8) Don’t Upstage the Main Act :
Friday, January 10, 2014
49) How to Become a Movie Star (or Stunt Your Growth Trying.)
1) Develop Your Creative Potential From Day One :
Since Arthur first clapped eyes on a movie screen as a small child he dreamed of becoming a movie star and every thing he did from then on had that as his goal. He played all manner of hero and heroin roles in the privacy of his bedroom, he joined in on all school burlesque performances, he practiced every dance step known to man, and he even sang Broadway songs outside Melbourne’s theaters hoping some Diagilev-like maestro would come out and discover him.
But he never got an agent and never went to auditions, for as a working-class boy from the outer suburbs such professionalism seemed out of his reach. He read twenty-one hundred books and watched twenty-one thousand movies and knew every plot point and characterization possible, hoping to dream up wild stories that were fresh and intriguing, that had never been told before; he was too clever by half, not resigned to the facts till old age taught him there were only 7 stories ever to be told in this world and the only way to make steady money was to dumb down and appeal to the lowest common denominator.
2) Seek Out Mentors :
He was a nobody from Nowheres-ville and needed help to lift him from the gutter. He took guidance from wherever he could get it, from old Mrs. Kelly teaching him tap dance when he was eleven to Artor Turnbull teaching him modern ballet when he was eighteen. Then he found his old yoga and art guru, Compassion, touring the Theosophical Societies and sat at his feet to imbibe what he could, even to the day he died, like apprentices had done for thousands of years.
And after much travel and study upon the world’s highways he met his film-animation guru, Eddie vander Madden, who helped him make fabulous animated cartoons such as “The Thief of Sydney” that won world prizes, and for which he would be eternally grateful, even if he never did another thing with his life. But he never went to legitimate art, film nor acting schools, didn’t get that rubber-stamped arts diploma, didn’t plug into an old boys’ network and in a bureaucratic tyranny like Auz was treated like a pretentious guttersnipe. By desiring to work in show biz regardless, he little realized the can of worms he was entering into when he cracked the backdoor of the Oz Movie house.
3) Discover Yourself :
In the 1970’s, Arthur gained more confidence when he got lost in India, tripping with the hippies in Goa, bellowing out his zany rock operas and prancing about like a fluffed up Pavlova. After one of his beach-side performances a handsome Australian surfer, respected dude with the freaky party set, assuredly informed Arthur that he would one day be very famous, he was psychic and could see it shining bright, for Arthur brimmed over with talent. He half believed the guy, celebrity was the new religion, and one of his twenty-one personalities threw him to his knees for fame, and forever after he part-fueled his celluloid delusions with that brash forecast.
Back in Australia he thumbed his nose at the Establishment, grew cynical and rebellious, anarchic and surrealist, shunning work within the mainstream to revel in the anti-cinema of the Arts’ Underground. A good friend put a super 8 camera in his hand and he stumbled around Sydney shooting willy-nilly, shaky camera-work, frame swerving every which way, out of focus, wind ripping up the soundtrack, very punk and cinema verite. He put himself in the frame, on microphone, for if no one in the industry would have him, or even knew he existed, he’d star in his own movies, and in this déclassé way make his childhood fantasies come true.
When he overheard two sharp politicos discussing the social relevance of “deviance”, he flashed it was a fitting through-line for all the claptrap he’d captured on Super 8, like the grungy, libertine life of the Pyrmont Squats or the teenage Punks frolicking in their electric nightclubs. He was told there was a fair dinkum cool chap in the Creative Development Branch of the Australian Film Commissar and, while loath to be co-opted by Government handouts, he needed a few thousand dollars to put the raw material together as a holistic artwork, uncouth though it was. Calling his film, “My Survival as a Deviant?!” he tippie-toed into the functional, concrete building in North Sydney and up to the Film Commissar’s offices, and was lucky that the first person he ever met in the rambunctious, cut-throat world of the Australian film industry was the rare one in seven who will help the artist rather than hinder. Chris Chillum was indeed a sweet, cool dude who, on sight of the footage and the script, recommended Arthur to be assisted as best as possible to help complete the project.
By Nineteen Seventy-nine he had shot many hours of shaky home movies showing how he lived in those times, broke and harried, the squats attempting utopia but constantly under attack, and the deviant types he came across blabbing their dispossessed souls out, pot smokers, anarchists, a gay aborigine, a feminist stripper, a stream of cranks and misfits. And all Arthur wanted to do, wandering in and out of the frame, was to paste his scurrilous posters upon the walls of the city, demanding true democracy, and also make iconoclastic animated films, if he could. The “Survival” film was very bad and almost unwatchable, but so was the life he lived, rough as guts unslick. What do you expect for three thousand dollars anyway, Godfather Part 7?
4) Don’t Get Involved with Lost Causes :
Thinking to save energy and kill two birds with one stone, he premiered his Super 8 monstrosity at a benefit for the notorious criminal, Roy Penning, at Garibaldi’s Restaurant, Darlinghrst, to raise money for his various legal challenges, such was the degree Arthur got suckered into a hard-luck story, and it all seemed to fit theme wise. He designed a fleuro poster of a giant Santa Claus, with half-demonic face and horns, descending upon Arthur to crush him and his fellow squatters pictured in the bricks of his tumble-down dockworker’s cottage. “My Survival as a Deviant?!” was a graphic title that grabbed the oddball crowd’s attention and the night was a rollicking success; the punters even dug the film and thought it captured ‘deviance’ in the raw.
