Hey Teacher! Leave them kids alone

7 Jan

josh

In the words of Pink Floyd: “Hey teacher! Leave them kids alone!”

Christopher Bantick quoted those words as he waged war on the cultural sins of the younger generation – but perhaps he should try applying them to himself. Decrying young people’s waning interest in “high culture”, Bantick blames schools for failing to instil in teens a deep and unshakeable love of fine art and classical music.

In a tone of stern disapproval, reminiscent of something written in 1964 admonishing screaming teens for flocking to see the Beatles, Bantick chooses some odd targets to crucify in his crusade against the vapid and the self-obsessed.

Taiwanese-born filmmaker Ang Lee cops the first spray, the 59-year-old Oscar-winning director being labelled self-centred for admitting he makes films to “understand about himself”.

While many of Lee’s powerful dramas have autobiographical elements, some such as his enduring adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility obviously do not.

Ironically, given Bantick’s argument, Lee’s early films such as Pushing Hands (1992), Wedding Banquet (1993) and Eat Drink Man Woman (1994) explore conflicts that arise as older, traditional generations are forced to accept change.

Sydney singer-songwriter Josh Pyke (pictured above) also faces the brunt of Bantick’s rage against Gen Y, (or possibly Gen X, or maybe just anyone who isn’t smoking a pipe and listening to Mahler on a gramophone while fingering an 18th-century engraving by William Hogarth).

Pyke is slammed for saying that at the age of 36 he has learnt to sing. Instead of being lauded for his humility in admitting that he spent three decades learning his craft, Bantick derides him as “crass”.

It seems odd that Bantick would ignore more deserving pop culture targets such as Justin Bieber who, apart from jettisoning monkeys in German airports, recently announced his retirement at the age of 19.

More painful still is that Bantick seems unaware that Pyke devotes much of his spare time to raising funds for the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, helping indigenous children learn to read and thus enjoy the culture Bantick laments children are missing out on.

Bantick’s chief irritation seems to be that young people are not attending “concert[s] of searching classical music” or fine art shows to the extent that “grey hairs and blue rinses” are.

But worthy art and thought-provoking culture are not found only in the hallowed walls of the National Gallery of Victoria and Hamer Hall. Music, art, writing, theatre and much more are being dreamt up and hammered out in bars and cafes, countless lounge rooms and garages, studios, galleries and online, inspiring young minds to think about and challenge the world they live in.

While classical music was once the only type of music on offer, now it is merely one of countless genres. With so many artists emerging every day, is it any wonder that classical music has lost favour among young people? As a member of Gen Y, I have a selection of classical music on my iPod which I play when doing something that needs no distractions. But when I’m going for a jog, I’m probably going to choose Daft Punk over Debussy.

I am concerned that Bantick is equating “older” with “better”. For example, Banksy is “bad” because he is an artist making social commentary today, whereas William Hogarth is admirable because his social satire harks from the 18th century.

Rock icons such as Kurt Cobain who deliver pithy statements “out of an inarticulate, drug-fuelled haze” are deemed unworthy compared with those such as Romantic poet John Keats, whose opium-loving mates Byron and Coleridge wrote a good deal of their oeuvre in a drug-fuelled haze.

I agree with Bantick that elitism is still a dirty word in many pockets of society. As Australia stumbles along the slow road to independence, carving out its cultural niche away from England’s stifling embrace, it is easy to scorn high art as being entwined with English snobbery and old-fashioned, stuffy values.

Maybe when we are mature enough as a nation to stand on our own feet – without needing a portrait of the Queen in the prime minister’s office – we will be able to earnestly rediscover high culture without its problematic overtones.

Bantick’s allegations against today’s youth hurt me most when I think of my intelligent, enthusiastic and generous peers, such as my sister’s a cappella group who compose four-part harmonies inspired by the Andrews Sisters of yesteryear, and who recently organised a Christmas fund-raiser for an asylum seeker resource centre.

Or another friend whose love of writing inspired her to start a publishing company and whose latest endeavour was a heartfelt collection of refugee tales.

Next time Bantick shakes his head in disgust at a teenager pouting into a smartphone, maybe he should look around at the wonderful ways in which art is evolving, and realise that the kids really are all right.

This article first appeared on The Age online.

Advertisements

Better Man

20 Nov

Better_Man Powerfully moving and with a strong message about capital punishment, this four-part Australian miniseries is based on the true story of Van Nguyen, a 25-year-old Vietnamese-Australian who was given the death penalty after smuggling drugs to pay off his brother’s debts. Directed by Khoa Do (Footy Legends) we follow Van’s story from his decision to smuggle the drugs, to his arrest at Singapore Airport, his trial and pleas for clemency. 

