Category Archives: Film Reviews

Film – The Business of Being Born

This review won’t be about my two births, so it’s safe to read on!

However, I found the process of birthing in the hospital system a profoundly radicalising experience – one where I felt the machine of hospital policy and interventionist medical practice (things that I knew from my independent reading were not justified by current medical research) were placed well above my wishes – the way I wanted to birth. Am I sounding like a selfish latte-swilling twat? I mean, what is most important, the baby’s health or my wishes to birth as naturally as possible, without interventions?

The fallaciousness of believing the health and safety of a child is at odds with a mother’s desire to birth normally (no epidurals, no constant fetal monitoring/ vaginal examinations in labor, no drug augmentation and certainly no induction) – whether in a hospital setting or at home, is at the heart of this movie. It clearly lays out why midwifery-led care, midwives being the experts in normal birth, is where Australia should be moving our maternity services, instead of the US-led model of interventionist OB/GYN hospital delivery, with truly alarming rates of caesarean section.

We’re mammals, and have evolved a birth method over hundreds of thousands of years. It’s not perfect, but it serves most women fine. Particularly if a woman has confidence that she knows how to birth – and allows her body to just do it. A panicking woman will often retreat in her labor – that old “fight or flight” mechanism, and of course, if you are afraid, feel vunerable, are being put under pressure to make decisions “for the good of the baby” without the luxury of asking questions about alternatives – well, the physiological response does not help with birth any more than trying to labor lying down. And there’s the issue of pain too – a panicked woman rarely breathes well, or relaxes her body – both of which assist massively in reducing the pain of labor, in my experience.

A woman births “best” when she feels emotionally secure and supported. This results in the best possible outcome for the baby. For you, this may mean having an OB at your elbow – but for me and many other women, this means being left alone to go where we need to go, drawing on our own resources (which are AMAZING) to birth our babies.

And there’s the issue of continuity of care too – if you employ a midwife, the same person sees you all through pregnancy, to birth, and beyond birth to assist in the huge adjustment we make as new parents. This model is unavailable with hospital care for the most part, even in a birthing centre – which run on “team” midwifery. And when you leave hospital you are pretty much on your own.

OB/GYNs are experts in high-risk and complicated births, or what one OB in this doco refers to as the 2% of “oh shit” in birthing. My issue is that their expertise is actually wasted in management of normal birth – I’d like to have them available for when things go wrong, instead of micro-managing normal labor. The very nature of their training means they are highly risk adverse – they see potential complications and pre-empt them, where a midwife sees potential resolution, given time and observation, as well as natural assistance, for example, utilising optimal fetal positioning. (I am generalising, of course –individual practitioners don’t so neatly fit the boxes).

C-sections offer the shortest distance between two points for hospitals and management of risk, but at a high price for birthing women. Monty Python’s Meaning of Life makes an appearance in the film – the famous “machine that goes ping” sketch.

The woman giving birth asks: “What do I do?” John Cleese as surgeon answers: “Nothing dear, you’re not qualified.” Haaahaaahhaaa……….mmmmm. Not so funny. Massively disempowering, actually.

If you’ve wondered about the benefits of using a midwife in real terms – giving up the baby bonus to pay for it is a big ask, after all – this film will help clarify the grounds for you to make a decision. It is partisan of course – the agenda is clear – but I didn’t have a problem with that because it was upfront in taking a position. Birthing information and options in Australia are so weighted towards a medicalised model that I think anyone who is going to birth would benefit from watching this, even if you will never homebirth. An eye-opener.

And to think, legislation just tabled federally may make independent midwifery effectively illegal in Australia by 2010.

The Family Movie

Back in the day, I recall an extensive bookcase of betamax films my family had carefully taped off the telly, sometimes even remembering to pause it during the ads (which meant you occasionally forgot to unpause it and missed crucial minutes of film time). It was a kick arse array of films because before cable, the only place old films got an airing was late night TV.

Our favourites got worn out enough to scream like pigs being turned to sausage every time you wound them back. Eventually, no amount of fwd-rwd-fwd would defuzz the picture, no head-cleaning tape could disguise the fact that the things were just worn out. And then VHS became all you could get at the video store and my dad sat and painstakingly set up the hulking betamax tank against the new, slimmer-but-still-quite-Dalek VHS player and “taped to tape” to transfer those films we could not do without. We kept watching them through the snow such generational taping causes.

But here’s the thing. We’re not talking about Bergman and Scorsese here – these family movies that became part of the fabric of our very lives, where one could quote lines and reduce the entire car to hysterical laughter, or sigh and slip down into the couch on a rainy day with tomato soup, or “bakea-da-bean” on toast, or whatever it was that managed to be cooked when Mum got a break – these movies were pure cheese.

Without saying a word, everyone would just end up watching them. As a teenager, I kept watching, nursing secret hangovers. If those outside the family happened to be there when one went on the telly, it was embarrassing, inexplicable.

The worst of our family movies were a terrible melodrama with Jack Palance as Attila the Hun called Sign of the Pagan. I may have to track that one down again and review it, because it was awful in a kind of transcendant way.

