Friday, December 22, 2006

Don't Make Me Angry

Alison is angry. But not angry enough for The Age to bite back. Her closing statement, "I've been watching the most interesting things in Melbourne get squashed flat...and, my dears, I'm sick of it." reminds me of, hey what do you know? Me! A pansy-assed North Carlton boy if ever there was one. The last time I tried to involve The Age in a stoush it ended up here, in the letters section of RealTime. I mean, really. I don't have the journalistic clout that Alison does but I was similarly yearning for a dialogue, or a fight, even. Looking at the letter with a bit of distance, it was a tad personal, but I only regret that as far as it might have contributed to a response not being forthcoming. Not only did The Age ignore it (including a conveniently shortened version that i politely provided), not only did Helen Thomson completely ignore it but-once published- so too did the community. I would have thought that a company like Red Stitch, whose very survival seemed, at the time, to be thanks to this one reviewer, would come out in defense of her aesthetic platform.

Obviously I'm having trouble letting go! And you would be forgiven for thinking that I have some sort of Socratic yearnings. Perhaps my middle-class soft-centre self had such yearnings then, but this is now. Now, I am simply ruing a lost opportunity for all involved to sell more of whatever it was we were selling at the time.

To continue, or return rather, the thing that so saddened me about the minkshoe comment-fiasco was that the first section of the argument was brilliant (as Ben Ellis pointed out). Chris Boyd and Adam Cass were like a two insulting, attack-minded middleweights. Great combinations, the odd rabbit-punch...offense could have been taken but that would be like "The Man" Mundine complaining about Kessler's handy sharp left; a damp squib, a less-entertaining, or enlightening option for the punters.

So I suppose I am actually taking a different tack from the "why can't we have more sophisticated arts criticism" and going for the much more Australian excitement of, say, a kick in the head, or roo-boxing, or a game against Port Adelaide. "If you can't win the game win the fight," should be heard from the stands. Think of it as a kind of anti-nuance crusade.

I quite like Robin Usher, but before you lynch me, let me tell you why: he is an old-fashioned journo, a shit-stirrer, he uses all the tricks of the trade to generate some heat and is probably the only interviewer that I approach with my own dictaphone, in case he misquotes for his own theatrical uses. I am not being sarcastic. It's a relief to talk to a journo these days who doesn't insist on you naming your favourite bar and the cool cocktail you discovered therein. Much more interesting to be unwittingly involved in some random institutional arson. What confuses me, is why The Age is not interested in availing itself of the nearest can of lead-free. It is certainly antithetical to Usher's poke-the-snake-with-a-stick-even-of-your-are-wearing-a-sock-on-your-hand -and-pretending-it's-a-snake old-skool-style (sorry to mix the metaphors but my German readers are complaining that bush-fires and/or deadly indigenous animals aren't getting enough of a go here.)

Now, as Alison says, the problem is that for many, The Age is the first and last word. A few "insiders" like herself are furiously trying to reason with the monkey, but what has started as a completely onanistic beat-up can only be furthered by shirtfronting the organ-grinder: PLAY THE MAN NOT THE BALL. And I am being lovely and inclusive and egalitarian with this proscription, all of us kids can have a turn, from Arts Editors to Bloggers, from "disgusting from Hawthorn" to Chris Bendall, from Andrew Bolt to, well, let's not get carried away, he's got the edge of practice already...we all get to whack each other (and the less dicriminantly, the better) WE ALL GET TO HAVE A GO. Follow me, through that last un-Australian thought to a world where we meet in the pub afterwards to compare the size of our stats.

Imagine, for starters, two full length opinion pieces, published in The Age side-by-side (yes, this plan involves acquiescence from "The Big Paper"). Imagine Theatrenotes Vs. Supernaut (pick your own supercharged combo) on why the festival fell or soared. Sophisticated analysis permitted, if you must, but sub-editing done according to a napalm-wit-and-savage-put-down-meter, y'know, dredged for the best vitriolic highlights, with staff comments to follow and fuel the flames.

