The 45th Sydney
5 - 19 June 1998
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Fri 5 June
In the Winter Dark
Yet another dreadful Australian film! What is with us these days? It is
good that the festival supports Australian film, and this film comes
an interesting pedigree, but all I can say of the result is that its
James Bogle, is no Hitchcock. We were pretty angry after seeing this
We felt we had wasted our time. There are some reasonable performances
mostly Ray Barrett, alrthough a colleague has rightly pointed out to me
that Ray Barrett seems to be doing his best Bill Hunter here. But the
is all over the place, and does not tell a story well. This is a major
when the story you are telling is a mystery. I'd like to single out the
sound in particular for being the most over-heightened and ridiculously
intrusive sound I've heard in a long time. And the script! Bogle
proudly that he'd done 8 drafts, and had a lot of help from Tim Winton.
If I were Winton, I'd be hushing that up.
A silly mish-mash of "scary" images does not a thriller make.
Nor does cross-cutting far too often between those images achieve any
other than irritating the audience. An enervating film and a waste of
talent and money.
Sat 6 June
Couldn't attend, but had in fact seen Welcome to Sarajevo at
Festival Launch a few weeks ago.
Welcome to Sarajevo
This film just missed the point. It was interesting, well made,
well-acted, but this feature film just shows how powerful a form the documentary
is to tackle subjects like war in general, and Sarajevo in particular.
couldn't care as much about the people in the film because I knew:
1. they were not real; and
2. there were equivalent people in Sarajevo whose stories were
Knowing those 2 things took the edge right off the film for me. Still,
were some great moments, particularly the moment when the old man
why the reporter should return the child to its mother. He says
like : "So much has been taken from us. You can give something back
to us, so you should." Simple logic, but profound. Another nice moment,
though more obvious, is when Woody Harrelson's character says: "I can't
help thinking that if these were Muslims shooting at Christians, the
would do something about it".
Sun 7 June
Waco: The Rules of Engagement
An interesting documentary, not just because it fills in a lot of
gaps in my memory of the news about Waco, but also because it allows
to observe manipulation in a documentary. And there was manipulation,
just the use of music (eg ominous music played in the background
a point was being made about the Bureau of Alcohol Firearms and
or the FBI), but also selective use of homemade video tapes showing
Koresh and the other Branch Davidians as family people - rarely was
a shot without a child being cradled or nursed. But still, the picture
not to be too skewed, and many interesting points were made
testimony, evidence and cross-examination. I was fascinated by how the
of the House Committee investigating the affair used the occasion for
own ends and played fast and loose with the facts, making political
at the expense of the witnesses. However, the film is too long, by a
way. It seems that the filmmaker was seduced by his own story, and
tough enough about editing. But it was still an interesting film, and
my view confirmation of the theory that if you have to decide whether
was caused by a conspiracy and a bungle, take the bungle every time.
Visually stunning, with Chris Doyle's camerawork and Wong Kar-Wai's
sweeping all before it in the most inventive, fluid and emotionally
pictures you'll ever see. But how much bickering, breaking up and
together again can one movie take? I have read an article by Chris
on the making of the film, and he said that Wong couldn't make his mind
up about what should happen to the characters, and that they kept
without a plot, hoping that something would click. Now that I've seen
finished product, I can safely say it did not. The film feels cobbled
as a narrative. The "meaning" is all rushed together at the end
by use of voice-overs. It feels like cheating, and it probably is. But
Wong is (as Picasso said of Monet) "just an eye...but what an
eye." And who's complaining about that? Oh, and the music was excellent.
The Sweet Hereafter
Brilliant, clever, beautiful to look at, and profoundly moving, this
be one of the best films of the festival, if not THE best. Ian Holm is
especially when he describes the medical emergency concerning his
Those moments are some of cinema's great moments. There is also an
line which cut me to the quick. The actor who plays the bus driver
Johnson ?) says, of "Bear": "He would have made a wonderful
man". Heartbreaking. She is fantastic - she looks disconcertingly like
ex-Senator Janine Haines - and gives as naturalistic a performance as
ever see. When she says "No, no, no, no, no" in a distracted way,
it's a tour de force. The actor who plays Nicole (Susan Polley(?)) is
excellent. A very subtle performance indeed.
The allegory in the film is powerful, and clear, but never forced.
are many layers to the meaning of the Pied Piper theme. I'll be
about this film for weeks to come. This is an assured work by a
at the height of his powers.
This documentary sounded promising on paper but proved sloppy in the
The print was terrible, many of the clips were of poor quality, and
were too many simple mistakes. Three that I picked up: "Klu
Klux Klan" (really!) "Julie Holliday" (instead of
"Judy"), and in the credits, a film called "Winchester of
' 73." Disgraceful.
