Giovanni Veronese's fine three-parter Ages of Love, the third of his praised series A Manual of Love, carries on this tradition, in the age of skypes  and texts and phone-cameras and an ever more godlike, watching technology.
In Youth a young lawyer is diverted by a dangerous woman into bed-games that endanger his career. In Adulthood a fifty-nineish news presenter is diverted by a dangerous woman into bed-games that endanger his career. In Old Age a sixty-nineish one-time archeology professor is diverted by a fugitive pole dancer into bed-games that endanger his heart transplant and appal his friend, the girl's father, who catches them at it. In each, the man is given a humiliating task. In each but the last, the first fine careless rapture of new love unveiled and embellished proves a sour illusion.
But this is to understate the vast grace of this tender, funny, lingering, sad, impelling essay into love's waywardness and suddenness and occasional wistful toxicity. Adultery is a given, of course, this is Italy, but so too is male guilt over upsurging, tyrannous lust. Each man struggles with obligations beyond the joy of the moment. The women have no such trouble. They of course are the sexier sex. They are the ones, we are told, who make more noise in bed. It is an almost Islamic view of woman, the untameable tempter. There may be something in it.
There are distinct further elements in each episode. In Youth it is a provincial town of bored and mischievous drunkards all in love with the same brazen teasing beauty, a town where 'no-one has to be better than anyone else,' and lifelong friendships are easily made, but are also based, like love, on truths hidden, tricks played (one a young half-wit's apparent suicide) and Cupid's pagan interference. (Cupid is an elfin young taxi driver with a big impressive modern steel bow and arrow with springs and gears upon it and unerring aim. He is Puck and Pan at once, beyond morality, taunting and smiling, more trouble than he is worth.)
In Adulthood it is a ripped-off wig and a female stalker long known to the police. In Old Age it is an unseen barren ex-wife who kept his love till his heart transplant after which love died. In a remarkable moment De Niro, the professor, is being taught by Belluci how to strip-tease and modestly, coyly holds up his hands above his transplant scar.
In A Lesson In Love Ingmar Bergman's narrator says this comedy, like many, started out to be a tragedy but the gods were kind. In this film one suspects there lurks a darker thought, that romantic comedy is only the tip of the iceberg whose underwater enormity is female madness. The predatory Eve and the serpent and the apple are never far from Veronese's meditations.
The famed face-pulling Italian comedian Carlo Verdone in Adulthood puts one in mind of Bob Hope. The famed face-pulling American actor Robert De Niro puts one in mind of Travis Bickle grown old and mild. The abashed young green eyed superstar Riccardo Scarmarcio very much of Tony Curtis.
But the women could be nothing else than what they are, Italians of great buxom knowing beauty in whom strength and femininity mesh without strain or contradiction. Who get the joke, of the cleavage and the swaying walk, and who know the ultimate question is always Pregnancy Or Else, and each choice, each answer to this question is always the wrong one. Laura Chiatti, Valeria Solarino and Donatella Finocciaro are superb, Monica Belluci a good bit more than that (she seems to bring her own inner light and cheesecloth with her), and the whole thing a marvel of cultural pride which the Italian Tourism Board, in these troubled, bankrupting post-Berlusconi times, should have put more money in.
Never has there been a better advertisement for a vivacious and sensuous and potent way of life, an eternal city, pink enduring sunsets and fireworks above the Colleseum at midnight. A film to take your woman to, and stay up naked and pleasured long after, talking things through.

Friday, 25 November 2011

As I Please: That Was The Year That Was

Friday, 7.25 pm
My new co-written book The Year It All Fell Down is not yet commenced but concerns, of course, the earthquakes, meltdowns, tornadoes, economic shambles, refugee drownings and Arab uprisings, the crackdowns, facedowns, shootouts, lockouts, arrests, royal weddings and assassinations of a year not yet completed, the fall of Mubarak, Ghadafi, Murdoch, Bin Laden, Keneally, Rann, Strauss-Kahn, Palin, Perry, Cain, the shooting of Giffords and the curious crisis Assange now finds himself in, accused of sexual bad manners in Sweden and likely therefore to be tortured and killed for something else entirely in America.
