30 July 2009

The significance of District 9 on the South African movie landscape.

I think this is shaping up to be an exciting year for South African stories expressed via film. Later this year we’ll see the release of probably the most important film to come out of South Africa based on events surrounding the 1995 Rugby World Cup (won by the Springboks) titled either The Human Factor or Invictus, directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Matt Damon as Springbok captain Francois Pienaar and Morgan Freeman as THE LEGEND Nelson Mandela. (Would love to see the scene where Freeman hands over the trophy to Damon)

But before that one we’ll see the release of a movie that is definitely something we’ve never before experienced in South African film history: a film without fake American accents, set and shot entirely in South Africa, with no overseas stars and undoubtedly the biggest budget ($30 million) of any previous film and yet it is amongst the genre films coming out this year that is receiving the kind of buzz comparable to the release of a Hollywood movie made by James Cameron or Stephen Spielberg.

That movie is called District 9 and it has been setting the internet abuzz with anticipation due largely to the involvement of Peter Jackson, but also due to a very intriguing trailer that has gone viral since its release a few months ago. And now after seeing the movie, websites such as Ain’t It Cool News and Chud are singing its praises, even going so far as to say that the special effects are better than that of another hotly anticipated sci-fi movie coming out called Avatar by the King-Of-The-World™ himself James Cameron.

Well, that has to be seen to believed, but in the mean time it’s great that for the first time in a long while I’ve been this excited by a movie, and local one nogal! The movie tells the story of aliens (the live-long-and-prosper kind) landing in downtown Johannesburg and are met with resentment and hostility by the locals, forcing government to round them all up into makeshift camps, a scenario which is eerily similar to the incidents of xenophobia we’ve experienced recently, something which I guess was a lucky accident for the filmmakers as it will make the film all the more relevant. Well, for us South Africans anyway.

For Americans and others it will be just another kick-ass sci-fi movie, and perhaps much more if early reports of just how great this film is are to be believed. Apparently the director and co-screenwriter of the movie, Neill Blomkamp, made a short film involving the same scenario, and upon which District 9 is based, called Alive In Joburg, and it leaves me wondering exactly where does one get to see films like these as they are hardly ever publicised and never EVER shown on TV where they should be, and I’m such a sucker for a sci-fi premise set in the real world.

So I wish this film all the success of a bona-fide Hollywood sleeper hit ($40 million opening weekend States side??) and I’ll definitely be the first in line on opening weekend. Try and stop me you local haterzzz! (yes, you KNOW who you are, don’t pretend!)

09 July 2009

Why was he the King Of Pop?

With Michael Jackson’s very emotional memorial service this past Tuesday now behind us and with his fans gradually beginning to come to terms with his passing, I’ve been considering a lot about what perhaps could have been the reasons behind the phenomenon that was Michael Jackson, and I have come up with some theories that I’ve been mulling over ever since I learned of his death.

The legend that is Michael Jackson and the unprecedented support that has been showed towards him throughout his life and in his untimely death is, in my opinion, the result of various factors coming together to create a so called ‘perfect storm’. All the right ingredients were present at exactly the right time and they were all mixed together to create the legend of Michael Jackson, which is probably why this may never occur again within our lifetime.

The ingredients, which you’ll probably find separately in other people, go roughly as follows:

  • A great singing ability
  • a great dancing ability
  • the tragedy of a cruel father that put undue pressure on him to perform and thus sacrifice his childhood which resulted in his love for children and was also probably the cause of his supposed asexuality, which thus had an influence on how he was perceived by the public
  • not fitting in with his peers and feeling like an outcast, which could have given him extra motivation to use his unusual abilities to gain respect and love from the public
  • being in the precise moment to have met other talented collaborators like Quincy Jones who helped crafted a groundbreaking commercial crossover album that would propel him to superstardom across all races
  • being the black underdog in the white orientated landscape of pop music and culture
  • his eagerness to always be different and innovative
  • having the personality that despite all his hardships never made him bitter and rebellious and always maintaining his shy and soft-spoken nature, which made him seem vulnerable and caused people to be protective of him.

I think if you were to take just one or two of these factors out of the equation Michael Jackson wouldn’t have been as big as he is today, because a lot of these factors exist separately in various other people but all these strands somehow conspired to converge all at once into the person known as Michael Jackson.

That’s my two cents on the matter, and if anyone has any thoughts and opinions about this I’d love to know what you think.

01 July 2009

Cape Town Book Fair and the search for graphic novels

People sure love their books

I know I was supposed to post this a while back, but better late than AWOL.

Last month I attended my first ever book fair, the Cape Town Book Fair. Yes, it may seem strange for an author who has released a book to have not been to a book fair yet, but there’s a lot of things that’s strange about me and how I got to create a graphic novel, so let’s just say that the normal rules don’t apply to me and leave it at that for now.

South African superstar author John van der Ruit signing his latest 'Spud' sequel
As a graphic novelist, the one thing that struck me about the book fair, aside from there being a whole lot of books, was the obvious absence of graphic novels. And that was disappointing considering the rise of popularity of the format globally. The only significant graphic novel presence was the Readers Den booth, which is a comics shop in Cape Town.

When I spoke to the guy in charge of the booth about why he thought there was such scant graphic novel representation, he gave me the typical response about South Africa always being behind the times, but then he also filled me in about how the book fair organisers had supposedly planned some kind of focus on graphic novels but were unable to secure significant sponsorship from the book industry.

Something I stumbled upon that I found quite interesting was a booth that featured, amongst other stuff, graphic novels based on classic novels such as Jane Eyre, Frankenstein and a few Charles Dickens books plus some graphic novel adaptations of William Shakespeare plays as well, all by a publisher called Classic Comics. I can’t exactly remember who the booth belonged to, but the graphic novels were merely amongst the many other publications they distributed in South Africa, so it wasn’t their main area of focus. But it was nonetheless quite exciting to see such revered work being translated into the ‘disposable’ format of comics.

I have to admit, for most of my time at the fair an all too familiar feeling came over me: that I was an outsider, a stranger in this world of literary types. There still seems to be this notion that real books is all about words only, and that if it contains pictures then it must be for kids. I feel a bit disappointed by a large majority of South Africans that in this world of the internet and global connectivity that they still have this outdated and elitist view of graphic novels, as if it cannot approach anything close to real literature.

The only graphic novel/comic presence at the fair was the Readers Den comics shop

When you consider what literature fundamentally is, which is the expression of stories, ideas, emotions and humanity via the words of an author, why do we continue to assume that pictures (the same pictures when framed in an art gallery is revered) cannot express those same stories, ideas, emotions and humanity when integrated with word balloons?

So I guess the journey to enlightenment continues. Who knows, maybe next year. We can only pray.