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MIFF 2011: Melbourne on Film Program 1

23 Jul

Recommended for: The elderly, people from Melbourne, history teachers.

Score: N/A

Part one in a two part program of short historical films about Melbourne. Part 2 screens on Friday the 5th of August.

The American(1959)

Tongue in cheek film begins with an American standing on Princess bridge narrating what sounds like a postcard to his mother while ogling at a passing lady *wink wink nudge nudge*. Interesting predecessor to the Barry McKenzie films with the crude depictions of Australians as easy going, sports mad, beer swilling white supremacists blokes

Melbourne Wedding Belle (1954)

Twee short about a Englishman arriving in Australia for his daughters wedding at St James church. Father of the bride pops into the horse races on the way, only to bet his wedding present with hilarious, albeit predictable, consequences. Meanwhile the groom, an upstanding Doctor no less, stops in the pub, has a bit too much too drink and realises he’s forgotten the ring at the hospital. Serious film scholars are divided over whether or not he is shagging one of the nurses. All of this is narrated in limerick form, the writers going on to produce many successful commercials for Windscreen O’Brien.

Life in Australia(1966)

While worthy of inclusion and historically interesting I must admit I was starting to pray for an interval at this point in the program. FACT: people ate a lot of roast chicken.

The Cleaners (1969)

Ever wondered who cleans up the rubbish? The cleaners that’s who! Part moral hygiene, part Allen Ginsburg inspired buddhist chant this 1969 short is a flashback to a time when littering earned you a gentle tsk tsk rather than a $200 fine. Much like the Grateful Dead’s 20 minute guitar solos were replaced by the Knack in the 80s, we later learned the virtue of having a simple message.

The Melbourne Concert Hall(1982)

Well shot documentary of the Melbourne Concert Hall and Arts centres construction between 1973 and 1982. The only documentary on the program with interviews, it provided some cerebral relief as well as being a bit of porn for audiophiles.

Sunday in Melbourne (1958)

Odd little film, not least because of it’s socialist bent, Sunday in Melbourne was probably my favorite filmette of the bunch. Footage of men and women in hats going to the church and drinking by the yarra is juxtaposed with footage of catweazel-esque homeless men. “Is he winning or has he dropped out of the game?” muses the narrator over footage of one such lovable tramp; it’s a moment that seems surprisingly incongruous for the time and alarmingly more radical than anything shown on television these days.



Oz Classic: Turkey Shoot (1982)

24 Mar

By Gram Morris

3 prawns

Trying to explain Turkeyshoot’s plot would feel like an exaggeration; after all the film-makers never did.

Budget problems meant the first 12 pages of the script were thrown out and serious film critics like Phillip Adams would probably like to ask director Brian Trenchard-Smith why he stopped there. Continue reading

DVD Review: Sister Smile

7 Oct

Sister Smile is based on the true story of Jeanine Deckers, a Nun hit wonder who fell into obscurity after recording the hit single Dominique in 1963. While her appearances on the Ed Sullivan show might have ended soon after, her story certainly did not not as her outspoken views on birth control put her at odds with the catholic church and left her in financial ruin. A failed attempt to reinvent herself as a disco star was unsuccessful and she committed suicide with her partner in 1985.

The story has been well documented with various books and off broadway productions released over the years as well as a 1966 film adaptation starring Debbie Reynolds. Her success might even have been the inspiration for the Peter Cook and Dudley Moore Leaping nun sketch in 1966.

Growing up in a bakery run by her stern mother, Jeanine decides to defy her parents and run off to the nunnery. Unable to fit in to the non-expressive rigidity of austere convent life, Jeanine is permitted the return of her guitar on which she plays her original song, Dominique, the song that propels her to dizzying heights of fame.

After her decision to leave the church to pursue a career as a singer, her life begins a slow decline as she ends up rejected by church and family for her advocacy of contraception and for living with her lesbian lover. It’s no surprise that songs like Glory be to God for the Golden Pill left her in a cultural no mans land; too radical for the church, too churchy for the radicals

The infamous golden pill record

Jeanine is played exceptionally well by Cecile de France who showcases strength and ability in the role and perfectly captures her characters strong will and rebellious nature.

Unfortunately the story adapts a softly softly approach and fails to point the finger at the Catholic Church who, along with the record company Phillips, kept the majority of her royalties and left her financially broken. While the film had the opportunity to present this story in a much more confronting light, perhaps it was the fear of exactly what had happened to Jeanine, that caused director Stijn Coninx to shy away, leaving us robbed of some substantial drama and to wonder the point.

