Review and launch speech by Jane Mills, September 2014.
David Perry writes very much like many of his films and paintings. Their sensory effect is akin to a synaesthetic flurry of warm snow: he writes words and you feel colours; he describes images and you taste letters; he uses metaphors and you hear concrete sounds. His words and verbal pictures overwhelm your senses and, at the same time, make vivid connections to your cognitive, sense-making processes. At least, that’s how I experience David’s films and paintings, and how it feels to read this book: I see echoes and hear shadows that take me beyond the surface of the word.
As I write, I can hear the ever-curious, slightly bemused,always to-the-point David telling me that this is not how he envisages the relationship between himself and his reader. Whenever I launch into a professional, theoretical analysis of a film or book, David offers an alternative perception that doesn’t complicate ideas in the way that I do. How he expresses what he sees, thinks and dreams in his art, films and writing, enriches the sensorium. David’s ways of looking and thinking come from someone who is openly and proudly an amateur – that is, he approaches a subject with an open mind precisely because of his lack of formal training and his financial disinterest. I particularly treasure our discussion – a disagreement that’s become a joke over the years – about my initial interpretation of the UBU experimental film, Bolero, for which his cinematography is an amazing mix of filmic art, technical skill and courage that only an amateur dares. As he describes in these pages, to the sound of Ravel’s intense erotic music, David’s camera slowly and inexorably moves up a long street towards a waiting woman before climaxing in a swift edit and a shot that penetrates her eye. I once referred to this as rape; David mildly suggested I should rethink my ideas about lovemaking. I like my rhetoric as it offers focus; but I like David’s ideas more because they open my vision to wider horizons and less literal understandings.
I first met David in the mid-1990s when I arrived from the UK to head the Screen Studies department of the Australian Film & Television School (AFTRS). A Pom who knew almost absolutely nothing about Australian cinema, I suspect if I’d been asked about Australian experimental cinema I would have snorted in disbelief: British cultural imperialism (and ignorance) is deeply ingrained in British academics. I was expected to teach a course on Soviet cinema, about which I knew zilch. Fortunately – for the students, for me – David had been asked to step in until I could take over.
Upon hearing him lecture, I recall feeling shocked. Not that he didn’t know what he was talking about – he surely did – but because he spoke as… well, as an amateur. That is, a lover of Soviet cinema. This is the first of many things he taught me: that you can talk to students not as an expert but as a student yourself and as a lover of films, their ideas and images. I was captivated, humbled, by how he enriched the students’ experience. I had never dared talk about cinema in such an intimate, amorous way. Afterwards, we went to a pub where he talked about love: his love for cinema and the cross-over between words and images, his love for his partner, Lydia, who he described as “the love of my life” and, although he didn’t expressly say so, his love for sharing his knowledge and learning with others – for teaching, in other words.
I discovered David had another strong love – for audiences. He was scathing of the canon of classic films that had been selected for the students. The films of Eisenstein, Pudovkin, Vertov and Dovzhenko were superb, of course, but shouldn’t Australia’s future filmmakers see the films that the Soviet people actually wanted to see? David gave me the courage, just two days into my new job, to insist that we change the screenings to include popular Soviet cinema. And, as if he hadn’t already given me more than enough, upon learning that I had written a couple of dictionaries, he sent me a small artwork comprising the bold words: “Cunning linguists talk in tongues.”
When I told a friend that I was writing this introduction he said – in high hopes: “I suppose it’s all about sex.” And yes, there is a fair amount of fucking in this book. Which is clearly part of David’s delight in everyday pleasures: a bewildered student once asked him why UBU filmmakers were so obsessed by sex and, equally bewildered, he responded by asking the student if there was anything more important in life. But mostly, this book is about love – as one might expect from something written by a dedicated amateur, a word that entered the English language in the late 18th century from the French amour, ultimately from the Latin amare meaning ‘to love’.
Jane Mills is Associate Professor, School of the Arts & Media, University of New South Walesby