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Kimpossible dream?

Posted April 10th, 2012 by debritz

Is a fresh and funny Australian sitcom too much to ask for? Apparently so.

News that we're about to be subjected (if we so choose) to both a Kath and Kim movie and a new TV series is proof positive that there are either no original ideas in comedy now, or that nobody in televisionland is willing to take a punt on a new idea.

I was never a big fan of Kath and Kim. I always saw it as the latte set's cruel and too-broadly-stereotypical-to-be-funny satire on the working classes. To me it was just as authentic as millionaire shock jock Alan Jones is when he talks about "Struggle Street".

But I also realise that many people, including those out of whom the mickey was being taken, lapped it up. And I admit I am a fan of other work by the creators of Kath and Kim, Jane Turner and Gina Riley, and many of its cast, particularly Glenn Robbins and Magda Szubanski. (I think Riley's best work was in The Games, which had the benefit of John Clarke's brilliance behind it.)

If we must flog this dead horse, can we have something else, too? Why aren't the networks -- especially the cashed-up Seven Network -- investing in the future of television comedy? As I've said before, creating content is the only viable future for the free-to-air networks.

We've come a long was as a society since Hey Dad..! and yet, Kath and Kim aside, there hasn't been a hit commercial television comedy since it ceased production in 1994. It's time for us to move on; to invest in the writing that can bring us a genuinely funny sitcom that riffs off contemporary Australian themes.

Perhaps the Queensland Theatre Company will consider reviving its Australian Sitcom Festival, where in 2001 (wow, that was a long time ago) an ensemble of talented actors gave new scripts a try-out in a stage setting.

New Queensland Premier Campbell Newman doesn't seem to be a fan of the "high" arts (he scrapped the annual Premier's Literary Awards), but maybe this is something he could get behind. Anything that would encourage good writing, and provide potential employment for actors and film crew, is surely worth considering.

Arts cuts? I blame me

Posted April 5th, 2012 by debritz

This morning I received a Facebook message from a person of some prominence in the Queensland arts scene. It said:

Happy about your campaigns against arts funding now, Brett?

Yes, apparently this week's decision by Campbell Newman to axe the Queensland Premier's Literary Award as part of a cost-cutting program is all my fault.

Why? Because, among the thousands of newspaper articles I have written in my career, two or three, written a decade ago, questioned not arts funding per se but the fact that some individiuals and groups seemed to be receiving a very large share of the funding pie while others missed out.

What I did then was what a reporter does. I spoke to people who were outraged about the system but I spoke to people who defended it, and I quoted them all.

At no time have I ever personally questioned the need for or desirability of arts funding. What I have done, however, is interview hundreds of Queensland actors, writers, dancers, musicians, directors and other artists, and published their stories in newspapers that have been read by millions of people.

I often had to fight to get prominence for these stories, to give Queensland artists a place alongside famous international music and movie stars.

I have also spent many hours on radio talking about the arts and artists, even though a commercial radio producer told me that productions by the Queensland Theatre Company were "not mainstream enough" for the airwaves.

I find the message I received this morning deeply offensive, not just because of the personal attack on me but because it demonstrates the shallowness of the thought process of somebody who should know better.

The arts establishment in Queensland is often its own worst enemy. To argue for funding on the basis of a sense of entitlement, and to enter into a blame game, will not help advance the cause.

Neither will adminstrative slopiness. When I wrote about arts funding all those years ago, I discovered that Arts Queensland -- the state government department that manages arts grants (although not the now-axed literary award) -- did not keep a tally of the amounts individuals had received in funding over the years, or even a running ledger of recipients from one year to the next.

When I asked for records, instead of a spreadsheet, I got a box full of paper documents that I was expected to collate and then make some sense of. And they arrived just one day before the page deadline, despite the request being made more than a week earlier. Either the bureaucrats were inept or they were "running interference".

The reactions of some in the arts community were laughable. Correspondents to the paper confused a news article written by me about an author with an opinion piece written by a colleague, or with another story by a third journalist about a funded visual artist. Suddlenly, everything was my fault (as apparently it is now).

Somebody I used to respect rang me and told me earnestly that "without government arts funding there would be no Shakespeare or Dickens". Oh, really? And I always thought they were hacks who survived and thrived through the popular success of their works.

