Mary-The Making Of A Princess

“He didn’t really propose to her on the side of the road to Hobart Airport?”, I asked a couple of colleagues during the week. Both were Hobart born and bred, and in the 40-50 year age group. I figured they’d know.

Having seen only the last fifteen minutes or so of “Mary – The Making Of A Princess” last weekend, but having seen the fairly scathing coverage on Twitter (“They can never show this in Denamrk”), I was still keen to catch up with the tele-movie about the relationship between Crown Prince Fredrik of Denmark and Australia’s Mary Donaldson.

I’m not a monarchist. Quite the opposite. Though I do like the “celebrity of it all”, I think the concept of royalty is anachronistic. But I quite like the Scandinavian royals. They seem a little more “real” than our own “Australian” royal family, the English royal family. Recently for example I watched the wedding of Sweden’s Prince Carl Phillip, and I loved the imagery of the Queen nursing her grand children, and one of the princesses being heavily pregnant. Ten years ago I watched the wedding of of Mary and Fredrik, and remember the image of the Queen chewing gum (nicarettes?) and of Fredrik being close to tears. A long way from the lives of most people in the world, but still a little more realistic than our own.

As for the film? The film began with a slide saying that it was a dramatic recreation (or something like that), meaning there was probably lots of stuff that wasn’t true. It goes along at a good tele-movie pace, the acting is quite okay, and there was nothing terrible offensive about it. That said, I thought the characterisation of the Queen seemed a little harsh. Based on what I’ve seen on her being interviewed, I thought she seemed a little nicer in real life than was portrayed here. Although it’s nothing special, I found the film strangely compelling. Who can resist a love story between a “commoner” and a prince? :)

Unfortunately the film ended just before the wedding itself. “The budget probably couldn’t afford it”, a colleague joked. But I think it was wise. The actual wedding itself, the bit where Fredrik teared up, as he waited for Mary to arrive was really wonderful. And that’s why, though I’m a republic, I think If Australia HAD to have a royal family, I’d be happy with the Danes.

And did he really propose on the roadside? Yeah, apparently he did.

Holding The Man

Holding The Man

“I hadn’t realised it was so soon after his death when the book was released”, I told my friend. We had just been to see a screening of the movie version of “Holding The Man” at Sydney’s Verona Cinema. We were right in the midst of the film in many ways. St Vincent’s Hospital. “The Wall”. “I could lead a walking tour of the area covered in the film”, I joked. A couple of people at the pedestrian crossing laughed out loud. At the end of the film, the credits tell you Timothy Conigrave completed the book at the end of 1994 and died ten days later.

Buying that book, sometime in 1995, is one of my first memories of moving to Sydney. As I wrote a few years ago

When I first moved to Sydney one of the things that most impressed me about the place was the late night book-store, Ariel. Having spent all of my life in the country (I include my four years in Brisbane in that), I’d found myself suddenly living in Australia’s largest city. And one of the great things about that was that I could walk up to Oxford Street and purchase a book at the oddest hours.

I swear it must have been about nine o’clock on a Tuesday night when I bought, “Holding The Man”, because I’m pretty sure I was late for work the next day. It was sometime in 1995, though I’m not exactly sure when, when I walked to Oxford Street, bought the book and came straight home to read it. It must have been three or four am when I finished reading the book.

In such a short period of time I had never experienced so much laughter and tears, as the story of Tim and John was revealed to me. From their furtive teenage sexual encounters to their deaths from AIDS in the early 90s, it was such an incredibly well told beautiful story, made incrediblY strong by its absolute authenticity. Indeed, it was an authenticity which cut a swathe through the emotions of so many of my peers.

