Saturday, December 16, 2006

article - Unsilent Night, Sydney

Metro, Sydney Morning Herald. December 15, 2006

Why sing carols when you can parade around playing Chrissie music on your boombox?

Unsilent Night - an iPOD-free event.

"It's a Christmas event that isn't corny or naff," says Daz Chandler, the organiser of Unsilent Night.

"This is for people who want to do something different around the silly season, who aren't into the whole Christian carolling side of things."

Unsilent Night is a composition by New York composer Phil Kline designed to be performed as a street parade by whoever turns up with a boombox.

It was first staged in 1992; last year's New York parade attracted 1500 participants. This Saturday night it will be performed in New York, San Diego and, thanks to Chandler, Sydney.

Chandler was given a recording of the New York parade for her 2SER-FM show last year and decided to organise the inaugural Australian parade in 2005.

"We asked Phil and he was stoked, so we bought a heap of cassette tapes - you can't do it on CDs because they skip - and stayed up all hours duplicating," she says. "It was great fun so we decided we'd definitely to do it again."

The symphony is arranged in four layers and distributed on cassettes to participants, along with a map of the route through the CBD, St James, Hyde Park and Oxford Street.

"It's timed so you get to Taylor Square and you're standing there [for] five minutes and it finishes and everyone goes, 'Wow, that was insane.' It attracts a lot of attention from normal people. They're having dinner and they look up and there's all these people carrying stereos on their heads."

It draws a wide range of participants.

"I was expecting the usual suspects: art students, people into weird stuff, musicians, but there were also families," Chandler says. "We had a women who was in her 80s.

"It feels magical, it also feels a trifle naughty. It's really great to do stuff with people you've never met before and feel like you're all united in something."

Saturday, December 09, 2006

interview - Aunty Mavis

Stocking Stuffer, Turkey Plucker

Benito Di Fonzo
Sydney Morning Herald, December 8, 2006

Aunty Mavis isn't quite as she seems.

Aunty Mavis, stocking stuffer.

"I remember, as a girl, I had fantasies about Santa," says the unshaven 30-year-old man in the voice of an elderly woman, "I really did; that sort of older daddy figure, fuller figure, white beard, red suit. Santa comes only once a year, as did my husband."

Andrew Benson is getting a few odd looks as he channels Aunty Mavis for me in a pub near the performing arts school where he teaches. Mavis, a character Benson created under mentor Reg Livermore, is talking about her new show, Stocking Stuffer, Turkey Plucker.

"Try saying that fast with a few dry sherries under your belt," she says.

Aunty Mavis, Country Women's Association member and ex-president of the Lowlands Bowling Club, is a singer "somewhere between 60 and death" from his hometown of Newcastle. Since 1999, she has fronted shows such as Scones & Songs and The Silence of The Lamingtons.

"I've got a bit of a following in the gay and lesbian community," Mavis says. "A lot of lesbians like Mavis; I think it's the fuller figure myself."

Thought of turning? "No, closest I get to a lesbian is a lemon meringue pie."

As well as free Darrell Lea plum-nougat puddings - "they really put the dull back into delicious" - the show promises such carolling satires as Cross-Dressed Ye Merry Gentlemen, Away With a Stranger and Menopause is Getting her Down (to the tune of Santa Claus is Coming to Town), as well as a little Novocastrian culture.

"People in Sydney don't think there's life after Hornsby but there is, and it's Newcastle."

Mavis rounds off the show with a bit of tap-dancing, ably assisted by her elves. "You just say the magic word 'poof' and they appear."

Mavis, a staunch Country Party supporter, feels modern Australia may have lost its way.

"Oh look, there's a lot of foreigners here, isn't there? I mean they're nice, they've brought dim sims to the country and that's quite nice, but bring back the Australia of the '50s, I say."

Haven't we? "That's what I love about John [Howard]."

Mavis also will discuss the big questions of the day, such as AWB scandals. "They were just trying to help [Iraqis] out because they've got flatbread over there. I think they were trying to sell them yeast to give their bread a bit of a rise."

Could she send scones and lamingtons? "Wouldn't that be fun? I might have to speak to my local member and see if they'll send me over. You will have to try my rummy balls, I make a good rumball."

Rumballs in the jungle?

"Can I use that?"

Unfortunately, Santa won't make an appearance as, Mavis explains, he has been placed in detention on Christmas Island after Navy ships allegedly spotted him throwing presents overboard.

What does Mavis make of her nephew and creator, Andrew? "Oh, he's nice enough, isn't he? I just wish he could find a nice country girl and settle down."

What exactly does Mavis miss from the '50s? "Just politeness, manners [and] hot-water bottles - do you use a hot-water bottle? No. Well, that's what's missing in our culture and that's something I always relished as a girl: the smell of rubber close to the skin as you fell asleep. Do what I do, fill it with porridge; not only does it keep you warm, it's breakfast-in-bed in the morning. [The] taste's a bit rubbery but, in today's society, rubbery is quite safe, you know?"

Monday, November 27, 2006

Art Will Always Eat Itself

In an irrelevant aside:

One midday in the middle of summer in New York, 1972 John ‘Sonny’ Wojtowicz watched The Godfather. He wanted to become Michael Corleone. The part of Michael Corleone was played by Al Pacino. Wojtowicz robbed a bank later that day so his male lover Ernest Aaron could become a woman. The robbery failed. The botched robbery inspired a film script. The lead role was offered to a young stage actor who had recently made a name for himself in The Godfather. Ernest Aaron became Elizabeth Eden. In the Summer of 1975, filming began in New York of Dog Day Afternoon. Al Pacino became Sonny Wojtowicz.

Does this mean that if I watch The Sopranos this evening and decide I want to become Don Tony then in three years James Gandolfini will be a failed writer living in a small flat in Sydney?

No, it just means art will always eat itself.

article - Josh Lawson "Plays: By Himself"

by Benito Di Fonzo. (Metro, Sydney Morning Herald 24/11/06)

“I must sound like a crazy man,” says actor turned playwright Josh Lawson of his improv-inspired technique.

