Downfall – you’ve seen the Youtube parodies, now watch the rest

We are all familiar by now with the ever growing YouTube internet meme that uses one or two clips from the German movie Downfall.  The most commonly used scene from the film is the situation briefing where the Fuhrer realises that his third army has vanished into the ether and he is effectively trapped in Berlin.

My favourites are Hitler phones his ISP to complain about his internet being down and Ruddfall which splices together many scenes from the film to give a witty take on Julia Gillards overthrow of Kevin Rudd.

While the makers of Downfall attempted to purge the parodies a few years ago they are more popular than ever and in a strange way have come to provide a tribute to the power of the original movie and the performance of its star.

Given the Nazi’s penchant for the straightforward in art, it is somehow fitting that this mad leader who thought to create a thousand year legacy has entered the 21st Century recognisable to most people as a victim of parody and sly humour.

Downfall in its gripping entirety is probably as close as we will get to a real account of Hitler’s final days in the bunker.  It is the story of what happens when a modern industrial state is taken over by a right wing suicide cult and the feds comes knocking to take the guns away.  It doesn’t need over narration. It’s strange and unbelievable as it is.

There are great setpieces, from the remarkable impersonation by Bruno Gantz to the final scenes.  It is also a breakthrough as a German film which portray’s a realistic Third Reich in a country which has never really known how to portray these dark times in its own past.  It leaves films like Hitler: The Last Ten Days with Alec Guinness looking like a G rated Disney film.

What the film strives to do is to show National Socialism as a cultural faith based machine – one at its most raw and true at the end – and explain how it ground on, even after the death of Hitler.

There are images in this film that will haunt you forever.  The mundane reality of workers throwing boxes of files out of windows as the Government of a large modern state disintegrates.  Hitler being kind to his staff during a job interview.    Magda playing solitaire after poisoning her children, her and Josef shooting each other and then the rash of suicides – the desperate need to die rather than a face a world where their faith has been defeated.

The most telling moments of the film arrive after Hitler shoots himself as we follow the narrators of the story through the last remnants of the Reich and witness its desperate desire to take everyone and everything with it.  The Jonestown defence writ across a whole country.

We should never forget that National Socialism was a surrogate state religion and so we can add its death tally to the millions killed, twisted and tortured dating back to the inquisition.

So yes have a laugh at those witty YouTube clips but be sure to see the film.

All Andrew needed was the right tagline

First a confession – I have a disability and I like Andrew Peacock.  I think he is Australia’s lost Prime Minister.  Here was a politician who is jovial, witty and urbane, with an exotic name and a touch of Camelot.  Who could resist the possibility of Hollywood star psychic Shirley MacLean becoming Australia’s first lady?  Or the Lodge bedecked with sunlamps and copies of Horse and Hound? The possibilities for ripping political caricature were endless.

While Andrew dutifully trotted out the usual dreary lines about working harder and raising productivity, one sensed that here was a sensible man who loved the good things in life and really could make Australians “relaxed and comfortable”.

An Australia with Andrew in charge would be one where we could all happily slip off at lunchtime to place bets at the local TAB before a round of tennis or a spot of tanning under the sunlamp.

Even the political scandals would suggest rest and relaxation.  Andrew’s greatest brush with infamy involved his wife advertising a luxury brand of bed sheets.   No 24Kevin here.

Now, it’s a strain I know, but cast your minds way back to August 2010 (the endless election, Latham, leaks, debates about debates – see it’s coming back in a post hangover, cloudy sort of way) – and imagine my angst when I heard Andrews’s gaffe where he said that “you’d have to be pretty handicapped not to appreciate this Government is dissolving before your eyes daily”.

Worse still he compounded it all during a cracking interview on 666 ABC Canberra by trying to explain it was actually … a horse racing metaphor.   Oh, Andrew.

With hero worship pushed to breaking point, I decided that maybe he was just a bit confused.    After all there are a lot of different things to call us – physically challenged, impaired, disabled, handicapped and more.  And people use different ones all the time.   It’s classic brand confusion.

So as a marketing professional with personal experience of disability, it struck me that maybe what we needed to do was to “redefine our brand” and – in true, Gruen Nation style – look at the taglines which best made our pitch and when to use them.

