15 October 2017

Homeward bound

Wellington tugs Tiaki & Tapuhi return to port, 15 October 2017

12 October 2017

Four gentlemen of Amman

I was wandering through the middle of Amman, the Jordanian capital, on my last day in town some nine years ago (6 November 2008) when these four chaps noticed my camera and asked me to take their picture. I can't remember how extensive their English was, but they liked the picture. Didn't spot the naughty cigarette no.2 is rocking! Wonder what they're up to now? (That was a great trip, by the way).

09 October 2017

Coalition formation & potential Executives

One feature of the continuing coalition negotiations has been speculation about the likely shape of any resulting Cabinet. Now the election result is final there's no such thing as a 'moral right to govern' in the rulebook: the fate of the next Parliament is determined by Parliament alone.

While New Zealand First may choose to sit on the cross-benches outside of Government, it’s more interesting to guess what a full coalition arrangement with shared responsibilities might look like. In these negotiations Ministerial positions are the subject of negotiations along with policy concessions and other appointments, but parties generally receive a number of positions proportionate to their vote. In practice this means that if it goes into a formal coalition New Zealand First could expect to have four of its caucus of nine ending up holding Ministerial warrants, whichever major party Winston Peters ends up deciding to support.

The estimates below are based on a hypothetical Ministerial list of 25 Ministers. While this is smaller than the 27 Ministers under the last English administration (or 28 if you count the non-Ministerial Parliamentary Under-Secretary role created for ACT’s David Seymour), there are fewer minor parties in the new Parliament and an Executive of 28 was arguably too many in a House of 120 members. For the purposes of this discussion I’ve opted to keep things simple with 25, with 20 in Cabinet and five Ministers outside Cabinet. Given the number of tiny portfolios used to flesh out the numbers, a new administration wanting to economise could do worse than opting for an even smaller Executive, but the need to reward ambitious caucus members probably makes this unlikely.

If Peters supports a National-led Government the combined parties would have 65 votes. This would suggest 21 Ministerial positions for National and four for New Zealand First. If there was no major National reshuffle, that would allow all the present Cabinet to keep their warrants, plus Hon Nicky Wagner. Four National Ministers at the bottom of the current Ministerial list would lose their warrants: Jacqui Dean, David Bennett, Tim Macindoe and Scott Simpson. The four New Zealand First members to receive Ministerial warrants would likely be Winston Peters, Tracy Martin, Ron Mark and Shane Jones.

If Peters supports Labour plus the Greens (63 votes), this would suggest a line-up of 18 Ministerial positions for Labour, four for New Zealand First and three for the Greens. While the Green vote (6.3 percent) is only slightly smaller than New Zealand First’s (7.2 percent), it would probably be smart politics to reward New Zealand First with an extra spot. Examining the Labour caucus and list rankings, a line-up of 18 ministers could consist of: Jacinda Ardern, Kelvin Davis, Andrew Little, Grant Robertson, Phil Twyford, Megan Woods, Chris Hipkins, Carmel Sepuloni, David Clark, David Parker, Stuart Nash, Raymond Huo, Iain Lees-Galloway, Su’a William Sio, Damien O’Connor, Ruth Dyson, Nanaia Mahuta and Rino Tirikatene. Four of the 18 have previous Ministerial experience: Parker, O’Connor, Dyson and Mahuta. Trevor Mallard would be given the role of Speaker. The New Zealand First Ministers would be the same as under the National-led administration. The Green Party would receive three warrants, perhaps for their top three list candidates James Shaw, Marama Davidson and Julie Anne Genter.

While the prospect of a National coalition with the Greens excited some comment among National-aligned commentators last week, it’s a toxic option as far as the Greens are concerned. In any case, a hypothetical National-Green administration (64 votes) would look similar to a National-New Zealand First one: 22 National Ministers plus three Green Ministers. Jacqui Dean could retain her warrant and the same three Green members as above would become Ministers.

Of course this all becomes moot if Peters decides to stay on the cross-benches!

02 October 2017

'Not one of them would have dampened my ambition'

Working on Michael Cacoyannis' 1971 film The Trojan Women, English actor and raconteur Brian Blessed became friends with the film's lead actor, the legendary Katharine Hepburn. In his autobiography Absolute Pandemonium Blessed recounts in his own words Hepburn's reasoning for never having had children.

One of the more interesting yet difficult conversations I had with Katharine was about her decision never to have children. This, I believe, revealed the mark of Katharine Hepburn. She spoke with honesty, candour, empathy and consideration; four words I believe sum her up perfectly. They were her bywords. 
I remember what she said and will attempt to convey this to you now. I think you'll find it illuminating. 
'I could not bear the thought of being a mother, Brian. I've been attacked for this over the years, attacked and pilloried by all kinds of people: journalists, politicians, fellow actors; even fans. And, do you know, I'm sick of it. I've had it up to here. Being a mother is the most important job in the world and it is probably the hardest job in the world, and I'm afraid that I just wasn't up to it. But at least I was honest enough to admit that. Do you know how many people have children because they believe they should, or because other people tell them they should? Millions. But the consequence of bringing a child into the world under those kind of circumstances and in that kind of environment wasn't lost on me, Brian. It made me think and it made me act. 
A child needs to be loved unconditionally, but especially by its mother. When I was of child-bearing age, I was obsessed with my career. Nothing else mattered to me and I did a lot of things to further my career that I'm not proud of. Things I should never have done. Can you imagine what kind of life a child of mine would have had? Because, believe me, I could have given birth to a thousand children and not one of them would have dampened my ambition. There would have been precious little love for a child of mine. I'm ashamed to say; and no attention or affection. Just a room full of au pairs and a lifetime of resentment. Hollywood has been having these kinds of babies for years, Brian. It's abuse. It's child abuse. So that's why I decided never to have children and I stand by my decision. It doesn't matter to me any more because I'm over sixty now, but it still does to some'.
- Brian Blessed, Absolute Pandemonium: My louder than life story, 2015

27 September 2017

Young Spielberg

The young [Steven] Spielberg seems a picture of an unsettled personality darting about internally in search of its own borders. He was a brilliant child whose intellectual curiosity did not motivate him to be more than a desultory student; a nerd who shunned athletics and the outdoor life yet found his greatest social fulfillment in the Boy Scouts; a Jewish kid uncomfortable with his identity, fantasizing about the communal joys of Christmas. He yearned, apparently, for the mainstream American life evoked by the paintings of Norman Rockwell (of whom Spielberg would become a major collector) and from which his Jewish identity seemed to exclude him. “Being a Jew meant that I was not normal,” he would explain, “I was not like everybody else. I just wanted to be accepted. Not for who I was. I wanted to be accepted for who everybody else was.”

