New episode alert! In March we went to the cinema to see the singular and extraordinary After Sun and then from the the safety of our living rooms we experienced ABC TV’s Queerstralia. In intermission we discussed the $10 Vline revolution, Phil being an MTC subscriber, the very specific time of life where everything zeitgeisty being made by people exactly our age and in Coming Soon we recommend upcoming shows at Yirramboi, Rising and Back to Back. Enjoy and PLEASE TELL YOUR FRIENDS ABOUT OUR SHOW. Love you.
- Produced and recorded by Carla Donnelly and Philip Thiel
- Theme composition Mark Barrage
- Sound editing by Shackwest
- Cover image Charlotte Wells/Gregory Oke
Philip: Hello listener and welcome to episode 56 of Across the Aisle. Your semi-regular guide to theatre, culture and the arts in and around the cities of Melbourne and Geelong. It’s so good to have your company as we set aside some time to decode and reflect on two pieces of culture that we have invited one another to experience this month. Today we start at the cinema and in a nostalgic inflected haze with Charlotte Wells’s family holiday provocation after sun. Then after some intermission banter, we’ll regroup for Queerstralia. The ABC’s three-part television documentary about the history of LGBTQ+ people in this place. It’s wonderful to be able to access these pieces of art within our separate contexts and then to connect over our first impressions as we debrief together along with our listeners. Hurrah for screens. My name is Philip Thiel and I’m delighted to be joined in the virtual studio by my fellow queer Australian Carla Donnelly Carla. Hello.
Carla: Hello Philip. How are you?
Philip: Very well. And it’s so nice to see you. Let’s dive into our first show. Without further ado, it’s time for some daddy issues. Carla. Tell us about After Sun.
Carla: After Sun. Sophie reflects on the shared joy and private melancholy of a holiday she took with her father 20 years earlier. Memories, real and imagined, filled the gaps between as she tries to reconcile the father she knew with the man she didn’t. So, as Phil spoke about in the intro, it’s directed by Charlotte Wells and Charlotte Wells also wrote it and very small cast – Paul Mescal as the father Callum, Frankie Corio as Sophie (young Sophie), who was primarily in the movie, and Celia Rowlson-Hall, who plays now, Sophie, older Sophie reflecting on the past. So hopefully I’ll be able to get through talking about this movie without bawling like a baby because I. Ha, ha. Of course there’s a baby in there. It’s a key moment because I watched it again for the second time yesterday. And it truly is an absolutely remarkable film and especially as a debut. And I feel like there’s two pathways that this film sort of travels. One is the wound or the desire that we all have as adults is to understand our parents as people, which is, it’s an impossible task because of the relationships that we have. It’s also very productive in the way that memory works. So it’s not until really that you get to the end of the film that you’re able to sort of start reflecting and putting things together, much like you do with your past and with your events. And then I also think it’s actually a film about queerness and the dynamics that queerness can have in families and how queerness can how it shapes us as children and how it can make us extremely hyper vigilant.
Carla: I think particularly this is a very poignant because only queer people I know feel this way how I do about this movie and all the straight people I’ve heard talking about it don’t get it or do reading about it later and then sort of figure out things. But yeah, so we’re on a sort of cheap and cheerful Turkish holiday with young Father Callum. He’s only 30 or 31 and young Sophie, who’s 11, and he’s obviously he obviously has a deep well of melancholy and is hanging on by a thread and both of them are on the brink – him of disaster, there’s this kind of spectre that haunts the movie the whole time. We’re always waiting for something terrible to happen. And she’s on the precipice of becoming a teenager, of an adolescent, of peeling away from her parent and becoming independent and well, becoming not totally dependent. And it’s like this pivot point for both of them that they crashed together and push apart and crashed together. I think in the dark timeline of this film, the darkest timeline, Callum is already planning to kill himself and this is a last hurrah, a last way to make memories. In the later timeline. It just sort of happens afterwards at some point into the future, we don’t know. But it’s definitely an elegy for grief, for how we miss things now that we could never have known in the past, which is a very Cancerian thing. So, these are kind of where I’m thinking, Is this where you felt it went? Phil? What were your feelings thoughts about it? Yeah.
