Wednesday, December 28, 2005

King Kong - Peter Jackson Does It Again

On Boxing Day I took the family to see King Kong. It was an absolute roller-coaster ride of an action movie and a worthy follow up to the Rings trilogy for our little Kiwi friend (thank God for the Peter Jacksons of this world.) Okay the dinos didn't break any new ground visually (there really hasn't been any advances on that score since Jurassic Park) but the way the scenes with them were shot - the editing, for example in the stampede scene and in the 10 minute triple-Rex brawl, was really first rate. The way Ann Darrow (Naomi Watts) was shot (cinematically that is) while she was being carried through the jungle in Kong's grip at a blistering pace really reproduced what such a ride would be like for a real person, not just for a barbie doll kind of prop. I found the exposition in the first half hour to drag a bit, but still it certainly had interesting elements. But once they hit Skull Island (what a great landing scene!) it was eye-popping action all the way. (But hey what happened to that great scene in the trailer where they're filming on the beach, Ann screams and Kong roars back in reply? It didn't seem to make it into the final cut - I guess it'll be on the [extended cut?] DVD).

The way the crew had to deal with one nasty creature after another without much of a letup at all was great and actually quite reminiscent of the original which had very similar pacing. The bug creatures were the most interesting (and gruesome) new element but I think I would have preferred pterodactyls to giant bats in the rescue of Ann scene. I loved all the references to the original. When they're looking for a female lead they complain because "Fay" (presumably Wray) is unavailable because she's "doing a picture with RKO." When they're still on the ship and doing some screen tests Ann and her male lead recite exactly the lines actually spoken in the original (corny overacting and all). When they're in New York the natives in the stage show are wearing the same costumes and makeup as the natives on the beach in the original.

The impression given by the trailer that Jackson was going to follow the original VERY closely was misleading because there are enough original touches to make it a departure in a lot of ways, while still being an obvious homage (some of the dialogue was word-for-word from the original - which I thought was cool to watch for eg, "It wasn't the planes but beauty killed the beast.") Giving more dimension to the captain and crew members of the tramp steamer was good and made their deaths (for example the black guy who had befriended the young thief) more involving. Turning Jack Driscoll (Adrian Brody) into a playwrite and developing the romantic element more was a good move. Casting Jack Black as Carl Denham was a stroke of genius because he is perfect in the role - a scoundrel but a likeable one.

The most talked about development from the original is the way the relationship between Ann and Kong is more developed and I think this is handled well. It isn't sexual (eeeew!) or even romantic, but more platonic. The moment after the battle with the T. Rexes when she realises she is safer with Kong than without him is great. She sympathises with this magnificent creature (after all he's just defending his turf). He's the last of his kind (you'll notice a few gorilla skulls in Kong's lair, indicating that there were once other Kongs [he had to have come from somewhere] but that these had all died and he was the last of his tribe). Some have said the original had a sub-text of the white man's fear of the savage black man violating the purity of white women. Whatever may be said of that thesis, that's definitely not what's going on here. This is more about how there can be profound relationships between different species (any pet owner knows this) and also about how human beings either act in fear toward other animals or in entirely exploitative ways. (If we can't make a buck out of this creature we'll kill the thing and have done with it.) There's some interesting animal rights and animal theology reflections here. If anyone has a soul, Kong does. He admires the beauty of a sunset, he understands and communicates the concept of "beautiful." He is capable of a deep relational attachment and of jealousy. We all feel sorry for Kong when he meets his final demise, so far from his ancestral home, exiled in the concrete jungle of New York. We want a better kind of world where all of God's creatures can live together in harmony. In the new heavens and the new earth the lion will lie down with the lamb, the little child will play by the hole of the cobra and the silverback gorilla will cavort with his human friends in a habitat shared by all. Until then creation, human and non-human, continues to groan for deliverance.

