Megan Cope on Monkey Grip


13 November 2014

This is an edited version of a speech Megan Cope gave to introduce the film Monkey Grip, at LongPlay in Fitzroy, Melbourne in July of 2014. This screening was the last of four in the series Stories in Landscape; Landscape in Stories.

Monkey Grip is a story about the implicit difficulties of the loving, hurting, caring, fighting, winning and losing that are all part of the monkey grip that grabs each of us at least once in our lives.

The film captures the most riveting pieces of Nora’s early adulthood, the heartbreaking relationships, the share-house living and, of course, the soft summer light of afternoons spent at the Fitzroy Baths, captured ever so romantically by the cinematography.

The performances are clumsy and endearing, and idiosyncratically Australian. Noni Hazlehurst (who we all know from Play School) plays Nora, Colin Friels is Javo, and members of the band the Divinyls are also featured.

Monkey Grip was my introduction to Helen Garner, and I loved this story so much. I was first given the book to read by my housemate at the time, Pat. We had been living together for several years and would often passionately and rigorously debate feminism and contemporary relationships. Pat gave me this book to read because he had been observing a tumultuous love affair I had been caught up in for almost a year, one that I just couldn’t quite shake. Luckily, my lover was not a junkie like Nora’s boyfriend Javo; he was an up and coming musician, and very talented. He was the first to ever give me an internal orgasm, and I guess because of this he was able to walk in and out of my life just like Javo did to Nora. I too only ever saw my lover when he was hungry or broke or both.

That was about five years ago now. And as Nora narrates, Sometimes, long afterwards, it’s possible to look back and see the beginning of things. The point at which you’ve already plunged in when at the time you thought you were only testing the water with your toe.”

When I left Brisbane, on the quest to find a man or a greater love or whatever it was (I don’t actually know now that I’m here), the soundtrack in my mind was reminiscent of Monkey Grip’s, and the legendary late Chrissy Amphlett’s lyrics:

I am through with hanging around
With all the boys in town
Now I want a man around
Get me out of here


The shape of the story in Monkey Grip is illustrated in an iconic Australian visual vernacular. It’s shot on 35 mm film, up close to the characters, creating an intimate and colloquial impression of Carlton and Fitzroy. I think the film captures the rhythm of Melbourne perfectly. It beats along brusquely, a bit like the Melbourne weather. Time is measured by love, sex and rock and roll. Scenes progress in fractured yet natural transitions from share house to share house, to Edinburgh Gardens, gigs, the pool, work, the pub and house parties. It’s hard not to see yourself in this film – I’m sure almost everyone in this room will feel a sense of familiarity with the mood, narrative and timing of events in Monkey Grip.

As I ride my bike and walk my dog around the inner north of Melbourne I often think about Nora, and about being a single woman orbiting the art and music scenes in a new city. I see there’s a long, historic and magnetic assembly between artists, musicians and the inner north of Melbourne, with its capacity to accommodate and motivate us all so comfortably.

This city has a knack to satisfy the needs and desires of many makers, and it seems we’re all very busy getting to know each other and shaping this ever-changing landscape. Sometimes it even appears we need not worry about long love or permanent relationships; life revolves around the deep love we have for what we do, and for each other’s lives and achievements.

But at other times, as I’ve discovered, this city boasts a bearded masculine bravado, and a glut of incredibly beautiful and talented single women. In the winter time, issues of love and sex pervade late night conversations at the pub, and then slowly begin to subside with the approach of summer when, as Nora recollects as the warmth sets in, “…everything, as it always does, began to heave and change”.

It's important to note that Monkey Grip is a film and novel very much of its time. Women like Nora’s character were paramount in setting new boundaries for the ways many women choose to live today. We no longer need to live in conventional nuclear family structures. We can now work for ourselves and can raise children without men. The film was released in 1982, the same year I was born, and at the time it was a very frank and daring portrayal of women’s post-lib everyday life.

I’d like to end now with a quote from John Lennon that sums up the relationships that bob about in the aqua profonda of Monkey Grip, and continue to flood the streets and contemporary lives of new and old residents of the inner north.

Well I don’t know who made the golden rule that sex and love had to go together, because I’ve enjoyed love without sex and sex without love. And they quite often come together but quite often they don’t.