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Issue 12, 2016

Opinion

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News

  • Cycling straight out of the Hutt

  • One flu shot per 133.33 students

  • Salient Mid Year News Wrap Up

  • VUW Awards Esteemed Criminal Justice Expert an Honorary Doctorate

  • iPads aren’t better than teachers

  • Metiria would be a nice landlord

  • VUW talk over top of students

  • No subsidised fares in near future

  • Summing up the Budget 2016

  • Fun News

  • Arts and Science

  • Chance The Rapper: Coloring Book

    ★★★★

    Third time’s the charm! Chance has always been a background character for me; Acid Rap was okay but it didn’t grab me like his new mixtape did. In fact he was actually off my radar until his fantastic feature on Kanye’s “Ultralight Beam” (the best feature on The Life of Pablo). Before that he was just that guy on Action Bronson’s “Baby Blue”. I realise now, however, that the hype he’s achieved is more than warranted, with the release of what is sure to be one of the best mixtapes this year.

    Remember everyone’s complaints about Kanye never reverting back to his College Dropout era sound? Well, Chance did it for him. All the hallmarks are here: clean instrumentation, fantastic choral arrangements and best of all—this mixtape is fun. When compared to Drake’s newest release Views, which is packed full of pretentiousness and posturing and leaves no room for honest fun, the contrast is outstanding. Every major hip hop release this year has followed Drake’s pattern of a few trap ‘bangers’, followed by whining about cash, women, and not getting enough ‘respect’. It’s so monotonous to listen to day in, day out. So imagine how surprised I was to see that Chance’s mixtape, lo and behold, is lyrically positive! He actually sounds like he wants to be rapping and making music, like an overzealous younger sibling that’s just happy to be hanging out with you and your older friends.

    Even when this mixtape lowers the mood, it comes across as genuine instead of a pity party. Heck even Justin “Bugatti” Biebs has a feature that doesn’t offend. While I’m definitely not a Belieber myself, as a featured voice he is impressive. Lil Wayne’s verse is actually intelligible (for once), and Kanye avoids this hallmark “big head mode,” keeping his feature small but tasteful. Even Young Thug has a feature; this can generally make or break a track, but his verse on Coloring Book not only makes sense but is really fantastic. 2 Chainz brings his usual swagger and even T-Pain has been recruited for a chorus feature with his trademark auto tuned vocals. However the best feature has to go to the Chicago Children’s Choir. Chance and Kanye struck gold; they sound just beautiful. Chance also has his own flesh-and-blood cousin Nicole feature, who I presume is behind the amazing gospel choir vocals on “How Great”. The effect is immense; it makes me feel like I’m in a massive congregation, and I honestly didn’t want it to end.

    Coloring Book feels like a celebration. It’s Chance’s audio party. Like a party, we have the elated moments on “All We Got” and “Finish Line/Drown”. We also have the comedown and the more somber moments on tracks like “Same Drugs” and “Juke Jam”. There are a few interesting lyrics that one could call “struggle bars,”  but in the scheme of things, it’s a minor downside. While no one is going to compare this record’s lyrical complexity to the Kendrick Lamar’s of the world, I don’t feel like that was the point—this mixtape is a just one big celebration. Chance’s joy at being able to do what he does is so infectious you can’t help but groove along with him; you don’t need a history lesson on all his drama to understand it like you do with Kanye, or a dose of misogyny and a Toronto Raptors jersey like you do with Drake. My only hope is that people see this mixtape and start to replicate it; hip hop needs more positive, uplifting mixtapes.

     

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  • Bleak

    On Friday the 13th (an ominous start) the Australia Council announced the recipients of its four-year funding program for small-to-medium sized arts organisations. For 128 applicants it was good news, but for 62 previously funded organisations they got nothing. Not a reduction, not a significant loss, but nothing.

    And these weren’t insignificant institutions. While encouragingly 43 new and 17 indigenous organisations did receive funding, those that missed out were a number of long-standing, significant institutions across the visual arts, theatre, dance, and literary communities. The Australian Experimental Art Foundation, which has received funding since 1974? Nothing. The National Association for the Visual Arts, which offers support and advocacy? Nothing. And while the Wheeler Centre, which houses a number of literary organisations, actually received funding; the organisations it houses? Ironically, and again, nothing. For some organisations these cuts mean a stark reassessment of budgets, reductions to programming and increased reliance other funding sources. For others, they will simply have to close their doors.   

