The 44th Sydney
6 - 20 June 1997
These reviews are
copyright. You must not use any part of them without
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The Dendy Awards for Australian short films - Friday 6 June 1997
I only managed to see the two fiction categories in the Dendy Awards
year, but I arrived to hear a deafening round of applause for the
film The Christmas Cake, directed by Katey and David Grusovin.
audience loved it, and it later received a Dendy award. Here are my
of the films I saw:
Fiction under 15m
This short film started poorly, with lots of complex analysis in
terms about what women are and what they do - from a boy's viewpoint.
the film moved on to a more interesting, and, ultimately horrifying
It gradually painted a picture of a stalker - a psychopath. This film
up on you, and you slowly realise that it does have substance
go with its somewhat pretentious ideas.
Down Rusty Down
A very professional production - funny, and beautifully shot by Dion
A clever allegory using the world of dogs. Excellent concept &
This gets my vote for the category.
A poor effort technically and a hackneyed idea. A girl gets "laid"
by a carpetlayer on a hot night, staying late at the office. Made by a
of a friend of mine from Victorian Film School. Tanya Lacy as the girl,
Natalie, was pretty ordinary. Highlight: John Brumpton's (the
Fiction over 15m
Cabbie of the Year
I'd seen this film before on ABC TV. It is clumsy and hackneyed in
ways, and it has script and structural problems. But it has a good
and a good cast, and above all it is VERY FUNNY. So I'd say the
(Scottie Connolly) and director (Mick Connolly) are ones to watch in
This film stood out as fresh, young and visually inventive. There's
great, anchoring central performance by the main female character. The
is an old one but shown from a new viewpoint. The mainly young cast was
excellent. The film, made in black-and-white looked great - it had a
edgy feel. Skud gets my vote for this category.
Another very professional effort, set in an intriguing world - the
of mods in the 90s. But the plot, although intriguing, was ultimately
complex for a 35 minute film, and it lost me. The standout performance
Teo Gebert, whom I've seen in several Ensemble Theatre productions -
Blackrock. He has great magnetism, both on stage and on film.
team to watch, though.
The Film Festival
Fri 6 June - Opening night film
Doing Time for Patsy Cline
What a disappointment! A great cast - Miranda Otto and Richard Roxbugh
a couple!) and newcomer Matt Day as the ingenue country boy with a need
to make country & western music. But this was a confused jumble of
film - more an excuse for a series of jokes (admittedly very funny,
of them) than a film. The story was unnecessarily complicated by its
and although the characters were very good - partly due to the high
actors - the characters did not carry the day. I had wanted to like
film, but just couldn't. It irritated me in so many ways. For example,
was a big set piece, with scores of line dancers, which was (oddly)
in the rain, with the dancers all sqeezed under a huge railway shelter.
But the main characters talking a few metres away are in the sunshine
a car! Whwn you see things like that, you have to worry about the
attention to detail - unless... could this have been a very lame joke
carwashing? I don't think so. It just didn't make sense, like a lot of
Some of the funniest scenes were with Matt Day's character's mum &
in the country. I wanted to see more of them, and yet they were
in the film. Instead, we spent far too much time in the excessively
Nashville with unattractive characters playing cartoon caricatures of
time music biz people. Later we realize why this is so, but it doesn't
It's not clever, it's just irritating.
Sat 7 June
The Indian film was very mysterious and beautiful, but it did not make
feel very spiritual, or put me in tune with the soul (Atman). Instead I
got impatient with Jamal Lal (the crippled hero) always proclaiming his
soul to be pure, and assuming he was close to Nirvana in his next life.
Still, I cried when he finally said he was happy and you could see the
in his eyes. But the film has not changed my reluctance to visit India,
especially if you'd see more of those yogis stretching their penises on
a rolling pin! I loved the dancer and the song, though. Those feminine
and quizzical looks in a male body were bewitching.
40,000 Years of Dreaming (see also separate entry on George
Q & A).
At first I thought 2 things:
(1) this seems a very clichéd analysis, relying as it does on
very banal categories of Australian films - categories that have been
mined, many times before this, and
(2) what about women?
I still think it is a very limited universe George Miller sees, but he did
explain in the Q&A which followed the film, that he had selected
which had had an effect on our culture. For example, he discussed the
'Jedda' which, although not popular at the time, did end up on a
stamp! This is an elegant conceit, but does it result in a rigorous
analysis? Imagine what the film would have been like if someone like,
Robert Hughes had brought his broader universe to the analysis. Or - as
someone next to me asked after the Howard Hawks documentary - what if
had done it?
I pointed out to her that the other films in this BFI series had all
very personal views - Martin Scorsese on American films, Sam Neill on
Zealand films, and 2 English filmmakers on British films to name a few
come to mind. All were personal and idiosyncratic, but some were better
overviews than others. Scorsese, for example, led a fabulous romp
American film history - and very comprehensively. I think that George
view is more like the British film analysis, in that it is so personal
can't really be considered a 'history' - it is more selective than
Still, it was interesting, on the whole - but not particularly deep.
man's view, and probably not the most representative one. Why the
obsession with Sons of Matthew, for example? Could the answer
in the fact that he's a Queenslander?
George Miller's Q&A
This is a verion of the Q & A, which I recreated from my notes. It
not always verbatim, it is often condensed, but it shows the thrust of
Q How do you account for all the early urban melodramas which don't fit
into your thesis?
A I don't know how they fit in, but I thinks that someone could do a
Q My mum was in Raymond Longford's The Pioneers. Women in those
could do anything. You didn't show that.
A Yes it was a tremendous movie. I'm sorry we didn't put more in.
