Saturday, April 9, 2016

Did David Bowie call Australia “a fucking craphole of a country”?

David Bowie - Postcards from Sailor - Edition 23

Fans of David Bowie have known for years about his double life on the internet, posting on official fan forums and communicating using the alias Sailor. Renown for being among the first stars to chat openly with fans via his pioneering site/server BowieNet, Bowie has long been rumoured to have frequented other Bowie fan sites as well – Teenage Wildlife, Bowie Wonderland and Bowie Station – answering questions and sharing opinions via the same handle.

Between 1998 and 2004 Bowie spent so much time interacting with fans that some publicly wished he’d get offline and go back into the studio. “I remember when ever he posted suddenly hundreds of replies would end up in the thread,” says user Swebby. “There would be page after page of stuff the moment he just said two words or more.” So far, two books have been made of these postings.

Dispensing with the elevated personae by which he was best known, Bowie wasn’t afraid to express himself robustly as Sailor, especially when it came to one topic: how much he hated Australia.

In 2004, months after his last Australian tour, Australian fan Adam lamented on Teenage Wildlife that Bowie didn’t release the entire 35 hours of the Outside/Inside sessions.

Sailor replied with a post entitled ‘Whining kangaroo eater!’:

So do you ask every rock legend to sort through 35 hours of material or just the ones who recently had heart surgery? Have you no shame? I came to your fucking craphole of a country to perform, but that's not enough. No sir, let's all ask the old man to walk on fuckin water and bend over backwards because we're the fans. Whatever, girlfriend!

When fellow Teenage Wildlife user Ziggfried suggested other fans post the question that Bowie would least like to answer, Sailor leapt in again:

…every time someone gets on my case about touring in Australia I want to smack them. Any country that produced both Paul Hogan, Yahoo Serious, and the Crocodile Hunter is one that I generally try to stay away from.

A complete list of Sailor’s contributions to Teenage Wildlife can be found here. Unfortunately Bowie’s extensive posts at BowieNet were lost when the site closed down in 2006 but many gems, such as Bowie’s response to the passing of mime artist Marcel Marceau – “no last words?” – have been immortalised by fans.

Since first arriving in Australia on his Isolar II World Tour in 1978 (Isolar, an anagram of Sailor), Bowie has publicly professed his love for the country. He shot the pioneering Let’s Dance and China Girl film clips here and owned an apartment in Sydney’s Elizabeth Bay in which he sporadically lived between 1983 and 1992.

In an online chat in 1999, Bowie’s wife Imam mentioned that she’d never visited Australia and that “David has always promised to take me”. Later that year in another online chat Bowie explained his long absence as nothing personal: “I just haven't been asked to tour there in eleven years.

Bowie berated Australia for its racial intolerance in a 1983 interview, he said: “as much as I love this country, it's probably one of the most racially intolerant in the world, well in line with South Africa…there’s unbelievable intolerance."

While Aboriginal Australia and the outback fascinated Bowie, it seems Australian culture (and Sydney’s escalating property prices) didn’t impress him much. Perhaps these conflicting feelings, growing stronger as he grew older, only make Bowie more Australian than he realised he was?

Sail on Sailor.

REVIEW: Gods of Egypt and the Australian film industry

Some are more sequel than others

Should you be wondering where public funding of the Australian film industry has gone, besides the $6 million into a film discouraging asylum seekers, you couldn’t much worse than watch new blockbuster Gods of Egypt. A US$140 million behemoth of CGI and ceaseless bombast filmed in Australia after the uncommon generosity of the New South Wales government who agreed to foot 46% of the bill via tax credits.

Whether the $75 million in generated income promised by the government when they chose to offer tax credits to the swords-and-sandals epic eventuates remains to be seen. What turns up on the screen is far from what anyone would consider an ‘Australian’ film.

The last few months have seen a concerted negative buzz build around Gods of Egypt even before its much-vaunted pre-Super Bowl trailer debut. It seems director Alex Proyas missed the backlashes against Ridley Scott’s whitewashed casting of his Biblical epic Exodus: Gods and Kings, Darren Aronofsky’s all-white Noah. Kevin Reynolds’ Biblical mystery Risen, also out this week, similarly trades realistic skin tones for an all-white, mostly American, cast.

