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Saturday, 20 June 2015

A sample of a piece about Raymond Durgnat

A long, long time ago English film magazines arrived in Melbourne after a journey by boat that often took several months. They could arrive in a rush, several issues at a time. The place where they were sold was McGills Newsagency in Elizabeth Street, near Bourke Street. It was a dim and overstocked shop. The ground floor walls had books on shelves that reached to the ceiling. But the space was dominated by two large flat display cases that started near the entrance and went the length of the room. You could pick up the magazines on display and look at the contents. The Brit film journals, and the locally produced Film Journal would have the current issues on display. A couple of American publications went on sale there as well, though somewhat more sporadically.

In the early- to mid-1960s generally there were five Brit publications – Sight & Sound (quarterly), Monthly Film Bulletin, Movie, Continental Film Review and Films and Filming. Very occasionally there were copies to be found of publications put out under the rubric of Motion but they were hard to track down.  Films and Filming was part of a set of seven publications (Books and Bookmen, Music and Musicians, etc) and generally had the raciest prose, written by a set of writers, though not one that operated as a group as far as could be seen. The raciest pictures were in Continental Film Review. The management of this part of McGills’ shop was in the hands of a young man named Mervyn Binns. He was a conservative dresser who wore a grey knee length dustcoat fastened by a belt. He had an oval face, slicked his hair straight back, held it there with brilliantine and wore thick lensed glasses. When he left the shop at 5.30 pm at night he wore a hat. He seemed a very dour figure, though later with another far more extroverted man named Paul Stephens he had this act where the pair of them would dress up as vampires and hire themselves out at horror film premieres. One night when Stephens hid himself in the male toilet at interval and leapt out upon the arrival of the first patron, the punter complained to the management that he “nearly had a heart attack”.
Melbourne University Film Society fed off the Brit magazines like the little fish that live in the big fish’s mouth. Many programmes were selected according to the taste-making of that far away London film scene. New magazine issues were flashed around mostly amongst a small inner circle and a consensus formed in favour of the agenda set by Movie. This had been helpfully developed by the publication in the first edition of a “talent histogram” which set out which directors to admire. Columns were devoted to relative assessments of British and American directors. Movie did not allow deviations to occur. It was thus that the “early” discovery of Joseph Losey as a major figure occurred around the time when a burst of his films appeared. The Damned (1963), Concrete Jungle (aka The Criminal) (1960) and Time Without Pity (1957) were screened by the film society over a matter of a couple of weeks. Then there were rumours that the censor had banned the director’s Eve (1962). Horror upon horror. Nobody ever knew for sure though there were later suggestions that the wily distributor, Sid Blake, tried to have the film banned in order to get out of his contract to show it.

Then there was the case of Raymond Durgnat, who seemed to be by far the smartest and most engaging of the team of writers who were assembled for each issue of Films and Filming...... For the rest you'll have to go to Senses of Cinema  

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