Book Review – ‘Welcome to Your New Life’ by Anna Goldsworthy (2013)

 

Having written one of the most affecting and beautifully composed memoirs of recent years in Piano Lessons, Anna Goldsworthy established herself as one of the very best young non-fiction writers in Australia. An exquisite phrase-turner, her second autobiographical work is an account of the pains and pleasures of parenthood.

 

Navigating the endless discomfort, invasions of privacy and falsehoods of pregnancy (the pregnant glow is but a “chivalrous fiction”, apparently), she encounters well-meaning, but misguided, advice from friends and acquaintances, and has to make choices about how to approach the pregnancy and the child’s formative years.

Read the full review at The Age.

Film Festival Highlights: Sydney Underground Film Festival 2012

The four-day Sydney Underground Film Festival celebrates left-of-centre cinema, cult classics, overlooked gems and the just plain weird. This year’s program has something for everyone bored of formulaic Hollywood fare, from disturbing documentary and edgy short film to absurdist comedy. Broadsheet picks the highlights from this year’s selection.

God Bless America

Depressed after finding he is terminally ill and being fired from his job in farcical circumstances, Frank (Mad Men‘s Joel Murray) decides a cross-country crime spree is the answer to his woes. Linking up with a warped schoolgirl Roxy (Tara Lynne Barr), the unlikely pair takes on reality TV, conservative shock jocks and people who talk during movies. Gleefully over the top and unashamedly B-list, God Bless America nonetheless has more to say about US culture than many more ‘serious’ films.

Bad Brains: A Band in DC

Co-directed by Mandy Stein, an old pro in the rock genre (after well-received documentaries on CBGBs and the Ramones), this frantic biopic dives headlong into the world of legendary hardcore band Bad Brains. While the dynamic between band members is almost as volatile as their music, the real highlights here are priceless archival footage and passionate recollections of the jazz-trained group from a wealth of musicians they influenced, including Henry Rollins, who reflects that his “life started that night” during a typically raucous Bad Brains show.

Keyhole

Jason Patric, playing way against type, and the legendary Isabella Rossellini star in this elliptical black and white film noir, which takes the form of a loose (very loose) retelling of Ulysses with the journey set inside a haunted, sprawling house of mirrors. Dreamlike is often a word associated with pleasant and even bland art, but Canadian director Guy Maddin evokes a mood more reminiscent of the dark, unsettling side of dreams, where anything can happen and nothing quite makes sense.

Freaks, Geeks and Almost X-Rated Peeks

A variety program presented by Jay Katz and Miss Death, whose Cult Sinema Monday was a Sydney institution and whose love of kitsch, unintentionally funny and just plain bizarre cinematic ephemera continues through their Mu-Meson film nights. Hysterical public service announcements and hilariously outdated commercials are particular favourites of theirs, while this selection – which is accompanied by live commentary from the pair – also promises promotional films made by “people who should have never picked up a camera”.

Originally appeared in: Broadsheet

Film Festival Highlights: Lavazza Italian Film Festival 2012

 

One Day More
Raffish ladies man Giacomo (Fabio Volo) is so averse to commitment that despairing friends give him a puppy to try to introduce him to the concept, an experiment which ends with the dog palmed off onto a long-suffering friend. When he spies the gorgeous Michela (Isabella Ragonese) on a train, Giacomo thinks he has the ideal solution to get his friends off his back, passing her off as his girlfriend, a plan which becomes somewhat problematic when they actually meet. Further shenanigans, including a detour to Manhattan where the unlikely couple act out the plot of a popular romance novel, ensue in this oddly episodic but completely likeable romcom.

 

Take it Easy!
“Other people’s real stories are better than my made-up ones,” curmudgeonly Bruno (Fabrizio Bentivoglio) complains as he goes about his routine of ghost-writing a porn star’s autobiography and half-heartedly tutoring neighbourhood kids. But his life story is about to take on an unexpected new chapter as Luca, a teen with dreams of being a mobster and one of Bruno’s less enthusiastic students, comes to stay and is revealed to be Bruno’s son. A familiar setup perhaps, but what follows is a gentle comedy with a winning performance from Filippo Schiccitano as the deluded but charismatic teen.

