Sunday 30 June 2019

A Telco story - Rod Bishop reports on one of the simpler things in life, keeping your old mobile phone number

Rod Bishop, before the experience described below
MR NUMBER SEVEN. Life with your Internet Service Provider.
A friend recently had a terminal confrontation with his internet provider. 
Let’s call him “Philip” and let’s call the company “Telco”. 
After days of trying to have his service fixed, and during one very lengthy call, Philip said something like “I’m beginning to feel suicidal talking to you”. The Telco staffer kept my friend on his landline for another 10 minutes. Then two police cars, one a big red Ford Falcon double parked outside the front door. Four cops, all armed and wearing Kevlar vests appeared at his door, providing the neighbourhood with much free entertainment. 
Would you mind opening the door, sir?” asked a cop
“Can’t do that,” replied Philip,“I’ll lose my place in the Telco queue.”
Philip’s wife has now banned him from any further interactions with Telco or any other internet service providers.
Recently, I purchased a new mobile and started a new plan with Telco. I asked them to keep my old number. They were more than happy to arrange that, so I inserted the new sim card provided into the new mobile. Barely 30 minutes later, the phone pinged. It was Telco giving me a brand-new number and not the old number I’d asked for.
Over the next three days, I had to “chat” online with Telco for about four hours and another two hours by telephone (including wait time). Every conversation with the five Telco staffers took the same format. 
First, I had to get past the “virtual assistant” by complex wording to cause the artificial intelligence to give up and “escalate” me to a real person.
Then I had to go through the whole story - new mobile, blah blah, new plan, blah blah, old number please. Then full name, date of birth, driver’s license number. Excitingly, I was occasionally asked for my home address. Then, long period of silence followed by “I need to talk to my manager”. Long silence, then “it’s all in hand, being processed now, generally takes 24 hours, but it’s usually less” and, after expressing my increasing doubts:“I assure you, it will be done.”
But days passed. And nothing happened.
The only divergence from this template came from someone in the Philippines (who really did sound convincingly Caribbean). She spent the first few minutes telling me how my long relationship with the Telco made me such an important person and why didn’t I put the old sim card into the new phone. “Too old. Won’t fit.” I told her. “Oh. Let me talk to my manager”. Followed by a lengthy delay, then “my manager says just pop into a Telco shop, buy a new blank sim card and call us back”.
A new sim card was part of the deal wasn’t it? Now I had to buy another?
As for “popping into a Telco Shop”,it had been my first step before these three days of online and phone tussle. I had gone into a Telco Shop, told them the phone I wanted to buy, what plan I wanted, and, of course, I wanted to keep my old number. The sales guy promptly told me to do some shopping for ten minutes while he sorted out the “mess” my accounts were in. 
Dutifully I returned and sat in disbelief as he pitched me a whole new deal for every account - my mobile, my landline and my internet.  The mobile plan he was insisting on offered 2GB a week. “Why would I want that?” Well, if you run out of data, your speed will be slowed but you can still surf the internet” “No thanks, I’ll just do it all online”, and left wondering why any Telco sales person would let a customer walk out the door when they had been prepared to pay the advertised price for the phone ($400) and the advertised $300 a year for the plan.
Give up” advised The Significant Other. The next day (when she left for her Seniors Gym); I couldn’t resist one last try. After all, none of the six Telco staffers I had dealt with (including the Shop guy) had ever told me why I couldn’t keep my old mobile number. But then, on the chat line came MR. NUMBER SEVEN.
Can fix that right now if you stay online” he said. By this stage all I wanted to know was whyI couldn’t keep my old number. “Of course you can, I can do it for you right now”. In disbelief, I told him everyone else had said exactly this for three days now. 
I cheekily added “don’t you have to ask a manager and put me on hold for 15 minutes?” He shot back: “I promise you I can do it right now if you stay online” What the hell, I thought, knock yourself out, mate. Maybe then, you’ll realize Telco simply won’t give you the old number and the reason is Top Secret.
Ten minutes later, MR NUMBER SEVEN came back with a number for me to call on my new mobile and BINGO! There it was. My old number, on my new phone. “My God! You did it! How did you do that?” 
I’m pretty good at this” came the reply.
All I wanted was to keep my old mobile number. The combined Telco worker hours, the amount of money wasted and the sheer incompetence of it all was breathtaking.
And guess who ends up paying that bill.
I’m really looking forward to finally connecting to the NBN.

