Monthly Archives: March 2015

The Master of Vice

He went to film school for two days and decided it wasn’t for him. Yet he is now one of Hollywood’s most critically acclaimed and bankable directors. Instead of the normal route, to learn his aspired-to craft he watched movie after movie on video/DVD, all accompanied by the director’s audio-commentary. In other words, he taught himself to direct. He thought the best way to get the movers and shakers to sit up and take notice was to direct porn – or, at least, a short about porn. This took the form of a mockumentary on the life of the legendary John Holmes – you’d have heard of him if you’re into that sort of thing. This half-hour 1988 effort, ‘The Dirk Diggler Story’, later morphed into ‘Boogie Nights’, the movie that really announced the arrival of a special progeny back in ’97 – and the one that introduced this scribbler to his world.


Paul Thomas Anderson was born in 1970 to a disc-jockey, voice-over father and a mother who had difficulty relating to her son, the third youngest of nine offspring. Dad, though, was very supportive, allowing son PT to run with his passions. This soon turned out to be various forms of the video camera – to the detriment of his schooling. By the early nineties his shorts were receiving notice, leading to his first full length feature in 1996, ‘Hard Eight’. Those believing in him, to the degree they gave him the financial means to make it, included luminaries such as John C Reilly and Gwyneth Paltrow. His sophomore effort was ‘Boogie Nights’, resurrecting Burt Reynolds’ career. Anderson’s idiosyncratic style has since enhanced the careers of many noted thespians including Tom Cruise (‘Magnolia’, 1999), Adam Sandler (‘Punch Drunk Love’, 2000 – a personal favourite) and the vehicle that gave Daniel Day Lewis the second of his three Best Leading Actor Oscars,’There Will Be Blood’. Many regard this as the best film to come out of the noughties. The critical and commercial success of PTA’s offerings have continued on into this present decade.

Being one of the last movies to feature the incomparable Philip Seymour Hoffman before his untimely departure, when I espied ‘The Master’, considerably reduced, at my fav merchants of popular culture, I grabbed it quick smart. I’d missed it at the multiplexes. Hoffman didn’t disappoint and was duly awarded a nomination for the big gong. But it wasn’t he that blew me away, but the lead guy, Joaquin Phoenix. He was simply incredible in this and was also duly accoladed for his efforts during the awards season. Freddie, his character, was a WW2 vet off his head with PTS and industrial strength alcohol – plus anything else he could ingest. Returning back to the States after the conflict, he creates a fracas as a fashion emporium photographer, resulting in him being down and out, stowing away on a yacht, as one does in that condition. On this vessel he encounters the charismatic leader of the Cause (Hoffman). It’s a semi-religious cult Anderson presumably based on Scientology. As Freddie’s life becomes entwined with the Cult, so do his demons wax and wane. This has the result that we, the audience, are taken on a fantastical journey through the middle-America of the Eisenhower years. There was some memorable imagery involved in this, plus a copious eyeful of sex and nudity – so be warned. Through it all Phoenix’s contorted face and body are mesmerising – a truly remarkable performance that had this punter in awe – with, I suspect Anderson also so much in his thrall that the actor was a shoo-in for the lead in his next offering.


I was hanging out to see ‘Inherent Vice’ after the excesses of the above – and as I had read about the mutton-chops. I suspect that such glorious side-burn hair may not have been witnessed since the seventies – the setting of the film. And magnificent as well were JP’s actorly chops in this production.

I’d tell you about more about the plot if I could, but it completely lost me – as it did many more competent critics than I. I reckon it’d take more than another viewing to figure it all out, a fact that possibly cost it dearly when it came to those gongs this year. ‘IV’ only raised a three for the Globes and the Golden Man combined. But the trip it takes one on is wonderful. With a palette of washed out, sun drenched and burnished hues, the movie swings viewers back to more hedonistic times when pot-addled PI Doc (Phoenix) is up to his neck in drugs and loose women. He’s searching for his ex’s new lover. Katherine Waterston is brave in her role as said ex, but the whole ensemble revelled in out-and-out weirdness. Josh Brolin, as a possibly mad LAPD officer, was a great turn. Martin Short, a manic dentist, was unrecognisable. Owen Wilson entranced as a dead saxophonist, Benicio del Toro was terrific as I am not exactly sure what and Renee Witherspoon remained super-cool as Doc’s current squeeze. I adored the whole she-bang and will wait with baited breath to see what the directorial one-off, Paul Thomas A, has next in store for us.


Official Trailer ‘The Master’ =

Official Trailer ‘Inherent Vice’ =

Dance x2

Steve can’t dance. Steve has all the clichés – two left feet, is a Peter Garrett wannabe – all that shit. My father could glide across and dance floor like Astaire, my lovely lady is a svelte mover and my music-adoring daughter has all the cool moves. I have none of that – but it doesn’t mean that, when the occasion arises and I’m in a comfort zone, I will not shake my booty. In front of a class was such a place. To Spiderbait’s ‘Black Betty’, the Masters ‘Turn Up the Radio’ or ‘Daydream Believer’ (Smashmouth version), for instance, I was known to put on a show – and encourage my cherubs to do the same, despite their teenage inhibitions. My swansong in this regard, back in ’11, was a solo performance, via video-link, for the leaving students of that year. I am told it was a hit. And this scribbling features what Steve can’t do – dance.

