Everyone has an opinion about Russell Crowe. In this excerpt from Helen Garners new book, the author spends a week with his films to work out hers
One morning I walked into the kitchen and found my son-in-law standing frozen in front of the TV. On the screen a bloke in a blue singlet was manhandling an electric guitar. I had never before witnessed such a noxious exhalation of inauthenticity.
Its Russell Crowe. And his band, 30 Odd Foot of Grunts.
There seems no end to the cataract of copy set off by Russell Crowes movements through the world. His name is a byword for gracelessness and self-importance. The sight of him stepping out of a building, granite-faced in aviator glasses, can reduce the onlooker to helpless laughter. He and Nicole Kidman are the twin peaks of Antipodean self-creation in the Hollywood of our time. One can no longer go out in public without having an opinion about him.
What was mine? First I challenged myself to write down everything I could remember about the films I had seen him in over the past 14 years. Free-associating; no faking. As always in such tests of memory, the results were sparse.
Proof. Minor violence. Genevieve Picot sulking in a droopy cardigan. A camera? Hugo Weaving? No memory of Crowe.
Romper Stomper. Violence. Crowe fucking a girl, driving her up the bed with such force that her neck is bent against the wall.
LA Confidential. Violence. Detectives. Crowe asking Kim Basinger: Why me? Crowe slumped in the back seat of Basingers car, broken-boned and bandaged.
Spotswood. No violence. Worker asks boss to put drops in his eyes. Kick to kick in factory yard. No memory of Crowe.
The Sum of Us. No violence. Crowe as a gay tradesman. Jack Thompson laughing very loudly.
A Beautiful Mind. Crowe as a mathematical genius. Ivy. Mental illness. Codes. Think I cried. Felt worked over, irritated.
Master and Commander. Water. Sky. Naval battles. Crowe as captain. Sea burials. A fiddle, Crowe playing it. Men, boys. No women. Amputation. Origin of Species?
Gladiator. Missed it. Just lazy, nothing to do with Crowe. Annoyed at myself. Pasted into my diary a still of Crowe with huge glistening muscles and an undershirt of celestial blue.
The Insider. Missed it. Dont know why.
That was about the size of it. And wasnt there an Australian movie called The Crossing, way back? said my daughter. Russell Crowe stood out. I thought, hes got something.
So I loaded up at the video shop, shut myself into the house and drew the blinds for a week. Outside the window each day my son-in-law was digging and laying out our new vegetable patch, with his 18-month-old son strapped to his back. Whenever I took a break I could hear them out there in the sun, singing and making silly noises and laughing quietly. I was embarrassed by the sounds of warped manliness I imagined reaching them from my closed-in room: the shatter of gunfire, the growling of wild beasts, the screams of the dismembered, the oafish grunts and curses of skinheads, the occasional staccato outbreak of foul speech. There was something perverse about it, on a clean spring morning.
George Ogilvies The Crossingtakes place on Anzac Day in a country town. Bugles at dawn, Crowe and girlfriend asleep in a hayshed after making love, interiors smoky with golden light. Crowes widowed mother is a clingy, sentimental drunk. How can he be a man? A nature boy, hes got the sweat sheen, the muscles, the scowl; he juts his jaw and fires guns into the air and poses wide-legged against a fierce blue sky; but he says chahnce and wears tight white jeans, even when hunched under the open bonnet of a ute. Fast forwardbut wait. Whos that playing his girlfriend? Woh! Its Danielle Spencer, the woman whos now his wife.
The most interesting thing about her, here, is that she looks like him. The broad forehead, the eyebrows in a permanent inverted V of earnestness. The meaty nose. The rare smile. Impertinent psychologising possessed me while the film redeemed itself with a splendidly Shakespearean car and train smash.
Proof, written and directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse, whose screenplay based on the novel EucalyptusCrowe would years later allegedly feel competent to rewrite, is unusually inward and intense for an Australian moviea triangle of emotional distortion and manipulation. Crowe plays a young kitchenhand in a restaurant with red-checked tablecloths. On the video case his eyes are a startling, innocent blue, something I havent noticed on screen.