Sunday, June 21, 2020

Live Review: NAT VAZER

Small Time

Just hours before Daniel Andrews’ “I’m not angry, I‘m just very disappointed” reintroduction of a state of emergency to manage Covid-19 transmission, new venue Small Time played host to one of the few shows that could run safely. Inspired by Seattle’s radio station-arts community centre KEXP, Small Time had the fortune to open in early March with a focus on live streaming and recording emerging artists, with the venue section of the operation seeing bands play behind soundproof glass to punters seated at tables or on couches. All of which makes for an extremely relaxed space that, with limited ticket sales, makes social distancing a breeze. It is almost as if the venue’s operators knew, in 2019, that streaming and physical distancing would be exactly what the arts industry would be needing in 2020. 

While Nat Vazer has been a fixture on the live scene for several years, her profile has grown from gig opener to supporting Lime Cordiale on their recent tour. May saw the release of her debut album, Is This Offensive and Loud? which earned praise from NME and any music critic who wrote about it, the vinyl selling out its pressing in one week. It’s fair to say expectations are high and the gig feels like one you’re lucky to catch.

Vazer opens the show with a Welcome to Country and her band, guitarist Andrew Campbell, bassist Benjamin Joel and drummer Sean Newell lock in instantly. After months of live shows being something streamed or watched on video, this is a strangely transitional state. More like watching a live-to-air performance, there are no amplifiers or foldback wedges, the band wears headphones, and the sound comes through two mid-sized PA speakers set high in the corners of the room. It’s not hard to imagine that the audience is, like those watching the live-stream of the performance, watching a screen. Unable to hear our applause, but able to see the enthusiasm, the soundproof glass is more than just a physical barrier. We can see Vazer’s precise guitar playing and emotionally powerful delivery, Campbell’s tight-jeaned, bent-kneed rock moves and the dynamic rhythm section of Joel and Newell, but, unlike last year’s incendiary show in the sweltering heat of Nighthawks, it’s more a performance observed than felt.

Tonight, songs that established Vazer as one to watch, such as her 2018 singles Struggletown and the chilling insight into anxiety Keep Away From Parks, are dwarfed by those from her album. Even a rousing cover of Alabama Shakes’ Hold On is overshadowed by newer releases such as the latest single Higher Places, shimmering centrepiece Better Now, and community radio staple, Like Demi. The balance of Newell’s rhythmic proficiency, Joel’s deft bass melodies, Campbell’s imaginative arpeggios and lead guitar lines, the power of Vazer’s voice and the prescience of her songs’ themes combine in a way that feels honed without being too studied. There is a tension in a show that wastes no energy in delivering songs that feel urgent. When Vazer delivers her songs, there is no sense of desperation or fear that the audience won’t understand. It’s the marker of an extremely good songwriter. 

The world is not short of gifted singer-songwriters and it’s hard to stand out from the brace of new talent that has the fortune or resources to rise to the top of a Release Radar Spotify playlist or onto radio rotation. But these are songs that have the ingenuity to grow on repeated listens, and Vazer has the band to sell them, even with a restrained performance that seems like it was being cut for a live album. 

The show closes with recent single Grateful, which gives each member the chance to loosen up while hewing to a late-period Beatles-esque pop motif. It’s another song that shows Vazer doing what she does best, seducing the ear with a melodic rock song, while only later, with the song circling in your mind, do the lyrics reveal its prickly inspiration. We might have to wait for another small-scale show like this, but if it’s as half as impressive as tonight’s show, it will be worth it.

Saturday, March 14, 2020


Sidney Myer Music Bowl

Very occasionally, a concert will be much more than just a public performance of music. The songs of New Order have been woven into the lives of millions of people and to hear them played tonight, to a group who through bravery, passion or idiocy choose to cluster together as the sun sets on a long and mostly horrific summer, makes for an event that at times verges on apocalyptic rapture.

Throughout the night, from the camaraderie of the venue security and crowd, to the joyous dancing throughout the amphitheatre during Cut Copy’s twilight set, to REM’s It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine) blasting through the sound system at the evening’s end, this felt like a combination of Danceteria at its peak and watching the orchestra on the Titanic. As Cut Copy’s Tim Hoey says at the close of their set, “This is the last gig we’re going to play for a while, so we’ve got to make it count.”

After visiting the hand sanitiser station on the way in, I am scolded by a friend for arriving too late to see Confidence Man whose set he describes with the gesture of a chef’s kiss. Cut Copy quickly evaporate any feelings of disappointment. The shimmering acoustic guitar and insistent bassline of Feel The Love booms through the venue and it is instantly apparent why they are the perfect band to be opening for New Order.

Cut Copy quietly exist at the centre of the Venn diagram of indie rock and dance and, like the headliners, play a brand of ego-free stadium pop. Tonight’s set draws heavily from their 2008 album In Ghost Colours, which makes sense as it is one of the best Australian albums of the last 20 years. Sun God, from its follow up Zonoscope, is dedicated to the recently deceased DJ and producer Andrew Weatherall, and gives a release from the lymph-system workout that the rest of their set provides.

