The Fun Theory

Tuesday 27 October 2009

Yes, I know this is just a blatant ad for a car company, but still, it makes me smile. Consider the following:

We believe that the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better is by making it fun to do. We call it the fun theory.

Now enjoy:

Aren’t they something!

So now it’s your turn. There is a competition being run to find the next thought, idea or invention that helps prove the fun theory. And there’s prizes too – the first prize being €2,500, which is a bit over $4,000 in Oz money (at the moment anyway). That’s definitely enough to get those thinking caps on.

And there’s still plenty of time – the competition doesn’t close till Sunday 15 November 2009. In between finishing uni, NaNoWriMo, the wedding invite, learning to crochet, and restumping the house, I might just give it a go.

Visit for more information. Check out the other entries for inspiration… I’m particularly liking the Connect Four Beer Crate.

(Incidentally, if Volkswagen wants to, like, send me a car or something, I wouldn’t say no.)

Amateur theatre – Cats

Thursday 24 September 2009

As you know, Cats (the musical that is, not the four legged furry bastards with the egos) is my all time favourite musical. I love it, love it simply to bits, and even after seeing it recently for the second time 20 years later, where I realised that it’s really all just a little (read: huge) bit naff, I continue to love it. As Karen says in Love Actually (one of my favourite movies I should add) “True love lasts a lifetime”, so what sort of feller would I be if I suddenly dumped Cats and went after some new floozy, like Avenue Q?

(Incidentally, did anyone catch this? I know! Isn’t it just too horrible for words? I tell ya, I can’t work out what is worse – what she’s wearing or that it’s just the worse case of Rich Daddy Syndrome I’ve ever seen.

Actually, it reminds me of an old joke. Many versions of it but a good one goes something like: There were these two old married university professors and one day the wife comes home and finds a note. “Dear wife,” it says, “I am writing to say that after 40 years marriage I have decided to leave you. As you are aware being a science teacher a relationship is based on chemistry, which you and I no longer have, so I have gone and run off with the 20 year old head cheer leader because, being a mathematics teacher, I know that she and I add up to equal one. We will be enjoying my 60th birthday in the Bahamas. Please forward any mail to the following address.”

A couple of weeks later, the husband opens his mail and finds this: “Dear husband,” the wife wrote back, “Thank you for your letter. I was very sad to discover that you have left me, but, being a science teacher, I should have done my research better. Still, I am very happy for you and wish you and your cheer leader girlfriend well. I want you to know that I am doing well too. Not wanting to sit at home and wallow I have decided to shack up with the 20 year old captain of the football team because, as you know being a mathematics teacher, 20 goes into 60 a hell of a lot more times that 60 goes into 20.” Boom boom.

Umm… this blog was supposed to be about a show I saw so I better get back to it.)

Back in July I joined a mailing list for local amateur theatre. I’m tired of not seeing things and finding out about shows after the dates have past. I think I was inspired after discovering that there will be a production of Spamalot in October (still haven’t got tickets, have sent reminder to work to do tomorrow) and finding out there’s been a number of G&S’s early in the year (I’m sure I’ve already done this line but I always say there are only two types of musical theatre: Gilbert and Sullivan). Imagine my pure delight when I discovered there was going to be a production of Cats! I was over the heavyside layer I can tell you (Cats reference there, to all you theatre heathens! (Note to self: don’t insult the readership.)). So, a couple of Saturdays ago, Melanie, BC and I went and saw the Holroyd Musical and Dramatic Society (HMDS) production of Cats.

The HMDS is a Western Sydney based amateur theatrical society that stages four productions a year – two musicals, a play and a panto; this year they are doing Alice in Wonderland. While the plays and pantos they choose are traditional amateur theatre fodder, they have tended to punch above their weight with the musicals. Last year they did both West Side Story (a hella lot of complicated dancing) and Les Miserables (the classic story of Sir Les Patterson feeling down in the dumps… I think. I’ve never seen it). When I read they were attempting Cats I knew that there were two possible ways it could go, but also that both ways would be highly entertaining to watch.

The three of us arrived at Wentworthville (it’s about an hour by train out west of Sydney, two stops past Parramatta) and found a nice little Chinese restaurant for some dinner. We thoroughly enjoyed the classic dishes of garlic prawns, sweet and sour pork and combination chicken, and a bargain of a price at $45. Back at the theatre we found our seats and promised ourselves the option of leaving at half time if the show was really bad.

The overture started and already I was grinning ear to ear. I knew we were in for something special, and I wasn’t disappointed. There is just something kind of wonderful about the sight of someone who should know better prancing about in a unitard. As Melanie said, some of those performers faced their worst nightmares to go out publicly in those costumes. The costumes were, actually, extremely good with huge amounts of furry details, it’s just that most members of amateur theatre don’t have a dancer’s build. Or can dance, for that matter. It’s a pity that Cats requires a good deal of both.

The performers were, over all, very good, but let me highlight some of the more “special” artiste. Mungojerrie and Rumpelteazer were two chunky actors who did a great job of hamming it up, though I wasn’t surprised that they didn’t end their number by performing the traditional “double windmill” across the stage. Mungojerrie (the part that I would love to play) was particularly special; not only was he equipped with his mother’s bum and his father’s belly, he also had a lisp, which meant he sung his song something like this:

Mungojscheree and Rumpleteaser
We’re a notorsczhious couple of catscz
Aschz knockabout clownsczjh and quick-jszcange comedianzchs
Tight-rope walkezsph and acrobatcszjhs.

Humour is found in many places.

The actress playing Grizabella the glamour cat was well too fed to be playing a part. She had the legs of an elephant, so perhaps it was apt that hers is the one that sings “Memory”? I did wonder if she was related to the director.