    The announcement followed the controversial redistribution of $105 million from the Australia Council to a new fund, the National Program for Excellence in the Arts, by the former Arts Minister in 2015. While this restructure was mollified by their successor, who renamed the fund Catalyst and returned $32 million to the Australia Council, these changes still left a $73 million shortfall. Across all of the budget cuts, newly structured funding programs, re-written policies and political decisions, it is said $300 million has been lost to the arts sector since Tony Abbott was elected in 2013, including a 70% decrease in the number of grants the Australia Council has given to individual artists and projects.

    In a statement regarding the decision Tony Grybowski, the chief executive officer of the Australia Council, said: “we acknowledge that the change will be challenging. I agree it is a time of change, but it’s not a dark time… I’d actually like to shift the conversation to the art, not just the funding.” Unfortunately Mr. Grybowski, art cannot happen without funding, and like many I struggle to see how cutting the arts off at its knees is anything other than an incredibly dark and damaging decision. These organisations are the roots of the industry, an industry that creates a dynamic cultural landscape and is worth an estimated $50 billion a year to Australia’s economy. It leaves the future of the Australian arts in a terrifyingly uncertain position.

    In New Zealand funding to the arts is taking a similar, though hopefully not as devastating turn. Creative New Zealand (CNZ), our arts council, is reviewing its budgets for 2016/17 and beyond as they stand to receive $11 million less this financial year. Why? Because lotto ticket sales are down and CNZ receives approximately two-thirds of its revenue from the Lottery Grants Board. In a press release detailing the losses, CNZ Chief Executive Stephen Wainwright said the “three ways New Zealanders can help mitigate the negative effect of the decline in revenue is by going to the arts, giving to the arts, or buying a Lotto ticket.” It’s an uncomfortable reality that the arts in New Zealand are funded by gambling profits.

    The arts are better than this relationship. While some may argue the upcoming funding cuts should encourage CNZ to be more selective with who they fund, Australia’s recent news shows how vital smaller organisations, as well as emerging and individual projects are to the sector as a whole. And while the argument of “the arts are luxury for the rich, we should spend the money on something important” will always be raised, the organisations and individuals that are most affected by these changes most often sit outside of this stereotype, working with their communities in a sector that is already notoriously underfunded, overworked, and undervalued. The cuts not only raise arguments for how valuable the arts are, but of what governments value within the arts. Case in point: in 2014 the Australian Opera received $25 million in government funding, $3 million more than 175 smaller organisations put together. At their best, the arts offer an experience that educates, entertains, and challenges. The arts shape our culture and give voice to the things that need to be said, offering alternative perspectives and create spaces of critical inquiry. The arts need diversity, investment, and support—from the roots up.

     

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  • Family Therapy with Dr Jenn

     

    ★★★½

    Celebrities, they’re just like us! Completely fucked up and in need of a lot of therapy! But they get paid to do it and we get to watch it, because they’re celebrities and we are totally entitled to every dirty personal part of their lives, and “patient-doctor confidentiality” is a super outdated concept. VH1 knows this and that’s why they keep giving us these kinds of shows. Family Therapy follows a similar format to previous shows Couples Therapy and Celebrity Rehab—the latter notable for having several of its cast members die from drug related issues after filming, including Grease’s Jeff Conaway and WWE’s Chyna, who passed away in only April this year. These shows center on the warped idea of celebrity that we celebrate in our culture. They idolize people who at the end of the day are no different to us in their ups and downs, and explore how placing them on these pedestals often contributes to their downfall when we bore of holding them aloft.

    Because of the nature of the show its sincerity can be hard to judge, especially with Tiffany “New York” Pollard and her mother Sister Patterson in the house. Sister Patterson’s demeanour throughout the show is truly terrifying and she goes from a complete lack of empathy to hysterical and aggressive denial of anything wrong with her behavior. Midway through the season Tiffany finds out she is pregnant to which Sister Patterson flatly disagrees, insisting “there is no child in [Tiffany’s] womb” and that she “would know” if there was. She meets with doctors and gets shown ultrasounds and still remains adamant there is no baby, confident in her self-professed lifelong psychic ability. It literally chilled me to the bone to find out Tiffany had a miscarriage after the show after hearing what her mother said—I am so, so scared.

