I am a blogger. I love being able to express myself through this forum. Someday I would like to work in the mainstream media. Not because I think there is something inherently better about traditional media forms, but because through that forum I would be able to make a living by doing the writing that I so love. But every so often, something is published that makes me question that aim. Something of such inexplicably poor quality and stupidity that it makes me wonder if I would like to work in the mainstream media. I present Exhibit A from today’s Sydney Morning Herald: ‘Eating their Words’ by Tim Elliott.
As you may, or may not know, I am a vegan. Veganism is a small but important part of what makes up who I am as a man, just like the fact I am a film blogger, I am an (amateur) athlete, a public servant, a music lover and a boyfriend to a woman I love very much. Elliott’s article “Eating their words” is subtitled “Tim Elliott meets the people who are defined by what they will – and won’t eat.” The article starts off mentioning that the author received an invite to the launch of the book Vegans are Cool. So maybe this is where Elliott meets the aforementioned people. But the article is so poorly written that it is unclear whether or not he attended the launch. I suspect he just launches into in ill-advised diatribe based on the title of the book. Essentially his target is not just vegans, but essentially anyone who subscribes to a diet that in any way restricts what they eat, for whatever reason. My diatribe in response is borne out of the fact that he is attacking something I hold dear. My response would be the same if he was writing this rubbish about film bloggers or any other facet of my being.
In the small part of Elliott’s article that he devotes to writing about the book (or its title at least) he states, “perhaps strangest of all is the assumption that anyone cares enough about vegans to bother finding out why they might be cool, uncool or roughly room temperature”. Besides the lame-beyond-belief attempt at punnery at the end, this statement is also wrong. Pretty much, without exception when I tell people I am vegan they take an interest. They may wish to convince me how wrong my choice is. They may want to challenge me with a hypothetical about a sheep and a desert island. They may simply be intrigued as to my choice, the reasons that I have made it and that question that has befuddled mankind for all time – where do I get my protein? Whatever their question, they are pretty much always interested. Elliott’s next task in enlightening his many readers is to engage in the type of stereotyping that I thought we were done and dusted with a decade ago (and even that was way overdue). Apparently the only people who have what the author refers to as “a special food-limited diet” are those “with a cardigan and a crocheted beanie”. Because in Tim Elliott land homosexual men all wear tight shirts, and blue collar workers all wear Bonds singlets and drink Bundy Rum. I’ve got a wicked crocheted beanie, but no cardigan. Can I still be vegan?
Elliott smugly writes that “notable fruitarians have included … Ben Klassen – the white supremacist and author of The White Man’s Bible – and Ugandan megalomaniac Idi Amin. But don’t let that put you off.” Oh Tim Elliott, you’re so clever, witty and funny. But what exactly is your point? Josef Stalin, Ivan Milat and George W. Bush were all meat eaters. What’s my point? I don’t have one. People do evil shit. Horrible things to their fellow man. These choices are not intrinsically connected to one’s choice of diet. Klassen may eat his fruit and go punch a black man. George W. Bush may eat his steak and go bomb an Iraqi school. Tim Elliott may eat whatever it is he eats and then go out and write a shit article. I just ate some hommus on Rivitas, and now I’m going to go and buy my girlfriend a Christmas present. Are these things connected? No.
Elliott writes that there is a “small, isolate tribe of grain eaters known as hegans – men who refuse to eat meat and animal products, yet somehow manage to hold on to their masculinity.” And please tell us, Mr Elliott, what your definition of masculinity is? Apparently it is intimately tied up with red meat. So perhaps it also involves traditional values you may be into like being able to beat people up and lift huge amounts of weight. Somehow vegans such as Mac Danzig, a UFC fighter, and Nick Diaz, the number one welterweight contender in the UFC, retain their ability to be ‘masculine’ despite their veganism. Diaz also talks a huge amount of smack, is this another of your measures of masculinity? Diaz, I suspect, doesn’t give a shit about posturing about saving the whales or wearing a crocheted hat. All he cares about is being the best athlete, finely tuned at beating up another man, and he has chosen a vegan diet solely for that reason. Pfft, what a pussy aye Elliott? And meet my friend Vegan Tank. The dude’s a tank. But hey, pretty unmasculine with all that animal activism work and caring for his animals. Would you prefer he punch a puppy rather than cuddle them? And then there is me. I have been vegan for approximately six months, but I have never really subscribed to, or cared about ‘masculinity’. I just care about being the best person and man I can. But even though I am vegan Mr Elliott I still “somehow manage to hold on to [my] masculinity” enough to grow a beard and make love to my girlfriend every so often. How do I do it?