The band also debut an unnamed new song whose rippling arpeggios and scything Blade Runner tones seem better suited to a Sunday morning comedown than a club on a Saturday night. It proves a perfect set-up for the closing duo of Lights & Music and Hearts On Fire whose choruses hit like a euphoric homecoming. “Please look after each other and thank you so much for being here,” says Toey as they make way for New Order’s busying road crew.

From the pitch darkness that envelopes the stadium, an instrumental version of the song Times Change plays as scenes from mid-20th century Melbourne life appear on the screens behind the stage. It’s a disarming move that shows just how British the city looked around the time the members of New Order were born.

“When we started out most bands were placing an emphasis on guitars and power chords at the time,” singer and guitarist Bernard Sumner told the BBC in the mid-90's documentary series Dancing In The Street. “We thought we’d place the emphasis on the drums.” But tonight, the band reverts back to its rock origins with many of the songs being guitar-driven. Right from set-openers Regret and Age Of Consent, songs are given arresting video projections that play out in triplicate on the back of the stage. Cityscapes and digital artwork blend to accentuate the songs' nostalgic power and sense of timelessness. It’s a recurring theme throughout the night, and one that empowers many, especially World (The Price Of Love) whose iconic music video featuring ageing rich holidaymakers adds layers to its themes.

Bespectacled drummer Stephen Morris, seems just as phenomenally metronomic as he was playing She's Lost Control on The Old Grey Whistle Test in 1979. Gillian Gilbert remains a bastion of control and composure, the driver of so many of the band's best-known songs. Seeing this most unlikely couple, the core of this iconic band, playing this music with such utter precision is oddly moving.

Newer songs such as Restless and Plastic are all perfect examples of New Order's latest iteration, without bassist Peter Hook, and with guitarist and percussionist Phil Cunningham and bassist Tom Chapman. While it’s good to hear what these members bring, the band’s back catalogue is so rich and evocative that the newer songs seem like a wanton waste of priceless real estate. These less familiar inclusions also give the audience an opportunity to chat, bump elbows and laugh off any tension.

“This might be the last time we’re all together,” says Sumner in one of his several interludes of chatting with the audience. “But let’s not dwell on that.” For years, people have found exaltation in songs like Bizarre Love Triangle, Blue Monday and Temptation.

Whether escaping the social ills of Thatcher’s Britain, when they were recorded, or amid the anxiety of the early stages of a global pandemic, it seems the greater the oppression, the greater the euphoria of the release. These songs, and especially the surprise encore of Joy Division’s Transmission, a last-minute replacement of Decades, offer this in a way few bands in few times could ever do.

It’s the last time, oh it’s the last...time,” sings Sumner as the slashing guitars and arterial snare drums of Temptation ring out, closing the set. It’s an unforgettable moment, and one that many people tonight will hold on to during the uncertainty of the next few months. Tonight, New Order brought little that was uncertain, much that was prepared and far more than they could have predicted when they booked their show at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl.

Thursday, March 5, 2020


Hamer Hall

Shortly after the siren tones ring out over the heads of the throng rowdying up the Arts Centre foyer, announcing that Bill Callahan is about to take to the stage, the crowd inside the venue hushes. As latecomers file in, heads bowed, a four-piece assembles in the centre of what seems like a vast stage, and a spell is cast.

The man once known as Smog, with the help of the deft jazz drumming of Adam Jones, Brian Beattie’s electric double bass and Matt Kinsey’s textural electric guitar, sets about bringing his most recent, and most acclaimed album, Shepherd in a Sheepskin Vest, to life. Opening with the welcome of Writing, “it sure feels good to be singing again /From the mountain and the mountain within”, the mood is instantly confessional, sincere and often blackly comic. Cutting an elegant figure on stage, Callahan’s top button remains fastened around his neck, his trousers belted high and his parlour acoustic guitar high over his breast. His silver hair thick, like a television host from the 1960s, his Byrne-esque penchant for running slowly on the spot, seemingly an outlet for nerves, and his rich baritone, the sound of a maple tree being slowly felled, delivered to the audience through a sound system bent on capturing every syllable.

That the set features few songs from before Callahan’s hiatus from 2013 to 2019 speaks to how differently Callahan is connecting to his songs now. With many inspired by the change in his life of marriage, fatherhood, the death of a parent and a reassembled life that was no longer focused around music, songs now express dazzlement at the idea of domesticity. Over and over tonight, Callahan expresses a yearning for the simple and fantastical. “Come with me to the country”, he sings.  “Just you and me”. Or, “I'm just talking about the old days / Groundwork or footwork / Well, after this next song we'll get moving along”. 