    I find it hard to believe any real progress can truly be made between Michael and Dina Lohan, parents of Lindsay, while they are within the same facility and made to undergo group therapy. They both remain in huge denial about their individual responsibility in ruining their children’s lives and I also question the ethics of forcing a woman to undergo joint therapy with a man who has a history of abuse towards her. Michael and Dina spend the show constantly undermining and antagonizing each other, usually for no other reason than the room has gone quiet. They both have so many issues that is clear they need extensive separate therapy, perhaps motivated by a desire to better theirs and their children’s lives instead of a paycheck based on their last name.

    Family Therapy is completely worth it for the journey of former Jackass cast member Bam Margera. After the death of his best friend Ryan Dunn in 2011, Bam’s already chaotic lifestyle bloomed into full blown alcohol and drug addiction coupled with severe depression. He enters the show day one highly intoxicated, slurring his thoughts of suicide while his mother April laments how commonplace this behavior is. His pain is earth-shatteringly heartbreaking and real and you will cry. With the help of Dr Jenn, Bam not only sobers up completely from alcohol and drugs but pinpoints the exact moment that set up his future downward spiral—his father used to take him for drives as a child down a dilapidated and spooky place called “Incinerator Road” and bang on the roof and say it was the sound of dead bodies hitting the car. Yeah. Not a huge stretch to see how that trauma settled in. Since filming ended in early 2016 Bam has remained sober.

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  • King Lear

    Taking on the challenge of staging one of Shakespeare’s most notorious pieces, Circa Theatre bring a rendition of King Lear by acclaimed director Michael Hurst to the stage this month.

    King Lear follows the story of Lear (Ray Henwood), the King of Britain who decides in his old age to divide his kingdom evenly among his three daughters. When his youngest daughter Cordelia (Neenah Dekkers-Reihana) is asked to prove her love to him, a rift is created and the kingdom is plunged into chaos. As Hurst himself puts it: “you know, lots of sex, lots of violence, and a big fight scene at the end.”

    I was instantly enamoured by Ray Henwood as King Lear. He presented himself with conviction, and commanded the audience’s attention. Henwood’s versatility as an actor was reflected in his ability to show a full spectrum of emotion; from love to insanity to loyalty—he projected them all. The entire cast had a visceral synergy, reflecting Hurst’s desire for interesting stage dynamics and patterns.

    With no alterations to the Shakespearian prose, Hurst chose to use costume and design to bring this story into a post WWII setting, with lavish fur and silk costumes for the sisters and militant uniforms for Cordelia and the officials. The use of lighting was compelling. Often carrying torches on stage, the actors were able to use shadow play to create huge monstrous figures of themselves on the walls intimidating the audience or even more so, their fellow actors. The set transformed the small space of Circa One into a deceivingly large and empty space. A painting of a faux wooden floor with two high walls intersecting at an angle, and a huge window facing an equally sizeable and menacing portrait of King Lear himself gave depth to the stage.  

    I attended the show on opening night and was greeted with a friendly and warm atmosphere (and free wine!). Those attending the show were largely of the older generation, but that is to be expected for a show of this density and price range. I could not speak more highly of this skilful and enthralling staging of King Lear, but if you are to catch it, make sure you bring snacks and potentially a blanket—three hours of Shakespeare is quite a commitment.

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  • Do you forgive Claudio?

    While Much Ado About Nothing is celebrated as an ageless romantic comedy, THEA302 and THEA308 left us surprisingly overwhelmed with their inquisitive, eclectic shake-up of this Shakespeare classic. Directed by talented practitioner Stella Reid, this unique metatheatrical production is told through the eyes of students.

    During the show, the ensemble would shift into a “student narrative.” The house-lights flickered on and actors would return to their student selves, commenting and navigating their way through the complexities of Shakespeare’s multidimensional characters and intersecting storylines. The set captured this through converging lines on the floor, and clusters of chairs that were hung mid-air and thrust onstage, emphasising the classroom environment.

