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SILENT PARTNER: Field and Tsilimidos

Silent Partner has quickly become a festival favourite, in Australia and internationally. Perhaps it’s because despite its modest budget, it is an unexpected film about two mates. Andrew L. Urban talks to actor David Field and director Alkinos Tsilimidos.

If you didn’t know any better (that is, if you didn’t read this article, say) you might jump to the conclusion that Silent Partner, a story about two down on their luck mates and a greyhound, was as blokey and ocker as they come. Well, that’s surprise you’re in for if you get to see Silent Partner, Alkinos Tsimilidos’ second feature (after Everynight….Everynight).

The story itself is straightforward: Bill (Syd Brisbane) and John (David Field) don’t have much going for them, a crumpled couple of friends on the slow side of up. They like their dog races and when the infamous Alex Silver offers them a chance to not only race a greyhound for him, but actually own it on paper, the men jump at it – albeit with some reservations from Bill. The dog, named Silent Partner, offers them a chance to do something in their lives, and when it comes a close second at a bush track, Bill and John sense they are onto something here. But the next race, in the big smoke at Wentworth park, doesn’t go so well, and the instructions from Silver are severe: dope the dog.

“the relationship is as complex as a traditional marriage”

But it’s not ABOUT that. What it’s about is the relationship between John and Bill, and while they may seem like simple souls, the relationship is as complex as a traditional marriage.

“The writing goes against your expectations,” as David Field points out. “There’s a quote I picked up about writers that I like and that applies to this. It’s about how great writers can make you feel they’re working out of the very colloquial, whereas they are working out of the poetic.”

“It’s not what you expect. It’s not blokey”

Field, who first read the original Daniel Keene stage play in 1996 on stage with Syd Brisbane, even sees a link to the writings of Beckett, “in the way it uses the sounds of the language and the words to have a direct impact on the audience.”

And it’s Syd Brisbane’s Bill who makes the film unpredictable. “Syd made a character that’s not usual in this context,” says Field. “There’s a real tenderness . . .that’s what became the underlying emotion, as if they were a married couple. It’s not what you expect. It’s not blokey.”

Field used a documentary made by Tsilimidos called More as part of his search for the character of John. “More follows the life of a Greek man who is basically John….so I looked at that. The rest came from the script. And 2% from my imagination!”

“a sense of nervous energy and spontaneity”

For director Alkinos Tsilimidos, the challenge was “to make the platform feel right. . . to create an environment that didn’t interfere with the performances.”

Tsilimidos took a two pronged approach: “I wanted a true two hander, but with the audience as voyeurs. So I approached filming it that way, with a slight documentary style. I wanted to create a sense of nervous energy and spontaneity. Most of the crew didn’t know the outcome. We shot it pretty much in sequence and that created a thriving environment for the creative side of the acting and of the filmmaking.”

Paul Kelly’s music, says Tsilimidos, works on two levels: “it creates another dimension for the film, providing the emotional clues for the film; and the underscore provides a basic matching of the script, and provides the buoyancy.”

Published August 16, 2001

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David Field

Director: Alkinos Tsilimidos

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