“I sit at home and improvise the characters aloud by myself. I’m speaking four or five different characters. It must sound like I’m having a dinner party but I’m not, I’m a lonely, lonely man.”

While the skills that earned Josh a NIDA Fellowship studying improv in Los Angeles have become his trademark through ‘Thank God You’re Here,’ he’s forged a parallel career as a playwright following the success ‘Shakespearealism,’ a winner of Naked Theatre Companies ‘Write Now’ competition staged earlier in this year.

“I was sitting in the audience opening night; nervous, scared, excited, looking at the audience react and seeing that they were liking it. That was absolutely one of the highlights of my career, so I continued writing hoping I would feel that again.”

He’ll get his chance at the opening of ‘Plays: By Himself.’ A double entendre I take it?

“What’s sad is that was my idea, the title. They wanted ‘A Night With Josh Lawson,’ that was just too arrogant.”

‘Plays: By Himself’ will include the aforementioned ‘Shakespearealism,’ which tells the story of Ralph Shakespeare, the failed realist playwright brother of William. The play is less a dig at the Bard than Josh’s contemporaries.

“It’s taking the piss out of realism more than it is Shakespeare. I just got sick and tired of reading new plays by writers who are desperate to recreate realism, and in doing so use this bastardised mannered syntax that doesn’t really make much sense, [as if] half finished sentences means it’s gritty realism, writing in ‘uhms’ and ‘ahs’ and leaving the actor no freedom to have any kind of original stimulus because you’ve written in coughs, sneezes and breaths.”

Another contemporary pet hate is swearing.

“Jesus, I swear in my life more than anyone really. I’m working with the navy at the moment and I match them, but I do think that new, particularly young male writers, swear too much for shock value and attempted grittiness, so in the night you’ll hear one ‘shit.’ I’ve [also] invented the word ‘fruck.’”

The show also includes his fast-paced comedy ‘The 11 O’Clock,’ in which a psychiatrist attempts to treat a patient that believes he is a psychiatrist treating a patient who believes he is a psychiatrist.

“It’s ten minutes long but if feel like two if it goes at speed. ‘The 11 O’Clock’ is a tribute to Vaudeville really, I’m a big fan of Abbot & Costello.”

Tony and Peter or Bud and Lou?

“Well, both are farcical really aren’t they? My dad was a fan of Buster Keaton, the Marx Brothers, it was an attempt to write a modern version . That’s were it came from, but you can read whatever you want into it; breakdown of communication, peoples’ fascination with therapy, self-help. At it’s heart it’s a blatant duel of words.”

Absurd word play is at the heart of Josh’s style.

“I’m a massive fan of word play, I think writers aren’t doing enough of it. I love watching clever wordy pieces and I hope I’m not the only one, but we’ll find out soon enough. I might be busking on Pitt St. Mall in six months.”

The third play ‘Work In Progress’ was still literally what its title implies at the time of talking to Josh. It’s a play within a play within a play, the protagonist realising he’s in a play written by someone else, who in turn is also. At it’s centre is a writer introducing his parents to his latest female character.

“It’s kind of Charlie Kaufman, in the play I refer to the Escher drawing of a hand drawing a hand. The original thing was because I didn’t write women very well. That’s where that idea came from: what if I was to write a women and then introduce her to my friends? What would they think of her? It’s going to be a real head-spin.”

Assuming its finished?

“It’s great isn’t it? I’ve already got an out-clause. If people go ‘Jesus the ending was a bit rubbish’ I can go ‘well it was a Work In Progress, I did warn you.’”

“Plays: By Himself – Three Short Plays by Josh Lawson.”

Directed by Tamara Cook and Toby Schmitz

Old Fitzroy, Woolloomooloo. November 29 – December 23

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Jack Marx, Ian Thorpe & the proud donkeys of Italy

Yesterday in Jack Marx's SMH blog he said that Ian Thorpe should be stripped of his Australian citizenship for quitting swimming.

While I had no problem with that, in fact any punishment on Australian sporting ‘heroes’ be more than overdue as far as I’m concerned, it was something later in the article which earned my ire, hence the response to Mr Marx below.

Dear Sir,
with reference to your comment that Thorpe is like –

“…a cowardly donkey… A Spanish or, perhaps, Italian donkey.”

While it is true that the donkeys of Madrid, Barcelona and other regions of Spain are spineless cowards who run at the first sign of a pub brawl (well, not exactly spineless, as they wouldn’t be able to carry anything on their back, or walk for that matter if they literally did not possess spines, but you get my drift) as an Irish/Italian/Australian journalist, playwright, poet and amateur historian I take great offence on the behalf of the donkeys, mules and jack-asses of Italy.

Your assertion, Sir, is an untruth. Surely you know of Garibaldi’s brave donkey “Spinicco,” who could defeat several men with one hoof tied behind his back and played a pivotal role in the unification of Italy. As for Mussolini’s bold (and bald) mule “Gucciano,” he was so loved amongst the people for his generosity, bravery and intelligence that when Il Duce and his mistress where hung like cheap salamis in the town square “Gucciano” was spared, and in fact offered a role in the post war government, alongside Lucky Luciano’s recently repatriated ass “Cunni” who had almost single-handedly chased the Germans from Sicily.

While it is an untruth that Julius Caesar appointed his horse a senator, it is true that he did appoint his donkey Praetor. Tiberius, likewise, rewarded “Assino,” a bold donkey that played a pivotal role in the defeat of the Gauls, several consulships. Gaius Caligula, likewise, was the proud owner of “Scatoulo,” the son of Mark Antony’s donkey and Cleopatra’s fine ass. This animals prowess and bravery in the battlefield and the bedroom were the envy of the Empire, and his debauched tales of bibulous bravery stunned even Caligula.

I will not even touch upon Sofia Loren’s “Stuccio,” Federico Fellini’s “Maestro” or Roberto Begnini’s “Ricco” as they are, I’m sure you’re aware, at present in the same court room in Florence awaiting trial. However, if I were even able to list the crimes these animals are accused of, most of which were committed undoubtedly in self defence, you would never dare call an Italian donkey cowardly.

