Tuesday 28 May 2024

On YouTube - Glimpses of THANK YOUR LUCKY STARS (David Butler, USA, 1943) especially Errol Flynn singing and dancing

Thank Your Lucky Stars was made by Warner Bros as a WW2 fundraiser, with a slim plot involving two theatre producers played by Edward Everett Horton and S Z Sakall. The stars donated their salaries to the Hollywood Canteen founded by John Garfield and Bette Davis who appear in this film. The female who gets most attention is Dinah Shore who does four utterly anodyne numbers of forgettable songs.

The writing is credited to Norman Panama and Melvin Frank, later the authors of the comic masterpiece The Court Jester. They give Eddie Cantor far more and far better jokes than he deserves. Needless to say it's a film that has its moments. 

The numbers were written by Arthur Schwartz and Frank Loesser and one of them, sung in the film by Bette Davis, "They're Either Too Young or Too Old" was nominated for an Oscar, but lost. The best number features a slim and skinny legged Errol Flynn singing and dancing to a stage number set in an English tavern. Flynn enters and cadges drinks while singing and launches into "That's What You Jolly Well Get,''. His Australian accent occasionally pokes through.

And here's the Bette Davis number.

It appears that Warners has done a 4K restoration of the whole 2hour 7 minute show which you can find when you hunt round the channels

Monday 27 May 2024

Streaming on SBS on Demand - Rod Bishop is underwhelmed by THIS TOWN (Steven Knight, UK, 2024)

Jordan Bolger, Levi Brown, This Town

The copious, eclectic credits amassed by British screenwriter Steven Knight makes for interesting reading.

There’s an Oscar nomination early in his career for Dirty Pretty Things, directed by Stephen Frears; there’s his television hit as a co-creator of Who Wants to be a Millionaire?; there’s a brutal London crime families tale for David Cronenberg in Eastern Promises; there’s Locke, a film set entirely in a car driven by Tom Hardy, written and directed by Knight; dockside shipping tussles in the early 1800s in Taboo, co-created with Tom Hardy and Chips Hardy; Kristen Stewart as Lady Di in Spencer; two badly received ‘re-imaginings’ of Charles Dickens (A Christmas Carol and Great Expectations); the Birmingham crime gangs in six seasons of Peaky Blinders; the berserk British soldiers in the North Africa campaign against Rommel in the awful SAS Rogue Heroes; the misjudged World War II romance between a blind French girl and a German soldier in All The Light We Cannot See

And now, This Town, set in Birmingham and Coventry in the Midlands during the Thatcher era and backgrounded by a predominately ska, reggae and two-tone soundtrack.

Knight’s credit list is not unlike his compatriot, the equally prolific Jack Thorne, who has written 26 times for television (excluding multiple seasons) and 12 feature films since 2006. Knight has written 21 times for television (excluding multiple seasons) and 18 feature films since 1990.

It’s industrial-scale screen writing with no hint of writer’s block, but the sheer output of material suggests it is likely to be uneven.

So, it is with This Town. There are plenty of moments reminiscent of Peaky Blinders, but Knight has a lot to cram in – the IRA, Thatcher, racism, skinheads, hard-drugs, soft drugs, alcohol, romance, reggae, dub, virginity, ska, two-tone, poetry, Christianity, skinheads and the formation of a band. He just can’t keep it all together.

While the lack of coherence is annoying, the sheer scale of his undertaking is often admirable.  What grates, however, is when the writing smacks of being a first draft. The central character, for instance, is the mixed-race Dante who creates song lyrics from his poetry. Apparently written by Kae Tempest, the poetry is terrible: “The words come and land in my skull like a flock of pigeons on a tower block.”

Dante’s band Fuck The Factory - with music written by producer Dan Carey - slowly comes together through the six episodes, finally closing the series with their first live gig. Their music is not only as unimpressive as the poetry, but it doesn’t sound remotely like the rest of the great music on the soundtrack – The Selector, The Beat, Stiff Little Fingers, Siouxsie and The Banshees, The Specials, Prince Buster, Jimmy Cliff, Bob Marley, UB40, Jackie Wilson, Blondie, Tom Jones, Talking Heads etc. 

This soundtrack is beautifully selected and originates from a specific time and place, but like the writing, can also abruptly veer off course. For instance, why does a demo version of Rock & Roll by The Velvet Underground from 1970 suddenly pop up? Great song, but 1970 New York is a long way from the reggae, ska and two-tone of Birmingham and Coventry in the early 1980s.

