Transcript: John Fraser | Oct 29, 1996

(Rhythmic string and wind music plays)

In animation, a word in pink slides by against a gray background as hands paint strokes using paintbrushes, play a piano, and touch as in a ballet performance.

The title of the show reads “Dialogue.”

The title of the episode pops up against an image of Richard Ouzounian and a guest chatting in a sitting room: “John Fraser. Master of Massey College.”

Both men sit on comfortable-looking armchairs in a room decorated with a Persian rug, mid-century wood furniture, a large bookcase, and a grand piano.

Then, Richard appears facing the screen. He's in his late forties, clean-shaven, with short side-parted blond hair. He's wearing rounded glasses, a light gray suit, a white shirt, and striped black and white tie.

He says WELCOME TO DIALOGUE.
I'M RICHARD OUZOUNIAN.
IF VARIETY IS TRULY THE SPICE
OF LIFE, YOU ARE ABOUT TO
MEET A MAN WHO HAS HAD A CAREER
OF JALAPENO PROPORTIONS.
I'VE KNOWN HIM AS A
THEATRE CRITIC, AS FOREIGN
CORRESPONDENT, AS A
JOURNALIST, AS AN EDITOR,
AS A BIOGRAPHER, AS A DIARIST,
AS A COLUMNIST, AND NOW,
AS MASTER OF MASSEY
COLLEGE, AND AS A NOVELIST.
MEET ALL OF THESE
PEOPLE IN ONE.
THIS
DIALOGUE
IS
WITH JOHN FRASER.

John is in his fifties, clean-shaven, with short receding curly gray hair. He’s wearing rounded glasses, a gray suit, white shirt, and black polka-dotted bowtie.

Richard continues JOHN, LET'S START
WITH THE IMMEDIATE.
WE'RE SITTING IN THE
APARTMENT OF THE MASTER.

John says YOU MISSED OUT THE
OVERNIGHT POLICE REPORTER.

Richard says OH, I'M SORRY.
WELL, I DON'T KNOW EVERYTHING.
WE'RE HERE IN THE
APARTMENT OF THE MASTER
OF MASSEY COLLEGE.
WHAT DOES THAT
MEAN OFFICIALLY?

John says WELL, IT'S AN
ADMINISTRATIVE JOB.
IT'S ALSO, AS DEFINED
BY THE FOUNDING MASTER,
ROBERTSON DAVIES, IT'S
GOT A LARGE PUBLIC ROLE.
THE COLLEGE HAS ALWAYS DEFINED
ITSELF AS A BRIDGE BETWEEN
THE ACADEMIC WORLD
AND THE OUTSIDE WORLD.
AND I THINK THAT'S THE
REASON I WAS ELECTED MASTER.
I'M FROM THE OUTSIDE WORLD.
THERE'S BEEN A STRONG
TRADITION AT THE COLLEGE
ASSOCIATING WITH THE MEDIA
THROUGH THE SOUTHERN
FELLOWSHIPS, THROUGH THE
MASSEY LECTURES, THROUGH
PROMINENT JOURNALISTS
WHO HAVE BEEN ASSOCIATED
WITH THE COLLEGE.
SO I THINK MY JOB IS TO
FURTHER THAT, IN PART, AS WELL
AS THE MAIN FUNCTION OF THE
COLLEGE, WHICH IS TO ASSIST
THE BRIGHTEST OF THE
GRADUATE STUDENTS.

Richard says BUT THERE IS SOMETHING
INTERESTING THAT JOHN FRASER'S
CAREER, WHICH IS THAT YOU
USUALLY WIND UP GETTING A
POSITION WHEN THE JOB
IS MOST INTERESTING.
FOR EXAMPLE, YOU WERE THEATRE
CRITIC AT
THE GLOBE AND MAIL
WHEN IT WAS ACTUALLY A
VERY FASCINATING TIME.
I MEAN, I SHUDDER AT THE
THOUGHT OF YOU SITTING THERE
NOW HAVING TO PRONOUNCE
JUDGMENT ON
TOMMY
AND
BLOOD BROTHERS
AND
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST.

John says I WAS NEVER THAT BRILLIANT
A CRITIC IN EITHER DANCE OR
THEATRE, BUT I
WAS AN ENTHUSIAST.
AND I THINK I WAS JUST THAT
MUCH AHEAD OF THE GENERALLY
INTELLIGENT AUDIENCE MEMBER TO
BE AN ACCEPTABLE CHEERLEADER.
I DON'T THINK I EVER SET UP
SHOP AS AN EXPERT IN DANCE.
I DIDN'T KNOW A LOT.
I MEAN, MY START IN
DANCE WAS QUITE FUNNY.
I DID KNOW SOMETHING ABOUT
MUSIC, AND I APPLIED TO THE
OLD TORONTO
TELEGRAM
TO BE
A MUSIC CRITIC, AND THEY JUST
LAUGHED AT ME.
AND THAT'S HOW I ENDED UP ON
THE OVERNIGHT POLICE DESK.
AND THEN THE MUSIC CRITIC
LEFT, AND I GOT THE JOB, AND
I SHOULD HAVE KNOWN THEN THE
PAPER WAS ABOUT TO GO DOWN THE
TUBES BECAUSE I WAS SO YOUNG.
BUT THEY GAVE ME THE JOB AS
MUSIC CRITIC, AND THE SECOND
NIGHT OUT, THEY SAID YOU ARE
COVERING THE VIENNA STATE
OPERA BALLET.
AND I SAID, WHY?
AND THEY SAID, “'COS YOU DO
ALL THE FAGGOT STUFF HERE,”
IS WHAT THEY SAID.
AND THAT WAS MY FIRST BALLET
PERFORMANCE, AND MY FIRST
BALLET REVIEW, OTHER THAN
MAYBE SOME
NUTCRACKERS.
AND I WAS VERY LUCKY, THE
PAPER FOLDED QUITE QUICKLY
THEREAFTER, BUT I GOT SMITTEN.

A caption appears on screen. It reads "John Fraser. Master of Massey College."

