Wednesday, May 14, 2014

56) And the Blind Goddess Smiled Again.

There he was, in 1996, languishing upon his grotty bed, his dreams evaporating like so much marijuana smoke, in the doldrums as he contemplated his nowhere position, his existence phantasmal, his soul criminal. The armed hold-up framing by the Pigs had really done in him, he’d lost his faith in humanity. And then he got a phone call. He had forgotten entering a crazy film competition in France called “Freakzone”, he’d sent off the entry forms and a video after he’d seen a notice in the A.F.C. News encouraging any “vampire and zombie” movies to get a move on, and while "Virgin Beasts” wasn’t exactly typical horror fair, it was certainly freaky, and he thought he’d give the dice a throw.

Fortuitously, the organizer of “Freakzone” had already seen it on a video in a basement sales-room at the Cannes Film Festival, along with the rest of Trauma’s crappy releases that year, and it was the French maestro on the phone. His name was Jean-Jacques Rousseau and he really liked the film and wanted it included in the competition, seven films from seven countries, and Arthur’s was one of them. The First Festival of Trash Cinema, ‘Freakzone’, was willing to fly him to France, all expenses paid: did he want to come and would he bring a film print with him? “Yes, oh yes!” he warbled, like a canary that’s seen the sun come up in the mirror of its cage. He hung up and then flopped back onto his heap of pillows, unsure if he hadn’t just dreamed it, and he ruminated upon the incongruity of his luck changing. Then he got a phone call from Michelle, his lead actress and sales assistant, she had just been informed by the Film Commissar of the film’s big break and was ululating with joy, so the phone call was for real, he lay back with a sigh, and his bed felt like it was levitating and transforming into a flying carpet.

Sure enough, the air-ticket arrived by special courier and he realized it was actually happening, to a jinxed Jonah like him. He didn’t have a cent or any presentable clothing and he asked the Film Commissar if they could give him assistance to attend the Trash Festival as, after all, he was their representative. He wasn’t high-art enough and was refused, the bureaucrats had already spent the money on sending themselves to Cannes, where they could guzzle the aura of real movie stars and pretend they were happening themselves. He packed a bag of glad rags, punk and tattered, to show the French, with his grungy, torn gutter garb, how Australia treats its artists. 

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.

He had to fly via London and as he changed planes, he picked up a British newspaper, to skim through for the last leg of his journey and then, magically, he was in Paris. They lost his luggage and he spent an extra hour futilely asking for it, and when he finally toddled down the ramp-way he was greeted by a sign, with his name on it, something he’d often fantasized, it made him feel important. Jean-Jacques stood holding that sign, on the verge of despairing and quitting the terminal; they shook hands, Arthur cheerful, J.J. relieved, then beaming when Arthur handed him the film-print can. He was a gangly, grunge type with long dark hair and wispy goatee beard, wearing a red track suit, very déclassé, not yet the raging fashion for the global gronks, he looked hip and canny.

Arthur was driven into Paris to a one star hotel in Montparnasse, and in the foyer he was introduced to an American film critic named Jack, he specialized in throw-away celluloid such as old trailers for schlockbusters, he collected the most hilarious of the worst and he was going to show a selection at the festival. Jean-Jacques asked Arthur if he was up to doing a couple of radio interviews and, though jet-lagged, he readily agreed, affable hard-worker that he was, and he rushed to his room to change into some fresh clothes, a buzz to be interviewed in Paris, he was following in many of his heroes footsteps. As they sped off in the taxi, Jack remarked, “I’m stunned. You changed from one set of rags to an even more ragged set. I know it’s a trash festival, I didn’t realize we’d have to dress the part.”

“Of all the sub-cults, I was most influenced by the Punks. This is my grunge-punk look, it’s a good excuse for not being able to afford designer wear. In Australia I live from hand to mouth. It’s a miracle I’m here at all”, raved Arthur, aware he had to play the consummate performance artist, building a persona that would jibe with his freaky film. He hung out the cab window and let the Parisian air embrace him, was thrilled when the Eiffel Tower floated into view, and was entranced on sighting Notre Dame Cathedral, another of his wishes had come true, “To drive through Paris with the wind in my hair” as his beloved Marianne Faithful had sung. The radio interviews at two funky stations went down like flatulent balloons, Arthur too tired to make any sense, he blathered on about being a guttersnipe from the South Seas pirate port of Sydney, and everyone snickered over the titles of his films, ‘My Survival as a Deviant”, “The Thief of Sydney”, “Darling it Hurtz!” and “Virgin Beasts”. He regaled them with hairy tales of underground exhibitions, punk-rock clubs, surf beaches, hippie bush communes, squatted Victorian terraces, fighting off skinheads and junkies, he rambled on and on and lost the thread of what they were there for, and the Frenchies humored him, the artist from “down under”. American Jack got thoroughly sucked in, thought he had the lost King of Bohemia with him and, on the taxi ride back to the hotel, they laughed uproariously telling tales of disastrous film screenings.

Throughout the entire festival Arthur never quite knew to whom he was talking, or what exactly was going on, it was a whirlwind of gabbling faces and big-screen hallucinations, he was his usual naïve, gauche self, a guttersnipe from the Antipodes indeed, uncouth, unaffected, the idiot savage. If he was blabbing to one of the judges, he didn’t know it, shooting off at the mouth to whoever he got next to in the social rounds, when drinking, dining, smoking, unwittingly being interviewed by a sharp adjudicator and Arthur not having a clue. And Jack was the first of the judges he had lapping up his endless spiel of movies, plots, flops and masterpieces, they’d name the movie and he had seen it, reviewing it in one smarmy sentence.

When they got back to the hotel they were greeted by the second  of the chosen seven filmmakers, the Canadian, Cecil Sizzle, a right little screaming queen, thirtyish, short, flabby, he squealed and flounced about and let everybody in the room know he was available for sex, especially the French guys, he was crazy about the French. Arthur and he went into mutual shock on discovering they’d both made camp musicals with animated inserts, but they giggled the tension away with the joy of being in the land of chic and possibly being gay brothers in arms. Cecil noticed the newspaper Arthur still clutched from the London transfer and cajoled him into reading the astrology section, it could fortell the outcome of the competition. Arthur was reluctant to enter into such hocus-pocus, it could pre-empt the inevitable, he didn’t believe in the heavenly twaddle, though as a rare, lucky-dip type piece of fun it could be interesting, so he handed over the paper. Cecil avidly read out his own star sign, Gemini, but it was insipid, banal advice to communicate to his family and be ready for a journey. He then insisted on reading Libra, though Arthur protested, the guy’s whining, sing-song voice got on his jet-lagged nerves.

“Though it may seem all is lost, and you have nothing, and around you they play musical chairs, and after each round you only just manage to grab a seat, as seat after seat disappears, and there are only two left, it may look as if you’ve lost completely, but don’t worry, the last chair will be yours.”

