Saw The Iron Lady and wrote about it for Unleashed a piece they may not want and I’ll put up here if they reject it. The short summary is two great performances in a film unworthy of them, sluggishly confected by two dull women with much more interest in dementia than politics, and no interest whatever, it seems, in how Thatcher changed, and pretty much wrecked, the western world.
On Thursday morning I became aware that Kristin Williamson had fingered me again as a sad, lonely, jealous, friendless failure and bade me get off the earth in her usual regal proud magnanimous way, and had foolishly done so in these pages, whose only editor is me. I had some green tea and Vegemite toast and a think, and after some vacillation decided to exhume our old sexual relationship, and a theory about her attitude I got from it, one chill, horny night in Diamond Creek.
It’s in the correspondence under Tall Poppies.
I may also publish the missing Ellis-Brooksbank-Williamson letters from Days Of Wine And Rage that Kristin had suppressed.
It could be an interesting summer.
Saturday, 31st December, 2011
No correspondence yet from anyone who liked Nothing Personal and no more from the Williamsons. It’s possible they will now do nothing but they could sue, I suppose, and strive to take the house. This is Annie’s great fear – how much Marieke Hardy had to pay for a wrong accusation that was up for only one hour on her blog and named the wrong male pest as her hate-blogger and had to withdraw, apologize and fling sheaves of money at him. It’s a new world. And not a brave one.
The difficulty David and Kristin risk in all this is contained in what she wrote about me in her book and in her recent ballistic reply, and what I wrote about her in mine that Penguin asked me to take out. It wasn’t libellous but would make her ‘uncomfortable’, the editor said. Maybe it should be reprinted.
Their technique has been remarkably successful to date: just say ‘You’re jealous of our success, just look at the money we’re making by writing plays that people want to see’ and watch the befuddled critics crawl backwards out of the room. And for decades the critics have done so. It’s worked very well.
But they’ve never acknowledged, not even for a minute, the part that timing had in their success, as it did in the life of Andrew Lloyd Webber, turning up with Jesus Christ Superstar just when the sixties youth culture was heating up to its clitoral climax and the censorship of the stage (forbidding dramatisations of Christ in the theatre, and nudity, and coarse language, and impertinent political comment) was being lifted at last in England and America.
In David’s case it was the arrival of Don’s Party a few months before Whitlam was uproariously elected, which made him overnight the limelit laureate of that particular eloquent, colourful, poignant, passionate era.
But had he done it a year later, and had John Doyle, for instance, come up with his Changi musical, or some early draft of Pig Iron People in the same big year, 1972, it would then have been John not David who became the flagship comedy-dramatist of the decade and the bankable brand-name of the nineteen-eighties, and it would then have been David who was writing Certain Women and A Country Practice, as Annie my wife did, and I did for a while, and stifling under the storylines. And it would have been John who was having glamorous opening nights at the Opera House and the West End. And deservedly so, because he is, as we all now know, the better writer.
But the ongoing Kristin Doctrine of Williamson Exceptionalism (other people also write good dialogue and raise laughs in plays that succeed but we are exceptional, chosen, apart from the common herd in a somehow royal, somehow predestined way) has an alluring touch to it — of magical realism, of pixie-dust and rainbow’s ends and wishes made on a star — that has drawn too many female interviewers into the Legend that, until now, has been the scenario.
If you say you’re the best, and you imply you have a particular gift for something or other — Baz Luhrman comes to mind in this context, Stephan Elliot, Benedict Andrews, Barry Kosky, Alan Jones, Kyle Sandilands — there will always be a few dull tycoons out there somewhere, and a few fearful bureaucrats in government boardrooms, to admire your impertinence and fund it, and often, not always, a large unlettered audience to reward you. Kristin to her credit understood this. But she did not reckon on the Legend outstaying its welcome, which it has.
These anyway are a few drear midnight thoughts on my seventieth New Year’s Eve to heaven that may guide and shape and sweeten the days and days and days of Kristin ruckus that is to come.
A green tea, I think, and bed.
It was David not Kristin that came back again to these columns, to correct and embellish a few ‘facts’ about his and Kristin’s money, mentioning no amounts and not denying the sex or Kristin’s part in his writing, and perhaps unwisely libelling me by saying my ‘vitriolic attacks’ on Kristin are because she doesn’t treat me with the ‘reverence’ I think I deserve from ‘the opposite sex’; though I never sue; I never sue.
