Thursday, January 25, 2018

I, Tonya

Despite her talents, Tonya Harding was always going to face challenges achieving her dreams due to classism and standards around femininity in the world of figure skating. The movie I, Tonya gives the back story of Tonya's life and shows how she overcame adversity to become a US figure skating champion in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It is a mockumentary-style film which uses interviews to present the often times contradictory perspectives of the main players in Tonya's life in the lead up and aftermath of the infamous 1994 attack on Nancy Kerrigan before the Winter Olympics.

Tonya (Margot Robbie) did not have an easy life growing up in Portland, Oregon and was the victim of family violence starting with her mother LaVona (Allison Janney) and then her husband Jeff Gillooly (Sebastian Stan), who she married at 19 years old. The movie showcases Tonya's rise in figure skating, with one of the main highlights being the first American woman to land a triple axle jump in competition in 1991. From there Tonya struggled, finishing fourth in the 1992 Winter Olympics. She gave international competition one last shot by trying to make the 1994 Winter Olympics team. The movie focuses a lot on this period and leaves it up to the viewer to decide how much Tonya knew about the attack on Nancy Kerrigan.

The other narrative of the film is around celebrity culture and the media that drives it. In one of the most pointed scenes in the film Tonya breaks down the fourth wall and calls out the viewer, saying that we are all her abusers. The media circus around her in 1994 was unrelenting (and this was pre-internet), and only moved on when the next big story broke - O. J. Simpson and the murder of Nicole Brown. Tonya's life ban from figure skating by the US Figure Skating Association meant she could no longer professionally be involved in the sport she loved and dedicated her life to. The film ends with Tonya's short lived boxing career (which I had forgotten about).

Overall I, Tonya is a good film, with great performances by Margot Robbie and Allison Janney. It also makes you wonder if Tonya was skating today instead of 25 years ago what kind of reception she would receive from judges and the public.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Gotye and MESS Present Jean-Jacques Perrey Et Son Ondioline

On what would have been electronic pioneer Jean-Jacques Perrey's 89th birthday, we were treated to an intimate tribute to the man by Gotye (aka Wally De Backer) in the Salon at the Melbourne Recital Centre. Mary and I attended the first of two sold out shows this evening, which were presented by arrangement with MESS (Melbourne Electronic Sound Studio), a not-for-profit organisation supported by Wally that is dedicated to the creation of electronic sound and music.

Unlike the other Australian shows over the past couple weeks that Wally has done with the Ondioline Orchestra at Mofo in Launceston and the Sydney Festival, this one was just him solo talking about the career of Jean-Jacques Perrey and the Ondioline (invented by Georges Jenny). The Ondioline was an early precursor to the modern synthesizer, and Perrey was a virtuoso on the instrument which produced some unique sounds. Wally got to know Perrey and his daughter Patricia in the last few years of his life and was given access to a treasure trove of recordings and other rare materials.

The research and archival work Wally has done resulted in the release of the vinyl compilation Jean-Jacques Perrey et son Ondioline on his label Forgotten Futures. Wally took us through many of the songs on the record that highlighted the different whimsical styles of Perrey's work, and told stories about the people he collaborated with (including Edith Piaf and Angelo Badalamenti). Wally's enthusiasm and love of Perrey and the Ondioline was so infectious throughout the night as he spoke about and played along with some of the songs. I really liked when he said Perrey's songs have humor in them, which is something he strives to bring to his own music.

The effort it has taken to find and restore these Ondiolines and get them playable again is pretty impressive. Wally has even gotten the original Ondioline manuals and instructions translated into English so those that are interested can understand how the instrument works. Some of the highlights of the hour and a half show were getting to watch Wally play "Chicken On The Rocks" and "Cigale," as well as sing in French the song "The Soul Of The Poets." This has clearly been a passion project for Wally and it's great that he's preserving the works of these innovators so that they are not forgotten.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Fleet Foxes- Palais Theatre

Tonight I headed down to the newly renovated Palais Theatre in St Kilda to see Fleet Foxes play their only Falls Festival side show in Australia. Opening the evening was Australian singer-songwriter Gordi (aka Sophie Payten) who played a solo set on acoustic guitar and keyboard (with some loops and vocal effects thrown in). Besides her own songs she also did a cover of Courtney Barnett's "Avant Gardener."

It's been six years since Fleet Foxes last played in Melbourne, although I was fortunate enough to see them last year in May at Vivid in Sydney. They started the evening with the opening tracks "I Am All That I Need / Arroyo Seco / Thumbprint Scar" and "Cassius, -" off their latest album Crack-Up. It was good to hear these album tracks again now that the band have been touring them over the past six months, especially my favorites "On Another Ocean (January / June)," "Fool’s Errand" and "Third Of May / Odaigahara."

The band powered through their set, often not stopping in between songs. There was an energy and joy as they sang each song, and the harmonies were amazing as they worked their way through their back catalogue. There were so many highlights, including "The Shrine / An Argument" and "Grown Ocean" off Helplessness Blues and "White Winter Hymnal," "Ragged Wood" and "Your Protector" off their self-titled debut album. The most special moments though were when lead singer Robin Pecknold took to the stage solo with just an acoustic guitar to sing "Tiger Mountain Peasant Song" and "Oliver James," which had the crowd silent and transfixed.  They finished off the night with an impassioned version of "Helplessness Blues" and the audience sent them off with a standing ovation.

Here's the video for "Fool's Errand:"

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