Catfishing

June 7, 2020

On 5 August 2013, Renae Marsden, aged 20, drove to the Gap, the well-known Sydney suicide spot, and ended her life.

From 20-24 February 2020, an inquest was held into her death.  On 20 May 2020, the coroner published her report.

Normally an inquest is into the causes of death.  There is CCTV footage at the Gap which cannot have left any room for doubt as to the physical cause.

As reported in the press-formerly-known-as-Fairfax, (there are numerous other reports)

[Renae] was making wedding plans, enquiring about a honeymoon in Greece and looking forward to her 21st birthday. Her friends and family describe her as a happy, bubbly and loving young woman who had her whole life ahead of her.

But on August 5, Ms Marsden took her life at The Gap after her relationship with the man she’d been dating for two years, but had never met, came to an end.

Stop right there in case you missed it:

the man she’d been dating for two years, but had never met.

How can you date someone you have never met?

Although Renae had spoken on the phone to “Brayden,”  “Brayden” never spoke to her.  Replies came by SMS, other communications were via Facebook.  Ostensibly “Brayden” [I can’t be bothered with systematically maintaining the ” ” or even the ‘ ” ‘ so just take them as read after this]  could not speak out loud because he was in gaol and he could not risk being overheard when using a concealed phone.  He couldn’t be visited there because he had traded the right to be visited for a shorter sentence.

Brayden first went to gaol because he was responsible for the death of his friend, Richie, in a motor bike accident.  Apparently he came out of gaol for a while  but soon was back in after some altercation with his father.  (Disappointment about this seems to have led to Renae taking an overdose of medication in September 2012 – see [11] and [12] of the coroner’s report.)

Brayden had gone to The Kings School and was a bigshot in high-rise building projects.  His father lived in Mosman,  Brayden was doing his time in Goulburn Supermax.

Nothing but the best for Brayden!

As a heartstring-tugging bonus, Brayden’s stepmother had died.

The only person who said she had met Brayden was Camila, who had introduced Renae to him as her own previous boyfriend.

A photo of Brayden was found in Renae’s car.  When published it turned out to be a picture of one Cameron Lang.  The original photo, found on Camila’s phone, was of Camila and Cameron, taken at some nightclub.  Cameron knew nothing of Renae or Camila: he was just a casually encountered stranger.

The police investigating Renae’s death, having the advantage over Renae of being able to check out any story about Brayden’s incarceration,  quickly concluded that Brayden did not exist and that Camila was Brayden.

Renae’s cousin Stephanie had suggested to  Renae that Brayden was in fact Camila but Renae had rejected the idea.  Renae even knew that Brayden’s phone was in Camila’s name but presumably this was because  Camila was supposed to have supplied it to him in gaol.

Camila at first denied any knowledge of any fiction involving Brayden.  Eventually, after messages were recovered (she had purged her own phone and disposed of the phone used by “Brayden”) she maintained that he was a fiction shared between her and Renae for the purpose of concealing a relationship which was disapproved of by Renae’s parents.

Coroner Truscott did not accept this.  She found that, by the time of Renae’s death at least, Renae and Camila did not have much of a relationship to conceal.  More tellingly (to me, at least) Camila’s claim that Renae was in on the fiction was inconsistent with inquiries that Renae had made of the Greek consulate as to whether Brayden’s criminal record would be a problem for the planned honeymoon to Greece and a phone call made by Renae to Goulburn Gaol on the day of her death.

(Not that the gaol had any record of Renae’s call or what she was told when she rang. likely as not she learnt nothing.  The prison system doesn’t give much away to casual callers and generally treats the friends and relatives of the incarcerated like shit.)

Camila and Renae met at high school. In November 2011, at around about the time that Brayden came on the scene, Renae designed Camila a tattoo “R 17.12.07.”  In 2007 Renae was in year 9 and towards the end of the year had broken up with a boy she had been seeing for most of that year, telling her cousin Stephanie that Camila didn’t like him.  Renae and Camila saw a lot of each other in  2008, by which time Renae was in Year 10. The coroner’s report does not say whether Camila was in the same year but that seems likely.

