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Issue , 2014

The Belief Issue

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News

  • Bio Building at Embryonic Stage

  • New Zealand Students Turning Up the Degrees

  • Students Rejoyce

  • Campus Digest

  • Vic Team Goes on Trivial Pursuit

  • Who Run The World

  • Vic Debaters Kick Aff

  • What VUWSA has been up to over the break

  • Bio Building at Embryonic Stage

  • New Zealand Students Turning Up the Degrees

  • Students Rejoyce

  • Campus Digest

  • Vic Team Goes on Trivial Pursuit

  • Who Run The World

  • Vic Debaters Kick Aff

  • What VUWSA has been up to over the break

  • Features

  • transubstantinaiteiahtphilip

    Transubstantiation

    They explained why they go to church on Saturday; why, when they fast, they don’t eat animals who shed red blood; how they volunteer for the community, and have done for 30 years. They were weird. They were lovely. They were human.

    by

  • Leaving Religion Behind

    Once, when I was walking down Cuba St, I was accosted by a preacher who asked me if I was happy with my life. He seemed surprised when I said yes, as if anyone who doesn’t have a religion has some sort of void in them that needs to be filled.

    by

  • adyingtrade

    A Dying Trade

    Belief in death is more than just musing on the afterlife, Heaven, Hell and eternal oblivion. Death is very real, and there are choices to be made about how you choose to go, how you are remembered, and the cost of these decisions to your family and the Earth.

    by

  • stars

    The Church of the Stars

    “What I always learnt in the church was their official philosophy: what is true to you is true to you. You can believe what you want. But this didn’t work out in practice.”

    by

  • trickortreat

    Trick or Treat

    Salient takes a look at the gods our parents created for us.

    by

  • transubstantinaiteiahtphilip

    Transubstantiation

    They explained why they go to church on Saturday; why, when they fast, they don’t eat animals who shed red blood; how they volunteer for the community, and have done for 30 years. They were weird. They were lovely. They were human.

    by

  • Leaving Religion Behind

    Once, when I was walking down Cuba St, I was accosted by a preacher who asked me if I was happy with my life. He seemed surprised when I said yes, as if anyone who doesn’t have a religion has some sort of void in them that needs to be filled.

    by

  • adyingtrade

    A Dying Trade

    Belief in death is more than just musing on the afterlife, Heaven, Hell and eternal oblivion. Death is very real, and there are choices to be made about how you choose to go, how you are remembered, and the cost of these decisions to your family and the Earth.

    by

  • stars

    The Church of the Stars

    “What I always learnt in the church was their official philosophy: what is true to you is true to you. You can believe what you want. But this didn’t work out in practice.”

    by

  • trickortreat

    Trick or Treat

    Salient takes a look at the gods our parents created for us.

    by

  • The Dilemma of Disbelief: Learning to forget about atheism and getting on with life

    – SPONSORED – At high school, I had an archenemy— a proper schoolyard nemesis. Man, did we not get on. We locked horns on every single possible issue conceivable; our minds just didn’t want to work together. Although our intense dislike for each other was palpable and ever-present, we were alike on quite a few […]

    by

  • There is more than one kind of Christian

    – SPONSORED – An interview with Rev. Dr Margaret Mayman We all have our own beliefs, whether they’re super evangelical Christian or hardcore atheist. But how do our beliefs impact on other people? Should a religion be able to introduce national law, or should it be kept separate from state issues? What about when those […]

    by

  • I Think, Therefore I Am – Or Do I?

    – SPONSORED – Our personal beliefs play a large part in shaping our decisions and guiding us through life. But how many of our personal beliefs are really our own? Salient chatted with Dr Marc Wilson about the factors which influence our political and religious beliefs. Do parents play a crucial role in determining the […]

    by

  • The House that Radical Socialists Built

    – SPONSORED – Salient talks with Nick Henry of the Radial Social Centre on 128 Abel Smith Street about an initiative as unique as the building it’s based in. How was the 128 collective established and what motivated its creation? I wasn’t involved at the time, but the impression I had was that a lot […]

    by

  • Veganism – How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Mushroom

    – SPONSORED – When I made the switch from casual vegetarian into strict vegan (which was prompted by the finishing of a fantastic book, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals), I was born again. For you see, it was just so darned easy to be a vegetarian. I could load my plate at adult dinner parties, […]

    by

  • An Outsider’s Guide to Some of the Churches of Wellington

    – SPONSORED – A non-definintive, non-representative sample of the religious buffet in our fair city. Wellington Methodist Parish, 75 Taranaki Street The Wellington Methodist Parish gains the biggest Kumbayah from this author, as it conducts multilingual services—Fijian, English, Samoan, and Tongan—and has a lot to do with the Downtown Community Ministry, which helps the homeless […]

    by

  • Faith in Politics : Political Philosophy as Belief

    – SPONSORED – The difference between the belief in a higher power, and squabbling over member proportionality is stark. Beliefs are the opinions that govern your life, and, if you’re gaining these from on high, politics might not be nearly as important to you as it is to others—but philosophical belief and a belief in […]

    by

  • transubstantinaiteiahtphilip

    Transubstantiation

    They explained why they go to church on Saturday; why, when they fast, they don’t eat animals who shed red blood; how they volunteer for the community, and have done for 30 years. They were weird. They were lovely. They were human.

    by

  • Leaving Religion Behind

    Once, when I was walking down Cuba St, I was accosted by a preacher who asked me if I was happy with my life. He seemed surprised when I said yes, as if anyone who doesn’t have a religion has some sort of void in them that needs to be filled.

    by

  • adyingtrade

    A Dying Trade

    Belief in death is more than just musing on the afterlife, Heaven, Hell and eternal oblivion. Death is very real, and there are choices to be made about how you choose to go, how you are remembered, and the cost of these decisions to your family and the Earth.

    by

  • stars

    The Church of the Stars

    “What I always learnt in the church was their official philosophy: what is true to you is true to you. You can believe what you want. But this didn’t work out in practice.”

    by

  • trickortreat

    Trick or Treat

    Salient takes a look at the gods our parents created for us.

    by

  • transubstantinaiteiahtphilip

    Transubstantiation

    They explained why they go to church on Saturday; why, when they fast, they don’t eat animals who shed red blood; how they volunteer for the community, and have done for 30 years. They were weird. They were lovely. They were human.

    by

  • Leaving Religion Behind

    Once, when I was walking down Cuba St, I was accosted by a preacher who asked me if I was happy with my life. He seemed surprised when I said yes, as if anyone who doesn’t have a religion has some sort of void in them that needs to be filled.

    by

  • adyingtrade

    A Dying Trade

    Belief in death is more than just musing on the afterlife, Heaven, Hell and eternal oblivion. Death is very real, and there are choices to be made about how you choose to go, how you are remembered, and the cost of these decisions to your family and the Earth.

    by

  • stars

    The Church of the Stars

    “What I always learnt in the church was their official philosophy: what is true to you is true to you. You can believe what you want. But this didn’t work out in practice.”

    by

  • trickortreat

    Trick or Treat

    Salient takes a look at the gods our parents created for us.

    by

  • The Dilemma of Disbelief: Learning to forget about atheism and getting on with life

    – SPONSORED – At high school, I had an archenemy— a proper schoolyard nemesis. Man, did we not get on. We locked horns on every single possible issue conceivable; our minds just didn’t want to work together. Although our intense dislike for each other was palpable and ever-present, we were alike on quite a few […]

    by

  • There is more than one kind of Christian

    – SPONSORED – An interview with Rev. Dr Margaret Mayman We all have our own beliefs, whether they’re super evangelical Christian or hardcore atheist. But how do our beliefs impact on other people? Should a religion be able to introduce national law, or should it be kept separate from state issues? What about when those […]

    by

  • I Think, Therefore I Am – Or Do I?