But in case he felt too cocky, he got wine thrown in his face by a gang of feminists who accused him of using a deadly serious, political cause for the furtherance of his bullshit, movie career. His eyes stung mercilessly, the “I am camera” maestro blinded on his first, big opening. He wanted to throw a bucket of slops onto the bitches’ collective heads, but an audience was watching and he felt some shame, so he staggered off to mop his face and wonder where he’d gone wrong. He would’ve bet the association with Roy Penning would tarnish rather than brighten his reputation with the world at large, and as he was from the gutter, he knew few poor boys were allowed to make it, and he was going nowhere except back to the gutter, for all his delusions of grandeur. He merely empathized with Roy’s ghastly story of incarceration and brutality and dug the symbolism of him representing the utmost in social deviance. (See “Flirting With Jail-birds” in this Blog for the denouement of the Ray Penning story.)
He showed the film in many rock’n’roll venues, squats, pubs, coffee lounges, wherever they’d let him, the traveling presentation all part of his performance art. The Daily Terror newspaper miraculously gave Arthur his one and only mention ever by reporting that the Creative Development bureaucrats had cracked a bottle of champagne on the film being passed by the Censor, declaring it had artistic merit, to Arthur’s befuddlement. He tried to get it distributed by an agent, the few renters being government bureaucracies like the Department of Mental Health, who couldn’t make sense of it, the chopped up film falling off their dinky Super 8 projector, except they knew that they hated it.
All this whipped up the movie mogul in Arthur and he schemed to make bigger and better films, politically incisive, only with a fantastic edge of science fiction because he wanted to throw some color onto the squalidness of social realism, dreary real-life had a lot of fantasy to bolster or confuse it, so Arthur the confabulator felt. But he was a libertarian environmentalist, anti-uranium mining, pro gay rights etc etc and he put a lot of ratbag demagoguery into his art, ra ra ra! The powers that be, handing out the money and the awards, hate political commentary, it might be the seed of a social revolution, they prefer pretty wall-paper and turgid kitchen sink soap operas. Artie was his own worst enemy.
5) Befriend Power-mongers High and Low:
One day wandering the sordid back lanes of Sydney putting up his posters, he met a kooky fellow, a veritable techno wizard, who admired Arthur’s drawing and suggested he tried animated cartoons to truly reach the epitome of explosive art, and a light bulb lit up Arthur’s pinhead, “Yes! The culmination of all my disciplines!” He’d always been thrilled by movies involving animation combined with live action, like in “Mary Poppins”, Dick van Dyke dancing with the penguins, or Ralph Bakshi’s “Traffic”, cartoon characters amidst colorized, real cars, and he knew the basis for most of the special effects in his adored science fiction movies were stop-framing and cartoon super-imposition, such as the phantom monster in “Forbidden Planet” and the models of space ships spouting death-rays in “War of the Worlds”.
The old man’s name was Eddie vander Madden; he was Dutch, a World War Two refugee from the classic, traditional schools of European animators, a cracked genius in animation techniques and automated photography. Arthur visited him assiduously at his tumble-down squat-studio in Darlinghurst to imbibe as much animation know-how as the cranky old fellow would impart, sitting at his hand-built animation desk that took gorgeous, crisp photos sequentially of drawings placed under it.
Eddie had previously worked for television doing animated comedy and commercials till he threw one too many temper tantrums and they sacked him, with no recommendation. Here he was, destitute in a condemned slum, capable of works of extreme brilliance, always grumbling about the injustices of the world, another artist who had been totally ripped off. Often his sour eye fell on Arthur, who’d made some innocent, snide remark, and with much abuse and smashing of the camera-desk, the old crackpot would shout about the power being his and nobody could take it from him. Arthur remained patient and encouraging with the cantankerous Master, he was the lowly apprentice and he weathered the storms to imbibe his craft, learning how to move cut-out pictures one, two, three frames at a time to get different flows, to finger paint in slow motion, to move smooth, real or surreal like Disney cartoons with different levels of painted cells, to spin objects and mobilize puppets with stop-framing.
He realized animation was a way he could clearly depict the psychological underpinnings of human reality, printing cartoons onto photo-real heads for thinking and dreaming. He spent his meager dole money on film and art materials, plastic cells and paints, and appeasing Eddie, to practice photographing animation sequences, creating a shocking cartoon called “We’ve got it all for You!” with Donald McRonald kidnapping cancer kiddies and turning them into hamburger meat.
He knew there was a way of capturing realist movement in animated splendor from seeing films like Disney’s “Fantasia” but he didn’t know the process. He trekked way out to the Film and Television School in the wilds of outer-suburbia to attend an animation course where he inquired about the realist movement, in cartoon, of the human form walking. He was shown a ‘Sixties, French-Canadian avant-garde film of an animated pair of legs walking, the feet realistically and rhythmically placed with every step, and it looked very cool. The process was called ‘rotoscoping’, projecting live-action film a frame at a time onto a desk top and tracing each frame onto a perfectly registered cell. This was the key to the ‘look’ he had in mind for his next wondrous piece of anti-cinema and Eddie built him a rotoscope-machine accordingly.
