Follow by Email

Friday, 27 February 2015

Film Alert 2015 Number Three - Australian Films Discussion, Sydney Screenings, FCCA Awards Night, Orson Welles and more


Hello Everyone

The last Film Alert drew attention to a few things related to the history, both cultural and economic, of the Australian film industry. There was Margaret Pomeranz’s selection of  the ten best Australian films ever made and some pointers to a serious piece of academic  about the audience for Australian cinema. It brought some responses which I’m pleased to publish. It also caused me to start publishing on the the Film Alert blog lists of the Best Ever Australian Films submitted randomly by friends and acquaintances from all over. Anyone who wants to send in a list (minimum ten but no maximum, shorts and docos may be included) will have it posted forthwith.
So, first, Andrew Pike, Award-winning Producer, Director, Distributor, Historian and Scholar, has been pondering the various matters raised about the current state of the Australian cinema. Here are his thoughts.

I often feel I should engage in more debate about the Australian film industry but never get to do it.  Partly because it is a dispiriting scene, with deckchairs constantly being shuffled,  and partly because I feel completely marginalised by the key players, as though an independent distributor (let alone a small outfit in Canberra) could have anything worthwhile to say.  In the end, I usually decide to keep working away doing my own thing, like a Ronin should, and ignore the rest.
But a few points can perhaps be made:

 1.  I think the narrow frame of reference of lists such as Margaret's has to be sheeted home to the failure over many years of the NFSA to make Australian film heritage visible and available.  I have faith that at last this failure is being addressed and will be remedied.
2.  I firmly believe that no solution to the economic well-being of the film industry can ever be achieved until "fair and equitable" terms and conditions can be negotiated with the major exhibitors and distributors.  Until that day, which may never come, since few people are brave enough to tackle the problem, let alone even talk about it publicly, the only solution is a strong and resilient independent sector, especially the "art house" component where risks will more readily be taken.  And the indie "art house" cinema sector has been slowly but steadily disappearing.

 3.  I get very impatient with all of the agonised analyses of what is wrong with the industry and with Australian scripts and Australian writers, when the fact remains that often extremely bad American films get major releases here.  Refer to point 2 above.  In addition, instead of analysing what people think is wrong with the industry, why not analyse the occasions when Australian films HAVE actually work at the box-office - has anyone really studied why RED DOG worked, or looked closely at the marketing campaigns for MURIEL'S WEDDING, or MAO'S LAST DANCER, or KENNY, or for that matter any of the ones that Ronin was involved in a long time ago.   It seems that the successes are usually seen as blips on the radar, exceptions to the rule, and so not worthy of investigation.  In the end, despite the analyses of the failures, does everyone subconsciously believe that to succeed you need luck, pure and simple luck? 
Andrew

Film Impact Ratings – Measuring the Success of Australian Films This matter is a little more esoteric than Andrew’s cri de coeur. As mentioned previously, one of the great and ongoing debates about Australian film concerns the extent of the domestic audience for our feature film production. Consideration of the issue is inevitably bound up with thoughts about the type of films we make and the policy settings for Government assistance and subsidy. I referred to a recent paper titled Australian films at large: expanding the evidence about Australian cinema performance. The paper can be found online here.

 Bruce Hodsdon has now produced a short note which commences by noting that the  Film Impact Rating (FIR) devised and explained in the academic paper authored by Deb Verhoven, Alwyn Davidson and Bronwyn Coate, is an important step in freeing Oz films from the straitjacket of domestic theatrical box office returns as the singular measure of success, something Screen Australia (SA) partially attempted, in 2011 with its report Beyond the Box Office which incorporated “the shift of media consumption from the large to the small screen”. As the FIR paper points out, unfortunately SA did not make “the underlying data and the specific calculations used to estimate between the large and the small screen viewership...available for external assessment”. The FIR paper, in contrast, is intended to open up its analysis to scrutiny by providing information, on the path it has followed, to public scrutiny, supplemented with a specific invitation for feedback.

The complete note can be found  online at the Film Alert website and you can find it on the Film Alert website here . Any comments received will be passed on and published next time.

 Film School Confidential AFTRS at the EQ in Sydney’s Moore Park is beginning a fortnightly series of free film screenings with intro’s by critics and film-makers to take place on Wednesdays from March 11. The advance blurb I have been sent says the series will showcase important, sometimes eccentric and always under-exposed films – the kind of work that quite unexpectedly changes your life at film school.  Leading figures in Australian film and television culture will share their passions and try to evoke the exhilaration, shock and mystery of a first encounter with radical innovation. The first film is La Quattro Volte (2010), directed by Michelangelo Frammartino  It was filmed in a village in Calabria, Italy. The director says that he has provided the audience with "a pleasant surprise: the animal, vegetable and mineral realms are granted as much dignity as the human one". There's no dialogue, no music – and no Mafia – in this remarkable Italian film.  The screening will be hosted by AFI Award winning producer John Maynard who has been a producer and distributor in Australia and New Zealand for more than 35 years. He is the Founding Director of the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery in New Zealand and the first Director of the Len Lye Foundation. The screening begins at 6.00 pm. There should be something about the series on the aftrs website soon.

