Or the strange case of The Persecution and Assassination of Jean-Paul Marat as Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade (aka Marat/Sade)

Valhalla Cinema, Glebe

Valhalla Cinema, Glebe. Being turned into another filing cabinet for yuppies.


In many ways, the demise in 2005 of the Valhalla Cinema was the final nail in the coffin of Sydney, Australia, as a valid cultural epicentre in the greater kosmopolites. It was a final kick in the groin to a city that had once boasted an underground arts and music scene to rival London, Frisco, New York or Berlin. Of course the rot began some two decades earlier, the deadly combination of easy wealth and imbeciles saw the gentrification of its inner city. Music venues closed, replaced my slot machine casinos and retarded techno/dance clubs with bright lights and mirrors to hypnotise the vapid. It was a descent into narcissism and shallow spectacle, a playground for nouveau riche vulgarity, a culture effectively placed in a coma. And it was a scene replayed the world over. As a testament to the abject hollowness of what Sydney has become, the Valhalla hasn’t even merited its own Wikipedia entry from any of its residents – all a google search reveals now are a former map location, some minor footnotes in irrelevant blogs and some private photo galleries. It may as well never have existed.

For my part the Valhalla had ceased to be relevant over a decade earlier when it transitioned itself, most likely due to new age business managers / owners, from being a true cult cinema to an indy / arthouse theatre. There were quite likely compelling commercial reasons for the re-branding (that in itself is tragic), but the change made it a faceless non-entity to me. Why bother? There are a dozen clones scattered throughout the city – why bother going to the Val? Especially if all that’s on offer is the latest stream-of-consciousness pap from Sundance? The original Valhalla’s raison d’être (and the reason for this protracted digression) was to provide cinema you could not get elsewhere – true underground cinema from early John Waters, Warhol’s factory and Euro-trash exploitation, as well as re-screenings of older classics past their use-by dates – shown on a big screen. In it’s prime, it was screening a selection of 20-30 unique films a week and had a request board for patron’s, usually fulfilled wherever possible. To my mind, this culture shift to new release indy was cutting its own throat. No matter, it is history now.

Marat/SadeOne of the semi-regular menu items to appear on the programs was the legendary 1967 flick Marat/Sade – less a film per se than a documentary capture of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s performance of the play with the incredibly long name at the start of this post. It piqued my interest for many reasons – I was going through the morbid de Sade phase anybody with an ounce of imagination goes through in their youth; it is an oft cited classic in the history of theatre itself, a standard study piece; and it is meant to be a masterpiece in its own right in the art of dialogue writing. But for various reasons, apathy mostly and partly from lack of interested friends to go with, I never did get around to seeing it – and then Valhalla screening policies changed. By this time it was the early ’90s and having a RealJob and earning RealMoney, I resolved to purchase a copy.

First port of call in early ’93 was Melbourne’s excellent Polyester Records who could get anything, anywhere. They have much to recommend them, not least of which is a healthy contempt for local decency laws. They sourced a VHS copy and ordered it for me. 6 months later, I had not heard back and promptly forgot all about it (which is not to say they are unreliable – I happily recommend Polyester to everyone). Didn’t really think about it again until 1996 when Amazon was fully up and running – again I ordered a VHS “available now!” copy. A month later, a “sorry we are having difficulties with the supplier…” email, then another month a “sorry, no can do” one. Again I forget about it. Around 2003, I find a DVD copy in the catalog of the local HMV megastore – again I order it, to have a repeat of the Amazon problem. 2008, find it in the catalog at local Redeye Records – still waiting on that one. Last year, I gave Amazon one final try – same story.

Fast forward to now –

I have all but abandoned owning an official, legal copy. I think pretty much anyone would agree I genuinely tried to purchase a copy, and that there was more than just a hint of sincerity in my efforts. As in I can’t think of a single other avenue to try. I wanted the real thing to get the paraphernalia with it – the packaging graphics and release notes. I really want it and I can’t get it. So fuck it. Google => marat sade torrent => Pirate Bay => Peter Brook – Marat / Sade (1967) => Download this torrent? => yes => ~90 minutes later, voila! – I have a copy of Marat/Sade with perfect audio and video quality. Not even the risk of a faulty disc via a snail mail vendor. 18 years vs. 90 minutes. Uhuh, yeah, piracy sucks.

