|Barrie Pattison's private film archive|
So my Cinema Papers coverage of the Rank library and its career as late night filler on the ABC have proved irretrievable (see Geoff Gardner's earlier note links above). No surprise. Movie enthusiast activity in this country has a way of pouring into the sand. Think the cancelled Lillian Gish Tour, the tipping of the Amalgamated library, the demise of the National Film Theater and Cinema Papers itself, pushed into the hands of operators who rapidly ran them into the ground.
Equally appalling is the silence of the enthusiast community who have never worried about anything beyond their own lecture hall screenings or their VHS collections. When the French government messed with the Paris Cinémathèque it started the May ‘68 riots. When the Australian government wiped out the NFTA, I phoned the minister’s office and asked what sort of a response they had. The clerk on the case told me “You’re the only one we’ve heard from". Of course destroying serious film activity has consequences. Read all those pieces about spending millions on local production that no one wants to watch. You detach the engine and it’s hard to be surprised if the train won’t move.
Now there is a bright patch in all this gloom. Every so often the system hiccups and we get a rush of raw data. The big break was twenty years of Asian film late Twentieth Century. Sydney had six cinemas running it at one stage. The purpose built multiplex in Melbourne outlasted them - better access than in Hong Kong itself with double features creating a demand for films back to the forties. This could have produced a wave of original research. John Hinde did put out a book and Fatal Visions waded into Chinatown screenings, but that and a few term papers were pretty much it.
I remember asking the editor of Filmnews why the Chinese films that were running ten minutes walk from the office were only covered when one of its people saw them in overseas festivals. Equally fortuitous were the TV bundles - mainly on the funded channels though the commercials did once get through an impressive Frank Capra batch. This mainly worked for British film. Down the years, the ABC put out the Ealing bundle a couple of times. London Films continue Alexander Korda’s efforts in keeping his work in circulation. There was even a small batch of Australian thirties restorations on the ABC including Frank Thring’s 1932 sound version of The Sentimental Bloke.It wasn’t promoted and I have yet to meet anyone who watched them.
Though they might seem random, even these sources were not unmediated. Ann Hui’s 1990 Song of the Exile (poster left) never got the second week of its run and the same year’s Wayne Wang/Spencer Nakasako Life Is Cheap ... but Toilet Paper is Expensive was taken off by Valhalla after four days - two of the best productions Hong Kong ever generated didn’t reach their target audience. A succession of early Hungarian movies on SBS came to an abrupt halt when community figures declared those romcoms and detective stories were fascist propaganda. I never did see Andre de Toth’s Semmelweis advertised but not shown. That would have been a real good time and place for David and Margaret to assert their anti-censorship credentials.
|Art department reference for the decors of |
the British Jew Suss.
However , recently, when the Corp. put to air a curious batch of public domain movies, which included a beautiful copy of the Edgar Ulmer Bluebeard, they ran D. W. Griffith’s famous Birth of a Nation, an even hotter button title, continuously reviled by American black sources. Remember the way this one gets stick in films by Melvin Van Peebles and Spike Lee. No one here even noticed.
|Brit DVD Cover|
However, these did provide a revealing and likely cheap glimpse into movie history - and of our British heritage. This last presumably made them attractive to the ABC. Now a new generation are looking back on those small hours shows with nostalgia. Well they could do worse than give the films another run, though I can’t help feeling they had their turn in a spot where a great deal of more important material could have played.
|Title card, Escape|
However, I do know this is not what ought be happening. An informed cinematheque circuit should be airing the masterpieces (presumed or genuine) of film and the audience it creates should be lobbying for the best material to play on air in slots better than 3 a.m. It would be satisfying to watch that change the local scene in the way it surely would.
“Ranking the Treasures” the coverage of the Rank Library showings is in Cinema Papers 127, October 1998, page 28 on.