The 65th MIFF, Australia’s largest film festival, enters its final week this week. Of the six movies I saw (Evolution, Suntan, Weiner, The Family Fang, Captain Fantastic, and Toni Erdmann), I think Fang was the standout for me. Adapted from the novel by Kevin Wilson, and starring Nicole K and Jason Bateman, it says some extraordinary things about art and some even more extraordinary things about family. It’s directed by Jason Bateman who is becoming one of my favourite actors – understated, sympathetic and versatile (he did a great turn in The Gift recently too). It’s spoiled slightly by a schmaltzyish ending but there’s been so much anarchy and iconoclasm along the way that it’s easy to forgive – some of Christopher Walken’s savage lines about parenting brought the house down at the cinema where I saw it.
I was late coming to Joyce Carol Oates. For some reason I had her down as the writer of domestic, sentimental novels. She came more into focus when I read a review of A Widow’s Story, her 2009 memoir about the death of her husband, and seeing one of her short story collections in a library one day, I took it out. I only read one story – Bonobo Momma – but it was quite brilliant, an almost perfect modern American short story. At some later point I read about her experiments in gothic fiction, and intrigued, I bought a collection called Give Me Your Heart. I was completely blown away. Two stories in particular stood out for me – Strip Poker and Vena Cava. The compelling forward momentum of Strip Poker is awesome, the sense of dread almost unbearable. I’ve just finished another collection of her gothic tales called The Doll-Master which was every bit as good. Big Momma was a seriously creepy tale but for me the stand-out story was one called Equitorial. Brilliant, profound and heart-breaking. In these collections JCO writes stories that are a delicious mix of genres – crime, horror and psychological thriller – and although ‘literary’, hers is a literariness that is imbued with a hundred years of cinema and TV history.
Belatedly following up on the last blog to say that the Justin Kurzel film of Macbeth was quite brilliant. It was amazing to see how many original interpretations of the text there were in the film when on stage it’s performed again and again with a strange uniformity as if there was no new way to present each scene and no room whatsoever for directorial flare. The success of these bold reinterpretations owed little to the advantages film has over stage production, but was down, in large part, to the writers’ extraordinary knowledge of the text itself and consequently their sure sense of what would and what wouldn’t work. The list of these innovations (and insights) is long, but stand-outs for me were Malcolm witnessing Macbeth’s murder of Duncan, Lady Macbeth making her ‘out, damned spot’ speech to a ghost child, the hallucinatory dagger being carried by a dead soldier, and Birnam forest coming to Dunsinane in the form of ashes from a fire. My special favourite was Macbeth twisting his dagger on Lady Macbeth’s barren belly while he plots the murder of Banquo and his son, Fleance (Stephen Wall, my old university tutor, would have loved this piece of stage craft). Theatre directors should watch this film and weep – and then steal as many of the ideas as they can for future productions. Bold imaginings like this, based on fingertip knowledge of the texts, will keep old Shakey in fashion for another four hundred years.
I don’t want to let today pass without mentioning Pepe Cardona (‘El Persa’) who was born today, the 21st of March, 1943. This extraordinary man deserves much, much more than these few hasty lines and hopefully one day I’ll be able to write properly and at length about him, his art and stories, and the friendship we had until his death in 2012. For the moment though just two of my favourite Pepe quotes: Sometimes it’s good to piss off a friend… To my mother, who taught me to lie...(dedication at the front of his book, El Persa, Ese Desconocido).
I’m looking forward to seeing the new movie version of Macbeth starring Michael Fassbender. Readers of Mice will know it’s an important play for me. It seems the director, Justin Kurzel (Snowtown), has made some interesting interpolations to the text – particularly the idea that the Macbeths are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder following the death of their baby. This nicely solves the old conundrum in the text which tells us, on the one hand, that Lady Macbeth has had a baby (‘I have given suck…’) and then later states that Macbeth ‘has no children’.
I think interpolations like this can bring a lot to the play. I’d be interested to see a version of Macbeth that began with Macbeth and Lady Macbeth acting out the murder of the King in a sort of erotic dumb show, almost like a sexual fantasy they share. This would prepare the audience for Macbeth’s shocked reaction when the witches prophesy that he will be king (‘why do you start and seem to fear/things that do sound so fair?’). Macbeth could have waited to become king in the fullness of time if it was so destined, but his first thought is of murder (as is Lady Macbeth’s when she hears the news) as if he has long harboured the desire to kill Duncan.