Just across from Manhattan, on Long Island, two small peninsulas lean out and give shelter to a shallow dagger of water known as Manhasset Bay. According to one of the greatest stories ever told, Jay Gatsby would stare from his mansion on the west to another palace across this bay, where the woman he loved lived beyond his reach.


Even though at its narrowest the bay is only a few hundred metres across, the distance proved too great for Gatsby, a new-money millionaire crook who could have anything he wanted. Except for Daisy, the old-money society girl across the water.

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 book, The Great Gatsby, is set for another revival when Baz Luhrmann releases his film in December, the sixth since the first silent movie 1926.

Publishers are pumping the book into stores while others, who have their own copy, may decide it is time to waste a few pleasurable hours reviewing its easily skimmed pages.

Luhrmann has wrapped shooting in Sydney and the film is in final production, but not everyone is looking forward to it. The question doing the rounds in America is: will Baz wreck Gatsby?

The fear is that Luhrmann’s films have, to date, represented style ahead of substance. Therefore, he may be precisely the wrong director to make Gatsby. The book, though set in the wild-partying Jazz Age days of the 1920s, at its heart argues that substance beats style any day.

“The people who are making it called me,” says Ruth Prigozy, retired Professor of English from Long Island’s Hofstra University, regarded as one of the world’s most renowned Fitzgerald experts.

“What they tend to do is focus on the parties and the exterior and they don’t seem to be able to get at the meaning. I think they are excited because you can do so much with the clothing and the parties. For Luhrmann, that’s what he wants. It worries me.”

American author Jay McInerney has vowed not to see Luhrmann’s $120 million production, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby, Carey Mulligan as Daisy, Tobey Maguire as narrator Nick Carraway, and Isla Fisher as the tragic lover who ends up as roadkill, Myrtle Wilson.

McInerney wrote of Gatsby, the widely loved but selfishly guarded book: “It’s more than an American classic; it’s become a defining document of the national psyche, a creation myth, the Rosetta Stone of the American dream. And yet all the attempts to adapt it to stage and screen have only served to illustrate its fragility and its flaws.”

Robert Redford had a go at Gatsby in 1974. The film was a constant search for his best angle. DiCaprio is certainly a better actor, which should give the purists some hope.

But McInerney argues the book is too good to toy with. This is perhaps an overly precious view, but Australians will understand where he’s coming from, especially after Luhrmann attempted to reimagine another beloved magnificent work of art, which happened to be their very own country.

Luhrmann’s Australia left people with very mixed feelings. Some went along for the ride while others sunk beneath their cinema seats in cringing despair. It is easy imagine that Americans are anxious that this interloper is taking on what for many is the Great American Novel.

So far, all that has been revealed of the film is a short trailer. It certainly looks to be classic Luhrmann: over-the-top sets with smug, careless, fashionable people dancing and drinking their way to tragedy.

Normally, it might be considered an advantage for an outsider to tell another culture’s story. Not so in this case: the Gatsby era is as dead to Americans as anyone else; therefore, anyone who revives it does so with new eyes.

Fitzgerald’s setting for Gatsby’s mansion is these days a narrow, overgrown strip of bitumen called Gatsby Lane, on Kings Point, the peninsula he called the “West Egg” in his book. Most of the estates appear locked up or rarely used.

A barricade of mansions denies the visitor bayside access to the place where the author imagined Gatsby lived in a “colossal affair”, being a sprawling French palace that he threw open to parties during the hedonistic years of post-World War I.

These were the days of Prohibition, yet Americans partied harder than ever to forget the savagery of the war. They also tried to outdrink the rise of nationalism in Europe and the incoming financial clouds on their own near horizon and, in the meantime, participated in a sexual permissiveness that would not be seen again till the 1960s.

Luhrmann has chosen his target well. He reportedly implied that the contemporary rich deserve a fresh critical eye, to bring new relevance to Fitzgerald’s 90 year old themes. But can Baz withstand drowning it in costume ahead of story?

To get a sense of where Gatsby stood pining for Daisy, you’ll need to leave Gatsby Lane, and creep down a nearby track, closer to the tip of the “Egg” peninsula, where you gain a clear view across Manhasset Bay.

Fitzgerald supposedly based the place where Daisy lived, on the “East Egg”, or Sands Point, on an actual 25 room mansion called Lands End. It’s no longer there.