    – SPONSORED – Our personal beliefs play a large part in shaping our decisions and guiding us through life. But how many of our personal beliefs are really our own? Salient chatted with Dr Marc Wilson about the factors which influence our political and religious beliefs. Do parents play a crucial role in determining the […]

    by

  • The House that Radical Socialists Built

    – SPONSORED – Salient talks with Nick Henry of the Radial Social Centre on 128 Abel Smith Street about an initiative as unique as the building it’s based in. How was the 128 collective established and what motivated its creation? I wasn’t involved at the time, but the impression I had was that a lot […]

    by

  • Veganism – How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Mushroom

    – SPONSORED – When I made the switch from casual vegetarian into strict vegan (which was prompted by the finishing of a fantastic book, Jonathan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals), I was born again. For you see, it was just so darned easy to be a vegetarian. I could load my plate at adult dinner parties, […]

    by

  • An Outsider’s Guide to Some of the Churches of Wellington

    – SPONSORED – A non-definintive, non-representative sample of the religious buffet in our fair city. Wellington Methodist Parish, 75 Taranaki Street The Wellington Methodist Parish gains the biggest Kumbayah from this author, as it conducts multilingual services—Fijian, English, Samoan, and Tongan—and has a lot to do with the Downtown Community Ministry, which helps the homeless […]

    by

  • Faith in Politics : Political Philosophy as Belief

    – SPONSORED – The difference between the belief in a higher power, and squabbling over member proportionality is stark. Beliefs are the opinions that govern your life, and, if you’re gaining these from on high, politics might not be nearly as important to you as it is to others—but philosophical belief and a belief in […]

    by

  • Arts and Science

  • Eight songs you missed over the break

    In the decades since the last issue of Salient, some songs have come out.

    FKA Twigs – ‘Two Weeks’
    The artist formerly known as Twigs has gone through more than just a name change. ‘Two Weeks’ is a revelation – a near-perfect R&B song, full of tension, release, and elegant longing. Not that this isn’t a song about sex. Also, she’s plays a gigantic goddess in the one-long-take video; you should probably watch it.

    COOL RUNNINGS – ‘BLISTER’
    A 2:53 romp, the most fun I’ve had listening to a New Zealand punkish band in years, and it’s from an EP called I HATE IT HERE. True. Buy or callously steal the EP on Bandcamp.

    Hundred Waters – ‘Murmurs’
    Purity Ring with less fluids, despite the name. Also, less body horror. There’s a whole set of lyrics, but the one stuttering line that begins the song, “I wish you could see what I see”, is the one that stands out, especially when it’s flipped somewhere near the end, breaking out of the mix like a drowning man.

    Cable – ‘One Thing’ (One Direction cover)
    So yes, you can’t improve on a classic, but this fuzzy cover comes pretty close. Best of all, it doesn’t feel like she’s mocking the original, although she clearly can’t hit the notes those boys can.

    Grimes – ‘GO’
    Grimes originally wrote this song for Rihanna, and while it’s hard to imagine Rih dreamily waltzing through the verses like Grimes does, the horn-filled chorus feels tailor-made. On first listen it doesn’t sound like a Grimes song at all, but on each replay you notice more of her signature tics, even if you can make out every lyric now.

    The Weeknd – ‘Often’
    Not The Weeknd’s best song, but better than 90 per cent of the songs on his disappointing sophomore effort. Why? He’s back to singing throughout the whole song, in a lower register, and is plenty menacing. The songwriting is a bit lazy, with a simple-but-catchy chorus that he sings just one time too many, but this is still a Weeknd song that sounds like The Weeknd again.

    Death Grips – ‘Voila’
    Death Grips have now broken up, after four years of exciting internet music nerds more than a new Needle Drop review. Before they go, they’re releasing a two-part album called The Powers That B. This track from the first half is full of stuttering drums, raspy rants, and supposedly features a Bjork sample.
    By HENRY COOKE

    Sweet Apple – “Wish You Could Stay (A Little Longer)

    This song is really great. Its got J Mascis, Mark Lanegan and a bunch of other guys playing fuzzy pop–punk like it’s still the early 90s. Prepare for some sweet melodies and badass soloing to wash your apathy away.
    By JESSE ARMSTRONG–KONY

     

    by

  • The Fault in our Stars [Film Review]

    The Fault in our Stars

    The recent obsession for emotionally fraught, desperate Tumblr feeds has been The Fault in our Stars, a film which has swept the world’s movie conscience with heartfelt, sappy recognition. The cinema was ringing with choking noises of sadness which, to my own amazement, I was callously not contributing. It felt like I was an outside observer yet to be infiltrated by the subconscious beliefs of what I was meant to be feeling. There were serious faults in my feels. My lack of belief in the trauma of the movie left me feeling blasphemous, confused and cold-hearted, like when you’re the only one with your eyes open during prayer at a Christmas service. It was the same for the emotional experience that was The Perks of Being a Wallflower where I left the cinema with a conscience twisted with guilt at my annoyance towards the main character rather than the socially expected sympathy. My flatmate publicly cried upon telling people about the tears she shed in the safe darkness of the movie theatre. Anytime I try to contest the exaggerated praise towards both these films, there is mass genuine shock at my defiance. How dare I.

    Acclaimed film critic for The Guardian Peter Bradshaw recently described The Fault in our Stars as “manipulative and crass”. The film’s success at “attacking our tear ducts’”, as he puts it, is truly astounding, and definitely not only among tender teenage girls. The word ‘okay’ has somehow become loaded with sensuality. The bench in Amsterdam that Hazel and Augustus got all cosy on has gone missing. The second of July was a day when social media recognised the death of Augustus Waters. These films seem to play upon vulnerability, accentuating shallow assumptions that commonly surround experiences like mental illness and cancer to draw in the already emotionally attuned and convert the hard-edged. Who can resist the poetic metaphor of carrying an unlit cigarette around in your mouth? The situations burdening the characters become a feature used by the movie to draw in an audience, rather than being developed and reflected upon as an essential part of a powerful story. It is always the love-stricken, heroic lines that supposedly define the worth of the lives we find ourselves leading and that become the objects of obsession for this movie’s viewers (not, might I add, the battle of dealing with cancer: that becomes the icing on the cake).

    Maybe cynicism will be my “always”. ‘#the fault in our feels’ is trending because of over-thinkers like me. It may be my awkward aversion to soppy romantic spouting that means the line “you gave me a forever within numbered days” doesn’t make me sob my eyes out in the hope that someone, someday will say something similar (even if it’s true). And maybe I should appreciate the basic fact that these movies do inspire communal ‘feels’ with hope and appreciation for any silver lining in what are otherwise incredibly difficult lives fraught by circumstances such as having cancer. “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, but you do get a say in who hurts you… I like my choices,” declares Augustus Waters, and yet the film denies you your choice of sympathy and deep reflection.

    10 films which question your spirituality:

    1.  Innocence of Muslims: with a lifetime of only one solitary proper screening, this failure of a movie did its bit to help shake relations between the Middle East and the US when its YouTube trailers went viral for their depiction of the Prophet as a womaniser, murderer and paedophile, stirring the riotous temptations of Hezbollah among many others. Not only disrespectful to a substantial proportion of the world’s population, their shit quality and substance were an embarrassment to all (apart from maybe those American teachers who tell preschoolers humans walked with dinosaurs upon the creation of this God-given planet.)

    2. An artistic and unconventional interpretation of the biblical story, often held close to the hearts of children due to the animals involved, Noah has been attracting attention in recent months for its darker rendition of God trying to purge the earth of its sins.

    3. Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ.

    4. Based on the book written by Scientology’s founder, Battlefield Earth promotes the religion’s claimed alien origins, aptly starring John Travolta. With a rating of 3% on Rotten Tomatoes and an excruciatingly boring trailer, unless you enjoy seeing Travolta with a weird nose plug, it is sure to be a waste of time.

    5. Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God documents the steady and global exposure of widespread misbehaviour within the Catholic Church. Cleverly paced and very insightful, this film provokes an awe-inspiring sense of the power wielded by the spiritual institution.

    6. Of Gods and Men beautifully tells the true story of nine Trappist monks living in a remote part of Algeria and the challenges presented to them by the 1996 civil war. A poignant reflection on heartfelt devotion.

    7. Bruce Almighty.

    8. Still infamous for horrifying all audiences, The Exorcist was condemned by the Christian community in 1973, with one reverend declaring that the film rolls were possessed by the devil.

    9. Theo Van Gogh, the Dutch director of the short film Submission, was assassinated by a Dutch–Moroccan Muslim extremist in response to his ten-minute-long video depicting a Muslim woman in nude while wearing sheer traditional clothing and imprinted with verses from the Koran.

    10. Monty Python’s Life of Brian was reacted to strongly by Christian groups across the world, who obviously did not look on the bright side of life.

