A long time ago – in a galaxy far, far away – David Ashton was watching all of the AFI Best Film winners in order… so you don’t have to. Today he visits a mythic time we call “1981”…
1981 began on a Thursday and was to go on to feature over fifty further Thursdays spaced evenly throughout the year. It was the year that the Yorkshire Ripperwas caught and a year that saw endless mugs and tea towels commemorationg the royal coupling of Charles and Diana, who I believe went on to live happily ever after. The pop charts were dominated by Kim Carnes’ Bette Davis Eyes, Soft Cell’s Tainted Love and the timeless Stars on 45.
Meanwhile the movieworld’s obsession with science fiction had shuffled slightly sideways to fantasy; Clash of the Titans, Dragonslayer, Excalibur and Time Bandits were all released in 1981, with only Outland (no, not that one) flying the flag for SF. Other significant films of this year were comedies Arthur and The Cannonball Run; Wolfgang Petterson’s claustrophobic submarine drama Das Boot; Sam Rami’s low-budget marvel The Evil Dead; a post-modern adaptation of John Fowles’ post-modern novel The French Lieutenant’s Woman; the morality play Mephisto; the sentimental On Golden Pond and the blockbuster team-up of Lucas and Spielberg for Raiders Of The Lost Ark. Also a surprising number of werewolf movies; The Howling, Wolfen and An American Werewolf in London all came out this year. The Cannes Film Festival awarded the Palme D’Or to the politically-charged Polish film Man of Iron; in the US the Academy was handing its top award to a period story about rival athletes accompanied by a synthesizer score, Chariots of Fire.
In Australia, Bruce Beresford was documenting Australian surfie life with Puberty Blues – a surprisingly rare Aussie film about beach culture – and Richard Franklin directed Roadgames, a sort of Rear Window-on-wheels starring American actors Stacy Keach and Jamie Lee Curtis. Perhaps the most significant Australian film released this year though was Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior. Few films can be attributed with creating their own genre but MM2, with its mix of post-apocalyptic dystopia, punk fashion and gory car stunts has been endlessly copied, usually by inferior films.
The Australian Film Institute has little interest in such Ozploitative genre fare, of course, and had its eyes on a period story about rival athletes accompanied by a synthesizer score … Read the rest of this entry »
David Ashton is watching all the AFI Best Film winners – so you don’t have to…
1980, the dawn of a new decade. The Moscow Olympics are held (the USA didn’t go, Australia did). Voyager I visits Saturn (why wasn’t I invited?). The world loses John Lennon, but gains Iron Maiden. Cultural icon Pacman is unleashed onto a world of hungry ghosts. Lindy Chamberlain utters the immortal words “a dingo’s got my baby!” – there’s probably a film in that. Ronald Reagan becomes President of USA. In Australia, the state of Victoria decriminalises homosexual acts between consenting adults, and in Pakistan the Urdu typewriter keyboard layout based on Naskh script is standardised.
In the world of movies audiences were treated to a cornucopia of movies which went on to cult fame: Elephant Man, Raging Bull, The Shining, The Long Good Friday, Airplane! (aka Flying High), The Blue Lagoon, Xanadu, Flash Gordon, The Empire Strikes Back, The Blues Brothers and Altered States, to name a few. The Oscar for best film in 1980 went to the rather more mundane Ordinary People. The Cannes Film Festival were perhaps a little more adventurous that year with their top prize being shared by Bob Fosee’s All That Jazz and Kurasowa’a Kagemusha.
In Australia there was a typically (for this time) diverse set of films released. We had nuclear meltdowns in The Chain Reaction (dir: Ian Barry); behind-the-scenes sports shenanigans in The Club (directed by Bruce Beresford, based on David Williamson’s play); foreign stars in films cheaply made for the international market such as Harlequin (dir: Simon Wincer); and the prison drama Stir (dir: Stephen Wallace). Stir – based on a true story and starring Bryan Brown – is one of the earliest (the first?) of the tough prison dramas that Australia seems to make so well. Other examples include Ghosts… of the Civil Dead (1988), Everynight Everynight (1994) and parts of Chopper (2000). Stir should not be confused with Stir Crazy, a US film released the same year starring Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor. It really shouldn’t.
Meanwhile another film starring Bryan Brown based on true events was sweeping the pool at the Australian Film Institute Awards. The winner of ten AFIs, including best film was…
David Ashton is watching all the AFI Best Film winners – so you don’t have to.
1979 was the International Year of The Child so for twelve months children were allowed to vote, join the army and drink in pubs. To celebrate this, the Music for UNICEF concert was held, which featured the Bee Gees, ABBA, Donna Summer, Earth Wind and Fire and Rod Stewart. And people think Live Aid was a big deal! 1979 was also the year that Skylab fell out of space and onto West Australia.
