Sunday, September 27, 2009

The week that was #3

Only a short(ish) one this week; I've been way too busy - I only had time to write as much as I did 'cause I took Friday off work. Enjoy!

Backstage crew

As I mentioned last week, I’m doing backstage crew for a production of Jesus Christ Superstar; I’m really enjoying it so I thought it worth elaborating upon some more.

It’s not always fun being crew – at least during the show itself. It does kind of depend on what you’re needed to do – some shows require the crew to be frantically busy the whole way through; others will involve long periods of doing absolutely bugger-all between brief periods of activity. Most of the time what you’re doing is obvious and straightforward, such as moving bits of set and off stage, operating sound and/or lighting equipment, looking after the props and so forth.

Every now and then, though, it gets a bit more complicated – depending on what’s required. Helping cast in and out of costume at the side of stage for quick changes, holding sets in place (because if you don’t it’ll fall over, which is bad), operating equipment (I’ve run a smoke machine on more than one occasion), wrangling cast (making sure they’re ready and in place for their cues; more common in theatres that have neither speakers in the dressing rooms carrying on-stage sound to the waiting cast nor intercom systems through which the stage manager can make calls) and any number of other essential functions.

One of the strangest tasks I’ve undertaken as crew was for the Burnside Players production of The Woman In Black, at the Promethean1 theatre in the city. The play was about ghosts, and the scene was a foggy marsh so we decided that, in order to set the right tone, we needed some fog. But we either didn’t want (or, more likely, couldn’t afford) a smoke machine so we ended up hiding behind the audience pouring boiling water into baking trays full of dry ice, which produced a kind of steam that we then fanned toward the stage. The effect was particularly impressive, since the audience wouldn’t notice it at first but then people would see it in the periphery and look down to see spooky fog curling around their ankles.

Note: Jesus Christ Superstar features dry ice as well, but I won't tell you when just in case you're still to see it.

Having crewed something like a dozen or so times it’s difficult to pin down exactly what differentiates a fun show from a not-fun one – which is almost exactly what it’s like when performing. Not all shows are fun, no matter whether they be serious dramas, musicals or comedies. Musicals tend to be more fun because of the size of the cast and the often lighter tone of the content, but again that’s not a guarantee.

Hmm, I’ve just reached the conclusion that this – the enjoyment or non-enjoyment of theatre and the different factors involved, from both a cast and crew perspective - is one of those topics about which I could write for days on end and still not get everything I wanted to say out. So, I’ll move on.

As good crewing can be I’d be lying if I said I didn’t prefer to be onstage than backstage – and I’d say that’s true for that admirable proportion of the theatre community who do both. Being crew can be a thankless task – you certainly don’t get the same kind of feedback from the audience that you do as a performer – so I always feel its important to stress the value of the hard work and effort that the mysterious people in black put in. One way to get me very angry is to express a low opinion of the importance of those who work backstage. Obviously, shows need crew; without people to run around backstage and make things happen, there wouldn’t be a productions for casts to perform in.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I’m enjoying doing crew for JCS – primarily because in the cast and crew are some awesome fun people I met and had a great time doing Me and My Girl. But it’s not just that; there are plenty of people involved in the show who I’ve only just met, and they’re still fun to be around – which really seems to be what it boils down to.

With this in mind I’ve signed myself up to be crew for the ATG 24 Hour Show in February; this, as the name suggests, is where an entire show is put together – cast, designed, rehearsed etc. – in 24 hours. Regular, organised (if one can honestly use that term) theatre is crazy enough; trying to do it all in such a short space of time is on another level entirely. But I can’t imagine for a second that it’s going to be boring...

1 Yes, the one that’s now a jazz club.


Having a substantial part in Arsenic and Old Lace has led me to the realisation that I hate learning lines.

So much so that it’s entirely possible I’ll only take minor roles in plays in the future. Not that that’s such a huge deal; I’m not exactly traditional leading man material anyway, so the number of parts I'm likely to be offered (well, that I should be offered; I've been inappropriately cast before) isn't that high. It shouldn’t affect whether or not I continue to do musicals because learning songs is, as far as I can tell, easier – at least in terms of remembering words. Of course, I’ve still got quite a bit to learn about actual singing...

