Monday, November 30, 2015

'We're taking this bloody car to Invercargill' : Geoff Murphy: A Life on Film - Geoff Murphy

I'm taking this Bloody Book to Invercargill.

 Good Bye Pork Pie is still one of the greatest movies ever made - There I said it.  And not just because Bill Gruar's (no relation) daughter Shirley was in it.  It was the first on screen breast I ever saw or a willy or and the first time tomato sauce was splattered on fried eggs or the first time a mini was destroyed on screen on the road!  It was awesome - and still is. 

Murphy’s memoir should be as popular as his three hit movies of the 1980s.  He just keeps proving himself a natural story weaver, and in this entertaining account he tells his own story with a very droll humour. Often as not it's a self-deprecating rendition, with occasional unforgiving moments. Especially when it comes to his own foibles.

He talks fondly about early life in the Capital.  Almost compulsary for an artist of the 60's was the Catholic Education.  Of course Murphy was strapped during his primary school years at Marist Thorndon, nay caned during his secondary school at St Patrick’s Town and like my dad he did the compulsory military training at 18 - “Conscripts were marched endlessly, up and down the parade ground with NCOs shouting at us at the top of their voices.” there was an awakening at Victoria University, especially when he became a trumpet player in the uni jazz band.  Then the setting sun of drudgery beckoned with a move to teachers’ college.  A complete failure to teaching and a gain for film, in the long run, he was given the lowest marks during seven years as a primary teacher.  Finding other ways of earning money he ended up touring with Blerta (the Bruno Lawrence Electric Revelation and Travelling Apparition.)

The idea filmmaking surfaced in the dismal teaching days.  “If you wanted to make films [in the early days] you had to be tenacious, persevering, devious and lucky”... because the "absolutely absurd structure” of the local film industry in the 1960s" made it nearly impossible. “Two main producers: television and the National Film Unit, both lavishly government funded.” The Film Unit was “anointed with the sole right to make motion pictures in New Zealand. Anyone else attempting to enter this field was an upstart and should be opposed rigorously.” Of course, in the centre were the independents and freelancers, led by John O’Shea’s Pacific Films, whose film processing had to be done in Australia because the Film Unit refused to handle anyone’s images except their own.  It was a time of Muldoonism on the rise, unions and Bloodymindedness.  “How were we going to succeed in this atmosphere?”  says Murphy.  He answer his own question with many tall tales of extraordinary initiatives, including building and spec building a new camera crane, which was then hired by everyone including television and even the Film Unit. And even funnier - setting up the legendary Acme Sausage Company. “It was suggested that it should be a functioning anarchy. [But] the likes of Andy Grant and Albol had no need of philosophical principles. As far as they were concerned, you just set your goals and went for them. In the end, the devastatingly simplicity of this philosophy, or lack of it, was its strength, and ultimately we all took it up. Interestingly enough, this is pretty much what the main characters in Goodbye Pork Pie did when we got around to making that film some ten years later.”

If you're a film buff, you'll probably pooh pooh it a bit but Geoff’s descriptions of the challenges involved in making Pork Pie, Utu and The Quiet Earth are absolutely eye-openingly entertainment.  Brilliant as just a great account of good ol Kiwi Fuck-it-let's-do-it!

He’s frank about his personal life, marrying Pat, raising five children. And after 15 years, beginning a relationship of “intensity and passion” with Diane, but not leaving Pat. (“There were the kids, there was my own emotional cowardice, and then there was that thing called Catholic conditioning.”) The complexities of a shared life in the commune at Waimarama, which would lead to fisticuffs of law in court. The final separation from Pat, after 22 years and the abandonment of the relationship with Diane and a new relationship with Merata Mita who “was sometimes economical with the truth”. And then, after 20 years, a new relationship with Diane, who he finally married.

And there's a few star turns Dinner with Jagger and a holiday in the Jagger residence in Mustique. Directing Emelio Estevez, Anthony Hopkins, Stephen Seagal and 'almost' directing Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Hanging out in Beverly Hills with Russell Crowe.  And, almost as famously directing second unit for Peter Jackson on The Lord of the Rings. (Five camera crews in Twizel, and 200 people under his command, as well as 300 soldiers on horseback and 150 orcs in rubber suits.)

