Monday, June 19, 2006

Article - Bukowski On Film: Rough Guide (Metro, SMH)

Bukowski blues

June 16, 2006

Metro, Sydney Morning Herald

Translating a drunk who does little to the screen is tough.

Bent Hamer's adaptation of Bukowski's 1975 novel Factotum, starring Matt Dillon as the author's alter-ego Henry "Hank" Chinaski, with Lili Taylor (I Shot Andy Warhol) and Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny) as his alcoholic muses, is one of the better attempts at putting the drunken bard on screen.

Tales Of Ordinary Madness in 1981 was the first and, for many, the best, with Ben Gazzara as a slow, cool, yet still ugly and a little unlikeable anti-hero.

It was followed in 1987 by Barfly, the best known and the one screenplay Bukowski wrote. It featured a mumblingly over-acting Mickey Rourke opposite Faye Dunaway. Bukowski wrote Hollywood about the underwhelming result.

That same year, the one Bukowski film the writer liked was released. The Belgian production Crazy Love, based on his books The Copulating Mermaid of Venice, California, and Ham on Rye, concentrated more on his socially awkward and acne-ridden adolescence.

Last year the critically acclaimed documentary Born into This was released here. It used rare and revealing footage of the famous wino, as well as interviews with Tom Waits, Bono, Sean Penn and some people without yachts. Another Bukowski adaptation, Bring Me Your Love, has recently finished filming.

Factotum sticks to the Bukowski formula: "Went to the bar at the track and got loaded, met this ugly, drunken piece of ass, after we f---ed I felt sick, so I went to the bar at the track ... [etc]"

However, as with Born Into This, Factotum has voice-overs of Bukowski's poems that give some insight into his life as a search for a kind of purity. And that is what appeals to Bukowski's fans.

In common with Gazzara, Dillon is a more believable, blackly comic Hank. Rourke was more caricature yob. Factotum captures the way Bukowski used art to laugh at the absurd meaningless of life, like a drunken lama, without over-idealising or pulling punches.


Director Bent Hamer. Stars Matt Dillon, Lili Taylor. Rated M. Screening now.

Article - Mark Lee (Metro, SMH)

The Frail Man

Benito di Fonzo
June 16, 2006

Gallipoli's Mark Lee resurfaces in a new play about "what makes us so insular".

Mark Lee shot to fame as the fresh-faced hero of 1981's Gallipoli. On the eve of a lead role in a new play and his feature directorial debut, I asked where he's been.

"I've had a great 25 years! I've worked in music, theatre, film, and I began to develop as an actor, which I wasn't, to be quite honest with you. I got through Gallipoli on a reasonable looking mug, a lot of enthusiasm and some great people around me, not technique, not any great talent. Because Peter [Weir] and Mel [Gibson] hit the stratosphere after that they always say, 'What happened to you?' With Mel, realistically it was Mad Max 2; with Peter it was probably Witness.

"It was one of those things that turns in your favour, so over the time I've gone back to school. I love doing this, I've found a play I really enjoy."

That play is the Sydney premiere of Anthony Crowley's thriller The Frail Man, in which Lee plays the CEO of Australia's largest IT company, who is pursued by a detective (Jeanette Cronin) in the investigation of the murder of a young Muslim woman.

This story is interwoven with the tale of two runaway convicts.

"The play looks at our roots, our beginnings, what makes us so insular," Lee says. "We came here in pain and degradation and tried to make the landscape anything but what it was; that defines many of the problems we face today, an island nation of Europeans in Asia, and it looks at that using the corporate structure, by looking at the echelons of power and at its zenith how it's manipulated."

Another work that tackles corporate machismo is Lee's feature directorial debut The Bet, which opens at the Sydney Film Festival. In it, Matthew Newtown plays a young stockbroker who makes an ego-filled bet with a wealthy friend (Aden Young) over who can make the most money in 90 days. It then follows the effects of this obsession on his personal life.

"While The Frail Man is a big metaphor for Australia, The Bet is a moral tale set in the corporate world," Lee says. "I had to learn about the stockbroking world, sit with stockbrokers, watch them work. We had to work out a way to keep the veracity but make it visually exciting."

Among the ways Lee and editor Jason Ballantine ( Wolf Creek) achieved that was by ditching the fluoro-blue tones of corporate tales for a warmer look.

Lee moved to directing when he realised there are only so many spots on All Saints you can do. "As you get older if you haven't hit a certain niche your choices are fairly minimal, you find yourself sitting in the same casting agents looking at the same people for a 50-worder going 'this is insane, I've been doing this since 1967.' So I took an overdraft and funded my first short. I found there were certain things I had a knack for."