It was the year too when the wheels began to fall off the Karl Rove-Tea Party method of doing things in politics: always attack, always shout, never reason, never compromise, never give the exhausted opponent a instant of oxygen, a moment of gladness, or the smallest hint of triumph to come.The budget facedown with Congress in America, the Carbon Tax facedown in Australia, the Occupy Wall Street movement everywhere and its parallels with the Arab Spring, and the strange alliance of the Anglican church and the Trotskyists and the Facebook activists and the hoons of England, showed how adolescent the Right of politics has got to be lately, locking itself in its room and playing loud music and saying la, la, la, and denying there is a world elsewhere. Obama's impersonation of 'the adult in the room' and Abbott's hectic innumeracy have derailed or eroded a movement that seemed for a while quite likely to conquer the world not with its logic but its noisiness. And now has stubbed its toe and is hopping around on one leg, howling and bleeding.
The pivotal moment here I think was when Alan Joyce gave himself a raise of a thousand dollars an hour on Friday, disrupted the arrangements of half a million people on Saturday, offered them ninety million dollars for their needless trouble on Wednesday, and on Thursday said Qantas was running out of money and the heroes that made its name must now be sacked and their jobs moved offshore, failing to note that criticising Qantas pilots in Australia was like firing ack-ack at Spitfires doing aerobatics over Kent. It raised the question of why he was getting ten times the wage of Barack Obama and what, precisely, his punishing accountancy added to Qantas's world reputation for air safety, cheery efficient service and calm under pressure at forty thousand feet. And how, precisely, a profit of half a billion dollars in a dreadful year for tourism, travel and luxury spending (the year it all fell down) added up to Qantas 'running out of money'.
The lockout also had the unexpected consequence of taking the Boat People Menace out of our headlines, forever perhaps. The half a million inconvenienced Australians sitting on their luggage unwashed and frantic in Heathrow, Mumbai or Beijing suddenly knew, or pretty soon found out, what a lousy, frustrating, grimy journey to Australia was like, and how horrid it was not to know if you'd get to your destination, and if you'd ever see your family again. They suddenly understood, however subconsciously, that a journey was a serious thing, and you shouldn't get locked up, ever, for attempting one.
And suddenly the issue was off the boil. And when today it was announced that the refugees would not be locked up any more, nor driven to suicide or  madness or thoughts of terrorist revenge, but 'processed' while living 'in the community', as happens in most European countries, and Canada and New Zealand, it passed by almost unnoticed.
Which leaves Tony Abbott without a crisis, and with time on his hands. Will he survive it? I doubt it. Will Turnbull overthrow him? Probably. Can Gillard beat Turnbull? No. Will Gillard be overthrown? Probably. By whom? Not sure.
And so it goes.
Saturday, 3.44 am
The rain continues and blurs the lights of Ettalong across Pittwater. Reading abed Kirk Douglas's memoir The Ragman's Son belatedly these last few nights, an unsettling anthology of snarling responses to imagined insults (he proudly calls himself 'a difficult actor') and surly rejections of impertinent offers of loads of money for hundreds and hundreds of pages, plus a somewhat longer list of women he went to bed with who later committed suicide, I found again an hour ago, after a long search, this passage on page 246:
'The movie company went on to Round Hill, Jamaica, to film the beach sequences where the cannibals chase me. There were beautiful, young (I hate to think how young) copper-colored girls dancing and singing Calypso songs -- "Please, mister, don't you touch my tomatoes." Afterward, I would take them up to my bungalow. I'm glad I never asked them how old they were. I think I should have been in jail.'
Passing strange is it not that Kirk Douglas, who is still alive, has not been thus far pursued across the world by policemen keen to question him on this utterly damning paragraph and track down the crudely exploited girls he mentions, now in their sixties I guess, nor yet by the current sort of hydrophobic feminist that has lately gone after Assange, Strauss-Kahn and Polanski. Like Polanski, Kirk is Jewish, short, priapic, boastful, old, unrepentant and proud. Like him he has confessed, with a shrug, his pederasty. Why should this ninety-five year old Jewish beast go free and Polanski go to gaol?