Michelle Dockery

Among the supporting cast, there is one show-stopping performance from Michelle Dockery (Lady Mary from Downton Abbey) playing an alcoholic mother who crashes her own mother’s funeral to sing a solo version of Over The Rainbow.

This Town occasionally has moments when it touches that rainbow. Pity there are so few of them.

Saturday 25 May 2024

French Film Festival + The Current Cinema - Janice Tong's 🎥 Filmic Postcard loves THE THREE MUSKETEERS PT 1 & PT 2, (Martin Bourboulon, France 2023)

Les Trois Mousquetaires : D’artagnan | The Three Musketeers Part I: D'artagnan (2023) France | Germany | Spain | Belgium, 

Les Trois Mousquetaires : Milady The Three Musketeers Part II: Milady (2023) France | Germany | Spain | Belgium, 


 Mélanie Thierry (R) and Marina Foïs (L) in Party of Fools

I have always looked forward to the French Film Festival, having attended this festival religiously over the past 25 years and I have developed somewhat high expectations. Some big names this year too, such as Catherine BreillatLast Summer (2023) with Léa DruckerArnaud des Pallières, Party of Fools (2023) with Mélanie Thierry and Marina FoïsStéphane Brizé, Out of Season (2023) with Guillaume Canet and Alba Rohrwacher, and Joachim LafosseA Silence (2023) with Daniel Auteuil and Emmanuelle Devos, to name but a few. But for whatever reason, these perfectly-made films fell short of stealing my heart, however they tugged or unwittingly I wished to be led. 

Out of Season

Perhaps with one exception, Sidonie in Japan (2023) by director Ã‰lise Girard. I am only newly acquainted with Girard during Covid lock-down but have come to love all the films I’ve seen of hers; and this one, I’m pleased to report, has the same whimsical quality as her other films did. Isabelle Huppert was in fine form, though it was the German actor, August Diehl, as her husband’s ghostly apparition, who made the film – and made me want to immediately re-watch Malick’s A Hidden Life (2019) upon exiting the cinema. 

Sidonie in Japan: does this shot remind you of another?


So, I must admit that I was completely taken by surprise when the very gesture of captivation I was seeking, came from not one, but two blockbusters, Martin Bourboulon’s two-part epic, The Three Musketeers: D’artagnan and Milady


From the very opening sequences, D'artagnan had me in a state of swoon. I was completely swept away by the movement, costumes, drama, its larger than life characters (yes, including the silly, naive and hang-dog look of François Civil’s D’artagnan, his lank hair and grubby face notwithstanding), and charmed by its engaging though predictable storyline, but most of all, I found myself carried away by the spirit of this brotherhood of musketeers – their motto ‘one for all and all for one; united we stand and divided we fall’ stirred up something in me that was fiery and passionate. It was so easy to fall in love with Alexandre Dumas’ tale from 1844, the distance of time did nothing to dull its grandeur, it was as if these characters were real, and their plight and fight were unfolding in front of my eyes at that very moment in the darkened cinema.


From there, a collection of cinematographic fragments filled the screen: the first view of a white stallion graced the rolling hills; then later, a dappled grey mare, all muscles and veins in another scene; the way sunlight streams into the palace interiors in the films’ extraordinary mise en scène; or that particular shade of crimson of Cardinal de Richelieu’s cloak; the way Louis Garrel (as King Louis XIII) wore his attire – handsome in a rock ‘n’ roll kinda way; the ambivalent sexual orientation of Porthos (Pio Marmaï); to the kohl-lined eyes and stubbled cheeks of Romain Duris (Aramis) sporting a hat full of feathers that, unlike the straighter long feathers of his fellow musketeers, his resembled those of a cockerel’s tail with a bright orange plume and lower down a flash of ultramarine blue; and at last, to my favourite vignette, that of Vincent Cassel’s (Athos) long locks, whether tied back in a knot, or hung about his face, wavy and loosely dishevelled – his hair gave him an air of solemnity and aristocracy. I love that Cassel likes to associate his characters with an animal; and for him, Athos is an old wolf, full of battle scars, timeworn and rugged, his mind and body bares the weight of his tormented past, and as he’s older than his fellow musketeers; he draws on this experience in combat, rather than rely on performance alone. These kinds of subtleties put our actors into the pantheon of Frenchman with their long history of sensuality: that men can be as rugged as they come, but be incredibly sensual at the same time; just like Alain Delon before them. 


