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Monday, 29 December 2014

Film Alert Number 1, 2015 - Annual Roundup, Big end of town developments, Brisbane shows, TV movies + more


Happy New Year It’s time for annual roundups and very shortly the Senses of Cinema World Poll will be upon us and we can all pore over the 500 films to be listed by Olaf Moller alone as well as many others submitted by a wide range of enthusiasts. My own list contains twelve films including one seen at Bologna having its first screening outside Japan after 80 years of obscurity. My full list in alphabetical order and the places where I saw them is:  Adieu au langage3D/Goodbye to Language 3D (Jean-Luc Godard, France) (Vancouver International Film Festival), Charlie’s Country (Rolf De Heer, Australia), Verona Paddington, The Golden Era (Ann Hui, Hong Kong/China) Event Cinemas, George Street, Haider (Vishrag Bhadwahl, India) Hoyts Paris, Hill of Freedom (Hong Sang Soo, South Korea), VIFF, Nebraska (Alexander Payne, USA), Randwick Ritz, Night Moves (Kelly Reichardt, USA, Sydney Film Festival, Nuoc 2030 (Nguyen Vogh Nghiem Minh, Vietnam), VIFF, Revivre (Im Kwontaek, South Korea), VIFF, Wintersleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey), Sydney Film Festival, A Woman Crying in Spring (Hiroshi Shimizu, Japan, 1933), Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna, The Wonders (Alice Rohrwacher, Italy), VIFF.

For a more extensive list of other things seen, many of them old indeed very old, you can go to the new blog. For those who share the enthusiasm for or are even curious about the amazing Godard late life masterpiece Adieu au langage 3D, I am indebted to Ben Cho for locating an interview with the master loaded onto Youtube. It can be found in two parts here and here.

Moving and Shaking Part One A Chinese billionaire has bought the Hoyts Cinema chain, placing  the company in overseas ownership for the first time since it was sold off by Twentieth Century Fox several decades ago. For a brief history, Wikipedia informs me that at the start of the 20th century dentist Dr Arthur Russell, who was, in his spare time, a cornet player and a magician, purchased a share in a small American travelling circus, known as Hoyts Circus, and travelled with them as the resident magician. After a financially disastrous run, Russell returned to his work as a dentist.

Undeterred, he leased the old St. Georges Hall in Bourke Street, Melbourne (later known as the Hoyts Esquire), and began showing short films on Saturday nights. Unlike his previous venture, it was successful, and as a result, he formed a new company called Hoyts Pictures Pty. Ltd. By the time he died at the end of World War I, Hoyts had expanded into the suburbs of Melbourne, and into Sydney. In 1926, Hoyts and two other companies, Electric Theatres Pty. Ltd. and Associated Theatres Pty. Ltd., merged to become Hoyts Theatres Limited. In 1932, the Fox Film Corporation (now Twentieth Century Fox) secured a major shareholding in the company. In August 1982, Twentieth Century Fox sold Hoyts to a group of four Melbourne businessmen. The Wikipedia entry  is quite a mine of information.

My memory tells me that for much of my misspent youth and beyond, the foreign ownership of our cinemas (Greater Union being owned by the UK Rank Organization) was regarded as a significant deterrent to getting Australian films made and on our screens. For those who might like a small taste of what local producers had to deal with to get their films shown you might like to read Philip Adams recent Hector Crawford Memorial Lecture. In 2012 Hoyts distribution arm was sold off to the French company Studio Canal.

Moving and Shaking Part Two Leth Maitland, Secretary of the WEA Film Group and serious cinephile, writes following the press announcements that a proposed tower, Sydney’s tallest, is to be built on what is now part of the Event Cinema 18 Screen multiplex in George Street Sydney: I have not had any email response from anyone to whom I have sent information about the likely demolition of what is the former Hoyts Entertainment Centre, gutting most of what is currently the George Street Event Cinemas complex. Apparently this pioneering multiplex is not yet seen to have heritage value. It will not be missed until it is gone. I do not know that what will be left will be viable -- too few screens, no room for "Gold Class" and "Vmax" etc.

On a previous occasion when it was suggested that the cinemas would be abandoned to realise real estate value, the town planning advice from the City of Sydney was that they wanted the cinemas to stay put. Now, apparently, an "iconic" residential tower on George Street is more important.