Driven by strong performances, especially Remy Hii in the role of the desperate Van, this is a gut-wrenching tale of a family’s fight to save the life of a condemned young man. We are introduced to Van through scenes showing us his home life in Melbourne and his relationship with his twin brother Khoa (Jordan Rodrigues), and mother Kim (Hien Nguyen, the real-life mother of director Khoa Do and comedian Anh Do). 

Better_Man_pic When his brother is unable to pay back his court case debts, Van agrees to smuggle drugs from Cambodia to Australia, making a fateful transit in Singapore where the hidden packages of heroin are detected. The excellent support cast includes David Wenham as Melbourne lawyer Julian McMahon who teams up with barrister Lex Lasry (Bryan Brown) in a bid to help save Van from the death penalty. 

 The airing of Better Man on SBS earlier this year was controversial, with Van’s mother Kim Nguyen calling for it to be halted as the drama was traumatising to her family. However others have since claimed it is must-see viewing, portraying the shocking travesty of justice as Singaporean authorities failed to take important evidence into account during the trial. Chilling and upsetting extremely powerful viewing.

The Great Gatsby

20 Nov

great_gatsby_cover Baz Luhrmann indulges his love of glitter in this glitzy rendering of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel about the American Dream. Leonardo DiCaprio stars as the titular protagonist, an enigmatic, exquisitely tailored gent who throws decadent parties at his Long Island mansion in a desperate bid to engineer a reunion with his long-lost love, Daisy Buchanan.

Daisy, played with sylph-like fragility by Hollywood “it” girl Carey Mulligan, is trapped in an unhappy marriage to brawny millionaire Tom (Joel Edgerton). As Gatsby grows increasingly determined to reconnect with Daisy, the tangled love story is narrated by Daisy’s cousin, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire, Spider-Man), Gatsby’s next-door neighbour who becomes swept up in the man’s quixotic quest. Delving into themes of class snobbery, organised crime and the fragility of dreams, the film reveals the glittering facade of the Jazz Age failing to disguise the sordid reality of life.

Australian director Luhrmann is famous for his brash, MTV-style approach, which worked brilliantly in his first two films; 1992’s Strictly Ballroom and 1996’s Romeo + Juliet (less so in 2001’s Moulin Rouge, and let’s not even talk about the monstrosity that was 2008’s Australia). However the juxtaposition of period costumes and pop culture references is less successful here, and tunes from the likes of rapper Jay-Z (also the film’s executive producer) snatch the viewer out of the sumptuous world created by costume and production set designer Catherine Martin.

great_gatsbyIf you can get over the soundtrack, the acting is superb. Australian export Edgerton (Animal Kingdom) lends a swaggering menace to the blue-blooded Tom; offering security to Daisy while inflicting pain on her with his philandering. There’s plenty of other homegrown talent on offer, including Elizabeth Debicki (A Few Best Men) as Nick’s stylish love interest Jordan Baker, Isla Fisher as Tom’s working-class mistress and cameos by Steve Bisley and Vince Colosimo.

Wild party scenes are Luhrmann’s forte, and the bacchanalian revelries at Gatsby’s waterside palace are a visual feast. But just as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s iconic novel has polarised readers for decades, Luhrmann’s dazzling interpretation will delight those who can enjoy the spectacle, and disappoint those who feel it could have been so much more.

 

Mr and Mrs Murder

23 Jul

mrandmrsmurder Murder is a messy business, but after the cops have collected the clues, who cleans it all up? Enter Charlie and Nicola Buchanan (Shaun Micallef and Kat Stewart) crime scene cleaners in blue coveralls who mop up the blood, tidy up the furniture and have a good old snoop to try to solve the crime themselves.

Set in Melbourne, this 13-part series locates the crimes in imaginative spots including an art gallery, a theatre, a heritage bathing box, a cabaret and a zoo.

mrandmrsmurder_pic Micallef draws on his comedic skills as the quirky, affectionate Charlie, while Stewart (Offspring) sparkles as his wife Nicola, whose irrepressible nosiness and empathy allows her to wriggle her way into suspects’ confidence. Jonny Pasvolsky (Cops LAC) stars as homicide detective Peter Vinetti, while Gen-Y is represented by the Buchanan’s  niece Jess (Lucy Honigman), who is dragged in to participate in elaborate murder scene re-enactments.

Created by Micallef and Jason Stephens (Newstopia) this charming whodunit features a host of well-known guest stars including Vince Colosimo, Home & Away‘s Kate Ritchie, comedian Merrick Watts and The Slap’s Anthony Hayes. As cosy as a Miss Marple mystery with an Aussie accent, Mr & Mrs Murder is a treat for any armchair detective.

2013, M, FremantleMedia, 780 mins

The Hobbit

23 Jul

hobbit Peter Jackson welcomes us back to Middle Earth, this time bringing to life J.R.R. Tolkien’s children’s fantasy novel, The Hobbit. Set against sweeping natural vistas, The Hobbit is a classic adventure tale that unfortunately suffers from being split into three parts.