Vincent Cassel

Some trivia: Cassel’s father, Jean-Pierre, brought Vincent along to Richard Lester’s shoot of The Three Musketeers back in 1973, in which he played Louis XIII. Notable actors of their generation, Michael YorkOliver Reed, as well the scale of production left a mark on the little boy. (Jean-Pierre Cassel also played D’Artagnan in Abel Gance’s rather silly comedy Cyrano and D’Artagnan (1964)). I counted no less than 32 feature film adaptations of this narrative since 1903, and this is not including any animated films. The last directed in France was shot in 2005, and before that 1961, so Martin Bourboulon’s version seems long overdue. 


The esprit of the musketeers is so entrenched into our psyche that they are cited as part of our everyday folklore; they appear to us not only in physical locations like their ‘hideout’ on rue de Nevers in Paris; but also ubiquitous in stories about brotherhood. One of my favourite British crime drama series, Endeavour, in Season 2 Episode 4, Neverland, (2014) had characters sporting the tattoo ‘A41’, signifying the motto ‘All for one’. In another television show, a very fine German/Danish co-production, Tod von Freunden | Beneath the Surface (2021) a direct reference to the musketeer’s brotherhood of ‘All for one, and one for all’ amongst a tight-knit group of childhood friends.


Even if you are not familiar with the history of the musketeers, who were in fact, a military branch of the Maison du Roi; Dumas’ story is universal – loyalty, brotherhood, love, religion, rebellion, vengeance, deceit, politics, allegiance, righting wrongs, codes of honour. I won’t spoil all the plot twists to retell any details here, except to say that Bourboulon did not remain entirely faithful to the book as he took on liberties to graft a number of historically accurate incidents into the plotline.


Just like the glorious epic of Shōgun (2024), the ten-part television mini-series that is currently showing on Disney+, the director and producers have taken great care in bringing authenticity to the screen; and for the Musketeers this included the way a mount is ridden, for example, Cassel in an interview said “Athos is a true noble. He has to sit in his saddle accordingly, hands low.” Whilst it’s ok to flirt with the code of a western in the beautiful costuming by Thierry Delettre; but to take care to not cross the line, (remember the details of the feathers, or the decision to dress Athos in dark colours which included a scarf to give the appearance of hair on his chest, a hint of sexiness on this old grey wolf). The production design by Stéphane Taillasson won the 2024 César Award for his category. In fact, no budget was spared; Musketeers reputedly cost €72M to make, whilst Shōgunballooned out to $250M USD. 


The crimson cloak, sunlight and incredible production design

But I think The Three Musketeers (and Shōgun’s) relatability hinges on the very fine-casting of its characters and the impeccable casting of the film’s female heroines: the female characters are more complexly drawn, and in this way, they were able to bring about an ebb and flow to the swashbuckling rhythms of their counterparts. Eva Green as the multifaceted tragic heroine Milady de Winter provided just the right amount of darkness and intrigue to the innocent and good-hearted Constance BonacieuxD’artagnan’s love-interest, played by the fresh-faced Lyna Khoudri (Khoudri has already a wonderful repertoire of heroines to draw from, Papicha (2019), Haute Couture(2021) and Secret Name (2021)); and finally, the inimitable Vicky Krieps as Queen Anne d'Autriche, who on the surface is stoic and stately, but secretly in love with the Duke of Buckingham and willing to risk her own livelihood because of this love. What I found most touching in all of this, is the musketeers’ sensibilities; their instinct to withdraw after saving their Queen in order to give her the privacy needed with her lover; and they did this without it being a betrayal to the King, whom they are loyal subjects to; that everyone, even the Queen is entitled to their intimacies and private life. 


Beautiful and captivating Eva Green as Milady de Winter: villainess or l’amour?

The Alliance Française French Film Festival was shown in Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Hobart and Perth in March to April this year. The Three Musketeers films are now playing commercial seasons at Palace cinemas around Australia.

CINEMA REBORN 2024 - Peter Hourigan dives back into his first encounters with Jean Renoir to introduce THE GOLDEN COACH (Italy/France, 1952)

It is fitting that in this wonderful season of restorations, Renoir’s Le Carrosse d’Or should have a place. Today the film lover can have access to films from the distant past or from distant places, and in good viewing copies. When my love affair with cinema was being nurtured at Melbourne University (there were no film courses, of course) in the 1960s, you had to rely completely on films brought into the country by the commercial distributors. And on heavy 35mm reels. Rights would expire, and after a few years a film would no longer be available.

