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Vale, Gra-Gra


It’s not as though it hadn’t been on the cards for the last few years, or that we hadn’t long since given up any hope of seeing him on the box again – save for repeats of those key bits from throughout his career – but it’s no less sad knowing that Graham Kennedy, the King of Australian television, has passed away.

Kennedy was dubbed ‘King of Television’ because for a time, he seemed always to be on it, nobody else did it as well as him. Indeed, Kennedy virtually defined what it meant to be a television personality in Australia. He got his first big break working as Nicky Whitta’s sidekick on Radio 3UZ in Melbourne (now Radio Sport 927). However, not long after television started up in Australia in 1956, Kennedy made the move, hosting In Melbourne Tonight from 1957.

Most of the talent on Australian television came from the live vaudeville circuit, an ailing form of entertainment that television helped put out of its misery. These vaudeville greats were the people Kennedy was working with, and he learnt everything they had to teach him. Joff Ellen was a name he’d drop in later interviews; Ellen appeared in a lot of the early live sketches. Ernie Carroll, the voice of Ossie Ostrich, was another veteran from whom Kennedy learnt a lot. (In fact, Graham Kennedy was working opposite Ossie Ostrich long before Daryl Somers ever was! And the Ostrich provided a more ‘adult’ line of humour then, too.) And it would be remiss not to mention the ubiquitous television writer Mike McColl-Jones.

Essentially, Graham was taught all of the routines: the set-ups and punchlines that constituted a virtual library of material he could draw from as the need or opportunity arose. Kennedy was, of course, pretty quick with the patter already, a result of his earlier radio experience.

Part of Kennedy’s shtick on live television was making fun of the products he’d advertise for his show’s sponsors. The response was better when he appeared to rubbish the products. This kind of playfulness was something he’d developed on radio with Nick Whitta, but he took it to greater lengths with Bert Newton, a regular partner from his early days on television.

Kennedy lost his job fronting his variety show in the 70s, for making a ‘crow call’; it was a long, nasally ‘faaaaaaaaark’ sound, a way of saying ‘f*ck’ on live television. Although, it’s not as simple as that. During a certain live advertisement for Cedel hair spray, in which a lady is in the foreground, doing a piece to camera, Kennedy is at his desk, out of focus in the background or perhaps off-camera altogether, making various bush noises, one of which happens to be the sound of the crow.It was a regular feature of his show at the time, a kind of a running gag. It was turned into an issue because at about the same time, Graham Kennedy was using his position on television as a platform for political commentary, attacking Senator Douglas McClelland, Minister for the Media in Prime Minister Whitlam’s government. The crow calls and the political comments were used as grounds for forcing Kennedy to pre-record the show rather than performing it live-to-air, enabling it to be edited – or censored – as necessary. It was for this reason that Kennedyt and the Channel 9 Network parted company after nearly twenty years. Truth be told, (or, to be more accurate, ‘general assumption be made’), Kennedy and the network were both happy to see the back of each other by this stage.

My earliest memories of Graham Kennedy are of his hosting the game show Blankety Blanks in the late 1970s. He’d been employed to front the show on the Ten Network in 1977 and it was the first of his many ‘comebacks’ to television. Blankety Blanks involved a contestant having to provide the missing word from an incomplete, innuendo-laden sentence, hoping to match the word with whatever a panel of celebrity guests – television personalities, pop singers, thespians – had chosen to complete the sentence. It was all just an excuse for Kennedy to banter with showbiz mates on a panel that always included cigar-chomping Northern comic ‘Ugly’ Dave Gray and, more often than not, thelikes of Noelene Brown, veteran of satirical live review and television comedy; Stuart Wagstaff and Noel Ferrier, Australian thesps; Jon English and Mark Holden, Australian pop stars and a who’s who of stage and screen celebrities of the day.

To my mind, Kennedy made the crow call throughout Blankety Blanks, but that may just be how I choose to remember it. Watching the show was certainly discouraged if not actually forbidden by my parents during its initial broadcast despite my being too young to even realise that rude things were being implied (they were rarely actually said). The show was repeated a decade later, believe it or not. Why would you repeat a decade-old game show? Because it was still hilarious, not least of all because of the outdated clothing and hairstyles. But not panelists, it would seem. Because at the same time as Blankety Blanks was being repeated, all-new episodes were being broadcast on a rival network, this time hosted by Daryl Somers, surrounded by a fair whack of the same panelists, all now ten years older. But to be honest, Graham Kennedy’s Blankety Blanks was funnier than Daryl’s.

Kennedy made other ‘comebacks’ throughout the 80s: hosting a clip show in which he got to crack jokes between bits and bobs excerpted from various comedies from around the world. It was, in a way, a forerunner to Australia finally launching the local Funniest Home Video franchise – which, again, Kennedy initially hosted in 1990, making with the snappy patter between the clips of children coming off bikes and swings to crack their heads on concrete, and men getting belted in the crutch. Graham Kennedy also hosted a ‘news show’ – that is to say, a co-host got to occasionally read headlines out between Graham Kennedy’s banter. It doesn’t sound like much now, but it was always worth watching – which was essentially Graham Kennedy’s talent: being able to turn ‘not much’ into riveting viewing.

As an actor, Graham Kennedy didn’t make many films and yet he shines in all of them. So much so that they’re worth watching just to see him in action. His role as Harry, the seminal philosophical Aussie digger in The Odd Angry Shot (1979) – (Australia’s M*A*S*H or, since it’s about the Viet Nam war and not the Korean war, Australia’s Platoon – except without all the glorified Oliver Stone pontification) is brilliant. Similarly, he is essential as Mack in Don’s Party (1976) and Ted in The Club (1980). The latter two are adaptations of plays by David Williamson. As a younger, hungrier playwright, Williamson wrote important works that perfetly caught the Australian idiom and temperament, representing ‘real’ Australians on stage – as opposed to his more recent work, which seems to keep the chattering classes contented by telling them what they want to hear.

In a soundbite accompanying radio news reports of Kennedy’s passing, Williamson claimed that Graham Kennedy doubted his acting talents; he considered himself an impostor compared to ‘real’ actors, and as a result, didn’t pursue film work. However, Williamson insisted, Kennedy was often a better actor than any of the ones he looked up to as ‘real’. This is hardly surprising: Graham Kennedy was taught to act by Australia’s best vaudeville performers. And he honed these talents in front of television cameras. He was always going to be perfectly suited to cinema.

After a life on television, Kennedy chose to spend his latter years away from the limelight, enjoying a country property with his horses and dog, refusing to be wooed back to television – except for one occasion when, in exchange for a four-wheel drive vehicle, he allowed Australian television’s most sanitised and successful host-cum-interviewer, Ray Martin, to interview him for a ‘birthday special’, the occasion being Kennedy’s sixtieth. Graham claimed to have been ‘ambushed’ by some of the questions, and as a result, swore during a lot of the answers to render them unusable. What was edited for broadcast is still worth watching – not for Ray of course, but for Graham.

