Ed#429 From Errol to Bob

2 April 2013 Alan Attwood

Ed#429 From Errol to Bob

In different ways, at different times, we all tend to relate to a movie star. When I was a boy it was Errol Flynn, mainly because he featured in a string of 1930s black-and-white films that my father deemed to be perfect family fare. So I was Captain Blood, I was Robin Hood, I was the cavalier World War I flying ace having one last drink before the doomed dawn patrol. Somewhere along the way, though, things changed. I stopped picturing myself as the action hero. Instead, I increasingly found myself relating to actor Bill Murray.

It probably started with Groundhog Day, which was recently described by David O Russell, the Oscar-nominated director of Silver Linings Playbook, as “one of the greatest motion pictures of all time”. In Groundhog Day, Murray plays a jaded TV weatherman fated to play out the same day of his life again and again – for reasons that, cleverly, are never fully explained. It didn’t hurt, so far as I was concerned, that Murray’s co-star was the alluring Andie MacDowell. But there was more to it than that: in 1993 I was into my third decade as a journalist and despite having worked for, and moved on from, several different publications I empathised with that feeling of doing the same thing over and over again. Groundhog Day, an annual festival in Pennsylvania that supposedly predicts the coming of spring, is far from being the only recurring event on media calendars.

The next Murray film that moved me came 10 years later, in 2003: Lost in Translation. It has been much analysed, but to me it explored the alienation of travel and the way a fine hotel can come to seem like the loneliest place on earth. As is often said about his films, you can argue that Murray is essentially playing himself – in Translation he is ‘Bob Harris’, an ageing actor. That just makes him believable and, as with Groundhog Day, questions are left unanswered. What does Harris say to the young woman he has befriended in Tokyo (played by Scarlett Johansson) at their last, fleeting encounter? We’ll never know. And that’s not a criticism.

In his latest film, Hyde Park on Hudson, Murray would appear to be stretching himself by playing an American icon, President Franklin D Roosevelt (pictured). His portrayal has already earned him some nominations for acting awards, but our stories inside suggest that he’s unlikely to let such things cramp his style. He’ll still be playing golf, being a bit of a goofball and resolutely refusing to play the Hollywood game. What’s next? It will be fun to find out. There’s certainly no disputing the fact that, these days, I have much more in common with Murray than the late, great Errol.

Also in this edition we welcome back Martha Brown, author of the remarkable cover story from late last year (Ed#418) about her battle with anorexia. That story prompted a steady stream of responses from readers and other writers, including Gabriella Coslovich (see p20). I had asked Martha to consider writing a progress report, outlining how she is getting on five months after her first story. As was the case with ‘Skinny Love’, Martha’s new piece of writing is powerful, personal and frank. She is better, but not cured. She is leading an active life and trying new things, yet is still at risk. But, she writes, “I am stronger than the screams of my sickness”. Martha also thanks all those who have reached out to her because of her story. It leaves me feeling, even more than ever, that The Big Issue is at the epicentre of a caring community of readers and writers. That’s a good place to be. At a time when the media is generally not respected and Australian politics prompts both cynicism and despair, working with real people, and real issues, can help restore some faith in humanity.