John continues I FELL IN LOVE WITH DANCE, AND
I HAD THE GREAT FORTUNE OF
BECOMING FRIENDS WITH THE
HEAD OF THE NATIONAL BALLET
SCHOOL, BETTY OLYPHANT,
AND I MET LINCOLN KIRSTEIN
IN THE NEW YORK CITY
BALLET, AND ERIC BRUHM,
AND THEY SORT OF TOOK ME
UNDER THEIR WING AND TRAINED
ME, IN THE SENSE OF GIVING
ME TASTE AND PERSPECTIVE.
SO WHEN I CAME TO WRITE ABOUT
DANCE AGAIN FOR
THE GLOBE
AND MAIL
ABOUT A YEAR
LATER, I WAS ON THE ROAD TO
UNDERSTANDING THE ROLE OF A
PUBLIC CHEERLEADER, WHICH IS
WHAT I SAW MYSELF AS.

Richard says NOW, I UNDERSTAND THIS, GOING
FROM THE OVERNIGHT POLICE
REPORTER TO THE DANCE, TO
THEATRE, I GUESS THE NEXT
LEAP IS WHEN JOHN FRASER
WENT OFF TO CHINA FOR
THE GLOBE AND MAIL.
NOW HOW DID THAT HAPPEN?

John says I THINK MAYBE I WAS THE
EIGHTH CORRESPONDENT
AND THEY WANTED TO TRY
SOMETHING DIFFERENT.
AND IT WAS A BIT OF LUCK.
BECAUSE I HAPPENED TO GO THERE
TO COINCIDE WITH THE TIME OF
MAO'S DESK, AND THE LIFTING
OF SOME OF THE GROTESQUE
TOTALITARIAN PALL
ON THE COUNTRY.
SO IT WAS AN EXTRAORDINARY
TIME TO BE THERE.
MY TIME THERE WAS DEFINED
BETWEEN THE DEATH OF MAO AND
THE TRIAL OF HIS WIFE, AND
THE OPENING UP OF CHINA.
SO I GOT TO TRAVEL.
AND BIZARRE, SMALL THINGS.
THE GLOBE AND MAIL
HAD A
BUREAU THERE FOR CLOSE TO A
QUARTER OF A CENTURY, AND
AS I SAID, I WAS THE EIGHTH
CORRESPONDENT, BUT I WAS THE
FIRST TO ACTUALLY HAVE A CHINESE
FRIEND I COULD INVITE TO
AN APARTMENT IN 25 YEARS.
RIDICULOUS, ISN'T IT?
BUT IT WAS SO CLOSED OFF.
I LOOKED IN SOME OF THE OLD
FILES, ON THE SLOW NIGHTS IN
PEKING, WHICH THERE WEREN'T
MANY, AND THERE WAS POOR OLD
NORMAN WEBSTER, VERY
DISTINGUISHED CORRESPONDENT
WHO EVENTUALLY BECAME EDITOR
OF
THE GLOBE AND MAIL,
WRITING TO REQUEST A VISIT TO
THE MING TOMBS IN THE MIDDLE
OF THE CULTURAL REVOLUTION.
TURNED DOWN.
COULDN'T REALLY LEAVE MUCH OF
THE BLOCK THAT HE WAS IN
IN PEKING.
SO AN EXTREMELY FRUSTRATING
PERIOD FOR MANY OF THE
JOURNALISTS THAT
THE
GLOBE
FAITHFULLY SENT.
AND I HAD COME WITH
AN ARTS BACKGROUND.
AND I THINK Mr. DOYLE WAS
BEING ADVENTUROUS AND THOUGHT,
MAYBE WE'LL SEND AN ARTS WRITER.
I HAD POLITICAL BACKGROUND.
I ALSO WROTE POLITICAL
FEATURES AT
THE GLOBE.
I LIKED KEEPING VERSATILE.
IT WAS MY NATURE.
TO ME, JOURNALISM IS THE LAST
REDOUBT FOR THE GENERALIST.
WHAT IS IT?
PATRIOTISM IS THE LAST
REDOUBT FOR THE SCOUNDREL,
JOURNALISM IS THE LAST
REFUGE FOR A GENERALIST.

Richard says JOHN FRASER, WHO PEOPLE
THOUGHT WAS A NICE CHEERLEADER
FOR THE ARTS, AND WAS
A CHARMING MAN, AND AN
INTERESTING WRITER, WENT TO
CHINA AND CAME BACK AND WROTE
A HEAVY, WELL-RESPECTED, HEAVY
IN A GOOD SENSE OF THE WORD,
HEAVY IN THE SENSE OF A
SUBSTANTIAL BOOK ON THE
CHINESE AND ON THE SITUATION,
AND ALL THE THINGS YOU FILED
FROM CHINA, SUDDENLY, YOU
WENT UP TO BEING A YOUNG
SENIOR STATESMAN.

John says WELL, I HAD LUCK.
AND IF I HAVE ANY PHILOSOPHY,
IT'S THAT EVERYONE GETS LUCK,
BUT NOT EVERYONE KNOWS
HOW TO EMBRACE IT.
LOTS OF PEOPLE SPIT AT IT.
I HAD THE LUCK OF BEING IN
CHINA WHEN THINGS OPENED UP.
I REALLY LIKE CHINESE PEOPLE.
I'M ALMOST A REVERSE RACIST.
I WAS INTRIGUED AT THIS
EXTRAORDINARY COUNTRY.
YOU CAN'T HELP NOT BE.
EVERYONE, THROUGHOUT HISTORY,
IN THE WEST, HAS BEEN
INTRIGUED WITH CHINA BECAUSE
IT IS A CONTINUAL CULTURAL
HISTORY, OVER THOUSANDS OF
YEARS, IN CONTRA DISTINCTION
TO THE HISTORY OF THE WEST.
AND THERE ARE ALTERNATIVES,
AND ALTERNATIVE WAYS OF
LOOKING AT LIFE, ALTERNATIVE
WAYS ON ALL SORTS OF LEVELS,
THAT ALLOW US TO PROJECT
WHAT WE UNDERSTAND
FROM WESTERN VALUES.
THAT'S WHY, QUITE OFTEN,
WESTERNERS GET CHINA
COMPLETELY WRONG, EVEN
THOUGH THEY ARE IN FULSOME
ADMIRATION OF IT.
GOING RIGHT BACK TO THE
JESUITS WHO SAW IT AS A
PERFECT KINGDOM, EXCEPT THAT
THEY DIDN'T ACCEPT JESUS, TO
THE PEOPLE DURING THE CULTURAL
REVOLUTION LIKE SHIRLEY
MACLAINE, AND GOOD HEARTED
PEOPLE WHO WERE BLIND TO SOME
OF THE CRUELTIES OF THE MAOIST
REGIME, THINKING HERE WAS A
BETTER WAY FOR THE WORLD.
SICKENED A BIT BY WESTERN
COMMERCIALISM AND MATERIALISM.

