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Issue 15, 2018

Issue 15, Vol 81: Strange and Absurd



  • Clubs Funding Pool Runs Dry

  • Seabed Mining Exploration Goes Against Iwi Wishes

  • Free Counselling for Under 25s

  • Queer Coverage: Local, National, and International LGBTQIA+ News

  • Political Round Up

  • Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice: Two Protests

  • Mental Health Crisis in Halls on the Rise

  • Students Call for Higher Student Allowance

  • Wellington “Deep State” Suppressing Knowledge of the Number 18 Bus

  • Vic Books Discount

  • Tanning Salons Sponsor Exchange Students

  • Recycling at Vic: We Can Do Better

  • The Party Line

  • Features

  • In The Room With Greg Sestero

    If you haven’t seen The Room, you have surely heard of it. It is lovingly called “the best worst movie of all time” by its legions of fans around the world, who know every word of its script and who, in a time of Netflix and torrenting, still pay money to see it on screen at cinemas, […]


  • Fever Hospital

    We drive up a dark road. It is flanked by trees that whip back and forth as if possessed by some evil force. The rain belts on the windshield, but through it, we can make out the grim shape of the Fever Hospital. It hunkers down on the side of Mt. Victoria like a beast lying […]


  • In The Room With Greg Sestero

    If you haven’t seen The Room, you have surely heard of it. It is lovingly called “the best worst movie of all time” by its legions of fans around the world, who know every word of its script and who, in a time of Netflix and torrenting, still pay money to see it on screen at cinemas, […]


  • Fever Hospital

    We drive up a dark road. It is flanked by trees that whip back and forth as if possessed by some evil force. The rain belts on the windshield, but through it, we can make out the grim shape of the Fever Hospital. It hunkers down on the side of Mt. Victoria like a beast lying […]


  • Arts and Science

  • Songs for Nobodies

    “Everyone has a story” is the catchphrase of this critically acclaimed, one-woman play starring Ali Harper. The show is a tribute to five female musical legends: Judy Garland, Patsy Cline, Edith Piaf, Billie Holiday, and Maria Callas.
    Directed by Ross Gumbley, the production focuses on the storytelling aspect with a minimalist approach to performance. Richard Van den Berg creates a raised stage without much frills. The only prop on the stage is a single black bentwood chair, and drapes that are lit to reveal a trio of musicians (momentarily striking as the Three Witches from Macbeth). Sean Harkness’ lighting is evocative and follows the rhymes and rhythms of the story; flashes of dressing room mirrors and a star-lit night are sprinkled throughout the 90-minute production.
    One of the strengths of this production is its use of music. The pianist Daniel Hayles, Johnny Lawrence on the double bass, and percussionist Lance Philip are compelling. Each act evokes the music of a particular era that immediately transports the audience to a different time and age.
    Songs for Nobodies narrates five everyday women whose lives change when they happen to meet five legendary divas of their time. Each of these five women’s stories feature an iconic song (among many) that reveal Harper’s incredible vocal range.
    In the first act, we meet a lavatory attendant whose husband has left her. She encounters Judy Garland in a powder room and is comforted by the diva’s song, “Come Rain or Come Shine”. In the second act, we have a theatre usher who gets her five minutes of fame when Patsy Cline pulls her up on stage to sing backup.
    In this act, Cline’s tragic story of rushing home to see her children and dying in a plane crash is narrated to the audience. The third act introduces a librarian from Nottingham who recalls her father’s history as a member of the French resistance and who was led to safety by Edith Piaf. In the fourth act, we see a restless young reporter looking for a break and who finds it by getting a chance to interview Billie Holiday. Finally, we meet an Irish nanny, Orla, who provides a rare glimpse into the life of Maria Callas.
    Songs for Nobodies highlights the tragic elements of life. Throughout the play, enquiries such as “Tell me, what do happy people sing about?” bring forth larger questions that haunt everyone in the world. Every act in this production illustrates the universal need to be heard and seen. In the end, all the five nobodies in the play strive to leave behind a legacy: a song of their own.
    Ali Harper is stunning in this production. Her ability to convey the wide-ranging vocal characteristics, physical gestures, and behaviors of the five female legends was highly persuasive. She credibly captures the striking vulnerability of Judy Garland, the emotional warmth of Patsy Cline, the impressive breadth of Edith Piaf, that tempo of Billie Holiday, and the dramatic tenor of Maria Callas.
    Songs for Nobodies is truly an astonishing acting and singing extravaganza, and Ali Harper deserves all the accolades for her outstanding performance.