     

    by

  • Autobiography of a Marguerite [Reveiw]

    AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A MARGUERITE
    by Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle
    4/5 stars

    New from Auckland publishers Hue & Cry Press is this gorgeous, haunting book of prose poems. It’s an autobiography in verse – or a series of biographies threaded together.

    Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle completed her MA in Creative Writing at Victoria’s IIML in 2012. This book is the finished version of her thesis. It just goes to show how well poetry is flourishing in New Zealand, especially for young new poets, all thanks to indie publishers and literary journals.

    This book can’t just be called poetry. Two biographies – the author’s and her mother’s – are laid out and threaded together, shifting between the two just as the text shifts between poetry and prose, past and present, imagination and fact, actors and audience.

    The first part traces the beginning of an unnamed illness. The prose poems are written with precision and clarity like a doctor’s notebook. Undercurrents of fear and displacement are packaged neatly inside each paragraph.

    The book’s unexpectedness and empathy emerge fully in the second section where footnotes muscle their way into the text. They’re really like little anti-footnotes tacked on to the end of unfinished lines. For instance, the word “my” is furnished with “30: the smell of imprisoned flowers.” They’re confusing and brilliant, just like the lines of the poems, which are conversational yet intricate. In this detail, you start to see that everything is knitted together.

    All these currents converge on the third section where photographs accompany the poems. They remind me of that glossy section in the middle of a real biography – the part you always flick to in the bookshop. The pictures turn all that introspection and detail into something tangible, but when you look at them, you realise they were hardly necessary; your imagining of the author’s (and her mother’s) childhood is already full of colour.

    If you don’t normally read poetry (and if you do), you might be pleasantly surprised by the way the form shifts and bends. It feels new, wonderfully readable, and original.

    One of my favourite lines: “The doctor said, The immune system fails to recognise itself and starts attacking its own cells and tissues.” Autobiography of a Marguerite is a beautifully crafted exercise in recognising the self, teasing apart your cells and tissues, and quietly resisting attack.

     

    by

  • A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing [Review]

    A GIRL IS A HALF-FORMED THING
    by Eimear McBride
    5/5 stars

    A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing is a rebellion. It’s a revolution and it’s a punch in the guts. It came out late last year, but the book recently won the prestigious Baileys Prize (formerly known as the Orange Prize for Women’s Fiction). And it’s Eimear McBride’s first novel.

    It begins: “For you. You’ll soon. You’ll give her name. In the stitches of her skin she’ll wear your say.” Straight away, you’ll feel uneasy. How are you supposed to read 264 more pages of this? Let me be honest; it’s not an easy read. But then, should a novel be easy? What does it say about ourselves, if we’re always needing something that’s easy to read?

    Nothing about this book is easy, and it shouldn’t be. It’s a coming-of-age novel, beginning with an unnamed Irish girl’s childhood and ending somewhere on the messy cusp of her adulthood. It’s hard work, understanding McBride’s spliced and straitjacketed sentences. Often, you don’t know exactly who is being described or get a clear image of the action, but that’s the point. It’s a stream of consciousness, and this consciousness isn’t trying to make itself understood. It’s not trying to be anything other than what it is: a half-formed thing.

    There are moments when the prose feels like poetry fighting really hard to escape from the cracks – or maybe fighting to stay inside its wrappings. In moments like “in the stitches of her skin she’ll wear your say”, for instance, the protagonist’s view of her world is suddenly perfectly clear and perfectly imprecise at the same time. McBride captures how it feels, sometimes, for your senses to process something totally overwhelming: utterly clear and quite beautiful, but beyond words and unfit for regular sentences.

    You’ll be left feeling stunned, grief-stricken, emboldened, exhausted. I don’t think I’ve felt this specific mix of emotions while reading a book since Sirius died. This book isn’t for you if you faint at the sight of blood and bad grammar. It’s not for a reader who tires quickly. It’s for you if you’re feeling brave and don’t have anything due the next morning.

    Eimear McBride’s new language is entirely hers. It’s poetic and brutal. A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing doesn’t need to try to be messy or try to be brave; it just is.

    by

  • Home and Back Again

    Towards the end of Anton Shammas’ The Retreat from Galilee, following the arrival and subsequent occupation of the Israeli army in a rural Galilean village in 1948, a brief reprieve is offered. By paying a ransom, the inhabitants convince the Israeli army to overturn a decree that would allow troops to clear the village. The story’s penultimate paragraph motions towards a conclusion that seems, initially, almost derivative:

    “winter came as a complete surprise, as if it had waited for the war to pass over our village and for the peace and quiet to return to our homes… but the world did not return to its previous state, for the order of things was disturbed.”

    This admission of irrevocable change is familiar in diasporic literatures. The location of the narrator is not revealed, but it is assumed he speaks from a certain distance, both spatially and temporally. The story’s project is one of reconstruction, told from a certain remove. For the narrator, it is not possible to tell the story of the 1948 Israeli invasion without first reaching back, to his father’s barber shop, to his grandmother’s birth, to the Ottoman Empire.

    Nostalgia was defined in the late-17th century as a medical condition, an acute manifestation of homesickness. In the first two years of the American Civil War, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, “there were reported 2588 cases of nostalgia, and 13 deaths from this cause”. Words dull with usage. When we speak now, the implied intensity is less severe, the potential for fatality absent. But nostalgia is still a kind of grief, an admission of absence.

    Here we are… home, at last, on display at Toi Pōneke until 26 July, features work from two artists engaging with this loss. Negin Dastgheib and Jessica Hubbard toy with a longing for a specific time and place in a way that simultaneously invests in the reconstruction of a personal history, and acknowledges its limitations when applied to the project of feeling home.

    Dastgheib’s parents moved to New Zealand from Iran in the 1980s, after the Iranian Revolution. Presented in this exhibition are a series of paintings based on family photographs. Figures embrace, or stand passively, featureless faces looking towards the viewer – in possession of an intimacy at once visible and intangible. Tonally, the works are both vivid and blown-out. There are echoes of Kirsty Porter’s family portraits in her thick, easy brushstrokes, her concealment of detail in favour of feeling, her undermining of the photograph’s claims to mimetic authenticity.

    Nostalgia sustains itself through fictions. For children of diaspora, motherlands are preserved at the point of departure. The photograph works in the same way. The photograph, in its freezing of time, documents something that no longer exists, acting as a reference point, rendering the present – everything after the photo – as insufficient. Dastgheib’s rendering of longing is both profound and destabilising. Her work refuses any sepia-stained endorsement of a longing that treats the present only as a pale imitation of a better, happier time. Rather, the fissures in her representation, her concealment, her bold colouring, acknowledge the intangibility of the past, while allowing it a presence in the contemporary project of feeling at home.

    Hubbard approaches reconstruction as a process of removal. Cut paper screens hang from the ceiling, dividing the gallery space. Where Dastgheib’s obfuscation occurs in her figuration, Hubbard’s appears in her form. The screens act as both architecture and receptor, onto which faint images of Japan are projected. Hubbard moved to Japan shortly after finishing her BA, knowing nothing of the language, and little of the place itself. Hubbard’s Japan seems less present than Dastgheib’s Iran. It may be the frailty of the screens: the bottoms curl up, positive space between cuts gets warped and folded. It may be that projections necessitate a kind of distance from the viewer, the possibility of close inspection denied by shadow. Dastgheib’s paintings possess a certain physicality absent from Hubbard’s work.

    Dastgheib paints from relics, from stories told by older relatives. Nostalgia is rendered both a comfort and a danger. Abstraction, like memory, distorts the authority these relics proffer. Here, the past is rendered not as a qualitative judgement against the present, but as a means of grounding an identity, a means of moving forward. Hubbard trades in another, no less valid, dislocation – a lasting sense of fascination, the disorientation of being somewhere unfamiliar. She claws not at Japan itself, but at her impression of Japan at a particular time. For both artists, the past disturbs the present, it unsettles and unearths, but in acknowledging the impossibility of return, both artists motion towards a potential for reconciliation, a reality in which home is not an abstract space in an unreachable time, a home which allows the past a presence in the contemporary, but refuse to succumb to the temptation of nostalgia’s fictions.

    Here we are… home at last, Toi Pōneke, until 26 July

    by

  • Top of the Lake

    At the risk of sounding like a person who actually knows what they’re talking about, I’ll say this is the best television show I’ve seen so far. Aired last year, written by Jane Campion (absolute Big Dog) and Gerard Lee – you might’ve seen Sweetie, which they worked on together back in 1989. I guess they’re sort of mates.

