Tuesday 30 June 2015

Let George Do It - Standing up to pressure

Folks this item was in Crikey two days ago. It has certainly not stirred George Brandis into any precipitate action to appoint a new CEO at AFTRS.

Come on George let us in on the secret
"No CEO here. Earlier this month we were told that the Australian Film, Television and Radio School would soon be without a CEO, because Arts Minister George Brandis had failed to sign off on a replacement for Sandra Levy, who retired from the role after many years. Our tipster says that the school's website now doesn't list a CEO at all:
"Sandra Levy's name and job description are no longer on the AFTRS website. The website makes no reference at all to the pending appointment of a CEO. Levy is gone but no one has been appointed, notwithstanding that Brandis has had the papers in front of him for close to a couple of months. Incompetence of a significant order seems to be a reasonable description. For goodness sake this is a major educational institution that costs the taxpayer $25m a year allegedly to produce serious film directors."

Monday 29 June 2015

Bologna Diary Three - Yamamoto Kajiro, Basil Dearden, Duke Ellington....

Yamamoto Kajiro
The section devoted to Japanese color features kicked off with Jigokumon/ Gate of Hell, (Kinugasa Teinosuke, Japan, 1953) a film available from both Masters of Cinema and Criterion. No big deal or rarity status attached to that one. Next in line Hana No Naka Musumetachi /Girls in the Orchard (Yamamoto Kajiro, Japan, 1953). Now it’s fair to say there was some polite applause and a few people used words like ‘sweet’ about this plodding piece of old-fashioned Japanese sexism. Older sister has escaped the family orchard to work as  a maid in a Tokyo hotel. Younger sister is envious and wants to swap places. A somewhat gormless local boy who has grown up with these young women wants to marry the older one but she’s not interested. She has attracted the attention of the hotel’s handyman/electrician but he’s complicating matters and forcing the issue because he’s been offered a well paid job in Okinawa and wants to leave, with the sister, straightaway.  This is old fashioned and very tendentious stuff about the place of women in Society, their need to make sacrifices for family ‘good’ and how the dullard male triumphs. Selected by Alexander Jacoby and Johan Nordstrom this caused one observer to suggest the selection was shall we say disappointing or to quote: “Those guys should be shot!”. To add to all this, the film looked like some North Korean propaganda piece with its red-cheeked women and its ponderous exposition. As another scribe said, it made you keep thinking that Ozu would never have allowed this family drama to wallow along in such a fashion. The director ? Yamamoto was allegedly a mentor of Kurosawa Akira’s. The great man sailed way past this level of story telling very early on. One final question asked is why the similarly themed but far livelier, more complex and more ‘modern’. Karmen Comes Home was overlooked the selection in favour of this one.

All Night Long (Basil Dearden, UK, 1962) is not the most obvious candidate for inclusion in a high art film festival like Il Cinema Ritrovato. Then again nor is The Heroes of Telemark (Anthony Mann, UK, 1966) which went on in front of a packed house at the very same time. All Night Long is part of the selection of Jazz on Film chosen by  Ehsan Khoshbakht and Jonathan Rosenbaum. The selection does not include Rolf De Heer’s Dingo (Australia, 1991).Nor does it include another film with a Dave Brubeck improvised score, Ordeal by Innocence (Desmond Davis, UK, 1984) a glorious artefact from the days of Cannon Films. Sorry I’m trying to show off but starting from a low point of knowledge.

All Night Long  was preceded by four short films  most notably including Black and Tan Fantasy (Dudley Murphy, USA, 1929), a 19 minute little drama featuring  Duke Ellington and his band and some sort of representation of The Cotton Club, where Duke was the star attraction of the day. The action gets through several numbers and a couple of remarkable dance acts including one by five black brothers working in extremely tight formation.

But All Night Long features a bunch of Brits all doing American accents in a vaiant of Othello. It all takes place in a warehouse where a bunch of jazz musos are assembled to celebrate the first wedding anniversary of Aurelius Rex (Paul Harris, that is another Paul Harris), superstar black muso to Delia Laine (Marti Stevens, whomever she is or was), who sings like Cleo and  whose voice  when she sings is I suspect a dub by Cleo. Over the course of the evening the evil Johnny Cousins/Iago (one of the great Irish actors, Patrick McGoohan, tries to prise the racially mixed couple apart so that Delia will resume her singing career. It’s all preposterous but the music is integrated ito the story with a fine touch. Mise-en-scene is everything and Dearden does it all well. The crowd clapped and cheered....

More Bologna Commentary - a link to Neil McGlone's blog

Report on Days 1&2 of il Cinema Rtirovato in Bologna Neil McGlone…

Sunday 28 June 2015

Bologna Diary Day two - Lino Brocka, Renato Castellani, E A Dupont...

Lino Brocka
It seems that philosophical issues emerge from the strangest places. “I remember watching that film when it came out in the late 70s on a scratched 16mm print. It seemed like that was the way a movie from the Third World should be seen.” Thus spoke one wise old cinephile whose memory goes back a long way. Now, thanks to Martin Scorsese’s World Cinema Foundation (WCF) and Bologna’s Immagine Ritrovato laboratory, Insiang (Lino Brocka, The Phillipines, 1976) has been restored to pretty much what it looked like when it came out of the lab near forty years ago. Not that the look of the movie and whether it needed scratches and sound track his and 16mm to be a Third World artefact was the only tendentious part of the screening. The introduction by the WCF’s Cecilia Cenciarelli made a  number of statements of alleged historical truth which were not shared by some in the crowd. Chief among them was the mention of Brocka being gay and thus apparently exposed to greater danger from the Marcos Government. “The fact is that 50% of the film industry in The Phillipines was gay so Lino’s sexuality was no big deal.”  He did have other problems with Government harassment but he did make sixty films and among those that made the biggest international impact he apparently had rather more terrible moments with international producers and others from festivals and so on who had their own ideas.
Whatever, the film remains a superb and very tricky piece of character building. Insiang, the ‘heroine’ goes all the way from sweet and soft-centred third world archetype put upon young woman – pursued by exploitative and uncaring men, overworked and underpaid- to a rather remarkable creation whose manipulation and desire for revenge throw the whole narrative for a loop. Probably a masterpiece and the WCF certainly did a superb job of assembling some dodgy material into what’s up on the screen......