Saturday 29 June 2019

On (French) Blu-ray - David Hare unpacks the best ever edition of Sergei Eisenstein's IVAN THE TERRIBLE - Parts 1 & 2

A long, long, time coming. Ivan the Terrible, both parts, finally in its 2K Mosfilm restoration. 

The screens accompanying are from the third last reel, shot and processed in Agfacolor with the all-male ballet/orgy during which Ivan plans the dispatch of his halfwit cousin, Vladimir to eternity, removing the last barrier to his total domination of the Russian Empire. As we know Stalin was so unnerved by the clear parallels with Ivan's insane cruelty and his own, Part 2 of the film remained banned from distribution after its completion in 1946 until the first cultural thaw under Krushchev in 1958. I still think it's Eisenstein's masterpiece. 

The new disc is on the French Bach label, French subtiltes only. I see no future plans for it anywhere in the Anglosphere, alas. Part 1 from 1944 and Part 2 (1946) are both contained on a single BD50 disc and have a reasonable bitrate. If anything, in an ideal world they could double the bitrate and return some of the inherent grain to the image with a more highly resolved encode. But this rendition is very fine, nonetheless. 
The film’s restoration itself is meticulous, no more frame jumping (from unprocessed timing notches) which literally plagued every 35mm and video of the movie I've ever seen, until now. No more density fluctuations with leeched black levels or white blowouts, no more tramlines and other emulsion damage, and no more shit quality audio. 

Finally, we can hear the last milli-seconds of atmos in the winter soundstages where Prokofiev’s score was recorded. All the while in “real life” and history the insanely murderous battle to hold Leningrad from Nazi invasion roared on, with millions dying, in the dying days of WW11. 
And a final minor correction to many people's misconceptions about the color sequences, Although they look superficially like the old two-color pre-1933 Technicolor process, which was essentially red and green printing, Agfacolor was a full color dye subtraction process like Eastman, but in many ways superior for archival quality. 

These two sequences in Part 2 were designed by Eisenstein to appear in a controlled aesthetic of flesh tones, red, black, gold and a green range from emerald to turquoise. Blue is absent. This new restoration glows with the unreality of it. 
There are so many moments when you think you're watching the world of Sternberg and Dietrich and The Scarlet Empress in particular being reborn in another similar Russian narrative trope, in the way backdrops, furniture, masks and wardrobe take on a life of their own within the frame, as though they are commenting in counterpoint to the human staging. 

The same can be said for the role of Peter Ballbusch's incredible set decoration inspired by Russian iconography, in the hallucinogenic visual style of Sternberg's great movie.

Friday 28 June 2019

Peter Tammer writes on his lifelong enthusiasm for the films of John Cassavetes

Peter Tammer
Bruce Hodsdon writes: In December 2017 I had just finished a two part essay on the film work of John Cassavetes the first part of which is here and the second part is here  Knowing of Peter Tammer's enthusiasm for Cassavetes' films I had him read it and, although also knowing he rarely, if ever, writes reviews of films – he makes them – I asked him to put some thoughts into a 'review' of what Cassavetes' films mean to him. 

While it may not literally be the case – Peter writes and lectures about subjects other than film - music and prehistoric cave art for example - the following stands, with his agreement, as his 'first film review' written without intent.              

This will be a rambling email Bruce, not precise, not scholarly, sometimes inaccurate because of the vagaries of memory.

John Cassavetes
As you know from previous conversations we've had, I have followed Cassavetes since he first showed up as an actor in the TV series Johnny Staccato, and with Sidney Poitier in Martin Ritt's Edge of the City. Whenever I have seen him as an actor I have relished his searing intensity,the sort of intensity which Montgomery Clift, James Dean, Brando brought to the screen. Then I saw Shadowsin the early sixties at the Melbourne Film Festival, and I loved it. 

I loved it so much, for so many reasons, not the least being the qualities presented by the actors, a luminous quality, hard to define. I haven't seen it for many years now. However, I was also just beginning my life as a maker of films, a filmmaker, and Shadows was made on a very low budget, "the smell of an oily rag", with borrowed 16 mm equipment,etc. It's all on record in Wiki and I imagine you have reams of material about it. 

I didn't see Shadows until I was working at the State Film Centre after I left Uni to become a filmmaker. I left uni in 1962 and so I guess I saw Shadows in 1963 at the Palais, the same period as I was making On the BallAnd he will rise again and Beethoven and all that jazz. I might have seen Shadows  after I started making those films. I can't say it "influenced" me, simply that it was made on similar terms, ultra low-budget, 16 mm equipment, non-studio, non-mainstream. 

