Sorting through the cultural blood and guts of Game of Thrones

Kull 3Like many writers, I’ve attended my share of panels where publishing insiders share their experience about the industry, what they are looking for, what’s selling, etc. The most honest thing I ever heard came from a young up-and-comer from a mid-level publishing house with a strong focus on quality literature, who, when it came to his turn to speak, said, ‘We don’t know what’s big at the moment. If we did, we’d be doing more of it.’

This comment has stuck with me due to its frankness. It occurred to me again when recently asked what I thought about HBO’s latest blockbuster, Game of Thrones. It’s successful and, no doubt, if television studios could afford to, they’d be doing a lot more of it. Case in point is the historical mini-series, The Vikings, clearly marketed as a smaller-scale version of GoT.

Game of Thrones is interesting on many levels. The very first episode contains incestuous sex, the discovery of which resulted in a ten-year-old boy being casually thrown from a tower and crippled for life. Subsequent episodes contain graphic violence, torture, child marriage, slavery and rape. It has garnered mainstream acclaim (including 19 nominations Emmy nominations in 2014), as well as being watched by people whose taste (if my experience is anything to go by) usually veers to the high culture end of the scale.

So I don’t want to say that someone can’t listen to Radio National or like Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries and watch Game of Thrones as well. But there is a dissonance at play that, to me, is about the different way we consume screen culture as opposed to what we read in books. I had a similar reaction to the success of Breaking Bad, the story of a duplicitous, homicidal, hard drug-dealer, and Hannibal, with its graphic depiction of psychological and physical violence.

You can read the rest of the piece here on the Overland Magazine site.

And if you want more, I’ll be sorting through the cultural blood and guts of the hit TV show on a panel at the upcoming Bendigo Writers Festival. Entitled, ‘Is Game of Thrones Any Good?’, it will also feature Professor of Journalism Lawrie Zion and journalist Jane Sullivan.

The panel will take place from 3-4 pm at the Old Fire Station, on Sunday 10th August. More information about this and the other amazing events at the Bendigo Writers Festival is available here.

Backroads noir in the Australian outback: David Michôd’s The Rover

madmax-1aAustralian director David Michôd’s second film, The Rover, is part of a rich heritage of Australian dystopian cinema that combines the destructive power of cars with the country’s harsh, sparsely populated rural areas and desert interior. A gritty crime drama, it is among the small group of Australian films with a true noir sensibility — a bleak atmosphere and a narrative where events start badly and end up worse — on a brief list that also includes Michôd’s debut 2010 effort, Animal Kingdom.

The Rover is set in the Australian outback 10 years after an unspecified global financial collapse. It opens with a lone, unnamed traveler (Guy Pearce) sitting behind the wheel of his dusty Holden Commodore car, before going into a roadside café. The traveler’s gaunt, weather-beaten features, the café’s ramshackle appearance, its silent, heavily armed Asian owners, and the Cambodian love song booming through the establishment’s aged speakers combine to create a feeling of impending menace and a sense of geographical and cultural confusion.

The film suddenly shifts to three men driving through the desert, fleeing an unspecified crime gone wrong. One of the men, Henry (Scoot McNairy), is angry about having to leave his brother, Rey (Robert Pattinson, of Twilightfame), for dead at the scene of the crime. The argument becomes physical, distracting the third man, the driver, and their vehicle veers off the road. The three men emerge from their car and grab the first alternative vehicle they see, which just happens to belong to the lone traveler, and take off again.

You can read the rest of this piece here at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Pulp Friday: The Hands of Orlac

The Hands of Orlac“Had a brilliant skin graft left him with a murderer’s hands? A tense and eerie film starring Mel Ferrer.”

French writer Maurice Renard’s 1920 novel The Hands of Orlac concerned a concert pianist called Paul Orlac who loses his hands in a terrible accident and is given new ones in a transplant. Unbeknownst to him, the donor was a recently deceased murderer. Not only is Orlac unable to play piano with his new hands, but he slowly starts to assume the deceased murderer’s predisposition for killing.

The Hands of Orlac was filmed as a movie three times. A silent movie, The Hands of Orlac, was made in 1924 by Austrian director Robert Weine. A US version appeared in 1935 as Mad Love. A British/French production starring Christopher Lee and Mel Ferrer was made in 1960.

Today’s Pulp Friday offering is the 1962 local Horwitz edition of the Four Square Books paperback tie in to the British/French movie.

The name of the author, which you might not be able to discern from the cover scan, was Robert Bateman. Bateman was a UK writer who worked in radio and TV. He also wrote a number of novels, including this one.

And please note, I will be giving an illustrated talk on Australian pulp fiction from the fifties, sixties and seventies as part of the upcoming Melbourne Writers Festival. The talk will take place at 4pm on August 30, at the NGV. Tickets are available at the Melbourne Writers Festival website here.

The Hands of Orlac back


Announcing Beat Girls, Love Tribes and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 – 1980

Happening At san Remo Pyramid Books 1967Regular Pulp Curry readers will be aware of my deep interest in pulp fiction. What you won’t know, is I’ve been working for a while now on a pulp fiction related book with another Melbourne writer called Iain McIntyre.