Renato Castellani
When it was announced that Bologna would be doing a focus on Renato Castellani, I thought that would be something to get excited about. I had seen exactly two of his films – his version of Romeo and Juliet (1954)  when the Moreland High School forth formers were taken off to see it at a screening at the glorious old art house the Savoy in Russell Street,  and his best known Due soldi di speranza/Two penny worth of hope (1952). But as things progressed, it’s fair to say that the cognoscenti have not got themselves excited at exploring Castellani’s career. His first feature, Le colpo di pistol/A Pistol Shot was made in 1942. It is an adaptation of Pushkin and has no discernible message about the war raging through Italy and Europe at the time. In that respect it seems to be an artefact to distract the masses. I found it wooden and contrived and it made you ache to see Thorold Dickinson’s Queen of Spades....

The US version of Variety, Parts of this were used for the reconstruction
I first saw E A Dupont’s Variety (Germany, 1926) at a MUFS Classic Night in the Old Commerce Theatre in 1963 or 1964. That’s what I think. Michael Campi tells me that the film screened at a Melbourne Film Festival about that time, maybe 1963, which I didn’t attend. The copy was 16mm and had been imported by the National Library as one of the earliest elements of its Film Study Lending Collection. My memory tells me that I saw it in “English”, i.e. the intertitles were in English. That being over fifty years ago, forgive me if memory has faded or is playing tricks. I think I saw the film twice way back then and I haven’t seen it since. I recall thinking it was one of the greatest films I’d ever seen.

Now it has been restored by the Austrian Film Archive in a splendid new version which contains some tinted bits and has had a score added which caused great controversy when the new version of the film premiered at Berlin earlier this year. Whether that new version was or indeed is available to any of the Australian festivals I wouldn’t know but if they pass on the opportunity then that’s a sad moment for our national cinephilia.

Having listened to the explanation of the sources of the material that was used for the restoration I would not be able to say what version it is that the National Library, or presumably now the National Film & Sound Achive, still holds. But whatever, it is a late silent masterpiece and yet another of those reminders of just what Emil Jannings, and to a lesser extent, the rose-lipped Lya de Putti, achieved as silent stars. As for Dupont’s direction and Karl Freund’s cinematography, they too are reminders of a golden era. 

Looking around for a photo of Dupont I came across this essay by Kristin Thompson on Youtube

AFTRS and after Sandra Levy (7) That moment has indeed arrived

Well that moment has arrived. Sandra Levy's name and job description are no longer on the AFTRS website. It has also been updated to note Ben Gibson's current status. 

The website makes no reference at all to a CEO or the pending appointment of such a person. This is all most interesting and I still dont know why the media, the School Council, the staff or even curious observers amongst the meretricious players who bobble round in the film industry have not raised the slightest public cackle at what is nearing, on George Brandis's part, incompetence of a significant order.  For goodness sake this is a major educational institution that costs the taxpayer $25m a year allegedly to produce serious film directors. 

You can check out how its being divulged currently by clicking on the link at the end of this para. AFTRS, it seems is being run by the Head of Corporate Affairs it would appear. There's no mention at all of a CEO not even as a vacant position.  Spinelessness abounds. Dont start me..... AFTRS Staff as at 9.43 pm on 28 June 2015

Saturday 27 June 2015

Blogging from Bologna's Cinema Ritrovato (1)

Things always start slowly here. There have been screenings of a couple of classics in the main piazza and a couple of other little events but it doesn't really get going until Saturday afternoon and roars along then for another week. This year there is another venue so we're up to six including the open ir screenings at night in the piazza. Tonight's was the restored version of Louis Malle's L'Ascenseur a l'Echafaud/Lift to the Scaffold (France, 1958).

Leo McCarey directing Make Way for Tomorrow, 1937
Earlier today, the first of the films by Leo McCarey was screened to a good size house. Co-curators Dave Kehr and Steve Massa explained that the selection was designed to show how early elements of McCarey's career, re-surfaced in mature form later, connecting the dots. The first chosen was Part Time Wife (USA, 1930), a film which presages The Awful Truth. The only known copy in existence is held by the UCLA Film Archiveand it is minus the second relle. We are told that that reel is devoted to the couple's separation before they begin the long process of a somewhat unlikely reconciliation. On the way there are more than a few risque pre-code lines and a performance from star Edmund Lowe which no doubt played  a small part in the actor's gradual disappearance from movies from the sound period.

We were told by Steve Massa that we should look out for the touches of humanity in McCarey's work and in this one, that was most manifest in the scene where a group of dogs is gassed to death. For a long time we think the young tyke juvenile lead's dog has been among them. Nothing yet said about McCarey's politics....

Pierre Fresnay as Marius
Later today a restored print of the Pagnol/Korda movie Marius (1931)...."Did the restoration make the film any better?" I was asked. If you ask the question you already have a cold heart for Pagnol's slow-moving sentimentality. But somehow the story of Marius's dream of a life at sea and Fanny's agony as he leaves always gets me. At least on the two occasions I've seen the movie, including today, so there. The young Pierre Fresnay, well OK he was 34, had not moved along to the cold-hearted roles that made him a legend. I'll probably say this a lot this week but the restoration by the Cinematheque francaise was sensational.

AFTRS and after Sandra Levy (6 or so) - What happens on Monday

I am really curious to know what is going to happen at AFTRS in the next 48 hours. Will George Brandis fold and finally announce whose name he has resolutely not made public for more than a couple of months. Will anybody be interested enough to even ask him why he has behaved as poorly as he has. ....

Or .....Will Sandra Levy show up for work as 'normal' on Monday? Her appointment already runs longer than the year's extension she was given in June 2014. Why has all this been done and why has their not been a solitary squeak or even a tiny leak from the supposedly independent Members of the AFTRS Council whoese responsibility, as laid down in law is for the good and proper govenance of a major institution. You suspect that the answer might be that each of the poor sods has some dream of being re-appointed notwithstanding they are regarded by George Brandis, Tony Abbott, Peter Credlin and so on as Labor stooges. But its all mysterious. Maybe, as dawn breaks on 28th June 2015 as this is being posted, George will today reveal his plan, amuse us all at the same time and the Sandra Levy era will officially end

Wednesday 24 June 2015

A Florentine Screening of Yorgis Lanthimos's The Lobster

The show was supposed to start at 6.00 pm. The venue, a lively cinema space currently called Spazio Alfieri, has opened and closed on numerous occasions as enthusiasts get hold of its space and seek to bring some up-market art house activity to Florence. Its not a city with a big reputation for bringing the best movies and events to the populace, nothing to rival nearby Bologna with its Cineteca, the Cinema Ritrovato, the summer screenings of classics in the town square that draw up to and occasionally beyond, ten thousand people a night.