    I’d like to preemptively apologise as well. Given this is a non-professional role, the calibre of this review may in fact be a record low, loose as a goose, etc, because I’m currently holidaying in a distant land – also, a bee stung me today and it’s all itchy and club-foot-lookin’. Also, looks like Djokovic is about to win, which pisses me off. LOL, just saw Bear Grylls in a suit at Wimbledon. Right, to business.

    This show fits into the ‘new aesthetic’ we see in other shows such as True Detective and the like. ‘New aesthetic’ being a non-industry term I’m trying out which describes the movement away from traditional, periodic television, to something more rounded in a narrative sense. Again, we’re ostensibly served up something familiar enough – the cop show – and instead, what we end up seeing is the familiar format being totally reshaped. Really, this thing is about real people and relationships. It’s sort of like Broadchurch for smart people, though that makes me sound like a massive tosser. And it’s not a true analogy either. See below.

    Campion herself says she wanted to tell this story through the television medium as though it were a novel. And this is sort of what I’m talking about – lots of these new wide-screen high-def setups are actually the products of novellas. I haven’t done the classic ‘close rewatch’ thing properly yet, but the episode structure works as a gentle parabola and, dare I say it, is almost liquidly languid. Perhaps we’re getting a little carried away with prose here.

    Filmed in Glenorchy (near Queenstown, to the layman), the visual aspect of the show is pretty stunning. And if you’ve been doing any reading or watching of New Zealand texts ever, then you know all about the Dark But Beautiful Landscape thing. Like many such texts, there’s a focus on the connection between the people and the land, and isolation within that. This is particularly emphasised by the small community the characters live in. The setting also contributes to the rich atmosphere throughout – that’s the thing about the hue, too.

    Part of it’s the acting: Elisabeth Moss does a pretty reasonable Kiwi-but-workin’-in-Sydney accent. She does some weird stuff with ‘o’ sounds when she’s stressed, but for the most part it’s solid. Her character, Robin, is a pretty awesome example of a woman fighting within a system of male hegemony – I don’t think it’s an accident that she’s a cop in a small town. A few of the actors are Australian. You probably can’t tell about the actors if you’re giving out Emmys (eight nominations), and I don’t reckon it’s much of a thing given that there’s no pretence as to absolute realism with television (or any televisual experience, if we’re completely honest). Bunch of other quasi-famous people you’ll prob recognise.

    But really, I think the key issue raised by the text revolves around women, particularly single women, and the way their ‘roles’ play out against the abusive patriarchy. Really, the only positive male characters are Turangi and Jamie, perhaps Johnno – all outsiders in their own ways. By the finish, it’s not so much a solution the texts offers as the forceful reminder that things like rape culture can’t be solved on a case-by-case basis. And while Tui’s case is solved in the end, the implication is that things are not, and can never under the current structures be, resolved. And at this stage, retrospective to a viewing of the show, you can see some methods for resistance are proffered. That’s what someone like John Key needs to think about when he does his ‘not all men’ interview. Also, I like to think about the lake as a metaphor in the context of this discussion, though we can’t really get into any of this properly without spoilers, and I think everyone should watch this show fresh, so no spoilers.

    To refer back to Campion slightly randomly: she says one of the focusses was on women and their identity, and about how GJ’s women’s camp (named Paradise) is a place for female veterans of love and romance – they’re old and unfuckable (her word), and once you’re that, you’re outside ‘normal femininity’. This is pretty huge stuff, probably not within the realm of a review of this kind, but I just thought I’d raise that to illustrate a bit more of the discourse this text has generated.

    The ending got some mixed reviews. Some people thought it was a bit over the top (of the Lake?). Nah.

    Anyway: watch this. It’s an important text. Ciao.

     

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  • Godzilla

    The original Godzilla film came out in 1954 and since then there have been many cinematic attempts to reimagine the classic. It has proved a monster of a challenge however, reaching a low point with the 1998 film of the same name which reduced the king of monsters to a glorified T-Rex. This seemed to be an evolutionary dead end for the franchise. The announcement of a new Godzilla film however, which promised a more traditional treatment of the colossal (if slightly corpulent) super lizard, finally gave me a reason to believe that my desires for a thrilling film full of wanton destruction could be fulfilled. Sadly though my hopes were crushed like unnamed civilians are all the time in these films; it was disappointingly mediocre at best.

    It wasn’t that there wasn’t enough destruction, the action moves from Tokyo, to Hawaii, to Las Vegas and finally to San Francisco; all of them getting thoroughly bashed to bits. Yet as the movie progressed I got steadily more bored. With each new location I cared a little bit less. There were three fundamental reasons for this. Not enough Godzilla, a poorly utilized cast and a weak story.

    Godzilla it seems is a master of stealth. Or perhaps the directors were just trying to reel us in by only giving us a few glimpses at a time. The same was the case for the other monsters too. Making us suspend our disbelief time and again when it seemed that both the U.S military and more impressively the news media managed to lose them at key points. An error in judgement that the 1998 film was guilty of too. While this is great for a trailer, it’s not so great for a film (cough Cloverfield). Though the final fight was an epic showdown and a showcase of animation at its best, the constant teasing became a bit of a drag on the rest of the film. The first encounter between Godzilla and one of the Muto’s (giant monsters that resemble insects) could have resulted in a similarly cinematically superb battle. Yet Instead of showing us the fight, we only get to watch parts of it on a grainy news broadcast and catch a few glimpses of it from the main characters perspective.

    The main character was a military bomb disposal expert played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson (best known for his role in Kickass). Unfortunately his performance paled in comparison to that of the supporting actors. Especially Elizabeth Olsen as his wife and the emotional performance of Bryan Cranston as his father; whom is tortured by the death of his own wife due to a nuclear meltdown created by a Muto rampage. Unfortunately both of these characters were woefully underutilised and despite their best efforts were unable to provide the humanity this film sorely lacked. Ken Wantanabe got a little more screen time as a scientist tasked with researching the king of monsters, but the dynamic between him and a military commander he has to work with comes across as overly conciliatory and worst of all boring. Other than a memorable moment when he correctly pronounces Godzilla as ‘Godjira’ he manages to add little except for exposition.

    Most of these problems could have been minimized however by better writing. Plot holes are apparent from the get go and circumstances seem forced to fit an idea that Aarons character is the one we should be rooting for. This is achieved for example by a death that makes him important for all of five minutes but as a consequence allows him to travel to monster hotspots. He makes well intentioned promises to meet up with his wife and child (like any hero would) but is able to forget about that matrimonial baggage because it suddenly appears he is the only man in the United States capable of arming or disarming a nuclear bomb. This leads to a monumental muck up which puts him in the middle of the climax of the film. Even here the filmmakers seem desperate to make this a character we should care about, having Godzilla and the Muto’s at several points in the climax recognise ‘his importance’ by staring or roaring at him (another mistake they repeated from the 1998 version). By the end of the film I almost wanted it to turn out his entire family had been wiped out, because then it would’ve at least made a point about not keeping your promises.

    To be fair there were some positives about the film. The scenes in Tokyo were interesting, especially the quarantine area erected by the military where foliage was slowly reclaiming the cityscape. The climactic battle was brilliant with the return of Godzilla’s signature move of breathing a beam of blue flame utilized excellently. All the monsters were cinematic master pieces and the ultimately tragic Muto love story was only overshadowed by Cranston’s anguished scenes during and after the loss of his wife.

    It had potential to be amazing because of these elements but as part of the complete package they weren’t enough to make the film great. Once the action moved from Tokyo and Cranston the film fermented into a boring drone. The plot came across bad enough that I ended up laughing due to the absurdity of it at times. When Godzilla was declared ‘saviour’ of San Francisco I could not suspend my disbelief; Godzilla took my disbelief and burned it to pieces. It left me cracking up and yet very annoyed. The monsters deserved to be in a significantly less stupid story, following more interesting characters. It should follow the Jurassic Park route and not the Transformers route. I hope the planned trilogy of Godzilla movies can give audiences a reason to roar in approval instead of anguish next time.

     

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  • All Your Wants and Needs Fulfilled Forever [Review]

    It’s been a while since Wellington audiences have had a chance to see The PlayGround Collective, and their return to Bats is triumphant.

