BOOK REVIEW: EMILY REYNOLDS – A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO LOSING YOUR MIND

 

English freelance journalist Emily Reynolds was a teenager when she first developed bipolar disorder. It proved a hard diagnosis because it took around a decade of visits to health-care professionals and a cocktail of different medications in order to settle on the right ones. While on this journey, Reynolds researched and read the books that were available about mental illness, but she was unable to find one that resonated with her own unique condition. A Beginners Guide to Losing Your Mind is a result of Reynolds filling this gap.

 

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BOOK REVIEW: BRIAN WILSON & BEN GREENMAN – I AM BRIAN WILSON

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God only knows where pop music would be without Brian Wilson. The genius writer of many of The Beach Boys greatest hits has had a profound effect on popular culture. I Am Brian Wilson (his second autobiography; his first was published in the nineties) is a complex and forthright account of his life in music.

This book is written by Wilson along with Ben Greenman. It’s a story they claim is about music, family, love and mental illness. Wilson is often quite candid about his troubles whether it be his former drug-taking, the schizophrenic voices he hears in his head, the panic attack he experienced before a plane ride in 1964 or the major depressive episodes he has experienced over the years and the “treatment” he received by a domineering, quack psychologist by the name of Eugene Landy.

I Am Brian Wilson jumps around in time and it is by no means a comprehensive or linear account of his life. Instead, thoughts and ideas are weaved together based on themes and it doesn’t matter to Wilson that one event may have taken place in the sixties and the next memory may have taken place today. In this respect it’s an honest and chaotically-human piece. You also get the sense that you could imagine Uncle Brian in his armchair (a place he calls “the command centre”) recounting all of this to you. Or you could imagine Wilson sitting on a psychiatrist’s couch and doing the same thing. This is all deeply personal and often quite heart-wrenching stuff.

Wilson’s prose has a very gentle and familiar quality that often feels quite childlike too. He describes the famous people he knows rather casually and often with little introduction (for example: Paul McCartney is referred to as “Pablo” while Bob Dylan is met in an emergency department). I Am Wilson goes into some detail about the artist’s upbringing with his late brothers and bandmates Carl and Dennis Wilson and the abuse they experienced at the hands of their abusive and authoritarian father, Murry. Friend, Al Jardine and cousin, Mike Love (the other original members of The Beach Boys) are also described but the latter is painted as a stubborn, opinionated and litigious bad guy who had his own idea about what The Beach Boys should be and this was often incongruous to what Wilson believed.

Some of the anecdotes in this autobiography are worth the price of admission alone. Wilson’s description of meeting The Eagles’ Don Henley is particularly hilarious. There’s also the fact that Wilson once asked Bono for a diet coke, which proves pretty funny. But I Am Wilson is not just about silly little throwaway moments, this book also has real heart. Wilson describes his first marriage to Marilyn Rovell and the births of his biological daughters, Carnie and Wendy. Wilson acknowledges that he was an absent father but this is not the case with his current wife Melinda Ledbetter and their five adopted kids. Wilson gets rather misty-eyed when talking about Melinda because he claims she saved him from self-destruction (and this story is one that is told in the film, Love & Mercy).

This book also includes an in-depth look at Wilson’s song-writing and lots of his views and reflections on music. Wilson admits to being influenced by Phil Spector and The Beatles and is honoured that McCartney counts “God Only Knows” as one of his favourite songs. This memoir is ultimately a forthright look at music-making with Wilson describing his bands past and present as well as his work with session musicians, The Wrecking Crew. All of these things mean that this autobiography is essential reading for fans of The Beach Boys and Mr Wilson in particular.

I Am Brian Wilson is a multi-faceted look at the troubled virtuoso artist and Beach Boy. This memoir is also released at around the same time as Wilson’s cousin, Mike Love releases his own autobiography. The two will have different views on their lives as California boys singing about cars, surfing, girls and the sun but one things for certain, Brian Wilson’s brutal honesty ensures that his story has a modest and sensitive charm. This ultimately means that Wilson’s autobiography is a brilliant read and one that should make you stop and smile.

