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Friday, 31 July 2015

The era of endless analysis - A substitute for quality film-making

Back in the good old days, early 2005 to be precise, when Bruce Hodsdon and I did a submission  to some long forgotten review of Government assistance to the Australian film industry we said : Over the last decade there have been no more than a handful of films accepted for the competitions conducted by the three A-list European film festivals in Berlin, Cannes and Venice. By comparison, many more films from other countries in the region (Thailand, Korea, Taiwan especially) are annually accepted for places in the elite competitions. The films from those countries outshine Australia’s best despite far more taxpayer’s money being spent by Australia on film production. 

It's been ten years since then, another billion or so has been expended, and you could say the same thing for the decade that followed. Australia is on a twenty year lack of the highest quality films as measured by our success in getting into the three toughest international competitions. The artistic successes such as they have been are modest. Mad Max Fury Road, two films by Rolf de Heer, both on indigenous subjects, Warwick Thornton's Samson and Delilah and some of the other films by Aboriginal film-makers. Struggling, struggling..... Did I overlook anything?

I know you can harp on this forever or until we win another Palme d'Or. As I speak, an Australian film has got itself selected for Venice, the first film to go up against the A-graders of international competition for some little time. Screen Australia's latest paper looking at the current features and difficulties in local distribution can be downloaded here
   
It has some interesting thoughts:  
.           We want to ensure that our local films continue to resonate with audiences and to create a cultural legacy for future generations.
.           These are challenging times for independent film. In order to maximise opportunities for Australian films in the current environment, our screen industry will need to be ever more strategic. All players will need to maintain a strong focus on the audience through all stages of production and release. As an industry, we will also need to be prepared to innovate around certain kinds of films and to take some risks. 

And then there is this, which suggests that some at least are looking a gift horse in the mouth....

.           Through the Multiplatform Drama program Screen Australia invests in the production of narrative projects that take risks and push the envelope of fiction storytelling on traditional and non-traditional platforms. Applications may be for any amount up to $500,000 per project. To date, Screen Australia has received no applications for low-budget feature films through this program. 


Truly astonishing....and apparently unreported upon as well.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Screen Australia's CEO makes some interesting remarks about the future of local film production

A little while ago I mentioned that Screen Australia announced it is workshopping some new approaches to building pride in Australian film. I had a further email exchange. One element was that a PR consultancy had been hired to help. The chosen firm advertises on its website that it isfor shaking things up. Disrupting industries, creating new markets and new companies. We're for culture that fuels creativity and innovation. We help build trust and get teams to work harder and be happier. We're for new models, new theories, new ways of working for this century, not the last one.” ...and on it goes.

 

So onward. SA’s Chief Executive has just spoken about the future and released a new discussion paper which you can find here. He didn’t seem to go to building pride in Australian film. Here’s part of what SA’s press release said. Local independent films are facing an increasingly tough, and crowded, marketplace. Audience expectation of where and how they see these films is changing rapidly. The benchmark for specialist film box office has been drastically lowered. We are not alone here, these trends are international.” ...: “Long-heralded transformations wrought by digital disruption are well and truly upon us. Blockbusters dominate an increasingly crowded theatrical environment while the traditional DVD market is in sharp decline. Newer ancillaries, like VOD platforms, are yet to deliver back recoupment dollars into the ecosystem. It is becoming harder for independent films to find their audiences amidst an avalanche of content, and it is harder for them to attract marketplace finance.” A key part of Screen Australia’s role is to assist screen businesses to navigate these changes and to take advantage of the opportunities they present. - See more 

 

I cant help wondering just what is meant by "the benchmark for specialist film box office has been drastically lowered". That's an interesting development....


 

Saturday, 25 July 2015

On DVD (9) - Two recent films by the Italian master Ermanno Olmi

Olmi in the 60s
Ermanno Olmi began making feature films in 1958 at the age of 27. As of now he has made sixteen dramatic feature length films including two that won the top European festival awards first at Cannes (The Tree of Wooden Clogs, 1978)  and then Venice (The Legend of the Holy Drinker, 1988). Back in the early 80s, The Tree of Wooden Clogs was a major art house hit. It ran for months at Melbourne's Longford Cinema back in the days when a film like that would have distribution limited to just a couple of prints and the art houses around the country got in a queue. I dont think his Venice prize winner had many, if any screenings here. I saw it in an out of the way repertory cinema in Paris years after it had been released. I'm not aware of any local sightings of his films since The Profession of Arms (2007) which I think was screened in that year's Italian Film Festival. I may be wrong about that too. I saw it first on World Movies and it played on SBS.