 The pecking order Arts Minister George Brandis, has announced some grants to various arts organisations “to strengthen international ties” The Government will provide a total of $470,000 to The Australian Ballet, The West Australian Symphony Orchestra, The Australian World Orchestra and the National Film and Sound Archive for international projects. Funding of $150,000 will go to The Australian Ballet for its 2015 China tour. The Australian World Orchestra under the direction of Maestro Zubin Mehta will receive $250,000 to assist its tour of Indian capitals Mumbai, Chennai and New Delhi in October 2015. The West Australian Symphony Orchestra will receive $50,000 to develop a 'Symphony Cultural Bridge' between the China Philharmonic Orchestra and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra. Finally, last and least, the National Film and Sound Archive will host a workshop following the Annual Congress of the International Federation of Film Archives (FIAF) with a grant of $20,000. FIAF is the peak international body for the preservation of film heritage, and the grant will facilitate presentations from international experts in a two-day workshop on digitising audio-visual collections.

Film Critics Circle Awards Night – Reminder and Invitation to all

The Annual Critics Awards for Australian Films of 2014 will take place on

Tuesday 10th March 2015 - 6.30pm for 7pm at Paddington/Woollahra RSL Oxford Street, Paddington Opposite Paddington Town Hall

Bookings via Email: FilmCriticsAust@bigpond.com

Pay at Door: Please Note Cash only No Credit Card facilities

Cost Per Head: $15.00Members of Industry Guilds: $10.00 Light Supper/Finger Food included.

( And in case you thought all this was happens by sleight of hand, the FCCA Awards receive sponsorship and other assistance from FOXTEL, UNIVERSAL PICTURES, ACS, KARMEE COFFEE, AUSTRALIAN  WRITERS IN PRINT, CURRENCY PRESS & FILMINK)

 Future Feminist Archive Symposium, Friday 6 March 10am-5pm

Women’s Gaze and the Feminist Film Archive, Panel 1.30pm-3pm

There doesn’t seem to be a website about this event so I’m reduced to reproducing a large chunk of stuff that could otherwise be linked to. Filmmakers Martha Ansara, Margot Nash and Jeni Thornley return to their feminist origins and discuss some of the groundbreaking films they produced in the 1970s. Individual presentations will include clips from Film For Discussion (Martha Ansara with the Sydney Women’s Film Group 1973), We Aim To Please (Robin Laurie and Margot Nash 1976) and Maidens (Jeni Thornley 1978).

Joining them is emerging filmmaker, Natalie Krikowa, who suggests that these pioneering women laid the foundations upon which a new generation of feminist filmmakers, like her, now stand. Other key films from the period - My Survival as an Aboriginal (Essie Coffey 1978), Size 10 (Sarah Gibson and Susan Lambert 1978) and For Love or Money (Megan McMurchy, Margot Nash, Margot Oliver and Jeni Thornley 1983) will also be discussed.

The panel highlights the importance of recognising Australian women’s film history by working towards the creation of a digital-online space, providing scholars and film-arts-media related organisations with an invaluable research and study tool. Film scholar Sarah Attfield will chair the session. Co-ordinator and contact: Sarah Attfield (m) 0430134828 Sarah.Attfield@uts.edu.au

Oscar and After To cheer all the cinephiles up here’s a link to some new research on yet another Orson Welles project that went nowhere. Orson Welles. It’s written by Australian scholar Matthew Asprey Gear and appears in Gary Morris’s ever- interesting online Bright Lights Film Journal . And for a hint of nostalgia about what the Oscar ceremony used to be like go here and here .

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Pillorying Heads of State - Seth Rogen & Charlie Chaplin

Way back in 1940 Charlie Chaplin unleashed on the world, or that part of it that still freely circulated Hollywood films, a portrait of Adolf Hitler that revealed the German Chancellor to be a megalomaniac madman full of hatred towards Jews and others. In Chaplin's fashion it was achingly funny and terribly tender, one of his greatest works and no doubt played its part in Hitler's eventual downfall.

I've given it a little thought and I cant think of a single film, at least one I've seen, since then which so mercilessly pilloried a foreign head of government. Until now, which is where Seth Rogen's The Interview hoves into consideration with its extremely vulgar pillorying of the North Korean bratpack President Kim Jong-un. I would love to be corrected or have any additional information sent in on this.

The change in how you go about pillorying a head of state is interesting in itself possibly because over seven decades not much has changed at all! For the record and based solely on my memory of a viewing a few months ago of Chaplin's film and a screening yesterday of The Interview  in solitary splendour at Hoyts Studio 12 in the EQ, both would seem to characterise their dictators in the following ways.

Bombastic and loud public speaking of incomprehensible prose;
A highly if not over-developed interest in instant casual sex;
A demand for complete subservience from underlings;
A delight in using military weapons as toys;
Secret Anxieties spoil their days. Adolf wants to be taken seriously and has to put up with buffoons like Mussolini. Kim, as the modern take demands, fears being caught out as gay.

No doubt there are more but you get the drift.

North Korean movies have of course been representing the United States as wickedness and evil personified for half a century or more. They made movies to this effect using US soldiers who hopped across the line during the Korean War and stayed there. Nowadays they use their sons whenever US evil is required. Such tropes are recorded in droll detail in two recent documentaries that went round the festival circuit The Juche Idea (Jim Finn, USA, 2008, screened at MIFF, rejected by SFF) and Aim High in Creation (Anna Broinowski, Australia, 2014, screened at MIFF). So maybe its fair enough after all that low-level pillorying for Hollywood to come in with a big bang, star-driven, studio financed, often quite funny film about the baby-faced bad haircut running North Korea today.

