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.