Another sent an email intended for a colleague to me instead of him.

Some members of the arts community took a more measured response, however. From memory, the PR person for the federal Arts Council, was very helpful, putting me in touch with people who could articulate their arguments without kneejerk hysteria.

When my feature article was finished, it raised many valid points about how some forms of art are funded and others are not, and how some artists felt "locked out" of a process they believed was controlled by a clique. It also told success stories about people who had received a small amount of funding and then went on to enjoy stellar careers.

So, what do I really think? I've said this before, and I will say it again: the arts does deserve a better deal from the government.

But it also deserves a better deal from its loudest advocates, at least one of whom, apparently, can offer nothing more constructive than firing a shot at the messenger (years after the event).

More power to those people organising the new Queensland Literary Awards without state government assistance. I hope their funding is restored when the books are balanced and that, in the meantime, corporate sponsors will come to the party so the awards thrive and continue to turn out the stars of the future.

More power, too, to those who are prepared to use sensible arguments to help resist further cuts in funding, and to support ongoing reviews of how the available money is spent. I'm with them 100 per cent.

Nothing but the truth?

Posted March 19th, 2012 by debritz

A few days before US National Public Radio's This American Life "retracted" an episode based on Mike Daisey's one-man show about conditions in Apple Computer factories in China, I was listening to an interview with a British comedian.

It was a BBC broadcast, but I can't remember her name (sorry, I didn't expect to be writing about it). However, I do remember what she said: that she often "appropriated" stories from her friends and others and included them in her monologue as if these things had happened to her.

It struck me at the time that this must be a common practice among standup comics. After all, who is really going to get an hour's worth of material based on recent events in their own lives? It did not really occur to me that what she was doing was unethical.

My point is that, at some level, we expect comedian to lie, or at least "stretch the truth" for humorous effect.

But do we expect it as part of a presentation that purports to be true and makes damning accusations about an individual or a corporation? Or does the fact that it was presented in theatrical context somehow make it different?

Truth is in the eye of the beholder, and the people who took Daisey at his word - including This American Life host Ira Glass - have a right to feel wronged.

Daisey must have known that what he was saying on stage was not true, and he presumably felt that the ends justified the means.

But did he realise that telling these untruths for dramatic effect would bring a valid cause - to improve the conditions of sweat-shop factory workers - into disrepute? And could he have foreseen the damage he'd do to his own reputation and that of one of America's most trusted news sources?

Sharing the fame

Posted March 9th, 2012 by debritz

It began as a simple question posed on Twitter and Facebook:

Brisbane: Tonight we unveil another statue to a footballer. Have we honoured any great scientists, artists or peacemakers in bronze lately?

Now, I'd like to follow it up. First, by saying that I have no objection at all the rugby league lovers honouring Darren Lockyer for his achievements in the game. Or, for that matter, our publicity-hungry politicians trying to get in on the act. I just wish they'd cheerlead for some other great achievers more often.

What I am saying, though, is that there are plenty of other Queenslanders, living and dead, who deserve public recogniition for their achievements in their fields, and not all of them are getting it.

I know there are many in the fields of science and politics, and the military, but I'm going to restrict this argument to the arts, which is my major field of interest.

A few years ago, I supported a move to get a theatre named after Alan Edwards, the founding artistic director of the Queensland Theatre Company. So far, he has received no public recognition, even though, arguably, without his influence the international careers of hundreds of actors and other professionals, including Geoffrey Rush, Bille Brown and Carol Burns, may not have taken off.

I'm going to present a list now, and this is mainly from the top of my head and a quick internet search, so I'm sure to have missed some very important names. I reserve the right to amend it. I also acknowledge that some of them have already received statues or other recognition, but many of them have not.

I also not that there's an emphasis on people who are or have been widely known outside of Australia, and that I've omitted some younger people, such as authors Nick Earls and John Birmingham, writer-actors Adam Zwar and Jason Gann, and comedian Josh Thomas, who are (in my opinion) likely to go on to greater success.

Actors Geoffrey Rush, Ray Barrett, Diane Cilento, Barry Otto, Bille Brown, Carol Burns and Barry Creyton all have of have had international profiles. Other notables include Sigrid Thornton and Leonard Teale,.