The next thing I’m contemplating going out for is next year’s Shakespeare with the Adelaide Uni Theatre Guild (even though I don’t know which one they’re doing) and, considering the kind of talent they attract, it’s not likely I’d be offered much more than a minor role - if anything. Which would be fine by me – both in terms of number of lines and demands as an actor.

A musical coincidence

Driving around on Friday my mp3 player chose to play Battle of Who Could Care Less by Ben Folds Five, followed immediately by In Between Days by The Cure. Those of you who know the lyrics to the former will probably be smiling; those who don’t will no doubt be scratching your heads.

I’ll put you out of your misery; the last verse of Battle... ends with ...this should cheer you up for sure; see I’ve got your old ID and you’re all dressed up like The Cure. The band on the end of a shout-out in a song then gets played straight after. How cool is that?

This is the sort of thing that makes a pop-culture obsessive like me smile. What it’s making me wonder is how many songs meet that criteria, and how long a playlist I could come up if every song had to be linked to the one before it by having the artist’s name mentioned. I know that there’s a Counting Crows songs that mentions Ben Folds, so that gives me three.

Hmm, this could take a while. I’ll get back to you.

Monday, September 21, 2009

The week that was #2

Sorry, should have had this up yesterday but was too busy. This is for the week ending Saturday September 19.

Dr Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog

While it’s hardly new – it came out last year – I think it’s worth mentioning this week because on Sunday (our time) it won an Emmy award - specifically, the somewhat awkwardly titled Outstanding Special Class - Short-format Live-Action Entertainment Programs.

It’s interesting that it won because it’s never actually been broadcast by a network – since the Emmys are awards for television; it may be the first time that’s ever happened. It was a web-broadcast program (made up of 3 episodes about 14mins each) put together by Buffy/Angel/Firefly/Dollhouse creator Joss Whedon with his brothers Zack and Jed as something to do while the Writer’s Strike was on.

The cast includes Neil Patrick Harris (Doogie Howser/How I Met Your Mother) as the titular Dr Horrible – a wannabe supervillain (‘I have a PhD in horribleness!’) who’s being considered for entry into the Evil League of Evil, Nathan Fillion (Firefly/Castle) as his nemesis Captain Hammer and Felicia Day as Penny - with whom they form a somewhat bizarre love triangle1.

And yes, it’s a musical. There are quite a lot of songs and if you liked Once More With Feeling! (the Buffy musical episode) then you’ll probably like this – they’re wickedly funny songs that also happen to be quite catchy.

Last time I tried, though, I couldn’t actually watch it online – for some reason it’s not available outside the US. But I decided I had to have it so I bought it on dvd from the US.

Short version: it’s great. Low budget and corny but still great – though I’m of the opinion that anything involving any of Joss Whedon, Nathan Fillion and Neil Patrick Harris is going to be good; mathematically, then, anything with all three pretty much has to be brilliant.

Plugging an awesome production aside, I’m mentioning it more because of the Emmy win – despite being one of the most talented writer/director/creators on the planet, Joss hasn’t won one before – not for Buffy, for Angel, Firefly (admittedly, considering how it was screwed over by Fox that isn’t too surprising) or Dollhouse. Travesty is probably the nicest way of putting it.

Putting it bluntly: it’s about damn time. Buffy alone included some of the best, cleverest and most worthwhile material ever shown on the small screen. Sadly, it seemed that because a show was about a vampire slayer and not a hospital full of neurotic, troubled doctors or courtrooms full of neurotic, conflicted lawyers2 it wasn’t taken seriously enough to even be nominated in the major awards3, apart from a writing award in 2000 for the truly deserving episode Hush.

But that’s in the past now, because he’s got one – perhaps (fingers crossed) the first of many.

1 I will beg New Order’s forgiveness at a later date.
2 I deliberately didn’t mention a White House full of neurotic, verbose political staffers; as much as I love Joss and Buffy, I rate the first two seasons of The West Wing as pretty much the best television ever made – at least so far.
3 It was nominated for several (and won some) technical awards.

Jesus Christ Superstar

Starting next week I’ll be doing backstage crew for the Marie Clark1 production of Jesus Christ Superstar – apart from the nights where I’m rehearsing Arsenic and Old Lace, and opening night when I’m going to be seeing The Whitlams at The Gov. So, on Monday night I went to rehearsal, mostly to familiarise myself with the show it’s never a great idea to turn up to be crew for a show without knowing something about it.

