Naked and spectacular
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Quinoa Blessed
2017

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2018-11-22

Death in Venice [1971] by Luchino Visconti


Death in Venice is a sumptuously beautiful Technicolor immersion into pesilential Venice. Dirk Bogarde gives a lot in his performance as the isolated composer Gustav von Aschenbach.  He is holidaying alone in Venice to recover from the overwhelming stresses of his life, particularly of being massively uptight and self-denying, while simultaneously giving of himself through the committed and considered perfection of his music. 

Flashbacks of passionate conversations with a friend spell out explicitly how we are to interpret the present scenes in Venice. There is no separation between the man and his music; he expects perfection of himself, moral purity, and no corruption through a mere pleasure of the senses. He dreams of a spiritual beauty that is pure and perfect. And he discovers this in the beautiful form of a teenage boy he sees in his Venice hotel, holidaying with his family, the magnificently beautiful Björn Andérsen. He observes this boy from afar but does not dare to approach him. Tadzio notices his attention and is as captivated by his gaze as Gustav is captivated to gaze upon him. But, as we are so clearly told in the flashback philosophical conversations, his engagement with life is as a detached observer.

Bogarde's performance is excruciating in its precision and commitment to communicating, through almost no dialogue and often merely sitting alone, the painful self-loathing expressed as pomposity and cowardice. Gustav is horrified in the beginning to encounter a painted and flamboyant queen who addresses him on equal terms, as if to a fellow queen. He does not want to humiliate himself with such shameless abandon.

Tadzio plays with his attention and the power it gives him, but Gustav cannot act, cannot place himself on the line, cannot risk to feel so much, cannot allow himself the potential pleasure promised by engagement with this beautiful young man fluttering about in front of him like a butterfly. I suppose this self-loathing and self-denial speaks to a very specific queer experience that would have been all too common at the time, and only somewhat less so today. The expression of queer desire and admiration of beauty is more permissible in Western societies today, but the admiration of the beauty of adolescent boys, is less permissible perhaps.

Gustav's struggle is as much present in the languorous gaze of the camera, its subtle movements and carefully editing, as it is in Bogarde's performance.

While I find it unpleasant to identify with Bogarde's character in very personal and humiliating ways the film remains a work of beauty and sympathy, with the squalid and dangerous beauty of Venice and the as-yet-uncorrupted beauty of Tadzio, perhaps equally dangerous.

2018-11-14

Never Say Die [1988] by Geoff Murphy

Flashbacks with Geoff Murphy - A Retrospective Trip

The Geoff Murphy retrospective at Ngā Taonga Sight & Vision (the film archive) in Wellington has begun and runs until 30 November.

It begins with Never Say Die (1988). A young couple are mysteriously pursued by people with increasingly elaborate attempts to kill them; they narrowly escape death repeatedly. A sexy, fun and totally incoherent thriller full of car chases and shoot-outs; with a plot that barely manages to justify the set pieces and certainly doesn't do anything else. A Lethal Weapon-style '80s Hitchcock leaning precariously towards a Buster Keaton routine. Ultimately trash, but light and effortless, with sexy and engaging star performances from Temuera Morrison and Lisa Eilbacher. If the film has any meaning perhaps it can be contained in the opening narration in which Tem's character complains about the narrow-minded Kiwi mentality, as long as you know that this film, so obviously a plea for attention from Hollywood, was Murphy's last film in New Zealand before his long journey in America as a director for hire.


2018-10-27

Uneasy Dream and Other Things by Lori Leigh

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What a joy when Wellington theatre can make me feel like I'm in Melbourne, a sexy vibrant city of novelty and risk; young people who are smart and funny and have something to say.  I have no time or patience anymore for tradition, formality or familiarity.  I want to be surprised, delighted and truly moved, as the perverse, irrational and ridiculous human being that I am; and not just in my head, but in my body and in my soul.  I want to laugh without feeling condescended.  I want to think without having to bend myself around lifeless abstractions.  I want characters who are flesh creatures in front of me, obscene, beautiful, tender, angry, outrageous, loose, intelligent and sexy.  I want fantasy that deepens my reality.  I want to see something that could never happen, and I want that to bring me more fully into the reality of my life.  I want to leave the theatre burning with life, wanting to dance on the street, to dive off the wharf, wanting to fuck a stranger, to fall in love, wanting to live more fully, to perform myself, wanting to realise myself as I've always wanted to realise myself.

And this is the second time this has happened after seeing a play in Circa's smaller, more adventurous, performance space as part of the Women's Theatre Festival.  This time it was Uneasy Dreams and Other Things by Lori Leigh, a play about a woman who wakes up one day with a penis.  Does that make her a man?  Does that make her husband gay?  Will people accept her as she is?

We meet four characters with frailties and arrogances and needs and desires and shames and confusions and senses of humour.  Sam (Lydia Peckham) is a woman who struggles at work, with all the fake macho bullshit of working for a marketing company.  Her boss tells her to "grow a pair", if she hardens up she'll do better.  Her husband, Greg (Matthew Staijen-Leach) doesn't enjoy work either, but he does it cos he wants them to get their mortgage and have their family.  Greg's brother Fran (Arlo Gibson) is living with them too, but he doesn't work.  He's in a cover band and prefers to get up at 15.00.  Sam's best friend Reta (Johanna Cosgrove) spends more time at her house when Sam stops going to work.  She needs her friend.  Work's shit without her friend around to make it tolerable.

All these people need each other, something beautiful about this play.  I want to watch characters who need each other.  I need people too, what could be more human?  They may not even know what they need from each other.  Or maybe they know perfectly well.  Maybe this leads to disappointment.  Or maybe they're just too scared to tell us what they want.  But a good playwright draws us gently and tenderly into that space in a character and I was very happy to see it on stage this evening.

2018-09-29

The Departed [2006] by Martin Scorsese


I don't understand how there can be near-unanimous acclaim for this film. Is it because Martin Scorsese and his renowned cast can do no wrong? Who can question the work of three-time Academy Award winning actor and legend Jack Nicholson? He is one of the best actors of his generation and of course when his fellow actors were promoting the film they all spoken about how much of a privilege it was to work with him. Is it difficult to notice that he can't actually act anymore; that he merely caricatures himself? Maybe he destroyed himself with playing The Joker in Batman (1989) for which he was given a percentage of the profits and made about $60 million dollars for one of the worst performances from a great actor in the history of cinema. His performance in The Departed was barely more restrained than The Joker. His performance is like a cartoon and utterly unconvincing as a real human being, despite being surrounded by grounded, effective performances. This makes sense discovering that he was given free-reign on set to improvise and ham it up, his director trusting that he is still a great artist, or simply too afraid to question him. Despite Scorsese's definite competence, Nicholson is unrestrained and detrimental.