(Incidentally, I can say things like that as I spent nine great years with the Broken Hill Repertory and saw more than one production decision based on nepotism. Truth be told, sometimes it’s the easiest way to fill a play as you then know the strengths and weaknesses of the cast. I know that I got parts as I knew the directors well (not that well, but they knew I’d be perfect for the part) and I’d cast friends too knowing they’d be fun to have around during rehearsals. I should, while I’m here, thank a certain old school librarian friend of mine who gave me one of my first theatrical parts in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (I played the chocolate factory Charlie). Considering she knew me through six years of school plus kindergarten I’m sure made her decision a lot easier in selecting me. After that role, and for the next nine years, there wasn’t many plays I wasn’t involved in, be in on stage or behind curtain. So, thank you Rosemary, I have a lot to you to be thankful for.)

Where was I? Oh yes.

The guy playing the Rum Tum Tugger was clearly having a good time. The three of us also had bets that he was probably the only straight actor in the whole show – BC’s gaydar was no registering. It was going DING DING DING something chronic for Mr Mistoffelees (I think the ballet training didn’t help) while mine was ringing away for Skimbleshanks, the railway cat, another favourite role of mine. Skimbleshanks had a lovely jawbone and lots of nice facial expression being trained in the school of overacting, though when singing was unable to project over the orchestra; it didn’t help that he kept running out of breath halfway through his phrasing too. I didn’t mind as I was singing the song softly to myself anyway. Jennyanydots, the old Gumbie cat, was quite gorgeous, though she was wearing this dress that was so covered in frills that whenever she moved she looked like a overzealous flapper. All the wiggling was annoying me by the end, especially when she’d do it in the middle of someone else’s song – naughty upstaging! The ladies who did most of the singing – as they mostly narrate the songs I’m not sure of their names – were all great. As BC said about the show, “I could understand every word” and I have to agree. A couple of times I realised that all these years, listening only to the original Australia cast recording, I’d been singing the wrong words!

Special mention – in fact a whole paragraph to himself – has to go to the bloke in the Munkustrap role. The black and silver tom Munkustrap is the storyteller and protector of the Jellicle tribe, and second in command after Old Deuteronomy (I stole that description from Wikipedia). Munkustrap is pretty much the most important cat on the stage and should be played like a solid wall, standing broadly, shoulders squared, with his arms ready to defend. This is a cat always on guard, always ready to protect. The ultimate Alpha Cat, that’s how it should be played. Well, not in this production. This geezer instead spent the whole play with one arm outstretched to the audience singing to an invisible scull, with a facial expression that could have been fervency or could have been trying to remember what was on the shopping list. I think he secretly wished that he was having a go at “Memory”. If that cat was the protector I’d be stocking up on insurance. As second in command he was definitely a Number Two. Alpha Cat? More like Alfalfa Cat!

(I have to that Brad for that last line. I mentioned to him that I had spent the day trying to wrack out a good joke at the actor’s expense and the best I had come up with was “Instead of Munkustrap being the 2-I-C, he was more the Pooh-I-See.” While it (sort of) works as a spoken gag it looks terrible on paper. Actually, it’s pretty bad any way you look at it.)

So, basically, the guy playing Munkustrap was crap.

But, and here’s the but…

This is amateur theatre. Those performers are probably shop assistants or teachers or bank clerks during the day and have given up three, four nights a week for the last few months to be in this show – for free! They do it because they love being on a stage and being someone else for a couple of hours, and that to me sounds like a great thing as it’s something that, at times, I terribly miss. It’s all very well for me to sit there with my choc top and scoff about how much better I would have been in that part, but it’s not me up on that stage. So, I think you have to commend all amateur theatre players because their dedication is something to be admired.

It doesn’t help if they’ve done a bad job, though.

This, luckily, was a good show and BC and I really enjoyed ourselves. “Kinda like a popcorn musical. Fun and entertaining. And sooooo camp” is how BC put it. Melanie I think had a fun time but she can be disparaging of a performance which pisses me off no end, especially if I’ve forked out for the tickets (we won’t mention My Fair Lady). I think, watching her out the corner of my eye, she enjoyed the show a lot more at the beginning but it started to grate and by the end it was a bit of a chore. But – hey! – it’s a night out in good company and on that level what more could she ask from amateur theatre?

Actually, this was a lot more professional than some professional shows I’ve seen. BC has just reminded me that halfway through the “Macavity” number every microphone – the head mikes and the positional mikes – blew. The lasses singing this very dramatic song just kept going and proceeded to project their voices in compensate for the sudden loss of volume. Their ability to come through such a disturbing “live” moment deserved the extra boost of applause. Unfortunately the mikes were gone for the rest of the show (which luckily is near its end anyway) but everyone did a great job in coping.

So that’s that then. I would encourage you to all go see the production but it finished two weeks ago. Oh well.

The Greatest Actor That Ever Lived

Wednesday 16 September 2009

Patrick Swayze died this week. He’d been sick for a some time but it looked like he was going to get better, even though the odds were well stacked against him. Even so he was gonna do everything he could to fight and keep going, and he did. When questioned about why he took on the series The Beast (which is pretty good as cops shows go) he said:

How do you nurture a positive attitude when all the statistics say you’re a dead man? You go to work.

You’ve gotta admire an attitude like that.

I found out, like most people I suppose, about Patrick’s death on Tuesday morning while reading the online papers. It caught me completely guard. I suddenly felt hollow as if my insides removed. I was miserable all day, and today I would every now and then become all sad. I been a surprise to realise that Patrick met that much to me.

