Are We Not Cats
Friday July 7th, 8.10pm, Sunday July 9th, 5.10pm, and Monday July 17th, 8.40pm
Things are not going well for young Eli (Michael Patrick Nicholson); during a failed attempt to connect with his girlfriend he loses his job as a garbage collector, and his girlfriend gives him the flick. At home his parents inform him they are selling the apartment, so now he’s out on his arse. And it’s the middle of winter, in the middle of America, so it’s freezing. Eli manages to purloin his dad’s old truck, and he scrabbles a delivery job, but it only ends in frustration. However, as a result he meets Anya (Chelsea Lopez), a pretty eccentric who works at a logging facility. She’s involved with another guy, but it doesn’t mean they can’t hang out at her crazy warehouse abode. But there’s something else that has them tangled together…
This is writer/director Xander Robin’s feature debut, after a string of shorts, one of which was a version of this feature, which describes trichophagia, the strange desire to eat hair. You see, both Eli and Anya have something in common, they both have an obsessive-compulsive fascination with devouring human hair. Eli plucks the tiny hairs from his arms and his beard, but it appears Anya’s habit might be a little denser.
Easily the most unusual hybrid independent movie I’ve seen in a while, Are We Not Cats slinks along its path as a kind of dark charming comedy of errors, as awkward Eli attempts to free himself from the confines of his depressing existence by embarking on slightly nefarious activity, such as getting trashed at weird underground parties, stealing large cumbersome musical instruments, and imbibing dangerous concoctions. There is romance to be found, but first there is the odour of body horror that is permeating this tentative bond between feline Anya and rogue tom Eli.
The tone and mood of Robin’s curious blend is what lingers longest, but it is the excellent performances of the two leads that really binds the movie, like a big, dank, comfy fur ball. Are We Not Cats is both icky and yummy in equal measure, the cold and warmth providing it such character and flavour, and even though the end is really silly, you’re already hooked, like catnip.
Monday July 10th, 6.45pm, and Saturday July 15th, 12.15pm
German director Ulrich Seidl is no stranger to controversy, a self-styled maverick who exposes the dark underbelly of society - mostly the middle class and upper-middle class, the complacent suburbanites, or the morally corrupt elite - by painting portraits of them in the midst of their surrounds - their comfort zones - studying them from a careful distance, framing them with an acute sense of irony, a delicately dark sensibility.
With his latest documentary - a detached study - Seidl focuses his sights on the beast that is the trophy hunter, and with expert aim he targets their blatant ignorance, but this is not immediately apparent. Safari is a difficult film, as on the surface it seems that Seidl is being too complacent, offering no subjective point of view. The ethical standpoint is presented only in the form of the hunted; the wildebeest, the zebra, the giraffe, as a a couple of German and Austrian families “stalk” and gun down the creatures on their natural habitat, the African savannah.
These keen shooters have a “menu” to choose from, and each animal demands a particular price for its head and hide. They use euphemisms to disguise the savagery of their so-called sport; to wound an animal is to “sketch”, to kill is to “bag”, a potential trophy animal is a “piece”, the animal’s spilled blood is called “sweat”. The killers (I’m loathe to use the word “hunter”) praise each other upon each kill, declaring “Hunter’s hail”, with “Hunter’s thanks” as response. They describe their practice as a kind of deliverance, justifying their actions with tenuous claims.
Siedl punctuates the hunting process (of which we never see the animals actually being shot, or even in line of sight, only the trophy hunters lining up their rifles, steadying them on special gun poles, complimenting each other) with tableaux shots of them seated in their camouflage huts, or in front of their mounted trophies, then juxtaposes these with similar portraits of the indigenous people, slaughtering the animals, skinning them, staring vacantly into the camera, gnawing on the bone and gristle of the carcass, giraffe jerky hanging from a wire.
Safari is a compelling, yet disturbing observation, and one bound to provoke anger and upset.
Watch the Sunset
Tuesday July 11th, 9pm, Thursday July 13th, 8.45pm, and Sunday July 16th, 8.45pm
Tristan Barr plays Danny, an ice addict attempting to clean up his act and life. He’s trying to tidying up loose ends, make amends with his girlfriend, Sal (Chelsea Zeller), so they can leave town with their child Joey (Annabelle Williamson). But there are demons to deal with, the meth connections who aren’t so keen on Danny making a break. Shane (Aaron Walton) and Russell (Michael Gosden) have their own agenda, and there will be blood and tears spilled before the sun goes down.
There’s nothing new in the story; the crooked and corrupt trying to make a straight line to safety and redemption, it’s an age-old tale, told a thousand times. But it is how Barr tells it, which gives Watch the Sunset its balls, its kudos. It’s a key collaboration between Barr, who co-wrote the screenplay with Gosden and Zeller, and whom co-directed with Gosden, and with co-producer Daniel Lipp, who also serves as the movie’s cinematographer, with the way the movie is shot that is most remarkable.
Watch the Sunset unfolds in real time, in a single unbroken shot (take). It’s a roughly seventy-minute drama that takes place over a late afternoon in the bogan suburbs of Melbourne, as Danny drives around and makes his drop-offs and pick-ups. First up he delivers ice casualty Charis (Zia Zantis-Vinycomb) to a motel. He’ll come back to her later. Then he finds Sally and Joey to explain the situation and, hopefully, map out their future. But thugs are lurking.
