Monthly Archives: February 2020

Small Screen, Big Movie

It took a while too, Nikki, to come to terms with it. A-class movies being shown on the small screen after a limited, or non-existent, release in the movie houses. Netflix leads the way with this. I too, like you, Ms Gemmell, watched ‘Marriage Story’ and ‘The Two Popes’ in fits and starts – and I kinda liked that way of doing it. My difference was I did it on the tele, not i-pad or mobile. I can’t come at that, but I know many – and I include some at my age too – who can. I haven’t tackled ‘The Irishman’ yet – it’s mixed reviews and length making it less appealing. I’ve read that many couldn’t make it through.

That being said, the magic of the big screen is still alive for me. I come from a time when people actually dressed to the nines when going to the cinema of an evening. It was the adult thing to do. I can also remember that often a B-grade offering was shown first before intermission, with a newsreel to boot. As a kid, the Saturday matinee was the go, with often the line to get in extending around the block. There were uniformed ushers with torches flashing and jaffas raining down from on high. Those days and antics are long gone. Now my grown-up movie going is during the day, but it still excites me. Considering I’m ageing, it does require an effort as I have to drive a distance into the State, or to Eastlands. With the former parking has become problematic of late, making it less attractive. I therefore tend to be careful with my choices, going with the critics, or a favoured actor or director. I like to blog my opinions on what I’ve seen too, hopefully encouraging one or two to see a gem they may have missed otherwise.


I am prepared to view something I wish to see on my tod, but nothing gives me more pleasure than accompanying my lovely lady to a film. On the extremities our tastes diverge. She adores big screen Hollywood and action heroes, I’m more taken by art house and foreign language. Thankfully there’s much middle ground where we can merge and it’s heaven.


I thought long and hard about whether to include the Netflix innovation in my blogging, but when venerable figures like David Stratton and Oscar did so; it tipped the balance. To my mind both variations have their pluses. I just hope, as the years mount up, I can continue to make that effort. I just love it.

Nikki Gemmell on Going to the Movies =

Miss Manhattan

You can find an image of her, in the ether, from when she was in her glorious pomp. She’s there, proudly, daringly and completely naked, arms outstretched, posing for an artist at his easel. Her present day chronicler has called her the world’s first supermodel – a term as applied to her not strictly adhering to our modern definition. But she was famous, her name on everyone’s lips around the equivalent of the water cooler back then. Her propensity for nudity and the depictions of her being so enough to set most male pulses pumping. At the height of her fame one of her city’s daily rags tagged her ‘Miss Manhattan’, an indication of how her star was burning so brightly in the years leading up to and during World War One. There was none brighter in the firmament – yet she went on to have the longest crash and burn of perhaps any celebrity in history.

It wasn’t the aforementioned photograph that first attracted me to her, but one I came across on an Instagram feed called ‘all_thats_interesting’ – photos with intriguing stories attached. Bit of a goldmine, actually, for someone like me. There I found a more demure picture, a portrait, but it took my eye just the same, along with its caption, that ‘World’s First Supermodel’ business. I was immediately most taken and resolved to dig deeper. What I found was a ripping, if ultimately sad, yarn.


Of course the largest statue of a woman in the environs of NYC is ‘Liberty Enlightening the World’. It’s a symbol of freedom and womanhood, better known to us all as the ‘Statue of Liberty’. The sculptor’s mother was reportedly the inspiration. But the second largest is to be found attached to the municipal buildings in Manhattan. It was modelled for by one Audrey Munson and is sheathed in golden robes. Another prominent one sits atop the Pulitzer Fountain in the forecourt of the Plaza Hotel. It features an unclad depiction of the Roman god Pomona and it’s again Audrey. It is estimated that, of the 1500 statues that graced the Panama Pacific Exposition in San Francisco in 1915, a goodly 200 or so supposedly were posed for by, yes, you guessed it, Miss Munson, in various stages of undress. But ultimately, it could be said, that it was the West Coast, not her home in the East, that led to her downfall. Had she not gone West, well, who knows?


