Watching “Billy Elliot” again

Back in August 2006 I posted:

Then another coachee, doing Standard English, has as one of his texts (yes, I know) Billy Elliot. Again the laptop and the local video library worked wonders for us. Great movie. and a rich enough text too at many levels. A shame I have this embarrassing tendency to cry in the last few scenes, a phenomenon I described to my coachee rather than enact in front of him.

So ten years on I blubbed (privately) in the last few scenes all over again.

Interesting viewpoint about that scene:

The worst part of the film, Billy Elliot, is the ending. I know that the ending has people sobbing in their seats (including Elton John), but it is so sweet and corny that it destroys the real-life aspect of the film. In the film, everybody is happy. Billy is a super-star. Michael is open and proud of his new boyfriend. Tony is thrilled to see his little brother perform. And Dad is overcome with joy and pride. Only Fairytales for children under seven should end with “And they all lived happily ever after.”

The story of Billy Elliot and the miners is depressing, and the audience needs a lift at the end. The film uses the silly happy ending to send the audience home happy. But it ruins the gritty reality of the story. The musical finishes the show with only hope for Billy’s future, and no real hope for anyone else. It is much more realistic for older children and adults. Then the musical cheers up the emotionally drained audience with the “Company Celebration” (Finale). Hall and Daldry corrected a major flaw with this change.

I haven’t seen the musical. Did you know the first performance was in Sydney?

The musical opened at Sydney’s Capitol Theatre on 13 November 2007, directed by Daldry in association with Julian Webber, and choreographed by Darling. Rhys Kosakowski, Lochlan Denholm, Rarmian Newton, and Nick Twiney alternated in the title role. The production earned good notices, and in January 2008 it won Best Musical at the 2008 Sydney Theatre Awards…

People rave about the various productions of the musical: for example

This is not a time to beat about the bush. Billy Elliot strikes me as the greatest British musical I have ever seen, and I have not forgotten Lionel Bart’s Oliver! or Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom of the Opera. There is a rawness, a warm humour and a sheer humanity here that are worlds removed from the soulless slickness of most musicals.

Yes, there are rough edges that would give Cameron Mackintosh a fit of the vapours, yes, there are occasional scenes that are not as powerfully played as those in the film. But there is so much more that is big and bold, imaginative and great-hearted….

I am content with the movie which I find quite perfect in itself.



That of course is Jamie Bell as Billy. See Jamie Bell interview: This boy’s life, done ten years on from Billy Elliot.

…He’s told this story before, and he’ll tell it again. But it’s a fitting story for Bell. It has a fairy-tale aspect, and Bell’s career has always had a scripted quality to it – a working-class boy from the northeast of England is transported by the movies all the way from his local Odeon to the high tables of Hollywood. And the way it has been written, art and life have done a playful dance throughout, each informing and reflecting the other in uncanny and profound ways.

What could be more fairy tale than Billy Elliot – a fatherless ballet-dancing boy from Billingham plays a motherless ballet-dancing boy from somewhere just like Billingham and wins a Bafta into the bargain? Director Stephen Daldry selected him from 2,000 boys to play the title role, and it changed his life forever. He was 14, just entering puberty. Some child stars might prefer to consign their earliest roles to history as they grow up, but not Bell – he doesn’t mind talking about Billy Elliot. He recognises how special it was…

Of course it was seeing Jamie Bell as Abraham Woodhull in TURN: Washington’s Spies (2014) that prompted watching Billy Elliot again. (I have now finished the ten episodes on my Library DVDs by the way.)


See ‘Turn’ Just Might Be the Breakout Role for Adult Jamie Bell.

…It’s probably not too hyperbolic to say that Billy Elliot is, and probably will be, the defining role of Bell’s career. As recently as September, he was talking about the part in an interview with The Independent. Back then, the story went like this: Bell—who, like Billy, loved ballet but hid it from his friends—won the role out of a field of 2,000 young men. Bell’s performance as Billy was ferociously intense, especially in the dance scenes (just watch below), but he was also incredibly naturalistic, something that Bell now discusses. “That wasn’t really acting to me. That was my life. I’d put ballet shoes down my pants to hide them from my friends,” he told The Guardian in 2011.

Of course, many actors who got their start as children have trouble re-establishing themselves as adults, but there’s also something curious about the fact that Bell has worked as often as he has in the years since Billy and yet hasn’t landed on a role that can serve as a shorthand for his adult career in the same way Billy has for his child-acting. Billy Elliot is a sentimental favorite for many, but it is not Harry Potter, and perhaps shouldn’t have become the overwhelming force in Bell’s life that it has…

Ship of dreams…

I dreamed last night of an 18th century ship-of-the-line. No joke, I actually did.