Philip: Thank you for starting with memory and the complexity of memory. It is a film that seems to genuinely take an interest in what it means to have moved on from something, but only so far. One of the conceits of the film is that a VHS video that was made during the movie, I mean, during the trip, is now being watched by grown up Sophie. Rewound reconsidered, serving as a kind of clue or set of clues about exactly what happened at that time when she last says goodbye to her father. And one of the pieces of footage that most compels her and us is this vision of her childhood self. Leaving the father behind at the airport and waving over and over again at different points in the queue. And those just completely quotidian, normal feeling childhood incidents here take on a kind of resonance and anxiety, a kind of suspensefulness as well, which I agree with you, is familiar territory from early adolescence or late childhood. Like looking back on family holidays is something that we do with psychological complexity 100%. With all of the fragmented and distorted and mysterious elements of what it means to not have the full story of what the adults are really on about. Like for this kid, she’s just with her dad on the coast, but her dad is not behaving like he usually does or is heightening some things and diminishing others and all she can really do is go along with it. And at one point, to literally try to get back into her room through a door that has locked her out. So, yeah, 100%. This is about memory. It has a wounded father in it, which made me think of Sofia Coppola’s Somewhere, the film she made in 2010.
Philip: Right. Which is which is another film about…
Carla: One of my favourites.
Philip: Yeah. And that Father from memory also has, like, a plaster cast on that he needs to lift up in the shower.
Philip: Right. So there’s something connecting the, the, the movies that women make about fathers and the view from the young woman or the child is compelling and has a particular aesthetic that I’m pleased to be kind of re-exposed to here.
Carla: That’s an incredible comparison or thread to draw. And that’s so interesting because after it, you know, like I just keep thinking about women’s art and women’s work and how different it is, you know, it is it speaks from such a different place. And even just the way artistically this is created is absolutely singular and stunning. It is patched together like we remember or misremember, don’t remember – how we fill in the gaps. And the sound design in this is absolutely extraordinary. And it really for me, even though we’re constantly in a process of mourning or grieving people who we are, people who our parents were, people who our parents never will be for us, you know that the sound design and the steady eye just captures all those things that make us alive, like the sound of the crushing weight. Like, you know, on your deathbed, you’re going to be thinking about the feeling of the sun on your face and your favourite dog and all this kind of stuff. Not about buying a car or whatever. And I feel like this movie really captured all of those things that make us alive, but also all of the things that weigh us down.
Carla: But I think particularly as we understand that Sophie is now in a same sex relationship. She’s got a baby. You know, regardless of whether you’ve had a baby or not, as we grow older, as we hit those milestones, as we hit those ages that our parents were when we were children, thinking about how we are now versus how they were then and how things are different, we can’t help but reflect in these ways. And I feel like both of these characters were queer coded. I feel like Calum it was inferred there that Calum is having a relationship with a man and that’s the reason why he’s moved away and why him and his ex-partner have still seemingly have such a good relationship. And that has that even that extra layer of complexity to her of like, I am a queer parent now, how could of my queer parent helped me in that? It’s just an absurdly accomplished directorial debut and the acting, like the child, like their relationship. I just I actually cannot believe how profound this film is.
