Sunday, January 15, 2012
Goodbye, ABC: Thank You, Thank You, Thank You, Milos
Those of you who came to have such fun at the last Shadows Screening of 2011 and were there for my introduction will recall that I suggested that it would be the last screening for the year but perhaps also forever. Well, I'm glad you remember that as it will serve to cushion the blow I'm about to deliver. Actually, two blows and, considering the focus of this blog it's hard to know which to start with.
Actually, it isn't. The most important news is that Milos Manoljovic suffered a stroke last week. He's ok. He's as ok as people who have strokes can be. He can speak and move but will require continued treatment to get him back on his feet and walking amongst us. This might take months. He has been given two week's notice by the owner of the ABC Gallery who, again, has failed to put an application into this year's Nobel Peace Prize. No more Milos at the ABC.
As there is nothing I can do about that I'm going to spend a few paragraphs thinking about this.
I loved films at ABC. From the moment I walked into the Gallery in the winter of 2007 I was hooked. A friend of mine Dean, was showing one Japanese horror film I loved and another that I hadn't seen. I'd been to small time enthusiast's film nights over many years and knew what to expect: a ratting super-8 projector near the door of a small white room peopled by a lot of bereted students on cushions on the floor, their legs going numb from the cramped elegance enforced upon them, a pair of casks of red and white goon warming in the corner, some naff but fun old public service announcement shorts form the cold war about self-preservation in the event of a commie H-bomb going off in your neighbourhood, and maybe a Russ Meyer flick or two. Ok, I'll go along to one and say I've been. Well...
There was a bar, a real bar, and it had a real licence. And there was a digital projector which was busy casting a BIG picture on to the white wall at the other end of the large space. The walls between were crowded with canvases which had an intriguing ... lurk to them. The sound was crystal clear. All I had to do was choose a chair at one of the unmatched cafe style tables and watch the film.
The wall where the movie was moving was whitewashed brick. It had a texture. Here and there a nail or rivet or something stuck out form the surface creating its own miniature De Chirico shadow on the image. I couldn't have cared less. I was being treated to a Japanese horror film which I had no idea existed. Its title was Matango and I couldn't place its vintage. It was so thickly atmospheric and intriguing that I forgot all about the wall's bumps and spikes, sipped wine and relaxed into complete absorption.
Dean carries his own personal sharpness effortlessly, he has some good ideas. One of them was that a good cinema only needs a projected image and sound and a place to comfortably watch and listen. That achieved it could happen in an igloo. We had just lost our last major art house in Melbourne. Well, here it was, as fresh as a whim, right in front of me. Dean had thought it up and done it. What else could I want? More, that's all. More.
I got it. We all did. Time Capsules gave us unjustly forgotten whackfests like Nicholas Ray's Bigger than Life, more Japanese genre that I hadn't even scratched the surface of in my own wanderings, whole nights of blasting obscure and trippy animations from the world of history and the history of the world, Busby Berkley's cosmic Broadway rubbing shoulders with flavoursome delicacies and rare finds. Time Capsules was a tribute to free thought in the projected image and hooked my Thursday nights. After the film there were people to meet and argue with (in a good serious fun way) and there was whiskey, beer and wine. Somewhere between an arthouse cinema, cool bar and a dvd night with friends it often felt like a shared discovery and a celebration of it to follow.
This was the answer. It called out from the void left by the closure of the arthouses mid 2000s. People not only doing it for themselves but defying the unspoken directive to huddle indoors for dvd nights. It brought the crowd back, the strangers in the dark who are the best people to share an unseen film with. A bar and an attitude of the purest fuck-you to the assembly line of the mainstream. It was gold class arthouse.
I ran a few screenings with three others in 2008 when Dean scheduled some travel. I chose four titles, wrote them up on his blog, read about them and presented them. Dean had curated his screenings, taking care to read an introduction to each, priming his audience for the night's discovery. So did I. And if going to the screenings had been zappy putting them on was pure thrill. When the opportunity came for me to do my own I seized it.
This is where the mighty Milos really comes in. It was his place all along and he ran the bar with a saturnine humour, keeping the punters going with his tongue-in-cheek observations, opining from deep thought on the films just seen, lodging a log splitter into a tree stump, lifting it over his head and bringing it crashing down on to the concrete floor in a single motion and feeding the wood heater with the shattered remains. We needed heat. That's where we got it from.
It was Milos who encouraged the nights. He kept them going. With my varying fortunes in the first year of Shadows I decided to begin the new year with an unintentionally disastrous dual program which served by a schedule that no one could decipher. After the inevitable first few fizzers it was Milos who said: just go weekly again, we'll work it out. I did and slowly rebuilt. And patiently, Friday after Friday, he prepared the room, swung the tables and chairs into place, chopped the wood and stoked the fires, made sure there was ice and enough beer and wine. And even at my abject screenings, the ones that drew in a mighty four or five, he silenced my protests that I would really get people coming in for the next one, by saying: I like the night, anyway, people will come if they want to. He'd then pour me a wine and refuse my money.
The first year was not all gas and gaiters (what is, though, seriously? Sounds horrible, doesn't it, GAS and GAITERS) and my struggling effort was frequently interrupted by either a double booking or an invasive one. My earnest complaints about this had to be swept under the rug when I realised that I was still very lucky to be continuing with the thing when it was bringing in so few people and not fulfilling its promise or my amibitions for it. It would have been both justifiable and merciful for him to terminate Shadows and just host parties instead which would at least have paid his rent. But, no, after the interruption I just came back and he let me.
As things slowly improved at the screenings, attendances first stabilising and then, last year, swelling, I understood that I was only there because Milos enjoyed the idea of it. Not just because he got a crowd of people to meet on a Friday night or saw the occasional film that surprised or delighted him from the menu of great dirges I prefer to show the world. He let me because he liked what I was trying to do. It was important to him.
When I heard the news of his attack last week I went to visit him with friend and Shadows regular, Miriam, who'd told me the news. Hospitals make me feel frail but this was necessary. We got in early evening and found the ward. He was asleep, fathoms down into a profound slumber. We went for a stroll to chat and bide some time before trying again. This time he stirred. Miriam spoke to him but he was so woozed out by his condition and whatever they had given him to allow his landing some ease. He looked at Miriam and then at me, he didn't seem to hear us speak his name, he saw two strangers at his bedside. There was nothing we could do so we left quietly.
The heatwave had broken and the evening was bright and cool. I shuffled back home and then on to the thing I was going to, seeing nothing but those strange, uncomprehending blue eyes. It was haunting me. And then I remembered he didn't have his glasses on. He's virtually blind without them. We might as well have been Bert and Pattie Newton for all he knew.
Reports kept coming in. He was affected by the event but recovering. Miriam called after a later visit with a happier impression and suggested I hot foot it to St Vinnies before Milos got shipped out to Kew for months of physio. No definite date on it but I figured I could leave it till the next day. So I fronted up and found out from the pleasantest receptionist I've encountered in a long while that I'd missed him by about four hours. She offered to put me through to the Kew facility but I declined with thanks and left working out how I was going to get there in the coming weeks. It'll happen. It'll have to. It's too important not to.
So, and by now this other bit really does feel like the soft news story it is, no more Shadows at ABC. I'll look and ask around but I've had a pretty good run, had some fun and maybe even reached out and touched a few. For that, I have to thank Milos Manojlovic.