Tuesday, July 20, 2010

CBRII: Nation by Terry Pratchett.

This is not a Discworld book. It is, however, an alternate reality.

In this alternate reality, Russian Influenza has killed the entire Royal family, with the exception of a lone descendant, who has recently become the Governor of a remote island. This descendant has sent for his daughter to join him, on a ship known as the Sweet Judy.
In this alternate reality, there is an even more remote island, known as The Nation. On an even smaller island near the Nation, a boy is building a canoe. He will paddle this canoe back to the Nation, where all the people of the Nation are waiting, and in doing so, he will become a man.

In this alternate reality, there is a tsunami. When it has passed, the boy paddles his canoe to find that the people of the Nation are all dead. The Sweet Judy sits wrecked in the middle of the Nation, the daughter the only survivor.

And from there, the girl and the boy rebuild. That, of course, is only the start.

This is a book full of cliches - the proper English girl, the native boy. The priest, the wise woman. The mothers, one full of light, the other broken, her child her only link to the rest of the world. The brothers, one large and silent, the other small and noisy. The cannibals, the criminals, the sociopath. The widowed father, the bitter grandmother.

Then, with a deft touch, they are more. Ermitrude changes her name to Daphne and approaches life with the mind of a scientist. Mau, who cannot read words, tries to read the universe, the minds of the gods themselves. He fills the empty hole of his Nation with rage and the responsibility of those that are left, those that arrive as refugees. The priest, who demands fealty to the gods, not for the power that is then transferred to him, but because he plagued by questions that are echoes of Mau's. The cannibal king looks a lot like the English Prime Minister. The illiterate natives look upon a cave of wonders and are smart enough to recognise what it means. When faced with the prospect of being dragged into the Empire, they request to be part of the Royal Society instead, because, once upon a time, a king granted the society a mace as alike in bigness to his own.

This is a book about finding yourself when everything else is taken away. It's about science, and religion, because children raised among the greatest scientific minds in the world will still ask if there are ghosts. It's about the perfect world we're promised and the perfect world we imagine. It's about the wonder of discovery, how everything you think you know is not everything you can know, and the stars don't disappear when the sun rises. It's a painfully beautiful love story that contains no more than a kiss on the cheek.

It breaks my heart, every time I read this book. It's a subtle break, the words hitting you so neatly you don't notice the cracks they leave behind, until a simple phrase touches you like a whisper, and your whole heart shatters. I can't do it justice, I really can't. But for those who've never liked Pratchett because of the whimsy and satire of his Discworld series, you won't find it here. There's a few bright feathers of comic relief, and some sly digs, but forget about 'madcap'. That never even entered this book.

It would be impossible to review this book without mentioning the fact that it is the first Pratchett wrote after his diagnosis of early-onset Alzheimer's. There's no denying the analogy between the tsunami that stole a young boy's people, and the writer's disease that steals the Nation of his own mind. I don't doubt that Mau's rage against gods who would do this was echoed by the writer giving him those words.
But I also can't help but wonder if this was also the book that Pratchett always wanted to write, the Masterpiece he thought he'd have more time to write, then, when faced with the reality of time running out, poured out his pain and despair and philosophies and, above all, hope for a better world. No, wait. Not just hope, and not just a better world. His determination for a perfect world.

The creation myth of the Nation states that Imo made the world, then made people from the souls of some dolphins. Then, when there were too many people, he made Locaha, the god of death.
Eventually, Imo realised the world he'd made wasn't so good, so he decided to destroy it and make a perfect world. But Locaha asked instead that this world be given to him. When people died, he would turn them into dolphins, until it was their turn to be born again. But 'when I find a creature who has stiven, who has become more than the mud from which they were made, who has glorified this mean world by being part of it, then I will open a door for them into your perfect world and they will no longer be creatures of time for they will wear stars.'

Later in the book, Locaha speaks again.

Those other I mentioned, who have been shown the glittering path? The all said the same thing as you did. They saw that the perfect world is a journey, not a place. I have only one choice, Mau, but I'm good at making it.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


It's Sunday night. The ITGeek is sitting on his computer, trying to find music for our wedding. Exactly three weeks from now, we will be married.

Holy. Fuck.

