Moving Pictures

March 10, 2011

I helped dismantle Channel 9 today. Not in a “death to the capitalist media overlords” way – sadly – but with a screwdriver.

Yes, the Bendigo Street studios of GTV9 are closing and everything must go! The building was originally a piano factory, then a cannery, but from 1957 it’s been Television City. The glamour of Graham Kennedy, Don Lane and Sale Of The Century clings to the walls like a poorly-cleaned toilet. Some say Bert Newton haunts these corridors and he’s not even dead.

But Channel 9 is moving to Docklands, so they’re having the world’s biggest car boot sale. They’ve auctioned their equipment online and when a friend went to pick up a Umatic tape machine I said I’d go along. In my head this would involve visiting Richmond, selecting a carefully-marked box, and going home for biscuits.  How wrong I was.

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Something Funny Down Under

March 2, 2011

John Richards explores the very 1970s phenomenon of English sitcoms decamping to Australia. Contains double-entende and cat jokes.

As you’re probably aware, English comedian Ben Elton recently had a high-profile variety show crash and burn on Channel 9. While I do feel people may have taken a little too much glee in its downfall, it’s true Elton made it hard for people to sympathise with him. With his endless tirades about the young people – with their interwebs and the twitter and the hopping and the bopping – he mostly came across as a 24-hour audition for Grumpy Old Men.

And the show itself was fairly dire – horrendously unfunny pieces like Fat Chef competed with the seemingly endless Girl Flat sketches to see which could reach the antithesis of comedy first. It was almost like a mathematical exercise. But as a friend remarked, it would be awful if this show ended up clouding people’s appreciation of Elton‘s bona fide achievements, as a co-writer of The Young Ones and the notably better series of Blackadder.

Elton has always had a love of Australia (and Australians, or at least one of them) and word was that he had moved to Western Australia and was making this show as “a local”. But I’ll admit that when I first heard of Live From Planet Earth I wondered if this was a return to the days where we would seemingly let any famous person with an English accent have a TV show simply because they were from “over there”. I’m talking, of course, of the 1970s, when Australian television was awash with English shows in Antipodean clothing.

To be clear, I’m not talking about what we now know as “format rights”, in which a new show is based on the template for another (so The Kumars At Number 42 becomes Greeks On The Roof, for example). And I’m not talking a Very Special Episode in which the cast travel Down Under for a one-off adventure with as many koalas as the budget can manage (such as The Love Boat‘s 1981 feature-length special, “Julie’s Wedding”).

No, these are shows which directly continued the British original, in which the lead character has spontaneously moved to Sydney or Melbourne. It’s effectively the inverse of Neighbours characters moving to Queensland.

Let’s have a look at a few examples, shall we?

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The Cauliflower Of Morbius

February 26, 2011

So, I was tidying around the website – polishing the fonts, putting doilies on the html code, that sort of thing – and I found this image in the comments that you may have missed the first time around. Either enjoy the sheer inconguity of it, or if you’d like to know why this exists read our review of The Doctor Who Cookbook and the follow-up article.

No, you’re welcome.

Thank you to David AA for his photshopping expertise, and why not buy a copy of The Brain Of Morbius from Part proceeds go toward buying John coffee. Or buy the Doctor Who double pack of Kinda and Snakedance just because they’re both grouse and have giant snakes in them.

Want To Be In Outland?

November 10, 2010

Outland is a new comedy series for broadcast on the ABC in 2011 and already being called “the best gay and lesbian science fiction fan club themed comedy series ever.” By us. Just then. And you can be part of it!

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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.

The Naked Truth: A Night Out With Porn Stars

December 6, 2009

This piece originally went to air in episode 22 of The Outland Institute. You can hear it with added interview material and sound effects by downloading it from here, or why not go crazy and subscribe through iTunes?

Over the years, AIDS educators have tried many ways to get their message across. They’ve used fear, erotic photography, celebrity spokesmodels, real people’s stories, and even bowling. For the last year or so the Victorian AIDS Council has been using porn stars to inform and educate. Marco Blaze and Francesco D’Macho have already visited – probably not their real names – and last week Bruno Bond and Steve Cruz came to Melbourne. They were here to promote the VAC’s 2010 Protection calendar.

