Tuesday, 9 April 2013


The ACT government in its wisdom has allowed a new cinema to be set up in a part of town that has absolutely no restaurants - it is on the bottom of a rather flash multi-storey set of flats, which has been positioned right by a freeway, at just enough distance from the city centre to ensure that the entire area is absolutely dead (apart from the drone from the freeway) in the evening.

I assume the flats come equipped with kitchens as there won't be any alternative source of hot food available nearby - despite the fact that I've read that young apartment dwellers prefer eating out these days. I certainly like to see a film and then have dinner - or have dinner and then see a film. I prefer not to have dinner at my house on these occasions, but to spend the entire evening out. Canberra's town planners, God bless them, are presumably keen for us all to get back into home cooking though - or concerned to lower the break-in rate by chivvying us back into our houses as quickly as possible.

Once again, in this overplanned city, it strikes me that things might have been better had there been no planners to prevent the place from developing higgledy piggledy. Having armies of the pernicious breed seems just to slow everything down and produce the kind of hopeless outcome that is this new cinema, place as far as possible from everything else.

Anyway, the cinema shows lots of 'art house' movies so I am determined to support it. I like 'art house' movies. I wasn't sure if I did, but having this last fortnight been to three movies, I can definitely say that I do.

The first movie we went to was 'The Loneliest Planet'. It was adapted from a short story and concerned a youngish couple, she American, he Spanish-speaking. We were told almost nothing about them, which some in our party found irritating but I found excellent, as I think they were supposed to be emblematic of a certain kind of young Westerner, the kind who become perpetual travellers, only ever stopping to make enough money to set off again. The two in the film were travelling in Georgia and we found them at the beginning preparing to embark on a walk through the Georgian landscape with a guide.

Nothing at all happens - or very little (apparently the trailer urges viewers not to give away the big event, but I'm afraid I missed it). The Georgian scenery is extraordinary and almost makes the film worthwhile on its own.

The point of this kind of endless travelling is revealed as fairly problematic - no-one seems to be really enjoying themselves, no-one really seems to understand what they are seeing. By the end, the couple's endless wandering appeared, to me at least, to be a modern version of the old pastime of going to Bedlam and staring at the inmates. For them, the whole non-Western world seems to represent a kind of zoo whose inmates they peer at. In a bar, they dance with the locals, but all the time smirking at their outlandish foreign ways. A ball flies over a wall they are walking past and they chuck it back, only for it to fly out again. For a few minutes, they join in what they assume is a game with people they don't know and can't see.  The young Spanish speaker, upon being asked about what kind of car he has by the Georgian guide, replies smugly, 'A bicycle.' The guide, on the other hand, wants nothing more than to get his hands on a nice big shiny Western car. The Westerners romanticise the simplicity they find. The natives wish to escape it, on the whole - or at least to grab some of what these young people disdain.

The next movie we went to was 'Barbara', about a dissident female doctor in East Germany in the 1980s. The doctor has been banished to a rural hospital from Berlin. The film is rather beautiful to look at and quietly reveals the banal but grinding nastiness of the old East German regime. This might suggest it is grim or dull, but it isn't; it is gripping and moving and very well worth seeing.

Finally, we went to see Side Effects. It wasn't bad, a nice little thriller, but it all seemed so frantic and flashy and shiny after the first two. Each of them sent me home in a faintly contemplative mood. Something about their slow, thoughtful camera work made me more aware of my surroundings afterwards, so that the act of putting on the kettle or washing a peach took on some peculiar kind of weight. They each in a way had the effect of a Vermeer painting, because in each the camera had lingered on small details, domestic scenes or faces, allowing you to see how each instant of an individual existence can be framed and seen as significant, how each moment has importance.

Side Effects had different intentions. It was all about exciting you and distracting you from reality. I emerged blinking from the theatre, feeling as if I'd been on one of those funfair rides that turn you upside down and whirl you around and then hurl you back to ground with a jolt.

Side Effects probably cost far more to make than Barbara or The Loneliest Planet, it probably involved far more ingenuity to construct than those two, but perhaps it was the kind of ingenuity that Les Murray describes (I think, although I can't find the reference) as 'front brain' rather than 'back brain'.

Up the back, that's where I like to be.


  1. An exhaustive search of the net [≈3mins] reveals just three references to Les Murray's description. They all lead back to this zmkc person. Suspicious, I reckon.

    1. I shall ask my resident expert on all things Murray and get back to you.

    2. You'll get cod. That may be embarrassing.

    3. The authority on these matters says she thinks it may be somewhere on his site. I suppose I should go and look. I think I'll go and make a cup of tea instead.