A few years later, I went to the opening night of the play, and wrote about the apprehension I felt that was soon swept away…

By the play’s end, however, I was in tears. But as emotional as it was for me, I can’t begin to imagine what it must have been like for those who knew Tim and John. I was sitting next to Noel Hodda, for example, one of the founding members of Griffin Theatre Company which Tim was a part of. Also in the audience was Penny Cook, a close friend of Tim’s, who was referred to in the play. As the play deals graphically with the impact of HIV/AIDS – “a footballer who loses his body and an actor who loses his mind” – it must have been quite harrowing for them to go over some of those experiences again. Or maybe it was cathartic? But for me it was probably one of the best nights of theatre I’ve ever enjoyed, with a tremendous ensemble cast and faultless direction and staging…

I felt a similar sense of apprehension about seeing the movie. “How can they possibly cover such an important story in a film”, I worried.

Overall, I didn’t laugh as much (or cry as much) as I did in either the book or the play. But in lots of other ways, I gained some really amazing new insights into the story.

“Tim was a really flawed character”, my friend said, as we walked along Oxford Street. To be honest, before seeing the movie I’d never really thought that before. But there’s a moment in the movie when the lecturer at NIDA says to Tim something along the lines of him always wanting to be the centre of attention, which kinda re-enforces that idea. I also thought the film was far more “sympathetic” (I’m not sure if that’s the right word) towards John, as we watch his sad, slow, drawn out death. Though Tim is there with John to the end, you’re left with an almost incomplete view of how difficult Tim’s own final days must have been.

This is not a criticism of the film. Quite the opposite. It’s meant to demonstrate how the film differs from the book and the play, and how each of these different manifestations has made me think deeply about this story. This is not simply a word for word adaptation of the book.

The script is great, the acting’s great, and it’s beautifully filmed.

Go and see it, do yourself a favour.

Divide in Concord

Divide in Concord

I’ve been thinking lately about my “latter years”. In part, it’s the passing of a dear friend who spent the last few years of his life living with dementia. In part, it’s because I’ll be fffff fffff fifty next year. Last night I’ve concluded I’d like to spend my “latter years” as Jean Hill, the bottled water campaigner in the American town of Concord, featured in the movie “Divide In Concord”.

In the film, Jean explains she reached a point in her life (in her 70s/80s), after the death of her husband, when she suddenly realised she no longer had to care for others. Everything in her life was about her, and about what her legacy would be. The film tells of a moment where her grandson told her about the amount of plastic waste now found in the world’s oceans.

“Other films have told the story of the environmental problems of plastic”, the film-maker told us in a Q&A at the US/Canadian Film Festival last night in Sydney. In contrast, Jean’s story is a more personal one: about how someone realised the connection between a bigger story and what they could do on an individual level. In a small town in Massachusetts, Jean embarked on a campaign to ban bottled water.

The small town, Concord (apparently) has an important part in the history of the independence movement in the America. On a micro-level, the documentary also notes other small town “revolutionary movements”, such as the woman who defended the rights of people to put their laundry out to dry (in defiance of body corporate laws which prohibit such things) and in the case of Jean’s campaign against bottled water. The earlier “revolutionary movements” are located in the context of the annual town meetings in Concord, where people can bring issues to the broader community for discussion and voting.

Jean brings the issue of banning bottled water to the annual debate twice, and then finally a third time, which is ultimately the film’s conclusion. Really, there are only two ways the film can end: either she wins or loses. No spoiler alerts in this review :)

Whether she won or lose, the film’s compelling because of the story. It’s classic David vs Goliath.

But it’s also a really important story about how people can make a direct connection between broader issues and personal action. A small town banning bottled water won’t make much of a difference. But when lots of small towns do the same thing, it CAN make a difference. That’s the reason why bottled water business interests, and people with a pro-business philosophical perspective in the community of Concord, became so interested in what was happening with Jean’s campaign.

What’s happened since the film was made, after the decision was taken in 2012? According to the film-maker at last night’s Q&A, a further couple of votes have been taken, and the community, once evenly divided on the issue, has “moved on” and voted decisively in one way. No spoiler alerts.

It’s a lovely film. I really love Jean Hill’s passion, even if she was possibly sometimes her own worst enemy in the debate. “I really stuffed that up”, she says (or words to that effect) after a radio interview in which she lost her cool. I think the occasional bout of losing your temper is quite okay, especially if/when I make it to my 80s I have as much passion as Jean demonstrates.


