How my spirits plummeted when I heard the words ‘Jocelyn can’t be here today’. This was because I was at a twentieth-anniversary screening of the thigh-slappingly great Australian flick Proof and the main reason I’d overcome my customary inclination to total paralysis was that I’d wanted to see how its director, Jocelyn Moorhouse, had been faring, given that, to my distress, she seemed to have disappeared from the world as comprehensively as Miranda and the rest in the still-terrifying Picnic at Hanging Rock.
Official twentieth-anniversary screenings of anything exert a weird pull on the emotions that is not nearly so present when one watches a motion picture at home and just happens to be doing so on a date two decades after the particular flick was released. Especially when you’re as self-absorbed as I, it’s simply impossible not to start thinking about your own life, rather than about the film, and about whether things are going better for you now than they were at the time of the first screening. On the upside, when I saw Proof at the cinema this time around, it was on a beautiful shorts-wearing spring afternoon, in contrast with when I’d first seen it, and it was the middle of winter, and I was still attending horrid old university, complete with savagely lonely hours spent in the library and combing through the unappealing wares at the Co-op bookshop. On the downside, because I’m now middle aged, Death is just around the next bend, waving his big old scythe at me but, on the upside again, this is still far preferable to higher education in the era before we had the glorious Internet spread out before us, for convenient plagiarisation.
At any rate, there were whole minutes when I was actually concentrating solely on Proof. It is, of course, based around the old crowd pleaser of the ‘love triangle’, which was used to such magnificent effect in Making Love, in which Harry Hamlin turns Kate Jackson’s husband into a homosexual. Just as spectacularly, the points of Proof ’s triangle are chilly natured and mistrustful blind man, Martin (Hugo Weaving); his mind-game-inclined housekeeper, Celia (Genevieve Picot), who is obsessed with him; and Andy (Russell Crowe), a kitchenhand who becomes Martin’s only friend once he, Andy, agrees to describe to him the photographs that Martin takes as proof that what he senses is before him is really there.
Also, many and varied Proof-related thoughts preoccupied me. First, there was the fact of how easy it is to forget that Russell Crowe was once sexually attractive. I recall that when Proof first made its appearance, he was already being rude to, and walking out on, journalists, as demonstrated in many a story with a headline employing the words ‘the Crowe Flies’. He was not deterred from doing this even though he was relatively obscure, which, in some ways you have to admire, as demonstrating such a devil-may-care attitude towards ‘the brand’, an expression that was not yet au courant in 1991, another way in which things were better then, and that, in another way indicates that he is really just a silly bastard of two decades’ standing. On a happier note, I was struck anew by the degree to which Hugo Weaving played a blind man far better than did the actor who portrayed the only sightless person in The Restless Years. And seeing the beauteous Saskia Post, in the small role of a waitress, the question raised his head, as it always does for me, of why didn’t she go on to a teetering pile of bigger things, after not only having matched Michael Hutchence for charisma in Dogs in Space but outclassed the earnest, Midnight Oil-drenched nuclear-war-themed romantic comedy One Night Stand? Most of all, though, I had to wonder what Martin’s house would be worth now; those were certainly the days, when even a blind man could afford to live in a big old house in Kew.
One of the most successful things in the glorious achievement that is Proof is the great distance that Moorhouse manages to take her audience with characters who aren’t, on the whole, ‘likeable’ – perhaps the furthest that anyone has managed since Margaret Mitchell created the venal and humourless, yet endlessly compelling, Scarlett O’Hara. I was interested to note all the criticism that was directed towards the television show, The Slap, and the book on which it was based, that its characters were far too unlikeable. I must confess that I cannot comment on this, as I have, to date, managed only one episode of The Slap, which was precisely the blur I expected of Alex Dimitriades, one of the kids from Tangle, and an old lady in black screaming at everybody, not to mention a sonorous voiceover from William McInnes. I find it amazing that it’s supposed to be a great thing that characters be likeable when, really, who cares, as long as they are engaging? I’m not trying to be some Katharine Hepburn feisty individualist big-gardening-hat-wearing type when I say this; it’s the fact that, in real life, the people I find myself wanting most to discuss are those whom I loathe utterly. But something that Proof does masterfully is make ‘unlikeable’ characters not only endlessly interesting but also, ultimately likeable. Martin is what, in another era, might be called a ‘cold fish’ but his vulnerability is clear from the first time he makes a social overture to Andy by asking him in for, astonishingly, a glass of port. Andy appears to be a person who if you asked him to mind your house and feed the cat would probably forget all about it, making you want to wrap a silk scarf around his neck and choke him, but he does have an irresistibly sunny disposition. Celia is spiteful and manipulative but these qualities seem to arise mainly from loneliness – as it is clear that Martin is the only person she has in her life – and from the way in which love, and especially, of course, unrequited love, makes damn fools of us all. What’s more, the magnetism of these three characters has in no way diminished since the film’s release, back in the time that Ratcat were the talk of the nation and Guru Josh was still on top of the world.
Most of all, though, I thought about the fact of Jocelyn Moorhouse having, no doubt wisely, turned tail on Eucalyptus (leading to plenty of ‘Nothing to Crowe about’ style headlines), not exactly directed a massive amount of films since Proof, while her husband, PJ Hogan, post Muriel’s Wedding, has directed quite a few, even if the most recent one is rather unfortunately called Mental. I’m not saying that work is everything – in common with everyone, I essentially hate working and would like nothing more than never to do it again – and, judging from the commentary on the Proof DVD, Moorhouse and Hogan have a very close and professionally supportive partnership, but whenever I hear of a woman going into retirement, or semi-retirement, for many years while her husband doesn’t, it really does make me hate everyone, man, woman and beast, for the day.
Given the above concerns, it was a massive relief to learn from those connected with Proof who were able to appear at this screening that Moorhouse has a movie in development. On the other hand, it was appalling to learn that there is apparently little possibility of there ever being a blu-ray of Proof, because who make such decisions do not consider the interest in this product to be sufficiently high. I need hardly say what a terrible state of affairs this is, given that there are blu-rays of Green Street Hooligans 2, Perrier’s Bounty, Bonded by Blood and Step Up 3, but not of a bona fide Australian classic; and, yes, a recognised bona fide Australian classic, unlike, say, Cappuccino. While I frankly adore the above-mentioned Dogs in Space and talk it up at every opportunity, it was neither a commercial smash and nor was it festooned with awards, and yet it is on blu-ray. While this particular release was good news for me, it was not good news for the many thinking people who hate and despise Richard Lowenstein’s autobiographical flick, and surely a larger sample of humanity would welcome Proof ’s emergence on blu-ray.
On a more cheerful theme, I offer a lavish thank you to those who have been kind enough to look at my website in the whole eight days it’s been in existence. I wish you a splendid Christmas, on which commercialism is out of control and the wrappings are piled high, without a single thoughtful homemade card, or donation to charity made in your name, in sight.