Brian McFarlane, Series Editor
The screen was lit with Weaving, Genevieve Picot, and an unknown Russell Crowe.
We agreed on how good Proof was and that now Australia had at least three outstanding women directors, that Jocelyn Moorhouse was on a par with Gillian Armstrong and Jane Campion.
--Mark Rudman (1)
When Jocelyn Moorhouse released Proof as her debut film In 1991, its success marked an exciting new direction for Australian cinema. This was an Intriguing narrative, clearly situated in a very recognisable urban Melbourne milieu of 1990, which was playing with the definitions and structure of genre.
It was also clearly driven by some serious philosophical questions regarding the relationship between the visual image and eplstemology--how we might 'see' and know the world and our position within it. In addition, It provided an engaging study of human behaviour through a focus on an intense triangle of characters. As Mark Rudman's poem 'I Think About Australia Endlessly' suggests, Proof was instantly part of a familiar Australian cultural fabric, giving us all--at home and abroad--a new feeling of pride and understanding about how we fit into the world.
In 1986 someone told me that they had met a blind photographer. At the time I didn't think to ask why a blind person would take photographs, but I soon found the unknown answer haunted me. I'm fascinated by blindness and how blind people cope with not having visual knowledge--the everyday confirmations of 'what is'--that I take for granted. Blind people have to place their faith in others. I wanted to tell the story of a man who couldn't. (2)
As Moorhouse has indicated in her director's note, the story of Proof is motivated by a curiosity both about how a blind man might use photography to engage with the world and about the nature of interpersonal relationships in general. While blindness might constitute an extreme case, Moorhouse's film explores how we might exercise control over ourselves and both trust in and influence other people--and the varieties of factors that determine that influence.
Proof focuses on the character of Martin (Hugo Weaving). Blind from birth, Martin now lives in his grandmother's house in urban Melbourne, alone except for his housekeeper, Celia (Genevieve Picot), who is in an obsessive and tortured state of unrequited love for him. Martin, however, is misanthropically withdrawn from the world, paranoiacally convinced that others cannot be trusted; Celia becomes an object of this bitterness and mistrust, while also feeding it through her own perverse efforts to make Martin reliant on her.
The narrative in the present is intercut at a number of points by images or memories from Martin's childhood, powerfully suggesting the influence of the past on where Martin now finds himself. As a child (played by Jeffrey Walker), alone with his mother (Heather Mitchell), he listens to her describe the world outside his window--the seasons, the light, the gardener raking leaves. In these episodes, we see the origins of Martin's distrust: Was his mother telling him the truth about what was visible out in the world? Was there really a gardener? Could Martin trust his own senses? Could his mother be trusted, or was she lying to him--either 'because she could', as he accuses her, or because she was ashamed at having a blind child? As she pushes away his exploring fingers as they attempt to 'read' her hair, face and chest, telling him that it's 'rude', Martin is crushed, seeing it as another sign of his unworthiness and unloveability. Even when his mother grows III and tells him she will die soon, he interprets it as further evidence that she wants to get away from him.
The film begins with a random narrative 'collision', as Martin walks with his cane and a bag of shopping down recognisably Melbourne streets and alleys, entirely careless of whom he bumps into. This combination of disregard and the vulnerability of his sightless condition brings him literally into the path of a young dishwasher at an Italian restaurant, Andy (Russell Crowe), when Martin knocks over some fruit crates and inadvertently crushes the stray cat Andy has been feeding. When Martin returns to the restaurant for an unsuccessful meal that evening, Andy confronts him about the cat, which he thinks is dead; examining the cat in the rubbish bin, Martin demonstrates a degree of knowing that exceeds simple seeing when he realises it is still alive. He and Andy then take it to the vet. While waiting there, Martin takes photos of Andy and the cat, as well as of the other pet owners in the waiting room--photos that we see as often off-centre, with key elements cut off. The next day, at the restaurant, Martin asks Andy to describe the photos--no more than ten words--which he then labels in braille. Quizzed by Andy, Martin explains that this is a way of providing himself with proof that a situation he has experienced was the same as the situation that others saw--proof of what really happened. Martin is drawn to Andy's straightforward and friendly style, and a tentative friendship with someone he feels he can trust begins.
The connection between Andy and Martin is consolidated during a visit to a drive-in, where Andy has the challenging task of describing the moving image of a film--a slasher/thriller. This is the film's most bizarre and comic scene, providing some lighthearted ballast against the intensity of much of the drama. When Martin--after 'feeling' his way across the contents of Andy's car, including his packet of condoms--is set upon by the thugs in a nearby vehicle, Andy swings into action to defend him. As the two speed away, they are pursued by police; the episode ends in humour, however, as Martin claims to have been 'blinded', and both end up in fits of laughter.