Writers include Thea Astley, David Malouf, Judith Wright, Oodgeroo Noonuccal.

In popular music, there are The Saints, The Go-Betweens, Powderfinger and Savage Garden, and in opera we have Donald Shanks and Lisa Gasteen.

There are many famous Queensland dancers including Garth Welch and Leanne Benjamin.

February 16, 2012

Posted February 16th, 2012 by debritz

South Bank.

The blue liquid is dangerous for Barbies.

Regent's state of origin

Posted December 15th, 2011 by debritz

The Showcase cinema at the Brisbane Regent was denied heritage listing because it was deemed to lack "original" features.

However, during the demolition of the cinema to make way for an office tower, it's been revealed that much of the fabric WAS original.

The Brisbane Times has the story here.

Jennifer Flowers wins Glugs' award

Posted December 14th, 2011 by debritz

Popular Brisbane-based actor and director Jennifer Flowers was yesterday named the winner of the annual Chief Glug's Award for excellence in theatre.

Flowers, who will be directing the Queensland Theatre Company's production of Romeo and Juliet next year, has been a fixture on the Brisbane and interstate stage for the past three decades.

The award is presented by the Glugs of Gosh, a group of theatre lovers who have met monthly for the past 21 years.

Flowers is pictured at the Kookaburra Cafe in Paddington with Michael Balk, representing the Queensland Actors' and Entertainer's Benevolent Fund, which received a donation from the Glugs.

The Eddie Fisher mystery

Posted September 24th, 2010 by debritz

I was sad to hear of the passing of pop singer, actor and celebrity husband Eddie Fisher, but intrigued that (at least at the time of writing) his age seems to be something of a mystery. The sometimes-inaccurate Wikipedia has him as 82, while that august paper of record, the New York Times, demoted him from 86 to 85 between the headline and the intro of the story:

Cirque goes full circle

Posted August 25th, 2010 by debritz

Cirque du Soleil is returning to Australian next year, with a fresh production of Saltimbanco, the show that introduced Australians to the Cirque experience 12 years ago. Rather than under the big top, it'll be in theatre mode at entertainment centres. Dates include Perth in April, Melbourne in May and Brisbane and Sydney in July. Tickets on sale October 18. Details here.

Search for a star

Posted July 24th, 2010 by debritz

We live in an age of celebrity. You can't pick up a newspaper or magazine, or switch on the TV, radio or internet, without seeing something about Brad and Ange, Tom and Katie, Lindsay or Britney. Like it or not, they've become the subject of many a watercooler conversation and, dare I say it, are genuine "household names". On the national front, there are the big names of TV (Bert, Kerri-Anne, Eddie and Ray among them), plus a smattering of musicians and, largely now-expat, movie makers (Hugh, Russell and Nicole). Recently, the finalists of MasterChef, Callum and Adam, have joined that hallowed society -- but for how long is anyone's guess. You'll note here that I've mentioned only first names but I reckon almost everybody reading this would know exactly who I'm referring to. Which brings me to the big question for Queensland readers only: Who are Brisbane's household names? Which homegrown talents, in whatever field, are instantly recognisable to a large portion of the population (not just the media junkies who read this blog) by their first name or nickname? I've got a few ideas of my own, but I won't be writing them down just yet. Suggestions by email or by Tweet, please. When I've assembled a list, I'd like to test the theory with members of the GP. Maybe we'll all get a surprise as to who's really on the A-list and who isn't.

Brisbane Festival: What's it all about?

Posted July 20th, 2010 by debritz

The big question about the Brisbane Festival is: who is it for? As I said on 612ABC this morning (the audio is here), there is plenty for people who like contemporary dance but not a lot of breadth or depth to the "high arts" program, and precious little for the Average Joe or Jo (apart, of course, from Riverfire). The community section seems to be targetted more at the community that creates art than the communities who might want to consume it, and there's not much in the way of family entertainment. A lot of this year's program was obviously put in place by former artistic director Lyndon Teraccini; the challenge for the new AD, Noel Staunton, is to decide what the festival is all about and put his own stamp on it. Hopefully, he will decide that it's not just for elites; that it should include some truly popular entertainment that will engage the entire Brisbane community. As I've said before, I'd love to see the return of a Warana-style community parade, built from the grassroots up, and we definitely need an Edinburgh-style fringe festival to inject a little fun into proceedings.
PS: This is a personal thing, but I think the new logo is amateruish; remiscent of the rush of wacky typography we saw when computer users discovered the likes of ComicSans.

