Barnaby Smith

Mank 

Barnaby Smith
Thursday, 26 November 2020

Despite nearly eighty years having passed since its release, Orson Welles’s Citizen Kane (1941) is never far from the centre of cultural discourse. Aside from the fact that it tops ‘greatest movie’ lists with monotonous regularity, Citizen Kane often comes into view in somewhat quirky ways as it relates to today’s world. For example, there was Donald Trump’s much-publicised and much-derided misunderstanding of the film’s message, and few years ago there a the strange report of Welles having been posthumously ‘forgiven’ by the family of William Randolph Hearst, the wealthy press baron who inspired the character of Charles Foster Kane.

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Any definition of what constitutes ‘outsider art’, or art brut, is elusive. The boundaries of this ‘category’ are notoriously porous. There is no manifesto, no consistent medium, nor is it especially tied to any single period in time. However, it can be argued that outsider art is often regarded as art created by those on the margins of society, such as people in psychiatric hospitals, in prison, or the disabled. Outsider artists are also usually self-taught. For several decades, Anthony Mannix has been at the forefront of Australian outsider art, his particular qualification for the label being serious mental illness (though the term ‘illness’, as The Toy of the Spirit implores, is problematic). Mannix was diagnosed with schizophrenia in the mid-1980s, and spent periods as a patient in psychiatric hospitals over the next decade. Now based in the Blue Mountains, he has been free of schizophrenic episodes for many years.

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The Professor and the Madman 

Barnaby Smith
Monday, 17 February 2020

When the British author Simon Winchester published the book The Surgeon of Crowthorne in 1998, the idea was, according to his editor, to ‘make lexicography cool’. The non-fiction work told the bizarre and oddly uplifting Victorian-era tale of the autodidactic linguist and scholar Sir James Murray and his relationship with William Chester Minor, a retired American army surgeon incarcerated at Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum. Despite serious mental illness, Minor was a vital contributor to Murray’s gargantuan task of creating the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), an endeavour that began in 1879.

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Us ★★★★

Barnaby Smith
Thursday, 28 March 2019

Popular culture is still resonating with the impact of Jordan Peele’s 2017 film Get Out, one of the most extraordinary and confident directorial débuts of recent times. Get Out cut a swath through complacency and assumptions regarding race relations. The idea of wealthy, ageing white people transplanting their brains into the bodies of young black men to ...

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Green Book ★★★

Barnaby Smith
Monday, 21 January 2019

To browse through an edition of The Negro Motorist Green Book in 2019 (as can be done through digital library archives) is a disquieting experience. These books, written by Victor Hugo Green in 1936 and published for thirty years, offered advice to African Americans travelling in the segregated American South ...

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Wildlife ★★★★1/2

Barnaby Smith
Monday, 29 October 2018

Paul Dano, one of the most soulful and intense actors of his generation, has appeared in a number of films over the last decade in which rupture and dysfunction serve to undermine a family unit. In Little Miss Sunshine (2006) he famously played the voluntarily mute Dwayne, while the elegant and underrated For Ellen (2012) ...

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Don't Worry, He Won't Get Far on Foot ★★★1/2

Barnaby Smith
Monday, 01 October 2018

As a resident of Portland, Oregon in the 1980s and 1990s, director Gus Van Sant became used to the sight of the iconic and iconoclastic cartoonist John Callahan buzzing around the city in his wheelchair. ‘He was a visible person on the street,’ Van Sant said recently on Marc Maron’s podcast ...

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The Wife (Icon Film Distribution) ★★★★

Barnaby Smith
Monday, 30 July 2018

Björn Runge’s The Wife features several claustrophobic and tense scenes that take place in the back of a limousine driving Joan Castleman (Glenn Close) and her novelist husband Joe (Jonathan Pryce) through the snowy streets of Stockholm, where Joe is accepting the Nobel Prize in ...

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Mary Shelley ★★1/2

Barnaby Smith
Monday, 02 July 2018

The two hundredth anniversary of the publication of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) has given rise to a predictable slew of new reflections and reappraisals offering a twenty-first-century context to this seminal work. None was written with more erudition or acuity than ...

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The Western world was well into the swing of our proverbial digital age when Patrick White passed away at his home on Martin Road in Centennial Park at the age of seventy-eight in 1990. Yet, as Christos Tsiolkas suggests at the outset of this taut and lively meditation on Australia’s greatest novelist, Patrick White is often ...

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