Category Archives: brisbane

The influence of Frankie Manning on my lindy hop history

As I mentioned in the Frankie Fest post the other day, we’re teaching Frankie Manning themed classes this month at our weekly class. That means Frankie Manning themed lindy hop in the first class, and then Frankie Manning themed solo dance in the second class. Although making the distinction between the two seems to deliberately misunderstand exactly what Frankie Manning – and jazz dance – are all about.

I’m going to see if I can write a few blog posts about Frankie Manning, or, rather, using Frankie Manning as a jumping off point for some ideas. We’ll see how well things go – I’m not all that together in the longer-form writing way at the moment.

This is a post about how Frankie Manning moved into and out of my understanding of lindy hop. This is a story of personal growth (goddess, how I hope it’s about growth), not really about Frankie himself. If you want that story, you should read his autobiography.

Oh, yeah, Frankie Manning IS the best!: late 2000s and early 2010s

Frankie95, the massive birthday party for Frankie Manning, which he just missed out on seeing, seemed to suddenly change everything. It’s true, you know, you don’t know what you’ve got til you lose it. You don’t miss the water til the well runs dry. And the Silver Shadows, the most popular, and one of the most highly skilled lindy hop performance groups in the world at the time reminded people that Frankie was wonderful:

Frankie95 day3 Performance Silver Shadows tribute to Frakie Manning:

It feels, now, that the generation of international teachers being flown to Australia to teach (people like Thomas and Alice, for example, who taught a ‘Frankie class’ at Jumptown Jam last month), who mightn’t have been into this stuff in a big way before, are suddenly falling in love with Frankie Manning all over again. Or for the first time.

I’m feeling a profound sense of déjà vu. The steps that I first learnt to dance with – pecks, stomp offs, mini-dips – are now chic again. I’m not complaining. But I think that for a lot of dancers, the technique-heavy smooth style phase and then the popularity of blues dancing gave them the technical skills to really appreciate what Frankie Manning was doing, particularly in his later years. And I also think that the influence of Steven and Virgine in Melbourne (particularly during that 2000-2004 period) was very important. While their dance style was definitely juicier and groovier, their experience with Frankie Manning definitely informed their teaching, and Frankie’s understanding of music and rhythm and dance shaped the Melbourne lindy hop scene, even indirectly.

For myself, I think that Frankie himself makes it very clear that to be able to dance well, it’s just as important to able to shake your arse for Shiny Stockings at 120bpm as it is to move your arse at 230bpm with Jumpin’ at the Woodside.

Understanding Frankie’s bum and feet and hands and everything: early 2010s Sydney

Now that I’m teaching (again – the last time I taught was ~2002), I amazed by the content Frankie was teaching beginners:

Frankie Manning teaching in Denver, CO 2007:

That little sequence is quintessential Frankie Manning. He just assumed that if you were learning lindy hop, you were going to learn a complex sequence of rhythms and steps, and that that was going to be the heart of your dancing. Most lindy hop classes I see these days assume that beginners will be learning simple movements and that this sort of rhythmic work is a ‘variation’, an optional extra for more advanced dancers.

When I first started learning, this little film shows the sort of thing we learnt – in fact, I can still remember learning pretty much this exact sequence way back in about 2000. I strongly believe that this stuff – these rhythms, this use of open position, this combining partner work with individual improvisation – is the very core, the absolute essence of lindy hop. Without it, you’re just… well, you’re just doing something else. You’re not lindy hopping.

I know that right now, I’m really only beginning to properly understand just how amazing he was, even in his 90s. There are no modern dancers today who can approach his skill level. Let alone his choreographing ability. I think we are so lucky to have had him, not just in the early days of lindy hop, but most especially in the revival, when we really needed, as a community, to be taught not only how to dance, but how to love dancing and to be good to each other.

I think these interviews with today’s lindy hoppers talking about Frankie Manning at 90, at the 2004 Herrang Dance camp make all this clear:

The season of snot and ridiculously beautiful parrots



IMGP6151_rainbow-lorikeet, originally uploaded by RaeAllen.