You yourself may be wondering why people choose veganism. Don’t worry, our illuminating guide Tim Elliott can answer that too. It’s because this choice has “enabled thousands of inner-west arts students to send a powerful message that they, too, shop at Alfalfa house.” That’s it, thanks for reminding me. I had gotten so caught and brainwashed since I became vegan, that here I was thinking my personal choice was something to do with loving animals and believing it is wrong to kill them for food when I do not need to (a view that is mine alone and one that I don’t push onto anyone). But I’m in luck, because this choice also “enables the person to believe they are making a difference/reversing global warming/saving whales when all they are doing is eating a salad sandwich”. Could it not be possible that they are doing both?
Elliott finishes off his masterpiece with this: “And vegans are definitely not cool.” To make a blanket assumption of the worth of a group of people that they are not cool because of one facet of their being is stupid and hatemongering. Who else is fundamentally not cool? Cricket fans? Italians? Christians? I know many vegans who are cool. I know some who are not. I know many meat eaters who are cool. And hey, funnily enough, I know some who are not. But you, Tim Elliott are not cool based on the evidence before me. It’s not because you do not like veganism or vegans. That is your choice. It is because you are a narrow minded twat who gets published in one of our country’s biggest newspapers, and makes me question if I want to do the same. I think that in our country we should demand more than this garbage filling our sources of news and entertainment.
Also, SMH, if this is the quality of writing that gets a gig in your Saturday edition, surely you can hook me up with a job?
- Super 8 (2011), J. J. Abrams – A fantastic 80s throwback exploring what kids get up to during their summer holidays… with aliens. Awesome film references and snappy dialogue abound. And it is great to see such great performances from the young cast members, who are actually acting not just being themselves. A cracking old school monster flick with a genuine sense of intrigue.
- The Tempest (2010), Julie Taymor – For me, any Shakespeare on the big screen is a good thing. Taymor has refined her bold visual style since her earlier work, and this is so original to look at with great use of set design and special effects. Helen Mirren excels as the tired, weary Prospera and Russel Brand’s gimmicky casting actually comes off. Ben Whishaw is excellent as Ariel, in a role that can sometimes trip actors up.
- Cars 2 (2011), John Lasseter – A lot of people, idiots, didn’t like the first Cars. The spy parody that makes up the bulk of this sequel is genius. Michael Caine as the elder, Aston Martin spy car is inspired. This is one of the funniest films of the year supported by really sharp animation. And there is so much beautiful nuance in this alternate reality.
- Get Low (2009), Aaron Schneider – There is a great ‘Western’ style aesthetic to this with wonderful cinematography and perhaps the year’s best script. Robert Duvall is such a great actor and throw in Sissy Spacek and Bill Murray and you cannot go wrong. A really nice, simple film that is perhaps a little slow, but definitely worth taking the time to sit through.
- Sucker Punch (2011), Zack Snyder – This is duking it out with The Tree of Life for the most divisive film of the year. Style over substance? Yes, but what style over substance! The awesome bastard child of a film, a music video and a video game. The episodic narrative brilliantly blurs the lines between dreams and reality in a video game quest to collect objects. One thing that cannot be argued about this film, is that it is one of the years most original releases. I loved it. You may hate it.
- Warrior (2011), Gavin O’Connor – One big cliché of a sports film. But with a couple of things really going for it. First the respect shown and research into the fledgling sport of MMA. Secondly some really great performances from Frank Grillo, Nick Nolte and especially Tom Hardy who delivers one of the year’s very best turns.
- The Decameron (1971), Pier Paolo Pasolini – Pasolini brings a real folk tale feel to this film, beautifully enhanced by the crisp cinematography. An exploration of greed and sexual repression, but delivered in a light and funny way. A cool hammy acting style pervades the performances. An intriguing film that intelligently engages with the notions of the church and religion but manages to maintain its comedic edge.
- In Bruges (2008), Martin McDonagh – Easy to see why this has become a cult classic with the profanity laden hilarious dialogue. As far as comedy goes, it is as black as it comes and it is these heavier moments, including the thoughtful romance and a martyrdom which provide the lasting impact.
