It re­ally is a load of old...

Dubbo Photo News - - Opinion & Analysis. - Sally Bryant

THERE’S an idea that’s been tap­ping on the back of my brain for quite a while now, just scut­tling around in the shad­ows back there and un­til now I’ve only caught the most ran­dom of glimpses of it. But then it came to me in a sud­den flash of re­al­i­sa­tion, and now I’ve seen it, I can­not un­see it.

You know how there’s all this stuff on the in­ter­net? Vast quan­ti­ties of said-tobe in­for­ma­tion about weight loss, celebri­ties and mys­tery ill­nesses? You know that none of it is new, don’t you? It’s all been re­cy­cled and given and ex­tra spin of moder­nity, but it all orig­i­nates from old pub­li­ca­tions like Truth, Life and True Crime mag­a­zines – the sort of pub­li­ca­tions our par­ents tried to pro­tect us from when we were kids. It’s the pot­boil­ers, the sweaty Betty books, the hanky-panky mag­a­zine, the pulp, the pu­trid pap.

It’s all the shit mu­sic and crap novel­las and cow­boy comics – all of them re­cy­cled and re-imag­ined in cy­ber-age ly­cra suits, but now miss­ing that some­how in­de­fin­able charm of old-fash­ioned taw­dri­ness.

When I was a kid, we were aware of this stuff at the fringes of our con­scious­ness. You’d see the mag­a­zines at other peo­ple’s houses, or at the hair­dresser’s, or even at the newsagency. I re­mem­ber find­ing old mag­a­zines in the post­s­hear­ing clean-up of the shearer’s quar­ters and be­ing fas­ci­nated by this brand new genre of writ­ing that I’d never en­coun­tered be­fore. True crimes, true con­fes­sions... To quote Jack Blanchard and Misty Mor­gan, “Over­heated ro­mance, con­tin­ued from page 17”.

And I don’t know why, but it is all some­how in­ex­tri­ca­bly linked in my mind with Peter Stuyvesant cig­a­rette ad­ver­tis­ing. It’s some­thing to do with that aura of man­u­fac­tured so­phis­ti­ca­tion. I saw a cinema ad­ver­tise­ment fea­tur­ing footage of glam­orous peo­ple on the crappy beaches in the South of France, with a voice-over that claimed the cig­a­rettes were your pass­port to smok­ing plea­sure. Since that day I have sub­con­sciously linked those cig­a­rettes with a cer­tain raff­ish glam­our, with world-weary chic and style.

Then, years later, a work col­league from Mel­bourne re­vealed her pas­sion for Peter Stuyvesant cig­a­rettes, and in par­tic­u­lar those that came in the soft pack­ets. I reckon she had seen the same ad­ver­tise­ments in her child­hood. She said it had more to do with some­one she re­ferred to as the Stuyvie Fairy. First I’d heard of it. The Stuyvie Fairy is ap­par­ently a lit­tle crea­ture who al­ways came through with an ex­tra dhur­rie, even when you were sure the soft pack had yielded its last... There it would be, just when you were com­pletely des­per­ate, ri­fling through the de­flated pack­age. From my rec­ol­lec­tion, the fairy was more ac­tive late at night in pubs and clubs than it was dur­ing the day.

Those crazy Mel­bourne women and their imag­i­nary friends...

How­ever, I di­gress. It was a rev­e­la­tion, look­ing at all that is out there, in this brave new world of con­nec­tiv­ity and com­mu­ni­ca­tion, and re­al­is­ing that the con­tent has not caught up with the medium. All they’ve done is bit of ju­di­cious top and tail­ing, retelling of old sto­ries and cob­bling to­gether some bits of old tat to keep the pun­ters happy.

Speak­ing of raf­f­ish­ness and retro, I have re­cently dis­cov­ered the works of El­more Leonard, and I am ra­tioning my for­ays into his writ­ing. He is pro­lific and bril­liant, but I am mak­ing my way through his cat­a­logue with some re­straint. Which is un­usual for me, given my predilec­tion for im­mer­sion and gorg­ing on writ­ers and then find­ing my­self with no more to read and a vir­tual hang­over.

But what brings El­more Leonard to mind in the con­text of to­day’s rant is the fact that his early break in fic­tion writ­ing (while mak­ing his liv­ing in a day-job in ad­ver­tis­ing) was pro­duc­ing the sort of pulp fic­tion I’m re­fer­ring to. He wrote the sort of pa­per­backs that were grist to the mill of the cow­boy comic con­sumers. They were truly pa­per­backs in that they were printed on the sort of pa­per hith­erto only used for ablu­tion blocks; they had lurid cov­ers with im­ages that vastly over­sold the sala­cious qual­i­ties of the sto­ries within. They were in that mi­lieu known as the “penny dread­ful”. Ex­cept they were writ­ten by a writer, and that makes all the dif­fer­ence.

I spent a large chunk of last week­end at home, nurs­ing what is ei­ther a sum­mer cold or some ridicu­lous al­lergy, and watch­ing Blue Mur­der for the first time. I can’t re­mem­ber why I didn’t watch it at the time. I think it had some­thing to do with my in­tense dis­like of Richard Roxburgh.

You re­mem­ber Blue Mur­der; it was the se­ries done by the ABC, which looked at po­lice cor­rup­tion and the some­what che­quered ca­reer of Syd­ney po­lice of­fi­cer Roger Roger­son. And for those of us who thought Un­der­belly broke new ground and was great tele­vi­sion, it was in­ter­est­ing to see how well this much older show stands up to the test of time. I found my­self watch­ing it and won­der­ing how old it ac­tu­ally was. You could tell from the film qual­ity and the style of the cam­era work that it was get­ting long in the tooth but I was amazed to see that it was ac­tu­ally made in 1995. I have work col­leagues who weren’t born by then. Blue Mur­der still looks pretty good – it’s good tele­vi­sion – and I found it in­ter­est­ing to try to an­a­lyse how much of a foot­ing it pro­vided for the pro­duc­ers of Un­der­belly.

Per­haps I need to read a lit­tle more Re­becca of Sun­ny­brook Farm, and a few less tightly worded gritty novel­las or dystopian fu­tur­is­tic vi­sions of the fu­ture.

It cer­tainly held my at­ten­tion un­til the bit­ter end. And when I say bit­ter, that’s pretty much what I mean.

So, my week­end in­take of Blue Mur­der may be ac­count­ing for my rather jaun­diced view of the world this week. Ei­ther that, or the fact that I’m read­ing Mar­garet At­wood’s The Heart Goes Last. Per­haps I need to read a lit­tle more Re­becca of Sun­ny­brook Farm, and a few less tightly worded gritty novel­las or dystopian fu­tur­is­tic vi­sions of the fu­ture.

Gritty is good, but it does leave stuff on your liver.

Week­ender reg­u­lar Sally Bryant was born with her nose in a book and if no book is avail­able, she finds her­self read­ing Corn­flakes pack­ets, road signs and in­struc­tion man­u­als for mi­crowaves. All that in­for­ma­tion has to go some­where...

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