Monday, April 09, 2012

Blog Migration!

I'm in the process of migrating my blog - so new posts are here!

Thursday, March 01, 2012

Hugo: putting the meta in metaphor

Much like Samwise Gamgee, I have missed the boat. However, instead of the Frodo-populated boat of world-weariness and angst bound for the hidden world of the Elves, the boat I'm left waving off into the distance is the one for Academy Award opinion and rants.

However, unlike Samwise, I'm not going to settle in to life as Mayor of Hobbiton (mostly because I like shoes and would get claustrophobic living in a hill). Instead, I'm going to rant and rave with the same level of passion I put into singing Simon and Garfunkel songs in my car.

What I really want to talk about is 'Hugo'. When you have Christopher Lee, Ben Kingsley, Sacha Baron Cohen and the girl who said the C-word in 'Kick-Ass' together in a film directed by Martin Scorsese, it’s hard to know what to expect. 'Hugo' was always going to draw in the audiences, even those mistakenly expecting a Saruman vs. Gandhi showdown. It was also always going to rake in ALL of the plaudits. 

Based on 'The Invention of Hugo Cabret' by Brian Selznick, the story follows Hugo (Asa Butterfield) the orphaned son of a clockmaker (Jude Law) who lives in the walls of a Paris train station. His father dies, leaving him with an alcoholic uncle and a broken automaton; a clockwork man who when repaired should have the ability to write.

Scorsese’s first film in 9 years to not include Leonardo Di Caprio was nominated for more awards than I could fit on my monitor to print screen. The whole thing is very box in a box in a box to explain. It’s a 3D movie about the early days of film, and is based on a book based loosely on a true story.

I'm undecided about this film, which came as a surprise as I was expecting to unequivocally be won over. The weird thing is, you watch the trailer, go “that looks good”, and then head off to see it. I came out of the cinema going "yeah, I liked that". Then, the next day, I gave it some thought and realised the wily manipulation I had just paid almost twenty dollars to see in 3D. 

'Hugo' has wide appeal. It has cute young children, which can make you overlook some stilted acting. It tugs on your heartstrings with the wide, blue, computer-enhanced eyes of the protagonist, and throws about themes like "family!" "war!" "loss!" "redemption!" like it is going out of business. All of this, it seems is a disguise, to hide the fact that this movie is the celluloid incarnation Oscars. It is a film-maker celebrating a film-maker saying that film-makers do not want to be forgotten.

The 'Lord of the Rings' tilt of this post is no coincidence, despite my strong past history of shoehorning Hobbits and mithril into seemingly unrelated topics. Before year 8, the Oscars were a glorious time. I enjoyed predicting who would be nominated, who would win (with mixed success) and who would make an embarrassing speech in dubious attire. I would then proceed to bore my friends senseless with these endless predictions, and then proceed to demonstrate my lack of athleticism on the monkey bars.

Naturally, when the 74th Academy Awards rolled around, I assumed 'The Fellowship of the Ring' would sweep the floor with all that Russel Crowe and Moulin Rouge nonsense. However, it was not to be, and, despite my careful avoidance of 'spoilers' all day, the inescapable school bus radio pronounced that 'A Beautiful Mind' had taken out Best Picture and Best Director. My reaction was somewhere between 'Apocalypse Now' and 'A Streetcar Named Desire' and since then, I have not watched the Academy Awards again.

It's not just that 'Lord of the Rings' didn't win. I think it just highlighted to me all the bureaucracy and red tape that is what really drives who wins in which year. 'Return of the King' won two years later, a decision I suspect that was made well in advance of the Academy even catching a glimpse of the film. The Oscar went to the trilogy - not the film. It seems to be more 'whose turn is it to win' rather than 'who did the best work this year'. I know that this isn't an attitude reserved for film awards, but the realisation of this in my early teens just ruined things for me.

It's interesting that this year the two top contenders were both films about films. However, I'm glad that 'The Artist' won. It's an original film, with an unusual concept, and a cast of mostly unknown, French actors. Good things.

Despite this however, I'm a bit worried. Sure, generally you can easily pick which films are built purely to rake in the Oscars. However, 'Hugo' with it's thinly veiled desires and resultant success, might be cause for concern.

