Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Logies: Still relevant if you pretend it's 1982

Yesterday the nominations for the Logies were announced. Yep, I'm sure you set your calender by it.

Back when I was 10 I thought the Logies were great. I cared who won the Gold Logie, and thought it was great when the "young" Daryl Summers won to finally end the streak of victories by oldies like Bert Newton, Mike Walsh and Graham Kennedy.

But back then I also cared whether The A Team would be able to help break up an international drug cartel with nothing but a vacuum cleaner and a bicycle (easily converted into a Sherman tank).

In short I grew up, and I left the Logies well behind. I can't recall watching one since Andrew Denton hosted - and even then I only watched to see what he said at the start, and then switched over to whatever.

The fact is they are a joke - a popularity contest trying desperately to look like it cares about quality.

In their defence, over the last few years they have given more prominence to the "outstanding" categories that are voted on by member of the industry rather than the "popular" categories that are voted on by readers of TV Week (or its website).

One of the nice things about having the two categories is that it highlights that what is popular is usually crap.

Take the nominations for Most Popular Actress:
Silver Logie — Most Popular Actress
Rebecca Gibney (Packed To The Rafters, Channel Seven)
Jodi Gordon (Home And Away, Channel Seven)
Simmone Jade Mackinnon (McLeod's Daughters, Nine Network)
Kate Ritchie (Home And Away, Channel Seven)
Kat Stewart (Underbelly, Nine Network)

Now let's compare with the "outstanding actress" category:
Silver Logie — Most Outstanding Actress
Julia Blake (Bed Of Roses, ABC1)
Rebecca Gibney (Packed To The Rafters, Channel Seven)
Kat Stewart (Underbelly, Nine Network)
Claire Van der Boom (Rush, Network Ten)
Madeleine West (Satisfaction, Showcase)

only 2 make it in both categories.

What about the blokes?
Silver Logie — Most Popular Actor
Gyton Grantley (Underbelly, Nine Network)
Todd Lasance (Home And Away, Channel Seven)
Mark Priestley (All Saints, Channel Seven)
Ian Smith (Neighbours, Network Ten)
Erik Thomson (Packed To The Rafters, Channel Seven)

compared to:
Silver Logie — Most Outstanding Actor
Dustin Clare (Satisfaction, Showcase)
Vince Colosimo (Underbelly, Nine Network)
Gyton Grantley (Underbelly, Nine Network)
Callan Mulvey (Rush, Network Ten)
Damian Walshe-Howling (Underbelly, Nine Network)

Only one in both categories - and that was from Underbelly - easily the most watched show last year.

The awards do highlight as well some interesting facts - like that most people see "Sunrise" as Light Entertainment, or that "Reality Program" now means game show (Idol, So You Think You Can Dance etc etc), whereas real life is classed as "Factual" (Border Security, RPA etc).

I have only one thing to say though about the "outstanding" programs. We obviously do not have many good sports telecasts, because Seven has been nominated for its telecast of the Beijing Olympic Games. All I know is that if it gets an award for that travesty, I will personally post a slow motion montage of me vomiting in reaction with some Celine Dion music playing in the background. If not showing Steve Hooker winning Gold for the Pole Vault live is what now constitutes outstanding sport coverage then we might as well throw in the towel and admit defeat right now.

But at least that discussion is one you can argue about. You can't argue about who is the most popular, because it just is - it's not up for debate. Pretty much all you have to do is look at the ratings to know which is the most popular. And anyway, what can you say afterwards - "Oh that show wasn't the most popular it only won because more people voted for it than any other show..." err

But comparing the quality of Underbelly with Packed to the Rafters is a much more interesting debate. Both do what they do well, both are excellent in their own way. It comes down to opinion. And let's be honest that's what makes awards fun - the subjective nature of it. It's why I do an "Oscar is always wrong" thread. It's why I don't do posts trying to argue that The Dark Knight wasn't the most popular movie of last year. But the best movie? Now there's an argument worth having.

So if they want to make the Logies relevant to anyone over the age of 14, ditch the popular categories (oh keep the Gold Logie if you must), and replace every "popular" category with "outstanding".

Now I know it won't happen, because the Logies over their entire history have been guided by one rule - rewarding the incompetent and puerile.


Monday, March 30, 2009

AFL Power List – Round One

Well that was easy – everyone else tipped eight winners didn’t they?

The wonderful thing about Round One is how many dreams can be shattered so quickly. The Tiger fans are already thinking the cricket season should be exciting; Melbourne fans are realising that yes their worst fears are going to be realised; and Collingwood fans are finding out that no matter how much you whinge, when you read the paper the next day your team still has lost the game.











Against any one else they would have won by ten goals.






Against anyone else they would have won by ten goals.






The Dogs went west and gave the Dockers a real touch up. I’m still a believer.




St Kilda


A slow start, then whoomp! Will be looking to give the young Crows a lesson this week.






Their fans will whinge about umpiring, but truth be told, the Crows should have had them beat by quarter time. Luckily they have the gimmie 4 points against Melbourne this week.






Under the big spotlight the Blues were probably made to look better than they were by the hapless Tigers – this week against the Lions will be a real indicator of things.






Took an age to start, then pretty much won it in the third quarter. What did Voss say at half time? And what did he say at 3/4 time – because the Lions didn’t kick a goal in the last term.






I’m not getting excited, I’m not getting excited, I’m not getting excited, I‘m not getting…. (and would everyone stop saying they’re flying under the radar – it makes it hard for them to keep flying under the radar!)




Port Adelaide


Beating Essendon at Footy Park is about as easy as it gets in the AFL, so Port gets little credit from me.




North Melbourne


The Demons are no barometer, so let’s see how they do this week against the Bulldogs before declaring them a chance for the finals.






Obviously over the summer they forgot the game isn’t finished after the first 30 minutes. Unfortunately against the Hawks this week they will probably lose even if they were able to carry over this week’s score.






Geez they were bad. And the footy gods have also decided Cousins needs to do a bit more penance. As usual, Tiger’s fans don’t know whether to laugh or cry.






My tip of Harvey to be the first coach to be dumped is looking good.




West Coast


Did enough to suggest they may be a good side for 2 quarters every week..






Not good and won’t have a lot to hope for if they can’t beat Fremantle at home this week.






Would likely make the finals of the VFL. Perhaps. If they did a bit of cheating.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Oscar is always wrong (except when it's right) Part V: 1999


1999 was a pretty solid year for movies. Nothing amazing, but a good list of films for Best Picture. American Beauty, The Insider, The Cider House Rules and The Sixth Sense are all good films, done well. Of the Best Picture nominations, only The Green Mile is sub-standard (as I've written before). Of those that missed out, you could argue for The Hurricane, Magnolia, Being John Malkovich, The End of the Affair or even the wonderfully subversive Election.

I'm no fan of Being John Malkovich but I can see why people like it, so I think that would be a better nominee than The Green Mile.

But, all in all, a good dozen or so films, led by American Beauty.

According to imdb, the Best Picture winner of this year, American Beauty, is the 36th best movie of all time. Now I wouldn't agree with that, but I'll keep it as the winner. It certainly hit a nice vein of zeitgeist at the time. And it was deserving if only for bringing Sam Mendes to prominence as a director.

