Archive for March, 2012

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Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

SOUTH AFRICAN ODYSSEY: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF BERTHA GOUDVIS / Edited by Marcia Leveson / Picador Africa

(originally published the Words,etc  literary journal 2011/12)

The life of Bertha Goudvis and, indeed, her writings, were a sort of strange cultivar of old-world charm and wit in the same vein as Dorothy Parker, Zelig-like interactions with historical figures and events, all wrapped up in a page-turning Indiana Jones-style adventure.

As a multi-talented woman before her time, Goudvis’ observations through her journalism, short stories and theatrical writing offered a vibrant take on the chronology of a period of history, the late 19th and early 20th century South Africa, that has never been fully explored beyond the usual political history books, with particular insight into the lives of both ordinary and well known citizens from within South African society of the day.

Leveson’s  meticulously researched compilation of Goudvis’ life and writing is glowing tribute to her importance in South African literature, along with not only fellow women writers such as Olive Schreiner, but also with more lauded capturers of Africana like Herman Charles Bosman.

Born Bertha Cinamon, in England in 1876, this prodigious talent found herself in the new world of Southern Africa, as her father, an ill-fated inventor, explored his opportunities among the gold rush towns of the Northern Transvaal, particularly Barberton. Here, the young Bertha discovered and documented the lives and peculiarities of ordinary townsfolk, which were both humourous and poignant.

Being both a Jew and foreigner, living amongst the hardened Afrikaner working class and acclimatised English middle class, Bertha was able to distance herself in her observations of their daily lives, yet at the same time, accurately portray their psychologies and stories honestly and affectionately. Bertha’s first published journalism was for the London Daily Graphic at aged 19, covering the Matabele Rebellion during her family’s stay in Bulawayo.

At 21, Bertha married Lucas Goudvis, and lived in Rhodesia, where, as a journalist, came into contact with well-known political and influential figures of the day, such as Cecil John Rhodes. The couple also spent their early years managing a hotel in Lourenco Marques, Mozambique, where she met, and wrote about, exiled South African President Paul Kruger.

Bertha settled in Vryheid, Natal, becoming a fulltime writer for The Natal Mercury. She later worked for the Johannesburg Star newspaper and developed her fiction writing, most notably her novel Little Eden, and an acclaimed collection of short stories based on her experiences growing up in small town Southern Africa. Bertha also wrote several dramatic plays. Her work as a columnist enabled her to meet and write about political luminaries of the Post-Boer War period, generals like Herzog and Louis Botha, as well as Jan Smuts, whose South African Party ignited her own political awareness, causing her to partake in this progressive (for the day) party’s enfranchisement policies for non-white citizens and women.

Bertha’s writing is generously filled with scenery details and minutia of the period and place, rendered with eloquent language and imaginative prose, that makes for an entertaining read on its own. Add to this the overall intrigue of the socio-political changes happening around the people and events across the new frontier of Southern Africa, Bertha Goudvis could be pleasantly mistaken for being a proponent of proto-New Journalism, before the concept was even created.

The book is a riveting collection for history buffs and readers looking for greater insight into what South African society and culture were like during the turn of the last century, through the eyes of a feminist before her time, but more importantly, an, until now, undiscovered literary great.

Inside the Murciélago Theatre: NAKED LUNCH

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

OVERHEARD at The Murciélago Theatre of Late Night Bizarreness :

Caffeinated verbal riffage and mangled metaphors from that weirdo in the back row at the midnight show.

NAKED LUNCH

I first saw Naked Lunch when I was 15 years old. I had never read the original book, hadn’t even touched a cigarette in my short and uneventful life. And much like Nelson Muntz mused after watching the film in an episode of The Simpsons,

I, too, thought, rather flippantly, “there are two things very wrong with that title.”

Years later, through the many empty bottles of scotch raucously smashed on my street of youthful rebellion, many thousands of philosophically smoked cigarettes and a joint rolling talent prodigiously practiced yet scandalously under-developed, I finally felt adequately qualified to revisit the musings of Old Bill Lee again.

Being of the belief that, while millions may have bought Naked Lunch, the book, only two people in the entire world have actually finished reading it. (If you believe the urban legend, even William Burroughs didn’t read it.)

We can all agree, that while the book looks cool on the shelf, between Steppenwolf and a half eaten bar of oily Moroccan Mars Bar, the text itself is in dire need of good rogering by a sub-editor, perhaps more than a smidge of plot and maybe a couple of fun musical numbers.

Carnivorous Canuck and video-nasty auteur David Cronenberg, in tackling Naked Lunch, the film, has tried to at least solve half the problem, using the guy who played Robocop.