Q Cinema died after WW1, and you mentioned American films coming in,
also lack of government funding. Are we in the same place now?
A No we aren't. Then there was no government funding and we were
onto Mother England's skirts and looking to the US to save us. It is
the same now, except if current funding cuts continue.
Q (director Bill Bennett) You showed a lot of violent films with
endings. Could we make the same movies today?
A A lot of powerful movies were made like that in the 60s & 70s.
were powerful, but they don't sell.
Q Joseph Campbell's theory. How is this a basis for real life dramas?
A Campbell was a great scholar who distilled common themes and
the purpose of mythology. You find it everywhere, in pop songs, etc,
it is more distilled in fantasy films. It is in all our lives, if you
about it. The reason we go to the cinema is that it is simply clearer
a strong symbol amongst the noise.
Q Could you extend this film into 3 TV hours?
A I'd love to, but it just took so much out of me. I'd prefer not to
it. It is too traumatic. But I was privileged to be able to take part
this exercise. And there would easily be 3 hours of material.
culture is intrinsically potent in its longevity.
Q I saw Wake in Fright at university as a student teacher,
thinking we had to go and teach wherever the government sent us! But
film, and so many others from the 20th century onwards, reinforced the
male view. Why is the storytelling alien from our own lives?
A I don't think we have any choice. When you look across 100 years of
we don't have a choice. Raymond Longford was obsessed. Peter Weir told
Gallipoli story because he was compelled by the story. It was not seem
way before. People tell stories that interest them, the strongest
I have no ideas what my films are going to say about this society. It
10 years before I can look back at them at that distance.
Q I saw The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith with blacks. Aboriginal
don't see their dreaming as fairy stories, what if you show this film
an aboriginal audience?
A Joseph Campbell said myths are other people's religions. There is no
that these are fairy stories. I use mythology as an overarching word to
encompass religion and that is a subset of mythologies. I'd like to
them this film, which was finished before Hanson, the fiasco of Wik,
and it seemed to anticipate all that.
Q Where do you see Babe fitting into all this? An Australian film with
A I am a cultural worker. I work in the world hyperculture. All my
work outside the current day-to-day - except Lorenzo's Oil. The
is our 'parish pump'. Babe works in the hyperculture.
Q When are we going to see a thorough retrospective of Australian film
the big screen?
A (Paul Byrnes, Festival Director) If we had a national cinematheque.
did a retrospective a few years ago on under-appreciated Australian
If the cinematheque happens it may happen. If not, we'll have to think
Q There was nothing about trade unions, workers' struggles, Vietnam, no
films like Angel Street, nothing on the green bans, no one
films about Bougainville. Did you use anything from the non-mainstream
A It's a good question. What we basically did is use things that
impinged on the culture. Film somehow has to impinge on the culture. So
I chose films which impinged on the culture. For example, even though Jedda
wasn't a hit, years later it turned up on a stamp. The trade union
didn't. You can't control it. Storytelling is a force of nature. You
conduct it by the intellect alone.
Q Why did you make the film & what will it be used for?
A I was asked, and it was an incredible responsibility. It was part of
series by the British Film Institute (BFI). It was finished before the
crop of films that I'd have liked to include. Recently there have been
on madness and psychosis. There are decent films like Cosi, Angel
Baby & Shine.
This film pushed all the female buttons: romance & loneliness,
awakening, insecurity with your looks and social position, sexual
the female body & birth. It left me totally destroyed emotionally
quite satisfied visually, but I did not learn anything new. However, I
detect a metaphor for the 'coming out' of East Germany there!
Sunday 8th June
Howard Hawks American Artist
An interesting & informative doco, with some good inteviews
Angie Dickenson. She showed great insight, telling us that Hawks always
used the same woman over and over again, even to the extent of reusing
same lines! She also told a moving story of how she'd always wanted to
with Hawks again, but never had. Years after Rio Bravo she was
a stage play and Hawks came backstage. She got up the courage to tell
how much she wanted to work with him again, and aall he said in reply
that he liked her hair better dark).
Yet apart from that, and some detailds of Hawks' early life, I don't
I learned much from this film. Except perhaps that Hawks was very
efficient and economical in everything he did. But the family side of
was totally omitted and the film basically recycled the stories about
stereotypical huntin' fishin' & women man we have already heard
Still, the whole film was worth seeing just to hear Peter Bogdanovich
us about the genesis of Scarface: Hawks had said to Ben Hecht
he wanted to do a gangster picture. Hecht was reluctant. He said he
it had all been done before and he didn't want to be invloved until
said "I want to bring the Borgias to Chicago." Hecht said: "Ill
A Girl in Every Port
A charming and well balanced film with a handsome Victor
(he almost looks like Gary Cooper at times!). And Robert Armstrong, as
friend, is charming too. Louise Brooks is gorgeous in her high diving
(she plays Madam Godiva - if only we could see her naked!). We do see
nipples. Max Lambert's new score, and his playing were wonderful and
a lot to the film - he avoided what must be a mighty temptation to the
and produced some fresh and delightful music.
Ian McPherson Lecture
by Ian David
The Nature of Secrets
These are my notes of the lecture. They are not a verbatim record. They
are condensed, but they show the thrust of the lecture and the
Writers tell stories. People are apprehensive of writers, but they
no one but dictators and (? - I missed it!). Their relationship with
audience is increasingly important. He sees himself as part of the
industry. All drama is based in reality. I don't like the term
The film Kissed was adapted by a Canadian writer, Barbara
Nothing comes from nothing. This came froma newspaper article.
