Two hours with Barry Jones is not enough. As the credits rolled, I felt tears prick my eyes as if a dear friend was leaving; I didn’t want this warm, engaging conversation to end. If you live in Melbourne, make sure you catch this at the Cinema Nova before it disappears.
Filmmaker Garry Sturgess makes a wise choice and let’s Barry – raconteur, polymath, activist and scientist – tell his own story. Sturgess’s technique to punctuate Barry’s stories with clips from his favourite films seems, at first, a distraction but it is a perfect way to illustrate the formation of the adult Barry, stitching together stories and ideas with his love of cinema and a wry humour.
Barry recounts the story of his childhood, not in a long line of facts but as vignettes of people and films and places. He gives us insight into how his mind finds structures and patterns that allow him to recall a seemingly endless amount of information. With his exceptional intellect came a fascination with the human condition and the context within which we all live, individually and collectively.
What he is able to do seems a rare skill; he looks back on his life and sees the threads that run through it. Like his concept of frameworks, he can remember the moment or thought or book or film that set him on a particular path. The connection that took him from the three year old boy telling his neighbour of the death of King George V to the man sitting in the Supreme Court waiting to hear the fate of Ronald Ryan.
Barry’s time on TV quiz shows like Pick a Box made him a familiar face and name to the general public. We see excerpts that reveal his amiable belligerence when faced with an ill-informed question or answer. Not one to let an error go unquestioned, he was ill-suited for the commercial needs of television, where ethics can be secondary to ratings. Barry is someone you’d love to have at a dinner party or next to you on a plane flight. It’s not just his wealth of knowledge but the generosity with which he shares his ideas and the part he has played in shaping politics, science and social justice in Australia.
What I love about Sturgess’s filmmaking is how well the structure and style of the narrative suits what we understand of Barry’s mind and character. It is rich with fragmented detail and with a juxtaposition of style and time that at first seems chaotic but then we see threads of connection emerge. Some film clips are illustrations of an experience; Barry’s rejection of his mother, as a child, after spending months apart from her is shown as the scene in The Lady Vanishes where train passengers deny having seen a fellow passenger, “There has been no English lady here.” Others are explorations of defining moments in cinema; the clip from The Great Dictator where Charlie Chaplin dances with a inflatable world globe is exquisitely beautiful and made me want to revisit so many classics of the 30s and 40s.
Do yourself a favour, catch this one before it disappears.
Have you seen this film? What’s your favourite Barry Jones story? Let me know in the comments below.