Claws

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Stephen Romei

A fort­night ago we lost two land­mark film­mak­ers in Bernardo Ber­tolucci and Ni­co­las Roeg. By co­in­ci­dence I had lunch with David Strat­ton that week. When it comes to list­ing his favourite films, David has a strict pol­icy of do­ing so al­pha­bet­i­cally. How­ever, I’m fairly sure he thinks Ber­tolucci’s best is not Last Tango in Paris (1972) but The Con­formist (1970), based on the novel by Al­berto Mo­ravia. For Roeg I am less cer­tain, though I know he still has a high re­gard for Walk­a­bout (1971).

Roeg's death made me re­visit Don’t Look Now (1973), star­ring Don­ald Suther­land and Julie Christie and based on a story by Daphne du Mau­rier. I’ve long said it’s the scari­est movie I have seen. Four decades later, it is not, but it is still an in­trigu­ing and dis­turb­ing movie. Its use of the colour red is un­for­get­table. It also has a re­mark­able sex scene that blends pas­sion and trauma, the present and past. David, in his en­cy­clo­pe­dic way, tells me it was an Aus­tralian film ed­i­tor, Graeme Clif­ford, who was be­hind that scene. Clif­ford went on to di­rect, in­clud­ing the Os­car-nom­i­nated Frances (1982), star­ring Jes­sica Lange. As it hap­pens, there is a re­cent mono­graph about Don’t Look Now. It’s part of the Devil’s Ad­vo­cates se­ries on hor­ror movies (Au­teur Pub­lish­ing) and is by Queens­land­based aca­demic and writer Jes­sica Gilder­sleeve. It’s worth check­ing out.

Nei­ther Roeg nor Ber­tolucci make it into Strat­ton’s new book, 101 Marvel­lous Movies You May Have Missed (Allen & Un­win, 220pp, $24.99). This is a list of movies, 19 of them Aus­tralian, that David thinks, for one rea­son or an­other, have fallen in the “gap­ing limbo” where un­suc­cess­ful films end up. Al­most need­less to say, the book is ar­ranged al­pha­bet­i­cally. David de­cided to set a cut-off date of 1980 and to in­clude, with one ex­cep­tion, only English lan­guage movies. That means a lot of the movies are quite re­cent. Noah Baum­bach’s The Meyerowitz Sto­ries (2017), for ex­am­ple, is in­cluded be­cause it’s avail­able only on Net­flix. I agree it is Baum­bach’s best film to date.

David’s thoughts about the other rea­sons movies have fallen into that limbo are in­ter­est­ing. Also fas­ci­nat­ing is that some of Hol­ly­wood’s big­gest names are on the dis­hon­our roll (in a box of­fice sense), in­clud­ing Robert De Niro, Cate Blanchett, Ang Lee and Sean Penn. There is a won­der­ful in­dex to help read­ers track down the movies. If you de­cide to watch two of them a week, there's a year’s worth of value in one book. I plan to start with a Clint East­wood movie I had not heard of: Honky­tonk Man from 1982. When it comes to the Aus­tralian movies, I would in­clude two that David has not: Alki­nos Tsil­im­i­dos’s Si­lent Part­ner (2001), star­ring David Field and Syd Bris­bane, the best grey­hound rac­ing movie yet made; and Rolf de Heer’s bizarre ode to ni­hilism Bad Boy Bubby (1993), star­ring Ni­cholas Hope.

I will be talk­ing to David about his new book at Syd­ney’s Glee­books this com­ing Tues­day. www.glee­books.com.au This week’s Christ­mas stock­ing filler is I Can’t Re­mem­ber the Ti­tle But the Cover is Blue (Allen & Un­win, $19.99) by Syd­ney aca­demic, writer and, most im­por­tantly in this con­text, book­seller Elias Greig. “This book,” he notes in the in­tro­duc­tion, “be­gan life as a kind of ther­apy.” In gen­tle, witty snapshots Greig de­tails his ex­pe­ri­ences on the other side of the counter. I like the one about the builder and his “mute ap­pren­tice” ask­ing if the store sells ex­ten­sion leads and the one about a reg­u­lar cus­tomer who is a “cheer­ful prob­a­ble Nazi”. But the one that makes me laugh out loud, in an Ishare-your-pain ca­ma­raderie, is this:

Lady in sun vi­sor: I’m after a book … I can’t re­mem­ber the ti­tle but it’s quite unique. Me: Do you re­mem­ber what it’s about? Sun vi­sor: It’s about a French woman, and she fi­nally tells her story. Do you have that one?

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