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Words by Alex Mansell
Collage by Ashleigh Duncan

You could be forgiven for entirely missing the release of the Australian film Tracks at the beginning of March this year. Despite decent reviews and a marketing campaign that spanned bus shelters all over the country, the film detailing the journey of Australian woman Robyn Davidson travelling 1,700km from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean with four camels and a dog hasn’t proven to be a commercial success.

As far as Australian films go, Tracks appeared to have potential. The story is relatively well-known thanks to Davidson’s popular 1980 book and the international fame she received from the related National Geographic cover story and newspaper coverage. The film also starred well-known actors including Mia Wasikowska from Alice in Wonderland and Girls star Adam Driver. Even the American director—John Curran of the 2006 film The Painted Veil—holds his own in cinematic history.

After its release on the 6th of March, the film quickly dissolved from mainstream cinemas due to poor crowds and found itself in the less lucrative world of independent cinema. Box office figures have been scarce: Box Office Mojo suggested that the film has made only $1.6 million in Australia. This is a disappointing figure considering its $12 million budget. Tracks’ reception abroad is also not expected to be any better than that in Australia given the fact that the film will only receive a limited international release at the beginning of May and that the hype generated by its showing at the Vancouver Film Festival last October is well and truly gone.

Following the supposed ‘Golden Age’ of Australian cinema in the 1970s and ’80s that produced critical and commercial successes like Mad Max, Crocodile Dundee, Picnic At Hanging Rock, Gallipoli and The Man From Snowy River, Australia was in prime position to cement a place in world cinema. Yet somehow, we’ve ended up with an industry plagued by a lack of confidence, lack of funding, and lack of public support. In Peter Craven’s 2006 article in The Monthly that still has resounding relevance today, he describes a phenomenon in international cinema wherein Australian films are “perceived as foreign and art house”—a viewpoint that restricts them from the mainstream markets regardless of their potential for success. Tracks has found itself the victim of this trend.

Contemporary Australian films that have been commercially successful seem to be characterised by their overuse of aggressively ‘Australian’ iconography and themes. A film like Australia is an obvious case in point, and its generally negative reception domestically was a direct result of this. Red Dog followed in the same vein but still managed to receive a solid reception locally. The international attitude towards Australian films as niche has resulted in the high-profile films that do make it overseas having an artificial ‘okka’ feel to them. Australian filmmakers are being given the choice of making a film about anything they want, or attaching a big sign to their production that says ‘AUSTRALIAN’ through the liberal use of stereotypes, as in Red Dog.

Domestic funding for Australian films is still very low. A 2009 Screen Australia survey of the industry found that 57 per cent (or $224 million) of funding for Australian and co-produced films comes from overseas investors. And although Screen Australia is the main government funding body, its contribution over 2012 and 2013 amounted to a total of $24 million, dramatically lower than the total of $140 million from the government in 2005/06.

As far as making a profit goes, the only Australian film of 2013 that has made back its money is the Australian-American co-produced The Great Gatsby. None of the purely Australian films of 2013 did particularly well at the box office, and almost none received attention from overseas. After the ’70s and ’80s when Australian filmmakers made films that Australian people wanted to watch, we’ve reached a point where most of our films are too art house and foreign for overseas markets, but too inauthentic for domestic audiences.

You may ask what’s so bad about Australian films dying out. You may prefer Hollywood blockbusters or foreign masterpieces anyway. Is there any reason to go for the local stuff? Here’s one: film offers a unique opportunity for Australians to share their stories. Maybe they’re adventurous and set in the outback like Tracks or maybe they’re in the middle of a city, as far removed from stereotypes as you can get. The point is that Australians have stories that are worth telling, and without local and government support, they will never get told. Without the right kind of support, stories like Tracks will never reach the audiences that they really ought to.

Words by Rémy Chadwick

Kerith Manderson-Galvin really hates the tendency to read meaning into language. “Why can’t a word just be a word?,” she laments.

Kerith is a playwright.