There was also Ben Hur (possibly the campest straight movie ever made) and The Scarlet Pimpernel. Not the classy b&w Scarlet Pimpernel from 1934 with Leslie Howard, oh no. The Eighties one –with Anthony Andrews, Jane Seymour in a range of alarming wigs as Marguerite, and Ian McKellan as the villain, before he got famous. It is utter bilge, but I still feel quite hormonal when I think about Anthony and his dashing disguises, his turns as fop Sir Percy, his close escapes. Don’t laugh, particularly if you thought Colin Firth in the wet shirt in Pride and Prejudice was crumpet – it’s in the same bag.

So dashing

So dashing

I was privileged to attend a showing of A’s Family Movie some years ago, and it ticks all the same boxes as ours. His is Ladyhawke, and he won’t hear a word against it. Terrible synth soundtrack, Matthew Broderick batting his eyelashes at the audience and breaking the fourth wall constantly, and Rutger Hauer being Rutger Hauer. Evil Bishop chewing scenery, a curse, Michelle Pfeiffer in blue eyeliner. Aaaah, has anyone got a cuppa and a Monte Carlo? I could settle in right now…

Interspecies lurve

Interspecies lurve

So what makes the Family Movie?

  1. Cheesy music
  2. A love story
  3. Sentimentality in all its forms – cute animals, lovers reunited, villains routed and given their just desserts
  4. Period costume – the Eighties count (Working Girl is definitely a Family Movie)
  5. Hot leading lady/man – but not too much sex or it’s just icky to watch it with your parents
  6. Fruity cult dialogue/secondary characters
  7. Nothing too nihilist. This is why The Princess Bride is a Family Movie, and Withnail & I definitely is not.

If you can think of any other criteria, or can ‘fess up and share your own Family Movie, that would be lovely.

I am making a NEW list for my family. So far it has Enchanted April on it. Utter chick flick.

Film – A Canterbury Tale

What an odd little film this is. Like my favorite Powell/Pressburger effort I Know Where I’m Going, I hardly think it could exist in the modern world – it is just too vernacular. A mystery, an examination of “British types”, thwarted love stories, historicism and war propaganda. The main character is played by a non-actor, American GI John Sweet, who’s perfect as a foil for all that cucumber sandwich. His loping walk and drawl, his easy talk with the village boys and local wheelwright – he just makes the English look puckered and repressed, which I don’t think was the intention. Hands across the sea and all that.

The local toff and magistrate Mr Colpeper, played by Eric Portman, is incredibly creepy – he may love the pilgrim road and sense that the village green is a dying spectacle, but his speeches on the need to preserve Kent, and all that is ‘antique tables and billiards’ seem like the ravings of a slightly undead anorak. Don’t get me started on the Freudian schtick with the “Glue Man” who attacks women’s hair, either. The man lives with his mother and lies in the grass looking at clouds.

Sheila Sim is sure, slim waisted and pluckish as the land girl everyone is a little sweet on, but the real revelation in this antique piece is Dennis Price as classical organist turned soldier Peter Gibbs. His restless, brusque London-Johnny is the modern man starkly set against the cob-and-thatch quaintness of the setting. He’s a scalded cat from the worst of the Blitz. And of course, all British movies are class movies. Despite his lovely voice, Gibbs is not of the right class to be a High-church organist. That is why he is slumming it as a picture theatre Wurlitzer-man in civilian life. When he tells Colpeper what work he does there is a beat where he dares the privileged man to disapprove, just a space. Colpeper demures, of course.

The scenes inside the Cathedral are meant to inspire awe, but mostly had to be matted in with studio painting as the Cathedral had all its treasures removed long before the picture was made, in case it was targeted for bombing. It looks a bit tinny. The scene which really stirs is when Alison walks the high street of Canterbury and sees the gaping holes and scarred basements of stores destroyed, with signs advertising where the businesses have moved. You can’t stop a nation of shopkeepers.

Anglo-Saxon attitudes

Anglo-Saxon attitudes

Two alarming moments:
When the GI catches up with his buddy in Canterbury and scoffs at tea-drinking, his friend assures him “It’s a habit, like marijuana” Ah, excuse me? Did the Limeys really think the Yanks were mad on reefer? In 1944?

When Peter is mobilised and the GI asks “Where to?” (most inappropriately – careless talk costs lives), Gibbs replies “We’ll all be there soon”. Hello Hitler, sweating on that second front?

Not the perfect jewel that is I Know Where I’m Going, but much to recommend it. The Old Curiosity Shoppe in khakis.

Film – The King

Biopic of Graham Kennedy, whom I loved deeply in his late-GraGra incarnation in the 80s on Graham Kennedy Coast to Coast,, showing his underpants and reducing Ken whathisname to tears with laughter on his late night current affairs show. We were rather spoilt for choice then. GraGra if you felt featherlight and silly, and Clive Robertson if in a more melancholic mood. Both fun to watch stoned, incidentally, but with different trajectories. So the major issue with this telemovie is that it appears to have been written as a haiku. There is little shown beyond Kennedy on air. We’ve seen Kennedy perform, so where’s the insight? The early stuff with his childhood and radio days seemed too brief, the on-set stuff from IMT strangely airless. At points, Stephen Curry seems to think that embodying Kennedy involves no more than pushing his tongue into his cheek like an insistent cock, or doing a spot of Toni-Colette-catatonia acting. It did capture his self-hatred and restlessness, but could have been so much more. Shaun Micallef not much good either.