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Newsletter 291

Published June 17, 2019
Edmund Capon, with the ghosts of Archibalds past

I’ll be succinct this week as I haven’t got the time to ramble on. Having accepted the invitation to deliver three lectures on Australian cinema this month, at the Union, University and Schools Club, I’ve been immersed in watching Australian movies, scribbling notes making connections… there’s no end to it. It’s fun, but it’s exceptionally time-consuming, especially when there’s a long list of articles and essays demanding to be written.

This week’s column looks at Hot Blood, the current exhibition at the White Rabbit Gallery. I’ve been meaning to do it for some time but other shows have kept jumping the queue. Because the WR exhibitions run for six months I’ve developed the bad habit of letting them sit on the shelf for a while, but this is no reflection on the quality of the work. It would be ludicrous to think that anything at WR is of less interest than say, the Archibald Prize (!). It’s just that the dreaded Archibald is one of the few arts events in Australia that always attracts massive public attention.

Hot Blood is a mixed bag, but as usual it leaves viewers with a tremendous amount to think about. If also raises issues about China, which is a topic that nobody in Australia can ignore any more if the fallout from the Trumpian trade war starts to impact on our economy, or if Scummo’s reinvigorated givernment decides it would like to emulate the Chinese government by cracking down on the media and whistleblowers.

At the movies I’m writing a bit more about the Sydney Film Festival, although rather more critically than last week. I always want to give the SFF a big splash but I’m anxious not to say too much about films that will soon get a theatrical release, and I suspect the distributors would endorse those concerns. As a result, Ive included a few thoughts about the new Tolkien bio-pic, which is a movie that turns the writer’s early life into an unconvincing romance. It seems intended as a tribute, but it’s the kind of production that seem unclear about who constitutes its intended audience.

The big event of the week – really big – was the send-off for Edmund Capon at the Art Gallery of NSW. It was probably the biggest crowd the gallery has seen since Edmund retired in 2012. All the speakers did well, but Steven Miller, the AGNSW’s legendary librarian, stole the show with a story of Edmund pointing to Macquarie Street and issuing a blunt characterisation of the politicians. It was the only expletive of the evening, or at least the only one delivered from the platform.

One of the other highlights was the appearance on stage of novelist, Murray Bail, who only seems to grow more gnomic. It was quite a tribute to Edmund that Murray chose to leave his cave and appear in front of the multitudes. There was one line in the Bail speech that captured Edmund to a tee: “He would have like to have been more eccentric”. I wish I’d thought of that.