Some question surely arises, does it not, of the mores, norms and customs of Jamaica in those days. Everyone was doing it, doing it, doing it there at that age, so why should not he, a distinguished visitor, join in the common, welcoming, lavish, lurid, ongoing Caribbean midnight party? Why should he hold back?
But this is the same defence Polanski used a mere twenty years later. 'Los Angeles was like that in the seventies -- hot, lustful, free-loving, youthful, game. I did a deal and paid the girl off. I was not her first lover. She consented. She forgave me, and no longer wants to pursue the charge. She has asked the authorities to cease this long hot pursuit of me. I am old. Please leave me alone. I am very talented. Please leave me alone. My mother died in Auschwitz. Please leave me alone. My wife and unborn son were butchered by the Manson Family. Please leave me alone. I'm a good film director. Let me do my work. Please leave me alone.'
A lawyer might here ask, I suppose, what has one thing to do with another? A complaint was made, a charge laid, a legal process commenced that wrecked the career of a fine director, a legal process that was not initiated against Chaplin, Flynn, Brando, Presley, Tiny Tim, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Keith Richards, Mick Jagger and most of the travelling rock bands of the 1960s and 70s. No charge was laid against them. So Polanski alone should go in the slammer, and stuff him. Strauss-Kahn should likewise not now be President of France, although the charge was false, and stuff him too.
I make no particular judgment on this. A crime was committed, for sure, underwater in Jack Nicholson's pool at an all-night party where illegal drugs were taken by underage girls and middle-aged men, and it is appropriate that a crime like that should be punished. But a pursuit down the decades of a man who in other parts of his life has already suffered more than most of us, a Holocaust survivor whose wife was butchered and his mother gassed, seems a little immoderate to me in the light of Kirk's equivalent crime, unpunished these forty-six years. Or am I wrong?
It's important to think things through now and then, to join the dots, and follow the thread, and work out where justice lies.
Or am I wrong?
If I am, should we call for Kirk's arrest?
And who will put up their hand and volunteer to do that?
Just asking.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

As I Please

2.05 am
The rain has abated but night after night returns, as in a tropical country like Nuigini, and gives good indication that long harsh droughts will not be a feature of the next hundred years of our history. The desert has bloomed, and bloomed so lushly that Mad Max 4 and my wife Annie's desert film will be shot in Namibia now. The Menindie Lakes, as big as Lake Erie, show no sign of depletion, and all the gleaming, bird-thronged landscape round Lake Eyre is much like the still vivid if half-remembered Inland Sea.
We will soon see how foolish our population policy of thirty-five million is, and how readily we could take in a lot more. Eighty million, as I suggested in my lecture The Big Lie, much acclaimed at the Festival of Ideas, eighty million, the population of Germany, a country which could fit within the borders of Queensland, and the always racist, heathenist, denialist illusion that we are full up, no room at the inn, no Hazaras need apply, brownskins enough already, will subside and retreat by 2020, as the hatred of gay marriage so suddenly did in America, once it was shown in the first few jurisdictions that it did no harm, is a reasonable minimum figure now and we should look to it and plan where to put them.
Bob Katter's electorate, as big as Great Britain, or Tony Crook's electorate, as big as Scandinavia, or Tasmania, as big as Ireland, might be a good place to start the Big New Settlement, in caravan parks first, of Hazaras -- who mostly look like Ricky Ponting or Elle McPherson -- in and around those towns and shires that have asked for them, as many of late have tended to do, and then whatever Tamils, as a rule as handsome as their kinsman Kamahl or as beautiful as Natalie Wood, and whatever widowed, smashed, bombed out and grieving Palestinians as want to come here.