Perhaps it is because I have still been watching those TURN: Washington’s Spies episodes on the Wollongong Library DVD. The last episode I watched did indeed feature a ship, but it was a recreation, beautifully done but horrendous, of a prison ship.


Season 1, Episode 7, in fact.

Robert Rogers visits the prison ship HMS Jersey and asks for Samuel Tallmadge. After discovering that Samuel died of dysentery, he asks to speak with the prisoner who knew Samuel best. The warden brings him Selah Strong, who Jordan instantly recognizes…

There is a Prison Ships Martyrs Monument in Fort Greene, honouring the thousands who died nearby off the shore of Brooklyn.

Those familiar with Sydney’s history could relate to much that one could see in the re-creation of 18th century New York in Episode 7.

But the ship I unaccountably dreamed of last night wasn’t HMS Jersey but HMS Agamemnon. The name was as clear as a bell.


There she is! I have no idea why I dreamed about her. Perhaps somewhere in my subconscious was a movie I saw years ago:

In 1993 the wreck was located north of Gorriti Island in Maldonado Bay by Maritime historian Hector Bado and underwater survey expert. later in 1997 with the help of Mensun Bound have documented the remains and recovered a number of artefacts, including a seal bearing the name ‘Nelson,’ and one of Agamemnon‘s 24-pounder guns from her main gundeck.

The historical novelist Patrick O’Brian selected Agamemnon as one of the ships on which Jack Aubrey served as lieutenant, before the events of Master and Commander, the first novel in his Aubrey–Maturin series…

I did see Peter Weir’s Master and Commander in 2003.

Burkinis – not worth freaking out over

Of course I understand why people in the south of France especially are hair-trigger on the subject.

The most evil words in the world?

Posted on July 16, 2016 by Neil

… are not those referencing bodily parts or functions or sexual activities. Rather they are those that dehumanise to the point where you think it is a rather good idea to drive a truck through crowds of innocent fellow-humans, or act like that shithead in Norway – not a Muslim—who five years ago ran around shooting 77 teenagers and others because he didn’t care for their politics.

So I lament Nice, and all the other horrors across the world in past weeks and months…

But I do think some French authorities have gone down the wrong track lately. So does Aussie May Fahmy in today’s Herald.

For the uninitiated, burkini are full body swim suits, commonly worn by Muslim women and occasionally by others who generally prefer the extra coverage or who are sun conscious; Nigella Lawson famously wore one once on Bondi Beach to protect her alabaster skin. Recently, cities in France have banned them on their beaches.This ban was introduced in Cannes to ensure beach goers wear clothing “which respects good customs and secularism”, according to Mayor David Lisnar (nuns’ habits are apparently exempt).

See more posts here tagged “terror”.

While some, like this Western progressive feminist, may disagree, I think the burkini is not worth freaking out over.


The burkini is in fact an Australian invention, following the Cronulla riots of 2005.

…The controversy resonates sharply in a country where the female attire has been a flash point between the traditionally secular majority and a Muslim minority, with mostly immigrant backgrounds, for years. Throw in devastating recent attacks linked to Islamist militants and the situation is pretty volatile.

Yet for all the burkini controversy, the backstory of the garment is often overlooked. The burkini didn’t originate in Europe. And, no, it didn’t originate in the Middle East or a Muslim-majority nation, either.

Instead, the burkini was crafted in Australia, designed for the white sandy beaches of Sydney. And though the garment is proving divisive in Europe, its creator says she was inspired by a desire for inclusion — and a healthy entrepreneurial spirit…

At first Zanetti’s garment attracted only a niche following. However in the aftermath of the 2005 Cronulla riots, local organisations began to look for a way to help Muslim Australians integrate and show others that their Muslim peers were part of Australian society. In 2007, Surf Life Saving Australia launched a campaign to find Muslim lifeguards to work on Sydney’s beaches…

An example following on from that is this 2007 entry from Pommygranate:

This year sees the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the first surf club, at Bondi beach, in 1907. This week should see the arrival of the first Muslim surf life savers as part of a wonderful initiative by Surf Life Saving Australia to broaden its membership. It was only in 1980 that women surf life savers were admitted. They now account for 40% of membership.