Renae’s parents considered Camila a bad influence (jigging school, poor results,  cigarettes).   Renae’s mother discovered “love letters” from Camila in Renae’s room.  Attempts were made to break up the friendship.  When Renae left school for TAFE to study hairdressing, Camila followed her there.  Renae said she wanted to bring the friendship to an end at at one stage. They met at a cafe  with their mothers and Renae told Camila this.  Yet the friendship persisted.  Just before Renae took her life she sent three text messages.  The first was to Camila.  (The second was to her mother and the last to Brayden.)

The coroner found the relationship was marked by abusive possessiveness on Camila’s part and that by August 2013 Renae was ready to break it off entirely and had again told Camila so.  Throughout July 2013, when Camila had been away in the USA, Renae had not heard from Brayden, though she had texted him daily.  She was expecting to receive news of his impending release.  Instead, on 5 August 2013, Brayden texted Renae that they needed a break.

For some years now, reporting of suicides has been suppressed or lightly coded (death “not suspicious”. Public inquests are rare and the publication of a coroner’s report is exceptional (see s 75(5) of the Coroners Act). So why an inquest and published report in this case?

In her report from [51] to [53] the coroner explains:

51. Renae’s family pressed for an inquest with the hope of learning the truth about what had happened to Renae and particularly about what was said between her and Brayden on 5 August 2013.  Given that only Camila Zeidan would be able to tell them the answers to the many questions they had they were most anxious for her to give evidence.

52. Renae’s family believe that Renae’s death was due to having been “catfished” which is a term used to describe a deceptive activity where a person creates a fake identity on a social network account usually targeting a specific victim for abuse, deception or fraud including romance scams, whether it is for financial gain, to compromise a victim in some way or simply as a form of a wish fulfilment.18

53. There is no specific offence in NSW for this conduct other than where the conduct falls within an already defined offence such as conduct such as financial fraud or deception or stalking and harassment or extortion.  Where ‘catfishing’ is without threat or intimidation or is not for monetary gain, then the conduct appears to be committed with the intent to coerce and control someone for the purpose of a wish fulfilment or some other gratification. Though such conduct may cause the recipient mental and or physical harm because it is not conduct committed with the necessary intent it falls outside the parameters of a known State criminal offence.  Given the mental harm and anguish occasioned to Renae, her family press for such behaviour to be criminalised

Taking things a bit further in the next two paragraphs:

54. There is an offence whereby the use of a telephone service (known as a carriage service) in a way (be it method or content or both) that reasonable persons would regard as being, in all the circumstances, menacing, harassing or offensive.  This is found at s474.17 Criminal Code Act 1995 (Cth) which carries a penalty of 3 years imprisonment.  It is unclear whether a Catfish situation such as this would be captured by this legislation.

55. If Renae discovered that her relationship with Brayden was but a fiction and she took her own life as a consequence, the community might consider that Catfishing is an act with should be prohibited. Even if Renae did not discover that Camila had committed the deception and was simply heartbroken because Brayden had ended the relationship, she has taken her life about a person who does not exist.  That consequence is of such gravity that the community would expect to be sanctioned.

At [263] of her report,  the coroner concluded that Renae “likely” did not discover the deception, at [260] that Renae was “upset that Brayden was not wanting to continue the relationship.” At [269] she states that Renae’s life “ended all too soon in unnecessary emotional turmoil and trauma.”

At [257] the coroner found that, despite the disposal (by Camila) of evidence of what was said or communicated on 5 August 2013, there is no basis to think that Camila incited Renae to take her life.  This suggests to me that such an accusation was raised, at least implicitly.

At  [70] of her report, the coroner concludes that the advantages to Camila of Renae’s “relationship” with Brayden were that Camila was free of any actual rival for Renae’s affections.  She could be Renae’s best friend without this aggravation and also, in a twisted way, maintain a vicarious relationship via “Brayden.”  But this was far from a forest-dappled impersonate romance.  Camila was even capable of expressing jealousy of Brayden – ie, of herself in that guise.  At other times “Brayden” counselled Renae to behave better towards Camila.  Brayden himself was constantly jealous and possessive.  Renae could also hit back at times, but eventually yielded.  The observation by the coroner (at [167]) of one two-day argument rings all too true:

 Reading the exchange, like most of their hostile exchanges, is a crazy moving landscape of bitter control and manipulation and this one had Renae apologising in appeasement.

