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Monthly cultural round up: March

During March I spent a lot of time on planes. And a bit in hotels. These things, strangely, underpinned quite an active month of cultural experiences.

Books

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte I read this entirely on planes and have already talked about some of my thoughts on it here. I must say I was quite amazed how readable it was, even if some of the characters drove me a little crazy. I do think though that Edgar is possibly one of the most undervalued male characters in literature ever though!

The Death of Vishnu by Manil Suri This was one of those books which one starts reading with absolutely no expectations whatsoever. Again, very readable. What I found most interesting in it was the exploration of the way arranged marriage works and works out, or doesn’t, and its social meaning and constructions. It was also quite interesting to see some of the tensions in the Hindu-Muslim relationship in India as well as an exploration of the way events have a way of unfolding, when no one considers the consequences to anyone but themselves.

Rides a Dread Legion by Raymond E Feist More of the churn of the Feist machine, but I actually thought this was better written and more compelling than some of his later work. I still do wonder why Feist can’t just start anew with a whole bunch of new characters and a new universe rather than having to contort the history, gods and past of the original one in order to allow for new stories. And, god help me, the book even made me cry a little at the end. Full marks also must go to the inclusion of a strong female character who isn’t married to anyone – something not seen for a while.

Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard A birthday gift from a friend who knows me just a little bit too well, I read this in three days (flights to Perth and back helped). It is the story of an American woman who meets and falls in love with a French man and ends up moving to Paris to live with him. The subtle and not-so-subtle cultural differences, and the growing love of food, make up most of the book. What I found really interesting was that sometimes I found myself identifying with her American point-of-view, and sometimes with the French. but a very readable, very enjoyable, honest and insightful book, especially if you have spent some time in or know either culture well.

Movies

District 9 I am not a huge fan of the mockumentary genre in general because I actually think that it is quite hard to tell the whole story within the mockumentary, and District 9 did suffer from a bit of a lack of discipline in that it was sometimes hard to tell what was “in” and what was “out” and why there was the transference between the two. So I found that a little distracting. The story was of course the standard one of the fate of becoming what you hate – very Lacanian really – and also about the assumptions we make which underline prejudice and how they are often our undoing. That being said, in general I really like the rather different take on alien first contact and the whole conception of the aliens. And I really liked the father-son combination of smart aliens. There was also something really moving about the older alien’s reaction to seeing the scientific experimentation, particularly when one obviously was not being guided by facial expressions.

The Lovely Bones This is not a film to see on a plane, not while they have the lights on anyway. I cried and cried and cried. It was very Heavenly Creatures style Peter Jackson and beautifully executed for it. While the notion of “heaven” was there, it wasn’t too overplayed, and was a device more than anything. The performances were fantastic though and it was the whole depiction of the parents which just killed me.

Couples Retreat This, on the other hand, is exactly the sort of film to see on a plane. Rather patchy is the best I could say. For some reason which is really quite difficult to articulate, I laughed myself stupid in the yoga section, and I rather liked the Guitar Hero-off but it was a standard paen to coupledom where all the couples end up staying together even when patently they shouldn’t. Especially in the case where the best argument for it is social utility and the prevention of loneliness.

Music

The Pixies, Horden Pavilion This was a fabulous show. Playing Doolittle and accompanying B sides, they were tight and well rehearsed. One considers that perhaps it was better to see them now than 20 years ago as they were more professional but without losing the edgy guitar driven rock we love.

Art

Two trips to Sydney and two exhibitions.

Take Your Time Olafur Eliasson, Museum of Contemporary Art I have also discussed this exhibition elsewhere. Previously viewed in January, we returned with small boys because we knew they would love it. As the programme says, Olafur Eliasson is an artist who transforms our experience of the space around us. The exhibition was an interesting experience in perception…and also lego.

Hymn to Beauty: the art of Utamaro Kitagawa Utamaro, Art Gallery of NSW This beautiful exhibition even has its own x-rated section. I love Japanese wood block prints and this is a lovely example of the floating world style. A small but very worthwhile exhibition.

Television

Battlestar Galatica: The Plan This was a massive disappointment. So excited to see more BSG, and to fathom perhaps some of the unsolved mysteries, The Plan left one totally unsatisfied and just a little frustrated. It was lovely to see old the old faces again (except, noticeably, Lee), but please give us some content! Overall it seems that in the end they didn’t quite know how to end the series, and the small frustrations from the last couple of episodes (Starbuck is an Angel! The opera scenario was just a mundane incident!) really were in no way made any better by the Cylon back story. I am not sure I am in any way convinced that the Cylon plan was just “kill everyone”.

****

So that was March. School holidays and less travel likely to lead to a different skewing of culture for April.

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