All of which is to say that Olmi was rarely a fashionable film maker. For a straightfoward explanation as to why  may I refer you to a piece written a decade and half ago by Deborah Young and published in Film Comment This and a set of notes for a season of Olmi's films at the University of California was all I could find in English from a quick Google search. In brief, he has a conservative Catholic view that puts him, and the subjects he chooses to film, frequently at odds with the prevailing Italian and world tastes.

I'm relying on more memory to get to this point. My memory says that Olmi announced he was giving up making dramatic feature films and proposed that any future work would be confined to documentaries. This occurred after One Hundred Nails (Italy, 2009) another of his films with a Christ-like figure at its centre. It was thus a surprise to come across two recent features out on Italian DVD. (A day spent hunting through the racks of Italian cinema in the back room of Florence's wonderful Alberti Dischi store on Borgo San Lorenzo always produces treasure


Olmi in 2011
So what have we here. Il Villaggio di Cartone premiered out of competition at Venice in 2011. If there was any fuss about it, it passed me by. Produced by RAI Cinema the impetus for the film would appear to have come from the UN High Commission for Refugees. They couldn't have found a more sympathetic director to fashion a work which picks apart the issues facing Italy today as it tries to deal with a continuing influx of African refugees. 

The film opens with a priest (Michael Lonsdale) facing the closure and deconsecration of his church. A team of workers in fluoro vests march in like a conquering army behind a set of lights which hide the fact that this is a giant set. (The 'Making Of' extra shows the construction of all this in detail.). The action takes place entirely within the church. That night a group of a dozen or more Africans, some refugees, some locals assisting them, invade the property and set up a tent city inside the nave. This is the cardboard village of the title. They are a mixed bunch with mixed ambitions and the priest is forced to deal with their demands as well as those of the authorities who want to as they say, enforce the law. One of the refugees is carrying explosives and harbours ambitions to be a suicide bomber. 

Olmi's mise-en-scene privileges nobody. Neither the priest nor the refugees are shown in any saintly manner and the drama which works its way out over a very short time contains all the wild contradictions that accompany any consideration of refugees anywhere. But its low key by any standards and notwithstanding the presence of Londsdale and Rutger Hauer as an official of the church tasked with carrying on its business with ruthless efficiency it has no obvious selling points that might have got it front and centre at any of the festivals. 

Three years later, at the age of 84 Olmi's latest film Torneranno I prati (translated on the subtitles as Greenery Will Bloom Again). Made in 2014 it premiered at the 2015 Berlin Film Festival and has yet to be selected for any local event. Maybe the Italian Film Festival starting in September might pick it up. We'll see. Set in the first world war the story concerns an Italian outpost high in the mountains between Italy and Austria. Near to buried underground a small group of Italian soldiers is battling to halt Austrian aggression. Lonely, sick and depressed the soldiers have lost the heart for battle and their situation is complicated by an apparent breach in their security. Alternate plans are hatched, all of them seemingly doomed. The talk is of honour and duty and there are some ghastly and abrupt moments down in the bunker. 

Olmi films all this by reducing most of the colour to black and white. There are spectacular images as well in the few exteriors. The film takes 71 minutes to get through the drama which includes a newsreel coda. 

The great discovery on the disc is a 50+ minute 'Making Of' which I dare to say is the best such example of this little byway of the modern cinema that I have ever seen. We see Olmi's working methods, the actual construction of the set which takes place in autumn so that it is ready to be snowed under for winter. The craft of the Italian on-set constructors is shown to be remarkable. Olmi explains the themes he is addressing (abdication to military rules, learning and hallucination) and gives the view that despite the realism of the location he is wishing to be evocative. As part of his mise-en-scene, Olmi is given to prepare quick little drawings on a notepad as to what he wants to be in the scene. These are all-encompassing and look to show camera positions, the movement of the actors and more. The filming which takes place in the depths of a mountain winter is rugged as well. Olmi, who seems jittery on his feet, has to be physically assisted around the location.His voice is now reduced a raspy little whisper and most of his directing takes place in a tiny confined space in which he watches the action on a small screen. The Making Of  is directed by Fabrizio Cattani.

