My review of Byron Bache’s review of MTC’s “The Crucible”

If there’s one thing I like, it’s a review that leaves the reader in no uncertain terms whether the reviewer thinks they should bother to spend money or occupy space-time to experience the subject of said review. By that score, Byron Bache‘s recent review of the Melbourne Theatre Company‘s production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible contains about as many certain terms as a review could want. It not only pulls no punches in its damning and thoroughly entertaining indictment, it also pulls no elbows, no Glasgow Kisses and spares the production absolutely no knees to the onions.

Here’s the teaser, just for starters:

The Crucible is not funny. Yet the opening night audience laughed their way through all four painful acts of Melbourne Theatre Company’s take on the previously unwreckable Arthur Miller classic.

Here Bache warns the reader that he’s not going to be Mr Nice Critic – it’s both a red flag to those of a more charitable disposition and a giant, flapping, fuck-off green neon light to those who may wish to indulge in a healthy spot of schadenfreude (if you don’t know what that means, you should probably read more theatre reviews). You might decry Bache’s early exposition but this is not meant to be a three-act play replete with dramatic tension and character development; it is instead a to-the-point one-act demolition derby featuring a monster truck and a Fiat Bambino up on blocks.

Speaking of red flags:

The Crucible is written in a dialect — it’s right there on the page; yet Strong has the cast use their natural accents.

Call me a perpetrator of cultural cringe (a veritable accusation of witchcraft in its own right), but unless you’re changing the setting of Crucible from the seventeenth-century English colony of Massachusetts to 2013 Brunswick, twenty-first century Strine might not be the best way to approach Miller’s carefully-constructed dialogue.

[Director Sam Strong] executes the theme [the McCarthyist anti-Communist purges] with the all the subtlety of Animal Farm, and all the quiet elegance of a velociraptor.”

I’ll just include the above because not enough reviews compare their subjects to dinosaurs.

Bache’s contempt for this production knows no bounds and he is clearly enjoying himself as he tears director Sam Strong’s Crucible new arsehole after new arsehole as the paragraphs progress. In interviews, we invariably hear actors tell us how much they relished playing the villain; in this review Bache does not need to tell us how much he enjoys sacking and looting Sam Strong’s Salem – he shows it with graphic prose:

Every cloud has a silver lining. And every poo has a little bit of corn you could wash off and eat if you really needed to. Here, that kernel is Anita Hegh [playing the role of Elizabeth Proctor].

I’m positive Ms Hegh would be delighted to hear this comparison. I certainly would be.

These are the words not just of a man who feels let down by a substandard production or cheated out of three hours of his life, but of a passionate lover of art who feels utterly betrayed by one of his paramours slutting around with a wino in a cardboard box in an alley and is now wreaking a bloody and devastating revenge that would make the most psychopathic kings of Westeross raise a finger and suggest that he might just want to tone it down a bit. And I thoroughly enjoyed every blood-soaked second. I’ll be looking for more from this reviewer in the weeks to come.

Metaview Score:

Four and a half pointy reckonings.

#TakeMyWife

So I come into the kitchen and my wife’s just made some spicy kale chips. Like, real spicy.

My wife says “I think I overdid the cayenne pepper”.

So I accuse her of going mad with powder.

At The Tweeties with @DavidStratton9

At The Tweeties with @DavidStratton9

This tweet from veteran David Stratton is one of the best that I’ve seen since Twitter’s inception. Stratton makes excellent use of the available 140 characters and conveys his point humourously and with a minimum of frippery.

Five stars. Margaret?

PS: Note to Baz Luhrmann: this is how it’s done.

Rolling Stone drops the ball on stoner classics – another meta-review

Today, Rolling Stone published what they consider the “10 Best Stoner Movies of All Time“. As with any internet comedy list, there are always going to be omissions or inclusions that baffle people or enrage them to the point of caps-lock fury (just ask Cracked) and there are always going to be alternate lists claiming to be the One True List (to be honest, you’re kind of asking for schisms if you imply your list is definitive by calling it “The 10 Best [whatevers] Of All Time“). Well, I’m neither baffled or enraged, I’m not seeking to set the record straight and I do, for the record, agree with a good number of Rolling Stone’s selections. That said, I would sympathise with anyone who thought this list was America-heavy to the point of obscurity in places (come on – How High? Soul Plane? Stoner chuckle-fests they may well be, but ten best of all time-worthy? Please – they’re not even on the same level as Dude, Where’s My Car? Hell, including True Romance might even be pushing it a little).

Rolling Stone missed an opportunity here. They appear to have used a very narrow definition of stoner film: “American comedies where Americans get stoned and act funny.” It’s a shortsighted and unimaginative list, possibly revealing more about the biases (or perhaps simple laziness) of Rolling Stone’s editorial staff than about the history of what people like to watch when they get toasted.