How could this ever have ended?  The coroner concludes that by 5 August 2013 Renae had made clear to Camila that she was no longer prepared to continue their friendship.  At the same time, Camila’s need to maintain the fiction of Brayden was abating as she was embarking on a new relationship with Michael, whom she subsequently married.  So she pulled the plug, not, as Renae’s family maintained she might have, by “coming clean,” but brutally.  At [255] and [257]:

Camila did know that Renae had left messages on Brayden’s phone every day for a month and no doubt those messages were of love support and hope for his release so they could be together.  Camila did know that terminating the relationship would leave Renae devastated.  That knowledge did not translate to having any care and regard for the consequences of  deceiving Renae  over the preceding 20 months and the impact that deception was having.

I do not think that Camila as Brayden extended any kindness, comfort or support to Renae on 5 August 2013.

The formal finding as to manner of death (at [270]) is:

Renae Marsden deliberately slipped from the clifftop with the intent to end her life after the termination of  a relationship with a person whose identity and intent were, unbeknown to her, a fabrication created and perpetrated for the purposes of exercising coercion and control over her by a known person, who engaged in conduct known as “Catfishing”.

“Coercion and control”  reads to me suspiciously like a legal doublet.  Control is clear enough, but I’m not so sure as to coercion.  Surely some distinction must remain between coercion and deceit?

One possible reason why “coercion” crops up is because it is preparatory to the coroner’s recommendation.  What “sanction” should there be in accordance with community expectations foreshadowed at [55]?

The coroner’s recommendation was:

That the Domestic Violence Death Review Team undertake an in-depth review and provide that review to the Department of Community and Justice to inform any action taken to progress Recommendation 9 of the DVRT 2017/19 Report.

This is explained by the coroner at [271] to [273]:

271. Renae’s family are seeking to have a discrete and distinct criminalisation of the conduct called Catfishing.  I hope these findings provide some support and assistance in that regard; there are complex matters which were not canvassed at the inquest which need to be taken into account before any coronial recommendation involving the introduction of criminal legislation.  Accordingly, I do not make such a recommendation.

272. On 24 March 2020 the “Domestic Violence Death Review Report 2017-2019” was tabled in both houses of the NSW Parliament. Recommendation 9 of that Report is

That the Department of Communities and Justice examine the extent to which existing NSW laws (criminal and civil protection orders) respond adequately to nonphysical forms of domestic and family violence and to patterns, rather than incidents, of violence. This examination should include:
1. a qualitative review conducted with NSW police about what forms of behaviour are being targeted under the offence of ‘stalking or intimidation’, whether such charges are laid on their own or in combination with other offences, and the relationship context of such offences; and 2. monitoring the progress and implementation of offences of coercive control and domestic abuse in other jurisdictions.

273. The monitoring and progress and implementation of offences of coercive control in other jurisdictions relate to a widening of the definition of domestic (and personal violence) which would capture the conduct Camila engaged in by Catfishing Renae but are laws not currently implemented in NSW though through this recommendation are being considered.  Renae’s case should be included and considered to inform the Department of Communities and Justice examination.

The coroner’s account, especially of Renae’s final afternoon, must be a harrowing read for Renae’s family. Camila’s conduct towards Renae was horrible and the outcome of it even more so.

Renae was obviously susceptible to such conduct and even worse Camila must have been well placed to exploit that susceptibility.  Yet  I’m cautious about using this case as an example to create a fresh offence, or to extrapolate from such manipulation arising from an adolescent relationship where one party was unable to let go to law about coercion and control between adult partners or extrapolation back in the opposite direction.

When you talk about creating new offences you have to think about consequences for conduct which is on the edge of or adjacent to the posited new offence.  If Brayden was real (as Renae believed) would he too have committed such an offence?  What about, to take a tired old trope, men who tell women they will leave or are leaving their partners, and then don’t?

Other commentary is:

here (including the suggestion that Camila’s conduct could amount to manslaughter by recklessness- which strikes me as opening a whole can of worms – recklessness – and involving  difficulty and therefore undesirable uncertainty of conviction. Renae herself told so many lies about Brayden that there could still be room for reasonable doubt as to her complicity in the fiction);

here   (cautiously supporting the creation of new offences); and

here (more cautious – “more law is not the answer”).

