Tag Archives: australian film

Films as Urban Preservation

Perusing through the Melbourne Curious blog alerted me to the fact that Australian Screen have some amazing historical footage of my home city, Melbourne, available for viewing and download. It got me thinking again about the role that films play in preserving a record of our built environment.

Before I expand on those thoughts, here’s a sample of the stuff they have. There’s extracts from Marvellous Melbourne: Queen City of the South, a film from 1910 by Charles Cozens Spencer. It gives a great sense of the feel of Melbourne’s streets at that time.

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Tomorrow, When OMG IT’S THE INDONESIANS WTF!?!?!?!

Tomorrow, When the War Began (Stuart Beattie, 2010)

Stuart Beattie’s adaptation of John Marsden’s Tomorrow, When the War Began, about a group of teenagers dealing with an invasion of Australia, lets us see two interesting examples of Australian nationalism at work.

The first is a strange, misguided pride in local product. Beattie’s film has been greeted with generally kind reviews from local critics, and it seems Australians have been indulgent of a film that dares to do what Hollywood movies routinely do but Australian films generally don’t. This isn’t about a father and a son reuniting on a road trip through the outback, or a family confronting secrets about their past while out on a farm in the outback, or an examination of the travails of indigenous Australians in remote communities in the outback. This is about a war! And explosions! And there are fighter planes and stuff! And we made it, and it mostly doesn’t look fake!

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Dogs in Space and Time

Dogs in Space (Richard Lowenstein, 1986) and

We’re Livin’ on Dog Food (Richard Lowenstein, 2009)  and

He Died With a Felafel in His Hand (Richard Lowenstein, 2001)

Movies are time capsules. Inner city suburbs of Melbourne such as Fitzroy, Brunswick, Carlton, Richmond, St. Kilda and Collingwood are now largely gentrified, filled with young professionals and with only a modicum of their former grunginess preserved; much of the shabbiness that remains – pokey cafes, tatty pubs – is artfully preserved to maintain an inner city chic. Yet the older, scruffier inner Melbourne is still there in all its glory in films like The Club, Malcolm, Death in Brunswick and Monkey Grip. Amongst this group, no film stands as deliberately as a time capsule of a place and an era as Richard Lowenstein’s cult classic Dogs in Space, from 1986, which has now been released on DVD after playing at the 2009 Melbourne International Film Festival.

The film chronicles life in a Richmond share house in the late 1970s, centering on the spaced-out musician Sam (Michael Hutchence) and his easygoing girlfriend Anna (Saskia Post). Virtually plotless, it depicts the parties and conflicts in and around the house as various different subcultures (punks, hippies, and one unfortunate uni student) co-exist. Many of the housemates are in underground punk bands, and the film was inspired by real-life events in the Melbourne post-punk music scene. As Lowenstein’s subsequent documentary We’re Livin’ on Dog Food (which also played at the festival and which is included on the Dogs in Space DVD) makes clear, the timing of Dogs in Space was at once far enough away from the real events that it already had a nostalgic air, and yet close enough that the film could get a documentary-like feel through the participation of some of the real people and bands.

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Fair Dinkum

Australia (Baz Luhrmann, 2008)

I’m late to the party on Australia, so this is going to be a belated defence of it. While it’s true that it has generally been positively reviewed (at least in its home country), when a film is as hyped as this one is, faint praise damns. Mix in a few very prominent or particularly negative reviews (such as Luke Buckmaster’s over at InFilm Australia, here), the less-than-expected box-office, and the complete dissipation of any Oscar buzz, and I think it’s fair to say that a sense of disappointment has built around Australia. This was part of the reason that I was so late in seeing the film. I had been pumped for it after seeing the trailers, but it had slipped down in my priorities as it became clearer that Luhrmann hadn’t pulled a rabbit out of his hat and produced a masterpiece. When I finally did see it, though, I was pleasantly surprised. Taken on its own terms, Australia is of course no classic, but it is nevertheless highly enjoyable.

What’s fun about it is how ambitious it is: Luhrmann has mixed up elements of the Australian western (The Man From Snow River), effects-laden war film (Pearl Harbour), epic love story / melodrama (Gone With the Wind), leftist social drama (Rabbit Proof Fence), and more old-fashioned attempts to negotiate Australia’s relationship with its indigenous inhabitants (Jedda), and filtered these disparate influences though the heightened style familiar from Luhrmann’s previous work. Try something like that without it being a little bit of a muddle and you’ve made a bona fide classic. As it is, you do feel the gears change, occasionally gratingly, but what’s surprising is how often it does come together. The film is involving, wonderfully shot, and always entertaining.

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Guided MIFFile

(Can I pass off my appalling MIFF puns as a tribute to the bad puns of old cartoon titles? No? Oh.)

Well, I’ve finished MIFF with three films back-to-back this afternoon; all good (or at least enjoyable), thankfully. I also saw two on Friday. So I might as well wrap them up briefly while the thoughts are fresh.

Persepolis (Marjana Satrapi, 2007)

I’ll do a fuller review of this in the next week or so (hopefully), so more on this later. But suffice to say it’s brilliant, and you absolutely should see it when it comes out.