The mansion, built in 1902 by a newspaper proprietor and whose later visitors included Winston Churchill and Albert Einstein, fell into disrepair in recent years. The bulldozers moved in last year and the site is being subdivided for 13 more modest mansions.

This area was once known as the Gold Coast, where wealthy New Yorkers fled their plush Manhattan apartments for their weekend castles.
 
It was with a mixture of curiosity, envy and critical eye that Fitzgerald, an outsider to this society, set up in a small home near here with his wife, Zelda. Enjoying the hospitality of his millionaire neighbours, he documented the heights, and anticipated the decline, of the period known as America’s Gilded Age.

Gatsby tells of a young man, Nick Carraway, who moves to a small shack in the West Egg and finds his neighbour is Gatsby, whose parties are legendary but is under suspicion from his shallow, ungrateful guests: the gossip is that he’s almost certainly a bootlegger, the same scoundrel making the illicit liquor they love to drink.

Gatsby’s “old sport” British affectations are too quaint. The scuttlebutt is that he manufactured a past in order to buy acceptance from the old-money snobs.

The always exhausted, heat-wilted Daisy, across the bay, is in a loveless marriage to Tom Buchanan, a brute whose affairs Daisy has chosen to ignore in order to protect her personal comfort.

Daisy, possibly the real villain is the book, is beautiful and shiftless, and was once courted by Gatsby back in the mid-western town they came from. Then, his name was Gatz. She became impatient for his return from the war and instead married Tom, an all-American football hero who came from old money.

Gatsby’s parties are for one reason: his hope that Daisy will see the lights across the bay and come to him. But she never does, until Gatsby learns that his neighbour, Nick, is Daisy’s cousin.

Introductions are made and Gatsby and Daisy begin their doomed affair. A death, or two, help bring matters to a tragic end. The real story is not about the wild parties: it is Carraway’s view that Gatsby, supposedly the bad guy, is driven by romanticism and passion more real than 100 of his elitist guests.

Professor Prigozy says the book still sells 300,000 copies each year and always resonates with students: “I think the thing that captures them is the dream and the sense of possibility. They identify with that – even though the dream fails, they keep their boats against the current.”

It is about Gatsby’s – and everyone’s – fight to belong. So perhaps Luhrmann, as he faces the skeptics, is entitled to feel a bit like Gatsby.

Jackson Bryer, Professor Emeritus at the University of Maryland’s Department of English, has been teaching Fitzgerald for 50 years. He has edited books of Fitzgerald’s letters and essays and, with Professor Prigozy, is a founder of the F. Scott Fitzgerald Society.

“The book is about the American dream,” he says. “While Gatsby could get the money, he couldn’t get the girl or penetrate the social stigmas of American society.”

Professor Bryer is another Luhrmann doubter. For him the book is just that – a book. “It isn’t just the story or the characters,” he says. “It’s the very style and words that have always set it apart. It’s almost poetic. That would always seem to make it very difficult for a movie to capture.

“But I would never say never.”

It is easy to see why Luhrmann chose to film in Sydney. New York’s skies are so often grey; and the book speaks of blue skies and green seas and slow days. And so little remains of Gatsby’s playground. Most of the big mansions are gone. The lifestyle died suddenly, in October 1929, with the crash.

There will always be attempts to find a new Gatsby, such as Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff. It never quite works. Gatsby wasn’t a money story. It was a love story.

tooheyp@newsltd.com.au

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    • TrueOz says:

      07:33am | 17/06/12

      Perhaps the greatest American short story and certainly one of my favourite books. Given the drivel he has produced in the past, I don’t even like to think what Luhrmann might do with it. :-(

    • John C says:

      08:33am | 17/06/12

      There should be a law passed to prevent LUhrmann from making films. That such a wonderful book should fall into his hands appals me. My greatest nightmare is that he will secure the film rights to Catcher in the Rye.

      Has there ever been a movie as bad as Australia?

    • hawker says:

      11:35am | 17/06/12

      ‘Has there ever been a movie as bad as Australia?’

      Yes, Moulin Rouge

    • Angry Fat Bitch says:

      11:57am | 17/06/12

      @John C - did you ever see Sorority Boys? Ashamed to say I paid to see that rubbish at the cinema.