The gay Canadian looked up glumly and, lemon-faced, sighed, “That does it then, no hope for me, it says you’re going to win.” Arthur was a bit stunned, he didn’t even want the  bloody reading, and he cheered the fairy up, “Come on, it’s just superstitious garbage, the films will be judged on their merits and I’m sure yours’ is a beauty.” Then they all got taken to a very quaint restaurant in Montparnasse, it reminded Arthur of the Café Pick-Your-Low, with ancient photos and paintings crowding the walls and everybody having to sit close to each other in the confined space. Arthur continued with his disarming act of being the eccentric bumpkin, declaring he was vegetarian and unable to eat the Cafe’s famous delicacy of black sausage, (an object which gave him the willies), and he hated wine, couldn’t stomach the stuff, and had to have milk to drink, which was unheard of bad taste, enough milk could not be found anywhere.
Seated across from him was the Yugoslavian filmmaker, Jerzy Grabowski, with his gorgeous partner and production assistant, Velma, they operated out of Belgrade and they regaled Arthur with terror stories of trying to make independent films in a place that had descended into fascist chaos, their film cans confiscated, their phone tapped, their production office trashed. Arthur in turn quickly informed them of his own film-making woes, that State censorship had many methods and Australia was not the golden land of milk and honey that European plebs dreamed of. American Jack and a French redhead eavesdropped on the conversation and were nonplussed by Arthur’s “How I got beat” anecdotes.

Down the other end of the table with Jean-Jacques and the screaming Canadian was the Japanese contingent, the big fat director and his producer in jet black Yves St. Laurent suits, and a female translator, much gabbing and bowing but little understanding going on. Cecil kept screeching sexual innuendos, hoping this would make him the Trash Queen, propositioning the waiter each time he bent over to pour the wine, “I’d love to suck your cock.” “Pardon, Monsieur?”

For Arthur it was embarrassing, he withdrew into himself and only spoke when spoken to, he acted the chilled, smart dude, and the whole table threw questions at him, intrigued by his laid-back, cheeky insouciance. “What’s the name of that new movie with Tarantino in it?” “From Dusk Till Dawn.” “Have you seen it?” “Yes, it’s a lot of fun, zombies come on halfway into it and take it through the roof.” Cecil Sizzle thought he’d get in on the act, “What’s the name of Almodovar’s latest movie?” “The Flower Of My Secret.” “Have you seen it?” “Yes, it’s a bore, about an old maid who boo-hoo-hoos for two hours because her husband won’t fuck her.” That shut his gob as far as Arthur was concerned, he got drunker and proceeded to put the sleazy word on every man at the table, including old Jerzy Grabowski, whose girlfriend leaned upon him, more luscious than strawberries and cream, and he refused politely. “But I like older men,” Cecil slavered, “especially an amazing old man like Jerzy here. I’m in Paris and I want to make love to someone, to anyone. What about you, Arthur, do you want a fuck tonight?” “I’m too old and ugly for you!” “Well, old’s not a problem but…” Tipsy Cecil worked the table, boasting that his camp extravaganza was going to win, and he was laughed at, humored and ignored.

Much camaraderie was evinced at that restaurant debauch, Arthur thought he’d made friends for life, welcomed into the international film-making community, he was feted and admired, no matter how grunged down and cool he acted. He discovered that ‘Freakzone’ was not a festival of horror movies with vampires and zombies galore, but was a Trash festival, of trashy films made on little money, with trashy production values and trashy subject matter, films about humans trashing humans, films that inevitably ended in the trash can. As such, he saw that “Virgin Beasts” stood a chance, ‘trash’ being the ruling design-style he’d worked hard to engender. Fortunately, he had brought his own film-print as Trauma had refused to cough up one of their own, and even the video copy they had promised had not yet arrived, and to stand up against the other six movies on the big screen, it had to have the crisp clarity of film projection.

Sacre Coeur Cathedral.
He was so excited he couldn’t sleep that night and in the morning was like the walking dead. His leading lady, Michelle Grandstandi, arrived with much fanfare and “ooh la la”, she spoke a halting French and looked a bit like Isobel Adjani, and the French men brightened up, at last something fuckable had appeared in the trashy party to whet their insatiable appetites. Jean-Jacques kindly provided her a room and return ticket to Lille, more than any other competitor got, their support teams having to pay for themselves. Hand in hand, Arthur and Michelle explored the artists’ colonies of Montparnasse and visited the Church of the Sacred Heart up on the hill, it was very romantic and idyllic, Arthur had to keep pinching himself. He longed to be of the likes of van Gogh, Rimbaud, Genet, yet perusing the hack works of all the painters waving their brushes in public, he saw that the myth of the genius artist flourishing in Paris was moribund, there were only drug dealers and police, thieves and prostitutes, shopkeepers and bureaucrats, the same as it ever was but also with tourists, tourists, tourists trampling art into the cobblestones, all of it a maddening, hard slog for a bum like Arthur.    

Goddess of Lille.

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.

They were taken to the festival venue, a huge, post-modern behemoth called Aeroneuf, like an aircraft hangar, it contained concert halls, cinemas, galleries and shops, stacked industrial glass boxes attempting post-modernism. There was to be an exhibition of Trash art, stills, props and flyers, and assiduous Arthur had brought a stack of his own work, propping animation cells, press kits and various posters all over the gallery, swamping everyone else’s efforts. He stuck “Virgin Beasts” posters on every wall and column of the building, you’d have to be blind to miss them, with a rip-off of Albrecht Durer’s “Madonna and Infant Jesus”, he’d given the baby a third eye, Mary looking out at her audience with a mischievous smile and wild beasts roaming in a circle around her, it was sacrilegious and compelling, and he hoped it would intrigue the French no end.

The Festival opening ritual erupted in a brouhaha from the stage of the cinema, Jean-Jacques thanking the patrons, extolling the trashy brilliance of the global gathering of films, and asking each competitor to get up and make a defining speech. The Japanese production team bowed and smiled, the translator interpreted a few garbled cliches of “Merci, merci”, and they looked like exciting Yakuza mobsters in their dark glasses and stylish black suits. Cecil jumped up and gushed a paeon to the French, art, movies, Freakzone and his movie, amusing and endearing, the crowd applauded furiously, then the little poof traipsed back to his seat, and looked at Arthur with a moue of, “Beat that, turkey.” Then Jerzy walked up, unfazed, humble, wiser than Tarkovsky, cooler than Fassbinder, and he gave a moving speech on the glories of cinema and the beauty of the human spirit. When he sat back down next to Arthur, he urged the quaking, shy Aussie to get up and wow them.

“But how can I follow that set of amazing performances, you have said it all, there’s nothing I can waffle on about. I don’t want to go up there and make a fool of myself.”
“You could always sing them a song?” suggested Jerzy, somewhere Arthur having told him he got high on singing. Ready to surf the moment, Arthur shrugged and leaped up the steps, tripping on the last and stumbling across the stage like a clumsy oaf to grab at the mike-stand. When the laughter died down, he yelled into the mike, a static shriek ripping eardrums open, “I’ve got nothing to add to all those splendid speeches, except that I’m from Australia, and maybe you will comprehend my nature if I sing a song for you from my film, “The Thief of Sydney.” He then warbled out in a croaky, punk voice this ditty,
“This is a song about living down here on the streets to prove that I’m still alive.
It’s a song of survival that cannot be beat, adversity just makes me thrive.
When the buildings give menace and the air suffocates and T.V. is the light in the fog,
I can give my heart solace, gamble for high stakes, to be free from the dog eating dogs.”   