3.42 am
Harry Jenkins' removal was not, by the look of it, his own idea, or he would not have gone so close to choked-back tears in his last acknowledgment of the local indigenous tribes in Parliament yesterday, five minutes before he stepped down. It was a job he had always coveted, having wanted always to emulate in that post his namesake father, foreshortened like him and cast out of the Speaker's chair he also craved lifelong, and like his friend Kim Beazley, who from boyhood yearned to be Minister For Defence, and lost it all too soon, would have gladly stayed in his present office till they took him out of it in a box.
It was a tactical move too clever by half, I submit, as the always underlying potential for simian chaos in this Hung Parliament will soon show under Peter Slipper's less magnetic, less amusing and less steadying rule. Harry cannot be bettered, or equalled, or palliated I suspect, and if he is not given a Cabinet Ministry eftsoons will fester visibly on the back bench unrewarded for his sharpness, geniality, charisma and humble if moody self-sacrifice. A slightly different shift of the shuffle-board would have seen him Prime Minister, and if Gillard is ignorant of this, as she is of most things (where Egypt is to be found on the map, and so on), it is likely Harry is not.
If he does come to the Ministry at last it is probable Rudd, soon or late, will go out of it, ungently as the man said into that good night. The plot to see him soon returned to absolute kingship, lately confected not by any small-time caucus conspiracy but a Murdoch press in sore and testy need of a series of headlines damaging to Gillard in the months when some of her legislation was bound on the numbers to be enacted, is now in ruins. His peculiar performance in Perth ('I sing like a cow!') under whatever stimulant, medical or recreational, he was on at the time, had a John Gorton whiff to it, and memories of the rumours of his workaholic post-midnight control-freakish tantrums and tyrannisations of his exhausted staff came flooding back.
We shall not see his like again, thank Christ. The harm he did Labor in those two and a half years of dither and strutting  and fretting is immeasurable as yet. He cost us Beazley, Debus, McMullan, Faulkner, Tanner, Kerr, McKew and the best years of Mike Kelly, war hero and the finest Defence Minister we never had (now, under Gillard, Minister For Cheese), who increased his majority in Eden-Monaro while all around him fell down in a squabbling, leaking shambles. Rudd as Prime Minister would have commanded, had Beazley stayed on and become, say, Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Wedderburn come in as a Senator as he was promised, a Cabinet as capable as Hawke's first and ruled esteemed and widely beloved for fifteen years. And he threw it all away, bizarrely believing he could do it all himself. And there you go.
Like Hemingway, he never forgave a favour. Like Evatt, he suspected all around him, and instinctively despised them. And it's a pity.
And so it goes.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Cox Redux: David Bradbury's On Borrowed Time

It was Charles Dickens I guess who invented the narrative plotline of a crabbed, unrepentant old man forced by a pestering visitant on Christmas Eve to review and assess his past life lest he go to his grave unthankful. And Frank Capra who, in It's A Wonderful Life, asked what the world would have been like without him, before Richard Curtis added, in Love Actually, a multiplicity of recognizeable characters in their various Yuletide crises of love lost, love  mourned and love regained. But it was David Bradbury who, after stalking the dying Dutch-Australian auteur Paul Cox down the last days of his diagnosis, chemotherapy, remorse, dark amusement and cosmic sorrow, managed to be there in the surgery on Christmas Day 2010 to film his death, liver transplant and resurrection, and to sit on stage with him last night and hear his vivid posthumous reflections on life's blissful sweetness in the Chauvel Cinema.
David Stratton was on stage too, and gave it four and a half. I told Bradbury, an intense, heroic and hectoring left-winger whose constipated ferocity I sometimes dislike, it was 'as good as Wild Strawberries but no better', a judgment I made when sober and maintain still now I am drunk. Both David and I are in it, of course, as critics, collaborators and Persons from Porlock, but its quality is not in doubt. It is a film for the ages. It may not get a release, of course, though it could run a year at the Orpheum like that similar angel-wrestle with death's implications As It Is In Heaven. But there you go. It will be on DVD. It exists. It plays. It resounds. It re-echoes. It is very, very fine.