It’s spring here in Sydney (well, summer, technically), and that means flowers and pollen and snot. We’re in a temperate/subtropical zone, near the coast, and we get masses and masses of rain in the spring and autumn months. The European seasons are particularly useless as guides to weather in Sydney… well, for pretty much all of Australia, but I really feel the discrepency most here. The Dharawal calendar makes a lot more sense. Which isn’t surprising, seeing as how it’s the sum of 40 000 years worth of observation and knowledge, rather than 200 years of trying to force a round peg into a square hole. Despite the best efforts of British colonists, we are not England, and they have not made Australia so. But most European-Australians insist on using the European seasons to describe our climate and get all emotional about falling leaves and ‘real’ seasons from a country on the other side of the planet which really only exists in their parents’ imagination. It gives me the shits a bit.

The Dharawal calendar:

January/February/March
Burran
Gaalung Marool
(hot and dry)

April/May
Marrai’gang
Bana’murrai’yung
(wet becoming cooler)

June/July
Burrugin
Tugarah Tuli
(cold, frosty, short days)

August
Wiritjilribin
Tugarah Gunya’marri
(cold and windy)

September/October
Ngoonungi
Murrai’yunggory
(cool, getting warmer)

November/December
Parra’dowee
Goray’murrai
(warm and wet)

Right now we’re in Parra’dowee, which means warm and wet. Which is what it is. Big, masive pouring rain for a week, straight-down rain, like a warm, heavy shower. And then things dry out and the plants go INSANE with their flowers, the birds go NUTS with the nectar and pollen in the flowers (especially the rainbow lorikeets, adrenaline-charged sex addicts at this time of year) and the bats get crazy for the fruit coming into season. All this is very picturesque, but by geez it makes for bad hayfever. Snot. Snot. Snot.
But Parra’dowee describes this season – warm and wet – far more effectively than ‘spring’. It’s not as though the little plants are crawling out of the frozen ground. The plants have been steadily growing for the last few months, and really only slowed down during the coldest part of the year. And ‘cold’ in Sydney means, oh, below 20*C at least! I never wear my Melbourne winter clothes, and never need scarves or woolly hats. But I’ve invested in lots more light cotton dresses since I’ve moved here (you can check the average temperatures and rainfall in these graphs).
Melbourne is (sort of) covered by the Brambuk calendar, which is pretty harsh. Very hot and dry in summer, very cold and often wet in winter. Total rubbish. It reminds me of living in Wagga, which was also rubbish, weather-wise.

Living in Sydney is like living in Brisbane or Fiji, but with less humidity and more moderate temperatures. Which is probably because they’re tropical places. I adore Sydney weather. Even in this wet season, the blocks of rain are bracketed by weeks of perfect, gloriously blue-skied days and gentle temperatures. All this makes Canberra all the stranger. Just over a mountain range to the east (sort of), the winters are freezing cold with snow, and the summers are bakingly hot and dry. Sydney is best. Canberra is our closest lindy hop scene, and we are the two closest scenes in Australia, so we visit each other for special events. It’s a three hour drive, or three hours on the bus for a $30 ticket (or $15 if you get organised early enough). One year coming home from Canberrang, the bus drove through snow flurries, then we arrived in Sydney where people were at the beach swimming.

Sydney is the best, chuck out all the rest.

zoot suit riot (riot)

All that talk about neo swing in that last blog post has had me thinking about zoot suits.

There’s lots of bullshit ‘scholarship’ around about zoot suits. The best thing I’ve ever read about them was a book chapter called “The Right to the City in Los Angeles: Discourse and Practice of a Chicano Alternative Public Sphere” by Raul H. Villa in the book Masses, classes and the public sphere edited by Mike Hill and Warren Montag (2000) (on Google Books).

One of the worst things I’ve ever read was Stuart Cosgrove’s article “The Zoot Suit and Style Warfare” in Angela McRobbie’s edited collection Zoot Suits and Second-Hand Dresses: An Anthology of Fashion and Music (1989). I know it’s a bit of a big call, picking on Cosgrove. But that article is wrongity wrongtown. In so many ways. I haven’t read it in a while, though, so I could be completely mistaken. I just remember it being scarily inaccurate. McRobbie’s talk about second hand dresses in the 80s is a lot more useful.

What is a zoot suit?
This article ‘The Zoot Suit Riots’ (from Manong: The Story of Raymond G. Perla
Photographs and storys from the Manong Generation
) isn’t such a bad place to start for a description of the actual item of clothing. Basically, they were really big suits, using lots of fabric, which were popular with some latino/chicano youth in Los Angeles during the second world war. Using lots of fabric was kind of shocking in a time of wartime austerity. Of course, race and ethnicity are the most important parts of this story.