With the possible single exception of The Legend of the Holy Drinker Olmi's ambitions have always been tempered, his filming done without flourish. His Catholic conservatism, amply set out in the aforementioned Deborah Young piece, always a key thematic behind his subjects. These two DVDs, both with excellent English subtitles, are a reminder of a career that deserves to be called that of a master.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Bringing back the Past (2) - Not so easy for the local little guys but they battle on

Following on from the previous post, Leth Maitland the Secretary of the WEA Sydney Film Society has been in touch to advise that for the smallest among us who like to get together, watch and discuss movies and who for decades have relied first on the National Library and later the National Film & Sound Archive to supply classics old and new, rarities, otherwise unavailable Australian films, experimental work and more, things are getting increasingly difficult in very practical ways. 

Leth writes to show how sometimes it’s not made easy at all for enthusiasts.  "The WEA Sydney Film Society wanted to screen THE 39 STEPS (Alfred Hitchcock, UK, 1935). The NFSA however cancelled the booking because they had let the rights lapse. The local art film distributor Madman  has released the film locally on DVD, but said they had no non-theatrical rights. NFSA had originally directed would-be borrowers to Madman, but if not, Park Circus,  the Glasgow based company which controls the world rights should be contacted. Park Circus responded very promptly and courteously, but in answer to our request to license a screening for likely to between 10 and 20 people, the answer was 250 Australian dollars payable by Paypal. 

Films from European sources are even more problematic.

The exception is Goethe-Institut. It is coming to our rescue by still licensing titles worldwide but they are kind of the last in what was once a significant source of programing for film societies in Australia. 

Finally, the NFSA is now not licensing Australian titles if they are "commercially available" which is a bit of a movable feast.


Leth has just sent round the WEA Sydney Film Society's fortnightly program for August to December 2015. If you would like to receive a copy by email setting out all the details and accompanied by some excellent program notes contact leth_maitland@hotmail.com   

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Bringing back the past - Bologna and Catherine Deneuve

Deneuve at Cannes in 2014
When you come through the week at Bologna’s Cinema Ritrovato you start to have dreams of only attending festivals of films made long ago, that have as they say, stood the test of time and now warrant a new place in the sun via new prints or, even better, digital restorations performed by geniuses like Sony/Columbia’s Grover Crisp. Theirs is the work that brings movies back to that moment of their premiere screening. You cant watch a film like Charles Vidor’s Cover Girl (USA, 1944), starring a pre-MGM Gene Kelly  and the scrumptious, luminous Rita Hayworth without the additional modern day awe at the skills employed by Grover and his team. One critic has even gone so far as to suggest that the cinema might be a better place if all new movie-making ceased for a decade and we all had a breathing space simply to catch up on the 100+ years of what’s already gone. At Bologna this seemed like a very good idea.

Expanding way beyond privileged access at Bologna and elsewhere in the new digital world, where you can see wondrous things you never thought you would ever see or see again, things are changing rapidly. Making restoration copies is now all the go. Cable TV stations and companies like Netflix have insatiable desires for more and more movies (though you might not sense that if you are a subscriber to the Foxtel movie package) from more and more sources and the digital age enables all the work to be done – restoration followed by circulation.

That ‘circulation’, access if you like, is the key word. 

And, just as an example of what might happen more and more, there is one thing interesting happening via the major distributor Studio Canal. In conjunction with the Alliance francaise, they have selected a half dozen films featuring Catherine Deneuve and will be presenting them at GU’s Event Cinema in George Street and the Cremorne Orpheum over a weekend in September.  I assume its going round the nation as well. Not a bad selection either -  The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Belle de Jour, Un Flic, Young Girls of Rochefort, Indochine and Potiche. Two, maybe more, masterpieces there. I’m not listing years and directors  but close to fifty years of the great lady’s career is covered. (I’m happy to hear from anybody who might like to suggest another four to make it up to ten. My choices would be Vadim’s Vice and Virtue, Varda’s Les Creatures, Truffaut’s Mississipi Mermaid  and another Demy, Peau d’Ane . That leaves 111 films to choose alternate titles To get help if your memory needs a jog you can go here.) 

So as I despair at the selection that makes up the Alliance francaise's annual festival of new films, endlessly veering away from quality towards mediocre comedies and routine dramas, almost entirely ignoring the works of major film-makers year after year, suddenly the Alliance pops up with this event. Its thanks to the new digital technologies that it can happen of course. The ease of sending round DCPs around the world makes sure of that. And we are prmised that this is to be annual event - Bardot, Gabin, Moreau, Delon, Belmondo, Marcel Dalio, Julien Carette, ....that list is endless too to say nothing of Ophuls, Renoir, Gremillon, Clement, and Duvivier, all of whom have had major films restored in recent times. Endless, endless...a vista leading to our own Cinema Ritrovato sometime somewhere,maybe even starting small just like this bit of outreach.   