And he dreamed up “The Thief of Sydney”, inspired by “The Arabian Nights” and “The Time Machine”, “On the Beach” and “Logan’s Run”, and his own tawdry life, about dreaming of winning a futuristic sport called “sound surfing” that Arthur had discovered for himself jumping upon the sound-waves at head-banging rock music gigs. He drew up a cartoon storyboard for the script and, to prove his ability at rotoscoping, shot two sequences of film, one live action of an actress of his acquaintance smoking a cigarette superimposed onto another hand-painted sequence of animated film, the woman dissolving smoothly into the cartoon version of herself, smoking and eating a hamburger, hallucinating a whirl of deadly symbols out her ears before her face goes up in a puff of smoke.
With script and test footage under his arm he again approached the Creative Development Branch, as since they’d kick-started his big movie career, they might as well continue to develop him, and while he knew it was hypocrisy for a rebel to take money from the State, he felt ‘democracy’ was about giving all viewpoints a chance to see the light, even libertarians, and it rather tickled him that he could con money from the straights for a bent work. He needed twenty one thousand dollars for the film and there was only one place he could contrive to get it, quickly, while the project was hot.
In about 1980, one sunny morning when he was pottering about half-naked in the backyard of his delinquent squat, suddenly in walks two movie directors, the woman already famous for “My Scungy Career” and the guy hoping to get famous for a project he hadn’t figured out yet. They’d been directed to Arthur by his dodgy mate over in Darlo Squats, Karl Blonde, with some bullshit about Arthur being an avid fan of science fiction who had made his own home movies of the lowlife. Both of them were doing research on street people, and while Kon Camera was still feeling his way to something about troubled youth, Gilly Headstrong was considering some sci-fi schlock set in Nineteen eighty-five about unemployed teenagers trapped in a drive-in movie theater that had been turned into a concentration camp.
“An amusing idea but a silly scenario for the near future,” pontificated Arthur while he scratched his balls. He in turn raved about his love of musicals and how he highly desired to make one. They asked to see “My Survival as a Deviant!?” and that night he set up a grotty Super 8 theater in the communal squat lounge-room, (in the future it would transmogrify into a Police Station), where he and his gang huddled on the manky carpet, passing a joint around, while cringing in a corner the two famous movie directors watched the creaky film, trying to look laid-back. Arthur showed Gilly and Kon the storyboard for “The Thief of Sydney”, jovially warbling on about the pros and cons of his project and in return Gilly gushed that she’d put in a good word for him at the Australian Film Commissar, he’d been so open and helpful with their research. (Gilly dropped her drive-in concentration camp idea and went on to make Australia’s first movie musical called “Starfucked”, about troubled teenagers winning a song and dance competition inside the Opera House, and Kon made his first acclaimed feature called, “Making Shit”, about a delinquent teenager getting on top of his troubles.)
Connections help in this imbalanced world, but Arthur would like to think that his success was based on the strength of his script and his avowed enthusiasm for show business. It was early days yet with the Government “film grant” scene and he was lucky to get a hip “peer group” panel of four filmmakers to assess his proposal, one of them a caustic, established feature film director, all of them open, intrigued, fair-minded. Presented with his punk flair, they loved the script and, after he explained how with rotoscoped animation he’d depict the sound-surfing sequences, they gave Arthur enthusiastic support and a few thousand dollars to get the film rolling.
His story was of a homeless youth, sleeping in a park, who dreams of a terrifying future when a nuclear missile hits Sydney and turns it into a pile of slag, and after which a strange city mushrooms up populated by wailing ghosts and radiation-suited citizens. The anti-hero, a thief who steals oxygen to survive, gate-crashes the “sound-surfing” Olympics, a gladiatorial contest danced out upon sound-waves above the Opera House preserved under a glass-dome. Arthur started the project in Nineteen-eighty, little realizing he’d need to shoot innumerable hours of film and paint twenty-one thousand plastic cells for the final thirteen minutes of animated schlock, and it would take him four years to do it.
He had to go back several times over the years to talk the bureaucrats into giving him the dribs and drabs of money needed to finish the film and he found that in Auz it was these grey, suited officials that had to be befriended, cajoled, manipulated, and convinced, to get anywhere in the arts. Good at passing paper around, balancing the books, keeping receipts, being a yes-man, climbing a hierarchy, pretending to be squeaky-clean and goodie-two-shoes, ruthless in whatever it took to further a movie career, it was all a hard ask for Artie.
When he was told many years later by a girlfriend that she’d beaten him to some grant money by fucking one of the lesbian assessment panelists, he flashed that it wasn’t good enough to suck up to the bastards, you also had to suck and fuck whoever you could to really seal the deal.
6) Beg, Borrow and Break Whatever Rules You Have To :
He roped in histrionic types from the streets to be his actors, the main criteria being the ability to dance, and he cajoled a boy from Pyrmont Squats to take the lead role of ‘Singood, the Thief of Sydney’, because he had an ingenuous, sweet face and was earnest in applying himself to the part. In seven days, without police or council permission, they shot the live action on the streets of the city and the rotoscoped dance sequences tumbling down the hills of Moore Park Golf Course, using garish garbage for costumes and stolen props to give it that science fiction feel. Arthur himself took the part of ‘The Turd Doc, Emperor of Sydney’.
