But just a while ago, after tracking down Colin Bennett and being reminded of Colin's famous contretemps with Tim Burstall, I set out to do a bit of sleuthing in the archive for Tim's 1983 TV mini-series A Descant for Gossips
So, moving right along Somebody who knows a thing or two about Peter Tammer has written his Wikipedia entry. There's a lot of info packed in there but the message you take away is that of a sprightly independence of mind and action. I knew him before arriving at the Melbourne Film Festival decades ago and had an amusing encounter when he entered his 61 minute film Mallacoota Stampede in the short film competition, something reserved for films 60 minutes or less. He promised to take a minute out of the film. Whether he did or not I never knew. The jury headed by Tony Rayns gave the film a prize and the audience remembered the film especially for its casting of the gorgeous Deborah Conway and even more especially for the brief scene where she appeared without her clothes.
In 1982 Peter asked me to look at his newest film Journey to the End of Night, a 70 minute feature about an ex-serviceman recounting the moment when he killed a Japanese soldier and his endless guilt about it. It is an astonishing tour-de-force and should be better known today but things happen. We invented a prize to give to Peter at the Melbourne Film Festival screening - a nice wad of cash from Channel 10 and a certificate. It was supposed to be the start of a new prize to be given to a local independent film-maker but both the prize, including Channel 10's money, and I disappeared before the next festival came round.
|Title image fromThe Nude in the Window (Ph: Paul Cox)|
The Nude in the Window is a film which shows Cox, nearing the end of his life reminiscing about the journey that brought him to Australia and his gradual absorption into the world of film-making firstly through some short films and on into low budget features. By the time this career and life came to an end Cox had made over thirty short, feature and documentary films. He had also formed a strong bond with Peter Tammer and much of this is revealed in the new movie.
For Cox, it was a case of learning on the job. Each film in his first decade or so, back through the late sixties and into the seventies, was a steep learning experience for Cox as well as a work that showed a progressing maturity. Cox learned throughout this time the value of close collaborators, writers, photographers, actors who assembled at his call in much the same way as the stock company did for John Ford long ago. People like Bob Ellis sought him out, finding in Cox a unique voice able to express much about the intimate lives of Australians.
Cox also liked to show the secrets of what might seem otherwise perfectly normal people and, without going into detail, more than a few perverse streaks of human behaviour were put on show usually with a mix of shock and fun.
All up, Cox was a worker bee, always making movies, sometimes making them before they were script ready and occasionally taking on the odd subject that didn't come off. But he always moved on fast, getting the team back together and, right up to near the end, with the drama Force of Destiny (Australia, 2015) he was contemplating life's ironies.
In the meantime perhaps it would be nice to remind ourselves of his contribution and the thoughtfulness he brought to his life. That could be done if someone does indeed arrange to show Peter's film, regrettably rejected thus far by every Australian film festival and other event, to remind us that a film-maker who made a great contribution to the national film culture has passed. That it was made by another film-maker now sadly out of the limelight is just another of the kind of life's ironies that Cox himself appreciated and indeed frequently explored.
Of course what would be nicer, and grander would be for someone to assemble a nice retrospective selection of Peter's work so that there might be some homage to his entire career as a quirky, independent voice in Australian film. That's a genus that is nowhere near as prominent as it used to be and its probably time to remind people of just what has been done by some of those who battled away in far more difficult times. More to come...