The sense of a barrier was heightened by the communities in which he found himself living—especially after his family moved to Arizona when he was nine, to a suburb on the edge of the desert, an environment of (in Spielberg’s words) “kitchen windows facing kitchen windows facing kitchen windows,” precisely analogous to the freshly built development so thoroughly devastated by the angry dead at the climax of Poltergeist (a film, written and produced but not, at least officially, directed by Spielberg, that as [biographer Molly] Haskell notes serves as a repository for some of his darkest fantasies).

Not long after the move to Arizona his father gave him an 8-millimeter movie camera, and a life still nebulous came abruptly into focus. At first he took over responsibility for filming the family’s vacations, complete with retakes and carefully elaborated setups, and discovered that “staging real life was so much more fun than just recording it.” By the age of twelve his ambition as a filmmaker was fully formulated, and with it the conscious construction of his own legend. Filmmaking defined his social life, reinforcing his ties with his fellow Boy Scouts and classmates, as he roped everyone in his circle (including of course his parents) into increasingly complex projects.

- Geoffrey O'Brien, 'Spielberg: The Inner Lives of a Genius', New York Review of Books, 23 February 2017

See also:

25 September 2017

In every respect the theatre is comfortable, convenient & hygienic

Image result for wenders Falsche Bewegung
The cast of Wim Wenders' Falsche Bewegung

Tonight several hundred Wellingtonians gathered at the Paramount Theatre in Courtenay Place for the last ever Wellington Film Society screening at the venue. Thanks to the perfidy of some nameless council flunky, the theatre building had been re-designated to allow other uses, and the building owner wasn't keen on spending the money to refurbish its aging structure. So the culture capital of New Zealand loses an irreplaceable strand of its artistic heritage: a cinema that has been operating for just over 100 years, and the cinema that screened the first ever talking picture in New Zealand. And unless the new Film Museum provides the option, with the demise of the Paramount Wellington loses its only cinema with 35mm film projection capability.

An almost capacity crowd gathered on the cinema's last day in action to watch some traditional Filmsoc fare, the 1974 Wim Wenders road movie Falsche Bewegung (Wrong Move). I love the line from the 1975 Variety write-up of the movie in the Filmsoc catalogue: 'The single drawback is that it's probably too German to be grasped by uninitiated audiences'.

The sad end of a grand old cinema should be countered with the optimism of its birth a century earlier. Cinema was big business in New Zealand in 1917, despite the ongoing war, and the newspapers covered its opening in early August.


The opening of the new Paramount Theatre at the Courtenay-place tramway junction will take place next Saturday evening. The theatre has been planned on up-to-date lines, due care having been paid to seating, ventilation, and other essentials, while only the latest machinery has been installed for the purpose of showing pictures to the best advantage. The screen was specially imported from America. It is made of a scientific composition, and is said to greatly improve the quality of the pictures. The Paramount Theatre will be on the Paramount circuit, and the first production shown will feature the ever popular Mary Pickford in an Artcraft film, "Less Than the Dust," the scenes in which are laid in India and England.
- Evening Post, 30 July 1917

(Less Than the Dust was Pickford's first of 13 self-produced pictures for the Paramount Artcraft division. In 1919 she co-founded United Artists with Charlie Chaplin, DW Griffith and her soon-to-be husband, Douglas Fairbanks).

Considerable interest is being shown in the opening of the new Paramount Theatre, a luxuriously-fitted picture palace situated at Courtenay place, at which the initial screenings commence to-night. The Paramount is a spacious, cosy building, in which quaint architecture and new designs in appointments have combined to ensure the comfort and congenial surroundings that movie “fans" and general entertainment patrons appreciate. For the opening session, the first of the Artcraft productions, “Less Than the Dust," has been secured. In this big feature play the idol of the screen, Mary Pickford, is seen at her best, in the role of a deserted orphan, reared among sordid native surroundings in India. There is an uprising, very realistically carried out, and thence on there is a tender love story interwoven in the exciting plot. Miss Pickford’s latest effort is described as her triumph in dramatic acting. There are other well-selected pictures, an ideal programme for first-nighters in a new and handsome entertainment house. Excellent lighting, seating, and ventilation arrangements have been installed in the building, which ranks among the handsomest of Wellington's many theatres.
- New Zealand Times, 4 August 1917

(One of Less Than the Dust's two assistant directors was the later-famed Austrian emigre, Erich von Stroheim)

The Paramount Theatre, the twelfth addition to the picture theatres of Wellington, was opened on Saturday night under the most favourable conditions. The theatre itself may be described as up to date. Seating accommodation is provided for about twelve hundred, and the house was filled to overflowing on Saturday evening. The seats are comfortable, and the rows are wide enough apart to permit patrons to pass with comfort. The screen can be seen from every part of the house without any straining or twisting about. The decorations are simple but effective, and in every respect the theatre is comfortable, convenient, and hygienic. There was no hitch or delay in the opening, showing clearly that the management had given attention to every detail. The screen is quite the latest, and its special merit lies in the fact that it brings out the contrasts of light and shade. It is claimed that this screen is the only one of its kind in New Zealand up to the present time. The biograph is known as Baird's, and is a very powerful machine, projecting the pictures with remarkable clearness and free from flicker. Prom the smoothness with which everything went along from the start few people could be led to believe that it was the opening night, for usually there are delays and drawbacks at the initial performance through little details being overlooked. For about twenty minutes or more before the first picture was shown a very capable orchestra entertained the early patrons with a fine selection of music, and appropriate music was rendered throughout the evening. 

