Friday, November 27, 2009

Flying Blind next Thursday

A panel presentation on the cultural and artistic impact of new media technologies.

- Writer Jack Ross will draw on his web-based projects including the REM trilogy.
- Filmmaker Gabriel White will discuss the question of a "minor" cinema.
- Filmmaker David Blyth will discuss the internet and desire though his recent film Transfigured Nights.
- Film Archive curator Amelia Harris will examine the similar presence of amateurism in early cinema and contemporary media.

When: Thursday Dec 3
7.30 pm

Where: Auckland Film Archive
Level 1, 300 K Rd
Koha entry
complimentary beer!


[postscript: 4/12/09]

Well, the event went off very well, I thought.

You can read more about the details of my presentation here, and no doubt there'll be further follow-ups on the Floating Cinemas website and blog.

[Photograph by Mary Paul (4/9/09)]

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Tactical Voting in Australian Masterchef

[Aussie Masterchef Finalists Poh, Chris & Julie]

Forget the Witi Ihimaera and Hone Harawira scandals, I have a far more weighty accusation to share with the New Zealand public. Yes, patient readers, I believe that our favourite reality show of the moment, Australian Masterchef, is rigged!

I first became aware of the gravity of the situation after almost coming to blows with a Julie-partisan (my mother) over dinner at my parent's house last night. I, a Chris true-believer, have elected to boycott the grand finale tomorrow in protest at the blatantly unfair judging that saw him packed off into beery oblivion ... Snout to Tail, Stout to Ale indeed!

Storm in a teacup (or a crockpot) you say? Too trivial for a weighty intellectual blogsite such as this? I don't think so.

What do we expect of a good reality show? Well, logical, consistent rules, for a start. Australian Masterchef got off to a shaky start by importing a system of voting-off-the-island from Survivor which seems to me completely unsuited to a skills-based programme such as this. Who cares who the other contestants want to get rid of? The point is who has the ability to go further. For the judges to step back from elimination decisions such as this as about as fatuous an arrangement as I can well imagine.

But, then, is it a skills-based programme? The first few "master-classes", where head judges Gary and George stroked their own egos by giving lessons in how to butter bread or how to boil water, left even the contestants baffled and unsure how to react. Was this some colossal piss-take? One could see them alternately scratching their heads and yawning until they learnt the correct response: fawning adulation. Julie was an early winner in this regard, along with the egregious, Uriah-Heep-like Sam.

[A Rogues Gallery: Masterchef judges
Gary Mehigan, Sarah Wilson, George Calombaris & Matt Preston]

As the seemingly interminable months of the competition wound on, chef after chef came up for elimination opposite the talentless Sam and self-doubting Julie only to receive their marching orders. It couldn't be ... that they were simply better TV than their opponents, could it? That would be a bit harsh. Let's just attribute it to their being more adroit and abject flatterers.

By the time of the Hong Kong challenge, even the judges seem to have woken up to the fact that they were looking at a final with all the good cooks (except Chris) already sent home. So what was their solution? Reverse the last set of eliminations and bring three failed contestants back. Brilliant! It meant that the entire Hong Kong excursion was a complete waste of time which accounted for no contestants, despite a whole week of stuffing around there. Fun and games, yes, but one could see that for Chris at least this was the final straw.

He'd put up with the transparently self-serving, insultingly elementary "master-classes;" had attempted to endure the transparent politicking of the so-called "kiddie mafia" (Sam, Josh & Kate); but he seems somehow to have retained a simple faith in the basic concept of a reality show, which is that you can actually send people home and hope they'll stay there.

By now the rules were so complex, so contradictory, so obviously invented on the fly, that the whole contest had come down to one question. Who's the most obvious candidate for "little Aussie battler" among those still left standing? The talented (though already-eliminated) Poh was just a bit too swollen-headed for the role. And just imagine the fuss from heartland Australia if an Asian won their inaugural "Masterchef" award! Chris might have seemed a good fit if it weren't for his refusal to blub and emote and self-destruct all over the screen. Who was left? Julie.

Last night Julie served up a leg of lamb, a piece of stuffed chicken and a dry piece of chocolate cake. She failed to garnish them with any of the sauce or vegetables she'd prepared to go with them through sheer incompetence and flap. Our guest judge, cook-book guru (and disastrous fashion-victim) Donna Hay, helpfully explained that this "didn't matter with rustic cooking." By this stage it was clear that three courses of vegemite sandwiches "cooked with love" (Julie's big theme) would have got her through with flying colours. 'Nuff said, as Stan Lee used to say.

I don't need to watch any further. I know Julie is going to win the competition overall. I don't believe she deserves to. She's about as much of a master-chef as my arse. For the love of Mike, didn't you guys want to find out who was the best cook among them? No you didn't is the brutal answer. You wanted to elicit a lot of sentimental tear-jerking slop from the contestants in order to build up your ratings. J'accuse. That's all I can say at this point: J'accuse.