We know that their friendship Is continuing to develop because at this stage we are given access to Celia's point of view; as she sneaks a look at Martin's developed photos--and as we look over her shoulder while she does so--she Is enraged and worried to see a man's image emerging from the chopped fragments of Martin's photography. As she lays out the photos in a kind of cubist puzzle, we see what she sees: Andy at the centre of Martin's attention and 'gaze'. Celia intensifies her efforts to become the object of Martin's interest; having taken a photo of him on the toilet, she uses it to blackmail him into going out with her. She takes him to a classical-music concert, where Martin becomes profoundly moved by the experience of listening, as Celia Is by Martin's openness to the experience. The evening ends with them back at Celia's house, where, surrounded by walls filled with photos of Martin that he is not aware of, Celia initiates a sexual encounter. Drawn in at first, Martin then fights to extricate himself from Celia, literally running away from her and out of the house, zip still undone.
Unable to secure Martin's love, Celia determines to poison his growing attachment to Andy by drawing the younger man into a web of sexual complication with her, which would force him to 'choose' between her and Martin and to compromise his description of a photo in order to protect her. When Martin discovers the couple's duplicity as they make love in his bed and on his couch, he throws them both out. While Andy initially naively confesses to Martin that he and Celia are 'in love', by the time she takes him back to her home and he sees the number of photos of Martin, he realises that he has been used by Celia to hurt Martin.
The film concludes somewhat open-endedly with Andy telling Martin that 'everyone lies, just not all the time'. Martin decides to show Andy his first, and 'most important', photograph, which Andy describes as being of a gardener raking leaves, looking 'old and kind'. This description confirms Martin's dawning understanding that perhaps his mother didn't lie to him, and that perhaps it's impossible to know absolutely--that trust is a more complex, less black-and-white form of relationship than simply looking for proof that the other person has, or hasn't, lied. The final scene returns us to the Image of Martin as a boy, still inside in front of the window, but now with a sunny day instead of rain; in this tentatively positive scene, the child Martin is now putting his hand up to the light he cannot see, reaching out rather than closing down. It's an ambiguous Image, but would seem to imply a new kind of hopefulness for Martin, a reanimated desire to touch the world outside himself--to reach out even though vulnerability and the lack of certainty remain.
Proof was Jocelyn Moorhouse's debut feature film. A graduate of the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS) In 1984 ('Same year as Jane Campion. In case you were going to ask'3), Moorhouse had already worked in network television as both script writer and editor, with her 1986 short film The Siege of Barton's Bathroom made Into a twelve-part 1988 TV series. (4) After the success of Proof, she collaborated with her filmmaker husband, PJ Hogan, on what was to become his hugely successful Muriel's Wedding (1994)--which she co-produced--and took further opportunities to direct in the US, on mainstream projects such as How to Make an American Quilt (1995) and A Thousand Acres (1997). Somewhat surprisingly, her next film as director, The Dressmaker, had to wait until 2017 and her return to Australia.
As the director herself has explained, the idea for Proof had originated some years previously, after she learnt of a blind photographer and found herself 'Interested In characters that were a little isolated from the rest of the world ... who have a different perception of reality'. (5) Moorhouse's interest In the point of view of the outsider, or the periphery--Ironically, here, In terms of what can be perceived and understood from a position of sightlessness in such a vision-centric world, especially that of the cinema--is what gives Proof both its eccentricity and its acuity. As Mary Anne Reid recounts, Moorhouse first developed the film as a fifty-minute script, but funders Film Victoria and the Australian Film Commission (AFC) rejected it, encouraging her to instead develop it into a full-length feature. (6) Finally, with Moorhouse as scriptwriter and director and Lynda House as producer, the AFC provided the project with A$800,000, and Film Victoria A$300,000; with a total budget of A$1.1 million, Proof was, as Picot put it, 'a very, very low budget film [...] and it was an independent, alternative, fringe element film [...] it didn't fit, it wasn't like any of the other films being made at the time because of its subject matter'. (7) In 2016, the film was restored, courtesy of both the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia and crowdfunding, (8) and was screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival, marking a long-overdue acknowledgement and reappraisal of this important Australian film.
Although not initially selected to screen in competition or as part of the Un Certain Regard section at Cannes, Proof premiered at the 1991 festival in the coveted spot of opening the Directors' Fortnight, where it was very well received by audiences and critics, and was runner-up for the Camera d'Or. (9) This Initial enthusiastic reception by the European film scene launched Proof on a path to success; while, In many ways, it could be understood as an 'Australian' film, it also had things to say to international audiences. The Imprimatur of success at Cannes was no doubt Instrumental in setting the stage for audiences, both at home and abroad, to take the film seriously, contributing to its reception as an independent or arthouse film.