Sir, on behalf of all right thinking people I assure you, therefore, you are incorrect, and will no doubt be penning your apology now.

Thank you.

Benito Di Fonzo

Saturday, November 18, 2006

article - Sydney's Buskers.

Meet the buskers

Benito Di Fonzo, Sydney Morning Herald. November 17, 2006

Ivan Medel stands very still at Circular Quay.

Pterodactyl Man

"I'd like a dollar for every time I've heard some witless inebriate yell, 'Get a real job,' from a passing car," Pterodactyl Man says. "Then I'd have $8! A real job?

What are buskers: holograms?"

Ptery has spent a decade dressing as a haiku-sprouting pterodactyl superhero and accompanying himself on a stylophone, a small electronic keyboard. That's when he's not donning a white outfit and grabbing his charango, a South American lute, to become Bi-Polar Bear. "In hot weather you wear the heavy bear suit and in cold you wear the skimpy suit."

Ptery finds it safer to stick to Newtown. "[In Chinatown] I was told to move on because somebody was having spasms in a bar up the road. A man couldn't handle the high-pitched theremin noise I was making."

What is he seeking? "The ultimate approval and a few shiny gold coins to make up for my low wages. I have a real job but it doesn't make enough so I need an unreal job."

Rod Alexander

Sydney's draconian licensing laws have driven this harp guitarist to the streets. "Here's my problem with Sydney, OK? If a restaurant wants to put on a performance of me, they have to pay thousands of dollars for a licence. It's absolutely ridiculous. I go to restaurants and they go, 'No, we haven't got a performing licence. We'll get in trouble.' And they don't want to get one because it cost them all this money. It leaves me with not many options."

His mission is simple. "Just a way to live.

I've worked in lots of different jobs and done things I absolutely detest. Though I could make more money, you don't have the time, the freedom, to do what you want to do. If you give up some material things, you gain freedom.

You gain time to seek."

India Bharti

For Bharti, busking is part of a larger spiritual "seeking". "Look, mate, I lived in India for eight years. I'm a worshipper of Shiva. In India there's a long tradition of people called sadhus. They're usually wandering mendicants, completely outside of society, beggars. Buddha's last words were, 'Walk on.' I came back here and the only way to do it was to play music. It's a different culture here: if you just begged you'd starve."

Bharti accompanies himself on electric violin, harmonica and bhartiphone, an other-worldly instrument that looks and sounds like the bastard child of a mangrove tree and a cello.

"I started off with nothing and I've got nothing now," says Bharti, who has recorded several albums and has his own website, "I've kept myself independent and just above the poverty level but it's a fairly non-destructive occupation. What else can you do?"

Koomurri Troupe

A "Contiki" of tourists has gathered around Ben as he plays didgeridoo against a backing track. "There's about five didgeridoo players," Ben says, wearing Aboriginal dress. "We do two hours each."

Koomurri are by far the most professional outfit at Circular Quay this day. They include dancers and have just returned from South Korea where they defeated 71 other teams of indigenous performers. They even have their own roadie, Mitch, who explains their mission. "We do a whole show to educate people. There's not many places in Sydney where you can see a live Aboriginal cultural show. Here we're able to share Aboriginal culture with more people. We also give a spiel about what people are wearing, use Aboriginal language and explain what words mean."

They've found a way around the much-maligned council rule that buskers can't sell CDs. "Under international human rights law, indigenous people are allowed to promote their culture as they see fit and shouldn't be impeded."

Mitch is a volunteer but the performers share their tips evenly. "It's the way traditionally Aboriginal people look after each other in their families."

Ivan Medel

If you've seen electronic music outfit Endorphin then you've seen Medel - he's that wacky cat out front dancing in an outfit louder than the music. It's among the many suits he designs for Endorphin and his own human statue act. He has performed as a statue regularly at Circular Quay for the past eight years. His best busking experience was when Carlos Santana and entourage strolled by one day and were so captivated he flung him $100. They chatted afterwards in Spanish. Did he try to get Endorphin a support spot? "I was sort of too star-struck."

Sounds like he missed his big break. However, it's not all corn chips and salsa, as Medel found when "some idiot, a guy with a mullet" pushed him off his platform as a class of terrified primary school kids watched on. Lucky he didn't fall in the harbour. "Or squash one of the little ones. It was a bit scary."

Medel seeks to entertain a wide diversity of people. "I know how to lure them in, give them a little kick-start for about 10 seconds, mouth open, trying to figure out what I am. That's what I get off on."

J-P McKendry

"It's battle axes, medieval axes, whips and toy koalas." That's McKendry's description of his Darling Harbour act, which he has been perfecting since Brisbane's Expo 88 inspired the then 13-year-old to hit the streets.

What is he seeking? "I love making people laugh and breaking them out of TV. So many people are used to just absorbing entertainment, whereas a street show runs on the energy of the audience - if the audience doesn't clap and cheer, the show doesn't work."

Audience participation works both ways. "I had a gun pulled on me in Kings Cross. There was this stupid guy who didn't like what I was doing. He yelled at me for half an hour. I yelled back at him and then he pulled out a gun and said, 'You shouldn't hassle me because I've got this.' I just went, 'OK, I'll juggle now.'"

His show also saves lives. "I had a lady watch me for two-and-a-half years in the front row, always smiling, never clapping. At the end of that time she gave me a card that explained that she was feeling suicidal one day at Circular Quay and was thinking of throwing herself off the station and looked down and saw me doing the show and came down and watched it."

Did she tip? "Five dollars every show." It's in his interest not to lose her, then? "Oh, yeah ... [but] you give me $5 million and I'll still go out and do it. I'd do it for free."


It's six years since Michael swapped his job as an aged-care nurse for a milk crate, slide guitar and harmonica on Pitt Street mall, and he still gets off on it.

"I get a buzz from the gratification and if people want to throw in some coins, I'll buzz even more."

He takes his run-ins stoically.

"That mob over there," he says, pointing at a fashion store, "if they don't like me they'll turn their music up. I don't mind. I go with the beat and play with it. You get weirdos. I've had people come up and dance round to the music drunk and then they think the money's half theirs. Take a couple of dollars and off you go."