Richard says NOW, I'M DWELLING ON CHINA
BECAUSE OVER A DECADE LATER,
YOU CAME BACK TO IT.
AND YOU HAVE A NEW NOVEL
OUT THIS FALL CALLED
STOLEN CHINA.

John says RICHARD, I'M AFRAID IT'S
CLOSE TO TWO DECADES LATER.

Richard says IS THIS, FIRST OF ALL, THE
FIRST JOHN FRASER NOVEL, OR IS
THERE ANOTHER ONE BURIED IN
A TRUNK THAT NO ONE'S READ?

John says NO, THIS IS THE NOVEL THAT
WAS BURIED IN THE TRUNK
AND HAD TO BE REWRITTEN.
I WASN'T READY TO WRITE
FICTION WHEN I FIRST MADE
A STAB AT THIS NOVEL
OVER TEN YEARS AGO.
I HAD AN AGENT, STANLEY
COLBERT, WHO DID THE SAME
THING FOR ME HE DID
FOR TIMOTHY FINDLEY.
HE MORE OR LESS SAID, SHALL
I THROW THIS IN THE FIRE,
OR SHALL YOU?
IT WAS A BIT WOUNDING, BUT IT
WAS TRUE, IT WAS ACCURATE.

Richard says DOES IT BEAR ANY RESEMBLANCE
TO THE BOOK WE HAVE TODAY?

John says NO.
OTHER THAN THE SETTING.
NO, NOT AT ALL.
AND I WASN'T READY
TO WRITE FICTION.
I DON'T KNOW WHEN, I CAN'T
MAKE A PRONOUNCEMENT WHEN
IT IS TIME TO WRITE
FICTION FOR ANYONE.
I'M SURE THERE HAVE BEEN
BRILLIANT FICTION WRITERS
STARTING AT 17, BUT I
WASN'T READY TO DO IT.
AND WHEN I DID FINALLY COME TO
WRITE IT, I'M NOT PRECLUDING
ANY CRITICAL JUDGMENT, BUT I
KNOW I WAS SATISFIED OUT OF
THE PROCESS THAT IT WAS
EXTREMELY EXCITING BECAUSE I
FELT FREED, FOR THE FIRST TIME
IN MY WRITING, TO WRITE WHAT
I FELT, WHAT WAS IN MY HEART,
THINGS I KNEW TO BE TRUE, BUT
WHICH SOMETIMES AREN'T
SO EASY TO BACK UP WITH
JOURNALISTIC FACTS.

Richard says WELL, THE BOOK COVERS
A GREAT PERIOD OF TIME.
IT COVERS THE PERIOD, ROUGHLY,
WHEN YOU WERE FIRST THERE,
AND THEN IT TAKES --

John says IT'S SMART TO WRITE
ABOUT WHAT YOU KNOW.

Richard says BUT THEN IT HAS PERIODS
WHEN YOU WEREN'T THERE.
BUT THE CHARACTERS ARE BACK IN
CANADA WHILE TIANANMEN SQUARE
IS HAPPENING, AND THEN
VIRTUALLY, IN THE PRESENT DAY.
A LOT OF TIMES WHEN AN
AUTHOR WILL PUT A VARIANT OF
THEMSELVES IN A BOOK, THEY
PUT THE HEROIC VARIANT IN.
NOW JOHN --

John says NO, THIS IS A LOSER.
MY HERO IS A LOSER.

Richard says THIS IS WHAT I'M
CURIOUS ABOUT.
YOU KNOW, THE PERSON WHO
SHARES POINTS WITH YOU WAS A
CORRESPONDENT FOR A TORONTO
NEWSPAPER ABOUT CHINA, BUT
WHEREAS HE FAILS IN PERSONAL
RELATIONSHIPS, YOU HAVE A
LONGSTANDING RELATIONSHIP
AND THREE CHILDREN.
HE FAILS TO WRITE
A BOOK ON CHINA.
YOU WRITE ONE AND IT
IS VERY SUCCESSFUL.
HIS LIFE GOES DOWN THE DRAIN
WHEN HE GETS BACK TO CANADA.
YOUR LIFE GOES UP AND ONWARD
WHEN YOU GET BACK TO CANADA.
I'M CURIOUS ABOUT WHY YOU TOOK
A LOT OF THE SHELL OF YOUR
LIFE, AND THEN TRASHED IT?

John says I DIDN'T SEE IT THAT WAY.
BUT I CERTAINLY
WANTED AN ANTI-HERO.
I WANTED SOMEONE
ON THE WAY DOWN.
BECAUSE SOMEONE ON THE WAY
DOWN SHEDS A STRONGER AND
BETTER LIGHT ON CHARACTER,
AND PEOPLE AROUND THEM,
THAN SOMEONE ON
THEIR WAY UP.
ON THE WAY UP, YOU
JUST FOLLOW THE METEOR.
AND ON THE WAY DOWN, YOU
GET CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT.
I HAD SEVERAL
OBJECTIVES IN THIS BOOK.
PART OF IT IS A
BIT OF A SPOOF.
IT'S A BIT OF A
SATIRE ON JOURNALISM.
IT'S A BIT OF A... IT'S ALSO
AN ATTEMPT TO TRY AND SCREW
PEOPLE'S MINDS UP A
BIT ABOUT THE NATURE
OF TOTALITARIANISM.
FORMAL TOTALITARIANISM IN A
COUNTRY LIKE CHINA, WHICH IS
EPITOMIZED BY THIS LITTLE
DEPARTMENT I CREATED IN THE
MINISTRY OF CULTURE.
BUT IN REALITY, THE MINISTRY
OF CULTURE IS MY FAVOURITE
ORWELLIAN DEPARTMENT
IN THE WORLD.
IT'S A MINISTRY, IN REALITY,
IN CHINA, THAT WAS CREATED TO
DEFEND WRITERS, AND
IT EXECUTES THEM.
IT WAS CREATED TO DEFEND THE
PATRIMONY OF CHINA, AND IT
DOES ACTUALLY SELL IT OFF.
IT DOES ALL SORTS OF EVIL
THINGS, THE OPPOSITE OF WHAT
IT IS SUPPOSED TO DO.
SO WITHIN THAT LARGE
ORGANIZATION, I CREATED A
SMALL LITTLE DEPARTMENT WHICH
WAS QUITE SIMILAR TO THE ONLY
DEPARTMENT I HAD ANY
FAMILIARITY WITH,
THE INFORMATION DEPARTMENT
OF THE DEPARTMENT OF
FOREIGN AFFAIRS OVER THERE.
BUT I CREATED, AND I PUT
PEOPLE IN IT THAT I HOPE WERE
RECOGNIZABLE UNDER
THE CIRCUMSTANCES.
THERE WAS A RICHARD AND
A JOHN, AND A WHOEVER.
YOU COULD SEE HOW
YOU COULD SURVIVE
IN A TOTALITARIAN SYSTEM.
YOU DIDN'T WALK AROUND WITH
THE WEIGHT OF THE WHIP BEHIND
YOUR NECK ALL THE TIME.
AND AT THE SAME TIME, I
WANTED, IN THE WEST, A
PARALLEL ORGANIZATION
WHICH YOU COULD CREATE A
TOTALITARIAN REALITY,
JUST OUT OF FEAR.
FEAR OF LOSING A JOB.
FEAR OF A STRONGER PERSONALITY.
FEAR OF BEING MOWED
UNDER BY THE BOTTOM LINE.
SO I CHOSE A NEWS ROOM BECAUSE
THAT'S WHAT I HAD SOME
FAMILIARITY WITH.