In this bleak landscape, one old film sparked a light. European critics had discovered an old Renoir film – Pre-war – La Règle du Jeu (Rules of the Game,  1939).  At its premiere this prescient film had been a failure. Almost immediately producers  had cut it down. And then it had vanished. But in the mid-50s boxes with almost all of Renoir’s original version were discovered. Here was the wonderful event of a film reborn. At a time when retrospectives were unheard of, La Règle  du jeu premiered at the Venice Film Festival.  

Jean Renoir as Octave in his La règle  du jeu 

It made its way to the Melbourne Film Festival in 1962.  An old film among a selection of the best international films of that single year.  And it sparked something in a group of undergrads, members of the Melbourne University Film Society.  God! This film is wonderful! We have to see more films by this guy. 

I was one of those people,  and over the next few years – until I finished my degree and had to go out and earn my living – I was involved in several events tracking down  any of Renoir’s films. We even went to the extremes of importing several there were not available in Australia. That was really an arduous and expensive undertaking. First, track down an overseas source willing to let a print come to Australia. Freight costs meant we were only considering 16mm copies – we could never have afforded the freight for a 35mm theatrical copy. We had to learn how to navigate the customs and censorship regulations. But we did pull together a two-week public season of ten films. We were amazed that we did it. But we were more amazed as we came to know this incredible filmmaker, who refuses to be pigeon-holed. 

   Left-wing Popular Front comedies in the thirties. Prescient social and political analysis of pre-war European society. American B-grade (in budget only) films during the second world war, when he was living in USA in exile, post-war entertainment riches like French Cancan.  

Duncan Lamont, Anna Magnani The Golden Coach

One of the jewels we came across was THE GOLDEN COACH, courtesy of a reasonable 16mm print from the French Embassy. We thrilled to its vivid colour, the magnetic power of Anna Magnani in a role so different from the harrowing neo-realist roles we’d associated her with, a fascinating structure that blended theatre and realism. 

Perhaps some of the minor roles didn’t have actors with the same ability to live in their roles as Magnani– but they were adequate and we came to love that adequacy as part of the fabric of the film. We were also entranced by the glorious music of Vivaldi. Then his music was still a novelty. The resurgence of the universal popularity it has enjoyed for the last sixty years was just beginning. In his book, My Life and My Films,  Renoir wrote, My principal collaborator on this film was the late Antonio Vivaldi.  I wrote the script while listening to records of his music, and his wit and sense of drama lad me on to the developments in the best tradition of the Italian theatre. 

 This is a film that is, first of all, to be enjoyed.  You can follow up later, writings analysing it in depth. Its balancing of realism and theatre, its total artificiality and its 100% truth. You can reminisce about favourite moments. There’s one line in the film that has stayed with me for years, and I pull it out frequently (even if only to myself) whenever I realise I’ve nodded off during a film or a piece of music.  I’ll leave it to you to recognise that moment.

 I’ll leave the last word to Renoir. In My Life and My Films, Renoir concludes with this, 

                Whether the setting is natural, or imitates Nature, or is deliberately artificial, is of little importance.  I used external truth in so-called ‘realistic’ films like La Chienne and La Bete Humaine, and apparently total artificiality in films like [The Little Matchgirl] and  Le Carrosse d’Or.  I have spent my life experiments with different styles, but it all comes down to this: my different attempts to arrive at the inward truth, which for me is the only one that matters. 

When I was preparing these notes for today’s introduction, I discovered a note on the film that I’d written for MUFS magazine, Annotations on Film for Term 3 1965.  And I guess I was also surprised to see how well I caught the film back then.  

Thursday 23 May 2024

Sixty Years of International Art Cinema 1960-2020 - Bruce Hodsdon continues his series - 6 (24) Interregnum: Director/Auteur/Autoren

Andrew Sarris

Debates about authorship in the cinema have occupied a central place in film studies since the late 1950s when Cahiers du Cinema proposed the
 politique des auteurs, basically a political strategy in the form of a polemic for a new cinema to replace what mainstream French cinema was seen by a new generation of critics to have become a moribund “tradition of quality” epitomised by stylistically formulaic versions of French literary classics dismissed as ‘bourgeois cinema for the bourgeoisie’.