What did a zoot suit look like?

This is a picture of Edward James Olmos in the 1981 film film Zoot Suit:

That film was strange sort of musical. You can find interesting bits of it on Youtube – search. But that’s an 80s version of the zoot suit. Here’s a cool photo of some bloke with Katherine Dunham in 1943. He’s not wearing a zoot suit, but he’s in a pose which looks a lot like a ‘pimp walk’, a key jazz step associated with zoot suits, pimps and swaggering cool. He may have mad skills and be super cool, but he’s not wearing a zoot suit.

Here’s a funny photo of Spike Lee (left) and Denzel Washington (right) in Lee’s 1992 film Malcolm X:

Even better, watch them strutting, pimp-walk style in one of the early scenes of the film here. Malcolm X’s autobiography has some interesting things to say about young black American men and zoot suits. Spike Lee’s film is interesting because so many hardcore totally legit and awesome lindy hoppers were involved in its production, including Frankie Manning and Norma Miller. The dance scene from the film was really influential in the burgeoning swing dance scene at the time. Enjoy the dubbing:

linky

Lee specifically intended to have the film pay homage to the greatest lindy hoppers of the original period: the Whitey’s Lindy Hoppers, Frankie Manning, Norma Mmiller and so on. The dance scene from Malcolm X itself echoes iconic music and dance film sequences from the original swing era. You have only to compare that dance scene with the Jitterbug Contest from Keep Punchin’.

…but anyway, I was talking about zoot suits. Yeah, yeah, Malcolm X is good stuff. But it’s not really getting to the heart of the matter. Where are those Chicanos Villa talks about his fascinating story about Los Angeles?

That’s Cab Calloway. But by the time this photo was taken, he was majorly famous. So he’s not really representing subversive public spheres… or is he? Look, I can’t really explore that here, but it’s worth thinking about Cab Calloway, ethnicity, race, the Cotton Club and performing identity.


That’s a picture of Mexican star Tin Tan in 1945. I found it here on this interesting page about zoot suits. That page is actually part of a research guide discussing the play and film Zoot Suit. The play Zoot Suit premiered in LA in 1978 and was released as a film in 1981, “the first Chicano written, performed and directed feature length film in history” (to quote the site).

It’s also interesting to read Ephemeral New York blog post about vintage clothes in New York in the 80s. Forties and thirties fashion was kind of getting a reboot in the 80s (you can see it a bit in films like Desperately Seeking Susan and Pretty in Pink).

Wait. What has all this got to do with lindy hop today. WHY are the white ‘swing dancers’ in Sydney STILL wearing zoot suits?

Ok, so it’s the 80s, right. You’ve looked at that stuff I’ve just linked. Now, in the 80s, lindy hop starts getting a bit of a revival. Young American, British and European (Sweden!) dancers start hunting down living dancers from the 30s and 40s. You can watch a really cool interview with Al Minns, where he talks about the Swedes’ approaching him. In 1989 the band Royal Crown Revue is formed by Eddie Nichols, punk and son of a jazz singer.

Neo swing is getting started. It has its roots in punk, ska, rock and roll. That’s where I remember it starting – my friends’ punk bands were support acts for visiting American bands like Royal Crown Revue, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Brian Setzer, Squirrel Nut Zippers, etc etc etc.

Ok, now it’s the 1990s. The film Swing Kids is released in 1993, Swingers in 1996. Lindy hop has gone mainstream. At least in America. In 1998 Gap release this ad for khakis. If Gap are using swing dancing for ads, you know it’s mainstream. I start dancing lindy hop in Brisbane in 1998, only a little while after classes started there. But it’d been in Sydney for a little while already. It’d only just started happening in Melbourne. We have the rock n roll and latin dance scenes to blame for lindy hop’s popularity in Sydney and Melbourne, and the influence of immigrant Brits.

Yeah, yeah, ZOOT SUITS?!

In 1997 the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies release a song called ‘Zoot Suit Riot’. It supposedly has something to do with the zoot suit riots.

linky

Who’s your daddy? Yes I am.