      Australia was incredibly shallow and totally lacked pace. But it looked pretty. At least that’s more than can be said for a lot of other movies. But after the way he mutilated Romeo and Juliet one would hope Baz has done a better job on Gatsby.

    • pa_kelvin says:

      03:13pm | 17/06/12

      Hope he doesn’t re-release any of them in 3D….Shiver

    • Charlie says:

      07:52pm | 17/06/12

      the amount that luhrmann has done for australia and the film industry here is amazing, he doesnt need to produce and film all his movies here or fill a lot of supporting and important roles with australian actors, he just does. Sure Australia was bloated and unwieldy, but moulin rouge and romeo + juliet were critically acclaimed, so enough of the apparent cultural cringe because he’s one of australia’s great exports who keeps giving back

    • Pedro says:

      09:23am | 18/06/12

      I think anyone if us with decent tastein literature and cinema will have to accept that this be typical Luhrmann pap - lots of hilarious hijinks in costume that will appeal to single women and gays.
      If that pays the bills, so be it.
      I will probably illegally download it a few weeks after it crashes and burns at the box office. And baz fans should remember, just because a few Aussies might attend his schlock this does not make it either a critical or financial success. There would be a few studio bosses in the USA still recovering from the Australia nightmare.

    • Louisa says:

      07:37am | 17/06/12

      I’ve seen the trailer for Gatsby and to me it looked like Moulin Rouge set in the US. I’ve watched Moulin Rouge multiple times and, while I like the colour, the sets and the stye, Luhrmann never made me care about the people. It was style over substance. The love story never captured me. If a movie doesn’t make me care about what happens to the characters and tell an interesting story, it gets a thumbs down from me. Based on the short trailer, Gatsby looks like it could be the same. I’ll save my judgement until I see it though.

    • iansand says:

      08:39am | 17/06/12

      I will see it because I love the book, and I expect that I will be disappointed as I have been for all of the Luhrmann films I have seen.  Colour and movement with nothing else.

    • PhilD says:

      09:14am | 17/06/12

      Who cares? No one to rescue, save, convince or turn here folks. Keep moving.

    • Greg in Chengdu says:

      09:36am | 17/06/12

      My God Australia was bad. We got ripped of on that one especially as the government paid for a huge whack of it. Baz lurhmans best talent is self promotion and taking hmself very seriously.

    • James Ricketson says:

      10:26am | 17/06/12

      Even if Gatsby turns out to be a masterpiece the question must or should be asked: How many Australian tax-dollars were invested in the film? By the federal government (via tax incentives) and by the NSW goverhment? The figure of between $40 and $50 million is being bandied around but it is all being kept very secret.

    • Angry Fat Bitch says:

      12:12pm | 17/06/12

      Good point. I mean millions got pumped into Australia, but that was as much a tourism ad as it was a movie. Baz didn’t make it for us, he made it to convince American’s to come visit (although what good it did is questionable).

      But should Australian tax money be paying for Baz to tell the story of the American dream? It doesn’t seem right.

    • Jeremy says:

      10:38am | 18/06/12

      Almost every film made on the planet chooses to do so in part because of the tax credits the state and country are offering. Economically they are usually a cheap way to buy jobs and outside media interest in the area. Remember that a tax credit cost is not the same as a cash handout in real terms, the production company still has to come out and employ people and resources. The system has been in place for over 50 years and it works quite well.

    • Jeremy says:

      10:38am | 18/06/12

      Almost every film made on the planet chooses to do so in part because of the tax credits the state and country are offering. Economically they are usually a cheap way to buy jobs and outside media interest in the area. Remember that a tax credit cost is not the same as a cash handout in real terms, the production company still has to come out and employ people and resources. The system has been in place for over 50 years and it works quite well.

    • Ben says:

      10:38am | 17/06/12

      Apparently the ending is different in this one. Gatsby still dies, but Luhrmann arranges for some Native American kid to cast a spell and bring him back to life.

    • Anjuli says:

      10:39am | 17/06/12

      Moulin Rouge was terrible nothing on the original, as far as Australia was concerned ,at the beginning the moment Nicole Kidman walked on in her horse riding gear I laughed as soon as she opened her mouth, it was all downhill after that.Some must have enjoyed she received the Oscar for Moulin Rouge.

