Archive for the ‘Movies’ Category

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.

Paul Muni

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!


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To the right and rear of this picture, the first shoots will emerge, (with luck and rain, in a few weeks). They always appear in this sector first, forming a few spindly culms.


Pioneer shoots that appear outside the grove aren’t necessarily runts, but these one always are. On the whole, moso doesn’t like short grass, sparse undergrowth or bare ground, especially where exposed to sun. So the first growth is in this spot, but the big pioneers will appear on the other side, where it’s steep and shaded; or they’ll grow up from the base of a bunya pine, as you can see in the right foreground. I’ve heard of people planting out moso  in open, cleared paddocks: I don’t get it.

While waiting…

I’ve chatted about a tea and a book so far. What about movies?

In the last post I mentioned my preference for for a solid plot-‘n-character flick. I’ve never been an admirer of movies like The Matrix where the effects are the main stars; I like such flicks even less when there’s an overlay of intellectualism, such as  Kubrick’s 2001, with its mock profundities.

When young and mature I was impressed for a while by art-house. If Max von Sydow stared long and hard at Bibi Andersson I thought something was going on. I learned to nominate The Silence as my favourite Bergman, and to explain that such-and-such a movie was about alienation. You couldn’t go wrong with alienation. Europeans were always getting themselves alienated.

Then I got old and immature.

Charles Dickens said: “Make ’em laugh, make ’em cry, make ’em wait.” And he never missed a chance to tug hard and shamelessly on those authorial strings. Last year, a movie came out which was Dickensian in the real sense. Slumdog Millionaire dared to follow Dickens’ formula without flinching. The result was a huge and improbable success. Mirth, horror, pity, triumph get piled on one another to form a giant Work’s Burger of an entertainment. In case the viewer is in any doubt as to the movie’s populist intentions, it ends with a Bollywood dance number. A great movie? Maybe not: the excesses and improbablities were a bit fatiguing. What I loved was the show’s unhesitating willingness to involve and entertain, and its universality. Let’s hope it turns out to be a landmark.

Mind you, the two “great” directors mentioned above could make movies, even though they squandered most of their energies on a dull affair called Art. When Bergman laid on the costumes and fantasy, and pre-genius Kubrick stuck to ingenious cinematography, there were sparks. I could still sit through The Seventh Seal, though without the adolescent reverence…and I’d jump at the chance to catch Kubrick’s The Killing again.

Seventh Seal


When they could achieve these effects with a chess-board or a card table, you wonder why such directors could be bothered with Harriet Andersson’s psychiatric problems, or the Cruise family bums.

And check out that group of crooks in The Killing. That’s Elisha Cook looking concerned next to Sterling Hayden. No cutesie-pies at this table. This is NOT going to be Ocean’s Fourteen.

But it’s not Bergman and Kubrick, or even Slumdog, I wanted to discuss.

The movie that’s excited me after recent viewing –  which I won’t name yet – achieves what Slumdog achieves: the universality, the arousal of varied and powerful emotions attached to the fate of a single character. What lifts this particular movie so high is direction that’s pacey, disciplined and even tasteful; above all, it has a leading man who, to this day, is still regarded by some as the best of all screen actors.

I should add that the movie is very old. Some of its impact is due to the fact that it pre-dates the 1934 Hays code of censorship. The unsexy star was uneducated and untrained, though vastly experienced from a stage childhood.

Most who see this movie are amazed by how fresh it seems, after they’ve adapted to its superficial creakiness. Far more amazing are the events that led to its making…

Off to bed. I’ll name and post on this flick later.

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Do these bamboo poles of mine look familiar? Is there something about the spacing, the colour, the size…and those wispy leaves?


That’s right! Moso is the species that makes up the enormous “bamboo sea” in Anji, China; and moso was the vegetable star of the epic martial arts movie, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.


I’m not a great fan of the flick. Like The Matrix (which had the same choreographer as Crouching Tiger), it’s a movie for lovers of effects and overall style. I’d rather get caught up in a lineal plot, kicked along by some juicy characters…but that’s just me.

Mind you, a moso grove would be a great setting for a shoot-out or sword-fight. Or a Hitchcock movie, with Bernard Herrmann sound track, where Grace Kelly or Tippi Hedren has recurrent nightmares about some twilit moso grove…Wait! Let’s make that Kim Novak…


Yeah, I know. Those guys are all old or dead. People say I’m a typical St. George supporter, living in the past. Hmph. If anyone had dared say that to me back in 1968, why, I’d…

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