Of course I had none of the background with acting or the film and TV industry that Cassavetes had. I was starting from scratch. So let me say, at that very early time I don't consider it to be a significant influence on my life, but when I saw it, it gave mea great feeling that I was not alone, that so much was possible with such primitive gear, and with virtually no money.

Then later on I saw more films by Cassavetes, Too Late Blues and another Hollywood film I didn't care for, then Faces and  A Woman Under the Influence ... both interesting, impressive. But the one which really blew me away at that period of my life wasHusbands*. I loved that film very much, everything about it, the concept, the storyline such as it was, the luminous performances from all the actors. 

Minnie and Moskowitz
After that came (for me) Minnie and Moskowitz... my God Bruce, that film "blew me away" as they say. A terrific idea, great storyline of an "impossible" love story, two people who have absolutely nothing in common, everything says that it just isn't gonna happen and BINGO, it happens. Of course I knew Gena could do anything Cassavetes asked of her, and I had seen Seymour Cassel as a gigolo in Faces, and I knew he was very good, but I wasn't ready for just how extraordinary he could be. His Moskowitz is a blinder Bruce. 

What these actors do (including Cassavetes in his role as Minnie's boyfriend/lover) is simply amazing to me. The honesty of their performances, the intensity, the shades and nuances of their personae,even in small parts such as when Minnie goes out with one of her fellow office-workers, and an elderly lady who knows how to drink and when they arrive back at that lady's apartment, they drink! Gena performs one of her many falling down drunk performances which will come back with a vengeance later in Opening Night

Also a few moments of film time before Moskowitz leaves for LA, he's in a bar, and there's this nutter sounding off in the same area... Timothy Carey who was one of the three soldiers executed at the end ofPaths of Glory. This fellow is a sensational actor, I can see why Cassavetes would be drawn to him for the veracity of his emotion in unspeakable moments of crisis. BEYOND WORDS! 

Well Bruce,I've shown this film to many people, some of them simply do not get it? While viewing the film with them I am chortling away in the background and they ask me "Why are you laughing Peter?" And I say because it's funny you dummy!  Because it really has much very dark stuff in this film Bruce, but there is a lot of humour. However, many people cannot handle this mixture of darkness and sheer lunatic behaviour where events are horrible, embarrassing, make you squirm and cry and laugh at the same time. 

Another film which I love in this sort of genre is Scorsese's After Hoursand in that film also I have had people asking me "Why are you laughing?" And I simply cannot fathom that they can't see the duality which is in it.

Moving on a bit we come to two favourites of mine... Gloria and The Killing of a  Chinese Bookie.  I love both of these movies, despite the fact that they are incredibly different in genre and style, even though they share the similarity of being about "the mob".

Let's start with Gloria.  Cassavetes makes a "standard formula criminal adventure story", with a woman as the hero and the little boy, Phil, as the protagonist. He sets story in the environment of the grimy shadow world where  a book-keeper for the mob steals a book which contains all the accounts. It's a fast, racy, pacy film which could have been made by many other directors, (in this case he wrote the script as well), and in some respects it is not characteristic of his films of this period. 

But there are other qualities which permeate the film even while the chase is on, even while Gloria is pulling off her heroic feats, in among all of that there is thisastonishing relationshipbetween an adult middle-aged woman who is childless, a child whom she doesn't want, except in a Freudian sense. She doesn't want to be around this because she knows he is going to be killed and that the mob will never give up... he's upsetting her nice quiet peaceful middle-age, her security! But also because a part of her really doesn't like this little fucker, and he doesn't like her either, and then of course it is another crazy love story, they both have to find each other because they each have NO ONE ELSE in the whole world. Pretty basic Bruce.

The Killing of a Chinese Bookie
Now Bruce, we move on to The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.
WOW, what a film! What a title for a film! On the face of it it could be just another "action adventure mob-type film" like Gloria, thrills and spills and blood and gore! But it is NOT at all like Gloria. It is not like any other film I have ever seen which relates to the crime genre. It's storyline is not too complex. Certainly not as complex as Gloria's is. It's pretty sparse. Fairly simple yet gruesome. The performances, the quality of the actors aspersonson the screen have a veracity like we find in observational documentary and in this case I mean all the actors, the wonderful Ben Gazzara, the sexy gals, the sad-looking MC, the Barman... the mob guys, including Seymour Cassel (as Mort and soon he will be "mort") and Timothy Agoglia Carey ... and the Chinese man who plays the Bookie, what  a simple wonderful unassuming presence he has as the targeted victim.

