Thursday, July 31, 2008

BIFF Tweet

The marathon starts tomorrow for me. I've bought 2 film student passes that will let me see 10 films, plus I'm planning to go to see a free screening of the silent film Siren of the Tropics which stars Josephine Baker and will be accompanied by some live jazz piano.

I've decided to Tweet my responses from the festival. If you're interested, you can follow the Twitter feed in the margins of this blog, or sign up to follow me through Twitter proper. I promise to Tweet about things more interesting than freezing cold journeys at night on the bus back from the Palace Centro at New Farm.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Beautiful Zucchini Green Soup

Winter is soup time. Here are the various stages of one I made a few weeks back. It's Zucchini, Pea, and Bacon and you can find the recipe here.

I used frozen rather than fresh peas because I had the former and none of the latter. My version was probably a bit more weighted with zucchini rather than peas because, well, I have a tendency to get a bit excited when I see nice fresh produce, and these zucchinis looked particularly good.

I'm proud to say that the mint you spy floating on top of the soup there was grown in my very own garden. I've also been able to harvest enough rocket lately to add leaves to a lentil, feta, and roast beetroot salad, as well as pack a bacon and tomato sandwich with enough greenery to make one of my daily servings of vegetables.

This is the cappuccino stage of the soup. All that froth came up while I was blending the soup. I think if I held onto that froth I could serve it at $15 a pop in a fancy restaurant as part of a degustation menu: wood smoked bacon, fresh pea, and baby zucchini cappuccino.

Here's the final version, as I ate it. The bacon and mint garnish sank into the bowl, and the olive oil drizzling doesn't exactly form any kind of pleasing pattern. Oh well. I documented my thoughts on bad food photography over at Zoe's some time ago. Go and have a look if you're interested.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Rhubarb, Rhubarb

And strawberries. A delicious topping for tonight's creamy rice, a perfect winter dessert.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

There Goes the Neighbours

It seems that my neighbours have, in real estate parlance, 'abandoned the premises'. This fact only dawned on me when I came home the other day and saw that their gates were open and so was a downstairs door. Until this point I had assumed they'd gone on an extended holiday, which, given the recent school break, was not too far fetched an assumption.

It's true they left on the Queen's Birthday weekend. On the same Friday afternoon that I waited for a friend, before we headed for the Bunya Mountains, I noticed from my kitchen window that my neighbours were also packing. A trailer was attached to their car and I guessed they were going on a camping trip.

When I returned after my long weekend away, I saw that they hadn't returned. In some ways this was a bit of a relief. When I had first seen them packing up, I had laughed to myself how typical it was that on the very weekend I was choosing to go away, my neighbours were going away too. I thought, rather churlishly, that if they were going away then I would like to have been at home to enjoy the peace and quiet in their absence. While they weren't the noisiest or most annoying neighbours I've ever had in my life, there were times when their music, blasted at odd intervals throughout the day, drove me to swearing at my ceiling.

Upon my return, I noted their continued absence and looked forward to some time to enjoy what I'd thought I would miss out on. At this point, I figured they'd taken an early start to the school holidays. In retrospect, I'm not sure why I thought this, except to say that there were school age children living there, even if they didn't observe school hours. It was the fact of there being children at the house during school hours that led me to conclude that my neighbours had indeed taken an early pass for the forthcoming school vacation. For some time, I also drew the conclusion that the lack of observation of school timetables, combined with the fluctuating numbers of children living next door--sometimes there were three or four children, other times just one--was evidence that my neighbours were foster parents.

This made sense to me on several levels: first I thought that if they were looking after children who had come from unstructured backgrounds then it wasn't that untoward; I also figured into my assumptions that my neighbours were Aboriginal and that fact probably accounted for a whole lot of things that, from my perspective, I couldn't know about.

Ah. Here I come face to face with a whole host of my assumptions, some of which I'm not sure aren't implicitly racist.

