And The Winner Is… Lonely Hearts (1982)

July 13, 2009

Our Minister For Theme Tunes, David Ashton, is watching all the AFI Best Film winners – so you don’t have to. Let’s see what he’s up to today…

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While Australia was experiencing one of its worst droughts, in 1982 the UK recorded it’s lowest ever temperature (-27.2C in Aberdeen.) Another cold place – the Falkland Islands – was invaded by Argentina, leading to war with Britain. With the IRA exploding bombs in London and the Queen off visiting Australia to open the National Gallery, Britain was in need of cheering up. So everyone was heartened when Aston Villa won the European Cup and they had a new TV channel to watch – Channel 4. One thing not televised (probably) was the first Rubik’s Cube World Championship, held in Budapest.

1982 was a good year for computers: not only did Scott Fahlman post the first emoticons, but Time Magazine named “The Computer” Man of the Year.

Possibly the editors of Time had all been to see Tron that year. Science Fiction was definitely still big in 1982 with films as diverse as John Carpenter’s The Thing, Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, and Steven Spielberg’s monster hit E.T. Meanwhile a new popular genre was emerging – the raunchy teen comedy. John HughesFast Times at Ridgemont High has since gone on to be a cult favourite, while Porky’s hasn’t.

If you weren’t a teenager or fan of science fiction in 1982 you may have gone to see the drag comedy Tootsie; the romance An Officer and a Gentleman; the musicals Annie or Pink Floyd: The Wall; or the spooky thrills of Poltergeist. Those with more political tastes may have preferred the Oscar-winning Ghandi, or Costa GarvisMissing, which took the Cannes Palme D’Or this year.

Meanwhile, Australia was experiencing a rare period of commercial success for local films. The biggest hits were The Man From Snowy River (directed by The Other George Miller) and The Year of Living Dangerously (Peter Weir). Australian films were also reflecting the same mix of genres as the international scene. There were the musicals Starstruck (Gillian Armstrong) and The Pirate Movie (Ken Annakin), romance in Far East (John Duigan’s remake of Casablanca), science fiction/horror got a gurnsey with the notorious Turkey Shoot (Brian Trenchard-Smith) and there was ribald comedy in The Clinic (David Stevens). We Of The Never Never (Igor Auzins) represented the post-Hanging Rock historical arthouse picture.

Perhaps perversely, this year the Australian Film Institute decided to give the Best Film award this year to a modest low-budget romantic comedy drama

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And The Winner Is… Gallipoli (1981)

April 21, 2009

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”…

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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 Ripper was 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 scoreRead the rest of this entry »


And The Winner Is… My Brilliant Career (1979)

December 1, 2008

David Ashton is watching all the AFI Best Film winners – so you don’t have to.

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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, HairThe 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.

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The Vietnam War was also on the mind of Australians – the controversial war drama The Odd 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…

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And The Winner Is… Newsfront (1978)

November 23, 2008

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.

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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.

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And The Winner Is… Storm Boy (1977)

November 16, 2008

The Outland Institute’s Northcote Correspondent, David Ashton, is watching all the AFI Best Film winners – so you don’t have to.

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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.

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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…

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And The Winner Is… The AFI “Best Film” Project

November 1, 2008

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?)

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