    Perhaps the most heightened of tragedies arose during the wedding ceremony scene where Claudio (played by Simon Davis) shames bride-to-be Hero (Ailise Beales), by throwing water in her face and tearing a bouquet at her feet, having heard of her (false) infidelity. Hero falls to the ground and weeps, her mother Leonata (Tiana Offner) cradling her offstage while the ensemble tenderly sing “Heartbeats” by José Gonzalez. Beatrice (Ophelia Wass) laments her cousin Hero’s suffering, “oh that I were a man! I would eat his heart in the marketplace!”

    A stand-out moment of meta-theatre was demonstrated in the pressing dialogue that arose out of this tragical scene—as to whether Claudio deserved forgiveness. Facilitated by meta-Director Nino Raphael, the audience were invited to join the discussion. Claudio’s childish, impulsive character is explored through conversation, along with the feelings of hurt and rejection that manifest in his angry, slanderous retaliation towards Hero. We found immense value in this open, fruitful conversation around Shakespeare’s inherent double standards.

    The ensemble were a composite of talents: Rory Hammond as Benedick had charismatic engagement with audience members; Wass’s rendition of Giacomo Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro” induced tears and goosebumps. Katie Alexander’s delightful mimed character Cupid drew attention to the poignant moments between lovers, and kept us smiling and involved.

    Stella reflected that their process-focussed production resisted traditional interpretations of Much Ado About Nothing, that tend to “treat shakespeare as a cage.” In two hours THEA302 truly captivated us, and allowed the audience to understand and critique Shakespeare’s distancing, grandiose depiction of character relationships, and language.

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  • Kaytranada: 99.9%

    ★★★★½

    Kaytranada’s 99.9% is a spellbinding work, one which reflects a culmination of the vibrant jazz, disco, electronic, and hip-hop scene which is so sought after as of late. Boasting incredible features, including the mighty Craig David, Kaytranada brings out the best in all of them. His debut record illustrates his immense talent as a producer and beat maker, but more so as an artist who works alongside the grain whilst simultaneously challenging its constituent elements.

    Kaytranada delivers a stunning opening track aptly titled “Track Uno.” It relies heavily on his ability to create slick, danceable songs with interesting synths, that together compound to a full, hearty sound. The few songs on this album that are without a feature prove the capability of his work without accompaniment. The album as a whole is constructed in a way that allows each track to flow into the next.

    Bus Ride” has strong features from River Tiber and Karriem Riggins. The interplay between Karriem’s polyrhythmic askew drumming and Kaytranda’s tempered steady rhythm really sold this track for me. It reminds me of such albums as Dilla Joints (Dilla Joints / The Roots) where the timing is played around with, to great success and confusion.

    Arguably one of the strongest tracks from this album would be “Got it Good” featuring  Craig David. The strong but soothing vocals from David shows he has not lost his touch despite a decade of inactivity. Kaytranada works to David’s strengths, with strong synths and a, for lack of a better term, PHAT backbeat.

    “Together” (featuring AlunaGeorge and Goldlink) and “Drive Me Crazy” (featuring Vic Mensa) are the two tracks that have the strongest connection between them, and it’s almost easy to forget they are two different songs until you hear Vic Mensa’s voice above the instrumental foliage stating “yeah, see the street lights? I ain’t slept in like 48. Let’s start!” Kaytranada’s work with Vic Mensa is phenomenal, bringing distorted synths and a heavy synth bass in after Vic yells, “Watch yo mouth!” into the void.

    “Weight Off” (featuring BadBadNotGood) is the only purely instrumental feature track, but the cutting and cropping of Sowinski’s drums is some of the best production work I’ve heard. Cuts that are succinct but fall off make the beat bang like nothing else, and this is as close as you’ll get to an instrumental jazzy club banger.

    The feature with Phonte, “One Too Many” is in my opinion possibly the weakest song on the album. My measure being that it lacks the ability to be listened to repeatedly, but is by no means a bad song in its own right.

    “Glowed Up” (featuring Anderson .Paak) is one of my personal favourites on the record, with unexplainable alien-esque synths and yet more PHAT beats. Kaytranada is clearly a purveyor of this elusive combination of sounds, as the outro to this track has beautiful lulling tones, and Anderson .Paak croons lines like, “not just another name, not just some wannabe, in the hands of love, just like I wanna be.”