Pickford in Rebecca
of Sunnybrook Farm
The star picture chosen for the opening, entitled "Less Than the Dust," and featuring Mary Pickford, the popular artiste of the films, proved highly attractive. The story is an endeavour to blend East and West. It opens in India, where Radha (the role assumed by Mary Pickford), the little English castaway daughter of a social derelict, is shown in her daily life as the adopted daughter of a Hindoo swordmaker, and some typical Indian scenes and customs are depicted. The natives of the district are called upon to submit to vaccination, which they resent, and some of the hot-headed natives foster a rebellion, the Hindoo sword-maker being a leader among the rebels. Radha meets Captain Richard Townsend, of the local garrison, in the course of her wanderings through the bazaars, and her efforts to study English are helped by the gift of a book from Captain Townsend. During a fight with the rebels, Radha saves Townsand's life, and the latter goes on furlough to England to recuperate. The sword-maker finds himself in prison, and Radha's identity is discovered. She is sent to a boarding-school in England, where she again meets Townsend, and they eventually marry. The young couple return to India, and a Mrs Bradshaw, a widow who had marked out Townsend for her second husband, persuades Radha that she is unworthy to be the wife of Townsend, and the heartbroken girl flees to the desert with the intention of ending her life, but is saved by her husband. The picture is very fascinating, and the Eastern life and customs are very faithfully reproduced. Some very fine scenic pictures of the West India Islands, including St. Thomas and Martinique, were also shown. The Paramount should have a prosperous future.
- Dominion, 6 August 1917

"Less Than the Dust," now being screened daily at the Paramount Theatre, Courtenay-place, is a play that overshadows all Mary Pickford's screen triumphs. This picture was extremely successful in America, and the reason is easily apparent to all who see this superb superfeature. Smiles and tears are exquisitely blended, and the film will be remembered by all who see it for the sheer charm of its simplicity. At the evening performance the orchestral accompaniment adds greatly to the enjoyment of this picture. The music has been most carefully selected, and is very effectively rendered.
- Evening Post, 8 August 1917

(Less Than the Dust is listed as a seven-reeler)

"And departing, leave behind us footprints on the sands of Time," doesn't quite apply in a literal sense to Mr James Bennie, Wellington's architect, who, when he goes hence, will leave his "handmark'' on the features of Wellington City. Thorough in his work is Mr Bennie, combined with which excellent trait is an artistic taste of the highest grade, as several public buildings in this city bear silent testimony. His latest "output" is the Paramount Picture Theatre in Courtenay-place. That end of Wellington is flourishing like unto the green bay tree. Shops are springing into existence daily — substantial structures — to catch the trade of those who walk from the centre of the city to collar the trams at Courtenay-place to save an honest "brown''
- Free Lance, 10 August 1917

(The Lance also records the run in another theatre of DW Griffith's racist blockbuster epic, The Birth of a Nation. Saving an 'honest brown' would I guess refer to saving a half-penny or perhaps the tram tickets for the city section were coloured differently to the suburban service tickets)

16 September 2017

09 September 2017

Huxley's prescience

We were keeping our eye on 1984. When the year came and [George Orwell's] prophecy didn't, thoughtful Americans sang softly in praise of themselves. The roots of liberal democracy had held. Wherever else the terror had happened, we, at least, had not been visited by Orwellian nightmares. But we had forgotten that alongside Orwell's dark vision, there was another -- slightly older, slightly less well known, equally chilling: Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.

Contrary to common belief even among the educated, Huxley and Orwell did not prophesy the same thing. Orwell warns that we will be overcome by an externally imposed oppression. But in Huxley's vision, no Big Brother is required to deprive people of their autonomy, maturity and history. As he saw it, people will come to love their oppression, to adore the technologies that undo their capacities to think.

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance.

Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny 'failed to take into account man's almost infinite appetite for distractions.' In 1984, Huxley added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we hate will ruin us. Huxley feared that what we love will ruin us”

- Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business, 1985

(Via the Delancey Place email newsletter)

08 September 2017

Conversations with Prime Ministers

Photos from this evening's book launch at Te Papa's marae in Wellington, for journalists Guyon Espiner and Tim Watkin's The 9th Floor: Conversations with five New Zealand Prime Ministers. Mike Moore was unable to attend and sent his apologies, but present were Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Palmer (Prime Minister in 1989-90), Rt Hon Jim Bolger (1990-97), Rt Hon Dame Jenny Shipley (1997-99) and Rt Hon Helen Clark (1999-2008). In what was a historic gathering possibly never before attempted in New Zealand, the four ex-leaders discussed the nature of the premiership, the challenges facing New Zealand and the interviews' contribution to posterity.

In Te Papa's marae

Helen Clark Snapchats while Palmer looks on

Shipley makes a point, Espiner listens


03 September 2017


SH1 & the Main Trunk Line from Fort Dorset, Wadestown

27 August 2017

Seal-spotting at Turakirae Head

It was perfect sunny weather for a walk to Turakirae Head on the Wainuiomata south coast yesterday afternoon - bright, breezy but not gusty. The last time I'd been out that way the whole city was dry but the south coast was wreathed in sheets of rain. The DOC signs at the entrance near Orongorongo Station say it's an hour walk to the head, but I took quite a bit less time than that, even allowing for photographic detours. The rocky landscape at the head - the result of a series of earthquakes over the past few thousand years - is perfect for the seals, and along with the fine views of Palliser Bay there was the rare opportunity to say (with tongue in cheek) that I had walked to the Wairarapa and back.

Looking southeast to Cape Palliser

23 August 2017

Launching 'A Bark But No Bite'

At Victoria University of Wellington's Rutherford House for the launch of the latest New Zealand Election Study book, A Bark But No Bite: Inequality and the 2014 New Zealand General Election, by Jack VowlesHilde Coffé and Jennifer Curtin. Former fellow politics student and lecturer Rt Hon Helen Clark was the guest of honour, and other guests included another former Prime Minister, Rt Hon Geoffrey Palmer, and politics experts Dr Elizabeth McLeay, Dr Bryce Edwards, Colin James and Brian Easton. The book can be downloaded free from ANU Press.