I’m sure LA lindy hoppers watching that video can see lots of famous names and people. But when I watch that clip, all I can hear is the song, and all I can see is the first dance performance I did in public. ARGH. MY EARS.
And at the time, all those bright suits and big hats and black and white shoes had indy cred. That stuff was cool.

[EDIT: This is one of a number of loosely-associated posts about music in Sydney lindy hop today. This list includes:

]

[Edit 18/11/11: A nice little article about a Vintage Zoot Suit Auctioned for nearly $80K was posted to Yehoodi this week.]

No Meat Week: Monday (& Sunday)

We’ve been living the CSIRO lifestyle for a year or two now, and while I like the lighter evening meals (without carbs), we’ve been struggling, ethically, with the amount of meat the diet includes. Also, it’s bad for your guts. So I’ve instituted a week without meat.

I’ve lived the vegetarian lifestyle here and there over the years, most prominently in a share house in Melbourne between 2001 and 2003. I’d moved to Melbourne from Brisbane, taking the coward’s approach to ending a long term relationship, and moving into a huge terrace house in North Melbourne with a bunch of younger students. They were all about 20 and I was about 26. I loved it. It was a delight to no longer be living unhappily in an New Farm flat with one other person. It was wonderful to suddenly be eating with a household of 5 other people (including ever-present boyfriends and girlfriends). I had my own shelf in the larder, my own milk in the fridge. I took my trolley to the Vic Markets every week, and I walked everywhere. I gave up meat. Alliances shifted within the sharehouse, and two of us began cooking together, tired of being third or fourth in line at the stove each night. We now occupied two shelves in the larder.

At the end of that first year, two of us left the strange sharehouse anchor guy to set up house in another, smaller terrace in Carlton North with a new housemate. Vegetarianism turned into vegan coeliacism as one of us discovered gluten intolerance and hardcore eating issues (masquerading as ethics). Each week I bought a trolley full of veggies from the Vic Markets, a trolley full of tofu, various not-wheat grains and dried goods from the Melbourne uni co-op and a trolley full of assorted canned goods and giant bags of rice and rice noodles. We were three fairly hardcore athletes. I was a newly addicted social lindy hopper, dancing two or three nights a week and walking or cycling everywhere. One housemate was a serious cyclist/climber/runner with a similarly-afflicted boyfriend in his very early 20s. The other house mate was equally active, but male and voraciously hungry. All. The. Time. We ate all the time. I ate two dinners almost every night. I got skinnier.

In 2003 we moved to another house – a gorgeous free standing colonial in Brunswick. We gained a house mate, the coeliac’s boyfriend. I gained a Squeeze. Eventually the coeliac had to call defeat as her doctor gave her supplement injections and demanded a return to nonveganism. Eggs entered our diet. Milk.

During those three years we ate a lot of what we called ‘veggie slop’ – misceleneous vegetarian curries drawn from Kurma‘s book or our increasingly beleagured imaginations. I remember one particularly awful meal in our third share house together. Kidney beans. Rice noodles. Some sort of rubbishy greasy sauce. But those years also brought kicheri and a new appreciation for tofu. Firm tofu, cubed, thrown into a coconut milk/tomato based vegetable curry. Tofu marinated in lemon juice, honey, miso and ginger then stir fried with vegetables. Brown rice. Basmati rice. Jasmine rice. Arborio rice. Pulao. Biriyani. Fried rice. Rice pudding. Rice noodles: flat, narrow, sheets, fresh, dried. Mung bean noodles. We made delicious dinners, for the most part, though I’ve never really eaten that way since.

But this week we’re going to revisit the vegetarian days of yore. We’re going to eat the way we used to in Carlton North, crowded around the dining table or camped out on the second hand, re-covered sofas in front of the television.

It’s already been a bit of a trip down memory lane for me. Last night we had spinach and ricotta cannelloni. Something I started eating in Brisbane, along with a million zillion other people, when San Remo included a basic spinach and ricotta recipe on the back of the cannelloni boxes. But we substitute a chunk of fetta for some of the ricotta, and we use fresh spinach rather frozen. Delicious.