I think that there is a real possibility that the only cinemas in the Sydney CBD will be the four at Dendy Opera Quays and Hoyts Cinema on Broadway way past Central Station at the other end of town . This is a big turnaround from the situation where all the cinemas in Sydney's suburbs had disappeared, and cinema-goers had to come to the CBD to see movies on a screen. In the 21st century, most of Sydney's cinemas may be back in the suburbs, in multiplexes in Westfield and other shopping centres.

Town planning with regard to the State Theatre has ebbed and flowed. I think that recent rebuilding around the State Theatre has probably been directed towards enhancing backstage space for live shows. If long-running live theatre shows ever got going at the State, those shows would be unlikely to take a holiday for two weeks in June for the Sydney Film Festival.

Exact details of the George Street proposal have now been included in a City of Sydney planning document. Apparently what disappears is what was formerly the Hoyts Entertainment Centre before the two cinemas were linked together to form the one giant multiplex, often reported as the most lucrative cinema in the world. What would be left is the former Greater Union six- or seven-cinema multiplex.

The cinemas screens that would disappear include those that have been used as one of the major venues each year for the Sydney Film Festival. There will be much less space in which to accommodate the Sydney Film Festival in what will become a smaller than average multiplex, if in fact that smaller multiplex remains open on George Street.
The Sydney Film Festival has thrived to the extent that it has in recent years (increased ticket sales) on the basis of its home base at the State Theatre, plus other screenings, including at Event Cinemas 8 and 9, plus during rebuilding works around the State, Event Cinemas 4 during weekdays.  All of these venues may become unavailable once demolition and then building commences probably a couple of years hence.

Other screenings, of Chinese and Indian films for example, that have taken place at Event Cinemas George Street, will no longer appear at this venue if it is radically reduced in size, and certainly nothing will be screened if the site is totally closed down.

Brisbane gets its act together.... The last major film event of the year, the Brisbane based combo of the Asia-Pacific Screen Awards and the Brisbane Asia-Pacific Film Festival has been and gone, finishing in early December. I've looked for any media reports including from those whom you might expect to cover it as a matter of routine, Inside Film, Screen Hub and Urban Cinefile. But...near to nothing. The only news thus far is from stalwart supporter of BIFF and its strategies in the sadly ended Anne Demy-Geroe era, Julie Rigg.  You can find her fine report at http://www.abc.net.au/arts/stories/s4151557.htm 


And without letting the momentum drop, Brisbane’s GOMA has announced it will host a major exhibition of David Lynch’s work in 2016. 'David Lynch: Between Two Worlds' will feature a personal appearance by the critically acclaimed director in Brisbane on Saturday 14 March 2015. Featuring over 200 works, this exhibition explores David Lynch's practice as a visual artist for 50 years, including paintings, photography and works on paper. 'Between Two Worlds' also includes a complete retrospective of Lynch's film, video and works for television. The GOMA website informs us that “In this exclusive to Brisbane in conversation with David will share insight into his life, his work and his many passions – painting, film, music and meditation. This discussion on harnessing the power of ideas draws on his celebrated book about meditation and the creative process, Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity (2006).  However, rightly so, the event is already sold out, notwithstanding its $55.20 price tag.

Meanwhile back in the big smoke The price to see and hear David Lynch seems cheap to me if you compare it with prices charged by the St George Bank Open Air Cinema taking place throughout the summer at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair down on Sydney Harbour. The 2015 program consists of 42 films, “including seven Premiere and 13 Preview screenings, along with a selection of this summer's major releases from multi-award winning directors.”  Included among the premieres are Oscar contenders The Theory of Everything and Inherent Vice. Prices start at $36.70, with a concession price of $34.70 if you pre-book, and $37 and a concession of $35 if you just roll up on the night. Like Claude Rains when he discovered that gambling was happening at Ricks in Casablanca. “I am shocked”. However, it is part of a pattern that has been developed most especially at Palace Cinemas’ many film festivals, whereby if you want to see something first you are going to pay a hefty premium to do so before normal prices kick in later. Takes you back to the era of two sessions a day so-called roadshows whereby you paid high prices to attend the one cinema showing Lawrence of Arabia or Bridge on the River Kwai or South Pacific. But back then that went for the first year or so of release.