Encounters at the End of the World (Werner Herzog, 2007)

I didn’t dislike this to the same extent Mark Lavercombe at Hoopla did, but it was disappointing. Sharing more than a little in common with Herzog’s earlier science-fiction / documentary / head-scratcher The Wild Blue Yonder (which I covered at a previous MIFF, see here), it sees Herzog travel to Antarctica to talk to various research scientists. Herzog is, of course, an eccentric of long standing, and sometimes (most recently in Grizzly Man) his off-kilter perspective can be strangely brilliant. Here, though, he generally comes across as foolish. He has some interesting interview subjects, and certainly gets some great footage in the scenes of diving under ice (it’s here the film resembles Wild Blue Yonder – it may even reuse some of the same footage). But he consistently seems the least intelligent person in the room: his narration ruminates on humanity’s relationship with the environment, but his interview subjects are vastly more informed than he is on the topic. Funny, often beautiful, and Herzog is never a waste of time; but there’s a sense that Herzog is resting on his laurels as one of the great documentarians, rather than really chasing down a great story as he did back in Grizzly Man.

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The Real Warren Perso

Not Quite Hollywood (Mark Hartley, 2008)

Mark Hartley’s documentary on “Ozploitation” – Australian exploitation movies of the 70s and early 80s – should find an enthusiastic audience. It is great fun, largely because it reproduces all the best moments form a body of work that is probably more a lot more enjoyable to reminisce about, and see highlights from, than it is to actually sit through in its entirety. After briefly setting the historical context, it starts with what I think are the best remembered sub-genre, the “ocker” and sex comedies from the 1970s (Stork, Alvin Purple, the Barry McKenzie films, and so on), and then works through horror films and action films (the films’ structure gives the impression that the filmmakers had an eye on being able to break the film up into separate episodes of a TV show). So we get basically all the sauciest and funniest moments from the sex comedies, followed by the most outrageous scenes from the horrors, and the best stunts from the action films. As a highlights package, it’s fabulous, and Hartley intersperses interviews with many key participants (plus Quentin Tarantino representing the fan’s perspective as only he can).

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Quantum of Solace Trailer

Here’s the new trailer for Quantum of Solace (aka the Bond movie with the title that makes everyone snicker but which has actually kind of grown on me).

I’ve said way to much about Bond over the years for it to be worth any detailed comment, but it is kind of cool. I love that finally we have some linkage between the films, in a way we haven’t had since the sixties. This looks like it could be the Bond revenge story that should have, but didn’t, follow the best Bond movie of all, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

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Because We all Remember How the Last Movie I Posted the Trailer for Turned Out

Baz Luhrmann’s Australia hadn’t really been on my radar, despite its profile. I think it was partly the stink of self-indulgence that hung over the project, as well as my increasing reservations about Lurhmann’s style. I enjoyed Strictly Ballroom without loving it, and Romeo + Juliet really impressed me, but by the time of Moulin Rouge I thought Luhrmann’s self-conscious technique had become a liability.

However, the appearance of the first trailer on the internet has put this right at the top of my list. Luhrmann – as best as we can tell – appears to have limited his stylised approach to the framing story and gone for a more old-school epic style of shooting for the rest of the film. I realise a trailer can make anything look good, but damn: this movie looks absolutely gorgeous. We never really have had a really good Australian classical western, despite a few attempts and the fact that the genre is so suited to being transposed here (it isn’t cool to say this, but Man From Snowy River probably got closest). Luhrmann just might have cracked it.

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Dr Plonk (Rolf de Heer, 2007)

Rolf de Heer’s new film, Dr Plonk, is built on a brave and irresistible premise. De Heer has made a real, honest-to-God silent movie, evoking about as closely as possible the feel of a silent comedy from the 1920s. The only remotely similar project I can think of is Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie, from 1976, but that film did things by halves: shooting in colour and (typically for Brooks) showing only the vaguest sympathy for the genre he was supposedly channelling. De Heer, by contrast, brings to Dr Plonk a serious filmmaker’s urging to get the little things right: the film is shot in black and white using hand-cranked cameras; the camera moves only occasionally, and is shaky when it does; there are intertitles, written with a good ear (eye?) for the style of period titles; and there’s even a slight variability in the brightness of the film that matches that seen in silent prints. The illusion is remarkable, and in the early passages, before the time-travel plot kicks in and the eponymous doctor travels o the present day, there’s really little other than the familiar face of Magda Szubanski to give this away as a contemporary production. At that level, it’s a remarkable achievement, and as a fan of silent films I really, really wanted to enjoy Dr Plonk more than I did. Unfortunately, de Heer’s film also shows up the difficulties of reviving what is basically a dead form.

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Remember MIFF? (MIFF Report, Part II)

Apologies for the delays in getting further posts on the Melbourne International Film Festival up. There was always going to be limited opportunity to post during the festival, since so many of the films I was seeing were in the last few days, but things were made worse by difficulties at my day job which caused a few planned films on my schedule to bite the dust. Hopefully my previous plugs for Paul Martin’s Melbourne Film Blog led anybody who was hankering for day-by-day coverage there; the boys over at Hoopla also managed to cover a reasonable number of films. One of the films I missed (El Topo) remains very much on my list to cover on the site.

What I did see was generally pretty good, and I had a better time of it than last year. So here are some quick thoughts on what I did end up seeing.

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