It was then received with thunderous applause at the Sydney and Melbourne film festivals, followed by a release by Village Roadshow in August in Melbourne arthouse cinemas, where it enjoyed the support of audiences and critics. As it continued on the festival circuit, Proof made an ongoing impact, winning prizes In Sao Paulo, Tokyo and Chicago. A film that was engaging and intriguing, It clearly spoke in particular to arthouse and film-festival audiences looking for that blend of intelligence and entertainment. The film grossed A$2.1 million domestically at the box office, together with A$850,000 in rental returns to the distributor. As Roadshow managing director Alan Finney noted, this was well above expectation; comparing it to Fried Green Tomatoes (Jon Avnet, 1991), Truly Madly Deeply (Anthony Minghella, 1990) and My Left Foot (Jim Sheridan, 1989), he commented, 'Proofs at the top of that range of specialist product [in terms of domestic income], which I think is terrific.' (10)
While some critics were uncertain about the film, describing it as 'Intelligent but cold' (11) or 'slight in its spitefulness, and shallow in its "artlness"', (12) the vast majority of critics were extremely positive about Proof. The New York Times' Janet Maslin described it as a 'darkly clever Australian drama focusing on brilliant, wickedly manipulative characters'; (13) David Stratton, in The Weekend Australian, claimed that the film should receive domestic acclaim as a 'unique approach to familiar cinema themes of male bonding, friendship and betrayal;' (14) The Sydney Morning Herald's Lynden Barber wrote that the film is 'so startlingly fresh and clever that [it] is hard to believe it is the feature debut of [...] Jocelyn Moorhouse'. (15) This very positive reception of the film was reinforced by the Australian Film Institute's awards In October 1991--only seven weeks Into Proofs Australian screening season--where, up against films such as Spotswood (Mark Joffe, 1992), Dingo (Rolf de Heer, 1991), Death in Brunswick (John Ruane, 1990), the film scooped the pool with seven awards: Best Film, Best Actor (Weaving), Best Supporting Actor (Crowe), Best Editing (Ken Sallows), General Members Prize for Excellence (House), Best Director and Best Screenplay. As Barber had commented, Proof seemed to offer evidence of a new Australian film renaissance. (16)
Unfortunately, the film was not as successful Internationally, grossing only A$105,000 in the UK, A$203,000 in the US and A$85,000 in France. As Fran Lanigan, the film's international sales agent from Kim Lewis Marketing, suggested, this may have been because 'it's a peculiarly Australian film. Maybe distributors didn't know how to promote It.' (17) House herself concurred with Lanigan, pointing out that overseas distributors released the film in mainstream cinemas simultaneously, rather than letting it grow by reputation in smaller venues, as had occurred in Australia. In addition, unfortunately, the film's release in the UK coincided with an Irish Republican Army bombing, and in the US with the Los Angeles riots--during which one of the cinemas showing the film was burnt down. (18)
Film structure and genre
Critics have variously described Proof as belonging in a number of genre categories: 'art house', a 'romantic melodrama with a subtext of fear, jealousy', (19) a 'dark love story [... or] thriller', (20) an 'exploration of male bonding' (with 'homoerotic' undertones (21)) or an 'odd couple bromance [... that becomes] a story about temptation, betrayal and ultimately forgiveness'. (22) It could be seen explicitly as an Australian film, a 'psychodrama', (23) a 'black comedy' (24) or a work that foregrounds issues of blindness and visuality in the cinema and/or in experiences of physical disability. (25) Perhaps the point here Is that one of the really interesting things about Moorhouse's film is that it both touches on a number of these genre structures and expectations and also avoids being constrained by them. As an explicitly 'Melbourne' film, it evokes Ideas of Australianness, and exists in explicit dialogue with earlier films about Australian history and identity. As Tom O'Regan puts it, Proof can be seen in the category of 'urban edge', with a 'group of Melbourne films focussing on that city's underbelly'. (26) Not concerned with the comparative safety of period dramas or literary adaptations (as had characterised earlier phases of the Australian film revival), Proof instead embodies what Garry Gillard describes in Screen Education as the 'quirkiness' that characterises so many examples of 1990s Australian cinema--a privileging of the 'unexpected, uncharacteristic' (27) subverting our expectations about what it means to be Australian, to be male or female, to be human in a social context. To Gillard, this tendency to unseat expectations has manifested across a range of Australian films, culminating in the cinema of the 1990s--The Adventures of Prisciiia, Queen of the Desert (Stephan Elliott, 1994), Bad Boy Bubby (de Heer, 1993), Sweetie (Jane Campion, 1989), The Castle (Rob Sitch, 1997) and, perhaps especially, Muriel's Wedding --which reflects a stylistic trend of obliqueness, combining humour, Irreverence and the unexpected. Perhaps most of all, Proof should be understood as an exploration of the human condition. As House puts it, 'On the surface you might think It is an exclusive arty-type production, but when you see the film you realise that it Is something that affects everybody. It explores the need to trust and love and have friendships in life.' (28)
In many ways, the film can be read as an intense three-handed drama; the narrative revolves around the central character of Martin, but it Is Martin as he operates In close and complicated relationship with the other two people in his limited orbit: Celia and Andy. The psychological nature of the drama--Martin's legacy of ambivalence toward his dead mother, which is played out again in relation to Celia; his hyper-anxleties about trusting a world he Is so dependent on; the subcurrents of cross-relationships and agendas between Celia and Andy and Martin--is played out within the relative claustrophobia of largely interior scenes. In the cluttered mise en scene of Martin's home, we become aware of the very narrow divide between what is familiar and safe and what is confining.