    All Your Wants and Needs Fulfilled Forever is, the programme notes tell us, a re-worked version of Tinderbox, first staged with the help of a STAB commission in 2011. The new version is nearly unrecognisable from that first season. The original Tinderbox was based on a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, set in a Wild West-style wasteland. The new version is set in a very contemporary Aro Valley flat, its main character a game design student struggling to cope with bereavement. The main reference point for the new story is not an old fairytale, but that very contemporary genre the video game.

    Audience members familiar with The PlayGround Collective and playwright Eli Kent’s work will recognise a number of themes from previous works, including their acclaimed The Intricate Art of Actually Caring. Depression, alienation, being a young person coping with grief and coming to terms with mortality, they’re all there.

    The key to the whole is the video game metaphor; the messiness and incomprehensibility of life is set against the rigid structure and pre-set pathways of a side-scrolling video game. In the game, you know where you’re going, and how to get there. There are obstacles you need to get past, and in the end there will be a final boss. The player character is thoroughly at the mercy of the player, and will do the player’s bidding without question. Real people, like the play’s main character Simon, however, have minds and wills of their own. They don’t necessarily do the expected thing, and the real world doesn’t behave cleanly and predictably like a game. The play is a process of unravelling – any sense of a narrative, or of predictability, or distinction between reality and the fantasy of a game world.

    The whole performance is a seamless totality, acting and design and set flawlessly integrated, the whole letting us into Simon’s mind as he tries to navigate his feelings of grief and loss without any clear pathway, attempting unsuccessfully to take refuge in distraction. A disembodied voice appears to be in control – perhaps the player, or the game software itself, but loses control, generating much of the comedy of the play. The other actors perform from a kind of backstage that isn’t a backstage, similarly trying to guide Simon through the narrative, but also losing control.

    The whole is a kind of dark comedy, with so much packed in it’s difficult to convey a sense of after the fact. This is a highly original, carefully-wrought production deserving of high praise. It has grown enormously from that first season at Bats in 2011, where for all its inventiveness the narrative underpinning it was not developed enough to fully engage my interest. Hopefully we will get to see this play again, in this or another iteration.

     

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  • Revelations [Review]

    The first thing to hit you about this production is the beautiful set and dramatic lighting design, both of which contribute to a polished, professional production, the like of which I have never seen in the Bats Out of Site space before. The next thing to resonate (literally) with you is the Sound design, by Oliver Devlin, which manipulates narrative-relevant sounds to create a subtle but striking soundtrack to the work.

    The cast too was incredibly strong. Brynley Stent, recent Toi Whakaari graduate, was absolutely brilliant as the eldest daughter of the bible-weary family, and Freya Sadgrove alongside her was also incredibly convincing. For me the highlight of the play was Sadgrove’s tear-jerking monologue, which really spoke to the pains of familial relationships as a late-teen-limbo-kid looking to explore the world. All of the actors made the lyrical script very natural and normal, giving a lovely hint of poetry and magical realism to the play, which still giving grounded and thorough performances.

    As a new play from Lori Leigh there was a lot riding on this opening night in terms of the script as well as the performance, and all I can say is you will not be disappointed. First of all having four meaty well-developed female characters onstage is a burst of fresh air to say the least, and a joy to watch. Secondly, the issues dealt with in the script, including faith, homophobia, depression, anxiety, and abortive rights, were sensitively and elegantly handled to give a profound effect. Lastly, the writing itself flows beautifully, and is inter-spliced with audience addressing monologues, giving us a key into each character. These monologues are almost beat-poetic, or in the style of a some kind of free-writing, and are incredible; personal, poetic, profound.

    Overall, the only fault I could find with ‘Revelations’ were the scene transitions, which broke the world a little for me, but I’m not sure what I could expect to fix that as they were necessary and done in low light; I’d presume that by the end of the season they will be smooth as anything. In terms of opening night, this show was humorous, touching, beautiful, and left me with a wonderful, deep-seated sense of melancholic joy that only great poetry can instil.

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  • Eight songs you missed over the break

    In the decades since the last issue of Salient, some songs have come out.

    FKA Twigs – ‘Two Weeks’
    The artist formerly known as Twigs has gone through more than just a name change. ‘Two Weeks’ is a revelation – a near-perfect R&B song, full of tension, release, and elegant longing. Not that this isn’t a song about sex. Also, she’s plays a gigantic goddess in the one-long-take video; you should probably watch it.

    COOL RUNNINGS – ‘BLISTER’
    A 2:53 romp, the most fun I’ve had listening to a New Zealand punkish band in years, and it’s from an EP called I HATE IT HERE. True. Buy or callously steal the EP on Bandcamp.

    Hundred Waters – ‘Murmurs’
    Purity Ring with less fluids, despite the name. Also, less body horror. There’s a whole set of lyrics, but the one stuttering line that begins the song, “I wish you could see what I see”, is the one that stands out, especially when it’s flipped somewhere near the end, breaking out of the mix like a drowning man.

    Cable – ‘One Thing’ (One Direction cover)
    So yes, you can’t improve on a classic, but this fuzzy cover comes pretty close. Best of all, it doesn’t feel like she’s mocking the original, although she clearly can’t hit the notes those boys can.

    Grimes – ‘GO’
    Grimes originally wrote this song for Rihanna, and while it’s hard to imagine Rih dreamily waltzing through the verses like Grimes does, the horn-filled chorus feels tailor-made. On first listen it doesn’t sound like a Grimes song at all, but on each replay you notice more of her signature tics, even if you can make out every lyric now.

    The Weeknd – ‘Often’
    Not The Weeknd’s best song, but better than 90 per cent of the songs on his disappointing sophomore effort. Why? He’s back to singing throughout the whole song, in a lower register, and is plenty menacing. The songwriting is a bit lazy, with a simple-but-catchy chorus that he sings just one time too many, but this is still a Weeknd song that sounds like The Weeknd again.

    Death Grips – ‘Voila’
    Death Grips have now broken up, after four years of exciting internet music nerds more than a new Needle Drop review. Before they go, they’re releasing a two-part album called The Powers That B. This track from the first half is full of stuttering drums, raspy rants, and supposedly features a Bjork sample.
    By HENRY COOKE

    Sweet Apple – “Wish You Could Stay (A Little Longer)

    This song is really great. Its got J Mascis, Mark Lanegan and a bunch of other guys playing fuzzy pop–punk like it’s still the early 90s. Prepare for some sweet melodies and badass soloing to wash your apathy away.
    By JESSE ARMSTRONG–KONY

     

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  • The Fault in our Stars [Film Review]

    The Fault in our Stars

    The recent obsession for emotionally fraught, desperate Tumblr feeds has been The Fault in our Stars, a film which has swept the world’s movie conscience with heartfelt, sappy recognition. The cinema was ringing with choking noises of sadness which, to my own amazement, I was callously not contributing. It felt like I was an outside observer yet to be infiltrated by the subconscious beliefs of what I was meant to be feeling. There were serious faults in my feels. My lack of belief in the trauma of the movie left me feeling blasphemous, confused and cold-hearted, like when you’re the only one with your eyes open during prayer at a Christmas service. It was the same for the emotional experience that was The Perks of Being a Wallflower where I left the cinema with a conscience twisted with guilt at my annoyance towards the main character rather than the socially expected sympathy. My flatmate publicly cried upon telling people about the tears she shed in the safe darkness of the movie theatre. Anytime I try to contest the exaggerated praise towards both these films, there is mass genuine shock at my defiance. How dare I.

    Acclaimed film critic for The Guardian Peter Bradshaw recently described The Fault in our Stars as “manipulative and crass”. The film’s success at “attacking our tear ducts’”, as he puts it, is truly astounding, and definitely not only among tender teenage girls. The word ‘okay’ has somehow become loaded with sensuality. The bench in Amsterdam that Hazel and Augustus got all cosy on has gone missing. The second of July was a day when social media recognised the death of Augustus Waters. These films seem to play upon vulnerability, accentuating shallow assumptions that commonly surround experiences like mental illness and cancer to draw in the already emotionally attuned and convert the hard-edged. Who can resist the poetic metaphor of carrying an unlit cigarette around in your mouth? The situations burdening the characters become a feature used by the movie to draw in an audience, rather than being developed and reflected upon as an essential part of a powerful story. It is always the love-stricken, heroic lines that supposedly define the worth of the lives we find ourselves leading and that become the objects of obsession for this movie’s viewers (not, might I add, the battle of dealing with cancer: that becomes the icing on the cake).