It featured outstanding work by the leads of Kevin Spacey and the wonderful Annette Benning. It's also note worthy for being pretty much the first and last good film and performance by Thora Birch, Mena Suvari and Wes Bentley. For me the best aspect of the film was to ensure everyone was also aware of the brilliant Chris Cooper, who since this film has become one of the strongest supporting actors in movies - The Patriot, The Bourne Identity, Adaptation, Capote, Syrianna, Seabiscuit, October Sky. He just keeps churning out great role after great role.

So American Beauty keeps its Oscar, but I have to take one away...

Best Actor: Kevin Spacey (American Beauty)
Nominees: Denzell Washington (The Hurricane), Russell Crowe (The Insider), Richard Farnsworth (The Straight Story), Sean Penn (Sweet and Lowdown).

Should have won: Russell Crowe.

Kevin Spacey in the 1990s was the character actor. If you saw his name on a film poster you knew you were a good chance to see something special. Even if the film was bad, you knew his performance would be top notch.

Check out this list of credits: Glengarry Glen Ross, Swimming with Sharks, The Usual Suspects, Se7en, LA Confidential, Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, plus doing-it-for-the-money work in Outbreak, A Bug's Life and A Time to Kill. The guy was an actor you could count on. He was Kaiser Soze for crying out loud!

And then he won an Oscar for American Beauty.

Now look, I thought he was excellent in this film. But it has killed his career. Suddenly he wasn't character actor Kevin Spacey. He wasn't the guy you saw and though oh yeah that's that guy who was in you know that film.

Nope now he was "Best Actor Winner Kevin Spacey", and he tried to live up to it by choosing roles that he hoped would win him another Oscar.

Check out this post Oscar list: Pay it Forward, K-PAX, The Shipping News, The Life of David Gale, and his own pet project of Beyond the Sea.

Role after role of the type of characters you would expect to see in a TV show that is advertised with the line "a very important episode of...", before he finally became a joke playing Lex Luthor in Superman Returns.

Instead of picking good roles, he picked films that he though were worthy of his new found status. He should have taken the advice of his character Lester Burnham in American Beauty when he is introduced to someone who doesn't remember him:

Lester Burnham: It's OK, I wouldn't remember me either.
Carolyn Burnham: [laughs nervously] Honey, don't be weird.
Lester Burnham: OK honey, I won't be weird. I'll be whatever what you want me to be.

Spacey was good when he could be anything. He should leave being the star to someone who never gets forgotten.

Which brings me to Russell Crowe.

Back in 1992, I saw Spostwood. It was nice film starring Ben Mendelson and Anthony Hopkins. And yet when I came out of the theatre all I could think was that Russell Crowe was going to be a huge star. He had a small part, and yet he dominated. Stars do that, no one knows why they do, they just do. Crowe always does.

From 1999 till 2005 and his first failure of A Good Life, he was the gold standard of actors. He was Brando for the 21st century, and he was at his peak. Had he not had a fight with the producer at the BAFTAs he probably would have won Best Actor for A Beautiful Mind (which would have been 2 in a row). Had he not hit the hotel clerk with a phone, he probably would have been nominated for Cinderella Man.

In The Insider he was brilliant playing a man, Jeff Wigand, who put his whole life on the line to expose the tobacco industry. He acted Al Pacino off the screen (admittedly not so hard to do now), totally disappeared into the role, and conveyed the stress that Wigand was under with incredible intensity through small movements of his hands and subtle use of facial expression. It's a brilliant example of method acting not having to be "showy".

I haven't been able to find any good short scenes that highlight his role from youtube so I'll have to make do with the trailer.

Since he's turned 40 he no longer generates the heat he once did (perhaps also a victim of trying to win Best Actor with every role), but he still does strong work, and at least he hasn't descended into "very important episode" mode.

Look out for his next film - State of Play. The original mini-series was amazing, and the film version looks fantastic (here's hoping - 28 May).

Perception and reality

So last night I write a long piece about how the Liberal Party are trying to appeal to people's basest instincts by banging on about China. Was I being too critical? Was I seeing strategy where there was nothing but coincidence?


This morning in The Australian, the chief Liberal Party barracker from the Canberra Press Gallery, Dennis Shanahan, writes an opinion piece titled:

Labor suffers from China syndrome

Here's how it starts:
THE Rudd Government knows it's got a real perception problem with China, thanks to the ill-timed bumbling of and carelessness of Joel Fitzgibbon.

The Defence Minister's undeclared trips to China come as China is doing everything it can to take a huge stake in Australia's natural resources; after Kevin Rudd's "secret meeting" with China's propaganda chief has made a bad impression; as the Prime Minister's longstanding Sinophilia makes people suspicious; and as Australia is championing Chinese efforts for a greater say within the IMF.

Note the words used: the Government "knows" - oh really Dennis? "perception problem" - ie not a real problem, but well you know politics is perception. Notice how he uses "secret meeting" in inverted commas, because it wasn't really secret - Shanahan is just using them to show that how it is perceived as being. He also states that the PM's long standing Sinophilia (surely there are medications to treat that?) "makes people suspicious". Really Dennis - any proof? Any data? No of course not.

The rest of the short article provides no evidence that Rudd or anyone in the Government is doing anything wrong with respect to China. He can't even point to a poor decision made about China. So what does he end with?

The Government's got a perception problem, Fitzgibbon's made it worse but there still isn't a Manchurian candidate. Dealing with China is part of the new world.

You see it's all about "perception". Perception is one of Shanahan's favourite words. In 2007, before the election he would write how Rudd must overcome perceptions that the ALP are poor economic managers, the perception that the ALP is controlled by unions, the perception that Rudd is "me too", the perception that Rudd is "all style". The day after the election he just changed the perceptions:

While making it clear yesterday he had been careful not to promise what he couldn't deliver there is a clear perception that he cares about and can address rising grocery prices, housing affordability, childcare costs and inflation.

With a continuing mining boom, which isn't about to end soon despite Rudd's warnings, and a Christmas shopping boom, inflation and, hence, interest rates are likely to continue rising.

Workers are also likely to expect wage rises after Howard's industrial relations laws are repealed, which is another problem with expectations.

You've got to love the brilliant economic forecast of the second sentence (elsewhere in the article he wrote: "Using a prosperous economy, a China-led mining boom that will persist for years... - but look I shouldn't be too harsh, no one predicted the end of the boom - but Shanahan should perhaps remember his own words sometimes).

But look at the perception and expectations "problems" that Dennis tries to create on Day 1 of the Government! Last year he kept it up:

The real difficulty for Rudd is not so much a 14-point shift in relative satisfaction and dissatisfaction in just two weeks, nor even his worst position against Nelson as preferred prime minister; it’s the perception he made a promise he hasn’t delivered. The Prime Minister’s obsession since the election has been to deliver on all his election promises, to keep faith with the electorate and to distance himself from the technique of John Howard, who made a promise on interest rates in 2004 he couldn’t and didn’t keep.

Instead, Rudd’s been caught on exactly the same sticky paper of creating an impression he could keep petrol prices lower while explicitly salting the election campaign with refusals to guarantee a result.

He was so successful in creating the impression he would do something about lowering grocery, petrol and mortgage levels, people believed he’d promised to do it.

And I wonder who fed those perceptions? Why Dennis Shanahan of course - as we have seen he started doing it on Day 1 of the Government.

Shanahan's reporting on this is similar to the line by Sir Humphrey in Yes Minister about a tactic for criticising a report is to say "its conclusions have been questioned". Jim Hacker then asks, what if they haven't been questioned? Sir Humphrey replies - "Then question them! - Then they have".