In May 1988 Leonard Cohen had a new set of lyrics, with music, he felt worthy enough to open his show – a song he put together on an obsolete Casio synthesiser he found in a shop on Times Square. It’s that sound that introduces ‘Dance Me To The End Of Love’ to his audiences to this very day. It never fails – on hearing the opening refrain chills run down my spine – and then that’s repeated when that instantly recognisable voice kicks in. It’s much the same feeling many of his fans get when he launches into ‘Hallelujah’, Cohen’s eternal gift to the world. But to me, Leonard’s lullaby about ‘Dancing to your beauty with a burning violin’ sits number one on my attempted rating of his best songs – see below. Many, on line, have tried a similar exercise. This exquisite aural masterpiece of Leonard’s always makes me think of my Leigh and her incredible gifts to me – even if her Steve can’t dance.


The grand old Canadian songsmith is pushing eighty-one and still touring. I wonder how long he can go on – enchanting us. And he is still such a lady’s man – just listen to Clare Bowditch, who toured Oz with him recently, on the subject of his marriage proposal to her.

There’s also another of my favourites who can’t go on forever either. John Prine is battling cancer. In 1998 he was diagnosed with squamous cell cancer. Like LC, his voice is also an acquired taste – a guy you either, like me, love – or have to turn off the moment you hear him. Prine’s cancer has added even more gravel to his instrument, with part of the right side of his neck being removed by the surgeon’s scalpel. In 2013 Prine posted, on his website, that he was now suffering from unrelated lung cancer and proceded to cancel all forthcoming gigs. This month he is bravely attempting to take to the road again. Unlike Mr Cohen, Prine is not well known on these shores, although he has visited. In the US he’s a legend of the alt country scene, regarded as one of the most influential songwriters of his generation.


His 1973 collection ‘Sweet Revenge’ was passed on to me by my brother Kim who had far cooler musical tastes than I back in the day. Your scribe was immediately hooked and rushed out to buy his back catalogue – and I’ve purchased each new product ever since. As is my wont, I also had a go at conjuring a top ten for him– every bit as difficult as doing the one above for the world treasure.

Prine was born in Maywood, Illinois in 1946. And just as the Man in Black discovered Kristofferson, so the latter found JP singing in the folk dens and bars of Chicago and kick stated his career. Prine has won numerous awards for his music, including Grammys. Cash considered him one of the ‘big four’ of writers to whom he’d turn when he needed a little inspiration – along with Rodney Crowell, Steve Goodman and Guy Clark. So this fan well and truly reckons Australia has, in the main, missed out on a good thing.


So why am I grouping him with Cohen for this piece? Well, coincidentally, for me it’s a no-brainer what this guy’s best tune is. It comes from one of his most attractive recordings, ‘German Afternoons’, which entered the world in 1987. As well as my top song, it contains such gems as my number six;’Out of Love’; ‘Linda Goes To Mars’ and ‘Sailin’ Around’. The ditty in question was a massive hit for George Strait and a UK one for Daniel O’Donnell. So peruse my list, check the items out on YouTube – but pay particular to the top dog and you’ll answer the query that opened this paragraph. And of course it all brings me back again to my Leigh and the fact that Steve can’t dance.

10. I’m Your Man
09. Anthem
08. First We Take Manhatten
07. Hey, That’s no Way To Say Goodbye
06. Everybody Knows
05. A Thousand Kisses Deep
04. Hallelujah
03. Bird On A Wire
02. Suzanne
01. Dance Me To The End Of Love

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic ’til I’m gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love
Oh let me see your beauty when the witnesses are gone
Let me feel you moving like they do in Babylon
Show me slowly what I only know the limits of
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to the wedding now, dance me on and on
Dance me very tenderly and dance me very long
We’re both of us beneath our love, we’re both of us above
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to the children who are asking to be born
Dance me through the curtains that our kisses have outworn
Raise a tent of shelter now, though every thread is torn
Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic till I’m gathered safely in
Touch me with your naked hand or touch me with your glove
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love

10. The Sins Of Memphisto
09. Angel From Montgomery
08. Just Wanna Be With You
07. Blow Up Your TV
06. Speed of the Sound of Loneliness
05. Aimless Love
04. Hello In There
03. Illegal Smile
02. Sam Stone
01. I Just Wanna Dance With You

I don’t want to be the kind to hesitate,
Be too shy, wait too late
I don’t care what they say other lovers do,
I just want to dance with you.

I gotta feeling that you have a heart like mine,
So let it show, let it shine.
If we have a chance to make one heart of two,
I just want to dance with you.

I want to dance with you, twirl you all around the floor
That’s what they intended dancin’ for,
I just want to dance with you.
I want to dance with you, hold you in my arms once more,
That’s what they invented dancin’ for,
I just want to dance with you.

I caught you lookin’ at me when I looked at you,
Yes I did, ain’t that true?
You won’t get embarrassed by the things I do,
I just want to dance with you.

Oh the boys are playin’ softly and the girls are too,
So am I and so are you.
If this was a movie, we’d be right on cue,
I just want to dance with you.

I just want to dance with you,
I just want to dance with you,
I just want to dance with you.

