Scenario by Paul Carter in association with Ettore Siracusa
1. Sources and treatment.
The House of Doctor Duende was planned as an approximately 50-60 minute feature. It is based on Paul Carter’s work of fiction, Baroque Memories (Carcanet, 1994) and follows closely the structural logic of the book – Baroque Memories is itself conceived in parts as a film scenario, making our film not so much an adaptation as a natural development of the work in another medium.
2. Scene breakdown
- Dr Duende wakes up and, half-opening his eyes, glimpses through the lace-curtained window a white facade. He smiles. He closes his eyes. He opens them again; he gets up, goes over to the window, pulls aside the curtain. The white facade reminds him of home. He says the word “Home”. He breaks into a laugh. He shakes his head. He turns away from the window. The light of the white facade brightens the room. By its light he dresses. He exits. Laughing.
- Duende enters a long hall – it runs the length of his house. He begins to walk down the corridor: its far end is a square of morning light, blazing bright, empty, beautiful. There are photographs on the wall: they show views of a city. There is a photograph album on a side-table. There is a cape hanging on the wall. There is a suitcase. Also a fishing-rod.
- We are in another place. It is the city Duende calls “Home”. There is a dazzling white facade (or a detail of it). Up the street comes a woman carrying a suitcase; from time to time she stops, puts down the suitcase, consults – what? – a guide-book, a map – no: it is a photograph album. She is alone. The sun is blazing. It is summer, desolate. The white facade shimmers, hypnotic. As if she stands in a photograph. Then a man approaches her from the other direction: he keeps stopping to examine the buildings, as if he is looking for a particular address. He is so absorbed in what he is doing that he almost bumps into her. She steps aside. He steps aside. His name is Christopher. She is annoyed. He is apologetic. Then they notice they both have video-cameras. They smile. Pigeons circle overhead.
- Nostalgia climbs into view. She is boarding a ship. We can hear the ringing sound of her shoes on the metal-steps. She looks up: seagulls circle overhead. At the top of the steps a woman (not unlike her) is waving, crying, looking over Nostalgia’s head towards the land. It is unclear whether the ship is about to depart or just arriving. We can see her waving, crying, but we cannot hear her. The woman turns, she wipes away her tears; she grows still, combs her hair (uses a mirror). She begins to smile, a fixed smile. She is having her photograph taken. Nostalgia turns away and finds a man looking at her: Martin Magellan. Magellan bears a passing resemblance to Doctor Duende.
- Duende comes to the end of the corridor and enters the waiting room to his surgery. The waiting room is a typical one: on the walls are posters of Italy. It is empty. He passes through it to his surgery. He closes the door behind him, as if entering a private world. He sits at his desk. He pulls out and begins to his patients’ case reports; he selects one and begins to read it. We hear of a woman who suffers from a peculiar form of amnesia which can be cured by looking at photographs. Duende ponders a therapeutic technique he is thinking of publishing called Photographic Recall. His reverie is interrupted. A knock on the door, a woman comes in, she points to the photographs on the wall, she points to herself, as if she recognises herself in the photograph. She laughs, she cries, she pulls a face. We cannot hear her: all we can hear is Duende’s voice.
- Duende walks down the corridor again. This time, however, he pauses outside the first door on the left. He opens the door; he walks into the room. It is the Duende family living room. His wife is kneeling on the carpet. In front of her are some photographs of buildings cut out from an Italian magazine. There is a shoebox of similar photographs on the carpet beside her: she turns these out, and begins trying to fit the new photographs and the old ones together. Mrs Duende is evidently distressed; her movements grow increasingly frantic. Nostalgia sits at a piano, watching her mother. She moves to her mother, she touches her; she tries to comfort her. She is weeping. Duende watches the scene. Nostalgia looks up at him. He is angry. She is angry. He turns away.
- Christopher walks away down the street. Nostalgia begins to take a video of Christopher walking away: our image of Christopher is Nostalgia’s. We hear a short conversation between Christopher and Nostalgia. (“Haven’t we met somewhere before?”) They introduce themselves. Nostalgia does not know where she is – no street signs! Christopher explains that they are standing in the Street of the Mimic: in the video we see Christopher turning to face us; he is play-acting, flirting with Nostalgia, being funny; finally, he stops cavorting about and turns into an old man with a limp. He is sad, genuinely pathetic, like a clown beseeching his public to applaud.
- From his deckchair Martin Magellan watches Nostalgia walk along the deck. The ship is at sea, the deck is rolling. She adjusts her step to the rise and fall and lean of the deck; she appears to execute a slow dance as she weaves about, tottering to the left, now to the right. She is free of care, light-headed. Is she going to faint? Martin Magellan muses: at sea our stories, our lives, don’t proceed in straight lines but by a mazy motion. Suddenly, fearing Nostalgia is about to fall, Martin Magellan, leaps to his feet, catches her and carries her to a deckchair where he gently deposits her. Nostalgia, however, stands up, she waves goodbye as she walks away. Magellan folds his newspaper, finds his panama and stands up, thinking she is beckoning. But it is only the sunlight glittering on the waves, on the portholes …
- Duende and his wife are entertaining neighbours in their living room/parlour. They speak in the language of the old country. Nostalgia (a little girl, but in some way recognisably the same woman we have already met) hands round cakes, coffee. Mrs Duende shows her photograph album; Duende is uneasy: he explains his wife’s “obsession” with the album as a form of depression. He doesn’t want his neighbours to think that they are not happy in Australia, that they suffer from nostalgia. To show how well-assimilated they are, he asks Nostalgia to entertain them with an Australian song at the piano. As she plays, Mrs Duende starts in a low voice to sing a lullaby (or is it a lament for a lost child). The neighbours grow nervous, they get up, make apologies, they leave. Mrs Duende’s song slowly drowns out the child’s song: Nostalgia, distressed and embarrassed, gets down from the piano and runs out. She closes her bedroom door behind her and lies on the bed in the darkness. We can hear her mother still singing: it is the adult Nostalgia who is listening to her mother’s ghost voice in the dark.
- Moonlight bathes the Duendes’ bedroom. Mrs Duende lies asleep. Duende wakes up, he blinks. A fire-engine, its alarm screaming, careers down the street. He goes over to the window: the white facade glows mysteriously in the moonlight. As if making up his own story, he says, “all this time his view of the white facade was slowly changing.” His wife is talking in her sleep. He looks at her. He listens: sounds of distant trains. He stumbles out of the bedroom into the corridor. He goes to Nostalgia’s bedroom. He opens the door, turns on the light. The room is empty. We see that it has been adapted as a darkroom. At Nostalgia’s little-girl desk he sits down, he covers his face with his hands, he says, “Sometimes he would look away, cover his face with his hands and, to all appearances, allow tears to course down his cheeks.”
- Christopher and Nostalgia walk together. The narrow street is crowded with people, vehicles, bicycles. They are forced to step aside, to dodge the traffic. There are pretexts to hold each other’s hands. To dance, to pretend to be Swan Lake lovers. There is a feeling of light-headedness on land: as if the street was a kind of floating set: rooftops, dazzle of sound and sight. They reach a small piazza dwarfed by a baroque facade. Christopher explains that he is looking for a Baroque photographer called Grazioni. Grazioni invented the camera profunda.: he used it for recording spaces. Nostalgia does not know whether to take Christopher seriously. Nostalgia tells Christopher about her mother’s attempt to put “home” back together by assembling old photographs. Christopher does not know whether to take Nostalgia seriously. They recognise in each other mimics. They embrace with exaggerated, affectedly erotic gestures. Suddenly they are surprised by a huge and threatening group of tourists, all lenses and hungry curiosity. The crowd freezes on seeing the lovers, and looks at them voyeuristically (like a cinema audience gazing at the screen). Christopher is embarrassed: “Not here,” he says. “Then, where?” Nostalgia replies, scornfully, “In the cinema?” The crowd pushes forward and overwhelms them. Scattered pigeons ascend to the roof of the white facade.
(Continued to scene 28)
Note: Scenes 12 to 28 omitted from this presentation.
PICTURE PALACES – TOPOGRAPHICAL WALKS
The topographical walks rely principally on two strands of silent images: strand 1, a comprehensive collection of archival photographs showing parts of interior and exterior views of the picture theatres of the city of Melbourne; strand 2 follows with a series of ‘supplements’ (detours) of a variety of other images, comprising video sequences inside and outside the sites where the picture theatres were or are presently located.
The two parts work in tandem as a series of inferential walks, figuring analogies and passages between past-present, inside-outside, intended to animate and add a spatio-temporal perspective to the archive. The visual phenomena, fleeting images captured along its itinerary, function as connecting ‘lanes’, threshold, passage ways, towards a set of improvisations, provisional performances, imaginary meditations, on what moves past the sightseer-viewer.
Inside, stands for the auditorium where the film viewer is situated, figured as a space between immobility (the spectator at his seat) and transportation (the imaginary space on the screen). Outside, is the street, the facades, more importantly the areas between the street and the auditorium, the lobby/foyer and the footpath figured as a threshold, a space-in-between, outside-inside.
THE HOUSE OF DOCTOR DUENDE – INTRODUCTION
In the character of Duende his wife and their daughter, Nostalgia, the conventional migrant drama of displacement is turned inside out; Duende, self-styled therapist of the migrant condition, cultivates an art of forgetting, while Nostalgia, trapped by her name, struggles to arrive; in between them Mrs Duende collects photographs of the old country, discovering a nostalgia she never knew before.
Technologies of recollection play an important part in the story: Nostalgia is a video-maker, but perhaps most telling is Duende’s meditation on the white facade: in the “mere coincidence” of its resemblance to a baroque style familiar to him from the old country, he glimpses the constitutional doubleness of his life in Australia; but the facade is also the blank screen on to which the film is projected; the challenge is to free it of projections, in that blankness to confront the possibility of living in a new country free of nostalgia.
Duende’s vision is comic and tragic: to earn the right to meditate uninterruptedly on his surroundings, he must lose his daughter. In compensation a steady flow of “patients” come to him seeking a cure for their migrant condition, but his pseudo-Freudian examinations are distinctly dadaesque. Their memories make very little sense, and yet out of them Duende builds a house where he can live; furnished with their memories, he can exorcise his own.
This last theme, prominent in The House of Doctor Duende, is hardly to be found in the original story; it developed logically from the decision to base the clinical episodes in our script on oral testimonies, some in the collection of the Italian Historical Society, others collected ourselves – the odd detachment of these far surpassed anything fiction could invent, and they gave our treatment a surreal sureness of circumstantial detail that once again plunged us lovingly into the alienation of the migrant’s experience.