I contemplated auditioning for it, since I knew some others from the cast of Me and My Girl2 were going to try out, and I’d had fun doing that so it seemed reasonable to assume that more good times could be had. But I got the part in Arsenic and Old Lace, and since it’s one of the best parts I’m ever going to get to I took that instead.

Northern Light3 did JCS a few years back, and I did see it – but (to my surprise, and no small amount of embarrassment) I don’t seem to have remembered it very well. The only songs that struck me as familiar were the really well-known ones that I’d heard because they’d been played on the radio when John Farnham, Cate Ceberano and Jon Stevens did their versions of them.

But, my poor memory aside, it’s a powerful show (even if you aren’t a Christian; I’m not, and it still got the hairs on the back of my neck standing up) with some amazing songs – being sung by some very talented performers - and I’m really looking forward to seeing how it looks when it’s ready to go on. I haven’t yet been allocated any particular tasks but there are bits of sets to be moved about; it’s probably fair to assume that’s what I’ll be doing. Well, that and maybe huge cross duty.

1 A theatre company.
2 The last show I did, which was with Marie Clark.
3 Another theatre company.

Wine tasting

For no particular reason (that I could ascertain, at least) the powers-that-be at my work organised a wine education session at the Wine Centre on Friday afternoon. After waiting for about 20 minutes for the free bus to take us from one end of North Terrace to the other – it’s allegedly meant to come every 5 minutes – we got off at the RAH and walked the rest of the way to the barrel-shaped building devoted to all things wine.

A man talked to us about wine and we sampled three different Cabernet varieties. What I learned from the experience is that a) I don’t like Cabernet anywhere near as much as I like Shiraz and b) the majority of people at my work (or, at least, those at the table I was at) don’t like red wine at all.

On the plus side there was cheese and biscuits and, since I appeared to be the only person on the table who liked blue vein, it got a whole big wedge to myself. After that we went upstairs to the Gallery (or maybe it was called something else) where we had a tab at the bar. I resisted the urge to get the $25-a-glass Shiraz and went for the more moderate $12-a-glass.

I would have stayed longer – and partaken of more of the bar tab – but I had to go home and dry out a bit before heading off to The Gov to see Tex Perkins. I was contemplating writing about this but a) I don’t have the time, and b) there’s not a lot to say; he was good and I had a good time.

Beatles: Rock Band

I was at a friend’s place on Saturday evening; during the week he’d picked up Beatles: Rock Band. So we had ourselves a bit of a rock-out.

While the game aspect is pretty much like any of the others in that spectrum (Guitar Hero etc.), what makes this stand out is the animation. Each song is played in the appropriate setting - either in a recording studio or, if the song was done famously somewhere else (such as the Ed Sullivan show or on, like Get Back, on the rooftop) it’s played there. They also use lots of extra recorded material – the lads themselves talking and so forth, including Ringo’s famous ‘I’ve got blisters on my fingers’ at the end of Helter Skelter.

In short: it’s lots of fun. There were only two of us; I’m hoping before too long we’ll have a night where there a four or five and we can get the whole band thing going.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The week that was #1

Because I sometimes lack a specific topic to rant write about (and/or the time to do it properly; I tend to have to do at least a little research), I’ve decided to have a shot at keeping a journal. It doesn’t mean I won’t have one-off posts; it just means I’ll have a post up every week – I’m trying to up my output and maintain a constant writing routine.

I’m not going to do it on a per-day basis; I can’t guarantee that consistency. I’ll just write one post at the end of each week as a summary.

Over the years I have kept hand-written diaries– rarely consistently though – and I have all of those, so what I might do is (once I remember where the blasted things are) is transcribe interesting moments from dates from the past as well.

Anyway, the week that was – Sunday September 6 to Saturday September 12. I’m going to try topic headings since there are a few different subjects to cover.

True Blood (possible mild spoilers)

I finally sat down to watch True Blood, and have now watched (at time of writing) most of season 1. It is indeed as awesome as I was led to believe it was – though I’ve now seen far more of Ryan Kwanten than I ever wanted to. It’s a long way from Summer Bay to Bon Temps, Louisiana; he seems to have lost his need to wear clothes along the way.