YouTube of Leonard, with Casio, singing ‘Dance Me To The End Of Love’ =

YouTube of Prine singing ‘I Just Wanna Dance With You’ =

Aussie Gem x2

First Aussie Gem is Toni Collette. Bursting into our multiplexes in 1994’s exuberant ‘Muriel’s Wedding’, Toni then went international. More the under-bubbler than the out-and-out superstar, she lights up screens large and small world-wide in such fare as ‘About a Boy’, ‘Little Miss Sunshine and the recent ‘Long Way Down’. She has also brightened up tele viewing in the ‘United States of Tara’, portraying a unique range of characters.


In her latest project, ‘Lucky Them’, our Toni plays a soon-to-be-washed-up-rock-journalist-unless-she-can-bring-home-the-bacon-one-more-time Ellie Klug, writing for the once iconic rock mag ‘Stax’. The publication is struggling in the digital age and editor (Oliver Platt) suggests that hunting down presumed dead, but sighted countless times, a la Elvis, songsmith god Matthew Smith, could just save her said bacon. Of course it just had to be that the singer was one in a long line of musician bed-buddies of Ellie’s, albeit one who particularly resonated. In this outing Collette exhibits what describes as ‘…smarts, humour and world-weary cool.’ She is almost upstaged by Platt as her strung-out boss and Ryan Eggold as her twinkly I-wanna-be-that-next-muso-you-bed try-hard. But best of all there’s Thomas Hayden Church as her odd couple travelling companion on the search. If you loved this guy in ‘Sideways’, as this punter did, you’ll adore him in this. Without giving too much away in spoiler form, another of the film’s assets is the cameo from a Hollywood legend towards the end. Accompanied by an excellent soundtrack, this indie perhaps won’t trouble next year’s award season, but it retains its interest throughout with quality performances.

Aussie Gem number two has largely passed me by all these years, but to my beloved and her daughter, Ilsa, he is solid gold. They are long standing fans of stand-up comic Carl Barron. But what made this stage star think he was movie material is a bit of a mystery beyond this scribbler’s ability to comprehend. It also has been for others, judging by the lukewarm reviews ‘Manny Lewis’ has received from the critics. The plot line is trite, clichéd, reliant on unlikely coincidence and also has my pet hate device – the last minute dash to prevent the departure forever of the potential love of one’s life.


But here’s the rub. I enjoyed the thing despite its only too obvious shortcomings. Barron reportedly is the first to admit he can’t act, with that being an understatement. He comes over as a cross between Paul Kelly – who’s also had a go with underwhelming consequences – and Karl Pilkington. Barron plays it all with a ‘Tears of a Clown’ vibe. Manny is huge on the comedy circuit – Barron doesn’t stray from what is known territory – but possesses a loveless, joyless private life. He is befuddled by fame and desperate for a woman, if only he wasn’t shy and tongue-tied in the presence of beauty. For me, when he played himself on stage he raised a few laughs, but the rest of time it’s a journey of pathos. But Barron has had the nous to surround himself with some fine supporting cast members. Roy Billing, as his sad-sack father, does his usual shtick that makes him one of our most endearing thespians, with Patrick Garvey, as Manny’s mate/manager, showing he is also a dab hand at a lighter role than the usual heavies he plays. The scene stealer for my money, though, is Lewis’ fantasy sex-line confidante (Caroline)/potential love interest (Maria) – you’ll need to see the movie to figure that out. This is charmingly played by Leeanna Walsman. She is a stunner and knocks Manny’s socks off – but he stuffs it all up in typical style.

With Barron’s fan base there is hope for this movie to have some sort of success, despite it being far inferior to many other recent local offerings that have faded away without giving a whimper. I must say, apart from another couple, my lovely lady and I were the sole viewers at our showing – not a good sign, but fingers crossed. And the interesting soundtrack, including Barron warbling to his guitar, helps no-end.

For ninety-minutes or so I was pleasantly entertained by this light confection as Barron’s alter-ego tried his best to shoot himself in the foot with his Maria. As with the above title, I strongly suspect ‘Manny Lewis’ will be absent when gongs are handed out during our own awards season. Definitely worth seeing if you are a fan and I can clearly discern that the man’s laconic stage patter does have its attractions.

‘Lucky Them ‘ Official Trailer =

‘Manny Lewis’ Official Trailer =

Only in New York – Lily Brett

Did you know this about the Big Apple = It can cost over $289,000 for a one-year hot dog stand permit in Central Park. The city of New York will pay for a one-way plane ticket for any homeless person if they have a guaranteed place to stay. On Nov. 28, 2012, not a single murder, shooting, stabbing, or other incident of violent crime in NYC was reported for an entire day. The first time in basically ever. It takes 75,000 trees to print a Sunday edition of the New York Times. There is a birth in New York City every 4.4 minutes. There is a death in New York City every 9.1 minutes. There’s a man who mines sidewalk cracks for gold. He can make over $600 a week. Women may go topless in public, providing it is not being used as a business. Albert Einstein’s eyeballs are stored in a safe deposit box in the city.