Actor Graeme Blundell wrote a biography, King – The Life and Comedy of Graham Kennedy. He was encouraged by television comedy writer Tony Sattler, one of the few friends Graham allowed to stay close to him in his final years. Sattler feared that Kennedy could pass away without his story being told. It’s as good a story as you can tell about someone whose entire life has been about perpetually providing a performance persona to the public. Graham Kennedy appeared to have virtually no inner life – and had he discovered or developed one in his last fifteen years, he enjoyed keeping it mostly to himself.

However, solitude was not the best option for Kennedy. He tended to smoke and drink too much and not eat properly, and when he suffered a fall in 2001 he broke a leg and fractured his skull, necessitating a move to a nursing home where he could receive better care. Yet he retained his sense of humour.

Blundell tells of writing his book: how he’d take each chapter to Kennedy and read it to him, for approval. Somewhere along the line, Graham told him he needn't return with further chapters:

“I know how the story ends.”

All Creatures Grate And Smell


I saw the advertisement for the DVD of I Am Not An Animal on the ABC before they actually started broadcasting the series – as is the way now, the ABC will actually commission shows on the strength of being able to sell the DVD and the book of the series through ABC shops. I figured this thing about talking animal animations was the legacy of the Aardman studio’s Creature Comforts.

When a copy of said DVD appeared on my doorstep, courtesy of FilmInk, I popped it on and realised that I Am Not An Animal was a very different show indeed. Rather than a bunch of animal animations built around real-life interviews with people, this show features a bunch of animals that, as the result of animal experiments, think that they are people; their dialogue is voiced by contemporary comedians. But the biggest difference is that, although you can get into Creature Comforts almost immediately, I Am Not An Animal takes perseverance.

I say with total confidence that if you watch and enjoy the show, you didn’t come to it by accident in the first episode and stick with it; you must have been promised by someone you trust that your dedication would pay off. The style of animation demands a lot from your eyes, the different voices, a lot from your ears, and all the information that has to be imparted to set the scene and the characters in that first episode just makes your head hurt by the end of it. But by about episode three, the satire is working a treat, you know which character does what, and the laughs are coming thick and fast. If you packed it in early, next time the opportunity comes up, give it another go.

I got to interview animation director Tim Searle for FilmInk just before the show started going to air in Australia, so I was able to slip a snippet onto NewsRadio the day of the first broadcast. But I never got around to re-cutting a long version, partly because the phone line wasn’t so good, and also because there was a lot of um… um…ing to edit out – much as I would have loved to pull some choice quotes of the DVD. Maybe one day when I’m cashed up and bored I’ll give it a go just for this blog. Meanwhile a short, narrative version of this interview will appear in FilmInk any minute now.

And just for anyone who isn’t aware, the show’s title comes from the now-legendary lines attributed to John Merrick, the so-called ‘elephant man’ in the 1980 film of the same name, directed by David Lynch and produced by Mel Brooks:

“I am not an animal! I am a human being.”


Demetrius Romeo: How did I Am Not An Animal come about?

TIM SEARLE: I started work with Steve Coogan and Henry Normal, trying to develop an interesting narrative animation. Peter Baynham, when we were working with Steve Coogan, had this vague idea that it should include talking animals and we worked it out from there. It was very much of Peter’s brain, and we started looking at various technologies that we could utilize to bring it to fruition and we ended up with the photocollage look that we ended up working with, mainly because it’s so productive as well as looking a little bit odd. It’s got some sort of vague realism without going completely realistic.

Demetrius Romeo: How do you mean it’s more productive?

TIM SEARLE: The thing is that we do comedy, and the way that animation has tends to have evolved over the last few years is that you take it to storyboard and thereafter send it off to a cheaper market for animation. I wasn’t really into the idea of doing that. What I intended to do when I set up in animation, was do animation.

We do comedy, and I think comedy is very easy to get wrong. A scene can be as easily destroyed by over-acting or by doing an animation drum solo, as easily as if it were too wooden or too simple. I think the animation part of the process is too important to just let go of, so we use a digital desktop system that enables us to maintain a good degree of control.

Demetrius Romeo: You’re right about it being very distinctive, that digital collage method. How did you hit upon the idea to use that sort of graphic?

TIM SEARLE: We’ve been using the desktop system, using vector graphics, flat colour, and I’ve always been into photocollage. Mainly we use that sort of stuff in background work and what-have-you. We were looking at all sorts of ways of realizing it and Peter had this idea that the animals should look very distinct from other talking animals, like Yogi Bear, in terms of standing up and walking around, in that it should look a bit awkward that these animals wanted to be human and have human characteristics. So we needed to explore a way that would give us some sort of realism without it costing a fortune. We looked at full CG [computer generated images], but ultimately we realised that we couldn’t realize the ambition of this series using CG. It would have been too restrictive in the number of environments we could have had and characters we could have built. So we needed to find another way forward so we got the guys whose software we’d been using and they wrote us a means of using bitmaps, effectively, so that’s the way we could use the photocollage.

Demetrius Romeo: There are samples of, I guess, early ‘demo’-versions of animations on the DVD, and I’ve got to say they’re nowhere near as interesting to look at.

TIM SEARLE: Bear in mind that that stuff was generated four or five years ago; the CG work is something that everyone has a very high expectation of with Dreamworks and Pixar people doing what they do. The benchmark is so high that you need to hit it or you’re always going to be on the back foot. I quickly dismissed the idea of using CG, even though Peter was quite enamoured of the idea of having it look quite naturalistic so that the bizarreness of the comedy would be even more dominant. But in the end he was as much of a fan of the way we ended up working as anyone else.

The other thing we tried was motion capture because Steve Coogan, who played the Horse and Martin the Sparrow because he was quite interested in finding a way of getting his acting facial characteristics into the animation. We looked at that, but that was all in its infancy and it was going to be too restrictive as well. A lot of that stuff, you can’t get in to adapt the code – or you certainly could at the time – so it was just going to be too proscriptive. We wouldn’t have been able to control it effectively, I don’t think. So I just decided one day that enough’s enough, and I came back and worked up a few character designs on the basis of what would I do if no one was telling me that we’ve got to do this stuff and showed them to everyone who needed to see ’em and they just saw it as a way forward. That part of the process went very, very quickly; we went from situation where it all looked like the project was falling to bits, to a commission and getting going in a matter of a couple of months. I was very pleased that we just bit the bullet and went for it.

Demetrius Romeo: I want to talk about the antecedents to the show. You’ve got a few different animation fore-runners to the show, Rolf’s Animal Hairdressers, and another show you do, called 2DTV that is satirical and animated. Tell me how these two shows might have influenced where you went with I Am Not An Animal.

TIM SEARLE: Technically, they were very important because Rolf’s Animal Hairdressers, that was the first thing we did using cell action, which was the digital tool we were using for I Am Not An Animal. That was the first one we cut out teeth on it. Also, we were using animals and they were quite surly and conversational. I’ve always been into the idea of animals, or characters, having a bit of depth to them. Those characters were very broad.

And 2DTV is a topical comedy show, so we learnt to work very quickly on that. It is topical, so up to eight minutes of a twenty-four minute show are made in the last four days up to transmission, so we have to work real quick in order to turn it around. In order to make six half hours for I Am Not An Animal, we needed to work well and work quickly. Both those projects enabled us to do I Am Not An Animal, in more ways than one.

