Reviewed by Caitlin Mahar

There are some movies that can make revenge seem appealing . . . my movie’s not appealing” – Gaspar Noé

irreversible_xlgVariously declared a masterpiece and slammed as a ‘shallow shocker’, French film-maker Gaspar Noé’s ultra-violent Irreversible has polarised audience members and critics since it first screened in 2003. The film features a notoriously brutal murder and horrifying rape scene and it is not difficult to see why some have dismissed Noé as simply a shock-jock (and no surprise to learn of a belated attempt by Fred Nile and cronies to ban the film in Australia). There is no doubt this film is (intentionally) shocking, but it is definitely worth steeling yourself for a look at Noé’s world.

After a brief prologue delivered by two dissipated old men in a shabby hotel room, Irreversible plunges the viewer into a world of violent mayhem. The camera whirls sickeningly, picking up flesh amid strobing black and red and it takes a while to work out what is happening: two men, one spewing racist, homophobic invective, race through a gay S&M club searching for another called ‘The Tapeworm’. This excruciating sequence ends when one of the men bashes another to death with a fire extinguisher.

Then we are confronted with preceding events. We witness two bourgeois types, Marcus and Pierre, set off to take revenge and the brutal, protracted, rape of Marcus’s girlfriend, Alex, by a stranger in a subway. From here Noé gradually winds us back to uneasy normality. We see the three main protagonists at a party and the minor quarrel between Alex and Marcus that leads to her leaving alone. Then we see the trio jaunty on the train prior to the party – Pierre, Alex’s old boyfriend, jokingly needling Marcus. This is followed by a tender love scene and the film ends with Alex lying in a park full of children playing.

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Poems by Danny Fahey

September 6, 2003

The Old Wolf

Evenings,
Purple, bloated,
Float
Half-submerged and never drowned
In alcohol;
Flesh beckons
And he bays to the moon –
How swiftly
The young boy’s adventures
Litter the mind
Of an adult.

As Months Pass

In limbo
You swim
Bedazzled by our dreams…
Mine, technicolour catastrophes –
So much could go wrong!
Your mother’s – her first kiss
(and the smell of your scalp).
And you?
What dreams do you dream
As you swim in that ocean of possibility?
Are your dreams prescient lessons
To help with the preparation?
We wait,
Your mother and I
Bloated with expectation
While you kick,
Silently swimming towards us.

Poems by Fergus Ong

September 6, 2003

Fergus Ong is an ex-Foundation Studies student of Trinity College, who went on to complete a degree in Media Studies and Creative Writing at the University of Melbourne. He now resides in Malaysia.

Muar

Back home,
somewhere between the
smog-famous Kuala Lumpur and
garden City Singapore,
I dream of
somewhere back home
in Muar
You are “mew-ar” to foreigners,
but you are “moo-ar” to me
(and all the locals).
I know you so well
like the lines on my 20 year-old palm.
You are the river and the swamp
you are the bridge
and the park
and the playground.
You are roundabouts in town,
dilapidated shophouses
And glutton-street, with
Chinese hawker food-stalls
lining both sides of a one-way road.
You are an infinite
Muarian McDonald’s drivethrough,
The old Indian man who sells
roasted nuts outside the cinema,
and the other one, who cycles around
selling sweet bread in the evening.
You own me,
my sleepy-hollow town,
retired person’s village,
famous for the
furniture factories I never see.
And I own you
in some weird form of memory.
But old nostalgic town,
right now, you are so real.
right now, you are
big-screen TV,
24 channel satellite transmission,
internet phonelines and Microsoft colony,
shopping mall and VCD heaven.
My boom-time town,
with your congested roads
wide enough for the ‘80s
you oscillate between
truth and falsity.
Navigate me with your browser’s
back button.
I know there’s something left behind
That I need to cut,
copy and paste.

Sunset, Pollocked

They used to call you
Poetry in Motion,
a walkin’, talkin’
Livin’ Doll.
But today, you look like
a painting, framed
inside a doorway
with one hand
pressed against the wall.
I watch you forty seconds,
looking out at me
with all those crazy lines
dripping on your face.
Reds and yellows and orange
splatter across your dress,
making a thumping, dripping sound –
like wall paint falling
on old newspaper.
You look so caged, almost wild
like a sunset from somewhere. Pollocked.

Sex and Sensibility

September 5, 2003

Hong Ying, K: The Art of Love, London: Marion Boyars, 2002.

Reviewed by Glen Jennings

kUnder the sensually embossed K of this book’s front cover – with the gently raised letter printed like ritual scarification on the lower back of a naked young woman – lies the novel’s suggestive subtitle.  The Art of Love just touches the upper curves of the woman’s bare buttocks.  Immediately below the subtitle trouble begins, for Hong Ying and her publishers boldly advertise an unequivocal claim across both cheeks: Based on a True Story.

K is an historical novel set in 1930s China.  It purports to tell “the true story of the passionate and illicit affair” between the minor Bloomsbury poet Julian Bell and a beautiful Chinese writer known as Lin.  Cultured and sensitive, Lin lives in the city of Wuhan, where her husband is a senior professor of English, and Julian Bell a visiting scholar in the same department.  As a short story writer Lin belongs to a literary circle of Chinese liberal romantics known as the Crescent Moon Society, and her writing style attracts comparison with the New Zealand writer Katherine Mansfield.

