PIC­TURE

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Television -

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

Wil­liam Yang: My Gen­er­a­tion

Jenny Kee and the Flamingo Park gang in

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