Clark, Vowles, Coffe & Curtin

Rt Hon Helen Clark

Prof Jack Vowles

20 August 2017

A man for every season

Shayne P Carter 
Meow, Wellington
19 August 2017

Having seen Shayne Carter in a double-act with Don McGlashan at the Paramount a while back, it was good to follow up with this louder band gig at Meow last night, with Carter chiefly on guitar as usual, with bass and drums backing. Booming, jagged waves of tortured, coruscating anti-pop and all that. Ears buzzing into the night. He played a couple of numbers from his uncharacteristic piano pieces too, off the 2016 album Offsider (which for reasons of keyboard proximity I'm inclined to type as Oddsider), including this track below, in a 2016 RNZ clip. It's interesting to see a guitar supremo contort his music through an unfamiliar instrument (he taught himself to play for Offsider). In support the Magic Numbers-lineup of local band Draghound (two girls, two guys) impressed.

I'm still taken aback by New Zealand pub gig audiences though - the ones who pay money to hear an artist perform and then talk all the way through the performances. Oftentimes in the quieter numbers they're louder than the band. Such rude behaviour is beyond my ken!


17 August 2017

Die kleinen Gesichter

Live on German TV programme 'Beat-Club', a pacey 10-minute set by the Small Faces at the height of their powers, with four numbers including All Or Nothing and Whatcha Gonna Do About It, and plenty of would-be German mods in the audience attempting to keep up. That might be British DJ Dave Lee Travis of later BBC fame doing the intros there - he hosted the programme from 1966 to 1969.

14 August 2017

Film festival roundup 2017

Here's my top five films from the 2017 NZ International Film Festival here in Wellington, where I saw 20 films in 17 days. An excellent year for the festival!

Patti Cake$ (dir. Geremy Jasper, USA, 2017) :: Embassy 108 mins

Image result for patti cake$ poster

I knew I had to see Patti Cake$ the moment I read the festival blurb recording the moment the Cannes crowd heard the film's lead actor Danielle Macdonald speak at a Q&A they 'gave an audible gasp when she answered her first question because no one had a clue she was Australian let alone not American'.

There's no question that this quest-for-stardom music flick traverses the most hackneyed of cinematic cliches - the embattled outsider with a heart of gold striving to overcome adversity with the help of their plucky, wacky friends and a huge helping of sheer talent. In lesser hands this would be trivial, forgettable material. But with Macdonald director and writer Geremy Jasper has a legitimate, stone-cold star. There's never a moment in Patti Cake$ that leads the viewer to disbelieve her tremendous ability with a mic and a rhyme. Her rapping performances are quite authentically superb, and that's from someone who has little time for the musical genre. And whereas a film like Steven Soderbergh's Haywire can coast on a serviceable lead performance by Gina Carano thanks to her eye-watering martial arts talents, Macdonald is the complete package here because in addition to rapping like a boss she also acts with commendable talent.

I won't spoil the audacious climax of the film, but this is that most treasurable of offerings, a true crowd-pleaser in every respect. Don't be surprised if you see Macdonald at the Oscars, or at the very least performing at the Grammys - assuming they can devise something PG-13 for her to rap, that is.

Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web (dir. Annie Goldson, NZ, 2017) :: Paramount 112 mins

Image result for Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web

You don't have to like Kim Dotcom in the slightest to be impressed by the scope of Annie Goldson's stellar documentary. While the biographical aspects of the sorry Dotcom tale are strong, the broader implications for the entire way society consumes intellectual property are particularly intriguing. Particularly telling is the example given of the early rise of Dotcom's Megaupload, when a recent University of Kansas graduate tells a reporter friend that her campus was abuzz with sharing free movies on the site, and that it was her lecturer who first turned her onto it - a clear sign that the social impact of this type of sharing was mammoth and permeating every corner of the world.

Goldson has assembled a formidable collection of international interviewees to augment the expert insights of the Herald's David Fisher, including Jimmy Wales, Moby and Glenn Greenwald. And whether or not you think Dotcom is guilty of the crimes he's been charged with, his case has been handled diabolically by the New Zealand authorities at seemingly every stage. The questionable granting of New Zealand residency (potentially with the ultimate intention of handing him over to the Americans), the ludicrous overkill of the January 2012 raid on the Dotcom mansion (which was conducted using faulty warrants), the police's illegal cloning and sharing of his entire evidence file with the FBI, the illegal surveillance by the New Zealand security services (which was later patched up by highly contentious legislation) and the eventual court ruling that he was eligible for extradition to the US but not for the charges originally laid against him, the five years it's taken to even get this far ('justice delayed is justice denied', after all): these all add up to a picture of a New Zealand justice system seemingly taking its orders from overseas and bending its rules to suit.

Throughout, Dotcom appears as a charismatic chancer punching way above his paygrade - a low-level crook who made millions while Hollywood refused to adapt its business model to reflect changing technology.

Ethel & Ernest (dir. Roger Mainwood, UK, 2016) :: Paramount 94 mins

Image result for ethel & ernest

The highlight of the last day of the film festival was Brenda Blethyn & Jim Broadbent voicing the animation Ethel & Ernest - the story of artist Raymond Briggs' parents and their 40 happy years of marriage. If the idea of following the mundane, everyday goings-on of ordinary South Londoners strikes you as boring or dull, then you'll be missing out on a precious social document replete with wry humour, affecting pathos and small tragedies bravely borne. Personally, I loved every minute of this loving tribute to the heroism of ordinary working-class people making their way through life. Even if it did feature plenty of exposition in the form of Ernest listening to the wireless and exclaiming, 'Blimey, that Mr Hitler's only gorn an' invaded Poland' - because that's just what Ernest would have said. If only we had something like this lovely little film for New Zealanders' lives of the same generation, for a way of life now lost and almost forgotten.

Summer 1993 (Estiu 1993, dir. Carla Simon, Spain, 2017) :: Embassy 97 mins

Image result for estiu 1993

An expertly realised evocation of a momentous summer from the director's own past, as orphaned six-year-old Frida (Laia Artigas) is taken to the Catalan countryside for a new life with her aunt and uncle and her tiny cousin Anna. Wiry, inquisitive and puzzled, Frida struggles to adjust to her new environs and the family struggles to adapt to this newcomer, half insider, half outsider. As a simple depiction of childhood, familial kindness and learning to get along, this is hugely effective, finding particular joy in the small and utterly genuine interactions between Frida and the cherubic, playful little Anna that pepper the film. So many of the episodes depicted have the ring of true memories to them, and as Frida's story and that of her family emerges one can't help but be impressed with the performances of all concerned.

