New to DVD: The plundering of the John Clarke archives continues.
With the release of Clarke & Dawe: The Full Catastrophe (Roadshow/ABC, NZ$49.95)—an Australian companion piece to The Fred Dagg All-Purpose DVD, introduced two years ago—we’re finally treated to a DVD comprising of the satirical items the eponymous pair have been making for ABCs The 7.30 Report (the “national flagship current affairs program”) since 1989, plus a few extras.
Clarke and Dawe are a great pair. Bryan Dawe delivers the straight-man-as-current-affairs-interviewer, asking the important questions, professionally probing. Clarke plays all the antagonists, pretty much as John Clarke, creating the characters primarily from language, employing speech patterns, idioms, etc. to tell a certain truth while pointing out the stupidity of people/politicians.
With almost 200 C&D interviews spread over two discs and a third disc with a dozen extras. there’s a lot of material here; material which really requires your attention if you want to understand it all. So there’s not an inconsiderable time investment required. Of course, being short clips you can dip in and out of the first two discs as you like. While the interview items are, understandably, largely based on Australian politics and events, the cleverness of the satire is such that you don’t really need a knowledge of the people or events to find them extremely funny. The opening title for each interview offers a suitably smart-alecky intro to give you an idea of the personality and the subject.
These are smart and intelligent pieces, not only incisive, but with some extremely clever word play too, and great comic timing from both Clarke and Dawe (always with a seriously straight face). Some of the items even have current resonance here, such as Paul Keating’s financial policy reshuffle subtly ridiculed by an aside to the ‘real’ interview:
PK: Can you lend me a couple of bucks?
BD: Have you got a couple of bucks you can lend me?
PK: I’m a bit short, have you got a couple of bucks?
BD: Can you lend me a couple of bucks?
PK: A couple of bucks?
BD: A couple of bucks?
PK: A couple of bucks?
BD: A couple of bucks?
Okay, so it works far, far better on screen, but I couldn’t help but relate it to recent local tax proposals. Or the discussion of GST with John Hewson:
JH: A flat consumption tax applies to all goods and services and, therefore, appears to be equal and equitable.
BD: Yes, it applies to wealthy and poor alike.
JH: That’s the theory of it, yes, but of course in practice it applies to the poor alike.
JH: Well, cos it only taxes the part of your income that you spend on consumption. It doesn’t tax anything you save, and doesn’t tax anything you invest. If you spend all your income, it’s a tax on 100% of your income. Any fool can see that.
Or tackling the inanity of celebrity news in the Royal Watcher’s “Essential Media Content” or the “Very Important Interview” with Tom Cruise:
BD: I was told to try and interview you but I can’t work out why.
BD: Tom, you wouldn’t happen to be a member of the Australian cricket team by any chance?
BD: Ah, so what you do for a living is publicity.
And my favourite one-liner: “I’m not interested in what the public wants, this is a democracy.”
There’s a great consistency to these interviews, something which is often lacking in other satirical shows. I imagine this is largely due to C&D only needing to fill a few minutes every few days. They are almost invariably sharp, cutting, and funny as heck. As with the best bits of The Daily Show, for instance, if you are paying attention the items impart pretty much all you need in order to get the joke, to understand the ridicule. And ridicule is what Clarke and Dawe do so well: deconstructing arguments to point out lapses in logic and moments of hypocrisy and double standards.
The more recent material includes some divergence from the interview idea to include the insightful politics-as-schoolyard, and TV Quiz Shows. The satire is the same, but the schoolyard stuff especially has real bite emphasising the complete pettiness of political power struggles. It’s hysterical.
As I said when reviewing The Fred Dagg All-Purpose DVD, it really does emphasise what we are missing in terms of TV satire here. TV3’s weekly news panel show fronted by stand-ups, 7 Days, was often funny, but it wasn’t really satire. The best satire works because it is smart, sharp, cutting, and funny as heck, whereas most of what we get here tends to be smartarse and kinda funny. Our loss was clearly Australia’s gain, and with the duo’s interviews still a feature on the ABC, there may well be a fuller catastrophe in the years to come.
The extras on the third disc range from the important to the dispensable. Man and Boy, a 1985 short film written and directed by Clarke, is a nice little story of a man and (teenage) boy’s friendship. There’s strong characterisation, without stereotyping, and things just happen without being spelt out or unnecessarily signposted. It presents a different side of John Clarke, still character driven, but it’s no comedy, although naturally there are moments of humour.
The Grass is Greener is a 1990 New Zealand-made documentary about Clarke. It’s only half an hour long and felt like it was just hitting its stride, uncovering what makes Clarke tick, by the time it had finished. Definitely worth watching (once), as it looks at various aspects of Clarke’s Australian work—film, television, writing—but I wanted more.
The 10 Farnarkeling commentaries, from two quite different phases, have their moments, especially the various mishaps of the oft-mentioned Dave Sorensen. Having invented a new sport and its accompanying nomenclature, Clarke proceeds to have a warm chuckle at the proceedings, and by inference at all sport. Half of these are also on All-Purpose, but I guess this is the complete set. Finally there’s a little chat with C&D which didn’t add much, and an interview with Dawe about his photography projects, which frustrated me as we’re only able to see his photos cropped in pan-and-scan mode, not presented on screen in any way to be examined, enjoyed, or appreciated.
The third disc is a true bonus disc, as this set exists because of the Clarke and Dawe interviews, and that should be reason enough for you to get your hands on a copy. I’m now hanging out for The Games Series 2 (Series 1 is currently distributed by Vendetta Films). John (or anyone else who wants to send me stuff): the postal address can be found by clicking on ‘Contact Us’.