And It goes on.  It's a book I look to every night for another instalment - I couldn't put it down or should I - Like a good movie, with a much bigger cast and a much more substantial plot - and about 10 sequels!

Becoming Beyonce' : Te Untold Story - J. Randy Taraborrelli

'All the singlllllla Laaaaadies!   Buy these books up!'   What does it take for someone from humble beginnings to become one of the most powerful artists in the world?

Beyonce Giselle Knowles knew who, and what, she wanted to be since the age of 8. Even then, she had extraordinary talent, drive, and ambition. But it takes more than just that to become a star. This is the story of the long road traveled by a talent show prodigy, and the parents who sacrificed everything for her, as she evolved from a pageant show winner and girl group singer into the vocalist, actress, pop icon, wife and mother she is today. It is also the story of a darker side that is, unfortunately, the price of success: in the remaking of an everyday girl into a global superstar, something, or someone, can get lost. The path to becoming “Beyonce” would ultimately be defined by a choice: to let go of the past and embrace her own future — not the one she thought she was destined to have, but the one she would now create for herself.
BeyoncĂ© has sold more than 250 million records, both as a member of Destiny’s Child and as a solo artist, and has become one of the most powerful and popular musical acts in history. Yet despite years of high visibility, the woman behind the carefully tailored brand has remained a mystery to the media and her fans—until now.

As the first comprehensive biography of Beyonce Knowles, BECOMING BEYONCE not only includes countless revelations about her guarded, personal life with Jay Z, it documents all of her many record-breaking career milestones, including behind-the-scenes stories of her hit recordings as told to J. Randy Taraborrelli by writers and producers never before interviewed. Indeed, in crafting this portrait, acclaimed celebrity biographer J. Randy Taraborrelli conducted exhaustive research and interviewed scores of Beyonce’s intimates.

BECOMING BEYONCÉ is a backstage pass to the glamorous and cutthroat world of the music business, and an absorbing insider account of the birth of a pop culture legend.

Over the top and back: The Biography - Tom Jones

'For a lot of years, I've answered a lot of questions, but have never told my story before', says the original panty magnet.  For over 60 years Sir Tom Jones has maintained a vital career in a risky, fickle, unstable music business - a business notorious for the short lives of its artists. With a drive that comes from nothing but the love for what he does, he breaks through and then wrestles with the vagaries of the music industry, the nature of success and its inevitable consequences. Having recorded an expansive body of work and performed with fellow artists from across the spectrum and across every popular music genre, from rock, pop and dance to country, blues and soul, the one constant throughout has been his unique musical gifts and unmistakable voice.  But how did a boyo from a Welsh coal-mining family attain success across the globe? And how has he survived the twists and turns of fame and fortune to not only stay exciting, but actually become more credible and interesting with age? In this, his first ever autobiography, Tom revisits his past and tells the tale of his journey from wartime Pontypridd to LA and beyond.  He reveals the stories behind the ups and downs of his fascinating and remarkable life, from the early heydays to the subsequent fallow years to his later period of artistic renaissance.  It's the story nobody else knows or understands, told by the man who lived it, and written the only way he knows how: simply and from the heart. Raw, honest, funny and powerful, this is a memoir like no other from one of the world's greatest ever singing talents.  This is Tom Jones and Over the Top and Back is his story.

Now, beyond 'Delilah' I never really fancied him as an artist but mum always played his cassettes while I was growing up. The voice on that man! Then, I spot this. It's a no-brainer. I've got to read it.  And I gotta say, it's a great read. I like that it's not a 'beginning-middle-end'. Not just full of stories worth telling in order, year to year. Sure we have the 'I was born, grew up, etc' but the narrative bounces around enough to be interesting, compelling.   It feels like I'm sitting with him of an evening and he's remembering times gone by and recounting memories as they come to him: happenings; feelings; encounters. Although there is of course a good structure to this but the change in scenes holds my attention and insists I read the next chapter straight away. Good imagery and sense of atmosphere. Well written even if it wasn't Sir Tom's actual handwriting. Enough twists and turns and also turning out to be a really good, interesting life story. Shows his humility and honesty. Some swear words, just in case you're easily offended, which I'm not but I do appreciate that intimate descriptions are suggested rather than explained. Like when Sir Tom tells of his 'first time' with Linda. We don't need to 'know'... he gets that. His use of the 'f' word is always in the right place. Tears and laughter in one thoroughly fab night of the first 13 chapters with Sir Tom and his own story. I hear 'I've gotta be me' on every page and I can't wait until bedtime tonight to start where I left off. Not been so captivated by a book in years. Loving reading his story and thoroughly recommend it to anyone with even a little interest in the man.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Road to Little Dribbling - Bill Bryson

