Bags Of Fun

October 18, 2011

Just like at the Oscars, guests attending the Seattle Gay & Lesbian Film Festival get a goodie bag. The Oscars bags are famously lavish, containing things like diamond jewellery, human growth serum or Justin Timberlake. But what’s in a queer film festival show-bag? Let’s take a look, shall we?

Let’s start with the bag itself – it’s a red plasticy shopping bag with “xfinity” written on it. They’re one of the major sponsors of the festival, I think. I have no idea what xfinity do but from their name I would guess they either sell multidimensional travel or they make CGI alien porn in the style of Avatar. I can think of no other options.

A copy of the latest issue of Seattle Met, which warns of “The Return Of Ryan Leaf”, presumably a variant of Dutch Elm Disease.

“W Hotels Present Global Glam Fall 2011 Collection”. It’s a fashion guide that’s actually intended to promote a hotel, which seems a little confusing (mind you, I just went to a pizza party to celebrate an HIV documentary held in a car showroom, so what do I know?). Mostly it appears to be a spotter’s guide to mad women:

Yep, she’s totally crazy.

One 23 gram bag of popchips – “popped chip snack”, barbeque flavour (yes, spelt with a “q” in place of the “c” for some reason). Already eaten (by me, I mean. It wasn’t already eaten when I got it. Quite tasty).

One can of Zevia “all natural soda”, grape flavoured. Quite vile. But I suspect that “grape flavour” is just a cultural difference between our nations. After all, you can’t buy roast-quokka flavoured milkshakes here either, and at home they’re ubiquitous. The drink is apparently “sweetened with Stevia” which is not a phrase you want your mind to rest on for too long. I don’t even know who Stevia is.

Starbucks-related product. In Seattle this is inevitable – the bag also contains a wing flap from a Boeing 747-8F and a vial of Bill Gates’ tears.

The Damron Women’s Traveller guide (2011 edition). Curiously,when it comes to Australia only Sydney gets listed. It appears there are no lesbians in Melbourne. Sorry, ladies.

Marriott-branded luggage tags. They’re done up like a bag of lollies, so this could be a choking hazard for very stupid children with extremely wide mouths. IT COULD HAPPEN.

30ml bottle of bliss lemon + sage supershine shampoo with wheat proteins and anti-static actives, the shampoo that doesn’t believe in capital letters. Or making any sense. Again courtesy of W Hotels. This is either the stuff all the crazy women in the brochure use, or THE THING THAT DROVE THEM MAD IN THE FIRST PLACE. You be the judge!

A genuine sex toy! Bet they don’t get that at the Oscars! Well, they probably do, and it’s diamond encrusted and designed by Philippe Starck, or something. Anyway, this is provided by Babeland (“sex toys for a passionate world”) and it’s one of those Japanese “egg” things that Brenda talked about in the second season of Six Feet Under. Batteries not included (but there is a 10% off voucher for future purchases).

And while we’re talking about sex:

It’s a piggy key-ring to promote the Steamworks gay sauna. I’m not sure what “transparent green” means in the hanky code, but I’m guessing it’s “enjoys independent cinema”.

Not one but TWO pens celebrating both literacy and King FM 98.1, the classical music station formerly known as KACL, home to grumpy radio psychiatrists. That could be a lie.

Incidentally, this photo genuinely shows you how they achieved the “floating pen” effect in 2001: A Space Odyssey, only they used double-sided tape and it probably wasn’t a coffee table.

There were also a stack of vouchers offering discounts on meals and drinks, a gymnasium offer which promised something called “toesox” (previously thought wiped out in the middle ages) and an Orbitz-branded box that looked like a pack of cards which – surprisingly – actually turned out to be a pack of cards. And not a guide to hidden bars, or the best countries starting with “e”, or Seattle’s best meat lockers, or anything. It says something that people from Melbourne now expect anything that looks like a pack of cards to actually be an artfully-designed guide to hidden secrets and not – you know – cards.