Of course the North Koreans didn't want to know about the joke and unleashed some counter-terrorism of their own, knocking The Interview out of the spotlight and relegating it in the US at least to the vagaries of indy cinema release.

But, in its own way, the way indeed that Seth Rogen makes movies (which rather reminds of the way Frank Tashlin made movies) it has its moments even if, notwithstanding its place in history alongside The Great Dictator, its not likely to have the same lasting interest. But who knows, maybe when the Kim royal family dynasty finally succumbs to assassination and the line ends with the inevitable whimper, some people might think this film, like The Great Dictator back in 1940, played a part.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Peter Carmody's Best Ever Australian Films


Peter Carmody is a film and stage director, actor, writer and teacher. He is, he claims, 'an all-round good bloke'. This is one of a continuing series. Other entries are available by clicking on the posts listed on the right hand side bar.

 In Alphabetical order

Bad Boy Bubby (Rolf De Heer)
Beneath Clouds (Ivan Sen)
Breaker Morant (Bruce Beresford)
The Castle (Rob Sitch)
The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith (Fred Schepisi)
Charlie's Country (Rolf De Heer)
Head On (Anna Kokkinos)
Love Serenade (Shirley Barrett)
Mad Max 2 (George Miller)
Master and Commander (Peter Weir)
Noise (Matthew Saville)
Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir)
Samson and Delilah (Warwick Thornton)
Strictly Ballroom (Baz Luhrman)
Three Blind Mice (Matthew Newton)
Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff)
Walkabout (Nicholas Roeg)
The Year My Voice Broke (John Duigan)

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Karen Foley's Best Ever Australian Films

Karen Foley is a former librarian, film archivist, cinema manager and film and video bookshop proprietor. This is a continuing series

(in Alphabetical order)

Beneath Clouds (Ivan Sen)
Charlie's Country (Rolf De Heer)
Lantana (Ray Lawrence)
Love Serenade (Shirley Barrett)
My Brilliant Career (Gillian Armstrong)
Newsfront (Phillip Noyce)
Noise (Matthew Saville)
Samson and Delilah (Warwick Thornton)
The Sentimental Bloke (Raymond Longford)
Three Blind Mice (Matthew Newton)

Casual moments involving race in two early Oz movies

In Rangle River (1937), directed by a down on his luck American, Clarence Badger, (once the star-maker of Clara Bow, having directed her in the sensationally sassy comedy It (1927), the opening sequence starts with a close-up of an Aboriginal playing a tune on a gumleaf. The camera pulls back to reveal that he is one of a group of five (I think) all harmonizing in the same way. The Aboriginal even changes to a new leaf at one point in the music. A horseman is picked out and he rides towards us, the camera shooting him from a low ground level angle as he approaches all-powerful, and towards the group of Aboriginals. He pulls out a large stockwhip and cracks it in the direction of the musicians and they promptly scatter into the nearby bush. The horseman rides off. Soon we will learn that he is Dick Drake, the no nonsense foreman on a cattle property somewhere in outback Queensland. He is played by Victor Jory, like Badger an American working here at the behest of Columbia Pictures on a film of a story, the barebones of which were written by the American western pulp novelist Zane Grey while visiting Australia to do some big game fishing. Though not credited it is claimed that Charles and Elsa Chauvel worked up the script based on Grey's work.

In Seven Little Australians (1939), directed by Arthur Greville Collins who also did the adaptation of Ethel Turner's famous novel, the stepmother Esther gathers the seven children around her after they have disrupted a fancy formal dinner party and declares "You were acting like a bunch of Aboriginals". (If I haven't got the exact words right forgive me but I didn't expect to be taking notes.).

Neither of these moments involving race (I'm putting this as neutrally as I can) is mentioned in Pike & Cooper's Australian Film 1900-1977 nor in the entries on the individual films in McFarlane's Oxford Companion to Australian Film nor in the Companion's entry on Aboriginality and film. The films were screened in a double bill at the WEA Film Group on Sunday 22 February using DVD copies obtained from the National Film & Sound Archive.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Noel Bjorndahl's Best Ever Australian Films

Noel Bjorndahl is a media teacher and serious cinephile whose collection of cinema is among the most extensive and well-studied in the nation. This is part of  a continuing series of contributions. See the sidebar for others.


 Hi Geoff. Herewith my list of 10+ favourite Aussie films

1.      THE SONS OF MATTHEW is Charles Chauvel’s confident and occasionally stylish nation-building film about a pioneering family (set in Lamington National Park on the Queensland border) that attempts to deal with values involving family and community cohesiveness in a way that sometimes evokes the mood of a John Ford film, although some of the leading performances (especially that of Michael Pate) fail to capitalize fully on the film’s ambitiousness in this regard. Nonetheless, it remains my favourite Aussie film.

2.      JEDDA Chauvel’s last film, dated and circumscribed by attitudes prevalent within its historical context, is nevertheless an effective Romantic Melodrama that implicitly treated its ill-starred indigenous protagonists respectfully and sympathetically, and remains an interesting social document of its times:  Robert Tudawali, in particular,  registers in a powerful, virile, sexually-charged performance that completely transcends any of the racial stereotypes of the time.


