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Monday, 29 December 2014

Film Alert Number 1, 2015 - Annual Roundup, Big end of town developments, Brisbane shows, TV movies + more


Happy New Year It’s time for annual roundups and very shortly the Senses of Cinema World Poll will be upon us and we can all pore over the 500 films to be listed by Olaf Moller alone as well as many others submitted by a wide range of enthusiasts. My own list contains twelve films including one seen at Bologna having its first screening outside Japan after 80 years of obscurity. My full list in alphabetical order and the places where I saw them is:  Adieu au langage3D/Goodbye to Language 3D (Jean-Luc Godard, France) (Vancouver International Film Festival), Charlie’s Country (Rolf De Heer, Australia), Verona Paddington, The Golden Era (Ann Hui, Hong Kong/China) Event Cinemas, George Street, Haider (Vishrag Bhadwahl, India) Hoyts Paris, Hill of Freedom (Hong Sang Soo, South Korea), VIFF, Nebraska (Alexander Payne, USA), Randwick Ritz, Night Moves (Kelly Reichardt, USA, Sydney Film Festival, Nuoc 2030 (Nguyen Vogh Nghiem Minh, Vietnam), VIFF, Revivre (Im Kwontaek, South Korea), VIFF, Wintersleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey), Sydney Film Festival, A Woman Crying in Spring (Hiroshi Shimizu, Japan, 1933), Cinema Ritrovato, Bologna, The Wonders (Alice Rohrwacher, Italy), VIFF.

For a more extensive list of other things seen, many of them old indeed very old, you can go to the new blog. For those who share the enthusiasm for or are even curious about the amazing Godard late life masterpiece Adieu au langage 3D, I am indebted to Ben Cho for locating an interview with the master loaded onto Youtube. It can be found in two parts here and here.

Moving and Shaking Part One A Chinese billionaire has bought the Hoyts Cinema chain, placing  the company in overseas ownership for the first time since it was sold off by Twentieth Century Fox several decades ago. For a brief history, Wikipedia informs me that at the start of the 20th century dentist Dr Arthur Russell, who was, in his spare time, a cornet player and a magician, purchased a share in a small American travelling circus, known as Hoyts Circus, and travelled with them as the resident magician. After a financially disastrous run, Russell returned to his work as a dentist.

Undeterred, he leased the old St. Georges Hall in Bourke Street, Melbourne (later known as the Hoyts Esquire), and began showing short films on Saturday nights. Unlike his previous venture, it was successful, and as a result, he formed a new company called Hoyts Pictures Pty. Ltd. By the time he died at the end of World War I, Hoyts had expanded into the suburbs of Melbourne, and into Sydney. In 1926, Hoyts and two other companies, Electric Theatres Pty. Ltd. and Associated Theatres Pty. Ltd., merged to become Hoyts Theatres Limited. In 1932, the Fox Film Corporation (now Twentieth Century Fox) secured a major shareholding in the company. In August 1982, Twentieth Century Fox sold Hoyts to a group of four Melbourne businessmen. The Wikipedia entry  is quite a mine of information.

My memory tells me that for much of my misspent youth and beyond, the foreign ownership of our cinemas (Greater Union being owned by the UK Rank Organization) was regarded as a significant deterrent to getting Australian films made and on our screens. For those who might like a small taste of what local producers had to deal with to get their films shown you might like to read Philip Adams recent Hector Crawford Memorial Lecture. In 2012 Hoyts distribution arm was sold off to the French company Studio Canal.

Moving and Shaking Part Two Leth Maitland, Secretary of the WEA Film Group and serious cinephile, writes following the press announcements that a proposed tower, Sydney’s tallest, is to be built on what is now part of the Event Cinema 18 Screen multiplex in George Street Sydney: I have not had any email response from anyone to whom I have sent information about the likely demolition of what is the former Hoyts Entertainment Centre, gutting most of what is currently the George Street Event Cinemas complex. Apparently this pioneering multiplex is not yet seen to have heritage value. It will not be missed until it is gone. I do not know that what will be left will be viable -- too few screens, no room for "Gold Class" and "Vmax" etc.

On a previous occasion when it was suggested that the cinemas would be abandoned to realise real estate value, the town planning advice from the City of Sydney was that they wanted the cinemas to stay put. Now, apparently, an "iconic" residential tower on George Street is more important.

I think that there is a real possibility that the only cinemas in the Sydney CBD will be the four at Dendy Opera Quays and Hoyts Cinema on Broadway way past Central Station at the other end of town . This is a big turnaround from the situation where all the cinemas in Sydney's suburbs had disappeared, and cinema-goers had to come to the CBD to see movies on a screen. In the 21st century, most of Sydney's cinemas may be back in the suburbs, in multiplexes in Westfield and other shopping centres.

Town planning with regard to the State Theatre has ebbed and flowed. I think that recent rebuilding around the State Theatre has probably been directed towards enhancing backstage space for live shows. If long-running live theatre shows ever got going at the State, those shows would be unlikely to take a holiday for two weeks in June for the Sydney Film Festival.

Exact details of the George Street proposal have now been included in a City of Sydney planning document. Apparently what disappears is what was formerly the Hoyts Entertainment Centre before the two cinemas were linked together to form the one giant multiplex, often reported as the most lucrative cinema in the world. What would be left is the former Greater Union six- or seven-cinema multiplex.

The cinemas screens that would disappear include those that have been used as one of the major venues each year for the Sydney Film Festival. There will be much less space in which to accommodate the Sydney Film Festival in what will become a smaller than average multiplex, if in fact that smaller multiplex remains open on George Street.
The Sydney Film Festival has thrived to the extent that it has in recent years (increased ticket sales) on the basis of its home base at the State Theatre, plus other screenings, including at Event Cinemas 8 and 9, plus during rebuilding works around the State, Event Cinemas 4 during weekdays.  All of these venues may become unavailable once demolition and then building commences probably a couple of years hence.

Other screenings, of Chinese and Indian films for example, that have taken place at Event Cinemas George Street, will no longer appear at this venue if it is radically reduced in size, and certainly nothing will be screened if the site is totally closed down.

Brisbane gets its act together.... The last major film event of the year, the Brisbane based combo of the Asia-Pacific Screen Awards and the Brisbane Asia-Pacific Film Festival has been and gone, finishing in early December. I've looked for any media reports including from those whom you might expect to cover it as a matter of routine, Inside Film, Screen Hub and Urban Cinefile. But...near to nothing. The only news thus far is from stalwart supporter of BIFF and its strategies in the sadly ended Anne Demy-Geroe era, Julie Rigg.  You can find her fine report at http://www.abc.net.au/arts/stories/s4151557.htm 


And without letting the momentum drop, Brisbane’s GOMA has announced it will host a major exhibition of David Lynch’s work in 2016. 'David Lynch: Between Two Worlds' will feature a personal appearance by the critically acclaimed director in Brisbane on Saturday 14 March 2015. Featuring over 200 works, this exhibition explores David Lynch's practice as a visual artist for 50 years, including paintings, photography and works on paper. 'Between Two Worlds' also includes a complete retrospective of Lynch's film, video and works for television. The GOMA website informs us that “In this exclusive to Brisbane in conversation with David will share insight into his life, his work and his many passions – painting, film, music and meditation. This discussion on harnessing the power of ideas draws on his celebrated book about meditation and the creative process, Catching the Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness, and Creativity (2006).  However, rightly so, the event is already sold out, notwithstanding its $55.20 price tag.