  • No Such Thing as a Fish

    Last year, a member of Iceland’s Pirate Party injured her eye and had to appear on TV wearing an eyepatch. In 2013, six people in the US named their child “Mushroom”. If every car in Monaco tried to drive at the same time, they wouldn’t fit on the roads. When zebras run away from lions, they fart with every stride. This but a glimpse of the treasure trove of information that is No Such Thing As A Fish.

    The podcast comes from four of the researchers (fondly dubbed “elves”) for the tv show QI. In their endless quest (a labour of love) for intriguing factoids, each week they share with the others their favourite fact from the last seven days, and, using these as bases for their own further research, riff on wherever the conversation goes. The show lies at the confluence of knowledge and humour, the hosts’ elephantine memories rivalled only by their quick wit.
    In a typical three minutes of the show, Anna tells us about the works of art on the inside of Japanese firefighters’ coats; Dan relates that firefighters used to have massive beards which they would drench in water, bite into and hold in their mouth in order to breathe; James pipes in that the guy with the longest beard ever died tripping over it while trying to escape his house in a fire; and Andrew brings it home with the firefighting goats of San Francisco.
    The podcast format means that we get to be part of the hosts’ weekly hui, and over time get to know their personalities. Dan Schreiber’s stories are random (and a concerning number of his facts “dubious”), Andrew Hunter Murray (with whom I may be in love) is incredibly nerdy and genuinely hilarious, obsessed with comic sans and the Casio F-91W, Anna Ptaszynski (she’s amazing) we learn hates festivals and loves wine, and James Harkin’s puns are per-fact: when he tells you that Norway once knighted a penguin, he’s the P-U-N G-E-N-I-u-s who will call it Pungu (its real name is actually Colonel-in-Chief Sir Nils Olav). I reckon if you could have any four people over for a dinner party, Barack Obama might have to wait for the next one.
    It may never come in handy to know these facts, but whakarongo mai to this show and it will improve your life. It’s kinda good to hear that democracy is alive and kicking in the sneeze-based voting system of African wild dogs. And we can take solace in the fact that Ken is officially an accessory to Barbie.
    They are as comfortable on the stage with a mic and a Powerpoint as holed up in their “Covernt Gar-den” offices, and this makes for a mean live show, as this lucky writer recently personally experienced when they played in Wellington. Although my best efforts and multiple emails (I wish I was kidding) hadn’t resulted in an actual coffee date beforehand, I did meet the tangata rongonui themselves after the show (it was amazing and I got pics to show the grandkids). That episode was actually released just last week, so check that out. (Beware, friends, for my guffaws).
    In the meantime I can get you started with a couple more goodies for when the food is running late and the sand in the conversation hourglass is dwindling: Volkswagen sells more sausages than cars; dolphins have names for one another; in Welsh folklore, corgis were the preferred method of transportation for fairies. Hey, if you’re feeling it, you could even go for when the brothels of Paris closed down so that everyone could go to Victor Hugo’s funeral in order to pay tribute to a devoted patron. At any rate, never be afraid to peacock your facts, people!
    Also, the Queen’s nickname is Gary.


  • Lost & Found – Jorja Smith

    Lost & Found is the debut from British up-and-comer Jorja Smith, and follows her appearances on Drake’s More Life and the soundtrack from Black Panther. I especially remember her interlude on More Life being particularly captivating, so went into Lost & Found with high expectations – especially having heard none of her advance singles.
    I was not disappointed in the slightest. Lost & Found fulfils the promise Smith displayed as a collaborator on these projects and, as far as a debut goes, displays immense potential for a long and successful career in the mainstream. Smith’s voice showcases dexterity and depth throughout, immediately positioning herself as a star likely to follow in the footsteps of the stellar British pop/soul singers that precede her (she’s not quite an Amy or an Adele, but I think she could get there – not to delve into hyperbole too much).
    The title track serves as the opener, and will immediately excite fans of 90s R&B and hip-hop, largely due to its laid back boom-bap production and percussive vocal, perhaps reminiscent of Lauryn Hill. I realise I’m throwing around plenty of big names here, but Smith seems to have done her research and, as a result, draws from many of the best features of their music.

