Sunday, March 21, 2010

Footy allegiances

I used to boast of being the world’s only raving Trotskyist footy fanatic. And by ‘raving’ I don’t mean ranting, although no doubt there have been times when I’ve frothed at the mouth.

I still encounter surprise around the Left, and the electronic music scene, when I display my love of footy. It’s part of me. I grew up in the southern beach suburbs of Adelaide, and Dad would take my brother and I from Saturday sport to his parents’ in Glenelg for lunch – then we’d walk down to the Bay Oval and get in for free in the second half. At three quarter time we’d run out onto the ground and try to dob bananas from the boundary line with all the other kids, or converge on the home team’s huddle to gee the boys up and hear the coach give one last spray.

But I inherited my team from the other side of town: Norwood, where Mum’s grandfather had been a parish priest. When the Redlegs made the finals, she’d drive us across town to watch weeknight training and get the players’ autographs. I wore Gary McIntosh’s no. 14 on my back, and one year he winked at me across the boundary fence.

Macca was the last great Norwood player not to pay VFL/AFL. He was too loyal, and didn’t fancy the big smoke of Melbourne. Once, when a North Melbourne recruiter came knocking, he jumped out a side window of his own house to escape. And when a young Stuart Dew was threatening to win the 1997 prelim final for Centrals, Macca belted him a few times to make sure we made the Grannie.

So Macca didn’t play in that historic match, the last SANFL game that really mattered to me. Even then I had missed the whole season, my first at Melbourne Uni, but I took the overnight train back to Adelaide to see the Legs smash Port Adelaide. Afterwards we joined thousands of fans back at the Parade to celebrate.

Earlier that week, the victory parade for the Crows’ first premiership attracted 100,000 people. It was a new era all right. I love the AFL but, when your team of birth isn’t even in the competition, it’s hard to adjust. More than a decade later, I still don’t have a team I can really call my own.

Melbourne was my VFL team of choice growing up. They shared Norwood’s red and blue colours, and made the finals for the first time for ages in 1987 – the year they could have won the flag if Jim Stynes hadn’t run across Gary Buckenara’s mark in the dying seconds. That tragedy made a Demon fan of me, but when I moved to Melbourne I found it hard to love the club. Despite what David Bridie and Martin Flanagan might say, it’s the old money team and it always will be. Its struggle doesn’t grab me, and what fans it does have usually repel me.

When I watch the Crows play a big game in Melbourne, I can channel the ‘statriotic’ fervour of the old State of Origin games. Outside the Docklands before the Hawthorn final a few years back was like being out on Rundle Street: familiar faces everywhere, all folk who have made the move to Melbourne. There’s a certain clannishness I enjoy over here, but dislike back home. Maybe it’s just that in Melbourne we’re the underdogs – which brings me to my other team (three out of sixteen ain’t bad, hey?).

I lived in Footscray from 2004-2006, and loved it out west. My housemate worked for Slater & Gordon (Peter Gordon is a big Footscray man) and at Trades Hall it’s mostly split between Collingwood and the Doggies. My fondness for the Doggies has cemented by my girlfriend Avalon’s budding fanaticism, and I go to matches occasionally with Kevin Davis, the retired printers union official who volunteers at the New International Bookshop.

There are big hopes for the Doggies this year, and if they win the flag it would mean a lot to a lot of people who mean a lot to me – not to mention most of the western suburbs. There’s a story there that appeals to me. Plus there’s some great young South Aussies: Adam Cooney, who went to Blackwood High with my stepsister, and Ryan Griffen, whom Avalon says has nice arms. And there’s Bob Murphy who wrote No War on his bicep, and Aker, and now Barry Hall to balance out all the young pretty boys.

So I tried on a Doggies jumper at the Salvos over summer, and found it fitted quite nicely. I might never be a ‘real’ one-eyed AFL supporter, but I’m happy to settle for that.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Hurt Locker

Three things should have prepared me to dislike The Hurt Locker. First, a trusted friend gave it the thumbs down. Second, it won the Oscar for Best Film. Third, director Katherine Bigelow thanked the “men and women in uniform” twice at the Academy Awards – and failed to mention the people of Iraq.

Nevertheless, I went along with some anticipation. Bigelow had directed two of my favourite Hollywood films in the 1990s, Point Break and Strange Days. Media reviews seem to have been unanimously positive. At the very least I expected a piece of sustained, suspenseful drama.