Now, technically, I am a criminal and, if you believe the mafIAA catastrophist rhetoric, am contributing to the apocalypse which will collapse civilisation itself. To which I say – “suck my balls you parasites”.

There are a number of issues here that immediately spring to mind –

  • How can you steal something that doesn’t exist?
  • Who is it stealing from? The chances of the creative talents that made this arthouse flick some 43 years ago getting even a cent are zero. Oh, I see, it’s stealing from folks that have actually contributed nothing, just sat in chairs and smoked cigars while their secretaries sucked them off.
  • Conversely, how is “doing the right thing” and not seeing a film which is not available for distribution benefiting creative artists? Take your time with that one.

The issues here are endless, there are countless terabytes of bloggage out there gnawing on it and will continue to be for as long as the various mafIAAs persist in darkening our doors.

My perspective though on all of this is quite simple and basic and has little to do with the “big picture” issues being discussed out there, often lawyer-to-lawyer, between big media, government, consumer rights advocates, artists and others.

I have no interest in Hollywood (other than it must be destroyed), nor in anything really from any of the major music labels. In fact, if I my tastes went any deeper underground they’d be in China. But I do have a voracious appetite for culture and an insatiable obsessive-compulsive monomania for digging around for its obscure and unspeakable [*] artefacts. The bottom line is this –

If what I am seeking is not readily available in a format that is easily viewable and reproducible using open format standards, any and all moral or ethical constraints against “theft” or “piracy” cease to have substance.

Copyright holders should be bound by a “use it or lose it” clause – make it available or lose all ownership. It’s really that simple. I represent the unacknowledged demographic in the “piracy” hysteria – we are the majority, we are happy to pay – for product that is available and unhobbled.

This is not a complicated position to take. I will undertake to respect the market on the condition that the market respects me – in essence, this is a position of cultural libertarianism. Give me what I want in a reasonable quality and at a reasonable rate of exchange and we will happily do business. If you refuse, I will take it anyway… well you can call it theft and cry about it, but they will be shallow crocodile tears. The basic facts of the matter are that the grievance is your fault, not mine.

Use it or lose it. Put up or shut up. Distribute it or the public domain will become its new home whether you like it or not.

Use it or lose it

[*] – Portrait of an obsessive-compulsive monomaniac digging around for obscure and unspeakable artefacts:

  • Object – La bestia in calore, ’70’s Italian nazi-sploitation epic banned everywhere, referenced in Heeb ‘zine. Search.
  • Lead one, ancient Isohunt torrent. Reaches 6% download and doesn’t move for a week.
  • Lead two, resort to rapidshare. Archive found, links validated. Download successfully, archive split file #4 corrupt.
  • Research .rar repair tools. Easily fixed with a gnu-ported unrar “keep broken archive” command switch.
  • Complete .avi file assembled. Italian, no subtitles.
  • Search for another copy with separate subtitles files. Found – dvd rip with separate large idx/sub files.
  • Manage to download. Try to integrate with VLC player. Doesn’t work.
  • Research. Need to rollback to an earlier version of VLC. Do so.
  • Success. Subtitles are in Danish, Swedish and Hungarian only. Yippee hooray.
  • Do what I should have done in the first place – google “La bestia in calore +.srt file”
  • Found on about page 20. Download, .srt files are plain text, 50k.
  • Open it – its fucking Norwegian.
  • Go to google translate and convert to English.
  • Integrate in VLC again. Time synch out by 56 seconds.
  • Adjust time lag with Avidemux, merge .srt to video and convert to fresh file copy – 3 hours.
  • Finished project. Viewable movie with some very odd dialog. Time to complete – 6 weeks.

File sharing rocks. Viva la revolución comrade! So much more fun than buying it. Not.