Why is this film so different? Well for one thing it demands that we "read the storyline" from what is revealed in the images, not wall-to-wall dialogue. What the images contain is a sleazy world with sleazy characters who eke out their days in a sort of limbo, waiting for a Heaven or Hell, neither of which is likely to come! No redemption, for anyone. No happy ending. Just more of the same, as long as there is society there will be such people doing such things to each other, betraying each other, selling each other into crime and misery. As Dylan Thomas wrote: "For as long as forever is!"

And the images also contain these people, these faces, forlorn, lost in their forlorn-ness, not comprehending why they find themselves in the position they have allowed themselves to fall into, to become what they have become. This level of "story-telling" is achieved by the actors and the mise-en-scene, the choreography... all enabling the actors to "BE" the story.

The story is in them, the genius of Cassavetes is to invent a style of cinema  in which the actors are not just required to carry out the moves required by the plot, but who have the space, the time and the willing participation to reveal the plot through their craft, through the "being" which they take on, and it allows the film to unfold through them.

Compare this Bruce... I recall an anecdote re Hitchcock and Vivian Merchant from the filming of Frenzy  when she requested of Hitch that he let her do another take on a scene. It seems that she was unhappy with her performance of that scene and felt she could do it better. So Hitch did a retake, I think to please her, and then he "printed" the first take. Why? Because his story required "this" or "such and such" but "not more than this". 

In The Killing of a Chinese Bookie Cassavetes is in some way the polar opposite of Hitch ... he invites his actors, acting associates whom he trusts beyond measure, to help him flesh out a story which he has initiated, in a film style which allows them maximum freedom, asking a great deal of the camera crew to permit that to happen.

And he asks the audience to involve themselves in "reading"the film without the assistance of explicatory dialogue. The audience will have to read the film via the actors in their scenes, the events in which they are placed, members of the audience are asked to create the film in their own minds! They are not being "spoon fed".

Editor’s Note: Bruce Hodsdon’s first film reviews have been published on the Film Alert 101 blog and can be found if you click here

A new restoration of Cassavetes Husbands screened this week at Bologna’s Il Cinema Ritrovato. You can find the program notes by Jonathan Rosenbaum if you click on this link

Tuesday 25 June 2019

The Current Cinema - Barrie Pattison reviews UNDER THE SILVER LAKE (David Robert Mitchell, USA)

Add Under the Silver Lake to the Ready Player One, Shazam cycle, though it scoops up all pop culture rather than just movies or strip cartoons. Not that movies and strip cartoons are left out.

Andrew Garfield’s mum is a Janet Gaynor fan sending him the7th Heaven  VHS that we see, along with him watching the star’s flower vase painting and finding himself at her grave marker - the way Black Dahlia uses The Man Who Laughs

This is De Palma world. We get Hitchcock’s tombstone. The makers are big on Marilyn Monroe too with the clip of How to Marry a Millionaire and its action figures, or Riley Keough coming out of the apartment block pool looking naked, posed like the incomplete Something’s Got to Give footage. They even generate their own bogus indie Harmony Korine movie with the on-screen girls part of the main film personnel.

Comic books also do get a central spot with Patrick Fischler (memorable in Mad Men) as the zine artist whose work they represent in uncredited Frank Miller like animation (director Ryan Spindell who is in the titles as graphic designer?) 

Up market porn is a keynote with Garfield’s dad’s Playboy magazine still used for his masturbation routines.

In with these,Under the Silver Lakeis foremost a Los Angeles film where Garfield wanders through the noir enigmas like Philip Marlowe in The Big Sleep or Jake Gittes in Chinatown. They use Griffith Observatory, seen in La La Land and Rebel Without a Cause which they cite with the James Dean statue. 

Their L. A. is a place of abusive derelicts and dangerous crazies next to immense wealth channeled into what may or may not be blasphemous perversion. While it’s very specifically located the film does make off with elements of Taxi Driver’s New York and Vertigo’s San Francisco - notably in the scoring of the opening. 

Bubbling round in this sea of references and associations is a traditional plot that takes unpredictable turns. Garfield is a remarkably inert hero who at thirty-three is making no effort to sort out the situation that has eviction notices tacked on his door and repo guys after his car - the car on which small boys scratch a penis on the bonnet before Garfield catches a couple and beats them up.