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

An email exchange with Screen Australia

Following my outburst about a proposal whereby Screen Australia announced it is  workshopping some new approaches to building pride in Australian film, I sent in some questions about what might be happening. Here's the reply I got.

Hi Geoffrey


We aren’t yet at a place to talk about plans – because we are still in the scoping and discussion stage.

I will come back to you about your specific questions shortly.

Best wishes

Imogen

To which I responded

Dear Imogen

Thank you for your reply. I must say that since I posted my piece I have been told that Michael Bodey also made some uncomplimentary remarks about your plans. It’s not enjoyable to be lumped in with a Murdoch press maven, particularly weeks later, but that’s what happens to people who have made a lifetime vow to avoid that arm of the media. Oh well....

If indeed this exercise is to be conducted in any public way I’d be most interested to follow what’s happening. I’m of course still somewhat bemused that Screen Australia would be hiring PR people for it but if there is to be any further reporting or public consultation then that’s something I’d like to pass on to my devoted reader.

Best wishes


Geoff Gardner 

Monday, 20 July 2015

Movies from the Sub-Continent expand - Adrienne McKibbins reports

Its interesting that we had no less than 7  films from the sub-Continent showing in Australia over the weekend. Six from various parts of India and one Pakistani film.

There were three Tamil films. Suddenly we are getting more Tamil films than we ever did in the past, 2 Punjabi films ( which always seem to find an audience even though most of them are not cinematic masterpieces.  But Hindi films still tend to do better BO wise. They also tend to have more screens.

Salman Khan the star of Bajrangi Bhaijaan
Bajrangi Bhaijaan has now entered the 100 Crore club as they call it in India, and it has become Salman Khan's biggest opening ever. (NB Wikipedia advises that a crore (/ˈkrɔər/; abbreviated cr) is a unit in the Indian numbering system equal to ten million (10,000,000; in scientific notation: 107), which is written in these regions as 1,00,00,000 with the local style of digit group separators. It is equal to a hundred lakh (a lakh is equal to one hundred thousand and is written as 1,00,000). It is widely used in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and Nepal. The Indian numbering system is used when writing Marathi, Hindi, Bengali, Urdu, Nepali, Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, and Malayalam.)

Australia

Rank
Movie
Weekend
Weekend Gross (A$)
Screens
Total Gross (A$)
Total Gross (INR)
8
Bajrangi Bhaijaan
1
560,016
28
560,016
2.61 crores
17
Maari (Tamil)
1
65,548
10
65,548
30.63 lacs
20
Bahubali (Tamil)
2
54,939
8
194,405
90.86 lacs
47
Papanasam (Tamil)
3
3,035
4
122,130
57.08 lacs
50
Hero Naam Yaad Rakhi (Punjabi)
2
1,825
10
72,945
34.09 lacs
77
Sardaar Ji
4
145
3
641,526
3.00 crores
83
Bin Roye (Pakistan)
1
40
1
40
1,871/-


I suspect very few people knew that Bin Roye was actually on, as its release date was supposed to have been delayed.

But it has had a positive response, the lead actress has recently gone to India to star in a film with Shah Rukh Khan



Adrienne

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Adrienne McKibbins reports on the new Hindi movie BAJRANGI BHAIJAAN

Kabir Khan’s BAJRANGI BHAIJAAN, currently screening at Event Cinemas Burwood NSW complex and elsewhere through GU Cinemas, is about a 6 year old girl who is parted from her mother on a train journey close to the Indian Pakistan border. The girl ends up in India.... She links up with the hapless (but good hearted) hero played by Salman Khan. The girl does not speak, so there is much ado about what to do with her and how to find out where she comes from.

Eventually, our hero discovers she is a Muslim and from Pakistan, and decides he must take the girl back to find her parents. Unable to do so legally, he illegally enters Pakistan eventually linking up with a would-be Pakistani reporter, played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui in a charmingly comic avatar. He has been told our hero is an Indian spy.

Needless to say our hero eventually manages to get the little girl back to her home, and then must find a way to get back to India (he has no passport or visa).

This film released for the Indian festival EID is a real holiday blockbuster, the audience I was with (almost full house) cheered and clapped at various points, especially a speech about India and Pakistan being similar people who should not be hostile to each other.

The finale is very sentimental, taking place at the Indian/Pakistan border.

