The Booktopia Book Guru asks
Ten Terrifying Questions
1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?
I’m a Sydney boy… try not to hold it against me. I grew up in the inner west of Sydney. Culturally speaking I’m half Irish and half Singaporean. I went to an array of Schools ranging from the ‘Obnoxious Private School’ variety through to your average public schools. Mum was a teacher. Dad was a Photographer but the real childrearing was done by the television. I used to power through a small mountain of VHS tapes each week by taping every single television programme and movie on the box. One summer in the late 90’s I decided that I would watch EVERY film that came out in the cinemas. I was hooked, I knew I was going to work in film and television…
At 12 I wanted to make a TV pilot so I transcribed my favourite episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and went about rewriting it with a few more needless monsters and unachievable special effects sequences. I then renamed all of the major characters after big brands (Why have Captain Picard when you could have Captain Hewlett-Packard). Needless to say, I’m still waiting for the green light from the network…
At 18 I wanted to be a graphic designer by day and a filmmaker by night. Don’t ask me why it had the day/night separation, it just did. In an effort to find good web-design inspiration I stumbled across the website of a new Sydney community radio called FBi 94.5. I contacted them, volunteering my design services. It turns out that I was a very mediocre designer but an okay radio presenter. They trained me up and I became their movie critic and reporter. This was the beginning of my film reviewing career.
At 30? Well I’m a few years off this particular milestone. Currently my plan is to cultivate a diabolically evil multinational weapons manufacturing corporation. I will then buy a white cat to stroke, shave my head and change my name to something evil/German sounding. Failing that, I’d love to keep writing and broadcasting about culture, media and film. I’m interested in finding out why we humans consume the media that we do. I’m curious about what that says about us.
I believed in God. That was a mistake.
4. What were three big events – in the family circle or on the world stage or in your reading life, for example – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced you in your career path?
1) Stumbling into FBi 94.5 as an 18 year old. Not only did it give me a career but I also met my wife there. It’s hard to top that.
2) Going out to judge a sadly now defunct short film festival called IN THE BIN CURRUMBIN in 2007. It was shortly after I’d taken over as the film critic for triple j. I found myself standing in the drizzling rain while films were projected against a screen in a Queensland bird sanctuary. One by one I found myself in endless, wonderful conversations with the locals about movies they loved. It was the first time I properly realised the power of broadcasting to reach out to people. Everybody wanted to talk about what they loved, what they hated in films. As I stood there laughing with total strangers I realised then that movies were truly at their best when they were shared.
3) In early 2009 I accidentally sent myself blind. Turns out that you’re not supposed to wear daily contact lenses for, say, 18 months. I did. Eventually I found my self suffering from what my opthamologist termed “tiny craters in your cornea”. She later diagnosed me a “complete moron”. In this state I found myself unable to open my eyes for more than 2 minutes at a time. I would stand in my office (which is essentially wall to wall DVD’s. I would open my my eyes, look at the dvd’s and start drawing connections between movies. I would wonder “what are the best Nicolas Cage movies” or “who are the most racist Disney characters”. I would open my eyes and try to find the best, most fitting movies in my collection before the searing pain in my eyes got the better of me. After a few hours of playing this game, I realised that one could curate an entire weekend with movies using this process. This was the beginning of what eventually became this book. A silly game played by a film critic who ignores basic medical advice.
5. Considering the innumerable electronic media avenues open to you – blogs, online newspapers, TV, radio, etc – why have you chosen to write a book? aren’t they obsolete?
Here’s the unpopular answer: Yes and No. People will always love to read. Much in the same way we continue to love video storytelling and music. The delivery methods for this content, however, may change. I don’t think anyone would argue that there isn’t a certain romance to a paper-bound book. The smell, the roughness of the page. Not dissimilar to the romance of vinyl or the romance of photographic film. The paper book surely wont die soon, but the industry has to allow that its share of the market will dissipate.
As for why I chose to write a book? The advance for a book was better than for writing a blog.
Why, Booktopia I thought you’d never ask… Ever walked into a video store and looked around only to be utterly overwhelmed by choice? Well this book was designed to help you fill every weekend of the year with movies. Think of it as a handbook to run your very own couch-based film festival (choc-tops not included)
Each weekend has a theme. It could be a genre, a filmmaker, actor or trend. Think:
MOVIES BASED ON TRUE STORIES (THAT AREN’T REALLY TRUE)
A WEEKEND WITH WALT DISNEY’S MOST RACIST CHARACTERS
THE MANY DISTURBING FACES OF SANTA ON FILM
REMAKES THAT ARE BETTER THAN THE ORIGINAL
You start with an easy introductory movie on Friday night, going a little further on Saturday and then things become downright freaky on Sunday afternoon. Whether you’re bored, infirmed or under house arrest – your level of commitment is catered to.
Expect movies from the past as well as the present, from Hollywood to art-house, from kids to adult. You’ll also get a beginners guide to cult directors like Hayao Miyazki (Spirited Away) or Jean Pierre Jeunet (Amelie)
Buy this book and prepare to assail the DVD store with an Antony-Robbins-like purpose and gather enough films to kill an entire weekend. Sunlight and social lives be damned!
I’d like people to fully realise that there is an amazing world of movies out there that are worth watching – some of which don’t get the mega-sized hollywood publicity push. A big part of why I wrote this book is because I wanted everybody to enjoy a wider variety of movies from different eras, with different budgets from different cultures. That said, the operative word there is “enjoy”. I want people to love cinema as much as I do.
8. Whom do you most admire and why?
A British comedian, writer, critic and presenter named Charlie Brooker. One of the wittiest misers in the world of media criticism and he hits it on the nail every single time. I highly recommend his television show Screenwipe.
9. Many people set themselves very ambitious goals. What are yours?
See Bond villain fantasy in Question 2.
If I’m being 100% serious, I genuinely love exploring and promoting great popular culture, media and technology. I have been extraordinarily lucky to have been able to be a cultural critic and reporter over a number of platforms: radio with the ABC or on television with Hungry Beast and triple j tv on the ABC, SBS, Network Ten other broadcasters. And of course now I’ve been given the chance to explore it in this book. I want to expand. I want to make documentaries, magazine programmes and more books that explore great, compelling, hilarious culture. Most importantly I want to bring the audience along for the ride. Too often cultural criticism ends up leaving most Australians feeling cold or excluded. I want to make cultural criticism that entertains. And hopefully I can keep doing it across several media.
10. What advice do you give aspiring writers?
Write to entertain yourself. If you’re engaged by what you write then you have a fighting chance of subsequently engaging your audience. However, if you are bored by your own writing, it’s almost a dead certainty that the reader will be too. Never be boring.
Marc, thank you for playing.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.