I’m part of an exciting new audio science fiction comedy series called Night Terrace, which is shaping up to be something really special. It stars Jackie Woodburne (Neighbours’ Susan Kennedy), Ben McKenzie and Petra Elliott and we’ve just announced our first guest star, Jane Badler (Diana from classic science-fiction series V). We’re kickstarting the first season, so you can nab the whole 8 episode run for only $25!
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…
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’sThe 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 Hughes’ Fast 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 Garvis’ Missing, 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…
I know it might seem lately that I’ve neglected you. I don’t write as often as I once did, and perhaps you think my love for you has waned.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Actually, that may not true – there’s probably some things that are further from the truth, like “space octopi open convenience store in Geelong”, but you get the drift of my gist. While updates to this site have been – let’s say “sluggish”, shall we? – behind the scenes it’s been all systems go. Or go-ish.
On Friday July the 10th the exciting new radio version of The Outland Institute will be unleashed, and your ears will never be the same. Every Friday from midday to 2pm (Melbourne time) we’ll be exploring pop-culture in audio form on Joy 94.9. There’ll be plenty of exciting guests, plus some boring ones to make up the numbers. And we have a glamorous selection of resident experts, including Josh Kinal from Boxcutters, Glenn Dunks from Stale Popcorn and Anne-Marie Peard from Aussie Theatre. There’s even a theme tune by David Ashton from Destination Moon – take that, ABC 2’s News Breakfast! Not so big now!
So please join us on the 10th of July – you can listen on the wireless at 94.9FM in the Melbourne metro area, or hear it streamed wherever you are throughhttp://www.joy.org.au/listenlive, or download the podcast version from the Joy website (I’ll provide more podcast details in due course). And keep listening after the show for Flip The Tape, Joy’s fantastic indie/eclectic music show hosted by Adam C. It’s grouse.
The website will also continue to function, with both complimentary and new material, plus you’ll be able to comment on the radio show and basically make life just that bit more bearable.
To finish with, let’s look at some Canadian bilingual kite-flying, set to The Free Design‘s 1967 classic Kites Are Fun.
Ever wondered who writes the theme tunes for the news? No? Oh… Anyway, this week on top TV podcast Boxcutters we talked to David Ashton and Damaris Baker about writing the music for ABC2’s News Breakfast. You can hear the whole interview by going here (and why not consider subscribing to the show through iTunes? Perhaps on multiple computers?).
You can hear the News Breakfast theme at whatsonthetube (scroll down for the second video clip), and here are some highlights from the interview:
Note that for the sake of simplicity I have combined all hosts into one question-asking entity I call “Boxutron“.
Boxutron: How do you approach writing a theme tune for the news?
David: The thing about writing music for TV is that you’re told what to do, basically. It’s not like writing your own song where you just sit down with a blank page and think “what do I want to write a song about?”. They say “we want something like this” and that’s what you try to do.
When they say “something like this” do they mean “dark and moody” or “like the thing NBC is using but change enough notes so we don’t get sued for it”.
David:(pause) Somewhere in between… (laughter)
In the case of Breakfast News they had a piece of music they’d been using when they were throwing ideas around. They checked out how much it would cost to get that cleared and it turned out it would be cheaper to buy us. They didn’t tell us to copy it, they said “this is what we like about it”.
It came down to ominous, serious strings with a little bit or percussion under them – and that would be what they’d read the headlines over – then it burst into these big dancey drums and a bit more melody in the strings and that would be where the opening titles with the spinning graphics would go.
The theme is surprisingly funky…
Damaris: There was a bit of an issue as to whether it should have a tune or whether it was something that was meant to be dancey and funky but definitely not sing-able, whether it should just be hummable, or…
David: There was a phrase, you had to be able to “nod to it, but not hum it”, or something…
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…
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?)