View Post

Elderly LBGTI Are Having a Ball

Melbourne International Film Festival closing night gala The Coming Back Out Ball Movie is coming to cinemas, and we were lucky to preview the film and hear some words from its filmmaker Sue Thomson.
View Post

Jessica Leski: Making Us Normal

The talented documentary filmmaker finally follows up 2010’s poignant, disability themed The Ball with the feature documentary I Used to be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story.
View Post

I Used To Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story

Australian, Documentary, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Entertaining and insightful, this is a must-see for anyone with an interest in celebrity and the subtle (and not so subtle) workings of fandom.

Taking a clear-eyed look at obsessive tenancies and pop music, Jessica Leski’s illuminating feature documentary is a moving, poignant and often very funny detailing of what it means to be a die-hard fan. Tracking the stories of four women separated by age, background and location, the film examines the various ways being a fan has helped to shape and inform them.

At points these obsessions with Take That, Backstreet Boys, One Direction and The Beatles resemble full-blown addictions, and hearing the stories of former or ‘recovering’ fan girls highlights the all-consuming psychological processes at work.

Leski shows a deft touch in the presentation of such stories, and doesn’t let things get too dark or despondent. The tone is more optimistic and energised, even when the realities of life become sharply intense.

That is certainly the case with former One Direction mega-fan Elif, whose self-referencing lament and subsequent capture on viral video forms part of the film’s title. The doco sympathetically looks at how she has to come to terms with dealing with growing up and how life isn’t really like it is in the pop songs. This, plus the disapproval of her less than understanding parents brings in a strong dramatic edge to the film.

Take That – and specifically Gary Barlow – fan Daria offers an analytical examination of the whole fan-girl experience, bringing her skills as a brand strategist into play when designing a boy-band-101 lesson. This and other amusing anecdotal material ensures that the film maintains an optimistic and, ultimately joyful, path.

Sydney based Daria, also has the best line in the film. When recounting how she understood she was gay and also a devotee of the pop singer she comments, “I wasn’t in love with Gary Barlow, I wanted to be Gary Barlow.”

The film also hears from The Beatles fan Susan, who provides not only a story from the dawn of pop but also a look at the context of gender roles and how pop music can open up the world and provide a different way of looking at things.

Backstreet Boys fan Sadia is the fourth star of the film, offering her experience as a fan and how it impacted on her relationship with her conservative and religious family.

After hearing all of the stories we begin to realise that being a die-hard fan – particularly of the screaming and crying hysterically variety – acts as a catharsis for questions of identity usually asked before and during adolescence. Belonging to a tribe, singing along to ear-worms and rehearsing dance moves are all ways to recognise and reassert one’s value and self-image.

Entertaining and insightful, this is a must-see for anyone with an interest in celebrity and the subtle (and not so subtle) workings of fandom.

View Post

They Shall Not Grow Old

Documentary, Review, Theatrical, This Week 2 Comments

Sir Peter Jackson is used to directing big battle scenes but this recent departure (as a producer) into documentary about real war, dwarfs his fictional efforts. Nearly a million people died in World War One, or the Great War as it was sometimes known.

This film will be released in cinemas on the hundredth anniversary of the armistice which took place on the 11th of the eleventh in 1918.

Of course, it is not without irony that just thirty years after this ‘war to end all wars’ another world war was fought. But somehow it is this one that sticks in the popular imagination (and which spawned the greatest war poetry), perhaps because it was such a watershed between the old world and the modern one. Never such innocence again, as the poet said.

Jackson’s film is long and sombre and it is entirely composed of war footage. Most of this is from the front, the hellish mud-bogged, shell-shrieking trenches that have been so endlessly represented (and still are, at almost exactly the same time a British drama called Journey’s End, just released).

Even so, there is footage here that you will probably have never seen. Jackson has produced this film with collaboration from the imperial War Museum, so there is an emphasis on both the accuracy and the respect (it mostly soft pedals on the critique of the generals’ military blunders, or the whole ill-conceived imperialistic/blindly patriotic elements of the enterprise).