Monica Z

The last couple of weeks have been reasonably busy, and so I haven’t managed to immerse myself in the Scandinavian Film Festival as I’d hoped. There was one film, however, I definitely wanted to see on the big screen, having previously seen it only a small screen: the movie about the life of Swedish jazz singer, Monica Zetterlund.

I’d first heard about Monica twenty or thirty years ago, as Frida from ABBA had described her as one of her idols. The story of a jazz singer from a small country town who, in 1960s Sweden, has to find a balance between career and family is a theme in both their lives.

In the time since, I’ve come to know and really enjoy Monica’s work. I think my favourite song of hers is her Swedish language version of “Take 5”: it’s a great tune, sung with passion and energy. The film explains this particular song, and many of her others, comes from Monica’s desire to sing (mostly in Swedish) about things in her life. The film details a meeting with Ella Fitzgerald, where Ella, quite directly tells her not to sing about New Orleans and other such things (the staples of 1950s and 1960s jazz), but about stuff she knows.

Monica’s own experiences of travelling to New York are documented in the film: an early disastrous performance where the show was shut down because her backing musicians were black; and a later more successful show that brings her family and friends to tears. The film documents a difficult relationship with her father who lives in the small town of Hagfors. “Do you have any idea where that is?”, I whispered to Grant. Later, over a drink, we looked it up, locating it in the middle of Sweden, towards the border with Norway. There’s a really funny scene in the movie (which I won’t spoil) about Monica’s personal vow never to return to Hagfors.

I really loved this film. It’s a great story. Great music. Features great performances. And has beautiful cinematography which deserves the big screen. I really hope the film gets a broader cinematic run in Australia.

PS: After watching the movie we went out for a drink and a chat. We joked we should have played the “Monica Zetterlund Drinking Game”. It’s the game where you watch the film and have a drink every time she does. You would end up pretty sloshed pretty quickly. She liked a drink or 25,000, it seems.

Dawn O'Donnell - still taken from movie trailer

Croc-a-Dyke Dundee

Years ago I remember watching a really fantastic documentary about the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras called, Feed Them to the Cannibals. As I recall, the title was a reference to the words of an Australian government official, who was asked what he thought should be done with those engaging in homosexual behaviour in the early days of European settlement here.

For me, that 1993 film was also an introduction to the larger-than-life character of Dawn O’Donnell, the subject of the movie I saw tonight, Croc-a-Dyke Dundee. For many years, a friend and I developed quite a routine between ourselves, as we remembered and laughed about some of the classic lines delivered by Dawn in that early film.

Co-incidentally both films were made by the same person, Fiona Cunningham-Reid. At tonight’s screening she mentioned how she had asked Dawn many years ago if she would participate in a follow-up documentary about her own life story. For many years, Dawn and her partner, Aniek Baton both refused.

At the Q&A session which followed tonight’s screening, Aniek explained what finally brought her around, was recognition the telling the story of Dawn’s life goes some way to telling the history of Gay & Lesbian life in Sydney in the last fifty years or so.

That said, the film also gives a really lovely insight into her life before she became a nightclub owner on Oxford Street. The film explains she was the daughter of a single parent, growing up in Sydney in reasonably rough circumstances, until she was sent to a convent school to “smooth off the edges”. She had an early passion for ice-skating, which eventually took her to live in both London and Paris, until an accident cut short her career.

On returning to Australia she married a man which, in the film she says, “lasted for about two months”.The film then goes on to explain how she made her career mostly in real estate, and then later in nightclubs.

The film doesn’t shy away from the more suspect parts of Dawn’s life. The film talks about her connections with the convicted criminal, Abe Saffron; the many allegations of nightclub arson; and even the suggestion she murdered someone. The film offers no new evidence on any of these allegations, but that’s okay, it wasn’t that type of film.

