December is the month in which film reviewers look back over their notes and critiques for the year, catch up with movies they missed and pump out their annual “best of” lists. These lists often numerically rank films from one to ten, which, as we established last year at the school of Cinetology, is an inane and pointless tradition that, like star ratings, takes the focus off the writing and onto a game of correlating films to numbers. Great for meaningless squawking; debilitating for film analysis.

I will be publishing my 2010 top ten in coming days (no, they won’t be ranked, though I will reveal my favourite film of the year) but before I do that I wanted to rewind the life of this blog in 2010 and spotlight some of the more interesting posts published on Cinetology.

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I know what you’re thinking – “but Luke, all of your posts have been absolutely fascinating, esé” – but nevertheless I’d still like to cherry pick a handful of stories that have stuck in my mind, and perhaps even the minds of my readers, as some of the more interesting or downright weird reads from this corner of the bloggersphere. This list focuses not on individual movies per se but on people, events and strange happenings. Enjoy.

Alvin and the Chipmunks go to Zambia

I might not be able to say “I’m big in Japan” but I might be able to get away with “I’m big in Zambia.” In January I received an email from an Australian journalist working in Lasaka, Zambia who discovered my review of Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakwell in The Post, Zambia’s largest daily newspaper. Noticing that the review had no byline, he donned his cyber detective hat, Googled a chunk of the text and was directed to its true home: this blog. “I would hope the Post has some arrangement with you and the non-byline was an honest mistake,” he wrote, “but I don’t think so.” He was, of course, exactly right. I asked if he would mind taking a photo of the review and sending it to me, and, bless his soul, he obliged. Check out the screenshot below. Observe the extremely dodgy Photoshop work.


A savage interview with a gibbering charlatan: my conversation with Tommy Wiseau

The Room posteerActor/writer/director Tommy Wiseau’s debut feature The Room arrived with the tantalising description “the Citizen Kane of bad movies.” Naturally I had to see it, and like so many others before me whose eyes and ears had been soiled by the sleazy filth that rubbed its rank lubricant over virtually every moment in virtually every scene in this lousy excuse for a melodrama, I was aghast at how the film so impressively managed to live up to its ignominious reputation. And I smelt a rat.

The Room, about a torrid love triangle between a floozy, an idiot and a gibbering outsider (Wiseau) who makes Sylvester Stallone sound like an ambassador for perfect English enunciation, was too bad, too tragically incompetent, too lobotomised daytime TV to pass off as an honest attempt to make a decent picture.

Due to time constraints I didn’t articulate the extent of my true thoughts about Wiseau, my hunch – and I have to describe it as such, because I have no concrete proof – that he’s not half as sheepish as he presents himself to be and is, in fact, a charlatan presenting an elaborate ruse in the name of marketing and notoriety; an impressively sneaky spin on freak show entrepreneur P. T. Barnum’s classic quip “there’s a sucker born every minute.”

I needed to interview Wiseau, and before my telephone conversation had properly began my suspicions were, if not confirmed, then certainly exacerbated. After informing me that the only interview rule was “there are no rules,” Wiseau made me agree that I would not upload the audio. Why? Because his “Eastern European” accent is a fake, and a bad one at that. Tommy Wiseau is probably as American as apple pie. So I decided not to pull any punches. Here are some examples of the things I said to and asked Wiseau. You may like to read the entire interview.

The Room looks like a low budget daytime TV soap opera. Looking at the film, I can’t see where all the money went, so I’ve decided that you must have either been involved in some sort of tax fraud or money laundering operation.

Watching the performances in The Room is like watching a train crash at an excruciatingly slow pace. Did you direct the actors to act bad, or are they just bad actors?

When you are on the screen you look and sound most of the time like you’ve been drinking heavily. What were you drinking when you were filming The Room?

My theory is that you guys deliberately made a really bad movie with the intention of marketing it as one of the worst movies of all time. That’s what you did, isn’t it?

Filmmakers demand withdrawal from MIFF, MIFF director stands firm, leaked emails surface on Cinetology…

Under the guidance of festival director Richard Moore, the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) began accepting sponsorship from the state of Israel and as a consequence the festival has attracted a considerable amount of unwanted media attention, largely from chest banging ideologues who take a moral objection to where the money is coming from. Moore is now off to work for the Brisbane International Film Festival; a definite step down, and the MIFF board will be glad to see the back of him for this issue alone. I wish him the best of luck. Selah.

It is in this context – the unwelcome controversy one of the world’s major film festivals has generated (suck a lemon, Sydney – it’s true) – I leaked a confidential email exchange between Richard Moore and the makers of the acclaimed feature Son of Babylon, who demanded their film be removed from the schedule when they learnt of MIFF’s money trails. It was too late for that, Moore argued, and so the filmmakers made available to this blog their entire exchange. The post generated discussion at the MIFF offices, in lines to get into cinemas (according to a couple of eye/ear witnesses) and spawned media coveraging into a story in The Age and AICN-Downunder.