    Maybe cynicism will be my “always”. ‘#the fault in our feels’ is trending because of over-thinkers like me. It may be my awkward aversion to soppy romantic spouting that means the line “you gave me a forever within numbered days” doesn’t make me sob my eyes out in the hope that someone, someday will say something similar (even if it’s true). And maybe I should appreciate the basic fact that these movies do inspire communal ‘feels’ with hope and appreciation for any silver lining in what are otherwise incredibly difficult lives fraught by circumstances such as having cancer. “You don’t get to choose if you get hurt in this world, but you do get a say in who hurts you… I like my choices,” declares Augustus Waters, and yet the film denies you your choice of sympathy and deep reflection.

    10 films which question your spirituality:

    1.  Innocence of Muslims: with a lifetime of only one solitary proper screening, this failure of a movie did its bit to help shake relations between the Middle East and the US when its YouTube trailers went viral for their depiction of the Prophet as a womaniser, murderer and paedophile, stirring the riotous temptations of Hezbollah among many others. Not only disrespectful to a substantial proportion of the world’s population, their shit quality and substance were an embarrassment to all (apart from maybe those American teachers who tell preschoolers humans walked with dinosaurs upon the creation of this God-given planet.)

    2. An artistic and unconventional interpretation of the biblical story, often held close to the hearts of children due to the animals involved, Noah has been attracting attention in recent months for its darker rendition of God trying to purge the earth of its sins.

    3. Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ.

    4. Based on the book written by Scientology’s founder, Battlefield Earth promotes the religion’s claimed alien origins, aptly starring John Travolta. With a rating of 3% on Rotten Tomatoes and an excruciatingly boring trailer, unless you enjoy seeing Travolta with a weird nose plug, it is sure to be a waste of time.

    5. Mea Maxima Culpa: Silence in the House of God documents the steady and global exposure of widespread misbehaviour within the Catholic Church. Cleverly paced and very insightful, this film provokes an awe-inspiring sense of the power wielded by the spiritual institution.

    6. Of Gods and Men beautifully tells the true story of nine Trappist monks living in a remote part of Algeria and the challenges presented to them by the 1996 civil war. A poignant reflection on heartfelt devotion.

    7. Bruce Almighty.

    8. Still infamous for horrifying all audiences, The Exorcist was condemned by the Christian community in 1973, with one reverend declaring that the film rolls were possessed by the devil.

    9. Theo Van Gogh, the Dutch director of the short film Submission, was assassinated by a Dutch–Moroccan Muslim extremist in response to his ten-minute-long video depicting a Muslim woman in nude while wearing sheer traditional clothing and imprinted with verses from the Koran.

    10. Monty Python’s Life of Brian was reacted to strongly by Christian groups across the world, who obviously did not look on the bright side of life.

     

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  • Autobiography of a Marguerite [Reveiw]

    AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF A MARGUERITE
    by Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle
    4/5 stars

    New from Auckland publishers Hue & Cry Press is this gorgeous, haunting book of prose poems. It’s an autobiography in verse – or a series of biographies threaded together.

    Zarah Butcher-McGunnigle completed her MA in Creative Writing at Victoria’s IIML in 2012. This book is the finished version of her thesis. It just goes to show how well poetry is flourishing in New Zealand, especially for young new poets, all thanks to indie publishers and literary journals.

    This book can’t just be called poetry. Two biographies – the author’s and her mother’s – are laid out and threaded together, shifting between the two just as the text shifts between poetry and prose, past and present, imagination and fact, actors and audience.

    The first part traces the beginning of an unnamed illness. The prose poems are written with precision and clarity like a doctor’s notebook. Undercurrents of fear and displacement are packaged neatly inside each paragraph.

    The book’s unexpectedness and empathy emerge fully in the second section where footnotes muscle their way into the text. They’re really like little anti-footnotes tacked on to the end of unfinished lines. For instance, the word “my” is furnished with “30: the smell of imprisoned flowers.” They’re confusing and brilliant, just like the lines of the poems, which are conversational yet intricate. In this detail, you start to see that everything is knitted together.

    All these currents converge on the third section where photographs accompany the poems. They remind me of that glossy section in the middle of a real biography – the part you always flick to in the bookshop. The pictures turn all that introspection and detail into something tangible, but when you look at them, you realise they were hardly necessary; your imagining of the author’s (and her mother’s) childhood is already full of colour.

    If you don’t normally read poetry (and if you do), you might be pleasantly surprised by the way the form shifts and bends. It feels new, wonderfully readable, and original.

    One of my favourite lines: “The doctor said, The immune system fails to recognise itself and starts attacking its own cells and tissues.” Autobiography of a Marguerite is a beautifully crafted exercise in recognising the self, teasing apart your cells and tissues, and quietly resisting attack.

     

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  • A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing [Review]

    A GIRL IS A HALF-FORMED THING
    by Eimear McBride
    5/5 stars

    A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing is a rebellion. It’s a revolution and it’s a punch in the guts. It came out late last year, but the book recently won the prestigious Baileys Prize (formerly known as the Orange Prize for Women’s Fiction). And it’s Eimear McBride’s first novel.

    It begins: “For you. You’ll soon. You’ll give her name. In the stitches of her skin she’ll wear your say.” Straight away, you’ll feel uneasy. How are you supposed to read 264 more pages of this? Let me be honest; it’s not an easy read. But then, should a novel be easy? What does it say about ourselves, if we’re always needing something that’s easy to read?

    Nothing about this book is easy, and it shouldn’t be. It’s a coming-of-age novel, beginning with an unnamed Irish girl’s childhood and ending somewhere on the messy cusp of her adulthood. It’s hard work, understanding McBride’s spliced and straitjacketed sentences. Often, you don’t know exactly who is being described or get a clear image of the action, but that’s the point. It’s a stream of consciousness, and this consciousness isn’t trying to make itself understood. It’s not trying to be anything other than what it is: a half-formed thing.

    There are moments when the prose feels like poetry fighting really hard to escape from the cracks – or maybe fighting to stay inside its wrappings. In moments like “in the stitches of her skin she’ll wear your say”, for instance, the protagonist’s view of her world is suddenly perfectly clear and perfectly imprecise at the same time. McBride captures how it feels, sometimes, for your senses to process something totally overwhelming: utterly clear and quite beautiful, but beyond words and unfit for regular sentences.

    You’ll be left feeling stunned, grief-stricken, emboldened, exhausted. I don’t think I’ve felt this specific mix of emotions while reading a book since Sirius died. This book isn’t for you if you faint at the sight of blood and bad grammar. It’s not for a reader who tires quickly. It’s for you if you’re feeling brave and don’t have anything due the next morning.

    Eimear McBride’s new language is entirely hers. It’s poetic and brutal. A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing doesn’t need to try to be messy or try to be brave; it just is.

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  • Home and Back Again

    Towards the end of Anton Shammas’ The Retreat from Galilee, following the arrival and subsequent occupation of the Israeli army in a rural Galilean village in 1948, a brief reprieve is offered. By paying a ransom, the inhabitants convince the Israeli army to overturn a decree that would allow troops to clear the village. The story’s penultimate paragraph motions towards a conclusion that seems, initially, almost derivative:

    “winter came as a complete surprise, as if it had waited for the war to pass over our village and for the peace and quiet to return to our homes… but the world did not return to its previous state, for the order of things was disturbed.”

    This admission of irrevocable change is familiar in diasporic literatures. The location of the narrator is not revealed, but it is assumed he speaks from a certain distance, both spatially and temporally. The story’s project is one of reconstruction, told from a certain remove. For the narrator, it is not possible to tell the story of the 1948 Israeli invasion without first reaching back, to his father’s barber shop, to his grandmother’s birth, to the Ottoman Empire.

    Nostalgia was defined in the late-17th century as a medical condition, an acute manifestation of homesickness. In the first two years of the American Civil War, according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, “there were reported 2588 cases of nostalgia, and 13 deaths from this cause”. Words dull with usage. When we speak now, the implied intensity is less severe, the potential for fatality absent. But nostalgia is still a kind of grief, an admission of absence.

    Here we are… home, at last, on display at Toi Pōneke until 26 July, features work from two artists engaging with this loss. Negin Dastgheib and Jessica Hubbard toy with a longing for a specific time and place in a way that simultaneously invests in the reconstruction of a personal history, and acknowledges its limitations when applied to the project of feeling home.

