Friday, December 26, 2008

Duffy, Lead Foot, Speeding, Losing Your License, In Bruges and New York

This week's meandering meditation on the mysterious musings of Michael Duffy, esteemed columnist for The Sydney Morning Herald, comes from New York City, the greatest city in the world, and so it will be short and sweet.

Between reading and parsing the Duffster, and getting out and about in the town (in the same way as a symphony orchestra is a band) is an easy choice. And in America it's all about choice, to the point where if you removed that one word from the language, the economy would dive from its current recession into a depression that would make the thirties feel like a tea party (and worse, all would be grey colored socialism).

But already one favorite has become clear. On the way over, the ineptly and inaptly named flight entertainment centre provided only one movie worth watching, Martin McDonagh's In Bruges, and we followed that up by going off Broadway to the Atlantic to catch The Cripple of Inishmaan

While it lacks the sheer intensity and black comic violence of The Lieutenant of Inishmore, the cripple's story is very slickly directed, nicely acted, and is a brooding evocation of the inferiority complex of the Irish (Ireland mustn't be that bad if the sharks like to come visit), the attractions of madness (whether talking to stones or staring at cows), the yearning for a relationship (the cripple has a letch for the feisty village good time girl), and the ambivalent desire to leave town to make it big if only so you can come back home to celebrate your bigness - the cripple tries to get a gig on Robert Flarherty's Man of Aran when Hollywood comes calling on the star struck town. Lurking behind it all is a tortured fear of the inevitability of death, barely leavened by the verbal comedy. David Pearse is given plenty of fun as the town gossip, but the rest of the cast are a match for him.

It's a good production, and because of a deal between American and Irish Equity allowing six Irish actors to star in the show in the States - something that Australian Equity has neither the wit nor the intelligence to allow on a regular basis - it remains remarkably true to its Irish origins. 

Seeing it reminded me of just why I gave up on Australian theatre, with, for example, the Sydney Theatre Company now in the hands of the talentless Andrew Upton and his squeeze Cate Blanchett, who brings star power and very little else to the operation. But then  Brian Rosen spent five years running down the Australian feature film game via the Film Finance Corporation and nobody seemed to mind much or notice, so roll on Martin McDonagh and the Irish. In Bruges is a show I'll see again on a sensibly sized screen, and his plays will surely be worth a read in lieu of being able to see them in the antipodes.

Oops, beginning to sound very Duffy about the state of the arts in Australia, so what is the venerable Duffser on about this week ... perhaps a chance to think about the glory of Shakespeare this holiday season, perhaps an exploration of some deep philosophical issue raised by Kant, perhaps a study of Beethoven's Ninth and why it exhibits an almost divine capacity to exhalt people during the stress of a Boxing Day shopping spree. So much anticipation, so much excitement, like an eight year old opening a present beneath the pine- smelling, sap-exuding tang of a dying Christmas Tree.

Sadly, it's actually a long and tedious tale about how the Duffster got busted for speeding four times over three years and lost his licence for three months - except if he elects to be of good behaviour for a year, he can keep his license on a double down principle, which is to say six months loss of license if he gets busted again.

The Duffster immediately elevates this personal issue into one of great national import - the notion that there is such a thing as safe speeding, the way other people go on speeding and never seem to get caught but create a danger for the newly slowed down Duffster, the burden of the double demerit scheme, the injustice, the inhumanity of it all. He even dresses it up with a final appeal for professional drivers - won't someone think of the workers and their livelihoods.

Well, truth to tell, the Duffster is clearly a leadfoot and loves to speed. No harm in that. Like any thinking Sydneysider, I speed wherever possible. But I know speeding is dangerous, it increases the likelihood of an accident of some kind, and I temper my speeding by knowing that the bastards are always out there, waiting to nail you. So you drive knowing the speed limits, the permanent cameras, the likely placements for radar traps on main roads, and you discover the joys of rat running to avoid the law. It's the Sydney way.

And that's about all you can say about it. The Duffster got caught, and that's the way of it, but isn't it funny how when those of a non-left persuasion get caught infringing on the law, suddenly it's the law's fault, and not theirs. Like a recovering alcoholic, the Duffster should just swear off the drink, or at least acknowledge that he's addicted to leadfoot behaviour. 

Clearly he didn't grow up in the country but here's a tip - next time he goes out to Kellyville, take the back roads and speed with a watchful eye. And if you fight the law and the law wins, take it like a man. Don't use your column to whinge and mope and moan. 

And that's all the time I can spare for the Duffster. It's off to MOMA and The Magic Flute, via the subway, which is one of the great forms of travel in a major city, up there with catching a train in Tokyo, where the Japanese also understand the benefit of mass transit by way of fixed rail. Wouldn't it be sweet if the Duffster copped a double suspension and had to spend all his time on public transport in Sydney for six months. Suddenly I think he'd discover a new issue, one dear to the heart of anyone who takes issue with the way Labor has led the state into the wilderness in the past six months. The infrastructure, especially transport, is fucked in Sydney, and no one seems capable of fixing it.

Meantime, for the odd person who drops into these pages, happy holidays - now just where did this American meme come from? Of course it's said as part of the war on christmas and a way to avoid offending people of Jewish or Islamic or secular faith. But it really means happy holy days, so any decent secularist finds it mighty odd and strange. But then America itself is mighty peculiar, an endless source of fascination. As the new Rome, it's insular and xenophobic, but in New York (the real America by the way, not Wasilla, by weight of numbers and sheer presence and fiscal muscle) it's abundantly cosmopolitan, even if in the holiday season that's mainly achieved by shipping in gigaloads of Europeans while the locals skedaddle.

As for the Duffster, it's a sad set of scores this week:

For speeding and getting caught: 0
For whingeing about speeding and getting caught: 0
For seeking to elevate a personal and deeply human tragedy into a matter of universal social principle: 0
For thinking that speeding is safe and other car-driven follies: 0
For not writing a column about the harmless effect of marijuana when used for medical purposes, and the unfair cruelty of unjust drug laws which punish minor and sensible use of drugs with disproportionate jail time: 0
For freely admitting he's a leadfoot but isn't a competent one: 2
For not admitting he needs the advice of a rice boy as to how to evade the cops and speed with pleasure and impunity: 0

Golly, for a moment there, I was thinking it was a total bust for the Duffster, but there you go, honesty is always the best policy. But this totally feeble effort by the Duffster leads me to think that the Duffy files needs to move beyond the Duffster, out into the wider world of columnist loons, in search of entertainment and insight. Getting a few speeding tickets is about as dull a read as you can muster, especially when New York calls. Happy holidays, and remember that speeding is good, drug taking in moderation is sensible, and no one ever got hurt getting totally pissed and driving. Just like speeding, it's the Australian way. Well maybe you should just get pissed and sleep it off. Have fun now, take care, and come on back real soon.

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