After an unsettled childhood Audrey and her mother moved to the Big Apple where the fifteen year old soon found work in the risque chorus lines springing up in entertainment venues all over the city; the novelty being recently imported from Europe and going gangbusters, as exemplified by the Ziegfield Follies. No, she wasn’t plucked from those, just being one of the alluring young lasses all hoping their ‘hoofin’ and ‘bump and grinding’ would lead to fame and fortune. That they would be the one plucked from obscurity. Yes, she was indeed the lucky one, but it didn’t come from her stage work. And she certainly ended up gaining plenty of the fame, if not the other hoped for commodity. Her finding was an even more a clichéd story than that.


Felix Benedict Herzog, it was, who discovered the young Miss Manhattan-to-be. Audrey and her mum were out and about, doing a bit of window shopping, when she was spotted by the inventor, electrician (back in those days the equivalent of being a start-up whizz in these) and camera fancier. Felix, in his fifties, excitedly introduced himself to the pair, engaged in some small talk, complimented Audrey on her looks and deportment before asking if she would consider tastefully posing for him. With her mother’s permission and agreement to act as chaperone the proposal was accepted. For her first session the girl was tastefully draped and Herzog was soon discerning she was a natural, so he introduced her to his circle. It wasn’t long before mother and daughter were being asked to consider Audrey being less well draped. A smooth-taking sculptor asked her to disrobe completely for a work he was planning portraying the Three Graces. He rabbited on about artistic purity and so on to the degree that the mother and daughter agreed. Once that step was taken she was on her way to the notoriety she later achieved. She was soon in high demand and the fact that she charged peanuts (around $15 in today’s terms) for a session aided her popularity.

Herzog knew the traps such a young and vulnerable lass could fall into once she went down the path of posing nude and despite the age difference, he was willing to marry her in order to protect her from those that might take advantage of her. Had this occurred her journey may have been entirely different, but he suddenly passed away in 1912.

When she posed for a fully-armed replica of the Venus de Milo, ordered by Queen Wilhemina of the Netherlands, she cracked the big time as far as being a celebrity of the age was concerned. She was now fodder for the media of the time – her ample figure and vibrant good looks ensured she was destined to be continuously in the public eye, her every move filling the gossip columns. It is safe to say it went to her head a bit. She now determined that she would find the perfect man who would be a suitable fit for her perfect body. That led to an interest in the science of eugenics, well and truly discredited now, but all the rage then.

And then Hollywood, or its pre-WW1 equivalent, came calling. The film industry hadn’t entirely migrated to the area around LA then, still being active on the East Coast. Of course the attraction of Miss Munson was obvious and she was soon participating in the first silver screen nude scene. Pornography had already found moving pictures a vehicle for the salacious, but Munson’s ‘Inspiration’ was meant to be for the general public. But various American church organisations had other ideas, with the movie soon being shut down all over the country. The template was set though. Henceforth the modelling community would be a breeding ground for future stars – and so it remains today.

To get away from all that Audrey Munson decided to make a move to a fresh start on the West Coast. Here she used her fame to become an early advocate of ‘wellness’, also a fad of the age, associated with the fascination for eugenics. Movie offers came in, but it soon became apparent that, although she looked a million dollars on the big screen, she actually couldn’t act. When her film, ‘Purity’, tanked at the box office work, full stop, started to dry up. It was then Munson lost the plot.

Audrey Munson 03

The first indication that something was badly amiss was when she wrote to the US government accusing many in her association of pro-German sympathies because they failed to give her, being of English descent, on-going work. The newspapers had a field day with her when a doctor, living in the same apartment block as she and her mother, committed suicide over his infatuation with her. The infatuation that was unrequited.

It was all too much. Mother and daughter, now struggling financially, fled the city for a small town in upstate New York. There mum went out to work daily, now supporting her daughter who was recovering from her own suicide attempt. She’d thought she’d finally found her ‘perfect fit’ in a man. He rejected her. She took poison. Audrey then seems to have retreated into her own mind, with delusions regarding her past and her present straightened circumstances, making her difficult to live with. Her new community came to regard her, at best, an eccentric, at worst a serial pest stirring up trouble in all quarters. Eventually it all became too much for her ageing mother, so, on the former artist model’s fortieth birthday, Miss Manhattan was committed to a lunatic asylum out of harm’s way up near the Canadian border. There she lived, once the talk of the town, with her horizons now so narrow. She died in 1996. She was in her 104th year.