    My favourite on the album is “Teenage Fantasy”, a song written by Smith while in high school. To me, this is a perfect pop song. The lyric is direct, and the bridge showcases an earworm  melody, but the chorus is the real gem here. It’s just so jammy, and showcases groove, grit, and sass that sets her apart from the myriad of neo-soul singers operating in the scene currently. “Blue Lights” is similarly gritty, again drawing from the boom-bap palette. Worth saying here that the production throughout Lost & Found is nothing short of immaculate – it’s not overproduced, and shines at the right moments while pulling back to allow Smith’s voice to soar. Smith even raps on “Blue Lights”, and does a pretty awesome job of it. There’s a distinctly human edge to Smith’s performances, and I can’t rave about it enough, clearly.

    Lost & Found does have a couple of relative missteps – I’m not so big on “February 3rd”, and there are moments on the likes of “Lifeboats (Freestyle)” and “The One” that could have been sharper as far as lyricism and melodic intrigue. Still, I admire that Smith has gone for a tight collection of tracks here, as she doesn’t delve into the same excessive, bloated style of album composition that Drake or Rae Sremmurd have in recent weeks. Lost & Found isn’t perfect, but Jorja Smith really is a gem. I’d recommend her performance for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert in tandem with this album. Both works display an effortless sense of coolness and confidence, alongside a stellar voice and generally strong songs. This should appeal to many people, and I can see Smith taking off in a big way should even one of these songs gain traction in a mainstream sense.


  • Everything Sucks!

    I really wanted to like Everything Sucks! I hadn’t found a show about teenagers that had felt real to me since finishing My Mad Fat Diary back in high school. So when it was first released on Netflix, I eagerly clicked the play button before the trailer could even start.
    Ten hours later I sat staring as the credits rolled to “In The Meantime” by Spacehog. The sun began to rise behind my bedroom blinds. I swallowed my disappointment, turned over, and went to sleep.

    First of all, I can acknowledge that the show in itself is relatively harmless. It means well. If you switch off the parts of your brain that relish in hating it, it’s even enjoyable. The themes and concepts advocated may be predictable, but they are nevertheless sincere. So much so that you could almost forgive the clumsiness and lack of subtlety with which they are handled.

    Everything Sucks! is little more than another show looking to make bank off a recent trend that has more than proven its potential for capitalisation — nostalgia. Stranger Things weaponised the 80s, and Everything Sucks! does the same with the 90s. It capitalises off on-the-nose references to iconic pop culture of the time, while rehashing the same characters and dynamics from thirty year old shows and films in hopes that we won’t notice. I would have been willing to overlook this, and the fact that an Oasis song was used for plot development, had the makers been truly willing to create something new. To give modern youth a show that finally portrayed real teenagers talking about and experiencing the unavoidable struggle of finding out where you fit in the world. Alas, it was not to be. For all my repulsion towards the aspects that didn’t work, there were those that — when given their moments — really did. The child actors are fantastic. Kate, played by Peyton Kennedy, is a girl trying coming to grips with her sexuality with poise and heartfelt tentativeness. Moments like when she watches a lesbian couple comfortably express carefree PDA at a Tori Amos concert prove that there were some scenes done right.
    Some of the more focal choices, on the other hand, seem contradictory. There’s the obligatory parent walking in on masturbation scene; depictions and descriptions of porn and sex; issues of racism and the fear of coming out; and yet the show takes place in a squeaky clean world. What worked well for 1999’s Freaks and Geeks (A clear inspiration for Everything Sucks!) was that the characters acted convincingly, and so even when certain plot elements were handled poorly it was an accurate depiction of a teenager reacting to a situation. There’s a moment in Everything Sucks! where the infamous song “Fire Water Burn (The Roof is on Fire)” by Bloodhound Gang begins to play. I thought to myself, “jeez, they’re really doing that”. Then they censored the chorus. This overt caution sums up how Everything Sucks! approached most of their half baked concepts. The show suffers from the same overly saturated filter that plagues a lot of potentially realistic film and television by glossing over a lot of the potential rawness of the narrative.
    Everything Sucks! is not bad, but it isn’t great either. It hovers over the wide middle margin in the Venn diagram of shows that have potential but also lack the confidence and writing to succeed. Instead we are left with a debut series that is admittedly endearing but essentially just an off-brand version of its superior counterparts.


