Thursday, 16 September 2021

The Australian Cinema's Hidden Heroes (2) - A series devoted to bringing to the light - Richard Franklin, Sylvia Lawson, Giorgio Mangiamele, John C Murray, Bruce Simpson

Inspired by a recent issue of Sight and Sound which devoted some 38 pages of its “Huge Double Issue” to 100 Hidden Heroes of Cinema”. this blog has started publishing our own Antipodean variation. Lots of names are being submitted. Text is on the way.

The remit of the S&S list was to turn the spotlight on the undersung geniuses who make film possible, from casting directors to layout artists to stunt people to publicists. Nominations are welcome especially if accompanied by some supporting text or directions as to where the Film Alert research team might start looking. The first tranche (Snowy Baker, Tom Cowan, Ian Dunlop, Tina Kaufman, Henry Lawson, Adrienne McKibbins and Brian Robinson) can be found IF YOU CLICK HERE


Here goes the second tranche in alphabetical order


            Richard Franklin liked to recall a night in the late seventies when he was working on his breakout feature Patrick in a Melbourne editing facility. The only other tenant asked tentatively for his opinion of a sequence he’d just cut. Franklin watched the chase from Mad Max that concluded with a car smashing through one side of a mobile home and out the other.

            “Well, what do you think?” George Miller asked.

            “I think,” said Franklin, “you are going to be very rich.”

            The remark was made ruefully, since Franklin knew that, despite his technical facility and cinema scholarship, he would never possess Miller’s affinity with the public taste. His love of films and the process of creating them made him an accomplished pasticheur but transcended his desire to win an audience.  

            Love of films drew him as a student to the University of Southern California, where he sought out his role models Frank Capra, John Ford and in particular Alfred Hitchcock. In another favourite anecdote, he was called to the office of the dean to take a call from Hitchcock, wishing to speak to the person who’d invited him to talk about his films. Hitch attended a screening of Ropeand answered questions from the packed audience, which led to Franklin interning with him at Universal. In this capacity, he was sent to the next door bungalow to ask why its occupant, Raymond Burr, displayed in his bathroom window a life-size cutout of Hitchcock used to advertise Psycho. Burr, Franklin reported, was tired of people talking about “Raymond Burr in Alfred Hitchcock’sRear Window.” Now people could see Alfred Hitchcock in Raymond Burr’s rear window.

            Franklin returned home to direct Patrickand Road Games. Both were deprecated by nationalists for their unapologetic embrace of American narrative models and use of imported stars, although they would find a champion in Quentin Tarantino, as vociferous in his admiration of their gaudy style as Franklin had been of Hitchcock and Vertigo.  

            Returning to Hollywood, Franklin made Psycho II and Cloak and Dagger, then moved to Britain for Link and Canada for F/X 2,  on all of which he experienced painful clashes with producers or stars. A sexually charged and finally hostile relationship with Elizabeth Shue on Link, followed by an encounter with one of his role models, Frank Capra, alone and forgotten by the industry, inspired him to a resolution  “that I will not end my life in Hollywood! Or even trying to direct movies! In the meantime I accept (reluctantly) that Act l of my life (my youth) is over. And whatever regrets I have, there is still the second act.”

            Returning to Australia, he directed workmanlike adaptations of the stage plays Hotel Sorrento and Brilliant Lies and the horror film Visitors, but otherwise worked for television, his hopes for a “second act” frustrated by shrinking opportunities and the illness that claimed him in 2007 at a tragically young 58. 

            Even in the hospice where he died, however, Franklin, despite having rubbed shoulders with the giants of cinema and worked with major stars, could gleefully recall his first success, the satiric sex documentary Fantasm, for which he filmed a sequence featuring prodigiously endowed porn star John C. Holmes. “I have not, before or since,” he wrote with proprietorial satisfaction, “matched the seventeen minutes we shot in one day with John.” A fan to the last.  (John Baxter)


SYLVIA LAWSON (1932-2017)

Journalist, critic, historian, cultural activist, academic, public intellectual. 


While at university Sylvia had joined the Sydney University Film Group and this led to her becoming involved in the fledgling Sydney Film Festival (SFF) which was started in 1954 by Film Group people.  In 1956 the Chair of the SFF, David Donaldson, invited Sylvia to join the Committee and she co-programmed the 1959 Festival. Her devotion to the SFF was a life-long one; she attended almost all of them and wrote about many of them right up to the last few years of her life. The SFF represented another aspect of Sylvia’s film culture commitments, namely her championing of Australian indigenous cinema and films from places such as South Africa, India, Korea, China and Latin America, because in the 60s and 70s they represented too infrequent an opportunity Australian had to see deeply into those cultures.  


