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Tu esday May 15, 2018
THE CHRONICLE/THE QUEANBEYA N AGE
McFarlane has had an
British movie star Merle
Meal of It:
Review by SIMON
ONE of the mostprolificwriters on film
currently working in English, Brian
McFarlaneisalsoone of the most
knowledgeableand wide-ranging. MakingaMeal
of It is aselection of McFarlane’s occasional
writings dating from the 1970sthrough to the
presenttakenfromanarray of respected
publicationsboth local and overseas.
The book provides an impressivesample of
McFarlane’svast journalistic and academic output.
It willappeal to readers who haveenjoyedhis work
over the pastfourdecades as well as being useful
to anyone who writes seriouslyabout film and
As IanBritain points out in the eloquent
introduction,McFarlane takes film seriously,‘‘a sa
medium in its ownrightwith its owndistinctive
language,but notsolemnly,asarefined artform
divorced from the rest of life’’.
In terms of subjectmatter, Making aMealofIt
showcases the extent anddepth of the author’s
engagement with British, Australianand American
film and his interest in exploring the complex
relationship betweenliteratureand cinema.
Iknowofnocritic who has writtenmore
insightfully about the negotiation –both the subtle
and less subtle aspects –between ascreen
adaptation of classic workofliteratureand the
Unlike thosecritics who seem to decide that a
particular era, director or actordefines all that
cinema is capableofachieving, McFarlane’s
appetitefor cinema-going appears inexhaustible.
Although obviously he has somefirmfavourites
amongdirectorsand actors,wedon’t get the sense
that McFarlaneassumes he has seen it all before.
Likeany critic of quality, McFarlaneiswell-
informedand preparedalways to consider views
that differ from his ownevenashepresentsstrong,
oftenoutspoken opinions.Heiswell awarethat,in
relation to film in particular,emotional response
and aesthetic appreciation go hand in hand.
Cinema,perhaps morethan any other formof
entertainment with mass appeal, is both intensely
actual in the sense that the people we seeonthe
screen reallydoliveand breathe,and they also
inhabit much largerand morevivid versions of
themselves as characters they createthroughthe
techniques and poweroffilm art.
The famousquestion posed in theYeats’poem
aboutthe impossibility of separating the dancer
from the dance applies to film, and especially so
that in real life might have been done on the spur
of the moment if not altogetherbyaccident.
The lastsection in the bookfeatures somemore
personal pieces,including an entertaining account
ofthe author’s fascination with thelegendary
movie star Merle Oberon, which began as afilm-
goer’s crush when McFarlanewas 12 years old.
McFarlane, who writes thathis wife‘‘lookedlike
Merle when we were married’’,jumped at the
chance to visitthe actor at her home in laterlife
afterOberon had all but retired from starring on
the big screen.
It seemsMcFarlane’s wife wascontent for her
husbandtogotothe meeting by himself.
McFarlane’sevocation of Oberon as an
enchanting screen idol of his youthful daydreams
who alsoturned outtobeareal person has a
correlativeinthe picturesshe permitted him to
take during the meeting.
Even thoseamateur snaps were affectedby
Oberon’s cinematicaura: ‘‘ My resulting photos are
onlyalittleblurred, and areinfact as good as you
could expect from ashaking hand.’’
with Kerryn Goldsworthy and Steven Carroll
On asmall farm in Pennsylvania, during the19th century,CyBellmanis
packing to go west.Hehas read of thebones of huge animals being
unearthed in Kentucky and has become convinced that thesebeasts exist
somewhere in thewilderness beyond theriver.Sohesetsout to find them,
leaving his10-year-olddaughter,Bess,inthe care of hisforbiddingsister,
Julie, andthe slovenly farmhand Elmer Jackson,and accompanied by an
undersized,inscrutable and unprepossessing Shawnee boy.Thissmall book
is avisionary and beautiful fableofdiscoveryand dreaming, along withsome
harsh truths aboutthe realityofAmerican historyand itsdreamers’ lives. Behind it you canhear the rustling
weight of American literature: Moby-Dick, Huckleberry Finn, ColdMountain, LonesomeDove.And the writing
is astonishing,right to the heart-stoppingend.
Civilisations: How Do We Look?
The Eye of Faith
Mary Beard’sstudy is adialoguewithKenneth Clark’s1969 TV series
Civilisation –bothcritiqueand homage. Clark’sversionisEurocentric,hence
the titlechange here to pluralbecausethere are many,fromMexicoto
ancient Greece. Thefirst part examines depictionsofthe humanbody,
especially Praxiteles’ statueofAphrodite,the firstfemale nude, which
becomesafocus for examiningthe origins of the‘‘malegaze’’.It’salso
consistentwith anotheraspect of herproject, to givewomen ‘‘theirdue
share of the limelight’’, exemplified in thewonderfultale of the womanknown
now only as ‘‘Boutade’sdaughter’’, who, when her loverwas leavingonajourney,took alamp, threw his
shadow on awall, and traced it. The second partexaminesthe troubledhistory of religiousart.Heavy subject,
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