Tonight we had this easy Cauliflower (queen of vegetables) and onion dish (recipe c/o Madhur Jaffrey’s Invitation to Indian Cooking):

1 medium onion, peeled and chopped coarsely
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped coarsely
2 inch long, 1 inch wide piece ginger peeled and coarsely chopped
1 large head of cauliflower (I just used half a big cauliflower)
8tbsp vegetable oil
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
1 medium fresh or canned tomato, peeled and chopped
1 tbs chopped fresh coriander (I used more than this)
1 fresh hot green chilli washed and finely sliced or 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper (I used 1/4 ground chilli)
2tsp ground coriander
1tsp ground cumin
1tsp garam marsala
2tsp salt
1tbs lemon juice

Blend onion, garlic and ginger with 4 tbsp of water and blend to a paste.

Break cauliflower into small flowerets, not longer than 1 to 1.5 inches, and not wider at the head than 1/2 to 1 inch.

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed 10-12 inch pot over a medium flame, pour in the paste from the blender, and add the turmeric. Fry, stirring for 5 minutes.

Add the tomato, green coriander, chili or cayenne, and fry for 5 minutes. If necessary, add 1 tsp of warm water at at time and stir to prevent sticking. Now put in the cauliflower, coriander, cumin, garam masala, salt and lemon juice.
Fry and stir for 1 minute.

Add 4 tbsp warm water, stir, cover, lower flame, allow to cook slowly 35-45 minutes. Stir gently every 10 minutes or so. The cauliflower is done when each floweret is tender with just a trace of crispness along its spine.

Easy.

We had it with rice: brown half an onion cut into rings in some olive oil, add some finely chopped spinach, half a tsp of ground coriander and half a tsp of sweet paprika. Mix it all in. Add some washed basmati rice, mix it all up. Then add water and cook it absorption method style. I do all that in the rice cooker.

And finally, I grilled some haloumi cheese we’d bought on impulse. And we ate it all. The rice was particularly delicious – the browned onion and greasiness of the olive oil making a perfect match for the cheese. The cauliflower was just a little sour around the edges, from the lemon and ginger. Delicious.

I’d had dodgy rice cooker risotto for lunch, using up tomatoes, zuchini, capsicum, mushrooms, some herbs from the garden. It was a bit boring. Needed some rehydrated porcini mushrooms.

I’m not used to all these evening carbs and feel decidedly full. Tomorrow I’m going to reduce portions and drop the hardcore dairy. I’m thinking the ‘asian style’ pumpkin soup from Stephanie Alexander’s big orange book. Or something involving chick peas. I adore chick peas.

it’s raining here, a bit

It’s raining a lot in Brisbane, and I’ve finally managed to ascertain the whereabouts of the various family members who’ve been Left Behind while the rest of us fled south. I am now also sure my Brisvegan friends are safe and well. No one is injured or missing, and we southerners are very relieved. Meanwhile, I’ve had a flurry of emails from people I first met in Brisbane, and who are spread out all over the country and world. I think the shocking stories from Queensland have reminded us of each other.

When that man on the 7:30 Report, that Stalwart Australian Man began to weep a little bit as he told us about not being able to stop to help people who were floating away on the roof of their cars or in boats, crying out for help, I wept a little bit as well.

I liked it that he let us see that all that talk about Stalwart Australian Men being stony faced and impervious to emotions was rubbish.

But then I saw a story about fires in … Western Australia? South Australia? where another Australian Man was telling us about how his home and everything he owned had been burnt by fires started by an arsonist, and how he just didn’t know what to do. He was weeping too, but he was wearing dark glasses, so it was hidden. I think that was even more touching.

It has been a hard week for Australians all over the place. But I keep thinking about those folk who live in truly remote communities, where there’re no buildings to be washed away, and no sewers to flood sewage into people’s backyards. I feel sorry for those people, because when the army arrived there, they had their money controlled by the government and nobody let them tell the story about calling out to neighbours to see if they were alright, and we didn’t see the footage of the stranger helping that family rescue their belongings.

I’m trying not to think those sorts of thoughts, but it’s making me angrier and angrier to hear stories about ‘strong’, ‘good’ communities that ‘help each other’ when there’s just as surely child abuse and drugs and violence and so on in those communities as well. But we don’t hear those stories, because these people are all white.

I am trying not to think like that. It’s not helpful.

I like the look of Anna Bligh. She’s turning out to be a fairly awesome leader, politician and all-round rock star. Be patient with each other. That’s what she said. And Kirsty’s right, it is a good thought.