A more detailed account from the family’s perspective which joins some more of the dots – published after the inquest but before the report – here.

Modern manners

May 3, 2020

Recently I had a big birthday.

Current conditions precluded any elaborate celebration, if  such were called for. It was just D and I. We managed a small supermarket cake with full-sized candle plonked in the top. There was no bubbly as by the time we got to the supermarket the appended liquor shop was shut.

Birthday greetings other than from my sisters mostly went to voice-mail as I was struggling with some written submissions (working from home definitely magnifies writer’s block) due the next day and didn’t even notice the calls. Some greetings came via text message.

Apart from family,it is oldest friends who are most likely to remember the day. Is this because birthdays loom larger when we are younger?

I did receive calls or messages from three former girlfriends. Yes, I have some. They were all a long time ago – the last of these relationships came to an end in about 1992.  I am in quite frequent contact with the one who lives closest to me.

Oddly, two of these greetings came, not from the ex- in question, but from her husband – though one of them told me she had also tried to call herself. Is this a special version of the ex-boyfriend rule?

The greeting from the last and latest came a few days late by text from the ex- herself. If there is a rule, that seems to confirm it, because in the message she also announced that she had just left her husband.

Chased a chook

April 30, 2020

There’s been  good news and bad news.  The good news is that  sport has almost disappeared from the evening news. The bad news is that the C-V has taken its place.

A secondary aspect of the good news is that the Morrisonesque commemoration of the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook’s arrival at Botany Bay has pretty well sunk like a stone.

I was ten at the time of the bicentenary and it was a big deal.  We had a special public holiday and watched fireworks from some incline above the harbour.  I also had to do an incredibly laborious school “project” on all three of the great Captain’s voyages of discovery. He may have been killed on the third but the second, Antarctic, one struck me as the grimmest.

In Victoria, Dr Annaliese van Diemen, deputy chief medical officer, tweeted from her “private” account (is there such a thing?):

Sudden arrival of an invader from another land, decimating populations, creating terror. Forces the population to make enormous sacrifices & completely change how they live in order to survive. COVID19 or Cook 1770?

Victorian (opposition) Liberal MP Tim Smith tweeted in response:

What’s with the culture wars crap from a state health bureaucrat at a time like this?

Comparing the extraordinary first voyage of Captain Cook where he charted the East Coast of for the first time to a deadly virus is disgraceful.

You’ve lost the plot.

Funny how, like class wars, it is  the Right which calls out “culture war!” these days. I can see from Google (that’s enough: I am never going to give Murdoch money) that The Australian took up his cause.  Of course, The Australian never starts a culture war, ever.

Dr van Diemen’s history may be a bit approximate, but given that James Cook’s visit in 1770 led not so indirectly to the terrible smallpox outbreak that is estimated to have wiped out about 70% of the indigenous population of the Sydney basin in 1789, I don’t think she’s lost the plot.

And smallpox was just the start.

 

End of an era – Farewell to Fish

April 24, 2020

IMG_20191220_172821

On 19 January this year my friend ST sent me an SMS.  It began:

What was your tastiest fish takeaway?

I was flummoxed for a moment, then I realised that he was referring to the closing-down sale the previous December of Fish Fine Music, described in Limelight  as the “last remaining classical music specialist shop in the country.”

I hadn’t been helping to keep Fish in business.  Fish had been at its present address since 2006 and I had never darkened its doors there until the final days.

That’s not so much because I’d made any switch to streaming or YouTube (other than occasionally, to look something up) but because I’d basically stopped acquiring recorded music at all.  I’ve lived off my memory, the radio, the Con library, the relatively few CDs I already had and, most of all, live music.

I ditched my sizeable and space-consuming vinyl collection (much acquired in a burst of acquisitiveness from the now defunct second-hand store, Ashwoods, in my early twenties) a bit under 10 years ago.  I do regret that but they took up an enormous amount of space and I was hardly ever playing them.

All the same, no one can resist a bargain and this was probably my last chance to buy a CD in a proper music shop ever.  So I went.  In the end, twice.

It seemed that all the usual suspects had come out of the woodwork, some actually known to me and others known by sight or brief conversation from concert proximity.

