‘Tiny Furniture’ By Lena Dunham

After I reviewed Lena Dunham’s first film ‘Creative Nonfiction‘ (2009), I knew I wanted to review Lena Dunham’s break out film ‘Tiny Furniture’ (2010). It has been said that the high praise received for ‘Tiny Furniture’, led the Creative Writing graduate to receive the notoriety needed to grab the attention of HBO (producer of GIRLS). The film premiered at South by Southwest, which led to it being awarded Best Narrative Feature.

The bildungsroman follows twenty-two-year-old Aura during her ‘post graduate delirium’. Aura returns after studying film studies at a Midwest liberal arts college to her New York family home.

The film shows considerable growth from ‘Creative Nonfiction’, released only one year earlier. Many similarities, as with lots of Dunham’s work, arise. Again Dunham includes a great deal of nudity, a central character who is (we can only assume) similar to Dunham, a focus on sexual relationships and ‘coming of age’ themes. Many of these factors are present in  ‘GIRLS’, ‘Tiny Furniture’ and ‘Creative Nonfiction’.

‘Tiny Furniture’ illustrates considerable finesse in the cinematography. No longer are we subjected to bad lighting and the wavy hand held camera of ‘Creative Nonfiction’. The shots are often wide and there is impressive framing of interior space. Scenes within Aura’s slick TriBeCa apartment are powerful. The costuming emphasizes Auras black sheep status within her household. The mis-en-scene places Aura, often shown without pants and with unkempt hair, against a slick, white, modernist apartment. This juxtaposition of clean and derelict, demonstrates how Aura is seen in the household; as disruption of order and bringer of chaos to an otherwise idyllic household.

Tiny Furniture is filmed in a mumble core style. Dunham often chooses to cast from her inner circle and use non-actors. Within this film it definitely works. There are strong performances made by both Aura’s sister and mother, played by Dunham’s real life sister (Grace Dunham) and mother (Laurie Simmons). The scenes between the family are natural and organic. Their lack of acting training is unnoticeable, which is either a testament to their innate acting abilities or Dunham’s directing prowess. The ability to get great, natural performances out of non-actors is no feat to be laughed at. Additionally, the physical resemblance of both Grace Dunham and Laurie Dunham (they are both tall, thin and clean) in comparison to Aura further reifies Aura’s otherness in the family context.

Alex Karpovsky and Jemima Kirke from GIRLS are featured in the film. Karpovsky (Ray Ploshansky in GIRLS) plays Jed, a YouTube celebrity called the ‘Nietzchian Cowboy’ who stays with Aura. Jemima Kirke (Jessa from GIRLS) plays Charlotte, plays Aura’s friend since birth. Charlotte is a very similar character and displays very similar mannerisms to Jessa. Interestingly however Charlotte is portrayed as an annoying overbearingly friend, while Jessa is more of an aloof flaneur.

In terms of storytelling, I feel what really ties the movie together thematically is Dunham’s discovery and reading of her mothers diaries, written at the same age. It is through these diaries that we see that no matter what generation, the twenties are somewhat lost, meaningless and yet meaningful discovery years.

The films ending is poignant and solidifies an otherwise character driven narrative. Aura and her mother lie in her mother’s bed, a contested space that symbolizes her mothers approval.

Aura recants the tale of how she has earlier had unprotected sex with a man in a pipe on the street. Aura’s mother shows concern about her lifestyle choices. Aura questions her mother about the people who she wrote about in her diaries. The mother, who has often been shown as harsh and unsympathetic to Auras choices, hardly remembers them but when provoked begins to tell of strange encounters with sometimes toxic friends.

What I suppose I’m most attracted to in Dunham’s work is her complete lack of vanity in her storytelling. Every character is both glamourized and reduced to there most annoying trivial form. Although her characters are clearly self-obsessed, there self-obsession isn’t exaggerated and they make no apologies for it. What comes through in all Dunham’s films is a lively mind and a great creative capacity.

Tiny Furniture is a film that is well worth a watch.

Have you seen Tiny Furniture? What did you think? How do you see it in the larger context of her other work?

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March Opportunities

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There are lots of opportunities for emerging writers and theatre makers at the moment. Playwriting Australia has made a callout for Dramaturgy Interns. These interns will recieve ‘access to training and mentoring by industry professionals, and get to develop their practical skills in script assessment and explore the process of giving dramaturgical feedback.’

The internship is available to Sydney and Melbourne based playwrights, directors or dramaturgs. Applications close Monday the 24th of March, 5pm.

Additionally, there has been a call out for applications for the Monash Undergraduate Prize for Creative Writing. The award is open to emerging writers enrolled in either an undergraduate or honours degree. For the first year ever, the award is open to both students from Australia and New Zealand.

First prize is $4000. The highest placed student from Monash University will receive $1000. Both winners will be published in Verge, Monash University’s student publication. Entries have to be 1500–3000 words. Applications close Thursday the 17th of April.

BITE ME

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My monologue ‘Facon’ is being performed in an amazing show called ‘Bite Me’. There are only four more chances for you to see it! Make sure you get down to Australian Theatre for Young People before it’s gone forever!

Check out some of the great reviews for Bite Me:

…”this is a production that fascinates and impresses. It is thoroughly original.” Suzy Goes See

…”is a delightful picaresque performance centring on food.” Australian Stage

…”a flowing, varied and physically interesting showcase for the Australian Theatre for Young People’s fourth instalment of its Voices Project. It is the best to date.” Jason Blake, The Sydney Morning Herald

…”Bite Me brings quite a lot to the table.” Lloyd Bradford-Sykes, The Daily Review

It’s a great show that has a huge team of creatives behind it. Support Australian writing and young people in theatre!

To buy tickets just click here.