Well, here goes:

Physically/mentally challenged.  On the plus side this sounds inspiring and positive.  I mean isn’t it wonderful what these poor folk can do?  Life is a challenge and we just have to … move forward.  Set to the strains of “Climb Every Mountain” or a Whitney Houston concert this cannot fail to move you, if only to the nearest bucket.

Verdict: 4/10 – use with anti-nausea medication.

Crippled. While unloved it is clear, direct and has impact.  If it’s a reaction you’re after, using terminology like this will get you one.  Probably with a 100 kiloton warhead attached.  Also has negative baggage from broader use i.e, “industrial action has crippled the State’s electricity supply”.

Verdict: 2/10 – use only after consulting focus groups, resigning your job and hiring a PR crisis management firm.

The handicapped. The one that started it all.  This is not intentionally derogatory as much as strange and anachronistic.  Summons up memories from my childhood of bright yellow buses on the way to special school plus social workers and therapists with horn-rimmed glasses who just wanted to help.

Verdict: 4/10 – use only if the 70s come back into vogue again, you are old enough to remember them and so old that you really do clearly recall what you were doing at the time.

People with impairment. Used a lot by Federal pollies.  Certainly accurate, inclusive and harmless.   A bit technical sounding with science-fiction overtones.  Imagine a Dalek with putty smeared over its eyestalk screeching “Ass-ist-ance-required!  My-vision-is-impaired!  I-can-not-see”!

Verdict: 7/10 – use for that extra PC boost or when trying to pull at the bar of a Doctor Who convention.

Deformed. Favoured usage of 60 Minutes journalist and third way commentator Mark Latham, who called former Liberal Party President Tony Staley a deformed character.  This term is certainly memorable.  It’s also evocative …  if you want to evoke elves, Charles Laughton pulling on church bells and social attitudes during the time of Geoffrey Chaucer.

Verdict: 0/10 – use only when you have nothing left to lose. Like Mark.

Person with a disability. Puts the person first, makes sense and easy to remember but sounds vaguely uncommitted, as if you need to be persuaded that we are still people.   Lacks the colour and punch of some of the other options but is simple and b) gets the message across.

Verdict: 8/10 – ticks most of the boxes for a good tagline but lacks commitment.

The disabled.  Frowned on but still in use and coming back.  Unlikely to get you fined by a Human Rights tribunal.  Sounds heavy and vaguely menacing i.e, “the disabled are massing at the borders and something must be done”.  Often used in relation to disabled toilets – presumably meaning that the toilet has a problem requiring support.

Verdict: 9/10 – OK and flags a disability identity but needs a lighter tone and sexing up.

It’s too late for Andrew but I’m off to design the logo, the social media strategy and the theme song!

Over to you and cue offended people and humourless bloggers to complain about spending time worrying about language when we should be scribing about serious issues.

Kevin Rudd – doing it Gorton’s way?

I have long been fascinated by the power struggles surrounding Australian politics in the late 1960’s.  These were volatile times with intriguing parallels to 2013.

Not least of these is the career of John Gorton, who is one of the few Prime Ministers to be successfully displaced from office by his own party prior to Kevin Rudd.

Diamonds in the rough

Both Prime Ministers have interesting personal histories and their career paths sit outside the mould of their parties.

Gorton’s life story reads like a Biggles novel.  An illegitimate child he joined the Airforce in World War Two, and was injured following a dogfight with facial mutilations so severe they left him with a lifelong “lived in” face.  On his way back for medical treatment Gorton’s ship was torpedoed and he was left on a raft in shark infested waters until being picked up by a passing ship.  Gorton’s war saw him somehow survive two more air crashes.

Aside from the military, Gortons working career saw him running an orchard and his initial loyalties were to the Country Party rather than the Liberal Party.

Rudd’s early life, while less colourful, was also severe and marked by illness.  At an early age he contracted rheumatic fever and spent a considerable time at home convalescing. It damaged his heart, but this was only discovered some 12 years later. When Rudd was 11, his father, a share farmer and Country Party member, died and the family was required to leave the farm amidst financial difficulty between two to three weeks after the death.  At school he boarded at Marist College Ashgrove in Brisbane although these years were not happy due to the indignity of poverty and reliance on charity.

A diplomat and hard nosed senior official in Queensland his career State Government also followed a different track from the usual Labor Pedigree of student politics and trade union officialdom.

