Category Archives: Exhibitions

London Calling: Pop Culture versus High Culture

There has been much excitement in the world of the authors of this humble blog lately – we were  briefly reunited. Dr Roslyn upped and buggered off to the Mother Country a couple of years back, and so all our work has been done online (as opposed to our previous model, which was largely online, but every now and then I’d ring her up and announce, “I can’t write! This isn’t working! I’m too distracted!” and invite myself to her place for a working sleepover, sans kids).

So when I got an email asking me if I’d consider submitting an abstract for a conference in Oxford, the answer was a resounding yes. Oxford! OXFORD! You know, where Lyra and Pan were? Where Tolkien and Lewis studied? Where Alice is set and Harry was shot? That’s only a couple of hours away from where Roslyn is currently living, in a country I’ve always wanted to visit but had never quite made it? That one?

Yes, please.

Yes, please.

So, yes, I submitted the abstract. And they accepted it. So off I set for the 13th Inter-Disciplinary Net Monsters and the Monstrous Conference: Monstrous Hungers.

But what to present? Well, with the Wolf Girls getting the band back together, it had to be something wolfy. And since my Day Job is working with students with disabilities (mainly mental health disorders), and Job #2 is training high school teachers how to deal with and engage adolescents, I opted to go with Martin Millar’s Wolf Girl trilogy: about an anxious, depressed, cutting, homeless addict who also happens to be a teenage werewolf.

Millar's trilogy curse of wolf KALIX.indd

The itinerary was pretty much skewed to popular, rather than high, culture. We started with a trip to Wimbledon. I am not a believer in “Bucket Lists,” but when I was treated for cancer at the ripe old age of 31, a family decision was made that some things on the “we can do that in retirement” list needed to be moved to the “do it if the opportunity arises” list, and we set off to visit the Australian Open and the Great Ocean Road once my treatment was completed. After that taste of Grand Slam action, I thought I’d like to complete my own Slam (as a spectator) – Wimbledon, the US in New York (hey, it’s New York! – also on the must-see-but-never-been list) and if you’re going to go to three of them, you might as well go to the fourth, even if it is on clay. Plus, Paris. But up until going to visit someone who actually lived in the suburb of Wimbledon, I was still on Step 1.

So I was introduced to the wonders of The Queue, and then the even more wondrous idea that slightly used tickets get handed back in and you can buy a cheap second-hand ticket and actually get onto Centre Court to watch Finals. I still cannot believe that this actually happened.

Continuing the Wimbledon theme, we headed into Wimbledon Common where Roslyn assured me I would find no actual Wombles.

I know a Womble when I see one

I know a Womble when I see one

wombles on commmon

Or three …

Continuing the low culture theme, we then set out on a quest to locate Sun Hill.

If the guys were hanging around out the front, that would be even better ...

If the guys were hanging around out the front, that would be even better …

We knew that the studio and Sun Hill set was in Wimbledon. We found out the address (we are researchers, after all). And then we kept seeing police cars as we trudged through the drizzle of an out-of-the-way industrial estate.

This was a good sign ...

A good sign?

I was ready to give up but Roslyn (as usual) had done more research than me, and was therefore more confident of an outcome. And we turned the corner and there it was … Sun Hill station. There was much gasping and carrying on from me, and I was there hyperventilating long enough for a security guard to come and advise us we “couldn’t be on site” but to take as many photos as we needed on the way out.

sun hill

Embarrassingly happy

We also had a trip to the London Eye (which did NOT act as an aerial for Doctor Who, on that occasion), walked all over London including around Westminster Abbey (where David Tennant was NOT playing a conniving politician, on this occasion), took a  Beatles-esque photo on Abbey Road and –another highlight–checked out Mamma Mia in Covent Garden.

Doctors 9 and 10 hung out hereMamma Miaabbey roadBut there was one very big, high culture moment … Richard II at Shakespeare’s Globe. Not gonna lie, there was a teary moment when that idea hit home.


Bear in mind, I’m a recovering English teacher

And on to Oxford. The conference was held in Mansfield College and the meals were served in a Harry Potter-esque chapel.

mansfield collegeseats

The conference was fascinating and intense and as we’ve already established in Oxford. And afterwards a few of us managed to have our final dinner and drink at The Turf, where former Australian PM Bob Hawke broke the world skolling record and former US President Bill Clinton allegedly did not inhale.

I can't down a yard glass at all, let alone in that time frame

I can’t down a yard glass at all, let alone in that time frame

Ros joined me the day after the conference for some literary nerd Oxford adventures. We checked out Blackwell’s bookshop (where they were celebrating the 150th anniversary of Alice in Wonderland), and went to the Eagle and Child (where Tolkien and Lewis hung out), and also the Marks of Genius exhibition at the Bodleian Library which blew my tiny little mind by having things on display like Tolkien’s hand-drawn cover for the Hobbit; a 13-year-old Jane Austen’s novel, dedicated to her sister, Cassandra; the original hand-written draft of The Wind in the Willows; and two excised pages of Shelley’s Frankenstein, in which Frankenstein and Clerval roam around Oxford.