Richard says AND ONE OF THE MOST
FRIGHTENING CHARACTERS IN
MODERN FICTION IS THAT EDITOR
AND CHIEF OF THE PAPER, WITH
HER IMPECCABLE BLACK LACQUERED
DESK WITH NOTHING ON IT,
AND HER DICTA ABOUT WE WANT
TO BE USER FRIENDLY TO
ALL OF THE READERS.

John says ALL THAT.
ALL THE STUFF OF
MODERN JOURNALISM.

Richard says IT'S SATIRE, BUT
IT'S ALL TOO TRUE.

John says YES, IT IS.
HER PARALLEL, THE EDITOR'S
PARALLEL IS Mr. ING.
AND HE'S VERY TRUE, TOO.
I MET LOTS OF
Mr. ING'S IN CHINA.
YOU KNEW THERE WERE CORPSES
ALL ALONG THE WAY UP
TO HIS ASCENDANCY.
SO I WAS TRYING TO CREATE THAT
PARALLELISM IN THE NOVEL.
AND IT WAS A WAY OF SHOWING
HUMAN NATURE ISN'T ACTUALLY
IN CULTURAL CUL-DE-SACS.
THERE ARE COMMON LINKS BETWEEN
US AND CHINESE PEOPLE.
THIS HAS ALWAYS BEEN WHAT I
GOT OUT OF BEING IN CHINA,
THAT YOU DON'T USE THE
EXTRAORDINARY CULTURAL
HERITAGE OF CHINA, WHICH IS
UNIQUE AND SPECIAL, YOU DON'T
USE IT TO SECTION OFF THE
CHINESE PEOPLE AS SOMEHOW
DIFFERENT OR ALIEN OR
ANOTHER SPECIES OF ANIMAL.
AND SO I TRIED TO DO IT
IN A KIND OF NEGATIVE WAY.
ALSO, I TRIED A BIT OF A
SPOOF ON THE SUSPENSE NOVEL.
BUT, MOSTLY, I WAS OUT TO TRY
AND SHOW THE POSSIBILITY EXISTS
FOR EVERYONE FOR SOME SORT OF
REDEMPTION, BUT IT'S NOT A
HIGH OR A LOW FIGURE, IT'S
JUST THROUGH PERSONAL WITNESS.
AND IT'S QUITE A SOFT NOTE,
BUT THERE IS A REDEMPTIVE
ELEMENT IN THE BOOK.
I'M NOT TRYING TO MAKE
IT SOUND LIKE A NOVEL OF
CHRISTIAN HUMANISTICS
OR WHATEVER.

Richard says WELL, NO, THERE IS THAT THERE
BECAUSE ONE OF THE SIDES OF
JOHN FRASER IS THE JOHN FRASER
WHO IS ACTIVE IN THE ANGLICAN
CHURCH, AND HAS A LOT TO SAY
ABOUT HYMNS, AND HAS HIS
FEELINGS ON THINGS.
AND IT'S INTERESTING, OF
COURSE, THAT THE SPIRITUAL
AWAKENING, OR CONFRONTATION
THAT THE CHARACTERS COMES TO
IN THE BOOK IS WITH A PRIEST,
AND I WON'T EXPLAIN WHY THE
PRIEST IS IN THE NARRATIVE
BECAUSE THAT WOULD GIVE IT
AWAY FOR READERS, BUT IT
HAPPENS AT A MIDWEEK COMMUNION
SERVICE THAT NOBODY GOES TO.
AND THEY WIND UP HAVING THIS
INCREDIBLE DIALOGUE ABOUT THE
NATURE OF REDEMPTION,
AND BELIEF.
THOSE HAVE TO BE
JOHN FRASER CONCERNS.
AREN'T THEY?

John says STUFF WOULD JUST COME.
I MEAN, IT WAS THERE, IT
WAS MINE, IT WAS FROM ME.
AND HALFWAY THROUGH ONE
CHARACTER I RECOGNIZED IT,
OR I RECOGNIZED WHAT TIPPED IT
OFF, AND THE SPEAKING PATTERN.
I WAS CONCERNED ABOUT MY
ABILITY TO WRITE GOOD DIALOGUE
BECAUSE THAT'S
CRUCIAL IN A NOVEL.
I HAD MY CONSULTANTS WHO I
CHECKED IT OUT WITH TO MAKE
SURE I WASN'T JUST
OFF THE DEEP END.
MY DAUGHTERS THOUGHT I HAD
GONE BERSERK BECAUSE I WOULD
SPEAK IT OUT LOUD
AS I WAS WRITING IT.
AND THEN I START LAUGHING AT
MY OWN JOKES, WHICH MY WIFE
SAID THAT WAS A REAL
SIGN I BETTER SCRAP THAT.
SO ALL MY STUFF'S IN THERE,
BUT I CAN'T FULLY EXPLAIN
THE PROCESS.