On researching the nascent animation industry in Sydney, Arthur zealously sought out where to buy bulk plastic cells, indelible pens and acrylic fleuro paints for the explosive, techno color effect he desired; the brass peg-bar used to place the cells in exact position he’d bought hand-made from a craftsman on the edge of the city after walking his fingers through the phone directory; the two balanced, halogen camera lights he bought from a swimming pool company in Alexandria and thus, with ingenuity and ongoing safaris into the factory suburbs, he put together a workable “mickey mouse” animation factory.
And with grumpy old Eddie standing at his shoulder, he slaved away at the animation desk, laying down a painted cell, taking two perfectly lit photographs of it, then moving onto the next cell, all the while shifting a calibrated background underneath a millimeter at a time, all this repeated a thousand times over with acute concentration. A nasty rumor got back to him that he’d somehow bewitched his friends to slave for nothing to paint the thousands of cells while he lazed about getting high on coke.
Wrong! Most friends he tried to inveigle into painting cells gave up after ten pictures, the work too repetitive and boring for them to persevere, only crazy Arthur with the vision and lust to slosh on with the paints regardless of the disasters that rained down upon him in his squat studio over the years. (And he would never waste his money on coke, the small budget couldn’t handle any wages for him, he lived on the dole throughout the entire debacle.) He personally shot the twenty-one thousand pictures with Eddie as his fanatic guide, all in Eddie’s dilapidated squat, the ceiling falling down, the walls crumbling, the windows cracked, dust and mold everywhere, and hooligans ever about to break in and beat them up while they animated, animated, animated, spinning up dreams no realism could capture.
7) Keep Your cards close to Your Chest :
Then Arthur made the first of many mistakes that, all told, aborted his brilliant non-career as a movie mogul; he took on board some young brats fresh from Sydney Art College who posed as eager, supportive artists but who in reality turned out to be the usual famished fame whores. The trio of clueless wannabes trilled ecstatic over the grungy animation set-up and soon moved their skinny butts into the tumble-down studio to devour all that was selflessly imparted to them.
Arthur was an idealist who thought all resources and skills should be shared in co-operative compassion, and that most people were honest, caring and clever in their own right, with a zillion creative ideas to go around, there were absolutely no limits to the potential of animation, it could take you anywhere and do anything, and anyone could do it. He overlooked the fact that most young people have been nowhere, done nothing and know little, and are so hungry to get places, they’d trample on their grandmothers without thinking, as in a hard, capitalist world it’s the quick or the dead.
While Eddie taught them how to operate the camera and animate efficiently, Arthur told them the ins and outs of his “Thief of Sydney” project, where to buy the cells and fleuro paints, how to rotoscope, how to use the peg bar, showing them the footage he’d shot so far and raving mindlessly about how marvelous it was he could represent the mind-scape of his characters through cartoon super-imposition upon realist photography.
Discovering Eddie’s desperate hunger for monetary reward for his hard-done-by genius, mulching down as he was into the detritus of the dilapidated squat studio, they foisted onto the Master and his ditzy apprentice the idea of an ‘animator’s co-operative’, everyone tossing in cash to buy the equipment collectively and rescue old Eddie from his penury, (for the king's ransom of $700.) Then they asked Arthur if they could borrow his test footage of the ‘woman going up in smoke’ and being a naïve libertarian, he stupidly gave it to them, thinking they were going to watch it at home. What they actually did was rush to Toadstool Records and show it to a music mogul, claiming it as their inspired idea, scoring the job of making a music clip for the hot, breaking band, “Mad as Cut Snakes”.
While Arthur toiled for four years to make the thirteen minute “Thief”, they were able to dash off in six months the one minute of animation needed, rotoscoping the flatulent boy-band dissolving in and out of walking on a beach, interposed with some moron eating a hamburger while zany symbols spun out of his ears, (like they couldn’t even dream up a different motif from the infinite possibilities: a speeding Holden car turning into an eagle, a smiling baby morphing into a fiery comet etc etc.) The clip played extensively on TV and gave the rip-off artists their seven seconds of fame, Arthur even heard one of the dicks brag in an interview how it had suddenly come to him that animation was a great way to represent the human mind, using the exact phraseology Arthur had enthused to him.
In those days Arthur was doing live performances with his “We Got It All For You!” cartoon, walking in and out of the projection raving a bitter, comedic commentary. It was at one performance at the Side F/X Theatre Squat in the old Marist Brothers School at the top of Darlinghurst that he saw his fellow animation co-opters in the audience, their cold eyes narrowing in concentrated epiphany, seven months later they gave birth to “Awful Orchestra”, inane animations projected on a sheet behind which they squeaked out live, scatty music and sound effects, their avant-garde efforts gaining them avid support from the apolitical culture-vultures who run the Arts Bureaucracies, sending them on tours of International festivals. With various, evolving animated comedic routines, Arthur kept his own klunky act going for years on the Underground and cursed, like Bella Lugosi at the mention of Boris Karloff, every time he was snidely told he had copied the “Awful Orchestra.”