So this weekend, the ITGeek's parents came down to help us Get Shit Done. Table arrangements, place cards, all that fun stuff. My parents came over to help too. I love my parents. I love my in-laws. I'm truly blessed to have four wonderful people in my life, who get along so well. But they are exhausting.

Then there's what happened on Friday night.

It's 11pm, and I've just finished brushing my teeth. Suddenly, the ITGeek opens the door. He's on the phone, and he's pale.
"We've been broken into," he says urgently, "the guy's downstairs. Stay here. Please, stay here."
Then he shuts the door and is gone.

Two things that suck about being 'stuck' in the bathroom. First, you can't hear anything. All those tiles effectively make the place soundproof.
Secondly, there's very little you can use as a weapon. I forgot about the eye-burning powers of aerosol deodorant, but I did grab the broom. I vacilated wildly for a minute that felt like ten, then crept out, holding my broom.
The ITGeek was in the bedroom, talking to the police. I headed straight for the big, 6 C-battery maglite I'd moved to my side of the bed when he'd gone away for a couple of nights. Hefted it like I actually have any idea how to hit somebody with it (I don't). The ITGeek gave me a bit of a smile, and shook his head. He was describing the man in our house who had not been invited to the person on the phone.
When he got off the phone, he told me his father was downstairs with The Guy, and that he was calm. He repeated his request for me to stay upstairs. Then, again, he left.
I waited a bit. Then, still holding my new best friend, I crept out of the bedroom. Despite my familarity with Mr Maglite, I'm well aware of my limitations in terms of actually being any use in a fight. I was content to stay out of sight, but there was no way I could sit there without having any idea what was happening. On the upstairs landing, I could hear without being seen.
I slipped out just in time to hear the cops arrive. They were very firm on the subject of what The Guy had in his pockets. Then I heard the ITGeek being equally firm on the subject of who actually owned the GPS unit The Guy had just pulled out of his pocket. Someone was calling an ambulance, because The Guy had cut himself. After another minute or so, I heard The Guy being taken outside, and I felt safe enough to walk downstairs.

Know that part in crime shows where some random person notices a bit of blood, just before the corpse suddenly lands on their head? That was my living room. A trail of dark red blotches ran across my carpet to the kitchen, around our coffee table, towards the TV. More blood stained the walls, kitchen benches, fat puddles of it all over the tiles in the entrance way. It was just everywhere.
The Guy was outside, surrounded by cops. I started shaking. I suddenly had a deep, visceral need to get that blood out of my house. I wanted every single fucking trace of this creep out of my Mary Poppins home. He did not belong here, in my place of safety and silliness, he'd never been invited and I wanted all evidence that he'd ever been there eradicated.
The ITGeek's parents were in their dressing gowns. His mother looked shocked. His father looked calm, and healthy, as did the ITGeek, which was all I cared about. Well, not quite. I asked where Morgan was, and was told he'd been locked in the garage.
While the police did their thing, I got the (incredibly surreal) story out of my family.

The Guy broke in through the window of our spare room. He pulled the window far enough to let himself in, pushed off the flywire, and climbed on in. The ITGeek's parents, who had just settled into bed in the room opposite, heard the noise and were discussing it when The Guy opened the door.
"Oh, hello," The Guy said. "Sorry, I'm looking for my friend."
Then he shut the door. The ITGeek's father got up, thinking this was perhaps a friend of the ITGeek, and followed him, calling for the ITGeek at the same time. On the way, he walked past the door of the Spare Room and noticed the broken fly screen.
By this time, the ITGeek had come downstairs. He saw his father, and a stranger with a bleeding hand, and thought The Guy had knocked on our door, asking for help, and been let in. So the ITGeek immediately started helping The Guy, washing his hand, and helping him bandage it.
I should add at this point that The Guy was so high, he wasn't even sharing our solar system. He had a dozen different stories, starting with 'My friend said he'd leave the window open for me,' proceeding through to 'I got slashed by a friend', then to 'I got attacked, I ran here for help,' and back to 'I'm looking for my friend, he owes me money'.
Anyway, eventually his dad clued the ITGeek in on the situation. The ITGeek ran upstairs to call the cops (and warn me), who arrived quickly, with stab vests and enormous cans of pepper spray. While waiting for the cops, the ITGeek and his dad kept The Guy busy by getting him to help them clean his blood off our kitchen floor. Which he did quite amiably, apparently. He only really got cranky when the cops had him cuffed on our driveway.