To his credit, Proyas and the production company Lionsgate apologised for their casting decisions: “We failed to live up to our own standards,” Proyas said in a press release. “I sincerely apologise to anyone offended by the decisions we made.” That was in November, so the diversity obsession that has seen forthcoming films cast African American actors in roles originally intended for white actors.   

Despite the shortlived #EgyptSoWhite tag (Chadwick Boseman’s dozen-odd lines as Thoth hardly buck this trend) it turns out it’s young, cheap and talented Australian actors who will be either wearing the shame of Gods of Egypt, or using it as a learning experience and moving swiftly on.

The film is set ‘before history’ in an Egypt in which gods walk among mortals. Bryan Brown’s Osiris bestows his crown to his chosen son, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau’s Horus only to have the family black sheep turn up, Set (Gerard Butler), who -along with an army of CGI minions - wrests power and launches a tale of revenge in motion. Mortal teenager Bek (Brendon Thwaites) and love interest Zaya (Courtney Eaton) have a parallel story involving the afterlife. That the architect of destiny Geoffrey Rush’s sun god Ra rides a glass ship and battles the essence of chaos with a rod of light doesn't seem out of place says much about the balminess of this film.

While the story itself could be riveting in other hands, here it’s a series of CGI setpieces shot with restlessly vertiginous camerawork, frequent explosions and Marco Beltrami’s relentlessly bombastic score. Apparently Sydney’s Centennial Park stands in for the grand palace, but best of luck spotting it.

When a film reaches a budget this big and is aiming for middle America, it seems concessions to innovation must be made. In this case there is plenty of cleavage, but no nudity. Violence aplenty, but no blood, anger and passion, but no swearing or anything hinting at sex. It’s so boldly ‘family friendly’ that its sheer blandness becomes offensive. 
Like most big-budget international films Australia courts, Gods of Egypt is destined to be a critical failure and probable box office bomb. Along with similar stinkers I, Frankenstein, Knowing, The Matrix sequels or the Star Wars prequels, it’s another example of an iconic Australian city, in this case Sydney, standing in for somewhere else and providing a raft of film industry professionals leaving an expensive premiere with eyebrows raised and muttering "well, at least it kept some of us in work for a bit."

Expect it to happen again soon with the next raft of blockbusters brought to Australian film studios promising of hundreds of short-term insecure employment opportunities and little chance of attracting the burgeoning location tourism industry as happens with so many films and TV series.

In March Screen Australia announced the following films were due to be shooting at least part of their production in Australia: two Lego Movie sequels, the forthcoming Pirates of the Caribbean sequel, the next Thor and X-Men films, David Yates’ The Legend of Tarzan and Ridley Scott’s Alien: Covenant. Scott inadvertently spoke for all of these film’s directors when he promised his Alien sequel would feature “fairly formidable CGI”. Like the creators of Gods of Egypt no doubt, Scott promised the possibility of sequels to be shot in Australia, “if the film is successful”.

All major studios are looking to find a franchise that can pick up where Harry Potter and Hunger Games left off, and it seems Gods of Egypt will join the boldly-funded ranks of The Golden Compass, Lemony Snicket, Eragon and Inkhart as films full of promise, twists on familiar material and a raft of new faces hoping for an illustrious start to their career.

While arts funding across the board has been subject to cuts from the government, film funding has been more savage than most. Screen Australia, the nation’s most notable funding body has $10.3 million taken from its budget over the next four years. The Thor and Alien sequels will be receiving nearly $50 million from the government in what has been one of the most explicit signs of valuing the foreign blockbuster over Australian stories. If Gods of Egypt is anything to go by, bean counting precedent set by the government seems to have carried all the way down to the very last pixel.

REVIEW: Risen aka Jesus as dudebro

Joe Manjón as Bartholomew and Joseph Fiennes as Clavius in 'Risen'
Kevin Reynolds, he of Waterworld and Red Dawn, brings all the humility and cultural sensitivity for which he is known to the story of Jesus’s forty days on the lam. 