He is, of course, the star of one of my favourite ever movies. Dirty Dancing – I love that film. I am guaranteed, every time, to weep for joy when he says that immortal line: “Nobody puts Baby in the corner.” Ah – my heart swoons just typing it! Usually, by this late stage in the film, I am leaping for joy, hugging my pillow, and feeling such happiness for Johnny Castle – he stood up for what he believed in! Usually, I pour myself another glass and sit back, with the biggest smile, and overwhelm myself with Johnny and Baby’s wonderful dance, a routine that is has been described as “the most goose bump-inducing dance scene in movie history”. When she leaps into his arms and he lifts her into the air I can’t see the screen for the tears.

I’ve seen most of his movies; I own a few. Ghost is another great tissue box film, a joyous lovey-dove murder movie (when Molly at the end replies “Ditto” – guaranteed water works). There’s such a fine line in making films like that – too smaltzy and it turns off the fellers, not enough and it backs away the dames. But who could not love this:

Ghost could just about be the perfect date movie. I mean, it’s got Patrick Swayze in it – how can a bloke not like it! He’s tough, he’s a fighter. He was in Road House for goodness sake!

Ah, Road House.

Now is this a guilty delight! Nominated in the 1989 Razzie Awards for Worst Picture, Actor, Supporting Actor, Director, and Screenplay, loosing to Star Trek V and William Shatner (both as director and actor) in 3 of the 5 categories, Road House was once named the Cheesiest Movie of All Time. What can you think of a film that begins with a man stitching his own arm injury up (a scene blatently stolen from Rambo’s First Blood) and ends with the baddy being shot down by a barrage of his former employees, throwing him backwards and shattering a glass coffee table? This cinematic pleasure is a pure colour-by-numbers movie where the bad guys are soooooo obviously the bad guys, the good guys are honest hard-working guys just trying to make it in this life, and the women are honest hard-working women just trying to make it in this life without having to resort to prostitution. it is loud, violent and pointless – how can you not LOVE a movie like that!?

Sometimes, on a weekend night, I take the phone off the hook, turn off all the lights, order a family sized pizza, crack open a six pack, pull the doona over my head, and settle in for a night of Patrick Swayze playing heart-of-gold Dalton – the character doesn’t even have a first name, how fucking cool is that!

I could go on and discuss why every Patrick film is a great film. To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything, Julie Newmar is, believe it, a pretty good film and more a victim of bad timing coming out a year after The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. I remember once reading that Wong Foo was actually made and was in the can before Priscilla but was delayed for whatever reason. Be that as it may, Patrick Swayze is fun as a drag queen and has two of the best pins ever to grace celluloid. In Donnie Darko (though a film I dislike immensely) he is pure self-righteous ooze – the clothes in the “Cunning Visions” informercial were his left overs from his 80’s days, the house was his too. Going way back to the beginning of his film career he was beautiful in The Outsiders, not that I remember too much. While it was a constantly-watched film in my tepid school years, all I recall is Patrick holding C Thomas Howell in a head lock… Patrick had great guns. I think that’s when I fell in love with him.

“Yes, thank you Clyde,” I hear you say, “All very good, but to call Patrick Swayze the Greatest Actor That Ever Lived? Seriously?

The thing that I love so much about Patrick is, well, he really wasn’t that good an actor, but I want you to think of it this way: Consider those that are considered the great actors, Laurence Olivier, Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Robert De Niro, Steven Seagal, Maggie Smith, Meryl Streep, the list goes on. All of these actors are great, I mean, really great actors. What they have created in their times are characters you can truthfully believe in and journey with. They have continued to create some of the most powerful performances in cinema history. BUT, and here’s the but, now consider when these actors – how you say? – don’t perform so well.

Brando waddling about in The Island of Dr. Moreau. Pacino chewing the scenery in Dick Tracy. De Niro hamming it up so much that vegetarians feel naucious in, well, everything he has done for the last 10 years. Maggie and Laurence both have/had the tendancy to scene steal (perhaps a hangover from the stage days?). Meryl, on the other hand, while absolutely perfect, does do some strange things with her mouth.

My point is, and I do have one, is that all of these actors, as great as they are, have done bad work, and that, in my opinion, lessons they wattage, bringing them down the grimy levels of everyone else. Patrick, on the other hand, a man with a limited range (having the gamut of emotions from Earnest Put Upon Outsider, to Earnest System Fighting Outsider) made his crappy lines and truck-sized hole filled storylines work. He got in there and gave it a red hot go and made it happen, and, every now and then, he shone above them all. His performance – his last performance – in the TV show The Beast is phenomenal.

He could dance, he could sing. He did Broadway (both Grease and Chicago), he did the West End (Guys and Dolls). He knew when to fight for a part (, and he knew when to decline (he turned down $6M for a Dirty Dancing 2). Patrick knew what he had and pushed it to create classic characters that are powerful and iconic.

And that’s why he was the greatest actor that ever lived.

Patrick Swayze was great. That’s the only way to describe him: great. So, thank you Patrick, I’ve had the time of my life.

I think others would agree. If you’re not one of the 6 and a half million people who have already seen this, enjoy, then go here and see the feel-good moment of 2008. This is the magic of Patrick.

“The Metamorphosis”: An Analysis (or) Kafka and the Science Fiction / Horror Film Genre (or) How you too can become a Mad Scientist using ordinary household objects and a barrel of toxic waste.

Wednesday 26 August 2009

This was one of my university pieces for the year. I got an HD.

In the 1968 film “The Producers” Zero Mostel’s character Max Bialystock is searching for the worst play. From one he reads the opening line: “Gregor Samsa awoke one morning to discover that he had been transformed into a giant cockroach.” He thinks for a moment, then says: “Nah, it’s too good.”

