When you grow a lot of something, you notice there’s substance to the old notion of companion planting. Moso bamboo loves the company of lantana and black wattle, and will rush to the root area of white sapotes; it seems to shun stands of tea-tree, and it hates short grass. Its most perfect partnership is with the bunya pine, ancient relative of the South American monkey-puzzle and the recently discovered heirloom, the Wollemi pine.
Neither discourages the other’s growth, so one can have both bamboo shoots and bunya nuts on the table. For those who’ve never eaten bunya nuts, their shell is tough but not rigid, slightly resembling that of a brazil nut; it has mealy flesh, very much like a chestnut.
Its (usually) triennial fruitings were major feasting times for the aborigines, and an aboriginal acquaintance once told me to soak the nuts in sea-water before roasting. It makes sense, as the shell is very slightly porous and the nut somewhat dry. But how would a Dhungutti man inherit detailed knowledge about something that grew much further north and away from the sea? All the bunyas around here are planted, as far as I know. Hmm. I think we still know little about the trade and travel of pre-European Australia.
The only slight problem is that when the moso culms are new, tender and very high, a freak wind can snap them if they crash against the branches of a bunya. Yet the branches aren’t as rigid as those of most trees, and barb-wire bunyas are impossible for animals to climb, (except for goannas, a fact to which I’m a witness). Overall, these two giant species make great buddies.
I mentioned, but didn’t name, a much admired movie a couple of posts back. This is it:
Paul Muni was an actor who, like Spencer Tracy, was never the subject of mimicry. He was largely without personal mannerisms, even though there’s an inevitable stagey quality about some of his work. Muni started out in Yiddish theatre at age twelve and didn’t act in English till he was in his thirties! He wasn’t above the eye-popping and brow-lifting of early movie actors. Yet I’m never sure if his slight awkwardness wasn’t deliberate: his Scarface and Chain Gang characters start out as uncertain post-adolescents, which makes their hardening/maturing so much more effective. Meticulous actor’s actor, or a bit of a ham? Maybe both.
Chain Gang is just a great flick. A Warner Bros victimhood special, it tugs every string and tugs relentlessly. Yet there is an artful discretion toning the sensational aspects. The flogging scene is more telling for being mostly off-camera, and what gets emphasised is the psychological side: after an exhausting day, as the prisoners are readying for sleep, there is a policy visit by the guards and a policy flogging administered. Sleep is to be the victim…“Macbeth doth murder sleep”.
When you see a good pre-talkie movie you can be struck by the open-air scenes, and how much freer and fresher things could look without the need for sound equipment etc. Though a talkie, Chain Gang achieves all that in its plein air and action sequences. There is also a touch of deliberate and very effective large-scale composition. Makes you think that the director, Mervyn Leroy, had been checking out Eisenstein.
The final scene is famous for its simplicity and intensity. Apparently it owes much of its visual effect to an accidental lighting failure. “I steal.” A simple piece of dialogue was never so artfully placed.
Here’s the amazing fact that was known to people of the day but may be unknown to modern audiences. The movie was based on a book by Robert Elliott Burns, about his own experiences. Both book and movie were produced while Burns was still on the loose. The events, though dramatised and probably slanted, were substantially real and current!