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Reckoning

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DUNCAN, PETER : A Little Bit of Soul

PETER DUNCAN Ė PASSION AND SOUL
As Peter Duncan begins pre-production on Passion, the life and naughty times of pianist Percy Grainger, his latest film, A Little Bit of Soul, opens around Australia. Duncan talks to ANDREW L. URBAN about both, and explains the enormous difference between Passion and Shine.

It was a spring evening in Tuscany; Peter Duncan and some friends were relaxing after dinner in the old house as the night grew dark. (They had come here for R & R after the mayhem of the 1996 Cannes film festival, where Duncan was promoting Children of the Revolution.) Then Duncan began to notice the implements around the walls: knives, pitching forks, axes . . . "it started us off on a conjencture: what sort of people owned this place Ė what did they DO?!"

The moment became the instant of conception for A Little Bit of Soul, in which a slightly mad politician Ė the Treasurer, no less Ė plays a Satanist, whose weekend guests have come to get funding for a scientific project that halts the aging process.

"Would you be happy to be a genius that nobody sees?"

But in fact, the story is "about motivations; do you apply yourself because you love doing whatever it is, or do you apply yourself for recognition," asks Duncan rhetorically. "Do you need the applause? Or would you be happy to be a genius that nobody sees?"

These were the ultimate concerns that drove his script of A Little Bit of Soul, which at first was set in the film industry, until Duncan abandoned that idea as too Ďiní.

"It was a gig for Heather Mitchell and Geoffrey Rush," he says matter of factly, as he wrote the roles of Godfrey Usher and his wife Grace Michael specifically for these two actors.

"The film does touch on the economic bafflegab we all suffer at the hands of our politicians"

"In the purest sense, the notion of Usher being the Treasurer is a-political Ė but the film does touch on the economic bafflegab we all suffer at the hands of our politicians," says Duncan.

The story of the young scientist, Dr Shonkinghorn (David Wenham) appeals to Duncan: "Itís a character with a fire in his belly, and he gets caught up in getting the fruits of his labour. He does want the prize, and he also wants his girl back; thatís a weakness, but a human weakness. Once you think that all you have to do is this one thing and everything will be alright, you become susceptible to Faustian deals."

"[Passion] is also about one of the first great intellectuals and publicly recognised sexual deviants"

Thatís the moral of the film, and thatís the lesson for Shonkinghorn Ė but the vehicle that carries this message is a fruity, fantasy-driven comedy which also allows for the contradictions of human nature, something very much an issue in his next film, Passion, about the eccentric and brilliant Percy Grainger.

"Itís not going to be another Shine in terms of the story, but itís fair to say itís an Australian musician, a pianist, and that is a handicap in terms of marketing. Some people might say Ďoh, weíve seen this already.í But this is a much bigger story. Grainger was not only the first great Australian virtuoso, itís also about one of the first great intellectuals and publicly recognised sexual deviants. . .

"The essential difference between Shine and Passion is that Percy Grainger is a man empowered"

"The essential difference between Shine and Passion is that Percy Grainger is a man empowered: he was fabulously good looking, talented and went for 40 mile runs daily Ė he was even credited with inventing the track suit, in 1908. Heís wildly different [to David Helfgott, the subject of Shine]."

The filmís worst enemy, Duncan believes, will be "the crass reactionary forces that say Ďone film about an Australian pianist is enough. The overriding objective for me is to tell a very dark story in a very seductive and charming way, because thatís how Percy was. As we find out more about him, like lovers, we have to make a decision whether to accept him as he is or not. Itís very real, so the minute you look for consistency in the character, he shows you a contradiction."

"In reality, people defy consistency"

Duncan makes a good point when talking about the difference between fictional and real characters: "As a writer, you look for consistency in your characters, but thatís actually bullshit. In reality, people defy consistency."

The Percy Grainger story is primarily a great love story Ė bout one between mother and her son. "Itís not a sexual thing, but an emotional thing," Duncan points out.

"Grainger had so many emotions, itís going to be a big story, a big film Ė but we have a small amount of time to tell it."

Footnote:19/3/98
Richard Roxburgh has been cast to play Percy Grainger, and further casting will be announced in the near future.



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Richard Roxburgh will play Percy Grainger, in Peter Duncan's new film, Passion







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