Thursday 30 November 2017

Defending Cinephilia (2) - Rod Bishop finds virtues among little seen elements of the Australian cinema

Best viewing:
Australian films
Tanna (Martin Butler, Bentley Dean) and Lion (Garth Davis) held their own with the rest of the world - the latter also proving valuable for conversations with Indian taxi-drivers when cricket talk is exhausted.

I caught up with the excellent Pawno (Paul Ireland) on DVD but the most underrated local film in years, and both the best documentary and best film I saw this year, was Putuparri and The Rainmakers (Nicole Ma).

Back in 2008, the National Museum of Australia held a wonderful Indigenous exhibition. One painting, The Ngurrara Canvas II (1997) was a spectacular 80 square metres and painted by 40 native title land claimants for whom English is not their first language. The traditional lands they claimed are the size of Tasmania and lie along The Canning Stock Route, a 1,850 km cattle drive that was once the longest stock route in the world.

The canvas was used to help determine native title. Following is a photograph of The Canning Stock Route, the way non-Indigenous people see it.

And below is The Ngurrara Canvas II, the near horizontal line two-thirds of the way down the painting is the only Western feature - it’s The Canning Stock Route.

All the rest are map paintings by the painters showing features of their lands.Top of Form It’s hardly surprising after viewing the canvas, their land claims were granted in 2007.
Chinese-born Nicole Ma took 10 years to make Putuparri and The Rainmakers. The story of The Ngurrara Canvas II is perfectly interwoven with the journey of Putuparri Tom Lawford, a Kimberley Wangkajunga man who takes his grandparents back to country to find Kurtal, a waterhole on their traditional lands off The Canning Stock Route, where they are able to enact rituals and make rain. Putuparri’s story is every bit as profound (and profound is not used lightly here) as The Ngurrara Canvas II*. It’s a film that will change the way you look and believe. And I didn’t see too many of those this year.

Putuparri and the Rainmakers

*The artists decided the first Ngurrara Canvas, a mere 50 square metres, was too small for their purposes. That painting now resides in the National Gallery of Australia.

Most worrying aspect of long form TV series:
When Michelle Dockery first appears in Godless, you can’t help thinking “It’s Lady Mary!”. And every time it looks like she might bonk Roy Goode (Jack O’Connell) you feel like warning him: “A bloke she bonked in the first series of Downton Abbey died of a heart attack during the event”.

Much the same happens with Kyle Chandler. How can he be a convincing killer cop in Bloodline, when he’s always going to be that nice Coach Taylor from Friday Night Lights?

Damon Herriman, Top of the Lake: China Girl
Aussie Damon Herriman has the same problem. He’s a very talented actor (check out his short but brilliant performance in Top of the Lake: China Girl), but for me he’s just moonlighting and needs to go back to his day-job as Dewey Crowe in Justified.

Best TV series that drove me to drink:
No contest here, after a couple of episodes of the 18-hour The Vietnam War (Ken Burns and Lynn Novick), we brought out the scotch for the remainder.

Best music docos:
The series that made me wish I’d taken The Grateful Dead more seriously these past 52 years was Long Strange Trip (Amir Bar-Lev) and John Scheinfeld’s Chasing Trane was the doco that made me realize what a marvelous human being John Coltrane had been.

Worst duds:
Agree completely with Adrian Martin  – Get Out and The Beguiled, but I’d add two Werner Herzog catastrophes, Salt and Fire and Queen of the Desert.

Most expensive dud:
Again, no contest - Bladerunner 2049.

Worthy mentions:

Kaili Blues
The Wachowskis’ LGBT culture in Sense 8 (all series and the Christmas special); the Istanbul cats of Kedi (Ceyda Torun); James McAvoy in Split (M. Night Shyamalan) and the promising virtuosity of Kaili Blues (Gan Bi).

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