Before he flew out he had one last cup of coffee at the Café Mere Moineau, and famed Ayesha, ex-Les Girls female impersonator, did a reading for him from her extra-ordinary pack of playing cards, recounting how the drag queens did this for each other while waiting for the show to go on. “If I could do it for those sluts just to see which guy they were going to blow, I can certainly do it for your film competition.” She looked like a wizened, gifted gypsy with her oriental eyes and large, swinging ear-rings, and she pawed over the cards in a trance, summoning up a vision. After a basic layout that represented how things stood, dominated by the Queen of Spades, (which maybe symbolized Michelle), she got Arthur to pick out the last, telling card, and it was the two of diamonds.
“Diamonds indicate success, material success, but I can’t figure out the two, it means only a little bit of money. It looks like you’re going to come second, though I definitely see success in your cards.” Arthur had long appreciated coming second and didn’t mind at all, it sounded cool, the trip to France was what he was thrilled about, his first journey to Europe, land of his forebears.
Michelle got in his ear, as lead actress she felt she should be with the film at its breaking moment, and she pleaded for an air-ticket as well, and Arthur felt some trepidation, he’d perused the accompanying brochure explaining “Freakzone” and he flashed it was a hardcore punk event, a cosmic hippie like her would be out of her milieu: Miss Mary Poppins Yale Alumni rules at the zombie trash feast, he didn’t think so. He also intuited the Trash Fest to be run on a shoe-string budget, the flyer was no elaborate, multicolored extravaganza, and it took both him and Jean-Jacques to explain to her that they could only afford to pay for the actual seven filmmakers. She then drummed the air-fare out of her husband, Steve, and announced she was coming for certain, this was her big chance, and Arthur smiled, resigned to things plodding along and happening regardless, he was happy he’d have a friend there, in that outlandish place once known as Gaul.
|Sacre Coeur Cathedral.|
The gang of film-makers and festival crew got on a bullet train and were whisked up to the city of Lille in the north of France, and Arthur was bewildered by the scenery that flew past, endless dessicated fields covered in heaps of rubble and ditches, as if the landscape had never recovered from the devastation of World War Two, and not an animal in sight, not even a cow. Lille was one of France’s much honored metropolises, she guarded the northern approach and was part of an old industrial belt, the industries having long fled, only the highway coming down from northern Europe lending any hope for employment; crime had flourished, especially smuggling, and everybody warned Arthur Lille was an infamous criminal hotspot.
The city itself was quite funky, with a small, medieval section still intact, an ancient cathedral and cobbled lane-ways with archaic shopfronts. He explored it on his own in the afternoon when he had some free time, after they’d all been ensconced in a cute, little motel and eaten sumptuously from a buffet. He visited the Cathedral, spooked by its antediluvian atmosphere and fascinated by the prime position given to the Madonna, the French never seeming to have given up their pagan roots. He said a prayer, beseeching the Goddess’s grace upon his sorry life, not because he was religious in any Catholic sense, but because he felt it was a very ancient site of pagan worship, numinous and tranquil.
The audience held its breath for a moment, then broke into cheering accolades, while Arthur bowed, “Thanks for bringing me to France, I hope you enjoy my movie and have a fun time at “Freakzone.” He then ran back to his seat, panting with stage-fright and Jerzy slapped him on the back and laughed, “Well done!” Cecil Sizzle gave him a prim smile, as if to say, “Upstaging me again, bitch!”
They marched into the Town Hall, past the magnificent murals depicting Lille’s turbulent history, and into the main reception room, where tables bearing numerous glinting bottles and sparkling glasses stood ready to refresh them. The glasses were already half-filled with a raspberry cordial that glowed mesmerizing pink and Arthur eyed them thirstily, for he’d rushed from the motel without breakfast, only a quickly gulped cup of coffee. Groups of officials, good citizens and freaks stood about for an hour, awaiting the presence of the illustrious Mayor, a lot of polite talk exchanged, Cecil and Jack raving about the murals, Arthur exhausted and bored, the raspberry cordials gleaming a pink so luscious and enticing, it made the minutes drag by more slowly. He could resist no longer, the dammed drinks were there for them, what was everybody waiting for? He scrabbled upon the parquet floor till he was able to snatch up a crystal flute and guzzle down the lush, thick cordial, so thick it made him splutter. The crowd, as one, turned their gaze upon him and tut-tutted, telling him to desist, the drinks were only half-prepared, they needed champagne to top them up and complete the savor, and as Arthur continued to choke and gurgle, they roared with laughter at the typical gaffe from the Aussie boy ingénue.