Meanwhile back in the big smoke The price to see and hear David Lynch seems cheap to me if you compare it with prices charged by the St George Bank Open Air Cinema taking place throughout the summer at Mrs Macquarie’s Chair down on Sydney Harbour. The 2015 program consists of 42 films, “including seven Premiere and 13 Preview screenings, along with a selection of this summer's major releases from multi-award winning directors.”  Included among the premieres are Oscar contenders The Theory of Everything and Inherent Vice. Prices start at $36.70, with a concession price of $34.70 if you pre-book, and $37 and a concession of $35 if you just roll up on the night. Like Claude Rains when he discovered that gambling was happening at Ricks in Casablanca. “I am shocked”. However, it is part of a pattern that has been developed most especially at Palace Cinemas’ many film festivals, whereby if you want to see something first you are going to pay a hefty premium to do so before normal prices kick in later. Takes you back to the era of two sessions a day so-called roadshows whereby you paid high prices to attend the one cinema showing Lawrence of Arabia or Bridge on the River Kwai or South Pacific. But back then that went for the first year or so of release.

And reviving a Film Alert tradition... the ABC, in a programming decision which one hopes can only become a regular part of its schedule, has programmed a couple of Australian films from long ago and I recommend you set the recorder at least if you have never previously managed to catch them.

Buddies (Arch Nicholson, Australia, 1983, 97 minutes)
Starring Colin Friels and Harold Hopkins, this is the story of a couple of miners working their own little operation who are threatened by the big boys. While it had its moments and its supporters it also serves as a reminder of the somewhat blighted career of the late Arch Nicholson. His career began with the anti-war doco Or Forever Hold Your Peace  way back in 1970, after which Nicholson went to work at Film Australia. While there, he was set to direct Film Australia’s feature adaptation of David Ireland’s The Unknown Industrial Prisoner until then Attorney-General Bob Ellicott, in an act of grotesque political censorship stepped in and forced the project to be abandoned.
Monday 5 January at 12.15 am on ABC1

Mad Dog Morgan (Philippe Mora, Australia, 1976, 102 minutes)
Dennis Hopper as a crazed Australian bushranger. Made at the time when Hopper could play crazed characters from the inside. High hopes were held for the film when it was made but it didn’t really click with either critics or public. The ambitions were for a high art action movie that would bring kudos to all involved and sell a lot of tickets. The cast, after Hopper included a panoply of Oz big names including Jack Thompson, Gulpilil, Frank Thring, Michael Pate, Wallas Eaton, Bill Hunter, John Hargreaves, Martin Harris, Robin Ramsay and Graeme Blundell playing someone called Italian Jack.
Wednesday 7 January at 11.55 pm on ABC1

A date for the Diary...The Film Critics Circle of Australia usually presents the happiest and undoubtedly the most raucous Awards night of the year.  The selection of winners among the Australian feature films and feature documentaries competing is often quite unpredictable. The 2015 edition has been set down for the evening of Tuesday March 10 in the lavish surroundings of the showroom at the Paddington RSL on Oxford Street. A very modest admission price is charged and food and drink may be purchased throughout the proceedings. Star presenters and award-winners are on hand throughout often saying things they wouldn’t say elsewhere. More details about prices and bookings later but in the meantime keep the evening free.

 

 

 

 

Saturday, 27 December 2014

An Annual Roundup for 2014


Best films seen anywhere in the world in theatres

Adieu au langage3D/Good bye to Language 3D (Jean-Luc Godard, France)
Charlie’s Country (Rolf De Heer, Australia)
The Golden Era (Ann Hui, Hong Kong/China)
Haider (Vishrag Bhadwahl, India)
Hill of Freedom (Hong Sang Soo, South Korea)
Nebraska (Alexander Payne, USA)
Night Moves (Kelly Reichardt, USA)
Nuoc 2030 (Nguyen Vogh Nghiem Minh, Vietnam)
Revivre (Im Kwontaek, South Korea)
Wintersleep (Nuri Bilge Ceylan, Turkey)
A Woman Crying in Spring (Hiroshi Shimizu, Japan, 1933)
The Wonders (Alice Rohrwacher, Italy)

 

Films seen for the first time on DVD

 Ikarie Xbi (Jindrich Polak, Czechoslovakia)
About Elly (Asgharadi, Iran)
La Signora di Tutti (Max Ophuls, Italy
Maskerade (Willi Forst, Austria, 1937)
Neighbouring Sounds (Kleber Mendoca Filho, Brazil, 2013)
The Gold Spinners (Kiur Aarma, Estonia, 2013)
Snowpiercer (Bong Joon-ho, South Korea, 2013)
Little Man What Now (Frank Borzage, USA, 1932)
The Selfish Giant (Clio Barnard, UK, 2013)
American Dreams (Lost and Found) (James Benning, USA)
The Complete Mutual & the Complete Keystone Films (Charles Chaplin, USA)
 The Attorney (Yang Woo-seok, South Korea, 2013)
Tales (Raksham Banietemad, Iran, 2013)
Snow (Mehdi Rahmani, Iran, 2013)
Gunman’s Walk (Phil Karlson, USA)
Classe Tous Risques (Claude Sautet, France, 1960)
Une Chambre en Ville (Jacques Demy, France, 1982)
1001 Apples (Tada Karimi, Iraqi Kurdistan, 2013)
Locke (Steven Knight, UK, 2013)
 

Plus TV seen on DVD

Breaking Bad (Series 1 +2)
Treme (Series 3 + 4)
True Detective (Series 1)
Going My Home (Kore-eda Hirokazu, Japan, 2012)
Sherlock (Series 3)
The Bridge (Series 2)
The Hour (Series 2)
Justified (Series 3,4, 5)
Borgen (Series 3)
Fargo (Series 1)
The Americans (Series 2)
The Sopranos (Series 5 + 6)
When the Levees Broke
Homeland (Series 3)
The Unknown Chaplin (Brownlow & Gill, 1983)
The Fall (Series 1)
Happy Valley (Series 1)
Twin Peaks (Series 1 + 2)
Prisoners of War (Series 2, Gideon Raff, Israel, 2012)
Luther (Series 3)

And if this doesn’t sate you, read the selection of the best of 2014 of Supercinephile Barrie Pattison at Sprocketed Sources

Friday, 26 December 2014

APSA's distressing near non-media

The last major film event of the year, the Brisbane based combo of the Asia-Pacific Screen Awards and the Brisbane Asia-Pacific Film Festival has been and gone, finishing in early December. I've looked for any media reports including from those whom you might expect to cover it as a matter of routine, Inside Film and Urban Cinefile. But...near to nothing. The only report thus far is from stalwart supporter of BIFF and its strategies in the sadly ended Anne Demy-Geroe era,  Julie Rigg.  You can find her fine report at http://www.abc.net.au/arts/stories/s4151557.htm It gave me some personal pleasure that she chose to focus some attention on the terrific film that won the APSA doco award, 1001 Apples.