The rest of the cast do an impressive job of being tough guys and talking dirty and were clearly working hard and taking the film seriously. It cannot have been easy to get into the minds of such cardboard charaters.

In some ways this film is classic Scorsese, portraying the intricate dealings of American organised crime. He seems to have moved on to Irish crime syndicates, perhaps responding to criticism that he was reinforcing stereotypes about Italian-Americans being criminals. In some ways it is a hollow simulacrum of his greatest films. The film is competently directed. Apart from the stain of Jack Nicholson, its surface is immaculate. But this is a film with no soul. It is utterly lifeless, devoid of heart, or spirituality, of morality or any thematic resonance that speaks to the experience of being human. To me, this soullessness is fundamental.

Is this supposed to be pure entertainment, with no artistic intentions? I do not find it entertaining to watch hollow violent vulgar men destroy each other and themselves within the context of a convoluted and banal narrative with zero character development. For this film to be entertaining it would require emotional engagement with the characters and tension and suspense in the narrative. But the only character who I could even begin to engage with was Leonardo DiCaprio's character, who did display an emotionally complex response to the disgusting violence and deceit occurring around him, but even within the 2.5 hour duration his character did not have time to develop or find any resolution. There was not even a palpable sense of injustice in the film about how his character was being exploited by both the mob and the cops, only incident and plot convolutions. 

Despite Matt Damon's balanced efforts his character does not manage to be anything other than a monster. The only female character in the film, played by Vera Farmiga, is anything but a woman. She seems to have a heart, though zero intelligence, despite being a doctor of psychology, and there is no reason why she could be attracted to Matt Damon's character except that she loves fucking, which would be interesting, but is of course undeveloped. Otherwise it is inconceivable that she is not aware that he is a psychopath with no redeeming qualities or human emotion. The only explanation is that she is not a woman at all, but a man's idea of a woman, less even than Nicholson's cartoon character, she is a cardboard cut-out, in the film only to add another needless convolution to the plot.

Of course it is possible that I am not the target audience for the film. I like well-made, serious, intense and involving dramas, but I am not a heterosexual male. This film is overflowing with machismo to the extent that I can't imagine it appealing to anyone who is not a heterosexual male also full of machismo. The whole cast is male and super-straight, even the one female character is basically a man, in that she is the creation of men who know nothing of women. The characters are all extremely vulgar and violent and act as if they have no feelings. The film is actually appallingly badly written. That this film won an Academy Award for Best Screenplay is only evidence of how far removed from reality certain people are. Even Scorsese doesn't seem aware that he's working with a screenplay that is hollow, crude and juvenile. The characters speak to each other like insecure teenage boys, though the film offers no perspective or insight into their damaged masculinity. There is no depth, no substance, no thematic interest, no narrative shape or character development. It is simply a convoluted plot with all the characters trying to figure out what is going on before everyone else figures it out. However, the audience already knows everything, so there is nothing to learn, so there is no suspense or tension, and therefore no interest or excitement, and therefore no entertainment, and therefore no reason for the film to exist.

Surely Scorsese and his heroic cast could have found a better screenplay to put all that energy into. Scorsese has been directing films for a long time now, and it is evident in this film that he is strong, confident and fluent in the process of filmmaking. But it seems his heart is not in it. Lawrence Toppman in the Charlotte Observer suggested that “this picture feels like an exercise by a Scorsese clone”. It is the best film anyone could have made of this screenplay without awakening their creativity, their imagination or their humanity. 

It is devoid of meaning and morality. And if I am wrong and there is morality intended in the ending, it is even more unforgivable. There is no redemption after the violence. The violence is redemption. And that is a repugnant conclusion, and it is irresponsible and unforgivable in an impactful Hollywood product such as this.

Finally, the last shot of the film offers a visual flourish so lame it contextualises the film perfectly.

2018-09-20

Medusa - theatre review

MEDUSA
Circa Theatre, Wellington
21 September - 6 October 2018


How to commend an exciting and stimulating piece of theatre without giving away its secrets?  Yes, there are myriad secrets lurking in the room behind the curtain at the Circa Theatre on Wellington's waterfront.  A box of snakes will be opened in front of you and you will marvel at how realistic those snakes are and how much effort must have gone into making them.  You will see three women with their snakes out.  They will confront you, look at you, stare at you, present in their eyes, present in their flesh.

This is a surprising and delightful work of performance art /slash/ sonic expression /slash/ anti-theatre.  It is devised and performed by three artists with intelligence, integrity, humour, technology and genuine solid earth-flesh.  It is a fuck you to Freud, Joseph Campbell and persistent Greco-Roman patriarchal cultural forms.  It is a fuck yes to the audience and our diverse perspectives.  It is a feminine perspective, a decolonisation of structure and meaning.  It may not make sense, but it was certainly reverberating in my body as I wandered out into the night.

It was a privilege to be sitting in the centre of the front row at the preview performance, knowing that the opening night is already sold out.  I got it raw and real and right in front of me and I had the majestic monsters' eyes locked right into mine.  I felt locked into my seat, though we were twice invited to leave.

I encourage you to attend this show if you want to see some edgy, marginal, calmly shocking, smart and funny theatre-ish performance art that is full-power and exemplifies Women's Theatre Festival's acronym: WTF!

Created by Nisha Madhan, Julia Croft and Virginia Frankovich.

BOOK TICKETS

2018-08-10

Climax [2018] by Gaspar Noé

CLIMAX is a dance horror film about people destroying themselves that literally turns upside down. 

I'm not sure Climax is supposed to be entertainment, nor am I sure it's supposed to be art, which makes me wonder what it is. I guess it's for people who feel like they've seen it all and want something more, bigger, weirder, more perverse, more extreme, more original and at the same time confronting nothing that is uncomfortable, except our ability to absorb violence, distress, hysteria and self-harm.

