Category Archives: True crime

My cultural highlights of 2021

In past years, I have always tried to conclude the writing year with wrap up of my top fiction/non-fiction reads. But this year I want to do something a little different and look more broadly at the culture that has sustained me in what has been another difficult and stressful 12 months, dominated, as it has for so many of us, by the Covid pandemic.

Film

As was the case in 2020, Covid meant that I spent far more time than I would’ve liked at home. So, most of the movies I watched had to be on the small screen. One of the standouts for me was a 1953 Argentinian retelling of Fritz Lang’s 1931 classic, M, called El Vampiro Negro or The Black Vampire. Helmed by one of Argentina’s most famous mid-century directors, Roman Vinoly Barreto, the story focuses the panic that engulfs Buenos Aires as children are stalked and murdered by a paedophile. Barreto particularly focuses on a nightclub singer and mother, played by Argentina’s equivalent of Marilyn Monroe, Olga Zubarry, who is the sole eyewitness to the child killer and who fears her daughter may be the next victim. Proof positive that classic noir was not just a North American phenomena, El Vampiro Negro is a powerful film, stunningly restored by the US Film Noir Foundation.… Read more

Projection Booth podcast #543: The Mephisto Waltz (1971)

I had a great time co-hosting for the latest episode of Mike White’s Projection Booth podcast, on Paul Wendkos’s 1971 occult thriller, The Mephisto Waltz. The episode features a very special guest, Jacqueline Bisset. The Mephisto Waltz is one my favourite 1970s occult thrillers, occupying as it does a liminal space between the aesthetic forms and conventions of made for TV horror movies – hugely popular format in the 1970s – and big screen productions. We talked a lot about the film’s similarities to Roman Polanski’s 1968 movie, Rosemary’s Baby, other examples of occult transference cinema, and how the occult, along with other strange & unexplained phenomena – UFOs, the Loch Ness monster, the Bermuda Triangle – were much more a part of everyday public discussion in the late 1960s/1970s. You can access the entire episode at the Projection Booth site here.Read more

The real French Connection

My latest piece for the US site CrimeReads is a look at the real-life crimes that inspired William Friedkin’s 1971 classic, The French Connection. It is a tangled tale of Corsican gangsters, international heroin smuggling, the CIA and the war in Indochina – with a dash of my own experience in Laos. You can read the piece in full here.Read more

Phoenix: down Melbourne’s 1990s means streets

The recent inclusion of the 1995 Australian true crime mini-series Blue Murder as an offering on Netflix Australia provided an opportunity for many critics, present company included, to once again laud it as our best piece of true crime television made so far. While not walking back on this claim, there is another show that I would argue gives Blue Murder a run for its money in terms of being a gritty, true life depiction of policing, which I watched recently – the thirteen-part 1992 Australian Broadcasting Commission series, Phoenix.

A lot of 1990s Australian popular culture exists in a rather liminal space for me due to the fact that I spent a large chunk of the decade working in Southeast Asia. I don’t think I saw any episodes of Phoenix when it first came out, but I am pretty sure I caught parts of the first series (there were two) on VHS tapes that my partner’s mother sent us in the post when we were living in Hanoi, Vietnam. I am not even sure if Phoenix has as a current DVD release, as the discs I found were second hand and seem to have been released at least a decade ago.

Phoenix focuses on the Major Crimes squad, an elite group of Victorian cops.… Read more

Punchdrunk at the Yarra Valley Writers Festival

With a bit on my plate at the moment, I have not been posting as much as I would like to this site. I have a few things up my sleeve in terms of posts over the coming weeks that will hopefully turn this situation around but, in the meantime, I just wanted to hit you all with news of an event I am taking part in a few weeks that may be of interest.

The Yarra Valley Writers Festival is taking place, in person, on the weekend of July 16 and 18. You can check out the entire program online here. On the Saturday of the program, July 17, at 10.30am at the Warburton RSL, I’ll be interviewing author Michael Winkler about wonderful book, Grimmish. Grimmish tells the story of Joe Grimm, one of the most flamboyant boxers ever to our visit Australia’s shores in the early part of last century. Partly based on real events and part fiction, the book can best be described as a literary fever dream that speaks to our collective relationship to physical power, masculinity and pain. I’ll be talking to Michael about all these topics, the process of research Joe Grimm’s life and whether a traditional sport such as boxing add to the evolving discussion on what is to be male.… Read more