Friday, December 23, 2005

The Word Became Flesh

In many ways the Gospel text for Christmas Day (John 1:1-14) is a very heavenly and spiritual text. It may be hard to relate to on Christmas Day when we have the more earthly images of mangers and donkeys and shepherds, and mothers and new born babies in mind. Instead here we have the cosmic Word who was in the beginning with God and through whom all things are made. We have the One who was the life and the light of the world. We have the glory of the One and Only – the “only begotten” to use the older language - who came from the Father full of grace and truth. There is none of the historical concreteness that we find in Luke and Matthew with their record of governors and procurators, and a census, and a pregnant teenager bride, and a worried husband, and a journey, and a star, and inns with no rooms. Instead, John begins “in the beginning” – not just in the beginning of his story, but in the very beginning – before time began – in eternity. And yet this is the very point of Christmas – that the eternal has touched the temporal – that the heavenly and the earthly have been joined – that God has been contracted to fit into a cradle. What we need is eyes to see that the extraordinary is to be found in the ordinary.

U. A. Fanthorpe, the first woman ever to be nominated as Professor of Poetry at Oxford University, penned the following poem, called “B.C:A.D.”

This was the moment when Before
Turned into After, and the future's
Uninvented timekeepers presented arms.

This was the moment when nothing
Happened. Only dull peace
Sprawled boringly over the earth.

This was the moment when even energetic Romans
Could find nothing better to do
Than counting heads in remote provinces.

And this was the moment
When a few farm workers and three
Members of an obscure Persian sect
Walked haphazard by starlight straight
Into the kingdom of heaven.

Some people have criticised the City of Melbourne’s nativity photographs this year. The Melbourne City Council has set up a manger scene and you can have members of your family photographed as Joseph and Mary, or a shepherd or a wise man, or even the baby Jesus. It’s a kind of religious alternative, I guess, to having your photo taken with Santa Claus. Some people don’t like this because it seems to them to be a little tacky, or even sacrilegious. But I think there is something wonderful in people wanting to be identified with the Holy Family. Maybe some people shudder at the “kind” of people who might impersonate these saints and shepherds and wise men – shouldn’t they be particularly holy folks before they don the biblical robes of the nativity? I can only say “Bah Humbug!” to that. The baby Jesus did not grow up to be the kind of person who would only associate with “quality people” (whatever they are). He was the friend of sinners who touched the lives of ordinary people and made them extraordinary. Maybe some of these will end up, like the three visitors from the East, walking “haphazard by starlight straight into the kingdom of heaven.”

The following prayer from the Church of Scotland illustrates this well:

Today O God
the soles of your feet
have touched the earth.
the back street, the forgotten place
have been lit up with significance.
the households of earth
welcome the King of heaven.
For you are one of us.
So may our songs rise to surround your throne
as our knees bend to salute your cradle.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Baptisms at Balwyn

Brothers, Simon (left) and Daniel Gor (below) were baptised on Thursday 8 December at Balwyn Wesleyan Methodist Church. They are the sons of the late Rev. Dr. Andrew Gor, and Helen Gor, former OMS missionaries to Hungary. It was a privilege to officiate at the service. Part of the liturgy read as follows: "Eternal Father, when nothing existed but chaos you swept over the dark waters and brought forth light. In the days of Noah you saved those on the ark through water. You brought your people out of bondage in Egypt through the sea and across the waters of Jordan into the land you promised them. In the fullness of time you sent your Son, nurtured in the water of a womb. He was baptized by John and anointed by your Spirit. He called his disciples to share in the baptism of his death and resurrection and to make disciples of all nations. Pour out your Holy Spirit to bless this gift of water and those who receive it. Grant that they may know the forgiveness of sins and that greater baptism of the sanctifying Spirit which will cleanse them from all sin and fill their hearts with love for God and neighbour." After being immersed the following words were spoken over them: "Simon [Daniel] I sign you with the cross, the sign of Christ. Do not be ashamed to confess the faith of Christ crucified. Be strengthened by the Holy Spirit to fight valiantly under the banner of Christ against sin, the world, and the devil, and continue his faithful soldier and servant to the end of your life. May Almighty God deliver you from the powers of darkness, and lead you in the light and obedience of Christ. Amen."