She acknowledges the contradiction here; it’s perhaps fitting that theatre is her chosen medium, given that it exists because of interpretation. In theatre, a creative team interprets words on the page (or in the mind), translating them into the language of the stage. An audience in turn deciphers this. A playwright’s job is to ensure that the spectator experience is as rich as what was originally envisioned, even though the two worlds may differ completely.

The disjunction between word and meaning fascinates Kerith, and it lies at the heart of her new work, don’t bring lulu. When asked about an important line from the play, Kerith starts talking about the ubiquitous expression “I love you”, which carries so much unspoken baggage. In many instances it is conditional, outlining certain boundaries and declaring specific actions. But it can also be read in ways it was not intended; it can mean different things for different people, even when in the same situation.

The play is an enigma because of Kerith’s contrarieties. On the one hand, she holds doubts about theatre’s ability to change the world—she is happy for it to “just exist”. On the other hand, she affirms theatre’s obligation to be politically and socially aware.

don’t bring lulu is thus a result of her obsession with femininity, relationships and violence. She would, however, prefer that the audience constructed their own sense of the piece—while finding it as funny, sexy, sad, and scary as she does.

A large amount of Kerith’s personality seems to have found its way into her characters and she is quick to justify this. “I am the only point of reference I have,” she says. Exploring herself in her own work gives her the opportunity to understand and say new things; writing somebody else’s perspective might not.

However, Kerith admits not fully trusting her own experiences of the world. “I don’t actually know if anything [in don’t bring lulu] is true, least of all my own memories,” she says. In one sense, this is empowering for an artist. For Kerith, it gives her permission to use her memories as she wishes, which is perhaps why she finds playwriting therapeutic.

Kerith is confident the show will look good and boast strong production values, and is clear about her visual inspiration. ,“I take from popular culture because I can see the stuff I’m interested in exists all around me,” she says.

Kerith offers special thanks to Union House Theatre director Tom Gutteridge, who she says has been very supportive of her work. Ironically, she specifically lauds his ability to find elements in the text that she didn’t know were there—in other words, his ability to interpret the play.

don’t bring lulu is appearing 22-24, 28-31 May 2014, 7:30pm
Union Theatre, ground floor, Union House,  University of Melbourne
Tickets available www.trybooking.com/EQXO

Words by Magnus Gillberg

Don’t let the title give you the wrong impression; I’m afraid this article won’t be weighing into the debate over whether or not hip-hop was better in the early ‘90s. This common argument has nauseatingly beenrepeated on numerous comment sections across the internet. The discussion is clouded with nostalgia for a time of apparent quality and depth of lyrics, when all that has really changed is that people don’t rap about pagers anymore. No, I am much more interested in who in fact is suffering from “realness” and who is faking the condition to get workers compo.

Creating a character on stage is common to many musical genres, not just hip-hop. But an inherent part of rapping has commonly been bravado and self-aggrandisement. Some rappers just let their rhymes prove their abilities while some write reams of rhymes, not only about how talented they are, but also how mean, violent, and ‘real’ they are. This personal element of hip-hop, the self-advertisement, produces an interesting meeting of fiction and reality, producing what is often called ‘studio Gangsters’. However the rapper rarely—if ever—comments on this reality out of character, allowing themselves to be perceived as their chosen caricature. A recent release from Rick Ross, mastermind, is typical of the rapper style, featuring songs mainly focused on being a gangster in the not-worn-out-at-all style of Tony Montana. While this assessment might seem a little succinct, it is not meant to be a jibe at its quality. And just like every 16 year old’s favourite Al Pacino movie, the entire album is a work of fiction. Rick Ross took his name from a well-known American drug dealer known as “Freeway Rick Ross”, and had to fight a court case over the right to use the name. With this pseudonym, the rapper has created a persona of a dangerous and glamorous gangster and has consistently released content to reinforce the idea. While this makes many of his songs seemingly hollow, the fact is that all his albums are works of fiction that present not a real reflection of his life, but rather tell entertaining stories. Rick Ross is an entertainer and his lack of realism is not a weakness to his work.