On paper, it seems a good idea: a paranoid ruler fearing a religious uprising dispatches his brightest and most ambitious soldier to track down a resurrected ‘messiah’ and potential usurper. Hard political and social reality meets inexplicable spiritual miracle - give that to the Coens and you’ve got gold. Unfortunately, we have a film that some non-US reviewers are likely to dismiss with the phrase, “it will play well in middle America”. Good actors spout terrible lines and the filmmakers never overcome the difficulty of portraying religious satisfaction as anything other than smug and annoying.

Most of the budget is dispatched in the opening half hour as grisly crucifixions follow a bloody sword-and-sandals battle and some valiant thesping from a mostly British cast who wander around locations familiar from Game of Thrones as if that’s where they’d much rather be. Reynolds seems to be going for all the historical accuracy he can muster, but it’s not the lack of nudity, swearing or era-appropriate headgear that undercuts him. It’s skin tone.

Even if the Oscars diversity scandal weren’t playing out in the headlines, Risen would look notably and inexcusably whitewashed. The white-people-playing-Arabs-outcry over Noah and Exodus: Gods and Kings seems to have bypassed Reynolds who is presumably trying to make a film that will perhaps “play well in middle America”.

After the ‘don’t switch over to something else because you’re probably watching this on Netflix’-pace of the opening scenes, we have our story laid out by a nervous Pontius Pilate (Peter Firth) who charges Joseph Fiennes’ centurion Clavius with the job of finding the body of a disappeared, or maybe…risen, Jesus, known in the film as Yeshua, because, y’know, accuracy.

To help, Pontius gives Clavius an aide in the form of Tom Felton’s Lucius. Yes, that’s Draco Malfoy playing a character called Lucius, which is about the most interesting aspect of an underwritten role in which his brow is rarely un-furrowed. 

Maori actor Cliff Curtis does an admirable job as Yeshua, surely one of the trickiest roles to portray on film. Reynolds renders Jesus as a modern day dudebro, gadding about Judea with his band of back-slapping disciples, forever grinning at each and laughing at nothing, presumably in a state of rapture.

Clavius and Lucius search for Yeshua with an army of centurions who act like Blackwater in Iraq - kicking in doors, terrifying families and being their own worst enemy. The film’s one female character, Mary Magdalene - a “woman of the street” - is introduced with a joke about how many centurions have slept with her (pretty much all of them, LOL), given one brief scene where she’s deemed mad and disappears to let the other disciples hang with their main man.

One key scene, in which Yeshua performs a ‘miracle’ to sate the faith of his disciples, depicts a man with a debilitating skin disease who is beaten up, spat on and cast out of a village for stealing food. Yeshua, sitting nearby and laughing about nothing with his disciples notices this, frowns, and ‘cures’ him with that most powerful of remedies, love. 

Noted thesp Joseph Finnes is almost upstaged by the mottling on his horse 
Curing doesn’t mean accepting him as he is, disfigured and wretched, or teaching him to love himself, or showing the villagers the errors of their ways, instead the man is transformed into a person who looks just like Yeshua, with flawless skin, clean robes and a sweet beard. 

Judging by the response of the largely Christian audience, Risen contains plenty of in-jokes for those who know their Bible. Even for those who don’t, scenes in which preaching disciples yet to publish their book mutter comedy gold like “that’s good, I might use that again” to break up shots of the Judean desert and Joseph Fiennes’ contemplative frown.

Judging by box office receipts, the Christian film market - like the Christian music industry - is huge, and relies more on repeating known stories and sentiments than artistry to get a return. If the trailer that played before the screening of Risen is anything to go by (a Jennifer Garner-starring family drama entitled Miracles From Heaven), it’s an industry in rude health that can withstand the damning reviews it attracts from non-religious reviewers.