In other news, I spend a lot of time in Ashfield these days. Sometimes I go to Burwood. Sometimes to the city, or perhaps to another neighbouring suburb. But mostly I stay here. I haven’t got a job (yet) (yet?) and I haven’t many prospects. But I don’t much mind. I am feeling healthy and well and have getting a lot of exercise. These are all good things.

Be patient with each other. This is what I think when someone who’s not from Ashfield goes shopping in the veggie shop. Be patient. Don’t take up so much space. Don’t try to make eye contact quite so desperately/aggressively. Take time to make a joke. Help someone reach something. Ashfield isn’t for everyone. The streets are fairly dirty, and the underpass, the one under the train tracks, where the children painted all the pictures and there are photos from the olden days, that underpass floods badly when it rains, and very quickly. And then as it dries out it smells badly.

Be patient with each other. This is a nice thought. I like it as an instruction for timing. For dancing. In swing, you get back there behind the beat. Wait. Don’t rush. Be patient. And let that man finish his solo.

Here, I’m wondering why there just aren’t any women in these bands. It’s like Australian jazz is just one big Bechdel fail. There’s an occasional one singing. Or someone hidden in the brass section. But, mostly, it’s just men.

It’s raining here a bit. Off and on, a clear day here and there, to help us dry things out. But it’s still raining in Brisbane. And there’s more flooding to come. Do be careful, friends.

let’s say no to perforations

Three interstate trips in one month. No more, thanks. Conference, christmas and a funeral. Brisvegas was interesting and I quite liked seeing it – it’s changed, I’ve changed, so it’s kind of nice that we could get together again after seven years and find that we had lots to talk about and quite liked each other.
Acclimating to mega-humidity? Tick.
Family visited, without incident? Tick.
Old mates visited. Tick.*
It is hot today, and I have cleverly booked in an appointment with the doctor for another ear inspection. It’s becoming an annual thing. Well, something I do a few times a year, actually. I have had enough of not being able to hear properly – it makes me irrationally furious, inciting Shouting, Stamping and Offensive Language. So I will have them irrigated today at 3. When the ambient temperature is about 40 degrees C. I’m hoping it will soften the wax and aid its removal.
I have plans for films to see, and I have started thinking about redoing the thesis. I have decided that it will now be known as The Book rather than The Thesis. I will start thinking about fonts immediately, as that is obviously the most important part of the process. Pav articulates my current feelings about the project quite nicely. As an ob-con type person, proof reading and editing is really the best place to site my natural abilities and interests. Serious Tidying will commence in a few hours, once this post is written, a cup of tea made, and a little clothes mending completed.
What fillums have I seen lately? Well, one of the most pleasing was Paul Verhoeven’s Starship Troopers. I hated this when it came out, but now, after a few years of Howard government, it makes a lot more sense. It’s also part of a recent spate of early 90s sci-fi fillum delightfulness, after we watched Total Recall the other night. In discussion with a fellow nerd yesterday afternoon, I realised that they’re both actually Verhoeven fillums, and that’s probably why they’re both so wonderfully specrappular. Having read this type of SF as a Young Person, first discovering the Adult part of the family bookshelves (at about the age of 11, when carefully scanning the Adult stuff for the least hint of sauciness), these two fillums really capture the mood of terrible authors like Peirs Anthony. It’s lovely, teenage stuff, and absolutely low-brain. So that’s a tick tick and a V.G. from us.
ITMFL.jpg
Last night on SBS I also stumbled over In the Mood for Love, a Kar Wai Wong film that I absolutely love. I keep hoping their relationship will end well, but it never does, no matter how many times I watch the film. I love the obvious stuff – the colours, the framing of shots, the slo-mo, the soundtrack, the almost-love-affair ness of it.
Let’s have a look at a couple of PR shots:
ITMFL2.jpg
ITMFL3.jpg
And just in case that’s not enough, here’s the trailer:

I think I might have a Thing for Tony Leung. My Thing for Maggie Cheung continues.
This new Thing is only fuelled by the immanent arrival of Ang Lee’s latest film, Lust, Caution, which I’ve heard has heaps of hot sex, which I know will be an absolute visual feast, and which I’m terribly excited about. I’m thinking about special preview sessions on Friday day. It also stars Leung, which is very nice, and Joan Chen, who I also love (you might remember me crapping on about this stuff a little while ago in this post). I have rewatched Lee’s Sense and Sensibility in preparation. Because no one does suppressed lust and caution like Austen.
The nicest part about catching this film last night was discovering it’s part of an SBS series screenings of films by the cinematographer Christopher Doyle. The worst part was realising I’d missed Hero. Dumplings is on Wednesday 23rd January. I’m not sure if the others have already been on or not, but the SBS search function on their site sucks a bit, and I can’t be bothered figuring it out. Guess I’ll have to go to the video shop. Oh wait, our video shop SUCKS, so that won’t work. Guess I’ll be the last kid on the block to get into it, and use Netflix/Quickflicks.
Additionally, I also missed the first episode of Skins, a new series by the doods who made Shameless. And that’s a big poo.
Well, think of me as I make it by PT (it’s probably too hot to ride) to the doctor this afternoon, and pray for my ear drum. Let’s say no to perforations.
*twice in a year! Dang, we’ll have nothing left to talk about next time!

tell me place and geography aren’t important here

There’s been a bit of talk about Helen Garner around the traps recently:

I wrote this comment in the latter:

(dogpossum on 3 August 2006 at 1:29 pm)
Nice post, Weathergirl.
I remember reading all Garner’s work when I was an undergrad – I fell in love with her style. In those pre-GST days I had enough cash to splurge on books whenever I liked.
TFS almost lost me for her, but I changed my mind… no, wait, I think I was just distracted by other authors (C.J.Cherryh, most probably – nothing like a little hardcore SF by a woman writer to get things in perspective)…
When I first moved to Melbourne I’d pretend I was recognising places from Monkey Grip (though I was finding it easier to recognise places in Brisbane in the Nick Earls books I was reading, probably because I was busy enjoying be Away From Brisbane at the time). And Garner’s pieces in the Age about ordinary Melbourne stuff helped me feel at home in my new city (what can I say – I’m a stooge).
I don’t find it difficult to enjoy the way Garner puts words together, and yet also have some trouble with the ideas behind the words. Frankly, a nicely written bit of opinion is far more likely to convince me to consider a topic than something difficult or clunky… I like the line about energy, and the thought that nasty bits of writing can inspire us to do great thinking and writing and talking ourselves. I mean, that seems to define feminsim for me: being inspired to think and write and talk and act by nasty bits of writing and ideology-in-action.
As for Garner herself… I met her once at a party, and knew her daughter through Uni, but that’s all I can say. I wouldn’t pretend to know her through her writing – just as I wouldn’t expect to know a blogger through their blog, or a singer through their songs. But I might admit to vague feelings or unsubstantiated impressions.

And had this response:

(weathergirl on 3 August 2006 at 1:33 pm)
Dogpossum, thanks for contributing! I read a tiny bit of Alice Garner’s PhD thesis (something about holiday imagery on French beaches), which I think she then published as a book. She inherited her mother’s writing talent.
But please don’t mention Nick Earls on my beat. I like to think this is about interesting literature.

