John’s MIFF blog – Three Chords And The Truth

July 31, 2008

Continuing my apparent inability to watch anything that isn’t an arts documentary, I saw a couple of music documentaries last night.

The second of these was Rock N Roll Nerd, which follows the career of musical comedian Tim Minchin. It was a well made documentary, with two very strong points in its favour. First, director Rhian Skirving is obviously a friend of Tin Minchin and his wife Sarah, so they’re remarkably candid on camera. Secondly, exceptional timing means that Skirving can follow Minchin‘s career from its very beginning, even shooting his first Edward Scissorhands haircut. Minchin‘s determination is clear from the start, and it’s interesting to watch him develop his act and persona as the film goes on (even changing his entire look to create a stage presence he thinks will be more sellable). Possibly slightly longer than it needs to be, it’s a solid piece of work.

The first was I Think We’re Alone Now, a film that follows two fans/stalkers of former pop sensation Tiffany. You might not remember Tiffany – her biggest hit was in 1987. And so was her other hit. But 20 years later she’s still being followed/stalked by obsessive fans, and this documentary follows two of them. Sean Donnelly‘s film is rough-hewn video, with no attempt to pretty things up. The credits are handwritten, and it’s not even widescreen. It’s all very unglamourous, which suits the subject perfectly.

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Better Latte Than Never

July 30, 2008

As you may know, The Outland Institute is a celebration of culture in all its forms. And that includes… coffee shops… oh look, I don’t have to justify myself.

Picking up The Age this morning, I was annoyed to see a giant Starbucks cup emblazoned on the top right-hand corner of the front page. “Oh great,” I thought – somewhat sarcastically – “Now The Age is doing Starbucks promotions, no better than the Herald Sun, young people today, benches in the city, it’s not real music and so on”. A closer look, however, revealed the logo was there for a far more exciting reason – Starbucks is closing two thirds of its stores in Australia, reducing its presence to a mere 23 locations.

Obviously I feel sorry for the staff, who will undoubtedly be frakked over in the proud tradition of Australian industry. But the steady demise of Starbucks can only be a good sign in the ever-vigilant battle against the forces of cultural hegemony. (You got that memo, yeah?)

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John’s MIFF bloggette – Glitches in the Matrix

July 29, 2008

A frustrating evening at the Melbourne International Film Festival on Monday as a strange confluence of wrongness occurs.

After all the delays, trailers, introductions, and big-ups to my homies, Dead On: The Life And Cinema Of George A. Romero hit what must be a new MIFF record, starting a full 45 minutes after the advertised time. Festival-goers planning to attend a nine o’clock screening had to choose whether to leave halfway through this film or arrive halfway through the next. It might have helped if they hadn’t decided to include an unlisted short film by Romero‘s daughter, Tina. Her short was hardly the worst thing ever, but it looked like the second-year film it is, and the audience response could best be described as “polite”. Surely if the film is both a) running late and b) longer than you have programmed for, adding short films is not the answer. (The film itself I would describe as “Brighton Grammar girls do Battleship Potemkin as a rock eisteddfod.” Do Americans have rock eisteddfods?). The documentary itself looked good, and I hope one day to see the end of it.

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The George A. Romero Title Game… Of The Dead

July 29, 2008

As part of our ongoing tribute to horrormeister George A. Romero, here’s a game for you to play at home.

Choose any film title and try adding “Of The Dead” to see if you can turn it into an appealing zombie flick. Not every combination works, but some are box office gold.

I tried going through the top 50 of IMDB’s Top 250 and was taken with these, any of which I would happily fork over my money for:

The Godfather Of The Dead
12 Angry Men Of The Dead
Rear Window Of The Dead
Memento Of The Dead
Taxi Driver Of The Dead
To Kill A Mockingbird Of The Dead
It’s A Wonderful Life Of The Dead

That last one’s my favourite – it sounds heart-warming. “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets his face chewed off by re-animated corpses.” Stars Jimmy Stewart.

Feel free to leave more titles in the comments below.

Finally, the statisticians at WordPress show me the Institute’s attendances went through the roof yesterday, so hello to all our new visitors! Tracey in the Outland Institute Gift Shop was totally exhausted by the end of the day, and needed a nice Kingston and a sit-down. (Also, we’re totally out of Wong Kar-Wai slippers, so please don’t ask.)

John’s MIFF blog – George A. Romero LIVE! (of the dead)

July 28, 2008

If you’re me – and I am – one of the most exciting things in this year’s Melbourne International Film Festival is the mini-retrospective of horror legend George A Romero. The icing on the cake? Last night’s live interview with Romero himself, which took place at the MIFF Festival Club.

For those who haven’t been to The Forum, it’s like the last-days-of-the-Roman-Empire meets Studio 54 in a crazed fever dream of Zazoom, the donkey from Hanna Barbera’s Arabian Knights series. “Size of a late-1920s picture palace!”. It was too weird even for the Christian Revivalists, who owned it for a decade until 1995. It’s been part of the Marriner Theatre group for the last few years, as well as the central base of the film festival.

The Forum was long ago subdivided from it’s original three thousand seat configuration – the old dress circle is now a cosy 500 seat cinema, and the remodelled stalls section is mostly used for concerts. During MIFF this section becomes the Festival Club.