It may or may not be a good thing but it has to be said that media coverage of film events often has to be bought. Journalists cant afford to pay their own way to the regions, i.e. outside Sydney, and editors aren't interested in paying to report on events outside their bailiwick either. And remember if a paper or website or TV program doesn't report on one event, it has another one or two or three to have a crack at next week. Coming up, for example, the French Film Festival - 60 films or so, 140,000 admissions or so, at $17 or so ATP, all boosted by the French Government paying for journos from the major media to travel to Paris for bespoke interviews and viewings to give the ever-increasing all-media PR a huge kickalong.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

A Retrieved Note on Bong Joon-ho's masterpiece Mother (2010)


First sighted at Cannes last year in the Un Certain Regard section (many thought it should have been selected for the Competition) Korean film-maker Bong Joon-ho’s fourth feature film Mother has gone on to be a major selection at just about every film festival round the globe since and confirmed Bong’s reputation as South Korea’s sharpest maker of varied high class entertainments. He has been feted throughout North America in particular and its not hard to see why. In this neck of the woods, the film was rushed into release in Sydney almost immediately after its Cannes success and dumped, without a dollar spent on advertising, into a Chinatown cinema which has since closed down. That was a significant mistake by the distributors of one of the year’s best films and it seems that some attempt was made to rectify it when the film later played the Melbourne International Film Festival and drew appreciative crowds.

Mother displays an assurance in suspenseful story telling that is remarkable. Perhaps no surprise at its accomplishments need be registered when it’s recalled that Bong also directed the absorbing police procedural Memories of Murder as well as the enigmatic Barking Dogs Don’t Bite and that exhilarating entertainment The Host. We’re dealing here with the work of someone who knows how to make smart, edge of the seat movies which keep audiences guessing and aren’t afraid to be witty and extravagant.

Mother is a story in Hitchcockian vein, tailored for audiences today that like their thrills to contain rather more explicit material and rather more down and dirty human foibles than even those revealed in the old master’s most extreme displays of human nastiness. An intellectually challenged young man, goaded by a cynical mate, attempts to accost a young girl walking home alone late at night. Who she is, what she does and what he does form the core of the story which we are led through by the boy’s mother, a somewhat hapless figure who makes a living selling herbal remedies and giving illegal acupuncture treatments. She’s convinced he’s innocent and sets out to prove it. Mothers are like that - always wanting to believe the best about their kids no matter what the evidence. She however is like the rest of the population – cops, crooks, thugs, schoolboys, schoolgirls and more – all just that bit twisted, just that bit tempted to be nasty when they can.

The film opens with a lyrical shot of a middle aged woman slowly approaching the camera in some seemingly idyllic rural setting. She begins to dance as the credits roll. Then we cut, back we only later know, to a mother in her business keeping an eye on her errant son in the street just at the moment when he’s arrested for the murder. Tracking through the story with her provides thrills and shocks and more than a bit of bone jarring violence in the rather graphic fashion known as the modern way. But there’s quite some mastery here in telling the story and Korea’s soft underbelly, a nation on the collective make and out to get what it can, gets more than a little attention.

After four films its safe to say now that Bong knows how to cover all the bases of the modern thriller, with villains ranging from enigmatic neighbours, unknown assailants, a monster in the river and, in the latest case, a might be might not be, casual killer. He is one of the new Asian masters of the noughties and we should treat his films as major events in the way we do with new work from Hirokazu Kore-eda, Wong Kar-wai, and Hou Hsiao-hsien. He’s that good.

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Farewells and rewrites




Hello Everyone

So it’s farewell to Margaret and David. A booming national audience of 726,000 people watched the final show, a number that might reach a million via downloads and repeats over the next week. It was international news.  Forgotten amidst all the tears and all the eulogies was the thing that cinephiles have most to thank David for, the twenty year run of SBS cinema classics brought to us with loving attention to subtitling, correct ratios and intros that actually set the scene and provided a real entree to the work and the director. There were probably a couple of thousand titles screened over that time, and the same number in the Movie of the Week slot, many of which would otherwise never have seen the light of our day. There are, or until recently there were, DVD stores around the English-speaking world that happily rent out bootleg copies of the many films that resurfaced via this program after years in oblivion and which have now sunk back into that same oblivion. Beyond the hard-core fans, the biggest losers of the program’s end will be the art house distributors for whom a four star or more rating was like being blessed by a holy office. Nobody else had that influence, a reason why critics’ previews would be delayed or re-scheduled if either David or Margaret had a problem in getting somewhere.

The grief at the duo’s departure has manifested itself in many ways. I was at a farewell event where Geoffrey Rush gave an oration which suggested a term or two in politics should not be out of the question. It began with a magnificently delivered quote from Shakespeare’s Henry VI and just got better. Then there has been this rather sophisticated cinephiliac response here.

They will be missed and the ABC’s decision now to abandon a TV program devoted to the new cinema releases is disappointing. Coming a year or so after Julie’s Rigg’s Radio National film program was cut from its key early evening timeslot, (eventually a program half as long at an inconvenient time was re-introduced), it’s another sad sign of misguided ABC’s priorities which have nothing to do with budget pressure.

In the meantime however, next year David’s fans can get up close and personal by sailing with him from Barcelona to Istanbul and enjoying a film festival at sea

Film-maker and critic Peter Thompson responds to Phillip Adams' speech about the early days of the nascent Australian film industry of the 60s and 70s. Yes, a good speech, very good. But Phillips's nostalgia for the Jones/Adams supremacy obscures history somewhat. Back then, there was a head of steam amongst the young would-be filmmakers (who became, in time, the "Australian film renaissance") fuelled significantly by postwar affluence and the breaking down of Australia's isolation. The emergence of Burstall, Beresford, Weir et al and the directors spawned by TV -- Hannam, Power, Safran et al –virtually bypassed Phillip's Experimental FF and AFTRS, although I’m reminded by better heads than mine that Peter’s Homesdale received EFF funding. Schepisi, as Phillip correctly points out, cut his teeth (and made lots of money which he ploughed into his features) from TV commercials. Ray Lawrence was much later, of course. AFTRS can (and does) claim Noyce, Armstrong, Noonan, and others just as NIDA claims Davis, Hargreaves, Wendy Hughes, Gibson et al. But that's at least questionable -- wouldn't they have emerged anyway? That head of steam perhaps always exists to a greater or lesser extent in any community but in the late 50s and early 60s there was an irresistible tension within the (tiny) creative and intellectual Australian constituency, a frustration with the mediocrity and parochialism of the society around them, that led to people bursting out, either leaving the country altogether (James, Greer, R Hughes, Humphries but also Bell, Wherrett, Beresford etc etc) or staying at home to conduct a war of attrition against the status quo. Similar bursts of creativity can no doubt be identified in other societies... The international “new waves” of the 60s? The Renaissance itself? Edwardian England? Cubism and the Modernists? The Austrian Secession? I'm no cultural historian, wish I was, but no doubt this ground has been well tilled.