This is in juxtaposition to another recent release coming from Freddie Gibbs and Madlib, Piñata. The album is arguably the best release this year with Madlib producing a fantastic album. However it is the lyrical content of Freddie Gibbs’ raps which deal with many elements of his life from his time growing up and living in Gary, Indiana, an industrial town in a worse state than Detroit which was considered the murder capital of the US during the ‘90s. Freddie is widely regarded as one of the last real gangsters in modern hip-hop with a criminal record and a background of hustling on the bleak streets of Gary. His music deals not with a fictional story but more often the harsh realities of his life and of those around him. The crime and violence is presented neither positively or negatively, but only realistically. As such, Freddie continues a long line of documentation through music of the under classes of America. Undoubtedly, there is some exaggeration and invention, but never to the scale of outright fiction. Freddie only employs creative licence when attempting to compress multiple occurrences and people into a manageable song.

So what is the issue of having two rappers, both purporting to be presenting reality, with one doing so through a persona while the other doing so truthfully? This happens in other genres, where fans listen to larger-than-life characters for their storytelling and entertainment value, not for their representation of reality. However in those genres you don’t have fiction presented with reality at the same time. It was pretty obvious during the 1960s that much of the blues that the English were “repurposing” was not meant to be their stories; no one tried to pass themselves as being Mississippi Delta locals. When it comes to hip-hop there is no distinction between who is rapping fiction and and who is rapping fact. You will have those who have adopted a character and those who are presenting themselves accurately both rapping on the same track, creating a bizarre dichotomy of fiction and reality. Rick Ross appears on tracks with Pusha T—a rapper who probably raps a little too much about his career dealing cocaine—and Gucci Mane, a violent convicted felon who is thought to fit into this criminal gangster reality when he really doesn’t.

In modern music, reputation and artistic integrity counts for a lot, regardless of the genre at hand. A character adopted for artistic purposes is often used as a device to investigate the ‘other’, or what can’t be properly talked about from an existing point of view. Other times it is to shock and entertain. In both circumstances it is at least clear that it is part of an act. If an artist adopts a style and story that is completely alien to them, usually the fans and other musicians in that genre will shun them as being fake. Both situations occur in hip-hop. For instance, Tyler, the Creator’s alter ego Wolf Hayley is used to explore incredibly dark and troubling themes (a storytelling device seemingly unknown in New Zealand), while rappers such as Soulja Boy are derided for jumping on whatever the current popular trend is. But then certain rappers will be given a pass, with critics willing to ignore their unapologetic metamorphosis into a person they are not and have never been. With the fake and real mixed, it creates a credibility issue for modern hip-hop and for those using the art to recount legitimate struggles. For instance, a lot of Mafioso Rap is made by people who have never experienced crime, poverty and violence, who only glamourise these things for their own financial gain. In turn, such performers trivialise the experiences and music of those for whom such horrible things are a reality.

So does anybody make real shit anymore? Well, yes; some do. You’ve just got to do a decent background search first.

Words by Michelle See-Tho

 

If you watch Sammy J perform solo for long enough, it’s easy to forget how crass his puppet counterpart, Randy (puppetry by Heath McIvor), can be.

It’s been more than a year since the two collaborated on home soil. They’ve used their time apart to separately perform live solo acts. Sammy J has also hosted the ABC’s Wednesday Night Fever.

But this year, they’ve reunited for ‘Sammy J and Randy’s Difficult First Album Tour’ at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

The show describes the duo’s tour of their first album, providing an element of meta-humour that adds depth to the story. They kick things off with a song about how they met—Sammy was a pole dancer, Randy an overzealous customer. The show moves on to cover the things the pair saw and did while promoting their album—including a disturbing number about being Swiss lovers in their past lives.

Back in the days of solo Sammy J, numbers like ‘Delete’ and the ‘Backward Song’ were typical of the baby-faced comedian, with little to no swearing as he sipped from a juice box at his piano. But there’s none of that virginal innocence in the ‘Difficult First Album Tour’. (Well, the juice box is still there, but it’s little more than a remnant of Sammy J’s Randy-less performances.)

Instead, Randy brings with him a whole lot of dirtiness. It works for the most part, especially because homophobic jokes are simple but funny, as the duo points out with a song.