Originally published on 15 January 2017 at the following website: http://arts.theaureview.com/reviews/book-review-i-am-brian-wilson-is-a-charming-music-memoir-guaranteed-to-make-you-smile/

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FILM REVIEW: HELP US FIND SUNIL TRIPATHI

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Help Us Find Sunil Tripathi is an excellent documentary and cautionary tale. It tells the story of a Brown University student who went missing in 2013 and how he was wrongly accused of being one of the Boston Marathon bombers. The film is a sensitive one about an amazing character and a sad indictment of social media and how a vocal few could turn into digital vigilantes and participate in a crazy witch-hunt.

The film is directed by former CNN journalist, Neal Broffman and written by Heather O’Neill. It is a story with lots of layers and depth. At the start we meet the family and friends of Sunil “Sunny” Tripathi. We learn that he was a kind person, talented musician and an intelligent student. He loved playing the saxophone and learning about philosophy. A beautiful portrait of him is developed through a series of home videos and photographs.

Sunil had difficulties at university and many believe he was suffering from depression. In March 2013 he left his apartment in Providence and he vanished. His family and friends launched a search party and reached out to people through social media and traditional broadcasters in order to find him. Sadly, this was largely to no avail.

On April 15 2013 the Boston Marathon bombing occurred and Tripathi’s elder brother and sister were there supporting a friend. Shortly afterwards the FBI released two blurry photographs of the suspects. An individual on Reddit falsely accused Tripathi as being one of the individuals in the pictures and all hell broke loose. The family were harassed by hungry journalists seeking an exclusive and the internet turned into the Wild West full of racist taunts and threats. The individuals online made huge leaps and presented unsubstantiated claims as fact and basically tried to punish Sunil even though we are supposed to treat individuals as innocent until proven guilty.

The filmmakers were unable to interview any of the people who wrongly accused Tripathi so this film can be a tad one-sided. But they do interview two representatives from Reddit and the users who made those hateful and ignorant comments have their writings shown in graphics that punctuate the film. The bloodthirsty journalists who left voicemails in the early hours of the morning are also represented through the audio they left on the Tripathi’s phones.

This story ultimately shows us the real Sunil Tripathi. He was an innocent, articulate and loving young man who was unfairly subjected to mob mentality and digital vigilantes. This is ultimately an emotional, thoughtful and important tale that will leave you frustrated and sad about our broken system and the internet in general.

Originally published on 15 September 2016 at the following website: http://iris.theaureview.com/suff-review-help-us-find-sunil-tripathi-usa-2015-an-emotional-thoughtful-and-important-documentary/

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FILM REVIEW: CAMILLE CLAUDEL 1915

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Poor Camille Claudel. The famous artist would create a lasting legacy of sculptures and drawings that are still important and relevant today. But she was also one tortured artist. Camille Claudel 1915 attempts to capture all of these emotions and feelings. It’s also a French biopic that is a claustrophobic chronicle of three days in her sad life.

Claudel sounds like an interesting character but this film doesn’t really capture the essence of all this. She had a long affair with fellow artist, Auguste Rodin and had an early, creative period. But she would eventually end this relationship after Rodin refused to leave his wife. Despite this, Claudel acted like the woman scorned and descended into madness and despair. Her family would put her in the remote institution Montdevergues, near Avignon in France.

Director, Bruno Dumont (Twentynine Palms, Outside Satan) uses these solemn grounds as the setting for Claudel’s story. The three days are based on letters she sent to her younger brother, Paul Claudel (Jean-Luc Vincent). It’s questionable whether Camille actually belonged in such a place. She was angry at Rodin and was paranoid that people were out to poison her. But in the film she is often portrayed as being lucid and holding a sense of contempt for the arguably more handicapped in-mates (who are played by actual disabled people in the same way as the nurses are real-life nuns and staff members).