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 had another feast that evening in a famous restaurant, everyone gourmandizing and plonking merrily away on wine, except Arthur, who again refused the house specialty and demanded milk to drink with his bland salad, assuring the crowd that was how they ate in Australia. He was humored as the eccentric artist, free to dance naked on the table if he felt to, and indeed the Canadian poof screeched up a cacophony of sexual license till Michelle told him to cool it, he was too dammed loud for comfort. Someone discovered Arthur’s penchant for marijuana and slipped him a small packet, with which he furiously puffed up a fog that wafted throughout the middle-class establishment, the good citizens eyeballing him askance but saying nothing, causing the Aussie dill to think pot was legal in France and no one minded a bit of smoke, the French themselves smoking cigarettes like chimneys.

The crowd of film junkies conversed jubilantly and fond friendships thickened, Arthur particularly taken by Jerzy Grabowski, his brilliance, courage and modesty, an entertaining raconteur, he had a wealth of film-making experience to share and Arthur clung to every word. At the end of the night the gang was highly inebriated and they each went to their rooms, either with their long-time partner or alone, Cecil without a hope of scoring and Arthur who couldn’t care less, glad to be by himself, badly needing a rest. The experience was the ultimate wannabe artist’s fantasy and he kicked the air in joy, tap-dancing around his lovely, little French room, and he didn’t sleep a wink. He was rousted early by an enthusiastic Jean-Jacques, they were off to the Town Hall to meet the Mayor of Lille, he was going to inaugurate the Trash Festival, proud that it was being held in his city.

Arthur stumbled to the car, hardly able to open his eyes, someone called his name and he squinted into the harsh sunlight. Michelle was hanging from her motel window, brushing her long, dark hair, and Arthur asked her to join the party, it was a piece of important diplomacy, but she said she was busy washing her hair, the actual legwork of film-making too tedious for her, he thought. As they drove across town, Jean-Jacques pointed out Lille’s one and only sex shop, a nondescript building where they showed trashy pornography, and the trash-junkies all took a lingering, yearning peek, Arthur promising himself an exploratory visit if he chanced on by. 

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.

The Mayor finally showed up and there were many polite handshakes and vociferous welcoming, then the little fellow asked which one was the Australian, and Jean-Jacques pointed over to an embarrassed Arthur, who had chilled at the back of the crowd, feeling a right duffer. The Mayor strode through the crowd, warmly shook his hand and welcomed him to Lille, he was an honored guest and he had free roam of the city. Arthur was very polite, somewhat overwhelmed by the effusive treatment, the opposite of his previous outings to film events in Australia. He looked over at Jean-Jacques and said, “Does that mean I can light up a joint here, I’m flagging?” “No, Toby, not here, wait till outside.” A Town Hall Official whispered humorously into the Mayor’s ear, relating Arthur’s faux pas with the raspberry cordial, and he chuckled appreciatively, those Aussies, like slap-stick comedians from the colonies.

From the ensuing conversations, Arthur learned that not too many miles from Lille was a vast cemetery full of fallen Australian soldiers, victims of the Second World War and the battle for the city, important northern entry point for the Nazis bombarding their way to Paris. Lille was eternally appreciative of the Australians’ heroic efforts and made a fuss over any Aussie that wandered into their domain, and Arthur just knew the unsought approbation had to tell in his favor.

To the sound of clinking champagne flutes, the Mayor opened the 1996 First International Trash Film Festival, eulogizing its unique approach to artistic expression, and praising Jean-Jacques for organizing such fabulous events in the white-elephant of their giant entertainment barn. He hoped it would be the first of many and put Lille on the map as far as film festivals were concerned, bringing in swarms of tourists to lift the local economy. He then went on to wish the seven competitors “Bonn Chance” in the competition, then was whisked off in a flurry, the high moment had dissipated and the film mob wandered off to the klunky venue to get the trashy shindig of ‘Freakzone’ happening.

And what a whirlwind of a party it was, local freaks in their grunge-punk-sports gear, smart students, art critics, Parisians, provincials, journalists, videographers, the astute judges, performance artists, fans, tourists, all of them babbling and gabbling, swigging and sniggering, everybody eyeballing the filmmakers, hoping to grab a handful and check out these breaking freak-meisters. Arthur befriended many eager students, filling them in on the freakdom of Australia, and his survival as a kooky artist, sneaking cans of Fosters for them from the ‘Freakzone’ crew’s fridge, the naïve enthusiasts  as broke as all the other students in the world. In the Art Gallery, Arthur had put up a large color photocopy of his poster for “Lost in Gondwanaland”, his next dreamed of film production, hoping it might attract a producer, and one of the students adored its prehistoric Australiana and desired it greatly but couldn’t afford the seven hundred francs Arthur wanted for it. Arthur shrugged and told him to steal it when he wasn’t looking, and, indeed, it went missing two days later.

He was called into a side-room to yack with a group of hard-arse French punks, smoking spliffs and raving ebulliently on films, art, literature, history, and he was charmed by one woman in particular, the center of the group’s respectful attention, the French redhead who rolled pouch-tobacco cigarettes incessantly throughout the chatter, chain smoking, picking bits of tobacco from her mouth as she emphasized a natty point. Arthur had seen her on stage reading monotone from a manuscript, endless murmurings and expletives that captivated the French audience, Arthur not understanding one iota of what was going on, like some druidic ritual, she groaned out a tirade of words while a troupe of dancers contorted around her. Her name was Virginie Depesne and she was a famous thriller writer, and one of the judges for the Trash competition, and Arthur absolutely did not have a clue, blabbing to her because he liked her.

“There’s not much in horror movies any more that really scares me, after you’ve seen everything, it’s hard to get scared. Like what’s terrifying these days, not zombies and vampires?” raved Arthur. 
“War scares me, the greatest horror of them all,” muttered Virginie.
“Yeah, war, bodies blown apart, atomic bombs dropped,” blurted Arthur. “I know what still scares me, serial killers, they scare the shit out of me, like “Henry, Portrait of a Serial Killer”, that blew me off my seat, what a freak-out!’
“Qui, “Henry” was brilliant, he terrified me. What French movies have you seen lately?”
“I see plenty on our Special Broadcast television, but on the big-screen I recently saw “The Island of Lost Children” which I thought was a fantastic piece of science-fantasy, and “Hate”, which I liked even better for its intense realism.”
“The Isle of Lost Children is a piece of overblown shit, the filmmakers were once very political, punchy renegade artists but they have been tamed, they’ve sold out. I agree with you, however, about “Hate”, it is a good film, evocative of such a life in the Parisian tenements.” 

This was the genius who went on to write and co-direct the notorious movie “Blaise-moi”, (“Fuck me”), which Arthur was lucky enough to catch at Paddington Town Hall before it got banned by the Australian Censor. Arthur didn’t know if he had won her over or not, she was a reserved, tough character, a lot of fun to jabber with and it sure helped that he’d read everything under the sun, except her books.

