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No budget, no genre, no problem: Chronesthesia (2016)

Chronesthesia

Image by glix (Flickr)

I found lots to like about Chronesthesia.

The high-concept premise seems like a gimmick at first, but it earns its big climax and all the editing trickery along the way. The ‘mental time travel’ idea is both a way into the story and an effective means of pushing it forward.

The characters are well-realised people, from youngest to oldest, and their conversations feel authentic, whether they’re meeting cute or arguing, whether or not they’re generations apart. You really feel an emotional investment by actor/director/editor/writer Weal in all of them, even in the smaller supporting roles, and he deserves extra credit for that, especially as he is the star of the film and in nearly every scene. It could so easily have been a straight-up vanity project. Perhaps he realised the quality of the talent opposite him and decided to give them room to do their thing.

Wellington looks marvellous. We already knew that, but Duncombe’s cinematography shows it off in style. Because this is a no-budget film, I also have to mention the sound quality, which is impeccable.

This is a rare film that takes mental illness seriously, to the point that large chunks of dialogue explore its effects on and place in society. A character with mental illness is treated with consistent respect, despite at times being a potential danger to the people around him. Not just a plot device after all!

The only thing I would change is the title. Being a New Zealand film, and hence a product of British English, it should be ‘Chronaesthesia’. But I’ll give them a pass if it gets them an American distribution deal.

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Things of 2013

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I’m now 29 and I have no kids. No property or other investments, either. I would like all of those things at some point in the future, but they aren’t my priority at the moment. I’m more interested in travel and pursuing new opportunities in my career. Round up a few other 29-year-old New Zealanders and see how many say the same thing.

Most of what follows is about me.

Music

The best twenty seconds of a song I heard this year were 3:10 to 3:30 of ‘The Red Wing’ by Fuck Buttons, from the album Slow Focus.

My music listening habits never really developed past the age of 16, when I got my first computer. I come across a new album and listen to it once or for months on repeat. Slow Focus was my favourite album of the ten or so new ones I heard this year. James Blake’s Overgrown would be next, and I also really liked Nothing Was The Same by Drake.

The steady accumulation of layers and abrasions on ‘The Red Wing’ reaches a glorious, spine-tingling apex about halfway through. My second favourite twenty seconds of a song are also from ‘The Red Wing’ as it starts to devolve from 6:10 to 6:30. The album as a whole is relentlessly dark, loud, and repetitive; it calls to mind the twisted sensations of being off your face in a dark nightclub, or the sick emotion that accompanies losing something important you can never get back. It drags me through a 45-minute catharsis. My kind of music.

Oh, the best New Zealand album I heard this year was Anniversary Day by JP Young. It would be my favourite album of the year but it came out in 2012. I recommend you go and listen to (and maybe buy) it now, especially if you have any connection to Wellington. It is a genuinely great album, poetic and easy to get along with.

Politics

In my dictionary (the excellent WordWeb), the first definition of ‘politics’ is Social relations involving intrigue to gain authority or power. No wonder it fills so many pages in the newspaper and minutes on the airwaves. Not here, though.

Sport

Wellington Indoor Sports Shed 1

From in front of that massive, stunted goal in Shed 1 – about waist-high and about a third of the width of the pitch – James rolled the ball out to me. I was just on our team’s side of the halfway line, the opposition goal about fifteen metres behind me. We were ahead, but we’d just conceded a goal and needed to regain control of the run of play.

I leaned back slightly as the ball reached me and tapped it with the outside of my right foot to MHS, who was over by the left sideline. As he put his foot on the ball and drew a defender, I spun round and sauntered into space a few metres downfield. Just as I was nearing the penalty spot, with no defender near me, MHS took a couple more touches and tapped the ball past his marker, into my path. In my peripheral vision, I sensed two things: one, the opposition goalkeeper was positioned slightly to the left of the centre of the goal, back near his line; two, an opposition defender was rushing at me from my right.

As the ball ran in front of me, I controlled it with one touch from my right foot and – judging that I had less than a second in which to act before I would be tackled – snapped a left-footed shot along the ground, past the oncoming defender, and into the bottom right corner of the opposition goal.

The exact same sequence of events could have happened a hundred years ago, albeit on grass rather than turf and with a plain leather ball rather than a bright yellow plastic one. I will remember it for decades, just as I remember my chipped goal from near halfway in a second XI match at high school and a perfectly timed flick off my pads for four from the first ball I faced in house cricket. Such moments in our sporting lives are timeless.

