Richard Moir presents Esben Storm

'In Search of Anna' and 'The Bridge at Midnight Trembles'
 Quentin Turnour
In Search of Anna (1979)

A recent special guest at Arc cinema was actor Richard Moir, introducing Arc’s Saturday 18 August screenings of the late Esben Storm’s films In Search of Anna and The Bridge at Midnight Trembles. This was part of our current retrospective of the work of Storm, his frequent collaborator Haydn Keenan and their Smart Street production house.

Although he initially worked as a film editor, Moir became one of most prominent actors of the Australian production revival of the 1970s and 80s (see his entry on australianscreen). This was less so in major commercial productions – although he starred opposite Judy Davis in Philip Noyce’s 1982 film Heatwave – but more often in many of the key independent, low-budget ‘art’ films and in the TV drama of the era.

Many of these films were with close friends Storm and Keenan. After having a prominent role in Storm’s first feature 27A (1974) he starred opposite Judy Morris in the follow-up In Search of Anna (1978), and then frequently worked on Storm’s later films and TV projects – often as a support actor, but also on Storm’s 1992 film Deadly, as a writer/producer.

Moir worked closely with a number of other key independent directors of this period, such as Ian Pringle. Like his work with Storm, these were often close and passionately creative collaborations; Pringle’s underrated 1984 film Wrong World was largely improvised by Pringle and Moir on road trips to Bolivia and through the mid-west US.

Richard Moir’s battle since the 1990s with Parkinson’s disease is well known inside the film industry. It was publicly documented in The Bridge to Midnight Trembles; a brave but often confronting documentary Esben Storm made with Moir in 2005. Richard Moir’s public appearances are now rare, so the NFSA is deeply grateful that he could join us on this occasion.

To honour his friend, Richard prepared an introduction that was read by the Canberra poet and academic Geoff Page. At Richard’s request, it follows below.

Richard has included the opening page from Storm’s novelisation of In Search of Anna (Widescope, Melbourne, 1979). He has also asked that the novel’s dedication be noted; it expresses for him the hopes of Storm, his friends, and his generation of Australian filmmakers:

“To our generation. May our dreams never fade.”

“My name is Richard Moir. In case you don’t know me, I’ll be the one who is dribbling. To find out why, you’ll have to stay for the next film in the programme, this Stormfest, this wander down Smart Street Boulevard with Smart Street’s founding fathers Haydn Keenan and Esben Storm.

“And of course the people here running the Arc cinema, and Quentin [Turnour] and Cynthia [Piromalli] from the NFSA.

“We are fortunate to have Haydn Keenan still with us; Esben having died in March 2011. Haydn has kept Smart Street going through hell and high water.

“March 2011 is about the only date I can remember, I certainly can’t remember when we met; we all just sort of faded into each other’s lives. But it was over 40 years ago, there’s been a lot of water under the bridge and lots of other stuff too (this is the same bridge which trembles at midnight – don’t miss it.)

“Haydn and Esben gave me a beautiful part in 27A. And from there it was into In Search of Anna. What a trip what a journey and it brings me here to-day to introduce this fine film, this magic film. This wonderful film that hasn’t dated a day.

“Esben Storm was a mystery.

“He maintained that there was no god. Full stop.

“Yet when we look for the evidence we find something of a spiritual path he was travelling.

“He has left signs and wonders along the way, you might say there was one side of Esben fighting to be born

“But he thought the Bob Dylan album Christmas in the Heart to be totally ridiculous. He lumped God and Santa Claus together in the one sack.

“Esben Storm was a mystery – if so where does the solving of this mystery lie? It lies in the vision contained in the work. Always the work.

“At the centre of every thing Esben made there was integrity – a kind of morality but totally non-judgmental, with the true pain of redemption. Consider the character Jerry (played by Chris Hayward) in In Search of Anna. His scream at Tony (me) at the end of the story or is it the beginning of the film – can it be both? Whatever it is, Chris’s scream is mighty convincing.

“This is another reason why we can see Esben’s spiritual path; he instinctively knew the meaning of redemption and resolution.

“Of course we can read too much into this. It should be noted that Esben maintained an outer crust of modern secularism like everybody else. He poured all he knew into In Search of Anna.

It was dawn transient blue. Some call it magic hour and some sleep through it. The tide came in, wrapping itself quietly around the dirty edges of Melbourne harbour. Gulls hung on the breezes. Rats and rabbits ran nervously across the wasteland. A cyclone fence, with barbed wire curls, separated the grassy wasteland from a container wharf. Cubed acres of containers awaited their destinations. Clusters of diamond light perched atop steel girded masts. Sensing the dawn, the diamonds have faded and will soon grow blind. The footprints of a person alone stepped from a hole in the fence, around the gate to the wasteland and disappeared inside a dark red Chrysler sporting a whip aerial and wide wheels. A key was twisted, sending a low V8 rumble down the throat of the twin exhaust. The car moved slowly along the muddy road following the edge of the bay. Melbourne awoke from its slumbers to face another day.

“Esben believed this at the very centre of his being.

“If you want to ask me any questions at the end of the movie please feel free to do so. In the meantime enjoy In Search of Anna.

“Thank you.”