What made this war so brutally different was that it was the first mechanised war on that scale. Initially, the horse-mounted regiments sallied forth, but this was not the Crimea, and in the event, the endlessly-sacrificed human flesh was no match for the machine guns and artillery shells.

This is one of the things the film captures so well; the sense of being sitting ducks stuck in an open-topped trench while bombs rained down. Or, if you were sent ‘over the top’, you had only a faint chance of dodging the hail of enemy fire.

The film is technically innovative and brilliantly synched. It uses only quotes from the soldiers who were there (their voices recorded over many decades). In this way it is able to trace the arc from the ‘let’s sign up, ‘it’ll be over by Christmas’ optimism to the unsparing accounts of the realities of the gas, and the guns and the gangrene. In the first half hour we see the rickety young recruits (and so many lied about their age to get in), being drilled and knocked into shape by the feared sergeants. The rest of the film (by now jumping into colour by being skilfully colourised) all takes place in the European battlefields.

Although Canadian, New Zealand and Australian troops are mentioned in dispatches, the bulk of the film’s content relates to the British. As implied above, most of them seem determined to see it as a bit of a lark. There are the endless shots of the still-jolly recruits looking so chipper, gurning to camera with their terrible British teeth. It is seeing those individual faces, and knowing what actually happened that makes it all still unbearably poignant. Lest we forget indeed.

View Post

Born To Ride: Remembering Stone

With the Aussie bike flick, 1%, in cinemas this week, we look back at the first true local two-wheel classic – 1974’s Stone – and the equally absorbing documentary about its troubled production, 1999’s Stone Forever.
View Post

Westwood: Punk. Icon. Activist.

Documentary, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

The words punk, icon, activist have never been more fitting to anyone other than Dame Vivienne Westwood. Lorna Tucker directs Westwood, or at least tries to, in this colourful and provocative documentary. The tension between Tucker and Westwood is evident from the beginning, with Westwood slumped in a chair accompanied by a disinterested expression. It’s clear she has very little interest in sharing her life story. “It’s so boring to say all this”, Westwood says right before some slick editing work cuts to a montage of a selection of iconic images from her life.


Beginning with her more conservative life, a child in post-war Derbyshire, to becoming punk royalty and then Britain’s most iconic fashion designer. Westwood truly redefined British fashion and although she might beg to differ, the most intriguing part of the film is how she set the punk movement on fire with ex-partner Malcolm McLaren. Westwood is disinterested in rehashing the memories of her relationship with McLaren, however, for the viewer this is where the film starts to gain momentum. She modestly says, “we invented punk”, and yes, they did. They gave the word “punk” new meaning. They recreated punk garments that would confront society and ignite the movement.

Where Westwood lacks enthusiasm to talk about herself, her associates and family members fill in the gaps of the story. This makes for good pacing throughout. Her long-time lover and husband Andreas Kronthaler recaps how the pair met and how he, a student at the time, fell in love with his then teacher, Westwood. Andreas expressing his love and adoration for her sets a warm romantic tone for the documentary and it’s welcoming to see a light-hearted and loveable side of Westwood. It is very clear she is so undeniably in love with Andreas just as much as he is with her.

Westwood’s hard work and determination as designer and businesswoman are on show here, as she remains the only major fashion designer who still owns her own company. Even now in her late seventies, her provocative and daring fashions are constantly evolving to this day. The film doesn’t provide the viewer with much about Westwood’s avid environmental activism, however there is a moment when she is followed on a Greenpeace mission to the Arctic. It is brief and unfortunately not something Tucker delves into much.

Undoubtedly, Westwood is a hard-ass subject to film, but Tucker perseveres, and the result is a well-paced documentary that captures Westwood to a tee.