Only In the scenes in the park, where Martin, with his dog Bill--interestingly, a companion animal, but not a guide dog --goes to take photographs, do we glimpse the possibilities of new formulations, new ways of seeing. Feeling the light, sensorily aware of leaves and movement, Martin appears freer, even joyful. However, this experience is repeatedly sabotaged by Cella's interferences and, ultimately, by Andy's compromises. As many critics have noted, this scene in the park is reminiscent of Michelangelo Antonioni's famous Blow-Up (1966), which also poses questions about the relationship between the photographic image and a desire to find the 'answer', or the truth--a kind of epistemological puzzle. As Geoff Mayer has outlined, the multiple shots in Proof's park sequence reflect the flicking points of view; (29) we move from Martin's 'perspective' to Celia's, to Andy's, to even the dog's, as the control of the scene is fractured. As the camerawork embodies, this kind of literalised 'seeing' is not about 'proof or veracity so much as it is about having control, or a way of telling the dominant story. According to Film Comment's Kathleen Murphy, it is during this scene that previous assumptions are painfully exposed, yet also finally lead to what she has described as Martin's 'epiphany': 'seeing is not always believing, and, though truth and beauty may be accessible in the perfect stasis of Keats' Grecian urn, real life rarely delivers up such pristine proofs'. (30)
A film about a blind photographer, Proof is, paradoxically, also a film about how we see and grasp the world. Just as Shakespeare explored the relationship between physical blindness and the possibilities of emotional or intellectual insight in King Lear, so too does Moorhouse's film examine the simple equation that seeing provides some kind of unmediated access to truth. As such, it becomes very much a film about film, an exploration--via the technology of visual images, moving and still--of what the visual can bring into the orbit of our understanding as well as where its limitations might lie. In this sense, the style of the film reflects that element of self-reflexivity, of a film reflecting on the business of seeing and the power relations it inevitably ushers in. This is signalled in the opening credits, when we see a series of snapshots of what we later learn are Martin's photos--images whose focal points are off-centre, in which elements we might have thought were central are rendered partial or peripheral. As Karl Quinn has commented about the film, 'Framing is [...] a central metaphor: how we frame the world determines what we can know of and about It.' (31) We see this again as Celia 'discovers' the character of Andy through the fragments of Martin's photography, creating a collage of Martin's 'point of view'. The person behind the camera, making decisions about composition and framing is, as Laura Mulvey has long put It, the one in charge of shaping the gaze of the viewer. (32) In effect, by 'stealing' Martin's point of view, Celia, who photographs Martin herself, perceives his attraction to Andy through his perspective; if she can't draw Martin's gaze to herself, Celia decides instead to become the looker and to hijack Andy's reciprocal gaze.
The fabric of the film's mise en scene is heightened by the soundtrack. Not only does it include aspects of urban life--the city trams rattling past, overlapping voices and conversations, the tapping of Martin's cane on footpaths--but the non-diegetic sounds, produced by Melbourne band Not Drowning, Waving, also add a very contemporary, sometimes jarring, sometimes rhythmic, element to the narrative. With Martin paralysed by his past--the psychodynamics of the child who felt betrayed and deserted by his mother; the fussy, aged decor of his grandmother's house--the music provides a subliminal recontextualisation into a present moment, semiotically embodying a challenge to him to experience the world In new ways. Martin, who, it is implied, makes a living by writing music reviews, is open to the emotional and aesthetic charge of the classical music he hears at the concert with Celia; undistracted by sight, it is as though he experiences the fullest Impact of that music as artform. Elsewhere, the Not Drowning, Waving soundtrack enacts the exciting and disruptive newness of his relationship with Andy, which challenges him to think about what more there might be in his world to experience, beyond the safety of what is already known. As Diana Sandars has argued in Senses of Cinema, it 'provides a [visceral] counterpoint to the images of entrapment that codes Martin and Celia's worlds'. (33)
There are a number of key, interlocking themes threaded throughout Proof, many of which circle around the central questions of how we might perceive, interpret and function in the world. In this philosophical sense, with its central protagonist being a blind photographer, the film embodies what Murphy has described as a 'blackly humorous exercise in epistemology'. (34)
This philosophical enquiry is explored primarily through the focus on visuality. This includes a number of modes: physical sight, with all its advantages and limitations; insight into self and the complex machinations of other people; the static visual image of the photograph and what it suggests about the containing, preserving or reactivating aspects of memory and knowing; as well as a reflexive view of cinema itself, a visual medium, thereby appearing to offer a metanarrative, a privileged form of seeing that makes sense of the rest. On one level, it is merely a matter of narrative complexity that Martin is blind; however, on another, it can be read as metaphorical. Moorhouse seems to be interested not only in the discrete phenomenon of how a person without sight might engage with the world and the sighted people within it, but also in using this condition as a trope for thinking about how sight and its apparatuses --eyesight, film, photography, etc.--can be understood as offering a particular access to truth and knowledge. Martin fears that his lack of sight leaves him fatally flawed --pathetically reliant on others to tell him what there is to be seen--and, therefore, he is constantly looking for ways to verify, to prove, that his experience correlates accurately with something that is actually there. Or, conversely, to prove the point that others are untrustworthy.
