Monday, November 27, 2006

David & Margaret

With only a few hours notice I received an invite yesterday, courtesy of a Dendy Cinemas competition, to 'an evening with David & Margaret'. It was the last event of the year presented by The Age/Dymocks Books at the Arts Centre (ANZ Pavilion). These events usually have writers speak about their books, and on this occasion it was the promotion of a DVD: "Margaret & David At The Movies Interactive Quiz".

With some hasty phone calls and child-minding arrangements, my partner Zoe joined me after work. At The Movies is the only TV program I make a point of watching. I enjoy the thoughtful, intelligent and passionate discussion and banter of these two, who are this year celebrating 20 years on screen together.

In real estate, of utmost importance is location, location, location. With this in mind and as is my custom with anything film, I arrived early, just prior to the guest speakers. This also afforded me the opportunity, for some brief introductory conversation with David and Margaret, before the masses (about 100) arrived. During this brief exchange, I learnt that (1) Margaret is diminutive in stature, (2) her hands are quite proportionate to her size (and not as large as they seem when she projects them out to the TV camera), (3) she and David are aware of my prolific postings on the At The Movies message board (Margaret commented that it's nice to be able to put a face to a name), and (4) David gives a warm and modest handshake. I found both to be warm and approachable.

Dymocks had a couple of books (including 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, which Zoe bought me for my last birthday) and the DVD on sale. I'm not really into the fan thing, but did buy the DVD to get it signed. I always feel these things are an awkward imposition, but David & Margaret were graciously patient as I took the photo above.

We were ushered into the room, David & Margaret took their seats, and the proceedings began. There was sharing of stories by D&M, interspersed with a small trivia competition. The trivia questions revolved around subjects that D&M were going to talk about. Robert Altman's Nashville is Margaret's favourite film, and David is also fond of his work (he narrated an interesting story from many years ago, in which he spent a few hours with Altman and met Groucho Marx).

With Altman's recent passing on people’s minds, the first question was "which Altman film contains a story that was also the basis of the story in Jindabyne?" [Answer: Short Cuts]. We had another four questions, then, to Margaret's amusement (or was it embarrassment?) a bonus one: "Who had a brief role as Guy Pierce's role's mother in Pricilla: Queen of the Desert? [Answer: Margaret Pomeranz].

Damn! I had so little notice of the evening's event that I didn't get the opportunity to purchase that recording device I've been meaning to get for such events. During the evening, various topics were discussed and later there were some audience questions.

Margaret spoke of her vehement "hatred" of the American studios and their intolerance of competition from other countries. The Americans don't just want to sell their products, they want to destroy every other country's products. David concurred. He described how the American industry lobbied relentlessly against the French system of supporting its local film industry by taxing cinema seats for American films.

With this in mind, and with a brittle local industry, Margaret openly admitted to being biased towards Australian films, passionately declaring “when I go to a cinema, I want to hear Australian voices”. While I think her ideas have merit, I won’t discuss them here. There is a discussion on At The Movies that I have participated in, as well a similar and very recent one at Alison Croggon’s Theatre Notes.

I learnt that David has been a passionate advocate against censorship, particularly when he was a director of the Sydney Film Festival during the 1960’s and 1970’s. He described censorship in those days as “vicious”, and hardly a film was released without a cut, even Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Margaret added that every instance of “shit” was cut; the censors wouldn’t allow it. David narrated an amusing story about the NSW censorship board, but I won’t repeat it here.

On the subject of censorship, David earlier wryly remarked that he was lobbying the OFLC for a new HHC classification – Hand Held Camera.

There was some discussion about the state of the Australian industry, and some of the different stages it went through. David described a small acting role he played when younger, and (to our amusement) how he had turned down another because he felt it didn't suit his image at the time. He said he didn't pursue acting, because he didn't think he looked good enough. I suppose we all have foolish thoughts in our youth.

There was a question about what regions of the world are producing interesting cinema. D&M's consensus was: Korea, Iran, China, other parts of Asia and Spain. I've heard much of Korean cinema, but we seem lucky in Melbourne to get one Korean film distributed in a year, outside of film festivals. I just love Iranian cinema, particularly Panahi (especially The Circle) and Kiarostami.

David described a decline in eastern European cinema since the dismantling of the USSR, with a loss of state-sponsored cinema. And the rest of Europe also appears in decline. Italy and France seem to have lost their edge.

Margaret self-deprecatingly referred to herself as “motormouth”. She referred to how David irritates her, and she irritates him. They don’t compare notes on a film until they’re before the camera. However, as they often go to the same screenings, they sometimes have an idea of the other’s opinion (Margaret came out of The Departed appalled, for example, and couldn’t conceal her disgust and disappointment). David described how he likes to ‘throw’ Margaret with an unexpected comment in front of the camera.

It was a very enjoyable evening in which we witnessed a reasonably spontaneous display of banter and discussion that closely resembled the dynamics that have made these two one of television's most enduring and endearing partnerships.

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