But he was wrong: it wasn’t a giant cockroach. The German word that Kafka uses in his short story “The Metamorphosis” was “ungeziefer”, but this doesn’t translate well into English, meaning “an unclean animal not suited for sacrifice.” Colloquially “ungeziefer” translates to mean “bug”, but this doesn’t have the full effect of disgust that Kafka envisioned. Most Enlgish translations have settled on the word “vermin”, such as Stanley Corngold’s, which is the translation this essay will refer to. (Please note that page numbers for “Metamorphosis” as are it appears in The Norton Critical Edition.)

So what is Gregor?

The cleaning maid who visits Gregor refers to him as a dung beetle (33), but that’s probably a pet name. Kafka would refer to Gregor as an insect, but insisted it wasn’t a cockroach (Binder, 173). Nabokov went further, providing drawings of what design of beetle Gregor becomes, but did finalise his argument simply: “He is merely a big beetle.” (Nabokov, 260)

So what is Gregor?

Following Kafka’s descriptive clues he’s a strange conglomerate. Gregor has a flexible neck, able to move his head quite freely (6), unlike common beetles. He also has, at the beginning of the story anyway, working vocal chords (5), but these disappear in time – afterwards he can only hiss (36). While he has a hard armour plated back (3), his father is still able to lodge an apple into his back’s soft skin (29). His strong mandibles are delicate enough to be able to turn a key in its lock (11). He has antennae (16), and sticky pads on his feet that he uses to climb the walls (23), yet he so large he has immense trouble squeezing through a single open door (15) and his weight requires “two strong persons” (7). He has flanks (15), more a beast-like possession, and nostrils (39) and bulging eyes (18). So while Gregor maintains many beetle-like traits, he is more likely a grotesque mix of insect and human.

So what is Gregor?

Jungian basic principles argue that everything is made up of opposites and that the psyche (the human mind) is motivated by the need to reconcile these opposites, thereby reaching a higher state of consciousness (Lucanio, 15). Jung called this process Individuation. A major aspect of this process is the emergence and recognition of definitive archetypal images. These include: The Shadow (the inferior side of man); The Persona (the outward social façade that is publicly displayed); and the Self (the god-like image that represents individuation) (ibid, 83). Jung said that “The Individuation process brings up the true personality of a person, it makes him an Individual. Individuation generally has a profound healing effect on the person.” (ibid, 14) Has Gregor Samsa reached Individuation?

Gregor has worked as a travelling salesman for the last five years (3), paying off his father’s debt after his business went bust, and gambles that he will need to work another 5 years before the debt is fully paid (4). He has arranged the rental of the Samsa’s apartment (42). He supports the whole family who seem to do nothing but sit at home; at least none of them work. He is the slave to his employer to the extent that the manager of the firm comes to collect him when he is only 15 minutes late (9). Gregor, when he first metamorphoses, frets constantly not about his newfound bug condition but about loosing his job (4). Gregor, the Gregor who exists before the book begins, is Jung’s Shadow – an inferior, riddled with fantasy (sending his sister to college for instance (20)) and resentment to his work colleagues (4). Gregor is, in all sense, treated like a vermin and, as such, metamorphosis into his public Persona – a monstrous vermin. And here, after waking one morning from unsettling dreams, Kafka begins the story.

Gregor is part of an ancient line of storytelling – the shape shifter – the battle between good and evil, or Jungian’s opposites. Consider Dr Jekyl and Mr Hyde: a mad scientist releasing his beast. Or Dorian Gray: who keeps his true self locked away in an attic. It’s an inward Victor Frankenstein: creating the monster within. Frankenstein, another mad scientist (there are a lot of mad scientists in the shape shifter genre) was playing God, renewing life to dead flesh. (In the 1931 James Whale film, there is a line blanked out by the sound effect of thunder: “Now I know what it feels like to be God!” The line was considered blasphemous, but you can still watch his lips move.)

But the Frankenstein and Jekyl are not alone, especially not in the world of cinema. Metamorphosed giant bugs are everywhere. In Roger Corman’s “The Wasp Woman” (1960) the founder of a large cosmetics company, in an attempt to dispel the aging process, starts injecting herself with an extract developed by a crazed scientist, derived from the royal jelly of the queen wasp. It works, shedding twenty years in a single weekend, but in the process turns her into a giant wasp-headed monster with a taste for blood

“Invasion of the Bee Girls” (1973) was a sexual romp with a small town’s female population being turned into hives of bees by a female mad scientist. The outer world only realises what’s going on when the menfolk start dieing from sexual exhaustion. (Leonard Maltin rates it 3 out of 4 stars. (Maltin, 680))

1997’s “Mimic” has a scientist (here an entomologist) creating a genetically modified cockroach in an attempt to wipe out another breed of cockroach which carries a child-killing disease. The modified ‘roach breeds and breeds, each cycle growing larger and developing a more human appearance, until it starts feeding on subway passengers of Manhatten.

More recently the 2005 film “Mansquito” has another scientist, by trying to stop a mosquito-carried virus, treat some of the mosquitos with radiation to then have them released into the environment to kill off the rest of the brood. In the process the scientist and a convicted murderer get zapped and transform into, you guessed it, giant blood sucking mosquitos.

