The venerable David Stratton was addressing a lunch crowd at a launch of his autobiography, I Peed On Fellini. As he autographed my copy, I reminded him that I had sometimes been mistaken for him at film festivals from Cannes to Honolulu. Similar age, height, Panama hat, beard; easy mistake to make. To some people Australians all look alike. Even imported ones like Stratton.
The title of his book got me thinking. If I found the energy, the memory and the courage to one of my own, I might well title it I Danced With Fonteyn — with perhaps a sequel called I Dueled With Nureyev.
At about the same time as this launch lunch, my son discovered and sent to me an old scrapbook of mine in which was a cringeworthy poem I had written in my 20s about the then binary stars of the ballet universe, Margot Fonteyn and Rudolph Nureyev.
Read my new page, Invitation to the Dance, for the full story of how the book got to be so named and how I got to dance with Margot Fonteyn.
I recall a resolution I once made never to fly with a pilot who was not the same religion as myself, namely atheist. I figured that the less the captain believed in an afterlife the more likely he was to do his best to stay in this one.
I’m not a nervous flyer. More fatalistic than anything. I have had my share of interesting experiences including the kind of landings the produce an hysterical round of applause from relieved and grateful passengers.
This is a plug for a new page on this blog, A Traveller’s Tale. It is the story of my worst ever flight — and damn near my last.
I can’t paint or draw so I try to make paintings with my camera. Often angling, framing and exposing a shot is a visceral experience. Palpable. Making something, creating a picture that is more like how I see it and feel it than how it might actually be. Sometimes I get a result that actually approaches what I see and feel. All too often I fail miserably to capture or create the vision that was so clear and strong in my mind’s eye and that makes me wonder if it is worth the effort of trying again.
It is only by trying again and again that achievement is possible. One only begins to really achieve in any endeavour when one is no longer bothered with the mechanics, technology or technique of the process.
I doubt if when Jascha Heifetz was playing he was concerned where he was stopping his strings; when Nureyev was dancing he was worrying about the line of his back when performing an entrechat huit, or when Claude Monet was painting his attention was focussed on his brush strokes.
Bruce Lee once said to me: “Technique? I have no technique. I don’t hit — ‘it’ hits all by itself.”
I need to work more, read more, see more; to become so familiar with my tools that I don’t make the pictures — they make themselves.
All pictures shot with my Nikon D70. EXIF information should be intact on all pictures with all technical information.
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Life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea,
And love is a thing that can never go wrong
And I am Marie of Roumania.
Dorothy Parker said she wished she could write like a man and drink like a lady. Perhaps we should be grateful she got it the other way around. Along with her criticism and more serious writing, she penned astute and witty light verse much of which demonstrates her talent to use language like a well-plucked lyre.
As John Hollander points out in his erudite critique, Dorothy Parker and the Art of Light Verse*, the mention of the once celebrated Marie of Roumania no longer has the resonance it did when Mrs Parker penned those lines. He suggests that today those thoughts would need use a more contemporary figure as a punch line. Here is my modest example:
Life’s bounties pour upon me like rain
Life’s riches unceasingly grand.
Love is a never-ending refrain,
And I am Premier of Queensland.
OK, I said modest. Besides, she had scant respect for critics of her scansion:
Say I’m neither brave nor young
Say I woo and coddle care,
Say the devil touched my tongue
Still you have my heart to wear.
But say my verses do not scan,
And I get me another man!
Many of Mrs Parker’s aphoristic verses were effectively oozed by Jennifer Jason Leigh in the Robert Altman production Mrs Parker and the Vicious Circle. In this there is much of the ambiance of American letters in the 1920s with its literary knights’ nights of jousting with wit-tipped lance and broad-sword tongue at the round table at the Algonquin Hotel, 59 West 44th Street, New York City.
I hope to get back there sometime to pay it a visit. Hommage, actually.
Never mind JFK, do you remember where you were when Peter Sellers died?
I was sharing a poolside table at the rooftop restaurant Le Méditerranée at the Sofitel le Méditerranéeduring the 1980 film festival in Cannes with theatrical agent extraordinaire, Theo Cowan.
Theo was well-known for his “Cannes outfit” of army surplus safari jackets over the kind of baggy khaki shorts known to British troops of long-past wars as Bombay Bloomers. His heavily horn-rimmed spectacles were invariably adorned with clip-on, flip-up green shades.
Theo also represented Peter Sellers.
