Category Archives: Things I’ve seen recently

Movie: Mr Holmes

I’ve been taking advantage of the cheap day to go to the movies but  I didn’t pay any price at all for this movie because I received two free tickets as a prize in a Council of Adult Education competition.

It’s good. It’s worth going to see for Ian McKellan alone, who is just brilliant with that wrinkled, earnest face registering a flood of emotions at times, and taking on the blankness of old age at other times.  The young boy, Milo Parker, is excellent as well and looks the quintessential Edwardian schoolboy. It’s beautifully filmed, with evocative music.

Shall I channel Margaret Pomerantz? 4.5 stars for mine.

Movie: Far from the Madding Crowd

I hadn’t seen the 1960s version of Far from the Madding Crowd, nor have I read the book.  I really had no idea what it was about, although I assumed (correctly as it turned out) that it would be yet another of Thomas Hardy’s Wessex tales. I’d enjoyed Tess of the D’Urbervilles as a first-year university student in the 1970s; came out thoroughly depressed from the movie Jude based on Jude the Obscure and I’ve never read The Mayor of Casterbridge.

Carey Mulligan is luminous, as she always is.

My rating: 4 out of 5.

Movie: Love and Mercy

At choir the other night, our choirmaster distributed ‘God Only Knows’, the Beach Boys song.  I’ve always loved this song and its complexity is writ large in the myriad guitar chord changes shown on the sheet music.  As often happens with songs we sing at choir, it’s been stuck in my head ever since, and was even more firmly cemented there after seeing the biopic of Brian Wilson in ‘Love and Mercy’. It’s still on at Cinema Nova (‘Last Days!) but probably won’t be for much longer.

Brian Wilson’s story is told in two intercut storylines, one from 1966 during the taping of Pet Sounds, and the other from the 1980s when Wilson is a heavily medicated shell of a man.  The 1960s thread is shot in Super 16 film and has that saccharine look of American beach movies, while the 1980s vision is sharper and cleaner.  Two different actors play Brian Wilson.  Paul Dano, who plays the young Brian looks quite similar to the real man, but John Cusack playing 1980s Brian looks nothing like him. I must confess that I found it hard to suspend my awareness of the pasty, empty Brian Wilson that we see today when faced with an actor who looked almost Dustin Hoffman-esque.  An excellent story  though, that has you despising the bad buys (and realizing the dangers of power of legal and medical attorney) and cheering for the good guys who in this case are good women.

And just to keep ‘God Only Knows’ in YOUR head too, here’s the film clip.  Having seen the movie, I’m more aware of the studio-engineered complexity of the orchestration which references the contribution of the backing session players, themselves featuring in the coming documentary The Wrecking Crew. I’m also more alert to the redundancy of the other Beach Boys in this film clip and particularly the resentful irrelevance of Mike Love in the right hand corner.

Movie: Freedom Stories

Freedom Stories won’t be on for much longer and its season has already been extended at Cinema Nova.  It’s a documentary that follows a number of Australians who arrived during 2001 as asylum-seekers and, under the policies in force at the time, spent time in detention centres before being released under Temporary Protection Visas.

It was strange to see suburban settings juxtaposed against the images that the government didn’t want us to see of Baxter and Curtin detention centres.  It gives these people back their names, instead of the numbers they were dehumanized by.   The film-maker’s (Steve Thomas) presence is quite obvious, with each separate story starting with a computer screen-shot and a running sheet.

The documentary starts with a customer collecting his car from the mechanic after having it serviced.  “What do you know about Mustafa?” asks the film-maker.  “Oh, he comes from- was it Afghanistan, Mustafa? That’s about it really…”

I found myself looking a little more closely at the people on the footpath as I walked back from Parkville to the city.  They were from so many countries and cultures: each of them with a story.  The participants in this documentary are good new citizens, working hard, optimistic. What on earth are we doing  to people with our  refugee policies?

