Monday, January 04, 2016

Monday Forum - Brilliant Creatures, Blood and Thunder and the culture that formed us

I am not sure how many people are around at the moment. Still, it wouldn't be a Monday without a Monday Forum.

Over Christmas, I watched "Blood and Thunder: The Sound of Alberts". It tells the story of Ted Albert and his promotion of Australian contemporary music from the 1960s. It was very good. This promo provides a very good feel


During that same period, I also watched 'Brilliant Creatures: Germaine, Clive, Barry and Bob". In this two parter, Booker Prize winner Howard Jacobson traces the footsteps of Germaine Greer, Barry Humphries, Clive James and Robert Hughes arguing these Australian giants didn't just join the cultural revolution in the 60s, they led it. Again the promo.

I am considerably younger than Jacobson's Brilliant Creatures: Barry Humphries was born in 1934, Robert Hughes in 1938, Clive James and Germaine Greer in 1939. However, the academic world in which I grew up, while having its own specific features, was still very similar to that in which they flowered initially. I did not feel the need to leave the country, I had neither their brilliance nor needs, but could understand the drivers that led to that mass departure of so many Australian intellectuals in the late fifties and sixties.

If I am old enough to understand the drivers that led the intellectuals to depart, I am young enough to sing along with Blood and Thunder. While that is true, I had not understood Ted Albert's quite remarkable role, including his final move into film with Strictly Ballroom, a movie equally loved by I and my daughters.

Looking at his career, I couldn't help wondering what might have been if Albert's life had not been so tragically cut short by heart attack.

One unifying theme in these two apparently very different stories lies in a certain brashness in the Australian character and culture, a dislike of cant, that led those involved to push the boundaries.

This brings me to my questions for this forum. We are all formed by our own experiences. What, to you, is that music or film for that matter that brings back your younger years? Are there distinct features in the Australian cultural experience?  As always, feel free to go in whatever direction you want.



Noric Dilanchian said...

While culture in its many forms is normally thought of as growing from top down, it can also grow bottom up or out from the edges.

Those at the top, in positions of power or benefiting from existing culture, tend to want to freeze culture. They are sometimes unsurprisingly referred to as conservatives.

Using language as an exmple, I was shocked a decade ago on seeing at the Opera House Richard Brinsley Sheridan's 1770s play, The School for Scandal (directed by Judy Davis). What shocked me was realising that more than two centuries ago a great deal of what is now English archaic legal language froze. Words, phrases or grammatical structures used in the play are evident in language used by lawyers (especially in court), not to mention the accompanying behaviours (which of course follow established regal court traditions).

Within the conservative institution of law it is as if a great deal of legal language froze in the late 17th century or thereabouts. So we find in law lots of cant.

When you turn to the contributions to English vocabulary by the Cockney and African-Americans you see the bottom up invention of words. For example the many African-Amercian expressions referencing both sex and music - rock and roll, boogie woogie, mojo.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Noric. Happy new year! Where culture is shaped or controlled from the top, law is an example, I think that it tends to be more rigid because it evolves within defined and enforced bounds. A key point about law is that it is intended to enforce, to control. to preserve.

I would argue that popular culture, by its nature, is more bottom up as in your language example.

Sue said...

Yes,it has to be said - we watched the same programs over the holidays.

I love the combination of raw energy and creative thinking that resulted in the Oz Rock phenomena so beautifully documented in Blood and Thunder.

In The Canberra Times today there is an article about the suburb of Moncrieff where the streets are named after dead Australian entertainers, for example, Bon Scott Crescent, Jimmy Little Street, O'Keefe Avenue, Amphlett Street and so on. Oh, and the suburb itself is named after Our Glad.

I borrowed The Female Eunuch from the library before Christmas (I lost my copy ages ago) so I was fascinated to see GG again at the top of her game.

Speaking of which, I think the tweet Peter Dutton mistakenly sent to Samantha Maiden was appalling. The nastiness of not only swearing, but calling a woman a witch is not "robust" language; it is the ultimate put down. (GG had a lot to say about the use of this kind of language in TFE.) Peter Dutton needs to understand how frightening and dangerous this kind of off the cuff comment is and how inappropriate it is coming from a Minister. I don't care that his 'apology' has been accepted, it's the kind of behaviour that upset many people when Tony Abbott was in power and (I suspect) the reason why people welcomed Malcolm Turnbull-simply to get away from this kind of arid and rude discourse.


2 tanners said...

I was a heavy metal boy. Led Zeppelin. Deep Purple. And later, the Divinyls and the Angels. But the key song for me was a little known Australian hit by an Australian band, The Master's Apprentices (lead singer, lead guitar Jim Keays) called Turn Up Your Radio. A youtube of the original is here.

It still fills me with joy and excitement whenever I hear it. For that reason, I never bought it (when it came out we didn't have a record player). Now I hear it, unexpectedly on the radio, and I get the same rush again.

Jim Belshaw said...

Hi Sue. It seems clear that we both have good taste! I missed the Canberra Times piece, but for those who are interested this is the link I haven't actually read the Female Eunuch. That's a gap.

I suppose that one could debate whether or not the use of the term witch is sexist, but in any case the SMS as reported appears to be gutter language that displays a remarkable lack of sensitivity and judgement.

Hi Bob. I do remember that band, if not that exact track. Understand your reactions.

Anonymous said...

Brilliant Creatures: Barrie Humphries was born in 1934, Robert Hughes in 1938, Clive James and Germaine Greer in 1939

So we have a noted female impersonator, an art critic and historian, a poet/social commentator, and a proto-feminist - almost a century after 'proto' meant anything. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed (and still do) their writings and antics; we all need light (or deep, or dark) relief, from time to time.

Particularly James and Greer; maybe something about 1939? Oh yes, I remember now...


Jim Belshaw said...

I'm still reading Clive James' Cultural Amnesia at the moment. It's an annoying book at times! He writes as he talks, but when he talks his spoken language conceals confusions. I find myself having the re-read sentences to try to understand.