Like I said, a surreal story. The officers who took the statements seemed to find them very entertaining (particularly the ITGeeks. When he got to the part where his father clued him in, the officer said 'I was wondering if you knew what was going on. People usually aren't that nice to people who break into their house'.)

I also had a wee breakdown after I got filled in.
The Guy got in through an open, unlocked window. I was the one who'd opened that window and left it unlocked.
I'm the paranoid one in our relationship, the one who always takes valuables out of the car and locks the house down before we go to sleep. But the in-laws were visiting, and when I was airing out the house, Morgan looked so intrigued by the fresh smells coming through the window that I forgot to lock it. Then, when we went to bed, I forgot to lock everything else.
I left the window open and unlocked. As the future mother in law keeps reminding us, he could have had a knife, and one stab would have been all it would take.
I don't think she realises how much that freaks me out. Or possibly, she's under the mistaken impression that I need reminding of how bad it could have gotten. Maybe she thinks mentioning all the ways my mistake could have gotten my family killed is for my own good.

Regardless, the cops took The Guy away. They sent some crime guys around to collect blood samples and take more photographs. Every single cop who saw our cat was highly entertained by how large he is and his obsession with chasing torch beams (one switched his torch to some sort of strobe light function and Morgan nearly lost his furry little mind). When the crime guys left, I got out the cleaning stuff and got all the little blood spots off every surface in our house. It was like a really gory game of Where's Wally with cleaning fluid.

We went to bed about 3am. I had to get up three and a half hours later for a trial of my wedding hair style. I woke up just as the fermented adrenaline made me throw up. Since then, my shitty lungs, which had already been having a hard time with my asthma, have given up the fight completely. And possibly given into the cold I've been fighting for a fortnight as well.

So I'm exhausted, wheezing, sneezing, and the drugs have given me a chronic case of the shakes. I'm still slightly scared of my house, and I keep coughing so hard I nearly puke again.

On the upside, I have the love of an incredibly brave and amazing man. He clears out drugged out burgulars and brings me cough syrup.

I wonder if they'd let me mention that in my vows?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

CBRII: Don't tell Mum I work on the rigs, she thinks I'm a piano player in a whore house by Paul Carter

See, several years ago, I was... well, I'm not entirely sure why, but I was home and watching one of those morning programs that are 70% sales pitches to bored housewives, 25% terrifyingly smiley hosts and 5% actual content. The Smilers were talking to a man who was not one of the usual guest - probably in his mid thirties he was balding, and had none of that artifical charm. This was Paul Carter, the host told me, who's written a book about his experiences working on an oil rig. The book was called 'Don't tell mum I work on the rigs, she thinks I'm a piano player in a whore house.'

I was intrigued.

Paul explained that it was an old rig saying, and that his mum was perfectly aware of what he did for a living; she was, in fact, an oil company employee herself before she retired.
The Smiler asked about a chimpanzee who was a bartender on a rig. Paul told the story of Ah Meng, a chimpanzee who'd been spotted in an Indonesian market by the barge captain and brought back onto the rig. One of the other crew members was a cabinet builder, and he'd built a beautfiul teak bar room below deck, and Ah Meng became it's bartender. She apparently kept the bar brilliantly, and would even make a cocktail if you pointed to a picture of the one you wanted.
Ah Meng had one rule, though. Her stool. If some hapless human (usually a newbie offered the stool by an old hand) sat on her stool, she would 'put down the drink she was making, go over to him, pick him up by the crotch and the neck' and literally throw him the length of the bar, to where a large couch had long ago been set up as a landing area. Apparently, it was even funnier if you could get another new guy to sit on the couch when the first guy sat on her stool.

I resolved to buy this book as soon as possible.