What I do may not be fiction, but it is drama. Stories must
to the emotions. Docos do this too. Doco makers do it tough. It is
to be too good to win prizes. Docos are too difficult to write:
best ones are made and unfold out in the field. It is important to let
facts get in the way of a good story. That's what gives it the power.
of the people I write about are still alive and I don't want to
them. And most people already know the endings. It is how you get there
that counts. Irony - apart from structure - is the main creative input
have. Australians have a natural talent for irony. It is a way to make
while sticking to the facts. Irony is everywhere. Convenience &
are for Telstra with their phonecards. It is for Telstra, not us.
Policing is completely ironic. Most crimes aren't solved, but if a
house is burgled he can solve it & get the goods back in 3
What really baffles police are crimes that are not committed by
The police culture is built on the male clan principle. Loyalty to
is paramount. My favourite film is the Polish film Funeral Ceremony.
Everything that was said about the dead man through the whole film was
lie. Your perceptions had been completely seduced. The script had been
so much that all they could see was a reflection of themselves. (The
had prevented the film from being made for 6 years).
My home was broken into after my phone was tapped and I know who did
All my research & drafts & computer & backups were taken.
years' work gone.
I admire the relationship that the French have with their writers.
Thalberg said the most important people in Hollywood are the writers -
must never give them any power! One person cannot claim the credit for
film - not even the writer. Surely the 'a film by' credit smacks of
The Copyright Amendments Bill is being introduced soon. Only writers
assert moral rights. Directors and producers, but not writers, can
rights. Writers only have moral rights in the script, and that's not
Q (Bob Ellis, writer): How do you overcome the fear of the death of
or your children as a result of what you are doing?
A I don't think about it. Perhaps I should. The forces that are after
know where you are at any given time. And they can do anything to you.
was more worried I'd end up dead in a bed in Edgecliff with someone I
Q (Paul Byrnes, Festival Director) What precautions you take with your
A The ABC takes tremendous precautions. They lock everything away and
everything checked by lawyers, and they have meetings to keep lots of
up to speed. One time the ABC told me to take a holiday. I may not have
been here today if I hadn't.
Q What can we do about the malaise in our industry that no one goes to
trials and people make personal films and don't do research?
A Part of the problem is the dividing line between fiction and
People are afraid of the laws, but I haven't been sued for defamation
I always say to people "you can take anything out you want", and
people don't. Not even Neddy Smith. The tradition goes back to Dickens.
Go out & observe and run the story thru your own sensiblities. A
story is a good story, if you are fair to your sources and true.
Q What about censorship?
A That is one of those things that bobs up again & again &
seems to go away. In the US, producers are brazen about exploitation
Writers & filmmakers have a responsibilty to their audience. If
take it seriously, it shouldn't be an issue. If someone shoots someone
real life], we need a quick and easy answer. OK, the gun was available,
but there must have been a motive. Well it is dark and evil - so it
be caused by dark and evil videos.
Q (Chris Murphy, criminal lawyer) Don't you think that you are being
There are many factual inaccuracies in what you say. I admire you as a
but I think you may not have interviewed people properly or at least
didn't get evidence given on oath. I think your imagination & zeal
have got in the way of the truth.
A If I've made mistakes I'm sorry but I did my job well. It is
what I said about the CIA man in Cuba. [This related to a long story
David told about a man who later revealed he was a CIA agent who told
many strange and funny stories about incompetent actions by the CIA,
in its attempts to assassinate Castro. ]
Q What about authorship?
A I can't see why sharing the credit and collaboration is a dirty word.
I enjoy it. Why should there be only one author of a film? The director
takes the writer's elements and changes them and that's OK.
Q I was sued by Russ Hinze, and we won. On copyright, is there a chance
to get support through the Senate, or the UN? I think it is absurd that
we [writers] don't have [film] authorship. Couldn't we lobby?
A If this goes through we are a laughingstock. Nowhere else does this
Q The question and immediacy of legal problems. Is the format you work
prone to falling into the problem of people denying the conversation?
A I do as much reasearch as I can, and postpone making a decision until
the last moment. I go back to my research if I find a gap, and go over
all again. I find my way back to where I began to go wrong. I use a
& crossreference and check all the time. I always have two
relaible witnesses before I write a scene.
Q I am a visual artist. Moral rights for visual artists are just coming
through. Could we have a faxing campaign to Canberra?
A Darryl Williams is the Attorney-General and the one to write to.
Q Is there a difference between corruption in Qld & NSW?
A In NSW it is more ruthless. But in Qld there was a lot of licensing,
you needed to get someone to smooth the way for you. Police filled this
gap. Police got their 10 or 20 percent. But in NSW they actually got
the crime and ran the criminals - gave them permission to commit
Certain criminals wore police uniforms. It is more than the 10 percent.
It is organised crime. The Mafia could never get a stronghold in Sydney
because the cops got there first.
Q What about reality-based problems in the home, eg sadistic incest, or
children not getting enough nutrition? I try to write fiction about it
people cringe. What would you recommend?
A I wouldn't. That sort of drama doesn't work well. We don't have a Ken
Loach tradition. The subject has to be right. The kind of issues you
talikng about are better in doco. How could you do the subject better
Jenny Brockie in the documentary she did in the courts?
Q How were writers maneuvered out of the debate on moral rights?
A We dropped our guard and thought it was a lay-down-misère. We
see the practical arguments coming. That writers would interfere with
& production - this is a lie! Moral rights don't kick in until the
is complete. Writers support directors getting moral rights; we think
is strange that producers get them because writers want moral rights to
protect them against producers. But we didn't object. And you can deal
all those problems in a contract beforehand.
Q What happened at the Flannery inquest?
