Saturday 25 May 2019

Adrian Martin - I Was Insulted and Robbed by Metro! (And Lived to Tell the Tale)

Adrian Martin
Preface: The following text was commissioned for a dossier in the special 200th issue of the renowned Australian film/media magazine, Metro. It was rejected as unsuitable for the context. Film Alert 101 now presents this texte maudit.

When you stop for a moment to consider it, Metro has achieved something quite remarkable. It has stayed afloat – as a weighty print publication, no less – for 56 years! Other classic magazines founded in the 1960s or ‘70s (such as Cinema Papers and Filmnews) have come and gone in Australian film history, while several newer ones (Screening the PastSenses of Cinema) have tenaciously maintained their online platform since the late 1990s. Many others (including BuffMeshRouge and The Australian Journal of Screen Theory) have simply disappeared after relatively short stretches of existence, or quickly diversified into a more diffuse (and international) media and cultural studies arena, as did the academic journal Continuum.

But the case of Metro – and its sibling, Screen Education (distant child of that mid ‘90s fling, Metro Education) – is unique. From the outset, it defined its central constituency – professionals associated with the Australian Teachers of Media (ATOM) – and faithfully served it, while at the same time broadening its appeal to those with a general interest in cinema, TV, radio, and (more recently) digital media. 

Whenever I think of the humble but resilient Metro empire, I naturally think of Peter Tapp. In fact, I attended the same teachers’ college as he did in the late 1970s, and I vividly remember a Super-8 epic he made with a dapper friend of his named Richard: in this discreetly staged film, a well-dressed British gentleman commits ritual Seppuku (suicide) by disembowelling himself with the sharp end of an umbrella. That movie sums up Peter’s sensibility rather well, I feel. Certainly, it must take samurai-like nerves to have chased so many advertisements, brokered so many institutional collaborations, and diversified into so many entrepreneurial schemes as Peter has managed to do for Metro since the 1990s. I doubt whether the magazine could have survived, in its present form and shape, without him.

Peter has always been more an operator – in the noblest sense, bien sûr– than an editor per se; that’s why, I assume, he restructured the magazine’s set-up to include a long procession of hard-working editors down the years. Peter had furrowed the path to his life at Metroby managing an earlier, now long defunct publication of the 1980s, Filmviews, which was tied to the nation’s once flourishing film society movement. I recall, when Peter was still in charge of everything in his early days at Metro, that I initiated a regular column titled “Cinemania” (issue 87, Spring 1991). After this first volley appeared, I waited for word of the next deadline. It never came, and issue 88 appeared (much to my surprise) without me. “What happened?”, I asked Peter, and he gave me a typically calm, measured and pragmatic response: “Well, you didn’t send anything in!” Perhaps in 2019, I should deliver Part 2 of “Cinemania”, only 28 years late.

I was there for Peter’s 100thMetroissue in Summer 1994/95. But I was also around 15 years earlier, when the magazine was run by a dedicated crew led by Helen Kon, Peter Hamilton and Lee Burton. Other figures I recall as being especially active in Melbourne’s media education scene of that time were Imre Hollosy, Ivan Gaal (whose splendid film work I covered in issue 176, Autumn 2013) and John Benson – it was the era of hothouse “in-service seminars” designed to bring secondary school teachers up to speed with the latest radical screen theories from abroad. And I also recall a shadowy assistant who will not be named here, but whose story can now be told, as it was reconstructed for me shortly after the fact by Helen and her associates.

In the early 1980s, I wrote several feature articles for Metro; I was barely 21 at the time, but I was giving it my all. The several hundred dollars that I had accrued from this labour seemed like a fortune to me, then. (As it does, several global economic depressions later, now.) But oddly, the money never arrived in the mail. When I plucked up the courage to ask Helen about it, she confessed to me something odd: this assistant had, on the pretext of saying that they were about to meet me at the pub, taken the full amount in cash. Once this criminal skulduggery had been gleaned, Metrodid the gallant thing and paid me again, and that assistant didn’t have a job there for very much longer. But I was also informed, in the wash-up, that an especially offensive “Letter to the Editor” published in a previous issue, referring to my “circumlocutory crap style” of writing, had indeed been written, under a suitably Monty Python-esque pseudonym, by this same charming character who briefly haunted (and tainted) the Metro office. Just to add insult to injury, as the saying goes!

Metro is an imposing and seductive monument in the landscape of Australian film/media culture; the proof is the fact that, almost four decades after having been robbed and defiled by it, I was still willing to write for it. Strangely, it no longer carries a “Letters to the Editor” page. I wonder why that is?

© Adrian Martin, May 2019

Editor's Note: Adrian Martin's latest book is  Mysteries of Cinema (cover below)

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