The book is a slap-dash collection of mad adventures and crazy people, exotic locations and dangerous situations. Among other things, Paul has been a bystander during a gun-fight in the Philipines, been held hostage on a rig in Nigeria, came face to face with a full grown seal during a typhoon (in the middle of doing a pirate impersonation) and accidently blew up his beer-drinking, chain-smoking pet monkey. He's had dysentry and an abscessed tooth (both while on long plane flights, and he owes some flight attendents a very good meal). He's watched a mouse kill a scorpion and a guard kill a prostitute (the latter gave him nightmares for months). He's driven his mate 2 hours to the doctors after a massive trucker beat the living hell out of him in a way that made me feel sick. Then he's driven the same mate back to the hospital when a kangeroo when through the poor guy's windscreen and straight into all the metal holding his face together. He's... he's done a hell of a lot, okay? Some of it terrifying, most of it hilarious.

Paul writes very, very well. He's remarkably insightful and well aware of the 'dark side' of the oil industry. He will make you laugh, wince, and swear that he's making it all up. He's a very likable narrator, witty, generous with the compliments towards others and self-depreciating.

Reading (or re-reading, in my case) this book is like sitting down at a pub next to a guy who turns out to have had one hell of an intersting life and is also one of the funniest story-tellers you've ever met. You'll buy him drinks all night, just to keep him talking, and possibly try to set him up with your best friend/sister/yourself. Then, as you stumble out of the pub together, you're accosted by a one eyed man carrying a parrot, who punches you in the stomach then runs away, screaming about fishes eating his toes. Lying on the floor, eyes watering, you look up at Paul, who says 'This sort of thing happens to me all the time.'

Sunday, July 4, 2010

CBRII Book 23: Always Looking Up by Michael J. Fox.

I can't help but compare this autobiograhy to that of David Stratton. Both are about people who've spent their lives 'in film', one as an actor, the other as a critic. One struck me as a pompous windbag, the other amazed me with his unexpected depth and humility.

Don't get me wrong, I already had enormous respect for Fox's efforts to raise money for Parkinson's research. Now, I admire the man, and not just that innate admiration we give anybody who's gives a debilitating disease the old 'fuck you', either.

I admire how readily he gives the credit to everybody else, admits his past fuck ups and appreciates his blessings. I admire how much he adores his wife (please, Michael, don't break my heart with a revelation that you've been cheating on her, though between Tiger and Jesse James, you'd have to cheat on her with Osama Bin Laden to really fuck us all up). Despite how ferociously he's fought for Stem Cell reseach, he speaks of those who oppose it with respect. In fact, he dedicates an entire quarter of his book to his exploration of faith, including encounters with people whose beliefs would condemmn him to hell, and eagerly speaks of their virtues and strengths. He's even considerably more decent to Rush Limburg than the man was to him. If I'd been in his position, my memoir would have been littered with creative expletives. Just one of many reasons why I'll never have a foundation named after me (and, for that matter, never should).

He name-drops, but every name is either part of a 'holy shit, I can't believe I experienced this!' story or because that particular person is connected to his foundation in some way (Ryan Reynolds, for instance, gets mentioned because his father has PD and he raised $100,000 doing a marathon). Though he does talk about the time he came dangerously close to kicking Tobey Maguire in the arse and gyrating his crotch into Usher. That tale was supposed to be about how awesome his wife is. I was too amused by the mental picture to completely appreciate that message.

The Michael J Fox Foundation is determined to cure Parkinson's disease, preferably in the next decade. The scientist in me thinks we don't know nearly enough for that to be possible. The cynic truly doubts that the pharmaceutical giants who make enormous amounts of money from treating PD are going to let some punk TV actor risk those profits by curing the disease.

I became a scientist because I was sick, a lot, as a child. I wanted to cure a disease. On behalf of that dream, please, prove both the Scientist and the Cynic wrong, Michael.

CBRII: Devil's Food by Kerry Greenwood

In which I wonder if, maybe, Greenwood's been fucking with me.

Okay, the premise. It's another Corinna Chapman book. For those who've forgotten, she's a Melbourne baker who's a perfect size 20 (the weight is important. *sigh* Yes, it's so very important). She's in a relationship with Daniel, a tall, mysterious, gorgeous private investigator. In Devil Food, Corinna's mother shows up because her geriatric father's decided to go chasing tail and ended up disappearing. This leads to a terrible house where a small child is doomed to one hell of a fucked-up life, a wonderful hostel for the homeless and a wacked-out cult that thinks eating is against God's will. There's also somebody roaming around with a 'diet tea' that'll kill ya.