    My final favourite was “Lite Spots” which has the cutest video that shows off Kaytranada’s dancing skills alongside a dancing robot. For me, “Lite Spot” encapsulates all that is great about this album. Blistering disco highs, light jazzy undertones, well used samples, phenomenal drums, and an iconic sound that sticks in your head that for once, you don’t think is shit. I urge you to listen to the rest of the album, particularly with the talented features in the second half of the record including Shay Lia, Syd tha Kyd, and Little Dragon. Though there have been a lot of releases recently, this is definitely not one to skim over.

     

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  • Shadow of the Beast

    ★★

    Developer: Heavy Spectrum Entertainment Labs

    Publisher: Sony Interactive Entertainment

    Platform: PS4

     

    If anybody reading this is over the age of 30, you may well recognise the name of this game. Long before the dawn of modern PC gaming, Shadow of the Beast—released in 1989, was one of the Commodore Amiga’s most iconic games; a side-scrolling fantasy action-platformer for the 16-bit multimedia powerhouse boasting revolutionary graphics, a dark atmospheric soundtrack, and brutal difficulty. Spawning two sequels, the series has been dormant since Sony’s acquisition of original publishers Psygnosis. Since nostalgia is an easy way to get people to part with their cash these days, someone obviously thought it was time to bring it back.

    I, however, have no nostalgia for the original game; the Amiga was practically dead when I was born, with all attention squarely focused on the consoles and IBM-compatible PCs. Thankfully, my adoration for platformers knows no bounds, so I was willing to give it a shot.

    Playing as Aarbron, the titular beast seeking revenge on his former master, this reimagining takes a modern cinematic approach to its gameplay and narrative, with plenty of cutscenes spinning together a tale once relegated to the manual and a couple of intro screens. It gets off to an interesting start, with Aarbron having a particularly tragic meeting with what turns out to be his father, but much like the original it is not the focus. The world is very alien and has the potential for deep exploration; and while there is a fair amount of lore, here it feels rather shallow and isn’t worth diving into unless you’re dedicated to the series. With just seven levels, you can complete the game in about five hours, even if you decide to take the time to explore.

    Fitting for a re-imagining, the game contains some of the puzzles and platforming elements of the original, but there is a new emphasis on combat, taking inspiration from the likes of Bayonetta and other spectacle brawlers. The brawling encounters have a surprising amount of depth to them, with building up combos and executing special moves quickly becoming necessary. At the harder difficulties, button mashing will get you killed, so learning to block, dodge, and parry is a must. It can feel satisfying at times, but if you’re not an idiot button masher like me the visuals can somewhat overcompensate your input if you judge carefully.

    I play platformers for, well, the platforming, so being stuck in a brawling section just made me want to move on quickly. Sadly, the few platforming sections I did get to play are even less satisfying. The controls are clunky and unresponsive (an absolute killer for platformers) and you will face unfair death drops on more than one occasion. It doesn’t really help that the original game was also fairly sub-par in this regard, but blind nostalgia can only get you so far—even if this wasn’t deliberate.

    The original game was legendary for its graphics; it was a game that was perhaps more fun to look at than it was to play. The reimagining does have a pretty veneer with a definite sense of scale giving way to dark gothic tones, but as alien as the world is it’s nothing particularly unique or mind-blowing, even taking the low budget into consideration.

    Shadow of the Beast sadly has little to offer anyone who has never heard of the originals on the Amiga, and even those who adore them may leave a little disappointed. Even if this was a labour of love, you can’t help but feel that they should have left this series in the vault.

     

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  • Talking tickling with David Farrier

    Tickled is a documentary on the surreal practice of professional tickling uncovered by David Farrier and Dylan Reeve. Imagine receiving an unsolicited email inviting you to participate in competitive, endurance tickling with the promise of free flights, five-star accommodation, and thousands of dollars. In that same email, this disclosure appears:

    Presently, I’ve been shooting all-male casts. It is important for you to understand from the get-go that this is not a fetish, or adult oriented content endeavor. Also, no nudity or implied nudity work is a part of anything that I ever shoot. This is a completely athletic activity with major competitive and endurance elements involved, including strategy and teamwork. Participants will always be clothed in a provided ADIDAS t-shirt and a pair of gym shorts that we provide.”

