Station to Station: film review

499903062_640I spontaneously went Train Mad* on the weekend (god it’s so tempting to say loco) and it all started with seeing Station to Station at Sydney Film Festival.

It’s totally amazing. I don’t want to talk it up too much but it’s The Best Film I’ve Ever Seen. Okay it’s not, but it’s still very, very good and an incredibly different film experience. If you want to take a trip without jumping on a train or dropping acid, this is the crazy journey movie for you.

In a nutshell, Station to Station is part of a public art project – 62 1-minute films of a 24-day rail journey across America, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and 10 ‘happenings’ that took place along the way. It’s the brainchild of Californian artist Doug Aitken and involves a host of artists and musicians, all of whom rode the train at some point and contributed creatively to the project in one way or another.

The train I rode home on later that night. It was okay I guess, but could’ve done with a recording studio and some swivel chairs.

Giorgio Moroder. Giorgio Moroder’s 1970s moustache. Beck, Cat Power, Patti Smith, Ed Ruscha, Thurston Moore and Greg the train driver who loves his job all make appearances. There’s a mesmerising whipcracker leading a posse through a train station, Victor and his growling dog sitting in the Mojave Desert, talking about old times when the railway first arrived, the beautiful music of Black Monks of Mississippi, and much more.

Essentially the movie’s about what it means to be a creative person in the 21st century, and ways of expressing ourselves. It touches on inspiration, creative processes, artistic philosophies, technology, and how to create a fricking awesome disco yurt. It’s not really about how the project came about, how much of it was planned and how much actually just “happened” – for that, you can go watch this insightful interview with Doug Aitken, charmingly hepped up on caffeine.

Was it annoying watching 1-minute instalments over an hour-ish? No, there was way too much visual and aural stimulation to captivate you. It was break-neck paced and sped you along on the ride. But yes, I did want to know more about each film and seek out further information about it, and sure, it did take a little while to adjust to the style of the film. It had a certain rhythm. Some people found it soothing, like the woman next to me who nodded off a number of times. Meanwhile I sat there wide-eyed, trying to absorb as much as possible like a bug-eyed, radar-dish-eared sponge . . . person.

Okay so it’s a tiny bit of a sausagefest and it’d be nice to hear more female perspectives, plus it could do with more sweet marching bands. And okay, I found out later it’s *cough sponsored by Levi’s cough*, which made me start to feel a little uneasy, especially when I read some bad press surrounding this fact and one of the happenings. But I’m just going to glossss right over that with a flip ‘hey, someone’s gotta pay for it’ and cling to the sheer delight of the actual film-watching experience.

I loved the heck out of it and wanted to watch it ten more times and then do a whole lot of research on everyone and everything in it, especially where I can find a custom-made ‘light sculpture’ train, decked out in pretty lights, that can map the landscape it travels on with lasers!

If you’re a musician, artist, writer, filmmaker, any type of creator, or you love smoke, installations, landscapes, movement, lights, songs or, dammit, you just love trains – if you’re an alive person, watch this movie. Four and a half stars from me.

This review was largely tapped out at Town Hall train station and on the Inner West line, Sydney.

*Train-themed things I did after watching this film:

I rode this 1890s loco on the weekend. It was cool fun once I got away from the coal dust - could never have been a steam punk.
I rode this 1890s loco on the weekend. It was cool fun once I got away from the coal dust – could never have been a steam punk.
  • listened to train music (‘Carriages’ by Tiny Ruins, ‘Train Song’ by Feist and Ben Gibbard, ‘Train Song’ by Vashti Bunyan)
  • read train poetry (‘Travelling’ by Ania Walwicz)
  • rode a steam train to western Sydney and back
  • researched the Ghan and Indian Pacific trips up-down/across Australia.

Melbourne International Comedy Festival: Some funny shows I saw

Last week I was down south of the border in Old Melbourne Town and saw a whole bunch of great, mostly ‘alternative’ (whatever that means) shows at Melbourne International Comedy Festival. A number of them are still performing down there as I type, or are soon to be seen at Sydney Comedy Festival (the one nobody seems to know about), late April/early May. So Melburnians and Sydneysiders, get your arses out of your home theatres, or wherever your arses are, and check out some live shows why not.

Alasdair Tremblay-Birchall and his Amazing Disappearing Enthusiasm (Can–Aus)

Alasdair Tremblay-Birchall’s stomach can be turned into a bum at any time.

Alasdair Tremblay-Birchall’s amiable, understated demeanour and vaguely James Spader voice will lure you in and amuse you with his collection of random stories. The show centres around the idea that he hates feeling awful and the ways in which he seeks to avoid this. Navigating lady parts, unique methods of dealing with loud flatmates and working out that his gut can actually be moulded into a bum are some of the highly entertaining avenues that he explores to achieve his goal. 

Eric Hutton: Eat My Talk! (Aus)

Eric Hutton – one of the shiniest cybermen in the Australian alternative comedy scene.

‘Eric Hutton has long been considered one of the shiniest cybermen in the Australian alternative comedy scene’ says Eric’s blurb, getting my award for best line in the MICF program. Unfortunately, Melbourne seemed largely oblivious to this on the night we went to see him, with the small audience being made up of other comedians and friends. He therefore performed a hilarious sort of deconstructed anti-show, giving amusing insights into his jokes/stories, sharing background anecdotes and regaling us with tales of various audience responses to his material. The highlights were the bits in character, especially the climactic dramatisation when Eric Hutton, President of the World, tries to take on ISIS with his bare hands – a crazy-hilarious scene that stayed with me throughout the festival. Amazing stuff.

Discover Ben Target (UK)

ben target
Discover Ben Target and it will change your life. (Not guaranteed.)

If you’re the kind of person who hates audience interaction at comedy shows, this might not be for you. However, I am exactly that kind of person and I loved this. We walked into the room . . . except we couldn’t – there was a toilet-paper web across the aisle. We were told by the sound guy not to break anything and had to clamber through it Entrapment-style to our seats. Which were jammed so closely together that we had to separate out the rows before we could even sit down. Then Ben Target rode in on his bicycle in his dishevelled cream suit and used an unnecessary stepladder to climb the one step to the stage. The show unravelled beautifully from there into a well-orchestrated, prop-heavy, awkwardness-inducing, nightmarish team-building exercise. It was one of the best comedy shows I’ve ever experienced.

Mark Watson: Flaws (UK)

mark watson
Mark Watson manages to mine his inner demons and find laughs.

Last time I saw Mark Watson was what seems a looong time ago, in good ol’ 2008, at Hifi Festival Bar where he hosted a 24-hour stand-up show. One of the best things about him is his manic ability to make you feel like you’ve seen three shows for the price of one – he manages to cram several sentences (and jokes) into the space that people normally reserve for one. It was great to see him again, although there was a different vibe this time – it was clear he’d been through the wringer in the past year or so. Part of his undoing came at the premiere of the Thomas the Tank Engine movie, and with assistance from audience members he recreated this hideous experience for our entertainment. The usually very upbeat, rapid-firing Brit has ably transformed some of his darkest moments into sometimes poignant, mostly laugh-out-loud anecdotes – no mean feat.