However, it remains to be seen whether that song itself is just for cheap laughs or is satirical social commentary on the comedy industry.

All in all, it’s a fun show, and the contrast between sweet, boyish Sammy J and politically incorrect Randy is beyond entertaining. But anyone expecting Sammy J to maintain his innocence is sure to be disappointed.

Words and photos by Alex Capper

Record Store Day is any audiophile’s favourite day of the year. It is the celebration of music and music production in the purest form. Every year, on the third Saturday of April, music lovers and artists across the globe support the vinyl industry with this annual shopping bonanza. The day sees new and rare releases made available on vinyl, which can be savoured by music punters for a lifetime.

It goes without saying that the phenomenon of the internet and the digitalisation of media have fundamentally affected the music industry. Any artist’s music can be accessed on an infinite number of platforms by anyone. As a result, the days of the CD are dying. Seriously, when was the last time you saw a Sanity store?

But today’s music industry is simultaneously progressing in two contrasting directions. Record labels and artists primarily rely on the relatively new-age wonder of streaming platforms (Spotify, Pandora, Soundcloud) and digital transactions (Bandcamp, ITunes) to sell their music directly. In fact, 2013 was the first year in Australian music that more albums were downloaded than physically purchased since ITunes launched in 2005.

Running concurrently alongside the digital music revolution is the market’s renewed interest in the production of vinyl records. The vinyl record represents the culmination of the art in the aural and visual medium. This fact is undoubtedly a key reason for the increase in popularity of vinyl in the MP3 era. According to Digital Music News, from 2007-2012, Vinyl sales in the USA increased from 988,000 to 4.6 million. In that same span, the net worth of the vinyl industry grew from $55 million to $171 million.  On our own shores, total vinyl sales were up 77 per cent in 2013 compared to 2012, according to ARIA.

With this increased attention towards records and vinyl music shops, a syndicate of Record Store owners conceived a special day to celebrate vinyl and independent music stores in 2007, aptly named Record Store Day. Since then, there are now stores participating in Record Store Day from every continent on earth.

Simon Karis, co-owner of Fitzroy’s Polyester Records, believes the day is all about a  “fun and exciting way to celebrate music”. While he acknowledges that the increased support is nice, the day is by no means driven by financial incentive. Karis deems that the rise of vinyl pre-empted and catalysed the inception of Record Store Day, which has only reinforced the growing popularity of vinyl and independent music stores.

Karis values the aesthetic difference vinyls offer, stating they are simply “nice to collect and treasure”. MP3s, which he notes offer the same aural quality as CDs, have become the new throwaway, saturating the market and almost becoming worthless in sentimental value. Karis added that vinyl records are the “boutique alternative for the mass music market”, citing the rising statistics possibly to the fact that music lovers favour quality over quantity and are seeking distinctive and retrospective avenues to enjoy and appreciate music.

While Karis believes the vinyl market has always been an underlying presence and that vinyl will continue to expand, he does feel that this surge in popularity has a ceiling and will eventually plateau. However, for whatever new form of musical listening emerges in the future, Karis is a strong believer that vinyl will always remain a valuable and retroactive presence on the music industry.

When 19 April came around, I decided I better make good on this unique opportunity and personally check out what Record Store Day has to offer.

I discovered that the day was, as Karis described, simply dedicated to the art of music. Special and rare releases coming out on vinyl and cassette; live music from artists in-store; and a jam-packed rush by music junkies to grab their favourite record before it was snatched up. Record Store Day had achieved its wider aim. A flurry of people flocked to their favourite record store to show that adoration for quality music and independent music stores was at an important and resurgent high.

While I was heartbrokenly deprived of some of my desired releases (absolutely gutted I missed out on the reissue of MGMT’s Congratulations and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s 1969 Singles), Record Store Day demonstrated in abundance that music is more than throwaway MP3s, a YouTube video, or solely a commercial entity. It is an art that can be a reminiscent portal to your memory, taking you to experiences etched with nostalgia. Or a form of art that purely grasps you in a moment that perfectly captures your present feelings. It is these irreplaceable experiences through music that Record Store Day ultimately celebrates the most.