Frakensteining a somewhat linear narrative using details from Burroughs’ early life, including veiled, but healthy cameos from Kerouac and Ginsberg, as well as the infamous William Tell-like killing of wife Joan, Cronenberg jury-rigs the film’s aesthetic with some of the pharmaceutical phantasmagoria that defined Burroughs and his literary alter-ego, exterminator-at-large Bill Lee’s unrequited search, through the haze of drug addiction and sexual uncertainty for a foothold to his writing talent.

Infused with the book’s most iconic devices, Dr Benway, Interzone, Mugwup and its Jism, Cronenberg regurgitates up a half masticated metaphysical spy story plot with a needle in its arm into the grimy bowl of a North African public convenience. Its dirty, its paranoid, its got freaky dry humping sex and typewriters with talking assholes, whose dodgy animatronics look more humourous than horrific in this CGI day and age. It’s all a lot of fun, until someone gets a bullet in the head (again) and the entire North African seaboard are all terribly offended by cheap stereotypes.  The sign on the elegantly crafted door says “Go to Ibiza, you depraved infidels”.

Peter Weller, Robocop to you and I, excels in the itchy skin of Burroughs/Lee, getting the voice and mannerisms down pat, without going too far off the edge of caricature canyon. As for the supporting cast, watching their performances, you could half imagine them off duty around the craft service table, late in the day, slapping each other on the back, saying things like “can you believe this shit?” and “can you believe we’re getting paid for this stuff?” and “I hear Cronenberg’s buying after work”.

Roy Schneider, however, filling out the all too brief appearances as the infamous Dr Benway, is under-utilised and unsure of himself, as he retreats back to his trailer, quietly muttering to himself: I’m going to need a better agent.

If you’re looking for answers here, probably best you move along swiftly, but if you like typewriters, noisy Ornette Coleman music and stuff that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, then Naked Lunch is on you.

 

Inside the Murciélago Theatre: COP

Tuesday, March 27th, 2012

OVERHEARD at The Murciélago Theatre of Late Night Bizarreness :

Caffeinated verbal riffage and mangled metaphors from that weirdo in the back row at the midnight show.

COP

James Woods is an American pop culture icon, as quintessential as a hotdog with all the fixings at a baseball game, as cinematically essential as the kick-in-the-testicles gag. He is to acting, what AC/DC is to popular music, straightforward 4/4 3 chord dead horse rock n roll that continues to inexplicably appeal to millions throughout the ages. Like AC/DC, James Woods, the actor, is what you see is what you get:

riff/verse/chorus/riff/verse/riff/chorus/bridge/riff/guitarsolo/chorus/end.

Yet, like AC/DC, James Woods, the actor, can play both sides of the law, as comfortable in a stadium rally as he is in a sleazy biker bar, cleaning up for the mob, or cleaning up the streets. Playing to the ladies, or playing hero at left field, James Woods does quirky, funny, mean, craggy, dangerous, sexy, humble, bastard, horny, clueless, wise, fearful, fearless, hero, villain, gravitas and pathos; all in the time it takes him to lift an eyebrow, shoot a perp and spill a cup of coffee in his lap.

None more so is this strangely alluring dichotomy of talent evident than in one of his early roles, one some call his breakout performance, in the terribly impolite cop drama conveniently titled Cop.

Despite a flimsy paint-by-numbers plot that defies both the laws of corny coincidence and blind stupid luck, James Woods, the actor, is delightful as a bumbling LA detective who thinks he’s Dirty Harry’s batman, but comes off stumbling along like the bastard child of Inspector Closseau and Harvey Keital’s Bad Lieutenant. The real genius at work here is that he plays it so straight, so filled with grittiness and profanity; it is nothing short of iconic. Likeable, but dangerous, James Woods’ Cop is someone a nice girl can take home to meet the parents, yet might just punch dad in the face and insult mom’s cooking. Hell, he’ll probably end up shagging both mom and daughter on the couch, while dad offers him a large glass of his 12 year old scotch.

The film itself wears its late 1980s timeframe well, its violence, sex and social politics proudly politically incorrect, bloody and so devoid of responsibility, it makes the Lethal Weapon films look like an episode of Teletubbies. Cop’s final reel, a clunkingly executed klepto-homage to Harry Callaghan’s confrontation with Scorpio from the first Dirty Harry movie, proudly nails Cop’s inconsequential colours to the post, cements its B-grade cult classic status, and indeed, sums up the talent of, the fascination with and the rebellious attraction to James Woods, the actor.

“the good news is I am a cop. The bad news is I just got suspended.”

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