View Post

Ryuichi Sakamoto: Coda

Documentary, Festival, Film Festival, Review, Theatrical, This Week Leave a Comment

Ryuichi Sakamoto cuts a solitary figure, striding silently along a desolate irradiated beach in Japan’s Fukushima Prefecture, not far from the nuclear power facility that was damaged during the 2011 tsunami. Along with a group of environmental activists, clad in hazmat suits and masks, Sakamoto searches through abandoned buildings and remote beaches, in search of found objects that may provide interesting sounds that can be recorded.

He’s a collector, of recorded sounds from nature and technology. Earlier in his career, he was fascinated by degraded technology, happy accidents that can create strange and wonderful soundscapes. These days, he’s more concerned with the organic sounds of nature; technology still features though, as exemplified in his wonder at the discovery of an intact grand piano in an abandoned building that was consumed by the tsunami floods. He joyfully tinkers with a dead piano key that emanates a muffled chime and nods agreeably.

Starting his solo career in the late seventies, while at the same time collaborating in the electronic three-piece Yellow Magic Orchestra, Sakamoto also established his tastes for working across a variety of media when he composed the music for (and starred in) Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence alongside David Bowie. He would also go on to compose the scores for many films, such as Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor and The Sheltering Sky, Brian De Palma’s Snake Eyes and Femme Fatale and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant. Constantly working, Sakamoto has also written for various anime and games.

All this was brought to a grinding halt in 2014 when Sakamoto was diagnosed with throat cancer. Now in remission, we follow him on his daily routine, as he muses about his mortality and his shock at not knowing quite what to do with himself during this extended hiatus.

In conversation, Sakamoto is quietly spoken and reflective though he’s prone to bouts of enthusiastic wonder such as one sequence where he records a frozen Antarctic stream, revelling in the fact that these waters are ‘pre-industrial’ and untouched by modern machines; moments later he stands beneath a huge Antarctic boulder and clangs two hand-held bells together – they chime like tuning forks, shrill and reverberating. As if claiming an unseen victory in the bells tolling amidst the silence of the frozen surrounds, he pumps his fists in the air and bounces on his toes.

Ryuichi Sakamoto’s infectious curiosity about nature and the music of life, make for an engaging and moving subject. Highly recommended.

Following its screening at the Brisbane International Film Festival, the film will release in cinemas, which you can find here:

View Post

The Gardener

Documentary, Review, Theatrical Leave a Comment

Hidden away in Quebec, lies a 20-acre estate housing one of the most renowned gardens in the world: Les Jardins de Quatre-Vents. For several decades, the garden was tended to by Francis Cabot, who passed away in 2011. Directed by Sébastien Chabot, this documentary, The Gardener, ambles through Les Jardins de Quatre-Vents, capturing the foliage in pristine and colourful HD.

Having been interviewed just before his passing, Cabot, alongside friends and family, is on hand to provide a sort of running commentary about the time and decision making that went into his creation. Cabot tended to his garden like Willy Wonka tackled chocolate; planting – excuse the pun – musical statues, mirrors, secret doors and hidden stone wolves in hideaway places. Cheeky little embellishments which somewhat burst the pomposity within the ornate greenery.

And let’s be honest here, as we make our way around his grounds, it’s clear that Cabot’s tale is hardly one of rags to riches. No, Cabot came from good stock and his garden is a sought-after excursion which is closed off from the public for a large part of the year. Whilst all but one of the talking heads that feature in The Gardener fail to mention it, a lot of money was pumped into what we see. You don’t get an ornate Japanese tea house built in the traditional manner with less than $5 in your pocket.

As a result, The Gardener could come across as an act of bragging. Yet, somehow, it just about manages to skirt this issue. What it gives us instead is access to the imagination of a man who, like any other creative person, worked tirelessly to achieve his ends. You can see it in every crisp new shot that Chabot doles out to us. Alongside the piano accompaniment, quite honestly, this is the cinematic equivalent of a relaxation tape and it’s all the better for it.

Whilst it might not do much narratively speaking, The Gardener is a summer treat for the eyes at the very least.