Commenting on Martin's use of photography, Dana Anderson draws attention to the way in which the visual Image can seem to provide an unmediated access to ideas of truth--which is why Martin is so desperately dependent on others to provide him with the 'correct' interpretation of the images he takes:
Martin needs people to describe the photographs so he can reify his other sense impressions, and it's clear that his desire to photograph objects comes not so much out of a need to see, as to be able to use sight to define existence or to prove, through the social interaction of the process of description, that what seems to exist is really present in the world. (35)
Not only Is this a central narrative component of how we understand the character of Martin, but it also reveals something of the role that the visual image--photograph, film, memory--plays in a more universal search for truth and reliable interpretations of the world. Using what he describes as an 'ethics of experiencing otherness', Bhaskar Sarkar examines how, in Proof, 'blindness put[s] pressure on the very notion of visuality, revealing the limits of its normative conceptions and stretching it beyond these limits'. (36) Also writing explicitly about Proof, Peggy Kamuf argues that it
uses visual technology and technique to show the jealous search for truth operating in the blind relay between sense perception and its necessary prostheses or supplements. [The film] shows [...] the blindness with which one sees and which all the technological supplements imaginable cannot fully correct or overcome. (37)
Sight will never give us all the information we need to have, because 'truth' will always be endlessly elusive and multlfaceted.
In this sense, Moorhouse has devised a film about the possibilities and limitations of filmmaking itself--about how seeing can certainly provide us with a particular set of sensory information, but also how, as Kamuf describes, it can never entirely close the gap between self and world. The visual image is, thus, a kind of talisman we hold on to, something we imagine gives us a better or special chance of showing us the world and its truths. As such, the visual image can also become a 'fetish', a way of attempting to 'fossilise' the past, as Sandars puts it. (38) However, like the teller of any story, the image can never be an entirely reliable narrator, and will always be susceptible to multiple extraneous factors --not the least of which being the many motivations of human actors. As Andy tells Martin in the film's concluding scene, the fact that people sometimes lie is no reason not to trust them; in other words, there is no simple equation between seeing and truth, and truth itself Is, in fact, far more shifting and open to interpretation than Martin had at first thought. Friendship and connection have to move beyond the 'jealous search for truth' and, instead, take their chances on trust. As Moorhouse herself comments, Martin has 'learnt from Andy that faith and trust aren't about finding a method of proof. You can never have proof of those things [...] You have to decide to view the world in a more positive way'. (39)
While Proof is clearly driven by some of these serious intellectual questions, it is by no means merely animated theory. The film is also a captivating narrative study in human behaviour and relationships; through the drama involving Martin, Celia and Andy, it poses questions about why all of us do and feel as we do. As a result of the interspersed juxtaposing of Martin's past and his present, we see the ways in which his current anxieties and mistrust of others have their origins in his fraught, then lost, relationship with his mother. Even his retreat from the offering of Celia's 'extraordinary breasts' echoes the reprimand of being 'rude' for wanting to touch--and therefore 'see'--his mother's breasts as a child. In this sense, Proof is a psychological puzzle, claiming our fascination as we try to assemble the pieces of motivation and response.
The film is concerned with human relationships in their various modes and roles. This can be seen in the business of being male and female and what the nature of relationships between the two might be. Martin's intense anxieties and mistrust mean that he keeps Celia at a distance, tormenting her in order to avoid becoming the object of her pity; according to Moorhouse, Martin 'keeps [his mother] alive by hating her' (40)--and the same could be said of his relationship with Celia, who, in many ways, doubles for his betraying mother. Martin won't allow himself to soften towards her. Celia is a complex character, although we are not given any information regarding her background or why she might be so unhealthily obsessed with Martin. As she becomes more and more jealous of Martin's friendship with Andy, and more determined to disrupt It, she resorts to very stereotypical 'feminine' wiles in her own seduction of Andy --a motivation that Andy is initially blind to.
