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BELINDA HAZELTON LOOKS AT TWO FILMS
IN WHICH TWO MEN, ONE ACCLAIMED,
ONE MEDIOCRE, ARE IN CRISIS.
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS
THE LIFE AND DEATH OF PETER SELLERS
Directed by Stephen Hopkins
After finding great success as one of the Goons on BBC radio
in the 50s, Peter Sellers (Geoffrey Rush) was keen to break
into films. Pushed by his controlling mother (Miriam
Margolyes), he eventually succeeded and was soon starring
opposite Sophia Loren, with whom he fell in love. His own
wife (Emily Watson) became tired of his antics and erratic
behaviour and left him for another man. Forging on, he made
films with directors of the calibre of Blake Edwards and
Stanley Kubrick, and married again, to Swedish actress Britt
Eckland (Charlize Theron). This marriage, too, was doomed,
as Sellers proved what an incompetent father and husband he
was. Guided by a fortune teller and relying ever more heavily
on various drugs and alcohol, Sellers struggled in later life to
reinvent his career. After four wives and more than 70 films,
he died in 1980 at the age of 54. Geoffrey Rush turns in an
admirable performance in this challenging role. Required to
create 40 different voices and to spend up to five hours per
day being made up, he demonstrates stamina and versatility.
However, the end result is strangely unmoving. Sellers is
portrayed as an extremely talented artist but one who was also
deeply troubled. His behaviour at times was destructive and
vicious, yet at no stage was he ever offered proper assistance.
The film is based on a wide variety of material, including
books, inter views and even Sellers' own home movies. If it is
an accurate depiction of his life, one must ask if the many
creative people with whom Sellers came into contact merely
used his instability to make money, rather than inter vene and
provide treatment and support for an individual who was
desperately in need of help. This film is certainly watchable
and entertaining, but for me, it left an aftertaste that was
somewhat nasty. Beware!
Directed by Alkinos Tsilimidos
Superficially, Tom White's (Colin Friels) life is secure and
comfortable. Approaching 50, he lives with his wife (Rachael
Blake) and their two children in a bland, Melbourne, middle-
class suburb. He is employed and materially, lacks little.
However, his marriage is routine and short of love, his kids
pay him scant attention and work is a constant compromise.
He wasn't able to qualify for the career he really wanted, and
now his position is threatened by the next generation of
talented young graduates. When told by his boss to take a
break, Tom storms out of his office, and out of the life he has
known. Initially, his new, day-to-day existence is numbed by
alcohol and other drugs, and it seems there may be a chance
he will sober up and return to his former life. But as more
time passes, this becomes less and less feasible. Director
Tsilimodos and writer Daniel Keene share an interest in the
lives of people on the fringes of society and how and why
they became marginalised. They set out to portray a character
that was easily identifiable as Mr Average, and to
demonstrate what happens when he decides that he simply
cannot continue with his usual life. The resulting film has its
audience hooked from the opening scenes. It is almost
uncomfortably powerful and gripping, and never lets up.
Much of its strength comes from the superb writing and
Colin Friels' performance as Tom. Virtually in every scene,
he has never been better. Completely inhabiting the role,
Friels is believable and convincing as this desperate man,
searching for some meaning and solace in a world which
seems devoid of both. This film has a wonderful humanity
and a clear and unsentimental approach. Refreshingly, and
somewhat unusually for this type of material, it was shot with
lots of long takes and not much camera movement. This
ser ves to make it even more intense and occasionally, quite
brutal. While not especially easy to watch, Tom White is one
of the best local films in quite a while. Highly recommended.
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