I’m thrilled to announce this book, currently titled Beat Girls, Love Tribes and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 – 1980, will be published by Verse Chorus Press in October 2015.

The book will be the definitive look at youth and counter cultural pulp fiction from Australia, the United States and the UK. It will feature contributions from over twenty writers and includes reviews, feature articles and author interviews. These will cover all aspects of youth and counter cultural related pulp fiction, starting with juvenile delinquency and gang pulp in the fifties, Beats and bohemians in the early sixties, to hippies, bikers, musicians, Mods, punks, and everything in between.

The book will also feature a large selection of covers from the books concerned.

Some of the pulp writers we cover you might know. But there’ll be a lot more you probably haven’t heard of. One thing we can guarantee is that the words “guilty pleasure” will not be mentioned once to describe their work.

This is a book about mainstream society’s obsession with the notion of out of control youth, and the pulp fiction that capitalised on the fascination, fears and desires associated with it. Some of the authors concerned churned out pulp on various youth and counter cultural movements just to make a buck. Others were deeply embedded in the scenes they were writing about and often politically active in various movements associated with them. All of them were hard working writers, whose books, for the most part, are long overdue for attention and rediscovery. Beat Girls, Love Tribes and Real Cool Cats: Pulp Fiction and Youth Culture, 1950 – 1980, will provide that.


CHIEFS SLEEVEI’d never heard of Chiefs, a three part 1983 US television series, until recently.

But a recommendation from Overland Magazine deputy editor Jacinda Woodhead got me interested. Her pitch, which wasn’t too far off the mark, was that it has definite similarities to the recent hit series, True Detective.

Chiefs is about three generations of police chiefs in a small southern US town called Delano, each of who tries to solve a number of murders of young white men stretching from the early twenties to the early sixties.

Will Henry Lee (Wayne Rogers, better known as Captain John McIntyre from the hit show, MASH), is the town’s founding chief. A former farmer who can no longer make a living off the land, he is a decent, progressive small ‘L’ liberal and acts in his new job accordingly. Not long after his he takes the job, the body of a young white boy is found near train tracks on the outskirts of Delano. The boy was raped and there are signs he’d been beaten with a truncheon similar to that used by police. Soon, rumours surface about the disappearances of other young white men in the town’s vicinity.

The second chief is Sonny Butts (Brad Davis from the 1978 film, Midnight Express). Butts is a violent bigot who essentially lands the job because he was a hero in World War Two. The third chief, Tyler Watts (Billy Dee Williams), is another ex-army man and Delano’s first black police chief.

Two other characters are particularly important. Charlton Heston is Hugh Holmes, one of the town’s founders, its moderate ruling class patriarch and the head of the local bank. He is in all three episodes and his voice over provides the main cross-generational continuity for the story. Keith Carridine plays Foxy Funderburke, a World War One veteran and racist gun-totting recluse who is viewed by the majority of the town as nothing but a harmless oddity.

Plot-wise, the most interesting aspect of Chiefs is how it is strongly inferred who the murderer is in episode one (Funderburke) and confirmed in episode two. Lee has his suspicions Funderburke is involved in the murder of the first young man whose body is found but before he can do anything about it, he is shot by a black man who is delirious with malaria. Butts stumbles across some of his predecessors’ old paperwork in an abandoned roll top desk, realises Funderburke is the killer, confronts him but is shot dead by his suspect and buried on Funderburke’s property.

Watts is recruited from the military police to the job as chief by Will Henry Lee’s son, Billy, who has come home from World War Two, studied to be a lawyer and entered politics. A progressive and an anti-segregationist, Billy rises to the top of the state’s politics under the patronage of Holmes. He does not know until the very end that Watts is actually the son of the man who killed his father.

Meanwhile, Watts has to go up against the local Klan and the town’s racist establishment, in order to prove that Funderburke is the killer. He eventually gets permission to search Funderburke’s property. Funderburke is shot resisting arrest and over forty graves are unearthed.

Chiefs is similar to a lot of the big budget, sweeping historical sagas that graced out television screens in the eighties. It exudes Pax Americana and is full of virtuous, benevolent white males (and a few women in supporting roles) standing up for what is right, including a free market version of racial equality.

Parallel with this, however, is a nightmare world in which a lone man is able to get away with murder over several decades, partly because he is white and partly because the local police are either too busy either trying to keep down the town’s black population or fighting the town’s entrenched racism just to do their job. Also, and this is where the show is very similar to True Detective, Funderburke’s murder spree goes unnoticed because nearly all his victims are poor, powerless drifters. No one knows who these people are. No one cares.

While director Jerry Logan (who helmed Shogun in 1980 and Hogan’s Heroes a couple of decades earlier) plays down the homosexual aspect to Funderburke’s killings, the racial undertones to the story are vividly presented. One can also read into the show a fairly strong undercurrent of domestic blow back from America’s participation various wars.

There is a clear indication that Funderburke’s experience in World War One has somehow influenced his subsequent behaviour. While Billy emerged from World War Two a decent, socially liberal man, Butt’s has been warped by his service and views the job of policing Delano as akin to pacifying enemy territory.

Unfortunately, Chiefs is not available on DVD, meaning you’ll have to get creative if you want to see it. Make the effort, it’s well worth it.