Gay zombies, Richard Wolstencroft, anonymous personal vendettas and seedy controversy

lazombieThe gay zombie hullabaloo began when I disobeyed the wishes of the Australian Office and Film and Literature Classification (OFLC), which banned director Bruce LaBruce’s provocative zombie movie LA Zombie – dubbed simply and accurately “gay zombie porn” – from playing at the Melbourne International Film Festival and, indeed, anywhere in Australia. The film was slapped with an RC (Refused Classification) rating, effectively making it illegal to own or exhibit.

MIFF’s poor in-your-face cousin, the Melbourne Underground Film Festival, which for years has exhibited an array of nano budget films, many of them dodgy, some of them bold and interesting, weighed into the gay zombie censorship debate when long time MUFF director Richard Wolstencroft announced he would defy mummy OFLC’s wishes and screen LA Zombie as the closing night feature of the festival. The details, he said, would be announced via Facebook in the 24 hours leading up to the event. I got the required information, scooted along with a friend and wrote this story for Crikey the next day providing an on the scene account of what transpired and my general thoughts on the film. My original copy was edited, but the revisions were almost completely confined to the removal of one paragraph from my story in which I went into a vivid description of one of the scenes, in which a blue-fanged zombie participates in group sex with blood smeared men who are dead, undead or dying. My editor was right to remove it. She was also compelled to ask: “are you OK?”

But the real controversy emerged when I wrote a post spurred on by an anonymous blogger who launched a vitriolic campaign against Richard Wolstencroft. The blog, oddly titled ‘Richard Wolstencroft’s Unconcealedness,’ which has since been taken down on the grounds of potential defamation, contained “a collection of damning quotes from the “Aristocratic Fascist” and director of the Melbourne Underground Film Festival, taken from Facebook and elsewhere.”

I always intended to run a story about the blog, and I always intended to publish Wolstencroft’s responses, but when I walked up to Wolstencroft prior to the screening of LA Zombie I caught him – I will admit – at an inopportune time. He was anxious and uncertain whether the cops would show up and shut the screening down (they didn’t, but, in light of Margaret Pomeranz’s 2003 screening of Ken Park, there arrival was a very real possibility) and wasn’t pleased when I told him I wanted to write a story about the vitriolic blogger campaigning against him.

To cut a long story short, neither the anonymous blogger or Wolstencroft were happy with what I had written. They have their reasons. I did manage to appease Wolstencroft by agreeing to publish an unedited interview with him in which he, to his credit, candidly responded to my questions (read the original and the updated post here). He is now happy with the interview and appreciates the manner with which I presented it. His house, by the bye, was raided by police in November.

What the Frack? American filmmaker cranks up natural gas debate

gasland1Like most people who sat down to watch debut documentary filmmaker Josh Fox’s hard-hitting expose about the potentially disastrous ramifications of so-called “natural gas exploration” mining, in particular a process dubbed “fracking,” I was shocked and intrigued by Fox’s journey from a curious onlooker who knocked back a lucrative offer from an energy company to explore his land to a man with a camera and a Cause. The film is a frighteningly real riff on the horror story concept “there’s something funny in the water” and Fox has up his sleeve one helluva money shot: footage of a man whose tap water had become so contaminated he could literally light it on fire.

I saw the film in November at a preview screening at Melbourne’s Cinema Nova, where a fascinating panel discussion took place afterwards between Fox, Greens MP Adam Bandt, Friends of the Earth Campaign Coordinator Cam Walker and Dr Shane Huntington from Triple R. Huntington came to the cinema wielding a wad of documents sent to him by industry to inform him of the “science” prior to the evening’s screening.

“They (the natural gas industry) are damn good at putting this crap out,” he said, comparing the papers in his hands to the “bullshit” scattered throughout the cosmetics section of Myer. After the screening Bandt gave me his media rep’s number and said he recognised my name from Twitter, and Fox said he would be more than happy to talk with me. I planned to interview both, but when I listened at home to my recording of the panel discussion, I knew I had more than enough material from that alone.

I didn’t take long for the energy industry to savage my story, which was published in the Crikey newsletter and on Crikey’s environment blog. If the energy industry was capable of sending Huntington a wad a documents in preparation for a Melbourne film screening, they are certainly capable of media monitoring words like “coal seam exploration” and “fracking.” Those interested in the subject will find the comments below the story compelling.

Until next time….

That’s it for now folks. This is the bit down the bottom where I thank you, the reader, for making it all possible. Well, that’s balderdash: any fool can stare at a screen and scroll down, so best not to bang the “you people ought to be applauded!” drum too loudly. However, if you’ve made it this far I do appreciate your interest. But now is not the time for crude sentimentality, especially given the Christmas season is now behind us, so I won’t go there sister.

Stay tuned for more weird and wonderful Cinetology stories in 2011. I’ve got a few surprises planned….

And none of them involve gay zombies.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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