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Making a mess of civil rights history

23 October 2013 | Tim Kroenert

Oprah Winfrey and Forest Whitaker in The ButlerThe idea of viewing the American civil rights movement through the eyes of an African-American butler, ensconced for decades at the White House in the service of eight different presidents, is tantalising. How disappointing then that The Butler is such a sloppy, soppy mess. And with all due respect to Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey is a big part of the problem.

Creation stories from inferno Australia

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17 October 2013 | Barry Gittins and Jen Vuk

'The Garden of Sorrows' by John Hughes - book coverThe Garden is populated by the larger-than-strife figures who follow their lust of life and self. Kaos the crocodile, who becomes the first man, and Hades the platypus, the first thief. Orpheus the lyrebird, the first actor, and the first healer, possum Prometheus. The giant red kangaroo, Knuckles, the first ruler. This is storytelling that exults in pain and primordial uncertainty, passion and purpose.

Father Bob, dissident prophet

16 October 2013 | Tim Kroenert

Father Bob MaguireFather Bob is cast in a similar mould to Peter Kennedy and Bill Morris, those other earthy Australian clerics who according to the popular narrative were suppressed by the hierarchy for flouting outdated practices. This is an appealing narrative for a secular public that has become disillusioned with institutional religion, especially due to the sexual abuse crisis and inequitable practices regarding marriage and the role of women within the hierarchy.

University turning point

10 October 2013 | Brian Matthews

The cover of S. J. Perelman's Crazy Like a Fox features a cartoonish depiction of a foxMy first year at university was a time of exquisite confusion and crippling diffidence. The only way I could see to climb the mountain of difficulties my studies seemed to present was to work harder. After one late-night stint in the library, over a cup of the 'caf's' execrable coffee, my friend gave me a book. 'Don't read it on the tram going home,' he said, 'you might embarrass yourself.'

The film about Indonesia that Tony Abbott must see

02 October 2013 | Tim Kroenert

Anwar Congo in fake blood make-up with a knife to his throatIn Australia the reality of ongoing Indigenous disadvantage is proof of the effect of past atrocities on the structure of ensuing society. Likewise, despite some democratic progress in recent times, Indonesia's unhealed past remains a source of serious human rights problems. The Act of Killing demonstrates a direct continuum between the evils of the past and the present political reality.

Mythologising family history

25 September 2013 | Tim Kroenert

Sarah Polley looking through a camera in Stories We TellPolley approaches the subject with great patience, like an anthropologist who has a deep love for those whom she is studying. In the beginning she instructs her interviewees simply to start from the start and tell it how it was. She no doubt hopes to find clues in the detail, but she also dignifies each participant by allowing them to have a voice. She is self-effacing, yet the questions she asks are bound up in her very existence.

Funny mummy slaps patriarchal Australia

19 September 2013 | Barry Gittins and Jen Vuk

Cover image of Nelly Thomas' book 'What Women Want' features Thomas smiling and with her hands on her hipsAs a parent of a boy, I was concerned by Thomas' experiences doing 'sexual ethics theatre performances'. She recounts negative responses from teenage boys to one scenario dealing with pubic hair — the lads assuming that 'any girl with pubes would be so self-conscious about them that she'd avoid sex altogether', and that malekind is disgusted by non-exfoliated women.

A broken woman hastily reassembled

18 September 2013 | Tim Kroenert

Cate Blanchett in Blue JasmineJasmine is a tragic figure, and her fatal flaw is that she is entirely self-absorbed. But she is also a victim; the product of a society that expects women to conform to norms that disempower them. It was not her husband's downfall and the resultant material loss that caused her breakdown. It was the many years she spent in a marriage that was fundamentally abusive.

Human stories from Tim Winton's Australia

11 September 2013 | Tim Kroenert

Rose Byrne with a black eye in The TurningA boy plays a treacherous prank on his brother while visiting the beach. A domestic violence victim finds comfort in a bizarre distortion of Christian faith. A man sees a news report and follows his memories back to the day of a childhood tragedy. A woman, grieving for a broken marriage, paws through her husband's box of memories. The filmmakers put their stamp on each story while paying due reverance to Winton's sublime prose.

On Seamus Heaney's turf

04 September 2013 | Peter Gebhardt

Seamus Heaney seated at a deskTen years ago, my wife and I went to Dublin. Upon our arrival at the hotel there were three notes waiting from Seamus; the first suggested a meeting, the second drinks, the third 'Heigho, we'll have some scrags'. He picked us up in a Mercedes Benz. I said something about a poet and such a car, 'Never mind it's got a broken window'.

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