And finally my favourite. From the good people at Bob Byers Volvo it’s this:

It’s blue plastic, translucent, with a spiky bit with a razor blade on one side, and on the other there’s a white brush. The slogan “your travelling companion for life” is printed on it, but that might be referring to a Volvo and not to the device. Hell, it might be referring to Bob Byers. Turn it over…

…and there’s a black switch that makes a smaller, black brush poke out the end. What the hell is it? Feeling it might be something exclusively American (a sharpener for fourth-of-July flags, perhaps, or a pop-tarts utensil) I asked my fabulous hosts. They both immediately recognised the sharp bits as a letter opener (fancy!) but the brushes remain a mystery.

If my bag was a Swiss Army Knife, this would be that tool that gets stones out of horses feet. And I cherish it, even though it bewilders me.

So thank you for the gifts, Seattle Gay & Lesbian Film Festival! Now I’m off to drink Bill Gates’ tears. And to buy some batteries.

John Richards is the co-creator of Outland, the bestest-gay-science-fiction-fan-comedy in the southern hemisphere. It plays the Seattle Gay & Lesbian Film festival on October 18th & 19th at Central Cinema, 1411 21st Avenue, Seattle. More details here. Remember to look at the insanity of the Where’s Outland? tumblr here.

Pop-Culture Melbourne

November 7, 2010

Yes, I’m aware that the updates here have been… um… sluggish. I’ve been writing a TV show! Leave me alone! Anyway, in September I gave a presentation about Melbourne and pop culture at Aussiecon 4, the 68th World Science Fiction Convention. Here is an edited transcript:

Melbourne is a city of culture. We have more cafes you can discuss arts funding in than any other Australian city, and many live music venues that are now pizzerias. We’re also home to Australia’s most exciting cultural institutions – ChamberMade Opera, Chunky Move, Circus Oz and Bert Newton.

But as well as all that “unpopular culture”, we also are a city that celebrates the popular stuff, being home to music, comedy, film, television and Bert Newton.

We’ll start with film, because Melbourne was home to potentially the world’s first feature film, The Story Of The Kelly Gang, which was filmed here in 1906. I say potentially because – like The Macra Terror – only about 10 minutes of it still exists and no one can agree on how long it was. It was filmed in bushland around the city, as well as in St Kilda, and it was made for 1 100 pounds, roughly double the average Australian film budget of today.

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Top 10 Tips For 2010 (The Year, Not The Film) According To 2010 (The Film, Not The Year)

January 25, 2010

Happy 2010 everyone! And welcome back to the rarely-updated Outland Institute. Well, wasn’t 2009 a big one? What with the Outland Institute radio show, the world not being destroyed by the Large Hadron Collider, and Peter Andre’s new single Behind Closed Doors, it was hard just to keep up.

So I thought I’d cheat a little for 2010 by watching the film first. This way I’ll be ready for all the hot new trends! Peter Hyams’ 2010 (billed on the poster as 2010: The Year We Make Contact, although not – oddly enough – in the film itself) was released in 1984, as was 1984 (the film, not the year. And not the David Bowie song either, which came out in 1974, a year before Space: 1999).

We’ll talk about the film in a moment, but first here’s our Top 10 Tips For 2010 (The Year, Not The Film) According To 2010 (The Film, Not The Year)!

  • The Soviet Union Is BACK, Baby!

With the 80s revival in full swing it’s a clever move for Russia to get the band back together and reform for the first time since 1991. And speaking of which…

  • The Cold War – It’s On, People!

Yes, they’ll be accused of rehashing their old hits but the new Soviet Union and the old United States will be bringing us to brink of nuclear annihilation again this year with that old classic, the naval blockade. Think navy blues and piped matelot pants!

  • Calculators Are So Hot Right Now!

Nervous that HAL may again go on a killing spree – possibly caused by Windows Vista – Roy Scheider sets up a kill switch cunningly hidden inside his pocket calculator. He’s done this so he can carry it around without raising suspicion, and since no-one says “bloody hell, Roy Scheider, I haven’t seen a pocket calculator in years” we can only assume they’re going to be back in a big way!

  • Dame Helen Mirren To Become A Cosmonaut!