A I gave evidence. I was told by a number of people that Flannery met
end that way. My evidence was suppressed on the day. [Because it came
the suppressed documentary Blue Murder, which cannot be seen in
until the related criminal cases are resolved.] But the research was
Sun 8th June - Special Dance Evening
Suzanne Farrell - Elusive Muse
This was a strange doco in that the film and sound quality was often
and it did not always seem explicable by the age of the archival
But there were moments of simple honesty in the interviews with the
precise and in many ways naive genius that Farrell is. And her mother
quite a highlight. But for me, the show was stolen by the delightful
d'Amboise: he of the Bronx accent and the impish smile. Someone should
a doco about him instantly! He described the final ballet he apppeared
with the NYC Ballet, and how Balanchine had choreographed it to
an older man chasing after a young spirit. D'Amboise was retiring with
ballet, and he described the moment when he lifted Suzanne Farrell off
the wings in the final scene, literally walking off into his into
Miraculously they had footage of that scene, which they then showed.
effect was immensely moving: I cried, and there was an audible intake
breath from the awed audience. A great cinematic moment!
Mon 9th June
This film is one by a brainy Israeli with a wacky theory to explain
or some other problem. It was loud, inexplicable and if I saw any more
I'd have to scream. The girl next to me said she thought it was
but I'm afraid I just didn't get it. The only thing I liked were the
(director Eisenberg called them 'cinematic quotes') from Rosselini's Germany
Year Zero. I'd much rather have seen that.
...only Angels have wings
This is the correct version of the title. Where is the quote from? A
film, with its themes of Professionalism, and 'He just wasn't good
You are sucked into a special universe in the first 5 minutes of the
and before long you are completely attached to all the characters. You
you accept the absurd risks the characters take in their daily work,
as the characters themselves do. Why? How does Hawks draw you in so
and so far? Is it the luminous Jean Peters (' A Professional' says
Cary Grant when she plays the show stopping song for 'Joe'. Or is it
ensemble playing, with Thomas Mitchell and Richard Barthelmess so
and so deep. Whatever, it is a masterpiece, as Adrian Wootten said when
introducing it. Unfortunately, the inappropriate laughers were there in
the audience again, laughing when the condors are blown up by
(and now that I write it, it does sound kinda funny). But even that
not spoil a wonderful film. 'That's entertainment', a woman said when
were leaving. Sure is!
Tuesday 10th June
Six O'Clock News
I had vaguely remembered the name of the director and his previous SFF
'Time Indefinite', but as soon as his soft-voiced, gently sardonic
started I remembered him. And when his old teacher Charlene surfaced, I
remembered the filmmaker Ross McElwee, and how he had dealt with the
fire and death of Charlene's husband last time, and how indomitable and
articulate she was. Now to see her again was like meeting up with an
friend. This doco was funny and clever and rambling and inconclusive,
strangely at the same time serious, profound and well-structured. It
me think quite deeply about meaningless violence and the news and are
getting worse or are we just seeing more of it? He ventured into the
area of "maybe it's just because we have a kid now, but isn't the world
much more violent?", without getting me as mad as I usually get. No...
I'm lying. When he raised the possiblity of not having kids
the world is too violent, I did get mad at his presumption. You know he
would not make that choice, no matter what he says.
A gentle, lovely looking and sweetly romantic film that trod dangerous
in suggesting an affair with a slow-witted man who maybe can't handle
At one stage the slow man, Carey, asks: "Will you hurt me?" and
his lover Anna replies: "Inevitably". What a heartbreaking exchange!
The dialogue struck me as not at all naturalistic - spare and sparse
straight to the heart. The director revealed at the Q&A that she
cut 30 pages of dialogue (after she had shot them!) and that was
why the dialogue was so sparse. This is even more amazing when you
that the shoot took 19 days and the budget was $350,000 cash &
Lines from the Heart
A fascinating idea on paper turns boring and uninsightful in the
but ravishingly shot, and is was interesting to look at these
women as they are today. But insights? Very few, except when one of the
women - think it was Gunner - confessed that she had not thought it
to 'have it all' and you could see the undisguised jealousy and
in Bibi that one of them had managed it -without years of therapy. And
I think Bibi may have looked down on Gunner because she was overweight
older . That was just my impression, and I wanted to know more about
sorts of tensions, which all seemed to be bubbling below the surface.
there were very few of those insights in this disappointing film.
As brilliant as ever, but oh the inappropriate laughter! These people
tell the difference between comedy & tragedy! I had to shoosh some
who were talking through the scene with Cesca at the window- the scene
by Walter Hill in the Hawks doco to be one of the most ravishing
in cinema! Grrrr
Speaking of Grrr...This film was very funny in parts, and Troy
made to be in pictures - he's a very strange man who talks a
miles an hour and looks a bit like Kurt Russell. But the film did drag
bit. There were some priceless moments though. Thank God for Canada! It
not only funds films like this, but it quite probably funded Project
Wed 11th June
East Side Story
A funny and well compiled doco, with a voiceover (by its German
which is so deadpan you suspect it is camp. A well-structured film, but
perhaps a little more humour (which its co-director, the funny Andrew
could easily have supplied) wouldn't have gone astray. And it might
been nice to see some comparison with western musicals - only My
Lady rated a mention - and then only to mention its takings. I'm
I saw communist versions of Jaques Tati (the singing postman), Busby
on his crane, and Billy de Woolf, as well as Doris Day, Frankie Avalon
more. Great fun, and a side of film history we hav seen little of.
A vast, sprawling, intriguing, challenging, and at times hard-to-follow
film that dealt brilliantly in fictional form with some of the more
issues of war. I think you could gain a lot from seeing it again, but
on a first viewing you could wallow in the beauty of the
The film looks wonderful, and its star is wonderful too. He is Philippe
Torreton, from the Comedie Française - which makes me very much
missing the Frederick Wise documentary, La Comedie Française.
