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