Where's the old Harry M. Miller/J. Jonah Jameson instincts? More debate = more passion = more excitement = a more involved public = newspaper AND ticket sales! It's a no-brainer and surely no amount of looking after your advertisers and/or fellow B-Boomers can alter that fact. Get it together people!

PS: Not much of a leap then to Theatre Criticism as a contact sport, based on Pay TV-friendly formats like Salad Wrestling. I smell funding possibilities from the AIS and a bag of sponsorship opps. Somebody stop me before this descends into Ray Gill-patented self-loathing satire, otherwise known as...Next week: Artistic Directors appointed on the results of bare-knuckle fighting and two-up.


Steven Vargas said...

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Keep it up

daniel schlusser said...

Oh dear, "free traffic"? I thought the point of this whole blogging caper was that the three people actually reading got to nod surreptitiously/smugly to each other in foyers, sort of theatre equivalent of the Freemasons...but thanks, Steven, for the compliment.

Anonymous said...

Yeah lets have a bit of a knock down. This from a man who had an attack of the vapours and had to stop blogging because a few people put the boot into mink shoe.

I remain as ever


daniel schlusser said...

Dear Disgusted,

...oh bugger. Hang on a tick...I seem to have some Panforte stuck to my Campers. I wonder, should I use something special to get that off if I don't want to ruin the leather?

Anonymous said...

muhahahahaha merry xmas cunt.


ShyBoy said...

Usher looks like a man, at least, next to that invertebrate "Manta" Ray Gill.

ShyBoy said...

Great letter to RT, by the way.

Chris Boyd said...

While I don't necessarily disagree with shyboy's sentiments, I have to point out that Mantas are jawed vertebrates... even if they are relatively spineless. (No stinger.) They do have lots of Gills. And they're mostly harmless... unlike other Rays.

And, yeah, great letter.

I've gotta say, I thought Ham Funeral was deadly theatre -- as much as I wanted to celebrate and write positive things -- and was an unworthy companion piece to Journal of the Plague Year where, it seemed to me, all the effort and imagination went.

Unfortunately, I drew the short straw and had to review Ham Funeral only. Kate Herbert reviewed Journal.

daniel schlusser said...

Robin Usher also has my admiration for valiantly trying to rectify the lack of critical mass in this city with Storm Magazine. Action AND words. This relates to the serious side of my rant, at what point in the cycle can an intervention be useful?

I'm still trying to figure out what Ray Gill does! But was confronted on recent return with his odd "comic" G2 articles, which I think, Alison Croggon then critiqued, can't find the link.

Chris, what initially got under my skin about HT's reviews were that they seriously shut-down any assessment of the different kind of theatre that was being attempted. You might be able to help me out: has there been any recent summary/critique/stock-take of the Malthouse's artistic aims and the ongoing result of those aims? And are your and Kate's reviews anywhere out there? Cursory googling came up blank

(I do want to bring this back to Alison's letter and will post afresh about that.)

Chris Boyd said...

has there been any recent summary/critique/stock-take of the Malthouse's artistic aims and the ongoing result of those aims?

Not that I'm aware of, Daniel. Or not specifically on the Malthouse. The entrails were preemptively examined around the time of Kantor's appointment. But apart from some editorialising within reviews there's not been much since.

I see that Kate Herbert and my combined wrap of the year in drama is in today's Herald Sun... no link, as usual. My remarks on the Malthouse in that piece -- aside from comments on specific productions -- are limited to hoping, aloud, that it survives and thrives. (I originally ended with a quotation from Gordon Rogoff: "one doesn't have to be Jewish to loathe... white bread." But I cut it at the last minute. Without explaining that Gordon, cutely, calls himself "a New York unfrocked Jew", it looked a bit dodgy.)

And are your and Kate's reviews anywhere out there? Cursory googling came up blank

Regrettably, no.