The fact is perception is to critics of the Government like potential is to parents of kids who are good at sport. Often you will hear parents bang on about "her coach thinks she has the potential to play for Australia", or "the coach thinks he has the potential to make the Olympics in 2016".

As my Dad used to say, every kid has got the potential; doesn't make it true.

And as with Governments - every Government can have "perceived" problems - all you have to do is say them and they are now perceptions. Doesn't make them true.

In fact lets look at the "perception" that Joe Hockey talked about with all these ALP trips to China. The Sydney Morning Herald today revealed:

ALMOST one in four federal MPs have accepted free overseas travel worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from foreign governments, private companies and lobby groups in just 16 months since the last election.

An investigation by the Herald has found politicians from all parties have taken 109 trips abroad, often business or first class, and which frequently include all expenses.
China is the main destination with 19 visits, followed closely by Israel (15) and Taiwan and the US (both 14).

A Queensland Liberal MP, Michael Johnson, has enjoyed 13 trips to destinations such as Bali, Phuket, Egypt, Beijing, Vienna, Tibet and India, and he is due to travel again this weekend to Shanghai. Other frequent travellers were the former ministers Alexander Downer and Mark Vaile. Mr Vaile now works as a consultant for the company that paid for three of his trips.

Now that is the truth. Journalists would be good to remind Hockey of it, should he raise the perception issue again.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Dog Whistle: The last refuge of a Souless Party

The last couple days has reinforced in my mind why I despise the Liberal Party so greatly: when they are in trouble they always (well at least since John Howard took charge) try to appeal to the basest beliefs. Pauline Hanson may have lost in her attempt to win a seat at last weekend's Queensland election, but never fear, the Liberal Party of Australia will continue to advocate her policies.

For you see, according to the Liberal Party, the turmoil that Defence Minster Joel Fitzgibbon is in at the moment isn't one of Ministerial accountability (little wonder - the Liberals wouldn't know how to spell that phrase); nope it's all about one thing - China.

Yesterday, the Fairfax papers revealed that some rogue officials in the Department of Defence had hacked into Fitzgibbon's Ministerial office computer and then leaked information about his relationship with a Chinese-Australian businesswoman Helen Liu. Fitzgibbon has known Liu for 16 years, so it's hardly a big secret - especially when he rents a house from her when he stays in Canberra during sitting weeks. No one is suggesting she is a spy, no one is suggesting Fitzgibbon has been giving her secret intelligence, no one is suggesting Fitzgibbon has done anything improper at all with her.

The story is a corker - not the Chinese businesswoman aspect - but that someone in the DoD would spy on the Minister is beyond astonishing. It suggests at the very least that there are some seriously rogue elements in the Department.

It was then revealed (by Fitzgibbon himself) that Liu had paid for two trips to China taken by Fitzgibbon in 2002 and 2005 when he was in opposition. Once again that she paid for them is no big deal at all - all members of opposition rely on sponsors for overseas travel. The big deal is that he failed to declare this to parliament - a very poor mistake, and Rudd is right to be very angry. Sackable? Hmm perhaps, but not for mine - after all it happened well before he was in Government let alone a Minister. But still it is definitely his last chance, and he probably can expect to go in a future reshuffle.

But does the Liberal Party care about that? Nope all they care about is China.

Here's the warm up - a story fed by Joe Hockey to Steven Lewis for this morning's papers:

CHINA is secretly helping to bankroll Kevin Rudd's economic rescue plan, as concerns grow over the relationship with the Communist superpower.

A Herald Sun investigation has confirmed China is a significant investor in Australian Government bonds -- used to fund billions of dollars in emergency spending.

The Opposition fears Australia could end up politically "handcuffed" to the Asian powerhouse as a result.

The revelation comes just days after the Prime Minister secretly met China's fifth-most powerful figure, Li Changchun, at The Lodge.

Mr Rudd is also arguing for a stronger role for China in global affairs during his visit to the US and Britain.

Last night, the Coalition warned that the emergence of China as a major lender needed to be weighed against the national interest. Shadow Treasurer Joe Hockey said: "If it appears that a foreign government is the largest lender to Australia, then ultimately that weighs heavily on the national interest.

"We welcome foreign investment, but not handcuffed to political interests," he said.

I bet you welcome foreign investment, Joe - after all China funded the economic boom which made one of the most economically lazy and incompetent Governments look like it had created jobs (NB - the Howard Govt did not do ONE policy that helped cause the mining boom - I challenge you to come up with one).

Then it was followed up by Hockey on Sunrise this morning in his regular Friday debate with Anthony Albanese:

JOE HOCKEY: I'm concerned about, you know, the pattern of behaviour at the moment. Kevin Rudd received free trips when he was in Opposition, from Chinese interests. Wayne Swan the Treasurer received these trips; Tony Burke the Agriculture Minister.

Now we hear about the Defence Minister receiving free trips from China. At the same time, we learn today that the Australian Government is borrowing around $500-million a week from the Chinese Government.

What's going on? Why would the Defence Department be investigating the Defence Minister for his links with China?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: I think the concern there is Joe ringing the old bell about the red hordes coming down...

JOE HOCKEY: No, no mate, not at all. Not at all.

ANTHONY ALBANESE: The truth is that Joel Fitzgibbon has made a mistake in not declaring these trips. He's 'fessed up, he's apologised. He did the wrong thing. Sometimes when that happens, the right thing to do is to come out and 'fess up, and say that that is the case. He's done that.

JOE HOCKEY: I think there are a lot of questions that need to be answered. And you know, then we discover that Kevin Rudd had a meeting with the Chinese Propaganda Minister and didn't tell the Australian media.


JOE HOCKEY: I mean, what's going on?

ANTHONY ALBANESE: What, so he's supposed to have a media conference every time...

JOE HOCKEY: The Prime Minister, the Prime Minister's now the chief advocate for China entering into the G20?

I used to have some respect for Hockey - thought he would be ok once he got out from under Howard's spell. But no more. I hope his career is mired in disappointment.

Oh, of course he's not ringing the bell about the red hoards coming down, no, no mate, not at all... Like hell he's not. When he's on Sunrise, Hockey is all "mate... mate" and "concerned", and pretty much week in week out he sprouts populist tripe that is straight from the Hanson song sheet.

Pattern of behaviour? First up all of those trips had been declared - there was NO IMPROPRIETY - it was standard business. Then he makes mention of his story about China buying government bonds - who should be buying them - does he suggest that?

Then he makes the spurious allegation that the DoD is investigating Fitzgibbon - it's not - some unauthorised officials (who are most likely soon to be sacked and possibly up on charges) took it upon themselves to snoop on the Minister because... well who knows why - probably because they don't like the Minister or the Government, but it most certainly was not the DoD "investigating" the Minister.

Then he mentions Rudd meeting the Chinese propaganda minister - I guess Rudd should have turned him down. And now according to Joe, Rudd is "the chief advocate for China entering the G20". Though of course Joe doesn't actually say why that would be a bad thing - because he can't, he knows it would be a great thing for Australia (not to mention totally sensible given the size of the Chinese economy).

All Joe cares about is making sure the Sunrise audience knows something's going on with China - he's not suggesting anything; he's just "concerned" - or being what on political blogs is called a "concern troll" - for eg someone who goes on a blog pretending to be an ALP supporter and writes things like "I've always supported Kevin Rudd, but I'm concerned that all these visits to China suggest impropriety; if this keeps up I think he really should think about resigning if only for the good of the ALP".