In the past, visiting pornistas have been used mostly for media promotion, and for live interview appearances. This time round there was something new. In what was possibly a world first, Cruz and Bond were to perform a live commentary on their porn in a gay sex club in Collingwood. It was an intriguing blend of private and public, combining the old world of the public gathering with the new world of the DVD extra. By extending the on-screen action into the audience it was oddly reminiscent of William Castle’s 1959 classic The Tingler, in which some of the seats in the cinema were hooked up to an electric current.

Incidentally, are all porn performers automatically “stars”? Is there such a thing as a porn “character actor”? Is anyone the William H Macy of porn?

So at 1am on Saturday the 28th of November I made my way to Club 80, for what promised to be a very special night. And let’s be upfront about this – partly I was genuinely interested in the idea of exploring the different ways in which audiences enjoy visual works, and partly I was hoping it would be hilarious so I could mock it on The Outland Institute radio show, like the angsty sarcastic self-loathing Gen X type that I am…

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Narrelle M Harris: Happy Kwanzaa, Everybody!

November 28, 2009

On this week’s show Narrelle recommended some book-buying for Christmas (unlike the book-burning she recommended last year. Lordy, did that get out of hand).

Here’s your cut-out-and-keep guide of what she said.

Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote.

Vampire Fiction:
Dracula by Bram Stoker, Let the Right One In by John Lindqvist (or – I humbly submit – The Opposite of Life by Narrelle M Harris).

Snake Agent by Liz Williams. Or anything at all by Neil Gaiman (perhaps American Gods).

Redback or Blood Guilt by Lindy Cameron (Blood Guilt has lesbian protagonists too, so bonus).

Graphic Novels:
The Umbrella Academy by Gerard Way. Or find a collection of The Sandman stories by Neil Gaiman. Or something cool by Alan Moore (Promethea, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, From Hell).

Young Adult:
Mary Borsellino’s The Wolf House e-books! Vampires! Teenagers! Queer sensibilities! Did I mention vampires?
Justine Larbalestier is also cool, with sharp ideas, great writing and excellent characters.

Madame Brussels: This Moral Pandemonium (by LB Robinson) or one of the other Arcade Publications books on Melbourne’s history.

General suggestions:

Visit Twelfth Planet Press and try them out; visit an independent bookseller and support them – places like Readers’ Feast, Readings, Hares and Hyenas and Of Science and Swords – and you can’t go wrong with the Outland Institute’s favourite Look Who’s Morphing by Tom Cho, though I don’t know what category to put that under.

And if you know any writers, perhaps the first season of Castle! But probably not Misery unless you really hate the writer in question.

And To Serve Man is a cookbook! Oh, whoops – spoiler.

Hauntingly Beautiful = Ukulele

October 28, 2009

On the radio show this week I mentioned this YouTube video, in which the life of former Doctor Who producer/writer/director Barry Letts was commemorated through the medium of ukulele.

I am GENUINELY not being sarcastic when I say I found this quite touching, and I hope that when I leave this mortal coil someone will sing my obituary in an online ukulele tribute. Probably without references to Moonbase 3, though.

(My only reservation is that a huge string section should swell up in the middle of the song, while the camera spins around and around and around – but that’s my main criticism of real life, too).

So thank you, Will Howells, for taking the time to strum through the tears, and thank you, Barry Letts, for making my childhood more magical. You will be missed.

Podcast Crazy!!!

October 25, 2009


As you probably know, The Outland Institute is not my only podcast. Oh no. I pod around. And this week the Boxcutters podcast celebrated it’s 200th show – to put that in perspective, in dog years we’d be dead by now. Our guest was Myf Warhurst, meaning I’ve now interviewed two-thirds of the Spicks & Specks team (and Adam Hills did once hold a door open for me, which is much the same thing). You can hear Boxcutters by going here, and remember you can download The Outland Institute podcasts here. Curiously, the TV Tonight website ran an article about Boxcutters‘ achievement calling us “a guilty pleasure”, which surprised me. I think of guilty pleasures as “eating a whole packet of Deb instant potato” or “jerking off in a supermarket carpark“. I would have considered Boxcutters to be simply “a pleasure“. Or even “a delight“.

Anyway, reaching this milestone made me think – what are these podcast things, anyway? So I decided to find out what the crazy kids were doing by actually listening to some of them. They’re surprisingly good – I had no idea. Here are some I’ve been enjoying lately (click on the titles to go to their websites)…

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