But he’s wrong, really wrong, about why I’m doing this. It’s actually about good table manners, in the end, in table talk like this. For I would respond to Kristin’s apparent guiding belief that all criticism of her and David is somehow a breach of royal protocol with the same splenetic annoyance if she and I were still committing adultery together; and I would by God resent, and resent in public, as I do here, her lofty disdain for better talents than David if we were still the threesome we briefly and brashly and lustily were in September 1974.
David says in his letter he will do now what I suggested a week ago, put money via the Writers’ Guild into the upkeep and care of new playwrights. He hasn’t said how much, and he emphasises it was all there in the pipeline before I suggested it, and it will start, a happy coincidence, next year; and whatever the sum it turns out to be for this good work it will be welcome.
He also reminds me, correctly, of some of his past kindnesses to me and Annie: of the money he put into my run against Bronwyn Bishop (a thousand dollars, Annie recalls, a sum only Peter Garrett equalled and no-one bettered) in late1993, and of the money he gave us, the total I don’t remember, when our house burned down a few months before; and I thank him now of course without caveats for his generosity twice in that far-off calendar year. And I in turn, of course, can also remember, not that it matters, how twenty years before that I helped make Maggie Fink fund the Removalist film, and with O’Malley helped create the theatre, the Nimrod, and the director, John Bell, that launched his career in Sydney.
We have had our ups and downs, as Eleanor of Aquitaine coldly jested in The Lion In Winter. He praised Down Under and A Very Good Year. I praised Petersen, Phar Lap and Duet For Four and bagged Gallipoli, and he sued me for it. We travelled in Bali together, quarrelled in foyers, saw the same great British theatre, got drunk in Chinese restaurants and shared a few girls, or I think we did; two for certain. He mocked me so accurately in Celluloid Heroes that Graham Blundell was excised from the Ellis role in the Belvoir production lest I note the close resemblance and sue them for it. I so esteemed Dead White Males I saw it four times and commanded my grumbling family to it. He said I was ‘unequalled as a rhetorician in the Australian context’, high praise for him. We were civil at writers’ festivals. We never shared a bed again. We exchanged affectionate letters. I really liked Face To Face. My review of it was never published. We planned once to write a musical together but Kristin, territorial as ever, put a quick stop to that.
Kristin is like that. She defends her patch with ferocity, and any intruders are soon cast out of partnership with her meek and sorrowing tall obedient consort. Like Margaret Thatcher or Bronwyn Bishop she believes the past can be removed from a nation’s brain cells if a tough bright girl just has the will to say ‘it never happened’ or ‘how dare you bring that up, it was a long time ago.’ David has caught the disease of denial, and in his latest response now says, in effect, ‘I know I can’t write, of course I can’t write, but I must be paid millions for failing to do it. I think this is only fair.’
But the pigeons are coming home to roost in the eves of elden memory and it’s time perhaps he revealed how much he lately paid resurging litigants, and how much of its wording had to be changed or abolished for legal reasons before Kristin’s memoir was printed last year, if the Penguin rumours are true; and how happy he was in the end with a book that aired so many of their marital difficulties and cast him as an adulterous goof and her as a loyal wife who only took lovers when exasperated by the number, frequency and foolishness of his, a book he said in interviews he had begged her not to write. And if her decision to do no more writing is connected to this.
And it’s time he said — though of course it makes no matter in a legal sense — what sort of work she did on plays like Sons of Cain and Corporate Vibes and Top Silk and Nothing Personal which seem to some to more echo her voice and style than, say, Don’s Party, The Club or The Department and if she will get a credit in future (like, say, ‘With Kristin Williamson’) for the research work she occasionally does for her hardscribbling spouse, if this indeed is the case. When she told my wife in 1974 how lucky she was that I let her put her name on plays that we wrote collaboratively, David was preparing, or conceiving, or working on A Handful Of Friends and this could be added to the list of their joint projects if the theory is true.
There are always two names on the plays and screenplays I co-write. It halves my income from each of these projects but I think it only fair.
Sunday, January 1st, 2012, 7.53 am
Went with difficulty to Beresford’s fireworks party in the house he bought from the Williamsons by the water in Birchgrove, walking for fifty minutes from a blocked-off Darling Street and sharing my map with other pilgrims enthused by water and fire and the turning of the year as I to their surprise was not.
The first thing Bruce said at the door was ‘The Williamsons aren’t coming’. We agreed it was a pity.