So is Joe acting alone? Of course not; enter the leader, Malcolm Turnbull ever ready to sell his soul to the ghost of Howard if it means he'll keep his miserable little grip on the leadership for a few more weeks. Here he is on radio national today:

Mr Turnbull says the Prime Minister has spent more time talking to the US media about China, than Australia."He seems to be more like a travelling advocate for China as opposed to Australia. Now, he's not a roving ambassador for the People's Republic of China, he's the Prime Minister of Australia and he's got to put our national interest first."

I used to have respect for Turnbull -thought he could be a good leader once he got out from under Howard's thumb. But no more. I swear he would say 'God Save the Queen' is his favourite song if it meant he got another vote. I hope he survives as leader till the next election so I can see him lose. And lose by a lot.

Now obviously Turnbull (and probably Hockey) doesn't worry about China's influence on Australia - after all the Libs loved China when it was handing money to us hand over fist - and say what you like about Turnbull, he is a decent person. Which makes it all the more damnable when he plays this line. All he and Joe are doing is playing the old "Yellow peril" gambit. They hope to appeal to those who are suspicious that Kevin Rudd speaks Mandarin - the type who call him Chairman KRudd. Here's the problem though Malcolm - those people already vote Liberal. They should remember 65% of the population think Rudd's doing a good job - and you don't win votes by telling them they're wrong.

Turnbull's and Hockey's belief that Rudd is being a champion for China overseas is based on Rudd's interview on the Jim Lehrer News Hour. It is a very respected news show that certainly doesn't go for the "gotcha" style journalism on commercial networks. The interview was lengthy and informative. Here's part of what Rudd said about China:

JIM LEHRER: In a more general way -- I mean, you are a China hand, as a professional diplomat, you speak Mandarin Chinese -- should China -- what would be your advice to Americans as to how they should view China now, as a competitor, as a potential ally, as an enemy, as a potential problem? What is it? What's China represent -- should represent to the average American? Put it in any terms you want to.

KEVIN RUDD: Jim, I think China represents a huge opportunity for us all for the 21st century. The numbers speak for themselves. The center of global economic gravity is moving to the Asia Pacific region in the 21st century. And so what's happening in China, we see it also with India and you also see it with many other economies in the region, in Southeast Asia, Indonesia. But China is big. And, of course, the continued strength of Japan, as well.

Therefore, when you look at China in the future, I don't think anything's to be served by simply assuming it's all going to go bad. I think the challenge is this - and our friends in America to do the same - work with us in integrating China into the institutions of global governance, on the political side, on the security side, also on the economic side through, for example, the G-20, and also integrate them front and center in the great challenge of climate change, as well.

Now just stop right there. Look at that last sentence - does that sound like anything that is against Australia's interests? Or does it sound like the exact thing that an Australian Prime Minister should be saying when asked about China?

He continued:
If you engender that sort of environment, then you enable China to do -- as the head of the World Bank, Bob Zoellick, once said -- for China to play the role of a responsible global stakeholder.

Now, if China was to turn its back on that or not be responsible, the world would soon know. But I think the smart course of action for us all is to involve them.

They're not perfect. They've done some bad things in the past. But let's look at the opportunities, rather than simply assume it's all threat and all risk.

First off, Rudd talked about China because he was asked. And he then talked about how the West - America and Australia in particular could benefit from China. All exactly what he should be doing. And just as an aside - how great it is to have a PM, who when in the USA, is considered by the government and the media to be an expert on international relations with the biggest nation on earth?

Here's what he said about China being in the G20:

KEVIN RUDD: Right now we're trying to deal responsibly, globally, with this global recession, through the G-20. Now, what's the G-20? It includes 20 of the largest economies in the world, a few exceptions. But it's got some representativeness to it, because together they represent about 80 percent or 90 percent of global GDP.

But it's also a small enough body that you can actually get together and broker some decisions politically. And in the past, a lot of our international institutions have broken down because an agreement couldn't be reached.

Now, China is a player in the G-20. And, therefore, when we look at one of the decisions we're going to have to make soon, when is the reform of the International Monetary Fund, China will be expected to step up to the plate and put more resources into the fund.

But China right now, its voting rights within that fund are the equivalent of Belgium and the Netherlands. I think you've got to change that so that China has a bigger place at the table, rightly, but also that the world can then draw upon the resources which China puts responsibly into an international financial institution.

If anyone can tell me why China should be treated as economically equal to Belgium, I'll buy you a bright shiny membership to the Liberal Party (though no doubt you'll all ready have one...). Also once again, Rudd talks in terms of getting China involved so it can be used by the west - ie if you give China a bit more of a say at the table, then you can also demand China stump up more cash, do more trade favourable policies etc etc.

It's all freaking common sense; and good international policy.

It doesn't mean letting China own every mine in Australia (and Swan has tonight just turned down the Chinese $2.6b bid for Oz Minerals); it does mean treating them with some respect and not saying thanks for all your money when times are good, but when our polls are down we're going to treat you with suspicion, and try and whip up some fear.

Hockey and Turnbull should be focusing purely on Fitzgibbon - he's a chance to be sacked (or to resign), and Greg Combet should at the very least be keeping his mobile phone handy in case a call from the Lodge comes.

Talking about "China" as though we should be any more concerned about that country as we should when USA companies pay for trips and lunches for Ministers is not helpful for future relations with China when things do again come good. Forget the conspiracy theories. China didn't take Harold Holt in a submarine, and Kevin Rudd is not a Chinese plant.

And hey, at least China hasn't asked us to go off and fight a pointless war in Iraq that was so counterproductive to the war in Afghanistan that now 7 years later the whole thing is bogged down in crap. If that were the case then we'd really have something to worry about.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ain't that something! Now that's how you sell a BBQ

I've been meaning to do a post on some 'classic' Australian adverts from the 1980s - the ones that influenced my buying choices as a young consumer (or not, given that all I had was pocket money to spend, and not much of it).

But I haven't been able to nail myself down to the chair to write the damn post as yet, and thus as a bit of an appetite whetter I give you this collection of 80s ads compiled by a young comedian from Adelaide called David M Green. I don't know anything about him except that apparently he is a DJ on 101.5 FM (which to be honest I've never heard of, but then I haven't lived in Adelaide for a while). Nevertheless it's a funny clip, and so enjoy (by the way it's 10 minutes long, so maybe leave for your lunch break).

As an added bonus here's an advert for Pizza Hut from the 80s that I can recall very clearly - though the actor at the time was doing presumably what all actors do (ie whatever they can to make some money). Fair to say though, that he made the right choice in deciding to move on from acting and do a bit of a sports radio show on Triple J. It also serves to remind us of how much our pizza making skills have improved in the last 30 years.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

When I became a reader of fiction

When I was 10, I enjoyed reading, but most of my literary viewing was related to reading books about World War II, encyclopedias (I love general knowledge) and Asterix comics. I hardly read novels. I had a few Famous Five and Hardy Boys books, but mostly any fiction reading was certainly in the"children's section" and pretty lightweight. For me non-fiction was the truth.

Then a friend of mine gave me a book to read: Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Patterson.

The story spoke to me from page one. It is about a boy, Jesse, who wants to be the fastest runner in his grade. As a kid who loved athletics, I was able to see myself in him in a way never possible with any of the Famous Five boys, or the brothers Hardy.

