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Pop Culture Bites: August 5, 2014

In the world of pop culture this week: we go back to Baz Luhrmann’s roots, look at the movie that’s become the surprise superhero success story of the year and the reported shutdown of the legendary Studio Ghibli (the studio behind My Neighbour Totoro, Spirited Away and Howl’s Moving Castle).

Baz’s ‘lost’ musical rediscovered

Most people think director Baz Luhrmann has only just dipped his toe into the pond of musical theatre with Strictly Ballroom the Musical, but the showman directed his first stage musical back in 1986 at only 23 years of age. A community musical staged in Rockhampton, Crocodile Creek tells the story of anti-Chinese race riots at the Crocodile Creek goldfield in 1867. Of course, Luhrmann never does anything “small”, so the musical featured a cast of 40 and an orchestra of 23, drawing in over 120 volunteers from the local community.

The work was written by Rockhampton local Barbara Birchall and composer Felix Meagher (who is pictured above with Luhrmann, image courtesy of Opera Australia), who went on to work with Luhrmann at several points in his career, including on the soundtrack for the 2008 film Australia. Film historian Jeannette Delamoir has dug into the National Film and Sound Archive, and uncovered stories, vision and music from the event, which left a lasting impression on all involved. She’ll be presenting the material alongside Meagher, who will perform excerpts from the show, at the National Film and Sound Archives headquarters in Canberra on 15 August. Visit their website for more information.

The event is free and will give audiences a unique glimpse into Luhrmann’s development as an artist.

Big Bang Theory cast equal Friends wages

Not many people manage to triple their salaries after six years in the same job, but three of the lead actors of hit sitcom The Big Bang Theory have just moved their paychecks from $325,000 an episode up to $1 million per episode. Johnny Galecki, Jim Parsons and Kaley Cuoco are set to sign three-year contracts, which guarantee the show’s eighth, ninth and tenth seasons. Production on the series was last week stalled when the actors refused to show for rehearsals during negotiations.

Guardians of the Galaxy surprise superhero hit

If you’re not the world’s biggest comic book fan, then you may not have heard of Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy franchise until this year (and their trailers might still be confusing you), but their first film outing, which opened in the US last weekend, has smashed a number of box office records. It opened in the number one spot in the US and has, in less than a week, made back its $170 million budget. It’s also received an overwhelmingly positive critical response, with 92% of critics on Rotten Tomatoes reviewing the film positively.

True Detective season two casting

HBO’s True Detective was one of the most critically acclaimed television series of the last year (read Guy Rundle’s take on the phenomenon and what it says about America today) with its self-contained eight-episode, single-season story, following two detectives (played by Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson) as they track a serial killer over a decade. Of course, that plot has all wrapped up, so HBO has been searching for a new dynamic duo for a second series for months now.

The latest word is that Vince Vaughn, as well as Colin Farrell are in talks with HBO for the second series, which will move the setting from Louisiana to a fictional Californian town. Apparently Jessica Chastain and Christian Bale were both approached, but were unable to commit due to scheduling issues.

Colour-blind casting on Broadway

Broadway producers have long been giving actors from racially diverse backgrounds the chance to play traditionally “white” roles in the interest of equality (although the practice isn’t exactly widespread), but a few recent, high-profile examples have tested Broadway audiences and the producers’ resolve in terms of colour-blind casting. Actor Norm Lewis (pictured below) earlier this year became the first black actor to play the leading role of the Phantom of the Opera on Broadway, while it was announced today that Keke Palmer will be Broadway’s first black Cinderella, in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic musical.

But occasionally, audiences aren’t completely willing to accept cross-racial casting in certain roles. When it was announced in May that legendary actress Leslie Uggams would be playing Momma Rose in a production of Gypsy in Connecticut, social media lit up with debates about the appropriateness of casting an African American woman in a role based on a real-life woman, who happened to be white. Those opposed seem to have forgotten that the full title of Gypsy is Gypsy: A Musical Fable, and that the work itself isn’t exactly historically accurate.


Studio Ghibli to break from production

After their premier director Hayao Miyazaki announced his retirement, Japanese animation giant Studio Ghibli (behind films including Spirited Away, My Neighbour Totoro and Howl’s Moving Castle) announced this week it will downsize and take a break from production. The news was initially reported as a permanent closure, thanks to a shoddy translation, devastating anime fans around the world.

Read Daily Review film critic Luke Buckmaster’s tribute to the studio he calls the “most distinguished production company of all time”.


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