Monday, June 13, 2011

A Tribute To Paul Cox

BESIDES being a great film director, Paul Cox is also a great, humanitarian man. The first time I met him was ten years ago at the premiere of his tribute to Norman Kaye: ‘The Remarkable Mr Kaye.’ He was dressed in his usual attire- casual, dark non-descript clothing (not one for worrying about fashion). I was standing five feet away and wanting to make contact, but nervous as anything. Then I see film reviewer David Stratton- also famous but not one to send chills down my spine- so I asked David to introduce me. I didn’t know what to say- so all I did was get his address (in Albert Park) and told him I wanted to write to him. Which I did. Two weeks later.

The next time was at another premiere- the much weaker, it has to be said, ‘Salvation’- about two years ago. Again, I shook his hand and didn’t know what to say. I thanked him for the tapes of his film ‘Vincent’ and ‘The Diaries Of Vaslav Nijinsky’ he so kindly posted me, and left it at that.

The third and quite recent time was at The Avenue Bookshop in Albert Park, at the launch of his new book, ‘Tales From The Cancer Ward.’ You guessed it- I didn’t know what to say- except ‘I’m glad you are still with us’ and ‘you deserve more than the paltry twenty or thirty people that are here to have their book signed. ‘

It’s possible this will be the last time I will see him. He is about seventy, and really lucky to be alive because he received a new liver at the eleventh hour when apparently all seemed pretty much lost.

Paul Cox has directed a multitude of films- over twenty. I haven’t seen all of them, but most of the ones I have seen are incredibly truthful and touching, and rich, and are about real people and about real things, and I think that’s all you can ask from a film, unless it’s ‘ET’ you want to see, or James Bond or ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.’

Among the best are the ones about incredibly important and beautiful people like Van Gogh, Nijinsky and Father Damien of ‘Molokai.’ Or they are about simple people and they own -amazing stories- a blind man- Cactus’- an old lady slowly dying- ‘A Woman’s Tale’- a touching and pain-filled marriage- ‘My First Wife.’

Paul Cox must truly love his subjects, and his admiration and love for Vincent Van Gogh is all consuming. Vincent is mentioned innumerable times in the new book. Every moment of ‘Vincent’ is resonate of his love for the great painter. The paintings have been lovingly reproduced for the purposes of the film. There isn’t any pretentious, false Hollywood-style acting- instead, the camera is Vincent’s eyes as he travels across the plains of Holland and France.

The voice over is the magical letters- a truly beautiful, human document. Paul Cox it must have been who had the brilliant idea of having the letters spoken by a narrator as a voiceover- and the choice of person, with his raw and character-laden tone was John Hurt. The letters that were selected were inspired. Vincent’s battles with God, feeling forsaken before he found the path of his true vocation- the Christina Rossetti poem that Vincent loved about the difficult journey that begins ‘Does the road go uphill all the way? Yes to the very end.’ Nothing superficial or melodramatic, just the non-glamorised and unsentimental truth.

Paul Cox’s new book, then, is about enduring the time when you simply cannot say if you will make it. What are the chances of a transplant suddenly saving your life? How much longer do you actually have? What if you haven’t said all you need to say? In between times, Cox rails against Hollywood, capitalism and consumerism: ‘The celebration of the dollar makes people forget that they might just have other talents- apart from making money- that could be used creatively and help others less fortunate’- his deep gratitude and respect for the medical profession, his hatred of the Melbourne Grand Prix (such a short distance away), his appreciation of family and friends, more stark than ever at these times- his visits to his home country, the Netherlands- and all his weird and vivid dreams.

It has been a pleasure to have met a great man like Paul Cox- three times- except I have never known what to say to him...

1 comment:

CMS said...

I loved this tribute. Concise, poignant and beautifully constructed. I especially liked the interjections of your not knowing what to say to him. I don't think I could bring myself to read his latest book, too close to the bone for me, given my father's lost battle with cancer. However, I do recall seeing some of his films (and enjoying one with Claudia Karvan).