Behind these homely sentiments, the band fill the space like physical embodiments of Callahan’s mind, sinuously occupying higher frequencies with cymbal brushes or melodic lines the grow from his strummed chords. The bass balloons through the room before vanishing to ensure not a word of Callahan’s is missed, a quality that could only be born from rehearsals that move from the musical to the telepathic. Older songs such as America and Too Many Birds are given freeform workouts. The first stretches out to allow Kinsey’s guitar to spiral and heave as he pushes against Jones’s rhythms, the second allows Callahan to tell us about his first 24 hours in Australia, time he spent sleep, feeling hungry, wandering the streets at night looking for food, and eating garlic toast, a story he invests with pathos, humour and warmth. It is also impossible to tell whether it was meticulously rehearsed or improvised.

Highlights of the night include a stunning rendition of album highlights 747, Watching Me Get Married and Angela. Dips into his back catalog include Drover, Riding For the Feeling and Seagull. So strong are these songs, and so gloriously are they rendered, that classics such as Jim Cain and songs from his first 12 albums are barely missed. Even a cover of Leonard Cohen’s So Long, Marianne seems oddly a part of Callahan’s collection, and the song’s imagery – “You held on to me like I was a crucifix” – doesn’t seem out of place alongside his, “Like motel curtains, we never really met / And cutting our losses is our best bet”. As he asks in the closing verse of tonight’s opening song, ”Sometimes I have to wonder / Where have all the good songs gone?” Tonight, we’re given bigger things to wonder about.

Monday, February 24, 2020


Northcote Social Club

A sold out crowd is already tightly packed by the time that Genna Rose Bruce and her four piece band arrive on stage to win over those not already fans. The inventive drumming of Seb, choogling basslines of Eddy and clean lead guitar lines of Cordy guitarist who deft chops should see her challenging for the next Age Music best guitarist award, set off Bruce’s smoky voice and careful strumming. Their set, largely taken from last year’s album Can’t Make You Love Me, shows a welcome disregard for genre as songs move from country pop (Rearview) through indie rock and dream pop, to soul ballads (I Don’t Think I’ll Ever Get Over You) to flirting with minimalist techno (Revive). While there is nothing revolutionary new here, it’s a small mercy to find someone just being good rather than trying to adopt facades of newness. Bruce’s songs move with an energy that makes them an essential addition to any Spotify playlist made for driving, and her show makes a strong pitch for the mid-afternoon slot of a summer music festival. 

“We’re from the States, in California,” says Melina Duterte, aka Jay Som. “This is our last show in Australia and I think it’s sold out so this is insane,” she laughs as the audience cheers. We all seem extremely happy to have put this rapidly ascending singer-songwriter in a good mood at the outset of her show. A show that proves not to be insane at all, but in fact a close encounter with someone who seems very in control of their feelings as they channel it into some extremely captivating songs. From the moment Duterte moves to the microphone to sing the opening lyrics of If You Want it, her lower lip almost touching it, the (surprisingly diverse) audience are collectively won over. The deft melodies, looping bass riffs, swooning guitars and intimate drumming the audience move together so well, the pull is irresistible. Song after song, most of them her acclaimed 2019 Anak Ko, send the audience into raptures. The swaggering pop of Baybee gives way to the album’s delicate last single, the Yo La Tengo-esque Nighttime Drive, the shaker driven pop rush of Peace Out all of which are sublime in the extreme, but none of which compare to one of the singles of the last few years, Superbike with its Cocteau Twins-style harmonies and monolithic shoegaze outro. “We’re a bunch of jet lagged babies up here,” says Duterte, though if anything sleepiness renders these songs even more potent. After anticipating the“cute accents” of the crowd’s vocal contribution to The Bus Song, and expressing her deep gratitude for coming out to see her instead of “you know, clubbing,” the set is wound up with Crown, new single A Thousand Words and Lipstick Traces. The latter shows just how talented her band are, each is given a chance to shine without ever detracting from Duterte’s songs or becoming self-indulgent. It’s a balancing act, beautifully pulled off.

Monday, November 18, 2019


Marvel Stadium

On a giant screen that stretches the width of Marvel Stadium, Pedro Pietri’s poem Puerto Rican Obituary scrolls slowly upward. Later, it will show poetry by Judith Wright and Les Murray. Odes to injustice, the tyranny of oppression and the might of the human spirit, subjects that have fuelled Bono’s anthemic righteousness, and given voice to songs so ambitious that it’s hard to believe they weren’t born into arenas. As signs that line the upper tier of this arena remind us, “Marvel Stadium: Epic Lives Here”.

No less ambitious, but with fewer megawatts to their arsenal, Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds open their set with the rousing Holy Mountain. Growing from a seven to an eight piece before acquiring a horn trio, the band offer a tight, punchy take on muscular rock and roll with Gallagher’s newer songs boasting the driving dance rhythms of early-90s Manchester. Despite the propulsive energy and a stellar turn from vocalist YSEÉ, the crowd seem barely moved. “Any Oasis fans here?” says Gallagher in a rare moment of not using his favourite expletive. “Well, you’ll like this,” he continues before launching into another very un-Oasis track, Soldier Boys And Jesus Freaks.