She would have faded completely from view after that had it not been for investigative journalist James Bone. He cottoned onto her story. With the assistance of some family members and the public record, he pieced together her quite sorry saga for his 2016 publication ‘The Curse of Beauty.’

audrey m

It’s a salutary story, this one of Audrey Munsom. She flew so high but the wrong turns led her astray. But in the ether she remains, as well as on the pages of a book. Consider her tale, be in awe of her beauty and let that take precedence over her troubled mind during her steep descent.

The Non-Gambler

It was such a pleasant Sunday afternoon this one just past. The sun was out, shimmering off the Derwent; a salve after days of mist and humidity. We’d dined well and extraordinarily cheaply at the bistro and I was happily ensconced by the panoramic windows, watching the boating activity on the briny, supping on some amber heaven and perusing the weekend papers. People all across the room, in singles or groups, were doing the same or similar. I noticed they were mostly of my own demographic, seemingly all quite content and at ease with the world, by the look of it, as I was. My lovely lady had left me for one of the other attractions of the venue. She was having a flutter at the pokies – something she really enjoyed. We do this every couple of months or so, my love and I. Now I’d certainly describe her as a responsible gambler, for she knows ‘when to hold ’em…when to fold ’em’ – so to speak. Many call her Lucky Leigh as she seems to win reasonably frequently on both the machines and Keno – not huge amounts, but she’s had some very tasty ones. As well she had a goodly return from the lotto a few years back, just enough to make proceeding into retirement less financially problematic. It was fair dues, given she’d spent years making a nurse’s salary stretch beyond belief. She’s a marvel money-wise. It’s one of the many reasons I admire her as well as love her.


We’re going to the ‘No later on. Coming?’

Thanks, but no.’

In the end they gave up asking, my uni mates, at my residential college. Back then, in 1973 and after, for a while, Wrest Point was a happening place – the nation’s first casino. It gave the city of Hobart its first MONA effect. It was the place to be. International stars came to the showroom – why Jerry Lewis opened the whole shebang. The high rollers flew in and the locals came to gawk, dressed to the nines – well, most of them. Word had spread of the beauty and allure of the young ladies manning the gambling tables – one of these honeys later went on to marry a premier.

The lads from Hytten Hall would head down to Sandy Bay and the ‘No of an evening, after they’d completed their studies. They would be attired in a motley array of jackets that had seen better days. Most were bought from the local op shops for that specific purpose for a few bob. Ties were compulsory too to pass the doormen. They’d later regale me with their adventures – the glorious women that were there, or how much they’d had to drink. They couldn’t afford to gamble – but that didn’t stop one or two testing their luck. As I recall, the one-armed bandits were not a feature back then, but I could be wrong, never entering the place. Of course the mainland cities soon caught on, with each having its own equivalent these days – but I’ve never been as comfortable in those as I am at the local one in my dotage. They’re just not my scene. It is.


As you have no doubt gathered by now I am not a gambler. I’ve never had a bet on the ponies in my life. I had a bit of a go on the pokies with Leigh once, but within ten minutes I’d had enough. I’m just not interested. But that’s not the point. When, at the last state election, Labor’s Bec White tried to lead us all into a pokies free existence, she ended up falling flat on her face at the polls. I could easily see the reason why, apart from the funds the vested interests sent the way of the Libs. She had great intentions after all the horror stories we’d heard, from the Northern Suburbs, of families wrecked through gambling addiction, but I was unsure whether what Bec was attempting could be the answer. Wouldn’t they just find another way to self-destruction?

So, no. I don’t get upset that my AFL team attracts the highest percentage of its profits from poker machines of all the clubs. Sure, something needs to be done about addressing the advertising for the activity that is associated with the game. Yep, I reckon that’s where the attention needs to be focused. I might be naive, but I reckon most are like my Leigh. They play the pokies sensibly, just loving the expectation that a little windfall might be in the next press of a button. They set themselves a limit and stick to it. It is a social occasion for many – some perhaps not having much else in their lives. My Leigh just loves having a chat with like minded punters in those rooms too. So what if all that is not to my taste. Why should all those that find it convivial and derive pleasure from it be denied? I may be accused of living in a bubble but there it is. Go Hawks 2020.