3.      WAKE IN FRIGHT . Ted Kotcheff, a Canadian director made one of the best Australian movies ever: Wake in Fright is an extraordinary nightmare tuning precisely into some of the most chilling aspects of Australia’s redneck outback.

4.      THE OVERLANDERS. Harry Watt’s early background as a documentarist gave him strong credentials in filming this entertaining 2000-mile trek about a cattle drive from the top of WA to the Qld coast. It was Chips Rafferty’s first really big break, and his tall, gangly frame filled the shoes of the quintessential outback Australian admirably.

5.      THE SENTIMENTAL BLOKE. Raymond Longford was a giant of Australian silent cinema: his 1919 film version of C J Dennis’s verse narrative comes to sparkling life with Lotte Lyell as Doreen and Arthur Tauchert as The Bloke.

6.      THE LOVE-LETTERS FROM TERALBA ROAD.A beautifully conceived story of a marriage come to grief through store man Bryan Brown’s violence towards his wife Kris McQuade. The love letters of the title are his desperate attempts to salvage the unworkable in this poignantly observed short film, a small scale masterpiece if ever there was one, produced by the estimable Richard Brennan and directed by Stephen Wallace, his first significant film.

7.      THE SHIRALEE. Peter Finch excelled himself as the swaggie  who is “burdened” by his young daughter, Dana Wilson (the shiralee). It evolves into a very touching relationship and the location work is excellent. The director was Leslie Norman, who never made a better film.

8.      MAD MAX 2. Dr George Miller’s choreography of the bikers is a mix of visual poetry, heady energy, and rough humour that is exhilarating, and very Australian. No wonder the Yanks wanted it dubbed.

9.      PALM BEACH. Albie Thoms always operated at the edges in avant garde material –this is the closest he came to any kind of narrative elements and it’s an interesting mix.

10.  DAD AND DAVE COME TO TOWN. I’m a sucker for Ken G Hall (The Silence of Dean Maitland, Tall Timbers, Lovers and Luggers, The Broken Melody). This is quite unlike the earlier Dad and Dave films, set in the city in a women’s fashion establishment. It’s a good comedy that I’m not ashamed of recommending to anyone.

11.  WALKABOUT. Jenny Agutter as an English rose and her brother Lucien John, abandoned and left to the elements in the Aussie outback. The wondereful David Gulpilil comes to their rescue. Cultural conflict, heady stuff, well executed by Nicolas Roeg.

12.  SMILEY. The original, with Colin Petersen who later became a pop star. He and my cousin were both at Humpy Bong school near Redcliffe in Qld when they were searching for a freckled kid to play Smiley. Petersen won, and my cousin lost out because he was two inches too small. I think they made the right choice, though-Petersen was infectious, much more so than Keith Calvert in the sequel Smiley Gets a Gun. I loved this as a kid and retain a strong affection for it

13.THE YEAR MY VOICE BROKE. The pangs of adolescence in a backwater town. A beautiful and poignant period piece set in 1962,. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance playing at the local. Noah Taylor, Loene Carmen and Ben Mendelsohn supply the exemplary angst. 

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Andrew Pike's Best Ever Australian Films

Andrew Pike is an Award-winning Producer, Director, Distributor, Historian and Scholar. He is the author of Australian Film 1900-1977 (with Ross Cooper), still the definitive volume recording Australia's cinema history for that period. Following some recent Film Alert items about the best ever Australian films  I asked Andrew for his list of the best. Here are his thoughts.

You've asked for my list of the "Best 10 or more" Australian films.

I am going to restrict my list to feature films made before 1977 - partly because I have fairly scrupulously seen most of what could be seen from this period during research for my book with Ross Cooper, but also because after 1977, I was so closely involved in the film industry as an exhibitor and a distributor, that to pick favourites would inevitably upset people whose films I might choose to omit from the list.  So, to be clear, I'm also excluding documentaries.

So, best 17, in no particular order:

THE SENTIMENTAL BLOKE (Raymond Longford)
ON OUR SELECTION (Raymond Longford)
THE KID STAKES (a film by one of the great colourful figures of the industry, Tal Ordell - Bulletin contributor, exuberant actor and wonderfully irreverent filmmaker)

THE CHEATERS (with its references to European cinema, revealing an extraordinary level of sophisticated film literacy on the part of the young filmmakers, the McDonagh sisters)
SONS OF MATTHEW (Charles Chauvel)

MR CHEDWORTH STEPS OUT (Ken G Hall)
THE OVERLANDERS (Harry Watt)
SIEGE OF PINCHGUT (Harry Watt)
CAPTAIN THUNDERBOLT  (Cecil Holmes, basing my opinion on a longer version of the film than what remains today in the NFSA)
MIKE AND STEFANI (R Maslyn Williams)

BARRY MCKENZIE HOLDS HIS OWN (Bruce Beresford, for its shameless, raucous vulgarity)
WAKE IN FRIGHT (Ted Kotcheff)
WALKABOUT (Nicholas Roeg)
BONJOUR BALWYN (Nigel Buesst)
27A (Esben Storm)
MAD DOG MORGAN (Phillippe Mora)
OUT OF IT (Ken Cameron)