It's hard to explain what I found distasteful about this book without sounding like a bitch. So I'm just going to blurt it out. See, Corinna and Daniel visit the aforementioned awful house. There's a small girl there, who's got a baby to look after and a mother riddled with cancer. Corinna is horrified that such circumstances exist in a Western country. She can't sleep that night, she's so upset about it.

Then she watches a cat slide into a pond, and she feels much better. Daniel tells her to 'let Sister Mary handle it'. They go back to their happy little lives and forget the kid even exists. Gee, Corinna, you were wondering how children can live like this in Australia?

Both characters, by this point, have repeatedly used the term 'middle class' like it's an insult. But what in the name of all that is fucking holy is MORE middle class (in the worst possible way) than witnessing another person's suffering and either making it all about yourself (as Corinna did, with her 'oh poor me, I couldn't sleep, I was soooo upset' routine) or simply offloading the problem onto someone else (like Daniel, who decides that only Sister Mary could possibly have the resources to help, neatly forgetting that once upon a time, Sister Mary was just Mary, a woman with empathy and some fucking drive to do something about it)?

Look, people are self-absorbed shit heaps, I know that. With any other character, you wouldn't even notice the hypocrisy. You might even feel sorry for poor Corinna's soft heart. But given the constant barrage of 'Corrina sighs over the state of the world' that fills these books, you think she'd have realised that everybody sighs over the state of the world. The truly decent people are the ones who actually do something about it (and not for selfish reasons, Miss I-joined-the-Soup-Run-because-I-wanted-to-shag-the-Heavy).

So, either Greenwood's gone Full Satire in this book, or Corinna's her Mary Sue and she's too close to see that the character has passed right through the Land of the Opinionated and into Hypocritical Cow territory. I have an awful feeling it's the latter, though. Let's call it Bella Swan Syndrome - one of the reasons I never finished Twilight was because Bella kept saying she was an unpopular outcast, while the behaviour of everybody around her said exactly the opposite. It didn't make her sympathetic, it made her seem like a self-obsessed lunatic.

In this case, it's even worse. Bella Swan had the excuse of being 17. At that age, you're allowed to mistake opinion for understanding. But Corinna is an adult. There's no excuse.

Greenwood, please, learn from Meyer's mistake. If you want your readers to like your character, you should not be giving them the urge to tell Corinna to take her never-ending bitching about politicians and shove them up her arse.

Oh, and the fat thing? Yeah, just copy and paste everything I said above and swap out 'ignoring the child while pretending to be some Protector of the Poor' for 'Proclaiming to be Perfectly Happy with her weight then flipping out AGAIN when she overhears some guy who's clearly mentally ill saying nasty shit about it'. Coupled with 'Thinks she shouldn't be judged while insinuating that every thin person is some media-addled anorexic'.

You know, I tend towards books like this when I think I'd be better off with some light escapism. But fuck it, I'm going back to the sci-fi and heart-breakers. At least they don't piss in my face and try to tell me it's puppy-breath.

Friday, July 2, 2010

CBRII: Serendipity by Melanie La’Brooy

Although I’m guilty of using the phrase a lot myself, I’m not a fan of the descriptor ‘Chick Lit’. I think it, and its movie equivalent, are overused, and too often derogatively. But I have to acknowledge there is a subgroup of novels that fit the category. Based purely on my anecdotal evidence, they’re usually written by somebody who used to work at a women’s magazine. I don’t know why, but it seems like everybody who’s ever held a pencil in the office of a women’s mag ends up writing True Chick Lit. Perhaps there’s a rule book handed out the second some bright-eyed employee expresses a desire to write a novel.

They’re all very similar. At least one of the protagonists works in a magazine or advertising. If it’s the male, he’s very successful. The female protagonist, even if she’s the magazine worker, is a different matter. She’s usually a talented underling (with optional bitch of a boss). She’s ambitious, because that’s modern, but rarely successful, because that would be TOO modern. It doesn’t really matter because, regardless of the gender, the intricacies of the job are not mentioned. It’s just something to fill the day and occasionally create conflict for the sake of the story. Storylines involving a reporter inevitably involve an article published (by accident or because of that bitch boss) in order to have the requisite ‘Big fight’.

