When you read a book you always think you know the “voice” of the narrator. You think you know their cadence, their intonation. By projecting aspects of your own life, and the voices in your head, you think you KNOW them. But it wasn’t until I saw the documentary, “Remembering The Man” on Thursday night, as part of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Film Festival, that I actually got to hear Tim Conigrave’s voice for the first time.
It’s over twenty years since I first read the book, “Holding The Man”, his memoir about his relationship with John Caleo (who he met at school), and their subsequent deaths in the mid-1990s from HIV/AIDS. Along the way, there’s also been a play, a feature length movie, and now a documentary about their lives and their relationship.
What’s different about the documentary is you actually get to hear Tim’s voice. At the centre of the film is an oral history made in the month’s before his death. Thus, Tim is not only the focus for the documentary, but also the narrator, similar to the way in which the voice of Peggy Guggeheim, the art collector is used in Peggy Guggenheim, Art Addict, which I saw a few months ago.
As someone who has spent most of his life consciously aware of “the voice”, I found it fascinating to hear Tim speak. To my ears, he had a lovely voice. An “actor’s voice”, in some ways. In the pieces of audio selected, he spoke clearly, in “proper sentences”, and with some confidence. He also spoke with honesty and with humour. “That’s enough, isn’t it?”, he said at one point (or words to that effect) to the person recording his story.
Over the top of Tim’s voice, there’s a wonderful collection of photographs. Though Tim and John were several years older than me, and spent their lives in Melbourne and Sydney, whereas I spent most of my earlier life in the country, there were so many photographs which I felt I could relate to. The parties, the gatherings, the lives of young people growing up in the 1970s and 1980s, and then, sadly, having to confront their own mortality in the 1990s.
There are also some really wonderful interviews with their friends, many of them amusing, and many of them moving. And there are some re-enactments of moments from their lives. In my view, the re-enactments were sometimes very powerful, but at other times a little superfluous. Nothing’s perfect.
“What did you think?”, my friend Graeme whispered in my ear as the credits rolled. “Really good, a really honest, heart-warming film, and about the right length. Though they’ll undoubtedly cut half an hour from the film by the time it makes it to television, this was close to perfect for the audience tonight”, I told him.