Meanwhile in the world of movies the success of Star Wars was being followed by a slew of futuristic hopefuls, the best of which was probably Ridley Scott’s Alien. Others included Disney’s The Black Hole and Robert Wise’s Star Trek The Motion Picture. Another TV series spin-off was the timeless Muppet Movie. Also released this year were Volker Schlöndorff’s film of Gunter Grass’s The Tin Drum, Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz, Hair, The Jerk, Moonraker, The China Syndrome, Escape From Alcatraz, Monty Python’s Life of Brian, Quadrophenia and Francis Ford Coppola’s Vietnam war epic Apocalypse Now. But the Best Picture Oscar that year went to divorce drama Kramer Vs Kramer, which – amazingly enough – was also that year’s highest-grossing film. Cannes were perhaps a bit more on the ball, with The Tin Drum and Apocalypse Now sharing their top prize.
The Vietnam War was also on the mind of Australians – the controversial war drama TheOdd Angry Shot (dir: Tom Jeffrey) was released that year. Max Gillies and Bruce Spence starred in John Duigan’s adaptation of the Jack Hibberd play Dimboola, while a young up-and-comer named Mel Gibson starred in two feature films – the unconventional romance Tim (Directed by Michael Pate, adapted from a Colleen McCullough novel) and the seminal Mad Max. George Miller pulled off quite a coup with Mad Max, making a taut, action-packed (and extremely violent) film with very little money, which went on to be a huge financial success world-wide. Mad Max and its sequels were arguably the peak of the ‘Ozploitation’ cycle. But while Mad Max won the Australian Film Institute awards for editing, sound and music, and Mel Gibson was given a nod for his performance in Tim , the Best Film award (also cinematography, design, costume, director and adapted script) went to…
The Outland Institute’s Resident Echo & The Bunnymen Expert, David Ashton, is watching all the AFI Best Film winners – so you don’t have to.
On January 7, 1978, Emilio Palma was born in Antarctica – the furthest south anyone had ever been born. It was also the year that Ted Bundy was arrested and the Garfield comic strip was first published. Coincidence? In Australia it was the year of the Hilton Hotel bombing and the year that Dick Smith towed a fake iceberg into Sydney Harbour. Probably a cry for help.
For two prominent film directors 1978 was year of unusual migrations: Roman Polanski skipped bail and fled the US after pleading guilty to sexual intercourse with a minor, while the remains of Charlie Chaplin were stolen from Cosier-sur-Vevey, Switzerland, only to re-appear 50 days later near Lake Geneva. Coincidence?
The Oscar for 1978 went to Michael Cimino’s grim Vietnam War film The Deer Hunter, beating Coming Home and Midnight Express. The BAFTA that year went to Annie Hall (which had won the Oscar the previous year). Meanwhile, audiences sang along to Grease and believed a man could fly in Superman: The Movie.
Australia was continuing to produce good films too. Fred Schepsi’s follow-up to The Devil’s Playground was the more visceral Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith. The success of the previous year’s Storm Boy led to the making of Blue Fin – another Colin Thiele tale with the same young actor in the lead. The Getting of Wisdom and The Night, The Prowler were also released, but they were all soundly beaten at the AFIs by the winner of an unprecedented eight awards – including Best Film – Newsfront.
The Outland Institute’s Northcote Correspondent, David Ashton, is watching all the AFI Best Film winners – so you don’t have to.
1977, the year the world changed its underpants… Jimmy Carter became president of the USA, his first act pardoning Vietnam War draft-dodgers. Fleetwood Mac released Rumors and Fleetway Publishing released 2000AD Prog 1. Elizabeth II celebrated her silver jubilee while being mocked by the Sex Pistols, and the Empire staggered under the weight of so much commemorative crockery. In Australia we adopted Advance Australia Fair as our national anthem by plebiscite and re-elected Malcom Fraser as PM (what were we thinking?)
In tinseltown, the Oscar for best movie went to Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. The highest-grossing movies of the year included Close Encounters of the Third Kind (dir: Steven Spielberg), Saturday Night Fever (dir: John Badham) and a family movie featuring a seabird in a prominent role… The Rescuers (dirs: Reitherman/Lounsbery/Stevens). The Cannes Palme D’Or that year went to the Taviani Brothers’Padre Pardone.
And yes – there was Star Wars (dir: George Lucas). Its impact was huge – in the short term we had a slew of second- and third-rate cash-ins (everything from Italy’s Star Crash to Disney’s The Black Hole). In the long term, Hollywood blockbusters – struggling to re-capture the audience exhilaration of Star Wars – began to resemble theme park rides more than movies. The enormous success of this movie (and others including Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark) meant that films previously considered juvenile B-pictures now got the big budgets and the marketing attention, while movies made for adults struggled on the margins.