Demetrius Romeo: You’ve got great talent on hand doing voices on I Am Not An Animal – virtually the entire cast of Big Train plus Steve Coogan. A comment is made in one of the docos on the DVD that it would be too expensive to get the talent together to make it now if you were starting from scratch now.

TIM SEARLE: That was just an excuse from that exec from the BBC not to recommission it. I don’t think that’s true. I think the people who worked on it were such fans of the project that we would have been able to get them back.

Demetrius Romeo: With such a ground-breaking show, why weren’t BBC prepared to run with another season.

TIM SEARLE: Your guess is as good as mine. I really don’t know. It sounds presumptuous I guess, but we were working future episode ideas and we were looking forward to another series. I mean, we were critically well-received, and when people like Matt Groening of The Simpsons get in touch to say they thought it was excellent, then you think you’re on some sort of good path, but the BBC decided that because it didn’t get the ratings they were hoping for, they’d give it the chop.

Demetrius Romeo: I remember a sketch on Monty Python’s Flying Circus where John Cleese says, “I wanted to get into program planning, but of course, I’ve got a degree.” You’re up against the same woes that comedians have been up against for some time.

TIM SEARLE: Well, the thing is with comedy, I think, if you make it animation, you’re making it a little bit harder for audiences to immediately grab. I’m Not An Animal, specifically, does take a few episodes to get your head around. I think comedy, generally, is one of those things that takes a while to bed in. You’d imagine that people at the networks might have grasped that one by now.

Demetrius Romeo: I must admit it did take me a while – at least the first episode. Once you get your head around the animation style and the characters, then you start to pay attention to what they’re saying and can enjoy it.

TIM SEARLE: The other problem with the first episode is we were so worried about setting the whole world up, setting up the whole rationale for how the animals got to where they got to, that the first episode is very plot-heavy and not as heavy on the jokes as future episodes. From episode three onwards, it settles right down, and each episode is funny in its own right, and we’re not so hung up on trying to explain everything all the time. I’m still proud of the first episode, but it’s just not as strong as the episodes that follow it, I think.

Demetrius Romeo: I know that the show copped a bit of flak early on because the animals are seen to be enjoying the environment of the lab where they’re being experimented on.

TIM SEARLE: Yeah. I think if anything, it’s an allegorical tale about people as much as anything else. It’s really having a dig at the way we all live our lives at the moment, in terms of people shutting themselves from real life. I think a lot of people, if they were stuck out in the middle of nowhere and had to fend for themselves, they’d be up the proverbial.

We all came to like the characters very much and sympathise with their plight. The fact that you’ve got this horse with literary pretensions who considers himself the leader and then Mark, who’s this bitter, fiercely ambitious sparrow with a penchant for writing bad, annoying songs. They’ve all got something about them which is a little bit irritating, and yet nonetheless they all get along as a group.

One of the things that we think it’s similar to is Dad’s Army: it’s a group of people who are all thrown together with a common cause, but their all different characters.

The backdrop of the vivisection lab was one of the things that got reported on early and the anti-vivisection lobby were quite vehement and got in early to criticise it without seeing it which is a shame. We were on the back foot from the start on that basis, I think.

Demetrius Romeo: That’s a pity, but then you do make good fun of the animal liberationists as well, I’ve got to say.

TIM SEARLE: Well, to be honest the animal liberationist is deliberately displayed in an over-simplistic way, but it would have been predictable and unfunny to portray the liberationists as angels. But you’d have to be a bit uptight to take offence at that, I think. A lot of people without watching it might think that we were making light of the suffering animals, but we certainly were not. The animals in I Am Not An Animal naively see themselves and all other animals as people, and to start with they’re clearly idiots and they’re innocent idiots who have no idea of what’s going on around them, and that’s made very clear. It’s a joke about ignorance and snobbery and the theme running through the series is about how they deal with other more ordinary and arguably more dignified creatures.

And the suffering of animals has been portrayed in other animations: Cruella DeVil wasn’t exactly kind to the animals in 101 Dalmations, and Chicken Run was set on a farm where the characters are destined to end up in pies. Numerous stories feature animals heading for a grizzly fate from which they are rescued and I think we weren’t unusual in that respect.

Demetrius Romeo: No, but you actually pinpoint the foibles of humanity particularly well in the process. Because they have human traits, we really are looking at how people behave. I particularly like the rabbit from the call centre – that is so funny.

TIM SEARLE: Arthur Mathews – he’s a really clever guy. He wrote Father Ted and Big Train. He was doing that rant quite a bit – the little Irish voice at the call centre – and Pete had this idea if part of that guy’s brain in the body of a rabbit and just goes off on these little rants.

Demetrius Romeo: The humour works well, the satire hits its mark and the animation is groundbreaking. Where do you go next?

TIM SEARLE: I don’t know, to be honest. We hope that we can continue to do other interesting narrative projects and we shall endeavour to do so. We’re developing material so we’ll wait and see what comes of it. At the moment we’re working on a pilot for the BBC which is a sketch show, and the animation is shared between three studios, so we’re doing a third of this pilot, so that’s the immediate future. But as Baby Cow animation we shall endeavour to do other interesting narrative work.

We’re really proud of the project and the fact that it’s animated I like to think is the icing on the cake. It’s a great comedy project that happens to be animated.

The Gobby Twins


I had the pleasure of speaking to The Go-Betweens one gorgeous autumn in a Bondi Icebergs function room with a breathtaking view of the beach. Well, when I say ‘The Go-Betweens’, I mean Robert Forster and Grant McLennan (to whom I may collectively refer, at least in this introduction, as ‘The Gobby Twins’). Glenn Thompson, their current drummer, was also there and I did ask him a couple of cursory questions, but he graciously took his leave when he saw that I was far more interested in the lifetime members of the band.

Having devoured David Nichols’s biography The Go-Betweens (published by Allen & Unwin in 1997, but no doubt revised since then) I had the good sense to select a ‘Modern Lovers’ t-shirt to wear to the interview. It clearly went down a treat, because Robert Forster ended the dialogue by telling me how “lovely” it was “to be interviewed by a man with a Modern Lovers t-shirt”. It’s that underground punk band thing that informed so much of The Go-Betweens’ early career, and still makes itself apparent, albeit less directly, in their work.

At one stage McLennan tried to solicit my opinion on the cover art for the new album but I had the good sense to keep shtum. To me, it’s the kind of expressionist chiaroscuro of Weimar cinema. The foregrounded Forster, with the shaded eye sockets, is a zombie, McLennan, the controlling mad scientist. Well, I was there ostensibly to conduct a film interview for FilmInk, so I’m allowed to ‘read’ everything cinematically. But I’m glad I kept that particular cinematic insight to myself: after I’d unplugged the microphone, The Gobby Twins started to talk about journalists who had ‘done them wrong’ in the past, the name of one scribe in particular causing Forster to declare that McLennan would hold the guy, while he himself gave him “a bit of this!” The emphasised ‘this’ was accompanied by Forster busting kung fu moves not unlike those favoured by the jump-suited Elvis Presley of the 70s in performance mode. Having thus divulged this scenario online, I daresay that the next time it is enacted, the scribe who is held by McLennan and kung fu’d by Forster will bear my name.

