Tuesday, August 29, 2006

book review - "Bacchanalia"

Benito Di Fonzo reviews B. R. Dionysius

(in www.cordite.org.au 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.

Jason Reitman (Thank You For Not Smoking) interview

Where there's smoke

by Benito Di Fonzo

August 18, 2006 (Metro, Sydney Morning Herald)

Jason Reitman was captivated by Christopher Buckley's 1994 novel Thank You for Smoking but the film rights already belonged to Mel Gibson.

"The original idea was to make a $US60 million [$78 million] comedy, a smoking version of What Women Want," says Reitman, the son of Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman. "By the time I got involved [Gibson] had gone on to things he was more 'passionate' about."

In light of recent events, perhaps Reitman is grateful?

"There's only so many times you can hear, 'Die, Jew,' while trying to give an actor directions."

Reitman's Thank You for Smoking made for a tenth of Gibson's proposed budget, follows smooth-talking tobacco-industry spin doctor Nick Naylor, played by Aaron Eckhart.

To stop sales dropping, Naylor tries to cut a deal with Rob Lowe's eccentric Hollywood agent to get cigarettes back in films. Naylor's brief also includes stopping Senator Ortolan Finistirre (William H. Macy) from putting a skull and crossbones on cigarette packets.

Finistirre's logo seems subtle when compared with the blackened organs adorning Australian packets.

"We tried to make it look really nasty, but you're right - next to what's on the Canadian and Australian packs, we can't compare," Reitman says. "[That] often happens in satire: you try to do an elevated reality, then you realise the truth is worse."

Comedy is a good approach to making a film about Big Tobacco.

"You couldn't do a drama with a hero that works for Big Tobacco," Reitman says, clearly forgetting Russell Crowe's turn in The Insider. "I'm taking a mature look at the subject of vices: that we have to be adult about this, that it's not as simple as heroes and villains. Had I made a drama, people would string me up. But by making something we can laugh at, we can talk about these ideas. That's the importance of satire."

Thank You for Smoking is Reitman's first feature, but the 29-year-old has been making films since he was 10. At 15 he made an award-winning commercial about AIDS, and at 19 he was one of the youngest directors to show at the Sundance Film Festival.

Does he feel he had a career advantage in that his father is a successful filmmaker?

"Oh, that! Honestly? Once people know you're the son of a famous director, they really do think your film's going to suck. Back when I was making short films I could see it in people's eyes. They would say, 'Hey, your film was good.' It was like, 'It didn't turn out as retarded as I thought it would.' "

However, being Ivan Reitman's son had its advantages.

"[When] I was seven years old, every kid was a Ghostbuster for Halloween, but I was the only kid who actually had a real Ghostbusters gun!"

Reitman has directed award-winning commercials for fast-food chain Burger King and Heineken lager. Would he direct a cigarette ad?

"I wouldn't do cigarettes and I wouldn't do military," he says. "American military commercials really bother me. Not that I'm against war, I just don't think people should be conned into fighting. The air-force commercials show kids snowboarding."

Isn't the hero of Thank You for Smoking a con man?

"Nick speaks on behalf of the freedom to smoke. He says people should be allowed to smoke, shouldn't be vilified for smoking. We understand the dangers, we know it's deadly - if you still want to smoke, smoke! If you want to put a gun in your mouth and shoot, shoot. He's a believer in freedom."

Reitman was adamant his adaptation of Thank You for Smoking would be his first feature, believing it would affect the type of scripts he was offered afterwards. The policy paid off. He has since being offered "cool stuff, Iraq War satires".

Perhaps he could interest Gibson? The Aussie expat may need the work.

"Poor Mel," Reitman says.

"I heard he put himself into rehab.

I'm not sure if it's rehab for alcohol or anti-Semitism."

Thank You for Smoking
Director Jason Reitman
Stars Aaron Eckhart, William H. Macy, Rob Lowe, Maria Bello, Robert Duvall
Rated M.
Opens August 24.