Woody Allen’s Wonderful Alice

I watched Alice (1990) for the first time in a long, long time and realised it is one of my favourite Woody Allen films.

The warmth of it. The soft music, the reminiscence, the lost and unhappy character of Alice (Mia Farrow) who, unable to sleep, wanders into her living room and is reacquainted with her past and the vision of her late boyfriend Eddie (Alec Baldwin):-

Alice: Who’s that?! Who’s there? … Who’s there?! Who is it?

Eddie: Don’t you remember?

Oh! …That voice!

Alice. Alice Jansen

Eddie?! Is it Eddie?!

Hi ya sweetheart

Is that you?!

God you’re even more beautiful now. It’s been almost 20 years.

I thought of you the other day. I met an interesting man who kind of reminded me of you … he’s like you, he’s irresponsible and  temperamental but he’s cute, you know? ….   What’s wrong?!       

I feel very, very strange! …. It’s the oddest sensation. I feel like I’m fading. I am fading. What’s happening?! Here it goes. [his image and voice disappearing] It was great seeing you again …. You’re still wonderful.

Wonderful. Poignant and romantic.

There was also the rustic and cosy rooms of Chinese herbalist Dr Yang into which I escaped (from real life, from the prospect of work? I’m still not sure) with Alice.

It was no surprise the film got Allen a Writers Guild of America nomination (and Farrow a Golden Globe nomination); not that he cares – to Allen awards are just opinions. Inexplicably, some people are affected by a particular work of art, others aren’t.

Respected film critic Geoff Andrew wasn’t affected by Alice. He chose the unfortunate term ‘whimsy’ (“the silly whimsy of the fantasy interludes”)  to dismiss the above scene, as did Leonard Maltin: “the whimsy seems forced and Allen’s usually infallible choice of soundtrack music is heavy-handed”.

Each to their own.

Hail To The Melbourne Storm

At the time of its conception the Melbourne Storm was deemed – and some still subscribe to this notion – to be a heartless moneyed construct in a city indifferent to the game of rugby league.

Two years ago when Cameron Smith was agonising over a multi-million dollar offer from the Broncos, the club who let the laconic and seemingly unexceptionable teenager pass by a decade earlier, his wife Barbara, knowing the decision was dragging on and dragging him down, sat him down to ask a key question.

It was the question the Storm faithful – passionate followers who had been there from the beginning – hadn’t dared ask lest they have their hearts broken.

The question went something like this: “Cameron, I know it’s a lot of money, I know you grew up in Brisbane, I know our families still live there, but what decision feels right for you?”

“To stay. This is our home now”, was the reply.

It was an exhilarating answer for the fans who despite the success knew that many previous players – the majority of who were cast-offs from Queensland and NSW – hadn’t really called Melbourne home. They were here only to prove they were worthy NRL players.

The coach too found himself in the southern outpost, not for family, coffee or “culture”, but to escape his mentor at Brisbane whose influence had become a shadow, and to create his own dynasty.

But once he had done that and St George Illawarra came calling he found he wasn’t capable of leaving: “The emotional attachment is very strong, especially with the players. I found that attachment too hard to break to be quite honest. I feel like a bit of a fan, I suppose. This is my club”, he said.

According to Matty Johns, this great team was inadvertently spawned by Brisbane when four men (the Big Four of Bellamy, Smith, Slater and Cronk) arrived at the Storm, spurned, neglected or ignored by the mighty Broncos, and made great by their desire to prove them wrong.

Most of its young players have followed the lead of their coach and captain and now consider Melbourne home. Teenage prodigies, like Cameron Munster and Curtis Scott, were prepared to leave the security of home to learn under Bellamy, Smith Slater and Cronk.

A Storm is the perfect image for a team that has instilled fear in a competition for the decade and half of its existence. Storms at their most extreme are scarier and have caused a lot more death and destruction than the powerful animals that many teams use as their mascots.

The German military with its Storm Troopers and Blitzkrieg (Lightning War) was adept at instilling fear in opposition with references to the power of nature.

And like a screaming Stuka the Storm arrived in 1998 releasing its payload on to the established order of rugby league, winning a premiership in just its second year in one of the code’s most dramatic and exhilarating grand finals in a competition where a ninety-two year old foundation club hadn’t won one for seventy-seven years.

Based in a city ridiculed for its climate, weather was always going to play a part in the Melbourne club’s identity. But it’s not entirely appropriate. It drizzles here mainly. The real storms occur to the north in the game’s traditional home.

Also, blitzkrieg has never really been their style. From day one they have been patient and relentless. They never give up and are rarely stitched up which is why their 40-0 grand final drubbing at the hands of Manly is so sweetly savoured by many opposition supporters.

Bellamy’s great sides were more like the Russians than the Germans at Stalingrad. Unperturbed by the numbers and talent in front of them they defended ruthlessly and cleverly . Tiring the enemy, surrounding them and cutting the supply lines, they would send snipers like Slater and Inglis to pick them apart.

The 1999 premiership came after a Qualifying Final thrashing, and surviving the Semi and the Preliminary Finals by a mere two points.

And in the Grand Final, against their first final nemesis St George Illawarra, they were on the verge of an insurmountable second half 2-20 deficit when Anthony Mundine – who had been issuing Ali-esque taunts to the Storm throughout the week – failed to live up to his mentor’s ability to back up his words and lost the ball over the try line.