What follows is the cinema-heavy FilmInk article coupled with a version written up for the magazine Last, and the bits that don’t quite work are probably where segments of the different stories were grafted together.

This version is dedicated to Fritz, AKA Anthony Frazer, who was interested enough to e-mail me and ask why I hadn’t yet uploaded this interview, and to Paul Davies, who was hip enough to own Go-Betweens albums and lend them to me when, whether I realised it or not, I really needed to hear their music.


“It’s been a great – I hate to use this word because it’s been over-used and it has terrible connotations – ‘journey’,” Robert Forster confesses. The Go-Betweens, a band he formed with his friend Grant McLennan nearly thirty years ago, have released Oceans Apart, possibly their best album yet. It’s certainly up there with 16 Lovers Lane, the other contender for the title. The major difference between the albums is that 16 Lovers Lane featured the so-called ‘classic’ band line-up that included Amanda Brown and Lindy Morrison. Nowadays it’s all too easy to regard subsequent members like bassist Adele Pickvance and drummer Glenn Thompson as ‘additional members’. In fact since Forster and McLennan are the only band members present in every incarnation, perhaps every other Go-Between has been an ‘additional’ member. “It’s been a bit of a curse that there hasn’t been a constant line-up,” Forster admits, “but it’s been good as a reflection of different eras. But with Glenn and Adele, we feel really great, and I think you can hear it in the music.” Forster confesses that Mark Wallis, who produced both Oceans Apart and 16 Lovers Lane, could also hear it in the music. “He was just going, ‘these two are great’,” Robert reports. “We know it, but people around us are saying, ‘they’re fantastic’.”

Despite the connotations, ‘journey’ perfectly describes the career trajectory that The Go-Betweens have traced. They came into being in 1978 in Brisbane, when Robert Forster approached his mate with the idea of forming a band.

“The fact that Bobby would ask someone who couldn’t play an instrument if he wanted to start a band – I thought that was really interesting,” McLennan recalls. “He didn’t ask me to come in and start playing the whip…” – a reference to Gerard Malanga, who used to dance with a whip in front of the stage when the Velvet Underground first started to play – “…or film it; it was to be a musician. That period when you’re a teenager and you’re dreaming of taking on the world or getting out of the world you’re in – which is probably more apt for me – the last thing that I really wanted to do was be a musician.”

More than a quarter of a century later, sitting opposite me in a room overlooking Bondi Beach with “a microphone shoved in my face – in a nice way,” Grant McLennan acknowledges that he made the correct decision. However, to begin with, McLennan was more interested in film than music. “I still think my film years are ahead of me,” he confesses. “Film was pretty much my first great love, and it remains so.” To prove his point, Grant announces that he recently acquired “a tremendous biography” of Francois Truffaut. “I’d been searching for an English translation of it for five years and I found one in America a couple of weeks ago.” Truffaut is McLennan’s favourite filmmaker, although he namechecks other ‘new wave’ French directors of the late 50s/early 60s that he admires: Rivette, Godard, Franju…

“They took the American language of film and put a European – and quite poetic – slant on it,” he explains. Truffaut, however, holds pride of place for McLennan, not merely because he’s a fellow Aquarian: “I like his depiction of female characters, I love the fact that he had a great love of books, and there is a gentleness to many of his films. He was also very interested in the passage of children into adults. And his use of music was amazing.” How apt! The same could be said of The Go-Betweens’ music…

Robert Forster is passionate about an earlier generation of cinema: the screwball comedies of the 30s. “Anything with Jean Arthur in it just gets me going,” he says, citing Easy Living (1937), Only Angels Have Wings (1939) and both Mr Deeds Goes to Town (1936) (“with Gary Cooper!”) and Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939) (“with Jimmy Stewart. I love Jimmy Stewart!”) However, having lived without a television in a German village for the last little while, Forster claims he “hasn’t seen many films” in the last ten or fifteen years. “Mainly, I see films on aeroplanes,” he admits, which explains not only his love for “commercial cinema that has old-fashioned Hollywood values,” but a specific admiration for “the cinema of Ben Stiller”. According to Forster, Stiller is “a modern-day comic genius.”

Unlike his collaborator, Grant McLennan is still an avid movie watcher. “I’m trying to structure my life so that I can see two or three films a day for the rest of my life,” he says. “There’s a lot I’ve got to catch up on.” But he’s not so keen on bonus features and the like. “The problem with DVDs is the same problem with CDs – people just jam too much on them. I’m not really interested in outtakes or the director’s cut in general. To me, if you’re going to deliver something to the public, you’ve got to have the guts to say, ‘that’s it!’ All this bonus material – there’s way too many other things in the world to do than to have to sift through four hours of outtakes of Dumb and Dumber.”

Hang on, I point out, doesn’t this mean that there wouldn’t be a time when The Go-Betweens’ back catalogue was reissued with alternative takes and flipsides?

“Well, it’s already happened, man…” Grant begins, a little exasperated.

Yeah, yeah, I jump in quickly, I remember the Red Eye and Beggars Banquet reissues; perhaps I should have said ‘doesn’t this mean there shouldn’t have been a time when The Go-Betweens’ back catalogue was reissued with alternative takes and flipsides?’ But the point I’m making, I tell him, is that he’s been caught out on his position…

“No, no,” he interrupts, “I think you got ‘caught out’…”

Well, okay, I must admit that I never invested in The Go-Betweens’ back-catalogue-reissued-with-bonus-tracks that were made available towards the end of the 90s – I was far too busy buying The Beatles’ Anthology CDs by the time I was hip enough and had the ready cash. But I knew the Go-Betweens’ reissues existed. Now I want to move on and, thankfully, McLennan lets me off the hook:

“When you’ve got the ‘cannon’, as Robert refers to the Go-Betweens albums,” he says, “and when you’ve got as many passionate fans as we do around the world, it’s a good thing to make sure those songs remain available, that they can be part of the culture and part of the dialogue. Part of presenting that to the modern public is to include everything.” Still, he maintains, he and Forster “have been very selective” in what they have allowed to be reissued. “The first six albums have all come out with the bonus discs, so there’s the b-sides, the radio sessions and the rare songs that never quite made the album. And the great thing about it is we will never have to do it again!”

Even if Grant McLennan sees his film years as lying ahead of him, at some level at least they have accompanied The Go-Betweens on their journey. The band’s first single ‘Lee Remick’ was named after the actress; their second album was called Before Hollywood; even the band’s name is a film title. 1970’s The Go-Between depicts a torrid, forbidden affair between characters played by Alan Bates and Julie Christie. Really, the only cinematic dimension missing from The Go-Betweens’ oeuvre is a film soundtrack.

“We never get approached to do soundtracks,” Robert Forster admits. “I don’t know why. I’m quite glad, actually, because I don’t think we could pull it off.”

This is clearly false modesty. I reckon the real reason The Go-Betweens don’t get asked to do film soundtracks is because their songs are already so cinematic in and of themselves. The imagery of the lyrics and the sound-pictures painted by the music conjure better scenarios than anyone could provide. Consider the album’s lead single, ‘Here Comes A City’ – every line of lyric describes the image you’d film to illustrate it. It’s clearly going to be a very strong radio single, I tell the duo.