  • Let’s Just Yell About Sequels – Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

    I liked Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and I can’t believe I’m saying that. Yes, we all know that Jurassic World (the one with all the product placement) was a bloated, capitalistic mess, but I genuinely found some fun in the sequel.
    Not because of Chris Pratt, because personally, I’d be happy if Chris Pratt died five minutes into the third installment in this franchise and Bryce Dallas-Howard took things over, but because of its ridiculousness.
    Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is two straight hours of utter bullshit, and I loved the film for it. I entered the theatre hoping for some sweet, sweet glimpses of grey-haired daddy Jeff Goldblum (unfortunately relegated to a cameo role) and left delirious, wondering where on earth they could take the franchise next.
    So. It’s been three years since the first film. Isla Nublar is about to explode. Our faves must go and save the dinosaurs from the volcano. Simple, yeah? Unfortunately, that’s when all goes to shit and some Bad Guys take the dinosaurs from Isla Nublar and try to sell them at a private auction. Our faves must save the dinos. Which they do. By releasing them into the wild.
    Fam, I hate to say it, but there’s a really strong possibility Jurassic World 3 is going to be a post-apocalyptic film, and I don’t know what to think about that.
    Will we get to see Chris Pratt fight off mutated dinosaurs with a machine gun? Who knows?! Will we get to see Bryce Dallas-Howard spear a t-rex through the head with one of her high heels? Who knows?!
    It’s going to be a goddamn clusterfuck and I’m absolutely going to see it on opening night.


  • Let’s Just Yell About Sequels – Sicario: Day of the Soldado

    After confirming the absences of Denis Villeneuve, Roger Deakins, and Emily Blunt, and with the title of Soldado finally decided at the eleventh hour, I was concerned about what exactly I was going to be seeing at the screening of the Sicario sequel.

    However, the acting calibre of both Josh Brolin and Benicio Del Toro delivered again. Their cold, merciless characters in the world Villeneuve established dished out questionable solutions to the cartel problem. The ideas of law and morality explored in Sicario (2015) are enriched in its anthological follow-up, by delving into the lengths these people will go to to achieve their goals, and exploring the effects of the drug world on children. The first act of the new film encapsulates this, with Matt Graver (Brolin) and Alejandro (Del Toro) organising a “false flag” operation by kidnapping a cartel leaders’ daughter Isabela, in a set sprinkled with pieces that attempt to mimic the tense Mexican border scene of Sicario. After this point, however, the movie has an identity crisis and can’t quite decide what it wants to be. The plot lines between Alejandro and Isabela bogs the film’s second act down. Consequently, the third act rushes to tie in the remaining plot line and delivers a fake-out death with an obvious set up for another film.

    Without the slick direction of Villeneuve and the cinematic eye of Deakins, Soldado comes across as another reactionary sequel. It delivers the central advertised conflict with the cartel, but struggles to keep the story afloat by choosing to focus on the next generation, (another sequel trend) and then cops out its ending for the sake of milking this franchise.
    Hopefully, for their sake, Taylor Sheridan will still be willing to write the next one.


  • The Friendship Cure

    Friendship is one of those essential things that is easy to take for granted. In The Friendship Cure, Kate Leaver tries to examine friendship, and look deeper into the role it plays in society . She interviews lots of people about their friendships and why they’re important, and attaches that to broader conclusions about (middle-and-upper class Western) society.
    Leaver is a particularly strong advocate of “the university friends we actually consciously select using our almost fully developed frontal lobe[s]”. I found her meditations on bonding over alcohol and assignments and independence particularly poignant, especially when she spoke of how the friends she made at university wound their way into her life. In this book, Leaver’s life is frequent source material, and as she is young (like thirty or so) she is particularly interested in modern friendship.
    That means social media, of course. You’ve probably heard old people whinge about how social media is ruining people’s abilities to create genuine relationships. There is certainly a “loneliness epidemic”, and Leaver provides anecdotal and scientific evidence to back this up, but she doesn’t blame social media. Instead, she acknowledges that “it’s not about youth or technology; it’s about evolution, science, health […] honesty, and priorities”. She writes of how, on days when she is depressed and angry, the ability to access her friends through her phone has been a gift, and I have seen that in my own life too. In a world where friends become scattered, Leaver’s willingness to embrace new forms of friendship is encouraging.
    Friendship shouldn’t be a static thing, either. That’s perhaps the biggest message of this book: friendship can look like a lot of things, and if you impose only one idea of the “perfect friendship” on all your relationships, you’ll be doing yourself, and your friends, a disservice. Maybe you know this already; I’d like to think I do. But friendship is difficult and messy. After all, “when it comes to friendship, we’re using all our faculties,” and Leaver is all too willing to embrace the glorious complexities of friendship.
    Something else I really appreciated about The Friendship Cure is Leaver’s examination of friendship as it interacts with other parts of your life. What should friendship look like at work? How do you be a friend to someone with mental illness? How does friendship vary by gender? What does friendship look like after you get married? After you have children?
    Each chapter sort of picks a topic like this, and then Leaver talks about her own experience and thoughts on this, consults maybe one expert, quotes from one pertinent study, interviews someone about it. Each chapter is pulled together fairly well, but while they do build on each other to some extent, I found that the book covers so much that a central coherency was often missing.
    While the content of this book was fully interesting and engaging, I struggled a little with the tone. Leaver describes people as “darling” or “sweet” and is prone to using phrases like “oh boy” (and in one memorable instance, “boy oh boy, oh boy, oh boy”). I like it when writing is accessible, but the conversational style of the book seemed a bit try hard to me. Like a new friend, Leaver works a little too hard to please you. The Friendship Cure is profoundly accessible, but that distracts from the excellent content.
    The Friendship Cure will not teach you how to be a friend; you’re a human being and you know that already. But it will teach you to be a better friend, and remind you of the many reasons to connect with the people in the empty universe which surrounds you.