All these examples feature evil monsters, but the granddaddy metamorphosis film of all “The Fly” (1958), based on a short story by George Langelaan, portrays the creature as the victim. Here a scientist, during a teleportation experiment, morphs himself with a fly creating a human with a fly’s head and claw (instead of a hand), and a fly with a man’s head. Here the “monster”, while grotesque in form, is shown as maintaining his mind, his psyche (to refer back to Jung) remaining human, yet aware that the fly’s influence is slowly taking over. Langelaan’s story was later refilmed by David Cronenberg in 1986 (Cronenberg talks of reading Kafka regularly in interviews (Rodley, 16; Grant, 12)). Cronenberg’s version plays stronger with this notion of the human remaining. Late in the film Jeff Goldblum’s character Seth Brundle says to Geena Davis:

Seth (Goldblum): You have to leave now, and never come back here. Have you ever heard of insect politics? Neither have I. Insects… don’t have politics. They’re very… brutal. No compassion, no compromise. We can’t trust the insect. I’d like to become the first… insect politician. Y’see, I’d like to, but… I’m afraid, uh…

Ronnie (Davis): I don’t know what you’re trying to say.

Seth: I’m saying… I’m saying I – I’m an insect who dreamt he was a man and loved it. But now the dream is over… and the insect is awake.

Ronnie: No. no, Seth…

Seth: I’m saying… I’ll hurt you if you stay.

Gregor Samsa was also an insect that dreamt he was a man, but again, after unsettling dreams, the insect awoke.

So what is Gregor?

What’s interesting about Gregor is that, really, as a person, he is nothing. He’s not a scientist like Brundle or Jeckyl, but a boring travelling salesman – a figure of ridicule. A slave to his employer, he is also a slave to his family. Gregor is the one who is made to work while his father, still fit for duty, lazes at home. Kafka emphasises this captured state when he notes Gregor’s father has even declined to pay off the debt faster – he has money stored away (20) – so in the process keeping his son contracted and allowing the family to feed further off Gregor. As such Gregor, bound by duty and with no strength of mind, becomes the one thing he is treated as – vermin – yet while in this state continues to feel sorry for himself. He begins to resent his sister’s attempts to assist him (25). He turns on his only “friend” the cleaning lady (33), he respects his father for keeping money from him (20), he weeps for his family now that they are resolved to work (29). Finally, full of self-pity (his last breath is taken “without his consent” (39)), he dies. Gregor’s Jungian opposites have met to find they are the same: his Shadow, Persona and Self are the one – a monstrous vermin. Jung’s Individuation’s “profound healing effect” is for Gregor to understand his worthlessness.

But Kafka’s metaphor that “people are vermin” stretches further. His own family suckle on him like fleas on a mangy dog. The manager pompously threatens him with neglect of his duty to the firm (9). His room is treated like a storage closet by both the family and the cleaning maid, ever more crowded, ever more filled with dust (33). The three serious gentlemen, indulge in the Samsa’s hospitality, manipulating Mr Samsa’s weak nature to demand their way (34). In “Metamorphosis” each character feeds off the next, with Kafka continuing this notion to the final paragraph. While enjoying their first day in the sun, the parents become aware of Grete’s blossoming maturity and silently comment it will be soon time to find her a husband (42). Is this merely pride in their daughter’s development? No! It’s an opportunity to sponge off their as yet undiscovered son-in-law and to return back to the indulgent life that Gregor had once provided!

So what is Gregor?

The German title for Kafka’s story is “Die Verwandlung”. The word is closer in meaning to “The Transformation” than “Metamorphosis” – it also refers to the changing of scenes in a play – though, as Corngold suggests the title “Metamorphosis” is slightly more elevated in tone (2). Gregor Samsa has been the constant victim of translation; Cynthia Ozick, refers to it “the impossibility of translating Kafka.” She says that there is “always for Kafka, behind [the overt] meaning” another meaning that can never be translated (Ozick, 81). Victoria Poulakis in her online essay on Kafka translations, compares four versions of the opening sentence alone: unsettling dreams / uneasy dreams / troubled dreams / agitated dreams; and gigantic insect / giant bug / enormous bug / monstrous vermin. Minor changes, but elsewhere Kafka’s meaning can be altered. Does Grete demand that “He’s got to go” or “It has to go” when referring to her brother? It is interesting that Kafka edited Grete’s earlier comment “We must get rid of him” to “We must get rid of it” helping to emotionally distance the character Grete from the creature Gregor (Corngold, 55) (This “distancing” can be considered an example of Grete’s metamorphosis considering she was at first willingly tended to his feeding (18)). Likewise, some translations emphasise the budding sexuality of the developing Grete. While Corngold describes her as a “good-looking shapely girl”, Donna Freed has her now a “pretty and voluptuous young woman”. As such, different interpretation can be attributed to the Grete’s metamorphism, with Freed’s translation emphasising Grete’s increased sexual appeal to potential husbands. This interpretation also gives weight to the argument of her parent’s plans to live off the wealth of the future marriage – a more attractive woman will more likely fetch a more affluent catch – and all the better for them (just like vermin) to feed from. The cycle, at least for the Samsa parents, continues.

Zero Mostel (from “The Producers”) later stared in another metamorphosis film “Rhinceros” (1974) based on Ionesco’s absurdist play, where everyone, in an act of conformity, turn into rhinoceroses. While “The Producers” won the Oscar for best screenplay and cemented the film careers of Mostel, Gene Wilder, and Mel Brooks, “Rhinoceros”, also starring Wilder, didn’t do as well. Maltin rates it: BOMB (Maltin, 1145). Perhaps not all metamorphosises metamorphose equally?


Cartmell, D et al (ed). Alien Identities: Exploring Difference in Film and Fiction. Pluto Press, 1999.

Creed, B. The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychonanlysis. Routledge, 1993.

Grant, M (ed). The Modern Fantastic – The Films of David Cronenberg. Praeger, 2000.

Kafka, F; trans Corngold, S. The Metamorphosis. Norton Critical Edition, 1996.

