tribute to the prolific Melbourne filmmaker and the way he faced the challenge of battling cancer in 2010. It’s a fine, compelling movie, suitably elegiac and full of arresting and sometimes startling imagery.
Bradbury is one of the great film journalists whose other features include Frontline, a portrait of war cameraman Neil Davis, and Chile: Hasta Cuando?, his portrait of the brutal Pinochet military dictatorship. But On Borrowed Time is less polemical, more esoteric. Bradbury calls it ‘‘ a journey in the mind which requires, like watching a Paul Cox film, a certain interest in the big questions of life’’.
Needing a liver transplant, his blood group rare and shared by only a tiny group of Australians, Cox, raised in The Netherlands, had just six months to live if a donor were not found. Bradbury’s camera is with him for much of this time, capturing both the idiosyncratic charmer and the rousing cantankerous and curmudgeonly artist. Cox is a divided soul, but he’s been an enduring, often cranky, part of an industry that began its resurgence in the early 1970s.
Bradbury covers Cox musing alone in his Melbourne apartment, working on a memoir by hand, as he waits for a potential donor to die. The film starts with time passing: images of the many clocks Cox surrounded himself with through the years. None kept the same time. ‘‘ In his private world, which is far from ordinary, he lets the clocks have their own life,’’ Wenham tells us. ‘‘ In recent years, one by one, the clocks have wound down and his Albert Park sanctuary is slowly falling silent.’’
Less poetically, Bradbury also tracks his subject’s visits to hospital for treatment across several months, Cox full of loathing for the banal radio music that plays incessantly. He is not the easiest of people.
As critic David Stratton says, Cox pursues themes as a filmmaker that are important to him and assumes they should be important to everyone else, obsessed with love, beauty and death. (Stratton also relates the blistering retort he got after filing a negative review of Cox’s movie, Salvation.) Bob Ellis, who wrote several movies with Cox, good-naturedly calls the director ‘‘ a persuasive prophet stroke charlatan’’. Long-term friend Phillip Adams notes Cox is ‘‘ a man who prefers disciples to collaborators’’.
These remarks, and those of others too, are honest and direct, all delivered with a slight smile, but Cox is tough on himself at times as well, wearily lachrymose he suggests he has spent so much time looking for the skull behind the face that his work has worn him out.
There are many quite beautiful images from his movies that Bradbury uses elegantly to illustrate and comment on Cox’s poetic musings, including from Man of Flowers (1983), My First Wife (1984), Exile (1994) and Human Touch (2004). And other interviews include friends — the actors Wendy Hughes, Julia Blake, Chris Hayward, Wenham and long-time muse Gosia Dobrowolska.
As Cox did himself in his film The Remarkable Mr Kaye (2011), which followed the fading away of his friend Norman Kaye as the impenetrable curtains of Alzheimer’s disease folded around the brilliant actor, this film also seems to pose the unanswered question: is there, finally, any point to placing one’s existence at the service of cinema?
William Yang: My Generation is the story of how a young actor and writer found a role as a documentary photographer of the emerging artistic, literary, theatrical and queer circles of Sydney in the 1970s and 80s.
And how he then became better known for
Jenny Kee and the Flamingo Park gang in