Tributes to David Perry

David Perry died on April 15, 2015, six months after these memoirs were published.

Below are two published tributes to David Perry’s life and work.

Sylvia Lawson – Inside Story, April 29, 2015,

When the film-maker and artist David Perry died in Sydney two weeks ago, another link was broken with the creative upsurge of the later sixties in that city, when it seemed that there was another poetic, exciting no-budget film essay on show every week in basements, university spaces and ramshackle group houses. David, with his friend the late Albie Thoms, was one of the principal moving spirits in Ubu Films, named for Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi; a group of filmers (his word) who didn’t believe in budgets or scripts or in those toilsome processes known as pre-production and script development; they believed in free-ranging camerawork, and indeed films made without cameras – scratched, painted, drawn, dyed; in the tribal friendship network, and imagination. The output was funny, ribald, subversive; sometimes you could call it juvenile, but a lot of it – by Albie, David, Garry Shead, Clemency Weight, and many others – still glows and dances.

The films were of course about sex; once about defecation (It Droppeth as the Gentle Rain); about pregnancy (A Sketch on Abigayl’s Belly); about seeing (Bolero); about art and modernism (Thoms’s Marinetti). Sometimes, in registrations of anti–Vietnam war rallies, they were even about politics. What they were notionally about, however, mattered less than what they were: serious, insubordinate fun with the basic resources of cinema, exploring, playing with style, technique and then-new technologies, especially video. (This essential, but under-recognised cultural history is explored very fully in Peter Mudie’s superbly documented work, Ubu Films: Sydney Underground Movies, published in 1997 by UNSW Press with the Australian Film Commission.)

Ubu metamorphosed into the Sydney Filmmakers Co-operative, Ubu News into the remarkable monthly Filmnews. The notion of “experimental film” faded; some of Ubu’s membership joined the nascent mainstream industry, some as mainstream commercial producers, some to make costume dramas in depressingly good taste (Picnic at Hanging Rock, and all its conformist ilk) and then head off to Hollywood. Others carried on, making and screening whatever could be made, sustaining inventive low-budget film-work and a healthy suspicion of the industry.

Of those, David Perry, working for TV here and in Britain, teaching inspiringly, remained perennially engaged in small-scale production and in communicating its pleasures. He remained cheerfully and generously “a dedicated amateur” – his phrase – and until his last illness he was looking, painting, drawing, thinking. His splendid feature, The Refracting Glasses, registered his passions in modernism, especially the inheritance from the Russian Constructivists, brought that inheritance back to life – and linked it all, furthermore, to local adventures and the tale of Ern Malley. This film, the first for which David had substantial funding, had a premiere at the Sydney Film Festival of 1992, then a poorly attended one-week season at the Chauvel; there, David wrote, “it sank like a modernist stone in a post-modernist ocean.” It’s the only film I know – there may be others – that imagines again the never-built Tatlin Monument, that helical structure to be built for the Third International; a building meant to be taller than the Eiffel Tower, and composed, as they said, “of steel, glass and revolution.”

David left us his lively recollections in Memoirs of a Dedicated Amateur (Valentine Press, 2014). He was given a great send-off; The Refracting Glasses was played through at the funeral, as was his 1970 compilation, Album. He was eighty-one, almost eighty-two when he died; but David never stopped being young, and his output is testament to the gifts of a long-sustained youthfulness of heart.

Vale David Perry – Tina Kaufman remembers a major figure in Australian experimental film – April 24, 2015,

David Perry, who died last week after some years of illness, and was farewelled yesterday, was a gifted filmmaker across a variety of genres and styles, and a warm and lovely person. I really only realised the breadth of his art when I attended his retrospective exhibition at the Mosman Art Gallery in 2009. I’d known him for many years, and seen all his films, but suddenly there were rooms full of vibrant paintings and posters, elegant drawings, stunning photographs and some fascinating video work to take in and enjoy.

While I’d seen David often over the years, often at a screening or in a film festival crowd, or sometimes at a party, and we’d always had good conversations given the restrictions those venues imposed, it was great to see him at his exhibition, surrounded by an amazing range of friends, and thoroughly enjoying the event.

I first met David in the early ’60s, at that exciting time when everyone seemed to be involved in some sort of creative activity, from art to publishing, from acting to music, and in the very early ventures into filmmaking (with a side benefit of being called out for crowd scenes or bit parts in many of these films). David Perry, Albie Thoms, John Clark, and my old friend Aggy Read were not only making films, but getting Ubu Films established and with it the beginnings of Sydney’s small but active underground film movement.

As Albie Thoms says in his bio of David in the exhibition catalogue, “over the next five years David made a dozen shorts for Ubu, many quite radical in their form . . . the comedy, The Tribulations of Mr. Dupont Nomore . . . had the censors in a flap, and the film poem, A Sketch on Abigayl’s Belly . . . became the centre of a court case when it was impounded on its return from a festival in Germany.” Those were the days! David also shot films for others, designed posters and handbills for Ubu, and helped with Albie’s famous lightshows.

He spent four years in London in the 70s, and then spent a number of years teaching in Queensland, returning to Sydney in 1980. In 1986 he made his docudrama Love and Work, with John Flaus as his alter ego; and in 1993 his feature film The Refracting Glasses screened at the Sydney Film Festival and had a season at the Chauvel. But this is only a fraction of an amazingly productive life, filled with his painting, video work, and photography. Only last year he finally finished and saw published his lovely, very honest, and richly illustrated Memoirs of a Dedicated Amateur, which is a great read.

After his great friend Albie Thoms died, there was a wonderful celebration of his life and work, at which David spoke very movingly about their friendship and shared passions. It would be fitting if a similar occasion could pay tribute to David Perry.



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