With Risen, Kevin Reynolds has been blessed with a budget that can extend to British actors wanting a working holiday in Spain and Malta, and the hope must have been that their accents would lend gravitas to Paul Aiello’s story. What Reynolds has forgotten or is ignoring is that to break from that faithful demographic requires more than thesping Brits, a butchered story and some Mediterranean countryside. It requires humility and not pushing an Americanised monotheistic vision of how the world should be.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Blurred Visionary...An interview with Blur's Graham Coxon

The time was 1995 and optimism was sweeping Britain with a force the likes of which few could remember. Tory rule was waning fast and the vibrant and youthful opposition leader Tony Blair seemed poised to assume the Prime Minister’s office with a promise of better times. Britain was having its driest summer in recorded history, the Northern Ireland peace process was kicking into gear and Damien Hirst had just won the Turner Prize with two bisected cows submerged in formaldehyde. In short, it was a time in which anything seemed possible.

Few bands define this particular era as much as Blur. A fresh, brash, intelligent pop quartet blessed with dashing looks and an ability to channel the most agreeable parts of British culture into ambitious albums. The angst-driven sludge of grunge, vanquished by the suicide of its most recognisable figure, had been replaced by Britpop, an Anglocentric movement that recycled the high points of the last 40 years of British music, most notably The Beatles, early Pink Floyd, The Smiths and The Kinks. Blur wrote songs that kids and grandparents could sing along to: “All the people, so many people, they all go hand in hand, hand in hand through their Parklife”. It was the nearest thing to the Swinging Sixties any subsequent generation could imagine, and it seemed to take everyone by surprise.

At the heart of this uncharacteristic rush of English euphoria was Graham Coxon, Blur’s bookish guitarist and co-songwriter, a musician largely credited with the band’s musical ingenuity, an endlessly inventive counterpoint to singer and lyricist Damon Albarn’s effulgent melodies and rich character studies.

“I wish I could have had fun,” says Coxon over the phone from a hotel in Paris where the band is on tour. “I wish I could have allowed myself to have fun and enjoy it. When you have an idea of how things should be and you enter into it and it’s not how you imagine, it can be an odd experience. It’s not an easy road to get off once you’re on it,” he sighs. “There’s a lot of rubbish music, rubbish politics, rubbish people. The people who say they had fun in the 90s, I don’t think they’re the musicians, I think they’re the predators; the press, the record labels. I’m not sure bands were having an awful lot of fun.”

If Blur were merely writing and not living the joy others associate with their wry parochialism, arch-rivals Oasis were certainly doing their best to stay in the headlines and live the idealised rock and roll lifestyle. Their euphoric anthems played perfectly into the media’s desperation to bring class, geography and distorted personalities into a constructed musical war. As an indication of quite how strange these times were, an unofficial cassette recording of Oasis arguing for fourteen minutes made the British charts.

“The guitarist I have a lot of time for, the drummer I don’t know, I hear he’s a nice guy,” Oasis’s Noel Gallagher told the NME in 1995. “But the other two, Alex and Damon, I hope they fuck off and die of AIDS.”

It was the sort of statement record labels and publicists lived for, it was also exemplary of the sort of chat at which Oasis excelled. When the music tabloid press formally announced a ‘Battle of Britpop’ – pitting the foul-mouthed lads from Manchester against the moddish London-based Blur – the bands had little choice but to play their parts. The ‘Battle’ reached its apex when the new Oasis single Roll With It and Blur’s much anticipated Country House were both released on August 15, 1995. Only one of these songs contained the lyrics “he knows his claret from his Beaujolais”, and it wasn’t written by the band that spent their first million-dollar paycheque on cocaine and Brisbanian prostitutes. The national media made their best efforts to turn the chart countdown into a Generational Moment. Millions picked a side and responded accordingly when, with some help from Damien Hirst’s video, Blur’s Country House debuted at number 1.

While Oasis are estimated to be several months off announcing a lucrative reformation, Blur are making their first visit to Australia in 18 years, promoting their first album in 12; The Magic Whip. Within seconds of its opening song Lonesome Street even those with only a passing knowledge of the band’s hits can instantly tell it’s the same foursome who soundtracked the mid-90s.

“We still get on,” says Coxon of the band’s 30 years of history. “We’re not doing anything we don’t want to do. We don’t feel like we’re being forced to do anything by the record labels.” Even band photo shoots? “Well,” he sighs deeply, letting silence envelope the line before laughing. “Some things don’t change.”

