Saturday, 4 April 2020

FILMSTRUCK: A LIfe in the Movies - John Baxter's memoirs now published and on sale.

John Baxter
I hadn’t seen John Baxter for years. But I had suggested his name to the NFSA as someone worthy of a commissioned and hopefully authoritative oral history and this had been agreed as a project for some time in the future using field recording equipment. The main impetus for my suggestion had been a reading way back of John’s “A Pound of Paper: Confessions of a Book Addict”– a free-wheeling biographical riff on the life of a book collector, bibliophile and would be man of letters. Book collectors, and the associated trades of dealers, runners and others had been a similar fascination of mine for some time, an interest sharpened when I happened upon a TV film by Iain Sinclair and Chris Petit about the comic elements of the trade. 

Reading “A Pound of Paper” provided the basic research to talk to John about his life and I expected that a rollicking conversation might be had which filled in all sorts of cracks, especially with a focus on the moments his life had touched film-related activities.  To that end I contacted John and advised I would be in Paris in July 2019, following Bologna’s Il Cinema Ritrovato.

And so it was that I sat down in the apartment in Rue de l’Odéon. From the balcony you could see the ruined towers of Notre-Dame and up the street the Theatre de l’Odéon. I learned later from Philippa Hawker that the apartment was long ago once occupied by another expat Australian Agnes Goodsir.
Wikipedia tells us that Goodsir’s early art training was at the Bendigo School of Mines and Industries and in 1899 some of her work was raffled in Bendigo to partly finance her study in Paris. From about 1912 she shuttled between London and Paris, but finally settled in Paris in 1921 at rue de l’Odéon. Goodsir died in Paris, France in 1939.
I started talking about the little festival I was involved in back in Sydney, Cinema Reborn an event provoked by a near-decade long annual pilgrimage to Bologna to see the latest restorations of classics and others scattered amongst some frequently very esoteric retrospective material unearthed from the archives and collections of the world. 

John Baxter, Federico Fellini
That led to a suggestion. 2020 would be the 100thanniversary of the birth of Federico Fellini. John proposed that he might time a return to Australia to celebrate the maestro’s life and career. Cinema Reborn would host a discussion about the director and present one or more of his films. Also mentioned as a possible program item was a screening of a documentary by John’s wife Marie-Dominique Montel and Christopher Jones devoted to the decades long feud between Fellini and Luchino Visconti. In the end the program was set. John would have a conversation with ABC Radio’s Jason Di Rosso, then Marie-Dominique and Christopher’s film would be screened. That would be followed by a screening of Fellini’s 1957 Nights of Cabiria  and the day would conclude with a screening of the Film Foundation’s restoration of Visconti’s 1963 Palme d’Or winner The Leopard.  It would have been quite a day….. until the coronavirus pandemic stopped the event in its tracks.

John also passed me a copy of a book he had himself published in recent days, a limited edition, each numbered signed and inscribed. “The Paris Men’s Salon” was a collection of unpublished memoirs, reportage, fiction and more. Highly autobiographical and evidence of the sprightly and, well, interesting life that John had lived.

John Baxter is an adept memoirist. Those who read the aforementioned “A Pound of Paper: Confessions of a Book Addict” would know he has quite a turn of phrase, an ability to evoke the life and times of the day. In recent years he has put this skill to good use with a series of books devoted to his adopted home Paris chronicling its literary and artistic history. Following my return to Australia john sent me a number of pieces he had written about film in all its manifestations. There was a piece about students spotting the appearance of chickens in movies; a memory of days at the Commonwealth Film Unit in the company of the great Cecil Holmes; meeting Don Siegel and encountering Lex Lipton. (Who?). I was delighted to publish them on this blog and the posts got a lot of page views.

Like any writer Baxter has accumulated a lifetime worth of unpublished, discarded and rejected reports, memories, reflections, observations, commentaries, confessions and more, all chronicling bits and pieces of the life of a mostly freelance writer. The published writing – novels, biographies, criticism, reportage, TV, radio and film scripts – has appeared in everything from press releases to fine volumes, fanzines to quality journals. From an early age, Baxter has rarely stopped for breath and his enthusiasm for writing never diminished.

The latest product of that lifetime are the now two self-published volumes which gather up a host of material devoted to his literary and film interests.  Following “the Paris Men’s Salon is the latest, “Filmstruck: A Life in the Movies”, hot off the press. The Fellini show John planned at Cinema Reborn would have enabled it to have a public debut. Sales would have been made at the festival information table. It was assumed an eager public would leap upon it. The timing was perfect for it includes John’s wonderful recounting of just how he came to write the only English-language authorised biography of Fellini, a story of enthusiasm, luck, coincidence and dogged application.

Those who might be so interested would include many Australians who get a mention therein and are still living: David Donaldson, David Stratton, Barrie Pattison, Brian Hannant, Antony I Ginnane, Richard Brennan, Barry Oakley, Tom Burlinson, and anybody who worked at the Commonwealth Film Unit back in the day when it was Stanley Hawes’ fiefdom.  Passing mentions go to many still, I think, living – Ian Dunlop, James McCarthy, Ron West, Meg Stewart, Bruce Beresford, Peter Weir, Wendy Weir, Chris McGill, Margaret Cole, Neil Smith, Jack Thompson, Judy Davis, Dean Semler and Gillian Armstrong. The ghosts of Edmund Allison, Frank Hardy, Cecil Holmes, Ian Klava, Joan Long and a sneaky CIA spook named Friedkin may also be especially interested.

Copies of the two books of John Baxter’s private memoirs are for sale. $30 each volume or $50 for the two plus postage. Contact 
  for bank deposit details.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.