Movie: Madame Bovary

I don’t really think of myself as a retired person, but I suppose that I am. And what does a retired person do but go to the movies during the week, taking advantage of Miserly Monday or Tight-Ass Tuesday to avoid paying full price to watch a movie?

I’d wanted to see this for some time, and it’s now listed as ‘final days’ at Cinema Nova (my cinema of choice). I read the book at uni some 35 years ago but I don’t remember seeing any other movie adaptation of Madame Bovary.  I remembered the plot, theme and the characterization (especially of Emma) but was not particularly aware of the setting, beyond the boredom it induced in her.

Film captures setting beautifully and this is certainly the case in this book.  Village life  was muddy and it was a much smaller village than I remembered: just a single street in effect.  The houses were dimly lit at night, and rather grubby.  Emma was fetchingly decked out in orange in many scenes and, set against the forested setting, the framing of many shots reminded me of a pre-Raphaelite painting.

It was a very quiet movie and rather emotionally dead.  I expected to shed a tear (I am an emotional old thing, after all), but I felt oddly detached from her fate.

My rating:  3 out of 5.

Medieval Moderns


National Gallery of Victoria (International), Until 12 July 2015

There’s a lovely small, free exhibition of pre-Raphaelite paintings on show at the National Gallery International until  12 July.  The exhibition exemplifies the fallacy in trying to carve off ‘Australian’ from ‘International’ art because it includes artists like Edward La Trobe Bateman (in Australia between 1852-69) and Thomas Woolner who worked in Australia in 1852-4 after arriving for the gold rush.  He, like Bateman, associated with the Howitt family who were the centre of cultural Port Phillip in a reminder to us of the transnational nature of artistic and cultural interests.  Many of these works- particularly those of William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Ford Madox Brown and Edward Burne-Jones- were purchased as part of the Felton Bequest.

The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was a group of artists in the mid -19th century who eschewed the current trends in art and the increasing industrialization of production, and consciously turned to older styles of painting and imagery – hence dubbing themselves ‘pre’ the painter Raphael (1483-1520). Many of their works, created in the last half of the 19th century harked back to a quieter medieval milieu and a mythical forested, European setting. They marked their paintings with a small PRB logo in the corner. They came to the attention of the wider public through their illustrations of Tennyson’s poetry which was itself steeped in the mythological realm. Reproductions of their works were circulated throughout the Empire, with the Maitland Mercury noting on 26 September 1885 that a reproduction of Holman Hunt’s “The Shadow of Death” on show in a shop window had formed the basis of the local vicar’s “very eloquent” sermon.

An unusual window display for Maitland - Holman Hunt's 'The Shadow of Death'. I wonder what they were advertising?

An unusual window display for Maitland – Holman Hunt’s ‘The Shadow of Death’. I wonder what they were advertising?

When we were in Birmingham we heard a lecture about Lizzie Siddal, whose long red hair and pale, thin features adorn many of these paintings, and she (and others visually similar to her) can be found in several of these paintings. As well as paintings and sketches for paintings, there are woodcuts, furniture, photographs, book bindings and wallpaper produced by the PRB, marking the extension from painting into the decorative arts and production methods, especially through William Morris’ influence with his company, Morris & Co.  Men predominate, of course, but there are photographs by Julia Margaret Cameron

We downloaded a PDF of the wall-panel labels used in the display before visiting, which I thought would be a good way of avoiding having to cluster up close to the painting, squinting at writing in the dark before moving back to view the picture. Unfortunately there seems to be no order at all to the PDF- or at least, I couldn’t detect it, and it seemed to be completely unrelated to the layout of the exhibition. A good idea poorly executed.

All-in-all, it’s a lovely little exhibition that reminds us of the riches that the Felton Bequest has brought to Victoria.

