Notes from the Stu­dio

The Monthly (Australia) - - NEWS - by Robert Drewe

It was 1993 and the film­maker Ray Lawrence, direc­tor of Bliss and Lan­tana, and I were busy writ­ing un­suc­cess­ful screen­plays to­gether in a one-room of­fice in Glebe, Syd­ney. Our first two scripts had come that close to be­ing made, in the sec­ond case only fall­ing over at the last hur­dle when the lead ac­tress, the wife of the film’s wealthy busi­ness­man guar­an­tor, be­gan a Lady Chat­ter­ley af­fair with their young gar­dener. The hus­band can­celled the gar­dener’s em­ploy­ment, the mar­riage, and the cheque for $1 mil­lion in seed money that he’d promised for our film. And then out of the blue came an of­fer from Hol­ly­wood: to breathe new life into a film of Tracks, Robyn David­son’s best­selling ac­count of her per­sonal jour­ney by camel across Aus­tralia. The Tracks pro­ject had al­ready been on the draw­ing board five times since the book’s pub­li­ca­tion in 1980, passed from stu­dio to stu­dio, direc­tor to direc­tor, star to star, writer to writer, ever since Meryl Streep and Di­ane Keaton were in­génues. Both had been pro­posed as Robyn the young Camel Woman; now, in 1993, it was to be Ju­lia Roberts’ turn, Mi­ra­max’s to pro­duce, and Ray’s to di­rect. He and I be­gan work on the script. There was a heap of ear­lier scripts on hand, but we went back to Robyn’s book, which we much ad­mired. And, given the usual lim­i­ta­tions of the dif­fer­ing art forms, we were de­ter­mined to be as faith­ful to it, and to the author’s orig­i­nal in­ten­tions, as pos­si­ble. We came across one lim­i­ta­tion im­me­di­ately. In the early chap­ters, Robyn de­scribes liv­ing and work­ing as a bar­maid in Alice Springs while learn­ing about camels, and be­ing reg­u­larly con­fronted in her room at night by dis­gust­ing yob­bos hop­ing for drunken sex. She’s forced to turn them away with a shot­gun. One out­back charmer then leaves a turd on her bed. We left the shit in the script. Mi­ra­max screamed im­me­di­ately that Amer­i­can au­di­ences would aban­don the film if it stayed. Fair enough, this was no cri­sis of artis­tic in­tegrity for Ray and me. In a trice we changed the of­fend­ing item to a dead rat. All right then, grum­bled Mi­ra­max. In her book, Robyn the fem­i­nist hero­ine is pe­ri­od­i­cally shad­owed through­out her jour­ney by a young pho­tog­ra­pher from Na­tional Ge­o­graphic, Rick Smolan. It was Rick who’d sug­gested that the magazine spon­sor her trip. She has mixed feel­ings about hav­ing sold out and the trip no longer be­ing to­tally her own. But there’s a spark, and Rick keeps drop­ping in dur­ing the jour­ney to pho­to­graph her, and even­tu­ally the two young, sin­gle het­ero­sex­u­als, alone in the desert, have sex. Ah, the sex scene. As the whole point of this very ’70s story was fe­male for­ti­tude, Ray and I thought it to­tally cor­rect to place the in­trepid fe­male char­ac­ter, who after all had just trekked with camels across the bloody con­ti­nent, in the dom­i­nant sex­ual po­si­tion. So we wrote it that way. As strange as this seems nowa­days, Mi­ra­max re­fused out­right to have a sex scene where the man was not on top. We stuck to our guns. And they pulled the plug then and there. An adap­ta­tion of Tracks was fi­nally re­leased in 2013 by a Bri­tish-Aus­tralian com­pany, with Mia Wasikowska as Robyn, di­rected by John Curran. Our ver­sion never got over the hump. As the livid Mi­ra­max chief ex­ec­u­tive frothed at us, “What do you think you’re do­ing? I’m not hav­ing you Aussie sons of bitches say­ing that Amer­i­can men are pussy-whipped!” Yep, that was Har­vey We­in­stein.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.