Monday, January 05, 2009

Baz, the Tabby, and plain bad taste

I love cats, but I sometimes doubt their taste in movies. My cat Smudge (well, she's half my cat - Skyler, I'll grudgingly agree, owns her tail and hindquarters) can never make it the whole way through classic flicks like Lone Star or Summer of Sam: by the time one of the scenes I know by heart comes along Smudgie's purring noisily in my lap, and I've got no one to recite Kris Kristofferson's or Spike Lee's lines to (Skyler has long since stopped tolerating my habit of obsessively rewatching my favourite movies and ignoring most new releases). It's not that Smudge is wholly resistant to the moving image: Shortland Street always seems to get her undivided attention.

Schroedinger's Tabby might be able to run a nice blog, but I'm not sure whether she and I would enjoy watching a movie together, if her praise for Baz Luhrmann's execrable Australia is any guide. How can I describe the monumental bad taste of the film, without coming across as hopelessly shrill and self-righteous, a la Germaine Greer?

Instead of discussing Australia, let me tell you about an idea for a movie that I've been turning over in my head since I was forced to sit through Luhrmann's epic. I don't have a script yet - just some ideas about genre and the skeleton of a narrative.

Part of the movie I want to make is about a little half-Jewish boy, his Mum, his grandfather, and a few of his other Jewish relations, all of whom are being persecuted by Germans during the Nazi era.

At the start of the film, the little boy watches his grandfather being framed for a murder he did not commit, and hunted by a detachment of the Gestapo. The little boy is also being hunted, by a group of Nazi eugenicists who want to place him with an Aryan family and eventually 'breed the Jewishness' out of his descendants.

About a third of the way through my movie, the mother of the little boy dies horribly while trying to protect him from the Nazis. Another member of the family is trapped and executed near the end of the film.

I know all this sounds a bit morbid and Schindlers List-like but, rest assured, my movie will have its sunny spots. I want to leave my audience feeling good, and to showcase some of the delights of 1940s Germany.

To stop things from getting too maudlin, the scenes of the boy and his Jewish relations being tormented will segue into romantic encounters between a handsome young German couple, as well as humourous exchanges between off-duty Gestapo officers and other Nazis drinking in Aryan-only bars.

And the part-Jewish boy will come to realise that the death of his mother isn't a reason for despair: after losing her he'll cry for a few minutes, then be consoled by the jokes a beautiful young German woman will tell.

He'll soon be enthusiastically working - without pay, of course - for the woman, who runs a factory stolen from Jews by Germans. My little half-breed will find happiness by risking his life attempting a very difficult task in the factory - a task that will, if completed successfully, make some much-needed profits for his pretty Aryan owner. Of course, the little boy will manage the task, and the Germans will get to hold on to the factory they took from the Jews. Everyone except a few Jews will live happily ever after.

I know what you're thinking. No director or scriptwriter could ever be crass enough to take up the sort of project I've been sketching out. Who, you're asking, could possibly think it acceptable to interlace scenes from a genocide with scenes of sweet romance and light comedy? Who would be crass or stupid enough to show the perpetrators of that genocide as cute lovers or loveable wisecracking rogues?

After suffering through Australia, you'll have an answer to those questions.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cute cat but.

4:52 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This movie looks self indulgent,contrived and "terrible Muriel"....And to the Holy Land and Old Latin Kingdom...Latin thou older brother of Anglish and tounge of law and science...ignite thou whanau Holy Roman Emperor with the ten crowns and seven heads. Thou Titan step across Byzantine and crush the idolators of Baal...the Beast has but a short time. The father of the New Israel was DAS FURHER a state born from the ashes of the Holocaust...a comment made by the Bobby Fisher King...

8:14 pm  
Blogger The Paradoxical Cat said...

Hi Maps - I feel you have misrepresented the poor Tabby.

You seem to have read my blog post much as you seem to have watched the Baz film, with your knee jerking so violently you may have missed a fact or two.

For instance I said AUSTRALIA was idiotic puke-making crap, just like all the other members of that romantic epic genre.

And so it is. We agree on that.

Where we clearly disagree concerns Luhrmann's political agenda - although you and I both appear to abhor Australia's racism, you think Luhrmann is glorifying genocide, whereas I think he is attempting to normalise a vilification of Australian racism.

I 'get' what he is trying to do and I praise his attempt while pointing out that it is flawed (quite apart from already mentioning that I cannot stand this genre of movie anyway).

What a criticism of Australia it is, that an attempt to tell that story to a mass market should even now have to be sugar-coated.

The sugar-coating pissed you off - and me, although either I've expressed that badly or you haven't read carefully - but the movie wasn't aimed at elitists.

Luhrmann has attempted to take a mainstream audience on a path where at the very last they empathise with the boy and WANT him to go with the old man rather than stay with the white couple.

Sadly, that's no mean feat in a country where saying "sorry" was such a big deal less than a year ago.

So my 'praise' for the Luhrmann movie was restricted to applause for that one ground-breaking achievement, pathetic though it might seem to the already converted. Anything positive I said was was heavily conditional on that triumph taking place "within the limitations of the genre".

Schroedinger's Tabby

11:01 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why does selective breeding work in livestock or pollenation in flowers and weed control or plague control, be then deemed unnecessary or abhorrent in humans? If so, we begin to consider ourselves above the natural laws we meekly attempt to explain and harness with religion, politics and science and national identity:Thank God for your blood!