As an aside, arguably the two greatest Australian films of all time-- Walkabout and Wake in Fright -- were written and directed by foreigners (OK -- Wake in Fright was Ken Cook but the screenplay was Evan Jones). Perhaps one can draw parallels with Hollywood’s absorption of European talent, especially in the 30s?

The point is that nationalism of the Adams variety, while it was important, was never the whole story. And I don't think reviving it is sufficient. Or necessary.

Phillip is brilliant and much of his speech is spot on  -- cogent, articulate. Etc. But I would have liked more emphasis on the cultural cringe, the phenomenon of Australians apologizing for themselves and looking over each other's shoulders to see what's happening Over There. Witness the debate about the ABC. It's significant that most of it is about efficiency and political bias. People on both sides feel overtly or covertly good about seeing the ABC cut down to size. Even sympathizers focus on the "waste" -- I find I do it myself. We all know the ABC could be more efficient in dollar terms and this is often the major preoccupation.

The justification for the ABC is spoken of in terms of the national interest, the need for voices independent of politics and business and foreign influence. And even the most vociferous detractors usually endorse the value of a "national broadcaster". But these considerations always seem SECONDARY to the debate about cost. 

One of the consequences of the growth of the consumer mentality is an obsession with personal wealth and self-interest. "What's it costing me?" What's in it for me?" So, for example, we see referendums in California for lowering taxes and rates etc, regardless of the damage such cuts do to public wellbeing and its necessary infrastructure.

Remember the debate about the Opera House? It was pretty much completely dominated by argy-bargy over the "outrageous" cost of the building. And Blue Poles, of course. It is perhaps "typically Australian" that we always have these debates about money and that the positive benefits of an opera house or a painting or whatever are given only muted or apologetic support.

I don't mean to imply that culture is just about opera houses and art galleries. But they are part of it and the debates are indicative of deeper attitudes.

Michael Wilding’s latest book, Wild Bleak Bohemia, documents the miserable circumstances in which Adam Lindsay Gordon, Marcus Clarke and Henry Kendall found themselves in the 1870s. Arguably, not much had changed a century later. The cringe still flourished despite heroic efforts to resist it.

And it’s getting worse. Increasingly, we passively accept the economic rationalist argument that big government and government spending are bad. So you mention in Film Alert a proposal for a kind of "pudding" of financial support for a revamped Australian film archive made up of dribs and drabs of federal and state monies and private (philanthropic?) investment. It's significant that we can even contemplate such a strategy without vomiting.

It ignores the biggest elephant in the room: over the last 30 years, there has been a relentless transfer of public wealth into private hands. One of the major themes of Piketty's book Capital is the inevitability of the widening wealth gap in an unregulated capitalist system. Curiously, we've bought into this. It's become respectable to be filthy rich. We actually admire their criminality. We live in a kleptocracy, not a democracy. One farcical aspect of it is our genuflection to "philanthropists".

I think we need a clear-eyed recognition from commentators such as Phillip that there are consequences for regarding national culture in all its aspects as some sort of luxury, an "optional extra", not a necessity. And the point is (and Phillip is very good on this) we DO HAVE a culture in Australia. It's just that it is almost entirely imported.

So there are consequences. I keep referring to the cultural cringe. We don't see the danger in this drift away from a creative culture of our own. We aren't really comfortable with a creative culture unless we can justify it in some practical way. It has to be financially respectable. John Howard did more damage than most by reducing the arts community to nothing more than another pressure group of self-interested wankers.

It's a curious form of myopia. Rather like saying we don't need lifeboats because we've never hit an iceberg. A community or nation or even, at a global level, thehuman population (although we seem a long way from any kind of international consensus) must be motivated by a sense of danger. It must build creativity and resilience as insurance against an uncertain, unpredictable future.

It is about values, as well, isn't it? Abbott is doing us a favour by demonstrating how bleak and banal is the world that conforms to his views and beliefs. The Czechs had a phrase for the corruption that thrived under Communism where the creative and thinking community, the stirrers, were bought off by the dictatorship. They called it the Velvet Prison. I saw it in Russia in 1968. Lots of intelligent people who lived comfortable lives behind closed doors with access to foreign literature and ideas. The price they paid was agreeing to keep their mouths shut. 

Similarly in the so-called West, including Australia, the relative comfort of the status quo tends to forestall serious debate and speculation. Politicians are reduced to arguing about how the cake is to be shared around rather than deeper issues. It's like people fighting over the high tackle rule in rugby or the forward tackle rule in soccer, forgetting that they are talking about a game, not the future of the planet. I don't want to labour these metaphors. The point is that there are a lot of unexamined assumptions in our thinking.

But to extend (another) metaphor, we argue about arranging the deck chairs, ignoring the reality that the ship has already struck the iceberg. The modern world faces catastrophic change, as we all know. Climate change. The seeming impossibility of global consensus on issues such as refugees, human rights, financial regulation etc. 40% of jobs in the US are predicted to disappear, replaced by robots, in the near future. Agriculture is in a state of terminal crisis brought on by the crimes of agribusiness. And so on.

The point of all this is that these challenges can only be met by a thinking, creative, resilient community -- and maybe not even by that. That's the point of cultural activity. It can and should be viewed as an extension of education. And we are well and truly fucking up our education system. That's for sure. A sane society pours money, when it has it, into education which by extension means culture. And, inevitably, some or much of that money might appear to be wasted or mismanaged. The poorer the intellectual awareness underpinning policy, the worse the waste will be.

Let’s try to extend the debate, huh?

Piracy on the tip of everyone’s lips. Illegal downloading is on everyone’s horizon these days. There seem to be few people who, if they don’t actually pirate material themselves, don’t know who to go to when necessary. Needless to say the Federal Government gets a regular hammering from rights holders and those charged with protecting copyright. My favourites are the advertisements run by the “Intellectual Property Awareness Foundation”. It has rustled up a dozen Oz actors to say thanks to all who have bought or rented a legitimate DVD. I’m not at all convinced that those Australian actors’ livings are at all threatened by piracy but the case gets made.

In recent days there has been the astonishing story of the hackers who cracked Sony’s security and freed up a great deal of information about things like stars’ salaries as well as uploading some five of Sony’s newest films onto various pirate sites. Users have apparently now made several million downloads. The full story is reported in Variety here and here and in the New York Times.

Rising to the challenge, Attorney-General George Brandis has now issued a media release promising action. George says inter alia: The Attorney-General and the Minister for Communications have written to industry leaders requiring them to immediately develop an industry code with a view to registration by the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) under Part 6 of the Telecommunications Act 1997. The code will include a process to notify consumers when a copyright breach has occurred and provide information on how they can gain access to legitimate content. The Minister and the Attorney-General expect strong collaboration between rights holders, internet service providers (ISPs) and consumers on this issue. ….Failing agreement within 120 days, the Government will impose binding arrangements either by an industry code prescribed by the Attorney-General under the Copyright Act 1968 or an industry standard prescribed by the ACMA, at the direction of the Minister for Communications under the Telecommunications Act. The Government will also amend the Copyright Act, to enable rights holders to apply for a court order requiring ISPs to block access to a website, operated outside of Australia, which provides access to infringing content. In a world of rapid changes in technology and human behaviour, there is no single measure that can eliminate online copyright infringement. In light of this the Government will review the measures, 18 months after they are implemented, to assess their effectiveness.