His favorite pastime is laying back among his balcony plants and watching the neighbor do topless housework with binoculars until the more fetching Keough and her little dog show up. L.A. is in the grip of a series of dog killings which seem to be part of the plot until it turns out they aren’t. Garfield carries round dog biscuits to attract the pooch and its owner who is offering casual sex but gets sprayed by a skunk and can’t get rid of the odor.

However next day the cops are putting yellow police tape over Keough’s door and Garfield sets out to find out what happened to her, tracking through a rave party event where admission is by a dope laced cookie that makes him throw up (lots of loo time in this one) and the entertainment includes pricking the balloons on the outfit, that Grace Van Patten dances in, with pins supplied by the door man.

That’s just the start in a two hour twenty movie where the length contributes to the hypnotic effect or would if they could sustain the invention which is one of its assets. There is still time to go skinny dipping with the missing tycoon’s daughter in the reservoir that contributes the film’s most striking image - the one they use for the poster - along with grubby Homeless King David Yow (alarmed by Garfield’s dog biscuits) taking him blindfolded through hidden labyrinth L.A. which corresponds to the areas for which there are no Google satellite maps. We recognize Bronson Canyon where they used to shoot the serials

There’s a pop group called Jesus Christ and the Brides of Dracula whose e.p. our hero plays backward to get the information by using code breaking techniques, in tandem with Callie Hernandez’ steel bracelet and the secret treasure map in Fischler’s old cracker box. We have a Wizard of Oz sequence (deliberately awful glass shot?) where our hero traces the hidden messages all around him to murderous song writer Jeremy Bobb who has to be dispatched with the late Kurt Cobain’s guitar. 

This is all accompanied by dope taking, booze and bare assed people. The star is in there doing his bit and Bobbi Salvör Menuez as a wannabe actress doubling as a call girl makes a particularly vivid impression. 

Director David Robert Mitchell (the admired It Follows) is serving up something we may not have seen in movies before but it still comes from the city of La La Land, Sunset, L.A. Confidential, The Man With Bogart’s Face, Sunset Boulevard, Hail Caesar and so many more. 

Under the Silver Lake seems to be struggling to find an audience which is a pity. It deserves to be seen on the big screen.

The Current Cinema - John Snadden notes new commercial releases from East Asia

The Gangster, the Cop and the Devil
We're finally seeing some of the first releases of Asia's big budget films for the Northern summer season. 

South Korea's THE GANGSTER, THE COP, THE DEVIL is a visceral big screen showcase for tough guy, Ma Dong-seok (TRAIN TO BUSAN) aka Don Lee The movie aint real subtle and it's very brutal (What must an Asian action film do to receive an R-rating from the OFLC?!) as a gang boss and a detective join forces to track down a serial killer. Director Lee Won-tae looks to be taking his visual cues from Tarantino/Rodriguez films. The storyline is uneven to say the least...but I doubt Don Lee's legion of fans will be fussed by poor plotting. Of his three most recent movies seen in Oz, two have already been picked up by Hollywood for remakes.  

CHASING THE DRAGON 2: THE WILD WILD BUNCH (Yes! What a title!) follows the successful formula of the original and this time around tells the story of one of Hong Kong's most colorful gangsters of the late 1990s, Logan Long (Long and his movie brother are based on real life crims Cheung Tze Keung and Yip Kai Foon). The film barely covers the facts and invents a lot more about an infamous kidnap and ransom of a filthy rich Macau casino tycoon (played with a sleazy relish by Michael Wong).
Co-directors Wong Jing and Jason Kwan have delivered a first-rate crime pic. The movie's set up is well done and the following extortion bid kicks the film into high gear with some very tense and well-crafted sequences as this once untouchable gang begins to splinter. Tony Leung Kar-Fai is surprisingly good as the central character.

Another Canto pic worth keeping an eye out for is Benny Chan's THE WHITE STORM 2: DRUG LORDS which is slotted for a mid-July release at the Chinatown Cinema in Melbourne and selected multiplexes nationally.

Bong Joon-ho's Cannes award-winner PARASITE opens this Thursday at many cinemas. It's being distributed by local company Madman Films and it will have a fairly wide commercial release.

Sunday 23 June 2019

Sydney Film Festival (19) - Peter Galvin looks over a number of the local entries and more - JUDY AND PUNCH (Mirrah Foulkes), THE FINAL QUARTER (Ian Darling), MYSTIFY:MICHAEL HUTCHENCE (Richard Lowenstein), THE CHILLS (Julia Parnell & Rob Curry), THE ROLLING THUNDER REVUE (Martin Scorsese), APOLLO 11 (Todd Douglas Miller )

Once upon a time I was not so time poor and the SFF saw a lot of me. These days I have a ‘small’ festival, only a handful of pictures. But it’s all relative. On the second day of the festival I ran into an old friend who told me he was having a small festival too – about thirty pictures. I swallowed my envy and pondered my impatient deadlines and told myself there’s always next year, before heading back to the library.