The guests who made it through the policing and watched on the verandah the great flowering of beauty above the Bridge included John Duigan, whose new movie Careless Love is terrific and reviwed in these pages, and who may or may not direct in partnership with Bruce, if we can fix it, our Murdoch miniseries; his sister Virginia Duigan, Bruce’s wife, whose novel The Precipice, lately launched by Barry Humphries, Annie says is really good; the cinematographer Don McAlpine who shot Breaker Morant and Driving Miss Daisy, now in his middle seventies and shooting ‘a science fiction film’ in New Orleans; the playwright-academic Larry Buttrose who is unabashedly still at work on his vast and punishing Don Quixote Project; the American-born actor and writer Nicholas Hammond who was one of the children in The Sound Of Music and lately played Arthur Miller in Intimate Strangers in the reading Bruce directed at the Wharf; and his partner Robyn Nevin, content she said to be touring in the Doll at 69 (she is six months younger than me) as it meant she was ‘still working’.
She wasn’t pleased I was fighting, again, with the Williamsons — ‘Still at it are you, darling?’ — but agreed I think with my dim view of Nothing Personal, though Beresford liked it a lot. ‘It was my idea,’ she said. ‘I was up at Pearl Beach at a lunch with some semi-retired arts bureaucrats and I looked around the table and thought a play about people who were losing their influence in the world, and how this affected them, would be a good thing to do. And I soon asked David to write it. And he did. And it wasn’t what I wanted at all.’
‘And you rejected it?’
‘Yes. Yes, I did.’
‘Have you seen this production?’
‘No. No. I haven’t.’
She’d directed Corporate Vibes, of course, and may not have liked the experience.
And the fireworks banged and crackled and bloomed and faded above the Opera House and the Bridge and the dark, boat-bobbing water.
David and Kristin would have loved to have seen this from the old verandah, I thought.
But not, perhaps, tonight.
This blog racked up 1196 hits on Friday-Saturday and 1154 on Saturday-Sunday not counting my own interventions and on these figures, I am told, it just might attract some advertising, from cinemas and theatres, for instance.
Not, I would think, from the Ensemble for a while.
Kristin’s resemblance to Margaret Thatcher is worth brooding on. She lacks the whisky component, but other qualities are similar; the David-Denis comparison merits attention also.
I will ponder this more closely.
Beresford has written in defending Nothing Personal under my piece about boat people and constitutes, thus far, the Williamsons’ only advocate in these pages.
It may not prove a breach between us, the first in fifty-one years of acquaintanceship, friendship and collaboration early and late, but then again it may.
And so it goes.
The hits on this blog this New Year’s Day look like totalling more than two thousand; proving, I guess, that the lovers’ quarrels of even septuagenarians draw audiences when honour’s at the stake (in Hamlet’s words) and the arguments well put.
Or it may be that the Williamsons’ world is one of corporate secrets hidden for generations from prying eyes and this is the world of wikileaks where everything soon gets known by everybody.
Let’s see what the morrow brings.
Monday, January 2nd, 2012
My co-writer Denny Lawrence emailed while I was asleep that there will be a staged reading in New York of our Olivier-Monroe-Miller-Leigh-Coward play Intimate Strangers to scare up backers for a full production Off-Broadway this year. The Curtis-Branagh film on Monroe and Olivier has at last alerted interest in the bleeding obvious and the excellent script, praised alike by Bell, Carr, Collins, Williams, Beresford, Nevin, Forsythe, Ralston Saul, Al Clark and Greta Scacchi, and rejected, of course, by the Ensemble three years ago, who preferred the work of the Williamsons.
Twelve years in the writing, during which our audience died, and three years in the waiting after the economic downturn hobbled its first, fresh London hopes, the touring New York version and a proposed new West End one with Barry Humphries as Noel Coward may fund some part, I guess, of my extreme old age, now imminent, and show the world at last some measure of the Williamson Effect, which is to stop good work getting on in significant Australian theatres, and interrupting careers that might have else brought joy to many audiences.
Andrew Upton has for three years refused to read it, saying ‘I’m just so busy’.
Went to Wayne’s for an onion sandwich, a Vegemite sandwich, a peanut butter sandwich, a Coke and a latte and a brisk walk round the block and began to wonder if I should sell now from this address the DVD we did of Beresford’s reading — with Muldoon, Heather Mitchell, Amanda Bishop, Nicholas Hammond, Terry Clark and Patrick Brammall as Olivier, Leigh, Monroe, Miller, Coward and Tarquin Olivier — of Intimate Strangers for five dollars each; or four. It might convince some theatre managements of its superiority to Nothing Personal and Dog’s Head Bay and encourage them to put it on in my lifetime and make me a few spare millions; but you never know.