James Morressey’s opinion piece =

Dear Sweet Pea – Julie Murphy

Once upon a time these girls would have never been A-listers in their milieu – the Dumplins, Pumpkins and Ramona Blues of this world. But, like Rebel Wilson, Melissa McCarthy; dozens and dozens have shown to the now accepting public that an hour-glass figure or super-coolness doesn’t define beauty, talent or the ability to cut it big. These girls are forces of nature and despite the roadblocks, feisty, with the capability of summoning up the wherewithal to plough right on through. These three aforementioned inhabitants of American writer Julie Murphy’s books, all on the cusp of entering the adult orbit, have been huge hits in the US. One has even made it to the big screen and her tale can be viewed of Netflix. I’m talking about ‘Dumplin’. Here Ms Murphy now gives us a heroine for the younger set.


Sweet Pea DiMarco is truly as sweet as a spring pea in a pod. She’s a lovely creation and she’s about to graduate from her country’s version of primary school, which terminates with Grade 7. The big school, though, holds some trepidation for her, especially as her final year in the lower grades has been tough. Not only has her bestie, Kiera, moved across to that cool set, but her parents have split. The former couple, though, give some of the best messages in the offering. Not only are they neighbours and their abodes almost identical to ease the possible trauma for their girl, they remain close. The mum seems to have had few issues about giving her spouse the room he needs to be his true self. Sweet Pea’s woes are somewhat assuaged by a friendship with one lovely boy, Oscar, struggling a tad in the gender stakes. As well, on the horizon, there’s a potential relationship, of some description, with a new kid on the block.

Sweet Pea also discovers she has an ability as an agony aunt as the result of an unlikely turn of events, finding the opportunity to put it to work in her community’s daily newspaper. Her advice is sensible when she’s not acting on revenge, but we do not find out her response to one plea for enlightenment– a young lady who does not want to spend a first night with her boyfriend as she is frightened she may fart in her sleep. How would a fella respond to that? Help!


We fully suspect, from the get-go, that it’ll all work out for Sweet Pea – it’s the way these books work. And they’re nonetheless for that. Finding out how is the joy. Here the pages turn easily, there’s little to challenge the reader but more than enough to keep us interested so it’s a no-brainer to rip on through to the positive resolution. And this hoary old fella enjoyed it immensely. Thanks Kate.

The Author’s website =

Damascus – Christos Tsiolkas

Life of Brian’ ‘Damascus’ most certainly isn’t, but Tsiolkas’ gritty, fleshy, reeking and violent take on the life and times of Saul/Paul and his acolytes kept the Python’s classic seeping back into my mind over and over as I read the author’s latest. It’s a departure for both of us, admittedly, but a welcome one. Unlike the movie, there’s little to laugh about with it. And I suppose, given where you are coming from, we may thank these early spreaders of the word, including Thomas and Timothy, for taking a faith out of the Holy Land, into the Roman Empire and its capital, giving our planet another religion.


Early Christianity was such a fragile thing. The candle could have been so easily snuffed out by the old religion or under the weight of the Roman gods, but it prevailed. Mostly in the imagining by CT there’s an uneasy co-existence with the non-believers – but, of course, the early purveyors suffered great hardship, privation and on occasions, their beliefs cost them their lives. From the printed page you can almost smell the crowded, unwashed, fornicating, lice-infested bodies emanating from Tsiolkas’ prose in this quite remarkable feat of writing. With this author I can’t imagine anything rivalling that unnerving slice of Australian suburbia that is ‘The Slap’. ‘Barracuda’, for me, didn’t even come close, but I think ‘Damascus’ will truly signal him as being up there with the greats of OzLit.

For this stand out effort the Gospels are referred to, as well as other early Christian sources; fiction being added around the unknowns, to give a fetid picture of how it could possibly have really been. Some of his early references acknowledged Christ minus the crucifixion and resurrection, with that forming an aspect of the narrative. The doubts of these early followers are as fascinating as what they knew to be certain, particularly as time passes away from the actual New Testament events, given the Son of God fails to make another excursion back to Earth to visit and inspire.