Or, maybe it's a good thing. If the disguise and tricks are getting easier and easier, maybe in five years I can churn out my own masterpiece: set in 1930s England, a single woman struggles to find respect, happiness and love in a town which thinks she is a harlot and a witch. With her only friend, a dog, she starts a business from scratch; making floral print bowls for orphans to make their gruel look tastier. In a heart-wrenching scene her dog sacrifices her life when an evil, war-crazed villain shows up with a machine gun. However, in a wacky enemy-turns-to-lover twist, she restores his addled mind through the use of art and interpretive dance. His heart softens, his nose grows back and a flash forward shows them holding hands while skipping through a meadow, named after her late pooch.

I shall call it 'NOMINATION FOR BEST PICTURE' and the awards shall be mine, and they shall be my 'AWARDS FOR BEST PICTURE.'


Monday, February 06, 2012

My Ekman Deficiency

I never know what face it is appropriate to pull in pretty much any given situation. Christmas and birthdays becomes exponentially more stressful than they should be, because presents happen. This shouldn’t even be a thing. Presents are nice - unless you’re given used soap on a rope or syphilis I suppose. However, if I get handed a gift, my mind automatically clicks into an over-reflective doom cycle and my facial expression freezes.

Probably the true villain here is the desire to be polite. My mind rushes to project a scenario where the gift is something that you don’t like. However, this isn’t something you want anyone other than you to know, so you need to express joy! ecstasy! appreciation! no matter what. Despite not having even gotten remotely close to any sticky tape or wrapper removal, the mind then whirrs ahead as to what face you should be pulling in order to hide any potential disappointment (or even perceived disappointment, just to wrap you up into further knots). In my case this generally means that I look like I’m in pain no matter what it is I’ve been given because I’m so anxious to not seem rude. 

Unfortunately, I then notice that I’ve gone too far the other way, and so make the mistake of trying to cover my awkward with dialogue. Dialogue which also goes too far the other way and tends to be something along the lines of “oh cool, that’s...yeah” which serves to rectify nothing other than the conversation which ends in uncomfortable silence until one or both of you leave the room. You don’t want to sound disinterested, but in focussing so hard on how to say something, you pause too long and, as a result, sound disinterested. This also seems to happen sometimes when I'm just talking to people. No-one wins in the social interaction paradox of awkward.

I didn’t really know whether facial expressions are the product of biology or society, but if Paul Ekman, the psychologist on whom the show Lie to Me was based, is to be believed “facial expressions of emotion are not culturally determined, but universal across human cultures and thus biological in origin.”

He’s built a multi-decade career on this, and I’ve only been thinking about it for the last 20 minutes, so I think I will give him the benefit of the doubt. Probably. His studies suggest that the areas we all share facial expression reflexes for are anger, disgust, fear, shame, joy, sadness, and surprise.

Maybe I have wrong wiring, or a side link psychobabble diversion circuit, because it seems when situations should prompt a joy or surprise reflex, the signal gets fired off and shunted into the fear realm, prompting the wrong face. Or a frozen face. Or a blushing face. Which will later probably either progress into an anger or sadness face. Or, as sometimes happens, an Edward Scissorhands face. Oh well.

I don’t really know what the reason is. Maybe my brain just has an army of mini-Gandalfs fighting the Balrog of neural emotive reflexes whilst someone accidentally over-bleaches their robes.

Either way, if I’ve ever seemed disinterested or strangely blunt in response to ‘normal social interraction’ or ‘receipt of a gift’, chances are high that if you came back after five minutes you would find me smacking my forehead. Or watching Angel

Anyway, it’s not you. It’s my Ekman deficiency.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Etiquette of Staring

If a person is around me for any longer than ten minutes they will most likely get stared at. Usually this is unintentional. I zone out, taking wild rides on trains of thought which usually stop by the ‘most recent TV show I watched’, ‘that cloud looks like a ______’ and ‘Harry Potter plot inconsistency’ stations before I snap out of it and realise that the blank space I was staring at is now occupied by a Someone. The same Someone who is now staring back at me, assessing what sort of danger they might be in. I can’t help it if my ‘Vague Face’ looks like other people’s ‘Murder Face’.