But for a couple of weeks Spazio Alfieri is presenting a season of films direct from Cannes, all in their original language and all subtitled into Italian. For Yorgis Lanthimos's The Lobster,  a Cannes prize-winner, the queue snaked out into the street and it was 6.15 or so before a distinguished looking gentleman from the management stood up to make a brief introduction. He compared, as far as my near to non-existent Italian could make out, the director to Bunuel and Michael Haneke and the show got under way with a beautiful DCP copy on show. DCP is liberating exhibition most especially in these rarified circles where a near sell out crowd of a hundred or so, watching in perfect conditions, is a triumph for the new technology and presages a new and much more democratic way of bringing movies to the people.

Lanthimos has made five feature films now and two of them, Dogtooth (2009)  and Alps (2011) made quite a splash on the festival circuit. He does allegories of modern Greece that involve at some point unspeakable acts of violence. The Bunuel comparison is most apt. He's one of those directors whose iconography is needless to say difficult to penetrate and it may be that the only persons who understand these films with any completeness are some small smattering of the Greek intelligentsia. But still the films are made with great  story-telling skills and when those moments of unspeakable violence arrive there is a genuine shock.

So what's happening now. Lanthimos has got his next project going, some four years after the last, via financing from a host of international producers. They have hurled sufficient funding at him that he has also been able to attract a rather dazzling array of international 'stars' - Colin Farrell, looking very much the part of a going to seed middle aged man, Rachel Weisz, Ben Whishaw, John C Reilly and the gorgeous object of desire Lea Seydoux from Blue is the Warmest Colour. The story line is so complicated and the fanciful premise on which its based is so odd that you know you are back in Lanthimos's preferred mode. But here its not a confined space and those actors, speaking English, are just actors, recognisable from a million other movies. They lack authenticity.

The crowd sat quiet and seemed to me to be heavily involved. At the end there was small burst of applause and then an elderly gentleman leapt up in font of the crowd and proceeded to hector us about what we had just seen. The music and the photography were excellent, he said, but this allegory of modern Greece did not deserve  such attention as it was getting and the jury which gave it a prize should be ashamed of themselves. A few people wanted to disagree, one or two of the management came down and suggested he give it a rest, though I'm sure in politer terms than that, but on and on he went. I would love to have been able to understand it all... Finally he did allow the  microphone to be taken from him, about the time as they allowed the crowd in for the next session. It was all very polite and dare I say it quite 'Italian'.

If you are in Florence hunt out the Spazio Alfieri. Its down a side street at the San Ambrogio market end of town heading towards the famous Cibreo Restaurant and on towards Piazza Beccaria. Next up tonight is Jia Zhangke's new movie. In the meantime I assume The Lobster will be programmed into the upcoming local events where much will be made of its allegory, its star cast, and its ravishing look. No program note will suggest the Cannes Jury should be ashamed of itself.

Tuesday 23 June 2015

Crikey delves into the claims that piracy is a job destroyer in Australia

I'm filching this from a piece in a recent Crikey written by the always reliable Bernard Keane. The story is longer in its daily newsletter and its website but you may not be able to get through the paywall. Keane writes:

"Market research indicates that movie piracy alone costs the Australian economy $1.37 billion worth of sales, $193 million in tax revenue and 6100 FTE jobs each year," shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus claimed last week in debate on the bill. What he failed to disclose was that this "market research" was (you guessed it) "independent modelling" commissioned by the copyright industry several years ago and endlessly spruiked by the industry (and mindlessly repeated by the media) ever since. As Crikey showed at the time, those numbers Dreyfus is quoting are rubbish.
And courtesy of a small coincidence of timing, we can demonstrate again what rubbish those numbers are. We'll leave aside the laughable claim that the copyright industry employs over 900,000 people in Australia (more than manufacturing). But last week, the ABS released its quarterly industry breakdown of jobs, including a breakdown of how many people are employed in each sub-division within each industry. So let's look at the industry sub-division "Motion Picture and Sound Recording Activities". In the May 2015 quarter, that sub-division employed 31,400 people. Hmmm. Not very big, then. Evidently the sector has taken a hammering because piracy is destroying the Australian film industry, right? Except, 31,400 (which was also the size of the sector in the February quarter) is the fourth-highest level in the industry ever. Or, at least, going back to 1984, when the data series begins. Maybe Ken G. Hall et al employed more people back in the days of Pagewood Studios in the 1930s and 1940s; we don't know.
But quarterly figures are volatile. Let's average them across a space of two years. In the last two years, movie and sound recording has employed, on average, 27,100. The two years before that, it employed on average 27,600. So, decline? Well, the two years before that -- 2009-11 -- was employment of 26,600. And over 2007-09 it was 25,200; between 2005 and 2007, some 24,700 worked in the industry.
Employment in that sector allegedly being smashed by piracy is increasing -- not uniformly, but substantially. At the end of the 1990s (when George Lucas was making Star Wars here) the industry barely employed 20,000 people. In the mid-1990s, the sub-division employed 13,000 -- less than half of its current level. And if you think that's not much of an achievement given the growth in the size of the economy and the workforce since then, compare some other industries. In the same period, manufacturing has shed over 100,000 jobs; agriculture around 80,000 jobs.
If piracy were going to destroy 6000 jobs in the arts sector every year, why is employment in the specific sub-sector that according to the copyright industry is the one directly affected by piracy now 31,000, compared to 24,000 in 2011, when this much-cited "study" was conducted?