It is also part of a campaign, called On The Same Wave, assisted by a $600,000 government grant to recruit Australians of Middle Eastern heritage to try to rebuild community relations following the Cronulla riots in December 2005.

Mecca Laalaa, 20, is one of a group of Muslims hoping to become a life saver following completion of a ten week training course in November. She is unable to wear a bikini so a local Lebanese designer came up with a novel idea, the burqini – a full-length lycra suit complete with built-in headscarf. The suit does make swimming more difficult but hopefully not significantly so.


See also last night’s 7.30 on ABC: Australian-designed burkini at centre of national debate in France.

Strange world sometimes! Aussies of a certain age will remember this well:


And this one I conclude with, though it is a touch paradoxical:


Update 27 August

Maybe good sense will prevail after all? Top French court temporarily suspends burkini ban.

France’s highest administrative court has suspended a controversial ban on full-body “burkini” swimsuits, pending a definitive ruling.

The State Council gave the ruling on Friday following a request from the League of Human Rights to overturn the ban in the Mediterranean town of Villeneuve-Loubet on the grounds it contravenes civil liberties.

The court said in a statement that the decree to ban burkinis in Villeneuve-Loubet “seriously, and clearly illegally, breached the fundamental freedoms to come and go, the freedom of beliefs and individual freedom”…

What I posted one year ago

You’ll have to go to the original to see what this was about:

Random Friday memory 26: naked in The Shire

Posted on August 28, 2015 by Neil

Oh yes. Well, once at least when I was maybe ten years old…


It was all down to my classmate CT who was a bit of a junior nudist…

And this one:

NSW government stops showing of documentary in schools

Posted on August 27, 2015 by Neil

This began, it appears, with a characteristic fit of righteous wrath from the Sydney Daily Telegraph front page. I saw but did not bother reading it. Life is too short.

But there have been rapid consequences, as reported in today’s Sydney Morning Herald:

The NSW Education Minister, Adrian Piccoli, has banned every public school in the state from screening a documentary about children with gay parents during school hours…

A bit like this today…

Still dampish in West Wollongong

Posted on August 26, 2015 by Neil

The immediate area was not as badly hit as some; you can see The Illawarra Mercury for that.

Torrential rain has caused havoc in the Illawarra over the past 24 hours with numerous roads closed due to flooding.

Rainfall totals in the 24 hours to 9am Tuesday were Bellambi – 192.0mm, Kiama – 170.4mm,  Albion Park – 159.2mm, Nowra – 181.6mm and Moss Vale – 47.6mm.

Here are some photos on my way back from the Yum Yum Cafe this morning. (Yesterday I stayed at home.)



Bastard hunting banned…

Posted on August 20, 2015 by Neil

Yes, I also wondered.

I have an email update each day from the South Asia Daily, a News Brief from the South Asia Channel/Foreign Policy magazine. The headline Pakistan Bans Houbara Bastard Hunting this morning really made me curious. It led to:

On Wednesday, Pakistan’s Supreme Court upheld a provincial ban on hunting of the Houbara Bastard bird and ordered the cancellation of all hunting permits for it (ET, Dawn). The case derived from the federal government’s issuance of such permits over provincial objections. The panel ruled: “After the passing of the 18th Constitutional amendment, the rights to issue any such licenses rests with the provincial governments.” Justice Qazi Faiz Essa commented: “The federal government has not only violated the federal and the provincial laws but has also breached the international agreements by issuing such licenses.” The Houbara Bastard is listed as “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature due to its rapid population decline in recent years. However, the bird remains a popular prey of hunters from Arab countries.

It is actually the houbara bustard or North African houbara (Chlamydotis undulata), but I like the spelling in the report above.


houbara bustard

See also from February 2015: Saudi Royal on Houbara bustard hunting spree in Balochistan.

QUETTA: A Saudi prince is on a hunting spree for rare birds in Balochistan despite a court-imposed ban and the government’s insistence that the foreign delegation is only on a diplomatic mission, senior officials said Monday.

The annual hunt has sparked controversy in recent years because of the Houbara bustard’s dwindling numbers, with the issue also shining a spotlight on traditionally close ties between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature includes the bird on its ‘red list’ of threatened species, estimating there are fewer than 97,000 left globally…

The government for its part has denied that the Saudi party is engaged in hunting, saying that they had come to oversee development activities.

“They have other kind of activities like inspecting Arab-funded development schemes and meeting tribal elders of the area as part of good will”, minister for forest and wildlife Obaidullah Babat, told reporters last week.