A surprise move for the acclaimed British actor, who must be finding it difficult to fit in training around the seven feature films she has due for release this year (including a new version of Brighton Rock). At least she’ll easily be able to get around the immigration paperwork due to her Russian father, Ilyena Vasilievna Mironov, although there’s no word on whether she’ll be reverting to the original family name.

  • Wide-Screen Televisions Are SO 2009!

This year 4:3 cathode ray tubes are back in a big big way. Throw out those plasmas now!

  • This Year’s Top Pet? The Dolphin!

It’s unclear if this is just because in 2010 (the film, not the year) Roy Scheider’s wife is a marine biologist, but it seems that in 2010 (the year, not the film) you’ll finally be able to keep dolphins in your lounge room!

  • Roy Scheider Says Shorts Are IN!

Seriously, does that man bring his own shorts to each film? Does he refuse to go on unless he can get his legs out in at least one scene? Also, he’s going to need a bigger boat.

  • Pan Am Is Back In Business!

Like The Soviet Union, the American airline Pan Am went out of business in 1991, but according to 2010 (the film, not the year) it’ll be back this year. It’s offering flights into space with the advertising slogan “Where The Sky Is No Longer The Limit”.

  • Academic And Military Software To Embrace Retro 80s Stylings!

The rise of retro indie platform games like vvvvvv has even reached the military, with spacecraft and universities alike embracing faux Commodore 64 style graphics (incidentally, I believe the message after this one was “All your base are belong to us”). While we’re on computers…

  • Laptop Screens Will Get Tiny!

This year’s laptops will have tiny screens, but you will be able to easily use them on beaches. Or possibly this year’s iPods will be enormous, I’m not sure.

So there you go, the top ten trends for 2010 (the year, not the film) as predicted by 2010 (the film, not the year).

As for the film itself – as I sat watching it for the second time (the first being in a cinema in 1984 – the year, not the film) I found myself wondering “Is this the most pointless film ever made?”. The world was hardly crying out for a sequel to 2001: A Space Odyssey, and how could anyone follow up such a cinematic classic, a dreamlike meditation on man’s place in the universe? More to the point, why would they bother?

2010 (the film, not the year) is a straightforward cold war science fiction film with very little to offer. The characters are dull ciphers who spend most of their time doing little and the movie’s conclusion suggests events would have unfolded exactly the same way whether they were there or not. Without Stanley Kubrick’s bravura filmmaking we’re left with some nice modelwork but not much else.

So as I watched the film I pondered “is this film more pointless than Psycho 2?”. Yes. Psycho spawned the horror slasher film, a genre famous for its diminishing and endless sequels, so Psycho 2 simply completes the circle. It’s like break-up sex.

Then I thought “is 2010 – the film, not the year – more pointless than Gus Van Sant’s 1998 remake of Psycho?” Again, yes, as Gus Van Sant was at least conducting a cinematic experiment. That experiment was mostly “can I get Universal to give me 60 million dollars to do this?”, but at least it’s not dull.

Meanwhile, 2010 (the film, not the year) exists as a film so dependant on it’s predecessor that it makes no sense in isolation, yet so devoid of ideas or style that it removes itself from your memory even as you watch. Hopefully 2010 – the year – will be better than 2010 – the film.

I haven’t read the book.

John Richards is the co-creator of the upcoming ABC gay-science-fiction-fan-club-themed comedy Outland and a presenter on the Boxcutters podcast.

Want to buy your own copy of 2010 (the film, not the year)? Of course you do – has it on DVD and Blu-ray. Or pick up the superior 2001: A Space Odyssey on DVD, Blu-ray or as part of the impressive Stanley Kubrick : Special Edition 10 Disc Box Set.

Interview: Robb Reiner from Anvil

September 14, 2009


Australian cinema-goers have their chance this month to enjoy the glory of Anvil: The Story Of Anvil. This documentary follows veteran heavy metal band Anvil as they attempt to bring their sound to the masses. Glibly described as “a real life Spinal Tap”, Anvil: The Story Of Anvil is an exploration of the glory of music, and is full of heart. And hair. John talked to Robb Reiner (not that Rob Reiner), the drummer of Anvil, about fame, ambition and music.