The tattooed guitarist loves his new life.

"I was sick and tired of the endless circle: get up, go to work, come home. I haven't got a boss on me back saying, 'Work faster, work harder, make me richer.' I can just do me own thing."

Sam Prest

"There's more to it than just the act," Prest says in a slightly Cockney accent. "There's a whole psychology behind it that is really the art of good street performing."

Prest's "circle act" combines dance, humour and magic.

"I started when I was about 12 years old until about 18. I did corporate work for 15 years and I decided I wanted to do more travel, meet new people, develop new material and there's no better place to do it than on the street."

Does he have run-ins?

"I've had guys go through my box while I'm performing. As we speak I've got a guy who's a bit of a psycho," he says, looking over my shoulder.

I shouldn't turn around?

"I think he's gone now."

Probably gone down to Michael the guitarist.

"Probably, yeah."

article - Busk Off 06.

Boom or busk

Benito Di Fonzo
Sydney Morning Herald. November 17, 2006

Busker India Bharti with his 'indiaphone'.

George Gill, busker and co-host of Bondi Junction's Busk-Off, says the best busking moments for him come "every time that you get a nice look from a nice young lady".

The 32-year-old singer-guitarist from Barbados, whose specialty is "reggae-tising" songs, hooked the co-hosting gig by turning up to the inaugural Busk-Off in 2004.

"I got into the final," Gill says. "I didn't have much to play at the time. They were having a massive jam session. I was at a loss, so I took up the mic and started making up a song as we went along and had a good old time, everybody dancing. Afterwards Debbie Dawson from [Waverley] Council and Cathy [Levins, organiser] said, 'That was fun. You'll have to come and co-host next year.'"

Waverley Council runs the event each year as a way of distributing free Oxford Street mall busking permits.

"Listening to great music as you come around the corner is just so fantastic," Levins says.

"It can absolutely change the colour of your day. Listening to something really bad as you come around the corner is not so good, so creating the competition allowed us to create a series of busking permits and we've left it in the hands of the judges."

Performers will have up to seven minutes each during today's and Saturday's two-hour sessions. The event ends with the aforementioned finalists' jam.

"That's the fun bit," Levins says. "It's literally a busk-off."

Meanwhile, in the city, you have to fork out $40 a year, or $10 for three months, to busk. That is, unless your act is considered potentially dangerous, in which case you'll find yourself performing an audition in the Bay Street truck depot in front of "peer judges" such as veteran busker J-P McKendry, a ruck of council workers (shovels optional) and Sydney City Council's Kiersten Fishburn.

"Ten dollars is pretty reasonable for three months," Fishburn says. "If you can't recoup that pretty quickly in the city then possibly you need to rethink your busking act.

"The ones we audition are the ones that could be construed as dangerous - that's fire, knife juggling, chainsaw juggling, axe juggling, anything that potentially holds a risk.

"We get a whole diversity like people on unicycles who are juggling knives and fire simultaneously.

"We get some pretty eccentric characters - they're buskers who have travelled the whole world. We also get people for whom busking is a total career change. We had someone who had been the spruiker at Kings Cross who has moved on to busking - he was very excited to get his licence."

Could busking be the new sea change?

"For some it is but what we tend to see is that there are a lot of people who have busking run in their family," Fishburn says.

Like carnies?

"I don't want to use the word 'carnies' - that has interesting connotations. They're a kind of contemporary circus on the city streets."

Fishburn does occasionally fail acts.

"People who have failed to undertake their act safely," she says.

"That can involve one of the busking auditioners walking behind them and they've got no awareness. When you translate that into a crowd scene you can imagine there are issues. One person was juggling fire and his firestick landed on his own head."

Michael Jackson jokes aside, Fishburn finds that those buskers who make it through can end up with a following.

"They have their own fan club so if they move from a particular site we get phone calls asking where they've gone."

The winners of last year's Busk-Off, Angus and Julia Stone, have gone on to snatch record deals as well as Triple J airplay.

Gill is happy with the simpler pleasures busking has given him, even if he's afraid to follow it up sometimes.

"I would assume that a percentage of all those girls who ask, and the guys who are you know 'I have a place' or 'I have a party'. Maybe one or two of those but I dare not go there."

Busk Off 06
Today and Saturday, noon-2pm, Oxford Street Mall, Bondi Junction, pre-registration at

Saturday, November 04, 2006

article - Who Killed The Electric Car?

Electric car murdered twice

Benito Di Fonzo
November 3, 2006 (Metro, Sydney Morning Herald)

The electric car was murdered twice. According to filmmaker Chris Paine, it was first whacked a century ago, though most people wouldn't know unless they'd seen the archival footage in his doco, Who Killed the Electric Car?

"It's amazing, isn't it?" he says. "I was astonished when I found out [that] 100 years ago there were as many electric cars as there were gasoline cars on the road. In fact, they'd have these races between electric cars, gas cars and steam cars."

Unfortunately for the environment, a combination of oil discoveries in Texas and Henry Ford's mass production of the internal combustion engine left the electric car bleeding in the gutter. One hundred years later, it would be driven by the stars.

In 1987, General Motors' Sunraycer won the World Solar Challenge, a 3000km race from Darwin to Adelaide.

"That race changed the world because the engineers really made some huge advances," Paine says. "The Sunraycer beat Ford and the other competitors by a day or two."

Soon after, GM used Sunraycer technology to produce the prototype consumer electric car, the EV1. In 1990, California issued a mandate that auto makers produce Zero Emissions Vehicles. In 1996, a small number of EV1s hit the market, for lease only, and were snapped up, particularly by celebrities, many of whom testify on film to the speed, reliability and quietness of the cars. They include Mel Gibson, who excitedly declares the EV1 made him feel "like Batman!" Tequila helps, obviously.

By last year, the ZEV mandate had essentially been destroyed and all EV1s reclaimed, crushed and secretly dumped in the Arizona desert, despite owners begging to buy them. It's this second murder that Paine focuses on, beginning with an EV1 funeral.