    Dastgheib’s parents moved to New Zealand from Iran in the 1980s, after the Iranian Revolution. Presented in this exhibition are a series of paintings based on family photographs. Figures embrace, or stand passively, featureless faces looking towards the viewer – in possession of an intimacy at once visible and intangible. Tonally, the works are both vivid and blown-out. There are echoes of Kirsty Porter’s family portraits in her thick, easy brushstrokes, her concealment of detail in favour of feeling, her undermining of the photograph’s claims to mimetic authenticity.

    Nostalgia sustains itself through fictions. For children of diaspora, motherlands are preserved at the point of departure. The photograph works in the same way. The photograph, in its freezing of time, documents something that no longer exists, acting as a reference point, rendering the present – everything after the photo – as insufficient. Dastgheib’s rendering of longing is both profound and destabilising. Her work refuses any sepia-stained endorsement of a longing that treats the present only as a pale imitation of a better, happier time. Rather, the fissures in her representation, her concealment, her bold colouring, acknowledge the intangibility of the past, while allowing it a presence in the contemporary project of feeling at home.

    Hubbard approaches reconstruction as a process of removal. Cut paper screens hang from the ceiling, dividing the gallery space. Where Dastgheib’s obfuscation occurs in her figuration, Hubbard’s appears in her form. The screens act as both architecture and receptor, onto which faint images of Japan are projected. Hubbard moved to Japan shortly after finishing her BA, knowing nothing of the language, and little of the place itself. Hubbard’s Japan seems less present than Dastgheib’s Iran. It may be the frailty of the screens: the bottoms curl up, positive space between cuts gets warped and folded. It may be that projections necessitate a kind of distance from the viewer, the possibility of close inspection denied by shadow. Dastgheib’s paintings possess a certain physicality absent from Hubbard’s work.

    Dastgheib paints from relics, from stories told by older relatives. Nostalgia is rendered both a comfort and a danger. Abstraction, like memory, distorts the authority these relics proffer. Here, the past is rendered not as a qualitative judgement against the present, but as a means of grounding an identity, a means of moving forward. Hubbard trades in another, no less valid, dislocation – a lasting sense of fascination, the disorientation of being somewhere unfamiliar. She claws not at Japan itself, but at her impression of Japan at a particular time. For both artists, the past disturbs the present, it unsettles and unearths, but in acknowledging the impossibility of return, both artists motion towards a potential for reconciliation, a reality in which home is not an abstract space in an unreachable time, a home which allows the past a presence in the contemporary, but refuse to succumb to the temptation of nostalgia’s fictions.

    Here we are… home at last, Toi Pōneke, until 26 July

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  • Top of the Lake

    At the risk of sounding like a person who actually knows what they’re talking about, I’ll say this is the best television show I’ve seen so far. Aired last year, written by Jane Campion (absolute Big Dog) and Gerard Lee – you might’ve seen Sweetie, which they worked on together back in 1989. I guess they’re sort of mates.

    I’d like to preemptively apologise as well. Given this is a non-professional role, the calibre of this review may in fact be a record low, loose as a goose, etc, because I’m currently holidaying in a distant land – also, a bee stung me today and it’s all itchy and club-foot-lookin’. Also, looks like Djokovic is about to win, which pisses me off. LOL, just saw Bear Grylls in a suit at Wimbledon. Right, to business.

    This show fits into the ‘new aesthetic’ we see in other shows such as True Detective and the like. ‘New aesthetic’ being a non-industry term I’m trying out which describes the movement away from traditional, periodic television, to something more rounded in a narrative sense. Again, we’re ostensibly served up something familiar enough – the cop show – and instead, what we end up seeing is the familiar format being totally reshaped. Really, this thing is about real people and relationships. It’s sort of like Broadchurch for smart people, though that makes me sound like a massive tosser. And it’s not a true analogy either. See below.

    Campion herself says she wanted to tell this story through the television medium as though it were a novel. And this is sort of what I’m talking about – lots of these new wide-screen high-def setups are actually the products of novellas. I haven’t done the classic ‘close rewatch’ thing properly yet, but the episode structure works as a gentle parabola and, dare I say it, is almost liquidly languid. Perhaps we’re getting a little carried away with prose here.

    Filmed in Glenorchy (near Queenstown, to the layman), the visual aspect of the show is pretty stunning. And if you’ve been doing any reading or watching of New Zealand texts ever, then you know all about the Dark But Beautiful Landscape thing. Like many such texts, there’s a focus on the connection between the people and the land, and isolation within that. This is particularly emphasised by the small community the characters live in. The setting also contributes to the rich atmosphere throughout – that’s the thing about the hue, too.

    Part of it’s the acting: Elisabeth Moss does a pretty reasonable Kiwi-but-workin’-in-Sydney accent. She does some weird stuff with ‘o’ sounds when she’s stressed, but for the most part it’s solid. Her character, Robin, is a pretty awesome example of a woman fighting within a system of male hegemony – I don’t think it’s an accident that she’s a cop in a small town. A few of the actors are Australian. You probably can’t tell about the actors if you’re giving out Emmys (eight nominations), and I don’t reckon it’s much of a thing given that there’s no pretence as to absolute realism with television (or any televisual experience, if we’re completely honest). Bunch of other quasi-famous people you’ll prob recognise.

    But really, I think the key issue raised by the text revolves around women, particularly single women, and the way their ‘roles’ play out against the abusive patriarchy. Really, the only positive male characters are Turangi and Jamie, perhaps Johnno – all outsiders in their own ways. By the finish, it’s not so much a solution the texts offers as the forceful reminder that things like rape culture can’t be solved on a case-by-case basis. And while Tui’s case is solved in the end, the implication is that things are not, and can never under the current structures be, resolved. And at this stage, retrospective to a viewing of the show, you can see some methods for resistance are proffered. That’s what someone like John Key needs to think about when he does his ‘not all men’ interview. Also, I like to think about the lake as a metaphor in the context of this discussion, though we can’t really get into any of this properly without spoilers, and I think everyone should watch this show fresh, so no spoilers.

    To refer back to Campion slightly randomly: she says one of the focusses was on women and their identity, and about how GJ’s women’s camp (named Paradise) is a place for female veterans of love and romance – they’re old and unfuckable (her word), and once you’re that, you’re outside ‘normal femininity’. This is pretty huge stuff, probably not within the realm of a review of this kind, but I just thought I’d raise that to illustrate a bit more of the discourse this text has generated.

    The ending got some mixed reviews. Some people thought it was a bit over the top (of the Lake?). Nah.

    Anyway: watch this. It’s an important text. Ciao.

     

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  • Godzilla

    The original Godzilla film came out in 1954 and since then there have been many cinematic attempts to reimagine the classic. It has proved a monster of a challenge however, reaching a low point with the 1998 film of the same name which reduced the king of monsters to a glorified T-Rex. This seemed to be an evolutionary dead end for the franchise. The announcement of a new Godzilla film however, which promised a more traditional treatment of the colossal (if slightly corpulent) super lizard, finally gave me a reason to believe that my desires for a thrilling film full of wanton destruction could be fulfilled. Sadly though my hopes were crushed like unnamed civilians are all the time in these films; it was disappointingly mediocre at best.

    It wasn’t that there wasn’t enough destruction, the action moves from Tokyo, to Hawaii, to Las Vegas and finally to San Francisco; all of them getting thoroughly bashed to bits. Yet as the movie progressed I got steadily more bored. With each new location I cared a little bit less. There were three fundamental reasons for this. Not enough Godzilla, a poorly utilized cast and a weak story.

    Godzilla it seems is a master of stealth. Or perhaps the directors were just trying to reel us in by only giving us a few glimpses at a time. The same was the case for the other monsters too. Making us suspend our disbelief time and again when it seemed that both the U.S military and more impressively the news media managed to lose them at key points. An error in judgement that the 1998 film was guilty of too. While this is great for a trailer, it’s not so great for a film (cough Cloverfield). Though the final fight was an epic showdown and a showcase of animation at its best, the constant teasing became a bit of a drag on the rest of the film. The first encounter between Godzilla and one of the Muto’s (giant monsters that resemble insects) could have resulted in a similarly cinematically superb battle. Yet Instead of showing us the fight, we only get to watch parts of it on a grainy news broadcast and catch a few glimpses of it from the main characters perspective.