For me the really interesting insight into Dawn’s life, of course, came from Aniek, Dawn’s partner. They were together thirty years, and it sounds like they had an amazing series of adventures together, particularly the travel. Dawn died five or six years ago, and Aniek was left out of the will. At tonight’s screening she said she was still involved in a complex legal battle tonight which was “ongoing and private”.

Though the film wasn’t as ground-breaking and as memorable for me as “Feed Them To The Cannibals”, I really enjoyed it. I hope one day it will get a television screening as well.

Muriel's Wedding - Goodbye Porpoise Spit

Muriel’s Wedding

A few friends have been noting of late it’s twenty years since the film, “Muriel’s Wedding” was released. I guess it was the article in the Sydney Morning Herald the other day which prompted most of the nostalgia.

For a lot of people, “Muriel’s Wedding” is a light-hearted comedy. For me, it’s actually a heart-felt comic-drama that has usually brought me to tears on the many, many occasions I’ve watched the film.

The first time I saw “Muriel’s Wedding” was at a cinema in Canberra. I was living in Wagga Wagga at the time. Of course there are many laugh out loud moments in the film. But there were also some very sad scenes in the film. In particular, the scenes surrounding the death of the mother. I’d lost my own “mum” at a young age, only a decade earlier. Co-incidentally, my “mum” was also called Betty, and in many ways, she was also neglected and abused by many parts of her extended family. The similarities upset me even now.

Months later, I was living in Sydney, and a couple of my very close relatives, Pat and Michelle, came to visit me. I took them to see the movie at the Cremorne Orpheum, knowing they’d “understand” the film in the same way I did, and they did. In the darkness of the cinema, I suspect they also shed a few tears.

Growing up on the NSW North Coast – not far from the mythical Porpoise Spit – I “knew” those bitches who made fun of Muriel. I could name every one of them. And while I wasn’t Muriel, per se – though I did sit in my room and listen to ABBA songs – I knew the girls who were “Muriel”. They were also taunted, made fun of by the likes of Tanya.

Throughout my life, I’ve suffered with many of the self-doubts and low self-esteem that Muriel encountered. In lots of ways I’ve been much more fortunate than “Muriel”. I’ve had a good job which has allowed me to move to different parts of Australia. I’ve never had to work in a video store :) But like Muriel, I chose to “escape” the small-town narrow-mindedness of “Porpoise Spit”.

One of my favourite lines – for many reasons – from the film is when Muriel says “When I lived in Porpoise Spit, I used to sit in my room for hours and listen to ABBA songs. But since I’ve met you and moved to Sydney, I haven’t listened to one Abba song. That’s because my life is as good as an Abba song. It’s as good as Dancing Queen.” Though it’s ostensibly about a geographic shift, the line is also about a shift in a state of mind. I don’t dislike the North Coast, but I know I’m probably happier living here in Sydney.

Throughout the years, “Muriel’s Wedding” has remained with me.

Memorably, I was in the car with Pat a few years ago. We were doing a “blocky”. I should explain a “blocky” is what you do when you live in a country town and you’re feeling a little bored. You hop in the car and you drive around “the block” which is the main shopping district. As the song by ABBA, “Dancing Queen” came on the radio, without prompting, we began to adapt to a local setting the lines from the closing scene of “Muriel’s Wedding” where Muriel and Rhonda say “Goodbye Porpoise Spit”.

If, like me, you grew up on the NSW North Coast during the 70s and 80s, and were a little bit “not of the mainstream”, “Muriel’s Wedding” can mean so much more than a light-hearted comedy.

88 Documentary

Thought I’d give a mention to a documentary my friend, Michaela Perske has produced and co-written called “88”.

The documentary goes back to 1988, the year of the Australian Bicentenary, and tells the story of some of the many thousands of Indigenous people who travelled from all over Australia to join in protests on January 26. As well as being a seminal moment in the development of modern Indigenous affairs in Australia, it was also a seminal moment in the lives of many of those profiled.

The program goes to air on ABC1 on Thursday, January 30 at 8.30pm. A lot of hard work over a long period of time has gone into this, so I hope you’ll be watching :)

There’s more info about the program on their Facebook page.