Exploring the foster care assumptions further, I guess, in addition to the indicators I outlined above, I was informed by one of my clearest memories of anyone I went to primary school with, an Aboriginal boy, GG. He was in foster care and we used to catch the bus at the same bus stop to go to school. There was a group of us who used to eat guavas from the trees while waiting for the bus, and G would often chase me, holding out before him one the exo-skeletons shed by cicadas that clung to the sides of the trees. I would run amongst the trees screaming as he threatened to attack me with it. I remember when I found out that he was a foster kid, how it moved me quite profoundly, because it seemed to be quite an awful thing. It made me feel ashamed that the worse thing you could do in the playground at school was wear green and so be accused of being a GG fan--he always had a running nose.

I went through a stage of wondering if my neighbours hadn't organised some alternative schooling arrangement. At this point, it didn't occur to me that the children simply weren't being schooled. I still don't know this; this is all the work of my vivid imagination arising from a few observations out of the kitchen window while washing up.

The parent figures didn't seem to work either. Again I only know this because I work from home. What's to say they didn't too? The man was often working on cars, so from that I decided he must make money from re-conditioning engines. Often times I would hear him listening to horse, maybe dog, racing on the car radio, urging his bet to cross the finish line first.

The woman would often sit outside in the mornings, on a chair set up near the cars. Together they would chat amicably. One day I came home and a raised garden bed had been built near where she sat, a round, stone-edged garden planted with aloe vera.

I was always returning footballs and tennis balls over the fence, sometimes without witness, sometimes with a wave of thanks and hello.

Often they would sit outside at night too. Their friends would visit in vehicles that looked as though they came from rural and regional areas, and they would sit around a barbecue, drinking and laughing, before they slept in the beds of their trucks with canopies beneath the stars.

As winter came around, my neighbours took to lighting a fire in an oil drum. Its smoke would come right in my kitchen window and I took to closing it because it made me feel sick.

It was these last few observations that allowed me to make sense of the loaded trailer and the extended absence as I did. I thought they had gone to visit their friends where it was warmer, to sit around other barbecues and drink and chat and sleep in their yards; to seek for the teenage boy in their care a different kind of education.

When I saw the open gates and downstairs door, I thought they had returned, but I couldn't see either them or their car. I strained to see if perhaps someone had broken in, but all I could see was upended furniture and litter through the downstairs door.

The next day I saw a van from the Public Works agency. This was followed by a succession of trucks and vans: two took away the contents of the house; then a glazier replaced missing and broken windows; a plumber and an electrician dropped by; and finally, a garden care service restored the yard. It was this last visit that puzzled me the most, not because they tidied up the yard, but because they went one step further and dug up the garden bed. I saw a man struggle with a pick axe to remove the carefully built stone edging with its squared, level surfaces; I heard the rocks thrown in the back of a truck and hauled away; and now I can see the flattened round expanse of dirt that remains like a smoothed over cicatrice.

It was this act that made my neighbours' disappearance final: the obliteration of the site into which they had expended a great deal of care and skill, around which they had routinely gathered and lived.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Teevee: 3

As I continue to research my thesis on ‘quality’ television drama, I’ve become aware, as I’m reading, that particular programs are mentioned repeatedly in academic literature to the extent that they form a television canon. This is a somewhat different process of canonisation to that presented by Entertainment Weekly (USA) and discussed by David Knox over at TV Tonight. It’s closer to the canon making exercise undertaken by Glen Creeber in 50 Key Television Programs, which I discussed over at Sarsaparilla some time ago.

Perhaps what really defines the canon that I’m noticing emerging through my academic reading is that the programs are repeatedly discussed in the context of the trinity of interests in cultural studies informed research on television: text, audience, industry.

Here, programs might be nominated because they are exemplary of a given genre or they herald an important development in that same genre. In the police genre, for example, Hill Street Blues was a commercial failure in the US, but it marked a significant development in North American television, not only for its social realism, which was more reminiscent of British police drama, but, as well, it was a pioneering example of the ensemble cast, populated by a range of characters from various backgrounds, including representations of non-white and female police officers.