At first I wasn't sure what was going on, but then when I actually noticed the title of the books it's based on included the word 'mysteries' it became more clear - there's an arc running throughout the whole series, rather than it just being a collection of standalone adventures.

So it's based on a series of books, but it's been adapted by another contemporary creative genius, American Beauty and Six Feet Under creator Alan Ball. And since it's on HBO there's a lot more sex and violence (about Dexter level) than you might expect. Very clever, often hilarious and absolutely soaked in social commentary.

But it’s not without its flaws; Anna Paquin’s nasal voice combined with a southern drawl sometimes makes for irritating listening. And their vampire concept (i.e. vampire physiology, strengths and weaknesses etc.) isn’t one I like as much as some of the others presented in fiction – though as least they didn’t go with the ‘can’t be seen in mirrors’ trope used in some fictional universes (including, sadly, the Whedonverse); I find that one particularly stupid, especially when it somehow manages to make the clothes they’re wearing invisible as well.

It also has a Cajun character (Rene) in it – not that surprising, considering it’s set in Louisiana – and he sounds authentic, which is awesome; I have a particular fondness for that accent/dialect combination and it’s not one I get to hear very often. I think the only other Cajun character I’ve seen is the one Wilford Brimley played in the Jean-Claude Van Damme film Hard Target. I think Van Damme was also meant to be Cajun, but I don’t think he sounded any different from his usual Belgian French accented English.

What I do wonder, though, isn’t if small town Louisiana is actually filled with vampires; it’s whether or not it’s filled with irate, sweaty, sex-crazed alcoholics.

Suitably awesome music moment: in episode 7 (Burning House of Love) when Amy loads up Jason’s cd player and out comes Sweet Jane by The Velvet Underground.

Inglourious Basterds (possible mild spoilers)

After a few hurdles I got to the cinema to see Inglourious Basterds – it’s not often there’s so much time between a film’s release and the time I see it.

Anyway, short version: it’s excellent. I hadn’t done any reading up on the plot, so all I knew was what I’d gleaned from the trailers – Brad Pitt, team of US soldiers going behind enemy lines to kill Nazis, a very angry Hitler. Obviously there was going to be more to it than that.

Brad Pitt and the ‘Basterds’ aren’t even in it all that much; there are a succession of other characters who the stories – because there’s an intersecting set of stories – are about. But Pitt does a fantastic job as a hillbilly-turned-Nazi-hating-soldier, and his facial expressions and 'Italian' accent was laugh out loud1 funny.

Only one (minor) complaint: Hitler, in real life at least, had pale blue eyes, not brown like the actor who played him. Obviously not enough to make me dislike the film, but it still bugged me. Still, they take other liberties with historical accuracy, so it could be argued that it didn't take place in 'our' universe; I can live with that.

I’d also expected a lot more gore, based on how it’d been described to me (albeit only by one person) – so I had mentally prepared myself for a bit more blood-splatter than there actually was. Yes, there’s some – but it’s certainly not wall-to-wall heads-exploding-from-bullet-impact.

All that aside, it’s worth seeing. Chock full of some great characters, good dialogue; all with the quirky Tarantino touch. The soundtrack – most of which is songs by the amazing Ennio (The Good, The Bad and The Ugly) Morricone – is brilliant as well.

1 I am, of course, aware that there is a three-letter abbreviation for that expression; I just happen to loathe it.

Book of the moment

Current reading material is Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer; it’s the story of a young Jewish American who travels to Ukraine to find the woman who helped his grandfather escape from the Nazis (there seems to be a bit of Nazi theme running through this week’s adventures). He enlists the help of a local man who subsequently enlists the help of his own grandfather and his grandfather’s dog, who goes by the unlikely name of Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior.

It’s very much a work of contemporary literature – tragicomic magical realism, mixed styles (1st and third person; epistles) fractured non-linear plot, unreliable narrators (because there’s more than one) and so forth. As can be the case with writing like this it’s sometimes hard work. But it’s worth it; he manages to blend humour and strong emotion well, and his characters are quirky without being ridiculous.