Ever since first pottering around the UK compiling his eye opening humorous account, Notes from A Small Island, this unashamedly Anglophilic Limey has endeared himself to the National Trust subbies and Badger huggers of Britain.  Clearly charmed by his obvious fondness for their nutty, eccentric ways and his ,eye for a good poke he was able to distance himself just enough to gently laugh at and with the a country that could never do it to themselves.  Owning a tweed jacket and a fond turn of phrase was definitely a way to transverse a Bryson a country that most of us still find bewildering, quirky, endearing and beautiful at times.  And, it certainly is very easy to laugh at some of their ridiculous place names and customs. 

Notes from a Small Island. it turns out, was the best-selling British travel book ever (as voted in a BBC poll),  It was “the book that best represents Britain”.  So, of course, a follow-up was inevitable – albeit 20 years later. On the cover of his new one, The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes from A Small Island, there’s a colourful drawing of the white cliffs of the Seven Sisters, and the jolly John Bull-type fisherman from the 50’s Skegness seaside postcards. It’s a reference to Bryson’s own nostalgic mood as he takes off from the South Coast to make a long walk the length of the island, following a direct line from Bognor Regis to Cape Wrath, Scotland’s furthest tip.  This line, if you run a ruler over the UK map is the longest ‘undisturbed’ line from the most southern to the most northern townships.  The Bryson line.  If Paul Thoreau is acerbic then Bryson is the opposite, if more cummudgingly.  I’m not entirely sure if this is really a re-visit of his own reasons for trying to become a Pom or a reason to write a bit a an ageist grumble. 

Bryson loves the Cotswold’s, etc. – the picture book Britain.  It’s a real challenge to create this world.  He grumbles at the decaying of the greengrocers, the postcard villages, and Torquay beach pier.  Kiwis, who’ve been to Britain, bought their argyle sweaters and still wear them wil love this.  It’s a very good whine at how the world is falling apart. He grumbles at anyone under 30, accusing them all as idiots and half wits.  He hates food courts and bemoans the loss of grocery shops.   

It’s no surprise that he starts off a Bognor Regis, in view of George V’s sharp assessment of the town, when he paid a visit to the place to benefit from its sea air.  Upon returning to London, George, apparently refreshed, soon fell ill again – probably from coal smoke pollution and bad water.  When his doctor suggested he once more should visit the seaside, the King tartly replied, “Bugger Bognor!”, and passed away.

When Bryson arrived on Britain’s shore, he says he found a country that was wholly strange, yet somehow marvellous, a feeling that has never left him. Yet, he’s now living in a country that he doesn’t recognize – a not-uncommon complaint of all of us moving inexorably toward the twilight of our years. He decides to become a fully fledged Brit, this man from the US Mid West.  Bryson loves to talk about his UK Passport exam where he was required to pass a series of exams for which there were helpful “study guides “to aid the hapless alien. One example of the questions will suffice:

Manchester United is:

(a) a political party,
(b) a dance band,
(c) an English football team.

He passed, receiving certification as a intellectually fit for life in modern Britain.

Bryson has always been an advocate of nature and its preservation and he dearly loves the countryside he rambles through, bemoaning the disappearance of hedgerows, wild flowers, sheep roaming over fells, churches, barns, even village shops, swept aside on economic grounds. And he’s certainly not a fan of Britain’s National Trust, after some chunky sweater refused to let him take a photo of an old lighthouse.