Unfortunately for Hong Ying and for the prospects of official sales of her novel in the People’s Republic of China (the country of Hong Ying’s birth), K’s specific claim to historical verisimilitude came back to bite her.  After excerpts of K were published in a Chinese magazine, the daughter of a prominent writer from the 1930s took Hong Ying to court for defaming the dead.  Ling Shuhua was a writer who lived in Wuhan with her husband, Chen Yuan, a professor of English at Wuhan University.  Ling Shuhua wrote for Crescent Moon periodicals in a literary style consciously modelled on Katherine Mansfield.  She also knew Julian Bell and is reported to have had a brief affair with him.  Chen Xiaoying, the daughter of Ling Shuhua and Professor Chen Yuan, found Hong Ying’s book pornographic and false, and she won damages through a Chinese court in December 2002. K was, as a result, banned in China – which of course guarantees the novel underground success.  K had earlier been published in Taiwan, and is now widely available in foreign translations, including this English translation by Nicky Harman and Henry Zhao, Hong Ying’s husband.

shanghai-babyThe banning of K provides yet another example of heavy-handed censorship in China, which can be arbitrary and is often self-defeating. Recent banning of other so-called pornographic works, such as Wei Hui’s narcissistic Shanghai Baby, has only assured the author international notoriety, broad exposure on the internet, wide distribution through underground networks in China, and massively increased publicity and foreign sales.  Wei Hui was even interviewed by the iconic Kerry O’Brien on the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s national 7:30 Report, a level of exposure for a young woman’s sexually explicit novel that is difficult to imagine for an Australian young writer of fiction, and impossible even to contemplate if the Chinese government had not tried to suppress Shanghai Baby. In terms of more conventional political censorship it is well-known that political writers banned by Chinese Communist authorities often garner increased public respect or sympathy, as was the case with the dissident Fang Lizhi, whose works were distributed by the Party for the express purposes of criticism and denunciation in the mid 1980s.  Instead his thoughts spread among a receptive and disgruntled community as the Chinese democracy movement gained momentum in the late 1980s.

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Fitzroy, Varnish and Vice

September 5, 2003

Peter Temple, White Dog, Melbourne: Text, 2003.

Reviewed by Kathleen Logan

faceWhite Dog is the latest crime novel featuring Jack Irish and it’s really good fun.  Irish is a Melbourne-based ex-lawyer/private investigator with a penchant for woodwork….and trouble.

Temple clearly knows and loves Melbourne and its environs – part of the enjoyment of reading his books is recognising the various streets and situations where Irish finds humour, sex, dirty dealings and an assortment of characters like those in the “Youth Club”. The exchanges between Irish and these oldies (still lamenting the demise of their beloved football team the Fitzroy Lions) are amusing and quite sharp – particularly in the previous novels when these die-hards are tossing up whether to barrack for the Brisbane Lions or keep their local loyalties by supporting St Kilda –  not an easy choice.   Irish also hooks up on a regular basis with Harry Strang – ex-jockey with a nose for a good horse and (not quite kosher) betting arrangements.  Punters will follow the esoteric musings on track records and run times, and the rest of us can still enjoy the plot.

Jack Irish is not so lucky in love – his lovers tend to get damaged: well, that’s a bit of an understatement – one wife and one lover both lost to explosions as Jack’s enemies try to do him in – but nonetheless, he comes across as a likeable character.  He is faithful to his friends and his ideals, and he has empathy for the underdog.  His views on the changing face of Brunswick Street and its inhabitants are heartfelt and perhaps reflect those of his creator.   Jack occasionally works as an unpaid “apprentice” to a master carpenter. The finer points of cabinet-making, and the precision insisted upon by his older mentor, act as a balm and counterpoint to his unstructured and risky private investigator role.   Temple is good at establishing the close relationships Jack has with the older generation.

In this latest adventure Jack is drawn into the shady world of escort agencies, big business and politics. Murder, missing persons and a couple of truly horrible country types keep up the interest. While there’s little sub-text or social message in Temple’s novels, they are entertaining, observant and wryly nostalgic for Melbourne’s recent past.

Compelling darkness

September 5, 2003

A L McCann, The White Body of Evening, Sydney: HarperCollins, 2002.

Reviewed by Vincent Ramos

thewhitebodyofeveningThe macabre holds a perverse attraction – and in fiction, that which is dark, unknowable, undoable, becomes not merely possible, but palpably achievable.

The White Body of Evening, the debut novel by Melbourne academic Andrew McCann, opens with Albert and Anna Walters stumbling through a perfunctory shotgun wedding in the spring of 1891. The contrast is immediate. Albert is deeply troubled, and inclined towards taboo thoughts and the more sordid diversions available in the arcades and laneways of Melbourne. Anna, the reserved Barossa German who dreams of seeing the European countryside that her parents called home.

Already the juxtaposition of respectability and what lies beneath it are drawn. This is not the Melbourne we know today – shiny, aspirational, humdrum. McCann breaks the recognisable skin of propriety with a passion and perversity that makes Melbourne into a grotesque, magnificent Gotham.

Based in South Melbourne, where the upscale St Vincent Place, in which the mysterious Dr Winton resides, is literally around the corner from the poky squalor of the Brooke Street where Anna and Albert have a cottage, The White Body of Evening is also well-acquainted with the seedy, now-vanished arcades of Bourke Street. This is a Melbourne still only edging towards Federation, steeped in Victorian morality, but where the menace of violence hangs in the air and a mob will gather at a moment’s notice to lynch a man on the mere suspicion of guilt.

Albert, increasingly erratic and paranoid, longing to escape the ‘emasculating’ tedium of work and domesticity, is receiving the attention of Dr Winton – who himself carries the baggage of a shadowy past, a man whose rich cologne conceals a ‘hot, musky odour’, something ugly and bestial. The novel’s atmosphere intensifies by the page, painting a dark, dysfunctional Melbourne through Albert Walters’ dark, dysfunctional family.

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