We sang this Charles Wesley hymn "For the Baptism of a Believer" during the service:

Come Father, Son, and Holy Ghost
Honour the means ordained by thee!
Make good our apostolic boast,
And own thy glorious ministry.

We now your promised presence claim,
Sent to disciple all mankind,
Sent to baptize into your name,
We now your promised presence find.

Father, in [these] reveal your Son;
In [these] for whom we seek your face
The hidden mystery make known,
The inward, pure baptizing grace.

Jesus with us, you always are;
Effectuate now the sacred sign,
The gift unspeakable impart,
And bless the ordinance divine.

Eternal Spirit, descend from high,
Baptizer of our spirits thou!
The sacramental seal apply,
And witness with the water now!

O that the [ones] baptized therein
May now your truth and mercy feel,
May rise, and wash away [ther] sin –
Come, Holy Ghost, [their] pardon seal!

Remember your own baptism and be thankful!

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Frozen Stupid

My son, Jesse, a budding film maker currently in the US, has an opportunity to work there for three weeks as a sound person in an independent feature film called Frozen Stupid, a comedy about ice fishing to be filmed in the frozen wastes of Michigan. If you're a praying person you might ask that this comes off as hoped. It'll be great experience and pretty good money too. (Here's a picture of Jesse directing his last short film The Waiting Room).

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

"Wiping Out" the Aborigines

In replying to my comments on the Cronulla Race Riots a friend said. "If you think the P.M. is not as aware as you are, and probably much more so, well!!!" I didn't mean to say that the PM's comments were naive or that I was more aware than he (though I admit my comment may have sounded that way). My concern is that he can't just come right out and say that the violence in Cronulla has underlying racism beneath it. Why can't he just name 'the "r" word.' The police commissioner has done so, why can't the PM? The only way to healing in our communities is to start to speak the truth without doublespeak or spin. When "white Australians" (for what of a better term) are wearing swastikas, draping themselves in the Australian and/or Eureka flags, chanting ""Today is ethnic cleansing day," "Death to Lebs!" and "F**k Allah," I think it's safe to say that racism may be behind it - why can't the PM call it that and then work toward healing?

(Here's another flag draper - Pauline Hanson).

My friend also took exception to my reference to the brutal history of white and black relations in this country, by stating that "While there were massacres on both sides with the present people and the European 'invaders,' at least there was no plan to wipe them out." In one sense there WAS a plan to "wipe out" the Aborigines and that was the government policy of removing "half-castes" from their family groups and resettling them in white families with the hope that they would be integrated into white society, marry Europeans, have children and eventually have their aboriginality "bred out." The prohibition on speaking their own language often encountered in missions, schools, and foster families was also a powerful method of "wiping out" their aboriginality.

At first the colonial government had a quite enlightened policy toward the Aborigines. Governor Phillip was under strict orders from the crown to deal justly with the Aborigines and not to take possession of any land without consent. Phillip was quite a just man in this respect. There was an early idyllic period when black and white Australians were given an opportunity to co-exist harmoniously. However, pastoralism put an end to all that, because to have sheep, cattle, and crops you need land, and if the country was going to fulfil its manifest destiny to grow and prosper it was going to need land. The Aborigines were in the way and when they defended their country they were killed by a civilization with much greater firepower. Social Darwinist ideas soon began to affect white attitudes. The Aborigines are lower on the evolutionary scale than the whites. They are doomed to extinction. The stronger race is destined to supplant the weaker and so on. It was thought to be only a matter of time until the Aborigines died out and then all the land would be ours anyway. The problem was that Aboriginal women were bearing the children of white men (sometimes as a result of rape, sometimes through consenting relationships and even marriage). The "full blooded" population had diminished considerably by the late nineteenth century but the "half-caste" population was on the rise. So a new policy was devised - assimilation. This was a policy that was designed to Europeanise the "half-castes" and leave the few "full bloods" that were still living in the traditional ways alone in the far reaches of the outback where they couldn't get in the way of the nation's destined prosperity and growth. Even then, Menzies allowed the British government to test nuclear bombs at Maralinga, without telling any of us until it had already happened!