In ‘Only in New York’, Australian ex-pat Lily Brett provides some more interesting facts about the city these days she calls home. For instance she reports there is another Aussie, the for us ubiquitous flat white, that is now all the rage in Brett’s metropolis, There are Down Under themed coffee hangouts, such as ‘Flinders Lane’ and ‘Little Collins’, introducing New Yorkers to Melbourne coffee culture. Did you know that ‘…everyone who shops in New York is called a guest.’ causing our Lily to question ‘When did we stop being customers? And when did we metamorphose into guests?’ And incredibly, in the Big Apple, there are people actually hiring themselves out to cash in on another ‘…new phenomena sweeping through New York.’ These souls have transformed themselves into space cleaners who ‘…clear and scrub homes and offices psychically. Not physically, psychically…Space cleaners cleanse your home of undermining and enervating energy, bad vibrations and negative spirits.’ This can be even done remotely by said space cleaner – he/she doesn’t have to visit. This is much cheaper than the thousand green ones required up front for their presence in your actual abode or work space to put matters right.

All of the above says something about that particular city, as well as its shakers and movers. If the latter two trends catch on here then I feel we’d all better sit down and take a long hard look at ourselves. So the book is not a hagiography, but even so it does make living in this megalopolis seem pretty cool – especially now the murder rate seems to be markedly diminishing. Did it make this reader want to hop on the next Q-Bird and head for JFK International? Well no. To really get into a city requires being able to do something like our author who, because she lives there, can immerse herself in it. With the tourist weeks available to most of us one could only scratch the surface. Despite the amount of time I’ve spent in out closest big smoke, Yarra City, I still don’t feel as I really know even that enchanting destination.

But no matter, we have Lily Brett. She regales us with tales of her neighbourhood in a series of vignettes – most of them fascinating, all very readable. She has a selection of in places to tempt us to visit through her erudite descriptions, so she is obviously in the know – and they’d be as far off the tourist radar as you could get, I’d imagine.


Back in the sixties LB was the epitome of the chic rock chick about town – writing for ‘Go-Set’ magazine. For those of us of the age who can remember, to be ‘with it’ one had to read that publication from cover to cover. Then she headed overseas to continue to ply her trade interviewing all the greats when rock was in its pomp. She is also the daughter of Holocaust survivors, her attitude to her Jewishness being a constant theme in her tomes. Her nonagenarian dad is still around and still quite the ladies man, living near to the wordsmith’s SoHo home. He’s partial to pastrami from Katz’s Deli on East Houston, she and hubby love the family atmosphere of Hiroko’s Place, a restaurant on Thompson and a throwback to another era. Its about these sort of New York establishments that our guide writes so enticingly. They’d be the types of places I’d love to visit, if the opportunity ever arose.

However the most startling of Lily’s revelations had nothing to do with her city of choice, but my own island. Turns out she is allergic to us. It’s the world’s cleanest air and our eucalypts you see. She took one breath of our ‘… fresh, crisp, unpolluted air and started coughing and wheezing.’ She couldn’t step out on any Tasmanian Street without her nose and eyes running – although neither the carbon monoxide fumes of NYC nor the noxious smog of Beijing have ever presented her with a respiratory issue. And as she simply abhors trees, I doubt if we’ll ever see her again for a book launch in this neck of the woods – good pun there, what!

‘Only in New York’ was a true page-turner for me – and even if I cannot see myself ever getting there, I enjoyed visiting vicariously.

And now, here’s some more interesting snippets about the city on the Hudson = About 1 in every 38 people living in the United States resides in New York City. It is a misdemeanour to fart in NYC churches. The first pizzeria in the United States was opened in 1895. In 1857, toilet paper was invented by Joseph C. Gayetty in NYC. Up until World War II, everyone in the entire city who was moving apartments had to move on May 1. There are tiny shrimp called copepods in NYC’s drinking water. There’s a wind tunnel near the Flat Iron Building that can raise women’s skirts. Men used to gather outside of it to watch.

Lily Brett’s website =

Joe and Douglas

He’s gone now – but he has been captured for all eternity a thousand times over – in voice, the moving image and in photographs. It is Douglas Kent Hall’s take of him with the latter I love. It’s of Cocker in his prime, his mouth open in guttural growl, his hands poised in the spasms that came to be the idiosyncrasy most associated with him – his stage paroxysms. Of course we cannot see his jerking in all its glory – in Hall’s image they’re inferred, just as the monochrome infers all about the man in his pomp – the Woodstock Cocker, the ‘Mad Dogs and Englishmen’ Cocker, Cocker in the period he used to confess he could never remember, so strung out was he in his golden age. So legend goes, during this time his mother, in sorting his laundry, found a cheque in his pocket for a cool million or so. When she asked the obvious, he had no recollection of the person it was from nor what service he had rendered to earn it. Sadly Cocker and that voice was lost to the world last year.

hall cocker

And what of the man responsible for this image, as well as so many other memorable ones of the gods and goddesses during rock’s wild years– what of him? Well he preceded Joe to beyond the silver lining by six years, but he too has left us with an indelible legacy.

Of course, for me, it is all about those rock photographs. They include multiple takes of the Lizard King, Jim Morrison, some of which are legendary. But none the less atmospheric are his stills of Hendrix, Tina Turner, Daltry, Jagger and so on – you name them – he snapped them.


