Saturday 7 February 2015

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

Hello Everyone
There is much to report.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bruce continued to look at the issue and came up with a further set of thoughts which were printed in Metro and were published online again

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

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

Vale Rod Taylor
I asked film historian and film-maker Graham Shirley for any thoughts about the late Rod Taylor and here is what he sent in. A slightly belated reply to yours of last Fri-Sat. I don’t have anything in particular that I can contribute on Rod Taylor.  However, I have found the following links, which may be of interest to your readers.,,

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

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

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

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

That’s all for now.


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