Kabir Khan has always had concerns in his films about the politics of India/ Pakistan, Hindu/ Muslim, and despite this film being a full on commercial Masala pic with requisite songs and a big dance number, it is also a plea for tolerance. Salman Khan is better than he has been in recent films, but this role is clearly designed for him.. and he does what is expected right down to his usual shirtless scene, when being beaten by Pakistan police.

Definitely designed as a family entertainer. Although it’s predictable, especially in the second half, it still manages to hold a certain amount of tension and Kabir's use of locations is excellent from the desert to the mountains.

It has opened big in India to mostly positive reviews.  Despite the story line being not that original (in generic terms) it is a likeable film, as its heart is in the right place and the "preaching" is genuine and heartfelt.

Currently screening Australia wide in Event cinemas

Here is Anupama Chopra's review ( She is one of the best most sensible reviewers in India). It really sum up the films faults and pluses..and I agree with her virtually 100%.

Bob Ellis announces he is seriously ill

Bob Ellis became known to me way back in 1969 when he sent in a brilliantly scathing letter to George Munster's Nation  about my review of Larry Peerce's Goodbye Columbus. Called me a dolt, and, given my naivete at the time, was probably right to do so. Not that I appreciated the intemperateness of the language though no doubt Munster and the readers of that wonderful near-iconic fortnightly thought it all very droll.

Ellis could indulge in some of the most oafish public behaviour ever exhibited in this fair land. Long ago, at a Canberra preview screening of Tom Jeffrey's Weekend of Shadows (Australia, 1978) he leapt to his feet when the Q&A started and launched a tirade about the film "This piece of fake Kodachrome Dostoyevsky"...was one of the phrases he uttered in attempting to slag he film unmercifully. When asked to desist or at least ask a question he roared "How dare you?" as if that was the end of the matter. Moments later he roared again when the information was gleaned that a certain script doctor had worked on the film. "Oh no!" he muttered very loudly and when asked sotto voce who that person was he pronounced her,in a loud voice as the woman who ruined Newsfront, a film  from which he famously had his name removed from the credits believing that the three hours or so he'd written had been savaged into mediocrity. Later he took out advertisements advising that he was now accepting credit for the film but as well that he was still sore at the butchery that had gone on.

Bob Ellis is a man with an asbestos hide and a supreme self-confidence. He directed several films of his own scripts and all were droll little experiences. He ceaselessly wrote books, plays, film scripts, articles, speeches for politicians, letters and pungent personal and political reportage about the day. That proved to be one of his occasional downfalls.  When reporting as fact a spicy but apparently untrue anecdote about Peter Costello and Tony Abbott, he lost a libel case and had a ridiculously huge sum of damages awarded against him by a vindictive, Labor-appointed judge. But who can forget his exchanges with David Williamson which mixed a holiday in Bali and the state of Ellis's bowels.

Nothing stopped him though and anybody who reads his rollicking blog of recent years would know he fears no man, no lawyer, no judge and especially no Liberal political opponent. It may be that some of his current subjects will be glad if in fact he's on the way out and will be gone soon. You imagine that Bronwyn Bishop, whom Ellis reduced to a laughable figure, mad as a hatter and berserk with her own self-importance, might be one of those. It was Ellis who took her on in the Mackellar by-election and gave the harridan a giant shock that showed she was nothing more than some Antipodean version of the Wizard of Oz, grinding and cackling away to ever-diminishing effect and finally exposed as a know nothing ratbag. She has never risen back above parody.

Ellis, you liven up our lives and the Australian polity.  If the news cotinues to be bad let me say while you are still alive, you, and your predictions of Labor victory, will be sadly missed

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Two Great Westerns on the ABC this week

Resuming an early Film Alert tradition...on the box two major westerns late night, ad free and hopefully in the case of the later one, the right ratio.
Shane (George Stevens, USA, 1953, 118 minutes)
“There never was a film like Shane”  said Paramount Pictures prior to the release of a movie which the scholars advise was shot in Jackson Hole Wyoming in the summer of 1951 and released in April 1953. It stars Alan Ladd, not typecasting at all, decked out in buckskin, plus Van Heflin and Jean Arthur as the farming family he defends. Jack Palance plays what David Thomson calls “the greatest mean, ornery arrogant gunfighter there ever was, or will be.” When Sergio Leone assembled his team of writers for his mythological valedictory to the American west, Once Upon a Time in the West (Italy, 1968) the brief was to cobble together and pay homage to elements of all the iconic westerns. Shane figured front and centre in the plot. ABC1 at 12.25 am on Tuesday 21 July