Laura Antonelli dies

One of the most marvelous and most sensuous actresses of her day Laura Antonelli has died aged 73. For a comparatively brief time she was one of the most popular European actresses of the day. She first attracted attention in a somewhat sleazy version of Venus in Furs (Massimo Dallamo, 1969). Most critics and most reviews in English first noticed her  in the 1973 comedy Malizia (Salavatore Samperi). Over the next dozen or so years she carved out a career mostly in common or garden Italian sex comedies and dramas. But there were two great films included there, Visconti's lush L'innocente (1976) and Ettore Scola's Passione d'Amore  (1981, screened at the 1982 Melbourne Film Festival). In a report in the New York Times Visconti is quoted a saying that “she has that mysterious quality which I call charm, namely beauty plus intelligence.” Passione d'Amore, a major commercial success in Italy and an art house success around the world (as was Visconti's film) also became the basis for the basis for Stephen Sondheim's brilliant piece of musical theatre Passion. At the height of her popularity Antonelli oozed sensuality and her frequent casual nakedness was quite something at a time when 'pornography' was much more restrained and fleeting occurrence in mainstream movies. Her career fell apart in 1991 with accusations of drug possession. She finally cleared her name of those charges in 2006. For a longer report there is this in the New York Times.

Monday 22 June 2015

George Brandis goes in for the fine cut

What's keeping him?
George Brandis now has less than a week to sign off on the appointment of the next AFTRS Chief Executive. Whomever the poor sod is, he or she will arrive at an institution that is just managing a holding pattern. of course if you read the AFTRS website you might think things are hunky dory. It shows a CEO and a Head of Degree Programs. In fact the CEO is heading out the door this week, at least officially, and the Head of Degree Programs was shown the door and arrangements have been made to work out his service 'off-site' trawling through the internet to produce a research paper. This is not a good transition and I dont know why the School Council, the film industry, the media, students, staff, venerable persons, keen observers and on to mere meretricious players like the compiler of Film Alert aren't screaming their bums off at what appears to me a piece of major management f---ck-up on George Brandis's part. This is being written from the other side of the world and thus may be based on faulty information or not aware of late-breaking news but as of 7.26 pm on 22 June, 2015 George had still not settled the appointment according to his website, AFTRS website and 'the news' as defined by Google search.

Saturday 20 June 2015

A sample of a piece about Raymond Durgnat

A long, long time ago English film magazines arrived in Melbourne after a journey by boat that often took several months. They could arrive in a rush, several issues at a time. The place where they were sold was McGills Newsagency in Elizabeth Street, near Bourke Street. It was a dim and overstocked shop. The ground floor walls had books on shelves that reached to the ceiling. But the space was dominated by two large flat display cases that started near the entrance and went the length of the room. You could pick up the magazines on display and look at the contents. The Brit film journals, and the locally produced Film Journal would have the current issues on display. A couple of American publications went on sale there as well, though somewhat more sporadically.

In the early- to mid-1960s generally there were five Brit publications – Sight & Sound (quarterly), Monthly Film Bulletin, Movie, Continental Film Review and Films and Filming. Very occasionally there were copies to be found of publications put out under the rubric of Motion but they were hard to track down.  Films and Filming was part of a set of seven publications (Books and Bookmen, Music and Musicians, etc) and generally had the raciest prose, written by a set of writers, though not one that operated as a group as far as could be seen. The raciest pictures were in Continental Film Review. The management of this part of McGills’ shop was in the hands of a young man named Mervyn Binns. He was a conservative dresser who wore a grey knee length dustcoat fastened by a belt. He had an oval face, slicked his hair straight back, held it there with brilliantine and wore thick lensed glasses. When he left the shop at 5.30 pm at night he wore a hat. He seemed a very dour figure, though later with another far more extroverted man named Paul Stephens he had this act where the pair of them would dress up as vampires and hire themselves out at horror film premieres. One night when Stephens hid himself in the male toilet at interval and leapt out upon the arrival of the first patron, the punter complained to the management that he “nearly had a heart attack”.
Melbourne University Film Society fed off the Brit magazines like the little fish that live in the big fish’s mouth. Many programmes were selected according to the taste-making of that far away London film scene. New magazine issues were flashed around mostly amongst a small inner circle and a consensus formed in favour of the agenda set by Movie. This had been helpfully developed by the publication in the first edition of a “talent histogram” which set out which directors to admire. Columns were devoted to relative assessments of British and American directors. Movie did not allow deviations to occur. It was thus that the “early” discovery of Joseph Losey as a major figure occurred around the time when a burst of his films appeared. The Damned (1963), Concrete Jungle (aka The Criminal) (1960) and Time Without Pity (1957) were screened by the film society over a matter of a couple of weeks. Then there were rumours that the censor had banned the director’s Eve (1962). Horror upon horror. Nobody ever knew for sure though there were later suggestions that the wily distributor, Sid Blake, tried to have the film banned in order to get out of his contract to show it.

Then there was the case of Raymond Durgnat, who seemed to be by far the smartest and most engaging of the team of writers who were assembled for each issue of Films and Filming...... For the rest you'll have to go to Senses of Cinema  

Tuesday 16 June 2015

Sydney Film Festival (40) - An update on the Colt Peacemaker

Folks I know this is getting arcane but in his SFF review of Slow West Max Berghouse made some remarks about the weaponry on display. This caused Bruce Hulbert to bite the bullet and fire in some additional information, triggered a response you might say. OK. OK I surrender... But here's an update and I confess it’s lifted from today's Crikey: How to go broke in America’s gun culture. Overnight, the impossible happened in gun crazy America -- the venerable Colt company (179 years old and the maker of the Colt .45 Peacemaker, star of countless westerns, and "the gun that won the West") went broke and filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Impossible.  But it’s true -- Colt Defense LLC (as it is now known) has secured US$20 million financing to continue operating while in bankruptcy and expects to remain in business after the restructuring its US$350 million debt. The company has fallen on tough times after a lucrative 10 years from the late 1990s to the early 2000s, as it was the exclusive supplier of the main weapon of the US Army, the M4 rifle. But rifle sales slowed as the size of the US Army contracted and troops came home from Iraq and Afghanistan, and in 2013 it lost the contract with the Army to supply the M4. Its rivals in the US weapons industry (Ruger, Smith and Wesson for example) had better, more "fashionable" guns to sell to crazy Americans who felt the need for protection. According to US media reports an “alternative investment management group” called Sciens Management owned 87% of Colt, which has made a buyout offer already, before an auction of the company in early August. Russian roulette, anyone? -- Glenn Dyer

Monday 15 June 2015

AFTRS and after Sandra Levy (5) - We have our eye on George Brandis. What is he up to....?