Speaking of lobby and between session chat (always a highlight of any festival not by virtue of its quality necessarily but in its value as a kind of barometer…films to avoid, films to catch, audience controversies, a sorting of sane truth versus irresponsible self-serving hype), one veteran festival goer and filmmaker told me that after opening night he had spent long hours contemplating an email missive to a friend which he finally wrote and sent telling them that Rachel Ward’s Palm Beach was the worst he had seen in 60 years of opening nights. I wasn’t there but a few close associates who were, said the first night crowd indulged the film, thought it lightweight and digestible, even likeable. In cold print it looks like a smart commercial move – a social comedy full of warm and familiar faces having fun in a beautiful location all skewed to the 60+ demographic, one that is keeping cinemagoing alive, at least in Oz. And all the while I kept thinking what would have been the reaction if the film were in French?

Mirrah Foulkes
One Australian feature I did see, actually the only one, was Mirrah Foulkes Judy and Punch, which was in Competition. In her on-stage introduction Foulkes called it ‘a meta-fiction’, and the line was delivered in a way that cautioned, ‘brace yourself now’. Foulkes, a fine actor, had a ‘come and get me' confidence that was refreshing in a forum where phony humility too often holds sway. It turns out that Judy and Punch is a weird mixture of tones and piss-take. A very black, sometimes funny fantasia about domestic and institutionalised violence where a little village in no-wheres-ville medieval times is held hostage to its own fears and prejudices. It was actually shot at Eltham with identifiably Aussie flora digitally erased. 

The main characters are puppeteers, the originators of the Punch and Judy show, perhaps? This isn’t resolved. Nor is it important whether we guess who is struggling to make the big time. Alcohol, sex and murder, and a witch hunt of sorts put a crimp on this ambition. Meanwhile a scorned and savagely beaten woman plots revenge and redemption. It looks a little like a low budget Monty Python and the Holy Grail, and it plays like Shakespeare in Love but without the self-congratulation. I have no idea what to make of it right now but it’s hard not to be out of sympathy with a film that has the cheek to send up everything from Gladiator, to New Age activism and Game of Thrones. Still, there was an earnestness Judy and Punch  that was like lead, flattening the beguiling nuttiness. The leads Damon Herriman and Mia Wasikowska are fine, while the support cast are, um, well Python-esque, which confused quite a few punters at my screening.

The audience at the premiere of The Final Quarter knew exactly what to make of this documentary about the last few harrowing years in the career of one of the greatest players Australian Rules football has ever produced, Adam Goodes.  An Indigenous man who had a sterling reputation in his community, both local and national, as a civic leader especially on issues of racism, Goodes found himself subject to intolerable pressure after an on-field incident during a football game in 2013.  A 13 year-old girl in the stands near the boundary line was barracking for the opposing side and called Goodes an ‘ape’, a well-known racist slur in footy circles, as much as in the street. 

Ian Darling
Goodes signalled to security and the girl was escorted out of the ground. In the turmoil that followed, commentators, the senior managers of the Australian Football League, shock-jocks, academics and fans debated the relative merits of Goodes’ actions. But Goodes sympathised with the young fan and saw it all as a larger problem that Australia was and is reluctant to face; its endemic racism and its embarrassed relationship with its First Peoples. In 2014 Goodes became Australian of the Year. Then the booing started; every time he took the field Goodes was booed and it did not stop till he finally retired before the end of the 2015 season. Part of the point of the Final Quarter is an attempt to re-examine what lay behind this kind of collective scorn.

Taking a nod perhaps from a tradition of essay docs like Emile de Antonio’s Millhouse, director Ian Darling and his team have elected to tell the Goodes’ story entirely from archive sources, going for an ironic effect that, at least for the SFF crowd, drew laughs and gasps, and later tears. The punters, many wearing the red and white colours of the Swans, Goodes’ former side, barracked as if they were at a game. For me the effect was cogent and powerful in the moment but on reflection the film is not so much courageous as self-assured in its righteous indignation. Which is to say, it tends to make fools out of the already foolish, like well-known conservatives who shoot themselves in the foot with numbing regularity. 