    Film reviewer Hamish Popplestone had a chat with David Farrier about the strange phenomenon of tickling, and the creation of Tickled.

     

    Hamish: You’re known for your pop-culture journalism over the last decade: can you tell me how an investigation into a Youtube video of young men, tickling each other in active-wear, turned into a large, publicly fundraised documentary? 

    David: It was super organic. It started when I was in the newsroom browsing the internet and my friend, who is always trying to out-do me finding weird things, sent me a link for competitive, endurance tickling. Like any story that I would cover, I reached out to the organizers and, when they reacted in such a negative way, I started blogging about it on 3News in a series of three blogs. It was one of the most popular blogs I had done with people commenting and sharing like crazy. It was nice, because then I knew it wasn’t just something interesting in my own head. And then my friend, Dylan, started blogging about it as well, so I said we should start a Kickstarter and see if we could raise some money to go to America and do some filming. We raised the money and then, off the back of that, the Film Commission became interested and it blew up from there.

    Hamish: It manifested into one of the most bizarre stories to surface, probably ever—did you imagine your investigation eventuating the way it did?  

    David: No. I knew it was something special that I had found and Dylan felt the same way. When we started the Kickstarter, we thought it would be a 20 or 30 minute Vimeo sort of documentary, but when the Film Commission gave us more money, we could start thinking about how to make it for the big screen, which is a different way of thinking about cinematography and sound. We never imagined it would get to this point. 

    Hamish: The production value was great and had a largely talented NZ based crew, however one name stands out. Stephen Fry is an associate producer. How did an English national treasure get on board?

    David: That was crazy. It was as simple as him being a Kickstarter backer. We had these different Kickstarter rewards, and one of them was: if you give us a certain amount of money, you will be an associate producer; you’ll get to see some cuts of the film; you can give input; and he was the one that grabbed that reward. I remember being in Auckland and our funds suddenly skyrocketed. I saw whose name it was and it took me a while to realise it was actually him.

    Hamish: What sort of feedback did he give?

    David: He was great! I assumed he responded because of the bullying and sexuality aspects of the story, and that he’d move on with a million other things to do. But we’d send him cuts, and he’d watch them and give us pages of feedback. That happened over the course of a year as we put the whole thing together.

    Hamish: Somewhere out there, there is a community of normal people who happen to enjoy the sexual side of tickling. Do you think Tickled will cause viewers to be less open minded about the fetish?

    David: Already I’ve had a couple of people come up to me after a screening, saying they didn’t know this before, but they actually found the tickling stuff really sexy, and didn’t know this about themselves until then. Which is amazing because most people, I think, watch the tickling and feel uncomfortable. We have a gentleman in the film, Richard Ivey, who tickles for a full-time job, and people have been super into it. That was our intent: not to demonize this fetish, because the fetish is fine and people have responded really well to that. 

    Hamish: All through filming you were bombarded with legal threats and even found out that a personal investigator was following you in your home city. How seriously are you taking the threats and the prospect of facing court action? 

    David: We are taking the legal fallout very seriously. We had a lawyer look at the film incredibly closely before we had it submitted to Sundance. We have to take these things very seriously. The company has a lot of money—I was served, on the streets in Missouri, a couple of lawsuits, so you don’t want to joke it off. At the same time, we’re confident in what we have in the film and we’re just going through all the legal hoops and we’ll keep doing everything correctly. We’re all feeling pretty good about it. 

    Hamish: Did you have to edit much out for that purpose?

    David: We were pretty careful when we were doing everything. We knew we were up against a company that would jump on anything we did. When it came to the edit, we were pretty good; we made the cuts for the purpose of story and getting to the point. Although, we are living in the age of the internet, and we’ll probably release a few bits and pieces online and on Blu-ray—we’ll see how we go. 

    Hamish: Do you think Tickled’s popularity will encourage more victims, who were previously unwilling to share their story, to come forward to help build the case?

    David: Yeah, totally. We specially put a button on our website (tickledmovie.com) titled “Your Story,” because we’ve had a lot of people contacting us on my personal Facebook, or the “Tickled” page. That’s the great thing about people standing up and speaking out; it encourages other people to get the courage to do it themselves. We hear from people pretty much on a daily basis with different stories, because this is a story that stretches back around 20 years now. 