Stella Does Tricks
A gritty film masquerading as a gritty film! At first I thought this
film was descending into a cliché about young romance saving two
lives - until I realised the ending was going to be much darker, which
me up immensely! Stella will repeat her dependency on no-good men and
only escape is (as in Yothu Yindi's moving version of ACDC's Jailbreak)
in death. How sad to see three 'generations' of abusive men in this one
girl's short life. So for me, perversely, the dark ending saved the
And yet it did seem just to miss saying something - I'm not sure what -
about this doomed generation. Whatever that something is, the short
Skud (see Dendy Awards above) got closer to it.
Wenesday 11 June cont
Special women's film night
Bastard out of Carolina
Anjelica Huston's first film is very much a first effort, but a very
first effort. She shows promise - if not as much promise as her father
his famous debut, then certainly the courage to choose a huge story and
then the ability to compromise by cutting. Apparently she had to fight
the way on this one, and I believe she originally had a 4-hour plus
but managed to cut it back to under 2 hours. There are problems with
cutting: the story is very detailed and so we get more events than we
need, when the characters are really what drives the story. But she
some great performances - especially fron the little girl Bone (Jenna
and Glen (Ron Eldard), the 3rd father (child molestter and abuser).
are also some performances that are real dogs - Lyle Lovett and Grace
are straight out of Li'l Abner. Still, the film was moving, and
with an extremely difficult subject very well, not stinting on the
and not dwelling on it either. And the moment when the brothers beat up
Glen is one of the most horrifying I can think of in cinema, because
are complicit in it. Do you applaud this violence, or shrink from it? I
One last word. Jennifer Jason Leigh is not bad as the mother, even
she still insists on acting primarily with her jaws and teeth. Still,
evoked some real emotion from one woman in my audience, who called out
her" when her character Anney came back to persuade her daughter to
Thursday 12th June
Kiss or Kill
I think this Bill Bennett film is the best Australian feature film of
festival. It is a taut and stylish thriller that keeps you guessing
to the end. It is visually fascinating and it is technically inventive
well. It is also very funny in parts. The South Australian landscape
both beautiful and menacing. The 2 stars, Frances O'Connor and Matt
do well with good material, but you can't help wondering how great the
might have been if there had been stars who were anywhere near as good
Chris Haywood and Andrew S Gilbert were in support. A well crafted and
film that should do well on release. Q & A session notes follow.
Bill Bennett's Q & A
Again, this is a version of the Q & A, which I recreated from my
It is not always verbatim, and is often condensed, but it shows the
of the discussion.
Q Can you explain something about your cutting style?
A I used it for 2, no, 3 reasons:
(a) it is emotionally appropriate
(b) we were short of money - the film was shot in 36 days
(c) I wanted to have fun, to play with cinema.
Q Chris Haywood mentioned in his introduction that there was a lot of
by the actors. Can you tell us more about it?
A There was always a clear framework, and the finished result is very
to that script. Clever actors know the characters really well, or
to the location.
This is the only film I've done without doing any homework at all.
I've worked out all my shots in advance. But here Iwas determined to
the environment guide me, and be spontaneous. The cutting style is a
of very careful planning. You have to shoot in a very particular way to
do that cutting style.
Q Was the 'bacon' scene written or improvised?
A The bacon scene is my favourite scene. It was my idea. I wrote this
in 3 weeks. After I'd finished a draft, I realised it needed something
something which said something about what the film was all about. I was
inspired by the shouting man in Paris Texas, because that's
Paris Texas is all about. I love that scene.
Q What's next?
A Jennifer [Bennett, his wife and co-producer] & I are working on
that needs more money. A big period piece. I don't like to talk about
until its definite.
Q Can you describe the specific shooting style for the cutting in "Kiss
A I looked at a lot of films to see how you do it. You shoot down a
axis and then go again slightly off that axis. Or you can use a
diferent focal length, or choreograph the action slightly differently
achieve the same result.
Q What was the budget?
A The budget was $2.6million. The editing style didn't make it any more
or less expensive. But the decision to throw out the whole soundtrack
start from scratch was a really expensive process. It was enormously
and emotionally taxing, to post-synch the whole thing, bring the actors
back, and do all the performances over again.
Q Has the film been classified?
A It is classified 'medium levels of course language'. Contractually, I
had to deliver an MA film. I didn't want to make a particularly violent
film - I struggled with that in the script. Of course the scene with
woman being burned is very shocking. It attracted a lot of interest
distributors, and that disturbed me.
Howard Hawks Retrospective - Bringing up Baby
Very funny as usual. Neil McDonald, who introduced most of the Hawks
films, asked me afterwards how the print was, and I said not bad - I
really remember what it was like, except that it was fuzzy in parts.
that's because you just plunge right into the ridiculous situations and
have no time to think about the visuals. Strange, though, but this time
round - and in the context of many of Hawks' other films - I wouldn't
it as one of Hawks' great movies. Why is that? Has it been overpraised?
Am I jaded? No, in retrospect I agree with myself! It is fun, and well
but it just doesn't interest or involve me as much as a film like Only
Angels Have Wings, which I think is my favourite of all the Hawks
The Second Vitaphone Programme
This was a real delight. We were warned by Robert Gitt of the UCLA
and Television Archive that the programme started slowly - and it did -
but I even enjoyed the overture, putting myself into the seat of one of
the first audience members and imagining their delight. George Jessel
not seem too hot an act, but you have to remember that all of his
was missing, and all we had was the sound and some stills and cartoons.
