Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Fire Gardens

The Melbourne International Arts Festival is currently happening from 3 - 21 October 2018 at different sites around the city. One of the special events at this year's festival is the transformation of the Royal Botanical Gardens into the Fire Gardens over the next four evenings by French artists Compagnie Carabosse. As you entered the gardens there were burning clay pots to light the pathways as you walked around.

At the beginning were moving metal sculptures and rings of fire to walk through as you made your way down to the lake where there were many floating platforms with different lit sculptures. As it was a windy night they were moving around a bit on the water. There was also a solo guitarist, Steph LaRose, playing music which added to the atmosphere as people stood around and watched the sculptures.

2018 Melbourne International Arts Festival

2018 Melbourne International Arts Festival

Further along the path were sculptures that shot out flames, and a bunch of lit piles of charcoal both in tubes spaced out in the ponds and in giant snaking sculptures on the hill, which due to the wind resulted in sparks flying out of them whenever a gust came along (and at one point people were having to stamp out a little fire on the ground).

2018 Melbourne International Arts Festival

Within the Fern Gully were little white tank tops hanging among the trees that looked like floating lanterns. There were also these rocket looking sculptures on the grass that you could see different designs on when the flames would shoot through them.

2018 Melbourne International Arts Festival

Overall it was a great experience to be able to walk around the Fire Gardens. Thankfully the festival had three set entry times and limited the number of tickets to 7,000 total for the whole night so it wasn't too crowded. If you are lucky enough to have a ticket for this sold out event I'm sure you will enjoy it.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

MoMA At NGV: 130 Years Of Modern And Contemporary Art

This year's Melbourne Winter Masterpieces exhibition is MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art. It features over 200 works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York grouped into eight chronologically themed rooms.

Works from many of the world's best known artists are featured in the exhibition. My favorites included the works from the Bauhaus and Pop Art movements, and the paintings by abstract expressionists. If you have visited modern art museums overseas you will have probably seen examples of many of these artists' works. For those who haven't been able to travel though, this exhibition is a great opportunity to see key works by many of the great artists in one place.



MoMa at NGV

MoMA at NGV: 130 Years of Modern and Contemporary Art runs until 7 October 2018.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

MWF- Ta-Nehisi Coates: Writing Yourself Into History

Tonight as part of the Melbourne Writers Festival I went to see Ta-Nehisi Coates: Writing Yourself Into History at the Athenaeum Theatre. Hosted by journalist and filmmaker Santilla Chingaipe, this hour and half long discussion with American writer and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates mainly focused on race and politics in the US. Ta-Nehisi began the evening by reading a passage from one of his books about growing up in Baltimore. He spoke about his upbringing with his parents, how he read a lot of books, and how his father, a former Black Panther, forbid the celebration of Thanksgiving due to colonialism and the genocide of Native American people.

As a journalist he has mainly focused his writing on race and culture, and his essays written during the Obama presidency became his most recent book We Were Eight Years In Power. He talked about the two times he was invited to the White House with other journalist after certain articles he had written were published. On his second visit he got into a bit of a heated discussion with President Obama. In discussing Trump's presidential victory, Ta-Nehisi felt it was the result of white supremacy and a backlash by racists against the Obama presidency, not due to anything in particular that Obama had done while in office.

I liked that he spoke about his writing process, and how his publisher made him write one of his books three times before considering it to be at the level for publishing. He also spoke about writing the Black Panther and Captain America comic books and how different it is to writing books as it is a visual medium. The words have to serve the illustrations, and he compared it to writing poetry. Overall it was really interesting to hear Ta-Nehisi speak and also good to see a diverse crowd come out to see him.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Twin Peaks: Conversation With The Stars

I have been a massive fan of Twin Peaks since it first aired in the early 1990s while I was in high school. I even had a series finale party for the final episode with coffee, doughnuts and cherry pie on offer. When the show was resurrected last year for Twin Peaks: The Return I eagerly watched each week's episode and was happy to be returned to the intricate world created by David Lynch and Mark Frost.

Therefore it was very exciting when it was announced some of the stars of the show would be coming to New Zealand and Australia for the first time for Twin Peaks: Conversation with the Stars. The panel discussion featured Sheryl Lee (Laura Palmer), Dana Ashbrook (Bobby Briggs), Kimmy Robertson (Lucy Moran), Michael Horse (Deputy Hawk), Al Strobel (Phillip Gerard) and executive producer Sabrina S. Sutherland.

Tonight Sally and I headed down to the Palais Theatre as the doors opened in order to catch the music of Twin Peaks being performed by Brisbane's Electric Moon while photos from the show were shown on a screen at the back of the stage. The cast then came out onto the stage to big cheers from the crowd before we were treated to David Lynch himself on the screen as he skyped into the event to answer questions posed by fans who bought VIP tickets. His answers to each question were short and cryptic, with interesting tidbits about letting things go into the air, and that he wants to take up sewing.

