How I Came to Dance With Fonteyn

27 April, 2008

<i>I Peed on Fellini</i> by David Stratton

The venerable David Stratton was addressing a lunch crowd at a launch of his autobiography, I Peed On Fellini. As he autographed my copy, I reminded him that I had sometimes been mistaken for him at film festivals from Cannes to Honolulu. Similar age, height, Panama hat, beard; easy mistake to make. To some people Australians all look alike. Even imported ones like Stratton.

The title of his book got me thinking.  If I found the energy,  the memory and the courage to one of my own, I might well title it I Danced With Fonteyn — with perhaps a sequel called I Dueled With Nureyev.

At about the same time as this launch lunch, my son discovered and sent to me an old scrapbook of mine in which was a cringeworthy poem I had written in my 20s about the then binary stars of the ballet universe, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev.

Read my new page, Invitation to the Dance, for the full story of how the book got to be so named and how I got to dance with Margot Fonteyn.

Sin Tax

17 August, 2007

It doesn’t sound like a really funny word, but syntax is the key to much unintentional humour and miscommunication.

As a child I used to delight in Edward Lear’s nonsense rhymes, limericks and riddles — as had a century of children before me. Syntaxually-challenged classified ads were a childish favourite: “For sale: grand piano, hardly used, by elderly lady with carved ebony legs.”

Hey, I was four!

Journalists can do it, too, and most of them are older than four.

Sometimes this leads to humour of a darker shade. The BBC reported the disappearance of a man in Nepal saying “he was last seen being dragged from his home by soldiers wrapped in a blanket.”*

The most devastating effect of Australia’s current drought has not been to the trimmed, green lawns and herbaceous borders of the cities’ suburbia, but to those who provide the crops and herds to feed this and other countries.

So overwhelming have been the consequences of the drought on the many farmers and graziers that some have been driven to take their own lives.

A common slug line for this sad statistic was: “One farmer commits suicide every fours days.”

Australia does not in general celebrate Groundhog Day. If only the solution were as simple as finding this one farmer endlessly recycling himself and stopping him before he does himself a damage.

*Anyone who sends me an illustration inspired by the soldiers wrapped in a blanket may have it included here. Use the “contact me” form to reach my e-mail directly.

Heard on BBC World Service, 31 August 2007.

Advertisements for themselves

17 August, 2007

Station promos: don’t we love ‘em? In the first outing of Channel 10’s “there’s no better place to be” series of promos, stars of the station’s leading imports (House, NCIS, Numbers) performed stylish, minimalist, tongue-in-cheek snippets to camera. I am guessing here but the clips were shot in the US and the lines, apart from the obligatory tags, were largely ad-lib.

Then 10’s promo department clambered on the bandwagon using home-grown star-equivalents. Sadly they missed the boat, the wagon and the point.

No doubt, every attempt was made to match the look and understated wit of the originals but either they just didn’t get it, or just couldn’t do it.

In any case the result only highlights the difference in production values in general between (most) Australian TV and that of the USA; the home of the best worst television in the world.


Gargoyles at the gates

17 August, 2007

Was it inspiration or desperation that drove advertising agency creative genii to resort to grotesqueries?

More to the point, how, and with what conscience, do they persuade their clients to spend millions on detached slithering tongues, obscenely exaggerated erect male nipples and drenching underarm sweat to rival a car wash from hell.

Perhaps they missed the point that grotesque does not necessarily mean gross. Certainly it is the gross that the perpetrators of these abominations found irresistible.

In the hands of Goya, Bruegel or daVinci, grotesque exaggeration could be turned to artistic expression or satire. In the hands of these sad specimens only the vulgar and gross remain.

Bad weather

17 August, 2007

It seems a pretty fair bet that the word “drought” in a TV weather bulletin refers to a lack of rain — for time enough adversely to affect the environment.

So why does Channel 7’s David Brown insist that we have a “hydrological drought” — unless to distinguish it from a drought of intelligent weather commentary.

For the benefit of any other aspiring weather Barbies out there, hydrological merely refers to the study of water on earth and in the atmosphere. As in drought. Duh.

Up ship creek

20 July, 2006

Last night, over three successive newsbreaks in less than 60 minutes, Australia’s Ten Network News first had Australians in Beirut “…booted off their ship”. Next we were told their ship had been “commandeered” by “an international organization”, the United Nations or some other country — take your pick. The third version was that Australia had been gazumped by those sneaky Canadians who took the ship for themselves.

Which ship was that, Ten News?

The ship chartered by the Australian government which failed to show up in Beirut at all? Now that would make it difficult for those people to board the ship and even more difficult for them to be booted off it.

That it never showed up would also make it difficult to commandeer (such a juicy, dramatic word).

That the ship Australia had chartered through a Turkish shipping agency failed to show had already been announced on ABC Network News — and possibly on other networks — by no less than the Foreign Minister. It was also disclosed that the shipping agent had charted the same vessel to both Australia and Canada and cheated both governments. It happens in times of crisis. It is called profiteering, and in a sense, that is what news reporting of this kind is doing, too.

For god’s sake, Ten News, this is one story you don’t have to beat up. I know that there is nothing more important than ratings, but just try to get a few facts right and this is already more gripping and distressing than your execrable Big Brother.

While on the subject of the coverage of the plight of those people trying to leave Lebanon; why does every news story need to shoehorn the proper noun Australian or Australians between ever few words? Everyone is not just “Bruce Hayak” but Australian Bruce Hayak. It is never “they” but “these Australians”. Has every personal pronoun has been banished from the journalistic lexicon. What is this spin and why is it necessary? We get the point. We know, we know. Enough.


Can’t smack Ten News for this because (Australian) Foreign Minister Downer used the word in an earlier reference to the “Whose Ship is it Anyway?” game. For the Australian government to be gazumped, Canada would have had to have known that the ship’s agents had finalised a deal with Australia then jumped in with a higher bid at the last moment. There has yet to be any suggestion that this is what happened. The only party who knew about both deals seems to be the corrupt Turkish shipping agent.

Go get ’em, Ten News. Sic Sandra Sully onto them. That’ll fix ’em.