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Newsletter 359

Published October 7, 2020
Pinocchio hits the cinemas, just in time for the US election

There was a global sense of anticipation prior to the first Presidential debate this week, but it quickly degenerated into an historic shambles. I’m sure I’m only voicing the majority view if I say that – from a distance – the United States looks more and more demented. You think things have reached an impossibly low bottom, only to find there’s even more madness ready to be tapped.

Trump, floundering in the polls, is growing more unhinged by the day, making his Republican enablers jump through increasingly smaller hoops in order to defend the things he says. After this week’s debate they are obliged to accept that white supremacists should be encouraged. This can be added to climate change denial and a complete disregard for a pandemic that is still killing 1,000 Americans a day. They have to accept that if their leader wants to call American veterans suckers and losers, that’s OK. It’s also fine that Vladimir Putin can poison his enemies, and put a bounty on US soldiers in Afghanistan without incurring a word of rebuke from the USA. If offended Vlad might call in one of those monumental foreign loans that’s keeping the Trump organisation afloat while it haemorraghes money from bad, ego-driven investments.

And on and on it goes. Imagine the predicament of moderate GOP candidates such as Susan Collins, who will be damned by her electorate if she supports Trump, and damned by Trump and his croneys if she opposes him. She is already a goner. For any substantive change to occur within the Republican Party it would require an anti-Trump landslide at the polls, removing prominent enablers such as Lindsay Graham. It’s not impossible, but neither is civil war. Last time the big issue was slavery, what will be the new flashpoint? A QAnon theory that the Clintons ran a pedophile ring from a Washington DC pizza joint?

What a woeful choice American voters have in front of them, mainly because they have no choice. Unless they want to live in a country in which the Presdent locks his enemies in concentration camps or simply executes them, they cannot vote for Trump. We know by now that no scenario is too extreme. That leaves the option of voting for dreary, geriatric Joe Biden, installed as a defensive measure by a Democratic Party spooked by Trump’s rants against “extreme left-wing radicals”. Is there any politician in America who would qualify as even faintly “left” in comparison with the Marxists who still play a role in European politics? No-one is challenging the God-given supremacy of capitalism. It’s just that some want to show a little more compassion for millions of impoverished citizens being ground into the dirt by unrestrained market forces. The ground ones are, of course, the same people who vote for Trump – the masses fanatically devoted to their own ongoing degradation. How they’ll celebrate when they lose the last vestige of public health care!

I know this is stuff you don’t need to hear, as it’s fairly obvious, but this week was such an overwhelming demonstration of lunacy in Trumpland it was hard to avoid. In Sydney the most blindingly obvious thing I could nominate would be Vincent Namatjira’s success in the 2020 Archbald Prize.

It was clear, even before the works got on the wall, that an indigenous artist would be this year’s probable winner. The social climate, replete with Black Lives Matter protests, held out an opportunity to the Trustees to show how much they care about this issue by means of one grandiloquent gesture. All that was required was an acceptable entry, and Namatjira supplied the necessary. It’s a relief that it’s a worthy winner that stands out in an uninspired field. As I had to write not one, but three separate Archibald pieces this year, I’ve decided to combine them all into a trilogy. Because the newspaper now requests that I don’t publish on the website until Tuesday, the link this week will take you only to the review. I know it’s a pain, but only a minor one.

The fim column looks at the 2020 St. Ali Italian Film Festival. The line-up is smaller than usual and the entire event slightly subdued, but there are still some excellent movies. Foremost is Matteo Garrone’s Pinocchio, which will probably get a local release. The mainstream offerings are so patchy nowadays the cinemas are turning to foreign films – and classics – to keep the doors open. On Sunday, the Randwick Ritz will be screening The Red Circle, the first of a festival of Jean-Pierre Melville’s films, with Jane Mills giving an introduction. I’m introducing Le Doulos on 18 October. It would be great if one of the unforseen side-effects of COVID-19 was that people began to explore the history of the cinema rather than settling for the paltry stuff that’s served up too regularly today.