The Telegram

Observation Blogger

AthleticsA school-friend kindly sent me a telegram after I won at the Australian Schools Athletic championships, admitting I was good enough despite wearing cheap sneakers called ‘Trax’. I still have the results of the event which show my Australian record just below Cathy Freeman who also won at the same event. For those of you that don’t know, Cathy Freeman went on to win the 400 meters gold medal in the Sydney 2000 Olympics. This is arguably the most heralded track event win in Australian Olympic history. You can watch this historic moment here.

Later the local paper would interview my brother and I:

WALK STAR SHARES HIS SUCCESSES

Most 15 year olds would not readily admit they owe their success to their brother two years junior.

I have few claims to fame, but as Charles Bukowski  put it, ‘Hey baby, when I write, I’m the hero of my shit’.


I have kept…

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The Master (2012) – Paul Thomas Anderson

Lancaster Dodd: I am a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist and a theoretical philosopher. But above all, I am a man, a hopelessly inquisitive man, just like you.

MasterWhile Paul Thomas Anderson’s film catalogue may not be expansive his movies certainly are. He hit fame and encountered some notoriety with his highly original and flamboyant expose of the pornographic industry in Boogie Nights. Since then he has continued to go on to make some of the most challenging and innovative cinema. The Master in particular seems to bottle what is so alluring about how Paul Thomas Anderson makes movies.

IMDB Storyline of The Master: Returning from Navy service in World War II, Freddie Quell drifts through a series of breakdowns. Finally he stumbles upon a cult which engages in exercises to clear emotions and he becomes deeply involved with them.

For the regular cinemagoer The Master might seem like a hard nut to crack. You’ll find no redemption or atonement for wrong doings, nor even a typical narrative structure in this movie. We don’t follow a path well worn by any other movies, none which I can recall anyway. The Master leaves us to pick up the pieces and assess what it means to us. *You will find what it means to me in the last paragraph of this article. The Master on the surface is a story about an intense and complicated friendship (some say love story) between two men with alter egos who despite their obvious inadequacies and at times repulsive behaviour find some extraordinary kinship in trusting and believing in one another.

Here in lies the tragedy – the summation of such a profound friendship does not equate to much by the end. This is where many viewers might find the movie unclear and elusive or simply off putting. We don’t arrive at the end and say, ‘Oh Freddy Quell (Joaquin Phoenix’s character) is a better person for thinking this or behaving like that’. That despite such a profound kinship between the two egomaniacs, the movie and the characters essentially ends where it begun. They seem to be souls touched but as easily untouched by each other and those around them. To me the Joaquin Phoenix character is the alter ego of Hoffman’s Cult Leader character which is alluded to in the last scene between them. ‘If you leave me now, in the next life you will be my sworn enemy‘.

It dawned upon me in a later viewing of the movie when Freddy Quell is watching a movie in a cinema and Lancaster Dodd happens to call him out of the blue, that Paul Thomas Anderson like Dodd is having his way with us.  Anderson in his director’s hat and The Master (The Lancaster Dodd character) are one of the same puppeteer. Dodd is pulling Freddy’s strings and we the audience like Freddy are going wherever he motions us. The irony is like the charismatic cult leader Lancaster Dodd in the movie, Anderson is seemingly making this up as he goes along. But he is The Master and we (the audience) are his loyal followers. Even if he sends Freddy from wooden paneled wall to window and back over and over again we like Freddy go along too despite how futile or meaningless the exercise may appear. He is the Master after all.

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Breath – Tim Winton (A classic Australian novel)

“It’s funny, but you never really think much about breathing. Until it’s all you ever think about.”
Tim Winton, Breath

tim-winton-2Tim Winton is Australia’s most-lauded novelist. He has won Australia’s highest literary merit the Miles Franklin Award an unprecedented 4 times including once for the novel I will discuss here – Breath. I have read nearly all off Tim Winton’s books. He is undoubtedly my favourite Australian author. To me what sets Tim’s writing apart is his ability to capture that almost inexplicable strange beauty of Australia. I have lived overseas a long, long time and of course I miss my home country, but if I ever want to get reacquainted with my island home then I will dive head-first into a Tim Winton novel. I have him to thank for that.