Teh Internets2

I’ve fallen under the spell of a wiki called tv tropes, which is a site devoted to categorising and describing tropes, or regularly used concepts in storytelling. There are literally thousands of these tropes, and each has numerous examples throughout different media – anime/manga, comics, tv, film, literature, theatre, music and so forth.

Since it’s a wiki it’s able to be edited by anyone - so I’ve been adding to the examples. I’d like to think that I’ll eventually identify something that hasn’t already been defined and create a new trope. But considering there are lot of people with
(apparently) far more time on their hands than I have who have been doing this for years, I’m not going to hold my breath.

The beauty of it is that, apart from being educational, it’s also terribly entertaining – mostly because it’s written in a humorous, snarky style; obviously, that’s going to be right up my alley. An example, from the entry on director Uwe Boll:

There are two camps—summarily divided—on this man's work.

One camp is convinced that he is "the only genius in the whole fucking business " - a better filmmaker than Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Fritz Lang, Akira Kurosawa, John Huston, Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Billy Wilder, Franco Zeffirelli, Robert Wiene, Sergio Leone, F.W. Murnau, and Ingmar Bergman combined, and that Video Gamers Are Morons.

This camp consists of Uwe Boll.

I don’t know about you, but reading stuff written like this makes me feel all tingly. Of course, the best thing for you to do is check it out for yourself. But I take no responsibility for any subsequent addiction, or hours lost while you open link after link after link - like I do.

2That's not a typo. That's a joke.

Other bits and pieces

The work week started out okay, but a few hours into Monday I started feeling like crap and went home. I wasn’t quite sure what it was I’d been inflicted with; my major concern was that I would develop ‘flu-like symptoms’, meaning that I’d either have swine flu or – since the company I work for is still on high alert – have to get tested to make sure I didn’t have swine flu before I could come back to work.

As it was, I’d have been okay with actually having swine flu; it’s not too unlikely a possibility since I know a few people who’ve had it. The idea of not having swine flu but having to go to through the ordeal of getting tested and certified as swine flu free was actually more of a concern.

I had Tuesday off ‘cause I was still feeling crappy, but we good enough to go back to work on Wednesday. I probably could have justified having another day of rest, but that would also have meant a trip to the doctor for a medical certificate and either an extra couple of days off work trying to get an appointment, or a day spent in a walk-in clinic – neither of which I fancied.

While at home I found they were showing Hello Dolly on tv – notable because it’s the musical version of a play called The Matchmaker which I did in 2003. The musical has songs and dance numbers added but has copied a lot of the dialogue (it’s a book musical, not a sung-through) verbatim from the play – so I was watching a very young Michael Crawford saying the same things I’d said just over six years ago, word for word.

I also ended up watching an entire episode of The Nanny and spent most of it wondering if it’s in any way wrong that I found myself thinking about how attractive Fran Drescher was. Well, at least when she wasn’t talking...

And that’s about it ‘til next week.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Big big screen moments

That’s not a typo. I could have titled it ‘big moments on the big screen’ but I like the repetition.

Anyway, linguistic indulgences aside, this post is about movies. I go to see a movie at the cinema almost once a week; I guess that makes me a fairly serious moviegoer - considering that, last time I heard, the average Australian goes maybe once a year. So, it’s probably accurate to say that I love movies, and I particularly like seeing them on the big screen.

To be perfectly honest I can’t remember the last movie I watched outside of cinema – i.e. at my home or someone else’s1. I just don’t watch dvds. Some of this is because I’m fairly busy at the moment, and when I’m not busy I find myself too distracted by other things – writing blog posts, for example - to sit down for the length of time it would take to watch an entire feature.

But some of it is because it’s just not the same thing.

So, I’ve seen a lot of what I consider ‘significant’ films on the big screen. Including Coraline, which I saw last week, and which prompted me to put together a piece on this topic. But I’ll talk about that one at the end.

For now I'll explain - with examples - how I went from an indifferent cinemagoer to a full-on movie buff.

A lifestyle unconducive to fostering a love of film

I certainly didn’t grow up going to the movies. My parents weren’t (and, no doubt, still aren’t) cinemagoers. In fact, I can honestly say I’ve never known my father to go to the cinema at all, and my mother would only have gone to take me when I was too young to go by myself. So, it wasn’t like heading off to the movies was a regular family outing.