To Americans Hall is also revered for his shootings of ‘real cowboys’ – those that, ‘…as opposed to urban cowboys, drug-store cowboys, rodeo cowboys, or movie cowboys, stay on horseback all day long working cattle.’ (Mark Strand). But Hall himself didn’t knock the rodeo cowboy. – in fact he lauded them, both in word and image in publications such as ‘Let Er Buck’ and ‘Rodeo’. He had a love of this form of ‘entertainment’ since his childhood days growing up in Mormon territory, Utah – although he didn’t abide by that latter persuasion. In the eighties he finally settled down in one place – that place being a small hamlet in northern New Mexico. Prior to that he had roamed the world on assignment once he’d established his credentials. These took him on photographic journeys that were outside the realm of music and cowpokes. He travelled the West pointing his camera at the US’s indigenous tribes. Then there were the body builders such as Lou Ferrigno, Lisa Lyon and Arnold Schwarzenegger when they were in peak condition. After his constant wanderings were over and he was finally semi-stationary with his second wife, he took to photographing the churches of his local region, before travelling to South America for two iconic portfolios – the miners of Minas Geras in Brazil and Peru’s Zen ghost horses. He also had a spell in St Petersburg, capturing Russian life.


As if all this wasn’t enough, Douglas KH was an exponent of various martial arts and a well read novelist – his first employment on leaving college being a teacher of creative writer.

But it’s his early photographs, his rock oeuvre that I am fascinated by. He commenced these way back in 1968 with a move to London, continuing his own fascination in NYC in the early seventies. These images he published in collections such as ‘Rock: a World Bold as Love’.

As with Hall and his photography, Cocker took his music into the new millennium. He’d had sporadic hits later in his career such as ‘Up Where We Belong’ and ‘You Are So Beautiful’, but nothing to match his earlier Beatles covers, ‘Delta Lady’ and ‘The Letter’. He had some great later albums too, such as the gloriously evocative ‘Sheffield Steel’, but could they match ‘Mad Dogs…’ or ‘Cocker Happy’? Joe, though, for this punter will forever be that belter of songs that Hall perfectly captured, sweat and spit flying, face and body contorted – gravelling it out from some repository deep inside with every ounce of effort his mistreated body could muster.


A portfolio of Hall’s images =

Exhibition – Essie's Dad

You notice it as you drive up Sandy Bay Road and come to stop at the lights where this thoroughfare intersects with Davey Street – or, then again, maybe you don’t. It’s kind of muted, as befits the period in which it was made, with 123,000 Italian glass tiles. It took him two years to create it. When it was finished, in 1960, it was an early harbinger of the symbol that went on to be now instantly recognisable as that representing the organisation for which the mural was laboriously pieced together – our ABC. It’s on the street-face of the building that once housed Hobart’s vibrant branch of Auntie – vibrant until Abbott and his cronies finally gutted it in the state by dispensing with its long standing current affairs show. These days 5-7 Sandy Bay Road is the home of the Conservatorium of Music, still flanked by that mosaic, now over fifty years standing. It is a tribute to the artist who painstakingly put it all together – Essie’s dad, George Davis.

dais and essie

Essie, of course, is the locally produced star of stage, small screen and international film – most prominently, in recent times, as the lead character in ‘Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries’ for none other than the ABC – another season coming soon. Essie was with her old man at the opening of an exhibition in tribute to George at the TMAG late last year. Present, gracing the walls, were his original designs for that mural.

Our city once more turned to George Davis after the 1984 fire that almost led to the destruction of Hobart’s shining symbol of its colonial heritage – the remarkable and irreplaceable gem that is the Theatre Royal. If you have reason to visit this wonderful little centre of our burg’s cultural life, look up to its dome and note the ten composers featured there – restored by Davis after the almost fatal inferno.

GD, in his early days, was a student of Jack Carrington Smith, head of the Tasmanian School of Art from 1940 till 1970 – a local legend. Early on Davis’ skills were recognised, so much so that the state government awarded the youthful dauber a travelling scholarship, to London, to further hone his talents. There are some works from this early UK period on show. On his return George took up various contracts with governmental organisations, these taking him to places such as Macquarie Island – on the Nella Dan no less – and remote islets of the Furneaux Group. He then sketched and put to canvas scenes, particularly of the wildlife, he witnessed at these isolated locations.

davis blueeyes_lg

George Davis is a bit of a throwback to another era and one can discern this by the exactness of his sketching – he was/is a meticulous practitioner. He was also a popular portraitist – there is nothing flashy or eye-catchingly ostentatious about his work, either, in this regard. It’s all calm and precise – just as his mosaic. It’s the type of art you’d maybe notice on the wall in one of the offices of the ‘Mad Men’ alumni – designed to not only to enhance but fit in, not to steal the show by shouting back at you.

In truth, my visit to the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery was for another reason – to view the cricket memorabilia, from the likes of Boon and Ponting, open for display there to celebrate the World Cup games soon to get under-way across the river at Bellerive. That, when I entered, was all tied up with its official opening – so I beat a hasty retreat and soon found myself lost in George Davis’ world. I stood, looking at his loving sketch of his daughter, so pleased that, in the end, he had waylaid me for an hour or so with his albatross chicks and penguin skulls. Matters cricket can wait for another time.