Like Lord Cut-Glass in Under Milk Wood, Cox dwells in a house full of clocks, whose multiple thuddings, tickings, chimings and gleamings open the film, as in the Bergman classic of 1958. Interviews follow, with David Wenham, Tony Llewellyn-Jones, Wendy Hughes, Chris Haywood, Phillip Adams, Gosia Dobrowolska, Leila Blake, Jackie McKenzie, Aden Young, me, none of them unrelievedly adulatory, all of them sometimes abusively exasperated, and a tender farewell toast from John Clarke, who said once of Paul, 'He's the only man who can complain bitterly while being carried shoulder-high.' No irritation at his ill-temper, womanising, self-indulgence, disdain for his adopted country and occasional murderous violence goes for long unmentioned. Like Orson Welles or Malcolm Tucker there are different sides to him, not all of them repellent, and both awe and resentment follow wherever he marauds, and great wide lashings of unfeigned, enduring affection.
In among all this are images from his films, a tumble of memory one might expect at death's door, in montages as good as any in world cinema (editors Lindi Harrison and Andrew Arestides) which like a Mozart symphony or a Shakespeare soliloquy seem to give us life's entirety in half a minute or so. They give us as well some astonishingly beautiful nude women in tantalising postures, gorgeous as Botticellis, composed like Caravaggios, their pubic bushes always lushly visible, and always unoffensive, some from an exhibition of stills he tenderly, longingly shot and put together in the last months of his illness to raise money for possible surgery overseas, all of them erotic but none of them -- somehow -- exploitative of women, a gender that has always been very fond of Cox, as Picasso's mistresses were of him, in the old European way.
Among this as well great operatic music strides and tiptoes, bellows and whispers. And the film is all of a piece, like one of Paul Keating's Regency clocks, or a perfect Beethoven sonata. Death comes, and withdraws, and all for a time is well. And then the question comes again and comes again, and will not go away.
David Wenham narrates, with interpolations from Cox's diaries in his own distinct immaculate English, some of it as arresting as his beloved W.H. Auden, and some very funny anecdotes, one of them involving mutinous lepers, one a shouting-match at Cannes about Pulp Fiction between Cox and Stratton  that could be heard, some say, in North Africa across the water.
On Borrowed Time is being 'picked up', as the dread phrase is, by the ABC who are cutting out of it thirty minutes to fit some pointless time-slot on some torpid Sunday afternoon.  For this the responsible innumerate bureaucrat should suffer a parliamentary enquiry, and two weeks doing slops in Long Bay. It is like reducing every Shakespeare sonnet by five lines to make a smaller book. Where do these people come from? As Cox might say.
His reflections on mortality have clarity, searing wit and dark nostalgia. Half his town died under German strafing and jackboot raids at midnight, and he would run back from school afraid his house would not be there. Aircraft noises terrify him still, and his railings against the violence of latterday Hollywood and its values make poignant sense when we see the cards that life has dealt him, and the bohemian civility and sensuous revelry that was for so long his way of life. He is a good man, worth a spare liver, and an artist worth acclaiming and preserving in a film like this.
A masterpiece. But see it whole, or not at all.

Moore Park Revisited: Fred Schepisi's Eye of the Storm

A tour de force in its way and a simmering wonder, mostly, of great acting and fine directing, Fred's awed glance at White's World is nonetheless arch and portentous, expensive, smug and windy, and a crashing failure as drama.
Playing upperclass, boarding-schooled Australians raised rich in the 1930s, Davis and Rush correctly brandish the off-BBC accents of the time, but their rich Edwardian mother Charlotte Rampling sounds more like a Darlinghurst landlady. Though she has been lifelong a thundering snob and her two children both have titles -- hers by marrying a Spanish prince, his by playing Shakespeare well in England -- she despises them both from her deathbed, thinking them of little account or pedigree or moral worth. Though hers was a life of shopping, partying, petty adultery and tormenting servants (one, played by Helen Morse, is an Auschwitz survivor forced nightly to dance lewd Weimar cabaret acts in the manner of Sally Bowles in her late middle age), she judges her life on earth a better one than theirs, and we never see why.