In the meantime, a Film Alert reader has reported this note from a chatroom which puts a slightly different perspective on why people do these things. “I will continue to download content - it is part of my efforts to combat terrorism. How does pirating combat terrorism? Hollywood pays huge amounts of money to the "stars" and directors/producers of movies - money that is gained by selling the movie or TV program for exhorbitant amounts to consumers. The actors and other recipients of this money, because they have so much and are bored because they don't have anything productive that they have to do, spend it on drugs (witness all the drug arrests of people in the entertainment industry). Drug sales finance terrorist organisations (the US government has been telling us this for years). So by downloading and not paying the money, drug users in the industry don't get paid as much, they can't afford to buy drugs, the terrorists can't finance themselves, and the world is a safer place. I consider it every right thinking person’s mission to do all they can to fight terrorism and so everyone should download movies. It is our duty to keep the world safe”.

Tsai Ming-Liang in Canberra. A program of talks and screenings devoted to Taiwanese master Tsai Ming-liang will take place in Canberra in early January. (Not sure that’s a great time but who is to say why these things are done when they are done.) Tsai himself will be attending and author and Chinese film specialist Linda Jaivin will be on hand to conduct the discussions. Details are here.

Finally something to cheer you up for Christmas. One of my very favourite funnymen Phil Silvers.

All best

Geoff

Monday, 24 November 2014

A little addition to the matters referred to in a previous post about the NFSA


Veteran Cinephile and foundation director of the Sydney Film Festival David Donaldson has delved deep into history to compose a history of the National Lending Collection. The future management of the current collection managed by the NFSA is a matter of current debate and has been heavily discussed at the recent consultations.

 

Friday, 21 November 2014

Calls to Action


Phillip Adams reminds us of the passion that kick-started the film industry in the late sixties and seventies. Legend and national treasure Phillip Adams has delivered this year’s Hector Crawford Memorial Lecture and called for a rousing renewal of a national spirit of enterprise and ambition. A sample: Film projectors project so much more than film.  They project ultimately, belief systems. Ours is a country with comparatively sane gun laws. We do not drown in mass-marketed religiosity. Nor do we see the theory of evolution as blasphemy. Women here have the right to choose. Thanks to a campaign-energized by Barry Jones we long since abandoned the death penalty – whilst the US – most notably Texas – maintains an assembly line to deliver victims of a racist legal system to the execution chamber. In so many ways Australia remains light  years ahead of the US in its social attitudes. Yet we allow ourselves to acquiesce to insane American laws regarding drugs and we have increasingly echoed their law and order rhetoric and legislation. Anybody who doubts for a moment that US film and television hasn’t played a crucial role in this dangerous osmosis simply hasn’t been paying attention. The complete speech has been posted on the Film Alert website here . Read and enjoy a robust bit of argument and a reminder of the debates that it seems we need to have all over again in the era of Team Australia.

Vale Phil Motherwell (1946-2014) Rod Bishop writes: Actor, playwright, novelist….Phil Motherwell lived, breathed and worked in the shadowy, creative world of Carlton’s alternative theatre. He wrote at least 15 plays and several books. He acted in 17 films and two television series including “Mad Max”, “Pure Shit”, “Monkey Grip”, “Dimboola”, “Tom White”, “The Trespassers”, “Stir”, “Halifax f.p” and “Correlli”. He wrote about Australian street gangs, drugs, crime and Russian revolutionaries. His most celebrated theatre work came with Nightshift –a creative band of junkies and outsiders that sprang from the Australian Performing Group (Pram Factory). In actor Richard Murphet’s words Nightshift believed - “theatre is life, life is theatre, both at the edge of death”. Phil Motherwell’s plays included “Dreamers of the Absolute” “Steal Away Home” “The Fitzroy Yank” “The Native Rose” and “The Bodgie Tree”. He adapted Bertolt Brecht’s “Jungle of the Cities”and “The Beggar and the Dead Dog” for the stage. His novels were “Mr Bastard” and “Sideshow”. His stage performances for Nightshift and the APG included “Cowboy Mouth” by Sam Shepard and Patti Smith; “AC/DC” and “Local Stigmatic” by Heathcote Williams and“L’Amante Anglaise” and “La Musica” by Marguerite Duras.  He was working on a piece about Edward de Vere and Shakespeare at the time of his death. Fellow Nightshift actor Jane Clifton observes: “If he’d lived in America, they would have had another Harry Dean Stanton or Sam Shepard. Tough exterior. Never mean. Unique”.

Actor and writer Tim Robertson has published this tribute (Pardon the censorship but too many emails bounce back when they contain certain words):

Motherwell
On the wall of the white stir creation story
of lags and jacks, dags and dreamers,
of the crooked inner ring of c---s who run the joint,


he wrote.

Phil the joker in the jungle of the city,
Artful Dodger out on the tear with Celine,
scraggy dark pierrot on a pale scagged horse,
questing across Brunswick Fitzroy bluestone,
popping epiphanies, a-buzz with revelation,
backstreet character high definition actor,
he blew away any other bastard in the scene,
with the Motherwell eyes:
saucers of astonishment,
the Motherwell mouth:
snaggletoothy, thimble-rigging grin,
that way he had of pursing his lips
a moue for taking mind-stuff in...


All gone. Up in smoke. Done
like a poet, in the lungs,
Phil's let the shadow go one last run.


Playwright and author Barrie Dickens has also published an obit which you can find in the Fairfax press including  in the online Brisbane Times.

Barrie Pattison’s Festival and other Notes: Well my luck ran out on the Russkie Film Fest. The copy of DERSU UZALA was as murky as the film prints - and showed streaking in the processing. My guess would be that Akira imagined that you just sent off your shooting to the lab the way he did at home, while locals like Mikhalkov and Ryazanov knew about buying foreign stock on the hush hush and probably other measures we didn't hear about.

On British Film Week, I remember arriving in London in 1961 in time for their Film Awards and they ran the prize winners for a day at the NFT - when they had an NFT - THE INNOCENTS, TUNES OF GLORY, SATURDAY NIGHT AND SUNDAY MORNING and THE ENTERTAINER. I thought I'd come to the right place - misleading as it turned out. Well BECKET and THE KNACK were still to come.

These film weeks provide an unprecedented access to their subjects. We are even getting retrospectives which go some way towards plugging the Cinematheque hole. Two major problems - the cost and the lack of information on the material ... and, of course you can always rock up to Randwick Ritz and find the Pola Negri silent is being cropped to wide screen. 

As usual the locals don't rise to the challenge, they don't even notice it ,

I spend a day most weeks trying to work out what these things and the odd TV channels are handling. It would be so nice if some of the largesse the film bodies fling about was devoted to a newsletter annotating these.