Juliette Binoche does an excellent job as the lead character. She is subtle and convincing as the artist who is forced into a painful situation. It’s a tedious life in the institution and her only beacon of hope is a visit from the brother who can have her released. But Camille is a lot like Angelina Jolie’s character in Changeling- the more she argues for her sanity, the more the institution seems determined to restrain her.

The film is very minimal, there are sparse visuals and the greyish colour hue only adds to the tedium of this prison. There is also very little music and background noise. Instead, there are long pauses where the silences prove deafening and things only change when this is offset against long, wordy monologues of dialogue. Instead, much of the story is told on Binoche’s face with Dumont favouring close-ups and creating something equally authentic, unsettling and demanding in the process.

It’s arguable that the full story of Claudel’s life is actually crystallised in the events that pre-date these three institutionalised days. These are also the more exciting and important moments in her life- but these have largely been tackled before in the eponymous film starring Gérard Depardieu, released in 1988. The two are very different beasts as the current one was mostly improvised and this character is so much more tragic. The doom and gloom make it difficult to warm to Claudel, especially as her life is so boring and repetitive. But Binoche – to her credit – has done a good job with the material in helping create such a mature, emotional and melancholy character.

Watching Binoche’s pained exterior in the film is a lot like how you would imagine life was like from Claudel’s perspective in her most lucid moments. At times it’s pretty and tranquil but for the most part it is dark and plain exasperating and troubling. It’s terrible that she was never able to return to her work but perhaps even more tragic that this missed opportunity of a film fails this woman who has suffered enough to account for several lifetimes.

 

Originally published on 17 June 2013 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/reviews/sydney-film-festival-camille-claudel-1915-france-2013

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FILM REVIEW: THE SUNNYBOY

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When Kaye Harrison set out to make a schizophrenia documentary she had no idea her subject would make a come-back to music. It’s a fitting chapter in the long and often complex history of The Sunnyboys and unsurprising that once again a curveball would appear out of leftfield. Except that this time this ball has resulted in a home-run- an excellent feature documentary about one enigmatic creature.

The Sunnyboy had its world premiere at the Sydney Opera House as part of Vivid Festival. It tells the story of Jeremy Saxon Oxley, the frontman of The Sunnyboys and its execution captures this big man to a tee. The film reflects his humour, musical prowess, intelligence and passion in what is a raw but ultimately hopeful and uplifting story.

The documentary includes interviews with Oxley’s Sunnyboy bandmates: his elder bass-playing brother, Peter; their childhood friend and drummer, Bil Bilson and guitarist, Richard Burgman. Oxley’s parents and partner are also interviewed along with Australian music luminaries like Michael Gudinski, Peter Garrett, John Watson and Stuart Coupe. The Sunnyboy also features lots of music, archive photos and footage of the band from their musical heyday and beyond.

The story goes that Jeremy Oxley was a child prodigy. A young surfing champion, he would go on to write songs and play guitar riffs that were so mature and emotional, i.e. way beyond his youthful years. The band achieved much success with their eponymous debut but failed to back this up on their two follow-up records (the former due to production issues while the latter was marred by the overblown excesses typical with that period).

But despite these roadblocks the group’s live following increased and pressures mounted. But the junior Oxley was floundering. His alcohol intake had spiralled out of control because he was self-medicating in order to deal with the voices he heard in his head as a result of his paranoid schizophrenia. The group disbanded and the members went on to work on other musical projects, among other things (Burgman would famously go on to play with Weddings, Parties, Anything and The Saints).

The Sunnyboy is a multi-faceted documentary that gives a history of the band and Oxley’s withdrawal from the Australian music scene. It shows how he was eventually able to get his psychological disorder under control with appropriate medication; how he had to repair previously fractious relationships; and most importantly, how he found love and re-emerged valiantly (after no less than two decades) with his old mates to play at the Hoodoo Guru’s Dig It Up! Festival to 2500 people in 2012.

The story is a must-see for all Sunnyboys’ fans and for anyone interested in learning more about mental illness and schizophrenia in particular. Oxley is one charismatic, colourful and interesting character. He’s full of witty one-liners (like introducing himself as “Jesus” to his partner, Mary, or sipping out of a “rockstar” mug. There’s also the time he turned a gold record into a bullet-hole laden sculpture, and the list goes on).

