Dirt Music, Bennelong, noir Bohemian Rhapsody, Neil Finn

What We’re Reading

I was intrigued to hear recently that Tim Winton’s Dirt Music was again being adapted for the big screen. This has to be the second or possibly third attempt to wrangle a screenplay from this book. The last I heard, Phillip Noyce had given up, saying ‘I could never get a script that I thought captured the poetry of the novel, and there’s the problem. A poetic novel is just too difficult to translate into a movie.’ However, the combined talents of producers Finola Dwyer (Brooklyn) and Angie Fielder (Lion) with scriptwriter Jack Thorne and director Gregor Jordan may well mean it actually happens this time.

Dirt Music was published in 2001. It cemented Tim Winton’s place as one of Australia’s great literary figures and won both the 2002 Man Booker Prize and the Miles Franklin Award. It’s a sprawling read, not unlike its setting — the harsh  yet beautiful West Australian coastal and interior landscapes. The narrative comprises an unsettling love story with tragic loss, dysfunctional relationships and gnawing loneliness wrapped-up in a unique vernacular. What I love most is how Winton uses music as a thematic thread throughout: ‘Anything you could play on a verandah. You know. Without electricity. Dirt Music’.

Well worth a re-read. Bring on the film.

What we’re viewing

Bangarra Dance Theatre has been on tour recently with their latest production, Bennelong. It relates the fractured life of Bennelong in a series compressed and confronting dance vignettes set to music by Steven Francis. It is visually arresting throughout. The ending in particular when dancers methodically, panel by panel, entrap Bangarra in a shiny box until he is completely entombed creates a heart-wrenching image on which to close. The score features snatches of the cultures that are entwined in the story: old sea-shanties, a concerto by Hayden, ‘Rule Britannia’ and native languages. Artistic director and choreographer Stephen Page was assisted by the dramaturg Alana Valentine and while the work was in development she would send him poems that captured her impressions. Some of these words also make their way into the score. And needless to say, the dancing is superb.

Bangarra Dance Theatre represents the high water mark of Australian artistic vibrancy and originality.  You don’t have to be a dance lover to be hooked in.

The lyrics of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ sound meaningful but they’re totally bonkers. Somehow though they have wormed their way into the collective earhole. One of my favourite BR moments is Graham Norton as Father Noel Furlong singing his way unaccompanied through the whole thing trapped in a cave in an episode of Father Ted. This is my other: ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ enacted as noir detective fiction.

What We’re Listening To

Neil Finn is one of our greatest living songwriters and his new album Out of Silence could well be his magnum opus. He rehearsed and recorded it over 4 Friday nights in August 2017 and live-streamed it to his Facebook page. It’s a thoughtful, elegant and mature collection of songs. Musically it’s piano-based orchestral pop, augmented by sparse drums and percussion; Nick Seymour’s unmistakable fluid bass lines; beautiful string arrangements courtesy of Victoria Kelly; and a choir comprised of friends and family. Beneath all that, the existential melancholy of the writing — ‘freaking out with the knowledge that everyone dies’ —  tears your heart out.

Listen and listen again and again. Hands down, my album of the year, if not the decade.

Finally, with spring in the air check out our new Strange Loops mixtape. It’s as eclectic as ever, featuring new dance cuts from LDRU, Duke Dumont and Odesza; alt-rock from elder statesmen the National, Arcade Fire and the War on Drugs; a charming re-imagining of Foster the People’s Pumped Up Kicks by Klingande and many, many more. Enjoy!

Strange Loops is a blog that celebrates the mysterious power of words, music, dance and the moving image. Each month or so we present a roundup of the best of what we're reading, what we're viewing and what we're listening to right now.