“You’re talking our language, baby!” Forster shouts. “Yeah! That’s what we’re hoping.”

I can already picture the video clip, I tell him.

“What do you see?” McLennan demands.

It’s a fast-moving, black-and-white clip with jump cuts and quick edits, as seen from a hurtling train, I tell him.

“That’s the way I wanted to make it,” Grant McLennan says. “But you’re right, it’s black and white. And there are jump cuts. But the fast-moving stuff has all been done by the band. It’s very much a performance video.” He draws parallels to mid-60s New York: “…Andy Warhol, Gerard Malanga with the whip, all that sort of stuff…” Not quite a reference to The Go-Betweens’ earlier interest in New York punk, it turns out, rather a nod at Warhol’s experimental filmmaking: “beautiful people doing disgusting things to each other,” Grant explains.

Other songs similarly hark back to earlier times. ‘Darlinghurst Nights’, name-checking a host of former Go-Betweens’ associates including former manager and music journalist Clinton Walker and Died Pretty organist Frank Brunetti, specifically documents the band’s return to Australia in 1983. “We were touring for about six or eight weeks and were just hanging around a house in Woolloomooloo before we went back to England,” Robert Forster recalls. “We spent a lot of time and met a lot of people in Darlinghurst.”

‘Boundary Rider’ is also associated with that period, at least by default. The band’s breakthrough single in 1983 was ‘Cattle and Cain’ and ‘Boundary Rider’ appears to be similarly inspired by the McLennan family’s roots ‘on the land’. Yet, Grant says, beyond the memory of “riding fences” in order to maintain them and ensure your paddocks aren’t “getting mixed up”, the song serves as a metaphor for self-protection. “Most people spend a lot of time stopping things getting out,” McLennan explains, “but there are occasional times, and they’re probably more scary, when things come in that you’ve got no control over.”

An interesting track is ‘Lavendar’, which almost has a reggae feel despite, Forster explains, it beginning as a “folk toon”. Whereas Mark Wallis produced the album, ‘Lavendar’ bears a production credit for Dave Ruffy (former Waterboys, Ruts drummer), who programmed click-tracks for the original demo-versions of the album’s songs. ‘Lavendar’ is the only song that retains its original click-track. “Dave, who was doing some programming and some keyboard overdubbing, had this rhythm that he’d written that we were playing along to that sounded so good that we kept it,” Robert says. “Because he took the song ninety degrees that way – suddenly it’s got this reggae beat and we just really liked it. It took us all by surprise.”

Another interesting offering is the track ‘Mountains Near Dellray’ which, apparently, was McLennan’s idea, but Forster’s song. “I wrote a folk toon,” Forster begins again. “I had come up with the lyric and I went over to see Grant, as I do, and Grant had just come back from Tasmania.” McLennan related his Tasmanian travel experiences and Forster “immediately went home and wrote them down”. Now here’s the interesting bit: Robert thought Grant had mentioned ‘Dellray’ – “I misheard ‘the mountains near Dellray’ and thought, ‘that’s fantastic! There’s the song title!’ – when McLennan was actually talking about ‘Deloraine’. The former (in fact, Delray Beach) is in Miami, Florida, while the latter, as you’d expect given the context of Tasmanian travel experiences, is indeed in Tasmania, near the Derwent River. Scintillating, isn’t it! But there’s more:

“What I particularly like about the song,” Grant adds, “is that Robert says ‘Derwent’ and it’s one of his middle names. I think it’s one of Robert’s greatest lyrics, and the fact that there’s that parallel makes it even better.”

There is a pensive sadness to many of the lyrics, if not the actual music on Oceans Apart. ‘Darlinghurst Nights’ begins with “tears”, and even though another backward-looking song tells us with its very title that there’s ‘No Reason To Cry’, by its end, we are urged to “find a reason”. If, as it appears, Oceans Apart is the album with which The Go-Betweens look back upon themselves as a band, it’s worth noting the biggest difference between the ‘classic’ line-up and its current one. Lindy Morrison and Amanda Brown served not only as Robert Forster and Grant McLennan’s former musical partners; they were also their respective romantic partners. There’s clearly a different dynamic when lovers, or former lovers, are in your band. But is it a good or a bad dynamic, I find the courage to ask.

“Well I think Robert’s dating Adele, and I’m going out with Glenn at the moment, so we’ve managed to solve that problem,” Grant deadpans before offering a serious appraisal:

“We’ve always played with women in the band and there’s a certain island mentality that comes into being in a band – it’s like being in a gang. In my case, a relationship with a band member wasn’t something that I was looking for; it just presented itself and I’m very happy that it did. There’s a great passion and friendship within any Go-Betweens line-up, but I think I can speak for other people that have been in the band and say we’ve always believed in the songs. The most important thing has always been, making the songs as good and as clear as we can.”

With Oceans Apart The Go-Betweens have managed to do that again.

Bougainville Sky

Transcript of an edited interview with Nick Agafonoff and Fred Smith, regarding the film Bougainville Sky. Although we discussed Fred’s new album Independence Park at some length, it was better just to tell the one story – about the film – rather than two.

I haven’t gone to the extent of annotating the music as it appears in the broadcast. However, if you listen to the MP3 version, you’ll hear excerpts of the tracks ‘Bougainville Sky’, ‘Mr Circle’, ‘When She Cries’ and the title track from from the album Bagarap Empires as well as the title track from Independence Park.

I would have liked to have worked a bit of the song ‘Imogen Parker’ into it as well, along with ‘Radio Bougainville’ and ‘Rasta Mangke’, the more rollicking/reggae songs from Indepedence Park. But sometimes you’ve got to compromise to get a story out in time. What I like most is that I managed to get the story told by not telling any of it myself – Nick and Fred do all the talking.

NICK AGAFONOFF: Bougainville Sky came into being just over two years ago when I was at the National Folk Festival in Canberra. I could hear this person singing in one of the tents. I knew Fred Smith from around Canberra – I’d seen him playing in pubs. I knew him as a satirical songwriter, someone who wrote funny songs.

I went into this tent and discovered this entirely different repertoire of Fred Smith. These were not comedic, satirical, quirky little songs; these were songs about experiences as a peace keeper in Bougainville, and had quite a profound impact on the audience. What I identified in Fred at that moment was somebody who was able to translate the human experience of someone in a completely different culture to a western audience, and move them. I thought he had something really unique, and I thought to myself, “I really have to pursue this” and make a film about Fred Smith.

FRED SMITH: Bougainville Island is the Eastern-most province of Papua New Guinea, a very resource-rich island. The people there are ethnically very different from the people of mainstream New Guinea.

Historically, in 1973 an Australian mine called the Bougainville Copper Mine started up. It was a massive mine; it provided a third of the world’s copper trade and provided the New Guinea government with forty percent of its revenue. The mine created a lot of wealth for a lot of Bougainvilleans, and training, but on the other hand, it also displaced a lot of them from their land.

In 1989, a bunch of those displaced landowners had got some TNT out of the mine’s magazine and blew up a power pylon, killed a mineworker, and the mine shut down.