Florence, Maude and Camille

Florence. I didn’t think chasing this image through the ether would end up causing me to run slap bang into Florence – but there you go. We all know Florence – Florence Nightingale, the Lady with the Lamp, the heroine of the Crimea, the godmother of nursing. Most of us, with only the merest knowledge of history, would know those details of her. But delve a little deeper and there is much more of interest. She was an early advocate for feminism, but not quite in the way one would suppose in these modern times. She believed that it should be male driven, rather than being championed by her own gender – women, such as those pesky suffragettes, had no business meddling. Still, she used her influence to improve the lot of her gender. She was also a dab hand at the old mathematics and experts have concluded that she was almost certainly a virgin till her dying day in 1910. From her time tending to wounded troops till the day she passed she was invariably in fragile health – and as she aged, so the amount she was bedridden increased. At the end she was glued to her London bedroom, but before she left this world an unlikely event occurred – an event that links her with that photograph sent on to me.

This image also led me to Maude. What a stunner! Even by today’s standards she’s a head-turner, an exquisite beauty. Look at her face, framed by the voluminous locks popular at the time. Wow! This gorgeous woman was born Maude Mary Hawk in Memphis, Tennessee – a long way from the Crimea or London, in 1883. Her folks had a theatrical bent. It wasn’t too long before she became better known to the world as Maude Fealy – star of the stage and for a time, the silver screen. She featured in eighteen silent movies between 1911 and 1917. But treading the boards was her first love. As well as performing in plays she also scripted them. There is evidence she also invented the first wheeled travel luggage – but even all this couldn’t save her from a troubled marital history and she bore no children.


But let’s take a step back to Fealy at the turn of the century. Now look again at the accompanying sumptuous image of her. It happens that between 1901 and ’05 Maude made several tours of the UK. She acted for companies that were prominent at the time, such as those under the auspices of William Gillette (for whom she performed in an early production centred on Sherlock Holmes as hero) and Sir Henry Irving. And it is during this period her paths crossed, indirectly, with Florence and Camille.

The latter was born two years later than Maude in another faraway location, Antwerp. And it was her image that started this whole process. This was dispatched to me by my writerly darling daughter with the words, ‘Here Dad, see what you can do with her.’ And she certainly piqued my interest – just look at that hair! Her investigation resulted in the coming across of that other damsel, as well as the redoubtable Florence. I do wonder if Ms Fealy and Camille crossed paths – perhaps they even knew of the other.

In the early 1900s Camille managed to win $2000 in a magazine contest. This, in turn, led her, by 1902, to also becoming a popular actress, performing tours of the US – and later the UK. And here comes the rub – the linkage. In London she paid a visit to the same establishment as our Maude.

But first things first – back to that couple of grand – a tidy sum in those days. That takes us to a gentleman by the name of Charles Dana Gibson – his surname may give you, dear reader, a clue to her claim to fame. If we add that this gentleman was also an illustrator may help enlighten as well. Gibson loved drawing the women of his era – women with largish bosoms, slender waists and ample posteriors – and disporting thems in the latest fashions. The woman thus portrayed would be calm in a storm, sporty, independent and confident – and of a mental make-up that definitely would not lead her to embrace the suffragette movement. These creatures, both on the page and in real life, became known as Gibson girls. Gibson himself felt that his creations should be equal partners in any relationship with the male – but always a teasing, coquettish equal. She would be inspired by such luminous beauties of their times such as Evelyn Nesbit and Mary Astor – but soon, in the public’s eyes, all others would be overshadowed by our statuesque Belgian delight – Camille Clifford. With her high coiffure and elegant gowns, wrapped around an hourglass figure, once she attracted the judges’ eyes and won that competition for the best real-life miss to represent the ideals of a Gibson girl, she became the model for their creator’s vision. In this Camille was in two-step with Mary Pickford. What esteemed company.

camille clifford

So sometime, in the period under discussion, both Maude and Camille, during their Old Blighty tours, were chaperoned into the Gainsborough Photographic Studios at 309 Oxford Street to have their beauty captured for all time by its proprietor, Lizzie Caswall Smith. From her sessions with this talented duo, and numerous others, hundreds of post-cards would be produced – huge money-spinners for above and below board professional camera pointers in their day. Lizzie was one of the best in a game – a game largely dominated, as in most areas, by men. Celebrities of those Edwardian days flocked to her premises. Lizzie was a woman ahead of her era, but, contrary to the ethos of the Gibson Girls, was also a strong supporter of suffrage. So there’s the tangible link between Camille and Maude – but what of Florence?

In 1910, for a very rare occasion, Lizzie left her studio for an assignment. And with it our tale comes full circle. She travelled a short distance from her base and set up her equipment in that afore referred to bedroom of the now close to death Florence Nightingale. We are not sure why this came to pass, given the subject’s hatred of posing for the camera. She was also, in her later years, gun-shy of publicity. The resulting images have only recently come to light, having remained all the intervening decades in the care of Lizzie and her descendants. The camerasmith, having retired in 1930, died in 1958. Lizzie once confided to a friend that her time with Florence was so remarkable that, ‘I shall never forget the image.’ And now this photograph has become famous in its own right, be it as it was taken just a few days before the iconic figure’s last breath.