Of the above, the two films by Harry Watt are currently attracting my attention.  In my view, Watt is vastly underrated.  His sheer competence as a director is evident in both, but both are also enhanced by his instincts as a documentarian.  Sydney and its people have rarely been filmed with as much verve as in PINCHGUT.  And in THE OVERLANDERS he not only "created" the Chips Rafferty persona that Chips built his career on, but he arguably contributed crucially to the broad post-war Australian psyche.  By way of self-serving anecdote, I vividly remember interviewing Harry Watt in London in 1979.  He was a very bitter and angry man, because of he way the new generation of the British film industry had ignored him.  In recent years when I started to do more work on THE OVERLANDERS, I regretted not having recorded the interview - but then, just before Christmas, I met a senior librarian from the National Library who said she had come across some tapes of mine and wanted to know if they could be made public.  She sent me a CD of the tapes, and it turns out that in fact I HAD recorded the interview with Watt after all:  I'd completely forgotten, and obviously had lost track the tapes.  It's a terrific interview, if I may say so, and convinces me that we need to know and learn from the work he did in England and Africa too.  I have a theory that WHERE NO VULTURES FLY which screened widely in USA, may well have served as inspiration for much of HATARI:  there are some striking similarities.
 
 
Andrew

On DVD (1) - Sebastian Bergman - More Scandi Crime

"Bergman" says the aging, overweight crime profiler when asked his name the morning after by a woman he has preyed upon/picked up at a group therapy class he's attending at the suggestion of his shrink. "Like the film director" says she trying unsuccessfully to make polite conversation with a serial womaniser whose backstory involves the death of his wife and child in the tsunami and which still haunts him. Bergman is another creation of Hans Rosenfeldt of The Bridge  fame, this time working with Michael Hjorth who co-writes and directs one of the two feature length episodes that make up this Brit issue DVD. (You'll have to get it through Amazon or other supplier in the UK.)

While the bleakness of the mighty Ingmar's work lurks all about, the series takes a cue from Silence of the Lambs in setting Bergman after a particularly devious serial killer whom he put away in jail but whose mastery of crime is such that he is committing crimes via surrogates. Bergman has been a wreck for awhile but his skills are such that the wallopers who are nonplussed are forced to recall him for his ability to see through the fog of information and intuit evil intent. The fact that he has had an horrendous personal life which makes him hate everybody, good and bad, is one of the tropes of this particular part of the trade.

There are two directors used in this two film but interlinked set but both work seamlessly. The camera is mostly hand held, very edgy and the cutting takes you backwards and forwards. This lesswens the impact of the violence itself and strangely enough it is further minimised by a decision to render much of it via still photographs of the murder scenes and victims.

I'm not sure why SBS has passed on this one (if indeed it has) and nobody among the indie distributors has picked up any rights apparently from my observation of the shelves at JB Hi-Fi. But definitely up to the standard. A well constructed crime, an intriguing criminal, a fallen detective, an angelic associate, the cool Swedish light. Excellent viewing.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Some thoughts from Andrew Pike about the Australian Cinema


“Andrew Pike, Award-winning Producer, Director, Distributor, Historian and Scholar, has been pondering various matters about the current state of the Australian cinema as provoked by some recent Film Alert items about the best ever Australian films below. Here are his thoughts.”
 

I often feel I should engage in more debate about the Australian film industry but never get to do it.  Partly because it is a dispiriting scene, with deckchairs constantly being shuffled,  and partly because I feel completely marginalised by the key players, as though an independent distributor (let alone a small outfit in Canberra) could have anything worthwhile to say.  In the end, I usually decide to keep working away doing my own thing, like a Ronin should, and ignore the rest.
 But a few points can perhaps be made:
 1.  I think the narrow frame of reference of lists such as Margaret's has to be sheeted home to the failure over many years of the NFSA to make Australian film heritage visible and available.  I have faith that at last this failure is being addressed and will be remedied.
 2.  I firmly believe that no solution to the economic well-being of the film industry can ever be achieved until "fair and equitable" terms and conditions can be negotiated with the major exhibitors and distributors.  Until that day, which may never come, since few people are brave enough to tackle the problem, let alone even talk about it publicly, the only solution is a strong and resilient independent sector, especially the "art house" component where risks will more readily be taken.  And the indie "art house" cinema sector has been slowly but steadily disappearing.
 3.  I get very impatient with all of the agonised analyses of what is wrong with the industry and with Australian scripts and Australian writers, when the fact remains that often extremely bad American films get major releases here.  Refer to point 2 above.  In addition, instead of analysing what people think is wrong with the industry, why not analyse the occasions when Australian films HAVE actually work at the box-office - has anyone really studied why RED DOG worked, or looked closely at the marketing campaigns for MURIEL'S WEDDING, or MAO'S LAST DANCER, or KENNY, or for that matter any of the ones that Ronin was involved in a long time ago.   It seems that the successes are usually seen as blips on the radar, exceptions to the rule, and so not worthy of investigation.  In the end, despite the analyses of the failures, does everyone subconsciously believe that to succeed you need luck, pure and simple luck? 

Andrew
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

 

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Catching Up (2) Mr Perrin and Mr Traill

Another of the J Arthur Rank films screened late night on the ABC for the last twenty five years or so.

