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We unhappy few

26 Jul

“We don’t have the record anymore.”

That was my first thought when I saw the tally of dead from the Oslo mass murders.

In 1996, Martin Bryant shot 35 people dead at Port Arthur, Tasmania. It was the largest single shooting slaughter in civilised history. A former penal colony famed for its brutality, Port Arthur seemed a horribly fitting place for yet another coward with a duffel bag  to sate their juvenile rage. A haunted house invites one last cruel chapter.

But there is no magic here. No trees with souls or clouds that circle arrows. It’s choice. Banal, horrible choice with a consequence of exponential grief.

I remember one of my closest friends telling my of the Port Arthur shootings after they had occurred. I remember feeling a strange sense of….being Australian….. in the following weeks. Of somehow being connected to my kin in the south. In tragedies, national identity seems to come to the fore, but I have never felt it so potently. Our nation has its share of floods and fire, but within them, no matter the destruction, there is an underlying notion of nature just is and will be what it wishes.

This was different. This was a man who planned and picked and woke up and ate breakfast then went to a peninsular with the goal to kill as many people as possible. Human  nature? I don’t surrender it the same latitude as I do its primal mother.

Let’s get this straight. We know what we’re doing, we men. We know. Don’t let us breathe an utterance of otherwise.

I don’t know what this all means. I’m not even close. Why, with a sense of sad relief our nation can be excused from the record books and the private shame of that emotion? After all, I have lost nothing. My family and those I love are safe. What right do I have?

And now the media. In 95, Bryant’s eyes were digitally altered in photos so he would appear more malevolent.Now they build a new beast, plaster this new fiend’s story into mythology when he can barely be anything more than a compression of spite who could manage the basic purchasing procedures of guns. Let’s shut our curiousity down and let whatever he is drift to those who may know how to examine properly such a failure of humanity and be done with him. If there are lessons from this, they almost certainly will not be born from the media tsunami.

But why always men? What dysfunction do we bear? The exoticism of guns. The status of anger.

It’s all fucked up.

We don’t have the record anymore.

It’s gone.

Along with almost a hundred lives and grief that tethers us to something unknown.

I guess you gotta keep faith. That in men there is a thread of gentleness that defines most of us. That men are largely soft and what fear we bear we work to bring to harness or healing. Maybe today is the day to tell your guy, “You’re okay, you know,” and give him a hug.

I don’t know.

Just can this inexorable cadence please stop.

I don’t know.

It’s all fucked up.


Mapping a wild soul.

20 Nov

Before he made the basquillion earning E.T, Steven Spielberg long expressed a desire to make a film that captured the magic of those few hours between primary school finishing and your mum calling you in for tea. A time of BMXs, loyalties, dirt fights, betrayals, exploring drains and just the vaguest hint that there was something cruel and wonderful about girls. He wanted to make it in real-time, perhaps to attempt a literal grab at the strange slowing down and acceleration of time that occurs in those long passed Friday afternoons.

He never made this film, though clumsy thematic facsimiles often clambered their way into subsequent releases; usually accompanied by a John Williams score that employed every instrument on the planet.

This is not to rag on S.S or J.W. Jaws is my favourite film. Spielberg knows his game and plays it well. John Williams has a canon of iconic scores that readily obscure the dozen or so that go flute-mental….

…..this is to say Spielberg cannot make this film, because it has been done. Sublimely, savagely…done.

Where the Wild Things Are received oddly mixed reviews upon its 2010 release. Many a critic lamented both the lack of classic narrative and the sinister edge to Spike Jonze’s and Dave Eggers’s vision of Maurice Sendak’s fantastical children’s book. Terminal nostalgia* elevated the book’s narrative  and condemned the film’s. There is a certain irony to the coupling, for Where the Wild Things Are as a film surpasses the book by exposing that very nostalgia in all its messy guises. It is, for all the fur and phantoms on display, a brutally humane film.

When a movie maps your soul, it’s difficult to defend it rationally. So, let’s just say these critics – every last slippery-lipped, snarky, post modern, quip-master one of them, missed the point entirely. Where the Wild Things Are is not about narrative. Not the classic linear one anyway,with its call to adventure and reversal of fortune yada yada. It is about rage. Not the adorable cherubic rage of shit like..oh, I dunno, every other film, but rage a child actually feels. Confused. Frightened. Dangerous.