Sylvia was an important part of the movement that began in the mid sixties for the revival of an Australian cinema, which at end of the 1940s had virtually disappeared (with a few honourable exceptions). Her articles in Nationand elsewhere developed the arguments about why we needed a home-grown cinema and a number of them, notably “Not for the Likes of Us” were particularly influential and constantly quoted in the campaign.  Sylvia’s influence on Australian film culture continued when she joined with Katharine Brisbane of Currency Press to commission a series of books on Australian film and television history, notably John Tulloch’s pioneering Legends on the Screen, still our most authoritative record of Australian cinema in the silent era. These books helped to found a tradition of Australian film scholarship with many academics and students contributing over subsequent years. 


In 1986 Sylvia left the security of a fulltime academic job, returned to Sydney and began to write fulltime. Four books followed as well as many articles for a myriad of publications in Australia and overseas, including FilmnewsAustralian SocietyThe Age Monthly Review, the London Review of Books and Inside Story.  Her book How Simone de Beauvoir Died in Australia(2002) was prompted by her annoyance at the way the Australian press covered the death of someone Sylvia regarded as a seminal feminist and political thinker; The Outside Story(2003) was an investigation into the history of the building of the Sydney Opera House in novelistic form.   


In 2013 she published The Back of Beyond, a study of the celebrated Australian documentary by John Heyer, which reflected Sylvia’s deep interest in the documentary form. This was preceded by what might be considered the culmination of a lifetime of thinking, research and commenting, her Demanding the Impossible(2012). In this book she investigates many of the issues that she had been thinking and writing about for a long time – indigenous politics and culture, Australia’s treatment of refugees, French resistance during the second world war, and the difficult histories of two of Australia’s near neighbours, West Papua and East Timor.   The book sets out to ask moral questions, in particular how do we learn to live with the bad deeds of our governments?


Edited from an Obituary compiled by Liz Jacka with input from Tom O’Regan, Peter Browne, Tina Kaufman and Jane Mills.  (Proposed by Tina Kaufman)



Edited from a review that originally appeared on the website Screening the Past.

Southern Italians emigrated to Australia in significant numbers for much of the 20th century. Negative attitudes developed towards them from the start. These were often openly expressed in newspapers and in the Federal and State parliaments. The biggest wave of southern Italian immigration occurred after World War II. By the early 1950s the inner northern and western suburbs of Melbourne (and similar parts of our other cities) were heavily populated by tens of thousands of such migrants from Italy, mainly southern Italy, and from Greece. Smaller numbers came from Germany and Eastern Europe. They came to escape post-war poverty and many found work in then thriving manufacturing industry. Melbourne’s poorer inner suburbs were places where factories made clothing on sophisticated machines and employed thousands to work in them.  There were as well heavier industries which made cars and other metal products. New arrivals crowded into rental housing, some living in sheds and lean to’s as well as the house itself. There were lots of small children.

Giorgio Mangiamele, a southern Italian who had moved to the much more sophisticated Rome in the late 40s, was one such immigrant. He came at the age of 26. His move away from the south was an early emblematic sign that he was somewhat different to many of his fellow countrymen and women. He was an atheist, a leftist and had skills as a photographer that eventually enabled him to take the initiative, break away from the rules and confinements set down by his sponsor the Australian Government and establish his own small business in Carlton, the most sophisticated and cosmopolitan of Melbourne’s inner suburbs. His refusal to accept seemingly straight forward government rules of the day was to be something of a mark for his later dealings with Australia’s film funding authorities.

Notwithstanding Carlton’s ‘sophistication’ Mangiamele saw prejudice close up and this was to form the thematic basis of his work in a sphere beyond his photographic business, film-making. From 1953 to 1963 he made six short, medium and feature length films chronicling the experiences of Italian immigrants. For all six he was his own producer and financier as well as the director, photographer and writer or co-writer.  These films, with the feature film Clay, made in 1965, form the basis of his reputation as a pioneer working at a time when government assistance to the film industry was non-existent. He was not the only person trying to make films during this time but he did succeed in getting things done, making some movies and having them screened to appreciative audiences. The screenings however were at film societies and in community halls not in commercial cinemas.

After those films made between 1953 and 1963 Mangiamele turned to other subjects and completed two feature films Clay (Australia 1965) and Beyond Reason (Australia 1970). The former was selected for the competition at that year’s Cannes Film Festival. The latter, an attempt at a commercial thriller, was distributed in Melbourne by the American company Columbia Pictures. After that Mangiamele spent the best part of the 70s unsuccessfully trying to get Australian and Victorian Government funding for his projects. He then took a job with the Papua New Guinea Office of Information and worked in that country as a director for three years into the early 80s. When he returned he again embarked on a largely fruitless round of making submissions for funding of proposed film productions.