Richard says IT'S INTERESTING.
I THINK IF YOU HANDED ME THAT
BOOK BLIND AND SAID, WHO
WROTE IT, I WOULD HAVE TO
SAY IT WAS JOHN FRASER.

John says I THINK YOU CAN ONLY WRITE
FICTION, GOOD FICTION, OR
READABLE FICTION, IF YOU WRITE
FROM KNOWING EXPERIENCE.
SO YOU HAVE TO WRITE
WHAT YOU ARE USED TO.
YOUR FIRST NOVEL, I KNOW
EXACTLY WHAT WORLD IS GOING
TO COME OUT.
IT'S GOING TO COME OUT OF
EITHER THEATRE OR TELEVISION.
YOU'D BE A FOOL NOT TO.
YOU WORK FROM STRENGTH.
YOU WORK BOTH FROM KNOWLEDGE,
AND ALSO, I'M SURE, AN ABILITY
TO HAVE A LITTLE BIT
OF DISTANCE FROM IT TO
BE ABLE TO ANALYZE IT.
SO I'VE ALWAYS HAD SOME SORT
OF LITTLE BIRD INSIDE ME THAT
FLIES OFF AND GOES UP TO
A CORNER OF A ROOM AND IS
LOOKING AT THE SCENE.
AND SOMETIMES, IT
IS A CRITICAL OF ME.
IT'S SAYING, YOU'RE TALKING
TOO MUCH, OR YOU'RE MAKING AN
ASS OF YOURSELF AGAIN.
OR OTHER TIMES IT'S SAYING,
BOY, THIS IS ALL MATERIAL.
YOU CAN RECYCLE THIS SCENE.
AND THAT WAS CERTAINLY TRUE ON
EVERY LEVEL I'VE EVER WORKED ON.
IN BOARD MEETINGS AT HOLLINGER
THAT I MIGHT BE BIDDING TO
COME TO BECAUSE CONRAD BLACK
WANTED ME TO EXPLAIN WHAT I
WAS DOING AT
SATURDAY NIGHT.
THAT BIRD WAS OUT IN THE CORNER
OF THE HOLLINGER BOARDROOM.
IT WAS ALSO WITH YOUNG WRITERS
HO WERE TERRIFIED OF ANY SORT
OF CRITICISM WHAT IT MIGHT DO,
AND HOW TO GUIDE THEM INTO
THE BETTER STORY YOU
KNEW THEY COULD WRITE.
SO I'VE ALWAYS HAD A CERTAIN
DETACHMENT FROM EVERYTHING
I'VE BEEN INVOLVED IN.
AT THE SAME TIME, I'M NOT
A SNOB, I DON'T THINK.
I LIKE PEOPLE IN ALL
SORTS AND VARIETIES.

Richard says WERE YOU SETTLING ANY
SCORES WITH THIS BOOK?

John says NO, I DON'T THINK
SO NOT REALLY.
I DON'T THINK SO.
I'VE NO PARTICULAR
SCORES TO HAVE TO SETTLE.
I'VE HAD A PRETTY... I'VE HAD A
LIFE FULL OF GRACE, YOU KNOW?
I'VE BEEN LUCKY
ON ALL LEVELS,
PERSONALLY AND PROFESSIONALLY.
SO I'VE NO REAL GRUDGES.
I'VE BEEN LUCKY WHEN I'VE
ARRIVED AT PLACES TO WORK AT,
I'VE BEEN LUCKY WHEN I'VE
DECIDED TO LEAVE THEM.
SOMETIMES JUST A BIT AHEAD OF
MY HEAD, BUT NEVERTHELESS,
I HAVE HAD THAT LUCK.

Richard says I GUESS, ONE OF THE MOST
PASSIONATE SECTIONS OF THE
BOOK, TO ME, MAYBE BECAUSE I
DON'T KNOW CHINA AS WELL AS
YOU DO, BUT IT WAS SITTING
THERE IN THE 1989 SECTION, THE
WEEKEND TIANANMEN SQUARE IS
COMING DOWN, AND THE NEWSPAPER
THAT THE LEADING CHARACTER,
JIMMY HALPERT WORKS ON, IS
REFUSING TO GO INTO EXTRA
EDITIONS AND PUT PEOPLE ON
OVERTIME TO COVER IT.
AND THE EDITOR IS PERFECTLY
WILLING TO GO TO PRESS, AND GO
TO BED, WITH A NOW TOTALLY
INACCURATE SATURDAY STORY,
OR FRIDAY STORY ABOUT IT.

John says BUT I DON'T THINK THAT
ACTUALLY HAPPENED WITH ANY
PAPER IN TORONTO.
ALTHOUGH THE CIRCUMSTANCES
OF COST CUTTING, NO MORE
EDITIONS, THAT WAS IN
EXISTENCE WITH ALL THREE
PAPERS BY THAT TIME.
I GREW UP IN A PAPER
THAT HAD FIVE EDITIONS.
AND, IN FACT, AS AN ARTS
CRITIC, YOU WROTE FOR THE
FOURTH AND FIFTH, AND
THEN IT GOT CARRIED OVER.
AND BY THAT TIME, I MOVED
TO
SATURDAY NIGHT
IN '89.

Richard says BUT I GUESS, WHAT I'M GETTING
AT, RATHER THAN LITERALLY, IS
THERE'S A PASSION UNDERNEATH
FOR FACTS NOT BEING REPORTED,
TRUTH NOT BEING TOLD.

John says THERE'S A COMPLAINT ABOUT
THE WHOLE NATURE OF WHAT'S
HAPPENING TO NEWS COVERAGE
THAT, IN FACT, NEWSPAPERS ARE
TRYING TO BE MORE MAGAZINEY,
MAYBE OUT OF DESPERATION
OR WHATEVER.
AND CERTAINLY A VIEW THAT,
SINCE THE AGE OF COMPUTERS,
EFFICIENCY IN NEWS
COVERAGE HAS DECLINED.

Richard says THERE'S A PHRASE IN THE BOOK,
AND I'M PROBABLY GOING TO
PARAPHRASE IT INCORRECTLY
WHERE JAMIE SAYS HE HAS ALWAYS
BEEN INTERESTED IN ALMOST
ANY KIND OF PASSION IN OTHER
PEOPLE BECAUSE HE SPENT SO
MUCH TIME TRYING TO CONTROL IT
IN HIMSELF.
AND EVEN IN THIS BOOK,
THERE'S A GREAT DEAL OF, NOT
OBSESSION, BUT INTEREST IN
PEOPLE WHO GET PASSIONATE
ABOUT THINGS, MAINLY PHYSICAL
PASSION, BUT OTHER PASSIONS.
AND I WONDER IF THAT SAME
INTEREST BECAUSE HE SPENT SO
MUCH TIME CONTROLLING
IT IS YOURS.