The New Guinea government got edgy about this and sent in the riot squad and troops. The troops ran amuck, did a lot of damage, and the small group of disgruntled landowners turned into the Bougainville Revolutionary Army and so a civil war – a war of independence – broke out.

That war of independence ran till about ’97. It was very destructive. It turned life right on its head there. Industries shut down. People went back to subsistence, and there were a lot of deaths from the violence, too.

In ’97 there was a peace negotiated between the New Guinea government and the Bougainville Revolutionary Army, and as part of this peace agreement they asked Australia, New Zealand, Fiji and Vanuatu to send in a peace keeping force, on the condition that they come unarmed. Now this frightened the ADF, to send unarmed troops anywhere, but they agreed, and that’s how the peace monitoring group came about.

I was a civilian adviser to the peace monitoring group. So I was there, really, for reporting and to facilitate meetings between Bougainvilleans, to facilitate with weapons disposal, things like that. There are always civilian advisers up there and I was one of them. And then I turned into a professional extrovert – sort of the ‘Ronald McDonald’ of the peace process.

NICK AGAFONOFF: The film Bougainville Sky is about the Bougainville peace process. Fred is the protagonist who is the vehicle to exploring the remarkable story about the Bougainville peace process and how it became a success and the role that women played in it and the role that music played in it and the role that Fred played, himself, in the success of the Bougainville peace process.

FRED SMITH: I had a guitar. I became part of the formal patrol process: we’d get into a four-wheel drive, me and five or six soldiers and we’d spill out to a village and set out under a tree or in a church or something like that. Then I’d start talking about the peace process in pidgin. Then we’d start doing a few tunes and the soldiers would do the backing vocals, you know, ‘doo-wop, doo-wop’ – that sort of stuff. They were a bit reluctant at the start, but by the end of it, you couldn’t get them out of the patrol.

In the end, the outfit I was working for – the peace-monitoring group, which is run by the Australian army – came to see that the songs were useful for getting the message out. And so they flew in a recording desk for me, and we recorded some local musicians and some of my own songs, and we put out a cassette called Songs of Peace. The army ended up putting out twenty thousand copies of this cassette around the island.

NICK AGAFONOFF: Everywhere I went with Fred, people would yell out to him, “Em now, bulmacow!” and start laughing their heads off. He seemed to be this absurd character in Bougainville who people couldn’t stop laughing at whenever they saw him. I had to find out, of course, what this whole ‘Em now, bulmacow!’ thing meant. What it meant, what it simply translated to was, ‘Yes indeed, cow.’ This was incredibly funny to Bougainvilleans because there are now cows on Bougainville.

FRED SMITH: ‘Em now, bulmacow’ was one of the songs that I wrote for this Songs of Peace tape. The only lyrics are ‘Em now, bulmacow’, which translates as ‘Yes indeed, cow’ which in itself doesn’t mean anything. It’s a dada reggae tune. But the kids seemed to get right into it, and it became an expression around the island. ‘Em now, bulmacow’. Where ever you’d go, you’d wave at people and you’d shout, ‘Em now!’. And they’d cry ‘Bulmacow and fall about the place laughing.

NICK AGAFONOFF: I set out initially to make a film about Fred Smith and his music, but when I arrived in Bougainville, everything changed, because I realised very quickly how extraordinary the Bougainville people are and how extraordinary the peace that they’d created was. It’s something that they owned, that they created, and in particular, the women in Bougainville were able to create.

FRED SMITH: Women don’t occupy a position of great respect in Papua New Guinea society. In Bougainville it’s slightly insofar as women own the land; it’s a matrilineal society. Now during the crisis years, women kept it together on the family level, they kept the family fed and suffered enormously and were never amongst the combatants. And so they had a great stake in the peace process and in discouraging their husbands and fathers and sons from participating in the fighting and they banded together. There’s a Bougainville Women’s Union which is about ten thousand-strong and they played a very strong role in supporting the peace process and making sure it went forward. They participated in the Burnham Peace Talks in 1997.

NICK AGAFONOFF: The film focuses on the final three weeks of the peace monitoring group being in Bougainville. So it’s essentially the last month, which was June 2003, in which the peace monitors went around and said goodbye to Bougainvilleans in various different villages and finally in a great big ‘farewell ceremony’ at Independence Park in Arawa, said goodbye formally. That’s where lots of people flew in from Australia and New Zealand: ministers, heads of defence, that sort of thing.

Fred’s role in that was that he had to organise the music and the entertainment for that farewell. And so I suppose the suspense in the film is about how Fred gets to that farewell ceremony and manages to bring it together in light of all these other farewells taking place in Bougainville.

FRED SMITH: Well they’d organised this massive farewell ceremony – they were gonna lower the flags for the operation, and there was a lot of emotion about it in Bougainville. The people there had, on the whole, come to associate us with peace. And so they organised this massive farewell ceremony, this cessation ceremony at a place called Independence Park in the capital of Arawa. It was a situation where the peace monitoring group – mainly the Australian Army – had people coming in from Australia. Cosgrove was coming, Senator Hill was coming, all these big people were coming from Foreign Affairs, and then there were a whole bunch of people coming from Port Moresby too. It had to run on time, so there was a great tightening of sphincters in the lead-up to the thing.

At the same time, nothing ever runs on time in Bougainville, and they asked me to organise the entertainment. I had a fifty piece band coming down from the northern part of Bougainville; my own band was playing – the Bulmacow Band; and a local band and a whole bunch of dancers and all sorts of stuff. So I had all of that going on and I had to manage that in a way that looked less than chaotic. And of course, in the end, it just poured with rain; that’s what happens up there.

Scion Ferry Also Roxy’s the Vote

Unfortunately, Brian Eno didn’t rise to the challenge with an adequate campaign bleep for Reg Keys and the Right Honourable Tony Blair was returned with a landslide. (Blair’s campaign song, as it happens, was the Eno-produced U2 song ‘Beautiful Day’.) But Eno wasn’t the only person connected to Roxy Music trying to give the Prime Minister grief.

Otis Ferry, son of Bryan, by all reports a bigger knob-twiddler than Eno and Blair put together, is dirty with the Prime Minister on account of the outlawing of fox hunting. He was arrested for lunging at the newly re-elected PM.

While the return of Blair to No. 10 Downing street might not bode well for Otis’s cause, at least there is a bright side: another term of Jon Culshaw’s impressions of the PM on Dead Ringers.

Have a listen to Blair’s victory speech.

Brian Eno Roxy’s The Vote

I was pleased to hear this week that knob-twiddler extraordinaire (in the synthesiser/studio boffin sense, that is) Brian Eno is going to back a political campaign to unseat another knob-twiddler (in the more traditional sense), Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The candidate Eno is backing is the father of a fallen soldier, who believes the war in Iraq is unjust. The man’s name is Reg Keys, which is, of course, fitting, seeing as Eno, one of the greatest music producers in the known universe and the keyboard-playing founder member of Roxy Music, is a synthesiser maestro. Which leads us to the important issue of campaign songs. What form will Reg’s song take?