What made him want to direct The Bet? "I'm now in my late 40s and started directing fairly late and found I loved it. Had I been offered Zombie Nymphomaniacs In Chains 2, would I have taken that? That's the question you ask yourself. As it turned out, this had a wonderfully strong structure."

It's quite a change from the post- Gallipoli years when Lee worked as a labourer. "I did that on and off for nearly nine years. It's nothing special, and it was good; it got me fit, got my head straight. I started doing different roles rather than wallowing. I [also] played in pub bands: the Idle Poor, One Way Ticket, Waterfront. I don't know how good we were but we had a ball."

Lee's joy in projects such as The Frail Man and The Bet has taken care of any regrets. "I went through a phase. I stupidly once said to a friend that sometimes I feel [ Gallipoli is] an albatross I'd shot and hung round my neck, I was so disgusted with talking about it. He chastised me by saying, 'We should all have such as albatross,' and I went, 'Yeah, fair enough.' "

Friday, June 09, 2006

Romeo and Juliet (Metro, SMH)

Benito Di Fonzo

June 9, 2006 Arts - Entertainment -

What it is about Romeo that stops Juliet ringing Neighbourhood Watch?Chloe Armstrong and Julian Garner get some face time in  Romeo and Juliet

Romeo is not the only Italian to stand under a girl's balcony reciting verse, but with lines such as "But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?" you know he's the most infamous. What it is about Romeo that stops her ringing Neighbourhood Watch?

"Obviously, if Juliet was not a virgin and had had a series of abusive relationships behind her I don't think she'd be as responsive to Romeo, [but] there's this beautiful vulnerability and ethereal quality that she sees in him, like he's from another planet," says 23-year-old Chloe Armstrong, who plays the "not yet 14" Juliet in Bell Shakespeare's latest production.
"It's to do with his imagination, sensitivity and impressionability, and as young as she is she sees that straightaway and falls for him."

Romeo is played by Julian Garner, best known as Alex Dimitriadis's gay lover in 1998's Head On. Even armed with poetry, the love between Romeo Montague and Juliet Capulet is doomed from the start due to their families' feud, a conflict for which director John Bell saw comparisons in recent events.

"He was thinking we don't really have this sort of fighting in our society," Armstrong says, "and then the Cronulla riots happened. That was the starting point for him. The set has quite a stark urban feel, and the divisions are very clear between the Capulets and Montagues in costume."

Armstrong, who also plays the witch Graymalkin in Romper Stomper director Geoffrey Wright's upcoming film version of Macbeth, saw echoes of her own adolescence in the love-struck Juliet.

"I had moments where something mattered to me so much that I lost all sense of rationale and was arguing along a course that was completely unfathomable, but I was so adamant in my heart that this was right that I couldn't see past it.

"To an outsider's eye it would have seemed that I was being a hysterical rebellious adolescent, but I was just desperate. It's the same for Juliet, she's a girl living with a family who are completely thwarting her whole objective, which is to be with Romeo."

Hence we witness Juliet's journey towards independence as the conflict between her forbidden romance and her family forces her to make some very adult, if ultimately ill-fated, decisions.

"It's quite unusual for a 'not yet 14'-year-old to be quite so free-thinking," she says. "She becomes her own agent. A big part of Juliet for me is her autonomy, which she discovers, and asserts. It's really cool that it was written so long ago by a man who gives this young girl this incredible initiative."

She is aided by Friar Lawrence (Philip Dodd), who secretly marries the couple before Romeo's enforced exile for the murder of Juliet's cousin. Later, after learning of Juliet's decision to commit suicide to avoid an arranged marriage, the Friar gives her a drug that will help her fake her own death. What would the Department of Community Services say?
"In retrospect you can go 'Oh Jesus, that was a bit rash, perhaps I should have called Lifeline'," Armstrong says. "He's impulsive, but he means well."
Ultimately, love brings an end to the ancient feud, if a little late for our lovers. Juliet might have been better off calling the cops when some boy from the wrong part of town turned up. Yet love, like poetry, is at it's best when blind.

Armstrong says: "To think that adults need two young people to kill themselves to see how stupid their feud is. As she says, 'my only love sprung from my only hate', which is imposed on her, like any sense of racism."

Only in fair Verona, or Cronulla.

(originally appeared in Sydney Morning Herald, Metro, 9/6/06)