Prior to this, traditional film criticism assumed the industrial nature of film production with its division of labour prevented a single authorial voice from being heard or seen in mainstream cinema. This led some critics to claim that cinema, except in exceptional circumstances, could not be regarded as an art, being commodified entertainment serving the ideology of the capitalist economy. The exceptions were films in which the director - a Renoir, Murnau or Dreyer - assumed the marked unifying presence of the author-artist.  As the organising force of a film or group of films so, as Bordwell has argued, the author becomes a kind of protagonist in the drama, a point of identification for the knowledgeable viewer. It is then possible to argue that traditional film criticism has responded to art cinema on its own terms by supporting a complicit relationship between artist-director and critic then forming a link with the receptive viewer. 


The long debated canon of classics formed the basis, as already noted, of an art cinema only critically defined as a mode of film practice in the late 70s. Ironically it was films of the French New Wave and the New German Cinema along with classics of Italian neorealism and Russian montage that led the way in this retrospective reformulation of cinema art and its attendant institutionalisation. Ironic because the debate around indigenous cinemas was primarily directed at how to counter American cinematic imperialism. It was the work of latterly recognised auteurs in the Hollywood studios, as much as those in European cinemas, that provided inspiration for the critics-filmmakers-to-be, writing in ‘Cahiers’ in the 50s.                                                          


I well remember, as a would-be cinephile in the throes of linking sub-titles with art, taking in Andrew Sarris’s yet to be tested polemical erudition inspired by ‘Cahiers du Cinema’ headed “American Directors,” 68 pages in the 28th (Spring 1963) issue, of Film Culture


Howard Hawks

My first concern was finding Howard Hawks listed in the “Pantheon” then recognising in the “Second Line” list of ten auteurs only the names of Fritz Lang, Ernst Lubitsch and Buster Keaton, and doing a mild double take on David Lean appearing with other “Fallen Idols” having recently seen
 Lawrence of Arabia, here being summarily deflated along with The Bridge on the River Kwai by Sarris as “hot air […] lacking a point of view.” Very soon to be discovered were the films of ‘unknown’ “Third Liners” like Sam Fuller  (Underworld USA and Nicholas Ray (Johnny Guitar), and in “Esoterica” Don Siegel (The Killers ). Further down the track to enlightenment, waiting for discovery was the “dark humour” in melodramas directed by Douglas Sirk  (not only in Magnificent Obsession and Written on the Wind but also it was suggested less persuasively, in the likes of All That Heaven Allows), and the “naive sophistication” in the comic creations of Jerry Lewis  (The Patsy, The Nutty Professor) and of his mentor Frank Tashlin (Artists and Models, The Disorderly Orderly)..


It should be noted that when auteurism first emerged in the 50s, directing was, as Sarris noted, almost exclusively a male domain, no more so than in Hollywood, a situation seemingly confirmed, by “that actress of actresses,” Lillian Gish who, after once directing a film in 1921, declared that directing was no job for a lady. Amidst Sarris’s select lists of hundreds of directors in the American cinema there was only one woman, Ida Lupino. He curiously chose to exclude the notable career of Dorothy Arzner as a director in Hollywood from the late 20s to the early 40s, leaving that task to his wife and fellow critic, Molly Haskell, then working towards her pathbreaking book ‘From Reverence to Rape’ subtitled ‘The Treatment of Women in the Movies’ (1973). Sarris commented that only two women - Leni Riefenstahl and Agnes Varda - had then risen above the “Oddities and One shot” classification accorded Lupino by him as an ‘oddity’ along with 14 male directors including ‘one shot’ directors Charles Laughton, Gene Kelly and John (The Alamo) Wayne.

