The heavy decrepit bodies of the great and not so, mingled with their offsprings, children too young to realise that this too would be their fate. Pathetic men way past their glory days paraded pretending that they still had it, while bored defeated women looked on knowing they didn’t.
It was another day at the enclosed perfectly temperatured salt baths. The warmth was comforting to the skin and the soul and made old bones and muscles feel rejuvenated. The inhabitants floated safe in this maternal womb away from the business deals that no longer mattered in a world that no longer cared and was on its last legs. Some old guys studied the racing form while younger middle-aged men preferred the stock market. Some gambled with their own money while others ventured with what they had married into, or had inherited. All in all there’d be few winners that day. There were no more lucky numbers to be had, or surprise gold and mineral funds in a world that had been looted, raped and gang banged so many times there was nothing left. Certainly not energy for outrage. Only resentment from natives who had been trampled under foot and squashed by the invaders who destroyed paradise without ever having taken the time to truly look around and realise the greatest wealth was above the ground. But like rats they burrowed lower and lower into darkness desperate for any shiny morsel of opportunity. Never thinking any further ahead than that.
We had destroyed the world without realising that such an abomination also destroyed ourselves. What we project outwards also implodes us. Given time.
I stood in the warm salt water as the floating bodies of the dead and the dying circled me.
He aged within the silences of our stilted conversation. His eyes were those of a man who’d seen his kingdoms fall and the survival mechanisms of such pain had turned him into a statue. Although he was outwardly pleasant and patient there was no one there. He was a ghost haunted by himself but chained to a place that had been familiar in his real life. I wondered if like other theories of ghostlore he was doomed to act out his past mistakes over and over again until they revealed something he hadn’t known before. And replayed to the incessant drumbeat of “If only I’d done this. If only I’d done that. If only…If only…
The dark circles beneath his eyes told me he didn’t sleep much and that the night was rarely his friend. To him there was no morning, afternoon or evening only awake time and dozing time.
It was those eyes that still haunt me to this day. They told me they knew the secrets of this life and that the knowing of such things begats a penalty far beyond any pain most humans experience.
He said his best writing came to him at 3am which was God’s favourite time to speak through us, when the night is still and the silence is that of eternity. The world at momentary peace with itself and you feel you can hear God’s breath within the comforting embrace of darkness. Such were the fleetingly magic moments when inspiration struck him.
He felt he was no longer a person, but a vessel. He had worn himself out in his search for a lasting kind of love and knew now that it was not written as part of his destiny. Hence he no longer sought it for it only carried disappointment in its train. and such disappointment sometimes took years to wash away. A penalty for those who cared too deeply. Furthermore he now feared he no longer contained the capacity to feel the emotions of normal people, and wondered why God had spared him and taken so many others. Sometimes it crossed his mind that the lucky ones died young, still hopeful with dreams intact. He mused that perhaps that old saying was true, “God calls home first those he loves the most.”
These days he liked to walk in the rain. It made him feel something.
From the mansions of sadness
To the bums on the street
From the highways of loneliness
To the halls of defeat
I’ve watched your ascendance
The road I never took
Girl, you’ve come a long way
On a smile and a look
From the poolside of stardom
To the kids on the run
From the mountains of compassion
To the things never done
I’ve watched your progression
With an assassin’s eye
I could have been there too
But my heart doesn’t lie
There are stars in cars on every corner of this town
You’re gonna need a lot of help
When you finally come down
You’re slept with the Caesars
And you’ve dined with the Czars
But none of them told you why
This prison has no bars
From the towers of power
To a broken man’s plea
From the face on the magazine
To the girl you used to be
I’m waiting for some answers
Beneath the falling stars
Wish I could’ve warned you
This prison has no bars
When I started making films in Australia it was a time when “commercial” was a dirty word. Seemed strange to me because I never set out to make bad films, only ones I thought more than a few may enjoy. I can’t tell you the resentment hurled at me for having such lofty plans. It became more than a little bizarre and as a result of the local critical slaughtering clouded some people’s objective view of my work. I found that my movies received far greater respect outside of my homeland which saddened me as I’d always been a staunchly proud Australian. It compounded my feeling of being an outsider. Probably not a bad thing for an artist but a weight nonetheless.
As the years rolled by and I became disenchanted with my business associates and their agendas my films turned inward and became more and more personal. A reflection of my own frustrations and isolation- with a good dose of anger thrown in for good measure. I had gotten to a place where finally even my harshest critics had to relucatantly admit that, perhaps, I was doing something right, given the overseas acceptance of my work. For example my family movie “What The Moon Saw” became the first Australian film purchased by Miramax; “Heaven Tonight” the first ever sold to the giant American Broadcasting Corporation; “Hunting” (my directorial debut) sold to Paramount Pictures, etc., etc. Unfortunately just as I was beginning to have a local critical re-evaluation of my work, my business partner did a few things that gave those with agendas, or just the plain jealous, all the ammunition they needed to justify their ill-feeling.
It took me 3 years to get rid of my business partner and then another 3 years to fight him in court. All I had to do at any point during this time, to continue my career and go on making films and money, was to back down and agree to resume my association with him. I did not. As far as moments go it was, integrity-wise, my finest. But, for that shining moment, I lost everything, my home, my family, my money, and all my work. Freedom came at a high price. What followed was 10 years in the wildnerness, alone, where I was forced to re-evaluate everything I was or had stood for. There were many times in my anger I cursed how principled I’d been, given my loss. Would I be as good a man again? I would like to think so, but having lived through the sacrifice and now knowing how high the cost, honestly, I’m not so sure.
Faced with starting again in Australia and having to humbly ask rivals for a job, I decided to go to Los Angeles. I needed a new environment for my mental and physical health. I was in a bad way and had lost a lot of my desire to live. Cutting a creative artist off from his work is like slashing a main artery.
Upon my return to Australia in 2006, I was honoured when Richard Wolstencroft asked me to be President of the Jury at the Melbourne Underground Film Festival. It was indeed a Festival for the Outsiders. The mavericks. People who’d made their movies on their own terms without wilting to the cocktail set of decision makers in the industry. It’s the people on the sidelines who kill your boldness. Once you lose your identity and begin making movies for your peers, your voice is lost. And tell me, honestly, how many experts do we have in this country who’ve ever made a hit film? If they could do it they wouldn’t be sitting behind desks being paid a weekly wage to be an industry expert. They’d be out making more hit films wouldn’t they?
Over the past 6 years I’ve spent a lot of time talking and helping young filmmakers and I couldn’t be more proud of them. They don’t carry any of the jealous resentment of the closed shop I broke into when I started out. What our industry is paying for now is the fact that the old brigade didn’t encourage the next generation. The fat cats just got fatter and as a result our product got thinner. Shame on them. Fortunately most of them are dead now, or retired, or living in large villas in France from the fortunes they accumulated from making shitty films that didn’t get sold anywhere. In most cases not even in their our own country.
Oh, and among the healthy signs for the future? Today’s young filmmakers don’t think “genre” films are a dirty word. To place any style over another is a meaningless and snobbish attitude. The real art comes not in the genre but in how bold and inspired you can be working within those restrictions. So, I salute all the brave, new, original outsiders who are finding their own voice and way in the current film industry. I salute their talent, their guts and lead the applause in their honour. They inspire me to be better.