Hats off for a good cause

Posted July 17th, 2010 by debritz

Anne Wood and the cast of Mamma Mia, the Divas, the cats of Jesus Christ Superstar, David Hamilton Puppets, Greg Moore, Velocity Dance Company and Oscar Theatre Group are among a growing bill for the Hats Off Briz-Vegas concert at the Playhouse, QPAC on August 23. Tickets $40; proceeds go to the Oz Showbiz Cares/ Equity Fights AIDS charity. Book here.

Wicked delay

Posted June 20th, 2010 by debritz

It's great news for Brisbane theatregoers that Wicked! will finally open at the Lyric Theatre in January next year. But that will be two-and-a-half years after its Australian premiere in Melbourne -- in which time, according to its producers, it has played 866 shows seen by more than a million people. In other words, the lion's share of the return from the show in terms of arts tourism dollars has gone into the Victorian coffers and, to a lesser extent, to NSW. Of course, if Brisbane had another large venue -- say a renovated Regent Theatre -- such big shows could be debuting in Queensland, rather than coming in at the end of their run after the diehard fans have already spent up big on package tours to see them.

As Des says ...

Posted May 31st, 2010 by debritz

Des Partridge, the longtime cinema critic for The Courier-Mail, supports the cause to Save the Regent. Here's some audio of him telling 4KQ's breakfast team of Laurel, Gary and Mark how this last-of-a-kind venue will be lost barring a last-minute change of heart by the State Government.
Update: I had my say on the Regent in this segment with Spencer Howson. It's towards the end after the usual (hopefully) entertaining fluff.

Farewell, but not goodbye

Posted May 30th, 2010 by debritz

Birch Carroll and Coyle's lease on the Brisbane Regent is coming to end, culminating with a farewell on June 6. The details are on the poster below. Attend the event, but please remember that the fight to Save the Regent goes on.

Pop go the radio stars

Posted May 16th, 2010 by debritz

The Queensland Pops Orchestra and conduictor Barrie Gott teamed up with radio stars Spencer Howson (612 ABC breakfast host), Bruce Redman (612 ABC drive movie reviewer), Loretta Ryan (4BH breakfast co-host) and blast from the past Wayne "Wayney Poo" Roberts for a concert with a difference at QPAC on Saturday night. Here's an exclusive picture of the radio stars:

Here's some audio from the event and here's somebody else playing what they played.

Wilfred pilot for US

Posted May 13th, 2010 by debritz

Former Brisbane actor Jason Gann will star in a US pilot adapted from the Australian comedy Wilfred, which Gann cowrote for SBS with fellow Queenslander and former journalist Adam Zwar. Well done to them! More here at Variety.com.
PS: Jason is a supporter of the campaign to Save the Regent.

What Maske's up to

Posted May 12th, 2010 by debritz

Maske, supplied picture
Congratulations to Brisbane's Maske trio who, among many globe-trotting adventures in recent weeks, performed at Cambodia's World Heritage-listed Angkor Wat temple.

More power to the Powerhouse

Posted May 8th, 2010 by debritz

There's an interesting article here at brisbanetimes.com.au about the tenth anniversary of the Brisbane Powerhouse. There's no doubt that the Powerhouse is a great asset to Brisbane, and it's deservedly cherished by many arts lovers. But it is limited in its ability to cater to the broader population of the city for several reasons, including the fact that its main auditorium can hold only about 500 people. Brisbane has many small venues, and exciting things are happening not just at the Powerhouse, but at the Metro Arts, the Judith Wright Centre, the Brisbane Arts Theatre and elsewhere - but, let's be honest, a lot of what happens in these place is for niche audiences with already well-honed theatrical tastes. For the performing arts to truly flourish, Brisbane now needs another large venue that can handle an open-ended run of a big commercial production. The more people who have the chance to see professional live theatre at a high standard, the more theatregoers we will have - and the more people who might just take a chance on seeing at a show in a smaller venue. First-time theatregoers are unlikely to wander in to see an independent production the Powerhouse or the Judy; but they might just go see the Australian premiere of a big musical at, say, a restored Regent Theatre and eventually develop a taste for less mainstream fare. This is one "trickle-down effect" that might actually work.