Barry Humphries, Barry Crocker
The Adventures of Barry McKenzie 


The new waves in France and West Germany with their director- focussed auteurism and autorenkino - embryonic notions of ‘writing with the camera’ (mise en scene) - formed the basis of a new, more open, modern aesthetic.  This played little evident formative role in the initial audience acceptance of a home-grown genre, 1971-6, in Australia’s film revival (Stork, The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, Alvin Purple, Petersen and Don’s Party, et al). In 1979 when the subsequent Australian period genre was at a low ebb, film critic John Hinde dissented from the earlier chorus of disapproval of ocker comedy by the critics which likely came, he contended, symptomatically from “an ancient unconscious streak of wowserism embedded in the Australian psyche.”  Audience approval of ocker or sexploitation comedies was reflected in their box office performance indicating “that they were in touch with some half-conscious self-recognition wandering in the impoverished sexual limbo of our culture.” The films in question, Hinde suggested, “offered, in effect, crude sketchy maps which might have enabled later films to make more detailed exploration of this terrain,” in the then more relaxed censorship environment (Dermody & Jacka vol 2 p.79). In the path-breaking American-Australian coproduction, Wake in Fright (1971), repression had been given disturbing expression to “a horror at the heart of Australia that is about the conditions of sexuality, as Meaghan Morris [said], by being about repression, violence and male segregation” (ibid 81).   


The financial viability established by the box office success of Alvin Purple (1973), made on a very low budget, freed the Australian Film Development Corporation from the already politically uncomfortable position of continuing to fund ocker comedies. It is hardly surprising that the recently re-established funding body, the Australian Film Commission, followed through by seizing upon the local and international success of Picnic at Hanging Rock. The institutional agenda shifted to national image (re)building in accord with the varied critical and commercial successes of a relative flood of diverse period dramas in Picnic’s wake (‘the AFC genre’),  eg, Sunday Too Far Away, Caddie and The Getting of Wisdom  through to The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith, Newsfront, My Brilliant Career and Breaker Morant, marking the second half, 1975-80, of the first decade of the Australian film revival which had also, arguably, been a decade late in arriving


Picnic at Hanging Rock

While both the Australian and New German cinemas shared the basic search for a new audience starting from point zero: in both cases what was actually showing on each nation’s screens was controlled by overseas based distribution and exhibition interests. The major difference was that in Germany the production of ‘denazified’ genre films for domestic consumption resumed after the war (although there was a strong continuity in Germany between popular 30s and post-war film genres) while in Australia there was, at this time, “a complete vacuum of feeling as to what might constitute an Australian feature film”  (D & J ibid). In contrast, political protest was given strong voice at Oberhausen and was strategically taken up politically by the group’s only effective spokesman and ideologue, Alexander Kluge. He had varying success in directly addressing the vacuum created by the absence, both domestically and internationally, of an ‘autorenkino’ (authors’ cinema). In Australia on the revival of production, other than the establishment of a loosely integrated national film and TV school and an experimental film fund, there was, at least initially, no culturally coherent direction spoken or taken. There was little recent knowledge or history of audience responses beyond the variable barometer of critical and box office success. This meant that when success came on all fronts with Picnic at Hanging Rock, it was acclaimed as a breakthrough that, by the end of the 70s, looked more like a lone intrusion of Europeanness into the Australian landscape.




The initial skirmishes following the arrival of auteurism, such as the one recounted below, were confined to what can best be described as the margins of a post-war emergent Oz film culture strengthened by the film revival. What was being sensed here was an encounter with a new way of understanding style as not just the hallmark of a small number of gifted director-auteurs working in special conditions of creative freedom.. 


Sarris made no secret of the fact that he was reshaping the Cahiers politique as an instrument for asserting the superiority of American cinema. Robert Stam, in his book Film Theory, acknowledges that Sarris’s work, “at its best,” deployed his broad knowledge of cinema “to convey the genuine achievement of Hollywood cinema.”   Stam further describes Auteurism as “less a theory than a methodological focus” that “clearly represented an improvement over antecedent critical methodologies,” in so doing performing “an invaluable rescue operation for neglected films and genres” while playing “a major role in the academic legitimation of cinema studies”  (89-92).


Robert Stam  “The Americanisation of the Auteur Theory in Film Theory An Introduction  2000, 

Albert Moran, Tom O’Regan eds. The Australian Screen,  essays by O’Regan  “The Ocker Film” and Graeme Turner “The Period Film” 1989

Susan Dermody and Elizabeth Jacka  The Screening of Australia  vol 2  1986                                           

John Hinde  Other People’s Pictures  ABC  1981

Tom O’Regan  Australian National Cinema  1996

Barrett Hodsdon The Elusive Auteur  2017



Addendum:  ‘Word thuggery’ at SUFG


In 1966, with Andrew Sarris and 'Movie' fuelled auteurist fervour, Bruce and Barrett Hodsdon, both then having a sizeable hand in the shaping of Sydney University’s Film Group's term programs, usually in consultation with their then mentor, John Flaus, decided that the twice weekly screenings offered the opportunity to immure members in the work of a chosen auteur. This was seen as a way of both focusing upon and redefining in criticism the creative role of the director in the commercial film industry, Hollywood being the paradigm. In this case the clear choice seemed to them to be Nicholas Ray, both having recently caught up with Johnny Guitar at a suburban “ranch night”.