In academe, The Sopranos emerges as a canonical text because it was conceived and produced in an industrial environment where a niche audience was valued above a mass audience; where writers and producers were not constrained by a least objectionable programming (LOP) strategy dictated by the concerns of advertisers; but could push the boundaries of the televisual form and address an adult audience with advanced cinema and tele-literacies, to say nothing of advanced incomes. The textual features for which The Sopranos is so lauded are inseparable from the business of HBO. The serial narratives for which HBO is known arise more from the necessity to maintain their subscription audiences across several seasons than any particular affinity with the serialised novel form of Charles Dickens, for example.

Alternatively a programme might be repeatedly discussed in a number of academic sources because it sustains an active fan community. A fairly substantial body of literature exists, for example, around Science Fiction programs and their fan communities, including Star Trek and Doctor Who fandom.

Just reading back over what I've written above, I'm aware that I've seemed to imply there's a fundamental difference in the kinds of values that academic and popular sources apply when judging television texts. The argument against drawing that conclusion too readily is to note the similarities between Creeber's list and the popular press nominations of Entertainment Weekly; both lists include, for example, The Sopranos, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and The Simpsons, which suggests there is some agreement about the cultural impact of these shows, whether in terms of their subject matter or their reworking of familiar forms. Perhaps the key difference in approaches is simply one of transparency, or the amount of explanation and justification for the choices that each decides upon.

Another difference between the two approaches is the extent of their influence upon me. In the context of writing a dissertation on television drama, it is the academic nominated canon with which I feel compelled to be familiar. When a significant portion of my thesis will be considering The Sopranos, I take seriously Glen Creeber's Introduction to his study on The Singing Detective where he writes that '[e]verything from The Sopranos (HBO, 1999-), Six Feet Under (HBO, 2001-), Oz (HBO, 1997-2003) and Stephen King's own Kingdom Hospital (ABC, 2004) owe a debt to it'.

It is this concern, for me to be familiar with the genealogy, if you will, of television programmes, that is informing my DVD viewing at the moment. I watched The Singing Detective (BBC/ABC 1986) and saw what features pioneered by Dennis Potter (Writer), John Amiel (Director), and Kenith Trodd (Producer) have made their way into contemporary 'high-end' television. In particular it is the ontological shifts undertaken by the lead character of The Singing Detective, Philip Marlow, that are most apparent in the HBO productions cited by Creeber; those moments where we believe that Nate is being hit by a bus or screaming at Lisa, only to discover that he is simply standing by the side of the road or calmly eating dinner were, in part, prempted by Marlow's 'witnessing' of his wife's affair and his experience of hospitalisation.

We have, as well I think, The Singing Detective, to thank for all those musical episodes of television programmes, including Buffy's 'Once more with feeling' and the 'My Musical' episode of Scrubs.

To say nothing of all those Ally McBeal moments:

I don't want to overstate the influence of any particular programme on any other. These histories are alway easily written in retrospect and, of course, the influences upon any one text are multiple. In the North American tradition especially, it would be foolish to ignore the place of the film musical in that culture, although perhaps we might still want to credit the British with bringing it to television.

A book that has been quite influential for me recently, in terms of informing my DVD watching, is Robin Nelson's State of Play: Contemporary High End TV Drama. Nelson also cites The Singing Detective, but his book has been instrumental in helping me seek out various other programmes to watch for my personally assigned television history project.

One programme that Nelson discusses as exemplary of high-end television, which has emerged in the TV 3 era*, is Shooting the Past. I watched it overlapping with the first season of the BBC/HBO co-production, Rome. Apart from the coincidence that Lindsay Duncan was in both programmes, I was able to consider Nelson's discussion of Stephen Poliakoff's desire to create 'slow' television, to challenge the myth that we all have increasingly short attention spans and will switch channels the moment we encounter a lull in the action.

I think the excerpt from The Sopranos, above, illustrates the narrative richness of slow television.

I've just started watching Boys from the Blackstuff having first watched the tele-play from which it was developed, The Blackstuff. It's pretty bleak social realism looking at the plight of unemployed working class men in Liverpool during the Thatcher years.

