Thursday 30 May 2019

CINEMA REBORN - The Presentations (7) - Jason Di Rosso introduces LUCKY TO BE A WOMAN (Alessandro Blasetti, Italy, 1956)

Jason Di Ro
Lucky to be a Woman/ La Fortuna di Essere Donna is one of the earliest films to feature the iconic always electric pairing of Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren. It is directed by Alessandro Blasetti, who had in fact first put the two together in his film Too Bad She's Bad/Peccato che sia una canaglia), which came out two years earlier in 1954, and also saw Loren playing a quick witted schemer.

This is a film from a very versatile director who skipped across genres, and in fact was already a veteran in the 1950s, having established himself during the fascist ventennio, or two-decade long dictatorship.

It's depiction of the cynical world of tabloid journalism is strikingly ambivalent. And this ambivalence is demonstrated through Loren's very modern character, who, as a poor but ambitious and beautiful young woman in a country still struggling, given that it was barely 10 years since the end of a devastating war, is both the subject of exploitation but also quite capable of taking advantage of those who seek to exploit her.

By the mid 1950s neo-realism was morphing into more populist films like this one, a trend or genre dubbed “pink neo- realism or neo-realismo rosa”, a precursor to the commedia all'italiana

The critic Andrea Bini in his book, Male Anxiety and Psychopathology in Film: Comedy Italian Style, points out the difference between pink neorealism and the commedia all'italianausing this film as an example, saying that as a pink neorealism it tends towards a redemptive arc, a celebration and re-assertion of domesticity, humble values, while the com media all'italiana would reflect a more jaded vision, with characters whose desires know no limitations.

That said, this film is of course an interesting precursor to Fellini's La Dolce Vita, given Mastroianni plays a paparazzo in this film who hangs around the Roman social set and peddles scandal, gossip and soft porn.

The screenplay is written by a woman and two men, giants of Italian screenwriting, Suso Cecchi d’Amico, along with Sandro Continenza and Ennio Flaiano ( who co-wrote La Dolce Vita)...

And a final connection with Fellini’s film Lucky to be a Woman was shot by La Dolce Vita's cinematographer Otello Martelli...

Lucky to be a Woman is not a film of grand or showy cinematic gestures, it's underpinned by a solid level of craft across the board - from the grips operating the dollies to the screenwriters - this is a very good example of what the Cinecitta hit machine could produce in the post war years. Films like this are the lifeblood of a national cinema at its most populist and engaging. An effervescent, bold and socially critical comedy, with breathtaking on screen chemistry between two leads who would go on to be major international stars.

Friday 3 May 2019
Jason Di Rosso is ABC Radio National’s film and TV critic and reviewer across a range of RN shows. He was previously the host of the weekly film show The Final Cut. Before becoming RN’s chief film specialist, Jason spent six years as associate producer and reviewer on RN’s Movietime.
His background in film goes back to the 90s, when he completed a degree in communications at Perth’s Curtin University. He tried his hand as a production runner but then began to slowly drift from film to radio, and started making features for RN. Since returning to film, by way of radio, he has interviewed some of cinema’s most important talents, from Isabelle Huppert to Mike Leigh.
Outside the ABC, his writing on film and popular culture has appeared in GQ magazine and The Australian. He has participated in public discussions and delivered presentations in a wide variety of forums, including films festivals and universities across Australia. He is currently a doctoral candidate in film at the University of Technology Sydney.
Alongside presenting ABC RN’s The Screen Hub since 2018 he has hosted Screen Sounds on ABC Classic FM.

How Cinematheques Get Started - Number One in a new series - Contributions welcome

I decided to start this (possible) series when I was having a trawl through the website of the Berlin Arsenal (current building left), a now mighty institution which has a profound influence on the national film culture.