Satyajit Ray

With Flaus’s doubtful assent Bruce had programmed, a double bill of films by the two Rays (Satyajit and Nick) on a Monday night during third term 1965, in the Union Theatre, SUFG's main venue. The former had established himself (quite rightly) from his first film 
Pather Panchali, as something of a film society and art house icon.*


Screened in the first half, the only locally available copy of  Satyajit's Devi,  a 16mm print of a b&w film in standard ratio, thrown into relief , wall to wall, by the brash 35mm CinemaScope-Eastmancolor spectacle of  Nick's Party Girl with the accompanying “ Party Girl, Party Girl” theme song behind the credits. Acting as a prologue to the ensuing drama is the sexually choreographed gyrations of  Cyd Charisse which drew an audible reaction, in approval (or otherwise), especially from those sitting in the front section of the theatre where self acknowledged cinephiles tended to sit (and still do), seemingly affirming Mas Generis's much more recent claim in Screening the Past that cinephilia “is a condition of sexual attraction to movies”. 


Nicholas Ray

The Hodsdons then programmed four more of Nicholas Ray's features – 
Bitter Victory, Johnny Guitar, Wind Across the Everglades, and Rebel Without a Cause, to be screened in the course of seven weeks during first term, 1966. The then SUFG President, Brian Murphy, insisted they could only have the four Ray films if the series commenced with a 16mm screening of  Bitter Victory in a rent-free venue,  the large former kitchen of a decaying, soon to be demolished building, in the eyes of the philistines aptly called The Blind Institute. 


A surprisingly large number of members crossed City Road to the Institute on a Friday night in March, to view, in those austere surroundings, the lingering death by scorpion bite of a Ray anti-hero played by Richard Burton, the setting being the North African desert during WW11. The President had also resolved to establish a roneoed newsletter in which members could vent their displeasure, or otherwise, at this precocious intrusion on their rights. 


It took several weeks for the uniformly hostile response (to the films as much as to the theory) from a small number of motivated members to appear in print in the newsletter which ran six issues. In advocating gradualism in the face of what he saw as overcompensation by the so-called 'new guard', Flaus claimed that it was a violation of a member's right to expect the honouring of a cultural contract for diversity in programming choices when he/she took out a membership. Mike Thornhill responded to Bruce's defence of auteurism in the newsletter with a charge of  'word thuggery'. Both Flaus and Thornhill were concerned with the priority given to the auteurist notion of 'interior meaning' (the equivalent of an authorial sub-text linked in the work of a chosen director) which they felt all but ignored the key literary element ( the role of the screenwriter). John was adamant that 'the concern should be what the work is, not almost exclusively with the artist's (read director's) intentions'. Bruce rebutted that the new pre-eminence given to form (the French term mise-en-scène had not yet been absorbed into the English lexicon) was not to neglect content (what the film is about) but was central to it.  


John Flaus

So on it went, intensely but briefly with a certain rancour lingering. Thornhill, in a chapter on film culture for the book 'Entertainment Arts in Australia' (1968), quoted 'introspective Sydney film buff, John Flaus and fellow 'member' of the Sydney Push (there was no formal membership),  in his essay. John is quoted defining a film buff as 'a compulsive aesthete of the cinema (who is often a secret romantic) caught in one of the cultural traps' 


His pale ideology ensures that his own life will be a conformist one, but his imagination seeks a symbolic revolt. The Auteur concept of the director makes an ideal sublimate. He is the lone, creative (self-enclosed?) talent striving to impose his vision upon an insensitive world, yet he is  also the masterful leader whose command is law (on the set) (8).


