Sight unseen, I am putting the Winter 2007 issue of The Griffith Review in my best reads of 2007. I intend to get one as soon as I can.
I was very impressed by an extract from Rolf de Heer and Molly Reynolds, “A Toxic Mix”, a compassionate account of David Gulpilil in last weekend’s Australian magazine, a summary of which appears here.
DAVID Gulpilil has one of the most recognisable faces in Australia, yet his friend and colleague film-maker Rolf de Heer thinks he remains largely misunderstood by his compatriots. De Heer, who directed the indigenous actor in The Tracker and Ten Canoes, has witnessed his difficulties first-hand.
“Gulpilil likes to believe he can straddle the two cultures,” de Heer said. “The truth is that he’s caught between them and is comfortable in neither. “I had direct experience of Gulpilil’s troubles reconciling the two worlds he inhabited … he went for a walk to buy some cigarettes with $300 in his pocket … 20 minutes later he had less than $10 in loose change and perhaps five cigarettes.”
The director has written a profile of his friend in the hope that Australians will gain a greater understanding of one of our finest actors. De Heer said he decided to write the story – to be published in The Weekend Australian tomorrow – “so that hopefully it allows people to understand him better, where he has come from, why he gets into the sort of stuff that he does”.
Combining the role of a Yolngu tribal elder in Arnhem Land, laden with all the traditional responsibilities and expectations that entails, has not sat easily with the demands of film schedules and celebrity.
His struggles with alcohol and depression are well documented. Gulpilil said the painful division between his two lives was why Crocodile Dreaming – a 27-minute docudrama – was close to his heart. “Crocodile Dreaming is my mother’s dreaming,” he said. “It’s not Crocodile Dundee, it’s not Ten Canoes … It’s my true story.”
Crocodile Dreaming’s director, Gulpilil’s sister-in-law Darlene Johnson, said: “To me, in all the roles that David has played, he has never played a character that was more true to his own self and his own cultural perspective.”
On 28 May as part of the Sydney Writers’ Festival Rolf de Heer discusses this essay, “A Toxic Mix”. I might add that certain famous white actors and the whole cinema industry emerge as troubling in that essay, even if not all the consequences are toxic. This is a prototypical culture clash story in many ways, and an important one.