Not having slept for two days, he was the only zombie at the festival, ready to flop in the nearest corner; he had to do interviews with the media, first a cable television crew from London. “What are you on about as a trash artist?” and he rambled incoherently, Zippie the Pinhead came to the fore, topsy-turvy politics that had the video crew fumbling with their equipment. “Australia’s still a penal colony and artists are toe-jam, no wonder that geek went nuts and shot everyone at Port Arthur, as if the ghosts from those British convicts drove him to it.”
“Are you hoping this festival will get you to Hollywood?” the trendy, blonde hostess twitted in a Cockney accent.
“I was lucky enough in my life to meet a wise old man once who advised me, all that glitters is not gold. I don’t expect to go anywhere except back to the gutters of Sydney.” The video gear fizzled and snapped, there was a systems failure, the crew excused themselves and left him to his next interrogator. 

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.
“Are you Gay?” “Yeah, so what?” “Does that influence your art?” “Every frame of it, though I don’t make an issue of it, this film is what a queer thinks of the world.”
“Who is she sitting next to you?” Michelle had been clinging to him, on and off, almost like a wife, and he had introduced her to as many people as possible, his wonderful, talented muse and lead actress, then left it up to her to enchant as best she could, she would chortle new age platitudes of love, astrology and enlightenment to the nasty mix of urban punks and astute critics, and didn’t seem to cut the ice too well with anybody. Arthur presented her to the fat, old macho journalist, who was all eyes for the American brunette. “This is my lead actress, Michelle Grandstandi, who carries the film and encouraged me throughout its making.”

“I’m also the post-production producer, how come you never mention that? You wouldn’t even be in this festival if I hadn’t made the sale to Trauma!” clamored an uptight Michelle, surprising Arthur with her bitchiness.
“Well, I did enter off my own bat, that might have got me in, but what’s the problem? Isn’t lead actress good enough for you? You should be promoting your acting talents, you’re not a film-maker yet,” Arthur blurted, too tired to be smarmy and diplomatic.
“You’re not doing enough to help me get my contribution across, it’s all you, you, you, as if “Virgin Beasts” is only your baby.”
“My dear friend, I am the writer, producer, director, animator, song-writer and singer, what am I supposed to talk about?”
“Me!” and she fell into a stern, iron-martyr pose, the grizzled Parisian journalist gave up on them and wandered into the crowd, and Arthur felt peeved that Michelle was blaming him for her flat reception.

His next interlocutor was a chic, svelte journalist from a Gay Magazine who wanted him to talk about, yet again, being a homosexual artist. She was extremely attractive, long legs, translucent skin, pixie face, possibly a lesbian, and Arthur felt a twinge of lust, or at the least, admiration. “I don’t like to be pigeon-holed as Gay, I’m not caught up in a gay ghetto in Sydney, and I think queers have got to go out into the straight world and educate them.” She dropped him smartly and moved onto Cecil Sizzle, whose chirpy, camp clichés she found more agreeable to her readership. All the while Arthur blew marijuana smoke into everyone’s face, a punk handing him a few buds from Amsterdam, nobody batting an eyelid as he choofed up, others also smoking, Arthur thinking, “How amazing the French are, even pot is legal!” Arthur continued to enthral the crowd with tales of antipodean villainies and his euphoria at visiting Europe for the first time, disclaiming loudly the pity of not having the money to explore the continent more fully, for then his adventurous life would be complete.
The films were screened over three nights, each more harrowing, violent and nasty than the previous one. Neither the German or South African film-makers had attended Freakzone and their films were bloody, cruel, anti-human and hard to watch. The San Franciscan dude, John Moritsumo, showed up at the last minute with his groovy girlfriend, Amy, and his film on American punks trashing their universe was very entertaining. Jerzy Grabowski’s film, “Marble Arse”, was a knock-out, set in Belgrade, about young men who refused to pick up guns and go to war, instead dressing in drag and prostituting themselves to the soldiers passing through, not particularly as Gays, more as a protest on militarism. To Arthur’s mind, it was the trashiest subject and the best film, he shuddered at the fact that the competition was that tough, his comic-book, dystopian musical seemed a mere frippery in comparison.

Then Canadian Cecil’s non-masterpiece went up on the block, a very gay, western musical, with a monkey troupe of outrageously overdressed drag queens, one in Black Sambo make-up, singing what sounded like the same country and western ballad over and over, with an inane plot that driveled along and went nowhere. The production design was a clash of bright, candy colors with the motif of a cow’s black and white patched hide in framed paintings on the walls, then repeated ad nausea in the furnishings, the cushions, wallpaper, upholstery, costumes, black patches on everything, cute to begin with but overdone, as was the rest of the movie. Every now and then ten second animation effects intruded, simplistic line drawings with little effort or skill put into them, a desperate bid for comic style. Poor Cecil had slaved for years, his loyal sister by his side, sewing the costumes, recording the songs, painting those dammed black patches on countless surfaces, and he waited by the exit to glean the audience’s avid response as they ran from the cinema, everyone politely grimacing, and afterwards he crowed that they loved it and he was a likely winner. But Arthur knew he didn’t have anything to worry about from that quarter, the film was so meaningless, bad taste trashy, it stank to those looking for a hard-edged, philosophical thrill.

The auditorium was packed for the Japanese film, a soft-porn masterpiece, tagged as “pink porn” in Japan, there was plenty of onscreen sex, except that, in the close-ups of the genitals and acts of penetration, a fuzzy pink circle was superimposed upon the offending detail, adding to the absurdity of the scenario. The art direction was impeccable, a perfect zen set, a gorgeous vase or a sprig of cherry blossom in the corner of an otherwise bare room, only the iconic, black-lacquered, wooden bed in the middle, the decor lit masterfully, the shadows crisp yet ethereal. Scene after scene of simulated sex was enacted in that zen room, every position imaginable, including halfhearted bondage tie-ups and whippings, the women very pretty, in variations of short lingerie and leopard skin bikinis, squealing, groaning, giggling, squawking in Japanese orgasm as fingers pushed into their tight crotches or they were mounted, screeching, from behind, always the fuzzy, pink circle chasing and obliterating the sexual sense of the hysterical action. 

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.

Arthur had to say something to introduce his film, and he quickly blurted out the ten years of hard work from writing the script to being there standing before them, and his experiences exhibiting on the Underground art circuit of Australia. He thanked Freakzone, the patrons and the Oz Film Commissar, and seeing Michelle with her big blue eyes blinking in the audience, he added, “And thanks to my lead-actress, Michelle Grandstandi, who gave me great comfort throughout the making of this film.” He cringed as his film came on and the gremlins struck straight off as they often do, the sound-track skipped over the heads, silence reigned as the Sydney city-scape is turned into a slag heap from a missile-hit, supposedly to wailing electric guitar as searing sound-effect. Arthur screamed for the projectionist to stop, trying to remember his high school French, “Arête! Arête!” but the silent film churned on regardless, the audience stunned into dummies. Arthur swore aloud, “Fucking hell! Every fucking time!” and rushed up to the projectionist’s booth to encourage him to rewind the film and start again. He told the guy to turn the sound up, and the sixteen millimeter, mono soundtrack shrieked like a garage rock band, which those cracking French freaks didn’t mind as they’re crazy for rock’n’roll.

