Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Biopics - "How raw do you want it; stripping to the bone."

On Sunday night I saw Rubbings of a Live Man, a creative biopic about actor Warwick Broadhead. Who is Warwick Broadhead? Well, before I saw the biopic I knew nothing. I am a fan of biopics though. Real life does tend to be stranger than fiction, and real stories are more powerful as a result of it

There are the typical ones: a straight, chronological reenactment such as: Walk the Line, Malcolm X, Ali and Ray. Malcolm X was particularly impressive to me. I saw Walk the Line on Sunday, and thought it a nice yarn but nothing special, other than Johnny Cash was a rather tortured individual. Drugs and alcohol can do all sorts to a man, and that is a story that needs to be told. I'd look forward to a Brian Wilson biopic one day.

But another kind of biopic, which I'll call a creative biopic, delivers an experience as well as the story of a life. My first encounter with one of these was American Splendor, the life story of Harvey Pekar. I knew nothing about him before I saw the film, but the movie not only engrossed but also caught the imagination. The movie jumped about; it intercut to the real Harvey Pekar talking in his real idiosyncratic way during his reconstructed life. Most importantly, the film did cut to the bone, leaving no stone in his life unturned.

Rubbings of a Live Man went a step further in that the film's subject participated in artistic reenactments of his own life (!), sometimes as himself, sometimes as another character, whether it be his own mother, a momentary lover or God himself (or, shall I say, God with an attention disorder). There were no holds barred. It cut to the bone: The human nature revealed; it brought him to tears at one point and said the words quoted in the title to the director. The reenactments were occasionally whimsical, sometimes brilliantly surreal (the first being so truly perfect, it shocks). The preparation for each scene recorded as well, showing perhaps the truest of true person: Him in his natural habitat. Incidentally, none of his seventy-plus performances have been recorded, this film being the only audiovisual impression of his accumulated craft. It is a performance like no other.

Friday, November 21, 2008


October was cruisy. October was cool. New work was on the horizon and everything was at peace.

It was peaceful until this week, when upon me fell a ton of bricks: I truly had to work harder than I have ever had during my working life; I had to endure more tiredness than I've usually have. It also sets a few new personal records too.

The next few weeks will quiet down till the new year and then hopefully it will open up afresh.

Sunday, November 09, 2008


I've spent quite some time over the last three days consoling friends and students over the election result. It was emphatic.

There is a good deal of consolation to be had for any person with left-wing sympathies with this result. This is a National party of the reddest blue since Muldoon (which was conservative rather than right-wing). Provided it sustains its centrist orientation, there isn't much difference between it and the previous administration policy-wise. Labour loyalists may be dismayed by the electorates that have been painted blue, but it is loyalty to a name or a brand.

There has been a fair bit of suspicion and invective directed towards our new Prime Minister. The suspicion would seem to be unjustified or perhaps just politically generated. John Key may be a millionaire, but not a doctrinaire. Helen Clark was an ideologue with effective political pragmatism; Key would seem to be a pragmatist without ideology. The predominant line against the result has been: 'The right wingers are what got us into this mess (i.e. the credit crisis); why did we go against the world trend and go right?'. Frankly, I'd prefer an out-and-out pragmatist in a crisis so in a way, I'm a little relieved.

Personally, this was one of the harder elections in which to choose my party vote. It has been the only election in which I could contemplate voting National. Aside from their law and order policy, I didn't find much to be offended by. Also, I would have voted for them to enhance the chance of a majority government (I voted for Labour in 2002 for that reason). With the Greens fairly assured of survival but with a high likelihood of only being in opposition, I didn't have much reason to vote for them. Instead I chose to vote Labour in memory of Noel.

For Labour, I'm glad that they have been moved into a peaceful revitalisation process. So often in our politics the losing leader has to be rolled to generate that change. With Clark and Cullen moving into the background, other leaders should can establish themselve with three years to prepare for 2011.

The conclusion of the United States' election was similarly emphatic; American voters showed 'they could' elect someone 'black' as their leader. More significantly, and this point cannot be ignored, the Democrats have continued their sweep of both houses gaining majorities. This will allow the Obama administration to be freer to pursue its goals.

So onward we go. We'll await their progress.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

History and theory

Two years ago, I received a tome, Ideas, for my birthday. Exceeding 1000 pages, it was heftier than most books I'd read; and it was read and appreciated in its comprehensiveness. Last year I bought Cultural Amnesia (by Clive James), upon hearing an interview with the author on the radio. (This seems to work with me; I bought my first John Gray after hearing him talk to Kim Hill.) Its main body consists of almost 900 pages and will be the bone for me to mentally chew upon until Christmas.

The book itself was a lifetime in the making, the eventual condensation of the notes in the margin that he has written during his time. The book on the surface is a collection of short biographies of persons from the last century; most of them were familiar to me prior to reading the book.

History really is a collection of biographies. When you read about any historical event though, it is often only described on a political level, or a macroscopic level, where individuals, apart from those at the heart of the affair, are not described. If I see the term Anschluss, I only know of it in those terms (i.e. Hitler wanted to create a large German-speaking Reich etc.). Several of the biographies so far have detailed German Jews in Europe prior to and after World War Two. Anschluss was a huge event changing the lives of the Jews who were part of the intellectual cafe culture of Vienna; Sigmund Freud was one of them; he escaped in time to die of cancer in London. It paints a picture of what Vienna was and the situation of the people before and after and how it changed things forever. Similarly, a Russian poet Anna Akhmatova lived in both Tsarist Russia and then into the Soviet times. What the Bolshevik revolution did to her life and career truly show the difference between the totalitarianism of a monarchy, and that of an ideology.

My general feeling so far: History is great painted with the lives of those that experience it.