Free exhibition, people.


If you look closely, you can see my mind *actually* being blown

This trip had it all:  sport and Shakespeare, ABBA and Abbey Road, Wimbledon and Wombles, werewolves and woodentops, sandstone and Shelley. It was the best of pop music, pop culture, literature and drama. Anytime London calls, I reckon I’ll go.

Calling all Pop Culture Types …

PopCAANZ, the Popular Culture Association of Australia and New Zealand, is holding its annual conference at the Hotel Grand Chancellor in Hobart, Tasmania (June 18-20).This year, the conference coincides with the Dark Mofo exhibition at MONA.

The Call for Papers is out now. I’m particularly keen to hear from people who are interested in presenting on representations of Disability in Popular Culture, but you’ll also find panels on TV, Film, Manga, Toys, Fashion, Food and the Gothic, to name just some of the strands.

Harry Potter exhibition + screen shapeshifters: the good, the bad, and the just plain weird looking

I saw the Harry Potter exploitation exhibition recently. Like the Lord of the Rings exploitation exhibition (which I also saw, and also loved), this had film props and costumes, plus a few interactive parts where you could pull a mandrake and hear it squeal or toss a quaffle through the hoops.

The amount of work that goes into films like these is extraordinary: the handwritten notes on Snape’s potions book; the wonderfully funny photos of Gilderoy Lockhart posing on book covers and fan pics; the horcruxes; the stickers around Ron’s mirror and Seekers Weekly in their room at Hogwarts.

The staff did a great job. The girl running the Sorting Hat ceremony at the time I visited looked uncannily like Emma Watson, and the queue-controller tried his best to stump the fans with questions: name the 12 (13?) fields of study at Hogwarts, name the dragons involved in the Twi-Wizard tournament, what was the creature that stopped Fleur in the tournament, how do you say “open” in parseltongue, and so on.

Less exciting was the bit at the end where you can buy $60 wands and $90 books and $50 marauders maps (huh? Fifty dollars for a piece of paper?), plus cheaper things like Bertie Bott’s every flavour beans, which really were every flavour. But the shop was incredibly crowded and kind of great to escape. Sadly, I did not escape unscathed (financially speaking).

What has this got to do with shapeshifting? Well … Lupin’s robes were on display, and Gilderoy “defeated” a werewolf from Wagga Wagga … But looking at some of the creatures on display – thestrals, centaurs – I thought how difficult it is to get some book things right on screen.

Shapeshifting comes in the too-hard basket, which is no doubt why most paranormal TV shows these days stick to those pale vamps more than anything. Ever since vampires stopped transforming, they’ve been easy to portray: couple of teeth prostheses, pale makeup, pouts, snooty look and hey presto, it’s a Cullen family get together.

Zombies are dead easy, too, and yes that dreadful pun was intentional: bloodshot eyes + jerky walk + waving your arms in front of you = zombie. So easy even Shaun of the Dead could get it right, and he wasn’t even particularly bright.

But shapeshifters rely on CGI on screen, and we’ve all seen enough dodgy CGI to know it doesn’t always work.

So let’s look at a few examples, starting with two that made me laugh out loud (not the intention of the director, I assume).

1. Teen Wolf (TV series) – S1 Big Bad. This werewolf alpha villain was pretty creepy until we actually saw him. Then it just looked like a gorilla suit.

2. Twilight: Breaking Dawn Pt 1 – the wolf pack. The pack’s shifting never looked too good or bad until now, but the scene where the pack run around in circles at the lumber yard was just silly.* To be fair, it wasn’t the CGI but the voiceovers that didn’t work for me, and I did enjoy most of the movie, surprisingly.

As the current crop of TV and film directors have learned, it is much easier to whip the shirts off the wolf pack boys if you want them to compete with today’s favourite monsters, vampires.**

* Sorry to all those Twilight fans in the cinema while I was laughing at the scene.

** If you hoped to see this point illustrated, you’re at the wrong blog, since we’re kind of not into objectification here. Try this one, where you can even vote for the SEXIEST werewolf!

And a random collection of other onscreen shapeshifters:

3. Olga in Night Watch makes shifting look pretty uncomfortable. One of the few female shifters on screen.

4. Robert Patrick as the T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, with what I thought was pretty decent CGI.

5. Lupin in Harry Potter. Everybody’s favourite lupine shifter.

6. Scott in the Teen Wolf movie. Just as well this was meant to be a comedy.

7. The original Wolf Man, who looks like he’s just popped his head over the fence to say howdy ho, good neighbour.

8. Seth Green as Oz in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Let’s just say lycanthropy didn’t win him any sexiest werewolf awards either.

9. Mason in The Vampire Diaries, showing lycanthropy’s not so fun outside Quileute territory, no matter how many awards you could win.

10. Hugh Jackman as Wolverine. Enough said.

So, who else saw the Harry Potter exhibition? What did you think?

And what are some of the other weird and wonderful onscreen transformations?

The Harry Potter Exhibition is at the Powerhouse Museum until April 9.