 

The Entrepreneur
The political becomes personal in Giuliano Montaldo’s award-winning drama as Nicola (Pierfrancesco Favino) scrambles to find the money to save the factory he owns before the bank forecloses on him. Too proud to take financial help from his wife’s wealthy family, he becomes beset by paranoia as he spies on his wife’s attempts to help him and fears the worst. One of a number of festival films that focus on the global financial crisis, The Entrepreneur makes sparing use of colour – the limited palette matching the pessimism of its central character.

 

Shun Li and the Poet
A lyrical and tender tale of a bashful Chinese barmaid who has moved to Italy with a debt hanging over her head and a plan to one day earn enough to reunite with her son. Relocated by her masters to the picturesque northern fishing town Chioggia, she strikes up a friendship with Beppi, a poetry lover and retired fisherman, but suspicion and prejudice from the community threatens their relationship. Unfolding at a leisurely pace, this quiet and delicate film gradually builds into something quite moving.

Originally appeared in: Broadsheet

 

Book review – ‘City Boy: My Life in New York During the 1960s and 1970s’ by Edmund White

Edmund White says he doesn’t believe in writer’s block, but at one point he was moved to see a shrink about the issue. It is New York after all, where everyone seems to be writing a novel and seeing a shrink. He is told that the first thing he is doing wrong is getting out of bed. Instead, he is advised to linger in that haze “where your inhibitions will still be low and you’ll be closer to your dreams”.

In the late 1960s, White was a starry-eyed newcomer to New York, drawn to the city that never sleeps by dreams and mythology, yearning to find a niche in its famed literary circles and its thriving but covert gay scene. His descriptions of the area surrounding the “fairy palace” he called home zing with life; it was a place where “everyone slept till noon…a grungy, dangerous, bankrupt city”. A metropolis positively coursing with lust is recaptured vividly: “When you French-kissed someone, it was like rubbing one ashtray against another”.

In an era where writers and artists still clung to the notion of noble poverty, White should have fitted right in. But instead he initially struggled for recognition, this self-styled “idolator of beauty” forced to idolise from afar, the high brow cliques remaining closed to him, his work largely unpublished save for a few reviews championing the overlooked and underrated and sometimes attacking peers out of pure jealousy. He continued to read voraciously, becoming a fixture at the Gotham Book Mart and devouring favourites like Vladimir Nabokov and Henry Green over and over.

Most of all, he yearned to find a way to make his mark as a writer, endlessly musing on literary technique and how he could harness it to forge a way into the literati. Some of the most fascinating passages here concern the torturous self-doubt he endured, the immense difficulty behind his seemingly effortless phrase-turning. At one point, he comes across a Russian psychologist who believes the most successful literature thrives on some kind of disconnect between style and subject. City Boy lends some credence to this theory with White’s prose style – uncluttered, polished and classical, finding an ideal counterpoint in a city that is manic, challenging and violent.

Yet for all his stylistic excellence, the narrative dips when he attains fame. A career breakthrough came when his hero Nabokov began to champion his work, yet the moment is not quite the revelation you expect and at some point his story becomes more about fame than friendship, more concerned with the spoils of fame than the pursuit of great art. Celebrity cameos begin to dominate; in quick succession he encounters Michel Foucault, with whom he argues about gay identity, William S. Burroughs (who seems “too cool and totemic to be alive”) and hears stories of Somerset Maugham, who was gripped by Alzheimer’s in his later years and took to cheerfully greeting visitors with a handful of his own faeces.

The real star, however, is of course the city of New York, a fascinating, contradictory mess of energy and life. But it is the likes of White’s friend David Kalstone, a poignant figure with his fading eyesight and quiet loyalty, rather than his A-list coterie that maintain interest. The young, yearning author proves more interesting than the latter, famous one, a reminder that straying from your dreams can have unexpected consequences. The city can be corrupting. Fame can breed complacency. This, more than anything, is what you hope an aspiring young writer would take out of this exquisitely written but frustrating and uneven memoir: Never give up on your dreams. Never get out of bed.