Philip Adams described him as “genuinely heroic and a romantic; in the best Quixotic sense.” These are the words that reflect a stubborn sense of self-belief no matter how inflexible and unsympathetic the always risk averse bureaucrats were and how much they may have wanted him to play by different, more restrictive, rules. Mangiamele probably regularly lamented how smoother, more polished and fully completed scripts by writers and directors who learnt how to play the game were always favoured over the thoughts and ideas of the maverick. (Geoff Gardner)

JOHN C. MURRAY (1932 – 2019)


Back in the early 1960s, long before Film Studies found its way on to curricula as an independent discipline around the country, indeed around the world, John Murray decided that it was time. From his base in the English Department at Coburg Teachers’ College, he embarked on a course designed to encourage the educators of the future to take the subject seriously. Where better to start than at the beginning, with those who would help to shape the minds of their students by showing them that the process of watching a film (or a TV program) was far from a passive activity. 


A couple of years before the pioneering Brian Robinson established a home at nearby Swinburne for students wanting to become filmmakers, John became the go-to advocate for those who wanted to study film as an art form. And, as I wrote for Film Alert’s appraisal of his career a couple of years ago (read if you click here), his legacy is now spread throughout the land in ways that are impossible to measure but that reflect how brilliant teachers will always leave their marks on the generations that follow.


His reputation grew over the years as a result of his charismatic force, his always-crowded classes and the support he gave to teachers already in the field. His three beautifully written monographs about how best to demystify the so-called magic of the movies (and of TV) – Ten Lessons in Film AppreciationThe Box in the Corner and In Focus (the last co-authored with wife Jan) – offered straightforward advice about how one might usefully help students to make sense of the production process and of the range of ways in which its fruits could be understood.


Adrian Martin got it exactly right when he observed in the aforementioned Film Alert collection, “John was a true pioneer of screen studies education and critical analysis in Australia, both on the intellectual and institutional levels. He made great strides in the study of audio-visual form and style (whatever the medium, film or TV), auteurs and genres, cinema and society … a large agenda that would find itself hastily reassembled (and sometimes unfairly dismissed) when the formidable legionnaires of ‘film theory’, 1970s-style, rode on to the field and took possession of it.”


John was an eloquent and inspiring teacher. But he was also a wonderfully fluent and insightful writer, his commentaries gracing newspapers and specialist journals both in Australia and abroad. As is the way of the world, you only can find his contributions to how we now think about film buried away somewhere between the lines. Google his name today and only a couple of entries will come up, along with those for the abundance of others who happen to share his name. He is truly one of the hidden heroes of our film history. (Tom Ryan)



BRUCE SIMPSON (1942-2021)


Bruce worked in film exhibition and distribution for most of his working life. He worked for Village Roadshow (supervising the redevelopment of their Brisbane twin cinema, the Village Twin at New Farm which opened in late 1970, was the first twin cinema complex in Queensland and one of the earliest multi-screen cinemas in Australia. It was a renovation of the popular Astor Theatre. 

The Village Twin Cinemas, now listed on the State Heritage


Later Bruce was a business partner of distributor and producer Eric Dare. Eric Dare acquired the Triumph cinema in East Brisbane  and owned the place for over three decades. The changes in ownership c. 1970 correspond with a transformation of the theatre. In 1970 it was renamed the Capri East Brisbane and was operated by the Capri Theatre Company, which screened mostly R-rated sex films. 


By 1988 it had been renamed as the Classic Cinema, an art-house screening alternative and revival films, and the venue for film festivals and the annual Brisbane screening of Australian Film, Television and Radio School productions. The theatre functioned as an art-house until closed in mid-2000.


Bruce was a major contributor to the Brisbane International Film Festival in its early days in the 1990s and was heavily involved in BIFF’s early programming. He loved to talk about the business (often till late at night, “Hang on I have to do a reel change”) and was always bursting with ideas to promote his movies. Separately he developed his own special events and on a couple of occasions was able to bring major independent directors Sergei Bodrov and Tian Zhaungzhuang to Brisbane as part of quite unique Russian and Chinese cinema events. It closed in 2000, a victim of changing times and distribution practices. 

Brisbane was, and remains, a tough gig for cinema outside the mainstream. Bruce did much to try and change it. (Geoff Gardner)

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