So my gratitude goes once again to my dear Katie for her supply of another enticing image, leading me to a fascinating journey of discovery through the ether. The only disappointment in the whole process was that, about Lizzie herself, I only encountered scanty information and no portrait. I guess back then selfies had not been thought of. It’s left me wondering ever since.

YouTube tribute to Camille Clifford =

The Story of the last photograph of Florence =

Funny Girl – Nick Hornby

10. Mr Bean
09. Outnumbered
08. Lead Balloon
07. The Office
06. Yes Minister
05. Men Behaving Badly
04. One Foot in the Grave
03. Father Ted
02. Fawlty Towers
01. Royle Family

Yep, for me the Brits do it best. Sure the Americans had some classics in the early days of television coming to Oz – such marvels as ‘The Honeymooners’, ‘Father Knows Best’ and ‘I Love Lucy’. But really, since the Dick van Dyke/Mary Tyler Moore franchises were put to bed, I cannot remember any Yank comedic series I religiously watched. I know these days my darling lady adores ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and my writerly daughter remembers ‘Friends’ with much affection – but these and many other US sit-coms bypassed me entirely. And yes, Australia has produced some efforts that have tickled my funny bone in the years since ‘My Name’s McGooley, What’s Your’s?’ – titles such as ‘Mother and Son’ and ‘Kath and Kim’ come to mind. I am also quite partial to local stuff like ‘The Games’ and ‘Utopia’. But for me it’s UK half-hour comedy for the small screen that really does it – and as you can see above, I had a stab at producing a Top 10. It wasn’t an easy exercise. I couldn’t find a spot for such diamonds as ‘Absolutely Fabulous’, ‘Keeping Up Appearances’, ‘The Young Ones’, ‘Episodes’, ‘Gavin and Stacey’ or my current fav, ‘Derek’ – although there would be those that argue that the latter is anything but funny. And true aficionados would shake their heads in horror as to how I could possibly leave out what many consider to be the greatest of all – ‘Barbara (and Jim)’!

And this is the iconic show that Nick Hornby has written about in his latest tome, ‘Funny Girl’. It is the series that proved to be such a step up from the glum fare, such as ‘Hancock’s Half Hour’, that the English were glued to before it arrived, all bright and sparkly, on the scene. It put the light back into light entertainment and first brought an England in transition into our lounge rooms. As well, this is the gem that introduced the world to the delights of Sophie Straw, the UK’s buxom challenger to the stranglehold Lucille Ball had on the title as world’s greatest comedienne. This voluptuously gorgeous woman, as we know, then went on to such hits as ‘His and Hearse’ and ‘Salt and Vinegar’, before closing down her career as the much loved matriarch of the long running soap, ‘Chatterton Avenue’.


In Hornby’s ‘Funny Girl’, the author takes us behind the scenes to the making of the four rib-tickling series of ‘Barbara (and Jim)’, now repackaged for our viewing pleasure, all these years on, in a box set, currently available at JBs for $49.95. This is extraordinary value considering most of the master tapes were thought lost until re-discovered by mysterious uber-fan Max. This release also celebrates last year’s golden anniversary of the comedy’s first emergence from the BBC and into the homes of Britain. It was also shown here in Oz, but was not the great hit it was back in Old Blighty. So if you were maybe a fan back in the sixties you will be delighted how well its humour still stands up – sort of timeless in the manner of Fawlty or Mr Bean. If you are too young to remember it in its heyday, you could do worse than the show’s box set as a suitable gift for the woman/man in your life. But it would be an advantage for them to read this book first, to place it all in context.


Our author is best known for his fiction, having produced such best-sellers as ‘High Fidelity’, ‘About a Boy’ and ‘Long Way Down’. He has also delved into non-fiction before with his classic memoir ‘Fever Pitch’, as well as scripting a movie – ‘An Education’. It has been recently announced that Mr Hornby is about to write a television series of his own, ‘Love, Nina’.

Nick H commences his tale with the genesis of the show. Two tele writers, struggling for an idea, are inspired when they first come into contact with the alluring Ms Straw – the freshly minted winner of a Miss Blackpool pageant. She has come south to London to try her luck, just as the Swinging Sixties are getting underway. What follows is an in depth look at the four seasons of ‘Barbara (and Jim)’, with some emphasis placed on the personal lives of those involved. This includes the supposed romance and subsequent engagement of Sophie to her leading man, played by Clive Richardson. He, Hornby claims, was none too happy with getting second billing to an unknown – with his name in brackets as a sort of afterthought. It seems he must have quickly mellowed towards his co-star, although I do remember at the time wondering whether the affection between the two was a media beat-up to improve ratings. Its number one status, around then, was being challenged by ‘Steptoe and Son’ and ‘Till Death Us Do Part’. It wasn’t long before it turned out she was wedded to her producer, the somewhat lesser-profiled Dennis Maxwell-Bishop. Their union was, considering the business they were in, long and happy till his passing a few years back.

Finally, Mr Hornby takes to the underwhelming attempts to capitalise on the nostalgia for the show with the original cast and writers being enticed to get back together for several ill-conceived projects. Of course they are now a mere shadow of when they were in their pomp – Clive R appearing as if he’s already in la-la land. You can’t turn back time and to my mind Nick H should have left this sorry spectacle well alone. I’d prefer to remember them when they helped take the minds of the British away from post-war gloom to the brighter future that lay ahead once the Beatles and Stones made London such a happening place. Later that decade one of the writers, Bill Gardiner, bravely announced that he was homosexual with the publication of his ground-breaking ‘Diary of a Soho Boy’ – still in print.