More on this another time.

* Post-1995, arises 'from a conflation of influences (cultural, technological, industrial, social, aesthetic) with particular implications for TV drama forms and their production, distribution and reception under new circumstances' (Nelson 2007, 8).

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Recent Shocking Deaths

Warning. Spoilers ahead for Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky and the first season of the BBC/HBO series Rome.

The book club I'm in discussed Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky at the last meeting. I was still reading, so hadn't yet happened upon this scene towards the end of the first part 'Storm in June'.

Father Phillipe Pericand is a young Catholic Priest charged with escorting a group of orphans out of Paris to the countryside on the eve of the German occupation of France in WWII. They have stopped for the night to camp in a field. Nearby is a grand looking house, about which some of the older boys avaricely express some curiosity. Phillipe tries to dissuade them from breaking in, but during the night they take matters into their own hands.

The moon lit up the front of the house. One of the boys was pushing the shutter, forcing it open. Before Philippe could shout at them to stop, a stone shattered inside the window and there was a rain of glass. The boys as lithe as cats, leapt inside.


'What are you doing here?' said the priest.
He heard a noise behind him and turned round; another boy was in the room, standing right behind him; he too was about seventeen or eighteen. He had thin, contemptuous lips and his yellowish face looked wild, as if he were possessed.


Philippe would have proven the stronger in spite of everything but they hit him on the head with a pedestal table with bronze legs; he fell down and as he fell he heard one of the boys run to the window and whistle. He saw nothing else: not the twenty-eight teenagers suddenly waking up, running across the lawn, climbing through the window; not the rush towards the delicate furniture that was being ripped apart and thrown out on to the grass.


They felt a terrifying kind of joy. Dragging Philippe by the feet, they threw him out of the window, so he fell heavily onto the lawn. At the edge of the lake, they swung him like a bundle.


Finally he raised both arms, put them in front of his face, and the boys saw him sink straight down, in his black cassock. He hadn't drowned: he'd got trapped in the mud. And that was how he died, in water up to his waist, head thrown back, one eye gouged out by a stone.

It's probably not too much of a spoiler to report on the death of Julius Caesar in Rome:

What distinguishes this particular depiction of Julius Caesar's murder by the senate, however is the way that in the BBC/HBO production it's intercut with the death of a Roman woman, Niobe. Niobe is the wife of Vorenus, formerly a soldier in Caesar's army and whom Caesar has since appointed a senator.

The importance of this distinction is commented upon in another YouTube video that takes issue with the editing of the above scene of Caesar's murder:

Watching these scenes as they were originally juxtaposed, I thought about some comments made in a paper delivered by Georgina Born in response to Frederic Jameson's charge that historical dramas were little more than an exercise in nostalgia. Born countered that in fact contemporary interpretations of historical texts offer insights into contemporary issues and values. I forget which particular BBC adaptation Born referred to, but I do recall she showed a particularly dark scene of what was effectively domestic violence. It may well not have been construed in those terms when the original novel was published, however, it is that interpretation which was invited by the BBC adaptation.

In Rome then, the witnessing of Caesar's death alongside that of Niobe, is a contemporary questioning of the prominence that has been historically afforded the lives and deaths of Great Men to the detriment of those of women in the same societies. I think it's important too that Vorenus is a character whom we are invited to admire: we think of him as an extraordinarily ethical man, who has struggled with his conscience on many occasions as he has risen through the ranks of society. On this occasion, Niobe's death is a tragedy much greater than Caesar's because it is an indirect and unintended consequence of a questionable war.

Contemporary resonances indeed.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Amest I Bother-ed Forsooth?

I was in the middle of writing another post, looking for relevant videos on YouTube, when I came across this skit that David Tennant and Catherine Tate did for Comic Relief in the UK last year.

It seems appropriate to post it here today since Catherine Tate will be introduced as the Doctor's sidekick on ABC1 tonight.

And besides that, it's hilarious. Enjoy!