And reviving a Film Alert tradition... the ABC, in a programming decision which one hopes can only become a regular part of its schedule, has programmed a couple of Australian films from long ago and I recommend you set the recorder at least if you have never previously managed to catch them.

Buddies (Arch Nicholson, Australia, 1983, 97 minutes)
Starring Colin Friels and Harold Hopkins, this is the story of a couple of miners working their own little operation who are threatened by the big boys. While it had its moments and its supporters it also serves as a reminder of the somewhat blighted career of the late Arch Nicholson. His career began with the anti-war doco Or Forever Hold Your Peace  way back in 1970, after which Nicholson went to work at Film Australia. While there, he was set to direct Film Australia’s feature adaptation of David Ireland’s The Unknown Industrial Prisoner until then Attorney-General Bob Ellicott, in an act of grotesque political censorship stepped in and forced the project to be abandoned.
Monday 5 January at 12.15 am on ABC1

Mad Dog Morgan (Philippe Mora, Australia, 1976, 102 minutes)
Dennis Hopper as a crazed Australian bushranger. Made at the time when Hopper could play crazed characters from the inside. High hopes were held for the film when it was made but it didn’t really click with either critics or public. The ambitions were for a high art action movie that would bring kudos to all involved and sell a lot of tickets. The cast, after Hopper included a panoply of Oz big names including Jack Thompson, Gulpilil, Frank Thring, Michael Pate, Wallas Eaton, Bill Hunter, John Hargreaves, Martin Harris, Robin Ramsay and Graeme Blundell playing someone called Italian Jack.
Wednesday 7 January at 11.55 pm on ABC1

A date for the Diary...The Film Critics Circle of Australia usually presents the happiest and undoubtedly the most raucous Awards night of the year.  The selection of winners among the Australian feature films and feature documentaries competing is often quite unpredictable. The 2015 edition has been set down for the evening of Tuesday March 10 in the lavish surroundings of the showroom at the Paddington RSL on Oxford Street. A very modest admission price is charged and food and drink may be purchased throughout the proceedings. Star presenters and award-winners are on hand throughout often saying things they wouldn’t say elsewhere. More details about prices and bookings later but in the meantime keep the evening free.

 

 

 

 

Saturday, 27 December 2014

An Annual Roundup for 2014


Best films seen anywhere in the world in theatres

Adieu au langage3D/Good bye to Language 3D (Jean-Luc Godard, France)
Charlie’s Country (Rolf De Heer, Australia)
The Golden Era (Ann Hui, Hong Kong/China)
Haider (Vishrag Bhadwahl, India)
Hill of Freedom (Hong Sang Soo, South Korea)
Nebraska (Alexander Payne, USA)
Night Moves (Kelly Reichardt, USA)
Nuoc 2030 (Nguyen Vogh Nghiem Minh, Vietnam)
Revivre (Im Kwontaek, South Korea)
Wintersleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey)
A Woman Crying in Spring (Hiroshi Shimizu, Japan, 1933)
The Wonders (Alice Rohrwacher, Italy)

 

Films seen for the first time on DVD

 Ikarie Xbi (Jindrich Polak, Czechoslovakia)
About Elly (Asgharadi, Iran)
La Signora di Tutti (Max Ophuls, Italy
Maskerade (Willi Forst, Austria, 1937)
Neighbouring Sounds (Kleber Mendoca Filho, Brazil, 2013)
The Gold Spinners (Kiur Aarma, Estonia, 2013)
Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea, 2013)
Little Man What Now (Frank Borzage, USA, 1932)
The Selfish Giant (Clio Barnard, UK, 2013)
American Dreams (Lost and Found) (James Benning, USA)
The Complete Mutual & the Complete Keystone Films (Charles Chaplin, USA)
 The Attorney (Yang Woo-seok, South Korea, 2013)
Tales (Raksham Banietemad, Iran, 2013)
Snow (Mehdi Rahmani, Iran, 2013)
Gunman’s Walk (Phil Karlson, USA)
Classe Tous Risques (Claude Sautet, France, 1960)
Une Chambre en Ville (Jacques Demy, France, 1982)
1001 Apples (Tada Karimi, Iraqi Kurdistan, 2013)
Locke (Steven Knight, UK, 2013)
 