Good reads’ description of Breath: On the wild, lonely coast of Western Australia, two thrillseeking and barely adolescent boys fall into the enigmatic thrall of veteran big-wave surfer Sando. Together they form an odd but elite trio. The grown man initiates the boys into a kind of Spartan ethos, a regimen of risk and challenge, where they test themselves in storm swells on remote and shark-infested reefs, pushing each other to the edges of endurance, courage, and sanity. But where is all this heading? Why is their mentor’s past such forbidden territory? And what can explain his American wife’s peculiar behavior? Venturing beyond all limits—in relationships, in physical challenge, and in sexual behavior—there is a point where oblivion is the only outcome. Full of Winton’s lyrical genius for conveying physical sensation, Breath is a rich and atmospheric coming-of-age tale from one of world literature’s finest storytellers.

breathShortly after Breath was published in 2008, I went to see Tim do a book reading in Melbourne to inaugurate the release of his much anticipated book. I had never before or ever since procured a book and read it as quickly as I did with Breath.  I would read it another 3 times that year before I eventually moved overseas. A week ago I dusted it off to rekindle that old flame and see if my obsession with it was justified. Part way through I realised I was reading from a master at work. I was just as mesmerized as I had been 10 years earlier. Every page I was gobsmacked by some outstanding literary prose thinking to myself, ‘How did he come up with that, and that, and that?’. To put it bluntly, reading a Tim Winton book is a very humbling experience for any writing enthusiast. He sets the bar high.

“That was the simple objective, being airborne, up longer, up higher, more casually and with more fuck off elegance than anyone else in the world. I never understood the rules or the science of it but I recognized the single-mindedness it took to match risk with nerve come what may. Some endeavours require a kind of egotism, a near autistic narrowness. Everything conspires against you – the habits of physics, the impulse to flee – and you’re weighed down by every dollop of commonsense dished up. Everyone will tell you your goal is impossible, pointless, stupid, wasteful so you hang tough. You back yourself & only yourself. This idiot resolve is all you have.”
Tim Winton, Breath

What struck me this time around apart from it being more of a page turner and easier to read than I remember; is this coming of age story of two adolescent surfers on the West Australian coast launched me back into my own adolescent self. Better than any family photo album could evoke, all the sights, smells and sounds of my youth in Australia came flooding back.

Arguably, Tim Winton’s magnum opus up to this point is his 1991 novel Cloudstreet. It’s nearly thought of in Australia as un-Australian if you haven’t read that ‘tower of book’. Many would recommend if you were going to get your feet wet with Tim Winton then Cloudtstreet would be the go-to book. However, I would contend that Breath is more easily consumable due to its no-nonsense literary prose and and it can be read in less sittings due to its shorter length and entrancing plot. As a blogging enthusiast, even if this post inspires just one person to read Tim Winton then I will be content.

The first sun gave the water a benign sheen and for a few moments there was nothing to see, little enough for a swoon of relief to course through me. I was, I thought, off the hook. And then a mile out I saw the sudden white flare. A plume of spray lifted off the bommie like the dust kicked up by a convoy of log-trucks and after a second’s delay the sound of it reached us. Now that was a noise to snap a boy out of his dreamy sense of wellbeing.

-Breath

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Lost Horizon (1937) – Frank Capra

Lost HorizonAlong with Woody Allen’s Sleeper, Lost Horizon is another movie recommended to me by fellow blogger Badfinger20. It is a Frank Capra film based on the 1933 novel of the same name by James Hilton.

IMDB storyline: British diplomat Robert Conway and a small group of civilians crash land in the Himalayas, and are rescued by the people of the mysterious, Eden-like valley of Shangri-la. Protected by the mountains from the world outside, where the clouds of World War II are gathering, Shangri-la provides a seductive escape for the world-weary Conway. But is it the miraculous utopia it appears to be?

I was a little bit skeptical coming into this since I wouldn’t have exactly classed myself a doting fan of Frank Capra. I found his movies a little bit too saccharine for my tastes. Despite my dubiousness Badfinger20 urged me towards trying this early Capra piece. It is an almost impossible task to discuss this movie without revealing the biggest spoiler of them all which is the answer to the question (which would have all audiences pondering): Is Shangri-la the miraculous utopia it appears to be? 

Firstly, Lost Horizon is a big film production for its time. It took 10 months to shoot and the film well exceeded its original budget. In fact the first cut of the film was six hours long. The studio considered releasing it in two parts, but eventually decided the idea was impractical. The version of the movie I saw was the complete 123-minute soundtrack. Some of the film was badly degraded and useless, so the restorers used sills to fill in the missing minutes. I only found it partially distracting but moreover I felt the scenes with the audio and sills were necessary to the story.