Before their callous betrayal was recognized, the ‘Animator’s Co-operative’ inveigled Arthur into participating in a group exhibition night at the the ‘Loo squats and they invited all their art school chums to come and watch. Little else was shown except for Arthur’s test footage, him just trying to be co-operative and encouraging, dumb to show “The Thief of Sydney” in mid-production, giving all his ideas, designs, techniques away to a ravenous crowd of amoral, young hopefuls. One of them, Lulu Clusterfuck, rushed straight home and within a year shot a few minutes of rotoscoped animation of a girl dancing on sound-waves, a shitty copy of the short piece on “sound surfing” that Arthur had shown to the mob of sponge-brains that lousy night, and the bitch won a prize for it and went on to base her long, successful career on the style.
The others were so co-operative, every time they got wind of an exhibition of cartooning at some noted venue, like the Art Gallery of New South Wales, they rushed their copycat crap off to it, somehow overlooking to inform Arthur and give him a break; cold-fish secretive about all their conniving shenanigans, they were classic middle-class shit-heap climbers, they knew the score, there was no such thing as co-operation, only competition.
Let’s not forget Julie, the third leg in the trio who, like a small Gray-nurse shark, also took a few hefty bites of the action. After explaining everything to her a thousand times over, the great feminist artist still had to have it all put together for her, she couldn’t even push the button on the camera to take a picture, always calling on the boys to assist her. After scoring the special effects job for a crappy short called “Shitting in Wollongong”, she dissolved from a photo of a woman’s head to an animated head, and declaimed about her artistic genius in the doing, but Arthur had seen that design before, such as in his own much prostituted test reel. The scrag had the nerve to get one of her cunt-struck lackeys to break into Arthur’s squat and borrow his one and only peg-bar for her own shitty cell-work leaving Arthur hanging in mid-production wondering who had stolen his precious tool.
The end of the “animator’s co-operative” story is that the trio somehow managed to carry off the animation desk and sequester it elsewhere, so that it could be said they’d ripped off absolutely everything to do with animation that Arthur and Eddie had set out to do. And nobody wanted to listen to Arthur’s bitch-whine about it either, it’s all about winning and re-writing history, plagiarized artists are a dime a dozen, serves Arthur right for being such namby pamby fairy and letting them in the door in the first place. Eddie simply built him another desk and he carried on, frantically animating, remaining the cool cat, better than becoming a cut-throat careerist. Still, it irked him when, many years later, it was related to him by a friend that dear, clever Julie was bragging about town that she had taught Arthur everything he knew about animation. After 35 years the truth is what the winner says it is, they even remember it as such and get each other to back up the bullshit. (In their hearts they know, they're dried-up dicks.)
A hard truth he had to learn in the movie business was you must be secretive, cagey even: get everyone involved in your project to sign non-disclosure contracts on pain of being sued to death, for that’s how most successful projects stay fresh and get launched, as there’s a lot of hungry dead-heads swarming about desperate for ideas, willing to steal their grandmother’s false teeth if they need a unique prop/plot. All this plagiarism stole the freshness and originality from “The Thief”, if he’d kept his gob shut he might’ve garnered more kudos, amazement and reward for his creativity instead of being an also ran.
8) Don’t Upstage the Main Act :
These desperadoes who ripped his animation off were mere low-echelon flakes when compared to the den of wolves he encountered as he climbed further up the shit-heap of the State-influenced film industry. He finished “The Thief of Sydney” in 1984, when the great Turd Doc, head of a worldwide media conglomerate, gave a university lecture declaring George Orwell had got it wrong, there was no such thing as “Big Brother”, universal surveillance or “double-speak”. (Thus Artie was a loser for reiterating such themes.)
All the rage in that early ‘80s era was ‘feminism’, many of the arts bureaucrats being women, "women’s needs" as film subject much in favor, (as it should be, women generally get a raw deal, Arthur's poor old mum for instance.) Thus a few ambitious lesbians were able to bulldoze their way through the Film Commissar’s corridors waving the feminist banner and Arthur had to squeeze by them if he wanted to get anywhere.
Two no-nonsense dykes had just finished their first short feature film with two hundred thousand dollars from the government, a purported lesbian feminist thriller entitled “On Guard, Dickheads!” They had also wangled jobs as the assessors of up and coming film-makers, nogod have mercy on them, Arthur himself having to run their gauntlet of approval, but happily they waffled on about the brilliance of “The Thief”, and magnanimously gave him the last few thousand dollars to finish it and make seven final prints. All up the government provided sixteen thousand dollars to make the film, and over the years Arthur had put in five thousand dollars of his own money to reach the magic figure of twenty-one thousand, not much for what would go on to be a classic.
The feisty women were eager for a colorful short to support their diminutive feature, “On Guard, Dickheads!” when it showed at a local movie-house, and they gurgled ecstatic over “The Thief”, bending his ear to support them. Arthur readily agreed, though he didn’t have a clue about the viability of their film, and in fact had been warned by one of their fellow travelers, a competitive Marxist, that it was a feminist turkey, but he wanted to support their efforts and he lusted after the big screen in a regular cinema, the Academy Theater up on Oxford Street famous for classy, art-house films, and he agreed to do it. Before he got there he decided to stay true to the origins of the film and he held the world premiere of “The Thief of Sydney” in the Pyrmont Squats collective backyard, thrilling all his helpmates at a rollicking booze party while the movie flickered on a stained bed-sheet.
