Sunday, June 27, 2010

Mr Percival : Hero Or Barbarian Pelican?

By Darryl Mason

Storm Boy, the 1977 movie of Colin Thiele's childhood altering book :

Storm Boy got a screening on ABC2 on Saturday night, decided to catch it because that's how I roll (now I don't rock so much). We did the Storm Boy book and movie in primary school. It's fascinating to re-watch, many decades later, a movie that impressed you, made you weep, as a kid.

However, Storm Boy is a bit hard to enjoy as adult without thinking horribly/cynically, 'Wait...Mr Percival might be smart and might really like this kid, but that pelican grew up with a free feed, he can fend for himself, but he doesn't want to. He's lazy. That pelican is there primarily for the fish handouts.' Therefore, Mr Percival was a New Barbarian.
And another thing becomes starkly clear, early on, that didn't register as a kid who thought it would be plenty cool to live on a beach with a fucking huge pelican....well, for a while anyway, it becomes obvious that this dune shed isn't a dream place to dwell and that the father is living with the kid, nicknamed Storm Boy by a local Aboriginal man, in a scrap wood and sheet metal humpy in amongst wind blasted sand dunes because he's utterly shattered by the death of his wife, and has literally withdrawn from the world, from the 20th century, taking his son with him.

If the trio of orphaned pelicans, fresh out of their eggs, hadn't turned up in the lives of Storm Boy and his dad....

Some observations made via Twitter as I soaked up Storm Boy last night, spoiler warning in effect :
What a brilliant children's story Storm Boy is (Ch 22). Kid lives on a beautiful beach, no shoes, doesn't have to go to school and his best mate is a pelican

Storm Boy rescued the pelican, Mr Percival, when he was a baby. He returned pelican to the wild, pelican returned. They play catch together

Aboriginal friend from up the beach reveals that when a pelican is shot, big storm arrives. Don't tell drought stricken farmers that.

Haven't seen Storm Boy since 8yo. Forgotten the ending. The boy & that pelican are such good friends, sure hope nothing happens to that bird

Storm Boy's dad : "Radio? You don't want to listen to radio. Fill your head with wanting this and that. Things you don't need." Communist!

Storm Boy is a child. He doesn't realise pelican he rescued now and adult and is using him to catch & cut up fish dinner & snacks. Pelican trained boy

Uh oh. Storm Boy has to go to school now. No shoes, can't read, hangs with pelicans. The other children will be brutal, vicious, relentless.

"We miss you Storm Boy. Me, your dad, and Mr Percival." Storm Boy's joy at discovering school is actually quite nice ruined by dependent pelican

How long do pelicans live anyway? What happens when Storm Boy turns 18 and heads to uni? Having a pelican following u round then would be weird

Storm Boy back at home now with dad & pelican. The kid & dad prepare for a gale at the beach humpy. Pelican bails when there's hard work to do

Boat caught in gale off shore. Only way to save people on boat is to get a line out there, reel them in. Mr Percival volunteers to do it

Pelican saves boatload of people, possibly asylum seekers, Storm Boy realises pelican isn't a total sponge. Pelican waits for fish reward

"I knew you could do it, Mr Percival! You're really great, Storm Boy tells pelican, who seems to be getting annoyed no fish reward is forthcoming

People rescued by pelican discuss possible newspaper headlines. One of the rescued men tells StormBoy when hero pelican is dead he'll look "great stuffed and in a glass case"

Weird that when StormBoy discusses rejecting life of school, shoes, electricity with Mr Percival, pelican immediately flies off in the direction of hunters

Hunters are shooting at Mr Percival. Oh fuck,now I remember how this ends. "They shot Mr Percival!"

StormBoy visits grave of his pelican friend. Contemplates lesson learned by his mate Mr Percival - save peoples' lives, get shot at

Hmm, no storm appeared when Mr Percival was shot dead. So StormBoy's friend from up the beach is a liar.

Aboriginal friend shows StormBoy nest of recently hatched pelicans. "Like Mr Percival started all over again." Pelican poses in sunset, credits roll
Beautiful movie.

A near perfect children's movie.

Do kids still think it's kind of cool to run around without shoes and live without TV and refrigeration? Probably not.

But Storm Boy will instill in children who view it a lifelong respect for birds that have beaks big enough to hold more fish than their bellies can. It may possibly also introduce a mysterious suspicion of radios to their mind state. And also ingrain a slightly crazed, yet justified, loathing of hunters who shoot pelicans for fun and teenage hoons who tear up protected sand dunes for kicks.

Like I said, a near perfect children's movie.

A beautiful passage from Colin Thiele's novel :
"And everything lives on in their hearts the wind-talk and wave-talk, and the scribblings on the sand; the Coorong, the salt smell of the beach, the humpy and the long days of their happiness together. And always, above them, in their mind's eye, they can see the shape of two big wings in the storm-clouds and the flying scud, the winds of white with trailing black edges spread across the sky. For birds like Mr Percival do not really die."

Unfortunately, the talented Mr Percival died last year. He was 33 years old. As in the movie, Percival made sure he really did not die, mating successfully into his declining years. And his tale has a wonderful ending :

Mr Backhouse had cared for (Mr Percival) since starting at the zoo in 2000.

"....I’m 33, so I remember Storm Boy pretty passionately as a kid.’’

A boy who loved Mr Percival in Storm Boy ends up looking after him, until his death.

Where's Australian Story?

Face reality, the producers are running out of interesting humans to squeeze a half hour out of. The old Australian Story is already running repeats, or "encore presentations" as they're now known, of the Julia Gillard one. And what's she done lately of interest? Nothing.

The first series of the New Australian Story, one which is not speciesist, can focus on a living things that everyone loves. Hero animals. Like the Australian Defence Force dogs that died serving their country in Afghanistan. Brendan Nelson can introduce one on Simpson's donkey.

Series two can deal with thespian pelicans.