After saying goodbye to David the panel discussion began in full. It was hosted by Melbourne writer and Twin Peaks super fan Andy Hazel. He started back at the very beginning and asked everyone how they were originally cast in the show and what it was like to shoot the pilot episode. They then talked about what it was like for them during the first season as the show became super popular. I found it interesting that Dana thought it was the marketing of the show by ABC around "Who Killed Laura Palmer?" that drove that to be the main focus of the first season, because he felt it wasn't the key story line when they were shooting the show. Al spoke about the woods almost being like another main character in the show (despite the fact they shot most of the series on a sound stage in LA).

The panel spoke fondly about those cast members that have died over the years. Michael and Al talked about Jack Nance (Pete Martell and a longtime Lynch collaborator) and how they would go to him to interpret what the script meant when they didn't understand it. Sabrina also discussed Catherine Coulson (the Log Lady) and how they had to send up a film crew to her house to film her scenes for Twin Peaks: The Return because she was terminally ill with cancer (she ended up dying four days later).

Sabrina shared that on the original series she was responsible for numbering all the scripts for each actor so they could prevent any leaks. The cast members often didn't have a full picture of the storylines until they watched the show because they only knew what happened in their own scenes. It was lovely to hear the different stories from the cast, with Kimmy Robertson being particularly funny. You can tell they all have a great fondness for each other and felt honored to get to work with David Lynch on all the various incarnations of Twin Peaks.

When the panel discussion was finished we were treated to a half hour of short films by David Lynch. This one for David Lynch Signature Coffee featuring Barbie was my favorite:

MWF- The Fifth Estate: Masha Gessen

The Melbourne Writers Festival is currently on from 24 August - 2 September 2018, with the theme this year being "A matter of life and death." This afternoon Sally and I went to Deakin Edge at Federation Square to see author, staff writer for The New Yorker, and occasional guest on Full Frontal with Samantha Bee Masha Gessen. Hosted by Sally Warhaft as part of The Wheeler Centre's journalism series the Fifth Estate, this hour-long discussion explored Masha's 2017 book The Future is History: How Totalitarianism Reclaimed Russia.

The book charts the lives of four different Russians born in the 1980s and the impact of historical events in Russia as they come of age. I haven't read the book but it sounded really interesting, particularly the psychological effects of living under totalitarianism (similar to torture) and how that impacts the way people behave. Masha spoke about the resurgence of what sociologist Yuri Levada termed homo sovieticus, where under communism people were fearful, isolated and authority-loving. Through all these changes in the country over the past few decades, people have craved order and stability, which has been provided by the state. Masha felt that Putin's Russia has become a less extreme version of a totalitarian state, although that could change over time.

Comedy Queens 2018

Last night I was fortunate enough to get to see the sold out Comedy Queens 2018 Australian tour at 170 Russell. The show was hosted by Australia's Maxi Shield and featured American drag queen legends and newer queens from different seasons of Ru Paul's Drag Race doing a mix of comedy, songs and lip syncs. The three legendary drag performers on the bill Lady Bunny, Sherry Vine and Jackie Beat each took turns performing stand-up and their own parody songs. My favorite was Sherry and Jackie's duet of "I Got You Bitch" (sung to Sonny and Cher's "I Got You Babe").

The two Season 10 girls Monet X Change and Monique Heart each gave really high energy lip sync performances. Monet also had a funny stand-up set, and gave a shout out to a girl in the crowd who created her own sponge dress. Ginger Minj from Season 7 and All Stars 2 did a stand-up set, which unfortunately fell a bit flat with the crowd, as well as a great telephone-themed lip sync mash-up based around Adele's "Hello." Even with the technical difficulty of her track dropping out in the last 30 seconds, the crowd clapped along so she could sing and finish the performance.

The other Season 7 queen and All Stars 3 winner on the bill was my favorite skinny legend Trixie Mattel. Trixie, who was celebrating her 29th birthday, had a tight set of comedy and music. She sang a mix of her own material and mash-up covers of Avril Lavigne's "Sk8er Boi" and Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide," alongside Oasis' "Wonderwall" and a hint of Eminem's "Lose Yourself" for all the white people in the crowd. Trixie was so funny and you can tell all her time on the road has made her such a fantastic and engaging performer.

Comedy Queens 2018

This was also my first time getting to see another favorite of mine, Season 5 winner Jinx Monsoon. She sang a fantastic cabaret version of Meghan Trainor's "All About That Bass" and then did a whole set about being a high functioning alcoholic and slut, and the influence of different Disney films on sexual preferences. Overall it was an entertaining but long three hour show, which I'm sure will tighten up as they do the other two shows of the tour in Sydney and Brisbane this weekend.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

MIFF- Won't You Be My Neighbor? and McQueen

My last two films for this year's MIFF were appropriately both documentaries. I started my afternoon at Hoyts Melbourne Central with Morgan Neville's film Won't You Be My Neighbor? about the children's television host Fred Rogers. I grew up watching Mister Rogers' Neighborhood on PBS, so this film was like reliving my childhood. It mixed archival footage with interviews of family, friends and crew members. It was amazing to see how trailblazing the show was, from teaching children about kindness and empathy to addressing serious topics such as death, divorce and war. During the Civil Rights movement Mister Rogers made a point to share a wading pool with Officer Clemmons, played by Francois Clemmons who was African American. In addition, through national tragedies such as Bobby Kennedy's assassination and the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster, Mister Rogers was there to help children make sense of it all. It was an emotional film to watch, but a great tribute to Fred Rogers and the important role he played in educating children for over 30 years.