Filmnews' Peter Galvin has described Celia as a 'super-bitch', (41) reducing her to a two-dimensional character and focusing instead on the film's depiction of the relationship between Martin and Andy. Indeed, the attention to relationships between men could be seen as a recurring interest across Australian film and culture, and, as Mayer has argued, this pattern has been particularly prevalent since the revival of the early 1970s. (42) However, the intensity of Martin and Andy's connection offers new insights into traditional representations of male bonding or mateship within Australian cinema. Writing for Metro, Barbara Creed has argued:
Although Proof is not about a homosexual relationship its exploration of male bonding, based as it is on the exclusion of woman, suggests that all relationships between men involve a degree of homoeroticism. Woman is represented as an abject figure who must be located outside the territory of the male couple. (43)
Indeed, the homoerotic subtext is built on the repudiation of the female figure as embodied by both Martin's mother and Celia, and is made fleetingly explicit during the drive-in scene, in which Martin explores Andy's condoms and the two are set upon as 'perverts'; perhaps, if the film were made more recently, this theme of the primacy of connection between men would have been more readily able to take centre stage. Quinn describes their relationship as taking on 'elements of the suppressed homosexuality that seem to determine so many friendships in Australian cinema'. (44) As I have argued elsewhere, Proof can be seen to offer a
narrative about a desire which exceeds the call of the conventional --as glimpsed in the potential relationship which Martin has with Celia [...]--and which haltingly, amongst the shadows of self-knowledge and propriety, explores an intimate and erotically charged connection between Martin and Andy [...] The sexualised relationship between Martin and Andy thus disrupts the conventional triangular relationship [... and] suggests that the primary bond is indeed between the 'mates'. Despite Andy's 'seduction' by Celia, this primacy is not displaced onto competition for the woman. In this way, Proof may actually illustrate [...] the homoeroticism that inevitably and implicitly informs any homosocial economy, leaving the way open for men such as Martin and Andy to explore different ways of enacting the masculine. (45)
As Creed has also discussed, the relationship between mothers and sons is likewise important to the film. Martin's relationship with his own mother was a tortured combination of love, dependency, eroticism, guilt and resentment. Even her death has been interpreted by him as proof of her rejection of him. It is not until his relationship with Andy, and the implication that they have survived the crisis of his infidelity with Celia, that Martin is able to share his 'originary' photo with Andy--who affirms both the veracity of his mother's description and the presence of the gardener, the missing father-figure in Martin's family romance.
Examining a group of 1990s films depicting a 'new' kind of Australlanness--Strictly Ballroom (Baz Lurhmann, 1992), Priscilla, Muriel's Wedding, Bad Boy Bubby, The Sum of Us (Geoff Burton & Kevin Dowllng, 1994)--Olga Seco Salvador writes: 'Not only did [these films] emphasise the individual and his/her individuality and personal concerns but, above all, they disclosed the existence and relevance of alternative Australian identities and the need to celebrate the diversity of the nation.' (46) In Proof, this diversity can be seen in relation to Martin's physical disability, the 'suppressed homosexuality' or homoerotic (47) that informs the relationship between the two men, and perhaps generally the intensity and eccentricity of the three central characters.
Writing in Metro about the Important representation of disability within Australian cinema of the time, Kath Duncan, Gerard Goggin and Christopher Newell note that there is something about '"oddball" characters in Australian films of the 1990s, namely that it is not the success of such characters that the films focus upon, [but] rather "disablement and vulnerability"'. (48) While Moorhouse certainly portrays the ways In which Martin is both disabled and vulnerable, Proofs narrative--and perhaps, in particular, the iconography of his photographs and his memories--also emphasises his capacity to learn and to change over the course of his experiences. When Martin finally gives Andy the earliest photo he took, and tells Celia he is finished with her services as housekeeper, It is as though an enchantment Is broken. No longer paralysed by the dichotomous constraints of true/false and loyalty/betrayal, Martin takes tentative steps towards accepting himself--and others--in a new-found 'light' of self-understanding.
This article has been refereed.
Lynden Barber, 'Rewind: The Making of the Aussie Classic, Proof, FilmInk, 27 July 2016, <https://www.filmink.com. au/rewind-the-making-of-the-aussie-classic-proof/>, accessed 13 March 2019. Barbara Creed, 'Mothers and Lovers: Oedipal Transgressions in Recent Australian Cinema', Metro, no. 91, Spring 1992, pp. 14-22.
Kath Duncan, Gerard Goggin & Christopher Newell, '"Don't Talk About Me... like I'm Not Here": Disability in Australian National Cinema', Metro, nos. 146-147, 2005, pp. 152-9.
Katie Ellis, 'Disability as Visual Shorthand: Theme and Style In Australian Cinema in the 1990s', Metro, no. 152, April 2007, pp. 135-9.
Jan Epstein, 'Jocelyn Moorhouse: The Gift of Proof, Cinema Papers, no. 85, November 1991, pp. 4-12.
Garry Gillard, 'Quirkiness In Australian Cinema', Australian Screen Education, no. 29, Winter 2002, pp. 30-5.
Robert Horton, 'Proof or Dare', Film Comment, vol. 28, no. 2, March-April 1992, pp. 29-30.
Peggy Kamuf, 'Jealousy Wants Proof, REC, no. 59, 5 September 2000, pp. 429-45.