Mr Perrin and Mr Traill (Lawrence Huntington, Two Cities Films, UK, 1948)
First a note on the source lifted holus bolus from Wikipedia. The film is based on a novel of the same name by http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hugh_Walpole. It was the author's first commercial success,  published in 1911. The novelist and biographer Michael Sadleir writes that though some of the six novels Walpole wrote between 1909 and 1914 are of interest as examples of the author's developing style, it is Mr Perrin and Mr Traill that deserves to be remembered for its own sake The book, subtitled "a tragi-comedy", is a psychological study of a deadly clash between two schoolmasters, one an ageing failure and the other a young, attractive idealist. In the view of Hart-Davis, Walpole only once recaptured "the fresh, clear cut realism" of this book, and Walpole himself, looking back on his work in the 1930s, felt that of all his books to date, it was the truest. The Observer gave the book a favourable review: "The slow growth of the poison within [Perrin] is traced with wonderful skill and sympathy ... one feels throughout these pages a sense of intolerable tension, of impending disaster"...
 Way back in 1948 when the film was released Wikipedia further informs us that The Guardian film reviewer observed that the setting of Mr Perrin and Mr Traill – a second-rate public school – was clearly drawn from life, as indeed it was. The boys of Epsom College were delighted with the thinly disguised version of their school, but the college authorities were not, and Walpole was persona non grata  at Epsom for many years....

Two Cities Films did prestige productions for J Arthur Rank. This film is scripted by L A G Strong, photographed by the eminent Erwin Hillier but unfortunately is directed without any great liveliness or insight by a hack, Lawrence Huntington. Marius Goring's Perrin is the stuffy, rules conscious long-standing but rather low-achieving master. Far too late into the story we pick up that Perrin's favourite boy, hints here, has had his attention swayed by the arrival of the boisterous new Maths and Sports teacher, former rugby player, Mr Traill. (David Farrar), Traill's spindly legs don't appear to fit the model of the typical rugger bloke, but he's all charm. He is soon sweeping everything before him,including the nursing aide played by another of those ineffable English roses Greta Gynt in a fashion denoted by an utter lack of colour or charm.

Slowly we learn that Perrin is in love with, but can say nothing to the nurse and is terrified of the Headmaster,  a solemnly pontificating Raymond Huntley playing a character called Mr Moy-Thompson. The rivalry gets bitter and spills over into minor tragedy. I shall not spoil it. Along the way we get a little of the violence, submission and sheer anti-intellectualism of a British public (private) school. Everyone is a failure and the real business going on there is business itself.  Not dull but it took Lindsay Anderson's If... some twenty years later to blow the lid off the system.

Friday, 13 February 2015

First news for Bologna's Cinema Ritrovato for 2015

No need to say that the transition to a new director after the death of Peter von Bagh seems to have been managed most successfully

http://www.cinetecadibologna.it/cinemaritrovato2015en

The film event of the year.

Monday, 9 February 2015

J P McGowan - Australia's first Hollywood film pioneer on iView until 21 February

The indefatigable David Donaldson, founding director of the Sydney Film Festival lo those 60 years ago and still going strong writes:

For a brief period, ABC-TV Australia has the 2011 bio-tribute to Hollywood’s first Australian, JP McGowan, up on its catch-up website —  http://iview.abc.net.au/programs/stunt-love/AC0953S001S00. I pop in briefly as an ancient, mumbling over a Super8 projector. Some people think that the modern-day stunt material was incongruous, but there is a lot to admire in the handling of the Railroad Man material. Catch it while you can, this being the third and last of the licensed broadcasts.

There is as well  aJ.P. McGowan bio-tribute film in History Month, 8 May 2014 -- 
http://abouttime.sa.gov.au/content/hollywoods-first-australian-islington-lad
http://www.safilm.com.au/Article/NewsDetail.aspx?p=16&id=2456

Finally you can follow on McGowan page on Facebook -- https://www.facebook.com/pages/JP-McGowan-Australian-Pioneer-of-Hollywood/135988723129499

Your reactions welcome

David
mcgowansociety@dodo.com.au


  

David Young's Top Ten Australian films

Cinephile David Young  has responded to my request for Oz Top Ten Lists:

Hello Geoff

Here's my 10 best Oz films, in alphabetical order -

The Babadook (Jennifer Kent, 2014) This was the best Australian film released last year, as far as I am concerned (and criminal that it didn't get a higher profile on its release, but let's not go there), and definitely one of the 10 best.

The Boys (Rowan Woods, 1998) David Wenham is so good in this; menacing in such a quiet way (which is why Animal Kingdom is nearly as good and is in my top 20).

Jedda (Charles Chauvel, 1955) Somewhat melodramatic but important because it was the first local film to portray Aboriginal people as people and not as stereotypes.

Mad Max 2 (George Miller, 1981)

Newsfront (Philip Noyce, 1978)

Samson and Delilah (Warwick Thornton, 2009)

The Sentimental Bloke (Raymond Longford, 1919)

Sons of Matthew (Charles Chauvel, 1949) Like Jedda, somewhat melodramatic, but the first serious look at pioneers in this country (and light years away from the Rudds and the Hayseeds).

Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff, 1971) Where does one draw the line on what makes a film Australian or not? This outsider's view of us is more interesting - even devastating - than a local could or would have done (which is why it was so widely disliked when first released).