My post which you can find by clicking here  on the appointment of the next CEO of AFTRS has had, not to put too fine a point on it, a record number of readers. It has not however shaken or stirred George Brandis into action. As well, his spin doctors are still peddling the same nonsense about him ‘approving the appointment’. He has before him a recommendation from the School Council to appoint someone and the AFTRS Act gives him little room for movement as to what his role in the process is. As for whom, rumours abound, some of them so unlikely as to be defamatory if published.

But the world is closing in... As of tomorrow 16 June, George has ten days to appoint someone and get them ready to take over when Sandra Levy's appointment expires. I assume that, as always, a near genius will get the gig, but whomever it is wont have a lot of transition time as they enter an institution already minus its Head of Degree Programs, notwithstanding the information till on the School website as of 11.09 pm on 15 June 2015. Click here for details

Come on George, put that book of poems down and let us know who'll be guiding the school to relevance for the next five years or so. Please, its becoming almost tiresome. Just what are you up to.....

Sunday 14 June 2015

Sydney Film Festival (39) - Barrie Pattison dissects the restored Italian western Django Kill


Hard to see why this nasty, messy Italian sixties western was enthusiastically restored - first generation quality colour, lots of scenes of excess put back in.

The class elements (Delli Colli’s camerawork, a young Tomas Milian in the lead) are not deployed effectively. The film’s ultra violence is mainly a matter of splashing bright red gore over unconvincingly staged action. We saw better exercises in perversity than this film’s religious minded, bourgeois citizens as bad guys, while the audience is rooting for a swarthy hero, in the cycle’s Sartana and Spirito Santo films. Django Kill (Django is nowhere to be found) kicks off with the Indians looting the mass grave from which Milian emerges dust covered. They tend his injuries and melt down some stolen gold to make bullets - making it $30 a shot.

Thomas hits the vengeance trail, now having risen from the grave where he was put by the European bandits that slaughtered the Mexican bandits who joined them in offing the blue bellies for their Wells Fargo gold. The outlaws carry their loot into the isolated town (“Even God wouldn’t stay here”) where the citizens massacre them for it. When Milian arrives, his fellow bandits are hanging in the background, providing the occasional striking image, while in Milo Quesada’s saloon, his narrow-hipped, black-wearing wife Tolo lip-synchs the English songs, wearing a silly wig. Quesada’s pretty son Lovelock slashes the clothes dad brought his step mum from Denver.

The locals find that the bullets Milian used to off bandit chief Lulli among the hanging dried chilies are gold and tear the body apart to get them, despite fat land owner Camardiel, head of the black Muchacho riders, wanting to question the injured man. That thwarted, he kidnaps young Lovelock to get his father to hand over the loot. Tomas is sent in and, in some incomprehensible plot twist at the roast pig banquet, shoots one of the Muchachos after drinking a bottle of whiskey, to obtain Ray’s safe return. However the kid is subject to a very prudishly staged pack rape.  Quesada’s day keeps on getting worse with bigoted fellow citizen Francisco Sanz demanding half the gold, Camardiel’s riders coming to attack the town and Marilu putting moves on Thomas to take her out of town. Our hero however is getting it on with Sanz’s imprisoned wife, who retains her
flowing white nightie through their action.

After they scalp his buddy, Thomas’ Indian side kick unchains our hero from the cross, where they menaced him with bats and lizards, and he wreaks some more havoc and rides into the sunset, without even getting a re-cap of the title song.

The film is poorly covered, awkwardly framed too close to the subjects.  The gun shots are out of synch and there’s an odd sentence from the English dialogue in there to fill a gap in the Italian track. Milian deserved better and we’ve seen Marilu Tolo and indeed 
Sancho Garcia from 800 Bullets (Alex de la Iglesia,2002)  make far more impression. There are so many more flamboyant, more inventive - better - films of this kind - Tino Cervi’s Oggi a me... domani a te! / Today It’s Me Tomorrow You (1968), Franco Giraldi’s MacGregor films, Sergio Sollima’s Faccia a faccia/ Face to Face (1967), half a dozen of the Sergio Corbuccis and the rest.

These used to be a guilty pleasure when operations like the Sydney Film Festival would never have dreamed of screening them. It’s disappointing to find them finally acknowledged with such a dodgy example.
Django Kill, directed by Giulio Questi, Italy, Italy, 1967

Sydney Film Festival (38) - Barrie Pattison reviews Danis Tanovic's Tigers


Danis Tanovic
Watching Danis Tanovic’s film gives the same impression as the English language Costa Gavras movies - well guys, we knew that. Yes, the craft aspects are very good, the European players we recognize are excellent and the Indian ones that are new to us are as good or better. The subject is alarming but we had already heard about it.

Maryam d'Abo (portrait)
The film however sandbags us. WHO rep. Maryam d'Abo, looking like a gaunt version of the girl from The Living Daylights, tells us that the appalling story - Multi-nationals profiting $23 billion from selling baby formula to mothers whose own milk is better for their children, who then die in millions, has already been acted out in other continents for more than thirty years and is repeating in Pakistan.

The material we’ve been watching takes on an abrupt new urgency - the detail of buyer resistance to locally made pharmaceuticals, created by the big corporations’ bribe tactics at every level of the medical industry, his wife and father telling Emraan Hashmi that his principled stand, which is putting their lives at risk, is the only way he can retain their respect, the switch blackmail allegation, the film’s staged interview with the Nestlé (except they can’t call them that) Company, using the words of the Edward Kennedy inquiry which opened the film.

We can understand why the maker of No Man’s Land would want to do this one and can only hope that Tanovic manages to get it out to the wide audience that having a giant Bollywood star on board offers.

We are, of course, taking the film makers’ word for it but just the possibility that he’s nailed the question justifies serious attention. Can’t help wondering why we haven’t seen the other recent Tanovic films. 

*Tigers, directed by Danis Tanovic, France/India/UK, 2014, 90 minutes

Sydney Film Festival (37) - An SFF Top Ten - The most read posts about the films and events we covered

This is not a scientific poll. Randomness determined the selections of what we saw and films reviewed lately have not had anywhere near the length of viewing time as those screened at the start of the event. All together Film Alert has posted up 36 items about a few more films than that. The most read are as follows: (the order is a bit random apart from Strangerland being clearly out in front by virtue of two entries). As an example Barrie's post on Gillian Armstrong's Women He's Undressed has had more looks in the first day since posting than any other film.