Here is a sample of the history that is on their website click here

The First Years In May 1963, Gero Gandert, Ulrich Gregor, Helmut Käutner, Friedrich Luft, Karena Niehoff, Hansjürgen Pohland, Reinold E. Thiel, and Carl Wegner registered the "Friends of the German Film Archive" as an official association at the Berlin-Charlottenburg registration office. Their goal was to make the film holdings of the recently founded German Film Archive available to the public and to carry out film cultural work on an ongoing basis both with films obtained from other archives as well as contemporary ones. They organized regular events at the Akademie der Künste and in Berlin cinemas until 1969. Gero Gandert, Erika and Ulrich Gregor, Heiner Roß, Hubert Liepe, Manfred Salzgeber and Reinold E. Thiel were all involved in the Friends of the German Film Archive’s work during this time.
Even back then, the fundamental idea was to combine old and new films in order to keep film history alive. In 1968, the association received a prize from the Professional Film Journalists Association for the first program leaflets published as part of the "Film Archive" series. Initial efforts were also made towards setting up a film distribution company in parallel with cinema work.
1970-2000: The Welserstraße YearsThe Arsenal cinema opened in Welserstraße on January 3rd 1970. Even by this point, nearly the entire cinema staff was working on a voluntary basis, with the exception of the projectionists and the director. In 1970, the association received total funding of 3,500 DM from the state of Berlin as well as two additional 5,000 DM sums to fund two special ventures: the "The Theme of Revolution and the Synthesis of the Arts" exhibition on Eisenstein put on at the Akademie der Künste in collaboration with Moscow film scholar Naum Kleemann and the purchase of a 16mm film projector.
In the years that followed, Arsenal served as an inspiration for the many repertory cinemas, non-commercial film houses and art house cinemas that subsequently opened on Berlin’s Ku'damm and across the country. The Friends of the German Film Archive was a founding member of AG Kino and AG for kommunale Filmarbeit, two different national task forces dedicated to cinema work.
In 1970, the board of directors of the Berliner Festspiele asked the Friends of the German Film Archive to take on the responsibility of setting up and running an International Forum of New Cinema, an event to be held alongside the increasingly beleaguered Berlin International Film Festival and thus help ensure its survival.
Outside the Building in 1976. Ulrich Gregor second from left

Tuesday 28 May 2019

German Film Festival (2) - Barrie Pattison grapples with MACKIE MESSER - BRECHT'S DREIGROSCHENFILM (Joachim Lang)

Clive James once observed “Bertold Brecht is all right in his place….. (pause) which is East Germany.” Director Joachim Lang obviously disagrees. He’s made a career out of documentaries about Brecht and the new Mackie Messer - Brecht’s Dreigroschenfilm is a whole lot of things including an attempt to re-invent the musical, put the author’s life and theoretical position on film and make the movie that Brecht wanted out of his surprise nineteen twenties hit “Die Dreigroschenoper/The Threepenny Opera.”

How far Joachim Lang succeeds and how worthwhile those objectives are is debatable but I certainly found fascinating watching him try. The work’s familiar Kurt Weill numbers punctuating the action, an account of the first production in a Berlin during the rise of the Nazis (actuality with the flag made scarlet) and the subsequent attempts to turn the play into a film that would satisfy Brecht’s Marxist conscience, the producer’s ambitions and the censor all have a charge and the filming is elaborate. It mixes realistic re-stagings, large scale movie choreography and dramatic scenes where they put the author’s words into actor Lars Eidinger’s mouth. The mix of musical, documentary and agit-prop is a big juggling act which comes off better than anyone had a right to expect. 

Brecht is quoted as calling the movie business a branch of global drug trafficking and a few glimpses of the original play show his severe view of entertainment - Jenny’s Judas kiss, Hannah Herzsprung’s Carola Neher/Polly pondering the lives taken in having the criminal gang accumulate the finery for her wedding feast, Joachim Król as Peachum cataloguing the injuries which are publicly acceptable for the beggars he puts on the street to a genuine amputee reduced to tending the outfit’s dogs. 

The piece however does reflect then contemporary German (and Germanic) movies. The beggar costumes hang in Peachum’s ceiling, like the miners’ chained clothes in Kameradschaft’s showers. He has a wall size map of London like the one in Kriminal Kommissar Lohman’s office and the on screen setting houses two moons the way the one in  Sunrise did.

Producer Seymour Nebenzal (The Testament of Dr. Mabuse or the two films of M) figures as the villain. Kurt Gerron and director George Wilhelm Pabst are conspicuously absent. The new film’s Britta Hammelstein and Meike Droste are certainly a lot better looking than the real Lotte Lenya and Helene Weigl they portray. 

Film form is remarkable with material like the glimpsed on-stage horse, a giant Thames arch decor and some sophisticated effects work where photos spring to life (again - but better than we’re used to), different layers mutating within the same shot or the confrontation between the beggars and the police who open fire on them only to have the mob pass through their ranks wraith-like. Inspector Rex handler Tobias Moretti’s Mack the Knife leads gangsters who metamorphose into suit and tie bankers with brief cases. 

It all funnels down to the court action where Eidinger attempts to have the producers, who have paid him a large sum, restrained from making a film that deviates from his revised vision. The issues of intellectual property and social conscience are pushed to the front. Having the judges watch the production in their court room crystallizes the Brechtian concept of law as theater with the author’s defeat presented as his justification.

Me, I’d like to see Joachim Lang’s movie biography of Heinrich George star of Hitlerjunge Quex and the mechanic in Metropolis.

Monday 27 May 2019

German Film Festival - Barrie Pattison reports on the Opening Night - BALLOON (Michael Herbig)

The organisers clearly think, given the German media presence, that Michael "Bully" Herbig’s Ballon/Balloon is a significant picture. They used it as opening night and gave it a couple of well attended repeats. Herbig made the all-time biggest German hit movie Der Schuh des Manitu/Manitou’s Shoe(2001). Think Old Shatterhand via Blazing Saddles or Jim Abrahams and the Zuckers.