The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (Sergio Leone, Italy, 1966, 180 minutes perhaps)
So, speaking of Leone, we get the chance for some comparison as well as a chance to check out just what version of the movie the ABC might be showing and in what ratio. Will it be the full restored epic, seemingly endless, and will it be screened in Leone’s masterful Cinemascope or will the ABC do what Foxtel does and remove the letter box and give it some strange full screen 16:9 look. Time will tell. ABC1 at 11.30 pm on Sunday 26 July

Orry-Kelly leads to an evening viewing Oklahoma! on DVD

Gillian Armstrong's new doco, though nearly a biopic given there is so much enacted material and so many conspiratorial confessions to camera by Darren Gilshenan playing O-K, has already been widely praised here  by Barrie Pattison after a screening at the Sydney Film Festival. However it did provoke me to get out the disc, acquired long ago, of Oklahoma! for which O-K won an Oscar, just for starters to confirm what Orry did to liven the show up. It comes as a two disc set, one the Cinemascope version which would have been what I first saw at Hoyts Padua in Brunswick lo all those years ago, and on the second disc the less well-restored Todd A-O version. Without thinking I put on the 'Scope version. Big mistake. This is the one where Zinneman's framing cut off the dancers' feet rather too often. A check later of the Todd A-O version confirmed it is by far the better and the takes on some of the dances are better. Since the DVD release the film has  undergone a restoration and the new version was screened at Bologna in 2014. The eleven minute extra on Disc two explaining the differences between Scope and Todd A-O is most enlightening.

Friday, 17 July 2015

Reinventing the wheel - Digging for audiences for Oz films

The first sentence in Don Groves report on the Inside Film website  sounded good
“Screen Australia has started a scoping study to figure out new approaches to building pride in Australian films.”  Then, as your taxes went to work, things may have quickly run off the rails. “The workshopping of ideas is a tacit recognition that the Australian cinema ‘brand’ was tarnished last year by a string of films that underperformed at the B.O., reflected in the lowly market share of 2.43 per cent.”  Oh dear!  “The Australian cinema ‘brand’’!” Fear the worst. It’s another dodge by the bureaucrats currently in charge, always a moveable feast, to explain why all that direct Government investment in movies almost entirely supports both critical and box office duds that almost entirely sink without trace - and have for a very long time.

Don’s report went on “Screen Australia’s communications manager Imogen Corlette is working with the agency For the People to consult with a variety of industry stakeholders on ideas to develop a more engaged market for Australian films.” What a lucky agency. Though that somewhat neo-Maoist name suggests a certain capacity for radical thinking.  On the one hand the move sort of reminds you of that regular Bristow cartoon when an impoverished caterer suddenly gets an order advising of a Board meeting in the Chester-Perry building. Joy breaks out all round. Maybe you have to know about it to get it. On the other, the agency’s website proclaims:


We're for shaking things up.
Disrupting industries, creating new markets and new companies.
We're for culture that fuels creativity and innovation. We help build trust and get teams to work harder and be happier.

We're for new models, new theories, new ways of working for this century, not the last one. Our inspiration comes more from Silicon Valley than management and design textbooks.
We’re for the potential and realisation of technology. We’re for closing the gap between technology use in your personal life vs your work life.
We’re for common-sense and brutal honesty.

Cant  argue too much with any of that. Screen Oz went on “We are looking to reframe the ways people think and talk about Australian film – shifting perceptions of success away from a simplistic focus purely on box office performance, to encompass less visible achievements, and a deeper appreciation for the many impressive achievements in a global industry,”.
Oh my goodness!
“As a first step we’re looking at how and why attitudes to Australian film tend to form and how we might be able to encourage Australians to feel as proud of our achievements in this arena as we do in so many others. This is no small – or new – task, nor one we want to do in isolation.”
Well, that’s right that it’s not a new task but I digress. “The agency plans to draw up an action plan encompassing PR, events, digital/social and other initiatives designed to “create a culture of pride and passion amongst consumers.”
.........Hey here’s a solution. How about we make some good movies!  Like Mad Max Fury Road...that’s a real good movie though it didn’t need any funding from Screen Australia. Warner Brothers and the Australian tax man covered the bills.
Bruce Hodsdon and I addressed this question first close to a decade ago and in a stunningly brilliant submission to a Government inquiry we came up with the following recommendations:
·                     there should be 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.
You can read the whole paper here .
Later Bruce addressed the question of measuring success in another paper he published which you can also find on the Film Alert website here  and more recently Deb Verhoven and two colleagues have devised another way of considering these matters. A discussion about these issues can be found here  and here .
Still your taxes are at work and the meter is ticking over towards the eventual moment of brutal honesty. Industry stakeholders (which  doesn’t include the likes of us) will be cutting and pasting their submissions as they tailor their advice to whatever way the questions are being put this time.