Lucanio, P. Them or Us: Archetypal Interpretations of Fifties Alien Invasion Films. Indiana University Press, 1987.

Maltin, L. Leonard Maltin’s 2008 Movie Guide. Plume, 2007

Nabokov, V. Lecture on “Metamorphosis”. Weblink last viewed April 2009:

Nabokov V. Lectures on Literature. Harvest, 1980.

Ozick, Cynthia. The Impossibility of Being Kafka. The New Yorker, 11 Jan 1999

Poulakis, V. Translation: What Difference Does It Make? Northern Virginia Community College, 2001. Weblink last viewed April 2009:

Rodley, C (ed). Cronenberg on Cronenberg. Faber and Faber, 1997.


The Fly (1958). 20th Century Fox. dir K Neumann; wri G Langelaan (story), J Clavell (screen)

The Fly (1986). Brooksfilms. dir D Cronenberg; wri G Langelaan (story), C Edward Pogue & D Cronenberg (screen)

Frankenstein (1931). Universal Pictures. dir J Whale; wri M Shelley (novel), P Webling (play), J L Balderston (adapt), F Edward Faragoh & G Fort (screen)

Invasion of the Bee Girls (1973). Sequoia Pictures. dir D Sanders; wri N Meyer

Mansquito (2005). Sci Fi Pictures. dir T Takács; wri K Badish, R Cannella, B Davidson, M Hurst

Mimic (1997) Dimension Films. dir G del Toro; D A Wollheim (story), M Robbins & G del Toro (screen)

The Producers (1968). Embassy Pictures. wri & dir M Brooks

Rhinceros (1974), American Film Theatre. dir T O’Horgan; wri E Ionesco (play), J Barry (screen)

The Wasp Woman (1960). Film Group Inc. dir R Corman; wri K Zertuche (story), L Gordon (screen)

What I did on my holidays – Melbourne stop over

Sunday 19 July 2009

I’m standing in front of the Flinders Street Station waiting for my pares to arrive. They will be at least another 15 minutes. It’s now 9.15am and the city is beginning to wake.

Haven’t been able to check into my hotel room, which is a bugger, but the bill’s paid and everything is being held in storage till I get back. I’m in Melbourne to see two exhibitions: John Brack and Salvador Dali.  The trouble is I think my pares only want to see the Dali. The reason why this is a problem is because the Ian Potter Gallery (Brack) closes at 5pm while the NGV (Dali) not until 9, so I could easily see both if I saw the Brack first. I’ll mention this to them, but I’m not sure how eager they’ll be. They’ll still need to travel back to Bendigo and I’m sure they’ve already planned their homeward timetable. Anyway, breakfast is the first thing. I’ve had about an hour and a half’s sleep and will kill for a coffee, bacon and eggs.


I needn’t have worried about the exhibitions. While my pares didn’t know about the John Brack I did spent a bit of time selling its fine points (how Bendigo’s gallery has a couple of his works, how they would probably recognise his very early work 5pm Collins Street, how Dah might appreciate Brack’s representation of 1950’s men) before steering them towards the gallery and towards the lift. I think they really enjoyed his work and were particularly impressed how diverse his styles were. Like Mah said, you’d have thought that the works were done by three different artists. I think Dah was impressed too as he regularly commented on realistic some of his older pieces looked, or on the faces of his earlier pieces. We didn’t spend a huge amount of time – well, not a huge amount for me anyway, but we did see everything and went back to some pieces to review again. My legs were starting to feel tired too so I’d had enough and was desperate for a cuppa. So we trotted down the road to the NGV for a pot of tea each before tackling the Dali exhibition.

The Dali was designed as a retrospective and covered his very first works (at 15 years old) through to his final days in the 1980’s. I’m in a quandary but this exhibition; I’m not sure if I’m disappointed that his iconic works (melting clocks, swans turning into elephants, bowls of fruit becoming faces, the Venus chest of drawers), or pleased that I was able to see unfamiliar work (umm… well, basically everything on display). I was happy that two of the pieces were film works: An Andalusian Dog (Un Chien Andalou) (1928), Dali’s collaboration with Luis Buñuel; and the 2003 completed Disney piece Destino (2003) that was considered for the second chapter of Fantasia. The two last pieces I went back to the gallery and saw after saying good-bye to the pares. I rushed back, saw them, then went back to the hotel and fell straight asleep till my alarm went off at 9am.

In between my two visits Dah and I were dragged to the casino – “for a late lunch” Mah said –  but we both knew better. After our meals Dah and I sat in one of the bar areas while Mah went and fed coins into the bandits. She enjoyed herself, I suppose.

I’m very glad we did both exhibitions, especially after Mah said that she enjoyed the Brack – who she had never heard of – more than the Dali. There is more a commentary with Brack’s work and what he was trying to achieve throughout his career – to capture human interaction. I enjoyed his work much more too.

Silver Anniversary

Tuesday 14 April 2009

Again, this is a very late entry, things just got in the way, and as this is a very special entry (my 50th) I wanted to make it a sort of review of what’s come before. I am hazarding that that is the reason it has taken me so long to finally put fingertips to keyboard and bash something out – one should look forward to the good times to come and not ponder the bad times before – but let’s just see how we go. I’ll try not to ramble.

it took me about a year of humming and ahhing before I finally sat down and wrote my first blog entry. You see, I’m not a great fan of blogs; most of the time I have trouble seeing their point. Some people keep blogs as if they are lockable diaries:

Susan’s Secrets
Dear Diary. Had such a great time at the fair today. Christine (you know, who I told you about) brought along her older brother Alistair – he is such a spunk though of course Susan doesn’t think so – she just thinks he smells. I think he’s dreamy. And he’s only in Year 12 so that’s not that much older than me. Anyway, we all went on the dodgem cars but there wasn’t enough spare cars and Alistair said that I could sit with him! SQUEAL! One time, going around the corner, he bumped into me and put his hand on my knee! He said it was an accident but I think he secretly likes me!