This one is a total and, to me disappointing, departure from Herbig’s burlesques. It’s a conventional suspense piece aimed at satisfying your neighborhood multiplex if it were ever to get there.

It’s an account of the real life balloon escape a couple of German families made from the DDR at the height of the cold war. 

Daniel Mann made the 1982 Night Crossing for Disney on the same subject. The shortage of such films at the time it was current was remarked. There was Helmut Kautner’s exceptional 1955 Himmel one Sterne which got Horst Bucholz’ career going; Robert Siodmark’s 1962 Escape from East Berlin/Tunnel 28, Rolf Hädrich’s 1963 Verspätung in Marienborn/Stop Train 349 cheapo with its excellent cast.  However, since the re-unification of Germany these pieces have become quite common and Herbig’s doesn’t tell us anything new.

Two families in Thüringen, in East Germany have a plan to flee to the West for varying reasons - relatives on the other side of the border, impending military service. Working from diagrams they have never seen executed they construct a balloon from tent nylon on an industrial sewing machine and wait for favorable winds.

When their first attempt fails, the dynamic of the situation changes with the Stasi alerted to their activities and tracking them through a lost prescription bottle, their blue (non-Trabant) Wartberg car, their fabric orders and a weather map. The group actually made two failed attempts before their final flight. Parents Friedrich Mücke and  Karoline Schuch have to explain to young Tilman Döbler, first seen yawning during the school patriotic song, that their lying to him is not like the thing they have always told him to avoid.

Here the escaper families are just the usual good looking movie leads and the points where the film takes off deal with their police opponents. Teenage son Jonas Holdenrieder has fallen for fetching Emily Kusche the daughter of Stasi neighbor who has dad install a Pal Decoder on his regulation TV aerial so he can watch Charley’s Angels. Holdenrieder discovers that she reciprocates his affection - nice scene where she has him go kite flying with her to steal a kiss. Her incomprehension is one of the film’s resonant moments.

Another nice scene has the kindergarten teacher getting the incriminating information from her charges and, being interrogated by the cops, rising to the situation.

Even better is Oberstleutnant Thomas Kretschmann’s investigator, first seen explaining to his underlings “Without the border we are nothing.” He has a particularly chilling scene where he summons two cowered border guards from the area of the escape to the empty canteen, explaining that he chooses that over the interrogation room, and reads them the relevant section of the law which deals with the death-dealing methods to be used against escapers. His is the film’s most assured performance. The Pianist and the Dario Argento Dracula are on Kretschmann’s credits.

The film builds the required suspense as his investigation comes together at the point where his blue lamp polizei cars race through the night while the balloon inflates and in the pursuit by helicopter after the airship, which by its nature is a light in the sky. All the flying material is attention-getting in the best Stephen Spielberg taking to the air tradition.

Assured technicians include the cameraman Torsten Breuer (of Wir sind die Nacht, 2010).

The piece is a conventional OK night at the movies but I was hoping for something more like the drama hinted at in the best scenes.

Sunday 26 May 2019

Adam Bowen's Talkie Talk #61 - New movies, film music on 2MBS-FM, Kubrick and others on the TV and a recommendation for LILI (Peter Hegedus) screening at the SFF


Rocketman – biopic, tracing Elton John’s ascendance from Reg Dwight to pop star via his song-writing partnership with Bernie Taupin. 

Between Maybes– Drama about an unexpected romance between a holidaying Filipina actress and a Filipino ex-pat.

Asterix: the Secret of the Magic Potion (2018) – the search for a talented young Druid is on!

NGK– Tamil language political thriller.

Godzilla II: King of the Monsters– fun for the young, and a reminder for older audiences that “…cinema began its life as an attraction in travelling vaudeville shows, and at no point in its history has it wholly lost interest in its disreputable parent …” (Hannah McGill)

The German Film Festival runs until 9thJune
GERMANFILMFESTIVAL.COM. Closing night features a genuine rarity, a theatrical screening of the 1931 GW Pabst version of the Brecht/Weill (right) The 3 Penny Opera. Be warned -  ticket prices for that one start at a very modern $26.50. Bookings here.  

Saturday @ 7pm on Fine Music 102.5 or stream it on
Crawl (2011); The Man with the Golden Arm(1955); The Choice of Arms (1981); King’s Row (1942); Coney Island (1943); Up In Arms (1944); Daddy Long Legs (1955)

Preview: At the Sydney Film Festival, is Lili, (still left) a documentary about the impact of child abandonment on three generations of women over more than half a century. Excellent, rigorous and thoroughly absorbing film-making. Highly recommended


Wednesday 8. 30pm & Thursday Noon on Fox Classics: the epic, rather drawn-out boys-own-adventure movie, Where Eagles Dare (1969),* is based on a novel by Alistair McLean. During WW2, Richard Burton and Clint Eastwood (!) parachute into the Bavarian Alps to rescue a high-ranking officer from a seemingly impregnable castle. A bit too much talk, but the bursts of action are augmented by Ron Goodwin’s rousing score.