There are few acts that could follow a set that closes with Wonderwall, Don’t Look Back in Anger and a stadium singalong of All You Need is Love. Luckily, one of them are about to play their most acclaimed album track by track. To the strains of The Waterboys’ The Whole of the Moon, a spotlight follows each member of U2 as they walk from the stage along a gangway to a prominentary around which a crowd surges, signs, hands and phones aloft. Soon the martial beat of Sunday Bloody Sunday shows that energy is high and the purpose is clear. Early songs I Will Follow and New Years Day are sold with a conviction that few bands a third of their age could muster. Among the crowd in plain spotlights, this is proof that, despite decades of stardom, U2 are still a rock band that would do OK given a weeknight at the Tote.

“Our plan for this evening is for an epic night of rock and roll,” announces Bono. “This is where we let go of some things, and hold on tight to others. I’m here to help. I’m here to surrender to you, to music, to life, to our families. When we surrender, anything could happen.” With this declaration, Bono dedicates the next song, Bad, to Australia’s firefighters, which instantly sees the stadium bathed in the light of around 20,000 mobile phones. As the closing chords of Pride (In the Name of Love) ring out, and the words of Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech fade to red on the 200ft-long, 8k screen, the opening chords of Where The Streets Have No Name swell. The Joshua Tree has begun.

Imagery from the American midwest dwarfs the band. Behind them, monochrome highways stretch out, trees sprawl and each of the album’s widescreen epics is given IMAX-style vignettes. We are collectively on a million-dollar budget multimedia nostalgia trip and the band - and their army of technicians - play their part perfectly. The Edge’s guitar is piercing and crystalline, the rhythm section faultless and Bono’s voice is still unlike any other. The experience feels curiously nourishing and the band too don’t seem to be coasting on the quality of the songs and production. Rain falls during I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For, and roadies scramble to protect the equipment. By the time the migrants at the heart of Bullet in the Blue Sky have “run into the arms of America”, the roof has closed and we are locked into the trip. “Here’s where you flip the vinyl over,” jokes Bono as the cheers following Red Hill Mining Town die out, and before In God’s Country begins. 

From here, recollections of the album, and the band’s energy begin to flag. Bono lets the audience take choruses, even when our collective voice grows less confident. The bracing rush of Trip Through Your Wires gives way to the dark clamour of Exit and a forceful version of the closing Mothers of the Disappeared. It is captivating stuff. “That was The Joshua Tree,” announces Bono. “This is what happened next.” From here, we get a tour through the many guises of U2, from the continued fascination with African-American music (Angel of Harlem), Bono’s media-obsessed alter-ego Mr MacPhisto (Elevation) and the spiralling disco of Even Better Than The Real Thing

Though Bono’s spirit is indefatigable, the band’s energy drops again. By the time Beautiful Day arrives, over two hours into the set, the song drags against Larry Mullen’s precise beats. Ultraviolet (Light My Way) gets a feminist makeover via huge images of inspirational women projected behind the band (including Hannah Gadsby, Cathy Freeman, Nova Peris, Magda Szubanski and Greta Thunberg), as Bono explains how poverty is gendered, and like much of the poetry that opened the show, we must consider how our actions impact the less fortunate. We must, he implores us hoarsely, come together as one. 

Killing the lights so that we can sing along in the dark, One is almost entirely sung by the audience. In the dying minutes of the show, as Bono implores us again to set aside our differences and unite, the screen ignites to show an animated assembly of an Australian flag. The crowd cheer as the band finish the song, put down their instruments and huddle together grinning, relieved. Bathed in the light of a symbol of cultural hegemony and in a perfect example of not considering how one person’s actions affect the less fortunate, it is a naive twist to a meticulously constructed and dazzling night.

Sunday, September 2, 2018


The Palais Theatre

Arriving at the support band start time of 7:45, I have to re-check that I’m at the right venue. The Palais seems totally deserted. Inside it’s not that different. Is it possible that fans of Scotland’s finest sextet have moved on to fresher sounds? Was my friend right when he claimed, “they’ve been shit for years. Eighty per cent of their good stuff is from the 90s.”? Was the combined cost of ticket and babysitter just too much for Melbourne’s punters?  By the time local guitar pop combo Totally Mild are halfway through their set, trading banter and making a joyful noise with tracks off their new album Her, the Largest Seated Theatre in Australia is at about ten per cent capacity. Regardless of the energy and charisma that singer Liz Mitchell channels into the band’s twisting, unsettling songs, the audience give little back. That the rest of the band seem to have brought all the energy of a Friday afternoon at the day job to their Friday evening show doesn’t help either, but songs like Today, Tonight, From One Another and the closing Down Together are so good they barely need to be sold at all. 

