THE ROAD FROM COORAIN
Someone I work with is from Australia. She and I were talking at lunch today about Australian movies that we both like. Rabbit-Proof Fence was the first one we talked about. If you haven't seen it, I highly recommend it. Two aboriginal girls are taken from their families by government folks and placed in an orphanage/school run by whites. The girls escape and try to get home, across miles and miles of desert-bush land. It's based on a true story (the movie shows the girls, grown up to old women now, at the end), and it's jaw-dropping what lengths they have to go to to get home.
We also talked about Walkabout, a similar movie released years ago. In that movie, two kids are stranded in the bush and they meet an Aborigine, who helps them get home.
Then I remembered another movie I'd seen on TV, started partway through, and so didn't know the name of it. There was a girl, in constant conflict with her domineering mother. They lived on some sort of farm, or ranch or something, and the mom believed, like everyone else did, that this place required their lives. There was also a boyfriend, and arguments about going off to college. My Australian friend didn't know what this movie was either.
Turns out, the movie was called The Road from Coorain. It's based on a book of the same title. In it, the farm I thought I remembered was a sheep ranch, the mother is described by Amazon.com as "emotionally dependent, recently widowed," and the girl leaves the ranch for school in Sydney. The girl, Jill Ker Conway, grew up to become the first woman president of Smith College, and went on to teach at MIT. She wrote the book about her own life.
In the movie, Juliet Stevenson plays the mother. I've seen her in other Masterpiece Theatre performances, and she always does such a great job with the passive-agressive, messed-up women. I can't decide now whether I want to read the book or see the movie again.
Last night I went to see the recently released Capote. Philip Seymour Hoffman is so good I forgot I was watching an actor, and the movie itself is wrenching and brilliant.
In the movie, Truman's lover's name is Jack. Nobody ever says his last name. Jack announces at one point in the movie that he has just completed a novel. I recognized a lot of famous people hanging out with Truman, but I didn't know who Jack was. So I decided to look him up. It took quite a bit of searching before I found anything more about him than that his name was Jack Dunphy and he was Truman's partner for years.
Turns out, he had written a novel called John Fury: A Novel in Four Parts just before he met Capote in 1948. After they became an item, he wrote at least two more novels: Friends and Vague Lovers, and Nightmovers. One website said that Capote helped him get these novels published. Dunphy also wrote plays, three of them: Light a Penny Candle, Cafe' Moon, and Too Close for Comfort.
This is the kind of guy I feel bad for. He did the work. He wrote, and he got his stuff published. Not just once but again and again. But now, fifty years later, nobody remembers his writing at all. People know his name only because he was a famous guy's main squeeze. The last thing Dunphy published was Dear Genius: A Memoir of My Life With Truman Capote.
I know this information about Jack Dunphy is recorded elsewhere, in places probably much more official and lasting than this website. But still. It can't hurt to have it noted, just one more time, who Jack Dunphy was and that he was a writer and these were the things he wrote: John Fury, Friends and Vague Lovers, Light a Penny Candle, Cafe' Moon, Too Close for Comfort. And sure, to be complete about it, Dear Genius.
Masterpiece Theatre - The Road from Coorain
Amazon.com, The Road from Coorain
IMDB, The Road from Coorain
National Women's History Project, Biography Center, Jill Ker Conway
Emanuel Levy's Film Comment, Truman Capote: Everything You Need to Know
Doollee.com, Playwrights, Jack Dunphy
Daniel Mendelsohn, The New York Review of Books, "The Truman Show" -- if you want to know what a masterfully-written review looks like, read this.