"Only in California would you have a funeral for your car," Paine says.

Paine takes advantage of viewers' consumerist desires by selling us on what a great car the EV1 is, thus making us want one before telling us they've all been destroyed.

"We had to give people a real flavour for what this was for them to care about [the EV1]," he says.

Paradoxically, GM's EV1 ads were frighteningly bleak, post-apocalyptic scenarios that would more likely make you want to buy heroin than a car.

"They looked like billboards for Hiroshima," Paine says.

Paine feels that the surge in interest in documentaries is a reflection of the poor quality of mainstream journalism.

"People feel like they're not getting the news from 'the news' any more, especially television. Stories about global warming and CO2 have been pushed under the table for a long time.

"60 Minutes didn't do one story about what happened to these cars. Certainly local news didn't - their stories are the press releases of the car companies."

Was Paine scared of Big Oil's reaction?

"Oh, yes," he says. "We brought in fact checkers to make sure that what we were saying wasn't just speculation; we had to be right on the nose. We didn't want any holes in our story that we could be sued for. It was a big project to make sure our film was bullet-proof."

Was he surprised Sony Pictures took it on?

"From a business point of view, they realised that petrol prices were going up [and] this might find an audience.

"On the other hand, they definitely took a risk. We had things happen, like they sent out a press release on [PR site] Business Wire [that] they refused to use because GM is their biggest customer."

Who killed the electric car, then?

"Fear of change, the biggest players being the oil industry and the internal combustion engine."

Are drivers off the hook?

"This is one of the tragedies of the story, because when they pulled the cars and destroyed them there was no chance for people to see them working and say, 'I think I'll try one.' So it's not all the consumers' fault.

"It's hard for people to change their behaviour unless there's a crisis. Hopefully we're at a time where people are really looking at their options."

Paine hopes the new 100 per cent electric models by the likes of California's Tesla Motors won't also end up sleeping with the fishes.

Who Killed The Electric Car?
Director Chris Paine Stars Mel Gibson, Tom Hanks, Martin Sheen, Phyllis Diller Rated PG. Screening now.

Friday, October 20, 2006

article - Italian Film Festival 2006.

When in Rome

(cover story: Metro, Sydney Morning Herald 20/10/06)

Benito di Fonzo
October 20, 2006

The Italian Film Festival's opening flick, My Best Enemy, is a comedy about a man who loses everything after having an affair with his boss's wife. Is the occurrence of infidelity in Italian films a true reflection of the country's men?

"L'uomo italiano molto infedele, si, yes," says the film's actor, writer and director, Carlo Verdone, "and the Italian woman is becoming quite unfaithful, as well. Marriage is sacred, but being unfaithful gives spice to life, and being Catholic means you know you can repent and be redeemed."

Festival manager Elysia Zeccola disagrees.

"I don't feel that Italians cheat on their lovers any more than Australians do; perhaps they just make more movies about it."

Other films to deal with infidelity in the festival include The Land, in which Massimo Venturiello plays a violent womaniser, and The Days of Abandonment, where Margherita Buy's world falls apart after her husband leaves her for a younger woman.

The most controversially sexual themes arise in Melissa P. and The Beast in the Heart. Based on an Italian bestseller, Melissa P. details the adventures of a 16-year-old Sicilian (Maria Valverde) who uses daring sex to combat loneliness. Oscar nominee The Beast in the Heart confronts childhood incest.

Verdone's protagonist in My Best Enemy loses his wife, job and, most importantly, the respect of his daughter, which he spends the rest of the film attempting to regain.

"This is a critique on worldwide society, not just Italy," says Verdone, who starred in last year's festival opener, The Manual of Love. "It seems as if the adults are having great difficulty maturing, and very often the children are the mature ones. They are the ones that can teach something to their parents. This is because of medical advancements - plastic surgery, Viagra - which give the illusion that one can remain young. The motor is old even though the carriage is young, and very often it becomes pathetic."

Verdone is famous in Italy for his melancholy brand of comedy, or "melancomedies".

"A well-presented comedy can have a better result than an intellectual presentation because it reaches a greater public," he says.

Can comedy save the world?

"Comedy is saving the world. We can't stand any more these ridiculous films where a man can stop a comet or a nuclear attack at the last minute; September 11 has demonstrated how ridiculous those films were. The world is made up mostly of people with great weakness and great fragility. The main characters of a lot of Italian films are pathetic characters. They're just ordinary people."

It's this embracing of the absurdity of everyday life that inspires Verdone.

"I laugh when I see the reality of everyday life and I laugh at people who don't realise how comical they are. My ability is to pick up on these defects and transpose them on to the screen."

One rich source of absurdity has always been Italian politics, a vein Verdone will mine in his next film, but he denies his politician will be based on former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi. Other filmmakers have been more open in their critiques of the former right-wing PM, who owned half of Italy's TV stations and was accused of Mafia links and bribery. The Italian Film Festival has several such critiques, including Sabina Guzzanti's examination of censorship under the regime, Viva Zapatero!

Guzzanti was sacked from the government television station after airing a Berlusconi satire on her show. Berlusconi is also caricatured by several actors in Nanni Moretti's The Caiman.

"I think his era is widely regarded as being the downfall of Italian television," Zeccola says.

A cross between Eddie McGuire, Rupert Murdoch and John Howard, perhaps?

"You're scaring me," Zeccola says.

Another festival highlight is Quo Vadis, Baby? This piece of Italian feminist film noir, about a hash-smoking detective, includes a sex scene set to Ultravox's Vienna.

Running alongside the best in contemporary Italian cinema will be a retrospective of Michelangelo Antonioni films. Zeccola has tracked down prints of all 14 Antonioni features, including his English-language classics Zabriskie Point, The Passenger, starring a young Jack Nicholson, and Blow-Up, a film that so captures '60s London it has a chase scene through a Yardbirds concert in which Jeff Beck smashes a guitar, much to Jimmy Page's dismay. There are also docos on Antonioni and charismatic film star Marcello Mastroianni.