A Date for Mad Mary (dir. Darren Thornton, Ireland, 2016) :: Paramount 82 mins

Image result for date for mad mary

An object lesson in how to make a small film with a big heart, A Date For Mad Mary works in every respect - dramatically, comedically, narratively and visually. The tremendous cast led by Seana Kerslake as loose cannon Mary offer believable and memorable performances and the film provides a glimpse into the motivations and challenges of a determined young woman seeking a 'plus one' for her best friend's wedding, with the slight impediment that she's got anger management issues and has only just emerged from a six-month jail term. The blind date scenes are particularly rich with humour, particularly given Mary's first stab in the dark is to ask out her middle-aged former drug dealer.

Other films seen and enjoyed at this year's festival:

The Party (dir. Sally Potter, UK, 2017)
The Square (dir. Ruben Östlund, Sweden, 2017)
Citizen Jane: Battle for the City (dir. Matt Tyrnauer, USA, 2016)
Blade of the Immortal (Mugen no junin, dir. Miike Takashi, Japan, 2017)
The Farthest (dir. Emer Reynolds, Ireland, 2017)
My Year with Helen (dir. Gaylene Preston, New Zealand, 2017)
I Am Not Your Negro (dir. Raoul Peck, USA, 2016)
The Lost City of Z (dir. James Gray, USA, 2016)
Manifesto (dir. Julian Rosenfeldt, Germany, 2017)
Stalker (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky, USSR, 1979)
Kedi (dir. Ceyda Torun, Turkey, 2016)
6 Days (dir. Toa Fraser, New Zealand/UK, 2017)
Human Traces (dir. Nic Gorman, New Zealand, 2017)
The Beguiled (dir. Sofia Coppola, USA, 2017)
The Other Side of Hope (Toivon tuolla puolen, dir. Aki Kaurismäki, Finland, 2017)

See also:
Movies: Film festival roundup 2016 part 1, part 2
Movies: Film festival roundup 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2009

04 August 2017

Keith Moon's brandy breakfasts

[In 1978], four years after the death of Cass Elliot at Harry Nilsson's flat, Keith Moon, after fitting enough partying and convivial nights in his short life for a small town, died of an overdose of Heminevrin tablets in the very same bed.

Keith and his girlfriend, Annette Walter-Lax, had been to a party held by Paul McCartney at the trendy chrome and neon-lit cocktail-bar restaurant called Peppermint Park on St Martin's Lane, Covent Garden. By many accounts Keith was unusually quiet and sober and shared a booth with the McCartneys, David Frost, John Hurt and Kenny Jones - Moon's eventual replacement, ironically. At midnight, everyone went to the Odeon, Leicester Square, for the late-night premiere of the Buddy Holly Story that starred Gary Busey. Before the end of the film Keith and Annette caught a taxi back to Curzon Place. Keith started watching the film The Abominable Dr Phibes but fell asleep after taking several Heminevrin sedatives that had been prescribed to aid alcohol withdrawal. At about 7.30am he ordered Annette to cook him steak for breakfast. She complained but Keith retorted with, 'If you don't like it, you can fuck off'. Unfortunately they were his last words.

Annette, who had been sleeping on the living room couch because of Moon's incessant snoring, discovered him in the afternoon, face down on the bed, and he was found to be dead on arrival at Middlesex Hospital in Westminster [...]

Moon the Loon was only thirty-two when he died, but dying young didn't come to anyone's great surprise - he was one of the greatest partiers ever. He once outlined his typical daily diet to a doctor: 'I always get up about six in the morning. I have my bangers and eggs. And I drink a bottle of Dom Perignon and half a bottle of brandy. Then I take a couple of downers. Then it's about 10 and I'll have a nice nap until five. I get up, have a couple of black beauties [also known as Black Birds or Black Bombers and are a combination of amphetamine, or speed, and dextroamphetamine], some brandy, a little champagne and go out on the town. Then we boogie. We'll wrap it up around four'.

- Rob Baker, Beautiful Idiots & Brilliant Lunatics, Stroud, Gloucs, 2015, p.91-2.

27 July 2017

You sold me illusions for a sack full of cheques

This week I've relished listening to Cracked Actor, a rediscovered snapshot of David Bowie's legendary 1974 US tour that started out all apocalyptic and Diamond Dogs-y and took a sharp left turn to become the Soul / Philly Dogs Tour. Whereas the contemporary live album David Live was from the first part of the tour and due to lousy recording process sounded dreadful, the newly released 2016 remaster of a single September 1974 LA gig from the second part of the tour is simply fantastic, capturing the emaciated, hyperactive Bowie at a creative peak. And the new band, hastily cobbled together from New York session experts, is a stunning unit: Earl Slick & Carlos Alomar, Mike Garson, David Sanborn, and the great black backing singers including the just-starting-out Luther Vandross. Highlights of the set include a mad, bossanova Suffragette City and the extended funk-soul workout of John, I'm Only Dancing (Again) that is radically different to the taut glam strut of the 1972 and '73 originals.

The rare footage below doesn't have the touched-up audio of the new release but illustrates Bowie's stagecraft theatrics perfectly.

25 July 2017

The skyline is becoming a ragged row

Old William Reave [sic.], an old whaler who died here last year, made Port Nicholson early in 1839, and carried a clear view of the scene to his deathbed. In an interview he said: 'Wellington or, I should say, what is now Wellington, was the first port made; and a pretty spot it was, with the native bush extending like a soft cloak of green from the hill-tops to the water, with only a few insignificant clearings round the Maori settlements of Pipitea and Te Aro'. So gracefully described in a few words, the picture is a perfect one. The aesthetic will sigh 'Heigh-ho!' at the change. The soft green cloak has disappeared entirely from the foreground, the shelving hills have, in the transforming process, been disguised as 'cuttings', the waving raupo flat of Te Aro is a stewpan of houses reeking with humanity, and where the rata and the tree fern waved and curtsied in the breeze, house-seed, flung from below, has taken root and thrived marvellously, until the skyline is becoming a ragged row of house-tops instead of the graceful line of the mountain ridge. Wellington has grown! The exclamation is a general one from those who have been away from the place any time, and nothing is more prosaically true. It has.

- Dominion, 26 September 1907, quoted in Pat Lawlor, More Wellington Days, 1962, p.134.