 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 followed more brainstorming and blabbing with the natives, everyone wanted  to migrate to Australia, they were afraid for their future as a nuclear reactor not far off spilled its low-level wastes into the sea, the economy of the area was flat, and the police, criminals and politicians ruled with a tight fist. Arthur wished them luck, beginning to miss the milk-shake surf beaches and abundant wildlife of the aromatic, Australian bush. As contrast, on cable Television in his motel-room, he watched a documentary on Australia and it depicted the swarms of mice plaguing the south, waves of mice like a moving carpet covering the landscape, climbing up the Aussie’s legs, the voice-over speaking in tones of hysteria, “The horror, the terror, don’t go to Australia, you’ll be eaten alive by dirty mice!” 
He seemed to make friends with everybody, paying them compassionate attentions, handing them posters and flyers as tokens of fond memories, sharing out the drinks, working the crowd while he boogied to a driving techno beat. Cecil also latched onto whoever he could and tried to seduce them with his bubbly personality, his gay histrionics unimpressive to the heterosexual macho mob, he groped the young men and was given short shrift. He might’ve found a clinging admirer in Jean-Paul Gaultier, who had been invited to be one of the judges, but the famous designer had declined, ‘Freakzone’, Lille, was too outré, outer fringe and demimonde for his elevated tastes, he had better places to be. Cecil couldn’t help himself, bitching, “You look pretty cocky Arthur, all laid-back and smiling like the cat that got the cream, so confident you’re going to win?”

“I’m a walking contradiction, I’m chilled out and I’m shitting my pants. At heart, what will be, will be, there’s no use hassling and fretting and pushing, whatever the outcome, one has to be cool and enjoy the ride.”
“Hmmmph! More wisdom from Guru Big Banana.”
“Bigger than yours, baby.” She flounced off to Arthur’s laughter, they were sisters in the sexual revolution, kind of, and he enjoyed the catty repartee.

In the furor of back-slapping and smiling camaraderie, Arthur imagined he’d made a set of life-long friends, they were a community of like minds and would surely meet again. Jerzy Grabowski became such an ardent admirer, he offered Arthur the lead role in his next movie, about a NATO General in Boznia who likes to sing and dance, he was positive Arthur would do a masterful portrayal. Jerzy assured him that he had a great script, his next move was to raise a million dollars, then shoot it on the streets of Belgrade, if he could only survive the disintegration of Yugoslavia, and Arthur drifted off into Lotus Land with visions of becoming a European movie star, like Yves Montand or Klaus Kinski, only Australian.   

He also made best friends with John Moritsumo and his girlfriend, Amy, in a cab racing back to their motel, blabbing up a storm of mutual interests such as horror films and grunge rock. It was the second night of the festival, they were all restless and tired after the screening of John’s movie, highly desirous of a joint of marijuana; Arthur confessed he had primo buds and they split to his room to choof up and wind down. They continued their animated banter for hours, setting each other afire with wild, inspired ideas and scathing, humorous insights, the Americans were urban punks who understood and accepted Arthur implicitly. 

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.

“Yes, very sweet. The kid could sing that as he wanders through the prehistoric flora. Your song will fit in well. I’ve also written a couple of songs and we’ll get a few more from some great musicians I know of in Sydney. It’ll be an eclectic musical.” Arthur was trying to be diplomatic.
But pushy Michelle was on a roll. “I’ve written three more, just as good, they’ll also fit into the fantasy story perfectly a. I’ll sing you another one, you all join in on the chorus and clap your hands. Here goes… “Sunshine and turtledrops fall so nice on green grass tops, that when I’m skipping…”

“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.
“Why should you write all the songs for a movie I’m going to help make? If I’m the co-writer, the co-producer and the co-director, I should be able to write half the songs”, declared an irate Michelle.

“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.       

“After all I did for you? I supported you for years, I sold the film to Trauma, I was post-production producer, I even did my own choreography, and you didn’t give me a credit for anything, you took all the credits, choreography included,” accused Michelle, blue eyes wide in recrimination.
“I didn’t give myself the credit for choreography on Virgin Beasts, I didn’t give it to anyone. I did a lot of it, Tony Carmen did some, you and Mark did your bit as good actors should. I was sick of writing names endlessly, shooting a long list of credits is a drag. You read my credit for choreography at the end of The Thief of Sydney, not Virgin Beasts. You’ve got yourself worked up for nothing.” Arthur was getting embarrassed, his nasty streak was coming out, and all in front of his nice, new friends.

“Then why didn’t I get a credit as post-production producer? I at least deserved that”, lamented Michelle, imagining she’d been ripped of her claim to fame.
“That’s a bullshit credit. You were the sales-assistant and it didn’t happen till after the movie got printed, credits completed. What is it with this “credit” thing, if you were really hankering for such baubles, why didn’t you tell me as I was finishing the film? Credits are easy to give if they are deserved, I just write them in, it doesn’t matter to me. But, oh yeah, you were off in Monte Carlo gambling at the casino, losing all Steve’s money, while I was slaving over every painted frame of the animation, shooting the credits and printing the final product,” Arthur fumed.
“You’d have never got to the end of that film if I hadn’t encouraged you all along, and getting Trauma’s interest clinched it.”
“That film got made because I slogged through every square inch of it, Trauma was just part of the icing on the cake at the fucking end. And I’m not sure if it was such a good deal after all, they paid me peanuts for it, didn’t do much to get the film here, and it’s been silence from them ever since.”

“I've been there through thick and thin and now you renounce me”, cried Michelle, the wounded saint.
“You made a sales-pitch to Trauma to further your own career, you got your husband to bail me out of jail, and you brought me a bowl of soup once a month. I really appreciated it, like, I’m forever grateful, but it doesn’t mean you own me or can take over my life. I’ve put in forty years of study and effort, it’s not fair that you want to leap on my back and dictate what’s gonna happen in my next movie. In fact, our co-operation on that project is over, from this moment on, I can see it would be hell to attempt it.” Arthur had been pushed to the wall, and he was adamant about drawing a line in the sand.

“You’re an egomaniac, a control freak, and you know what that creates? Bad Karma!” The wise harridan had spoken, like the thirteenth fairy at the christening. Arthur flipped and sprayed vitriol.
“And I’m sick of all that namby pamby, airy fairy, cosmic shit you’re always waffling on about. It’s a load of escapist garbage, you’re as materialist as the next person and a long way from enlightenment!” Arthur felt like a doormat and was shrugging off the imposing feet.

In a huffy kerfluffle Michelle span out of the room, and Arthur turned to the two stunned, gob-stopped American punks and muttered, “I warned you I was a fuck-up. You just witnessed a cracker. I give up. Goodnight, I need to sleep, real bad!” The grunge-couple nodded assent and dazedly fled to their room, they’d seen the laconic Aussie pushed over the edge and it wasn’t so cool, but it was electrifying.