What the movie lacks in its performance department, and the acting and characterisation isn’t entirely convincing, it certainly makes up for it in tone, atmosphere, and conviction. For a movie that spends most of its time zoned in on Danny, it’s a tense and compelling piece of cinema, with some truly impressive camerawork from Lipp, and includes one very “Wow, how’d they do that?!” moment. The dramatic intent is palpable, and the fluidity of the camera lifts the game considerably, which is interesting, as the one-take technique could easily have come across as purely gimmicky. Watch the Sunset is a flawed gem.
Thursday July 13th, 2.45pm, and Monday July 17th, 6.45pm
Purple Haze might be the most famous of the acid trips from the 60s, immortalised in the song by Jimi Hendrix, but there was another batch of LSD from the same decade that has finally had its tale told, and the culturally important, bigger story that surrounds that tab that turned an international generation on. There were three types produced at the same time, Yellow Sunshine, Blue Sunshine, and Orange Sunshine, and it was the navel hue that shone most brightly in hippie’s eyes. In sun-kissed California the Brotherhood of Eternal Love was formed, a spiritual clan of surfers and their lovers and friends who were passionate in spreading their hippie manifesto as wide as they could through the magic of their self-made LSD, regardless of the legal danger that lay ahead.
The Mystic Arts World was created in Laguna Beach, California, and this psychedelic emporium and the neighbourhood become a haven for hippies, and Orange Sunshine became the Coca-Cola of LSD. One of the last batches ever made was 100 million tabs. Now, if that’s not turning the world on, what is? Yes, they were outlaws, but they were the best cowboys ever. But one can’t ride the rodeo forever. It is inevitable you will come off your horse, and some will fall harder than others. For the Brotherhood, the long arm of the law eventually pulled them all to the dust.
Filmmaker William A. Kirkley has fashioned a superb documentary, one of the best I’ve seen in ages. As both date-stamp and cultural history piece Orange Sunshine is a beacon of the strength of friendship and community and a sobering reminder that as curious and good-hearted as humans can be, we are not invincible, but we are resilient, and we are industries, to a fault. What Kirkley’s take offers, rather unusually, is the other side of the story, albeit not as in-depth; the perspective of the law. It is the cult of personality of the Brotherhood that burns most fiercely, but is is a cautionary tale, and it is a tale that brims with emotional fragility.
Michael and Carol Randall, Travis Ashbrook, Ron, Rick, and Wendy Bevan, Michael Kennedy, the late Johnny Griggs. These are names you’ve probably never heard before, but they are as important to the social and cultural history of the hippie movement, and the creative influence of LSD on the arts, as Timothy Leary (who does feature in this doco) and Ken Kesey. These guys weren’t acid casualties per se, though they have paid their own price, individually, and collectively. Orange Sunshine, with all its wonderful Super-8-flavoured recreations, is as endlessly fascinating as it is, ultimately, moving, and that is the mark of a truly great documentary.
You Never Had It: An Evening With Bukowski
Friday July 14th, 8.30pm, and Saturday July 15th, 2.45pm
“You know, and I know, and they know …” Charles “Hank” Bukowski was one of America’s truly gifted writers, able to pull flowers from the garbage, and trash out the good in everyone, including, most pertinently, himself. He was the Great Self-Depreciator. Lubricated heavily with red wine and reeking of Pall Mall cigarettes, the man could conjure some of the most eloquent and rugged descriptions of the broken American Dream ever put to paper. Thankfully we also have a small clutch of films and videos of the man waxing lyrical and spitting vitriol, and a few autobiographical features (Tales of Ordinary Madness and Love is a Dog From Hell).
You Never Had It is made from tapes recently unearthed from the garage of an Italian journalist, Silvia Bizio, who interviewed him back in 1981, in his San Pedro home. Assembled by director Matteo Borghardt, it’s roughly an hour long, and the raw, hazy u-matic footage shows Hank, his long-time partner (or “nurse”, as he introduces her) Linda Lee, Bizio, and a couple other friends of Bukowski, seated around a coffee table in his living room, ploughing through bottles of red wine, and smoking up a storm. Bizio elicits some wonderful kernels of Bukowski sage amidst career anecdotes, many of them grumbles, but many of them humble joys. He states defiantly that not everything he says is so.
“You should always be a little ahead of your time,” Hank explains, and though he hates talking about other writers, as that’s like drinking water when you’re in the bathtub, “I drink wine in the bathtub”, he reminds us, he continues to mention a couple of authors who he respects, including Albert Camos, whose novel The Stranger he admires. But he is quick to add that he doesn’t read books, instead pointing to Lee, “She reads the books, I write them.” Later he takes the small group on a tour of the small abode, gesturing to his writer’s desk, “This is where I fuck my soul …”
It’s a drifting, detached, yet strangely intimate portrait, steeped in the kind of just-out-of-reach melancholy that Hank’s poetry and prose bathes in with gentle abandon. Asked how he manages to capture such hard truths and insightful observations on human frailty Bukowski takes a sip from his small glass goblet, a drag on his fag, and replies with gruff softness, “If you get the shit kicked out of you long enough, long enough, long enough, you have the tendency to say what you mean. In other words, you have all the pretence beat out of you… My father was a great literary teacher, taught me the meaning of pain, pain without reason.” And therein lies Hank’s most beautiful rub.