Meanwhile Goodes emerges as the man we know; dignified, decent, gracious, smart. Still, perhaps the best thing about the Final Quarter is the way it reveals the discomfort and lack of sophistication that media players and managers have in dealing with racism. There is more than a suggestion here that racism thrives because, well, no one cares enough to seek out its targets in order to see how they feel.

Richard Lowenstein’s Mystify: Michael Hutchence, another feature length doc which has already opened nationally, was in a way more satisfying, at least in terms of artistic punch, than Darling’s pic. Long in production, it is a really splendid film, that will doubtless be under-rated by virtue of the fact that Hutchence celebrity rock and roll life has been so often told in so many forms since his untimely death in 1997.  

Lowenstein, a close personal friend of the musician, offers a tender, meditative, thoughtful film, eschewing the tabloid clichés. Clearly, its intimate mood is a rejoinder to the dominant rock-tragic narrative, which sees Hutchence’s suicide as just another casualty of a decadent life style endemic to the music scene. 

Lowenstein doesn’t sentimentalise, or romanticise (Hutchence did indulge himself, no question) but he sets himself the ambitious task, usually the province of the literary biographer, of tracing the emotional development and inner life of his subject. In a style that has become increasingly fashionable since the success of Senna in 2010, Lowenstein has no talking heads; instead new interviews narrate relevant sections of the narrative laid over archive, much of it home movies.* 

Richard Lowenstein
Many of the interviewees are Hutchence lovers, who, in heartbreaking detail reveal a shy, sometimes pretentious, often awkward soul, who seems more sweet, than swagger. Still, Lowenstein drives toward an agenda. He wants to chart the way Hutchence’s life ended, not as the consequence of romantic intrigue (which is still the popular and misleading narrative), but rather as the result of brain damage sustained in a street altercation in 1992. This, suggests Lowenstein and his witnesses, led to undiagnosed brain damage, depression and then addiction, violence and self-harm and finally suicide. Lowenstein clearly believes the cultureand its core values around Hutchence masked his very real medical issues (his bad behaviour = bad behaviour, and thus no one sought to intervene.)

The Chills: The Triumph and Tragedy of Martin Phillipps from Julia Parnell and Rob Curry in New Zealand is essentially a solid piece of feature journalism on film. It has everything going for it; seemingly complete open access to its subject, a great sense of place, here, Dunedin on NZ’s south island, an interesting story –  and a portrait of an Artist, in this case Martin Phillips, founder, front man, lead singer and song writer of the Chills, who grew from a small Antipodean cult to a major cult in the UK and occasionally the USA…And yet, while always interesting, it never transcends the kind of editorial grasp on its content one casually expects from a seven minute public TV Arts feature.

Julia Parnell
In the interests of full disclosure, I am a Chills fan.  I believe Phillips to be a superb songwriter and the band’s various incarnations one of the glories of modern pop rock (the number of band line ups since they formed in 1980 are counted in multiple figures) so perhaps I am not quite the right viewer for the film. Which is to say, this is not a film about music, but the musical life. We meet Phillips as he was a few years ago, egregiously overweight, living alone (I think), in a small Dunedin cottage over crowded with decades of stuff (CDs, books, comics, Videos), in ill-health, indeed, faced with a life threatening disease, in part the legacy of alcohol and drug addiction, and all the while trying to ‘get clean’, make music and survive on very little money.

The films drama is focused on redemption; Phillips it emerges is a recessive character, friendly enough, but unwilling to share his muse amongst lovers, friends, and fellow musicians. Julia Parnell and Rob Curry never quite penetrate the mystique, even if there is a lot of crying from former band members and friends, and I can’t help feel there was an opportunity here to counterpoint the sensitivity and perception of Phillips the lyricist with his behaviour. It’s a nerds film with the nerdy obsession of ‘who did what to whom and who stole whose credit’, dominating proceedings. This has the effect of diminishing both the Art and all the Artists involved.

Martin Scorsese’s Rolling Thunder Revue has been reviewed on Film Alert already, but for the record I loved it and I would venture one corrective to the commentary. While it’s true Dylan dominates in spectacular fashion, one the films showstoppers is Joni Mitchell doing (at the time) a new number Coyote, which was met by the SFF crowd with a burst of applause.

The other great highlight for me, besides Scorsese’s picture, was Apollo 11, which is out in cinemas next month. Like the other strong docs mentioned here this jettisons narration and talking heads and is instead comprised of archive material – much of it never seen before and restored to such graphic brilliance one feels overwhelmed by the sheer scale of the images.