Plus TV seen on DVD

Breaking Bad (Series 1 +2)
Treme (Series 3 + 4)
True Detective (Series 1)
Going My Home (Kore-eda Hirokazu, Japan, 2012)
Sherlock (Series 3)
The Bridge (Series 2)
The Hour (Series 2)
Justified (Series 3,4, 5)
Borgen (Series 3)
Fargo (Series 1)
The Americans (Series 2)
The Sopranos (Series 5 + 6)
When the Levees Broke
Homeland (Series 3)
The Unknown Chaplin (Brownlow & Gill, 1983)
The Fall (Series 1)
Happy Valley (Series 1)
Twin Peaks (Series 1 + 2)
Prisoners of War (Series 2, Gideon Raff, Israel, 2012)
Luther (Series 3)

And if this doesn’t sate you, read the selection of the best of 2014 of Supercinephile Barrie Pattison at Sprocketed Sources

Friday, 26 December 2014

APSA's distressing near non-media

The last major film event of the year, the Brisbane based combo of the Asia-Pacific Screen Awards and the Brisbane Asia-Pacific Film Festival has been and gone, finishing in early December. I've looked for any media reports including from those whom you might expect to cover it as a matter of routine, Inside Film and Urban Cinefile. But...near to nothing. The only report thus far is from stalwart supporter of BIFF and its strategies in the sadly ended Anne Demy-Geroe era,  Julie Rigg.  You can find her fine report at http://www.abc.net.au/arts/stories/s4151557.htm It gave me some personal pleasure that she chose to focus some attention on the terrific film that won the APSA doco award, 1001 Apples.

It may or may not be a good thing but it has to be said that media coverage of film events often has to be bought. Journalists cant afford to pay their own way to the regions, i.e. outside Sydney, and editors aren't interested in paying to report on events outside their bailiwick either. And remember if a paper or website or TV program doesn't report on one event, it has another one or two or three to have a crack at next week. Coming up, for example, the French Film Festival - 60 films or so, 140,000 admissions or so, at $17 or so ATP, all boosted by the French Government paying for journos from the major media to travel to Paris for bespoke interviews and viewings to give the ever-increasing all-media PR a huge kickalong.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

A Retrieved Note on Bong Joon-ho's masterpiece Mother (2010)


First sighted at Cannes last year in the Un Certain Regard section (many thought it should have been selected for the Competition) Korean film-maker Bong Joon-ho’s fourth feature film Mother has gone on to be a major selection at just about every film festival round the globe since and confirmed Bong’s reputation as South Korea’s sharpest maker of varied high class entertainments. He has been feted throughout North America in particular and its not hard to see why. In this neck of the woods, the film was rushed into release in Sydney almost immediately after its Cannes success and dumped, without a dollar spent on advertising, into a Chinatown cinema which has since closed down. That was a significant mistake by the distributors of one of the year’s best films and it seems that some attempt was made to rectify it when the film later played the Melbourne International Film Festival and drew appreciative crowds.

Mother displays an assurance in suspenseful story telling that is remarkable. Perhaps no surprise at its accomplishments need be registered when it’s recalled that Bong also directed the absorbing police procedural Memories of Murder as well as the enigmatic Barking Dogs Don’t Bite and that exhilarating entertainment The Host. We’re dealing here with the work of someone who knows how to make smart, edge of the seat movies which keep audiences guessing and aren’t afraid to be witty and extravagant.

Mother is a story in Hitchcockian vein, tailored for audiences today that like their thrills to contain rather more explicit material and rather more down and dirty human foibles than even those revealed in the old master’s most extreme displays of human nastiness. An intellectually challenged young man, goaded by a cynical mate, attempts to accost a young girl walking home alone late at night. Who she is, what she does and what he does form the core of the story which we are led through by the boy’s mother, a somewhat hapless figure who makes a living selling herbal remedies and giving illegal acupuncture treatments. She’s convinced he’s innocent and sets out to prove it. Mothers are like that - always wanting to believe the best about their kids no matter what the evidence. She however is like the rest of the population – cops, crooks, thugs, schoolboys, schoolgirls and more – all just that bit twisted, just that bit tempted to be nasty when they can.

The film opens with a lyrical shot of a middle aged woman slowly approaching the camera in some seemingly idyllic rural setting. She begins to dance as the credits roll. Then we cut, back we only later know, to a mother in her business keeping an eye on her errant son in the street just at the moment when he’s arrested for the murder. Tracking through the story with her provides thrills and shocks and more than a bit of bone jarring violence in the rather graphic fashion known as the modern way. But there’s quite some mastery here in telling the story and Korea’s soft underbelly, a nation on the collective make and out to get what it can, gets more than a little attention.