It will certainly provoke debate, I suppose, like his films usually do, but whether that will be a valuable debate is doubtful, especially when there are much more significant, sophisticated, subtle and sensitive films that are not sensationalist but that are nonetheless confronting controversial themes, rooted in deep human feeling and integrity. This film seems embodied, with all that dance, sex and flesh, but really it is disembodied, disengaging, it pushes you away with its fear and repugnance of flesh, of intimate interactions. The bodies merely damage themselves and each other. 

However, the dance number at the beginning of the film is spectacular and full-on, a much more artful and involving demonstration of intensity and self-destruction than the ludicrous, literal and repugnant rest of the film.

Cold Water [1994] by Olivier Assayas

Cold Water is a film made as part of the French series Tous les garçons et les filles de leur âge, which required filmmakers to set their film in the year they turned 18 and to include a sequence of teens partying to the music of the day.

Olivier Assayas's is an evocative look back at being a teen in 1972 France, albeit from the perspective of a very peculiar and anti-social pair. She is in-and-out of psych wards and he is a potential terrorist. Their absolute disgust with the adults and the institutions they find themselves beneath is passionately performed, though somewhat out of touch with reality, as we can see their life skills and emotional maturity are severely lacking. 

But the film certainly captures that disgust, determination to individuate at all costs and isolation of being a 16-year-old in a world that has no place for them: certainly no child and not yet an adult.  An awkward period for anyone, here captured with passion and sympathy, awkwardness and aggression.

Peppered with the works of Allen Ginsberg, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin.

Capharnaüm [2018] by Nadine Labaki

Capharnaüm is a rich and moving immersion into the world of kids on the streets of Beirut, Lebanon.  It is also expert filmmaking and even those who are offended by its existence admit these are some of the best performances by young children in the history of cinema.  It is a miserable existence, but told without brutality or pathos.

Having become somewhat jaded by seeing 50 films in the preceding fortnight with the unmissable New Zealand International Film Festival, I was shocked into the silence by the immediacy and deep, intimate empathetic immersion into the life of Zain, a boy of about 12, whose parents have too many children without the resources, energy or enthusiasm to take care of them.  Zain is bitter and caustic in his speech and his eyes are weary and cynical, but he retains a love for his siblings, and when his parents invoke in him a particular unbearable disgust, he runs away to make his own life.  We follow him through the minutiae of his experience with total engagement and compassion, and Zain shows the same compassion himself, despite his precocious world-weariness.

Where else can you expect such intimate and empathetic access to such a world?


2018-08-02

First Reformed [2017] by Paul Schrader

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In 1976 Paul Schrader's script, made into the film Taxi Driver by Martin Scorsese, was released.  This was a powerful cinematic moment that reverberates into the present.  Last year, Lynne Ramsey's You Were Never Really Here covers similar ground; a broken isolated man uses extreme violence to liberate a child from sexual exploitation.  It was hailed by critics, particularly for Joaquin Phoenix's deserving performance, but for me it lacked truth.  It wanted to deal with the real stuff, the difficult stuff, like Taxi Driver had, or at least it wanted to give that impression.  It showed an unequivocal evil, child sex slavery, something that would justify the extreme violence perpetrated by the film's hero in the process of liberating a particular child.  But what was it really confronting?  The violence that perpetuates violence that justifies violence, a violent man damaged by violence who commits violence to stop violence.  Meanwhile, we the audience, who may not yet have been damaged by violence, are exposed to it.  To what end?  Is it artistically rooted, philosophically grounded, ethically justified?  Is this film really the modern installment of the true wake-up call that Taxi Driver delivered?  No, it is not.

In 2017, 40 years after Taxi Driver, Paul Schrader offers a film of equal weight, difficulty and integrity.  It may not have the same stylistic originality as Taxi Driver, but at its core it is the film's contemporary incarnation.  Ethan Hawke inhabits his character at least as fully as Robert De Niro did his.  He is Reverend Toller of First Reformed, 250 years old, a museum but not really any longer a church.  Abundant Life, with seating for 5000, is the local affiliated modern church, with a full congregation and corporate sponsorship.  Toller is asked by a woman to speak to her husband, an environmental activist overwhelmed with the destruction of the world and in despair at the prospects of the future, particularly about bringing a child into the world, as his wife is pregnant.  Toller finds the conversation very stimulating and in his own emptiness he takes on the man's vision, his disgust and his despair.

The delicate complexities of the situation are woven through the richly portrayed character of Reverend Toller, his internalisation of this despair and his response.  How does one choose to live in the world, engage with the world, having fully accepted that our culture is destroying the planet at a rapid rate.  Will God forgive us?  Or, more importantly, how do we choose to respond ourselves?  There is no prescription of course, there is no naive hope nor unrelenting despair offered, just the masterfully laid out texture of an intricate spread: what Toller sees, what he doesn't see, what is obvious, what is bewildering.  And how do we choose to respond?  With integrity?  What does that involve?  With denial?  What crutch will facilitate that?

In Taxi Driver we were presented with Travis Bickle's solution: kill all the people associated with this girl's sexual exploitation and take her out of the situation.  We saw this violence in graphic detail not to revel in it, not to be entertaining or give the film a gritty realism, but to see it for what it is.  If this is the solution, we need to look hard at it before we choose it.  You Were Never Really Here is an inferior film because it doesn't present the protagonist's response so dryly that we can see it for what it is, it presents it like a thriller, we are there with him, smashing skulls, saving the girl, being the hero, surprised by the plot twists along with him.  There is no philosophical complexity, no ethical integrity.  But in First Reformed we are presented with a situation - repugnant, complex, problematic - and although we have deep empathy for Toller and can relate to his anguish, we are not drawn into his psyche, we can see his strengths, we can see his faults.  We can see his thinking, we can see the solutions he has reached, we can map and trace his mistakes if we choose to.  We can contextualise his decisions.  And thus we have not an easy answer nor a nihilistic despair, but a complex tapestry, an invitation to engage, to think and feel, to make our own decisions; we have an extraordinary central performance and a masterful film.

2018-07-31

Orlando [1992] by Sally Potter

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ORLANDO is quite a spectacular romp through 400 years of English history with Tilda Swinton as our tour guide.  She plays Orlando, a soft-faced young man who the queen loves enough to give him an estate, on condition that he never grow old.  So he does not. 

