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Me, Mona and Garry

My Very Own Starving Artist

I come back from three weeks shooting in the Northern Territory of Australia. My first wife greets me. “While you were away, I’ve had a wonderful time. Been out every night—parties, dinners, dates.” “It’s been three weeks—21 dates?” “Not exactly, more like 18 or 19.”

The next day she has gone.

Miserable, I decide to move into the Stone House. Built by Italian masons, it is perched high on a hillside overlooking Sydney Harbour. Three of my close friends live there.

I share with Roger, who has his own 16mm Bolex and makes adventure films, Mike, who works for the Australian Broadcasting Corp. on documentaries, and Garry Shead, our own starving artist.

Garry’s caricature of me

Garry never stops sketching. A boy on a bike, a bird in a tree—we all have our own portraits. Garry is penniless; in fact, his vocational guidance people said that he was unemployable. They were right.

Every Friday night, Roger, Mike and I take him to dinner. We suspect it’s his only decent meal each week.

From time to time, Garry would make a dramatic piece.

Roll Camera
“You cold?”

“No. You cold?”

“A bit.”

“Want to go inside?”

“Sure. You cold?”

Garry is incredibly grateful for the use of my pro filmmaking equipment, and one day gives me a large painting. “Thanks, Garry, but what is it?”

“The Bogle-Chandler murders. You can see the dead bodies in the grass.”

We hang it up. It scares my advertising clients. I give it to my new mother-in-law.

Years Pass
I am in London. Garry has a government grant—six months studying and painting in Paris. He phones. “I’m making a feature film. Can you shoot it for me? I can pay for film stock and processing and a cheap hotel.” A week in Paris; an offer we can’t refuse.

When Tricia and I arrive, we’re keen to see the script. Nope. Nothing. It’s about a couple in Paris who are splitting up. Sophie is French, a well known designer. Tony is Australian, a would-be writer.

Day One
We are in Montparnasse. Sophie and Tony in the foreground.

“Can you discuss your marriage breakup? Sophie, you’re upset. Argue, then walk away, across the road and down that little alleyway.”

She disappears out of sight. “Keep the camera running. Don’t stop.” After eight minutes, the film runs out. Kerr-plat! We never see Sophie again.

No actors. Garry decides to film Paris—maybe we are looking for Sophie. As it’s an Australia Arts Council film, we have permission to film the Mona Lisa. A pretty guide is explaining the painting. I’m filming her. Garry whispers in my ear, “Pan down to her knees.” “I can’t.” “Yes, you can. Great legs. Short skirt. It’s a statement.”

And the dead-bodies-in-the-grass painting? Garry wants it back for a retrospective and swaps it for a “Drover’s Dream” painting, now worth a small fortune. Look after it, Grannie.

Yes, Garry goes on to have many exhibitions, win major awards and prizes: he’s famous—but not for filmmaking.