Then, as if on cue, and with just ten minutes to showtime, the Palais fills with enthusiastic fans, many decked in stripy tops, some with their children, more with less hair than they had last time Belle and Sebastian played here, in 2015. A brief nod from energetic frontman Stuart Murdoch, and we’re back in 1997, with the first song from their first EP, Dog on Wheels. It’s a winning introduction, and from there the energy level only rises. I’m a Cuckoo, Step Into My Office Baby (complete with an in-song reference to Bob Hawke, “he’s one of the good ones, right?”) and some quizzing of songwriter Stevie Jackson over the inspiration for a song about internal office romance, and the band make it almost impossible to dislike them. Twenty years of success hasn’t stolen the humility that made their music so adored by introspective teenagers and lovers of folk pop (or, as they’re referred to in the film High Fidelity, “old sad bastard music”). Murdoch and co are onto a winning formula, and very good at seeming like they don’t know it. Their latest release, a collection of three EPs with the unassuming title of How to Solve Our Human Problems, is mined for some of it’s more danceable tunes: the low key urging of We Were Beautiful, the bossa disco of Sweet Dew Lee and the instantly catchy Poor Boy, the song that brought relief to the many fans afraid that the magic might have disappeared. 

Unlike their last concert at the Palais, in which their new and not especially strong album Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance dominated the setlist, tonight the energy is brighter and we span time with the band. Jumping between decades, from Murdoch in his early twenties writing for himself (Stars of Track and Field), the band cocking a wry eye to the mainstream (Legal Man), a love song from Murdoch to his wife (Piazza, New York Catcher), late-career dancefloor bangers (The Party Line) and a brand new song “we’ve only played once before”, (There is an Everlasting Song). It’s all gloriously familiar and we’re all on board for all of it, up and down in our seats as the energy demands it.

The band are obviously enjoying themselves, too, though only Murdoch is physical enough to show it which he does with every opportunity, clambering onto speakers, sitting at the front of the stage and donning a cut-off t-shirt with the Australian flag on the front. Stevie Jackson remains po-faced, even when cracking the odd dry joke, Chris “Beans” Geddes stays focused on his keyboards, Sarah Martin keeps a caring eye on Stuart and bassist Bobby Kildea stays a beacon of cool in the shadows on stage left. After closing their set with a version of Judy and the Dream of Horses that moves effortlessly from intimate to rousing, we call them back out for a three song encore, Murdoch describes as “something we don’t usually do”. After a quick huddle they elect to go with “a deep cut, a B-side, a song we haven’t played in years. You might have to help me with the lyrics”. And it’s true, he has forgotten some of the many lines of Photo Jenny, and so have we, but it matters not. The thrill of hearing something unexpected yet familiar from a discography as vast as Belle and Sebastian’s is a gift to a theatre crammed with fans.

Just like the venue filling at the last minute, with tonight’s show Belle and Sebastian throw off suggestions that they’ve got nothing new to offer, or that over 2,000 Melbournians won’t come out to see a band that was so important to them, and that they’re more than capable of winning over a new generation of fans. 

Friday, August 24, 2018

Laura Palmer, Maddy Ferguson, Carrie Page...Sheryl Lee

Sheryl Lee on working with David Lynch and returning to her iconic role of Laura Palmer.

More than anyone, Sheryl Lee is the face of Twin Peaks. Since she was first seen, wrapped in plastic, in magazines, on billboards and millions of television screens around the world in 1990, Lee's face has been the subject of countless homages and reinterpretations. As the first, last and enduring image of director David Lynch's 18-hour television series Twin Peaks: The Return, Lee is once again at the forefront of pop culture.

“My relationship with Laura Palmer has been a very interesting journey,” she says from her home in Los Angeles. “She’s been with me much longer than I thought she’d be. Creatively it’s been fascinating to find an understanding of why, and what she means at different phases in my life. I hadn’t watched the series or the film, Fire Walk With Me, for 25 years, so revisiting them at 51 years old, and as a mother, I see it all from a different perspective. I’m in awe of what David Lynch created.”

Lee’s inclusion on the bill of the multi-city event Twin Peaks: Conversations With the Stars, surprised many of the show’s fans. Lee has rarely spoken about the show, or about her long relationship with the character of Laura Palmer, and barely at all about the deepening of her iconic role in Twin Peaks: The Return.

For 27 years, Laura Palmer was known as a victim. A queer sex worker and prom queen whose murder prompted not only the series' narrative drive, but countless other television series that opened with the death of a teenage girl. Last year's series revealed that Laura Palmer was much more than just a girl. She was, it was possible to read, a celestial creation born from a beatific spiritual realm with the sole purpose of defeating an ancient evil force embodied in her father. Lee is unphased by this expansion of her character's history.

“When you work with David Lynch, you have to accept the you’re working with the unknown," she explains. "It’s all about being in the present. A logical approach, you know, ‘what’s my motivation? What does this mean? Why am I saying this?’ that’s never going to work. For me, I need to trust and surrender. By being present like that, you open up and you can access this bigger force.”