The above photo features a well-known Sydney piano identity (to coin a phrase: “well-known Sydney racing identify” was once the standard descriptor in the SMH for George Freeman. I don’t suggest anything similar about the WKSPI.)  She left with a large bag well filled – you can see it in the picture on the counter just past her handbag.  Good on her!  The staff offered to help her carry it away but she managed on her own.

Before I went, ST, who is an inveterate list-maker, pressed me for a list of representative choral/orchestral works which he could look for to establish this part of his notional/aspirational “collection.”

In the end ST paid no heed to the list he’d asked me for.  In truth there must be a reason why didn’t have such recordings already and his taste was not about to change to fill the “gap.”

Even though choral/orchestral music is not really so much my thing these days, it is I who, as a by-product of making a search on ST’s behalf, ended up with 6 CDs extracted at a bargain price from a dismantled Erato Box Set of sacred music: Vivaldi, The First Homicide (that’s Cain and Abel); Bach, Christmas Oratorio; and Mendelssohn Paulus.

I haven’t yet really got into the Vivaldi – it feels a bit generic. I have really enjoyed the Bach but that was no surprise.  It was the Mendelssohn which was the ear-opener.

Paulus is the story of St Paul, starting with the stoning of St Stephen, traversing his conversion on the road to Damascus (of course!), and taking the story up to his embarkation at Ephesus, with a brief anticipation of his ultimate martyrdom to round the story out (Libretto here).

I read somewhere that Paulus was based on Mendelssohn’s study of Handel and Bach. To me Bach looms much larger, probably because chorales are interpolated, including Wachet auf! which also receives a quite beautiful treatment in the overture.  Apparently the chorale-ish stuff was the bit that didn’t go down so well when Mendelssohn later took St Paul  to England – they didn’t yet have any background in this.  Hence Elijah, which has since eclipsed Paulus, especially in the Anglophone world.  Paulus only started to have a revival internationally from the 1980s.

I’ve really enjoyed listening to Paulus and right now I’d say I prefer it to Elijah.  It has the virtue of being shorter.  My preference may abate once the novelty wears off.

The late Charles Rosen famously dubbed Mendelssohn the inventor of [musical] religious kitsch.  Rosen’s chapter on Mendelssohn in his book The Romantic Generation (not quite so influential as its predecessor, The Classical Style) opens with a reference to Schumann’s paired review in 1837 of Paulus and Meyerbeer’s Les Huguenots, described by Schumann as the “two most important compositions of the day.”  Rosen writes: “the comparison of the two composers was developed in the most vivid terms, and created a scandal.”

What scandal, exactly?  Rosen tactfuly passes over this.  I plan to make this question the subject of a further post.

…and one for show

April 5, 2020

Prince Charles and piano

This comes from the news of Prince Charles opening the new emergency hospital in London remotely from his Highlands residence at Birkhall.

No-one would accuse HRH of ever actually using the kerchief he customarily sports in his suit jacket pocket.

Nor does it seem likely that the piano behind him in this photograph is played very often.

Everyone’s an expert

April 3, 2020

A colleague has taken to referring to the C-v crisis as “the Thing.”

It’s hard to concentrate on anything else.

D, who has followed from afar his family locking down in Shanghai, favours a ‘go hard and early’ response because of China’s going hard – he is such a Chinese nationalist that he refuses to countenance any criticisms about not going early enough.

But everyone faces a moment where observing isolation seems too hard.  After a week of home-alone and actually putting them off on earlier occasions, D allowed two friends to visit on 22/3.  I criticized him for that – why sacrifice the hard yards you have already put in?  That evening D retrieved our rather ineffectual steam cleaner from its obscure place of storage and set it to work in the kitchen and bathroom.  Not entirely rational given that the visitors had only passed fleetingly through the house (they talked on our back verandah at my insistence – I hope an appropriate distance apart), but psychologically understandable.

Then I made an exception for the piano tuner, who came on 25/3.  He was very careful, as was I.  He even wiped down my money.  Maybe some time between now and 8/4 I’ll regret that, though even then I’ll never know.  Meanwhile, my faith in Mozart’s piano sonatas – even if they are the poorer and simpler sibling of his other works – has been restored, and also my faith in or at least enjoyment of my humble (bot not yet, I have decided, hopeless) piano.

There have been lots of different views about what should be done, or what should have been done, when and by whom.  The government has obviously been unhappy about the part played by the ABC’s Norman Swan in some of this.