    The main character was a military bomb disposal expert played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson (best known for his role in Kickass). Unfortunately his performance paled in comparison to that of the supporting actors. Especially Elizabeth Olsen as his wife and the emotional performance of Bryan Cranston as his father; whom is tortured by the death of his own wife due to a nuclear meltdown created by a Muto rampage. Unfortunately both of these characters were woefully underutilised and despite their best efforts were unable to provide the humanity this film sorely lacked. Ken Wantanabe got a little more screen time as a scientist tasked with researching the king of monsters, but the dynamic between him and a military commander he has to work with comes across as overly conciliatory and worst of all boring. Other than a memorable moment when he correctly pronounces Godzilla as ‘Godjira’ he manages to add little except for exposition.

    Most of these problems could have been minimized however by better writing. Plot holes are apparent from the get go and circumstances seem forced to fit an idea that Aarons character is the one we should be rooting for. This is achieved for example by a death that makes him important for all of five minutes but as a consequence allows him to travel to monster hotspots. He makes well intentioned promises to meet up with his wife and child (like any hero would) but is able to forget about that matrimonial baggage because it suddenly appears he is the only man in the United States capable of arming or disarming a nuclear bomb. This leads to a monumental muck up which puts him in the middle of the climax of the film. Even here the filmmakers seem desperate to make this a character we should care about, having Godzilla and the Muto’s at several points in the climax recognise ‘his importance’ by staring or roaring at him (another mistake they repeated from the 1998 version). By the end of the film I almost wanted it to turn out his entire family had been wiped out, because then it would’ve at least made a point about not keeping your promises.

    To be fair there were some positives about the film. The scenes in Tokyo were interesting, especially the quarantine area erected by the military where foliage was slowly reclaiming the cityscape. The climactic battle was brilliant with the return of Godzilla’s signature move of breathing a beam of blue flame utilized excellently. All the monsters were cinematic master pieces and the ultimately tragic Muto love story was only overshadowed by Cranston’s anguished scenes during and after the loss of his wife.

    It had potential to be amazing because of these elements but as part of the complete package they weren’t enough to make the film great. Once the action moved from Tokyo and Cranston the film fermented into a boring drone. The plot came across bad enough that I ended up laughing due to the absurdity of it at times. When Godzilla was declared ‘saviour’ of San Francisco I could not suspend my disbelief; Godzilla took my disbelief and burned it to pieces. It left me cracking up and yet very annoyed. The monsters deserved to be in a significantly less stupid story, following more interesting characters. It should follow the Jurassic Park route and not the Transformers route. I hope the planned trilogy of Godzilla movies can give audiences a reason to roar in approval instead of anguish next time.

     

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  • All Your Wants and Needs Fulfilled Forever [Review]

    It’s been a while since Wellington audiences have had a chance to see The PlayGround Collective, and their return to Bats is triumphant.

    All Your Wants and Needs Fulfilled Forever is, the programme notes tell us, a re-worked version of Tinderbox, first staged with the help of a STAB commission in 2011. The new version is nearly unrecognisable from that first season. The original Tinderbox was based on a Hans Christian Andersen fairytale, set in a Wild West-style wasteland. The new version is set in a very contemporary Aro Valley flat, its main character a game design student struggling to cope with bereavement. The main reference point for the new story is not an old fairytale, but that very contemporary genre the video game.

    Audience members familiar with The PlayGround Collective and playwright Eli Kent’s work will recognise a number of themes from previous works, including their acclaimed The Intricate Art of Actually Caring. Depression, alienation, being a young person coping with grief and coming to terms with mortality, they’re all there.

    The key to the whole is the video game metaphor; the messiness and incomprehensibility of life is set against the rigid structure and pre-set pathways of a side-scrolling video game. In the game, you know where you’re going, and how to get there. There are obstacles you need to get past, and in the end there will be a final boss. The player character is thoroughly at the mercy of the player, and will do the player’s bidding without question. Real people, like the play’s main character Simon, however, have minds and wills of their own. They don’t necessarily do the expected thing, and the real world doesn’t behave cleanly and predictably like a game. The play is a process of unravelling – any sense of a narrative, or of predictability, or distinction between reality and the fantasy of a game world.

    The whole performance is a seamless totality, acting and design and set flawlessly integrated, the whole letting us into Simon’s mind as he tries to navigate his feelings of grief and loss without any clear pathway, attempting unsuccessfully to take refuge in distraction. A disembodied voice appears to be in control – perhaps the player, or the game software itself, but loses control, generating much of the comedy of the play. The other actors perform from a kind of backstage that isn’t a backstage, similarly trying to guide Simon through the narrative, but also losing control.

    The whole is a kind of dark comedy, with so much packed in it’s difficult to convey a sense of after the fact. This is a highly original, carefully-wrought production deserving of high praise. It has grown enormously from that first season at Bats in 2011, where for all its inventiveness the narrative underpinning it was not developed enough to fully engage my interest. Hopefully we will get to see this play again, in this or another iteration.

     

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  • Revelations [Review]

    The first thing to hit you about this production is the beautiful set and dramatic lighting design, both of which contribute to a polished, professional production, the like of which I have never seen in the Bats Out of Site space before. The next thing to resonate (literally) with you is the Sound design, by Oliver Devlin, which manipulates narrative-relevant sounds to create a subtle but striking soundtrack to the work.

    The cast too was incredibly strong. Brynley Stent, recent Toi Whakaari graduate, was absolutely brilliant as the eldest daughter of the bible-weary family, and Freya Sadgrove alongside her was also incredibly convincing. For me the highlight of the play was Sadgrove’s tear-jerking monologue, which really spoke to the pains of familial relationships as a late-teen-limbo-kid looking to explore the world. All of the actors made the lyrical script very natural and normal, giving a lovely hint of poetry and magical realism to the play, which still giving grounded and thorough performances.

    As a new play from Lori Leigh there was a lot riding on this opening night in terms of the script as well as the performance, and all I can say is you will not be disappointed. First of all having four meaty well-developed female characters onstage is a burst of fresh air to say the least, and a joy to watch. Secondly, the issues dealt with in the script, including faith, homophobia, depression, anxiety, and abortive rights, were sensitively and elegantly handled to give a profound effect. Lastly, the writing itself flows beautifully, and is inter-spliced with audience addressing monologues, giving us a key into each character. These monologues are almost beat-poetic, or in the style of a some kind of free-writing, and are incredible; personal, poetic, profound.

    Overall, the only fault I could find with ‘Revelations’ were the scene transitions, which broke the world a little for me, but I’m not sure what I could expect to fix that as they were necessary and done in low light; I’d presume that by the end of the season they will be smooth as anything. In terms of opening night, this show was humorous, touching, beautiful, and left me with a wonderful, deep-seated sense of melancholic joy that only great poetry can instil.

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  • The Suspension of Disbelief

    “You know that place between sleep and awake?” whispered Tinkerbell, “ The place where you can still remember dreaming?”

    That place where it is just deliciously possible to imagine that, if you peer through the coats in your damp Aro Valley wardrobe, there might be another world out there. A tantalising and wonderful world where, if only temporarily, you can suspend all disbelief and banish the constraints of reality.

    We all know that place. Perhaps it is one that we haven’t visited in years—a relic of a distant childhood before overdrafts and law degrees turned us all into cold-hearted skeptics. But that magic place is all around us, if only we choose to look. No, not on Google maps, but in good books, art, music, film and theatre. The arts, like dreams, are intermediaries between real and imagined worlds.

    Theatre in this sense is not constrained to the stage, nor are we ever passive audiences vis-à-vis a play. I believe good plays and good novels are like colouring books that everyone shades differently. Each individual picture is a reflection of the viewer’s age, experiences, mood, and desires. We can suspend disbelief, but never fully escape from our own subjectivity. In my mind, theatre is not mere entertainment, but a dynamic process in which our responses reflect and shape our own perceptions. The most successful theatre may transport us to another world, but does so most effectively by evoking explicitly personal memories and emotions. Perhaps, if you are to believe the most famous bard of all, “All the world’s a stage”.

    Thus, although an ability to suspend disbelief may be the most essential element of storytelling, maybe we are all actors in theatre. Therefore, next time, before you dismiss theatre as mere fantasy, remember to allow yourself to imagine. If possible, avoid being too grown up too quickly. After all, to paraphrase Peter Pan, “Every time you say ‘I don’t believe in fairies,’ there’s a little fairy somewhere that falls down dead.”

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  • About the Author ()

    Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

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