Perhaps the most interesting film is All the Invisible Children, a multilingual series of vignettes on childhood from directors including Spike Lee, Ridley Scott and Stefano Veneruso. It's produced by Il Postino star Maria Grazia Cucinotta, who many will recognise as the Napolese mafiosa from The Sopranos. Cucinotta produced the film to raise money for UNICEF and feels a strong connection to the tales of childhood poverty.

"I grew up in a difficult neighbourhood [in Messina, Sicily] and have reality still on my skin. I grew up in the middle of all invisible children.

"I was lucky because I had the chance to go away to improve myself, but I didn't forget about my origin. You see children forced to work at five years old because they don't have anything to eat. I was lucky because my father worked every day. I was the princess in that neighbourhood compared to the other ones who maybe had their father in jail, maybe didn't have their mother. They are heroes.

"We are lucky because we can see through movies that there is a difference, and we can hope there is a chance to make our life different. Sometimes people think the only reality is the one they have, so it's difficult for them to dream. When you stop dreaming you are dead. I'm a dreamer, a rebel. If you have the power, and if you really believe in something, you can make it. My life is like Cinderella."

Who are the ugly sisters, then?

"They're the people who spend their lives envying and destroying other people. It's something you can't escape at a certain level. You're surrounded by sharks, but it's part of the game. It gives me the energy to go ahead, to say, 'You want the competition? Let's go!' "

Somehow I don't think anyone will be infedele to Cucinotta any time soon.

Italian Film Festival
Thursday to November 13, Palace Norton Street, Leichhardt and Palace Academy and the Chauvel, Paddington, 1300 306 776, single tickets $16/$13.50.
It opens with My Best Enemy on Thursday at 7.45pm at Palace Norton Street, $45. Go to

Article - Pam Ayres Interview

By Benito Di Fonzo (Metro, Sydney Morning Herald 13/10/06)

“Do you have Portaloos in Australia?” asks Pam Ayres whilst telling me about her new show.
“There is a piece, which I always say is a hip-hop piece, called ‘The Battle of Portaloo.’ It’s about a builder coming and sticking a Portaloo in the back garden.”
Look out Ice T!
Despite still being hip enough to embrace hop Ayres seems less than enamoured by my offer to get her a ‘wildcard’ spot in a Poetry Slam whilst in Sydney.
“It sounds very gladiatorial. I might not last the three minutes.”
Ayres’ tour coincides with the launch of her book “Surgically Enhanced” which includes poems, stories and sketches from her BBC radio comedy series “Ayres On The Air.”
“It’s the first time I’ve been able to write for other voices. There’s one [sketch] were I’m applying for a job as a pole dancer. I’ve just had a hip replacement so I think I’ll be able to manage the job.”
Do you get the job?
“No he doesn’t want to know, the rotten swine.”
Ayres began writing poetry at 12, but it was only after being convinced to read at Oxfordshire Folk clubs in the mid 70s that her career took off with invitations to read on radio and TV.
“I never set out to be any sort of a funny poet, I just liked writing, and then this caught peoples attention and that’s what they wanted much more of so I provided it.”
All seemed to be going well with Ayres becoming such a stalwart of British television that she was offered her own show, which proved not such a wise career move.
“I did the crummy television series. That was quite damaging, it took me a long time get over that because I spent a lot of time on television saying things that other people had written, it was a ghastly experience and the show got panned as you’ve reminded me. Then I had very much reduced audiences, so I started playing small audiences and building back up again. I’ve been very lucky I’ve had one or two things that really caught people’s imagination.”
The highs and lows of her career are demonstrated in the fact that while her show was voted 64 in Channel 4’s “100 Greatest Moments from TV Hell,” her poem “I Wish I’d Looked After My Teeth” was voted into the top 10 of a BBC poll of the nations favourite poems.
“I’ve been listed among the best selling poets and found myself alongside Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath which is very flattering in one way but it’s nonsense in the end because our goals are completely different.”
What are her goals?
“I don’t think I would call my work serious literature, it’s written for performance, for my style, my sense of humour. They’re [about] very ordinary things Benito, I don’t try to enter the political arena, I don’t think that’s my strength, my strength is in looking at normal, everyday things and writing about them in a way that strikes a chord with people. If you write something hilariously funny about politics it has a very short life, whereas if I write about missing your children because you’re an ‘empty nester’ that will have a much longer life.”
She’s had surprising success in a medium that generally strikes fear into audiences’ hearts at it’s very mention: poetry.
“The joy of my job, particularly in the early days when nobody knew me, was to be introduced on some modest stage as Miss Ayres who was going to read her poetry and you’d see everybody’s face drop with, uhm…”
“Yes horror, and irritation, and then I’d go out and do a few poems and you’d see them start to laugh, it was very satisfying.”
Now on the verge of her 60th birthday and performing 50 shows a year worldwide, with a live DVD “In Her Own Words” recently released, she has no plans to put her feet up.
“I don’t think I’ll stop doing it as long as people are interested. Anyway, I think I’d go on doing it even if people weren’t interested because it’s part of me.”
Hopefully she won’t have to test that theory any time soon.
Pam Ayres
17th October, Parramatta Riverside Theatre $69 - $49 bookings 8839 3399
20th October, Sydney Opera House Concert Hall $75 - $49 bookings 9250 7777

Friday, September 22, 2006

Benito Di Fonzo's Bitter & Twisted Book Reviews.

"Benito Di Fonzo's [hopefully not too] Bitter & Twisted Book Reviews"

now on 2SER 107.3FM last Thursday of each month

during ‘Overdrive’ with Angela Stretch. (4-6pm)

"On the last Thursday afternoon of each month Sydney's finest Irish-Italian failed poet, playwright, performer and journalist [except for all the other ones] Benito Di Fonzo BA will review the latest in fiction and non-fiction despite that fact that he is no more qualified than anyone else to do so and will desperately be attempting to prevent himself unconsciously harbouring deep feelings and fears about his failed career and personal life that he will hopefully not suppress into a tight ball of bitter resentment that can be aimed at those authors who have the temerity to get published more than he does, all in the best possible taste mind you, and followed by some nice cannolis and a Spaghetti Western [bourbon & chinnotto] over ice. Okay?"


article: Russian Resurrection, 2006 Russian Film Festival


Vladimir Mashkov and Svetlana Antonova in the Russian hit movie Piranha.