The costumes and the settings are lavish and the clearest indication of what historical period we are in, because Orlando tends to go against the grain of each period, pursuing his interests with utter passion and determination until he is struck by failure and moves on. 

It is theatrical but also so cinematic, what other medium could facilitate such an extravagant and unlikely a concept?  But it is Tilda Swinton who holds it all together with her dignified performance, wearing the costumes and moving through the moods as if it's all normal, staring at us through the camera when it surprises even her/Orlando. 


I came out of this film uplifted with the clever and light-hearted delight of a long life, carrying around 400 years of baggage, and letting it all go to pursue a new life in a new time.  Our greatest power, after being able to experience life intensely, is to let it all go and move on, ever-changing, ever-evolving, ever-growing creatures that we are.  Funny, spectacular and utterly delightful.

The Seen and the Unseen [2017] by Kamila Andini

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In The Seen and the Unseen a boy takes an egg from the offerings to the gods and then falls mysteriously degeneratively sick.  His twin sister wants to keep playing with him while he lies unconscious in the hospital bed.  She processes her defiance, her hope, her realisation and her grief through dance, denying his sickness, defying his sickness, dreaming, channeling the spirits and the animals.  The two worlds, the seen and the unseen, are painfully close, but painfully incompatible.

This is a strange and beautiful world, and this film is worth seeing simply because it is very much from a cultural context not our own.  Don't expect a narrative or a lot of stimulation, but expect gentle and embodied expression from this amazing little girl, sometimes corralling her brother to join her; costume, movement and grief without despair, channeled beautifully through the body and imagination of a child in touch with her Balinese cultural heritage.

Border [2018] by Ali Abbasi

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An ugly woman working on border patrol has a strange talent for being able to smell fear and guilt on people, perfect for sniffing out who has too much duty-free alcohol.  But her talent, and her ugliness, is a mystery to her, until she meets someone who looks similar.  He likes roaming the forest and eating insects, and he has the clue to her peculiarity.

This film is fun, although it's not funny.  It is a genre film for people not dumb enough for most genre films.  Although it's dealing with trolls, mythical creatures of the European woods, there is something subversive about them roaming naked through the forest, encountering wildlife peacefully, eating insects, shrieking joyously in the river in the rain.  But the film always restrains itself, never reverting to sensationalism or sentimentality.  Always dry, always grounded and never giving in to the obvious pitfalls of genre convention.  Having said, this feels like it could be the start of a franchise, but let's hope not; let's hope that our myths are retold, as in this film, with integrity and feeling and not exploited to sell merchandise like the crap of the multiplex.

2018-07-30

Burning [2018] by Lee Chang-dong

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Burning is an extraordinarily involving and mysterious film.  It is difficult to critique a film that is more sophisticated than me.  I was masterfully drawn into a world I totally believed in, without irony, without sensation, the film remains totally grounded, even as the characters unravel.

Three characters whose lives become intertwined, almost by accident; Jongsu, a reserved young man, supposedly writing a book; Haemi, a passionate, unstable young woman who demands Jongsu's attention and then certainly maintains it; and Ben, a relaxed and self-assured rich man who becomes Haemi's companion, to Jongsu's consternation.

We can see the reverberation of Haruki Murakami's short story source material in the softness of the characters, the mysterious changes that life forces upon them.

2018-07-25

American Animals [2018] by Bart Layton

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American Animals is a film that will subvert your expectations.  It plays with reality and it plays with fiction.  It is a documentary and it is a drama, maybe even a thriller.  It is about an art heist, but one performed by teenagers, and based on a true story.  It is very clever and very entertaining.

Ten years ago a small group of American college students decided to steal millions of dollars of rare books from their school library.  They were bored and wanted something interesting to happen in their lives finally.  They wanted to take a risk.

In this film we get to enjoy the best of both worlds.  We get the ten-years-later reflections of the four guys involved, told through very charming and candid interviews, and we see their story dramatically and thrillingly come to life, moment by moment.  Strong characters, both real and performed, are very engaging, and the complexities of the situation spread out from the original seed of their idea as the story progresses.  They are not psychopaths, which would have helped.  They are clever, but are they well organised?

This is the dramatic debut from the filmmaker behind the outrageously entertaining and surprising documentary The Imposter [2012], about a French man who posed as the three-years-lost son of an American family.  Again, he has managed to tell a crime story of peculiar humanity and complexity in a highly cinematic, striking and involving way.  This film even has Udo Kier.

AMERICAN ANIMALS subverts expectations, subverts the thriller genre and questions the truth of its own story in a very engaging and entertaining way. This real-life teenage art heist docu-drama plays at in Fri 27 July with .

Transit [2018] by Christian Petzold

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TRANSIT is an involving drama, set during wartime but only concerned with a handful of characters. Like Casablanca, the characters are simply trying to obtain visas to get them out of occupied territory, and like Casablanca, it is full of love, passion, intrigue, big decisions and sudden unexpected shifts from the characters that make perfect sense as they reveal the undercurrents we didn't know were moving them. 

This film is not about the war, it is about relationships between people who just happen to encounter each other, who face the same predicament, and who choose whether or not to help, and whether or not to trust, each other.  It is convincingly performed, meticulously directed and a pleasure to experience. 

Ága [2018] by Milko Lazarov

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In ÁGA, the old woman has a dream that she's walking with a polar bear who becomes a young man who takes her home with him, into a deep hole where all of the stars have been taken down from the sky into that bright dazzling hole where she forgets everything, who she is, where she came from and all the world outside. 


The daily life of this old Yakut couple in North Eastern Siberia is carefully documented, travelling via dogsled, fishing, trapping, making medicine, maintaining their yurt, as the world changes around them, helicopters pass overhead, their children have moved to the city, and yet they persist with calm resolution. 

The frozen landscape is exquisitely photographed and the tiny but complete world of these characters is a privilege to be invited into.  They live in a harsh environment, but they live their lives with sensitivity and patience.  The delicacy with which they communicate, tell stories and dream of the past is very moving.

This film really is spectacularly composed, the landscapes huge and cold and unforgiving, and movingly written and performed for the warmth and depth of the human element.