There is a lot of Wacky. At least two Wacky Friends, some Wacky Adventures, and a Wacky misunderstanding the author would probably describe as Shakespearian, although even Shakespeare would probably admit that his gift was wordplay, not realistic plotting. There’s a romantic sub-plot involving a friend of the protagonist (usually the Wacky Friend). If the Female Protagonist is dating somebody, he is Clearly Wrong For Her. Anybody the male protagonist dates is a Hot, Shallow Bitch.

Above all else: Reality need not apply.

Hero (yes that’s her name), is a sub-editor who dreams of being a reporter. Her Wacky best friend is a PhD student on history who knows nothing about modern times and ends up with a man who’s a music student so beset with stage fright that he can only sing in a Gorilla costume. Escaping a bad break-up, Hero’s on holiday in New York when Wacky Best Friend suggests they wear wigs and pretend to be somebody else for their last evening out. Hero decides to be Lola, a trapeze artist. She meets Oscar, a charming Australian bartender, and they have a hot one night stand. They both love the same Picasso painting, and agree to meet at the Met the next day, but, when Hero shows up, sans wig, and Oscar doesn’t recognise her, she’s heartbroken and runs away (you know, instead of walking up, explaining the situation, apologising profusely and admitting she’d still really like to look at Le Reve with him, like a normal, self-aware adult).

2 years later, back in Sydney, she's staring at Le Reve while it's on loan to some Sydney Gallery and, what do you know, Oscar sits beside her. He’s now the owner of a company called Serendipity, who arrange Romance (balloon flights, hay rides, flowers, etc.). She’s now dating a man called Pelham who lives on the North Shore, and this fact is repeatedly used as shorthand for how much of a snob he is/how wrong he is for Hero. (On a purely personal note, the ITGeek grew up on the North Shore. I grew up in a Victorian suburb a federal politician once called a ‘ghetto’. Our entire families adore each other. Fuck you and your half-arsed stereotypes, Melanie).

There’s a lot of Wacky Shenanigans (sex shops, bridal shows, transsexuals, the aforementioned singing Gorilla), Hero writes an article slamming Serendipity which, of course, accidently gets published, Wacky Best Friend ends up pregnant to Gorilla-man (and not once is it even mentioned how two students are going to find the money to support this rugrat), and of course, the Guy gets the Girl. There’s an entirely unnecessary dead fiancĂ© that’s supposed to be some sort of big revelation, and evidence of how Deep Oscar is.

So the plot is half-baked. The characters are caricatures. The Personal Growth, such as it is, is a raging clichĂ© (‘be true to yourself’/’True love conquers all’.)

I thoroughly enjoyed it.

La’Brooy’s strength lies, totally, in her dialogue. I’ll forgive a lot when the banter makes me laugh, and she had me giggling, even after a tough day at work. She recognises the Golden Rule of Romance – your protagonists should be likeable, and the douchebaggery should be kept to an absolute minimum (and whatever there is should be called on, if not by the other protagonist, than by those Wacky Friends). It's a romp, so light-hearted it floats, and so forgettable that even now, I'm having trouble remembering the Wacky Friend's names (Summer? Was Gorilla Man called Toby?).

I won't whole-heartedly recommend this book, of course. In the wrong kind of mood, I probably would have wanted to stab my eyes out rather than keep reading it. But it's been two weeks since I've read it, and despite it's many flaws, I can't say I hate it. As Chick Lit goes, you can do worse than Melanie La'Brooy. A lot worse.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

CBRII: I peed on Fellini by David Stratton.

David Stratton is to Australia what Ebert is to America. He is part of the landscape of movies in this country, having run the Sydney film festival for decades, though, in Victoria, his influence is centred around his appearances on TV. There are two nationally-funded television channels in Australia. They are the ABC, which for some reason, has garnered the nickname ‘Aunty’, that tends towards shows that are purely Australian or kid-orientated, while SBS caters to our large immigrant population. As a child, I ignored SBS, but I watched it more often as I hit my teens, particularly when I got interested in anime (and every young teenage boy knew the Friday night movie on SBS was the closest you’d get to seeing nipples, at least, until the internet arrived). If Aunty is a woman of the land the kids all adore (she did, after all, give birth to the Wiggles), SBS is her multi-racial husband who speaks several languages and tends to be naked a lot.