In some ways there is an air of both Ian Curtis and Keith Moon about Oxley. On the one hand there is the introspective and intelligent poet but the flipside is that Oxley is also a big child with a mean, self-destructive streak. But unlike those other musicians, Oxley’s at least lived to tell the tale.

Harrison has done an exceptional job of maintaining a sensitive, fly-on-the-wall stance with her work. She was also given unprecedented access to rare, archive material. Sunnyboys’ trainspotters will enjoy watching the old home movies from the Oxley family and listening to audio of Jeremy at age 11 speaking on a cassette tape.

The Sunnyboy is one complex and powerful tale of redemption. Its many interwoven facets are reflective of the crowded and often chaotic brain of its genius star. Oxley is no angel but he’s got one interesting life story and his exuberant personality makes for compelling, if not exhausting viewing.

Review score: 4 stars.

Originally published on 4 June 2013 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/review/sydney-film-festival-the-sunnyboy-australia-2013

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LIVE REVIEW: RUBY WAX IN SANE NEW WORLD – SYDNEY WRITERS’ FESTIVAL @ SYDNEY OPERA HOUSE (22.05.2013)

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Few people can do comedy well. Lesser people still can be seriously funny. And for some, the idea of taking a serious topic and finding the comedic element is completely absurd. But thankfully, Ruby Wax managed to achieve all this and more during her show at the 2013 Sydney Writers’ Festival.

It had been 12 years since Wax had last been in town but it was worth the wait. The comedian known for working with Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders certainly proved to be one flamboyant character. For starters, you get the sense that she thumbs her nose at any kind of authority. So there was never a chance that this was going to be your run of the mill festival piece. Instead it was more like a one-woman show that was one part cabaret, mostly comedy and with a twist of dancing thrown in for good measure. Her hour-long set was filled with anecdotes, facts and her trademark, witty one-liners.

The statistic goes that one in four people are or will be mentally ill. Wax knows exactly what this is like first-hand because she became the quote “Poster Girl for mental illness” a few years ago. She says that she had trouble switching from being the clown to getting back to normal life. It wasn’t like the audience member sitting there smiling for no apparent reason. This was serious stuff because Wax in effect shut down and it would take her some time and work to recover.

For the first part Wax was her typical, vibrant self, at times the brash raconteur filling the room with her larger than life personality plus plenty of laughs and fun just like our very own, Kathy Lette. At other moments she was rather thought provoking because she’d ask the audience questions like “Does anyone here know how to act like an adult? A married couple? A mummy?”

It’s difficult to imagine someone as ebullient as Wax getting depression. But one thing we did learn is that the disorder doesn’t discriminate when it comes to victims. Wax’s own mother had fought her own demons over the years but was often told she was just experiencing the “change of life” (never mind that her menopause lasted 87 years). And then there was Wax’s “helpful” friend who told her that all she needed to do was “Perk up!”

If nothing else this show helped to dispel two common myths in society. One- that women cannot be funny. And two- that all mentally ill people need is a back rub and a good lie down. Wax had been funny (irrespective of her gender) and did pose the interesting point- why is it that you illicit sympathy when you have illnesses in other parts/organs of the body but not when it’s the brain?

Wax ultimately struck a fabulous balance between sarcastic asides, her acerbic wit, personal anecdotes and physical comedy (lots of stuff you just can’t do justice with in print). Her salsa dancing re-enactment of when she was institutionalised was priceless. Imagine a class run by an ex-Marine and former Chippendale (I’m not making this up) wearing a canary yellow crop-top and matching pants. Sure, we got a half hour Q&A between this funny lady and Women Of The World Founder, Jude Kelly afterwards, but it was this scene that stayed with people as they left the venue. Because THAT was seriously funny!

Originally published on 24 May 2013 at the following website: http://www.theaureview.com/sydney/writers-festival-ruby-wax-in-sane-new-world-sydney-opera-house-22-05-13

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