John says NO.
I TEND TO BE SPLATTERED
ALL OVER THE PLACE.
IF YOU ASK PEOPLE, I GRAB
THINGS AND RUN WITH THEM.
AND I TAKE CHANCES.
I THINK I LIVE A
FAIRLY FULL-OUT LIFE.
I'VE GOT SOME REGRETS.
THEY'RE NOT MAJOR.
ALONG THE WAY, I'VE HURT
PEOPLE SOMETIMES IN MY
JOURNALISM, INADVERTENTLY,
BUT WHICH I REGRET.
I THINK ALL JOURNALISTS HAVE.
BUT I DON'T -- I DON'T HAVE
ANY SECRETS IN MY LIFE,
AND I TEND TO SPLATTER
MY LIFE OUT ON PEOPLE.
JAMIE HALPERT IS A TYPE
OF JOURNALIST I KNOW.
TYPE OF PERSON I
KNOW VERY WELL.
AND LIKE IN A CERTAIN WAY.
OFTEN, THE KIND
OF FRIEND I HAVE.
A QUIET PERSON WHO IS MORE
RESTRAINED, MORE UNDER WRAPS
THAN I AM.
AND I THINK THAT'S IN THE
SAME SENSE THAT WE ALL ARE
ATTRACTED TO OPPOSITES.
A LOT OF MY CLOSE FRIENDS
ARE DIFFERENT THAN I AM.
IT JUST HAPPENS THAT WAY.
AND HE'S NOT MODELLED ON ANYONE
IN PARTICULAR, BUT HE'S
CERTAINLY AN AMALGAM OF A
CERTAIN NUMBER OF QUIET,
EFFICIENT, GOOD
JOURNALISTS THAT I KNOW.
BUT HE'S NOT ME
BY A LONG STRETCH.
IN FACT, AS YOU SAID EARLIER
HE'S, IN MANY WAYS, MY OPPOSITE.
AND IT WAS A LOT EASIER
TO WRITE IT THAT WAY.
I COULD ANALYZE WHAT I WOULD
DO IN A CERTAIN SITUATION WHEN
I WAS WRITING THE BOOK, AND DO
THE OPPOSITE THING FOR HIM.

Richard says I'M WAITING FOR THE THIRD
DENIAL AT COCK CROW
THAT JAMIE HALPERT
IS NOT LIKE YOU.

John says OKAY.
WELL, HE'S NOT.
THERE'S YOUR THIRD.

Richard says JAMIE HALPERT, WHO IS YOUR
ANTIHERO IN
STOLEN CHINA
IS
OPPOSITE, I GUESS, AN
ANTI VILLAIN, OR PRO VILLAIN,
GORDON RYE, WHO IS THE
FIGURE WHO IS AT THE HEART
OF THE BOOK.
EVERYONE IS INTRIGUED IN HIM.
HE IS MURDERED EARLY ON IN THE
BOOK, AND THERE IS A GREAT
SEARCH AND EXAMINATION OF
HIS IDENTITY, BACK AND FORTH.
NOW, IT TURNS OUT HE IS NOT,
IN MANY WAYS, A TERRIBLY
APPEALING PERSON, BUT HE IS
A TERRIBLY MAGNETIC PERSON.
AND YOU KEEP BEING
DRAWN TO HIM.
WHAT ARE YOU TRYING
TO TELL US WITH THAT?

John says WELL, I KNOW IN MY ARTS
COVERAGE, I WAS COMING ACROSS
DIVINE MONSTERS ALL THE TIME.
NUREYEV WAS ONE.
ABSOLUTELY FOUL TO
PEOPLE SOMETIMES,
AND YET A GREAT ARTIST.
AND I WAS ALWAYS INTRIGUED
TO WHAT DEGREE THE MONSTER
ASPECT OF GREAT ARTISTS HAS
TO BE TOLERATED IN GRATITUDE
FOR THE GIFT.
BUT THEN YOU SEE, OUT OF
CONTRAST, BARYSHNIKOV WASN'T
A MONSTER, ISN'T A MONSTER.
JUST TAKE TWO FIGURES FROM
THE WORLD I KNEW IN BALLET.
JUST THE OPPOSITE.
I MEAN, HE CAN BE AN ARTISTIC
DIRECTOR AND ALL THAT, AND
WHEN HE WAS THE HEAD OF THE
AMERICAN BALLET THEATRE,
HE CAN CERTAINLY BE THE
MASTER OF THE SHIP.
BUT THAT'S DIFFERENT FROM
SOMEONE WHO HAD A SORT OF
STUDIED CRUELTY, THE WAY
NUREYEV HAD WITH UNDERLINGS.
AND I DON'T WANT TO --

Richard says HE'S JUST AN EXAMPLE.

John says HE'S JUST AN EXAMPLE.
SO I THINK THAT WAS
PARTLY IN MY MIND.
I WAS ALSO INTRIGUED,
STYLISTICALLY, TO FOLLOW A
DEVICE WITH GORDON RYE WHO HAS
A CERTAIN ROLE IN THIS BOOK.
A DEVICE THAT --

[horn honking]