Unlike the other members of Blur who’ve moved counties and changed careers, Coxon seems to have changed the least. He still lives in Camden Town, still dresses as though he’s not interested in impressing anyone, and still regularly releases albums. Besides Albarn (also a member of super-group Gorillaz), drummer Dave Rowntree has run as a candidate for the British Labour Party and now works as a solicitor, bassist Alex James has spent the years since their last album, 2003’s Think Tank, writing opinion columns and making cheese on his farm in Oxfordshire, where he lives next door to friend David Cameron. James has insisted that he and Rowntree have “never had a political conversation” and scoffs at the idea of the band being on anything but friendly terms.

“We spent an awful lot of time with each other, touring, etc.” says Coxon of their heyday. “But when we had time off, most of that time was spent trying to fix up our own lives. When you go on tour there’s always a lot to do once you go home, it’s natural. For a few years between 2002 and 2008 we hardly talked at all. We had an enforced break that was really needed. At the time it seemed confusing but now it seems obvious. It was just very difficult trying to initiate it.”

According to the very attentive (and not entirely dispassionate) music news sources at the time, by 2002 Coxon’s alcoholism had become untenable. Following a ‘blazing row’ he was forced out of the band during the recording of Think Tank, a story he hotly contests.

“I don’t think it was my fault, not at all,” he says between lengthy pauses. “When Blur and me went our separate ways I was completely sober, and I’ve remained so since. I held my hands up and said ‘yeah, I’ve got this problem’ so it was easy for the rest of the band to blame me for everything because I admitted to it. Everyone has their issues. It’s just that some people are better at dealing with it, and some people are more prone to going under.”

In his biography Bit of a Blur, James cheerfully admits to spending over one million pounds on champagne and cocaine. Rowntree was admitted to noted rehabilitation clinic The Priory for addiction to cocaine and Albarn wrote their number one hit Beetlebum about using heroin with ex-girlfriend Justine Frischmann, but Coxon downplays suggestions the band were out of control. “Blur were clean living compared to other people,” he laughs. “Even what Alex wrote in Bit of a Blur…I mean, really, that’s nothing compared to other groups.”

Reflecting on his statement, Coxon leaps in to justify himself. “See,” he explains keenly, “no one really knows how they’re going to react when they first get on a record label and start touring and partying and all the rest of it. No one knows how their body or mind will handle two months of solid partying. It’s usually in quite a negative way, it’s not that good for anybody.”

Regardless of what was happening to various minds and livers during the mid to late 1990s, Blur were remarkably workmanlike, writing dozens of diverse and acclaimed songs, as they transitioned away from their bright Britpop roots into songs that reflected darker times. Their albums Modern Life is Rubbish, Parklife, The Great Escape and Blur are some of the most acclaimed of the era. Despite their often maudlin lyrics songs like For Tomorrow, Girls and Boys, He Thought of Cars, The Universal, Song 2 and Tender still sound galvanic.

“I don’t think we ever made really optimistic music,” says Coxon. “There was often an undercurrent of sarcasm and a sense of absurdity about life. When we played the songs it was often quite chaotic. We were probably very visually interesting live because we were all pretty tipsy when we were playing, but I think we play the old stuff better now. We certainly play a lot harder and sound a lot stronger.”

Though Blur reformed for a 2009 tour, released two singles in 2012 and closed the 2012 Olympic Games, there was never a hint that new music would be recorded until several months before the release of The Magic Whip. The album only exists because of the chance cancellation of a concert in Tokyo that left the band with five days to fill in Hong Kong, and the frequent questions from journalists about making new music fresh in their minds.

“Honestly, I was happy just to get some sleep. My hotel room had a circular bed!” says Coxon with a laugh. “But Damon had other ideas. We agreed to jam for five days and see what happened, and soon we rather glibly said: “OK they want this album, let’s bloody make it then.’”

Released in April, The Magic Whip has already become the band’s highest charting record both in Australia and the US and garnered rave reviews from critics. As which much of their previous work, the album is full of imagery and inspiration from their environment. Just as they channelled the buzz of the mid-90s before exploring pre and post-millenium tension, this album is full of personal responses to shifting economies and changing cultures, leading some to make accusations of ‘orientalism’, charges the band laugh off. Albarn refers to events such as the Hong Kong student protests, his time in Sydney, holed up in a hotel following the Martin Place siege several blocks away, and a nostalgia both for England and, perhaps, glory days.