Too much else is likewise unexplained. Sir Basil Hunter, the actor (Geoffrey Rush), a casual schtupper of loose-mouthed chambermaids, has nonetheless no titled wife nor hellcat mistress to speak of, but we are not told why. Dorothy de Lascabanes, the Princess (Judy Davis), has broken off with her titled husband, it seems, an international scandal, surely, like Grace busting up with Rainier, but we are not told why. Elizabeth Hunter, the mother (Charlotte Rampling) lived apart from her husband, he in the sumptuous farmhouse, she in the city mansion, for a decade or so, but we are not told why, what provoked it, what they had in place of a sex life, how it was managed and how the money was made. Not much is told of the two important men in the women's lives, and we don't know why.
And what we are told comes in sudden impulsive self-knowing soliloquies like those in Eliot's The Family Reunion, haughty and wise and stoic, in dialogue (by Judy Morris) more like ill-wrought performance-poetry than any known species of human speech in any recent Australian era. The actors struggle mightily with it, and sometimes prevail. A sort of substitute reality is achieved, and it works quite vividly now and then. Helen Morse as the high-kicking Auschwitz songstress, ever expecting, awake or asleep, the jackboots' dread return, steals the picture, or does for a while. And then her fate, self-slaughter in a bath full of blood -- for fear, we are told, of a life without Madam or employment as a cleaning person in Australia, 1972 --is almost laughable. But there you go. Patrick said it, and the novel allegedly got a Nobel Prize for it. It must make sense, it must, somehow or other.
Judy Davis remains one of the greatest screen actresses in world history and is no slouch here either, on the tremulous edge of childless menopause, frustrated artistic impulse, foolish marriage and what for a while we think may be incestuous longing. Rampling is well-used. Rush gets well that edgy anglicised fraudulence one saw in those days in Helpmann, Michel, Fiander, Barrett, Blakemore, Colson, his fear of England, his greater fear of home. We are told his Lear failed, but not what Shakespeare parts he did well in. We hear at the end he is a playwright also, and that is a surprise. Friels plays well a kind of Bob Hawke running as Labor leader in 1972 for Prime Minister (and groping, as one does, the socialite in the back seat of the chauffeured Commonwealth Car), and that is a shock to those of us who voted that year for Gough Whitlam. Alexandra Schepisi is fine as Flora the below-stairs slut ( watched closely in the naked love scenes by her father the director), but a shock too when she takes Basil's growing foetus back to her working-class boyfriend and he takes her, thus encumbered, in, and the London Sunday papers are not informed.
What is not a shock is that the woes of the idle rich do not much move a working-class and peasant country, not as much at any rate as Snowtown or Mullet or Australian Rules or The Dish or Newsfront. We identify with people who work for a living, or we usually do. We identify with people who bear children, but neither titled sibling in this movie does. We are not told why.
The best performances, probably, are by John Gaden and Robyn Nevin, as the stitched-up solicitor Arnold (lover once, like most men, of Elizabeth, the towering bitch) and his prim wife Lal. These are upper-middle-class people on a human scale, keeping their traumas to themselves and getting on with their minor, busy, pursed existences, and not billowing into shoals of chopped-up blank verse in the Patrick, Fred or Judy Morris way.
What a crabbed and rancorous old shit Patrick was. And how well this film, inadvertently, shows it.
What Schepisi was doing anywhere near it is a puzzle.


Monday, 21 November 2011

Debt-Defying Acts: The Eighteenth Wharf Revue

'The best thing of its kind in world history' I began to call it a while back, having for nine years followed it round country towns and forced Bob Carr, Mike Rann, Bill Shorten, Nathan Rees, Barry Jones, Marieke Hardy and lesser dignitaries to see it beside me, and beseeched in vain Tony Abbott, who always at the last minute pulled out for 'a family occasion, mate, sorry,'  all thereby induced, at last, though kicking and struggling, into a great night of theatre.