Benito Di Fonzo
Metro, Sydney Morning Herald. 22/9/06

"For me," says Russian actor Vladimir Mashkov down the line from Moscow, "a real disaster was the man who died a couple of weeks ago: Crocodile Hunter."

Steve Irwin?

"Yes, he's my favourite-in-the-world man, I have all the DVDs."

Perhaps he could play the Russian Crocodile Hunter.

"He's the only one in history for me. Please write, I want to play that part."

I'll start working on the script, then?

"I'm waiting, I'm prepared," he says with a hearty deep laugh. "I'll just go into the zoo to buy a big snake to do rehearsal with."

Until our Russian Crocodile Hunter gets off the ground, you'll have to settle for seeing Mashkov in three diverse roles at the Russian Resurrection film festival. They include a plump revolutionary in The Captain's Daughter, a terrorist in opening film Counsellor of the State and an action hero in the smash-hit Piranha.

Later this year Australians can see Mashkov opposite Robert De Niro in De Niro's Cold War flick, The Good Shepherd. De Niro will probably play De Niro playing De Niro, but you can never be sure what to expect from Mashkov.

"For me, first of all I must change myself, physically and mentally," he says. "I can't do two movies together, I can't go with the same face. For [The Captain's Daughter] I put on 20 kilos.

"I am from Stanislavsky school. My teacher Oleg Tabakov, most famous actor, director and teacher in Russia, he give me same advice Robert De Niro gave me: follow your instinct. All my life I lived in Siberia in Novosibirsk. That's very tough city, I saw a lot of different people with very strong character."

The late Irwin and Mashkov's other Australian friend, boxer Kostya Tszyu, epitomise the type of character he has made a career portraying in the former Soviet states.

"They are real men, because they have passion, they have destination," Mashkov says, deferring to the Russian word tsol or goal.

Mashkov's English is self-taught:

"I never learn English. I'm like man in the middle of river, somebody just put me in the water and I just swim."

Russian Resurrection organiser Nicholas Maksymow helps translate during the interview. Maksymow, born in Parramatta to a Russian escapee of a Nazi POW camp, says the Russian film industry "was certainly healthy in the old Soviet days". It took a few years to get back on its feet after the fall of communism, "[however] there were certain topics that were no-go zones".

One taboo was Afghanistan, where Soviet troops were fighting the

US-backed mujahideen. The topic was powerfully covered in Ninth Company, last year's Russian box-office hit and part of the festival program.

"I think it rams home what's going on in Afghanistan and Iraq today,'' Maksymow says.

Other highlights are First On the Moon, a mockumentary about Russia winning the space race, and top heartstring-puller The Italian. There will be a retrospective of Andrei Tarkovsky's work, whose Solaris influenced filmmakers everywhere.

"What I think is strikingly different about Russian as opposed to Hollywood films is that they have a sense of realism," Maksymow says. "Most of the time they have sad endings."

Mashkov explains why: "Because Russians in real life don't trust happy endings. We think, 'After this happy ending something horrible!' Our country changes every three, four years."

Mashkov admits the Rambo-esque Piranha is Russia's attempt at Hollywood fluff: "You put your head in a freezer, grab a box of popcorn, sit and enjoy yourself."

Mashkov says that films such as The Captain's Daughter, based on the classic Alexander Pushkin novel, give us "the spirit of Russia". Which is?

He laughs heartily.

"When a person would give his last shirt on his back. The most important thing is that a Russian person never betrays anyone. That's what the spirit of Russia is, and that's the scariest thing in life: to know you've been betrayed."

I better get to work on that Irwin script, then.

Russian Resurrection
Tuesday to October 1, Chauvel Cinema, Paddington,

article: Push 3 & 4, Wharf2 Loud, STC.

(Metro, SMH, Sept. 2006)

If Lally Katz’s aunt hadn’t been dragged her to a New York transsexual karaoke bar she may never had written “Waikiki Palace.”

“When I was in New York I decided to get a ticket to Waikiki, but I lost my passport in a bar when I was drunk. My aunt took me to this transsexual karaoke bar, it was during the Republican Convention, there were armed guards everywhere, so I thought I’d have my passport with me. Then I got stuck [in Waikiki] because of my passport and ended up at a youth hostel where I met the people that are the inspiration for the play.”

Does that mean there’s a transsexual identity-thief travelling the world as Lally Katz?

“I’d be disappointed if there wasn’t.”

It wouldn’t be the first time the 27 year old playwright had juggled with gender: her last play in Australia contained two characters called Lally Katz, one of which was a male detective and neither of whom were played by the author.

“This is the first [play] that I haven’t been in for a while, I suppose I’m self obsessed.”

Along with Adam Grossetti’s “3606/202,” a sequel of sorts to his award winning study of 1930s Queensland Italian mafia “Mano Nera,” “Waikiki Palace” is the next in Sydney Theatre Company’s ‘Push’ series which gives writers and directors eight days to rehearse and stage a play that conforms to the ten-point ‘Manifesto’ of Wharf 2Loud directors Brendan Cowell and Chris Mead.

‘Waikiki Palace,’ directed by Chris Kohn, is the story of 30-something divorcee Prairie, and her affair with 22 year old backpacker Jack.

“They’ve had an affair but it’s coming to an end and she wants to have this night of connection and love but all these things happen to spoil it. I think it says something about women in our time, that it’s not cool to be affected by casual sex, that you should be like a man.”



Katz had no problem fitting into the Manifesto.

“I really like rules, especially obscure rules, because it means I’ve got something to bounce off.”

Others haven’t been so accepting of Cowell and Mead’s maxims.

Mead: “We almost had a fight at the launch between a couple of directors over whether it was a good idea or not.”

