One of the joys of retiring to Hobart, after years in the provinces, is my weekly visit to the State Cinema – boasting itself as the longest continuously running in the country. Here, in pleasant pop-corn/mega-slurpee free surrounds, I can while away an hour or two, lost in someone else’s imagination. As my lovely lady had been domiciled in the southern capital for sometime, I’d been a fairly frequent visitor in any case, but now, being a permanent resident, I no longer miss out on any indie/art house excellence due to the tyranny of distance.
This hasn’t always been the case. Once upon a time I was starved, and visits to Hobs required shelling out for accommodation, and so were infrequent. In many years the sixty minute flight across the Strait was more often undertaken than the three hours plus road odyssey to the south. And, of course, with my filmatic predilections, a trip to Melbourne would not be complete without a visit to art house heaven, the Kino Cinema at the Paris end of Collins Street.
On my recent trip, I was alone in the city on the Yarra with a few hours to kill, so I thought I may renew my acquaintance with this house of moving pictures. Late in the afternoon I retired to another favourite institution, James Squires on Russell, where I repasted on bangers and mash, whilst observing the final overs of the ‘Gabba test on a convenient screen. As the pub filled for the Friday evening rush, I was joined at my window nook by two ladies nursing pints of amber. I initially took them to be mother and daughter. One was older with a ruddy complexion; the other, a much younger vivacious redhead – both dressed rustically. After a while we started to chat and found common ground as teachers. The more senior, like me, was recently retired, whilst the other was a recently appointed AP at her Ballarat school. They were also art savvy, knowledgeable on the various galleries of regional Victoria. It gradually dawned that the affection the elder felt for the younger, and visa versa, was other than maternal; but the charm and openness of the couple left me buoyed for the oncoming night.
Tucked into its corner of the Collins Street Plaza, I gravitated to the Kino where a bright young thing smilingly served me my ticket and through I went into its gloom. Probably it was going on for twenty years since my last visit, and its internal furnishings were showing their age, but I still felt ‘at home’. I had selected ‘The Sessions’ as my film of choice, as its starting time suited my framework for the evening, and because of the positive reviews it had garnered. Described in the literature as ‘brave’ film-making, it was soon apparent that this was the case. It is based on a real figure, Mark O’Brien (played by John Hawkes), a man trapped in his own quadriplegic body, encased in an iron lung for all bar four hours each day. His major concern was that he may die a virgin. Although capable of little unassisted movement, he nonetheless had the hots for several of his attractive female carers – often embarrassingly so. Of course, as soon as he enunciated his feelings, the barriers went up. He is then introduced to a sex surrogate (Helen Hunt), who quickly points out to him that she is not a prostitute, although she charges, but a health worker who is not dependent on return visits. With the backing of his parish priest, a gentle, nuanced performance by William H Macy, six sessions are agreed to. For much of the remainder of the movie both major protagonists appear unclothed. One of the pleasures of this is Ms Hunt’s body. The nudity was neither gratuitous nor salacious, and it was refreshing to see the still well-toned, yet comfortably lived in, forty plus year old figure of the actress so openly and casually on display. Her scenes involving trying to divest her patient of his virginity were tastefully rendered, despite the obstacles his condition imposed. The audience is privy to every glorious aspect of Ms Hunt’s form, yet the vital part of the male remained hidden from view throughout. It’s not that I possess an overriding desire to see ‘man bits’, but I thought this was somewhat incongruous, almost unfair, given the point of the exercise was his willy, so to speak. And (spoiler alert) lose his virginity he does, and then goes on to have a ‘true’ relationship of his own accord, finding and wooing a lovely lady to share his sadly truncated life. Despite my minor, perhaps piddling, observation, the film, in my view, would have to be one of the year’s best – thoroughly deserving the rising clamour for its Oscar prospects.
Now the Kino isn’t the cornucopia of the Sate with its attendant café, book shop and rooftop cinema, but then Melburnians, unlike Hobartians, are well spoilt for choice in this regard. My visit bought back memories of a time when my own personal world was very different and, despite our estrangement, I’m hoping more frequent visits to this cinematic icon will be forthcoming.
Website for 'The Sessions'