“We made it very differently to albums we’d made before,” says Coxon. “We jammed out lots of material – mostly based on Damon’s home recordings – for five days then 18 months later I and [producer] Stephen Street edited it all and presented it to Damon in 12 songs while he was in Australia. He heard what we’d done and decided to commit to it. On his way back from Australia he stopped in Hong Kong for 48 hours and retraced his footsteps, made notes, made films and stuff like that and wrote the lyrics over that New Year. In a way Damon can be misunderstood as some kind of autocratic General by Blur fans, but I think he actually appreciated me taking it off his hands and sorting it out.”

Despite the geographic separation of the band, the success of the album and the time spent touring together, Coxon doubts that this method of recording is likely to be repeated for Blur, and doesn’t foresee any further albums.

“The gods don’t seem to allow us to repeat ourselves. We try to repeat past processes and it falls on its face, so it’s almost like this process found us in a way. It wasn’t something we did really on purpose, we wilfully picked up instruments and all that, but overall the process that resulted in another album was something that we didn’t plan, we couldn’t plan it. So that way it caught us out.”

This article was first published at Junkee under the title "Rubbish music, rubbish people, rubbish politics: We spoke to Blur's Graham Coxon About the '90s" on July 14, 2015.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Other Side of Rickie Lee Jones

Singer-songwriter Rickie Lee Jones talks to Andy Hazel about living in New Orleans, her 35-year career and staying on top.

She may be imminently releasing her first album in a decade, she may have a legion of diehard fans ecstatic at any message she chooses to share online, but right now Rickie Lee Jones is interested in one thing, her garden gate.

“I’m just trying…to close this thing,” she says in laughing frustration. “Do you hear that noise in the background?” She pauses to let a distant clacking sound ring. “Well I live between the train and the riverboat so I always have this sound. I love it…and there’s the train a few blocks away making itself known, it’s wonderful.” Since moving here in 2013 Jones has been sparked into creative resurgence, thrilled that the city reminds her so much of her childhood. That New Orleanians hang their washing to dry instead of using a clothes drier is, she insists, a very way to measure a city’s suitability.

“Things are pretty great here,” she says in a warm Southern brogue. “The town is really…what’s the word…it pulls people out into it, kind of like the opposite of LA where everybody stays in. Here everybody goes out. Wait…I got it!” A latch slips into place and her measured tones break open into a loud laugh. “Now, where were we? Andy, I’ve got to tell you, you’re the very first interview I’ve done for this record,” she says laughing loudly before screaming in mock terror.

Breaking through in 1979 with the song Chuck E.’s in Love Jones had two million selling albums, won a Grammy and was in an intense relationship with fellow singer-songwriter Tom Waits for several years. Unlike most pop stars of the early 80s, Jones wrote and arranged her intricate jazz-influenced pop songs, was backed by the best musicians available and exerted control over the whole creative process. Interviews show just how uneasy promoting and talking about her music, but also how readily she is to talk about her life. Famously, one interview became the basis for The Orb’s seminal ambient house track Little Fluffy Clouds.

“Whenever everybody’s putting out something new they’re usually just thinking about the new thing they did. I know people always like to ask me about old stuff, that time is the past but that music isn’t the past. All my art is timeless to me. 1979 is the past, but not [song from her first album] Last Chance Texaco.”

Any chance for juicy gossip about Tom Waits is neutered firstly by a polite segue into discussion of her music inspired by him, and secondly by fact “I haven’t spoken to him since…1979,” she says searching for the date before executing a rich, long pause.

“The places that my songs live, the times that they were created from; 1963, 1947 or 1922, not necessarily the week I wrote the song, that’s what they represent to me. They’re not cemented in another time. So, there might be a tune or two that is, or was, a real…healing tool, and that could invoke some feelings. But I’m not doing that right now.”

Right now is what Jones is excited about. She’s written a blog about the making of her new album The Other Side of Desire, and she’s excited to know what impression the cover art has made and what ‘journey’ the songs suggest.