Speaking of which, here are some contributions about the best of 60s British cinema that might have been better choices than those included in the recent/current somewhat lamentable British Film Festival (see previous Film Alert for context!)

Richard Brennan: Accident (Joseph Losey), How I won the War (Richard Lester), The Sorcerers (Michael Reeves), Tom Jones (Tony Richardson), The War Game (Peter Watkins and Station Six Sahara (Seth Holt).

 Rod Bishop I can’t do six, so here’s my eight: The Day The Earth Caught Fire (Val Guest), Billy Budd (Peter Ustinov), A High Wind In Jamaica (Alexander Mackendrick),  The Spy Who Came In from The Cold (Martin Ritt), If… (Lindsay Anderson), Performance (Nicholas Roeg & Donald Cammell), Kes (Ken Loach),and Our Mother’s House (Jack Clayton).

Adrienne McKibbins completely ignores the rules of the game: Sixties British cinema produced a lot of terrific films, a number of big commercial films, Dr Zhivago, Lawrence of Arabia, Beckett etc..) the start of the Bond series, and any number of other interesting films so it would not be hard to find six films, particularly films not often seen , or not seen so much in their original format. A few suggestions Billion Dollar Brain (Ken Russell), The Charge of the Light Brigade (Tony Richardson), The Collector (William Wyler), The Day the  Earth Caught Fire,  The Devil Rides Out (Terence Fisher), Hell is A City (Val Guest), A High Wind in Jamaica, Isadora & Night Must Fall (Karel Reisz), one of the early James Bond films,  Our Mother's House, Peeping Tom (Michael Powell), Performance, Quatermass and the Pit (Val Guest),, Repulsion (Roman Polanski), Seance on a Wet Afternoon (Bryan Forbes), The Servant (Joseph Losey), Two for the Road (Stanley Donen), Witchfinder-General (Michael Reeves). You could also pick a couple of directors say Joseph Losey, Seth Holt or Terence Fisher, Jack Cardiff or Ken Russell and do three films each for a more cohesive, though mini, retro.. or even David Lean (although he has been more widely seen).

 Geoff Gardner: The Criminal (Joseph Losey), The Innocents (Jack Clayton), Taste of Fear (Seth Holt) Peeping Tom, Cul de Sac (Roman Polanski),  Witchfinder-General.

National Film & Sound Archive matters (pardon the duplication if you have read this already). First a reminder that the NFSA’s final round of meetings about its Draft Strategic Plan, and more broadly its future directions and activities, conclude with meetings in Canberra on 3rd December and Sydney on 4th December. The Sydney meeting will be held in the AFTRS Theatre inside what used to be called Fox Studios and is now called The Entertainment Quarter starting at 9.30 am.

The three topics listed for discussion in Sydney are non-government sources of funding, footage sales and greater accessibility. The only feedback I have had from any participant anywhere from the Melbourne Adelaide and Perth meetings was from an attendee who, inter alia, said “I think the process has passed its use-by date. There were only about 20 there this time compared with about 80 at the first workshop”! Maybe the natural end is nigh and what we should quickly see is a final document and a full-blooded commitment towards getting things done.

In the meantime, as you would be aware other longstanding contributors to the film industry are developing thoughts and plans for a major re-location of the Archive. The plans are ambitious and involve a sinewy  and difficult mix of Commonwealth, State and philanthropic funding. If you would like to know more you can read a proposal prepared by producer Sue Milliken which has been posted on my Film Alert website here.

Historian Elizabeth Craig, the Co-ordinator of the Film & Broadcast Industries Oral History Group, has also circulated a most interesting contribution about one of the NFSA’s activities, the Oral History Program. Her paper first appeared in the NSW Oral History Association’s publication Voiceprint,  a subscription only site, and I have, with Elizabeth’s permission, posted it here.

 Finally just in case you might think that we are unique in having our cultural institutions squeezed for funds until the pips squeak here’s a salutary story about what the Brits are doing to the Imperial War Museum.
 
22 November 2014

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Highsmith's Final Stages

Back in the year 2000, when the remake of The Talented Mr Ripley (Anthony Minghella, UK, 2000) came out, I wrote a piece for Senses of Cinema (here) which began: In 1976 I met Patricia Highsmith at her house in Moret, a tiny village near Fontainebleau. The encounter did not last very long, perhaps three quarters of an hour, and did not lead to any enduring correspondence. Highsmith’s distraction at the presence of this Australian enthusiast was not allowed to last. I missed the local train back, walked all the way to Fontainebleau and allowed a couple of things to stick in the memory which I will refer to later. Let me start at the beginning.

Sometime early in the ’60s I saw the poster image of Alain Delon, stripped to the waist, impossibly handsome, at the wheel of a sailing boat, over the bold title Full Sun (not Purple Noon, as it was called in America). Then there was the film – a sleek glossy thriller, unlike any American film I knew, which to the innocent eye looked like a New Wave movie. It was a film whose characters have American names (like that of Charlie Kohler in Truffaut’s Tirez sur le Pianiste [Shoot the Pianist, 1960]). There was luscious location shooting, lots of slippery handheld camera work by Henri Decaë, loads of white and blue natural light. (Colour wasn’t a feature of the early New Wave pictures but I could not distinguish the films from each other then. After all, we were denied A Bout de Souffle [Breathless, Jean-Luc Godard, 1959] and any films by Rohmer or Rivette or Varda or Demy. For a while, those three little sex comedies with which Phillipe de Broca launched his career were, so were told, the essence of the French New Wave.) Full Sun (Plein Soleil, René Clément, 1959) featured an amoral hero of complete fascination. If ever a film turned an actor into a star it was this was one. Alain Delon as Tom Ripley seemed to epitomise so much beautiful grace, despite playing a character who was gauche and out of his depth socially. But his darting watchful eyes served a character who wanted to get inside other people’s skin. Delon was the epitome of the romantic bad boy at a time when amoral heroes in Chabrol’s films and Truffaut’s films were all the go – even without Belmondo’s Michel.

The source material only registered on a second viewing, a novel titled The Talented Mr Ripley by Patricia Highsmith. I started reading Highsmith at a rapid rate. At that time she had published seven or eight novels which she once described, very simply somewhere, as books in which she studied the effects of guilt on her characters. Whether her characters had committed a crime or not, did not make much difference. One of the exquisite ironies of her narratives was that sometimes the most innocuous and innocent act would have the most devastating consequences. In others, elaborate facades, inevitably leading to murder, were erected by people whose psychology was so far off the rails as to render them impervious to any thought of apprehension. The Blunderer,  filmed in 1963 by Claude Autant-Lara (as Le Meurtrier, a film I’ve never seen), featured as its hero a man who buries a carpet in an attempt to simulate the feeling of burying his errant wife. This trivial stupidity leads to his doom. This Sweet Sickness, directed by Claude Miller in 1977, tells of a man who constructs an extraordinary separate existence for a woman who knows nothing of his infatuation.

