|Colin Bennett (Photo: Bronwyn Murphy, NFSA)
Colin Bennett was a film critic based in Melbourne. During the interview Colin revealed he had written a memoir of his life in film. In this extract from that memoir he recalls the tribulations of his work for The Age, his broadcasting and television career and the beginning of his role as a Board Member and Chairman of the Australian Film Institute.
This is the second extract from that unpublished memoir, written in 1995 and titled Reflections in the Dark - Film Writings 1952-1980. A third and final extract will be published shortly. Part One can be found if you click here.
Special thanks to Sharon Caris for her assistance in both facilitating the NFSA interview and for her help in getting this material together.
PART TWO – Critical Conditions
For the first 10 years or so, the Age permitted me to devote only two days a week to the cinema. Newsmen considered it was a perk between important assignments such as reporting State Parliament. Literary page efforts each Saturday had to be written in my own time at home, during the previous weekend. Eventually, thanks to a new editor, Graham Perkin, I became the first full-time critic in Australia and even managed to make two world trips to film festivals.
|Henri Langlois outside the then Cinematheque francaise
In Prague I succeeded in disrupting a film set by tripping over cables. In Hollywood I cruised through Universal City in Rock Hudson’s Cadillac (minus Rock). In an embarrassing ceremony in Moscow I was trapped into marching on stage with three other Australians to accept red roses from a Soviet girl guide: this was in honour of an Australian film, Storm Boy, that I had nothing to do with.
And in my penultimate week as a critic I found myself in the strange
position of reviewing a student film in which I had acted as stunt man for the
horse riding scenes. The film was a fantasy about Ned Kelly and I was made to
ride encased in the uncomfortable suit of armour worn by Mick Jagger in the
Tony Richardson film. The slit in the helmet allowed “pillarbox” vision only. I
had to rely on my horse to take the right route and stop at the right spot. In
vain I protested that Ned himself never rode in armour.
|Greg Rowe, David Gulpilil, Storm Boy
For a couple of years at the Age I doubled as theatre critic as well, reviewing everything from the premiere of My Fair Lady to Danny Kaye. I also inherited ABC radio programs, reviewing weekly with Keith Manzie of the Argus and Newman Rosenthal of Melbourne University’s Audio-Visual Aids department. These critics’ shows continued in one form or another for 20 years, although I was never very comfortable with unscripted discussion. Some writers are just not cut out to be speakers. When, finally, I was persuaded to become Chairman of the Australian Film Institute, it was only on the condition that I did not have to chair any meetings!
When it came to solo talks on radio, I relaxed a little. “Imagine you’re in a pub,” said my producer helpfully. “You’re chatting intimately to one person across the bar. He’s your mate and his name’s Mike.” I tried this technique but when we played it back, my baritone still turned rapidly into a bass, somewhere deep in my boots.
Once the autocue system arrived, I was happy to appear on television -- and happier still when programs were no longer telecast live. Before that, the producer would rig up what looked like a rolling piece of lavatory paper for me to read. It was hardly satisfactory. Instead, I would learn my script word for word, a whole hour of it, then act it out for the camera as naturally as possible, as though it were off-the-cuff. I even laced the written words with ‘ums’ and ‘ers’ and repetitions to make them sound impromptu.
|Mike Todd (l), Shirley MacLaine, David Niven
One of the many premieres of
Around the World in Eighty Days
I watched films absolutely alone in a 2000-seat cinema. Several times I had to squat in the aisle or stand at the back. Once I was turned away by the House Full sign.
|Neville & Heather Shute (Norway)
In one cinema I attended regularly, an old man was found dead in the back row; in the same stalls, another night, a baby was born. The score was even, and perhaps that says something about the relationship of reality to the illusion in which the cinema deals. I am not precisely sure what.
|Hoyts Lyceum, Exterior, Bourke St Melbourne
( Thanks Michael Campi)
|Hoyts Lyceum, Melbourne, Interior
(Thanks Brian Pearson)