Rose Lucas, 'Dragging It Out: Tales of Masculinity In Australian Cinema, from Crocodile Dundee to Priscilla, Queen of the Desert', Journal of Australian Studies, vol. 22, no. 56, 1998, pp. 138-46.
Geoff Mayer, 'Proof, Metro Education, no. 4, 1995, pp. 21-6. Karl Quinn, 'Proof, Cinema Papers, no. 85, November 1991, pp. 59-60.
Mary Anne Reid, 'Proof, in Long Shots to Favourites: Australian Cinema Successes in the 90s, Australian Film Commission, North Sydney, 1993.
Diana Sandars, 'Affectively Trapped, Fossilised and Fetlshised: Early 1990s Melbourne Through Stillness, Movement and Music in Proof, Senses of Cinema, issue 85, December 2017, <http://sensesofcinema.com/ 2017/screening-melbourne/proof-1991/>, accessed 13 March 2019.
Bhaskar Sarkar, 'Blindness, Visuality and the Ethical Turn', New Review of Film and Television Studies, vol. 3, no. 2, 2005, pp. 201-22.
Martin Hugo Weaving
Celia Genevieve Picot
Andy Russell Crowe
Mother Heather Mitchell
Young Martin Jeffrey Walker
Year of release 1991
Length 90 mins
Producer Lynda House
1st Assistant Director
Director of Photography
Editor Ken Sallows
Music Not Drowning, Waving
(1) Mark Rudman, 'I Think About Australia Endlessly', The Kenyon Review, vol. 27, no. 3, Summer 2005, pp. 122-3.
(2) Jocelyn Moorhouse, 'Director's Note', in House & Moorhouse Films, Proof media kit, 1991, p. 7,
(3) Jocelyn Moorhouse, quoted in Robert Horton, 'Proof or Dare', Film Comment, vol. 28, no. 2, March-April 1992, p. 29.
(4) Jocelyn Moorhouse, in interview with Peter Brunette, Sight & Sound supplement, November 1991, p. 10.
(5) Jocelyn Moorhouse, quoted in Lynden Barber, 'Rewind: The Making of the Aussie Classic, Proof, Filmlnk, 27 July 2016, <https://www.filmink.com.au/rewind-the-making-of-the-aussie -classic-proof/>, accessed 13 March 2019.
(6) Mary Anne Reid, 'Proof, In Long Shots to Favourites: Australian Cinema Successes in the 90s, Australian Film Commission, North Sydney, 1993, p. 13.
(7) Genevieve Plcot, quoted in Travis Johnson, 'Genevieve Picot: Looking Back on Proof, Filmlnk, 1 September 2016, <https:// www.filmink,com.au/genevieve-picot-looking-back-on-proof/>, accessed 13 March 2019.
(8) Travis Johnson, 'Proof Restored Thanks to Crowdfunding Drive', Filmlnk, 29 June 2016, <https://www.filmink.com.au/ proof-restored-thanks-to-crowdfunding-drive/>, accessed 13 March 2019.
(9) Jan Epstein, 'Jocelyn Moorhouse: The Gift of Proof, Cinema Papers, no, 85, November 1991, p, 4.
(10) Alan Finney, quoted in Reld, op. cit., p. 23.
(11) Mick LaSalle, 'Proof Explores Trust and an Odd Love Triangle', San Francisco Chronicle, 20 May 1992,
(12) Peter Galvin, 'Proof, Filmnews, vol. 21, no. 7, 1991, p. 12.
(13) Janet Maslin, 'Acerbity and Escapism in Proof, from Australia', The New York Times, 20 March 1992, available at <https:// www.nytimes.com/1992/03/20/movles/review-film-festival -acerblty-and-escapism-in-proof-from-australla.html>, accessed 13 March 2019.
(14) David Stratton, 'Drama of Blind Trust Proves a Class Act', The Weekend Australian, 17-18 August 1991, p, 8.
(15) Lynden Barber, 'Proven Renaissance', The Sydney Morning Herald, 15 August 1991,
(17) Fran Lanigan, quoted In Reid, op. cit., p. 27.
(18) Lynda House, quoted in Reid, ibid., p, 27.
(19) Elvis Mitchell, 'Proof That Unbridled Talent Was Tamed', The Age, 5 January 2001.
(20) Des Partridge, 'First-timer Offers Glossy Local Drama', The Courier-Mail, 28 September 1991, p. 8.
(21) Barbara Creed, 'Mothers and Lovers: Oedipal Transgressions in Recent Australian Cinema', Metro, no. 91, Spring 1992, p. 16.
(22) Luke Buckmaster, 'Proof Rewatched--an Enormously Compelling Character Study', The Guardian, 28 November 2014, <https://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/nov/28/ proof-rewatched-an-enormously-compelling-character-study>, accessed 13 March 2019.