[The Dominion being quoted is the very first edition of that newspaper, which since its merger with the Evening Post in 2002 has been published as the Dominion Post]

11 July 2017

A limited tolerance for sacred flames

The stances [Prince Charles] takes do not follow predictable political lines but seem perfectly calibrated to annoy everyone. Conservatives tend to be upset by his enthusiasm for Islam and his environmentalism; liberals object to his vehement defense of foxhunting and his protectiveness of Britain’s ancient social hierarchies. What unites his disparate positions is a general hostility to secularism, science, and the industrialized world.

“I have come to realize,” he told an audience in 2002, “that my entire life has been so far motivated by a desire to heal—to heal the dismembered landscape and the poisoned soul; the cruelly shattered townscape, where harmony has been replaced by cacophony; to heal the divisions between intuitive and rational thought, between mind and body, and soul, so that the temple of our humanity can once again be lit by a sacred flame.”

The British tend to have a limited tolerance for sacred flames. They are also ill-disposed to do-gooders poking about in their poisoned souls. (“The most hateful of all names in an English ear is Nosey Parker,” George Orwell once observed.)

- Zoe Heller, Where Prince Charles Went Wrong, New Yorker, 10 April 2017

See also:

TheatreThe Audience, 14 July 2013
History: A new duke for an old title, 30 April 2011
Blog: A royal garden party, 9 July 2008

America's Cup parade

05 July 2017

Film Festival 2017 lineup

It's that time again! As with last year's festival, I've decided to limit myself to 20 films, and no more than two per day. That still leaves plenty of scope for world-straddling and genre-spanning films of all varieties, including Swedish black comedies, gonzo samurai tales, stirring documentaries from New Zealand and around the world, a Soviet-era classic, a top-flight feminist remake, powerfully affecting British animation, not to mention six wonderful female-directed films.

I'm particularly looking forward to a swathe of unmissable documentaries, led by Gaylene Preston's fascinating glimpse into Helen Clark's bid for the United Nations' top job, My Year with Helen, and the powerful vision of American race relations in I Am Not Your Negro. In Julian Rosenfeldt's Manifesto there's the opportunity to savour Cate Blanchett's tour-de-force performance as 13 different characters, which I first witnessed in an impressive video art installation at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in November. Bring on the festival's opening night on 28 July - I can hardly wait!

The Party (dir. Sally Potter, UK, 2017)
A political dinner party extravaganza from hell :: Embassy Theatre 71 mins

The Square (dir. Ruben Östlund, Sweden, 2017)
A brutal, biting satire of the Swedish ruling classes :: Embassy Theatre 147 mins

Citizen Jane: Battle for the City (dir. Matt Tyrnauer, USA, 2016)
One woman's lifelong quest for human-centred urban design :: Embassy Theatre 92 mins

Blade of the Immortal (dir. Miike Takashi, Japan, 2017)
Mugen no junin
Mental limb-regrowing samurai nonsense :: Embassy Theatre 141 mins

The Farthest (dir. Emer Reynolds, Ireland, 2017)
The Voyager probes get their own doco! :: Embassy Theatre 121 mins

My Year with Helen (dir. Gaylene Preston, New Zealand, 2017)
Veteran director shadows doyen NZ stateswoman :: Embassy Theatre 93 mins + director Q&A to follow

I Am Not Your Negro (dir. Raoul Peck, USA, 2016)
American identity, American racial politics :: Penthouse Cinema 93 mins

The Lost City of Z (dir. James Gray, USA, 2016)
Part of the twin-pronged Pattinson NZIFF assault :: Embassy Theatre 141 mins

Manifesto (dir. Julian Rosenfeldt, Germany, 2017)
Blanchett x13 is just fine with me :: Paramount 94 mins

Stalker (dir. Andrei Tarkovsky, USSR, 1979)
Paranoid Soviet-era sci-fi weirdness :: Embassy Theatre 161 mins

Kedi (dir. Ceyda Torun, Turkey, 2016)
Turkish street cats! :: Penthouse Cinema 79 mins + short

A Date for Mad Mary (dir. Darren Thornton, Ireland, 2016)
Rambunctious young Irish comedy :: Paramount 82 mins + short

6 Days (dir. Toa Fraser, New Zealand/UK, 2017)
NZ-directed actioner, on the 1980 Iranian embassy siege :: Embassy Theatre 95 mins + journalist Kate Adie Q&A to follow

Kim Dotcom: Caught in the Web (dir. Annie Goldson, New Zealand, 2017)
Quite possibly conjuring both loving and loathing :: Paramount 112 mins + director Q&A to follow

Human Traces (dir. Nic Gorman, New Zealand, 2017)
NZ ends-of-the-Earth drama :: Embassy Theatre 87 mins + director Q&A to follow

Patti Cake$ (dir. Geremy Jasper, USA, 2017)
The year's stand-out performance? :: Embassy Theatre 108 mins

Summer 1993 (dir. Carla Simon, Spain, 2017)
Estiu 1993
An intensely personal Spanish childhood tale :: Embassy Theatre 97 mins

The Beguiled (dir. Sofia Coppola, USA, 2017)
Coppola re-imagines a sexist 70s romp :: Embassy Theatre 94 mins

Ethel & Ernest (dir. Roger Mainwood, UK, 2016)
No heartstrings unplucked in this timeless animated tale of British family life :: Paramount 94 mins + short

The Other Side of Hope (dir. Aki Kaurismäki, Finland, 2017)
Toivon tuolla puolen
Another examination of the immigrant's life from the Finnish master :: Penthouse Cinema 98 mins

03 July 2017

Funny meeting you here

The Cobra Mk3-class ISV 'Dragonfall 5', pictured on a data retrieval mission on the frigid ice moon of Heilelang 4A on behalf of the Social Bastanien Unionist Party, to aid them in their civil war against their corporate rivals, Bastanien Silver Transport Inc.


'Geroff me middle notes, Puss!'