The sets they used in Lost Horizon were astounding. I doubt Capra’ vision of Shangri-la could even be replicated by today’s production standards. Interestingly, according to Wikipedia: Harry E. Huffman, owner of a chain of movie theaters in downtown Denver, Colorado, built a replica of the monastery depicted in the film as a private residence in 1937, calling it Shangri-La which still remains to this day. Honestly, I don’t know how Capra and his team pulled it off. Also the avalanche and mountain trekking scenes are outstanding even by today’s standards of hammy computer effects.

Ronald Colman was fabulous in the demanding lead role. It’s difficult to think of another actor who could have filled the shoes of the alluring Robert Conway as well as he did. He truly made it his.  The three supporting beautiful actresses were stellar as well.

High Lama Lost HorizonThe mystical and captivating High Lama who we learn was in fact the founder of Shangri-la 200 years before explains to our protagonist Robert Conway that his presence at Shangri-la is by no way an accident. On a side note, the High Lama’s dazzling speech to Conway is almost prophetical as he describes his vision of forthcoming destruction. The prophecy would nearly eventuate two years after the movie’s release with the invasion of Poland and later the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Shangri-la is essentially a Christian missionary’s version of paradise. It’s been attempted many times in history. I had only seen more sober takes on the reality of attempting such quests such as De Niro in The Mission, Scorsese’s Silence and Peter Weir’s Mosquito Coast.  Half way through the movie I thought I was in Conway’s dream or even his after-life after his plane went down in the Himalayas.

Lost Horizon is a wonderful movie. Probably few movies demonstrate like Lost Horizon just how movies used to be made – a little bit of blood, sweat and tears, and that in itself is its crowning achievement. You can envisage just how much work went into this movie to bring you this endearing tale. It definitely had me by the short and curlies when Conway’s brother brings a young female Shangri-la resident to Conway to convince him to escape with them from the idyllic Shangri-la.

‘I believe it (Shangri-La) because I want to believe it’

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Winter Light (1963) – Ingmar Bergman

“I think I have made just one picture that I really like, and that is Winter Light…Everything is exactly as I wanted to have it, in every second of this picture.”
– Ingmar Bergman

Observation Blogger

ImageMarta Lundberg, an atheist local school teacher sits and laments at the church pew because she is deeply in love with a pastor whose faith in God, himself and Marta is dwindling into an existential nothingness. At the point of her absolute utter despair she is confronted by Satan who takes on the appearance of the church organist. This is her Garden of Gethsemane.

Welcome to Life on Earth.

IMDB Storyline: On a cold winter’s Sunday, the pastor of a small rural church (Tomas Ericsson) performs service for a tiny congregation; though he is suffering from a cold and a severe crisis of faith. After the service, he attempts to console a fisherman (Jonas Persson) who is tormented by anxiety, but Tomas can only speak about his own troubled relationship with God. A school teacher (Maerta Lundberg) offers Tomas her love as consolation for his loss of faith. But…

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The greatest cover up in history – The unheralded Robert Zimmerman

Observation Blogger

bob-dylanFew Hollywood insiders know that Robert Zimmerman’s nuanced acting performance in The Night We Called It a Day landed him a tonne of movie scripts. If you have seen Robert in this short music video; his manner holding the gun beside his lover, the sneer in his eyes – is as menacing as we’re ever likely to see on screen.

There still remains plenty of debate how Robert’s gritty and heart wrenching portrayal as an ageing rock-star in Masked and Anonymous didn’t earn him an Oscar nod. Not to mention his career defining performance in Don’t Look Back as Bob Dylan. You almost feel you are seeing the real, living, breathing Bob on-screen. His follow-up experiential portrayal as Bob Dylan in the epic 11 and a half hour Renaldo and Clara has since become the No 1 alternative medicine prescribed by Health physicians for treating insomnia. His accolades for songwriting…

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Sleeper (1973) – Woody Allen

SleeperSleeper is a scantly known Woody Allen movie recommended to me by fellow blogger badfinger20. I was enthralled by it and frankly it remains a mystery how it isn’t more widely known. I cannot remember the last time I laughed so hard watching a movie.

IMDB: Miles, a nebbishy clarinet player who also runs a health food store in NYC’s Greenwich Village, is cryogenically frozen, and brought back – 200 years in the future, by anti-government radicals in order to assist them in their attempt to overthrow the oppressive government. When he goes off on his own, he begins to explore this brave new world, which has Orgasmatron booths to replace sex and confessional robots.

“I don’t know what the hell I’m doing here. I’m 237 years old; I should be collecting social security.”