I can’t help thinking that if this film were directed by a woman we may have been led to look less romantically at her beauty and breasts and more at the angst she must have been experiencing as victim of the church’s greed and her own desperate ache for love, an emotion she “didn’t know how to do”. The whole aspect of her suicide was glossed over as a romantic act devoid of any underlying reasons.

Beverly Callow and Gram Morris( who hasn’t actually seen the film but likes stories about Nuns who put out disco records)

Book Review: Portable Grindhouse: The Lost Art of the VHS Box

5 Oct

Last week I was reminiscing about the way in which Horror films were marketed in the 1980’s and what a fine job they did convincing the 8 year old me that seeing Fright Night Part 2, despite probably being a piece of shit, was something like the goyim equivilant of a bah mitzvah

The point is that even though the films themselves were awful, the skill involved in the posters, marketing and concept itself were pure genius. There was a rumor that Nightmare on Elm street 2 was so scary that teenagers in the US had killed themselves after seeing it. Who cared if neither Wes Craven or Johnny Depp were involved? Who cared if it was any good? A video so scary that you could die if you watched it? Good had nothing to do with it.

The concepts didn’t have to be complicated. Hellraiser might have been about the occult, sadomasochism and morality under duress and fear but when you’re 8, none of those words mean anything. All that mattered is that you wanted to see the film about the guy with freaking pins in his face.

Obviously I’m not the only one who feels this way because Fantagraphics books have just put out a book celebrating the art of VHS covers. Keeping in mind that VCRs were not widely adopted until the 1980’s, going into any mainstream suburban video store was a wonderland of possibilities. The book comes packaged in it’s own VHS sleeve and lots of covers you probably never remember seeing. Hmmmmm received nostalgia!

Heaven’s Gate: Minute by Minute: Part 34

4 Oct

The peach philanderer is in the market for a rifle. It’s quite a diverse shop that James finds himself in. From it, you can purchase (aside from hovering bicycles), harmonicas and all sorts of weapons. Why can’t you buy instruments from gun shops anymore? This seems a shame. Weapons were once synonymous with music. My father bought his first ukulele from a knife shop and large weapons manufacturers used to invest heavily in instrument technology. If only the US government hadn’t ceased funding Lockheed’s laser guitar, popular music would have been revolutionised! Instead, they opted for a government program independent of big weapons and aerospace companies to develop the keytar. When will people stop demonising companies whose products wreak destruction and realise that peace = keytars.

DVD Review: REC

1 Oct

Back in the late 80s my favorite thing to do was to go to the horror section of the video store and look at all the videos that mum would never in a million years let me watch (actually it turned out to be only three but when you’re eight years old, thats half your life away). Nightmare on Elm street, Jason, Fright Night, the Evil Dead. One video,Fright Night 2, was so scary that the cover had to be shaped like a coffin to warn children away, the evil printed on the video tape so potent that it had somehow morphed into the cover, rendering it oddly hideous and satanic.

I used to ogle over each one, taking my time with the screen shots, subconciously learning the copy by heart. How could you forget something as wonderfully stupid as the text that accompanied Bride of Chucky “Chucky gets Lucky”. Just trying to imagine how scary and exciting it would be to actually watch one of these things made my stomach turn.

Sadly my mum’s catholic upbringing made her suspicious of anything that didn’t feature a horse riding school or a band of 10 year olds capable of solving mysteries.

Fast forward 22 years and a copy of REC sits on my desk. ‘Experience Fear’ the cover promises. I’m not 8 years old anymore Mum. I’m a big boy and I can watch whatever I want! Sadly the experience of too many bad horror films, not to mention the recent spate of zombie films has well and truly sucked the marrow out of what was once a revered genre.

Although well received by many and scary in places, REC did nothing to reignite my passion for the horror film. A team of TV reporters follow a squad of fireman on “just another mundane night shift”. The footage is completely live and unedited as a routine call brings them to an apartment building where something evil is a brewin’. That something evil is actually a zombie virus and they spend the next 90 minutes running around, turning the camera on and off like some spanish episode of scooby doo.

I started to wonder why it was that not one of the victims in REC acted like they had ever seen a Zombie film before. You would think somebody, sometime would say, “hang on I live in the world of Popular Culture, I’m familiar with the work of George Romero, listen to me guys, it works like this” Alarm bells really should be ringing but I found the general level of Zombie ignorance staggering.

If Blair Witch Project had never been made then this would be innovative and interesting but that’s like saying I invented the internet. What’s more annoying is that the violence starts too early and any chance of suspense is lost; like someone confessing their love to you on a first date, REC leaves you with nowhere to go.

With a sequel already made due and several spin offs in the works, it seems that as long as there are 8 year olds and hydroponic weed at affordable prices the REC brand will have a solid fan base.