John does not now have a strong recollection of this controversy that surrounded the emergent politics of auteurism. He suspects that he was more the soft voice while fellow Push members Mike Thornhill and Ken Quinnell were 'the hard cops'. (Does John now see himself, in retrospect, as something of a local Bazin figure – a reference to the 'Cahiers' critic and father figure of the French New Wave?). A suggestion was made at an informal late night gathering after the screening of  Party Girl ('give the new guys a chance') by ex-MUFS provocateur and aspiring filmmaker Bert Deling (Dalmas, Pure Shit), who was then living and working in Sydney. John opened his response in the newsletter with “the new guard, given a go - albeit restricted - in the first term 1966 programme - have overreached themselves (sic)”. This overreach was the overweighting in film selection by what was being claimed to be the main game in film criticism: the overriding attribution of individual creativity to the authorship of a chosen director especially in the Hollywood studio system. John saw screening five Ray films with the primary purpose of promoting the claimed directorial talents of a director, at times in creative tension with the system, as promoting  'a new orthodoxy' drawing on Andrew Sarris and 'Movie' magazine in the UK “that promoted Hitchcock and Hawks as the great directors”. For 'the new guard' Sarris opened up a new, engaging way of looking at Hollywood films. 


Raoul Walsh

In the terrain of classical Hollywood's 'journeyman director' hierarchy Flaus did concede a more singularly discernible directorial personality, for example, in Raoul Walsh's work behind the camera, over that of say Henry Hathaway's. John, from his later vantage point as a working actor in films became an increasingly astute observer, in his criticism, drawing the distinction between the director as the “setter of the scene” (metteur-en-scène) who competently but anonymously directs pretty much according to the set rules and conventions, as in much tv drama, and the director as auteur. In 1992 John wrote that the latter “shapes meaning through mise-en-scène” the what and the how unified through visual style – “the orchestration of meaning through the actors and assignment of dramatic priorities to pictorial factors,” in other words,“ the movie director's province of creativity”.


John's lengthy 1992 essay, “Thanks for Your Heart Bart” (9) (now accessible online), goes a long way towards redressing the imbalance of those days of auteur theory-inspired angst, standing as an insightful primer not only for aspiring actors but also for cinephiles. The forthcoming book by Barrett Hodsdon, The Elusive Auteur (2017) has potential to be something close to definitive, if that is possible, in the final laying to rest of a controversy spanning back at least to 1966 and the shock of those five Nicholas Ray films in the SUFG program in six months.


 The above essay was first published on “Film Alert 101’ in April 2016

* A better option for the double bill (if prints and then been available) would have been the first film of each director : ‘Pather Panchali’ and ‘They Live By Night’, or say ‘Charulata’ and ‘Johnny Guitar’.


Previous entries in this series can be found if you click the following links


Sixty Years of International Art Cinema: 1960-2020 - Tables and Directors Lists to Accompany Bruce Hodsdon's Series


Notes on canons, methods, national cinemas and more


Part One - Introduction

Part Two - Defining Art Cinema

Part Three - From Classicism to Modernism

Part Four - Authorship and Narrative

Part Five - International Film Guide Directors of the Year, The Sight and Sound World Poll, Art-Horror

Part Six (1) - The Sixties, the United States and Orson Welles

Part Six (2) - Hitchcock, Romero and Art Horror

Part Six (3) - New York Film-makers - Elia Kazan & Shirley Clarke  

Part Six (4) - New York Film-makers - Stanley Kubrick Creator of Forms

Part Six (5) ‘New Hollywood’ (1) - Arthur Penn, Warren Beatty, Pauline Kael and BONNIE AND CLYDE

Part Six (6) Francis Ford Coppola: Standing at the crossroads of art and industry

Part 6(7) Altman

6(8) Great Britain - Joseph Losey, Lindsay Anderson, Karel Reisz, Richard Lester, Peter Watkins, Barney Platts-Mills

6(9) France - Part One The New Wave and The Cahiers du Cinema Group

6(10) France - Part Two - The Left Bank/Rive Gauche Group and an Independent

6(11) France - Part Three - Young Godard

6(12) France - Part Four - Godard:Visionary and Rebel

6 (13) France Part 5 Godard with Gorin, Miéville : Searching for an activist voice

6(14) France Part 6 - Creator of Forms - Bresson 

6 (15) France Part 6 - Creator of Forms - Jacques Tati

 6 (16) - Part 6 - Creator of Forms - Carl Th Dreyer

6 (17) - Italy and Luchino Visconti

6(18 - Italy and Roberto Rossellini - Part One

6(19) - Rossellini, INDIA and the new Historical realism

6(20) - Rossellini in Australia

6 (21) - Italy - Michelangelo Antonioni

6 (22) - Italy - Federico Fellini, Ermanno Olmi

6 (23) - Italy - Pasolini, Rosi