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Monthly Cultural Round Up: May

There was a concentrated amount of work travel this month which again added to the cultural consumption – flying to Perth and back in a day provided time to watch two movies and read a novel, albeit a short one.

Books

The Crying of Lot 49 Thomas Pynchon This was a Twitter prompted re-read as was being read by k_o_o and naomieve. I also believe that I last read it over 20 years ago, so well overdue for a reread. With all its strange flights of fancy, I though the most interesting thing I took from it this time was its take on the nature of knowledge and reality and illusion. What can we really know about what is real? How can we know that we don’t just live inside an enormous constructed reality? That what we perceive to be real may just be an elaborate hoax. It is also fascinating on the nature of consumerism, conspiracy and art – for a little book it manages to traverse a lot of distance. It prompts me to try and actually finish V at some point.

Absolution Gap Alastair Reynolds My first Alastair Reynolds novel, I discovered a couple of chapters in, on a plane, that it in fact was the third of a trilogy. But it had prompted my interest, and seemed self-contained enough to keep going – plus I was on a plane with nothing else to read and the threat of Two and a Half Men so I kept going. My first comment would be that I definitely enjoyed it enough to read more of his books. It has a bit of a dark Iain M Banks feel to it, and some interesting ideas about the nature of post-humanity and its implications. I did think there were a few things which were slightly too strongly telegraphed and could be spotted a fair distance off, but overall interesting and interestingly written.

Films

Invictus I had heard fairly luke-warm things about this film, and then of course I saw it on a plane, which doesn’t exactly show it at its best. I didn’t think it was bad. I though Morgan Freeman did a very convincing job as Nelson Mandela and I thought Matt Damon handled the South African accent and the rugby reasonably well. My biggest criticism is that it was a bit trite. The kind of sense that the whole rugby world cup victory broke down all these unbreakable barriers and everyone lived happily ever after just completely and blithely ignored the reality of South Africa today. For me in overstatement, the film lost some of its impact. I was also a bit annoyed by the Mandela-is-taken-in-by-rugby-and-stops-caring-about-trade trope that went on a little bit in the film. The most interesting thing though was the way it demonstrated that Mandela was a master semiotician, and I found that really interesting.

The Blind Side So, to make it two football films in one day, I saw The Blind Side on the plane going in the opposite direction on the same day as Invictus. I must admit I was pleasantly surprised by it, as I  had assumed it would be a lot more schmaltzy and emotionally manipulative than it was. As it was, it was quite a reasonable plane film which did explore some interesting ideas about race and the nature of family and protectiveness, without really moving away from fairly well-worn territory. Sandra Bullock was good, but not so amazing that it doesn’t make me wonder about the paucity of female roles in the year if that made her an Academy Award winner.

Music

Groovin’ The Moo

So we spent a very pleasant and sunny Sunday afternoon at Canberra Uni for Groovin’ the Moo…and a somewhat colder Sunday evening. Kisschasy were much as they were at the Big Day Out, with a little early swearing to prove their rock credibility; British India were much more impressive and, as I didn’t know their stuff particularly well before hand they won themselves a convert. Tegan and Sara were fun, Lisa Mitchell less so. Empire of the Sun were visually spectacular and musically exciting and Vampire Weekend were wonderful bouncy fun. After them, Silverchair opened with three dirgy songs, and it was such a downer after Vampire Weekend that people started leaving…including, after another song or two, us. Full marks to organisers as well: everything went smoothly and it was all pretty well organised and enjoyable.

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