Tag Archives: film

Minding the pees and queues

1.      One night last week I was talking to a friend about The Police’s album Zenyatta Mondatta, particularly how much I enjoyed Stewart Copeland’s drumming on that record. The next evening I played some tracks from that album before heading out to a party, the theme of which was ‘Greatest Hits of the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s.’ As I was waiting in the loo queue I got chatting to a guy dressed as a British bobby. ‘I’ve been trying to work out who you’ve come as,’ I said. ‘I’m The Police,’ he said.  Luckily for me, at that point the loo became vacant but before I could move, a woman shot past us and went in. ‘Damn!’ I exclaimed.  Much to my surprise, the Bobby chased her into the bathroom and escorted the apologetic queue jumper out to take her place in line.  He actually was English and it seems they take their queuing seriously. Despite feeling somewhat responsible for this act of party policing and a little embarrassed, part of me began to fantasize about having my very own Bobby to intervene when people neglect to mind their manners. On the train, when people are talking loudly on their phones as I’m trying to read, my Bobby could say something like: “Excuse me, I’m going to have to ask you to shut it. Would you mind awfully?” Come to think of it, though, I think if the Bobby had seen me – or rather “Nancy Sinatra” – karate kicking at a startled Eminem in a dance floor duel to some metal track later in the evening I might have been called over to ‘have a word’. Incidentally, the Bobby wasn’t the only police to turn up at the party. The real Police also dropped by with the obligatory noise complaint. I hope some wag took the opportunity to say “It’s The Police…I didn’t know they were back together.”

2.      A while back I embarked upon a half-hearted, short-lived and unsurprisingly unsuccessful campaign to make Tuesday night the new Saturday. I was reminded of this on Tuesday as I was putting on a glittery cocktail dress and gloves. How rare and exciting to be getting glammed-up on a Tuesday! My friend S. was making a short film and some friends and I had agreed to be extras in the “masquerade cocktail party” scene. Among other masked party-goers, we had to pretend to chat on the dance floor while swaying to a song by Cat Power. About seven or eight times. Whoever said film-making was dull? I have to say, my friend E. and I did a fine job of looking animated, listening to each other intently and aimlessly swaying, while telling each other about what we’d had for lunch that day, what we’d had for dinner the night before, and other riveting tales of meals of the recent past. All this was backdrop to the masked “heroine” sweeping through the crowd to her be-masked beloved to dance in his arms. I found our friend A.’s mask simultaneously scary and hilarious, so I had to avoid looking at her during filming but generally had no problem fulfilling the extra’s duty of being none-too-noticeable. OK, there was one scene in which the following things happened in quick succession:

a.      The camera knocked me in the back of the head

b.       A., with her scare-larious mask surreptitiously pecked me on the shoulder with her beak

c.       The make-up woman, (who was wearing a spectacular corset and long skirt) tripped over my boots and stumbled into me.

d.      I completely lost it and gave in to the giggles.

The hierarchy intrinsic to film-making does lend itself to comedy and I couldn’t help being reminded of the Ricky Gervais series Extras. One of my favourite scenes from Extras features Patrick Stewart (you may know him better as Captain Jean Luc Picard of Star Trek).

3.      I know that I’ve liked dancing since I was a child because my dear old Dad has often demonstrated (particularly to boyfriends) how I used to dance when I was a little girl. This involves a look of intense focus, a weird clodding gallop and one arm held aloft and kind of stuck to the side of the head. The thing is, even when Dad was bounding around the room making us both look foolish, I could always see the joy in this dance.  There’s a scene in Wim Wenders’ film about Pina Bausch, the seminal figure in modern dance, in which a dancer from Pina’s company Tanztheater Wuppertal, talks about the joy of dancing.  In fact, he talks about how Pina had asked him to come up with a movement to express this joy, or “allegria” in his mother tongue. It’s worth the price of admission alone, seeing him dance this movement and the ensemble choreography that Pina created with his movement at its basis. In recent weeks, I’ve gone back to dance class – and I’m loving it.  It’s a hybrid contemporary/jazz class involving the usual stuff – watching the teacher demonstrate choreography and the brain working to get the body to replicate the steps and shapes. It involves getting into small groups and the suspense of the count-in: “And Five-Six-Seven-Eight…” as you prepare to move with other bodies across the diagonal of the space. If the thought of any of that terrifies you, you’re probably still harbouring trauma from childhood ballet. In which case I recommend as therapy seeing “Pina”, or any of the films containing great dance scenes that I mentioned in a previous post. Or maybe just dance in your loungeroom like me as a kid, galloping along with one arm stuck to the side of your head. Or dancing like this guy:

PS: The soundtrack of ‘Pina’ is incredible. Here’s one track from Jun Miyake to throw yourself around to:

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Brother Number One – an extraordinary film

Since my return from Cambodia, I’ve been living something of a double life. I began a new, part-time job, which has involved getting reacquainted with the culture of the government shared office. There’s ‘Casual Friday’ – the day on which staff who wear neatly pressed shirts and pointy high heels on any other day of the week suddenly arrive in their gardening clothes. There are cheerfully aggressive notes pasted around the kitchen, about cleaning up and taking your food out of the fridge. There’s talk about work/life balance, as if ‘life’ is what’s left over after the 40-hour working week.