02 July 2017

Boston's habituation to illicit trade

[T]he repeal of the Stamp Act and the loss of income to the Exchequer only intensified the problem of funding the colonies, containing the French and supporting both a military infrastructure and legal system (of customs officials, judges and governors) needed to underpin parliamentary sovereignty. The young Chancellor of the Exchequer, Charles Townshend, supported by Prime Minister Grenville, came up with an alternative solution in the form of the 1767 Revenue Act. The so-called 'Townshend duties' imposed an import tax (rather than the Stamp Act's direct tax on indigenous produce) on all glass, paper, lead, paint and tea shipped into the American colonies. And these new taxes came with a Board of Customs Commissioners designed to end Boston's dockside grey economy and finally put the imperial finances on a stable footing. Needless to say, the duties were met with an indignant response. Because for all of Samuel Adams' protestations of constitutional propriety and lawfulness, the Boston economy was in fact heavily dependent upon illegal smuggling and the avoidance of duties. 'We have been so long habituated to illicit trade that people in general see no evil in it,' Thomas Hutchinson censoriously commented. He estimated that some three-quarters of the consumer goods brought into America were done so illegally. And the high-yielding crates of Chinese tea were amongst the most regularly smuggled goods.

In Boston, the imposition of new taxes on established imports instantly politicised the waterfront, and, with it, Boston's relationship with the mother country. Within a matter of weeks, the customs officials, the Royal Navy and the tax collectors who patrolled the wharves and jetties metamorphosed from an irksome but necessary bureaucracy to the aggressive arm of a foreign government. The British Empire imperceptibly shifted from an enterprise of which Boston was a part to something approaching an oppressive, occupying force.

- Tristram Hunt, Ten Cities That Made an Empire, London, 2014, p.55-56.  

See also:
History: The peculation of Benjamin Franklin, 8 February 2016
History: Benjamin Franklin's plan to colonise New Zealand,  7 December 2015
History: When John Peel met JFK, 8 May 2017

29 June 2017

'Your uniforms don't fit we'

In honour of today being the 50th anniversary of Keith Richards being found guilty of allowing his house to be used for the illegal smoking of marijuana and being sentenced to one year in jail and a £500 fine, here's 'We Love You', the Rolling Stones' satirical up-yours response to the authorities, recorded the following month in July 1967. Features Lennon & McCartney on uncredited backing vocals, Nicky Hopkins on piano, and Brian Jones looking tip-top as usual. (Richards' harsh sentence, and the lesser one also imposed on Mick Jagger, were dismissed on appeal).

25 June 2017

1000 hours of Elite Dangerous

Outbound Faulcon DeLacy Cobra Mk3 'Dragonfall 5'
It used to be the release of a new version of Sid Meier's Civilisation was the catalyst for me to upgrade my PC. But my most recent rig, which saw me swapping from a 17-inch laptop to a desktop with my first SSD, was designed with Elite Dangerous in mind. Before I could even play the game I spent hours watching videos of other people playing it - in particular the seemingly effortless pilot wizardry of Isinona's Flight-Assist Off series. Jousting with pirate Vipers, locking horns with Commanders in gunned-up Vultures, ducking in and out of asteroid fields to throw pursuers off their targets - it all looked so exciting. Then in April 2015 my new rig arrived and finally I could play the game myself. With Logitech 3D Extreme Pro joystick and a new monitor, I headed out into the void, navigating my tiny starter Sidewinder into the black.

Like many people I had played the original 1984 Elite, but only on friends' computers and never to any degree of proficiency. If I have any memories of it, it was of a game that was fiendishly difficult, and which generally resulted in a brutal death at the hands of the remorselessly rotating space stations that proved so difficult to dock with. On my Commodore 64 I preferred games with an easier learning curve, like the mounting stress of PSI-5 Trading Company, coaxing a stricken freighter to its destination amidst a storm of pirate attacks. (The spirit of that game is best captured in the recent indie game FTL).

The modern Elite Dangerous quickly proved addictive and became my main gaming hobby, and this weekend I finally clocked up 1000 hours of ED gameplay on Steam, the first time I've reached that total for any game. (My next highest total, by way of comparison, is currently 300-odd hours for Civ 5). The prospect of flying the kinds of spacecraft I had always daydreamed about as a child proved every bit as engrossing as I suspected it would. I'd describe my style of ED gameplay as schizophrenic - I seldom stick at one career path (bounty hunting, mining, trading, exploring) for more than a few days. This makes exploration in particular more of a psychological challenge, because venturing far from the human-inhabited bubble becomes a grind of endless repetition, with the thrill of discovering new worlds balanced by an admittedly thin and repetitive exploration gameplay.

Saud Kruger Dolphin passenger liner 'Cicero' on a tourist excursion
This complaint of thin gameplay, which is often levelled at ED on the game's busy subReddit, is generally fair but many players are prepared to overlook the game's limitations and take enjoyment from what it's capable of doing well. Sure, the endless development of Star Citizen does show considerable potential, merging starship action, FPS combat and gameplay, plus a richly tailored and scripted environments. But the big difference about the lavish $100m Star Citizen extravaganza is that you can play ED now, and while it's not perfect yet, it's got plenty to do and it's continually improving.

There's been a bit of disquiet on the forums recently because of a lack of information about where the game was going, with some suspecting that development was winding down. This was dispelled by the announcement that the final expansion of ED's second 'season' - a suite of DLC that was originally intended to last a year but has taken quite a bit longer - will finally see the return of the Thargoids, the implacable alien foes from the original game. This news has been a long time coming, and will hopefully address the community's fears about the game stagnating. From my perspective, by under-promising and over-delivering, Elite Dangerous remains a stalwart of sci-fi gaming, and I plan to spend plenty more hours flying the Milky Way in my assortment of starships, fighting, trading, mining and exploring as the whimsy takes me.

CMDR Totinges piloting a Surface Reconnaissance Vehicle (SRV)

22 June 2017

Strike out boys, for the hills

Trying to find a video vault kitsch classic to match the one a pal sent me earlier in the week, and while this one can't quite match the 1975 version of Una Paloma Blanca by French performer Georgie Dann, it's worth a stab if only for the surrealism of dance troupe Legs & Co (who were traditionally deployed on Top of the Pops when an overseas artist couldn't appear) performing a punishingly literal interpretation of The Clash's Bank Robber (because The Clash refused to appear on TOTP due to its miming requirement) for an August 1980 broadcast. Not 100% sure if Legs & Co really grasped the intrinsic zeitgeist of punk.