Sydney Film Festival (36) -Barrie Pattison reviews Gillian Armstrong's Women He's Undressed


I can’t claim any objectivity in writing about this one. I’ve just seen it in the presence of Gillian Armstrong  surrounded by an enthralled Cremorne audience who think of her as one of their own who has found her way into the light. and the piece is about people who have fascinated me all my life - Randolph Scott, Jane Fonda, Bette Davis, Natalie Wood ... and costume designer Orry-Kelly, major contributor to 42nd ST. CASABLANCA, (one third of) An AMERICAN IN PARIS and SOME LIKE IT HOT, collecting three Oscars along the way.

Whether or not the film got them right, I’ll never look at Cary Grant and Bette Davis the same way again. As Elia Kazan’s costumer Ann Roth observes, despite the fact that Kelly had this extraordinary career, the reason Armstrong and her team wanted to get stuck into him was that he came from local home town Kiama. You can query their methods - his letters from his re-enacted mum, filmed with Deborah Kennedy in front of the light house and repeat insets of the town’s blow hole or indeed the whole rowboat linking structure. However the work is handsome and ambitious and there is the winning account of their research leading to Kelly’s unpublished (at the demand of Cary Grant?) autobiography, which came out of a local relative’s drawer and will see the light of day shortly, following the boost the film has given his prominence.

It’s hard to believe that so many people are only discovering Orry-Kelly at this point. Kelly’s fellow designers Travis Bainton, Adrian and Edith Head also get a mention - not Max Ree and René Hubert though. The film focuses on Alcoholism in the profession before rehab was standard.

They have another anchor for the production, with homophobia in Depression era
Hollywood, contrasted with freewheeling Greenwich Village, where young Orry made his land fall in the US. This secondary theme tends to engulf the production, with the most telling section the largely irrelevant one dealing with (the awful) William Haines, who emerges heroically from his encounter with Louis B. Mayer, in contrast to other film capital gays who lived lies to placate studio bosses. 

The film does go into unfamiliar and welcome information on Orry-Kelly’s craft, being the first person to draw the star’s faces on their preliminary costume sketches, finding ways to misrepresent the bodies of the glamour performers he dressed, styling their succeeding outfits so that these narrate the story as much and sometimes more than the writers and cameramen. Remember Ingrid Bergman asking for clarification on her motivations in CASABLANCA and baffled when they answered by telling her about the clothes she’d wear.

The selection of clips is inevitably exceptional, motivating a fresh viewing on the genuine classics and intriguing programmers that make up Kelly’s near three hundred credits, though reproduction here is less perfect than much of what we are getting now.

Watching this here does provide one previously unvoiced thought. Orry-Kelly, like
John Farrow and to a lesser extent Errol Flynn and Cecil Kellaway made their way from Australia to Hollywood prominence alone. They were hard yards. There was none of the well oiled mechanism that propels recent NIDA graduates into a place in the newest strip toon colossus today. That does make their story more notable to us.

*Women He's Undressed, Directed by Gillian Armstrong, Australia, 2015, 100 minutes

Sydney Film Festival (35) - Barrie Pattison reviews Touki Bouki


Considered a classic and a milestone in African film making, this is one of those must see items that your tend to come at with muted dread.

If you approach it as a narrative, you’re doomed from the get go. The hero is lynched by a bunch of Tertiary Educated red car hoons early, his corpse flung off a cliff,  and he carries on through the rest of the picture undaunted. If you want to know whether this is a dream or a fantasy you’re asking the wrong questions.

Fresh from film school and saturated with Eisensteinian associative montage, and a bit of PEPÉ LE MOKO thrown in, Mambéty wanted to produced something which would play to the audience that was wowed by the French New Wave, Antonioni, Joe Losey and the rest. Glauber Rocha was on the same road but he was a better craftsman and coming out of a more sophisticated environment.

You can see why master technician Ousmane Sembene would rip off Mambéty’s funding for his own more assured project, the pro’s contempt for the dilettante.

However TOUKI BOUKI has a place of it’s own. Mambéty’s Africa is as detailed and packed with life as Sembene’s. He fills the screen with striking images, from the opening slaughter house scene - most shocking in it’s depiction of the placid cows standing watching the dismemberment of the preceding member of their group.

We see the roadside stall, the contrast of the villagers working in the open and the westernised yobbo students. Young Magaye Niang and Mareme Niang’s plan to get the sports ground takings away from the slack policeman guard only lands them a trunk full of fetish gear. There’s a bit of tame nudity and the leads head out to the decadent, pool-owning rich Ousseynou Diop to rip him off, taking his stars and striped car unconvincingly in the parade of red uniformed colonial mounted troops to the port where departing ex-pats talk about saving half their annual salary.

Meanwhile the light skinned character living in a tree crashes the boy’s ox horn motor cycle, Joséphine Baker sings “Paris Paris, Paris” on the track and paid off aunt Aminata Fall chants “Vultures and Hyenas will never get the best of you.” The dream of sailing off on the white “Anceville” liner rather than refurbishing the shoreline wreck for an illegal crossing to Europe looks attainable, while the port guard with the ax handle keeps on getting cut-aways for no reason  - or something.

Mabéty’s ability to muster colorful exotic detail and contrast it with the encroaching
European (French. with the money intended for a De Gaulle memorial) way of life does hold attention for the film’s hour and a half and makes this more rewarding than most more traditionally well made work.

The new digital restoration (taken to 35 mm. film they proudly say) offers a quality which may rival the original lab work.

*Touki Bouki, Directed by Djibril Diop Mambéty, Senegal, 1973, 90 minutes

Friday 12 June 2015

Sydney Film Festival (34) - Barrie Pattison reviews Ghesse Ha/Tales (Rakhshan Bani-Etemad, Iran, 2014)

This film arrives as the result of  a piece of slight of hand. The only way it came into existence is that director Rakhshan Bani-Etemad filmed  it as a series of shorts. Those  don’t require approval by the Iranian film censorship bureaucracy. Her film is something that would have been vetoed for its depiction of inadequacy and comic, insensitive authority pitted against done wrong bottom feeder citizens.