We were well into a salade niçois and about to signal for a second bottle of excellent Domaines Ott Château De Selle Cotes de Provence Rose for the main course. The olive oil drooled over the salad leaves and the pool sparkled watery diamonds around the perfect semi-clad bodies disporting themselves on a perfect Mediterranean day.
A quiet, private lunch with the inimitable Theo was a luxury in the madness of the Cannes Film Festival.
Theo was not expecting to be called to the phone. He apologized and followed the waiter. I sat back, sipped and took in the view.
Yachts jostled cheek-by-jowl at their moorings, stern-in to the pier as is the practice in this part of the world. Beyond the yacht harbour, across the Bay of Cannes, past Palm Beach and its casino can been seen the Île Sainte Marguerite, where, according to Alexandre Dumas, the man in the iron mask was imprisoned for eleven years. The intense luminous blue of the sea leaves no doubt why this is called the Côte d’Azur.
Theo’s voice broke my reverie. “Peter has died. I am so sorry but I have to get back to London right away.”
Doubtless the accommodations for the man in the iron mask on the Île Sainte Marguerite were not in the style of the Hôtel du Cap so near and yet so far just a few kilometres across the azure water to Cap Ferrat.
However his dungeon was free of charge.
Eleven years in just a standard room at the Hôtel du Cap would have set him back €3,412,750 (A$5,808,748, US$4,567,965), not including food, beverages, laundry or tips.
And believe me, food, beverages, laundry and tips can well bring that close to double.
If he had chosen a suite or villa his bill would have cleared the national debt of many former French colonies.
It is worth noting that only fairly recently did this and many other luxury hotels in Cannes accept credit cards, previously requiring cash in settlement. They also imposed minimum stays (ten days during the film festival), charged a full booking for early departure, and demanded 50% of the reservation in advance — non-refundable. Naturellement!
As a kid there were more Saturday matinées than even the combined efforts of Peter Sellers, DannyKaye and JohnWayne could fill. That didn’t stop me from hoarding or begging the price of a train ticket, a packet of Jaffas* and a ticket to the movies for the Saturday matinée.
Sometimes what followed the cartoons and JohnnyWeissmuller cliff-hangers was not the stuff of comedy fantasy or cowboy heroes. Sometimes it was a movie of an entirely different genre. These were movies made in shadows; not soft shadows as between seasons, but shadows of fate and doom or the black glint of a death-threatening revolver. They were full of men and women, good and bad, doomed by their needs, flaws and frailties – or those of others.
Of course I had never heard of such a word as “genre” then but, in my youthful innocence, I classified these as “dark films”. As much as these movies frightened me they gripped me too. I had yet to encounter Shakespeare or Sophocles and so film noir became my introduction to theatrical tragedy.
I mention this because I recently watched again after perhaps 20 years one of the icons of my “dark films”.
Rififi (Du Rififi Chez Les Hommes) is a séminal work; a seed, and sometimes an outright template, for following films noir and for heist and caper movies to the present day – be they films couleur regardless. Overblown latecomers such as Mission: Impossible and its type have never approached the breath-suspending sour-sweat tension and ultimate sadness of this original.
I was still young when I was promoting Stanley Kubrick’s release of Sparticus, not so long after JulesDassin was forced out of America by the hysterical McCarthy House Un-American Activity Committee. Kubrick reportedly insisted similarly-accused Dalton Trumbo write and be recognised for the screenplay for Sparticus.
If you ever wanted to experience the rank fog of Gaulois butts and stale calvados, there is plenty here, as is a certain absolution and an exposition of a code de honoré– for some at least.
* A marble-shaped confection with a chocolate centre and an orange-flavoured candy coating beloved of Australian moviegoers.
Socrates was perturbed by the concept of Google more than 2,300 years ago.
Marshall McLuhan knew this and related the philosopher’s concern in his 1967 book, The Medium is the Massage.
“The discovery of the alphabet will create forgetfulness in the learners’ souls, because they will not use their memories; they will trust to the external, written characters and not remember of themselves … they appear to be omniscient and will generally know nothing.” — Phaedrus.
Marshall McLuhan died on the last day of 1980, long before Google was more than a noise that happy babies made.
I bought my paperback copy of The Medium is the Massage from the Central Department Store on Wang Burapma in Bangkok in 1969 where I was creative director of the Thai office of the advertising agency McCann-Erickson. It smells brownly the way old books do, but it has held up well.
The cover price was US$1.45, about 30 baht as best I recall. For an extra ten baht around the corner you could get a carton of marijuana filter-tips complete with government tax seals.