Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cecil B deMille of the Gutter.

I've been movie-mad since infancy, I go regularly every Friday night to the cinema, and last week at the George Street Cineplex I saw Phil Noyce's "SALT". What a great entertaining movie, a real thrill ride from beginning to end, so seamless and engrossing, a perfect example of its genre, "action/spy/thriller", Noyce truly is a consummate filmmaker, we clung to our seats throughout with our hearts in our mouths and at the last shot, with Angie running for her life to "go get 'em", the whole audience broke into a cheer/laugh/gasp, we turned to each other and yelped, "that was fucking fantastic!" Silly, yeah, a political fantasy, yeah, but a lot of fun regardless.

If ever I'm a jealous guy, it's over filmmakers that have had stupendous, ongoing careers, like Tim Burton, Ridley Scott, Quentin Tarentino, Martin Scorcese or Phil Noyce and it's incredible that Australia could have produced such a talent, given the way most ART here gets blended into colourless blanc mange. Which brings me to the time I met Phil Noyce way back around 1985, I'd just finished "The Thief of Sydney" and was hopeful myself of having a career as a movie maker. He was running a workshop for up and coming directors in a warehouse in Woolloomoolloo and I thought I'd give it a burl, Auz was supposed to be egalitarian, maybe there was even space for a deadbeat punk like me, I had talent and was brazen, so why not?

As I came thru the door just when the class was to begin I tripped over a squeeze-bucket and mop and fell into the room with a loud clatter, entangled in the grotty gear, waltzing with the mop like an "I Love Lucy " klutz, Noyce's eyeballs popping as he watched me shoving the crap back out the door. With a sheepish grin I tried to hide behind the line-up of celluloid wannabes, Noyce's eyes still on me, possibly wondering, "Who is this freak?"

There were about 12 other hungry hopefuls, me being the 13th evil fairy, they were all clean-cut middle-class desperates, me ragged in punk gear, bleached hair standing up straight as if I'd been electrified, and I stood out like a rabid dog's balls. The first exercise Mr. Noyce gave us, to garner trust I suppose, was to pair off and run our fingers thru each others hair. I got put with an uptight dykey type, short hair, guy's clothes and crabby face, who I felt detested me on sight and who seemed creeped out as she ran her digits through my greasy locks, I was so embarrassed I felt like running out of the joint then and there.

(All that guff about "gay solidarity" is nonsense out in the competitive world, nobody stabbed me in the back worse than my fellow 'gays' when it came to jobs, money or glory, (I've never been invited to join a "gay mafia" and I'd never want to), and the weird thing is that over the long years of my non-career it was mostly heterosexual men, in all walks of life, who put a hand out and helped, as if they felt some sympathy, maybe thinking, "there but for some junk genes interacting with a shit environment go I.)( I hope I'm not internalising "gay hatred", I can only say to my queer brothers and sisters, please give me a break!)

For the next exercise we had to enact an imaginary scene, we were at an art gallery and we had to roam the room and look at the (invisible) pictures on the walls, nothing else, just appreciate the art. For awhile we wandered about the huge room, me hamming it up as I thoughtfully gazed at empty walls, I was in my element, art was my forte. Suddenly one of the young directors broke from the group, and from the exercise itself, marched across the room, sat down and fiddled with rubbish on a table, like he was bored and wanted some different action, (he was possibly a plant.) The other dopes seemed to take this as a cue and followed him, I guess they wanted a break in the ennui also and they fidgeted about in emulation. I glanced over at them, wondering what the fuck they were up to, and then turned back to the invisible art, continuing to appreciate my hallucinations of Matisse and Picasso. Time dragged on, the others flailed away at their distraction while I looked into space chin in hand, the great art connoisseur.

Finally Noyce got fed up and called an end to the flaccid drama. He turned on the rest of the wannabes and lectured, "The exercise was to look at art in an art gallery, not sit about fidgeting with crap. You were supposed to stay focused, stay with the scene and only one person did it, that guy over there. What's your name, mate?" "Toby", I squeaked. "Good work Toby, you're the only one who seems able to concentrate." I smirked and glanced at the others who were fuming, their eyes narrowed in resentment. Oh oh, alienating myself from the group and making enemies already and we were only half an hour into the workshop. This would set the stage for my whole non-career in the movie business, naive brashness versus zealous plodding careerists.

