Saturday, February 26, 2005


So I passed my test for the taxi driver's licence on Monday - sweaty palms and racing heartbeat along with the knowledge that the crusty old guy with tatts who was my examiner would pass me whatever, because I spoke English as a first language and probably hardly anyone else he sees does. Afterwards I went to Parramatta Station to catch the train back to Summer Hill and there was this young man on the platform pacing back and forth, with a reflexive half smile on his face, repeating certain words over and over out loud to himself: My birth family is Vietnamese! I am Australian! City I live in, Sydney! State, New South Wales! Country, Australia! Over and over, as if learning his lines for some other kind of test. The odd thing was, considering what he was saying, is that he was almost certainly a speaker of English as a second - or third, or fourth - language. He was wearing institution black shoes, institution grey trousers, a green shirt, a back pack ... no way I could catch his eye, though I tried. Crazy, perhaps. Anyway. The MoT will post me my Authority to Drive this week sometime but my producer(s) have asked me not to go out on the streets yet. They feel it will ruin my concentration upon the screenplay I'm going to be writing over the next two months and are drip-feeding me money to avert the distraction of taxi-driving. I want some security of income, while at the same time dreading (is this too strong a word?) the consequences of doing what must be done to attain that. Cab-driving, every cent passes through your hands two times, once when you get it, twice when you spend it. There's a peculiar satisfaction in that. But it does have a levelling effect. You are down there where the cash exchanges take place. No substitutes will do. You are on the street with everybody else, dealing with the necessities of journeys which you usually do not know the reasons for. You feel a need for assertion. My family is _____! I am _____! City I live in _____! State _____! Country _____! You're lucky if someone catches your eye. You're even luckier if you can catch it back.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

seven days

My other job is screenwriting. There is, I know, something indelibly cliched about a screenwriter who drives a taxi but that's not why I did ... do? ... it. It's just for money. I mean the screenwriting as well as the cab driving. It sometimes surprises me to look back and realise that over the last twenty years I've written or co-written the scripts for six films, two shorts and four talls, one of which was never released, or perhaps I should say has not yet been released. And they're just those that have been made, not the legion that never got off the page. I have a troubled relationship with the profession; I'm always leaving it. Every screenplay I write is my last. I'm not one of those super-committed people who live and breath entirely in the milieu of film. In fact I hardly ever go to the movies. I don't belong to any professional associations and I don't go to parties, conferences, retreats or anything like that ... ever. Except this is about to change, because my latest (last ...) screenplay has somehow ended up in a Project Lab which begins on Friday and runs intensively for the next seven days. This is perhaps problematic, perhaps not. I don't want my lack of commitment to the profession, or the role, to be exposed. On the other hand, I do want the screenplay to be made into a film. It's a good idea and I feel that it is starting to make that strange, indeed ineluctable transformation from words on pages to images on screens ... that metamorphosis I am committed to, that's where the thrill surely lies. It's a process not unlike what happens in reading, except in reading the screen upon which we project the matter our eyes have scanned is interior, private, unique; whereas the screen upon which a film is projected is the same for everyone who looks at it, never mind that they may each and all see something different there. So ... the weirdness of sitting in a room in Lidcombe being lectured upon how to avoid being shot or stabbed or bricked by a fare will be succeeded by the weirdness of sitting in a room in the old mental asylum in Rozelle being lectured upon how to maximise the empathetic potential of characters, how to refine narrative strategies towards a taut, powerful denouement, how to make choices under pressure ... pressure ... pressure ...

Friday, February 04, 2005


Richard Lopez at Really Bad Movies, I think it was, a little while ago suggested that being a taxi driver was an ideal job for a poet. I noticed the comment because I've driven taxis before and am about to again. Previously when I drove I was a poet (self description) but no longer; not that it makes much difference except perhaps that next time, this time, I won't suffer from the defensive arrogance that so afflicted my previous two terms of duty: 1981; 1988. The process of getting a license has become much more complex than it was in the eighties, but there's no esssential difference: an Iraqi (or a New Zealander) could still be driving within two weeks of arriving in Sydney as was possible two and a half decades ago. May happen too. I hope so. The egalitarianism of this place is still its strongest recommendation. I used to think of Oz as some kind of Noah's Ark of humanity, with examples of all our kind aboard. The repel boarders approach of the last ten years (yes, so long) hasn't altered the essential character of here: I mean the drama of self and other keeps on playing in our souls and our streets. Winged heels and the requirement to take travellers where they are going, as if any one of us might be messengers of the gods: I will try to imagine myself bearing a caduceus as I put my foot down in what I hope is a Falcon.