You've robbed me of my simple faith in reality TV. No longer will I be able to sit glued night after night to the cook-offs and taste-tests. I mean, I expect this sort of thing of Americans: Las Vegas bookies conspiring in smoke-filled rooms, Martha Stewart and her pet brokers trading in dodgy stocks, but I wouldn't have believed it of our bluff, hearty neighbours to the North. You're your own worst enemies, that's the truth of it. You'll end up killing the goose that lays the golden eggs (or perhaps, in this case, the goose that fricassees them in boarfat) ... Shakespeare, as usual, said it best:

O now, for ever
Farewell the tranquil mind! farewell content!
Farewell the plumed troops and the big wars
That makes ambition virtue! O farewell!
Farewell the neighing steed and the shrill trump,
The spirit-stirring drum, th' ear-piercing fife,
The royal banner, and all quality,
Pride, pomp, and circumstance of glorious war!
And O you mortal engines, whose rude throats
Th' immortal Jove's dread clamors counterfeit,
Farewell! Othello's occupation's gone

(Othello 3.3.347-357).

Never mind, Chris, we still believe in you (though you won't catch me eating any pig's heads or pig's trotters outside a nightmare ...)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Before the Storm

[Vor dem Sturm (1878)]

Vor dem Sturm
by Theodor Fontane
“The German War and Peace"
I picked it up in Edinburgh
& was immediately

the heroine seemed real
Renate von Vitzewitz
stagey action
like real life
her tragic early death
a psychic blow

[Theodor Fontane (1819-1898)]

The Pioneers
by James Fenimore Cooper
I had a plan to read them all
The Leatherstocking Novels
dutifully ploughed through
the first few
but this one

[The Pioneers (1823)]

The drifting snow
of its opening pages
the meeting on the road
the little town
in the Big Woods
It all seemed true
or if not true

[James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851)]

infinitely desirable
but why?
Then John Meade Falkner,
The Nebuly Coat
not one of his
most celebrated works

The Lost Stradivarius
but this one had
the atmosphere
of strange but vital friendships
formed in musty towns
deep conversations
a world one longed to enter

Three times it's happened
– 3 obscure books –
I've never dared reread them
Would it happen again?
Do I want it to?
I wonder
It was comforting, entrancing, mystical

like waking on your own
in the blue room

[John Meade Falkner (1858-1932)]

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Hooked on Classics

Recently I was invited to a poetry gathering up north where I read out some of my versions from Sappho. Afterwards a rather indignant-looking elderly lady came up to me, introducing herself as a former Latin teacher:

“What you read – that was all right, that wasn’t too bad … but some of those poets are just filthy, complete degenerates. Catullus, for instance. In one of his poems he actually encourages another man to go to bed with his girlfriend! Three of them, all together! It’s depraved …”

I agreed that he was a bit of a one (actually I was secretly relieved that she wasn’t intent on criticising some of my more daring translation choices), whilst congratulating myself inwardly that I hadn’t chosen anything raunchy from Ovid or Anakreon or any of the less respectable Greek or Latin poets.

Eventually I managed to escape without committing myself to any too quotable opinions about the morals of the ancient world.

It got me thinking, though. What is it with the Classics? "Reams of ancient filth," as my father used to put it (apparently the editions of Latin authors they used at school had all the "adult" bits taken out and printed at the back in an appendix for scholarly reference; I think you can guess which parts of the book were most thumbed and dog-eared ...)

Anyway, the latest issue of Ka Mate Ka Ora includes some more of my reflections on the subject in the form of a review-essay of Ted Jenner's recent Titus Books collection Writers in Residence ...

Ted Jenner is perhaps unusual among modern writers in being a Greek scholar as well as a poet. Most other venturers into the field of classical translation nowadays (myself included) seem content with a Loeb dual-text and a lot of - possibly unmerited - self-confidence.

You don't really learn anything new that way, though. What's fascinating about Ted's work is the precision and finesse with which he reconstructs these fragments of the past, some of them literally combed out of the rubbish-dumps of Egypt (it's amazing how long papyrus can survive in a really dry climate).

Obviously I have a good deal more to say about that in my piece over at the nzepc. For the moment, however, here's a brief listing of Ted's publications to date (I've also included a few illustrations so you can appreciate what beautiful pieces of bookmaking many of them are):

  • A Memorial Brass. Eastbourne, Wellington: Hawk Press, 1980.
  • Dedications. Auckland: Omphalos Press, 1991.
  • The Love-Songs of Ibykos: 22 Fragments. Auckland: Holloway Press, 1997.
  • Sappho Triptych. Auckland: Puriri Press, 2007.
  • Writers in Residence and Other Captive Fauna. Auckland: Titus Books, 2009.

You can hear more of Ted's own views in the online interview with Brett Cross and Scott Hamilton available here.

And if your curiosity extends even beyond that, why not have a look at the pages on Anne Carson and Michael Harlow which I'm gradually building up for our new Massey MA course Contemporary New Zealand Writers in an International Context?

Carson is herself a very considerable scholar (witness her fascinating 1999 book Economy of the Unlost, which daringly juxtaposes the poetry of Paul Celan with the surviving lyric fragments of Simonides of Ceos) ...

But that's more than enough self-advertising from me for the moment. Do check out the new (James K. Baxter-themed) issue of Ka Mate Ka Ora if you have a moment, though.