Sunday 31 August 2008

The Dark Night (Christopher Nolan) suffers from an expectation that Heath Ledger’s Joker would steal the show, which of course he does.

This shouldn’t be surprising. What's annoying, however, is that this simple fact seems to have surprised reviewers such as Manohla Dargis who writes for The New York Times.

In fact, the bad guy has been more interesting for a couple of thousand years. And for good reason.

Achilles is Homer’s antihero and he’s followed by many others, notably for English-language speakers the Prince of Denmark and Milton’s Lucifer.

Ledger’s Joker is only a little bit demonic, however. At least in my book. I can’t recall where the lip licking comes from, but I’m sure as hell it’s not a Ledger invention. It may be from an animated cartoon for all I know, but it’s devilishly familiar.

The problem with this extremely beautiful movie isn’t Christian Bale’s stolid Batman, it’s that the best parts - Michael Caine’s Alfred (Batman’s loyal butler), Gary Oldman’s Det Lt James Gordon, and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s Rachael Dawes - are swamped by a really weak plot, especially in the second half.

The action is fantastic (it’s not violent at all) but the lack of coherence in the latter sections of the movie mean you’re just overloaded with visual sensation, skipping from shot to shot attempting to follow a story that at some point ceases to exist.

For this reason, the movie is a failure. But the special effects that are used to turn Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent into “Two Face” are going to be remembered when the hangover from watching the rest of this expensive bauble has long faded.

The coin flipping routine (which glances back weakly to Javier Bardem’s Anton Chigurh in the Coen Brothers’ No Country for Old Men) is irritating but it can’t mask the nasty effect of a view of the interior of Dent’s left cheek.

The movie will probably do very well.

Sunday 17 August 2008

Martha Gellhorn - bibliography

I'm not sure if this is all there is, but there is no single resource for her books. I finished the biography recently, and the main issue with Gellhorn is whether the book is fiction or non-fiction.

So the table here shows clearly which is which. I've added some notes to the end of each entry.

Title Date Type Genre

What Mad Pursuit 1934 F Novel (Female journalist; juvenilia)
The Trouble I've Seen 1936 F Novella (Depression America)
A Stricken Field 1940 F Novel (Pre-war Czechoslovakia)
The Heart of Another 1941 F Short story
Liana 1944 F Novel
Love Goes to Press: 1947 F Drama
A Comedy in Three Acts
The Wine of Astonishment 1948 F Novel
The Honeyed Peace 1953 F Short story
Two by Two 1958 F Short story
The Face of War 1959 N Reporting
His Own Man 1961 F Novel
Pretty Tales for Tired People 1965 F Short story
Vietnam: A New Kind of War 1966 N Reporting
The Lowest Trees Have Tops 1967 N Travel
Travels With Myself and Another 1978 N Memoir
The Weather in Africa 1984 F Novella
The View From the Ground 1988 N Non-fiction
The Short Novels of 1991 F Novel (anthology)
Martha Gellhorn
The Novellas of Martha Gellhorn 1993 F Novella (anthology)

Monday 11 August 2008

Chloe Hooper's The Tall Man is a commendable work of literary journalism about the Palm Island death of an aboriginal man.

I read the book during a recent short break in Queensland and this circumstance added colour to my reading. It's a little harsh to condemn northerners for lacking sophistication, and I won't do this.

Hooper goes as far, and gives to the policeman involved, Senior Sargeant Christopher Hurley, what is due to his actual good works among aborigines, especially during stints - prior to his stint at Palm Island - in the Top End.

In a landscape where you fret for a child lest it get too close to the water - crocodiles - or too close to the bush - snakes - things that we take for granted can seem a bit precious.

Noel Pearson's familiar complaints about how unemployed aboriginal men behave need no more than a marker here. To show that we're all familiar with the 'issues'. And Hooper doesn't paper over the cracks.

What she does do is to observe the aborigines of Palm Island - especially Mulrunji Doomadgee's extended family - as though they were citizens with equal substance and standing in the community as the police who she watches at the Brisbane Broncos clubhouse mustering support for 'one of their own'.

Just prior to reading this book I finished a biography of the literary journalist Martha Gellhorn. The contrast between the 'old school' of Gellhorn - who did a lot of coverage of WWII - and Hooper's equitable method is tonic.

Gellhorn never didn't take sides. Hooper refuses to, and her book - which in her cover blurb Helen Garner says is "enthralling" and "studded with superbly observed detail" - is all the richer for it.

I actually picked up this book at Readings while in Carlton last weekend. The smooth Melbourne shimmer just added to my pleasure in reading Hooper's lovely work.

Robert Heinlein's Stranger in A Strange Land contains a 'type' of individual called a 'Fair Witness' - a highly paid, respected observer who refuses to make assumptions beyond what can be perceived.

Hooper in The Tall Man proves that she is to be Australia's next Fair Witness.