‘A Camera on Gallipoli & Recollections’ Hatch Gallery until 30 May 2015

Hatch Gallery, 14 Ivanhoe Pde Ivanhoe Tues-Sat 10.00 a.m -5.00 p.m, until 30 May 2015. Free entry

An inordinate number of your taxpayer dollars have been directed towards the commemoration of Gallipoli and there have been many enticements to community groups to participate at a local level in the centenary. Banyule City Council put up its hand and its display will be open until 30 May- so only a couple more weeks to view it.


The HATCH Gallery is a fairly new venture located in a small hall behind the iconic Heidelberg Town Hall in (perversely) Ivanhoe. It is on two levels, as is this exhibition. The ground floor features a travelling exhibition mounted through the Australian War Memorial of the photographs of Sir Charles Ryan, while upstairs is a more localized display of artefacts and stories of local men who enlisted.

Sir Charles Snodgrass Ryan (1853-1926) was a scion of many early Port Phillip pioneers.  His father was Charles Ryan, who along with Peter Snodgrass were part of the ‘Gallant Five’ who helped  capture the Plenty Valley Bushrangers. His maternal grandfather was Joseph Cotton; his uncle, Albert Le Soeuf was the pioneer director of Melbourne Zoo and his sister was the artist Mrs Ellis Rowan.  After starting medicine at the University of Melbourne, he finally qualified through the University of Edinburgh.  While touring Europe and undertaking postgraduate qualifications, he saw an advertisement for medical officers to work for the Turkish government. He  worked in a medical capacity with the Turkish armies in the Turko-Serbian war of 1876 and the Russo-Turkish campaign of 1877-78. He would have only been quite young, and this serves as a reminder to us that the Balkans and Ottoman regions were heavily contested long before World War I.  On return to Australia he was appointed an honorary surgeon at the Royal Melbourne Hospital where, among other patients, he had the care of Ned Kelly to ensure that he faced trial after the Glenrowan siege.  When WWI broke out, he volunteered for the position of Assistant Director of the AIF Medical Service, aged sixty. He took with him his camera and the black and white images in this display are the result.

Perhaps because of his administrative and hence logistic role, many of these photographs show the supplies stacked along the small beach at Anzac Cove. It hadn’t particularly occurred to me that the task of supplying the troops continued during the months that the troops were there. He took photographs of the men in the trenches and swimming at Anzac Cove- it was certainly no Bondi Beach. In many of the photographs, men were sleeping in the trenches in broad daylight. This reminded me of the comment that Peter Cundall made at the ANZAC Eve commemoration I attended that soldiers often slept because of both physical and emotional exhaustion. One of the photographs depicts Lt Col Robert ‘Dad’ Owen, who had fought in the Sudan in 1885 with the NSW contingent and now led the 3rd Battalion at Gallipoli. His son fought in the same battalion and died in Belgium in 1917.

On 24 May 1915 after particularly heavy fighting, the corpses were piling up, rapidly putrifying in the sun. A truce was called and, against orders, Ryan took him camera with him to photograph the bodies. There is a story that he was challenged by Turkish officers who saw his Turkish medals from his youth, but they were mollified and then intrigued when Ryan conversed with them in Turkish (I assume), regaling them with stories of the war that their fathers and grandfathers had fought.


Source: Australian War Memorial site

These truce photographs are disturbing a hundred years later, and would have been even more so at the time, had they become public. In fact, I don’t think that I’ve often seen so many photographs of dead bodies and there is certainly none of the nationalistic ra-ra that makes me uncomfortable about much Anzac commemoration.  You can read historian Frank Bongiorno’s speech in opening this travelling exhibition in Canberra in 2014 here.

Upstairs there is a small theaterette that has a rolling, silent loop of photographic images of the war (although I must confess to feeling somewhat sated by the display downstairs). Another room contains artefacts donated by local families whose grandfathers and great-grandfathers fought during the war with biographical panels alongside.

This is a well-laid out exhibition that combines the national with the very local. It hasn’t really received a great deal of publicity, and given that it closes soon, you’ll need to visit soon to catch it.