You’re travelling the world, you’re supporting AC/DC, your albums are being re-released, all effectively on the back of a documentary about how you’re not successful. Is that ironic?

Well, it’s ironic that we have been successful in my point of view, the fact that we’ve recorded 13 albums and we’ve been touring for 30 years. But mainstream success is what’s now coming about. It’s a great thing, the movie shows the truth, it tells the story, people are engaging and it’s a great thing.

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List-mania: Observer Film Quarterly

September 11, 2009

On the radio show today, Glenn and I discussed the Observer Film Quarterly’s recent list of the top 25 British films from the last 25 years. Here is the list:

  • 1. Trainspotting (1996)
  • 2. Withnail and I (1987)
  • 3. Secrets & Lies (1996)
  • 4. Distant Voices, Still Lives (1988)
  • 5. My Beautiful Laundrette (1985)
  • 6. Nil By Mouth (1997)
  • 7. Sexy Beast (2000)
  • 8. Ratcatcher (1999)
  • 9. Slumdog Millionaire (2008)
  • 10. Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
  • 11. Touching the Void (2003)
  • 12. Hope and Glory (1987)
  • 13. Control (2007)
  • 14. Naked (1993)
  • 15. Under the Skin (1997)
  • 16. Hunger (2008)
  • 17. This Is England (2006)
  • 18. Shaun of the Dead (2004)
  • 19. Dead Man’s Shoes (2004)
  • 20. Red Road (2006)
  • 21. Riff-Raff (1991)
  • 22. Man On Wire (2008)
  • 23. My Summer of Love (2004)
  • 24. 24 Hour Party People (2002)
  • 25. The English Patient (1996)

Having done no actual research, we said the list felt a bit like it was thrown together by some people in the office, effectively “here are 25 films we can think of”.

Turns out that’s about right – according to The Observer “we asked more than 60 experts – directors, screenwriters, actors, critics – and a few smart “outsiders” (novelist Jonathan Coe, for instance; musician Nitin Sawhney) to name their top 10 British films since 1984″.

So there you go.

And The Winner Is… Lonely Hearts (1982)

July 13, 2009

Our Minister For Theme Tunes, David Ashton, is watching all the AFI Best Film winners – so you don’t have to. Let’s see what he’s up to today…


While Australia was experiencing one of its worst droughts, in 1982 the UK recorded it’s lowest ever temperature (-27.2C in Aberdeen.) Another cold place – the Falkland Islands – was invaded by Argentina, leading to war with Britain. With the IRA exploding bombs in London and the Queen off visiting Australia to open the National Gallery, Britain was in need of cheering up. So everyone was heartened when Aston Villa won the European Cup and they had a new TV channel to watch – Channel 4. One thing not televised (probably) was the first Rubik’s Cube World Championship, held in Budapest.

1982 was a good year for computers: not only did Scott Fahlman post the first emoticons, but Time Magazine named “The Computer” Man of the Year.

Possibly the editors of Time had all been to see Tron that year. Science Fiction was definitely still big in 1982 with films as diverse as John Carpenter’s The Thing, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, and Steven Spielberg’s monster hit E.T. Meanwhile a new popular genre was emerging – the raunchy teen comedy. John HughesFast Times at Ridgemont High has since gone on to be a cult favourite, while Porky’s hasn’t.

If you weren’t a teenager or fan of science fiction in 1982 you may have gone to see the drag comedy Tootsie; the romance An Officer and a Gentleman; the musicals Annie or Pink Floyd: The Wall; or the spooky thrills of Poltergeist. Those with more political tastes may have preferred the Oscar-winning Ghandi, or Costa GarvisMissing, which took the Cannes Palme D’Or this year.

Meanwhile, Australia was experiencing a rare period of commercial success for local films. The biggest hits were The Man From Snowy River (directed by The Other George Miller) and The Year of Living Dangerously (Peter Weir). Australian films were also reflecting the same mix of genres as the international scene. There were the musicals Starstruck (Gillian Armstrong) and The Pirate Movie (Ken Annakin), romance in Far East (John Duigan’s remake of Casablanca), science fiction/horror got a gurnsey with the notorious Turkey Shoot (Brian Trenchard-Smith) and there was ribald comedy in The Clinic (David Stevens). We Of The Never Never (Igor Auzins) represented the post-Hanging Rock historical arthouse picture.

