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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.

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


Desperate and Chippless

19 Aug

Political rants are like listening to someone describe a dream.  Indulgent and tedious. So beware, I have a dream.

I love elections.

There are few days of ritual that make me feel more connected to my Australian identity than the one of rocking up to  a local school hall on a Saturday morning and penciling a political destiny. It’s all so polite and chipper. Sure, there are the How-to-Vote  hounds who bark and wave their little red books and generally behave like footy thugs, but, everything else is commonly courteous. There’s a bit of banter and chat along the queue, but ultimately, there is an intrinsic understanding that talk of politics is out of the question.

There are commentators who profess this is emblematic of our political apathy. Of our lack of engagement  with socio-political issues. Sometimes these folk like to trot out the “people die for the right to vote” to press their point. I know this is true of the world, but having never experienced political oppression personally, to bark its verse, well,  it just seems a bit on the vain side.

What election days demonstrate so very well is that voting is a private thing. You step into your booth, you make a final weigh of what is important to you, and you accord judgment.  Like prayer, it is a private contract between you and something bigger, whatever you deem that bigger thing to be.

But this year, there is little sacred about the ritual. There is no private moment to be relished. For, after six weeks of  Punch and Judy,(only less eloquent) there is no sense of that something bigger to make contract with. Gillard and Abbott have literally worn us into the state of apathy we as Australians are so often accused of.

They played some of Obama’s acceptance speech on 774 this morning. Now, what the realities of his leadership are I do not know, but to hear the fluidity of ideas was to be excited by that most isolated of emotions, hope. Soon after, the ABC cut to sound bytes from our leaders. I thought I was eavesdropping on a neighbour’s dispute over who pays for the new fence.

Perhaps sentimentality clouds me. But I can recall in 1976 being transfixed as one Don Chipp literally spat with passion as he gave his election pitch to camera. He thumped the desk as he leant like a drunk uncle and implored us to keep the bastards honest. He was also a man who admitted to coming into politics with no real ideals and having some very strong ones forged by the ambivalent brutality of the game.

His party is a long spent force. The Greens may yet rise in their place; but as I watch and hear our current mob take yet another limp cheap shot, I wonder just where their beliefs have been forged; outside of a carefully monitored focus groups and petty ambition that is? Success through consensus has always been a part of politics, but rarely has it had stereo of such  monotonal linguists as its figureheads.

There’s a saying we get the leaders we deserve.

I love elections. I really do.

But I have a dream.