After four films its safe to say now that Bong knows how to cover all the bases of the modern thriller, with villains ranging from enigmatic neighbours, unknown assailants, a monster in the river and, in the latest case, a might be might not be, casual killer. He is one of the new Asian masters of the noughties and we should treat his films as major events in the way we do with new work from Hirokazu Kore-eda, Wong Kar-wai, and Hou Hsiao-hsien. He’s that good.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Farewells and rewrites




Hello Everyone

So it’s farewell to Margaret and David. A booming national audience of 726,000 people watched the final show, a number that might reach a million via downloads and repeats over the next week. It was international news.  Forgotten amidst all the tears and all the eulogies was the thing that cinephiles have most to thank David for, the twenty year run of SBS cinema classics brought to us with loving attention to subtitling, correct ratios and intros that actually set the scene and provided a real entree to the work and the director. There were probably a couple of thousand titles screened over that time, and the same number in the Movie of the Week slot, many of which would otherwise never have seen the light of our day. There are, or until recently there were, DVD stores around the English-speaking world that happily rent out bootleg copies of the many films that resurfaced via this program after years in oblivion and which have now sunk back into that same oblivion. Beyond the hard-core fans, the biggest losers of the program’s end will be the art house distributors for whom a four star or more rating was like being blessed by a holy office. Nobody else had that influence, a reason why critics’ previews would be delayed or re-scheduled if either David or Margaret had a problem in getting somewhere.

The grief at the duo’s departure has manifested itself in many ways. I was at a farewell event where Geoffrey Rush gave an oration which suggested a term or two in politics should not be out of the question. It began with a magnificently delivered quote from Shakespeare’s Henry VI and just got better. Then there has been this rather sophisticated cinephiliac response here.

They will be missed and the ABC’s decision now to abandon a TV program devoted to the new cinema releases is disappointing. Coming a year or so after Julie’s Rigg’s Radio National film program was cut from its key early evening timeslot, (eventually a program half as long at an inconvenient time was re-introduced), it’s another sad sign of misguided ABC’s priorities which have nothing to do with budget pressure.

In the meantime however, next year David’s fans can get up close and personal by sailing with him from Barcelona to Istanbul and enjoying a film festival at sea

Film-maker and critic Peter Thompson responds to Phillip Adams' speech about the early days of the nascent Australian film industry of the 60s and 70s. Yes, a good speech, very good. But Phillips's nostalgia for the Jones/Adams supremacy obscures history somewhat. Back then, there was a head of steam amongst the young would-be filmmakers (who became, in time, the "Australian film renaissance") fuelled significantly by postwar affluence and the breaking down of Australia's isolation. The emergence of Burstall, Beresford, Weir et al and the directors spawned by TV -- Hannam, Power, Safran et al –virtually bypassed Phillip's Experimental FF and AFTRS, although I’m reminded by better heads than mine that Peter’s Homesdale received EFF funding. Schepisi, as Phillip correctly points out, cut his teeth (and made lots of money which he ploughed into his features) from TV commercials. Ray Lawrence was much later, of course. AFTRS can (and does) claim Noyce, Armstrong, Noonan, and others just as NIDA claims Davis, Hargreaves, Wendy Hughes, Gibson et al. But that's at least questionable -- wouldn't they have emerged anyway? That head of steam perhaps always exists to a greater or lesser extent in any community but in the late 50s and early 60s there was an irresistible tension within the (tiny) creative and intellectual Australian constituency, a frustration with the mediocrity and parochialism of the society around them, that led to people bursting out, either leaving the country altogether (James, Greer, R Hughes, Humphries but also Bell, Wherrett, Beresford etc etc) or staying at home to conduct a war of attrition against the status quo. Similar bursts of creativity can no doubt be identified in other societies... The international “new waves” of the 60s? The Renaissance itself? Edwardian England? Cubism and the Modernists? The Austrian Secession? I'm no cultural historian, wish I was, but no doubt this ground has been well tilled.