Then there was the character of Tom Ripley, almost an antidote to the other Highsmith creations. Ripley is the street smart, smooth operator who feels no guilt at all, a man who can rationalise deceit, lies, criminal behaviour and even murder in a way not even the sharpest politician could equal. Highsmith’s opening lines of The Talented Mr Ripley quickly establish two things. Ripley is fearful of apprehension and he is already involved in a minor but elaborate piece of criminal confidence trickery.”

Tom glanced behind him and saw the man coming out of the Green Cage heading his way. Tom walked faster.

And a page or so later:

This raised his total in cheques to one thousand eight hundred and sixty three dollars and fourteen cents he calculated in his head. A pity he couldn’t cash them.

The little scam involves requests for money, cashing cheques and impersonation – all designed to show that Ripley can easily carry off the much bigger game of impersonating Dickie Greenleaf and living off his money. After Tom returns to his flat, having just got the job of going to Europe to retrieve Dickie, we read:

slowly he took off his jacket and untied his tie, watching every move he made as if it were somebody else’s movements he was watching

Already Ripley’s self-awareness, his ability to step outside himself and become another character, is set by quintessential Highsmith prose – flat, containing no superfluous adjectives yet conjuring up the image perfectly. The attraction of the prose for filmmakers has never diminished. (Hitchcock, Wim Wenders, Michel Deville, Hans Geissendorfer [twice] and Claude Chabrol have also filmed her novels, as has the BBC in a brilliant six part serial of the early ’70s adapted from A Dog’s Ransom.)

For years, Ripley existed in my mind in the image of Alain Delon, an image reinforced by the novels which followed: Ripley Underground and Ripley’s Game. I ignored the ending of René Clément’s film whereby the police net closed in right after the discovery of the body of the murdered Greenleaf (Phillipe in Full Sun, Dickie in the book and Anthony Minghella’s new screen adaptation [1999] which keeps the book’s title). Highsmith got Ripley off scot free, an ending apparently insufficient in drama for the filmmakers, both of whom go for a different take – Clément for the irony of the ’50s, Minghella for the ambiguity of the ’90s. For Highsmith there was just a momentary apprehensive sweat before he sails off to Greece, the beneficiary of Dickie’s will, a solitary psychopath of great fascination.

Which is a long way of telling the background to a recent evening at the Opera House’s Drama Theatre for a Sydney Theatre Company production of a new play by Joanna Murray-Smith titled Switzerland (directed by Sarah Goodes). The audience arrives to see an empty living room, spacious, tasteful. The look, because of the rather odd dimensions of the Drama Theatre, a great deal of width but little height and depth, reminds you instantly of a wide shot in good old 1:2.55 Cinemascope, the widest it ever got and hardly ever mastered by directors and photographers. The room is on a slight angle and the audience at the back of the theatre looks at it from slightly above, just as it might look at one of Kurosawa’s diagonals.

The character of Patricia Highsmith, a  brilliant physical impersonation by Sarah Peirse (and I reckon I might be one of a handful of Antipodeans who ever stood in something like similar surroundings to judge!), comes slowly down the stairs, neatly dressed in shirt and the chinos she loved to have Tom Ripley wearing. Not long after a young man barges in, deposits his luggage down and announces he is from her New York publisher and he aint leaving until he has her signature on a piece of paper signifying that she will write another Ripley novel, to go with the four already published. It was somewhat common publishing knowledge that in English at least, the Ripleys were Highsmith’s only sure fire money spinners. Whether an American publisher ever pursued her this hard is probably somewhat apocryphal especially given what she is reported to have said during a publicity tour in the US in 1992, the year she died.[1]

Never mind, the conceit fits perfectly and of course at every step Highsmith devotees recognise a reconfiguration of her own Ripley character, the young man who insinuates himself, lies and deceives and ultimately murders those who stand in his way. And so it goes. For one hour thirty five minutes the conversation rattles around Highsmith’s house, stripping out her character. It is a perfect capture of that wilful mixture of intelligence, prejudice and especially the hard-hearted business sense of the sole operator who has but a single skill to exploit and has developed a lot of rat cunning about how to do so.

Highsmith had an explosive ability to put a person down. She could be viciously vindictive and didn’t hold her tongue easily. So the young man finds. He’s determined too, notwithstanding being ordered out of the house on any number of occasions. He manages to stay overnight and after an hour the room darkens with its two characters exhausted. Not many seconds later it resumes.

Highsmith is refreshed, and refreshes herself further by suggesting a heart-starting beer to start the morning off. The boy/man has changed into a suit, light blue, very cool, more Ripley-like than his travelling garb seen previously. The battle for the signature resumes and its here we get the full on Highsmith, especially the ranter about race. In one of  her finest novels Edith’s Diary, Highsmith has the central character Edith write a letter to a local newspaper expressing the view that blacks are inherently or innately less intelligent than whites. Highsmith certainly believed that. She asked me if I thought it applied to the Australian Aborigine. (“Er no, I don’t think so” I gulped).

At the end of this sequence, there is another few seconds break before the final section of the play when Murray-Smith introduces her own wild fiction. It mixes Ripley, murder and sad demise and is a terrific and fitting ending. Telling more would spoil it and anyway I cant remember the details of just where this clever riff on Highsmith’s own fiction, her most intriguing literary creation, her sad final days as the combination of smoking, alcohol and cancer made things difficult to bear. As a theatrical spectacle though its exhilarating and like everyone there, greeted the actors at the end with what was quite an ovation.




[1] “Here in America they say get out, we’re not interested in the story, we don’t care about the quality, we’re looking at what the last books sold”  Quoted in Beautiful Shadow: A Life of Patricia Highsmith, p440, Andrew Wilson, Bloomsbury, London, 2003

Monday, 10 November 2014


The general cinephile view, obtained from a random survey of both my friends, about the need to put on a British Film Festival, especially without any apparent co-operation from any Brit cultural partner (the only sponsor mentioned being an Arab airline,) is that this event is borderline between insult and injury. It does ensure that a number of films that will get released in the near future have a nice average ticket price bounce to the start of their box office careers but please, this event has to be the final word in why punters should start revolting. Following on from, this month alone in no particular order, the Japanese Film Festival (66 films), the Jewish Film Festival (40 films or so), the Baltic Film Festival, The Russian Resurrection Film Festival, (20 films), The Iranian Film Film Festival (an excellent six film selection but still almost entirely ignored by an media to my knowledge), Antenna Documentary Film Festival and a couple of others, the way ahead is clearly emerging. Identify a ‘niche’. Dont bother previewing. Dont expect reviews (though this week’s Weekend Financial Review did carry a report on the Palestinian Film Festival except it was an event held in London and the report was a reprint from the The Economist).  Most of all, if you can, find somebody who will tip in a bucket of money to cover expenses. It may be a government body, it may be an Arab airline but it’s all good. In the case of the somewhat ignominious Brit event who can blame Palace Cinemas themselves for developing and marketing it as part of their usually minimum $16 a ticket admission policy by which you only get movies at normal prices long after this circus has left  town. Maybe some blame should be spread around however for opportunities lost. A six film selection from the 60s as part of the inevitable retrospective consisted of Zulu, If..., The Italian Job (“a combination of action, humour, and anincontrovertible sense of style, that truly embodies the Swinging ‘60s”), Darling, Billy Liar and A Hard Day’s Night. Please.....the last named film is currently screening every day or so on a Foxtel channel using the excellent Criterion restoration. Surely trying to extract $28 admission from punters is way past what the market might bear.... but I wouldn’t know really.

