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?