This was the last thing I wanted to do.

Others used blogs as more of a rant:

View from the Molehill
Now look at what the government has gone and done (link here, here, and here)! It’s bloody disgraceful! What right do they think they have to take innocent lives and use them in nothing more than some sort of gigantic game of political chess! It just shits me that these people, who we vote for, allow this sort of thing to happen in good solid honest neighbourhoods. I mean, my father was born here and worked every day for 47 hard years. You didn’t see him being a scab and I respect him for that. And that’s something the young people don’t get – Respect! They think they can just get it, not earn it. Well, I’ve worked for everything I’ve got in life and what have I got – nothing! And that’s the fucking government for you!

I never wanted that either, as tempting as it might seem. What I wanted to try was to challenge myself, to try something different; get out of my comfort zone.

When I started Clyde in August last year I was also beginning a university subject of Non-Fiction Writing in which, for homework, we were to write a series of short pieces – practice pieces – to limber our writing skills up. The second entry I wrote is one of these (and the fifth, and the seventh) and they sort of became the inspiration and direction I was wanting to take. 

If I was, back those months ago, to have sat down and written a manifesto as to what I was hoping to achieve with this blog, the gist (in bullet form) would go something like this:

  1. With the aim to upload a new blog entry every five (5) days, discover inspiration at the beginning of the five (5) day period, be it a short story, review, strange event, or surreal insight.
  2. Ruminate about this inspiration for a (1) day or two (2).
  3. Write about this inspiration with the intention to keep it short and clever. Allow to stand overnight.
  4. Review the inspiration giving the piece a good edit – a little snip here, an extra twist there.
  5. At the end of the five (5) period, upload this piece of, now quite remarkable, inspiration onto the blog.
  6. Sit back and bask in the international accolades that will surely pour forth after people read your quite most remarkable inspiration.
  7. Repeat.

You may guess, it didn’t really turn out that way.

Well, it sort of did. Reading back the first dozen entries pretty much stick to this procedure, though I did tap into past works, but to me that was all right. Clyde was to be a show of my best works so why not dig out the past good pieces. Socks is one of my favourite things I have ever written. Reading back those dozen entries my manifesto was on the right path.

Also in this first twelve, inspired by my non-fiction teachings, I had written a journal entry about attending a dance party, a piece I’m very much proud of. I think, though, this entry might have paved the way to too many Dear Diary writings, like Bushwalk, not one of the best. I also began using Clyde as a running diary of things I was doing (such as the Movember or Mardi Gras series) which, while nicely written, stray substantially from the original aims of the blog. One of these “What I Dids” even lost me one of my greatest friendships, and for that I am forever truly sorry. It makes is all so much worse that I had predicted it. I just hope that he can, one day, forgive me.

As the blog went on, climbing towards this remarkable Number 50, I tended to rely more and more on these “journal” blogs. This has not always a bad thing; if it’s an insight into an experience, such as Peppermint Magnum (a true story) or Woof Club – Hammer, then I think that’s all right. With these I’ve chosen to show the small moments – the quirks – that hopefully the reader will find interesting and enjoy. But all the Bill stuff – what was there, three main entries and another two he gets a guernsey in – as wonderful as he is… was it good writing? Was I sticking to my original aim? Was I complying with the manifesto? As much as I like writing about Bill, I would have to say the answer is No.

I do also wonder how much of the “journal” entries were simply written to shock – me going to a nudist camp for instance – but I can truthfully state that that was never the aim. I was, on the most, trying to be honest, trying to challenge myself to write about things that are not always comfortable. I don’t think I’ve done a exceptionally good job with this, mostly they come out sounding more like I’m a spectator than a participant, but this is one of my many down-fallings as a writer. I have a very particular voice, a rather skipping-along sound to my words. I don’t write sharp. I can’t do hurt. I’m even worse as lyrical. Now in uni we are attempting to create tones with words; for instance, consider the difference that can be suggested by describing a broken heart as:

gorged, collapsing within, forming a cavern in his chest that merely made his sobs toll like church bells lamenting yet another departed soul.


punctured by that bastard Cupid, but now the arrow gone leaving nothing more than another scab to collect alongside the his loves once treasured, now lost, but never forgotten.

You see what I mean? Anyway, I’m not very good at it (as the above two examples suggest. I had to write about an “elated airport” a couple of weeks ago and I was too embarrassed to read it out in class.) but I do like the rather casual way I write. It’s pleasant, it’s friendly. Somehow I don’t think I’ll ever manage to knock out a thriller, but, at worse, I could always attempt a jolly piece of children’s fiction, though I don’t think they would take favourably to some of my subject manner. This has at times been a problem.

Some of the stuff I have written about has not always been, how you say, family friendly. Sometimes I shudder at what I’ve written. Do I really want my mother knowing that I were nearly caught by the sniffer dogs for sneaking ecstasy tablets into a dance party? Or that I used to work in a sex on premises joint? No, especially when I discovered that my infant’s school librarian (who has known me basically as long as my mother) also reads Clyde (and hope still does; I’m very affectionate about that woman). Still, it didn’t stop me talking about pissing on a feller kneeling in a trough, but perhaps it should have…

The thing is that, while alarming, and not always appropriate, they are the Truth, and by being the Truth they are in turn… Me; and you have to admit, as stories go, some of them are pretty good, at least original. This is off the track but many years ago I became an urban legend, a tale that was told by so many people that friends, when having been told of this event about someone’s friend of a friend of a friend, would delight in ever so casually being able to say, “Yeah, I know him. His name’s Clyde.” One desperate, drunken night I’ll retell it here and then you’ll go “That was YOU!?” But, back to the point, I’m not trying to shock but instead fulfil the manifesto – to tell about those “strange events” that pepper my life.