Remember, Reg is up against Blair, who took power on that bizarre ‘no, actually, Britain isn’t all completely shite’ campaign bolstered by Oasis riding the crest of the Britpop wave, when the passing of Kurt Cobain somehow enabled people to realise that grunge, with its distortion, few chords and self-centred lyrics, was really kind of awful – but clearly less awful than Oasis, with their distortion, few chords, and self-centred lyrics.

Oasis are about to release a great comeback album, apparently. Perhaps now would be the time for Blair to renew that staunch nationalism of not being completely shite by tapping into the not-quite-zeitgeist and co-opting Oasis once again. It could lead to such rallying campaign songs as ‘Shuddup Or Our Kid’ll Nut Yer’ and ‘I’m Fookin’ Mad, Me’.

But where does that leave the Reg Keys campaign song? Well, really, it’s a question of, will it be one of the ‘synthesisers go whoosh’ Eno compositions, or one of the ‘synthesisers go bleep’ Eno compositions?

I’m in favour of the latter. In fact, I’d go so far to suggest an excerpt from a little ditty called ‘The Paw Paw Negro Blowtorch’ from the Eno album Here Come The Warm Jets. Have a listen.

Of course, there could be a very good argument to be made for Eno somehow combining both styles of music – synthesisers go whoosh and bleep – for such an auspicious occasion. I can’t think of what that very good argument would be – but I can offer a pretty crap one: ‘Brian Eno Backs Campaign’ happens to be an anagram of ‘ransacking bop ambiance’, an activity that perfectly encapsulates exactly what Eno would be doing to devise such a composition.

The challenge has been issued. It’s your move now, Brian.

Tara Moss In Da House


The opportunity to conduct another interview with Tara Moss is one I’ll happily pursue. This time around, it was for the ‘In Da House’ column for FilmInk, in which celebs are asked about their film consumption on DVD and video.

Our conversation happened to take place during this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and Tara, now based in Melbourne, was happy to report that she was thus an even busier model-turned-novelist than she was before; in addition to watching an average of four or more films a week, she was now seeing up to three stand-up shows a day. I hadn’t realised that along with horror, comedy has been her other life-long love.

Somewhere in the middle of all this comedy and cinema, Tara also had to make time for Makedde Vanderwall, the heroine forever haunted by serial killers in Moss’s novels. This was what she was trying to do when I contacted her for the interview.

“I’m in my running pants, sitting at my desk as we speak,” Tara told me over the phone. I had to fight the temptation to stop and contemplate whether she meant sleek tracky dacks or little shorts, since either fantasy would distract me from the interview, which, at the time, was distracting Tara from her writing. But the writing was the logical place to start. The transcript is much longer than what I could fit in the final ‘In Da House’ column, appearing any minute now in the June issue of FilmInk.

Demetrius Romeo: Tara, will there ever be a film based on any of your novels, and if there is, who would play Makedde Vanderwall?

TARA MOSS: There has been a lot of speculation over the years about who would be a good actress to play Makedde. There’s a whole section of my website where people have been writing in. I think Angelina Jolie is at the top of the polls at the moment just because she’s a beautiful woman and one that chooses very strong, independent and interesting roles. But she obviously did a serial killer thriller not too long ago so I don’t know if I’d be lucky enough to have her in the film of one of my novels. But one can only dream, I suppose.

It’s kind of a funny thing for novel writers because we, for the most part, write novels to be novels; we don’t write novels to be movies. It’s great that they can be translated and put into a different medium, but it’s not necessarily the most comforting thought, and I’m one of the writers out there who can honestly say I get really uneasy thinking about my books being made into films. I know it would be a great honour and it would be a really interesting experience, but it would also be a harrowing one because I like to control my little world within the books, and you lose that control when you hand over the rights.

Demetrius Romeo: When I read your novels, I can’t help but see you in the lead role.

TARA MOSS: If I could act, that would be great, but I have an aversion to acting. I’m really, really comfortable being myself and I’ve found that any time I’ve felt not quite right doing something, it’s usually because I’m having to speak someone else’s words for some reason.

Demetrius Romeo: Are you saying you don’t identify with your lead character?

TARA MOSS: I identify with her, but I’m not her. I think of her kind of as a sister. I do have a wonderful sister named Jacquie, but my fictional sister Makedde is someone I understand, and also someone who occasionally does things that I wouldn’t do myself. I think it’s important to have that separation between reality and fiction. Otherwise it would be very limiting from a writing perspective. Imagine every time you go to a keyboard thinking ‘what would I do?’ rather than ‘what would make for an interesting plot?’ I think it’s dangerous territory when you identify too closely to that character. With Makedde I did borrow a lot of autobiographical stuff; that’s clear. But I don’t think I’ve ever viewed her as me per se, rather as a character who I’d want to know, a character that I can understand intimately, which I think is a different thing.

Demetrius Romeo: Your husband Mark Pennell is a producer; doesn’t being married to a producer make getting a film made somewhat easier?

TARA MOSS: No, not really. In fact, if anything, it’s made me more wary of the film business than ever before just because I see the struggles he goes through with it. Mark is an Australian film producer and we know how the Australian film industry is at the moment. He’s worked on some international projects and he’s certainly working on some pretty incredible stuff at the moment, but again: danger zone! I already know my personality well enough to know that it would be difficult to let go of my books and let them become movies. I think it would be doubly difficult if the person making them is my own husband. Let me put it this way: I have a happy marriage at the moment and I don’t want that ever to change.

Demetrius Romeo: You’ve said that you see four movies a week, on average.

TARA MOSS: Yeah, I do. Sometimes more than that.

Demetrius Romeo: Is that in the cinema, on DVD or on cable?

TARA MOSS: It’s a combination of DVDs and going to the cinema. I don’t watch television much at all. I pretty much use the TV for DVD rental. I love going through DVD shops and finding the most obscure foreign films or art house films or b-grade films and finding something delightful and surprising in them, and I see probably about 80 percent of what comes out in theatres, so I’m frequently at movie theatres checking things out. I just love film. I think it’s a wonderful story-telling medium. Obviously, I prefer books. I don’t read all the time; I read a lot of the time. And when I’m not reading, I’m probably watching a movie somewhere.

Demetrius Romeo: Are there any cinematic genres that don’t interest you?

TARA MOSS: I suppose particularly sappy, romantic films don’t interest me a lot. I have a lot of fun watching something like Notting Hill, something that’s like a romantic comedy but is a little more clever; that’s great. This is going to sound really awful, but if people aren’t gonna die and there’s no conflict, I’m not very interested in watching. I know it’s a terrible thing to say!

Demetrius Romeo: You’ve expressed these sentiments before, when talking about your novels: you’re interested in characters taking control of the darkness, and have been since you were a kid reading Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are and Edward Gorey’s Gashlycrumb Tinies.

TARA MOSS: I found Edward Gorey’s kind of delightfully morbid, black humour really fascinating at that age, and I think I still enjoy that. The types of books I sometimes like, like the types of movies I sometimes like, deal with really dark issues, sometimes with humour, and I think that’s the best way to deal with things we don’t understand or are afraid of.

Demetrius Romeo: You said that you like even b-grade films…

TARA MOSS: I’m a big fan of b-grade films. I think there are some beauties out there that are so bad that they’re genius, like Ed Wood’s films, or Night of the Living Dead.