But the film had very little new to tell us. It told us little about
these Jews came to Hollywood, how they set up their businesses, and
made them tick. Oh, there were generalisations, frequently repeated,
insights were few and far between. The whole theory that these Jews
films about outsiders, and that this was the quintessential Jewish
came tumbling down with the risible assertion that Superman was a
for Jewish aspirations. Come on! The guys that created him might have
Jewish, but hey, all kids love and identify with Superman. To me, many
the issues the filmmakers claimed for the Jews were universal themes.
whole film had the feeling of a theory stretched and stretched to
Monday 8 June
The Life Story of David Lloyd George
A charming experience. This silent film was magnificently accompanied
silent film pianist Neil Brand, over the whole two and a half hour
time. Brand composed the score, which was delicately balanced between
maudlin and the ironic, and never really spilling over either way. He
a perfect line which heightened the emotional moments as needed, but
went too far.
The film itself was in great shape, and fascinating in its detail on
like legislation, famous speeches, historical events and so on. It was
fascinating in what it left out (eg almost his whole private life). The
man reason we can see this film today was that it was suppressed (by
- the government? Lloyd George himself? It is unclear). The film is
hagiography that biography, but still a story very well told, and a
achievement by the filmmakers. Some scenes had 10,000 extras, and they
The Taste of Cherry
The first "It was only a dream" film of the festival. The film
is very slow-moving as it reveals its tale you to, and I am usually
tolerant of that. In fact I thought I had gone to sleep at one point
the main character was being enveloped by dust in a terrific scene, and
then I suddenly found that a new character had been conversing with the
main character for some time and I wasn't aware of that character
I found out later that I hadn't missed anything - we were just being
by the director, who had already jolted us once before. But I was
to overlook that teasing when I heard the magnificent speech of the
(!) and watched the key events of the night unfold. Then,
disappointment. A trick ending. I hate it when directors play games
Pennebaker & Hegedus: Primary
A landmark film. Rough around the edges, but fascinating. It is amazing
that Pennebaker seemed able to pick the particularly interesting
of history or culture and be on the spot to capture lots of juicy bits.
Pennebaker explained that the voiceover was the TV network's idea, to
it more like Edward R Murrow's programs. Pennebaker was dead against
He also (unlike Paul Byrnes) hated the sequence that showed the voters'
legs and shoes going into the voting booths. He said it was a
and that he didn't shoot that footage.
Pennebaker & Hegedus: Jane
Now this is a brilliant piece of work. Pennebaker & Associates take
us along as a new Broadway play is rehearsed, tried out out-of-town,
re-rehearsed, premiered and then closed by the producers after
reviews. Scene after scene is a classic. Jane is remarkable in her
slipping in and out of "performance mode." Her director is almost
a parody of himself. Jane's disappointment is touching, but what I
fascinating was the strength she seemed to draw from her appearance.
would look in the mirror, study her image in all its exquisite youth
beauty, and draw strength from it. Now I know why she had the breast
her self-worth must be intrinsically tied to her looks.
Tuesday 9 June
Kelly Loves Tony
A rougher-than rough documentary, made by a young couple who become
as time goes on. The film is so rough because it has been shot by Tony
has been given a video camera to record his story over a period of
a year. It is hard to watch because Tony is no filmmaker and often does
things like shooting the pavement as he walks along. And he is no
But Kelly, who says she loves him, is a different kettle of fish.
articulate, thoughtful, determined and yet quite flexible, she tries to
finish high school with honours, have a baby, go to college, move in
Tony's family, comply with Mien custom (they are both Laotian Mien)
another baby and get married. She can't manage it all at once (who
But she's strong. She will survive. Without Tony, she may even have a
chance. An inspirational film. The editing process must have been a
effort, and is marvellously accomplished.
The Voice of Bergman
A young man nearby me warned his companion that you need stamina to
this film. You do. Watching Bergman's face for 87 minutes is quite an
I fell asleep once, but only because it was difficult to concentrate
only one image for that length of time. Actually, I lie. Bergman was
very interesting when talking on abstract topics such as the process of
writing. But when he got onto what he loves about cinema and what films
he likes, he was riveting. His enthusiasm and love for cinema was
and moving. He says that all films, to be good, should move you in some
way: either make you laugh or cry. What struck me was how much of what
said is almost identical to things I have heard Martin Scorsese say, or
Bill Collins. For example, he said that there can be bad films which
bad in a good way, and you can watch them over and over because of
Fatal Reaction: Bombay
An innocuous enough documentary, full of interesting sights, sounds and
people (how could it not, being filmed in Bombay?). Sights a-plenty,
not many insights into the issues the director, Marijke Jongbloed,
to be investigating. She doesn't ask the right questions, and draws
which are not really justified. She's chosen a great subject, but
do it justice. Not nearly as good as Fatal Reaction: Singapore
A promising start to the film , and a dramatic and moving conclusion,
somehow the film didn't ring true for me. This is particularly strange
it is based on a true incident (though the characters are all
The script is well written and funny - the director obviously knows
people really well - and the central performance is magnetic. but to me
it screamed "performance." It was too self-conscious. Helen McCrory
has been seen before - as Nicola in the TV drama The Fragile Heart.