The Year My Voice Broke (John Duigan, 1987)

cheers

David Young

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Film Alert 2015 Number 2 - Margaret's new gigs, Oz films box office study, Rod Taylor, Kim Kyungmook, WEA Film Group


Hello Everyone
There is much to report.

Margaret Pomeranz’s retirement proved to be short-lived. She will be back on Foxtel sometime soon with an At the Movies type program on a new arts channel and will present a new film each week on the (somewhat broadly defined) Masterpiece movie channel. Some thought she was also replacing the legendary film lush Bill Collins who nowadays is reduced to a Saturday night double or triple bill on Fox Classics. But no further word has been heard about that move so it may be that we will have Bill, his films and his priceless collection of first edition books, lobby cards and stills, for some time yet.  On her weekly review Margaret will be joined by actor/writer/director and nowadays television commentator and presenter Graeme Blundell. Meanwhile, keeping her hand in, Margaret gives us pause for a moment to contemplate whether our movies are getting better all the time?  She has done a piece for Fairfax online listing her top ten Australian movies of all time. She selects seven films made since the year 2000. All ten were made on or after 1981, coincidentally around the time that the Movie Show started. Two out of the ten were by women directors but neither of those was Jane Campion or Gillian Armstrong. Go figure all that out. Out of interest  Margaret’s list prompted me to draw up my own selection of the best Australian films ever and you can find my selection, not limited to ten, or to features, here. Other lists welcome. Any received will be published.
Finally Margaret has joined with Quentin Dempster to circulate a note about the threats to SBS caused by a government decision to allow the station to rejig the way it presents its five minutes of advertising per hour. They write (and this is only part of a longer missive sent on to me): Here's something you may not already know about: the government is proposing major changes to SBS' advertising arrangement – which, if passed, would see primetime broadcasting interrupted with more ads, more frequently, than ever seen in Australia's public broadcasting history. When Parliament re-commences next month, MPs and Senators will face a proposal on whether to allow the doubling of ads and commercial breaks on SBS, a move that will have a significant negative impact on our public broadcaster and its devoted viewers. If the government's proposed amendments to the SBS Act are passed, SBS will look no different from the commercial networks. It will effectively be turned into Australia's fourth fully commercial TV channel, by stealth. We will be doing everything we can to get the word out about the threat that these amendments pose to public broadcasting – but we need your help to demonstrate we have the support of the Australian public. The more signatures we can collect, the more seriously MPs and Senators will take us. Now is the moment that Australians need to stand up to fight for sustainable, multicultural public broadcasting, and stand up for our SBS. Sign our petition urging the Federal Parliament to reject amendments to extend advertising on SBS: To do that and for more info go here petition re SBS

Some serious analysis of the audience for Australian films
One of the great and ongoing debates about Australian film concerns the extent of the domestic audience for our feature film production. Consideration of the issue is inevitably bound up with thoughts about the type of films we make and the policy settings for Government assistance and subsidy. It’s been a recurrent if minor thread throughout the near ten years that Film Alert has been in existence though much of the commentary has been at the level of rants and schadenfreude depending on the target or the mood. It’s close to ten years or so that together Bruce Hodsdon and I put together a submission to the one of the many reviews of the Australian Film Industry which addressed this matter. That paper (still online at http://www.filmalert.net/Oz-film-piece.htm) looked at these things: 

•a clear recognition that the comparative box office performance of Australian films has been unfairly denigrated by the use of inappropriate comparisons;

•the focus of assessment criteria to judge success should be shifted from percentage return on investment and market share to comparative subsidy per consumer. This shifts the conceptual emphasis from a film as a product to a film as a work with intrinsic cultural value with an enduring outreach across national boundaries;

•Australia’s film agencies need to radically rethink the attention given to the process of scriptwriting, the funding of writer/auteurs and the relationships that exist between writers, producers and directors in the Australian film industry; and

•there needs to be a strong, forthright and full commitment on behalf of all funding and investment bodies to ensure that our best film-makers, those whose work has been internationally or locally recognized and rewarded, and our best writers, are working more fruitfully and more often.  

Bruce continued to look at the issue and came up with a further set of thoughts which were printed in Metro and were published online again http://www.filmalert.net/Hodsdon-article.pdf.

Now there is a further contribution to the discussion, this time from a trio of academic authors using funds provided by the Australian Research Council for the exercise. It comes in the form of a paper titled Australian films at large: expanding the evidence about Australian cinema performance by Deb Verhoeven, Alwyn Davidson & Bronwyn Coate. The paper can be found online here. Both Bruce Hodsdon and I have been doing some iterating between ourselves about the matters raised and he’s brought his own economic training to bear on some of the quite complicated issues therein. We’ll say more about it later. The authors are seeking comments.

