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Thinking pop culture

Like ten thousand spoons when all you need is a knife. Hollywood and “irony”

Killing Them Softly - now showing.

Saturday night, the credits rolled and my companion turned to me and said, “So what did you think?”

My head still shaking in dismay, I replied, “It reminded me of the first film I made.” I then started laughing because at least I amuse myself. “It’s time I tell you,” I said, in grave seriousness, “about my film-making past.”

‘94. Pre-You Tube and pre-anything fancier than a Mac Classic at our high school. One of my best friends and I got it into our heads that we could be film-makers. Panasonic was running a student film festival. How couldn’t this be a good idea?

We spent months conjuring our elaborate production. The closest we got to a “plan” was part Méliès, part TAC commercial and - for reasons that still perplex me because I’ve always hated them - the Beatles In My Life was going to soundtrack it.

Big, big ideas, some sketchy storyboards, no skills or resources to make any of it happen. Certainly no rights to any Beatles ditties.

And suddenly we had, like, five minutes left to make the film. Big ideas, apparently, weren’t enough to constitute an entry.

Dad drove us to film cows in the morning. In the afternoon we surreptitiously filmed people eating Big Macs at McDonalds. For the coup de grace we made our way onto the roof of a tall-enough building to film the Melbourne skyline.

Cow footage. Cut. Burger-munching footage. Cut. Cows. Cut. Burgers. Cut. City shot. Credits.

The soundtrack was a barnyard nursery rhyme. We called the feat Feeding an Urban Society.

It was film-making on the fly. We knew it wasn’t wonderful but we still thought we were pretty bloody clever. A delusion centred largely on the music.

The music was what what really jazzed up our hokum.

The music was going to make us look all postmodern and political and - because evidently Alanis Morissette had gifted us our word of the year - oh so very ironic.

Alanis Morissette - “Isn’t it Ironic (1995)”

And we did okay; a nomination in a minor category. We’d go on and make another travesty involving a tour of Asian CBD restaurants with music from the King and I in the background.

Anyhow. Flash forward nearly twenty years. I’m watching Killing them Softly and throughout the 93 minute film - which, incidentally, felt at least 50% longer - I was quite positive it was a homage to the very worst of student film-making.

A flimsy plot, Brad Pitt groomed within an inch of his life, and a world where women only exist to get fucked. It’s bad. The very worst bit was the adolescent use of music.

Pop a guy. Play an ironic song. Pop a guy. Play an ironic song. Pop a guy. Play an ironic song.

Which forced me to ask a few questions: a) is Panasonic still running the film festival? and b) isn’t director Andrew Dominik too old to enter?

One of the Macquarie Dictionary editors was interviewed on The Project during the week. She briefly mentioned the challenges of defining “irony” to encompass how it’s used in contemporary parlance.

Feeding an Urban Society wasn’t ironic. Ketty Lester on a soundtrack isn’t ironic. A cast of former screen mobsters playing washed up goons isn’t ironic.

Rather, it’s the entry you throw together when your media teacher is on your arse hustling you to wrap.

“Killing Them Softly” - trailer.

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