Apart from being one of the funniest movies I’ve seen, it also contains one of the wittiest premises. I’ve watched a fair few Allen movies and I have enjoyed them all, but his comedic genius radiates most intensely in this. I for one did not know that Woody was such a great physical comedian. His physical slap stick comedy is brilliant.
But the intelligence behind his manic goofiness in Sleeper is the crowning achievement. Despite how different things are in the future, his neurotic Jewish Brooklynite’s wry sense of humour stays the same. The movie is interspersed with occasional ragtime theme music and stepped-up film speed which despite harping back to the comedic pioneers like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton, still looks and feels as fresh as yesterday’s coat of paint.

Diane KeatonDiane Keaton who regularly appears as Woody Allen’s confidante in his movies, is more than his match here and regularly steals the limelight. It showcases her unassailable comedic talents like no other movie I have seen her in.  The highlight for me and what is one of the funniest scenes in the entire film involves her doing an impression of Marlon Brando. Her performance in Sleeper is one of the most hilarious I have seen by an actress full-stop.

The other aspect of Sleeper which impressed me greatly were the props and production design. The orgasm-machine, futuristic houses, round vehicles, stiff servant gay-robots, gigantic fruits all seem to indicate we are moving towards times where ignorance revels and empty pleasure-hunting is celebrated as the correct form of bliss. It genuinely feels like something you might expect to see if Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel Brave New World was adapted for the screen, with of course a twisted comedic flavor. And regarding the premise and political commentary, you could throw George Orwell’s 1984 into the mix as well.

As far as sci-fi comedies go, Sleeper is a definite winner. I had so much fun with it. There wasn’t a pedestrian moment in it. Also, there aren’t many comedies out there which can top this in terms of gags-per-second ratio and just sheer quality. The ‘rewatchability’ force is strong with this one!

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The story didn’t die

‘The moment could have got lost. But it hasn’t. I reclaimed it. The story didn’t die. It is a picture already complete. Never forgotten.’

Observation Blogger

I have written it with trepidation. It will cause some readers pain. I do not find my candor, its realism greatly reassuring. I apologise to my readers and most of all my family for the harm it may cause.

People can go around thinking, wondering, planning, worrying and surmising, but unless they work at becoming effective communicators, it will be them alone with their thoughts. I hope this story inspires young men to communicate on a deeper level and feel proud in doing so.

Simply it is about single male’s world. Its validity is subjective. This doesn’t matter, it’s not the point. What the story aims to demonstrate on a deeper level – in real-life prose – is how a regular man, succumbing to innate desires and self-indulgence, can almost totally destroy himself. However, by retaining one spark of feeling, the feeling of human love, such a man can be brought back to live a fulfilling…

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The Screen

Here is another excerpt from a book I wrote in my early 30s. I don’t need to describe the hell-hole I made for myself….because it’s right here in 0’s and 1’s.

Observation Blogger

the screen
It seems all I do these days is stare at the bright white screen. The computer has the gall to stare right back at me as if it knows better. It flickers to black … in the reflection I notice my protruding belly. Where did that come from?
I reckon it happened after I poured that VB into my head. I pull up my shirt and pat my thirty-year-old hairy tummy in soft circles, trying to soothe something bad about myself. I notice my chest jiggling too.
It niggles me also that I might need a haircut and a shave. My hair is turning into the colour of ashes. It’s nearly getting too cumbersome to handle … The pulsating beat of Christine Anu’s song “Island Home” snaps away my self-pity.

Six years I’ve been in the city,
Every night I dream of the sea,
They say home is…

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Snapshot of my life as a ‘Temp’

I wrote the following article when I was in my early 30’s drifting aimlessly in and out of temp jobs.
It has the potential to offend some readers.

‘Being in your thirties is not that old, but it’s old enough to feel mortality. I had developed a keen sense to establish myself – make my mark by my mid-thirties. But I had given up and seemed content to get on with the slow suicide of government work’

Observation Blogger

temp officeSitting, peering, folding and unfolding arms. Chewing my Nicorette gum like a man possessed. My third shot for the day.
No one smokes at work, which means I can’t smoke either. The place where I work is a government department, but it may as well be an outreach arm of ‘Quit’.
It’s almost unhealthy how healthy it is.
At work, I act like a reformed smoker too, cringing at the lazy bastards smoking at the entrance to our building. “Why don’t you go and do that somewhere else?”

Clicking the Send and Receive button in my email has become quite a habit. I’m unsure what I am hoping to achieve by digitally prodding the outside world except develop a compulsive disorder. I glance at other people’s screens as I meander about the office. What I see are the flickering splashes of popular sites such as the footy-tipping page, Facebook messaging…

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