As an aside, arguably the two greatest Australian films of all time-- Walkabout and Wake in Fright -- were written and directed by foreigners (OK -- Wake in Fright was Ken Cook but the screenplay was Evan Jones). Perhaps one can draw parallels with Hollywood’s absorption of European talent, especially in the 30s?

The point is that nationalism of the Adams variety, while it was important, was never the whole story. And I don't think reviving it is sufficient. Or necessary.

Phillip is brilliant and much of his speech is spot on  -- cogent, articulate. Etc. But I would have liked more emphasis on the cultural cringe, the phenomenon of Australians apologizing for themselves and looking over each other's shoulders to see what's happening Over There. Witness the debate about the ABC. It's significant that most of it is about efficiency and political bias. People on both sides feel overtly or covertly good about seeing the ABC cut down to size. Even sympathizers focus on the "waste" -- I find I do it myself. We all know the ABC could be more efficient in dollar terms and this is often the major preoccupation.

The justification for the ABC is spoken of in terms of the national interest, the need for voices independent of politics and business and foreign influence. And even the most vociferous detractors usually endorse the value of a "national broadcaster". But these considerations always seem SECONDARY to the debate about cost. 

One of the consequences of the growth of the consumer mentality is an obsession with personal wealth and self-interest. "What's it costing me?" What's in it for me?" So, for example, we see referendums in California for lowering taxes and rates etc, regardless of the damage such cuts do to public wellbeing and its necessary infrastructure.

Remember the debate about the Opera House? It was pretty much completely dominated by argy-bargy over the "outrageous" cost of the building. And Blue Poles, of course. It is perhaps "typically Australian" that we always have these debates about money and that the positive benefits of an opera house or a painting or whatever are given only muted or apologetic support.

I don't mean to imply that culture is just about opera houses and art galleries. But they are part of it and the debates are indicative of deeper attitudes.

Michael Wilding’s latest book, Wild Bleak Bohemia, documents the miserable circumstances in which Adam Lindsay Gordon, Marcus Clarke and Henry Kendall found themselves in the 1870s. Arguably, not much had changed a century later. The cringe still flourished despite heroic efforts to resist it.

And it’s getting worse. Increasingly, we passively accept the economic rationalist argument that big government and government spending are bad. So you mention in Film Alert a proposal for a kind of "pudding" of financial support for a revamped Australian film archive made up of dribs and drabs of federal and state monies and private (philanthropic?) investment. It's significant that we can even contemplate such a strategy without vomiting.

It ignores the biggest elephant in the room: over the last 30 years, there has been a relentless transfer of public wealth into private hands. One of the major themes of Piketty's book Capital is the inevitability of the widening wealth gap in an unregulated capitalist system. Curiously, we've bought into this. It's become respectable to be filthy rich. We actually admire their criminality. We live in a kleptocracy, not a democracy. One farcical aspect of it is our genuflection to "philanthropists".

I think we need a clear-eyed recognition from commentators such as Phillip that there are consequences for regarding national culture in all its aspects as some sort of luxury, an "optional extra", not a necessity. And the point is (and Phillip is very good on this) we DO HAVE a culture in Australia. It's just that it is almost entirely imported.

So there are consequences. I keep referring to the cultural cringe. We don't see the danger in this drift away from a creative culture of our own. We aren't really comfortable with a creative culture unless we can justify it in some practical way. It has to be financially respectable. John Howard did more damage than most by reducing the arts community to nothing more than another pressure group of self-interested wankers.

It's a curious form of myopia. Rather like saying we don't need lifeboats because we've never hit an iceberg. A community or nation or even, at a global level, thehuman population (although we seem a long way from any kind of international consensus) must be motivated by a sense of danger. It must build creativity and resilience as insurance against an uncertain, unpredictable future.

It is about values, as well, isn't it? Abbott is doing us a favour by demonstrating how bleak and banal is the world that conforms to his views and beliefs. The Czechs had a phrase for the corruption that thrived under Communism where the creative and thinking community, the stirrers, were bought off by the dictatorship. They called it the Velvet Prison. I saw it in Russia in 1968. Lots of intelligent people who lived comfortable lives behind closed doors with access to foreign literature and ideas. The price they paid was agreeing to keep their mouths shut. 