Philip: And it comes about because the director and writer is so ambitious. How wonderful to have a text that is trying so many different things in an art form that many feel is kind of reaching the end of its life. And then in comes this person to reinvent the radical low angle shot, for example, when the father is being sung to on his birthday, but is getting further and further away, up and up and away into the light. And going back to your comment about the sound design. At one point the camera is in the bedroom that they are sharing and we hear the breathing as the girl falls asleep and we’re watching some kind of strange dancing of the father outside on the balcony. These extremely elaborate ways of using the core ingredients of cinema, namely sound and light in really psychologically confronting ways. I mean, another intertextual element that I think is present here is Lolita and other texts about girls being objectified or being subject to the male gaze, being vulnerable to predation and being expected in a way to catch up to what society is going to demand of them and their bodies. And I feel that that’s just in the mix. I mean, at one point, this girl who is, you know, in a one bed or one and a half bed space with this adult man returns to find him completely naked on the bed and is sort of in that space of…
Philip: Tension and potential confusion about what it means to have an adult male body present and a body that is, as you say, weak and kind of on the brink and perhaps not long for this world. I mean, there’s so much vulnerability to him as he removes casts from his body and sort of barely manages to stay upright. He’s drinking the whole time and sort of wandering mentally and physically around the environment. He’s hard to locate and hard to pin down even before you add that element of the naivety of a child to all of those elements. So yeah, I mean, at the end of the screening that I attended and by the way, thank you for taking me back to the cinema after a little while because sharing a dark room with people, viewing something like this, you know, all four of the people in the cinema just remained in silence and a kind of productive bewilderment as this film ended.
Carla: I’ve got goose bumps. I just want to end with why I so believe it is queer coded is the dance floor fantasy scenes that intersperse through the film. He you know, the final scene is they’re dancing to David Bowie on the last night of the holiday. It’s the first time that he really kind of lets go in a way that isn’t unstable and potentially joyful, but also that, you know, where do we find healing as queer people? Where do we find places for our grief? Where do we find community? But on the dance floor, it’s where we where we have been. And that’s where she seeks to find him, to build, to bridge, to bridge their spirits together. Yeah. Just profound. Absolutely profound. Yeah.
Philip: Thank you, Carla so much to keep thinking about and reflecting on after seeing this. So I appreciate your choice.
Carla: Thanks for going, Phil, Thanks for going to the cinema.
Philip: Okay. It’s time for a reflective intermission. Maybe we should grab something appropriate for the holiday resort setting of that sunny film. What is your deck chair? Beverage of choice?
Carla: Well, this is very topical because I’m going on a resort holiday to Fiji in June. Excellent. But it’s a pina colada, baby. What about?
Philip: Well, me too. If I’m in that, what about in that context? It has to be coconut based.
Carla: Of course. Or juice or can never be tequila because tequila equals vomit. Right.
Philip: So wise. Hey, Geelong friend. Happy cheap V-Line day.
Carla: Oh, my God. I know. It’s wild, isn’t it? It’s.
Philip: I was thinking about it earlier as I walked around the city like, I don’t know any other place the size of Victoria that would just make a metro fair suddenly get you to Warrnambool from Melbourne. It’s kind of thrilling.
Carla: Everything is zone 2 baby outside of the Melbourne metro area.
Philip: I know you’re speaking to somebody who which I think is actually beautiful cusp. So like this, this completely rocks my world.
Carla: Yeah. Dan Andrews bringing us all together. We’re all one. Victoria.
Philip: Do you have any recommendations?
Carla: So no excuse now, not that there ever was.
Philip: No. Like, where does one go on the train these days?
Carla: We actually do want to go to Warrnambool like as a little adventure because the train goes to Warrnambool from our local station. But you know, where have we been? We’ve been up to Bendigo, to the great gallery there. I think that’s about as far as I’ve gone on the V line. How about you?
Philip: I’m just so excited about the possibility of exploring maybe some of the stations before the main hubs, like whenever I’m heading up to Castlemaine or something, I have minor moments of, Oh, what if I was to get off here and find a little caravan and just hang out in the mid zone for a night or two? Anyway, what have you been up to? What’s your goss?
Carla: Uh, I haven’t been up too much because I had COVID again, which is why we didn’t cover the Aphids show this show. So apologies to Aphids. So really I just kind of have been staying at home and recovering and all I’ve done, really is rewatch Yellowjackets in preparation for season two, which is just started. Have you seen it?
Philip: I have not. But like the fact that you’re seeing it twice fills me with joy.