Thursday Noon 9Gem: the brilliant, satirical Ealing farce, The Man in the White Suit (1951), is about a single-minded scientist (Alec Guiness), who creates a fabric that never gets dirty or wears out. For once, both management and unions want to suppress it. Some of the finest British character actors - including Joan Greenwood and Cecil Parker - are at the top of their game, as are co-writer/director Alexander Mackendrick and cinematographer, Douglas Slocombe. 

Saturday 7pm 9GemThe Guns of Navarone (1961) - another big WW2 boys-own- adventure (see above*), based on a novel by Alistair MacLean. Starring Gregory Peck, Anthony Quinn and Irene Papas. Directed by J. Lee Thompson and photographed by Oswald Morris, it’s about the attempt by allied commandoes to destroy some enormous Nazi guns hidden on the Aegean island of Navarone. Great escapist entertainment, when it’s not bogged down in moral argy-bargy. Score by Dimitri Tiomkin.

Saturday 8.30pm & Sunday Noon on Fox ClassicsPaths of Glory (1957) - Stark, graphic and bitter story of horror in the WW1 trenches, and corruption amongst the top brass. French infantrymen refuse an order to undertake a suicidal attack, and are court-martialed for cowardice. Directed by Stanley Kubrick (right with Kirk Douglas on location); photographed by Georg Krause; also starring Adolphe Menjou.

Saturday 10.25pm SBS VicelandPostcards from the Edge (1990) A drug-addicted Hollywood actress (Meryl Streep - in one of her most likeable, most self-deprecating roles) moves in with her overbearing, has-been, movie star mother (Shirley MacLaine). Based on the relationship between Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds. By turns ghastly and hilarious.

CINEMA REBORN - The Presentations (6) - Geoff Gardner introduces Jacques Rivette's THE NUN/LA RELIGIEUSE (France, 1966)

Good afternoon

I’m Geoff Gardner (left) and I’m here to do the introduction for one of the films that, as soon as it appeared at Cannes Classics last year, we knew we wanted for Cinema Reborn 2019.

But first I would also like to explain that these introductions are another small part of the attempt by the Organising Committee of Cinema Reborn to copy the way the mother ship of our festival, the event that takes place in Bologna each year called Il Cinema Ritrovato, present their films. 

I’m not sure we’ll ever get to the stage where the likes of Martin Scorsese or Richard Lester can attract a crowd of 5000 or more in Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore to hear them introduce a restored classic but you have to dream.

So… in the meantime it falls to a group of very dedicated mainly Sydney-based locals to try and set the scene for the film you are about to see. I know the presenters take it very seriously and put some really hard work into just what they say to you, so on my own and your behalf let me thank this year’s group Peter, Jason, Margot, Mark, Quentin, Sylvie, Rod, Susan, Jane and another Peter for all their efforts.

Now… to La Religieuse or the less poetic The Nun.

Jacques Rivette (left) occupied a central place in French film culture for close to sixty years. 

By the early fifties Rivette had already shot his first short film and he moved to Paris to pursue his career. The story is well–known - frequenting Henri LangloisCinémathèque Française and other ciné-clubsmaking the acquaintance with François TruffautJean-Luc GodardÉric RohmerClaude Chabrol and other future members of the New Wave. Rivette began writing film criticism, and was hired by André Bazin for Cahiers du Cinéma in 1953.

I think it’s worth noting this because Cahiers and the other great French magazine Positif have always had an agenda setting role and for much of the time over the many decades Rivette remained firmly ensconced in fashioning editorial policy for Cahiers. 

Back in 2004 when I was staying in Paris for a long vacation of a few months, my late departed friend Pierre Rissient noticed my willingness to buy Cahiers and Positif the moment they appeared on the newsstands. Pierre was a man whom I freely admit could be the holder of some strong opinions and occasionally a degree of exaggeration but he said on one occasion that even then, fifty years after Rivette was first hired by Bazin, Rivette still had a hand in the selection of the Cahiers editor. As I said its important because unlike the way critics and cinephiles and scholars in Australia might read Cahiers, in Paris you read it because it provides a guide to cinephile life – identifying the best new films of the month, pointing out new talent, helping guide your viewing path fvor the next thirty days, discussing the issues affecting the French cinema and French production at that very minute.

Rivette’s first film Paris Nous Appartient seemed to set the pattern for his commercial film-making career. It was years in the making, struggled to get attention but then slowly assumed the position of a classic. That film began a long commercial film-making career that eventually produced over twenty productions – gathering up low budget features, literary adaptations, strong dramas utilising the best talents of the French cinema, one dearly loved film Celine and Julie Go Boating which is generally seen as the director’s greatest work, other experimental narratives and two monumental works made for television, seemingly extemporised through the use of theatre production as an extended metaphor for the state of French society post 1968.

