Saturday 2 December 2017

Defending Cinephilia (3) - The editor reflects all the way from Vitamin B12 to Colin Bennett

1. Sometime in May I met up with my friend Peter Tammer who came over to Mount Bernard Olives  near Avenel in central Victoria. “Geoff are you OK? You don’t look so good”. Later that day, my GP got in touch and ordered me back to Sydney.
After about a week waiting for the results of tests, the wonderful Dr Mark P. at St Vincent's Kinghorn Centre, told me I was merely suffering from pernicious anemia, the result of having no store of vitamin B12. A series of injections topped the B12 back up and I was cleared to head for Bologna and Cinema Ritrovato for the sixth year in a row. The energy level was very high indeed. I’ve been wondering if it was all that B12 that caused me to come home and embark on a possibly quixotic project which might just be bearing some fruit – a new event Cinema Reborn to take place at the
AFTRS, Moore Park, Sydney
Australian Film Television and Radio School Theatre in Sydney from 3-7 May 2018. I’ve posted an introductory  piece
online here and started a Facebook Page but there is more social and other media to come. Now, thanks to advice from those who know how these things are done, people are relentlessly ploughing on. First titles to be announced soon but a million things to do…. and for those who pay attention to detail, the initial planned four days has been extended to five.

2.The inspiration comes from Bologna’s Cinema Ritrovato, a behemoth operation now, after thirty-one years, but staying true to cinephiliac roots.
Gianluca Farinelli (standing) and his
Artistic Advisory Committee
Nobody knows everything and Bologna’s selection seems to be based on democratic principles with Artistic Director Gianluca Farinelli drawing on critics, programmers, experts and enthusiasts from around the world who seem to freely volunteer their ideas, their time and energy for the greater good of recovering the cinema's past and presenting it as often as possible in new copies, each one a tribute to the love and devotion of the restorer. Today's heroes of cinema are unsung - everyone from Grover Crisp and Shawn Belston at the Hollywood studios to un-named archivists around the world. Where else in one week can you see, for the very first time for me, remarkable old films by William K Howard, Tod Browning, Alexander Volkov, Gustav Machaty, Med Hondo, Richard Fleischer, E A Dupont, Juan Bustillo Oro, Lois Weber, Frank Borzage, James Whale, Tamizo Ishida (“worth going to Bologna for this alone” my notebook says) and many more and then top off the week with screenings of new 4K restorations of the masterpieces Ernst Lubitsch’s
Trouble in Paradise and Jean Renoir’s Le Crime de M. Lange.

but....I'm mindful of the sentiment by Adrian Martin who, in his tribute to the late Sylvia Lawson, mentioned her capacity for “telling the cinephiles they didn’t know enough about reality, and then telling the sociological politicos they didn’t know enough about cinema.” A good point and one that needs to be made over and over again.

3. It resonates in a year when, yet again, so few decent films were made here. A few years ago now I put out the view that these things could be marked objectively. Just count up the number of Australian films which are accepted into the major film competitions of the world, viz the Official Competitions in Berlin, Cannes and Venice. Don’t try and distract with entries into lesser events like Toronto where you can buy your way in or even the Oscars.  Compare that number with films from places as poor as Thailand or Indonesia or Taiwan. For the last decade or so, the answer has been near to none against many. Ours is a cottage industry and a rather sclerotic one mostly operating with what should be a secondary goal of providing employment by servicing big international productions via tax concessions and direct subsidies. Way below that "industry' are lots of small low budget features, too many of them tawdry genre pieces unworthy of being shown in a cinema and made by people who get little or no re-imbursement for their work.

Only one film-maker stood out this year though the young debutants Gregory Erdstein and Alice Foulcher amused me greatly with That’s Not Me and near veteran Kriv Stenders did another of his hard-edge low budget movies with Australia Day. There should be more of such work.

Warwick Thornton has probably made the double of the decade – already seen a magnificently generous first person documentary We Dont Need a Map on our origins, our symbols and what we as a nation have slid into as the relentless march of Trumpism, Hansonism, Duttonism, Barnaby Joyce-ism and all the rest increases our meanness and lowers our social standards and our civility in the hopefully truncated time of yet another weak and disappointing Prime Minister; second, and my view is based only reports and prizes already garnered, a bold new feature film Sweet Country ...and a mark for bravery for Nashen Moodley who programmed Thornton's doco on the SFF's Opening Night. Not the kind of film that mob usually expects or possibly even wants to see.

Mathieu Kassovitz (front) The Bureau
4. I have yet to see a second of the new Twin Peaks. Nor  have I seen any of series 2 of Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake. Pleasures ahead for 2018. Notwithstanding, series TV offered seemingly endless enjoyment – great subtlety in the rendering of the secret, but bureaucratic, world of French spying in The Bureau, criminal drollery in the Minnesotan backblocks in Fargo, Carrie as smart and troubled as ever in Homeland, spies with personal problems in the German Berlin Station, the bleak view of West Coast living in Ray Donovan, The People vs O J Simpson,  the Israeli Fauda, the brilliant reconstruction that is on show in Peter Morgan’s The Crown, the mighty Tom Hardy in Taboo, Brit smarts in The Halcyon, two from Norway, the first a tale of the nation under Russian Occupation in Occupied and the second, Nobel, a tale of much intrigue and skullduggery, a forensic study of the mass-murderer Christie in Rillington Place, more spies in The Americans, House of Cards, Bloodline, Better Call Saul….. the list is near endless.

Kristen Stewart, Certain Women
5. New movies that gave you the impression that people with talent can still beat the systems, in the order I saw them: Manchester by the Sea (Kenneth Lonergan), Certain Women  (Kelly Reichardt), The Salesman (Asghar Fahradi), Frantz (François Ozon), I am not Your Negro (Raoul Peck), Kaili Blues (Bi Gan), A Man of Integrity (Mohammad Rasoulof), Wind River (Taylor Sheridan) and Jackie  (and The Club) (Pablo Lorrain)

6. …and finally the moment came when hopefully I made my peace with the legendary Colin Bennett. An interview with Colin by Peter Hourigan and I for the NFSA’s oral history program provided the opportunity to say sorry for the very shabby way his departure from The Age was ignored by the Melbourne Film Festival all those years back in 1981. The interview and the discovery (and publication) of Colin’s memoir (on this blog) were highlights not to be forgotten.
Colin Bennett at the NFSA Office Melbourne, October 2017
(photo: Bronwyn Murphy)
Previous entries in this series by Adrian Martin  and Rod Bishop can be found if you click on the links

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