To counter this regression – certainly Duende would have seen it thus – we had to attend to the character of the medium itself; we introduced a conversation between Duende and his wife, evoking the nostalgia that entered film with the arrival of the talkies; we had two builders enigmatically discussing the effect on memory of Eisensteinian montage. But mostly we countered the nostalgia inherent perhaps in the camera’s gaze by giving equal attention to the superficially naturalistic plot outlined above, to the actors preparing (together with Carter’s own directorial instructions) and, most resistantly, by inserting into our dialectical series another sequence (or perhaps anti-sequence) of streetscapes, featuring the baroque facades characteristic of Melbourne’s inner city suburbs.
The Text Page Thus the contractedness of our video essay seemed to be intimately related to the construction of the “house” of Doctor Duende which, even if it harboured other people’s memories, was chiefly remarkable for its lack of historical attachments, its propensity to shape a destiny out of mere coincidences. It was the capacity of these mere coincidences to inaugurate new trains of thought (and at length to elaborate ever more complicated local traditions) that rendered them baroque. But in Carter’s fiction to be baroque was to see the world cinematographically, that is, to grasp it as an infinite surface, a screen capable of endless transformation but quite without depth. Hence truly to inhabit the house of Doctor Duende would also be to learn to look at film without being taken in by its imagery, to escape the illusionism of the third dimension, and to focus instead on the spatiality without background peculiar to its temporal constitution.
THE HOUSE OF DOCTOR DUENDE – RELEASE SCRIPT
Release Script of Video tape recording
Duration, 28’-23”. Pal SD.
Directed by Ettore Siracusa.
Words and adaptations from ‘Baroque Memories’ by Paul Carter
Super over projection of slides of baroque facades in the city of Lecce (Italy).
2. The ‘White Façade’. Dawn.
The pediment of a house (baroque) facade and its radiant, sunrise form scallop shell.
A black and white photograph hangs on the wall.
It sits inside a dark brown, lightly tooled frame.
3. Bedroom. Dawn.
Close Up of a thirties Photograph of the main square of Lecce.
DUENDE (V/O) (Cont’d)
The photograph, dating from the Fascist era of public works, depicts a piazza under construction. Older buildings have been cleared, or stand in ruin, about the newly opened space. An unfinished arcade, and set in to the cleared ground the foundations of a Roman theatre. Horses and carts, early cars; huddles of men;
Doctor Duende asleep. His face is observed from behind and above (upside_down). His eyes half open.
DUENDE (V/O) (Cont’d)
workmen stand about looking at the camera, staring, frozen.
The figure of Duende silhouetted against a blaze of light of the curtained window: He pulls aside the curtain, begins to laugh to himself; in a tone that is quizzical, as if he is quoting a word foreign to him.
4. ‘The White Façade’. Early Morning.
The facade continues to burn.
DUENDE (V/O) (Cont’d)
5. Outside. Streets and Houses. Early Morning.
A montage of views of streets and houses facades of the suburb
DUENDE (V/O) (Cont’d)
6. The Hall.
Doctor Duende enters the Hall. At its far end is a square of morning light, blazing bright, empty, beautiful. Doctor Duende knocks at the door of Nostalgia’s Bed Room. He pauses. He listens.
… one of the scenes in which Doctor Duende is carrying out his therapy…
Anther view of the Hall. He walks away
CARTER’S (V/O Cont’d)
Doctor Duende is a kind of doctor.
7. Rehearsal Studio 1
Carter talks to actor (off screen) about the figure of Doctor Duende.
…He is creating his own philosophy on memory. He is trying to cure a certain condition of what he sees around him, as part of his philosophy of life which is to be here. How does one arrive…
8. Parlour. day
Nostalgia practising at the piano.
CARTER (Voice Over)
He takes solace from the white facade. He takes solace from the incidental things in life. He likes mispronunciation, the trivia of life.
9. The Hall.
Tracking shot. Duende walks down the hall. Behind him trails Nostalgia. Camera turns towards and pans along the photographs of Lecce along the wall of the hallway.
So to make a living he opens a surgery… a patient comes along… everything centres on the condition of migrant nostalgia.
10. The Surgery. Day
The mantelpiece encrusted with photographs, arranged like votive offerings at an altar. The camera contemplate this interior within an interior.
Duende walks past the door of Surgery carrying a bust.
DUENDE (Voice Over)
Can you remember?
11. Recording Studio 1
In the Studio, two actors (Simon Palomares and Paul Karo) read the scene of Doctor Duende in the surgery talking to the STATUE MAKER.
STATUE MAKER: The song? There used to be a song: Se potessi avere mille lire.
DUENDE: Can you remember?
STATUE MAKER: I could speak you know without any dialect. No accent
DUENDE: Can you remember?
STATUE MAKER: My initial impressions? Finger-printed like a criminal.
DUENDE: Can you remember?
STATUE MAKER (increasingly agitated): I rented a room. Not enough money. I applied to the Authorities.
DUENDE: Can you remember?
12. Recording Studio 2
STATUE MAKER: The name of my ship: Esquilino.
DUENDE: Your father? Your father!?
13. The Parlour
Duende enters the room carrying a statue in his arms. He places the statue on a table. He turns to Nostalgia. He talks to her about the origins of the Statue. His words heard as Voice Over.
DUENDE (Voice Over):
He could not tell me his name. He worked in a statue-factory.
Different workers specialised in different kinds of statues, from which they took their names. Hermes carved heads on pillars; he also sculpted scallop-shells. St. Michael and St. Gabriel, all the winged watchers over our tombs, were the province of Angelo. Now, I said to myself, if his fragments made a figure, could he remember his name?
14. Recording Studio
Actor continues to read the part of the Statue Maker. (Duende Voice-Off)
DUENDE Your Father?
STATUE MAKER: I am sorry. When the war was – I am sorry – when the war broke out my father was … they put him in jail.
STATUE MAKER: In Marassi, Genova. That is the name of the jail. I believe it’s still the same.
STATUE MAKER: They wanted me to tell them how I received the letters. Yes, they wanted to find out. In return, they said: we will help you learn English. “Ignorance of the English language is not an insurmountable handicap.” We will place you in a job. What can you turn your hand to? They placed me in a statue factory.
DUENDE: Your father? Carve me a statue of your father.
STATUE MAKER: But I have still got an accent.
DUENDE: Yes, your father. Do that for me.
STATUE MAKER: I had a very good employment. I didn’t need to come to Australia. I had at that time one thousand lire a month.
15. The Parlour
Duende, wordlessly, continues to tell her the story of the Statue Maker.
(The Text is heard as Voice Over).
He had nothing to pay me with. Made me accept the statue – even if it is not a very good likeness, he said. Even if it is not a very good likeness!
I realised, learning to forget, he was cured.
16. Montage sequence of Statues and Facades
I am building my house out of their memories.Practising the art of forgetfulness, I profit from what they leave behind.
17. Houses and Streets of the Suburb. Day.
DUENDE (Voice Over):
Do not mind your nostalgia, do not feel guilty. Living with your cast-off worlds I live in Paradise.
18. The Parlour Room
The girl Nostalgia is practising at the piano.
19. The Surgery
Doctor Duende talks to patient, EGNAZIA. The camera frames the mantelpiece with the photographs and a large mirror with the reflection of Doctor Duende. EGNAZIA walks down a flight of stairs and enters the surgery.
20. Recording Studio 2
The actor (Mary Sitarinos) reads the part of Egnazia. Duende is heard off screen.
EGNAZIA: Marconi is Chinese . My father used to say: if you say an Italian invented the radio, they cannot believe their ears.
DUENDE: What reminds you of this?
EGNAZIA: The music.
DUENDE: It is not the radio. It is Nostalgia.
21. Rehearsal Studio 1
EGNAZIA: On the 14th, or it may have been the 15th, of September 1951, my father was sitting on the steps of the dock, with a camera.
The actor (Mary) stops reading. She turns to director (Off Screen)
ACTOR: I haven’t got the memory of that one – have I? I haven’t got the memory… I am losing it. Sorry I’ll come back in… (she repeats the words to herself) On the fourteenth or it may have been… can I take that back again?
22. The Surgery
Egnazia comes into the surgery once again. She wears different clothes
DUENDE (V/O): Egnazia shares her name with an ancient city. The city walls, the buildings, the brothels, the bars, the palaces, have long turned to dust. All that remains is a faint pattern in the field, an outline of streets.
23. The Recording Studio 2
EGNAZIA: It was a unique camera, a movie camera, with the thing you could wind up by hand. And he took the women coming off the ship. Like the EXIT of the Ladies Lounge. And there was my mother!
DUENDE: So that always stays in your mind?
EGNAZIA: It is one little snapshot of history.
( Image Dissolve)
EGNAZIA: I can still see it. I don’t know where I misplaced it.
24. The Surgery
Egnazia comes into the Surgery carrying a parrot in a bird cage covered in a red cloth.
DUENDE’S (Voice Over): Egnazia looked at our photographs; and suddenly, where there had been a blank, a city of memories sprang into view. Pointing at my family photographs, she introduces me to her family.
EGNAZIA (Voice Over) Carlo’s mother, she was a pianist, used to play in the city for the silent movies.
She said she could see a piano.
EGNAZIA: We had a little piano out of Stonato come una campana. It needed to be tuned badly. And that fellow, he said he was a piano-tuner. Real rospo, you know, contadino. But nice. But he went bang, bang, bang, to get the tune. Left my little piano broken.
DUENDE (Voice Over): Please…
Photographic Recall, my most distinctive contribution to psychiatry, arose directly from this experience, Nostalgia. For what contributes more to the art of forgetting than the photograph?
25. Facades. Day
Two views of an old house front
26. The Parlour. Photograph.
Close up of an old photograph taken on a roof of a school in Lecce showing a camera with actors and a crew shooting a scene of a film.
CARTER (Voice Over)
The photographs belongs to a collection a collection Mrs Duende has been making eversince she came to Australia. Its a collection she’s putting together to try and recover her lost city, this other place.
27. The Parlour. Night.
Mrs Duende is kneeling on the carpet surrounded by the collection of photographs. She is repairing the photographs that Egnazia has injured. Nostalgia leaves the Piano and walks over to kneel next to her. Duende walks around them abstractedly, nervously.
CARTER (Voice Over) Cont’d
Its a sort of little game mother and daughter play – solidarity, you know, what the old country was… Doctor Duende who is advancing his therapy called forgetfulness…
Out of the mass of photographs Nostalgia picks one. Duende glances down at it, recognises it and laughs. (off screen)
28. Rehearsal Studio 1
The scene continues in the Studio.
