Thursday, November 6, 2008

I used to have night dreams where I was driving, just driving north, to the centre, in my car. In one dream the car was an old rounded aqua 1950's car. I had a pet snake who sat up next to me, like a curious and excited dog, its face reflected in my rear-vision mirror. I remember the feeling of elation, not from fleeing something undesirable but just being totally free of obligation - obligations to be anywhere, do anything, perhaps even, be anything. I feel my energy lift just recalling the dream. There were other versions of this dream. In another I remember, I was driving alone on an endless road surrounded by endless red earth. One Sunday afternoon, with the TV on in the background, immersed in some task or other, my attention was caught by hearing of someone doing just that: driving away from their old life into a new one. The TV program was a documentary about Dominick Dunne, author and society commentator. I stopped what I was doing and watched, mesmerized. Sorry, then that I hadn't watched the whole documentary, I was delighted to discover that another movie length documentary on this extraordinary character was being shown at the Mercury Cinema. Seeing it exceeded my expectations.

The story of Dunne's life was incredibly interesting. From an early age Dunne was fascinated by the lives of Hollywood celebrities. He made a name for himself in television and then as a Hollywood producer. His dreams came true when he moved into a mansion in Beverley Hills and began to socialise with the 'rich and famous'. The lavish lifestyle took it's toll. His wife left, no longer able to tolerate Dominick's addiction to parties, alcohol and cocaine, or his obsession with appearances. His career declined, crashed would be a more apt term, until all lay in ruins about him. It was then that he sold his possessions and got in his car and drove north, not stopping until a flat tyre in the Cascade Mountains in Oregon forced him to. There he rented a cabin and remained in seclusion for six months. He was 53 years of age. It was here that he discovered that he could write and it is this talent which he has used to earn his living ever since. First he wrote novels, then when his actress daughter was murdered by her boyfriend, he wrote about the trial of her murderer. Since that time he has continued to write for Vanity Fair. He is now 83, still writing, still fascinated by the world of the celebrity, still dapper in his dress and presentation and still starry-eyed, despite all that has happened in his life. Much of his writing has been to give voice to the victims of celebrity crime. His time in Hollywood had shown him time and time again how easy it was for the rich and famous to evade justice. It would seem that some who have wealth through fame have difficulty discerning what is real life, compounded when their wealth enables them to avoid the usual consequences of their actions. Dunne's voice has been influential in, at the least, exposing wealthy murderers to public scrutiny.
What i enjoyed most about this film was that it was the tale of a man, who, in discovering that his glittery life is hollow and insubstantial leaves it behind to find a deeper, more authentic and satisfying life. It is this kind of courage and risk taking that inspires me. That sense that we can remake ourselves, we can change the direction of our life, and that we can come back after failure.
Jim Schembri, in reviewing the film for The Age says "Reflecting on a life chequered by triumphs, failures and several career renewals, Dunne demonstrates in this fabulous documentary how the creative urge is something that refuses to age along with the body." Another reviewer, Josh Karp says that "Ultimately, Dunne has made a career out of being an insider. As much as anyone, he has lived in and among the bluebloods and Hollywood royalty. he loves it unabashedly. but he also retains the perspective of an outsider. That's what makes it work."
Dunne is garrulous, inquisitive, passionate about his work. Even now, an old man, seduced by the cult of the celebrity, a child-like naivety shines through him.
The documentary film I saw was made by Australians Kirsty de Garis and Timothy Jolley and sponsored by the Melbourne International Film Festival. It was titled simply Celebrity: Dominick Dunne. The film's website is here. If you 'Google' that title, lots of reviews will come up. It was only screened during a few sessions in Adelaide. It may return during our festival. It is available on DVD