Saturday 21 February 2015

Noel Bjorndahl's Best Ever Australian Films

Noel Bjorndahl is a media teacher and serious cinephile whose collection of cinema is among the most extensive and well-studied in the nation. This is part of  a continuing series of contributions. See the sidebar for others.

 Hi Geoff. Herewith my list of 10+ favourite Aussie films

1.      THE SONS OF MATTHEW is Charles Chauvel’s confident and occasionally stylish nation-building film about a pioneering family (set in Lamington National Park on the Queensland border) that attempts to deal with values involving family and community cohesiveness in a way that sometimes evokes the mood of a John Ford film, although some of the leading performances (especially that of Michael Pate) fail to capitalize fully on the film’s ambitiousness in this regard. Nonetheless, it remains my favourite Aussie film.

2.      JEDDA Chauvel’s last film, dated and circumscribed by attitudes prevalent within its historical context, is nevertheless an effective Romantic Melodrama that implicitly treated its ill-starred indigenous protagonists respectfully and sympathetically, and remains an interesting social document of its times:  Robert Tudawali, in particular,  registers in a powerful, virile, sexually-charged performance that completely transcends any of the racial stereotypes of the time.

3.      WAKE IN FRIGHT . Ted Kotcheff, a Canadian director made one of the best Australian movies ever: Wake in Fright is an extraordinary nightmare tuning precisely into some of the most chilling aspects of Australia’s redneck outback.

4.      THE OVERLANDERS. Harry Watt’s early background as a documentarist gave him strong credentials in filming this entertaining 2000-mile trek about a cattle drive from the top of WA to the Qld coast. It was Chips Rafferty’s first really big break, and his tall, gangly frame filled the shoes of the quintessential outback Australian admirably.

5.      THE SENTIMENTAL BLOKE. Raymond Longford was a giant of Australian silent cinema: his 1919 film version of C J Dennis’s verse narrative comes to sparkling life with Lotte Lyell as Doreen and Arthur Tauchert as The Bloke.

6.      THE LOVE-LETTERS FROM TERALBA ROAD.A beautifully conceived story of a marriage come to grief through store man Bryan Brown’s violence towards his wife Kris McQuade. The love letters of the title are his desperate attempts to salvage the unworkable in this poignantly observed short film, a small scale masterpiece if ever there was one, produced by the estimable Richard Brennan and directed by Stephen Wallace, his first significant film.

7.      THE SHIRALEE. Peter Finch excelled himself as the swaggie  who is “burdened” by his young daughter, Dana Wilson (the shiralee). It evolves into a very touching relationship and the location work is excellent. The director was Leslie Norman, who never made a better film.

8.      MAD MAX 2. Dr George Miller’s choreography of the bikers is a mix of visual poetry, heady energy, and rough humour that is exhilarating, and very Australian. No wonder the Yanks wanted it dubbed.

9.      PALM BEACH. Albie Thoms always operated at the edges in avant garde material –this is the closest he came to any kind of narrative elements and it’s an interesting mix.

10.  DAD AND DAVE COME TO TOWN. I’m a sucker for Ken G Hall (The Silence of Dean Maitland, Tall Timbers, Lovers and Luggers, The Broken Melody). This is quite unlike the earlier Dad and Dave films, set in the city in a women’s fashion establishment. It’s a good comedy that I’m not ashamed of recommending to anyone.

11.  WALKABOUT. Jenny Agutter as an English rose and her brother Lucien John, abandoned and left to the elements in the Aussie outback. The wondereful David Gulpilil comes to their rescue. Cultural conflict, heady stuff, well executed by Nicolas Roeg.

12.  SMILEY. The original, with Colin Petersen who later became a pop star. He and my cousin were both at Humpy Bong school near Redcliffe in Qld when they were searching for a freckled kid to play Smiley. Petersen won, and my cousin lost out because he was two inches too small. I think they made the right choice, though-Petersen was infectious, much more so than Keith Calvert in the sequel Smiley Gets a Gun. I loved this as a kid and retain a strong affection for it

13.THE YEAR MY VOICE BROKE. The pangs of adolescence in a backwater town. A beautiful and poignant period piece set in 1962,. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance playing at the local. Noah Taylor, Loene Carmen and Ben Mendelsohn supply the exemplary angst. 

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