Outsiders & populists

Gorton and Rudd were both highly popular during their opening days in office but their outsider characteristics also helped their downfall.\r\n\r\nGorton was initially very popular and was the first leader of the Liberal Party not to be directly anointed by Menzies, who allegedly favoured Paul Hasluck.  He was an outsider in the most literal sense as the first Prime Minister to come from the Senate. Miles from the urbane conservatives of times past, he liked to portray himself as a man of the people who enjoyed a beer and a gamble, with a “larrikin” streak.  Later these issues of style would play against him, with rumors of affairs and late night parties at the US embassy swirling around Canberra.\r\n\r\nRudd came to office with a reputation as a highly pragmatic hardworking leader with a distinctive style of his own based on his work habits born in the Queensland beauracracy and a quirky but distinctive turn of phrase – often referring to himself in the third person and posing questions.\r\n\r\nAn incident where he was bundled drunk out of a strip club served to enhance, rather than diminish, his popularity.

Almost everyone has commented on Rudd’s lack of a support base within the ALP. When Rudd’s leadership fell apart it did so in the space of a few weeks and he had so little support he did not contest a ballot.  In office he sought to strike a bipartisan note, appointing liberals to key positions and ambassadorships.  His open contempt for the Labor machine and its factions is barely hidden.

Rudd’s quirks would also come to work against him as his 24Kevin style came to be seen as obsessive and imposing unreasonable and chaotic demands on all those around him.  Rumours of a hidden face came to work against Rudd, most notably in a David Marr essay which alleged a deep seated anger at his core.

Ambitious reform agendas

Rudd was an ambitious reformer who attempted to tackle big issues like climate change, tax reform, a digital education revolution, the NBN, healthcare changes and also took on dangerous vested interests – union ties to labor in his own party and mining magnate through the mining profit tax.  Many believe that Rudd simply tried to do too much, too quickly without proper planning.

Gorton also broke with the past in ways that were surprising to many on his own side.  He began to pursuing independent defence and foreign policies and distancing Australia from its traditional ties to Britain. He also fostered an independent Australian film industry and increased government funding for the arts.  He appointed the first Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, the mercurial William Wentworth who took the first steps towards granting Aboriginal Land rights against the wishes of the Country Party.  Some of these reforms, as well as Gorton’s preference for centrism, alienated people in his own party and journalists of the day, like Alan Reid.

Others, like a film and television school, stalled against lethargy from his own side of politics, only to be revived under his successors.  Shades of the Resources Tax and climate change.

Remaking Federation

Both Rudd and Gorton sought to reshape Commonwealth State arrangements in forms of their own choosing.

Rudd believed he could seize the opportunity presented by eight simultaneous State and Territory Labor Governments to make massive reforms to housing, health, education and indigenous affairs, using COAG as an engine room of the Government with various agreements and mechanisms between governments (and their officials) becoming a primary tool of policy.

Gorton favored centralist policies at the expense of the states, which alienated powerful Liberal state leaders like Sir Henry Bolte of Victoria and Sir Robert Askin of New South Wales. He remained a Centrist.  When I met him at a function in 1999, he seemed even more adamant and said he thought the States should be abolished.

Adrift in a world of trouble

Both Rudd and Gorton found their reform agenda’s tossed in a sea of external events which quickly stripped away some political and financial capital.

Rudd found himself in the middle of a global financial crisis which forced him to abandon fiscal restraint and rush to inject billions of dollars into the economy through a series of sometimes clever, sometimes hasty measures which would ultimately come to backfire on him.  The GFC also effected Rudd’s international agenda as he tried and failed to convince a world community to sign onto carbon pricing at a time when most leaders were worried about rising unemployment and their support at home.

Gorton came to power on the crest of huge Liberal Country Party majority won in 1966 by Harold Holt but found his political capital peeling away as the result of the increasingly unpopular Vietnam war, a war entered into by his predecessors.

Kitchen cabinet

Both Rudd and Gorton became deeply unpopular within their own parties and were attacked for their leaderships styles, most notably for relying on a small coterie of advisers.  Gorton was criticized for forming an unelected kitchen cabinet and relying on an unelected circle, most notably his private Secretary Ainsley Gotto. Rudd was also viewed as failing to consult the cabinet and relying on a set of youthful advisers within his own office, especially Alister Jordan.