This history appears to have had a happy ending because the winning Bani-Etemad in a hijab turned up to introduce the film from the stage of the State Theater, saying that eight years after her last fiction movie and four years after completion, this one is finally showing on it’s home turf.

GHESSE-HA reaches us with many of its qualities filtered out. Bani-Etemad  made it because she wanted to re-visit characters from her earlier work, which we haven’t seen, and we learn it features prominent Iranian performers who we don’t recognize, Peyman Moaadi, the star of JODAEIYE NADER AZ SIMIN (A Separation, Ashghar Fahradi) among them. 

A succession of characters appear and vanish formlessly. A cab driver is filmed by the documentary video maker, who gives him a cigarette which he later passes to a woman passenger, who offers herself to him for a place to shelter her sick child. She turns out to be the childhood friend of his sister, whose hair his mother used to plat. The mother presents a petition at a government office, where a respectably dressed middle class man faces poverty because of a glitch in hospital paper work and is ejected by the bureaucrat too busy with personal calls on his mobile. In the train home, the man over hears a couple apparently plotting an assignation, which disgusts him, but they are actually preparing a scam to get money from their family. Stories lead back to a woman’s shelter where the film maker, the cab driver and the women all have business. The granny lady becomes spokesman for a van full of former workers going to a protest and moved on by the police. One woman worker goes home to be reviled by an indignant husband, who has accepted a letter sent by his wife’s former temporary husband, which being illiterate, he can’t understand. As the contents are read to him by her and their child, pried away from his homework, the man’s (and our) understanding changes. The ending, taking the dried out junkie social worker and her ex student-demonstrator driver  from the center, accompanying an ill girl, is a show stopper.

Message content includes sanctions hitting the already miserable and the characters
telling the reformer film maker that there are so many such documentaries. The answer that film won’t stay in someone’s drawer forever is less convincing. 

GHESSE-HA has the qualities we associate with the best Iranian films. We feel for the participants - on screen and behind the camera. There’s sympathy even for the aggro husband who scarred his wife with boiling water - more than the cell ‘phone guy gets. The final segment, with it’s revelation that always draws comment from reviewers, is a more startling version of the mating dance finale of  1994’s ZIRE DARAKHATAN ZEYTON (Through the Olive Trees.)

Film form is intriguing. The handling is accomplished and the colour quite presentable on the big screen, unlike the greenish video presentations we are used to seeing on Iranian material. Some of the material is done in single takes - two for the letter reading, though the apparent one-take of the bus ride betrays the concealed edit behind the passenger’s back by a change in the on-screen time code. However the ending ride cuts between the two participants, with their dialogue overlapping at one point, suggesting simultaneous cameras.

This one could be seen as the culmination of a cycle of  common-character sketch films, more like the Duvivier’s FLESH & FANTASY, with characters walking from one story to the next, than his TALES OF MANHATTAN having a linking device siring the John Badham THE GUN and others, closer in form if not mood to Pietro Germi’s  SIGNORE & SIGNORI where the lead in one ep. does walk-ons in another.

Pietro Germi! Now there’s someone who’s so little known and impressive enough to
deserve a major retrospective but then David Stratton would be afraid of being alone in the theater on that one.

Thursday 11 June 2015

Sydney Film Festival (33) - Peter Carmody reports on Victoria (Sebastian Schipper, Germany, 2015, 140 minutes)

it was a a total shock… the only film seen so far that I would give 5 stars…

AFTRS and after Sandra Levy (5) Countdown

George Brandis interviews the new AFTRS CEO
Neither the AFTRS website  nor the Arts Minister's announcement  give a precise date for the end of Sandra Levy's appointment as the institution's CEO. Perhaps it is 26th June, 2015, a year on from the date of George Brandis' press release advising  that Levy's term would be extended yet another year. If that is indeed the case the Minister has two weeks to go before the current appointment runs out and a new person should be stepping in. But  given we are bereft of information and his Department spin doctors are being utterly unhelpful, in this short time the transition cant be smooth, especially if an import is sitting impatiently in some far flung grove of academia awaiting the call.
So, what's the problem. It's been said that nothing will happen until first George Brandis and then the Prime Minister interview the successful applicant. I know, I know that’s just something 'that has been said'. If so however, and if the applicant is indeed overseas then presumably the person would have to be skyped in for those chats.

George Brandis's Department claims that he will be 'approving' the appointment and his minions in the Department faithfully reported this to the two media supplicants who made an inquiry as to what was going on. Nobody referred to the AFTRS Act which gives George no such power. 

In the meantime, Ben Gibson's (see http://filmalert101.blogspot.com.au/2015/05/aftrs-and-after-sandra-levy-part-two.html) photo portrait is still up on the AFTRS website as Head of Degree Programs notwithstanding that he is now officially completing his tenure 'off site' and is no longer running that bit of the show. Presumably the first task of the new CEO will be to find a new Head of Degree Programs. Stand by.

Sydney Film Festival (32) - Speak Low - A little more on Christian Petzold's remarkable Phoenix

KUrt Weill in 1932
Barrie Pattison has already written about Christian Petzold' s superb Phoenix  and  I dont want to just share the enthusiasm. But, throughout the movie the soundtrack crackles with little excerpts and variations of the Kurt Weill song Speak Low. Weill wrote this for a show he did with Ogden Nash, "One Touch of Venus" which premiered on Broadway on 7th October 1943. I guess, like a number of other things that happen in the movie, you just have to accept that Nelly knew the song and her husband could accompany her on piano. Anyway, for whatever reason, if indeed there is one beyond the ever-astonishing musical beauty of it, here it is in the haltingly sung version by Nina Hoss from the movie itself. For full strength versions you can try Lotte Lenya, or the great modern interpreter of Weill's songs Ute Lemper, or the version voiced by Ava Gardner and Dick Haymes in the movie version of the show. One Touch of Venus (William A Seiter, USA, 1948)

Wednesday 10 June 2015

Sydney Film Festival (31) - Max Berghouse reviews the Australian documentary Only the Dead

Director and Journalist Michael Ware
Only the Dead ( Michael Ware/Bill Guttentag, 2015) was a film I very much wanted to like. I did not wish to be in a situation of condemning an otherwise bold attempt at a documentary film concerning the effective demise of the Iraqi state, but nor did I wish to be placed in a situation of having to praise out of hand something just because it is Australian.