NOSTALGIA: Who is this?
NOSTALGIA (cheekily): Is it you? Can’t you remember?
29. The Parlour
Nostalgia holds the old photograph. Mrs Duende, looks over, recognising the photograph. (The words of the actors in the studio continue to be heard as Voice Over)
MRS DUENDE: We are on the roof of our school.
DUENDE: Your mother taught the actors diction!
NOSTALGIA: What’s he doing?
MRS DUENDE: Pretending to take a photograph.
DUENDE: No, no, I remember. We were just saying, “Try to forget there is a camera. Act the part, relive the scene
MRS DUENDE (imitating Duende): Forget this mechanical thing looking at you. It’s a killer, eh?
DUENDE: I was teaching them to act without words. Act with your hands. Talk with your face. I used to tell them: this is the silent art.
30. The Parlour
Montage sequence of several shots of crew and actors waiting, or rehearsing a scene in the parlour
MRS DUENDE: Then suddenly there was sound.
DUENDE: Everything attached to the perforation socket.
MRS DUENDE: Synchronism.
DUENDE: We had to get out of the pantomime business … But it was words that did the killing.
31. A Barber Shop
Montage sequence in Vincenzo’s barber-shop, The Voices of the actors in the Studio continue to read the script.
DUENDE (Cont’d): They introduced nostalgia.
NOSTALGIA: What is nostalgia?
MRS DUENDE: It extends your world. It can be called back at any time. Living it again but living it better
DUENDE: It was the death of free flow. We wanted to get away from the word. A glance, a flick of the eyebrow, was more eloquent.
MRS DUENDE: Nostalgia is like going to the cinema.
DUENDE: If we could take away all the languages and go back to 1927.
MRS DUENDE: It is like locking yourself in a dark room and seeing … yes, seeing only the best moments.
DUENDE: Tremendous! Each one of us would have been free to imagine according to our education, our sensibility.
32. The Rehearsal Studio 1
MRS DUENDE: It is like a film with montage, where the bits you don’t want to remember have been cut out and thrown away.
DUENDE: A Russian would see it differently from a Portuguese. But with language …
NOSTALGIA: Who is this?
DUENDE: I can hear his voice.
MRS DUENDEHe had a bad pronunciation.
NOSTALGIA: I just wonder what happened before or what happened just after
DUENDE: Now I recall. There was a great actor in town, and we students invited him.
MRS DUENDE: And he didn’t turn up.
MRS DUENDE: You telephoned. “The master is not to be disturbed.
DUENDE: He was asleep, dreaming of bigger and better things.
NOSTALGIA: Why did you leave?
DUENDE: Tempo. I was a refugee. I had to change drastically
MRS DUENDE: Transplant ourselves
33. Facades Evening
Street and house facades.
34. Duende’s Bedroom. Night
Doctor Duende gazing outside at the white facade
My house is composed of their memories; all the things they had to leave behind. Everything that could be reproduced; everything they wanted. You could imagine cabinets of useless emotions: nostalgia. I used to say to them: I am the mendicant. Bring to me your memories; I will take care of them. There will be no end of the rebuilding.
35. The Studio
The actors ( Simon Palomaras and Paul Karo) are reading a scene set in a Building Site at night where a building worker and a professor are on a scaffolding restoring the facade of a building.
BUILDER ONE: A professor shouldn’t be on the scaffolding.
PROFESSOR: No, really I feel quite at home.
BUILDER ONE: You should be working with your brain – Pass me that head – not your hands.
PROFESSOR: To begin at the beginning is good.
BUILDER ONE (echoing professor ‘s unheard words): Why are the buildings unfinished?
PROFESSOR: You work night and day; yet it seems to me that more buildings than ever are unfinished.
BUILDER ONE: Use your head – and another one, up here – it’s got to come from somewhere. Stands to reason.
PROFESSOR: You mean …?
BUILDER ONE: Knocked off, exactly. They don’t just fall off the back of truck.
36. Recording Studio 2
The actors (Frank Lovece and Frank Karo) continue
PROFESSOR: A man accused of stealing might commit suicide.
BUILDER ONE: His mates wouldn’t stand for it.
PROFESSOR: They would go to the Boss, the Manager.
BUILDER ONE: Another head.
PROFESSOR: A grinning frog.
BUILDER ONE: What? I’ll show you a grinning frog!
PROFESSOR: Dive into the lake, he said.
BUILDER ONE: What?
PROFESSOR: But the frog is too small. It bears no resemblance. Fetch me another.
BUILDER ONE: Come back from the edge. You will fall.
PROFESSOR: One of the team tried the zoo. He still drew a blank.
BUILDER ONE: You are off your head.
PROFESSOR: And when the right frog was found, it was dark, they had run out of film. And the Manager was angry, and they had to jump for their lives
BUILDER ONE: Wake up, my friend, no one is here but you and me.
PROFESSOR: Someone is always watching.
37. The Bedroom Night
Duende at the window . His figure silhouetted on the spectral blue-white curtain fluttering in the breeze. We hear his meditations.
DUENDE (V/O) The house of my own making is the house where I have no memories of my own. You have made this for me; I have learned to forget. The key to living in the present: to attend to the noises, the hidden community. I am like a shadow in this enterprise; hidden in my jacket of cast-off memories, I approach the light.
38. Facade of a large building site. Day
Image cross dissolve.
39. Recording Studio 1
Camera moves in around the actors (Simon and Paul) silhouetted against a large screen.
PROFESSOR: The extraordinary lengths to which people will go to find their likeness endless substitution of parts; the circulation of the planets.
BUILDER ONE: Come on. The vases next. Don’t drop it. How does it end?
PROFESSOR: There’s official work and unofficial work; there is history, and there is the theatre inside history.
BUILDER ONE: It’s finished, and tomorrow.
PROFESSOR: Life? You have to put a brave face on it.
BUILDER ONE: We will take down the scaffolding.
PROFESSOR: Migration? It’s not mass movement but mess movement.
40. The facade of a large building site. Day
Several views of building’s architecture
41. Montage Sequence of Facades
Several views of streets and facades of the suburb Observatory; Graffiti on a wall; Street, car passing. Street. Car parked with graffiti on the wall: ‘still thinking of you’. Street with shop window of men’s wear and bowl of oranges. Observatory; Observatory (tower with round window)
A man came to me …
42. The Shed. Night
From inside a room, the window with the view of a Shed at the end of a backyard.
DUENDE (V/O) (Cont’d)
… for years, he said, he used to retire to the shed to write his book… he used to sing aloud and when he’d forget himself he’d be interrupted by the heart rending sounds of his daughter crying outside the door. As he spoke in a language he couldn’t understand how could she tell he was not mad?
A man (Vincenzo) disappears inside an old shed.
A girl (his daughter) follows him. She stops and stands at the door.
43. Inside. The shed. Night
The man (Vincenzo) sitting at a table writing a letter to the Woman he left behind; off-camera we hear his voice and fragments from her letters. outside the shed a little girl (Vincenzo’s Daughter) listens at the key-hole and cries.
He shuffles up and down the shed. The man sings aloud. He stops. He listens. The girl outside listens at the keyhole outside the door. She cries. (Note: The text that follows is all heard as Voice Over)
VINCENZO: Until I come back, go down to the sea to wait for me.
WOMAN: (off)Mummy is very ill.
VINCENZO: What is the root of the illness?
WOMAN: I am already sick myself.
VINCENZO: All that you are experiencing is too much for you. You must go to the sea. That would be a holiday… …Imagine the voyage. I am standing fearlessly on the ship’s deck; she sways at an angle of 45 degrees from side to side. She plunges in her prow as if she wanted to stand on her head at the bottom of the sea. I am surrounded by sea creatures. A translucent veil emerges from their bodies and dips and lifts coquettishly, they wind and unwind. They roll like skilful swimmers, silently. And the Sirens!
WOMAN: We’ve come from the chief doctor. Six months to live
VINCENZO: I want to dream and I want to be in the waves of the sea. To plunge into a submissive little wave. Let the dam wall give way and drown me
WOMAN: On Monday she’ll be operated on. They’ll take the water from her. Such sadness came over me that I ran home. The idea that I will one day be alone.
VINCENZO: Be careful. To burn your body and then to plunge into the cold, fierce sea. Illness strikes when you least expect. After contact with your mother, always wash your hands well with soap.
VINCENZO: Promise me you won’t go to her. That terrible disease. Go to the sea…
DUENDE (V/O): I said to him: a structure built of sticks and canvas would be more sociable It would be better accommodated to our climate. It would suggest a sensation of being at sea; a new beginning.
44. Inside The Shed
The camera pans along the wall over small square shaped storage shelves until they fade to black.
Now, each weekend he builds a new string and stick shelter, inside which he sits, sometimes with his family, sometimes alone, listening to the sound of the wind in the canvas.
Nothing adheres here. But this is not a criticism. Lightness of attachments should be cultivated. It is an excellent cure for displacement.
45. Facades Sequence
Clouds; House Facade; Observatory Facade
Above the white facade, against a peerless blue sky, cumulus clouds begin to mount, majestic, impersonal, calm. The same clouds that cluster outside the hospital ward where Mrs Duende lies in
a coma. She is grotesquely attached to drips and various other life_support systems. Her face is pallid; it is minutely lined like a map.
46. Hospital Ward
Duende and Nostalgia standing silhouetted in front of a large window with a view of a white building with a round dome (parts of Observatory).
DUENDE (V/O): Nostalgia, everything essential we bring over from the other world. And to the next world we’ll take it. Not photographs. Not loneliness.
(as Nostalgia) Are you blind? What do you think it will be like?
(As Nostalgia) My little Miss Diagnosis, you always used to call me. This has been the pattern of my life. Always to be out of step with my surroundings. Always to be gathering up the fragments of the past and putting them in order in another country. Always to be constructing memories as if I had no past, as if memory was always another place.
47. Outside The dome of the Observatory
Voice fades in
48. Recording Studio
Actor (Frank Lovece), playing role of a patient (Watson) describes his symptoms: his voices come to him as various species of noise.
Du…du…en… de… du du
wat wat son wat son son du en du deunde…
(Long Cross Fade)
Duende gave up speaking, or to be exact he gave up speaking in a language anyone could understand. His new dialect excited professional interest
49. The Parlour – roofless and in ruin.
In Duende’s Parlour (- seemingly becoming more and more like a ‘cheap’ thin walled, cardboard set) is without a roof/ceiling.
DUENDE (V/O): Your nose … resembles your mother’s nose.
(As Nostalgia) – I am tired of you harping on the ending. Put you into a home. It would have been better if you had never left home.