The opening song Jimmy Choos is, as the title suggests, about luxury shoes. Ostensibly about helping a friend through a breakup, Jones repeats the phrase “Choos’ shoes” dozens of times, slurring the sounds and rendering the words ridiculous. “Wouldn’t it be great to hear that on the radio!?” She laughs. While it may be better suited to being on the soundtrack of a John Waters-directed episode of Sex and the City, it is a bold and confident song that is wholly her and instantly reminds anyone who only knows her from her 80s hit that her voice is a utterly unique creation. The Pogues-esque Christmas in New Orleans, and the long, languid, atmospheric tracks Infinity and Haunted echo her most acclaimed work and foreground her expressive voice to powerful effect.

“The first time I told the title to people I saw the look in their eyes and I could see they were thinking of sex. I thought ‘I guess that’s how that word is used’, but to me, we’re talking about the things you desire, not the things you need. We’re talking about this thing that leads you down all these roads that you’re better off not going down.”

Shedding the major record labels to make this, crowd-founded, album, Jones’ doesn’t find control comes from fame and influence, rather, money.

“While I have my finger on the button, how far I can push the button is totally decided by how much money I have to promote it,” she says with another warm, open laugh, “and actually that’s really exciting. Because when you have to work with all those guys – and they’re always guys, they used to wear suits now they wear flannel shirts – you feel like they are making choices and you have no control. So to be the person who goes ‘this is how we’ll spend the money and when we make money we’ll continue to use it to promote the record, and we don’t have to stop promoting the record because it’s the only record we have to promote’, that’s a great feeling. I feel like I will have more control, but time will tell.”

Suggestions of attention being the new online currency are brushed aside. While younger fans are discovering her older work (The Word recently named her second album, 1981’s Pirates as one of the 25 most overlooked albums of all time), Jones is more interested in that one thing that younger fans value most, authenticity.

“I’m not trying to reach for the attention of kids. Forgive me for what I’m about to say, but I see 60 year-old women trying to look like they’re 25, or making product to try to get a 20 year-old to buy their product I feel embarrassed for them and for me,” she says, tellingly. “I like the way I look. I like my age. I like my generation. I like who I am and I’m going to make a record that hopefully speaks to everybody. I’m not gonna try to pretend like I’m not who I am. That being said, I want to look great!”

Jones laments the shorter attention spans she feels typify the younger audience and is unwilling to cater to it. “The thing about staying in business in my age is to be happy about who you are, and then the record I make  - I love my record – but before I love my record I feel OK about who I am, and the life I live. I think that’s going to be what makes it an interesting journey, at least I hope so.”

Rickie Lee Jones’ album The Other Side of Desire is out June 19 on Cooking Vinyl.

REVIEW: Citizenfour

There’s been a change in the language. We’ve gone from talking about freedom and liberty to talking about privacy.       

- Jacob Appelbaum

American film reviewers have been hailing Laura Poitras’s documentary Citizenfour in terms so hyperbolic as to risk inviting ridicule. “One of the major and defining documentaries of recent times”, “an electrifying countdown to an epoch-altering event,” “[it] isn’t a film so much as a big fucking deal,” and, as the poster boasts, “the movie of the century”.

Film buffs that know a lot more than Farrago are saying it’s a lock in for the Best Documentary Academy Award. But, besides all the bluster and hubris, who or what exactly is Citizenfour? Can it make boring things like ‘leaking documents’ visually interesting, and, more importantly, away from its headline grabbing subject matter, is it actually good?

First up, Citizenfour is a first-hand account of the world’s most famous fugitive, Edward Snowden and his leak of millions of top-secret National Security Agency files. The files detail the extent to which governments and telecommunications companies spy on their citizens and customers, how they covered it up, and the lies they told, under oath, about not doing so. While the issues of security and privacy are of massive importance, key to Citizenfour is that director Laura Poitras was the first of three journalists Snowden leaked documents to, and she filmed their first meeting.

The reason why this film is not just good but worthy of its hype, is balancing the intimacy and immediacy of millions of documents from US intelligence archives to Snowden’s laptop to the global media, with a study of Snowden himself.