Al Jolson performing in blackface certainly got my feet tapping and my
bob-bob-bobbin' along. My friend, the film writer Keith Howes, asked me
afterwards how I felt about Al Jolson's numbers, and I had to admit
I enjoyed them innocently, again by putting myself into the position of
the audience of the time. But I did find Al's little monologue
his idea that 'Mammy songs' had dignity) somewhat puzzling, especially
from a Cantor's son. Could he really sing in blackface and think he was
being dignified, or respectful? All the more disturbing that I enjoyed
Elsie Janis was intriguing. She seemed to be loved by the 'troops' and
showed how a woman who was not stunning-looking could sell songs in
days relying only on talent, charm and personality.
The Better 'Ole
Though slow to start (and we had been warned) this was an absolute
It was hilarious, and I led the giggling at the pantomime horse. A
horse climbing over a fence sideways is indeed a sight to behold. And
two real horses looked so startled that I couldn't believe they had no
at all what was going on. This has been, for me, the fun night of the
Friday 13 June
A good doco, with 2 standout performances by Robyn Archer. Hanns Eisler
was an interesting and complex man. I had only vaguely heard of him
this. Now I know some of his songs, and the fact that he composed the
Anthem for the GDR. Wonder what has happened to it? This film was a
good treatment of a man and his music, with excellent use of
to illustrate the songs in context.
Mabo - The Life of an Island Man
A superb, moving and important documentary. I'd go so far as to say it
a film that people should see for the future of this country. The
got so close to the family that he got footage that no one else could
have gotten, and so told the untold story that we needed to hear. This
the best documentary of the festival - no contest. I was at the daytime
showing, and there was no standing ovation - although there was
in the evening. But my audience was undoubtedly moved and inspired - I
feel it. I'm only sorry I couldn't stay for the Q&A.
Movie Makers' Special Night - Fri 13 June
The Wild Bunch: An Album in Montage
A film made from fascinating footage shot of the on-location shooting
Mexico ofThe Wild Bunch. It shows the legendary director, Sam
in action. It also shows how Peckinpah shot the film, by showing the
scenes as Peckinpah shot, but from a different angle. The voice-over,
was not very effective for me, because large slabs of it have been
word-for-word from the book If they move... kill 'em, which
recently read - or, more precisely, devoured. This film had very little
new to say to me. Also, it mainly focused on the mechanics of the
and did not try to say much about the man himself, which I found
Good for Peckinpah novices, I suppose. But for the
The Arruza Years
A much more fascinating and revealing documentary, about Bud Boetticher
and his efforts to make a film about Carlos Arruza, the Mexican
Despite this, the festival audience didn't applaud the film. Given what
a good film it was, I can only assume it was because they didn't
of the bullfighting. Strangely, I found myself starting to understand
it is that the Spanish and Mexican audiences see in bullfighting. The
revealed the tremendous bravery and grace involved, and I can imagine
getting carried away in all the romance... but Bud himself went way
the top. The film itself did not, and Bud Boetticher was quite a
living his own legend and relishing it. Makes me want to see The
and the Lady, The Magnificent Matador and the other Boetticher
as soon as possible.
The Hamster Factor
This was a good documentary made with the crew tagging along behind the
scenes, during the making of Twelve Monkeys. The film's name
from Terry Gilliam's weird perfectionism, which makes him agonise over
like catching in one corner of the foreground of a shot a hamster
inside a wheel, while making Bruce Willis perform a difficult scene
and over again in the background. Gilliam opens up well and the film
are interesting, with some very revealing (and fun) scenes of Bruce
trying to direct - and that not going down too well with Gilliam. It
confirms my long-held view that Gilliam, while brilliant, cannot be
alone - he needs a supervising editor!
Saturday 14 June
This ended up as my favourite feature film of the festival. A fictional
director decides to remake a classic (real) serial from the early
era (Louis Feuillade's Les Vampires). He selects for his
lady a (real) Hong Kong action star, Maggie Cheung. Stylish,
energetic, fast paced and funny, this film also satisfies
- the journalist who loves Jackie Chan & John Woo is hilarious on
is Killing French Cinema', and the final film is pictorially brilliant.
The character of the director is a standout, a brilliantly acted
manic depressive. And the wardrobe director and her dinner party guests
are wonderfully bitchy, which is - so I'm told - uncannily accurate.
and fun - a perfect combination.
My Darling Clementine
It was lovely to see this film again on the big screen, and the 'lost',
footage was interesting, but puzzling, since the explanations as to why
cuts and changes were needed did not seem to gel with what was actually
done. My friend, film writer Keith Howes, has a much more interesting
for the changes, involving the role of Doc Holliday and his
relationship with Wyatt Earp in the first cut. Could the studio have
concerned that the pair were coming across as gay? Where did Doc
go on his long trips "South of the Border"? What does he do there?
What do we make of the scene in the theatre when Earp tells Holliday
he cut himself shaving and Holliday examines the scar? This provided us
with much food for thought, but these issues probably won't be obvious
the average film-goer, who may well be puzzled about the cuts for a
reason. They may well think: "Why all the fuss over a few minutes of
ordinary scenes?" The significance of the cuts is nowhere near as
as in the other restoration shown at the festival, The Big Sleep.
Still, this was another session thoughtfully and professionally
by Robert Gitt of UCLA Film and TV archive. His work is to be treasured.
A postscript: I recently saw The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
on video. It is nowhere near as good a film as My Darling Clementine.
It is simpler, more sentimental, and less epic than Clementine,
far less interesting visually. Clementine is also much fresher
course, being made much earlier), and far less glib.
