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… Breaker Morant (1980)

December 12, 2008

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

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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.

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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…

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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… 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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On Ozploitation

August 25, 2008

It’s hard to believe now, but there was a time when Australia dared to make films that were entertaining. Mark Hartley‘s new documentary Not Quite Hollywood takes a loving looks at all the horror, thrillers, science-fiction/supernatural features, action films and sex comedies that were abundant during the 1970s and ’80s, films which have recently been collectively branded as “Ozploitation”.

The term “exploitation picture” originates around the 1950s, when small independent producers would make cheap films to cash in on popular trends. These weren’t B-pics, which were also produced by the studios, but something cheaper and rougher. Intended for drive-ins and fleapit cinemas, they would often exploit current concerns or fads, getting their films to the screen before the polished studio pics had a chance. Sometimes they would use misleading titles, or ride the anticipation generated by highly advertised studio product – Invaders From Mars cashing in on Paramount’s War Of The Worlds (1953), for example, or Beyond The Time Barrier opening during promotion for The Time Machine (1960).

Later the term became more specific – the Sexploitation pictures of the 1960s (such as I Am Curious (Yellow)) or the Blaxploitation films of the 1970s (created in the wake of Melvin Van PeeblesSweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song). Other sub-genres include Nunsploitation, Nazisploitation, Eschploitation (apocalyptic Christian end-times thrillers), Pinku Eiga (“Pink Film” – Japanese sexploitation), Pornochanchada (Brazilian softcore) and Cat III (named after Hong Kong’s equivalent of the R classification)>

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