Also known for her performances in the films Backbeat, Cafe Society, Wild at Heart and Winter’s Bone, Lee’s filmography is impressive, but it's her role as Laura Palmer than has allowed her to showcase her true talents. Twin Peaks: The Return not only saw her return as Laura Palmer, but as the new character of Carrie Page, a Texan waitress whose crucial appearance in the final episode allowed the series to spin out in a new direction. Again, Lee was asked to inhabit a role built with scant details

“That’s all in the direction,” she says. "Carrie Page or Laura, it’s all from David. I don’t know any more than is on the page. David only gave me my scenes, so I never knew where they fit in. When I came to work on the set, there were a lot of familiar faces, cast of course, and crew, so it felt like a safe and respectful place. There were a lot of new faces too, but the atmosphere was the same.”

Originally hired for several days work, just to play the famous corpse, Lee was at brought back to film several flashback sequences. Then as the role of Laura Palmer’s cousin, Madeleine Ferguson, who was also brutally murdered. After the series was cancelled, amid abysmal ratings and months after Lynch had moved on to other projects, Lynch asked Lee to star in Fire Walk With Me, which necessitated her inhabiting the role of once again, but this time as author of her own trauma. Her performance as Laura Palmer with its subject-led depiction of incest, drug abuse and spiritual loss is one of most harrowing roles in modern American cinema.

“Watching Fire Walk With Me again, it's not hard, because there is so much richness in the film. I was really impressed by Ray Wise (Leland Palmer) and Grace Zabriskie (Sarah Palmer). Their ability to make you scared, and cry and laugh just like that. I’m such a fan of theirs. After we finished Fire Walk With Me, I just had to do something completely different. You can imagine, after playing Laura Palmer for so long, I really wanted to do something different, anything different. So I did a play, and then I did [Beatles biopic] Backbeat. Playing [photographer and girlfriend of Beatle Stuart Sutcliffe] Astrid [Kirchherr] was a great experience, and about as far away from Laura Palmer as you can imagine.

“I’m still trying to understand what Laura Palmer symbolises,” Lee says, reflecting on the journey that may not yet be over. “A lot of people have shared their stories of incest and how Laura’s story was important to them. the questions around Laura change in me as I get older. There are so many versions of her story out there. If Laura’s story is still continuing, how can it help?”

Series co-writer Mark Frost has admitted that he still has more stories in mind and would be willing to return to Twin Peaks. Lynch however, will only admit that the future for Lee's other character, Carrie Page, is "calling… but the signal has a lot of disturbances".

Lee's costar Kyle MacLachlan described another season as "certainly possible". As for Lee, "I would always be open to it."

Monday, September 12, 2016

Why The Parent Trap isn’t the film you think it is

Lindsay Lohan as Annie and Hallie in The Parent Trap DISNEY PICTURES
The Lindsay Lohan-starring nostalgic cult classic and proto-feminist masterpiece is ready for rediscovery.

This year marks the 18th anniversary of the release of the film The Parent Trap, the story of identical twin girls separated at birth who meet by chance, switch places and scheme to reunite their parents. Like many of that era’s most entertaining films it’s more Shakespeare farce than ‘serious cinema’, yet, investigating it as such reveals one of the most unjustly ignored movies of recent decades.

Despite the film’s the box office success and a warm reception from the Queen at a Royal Screening, The Parent Trap has all the features of a cult classic.

The film boasts strong, lovingly drawn characters inhabiting a richly-detailed world in a smartly-paced story that stars actors on the top of their game. In an age of children’s movies featuring lightning-fast edits, a bombardment of focus-group tested cross-cultural slapstick and sly adult references, The Parent Trap is a stronger film than ever.

Husband and wife team of producer Charles Shyer and director Nancy Meyers were still fresh from the massive success of Father of the Bride and its sequel when they chose to remake Disney’s 1961 classic The Parent Trap. Even among supporters and detractors of Meyers, The Parent Trap is rarely discussed. Its many millions of fans share their affection for it among friends and siblings. It’s loved, but not openly. As a sign of how this is changing as its fans are aging, Shyer signed three Parent Trap posters hours before our interview. “It’s getting to be a regular thing,” he admitted.

Like all cult films, there is a subversive edge. The Parent Trap is a proto-feminist tale so sweetly and satisfyingly told that even its conservative fans don’t notice.

“It would never occur to us to make a film that did anything but empower young girls or young women,” said Shyer as if considering the film in this light for the first time. “We just thought of it as a cool story.”

Annie and Hailee deduce they’re sisters at Camp Walden. DISNEY PICTURES
The ‘cult’ with whom it is classic is that most devalued and belittled of viewers, young girls, an often-misunderstood and frequently ignored audience rarely catered for by movie studios looking for a safe bet.

Younger girls are typically catered for directly by the hyper-materialistic glitz of formulaic series such as The Princess Diaries and the output of the Olsen twins. Age up slightly, and you have the coming-of-age riches of Mean Girls, Clueless, The Hairy Bird and Bring It On. While the girls in these films have escapist fun in modern settings, none of these settings are as meticulously imagined as Meyers’, no story is as satisfying as The Parent Trap’s tried and true screenplay, or role as demanding as Lindsay Lohan’s dual-performance as twins Annie and Hallie.