Film

I seem to be getting more bored with the movies. I went dozens of times this year, more than I have since about 2006, and I always enjoyed myself from start to finish, whether it was any good or whether the dude behind me provided a running commentary throughout (as happened in The Hunt and at least one other film I can’t remember). But I rarely left feeling inspired to talk about what I’d just seen, or to think about it a week later. The prime example of this was Hyde Park on Hudson, a film so bland I barely remember seeing it.

Good films I saw this year included 20 Feet From Stardom, The Act of Killing, Before Midnight, Fast & Furious 6, Gravity, The Hunt, Like Father, Like Son, Mr. Pip, Much Ado About Nothing, The Place Beyond the Pines, Wadjda, and (if I’m allowed this one) Lawrence of Arabia in glorious 4K at The Embassy. Despite its flaws – particularly a lack of balance between its three parts – The Place Beyond The Pines has stayed with me, proving that striking a resonant tone in film is less tangible than the technical combination of good characters, dialogue, cinematography, sound, and editing. The Place Beyond The Pines only had these things in patches, but I haven’t forgotten it.

Mia Farrow | Cloud Atlas

Casting a wide shadow over all my cinematic joys this year was the disappointment that Cloud Atlas was not released in cinemas in New Zealand. The distributor must have gotten cold feet at the prospect of selling Kiwi audiences on a three-hour epic with six ongoing storylines painted in broad archetypes, which seems like a fair decision when I look at that sentence, but Cloud Atlas somehow fulfils its extraordinary ambitions and offers a new kind of multi-layered spectacle in film. I watched it at home, alone on the couch wearing headphones, oblivious to a storm raging outside. It was the best new film I saw this year, and when a stranger says they also loved it, I feel like the film is recommending that person to me.

Tech

A couple of months ago, someone did a memorably recognisable impression of me. They held a smartphone close to their face, jabbed it with their index finger, and muttered, “Just… fucking… work!”

The way I treat the technology in my life has become a good indicator of my mood. The more accepting I am of my phone becoming unresponsive or my laptop shutting down unexpectedly, the better my overall frame of mind. If I’m already frustrated, I swear and click the mouse harder and bang my foot on the floor. I apologise to my colleagues for this.

The fact that my use of electronics can be seen as a barometer of my psychological state suggests how deeply I’ve involved these objects in my daily life. When you spend more than half of your waking hours with someone, or something, some irritation is inevitable. But if I lost them, it’d be like losing one of my senses.

Yellow shoes, walking

Books

In August I went to the launch of Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries, putting one foot in the world that knows her as ‘Ellie’. She complimented me on my yellow shoes, and I asked her how she was feeling. “A bit overwhelmed, to be honest,” she replied, looking around at the faces and wine glasses packed tighter than ever into Unity Books. This was a couple of months before she won the Booker.

After the launch, Nik and Ant and I discussed what a positive occasion it was. A good person being celebrated for an amazing feat of creativity. I still haven’t finished reading the bloody thing because I am so terrible at reading books, but it really is great, and I will get there.

Travel

In September I went to Brisbane, and in December I went to Nelson. First holiday was alone, second was with a companion. The weather was great for both.

Walking at Anchorage, Abel Tasman National Park

People

I think it has to be Tara, four months in, as wonderful as my colleagues, friends, and family are. She plucks snails off the footpath and places them safely in the bushes. She attempts to identify each bird she sees: “Thrush? Female blackbird?” She is comfortable speaking to strangers on the phone. She writes good emails. She gives excellent gifts. Our conversations flow easily, weaving from meaning to silly madness and back. Perhaps I am overly observant, but she means a lot to me.

Also, the Internet has a slightly diminished role in my life right now but I was lucky enough to get to meet Charles, Dan, Kathleen, Isabel, Martyn, Naomi, Neha, Reena, and Sarah this year – all people I came to know about through Twitter, and who have all been teachers in some way or another. Each year brings more new connections, and some old ones rekindled. Many bleed happily from one medium into another: Twitter, then Facebook, then a coffee shop or a pub. There will no doubt be more new people in 2014 – more good people, and more effort not to spread myself so thinly.

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Thanks for coming and looking at this. The years are all arbitrary but regardless of what has happened in 2013, I hope 2014 is all right for you.

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Wore a Kanye West t-shirt to the ballet

I have no qualifications for writing about Swan Lake performed by The Royal New Zealand Ballet with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, other than that I saw it and was wearing this t-shirt:

SWAG t-shirt and lollies

(File Photo)

Like many others, perhaps including a majority of men about Natalie Portman’s age, I became interested in ballet — particularly Swan Lake — after seeing Black Swan. As much as I love that epically unhinged film, Tchaikovsky’s music is what has sustained my interest in the years since. I must’ve listened to the whole score a hundred times; in particular, it provided a surreal soundtrack to my daily train commute in South India, clarinet and strings waving in sync with the branches of coconut palms.