My other film for the afternoon was Ian Bonhote and Peter Ettedgui's documentary McQueen about the British fashion designer Lee Alexander McQueen. Using his personal archives, fashion show footage, and interviews with family, friends and those who worked with him, the film told the story of how McQueen went from an apprenticeship on Savile Row to being one of the great fashion designers and couturiers of the 1990s and early 2000s. The film was broken up into different sections based around key collections for his McQueen label and Givenchy. It gave you a glimpse of his life as became more popular, and how he kept pushing the envelope with his often controversial runway shows. After the screening Dr Hannah McCann, a lecturer in gender studies from the University of Melbourne, read a short essay about the film and McQueen himself.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

MIFF- I Used To Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story

This afternoon I headed to the Comedy Theatre for the MIFF film I Used To Be Normal: A Boyband Fangirl Story. This documentary by Jessica Leski takes an empathetic look at four generations of female fans of US and British boybands. US teenager Elif was the main focus of the movie as she was followed across her later teenage years during her fandom of One Direction. The other three participants, Australians Susan (The Beatles) and Dara (Take That), and American Sadia (Backstreet Boys), looked back and spoke fondly about those core years of fandom and what the bands meant and still mean to them. Their honesty about their lives and fandom was a reflection of the filmmakers taking this topic seriously and really exploring things with no judgement. I absolutely loved this film and could relate my own fandom for Crowded House/Neil Finn to what they all experienced, from collecting memorabilia (everyone has a box of treasures) to making lifelong friendships with other fans and travelling around the world to see my favorite artists play.

We were fortunate to have a Q&A after the film hosted by Brodie Lancaster with the filmmakers Jessica Leski and Rita Walsh and two Australian participants Susan and Dara. They spoke about the making of the film, how they picked the participants and did a bit of an update about everyone (which I won't say because it will spoil things that happen in the film). If you have ever been part of a fandom, I highly recommend checking out this film.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

MIFF- Kusama: Infinity, Rafiki and Hearts Beat Loud

Today I took the day off work so I could attend three MIFF films throughout the day. I began my morning at the Forum Theatre for the documentary Kusama: Infinity on Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. It covered her entire career, from a troubled childhood that has influenced her art, to her decision to move to the US in the 1950s where she became an innovative artist in the 1960s New York Pop-Art scene. Kusama was the first artist to exhibit work with soft sculptures, mirrored infinity rooms and room-scale wall installations, but her male peers copied those ideas for their own shows and gained more popularity. She also led a lot of happenings and anti-war protests around New York before her mental illness made her decide to move back to Japan in the early 1970s. It wasn't until later through a couple of retrospective exhibitions of her work and being chosen to represent Japan at the 1992 Venice Biennale that Kusama's talents were finally recognised on a broader scale. This resurrected her career and resulted in her becoming the top-selling female artist in the world. It's an honest and engaging portrait of this trailblazing artist. I was fortunate enough to see her interactive piece Flower obsession at the recent NGV Triennial, which was one of the most popular parts of the exhibition.

My next film in the afternoon was the controversial Kenyan film Rafiki at ACMI. In this drama, written and directed by Wanuri Kahiu, tomboyish teen Kena (Samantha Mugatsia) is drawn to and strikes up a friendship with the outgoing Ziki (Sheila Munyiva). Their main problem is that they are both the daughters of rival candidates running for local office. As the town gossips catch wind of their romance, it results in horrible consequences for both girls and their futures. This simple coming of age love story screened at Cannes, but has been banned in Kenya due to its theme of homosexuality.

I then met up with Ebony at Hoyts Melbourne Central for my final film of the day, the US dramedy (and my second Gen-X mid-life crisis film) Hearts Beat Loud. Starring Nick Offerman as Frank, a former musician and record store owner, it's about his last summer with his daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons) before she heads off to UCLA in the fall. While Frank is dealing with closing his record store and finding something else to do with his life, his jam sessions with his daughter bring him the most joy. They result in a song, which he uploads to Spotify under the moniker We're Not A Band that then gets picked up on a new indie playlist. Finally getting a glimpse of possible musical success, he pushes his daughter to write more songs with him. It's a sweet and funny little film that captures key transitional stages in both of the main characters' lives, with some pretty good songs as an added bonus.
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