“There were lots of arguments,” says Cowell, “some quite heated, that was the whole idea. The theatrical event is only half finished when the play’s over, people have a few Amstels and suddenly everyone’s shouting at each other. That’s why we have the bar.”

And the bands, which will feature beforehand on Fridays, and Saturday DJs after, during which Cowell may be having a quiet word with Adam Grossetti who seemed a little unsure of his ability to fit in with the Manifesto.

“I find it quite hard to fit in anywhere,” he says from the corner of an Erskineville hotel.

Okay, Rule 1: No junk.

“What, heroin?”

No, milk crates or hip flasks.

“That’s going to be hard, I carry 17 hip flasks on me at any given moment. Perhaps there should be a manifesto about the manifesto?”

Grossetti’s ‘3606/202’, directed by Chris Kohn, examines fear-mongering and the resultant deterioration of human rights.

“It was inspired by the process my great uncle went through when he was interned during WWII. He’d been naturalised for 26 years.”

He was also president of an Italian-Australian social club, which brought him under suspicion as Mussolini marched into Abyssinia. However “3606/202” expands into the present to show the commonality of Grossotti’s experience.

“It’s the same guy or girl in Belfast, Auschwitz or a porn set in Hollywood, the significance is we’ve been doing this for a long time and haven’t learnt anything. I was struck with the idea of if you start at this point where do we go in terms of what we do to each other, the process of stripping people of their rights. It seems to me that it’s a quick and slippery slide down to the acts of depravity we’ve seen in Abu Ghraib.”

Grossetti utilised transcripts of interrogations from The National Archives.

“It was the beginning of ASIO. You know what? I bet they had a manifesto.”

Push 3: “3606/202” by Adam Grossetti. Directed by David Field. 7,8,9 September. 8:15pm

(Friday “Sarah Aubrey & The Audio Visual Club” 6:30pm, Saturday DJ Mostyn after.)

Push 4: “Waikiki Palace” by Lally Katz. Directed by Chris Kohn. 14,15,16 September. 8:15pm

(Friday “H*t Yeah” 6:30pm, Saturday DJ Mostyn after show)

Wharf 2, Sydney Theatre Company

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

book review - "Bacchanalia"

Benito Di Fonzo reviews B. R. Dionysius

(in Jan. 2oo6.)

Bacchanalia by B. R. Dionysius
Interactive Press, 2002.

The title poem of Bacchanalia by B. R. Dionysius is a muscular, vivacious and absorbing piece of prose poetry that starts like a fifteen year old’s diary entry but morphs darkly into something more akin to a police statement. It is original and exciting. Unfortunately, however, many other poems in this collection do not share these qualities.

When the verse in this collection does work, as in the title piece and poems such as ‘Il Duce’ and ‘Browning Street’, the images are vivid and lively as they seamlessly push along a fast flowing narrative. In ‘Bacchanalia,’ for example, one unpunctuated image runs into another taking us into an unstable brain’s mechanics while never judging the unfolding action even at its bloody climax:

that night shazza and i got shitfaced on a bottle of rum a bottle of vodka anything we could find in my mother’s bar we made cocktails mixed shit together sharon chucked all over the toilet floor the piss coursed through our bodies like molten lead…

Or in the potent and rhythmic imagery of ‘Browning Street’:

in the early hours
of the morning,
an albino cockroach
anointed his bare feet.

The world
didn’t miss
a beat.

I felt that too many of the other poems, however, got tangled up in self-conscious pop cultural references – be they Apocalypse Now or Pepi le Phew – that often distract from and do not at all enhance the narrative and momentum of the pieces. In ‘Stars In My Eyes My Country’, for example, the reference to the seminal surrealist film seems unnecessary and superficial:

Sometimes I want to drag
a cutthroat razor across
my eyes like in that film
Un Chien Andalou.

Or the naming of the famous Vietnam War film in ‘Observations From The Herb Garden’, which seems uninspired and unoriginal:

Tiny grasshoppers (an air-cav unit
sic Apocalypse Now) snip Rorschach
shapes out of the chocolate mint.

I found the pop culture and poetry train-spotting annoying after a time, particularly in a piece like ‘An American Trilogy’ which manages to reference everything from Malcolm in the Middle, to Blue Velvet, Gabriel Garcia Lorca, and even an entire quote from (again) Apocalypse Now, all in a poem that mimics the voice of Allen Ginsberg’s ‘America’ too closely for my liking:

… Amerika, they still call you Trinity, don’t they?
Besides the Emperor would’ve been freaked
out with just a demonstration & surrendered
anyway, but as Capt. Willard says,
‘I needed a mission & for my sins
they gave me one.'

‘An American Trilogy’ is not the only place where Dionysius evokes the voice of another poet. There is, for example, what appears to be a Queensland spin on classics such as Ted Hughes’s ‘Crow’ in ‘Crow the Birdbrain’, or on Ginsberg’s ‘A Supermarket in California’ in ‘Lorca in Highgate Hill’:

I saw you Mr Lorca
steal a Milky Way bar
& give it to a boy
who stood on the footpath
dismembering a camellia
for no surrealist purpose.

In some of the Queensland poems he successfully evokes a sticky pungency that reminds me of everything I hate about places of heat and humidity. Here it seems the poet is exploring a different kind of Bacchanalia from the one you might have initially imagined on the basis of the collection’s title, or the poet’s surname for that matter: a submersion in hot nature, and a death through which humidity evokes the natural qualities of decay. In ‘Ragnarok’, for example:

If chrysanthemums
fed on our flesh,

If cocos palms collected
the souls of the dead…

… Moreton Bay figs
old derelicts

asleep in coffins
by the Brisbane River.

Overall, Bacchanalia is an uneven collection. While the title piece struck me as a powerful narrative prose poem with imagery both unsettling and engrossing, most others seemed to lack this clear sense of ‘story’ or vision to propel them forward, and hence came across as self-conscious and insecure, often ending up being poems about poetry itself. Poems about poetry are often as bad as rock songs about rock and roll, but everybody writes them occasionally. It is, however, possible that this eclecticism could work for some readers. One man’s Malcolm in the Middle is another man’s Ginsberg after all.