Tuesday 3 April 2018

Vale Gil Brealey - David Hare recalls the life of a great contributor to the Australian cinema

I am keen to put up this notification although Gil was a fine age at 85 when he died. 
Don Groves is rightfully unsparing in his obituary in Inside Film about the bitchery and ego stomping so characteristic of the movie biz and arts administrations in general, which were responsible for the appalling time Gil had after daring to step in with the disastrous opening of Sunday Too Far Awaywhich was proving basically unplayable to audiences, and supervising a massive re-edit which gave Ken Hannam's film the structure and the presence it needed. The opproprium he had to wear for this was and is unspeakable. 
On a much lighter note, I used to run into Gil and his very long time partner, Rodney Sangwell often back when (together since the 70s). I first met them both in 1976 after I'd moved to Adelaide for work at the ABC where Gil had himself originally worked before moving to the Oz Film Commission. The occasion of our meeting was the very Sunday the newly elected Fraser government announced the award of Gil's Order of Australia. I had only been in Adelaide a couple of months and on this Queen's Birthday Weekend Sunday I had been brought to the annual Adelaide QB gay picnic in the McLaren Vale which was organized by the local society queens ("what passes for society in Adelaide" sniffed one of them) by a pal and older colleague from the ABC, the late MIchael Ingamells who had me under his wing. I meekly congratulated Gil for this very first signal honor and he replied with completely unaffected modesty, "Oh it's nothing really, I don't know what to say". 
A little later that day he gave me some sage advice that I found I had to live by for the next 15 working years at the cesspool of ego and mismanagement that was and is the ABC. I mentioned how bitchy some of the local Gay glitterati were in Adelaide at this increasingly boozy afternoon. "If you want bitchy," he said, " just watch your back at the ABC. The arts invented bitchy. Bitchy is normal Just watch your back. " He was right and I learnt that lesson early thanks to Gil. 
It was impossible not to get on with Gill and Rodney like a house on fire, indeed here in 1976 the whole State and Oz politics in general was still buzzing form the exhilaration of the Whitlam years and the whirlwind that had taken over the Oz movie business, one in which Gil was a very powerful and historic player. 
Then, after that palmy 1976 year of Adelaide Dunstaniana, an "Age d'Or" if ever there was one, I went back to Sydney to face other realities of my own. Indeed, Gil and Rodney also left the town when he went on to head the Vic Film Commission, and much more. Ultimately they ended up living North of Sydney, first on one of the Hawkesbury Islands which must have been a very pleasurable refuge from the smoke, and finally in Leura. Rod is still with us. 
A propos of Rod I want to recall one among many anecdotes of his appearances around town as an Arts, and especially a Theatre, tragic. During one of the Adelaide Festivals - possibly 78 or 80, a tribe of us went to the Playhouse for a Rodney Fisher production of “Coriolanus”, possibly an Oz commercial first, indeed a Shakespeare which back then was not on anyone's front page, even for a company like John Bell's or the RSC Aldwych. The play had huge political resonances in the wake of the coup which brought about the dismissal of Whitlam's government in 1975. Anyway we all dutifully watched it, but at the end it was given what can only be called polite applause. I stood to get myself together and saw Rodney, always a striking, big, handsome guy who looked like a lumberjack, turning and opening his mouth to project in that booming baritone I had come to know and love, to the balcony: "FABULOUS! FABULOUS! I ADORE Coriolanus. I’ve seen four productions, the greatest of the Tragedies". 
Everyone around us looked on in a mixture of approval or shock and the evening came to a merry close. And every time I ran into them every few years, Sydney airport more than usual, I would remind Rodney of Coriolanus.
Vale Gil.

1 comment:

  1. Agree with the note. Gil's autobiography Final Cut (self-published) jas much on above themes, and on much else about film making.


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