Her part was not as showy there, but she still showed the same tendency
to chew the scenery. In the end, though, I think the character was not
Her reaction to the crisis she faces seemed uncharacteristic, though I
the script for this, more than the performance. The woman in the first
of the film was not the woman at the end. And so I couldn't react as I
have. For me, it just missed. A shame, because this filmmaker shook me
the core some years ago with Morphine & Dolly Mixture (SFF
Wednesday 10 June
Paul Simon - Graceland
A wonderful documentary about music - insightful and well edited.
story is well told, with - unusually and delightfully - an emphasis on
lyrics of Simon's songs. Simon, who seems a bit surly and
really opens up and takes us through his songs line by line and note by
note, This process is brilliantly handled by the editors, who go back
the music line by line to make the explanations fit in with each line
the songs. Inspirational and fascinating. And what a great album it
After, I heard a young girl say "I'm going straight out to buy that
album, and that Ladysmith group, too." Gee, I thought everybody in
the world had a copy of Graceland..
Marius and Jeannette
Thoroughly charming from beginning to end. Funny, touching, well
unselfconscious performances, colour and texture. Wonerful, well
characters. Can't wait to get to France again. Marseilles, here I come!
I feel quite infused by aioli.
Pennebaker & Hegedus: Company
Another masterwork from Pennebaker Associates. A brilliantly told tale
recording the original cast album of Company, a fabulous
show, on the traditional day of the Sunday after opening night. One
day and night. The show's author is Stephen Sondheim - who is there for
the whole process. So much talent under so much pressure! I went out
following day to get the CD of the album, but it has been deleted. It
be reissued in 6 months or so as one half of a CD with another show on
(ie 2 LPs' worth). But I must hear Elaine Strich again as soon as
Anyone got a copy I could borrow?
Pennebaker & Hegedus: Branford Marsalis
Not as good as Company. An interesting subject, but you
really get close to Branford Marsalis. He'll speak eloquently about
and jazz musicians, but when he gets really tired and looks like he
be about to throw a tantrum, he doesn't: he just goes on stage and
such a magnificent set that you just sigh with admiration. But even
Marsalis is guarded, Pennebaker takes us really close to his soul
the camerawork on the final song. It is a revelation: the emotion is
clearly, and it is intense and searing.
Thursday 11 June
Silver Screen - Colour Me Lavender
This covered a subject that particularly interests me, so it was
that I had trouble staying awake through this film. I think it was the
that it was on video, the sound was poor, and the script was a bit
Some of the points made were right on, some were a bit of a long bow to
draw (and the filmmakers acknowledged this from time to time, which is
unnerving - what are they really saying then?). The film was hampered
a monotonous delivery style, at odds with what was onscreen. But the
were very good - Bob Hope and Bing Crosby, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis,
Danny Kaye and - incredibly - Walter Brennan!). They made a great case
the case of the "Walter Brennan Syndrome" - the crusty old sidekick
or the grizzled old prospector who fusses over the handsome leading man
(John Wayne, Jimmy Stewart et al) and cooks for him, makes endless cups
of coffee and wanting to settle down with the leading man on a farm
Much food for thought. In particular, it makes you think again about
man in Good Morning Vietnam who wanted to get nude pictures of
A great-looking, well-scripted, funny, touching and authentic film. For
a debut, this is outstanding. What I liked about the film was that it
afraid to be stylish and at the same time follow a narrative line
it did operate in 3 time zones). It also wasn't afraid to stop for
set-pieces which resembled music videos - whole songs were played and
action stopped to focus on the characters. I particularly liked Van
Wild Night played against a background of Bob Hoskins' Alan Darcy,
as an energetic and outgoing young boy and as a sharply dresssed middle
aged man going out for a night of dancing. A lovely scene, and not
at all. Meadows is confident enough to take his time, and let the story
unfold slowly and steadily. He has made what is, in many ways a
film, in that he has not tried to reinvent cinema with this, his first
What he made instead is alovely film which crept up on me without my
so that I found myself suddenly overcome with emotion and crying. In
words, for me it passed the Ingmar Bergman test of a good film.
Pianese Nunzio Fourteen in May
A film which looked pretty good, was well acted, but ended up as
I'm not really sure why, since the subject matter was compelling,
and particularly interesting to me. Maybe the device of the characters
to the camera fragmented the film and distanced you from the action. Or
maybe there are just so many times you can see 2 people having sex, no
who they are.
The only scenes that really grabbed me were those of the Stations of
Cross in the rain. I thought "Now we're really getting somewhere",
but that was all there was. Those scenes seemed to come from a
movie - and that's the movie I wanted to see!
Pennebaker & Hegedus: Town Bloody Hall
What a feat! Again Pennebaker & Associates are on the spot, filming
a significant moment in history and culture. Germaine Greer was a
opponent for Norman Mailer (and looked gorgeous too). Diana Trilling
impressive in her views and the way she communicated them. You had to
Jill Johnston to believe her, and Jacqueline Ceballos was practical but
not profound. Mailer hogged the microphone while all the time
to be handing it over to be fair. He could not resist the opportunity
comment on any question, no matter that it was not for him. His ego was
tremendous, even as he patronised the "ladies" as he kept calling
them, even after this was drawn to his attention by Susan Sontag. I
away thinking how far we'd come. The Sydney Film Festival audience was
in its response, not thoughtlessly booing either side, or clapping too
but recognising Mailer's outdated thoughts and laughing or gasping at
of his comments. Mind you, so far we haven't achieved much of the grand
vision of the feminists. Perhaps it was too grand a vision. But at
the issues are recognised as issues now. The film is a tour de force of
editing by Chris Hegedus, and well-enough shot under difficult
A social document of great importance.