The next day Arthur and Michelle avoided each other as best they could; with a raucous crowd in between them, they attended the trash screenings and tried to enjoy themselves. Jack showed his core collection of trash-canned, schlock trailers, blaring sexy inducements to come and see “One Million Years B.C.” and “Red Sonya” and “Bikini Beach Kill”, buxom women in scanty clothing thrashing and slashing up the big screen in quick, visual sound-bites, the French loved it and screamed for more. Then came the program of lost cartoons, censored for political incorrectness and pornography, the graphic “Fritz the Cat”, an early, very lascivious “Betty Boop”, and World War Two Propaganda, “Donald Duck” working in a Nazi Germany bomb factory as a brown shirt, and “Pop-eye the Sailor” beating the shit out of dumb, buck-toothed Japanese caricatures. This last cartoon had Arthur gasping, for Popeye looked a lot like his dad, Frank, who had regaled him throughout childhood with tales of sailing the Coral Sea and fighting the invading Japanese. And here Arthur was, up against the clever Japanese in the Battle of Freakzone, them in St. Laurent couture, him in St. Vincent castoffs.
At last the final evening descended upon them and the prize-giving ceremony got under way. Arthur had brought a stylish ensemble with him for the grand occasion, luminous maroon tartan trousers, scintillating dark red taffeta shirt, embroidered black satin evening jacket, a gold and ruby snake clasp at his throat instead of a bow tie, scrubbed up well from the ragged grunge-bunny, he looked rock’n’roll hot. Michelle came over and asked if he minded her sitting next to him and he acquiesced, feeling a gulf of chilly winds between them. Jean-Jacqes introduced the major patron of ‘Freakzone’, Mr. Tati, of Tati Department Stores, the Woolworths of France, who bounced up dressed in a subdued chic suit and tie. He was slightly bemused by the content of the Festival, owning that perhaps his stores sold trashy clothes, and if masses bought them, they must contain some intrinsic value, and so also with the films, many had great artistic merit, though they may get lost in the piles of garbage flooding upon the planet. His most favorite film of all time was “Freaks”, a magnificent masterpiece, though banned for many years, and the films of “Freakzone” could be seen in the same stark light. He then pulled out a giant, pink replica of a check for twenty thousand francs, designed like the famous pink bags from his chain of stores, and he handed it over to Jean-Jacques, the cash prize for the winner.

Jean-Jacques did the required fumbling with the envelope, and Arthur tensed up, sitting to one side of the theater, and Michelle leaned over and asked breathlessly if he wanted her to hold his hand throughout the announcements. He refused and turned in on himself, hunching with his chin into his hands like a Gargoyle on Notre Dame, he hated being touched obsequiously, especially as he was estranged from her. He drifted into a narcissistic fugue, he was either off on a European Vision Quest or straight back to the squalid underworld of Sydney, minus a close friend. Jean-Jacques mumbled something and called the name, “John Moritsumo from San Francisco”, everybody was stunned, including John, who stumbled up to the stage and stammered his amazement. 

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.”

Then Trash Trailer Jack stepped up from the panel of judges seated in the front row and held up the winner’s envelope, and with a theatrical flourish, tore the name from its depths, calling out, “And the winner of Freakzone, 1996, is… Fuji Jujitsu from Japan, for his stunner, “In the Pink Zone.” Again Arthur’s guts dropped, this time they flopped in finality, his dream was over, he would stay in his rags and go nowhere, yowling like a wildcat inside the jungle of his mind, “Those fucking, snooty judges, sucked in by that minimalist zen crap, with all that tit and crotch, those fat Japanese cunts have ripped the first prize. My campaign of laid-back diplomacy and witty repartee got me nowhere with those hard-arsed French frogs.” He wanted to sink from sight, into his seat, deflated and beaten, he was just a crude, provincial bumpkin after all, not the eccentric, cool artist he’d been performing. Yet he had enjoyed many adventures in his picaresque travels, ‘Freakzone’ and France one of the best turn-ons, and he was still the chilled-out dude from “down under”, who’d jumped back up after many a knock down. What the fuck, he had to remain equanimous, it was insanity otherwise.

The Japanese Director strode confidently to the stage with his little Japanese interpreter toddling behind and Jean-Jacques presented him with the ‘Freakzone’ trophy, an antique pottery garden gnome, very cute and iconic, the Oriental didn’t quite know what to make of it, but he thanked the world regardless. The stage-crowd bowed to each other in respect and the audience clapped their approval, and it looked like the show was over. Then Jack stepped forward and called for attention, there was more to add.
“We, the judges, thought all seven films were remarkable and after days of being closed up in our hotel, bickering over the hard decisions, we narrowed it down to three great films, of which John Moritsumo’s was one, and after more argument we got it down to two truly incredible films, and they were both so awesome we just couldn’t decide between the two. And yes Toby, you did manage to bribe the lot of us and we’ve decided to split the first prize. With Virgin Beasts, Australia is co-winner with Japan. So come on up and get your prize, Toby.”

Arthur couldn’t believe the sudden change of reality, yet again the Universe had played a trick on him, he kept to his seat, held his face in his hands and took a deep breath. He had actually won, his journey would radically alter, he had a life again. “Come on Toby, where are you?” Jack yelled jubilantly and the audience joined in calling for him. He leaped up and walked slowly to the podium, watching the last step and arriving at the mike serenely. They had cut the cardboard check in two and handed him his half, which he palmed ever so sweatily, then the Japanese hulk handed him the Garden Gnome and he held it aloft, and the crowd cheered. He went to hand the trophy back to the Japanese winner, who shook his head, he didn’t understand its folkloric significance, it could have been a character out of “Virgin Beasts” for all he knew, and various members of the audience shouted for Arthur to keep it. His eyeballs popped and he hugged it in delight, to the calls of, “speech, speech, speech.” He put the Gnome down on the stage a few paces back and stepped towards the mike-stand.

He was ecstatic, he felt like a Hollywood superstar, it was an intense experience, winning a world trophy on stage to the applause of an appreciative crowd, a sphere of blinding white light radiated around him, he burned like a supernova, for a few infinite seconds. The Japanese Director loomed over him and Arthur gave him a bear hug, and with one arm around him, yelled out into the auditorium, “It’s great to see Australia and Japan doing something together, that Popeye cartoon today really freaked me out, after the Pacific War and all.” Someone called out, “Louder!” He tried to step up to the microphone, the black-suited bulk of the Japanese Director stood in the way, and he couldn’t get past him. He tried to duck around the whale of a man, only the guy stepped forward in his own fame-daze and Arthur had to quickly jump backwards. In doing so he kicked over the Garden Gnome and broke off its right elbow, and the audience applause ceased, everybody gasped, and Arthur shuddered, holding up the broken trophy. Then the moans turned to giggles, a wave of laughter broke out and Jean-Jacques stepped forward and said, “Toby, it proves you are ze Trash Maestro, you instantly trashed ze trophy.” Arthur chuckled, unconvinced, and less delirious, almost contrite, he spoke clearly into the microphone.

“It’s curious that both winning films had an exploding atom bomb in it, I hope it doesn’t auger anything. This vagabond from the antipodes thanks Freakzone from the bottom of his heart, it’s been a wonderful experience being here in France. I guess if I have to say one thing to you, it would be, for all the squabbles between our governments over the atomic tests in the Pacific, I’m sure the people of France and Australia will ever remain firm friends, and as such, any differences between us will get worked out. Thanks to all my friends who helped me and the Australian Film Commissar who funded the film. Oh yeah, and thanks to Michelle, you were wonderful throughout the project. Have a good life everybody, goodnight.”