    • Aidan says:

      11:00am | 17/06/12

      Apparently Baz L’s films have been used to great effect at guantanamo bay, it was reported that at least two confessions were obtain after only two days of continuous exposure to anything he has made.

    • Ange says:

      01:05pm | 18/06/12

      Lol @ Aidan.

    • null says:

      04:39pm | 18/06/12

      I would say your comment is funny, however further research reveals it to be true

    • Joy says:

      11:33am | 17/06/12

      The GG is such a tender and fragile story centred around complex characters that still resonate with real life even if the era has now passed .... and Baz has all the subtlety, nuance and authenticity of a circus act. They just can’t work together.

    • renold says:

      11:38am | 17/06/12

      Tried reading the book once and struggled to get to page 20, last thing I need is to watch a movie and attempt to find the deeper meaning behind it all.

      Worst movie I have ever seen was called Paris, Texas….still haven’t got a clue what that one was about

    • Spacer says:

      04:18pm | 17/06/12

      Hey I think that guy was in the Avengers. PT was a bit odd huh, interesting tho.

    • Gordon says:

      10:12am | 18/06/12

      yeah, me too. I finished it but I’m not sure it changed my life any. That guy btw is Harry Dean Stanton…a rare great american character actor. Paris Texas was OK but a bit slow and wierd. Nothing to do with Baz of course, but like Moulin Rouge the music for PT was better than the film. The sound track of both are worth a second listen. Lot of Baz haters out today. Unfair in my view, except for Australia, which I didn’t like at all. MR was fine, Ballroom was fine too, R+J was rivetting. A movie is bunch of moving pictures. I don’t see why it’s somehow bad for a bunch of moving pictures to be spectacular. No-one says every movie should be a Baz epic, but they are worthy additions to the catalogue and anyway better than standard hollywood fare.

    • Susan says:

      11:45am | 17/06/12

      Who knows? I hated Australia and I agree Baz is inclined towards more superficial glitz and impression than deeper meaning. Still not sure why Jay McInerney refuses to go but I can only assume he’s seen enough of Baz’s work to predict.  The Great Gatsby is an extremely subtle and rich emotional work and, as suggested, it would be a mistake to simply think displaying the grand parties et al would be enough to represent what the original author tried to establish.  I don’t much like Baz’s film work and I think that a shame.  I feel he lost the heart of his craft a long time ago and is too directorially in love with people like Kidman to see mistakes in their acting and his script line [against the intent of the original works.]  Interpretation is one thing but I’d LOVE to see Baz shoot a film with a very low budget and force himself out of the high level production glitz that seems to have become part of his fabric.  He’s a clever man, but just too overly invested in the icing and forgoing what the cake is actually based on.  And I agree with Louisa’s comment about the audience failing to ultimately care about his characters.  Gatsby wrenched you in the original story; he puzzled you, led you to wonder about his core ‘aloneness’.  I doubt this film will generate the same level of enquiry.  I assume it will be a typical Baz screen extravaganza and one big party.

    • Joan says:

      12:16pm | 17/06/12

      DiCaprio and Mulligan don’t fit my idea of Gatsby and Daisy. So that`s that. Daisy character is based on Fitzgerald`s wife Zelda as were his other lead females of his other books. I`ve just read Zelda`s biography and Scott pinched much of his stuff from Zelda`s diaries and letters. Zelda wanted to be a writer but Scott always stopped her , delayed her doing that, and some of Zelda`s stories were published under Scott`s name so that they could get more money as he was paid more - they were always in a state of financial crisis.  I think Woody Allen`s movie ` Midnight in Paris` captures the essence of Fitzgerald world that Scott describes and Gatsby character would be allowed to develop and fit in this type of movie format ( without the jokes!) rather than the `big` over the top musical extravanganza type format of Baz..  DeCaprio looks more like ~Citizen Kane` character to me than A Great Gatsby type.  - miscast here as I look at trailer.

    • Ben from Nic says:

      12:25pm | 17/06/12

      I have a friend that worked on it and she told me the director fired a photographer and the next day his driver was on set with a camera. The feeling was its all about his personal perssusions and nothing to do with supporting the Australian crew or industry. Australia destroyed the industry she said and this is going to take it to the grave.