50. The Observatory
Three views of parts of the observatory
DUENDE (Voice Over)
I am not a narcissist but I cannot deny that I looked in my patients for indications of my own condition.
A table with a white cloth. on it a vase of flowers (pansies). A hand knocks down the vase of flowers. (action repeated, played-back, several times)
Nostalgia: it is not a white facade you see before you but an ambulance waiting to take you away.
52. Recording Studio 2
DUENDE (V/O) Duende did not die that day. He went on living, refining his practical art of memory. Duende recognised that nothing essential had been lost.
What he had needed he had brought with him. Not a freight of memories but a way of walking about the world, of slipping sideways between events, those theatrical sets which other took for History.
To begin again was simply to continue walking.
It is all around me, all around me.
53. The White Facade
Street with a row of white houses facades. A flawless clear morning; blue sky climbs to an infinite height behind the white facade opposite…
54. Recording Studio 2
It is not a breast. It is not a white_haired grandfather. It is not a photograph. Be still, it will all come back in time.
For the first and last time in his life Duende knew what it meant to feel at home.
The screen glows. The light of the white facade fills the world
55. End Titles
ITALIANS AT HOME
INTERVIEW. CANTRILLS FILMNOTES NO. 65/66, OCTOBER 1991, P38
Reprinted from Cantrill’s Filmnotes No65/66 October1991 p38
AT HOME WITH ETTORE SIRACUSA
THE story begins early one afternoon inside a bright room Two men are sitting next to a tape recorder. One of the two men, Ettore Siracusa, has recently completed a film entitled Italians at Home. The other is to write an article about the film for a magazine called ‘Cantrills Filmnotes’. They are both drinking coffee. The writer suggests that they start, he switches on the tape recorder and they begin to discuss the film.
ITALIANS at Home
The story begins late in the afternoon inside a darkened room. Two men are sitting next to a slide projector watching slides of houses on an improvised screen on the wall. One of the two men, Rocky, is talking to the other man about a project to put these pictures together in a book entitled ‘Italians at Home’.
Steven: Tell me about why you decided to base the film around the idea of a character putting together a book of photographs.
Ettore: The idea with the book is to locate the film’s images within other texts that circulate about images of migrants. So the type of work being done by the character in the film relates to other images seen on television or in books. There are several such books, you see them in libraries, ‘coffee-table’ books. Films are often adapted from books, from novels, so even though the book ‘Italians at Home’ was my own invention – it’s a fictive reference rather than being a material and real one – it was this idea of adaptation, how one text becomes another, that interested me.
Part One Home / Scenario
I look at his pictures and listen to his storyi a ‘Show ‘n’ Tell’, a recollection of glimpses and half heard conversations, a travelogue in the land of imaginary scenarios.
He is going to look for another photographer. His first photographer, Marco, quit the project and seems to have vanished all of a sudden.
He doesn’t know his present whereabouts, though every now and again, he sends back his photos with strange messages addressed to persons unknown.
Steven: Through the continual use of subtitles and scene headings one can literally read a ‘sub-text’, if y9u like, of the film, as a written text. There are also stylistic devices like the use of a particular italic typography ~or those passages of text. . . ·
Ettore: Yes, the typography in the titles signals, shows, the ‘book-look’ of the film. There are other things that work to remind the viewer of the book: the division of the film into scenes, like chapters, ‘Scene 1, 2 and 3’, etc ….
Steven: These give the viewer a textual readingratherrhan the theatrical reading that the word ‘scene” would perhaps usually suggest…
Ettore: That’s also true.
Steven: So we have this internal :fictional narrative following through the problems the main character encounters in the representation of migrants.
Ettore: Quite. The pictures that we see oil the screen are a reflection of his subjective fantasies, his thoughts or consciousness as the viewer of the images. The film is concerned with the subjectivity of these images, rather than showing us how he went about meeting these people. It takes on the structure of a psycho-drama. That’s why the word ‘scenario’ is used in the titles. The common use of the word ‘scenario’ is as either something that has happened, hasn’t happened or is a script1 something ‘to be’. It is also a term used in psychology or psycho-analysis – the scenario being the story that the analyst elaborates on, the dream work, the interpretation. So this points to an internalization. Therefore we become like the third witness, the camera is the third person watching the protagonist being involved in some activity such as visiting the backyards of these people, talking to them. This is what structures the visualization of the story.
Steven: There can be an attempt in some areas of the representation of migrants, by people from migrant backgrounds, to use stereotypical representations in the belief that this in itself somehow undermines the stereotyping. I think of the ‘Wogs out of Work’ phenomenon or the scene in your film involving the ‘Ethnic Avenger’.
THE ETHNIC AVENGER
Photographer – Look why don’t you stand in front of the poster (a cartoon character – The Ethnic Avenger’) and then pose like Superman, George Reeves in front of the American flag, eh? Ham it up a bit.
Model – No, I don’t wanna be Superman.
Photographer-I’m just trying to inject a bit of comedy into it. I know, you can be the Ethnic Avenger, you know like when he stares. at his ring and he says “None shall pass” …
Model – No, feels funny.
Photographer – How about when he socks Mr Anaemic eh? ‘just knocks him down .. :
Model – I don’t wanna be the Ethnic Avenger.
Photographer – Well who do you wanna be then?
Model – I just wanna be myself . .. I want a photo of myself . .. me.
Steven: The film is very ‘layered’. It shifts between the fiction, scenes that are presented as the work being done by the central character. Then we have the slides and a number of filmed sequences, for example the old man in his backyard scaring the birds with a bucket, that appear to be actual documentary footage of ‘real’ situations. When you were shooting these scenes were you ostensibly shooting actual ‘documentary’ footage or were they deliberately constructed to fit~ with a fictional narrative?
Ettore: The latter in the sense that I was consciously using documentary like images to make a reference to questions about forms of representation that have been widely used in picturing migrants in the media. The problem that I set myself in the film was how to deal with the issues surrounding the migrant stereotype. Although I might say that some of my motives in using this documentary approach were an expedient rather than a stylistic device. These films have to be produced cheaply and you don’t have the possibility of employing professional actors. The source of actors is limited in the area of people that can play migrants. This appeal to forms of realism, or truth, to take the migrant as he or she is, may disguise the fact that it is done out of financial expedience. But finally it’s a kind of ideological underpinning – we shouldn’t just dismiss it.
When I presented the project to the AFC it was going to be a documentary, but when I started shooting in that style I became aware that it just didn’t work, that’s not what I wanted. Even during the editing the documentary approach was reduced even more. What remains in the film is the way certain people are framed by the camera, the interview style, there’s no attempt to dress-up the set. I photograph the subject the way I find it. ·
Steven: So these are essentially ‘real’ people in their homes?
Ettore: Yes, but at the end of the film I’ve put a credit to say that any resemblance to actual people is a co-incidence. That’s an ironic comment to say that the film shouldn’t be read as a documentary.
SCENE SEVEN-RADIO TALK ambience-sound
Now I’m in the office of the Italo-Australian Historical Trust at the Room of International Furniture … listening to a talk by Mr Franco Schiavoni, Deputy Chairman, Victorian Ministry of Ethnic Affairs.
” … the religion of the family unfolds within the house … Italians love monumental effect -and· neo-classical architecture · but this is an expression of being rather than a pretentious display of wealth.
Italo-Australians feel the crisis of modern society. According to Peter Berger’s image modern people are homeless, they do not belong. To this situation the Italians react by protecting the sacred character of the home. In the home the family can celebrate the rites that can defend its unity against the erosion of modern society;
The cult of the dead is an important component of this culture. According to a long tradition the cult of the dead is one of the most meaningful signs of an authentic civilisation.
. . . The tombs are useless to the dead, but useful and even indispensable to the living. Tombs keep alive a hereditary of feelings and values and establish an ideal correspondence in the living and the dead.
. . . the tomb is the house of the dead and, like the house of the living, it too is like a sacred space which requires a monumental tomb. Italo-Australians remain deeply traditional in their values and in their culture. Their way of feeling is well expressed by the poet and film director Paolo Pasolini: “I am a force of the past. Only-within tradition is my love”
(At this point the camera pans right and comes to rest, momentarily, on an elderly woman in another room, seen through a doorway)
… and like Pasolini they know that the world changes and needs to change, but they also know that some of their values remain forever valid. These they feel as the anguished bearers of a timeless modernity, and are not sure that they will be able to communicate their wisdom to new generations.”
Steven: The layered approach that you have taken seems to allow the film to resonate on a number of different emotional levels. For example the scene that has the radio report over a shot panning and tracking around an empty house has a very poignant atmosphere and the juxtaposition works on, I feel, a very poetic level. There are many scenes in the film with strong emotional resonance. Do you feel that this combination of fiction and documentary allowed you to confront the issues in away that may not have been possible in a ‘straight’ fiction or documentary?
Ettore: You build these emotional resonances into the film and they belong to the mode of fiction as well as to documentary. The layered approach, let’s call it ‘unevenness’ or a patchy structure, fragments, the idea of a scrap-book – the concept of ‘scrapbook’ has to do with the film’s nostalgia motif. I even wanted the film not to be graded. I’ve been looking at some of these documentary films like The Migrant Experience and it’s interesting to see how they all adopt a certain pace, in the narration of the voice, for example, and the same with fiction films.
You’re taught at film school to keep that pace, so that the audience isn’t conscious of disruptions or a jarring effect. · Experimental film making can be approached either as a formalistic exercise or as a form of intervention in the politics of cultural activity. In this case, the film engages in a debate about the way migrants are represented in the media and wider current social and cultural issues. I think that was my interest.
The story ends in his room … late in the night. I find his last postcard in a book at page eighty three of ‘Fiabe Italiane – raccolte e trascritte da Italo Calvino’. I read on …
“Once upon a time there was a boy. His name was Giovannin, the Fearless One
…. ” (The voice-over goes on to relate the tale of Giovannin who, fearlessly, enters a haunted palace. Whilst eating a huge meal he is taunted by a giant who appears, piece by piece, in the fireplace. Giovannin is not afraid of this and lives happily in the palace until one day he dies from fright at seeing his own shadow. This is dramatically enacted in the film.)
Steven: Towards the end of the film there is a scene which is pure dramatization, an enactment of the tale of ‘Giovannin, the Fearless One’ by Calvino. This is quite a contrast to the preceding scenes in that it has all the mythical qualities of Calvino and brings in a more ‘traditional” representation of Italian culture. Although, of course, Calvino is often ‘presenting these traditions in a more or less contemporary urban setting. I found this quite interesting in the context of a film about Italo-Australians in a suburban context.
