David Perry, who died last week after some years of illness, and was farewelled yesterday, was a gifted filmmaker across a variety of genres and styles, and a warm and lovely person. I really only realised the breadth of his art when I attended his retrospective exhibition at the Mosman Art Gallery in 2009. I’d known him for many years, and seen all his films, but suddenly there were rooms full of vibrant paintings and posters, elegant drawings, stunning photographs and some fascinating video work to take in and enjoy.
While I’d seen David often over the years, often at a screening or in a film festival crowd, or sometimes at a party, and we’d always had good conversations given the restrictions those venues imposed, it was great to see him at his exhibition, surrounded by an amazing range of friends, and thoroughly enjoying the event.
I first met David in the early ’60s, at that exciting time when everyone seemed to be involved in some sort of creative activity, from art to publishing, from acting to music, and in the very early ventures into filmmaking (with a side benefit of being called out for crowd scenes or bit parts in many of these films). David Perry, Albie Thoms, John Clark, and my old friend Aggy Read were not only making films, but getting Ubu Films established and with it the beginnings of Sydney’s small but active underground film movement.
As Albie Thoms says in his bio of David in the exhibition catalogue, “over the next five years David made a dozen shorts for Ubu, many quite radical in their form . . . the comedy, The Tribulations of Mr. Dupont Nomore . . . had the censors in a flap, and the film poem, A Sketch on Abigayl’s Belly . . . became the centre of a court case when it was impounded on its return from a festival in Germany.” Those were the days! David also shot films for others, designed posters and handbills for Ubu, and helped with Albie’s famous lightshows.
He spent four years in London in the 70s, and then spent a number of years teaching in Queensland, returning to Sydney in 1980. In 1986 he made his docudrama Love and Work, with John Flaus as his alter ego; and in 1993 his feature film The Refracting Glasses screened at the Sydney Film Festival and had a season at the Chauvel. But this is only a fraction of an amazingly productive life, filled with his painting, video work, and photography. Only last year he finally finished and saw published his lovely, very honest, and richly illustrated Memoirs of a Dedicated Amateur, which is a great read.
After his great friend Albie Thoms died, there was a wonderful celebration of his life and work, at which David spoke very movingly about their friendship and shared passions. It would be fitting if a similar occasion could pay tribute to David Perry.