Sunday 15 June
Howard Hawks Retrospective - Red River
What a classic this is! And a damned good flick too. Mutiny on
Bounty on the hoof. A wonderful ensemble cast backs up strong
from John Wayne and Montgomery Clift, the latter at close to his best,
think. And then, as a bonus, the cute scene between Clift and John
(so recently featured in The Celluloid Closet). Had Hawks been
Sergei Eisenstein films before he shot the famous "Take 'em to
Matt" scene? The montage of faces there sure looks like Eisenstein.
We learned from Neil McDonald, who introduced the film, that there was
Australian connection to Red River: Hawks had recently seen The
Overlanders, and was impressed by the cattle driving scenes. He
(I think I've got this right) the cinematographer from The
Osmond Borradaile, as his second unit director for the fabulous cattle
in Red River.
Maverick on a Mobile
This film was deceptive. We follow the politician Graeme Campbell
during the concluding days of the last Federal election. He talks to
and to us, and we listen. His campaign gets completely derailed by a
in a supporter's letter, and we watch how the media proceed to ignore
else and pressure him about his views on that phrase, deeply offensive
some Aboriginal people as it is. Before we know it, we have got very
to a politican and his campaign, we have some real appreciation of
involved, and we get a few insights as well. This is a man I was
to hate, and instead I found myelf seduced by his considerable charm,
impressed by the way he conducts himself. He appeared for the Q &
which mainly consisted of people who opposed his views on immigration
self-serving (and often unintelligible) speeches. So it wasn't worth
notes, but it was worth watching a professional in action. A very good
doco. Graham Chase, the filmmaker, was there in person too to receive
share of audience abuse for not taking sides, it seems.
Special night -The Big Sleep We Never Saw
Howard Hawks Retrospective
This was a real treat. We get to see a version of The Big Sleep
we've not seen before, and then we get to wallow in the differences
the two versions - one from 1945 and one from 1946. The 1945 version
not seen before was certainly easier to follow plot-wise than the 1946
But that's hardly the point of the film, is it? Even in the "more
version, I still left the theatre going "yeah, but if X killed Y, who
killed Z?". Again, we were lucky to have Robert Gitt introducing the
screening, and explaining the changes, and reading some of the
involved. Letters from Darryl F Zanuck were most elegant and
It's not a great film, but it sure is fun to watch! That's what true
can do for a film.
Monday 16 June
What a disappointment this film was! I was really looking forward
it, because I've done some study of the House UnAmerican Committe and
and "premature anti-Fascism" in films, and I wanted to learn more.
But this film is on video, and or some reason it was almost impossible
see. Had they used appalling quality videos of the films they were
and then dubbed them? Was it a technical problem with the tape supplied
to the Festival? Who knows? Whatever the reason, watching this doco
me eye-strain and a terrible headache.
What added to my pain was the extraordinary voiceover commentary.
had clearly got hold of an old Communist Party phrasebook and cobbled
a script consisting mainly of 1950 Commie jargon! It was ludicrous!
from the cant, there wasn't much said about the 'red' films and their
and directors that I didn't already know. The analysis was very
and some of the clips chosen were shown in the wrong contexts, and
were quite misleading about the films in full. There was a much more
doco to be made on this topic, and this film isn't it.
It's Now or Never
A strange little film, part naturalistic and part very artificial. The
director, John Bang Carlson, calls his method "self-directed
He has an idea, and then uses non-actors from the area in which he's
to play the characters (themselves, usually) in the fictional film he
making. But the film is very much based in reality. My favourite
was "Rowd" the horrible little rat-catching dog who had to listen
patiently to all the rubbish talked by his master, Jimmy. There are
beautiful and moving moments, the film looks lovely, and it certainly
a haunting quality appropriate to its subject-matter of loneliness. But
at times it drags, and the music, though well chosen, was used
to the point of nausea. I think the director needs some firm editorial
Howard Hawks Retrospective - His Girl Friday
It was good to see this film again, with an audience. To be part of
a large audience laughing heartily is one of life's joys.
The film moves so fast, and the dialogue is so rapid-fire, that no
how often you see this film you pick up some line you'd never heard
or some bits of business you'd missed. Rosalind Russell is one of the
of the world, and Cary Grant is anything but charming, but you love him
anyway. This time round I enjoyed Ralph Bellamy's bewildered suitor
than I remembered. His gentle, generous performance nicely
the more manic style of the two brillliant stars.
Tueday 17 June
Some Nudity Required
Another film that creeps up on you. It starts out as one thing and
up as another. At first we think we are hearing a story about a musical
prodigy whose promising career was derailed by the porn industry: in
words our director, Odette Springer could have been a contender. But
a while we find that there is a darker story to be told, and that
story is compelling, and well told. There's pain and degradation here,
there is humour and optimism too. In the end, the film is moving and
You Always Hurt...
David Flatman, the director, is a very wise man. He was present at
festival, and his comments and the answers to audience questions
the depth of his experience as a filmmaker. The film immediately
us with its subjects, so that we care very deeply about them, and
questions centered around "What's happening to them now", just
as they did at last year's festival, when we saw Hoop Dreams.
just don't want the documentary to end, because these people's lives
important, and we want to know that these men have progressed in
their attempts to conquer their anger. Flatman told us that one of the
Mark and Nurcan, are now making their own film about their progress.
I don't think they'll have the experience to tell their own story
near as well as Flatman has told it. A superb documentary.
Howard Hawks Retrospective - The Thing from Another World
Christian Nyby is the credited director, but experts tell us that
was the de facto director because of his close involvement. In many
it is a slight film - it really was only a B film, very low budget. But
it transcends that label, partly because of the magnificent way it
the unities of time and place, and partly because of the masterful way
the suspense is built and maintained.