Real or false news, the notion of the goodness that Jesus of Nazareth has given us all is one of undeniable purity – but it’s a goodness we repeatedly trash with our collective actions. That shines up from the oft hellish world the author creates. But for this unbeliever (with the wordsmith himself admitting he is not sold either) I was drawn into fecund mire with all the multiple protagonists. We can only think of what might have been and recoil had it been otherwise.

The Author’s Website =

January Gems

The old year crossed into a new decade as I was glued to a destruction of a relationship. Devouring ‘Marriage Story’ in a couple of chunks on the small screen, the Netflix original has garnered four nominations (Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Picture and Best Supporting Actress) in the current Academy Awards. It is interesting to note that movies made for the television platform have attracted 24 in all in a game-changing year. There’s no doubt that the performances of Adam Driver, Scarlett Johanssen and Laura Dern are exceptional as the couple at the core of the break-up spiral into the depths, assisted by the legal fraternity made up of Dern and a welcome cameo from Alan Alda. You feel compelled to stay with it to the last rites to see if the pair can claw something back out of the sorry mess. Driver’s character, a self absorbed stage-director, is totally career driven to the exclusion of his partner’s feelings. She, played by Johanssen, had to cope with his immaturity whilst trying to juggle a child and her own professional aspirations. The beauty of it being a generous two and a half hours-ish in duration is that you can spread it over as long a period as suits – and it is well worth the expenditure of time. Now ‘The Irishman’ and ‘The Two Popes’, also up for Oscars, are on my ‘to view’ list.


Big screen wise Leigh and I had the pleasure of accompanying three grandchildren to ‘Dolittle’. I admit I enjoyed watching their faces, as they savoured the offering, more than the actual film itself. It wasn’t as bad as many critics have reported, but I found it hard to be attracted to Robert Downey’s performance and his relationship with the beasts, large and small, of the planet.

The most fun I’ve had at the cinema for quite a while came with ‘The Gentleman’. With a cast including Matthew McConaughey, ‘Sons of Anarchy’s’ Charlie Hunnam, ‘Downton’s’ Michelle Dockery, Colin Farrell, Eddie Marsan and Hugh Grant, as we’ve rarely seen him before, the screen was full of London gangland mayhem and black, black humour. Guy Ritchie’s directing career has been patchy, but with this ensemble of class actors he’s on a winner.


In contrast two movies that are the antithesis of the hectic pace of the above are ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ and ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’ (how I hate leaving out the ‘u’!). The pace could be almost glacial with both, but the rewards are worth your forbearance.

The first listed has been greeted rapturously by the critics and has picked up a handful of prestigious gongs on the film festival circuit. With this product most of the joys are delivered towards the end, so patience is a virtue. For most of its length we can be satisfied by appreciating the sheer beauty of what is on screen, with the land and seascapes, as well as the gorgeousness of the two French female leads. In fact, there’s barely a male to be had, only the ferrymen at the commencement and a few more just before the end credits roll. It’s set in the late C18th on a storm blasted island off the coast of Brittany. Marianne (Noémie Merlant) arrives on the isle to pretend to be a lady’s companion, but her hiring is really for the purpose to paint a portrait in secret. A noblewoman ensconced in a great gothic pile is at the bidding of her mother, determined to marry her off, something Héloïse (Adèle Haenel) is none too happy about. The painting, of course, is necessary currency in the days of arranged marriages, pre-photography. The prospective Italian groom has to know what he is getting. Gradually, though, the truth is unmasked and a relationship, which becomes somewhat more than mere companionship, develops. It’s stunning, with added spice, perhaps for some, that the actress playing the initially frosty Héloïse ’s was once herself the partner of the opus’ director, Céline Sciamma.