It is commonplace now to accept that in relation to documentaries, that they should be judged effectively by the same norms as feature films, in which one principal criterion is "entertainment". At worst this means that the trite and ephemeral will be given greater purchase than the considered and the substantial. Embedded within this dichotomy is the device of using the "personal" to project a vision of the "general".

Michael Ware the documentarist entered Iraqi at the time of the collapse of the regime of Saddam Hussein as (apparently) a junior journalist concerned that he had arrived too late for all the action. Subsequently – and this is not described with much specificity – he seems to become the "lovey" of the jihadi groups attempting to wrest the tenuous control of the country from the occupying forces. Amongst these fundamentalist revolutionaries is the incipient IS state who apparently leaked video footage of their barbaric acts to him so that he could release them to the rest of the world. For a journalist, it’s very considerable good fortune.

Apart from relatively small quotas of network footage from the Western world, the bulk of the film is a condensation of apparently "hundreds of hours of video footage", taken by Ware who stayed in the country seven years. Some of the footage is also of the fundamentalists and it is not at all clear which is which. In a short pre-screening announcement, Ware warned viewers of the extreme barbarity of some of the footage. Presumably he means that of the fundamentalists! Unfortunately, and this is a deep criticism including of myself, we have seen all this and more in years gone by and I think we are substantially tempered against it. I could not help thinking that this was, at least in part, a quite cynical attempt to gain attention for what was otherwise, if not innocuous, at least well known.

I had no difficulty watching the footage; my major difficulty was the voice over commentary. Ware tries to convey the impression of a man, himself, rendered callous by his experiences of what are fundamentally the sufferings of others. Quite apart from the fact that his own experiences, even if true, don't help to elucidate why the situation in Iraq degenerated, the visual data conveys the impression exactly the opposite of what the voice-over asserts. He and his Russian born photographer sidekick seem to be having a whale of a time, basking in their repute. Nothing seems to sway him when other individuals are concerned with concentrating on himself. For example when one of their Iraqi assistants, a middle-aged man is shown, he is referred to as being subsequently killed, but there is no attempt to visualise his death (for example by showing the funeral) or the suffering this might bring.

People who go through the emotional drama he alleges he suffered, don't stay in the same place of suffering for seven years. This is a perfect example of what Sartre called years ago "bad faith": the assertion that something which is completely voluntary is in fact necessary. His allegations of personal suffering, apart from being substantially irrelevant, seem at odds with all footage he collected and shows.

I wish I could say otherwise because the footage – whoever shot it – and edited it, did a very good linear job. But I found the overall outcome was distaste.

AFTRS and after Sandra Levy (4) - George Brandis's spin doctor beats up on Film Alert

George Brandis handling pressure
A little while ago I reported to devoted readers the state of play regarding the appointment of a new Chief Executive Officer to the Australian Film Television and Radio School. The first of several stories can be found here and it has links to an excellent piece by the esteemed Paddy Gourley in the Canberra Times. The key paras that mattered are as follows:

Paddy has discovered one film industry related case in point, the appointment of the next Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Film and Television School. The story is spelt out in a little detail on the link provided above. The Act of Parliament (1973) governing the AFTRS clearly states in S24 (1): “There shall be a Director of the School, who shall be appointed by the Governor‑General on the recommendation of the Council.”. What attracts attention in Paddy’s piece about this particular appointment process is the advice he was given when preparing his story that “…The Minister for the Arts will approve the final appointment but will not be actively involved in the initial process of assessment and recommendation but that he did not wish to comment on any other aspects of the process.”  (That’s my underlining.)

This ought to be of interest to those who want AFTRS to be as good as it possibly can be because it would seem to imply that George Brandis can exercise a veto over the appointment. Why he would want to take such action is mysterious given the process that has been followed and which Paddy spells out. As for "active involvement" whether any delicate negotiations about the final nominee have taken place between Brandis, his private office, his various Departments (the statement quoted above was made by a spokesperson for the Attorney-General’s Department, not the Department of the Arts), and the Council and officers of the AFTRS is of course not known. Maybe there's nothing to see here or maybe things  will never be known. There's just enough slippery language here to make you want someone to press the issue with George when Senate Estimates come round just to see if he thinks he really can intervene in any way in the appointment. If he does believe that it would be something with serious ramifications for other agencies in his portfolio which have similar provisions for the appointment of a Chief Executive.

That seemed interesting enough. Then AFTRS decided to let go its head of Degree Programs  Ben Gibson. Then....nothing. Notwithstanding that Sandra Levy’s appointment comes to an end in twenty days, nada, niente, rien du tout.  Do I make myself clear. In the spirit of Woodward & Bernstein, Film Alert decided to take on the powers that be and investigate this matter. The following questions were sent to George Brandis’s office requesting immediate attention.

When does Senator Brandis expect to make an announcement of the AFTRS CEO?

Has Senator Brandis personally met or interviewed the proposed candidate? If not Does Senator Brandis intend to meet or interview the proposed AFTRS CEO before submitting the name to the G-G for the signing of the instrument of appointment?

Is it intended that the Prime Minister will meet the intended appointee before the instrument is submitted to the G-G? Has such a meeting taken place?

Simple enough you might say. So after first getting no answer and then being advised that an out-of-office acknowledgement may have been sent, I was promised an answer. And that’s what I got. viz this reply received from Amy Symons, Arts Communication Advisor from the Attorney-General’s Department (talk about getting to the top, no I wont)
Anyway Amy advises:

The Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS) is currently conducting a recruitment process for the position of Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
As AFTRS is a Government agency within the arts portfolio, the Minister for the Arts will approve the final appointment but will not be actively involved in the initial process of assessment and recommendation.
Under legislation (Australian Film, Television and Radio School Act 1973) the CEO is appointed by the Governor-General on the recommendation of the AFTRS Council.

Amazingly it is the same answer as was given to Paddy Gourley lo all those weeks ago, 

This is in fact wrong in several material respects and causes me to state the following.

1.      AFTRS is NOT currently conducting a recruitment process. It has in fact done that long ago and submitted the result to the Attorney-General/Arts Minister
2.      The AFTRS ACT has no provision which allows for the Minister to ‘approve’ the appointment
3.      Just in case you hadn’t noticed, Amy has not answered any of my questions.
4.      Film Alert has been belted out of the ball park.

5.      This will be remembered.