Watching that game now, seventeen years on, it’s easier to see clearly and understand what happened next. The Dragons’ disappointment at not burying Melbourne morphing into doubt and finally panic as the Storm kept coming, culminating in the penalty try that would sink them.

If you thought Melburnians didn’t care for their artificial construct, think again. Six hundred thousand of them watched that game on television and for those who travelled to Sydney to be part of the world record crowd at Telstra Stadium it was an experience that still lingers.

One of them going by the name of Sportymale commented on You Tube: “Why do I still get nervous and goose bumps every time I watch this? As a 16 year old sitting in the nosebleeds of the stand that is no longer there, it was one of the best days of my life.”

Contrary to popular belief the Storm gets significant media attention. With almost daily articles in The Age and Herald Sun it surpasses even Collingwood, the biggest sporting club in the land, for coverage.

AFL supporters on the street are always enquiring after them.

Understandably the salary cap breaches have left a sour taste in many people’s mouths. There are opposition supporters still screaming “cheats!”, six years on from the event, probably as much from sheer exasperation that a football team without a league culture has continued to be a major force – as from distaste over the morality of the breaches.

The wrestle whinging continues but Bellamy (with his great rival Des Hasler) has helped change the game for the better. The ruck and tackles have the power and intensity of rugby, players kick and mark the ball with the technique and dexterity of their AFL counterparts, and forwards goose step, sidestep and offload.

More significantly defences have become so highly structured, relentless and brutal that it takes either a penalty or something special to score a try. Hence the exhilarating rise of athletic, acrobatic wingers and centres the size of forwards.

Last Saturday, a decade after their first minor premiership – with Inglis long gone and Slater absent – they won another. Afterwards, an incredulous Paul Kent on Fox’s NRL 360 asked: “How have they managed to do it?”

Hate them for their corporate beginnings, for their playing style, for the salary cap breaches, and even for where they come from, but don’t pretend these words from the great Phil Gould aren’t true:-

“Melbourne Storm is everything you want your football team to be. They take kids, develop and nurture them, and turn them into champions. They turn the team into a champion team , and the club into a champion club. Every club would like to do that. Every supporter would love to have a team like the Melbourne Storm”.

Hail to the Storm.

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The Awful Price of Playing Football

It was inevitable, in light of the growing evidence that there is a link between repetitive concussion and permanent brain injury, that we would hear more from former players and their families about the awful price of playing football.
Still, the story of Greg Williams was a terrible shock.

Williams was one of the greatest, toughest, and most controversial players of all time. He was also the sort of ruthless person few people could warm to.

On the Channel Seven programme Sunday Night, however, in a setting that could have proved demeaning and exploitative, he showed a type of courage that moved many to tears.

Williams was asked by Peter FitzSimons what he could remember about his honeymoon.

With his adoring wife sitting next to him and with that direct and confronting stare he gave to his taggers – except this time he’s on the verge of crying – Williams replies, “I can’t remember my honeymoon.”

Williams can’t remember because he’s almost certainly suffering brain damage, more specifically the degenerative condition known as Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) which leads to dementia.

CTE is a result of repeated concussions and Williams – with his slow foot speed and short stature – was a major recipient of these throughout his career.

Williams’ wife also confirmed that besides the memory loss there are signs of increased aggression which is also associated with the condition.

He is a Team of the Century player, Australian Football Hall of Fame inductee and Carlton premiership player. In a palatial home financed by his lucrative football career and business interests he has a framed picture of the Team of the Century, which he said he purchased because he couldn’t remember being selected.

He was only half-joking because he admits to not remembering much of his time as a player.

This was an extraordinarily courageous and generous act by Williams, to go on television and be shown forgetting the middle names of his own children and being told by a doctor that his brain is exhibiting symptoms usually associated with Parkinson’s or stroke.

And the same goes for former NRL prop Shaun Valentine, who also appeared on the programme.

Indications that the game can have a devastating long-term impact on the cognitive function of some of its players have always been there but sometimes it’s the misfortunes of the superstars that can highlight sad reality.

In a previous article I mentioned the over importance placed on the body in contact sports. Physical strength is of no consequence when your head hits something hard.

This was solemnly highlighted last night when FitzSimons “interviewed” a 69-year-old former NFL player, John Hilton, who proudly flexed his still firm muscles. Unfortunately he has the cognitive function of a pre-school child, almost certainly a result of CTE.

The condition which has been found in a large number of deceased NFL players by the pioneering Boston University study centre can only be diagnosed post-mortem.

Undoubtedly if Hilton was examined his brain would show the condition’s calling card – the build up of tau protein.

Melbourne’s Deakin University is involved in the study of the effects of brain trauma on living patients. The University’s Alan Pearce was the doctor who tested Williams and Valentine. Pearce had previously tested five former AFL players, all of who showed signs of brain damage.

What are the implications for the future of the sport and the other football codes?

The soft helmets used by some footballers are useless as they do not prevent the brain from shifting abruptly and disrupting its chemical equilibrium or ,worse, striking the inside of the skull, the causes of concussion.

Concussion guidelines have been implemented, however Alan Pearce says after one serious concussion you shouldn’t play again and the head of the Boston unit believes children shouldn’t be exposed to sports that cause repetitive brain trauma until after puberty.

As a player the worst thing for your performance, while playing, is to think about the organ you’re doing your thinking with.

When asked by FitzSimons how proud he is of his Team of the Century selection, Williams says, “This is one of the biggest things for me.”

Clearly something bigger but awful is happening to him now.

I wonder if FitzSimons contemplated asking him if he now regrets ever playing the game?