I too have been guilty of a little expertizing – volunteering “information” in a reply to a comment on this blog about possibly using slightly diluted methylated spirits as a surface disinfectant.

This (the meths, not the opining though, on reflection, that too) can have its perils.  I had a small quantity mixed with water in a coffee cup, then used the cup for a coffee without paying much attention.  Had I swallowed any?  Probably not – I think I tipped out whatever remained though maybe did not rinse out – it was the reek of the meths in the kitchen sink that I was probably noticing.

Internet searches about the toxicity of methanol (blindness quite soon after as little as 5ml) gave me a little bit of a scare until I looked further and discovered that in Australia “methylated spirits” is nowadays more than 95% ethanol.  You can learn something every day!

 

 

Library nerds unmasked!

March 24, 2020

 

For some years, for a payment of about $80 a year, I have been an “alumnus” user of the University of Sydney Library.

The library remains open on a limited basis for staff and students, but has been closed to others (such as me) on account of the current crisis.  I learnt this by an email I received yesterday. Silver lining: we can still keep out the items we have on loan.

In fact, there were a few emails, but I didn’t look particularly closely at them once I had got the general drift.  There have been so many emails about that sort of thing in the past few days.

Today I received a further email:

Dear Community Borrower

I am writing to advise you that there has been an accidental disclosure of some personal information about you – being your personal email address. Yesterday evening an email update about our services in response to COVID-19 was accidentally sent out by the Library with recipients in cc rather than using the bcc field. This was the result of human error by a Library staff member. We were made aware of it soon after it occurred, have recalled the email where possible, and are reviewing our processes to determine how to prevent such incidents occurring again.

I am most sincerely sorry for this mistake and apologise to you on behalf of the University and the Library that it has occurred.

Please note that you are able to make a privacy complaint about this matter. You can email your complaint to privacy.enquiries@sydney.edu.au and you can find more information on making a privacy complaint at www.sydney.edu.au/privacy.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like to discuss any aspect of this matter, either in person, by phone or email.

Oops!

This is not a privacy breach which causes me much grief as my email address which was disclosed is publicly available anyway.

Nor is the implicit disclosure to fellow recipients of the email that I am a “Community Borrower” one which I’m particularly concerned about.

I’m guessing the  university is  obliged to make the disclosure it has now made because of privacy legislation.  In fact, the cure is probably worse than the disease.  Who looked at the cc list on the original email? Surely some who did not before will be tempted to do so now, if only to see to whom their information has been disclosed.

OK, I admit, I was so tempted.

I did spot an address for someone who may not welcome my knowing it. I can restrain myself from using it.

I found that I was one of 500 recipients accounting for about 6 or 7 letters of the alphabet by surname.  Across the whole alphabet there can’t be more than about 2,000 of us – probably rather fewer than that.  Because I am such a fan of the library, that makes us  a (to me) surprisingly select bunch.

One part of me regrets that, given we are so few, the University can’t continue to let us into its libraries.  Another less counter-suggestible part is resigned to staying away.

PS, 27/3: at least one other recipient was unable to resist the temptation.  He’s  emailed his fellow privacy-breachees linking to his bandcamp web page and seeking musical collaborators.

PPS, 2/4: possibly in response to that, I’ve received a further email from the library with the following request:

If you haven’t already done so, please delete the email sent to you in error. Please do not forward that email or make any copies of it.

They probably should have made that request at the outset, even though, short of physical destruction of the storage medium, nothing in computers is ever really totally deleted.

I love the library and I don’t want to make things any harder for them, so I’m happy to say (as is the case) that I have acceded to that request.

 

Life as we knew it – Mardi Gras Film Festival

March 21, 2020

Unearthing and polishing up  some unpublished posts to reminisce over the time before the virus.

Another year, another Queerscreen Mardi Gras Film Festival.

This year’s was billed as the 27th.

I must have been at the first, in 1994. That was a more edgy event than it has since become.

Brochures from 1995 on are available online.

Apart from a few years when it was based at the now-gone Pitt Street cinema, the festival ran for many years mostly at the Academy Twin in Paddington. This was a good fit as Oxford Street was a natural precinct for meeting before or adjourning afterwards to discuss what you’d just seen or just chatting up someone agreeable.