Then the big night of the Academy Twin opening came and mobs of feminists, male hangers-on and generic movie-maniacs tumbled excitedly in and out of the theater, Arthur acting the arse dressed up as Zoofy the Poofter Pinhead, in wild punk make-up and baggy, cut-off shorts, flogging his hand-printed, gold-embossed, fleuro movie posters for “The Thief of Sydney” from a makeshift stall in the foyer. The auditorium was packed and Arthur sat down the front with his evil punk twin, Sylvia Saliva, the bimbo nympho Gretel to his innocent satyr Hansel, both lost in a celluloid jungle.
His film was on first and with a thrill he felt the audience gasp as, in animation, to shrieking electric guitar, a nuclear missile streaked across the harbor and blew Sydney city to shit, the water of the harbor rushing out, breaking the great bridge in two and leaving a rubbish-strewn ditch in its wake. From then on in the audience laughed, screamed and cheered, particularly when, in the finale, he burns and knocks down, like a penis wilting, a perfect model of the Sydney Centrepoint Tower, at that time just nearing completion in the city, and considered an architectural monstrosity by the lunatic fringe. At the end of the film the audience went wild with enthusiasm, whistling, clapping and stamping furiously and Arthur stupidly saw stars flashing in his fore-brain, thinking maybe he had made it in Movie-land. (The only palpable result of this successful screening came a year later when “Midnight Soil” used an exact photo-realist copy of his ‘bombed out Sydney harbor’ cartoon for the cover of their breaking rock’n’roll album.)
Then “On Guard, Dickheads!” limped onto the screen and for the next hour and ten minutes the audience sat glum, immobile, silent as a flop-movie crypt. The plodding plot of flat-faced feminists raiding an experimental ‘glass-womb’ factory and, in between acts of guerrilla warfare, jumping into bed with each other, thrilled few of the willing onlookers, the movie was a klunker, everyone silent with embarrassment, and at the end the audience filed out with eyes cast down, trying to avoid the earnest appeals of approval from the dyke filmmakers standing just inside the doorway into the foyer. The hapless movie mistresses had created a towering cake to celebrate the premiere of their hair-blazing tour de force, standing by the outlandish confection with huge, psycho knife upraised, but every damn one of the audience shuffled past head turned the other way, hoping to escape the forlorn demand for laudatory film critique.
Arthur was one of the last to exit, trying to be respectful by painfully waiting for the credits to roll to a stop but dreading what he would find in the foyer. He had long imbibed the art of judging an audience’s reaction to film, they hated the main act, and he knew the militant dykes would be sharpening their large cake-knife for his back. When he stumbled past them, noticing the cake pristine and not a slice handed to anyone, the not so male-sympathetic filmmakers glared with baleful eyes at him, as if he was to blame for their lame squelcher, realizing that after his vibrant, ecstatic sci-fi dance cartoon, their effort looked stolid and staid, celluloid sludge with hammy acting and trite dialogue. They couldn’t help themselves, human nature tends to sullenly reproach the nearest glowing object for any conceived wrong, and Arthur knew, from deep in his psychic third eye, they would never give him an even break again. They were stuck with a two-city deal but when they showed down in Melbourne and ballyhooed about ‘feminist intrigue in their media blitzkrieg, they never gave “The Thief” a mention, he was persona non grata, as ever.
9) Don’t Play the Clown :
Then “The Thief” got nominated by the Australian Film Institute for Best Animated Short for 1985 and he was encouraged by the zealots at the Sydney Fimmakers Co-op to attend the Nomination dinner at the upmarket Regent Hotel, and he took the terrible Sylvia Saliva as his partner, not to pretend he’s a Het but because he didn’t have a boyfriend and he did have her as his partner in ‘sound surfing’ at all the feral rock’n’roll clubs of Sydney. They waltzed into the ritzy dining room of the five-star dive dressed as punk as can be, Arthur in tight black pants and black matador jacket glittering brightly with blue bead-work, bleached white hair gelled up into two horns, psychedelic make-up making a monstrosity of his face, and Sylvia looking like a svelte Cinderella come Vampyrella, technicolor eye-shadow, long black hair teased out, tight grey velvet evening gown accentuating her hour-glass figure, the spaghetti shoulder straps forever falling so that one naked breast would be revealed, her glorious snake tattoo wrapped around her upper left arm hissing in defiance.
When the Daily Terror Newspaper approached them for a photograph, telling them they were the only interesting looking people at the function, Arthur and female counterpart, acting the nasty punks they were, gave the newshounds the finger, screamed for them to “Fuck off!” and called them whores for the Yellow Press. They responded with miffed, blank-faced shock and Arthur’s non-career of diplomatic, astute self-promotion was off and running. They knocked back every photographer who got near them yet somehow one reporter got a snap, it was published at the back of Vogue and the caption read, “T.Z. was one of the promising talents on show.”