Fortunately, virtually all of Rivette’s work has in recent years become available via very dedicated DVD and Blu-ray distribution and much work was done to bring back to life films that now seem iconic not merely in Rivette’s career but in the grand sweep of the French Cinema.

If you take the trouble to buy the massive Brit DVD box set from some years ago you start to comprehend a broad sweep but also some very narrow concerns. First you get to understand the role that classical French literature, most especially the work of Honore De Balzac, has played in developing Rivette’s work and the themes he pursued.

Second you get to see just how much Rivette, in the footsteps of Balzac, was fascinated by conspiracy of the state and its institutions and how the establishment, much of which conducted itself through secret societies, large and small, has operated above the law in French society. Third I think, and this brings us gently to today’s film, Rivette was a champion of individual freedom. 

A key recurrent theme was the oppression of the individual by the institution and how this operated almost in plain sight. The Nun looks at one of the most oppressive institutions of all, The Catholic Church in one of the most oppressive times of all when that same Church was the main generator of authority not just of the Church and its followers but of the state which bowed to the church.

The full story of the film’s troubled life back in the 60s, its fall into obscurity and its restoration and re-appearance at Cannes last year is told in our catalogue in some wonderful program notes specially written for Cinema Reborn by our expat critic, the ever enthusiastic Adrian MartinClick here to read Adrian's notes

I can only agree with Adrian when he concludes “it is only now that the film is reborn in a carefully restored version, over fifty years after its sign-off date, that we are able to truly appreciate its greatness.”

Adrian’s notes are so acute that I was tempted to read a much longer passage as a summation of this introduction. But on re-reading it I decided it was too acute, too ferocious perhaps to be put in your mind before the film.  But do read the notes in the catalogue or go on to the Cinema Reborn website once you’ve seen the film.

I hope you enjoy what may possibly be the only public Sydney screening of this restored copy of Jacques Rivette’s La Religieuse.
Thank you
Sydney,  5 May 2019

Saturday 25 May 2019

Adrian Martin - I Was Insulted and Robbed by Metro! (And Lived to Tell the Tale)

Adrian Martin
Preface: The following text was commissioned for a dossier in the special 200th issue of the renowned Australian film/media magazine, Metro. It was rejected as unsuitable for the context. Film Alert 101 now presents this texte maudit.

When you stop for a moment to consider it, Metro has achieved something quite remarkable. It has stayed afloat – as a weighty print publication, no less – for 56 years! Other classic magazines founded in the 1960s or ‘70s (such as Cinema Papers and Filmnews) have come and gone in Australian film history, while several newer ones (Screening the PastSenses of Cinema) have tenaciously maintained their online platform since the late 1990s. Many others (including BuffMeshRouge and The Australian Journal of Screen Theory) have simply disappeared after relatively short stretches of existence, or quickly diversified into a more diffuse (and international) media and cultural studies arena, as did the academic journal Continuum.

But the case of Metro – and its sibling, Screen Education (distant child of that mid ‘90s fling, Metro Education) – is unique. From the outset, it defined its central constituency – professionals associated with the Australian Teachers of Media (ATOM) – and faithfully served it, while at the same time broadening its appeal to those with a general interest in cinema, TV, radio, and (more recently) digital media. 

Whenever I think of the humble but resilient Metro empire, I naturally think of Peter Tapp. In fact, I attended the same teachers’ college as he did in the late 1970s, and I vividly remember a Super-8 epic he made with a dapper friend of his named Richard: in this discreetly staged film, a well-dressed British gentleman commits ritual Seppuku (suicide) by disembowelling himself with the sharp end of an umbrella. That movie sums up Peter’s sensibility rather well, I feel. Certainly, it must take samurai-like nerves to have chased so many advertisements, brokered so many institutional collaborations, and diversified into so many entrepreneurial schemes as Peter has managed to do for Metro since the 1990s. I doubt whether the magazine could have survived, in its present form and shape, without him.

Peter has always been more an operator – in the noblest sense, bien sûr– than an editor per se; that’s why, I assume, he restructured the magazine’s set-up to include a long procession of hard-working editors down the years. Peter had furrowed the path to his life at Metroby managing an earlier, now long defunct publication of the 1980s, Filmviews, which was tied to the nation’s once flourishing film society movement. I recall, when Peter was still in charge of everything in his early days at Metro, that I initiated a regular column titled “Cinemania” (issue 87, Spring 1991). After this first volley appeared, I waited for word of the next deadline. It never came, and issue 88 appeared (much to my surprise) without me. “What happened?”, I asked Peter, and he gave me a typically calm, measured and pragmatic response: “Well, you didn’t send anything in!” Perhaps in 2019, I should deliver Part 2 of “Cinemania”, only 28 years late.