Perhaps perversely, this year the Australian Film Institute decided to give the Best Film award this year to a modest low-budget romantic comedy drama

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When I Grow Up, I Want To Be Maxime de la Falaise

May 7, 2009


Maxime de la Falaise is dead.

You may not have absorbed the full impact of that yet. When I read on Tuesday that Maxime de la Falaise had died, I felt empty – after all, I’d never heard of her, so it didn’t have much of an emotional punch. But as I sat in the cafe, sipping my latte and reading her obituary in The Age, I was deeply saddened. Partly because the world is a less interesting place without her – partly because I will never have the chance to meet her – and mostly because I will never get to be her.

And it really is a most arresting obituary. A real-life mix of Holly Golightly and Forest Gump, Maxime de la Falaise connects a startling number of people and places that should never appear in the same sentence. To give you an idea, this is taken from a paragraph near the end: “When her second husband died in 1975, de la Falaise briefly dated John Paul Getty III, whose ear had been cut off by kidnappers in 1973.”

Let’s look at that again, shall we? She “dated John Paul Getty III, whose ear had been cut off by kidnappers in 1973“. I’m fairly certain that should I ever have a fling with a monaural heir to an oil-fortune, on my death the newspapers will say “One-Eared Millionaire’s Bit Of Crumpet Dies – Seriously, It Was Cut Off By Kidnappers“. But de la Falaise‘s life is so interesting that a mutilated billionaire barely makes it as a footnote.

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And The Winner Is… Gallipoli (1981)

April 21, 2009

A long time ago – in a galaxy far, far away –  David Ashton was watching all of the AFI Best Film winners in order… so you don’t have to. Today he visits a mythic time we call “1981”…


1981 began on a Thursday and was to go on to feature over fifty further Thursdays spaced evenly throughout the year. It was the year that the Yorkshire Ripper was caught and a year that saw endless mugs and tea towels commemorationg the royal coupling of Charles and Diana, who I believe went on to live happily ever after. The pop charts were dominated by Kim Carnes’ Bette Davis Eyes, Soft Cell’s Tainted Love and the timeless Stars on 45.

Meanwhile the movieworld’s obsession with science fiction had shuffled slightly sideways to fantasy; Clash of the Titans, Dragonslayer, Excalibur and Time Bandits were all released in 1981, with only Outland (no, not that one) flying the flag for SF. Other significant films of this year were comedies Arthur and The Cannonball Run; Wolfgang Petterson’s claustrophobic submarine drama Das Boot; Sam Rami’s low-budget marvel The Evil Dead; a post-modern adaptation of John Fowles’ post-modern novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman; the morality play Mephisto; the sentimental On Golden Pond and the blockbuster team-up of Lucas and Spielberg for Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Also a surprising number of werewolf movies; The Howling, Wolfen and An American Werewolf in London all came out this year. The Cannes Film Festival awarded the Palme D’Or to the politically-charged Polish film Man of Iron; in the US the Academy was handing its top award to a period story about rival athletes accompanied by a synthesizer score, Chariots of Fire.

In Australia, Bruce Beresford was documenting Australian surfie life with Puberty Blues – a surprisingly rare Aussie film about beach culture – and Richard Franklin directed Roadgames, a sort of Rear Window-on-wheels starring American actors Stacy Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis. Perhaps the most significant Australian film released this year though was Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. Few films can be attributed with creating their own genre but MM2, with its mix of post-apocalyptic dystopia, punk fashion and gory car stunts has been endlessly copied, usually by inferior films.