Friday 12 June
Pennebaker & Hegedus - Searching for Jimi
In some ways a more conventional film than some of their others,
still a top documentary. Someone came up with the idea of making a CD
various artists' interpretations of Jimi Hendrix songs. The album isn't
released yet (June 1998) but the film of the making of the album is.
better to ask than Pennebaker & Associates, who made a film which
between the recording sessions (which took place over 2 continents: in
and all over the USA) and interviews with the artists involved. So we
to see how they all work and why they picked the songs they did, how
approached the songs and what they thought about Jimi Hendrix. Some had
a straightforward no-nonsense approach to the song as a song, and some
a lot about what Jimi meant by the lyrics, and what they mean to them.
favourites: Cassandra Wilson doing Angel (of course!) and Chuck
rap version of Freedom, which had some terrifically powerful
and ended up a dialogue between Jimi's words and a young black musician
30 years on.
Pennebaker & Hegedus - The War Room
I saw this film when it was realeased theatrically, and for me it
one of the films of the year. It holds up very well on second viewing -
maybe it is even better. Once again, the Pennebaker team was on the
At the time they began filming there was no guarantee that the Clinton
would get anywhere at all in the election. But with luck, or by
they picked a winner, in more than just the obvious way. This is a
look at the running of an election campaign, from the inside, with
views and non-stop action from charismatic and likeable people. Even
himself thinks it is the direct inspiration for Primary Colours,
which looks weak in comparison to the real thing - as with Welcome
Sarajevo, I don't think fiction can beat the real thing in this
of context. Pennebaker's team had a little more money than usual for
film, and it shows. It looks good, and is utterly compelling.
Frank Capra's American Dream
A very professional documentary, with lots of material that was new
to me. It had excellent interviews with Capra's sons (Capra's family
the film) and others who either knew him, or whom the filmmaker knew to
be knowledgeable about Capra, or to be big fans of his films.
knowledgeable, articulate and thougtful was Richard Dreyfuss, who spoke
insightfully about Capra's construction of the America that Americans
they were. Lots of clips - from (I think) every sound film he made, and
many of the silents.
The fact that the family commissioned the film was raised in the Q
A with the director, Ken Bowser) after the screening. He answered
in what appeared to be a very honest way. A paraphrase of the Q & A
session follows. It is based on my shorthand notes taken at the time,
is not verbatim by any means but conveys the general drift of the
Q & A with the director, Ken Bowser
Q The film was always going to be 84 mins, but it now runs 109 mins.
A Originally it was commissioned by the Capra family as a celebration,
I thought it would be boring & told Tom Capra that it would be
unless we look at the darker side. Columbia then said: "Why not make
it a feature film?" That's why we shot it on high definition video
- but it looks like film!
Q Why didn't you make a tougher film?
A I think it was pretty well balanced. I mentioned the darker side of
Capra as well.
Q Why didn't you tell the proper story about Frank Capra in the
era? It wasn't the way you told it in your film.
A Joe McBride's book makes speculative leaps in his book. There is some
speculation that Capra "named names". But Joe McBride's assertions
are not supported by facts, and I didn't find anything in them.
was attacked by the HUAC, because he had formed an independent
company, as Capra had done. It may be that the studios were trying to
both Garfield and Capra as revenge for their attempts at independent
Capra's passport was pulled at one point. Robert Riskin [editor's note:
often Capra's screenwriter], with whom he was involved, was a
but there is no evidence that Capra was.
Q How did you choose the people you interviewed about Capra? They're
all obvious choices.
A I used people whom I knew to be fans or knowledgeable about Capra.
people at Columbia Pictures suggested some people. Richard Dreyfuss may
have even contacted us. I knew Michael Keaton was a fan.
not very much of him in the film because he'd just been shooting
film and he was very tired & he rambled a bit. We couldn't use
It was mainly just my knowing who was a fan. I knew Scorsese was, but
Stone I didn't know. My favourite interview is with the sound man who
there. Herskevick & Zwick have a production company called "Bedford
Falls" (the town in It's a Wonderful Life).
Q Compare the characters of Sturges & Capra - both 2 idealists who
into the brick wall of the Hollywood system.
A When I was a kid & saw Preston Sturges films on TV - Miracle
Morgan's Creek - I knew this was a voice I'd never heard before. I
there was something going on, a totally new voice. With Capra, in terms
of his toughness & the way he made it in the industry - they
him because they distrusted anyone who had a passion. Peckinpah &
had this problem too. But Capra was so tough, and ultimately so
that he could break through. If you're successful enough...
Q How long were the interviews and did you ask set questions?