Stop, please its madness..... and a waste of money.

....But notwithstanding this rant, Michael Loebenstein writes: Just to let you know if you're free and fancy a documentary film screening: I'm a discussant at a post-screening Q&A at the Jewish International Film festival (JIFF) here in Sydney on Mon 10 November at 7PM, for the documentary THE DECENT ONE. Although not involved with the film at all (which I haven't seen yet either!) Trevor Graham and I will discuss the ethical and aesthetical issues of using archive footage in documentaries. The local program notes for the film can be found here.

I missed an earlier opportunity to see the film at the Vancouver Film Festival. VIFF’s program note was as follows: On May 6,1945, soldiers of the 88th US Infantry Division occupied the family home of SS commander Heinrich Himmler in Gmund on Lake Tegernsee where they discovered hundreds of private letters, documents, journals and photographs. This chilling film makes use of these materials and copious archival footage to provide unique and at times uncomfortable access to the life and mind of the merciless "architect of the Final Solution” who committed suicide by cyanide pill while in British custody on May 23, 1945.The film’s title (which seems to require a question mark) comes from one of Himmler’s letters, in which he writes, “In life one must always be decent, courageous and kind-hearted.” How can a man be a hero in his own eyes and a mass murderer in the eyes of the world? How did this nationalistic lower-middle-class man become Hitler’s henchman responsible for developing and executing the strategies that led to the murder of millions of Jews, homosexuals, Communists and Romany people? Where did his ideology originate? Director Vanessa Lapa provides answers by using voice actors to read through dozens of chronologically presented letters and diary entries, so that audiences follow Himmler from his days as a student in Munich, where he developed his anti-Semitic beliefs, to his adherence to the burgeoning National Socialist party and his rise to the leadership of the SS. "Engrossing… A fascinating story."—Screen

...and further notwithstanding, Barrie Pattison has sent in notes about some films in the Russian event:  First, a chance to catch up with Mihkhalkov’s OBLOMOV.  Whether its content should ever have escaped type face is questionable. The care and skill they poured into it makes it impress tho the ending is really dragged out. Mikhalkov himself thought it was too long.  The film is overshadowed by his equally literary but even more accomplished UNFINISHED PIECE FOR MECHANICAL PIANO.  Elena Solovey does radiant in both. I discover she’s still working. There’s someone who should have had a better career. Interestingly, they did a new digital transfer and, while it wasn’t real sharp, the colours which were muddy in film copies, came up brilliant - the bottle of red cordial, the yellow light in the window in the hut on the ice or the ripe green of the grass fields. It's one of the things that drive it. Presumably the negative was boot leg Eastmancolor processed by their dodgy labs and, when you take it further into crummy by printing it on Sovcolor (East German Agfa), it shifts into the muddy end. Wish I’d seen MECHANICAL PIANO restored.

Karnavalnaya noch / Carnival Night/ Carnival in Moscow is not what I would have expected from Eldar Ryazanov, after the outstanding high serious Ruthless Romance. Interesting to see Igor Ilyinsky from the Protazanov silents staring in a film from the fifties. He's the bureaucrat trying to turn the New Year’s party, organized by those fixed smile thirty year old youngsters, into something more ideologically correct, with wannabe comic results. OK to see the performers with circus, ballet and operetta training deployed. A try for good production values and it moves along nicely. It is of course a Russkie equivalent of US films like Band Wagon or Mr. Big, touting the virtues of popular culture but the comparison makes it look strained. Never saw anything like this back in the day. Another better than film presentation though the tones are still muted against contemporary Technicolor.

Barrie has also passed on a note from film-maker Carmelo Musca about a TV screening of Carmelo’s new film: Hello Friends, I Hope this finds you.Tribal Scent screens on Wednesday 26th of November at 8.30pm on NITV (free to air ch34).

I am very proud of this film. A few weeks ago it screened in the market place at Cannes for MIPCOM TV in an article the editorial crew of Real Screen selected Tribal Scent as one of the stand out films, in their words......."The gorgeously shot Tribal Scent follows the journey of Noongar activist and aboriginal Renaissance man Dr. Richard Walley ....." Please tell all your friends to watch it. Thanks stay well. Carmelo

....and talking about the Russians brings us to...A world-wide petition is circulating regarding the treatment of Russian film archivist Naum Klejman who, with his dedicated staff, seem to be a victim of the vicious way things get played out in Putin’s Russia. An international shirtfront is proposed by way of a petition organised from somewhere in the British Film Institute. If you want to know more I (actually my techo-wiz brother) have posted some freely circulating documents on the Film Alert website. This includes an explanatory letter from the head of Bologna’s Cinteca Gian-Luca Farinelli. Please have a read and if you think there might be some injustice here have a look at the petition and its very heavyweight signatories and add your voice.

....and this being a week for rants, I pass on this letter of complaint from a punter unhappy at Event Cinemas treatment of various films from Asia recently screened: Dear Sir/Madam Twice in the past few weeks, I have been made aware of your company’s lack of information concerning some of the films you have been showing, mainly at your George St cinema complex.The first instance was when a Korean friend of mine told me about a film called Roaring Currents she had seen a couple of days beforehand; she recommended it to me, knowing of my love of cinema. This was on a Saturday so I referred to your full-page ad in the Sydney Morning Herald, only to find the film was not mentioned. Fortunately, I was able to find out screening times through your website. While the film was no classic, I was glad to see it. A week ago, the exact same scenario happened again, but this time via a different friend, for a China/Hong Kong film titled The Golden Era, which I saw last Wednesday. Once again, there was no mention in your Saturday newspaper ad. In addition, I have since learned that the recent screening of an Indian film has received the same (non)attention. I was going to say that you had treated that film, like the first two mentioned, in a cavalier fashion, but treating something in a cavalier fashion implies that there is something there; it is the complete opposite to your treatment of these films, which seems to be to ignore them. Why do you not advertise some films in your newspaper ad? You seem to spare no expense in advertising the latest Hollywood product. Why do you bother showing Asian films if you are not going to inform the public they are on? I’m not of Asian background but I am interested in seeing films from that part of the world. No other cinemas that I go to selectively advertise their offerings. . . 

I look forward to your explanation.

 

.... and for some interesting news,  you can go to a story in the New York Times  which suggests that all the legal difficulties regarding Orson Welle’s unseen last movie The Other Side of the Wind, made intermittently between 1970 and 1976 may have finally been resolved and the film might be shown sometime in 2015. Then if you read the comments sent in you might adjudge that this isn’t being entirely welcomed by fans, some of whom think it may harm Orson’s posthumous reputation somewhat. But everyone will want to see it so let’s get it on soon somewhere close at hand and then get out a splendid DVD.