The crowd broke up after a frenzy of chattering and hand-shaking, the ‘Freakzone’ crew all went off to a celebratory dinner at the same celebrated, funky restaurant, where they were used to Arthur drinking milk and eating paltry salad, only this time he decided on the fish, grilled fillet of bream in lemon sauce, his favorite dish, he relished its arrival upon his plate. He was seated at one end of a long table, Michelle next to him on the very end, Jack and Virginie opposite them, and next to them, John and Amy, with Jerzy and Velda on Arthur’s right, the rest of the party taking up the other end of the table. The film fraternity joked, caroused, debated, reminisced and raged in joie de vivre, a party Arthur was excluded from as Michelle had set in immediately to berate him in harsh whispers, for his betrayal of her, for abandoning her in the wilds of “Freakzone”, dredging up her litany of reproaches, reiterating her displeasure at the cursed credits, her failure to star as fairy godmother amongst the freak-set, Arthur’s ingratitude and megolamania.

He tried to reply with his own earnest whispers, hoping to keep the break-up private, but all those sitting around, while pretending to politely converse, were amused listening to every word. “You seem to want a second husband to lead around with a ring in his nose. You’ve already got Steve, I’m not the type. I’ve had a hard time getting here, lay off me!”
She wasn’t going to give him a moment to savor his victory and have fun, she kept croaking insults to fuck with his soul, “I bet you hate your mother! And you’ve got it in for every woman who crosses your path!” He cut his delicious fish up into small squares and shifted them agitatedly around his plate while he tried to dampen her barrage.
“You don’t know anything about my mother and you’re crowding my fucking path. I absolutely don’t want to work with you again, you blew it, you’re acting like a spoiled brat. You accused Cecil of being too loud, well there’s another thing North Americans have got a bad reputation for, being loud and pushy, too fucking pushy, that’s you, and you’ve pushed too far with me. You’ve got such a flaky come-on, these sharp freaks can spot a fake hippie from a hundred yards.”

Michelle spat French fries, whispering further damming calumnies against his supposed true nature, and he murmured furiously for her to, “Shut the fuck up!”, loud enough for the whole table to hear. She collapsed petulantly into a martyred silence, sagging at her end of the table, no glamorous movie star, more like a disgruntled, new age housewife who’d broken her eggs and not made an omelet. Cecil glanced down their end and smiled primly, “Poor Arthur, there’s always a worm in the apple, and he’s it.” The party continued, attempting to shrug off the contretemps, for Arthur the night was ruined, his winner’s glow dimmed, his once in a lifetime moment of triumphant achievement sullied by a prima donna’s temper tantrum at not being paid enough attention. Instead of elated, he felt despondent, and the roasting, boasting party carried on without him, while he pondered the quirks of a perverse universe.

“What was Michelle’s fucking problem? Maybe that Italian father of hers, who worked for the CIA, had really brutalized her through childhood. Shit, now I’m spouting Freud. She’s just another version of the Yankie on the make in the colonies, an ambitious, fame whore from Yale who wants Hollywood on a silver platter and stupidly thinks I’m gonna carry her there.” People around him tried to talk him out of his reverie, Jerzy claiming, “Congratulations on winning the prize-money, I suppose now you’ll run off to Amsterdam? I don’t feel too bad about losing, it must mean my film is not so trashy, that’s a good thing, right?” Arthur responded with eulogies to Jerzy’s talent and encouragements for the future, flashing that winning “Freakzone” meant “Virgin Beasts” was the most likely film to end in the trashcan. Jean-Jacques thought to lift the party to new heights of euphoria by getting each individual at the table to make a speech, and he began the toast, “To ze filmmakers”, and they went around the table, everyone saying something complimentary, inspiring, poetic, and funny, it was an agreeable ceremony, they were all friends and Arthur delighted to take his turn. The orations worked their way towards him, getting to Michelle first. “Michelle, say something, we’d love to have your input.” She shut her mouth firmly, shook her head negatively, she didn’t win Miss Popularity and so she wasn’t going to contribute to their piffling praise-fest, Arthur had treated her meanly and she didn’t care that she came across as a sullen party pooper.

Therefore it was Arthur’s turn to stand up and make a toast to ‘Freakzone’, to the cacophony of clapping, cheering and glasses clinking, he gave Michelle a mortified smile, then ignoring her Medusa-like presence at his side, he rose to the occasion, the blase trooper who’d faced a zillion imbroglios and could extemporise a paeon to high times with his tongue tied. He held his drink up and his voice rang clear like crystal.
“To quote the Flying Nun, you like me, you really like me! I can’t believe I won, I think I must’ve emotionally blackmailed the lot of you. The films were mind-blowing, especially Jerzy’s “Marble Arse”, which should have won, it got my vote, and the Japanese, ‘In the Pink Zone’, I think I pissed in my pants I laughed so hard. Freakzone has been a once in a lifetime experience for me, a real knock-out, and who else to thank but the inimitable Jean-Jacques, it had to take a seriously cool dude to put this show on, hip, astute, fun, a friend indeed of the international freak brigade. Here’s a toast to you Jean-Jacques, thanks for ‘Freakzone.’

To cries of “Here! Here” and “Ooh la la” many glasses cracked together, except Michelle’s, who sat forlornly with her head turned away, cutting her face off to spite the crowd. The party broke up and wobbled off to the Motel, Arthur pondering the double-edged sword of fame, casting one up into an ecstatic light but burning once solid friendships to ashes. He couldn’t grasp the selfish idiocy, of someone supposedly cosmic and enlightened, to ruin one of the seven blissful happenings that he was to be allowed in his much trammeled life. John and Amy came to his room for a smoke, and they were genuinely pleased he’d won, and sad he’d had a falling out with Michelle. John commented on the difficulties of film-making: dreamers like the idea of making movies, but when the action happened, only half showed up for the work, the pauper filmmaker has to do a thousand jobs and try to ignore the bullshit. They were all exhausted and they said their fond farewells, for each ‘Freakzone’ denizen was going in a different direction in the morning.

Arthur had been told of a raging techno-party to be held at the Lille Aeroneuf hangar that weekend and he determined to stay on in Lille an extra two days to jump the sound waves, the D.J. reputed to be one of France’s best. He saw the gang off at the railway station, with much hugging and promises to keep in touch, then Michelle hesitantly approached him and congratulated him on his win, and wished him a delightful tour of Europe, he deserved it. He replied with a diplomatic platitude and a cold smile, and was relieved when she got on the train and disappeared from his ken, never to see her again; he summoned up his equanimity but he felt like crying.

Lille was rather empty without his fellow freaks running around, suddenly it was an alien city and he was adrift in Nowheresville. He visited the porn movie-house for a cheap thrill, renting a video that promised hairy French guys, and as he watched it in his booth, with the curtain open to keep one eye on the traffic, a gorgeous young tough walked in and eyed him curiously. Arthur had the ‘no money’ look and the guy turned away uninterested. A fat, old gronk in a baggy suit wandered in and took the booth next to Arthur’s, he could’ve been one of those Town Hall officials assisting the Mayor, and the young tough returned and dived into the booth with the ugly, old blob. Arthur soon heard moans and groans, and a strange flopping noise, and peeved because he had been rejected for the soggy bag of fruit, he took a quick peek through the curtains and saw the old boy crouched over the chair with his bare butt up and the handsome hood walloping him with a belt. Arthur retreated, sadomasochism turned him off, their sound effects filled the room and spoiled his masturbatory dreams and he fled into the banal streets of Lille, disappointed he couldn’t get his hands on one of those hunky French macho-men.