Once I hit my teens I might have gotten into it more except that, in the town I grew up (Bowen) the cinema wasn’t exactly close, being in an another suburb (Queen’s Beach) – getting there required either the consent and availability of parents or a great deal more enthusiasm (i.e. to ride my bike the 6 or so kilometres Google Maps tells me is the distance between my then-home and the cinema) than I possessed at the time.

Since it was the 70s and 80s, there was also the drive-in – but that was an even more inaccessible destination. I did, however, get there a few times; I’ll mention the significant ones later on.

Anyway, I suspect that, had I really had an interest in film, I’d have done whatever was necessary – ridden, nagged my parents, nagged my friends to nag their parents etc. (something I did do, but only once – more on that later) – to get myself in front of that screen. But it just wasn’t that big a deal to me, so I didn’t.

Of course, one of the other reasons teenagers go to the movies is to hang out, either in groups or as half of a couple. But my group didn’t go more than a handful of times; it just wasn’t something that interested us, possibly because – as is the case in a small country town with a one-screen cinema - we didn’t get many of the sort of movies we’d actually want to see anyway.

And, as you might also guess, by virtue of my being on such a low rung of the social status ladder, there wasn’t ever any romantic visits to the cinema either. But, even with all those reasons not to have gone to the movies very often, there were some standout experiences - though, since we’re going back something like thirty years, I don’t necessarily remember them all that well.

The Fox and the Hound

I saw this at the cinema (as opposed to the drive-in). I didn’t choose it for the film itself; it just happens to be the first film I distinctly remember seeing. No doubt if I asked my mother she’d tell me that I saw other films before that, but this is what’s stuck in my head.

Flash Gordon/The Empire Strikes Back

This double feature is something I remember quite distinctly, though not who I went with. It was raining very lightly during Empire - which was second - and that’s not great for a drive-in movie.

I still love Flash Gordon today; interestingly enough, it was the first video I ever rented when we got a VCR (though not the first movie I ever saw on video; that honour goes to the original Freaky Friday). The movie may have had greater long-term impact on me for the music, because years later I would become a fan of Queen, who did the soundtrack.

Empire, is, of course, the best Star Wars film by a wide margin (though your mileage may vary). I don’t recall for certain whether I’d actually even seen A New Hope before seeing Empire, but I don’t think it mattered to me at the time. One thing I do remember is that it was raining, which isn’t a good thing at the drive-in. They didn’t stop the film, though.

Funnily enough, several years after that I would see Spaceballs, the spoof of Empire, at the very same drive-in. That mightn’t sound like anything worth noting, except that I don’t know whether I saw anything else at the drive-in between those two.

Return of the Jedi

When Jedi came out I was ten and, as such, my obsession for things Star Wars was probably only matched by my obsession for Dr Who. So, I was going to see Jedi at the first possible opportunity.

For reasons I cannot now remember, my parents didn’t want me to go on the Saturday afternoon when I wanted to go see it. This didn’t impress me a great deal, and - since I was as pragmatic as I was disobedient - I stole some money (not sure from where) and harassed my friend Simon into convincing his father into driving us out to the cinema to see it.

Yeah, that's the sort of kid I was. Probably why I don't have any of my own.

I can’t remember what I thought about it, but I’d like to hope that – despite my enthusiasm and the efforts to which I went to get to the blasted film – I wasn’t especially impressed. I suspect that, even as a ten-year-old, the mindboggling lameness of the ewoks and the other disappointing plot developments (not to mention the standard awful Lucasian dialogue) would have left me underwhelmed.

Karma? Possibly.

Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home

Again, another film chosen not for the significance of the film itself, but for the unusual nature of the experience. I saw this when on holiday in Brisbane, and it was the first time I’d been in a cinema other than the Summergarden in Bowen.

The Summergarden has (or, at least, had; I imagine it’s bit more upmarket these days) bare concrete floors, shabby old brown chairs for the back half the audience, and canvas deck chairs for the front half. So it was quite a shock to go to a ‘proper’ cinema after only experiencing that before. I remember being fascinated by the fact there was carpet on the walls. Talk about the country mouse...