The term ‘family film’ typically refers to boy-starring fare such as E.T., Stand by Me, Jumanji, Son of Rambo and the early Harry Potter movies. While they’re rightfully cherished, Hollywood clearly sees boys as a more lucrative target market with girls expected to bond with secondary characters — sisters, sidekicks and comic relief.

Shyer and Meyers’ cast the almost unknown actress in a role that saw her play opposite herself with the aid of a double and careful editing.

“Lindsay was quite brilliant in the movie, there’s no doubt about it,” says Shyer.

Simon Kunz, who played English butler Martin, agrees. “She was 11 when we shot the series, but she’d been lurking in some sort of family TV series [Another World] since she was eight ­so she was seasoned in a way. One is used to seeing precocious American kids like Drew Barrymore on screen. When American actors get it right they have this amazing, relaxed sense of quality. She was cracking wise the whole time and full of energy.”

Lindsay Lohan, Lindsay Lohan and some photographic trickery. DISNEY PICTURES
Few live action films targeting young girls are worthy of being watched by anyone other than their intended audience. Fewer still hold up to scrutiny in this hypercritical era, and almost none focus on the power of young girls to effect lasting change in the world of career-oriented adults.

Lohan’s likeability is a key reason why this film works today. The Parent Trap is not only a modern fairy-tale, but it’s one that has a very clear idea of — to paraphrase Meyers’ biggest box office success — what (young) women want. The English Annie lives with her mother Elizabeth, in a version of London that can only exist in works of fiction such as Mary Poppins or Made in Chelsea. “Elizabeth has a pretty good life,” the late Natasha Richardson said of her character. “I’m English, so of course I have a butler! I also happen to be a designer of wedding gowns and I can’t think of anything more romantic and feminine than that.”

American twin sister Hallie lives in a sprawling Spanish colonial mansion in Napa Valley with her adoring winemaker father [Dennis Quaid] and loving nanny Chessy played by Lisa Ann Walter. They’re perfect settings from which to begin a tale of happy people seeking the only thing keeping them from perfection. At no stage is anyone’s welfare is threatened and only Elaine Hendrix’s gold-digger temptress Meredith has nefarious intentions.

‘Hang on,’ thinks everyone over the age of eight, ‘what sort of mother would abandon a daughter and not tell the other about her father or identical sister?’

Shyer demurs. “The big problem was how do you justify a couple saying ‘I’ll take one, you take the other?’ It’s a fucking weird decision to make! We rationalised it to some extent and it worked, but I have nine year-old twins, a boy and a girl, and it’s unthinkable!”

Richardson said of her role as the girls’ mother, “I think Elizabeth has felt that she had this terrible secret locked inside her. A piece of her that’s never there because she has this other daughter who isn’t with her.”

Dennis Quaid, Natasha Richardson and Lindsay Lohan DISNEY PICTURES
“It’s an extraordinarily Greek situation really,” says Kunz laughing. “You have a pair of twins and you don’t tell them about each other! It’s a hell of a premise. It’s a really old kind of story, it’s like Oedipus being taken as a child.”

Rather than responding with a justifiable fury that leads to substance abuse, detox, occasional relapses, years of counselling and a lifelong need for affirmation, Hallie and Annie are overjoyed to discover that they can meet an estranged parent. As their plan unfolds, viewers join the two Lohans in their safe but unfamiliar environments aligned as co-conspirators in a situation every kid adores: knowing something an adult doesn’t.

This is one of the masterstrokes of the original text, Lottie and Lisa, a German children’s story by Erich Kästner first published in 1931. At its heart is the story of two children plan to engineer the very thing that seems the epitome of disgusting — a romantic attraction between their parents. Each girl recognises the others desire to meet a parent they don’t know and “making mom and dad fall in love” is the only way to maintain the connection with the new parent. Like most classic fairy-tales and Shakespeare comedies, the premise is ridiculous and the ending predictable, yet the story is so simple, the structure so elegant and its world so gracefully constructed that it feels like a well-worn classic. Like the 1998 version, the 1961 film adaptation starring Hayley Mills was a tale told without cynicism, no concessions to an adult audience, and almost entirely without boys.

Much as Back to the Future is celebrated as a nostalgic cult classic, The Parent Trap can now be seen as evocative of a pre-adolescent era. As 15 year-old contributor Chana B wrote at Teenink: “When I think of The Parent Trap, I just feel very, very lucky for being among those privileged enough to grow up with this movie and to really experience the joys of childhood.”