Ettore: Yes, but what I would say is that, since we were talking about fact and fiction, I could almost claim that nothing in this film is invented. They are all fragments that I’ve pieced together in a collage. The Calvino story isn’t so much a way of just putting a bit of Italian culture in the film, but it could be seen to continue the film’s basic core or theme. If you want to reduce the film to a simple sentence, as often you are obliged to . do, you could say Italians at Home is about the cultural construction of Italian-ness, which as we know is the constructed image of something, it’s a cultural construction, a cultural cliché, a stereotype. Italo Calvino is a reference to that, as well as functioning as a closure to the ‘psychodrama’ and the ‘scenario’. It’s a fable that has been imported here and it’s no different to any cultural objects that circulate in Australia and come from the ‘homeland’, you know, the ‘mother culture’. ‘Mother culture’ is an interesting term because it functions as a protectoress.
Let’s not lose sight of the fact that the film is seen from the point of view of these two male viewers. The spectator is in the text looking at these cultural clichés of ‘Italian-ness’. They are cultural metaphors rather than being sort of poetical metaphors.
Click, a slight sharp sound, the click of a latch. Cliché, Cliché-d.
I’m waiting for my pictures, waiting for my story.
A mirror symmetry is one in which you see yourself reflected in the other’s place and which, therefore, suppresses the otherness of an experience.
Steven: Do you think that the scrap-book nature of the film, as an ‘experimental’ device, actually succeeds in working against the stereotype?
Does it change the way the viewer reads these images?
Ettore: There are lots of people who read the film who desire these images. That’s been a difficult problem. It’s a question of structures of identification. How to make a film about the stereotype without stereotyping the subject or spectator, to place the viewer in the same position that the character is in, in the film. There is some attempt to work at ways in which the narrative is structuring the processes of identification. In a dramatic film We usually identify with the main character – you have this anchor1 somebody to structure the identification process in the film.
Steven: The problem is that in taking a non-mainstream stance to imply a critique of the mainstream convention and by using elements of that convention1 you leave yourself open to a conventional reading …
Ettore: … and how do you assess that? As a critic or somebody who sets out to actually see what the issues of this film are, how do you construct a new reading of the stereotype in Italians at Home? It’s as if I have one of these coffee table books about the Italians1 or the Greeks, or the Maltese. I’m looking at that and saying “OK, now I can turn these images into a reading against the grain.” So I put other images against them I re-make the book.
My mother tosses in her sleep. More than me she has felt the dead weight of migration. I watch and invent for her a book of lovers . . .
My family expresses for me this vague feeling of guilt and destruction. Something in me wants to reject the disintegration of this originating union.
Steven: Is there an irony in the film’s title? One could read two definitions of the word ‘home’. Home as ‘domus’1 a physical space and home as ‘place’ the place of cultural or familial origin. Maybe there are other readings? Can you comment on this?
Ettore: The reference to home is another constructed meaning. Italo-Australians and other migrants are viewed as having, in the loss of the loss of the place of origin, that desire, a feeling of nostalgia. This is an imagined feeling. It is taken that Italo-Australians are nostalgic, and that’s why they grow vegetables like they used to grow back in Italy, as a form of certain longings yearnings for their motherland. It’s taken that this desire is a genuine one. I feel that this is not to be taken as truth. It is a fiction, a story, a myth that a dominating culture has constructed, and hence the stereotype. It is not to be taken that nostalgia resides necessarily in the hearts and minds of Italo-Australians, but it is something that Australian culture has, for various reasons perhaps, found it convenient to depict.
… I ask myself what is this… I ask myself what is this desire that moves me! A desire to touch you, or to gaze at you from this distance safely?
Steven: So migrants are simply engaged in a continuation of their culture, as protectors of tradition, as was mentioned earlier, and this is perhaps deliberately misinterpreted as nostalgia?
Ettore: That’s right. There might be political reasons why they have chosen that story, that fiction, as opposed to others. Why? My concern, given the parameters of this film was to talk about these things. The icons and iconography in the film can be read as images of nostalgia and I am trying to place the viewer in a critical position. ”Is this the truth, or is this being questioned?” There is a problem with relationships with ‘otherness’. We often look at the culture of ‘others’, Aboriginal art or African music for instance, as something to satisfy our own desires and anxieties … an unconscious appropriation. That’s why I make psychological references in the film. The person looking at these images is male, generational, in other words ‘son-of’. So it’s almost as if the son is looking at his parents and to me the male-ness of this gaze is very much connected to the nostalgia theme. We are looking at migrants as seen by ‘male, ‘son-of’, and possibly even middle class if we want to add the element of class.
Our life is stored in this house as if our marrow has been frozen for the future. .,
The sweet air of God’s country hasn’t yet saved .us. The starlings dive. That one stretches its wing under the neighbor’s verandah.
I’m still alive doing 140k’s on the West Gate Bridge. The clouds break. The red brick houses shine. They shine!
They seemed as Migrating Angels who drag dusty wings across suburban streets, their faces bowed to the ground, but unlike birds they can’t find their way; a wishbone lies across their heart Wee a divining rod or a stuck compass.
Steven: So there he is. Second generation migrant, brought up as an Australian from an Italian migrant family. In fact, one might suppose that he wouldn’t necessarily be nostalgic in the way that his parents might …
Ettore: But he IS! That’s the irony of the film! Nostalgia can be read in other films by so-called second generation Italo-Australians. That’s why the film is about other films in which I see this nostalgia gaze such as those by Monica Pellizari, for example. Provided that ‘nostalgia’ is not read in a simplistic way – it has a lot of other connotations to do with unconscious processes. I use the meaning of home as synonymous with nostalgia and I take it much further. The quote that I use ‘in reference to death and – television is to alert the viewer to think of nostalgia in a much wider context.
The look of nostalgia is interchangeable with the gaze of television itself. Nostalgia has the fragrance of death.
Ettore: It is the issue of self-referentiality. There is a little bit of the reality of the migrant in the film but ultimately the reality that dominates is that of the viewer, the gazer, rather than the gazed. That is a crucial issue. It has to do with racism, with sexism if you like, the migrant is used as an object rather than subject. Any claims that are made by film makers that they are allowing the migrant to speak for him or herself, without any form of mediation, are to be questioned. I would even claim that the voice of the migrant has actually been silent and absent from Australian film and television.
Where is home? How can I forget the memory of myself without forgetting myself? Where is home if not in forgetting?
They agree that this is a good point at which to end the discussion. The filmmaker suggests that they eat. The tape recorder is switched off. The writer begins to think about how to write an article about a film that deals with the construction of Italian-ness; a piece that explores the representation and the misrepresentation of the migrant, the ‘other’, as radiated by a dominant culture; how to put the issues together in an article about Italians at Home.
Credits: Italians at Home, 16nun, colour, 29 minutes, 1991
Writer, Director, Editor, Producer – Ettore Siracusa
Cinematographers – Mark Lane, Roman Baska
Art Director – Giacomo Aramis
Production Manager – Frank Lovece
Additional writing and quoted texts – Peter Lyssiotis, Scott McQuire,
Helen Scarry, Gregory Whitehead, Paul Carter, Italo Calvino, Peter Chan
‘The Ethnic Avenger’ comic – Peter Lyssiotis and Pat Del Mastro D
(Stills on these and previous pages from Italians at Home – frame enlargements by Arthur Cantrill.)
INTERVIEW. CANTRILLS FILMNOTES NOS 49, 50, APRIL 1986, P32
Cantrills Film Notes nos 49, 50, April 1986
Interview with Peter Lyssiotis and Ettore Siracusa p.32
(16mm, colour, 25 mins, 1984)
A Film Comprising:
A Suburban Street
A Letter To The Father
Dreams Like Ice &
This Little Man Went To Work
The Artist’s Library or
(How To Cope With Criticism)
Peter Lyssiotis is known for his work in photography, photomontage and photo books (see book review section, this issue.) He recently collaborated with Ettore Siracusa and Michael Karaglanidis on a film which explores some of the themes and practices of his photographic work, with the same droll, subtly ironic flavour of his photomontages.
The editors spoke to Peter Lyssiotis and Ettore Siracusa about The Occupant ….
Peter, you’re mainly a photographer, working with photographs and texts. You’ve published two books of your photomontages, but you’ve also had exhibitions of your photographs, haven’t you?
PL: Yes, I’ve had three exhibitions, one at Pinacotheca, one at Visibility, which then went to the Australian Centre for Photography in Sydney and to Chameleon in Hobart. That one was called ‘Industrial Woman’, put together by Jas. Duke, Vivian Mehes and myself. I also participated in the Developments Collective Show at the Ewing Gallery.
And you’re both school teaching to earn a living?
PL: Yes, fulltime. Ettore teaches art and I teach English and social studies. Not photography?
PL: No, I wouldn’t teach something I love!
In what ways does this film relate to your work in photography?
PL: I have always worked in sequences with photographs, and the sequences in my books ‘Journey of a Wise Electron’ and ‘Three Cheers For Civilization’ specifically relate to movement, in the sense that they tell a story and have a beginning and an end. What I try to do is make still images walk through the pages of a book until the moment when something happens. And it just seemed like a good idea, on Ettore’s suggestion, to translate these ideas to film.
So the images in the books suggested storyboards for filming?
ES: That’s right, although not so much in the subject matter of the sequences, but just the events of movement. And the pre-occupation in the film with freezing the movement and putting a border round it, is obviously intended to refer back to the photographic process.
PL: Yes. Generally, too, with the stills that I work with, there’s an accompanying text of some sort which provides something like a signpost for the reader. Because I haven’t refined photography to the point where I can just use one shot to make a statement: I can’t capture what Cartier Bresson calls the “decisive moment”, so I work in sequences and use a text to complement the still. It wasn’t such a huge step to writing a script, because there was the still image plus the accompanying text in my mind, anyway .
So the idea of just making a film preceded the idea of making a film about your father and your background?
— Page 39 —
PL: Yes, and it was on Ettore’s suggestion that we decided to apply for a grant to make a film.
ES: But that the film was to be about Peter’s work was something we thought out at the beginning. Is it true that you, Ettore, applied for a grant for another film project, and got knocked back, even though you are an experienced filmmaker, and Peter, who had never applied for a grant before, got one?