All who see it share my view, and this is the best of the eighteen.
Rudd as the Phantom of the Opera, half-masked and singing magnificently, tempts Gillard into his cobwebbed basement and by mesmerism and high operatic soliloquy ('The man who speaks in Mandarin is back!') asserts his plan, after chaining her up, of a kingdom regained. Rupert Murdoch as Lear, dividing among among two thankless children, James and Elizabeth, and his beloved foundling Rebekah, whose tawny tumbling hair he sombrely unlooses, his dusty, tumbledown, bickering empire, is interrupted by the gorgeous Oriental kick-boxer Wendi Deng, pregnant now and proclaiming amid her crouching-tiger twirls and slaps  her masterplan, aha, for a further dynasty in the East. Barry O'Farrell, the new Marshall in town, is vamped, once again, by the washed-up dance-hall chanteuse 'Kitty' Keneally, legs parted and huskily singing, and considers well her hip-shaking offer of Catholic Socialism once more.
Bob Hawke and Paul Keating plot in wheelchairs in their nursing home to work the numbers in the dementia wing and thereby facilitate the reformist restructuring of the bingo and carpet bowls. Ghadafi as Groucho sings 'Libya, oh Libya, have you been to Libya'; and so on. Music by Rodgers, Lloyd Webber, Bratton, Berlin, Schonberg, Elgar and, occasionally Phillip Scott, himself a composer and lyricist of Sondheim standard, fill out ninety minutes with perhaps three hundred laughs and achieves within ten minutes that particular kind of intellectual-discovery thrill of the brain engaged at the top of its beck in a body helpless with laughter that was there, I guess, in Beyond The Fringe and a sketch or two of Monte Python and a page or two of Private Eye but not, I think, too often thereafter.
Some Sydneysiders have become accustomed to Scotty, Drew Forsythe and Jonathan Biggins, the stars and co-auteurs of this yearly Stoppard-standard feast, and do not fully appreciate the enormity of what they manage to sling together, in just two weeks of rehearsal and writing, in shows so topical that governments usually fall mid-run (Howard, Iemma, Rees, Bush, majority Gillard Labor) and occasion minor script changes (Ghadafi, buoyantly alive at the Gosford opening, now seems too curtly dealt with, like a swatted mosquito), but I have not. They have become over time, as I call it, 'my spare religion', and I see each show about thirteen times, frogmarching octogenarian recalcitrants to matinees and jabbing them awake.
Biggins's  Brown and Keating, Scotty's Howard and Rudd, Drew Forsythe's Downer, Katter and Hawke loom large now in Australia's race memory, and their Sondheim, Rodgers and Hammerstein and Gilbert and Sullivan pastiches are without peer. And their French Revolution sketch, a deft summation in  Clouzot accents and Les Miz anthems of how the Left stuffed up in only two hundred years, betters just about everything said on the subject since Edmund Burke.
And Amanda Bishop, their present co-star, outstrips, if that's the verb I want, even Valerie Bader her predecessor. Her Keneally, Brooks, Berejiklian, Deng, Filipino nurse and Gillard are more than well-carved marionettes. She inhabits them, and she sings as well as Streisand and Sutherland and dances like Cyd Charisse. I recall her as Marilyn Monroe in a play reading I co-wrote, and the moment when she sang unaccompanied in Monroe's breathy voice 'Someone To Watch Over Me' and the audience froze, amazed, and almost stricken, by primal recognition. She may be the best Australian actress of the generation between Judy Davis and Mia Wasikowska; or not. But she is one for the ages and she should be seen.
Biggins directs with his usual Mel Brooks chaotic pertinacity, the lighting is excellent, and the fourteen costume changes in the last two minutes are hair-raising. Forsythe sings as well as Robeson, Johnny Cash and, when required, Kamahl. And Scotty bathes the theatre in lush, immortal, temulous piano, singing quite well too, when required, as well as, say, Randy Newman.
If you think I exaggerate, go see it.
You will almost certainly find me there.