The slow boil continues with ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood’, but here the pleasures are littered evenly throughout. It is essentially a vehicle for Tom Hanks, although his nomination at the big award is for Best Supporting. Matthew Rhys capably takes the lead as a gun reporter asked to write a puff piece on a living national treasure, Fred Rogers. A singular host of children’s television, he was a real life figure who was an institution for decades. Said reporter refuses to believe that Rogers can be so perfect a figure and sets forth to discover the darker side to the man that must be there. He bites off more than he can chew as Rogers regularly turns the table on him – with the result that the puff piece becomes so much more. It was also great to see ‘This is Us’ actress Susan Kelechi Watson in a prominent role, supported by Chis Cooper, who is always a treat.


The movie has had mixed reviews from ‘a tonic of a film’ to ‘not even Tom Hanks can save this mess’. Stay for the end credits, with the minute’s silence mid-length being a highlight. I liked it very, very much. When Hanks and Rhys appeared on Graham Norton recently they reported that the director, Marielle Heller, was constantly asking both to slow down the speed of their delivery on set. I thought TH, in particular, was quite mesmerising as he did this. The lengthy pause is a constant feature of his performance.

So I struck it lucky in January with four gems. What will February hold?

Trailer for ‘Marriage Story’ =

Trailer for ‘The Gentlemen’ =

Trailer for ‘Portrait of a Lady on Fire’ =

Trailer for ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood’ =

The Body – Bill Bryson

Consider this the next time you are contemplating a deep, deep pash with your dearest one – ‘Passionate kissing alone, according to one study, results in the transfer of up to a billion bacteria from one mouth to another, along with about 0.7 milligrams of protein, 0.45 milligrams of salt, 0.7 micrograms of fat and 0.2 micrograms of miscellaneous organic compounds (ie, bits of food).’


Bill Bryson was only getting started with ‘The Body’ when he thrust at us the above information. There’s much more hair-curling stuff to contend with as one reads on in the tome. In here, for instance, you will be illuminated on how the daily activities of double-decker bus conductors and drivers in London gave rise to the present urgings for each and every one of us to exercise daily. It is fascinating to think that our best guess is that, sometime between 1900 and 1912, a random patient with a random disease for the first time could visit a random doctor and have a fifty-fifty chance of profiting from that encounter. Nowadays, to be healthy, as one would expect, it helps if you are part of the population of the western world. You receive added benefits, of course, if you are wealthy. But even the rich, if they are born in the good ol’ US of A, can expect to have a much lower life expectancy that those of us residing any other developed country. The causes for this include the dire state of their health system, obesity, gun culture, accident rates, drug abuse and the list goes on. A sufferer of cystic fibrosis in Canada will, on average, live ten years longer than some poor soul, with the identical affliction. living south of its border with the US I wonder if Trump, with his ‘Make America Great Again’ has devoted any of his immense intellect to those facts. He’d probably label it under ‘fake news’ in any case.

In the pages of this book you will also meet the heroes, many unsung till Bryson came along, who paved the way for the great medical discoveries of history; get a taste of some of the excruciating surgical practises of the past (early mastectomies being particularly gruesome) and meet the charlatans who were believed by many, to the world’s detriment. One odious character was Barnard Davis who became obsessed with the so-called discipline of craniology. His collusion with George Augustus Robinson’s widow to plunder the graves of our island’s first peoples, to add to his skull collection, the globe’s biggest at the time, makes for hard reading.

Overall ‘The Body’ is quite the revelation. And it is, at times, not exactly comforting what we find out about its workings, especially as I am in possession of an increasingly ageing one. He doesn’t stint on what can take you away in the end either.

Bryson mostly places it all in lingo the layman can readily comprehend, with the turn of phrase he is noted for, topped by dollops of humour. He’s no spring chicken himself, Mr Bryson, but long may he have the ability to pursue his wide range of interests and to transport them into print for our enlightenment. With this publication he takes a lens to every facet of the human being in a thoroughly readable and forthright manner. He is a gem of a wordsmith.


And in the end, at the end, it’s good to know that, ‘In 2011, an interesting milestone in human history was passed. For the first time more people, globally, died of non-communicable diseases like heart failure, stroke and diabetes than from all infectious diseases combines. We live in an age in which we are killed, more often than not, by lifestyle.’ – or is it? What’s that news I hear coming out of China?

More on Bill here =