2018-07-23

The Cleaners [2018] by Hans Block and Moritz Riesewieck

THE CLEANERS is a very serious documentary about a very complex and deeply problematic subject and it offers no solutions. What right do major social media sites have to censor our expressions? What responsibilities do they have when their sites are being used to promote violence?

The film merely lays out the dangerous parameters of the situation, the massive influence that Facebook, Twitter and Google have on the world and how we communicate, and suggests there is some responsibility there regarding how that technology is being utilised. It is critical of these companies using economically marginalised and untrained Filipinos to do their vast editorial work.

I left the film much more uncertain of my position on the subject than when I went in.

Leto [2018] by Kirill Serebrennikov

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LETO is about the surprising influence of UK and US punk and rock music on a scene of young Soviet musicians. Living under the oppressive watch of the USSR, but deeply passionate about the expressive possibilities of music, a group of charming young Russians, revolving around a rock music club that requires government appointed bureaucrats to approve all lyrics, manage to live the lives they want to live, slipping through the cracks and making great music; often in fantasy segments of defying authority that turn into musicals. The film goes down very easily, especially if you're into the music, but if only because of the pleasure of seeing lives lived well in difficult circumstances.

Strangely, the cinema was almost empty. Are there any fans out there of T-Rex, Lou Reed, David Bowie or Blondie? Or fans of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, another film about punk rock's influence beyond the iron curtain? Or fans of Once, that sweet fictional film about real musicians making music together? Or just good Russian cinema? (I'm in the latter boat.)

Plays again in Auckland Friday 27 July and Sunday 5 August and continues around the country.

2018-07-22

Maui's Hook [2018] by Paora Te Oti Takarangi Joseph

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Maui's Hook is neither a documentary nor a drama, though it has elements of both.  In essence it is a conversation, and its intention is to provoke further conversation.  Suicide is epidemic in Aotearoa and it can damage families by sending shock waves through everyone involved.  The film is clear that it does not have all the answers, but there is one thing it can do: break the silence.  People don't talk about suicide because of shame and anger, but, as this film displays, talking openly with your loved ones is the first step towards healing from that trauma.

In the film, a group of whanau personally affected by suicide in their families embark on a hikoi together, a tour of marae from Taranaki, Whanganui, Rotorua, and Whangarei to Cape Reinga, to set the spirits free.  Meanwhile, a despairing young man contemplates suicide, without the support he needs.  Whanau are interviewed together as a group, and in one case this is the first time they have talked together about the suicide.

Aotearoa not only has the highest youth suicide rate in the world, but suicide is primary cause of death for Kiwis between ages 18-24.  The reasons for this are beyond the scope of the film, but it does make sense of one important element: the support of family and the openness to talk about what we are going through makes a significant difference to those affected by suicide who might be feeling isolated.

Hunger [1966] by Henning Carlsen

HUNGER is like a Charlie Chaplin film slowly descending into disconcerting disassociated distress. If you finds the predicament of the protagonist funny early, it may sink, along with any hope that he will raise himself from his poverty and alienation. 

The streets of 1890 Christiania are depicted as busy with sympathetic but confused onlookers to protag's increasingly unconvincing performance of proud and serious success. 

A bleak view of mental illness. 

Our New President [2018] by Maxim Pozdorovkin

Our New President (image 2)

OUR NEW PRESIDENT is satire as collage. We are now in an age when global politics is so ludicrous and out of control that satire has become superfluous. The filmmaker needs merely to compile a sequence of the regime's own propaganda and it reveals itself for the bright, funny, corrupt and manipulative charade that it is. 

As the film shows, news is also superfluous. The masses don't need to be informed so they can make considered choices, they just need to know who the heroes are, and who the villains are.  It's not the petty facts that are important, but the larger truths.  We watch as the spectrum of Russian news channels are amalgamated into one government run organisation, Russia Today, and the most revealing moment in the film is certainly when the boss addresses his staff with an inspiring speech, “The time of detached, unbiased journalism is over… Editorial policy will be based on love of Russia.”  When a staff member asks for clarification he is accused of planning subversive activities.


It is all fairly funny and charming, as long as you don't consider the implication of such a successfully sterile bubble of propaganda.  It makes me wonder what it would look like if such a carefully constructed satirical collage was made of our own national news, what invisible ubiquitous propaganda we are exposed to.

Birds of Passage [2018] by Cristina Gallego, Ciro Guerra


Birds of Passage (image 1)

Opening night at the New Zealand International Film Festival in Auckland offered Birds of Passage, a complex juxtaposition of the traditional ways of the Wayuu people with the rising drug trade.

In Colombia 1968, in the land of the Wayuu people, the land of dust and goats, they have survived centuries of colonisation with their traditional culture intact.  The matriarch of the family speaks with the spirits through her dreams and protects her family with her precious talisman, which she always carries with her.  But a budding capitalist takes an interest in her daughter, they marry and the family is drawn into the full implications of large-scale trafficking of cannabis.

This film is a spectacular and ambitious encounter with a small world, that of the Wayuu people, encountering not the exploitation of the larger world, as one would expect, but simply its ideology and its practices: making as much money for your clan as possible, building your tiny empire and destroying all opposition.  The film is like an alegory for capitalism itself, the history of civilisation condensed down to the narrative of a single indigenous clan's "successfull" encounter with the ways of the modern world.

The world of the film is rich and reverberates on all levels.  It does not compromise for its genre, but rather the gangster genre itself is manipulated for the sake of the coherency of the film's world.  A magnificent, concise epic.

The Image Book [2018] by Jean-Luc Godard


Image result for the image book jean-luc godard

Less of a film, more of an anti-film, with a total commitment to not being entertaining and to disassembling our naïve and uncritical absorption of cinematic images. The pleasure of watching beautiful sequences of film is interrupted with over-exposure, sudden cuts and images being separated from their soundtracks. Coherency is interrupted with inexplicable juxtapositions, little continuity in even the commentary and even the English subtitles failing to translate all the spoken and textual French.

The first sound we receive from the filmmaker, before any image appears, is a loud and obnoxious high-pitched noise, somewhat of a “fuck you” to the audience. Was it just me, of did the commentary become more coherent a significant way through the film, when everyone who was going to walk out had already walked out in boredom or confusion? Romantic and chivalrous films and images of war are equally violated in the filmmaker's attempt to destroy both our sentimental attachment to the films and our ability to unconsciously suspend disbelief and allow the film to entertainingly indoctrinate us with its implicit ideology, either pernicious or superficial.

