Saturday, October 14, 2006


Our documentary filmshoot is underway. The Madaz is full of big roadcases stuffed with shotgun mics, tripods, redheads, cables, a brand-new aluminium clipboard (a must-have), and a serious-looking high definition video camera with interchangeable lenses and a bewildering array of knobs, buttons, levers, dials, displays, sockets, plugs and orifices. Goddamn it, i'm a photographer! Moving images make me giddy. What does this button do? Oops a daisy!

Earlier this week, Mayhem and Art Director went to lunch with FTI and TOV representives, as well as the other esteemed filmmakers. One filmmaker is making a documentary on a Iraqi refugee woman who spent three years in an immigrant detention centre and now lives in Town of Vincent. Mayhem and i are making a documentary on Rino Orifici, an 82-year-old Sicilian mechanic who came to Perth in 1948. Rino specialises in pre 1980 Fords. Therefore we plan to commandeer a Ford Mustang or 1964 XP convertible and career around the town of Vincent, seeing, through Rino's eyes, how the town has changed. We hope his story will serve as a metonym for the 1950's Italian migrant experience. It is provisionally entitled "The Ford Maestro."

The other two filmmakers are engaged in making a slapstick comedy about a jogger. I tell them the story of how i stopped to help a woman trying to pushstart her car at Port Beach carpark one afternoon. When i offered to help, she looked at me askance, and ran away. It was then i realised she was a jogger, stretching her calf muscles by leaning on the back of a parked car.

So the lunch is going smoothly. The Recreation Officer turns up with bottles of wine, as any good Recreation Officer should. The rice-paper rolls and stuffed chicken entrées are delicious. The main meals are good, although mine is not quite so good as everyone else's. Why? Perhaps because i ordered my meal in Vietnamese, without knowing how to read or pronounce it. I just make indochinese-sounding noises and point at the picture. The Vietnamese waiter, who speaks English better than me, appears unimpressed. My meal, when it arrives, consists of about two kilograms of snow peas, and very little else. Then, to make matters worse, one of the comedic filmmakers makes the mistake of bagging out Angelina Jolie and cocaine-sniffing celebrities who jump on the back of this or that cause. Uh-oh. This sends Mayhem off on a diatribe. "What, if you have all that power and media attention you're just meant to shut up and say your lines? You can't voice your political views? What's wrong with drawing attention to the injustices of this world? I think Angelina is cool. What's wrong with cocaine? Anyone who criticises cocaine obviously hasn't had enough of it!" and so on. It seems there might be a food fight. Mayhem is flicking a lot of victuals about the table anyway as she grapples with her chopsticks, although most of this culinary carnage is unintentional. I am thinking it best to change the subject before a stir-fried baby corn becomes a missile. I begin to talk learnedly about Special Effects. "Look what i got," i say. I procure a pair of wind-up Groucho glasses from my coat pocket. "Who needs CGI."

I put them on. The moustache and eyebrows move mechanically up and down, accompanied by whirring clockwork noises. The people around the table stare at me blankly, before Mayhem and Comedy Man resume the Angelina argument, only more vehemently than before. Hmm. Should i have brought the Billy Bob Teeth?

The lunch convenors usher us toward the door. Mayhem is still arguing with Comedy Man. Admittedly he does look like he just stepped off the set of Australian Idol, with his fancy embroidered shirt and carefully spiked hair. For my money, this is an automatic veto over any rights he thinks he may have had to hold an opinion. "Special effects?" Mayhem is saying. "How about i pour petrol over you and strike a match? That's a good effect." Yes, that would be pretty special.

The subject raises some interesting issues. If you accept the proposition 'everything is political' (which i do not - for reasons i will go into later) then it follows that everybody who thinks or speaks necessarily holds a political opinion, even if their opinion is that nothing is political. But in our society some persons' opinions carry more weight than others. This may be because they are a spokesperson for a particular group, like the Greens Senator Bob Brown, the Pope, or Noel Pearson. Or it may be that they have a record of being a lucid and coherent commentator on complex issues, like an Eva Cox, or a Don Watson. But what if their opinion carries weight because they are simply entertaining? What if they occupy the middle ground, like that strange beast, the political cartoonist? (Think Bill Leak, or my favourite, Michael Leunig - who would probably say that he is not political). I have alluded to the idea that if a person dresses like a rating TV show clone, they perhaps forfeit any claim to hold an original thought. This is a particularly clothesist stance, i admit, but there you have it. Should the political opinion of a celebrity similarly be vetoed because of their (frivolous?) rôle as entertainer? If they have no track record as a writer or a thinker capable of constructing a political argument or any cogent critique of social values?

Celebrities have a hold on such a large chunk of the public ear. Film stars get a lot of attention outside their work, and are paid ridiculous amounts of money for what they actually do, which is, basically, lie extremely well and look good when doing it. The notion that people should be paid in proportion to the virtue of their work is a fanciful and romantic one, but hey, i like it. Why should Bill Gates be one of the richest people around? Why not Mother Theresa or the nice lady at the opshop? Has Bill done any of us any good? Perhaps Bill, like Angelina, has done nothing particularly worthy to amass his fortune. But what fascinates us is that a Bill or an Angelina might choose to do something worthy with all that wealth and power. That's what gives their charitable actions such import. What does someone who "has it all" want to do with it all? Rather than what someone with a mission or an agenda wants to do. And yes, we are a pack of clones. What they do does have an effect on how many of us think and raises our awareness about a range of political issues.

If awareness of injustice is a good thing, does it matter where this awareness comes from? Nope. The idea that it might is a logical fallacy, although i forget which one. If something is a good idea, it is a good idea regardless of where the idea comes from. So if the idea for the Volkswagen (the "People's Car") is a good one, it is a good one regardless of whether Adolf Hitler was part of its genesis. Eureka! That's it - the Genetic Fallacy. That's the name in the formal logic of Western philosophy for this error in thinking. If you're interested in this stuff, click here and be sure to check out the cool argument for free will over determinism near the bottom of the page. Very good to have at hand next time someone argues that you are not drinking that beer out of free will.

So, just because it may be Angelina and not Mother Theresa raising awareness about refugees fleeing Burma (or 'Myanmar' as the regime insists), that doesn't make the plight of these refugees any less of a reality or any less of a tragedy. Similarly, i should acknowledge that a person's opinion may in fact be a legitimate one regardless of their clothing and/or hairstyle. My clothesist attitude must go!

But why listen to me? I'm just a photographer...

To return briefly to the nonsensical "everything is political" proposition. If everything is political, and nothing is apolitical, then politics ceases to exist. It becomes invisible, intangible and ineffectual. You can only see something in terms of what is is not. A figure needs a ground. It's like "seeing through" everything. By seeing through everything, you see nothing.

Politics harms most those who ignore it.


Emma Vickery said...

Hi Mark,

I'm trying to track down a copy of your film "The Ford Maestro" to give to Tom DiChiera, a local business owner who featured briefly in the film. Could you please contact me?


Emma Vickery

Emma Vickery said...

My email is