Since the 1970s when Aborigines began to get a little more organised and militant about their cultural identity and rights, we have had to learn to face this ugly past. It seems to me that the history books that "don't tell it like it is" are the ones we read when we were at school,in which the settlement of this country was a very heroic and rather polite affair of nice men in red uniforms raising union jacks on beaches while quaint looking blackfellas looked on from the background in polite admiration. All blood was expunged from the record. We need to redress this imbalance in our public discourse.

For sane and well balanced histories that are sympathetic to both Aborigine and Settler, you cannot do better than Richard Broome's Aboriginal Australians and his more recent Aboriginal Victorians.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Bob Dylan in Melbourne 1966

I received Martin Scorsese's Bob Dylan film No Direction Home as a birthday gift back in October. It chronicles Dylan's remarkable career up until the world tour in 1966. A few years ago I presented a paper at Deakin University's Go! Melbourne in the 60s Conference entitled "Antipodean Apocalpytic: Bob Dylan in Melbourne 1966." This resulted in an invitation to present the paper again, this time to a pub crowd at the Cornish Arms in Brunswick (at the Dylan tribute night Bob's Birthday Bash) as well as to perform a few songs with my friend Clive Doak (Jokerman, Blind Wille MacTell, She Belongs to Me and another one I can't remember). It was great to read the paper under a single spotlight to such an appreciative crowd. Here are a few excerpts from the paper:

'In 1966, Robert Menzies resigned, Harold Holt instituted conscription for the Vietnam War effort, and assured the American President that Australia would "go all the way with LBJ," Australia switched to decimal currency, the White Australia policy was abandoned, 6 o'clock closing was extended to 10pm, and Bob Dylan toured Donald Horne's "luck country" on an amphetamine-driven wave of success. The press didn't quite know what to make of him (he wasn't a cute mop-top Beatle like the last rock icons to tour). The cultural wasteland of Australia in the 60s was brought face to face with a singer who broke all the rules of vocal delivery, looked like he was from some other planet, and wrote stream-of-consciousness lines such as "jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule," and "praise be to Nero's Neptune; the Titanic sails at dawn." This was apocalytic discourse, revelatory messages mediated from a seemingly otherworldly being to startled recipients. Like all apocalyptic discourse it was "disclosing a transcendent reality...both temporal, insofar as it envisage[d] eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involve[d] another, supernatural world." (J. J. Collins, "Apocalypse: The Morphology of a Genre," Semeia 14 [1979], p. 9.) . Apocalypse had come to the antipodes.'

'In 1966, Dylan was performing "poetry you could dance to," a formula for "reinventing music" that Dylan and Richard Farina had first talked about with Eric von Schmidt on the beach at Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1961 (David Hadju, Positively Fourth Street [London Bloomsbury, 2001], p. 158) . Bob Geldof remembers seeing Dylan perform in Dublin in 1964. "Dylan had scooped the whole of American folk music (folk, blues, country) and married it to the Psalms, the poets, the Old Testament, and hurled it at my head, articulating the inchoate urge I was feeling. Bob moved my head. Mick and Keith [of the Rolling Stones] my hips." (Bob Geldof, "Turn the Bleedin' Noise Down Bobbo!" in Uncut [June 2002], p. 46)

'The English word "apocalpyse" comes from the Greek New Testament word meaning "a revealing" or an "uncovering." It has since developed the additional meaning of the catastrophic end of the world as we know it. Dylan was involved in both. He was blowing the lid off a world that wasn't ready for him, uncovering more than people were often wiling to see. Rock music was meant to be all about sex, violence and teenage angst. Now it had pretensions to art. He had "grown up pop" and "given it brains." (Nik Cohn, Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom: Pop from the Beginning [London: Minerva, 1996 reprint of 1969 original], p. 168). The old world of tin-pan alley and "I wanna hold your hand," had to give way to the new world, and none of us would ever be quite the same again. '