Crocodile Dundee 2

Definitely not in for the quality of the film, I note this one because, while in Townsville in 1988 for my brother’s wedding, it was the first time I went to the cinema on my own. It would, however, not be the last time.

A change in situation

In 1992 I moved to Townsville to go to uni, and started to go to the movies a bit more often. Not that often; James Cook University is about 12km from the city so that, despite moving from a small country town to a small country city, I’d managed to double the distance between me and the nearest big screen.

Obviously, this wouldn’t have been much of an issue if I’d owned a car. But I didn’t, so I only ever went if it happened that someone else was going. On the plus side, I was living at a residential college, and going in groups to see movies was a not uncommon occurrence. I had put my feet on the path to true movie fandom.

Pulp Fiction

No film has ever had as much impact on me – in terms of pure, visceral shock value – as Quentin Tarantino's masterpiece, Pulp Fiction. I saw it at a midnight screening at a cinema in Maroochydore with my friend Taity; it was only by accident that we ended up seeing it, since we’d gone there to see Interview With a Vampire only to find out it didn’t start until midnight the following day.

Afterwards, we spent a couple of hours wandering the streets of Maroochydore talking about it. Doesn't paint enough of a picture? Fine. Try this: I, generally a non-smoker, bummed one from Taity and found that it helped.

Hey, I said it was impactful.

The Usual Suspects

Another of my favourites, this is also significant because it was the first ever low budget arthouse film I saw, and it was the first step in my understanding that there was an alternative to the Hollywood mainstream. While Townsville at the time couldn't be described as a city with a great deal of interest in culture, it wasn't completely without.

Romeo + Juliet

The only film I’ve ever seen more than once during an original theatrical run – and I didn’t just see it twice, I saw it three times. I loved nearly every aspect of the film, and it took my interest in Shakespeare to a whole new level.

A Clockwork Orange

Probably the first film I saw outside of wide release, and the last film I saw in Townsville. Which was annoying in a way; they’d just started doing late-night screenings of cult classics at one of the cinemas in town, and I’d started getting a bit more serious about film.

Of course it shocked the crap out of me – and I’d read the book. Years later I’d learn that the guy who was the bodyguard was David Prowse – or, as he’s sometimes known, the guy who played Darth Vader. The body, not the voice - that was James Earl Jones. He's never been a Welsh national bodybuilding champion - well, at least not to my knowledge.

Another change in situation

In November of 1997 I moved to Adelaide and, for the first time in my life, had ready access to cinemas – lots of cinemas. The Piccadilly, in North Adelaide, was only blocks from my house. A short trip to the city would take me to many more: Hindley Street, Rundle Mall and the Academy (all of which are gone now – except maybe Hindley St.) covered the mainstream fare; Palace and Nova (before they joined forces) provided the arthouse end of the spectrum.

But I didn’t get that heavily into movies straight away. It took the complete collapse of my social life to do that - basically, I’d only made one or two friends after moving, and I needed to find something I could do on my own that would get me out of the house and entertain me.

So I started going to the movies, sometimes as often as twice a week. I saw so many films in the first year I was here, both mainstream and arthouse. Individual films stopped having such an impact on me – I don’t mean that in a bad way; it’s more that I’d had my mind opened so much by the quantity and variety of films I’d see that I didn’t see anything that had as dramatic an impact on me as the ‘big’ films I noted earlier in the post.

My lifestyle changed slightly when I went back to uni; I stopped going quite as often. But that changed when I discovered one of my friends like film as much as I did and we started going once a week – typically on Tuesday, to take advantage of cheap tickets. He left the country and I found myself less inclined to go as often – so I missed quite a few films I wish I’d managed to see on the big screen.

However, other ‘movie buddies’ have come along and I’ve managed to maintain the regularity to almost a weekly occurrence – depending on whether there’s anything on worth seeing; I’ve managed to see some shockers - [cough] Transformers 2 [cough] - that’ve made me a little more picky about what I do and don’t see.

LA Confidential

This is in the list more because it’s the first movie I saw in Adelaide – it may even have been on the day I arrived. It’s still a damn good film, and I’m now a big fan of James Ellroy’s novels.