  • Free Time

    Here are some exhibitions and events that I have not seen yet, but that are exciting and intriguing. Use a moment before deadlines to catch a couple of these, and I will follow my own advice and do the same.
    Pleasure and vexation— the strata and spectacle of history at Pātaka, until 19 August
    Danie Mellor
    Danie Mellor’s use of mixed media creates images that resemble something suspended between cyanotype and willow patterning. This exhibition explores the consequences of colonisation on indigenous people in Australia, and stresses the need for continuing dialogue around the troubled coexistence of indigenous and non-indigenous people. These are critical conversations to be having, a reminder that indigenous people are still living with the effects of colonial rule.
    Window Dressing at Bartley + Company, until 11 August
    Lonnie Hutchinson
    You’ve probably seen Lonnie Hutchinson’s work before, those dispersed cut-out-like shapes in the very silent reading room in the library. In this exhibition, she uses the idea of window and curtains to think about what is seen and unseen. Her method is like creating strings of paper dolls, inseparable from each other, but employs Polynesian motifs and mythology to think about what it means to be Polynesian, a woman, and deeply connected to genealogy, place, and history.

    Le Sceau de Salomon at The Engine Room, until 3 August
    Chloé Quenum
    This exhibition is about dual meanings to things. The French title refers to the legend of the Seal of King Solomon, a signet ring that allowed him to control demons — it also refers to the name of a forest flower. These kind of slippages between reality and interpretation, especially when travelling across geographies, are navigated through mixed media and video works. Drawing from the artist’s experiences in Aotearoa, Benin, and Paris, she contemplates the possibility of everything being connected to something else.
    Death and Desire— Hair in the Turnbull Collections at National Library of New Zealand Te Puna Mātauranga, until 7 September
    I have always been repulsed by those Victorian mourning bracelets with tiny photographic portraits woven into a wristband of hair, but equally fascinated. Katherine Mansfield’s ponytail is included in this collection, and in many ways, to collect and label hair because of who it was once attached to seems like an act of intense fandom. There is something cult-like about it, placing value on every aspect of someone, rather than just celebrating their work alone. I love this balancing act between beauty and morbidity.

    Mata Aho Collective talk at The Dowse, 4 August at 4pm, free entry but booking required
    Mata Aho Collective are discussing their work commissioned for The Dowse’s new exhibition Can Tame Anything, on its opening day. The exhibition will look at how 1980s critical theory and installation practices are still influential today. Mata Aho work on a large-scale, and often with unconventional material.
    The close-up thumbnail image for their talk looks like some sort of nylon cord, so I am excited about the  new work, and to hear them discuss it.


  • About the Author ()

    Salient is a magazine. Salient is a website. Salient is an institution founded in 1938 to cater to the whim and fancy of students of Victoria University. We are partly funded by VUWSA and partly by gold bullion that was discovered under a pile of old Salients from the 40's. Salient welcomes your participation in debate on all the issues that we present to you, and if you're a student of Victoria University then you're more than welcome to drop in and have tea and scones with the contributors of this little rag in our little hideaway that overlooks Wellington.

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