Carla: Oh, talk about memory making and stuff from the 90 and I think that’s the other thing about this and Aftersun and stuff like, you know, we’re at that age now where people our age have that power, they have that clout. They’re able to start making work that’s deeply personal to them. So, I mean, on the one hand, I feel insanely old and on the other hand, I feel so specifically catered to for the first time in my life. So I’m revelling in it.
Philip: Yes, the 40’s. I am absolutely relishing this age. I’ve actually been seeing some MTC things recently because I am a subscriber. Speaking of being on one’s 40’s. Prima Facie is one of the ones that I checked.
Carla: Tell me everything.
Philip: So Sheridan Harbridge was the star in this local production of this Susie Miller play. I mean, it’s fierce. The script is just completely spot on in terms of the drama and energy of a courtroom darkly commentating the dramatic and traumatic experience of being a victim of sexual assault. And the fact that it’s a one woman show is part of what makes it so compelling. I mean, the comment I was going to make about MTC is it’s that show that was the most successful and it makes everything else at their Sumner Theatre seem kind of overblown. I’m really not used to the sort of sense of waste that can barely fill that vast strange theatre of theirs down in Southbank. That said, though, there’s a lot of interesting stuff by and about women and their new artistic director and Annie Louise Sarks is obviously a woman and putting lots of women in charge of things, which is exciting. Even the MSO has commissioned a number of compositions by women and committed to putting more classical music by women on the stage. So, I mean, we didn’t plan for this episode to be about the art being made by women, but it has turned out that way. And I’m pleased that that kind of thing is likely to happen more and more.
Carla: Yeah, I think Annie Lou is going to do a great job at MTC. She’s also set up this I can’t remember what the term is called, but it’s kind of like a council of diverse theatre makers from across Melbourne that are going to help. It’s almost like a steering committee that they’re going to help make sure that the works that MTC are bringing. Are you know, a lot more diverse hooking into their networks, hooking into their talent. So I’m really excited for this space and to see what happens.
Philip: Thrilling. Oh, well, on that note, ding, ding, ding, Bing.
Carla: Bong, let’s go.
Philip: Let us watch the telly.
Philip: Okay, time for our second production, which is Queer Australia as per ABC iView. We’re invited to join award winning comedian and professional lesbian Zoe Coombs Marr as we wipe away the straight washing and reveal the untold and frankly, fascinating queer history of Australia. And I’d like to open by positing that those terms, queer history and Australia are really, in a way, separately what this whole thing is about. I didn’t really expect it to be quite as Australian as it turns out to be. Should have looked more closely at the title. But an additional element in the mix here is Zoe Coombs Marr herself and the figure of, as she calls herself, a lesbian clown. Yes, being at the heart of the project, she takes a stance that’s quite personal. I mean, her parents play an adorkable role in the telling of this story. So on the one hand, it’s at the national scale. At the other end, it’s really about this one person kind of rummaging around in boxes, asking people around her to tell her stuff in her wonderfully inviting kind of way and all of that to go to the other key word is queer. I loved how explicit she was about the queer experience being in and of itself, a kind of non-linear, comic, tragicomic, quirky view on things. And history traditionally, of course, is none of those things. And it was delightful to see how this production really she wanted to keep skipping around the problems of a linear history or a colonial history or a singular masculine history, because that should not and can’t really apply to queers. The three episodes of the series are the law, gender and identity and community and belonging, and by starting with the law. It kind of started in a pretty dark place. But by the third episode of Community and Belonging, I was really enjoying and being quite moved by all of the diverse Aussie stories that had been curated and presented in the series. Carla Did you enjoy yourself in Queer Australia?