I was there for Peter’s 100thMetroissue in Summer 1994/95. But I was also around 15 years earlier, when the magazine was run by a dedicated crew led by Helen Kon, Peter Hamilton and Lee Burton. Other figures I recall as being especially active in Melbourne’s media education scene of that time were Imre Hollosy, Ivan Gaal (whose splendid film work I covered in issue 176, Autumn 2013) and John Benson – it was the era of hothouse “in-service seminars” designed to bring secondary school teachers up to speed with the latest radical screen theories from abroad. And I also recall a shadowy assistant who will not be named here, but whose story can now be told, as it was reconstructed for me shortly after the fact by Helen and her associates.

In the early 1980s, I wrote several feature articles for Metro; I was barely 21 at the time, but I was giving it my all. The several hundred dollars that I had accrued from this labour seemed like a fortune to me, then. (As it does, several global economic depressions later, now.) But oddly, the money never arrived in the mail. When I plucked up the courage to ask Helen about it, she confessed to me something odd: this assistant had, on the pretext of saying that they were about to meet me at the pub, taken the full amount in cash. Once this criminal skulduggery had been gleaned, Metrodid the gallant thing and paid me again, and that assistant didn’t have a job there for very much longer. But I was also informed, in the wash-up, that an especially offensive “Letter to the Editor” published in a previous issue, referring to my “circumlocutory crap style” of writing, had indeed been written, under a suitably Monty Python-esque pseudonym, by this same charming character who briefly haunted (and tainted) the Metro office. Just to add insult to injury, as the saying goes!

Metro is an imposing and seductive monument in the landscape of Australian film/media culture; the proof is the fact that, almost four decades after having been robbed and defiled by it, I was still willing to write for it. Strangely, it no longer carries a “Letters to the Editor” page. I wonder why that is?

© Adrian Martin, May 2019

Editor's Note: Adrian Martin's latest book is  Mysteries of Cinema (cover below)

Friday 24 May 2019

Australian Independent Cinema - Mike Retter introduces DRY WINTER (Kyle Davis, 2019)

Dry Winter
Editor’s Note: Adelaide-based film-maker Mike Retter is a tireless promotor of genuine Australian independent cinema. Here he introduces a new low-budget feature made in his home town. Mike writes:

Sometimes the best things come out of a sense of crisis. Crisis forces change. When in Adelaide recently, the most prestigious university film degree had no honours applications, Flinders took the radical decision to produce feature films during honours year to entice new interest. The first round of completed feature projects has already spawned an excellent art-film called Dry Winter ... A collaboration between Flinders honours students and some young residents of the regional South Australian town of Cowell. It stands as one of the most promising Adelaidian cinematic works for several years, stylistically harkening back to Kriv Stenders’ Boxing Day and striking the tone of Justin Kurzel's Snowtown

To read the full interview between Mike Retter and the "creative gang-of-four behind the film" you will need to click here

This was first posted on the indefatigable Bill Mousoulis’s website Pure Shit Australian Cinema  a website devoted to alternative Australian cinema. The film-makers have just started on the round of offering the film to film festivals in Australia and presumably abroad. 
Dry Winter

Thursday 23 May 2019

CINEMA REBORN - The Presentations (5) - Susan Potter introduces GOLDEN EIGHTIES (Chantal Akerman, Belgium/France/Switzerland, 1986)