 Oz film history on show at the WEA Film Group
The indefatigable Leth Maitland has released the WEA Film Group's program for the first six months of the year and I thought it warranted a mention largely because of the focus it has on Australian cinema. There are some other programs, including a Bergman double bill of The Seventh Seal and Wild Strawberries, a couple of good westerns, an afternoon devoted to films by German avant-garde master Alexander Kluge and some documentaries but the extent of the Australian titles is quite remarkable. Unfortunately the details of the program have just been posted  on the WEA website so you have already missed a double bill of silents comprising The Kid Stakes (Tal Ordell) and The Cheaters (Paulette McDonagh). But the double bills continue with Rangle River (Clarence Badger, 1936) & Seven Little Australians  (Arthur Greville Collins, 1939), on 22 February, Walk into Paradise (Lee Robinson, 1956) & Mad Max 2 (George Miller, 1981) on 29 March, a Rold De Heer double (Dingo  and  Dr Plonk), on 12 April, Blue Fin (Carl Schultz, 1978)  and Cathy's Child (Don Crombie, 1979) on 10 May, Malcolm (Nadia Tass) & Emoh Ruo (Denny Lawrence, 1985) on 10 May, Starstruck (Gillian Armstrong, 1982) on 21 June, and finally Rogue (Greg McLean, 2007) on 28 June. Contact can also be made with leth_maitland@hotmail.com.

Vale Rod Taylor
I asked film historian and film-maker Graham Shirley for any thoughts about the late Rod Taylor and here is what he sent in. A slightly belated reply to yours of last Fri-Sat. I don’t have anything in particular that I can contribute on Rod Taylor.  However, I have found the following links, which may be of interest to your readers. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-01-09/australian-actor-rod-taylor-dies-aged-84/6008780, http://www.sbs.com.au/movies/article/2015/01/13/new-documentary-rod-taylor-coming-2015, http://www.rodtaylorsite.com/biography1.shtml

Stephen Vagg, Australian scriptwriter and director, wrote what was apparently the first book on Rod Taylor:


Taylor made only four films in Australia, scattered over forty years or so. He went stateside after his first feature King of the Coral Sea (Lee Robinson, 1954) and very quickly got a lot of work. He appears to have made more than fifty films and, if you believe his knowing looks and winks during an interview that plays every now and then on TCM, he shagged a lot of his leading ladies. Who knows. A life lived to the full.

Kim Kyungmook
Ben Cho has sent in the following information about the current situation facing gadfly activist and provocateur Korean film-maker Kim Kyungmook. One of Asia's most talented young filmmakers, Kim Kyungmook (STATELESS THINGS, FACELESS THINGS), has been jailed for one and a half years for conscientious objection to South Korea's brutal mandatory military service policy. The government continues its regressive policy of enslaving young men into service and does not offer an alternative civil service option for those against militarism such as Kim. For a probing insight into the psychological damage and social impact this policy has, Yoon Jong-bin's indie drama THE UNFORGIVEN is a great exploration of the issues at play. 

A note on Kim's Facebook page reads: Kim KyungMook has been sentenced to one and a half years for conscientious objection and imprisoned in Seoul Southern Detention Center as of today. In order to visit or send a message to him, please contact with Yeo Jeewoo (+82-10-9156-2718 / intothereign@gmail.com).
One of the major memories I have from the Vancouver Film Festival is standing in line for a near-midnight screening of Kim’s Faceless Things. This had the organisers so worried that a volunteer went along the line and asked each person something like “Are you aware that this film contains explicit images of perverse sexual behaviour?” David Bordwell and I both answered “That’s why we’re here!” which wasn’t what a po-faced Canadian just doing his job wanted to hear. The film turned out to be everything claimed for it. A few months later a copy was passed to me for preview and recommendation for a possible screening at the Sydney Film Festival. I recommended it but it went nowhere. Clare Stewart told me she could see its merits but, in racing parlance, “others preferred”. As far as I know none of the Australian festivals have screened his work, a serious deficiency and a great pity.

That’s all for now.

Geoff

Friday, 6 February 2015

The Best Australian Films Ever made


Margaret Pomeranz has recently gone into print nominating her best ten Australian movies of all time. You can find her selection at http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/entertainment/australia-day-2015-margaret-pomeranzs-top-10-australian-films-20150126-12y1db.html. I cant say I agree with it without telling you mine. Not restricting myself to ten made it easier, especially as it allows for the inclusion of a couple of films not of feature length.  (In Alphabetical order).
BeDevil (Tracy Moffatt, 1993), Bolero (Albie Thoms, 1967), Bonjour Balwyn (Nigel Buesst, 1969), The Boys (Rowan Woods, 1998), Charlie's Country (Rolf De Heer, 2014), The Devil’s Playground (Fred Schepisi, 1976), Heat Wave (Philip Noyce, 1982), Journey to the End of Night (Peter Tammer, 1982), Mad Max 2 (George Miller, 1981), Moving Out (Michael Pattinson, 1983), Night Cries; A Rural Tragedy (Tracey Moffatt, 1990), Out of It (Ken Cameron, 1977), Palm Beach (Albie Thoms, 1979), Picnic at Hanging Rock (Peter Weir, 1975), The Sentimental Bloke (Raymond Longford, 1919), Samson and Delilah (Warwick Thornton, 2009), Sons of Mathew (Charles Chauvel, 1949), Sweetie (Jane Campion, 1989), Ten Canoes (Rolf De Heer, 2006), Toomelah (Ivan Sen, 2011), The Year My Voice Broke (John Duigan, 1987).
Anyone who wants to send I a list can do so direct to me at geofg2@bigpond.com or via the Comments button below
.I've been asked about Wake in Fright (Ted Kotcheff, 1971) and Walkabout (Nicholas Roeg, 1971), possibly the two greatest films ever made in and about Australia. I just have a bit of trouble accepting them as Australian films given they both were made by visitors, used foreign stars and scripts and were financed by outsiders.