A 2 - 21/2 hours. For example, Robert Altman: we interviewed him in
Georgia, in the final stages of shooting his latest film The
Man. He said he was not prepared and he didn't know anything about
Capra. Actually, he knew a lot about Frank Capra - knew all his
and spoke very eloquently about them. I also asked the interviewees
intelligent questions and some were political questions, eg "What was
going on in the country at the time Capra was making this or that
Q You put the failure of Frank Capra's post-war films down to his
side. I think what happened to him was he represented the Rooseveldt
which was no longer wanted. You also said the Why We Fight
were not seen by many people. They were seen by 12 million servicemen -
I was one of them.
A The Why We Fight films were not famous at the time he made
I think I did say in the film that he was out-of-step with post-war
I spent a fair amount of time on that.
Saturday 13 June
To Get Rich is Glorious
Everyone fell in love with Vincent Lee, the person around whom this
documentary was based. He flew in specially for the screening, at his
cost, and was going straight home. The audience didn't want him to go!
filmmakers managed to follow Vincent everywhere, and even added
to his kudos as he negotiated with the various officials in mainland
Vincent gave a very human face to the realities of life in Hong Kong
and the adaptability of the Hong Kong business world. He also let us
the private world of his family, just enough to get an idea of the
between the attitudes and relationships of his father's generation and
generation. Seamless and insightful, this was an excellent documentary,
and excellent investagative journalism of the human kind.
The Matinee Idol
A pure delight. The star, Bessie Love, is as cute as can be and an
comedienne, who looks as if she could hold her own against Carol
for example (see Moon Over Broadway below). Her co-star,
Walker is well cast too. The director's touch is light and fluent.
move at a mile-a-minute, and the film feels surprisingly modern. Capra
already directing with flair and intelligence, and is constantly trying
new tricks with inventive camera angles and framing. Neil Brand's
was again excellent - if not quite as brilliant as the performance for
George, which was truly magnificent. A wonderful cinematic experience.
Pennebaker & Hegedus: Moon Over Broadway
When Chris Hegedus introduced this film she said it was quite a
film from their other theatrical film, Jane. This became
immediately the film opened, with the cast taking a bow to rapturous
(presumably on opening night). So there's the ending right there. There
will be none of the tension there was about the doomed show
in Jane. So what is this about?
It's about the insecurities involved in "putting on a show." First
there's the director, calm under pressure because he has put in place
possible insurance against a flop: a proven star returning to Broadway,
a reliable and proven Broadway performer, an experienced and well-loved
supporting cast, a writer with a couple of hits under his belt and a
of out-of-town try-outs to hone the material. Then there's the star,
Burnett, saying that she'll be paraphrasing her lines (because he's
she won't be able to remember them). Then there's the writer, a
encyclopedia of insecurities. And finally there's the supporting cast,
flit about nervously and finally turn on Carol when they need someone
blame. Oh the frailty of the show-biz crowd! But isn't it just any
in microcosm? That's the brilliance of the Pennebaker team. Once again
focused on a narrow scenario, but at the same time told us something
what it is to be human.
Sunday 14 June
A beautiful documentary about a brilliant and fascinating woman. My
Barry asked me after the show "Did you see that last film? You know,
the feminist one. I thought of you. I thought you'd like it".
Well I loved it! The filmmakers were lucky enough to find that one of
family, Shirley Nicholas, was a keen filmmaker herself, taking lots and
lots of home movies. The director makes the most of this, and somehow
to fill in the gaps without the audience being too aware of a lack of
when Shirley wasn't around. In fact, the ending is even more effective
the lack of footage of Hephzibah's death in London. There's a gorgeous
of the Victorian bush at sunset, a fence and a mob of kangaroos. It
the strange, savage beauty of the Australian landscape and it made you
aware of the effect it must have had on this highly educated,
and vital woman with modern ideas and so much to accomplish. A superb
of a brilliant and mysterious subject.
Silent to Sound
A marvellous session with Neil Brand, maistro of music for the silent
Brand showed us excerpts from films from Mississippi Burning to
In Mississippi Burning, Brand showed us how Alan Parker
dampened the effect of some horrific violence - blacks being beaten by
- by setting gospel music sung beautifully by Mahalia Jackson. Brand
he wasn't sure he agreed with the approach but there was no doubting
effect. He also showed us how, in Vertigo, Bernard Herrmann
favourite film composer) created a beautiful love theme and then uses
in different ways, even to actually advance the narrative by cueing us
a mystery. He did a similar thing in Citizen Kane with a theme that
only 4 basic notes! Brand finished by doing something absolutely
he improvised the piano accompaniment to a silent film he had never
before - all he knew was its name "The Romantic Adventure of Margaret
....(I've forgotten the surname - but it is a Raymond Longford film).
the really astounding part was that he talked us through his thought
as he played. It is an unforgettable privilege to have been able
to see this genius at work.