    • Ben from Nic says:

      12:25pm | 17/06/12

      I have a friend that worked on it and she told me the director fired a photographer and the next day his driver was on set with a camera. The feeling was its all about his personal perssusions and nothing to do with supporting the Australian crew or industry. Australia destroyed the industry she said and this is going to take it to the grave.

    • greece 1 russia 0 says:

      12:32pm | 17/06/12

      at school, i read great gatsby for english public examination.
      i got low marks on the great gatsby question as i could not work this crap.
      it was much ado about nothing. it was boring crap and hard to understand.
      baz luhrmann will have to make the movie much more interesting than the bullshit book if he wants his movie to be a box office success.

    • Jack says:

      11:35am | 18/06/12

      ‘I didnt understand a book’ = ‘book is boring bullshit crap and too hard’.

      Don’t worry, Charlie Sheen is back on tv next week.

    • Anne71 says:

      12:56pm | 18/06/12

      Jack, that’s uncalled for. I also studied The Great Gatsby in high school and, while I didn’t actually hate it, I could not really see what all the fuss was about. That doesn’t make me stupid or illiterate - it just means I have a different opinion to yours.

      The fact that a book is a classic does not mean that we all have to love it (or pretend to love it).

    • Jack says:

      01:40pm | 18/06/12

      Anne, you also didn’t claim it was ‘bullshit’, ‘crap’ or ‘hard to understand’.

      Reading something and not liking it is different to getting to page ten and throwing it away and claiming it is ‘totals gay’ because Will Smit hadn’t punched out any aliens.

    • AJ says:

      01:46pm | 18/06/12

      I love to read, but i also found this book very hard to read and one of the most boring i have ever read. If i hadn’t had to read it for english i would never have gotten past the first few chapters. I understand that it is thought to be a classic but i think that depends totally on whether you actually like the book or not.

    • greece 1 russia 0 says:

      12:33pm | 17/06/12

      at school, i read great gatsby for english public examination.
      i got low marks on the great gatsby question as i could not work this crap.
      it was much ado about nothing. it was boring crap and hard to understand.
      baz luhrmann will have to make the movie much more interesting than the bullshit book if he wants his movie to be a box office success.

    • Justiceprevails says:

      02:21pm | 17/06/12

      The Great Gatsby was a wonderful story. Here’s hoping Luhrmann doesn’t drown it in sentimental schmaltz. To Greece 1 Russia, you’ve missed out on so much by writing off this beautifully written book ss crap. Why did you not get one of the crib notes books if you didn’t understand it?! That might have even encouraged you to read this brilliant work properly. Having said that, much as i enjoyed Gatsby, I didn’t think it was a patch on Tender is the night.

    • DANILO says:

      02:57pm | 17/06/12

      I do not know why Luhrmann is looked upon as a great director as I find his movies really B Grade or less. He is vastily over rated and have no doubt whatsoever this too will be an embarassing flop. He should be banned or just direct steven seagal movies of which he is more suited for. I still cringe if I think of Australia he directed- excuse me I have to go and chunder!

    • pa_kelvin says:

      03:51pm | 17/06/12

      If he directs Steven Seagal movies ,what will Steven do,neither can direct,or act..

    • Admiral Ackbar says:

      12:03pm | 18/06/12

      Yeah I’m not sure what all the fuss is about in regard to his movies to date, all of which have sucked big time. If someone can name one good movie he’s made, I’ll eat my own head. This will be as shit as the rest, what more could you expect?

    • Cynicised says:

      07:25pm | 17/06/12

      Well, I’m going to buck the trend. I love Baz’s “Red Curtain” movies, his treatment of Romeo and Juliet in particular. He modernized the settings into a mesmerizing, eye-popping spectacle which, whilst keeping the Shakespearian language intact, managed to totally captivate a new generation and convert them into real appreciation of   one the world’s most classic love tragedies. DiCaprio was brilliant in it as Romeo. I see no reason why the combination cannot repeat the alchemy with The Great Gatsby.

      Admittedly, Australia was utter cringe-worthy tosh, however, Baz can do subtle, he can do understatement. One of the first incarnations of his “L’amour” motif was a staging of Puccinii’s Opera “la Boheme” which was beautifully sparse in it’s design, palette and costuming.

