I watched the Alex Buzo memorial program last night. I thought it was very good. Bob Ellis said in his shambling, hyperbolic way that part of the reason Buzo stopped writing plays was the Webber invasion of the 1980s, and that rarely were three words as dreadful as Andrew + Lloyd + Webber, after whom Australian theatre went from a thriving condition to desolation. Another was that critics never quite came to terms with his change of direction and kept on reading his plays in terms of what they wanted them to be rather than what they actually are.
I note here too that the Balmain Theatre Group where my one and only real stage appearance was as Clarrie in Buzo’s The Roy Murphy Show in 1978 — a revival of course — must have come to an end in 1985. The papers and photographs are now in the State Library of NSW. Perhaps I should go and take a nostalgic look at them some day.
For coachee reasons I bought the DVD of David Williamson’s The Club the other day. The lead role is taken by a very young John Howard, but not the Gnome one. The movie really is not as funny as the stage play, the Nimrod production of which I saw in 1979, it must have been, at the Dapto Leagues Club in Wollongong. What a place to see it that was! Drew Forsythe was in it, I remember. The DVD of course also has Graham Kennedy; the great thing about the DVD is that the extras really are good — an ABC radio version of the original play, a good set of vintage interviews with Williamson, and even more that I haven’t yet seen.
Last night’s Foreign Correspondent was also very good, especially the story West Bank – Love & Betrayal about a suicide bomber, the suicide bomber’s “guru”, a turncoat, and one of the suicide bomber’s victims. Without sensationalism or overt propaganda or special pleading it really went into some depth about that whole awful Israel/Palestine situation. Great, responsible journalism, I thought. A transcript should appear there soon.
Set in rural East Pakistan before it broke away from Pakistan to form Bangladesh, [The Clay Bird] revolves around the family of a homeopathic doctor, who is a stern, orthodox Moslem Kazi (Jayanto Chattopadhyay). He lives with his long-suffering wife Ayesha (Royeka Prachy), his two young children and his brother, the free-thinking Milon (Soaeb Islam). The Kazi sends his son Anu to school at the Madrassa where he is to receive a rigorous and fundamentalist education. Meanwhile, however, the boy’s uncle is caught up in the democratic movement which finally forces the country’s dictator, General Yahya, to hold elections. When the Kazi and his family are swept up in the civil war, their involvement brings about tragic circumstances. Directed by Tareque Masud and also stars Nurul Islam Bablu and Russell Farazi, this film received the FIPRESCI Prize at the 2002 Cannes Film Festival and Best Screen Play Award at the 2002 Marrakech International Film Festival.
The Clay Bird managed to do what really great fiction often can do: it humanised The Other, taking us way beyond all our fears and stereotypes, not in such a way as to make us complacent, but in such a way that empathy becomes possible. I wish more of my compatriots had been watching it. One would have a much deeper understanding after watching this movie of just what a madrassa is and what it does. See the interview with the director, Tareque Masud, at the link above.