The Ian McPherson Memorial Lecture by Marcia Langton
The morning after the appalling result in the Queensland election with
Hanson's One Nation party, came Marcia Langton's speech. The actual
was quite academic in tone, and Langton read out her written paper
than speaking directly to the audience, so the speech itself was drier
I had hoped, and couched in academic language. But the moment the Q
A section started, the whole thing came to life, and Langton was frank
blistering in her analysis of the reasons behind One Nation's good
in Queensland. She was magnetic and arresting as she told us some home
like the fact that the disaffected rural and semi-rural poor will need
the same welfare support that needy Aboriginal people currently
Capra/Stanwyck - Ladies of Leisure
Barbara's first lead role, and is she ever well-cast! Capra could
pick them. The opening is wonderful, and the film is quite daring - it
the production code by a few months. The film is full of little gems of
performance. Lowell Sherman as a drunk, mad for Napoleon brandy, which
the source of quite a few jokes. Nance O'Neill as Barbara's floozy
is terrific. Capra also tries a "steadicam" shot - in 1930! Somehow
he moves the huge camera bit by bit and then speeds up the film to make
it look like it flows. Then, as if that weren't enough, he does it
- but backwards! Incredible!
Monday 15 June
Fleetwood Mac - Rumours
Another fascinating documentary in the BBC series "Classic Albums."
Again this followed the structure of dissecting each of the tracks on
album, in exquisite detail. But at the same time, because the
between the members of the band were so volatile at the time the album
being recorded, this necessarily involved a lot of discussion of the
members' private lives as well. There were many revelations to me: Mick
Fleetwood's great drumming, which I'd hardly noticed before this, John
brilliant bass playing - what an artist! And Christine McVie's
talent and the pivotal role she played in the band. But the best moment
was John McVie's moving confession that he simply loved Chritine to
and could not cope at all with their breakup. Another great moment in
Pretty disppointing on the whole. Many different Tarzans were shown,
I didn't learn much about any of them that I didn't already know
(a) Johnny Weissmuller used to yodel in Pennsylvania - his family was
and (b) much more from Dennis Miller than I cared to know). I was
disappointed that there was hardly a mention of the TV Tarzan Ron Ely -
my personal favourite of all the Tarzans. But we did get to see some of
the lovely original illustrations from the Edgar Rice Burroughs book
and the early comics. These were a real treat.
A total surprise! The program notes didn't look promising, so I had
to miss this one, but ended up staying for it, and I'm so glad
did. A fabulous documentary which crept up on me and which was, in the
unbearably moving. The director was lucky enough, like the filmmakers
Hephzibah, to have access to home movies made by a family member
- Max, the future brother-in-law in the family. The director used these
inventively, panning across them, stopping and starting them, enhancing
them with the names of the various family members, and selecting clips
that we get to know this family and go with them on seaside holidays (a
wonderful game of leapfrog on the sand in which everyone participates,
the largish Momma Flora in her bathing suit!), we see them through
parties, births, religious ceremonies and eventually we begin to love
The sudden ending is brilliant, moving and totally appropriate. We are
manipulated, but are left with an immese sense of loss all the same.
Capra/Stanwyck - The Miracle Woman
Ken Bowser, introducing this film, said that he thought the first scene
(where Barbara takes over her father's pulpit) was the only scene that
work in this film. He was wrong. It nearly all works (but who wrote so
scenes for the ventriloquist's dummy? Was it in David Manners'
He definitely did all the ventriloquism!). Barbara is magnificent, even
in her scenes with the dummy. So is Capra, who handles all the
of this film - including a climactic fire with a huge crowd - superbly.
Barbara shows her range, versatility and magnetism. And she gets her
even if he is a ventriloquist! I do hope the dummy was burned in the
Oh dear! A nice idea to try to bring a little humour into the issue,
shame about the execution. Most of the humour was singularly unfunny,
it was certainly NOT David Marr's finest moment. No discussion was
so I left feeling frustrated and knowing that the debate had been
not one whit. Vanessa Wagner (mildly amusing) and Nurse Nancy (not at
amusing) hosted. David Marr made blanket generalisations about
Jane Mills and Delia Browne were lucid and informative and Raena Lee
tried to be witty but didn't quite succeed. Pretty much a wasted
Tuesday 16 June
First Love, Last Rites
A terrific little first feature from a very hip director, Jesse Peretz.
The average age of the film festival audience dipped by about 20 years
this one! Jesse co-wrote the screenplay, which is based on an Ian
short story which is apparently 8 pages long. Jesse also moved the
from Northern England to the Louisiana bayous and it all works
McEwan has actually told Jesse that he thinks the Bayou location works
than his original location - which is all the more amazing because
short story is autobiographical! I haven't read the story, but it seems
to me that Jesse exactly captured the sense of mystery and forboding
is McEwan's trademark. Excellent performances form a mostly young cast.
Watch this guy!
A Mexican Bunuel
Interesting, but not spectacular.
Lou Reed: Rock N Roll Heart
Much more interesting. Great footage, excellent interviews, an
but witty subject, and a wonderful story to tell. His lyrics are pure
poetry, and the film shows us how much it is admired. By the end of
documentary, even if you aren't a fan, you'll understand why. And the
Just what I needed to listen to at this point in the festival.