Unfortunately, The Hurt Locker peaks in the opening scene. The intent is clearly to ratchet up the tension with each bomb that needs defusing, but in fact it ebbs away. James’ motivation is a mystery (the closest to an explanation we get is the opening quote: “war is a drug”) and his recklessness with the lives of others makes him rather unsympathetic. Attempts at character development – playing soccer with the Iraqi kid, drinking and wrestling with his team members – seem clichéd.

In short, if he doesn’t care whether he blows himself up, why should I?

Politically, the film has little overt to say beyond “it’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it”. The possibility that the American occupation is the root problem in Iraq – or that the resistance is justified – is not touched upon. This might be a stretch, but the underlying metaphor seems to be that of a crazy American who is just trying to help.

Hopefully Paul Greengrass’ The Green Zone will have something more substantial to say.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Curse ov Dialect, After Hours @ Live on Light Square

A few years back Channel Ten programmed an amazing Saturday night movie double: Godzilla followed by Head On.

I swear the monster flick actually mutated mid-screening because, when I turned on five minutes before the scheduled finishing time, it was barely halfway through. In fact, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise: the explosion-packed, b-grade excess of Godzilla helped me appreciate Ana Kokkinos’ adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ Loaded for the masterpiece it is.

I had a similar experience Live on Light Square during the Adelaide Fringe last night, when quintessential local act After Hours opened for Melbourne’s multicultural freaksters Curse ov Dialect. Rarely has the chasm between Oz hip hop and inner city ‘hippie hop’ been so clearly spotlighted.

The colliding worlds were obvious from the moment we arrived. The outdoor setting was cute and grassy, with couches and random bits of décor like 10-foot inflatable asparagus in the corner. (This seems to be a Fringe theme this year: the city is dotted with giant blow-up astronauts, one of which overlooked us from the UniSA Arts precinct.) The crowd was small, overwhelmingly male and dressed in caps, hoodies, white t-shirts, jeans - far from skinny but much less baggy than the homie pants of yore - and skate sneakers. Suffer from Hilltop Hoods was chilling towards the bar near the back.

So while Avalon and I settled down with a glass of wine and a blanket over the knees, After Hours jumped up and delivered an enjoyably predictable set. Bouncy beats with excessive bass and scratching? Check. Individual MCs dropping verses with rhymes delivered in unison? Check. Lyrics which, when decipherable, covered time-honoured themes of making ends meet, bitches taking their clothes off and, well, Adelaide? What more could you want?

How about a crowd-pleasing encore entitled “Party and Bullshit”?

After Hours left the stage with the obligatory call to “stick around for Curse ov Dialect” - and half the Adelaide crew headed straight for the exit. Those that stayed, and the few weirdos who had come especially for the headliners, experienced a flicking of the switch from lazy Friday night to deranged sideshow of the imagination.

The last live act to blow me out of the water was Boris in 2007. I didn’t expect it from Curse ov Dialect, whom I’ve seen several times before (although not for years). And I suspect it’s not them who’ve changed, it’s me. Their show is a magical union of psychedelia with hip-hop: we’re talking next-level costumes, choreographed and improvised dance moves, political rants and much, much more…

Paso Bionic’s production is sample-heavy, squelchy and spaceous in just the right places. Of the MCs, Raceless is the most schizophrenic, one minute leaping off stage to initiate a bark chip fight and attack a table, the next winking at us with a sly grin. Vulk Makedonski comes across as the Balkan Che Guevara: he attacks (South Australian Premier) Mike Rann for besmirching the Macedonian community, aims an antique pistol deadpan into the crowd, shows off a bit of folk-dancing and then brings it home with an amazing acapella freestyle. The other two (whose names I shall have to learn) are dressed like a geenie and a gimp, and they are both equally mesmerising.

They read newspapers on stage during a song attacking the media, then rip them up and fill the air with snowflakes. Late in the piece they instruct the small but loose dancefloor to sit down and relax, to pretend we’re not at the show for a moment - then it’s back up and jumping around. I’m not sure why they did that, but it was fun.

A local friend yells in my ear: “They always get small crowds in Adelaide, I don’t know why.” Ever the smart arse, I tell him they always get small crowds in Melbourne too. This may not actually be true but, if it is, it’s a disgrace. Curse ov Dialect are surely one of the most original, exhilarating and just plain entertaining groups this country has produced.

Maybe they’re too good to find a bigger audience, but fuck that. The campaign starts here. Curse ov Dialect are my new favourite group - and they should be yours, too.