They had to sit at these numbered dining tables, all white damask, silver service and twinkling candelabra, like at Cinderella’s ball, and Arthur bubbled over thinking he really might be the ‘It Boy’, seated beside the supposed next hot, young filmic thing, Dickie Lowerstain, as if they had something in common. At the other tables they were surrounded by the Aussie upper crust, the rich, the famous, the established, movie stars, politicians, industrialists, mixing with silver screen deities being a very ‘in’ scene. Sylvia proceeded to do her usual party-trick of picking her nose and eating it, then reaching over and plucking other diner’s left-overs from their plates, slurping them down with gusto while she continuously popped her scrumptious bare breast back into its grey velvet cup.
Arthur tried talking to wunderkind Dickie, up for best first feature film, so pretty with a silver spoon in his mouth, but Arthur put his foot in it when he rubbished a recent TV music clip as plagiarized claptrap and Dickie curtly informed him that he himself had made that offensive clip. From then on fascinating Dickie turned his back on Arthur and signed numerous autographs from clambering imbeciles, Arthur looking on wistful, ignored as a freak, longing to be asked to sign anything, even a crappy piece of toilet paper.
They then showed short soundbites from all the nominated films, some scallywag choosing the bit in “The Thief” where a giant, public video screen projects an image of Turd-Doc, Emperor of Sydney, hypnotically announcing, “You Too Can Join Elite” whilst underneath the anti-hero, Singood, graffittis with a spray can the word “Krap!” This was rather stunning for a gilt-edged audience to swallow and Arthur couldn’t help but have his iconoclastic furnace stoked, his bleached hair stood further on end, amazed at his satirical message being so spot on for this crowd. After the interminable screenings, polite clappings and blustery speeches, the M.C. asked if all the Nominees would please stand so that everyone could get a good look at them. This kind of public perusal always made Arthur cringe, he knew he stood out like a donkey’s blue nob, it felt demeaning to be paraded like whores in a shop window, he sunk down in his seat while all the others proudly stood up, Dickie Lowerstain beside him standing tall, flashing his trademark sweet, boyish smile, throwing side-wise flashes of annoyed disdain down at a sinking Arthur as if thinking, “Who does this faggy upstart from West Heidelberg think he is, Jimmie Dean?”
All the robotic fame whores finally plopped back into their seats and Arthur cringed for the rest of the celebratory meal, the crowd seeming to throw hostile, frozen glances in their direction when they weren’t looking, pretending to ignore the punk party-poopers when stared back at, and after an hour of them all table-hopping and back-slapping each other, Arthur got crushingly bored and Sylvia agreed to split the scene long before it creaked to its stuffed-shirt finale. When it was uncalled for, Arthur and Sylvia made a big show of jumping up in a huff, lit up by the spotlights, faces snarling with punk rebuff, they stormed out of the ballroom, like Cinderella and Prince Uncharming afraid of midnight. Of all his detractors, Arthur was the best at knocking nails into his non-career’s coffin, out of control like a deaf, dumb and blind clown, reckless, rebellious, psycho-crippled, he knew he’d never belong with the powers that be, THEM who gave out the millions for movie-making.
10) Dance Though Your Heart is Breaking :
That horror was just the precursor to the big night of nights in Melbourne when the Aust Film Institute Awards for best films were handed out. Again Arthur and Sylvia were put up in a high-class hotel, the very night the Queen of Trash Cinema, Divine, was also residing on the premises but Arthur didn’t find her lust-mad hulk stalking the gold-plated corridors of the Ritz as he had hoped. Thinking he was onto a bad-taste good thing, Arthur repeated his punk matador look, to clash with all the social climbers in their penguin suits. Like a smack in the face for all the movie bimbos in their frumpy, scalloped, frothed up ballgowns, Sylvia opted for something more minimalist, way ahead of its time, wearing a simple silk slip, a sexy ‘Fifties undergarment she’d dyed dark red, and she looked as luscious as Raquel Squelch.
All the Nominees and stars were to be picked up by stretched limousines from the front of the hotel but there was no limmo for Arthur; he waited embarrassed in the wings, done up like a hurdy gurdy fool and abandoned like a broken puppet, watching the elite saunter laughing and carefree into their wondrous machines and cruise off into the silver light of fame and fortune, car after car, star after star and nothing came for Arthur. Finally a famous left-wing documentary maker came to their rescue and offered to share his limmo ride, they all squeezed in and Arthur made it to the grand Awards venue with some pride intact.
They pulled up at the Victorian Center for the Arts, 20th Century Cox searchlights streaking the night sky like air-raid warnings, the limmo's doors were flung open and, before Arthur could blink, he was pushed out into a howling maelstrom, crowds of fans screaming and a wall of news photographers yammering and detonating their flash-bulbs. A tidal wave of hot, white, bright light rushed upon him, he was blinded, engulfed and brain-fried; as if in a trance he shoved a grappling Sylvia out of the way and staggered sightless into the flailing mob, the flash bulbs of the cameras continuing their explosive onslaught in his face. After much shoving and clawing, he found himself all disheveled and ignored inside the foyer and, with his cheeky, camp make-up running, he met up with an equally dazed Sylvia and they limped into the venue thinking, “If that was fame, no god can help us!”