Whatever else this film does, it does not glorify violence. Violence is
the subject of the film - gratuitous violence, in fact. So does that
that the film contains gratuitous violence? I don't think so.
comments on violence in film, and it seems that the director believes
the best way to do that is todepict shocking violence. In fact,
does not actually show the violence - it all takes place
You don't even see much that is explict of the aftermath of the
But that does not diminish the effect of the violence on the viewer.
seem just as awful, and the film seems just as disturbing as if you had
actually seen the beatings etc. I presume that the director, Michael
is making this point: that it is not the violence on the screen that
- the issue is much more complex than that.
The film is very well-exectuted, funny in parts, and clever. very
It comments on itself, and at one point even "rewinds" to show
an alternate scenario. It asks the audience's opinion on whether it is
to stop the film at one point, or continue to the end to give a
resolution to the plot. The director is quoted as saying: "You can't
solve the problem by chatting about it". But can you solve it by
violent films? I'm not sure about that. It certainly crystallises some
the issues for you.
I'd really like to have seen the director after the film and had a chat
with him about his intentions. This was one potential guest director
Q & A would have been electrifying. Maybe next year...
Capra/ Stanwyck - Forbidden
This film was a real treat: Adolphe Mejou in a relatively rare romantic
lead (or is he the villain?). Stanwyck in a rare appearance as the
woman who is in love with a man who doesn't do the right thing by her.
although this sounds like a standard melodrama, this film is certainly
that. It keeps on con dounding your expectations. From the moment that
as the sweet old maid librarian takes off for Havana, things don't
as you expect.
You'd never expect Stanwyck to give up her own child just because of a
but she does. You'd never expect her to stay with a louse and reject
charming faithful newspaperman, but she does, and the ending you'd
predict in a month of Sundays. But there it is. A lot of fun, and
with every twist and turn of the plot. And the plot had me so rapt that
I din't notice the direction at all!
Wednesday 17 June
The turkey of the festival. Preposterous from start to finish. The
notes made this look very promising, and it dealt with subject-matter
I am interested in. I knew about Ada Lovelace and Charles Babbage and
computer proptotype, and I thought it would be fun to see a movie with
actors performing on digitised sets. So did quite a few young people as
well, because the audience was looking particularly youthful at this
Well we were fooled. This film missed all the opportunities to explore
real people and the real issues. It just cooked up a ludicrous and
impossible plot, which involved a computer sending a message through a
- a photo! - and contacting the 19th century figure of Ada, and somehow
carrying her DNA back to the 20th century and into a pregnant woman's
DNA!!! Crazy! But not even explained properly. Just a throwaway line or
two that did not make sense at all. NOT SATISFACTORY!
And the digital sets: a complete flop. They just made it more difficult
for the actors. It seemed to take away their ability to act. I've never
seem Tilda Swinton this bad before. And the others were worse.
Leary looked like someone had put him in the film on a bet, or as a
joke. And he spoke utter nonsense - badly. A complete waste of time.
it's not just me, you know. The young kids next to me were laughing and
making fun of the film all the way through. I wasn't at all inclined to
Lovely, ugly, lyrical, prosaic, funny, sad, full of action, taking its
this film was a roller-coaster ride of everything I love in cinema - in
the one film. Marvellous! The producer/ director/ writer/ editor/
Takeshi Kitano is a true Renaissance man.
Capra/ Stanwyck - The Bitter Tea of General Yen
I know this was Capra's stab at an academy award, and I know that he
away from the material he really knew to make this film. I know that it
is strange to cast a Swedish actor as a Chinese warlord. I know that
Stanwyck is usually considered as miscast in her role as a missionary,
I don't care. I love this film, the more so each time I see it. The
scenes are astounding, the feeling of war and destruction are palpable,
Barbara looks gorgeous, and Nils Astor is a fabulous Chinese warlord.
time round I realised he even had a Mandarin accent! The ending is so
and so culturally sensitive, it is hard to believe it was made in
in 1933. But it was, and that's why I love Hollywood.
Thursday 18 June
Films like Leila are the real reason I love the film festival. They
never to get a commercial release (although this one may well, because
audience seemed to love it). Now more foreign films do get some kind of
commercial release, but there's no guarantee for any particular film.
them at the film festival is great because it gives them a palpable
in world cinema, and I love to see English language films measured up
foreign language ones. There's something particularly wonderful about
deeply touched by a film about things outside your cultural experience.
The feeling is even more piquant when the film from an unfamiliar
teaches you things and the films from the more familiar culture do not.
With Leila, we are in the hands of a very experienced director,
a light touch and a great sense of humour. We are also in Iran: but in
city, in the upper-middle class, amongst affluent, well-educated
We are concerned with the relationship of a successful and happily
couple, who have a problem. It is a problem that is all too common in
society, but the complications for those living in an Islamic culture
things all the more complicated.
Along the way, we are treated to a close-up view of the intimate
of these people's daily lives, and we begin to understand the pivotal
of the family in nearly everything. By showing us birthdays, feast days
and everyday days, the director gives us an insight into the effect the
family and tradition has on the modern individual in Iran.