2001: A Space Odyssey

Kubrick was a nut about many things. When this movie opened, cinemas weren’t allowed to show it unless they had the proper-sized screen to do it exactly how Kubrick wanted it – and he sent people to the cinemas to check. If they didn’t have it set up correctly, they wouldn’t be allowed to show it. And I can understand why. It’s an amazing piece of work, and would be next to pointless on anything other than a big screen.

Of course, I’d be lying if I said I understood it – or even enjoyed it beyond being absolutely blown away by the technical expertise.

The Big Lebowksi

It’s now my all time favourite film, and was my first Coen Brothers experience (I hadn’t seen Fargo at that point). I went to see it based entirely on the promo flyer I saw in the cinema foyer on an earlier visit – mostly because of the references to tenpin bowling. I reckon I sat through it with my mouth open the whole time. Wacky genius filmmaking, great characters, and some of the best dialogue ever written.

Moulin Rouge!

This has to be mentioned because of how funny the experience was. I saw it at Piccadilly in North Adelaide with my ‘movie buddy’, Chris. We both knew it was a musical, but didn’t realise it was a jukebox musical rather than original songs – so, at about the time it dawned on us that Ewan McGregor wasn’t singing something written for the show but was actually singing Love is Like Oxygen, we just cracked up. It only got worse as the film went on.

What made it even more hilarious was that there were a few dozen pensioner-age people there as well – and they just couldn’t work out what was amusing us so much.

The Lord of the Rings

Like many people who’d read the book, I was dubious about how well it’d work on the screen. I’d seen the underappreciated The Frighteners, so I knew Peter Jackson was a talented guy – but we’re talking Middle-Earth here. But once we got a decent way into Fellowship I was convinced they were going to pull it off. By the end of ROTK I was satisfied.

Of course, there’s the argument here that the full LOTR experience is only achieved when watching the extra scenes on the dvds – but I’ll certainly be hitting the cinema to see them if they’re re-released in their ‘complete’ versions. Especially if there’s 3D involved...

The Incredibles

I’ve always been open to animated films, and rated many of them quite highly – but The Incredibles took it to another level. It was just a great animated movie, it was a great movie. As much as it’s still a good one to watch on a small screen, I’m glad I saw it on a big one.

No Country For Old Men

While they may be a bit hit-and-miss – by which I mean if you agree that they alternate between (at worst) solid films and (at best) mind-blowingly-amazing films - Joel and Ethan Coen are by far the most talented filmmakers working today. Not since Pulp Fiction had I been so riveted, so emotionally beaten by a film. I was so tense the whole way through that I’m surprised I didn’t burn out my adrenal glands.


Before Coraline, I’d not seen a 3D movie. To me it sounded like a gimmick – which, I guess in a way it is – that wasn’t really going to be all that significant to the overall art of filmmaking.

Boy, is my face red. 3D is, to put it bluntly (and coarsely) absolutely fucking awesome. Coraline would’ve been a good film anyway – Henry Selick is a genius, and the source material was a story by Neil Gaiman, another genius – but in 3D it was just spectacular.

For those who haven’t experienced 3D, don’t think of it was just a means by which – for the sake of an occasional effect – things will fly out from the screen at you, i.e. that it’s a movie in 2D with occasional 3D ‘bits’. Yes, that does happen, but that’s not the most significant aspect. Basically, it’s like watching things take place on a stage rather than a flat screen. The resulting depth adds, well, depth to the whole experience.

More and more films are being shot in 3D and more cinemas are getting the equipment to show them. It may not become all-encompassing – one suspects that low-budget productions won’t spend the money on something that isn’t vital – but it will certainly become more common.

However, it’s not – for me at least – going to be enough to overcome the negative aspects of an otherwise bad film. Films still have to be good. A pile of crap with icing on top is still a pile of crap. The feculent Transformers 2 in 3D would still have sucked ass; it just would have distracted me for a bit longer before I reached that inevitable conclusion that I’d wasted my time and money, and subsequently cursed Michael Bay and sworn to be far more circumspect about any future productions.

I’d like to think I’ll be adding more films to this list. If I don’t it’s unlikely to be from lack of trying; I still intend to be getting myself in front of a big screen as often as I can find the time and the right motivation.

1 True at the time of writing but not at the time of posting; I actually saw The Boat That Rocked at a friend's place last night. But I wanted to illustrate my point so I didn't change it.