A girl arrives in the town, Leslie, and it turns out she is good at running, in fact she is the fastest kid in their grade. Jesse and Leslie become friends and once again the friendship was easy for me to relate to - as I was always one of the boys who seemingly was destined to be the "best friend" rather than boy friend (suffice to say when I saw Pretty In Pink I was cheering for Duckie). The pair venture into the woods near their houses and in a place accessible only by swinging on a rope over a creek they create a magical world called Terabithia where they rule as king and queen.

And then at the end of the chapter titled "The Perfect Day" my world changed.

After a truly perfect day for Jesse he comes home and is told that Leslie has died after the rope across the creek broke while she was swinging on it, and she has drowned in the flooded creek.

Well that was it. For the first time ever a book was making me cry. And not just cry, but flat out bawling. Even now I can remember it, and remember thinking what the hell is going on? (and also why the hell did my friend give me this stupid book!)

Who knew that books could stir such emotions? Who knew that stories weren't just about solving mysteries or learning information that would be of great use in future games of Trivial Pursuit?

From then on, I wanted fiction.

True it took a while to fully germinate; but the seed was planted and it was only a matter of time from then on. I recall reading that year an excerpt from Oliver Twist as part of a reading comprehension test, and the words of Dickens describing the vendors shouting "thief" and chasing after Oliver stayed with me, as I knew once again that there was something amazing about great fiction. And when I finally read that novel some 6 years later I felt an excited chill when I got to that passage and realised I had waited far too long.

I have never read Bridge to Terabithia since. Its impact was so great that I don't think I could have coped with it again. I haven't seen the movie version either, because it will never match my memory of it as a 10 year old. In fact I have forgotten most of the book. Pretty much all I remember is the first couple chapters and then Leslie dying. When the movie came out I realised I couldn't even remember what Terabithia was.

To be honest this is a common occurrence with me. For example I studied Mill on the Floss at uni - so I would have read it at least twice, and yet for the life of me I can't remember the plot. To be honest even books I love I often forget the endings or parts of the plot - One Hundred Years of Solitude is one of my favourite books of all time, and yet I can only recall the "vibe" and vague bones of the story. The ending? You got me. I'll have to read it again (he says adding it to the long list of "must read again" novels).

One thing that I have read since then are books that bring out the tears in me. I am a hopeless sentimentalist for these things. Heck I even cried when David's wife Dora and annoying dog Jip die in David Copperfield - and I hated Dora and that bloody mutt!

I don't generally get too flooded with tears at love (so Jane Austen leaves me dry eyed - though in raptures at her genius), death seems to be the trigger for me - most likely due to that first instance in Terabithia.

Only one other death in literature though has really affected me as much as that of Leslie's and it was a death I knew was coming, and thought there was nothing to worry about. It was in Victor Hugo's massive tome Les Miserables.

Having seen the musical I knew that the poor pathetic Eponine, despite her deep longing, her deep hope and desire, was destined never to be loved by oblivious Marius, and I knew she was destined to die doing the completely selfless act of delivering a message from him to his beloved Cosette. And more than that, I knew that she would die in his arms, having been shot trying to get back to the barricades.

So all was prepared, I knew the songs, I knew the scene, I was going to be strong. And then I turned the page and read about this girl who her whole adult life had wanted nothing other than love from the man in whose arms she now was:

She let her head fall back on his knees; her lids fluttered, and then she was motionless. He thought that the sad soul had left her. But then, when he thought it was all over, she slowly opened her eyes that were now deep with the shadow of death, and said in a voice so sweet that it seemed already to come from another world.

'You know, Monsieur Marius, I think I was a little bit in love with you.'

She tried to smile, and died.

Fiction my friends is a wonderful and powerful thing - and when it's at its best, it is the truth.

Newspoll: ALP 56 - LNP 44

For something completely different, Newspoll released a poll that showed the ALP streets ahead of the Liberal and National Parties.

At this point does anyone really expect anything different? The ALP ahead on the two-party preferred by 56% to 44% is just par for the course at the moment.

Even more scary for the opposition is that Kevin Rudd continues to be obscenely preferred as PM 65% to 20%. And think for the moment that this poll would have been largely conducted before the governmnt's IR legislation passed through the Senate.

Ok, even more scary for the opposition is that on preferred Liberal Leader (the only category that is even close) Peter Costello is preferred over Malcolm Turnbull by 45% to 38%. Among coalition voters however, Costello is favoured 53% to 40%.

So it's got to the point where half of people who would still vote for the Libs or Nationals want as their leader someone who three times now has turned down the opportunity to lead the party.

This is also reflected in Turnbull's satisfaction rating. 42% are satisfied with his job; 40% are dissatisfied. A high dissatisfaction rating often means your own party are against you (the other side generally don't like you, but never really care enough to be against you).

At this point opinion seems pretty set on Turnbull one way or the other. His satisfaction rating is still OK (though obviously not compared with Rudd's 63% rating) what he needs to do is get his own party on side and that is obviously not going to happen while (to quote Bernard Keane from Crikey) "a man without courage, capacity for hard work or policy substance" who has "done nothing but destabilise his party since November 2007" still sits on the backbench making out like he wants to be leader.

All this is manna from heaven for the ALP and with Rudd about to have a stack of photo ops with Barack Obama, is likely to keep the polls stuck in this vortex at least until the budget (which by all reports is not going to be fun).

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Song a Year: 1987, I Think We're Alone Now

I haven't done a "Song of the Year" for a while, most likely because 1987 was next, and I wanted to put off admitting that for most of that year, and a goodly portion of 1988, I was madly besotted with teen pop "sensation" Tiffany.

Tiffany and I were meant to be. Ok I didn't write her name on my pencil case (a bit too girly a thing to do really) but I did have a poster of her on the inside of the door of my school locker.

The reason is pretty simple - she was the first pop star who was roughly my age. Madonna of course was decades too old, even home grown Kylie Minogue was 4 years older. Tiffany on the other hand was the same age (for part of the year) and thus it was no mere pipe dream; all that was needed was for me to somehow meet up with her and bada bing bada boom... ah geez, youth. You gotta love it.

Fact is, I liked the song as well. A cover of a song by a band no one had ever heard of (Tommy James and the Shondells??), it was reworked into a perfect late 1980s beat, with a video that screams late 1980s louder than someone standing on the top of a hill wearing legwarmers over her acid wash jeans with about a hundred bracelets on her wrists and wearing a jumper over the top of a shirt that isn't tucked in with a ponytail on the side of her head screaming at the top of her lungs, while looking at the time on her Swatch watch, "I am from the 1980s!!!"

Tiffany loved the mall, and the mall loved her back.

Sadly the love was short lived (for those few fly by night fans). I lasted through to her second album, featuring such great hits as... err... "Hold an Old Friend's Hand" anyone???. OK it wasn't great. And perhaps I should have been awake to her limited ability given the worst ever cover of a Beatles song "I Saw Him Standing There" on her first album.

But still, when you're 16 you're allowed to fall in love with a bad pop star. Could've been (now there is a great song) worse - I could have liked Debbie Gibson.

In 2002 she belatedly answered my teenage boy wish and posed in Playboy. And with the sounds of J Geils Band going through my head, I went into the newsagency to sneak a look. Sigh, sometimes it's best not to try to return to your youth.

The great thing about Tiffany and her video is like all good things from the 80s, it is ripe for parody. The great show, How I Met Your Mother, came up with the fantastic Robin Sparkles singing "Let's Go to the Mall (Today)". It is perfect - almost as good as the parody videos from the Hugh Grant film Music and Lyrics.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Casablanca for the 21st Century UPDATE

It’s not often I’m wrong. Well ok it is, but on my own blog I like to think I can at least get close to being right almost 50% of the time. When I did my recasting of Casablanca last week, I had a lot of trouble with the Ingrid Bergmann role of Ilsa.