The Akerman We Love
Susan Potter introduces Golden Eighties
I am here as a fan of Chantal Akerman’s work, more than a deeply informed expert. The Akerman I love isthefearless and committed documentary filmmaker who can open her 2015 documentary No Home Moviewith a near four-minute shot of a tree being battered by an unrelenting desert wind, a mesmerising audiovisual image of endurance. It’s the young, experimental filmmaker who, 40 years earlier, in 1975 in Je tu il elle has the audacity not only to end her film with an extended, at times awkward and unnerving sex scene between two women, but to act in it herself. And it is of course the brilliant director of the feminist durational masterpiece of the same year, Jeanne Dielman, 23 Quai du Commerce 1080 Bruxelles.
How do I reconcile that Akerman, the one that I already know and love, with the Akerman who made Golden Eighties (Window Shopping)? Like me, some of you no doubt have already encountered the sense of incredulity that marks some of the promotional material for the film, a sense of bewilderment almost, that Akerman not only made—but was even interested in making—a musical. 
Chantal Akerman 
From the late 70s Akerman herself was looking for ways to escape the burden of Jeanne Dielman. In a 2012 interview with Nicole Brenez she recalls: “They kept wanting me to remake Jeanne Dielman, but I wanted to spurn everything—spurn my father’s name, not repeat myself.”[1]In this on-going moment of reflection and re-evaluation since Akerman’s death, we should remember that this film is one of more than 50 works, feature films, documentaries, shorts, and installations that she made since the late 1960s. Yet it remains in some ways a hard film to place in thinking about her diverse body of work, and partly this is to do with the genre of popular entertainment it deploys, one that critics find hard to take seriously.
Some critics hate Golden Eighties. Robert Koehler in a now notorious survey essay published in Cineaste in 2016 described it as “dated and silly, a stiff copy of a Sondheim musical with soupcons of [Jacques] Demy, amusing but empty.”[2]Gwendolyn Audrey Foster—cited in Angelica Waite’s great program note—implies an instrumental motivation, suggesting that she turned to conventional forms and their promise of commercial success to fund her more avant-garde projects. Even those critics who argue brilliantly about Akerman’s work, don’t love this film or don’t think that it can sustain much critical attention on its own. Ivone Margulies in her book Nothing Happens: Chantal Akerman’s Hyperrealist Everyday (Durham: Duke University, 1996) only devotes around two pages to the film, reading it in relation to its companion film made three years earlier, Les Années 80(The Eighties), an experimental musical that is often understood as a precursor or even preview that documents preparation for filming the final version.[3]
Golden Eighties
I’m not going to talk much about the film now since you already have the program note, and the reference there to Stephen Shaviro’s 2007 essay “Clichés of Identity: Chantal Akerman’s Musicals,” as well as Adrian Martin’s 1989 review, which also covers the amazing production team that Akerman was able to bring together. They each reveal what’s distinctive about the film in its intensive and slightly off-kilter mobilisation of the conventions of the musical. And to say something more about this I would have to give away the ending! Rather, what I thought I’d do for the rest of this introduction is consider another way into thinking about this film in the context of Akerman’s body of work, and that is to ask what first might seems like a not-very-critical question: what or who did Akerman love? Her mother, deeply, yes, but also singing. As she said in Autoportrait en cinéaste, on shooting her 2004 film Tomorrow We Move, “I love singing. It’s what I love the most … We would sing, and then we would shoot. What a joy. Whatever happens I must not forget that. That happiness. It doesn’t happen so often. Far from it.”
Golden Eighties
The importance of singing, even perhaps just its presence on set, how it binds cast and crew together, is evident in Autour de Jeanne Dielman, the behind-the-scenes documentary of the film’s production edited by Agnès Ravez and Akerman in 2004, where we see Delphine Seyrig in close-up while her hair’s being done, singing with the hairdresser: “A bouquet of roses so white, For you dear Mother mine.”
But the human voice’s capacity for music and song also appears front stage in Akerman’s work. Right from the start of her filmmaking career Akerman is interested in the voice, its capacity for musical expression and personal subjectivity—think of the slightly crazy humming that comprises the soundtrack of her first black and white short in 1968, Saute ma ville (Blow up my town). Kelley Conway, writing in the recent 100thspecial issue of the feminist cultural and media studies journal Camera Obscura, devoted to Akerman, writes that “[she] employs songs in a range of ways, weaving them into her avant-garde and more traditional works alike while tapping into traditions of popular song, opera, and less classifiable vocal performance. … Akerman’s work is infused with the sound of the female singing voice.”[4]Think, for example, of the opera duet in Akerman’s 2000 film The Captive, or the recorded song that concludes 2004’s Tomorrow We Move.
Rather than think of Golden Eighties as Akerman’s one-off musical then, a kind of auteur singularity, we can think of it as one extended instance of Akerman’s interest in the expressive capacities and constraints of the love song and its generic variations. Songs are often the codified conduits for desires—not just sexual desires, but the desire for other kinds of relations and ways of living and being in the world—desires that cannot be expressed fully visually within the particular space or environment visible on-screen, in the case of the film you’re about to watch, the urban environment designed to orient and intensify our consumer desires, the shopping mall. Akerman understands how even the most generic of songs act as conduits for emotional experience as well as utopian desires of all kinds, even if they cannot always be realised and so inevitably sustain what Lauren Berlant would call a cruel optimism.[5]Akerman also understands how songs function as a kind of folk mnemonic device to recall up and acknowledge such feelings and desires—I guarantee that you’ll still be singing and humming some of these tune days after you watch this film! Golden Eighties might challenge the Chantal Akerman we think we know and love, but if we watch it carefully—actually if we also listen to it carefully—we’ll hear the Akerman we love while also being introduced to new facets of the Akerman we thought we knew.
Sunday 5 May 2019

[1]Original emphasis, cited by Kelley Conway, “Lyrical Akerman” Camera Obscura: Feminism, Culture, and Media Studies 34, no. 1 (100) (2019):152.
[2]Robert Koehler, “The Travels of Chantal Akerman,” Cineaste 42, no. 1 (2016): 19.
[3]See the fragmented discussion across pages 186-188.
[4]Conway, “Lyrical Akerman,” 139-140.
[5]Lauren Berlant, Cruel Optimism (Durham: Duke University Press, 2011).