I happen to think we can do better than this. For starters, we can look (hold on to your Stetsons) outside America. There is an entire planet of art and entertainment beyond those borders and it’s been completely overlooked, either through incompetence or ignorance. I hereby present some stoner classics that aren’t (a) American and (ii) aren’t just funny flicks about stoned guys doing stoned shit.

Pink Floyd Live at Pompeii
It’s 1972: Pink Floyd are playing a live set of some of their most psychedelic material in an ancient Roman amphitheatre – to an audience of noone. But they’re filming it. And thank crap they did.

Akira
This revered classic from 1988 is credited as being a major contributor to the Western obsession with Japanese animation and still holds up as a cinematic and technical masterpiece (not to mention an awesome mind-frack). Hard to believe people drew Neo-Tokyo with their hands; even harder to believe Hollywood want to remake it in live-action with white people.

Mad Max (1979)
Could you get any more stoner-friendly than George Miller’s beautifully-shot psychopathic muscle-car revenge-road-movie set in post-apocalypse rural Australia? There are reasons this is one of Tarantino’s favourite movies (they’re listed in the previous sentence).

Stone (1974)
Australian 1970s motorcycle cult classic, full of tripping bikies and trippier motorcycle faring. Even if you watch this cold sober, by the end you’ll be jonesing for a Chiko Roll and a Fanta.

Any Monty Python film (And Now For Something Completely Different, The Meaning of Life, The Life of Brian, Monty Python and The Holy Grail, Live at The Hollywood Bowl)
These should require no further explanation.

Any Godzilla (GOJIRA) film (except that late ’90s one with the Led Zeppelin song Flap Diddy murdered). These started in 1954 and have never really stopped, becoming an industry in themselves, setting the standard for enormous monster movies and creating several spinoff franchises. Schlock-horror monster films don’t get any better.

And you know what? If you really do want to stick to American movies, here are some that are definitely worthy of being called top ten stoner classics:

Clerks (1994)
Kevin Smith’s bargain-basement game-changer, strewn with pop-culture references, smart dialogue, loveable slackers and endlessly quotable lines, is an inexcusable omission from RS’ list.

Vanishing Point (1971)
A sparsely-filmed and even more sparsely-spoken road movie about nothing more than a guy delivering a 1970 Dodge Challenger across a few hundred miles of wilderness and getting into ever-increasing amounts of trouble. Cleavon Little’s turn as the pirate radio DJ is a master class in scene-theft.

Duel (1971)
What could be more paranoia-inducing than being stalked by a mysterious semi-trailer while on a solo road trip? Stephen Spielberg (in his feature debut) hit all the right notes in this near-silent road-thriller.

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Kubrick’s sci-fi masterpiece (written with SF legend Arthur C Clarke) is still worshipped (to the point where you’re probably missed about 99% of the references made to it by other movies and shows, especially The Simpsons) and still held up by many as THE science fiction film, THE space opera, THE special effects master class. And why shouldn’t it be? Computers in 1968 could barely fit in a single cupboard, let alone render near-flawless 3D realism in a billion colours. Kubrick had to rely on full-size sets, models, camera tricks and his infuriating obsession with perfection. And the psychedelic ending still has stoners going “Wooah – wuh?” to this day.

Reefer Madness (1936)
What list of stoner gold could possibly be complete without the chuckle-inducing irony of paranoid 1930s anti-hemp propaganda repurposed as a uni-student stoner film-festival mainstay?

To conclude, I’m not suggesting my list is superior or more definitive (to qualify an absolute) or even complete (frankly, I barely even got started). I’m just saying Rolling Stone could’ve done what I just did – spend a half-hour thinking outside of the Hollywood machine. Stoners may be, well, stoned, but give them a little credit – they can handle a touch more stimulation than some cheap giggles at other people getting stoned.

The Thirteen Suggestions (for gods)

1. If you know everything and can do anything, your ways shouldn’t need to be mysterious, your word shouldn’t need interpreting and everyone should be subject to the exact same rules and regulations. You should be able to clearly and unambiguously communicate in a way that prevents schisms, reformations, jihads, fatwas, crusades, inquisitions, witch hunts, feuding over “promised lands”, televangelists, Fred Nile and “Gott Mit Uns” being printed on Nazi belt-buckles (“God is with us”? Seriously? You know they were the badguys … right?).

2. If you exist outside of time and space, it would literally mean nothing to you to wait until your creation develops an instantaneous global communication network before seeding your word among them. Spreading a message you ostensibly wish the whole planet to hear in a time where “information technology” means “handwritten scrolls in a basket on a donkey’s back” would be unfair to most of the planet’s population for most of history. However, due to the current global telecommunication system being extremely prone to massive amounts of utter bollocks being instantly transmitted, believed uncritically and then disseminated (see: Andrew Bolt), it is recommended that you try writing something like “Be excellent to each other” every fifty years, in every known language, in huge letters in the sky above every inhabited landmass, using Kool Fruits (which then of course gently float down to be consumed).