I had initially wanted Cate Blanchette, but at 40 she was too old for the role. So, unable to think of anyone, I plumped for Scarlett Johanson.

My sister immediately called me on it; saying I had got it wrong, and suggest Kate Winslet instead.

Perhaps due to my utter incredulity that I had forgotten one of my favourite actresses I came up with a heap of incorrect excuses: Winslet was too old (at 33, she’s not), she’s not blonde (huh????) she’s err…. oh geez.

555px-Kate_Winslet_Palm_Film_Festival It’s so damn obvious I can’t believe I didn’t think of her. Bergman2

Winslet would be able to act on the same level with both Clive Owen (my choice for Rick) and Ralph Fiennes (Lazlo); she is absolutely beautiful; and is of a look and age where you could see her with either Owen or Fiennes.

Ok, this means the whole cast is just about all English, but so what – only Rick and Sam are Americans, so I’m sure Owen could do an accent (as if it actually mattered).

But what to do with Johansson? It seems churlish to dump her from the lead role to nothing.

Again my sister had the answer. She can play Yvonne – Rick's girlfriend at the start of the film:

LeBeau5b Yep – she’s young, doesn't have to do much except look bitter and attractivescarlett-johansson and then she gets to cry while singing La Marseillaise .

Whew. Now that feels much better.

Work Choices Dead - and possibly Turnbull as well

Today Julia Gillard at the last minute did a deal with Senators Xenaphon and Fielding that ensured the Government's IR Bill was passed, and that the Libs and Nats were snookered by their own politics. The deal was to make the definition of small business, businesses with 15 full time equivalent staff rather than a head count of 15. The number 15 was the important point though for the ALP.

When Turnbull took over the leadership he smartly realised that IR was a loser for the Libs. He gave the shadow IR portfolio to a nobody, and promptly declared Work Choices dead, and that the ALP had won a mandate.

The Peter Costello started talking.

Suddenly with a need to protect his numbers, Costello got all hairy chested and declared he would oppose the Government's IR Bill... or not.. or some of it... or he wouldn't not be unsupporting none of the amendments if they weren't proposed. Heck I don't know. He was all over the shop.

What mattered was the Government wasn't. Their line that the Libs were still in love with WorkChoices was repeated again and again and again and again. And again.

In contrast, Turnbull has been reduced to the most galling of politics - namely base pointless populist crap - stuff like criticising the Government because the stimulus package will go to people in jail if they had filed a tax return last year.

It was bottom of the drawer slime that had nothing to do with economics. Malcolm knew it; and I'm sure he felt pretty grubby afterwards. But hey, he's a big boy; he didn't need to take that line.

The problem is, the ALP - and Julia Gillard in particular - was absolutely killing him on the floor by repeating his statement that WorkChoice was dead and that the ALP had a mandate. It was once again Turnbull being brought undone by his need to say something. He still is not much of a politician - he needs to say things - things that can come back to haunt you. The first lesson in politics is never say something that forces you to do something. By saying the Government had a mandate and that Workchoices was dead, Turnbull was forced to either pass the Govt's IR Bill (and alienate a good number of his MPs) or oppose it and look like a complete hypocrite.

Yesterday in the last QT before the Budget is handed down in May, Turnbull launched into a censure motion against Rudd. Problem was he did it at an odd time, when Rudd was answering a question on the ETS:

Mr RUDD—On the question of emissions trading, when the member for Wentworth was seeking to unseat the member for Bradfield as Leader of the Opposition, he did so on the basis of saying he was going to be green on the question of emissions trading.

The SPEAKER—The Leader of the Opposition on the point of order?

Mr Turnbull—Mr Speaker, I seek leave to move a motion of censure against the Prime Minister.

At this point Anthony Albanese got up and said "You're kidding aren't you?" And then waved his hand as if to suggest, oh, go ahead, your funeral.

And so it was. The government showed Turbull complete contempt and let Albanese respond - he enjoys QT almost as much as Julia - and he tore into Turnbull:

Mr ALBANESE: The only person in this chamber watching when the Leader of the Opposition rose to move his censure motion today was the member for Higgins. He was the only one who was smiling. What we have seen today with this weak censure motion is the last refuge of a dying Leader of the Opposition. We saw the same thing from the member for Bradfield as he was going out the door.

And indeed it may be. You possibly recall Nelson's last attempt to hold onto the leadership - his censure motion, his jam sandwiches plea.

There are only two reason to move a censure motion - you've got the Government on the run and want to force the PM to defend himself or else look like he is running away; or because you are floundering and you need some spotlight.

Turnbull's was the second case.

Now admittedly his speech was pretty good - he is generally a good public speaker. But no one was listening. All that mattered was that under his leadership the polls haven't improved and the party has been forced into voting against getting rid of Work Choices.

Now I still don't think Costello will challenge, because I just think he will only ever lead if the party comes to him on bended knee and in complete subjugation, but Turnbull is still in trouble. My pick is actually for Hockey to get the gig. Costello would be ok with that - he could play the power behind the throne. And besides, Hockey does well on TV (though mostly because he says what he knows the viewers of Sunrise want to hear, regardless of whether it is the truth).

Dennis Shanahan, no fan of Kevin Rudd, summed it up this way:

KEVIN Rudd had the opportunity to put Malcolm Turnbull to the sword yesterday in the last question time before the May federal budget.

It was a chance for the Government to engineer and accelerate a crisis for the Liberal leadership.

If the Prime Minister had the form and instincts of his Labor predecessor, he could have delivered a withering parliamentary riposte to the Leader of the Opposition along the lines of "doing" an embattled Liberal leader slowly.

But Kevin Rudd is not Paul Keating, and after a quick discussion on the floor of parliament, the Labor brains trust decided to treat Turnbull with contempt, to largely ignore him and to deny him relevance.

All points that were not lost on the Coalition MPs, who will limp away to the autumn break knowing the Government has left Turnbull swinging in the breeze.

So the Libs have a loser as leader, not fit to even be bothered with.

The ALP on the other hand, aside from Rudd, have a real winner.

Christian Kerr, a writer I rarely agree with, wrote this morning about Julia Gillard:

Gillard has been milking the politics of workplace relations, and exploiting tensions in the Coalition at every point to create a brilliant illusion that Malcolm Turnbull is afraid of former treasurer Peter Costello and therefore scared to kill off Work Choices.

Today she may pull off the almost perfect compromise - she may keep the magic number of 15 workers as her definition.

The number 15 has become symbolic in the debate. It’s what Labor took to the election and Gillard needs to “win” the right to keep the number. The political dilemma will then fall again to the Coalition, which will have to make a decision to either vote against the bill and be painted as Work Choices addicts, or vote for it and look like they have backed down and been hairy chested about nothing.

If she can pull off a compromise that satisfies the crossbenchers while alienating the Coalition, her reputation as the Government’s best political operative will be guaranteed.

She did, and it is.

The cruel irony of it all is this: here's what Malcolm Turnbull said on AM when interview by Lyndal Curtis last Wednesday:

LYNDAL CURTIS: ... Are you prepared to accept the sort of compromise that Senator Xenophon is putting up, which defines a small business as one with 15 full-time employees, rather than have a higher number that someone like Barnaby Joyce wants of around 40?

