Monday 5 December 2016

Defending Cinephilia 2016 (3) - Editor's Choice and Explanatory Note

'Defending Cinephilia' was the phrase invented I believe by my friend Robert Koehler, an astute critic and programmer and one commentator who has looked a little down the road to see where we're heading. So this series of end of year posts is intended to provide cinephiles with opportunities to both write and read about the things that gave people heart in pursuing the cause of keeping the art of the cinema front and centre. The first post by Adrian Martin rounded up, with his usual exuberance, a host of activity that gives a good lead about the things that matter - quality TV, specialist festivals, institutional enthusiasm and just sitting down to soak up a movie. The second contribution by Rod Bishop segued us into resetting our manner of viewing in the Trump era.

Contributions are welcome. My thought is for three to five items per person but no real restrictions apply, yet at least and brevity is always best. Send stuff for posting to me at

Off we go....

Bologna Catalogue Cover, 2016,
30th Anniversary
1. Bologna's Cinema Ritrovato remains the gold standard of public events devoted to bringing back the cinema's past. The general air of goodwill, the easy Italian style arrangements (actually some find this a reason not to go), the ever-lurking potential for surprise, the generous meal breaks - all bespeak an approach that welcomes cinephiles to the world of restorations, revivals, film history, scholarship and the sheer joy of unexpected discovery. And the great thing is the crowds are made up of many more beyond white haired oldies, (though Bologna's annual DVD awards remain resolutely male, old and white all over top to bottom).

Govett Brewster Gallery, home of the Len Lye Foundation
New Plymouth, New Zealnd
2. A trip to the Shaky Isles. Taking off for the North Island two days after Kaikora and Wellington copped some wild 7.8 shudders ("I really thought this was it. I was going to die." said a friend in Wellington a week or so later.) involved a bit of trepidation but on arrival hey... For cinephiles, two institutions, the remarkable Govett Brewster Gallery in New Plymouth incorporating the Len Lye Foundation, and Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision in Wellington bespeak what natural enthusiasm can do to bring film's past back.  
Age of Shadows, Kim Jee-woon, South Korea
3. The Current Cinema. I used to get invited to contribute to the Senses of Cinema Annual Poll and always had odd feelings drawing up lists of films seen in all sorts of odd places, especially old films seen at Bologna or on disc from sources that might sometimes even be called the dark side. This year I estimate I saw round a hundred movies just rocking up to the beloved local Randwick Ritz, the Event Cinemas at Bondi Junction and George St and occasionally the Chauvel, the Verona and the Dendy Newtown. (The Dendy has great seats in its extended section though nothing rivals the comfort in the so-called  V-MAX theatres at Bondi Junction.) So, the highlights of this selection, solid commercial movies, all seen at commercial venues:
45 Years  (Andrew Haigh, UK)
Age of Shadows (Kim Jee-woon, South Korea)
Beasts of No Nation (Cary Jo Fukunaga, USA)
Down Under (Abe Forsythe, Australia)
Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie, USA)
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi, New Zealand)
Julieta (Pedro Almodovar, Spain)
Rams (Grimo Hakonarson, Iceland)
Shanghai (Dibarkar Bannerjee, India)
Snowden (Oliver Stone, USA)
Spear (Steven Page, Australia)
Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, USA)
Trumbo (Jay Roach, USA)

4. TV Drama - Watching multi-episode dramas has become the go to activity and discovering the new is as thrilling as those long ago moments when you started tracking down a new favourite director (Robert Aldrich!, Budd Boetticher! Seth Holt! Blake Edwards!....ahhh such memories). But relentlessly HBO, AMC, the BBC and more, including in Europe, are making cinephile lives more home bound and sedentary. 2016 highlights included, in the order seen and not mentioning the designated series, Show Me a Hero, The Bridge, Luther, Mr Robot, Cartel Land, Black Mirror, Homeland, Spiral, And Then There Were None, The Night Manager, Happy Valley, House of Cards, Better Call Saul, The Americans, Gomorrah, Bloodline, The Night Of, Baron Noir  and Narcos. (Goodness a lot of sitting down there.)

5. ...and the great absence When you discover enthusiasm in unlikely places like Wellington or New Plymouth you get a serious reminder of how Sydney has been let down by the failure to establish at least one, preferably more, film institution of the kind established in Melbourne and Brisbane especially. The state institutions in NSW are restricted to Robert Herbert's often fine selections of films to screen on 16mm or 35mm at the AGNSW and there have been in recent times some erratically presented screenings at the MCA. Not good enough by a long streak. My taxes are not working.

6. ...and the best Australian film of the year. I lament that the best Australian film I saw during the year, Molly Reynolds (and David Gulpilil's) Another Country (Australia, 2015), has not even, a year or more after its premiere, had a public screening in Sydney let alone caused discussion and celebration to break out all round. I feel further sadness that no one anywhere, not just in Sydney, wants to put on a screening of my friend Peter Tammer's The Nude in the Window a wonderful final tribute to the life and career of the late Paul Cox. I fear there will be ever more such films out there and our rickety systems of exhibition of locally produced independent work are letting toiling film-makers down big time. 

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