Enemies within

Rudd and Gorton came to grief through their closest supporters.  Rudd came to alienate what was by all accounts a loyal Deputy and partner in Government in the enormously capable Gillard, and Gorton was ultimately brought down by Malcolm Fraser – a steely operator who was his closest backer for the Prime Ministership in 1968.

More popular with the people than their own parties

Both Gorton and Rudd were replaced by leaders who seemed unable to connect with the Australian people, yet were more popular within their own parties.

After being deposed both leaders held onto sizeable followings determined to get them back. “Get Gorton Back” T shirts were being sported by Liberals well into 1972 as they realized how diminutive McMahon stood against Gough Whitlam. Gorton went on to run as an independent candidate for the ACT in the 1970’s, appalled by the dismissal of the Whitlam Government.

Polling consistently shows that Rudd is preferred Prime Minister and he may yet make a comeback.   When Tony Abbott sought to disparage Julia Gillard at the National Press Club In 2012 he, invoked academic Robert Manne dismissing Julia Gillard as ‘the least impressive prime minister since Billy McMahon’.

And yet Rudd still has major detractors within his own party, such as Simon Crean and Nicola Roxon.  Gorton too gathered strong public detractors like maverick MP Edward St John. Unlike Rudd, Gorton retained a strong support base in his parliamentary party even on his ousting when half the party voted for him.

Stayed on

Both Rudd and Gorton defied the traditional expectations of former Prime Ministers and hung around in the Parliament after leaving the leadership of their own parties.

Both had short tumultuous post leadership Ministerial careers.

Gorton became Deputy Liberal Leader after standing down as leader forcing McMahon to make him Defence Minister until being sacked for disloyalty by McMahon 6 months later during a series of articles titled ‘My Way’ (after the song by Frank Sinatra).

After Rudd’s resignation, he successfully recontested his seat and subsequently promoted back to the Cabinet as Minister for Foreign Affairs, a post he remained in until he resigned on 22 February 2012 in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to challenge Gillard for the leadership.

Rudd’s story is ongoing, yet one wonders whether historians will look back and find two individualistic leaders favored by the people, yet divisive and adrift in their own parties.

Is season 3 the apex of modern Doctor Who?

Modern TV can be like a bell curve where series climb, get grounded, lose ratings, get experimental and then falter. While I think the current run of Doctor Who has some way to go Season 3 is amongst the best that the series has ever produced for my money.

This is a complex statement because while the series is more uneven now I also think that Matt Smith is up there with Troughton, Pertwee, Baker and McGann as having best captured the spirit of the lead character.  Something about Tennants portrayal to me felt workmanlike.  Matt Smith seems filled with the bonkers joy of the character in a way that no actor has been since Tom Baker in his first season.

Yet against all this Season three simply shines for the quality of its writing, production and values.  It makes the best use of Tennants Doctor through a narrative freed from the complicated and by then somewhat tired tale of the Tyler family.

While I loved Rose, Martha is a very different companion and the show seems freer to explore good stories through her eyes.  Stories like these:

Gridlock is a marvellous jewel of a story about faith, honesty and hope.  The scene at the end where the Doctor  if forced by Martha to tell the truth about his life is touching and gripping.

Human Nature is probably the single best hour of drama given us since the series returned.  It’s a riveting storyline, the Doctor turned human – really human – in an English school.  The backdrop of Martha’s crush on him makes this all the more powerful.

The three episodes which begin with Utopia represent the high water mark of the Russel T Davies formula of story arcs working across a series.  This one is relatively uncomplicated – YANA – yet it is pitch perfect and Utopia – a stories that starts off being about nothing in particular – rises to a crescendo of suspense.

Derek Jacobi may only fill the shoes of Delgado and Ainley for a few minutes but he shines in the role, switching from light to shade in the moment it takes to cut a cable. Is this not the best return of a villain in Doctor Who? Or indeed in any program ever?   Was there ever a better cliffhanger than the moment he regenerates in the Tardis and takes off leaving the Doctor stranded in Utopia?  John Simms master is properly psycho and his plan fittingly bonkers and the story which unravels across the next two episodes is epic, taught and adventurous.  An example of this scale and adventure is allowing Martha to journey on her own for a year.

So yes – there is some way to go on our Who journey yet but Season 3 is the best all round experience of the series since its returned.  It’s the one I would pull out to convert a non fan to the series if asked – always a litmus test!