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Newsletter 289

Published June 3, 2019
Women in early Australian film spent considerable time in the shearing shed

Apologies for the lateness of this week’s newsletter. I’ll spare you the fine detail of my week, but it was truly relentless: Melbourne to Yirrkala to Perth to Sydney, culminating in an epic lecture on ‘Women in Australian Cinema’ at the Union, University and Schools Club. Throughout this journey I was writing every day. The lecture, by the way, is the first of a series. The UUSC is the initial venue, but there’ll be others down the track, which I’ll mention as they come along.

Something had to give this week, and it was the newsletter, for which I’m my own boss. As a consequence, this will be one of my shorter missives. No deluded rants about politics or arts policy, no philosophising or travelloguing.

This week’s art column is devoted to the Alexander Calder show at the National Gallery of Victoria, which was every bit as enjoyable as I’d expected – although not as much of a revelation as the Calder-Picasso show at the Musée Picasso in Paris, which I saw earlier this year. To watch Calder sparring with Picasso was to understand the greatness of a body of work that seems so deceptively simple. The NGV survey – the first Calder show to be held in Australia – provides a brisk, but reasonably comprehensive overview of his career.

The movie being reviewed is Rocketman, Dexter Fletcher’s bio pic of Elton John, which plays on the viewer’s psyche in a similar way to Bohemian Rhapsody. Pop music is in many ways a false promise: it provides three minutes of heightened emotion, then lingers in one’s head, often in the most irritating fashion. A great symphony by contrast, requires stamina in its audience but offers more far-reaching rewards.

Most of us spend our teenage years listening to pop music, and feel a powerful nostalgia for those tunes in later life. My iPod in the car is a testament to this sad observation. Fletcher has established himself as an expert manipulator of the pop reflex, able to take a clichéd story and turn it into a powerful entertainment. On one level Rocketman is rubbish, on another it’s compulsive. I can resist the blandishments of politicians, but I’m easy game for a pop song or two. It may not be profound, it may not be especially honest, but it’s fun.