From our seats, we were lucky enough to be able to see into the orchestra pit.

St James | Wellington | NZSO | Swan Lake

St James Theatre, Wellington

And when the lights dimmed, and that familiar musical phrase opened the performance, I already had my money’s worth.

Up went the curtain, and the best dancers in the country moved their perfectly toned, muscular bodies with transcendent grace. Between the music and the movement, I wasn’t really sure where to look. My tendency in describing art to others, especially visual art, is to focus on a particularly memorable aspect or moment and let that speak for my overall impression. This is very hard to do with a consummate performance featuring the life’s work of two dozen dancers, world-class choreographers, designers of three-storey sets and 20kg costumes, and an entire orchestra. How can I omit the flautist’s precise notes, the ornate headdress at stage left, the way liquid nitrogen ripples beneath Qi Huan’s feet? If I don’t mention that heartbreaking key change in the final scene, or Odile’s 32 fouettes, can I even say I’ve seen Swan Lake?

One dancer stood out. My companion later told me that she’d earned 100% on a Royal Academy of Dance exam when they were in the same teenage class in Tauranga. Her name is Katherine Grange and she danced in such a way that I could imagine her succeeding in any chosen passion; she just happened to choose dance. As much as anyone else on stage, her performance showed me something I hadn’t previously realised: ballet is a genuine feat of acting, and facial expression is a key element. The feet and arms need to be technically exceptional, but it’s the emotion in the way they move that carries the audience along.

Some of my favourite films, like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Lost In Translation, make a point of telling the story (or long stretches of it, at least) with images and music rather than words. In ballet, I think I’ve found an art which is based entirely on this principle. “Would you like to go to the ballet again?” asked my friend as we debriefed over a beer. My eyes widened. “Absolutely.” If the human species had three hours to demonstrate our capabilities to visiting alien dignitaries, a full performance of Swan Lake would do the trick.

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Do Not Leave Your Homes, Everything Is Fine

A reminder that Wellington is a small city, and New Zealand is a small country.

I normally walk to work along Willis St, the busiest road in Wellington’s CBD, and today was no different. This morning, however, this street – usually full of courteous cars and pedestrians holding takeaway coffee mugs – was almost deserted. The following photo was taken at 8:15am:

There hasn’t been a massive earthquake, nor has there been a zombie apocalypse. (Zombies are fake and boring and stupid and no reason to clear the streets anyhow.) It’s just a public holiday – Labour Day, in fact.

Because my job involves multiple time zones and countries, I’ve got work to do. Meanwhile, @mishviews on Twitter (and presumably a lot more of Wellington’s population, given that the semester also wrapped at Victoria University on Friday) is still in bed.

Being one of those pompous asses who cannot help but compare everything at home to my Big OE, I look at these near-empty streets with some curiosity. In Tokyo, no matter how important and respectfully observed the public holiday might have been, streets would definitely be full of people by now. Job comes before anything else, a hangover from the post-war years of working double to try and return a shattered nation to its pre-war glory. And if for some reason you have a whole day away from work, you’d better make the most of it. A day trip to Hakone, a jaunt to Tokyo Disneyland, some crepes in Harajuku. Don’t waste any chance to work or play.

Maybe that isn’t a fair comparison. Tokyo is the biggest city in the world, after all, and Wellington is the Coolest Little Capital In The World. But Varkala in the south Indian state of Kerala, a tourist town of about 40,000 people, was also a good deal busier than this at any time. So many people were in the midst of trying to be upwardly mobile that no matter the occasion, they needed to be out in the streets or opening the shop, seven days a week. Everything is in a constant state of development and transition and if you miss even one day, you might get left behind.

Here in socialist paradise New Zealand, as one US-based friend puts it, we are pretty comfortable and the city streets aren’t changing much. There’s no real worry of falling behind if you take a day off with everyone else, which isn’t that many people anyway. Things will be okay.

I think it’s really easy to forget this, because Wellington offers quite a lot to do and can seem like a bustling metropolis at times. When we decide to stop bustling, though, we generally can. And we’re very lucky for that.

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The Eagerness to Judge (or, One Of My Friends Is Gay)

Note: The bar discussed below is called [public.] but I’ve referred to them as ‘Public’ throughout for the sake of flow.

A friend of mine has been harshly judged and condemned by hundreds, possibly thousands of people for ‘lies’ which she did not tell. The abuse is frankly staggering, given that there is little evidence either way of the real truth.