John pauses and then comically says THEY'RE COMING AFTER ME.
A DEVICE, I STOLE, I BORROWED
FROM JOHN GALSWORTHY IN
THE FORSYTE SAGA,
IN THE WAY
HE HANDLED IRENE FORSYTE.
IRENE FORSYTE, YOU NEVER
SEE THROUGH HER OWN EYES.
YOU ONLY SEE IT
THROUGH OTHER PEOPLE'S.
SO YOU GET A KIND OF COLLAGE
IMAGE OF THIS PERSON THROUGH
DIFFERENT PEOPLE'S
REACTION TO THEM.
SO I WANTED TO SHOW ALSO THE
DIVERSITY OF EFFECT OF A
STRONG MAGNETIC PERSONALITY
ON DIFFERENT PEOPLE.
THERE IS THIS, ONE OF THE
GREAT MORAL CENTRES OF MY
NOVEL IS THIS OLD, RETIRED
PROFESSOR, WHO IS
A WONDERFUL PERSON.
AND SHE IDOLIZED HIM.
YOU CAN TELL THAT.
AND MAYBE SHE WAS BESOTTED BY
HIS BRILLIANCE AND SCHOLARSHIP.
BUT SHE OVERRODE ALL OF
THE WARNING SIGNS IN HIS
PERSONALITY AND
CONCENTRATED ON THE GENIUS.
AND ONE OF HIS BIG DETRACTORS
IS A STUFFY DIRECTOR
OF A MUSEUM.
YOU KNOW YOU JUST WANTED
TO TURN HIS NOSE,
HE'S SO POMPOUS.
AND YET, HE WAS RIGHT.
AND I WANTED TO PUT ALL OF
THAT, INCLUDING HALPERT'S OWN
HERO WORSHIP OF HIM, AND THE
NUANCES FROM OTHER PEOPLE THAT
SAW DARKER SIDES.
AND I DON'T HAVE A PERFECT
ANSWER, EXCEPT I PAINTED HIM
IN RATHER
MELODRAMATIC COLOURS.
BUT HE'S SUPPOSED TO BE
A SLIGHTLY WRAITH-LIKE,
GHOST-LIKE FIGURE.
HE'S DEAD FOR ONE THING.

Richard says YOU TALKED ABOUT GALSWORTHY
AS AN INFLUENCE, AND THERE IS
ONE THAT EVEN STRUCK ME
CLOSER, AND I WONDERED IF IT
WAS ALMOST A DIRECT HOMAGE,
WHICH IS
THE THIRD MAN.

John says I DID AN INTERVIEW ONCE
WITH THE LATE, GREAT, MODERN
DANCER, MARTHA GRAHAM.
AND I WAS IN MY YOUNGER
DANCE CRITIC STAGE.
AND I ASKED A VERY
PRETENTIOUS QUESTION
ABOUT ARTISTIC DERIVATION.
AND HER HANDS WERE ARTHRITIC,
THEY WERE BENT OVER HERE.
AND SHE JUST LOOKED AT ME.
SHE SAID, LOOK, DEAR, WE ALL
STEAL, BUT IN THE END, WE'RE
JUDGED BY WHO WE STEAL IT
FROM, AND WHAT WE DO IT WITH.
MY INFLUENCES IN THIS NOVEL,
WHO I STOLE FROM, CERTAINLY
GALSWORTHY STYLISTICALLY, I
CERTAINLY STOLE FROM MY AUGUST
PREDECESSOR AT THIS COLLEGE,
DAVIES, IN TRYING TO BRING
INFORMATION ABOUT POTTERY, AND
DEPLOY THAT IN A COLOURFUL WAY.
I WAS HEAVILY INFLUENCED BY
ERSKINE CHILDERS, WHOSE FAMOUS
BOOK
THE RIDDLE OF THE SAND
SORT OF ALERTED PEOPLE TO THE
DANGERS OF GERMAN MILITARISM
IN THE EARLY PART OF THE WAR.
THERE IS A BIT OF A WARNING
IN THIS BOOK ABOUT, THE NEW
CAMARADERIE BETWEEN
WESTERN CAPITALISM
AND CHINESE COMMUNISM.
IT'S THERE.
I PUT IT IN DELIBERATELY TO
SOUND A SORT OF WARNING NOTE
THAT THERE IS A LETHAL
MIXTURE BEING BREWED HERE.

Richard says AND WAS THERE GRAHAM GREENE?

John says WELL, I DON'T THINK IF YOU
TRY AND BRING A MORAL FORCE TO
A NOVEL, AND CHARACTERS, YOU
COULD BE UNINFLUENCED BY
GRAHAM GREENE AT ALL.
I THINK IT WAS THERE.
BUT I ALSO THINK I'VE GOT A
BIT OF EVELYN WAUGH'S MEANNESS
IN THERE, TOO.
BUT GREENE, CERTAINLY.
READILY.
I JUST FEEL EMBARRASSED.
THIS IS MY FIRST NOVEL.

Richard says SO PLEASE BE KIND.

John says NO, IT'S NOT SO MUCH,
I DON'T ACTUALLY CARE
WHAT PEOPLE WRITE.
THERE ARE SATISFACTIONS
THAT CAN NEVER BE TAKEN.
I DON'T CARE IF THE WORLD
HATES IT ON ONE LEVEL.
I'D LIKE IT TO DO WELL,
BUT I THINK I'M DEVELOPING.
I'M A YOUNG NOVELIST.
I'M ONLY 51, 52, AND I'VE GOT
LOTS MORE NOVELS IN ME, I HOPE.
AND I'M LEARNING THE CRAFT.
AND I'M PLEASED WITH WHAT
I LEARNED ABOUT MYSELF
AS A CRAFTSMAN.

Richard says ONE MORE THING ABOUT JAMIE
HALPERT AND GORDON RYE AND
THEIR RELATIONSHIP,
AND THEIR CHARACTERS.
ONE OF THE THINGS THAT PEOPLE
ARE DRAWN TO OR REPELLED BY
WITH GORDON IS A REALLY
STRONG SEXUALITY.
AND THERE IS PART OF THE FIBRE
OF THE BOOK ARE ACCUSATIONS
ABOUT, WAS HE GAY, WAS HE
MANIPULATING PEOPLE, WAS HE NOT?
AND JAMIE SEEMS TO HAVE A
BIT MORE BUTTONED UP AND
CONVOLUTED SEXUALITY.

John says TOTALLY BUTTONED UP.
AND DOESN'T REALLY
WANT TO GET INTO THAT.
WANTS TO KEEP THAT
ALL AT A DISTANCE.
AND I THINK I HAVE A PHRASE
IN THERE THAT THERE'S MORE
COMPLICATIONS TO HUMAN
SEXUALITY THAN MOST PEOPLE
WOULD ALLOW THESE DAYS.
BUT THAT'S VERY MUCH
GORDON HALPERT'S.

Richard says ALL THE YEARS AS A
JOURNALIST, THAT'S ONE OF THE
AREAS THAT A REPUTABLE
JOURNALIST DOESN'T DEAL WITH
THAT HEAVILY.
YOU CAN'T SAY, I THINK THE
REAL REASON X IS AN SOB AS A
POLITICIAN IS BECAUSE HE
IS SCREWED UP SEXUALLY.