'During Bob's mysterious hiatus [after his motorcycle accident at the end of the '66 word tour] the Beatles released Sergeant Pepper, and the whole hippy-trippy, flower power phenomenon reached its height. With baited breath the public waited for what psychedelic offering the "Great White Wonder" would produce as the follow up to the "thin, mercury sound" of Blonde on Blonde. When John Wesley Harding was finally released, in 1967, it was not what anyone had expected. Gone was the frenetic rock of the 1966 tour that a Manchester fan had described as "an apocalyptic roar like a squadron of B52s in a cathedral...wicked, crackling guitar over a vortex of sheer noise." (Mojo [Nov. 1998]: 60), p. 61) Now, sparse acoustic backings underlay an album of mystic Americana, that carried a gentle, reflective country feel, only thinly masking the continuing apocalyptic. "Even with its overtones of Nashville, hoedown and Grand Ole Opry, it was grim." [Cohn, 169) Though apocalyptic literature is meant to reveal, it also hides, behind cryptic symbols understood only to the initiated. In The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest, the gambler Frankie Lee dies of thirst, in the arms of his friend Judas Priest, after sixteen days and nights foaming at the mouth in a multi-storied whorehouse. An anonymous little neighbour boy, perhaps Dylan himself, looks on and records the whole saga, yet hiding behind the cryptic imagery so that ultimately, as in the final words of the song "nothing is revealed."

'Dylan's much publicised conversion to Christianity in 1979 did not see him take an entirely new approach to his art, though it was a personal renewal. The entire body of his work has been preachy, finger-pointing, biblical, and scathingly prophetic, in the best tradition of the Hebrew Bible and of the New Testament. (See Michael J. Gilmour, "They Refused Jesus Too: A Biblical Paradigm in the Writings of Bob Dylan," Journal of Religion and Popular Culture (vol. 1, Spring 2002), The drugs, thankfully, would go, the excesses would reced, the jangling pace and the fury of 1966 would fadse, but the voice of the little Jewish neighbour boy still croaks at us. '

'For a little while, in the Australian Spring of 1966, Dylan gave Melbourne a glimpse of the apocalypse. Amazingly, he has survived. Now an old blues singer, on his latest album, Love and Theft, his ancient voice warns us, that he is still, like a black crow in a pulpit, preaching the Word of God to us and putting out our eyes."

Keep preaching Bob!

Race Riots in Cronulla

Well I finally worked out how to upload images to my blog. So here's me looking very serious in my office. (Actually it's my old office from a year ago - oh well.) More racial violence in Cronulla overnight and the Prime Minister will no doubt repeat his mantra that "Australians are not a racist people." Well, I guess it's all relative, and maybe we aren't as racist as some. But the measure of our national spirit should not be that of other countries. If we compare ourselves with more patently racist socities we might be tempted to pat ourselves on the back, but if we measure ourselves against the principles of the Reign of God, we would hang our heads in shame. Australia has a long history of racist attitudes. Have we forgotten that the White Australia policy, established by law at Federation and only dismantled in 1966, explicitly discrimated against all but British-born and British-looking immigrants? What about Chinese miners being beaten to within an inch of their lives at Lambing Flat in 1861 (just one instance of such Gold Rush xenophobia)? Not to mention (actually, no, we should mention) our brutal past regarding the Indigenous people of this country. Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Christmas Street Party

Today we had a Christmas Street Party at Spring Street Church. We had 45 people including some local residents we hadn't met before. Megan and Ingrid (Synergy) played their great mix of originals and covers from the likes of Missy Higgins, Pete Murray, Crowded House etc., Bill Jarman and his students gave us a Tango demonstration, we sang carols and a funny looking guy in a red suit gave out gifts to the children. The Christmas quote of the year is Charles Wesley's defintion of its meaning: - "Our God contracted to a span - incomprehensibly made man!"