Illustrated with period images, Nick Hornby, on the other hand, breaks little new ground with this work, but it is an amiable and in places, quite an enchanting read.. For those of us with enough years under our belts to remember those times it is a valuable account of the optimism that came with so much societal change and I know, as a young man, the delectable Sophie Straw sure had an impact on me. Happy memories – so thank you then Nick Hornby.


Nick Hornby’s website =

‘Love, Nina’ article =

Exhibitions – Nudes and Landscapes

It was not the deliberate visit many others were. I like exhibitions at Salamanca’s Long Gallery, visiting them reasonably often, with the neighbouring Sidespace also featuring as well due to its proximity. On this occasion, adored granddaughter needed a pit stop, which just happened to be opposite the latter viewing space so, whilst waiting, I wandered towards it.

Initially, standing on the outside looking in, I took what hung there to be photographs, so realistic they were from that distance. Suitably enticed, I entered the space and was surprised to discern the stunning nudes were wrought, so deftly, in pastel.

Stephen Firth completed these exceptional renderings, of an array of wonderfully local models, between 2011 and 2013. He’s an architect, resident in Hobart for some forty odd years. He has been participating in life drawing classes for thirty of these – and clearly has honed his skills to a very fine degree. I was impressed. Such a collection of naked or scantily clad feminine flesh could appear confronting on first take, but there was nothing salacious about what was on offer to the eye with this the artist’s second exhibition. What I espied there, in that gallery, that day I’d best express, in words, as being just simply beautiful.


As the artist was in residence and with the bulk of Hobart’s population either at the Wooden Boat Festival nearby, down at the docks, or at Salamanca Market immediately below, his exhibition was hardly drawing a bumper crowd at the time of my presence. The Long Gallery was also devoid of an attraction and I asked Stephen if this was affecting his own prospects for sales. Her reckoned that was possibly the case, but as something was due on show next door in the oncoming week he was hoping it all might improve. Although I didn’t query him on it, I did wonder if his choice of subject matter may also be be a limiting factor – even in this day and age. In an ideal world I would have added a red dot for my favourite, but there’s no surfeit of wall space in my household. He’d sold a couple of works on his opening night and professed contentment with that. I thought, at around the $1500 mark, they were good value for those with space (or cash) to spare. I went on to ask a couple of questions to which he responded in artists’ speak, but it was clear he was serious about what he hoped to achieve by having his models make ‘…eye contact with the viewer.’ He praised the virtues of the Conté crayon as his medium and I congratulated him on his skill with them.

My conversation with Stephen Firth then moved on to the last showing at the Long Gallery where, again in my dreams, I would have been making purchases to grace the walls of Lovell’s Riverside Gallery.

Our beloved island, as well as producing beguiling subjects for figure studies, can trade, as well, on its unique natural panoramas – panoramas that are attracting overseas snappers to our southern shores as well as giving the local brigade ample subject matter. Held from the 22nd of January till the 5th of February, ‘Island Light’ was curated by prominent camerasmith Wolfgang Glowaki and featured the alumni of the local landscapists’ scene – such names as Mathew Newton, Dennis Harding and my personal favourite, Luke O’Brien. As well as those I was already well familiar with, there were a whole array of up-and-comers whose work, well, lit up the walls on the day I visited. Mr Firth was of the same opinion that with Arwen Dyer, Kip Nunn, Joshua Vince et al, the legacy of Olegas Truchanas and Peter Dombrovskis is well in hand. With the opening of Wild Tasmania, replacing the old and perhaps tired Wilderness Gallery, around the corner, as well as with tourism booming, the future for these gifted people being able to turn a buck would seem considerably enhanced. Glowaki himself has a new publication worth checking out – I am particularly partial to his macro work.


Eventually precious granddaughter, with parents in tow, returned and so I departed Mr Firth and his engaging ladies. I followed up by examining his web site, readily available to all those not adverse to slightly NSFW material.

All this led me on to reflect on Kirsty Pilkington who has melded together both aspects mentioned above – she’s bought her nudes directly in contact with the Tasmanian landscape. Her ‘Bare Winter’ series – in book, card and print formats – has been around for some time – the tome gracing my own bookshelves. She also is a dab hand at animal photography, having a popular range of product in that genre also available.

bare winter

I wonder if Stephen Firth has any notion of publishing his nudes in book form. Those struggling for wall space would be a ready market – his nudes are every bit as appealing to one’s senses as the island’s glorious natural sea and land vistas. I trust he gained many more attendees to his exhibition in the days after I attended and made a few more sales to make it all worthwhile. His labours certainly gained my attention. Long may he render our womanhood in such an appealing manner. And long may the Salamanca Arts Centre attract us to diverse and stimulating artistic showcases. It is a valued adjunct to TMAG and MONA, helping make to our magical city an artists’ haven with increasing clout.

Stephen Firth’s website =

Luke O’Brien website =

Wolfgang Glowaki website =

Kirsty Pilkington website =