The early sequences of Poitras, journalist Glenn Greenwald and Snowden’s novel-worthy introduction in the lobby of the Mira Hotel in Hong Kong (Snowden: “I’ll be the one working on a Rubik’s Cube. You’ll ask me what time the restaurant opens. I’ll tell you and then warn you that the food is bad…then we’re good”) makes this seem almost fictional. Once upstairs in the hotel room things became very real very quickly. As Snowden said in an interview with the New York Times, “we all knew there was no going back once she turned the camera on.”

Watching her, Greenwald, and later the Guardian’s Ewan MacAskill (flown over once Greenwald emailed him the code phrase “the Guinness is good”) try to maintain their composure when they realise they are getting the greatest journalistic scoop of modern times plays out like a white-knuckle thriller.

From Snowden’s heavily encrypted attempts to contact them using his codename Citizenfour, to his Julian Assange-enabled escape from Hong Kong to Moscow (soon to be the subject of its own film), Citizenfour leaves you with the feeling there is far more of this story to tell. Oliver Stone is working on his own version, in which Snowden, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt, is cast as a modern day hero. Poitras has hundreds of hours of additional footage, much of which is likely to be just as jaw dropping as her story here.

Unlike the Assange documentary Wikileaks: We Steal Secrets, Snowden is clearly uncomfortable with being the centre of attention. As much as some wings of America media may like to demonise him, Snowden – unlike Assange - is not a divisive character. He is at pains to point out that he is driven to do what he thinks is right, at immense personal cost. In the film he is clearly incredibly anxious, but also clear-headed and calm. His transition from earnest nerd to literal overnight celebrity makes it so watchable. Snowden, well aware that the media will try to deflect attention from embarrassed politicians to a character assassination, has unreserved loathing for the way national security leaks have happened in the past. “Some people want to skulk around in corridors and speak anonymously? Fuck that.”

The personal cost clearly eats away at him, and several scenes of him chatting with his until-now oblivious girlfriend as she tells him their house is being raided and she’s detained and questioned by police are potent.

Poitras’s balancing of the personal, political and cryptographic is what drives the film. That she pulled a narrative arc together from thousands of hours of footage of talking heads, people typing, courtroom antics, security infrastructure and impassioned nerds is remarkable and speaks to not only her skills, but those of editor Mathilde Bonnefoy.

While revealing little of the content of the documents, Poitras sets the stakes high at the outset and the film never stoops to sermonising. This withholding of judgement has earned Poitras and the film’s distributors The Weinstein Company a civil lawsuit in which they’re are accused of “aiding and abetting the theft and misuse of stolen government documents.”

Much of the press around Citizenfour is about issues it raises rather than the film itself, and, oddly, it fits into a continuation of conversations started by the events it depicts. How it was made, its partially redacted press screenings and secretive last minute New York Film Festival premiere last October and Poitras (notably almost excised from the film) has suddenly been thrust into the spotlight. World changing events have never been seen this intimately before. While Snowden pledged “public interest” as the driving factor behind his leaks, the public have been coming out of cinemas on Team Snowden (“What matters are how people feel about these issues, regardless of your opinion of me,”) or Team USA (which is also Team Australia since George Brandis, Julie Bishop and Tony Abbott have repeatedly accused Snowden of treason, treachery and of being a traitor to his country).

Whichever way you view it, everything has changed since the encounter shown here. How citizens think about their government, how governments treat their citizens, relations between telecommunications companies and governments, the role of the courts in national security issues, and the media’s increased reliance on whistleblowers to tell public interest stories.

The Australian government blame Snowden’s leaks (still being drip-fed by Greenwald’s website The Intercept) for forcing them to engage in data retention policies. Policies even the government’s supporters view as overreaching and imposing massive limitations on the freedoms of its citizens. Policies that will ‘drive up prices for Internet and phone services’ and, according to the telecommunications companies involved, ‘be a major intrusion into the lives of every Australian.’

Whether these come to pass remains to be seen. Either way, long after this film leaves cinemas its issues will remain in news headlines. As the opening sentence suggests, the conversation has changed, and that is exactly what Snowden set out to do.