Best, I think, to do a few more readings with that fine cast and then sell shares in it. The Olivier-Monroe market is hot for a few weeks and we should move now.
And so it goes.
A biscuit and a latte at the Bookoccino after going for half an hour to The Skin I Live In which seems to be rubbish, and a look at what the politicians are reading over the summer (Shorten Richard Mahony, Mawson, and After America; Swanny Keynes/Hayek, Kissinger on China, and Keith Richard’s Life; Rudd The Tyrannicide Brief, Ruby Blues, Civilisation, and Why The West Rules — For Now; Penny Wong some baby books and There Goes The Neighbourhood, and Gillard of course Tony Bilson’s ‘culinary memoir’ whilst curled up front of her role model Miss Marple wittering and solving things on the television) and listing in my mind, for what it’s worth, what I am also reading.
Niall Ferguson’s Empire; Peter Ackroyd’s The History Of England: Foundation; Eric Lax’s The Mold In Dr. Florey’s Coat; Wodehouse’s Carry On, Jeeves for the eighth time; Hitchens’ Unacknowledged Legislation for the second; David Marr’s Panic; W.H. Auden’s Prose, Volume IV; Arthur Miller’s Echoes Down The Corridor; Thomas Harris’s The Fear Index; Ian Kershaw’s The End: Hitler’s Germany, 1944-45; and, if I can get them, Fred Raphael’s Letters 1978-79 and Hugh Trevor-Roper’s wartime diaries.
It is a little amazing to me that the Prime Minister has not yet read her first book on Asian or European or Middle Eastern or American affairs; or any novel on any subject whatsoever since high school; but who am I to criticise our Blameless Leader In This Time Of Enormous Global Challenge for such a tiny oversight. No doubt there will be someone in the office to tell her what to think; what to think, say, when Gaza is next bombed to smithereens, on January the tenth or so, I am told, and to write the pro-Israel speech and coach her through its delivery; the one that says that like 007 Israel is licensed to kill, and kill in particular children ‘in self-defence’, on any Christmas holiday of their choosing, and that will be that: only a few dozen immolated schoolkids, Prime Minister, who will miss them, only their immediate family, only people unapprised of the big picture; people much like, well, you, Prime Minister.
But, hell, by then Miss Marple will have solved nine Home County homicides; and that, of course, is what matters.
No defence but Beresford’s yet of Nothing Personal in the fifteen days since I called it a sort of war crime. Perhaps the North Shore audience is uncertain about it.
I ask them to speak up, if they will, and say why they liked it so much. And anyone who detested Intimate Strangers, of course, when it was on, and why they found it so bad, boring and feeble-minded.
I invite contributions.
Watched four episodes of In Treatment marvelling at the dialogue and the performance in particular of Mia Wasikowska, then seventeen, and the subtle, shaded reactions of Gabriel Byrne, the guilt-smitten psychologist, who can hint aggression, lust and moral fury better than almost any living Irishman other than Peter O’Toole. The blog hits for today are now 2,501 in only eleven hours, not counting mine, and should top three thousand by this long night’s journey’s end. Would Kristin Williamson call this a ‘success’? I doubt it.
Tuesday, January 3rd, 2012
A good exchange with a Liberal-voting fool who seems to be a Williamson friend in the columns below this entry.
It would be interesting to track the Williamson audience from Labor in 1972 through Democrat in 1985 to Liberal now. It has nothing to do with his politics I think, just the social circles which he, an Engineering graduate resident in Coastal Queensland, grew more familiar with.
And so it goes.
11.40 am. The final figures for yesterday now in: 3,978. Tendulkar already in.
India’s innings a debacle. How foolish it is to bowl so well. It loses the SCG millions, and saddens a billion batting enthusiasts, here and on the Subcontinent.
The more I think about Thatcher and Kristin the more appropriate the comparison seems. Will-power. Gorgeous legs. Lofty flirtatiousness. Implacability. I suspect Maggie too would have been terrigic in bed.
Is ‘terrific in bed’ libellous? Under the Higgins Rules, probably.
It could be seen to imply the woman was ‘unchaste’.
What a proud Australian coinage.
A very funny send-up of all this by Ben Popjie on his blog shows good writing did not end when Rodney Cavalier by ministerial fiat abolished good spelling.
It should go in any future update of Dwight MacDonald’s classic collection, Parodies.