DVD Review: LOL (Laughing Out Loud)

29 Sep

Everyone in LOL is totally hot. Lol is hot, her boyfriend is hot, Lol’s mum is hot, Lol’s maths teacher is hot, Lol’s friends are hot. You get the idea. Continue reading

Heaven’s Gate: Minute by Minute: Part 33

10 Sep

33 of 229

Nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, oh my goodness! Hovering bicycles! How are they flying and why is no one paying any attention to them? Were flying bikes so common in the eighteen hundreds that their presence doesn’t even warrant an acknowledgement? Get on one Kristofferson and go and fight areal battles with other hover cyclists. The minute closes with a man watching Kristofferson. He has a dirty face and I’m going to assume a dirty mind… thinking about peaches. I don’t understand – if you’re going to invent a bike that flies, why would you put wheels on it? Surely the flying supersedes the wheels? It’d be like inventing a car with a horse in the bonnet.

To read parts 1-32, click the link at the top of the page.

DVD Review: Herb and Dorothy

7 Sep

I always enjoy this series of Art and Artist documentaries (available through the good folks at Madman) so I was eager to see this one. I wasn’t disappointed. Herb and Dorothy Vogel are a damn cute pair whose charisma and style carry this documentary. It’s a charming and insightful film on some New Yawk Celebrity Art Collectors turned Celebs who started out humbly as a librarian and a postal worker; the two managing to live a meagre existence on a librarian’s salary while spending every penny of a posties wage on art.

Director Megumi Sasaki follows the Vogels into the studios of their artists and friends as well as their own flat which, along with the one of the worlds most comprehensive collections of minimalist and contemporary American Art, is bursting at the seams with more cats, turtles and fish than a cat-turtle-fish jamboree.

In 1992, the Vogels made headlines that shocked the art world: their entire collection was moved to the National Gallery of Art, the vast majority of it as an outright gift to the institution where it could be now safely housed, away from the threat of burst aquariums, cat fur and spilt coffee.. Many of the works they acquired at modest prices had appreciated so significantly that their collection became worth several million dollars, yet the Vogels never sold a single piece to breakdown the collection.

It’s incredibly refreshing to see these two, driven by a love for art and a desire to immerse themselves in it, embracing work that was considered incredibly difficult and unlovable by many at the time. They attempt to articulate their reasons for buying, with statements like ‘because I think it’s beautiful’ or simply interesting and new. With this naivety it could be easy to forget just how visionary they turned out to be. And though they were a librarian and a postal worker, they also studied art and were well and truly immersed in the scene.

They were guided by two rules: the piece had to be affordable, and small enough to fit in their one-bedroom Manhattan apartment. Within these limitations, most of those they supported and befriended went on to become world-renowned artists. Their circle includes: Sol LeWitt, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Richard Tuttle, Chuck Close, Robert and Sylvia Mangold, Lynda Benglis and Pat Steir.

Dell Stewart

MIFF 2010 Review: Machete Maidens Unleashed

5 Aug

Following up on the success of 2008’s Not Quite Hollywood comes Mark Hartley’s new documentary about Filipino genre films of the 70s and 80s Machete Maidens unleashed.  Anyone who has read Roger Corman’s “How I made a hundred movies in Hollywood and never lost a dime” will find themselves in familiar territory; as Mark said prior to the screening,”If you want to learn something from this film then you should probably go to the foyer and read a book”  This isn’t a film about the Philippines at all but the American genre films that were made there in order to take advantage of the cheap labor and exotic scenery readily available. Roger Corman, Joe Dante, John Landis, Eddie Romero and many other talking heads sound like they have  a few more films worth of stories to tell and it’s obvious that almost everyone (except the stunt people, something i will come back to later) had a lot of fun working on these films. The filmmakers must have spent hours trawling through literally hundreds of B-grade films and it’s paid of because Machete Maidens is a hilarious clip show with the sordid scenes and hilarious one liners coming thick and fast from start to finish.

Perhaps the MIFF programmers should think about screening some of these films at shed 4 next year after all it’s the drive in double feature market that these films were originally aimed at and I really would like the chance to see films like For your Height Only or Big Doll House as they were originally intended to be seen.

At the risk of going against the spirit in which Machete Maidens Unleashed was made I was a little uncomfortable with the way in which it trivialised the real exploitation of cheap Filipino stunt men who died in the making of these films. There seems to be a double standard where it’s ok to exploit third world countries if you want to make films but not if you want to make sneakers.  Could Nike make a similar movie about the glory days of the south east asian sweatshop industry with the same hilarious anecdotes.

In an AFR scoop (sort of) Mark Hartley has announced that he will not be making another documentary for a while and his next project will be a “Gothic, Spooky, Orphanage style” remake of the schlock 80s aussie horror film Patrick.