Meanwhile, my double is where I was physically three weeks ago. I’m making a radio program about the music that’s being made in Cambodia.  So in listening to the interviews, the music, the sounds and the lovely clucking intonations of the Khmer language, I’ve been regularly transported back there.

Telling this story is daunting. Like every story about contemporary Cambodian culture, it must refer to that country’s darkest time, when nearly two million people died during the rule of the Khmer Rouge from 1975 to 1979. The genocide and its effects have shaped Cambodia’s present and will continue to do so for many years.

But it’s not for nothing that there is a stream of therapy – narrative therapy – in which the stories we tell ourselves are reframed, often to give us a greater sense of agency over our lives. Every day we tell ourselves stories to make sense of things. These stories become memories. They become the framework of how we view the world and our place within it. Stories are important.

I saw an extraordinary documentary as part of the Melbourne International Film Festival. Brother Number One tells a tragic and deeply moving story that began during those darkest years of Cambodia’s history.

The title refers both to the moniker that Khmer Rouge leader Pol Pot bestowed upon himself and the position in the Hamill family held by one of his victims, New Zealander Kerry Hamill, the first-born of five children.

At 26 years of age, Kerry Hamill set sail from Darwin, heading to Asia on one of those long journeys of discovery through the hippy belt.  He sailed through Indonesia with a new Australian girlfriend and his Canadian friend, Stuart Glass. Thankfully, his girlfriend Gail returned to Australia, with a plan to meet Kerry in two months’ time. In the film, there is a photo of Kerry and Gail on board the yacht, smiling and suntanned. Kerry, a good looking man, looks like he’s having the time of his life. After Gail left, Kerry and Stuart picked up an English crew member, John Dewhirst, who was on his own adventure far from his home in the Yorkshire dales.

It was August, 1978. The men were sailing past Cambodia when a storm blew up around them. They had been at sea; they were young and innocent; it was the pre-Internet days – so they did not know of the horror the Khmer Rouge was unleashing on the people of Cambodia.  They headed to the island of Koh Tang to shelter from the storm.

Then, a boat appeared and began firing shots at them. Stuart Glass was killed. Kerry and John were taken captive and transported to the Tuol Sleng (S21) prison in Phnom Penh. Few who entered Tuol Sleng as prisoners left alive. More than 12,000 people were tortured and killed there – including Kerry Hamill and John Dewhirst.

The documentary, made by New Zealander Annie Goldson, traces another journey from New Zealand to Cambodia – that of Kerry’s youngest brother, Rob Hamill. Thirty one years after his oldest brother arrived under arrest, Rob Hamill arrived in Phnom Penh to seek answers about his brother’s death and to testify at the trial of Comrade Duch, the Commander of Tuol Sleng.

Rob Hamill is an Olympic and trans-Atlantic rowing champion. The film builds a picture of him as a dedicated family man – dedicated to the siblings of his birth family and his late parents, Miles and Esther – and to the family he has made. The film also reveals him to be a man of incredible courage and resilience. In trying to find answers about what happened to his brother, Rob interviews survivors of Tuol Sleng and the prison photographer who takes a ghoulish pride in the quality of photographs he took of every new arrival. In court, Rob’s victim impact statement will affect the sentencing of Duch, so in the presence of the man responsible for his brother’s murder, Rob has to articulate his family’s terrible pain. In addition, Cambodians and others associated with the trial remind Rob that he is one of the few who will have the opportunity to testify. All those whose loved ones were tortured and killed at Tuol Sleng have been waiting for justice for more than 30 years.

The Hamills were a close family, from Whakatane, a little town on the east coast of New Zealand’s north island. When Kerry disappeared in 1978, people overseas could only contact each other by letter. The family endured months of silence before they found out what had befallen Kerry. How could they possibly conceive of this fate for their son and brother?

To say that this is not an easy film to watch is a great understatement. A major element of Brother Number One’s efficacy is Rob Hamill’s lack of self-consciousness about being filmed. It means you are going with him on this journey. There is one scene in which Rob reads the ‘confession’ to being a CIA spy that his brother Kerry has fabricated after months of being tortured, a letter that will lead to his death. His brother’s statement is funny. Kerry used coded words that only his family would understand. At this point, you realize how special a person was Kerry Hamill, who would have comprehended that he was signing his death warrant, but had the chutzpah to write a letter that would make his family laugh.

Brother Number One is a fine example of how one person’s story can illuminate a dense and complex narrative. Through Rob’s communication with people in Cambodia – including the translator – whose father was killed by the Khmer Rouge, one gains an understanding of this country’s history post World War II and how the dark years of the Pol Pot regime continue to affect Cambodians today. With the trial of Pol Pot’s lieutenants happening now, the screening of Brother Number One is timely and shows how difficult it is for the legal system to deliver peace and restitution, especially 32 years on.

 Brother Number One is showing again as part of MIFF this Saturday, August 6, at 1.30pm.

Here’s the trailer for the film:

There’s also a Brother Number One website.

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