MALCOLM TURNBULL: Well, what we've said in the - what the shadow cabinet decided and what we agreed to in the party room - is that we would seek a higher definition. The problem with a 15 head count, and this is an important thing to understand: you can have two businesses; you can have one with 14 full-time employees who all work, you know, a full week, 40 hours a week. On the other hand, you can have a business with 15 or 16 employees, each of whom who works one day or four hours and whose full-time equivalent is much less than 15, much, much less. The second business is regarded as not a small business, the first business is. So there is a problem with the definition.

So last week he was prepared to go with 15 full-time equivalent as the magic number. Instead the party room forced him to go higher - to 25 or at lowest 20, and the Government ended up doing what he was considering.

The Government in the end did what Turnbull thought was right, and yet it comes out the winner, and he the loser. That takes some skill (on both sides).

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Flick of the Week: "What, if you don't mind my asking, would you do?"

This week's flick of the week takes us with Liam Neeson from the sugary goodness of Love Actually, to the harrowing Schindler's List.

I was fortunate to come to the story first through Kenneally's fantastic Schindler's Ark, but even those who had not read the book knew this was a big picture. It was Spielberg going serious (which he had already done with Empire of the Sun, but hardly anyone saw that), and it was on the holocaust. And it was to be done in black and white. This, if ever there was, was a picture that demanded to be taken seriously.

The rumour is that Spielberg didn't think he could do the story justice, and so tried to get Martin Scorsese and then Roman Polanski to direct it. Scorsese doing a holocaust film would be a very bizarre thing to see, and Polanski would of course go on to later direct The Pianist. In the end director Billy Wilder convinced Spielberg to do it himself.

The story about a German businessman who was a bon vivant, speculator and charmer (according to Keneally) and who despite getting rich using Jewish labour also saved around 1200 Jews from certain death at the hands of the Nazis is a cracker. Unfairly criticised by some cynics as a "feel good holocaust story" it is a pretty brutal film that certainly isn't the thing to put in the DVD player on a relaxing Friday night.

But I have to admit I have a lot of problems with it. The use of black and white was a cop out. A device notionally used by Spielberg to create a sense of the times, but I think was done more because he was worried viewers would not be able to think of a film by him as serious, and thus he wanted to be as clear as he could to viewers that this wasn't the Spielberg of E.T. or Jaws. I doubt he would do it know - people now know he can direct "serious" films. The use of the black and white allows the viewer to distance themselves from the action - as though it happened a long time ago and is no longer relevant.

Spielberg also uses the photography as a gimmick when he allows us to see only one thing in colour - the red jacket of a young Jewish girl. It is a sentimental device that fits better in E.T. than this film. You have to wonder if Spielberg was worried that people wouldn't feel enough emotion watching entire families being murdered, and so used the device to ensure the tears flowed. It was manipulative, and unfortunately is the type of thing Spielberg seems unable to stop himself from doing. (He does it at the end with the coda of the actors and the real life people they portrayed putting rocks on Schindler's grave)

Despite this, the film is great, if only for two reasons - Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes.

Neeson lost the Oscar to Tom Hanks in the showy role as the gay lawyer dying of AIDS in Philidelphia. Looking back now it was obvious Oscar bait, and I don't think deserved the award, but I actually would have given the award that year to Anthony Hopkins for The Remains of the Day.

Neeson though was excellent. Prior to the role, he was just another actor from Britain/Ireland, who got a lot of bit parts in nothing films - I saw him play the lead in Darkman and I have to say it wasn't very good. But after this! Well now, suddenly he was Liam Neeson. You think he would have been in The Phantom Menace, Gangs of New York, Rob Roy, or indeed be playing Abraham Lincoln in Spielberg's upcoming Lincoln if he hadn't been in this film?

For actors, careers are all about taking the tide at the flood. Neeson was given a dream role, and he made the most of it. His speech to the guards at the end of the war is masterful:

Neeson brilliantly conveys the personality of thius complex man - in the opening scene when he completely takes over a restaurant, you want to be dining with him - you know immediately that Schindler's table is the table to be sitting at. He also is able to show that Schindler was in no way a saint - he almost doesn't understand himself why he is risking his life to save his workers. And yet by the end he is a world removed from the confidant man striding into the dining room demanding to be told about the wine cellar.

But as good as Neeson was, his was not the best performance in the movie. Ralph Fiennes as the evil twin of Schindler, Amon Goeth, created one of the all-time great acting performances.

It was his first major role, and that did help the believability of the performance. Similar to Ben Kingsley when he played Gandhi, because we had not seen him act before he seemed to inhabit the role. But whereas now when you go back and watch Gandhi you can see Ben Kinglsey the actor, when you watch this film, even if you have seen Fiennes in all his other roles, the brilliance of the performance is not diminished.

He is evil incarnate. He is the devil, and yet he is charming. He is not a lunatic' he is someone who has retained sanity but completely discarded his morality. The book makes more of the fact that he and Schindler are quite similar - but that Schindler took the path of humanity; Goethe took the path to hell.

And yet he lost the Oscar for Best Supporting Oscar to Tommy Lee Jones for The Fugitive. Quite possibly the worst decision ever in that category, and surely one of the top 5 all-time worst decisions by the Academy Awards. All Jones had to do was chew some scenery while delivering his "hen house, outhouse, dog house" speech. Fiennes had to play a man who could in one scene start by talking to his Jewish housekeeper Helen Hirsh about "reaching out to her loneliness" and then end it with "No, I don't think so. You Jewish bitch, you nearly talked me into it, didn't you?" and to beat her.

Youtube has a few clips of the role, but this scene was one that stuck in my brain after the first viewing:

It is a shattering role that dominates the film, and it signalled the start of a career that is as good as any going around at the moment. If you want tortured drama - Fiennes is your man (action comedy or romcoms, not so much! - for those of you who have seen The Avengers or Maid in Manhatten).

Schindler's List is ranked number 7 all-time on imdb.com. I don't think it's that good. But it is a very good film that rewards re-watching.

Best line:
Oskar Schindler: I've been speaking to Goeth.
Itzhak Stern: I know the destination. These are the evacuation orders, I'm to help arrange the shipments, put myself on the last train.
Oskar Schindler: That's not what I was going to say. I made Goeth promise to put in a good word for you. Nothing bad is going to happen to you there, you'll receive special treatment.
Itzhak Stern: The directives coming in from Berlin talk about "special treatment" more and more often. I'd like to think that's not what you mean.
Oskar Schindler: Preferential treatment. All right? Do we have to create a new language?
Itzhak Stern: I think so.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Ten Books Needed in the Perfect Bookstore

I love bookstores to an almost absurd degree. I can spend a good few hours just wondering around a bookstore taking in the pages. When I lived in Japan I used to take a train to Tokyo just so I could go to the bookstores there that had English language books (ok that and to go a few of the bars in Tokyo).

In 2001 when I went back to Japan, I was astonished to find so many great bookstores – to the point that locating a store with copious numbers of English novels was no longer a great discovery – I have to admit it took some of the joy out of the whole enterprise. My wife and I also went to the west coast of Canada and the USA, and there I revelled in the huge bookstores in Vancouver, LA and San Francisco – not to mention the famous City Lights Bookstore.

And while I do spend a fair bit of time surfing amazon.com nothing will replace the joy I get from a bookstore – it’s the tactile nature I need.