PL: The story of that was that after I’d had my first show at Pinacotheca and also had my first book published I felt I was looking success in the face and thought I’d apply for some money to do another exhibition which would have included the images that you now see in ‘Three Cheers for Civilization’. I got knocked back of course and then Ettore said, “Why don’t you apply for a film grant?”, and I thought I don’t know the first thing about filmmaking, I’ve enjoyed looking at films, I like looking at film books and looking at the stills, but I wouldn’t know how to go about making a film, and he said, “Well, we’ll do it together.” We agreed to use Michael Karaglanidis on camera and the three of us made it. But it’s an irony that people who are working in the field couldn’t get funding and I could. Ettore did all the budgeting and stuff, because he’d made a film previously.
ES: That was Natura Morta (Still Life), made in 1979. It shows an old man, walking in the street in Moonee Ponds who goes to see an exhibition of photographs of his home town in Sicily. There’s a feeling of homelessness. That film sort of marks the beginning of attempts to show migrants from their point of view.
So there is a connection with the theme of The Occupant. Can you tell us something about how the ideas for the film evolved?
PL: I couldn’t decide whether to be personal in what we were presenting, and really open up with it, or to try to pull off an art film. I think that it’s fairly evident in the structure of the film that I had an each way bet, in away.
Had you thought at any stage of making an animated film, using your montage techniques? It just occurred to me that it could be done.
PL: I’d like to very much, again the technical hurdles seem to be enormous
ES: That’s right, but of course that would exclude the biographical side of the film, which The Occupant has. For me, the interest is in the personal relationships shown between the photographic work, and the father, and the ‘Dreams Like Ice’ sequence, and in fact the action of the film generally. The dreamlike images have a correspondence with the images of Peter’s montages. So it’s an attempt to make a film like the montages rather than make an illustration of his work. Yes, using the live action biographical material. It’s done very subtly and softly, merging between realism and dreamlike material, just as some of the montages do, where you’re not sure if you’re seeing a real photograph or something that’s been worked on and added to.
PL: One of the problems which I was trying to handle at the time 40 and which the film helped me sort out in a way was: I’d worked in photography, but I hadn’t taken any “real” photographs. Forever you’re conditioned to seeing trees and clouds and Ansel Adams, Edward Weston or Cartier Bresson and his subjects, and they are what seem to be real photographs to me; whereas the ones that I construct didn’t seem to be real ones at all.
Do you use found images or do you photograph your own material?
PL: Found. I have the best photographers and magazines in the world supplying me with images! The film, and the photographic work that preceded it, aimed at mixing the real and the constructed, trying to blur the edges.
Apart from doing collage, do you take photographs?
PL: Yes. I like to call it montage actually, because the great collagists like Schwitters don’t mind about the seams showing, that’s part of it, whereas with my photomontage there’s a seamless joining together of images which facilitates that blurring that I like to get.
So you’re playing with perception and the way we see things. For example, at a point in an image that should be out of focus, it’s not, because you’ve put another image from another source there.
In the opening part where you’re talking about your father, you filmed that when he was still alive?
Your father died fairly recently, didn’t he?
PL: Yes, two years ago, after we started to make the film. That was one of the ironies — I realise now that he must have been ill during the filming, he probably knew it, and now the most touching moment in the film for me is when he’s cutting the branches of the tree with the secateurs and there’s that frozen shot, so that it’s almost like another still in the moving images. That stillness becomes a sort of death thing for me.
Yes, both times I’ve seen the film I’ve been impressed by that shot. It’s strange how you’ve aged since the film was made. You look so much older now– that is you sitting at the table isn’t it?
PL: No! That’s another of the ambiguities! That’s a friend of mine, George Harlam, he’s an actor, and he works with Method acting. He worked on the part and understood so completely what was needed that in the end he even began to look like me!
That explains how you did the scene in the bedroom where the two of you appear. Why didn’t you act in the film?
PL: Well, I don’t feel very confident with things like that. Perhaps now I would try it, but I like George’s acting. We come from a similar background, and I like the idea of using a double. He was very good, because when I saw the rushes of that scene, for a moment even 1 thought that someone had photographed me when I was showing George what I wanted.! He pulled it off very well. I only appear in the bedroom scene where the two of us are seen together.
Yes, that’s very much like one of your photomontages — the ambiguity of the focus, and the space between the figures, one almost looks pasted in over the other.
PL: I always like that shot in Bergman’s Persona with the two women, where he’s photographed it in a way that they seem to be one and the same. It’s also like that Magritte painting of the two figures with their backs to the viewer, ‘Reproduction lnterdite’.
In a sense the opening sequence is very different from the rest of the film, isn’t it? I’m just wondering what you had in mind in having these different elements . There are about five different sequences in the film aren’t there?
PL: Yes. I think we came up with the sequences first and then we wanted to have tentative rather than specific links between the whole thing.
Did you feel you could be more autobiographical in a film than with the photomontages?
PL: Yes, certainly, it just seemed to lend itself more to that. As I mentioned before, just the convenience of having an actor playing me …. so I could detach myself. I enjoyed that.
The third person rather than the first.
ES: And the text, the dialogue that one can superimpose on the film.
Yes, that’s interesting, because in a lot of other autobiographies, including Corinne’s, the writer often uses the third person, and sometimes alternates between ‘she’ and ‘I’. Presumably it’s useful to step back that much and to talk about the events as if they’re happening to someone else. Yours was an equivalent of that by using an actor.
PL: Yes; Ettore’s working on such a script now.
ES: Yes, I can only describe it as a love/horror story. It’s set in the suburbs, it will have this second generation migrant family, but what is important for me is to move further into the non-naturalistic area of representation and to try and achieve that with the narrative form. It works with strategies of voice-over and direct speech, dialogue. It’s working title is “On the Break …. ”
Was working on The Occupant a help for this, because your previous work was fairly naturalistic.
ES: Yes, well this film includes what you might describe as surreal as well as realistic images.
Was The Occupant tightly scripted before you began?
PL: For the purposes of receiving the grant it was, and Ettore’s expertise came in when we formalised it in a way that it could be understood, as I didn’t know how to write a film script. It was basically a storyboard made up of stick figures drawn into frames with little captions. I think we ended up dropping about three scenes, but we added the trailer at the end. It was, I think, originally planned for 12 minutes, and it ended up being 25 minutes.
And during the shooting were you, Peter, much involved with the direction?
PL: I think one of the reasons that we didn’t specify the roles that Michael, Ettore and I were to have, right from the beginning, was that each of us had an input to it. In some scenes, for example, Ettore would direct and Michael would say, “Look, let’s try it this way, because I saw it through the camera differently,” and then we’d shoot that same scene again, and then sometimes, I’d say, “Can we shoot it with him coming through this way instead of going through that way?” So there was a collaborative input. I had no idea about the technical aspects like dissolves and freezes — that was Ettore’s and Michael’s area, because they’d made films before.
The film starts with the car driving during the night, and then the sky becomes lighter
ES: I think the time is broken at that stage. One could take it that the photographer, Peter, arrives home, then he writes the letter to the father. The opening of the door, when he arrives home, suggests also another reality, but the opening is signalled with other things such as the windows becoming photographs.
Yes, that was very nicely done, technically, the freezing of the action into photographs. I liked the relationship of the slightly underexposed action shot to the brightly lit still photograph.
PL: One of the things I was playing with at the time was the Susan Sontag thing of the camera as voyeur, where you’re virtually peeking into people’s houses and spying on their lives when you take photographs. That was one of the themes that I wanted to introduce. Then you go inside this person’s house and it’s like going inside the person’s mind as well, and that’s why all the action occurs inside the house, it’s an interior thing. There is a division between the first part and the rest of the film, as you mentioned. The people at the AFI suggested that if the film ended after the first two sequences, it would be marketable because it could be slotted into one of their categories — probably under “migrant films”. But after ‘The Letter to the Father’ there’s the sequence called ‘Dreams Like Ice’.
Do you want to talk about that, Ettore?
ES: That sequence might explain where the photo-montagist’s images come from, so it has a reference to the work and to the artist, although the artist is represented in a fictional form. In order to tell those things it was necessary to break the film up into sequences, rather than use a conventional narrative form. But each sequence illustrates one aspect of his work. Even just seeing the film this afternoon, it occurred to me that it is concerned with the viewer of his work. Who is going to see the work? Where is the public for it? And it seems to me there is a degree of self-parody in it –these things are said ironically.
PL: Sure. Ettore has touched on one thing I like to happen in my work — the use of irony: I like to undercut myself in a number of ways. For example, the second-last sequence, ‘How to Cope with Criticism’, that again is meant to be an irony, that’s one of the things that you have to live with, because if you believe that you are going to make a huge splash and a huge financial success at the level at which we’re working, you’re stupid. That was one of the reasons for putting the trailer on at the end, it also relates back to that scene in the garden where the person figures out how he should see through a camera. Should he see like an artist? Or should he see like a camera-for-hire? He eventually ends up taking the exploitation shot of the woman, and that’s recycled into a successful photograph that can be sold at a profit to the pornographic magazines that the two businessmen are reading. The trailer at the end echoes that sentiment but really underlines it by saying, “Look, if you really wanted to make those sort of exploitation type films, you could do it and they could be really slick.” That’s why that’s up-tempo and out-front, it deals with fashion and Vogue living.
At that point you’re referring back to the entire preceding film, in a sense, and pointing up its uncommercial value, and as you say, this is another way you have of undercutting or being ironical about your work.
PL: It’s also playing with the conventions of film, the trailer that we were brought up with, at the matinees. The trailers were really good fun! Getting back to ‘Dreams Like Ice’, the original idea came to me when I had a dream of images embedded in ice, and we had to try and realise that. One of the questions I was asked when I went for the assessment was, “How do you get a still photograph into a block of ice?” I didn’t really know! I like that surreal idea of the dream and the Max Ernst and Magritte thing.
I think where that scene falls down a lot is when we go into the kitchen and there are the ice cubes — it disintegrates a little bit there. But I like the idea of images being found in ice, almost as archaeology. It also refers to the letter: the letter is not meant to be sent to the father, it’s an interior thing, it’s frozen in the same way as a still image is a frozen image. There are meant to be these echoes and cross-references throughout it.
Had you actually written that letter before your father died?
PL: Yes, but he was never meant to read it. He didn’t even see the rushes.
Is your primary interest in publishing books because the book form offers the possibilty of presenting a sequence?
PL: I see myself as a book artist, I think, rather than a photographer or a photomonteur. I like the idea of books. I don’t like exhibitions so much because they disappear after a short space of time. With films, although I really enjoyed making this one, I think all the problems that occur after you’ve made it have really put me off, whereas the problems presented by hawking your books to bookshops, although it’s daunting and I hate doing it, can be overcome. A book, for me, lasts forever – some fool said that life exists to end in a book. I like working with the logistics of a book: the page arrangement.