Jean-Luc Godard, whose moody black and white films from the 1960s are remember with such affection, is disgusted with what he sees in the world. I found, when I moved through my boredom and irritation and engaged with the language of the film, a satirical humour present only when the dissolution of the grammar and glamour of film is complete, exemplified by over-exposed old footage of can-can dancing that is the final and most sustained excerpt in the film.



Dog's Best Friend [2017] by Eryn Wilson

DOG'S BEST FRIEND is a very heartfelt portrait of a man's love for dogs, and his lifetime commitment to rehabilitating them and allowing them to rehabilitate him, and each other. 

Jacob and Jennah, with a baby on the way, have had traumatic pasts, but they have created a sanctuary of healing with many dogs. Jacob works tirelessly with the dogs for the betterment of every being involved. The love he shares with the canines is very moving and the methods he uses to rehabilitate them and keep them calm and happy is very instructive. 

A small but very genuine film radiant with love for dogs and their unflagging commitment to making us happy.

Dog's Best Friend screens at the New Zealand International Film Festival 23, 25 and 29 July.

Dog’s Best Friend (image 1)

2018-07-21

A Kid Like Jake [2018] by Silas Howard

A KID LIKE JAKE is an attempt to make a film about the complexities of raising a child in a world of changing expectations around gender expression, but it fails to see a world outside of its very narrow cultural lens.

The differences between each of the characters could easily be listed - she's stubborn, he's effete, etc - but they're otherwise identical - reasonable, caring, easily offended - apart from the moment we all get to enjoy cringing together at the guest character who is painfully inappropriate.

I can't help but wonder whether this film needs to exist, whether even within its narrow cultural paradigm it has much to say. It seems an opportunistic "issue" film that is located very much in the left brain, even as it deals with emotions, family and communication. I can't help but think it will age painfully.

2018-07-20

Mirai [2018] by Hosoda Mamoru



Mirai is a joyously emotional and colourfully imaginative immersion into the domestic life of a young boy after his baby sister is born. The complex and confusing experiences are vividly brought to life, with unconscious influences coalescing into elaborate dreams visualising deeply felt experiences.

Never have I seen the vividness of the inner and outer world of a small child so beautifully and exuberantly portrayed on screen.

Four-year-old Kun's life is full of love and joy with his parents and his dog in their intimate home, designed by Kun's architect father.  Until his parents come home with their newborn baby.  Kun's jealousy and rebelliousness is portrayed entirely from his perspective, and is intensely felt by both Kun and the audience.  He helps make sense of the world he feels so strongly but does not understand by allowing his mind to move into elaborate dreams and fantasies, often involving members of his family in the future and the past; he rides a motorcycle with his great-grandfather as a young man and flies through the air with his baby sister as a teenage schoolgirl.

The family home is bursting with familial love, even when there is conflict, and the film is bursting with love of life, fully and deeply felt, and exhilaratingly expressed in beautifully animated images of colour and movement.

While the film does contain a few moments where Kun's imagination erupts into images that may scare some young children, the film really is a moving and delightful experience for children of all ages and anyone who remembers or doesn't remember the intensity of experience of small children.

MIRAI is at the 2018 New Zealand International Film Festival.

Mirai (image 5)
In a moment of love for his baby sister who often frustrates him, Kun passionately promises to show her the majestic beauty of their world.

2018-06-15

Download How Australia Made Me An Anarchist by Chris Kirk

I wrote this book in 2012 as a response to the radical joyous transformative experience of my first two years travelling in Australia between 2010 and 2012. I discovered the spontaneous self-expression and community of Rainbow Gatherings and Confests. I learned to live without money without missing out on anything. I learned the cold harsh realities of a colonisation so deep some people see no alternative. But the alternative was clear as the momentum of invitations and inspirations swept me up. I toned my muscles, I opened my heart and I fell in love. 

The book has been described as memoir, poetry, philosophy and human ecology. I write in many styles, but always with immediacy, honesty and integrity. 

Here is the link to download the audio and pdf versions of my book, How Australia Made Me An Anarchist.  Journey of a homeless poet through the stolen continent. 

Feel free to download and share with everyone you think will appreciate it.  I do however like to be paid for my work, so please make a contribution via the link below.  You can even pay later, when you have decided you like the book.  I have no other source of income. 


2018-05-10

I am not impressed




I am not one of you.
I am not of this place.
I am not a sterile alien
in an environment mediated
for my comfort and convenience.

I am not impressed
by your pretentious stateliness,
your hollow decadent sobriety,
your cluttered simplification,
your demonic rationality,
your psychopathic paranoid security,
your technological connected isolation,
your nihilistic self-conscious alienation,
your incomprehensible layers
of ironic PC cynicism,
your empty distracted busyness,
your guarded defensive attempts at socialisation,
your beautiful plastic carcasses
taunting my desperate loneliness,
your sterile industrial filth,
your abstracted categorised scheduled
attempts at spontaneity and joyous expression,
your reactionary self-justifying
fear of anything remotely different,
your angry ancient humiliated defeat,
your opinions,
borrowed from deformed malignant celebrities,
your offence,
reeking of violent disgust,

Your pleasures of the flesh
are merely self-abuse and delusion.
Your freedom
is selfish irresponsible isolation.
Your democracy
is entertainment.
Your consumer capitalism
is just a flurry of hysterical advertisements,
shamelessly manipulative,
to justify emptying the earth
and filling it back up again.

Your entire wretched civilisation
disgusts me,
makes me want to gouge out my eyes,
castrate myself in hopeless horniness,
harden my heart with bitter cynicism,
or run away into the wilderness.
(I choose the latter.)

I see through your pretense.
I don't believe you.
I see you,
trying to be fake,
painfully real,
painfully feeling, noticing,
undermining your own observations.
I see your brittle tender humanity
tucked inside your personalised
plastic packaging.

But I haven't been paying attention
to the hype, the cultural conversation.
How am I supposed to be talking now?
Am I naive or offensive?
I don't understand.
I have stepped away too many times.
I'm too far gone.
I'm not like you anymore.
I'm not a part of your futile games.
I'm just a confused beast
just self-conscious enough to look normal
most of the time.