John says I GUESS YOU DON'T
SAY IT THERE.
ALTHOUGH WE ARE INTO IT.
THERE IS A LOT OF DISCUSSION
ON PEOPLE'S SEX LIVES.

Richard says I GUESS BUT WHAT I'M SAYING
IS, WITHOUT NAMING ANY NAMES,
BUT AT THE ROOT OF THIS BOOK,
IT SEEMS TO SAY, IF THERE IS
SOMETHING TWISTED NEAR THE ROOT
OF YOUR SEXUALITY, IT IS
GOING TO BOTTLE YOU UP
FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE
AND TWIST YOU.
DO YOU FIND THAT, HAVING
LOOKED AT PEOPLE AND OBSERVED
THEM FOR ALL THESE YEARS?

John says I CERTAINLY SEE SEXUALITY
AS PART AND PARCEL
OF OUR PERSONALITIES.
EVERYONE'S SEXUALITY
IS SCREWED UP.
IT'S PART OF THE
HUMAN CONDITION.
SOME OF THE TIME, IT IS FOR
EVERYONE, ONE WAY OR ANOTHER.
YOU'RE BEING AWFUL TO YOUR
WIFE, OR AWFUL TO YOUR
PARTNER, AND SOMETIMES
YOU ARE BEING WONDERFUL.
I REMEMBER MY SEXUAL ADVICE
WHEN I WAS A TEENAGER, WHEN I
WAS AN EARLY TEENAGER, MY DAD
SAID TO ME, WELL, HE SAID,
SEX WAS JUST LIKE MONEY.
IF YOU'RE GETTING IT, IT'S
OKAY, YOU DON'T WORRY ABOUT IT,
YOU DON'T EVEN
THINK ABOUT IT.
AND IF YOU DON'T HAVE IT,
YOU'RE OBSESSED BY IT.
I THINK THAT'S TRUE.
THAT'S A PRETTY DOWN
TO EARTH DEFINITION.
BUT I THINK WHEN YOU ARE OUT
OF LOVE, OR OUT OF PHYSICAL
RELATIONSHIPS, IT'S
AN OBSESSIVE SUBJECT.
SAME WAY WHEN YOU'RE
OUT OF MONEY.
SO IT CAN BE A VERY STRONG
MOTIVATIONAL FACTOR.
WELL, IT IS.
WE KNOW THAT.
THAT'S THE INSIGHT
OF THE 20th CENTURY.

Richard says COME BACK TO THE BOOK.
IN FACT, I WANT TO
END WITH THE BOOK.
AND I'M GOING TO ASK YOU IF
YOU WOULDN'T MIND LOOKING AT
A PASSAGE FROM THE BOOK.
BECAUSE I THINK IT KIND OF
BRINGS TOGETHER A LOT OF WHAT
WE'VE BEEN TALKING ABOUT.
AND THIS IS JAMIE HALPERT,
CHINA CORRESPONDENT, ON MAYBE
HIS LAST MISSIONS, HE THINKS,
OR ONE OF HIS LAST MISSIONS
BEFORE HE IS
ABOUT TO BE GOING.
AND HE'S STOPPED, AND HE
IS LOOKING OUT THE WINDOW
OF A TRAIN.

Richard hands John a book marked with a sticky note.

John examines it, thinks for a moment, and then reads
WHEN I SEE, THE FOURTH TIME
I WON'T DENY, THIS IS ME.
THIS IS ME LOOKING
OUT OF A TRAIN.

Richard says OKAY.

John continues
IDLY, HALPERT THOUGHT,
WHAT A PERFECT METAPHOR THE
COMPARTMENT WINDOW OF HIS
TRAIN WAS FOR SO MANY OF THE
THINGS HE DIDN'T
UNDERSTAND ABOUT CHINA.
THERE IT WAS, ALL
IN FRONT OF HIM.
A BILLION ACTORS.
A THOUSAND DIFFERENT SETS.
A VISUAL PANOPLY RICH IN
EXOTIC CONTRASTS AND RIPE
FOR SPECULATION.
AND ALL OF IT JUST BEYOND
REACH AND UNTOUCHABLE.
ALL OF IT, IN THE
END, UNKNOWABLE.
JUST A CONSTANTLY
CHANGING VIEW.
MORE THAN ENOUGH TO
WRITE HOME ABOUT.
MORE THAN ENOUGH WITH WHICH
TO MAKE A REPUTATION,
BUT FINALLY,
FINALLY
NOTHING.
HE HAD A TICKET TO THE
MOVIES, THAT WAS ALL.
AND NOW, FOR HIM, THE
SHOW WAS ABOUT TO END.

He grins and returns the book to Richard.

Richard says IS THAT WHY YOU WROTE THIS
BOOK, SO THE SHOW WOULDN'T END?

John says I WROTE THE BOOK BECAUSE I
WANTED TO WRITE THE BOOK.
I DON'T KNOW WHY
I WROTE THE BOOK.
WHY HAVE WE BEEN
INTERVIEWING HERE?
WHAT IS YOUR
MOTIVATION, OUZOUNIAN.

Richard says NO, IT SAYS YOU HAD MORE THAN
ENOUGH TO WRITE HOME ABOUT,
MORE THAN ENOUGH WITH WHICH
TO MAKE A REPUTATION
BUT, FINALLY, NOTHING.

John says WELL, IT WAS AN IRONIC
STATEMENT ON BEING IN THE
MIDDLE OF THINGS, AND SORT
OF COMING TO THE CONCLUSION,
OR REALIZING ON ONE LEVEL,
THAT YOU KNEW NOTHING.
YOU COULD SEE EVERYTHING,
BUT YOU KNEW NOTHING.
IT'S AN INTERESTING
PROPOSITION.

Richard says AND IT'S AN INTERESTING BOOK.
JOHN FRASER, THANK YOU
FOR TALKING TO US TODAY.

John says THANK YOU, RICHARD.

Richard faces the screen and says
THE BOOK IS
STOLEN CHINA.
IT IS PUBLISHED BY
MCCLELLAND AND STEWART.
THE AUTHOR IS JOHN FRASER.
FOR
DIALOGUE, I'M
RICHARD OUZOUNIAN.
GOOD-BYE FOR NOW.

Music plays as the end slate reads “Dialogue.”

A production of TVOntario. Copyright 1996, The Ontario Educational Communications Authority.

Watch: John Fraser