And yet, sigh, I have yet to find the perfect bookstore. The store with all the books I want (and at the time I want them!). A few years ago I came up with a list of 10 books that I would ensure were in a bookstore, should I be foolish enough to ever run/own one (foolish, because I am sure undertaking such an adventure would ensure I no longer loved bookstores or books).

The list is now lost in time, and was no doubt in need of updating anyway. So here is my list of 10 books that the perfect bookstore must have.

A few caveats – this is not a list of the 10 best books, my 10 favourite books (though some are here), nor even the 10 hardest books to find - there’s no point saying every good bookstore needs a copy of some obscure work that is now out of print. These are my choices for my perfect bookstore – no doubt each person has their own selection. These are the ones I look for when I enter a store for the first time (and invariably find at least some of them missing).

10. George Orwell - Down and Out in Paris and London

London Every bookstore needs a good selection of Orwell. If it doesn’t have 1984 it should be automatically disqualified from calling itself a bookstore. But the perfect store needs to go that bit extra. Down and Out in Paris and London is Orwell’s first work and is not too obscure. It’s not as unread as Burmese Days and not so popular as Animal Farm. It is a brilliant work of reportage – faction before faction became a genre. His account of working in a top Paris restaurant (“Hotel X”) makes one relieved for the introduction of health regulations. It needs to be in the perfect bookstore because it alerts the buyer that not only are the obvious books by famous authors to be found here, so too are the lesser ones. It means the owner might actually be a reader.

9. Thomas Kenneally Confederates

Conf Kenneally is my favourite Australian writer and for a while there in the late ‘70s to late ‘80s he was as good as anyone going around. Speaking as an Australian, the perfect bookstore must have a good Australian fiction selection. I would be tempted to go with something like Henry Handel Richardson, but to be honest I only ever see her Fortunes of Richard Mahoney in second hand book shops, and I found The Getting of Wisdom a bit slow going. Peter Carey and Tim Winton are usually in easy supply; ditto Kate Grenville. Keneally’s Schindler’s Ark can be found even in a run of the mill airport lounge bookstore due to the Spielberg movie. Confederates though is a bit more of a challenge. It was nominated for the Booker Prize – so it’s not too obscure, and is his best book in my opinion. It was also the first book I read by an Australian author that made me realise Australians did not only need to write about Australia. It is a great Civil War book – far better than Geraldine Brooks’ March or Cold Mountain. Finding it in a bookstore means the owner looks beyond the works that have either been mentioned by Oprah or have been turned into films, and that they are not afraid to keep the back catalogue of good authors.

8. Alexander Solzhenitsyn One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich

scan0005 Some works are just imperative to assure the buyer that the owner knows books are not just about stories, but are valuable and necessary contributions to life. Failure to have this book just screams, ‘I am a soulless money making operation’. It’s also a stupid business decision – Ivan Denisovich is on just about every Year 10 reading list. Sure the store should also have The Gulag Archipelago, or Primo Levi’s If This is a Man, but I’ll be kind and set the bar a bit low. This is a slim book that takes up little space on a shelf, but it indicates so much.

7. William Shirer – The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

200px-TheRiseandFalloftheThirdReichAll good bookstores have a history section, and any history section worth its salt will have a big proportion devoted to WWII titles. The standard bookstore will have a slather of Stephen Ambrose’s works like Band of Brothers, or Citizen Soldiers, also you’ll find Anthony Beevor’s Stalingrad or Berlin. If you’re in Australia there will be the latest by Peter Fitzsimmons. If I was being incredibly hard on the bookstores I could have suggested the need for a great WWI history like Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, or the essential novel of the nuclear age – The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes; but I don’t think I’ve ever seen the first in Australia outside of second hand bookstores, and the second I have never seen in Australia anywhere. And the fact is, if you are going to have a WWII section, and you can’t be bothered having the book by which all other histories of Nazi Germany are based, well then, I ask you – why bother?

6. Vikram Seth – The Golden Gate

Golden Seth has written a few other novels – such as the massive A Suitable Boy, but this one by virtue of it being a verse novel sets it apart from other books, and means the bookstore owner has taken a bit of a risk. To be honest this was a more popular title back in the late 80s early 90s, and it has dated a bit, but it’s also a book that often finds itself onto the reading list of first year university English courses which means that if you find it in a bookstore, chances are the store is near a university. Such a sign is always a good thing – university students flock to bookstores for obscure titles on reading lists, and any owner who wants to build up a good clientele will get a copy of the reading lists and stock them. And that is a good bookstore to be standing in. It’s also a good book for snobbiness sake as you can refer to it as The Golden Gate by Vikram ‘Sate’, and demonstrate that you know the correct way to pronounce his name. I of course have been calling him ‘Seth’ for the last 20 years…

5. Peter Biskind – Easy Riders, Raging Bulls

Easy Books are not all there is to life. There are movies as well! This book by Peter Biskind is the first port of call for anyone interested in finding out about films. It’s not a great book – in fact after a while I got sick of the whole they took some drugs, made some films, Dennis Hopper went mad, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas were interested in making money routine. It also made me hate just about anyone involved in making any film in the 1970s. But hey, this is about necessary books, and if you don’t find this book in the store, then you’re in a bookstore that has no idea about popular culture, no idea about film literature and probably is nowhere near a university offering film studies. So this is a good one to check is there.

4. Thomas Mann – Buddenbrooks

Budden A real personal choice. Mann was a great novelist, much underrated, and much forgotten. Buddenbrooks is my favourite novel of his and also has kudos for being less likely to be found on a bookshelf than The Magic Mountain. The Magic Mountain is often considered the book that won him the Nobel Prize, but in actual fact it was Buddenbrooks that the Nobel Prize committee referred to when they awarded Mann the prize in 1929. Finding this book always gladdens my heart. It makes me feel like I am among friends; it’s absence always causes a bit of sadness, for I know the bookstore and I will never be truly connected. Everyone has a favourite book; all serious book lovers have a favourite book that few others have read, or is out of the mainstream. This is mine.

3. John Dos Passos – USA trilogy

Parralel Now the bar is really getting raised. Only once have I come across all three of Dos Passos’ works in an Australian bookstore – the Adelaide Borders store – but every time I’ve gone back they’ve had either The 42nd Parallel, but not 1919 or both of those but not The Big Money. I’m pretty sure the only way to have them in Australia is to import them, so they are pretty expensive, and they are not ever going to be at the top of the best seller lists. I could have put in any of the novels by Thomas Pynchon, or perhaps some less read Salmon Rushdie – say Shame, or maybe the brilliant Jorge Borges’ Labyrinths. In fact any number of works more suited to a third year Modernist or Post Modern literature course could have fit here – anything by Italo Calvino would fit the bill perfectly. But it is my habit to always look for this group of three novels – perhaps because I own the first and want the second and third. Finding this in the store really shows the owner knows his or her stuff, and is also prepared to import some more esoteric works that let the buyer know they are not standing in a newsagency pretending to be a bookstore.

2. Jane Austen – Pride and Prejudice

P&P Austen is going to be from now until the second coming the most popular writer of 19th Century fiction. Pride and Prejudice will for that length of time be her most popular novel. These are just facts; you can dislike them, but there is no getting away from them. Of course the perfect bookstore needs this book, because if it doesn’t, it means the owner has no interest in making money, and will soon be going out of business. The bookstore may have all other nine selections, but if it doesn’t have this it won’t be around for much longer, and the perfect bookstore cannot go broke!

1. James Joyce - Ulysses

Ulysses Because if you’re not going to stock the greatest novel ever written, why the hell even bother opening for business in the first place?