But messy silly fun in the wilderness
is obscene and illegal in the city;
and I cannot reconcile that
with my need to not wall myself
in a private garden of despair.

But right now
I love you.
It hurts me
but I love you
and I want us to travel together
in the forest, up the beach,
into each other's hearts and trust.

Somehow I still have faith
in your ability to break through.
I possess precious memories of
moments of mutual discovery
that are more real to me
than your robotic role-playing.

I am merely human, transforming,
amorphous, ignorant, intuitive, emotional.
I need love, intimacy, mutual respect,
honesty and purpose.
I refuse to imprison myself in
a suffocating private paradise.

I want to sleep under the stars
or in my tent,
on the earth,
wrapped up warm
with you, in embrace,
without thought,
deep sleep
and
deep wake
into a vivid morning
transcendent in the new day,
no tendrils spreading me around the world,
unwaveringly present,
flowing through a simple beautiful life.

2018-05-06

Sony Music's looting of Bob Dylan's genius





This is a studio outtake, a version of the song that was abandoned by Bob Dylan for the superior version he included on Blonde On Blonde. It has been released 50 years later because Sony Music do not want unreleased Bob Dylan recordings to enter the public domain. Many of these "bootleg" releases are great treasures, but mostly it is just an attempt by Sony to milk Bob Dylan's popularity for all it is worth, and Bob is clearly beyond caring.

The video itself is a meaningless set of advertising-like images with only the most superficial and incoherent relationship to the song and to each other. It is basically an advertisement for the album release and has zero artistic intention or integrity in itself.

To read more into it than perhaps is appropriate, it can be seen as an attempt, inadvertent maybe, to render powerless the incredibly powerful artistry of Dylan's mid-'60s music, by releasing all of the outtakes and dregs and failed attempts to capture the brilliance that has surprised and delighted many people over the last 50 years, and to juxtapose that music with images that suggest a vacuous simulacrum of the world that the song emerged from and that it represents and reminds us of.  Basically, turning great art into hollow artifice.

It is a sign of the incredible strength and integrity of Bob Dylan's work that it survives the shameless looting Sony Music has subjected it to over the last 20 years.

2018-05-03

Quinoa's Symposium Podcast - Ep 1: Death



The first episode of Quinoa's new Symposium Podcast.

A philosophical discussion recorded live in the Western Australian wilderness, in the tradition of Plato's Symposium or the Native American Talking Circle.

The topic of discussion in this episode is death. What is death? What happens after death? What does this tell us about the context of life, and therefore how to live?

Please make a donation to cover the costs of making this podcast happen. Quinoa is an independent artist with no income offering his work online, accessible to everyone.

Please feel free to contact me with any feedback or response.

For further great listening, check out my 24 minute spoken word performance about my experience of grief. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fqQ6S3GrwRg