Similarly in the so-called West, including Australia, the relative comfort of the status quo tends to forestall serious debate and speculation. Politicians are reduced to arguing about how the cake is to be shared around rather than deeper issues. It's like people fighting over the high tackle rule in rugby or the forward tackle rule in soccer, forgetting that they are talking about a game, not the future of the planet. I don't want to labour these metaphors. The point is that there are a lot of unexamined assumptions in our thinking.

But to extend (another) metaphor, we argue about arranging the deck chairs, ignoring the reality that the ship has already struck the iceberg. The modern world faces catastrophic change, as we all know. Climate change. The seeming impossibility of global consensus on issues such as refugees, human rights, financial regulation etc. 40% of jobs in the US are predicted to disappear, replaced by robots, in the near future. Agriculture is in a state of terminal crisis brought on by the crimes of agribusiness. And so on.

The point of all this is that these challenges can only be met by a thinking, creative, resilient community -- and maybe not even by that. That's the point of cultural activity. It can and should be viewed as an extension of education. And we are well and truly fucking up our education system. That's for sure. A sane society pours money, when it has it, into education which by extension means culture. And, inevitably, some or much of that money might appear to be wasted or mismanaged. The poorer the intellectual awareness underpinning policy, the worse the waste will be.

Let’s try to extend the debate, huh?

Piracy on the tip of everyone’s lips. Illegal downloading is on everyone’s horizon these days. There seem to be few people who, if they don’t actually pirate material themselves, don’t know who to go to when necessary. Needless to say the Federal Government gets a regular hammering from rights holders and those charged with protecting copyright. My favourites are the advertisements run by the “Intellectual Property Awareness Foundation”. It has rustled up a dozen Oz actors to say thanks to all who have bought or rented a legitimate DVD. I’m not at all convinced that those Australian actors’ livings are at all threatened by piracy but the case gets made.

In recent days there has been the astonishing story of the hackers who cracked Sony’s security and freed up a great deal of information about things like stars’ salaries as well as uploading some five of Sony’s newest films onto various pirate sites. Users have apparently now made several million downloads. The full story is reported in Variety here and here and in the New York Times.

Rising to the challenge, Attorney-General George Brandis has now issued a media release promising action. George says inter alia: The Attorney-General and the Minister for Communications have written to industry leaders requiring them to immediately develop an industry code with a view to registration by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) under Part 6 of the Telecommunications Act 1997. The code will include a process to notify consumers when a copyright breach has occurred and provide information on how they can gain access to legitimate content. The Minister and the Attorney-General expect strong collaboration between rights holders, internet service providers (ISPs) and consumers on this issue. ….Failing agreement within 120 days, the Government will impose binding arrangements either by an industry code prescribed by the Attorney-General under the Copyright Act 1968 or an industry standard prescribed by the ACMA, at the direction of the Minister for Communications under the Telecommunications Act. The Government will also amend the Copyright Act, to enable rights holders to apply for a court order requiring ISPs to block access to a website, operated outside of Australia, which provides access to infringing content. In a world of rapid changes in technology and human behaviour, there is no single measure that can eliminate online copyright infringement. In light of this the Government will review the measures, 18 months after they are implemented, to assess their effectiveness.

In the meantime, a Film Alert reader has reported this note from a chatroom which puts a slightly different perspective on why people do these things. “I will continue to download content - it is part of my efforts to combat terrorism. How does pirating combat terrorism? Hollywood pays huge amounts of money to the "stars" and directors/producers of movies - money that is gained by selling the movie or TV program for exhorbitant amounts to consumers. The actors and other recipients of this money, because they have so much and are bored because they don't have anything productive that they have to do, spend it on drugs (witness all the drug arrests of people in the entertainment industry). Drug sales finance terrorist organisations (the US government has been telling us this for years). So by downloading and not paying the money, drug users in the industry don't get paid as much, they can't afford to buy drugs, the terrorists can't finance themselves, and the world is a safer place. I consider it every right thinking person’s mission to do all they can to fight terrorism and so everyone should download movies. It is our duty to keep the world safe”.

Tsai Ming-Liang in Canberra. A program of talks and screenings devoted to Taiwanese master Tsai Ming-liang will take place in Canberra in early January. (Not sure that’s a great time but who is to say why these things are done when they are done.) Tsai himself will be attending and author and Chinese film specialist Linda Jaivin will be on hand to conduct the discussions. Details are here.

Finally something to cheer you up for Christmas. One of my very favourite funnymen Phil Silvers.

All best

Geoff