Just an Everage little megastar, possums
IT is hard to know who the man inside Dame Edna Everage is these days, as the self-styled megastar has clearly outgrown the control of her inhabitant, Barry Humphries.
This often perceptive film attempts to find the person behind the seemingly enigmatic comedian and, in fact, discovers a man whose complexity is echoed disconcertingly by the complications of our relationship with him. ‘‘ He confuses us, he worries us, he antagonises us,’’ says his friend Phillip Adams. ‘‘ We’re proud of him yet many of us would cheerfully throttle him.’’
The Man Inside Dame Edna is a local remake of a British documentary filmed during Humphries’ 2007 Australian Back with a Vengeance tour, delivering fascinating access to the man and his oldest friends. But the lingering portrait shot framing the titles at the film’s beginning gives the game away.
Turning to the camera from his reflection in a huge, ornate mirror, the as always beautifully dressed Humphries smiles slyly, suggesting that he takes a certain delight in revealing as little as possible about himself. He has always been wary of the way wellintentioned biography can play lurid tricks with the truth.
Yet by the film’s ending we understand all there is to know really, all that matters anyway, about Barry Humphries. The only place where he feels he really belongs is on the stage.
And if his first instinct is to undermine any profound attempt to understand his life, once inside a theatre he is simply a master entertainer getting on with the job.
The final image is of Humphries inside his creation before his adoring audience crooning: ‘‘ I look down and
Gives little away: Barry Humphries in I see such beautiful people looking up at me, drinking in my words, the faces of terror.’’
The film goes backstage, watching him warm up and unlimber with two gorgeous backing singers ( he’s engagingly flirtatious for a man of his age), revisits his home in Melbourne’s Camberwell, his school, and talks with colleagues including Adams and filmmaker Bruce Beresford.
Humphries is candid about his mother, his terrible alcoholism and his need from childhood to destabilise any established order. ‘‘ Even at school I quite liked to startle people,’’ he says. ‘‘ It gave me a feeling of identity; otherwise in Australia you disappear, you vanish.’’
Actors often wonder, as they assume so many personalities for a living, just which might be their own. But in this charming portrait Humphries never seems like a man remote from himself. His performance of Barry Humphries is, as always, consummate and convincing.
He has about him these days the aura of a man who is certainly not ready to have the last laugh. He may be a comedian but Humphries is no one’s fool.
The Man Inside Dame Edna
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