I’ll run through the facts, then offer my thoughts.

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Last weekend Rebekah, who happens to be gay, had a negative experience in Public, a bar on Wellington’s Courtenay Place. As she kissed her girlfriend Jennie on the lips, a member of Public’s staff tapped them on the shoulder and asked them to leave. When Rebekah stated that “this wouldn’t happen if it were a straight couple,” the member of staff agreed and said, with a smirk, “I wish it could be different.” He suggested that the order to eject them had come from management.

Rebekah vented her initial frustration on Facebook, then on Sunday wrote an open letter to the management of Public, which she also posted on Facebook. Public management’s initial response, in comments posted to Facebook, was to state that they did not care about creed, colour, religion or sexual orientation. Their tone then became adversarial, stating they did care about Rebekah “slagging off their business”.

On Monday, the story took off in the mainstream media, with stories drawn from the Facebook discussions posted on the websites of The New Zealand Herald and Stuff.co.nz’s Dominion Post section by Monday afternoon. This was when Rebekah decided that she would go on the record for the media, having previously only considered it. The ‘gay kiss’ story led the 1pm news bulletin on Radio New Zealand and 3 News television reporters began work on a piece for their 6pm bulletin.

In those media reports, Public owner Gina Mills offered their version of events. Mills said that according to the staff member that ejected them, Rebekah and her girlfriend were dancing on a table and acting inappropriately. (They later said they were lying on the table.) Mills indicated that there was no CCTV footage of the incident, meaning it was the staff member’s words against the couple’s. In short, Mills said Rebekah’s complaint was a lie.

On Tuesday, Public produced CCTV footage for the media to view. It reportedly showed Rebekah and her girlfriend kissing and then moving out of CCTV coverage, before being escorted out of the bar by the staff member. (The footage was not released for general viewing, such as on YouTube, for obvious reasons.)

In the wake of the CCTV footage being shown to the media, and amidst intense public and media attention, Rebekah and her girlfriend withdrew their complaint against Public whilst maintaining their version of events. The Dominion Post reported this with the headline ‘Female couple withdraw complaint’; 3 News, which had interviewed Rebekah and her girlfriend for a story on Monday’s 6pm bulletin, reported with the headline ‘Lesbian kiss couple revoke complaint against bar’.

In their story, 3 News stated that Rebekah and her girlfriend had been “acting inappropriately” on the CCTV footage, which was the exact phrasing also used by the Public staff member and management. Unlike the Dominion Post, which gave a rundown of the events on the tape, 3 News limited their description of the events inside the bar to their opinion. “acting inappropriately”. Later, on the 6pm 3 News bulletin on Tuesday, newsreader Hilary Barry drew a line under the matter by suggesting that the complaint was withdrawn directly because of the CCTV footage release; she also used Twitter to express the same sentiment.

The social media and blogger backlash was swift. Rebekah and her girlfriend had, in many people’s eyes, been exposed as liars. Rebekah and her girlfriend have been denigrated as ‘attention-seekers’, ‘whores’, ‘spoilt brats’, ‘silly little girls’ and more. The language adopted by many in the gay and lesbian community in Wellington was particularly bitter as they felt the episode would reflect poorly on them as a whole — for example, the popular gay issues website Aaron and Andy.

*

Throughout this entire process, from the moment Rebekah first spoke up to right now, I really don’t think she or Jennie could have handled it any better. Her open letter is articulate and dignified, with anger carefully directed at the staff member involved and the management he invoked as he threw them out. She sought to resolve the issue with management until the story went big, at which point she spoke on the record without blaming anyone except the person who ejected them. When she and Jennie agreed to go before 3 News cameras, they came across as two confident, sensible young people; there was a notable lack of obvious exaggeration or overt bitterness towards Public in their words.

The only problem was that observers would not take them at their words. Most have formed their opinions on the basis of the CCTV footage — despite it being reported as inconclusive — and subsequent complaint withdrawal, a link which Hilary Barry and 3 News were happy to draw on air. The use of epithets like ‘whore’ suggest that for some, deeper prejudices played an equal part as they made up their minds.

Now, I wasn’t in Public when all this went down, and I don’t claim to have any knowledge beyond the facts I’ve laid out above. However, I do know Rebekah reasonably well. She is an intelligent woman, at times fiercely so, and marked by a capacity to talk and listen to pretty much anyone with confidence. She demonstrates, in big and small ways and on a daily basis, that she cares about the people in her life. She carries herself with confidence and self-respect; this episode is the first time since I’ve known her that I’ve seen her speak out about feeling victimised in any way.

