Posts Tagged ‘Luke Davies’

Luke Davies’ book was published in 2008, but often the slow mail to Kookynie means that KC’s book reviewer has to make up for lost time. God of Speed is a debauched take on the life of Howard Hughes. It’s a wild ride, as we share the old man’s delirious (‘stream-of-consciousness’ is an understatement) telling of his own incredible story. Hunter S Thompson would’ve approved.

Hughes’ life was also used in Scorsese’s film ‘The Aviator’ with Dicaprio, but this book explores it with such gusto, as it vibrates with Hughes’ imagined recall of his erotic adventures and other conquests. Inheritor of a fabulous fortune in the 1920s, his boyhood fascination with speed and flying leads him to build new record-breaking aircrafts and circle the globe; and a thirst for women and moviemaking bulks up a very manic life. Money was no object, as the cliché would have it, and Hughes seriously indulged himself with big boy’s toys, including mega-yachts as tools of seduction. Speed of course also refers to drugs, which became indispensable to him going ever faster with the flow.

One big advantage of having your own movie studio is the ability to vet scores of beautiful women on the famous casting couch, and here Hughes was an exemplary launcher of starlet’s careers and a regal procession of affairs with them. From Billie Dove, Carole Lombard & Jean Harlow, they all overlapped in an ongoing orgy of monkey-barring affairs, to Katherine Hepburn, Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, her sister Joan Fontaine, Ginger Rogers, Ava Gardner, Jane Greer, Jean Peters et al. All were greedily fucked (Davies’ oft-used word and probably Hughes too) and a couple married.

Davies’ rapid-fire storytelling from inside this drug-addled mind is tight, melding together the signature events of Hughes’ life, including his plane crash, political shenanigans in financing Nixon’s presidency and much more, with graphic trills on his sexual episodes. Highly recommended!


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Robert Connolly’s film ‘Balibo’ relates events in 1975 in East Timor around the killing of Australian journalists who were reporting on Indonesia’s invasion. Jill Jolliffe’s book ‘Cover-Up: the Inside Story of the Balibo Five’ was used and David Williamson collaborated on the script. The film has certainly had a desired effect of stirring up debate about that shadowy period. So far Gough Whitlam has kept his silence, despite my call for him to speak out.

Tony Maniaty, journalist & author of ‘Shooting Balibo’ was in Timor at the time and is portrayed in the film. Recently he commented that the saga is complex; responsibility for the tragedy is shared; and that it was not Australia’s finest hour – themes explored vigorously in the film.

Paul Cleary, journalist & author of ‘Shakedown: Australia’s Grab for Timor Oil’ criticises its historical inaccuracy; neglect of political connivance by Australian and US leaders with Indonesia; and the central plot device, a fictional journey to Balibo by journalist Roger East (played by Anthony LaPaglia) to discover the fate of the missing five. Connolly defended his approach by giving credit to his audience “to join the dots themselves”.

The film should not be prefaced ‘true story’, but it’s a compelling tale of the bravado of young Australians; East’s personal journey to martyrdom; the menace of impending Indonesian savagery; Timorese resistance; and the dilemmas of savvy Ramos Horta. An estimated 183,000 Timorese were killed.

The story is told through a witness to the Dili invasion as an 8 year old girl, giving evidence today to a Commission for Truth & Reconciliation.  Luke Davies thinks this device felt slightly stiff, but provides a wider historical and personal context; and use of 70s-style camera lenses to film some scenes created a “washed-out, meditative, elegaic quality”.

For continuity spotters a minor false note is the Polynesian-style tattoo on Anthony’s arm, definitely not in fashion in the 1970s except for Marquesans! One also wonders about LaPaglia’s corpulence, as other actors physically resemble their characters, but he is larger-than-life.

Nitpicking aside, Balibo is a must see film. Criticisms of a Hollywood approach are misplaced as it’s not a documentary. But rather a powerful dramatic insight into a rarely-evoked period – engrossing, tragic and edgy. Athough we know the ending, suspense is held and climactic impact strong. LaPaglia is excellent and also Oscar Isaac as Ramos Horta sharing centre stage.

Your reviewer travelled in Portuguese Timor in 1970 and relished this backward look at my first foreign country, which evoked memories of my youth, another foreign country.

A Tetum-language version of Balibo will be shown in Dili this Sunday, during East Timor’s 10 year celebration of its referendum on independence. And final footnote: the Victorian Government financed restoration of the house where the Balibo Five were murdered and gifted it to the local community: Balibo House Trust.

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