The director treads a fine line between humour and sorrow, and, with
lightest touch imaginable, pushes the dimensions of the dilemma further
and further. Slowly but surely the couple's stress-levels build up -
ours build with them, until the tension is at breaking point. The
is adult, real, sad, and somehow optimistic as well. The performances
wonderful all round, with Leila (Leila Hatami) the stand-out. A
and thought-provoking film.
The "blurb" for this film put me off, but luckily I decided to
see it anyway. This film was a great contrast to Leila, because
relied on controlled buildup of drama, whereas Lucky Star just
in and got on with it - no mucking around. Passions are definitely on
here, as is humour and emotion. The events twist and turn, and just
you think that things are just going too far, and that everything is
off the rails, you are told something that makes you realise that life
very strange and very wonderful. A moving, messy, and very human film.
The Butcher Boy
A rollicking, bumptious jumble of a film from Neil Jordan, with
titles, and a great central performance by the young Eamonn Owens as
It is all very strange, but it works! Jordan seems really confident
You suspect he's in semi-autobiographical mode - he co-wrote the script
with the novel's author. At the very least he knows these people very
indeed. This film is by no means naturalistic, but it does ring very
It is funny and violent and moving and real. Some of the accents are
to follow - but it doesn't matter, you just go with it. I read
that Francie's voice was completely dubbed by a woman because it was
unintelligible outside Ireland. I don't think anyone would realise this
if they weren't told. There are so many wonderful characters in this
and such spirit, that despite its grim subject-matter you will feel
at the end.
Friday 19 June
Forget Welcome to Sarajevo - this is the feature film to see
the war in Bosnia. It is made by a Bosnian, and it shows. This film
absolutely true, even though it employs such melodramatic material as 2
cute little orphan boys - one a deaf mute - and a crippled dog. The
scenes are unforgettable, and set the scene so brilliantly that you are
drawn quickly and palpably into this tragic and devastating landcape.
Welcome to Sarajevo , this film shows you the piteous
of daily life for the Sarajevans, but is not as polished as the
film. It doesn't feel the need to provide you with English-speaking
to help you understand the situation. It just takes you by the hand and
leads you straight into the fray. It gives you a much better sense of
than Welcome to Sarajevo does, and ultimately gives you a
truth. A must-see film if you care anything for the human condition.
the "perfect circle" of the title packs a killer punch.
This film is anchored by three brilliant performances: Rachael Maza,
Morton Thomas and Deborah Mailman give us excellent portraits of three
women, and with not a stereotype in sight. Deborah Mailman's Nona is
and fresh, and I nominate hers for the best smile on current film -
the last title-holder, Toni Colette. Rachael Maza is elegant and cool
Cressy, but finally it is Trisha Morton Thomas' performance which
The film is well-directed, looks great, and is a great advance in
cinema. But I do have a major problem with the script. I think it has
many gimmicks (Radiance nougat for heavens sake? That black hat!). And
think is has a big sag in the middle of Act 2. The form itself is a bit
of a cliché : the idea of 3 siblings returning for a parent's
or illness and confronting each other, themselves and their pasts is an
idea we have seen done many times before. But this time the fact that
3 are modern Aboriginal women does give the idea some pep and a few new
The director changed the ending of Louis Nowra's play for the film, and
I agree with her decision. Rachel Perkins knows what she is doing, and
does it very well. The ending is delicious, and just right for now. We
that kind of an ending right now.
Capra/ Stanwyck - Meet John Doe
I'm sorry to say that my love affair with the Capra/Stanwyck films
over at this very late stage in proceedings.
I'd seen this film several times before, and enjoyed it, but this time
went awry. Perhaps I'd already seen the apotheosis with The Bitter
of General Yen. Perhaps it was Paul Byrne's exhortations that this
a film for today, now, more than ever (referring to Pauline Hanson no
But the film did not have the clarity or sincerity of the others in
Barbara, of course, is beyond reproach in the way she performs her
One of the film's problems seems to be Gary Cooper. He is too old to be
playing this naive role. He looks incongruous and is too easily
for my liking.
The plot goes through a number of reversals and backtracks and doesn't
come out the end with any cohesion. The ending seems to belong to some
film. It doesn't really resolve any of the questions the film has posed.
And then there's the question of the grassroots John Doe clubs. I can't
see how they are either:
(a) admirable; or
(b)relevant to Australia at any stage in its history.
I think they really are an "It could only happen in America" kind
For me, A Face In the Crowd is a much more relevant and
lesson in media and political manipulation. It is far more chilling.
dare I say it, more relevant to Australia today.
For me, based on the films I saw, the festival's theme this year was Families
Under Pressure. The two Bosnian films, plus Waco, The Sweet
Kelly Loves Tony, Streetlife, Marius and Jeannette, TwentyFourSeven,
The Maelstrom, Funny Games, Hana-Bi, Leila, Lucky Star, The
Boy and Radience - and even Frank Capra's Forbidden, all
illustrate aspects of that theme. And what a fitting inversion of John
That's it for this year. See you at the festival in 1999!
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