Film critic Anders Furze credits The Parent Trap with helping him realise his sexuality. “As a young gay boy in a country Australian town, The Parent Trap helped me realise that if I wasn’t gay, then I was at least different. At the age of eight I longed to be a fusion of both Lindsay Lohans: to have the hip pop culture smarts of Hallie and blend them with Annie’s mannered sophistication. Revisiting it I was struck by how much it offers a gay audience: Elaine Hendricks’ gloriously camp performance as “Ice Queen” Meredith aside, when Annie nervously reveals that she isn’t Hallie, Chessy’s emotional, sympathetic response is the stuff every queer kid’s coming out fantasy is made of.”

Hailee (Lindsay Lohan) hatches a plan. DISNEY PICTURES
On its release the film received middling reviews from mainstream film publications, and unanimously glowing reviews from Christian film reviewers, thrilled to find a product of Hollywood that espoused traditional family values.

“These Christians…you know…” producer Charles Shyer sighs in exasperation. “You can’t control it. You get these accolades from Christian and religious groups and you go ‘OK, great, but that’s not what we were going for. We were going for a movie that made you laugh, made you cry and made you feel good.’”

Moralising reviewers overlook the fact that Richardson’s character built her successful business as a single mother, excelling in a way that would have been impossible were she married and raising children in California. She is a capable, instantly likeable woman who adores her daughter and the only man she needs in her life is a butler. “Mom is so cool!” Annie whispers to Hallie on one of their secret transatlantic phone calls. “Dad is the greatest!” she replies.

The Parent Trap still excels because it foregrounds the girls, gives them agency, brains, ingenuity, a sense of humour and one of the strongest motivators known to filmmakers: the reuniting of family. Quaid and Richardson were given the unenviable task of being instantly lovable without any chances to establish their characters beyond their relationship to their daughters, and later, to each other.
“With Natasha and Dennis and Lindsay and Simon [Kunz] and Lisa Ann Walter, those people were so fantastic, it really, really worked,” Shyer sighs. Man that was a good shoot. The chemistry was just wonderful. There was no tension at all. Natasha came after us for that role, she really wanted it. It was such a shame what happened with her,” he says of her fatal skiing accident in 2009. “She was such a wonderful, lovely woman.”

“I was very lucky,” says Kunz. “Lucky to be part of a film that gets watched again and again and becomes a favourite, and to have a few little moments that make people go ‘oh that! I remember that!’ It’s quite touching.”

The Handshake

The Parent Trap Handshake DISNEY PICTURES
Quotes and memes from The Parent Trap are not of the Tina Fey-‘stop trying to make fetch happen’-zinger variety. They’re conversational and can only be learned through repeat viewings.
If any moment from The Parent Trap has left its mark in popular culture, it’s the distinctive handshake Lohan’s character Annie shares with her butler, Martin.

“The handshake is a big deal isn’t it?” says Shyer with a warm laugh. “It was in the script — we were all involved in writing it, but Simon [Kunz] and Lindsay worked it out on the set. They really hit it off those two, they made it their own. It was a really good idea.”

“In the interview [for The Parent Trap’s DVD extras] I made up some old rubbish,” laughs Kunz, “but I can remember exactly. Lindsay was in town to do the London sequences and we were in the house where Lindsay and her family were staying. We did it in one afternoon. Nancy and Charles would say ‘OK, we love this move, but can we have some of that in it’. It didn’t take as long as some people might think. It was a just a good bit of fun. Lindsay and I started laughing together and just mucking about really. There were certain elements of a handshake that people might recognise ­– maybe a little tricksy handshake — and then we just went a bit further with it and it got sillier and sillier.”

Should you need it broken down, several instructional videos exist, including the one above from the handshake’s ‘official choreographer’ Jeanefer Jean-Charles.

Meeting the Queen

L-R: Director Nancy Meyers, Lindsay Lohan and producer Charles Shyer shoot a deleted scene from The Parent Trap in which Hailee meets the Queen. DISNEY PICTURES
A scene from the film in which Hailee is driven through London to the strains of The La’s Britpop classic There She Goes was meant to conclude with her accidentally meeting the Queen, but an even more royal fate befell The Parent Trap. The film was selected for a Royal Variety Screening, an annual event in which British royalty attend a specially-selected film and money is raised for charity. Shyer cites it as a highlight of his career.

“We were given a complete drill about what you can and can’t do. Don’t speak to her unless she speaks to you, don’t touch her, call her M’am all these things,” he laughs. “We sat right behind her during the screening, the Queen and the Prince [Phillip] and she had these little white gloves on. She’d clap and go ‘haugh haugh haugh’ during the screening it was a little bit like an out of body experience you know — ‘What am I doing here?’ Hayley Mills came too, and her father the brilliant actor John Mills [Great Expectations]. It was really special. Once in a lifetime.”

“The protocol when you do these screenings is that the people directly involved in making the film stand in the front line and their spouses stand behind them,” says Simon Kunz of his experience. “And Meg Ryan had come over, because she was with Dennis [Quaid] at the time. I’m sure she thought she was going to say hello to the Queen, and poor woman, she was stood behind Dennis in the lineup and I was next to him and the whole time I was imagining that Meg Ryan was standing there thinking “My God, I came all the way here for this!”