His prize money had been transferred to his bank account, awaiting clearing, he only had a few dollars in his pocket and thus stayed in the dingiest of hotels, the bedsheets covered in cigarette burns. The techno-gig buzzed into town and the doof delinquents crowded in, a few thousand young people jumping and gyrating together as one livid monster. The D.J. was the ultimate funkmeister, exhilarating rhythms, relentless beats and epileptic synthesizer effects had Arthur bopping all over the crowd, dancing with everyone. Apart from a few joints, he didn’t need drugs, he was magically ecstatic on being vindicated as an artist at the Trash festival and, as he had a thrilling adventure lying ahead of him across Europe, he could’ve danced across the ceiling. But when he lit up a joint in celebration one of the handsome bouncers approached him and told him to put it out, “You’re not at Freakzone now, smoking ganjha is illegal in France!” Arthur went into a spin, all that time he’d been choofing up and blowing it in everyone’s face like a fool and no one had said a word, causing him to think it was okay. He skulked out the back of the venue where he found a crew of potheads discreetly smoking and he joined their criminal ranks.

After a few hours, the crowd of techno punters warmed up and danced riotously, Arthur leaping into one group where they took turns jumping into the centre and contorting rhythmically to the fast beat, weaving in and out of each other, taking over each others waves, twisting to the asynchopatic funk, limbs moving in all directions, every undulation flowing with the music. The crowd sitting in the bleachers clapped and whistled in rhythm with the dance gymnastics, Arthur had white light fountaining from the top of his head, he had never danced better in his life, the dance was orgasmic, he was jiving with the collective mind, and lost his sense of separation in the whirligig of transcendent dancing. A young man he’d met at the film festival approached him and shouted in his ear, “I see you’re demonstrating ‘sound surfing’ for us, like in your film, The Thief.”

When he staggered out of the entertainment barn an hour before dawn, he found a youth carefully peeling his “Virgin Beasts” poster from a column, and when the guy spotted Arthur he asked his permission to keep it. Arthur felt pleased and signed it for him and then the gorgeous fellow asked if he could kiss him. Arthur was taken aback for a second, thinking, “At last, a French cutie wants me!” Then he realized the dear boy meant a French kiss, on the cheeks, and he was honored by the ritual, his cool lips on Arthur’s hot face was a sweet touch to cap off a momentous week.

He eventually made it back to Sydney and tried to broadcast his international win from the skyscraper tops, sending press releases to numerous media outlets, but the ‘cone of silence’ was firmly in place, Lille was at the opposite end of the earth from Cannes, and the Aussie ruling class didn’t want to know about “freaks.” ‘Stay in Touch’, the back-page, gossip column of the S & M Herald, couldn’t resist his crazy paeon to “Virgin Beasts” and gave his win a mention, amused by Arthur’s promise that the film would bring in “desperately desired foreign exchange”. 

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.

Arthur arrived in a big huff for his big moment in the glare of celebrity, and insisted on wearing dark glasses and a beanie pulled down over his head, his favorite ‘cat burglar’ disguise, which antagonized the video crew further, they thought Arthur a right wanker. Amanda remained unflustered by his eccentricities, she hoped to be cool and hip in a leopard-skin print jacket, which Arthur thought atrocious, never the less she was warm and friendly and got him to relax, slightly. It must be that he had a phobia for public television cameras, he reverted instantly to his Zippie the Pinhead persona, gabbling nonsense to her serious questions, the videographer made him extra uptight, and he tripped out with the lunatic fringe politics, shedding a tear over the poor koalas dying in droves. She asked him what “trash” meant and he tried to sum up his musings upon the festival, “Art that ends in the trashcan, like trailers and censored cartoons, art made out of trash, art that’s made for so little money it’s trash, the subject matter so despicable the art gets trashed, about trashing people trashing other people and the world in general, about rising above the garbage heap and finding a treasure in the trash.”

This didn’t satisfy her and she asked him to explain further. He threw his hands up in surrender and waffled on at a tangent. “I got asked at the ‘Freakzone’ festival all the time about being a gay artist and is that what made me freaky and did it get reflected in my work. I’m queer yes, but I don’t feel like making films with characters running about wringing their hands and crying, “I’m gay, I’m gay!” I definitely feel my art is rife with gay sensibility. Maybe this makes me trashy.” This didn’t go down too well with the crew and they looked to be threatening rebellion. To save the moment Amanda got Arthur to hold up his Garden Gnome Trophy for the camera and explain how the elbow got broken off. He was able to wrap up the interrogation with his amusing anecdote of the antipodean bumpkin putting his foot into every polite situation. He felt a sense of release on rushing away, yapping to the media is fraught with glib truisms and saccharine superficiality; he didn’t care how he projected, he didn’t watch the show, he was told it was cool, they included a lengthy section of his animation, which is all he wanted.

But he got no phone calls, no offers for work or exhibition, and no further mention anywhere, his seven seconds of fame was gone in a flash, and it was back to the daily grind. He chased the Gay Mardi Gras Film Festival again, he wasn’t going to let his ‘gay community’ forget him too easily. Fortunately the festival organizer was an old acquaintance from the Sydney Filmmakers Co-op, Gail Smith, one of the dykes who didn’t hate him on sight, had been kind and encouraging, and she put him on the itinerary. He got a lousy spot, ten a.m. on a Tuesday morning, yet it was at the Pitt Street Greater Union Cinema, and projected on the big screen in the middle of Sydney, he got a delirious thrill, another fantasy come true. No one came, certainly not the poofs of Oxford Street, only a gang of his anarcho-artist friends and a bunch of ancient pensioners who’d won the tickets from a give-away promotion in the local newspapers. His friends loved the film of course, with it’s shrieking rock’n’roll, while Arthur sat out in the foyer for most of it, he’d seen it a thousand times, and he caught the old grannies fleeing, moaning aloud how awful the film was, “Bloody shocking!”

He could only laugh, art was such a tricky business, you win and you lose, he’d reached a certain pinnacle, had a taste of applause and achievement, it was enough, he didn’t want to turn into a ponce running around Hollywood kissing arse on the red carpet. The movie world was turning him off, incredible hard work, much back stabbing and plagiarism, the loss of fame-maddened friends and a broken statuette at the end of many years travail. It wasn't worth the heart-ache? He was cut out to be a wandering tramp, now that he had lucked out at last and the wheel of his fortune had turned, the Blind Goddess had smiled upon him at last and the bubble of his Australian insulation had been burst, he’d rediscovered the greater world, bustling, seething, waiting out there for him and he was determined to go out there and embrace it.

Oh yeah, and Ayesha had got it right with her gypsy playing cards at the beginning of his odyssey, the two of diamonds meant he would share the first prize, how amazing!

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.