Since the Academy Twin closed down in 2010 the festival “hub” moved first to the “Entertainment Quarter” at the old RAS Showground and now for the past few years to Event Cinemas at George Street. Neither neighbourhood has the same amenity, though Oxford Street too has suffered a decline.

There is a trajectory in the life of organisations such as Queerscreen. If they flourish, they inevitably professionalise and bureaucratise. At some point near the end of the time at the Academy, there was a shift in the volunteer culture. There were still volunteers but I got the feeling that they were now being recruited almost as “interns” for “event management.” A wonderfully over the top mother of a gay person who had made a big splash disappeared and was seen no more.

In the background and international gay/lesbian film festival circuit has also developed. One sign of this is that now we have programs designated as “Asian/Pacific.” That’s a North American appellation. Films can be procured much more “off the shelf.” Except for “Antipodean” content the choice of films seems increasingly less adventurous.

D is reluctant to go at any time to films unless they have an GLBTQI slant (and indeed is really only keen on the G and possibly Q in that alphabet soup). When the program for this festival came out, it looked as though D would be visiting his family in Shanghai. That plan changed for obvious reasons, but by the time we got around to doing anything about the festival only the last week was left.

So we missed a rescreening of the 1981 classic, Taxi zum Klo. I could borrow this from the City of Sydney Library (once somebody returns it) but this is a film which I would have welcomed seeing in the company of a gay audience. When I saw it in 1982 at an alternative cinema on George St in the company of my father (what must he have thought?) there were loud whoops from the audience when a slide came up reminding ladies to keep a watch over their handbags. Would the romantic scene where the lovers piss their initials and a heart into the snow stand up to my recollection of it?

We went to:

Are You Proud

This was a documentary about the history of London’s Pride parade.  I found the earlier historical bits, albeit featuring all the usual suspects, the most rewarding.  In a foretaste of what happened at this year’s Mardi Gras parade, more recent years have seen the burgeoning of proetests-within/against-the protest, as specific groups react against the mainstreaming of the event and on behalf of their own specific interests.  The UK is ahead of us in that regard.

15 Years

Set in Tel Aviv.  The title referred to the length of a relationship which, in the course of the movie, began to fall apart, as the more macho member of the pair reacted badly to a tide of baby-enthusiasm amidst his contemporaries and (though not really spelt out) issues with his near-to-death father.  I can’t say I really warmed to this film or to the central character.  I guess we were meant to find him muscular and attractive but that kind of man is not really my type and I couldn’t sympathetically warm to him at all.

It also seemed to me that the film could have been about any falling-apart 15-year relationship.  What was specifically gay about that?  And here’s a dilemma – in a perfect world we wouldn’t have “gay” films, but films which treat as “normal” gay characters – but I’m not satisfied with such a film when I see it.  At this session time we could have gone to Ellie & Abbie (& Ellie’s Dead Aunt) the ultimate audience favourite of the festival.  I’ve been told it is set in Sydney in the recent present.  The ghost of the lesbian aunt returns to give 1980s dating and other tips to a pair of girls wanting to go to their school formal together.  This would almost certainly have been more fun.

Los Fuertes

A Chilean film.  Beautiful scenery.  A romance between an urbanite, visiting his sister before escaping to Canada from Chilean homophobia and parental rejection, and a fisherman determined to make a life in his own community.  The director was in attendance.

Films like this pose a variant of the dilemma referred to above.  The battling-homophobia melodrama is hardly one whose time is past, but it’s a battle which in a way in my own life these days I can sidestep.

The Teacher 

Credits at the end hinted that this Taiwanese film was based on a mid-nineties play by a now-deceased playwright, yet the film was set in the period of the anti-gay-marriage referendum in Taiwan and subsequent law reform (which was a result of a court decision over-ruling the referendum).  This created a slightly odd disjunct because the central plot – a young gay teacher having a romance with an older man who ends up returning to his wife after giving him HIV – was medically inexplicable given subsequent developments in treatment options.  Still, I enjoyed it.

And Then We Danced

Merab (played by a very charismatic Levan Gelbakhiani)  is a young dancer in the training department of a Georgian state folkloric dance ensemble.  His problem is that he is not going to be macho enough to be accepted into the main ensemble – you need only see the dances to see why, though at one point he is told (and it seems to me credible) that the macho-isation of at the at-least-homosocial aspects of Georgian dance is a development of about 50 years ago.