The observation, the wit, the geniality of Bryson’s inimitable words illuminate every chapter. Our hero finds himself crossing a field with a friend, who mentioned that there was a bull about 50 feet away. After he and his friend had run to the safety of the other side of the fence, Bryson petulantly inquired why a bull is allowed in a field with a footpath. His complaint was dismissed: “The real danger is cows. Cows kill a lot more people than bulls.” Bryson pursues the fact that cow-trampling is rare enough, but always reported in British papers, and completely ignored in the States, where death by shooting takes precedence. He claims that if he asked a British friend about their chances of being attacked by a cow, the friend would be aware of the danger. An American would reply, “Why would I be in a field with cows?”

Bryson loves London. Not just for its green spaces, its history, its diversity, its startling new skyline, its museums and galleries, but its Underground, of all things. Thank heaven he drew the line at its buses and endless road works. At the pinnacle of the great metropolis is Boris Johnson, “a man whose bumbling manner, whose very hair, is a monument to disorder. And somehow, it works.”

Now I'm not entirely sure that this new view of Britain through Bryson’s now more rheumy lens is really going to meet with the same overwhelming wave of approval that greeted his Small Island but... The Brits are a phlegmatic people, stiff upper and all that, brushing off criticism confidently and easily, but there will be exception taken to the author’s scornful dismissal of such precious gems as Eastleigh, Bournemouth and Lyme Regis, although he was enraptured by Widecome-in-the-Moor. And then, there was Salcombe, fashionable gem in the diadem of Devon. Bit too smart and jaunty for Big Bill’s liking. In the deli there, he ordered Brie and asparagus tart, made with organic cider, which infuriated him.

Apparently, British food had gone from strange and unappetising full circle to strange and unappetising again – he wants a return to fish-and-chips, prawn cocktail and Black Forest gateau. Did Gordon Ramsay, Jamie Oliver and Master Chef not exist?  What mirage happened?  Or was that only a TV fantasy? While you’re there, Bill has taken a violent dislike to the country’s bus shelters, the slow disappearance of the London black cab, policemen dressed in yellow vests that make them look like railway workers. And, what happened to policemen’s helmets?

Nobody around here is going to take particularly kindly, either, to Bryson’s ranting that people everywhere have abandoned whole elements of grammatical English, and correct punctuation is a thing of the past. He even has the nerve to drag the revered Sam Cam, wife of the prime minister, into it. She is reported as saying, “Me and the kids help to keep him grounded.”

The great road trip takes a fairly straight line from the blessed Bognor straight through Oxford with diversions to Cambridge and Norfolk, past Blenheim, Birmingham, deviating again to “bracing” (cold,windy) Skegness, where the little fisherman on the front cover hails from, and where that great British institution, the holiday camp, first blared out its welcome to happy campers.

It seems that Bill has grown a little tetchy with the passing years, a good man’s fault, but his altercations with barmen, Big Mac vendors and his outrage at a middle-class woman’s tiny tip to a waiter seem unworthy.

Anyway, onwards and upwards, swiftly past Liverpool, on through Manchester, the Peak District, Lancashire and the glories of Blackpool, the great Tower, the sparkling new Promenade. When Bryson first came there, 20 million happy holidaymakers visited Blackpool every year. Now, according to our guide, it’s depressed and derelict. Bryson wants a return to the old tradition of the seaside shows, and an end to the drunken violence. Who could argue?

The Lake District is beyond criticism and Bryson has a soft spot for Yorkshire, where “they speak as they find”. Although my own favourite Yorkshireism is “I’m only rude to people I like”.

Finally on, after 700 miles, to Cape Wrath, which involves a train journey, a car journey, a ferry ride and a minibus through an uncharted wilderness. And if you miss the last autumn ferry, you have to wait until the following spring.

At Cape Wrath, the long and weary trail no longer winding, Bill Bryson looks north to the polar ice-cap and reflects, with pardonable pride, that, for a few precious moments, he was “the most northwesterly person in Britain”.

There’s a list of the things he likes best about Britain, that includes cream teas, jam roly-poly with custard, country pubs, the shipping forecast and villages with names like Shellow Bowells and Nether Wallop.  All wonderful, but must have missed Little Dribbling . . .