The (reel) life of Brian

The cover of Real and Reel

The cover of Real and Reel

Bruce Beresford has called it “absolutely brilliant”, Geoffrey Rush has described it as a “highly entertaining picaresque confession” and Dame Judi Dench has said “it is easy to tell it has been a labour of love”. You can tell by the testimonials alone that Real and Reel: The Education of a film obsessive and critic is a book that doesn’t tell the story of a mere movie enthusiast, but of a man who has immersed himself in the world of film.

Aptly described as the “account of a lifetime’s addiction”, Real and Reel is the work of Monash academic Associate Professor Brian McFarlane, one of Australia’s most highly-respected film critics and writers.

It begins by detailing his childhood in the Wimmera district of Victoria where at the age of five he saw his first film and at the age of ten he wrote his first movie review. In many ways, Associate Professor McFarlane’s lifelong love for cinema is improbable: growing up in regional Australia before the Second World War, he had precious little access to films. Even after moving from the “tiny townlet” of Lillimur to the larger town of Nhill he could only see films several years after they had been released in the US or UK at a theatre which showed “no more than a dismembered handful of matinees”.

Added to the lack of access, was the fact that his parents gently disapproved; they “had an entrenched suspicion of the movies’ power to corrupt young minds if taken habitually”. But his passion for film bloomed, nonetheless: “I thought about them most of the time and talked about them whenever I possibly could nab a willing listener.”

The book charts his move to Melbourne to study English and French at university at the age of just sixteen, his return to western Victoria as a young teacher at Terang High School and his early adventures overseas. During this time, he developed a love for Hollywood cinema, its brightest star for him being the beguiling Merle Oberon. She became just one of the many great actors who went from idol to friend during Brian’s illustrious career.

Having humbly spent much of first half of the book on witty self-deprecation, Associate Professor McFarlane goes on to detail, still with great modesty, his years of remarkable success as a secondary school teacher (and administrator), academic and writer (British cinema became an abiding passion and he wrote extensively on it), including his many encounters with screen royalty.

This is his sixteenth book, a sweeping, authoritative record of film in the form of a light-hearted memoir. It is published by Sid Harta.


Associate Professor McFarlane is Adjunct Associate Professor attached to the English Department of Monash University where he taught for many years. He is a frequent reviewer for The Age, The Australian Book Review, Metro and Sight and Sound