House of Iona

Sydney journal part three

Thursday 16 June 2005

On my last day in Sydney, I check out of the hotel in Potts Point at 10am after a friendly goodbye with the manager John. After a quick coffee at Paradiso, I get a taxi to the House of Iona and wait in the foyer for CM, who is running a bit late. Meanwhile, Amanda’s assistant gives me the bits and pieces I’d asked for, and takes my details. She says that Amanda wants me to sign another confidentiality agreement covering the interviews, and I ask for it to be sent electronically. Sky then takes me up the staircase to the right of the foyer to CM’s wing, which is painted white and carpeted in cream, very light and sunny. CM greets me warmly, and we go out on to a sunny balcony at the back of the house, which has wicker chairs and sofa with white cushions, and a table. CM, who is dressed in black top and trousers, with her hair tied back, sits on the sofa rather painfully, and tells me that she’s just had a baby boy.

I am totally taken by surprise, and cannot believe that Baz has not mentioned this to me. It all suddenly comes together, and I congratulate CM, and ask if he has a name. She says he’s called William, and that she’d had a crisis about him being called Willy (rhyming with Lilly), but her father had convinced her that it was a good name. We chat about names and parenting for a while before beginning the interview. As she had the baby on 8 June, I am amazed that she is in a fit state to talk to me. Her assistant brings us tea, and we begin by talking about her childhood. She is a bit hesitant sometimes, and is clearly still recovering from the birth. However, she talks revealingly about her background and her working relationship with Baz.

Costume design for 'Australia'
Set design for 'Australia'

About 45 minutes into the interview, her nanny comes out onto the balcony with the tiny newborn baby in a body cradle strapped to her front. We carry on talking, until Sky arrives at 12pm to ask whether we’ve finished. CM says we can continue for a while, so we carry on talking until 12.30pm, when there are sounds of CM’s mother arriving for lunch. Sky comes back, and I ask if we can just finish discussing the last question. We do so, and Sky comes back after 5 minutes, as I pack up to leave. CM asks whether they’ll see me again, and I say that maybe I can return to do some ‘fact checking’. I tell her that it has been a dream of mine for a long time to talk to her, and she is pleased by the compliment. I say goodbye to her, and to Lilly, who appears just as I’m leaving. Sky sees me down the stairs to the foyer, I say that I didn’t know about the baby, and he replies that that was the excitement last week. He asks me if I have all the things I need, and hopes that I feel the long journey was worth it. The receptionist calls me a taxi to the airport, where I arrive at 1.15pm in plenty of time for my flight back to Melbourne.

I’m left with the feeling that I’ve had an experience that will not only enhance the book, but has enriched my life immeasurably.

© Pam Cook

I’ve posted before about Baz Luhrmann’s use of anachronism and pastiche – we can be certain that he and designer Catherine Martin will liberally employ both in their adaptation of Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, scheduled for release in May 2013. As with their other work, the film will be based on meticulous original research that will be the foundation of creative reinterpretation – which will no doubt drive purists wild. Fearless as ever, they’ve taken on the Great American Novel.

Luhrmann’s background is in theatre, where travesty is common (he’s a huge admirer of Shakespeare). All his films use travesty to overturn accepted conventions and confound expectations – they are parodies themselves, and often parodied. This antagonises some and embarrasses others, possibly because film is perceived to have a privileged relationship to reality. 

Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby is bound to have elements of travesty, but that does not mean it will be a travesty. It will reinvent the source novel and raise questions about adaptation and authorship, unsettling ideas about art as the expression of individual creative vision. Like the celebrated Red Curtain Trilogy (Strictly Ballroom, William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge!) it will be design-led, from visual style to music soundtrack. There will be multiple layers of quotation from classic and world cinema, plus coded references to the director’s other films, creating a richly textured work replete with opportunities for  commercial spin-offs and tie-ins.

The film is already controversial for its application of 3-D to a literary adaptation. It’s sure to polarise opinion, particularly among US critics. As befits a major event movie, anticipation (whether positive or negative) will continue to build until it reaches a breathless climax.

© Pam Cook

More about travesty in Baz Luhrmann’s work in Baz Luhrmann by Pam Cook (BFI/Palgrave 2010)