(Admittedly, I do at times go out of the way to find these “strange events”. I like to think of Life as a collection of stamps: a great big book full of beautifully delicate images, very much like the next great big book of beautifully delicate images, but somewhere up the back are those rare and valuable creatures that make the heart flutter of even the most Laodicean philatelist. I am always on the lookout for my very own “Inverted Jenny”.)

Also, I have partaken of the rant style of blogging, not that I’m overly proud of this, but I felt it was important for me to do so at the time. Take Says the Ranga Queer, for example: a woman I know was soooooo homophobic that I just couldn’t let it past, so I used Clyde as a vehicle to express my rage, and hopefully knock her back a peg or three. I don’t know if she even read it, to tell the truth, perhaps it went to dumb ears, but it made me (at the time) feel better. In hindsight was it the right thing to do? Should I have just confronted her in person? Is it my role – or the blog’s role – to condemn people for their own prejudices? I don’t know. I don’t regret what I wrote, and I think it was important that she knew how I felt, but in such a public arena… 

I mentioned because, as I said before, I lost a great friendship through this blog. Here I do regret – not what I still believe to be True, but for saying it out loud. I should not have said anything – not even to him directly – as it was my own thoughts, and thoughts are silent.

At such an early stage of Clyde’s life (50 is the new 35 I’ve been told) I ask have a achieved what I wanted from this blog? I don’t know how many people read it, but that doesn’t bother me (there are more than 200 million blogs out there, you can’t expect your own to be discover in a mere 50 entries), but I do hope that people who do read my blog enjoy it and learn from it, be it a recipe or of an event, or even just a little about me. Because that’s why I write – to inform and entertain. 

And I like writing.

Reading this entry back, it’s more a ramble than I had originally hoped for, but what the heck- it’s a blog! This may not go down as one of my greatest entries, but as least it was Truthful, and that’s all that matters. One thing though, I will try to get back to the original manifesto and knock out less of the Dear Diary pieces, but don’t think that’s going to stop me frightening you with the accounts of this event or that (like how at the Good Friday party a few days ago me and a couple others by the end of the night were… nah. If you weren’t there, you missed it! Ain’t that right David and Robbie!) 

So, on that note, I’ll just let you know that while I’ll eventually be returning to my 5-day turn-around rule, for the next little while I’ll be posting every day as part of my uni holiday assignment – to write the same beginning 15 different ways – trying to capture the same small turn of events from different perspectives, from different characters, from different approaches. I hope you enjoy.

And I hope you keep reading…

Classic European Film Festival

Thursday 26 March 2009

University of Sydney’s Centre for Continuing Education held its first Classic European Film Festival last weekend. They had put a lot of thought into the films chosen, selecting pieces that are good examples of particular film movements or periods. For example, the man co-ordinating the discussion panel freely admitted to not liking Breathless, but argued (when someone in the audience said they thought the film was nothing but French trite and was even disgusted that it was included amongst the others selected) that you have to at least acknowledge the importance it had at its release and, more importantly, the influence that it still maintains (see: Tarantino). Personally, I’m glad I’ve finally seen Breathless, but would live to be a very happy penguin if I never have to see it again. Anyway, I viewed the weekend as an opportunity to see a bunch of great old films I’ve read about and to be able to tick off another six from the 1001 Films You Must See Before You Die (I’d already seen M and Cries and Whispers).

A couple of Sydney Film Festivals ago, in an attempt to stop the effect of the previous year’s where all the films amalgamated into one rather large strange plot-line, I wrote a series of reviews and posted them as entries on the SFF webpage, but also collected as one of my “What I Dids”. I’ve never uploaded it here but I’ve dissected it when in need of a blog; the Can’t Stop the Music review was from that. So, after a weekend of “reading movies” (as a certain someone used to call them), and inspired by a book the lovely Brenda gave me a couple of years ago, One Hundred Great Books in Haikuplease enjoy…

Eight Classic European Films in Haiku

Day One


Germany, 1931, d: Fritz Lang

I wander the streets…
“Like a lolly, little girl?”
Oh damn, they’ve got me! 


The Bicycle Thieves (Ladri Di Biciclette)

Italy, 1948, d: Vittorio de Sica

A father and son.
What’s it all about? One word:

Breathless (A Bout de Souffle)

France, 1960, d: Jean-Luc Goddard

Cop-killing Frenchman
loves an American girl
in a boring film. 


Closely Watched Trains (Ostre Sledovane Vlaky)

Czechoslovakia, 1966, d: Jiri Menzel

Pigeons, Nazis, bombs,
attempted suicide, and
a girl’s bottom stamped. 


Day Two


Italy/France, 1973, d: Federico Fellini

Hate 8 1/2,
but this “memories of youth”
film is delightful. 


Day for Night (La Nuit Americaine)

France/Italy, 1973, d: Francois Truffaut

Auteur Theory asks:
Am I Director or God?
They’re much the same thing. 


Cries and Whispers (Viskningar Och Rop) 

Sweden, 1972, d: Ingmar Bergman

All around is red:
the walls, the floors, the curtains,
and my grieving soul.


Aguirre, The Wrath of God (Aguirre, Der Zorn Gottes)

West Germany/Peru/Mexico, 1973, d: Werner Herzog

Hi, I’m Aguirre.
I’ve gone completely insane!