Word Travels Festival – Push – Rocks Walk – Stories

Madelaine Lucas performing.

Madelaine Lucas performing.

Push – Rocks Walk – Stories was held on the 12th and 13th of October as part of the Word Travels Festival. The tour, presented by Penguin Plays Rough, involved audience members being led throughout The Rocks to find writers hiding in nooks and crannies, ready with words.

A medley of literary delights were on offer with readings made by Patrick Lenton, Cait Harris, Phil Spencer and Madelaine Lucas. First to be discovered on my guided tour was actor Libby Ahearn who performed a whimsical parody of Sydney socialites, written by Cait Harris.

After a short walk through the markets, it was Phil Spencer who entertained us next with the tale of his first, last and only shift working in a bar in The Rocks.

After a walk through a windy tunnel we were given the privilege of seeing Madelaine Lucas perform. Accompanied by soft mesmeric guitar, Lucas spoke in a breathy voice of heartbreak and poetic memory, the wind only heightening the experience.

To round off the tour, Patrick Lenton told us a humorous tale of survival in Australia. The entire event was exciting and unique. The readings were filled with distinctly Australian voices, and exposed the public to the literary talent of a new generation of writers.

Word Travels Festival – NSW Australian Poetry Slam Final

Luka Lesson hosting with charm and charisma, and a surprisingly high level of talk about shoes.

Luka Lesson hosting with charm and charisma, and a surprising level of talk about shoes.

The NSW Final of The Australian Poetry Slam was held on Friday the 11th of October, as part of The Word Travels Festival. There were feature performances by Joel McKerrow and the highly sexual Ghostboy. Luka Lesson hosted the event with charm and charisma. Thomas Hill took home the NSW title with an evocative poem about abuse. Second place was a tie, resulting in a slam off between Newcastle based Jesse Brand and Bankstown based Zohab Khan. After a fierce battle it was Jesse Brand who progressed to the Australian Finals alongside Thomas Hill.

Art and About – ‘I Think I Can’ Review

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I Think I Can places a thoroughly modern concept: avatars, onto a nostalgic frame. The interactive artwork, being exhibited as part of the Art and About Sydney Festival, allows individuals to create avatars that live and interact in a large scale model railway named Springfield Junction.

Taking it’s name from popular children’s book The Little Engine That Could’, I Think I Can focuses on creation and storytelling. The work is the brainchild of Terrapin Puppet Theatre artistic director Sam Routledge and artist Martyn Coutts and is presented by Performance Space and Art and About Sydney.

I found I Think I Can at the Central Station Concourse on the opening night of Art and About Sydney, and quickly decided I wanted to experience it. After an informative chat with a volunteer I decided that I would get an avatar. The first step was a personality test. Then I was presented with a selection of different avatars that I could choose from. I chose an ‘Activist’. Other avatars that you could be assigned included the Queen, a vandal, a reality TV star, or President Obama.

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My ‘I Think I Can’ Passport and my selected avatar.

The next step was figuring out where he would be placed in Springfield Junction. I decided my little man should be hanging by the abattoir. Next his back story had to be established. I decided the activist was visiting friends who work at the abattoir and coming for a spot of protesting. The guy, let’s call him Ned, had decided to protest at the abattoir because he had found an embryo in a can from the factory. He’d only been an activist for about a week. This back story was recorded in an iPad.

My tiny avatar was then animated by a puppeteer and broadcast live onto a screen above the model town.

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The puppeteer animates the Activist.

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The Activist has become part of Springfield Junction.

I have been told that each time I come back I can change what my activist is up to and I can follow his adventures if he pops up in the ‘I Think I Can Times’: an online publication of the scandals and news of Springfield Junction.

I enjoyed the artwork on many levels. On one level, the process evoked nostalgia of model train stations and made me appreciate the enormous capacity we have as children to create fictional worlds. This element allows the work to be family friendly, it’s great for kids and it’s cheap (free to participate)!  On another level, I enjoyed the art work for all statements that it was making. I Think I Can made me consider how much we try escape our own lives through building hyperreal (often better) versions of ourselves, and our lives. I Think I Can felt like a tangible version of Second Life that was framed in a nostalgic way, making such virtual worlds that are traditionally seen as strange and deviant, playful and natural. It made me realise that this identification with a character is something that we are drawn to even as children.

What statements do you think I Think I Can is making?

Springfield Junction

Little avatars hard at work.

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Springfield Junction is a hot bed of activity.

Art and About Sydney – Opening Night

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The opening of Art and About Sydney was celebrated at Martin Place earlier tonight. The celebration, coined as Friday Night Live, was an evening of cocktails, music and film that set the tone for what is sure to be an inspiring and exciting festival. The event started with a screening of The Arrival by Shaun Tan with a live performance of the score by percussionist Ben Walsh and the 10-piece Orkestra of the Underground. Next The Break filled the audience with trippy space age rock from their new album, Space Farm. Delicious cocktails were on offer throughout the night alongside quirky food trucks. 

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For the night owls the evening was just beginning. Attendees could head to the Justice and Police Museum for part one of Penguin Plays Rough at City of Shadows exhibition. This exhibition/performance/literary hybrid brings together ten writers, comedians, playwrights and other wordsmiths to create a story, over several months, in response to a photo chosen from the Police Forensic Archive.

For those looking for a chilled evening Custom’s House library offered the solution: relaxed music, readings and performance. Other recommendations for the night included seeing the Artists’ Market at the State Library of NSW or taking in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition at the Australian Museum.

Art and About Sydney boasts an eclectic and intriguing mix of artworks and performances that will bring the city to life from the 20th of September to the 20th of October. Have a look at the full spread of events and exhibitions here. In the next weeks I will be trying to see and review as much of the festival as possible! Happy festivaling!