3. If you love everyone and can do anything, there is no reason at all for you to create a place of infinite torment or permit one to exist, even for the Australian Christian Lobby. Instantaneous rehabilitation (or permanent existence-cessation) of a grievous sinner/epically bigoted douchebag should not be beyond either your power or your desire.

4. If you inflict disasters on innocent people as punishment for the crimes of their neighbours or leaders, you should try and improve your aim. Cyclones and tsunami are spectacular, no doubt, but they’re a little indiscriminate and most of your finite, flawed beings will tend to mark them down as random acts of nature. For a clear message, try dropping a giant anvil on top of whatever’s displeasing you, whether it’s a pornography studio or Cory Bernardi.

5. If you present as a perfect and flawless entity you should not have desires of any kind, much less a desire to be worshipped. Desire is the expression of an unmet need and the mark of an imperfect being (talk to Siddartha, he’ll happily tell you).

6. If you expect people to eat you and drink your blood (symbolically or otherwise), expect other people to think that’s hella creepy.

7. If you concern yourself with how your adult and consenting creations manage their genitals whilst in private, you shouldn’t have made genitals so much fun.

8. If you do not concern yourself with how your employees manage their genitals when around other peoples’ children, you should sign up for a remedial (preferably secular) ethics course.

9. If you tell your creations not only to not have sex before they get married, then tell them they can’t use contraception (even in places where STDs are fatal and epidemic) because sex is only to make babies, then tell them they can’t terminate pregnancies (even if the mother and/or baby will die), all on pain of eternal damnation, you should not be surprised if people happily flaunt your rules and treat you either as a laughing stock or source of great evil. Similarly, you should also not be surprised if many people take you very seriously indeed, leading to uncountable unwanted/neglected/abandoned/stolen/enslaved/murdered children, dangerous black-market abortions and, well, fatal STD epidemics.

10. If it is a primary concern for you that male babies have some of their penis skin cut or bitten off before you’ll love them, or that female babies have their clitoris and labia removed with a razor blade – what in the everliving fuck is wrong with you?

11. If you wish your creations to stand apart from the animal kingdom, try something a little more creative than just making them slightly smarter than the other animals – and maybe tweak their DNA a bit more so they stand out. Many humans are confused that they share 98% of their DNA with chimps and 50% with bananas but are also expected to try and meet the standards of an omnipotent immortal being who knows everything, in whose image they are also apparently made (would you worship half a banana – or even care what it thought?).

12. If you start off with a perfect creation and a perfect magical garden and staff it with two perfectly innocent creatures with no knowledge of anything (but who nonetheless have complimentary genitalia), do employ your omniscience to realise that it can, quite literally, only go downhill from there. You might want to consider installing a fence (with serpent-proofing, of course) around anything you don’t think they should eat – actually, don’t call their attention to anything like that in the first place. Um, even more actually, don’t even create anything like that, at all, ever. You know everything, so you know how that’ll turn out. Presumably.

13. Finally, don’t blame atheists for concluding you’re most probably non-existent when you apparently don’t do anything (except appear in toast or help people win Grammy Awards) and the only thing anyone has to go on are a bunch of conflicting rule-books written by geographically and culturally isolated societies, leading to several thousand years of bitter schisms, occasional genocides and awful, awful rock music.

Sincerely
H. sapiens

Clive Palmer’s Billboard (speculative fiction)

SCENE: a small home-office, mid-afternoon, early 2013.

CLIVE
Yellow. I’m thinking yellow. Very eye-catching.

DESIGNER
Where? Text, border?

CLIVE
Everything. How many completely yellow billboards do you ever see?

DESIGNER
But if everything’s yellow the text won’t stand out.

CLIVE
Noone mentioned text. Billboards are a visual medium. Noone’s going to slow down to read my bloody manifesto.

DESIGNER
Noone’s going to know why there’s a massive picture of you on a blank yellow background at an intersection. They’ll think you’re selling sex-pills to gross old guys.

CLIVE
Excellent point. That’s why you’re my favourite niece. Want a job on my staff?

DESIGNER
I have exams in two weeks. Speaking of your staff, they emailed. They want to know if you’re still set on using that picture Mum took at Christmas lunch last year.

CLIVE
Love that shot. Hey, Where’s my beer? And my other beer?

DESIGNER
Your people suggested I photoshop on some thumbs-ups. They thought you holding two XXXX cans might give the impression that you’re an irresponsible meathead making a mockery of public service.

CLIVE
Bloody wowsers. This is why (clears throat) Australia needs a bloody good Palming!

DESIGNER
They also said you should drop that as a slogan. It’s creepy, Uncle Clive.

CLIVE
Wankers. Where’d you get the thumbs? They look a bit big.

DESIGNER
Mum had some other shots of you lying around. They only had beers and thumbs-ups in them. These ones were the best but I haven’t finished resizing them yet.

CLIVE
They look bloody brilliant to me. Like I could grab the whole country and give it a bloody good Palm

DESIGNER
– ew!

CLIVE
Bloody wowser. Fine, just pick something generic. But don’t touch the thumbs!

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