Not Worth Watching:
- Dorian Gray (2009), Oliver Parker – Ben Barnes is hammy as the doe-eyed, newcomer to London Dorian and is matched up against Colin Firth. Not even the latter, excellent actor can rise above the average here. This is an annoyingly shit movie. It is tackily shot and captures none of the incredible zest of the book’s dialogue. Barnes’ Dorian just comes off as a shallow twat, with none of the conflicted depth the character should have.
- The Scarlet Letter (1995), Roland Joffe – Abysmal. That could be my review right there. This is one of the most ill-judged and worst movies ever. An unauthentic period piece where accents jar, Robert Duvall puts up a strong contender for worst movie wig in history and Demi Moore’s sheer inability to act leads to a film that is plain awkward. A po-faced butchering of the classic book. If I’m going to be subjected to Gary Oldman penis and arse, I expect the film to be approximately 800,000 times better than this. “Freely adapted”, more like shamefully rooted.
- The Sentinel (2006), Clark Johnson – We were all hoping for Jack Bauer hunts rogue CIA agent. Instead you get something a whole lot more tepid than you thought possible with Kiefer Sutherland and Michael Douglas involved. Forgets that for a thriller to be worthwhile it needs a cracking villain. However this just slaps one on almost as an afterthought.
If you only have time to watch one Sucker Punch
Avoid at all costs The Scarlet Letter
Terry Gilliam has probably as warped a take on the contemporary world as any director. This truly original filmmaker started off running in the Monty Python crew and has made films such as The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998). One of the clear inspirations upon the worldview Gilliam conveys in his films is Chris Marker. Gilliam essentially remade one of Marker’s shorts into his film Twelve Monkeys (1995). So let’s check out the short, and also an example of Gilliam’s own strange, strange view of things.
The film that so inspired Gilliam he remade it is Chris Marker’s avant-garde sci-fi short La Jetee (1961). The film is set in the future, in the immediate aftermath of WWIII. The surviving humans appear to be eking out a subterranean existence. In this subterranean environment, those with the power (and the Nazi overtones) are conducting time travel experiments on prisoners of war. The film’s protagonist is one of these POWs and eventually it is his turn to be experimented upon. Through these terrifying experiments, we learn that the only hope for humanity is the mastery of time travel. Our ‘hero’ (I’m pretty sure we never get his name) is forced to seek out an image from his past. As the waves of time begin to wash over him, the boundaries between the present & the past; and between dreams & reality begin to blur. Here, in the past, our hero through the stark comparison of the future world he finds himself in, can plainly see the affluence and unnecessariness of the contemporary world (contemporary being early 60s, but really this point still holds today). Narratively speaking this is also a romance of sorts, the strangest romance you’ve ever seen as the hero begins to build up a strange relationship with a beautiful woman he repeatedly meets in the past. The whole thing utilises such strong imagery, and the story builds to the truly shocking twist that it ends with. Twists are generally so contrived these days, but this one blew me away.
For a film that only runs about 25 minutes, this is a thematically dense one. The film investigates memory, and the “scars” of memory. What happens when a memory is broken, can it repair itself? There is also an examination of the manner in which humans use their memories to protect themselves. Unsurprisingly, given the horrifying post-war apocalyptic setting and atmosphere, the futility of war is also a core concern here. This is also unsurprising given that the film was made 15 years after the end of WWII, during the Cold War and in this way serves as a warning of nuclear war. As the voiceover states, perfectly encapsulating the futility of war that clearly reigned then (and I think reigns now), “The outcome [of the war] was a disappointment for some – death for others. For others, madness.” And really what can hoped to be gained from war besides those three things. There is a note of optimism when our hero, having mastered the past, travels forward in time to the future to attain a power source. Here he is welcomed, a brief respite from his exploitation in the situation he finds himself in. There is a distinct correlation between the experiments rendered upon him, and today’s animal testing that Marker makes plain. There is also a distinct suggestion that, hopefully, people in the future will be kinder.