The Australian Film Institute has little interest in such Ozploitative genre fare, of course, and had its eyes on a period story about rival athletes accompanied by a synthesizer scoreRead the rest of this entry »

And The Winner Is… Breaker Morant (1980)

December 12, 2008

David Ashton is watching all the AFI Best Film winners – so you don’t have to…


1980, the dawn of a new decade. The Moscow Olympics are held (the USA didn’t go, Australia did). Voyager I visits Saturn (why wasn’t I invited?). The world loses John Lennon, but gains Iron Maiden. Cultural icon Pacman is unleashed onto a world of hungry ghosts. Lindy Chamberlain utters the immortal words “a dingo’s got my baby!” – there’s probably a film in that. Ronald Reagan becomes President of USA. In Australia, the state of Victoria decriminalises homosexual acts between consenting adults, and in Pakistan the Urdu typewriter keyboard layout based on Naskh script is standardised.

In the world of movies audiences were treated to a cornucopia of movies which went on to cult fame: Elephant Man, Raging Bull, The Shining, The Long Good Friday, Airplane! (aka Flying High), The Blue Lagoon, Xanadu, Flash Gordon, The Empire Strikes Back, The Blues Brothers and Altered States, to name a few. The Oscar for best film in 1980 went to the rather more mundane Ordinary People. The Cannes Film Festival were perhaps a little more adventurous that year with their top prize being shared by Bob Fosee’s All That Jazz and Kurasowa’a Kagemusha.


In Australia there was a typically (for this time) diverse set of films released. We had nuclear meltdowns in The Chain Reaction (dir: Ian Barry); behind-the-scenes sports shenanigans in The Club (directed by Bruce Beresford, based on David Williamson’s play); foreign stars in films cheaply made for the international market such as Harlequin (dir: Simon Wincer); and the prison drama Stir (dir: Stephen Wallace). Stir – based on a true story and starring Bryan Brown – is one of the earliest (the first?) of the tough prison dramas that Australia seems to make so well. Other examples include Ghosts… of the Civil Dead (1988), Everynight Everynight (1994) and parts of Chopper (2000). Stir should not be confused with Stir Crazy, a US film released the same year starring Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. It really shouldn’t.

Meanwhile another film starring Bryan Brown based on true events was sweeping the pool at the Australian Film Institute Awards. The winner of ten AFIs, including best film was…

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And The Winner Is… My Brilliant Career (1979)

December 1, 2008

David Ashton is watching all the AFI Best Film winners – so you don’t have to.


1979 was the International Year of The Child so for twelve months children were allowed to vote, join the army and drink in pubs. To celebrate this, the Music for UNICEF concert was held, which featured the Bee Gees, ABBA, Donna Summer, Earth Wind and Fire and Rod Stewart. And people think Live Aid was a big deal! 1979 was also the year that Skylab fell out of space and onto West Australia.

Meanwhile in the world of movies the success of Star Wars was being followed by a slew of futuristic hopefuls, the best of which was probably Ridley Scott’s Alien. Others included Disney’s The Black Hole and Robert Wise’s Star Trek The Motion Picture. Another TV series spin-off was the timeless Muppet Movie. Also released this year were Volker Schlöndorff’s film of Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum, Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz, HairThe Jerk, Moonraker, The China Syndrome, Escape From Alcatraz, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Quadrophenia and Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam war epic Apocalypse Now. But the Best Picture Oscar that year went to divorce drama Kramer Vs Kramer, which – amazingly enough – was also that year’s highest-grossing film. Cannes were perhaps a bit more on the ball, with The Tin Drum and Apocalypse Now sharing their top prize.


The Vietnam War was also on the mind of Australians – the controversial war drama The Odd Angry Shot (dir: Tom Jeffrey) was released that year. Max Gillies and Bruce Spence starred in John Duigan’s adaptation of the Jack Hibberd play Dimboola, while a young up-and-comer named Mel Gibson starred in two feature films – the unconventional romance Tim (Directed by Michael Pate, adapted from a Colleen McCullough novel) and the seminal Mad Max. George Miller pulled off quite a coup with Mad Max, making a taut, action-packed (and extremely violent) film with very little money, which went on to be a huge financial success world-wide. Mad Max and its sequels were arguably the peak of the ‘Ozploitation’ cycle. But while Mad Max won the Australian Film Institute awards for editing, sound and music, and Mel Gibson was given a nod for his performance in Tim , the Best Film award (also cinematography, design, costume, director and adapted script) went to…

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