I’m still convinced that there is one simple step - get our best film-makers working more regularly and allow them and their producers far more latitude as to what they might make. The results will speak for themselves and the love affair with our movies might just rekindle and some serious regular money be made.

Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Hitler onscreen and I - Some thoughts following Oliver Hirschbiegel's 13 Minutes

The 1980 Melbourne Film Festival presented the Australian premiere of Hans-Jurgen Syberberg's Hitler:A Film From Germany. Made in 1977 it ran over four parts and totalled 442 minutes all up, that's just under seven and half hours. The theatre, the 800 seat National, just around the corner from the Palais, was near full when it started. Quickly the audience started to thin out as people realised that Syberberg's long, rambling, obscure poetic rendition of the tyrant's life was not quite what they expected. My old, and now departed friend and Festival Committee member, Pat Gordon explained to me at the time something I dont think had really ever struck me before. All sorts of what you might call 'normal' people are fascinated by Adolf Hitler and that's why the books and movies about him will never stop.

I think I've only come rather late again to this phenomena perhaps prodded by seeing a couple of films that I chanced upon almost by accident. And ever since Oliver Hirschbiegel's Downfall (Germany, 2004) there have been ever more reminders as well  - among the best are these - one that hit Kevin Rudd, from 2010 here   and to balance things up one from 2013 that gives Tony Abbbot a thumping here . Among the oddities is a summary of all the actors, or at least 65 of them, who have played Hitler in a movie that has been assembled by Olaf Moller in his Conference - Notes on Film 05. description here And the books continue. The latest edition of the New York Review has a piece about six new books devoted to the Nazi concentration camps, the Holocaust, the post-war trials and other issues.

At Bologna in 2014 a section was devoted to "The Cinema at war against Hitler" curated by the legendary late Peter von Bagh. The survey was small but broad and included Olaf's film as well as G W Pabst's The Last Act (Austria, 1955), basically the Downfall story, John Farrow's Hitler as gangster movie The Hitler Gang (USA, 1944)   and a genuine oddity, Frank Tuttle's The Magic Face  (USA,1951). In that film, posited as a true story, it is claimed that a lowly stage magician killed Hitler and took his place and made decisions, like the invasion of Russia, that destroyed the German war effort from within. Believe it or not...

So, I cant run through the sixty five, probably more, Hitlers on screen because I haven't seen them all by a long shot. The latest however comes with much prestige attached to it, largely because it is the second go-round the Hitler years material by Hirschbiegel, a follow up to Downfall and an attempt to shine a light on a near forgotten moment in German war history. Out of curiosity I looked up Alan Bullock's biography (published in 1952, and there would have been dozens more published based on later and greater research). and it lists Elser in the index and puts the word plot in inverted commas and covers the matter in just a couple of paras. Bullock's view of George Elser and the attempt to kill Hitler in November 1939 is that it was an event 'organised by the Gestapo as a means of raising the Fuhrer's popularity in the country’. That's not the view taken in Hirschbiegel's film.

Leftist in his politics, beset with family dysfunction and, somewhat improbably, very attractive to women, George Elser is a lone wolf who, with daring, skill and bravado, almost kills Adolf Hitler in 1939. The supposition is that it would have been a gamechanger and the war, then going gangbusters for Germany, may have petered out. But it fails and Elser spends the rest of the war explaining himself, first by being tortured, later by forced co-operation. He is kept alive because the Fuhrer believes he could have only have done what he did via conspiracy and thus wants to know the names of others. 

The film starts a way long time before this and we get a long exposition of Elser's tangled life and his involvement with another man's wife. Who knew all that I thought. But gripping in the telling, especially for all those normal people with a Hitler fascination.

13 Minutes opens on 23 July


16 July 2015

Sunday, 12 July 2015

A Rush of Zen - Chen Kaige's Monk Comes Down the Mountain

Watching Chen Kaige's new movie Monk Comes Down the Mountain just a week or so after seeing the restoration of King Hu's A Touch of Zen (Taiwan, 1971) you realise very quickly that much energy is going to be expended in pursuit of some fairly routine outcomes. The monk in question, "He Anxia", and there's a nice joke about his name I haven't recorded, cleans up the members of a mountain top monastery thinking this would advance his position and prestige only to be told that no, it means he is being exiled out of the place to learn about the world.

