Last night the Australian Broadcasting Corp ran the movie Eye of the Storm. Based on the Patrick White novel of the same name it starred a mega troupe of big screen stars: Charlotte Rampling, Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis, Colin Friels etc etc. I am neither a theatre nor a movie buff of any contemporary currency, so my comments are based on my personal experience of a drama on the small screen, in my case 40 cms H X 70 cms W. I read the novel soon after it was published; I believe it was the basis of the Nobel Prize Award for Literature, when everyone in Australia, myself included, pissed & moaned that White’s great works had been written earlier, Tree Of Man, for instance. The contemporary social commentary of Eye of the Storm and Vivisector were possibly subliminally received as the bitchy comments of a queen on the sidelines. Another source of buzz was speculation about the identity of the brash populist politico who ruffles Dorothy in the taxi.
White was a resident of London at a time when many great themes and modes of world culture were coalescing; he collected the works of expatriate Australia painter Roy de Maistre and must also have gotten to know the young painter Francis Bacon, De Maistre’s protege. It is a feat worthy of admiration for a biographer to be able accurately to chart all the cultural crosscurrents in the subject’s life. White, De Maistre and Bacon were members of the London gay sub culture; they must have known each other intimately if not biblically.
I feel it is no great stretch to say that White’s writings show the influence of surrealism as well as absurd and abstract modes in literature and art. I would propose that White’s dislocated style is a strong disincentive for people trying to read his work. But I would see the movie Eye as round 2 in the process of incorporating Patrick White into the national cultural psyche.
As both Eye and Vivisector are chronologically linked, it is helpful to observe similarities: the latter charts the singleminded career of painter Hurtle Duffield, while the artist in Eye is the son, easygoing dramatist without a sure handle on the everyday. The movie Eye culminates in the theatrical apotheosis of his mother’s and his own life. For that, his personal shortcomings seem to be forgiven; a resolution not as readily allowed his sister Dorothy, who quickly retreats from the brash over-familiarity of Australian life to her titled, circumspect existence in Paris.
There’s a lot of material left over in Sydney’s arty Eastern suburbs; next step Vivisector, starring William MacInnes.