2018-04-07

Confest Mud Tribe



When we meet for Confest twice a year, in NSW, by the VIC border, on the western side of the Great Dividing Range, the mud pit is always an integral aspect of our gathering.
One day, at my first gathering in this location, I simply emerge from my tent, eat my apple cider vinegar and gluten-free muesli, and walk down the path to whatever my day has planned for me. I bump into someone I shared a cuddle puddle with the previous night and she recommends I go to the Art Village for the Mud Tribe. Of course I accept the recommendation wholeheartedly.
I find many people gathered in and around a beautiful well-dug mud pit with ribbons hanging above it. I do not hesitate to take off my clothes and step, slip and slide into the thick mud. The mud is so thick that we can dip our flesh in as if we are dipping an icecream in chocolate, emerging solidly coated. In this way there are many people standing around in the sun, not wearing clothes but not naked due to a full-body mud suit. Some people have their faces exposed, others close their eyes and submerge themselves and so even their eyelids are brown with crunchy powdery mud. I submerge myself completely and surface with mud stinging my eyes. I crawl out of the mud pit with my eyes shut tight and my face tilted up helplessly, begging anyone in the vicinity to rinse my face. I learn the technique for submerging my entire face in mud without getting it in my eyes. I close my eyes as tightly as possible, immerse my head face-down, emerging and waiting for the excess mud to drip off.
Having sufficiently enjoyed the delightful perversion of my civilised education by rolling around naked in the mud with many other naked humans, I emerge into the warm sunlight and, like many others, wait for the mud to dry. Some, wet with mud, roll around on the earth to cover themselves in leaves and twigs, increasing their primitive power; others, with dry mud, are painted in variable and imaginative ways.
As we stand around in our mud costumes we collectively get into character. The complexity of language amongst the mud people deteriorates rapidly and grunts replace English as the dominant spoken language. We become playfully defensive and territorial. If I am challenged by some arrogant mud man I must defend myself with the strongest threatening ooga-booga. The energy starts to build, we all get more and more excited, and soon 100 of us, the Mud Tribe, are running as a mad primitive excited group through the gathering.
Though I couldn't possibly know it, I was surrounded by many who would become close friends in the years to come. The Swedish men with whom I would travel with in a few days time, the Estonian man whose family I would live with in Bondi a year later, the British man who would teach me to expand my urban food gathering skills and who would introduce me to two of the most beautiful young Australian men I would ever meet.
Of course we are not entertaining such thoughtful atemporal mental processes, we are tribal, primitive, hysterical and crazy in an environment in which joyous craziness is well supported and encouraged. As large metallic motor vehicles drive slowly down the dusty roads we leap upon them shrieking and grunting. We approach people's camps with curiosity, always on the razor's edge of being offended to the point of confrontation by any arrogant male. People gasp and laugh in delight, surprise, confusion and disgust as we investigate the strangely civilised environment of the festival, people and their strange foods and belongings, so many things not quite making sense to our purely human, culturally void, temporarily muddy minds.
There is a leadership crisis in our tribe. There is a staff of power and there is a muddy bra, an object so curious and foreign that it becomes an extraterrestrial divine artefact of great value. Arthur battles to retain his leadership against an uppity eight-year-old boy brimming with delight at the novelty of the encouraging attention. Tremors of effervescence and humorously-aware power emerge from within him like a volcanic eruption. My role in the tribe emerges intuitively. While almost everyone becomes a member of the crowd, following the tribe mindlessly, it is my role to contradict and undermine the dominant ideologies of the moment. When our leader gives a rousing speech of grunts and ground-bangs with the staff of power and the crowd cheers, I must weaken his speech with my own contrariness.
We enter the market place, where people are relaxing, buying food and not expecting to see 100 naked mud primitives suddenly in their lives. We are met with another mud tribe. A tribe of perhaps 30 people enter our space and confront us directly. A heavy dread quickly spreads across the environment, we group together, and our leader meets their leader. Our leader represents us with the staff, trying to dominate the other leader into submission with superior grunt-threats; the other leader grunts back and the confrontation escalates. I intervene, grabbing the staffs of both leaders in each hand. They do not let go of their staffs and the three of us bang our staffs in unison, faster and faster, until we are miraculously united, one tribe, with the benefits of peace, happiness and genetic diversity. We return to the Art Village, dive into the river and shed our mud and our characters into the flowing water that merges with the Murray River before washing out into the ocean.
There is a barge in the river that is usually occupied by the older children. It is suddenly taken over by us extremely excited post-Mud Tribe adults who leap on it until it almost sinks and channel our energy into play. Having been washed completely clean by the river, I sweat in the steam tent.
I was surprised to hear that Mud Tribe, what I had experienced emerging naturally and spontaneously from the genetic memory of the people and the mineral composition of the soil, was actually an event that happened at each gathering and was established by Peter, an inspirational man who also organises and supervises what he calls the Spontaneous Choir at the market place. I just happened to experience my first Mud Tribe when Peter was absent and so chaos reigned.
Eight months later – having set foot on the other side of the planet, having emerged from the bounds of a financially-limited lifestyle, having inspired and been inspired by 120 Swedish teenagers as a lädarer at a KFUM summer camp in Jönköping, fallen in love with two serious and sensitive young Scandinavian men, one with a thick beard, one with a smooth 18-year-old face, discovered the naked elemental shamanic dancing of my vocation around a tribal fire, having performed my confrontational spoken word to variously-responding audiences, learned and forgotten how to drum, and realised that the entire world and, quietly, other parallel worlds, were waiting for my powerful truth to emerge and would embrace me when the time is right – I returned to Confest and another Mud Tribe.
I had told many people about Confest and Mud Tribe and I was keen to do it again. We are all gathered at the Art Village, drying our mud in the sun, being painted by the local humans and getting into character rapidly. As we mingle and play with our primitive selves, rediscovered in our bellies, I notice these strange creatures wearing clothes and taking photographs of us. They are fake people. I don't understand their convoluted language, and I compress one of their sentences into the word I subsequently use to describe them. They who spectate and photograph instead of participating are the “tashymat”.
Peter, tall, with a long beard and a lot of years of creative joyful ideas to share, decides that the Mud Tribe should begin. He gathers everyone together with English into a circle where he explains exactly how it is all going to happen. I am appalled. Everyone listens attentively as he assigns the role of leadership, maps exactly the location and trajectory of the event and predetermines every outcome. I am appalled not only as Chris, but as Mud Man. Mud Man screams at him, realising he is the ultimate tashymat.
Tashymat!” I yell at Peter, pointing accusingly. “Tashymat!” People look at me, slightly confused. I expect some people to deflect and follow me but they remain in Peter's tight and controlled circle. “Tashymat!” I continue to yell at Peter, flustered by my confrontation. He says to me in an English I both understand and do not understand, “Please stop, this is difficult enough as it is.” I do not stop. On the fucking contrary. Arthur is designated leader and receives the symbolic painted staff, which I know I must steal. No one follows me and so I am alone, a mud tribe of one.
The tribe runs off on their pre-planned trajectory. I enter their performance at one of their early dramatic high points and steal the painted staff of power from the leader. Unlike the 100% playful nature of the previous battles for leadership, this is a genuine confrontation, and a genuine ripple of offense moves through the tribe. I am the heretic and I am suddenly amongst them and clutching their sacred stick. Their eyes are upon me and their alpha males are suddenly against me. I shriek at them in defiance and run faster than anyone, escaping more easily than expected with the staff.
I carry the staff across the back of my neck and my arms, like Christ carrying his cross. I am perhaps more rigidly in character than I have ever been in all my years of theatre, Mud Tribe, and a childhood and post-adulthood of role-play games. I go to the marketplace and interact with the locals as Mud Man, unnamed, unlanguaged, uncivilised and unsocialised.
At first I am constantly threatened by so many curious and confused people but I slowly learn to interact with them. The patient enjoy socialising me and teaching me language. I don't respond to their speech the way they intend, repeating their sentences as one muddled and contracted word, which I imbue with a meaning peripheral to what they intend.
A man has set up a soapbox and some facing chairs in the marketplace so willing people can sit down and listen to him rave about whatever is on his mind. When he sees me approach, bearing my desanctified staff, he stands down from his soapbox like John the Baptist and gives me the attention of his audience. I respond with immediacy and presence and no knowledge of the context of his sermons. They are all delighted with what they surely interpret as my performance, but what is actually the emergence of an aspect of my true nature that has never before been allowed expression.
The official Mud Tribe turn up at the marketplace for their planned community confrontation, Spontaneous Choir and unification of the two tribes. They see me with their sacred staff and again fail to retrieve it. For hours I continue to interact with the crowd. I learn about five or six words in this time, all contracted and out-of-context sentences from the most patient and curious people I meet. I am very thirsty from all this running around and I am taught the art of trade so I can buy myself a bliss ball and a lemonade.
Eventually it is time to run back to the river. On the path I meet a few guys from the official Mud Tribe and they look at me with an insecure curiosity. “That was intense, Chris.” They don't yet know how to respond to me, suggesting that I can emerge out of character now. I ooga-booga them and keep running to the river. As I wade into the water someone else speaks to me and I find I cannot respond as the civilised educated man who I know I will become in seconds. I dive into the cold rushing water of the river and emerge as Chris, now finding myself able to respond to his comment.
When I pierced the surface of the water I was alleviated of the persona of the Mud Man. Underwater I was nothing and nobody. When I broke the surface of the water again, reemerging into the atmosphere, I was Chris, the predominant persona I have occupied and developed for much of my waking life ever since. I threw the painted staff out into the water to float away to the ocean or wherever it might get stuck on the way. I washed off all the mud and moved on with my life.