11:29 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

And we are here because our fathers' were bastards and our mothers' whores!

11:34 pm  
Blogger maps said...

I don't think I misunderstand your attitude toward the film, PC.

You say that 'Australia was idiotic puke-making crap, just like all the other members of that romantic epic genre', but that its one saving grace is its condemnation of the treatment of Aboriginals.

By contrast, I have nothing in principle against the romantic epic - it's a genre of film, just like the horror movie or the martial arts movie or the sci fi flick. It's not a genre I particularly care for, but I don't think there's anything inherently bad about it. There are even some romantic epics I've quite enjoyed.

What I object to in Australia is Luhrmann's attempt to intersperse his romantic epic with fragments of a movie about the genocidal policies which the Australian government adopted towards the Aboriginals for so long. The subordination of the harrowing story of Aboriginal persecution to the cheesey romantic epic grates.

I think it is inherently wrong to try to combine a depiction of a subject as terrible as genocide with a feel-good romantic movie. The two just don't go together. One might as well set a sitcom with canned laughter in Auschwitz.

The fact that Luhrmann and his cronies in Australia's Tourism Ministry were able to get away with making such a film speaks volumes about the continued trivialisation of the Aboriginal experience of colonisation.

I fear you may be wrong when you argue that the depiction of Aboriginal suffering in Luhrmann's film will contribute to a greater understanding of the past.

By subordinating the Aboriginal suffering to other plot elements, like the struggle to save a white farm stolen from Aboriginals, and by denying Aboriginal people an articulate spokesman in his film, Luhrmann pushes Aboriginal experience away from the centre of the story of Australia's past. Instead of being the essential, defining feature of Australia's economic, political, and cultural history (read Henry Reynolds), the dispossession and genocide of the Aborigines is presented by Luhrmann as a mere blemish on the history of the 'Lucky Country'. An ugly blemish, admittedly, but a blemish, nevertheless, a regrettable exception to the pattern of the history of a romantic, swashbuckling nation at the bottom of the world.

Sometimes it is possible to trivialise an event by acknowledging it in an inappropriate way.

12:11 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Who, you're asking, could possibly think it acceptable to interlace scenes from a genocide with scenes of sweet romance and light comedy?"

Roberto Benigni beat you to it, Maps: La vita è bella / Life is Beautiful.

5:32 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

That film Life is Beautiful I simply couldn't watch - not because it had any thing to do with genocide I forgot it did if I ever knew - it was simply so boring - agonisingly laboured and tedious...

I haven't seen Australia - the film or the place.

But you've got tertius going Maps!

Did you have a great Xmas etc?

You also tertius?

I think a sitcom or comedy film set in Auschwitz would be a good idea!

11:20 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Yes, but in that film the humour is designed to emphasise the awfulness of the situation of the characters - it is black humour. I can't find the same sort of irony in Australia.

3:28 pm  
Blogger The Paradoxical Cat said...

Here's an interesting quote from a Baz Luhrmann interview about his first impulses to make the movie:

"the stolen generation stopped me in my tracks. I knew about it but the more I researched it, I realised that this dark chapter in the story of our country, this scar, that I was in a place where I could take something very serious and difficult – a difficult pill – and put it inside a great big entertainment. And this was the genesis of the idea. This was what sort of made it more than a movie, because my children were going to grow up in Australia and this stolen generation thing had never really been dealt with. It had in smaller films but not told in a way in which it could never be swept under the carpet. So, I felt I could do that and, foolishly perhaps, combined those two things."

4:00 pm  
Blogger maps said...

Had a good time RT. Will post some pics as soon as blasted blogger lets me. Tertius = Hamish Dewe?

2:42 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Maps - cheers.

tertius - I cant reveal who he is.

Not Hamish - where is Hamish these days?

4:03 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Maps - are you going on the demonstration about the invasion of Gaza by the Israelis? We saw a couple of posters out here ...

Perhaps you should advert it here.

4:06 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

The comment (with some editing done) I just posted on PC's Blog -

Paradoxical - I saw the movie just now!
And I enjoyed in immensely!

I don't know what Maps was going on about - its a great movie! Powerfully done with great cinematics and scenes and great acting also.

I think it brilliantly covers the subject as in an enlightening way - Luhrmann has done a great job in countering racism (in a great film). Aboriginals are seen there to an international audience in a wonderfully positive way.

They looked good too - everywhere else (almost) I have seen them they seem to look ugly*, but not only do they look good in "Australia", but they are seen to act nobly and heroically - e.g. the (uncle?) of the boy who sacrifices his life at the end.

I can see what Luhrmann was attempting to do - and he succeeded excellently.

It is one of the best films I have seen for years.

I think some people are scared of "magic" and emotion. Or they read a review by some clever shark and already have a dim view of a film. It pays not to read film critics too much before seeing film. (Better to see things for oneself.) And I think that happens when one - instead of reacting with one's heart and feelings - reacts too analytically.

I have long ago left Marxist ideology in the dust - it leads to Stalinism or worse; it just makes everything too dark and dour - and then people cant see what is beautiful in front of their eyes - as "Australia" is - everyone should see it. It is very positive.

Very positive and powerfully moving.

*In fact Robin Hyde (or one of her characters) says that in her great book "Nor the Years Condemn" (part of it is set in Australia.)

11:51 pm  
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