The 'Thing' itself (played by James Arness - brother of Peter Graves,
the way) is not very scary to those of us used to Alien and Predator
and Robocop and Jurassic Park. But we are
we see it, so to see it is, in a way, a relief.
The journalist's final speech caused some mirth in the audience. Why do
people expect a little B film from 1951 to accord with the cynical
of the late 1990s?
The conflict between the scientists and the military is particularly
the scientists want to communicate with the alien and the military want
to kill it. The military are right of course. When will people realise
when aliens invade earth they will be evil. This is something that Tim
knows: Mars Attacks, it doesn't visit!
Wednesday 18 June
Fatal Reaction: Singapore
What an interesting documentary! At the start, we are told that 40
of university-educated Singaporean women will not find a match and will
stay single. We are prepared for something light hearted, perhaps, or
least light handed in its treatment. What we get are some interesting
into the educated, youngish middle-class middle-management of
We see any number of bright, attractive, articulate and assertive women
(and almost exclusively Chinese women) coming up against the
attitudes and mores of the Chinese men who ahould be their matches. And
from time to time we see Lee Kwan Yew commenting in the background,
concerned, and faced with the unexpected consequences of his grand
plan to educate women, backpedalling madly. Another outstanding doco,
another doco that is not what it seems.
The director, Marijke Jongbloed, was there at the screening, and took
good questions, to which she gave thoughtful and intelligent replies.
seen her in real life, I'm all the sorrier that I did not get to see
companion-piece doco Fatal Reaction: New York, which is one of
Fatal Reaction: docos set in diferent cities.
Licensed to Kill
This is a thoughtful and intelligent documentary on a very emotional
It would be easy to sensationalise, to demonise, to preach, and yet the
director, Arthur Dong, does none of these things. Instead, he
questions these men who have done horrendous things to gay men, and
each of them as individuals, with different backgrounds and complex
There are no easy solutions, and no glib slogans. There is only a
of anger, hate and evil, ignorance, confusion and vulnerability,
pity and understanding - and all of this on both sides of the coin. A
much more interested in understanding than blame, and so a film that
us a little closer to the truth.
Special Night of Irish Cinema - The Van
Though it has some lovely performances, especially from Donal
as the beautifully-named 'Bimbo,' this film slid from promise into
Have we seen so much from Roddy Doyle and Stephen Frears that we now
what is coming before it arrives? I hope not. Maybe this film is just
aberration. Still, there was a lot of fun along the way, but not too
in the way of revelatory moments. We do expect more of Irish films,
I didn't see the second half of the Irish night of films (I'm told it
much better than The Van), because I had to rush off to the
Centre to see...
Howard Hawks Retrospective - Big Sky
This film seems to me the weakest of the films in the Hawks
and yet for me it is among the most fascinating, because it is one of
few I hadn't seen. The film looks beautiful, shot mostly on location
against a big country and a bigger sky. The action sequences are quite
The story is fresh - we haven't seen much of this part of frontier
as far as I know. Kirk Douglas is very good, and Dewey Martin -while he
looks great - can't hope to match Kirk, and this weakens their
which is a pity. There is not enough conflict between the two men, too
not enough romance or rivalry. This also weakens the film. But the
cast is excellent - they are a real multicultural motley crew.
A few other random thoughts:
- The initial meeting of Douglas and Martin reminded me of the meeting
Pip and the belligerent Herbert Pocket in Great Expectations.
- The line "Things are going good: too good" turns up - a familiar
line from other Hawks films like only Angels Have Wings.
- Kirk and Dewey as Marilyn Monroe & Jane Russell?
- The gag about Kirk's knuckle going out-of-joint has been repeated
A Girl in Every Port, as has the idea of pouring whisky on a
- Keith Howes has pointed out that this is the first film in which an
girl loves a white man, and doesn't die!
Thursday 19 June
Fatal Reaction: New York
I had a near fatal reaction when I saw the length of the line to get
this film. Disappointingly, I didn't get in to see it.
Howard Hawks Retrospective - Rio Bravo
What a treat this was! I hadn't ever seen it before in full, though
excerpts turn up in lots of films about film. How I managed to miss it
after year I'll never know, but it was worth the wait, especially to
the beautiful new print - ravishing!
This is a funny Western, full of action, character and interest. But it
is also a portrait of unorthodox domesticity. Think of John Wayne as
Father and Walter Brennan as the Mother ("Why don't you ever have any
consideration for my feelings?" etc etc), and Dean Martin and Ricky
Nelson as the two teenage kids - the whole set-up is a kind of screwy Ossie
& Harriet! Dean Martin gives a beautifully measured performance
as the alcoholic deputy who must redeem himself, and John Wayne is at
height of his powers, and not afraid to play it for laughs, without
losing one iota of dignity. Angie Dickenson is luminous and
and Ricky Nelson brings a funny kind of blankness to his role as the
which somehow suits his teen age. He's not quite up to the others, but
would be. Totally satisfying, and even surprising. A lovely and just
to my Festival films.
Friday 20 June
I went to China today, so I couldn't see the last day of films. It was
irritating to miss the very last film in the Howard Hawks Retrospective
- I Was a Male War Bride. But at least I had seen it
and fairly recently too. Though it is fun, it's not one of my
It was a wonderful experience to immerse yourself in Howard Hawks'
on-and-off for a fortnight. Even so, I've not had enough Hawks: I'm
in for a Sydney University/David Stratton film study day on Howard
in November. David told me he's showing in full 3 Hawks films not
shown in the Film Festival Retrospective. One must be To Have and
Not, because David and I discussed at the Festival what an omission
that film was from the Retrospective.
Phew! That's one review for every feature and doco I saw...The next
Film Festival starts on 5 June 1998 . Start training now!
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