Speaker by Various Artists

We’re Da Fukawe!

by James Littlewood

Did you ever get that feeling that somewhere, somehow, the human race took some terrible wrong turn, and that we’re all living in some horrendous, erroneous cul de sac of evolutionary history from where there is no exit?

Firstly, has anyone ever conducted a successful search on nzoom without the “page cannot be displayed” page popping up? And I couldn’t believe the layout of www.govt.nz since I was last there. I was able to find government documents within it more efficiently from external engines Google, stuff.co.nz and even The Herald.

Anyway, back to unreality. Back in the 1970s, Italo Calvino proposed a literature machine that could automatically analyse texts by breaking them down into frequency lists of the different the parts of speech. It could tell a biography from a textbook – say – by the number of verbs in the former and nouns in the latter. Strange but true, at least in theory.

It would have been simpler to devise a machine that scanned TVNZ programmes for their degree of Charter compliance.

There’s not a lot TVNZ can do about it. The government owns it lock, stock and barrel and as such, can pretty much do what it wants (say what you like about the Charter: at least it shows the Government’s not hell bent on selling the whole operation, which is more than can be said for the right wing opposition).

Want more home-grown entertainment with a tick in the box of the Tangata Whenua? More current affairs debate with an eye for the yoof market? So be it. And TVNZ begat Mike King Tonight and Eating Media Lunch.

In years to come, both these shows will provide archive footage for retrospective shows of TV in the early years of the century, showcasing the truly weird, bizarre and inexplicably duplicitous world of post-everything New Zealand in the 00zies.

Obviously, this retrospective has yet to be conceived, produced and broadcast. But then, Mike King Tonight itself also has yet to be conceived. So far, it has simply been produced and broadcast. Did CBS endorse this? You can’t help but wonder. But then again, what if they didn’t?

King used to have a line that the thing he hated most was being damned with faint praise. His line was that guys would come up and say “Hey, at least you’re trying, mate.” Strange sort of joke, I reckon, but far it be from me to add to that.

For what it’s worth, Eating Media Lunch is probably the best-fit charter programme we’ve had yet. If that sounds like yet more faint praise, I guess you can blame the government for trying to spell out exactly what values TVNZ’s programmes are supposed to incorporate. They can expect the independent producers to go to extremes to find their own voice within narrowly prescribed limits.

It’s possible that Eating Media Lunch is just as derivative as the King show, although of a rather less familiar format, and vastly less specific source: the genre of the dedicated close-reader of newspapers ascertaining the pure (or more often, impure) essence of a given story - between the lines between the issues. (What was the name of that show, anyone? And who the presenter? I’ve been racking my brains). For Jeremy Wells and his producers to identify this for resurrection in the post-everything NZ of the 00zies, and to make it funny, provocative and – I’ll say it – informative, is deserving of great awards and the right to take the stage and give thanks to all the little people.

In other reality-twisting news, I see that Ronnie Van Hout’s installation I’ve Abandoned Me has just opened at the Auckland City Art Gallery. It’s smart, funny, and moody, and made me feel excited about art all over again.

If you want a more insightful account, check out Anthony Bert’s view in Art New Zealand.

Watching his work is like watching a bunch of alcoholics get drunk at a party. It starts out being kind of funny, then it turns sad, then it gets scary. But at a time when so much boring identity art is being produced in New Zealand he is one of the few artists who knows that to lurk in the boggy marsh of fixed identity is to commit artworld suicide.

Exactly. The best time I’ve had in an art gallery for ages.

And while we’re on the subject of mobile identities and truths stranger than fictions, big shouts to Margaret-Mary Hollins, Ian Hughes and Scott Wills of Pandemonium Theatre company for the return – in full – of Mike Hudson’s Beautiful Losers at Auckland’s Silo Theatre. I’m looking forward to catching this, having seen the abridged version in the Restless Ecstasy festival earlier this year.

Beautiful Losers is a biographical account of beat maestro Jack Kerouac and his mate/ muse Neal Cassidy in which writer, director and actors combine in a maelstrom of dramatic energy that captures the beat spirit in Kerouac’s writing perfectly.

The celebrity biopic is a genre I have a guilty passion for: there are some real doosies, usually made for TV, on such easy targets as The Jacksons, Di, Ferg … you know the drill. Basquiat managed to haul itself out of the typical quagmire of narrative clumsiness that mars the genre to actually say something about New York or the 80s or art or whatever, although Hilary and Jackie on the teev the other night fell right back into the usual traps: then I got famous, then I got married, then I got weird, then I had sex …

While the biopic has only been scantly served in the medium of live theatre, such treatment as it has received has been seriously good. Take Shakespeare for a ubiquitous example: he staked more-or-less his entire career on his biographical histories. Brecht’s Galileo, Weiss’s account of the Marquis de Sade and Schaffer’s Amadeus all transcend their biographical subjects to exercise heavyweight arguments about politics, ethics and aesthetics.

Maybe it’s that theatre – especially the impoverished New Zealand fringe – is a more blatantly artificial medium than its screen competitors. With limited staging funds available, actors and audiences all have to work that much harder to suspend the old disbelief. If that’s the case, then the “truth is stranger than fiction” role of biography may play out that much more effectively in theatre than elsewhere.

Or maybe it’s just that Kerouac and his peers spent years in a state of widely publicised, substance-enhanced, ecstatic abandon, and if this energy is successfully captured in the intimacy of a theatre, it will excite an audience as surely as the beats themselves got off on junk and booze.

With Hollins and Hughes both having worked extensively with the now sadly defunct Theatre at Large, Pandemonium have no difficulty in generating enough on-stage energy to cure your habit. Hughes and Wills totally rock the house, your head and whatever’s left of your youth.

And a last item for the consideration that we live in the midst of an evolutionary crisis: the rugby paddock over the back fence is full of people playing what I think is called lacrosse. How did this come to be? By what twisted sequence of events? Not that I care either way, but small wonder the ABs can’t keep up with the world’s best when the finest specimens of South central Auckland are running around waving stick-nets like a pack of jolly hockey sticks.