Polyester Records is located at 387 Brunswick St, Fitzroy.  Get around it.

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Words by Michelle See-Tho

 

Seussical will rouse a sense of nostalgia in anyone who loves Dr Seuss, or ever participated in musicals at school.

The musical, which debuted on Broadway in 2000, isn’t really a comedy show, though it does provide humour in parts. At MICF, it’s performed by the Old Carey Performing Arts Club.

Seussical is a clever intertwining of several different Dr Seuss stories: Horton Hears a Who!, Horton Hatches the Egg, and Gertrude McFuzz. It also features the Cat in the Hat, as narrator and various other roles.

Much of Seussical’s charm lies in its amateur feel. Some of the acting is exaggerated and transitions between scenes aren’t always seamless (the Cat in the Hat pointed out that intermission was timed so they could clean up the fake snow on stage). A giant box of props is wheeled around on stage, just like Year 9 Drama class.

That said, there are some outstanding performances. Sam McPartlan, who plays Horton, has a great singing voice. Not to mention, he’s adorable as the “faithful” elephant dedicated to saving the Whos and hatching an egg. Nicholas Renfree-Marks is fabulous as the flamboyant Sour Kangaroo – I only wish we’d seen more of him. Other special mentions should go to Mark Yeates (the Cat in the Hat) and Elise Cavallo (Mayzie LaBird) – both are very talented and have promising futures in theatre ahead of them. Yeates’ interaction with the audience was engaging and particularly appealing for children.

There’s plenty in the show for adults to enjoy too. Themes of unplanned pregnancy, drugs, body image, oppression, bullying and prejudice are all present. But they’re all addressed in a humorous and light-hearted way – the kids probably didn’t even notice.

One last thing: if you’re planning on seeing Seussical, be aware that it’s currently school holidays. The theatre will likely be packed with screaming children, and you may well be the oldest non-parent there.

 

The Old Carey Performing Arts Club is performing Seussical at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival from 7 April to 19 April. 

Words by Declan Mulcahy

Paul Foot is undeniably a very silly man. His unique brand of humour is a manically spurted blend of surreal anecdotes and pertinent wit. Not to mention his downright bizarre haircut. In his current show, Words, he spends around an hour taking an entranced audience on an entertaining, and sometimes uncomfortable, journey through a cavalcade of offbeat observations. Scarcely stopping for breath, he details scenes of social absurdity, blurts out seemingly random word pairings and dictates some of his famous ‘disturbances’.

Admittedly, this cocktail of English sardonicism and otherworldly mannerisms won’t be enjoyed by everyone, particularly those seeking traditional setup-punchline comedy. But despite his unorthodox approach to humour, the master of the absurd manages to achieve something few other comics can—a sense of spontaneity and a strong connection with his audience. Regardless of how much of Words is actually scripted, every outlandish remark feels entirely off the cuff, as if the whole show is really just a direct insight into the comedian’s unusual mind.

Combined with his genuinely improvised responses to the audience, Paul Foot’s honest delivery style makes it feel like you’re not really watching a performance at all—instead, you’re simply spending the evening with a very funny (albeit somewhat insane) old friend.

Paul Foot’s Words is on at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival at the Hi-fi Bar until 20 April.

Words by Kevin Hawkins

If there’s one thing to take away from Ronny Chieng’s show Chieng Reaction, it’s that the University of Melbourne is the fifth best law school in the world. Throughout his set, Chieng feels no hesitation in labouring this point, eager to remind the audience of his academic credentials.

Chieng’s unashamed arrogance is part of his comic appeal. He presents himself as far smarter than the average person, and sets out to belittle those who can’t match his wisdom. That said, you don’t need to be a genius to enjoy Chieng’s material. His rants about Asian parents, feminism going too far, public transport etiquette, and poor customer service manage to tap into universal attitudes and everyday situations. The only people who might feel a little peeved by Chieng’s offensive are under 25s, a demographic Chieng dismisses for knowing nothing.