The issue has stirred controversy on social media and among youth activists in the restive province, where a separatist insurgency has been simmering since 2004 and many are critical of the government’s policies, including its ties to ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia.

Up to 40 youth activists from Chaghi district protested in front of Quetta Press Club against the hunting of Houbara Bastard on Friday.

They chanted slogans against the provincial government and demanded the expulsion of the Arab hunting parties from the province.

The stories we never hear about, eh!

Mind you, I couldn’t help but think of a bit of bastard hunting that we could do with here in Australia. A wicked thought…

Thirty years is a long time and forty even longer

I missed this, unfortunately, as I rarely attend night-time things these days, especially in Sydney. I had been invited:

Its a long time ago, but you taught me for a few years at Sydney High – 1985 and 1986 – for 2 unit English. Memorable times, including the infamous “shit poem” you asked a friend to come in and read for us, and our universal dislike of Dickens’ Great Expectations!

My colleagues and I are having a 30 year reunion on Saturday August 13, 2016 – we’d like to invite you if you’d like to come.

The inviter is on the right, a former teaching colleague on the left:


Apparently a debate on the topic “It is better to live fast and wild in middle age than in high school” was part of the night’s proceedings. They were very good at debating, that class of 1986. Some have gone on to considerable eminence in related fields. I’m told  “over fifty-five ex-students and a small number of teachers calling ‘present, sir’ at the Local Taphouse in Darlinghurst on Saturday 13 August.”  I am sorry I could not be with them, but am having fun guessing, occasionally successfully, who is who in the photos.



Some of these people may recall this:


See More “Neil’s Decades” – 10: 1986 again.


That’s part of a Sydney Boys High staff photo from 1986. I am back row centre. The colleague in the top picture above is also in this group. Can you pick him?

And on Sydney High, especially 1986, I have posted a lot. Just a few examples: Class of 1986 please note: you’re getting old! (2011), More “Neil’s Decades” –8: 1956 — 1, Expedition to Surry Hills – 3 – Sydney Boys HighMore “Neil’s Decades” — 1, I return to teaching — 1985.

Now forty years on: More “Neil’s Decades” — 3: 1976.


That really took me back. You see, at Wollongong High in 1975-1976 I was teaching [Year 8] Photography as well as English. You will observe the two top right copies of “The Gleam”, WHS’s magazine/yearbook. Those covers are my work I do believe. The insides too represented quite a departure from what had gone before. If I recall correctly we were gifted offset printing by Illawarra County Council, the local electricity authority at that time who had a new printery with not enough for it to do. The scope it gave us was marvellous. I do seem to recall playing a bit of a trick on the student editorial committee – the 1976 one, I think – by submitting anonymously some meaningless but trendy-sounding poems, which they published. I no longer have copies of these mags. I’d love to check the insides again!

One of my great mentors in Photography was John Williams. His Obituary was recently in the Sydney Morning Herald.

John Williams was the first head of photography at Sydney College of the Arts and discovered his passion through a photographic catalogue called the Family of Man given to him by his wife in 1958. The Museum of Modern Art exhibition, with its documentary photography vision of universal humanity, toured Australia in 1959 at the height of the Cold War and its forceful images influenced a generation of young photographers…

Film, theatre and visual arts emerged as legitimate places for Australians to make a living and new schools were established. Within five years photography was booming and Williams was at the heart of it.

John was then reviewing for photography magazines and newspapers and running a WEA course on photography. It was here that he met his second wife, Ingeborg Tyssen, a nurse who had arrived in Australia as a child from The Netherlands. A brilliant photographer, she joined him when he moved to Melbourne in 1974 and together they set up The Photographers Gallery with Paul Cox and Rod McNichol.

Tyssen and Williams returned to Sydney in 1976, when he became foundation head of photography and film at the new Sydney College of the Arts…

I gave an account of my part in one of those residential WEA courses in Towns I’ve stayed in 3 — Hill End NSW.

I passed through several times in the late 60s and early 70s, always stopping for a while. It is still quite a hairy drive in, and the pub is most inviting. In 1975 I was at Bathurst doing a photography course with John Williams and Ingeborg Tyssen*. Hill End/Sofala was one of our targets. I asked an old guy in the pub, after buying him a beer, if I could photograph him. “Guess so,” he said. “Snowdon did last week…” (John Williams told me I was a good second-rate photographer, which I found rather pleasing, coming from him.)…

* Sad to note that Ingeborg Tyssen passed away in 2002, not yet 60 years of age.

Do look at John Williams’s work.