Most powerfully, it is about the ferocity of imagination that this rage can produce and this is the stupefying point that is missed for mine. Art by its nature is born from extreme emotion. Where The Wild Things Are is not only a story about the confusion of being a boy on the edge of mortal self-awareness, it is about art itself and the comfort and delusion it brings to us in those long cold nights when the universe appears godless and doubts circle like wolves. It tells us, shows us,  we are our own storytellers. How we conduct and fool our own free-flowing narratives, improvising to survive and hopefully, thrive. To steal a line from Next to Normal, “Improvisation. Otherwise known as the act of creation.”

Max says goodbye to KW

And with creation must come destruction. Of all the poetry of this film, and there is much, the  killer couplet comes at its conclusion, as Max, realising this world he inhabits cannot sustain him, sails away, howling in farewell to the sky as his wild things stand forlorn on his beach, each and all knowing that ultimately, we will all farewell each other,  and the best we can do, in fact the only thing we can do, is create something to warm ourselves against that one  brutal fact. Like those mythical afternoons after school; we can slow down time…we can touch the face of….something.

So, if you don’t like this film, most likely you are a horrible human being. Or, at best, you were  born thirty-four years old, thrust screaming into this world already defeated and cynical.

The critics that lamented the lack of narrative?  I ask, were you not once young? Do you not recall those  hours  when the world was bright and full of story and the promise, always the promise, of something both furious and delicate watching over you?

Like I said. It’s hard to defend rationally.

*                                            *                                              *

* A term coined by Matty Ballgame Robinson from Filmspotting;  a crackingly good film review podcast.

Shrink and depart

18 Jul

Animals make an unmistakable sound when you hit them with your car. And so, at 1 a.m, as I’m driving home through Oakleigh, grooving  to the  intro of “As I sat sadly by her side”, and really just thinking about my how soft my bed is going to be, I am jolted by a darting shape and that sudden rolling concussion.

It’s a cat, and as I check my rear view mirror, hoping like all hell it’s smashed instantly dead, I see it has turned tail and is dragging itself back across Warrigul Road.  Another car approaches from the opposite way. A taxi. I see its brake lights and the cat crawling in to its path.

And here I make decision. Conscious.

It’s their mess now. You touched it last.

Then a vague urgency bubbles and settles in.   I remember being in a car when my father mowed down a black kelpie He got out, watched it drag its way up its driveway over several minutes, then settle with an excruciating groan by an above ground pool. I quietly pleaded to stay with the dog, to ring a vet, but my dad, seemingly satisfied, ordered me back in to the car. He grew up in the country. I’m a suburbs lad. Country folk, it seems, shake their heads at our fussiness over such things.

So, ten minutes later, when I turn and drive back,  there is a certain selfishness in it.  I want to relieve myself of this feeling. I don’t want to think about how that cat looked in the mirror, all fucked up and broken, trying to crawl back to what I suppose was its home. So I need to replace that with a new image. There is little noble going on.

Let’s get this straight. I don’t much like cats and cats don’t much like me. Give me a dog with its omni-adoration over  haughty little stealth attackers any old time. I especially don’t like cat owners who treat their cats as if they have consciences. I think cats being curfewed at night is a righteous law. These are the things I tell myself  as I drive back. Fucking owners. Dip-shit cat lovers. But when I see its shape prone against a small brick fence, the mantra rant ceases. This isn’t a cat, it’s a pet.

When your pets die it’s almost impossible to believe they were ever living. There is little peace in their final aesthetic.They seem to literally shrink. Deflate. You know they’re dead the very moment you see them, no matter the distance.  Maybe the reason why we are so readily able to kill fish and insects is because their expression does not change in death.

I park my car on the nature strip. It’s cold. I check if any lights come on. They don’t. The cat is twisted and still. I nudge it with my toe. It shifts, then flops back against the fence. I’m uneasy about scooping it up. I fear it might just fall apart, so I get a towel from my car and wrap it  and place it by a power pole.

He’s still warm, but that won’t last. He’s a big cat, no tag, but a real fatty. He looked loved. By the time his owner finds him, he’ll be frozen in broken pose. As best I can, I curl him to look more like a cat. I write a note explaining what happened, that he was dead when I returned.

The note is not all the truth of course. But I guess that moment of finding your pet dead is news enough that any ethical coda from me is just  indulgent noise.  He died quickly. Whose solace is that lie for?

Animals make an unmistakable sound when you hit them with your car. It’s a cruel and final sound.

Perhaps that’s the only authentic experience that informs here?

I really don’t know…