(23) Desson Howe, 'Australia's Proof Positive', The Washington Post, 5 June 1992, available at <https://www.washingtonpost. com/archive/lifestyle/1992/06/05/australias-proof-positive/ 1020cb02-8453-4352-ab5b-0bfc2c0c9552/>, accessed 15 March 2019.
(24) Rita Kempley, 'Proof: Every Picture Tells a Story', The Washington Post, 6 June 1992, <https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/ lifestyle/1992/06/06/proof-every-picture-tells-a-story/bcca153d -d91 a-429e-9158-a709a4b8ab90/>, accessed 13 March 2019,
(25) See, for example, Katie Ellis, 'Disability as Visual Shorthand: Theme and Style in Australian Cinema in the 1990s', Metro, no. 152, April 2007, pp. 135-9; and Kath Duncan, Gerard Goggin & Christopher Newell, '"Don't Talk About Me... like I'm Not Here": Disability in Australian National Cinema', Metro, nos. 146-147, 2005, pp. 152-9.
(26) Tom O'Regan, 'Beyond "Australian Film"? Australian Cinema in the 1990s1, Culture & Communication Reading Room, Murdoch University, 26 October 1995, <https://wwwmcc. murdoch.edu.au/ReadingRoom/film/1990s,html>, accessed 13 March 2019.
(27) Garry Glllard, 'Quirklness In Australian Cinema', Australian Screen Education, no. 29, Winter 2002, p. 30.
(28) Lynda House, quoted In Shelli-Anne Couch, 'Proof Takes the World by Storm', The Border Mail, 3 December 1991, p. 35.
(29) Geoff Mayer, 'Effective Film Analysis aka Where the Hell Do We Start in Teaching What's Eating Gilbert Grape?, Proof, Blade Runner, et al?', Metro Education, no. 12, 1997, p, 4.
(30) Kathleen Murphy, 'Illuminated Texts', Film Comment, vol. 27, no. 6, November-December 1991, p. 47.
(31) Karl Quinn, 'Proof, Cinema Papers, no. 85, November 1991, p, 60.
(32) Laura Mulvey, 'Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema,' Screen, vol. 16, no. 3, Autumn 1975, pp. 6-18.
(33) Diana Sandars, 'Affectively Trapped, Fossilised and Fetishised: Early 1990s Melbourne Through Stillness, Movement and Music in Proof, Senses of Cinema, issue 85, December 2017, <http://sensesofcinema.com/2017/screening-melbourne/ proof-1991/>, accessed 13 March 2019.
(34) Murphy, op. cit., p. 47.
(35) Dana Anderson, 'Shooting Blind', History of Photography, vol, 27, no, 2, 2003, p, 200,
(36) Bhaskar Sarkar, 'Blindness, Visuality and the Ethical Turn', New Review of Film and Television Studies, vol. 3, no. 2, 2005, p. 202.
(37) Peggy Kamuf, 'Jealousy Wants Proof, REC, no. 59, 5 September 2000, p. 439.
(38) Sandars, op. cit,
(39) Jocelyn Moorhouse, quoted in Epstein, op. cit., p. 12.
(40) ibid., p. 10. There is also an interesting parallel here with the character of Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) in Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960), whose ambivalent feelings towards his mother mean that he literally 'animates' her, even as a corpse.
(41) Galvin, op. cit., p. 12.
(42) Geoff Mayer, 'Proof, Metro Education, no, 4, 1995, p. 26.
(43) Creed, op. cit., p. 16.
(44) Karl Quinn, 'Proof, in Scott Murray (ed.), Australian Film: 1978-1992, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1993, p. 322.
(45) Rose Lucas, 'Dragging It Out: Tales of Masculinity in Australian Cinema, from Crocodile Dundee to Priscilla, Queen of the Desert', Journal of Australian Studies, vol. 22, no. 56, 1998, p. 145.
(46) Olga Seco Salvador, 'Strictly Ballroom (1992): Departure from Traditional Anglo-Australian Discourses or Veiled Confirmation of Old National-encouragement Mechanisms?', Miscelanea: A Journal of English and American Studies, issue 32, 2005, p. 106.
(47) For a discussion of the prevalence of homoerotic or 'homosocial' subtexts within Western literature, see Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire, Columbia University Press, New York, 1985.
(48) Duncan, Goggin & Newell, op. cit., p. 154.
Rose Lucas is a regular contributor to Metro and Screen Education. She is a Melbourne poet and a senior lecturer at Victoria University
Caption: This spread, L-R: Martin (Hugo Weaving): Andy (Russell Crowe), whom Martin befriends, among photos of him taken by his housekeeper
Caption: Above, left: Martin's housekeeper, Celia (Genevieve Plcot), with his dog Bill This spread, all other images: Andy and Martin
Caption: Above, from top: Martin has his eyes checked by a doctor (Belinda Davey); Martin and the cemetery caretaker (Cliff Ellen)
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|Title Annotation:||THE NFSA RESTORES COLLECTION|
|Article Type:||Critical essay|
|Date:||May 1, 2019|
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