For example, a number of books have got that kind of right-hand emphasis. You know, when they illustrate poetry or make translations, for example, quite often there’s an emphasis on the right hand, and I’m playing with little things like that,
trying to alter the little traditions. The use of the white space in the layout of ‘Three Cheers for Civilization’ is also another minor confrontation within the book format. I’m trying to create rhythms within a traditional structure like the book.
I feel you were doing that with this film too, the strategies were a little unexpected sometimes within the traditional film format. We see some of your montages in the film, were they done specially for the film?
PL: No, they were existing works. Some came from the book ‘Journey of a Wise Electron’ and I think two from ‘Industrial Woman’.
And the chef in the restaurant with the female forms on the table, did that kind of symbolize your father?
PL: Well, he never got that far, he was a fish and chip man! But the montage area seems to facilitate irony and sarcasm. Heartfield and Grosz in Germany did it to perfection, they fought Hitler with it. I think you can’t treat subjects lovingly with montage — you’re always twisting the knife in somewhere with it. That’s one reason I wouldn’t have used real images of my father in them.
Yes, there’s a contradiction between what you’re saying about your father, and that lavish scene there.
PL: Yes, that’s the irony working through it again
Do you see the first part, the letter to the father, as an introduction to your life, and then the sequences that follow as being more about your work now?
PL: And the way I see things. Maybe Ettore can say something about that.
ES: The problem was of trying to find links in an organic way. It begins there and goes on to explain a theme or a topic. I think the fact of entering into the life of somebody, including the past life, as a biography, is there in the opening. I saw then, in the next sequence, ‘Dreams Like Ice’, as exploring that interior world, fantasy, let’s say, at another level, when it happens to us like dreams.
But the elements that he puts in the photographs come from a kind of unconscious area. I think it’s difficult to follow the notion that in the film one could progress from a different level of his past memory to another level of consciousness to do with dream images or daydreams, and then to make a comment on those images later on about who looks at them, what are they for, what purpose do they serve, what am I doing this for, and to do that in an ironical self-parodying manner seems to be another extension of his work, another page that goes on to tell that story.
PL: A lot of the images I work with come from very public sources: magazines like Time/Life, National Geographic, Belle, Pol and other magazines, and I think the fact that they get put together in this sort of context also comments on the original source, which is the popular pulp magazine, so you’re using and manipulating in an ironic fashion, images which come from the World of Gloss and reconstructing them into making a personal comment…
It’s not so much a satire on that glossy form of photojournalism as much as an evocation of the way these images are going through all our unconsciousness and sort of coming out again in an unexpected way and layered over one another. There’s a kind of soft mental process aspect of it going on there which is quite interesting. It’s going through your head, but it’s a kind of metaphor for the way it’s going through society’s head in general. that’s also I suppose the composition of the problem that this film sets out to solve. That world we have just spoken of is a chaotic and confused world and to put it together, to shape it into a film while retaining the fragmentary form which is typical of it, is a challenge.
It’s just as when we dream, it often seems we are trying to put order into chaos, and there’s actually a theory of dreams which suggests that that is what is happening — the brain is clearing its circuits of the accumulated rubbish, and when a narrative-like effect occurs, this is more or less an accidental sequencing of material, and we remember it on waking because of its story-like form. It’s quite interesting that there’s almost a clinical dream-like process going on in some of those montages, and maybe that is why they are so effective, they remind us very directly of the dream process.
In the ice sequence you seem to be coming to grips with it in a more specific way, clearly setting up a sleeping scene, the tossing, a feeling that time is passing, he gets up and goes to the kitchen to mix a drink out of ice blocks, which at first seems fairly normal, but they become colored ice blocks and you think, “Colored ice blocks, what sort of bizarre drink is that?” For me, it evoked childhood. And the two figures superimposed was interesting, it’s as if the dream person has gone off to the kitchen while the real person is still in bed.
ES: But there’s a reference to the woman, or Peter’s wife as well. I suppose one may read a link between memory and fantasy and a sexual element there in those images, to do with sexual creation and art work.
PL: I think the original idea I had there was that a dream, which was the block of ice, was waiting for you there on the pillow to be had.
I suppose as soon as you start to deal with this material it has to start looking a bit like classical surrealism — Max Ernst and company -you’re dealing with similar material and strategies, even though you’re probably not consciously copying their style or their imagery. Would that be right?
PL: Yes, Ernst’s material, for example in the three novels that he published of collage work were all from popular magazines of the time, pulpy detective novels and mysteries which were illustrated with etchings rather than photographs.
Yes, there’s a strong contrast in those between the hard, sharp engravings and the soft fantasies that resulted from his collaging.
PL: I was conscious of those kind of references. Harry Smith and Larry Jordan have both worked with similar old engravings in animated films. and of course there’s the Richter film Dreams that Money Can Buy that Ernst collaborated on in the forties.
Have you seen that?
PL: Yes, and there’s the other Richter film, Ghosts Before Breakfast, with the animated hats, a sort of homage to Magritte.
In ‘Dreams Like Ice~ following on the first part where you talk about your father and Cyprus, I wondered if there was some kind of comment there on Australian suburbia — there seemed to be that sort of comparison between the monologue about your father and his old world as shown in all his photographs, and the next generation — although I can see that that’s not the primary thrust of it. I always think of the situation in Australian suburbia as being rather cold and sterile.
PL: I agree that Australian suburbia is cold and sterile on the surface: but close the door, turn off the light and you can have a film like The Occupant!
I think that it was implicit in a way, that contrast between the first and the second generation of migration, and that nostalgia for the home country, which was like a dream. And because my father did return to Cyprus before the film was finished — he knew that he was dying and he didn’t tell anyone, and died in Cyprus — someone who knows me very well said I should have put that as a trailer to the trailer– that he did go back and did achieve something of the dream that he wanted.
The problem is to what extent you wanted to make it autobiographical. This film is already more autobiographical than most of your other work.
PL: Yes, and I think that’s why the film was good for me, you can use an actor to externalise your imaginings and I like that process, whereas I don’t know if I would commit that text to a book.
But on the other hand, you do appear in some of your photographs, for example in ‘Three Cheers for Civilization’, the walking sequence.
‘Three Cheers for Civilisation’ is your second book, and you’ve a third one coming out, together with Jas. Duke and Vivian Mehes: ‘The Industrial Woman’. Who’s publishing that?
PL: We’re doing it ourselves, we’ve pulled money together for it. It’s in black and white, with Jas’s concretes in red, resembling that Constructivist sort of thing. That should be out in April. The work with books started after my first exhibition at Pinacotheca in 1980, before ‘Journey of a Wise Electron’. I approached Champion books with an idea I had of putting together a book, and the way that they work is as a collective — always on a collaborative level, you present the ideas and people who know a good deal about books and book-making have their input, and then you discuss it and work out the best strategies for putting a book together, and that’s what happened with ‘Journey of a Wise Electron’. With this current book, ‘Three Cheers for Civilization’, I worked with Angelika Oehme and Ted Hopkins, and again, although the photographs were mine, a lot of the ideas and the work and the final look of the book, I can’t really attribute to specific people: either Ted’s or mine or Angelika’s. It came about as a collaborative effort and I really enjoy that.
The interesting thing about Champion is, they only do perhaps one book every one or two years, but there’s a good deal learnt from every previous book, so that you can see from the production of ‘Journey of a Wise Electron’ we learnt things about reproduction and Ted Hopkins used that knowledge to produce his ‘The Book of Slab’, and we learnt from that, and then came up with ‘Three Cheers for Civilization’, and the next thing will continue from where we left off with this production.
Have you issued postcards?
PL: A friend, Pat Delmastro, and I have issued a set of postcards that deal directly with migrants and migrant matters — an attempt to work with a popular and accessible medium like a postcard and just get ideas across.
I wanted to ask about this film in relation to a migrant theme. There is a lot being done about this. Your wife, Tes Lyssiotis, a playwright, has written a lot of work in this area and shown it at La Mama. Is she from Greece?
PL: She was born here but her parents are Greek.
Do you want to say something about the film in this context?
PL: I don’t think I formalised it in that sense for the film. I didn’t see a conflict of two cultures as being relevant to the film. What I saw was just the relationship that a son has with his father, and that’s what I was interested in exploring, but there are references to his deep nostalgia for a homeland that he’s left, although I know that Ettore’s got different views on that particular section in relation to this question. I think he sees it in the context you were mentioning a little bit more.
ES: Well, I suppose it’s how the son feels about remembering that time of his father being in a strange country, because this is now something very much in the thoughts of people who were born here or came here as young so-called second generation. It seems to mark also a consciousness inside the young people, but also in the outer world, because the theme has become of interest to people at large. Now people want to hear how the sons feel about their migrant fathers’ past.
Now the young people have a voice that they didn’t have before, they’ve come of age, they’ve grown up and now they can speak out and tell that story. But the coincidence is that they can tell it at the time when they can be heard; there is the advent of Channel 0/28 and the awareness of multiculturalism etc.
Can you say something about the name of the film, The Occupant?
PL: It’s a bit ordinary, in a way. I got sick of getting junk mail addressed to ‘The Occupant’, ‘The Occupant’, ‘The Occupant’, so I became the ‘occupant’ of the house, and the story was about the occupation of the house, and by extension, the occupation of the body by dreams.
In respect to the question about the ethnicity of it (and I hate that term), but I think the people of our generation have an obligation to tell that story whether the public want it or not. The way I see it anyway, is that those people who came out here in the fifties and the forties and the thirties by the dint of their work, certainly by their experiences in this country, gave us the equipment, through education or through the arts or whatever, to tell their story and our relationship with it. I don’t know if this is making too much of a fable of it.
If it isn’t told by this generation it won’t be told at all.
PL: Yes, because by the third or fourth it can be lost or mythologised. That’s certainly part of the inspiration for the opening part of the film — I now have the tools to tell this story, even though only 200 people might see it!
Of course the film doesn’t overstate that aspect, and that’s what I like about it, although some people might like the film to focus more on this.
ES: The treatment is not naturalistic, there was an attempt to undercut how that letter could be performed, the angle of the shots and so on.
PL: Also it works with the photographs, you were mentioning in your film, Corinne, you were trying to come to some understanding of the relationship you may have had with your parents, or with the reality that they existed in through photographs, and as we know, photographs do lie sometimes. Now you’ve got the second generation, which is me, interpreting that experience through the montages, and that’s why there’s that blurring we were talking about before, wandering between naturalistic photographs, the “real” photographs, the snapshots that they took, and the photographs with which I try and interpret what their experience was like.