Todd Douglas Miller
Edited, produced and directed by Todd Douglas Miller its achievement is to make a new immersive experience out of such a well-known historical event. No matter what one thinks of the achievement politically or scientifically it produces a sense of wonder that for those of us of a certain age, was almost child-like.

*Alex Gibney used a similar technique in his Sinatra All or Nothing at All (2015) doc 

Peter Galvin is a writer and filmmaker. He is completing his first book, 
A Long Way from Anywhere, the Story of Wake in Fright and the Australian Feature Revival 1968-1972.

Saturday 22 June 2019

Vale Pierre Rissient - Barbara Grummels fills in a historical gap about the discovery of Jane Campion

Pierre Rissient
Editor's Note: Barbara Grummels, a long time cinephile, art house cinema manager, quality distributor and promoter recently came across David Roe's thoughts about Pierre Rissient published here on 9 May Barbara has now sent in this note describing just how it was that Pierre was introduced to the work of Jane Campion and later Laurie McInnes. Barbara writes:

After being introduced to Pierre by David Roe I would sometimes see Pierre again in Cannes at screenings of the most commercially marginal, out of the ordinary, films. When the lights came up we would often find ourselves in the front row, the only ones left in the cinema, so we’d share our opinions. 

I too found that he was as fiercely opinionated as others published on this blog have noted.  

I encountered Pierre by chance in a corridor early in 1986 (I think at Film Australia). He was complaining that he hadn’t seen any Australian features of interest. 

None of the sources he relied on to suggest titles to him seemed to recommend short films. Many in Australia were unaware that there was a competition for short films in Cannes. 
Jane Campion

I was very enthusiastic about the short films by Jane Campion and suggested he take a look.  Thanks to Pierre Peel was entered and won the Palme d'Or - Short Film.  Passionless Moments and A Girls Own Story were shown in Un Certain Regard the same year.  

Jane was the first woman ever to win a Palme d’Or. Pierre championed all her subsquent work.  

The following year Pierre secured entry of Laurie McInnes Palisade into the short competition and it also won the 1987 Palme d'Or - Short Film. 

Friday 21 June 2019

Bologna Diary (1) - A stopover in Florence - Alberti Dischi, Piazza Del Vino and Osteria de'Cicalini, nostalgia

Interior (partial) of Alberti Dischi
So it was that the annual trip to the beloved Alberti brothers DVD store in Borgo San Lorenzo in Florence produced another small treasure trove. The section of Italian films is divided into two. First the major directors get their own wall and then in a separate alcove every other Italian film in the offering is there in alphabetical. All covers are face out so you have to pick them up. It's so large that it takes a couple of hours to pick up every DVD and if of the slightest interest turn the package over  and peer around the small print to see if it has English subtitles. Most dont.

So, films unknown or unseen (to me) by Gennaro Righelli (a Magnani and De Sica comedy) Carmelo Bene, Gianni Amelio, Ettore Scola, Antonio Pietrangeli, Alessandro Blasetti, Emidio Greco, Vittorio De Sica, Marco Bellocchio, Edmond T Greville and, this one (right) without subtitles, by Franco Rossi. Smog  from way, way back in 1962 when I first saw it, I think at that Italian theatre in Footscray, and proposed that MUFS screen it. 

Lo and behold my first published review in Annotations on Film followed. Never seen it, nor heard of it since. But there it was on the general shelves, Franco Rossi not being a major Italian film-maker, at least not regarded as such these days. Regrettably the copy comes without English subtitles but that's not the point. ....Such nostalgia. 

Meanwhile,  couple of hundred metres away, tucked away near Florence's magnificent Duomo is Osteria de'Cicalini on Via delle Oche (interior left),  where a couple of young guys are doing some wonderful things in the kitchen. This is not a place  getting its food from Italy's central servery. Prawn carpaccio, slow cooked pork ribs and some sensational desserts were on offer and we were there for two and half hours. It cost us Euro45 each which included two bottles of wine between five. Recommended.

...and then there is Piazza Del Vino (interior above), stuck away way off the Florentine beaten track on Via della Torretta on the other side of the main railway line near Campo di Marte. No concessions to English on the menu and no deliveries from the central servery.  Riccotini with black truffles proved to some superb dumplings, filled with cheese and floating in a delicious sauce. The baked rabbit with zucchini and tomato on the side was similarly delicious. Sides of grilled vegetables and baked potatoes. A bottle of Pino Nero from Alto Adige washed it down and a glass of barolo topped it off. Euro50 per person. Highly recommended

Taking one's time. Bologna tomorrow morning...