The pair of punk ingénues waltzed about the Arts Theater smiling vampire grimaces into the faces of the stars, pint-size to mega, the directors, the bureaucrats, the army of wannabes and the the vast throng of glue-like nobodies. Arthur knew the Australian Film Institute was a private club of crusty movie maniacs, most of them beholden to the Establishment, and therefore conservative in the extreme, always pleased with boo hoo sentimentality or inane cuteness, and he didn’t stand a chance of winning anything, “They” would never promote a work like “The Thief” or let a larrikin punk like Arthur get anywhere near the presentation stage, nasty as he was, with the event being nationally televised.
But all fools live in hope and he sat tensely through the interminable drivel of Award’s acceptance speeches clutching Sylvia’s hand, while Angela Punched-In-the-peeper won Best Actress and thanked everybody including her grandmother for her great role, forgetting the spina-bafida kid in her wheel-chair whose real-life story her boo-hoo movie was based on, Arthur’s lip curling ever upwards the more sycophantic glad-handling he was made to endure. (Later on, out in the foyer, the life-challenged girl approached him, tense and agog in her wheelchair, to check out someone freakier than she; he wanted so much to talk to her, get her not to be afraid of him, have someone in the building to relate to, and while he was a nurse and trained to relax the handicapped, he also felt shy, ashamed, scared of her, and he didn’t talk to her either, she sat apart, unfussed over, as maybe nobody talks to anybody at shindigs like that, except the ‘connected’, certainly nobody connected with Arthur or the disabled girl.)
Then “They” announced the winner of the Best Animation Award for 1985 and it went to… Tammy Winterbottom for her sweet, nostalgic cartoon about her lovely, old uncle. Arthur bit his tongue while the pleasantly safe blimp of a woman sailed up onto the podium to grasp at the tacky bauble award, and he sighed with relief because at least he wouldn’t have to make an anarchic arse of himself on public tellie. At last the orgy of self-admiration klunked to an end and they all waddled out to the ‘after-party’. Arthur and Sylvia hid behind a pillar and smoked a hash joint, blowing acrid fumes into any star’s face who happened to stumble upon them, such as Ray Basset, the great character actor of Hammer Horror fame, who growled at them like an old hound dog, shoving his scarred mug into their hash haze and demanding to know the way out. Catching sight of Arthur’s fag mask he swore as if he’d reached the lowest rung in Hell and ran off cursing the inadequacy of it all, as maybe he didn’t win a prize that night either.
Just as they finished the joint a little girl stepped bravely up to Arthur and asked him why he looked so crazy. “Because I’ll probably never come again and I want to have as much fun here as possible.”
Then the band started up and Arthur waltzed Sylvia onto the dance floor, he wanted to show the ditzy crowd that he wasn’t a sore loser, as all the other filmie failures had ran away in mortification, and he wanted them to see an example of “sound surfing”, in the flesh. To the fabulous Renee Geyer Band, Arthur and Sylvia dirty-danced with euphoria, other couples dancing around them like gronks, zombies on Moggies, barely lifting a leg or shaking a butt. While a crowd of successful movie-moguls and their hangers-on stood watching from tiered balconies, the Megastar Mal Glibson included, Arthur and Sylvia upped the ante, dancing more frenetically, slam-dancing, grappling, hip-hopping, po-going, shoving aside the staid, shuffling penguins and frumps, knocking them off the small dance floor, flaunting for the show-biz mob what ecstatic pop dancing was all about. Arthur didn’t need to win such short battles as Award nights because he felt like he was winning the war of life, he danced frenzied though his heart was breaking.
“The Thief of Sydney” went on to show all over the world, in festivals, public cinemas and television broadcasts, cafes, squats and pubs, and it won third prize at the ’85 Kracow International Animation Festival in Poland, much hallowed site of ancient European cartooning, and as Arthur won the Bronze Dragon for script, the very year he had a dragon tattooed around his arm, he was extremely chuffed. The film also won the Australian Teachers of Media Award for Best Animation 1985; it was the Children’s Panel who gave him the prize, the Teachers had tried to talk them out of it, again and again, but the kids were adamant, “The Thief” was in fact the best Aussie cartoon of 1985, adults be hung! Arthur was thrilled to be stopped on the street one time and told by a friendly admirer that his film had been shown in her pop-culture class at college as a good example of dance as narrative story-telling.
Most papers gave the film rave reviews, except for the Communist rag, “The Tribune”, where he got the worst drubbing of his life by some uptight, lesbian Stalinist who advised all good commies to come late, miss the atrocious “Thief”, and be wowed with excitement by “On Guard, Dicks!” all of which actually made Arthur feel validated as an entertainer for he’d long considered Communists the ultimate party-poopers.
But just in case he got uppity, he was informed by ‘on the rise’ movie bureaucrat, Dim Willing, he who would one day rule the Auz Film Grant’s roost, “Let’s face it, it’s not the greatest film ever made!” Yet the film was still showing twenty-one years later, as the Australian contribution at the first Sydney Science Fiction Film Festival 2003 at the Harbour Quay Dendy Cinemas. Amongst all the great masterpieces of twentieth century science-fiction, from “Metropolis” to “Forbidden Planet”, “Alien” to “Star Trek”, was dinky, little “Thief of Sydney.” Poor Arthur, ever the fantasist, viewing his film yet again amidst all the glory, bit his tongue on realizing his genius career had been aborted, for he was never really given a chance to prove himself, too anarchic, not from the right class and not good enough at sucking up.
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.