‘Martin’ by Cameron Baker

Cameron Baker is a Melbourne-based writer and a Wheeler Centre Hot Desk fellow. During his fellowship, Cameron has been working on a collection of short stories called Combination of Words.

Today, we’re pleased to publish one story, ‘Martin’, from the collection. The story takes the form of a celebrity profile piece on a famous monster in retirement.

Illustration by Cameron Baker

Martin, as he now prefers to be called, spends much of his time at local cafes reading through newspapers. It’s a significant remove from the stomping of tiny models cities and breathing fire that his previous role demanded. Though he seems to harbour conflicting emotions towards his career, it has at least been profitable enough for him now to enjoy a quieter lifestyle of solitude and reflection. Despite being the best known actor of his generation, Martin holds those memories in deep modesty, even regret, as he tries to navigate his life in retirement. He moved to Melbourne after finding that the citizens of Tokyo, his hometown, responded to his presence almost exclusively with screams of terror and general havoc. Whilst the comparative quiet of Melbourne has given Martin some reprieve from his lasting infamy, he finds it difficult to inhabit the streets without drawing attention. This is probably due to his general reptilian demeanour. When I met with him, he was wearing a floor-length coat, a Japanese baseball cap and a pair of dark sunglasses.

‘People expect me to be bigger,’ Martin says, as he pulls apart a pair of wooden chopsticks. ‘Most of that was camera angles.’

 He sits across from me in a small booth at a Melbourne dumpling restaurant and orders vegetarian from a waitress who is probably too young to have seen his films.

 ‘It’s been a long time since I was in films. I still get looks of recognition but I know they can’t remember where they’ve seen me. I get Alec Baldwin a lot.’

 

Martin, who started acting in 1954, is now over 80, though his lizard face makes it almost impossible to discern his age. His career was a turbulent one. He debuted in a small Japanese feature film that took in more than ten million dollars and resulted in a series of sequels and spin-offs. Martin’s work, though more than half a century old, seems to have stuck in the mind of audiences and created a lasting cultural icon.

‘It’s almost as though, when I was working in films and living this extreme lifestyle, I missed out on so much of the small, mundane part of life. I missed out on just doing regular things and being a regular lizardperson, you know?’ He says as he takes a carton of milk off the shelf. He turns the carton over in his hand. ‘Almond milk, Jesus,’ he says and puts it back.

It’s been a long time since I was in films. I still get looks of recognition but I know they can’t remember where they’ve seen me. I get Alec Baldwin a lot.’

 

One of the biggest challenges in going back to a regular lifestyle after Martin’s meteoric career has been mediating his perception in the public eye and his own, personal character.

‘It’s very clear to me that people don’t know what’s true about me and what comes down to special effects and storytelling,’ Martin says. His soft-spoken, humble nature is difficult to reconcile with his disastrous, filmic persona. For the majority of my time with him, Martin was a regular, obedient citizen. It was only on the rare occasion that he would murder a parking inspector with his laser vision that I caught the slightest glimpse of the violent reputation his creative works perpetuate. More often, what prevails is an intelligent and observant creature trying to build a life of privacy and anonymity.

 

What Martin contributed to the world was more than an interesting story. It was an idea that fit well with the cultural psyche.. Some part of the uncontrollable monster capable of breaking down high-rise buildings found a place in our minds.

‘It’s hard to say. I don’t know what it was. I mean, we had an idea. There was a kind of spirit that we wanted to work with and people got that, I think.’

Martin had taken me to his small, two-bedroom apartment in St Kilda, on the outskirts of Melbourne. On the ledge above one of the kitchen cabinets I can see an old can of cola with an illustration of Martin, a laser beam blasting from him mouth. He pours me a glass of carbonated, bottled coffee.

‘I get this specially imported from Japan,’ he says, ‘so it’s a little bit like me. Except I was specially exported.’ He laughs, but I can see in his eyes the weight of becoming incompatible with the culture that created him. When asked about how his homeland treated him, Martin is patient and compassionate.

‘It’s not that I wasn’t respected.  I was respected, maybe too much. Until there was no question of it, and when that happens, there’s no question of who you are. I just became a marker. I felt like a placeholder for something that was important to people.’

‘People can’t explain why I meant so much to them, but they use the term ‘resonate.’ What does that word mean, when you think about it? For something to resonate, there need to be two simple and basic things that match perfectly. A piece of metal, for example. It needs to be vibrating at the exact speed and energy that its natural characteristics respond to. So we have two things; the vibration and the character. For Japan, and for the rest of the world, I was the vibration to their natural character.’

 

Martin’s wry observations on fame are intelligent and insightful; a product of a lifetime as an idol who inspires both admiration and terror.

‘When you get to be something bigger than what you actually are, suddenly the thing that really does exist inside you, what makes you yourself, that’s not there anymore. People can’t see through to it. It’s like being wrapped inside a hundred layers of cotton. People don’t want to talk to you; they want to talk to the ideas you represented at some point. I understand that, so I’m not so upset about it anymore, but you get completely forgotten.’

Martin’s general tone is one of resignation and acceptance, as though he’s learning to live with a debilitating disease.

‘One thing that I’ve learnt is that we’re all much more fragile than we claim to be. But if we keep claiming to be something bigger than we are, eventually people will accept that and you’ll lose what you really were. Retirement for me has been about becoming small and delicate again, which is what most people try to run away from.’

Retirement for me has been about becoming small and delicate again, which is what most people try to run away from.’

 

In the evening, and in our last hours together, Martin points out a small photo booth and suggests that we have some photos taken for the article. He steps inside and closes the curtain.

‘I used to go to photo booths like this when I had time off a film set. These were the only cameras that nobody was looking through.’

The flash goes off and a strip of black and white shots of Martin fall into the dispenser. He steps out of the booth and holds them in his hand.

‘I should put these up on a post,’ he says, and lets out a gentle laugh, “Lost. Dangerous Monster. No reward.”

Portrait of Cameron Baker

Cameron Baker is a writer and illustrator. He writes and publishes a zine called MOTE, which he started when he was fifteen. It's now in its fourteenth issue.

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