      I’m keeping the faith.

    • Sickemrex says:

      07:55pm | 17/06/12

      Colour me philistine but I found The Great Gatsby overblown and full of shitty, false cardboard cutouts. Of Mice and Men would have been the nail in the coffin of American classics for me if it wasn’t for To Kill a Mockingbird.

      Overblown, fake? Luhrmann’s dream. Ok, I have a tiny soft spot for Ewan and Richard Roxborough but found Romeo and Juliet incomprehensible and Australia comedic rather than dramatic.

    • Tristram says:

      07:44am | 18/06/12

      Tall poppy syndrome at its worst. Not enough kitchen sink cocaine use and animal suits for you lot? Baz Luhrmann is one of the few working Australian directors with vision and ambition - I’m not surprised the whinging mediocrities of this nation hate him so much. “Australia” was a misfire, but was certainly no worse than all the other underachieveing dreck the Australian film industry pumps out.

      What’s worse than this shameful philistinism is the ludicrous notion that a flawed adaptation can somehow “wreck” the source material. If it’s a bad film, it’s a bad film and we move on. This emotive and juvenile talk of being “worried” by a different take on the subject is embarrassing, especially from an academic. The film might be wonderful, the film might suck. Either way the book isn’t going anywhere.

    • Mike says:

      08:24am | 18/06/12

      I think that the reason “Australia” (the film) was especiallly mallinged was because of the build-up along with it being the most expensive film made in this country to date. The end result was considered mediocritiy (I myself, have not seen the film so I cannot rightly comment).

      As for re-imaginings, I do not see anything bad in them per se. They always have that going for them that they attempt something different; it can work well sometimes (e.g. West Side Story for Romeo and Juliet, The Lion King for Hamlet) and sometimes it falls flat (e.g. Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland).

    • Jack says:

      11:36am | 18/06/12

      Shouldn’t you be busy working, Baz?

    • Gordon says:

      01:58pm | 18/06/12

      @ Tristram, Agreed. The first go at LOTR was a dog…don’t remember it spoiling LOTR for middle earthians, and eventually someone got it right. If this Gatsby is hopeless the field is free for someone else to have a go. 

      re Australia: there is s role in the movie biz for someone “grown up” to scrap bad projects before they are inflicted on the general public. I suspect Rusty did us all a favour torpedoing Eucalyptus, and whoever tipped in all that cash to Australia should have done the same. Doesn’t mean the director is uniformly bad, just means he needs limits imposed: not rare amongst filmakers I reckon.

    • Lucky says:

      09:21am | 18/06/12

      All that without having seen a single frame of the film…. good effort.

    • H B Bear says:

      11:05am | 18/06/12

      Baz Luhrmann missed his true calling. 

      He should have been a turkey farmer.

    • Ange says:

      01:12pm | 18/06/12

      I got very excited when I heard they were doing a remake of The Great Gatsby…UNTIL I heard it was Baz Luhrmann. I actually really loved his interpretation of Romeo and Juliet but the rest of his pap…OMG. Moulin Rouge was embarrassing. And all the fuss and bother about Strictly Ballroom…it was awful.

      And Tristram - this is not a case of Tall Poppy syndrome. We’re not bagging the man cause he’s rich and famous and we’re jealous. We’re bagging him cause his movies are shit. Fair call don’t you think?

    • Shiralee says:

      03:00pm | 18/06/12

      The only Baz movie I loved was Strictly Ballroom. Australia did have some good points 1 of which was the little boy in it. He was great.

    • Cynicised says:

      04:02pm | 18/06/12

      As an aside, I defy anyone who appreciates artistry to watch the Roxanne Tango in Moulin Rouge and not be spellbound and moved. Baz can get it right.

      I believe he will dazzle us with beauty and sumptuousness whilst still emphasizing the intimate love story. After all, if one analyses his work to date the theme of money status and privilege not guaranteeing happiness in love is
      prevalent in it all. Baz is all about “l’amour”.

      Agree wholeheartedly with this who say a reinvisioning is not necessarily a bad thing.

    • Tim says:

      09:25pm | 18/06/12

      I suppose Luhrmann can choose to make any film he wants. But The Great Gatsby…in 3D???? This only seems to ram home the style over substance….

      What’s next Jane Austen in 3D?

 

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