Susan Potter joined the Department of Art History and Film Studies at the University of Sydney in July 2015. Her research concerns the intertwined histories of cinema and sexuality, including the relation of film as modern mass medium to the intensification of sexuality since the late nineteenth century, and the genres, aesthetics and ethics of sexual representation in contemporary film. She also has documentary production experience in a variety of roles, including editor, archivist, researcher, production manager, producer and director.

Wednesday 22 May 2019

Vale Bob Hawke - My single contribution to his public life

Editor’s Note: This is a those were the days memoir.
Robert Helpmann died on 28 September 1986. The Federal Parliament was not sitting that day. It resumed on 7 October and on that day I wandered down the corridor and into the PM’s office. In those days there were no guards. I walked over to talk to a good acquaintance John Bowan, Bob Hawke’s Foreign Affairs Advisor and asked if anything was being planned to note Helpmann’s death. Bowan said he would find out and about fifteen minutes later he came down to my office and said nothing was planned but the PM would be interested in saying something. But.. if we wanted to do it we would have to write it ourselves, quickly, and get it in front of Hawke well before Question Time at 2.00 pm. Asking the public service to get itself into gear and do the speech would mean it never happened, at least not for days. So this below is what I (mostly) wrote, what Bowan passed to Hawke and what Hawke read. A brush with fame…and possibly the only time that Michael Powell, Emeric Pressburger and Nicholas Ray were ever mentioned in the Australian Parliament, certainly in the same sentence.
 Vale Bob Hawke… a great Prime Minister.
Madam Speaker, I move:
“That this House expresses its deep regret at the death on 28 September 1986 of Sir Robert Helpmann, CBE, dancer, actor, choreographer, director and producer, places on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious service to the Australian Ballet and tenders its profound sympathy to his family in their bereavement.” 
I wish to pay tribute to a great Australian, Sir Robert Helpmann, who died in Sydney on Sunday, 28 September. It is only in exceptional circumstances that motions of condolence have been moved for distinguished Australians who have not sat in this House. Sir Robert Helpmann was a distinguished Australian whose career as a dancer, choreographer, stage, film and theatre actor, and stage and film director was one of the richest, liveliest and most productive in Australia's cultural life. 
Robert Murray Helpman was born at Mount Gambier, South Australia, on 9 April 1909. At the early age of five he began ballet classes. His teacher, Nora Stewart, told his mother:
“A child is either born a dancer or he isn't. Bobby is, and will go much further than I can take him.” 
Frederick Ashton, Robert Helpmann
Madam Speaker, there is no doubt he did. He achieved fame in Europe and America and his singular talent was recognised and applauded not only by his audiences but also by his peers. His collaborators on the stage and in film included such illustrious names as Alicia Markova, Dame Margot Fonteyn, Rudolf Nureyev, Sir Laurence Olivier, Michael Powell, Emeric Presburger, Nicholas Ray, Katharine Hepburn and Sir Frederick Ashton. 
There is not sufficient time here to list his achievements individually. There were too many successes, particularly in his efforts to produce new and exciting dance work. There is time, however, to remind honourable members that Sir Robert Helpmann left Australia in 1932 at a time when opportunities to develop his art and his craft were limited, if not non-existent. By sheer hard work he rose to the top of his profession. He returned to Australia only in the mid-1950s, then to have a major influence over the development of ballet in Australia and to make contributions to our films, theatre, television and even, on one occasion, our pop music industry. 
In 1964 he was made a Companion of the Order of the British Empire for his outstanding contribution to ballet. Other honours bestowed on him were a Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Award in 1953 and Australian of the Year award in 1966. He was made a knight bachelor in the 1968 New Year's honours list. 
He gave to Australians the benefits of his imagination and skill. As Australia's cultural life has broadened and we have produced more playwrights, painters and directors of international standing and repute, no one should underestimate Sir Robert Helpmann's role in the development of the growing maturity of Australia's art and culture. He blazed a trail for our artists and remained active over many years. He was working virtually up to the time of his death, constantly involved in plans for dances, plays and films. No doubt he was actively involved in preparing to solve the problems each work presented. His work was summed up by his great friend Katharine Hepburn who said these words of him:
“He can set himself on a trail. And follow it. Step by step. Mountain by mountain. Jungle by jungle. Swamp by swamp. And he will get there. He will keep-a-going. And he will get there.” 
Sir Robert Helpmann brought great joy and satisfaction to the millions who saw his work. He demonstrated to the world the diversity of this nation's talents and capabilities. His memory will live on in his films and his choreography. It will also live on through the inspiration such a brilliant career offers to those Australian artists who will follow him. On behalf of the Government and all Australians, I extend to his family our condolences in their bereavement.