Editor’s Note: After the publication of my tribute to Sylvia Lawson, Graham Shirley drew my attention to this link on Inside Story which collects many of the recent contributions Sylvia made to that online journal. There is also a wonderful tribute from Tom O’Regan online here
As well, from all over there have been some touching tributes posted on Facebook and sent to me via my blog or in emails. I’ve collected some of them here.
Graham Shirley Very sad news indeed. She was an untiring champion of the need for a vibrant film culture in Australia, and contributed immensely to that culture. She was also among the journalists who in the 1960s pressed for a revived Australian feature film industry, and remained a keen-eyed observer of every step of that revival. But her film interests always embraced the international. I vividly remember her presenting the key films of Jean Renoir to us 12 students at the then AFTS (later AFTRS) in 1973, and the robust conversations we had at NFSA Canberra when she was researching her book about John Heyer’s The Back of Beyond and viewing a wide range of world cinema milestone documentaries made before the mid-1950s. It’s a real bonus for history that Tina Kaufman recorded a two-hour oral history with Sylvia for NFSA in 2013.
Tait Brady Thanks Geoff. Very sad, but what a woman! Sylvia taught me at Griffith and was without doubt the biggest influence on my developing interest in Australian cinema. She had so many great war stories too - from her years in journalism and academia. Her passion and sense of enquiry were inspirational.
Andrew Pike:… I hope that someone, somewhere, can find the funding to collect and publish all of Sylvia's writings about cinema. It would be an invaluable record of our times and of cinema's role in our national cultural life.
What a conversationalist, what a critic, what a challenging and stimulating and intriguing friend of forty years. If there is a memorial subscription fund for a publication, count me in.
Jane Mills: I’m feeling very bereft. Sylvia was such an important part of my education and appreciation of Australia’s national cinema and its wider cultural connections. The book she wrote for my “Australian Screen Classics” series of books (Currency Press & NFSA) on John Heyer’s The Back of Beyond is a lovely example of her film criticism and of her contribution to global visual culture. Her thoughts on this film reveal her knowledge, understanding and commitment to sharing what she knew and loved. I always thought of her as someone possessed of a magpie-like delight in picking up and making sense of disparate topics and areas of knowledge. And she combined this with an eagle-like overview of what was happening across a range of cultural activity throughout the whole world. Sylvia was indeed a citizen of the world informed by but unrestricted by local or national geopolitical borders. …Not sure why but these avian metaphors and images have always been part of how I’ve perceived and loved Sylvia.