I don't remember much of what happened thereafter except I decided to really go for it, whatever the exercise, life is exhilarating and the floor gets wiped with wimps, and I get restless with easy options anyway. We had to trot about the room in orderly, placid footsteps, I suppose to see if we could be herded like sheep, the great Master watching to see who would stay in line this time, and all complied, except me of course, I'm no staid sheep, I whizzed around like the thief of Sydney, the wooden floor was polished and easy to skid upon so I ran, twirled, skipped in and out of the eager-to-please bovines, and skid the full length of the room like a manic sound surfer while the others tippie-toed as if they walked on eggs, all trotting in their safe groove. I was now bored and fed up and thought, "Fuck this, I'm out of here!" My last vision as I zoomed out the door was Phil Noyce surrounded by a mob of panting sycophants, him giving me a nod of goodbye. Whether the gang turned out to be hot directors I'll never know, I'm not in the scene and don't follow the heirachy of shit-heap climbers as some must do, and I didn't reach any great heights myself, my few films getting some kudos and showing all around the world but leaving me with the arse out of my pants.

Another great movie I saw this week was the New Zealand drama "Boy", what a beauty, I even cried at the end, it was so beautiful and affecting. Why can't Auz make films like this, with so much heart and soul, not just poignant drama but uplifting humour as well. The only thing lately from Auz that was as good was "Samson and Delilah", though much more of a tragedy, our Indigenous Aussies having their souls ripped out. Maybe the guilt and horror of us wiping out the first Aussies crushes our spirit artwise? And any good script writers here probably get cut down by the "tall poppie syndrome" and the blender of bureaucrat assessment panels. Also it's a rigid class-system here, for all the egalitarian bullshit, a movie costs a million dollars plus and only the ruling class is allowed to hand such large amounts around. Some brave souls mortgage their houses to raise production money but they have houses in the first place, already a few rungs up the ladder from many artists, and they move in the right circles. If you're poor, unconnected and not in the know, with all the talent in the world, you're fucked.

There are of course some Aussie movies that were very good and I liked very much: "Bad Boy Bubby", "Two Hands",, "Japanese Story", "Noise", "Australian Rules", "The Tracker","Gettin' Square", "The Proposition", "Home Song Stories", "Suburban Mayhem", "Wolf Creek" and "Acolytes", but few of these movies, in my mind, grab you heart and soul and affect your world-view, change your attitude, only "Priscilla" and "Samson and Delilah" affecting me this way. But Kiwi movies really grabbed me by the guts, "The Piano"(yes, N.Z. not Auz), "Heavenly Creatures", (all Peter jackson's work), "Once Were Warriors", "Whale Rider" and now "Boy". The only Aussie film being as close to my heart as these is Rolph de Heer's "10 Canoes", (all his films actually.)

Who cares about crime families in Melbourne such as our supposed latest 5 star movie "Animal Kingdom", (yeah yeah, Jackie Weaver was good and so was Ben Mendhelson) but I've seen it all before on TV's "Homicide" and "Underbelly" and it certainly didn't call to my heart, murder in Melbourne, yuk!. Movies like "The Boys" did nastiness so much better all those years ago.

Forget about "ART", I bet the film bureaucrats are too busy giving the money to their friends or spending it on refurbishing their offices and sending each other to Cannes to hobnob with the international jet-set, pretending to be part of the "In Crowd" because they have the power to hand out the money. That's why most films here are shit! Even my first Super 8 mess "My Survival as a Deviant!?" made for $3000 had more guts than many of the turgid dramas and inane comedies that pass for features here, glorified soaps all.

What a fool I was, hoping for such glory, me the Cecil B deMille of the gutter getting swept away on a flood of crap from all these middle class brats so desperate for an Oscar they'd prostitute their grandmothers. They really shat on my head, as if the silver screen really bestowed immortality on their trembling souls and it was worth anything to get there.

If you enjoyed this story please go to the WEB address above and consider buying my book of tales about growing up anarcho-queer, rock and roll punter and mystic adventurer in Australia and India of the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s.