And the way you set out the family photographs on the table invites a connection between the normally random appearance of family photographs say in an album, and the way you manipulate photographs. It was quite wonderful the way they spread out on the table like a whole life story fanning or radiating out. The so-called photographic truth in those photographs is questioned, too.
PL: Of course, the smiles for the camera, the posing with the new car, the sunglasses, a sort of Hollywood thing.
What’s your next project, after the ‘Industrial Woman’ book?
PL: I’m working towards another exhibition of black and white photographs, again montage work, but I’m doing something a little bit different with these. I’m working in sequences again, and what I’m trying to do, which I don’t think other people have done using montage, is to create images that look as if they’re straight photographs but in fact are montages. That’s the way I’m extending it now. Also another process, for me, that I’m going through now is, rather than adding things to backgrounds, I’m taking out sections of images and just isolating small bits. It’s filmic in a way.
Yes, that’s a very cinematic process, the camera is constantly isolating details and building up a world that doesn’t really exist. Montage!
LETTER TO THE FATHER.
LOUNGEROOM. INTERIOR. NIGHT.
AN ASSORTMENT OF MORE RECENT FAMILY PHOTOGRAPHS SCATIERED ON A YELLOW TABLE TOGETHER WITH TWO OR MORE PAGES OF A LETTER AMONGST THEM. OUR AITENTION IS FOCUSED ON ONE — A FORMAL PORTRAIT OF A MIDDLE AGED GREEK MALE. AT THE TABLE IS A MAN – EARLY THIRTIES, DARK, WITH MOUSTACHE — WHO IS WRITING (HIS NAME HEARD READING FROM THE LETTER HE IS WRITING).
PETER: (off screen)
When my mother and I disembarked from the ‘Fairsky’ you were waiting for us. It was 1954, you’d been in Australia for three years making a start on our future. I’ve never had the courage to ask you how you felt during those years. My first memory of you was when my mother and I walked down the gangplank. She was carrying our suitcases and you hadn’t seen her in three years. I was a one-year-old when you left us. On the trip from Cyprus my mother was constantly ill and I was proud of having to look after her. When we arrived at Port Melbourne I asked my mother which one of those men was you. She pointed you out and I began crying. I wanted to return to my uncles and grandfathers who’d raised me. It was a sunny day and there were streamers holding onto the boat.
HIS GAZE RETURNS TO THE PHOTOGRAPHS AROUND HIM. HE TOUCHES THEM, MOVES THEM AROUND AND HE IN TURN IS MOVED BY THEM. WE LOOK AT THE PHOTOGRAPHS WHICH INCLUDE SHOTS OF HIS PARENTS, THEIR HOUSE, THE SHOPS THEY’VE OWNED, THEIR PICNICS AND FRIENDS.
PETER: (off screen)
You always told me the reason you came to Australia was that you wanted the best for me; you wanted me to have a good education. I believed you. You told me you’d left the village when the business in your father’s grocery shop had fallen off because a co-operative had just been established.
Mum told me Tony had been writing from Australia and had convinced you all you had to do to become rich there, was to bend down and pick up the money from the streets.
THE CAMERA MOVES QUICKLY TO A LARGE WINDOW DOOR. IT IS DAYTIME. IT CONTINUES TO MOVE RAPIDLY OUTSIDE TO THE BACKYARD OF THE HOUSE AND STOPS AT A HAND HOLDING A PAIR OF SECATEURS AND PRUNING A TREE. PETER’S VOICE CONTINUES AND THE HAND STILL PRUNES.
Leaving Cyprus because you were angry at the people you’d trusted is typical of you. We would argue constantly, and spend weeks without talking. Once, when we lived in a shop at Hawthorn, my mother persuaded me to ask your forgiveness by kissing your hand. You spoke to me after that.
While I was at university we argued about politics and Australia’s involvement in Vietnam. I’d come home and tell you over dinner about the latest protest march against the war; the scuffles, the police; the speeches and arguments.
Now I can’t argue with you any more. Instead we talk about the neighbours, our jobs, the cars, the vegetable garden and the weather.
THE TWIGS FALL ON THE GREEN LAWN. HE COMES DOWN THE LADDER, PICKS UP THE RAKE THAT IS LEANING AGAINST THE TREE TRUNK AND MAKES A NEAT PILE OF THE CUT BRANCHES. HE THEN GOES UP THE LADDER, LOOKS AROUND, AND BEGINS PRUNING AGAIN WHILE WE HEAR MORE OF THE LETTER:
PETER: (off screen)
You went crazy when I found the courage to tell you I didn’t want to continue studying law. I’d just finished the second year of my course and I’d hated it. I knew you’d be disappointed. It was hard enough for you to accept that I was a failure at maths, now you had to live with me wanting to give up Law and do Arts. ‘What’s Arts?” you asked. I tried to explain. But we both knew that Arts wasn’t bread and butter like Law. You still wonder what sort of lawyer I would have made. I know I would have been lousy. On my graduation day I looked at you and saw you crying.
THE CAMERA MOVES FROM THE PRUNING SCISSORS ALONG HIS ARM TO HIS FACE, WHICH WE SEE FOR THE FIRST TIME. HE TURNS AND LOOKS AT THE CAMERA AS IF HE WERE POSING FOR A SNAPSHOT. THE SHOT FREEZES AS A PHOTOGRAPH.
LOUNGEROOM. INTERIOR. NIGHT.
PETER AT THE TABLE, AS BEFORE READS THE LETTER AS IF HE WAS TALKING TO SOMEONE.
You always wanted to succeed as a business man. As if h was a test of your masculinity. You bought a series of fish’n’chip shops in the outer suburbs and waited for those suburbs to grow and bring you your customers. It sounded OK, but the suburbs didn’t expand at the rate you expected them to. So you never really made it.
AMONGST THE FAMILY PHOTOS NOW THERE ARE A NUMBER OF PHOTOMONTAGES WHILE WE HEAR THE LAST PART OF THE LETTER.
I barely saw you then, except on Sundays.
You told me you worked such long hours because you had to save to send me to university. As I grew older I grew more guilty, thinking that it was me, personally, that kept you locked in those crummy little shops. I used to ask why you didn’t work a 9 to 5 job like Uncle George who’s been working for 30 years at the Spartan Paint Factory. You’d look at me and shake your head, then tell me about the time you’d worked at General Motors. You’ve still got the lousy spanners and screwdrivers and shifters they made you buy before they gave you the job. I can guess how you felt working on the assembly line. You’d been one of the few in the village that could read and speak a bit of English; you had a collection of 20 or 30 books which my grandmother still keeps and which you refer to as your ‘library’.
You felt important. You were on the church committee. People respected you. Then you were thrown into a factory in a foreign country where no one knew you. In your own way you must have been stubborn and probably resisted making friends easily. You were sacked from General Motors.
Then it was lining up for jobs as early as 5.00 in the morning. You said when the foremen came to choose employees they’d go straight for the Anglo-Saxons and leave the dagoes till last. Eventually you got a job at a glass factory. You’ve told me hundreds of times about it and the splinters of glass in your hands.
When I finished university you finally left the shops. Now, a 35 year old manager pushes you around at a ‘4 Square Supermarket’. Your arms ache and all day you dream about getting your pension and heading off again for Cyprus. Drinking coffee and falling asleep on the verandas of the village coffee shops. Talking to old friends who have the patience to listen to you. You dream about pulling down your mother’s old house and building a large new one. You still think there’s a piece of happiness waiting for you back there ……. and that you deserve it. But instead, you fall asleep in front of a T.V. in a house you haven’t paid off yet.
LOOKING OVER THE SHOULDER, PETER COMPLETES THE FINAL PARAGRAPH OF THE LETTER. WE READ:
After 28 years you still owe $6,000 on the house. You dream of paying it off and telling the manager to stick his ‘4 Square Supermarket’ where it belongs. And I dream of giving you $6,000 for your birthday in September.
HE GATHERS UP THE PAGES OF THE LETTER, PLACES THEM INSIDE A BOOK, CLOSES IT. ON THE COVER WE READ ITS TITLE “JOURNEY OF A WISE ELECTRON” AND ITS AUTHOR’S NAME. IT IS THEN RETURNED TO THE BOOKSHELF.
FILM CREDITS – THE HOUSE OF DOCTOR DUENDE
Images Ettore Siracusa
Words and adaptations from the book, Baroque Memories (Carcanet, 1994) by Paul Carter
|Doctor Duende||Paul Karo|
|Duende’s Voice||Paul Carter|
|Simon Palomaras||Statue Maker|
|Cira La Gioa||Mrs Duende (Reader)|
|Anne Wetzel||Mrs Duende/Egnazia|
|Director and Script||Ettore Siracusa|
|Production Design||Ettore Siracusa|
FILM CREDITS – ITALIANS AT HOME
|Actors (In order of appearance)|
|Peter Di Dio|
|Antonio Dal Forno|
|Gruppo Folcloristico Pugliese|
|Antonio Di Martino|
|Anna Di Martino|
|Writer, Director, Producer||Ettore Siracusa|
|Camera Assistant||Roberto Falso|
|Sound Recorder||Ray Bosely|
|Art Director||Ettore Siracusa|
|Film Editor||Ettore Siracusa|
|Production Assistants||Piero Colli
|Music, La Cumparsita||Fang Wei Ming|
|Recorded by||Music Deli, ABC|
|Additional Writing Compiled from the following authors and sources||Peter Lyssiotis|
|Pat Del Mastro|
|Laboratory||Victorian Film Laboratories|
|Swinburne School of Design|
|Costume Design||Jenny Dear|
|Production Manager||Frank Lovece|
|Make Up||Lydia Cover|
|Additional Music||Paul Widdicombe|
FILM CREDITS – NATURA MORTA
|Direction and Writing||Ettore Siracusa|
|Production Assistance||Antonio Di Pierro|
|Frank Di Blasi|
|Photographs of Vizzini||Frank Di Blasi|
|Thanks to||Circolo Pensionati Italiani – Essendon|
|Mr and Mrs Mario Di Gregorio|
FILM CREDITS – SHORT STORY
|Direction, Script and Editing||Ettore Siracusa|
|Camera and Sound||Tony Patterson|
|Thanks to||David Syme & Co|
|Mrs M. Stewart|
FILM CREDITS – LOST
|Man in the park||Henry Albert|
|Boy and Girl||Geoff Levitt Kerith Opie|
|Two Women||June Judson, Lois Connor|
|Les Mc Laren|
|Direction, Script||Ettore Siracusa|
|Camera||Tony Patterson and Don Featherstone|
|Sound||John Endacott and Peter Dodds|
|Dubbing||Peter Dodds, Dida Kondos, John Endacott|