As a result, I take Rebekah at her word. It helps that the story she and Jennie told has not once been altered, unlike Public’s, and that they were so grateful for the support they received in telling it.

Of course, no matter how strongly and vociferously I vouch for her integrity, I can’t expect anyone who doesn’t know Rebekah to feel the same. It isn’t surprising, or even unfair, that so many people have questioned her account. What is surprising is the willingness, even eagerness, to judge the couple as liars and condemn them so bitterly. It started well before the CCTV footage was shown to the media, and has completely taken over since.

I’m not sure what to make of all the outrage. Is it the remove of social media and fingers-at-the-keyboard that brings people to write off a person’s character? Is it the fact that one of New Zealand’s biggest news outlets, 3 News, ultimately took Public’s side, leading viewers to follow suit? Or is it more insidious: a number of deep-lying prejudices against women, youth and homosexuals, brought to the surface by a perceived slight against the rest of society? My suspicion is that all three factors have played a role across the spectrum of online opinion.

Conversely, this episode has actually enhanced my own acceptance and tolerance of homosexuality. I’ve never seen a gay couple on television look as natural and at ease with each other as Rebekah and Jennie did; at the time I took this to be a very good sign of the state of gay rights in Wellington, given that they felt comfortable enough in their sexuality with each other to appear as they did. Naively, I expected many others would feel the same.

It’s not at all surprising that Rebekah and Jennie have retreated from the backlash, and while I understand it completely and support their withdrawal, it’s not a good sign. Anyone who experiences similar treatment in future will think twice before speaking out about it. As public opinions of character go, ‘attention-seeking liar’ is about as bad as it can get for much of society. For the couple’s sake, then, I hope:

1) Rebekah and Jennie can get on with their lives in peace and put this behind them, as is their right, especially when they have not done a single thing wrong;

2) people who experience such treatment in future are able to judge their case on its merit, free of the context provided by this unfortunate saga. Ideally, media outlets and the public at large will have the presence of mind to judge them on their merit, too, and to keep to the known facts of the case before making any conclusions — if, indeed, conclusions can be drawn at all. (Is that too much to ask?)

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What’s your favourite part of your day?

Straightforward question: what’s your favourite part of your day? As in, which moment or segment of your daily routine do you enjoy and look forward to the most?

I ask because I’m just getting used to having a regular workday routine again after two months of unemployment. It occurred to me that I have a favourite part of each weekday: the last five minutes of my walk to work.

You might think this is strange. Shouldn’t the impending eight and a half hours stuck typing at a desk fill me with a growing dread?

The reason why it doesn’t is because for those five minutes, I am walking along Wellington waterfront. The waterfront is one of the best things about living in Wellington: it’s clean, attractive, full of interesting developments (like Te Papa or The Boatshed) and it looks out over a stunningly beautiful body of water, Wellington Harbour. The suburbs of Mt Victoria and Hataitai rise in staggered chunks past one end of the waterfront parade, and you can see the Rimutaka Hills in the distance, often shrouded in cloud. Beyond the Rimutakas, to the east, the sun rises higher and higher.

I love this part of my day because for these five minutes, I am more in the moment than at any other time. It’s easy to feel clear-headed when confronted with a view that is spellbinding in a different way every single morning. Those clouds over the Rimutakas, for example, might be wispy cirrus streaked by the Wellington wind or a cumulonimbus threatening storms later in the day. They might be absent altogether, casting surrounding buildings in the fresh yellowish light of the morning sun and filling the harbour with the deep blue of the skies.

The harbour is the main attraction, of course. I struggle to take my eyes off it, noting the patches of water which are calm, for whatever reason, while the rest chops and undulates. I like it best on overcast days when the morning sun illuminates the water through the clouds, transforming it into a silvery, shimmering sheen.

I walk close to the edge. A test of my ever-palpable appel du vide. That’s another good way of staying anchored in the present moment. Sometimes I stop for a couple of minutes and observe as many aspects of the scene as possible, then try to draw them together in a single frame in my head in an effort to take onelasting mental photograph.

My five minutes are up when I reach The Boatshed. I reluctantly turn inland towards my office, leaving the waterfront (and water) behind me. I go with an increased appreciation for the gifts I have in life. My eyesight, for example, is terrible – I’ve needed glasses for years – but I’m still visually capable enough to take in the wonder of the morning scene.

I’d always wanted to live in Wellington. Now that I do, those five minutes each morning are enough to make whatever time I spend here completely worthwhile.

So, how about you? What’s your favourite part of your day? Is it watching people on the train? Or maybe the moment your head hits the pillow at the end of the day? Comment/blog away…

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