Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Kiss

Last night I went to the premiere screening of a new short film by young local filmmakers Sonya Humphrey (producer) and Ashlee Page (writer-director). Adelaide's Mercury Cinema was filled to capacity, no mean feat at 6.30 on a warm Tuesday evening, by a crowd that included some well-known faces.

The film is an adaptation of Peter Goldsworthy's short story of the same name, 'The Kiss', a story I know very well because I chose it to include in the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aust Lit and have therefore read it about eleven times, if you count repeated proofreadings. Not to be giving away the whole plot, but it's a chilling tale in which two teenage boys, the worse for drink, decide to go for a swim in an isolated underground tank and realise only after they have jumped in that the water level is too low for them to be able to reach the ladder.

Considering that in Page's screenplay the characters are girls instead of boys, which you'd think was a pretty substantial change and a most disconcerting one at first, the film is actually one of the closest and cleverest adaptations of a piece of fiction that I think I've ever seen. Page gets a couple of extraordinary performances out of her two young actors, and a lot of mileage out of the look of rural Australia at night, simultaneously sinister and glorious.

What I've always admired most about Peter Goldsworthy's work (NB if you're wondering, he may or may not be a distant cousin, so this is nepotism five times removed if it is nepotism at all), in any genre, is his ruthlessness in following the logic of the body to its often bitter end; to me at least, all of his best work is firmly grounded in his experience as a GP over several decades, pitting the detailed abstractions of moral dilemmas against the stark, simple, unrelenting clarity of the body and its processes and frailties. The film is very faithful to this particular take on the mind-body problem. One of the most interesting things about watching it was that although I was all too familiar with the story's events and therefore knew what was coming, I still felt chilled and wired by it -- tense muscles, racing heart -- which makes you wonder about the nature of suspense. Another kind of mind-body problem.

Cross-posted from Still Life With Cat

Friday, October 9, 2009

Brother, sisters and anthologies: oh the irony

So when I got home this afternoon from fifteen rounds with a sibling -- the ferocious upfront one, all teeth and claws all the time, and no backing down until one of you dies -- so stratospherically stressed out that my eyeballs and teeth were aching and there was a strange metallic taste in my mouth that no amount of medicinal chocolate would shift, I found two things in the mail.

One was a copy, kindly sent by Allen & Unwin, of Charlotte Wood's new themed anthology of specially-commissioned stories by Australian writers about siblings, entitled Brothers and Sisters. The other was my copy of the current Australian Book Review, in which critic Peter Craven continues his attack on the team of scholars of Australian literature (of which he is not one) who edited the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature, including moi, that he began in his magisterially and savagely opinionated review of the anthology in the previous issue.

I've been a fan of Charlotte Wood's since I read her novel The Children, in which she shows great interest in the sibling dynamic and great skill in representing it, an impression further borne out by the brilliant, funny, moving introduction to this new book. And after reading the ABR correspondence pages I'm considering the possibility that one way to understand the shifting, endlessly complex dynamics of the literary scene and all its tortured interrelationships is to think of it in terms of sibling relations, where the keynote is intensity for better or worse, and where endless fights for territory, dominance, independence, sentimental vases and Mummy and Daddy's approval all take place in the hothouse arena of shared interests and common experience.

At the very least, I find that thinking about these things anthropologically and psychoanalytically helps me to get some distance on them, to back away from the rage. It's that or the bottle shop, and I have too much work to do tonight for the bottle shop to be an option. Besides, I want to be fully alert when Germaine takes on Planet Janet on Q&A.

Cross-posted from Still Life With Cat