Inevitably, some won’t be able to stand Chieng’s self-righteous demeanour, or his overtly blunt delivery. He even acknowledges this himself by drawing an imaginary bell curve for his crowd (which incidentally draws more attention to his learned nature). But Chieng’s show is hardly about pleasing everybody; indeed, Chieng clearly derives personal pleasure from gloating and complaining in front of a large crowd, and that alone is enjoyable to watch.

Ronny Chieng’s Chieng Reaction is on at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival at the Hifi Bar until 20 April.

Words by Kevin Hawkins

The only other time I’ve seen Lehmo speak at a live event was on 23 February, at the Reza Berati #lightthedark vigil. That evening, the breakfast morning radio presenter and refugee rights advocate gave an impassioned and thought-provoking speech, defending people seeking asylum. It was a breath of fresh air to hear an Australian personality uninhibited by the commercial or political pressures of television or radio, and just speaking their mind.

While Lehmo wasn’t particularly funny that evening, his speech that night gave me the impression that he would be one person worth seeing at the upcoming Melbourne International Comedy Festival. I didn’t expect him to preach his political values at his audience (only Tom Gleeson can get away with that), but I expected him to bring intelligence – or a sharp wit, at the very least – to his performance.

Perhaps my expectations were too high, but LEHMOOOO!!! (Get Involved) failed to deliver. While his set was amusing, one gets the impression Lehmo didn’t work particularly hard on writing his material. He took aim primarily at the low-hanging fruit*: the Corby family, the Southern Star, his nagging girlfriend, cheap airlines, and bogans. I’d be lying to say I didn’t laugh at anything, but there wasn’t much in Lehmo’s repertoire that I hadn’t heard before. Perhaps the best way to sum it up is that Lehmo’s best material was a running gag about cats, and a joke about MH370*.

Lehmo’s formulaic routine certainly doesn’t compromise the great work he does as an ambassador for Welcome to Australia, Make It Possible, and Live Below the Line – among other initiatives. But those hoping for something more intelligent than your typical stand up routine might be better off waiting around for the next asylum seekers rally.

LEHMOOOO!!! (Get Involved) is on at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival at the Melbourne Town Hall on 14 April.

Words by Kevin Hawkins

If you voted for either the Coalition or the Greens in the last federal election, chances are that you won’t appreciate all of Tom Gleeson’s comic material. With mic in hand and audience at his feet, Gleeson’s one-hour show Quality is an opportunity for him to speak about his political beliefs (and specifically his hate for Tony Abbott). And there’s nothing the audience can do about it.

Two things save Gleeson from crowd heckling and mid-show walkouts. The first is that his show is part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, a cultural event in arguably Australia’s most progressive left city. The second is that Gleeson is laugh-out-loud hilarious. Even if you’re ideologically opposed to some of his rants, it’s difficult not to appreciate his clever critiques of the government’s demand for a surplus or their lack of action on climate change, not to mention his caricature of Tony Abbott as a bumbling idiot.

While politics is a prominent theme of his set, Gleeson is smart enough not to limit himself to that arena. Gleeson speaks in depth about his experiences as a parent, and is brutally honest about his struggles with alcoholism and his sessions with his counsellor. Gleeson’s confessions may make some audience members a little uncomfortable; laughing at Gleeson’s expense has more than a little bit of schadenfreude to it. But Gleeson’s self-deprecating style and ability to read the audience means the show is more than just a sad AA meeting.

While converting his crowd into Labor supporters probably isn’t Gleeson’s intention, it wouldn’t be surprising if a few audience members leave the show with a few reservations about Tony Abbott, or a few question marks over the Greens. In doing so, Gleeson demonstrates how powerful comedy is as a persuasive tool. While my personal allegiance to Sir Tony was not shaken by Gleeson’s repertoire*, the quick-witted comedian nevertheless convinced me of his natural comedic talent. And for this reason I’d implore you to give him your vote.

*Disclaimer: Don’t worry. I didn’t actually vote for Tony Abbott.

Tom Gleeson’s Quality is on at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival at the Melbourne Town Hall from April 10-20.