My first memories of David Stratton revolve around a grey haired, bearded man introducing the film I was about to watch on SBS. For many years, he was their ‘Feature Film Consultant (i.e. he chose their films), and introduced most of them. He also reviewed recent movie releases, alongside Margaret Pomeranz on ‘The Movie Show’. They are the classic opposites. In the early 2000’s, he and Margaret moved their program from SBS to ABC, and renamed it ‘At the Movies’.

This is a man who loves films. The earlier chapters of his autobiography, describing his childhood and early adulthood in England, revolve almost entirely around what movies he saw. When he describes his trips overseas (which he did a lot of), he mentions very little of the place itself, only the films he saw. When he’s offered the opportunity to teach film at university, he responds with a TEN year course on ‘The history of film’.

He fought, very hard and eventually, successfully, for changes in Australia’s censorship laws. I found it echoes the current battle to allow an R18+ rating for video games. The arguments are all the same, for both sides, and even the battle itself is echoed. Stratton makes the claim that pressure was really put on the censorship board when the distributors of Easy Rider realised Australia’s laws meant it couldn’t be played here, or had to be changed so greatly the movie itself would be a failure. (In much the same way, the distributors of Alien Vs Predator have refused to change their game, and simply didn’t distribute it here, while the most recent Left For Dead had to make so many changes that it was virtually unplayable. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a ‘public discussion’ on the subject was released by the Attorney Generals not long after these events. Equally interestingly, the most outspoken opponent, the AG of South Australia, is now the former AG of South Australia.)

But back to the autobiography. Stratton is also a man who, it becomes apparent, is incredibly self-absorbed. Of course, this may just be because, you know, it’s a freaking autobiography, but essh! He name-drops like a rapper, devoting entire paragraphs to the day he spent with a director or actor, and, in the appendix, lists every film ever shown during his 18 years as director of the Sydney Film Festival, yet he mentions the volunteers who made the festival possible a grand total of twice, both times in regard to his final film festival, most of the way through the book. 18 years of festivals, and the best they get is: ‘Not only did we present a strong line-up of international cinema every year but we had never lost money. That was undoubtedly as much a credit to my tiny, underpaid, intensely loyal staff and to the work of many volunteers.... as it was to me.’ Personally, I’d suggest that, given that Stratton would spend 5 months a year travelling around the European festivals on the SFF’s money, the profit was ENTIRELY due to those staff and volunteers.

Later on, when describing the changes that took place at SBS just before he left, Stratton begins his complaints about the new director with the claim that the man didn’t immediately acknowledge him or knew his name. His other complaints were legitimate, but prefacing them with this childish pouting makes it hard to take them seriously.

I also read this book around the same time Roman Polanski made his 'woe, poor me' statement. Stratton inadvertently explains his mindset, and the people stridently supporting him. Stratton complains bitterly about feminists ‘who had evidently failed to see the funny side’ of a film he showed at one festival, and ‘pilloried’ the director. Having not seen the film in question, I can’t comment on the humour, but the first line of the next paragraph is extremely telling. ‘The poor treatment afforded to such talented directors... by segments of the audience depressed me.’ Apparently, this was one of the reasons he resigned as director of the Sydney Film Festival not long after.

It’s that strange superiority complex. That talent is so rare that the person who possesses it should never be questioned by the rest of society. By default, the people who recognise and treat said talent with the deference it deserves are also above those ‘boorish’ people who do. Stratton sits in dark cinemas, where light only comes from the screen, and he believes that this is the only light. And that he, having bathed constantly in it, now possesses his own glow.

The message comes, over and over, throughout the book. The real world is not as relevant as the film. His relationships are built on the foundation of a shared love of film, and so little is said about actual personalities that I wondered if Stratton even noticed, or if he simply didn’t care, as long as they were fellow acolytes at the Church of Cinema.

That said, the book is interesting. Despite the rampaging ego, I have to admire a man with this much passion for a subject, and I have to acknowledge and appreciate how much he has done for cinema in Australia.

Oh, and yes, he did pee on Fellini – accidently.