    Hamish: You’re now independent after you left Mediaworks. Are you ready to pioneer more documentaries?

    David: Yeah we’ll see what happens. I’ve got other ideas about documentaries I’d like to get on the road, but it took two years to make Tickled and it was pretty stressful. It takes a lot of time and it’s not guaranteed that you’re going to find an audience. In short, I’ve got some other ideas. As to how that stuff goes, we’ll just have to see.

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  • Grief Is the Thing with Feathers

    ★★★★★

    Author: Max Porter

    Publisher: Faber & Faber

     

    “Moving on, as a concept, is for stupid people, because any sensible person knows grief is a long-term project.”

    Grief is the Thing with Feathers is the story of a father and his two young sons, who are adrift in loss after the death of their wife and mother. Inspired by a meeting with a friend of his own long-dead father, Max Porter’s novella is a meditation on grief—at turns poignant, powerful, and whimsical.  

    Here grief is in the form of a crow who takes up residence in the flat with dad and the boys; a feathery pseudo-mother and sharp beaked truth teller. Why a crow? Dad is a Ted Hughes scholar, and Crow: From the Life and Songs of the Crow is a collection of poems by Hughes written in the wake of the death of his wife, Sylvia Plath. Porter’s crow is both a relative of Hughes’ and an entirely different beast.

    Although small in size, this is not a story contained by the number of its pages. It could easily be read over a generous hour, but my reading of it spanned several days, consuming snatches on lunch breaks and bus rides. Although it sounds like an excuse for my slow pace, I think that reading it like this enhanced the experience—there is a wide breadth of feeling in the verse-like passages, and absorbing it slowly and carefully felt appropriate.  

    Anyone who has ever experienced grief will be able to identify with the faltering way that dad and the boys attempt to carry on, watched over by a wise and often mischievous crow. The boys grow older, dad starts to date, but cow stays on—will he ever really leave? Porter has written a stunning and affecting story that lingers long after reading.

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  • The Woman Next Door

    ★★★

    Author: Yewande Omotoso

    Publisher: Chatto & Windus

     

    There is something precious, but disconcerting, about being placed in the head of an eighty-year-old woman as she goes about her life. There are two elderly women facing off in this restrained South African story: Hortensia, a black designer, recently widowed, versus Marion, a white architect, with awful adult children.

    Both have a lot of unresolved issues, just like celebrity child actors. While the issues seem hot-button at face value—white guilt, an illegitimate lovechild, a stolen painting, an accidentally demolished house forcing two individuals who hate each other under the same roof—it is all written gently, slowly, poetically, so as to heighten the realism but undercut the potential thrills.

    I spent some time imagining the brilliant film that could come out of a story like this. It would be beautifully lit, with a charming orchestral soundtrack and artsy camera angles. You’ll would cry at the end when everyone learns to love each other, but you would also smile because they’re both still so curmudgeonly, and that’s totally what your family is like too. Someone would win a BAFTA—probably the greying yet handsome Dr Mama (the strong, comforting doctor that cares for Hortensia when she is injured halfway through the narrative), played by a well-dressed Denzel Washington with a British accent instead of a South African one, because those are really hard.

    I think the point of Omotoso’s work is to capture the pathos of looking back over your own life and wondering, what does it all add up to in the end? Hortensia relives her barely-breathing marriage and is furious when she discovers her husband had a daughter with another woman; that daughter comes to embody Hortensia’s own regret. Marion refuses to look back, afraid and ashamed of her racist past, until she is forced by circumstance. Yet, together, these women begin to find peace.

    Read this novel if you’re nearing the southerly end of life and will relate to the accompanying frustrations and joys, or if you want a more fully realised understanding of the small, dangerous effects of a nation still wriggling in the shadow of apartheid, or if wacky domestic dramas are your jam.

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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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    Editor's Pick

    Ten things I wish my friends knew about being Māori

    : 1). I wish my friends knew that when they ask me what “percentage” of Māori I am—half, quarter, or eighth—they make me feel like a human pie chart. I don’t know how people can ask this so nonchalantly, but they do. So I want to let you know: this is a very threatening