A grizzly old journalist from a Parisian paper sat himself down in front of a flaky Arthur and queried him for a few moments on his film, not really interested, he soon zeroed in on Arthur’s soul.
An obvious satire on the Japanese pornography industry and sexual mores, the women as mindless, debased slaves was very cutting, it was extremely funny, the crowd roared and roared, Arthur thought he would choke on his tears he laughed so much. There was an absurd plot weaving in and out of the sexcapades, a dirty old scientist stealing an atom bomb that looked like a big phallus and which screws everyone in the end, pure slapstick and orgasmic in the laughter it engendered. It was an exquisite piece of Trash art and Arthur saw his European tour vanish like a mirage, the rich Japanese would win the money, their film was so fucking good.
And Arthur gave it to them, via those hot Sydney grunge bands he’d employed, (Monroe’s Fur, The Nerve, Candy Harlots and Box the Jesuit), and with the politicized, sci-fi plot and onslaught of psychedelic animation, the audience appeared to dig it, like a fun, drug induced hallucination, and they clapped, whistled, cheered and stomped their feet, and Arthur felt he was maybe still in there with a hope. He didn’t bother with attempting a desperate, ingratiating exit-poll, he hid in the art gallery amidst his posters while certain audience members went hunting for him to congratulate him. It was Jerzy Grabowski who found him hiding out and shook his hand passionately, assuring him he’d made an incredible, incisive science-fantasy and it was going to be a hard act to beat.
Then Michelle dropped in for a visit, she wanted to join in on the jolly campfire discussion and attempted toking down on the spliff with the rest of them, Arthur edgy as she didn’t normally smoke pot. She blathered on about the turgid films at the Trash fest, and the wonders of their next production, “Lost in Gondwanaland”, thrilled to be a writer and a filmmaker. She became quickly stoned, gushed cosmic twaddle amidst fits of silly giggles, and then insisted on singing them something she had written for their next movie, a song called “A Goodly Wood.” The three punks were patient, somewhat intrigued, and they politely listened as Michelle chortled a dippy dittie about tripping through the woods, and the lovely flowers, the green, green grass and the gurgling brooks, gurgling herself; she finally shut off the saccharine sunshine and teardrops, then gazed upon the stupefied, back-alley delinquents proudly, hoping for approval.
“OK! OK! We’ve heard enough, one was plenty! We’re, like, too fucked up to listen to such hippie-dippy nonsense right now. And you’re only getting one song in the movie.” Arthur was getting rankled, his simmering umbrage had to come out somewhere, it happened to be in a motel room in Lille, exacerbated by the presence of the two San Franciscan, hardcore punks.
“You’ve never shot one frame of film in your life, nor done a budget, made an application, sat at an editing desk or the thousand other tasks it takes to make a movie, you’ve acted in a couple of things, that’s it. You’ve had no experience, you’re not a filmmaker, never even been published and there’s no way you’re gonna call the shots on this next one. We agreed from the beginning that I would be captain of the ship, you were just gonna help me flesh out the story, remember?” Arthur started to lose his cool.
Demonic Arthur thought, “That fucking little American punk won best worst film, fuck him!” and politely clapped with the rest of the audience. Then the fog of confusion cleared and J.J. quickly announced it was the ‘Encouragement’ prize he had won, John had in fact come second. Poor John wilted, clasped his prize of a pink bag of Tati bargain basement clothes, thanked everybody “for the, er, encouragement”, and hurried back to his seat to be hugged by his loving Amy. “Oh, great”, thought nasty Arthur, he was second, there’s still hope for me.”
Amanda Fuller, the ubiquitous television host, wanted him for her new cable show, it featured the freakiest and the kookiest of happenings, and the Aussie who conquered ‘Freakzone’ was a must. Arthur wasn’t too keen on his face being splattered across the nation’s televisions, and with his usual insomnia, and a raging headache, he missed his appointment at the Art Gallery of New South Wales cinema, where the crew had set up especially for him. The only broadcaster in Australia interested in Arthur and he stood her up, the ‘cone of silence’ reinforced by his hopeless non-careerism; lucky for him she was really interested and chased him, arranging another interview, this time at the Dendy Cinema in Martin Place.