This film in many ways requires the viewer to reconsider what constitutes a film. Can a film be solely made up of still images? Well this one is. Marker manages to infuse the images with movement by panning across them and also through his use of the soundtrack. The measure of Marker’s brilliance here is that after a very short time, your brain ceases to realise that what you are seeing are stills. It flows like a normal film. The aforementioned camera movement, and the editing trick your brain. The fact that you don’t notice the stills, makes this I think the most brilliant utilisation of editing I have ever seen in a film. In order to make this work the selection of stills also needed to be astute. The images selected are arresting, even more so when put alongside each other like Marker does. There are horrific images of wartime, and scenes of citywide destruction which I assume are genuine WWII shots.
This is a cracking, brilliant film that blew me away, as I have little doubt it will blow you away. In every way this it is a triumph of originality and a truly unmissable film experience, no matter what kind of films you generally are drawn to. Watch it. In fact, watch it below, right now.
Verdict: Longneck of Melbourne Bitter
Gilliam’s feature Brazil (1984) was made in that most Orwellian of years, and it definitely shows. The film takes place “somewhere in the 20th Century”, presumably somewhere futuristic. The environment is a dystopia, but in some ways it is a gentle one. The authoritarian overlords are at times almost comedic in their bumbling rather than overtly malevolent. Like a lot of sci-fi, this film is extremely topical, exploring notions around the use of surveillance by the government and limits that should be put on it. This aspect of the film is so well rendered, it got me to wondering if George W. Bush had maybe watched it before instigating the controversial Patriot Act.
Whilst it is not a remake of Marker’s short in the same way the Twelve Monkeys is, the influence of La Jetee is plain to see in this film. Just like that film, the mundanity of everyday life and obsession with physical appearance is a thematic concern here. The mundanity is shattered almost immediately though when a terrorist attack rips through the city. Perhaps the predominant thematic concern of this film though is the exploration of the minutiae of beaurocracy, the cold unfeelingness of it and above all its sheer unimportance and inefficiency. In many ways this is the ultimate Canberra film. If you live in a public service town and you have not seen this film, you are doing yourself a great disservice. It will make you cringe at the recognition that this absurdist, science-fiction film is scarily close to reality when it comes to the inner workings of the public service. The film is especially adept at hilariously skewering inane public service speak.
For some reason, the range of influences on this film kept cropping up for me. Which is not to say it is not original – it is incredibly so. Rather, it just incorporates various concepts and ‘feels’ from other sources, and adapts them wonderfully to this new tale. The obvious one is La Jetee, and with that film it shares the concern regarding the future, and specifically whether it will actually be better. There was for a long time the assumption that the future, driven by continued technological advance, would obviously be better than the present. We see that simplistic notion begin to unravel in the film, as to some degree it continues to do in contemporary life. Just like La Jettee, Brazil is also a love story of the strangest kind. Another clear influence on this film (and perhaps every late 20th Century sci-fi film) is the work of Philip K. Dick. There is a lot of focus on the use of electronics and also forms of escapism in this dystopian future. Also, the ‘everyman’ character at the centre of this film could almost have been lifted straight out of a Dick novel.
The characters in the film have an obsession with old movies. I get it. They have rigged up the computer system at their mundane workplace so that when the boss is not looking they can watch old black and white classics. I wish I could do the same in my office. I can’t even get onto Youtube. This is a very clever film that generically fits, somewhat surprisingly, into the comedy genre. It is definitely not your standard comedic picture though. It is a black comedy that is more focused upon ramping up the intrigue rather than the slapstick. The performances are all ace. Jonathan Pryce, who is best known to me as the villain in the Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), is wonderful in the protagonist role. He manages to perfectly balance the character’s numerous both strengths and weaknesses. Robert De Niro is truly magnificent in a small, slightly comedic role. In fact even though it is a small role in terms of screen time, it reminds you why he is considered one of the best actors in history. And his performance is enhanced by being able to play off Bob Hoskins who with this nice turn goes some way toward redeeming himself for ever having been in the Mario Bros (1993) movie. The look of the film is also very interesting. The visual aesthetic is brilliant. It is futuristic, but not showy and distracting, choosing to value set design over special effects. And this is coupled with an extremely clever soundtrack which assists in creating this all encompassing world for the viewer to lose themself in.
This film scores high on both the intrigue and originality fronts. It does confront a problem that is a non-entity in a short film such as La Jetee in that it does dither quite badly for some of its running time, before rising to a conclusion that becomes more and more oblique. But in the end this warped, funny vision of the future is one you are going to want to check out.
Verdict: Pint of Kilkenny