I did start writing a response to the response, but I ended up feeling like an idiot. Some things are best written on your own blog (especially when they stray into true blogging territory: long and boring). So here it is:
I feel like I’m dragging the discussion off into irrelevent territory, but one of the things I liked about Garner (and Nick Earls, John Birmingham and Shane Maloney*, actually), is/was the way they write about cities and construct/represent ideas of community and place. I choose those three because of their accessibility, their popularity. I choose those three in particular because I was reading them before, during and after my move from Brisbane to Melbourne, in book and newspaper-column form (the latter is a reference to Garner’s spots in The Age). I think that in that period of moving to a city where I knew perhaps 3 people, away from family and friends, I was busy making new social and professional networks – making this new city home (I want to reference the space/place thing, but I don’t have the brain right now).
I was interested in the way these authors use lots of specific references to local landmarks and people to create a feeling of ‘knowing the city’, or more usefully, ‘knowing the community’ in which their stories are based. It’s an interesting idea, especially when you take into account things like Garner’s decidedly middle (or upper?) class experiences in Melbourne today, compared to the Monkey Grip days, Earls’ Brisbane of the 80s, Birmingham’s Brisbane of the late 80s and early 90s. These are quite definitely experiences of a city inflected by class, gender, sex(uality), education, market forces, etc etc etc. Yet they are all represented as ‘common sense’ or ‘normal’ or ‘familiar’, particularly in the case of Garner’s work (which seems to rest so firmly on the strength of ‘common sense’ or ‘diary-esque’ writing as a tool to convince. I, for one, am a little sceptical of Garner’s (occasionaly quite irritating) use of ‘oh, this is just what I think, and I’m probably wrong, but…’ arguments. Can you spell passive aggressive?).
But I’m interested in the way, while reading these people at that time, I could say ‘hey, I know that place’, or more scarily (esp in the case of Birmingham), ‘I know those people!’, and found that so comforting.
This is the sort of thing that comes up all the time in discussions about Garner’s work (and in this thread above) – the idea of ‘journal-diaryistic’ writing and ‘journalism': levels of ‘real’ and ‘true’ and so on. I think it’s worth my pointing out, at this point, that I take Earls and Maloney as writing with as ‘diary-esque’ a style as Garner, largely in response to the incredible detail about ‘real’ places in their work. While Garner writes using her ‘real’ (and autobiogaphical) emotions as a bit of a blunt object in the ‘reality’ stakes, Earls and Maloney use ‘reality of place’ in much the same way.
That I could point to a building or street in Melbourne and say “that’s where Helen went swimming or rode her bike or saw a band” or think “I remember that shopping centre in the Queen Street Mall”, was kind of comforting for a person alone in a new city. It certainly shaped the way I thought about my place within my current and past home-cities. Nothing new for ‘the media': kind of the point, really, constructing consensual notions of place and community**.
But I do think that it’s a key part of Garner’s work, and there have been quite a few comments already [in the LP thread] about the way she uses phrases like “Any woman who has left home for university could fill in the gaps”: inviting us, explicitly to identify with Garner (or her characters), as if it was a natural and inevitable thing.
Isn’t that interesting, that the language of domesticity (and Garner is all about domestic spaces) and ‘home cities’ and ‘the familiar’ is such a useful tool for convincing us that the author’s point is ‘just common sense’? That an ‘emotional honesty’ in writing is somehow more relevant or convincing than an objective account?
You can see why, at this point, I hesitated to post this comment on LP.
But my attention was caught by the way Weather Girl dismissed Nick Earls as ‘uninteresting’ work. Sure, he’s no great literary talent, but some time was spent in that LP thread making similar observations about Garner – she’s no great literary talent. But many of the commenters in that thread (and most of whom were women – perhaps just an indication of LP’s reader/commenter -ship) declared an affinity or affection for Garner based on her use of the personal and the invitingness of her lovely prose.
I’d argue that Earls has similar appeal – the use of the personal, and an inviting style (in his case, though, the invitation was to share the joke, rather than marvel at a lovely turn of phrase). With Maloney, the appeal lay in the minutiae of everyday life in Brunswick/Coburg/Melbourne (my new home suburb), and of local politics (which fascinated a girl who’d just completed an MA on women in Qld politics). In addition, I’d argue that they’re very Australian writers (though from different age/social groups), and I like to read in the vernacular.
Though we must keep in mind the fact that Garner’s books have stuck around, while Earls feels a bit stuck in that ‘grunge fiction’ moment – do people still read him, or is it just me? Maloney, on the other hand, has made his mark on the pop culture landscape, especially with the television programs based on his work.
I know that I’m a little biased, but isn’t this bias kind of the point? I was attracted by the invitation to share the everyday lives and everyday experiences of these authors’ lives, and that made me feel ‘at home’ in a new city. I certainly wasn’t ‘sucked in’ to believing that this was in any way a ‘true’ story I was being told. But that was part of the appeal: I was reading one person’s interpretation and experience of a city, and that very subjectivity was part of it’s appeal. It invited comparison with my own experience, and a dialogue with the text.
I should note: I was so interested by The First Stone when it came out that I did a pgrad essay project on the topic, exploring the newspaper responses to the book, and to their representations of ‘feminism’. This was a sort of test-run for my eventual MA project.
…and all of this has strayed quite a bit from the love/hate/niggle-fest that began in the original articles on Garner and her writing, but, well, like I said: blog.
*It’s worth checking out the ‘official’ Shane Maloney site and noting the background image of the site: Melway maps of Brunswick.
Tell me place and geography aren’t important here?
**I’m paraphrasing old school Stuart Hall there
–EDIT: fixed the dodgy link up there at the top – sorry everyone–