Carla: Oh, I love this intro that you gave. And I think I think also when you said like the three, like queer history in Australia, they did do a really great job and effort in including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices in that. So the terms, you know, queer and Australia do not exist to Aboriginal people. So there was also a lot of Nayuka Gorrie and lots of other people descriptions of because of course there’s so many different cultural groups of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across so-called Australia. So I thought that was also really good and well represented. I will caveat that I was only able to see two of the three episodes because weirdly ABC took it off the iView site after it aired and I was only able to download two, but now it’s back. So anybody listening, you can just pause and go and watch all three. It’s on the ABC iView website. Phil I don’t know if you know this about me, but I was on the committee for the Australian Queer Archives for about four years and I actually know a lot of the people who were in the documentary, so particularly Graham Willett and Nick Henderson. I was on the committee with them and so I knew a lot of this history anyway. So I mean, I don’t necessarily think I was the audience for this, but it was nice for me to watch it and see it.
Carla: I do find these kinds of Errol Morris found footage and historical footage presentations amusing, but a bit too frenetic. It makes me feel quite stressed. But I agree with you that Zoe Coombs Marr was a great choice to front this, and when we really think about it, most of this is for straight audiences. So to sort of bring that levity, to bring that queering of the history documentary style, I think was really clever and really forward thinking of the ABC. And they obviously put a lot of effort and money into it. There was obviously hundreds if not thousands of production hours of getting it all together. So yeah, I the two episodes out of the three that I saw, I really enjoyed there was a lot of great hits in there for me, like Captain Moonlight, he’s one of my favourites. And then I really chuckled at the segment of, you know, the women best friends, the history of all these like women who had lived together for 40 years and demanded to be buried together because they were best friends. I thought that whole segment was brilliant. Did you have any fave tidbits that you learned or characters that you heard about?
Philip: Well, the more I think back on it. Well, yeah, firstly, yes to the frenetic ness. I mean, this really went over the top in terms of putting random cartoon footage onto the screen, deliberate anachronism, a sense of chaos and constant irony. But again, yes, like to have Zoe Coombs Marr as the figure in the middle of that with her sort of wry, slightly flirtatious, please like me kind of energy only she, I think, could say not with a straight face, but with an acceptably straight face. I got on a horse to film this montage, and I don’t know if he got to the bit where it appears that she actually did fall off a horse in the making of the doco. So all of that is sort of expertly woven in. Here’s another connection between the texts today, like arms in slings, right? But to me, like, although I have listened to podcasts about queer history, read a quite, quite a bit of nonfiction about queer history, I did like a couple of the key ideas here, including the defence of queer history itself, namely that to quote the show, if you don’t have a history, you don’t have a past, and that queers can be historically, quote, a tiny, grim cautionary tale in the margins, you know, really only existing when they interact with the law. And so we get this sense of the criminality of the queer precisely because all of the other stories are actually not being told.
Philip: It’s just all about policing and legislation and fighting for this and seeking equality on that. So I enjoyed the politics of insisting. That. No, we really do need to talk about intimacy and community and internal debates within our culture. And then the other thing about the doco that I’m still thinking about is how colonial Australia comes from this really specifically homophobic culture of England, where unlike in France, for example, they’re just obsessed by buggery and butts and arses. Like there’s this specifically anti anal thing that we have inherited from England, which is totally absurd. And like the lambasting of that bum sex preoccupation in the doco was really helpful. And just finally, as you said, in addition to Nayuka Gorrie, figures like Crystal Love, Aunty Dawn Daylight, Dr. Todd Fernando, there was this quite appropriately separate thread running through the doco where Indigenous Australians were reflecting on their own cultural traditions, how they have intersected with and been kind of violently oppressed by colonial forces, but then in the final. Episode about community. There is yet another angle from multicultural and linguistically diverse migrant perspectives on things. So. So I feel that the structure of the documentary sort of broadening out and increasingly resisting that stupid English homophobia was quite uplifting and optimistic.
