Friday 21 November 2014

Calls to Action

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

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

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

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

he wrote.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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