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He hallucinates and animals fall from the sky. The fog of his first chemotherapy at 68, injected into the liver, eventually clears, but Australia’s most prolific film auteur then vividly dreams of a funeral – his own, with the recurring actors from his more than 30 feature films and documentaries, mostly made in Melbourne, cast as mourners. “Even if it’s me in the coffin,” writes Paul Cox in his notepad upon waking, “what’s the big deal?”

As a child, Cox knew he would travel but hotel lobbies terrify him. The slick, empty architecture of glass and concrete is not for him; he likes the clutter of objects for they signify life.

Ritual fascinates and inspires David Byrne. Reading Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski’s The Emperor, a 1978 account of Haile Selassie’s iron rule in impoverished Ethiopia, he found its descriptions of servitude beautiful. They reminded him of non-naturalistic, avant-garde contemporary performance or East Asian theatre, and his own ritualised gestures in pop performance.

“There was an artificial reality, almost surreal,” Byrne says, seated in a conference room in Sydney, “and I thought: I’ll file that away, it could be useful at some point.”

Fifty essays and dispatches on
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