I had expected more of a beardy horror audience, so was both surprised and pleased to see such a mixed crowd. You could have been expecting an appearance from Krzysztof Kieslowski, rather than a man who has made four films with “of the dead” in the title (and one “of the living dead”).

When Romero discretely appeared at the side of the auditorium, awaiting his cue, the audience started applauding, loudly and warmly. By the time he actually reached the stage, it was clear that introductions were completely superfluous.

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Words and Don Music

July 26, 2008

I wrote about RRR the other day and mentioned Sesame Street’s Don Music.

Here’s a clip of him in action. Look out for Ken Russell‘s upcoming feature based on Don’s life.

John’s MIFF blog – House Of Blurbs

July 25, 2008

One of the thrills of the Melbourne International Film Festival is Program Day. You wake up so early, just as the sun is starting to peek into the window. On tippy-toe you creep down the stairs, clad in your pyjamas and Wong Kar-Wai slippers, to find that special package under the Festival Tree. You undo the ribbon, gently unwrap the layers of gaily-coloured tissue paper, and finally – there it is. The Festival Program. Now the circling can begin…

Film, fringe and comedy festivals all follow much the same template when it comes to their programs. Only a single photo and a short blurb help you to decide what’s Hot, and what’s Book Of Revelation. For MIFF there’s roughly 150 words in a standard description. A generic blurb looks something like this:


“Fulsome but uselessly vague praise!’ – International Newspaper

Character X, a (vending machine repairman/factory worker/university lecturer) in (Taipei/Seattle/Bucharest) is drawn into a web of despair in this new film from Director Y. Like (an unwieldy and confusing metaphorical reference, possibly involving World War I or Iraq), FILM TITLE is a (harrowing/hauntingly beautiful) insight into (the pain of a middle-class couple in crisis/child prostitution/zombies). An exceptional work, FILM TITLE further explores the themes of Director Y‘s FILM YOU DIDN’T SEE (MIFF 2005).

D/S Director Y S Grace Park, Julianne Moore L Esperanto w/English subtitles 35m/2007/193 mins

And honestly, that’s often enough to give you an idea whether you want to see it or not. You may just need to know the director, the subject matter or the genre to make your mind up. But sometimes it’s too vague, especially if the film is extremely complex or falls between categories. Sometimes the descriptions themselves cause confusion, leading the audience to believe the film is something that it’s not (the blurb for 2006’s Flanders led many to expect a World War I drama, rather than the modern-day piece it actually was).

As with most things in life, the internet has changed things for the better. Oh internet, is there anything you can’t do?

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John’s MIFF blog – Johnny Racist

July 24, 2008

I was looking at the Melbourne International Film Festival program online and I saw this photo from Michael Kang’s gangland thriller West 32nd. It’s different from the one in the physical program, more dramatic I think.

My first thought was, “Wow, that woman looks exactly like Grace Park from Battlestar Galactica.”

My second thought was, “You racist pig! All Asian women look the same, do they? An actor in a Korean/New York crime drama must be the same person as the one in a Canadian-shot science fiction series because there’s obviously only one female Asian actor in the whole world. Surely if it was Grace Park her name would appear somewhere in the blurb, or in the information in the footer? Hang your head in shame, Johnny Racist!”

Then I read on IMDB that Grace Park is in West 32nd.

So what have we learned?

1. White middle-class guilt can be extremely potent, and

2. MIFF obviously isn’t expecting much of a Korean arthouse/Battlestar Galactica crossover audience.

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John’s MIFF blog – The Man Behind The Curtain

July 24, 2008

One of the things that always impresses me about Melbourne’s festivals is the speed in which they set up shop.

A cinema or theatre will have a permanent box office, with printers and computers, landline phones with assigned numbers, trained staff and tested systems. They’ll have had months, even years, of trials and testing to get it all right.

The public face of the film festival.

Festivals like the Melbourne International Film Festival, or Comedy, or Fringe, have to start from scratch every year. They bring in all the equipment, the staff, the phone lines, the desks and chairs, with only a few weeks to get it all going. The hope is that the public see a confident, unified organisation while out the back everything is held together with gaffer tape and no-one can work out why the computers are trying to kill people. Out front, the grandeur of the Forum Theatre – out back you can’t plug the kettle and the toasted sandwich maker in at the same time or you’ll blow half the fuses in the theatre (and once again, I said I’m sorry. I just wanted a cup of tea. OK?)

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Feelin’ Feisty

July 23, 2008

Last night, I couldn’t get to sleep at all. No. No. No. I lay awake, unable to get a single moment of peace. One question kept running through my head, over and over again… And that question was, “What would it look like if Canadian alterno-pop sensation Feist appeared on Sesame Street?”

Then today I saw this:

Now I like Feist, I like this song, and I like muppets. So all this is good. But I’m particularly pleased to think every time something like this happens, a truck pulls up to the house of New Buffalo’s Sally Seltmann and dumps more money all over her lawn. Good for her.

While we’re on indie-muppet stylings, let’s also have a look at R.E.M. performing their big hit, “Furry Happy Monsters”.

Come on, monsters! You don’t have to cry! We can be happy!