None of that mattered in Australia, of course, which had neither “big budgets” nor “marketing hype”. The Australian film industry was still renaissance-ing away with such diverse films as the animated Dot and the Kangaroo (dir: Yoram Gross, an unsung hero of Aussie film), Peter Weir’s spooky thriller The Last Wave, the nostalgic Picture Show Man (dir: John Power) and Lasse Hallstrom came here from Sweeeden to shoot ABBA: The Movie, starring That Guy That Played The Dad from Hey Dad (although since Hey Dad wouldn’t start until 1987, back then he was simply known as “That Guy“).
Meanwhile Richard Franklin clearly believed he was on to a good thing as he delivered Phantasm Rides Again. On a sadder note, popular television soap operas Bellbird, Number 96, and The Box were all cancelled this year – it’s worth remembering that the successful film adaptations of No 96 and The Box played a not insignificant role in kick-starting the whole film renaissance thing in Australia.
But the film warming most Australian hearts, selling Australian tickets and (most importantly for our purposes) winning Australian Film Institute Awards was…
The Outland institute’s “Best News Theme” correspondent David Ashton is watching all the Australian Film Institute’s “Best Film” winners from 1976 onwards. Last week he set the scene, now the journey begins…
1976, what a big year that was! Well, it was a leap year so it was a bit bigger than usual. Harold Wilson resigned as the UK’s PM, Patty Hearst was found guilty of the armed robbery of a San Francisco bank, while here in Melbourne $1.4 million in bookmakers’ settlements was stolen in The Great Bookie Robbery. Queen Elizabeth II sent the first royal e-mail in this year, presumably to Steve Jobs who was forming Apple at the time. The Viking 2 spacecraft landed on Mars, and according to Wikipedia, “The UK and Iceland end the Cod War” (no, I don’t know what that was either, but I suspect that Goodies episode had a whole level of meaning that I totally missed).
Meanwhile the US film industry was being transformed by a bunch of film-school upstarts with a bold, gritty approach to movies. In 1976 Martin Scorsese won both the Palm D’Or at Cannes for Taxi Driver and also the Best Film BAFTA for Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (which also later spawned a spin-off TV series). Meanwhile the Oscars were dominated by Rocky (dir: John G Alvidson) and Network (dir: Sydney Lumet).
In Australia the “film renaissance” (use of this phrase is mandatory) was in full swing. Caddie (dir: Donald Crombie) was a big hit with critics and audiences alike, Don’s Party (dir: Bruce Beresford) dished up Australian politics to a country still reeling from the dismissal of Gough Whitlam, and Richard Franklin brought some much-needed tits and bums to Australian Culture with Fantasm (aka World of Sexual Fantasy).
Speaking of Australian culture, this was the year the Australian Film Institute decided that it was worth having a category for best feature film. Previously the award had been for ‘Best Film’ with the award often going to a documentary or short film. So who was the winner of the first Best Feature Film award?
Over the coming months, David Ashton – The Outland Institute’s Northcote correspondent – will be undertaking a grueling and potentially dangerous task: he’ll be watching all the Australian Film Institute‘s “Best Film” winners from 1976 onwards (prior to 1976 documentaries and non-features were eligible for the main prize, but David‘s going for the hard stuff). Here he sets the scene for what is to come…
Lately the word on everyone’s lips is Ozploitation. Thanks to a spiffy new documentary – and endorsement from Quentin Tarantino – everyone and their blog is talking about Australian movies. The violence, the nudity, the tax breaks and the film-makers who dared to exploit them. But there’s another type of Australian film-making that’s been going on behind the scenes, running parallel and underground to the films we know. Bold, innovative film-makers who dare to make films where the sex and violence is done tastefully. Film-makers who recklessly ignore public opinion in favour of critical plaudits. For these people, “hauntingly beautiful” isn’t just a lazy critic’s cliche – it’s a way of life. Some of these directors are so determined to see their films made they even write their own scripts.
I call this style of movie artsploitation. This freshly-minted genre includes such overlooked classics as Picnic at Hanging Rock, My Brilliant Career, The Year My Voice Broke and Shine. Films acclaimed in their day, but now only dimly remembered by an industry which prefers to canonise films like Patrick, Turkey Shoot, and that one where Sigrid Thornton gets stalked by a Mr Whippy van.
Artsploitation might not have Quentin Tarantino to champion it, but it does have the Australian Film Institute. Each year the AFI celebrates the films it considers the finest made in Australia – no matter how poorly they’ve done at the box office. In order to shed new light on the whole artsploitation genre I’m going to watch and review all the winners of the AFI “Best Film” award since it was first designated to be specifically for Australian features in 1976 (can you guess the film?)