Earl Okin's on his way, at last

Posted May 6th, 2010 by debritz

In the late-1990s, I saw Earl Okin at an arts festival in Hong Kong. About three years ago, he was lined up to perform in Brisbane as part of an Australian tour to coincide with the release of his album, and I was scheduled to interview him for the Sunday Mail. However, the tour and the interview were cancelled. Now I'm pleased to discover that Okin will perform at the Brisbane Cabaret Festival from June 16-26. He'll be at the Judith Wright Centre on opening night, and if he's anywhere near as good as he was a decade ago, he'll be well worth seeing. The festival bill also includes performances by Ross Wilson and John Waters, Denise Scott and Bob Downe. Details here.

Hef to the rescue

Posted April 28th, 2010 by debritz

Who's going to save the iconic Hollywood sign from being spoiled by developers? Step forward, Hugh Hefner, who has donated $900,000 to preserve the land around the iconic structure he calls LA's equivalent to the Eiffel Tower. More here.

Fame at a price

Posted April 14th, 2010 by debritz

News that Our Russell Crowe now has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame should come as no surprise. What some people might find surprising, though, is the fact that it costs the star to enter this elite club. I'm not sure what it is now, but back in 2003, the price tag was US$15,000 - and some stars have refused to stump up the cash, or have refused acknowledgement for other reasons. According to this undated LA Times story, the list of stars who aren't represented on the Walk of Fame included Clint Eastwood, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Robert Redford, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Al Pacino, Robert DeNiro, Michael Douglas, Sean Connery, David Lean, Angelina Jolie, Kate Winslet, Leonard Dicaprio, Diane Keaton, Denzel Washington and Woody Allen. As this Fox News article points out, the Walk of Fame star ceremony is often used as a marketing exercise -- to coincide, for example with the release of a new album or movie. Crowe has a new film, Robin Hood, out soon.

Geoffrey Rush to head QTC?

Posted April 9th, 2010 by debritz

The Brisbane Times reports that there's support for Geoffrey Rush to replace the retiring Michael Gow at the helm of the Queensland Theatre Company. Of course, it's a brilliant idea. But would Rush forgo his Hollywood career and gigs on Broadway and the southern stage to run a Brisbane-based company? Maybe he could do it if, like Cate Blanchett at the Sydney Theatre Company, he enlisted a co-artistic director to be there when he couldn't be. In Blanchett's case, it's her husband, playwright Andrew Upton.
PS. As reported by Brisbane Times, critic Sue Gough's shortlist includes QTC assistant director Jon Halpin and husband-wife team Helen Howard and Michael Futcher. I'd throw Jean-Marc Russ into the mix, too. Mind you, I don't know who has applied for the job.
PPS: Rush is, of course, a great supporter of the Save the Regent campaign.

Farewell, Malcolm McLaren

Posted April 9th, 2010 by debritz

This is no rock'n'roll swindle, Malcolm McLaren, the man behind the Sex Pistols, is dead from cancer at 64. Here he is performing his solo hit Buffalo Gals:

See it, and save it!

Posted April 8th, 2010 by debritz

Here's the very funny promo for the Regent film festival, starring Drew Jarvis (Curio from the axed TV show The Shak) and shot in the wonderful Showcase cinema, which will be demolished under plans to redevelop the venue as an office tower. Support the festival (details on Facebook here), but please also join the campaign to Save the Regent - especially the Showcase cinema and ornate bar area.