Carla: Yeah, it’s so funny, especially the whole anal sex stuff. Like even, you know, like Mark Latham, you know, got basically cancelled by everyone, including Andrew Bolt, this week because of an absolutely deranged anal sex comment that he made about a councillor in Sydney. And then, yeah, like it is a very conveniently not talked about fact of the first 50 years of Australia’s life is that it was basically an anal sex colony. It was like 90% men, you know, and the reason why they brought women out here, they kidnapped streetwalkers and just criminalised anybody who they possibly could was they just began shipping women out here to fight this scourge of homosexuality. Yeah, there’s lots to talk about there, especially, you know, that’s how that’s actually how that’s actually how Caroline Chisholm started the Immigration Department was because all these boats of women were getting shipped out here and the men would come and wait at the shore and just almost rip the women to shreds, like taking them, you know, kidnapping them and taking them. And she’s just like, we’ve got to do this a little bit better.
Carla: We’ve got to at least match people with skills, not just like have these cavemen clubbing these women over the head and dragging them away. Yeah. So and just that there is such a rich history and I love the Graham Willett section on how like we actually do know we have such a rich documentation in Australia in comparison to other countries because we were a country of narcs. You know, we had the female factories, we had the we had the, you know, the prisons and everything like that where they were just monitored and documented the whole time. So there’s this great irony that we actually understand our queer history well, our colonial queer history much more deeply than other countries because of that. So it’s a hilarious paradox. I think we missed an opportunity to have like a straight person on here to talk about how they found the series and what they learned and what not. But if you are straight and you watched it and you want to tell us what you think, please reach out to us.
Philip: Join our straight listener community. We love you Straights. Happy Worldpride. Yes. Okay. I think it’s time to talk about what is coming soon. I might jump in because I’m so excited after our last discussion about Queer Australia and it’s sort of meaningful inclusion of Indigenous perspectives to note that Yiramboi has released its program from the 4th to the 14th of May. That First Nations Arts Festival will be on and the website looks just really exciting. The Uncle Jack Charles Festival hub at Meat Market is going to be the site of lots of the performances. There is a whole button that you can click called Drag, which is thrilling. So look out for Yiramboi. Also recently announced is the Rising Festivals program. That’s a bit later from the 7th to the 18th of June. The thing that I’m looking forward to most, there is a big Melbourne town hall video installation by Julian Roosevelt, who is the director of Manifesto, that project with Cate Blanchett in numerous different costumes, reading artists manifestos. But this is going to be like a two hour long immersive experience at Town Hall, which I’m looking forward to.
Carla: Yeah, that looks phenomenal.
Philip: What is on your agenda? Um.
Carla: We have a show coming up that we’re going to cover on the podcast for April, and it is Small Metal Objects by Back to Back theatre and it’s going to be in a shopping mall in Geelong. So you get a pair of headphones, you’re being led around the mall, the performers are performing in the mall, but you don’t know where they are. So that sounds terrifying but exciting. And that’s really what I’ve got coming up for April May, there’s going to be a Joel Bray show also coming out here to Geelong, which I think will check out. It’s like a trivia, a trivia night, so it’s interactive, but it’s also Joel, I think, talking about his practice. And so let’s see what happens there. But it’s very much TV based for me at the moment. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Philip: I might head to NGV for Melbourne Now.
Carla: Melbourne Now.
Philip: Next little while as well. It’s always interesting to see. Yeah. Contemporary stuff. So, look, we’re back. It is the day of the Grand Prix here in Melbourne. So I do get a sense that people are coming alive again and travelling around and spending money and bumping into each other and being generally annoying and I wouldn’t have it any other way. You love it. Yes. City life. Okay. That is that for our eclectic little episode. Thank you so much for listening. We’d love you to get in touch with us for any reason via email at us Aacrossaisle.com or on Twitter @acrossaisle where you can keep up to date on all of our plans and recommendations and you can express your own opinion about the material covered on this show. Across the Aisle is recorded in Naarm and Geelong on the stolen lands of Wurundjeri and Wathaurong. People sovereignty has never been ceded. We pay our respects to their elders and express gratitude for their custodianship of the land we live on. Always was, always will be Aboriginal land. Thank you so much. Carla.
Carla: Thanks, Phil, A pleasure as always.
Philip: See you soon.