The world it turns out is a big city in the thirties with shiny cars and come on look babes and fat diners in restaurants. You dont get the impression that we should, unlike King Hu's film take this very seriously as a representation of historical reality. Its a fairground movie studio composite of a thirties big town. After some trick work he is taken in by a doctor who owns an elegant pharmacy who needs assistance and who has a wife who is fooling round behind his back with the doctor's very camp brother. All three come to sticky ends within a half hour or so leaving the monk in charge of the pharmacy and setting him off on a range of new adventures involving gangsters, monks, kung fu specialists, a corrupt police chief and fleetingly a girl friend. As played by Wang Baoqiang, He Anxia is the irrepressible smiling force though as the movie proceeds he starts to take second place to loner monk and fighting machine Zhou Xuyi (Aaron Kwok) who fights the final fight before the two of them retreat to the monastery (ooops, but you knew it was coming anyway.)

On the way through there are one or two well-choreographed fight sequences and several which are as boring as batshit. The sequence involving the fight on the tightrope is rather the best of them. Otherwise its mostly bloodless and notwithstanding some intimations of sexual behaviour quite sexless. Objects of desire are mostly missing.

It ends, again taking its cue from A Touch of Zen in a bombastic over-ripe depiction of Buddha's greatness and much smarmy rhetoric being spoken on the soundtrack.

The film is an international co-production of some sort. Columbia Pictures gets a credit as one of three producers. There is also a local connection to the film. The photography is directed by Geoffrey Simpson and he seems to have a specially chosen team with European names to assist him. The music is by by someone with a European name as well. Chen's reputation endures though there doesn't seem to be anything specially noteworthy in either Simpson's or the composer's efforts.
I assume its all been done according to the dictates of the day. We are indeed a long way from Yellow Earth (1984) and King of the Children (1987), and even from Farewell my Concubine (1993). The excellent English subtitles are by Linda Jaivin. I'm not sure whether Oz audiences were offered the the 3-D version that went out in China. It's 2-D only at Event in George St.

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Monk Comes Down the Mountain - Chen Kaige's new movie slips through town.

Monk Comes Down the Mountain - Chinese poster
I dont know whether anybody in the Fairfax of Murdoch press or indeed anywhere else has mentioned that Chen Kaige's new movie opened here on 3 July simultaneously with its opening throughout China. The film topped the Chinese box office chart last week but didn't make the top twenty here, which means it took less than the film at number 20, Walking the Camino, which grossed $67,000. So, not many have tracked it down in these parts. This would seem to be confirmed by the fact that for its second and no doubt last week at Event Cinemas on George St the film is playing once a day only at 10.00 am. Actually that's a good time to see a movie if your life or your weekends permit such diurnal activity.

Chen emerged in the mid-80s, one of the first band of graduates from the national film school after it reopened for business following Mao's Cultural Revolution. For a while that group of film-makers did in fact bring forth their own cultural revolution and way back in the late eighties Andrew Pike at Ronin Films brought in quite a bundle of them for a most exciting season that went round Australia, all the way to Bruce Simpson's Classic Cinema in Stanley Street East Brisbane. Bruce even arranged for the Queensland Govenment of all people to bring out Tian Zhuanzhuang to introduce his legendary and banned for awhile Horse Thief (1986). The 35mm copies of some of the most important Chinese films ever made are now lodged with the NFSA in Canberra. Chen had three films among the bundle - Yellow Earth (1984), The Big Parade (1986)  and King of the Children (1987). They were all in their ways small masterpieces and bespoke a director unafraid of taking on the shibboleths of Chinese society in its early post-Mao period. Much of Chen's early life and career were chronicled when the script of King of the Children was published in English accompanied by a long and illuminating essay by critic Tony Rayns.

I dont want to be too dogmatic but I think Chen's career peaked early, when he won the Cannes Palme D'Or and got an Oscar nomination for his Farewell My Concubine (1993). He slowly slipped from high regard, a career arc that ended near rock bottom with an attempted so called erotic thriller made in English, Killing Me Softly (2002). Since then its been a struggle and certainly after retreating back to China there's been no attempt by him to pick up the early strands and take any sort of oppositional position.

But curiosity compels you to see anything he produces so, in its dying days, a trip to Monk Comes Down the Mountain,described as "a Chinese comedy-fantasy-adventure" has to be organised asap.