It is only in the course of the film that Merab recognizes his sexuality in a romance with a newcomer fellow dancer.  They are competing candidates when a vacancy has opened up in the main company when a dancer is sacked after having been caught having gay sex, on tour, with an Armenian. (We learn later that family of this unfortunate sent him off to a monastery for gay conversion therapy; the “therapist” turned out to be a wolf in sheep’s clothing; now he is selling himself in front of the Circus.)  At the end, Merab  has to leave Georgia.  The love interest has gone home to get married and look after his family.

In some ways, this is a similar type of film to Los Fuertes, though as it deals with younger characters it also includes a coming-out aspect – Merab’s girlfriend (his dance partner since they were children) ends up having to play the cliched sympathetic female friend role.

As I hope my sketchy plot outline above suggests, Merab is up against a potent mixture of homophobia and cultural nationalism (anyone remember Tamar Iveri?).  So was the film, which had to be made on a guerrilla basis (it was Sweden’s entry for the Foreign Film category of the Academy Awards though it didn’t make the shortlist).  Locations were lost.  A scene involving transvestite street workers was shot using people playing themselves and billed only by their given names.  Police had to protect the opening night in Tbilisi against nationalist vigilantes.  The name of the person responsible for the choreography has been kept secret.

I found myself more drawn-in by Merab’s predicament than by that of the characters of Los Fuertes – that’s the dividend of melodrama, I suppose.  I’m a sucker for post-Soviet/Communist-non-chic, and there was much of interest in the depiction of life in Tbilisi and, as well as the dance, some terrific music.  This was my favourite of the films I saw at the festival (and took second place in the audience vote).

An Almost Ordinary Summer 

This was billed as the closing night gala.  In fact it screened last year in the Lavazza Italian Film Festival.  The premise was two grandfathers announcing to their progeny and descendants their proposed marriage.  There was a bit of melodramatic homophobia (all of it eventually overcome). Most of the film could just have readily been about heterosexual grandparents repartnering and I seriously wonder if that is how the film started out.  Neither of the “gay” (actually, “bisexual” – they’re always bisexual in Italian films – sigh) seemed particularly credible as such; one played a stereotypical limp wrist (he was in the arts so could have spent a lifetime like that).  One of them still had a school aged son but apparently although announcing their impending nuptials they had not even discussed his living arrangements.

Possibly for Italians this is an amusing film – there is also a class ingredient in the unlikely meeting of families and I expect a lot of comic dialogue also involving regional variation as well as class – but for me it was a mainstream waste of space in a gay or even LGBTIQ (have I got them all?) film festival. I was disappointed  that the festival organisers should have thought it worth including.

Metajoke!

March 17, 2020

I had to admire this headline:

Nobody expects the Spanish flu pandemic!

End of life as we know it – for the time being

March 15, 2020

I was lucky to get to the first night on Thursday of Opera Australia’s retread of La Scala’s production of Verdi’s Attila.

Lucky because it now looks as if everything will be cancelled for the foreseeable future.

Unlucky because I was looking forward to seeing it again two more times this week and next, notwithstanding its extreme clunkiness.

This week’s SSO performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis and Elisabeth Leonskaja’s recital of late Beethoven sonatas will likewise be banished to the realm of what-might-have-been.  And that’s just the start.

Attendance at the Australia Ensemble’s first subscription concert for the year last night was notably sparse: perhaps these can continue if the threshold for forbidden public gatherings remains at 500.  [PS, 18/3: now to be reduced to 100, 21/3 – cancelled until at least June.]

Courts have announced a suspension of new trials by jury.  They say that this is because of the risks of large gatherings of empanelled prospective  jurors, but I suspect they are equally motivated by the risk of jury trials miscarrying down the track.  This poses a new version of the prisoner’s dilemma: if you are on remand you may be tempted to agree to a judge-alone trial to have a chance of getting out.  Should presumptions as to bail be reversed?

I’m in court tomorrow morning but after that I expect to be working from home.

I’m likely to have time on my hands.  I hope to get my piano tuned before things get much worse.  It seems like a good time to unearth my copy of The Decameron.