Demetrius Romeo: Give me an example of a so-bad-it’s-good treasure you’ve come across recently.

TARA MOSS: Recently I watched pretty much every zombie flick every made. I went on a zombie frenzy. I started having dreams that I was being chased by zombies, I was so immersed in them. I was watching three zombie films a day. Some of them were fantastic, but I can’t even remember the name of half of them because there were so many. But I watched all of the Night of the Living Dead series. Of course, Shaun of the Dead is fantastic fun, but that is recognized as being quite a brilliant comedy. But I think a lot of the ones that are panned as being ‘b-grade’ films are actually brilliant comedies in and of themselves. I find them quite amusing.

Demetrius Romeo: If you watch so many films, do you have time to go back and watch all the special features when you rent a DVD?

TARA MOSS: I often do look at a lot of the extras. For instance, I recently rented Anchor Man which I thought was hysterical, because I love Will Ferrell. I was on the floor laughing at all the outtakes and things like that. Sometimes I do quite enjoy the extras. But I don’t tend to listen to the directors’ commentaries because I don’t want to over-analyse stuff. Unless I’m aware that there’s a particular story behind some of the scenes, I won’t seek out the commentary as much as the documentary aspects of the extras. The documentary is more interesting to me than watching the film again with commentary over the top.

The twenty-fifth anniversary edition of The Graduate, which is one of my favourite films, was a wonderful edition that came out and had interviews with everyone now and their views on the movie at the time. To me that’s a bit more interesting, that documentary style. I like it because they gave some behind-the-scenes information about some really classic scenes. The one at the end when they’re in the church, and Katharine Ross is getting married to her man, Dustin Hoffman’s standing above where the ceremony is taking place, and he’s tapping on the glass – because he had his arms extended, it was thought to be somehow related to Christianity. Mike Nichols and Dustin Hoffman are saying, ‘well, actually, it was because they told us that if I tapped in the middle of the glass, it would break’. So since 1967 they’ve been analysing the Christian references at the end of The Graduate – which I think is just a classic! Those sorts of stories are the ones I like to hear because I do think there’s too much analysis of creative work, whether it be books or film. We stop enjoying things for what they are in order to search for ‘hidden meanings’ in things that sometimes don’t even have meanings.

Demetrius Romeo: Are there particular directors that you like?

TARA MOSS: I’m a big Tim Burton fan. I like his kooky sense of humour. I like David Lynch and Burton and these directors who create completely different worlds out of their own imagination. I love Quentin Tarantino. I also love the stuff that people pan: I loved the Lara Croft movies. I love a lot of films that people think are quite superficial. I like films for different reasons, and there’s something very satisfying about seeing Angelina Jolie swinging on a rope with a gun strapped to her leg, and there’s something very satisfying about seeing a subtle film like Sideways that’s a bit more gentle and a bit deeper and has some great comedic moments in it.

Demetrius Romeo: Are you much of a collector when it comes to films? Do you have to own them, or are you just happy to see them?

TARA MOSS: I have to own stuff. I have to own a lot of films.

Demetrius Romeo: What sort of stuff makes the Tara Moss collection?

TARA MOSS: The Graduate – 25th Anniversary Edition. I love Wes Anderson, so The Royal Tenenbaums is one of my favourites. I love Bound with Gina Gershon and Jennifer Tilly, which I think is one of the most fabulous thrillers. A very sexy thriller!

A fabulous cheesy movie I recommend is called Ninja Killer. This is like a 70s Hong Kong action flick. If you’re used to b-grade movies, this is c-grade and it’s classic. The hair-dos, the outfits and the bad dubbing – it’s beautiful. It’s called Ninja Killer but there are no real ninja in it; it’s got a lot of people trying to pretend that they’re Bruce Lee, breaking up drug rings, with sideburns that could stop a truck.

Kill Bill Volume 1 – I don’t watch the whole thing over and over again, but I love the scenes in Japan, where Uma Thurman’s kicking butt! And I also love her short motorcycle scene in the yellow leather motorcycle suit so much that I went and had a red one made for myself. I have a red Kawasaki ZZR motorcycle and she’s riding a yellow Kawasaki ZZR motorcycle, so I thought it was very fitting. I also have films like Mystic River and The Thomas Crown Affair original, which is one of my favourite movies of all time – mostly because Steve McQueen is just a god! He’s such a ‘man’s man’ leading man. I love that really masculine leading man that we don’t see enough of these days. I also love The Getaway, even though there’s a lot of interaction between his character and that character of Ali MacGraw’s that’s now completely unacceptable. Thankfully. Feminism has come a bit further. Other than that, it’s a brilliant film, and very of it’s time. Blade Runner. Impossible to beat. It’s my favourite sci-fi genre movie.

Demetrius Romeo: Can the man’s man exist in a world where his woman isn’t so passive?

TARA MOSS: Absolutely. The man’s man can totally exist in today’s world now that women have power as well. I love powerful women. In fact, I like powerful women so much that I’m obsessed with actresses who starred in sometimes cheesy ‘powerful women’ roles. I love this current swing into female superheroes. I collect female action figures that all have a great deal of artillery and kick ass. But it doesn’t stop me from liking quite masculine characters. If a guy’s going to be a leading man, I don’t think he should spend more time looking in the mirror than I would. That should be the cut-off point right there.

Demetrius Romeo: Do you still have videos?

TARA MOSS: I do have some videos, but I don’t watch them very much, to be honest. I have The Shining, which is one of my favourite horror films, I only have on video so I’m planning on upgrading to a DVD version that hopefully has some very cool extras. The version I’ve got is a video, but it also has the documentary by Kubrick’s wife, about the making of the film, so it’s actually quite a good video. But it is a video; I’m sure they’ve got to be some updates since then. Kubrick was so before his time in terms of seeing a book like The Shining, seeing Steven King’s work, and seeing the primal way it taps into our sort of childhood fears, and treating that genre with respect. It’s one of those things I complain about often: just because something’s a horror story or a crime story or a serial killer story doesn’t mean you can’t treat it with respect and make it a really amazing piece of work, whether it be a book or a movie. I think there’s a lot of brilliance to be found in those genres, rather than just dismissing the genre because there are a lot of bad examples of it. There are a lot of brilliant examples of it, too. The Shining is one of those.

Demetrius Romeo: Do you think you’ll have a film script in you at some stage?

TARA MOSS: Not until I mature a bit more to be honest. Being a control freak, I’m very wary of the screenwriting process because it’s collaborative and the more I find out about the film business, the more I really don’t want to be in that position where I’m being told what to write and where the money matters so much that you have to make those compromises. Jeffery Deaver said something brilliant. He was asked how much he had to do with the making of the films of his books, such The Bone Collector. He said, “I have a lot to do with them; I cash the cheque”. I thought he was very wise: he’s a great writer, that’s what he does well; he was saving himself the frustration of actually trying to work with a whole load of people creating a film version of what he’s already done brilliantly as a book. Until I can separate myself a little bit more from my books, it would be a lot of frustration, and not the kind of frustration that pays off in the end. As we know, with the movie industry you can’t count on something being made or being successful or any of that. It’s a very difficult industry, and so, for the moment, I’m happy to stick to my writing.