05 June 2017

On the 1636 from Leeds to Manchester Piccadilly

In the station it's all grey, 1960s functionality, with the only colour provided by the cheery orange of the departure boards, flickering with trains for King's Cross, York and Hull. The London train is running late as usual, but a dozen or two are more hopeful of a more timely Trans-Pennine journey. A three-car train shows up on time, and we emerge from the station into a brick valley of Victorian industry and portakabin lots, which soon give way to terraces and suburban council tower blocks, and within five minutes the train is speeding through the Lancashire countryside. The woman sitting next to me holds a long mobile conversation in Italian, or more a one-sided monologue, insistent but musical. After Dewsbury we cross a broad canal and graffitied railway underpasses decorated with regional bragging. The air temperature rises with no air-conditioning and no windows to open; teenage girls loiter in the aisle, waiting to leap into the fresh air at Huddersfield with their fresh shopping spoils. One final stop at Stalybridge is soundtracked by the gossip and singing of excitable girls, speculating about the setlist of the Manchester benefit concert for the Ariana Grande victims. In the outskirts of Manchester the train passes industrial sites and two-up, two-down terraces, converted warehouses and grey suburban churches, as we roll towards Manchester Piccadilly. The station and the city trams outside are jammed with happy concert-goers, and Manchester is humming with activity.

31 May 2017


The Sea Gate at Kotor, Montenegro (1555)

17 May 2017

Thomas Frederick Duck

Aircraft fuselage fabric design from a 156 Squadron Pathfinder Force Lancaster bomber with a predominantly New Zealand crew. They flew over 60 missions over Europe, and brought Mr Duck with them when they returned home safely. Exhibit on display at the Air Force Museum at Wigram, Christchurch, photographed 14 April 2017.

08 May 2017

When John Peel met JFK

The following day [in 1961], the Kennedy/Johnson parade followed the same route [in Dallas], with the same cadets and the same majorettes. There seemed to be more people on the pavements and it seemed they were in a sombre mood. Although Lyndon Johnson was obviously one of them, Kennedy definitely was not. He was a Yankee, a Catholic and, it was universally agreed, a smartarse, and folks had, to a degree, turned out to hate him. At one stage, low on the hill that ran up Main Street from the area where Kennedy was, a couple of years later, to die, the motorcade came to a standstill opposite me. Seizing the moment, I ran forward to shake JFK's hand. 'Good luck, Mr Kennedy,' I said. 'Hey, you're from England,' he replied. When I told him that this was so, he asked me where from exactly, why I was in Texas, whether I liked it and whether I planned to stay. I was amazed, as we talked, that a man running for President of the USA could be interested in what I had to tell him. Hell, I couldn't even vote for him. Then he noticed the camera in my hand. 'Are you going to take a photo?' the future President asked, and when I said I'd like to, he suggested I should go back a few steps then, when I was ready, shout and he'd grin at me. So I stepped back three or four feet, raised the camera and yelled, 'Hey, Mr Kennedy.' He smiled and I pressed the button before going back to the side of the still stationary car to thank him. 'What are you going to do if that doesn't come out?' he asked. 'Why don't you take another one over the windscreen of the car? Then you can get Mr Johnson in as well.' So I moved to the front of the car, leaned on the bonnet and took another photograph. When I ran back to speak to John Kennedy again, someone else was talking to him, but he still found time to nod and suggest that I went to the other side of the car to meet LBJ. This I did before hurrying back to work. 

This is a story I've told, I'm afraid, hundreds of times, and each time have watched as my audiences have grown more incredulous. I have often imagined them wanting to ask whether there were Martians present at the events I described or whether I heard choirs of angels singing 'Hosanna!' as we spoke, and have wished that I finish by saying, reaching into my back pocket as I do, 'and here are the photographs'

- John Peel, Margrave of the Marshes, London, 2005, p.148-9.

[As luck would have it, the Peel JFK photos did in fact survive the destructive urges of Peel's first wife, and appear in Peel's autobiography.]

30 April 2017

Iago, unrepentant

Haakon Smestad in last night's Pop-up Globe production of Othello, a most pluvial affair on an Auckland autumn evening.

21 April 2017

In vino juventute

The narrator of Nutshell, an as-yet-unborn baby, discusses his precocious fondness for a tasty tipple:

"I like to share a glass with my mother. You may never have experienced, or you will have forgotten, a good burgundy (her favourite) or a good Sancerre (also her favourite) decanted through a healthy placenta. Even before the wine arrives - tonight, a Jean-Max Roger Sancerre - at the sound of a drawn cork, I feel it on my face like the caress of a summer breeze. I know that alcohol will lower my intelligence. But oh, a joyous, blushful Pinot Noir, or a gooseberried Sauvignon, sets me turning and tumbling across my secret sea, reeling off the walls of my castle, the bouncy castle that is my home. Or so it did when I had more space. Now I take my pleasures sedately, and by the second glass my speculations bloom with that licence whose name is poetry. My thoughts unspool in well-sprung pentameters, end-stopped and run-on lines in pleasing variation. But she never takes a third, and it wounds me.

'I have to think of baby,' I hear her say as she covers her glass with a priggish hand. That's when I have it in mind to reach for my oily cord, as one might a velvet rope in a well-staffed country house, and pull sharply for service. What ho! Another round here for us friends!"

- Ian McEwan, Nutshell, London, 2016, p.6-7.

19 April 2017

Even birds of a feather find it hard to fly

It's a little bizarre to think that I've been following Aimee Mann now for 24 whole years, ever since I read Elvis Costello's heartfelt praise of her lyrical solo debut album Whatever ('Today's the 4th of July / Another June has gone by / And when they light up our town I just think / What a waste of gunpowder and sky'). She released her latest album, Mental Illness, a couple of weeks ago and it's her strongest work in years. Here she is on the Late Show with a beautiful arrangement of the single Goose Snow Cone. Love her distinctive voice, and was so lucky to see her perform in London in 2007.

See also:
Music: Waiting for the gift of sound & vision, 16 January 2016
Music: Lawrence Arabia, 24 October 2015
Music: Pajama Club, 4 December 2011
MusicThe Girls Guitar Club, 2 September 2009
MusicHere & Now 80s Tour, 19 May 2008
MusicGrant-Lee Phillips, 29 April 2008