Staring seems to make people uncomfortable. Which puts an interesting spin on staring contest enthusiasts.

I’m not brilliant at eye contact, though I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it’s because it gives people the opportunity to extract my soul like some kind of occular Dementor, though I think it’s more likely due to the confusing etiquette surrounding when it is appropriate to look someone in the eye.

Not having a good balance in eye contact screws you up in multiple areas:

Honesty: too much, and you seem like you’re trying too hard and are thus covering up a lie. Too little, and you are shifty, and clearly have something to hide.

Relationships: look too long, and they will know you’re interested. Don’t look at all and it seems like you’re avoiding them. Either because you are interested, or because you are not interested. Helpful.

Study: looking up during an exam DEFINITELY MEANS PEOPLE THINK YOU ARE CHEATING. So you don’t look up at all which makes picking up dropped pens or responding to unexpected noises difficult and confusing. This feeds in to honesty, so not looking also means PEOPLE THINK YOU ARE TRYING TO HIDE THE FACT YOU ARE CHEATING. Because exams didn’t already make me neurotic enough.

Conversations: looking too much means you are either super interested or zoning out. People will always assume it is the one it isn’t which leads to more of the same. Not looking at all or minimal looking means you aren't interested and people get all kinds of affronted. Or don't notice and keep going, again leading to more of the same. Generally leads to doom spirals.

Getting caught in a stare usually goes one of four ways.

In the first, you know they can see your line of vision and you both get trapped in the stare net. Neither wants to look away, and you both try and scope out the other. Eventually you look away at the same time and act like the whole thing never happened. An awkward laugh may be implemented at this point. Usually one for strangers.

The second is the misdirection stare. They catch you, so you look over their shoulder and try to convince them you were looking at some fascinating thing there. Murphy’s Law dictates that the only thing behind them will be either something really bland like a plastic chair, or something that it is socially worse for you to be staring at. Like a ‘breasts of the day’ calendar.

Third is the compromise for eye strain stare. Here you make eye contact, then pretend to look away whilst monitoring the situation from the corner of your eye. They know you are still looking, but in order to know this, they have to be looking too. Neither of you wants to admit to being Starer 0, so you both pretend that no one is looking at anyone.

Finally there is the machine gun stare. You get caught staring. You look away. Look up again to see if they are still looking. They are. They look down. Then back up. You see this and look down again. Continues for uncomfortably long and makes you think of the Old Spice ad. Then you picture the other person in a towel and everything gets horrifying as you question what sort of person you are. Usually one of you has to leave in order to end the madness.

I’m not sure what the solution to any of these is really. You could always yell “THIS IS SPARTA” and sprint away, but whilst pop-culturetastic, I don’t know if that would alleviate the awkwardness much.

Oh well. Here's looking at you kid.

Sunday, January 08, 2012


I don’t do well on public transport. I do especially badly on the single tram that Adelaide possesses. I’m not sure if it is the combination of a severe lack of control of anything ever coupled with extreme close proximity with many people, but even just thinking about setting foot on that demon caterpillar of terribly planned awfulness fills me with foreboding.

It hasn’t always been this way. About ten years ago the tram was maroon, squishy and arrived when it said it would. The seats weren’t arranged by a deranged person deprived of Lego as a child, instead they were most likely imagined by someone with some semblance of skill and imagination, as when the tram changed direction at the end of a trip, the conductor would merely walk down the aisle flipping the backs to the other side, and voila! All seats were now facing the other way.

The track was also shorter, ending before the city, thus avoiding the mass influx of people who were too lazy to walk the 800 metres from Chinatown into the main CBD (sometimes this was me, but back in the day there was a bus for that).

Now, track length, passenger number and inefficiency has increased resulting in a useless, expensive piece of WHY?! which has not only messed with traffic in the city, but breaks down more regularly than me watching ‘Titanic’, and even factoring in two trams as a buffer, still involves an individual embarking on a game of punctuality Russian roulette.

