Archives for the month of: July, 2013

One of the joys of the adjunct life is paying for conferences out of your own pocket. I’ll be popping down to Canberra for ANU’s Global Cities conference, which looks like it’ll be plenty of fun. The trip won’t be super expensive, because ANU isn’t charging registration and the conference dinner is free (although the place has “vegetarian” options that have bacon in them, which does not fill me – or my stomach – with confidence). However, I’m paying for air fare and hotel and all that shit.

I’ve convinced one of my new colleagues to go to the WWE show at the Brisbane Enterntainment Centre, which shoud be two tons of fun. I’m much less fussed about paying $75 for the tickets, since I have yet to attend a bad wrestling show, regardless of promotion. Even the little indie show in a stinky hall in Dover, New Hampshire back in 2002 was enjoyable, no-shows and all.

My love of wrestling, I’m sorry to say, has managed to trump my love of opera (they’re mostly the same thing, but one has more baby oil). They’re running Einstein on the Beach in Melbourne at the end of July, and I’m gutted that I can’t head down there. I sincerely doubt that Einstein is the sort of thing they live simulcast in movie theatres. I take heart in the mere presence of a Wilson/Glass opera getting put on.

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As the great Frank Ward, longtime Chicago Lyric Opera season ticket holder, used to say to me, “you can have my Glass tickets. I like to hear more than the same six notes for three hours.” If Frank were still alive, I would go to Melbourne, costs be damned, and glory in “Knee Play 3”.

And so, as I too often carp, it’s a matter of schmucks like me giving up the things that might bring a little joy on the off chance that by playing catch-up, we adjuncts might go from semipro to the big leagues.

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At University of Canterbury, the CINE teaching of a tiny department needed to cover a fair bit of ground: 1) film form 2) the lecturer’s usual critical take on things 3) film history and 4) cinema outside the English-speaking world. That made putting together lectures, for me, a fun game. Having Alice in Videoland around was a plus.

Now that I’m at University of Queensland, the new game is to bring television into the lectures. We stopped cable after the 2004 election, and I pretty much quit watching television, even when it was available online. Except, of course, for football: Telemundo was on throughout the 2006 World Cup. Once we moved to New Zealand, the only TV I watched was during visits to Mark Maguire’s place during the 2010 World Cup (and the ill-fated Ireland-Russia Euro qualifier that preceded our flat tyre on the way to the airport).

I’m sure I’ll get into the swing of television as part of the lecture after the first couple weeks – my simple plan is to ask all the tutors for their ideas, which I will steal – but my immediate instinct was to use a non-English language film, rather than TV, when I needed a short clip for the general first-meeting lecture. Thus, Banlieue 13: Ultimatum’s completely bonkers fight sequence choreographed around a weaponized 200 million-Euro Van Gogh painting gives me a chance to talk about “French-ness” in a pretty clear way. I cannot conceive of a Hollywood film doing the same thing; the fight is only possible in a French movie.

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When I moved to Christchurch, my sister was most excited by the fact that I’d live in Heavenly Creatures’ city. Our friends threw us a going-away party in the Staff Club, which was one of the shooting locations for the film.

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Christchurch isn’t a common shooting location for films that get global release (I proposed a paper on Christchurch’s anonymous rebuild architecture and The Frighteners for a symposium Alfio Leotta at Vic is running in September, so I’ll have a real argument about that at some point) so set jetting was pretty much Heavenly Creatures and Lord of the Rings tours based in Christchurch.

Moving to Brisbane presented something similar – it certainly doesn’t have the profile of Sydney or Melbourne or the outback. But on the walk between our place and the pedestrian and bus bridge to campus, there’s a new development: The Bogga Road Urban Village. I walked past it a couple of times and the name was vaguely familiar. But, intent as I was not to get lost, I didn’t look carefully. On the way home it hit me.

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The WWF wrestler Nathan Jones was, during his reboot, The Colossus of Bogga Road. He needed a reboot (before he disappeared completely) because even though had some really great hype videos prepping his debut in WWE, he was utter shit in the ring.

A jail where they made inmates shit in buckets in the 80s and 90s is now a green urban village development, with a bio research precinct next door. That’s gentrification for you.

A draft chunk out of my chapter in Film and the Presidency (coming out in 2014 on Routledge).

The box office and critical failure of Heaven’s Gate in 1980 may have wounded the western’s prospects, but by 1985 the genre was on its way to ten years of success. Comedy westerns Silverado (1985), Three Amigos! (1986), and Back to the Future Part III (1990) as well as westerns aimed at new audiences, such as the youth-market Young Guns (1988) and the kidpic An American Tail II: Fievel Goes West (1991) all turned a profit. The western as a genre for the exploration of American life and ideology showed no signs of going away, with both the revisionist Dances With Wolves (1990) and the anti-western Unforgiven (1992) winning Best Picture Oscars and critical esteem as well as popular acclaim. By the mid-1990s, indie directors Jim Jarmusch, Robert Rodriguez, Sam Raimi, and John Sayles had all made westerns in the major-minor corner of the studios.

Dave is part of this Hollywood return to the western.As Dave is a comedy-western with songs, Dave Kovic enters riding not a horse, but a pig, and soon after he’s singing about the open range. Although he is first enlisted as a stand-in for the President, becomes the real sheriff/President by accident. But pretending to be the President isn’t enough for Dave, and he takes seriously the sheriff’s/President’s charge to clean up the town/Washington DC, where Dave must protect the homesteaders/nation against the outlaw/Chief of Staff Bob Alexander, who wishes to run the town as his own fiefdom. While he’s not accepted at first, Dave works hard to win the trust of the town (and the romantic interest, Ellen Mitchell) and in short order The McLaughlin Group trumpets his comeback. Dave learns to wield his power by making tough cuts and saving good programs with the help of his unconventional deputies, like the suburban accountant Murray. The film’s final showdown takes place not on a western town’s dusty main street, but in the corridors of power; Dave kills/fires Bob Alexander, delivers a speech to Congress, and leaves so that Vice President Nance can assume legitimate power in the newly pacified Washington DC. Two images from Dave’s walk away from Washington DC powerfully signal Dave’s interest in linking an idealized but everyday President with western iconography. In the first, Dave uses a baseball cap to disguise his “real” identity of President. After Secret Service agent Duane affirms Dave’s success as President – “I’d have taken a bullet for you” – Dave exits the ambulance and, in a profile close-up, grabs the brim of the cap to pull it further over his eyes, an image common to every western. Dave western hat

After Dave pulls his hat down, he walks off, and a long shot shows Dave walking away from the camera, framed by the darkness of bushes and trees in an image that resembles, to pick one western, the doorway-framed Ethan Edwards in The Searchers (1955, John Ford). As Dave’s silhouette exits the rear of the image, he heads off into the northern Virginia suburban frontier after making Washington DC a safer, more civilized place.

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Dave uses two distinctly American forms – the western and the Presidency – to call for a more active, responsive, and humane government. Calling Dave a western not only has the virtue of being both amusing and true, but also resituates it within a genre studies framework, more specifically, the spatial approach Thomas Schatz develops in Hollywood Genres: Formulas, Filmmaking, and the Studio System. (and from here I use “old” tools because they’re fun and still useful)