Saturday, December 10, 2005

The Proposition

I wrote the following film review back in October for Peter Breen of Urban Eyes and Cafe Jugglers for posting on his "Out of This World and Into It" email letter. I hope he won't mind me republishing it here.

Not a film for the fainthearted, The Proposition (Directed by John Hillcoat; Written by Nick Cave) peels back the layers of revisionist history and gives us an unsettling look at the brutality of nineteenth century Australia. A self-styled "Australian Western," this is essentially a bushranger film, set in the 1880s, but these madmen make Heath Ledger's Ned Kelly look like a pansy! There isn't a bad performance here, and Nick Cave's music is suitably haunting. Guy Pearce (pictured left) is Charlie Burns the bushranger tracking down his homicidal rapist brother Arthur (Danny Huston). Charlie has accepted a proposition from the local policeman, Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) - if he kills his older brother he and his younger brother can escape the gallows. Eventually he finds his brother and "will he or won't he kill him?" is the question that keeps the audience going. Stanley and his wife (Emma Watson) seek desperately to "civilize" this savage country. They want to replicate England as best they can, steadfastly refusing to come to terms with, or seek to understand, the hostile wilderness that surrounds their little island of a frontier town. The visual cues to this are fascinating to watch for. Mrs. Stanley has roses, that most English of plants, growing in her front yard. The fence around their homestead is a white picket fence (though the cross bars are rough-hewn Australian gum, an interesting juxtaposition of old and new world materials). A portrait of the Queen dominates their dining room. They open a box of Christmas decorations including white cotton "snow" and they sit down on Christmas Day to carve a hot roast dinner, though it's probably 100 degrees in the shade outside. During this Christmas meal they are brutalised by Arthur, the mad Irish bushranger, who wraps his victim's bashed and bleeding head in the union jack. Here in this climactic (and difficult to watch) scene, Charlie must make his decision - does he intervene and take his brother out or will family ties prove too strong?

Indigenous people fare quite well in this film. There are certainly depictions of subjugation, humiliation, brutality and race hatred ("What is an Irishman?" asks deranged bounty hunter Jellon Lamb [John Hurt] but a nigger turned inside out?") But at the same time, the Aborigines are a force to be reckoned with. Somewhat like a John Ford westerm where the Indians are almost a force of nature inhabiting the landscape like the the rocks and the desert sands of Monument Valley, the Aboriginal people of this film are a constant threat to those who dare to walk into their country (beautifully shot by the way). They are skilled warriors, they are dangerous, they know the territory in a way that white people could never hope to know it, and if you wander onto their turf, you might at any time find yourself fatally speared when you least expect it. Giving the Indigenous people the upper hand in their own country works well in establishing their dignity and self-reliance. Two other scenes work in a similar way. One of Arthur Burns' gang members is an Aboriginal man, and when a racist policeman falls into his trap while looking for his Aboriginal tracker (played by David Gulpilil - again!) he is told "You've got the wrong f***in' blackfella!" In a strange way you find yourself wanting to cheer for this guy - even though the life of a bushranger is hardly admirable, at least it's self-determining! More subtly, but just as powerfully, when Captain Stanley lets his Aboriginal domestic servant go, before walking through the gate, presumably to return to his own country, he removes his shoes (symbol of the white man's repression), places them carefully in the dirt and then walks out barefoot. It's for reasons like these (and many others) that the extreme violence of this film can be forgiven. I would rather not watch graphic violence and am as uncomfortable with it as most people. But if it's a choice between the sanitised history I learned in school and the horror story that was Australia's actual colonial past, bring on the gore. I don't mind being shocked by violence and racism if it leads to outrage over them and concerted action against them. This is the effect the film ought to have on thoughtful viewers. It doesn't glorify bloodshed, but it has the potential to bring something redemptive out of it.


Share |