However this lengthy first instalment still bristles with cracking fight scenes and death-defying escapes as Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) joins Gandalf (Ian McKellen) and a band of rowdy dwarves on a quest to rescue a lost dwarf kingdom from a marauding dragon.

British actor Freeman (The Office) is an intriguing choice as the young Bilbo, but he imparts an endearing sense of bemusement to the fish-out-of-water role – such as when he embarks on the adventure with his heavily armed comrades and panics when he realises he has forgotten his pocket handkerchief.

hobbit_pic Considerable effort has gone into endowing the 13 dwarves with distinguishing features – a room full of squat, hairy, beer-quaffing men have a tendency to blend together. The more memorable characters are the rotund Bombur (Stephen Hunter), quirky Bofur (James Nesbitt) and the devastatingly handsome leader Thorin, (Richard Armitage), who exudes a smouldering sexuality (pictured) that I don’t recall from the book.

Some old favourites from LOTR make a reappearance; Cate Blanchett shimmers as statuesque elf queen Galadriel, Hugo Weaving maintains a haughty grandeur as elf lord Elrond, and veteran bad-guy Christopher Lee makes a sinister cameo as the wizard Saruman. Gollum (Andy Serkis) features in one of the film’s best scenes when Bilbo stumbles across a mysterious ring in a cave and is forced into a deadly game of riddles with the twisted creature to survive.

The jolly tone of Tolkien’s original work is evoked in scenes of the dwarves carousing and a close encounter with the grotesque Great Goblin, played by Barry Humphries. However, the terrifying Orcs astride hyena-like Wargs may frighten younger children, so the M rating is well warranted.

While the cracking pace is often weighed down by lengthy dialogue, the charm of the original story shines through, mostly due to the wonderful set design,  the obsessive attention to detail that characterised The Lord of the Rings, and the talented Freeman and McKellen in the lead roles.

2012, M, 169 mins, MGM

Parade’s End

23 Jul

paradesend One is obliged when discussing a post-Edwardian costume drama to compare it with Downton Abbey, so let’s get that over with. Yes, this five-part British miniseries is staged against the backdrop of the Great War, teems with pretty dresses and simmers with romantic tension, but there the comparison ends. Where Downton sallies into schmaltzy soap opera territory (in a highly addictive way, let’s admit), Parade’s End remains stark, cold and brutal.

Benedict Cumberbatch (Sherlock) stars as priggish aristocrat Christopher Tietjens, a brilliant government statistician desperately clinging to conservative Edwardian values as his beloved Britain is rocked by war and social upheaval.

paradesend_pic Frustrated by his moral rectitude, his charmingly flippant wife Sylvia (Rebecca Hall, pictured with Cumberbatch), a stunning Catholic socialite, torments him by boasting about her many lurid love affairs. He endures her infidelity with a stiff upper lip but his own feelings are thrown into conflict when he meets Valentine Wannop (Australian actor Adelaide Clemens, Love My Way), a feisty young suffragette with cropped blonde hair and a passion for social change.

Based on the novels by Ford Madox Ford and adapted by Tom Stoppard (Shakespeare in Love), Parade’s End depicts the end of an era, sweeping us from glorious British landscapes and aristocratic drawing rooms into the mud and blood-spattered trenches of France, as Christopher wrestles with his sense of duty both to his country and his marriage. The upper classes depicted here may not make any attempts to befriend their butlers, but impeccable period details and a stellar cast led by the inimitable Cumberbatch make this a highly watchable and thoughtful alternative to Downton‘s frothy fare.

M, 2013, 360 minutes, BBC/HBO

Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple

23 Jul

missmarple Joan Hickson stars as the titular character in this Agatha Christie television series made in the 1980s. Featuring three murder mysteries, this three-disc collection opens with the three-part Body in the Library, where Miss Marple is called in to help after her friend Dolly Bantry discovers the body of a peroxide blonde young woman in her house. However, it is not until a second body turns up that the case takes an unexpected turn.

In The Moving Finger, Miss Marple visits the seemingly peaceful village of Lymston to investigate a nasty case of poison pen letters. Is it a local gossip venting her spleen or is the motive far more sinister?

In A Murder is Announced, the townsfolk are amused to read a notice in the local paper announcing that a murder will take place next Friday at 7pm. However the party game turns terrifying when a real corpse turns up, and no one seems to be telling the truth.

Compared to more recent productions, this series looks a little dated but at 400 minutes of playing time, it certainly offers good value. Described as the “definitive Miss Marple”, Joan Hickson seems born to play the spinster detective, with her faded blue eyes and deceptively fluffy exterior.

While recent Miss Marples including Geraldine McEwan and Julie McKenzie have won accolades, Hickson is probably the only actor to boast of receiving a letter from Christie herself, expressing a wish that she play the coveted role.

PG, 400 mins, BBC