The seating also encourages strange social interaction. At the very front and back of the tram are the most highly prized seats. Tucked against a wall, you can hide yourself in a corner and hold the handy yellow bar which seems to serve no particular purpose other than to steady yourself in a vain attempt to avoid violently smacking your head against the front of the tram when the driver inevitably makes sudden stops to avoid hitting death-wish holding pedestrians. Behind this are the “blocks of four” which usually result in either four strangers awkwardly playing footsies, or two people trying valiantly to not stare at the overly affectionate couple sitting opposite. Sometimes the result is small-talk, or, as I once witnessed, deals to exchange cigarettes for shower time. Behind this are the guilt seats. Here you can look back at all the people standing, and enter into the unanswerable struggle of whether or not you should give up your spot. That woman isn’t pregnant, and she isn’t decisively elderly. However she’s on the threshold, so you stand to offer your seat. She gets offended, declines, and whilst you are still standing, a surly teenager plops into your place. Winning times.

Individual awesome experiences I’ve had include a woman sitting next to me filing her nails directly onto my bag, and being cornered by a woman I became eventually convinced was planning to kill and eat me. Possibly not in that order.

She didn’t.

I just don’t understand how something that is trapped on a single line, with its very own traffic lights and boom gates is capable of being so consistently infuriating, or how the injection of money and time has resulted in the deterioration of a service. Adelaide Metro: I mind this gap. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

This is why I don't write poetry any more.

Wikipedia defines love as "an emotion of strong affection and personal attachment." I recently re-discovered my 1999 diary and apparently this is what 9 year old me felt for 'Dawson's Creek'. In amongst the vaguely threatening privacy message at the beginning, a self-made address book which only goes up to 'T', specific information about what I did on "13 Janurary 1999" (9:30 wake up, 6:50 P.M. See Babe Pig in the city.) and strict homework/tv watching timetable, opposite a page of "Self Trivia" I found this:

Reading that made me feel a bit like this:

Monday, December 19, 2011

Norman will never abate

In year 10 I decided to study drama. The scenario in my mind involved being given opportunities to write, direct and potentially demonstrate my one redeeming acting talent of doing a mean bloodcurdling scream. Instead, reality had me watching Hitchcock movies, making posters about the Stanislavsky method of acting, and playing a fairy called “Tizz” in the worst play ever to be inflicted upon supportive parents.

From this experience I gained self awareness (about being extraordinarily shit at making posters), widened literary exposure (having for some reason the ‘Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’ speech from Macbeth being part of my lines in the fairy play), interpersonal insight (about what a loon Hitchcock was*) and, most significantly, an apparently lifelong paranoia about showers (thank you 'Psycho').

I have mentioned this fear on more than one occasion. Looking back at the film itself, I don’t really understand where the horror comes from. It’s all a bit lame, the blood looks too thick, and all you actually see is a knife stabbing at an improbable speed and angle whilst a woman screams and is touched inappropriately by shower curtains. I also vaguely remember close ups of the killer’s crazed, wide eyes, but I’m not sure if this is just something my imagination has added over the years, and I’m not going to check. Whilst accuracy is ace, despite my rambling rationalisations, I cannot bring myself to look it up and re-watch on YouTube.

My germaphobia induced suspicion of both shower curtains and shared bathroom floors is not sufficient to explain my undiminished psychological response to this film. I guess something could be said about the almost unique vulnerability we have in the shower. If you couple being clothes-less and phone-less with years of Marple-induced conditioning that everyone everywhere is waiting to murder you all the time, you end up with one eye constantly on the door, and palpitations for the twenty seconds that all you can see is your hair as you hurriedly rinse conditioner.

This vague fear does not show any signs of abating at any time soon. I can’t remember the last time I showered without at least fleetingly thinking of 'Psycho'. I just don’t understand; why is this film so special? I can (sometimes) look in a mirror without imagining Bloody Mary emerging from it, I don’t (always) check my back seat for murderers, I can (usually) tell people that I’m phoning home without putting on my ET voice, and I can shout “YOU SHALL NOT PASS” even at times that I’m not fighting a Balrog.

Oh well. There are worse things than regularly thinking about homebody taxidermist murderers.

*exhibit A: deliberately trapping your daughter on a ferris wheel on set and then packing up the crew and leaving.