Wednesday, June 29, 2011
It finally happened. The conversation I knew would come eventually.
My Irish Catholic Grandfather got on the other end of the line: "Happy Birthday!" in his most enthusiastic geriatric.
Pleasantries were exchanged.
Then, "So, you're heading into middle age now..."
For the record, I just turned 29, and the average life expectancy of men in the "Western World" is 73. I digress.
"So, you're heading into middle age now. When are you going to settle down and stop with all this film stuff. You don't want to be having kids when you're 50".
He's probably right about the last part, I mean, who wants to be changing baby nappies while a nurse changes yours? The majority of his points though, I just can't stomach.
When is the right time to let go of your dreams and start procreating?
Aren't we over populated? Most certainly.
Are we perhaps over-populated with people who want to be "filmmakers"? Probably.
Either way, he may have a point. But he is making the case to the 90% who place stability over chasing the life they want. The real estate over the raconteur.
Then again, how long is too long? Willie Nelson didn't have hist first hit until he was 51.
Grandpa may be right. But not about me.
P.S. I was flicking through an old notebook, as you do when you get a year older, and thought I would share something I found scratched on a page in my barely legible handwriting. I think it was my attempt at an opening line for a stand-up comedy routine:
“I have a good friend named Walt. He grew up in a naval family. He’s a deaf mute but he speaks using semaphore. I like him but I hate it when he talks during the movie.”
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Wednesday, June 22, 2011
I am an Australian, which means different things to different audiences.
Australia has many elements it holds proudly, and just as many that give us a bad case of self-consciousness.
Interestingly, the arts continue to be considered one of our weak points.
Not that we don't have exceptional artists, but our national appetite for our own work is low at best. These days, it's commonly known as our "cultural cringe".
Our own stories aren't interesting enough for us. The Australian accent, so popular throughout the world, in our films makes us uncomfortable.
But are we being too hard on ourselves? Has our rapid growth and success in certain areas...cough....sport....cough.....given us unrealistic expectations of ourselves?
Often the wisest words come from the unlikeliest places, like a bearded lady. In my case, last week I was on my way to a preview of Hairspray the Musical (sidenote: it's brilliant by the way) chatting with a taxi driver who had immigrated from Bangladesh a number of years ago.
His take on Australia sheds a lot of light on the root cause of our cultural cringe. For him, he said, it was a matter of ego vs reality.
In Australia, our pride makes us suggest we are an advanced developed nation. We deserve to be players on the world stage!!!! This is despite us having only around 200 years of history as compared to the hundreds (and thousands) in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.
My Taxi driver's suggestion, over a large wry smile and an even bigger moustache, is that all the evidence suggests we are a DEVELOPING nation.
Our public transport and infrastructure is slowly catching up; our economy is based on mineral commodities; as recently as 10/15 years ago we were having 'national identity' discussions; we are way behind the developed world on broadband and technology infrastructure; we were insulated from the financial crisis in part by the relatively low penetration of modern large transnational financial institutions; and we struggle to develop a sustainable arts sector due to the slow pace of embracing broader tenets of cultural achievement beyond sport.
Sound developed to you?
Perhaps we need to take a deep breath. Perhaps part of success is realising that it takes time to develop a cultural palette and therefore an industry to service it.
Perhaps we should just focus on producing good work and realising that the audience is there, with money to spend, and they will come. But only if it's good.
Perhaps we should relax and focus more on reality rather than our ego.
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Thursday, June 16, 2011
I read something interesting today about the limits of human imagination. The writer was mulling over whether Airbus' proposed "see-through" plane of the future was a good idea. Just because we imagine it, he said, does that mean we should build it?
My first thought was: "I hope The Mile High Club gets disbanded".
Technology today means imagination no longer has to just live in our heads. Superheroes are real! At least on screen, anyway.
The imaginary world seems to coexist with ours. All it needs is time, we are told, for the real world to catch up.
It left me pondering the "responsibility" debates of the future. It seems like only a blink ago that Marilyn Manson's music was being blamed for the Columbine High School Massacre. If sound can inspire such arbitrary savagery, what about the hyper clarity of blue-ray, 3D media or the eventual 'immersive holographic entertainment'?
And the reality show craze, creating a generation of people famous because they're...famous.
Could we be warping the supple minds of the future?
In the superhero world, for example, the most famous heroes have their powers bestowed by some sort of awful accident or tragedy: Spiderman was bitten by a radioactive spider; Batman's entire family was murdered in front of him; The Hulk was a scientist named Bruce Banner, exposed to Gamma Radiation from an atomic blast; and Superman's planet exploded. You know, everyday stuff.
I have wondered how would the great Superheroes have really ended up in the real world:
"Peter Parker, a mild mannered photographer is bitten by a radioactive spider...the resulting wound becomes horribly infected and eventually gangrenous, leading to amputation...."
"Bruce Banner, a US Army scientist, is suddenly caught in the wake of an American atomic test. The resulting Gamma radiation infuses his DNA....resulting in a number of tumors which become inoperable. He was 41."
"In the wake of last night's unexpected meteor shower, police have discovered a large impact crater in a cornfield in Smallville, USA. The meteor appears to have been destroyed on impact, with the only remnants discovered being a charred scrap of red fabric with what looks like an "S" on it....."
You get the point.
With what modern technology in movies and TV can accomplish, the imaginary is closer to looking "real" than ever. Just ask Robert Pattinson, who gets Twilight fans begging him to bite them. The debate will come, one day, where creators will have to argue whether they have a duty of care to the fragile minds in the world.
Someone, someday, will argue that a "3D movie made me do it".
At the same time, a conservative politician will blame videogames, music and/or movies for turning this person into a ruthless criminal. "Just because you can imagine it", he or she will say, "doesn't mean you should make it."
Should we just be telling stories, or making something that elevates the perception of our audience?
I honestly don't have an answer but, then again, I did always want to be Batman.
Wednesday, June 08, 2011
Leaving America is like leaving a bio-dome.
While you are there, the only news you hear is American. It is so large and diverse that it generates its own news 24/7. At the same time as there are Tornadoes in middle America, there is a fine art exhibition on the East Coast, a cholera outbreak in the South and a celebrity filled movie premiere in the West.
This all happens within the space of a day and more news develops constantly, all within their own borders.
As an outsider, I felt cut-off from the globe, but for Americans, it explains to some degree why they are blissfully unaware of the world around them. That enduring statistic is still true: in 2011, only between 20-30% (depending on where you get your figures) of Americans have a passport. In other words, if you were in a room with five Americans, only 1 of them is likely to have ever seen outside their own borders.
It is a truly unique experience, being in a first-world country which is the human equivalent of a fishbowl.
For example, I was chatting to a cab driver in NY, hoping that by empathising with me as a person, he might think about driving in a manner less likely to end in my death. It didn't work, but life is like that sometimes. I survived, however, and was struck by one particular part of the conversation. We were talking about American politics and Economics, and he was utterly surprised at how aware I was of the domestic political situation in the US of A. When I asked him what he knew of recent major events in Australia, his answer was hilarious and sad at the same time.
His example of a major event in recent Australian history? The death of The Crocodile Hunter, Steve Irwin.
So, for any filmmakers, distributors, or even actors out there looking to appeal to 'The American Mainstream' remember: 4 of the 5 Americans in that room are unlikely to share your worldly, non-American, perspective.
Why else do you think Mel Gibson ended up with an American accent?