Michael Tolliver Lives


I know that an exclamation mark would be hyperbolic, but I think that, after an 18 year absence, “Michael Tolliver Lives!” is an appropriate title. Abandoned by his author in 1989, Michael Tolliver has been up to a lot in his absence. This wasn’t originally going to be a Tales of the city book, but Maupin realised that Michael Tolliver was the perfect vehicle for an ageing gay man.

This explains why it’s written in the first person, and how everything seems to grow organically from that original concept. It can be dangerous resurrecting beloved characters after a long time away, but Maupin has let them all live and die natural lives in the interim.

The shift from third person to the first is not without its problems: unlike The Night Listener, where the narrator was addressing his hypothetical radio audience, there is no indication of whom Michael is speaking to. This is not normally a problem with other first person books, but it’s clear that Michael is addressing someone, and I refuse to believe it’s me. He reminds you of things a couple of times and he explains things that don’t strictly need explanation.

Because we’re presented the exclusive viewpoint of Michael, other characters – Brian in particular – get short shrift from Maupin. This isn’t a failing as much as it is a necessary evil. Just because one wants an author to overstuff a book doesn’t mean that they should. Maupin shows more restraint here than he has previously.

Of course, the other side of the double edged sword is that the exercise is rather more personal than any previous entry in the Tales canon. Rather like Maupin’s prior effort, The Night Listener, I found myself tearing up or even outright crying at times in the last fifty pages.

I welcomed this book because I considered Sure of You a huge downer to end the series on. Maupin doesn’t idolise his characters, and so they sometimes make horrible decisions and become people that you can easily fall out of love with – as I did with several. The character arcs from book to book actually made me worry about reading on for fear that the characters – not Maupin – would compromise themselves.

Michael Tolliver Lives is an invigorating experience. It sounds stupid, but it is “life-affirming”. Maupin writes death and loss very well, having experienced it too often first hand (this series, after all, spans pre-AIDS society to “post”), but he also writes survival. His honesty is brutal, and I don’t agree with every stance that Michael takes, but I don’t have to. I’m touched in such a way that I don’t have to internalise the whole experience. Ultimately, Michael Tolliver Lives, despite the way that it treats some characters (Mona!), feels like more of a gift from Maupin than anything else.

Mary Ann in Autumn, only recently published, promises to be a return to the original format of sprawling and unlikely storylines that intertwine in vague and strange ways. Mary Ann’s return as a focal character might set everything that was wrong in Sure of You right once and for all.

12 Months of Movies 2010: D-F

It was around this time that I realised that I saw a fair few French films this year and that a lot of them did nothing for me. How can I be against French cinema? Truly,  I am a monster! Animation makes a strong showing, idiots leave a slightly sour taste in my mouth.

Date Night to Four Lions!

12 Months of Movies 2010: A-C

At last! My year in review! And when I say a year, I really mean the whole thing: all 90 “official” Australian 2010 releases I saw, and however many festival films I saw in their own special entries. Now, curating it alphabetically means that no entry has a “theme” (until I reach the festivals, of course), but it also means it’s a damn sight easier to search. So here, your definitive guide to my 2010 in films (with perhaps some 2009 refugees to come at the end).

Somewhere

I am one of those people: I loved Marie Antoinette. I’ve seen it three times and have taken something new from it each time. A lot of people hated Marie Antoinette. I can’t imagine that they would like Somewhere any more than that.

Somewhere is a movie that might need to incubate inside me for a few days, because its appeal is not immediately apparent. On face value, this is simply an unrelatable movie in which very little to nothing happens. If you scratch beneath the surface, well … you would probably come to the same conclusion.

Tron: Legacy

Tron: Legacy opens with a text crawl, but the words don’t tell us about the secret construction of an ultimate weapon, nor about the retirement of androids: instead, we are told that parts of the movie are presented in 2D because they were shot that way, but that we should keep our glasses on for the entirety regardless.

It’s the most inspiring crawl I’ve seen for a good many years.

Godannar – Series One

In the seventies, robots were huge. In the intervening years, boobs have become bigger and bigger. It’s not as if Godannar is the first series to combine the seventies mecha aesthetic with the skimpy clothing and outsize proportions of the modern age, but it’s a particularly … exemplary … example of the form.

Godannar is a series that it’s very easy to be in two minds about, in that it combines something that I love (organisational intrigue and conspiracy) with something that I am suspicious of at best (endless objectification of teenaged girls who make bad decisions). It’s a strange series, and I hope it goes somewhere. Like Princess Tutu, it is two thirteen episode series disguised as a single 26 episode series.

JFF14 Opening Night: About Her Brother

Cancer kills more characters in Japanese movies than any other disease excepting that old standby “noble sacrifice through vehicular accident/drowning to save the life of a stupid child”, which is epidemic. Cancer can be omnipresent, it can develop alongside the plot, or it can creep up on you at the end and kill you off in a reconciliatory way.

This is a preamble to saying that the Japanese Film Festival has consistently had strong representation from characters with cancer across the years. Many movies will wear their cancer on their sleeve, while others will spring it on you in ways that can only be construed as ridiculous. About Her Brother presents itself as a “home drama” that the promo material promises will contain the spectre of terminal illness.

With that thought in the back of my mind, I eagerly waited for the titular character to be struck down. Fortunately he’s a fictional character so I’m allowed to think this, but that doesn’t mean I relished his demise.

AMC’s The Walking Dead: episodes 1-3

Zombies. They’re everywhere. They’re coarse, they’re rough, they’re decaying and, like vampires and werewolves, they’re here to stay … for now. The ironic proliferation of the virulent undead across our pop culture landscape has not gone unnoticed, but the latest entry in the zombie pantheon isn’t a brainless cash-in. The Walking Dead is a TV adaptation of a comic that has been running since 2003. You probably already know this, but context never hurt anyone.

With three episodes – half of the first season – down, The Walking Dead has turned out to be more of a character dynamic mood piece rather than black and white panels made flesh. This is an interesting approach, and it makes for a significantly different experience. Frank Darabont is playing with character reactions to situations and drawing on source material only when he sees fit. It’s possible that this is offending a lot of people, but it also means that The Walking Dead is perfectly capable of standing on its own.

Very mild spoilers within!

El-Hazard: The Magnificent World

Time was, I used to live and breathe anime. I would get through at least 26 episodes a week. Sundays would be devoted to the fastidious practice of the art of sitting in a chair and reading subtitles. Then, around the time I turned 21, I lost the habit.

I was able to watch a fair bit in the intervening years, but never at the same volume or with the same passion. This time it was a good nine months between drinks, when I gave up on Boys Be…, having graduated with a degree in boredom and bad character design.

I return, baptised by fire! After a few episodes, it was like being back home and finding forgotten treasures in drawers long closed. I may never be manic again, but I taught myself the laws of the OVA form anew in watching El-Hazard: The Magnificent World. Like many OVAs of old, it wastes a lot of time before it decides to start kicking some serious arse − which, most assuredly, is what it does.