Regent film festival launched

Posted April 8th, 2010 by debritz

As revealed by me on 612ABC on Tuesday, a film festival will be held to "celebrate the life of Brisbane’s favourite picture palace", the Regent Theatre, which is set for closure to make way for a highrise office tower. In a media release, the cinema operators, Birch Carroll and Coyle say the festival will include a short film competition and "an exclusive showcase of past and present films" from Saturday May 29, with a farewell event held on Sunday June 6, 2010, Queensland Day*. The release says the short film competition is open to all film enthusiasts, students or experienced filmmakers and carries "significant cash prizes". (I hope many of those entries highlight exactly what we will lose due to the shortsighted council and government decision to green-light the development in its current form.) Entrants must submit a maximum five-minute film containing a visual reference to the Regent. Entries to the competition are open now and full entry details and terms and conditions available at www.regentff.com.au. From Saturday May 29, The Regent Theatre will showcase a variety of past and present films representing the eight decades in which the theatre has been open. Of course, the fight to save the Regent - and especially the ornate Showcase Cinema (pictured) and bar area, which will be demolished under current plans - is not over. See the Save the Regent website for details.
* There's more than a little irony in choosing the state's big day to shut down a Queensland icon to allow for the demolition of the cinema and bar area, and potential irreversible damage to the grand foyer.

Meanwhile, at the theatre

Posted March 25th, 2010 by debritz

I saw Wild World, the Cat Stevens tribute at the Twelfth Night Theatre in Brisbane, and can recommend it thoroughly. While not impersonating Stevens (now, of course, known as Yusaf Islam), British singer-guitarist Paul Dillon performs the great songwriter's catalouge and links the music with some interesting facts and anecdotes. It closes on Saturday. And his backup band is brilliant. Meanwhile, on the local theatre front, April 10 will be opening night at the Arts Theatre of The Tasmanian Babes Fiasco, the sequel to He Died with a Felafel in his Hand, written by Simon Bedak and based on the book by Brisbane's own John Birmingham. The show will be directed by Natalie Bochenski, who works as a journalist at 4BC and successfully moonlights in the worlds of theatre and improvisational comedy. Here's a teaser video for the show:

It's Valleywood

Posted March 22nd, 2010 by debritz

The Step Inn pub in Brisbane's Fortitude Valley is in the spotlight, literally, as filming begins on ... well, I don't know what. Does anybody know?
Update: a Twitter contact says it's definitely a movie, perhaps titled A Heartbeat. It's about a rock band and stars "some actors from Home and Away and someone from Transformers 2". An IMDB search suggests it's A Heartbeat Away, starring Isabel Lucas , Tammy McIntosh, Colin Friels and William Zappa, and directed by Gale Edwards. A Queensland Government media release calls it a "feel-good musical comedy" (and where better to make one of theose than in the Valley?) and apparently taxpayers have contributed $3 million through Screen Queensland. (March 23-24)

Regent makes headlines

Posted March 13th, 2010 by debritz

Don't bother waiting for Godot; he's not coming. The Regent Theatre is back in the news today, with the Courier-Mail's Tonya Turner revealing that an acclaimed production of Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot starring Sir Ian McKellen won't be coming to Brisbane due to the lack of a suitable venue. The story quotes me saying that the Regent could be restored into a theatre much more cost-effectively than building a new venue from scratch. Godot is one of many productions that haven't found their way to Brisbane because of scheduling conflicts at QPAC. Godot producer Liza McLean says: "Commercially, everybody would love for there to be another venue in Brisbane". Lyndon Terracini, the former Brisbane Festival boss who now runs Opera Australia, agrees. With the city growing at the rate it is, we absolutely need another new venue as soon as possible or risk becoming seen as a cultural backwater. Restoring the original Regent auditorium as part of the current office-tower project for the site would be an efficient way to give our city a versatile theatre/concert/cinema space while protecting Brisbane's last remaining Hollywood-style picture palace for future generations. Anna Bligh, it's not too late to make this happen.

How to win an Oscar

Posted March 4th, 2010 by debritz

After an interview with Jeanine Basinger, the Corwin-Fuller Professor of Film Studies and Founder and Curator of The Cinema Archives at Wesleyan University, the Daily Beast's Jacob Bernstein has come up with a list of 10 ways to win an Academy Award. They include:
+ Speak with a funny accent;
+ Play a famous person;
+ Get fat/ go ugly (by, for example, donning a plastic nose);
+ Play the piano;
+ Die ("either beautifully or horribly".)
Oh, and with the notable exception of Jimmy Cagney in Yankee Doodle Dandy, singing and dancing won't win you a gong.
More here.

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