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A for Australian Cinema

B is for blogs

B also for Baseball

C for Yash Chopra

C also for Bill Collins

D for DVD

F for Connie Field

H for Head Ager/Dyer

I for Iran

M for Movietime

M also for Richard Moore

N for National Film and Sound Archive

P for a recent lament from supercinephile Barrie Pattison

O for Obama

R for Jean Rouch

R also for Nicholas Ray

S for Mary Stephen

T for Albie Thoms

T for Top ten or thereabouts

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LINKS

My 2012 Roundup

geoff

A for Australian Cinema

As another lamentable year for our cinema comes to an end we can reflect only on the fact that almost nothing of any lasting merit, at least among feature films designed to attract paying audiences, was made here. This is rather different from our TV where a host of Australian dramas hit the nail on the head. Who is responsible for yet another year of failure of our feature film production no doubt causes much debate.

As for the monetary equations they too make for sorry reading. One film alone, The Sapphires (Wayne Blair) earned more at the box office than its budget. Somewhere between $100 and $120 million was spent on films which had screenings in theatres. This doesn’t count the money spent on Happy Feet 2 ($180 million) which started its run last year or on the deeply odious international renegade Killer Elite ($80 million) made in a Melbourne frocked up to look like half a dozen other places in the world. The many aging thespians and enthusiastic technicians who got a share of the $80 million probably don’t care about the end product anyway.

Box office income for Oz films was again less than $50 million, or about 5% of the $1 billion paid out to see a movie in cinemas. Around 30% of that $50 million was taken by The Sapphires and another 15%+ by Happy Feet 2 which gave it the distinction of finishing second on the box office charts two years in a row. Four feature films The King is Dead, Swerve, Careless Love and Hail took less than $100,000.

For the money invested in purely local productions you should assume that somewhere round $50 million will be sent back to investors by the tax office. The investors in Killer Elite will also probably have already got a rebate of $15 million or so. No doubt officials of the Treasury will be gnashing their teeth at such largesse. Still hope springs eternal and we are already being told of our great good fortune in having a number of our forthcoming movies, and a Jane Campion TV series, selected to appear at the Sundance Festival in January. No word yet as to whether anything of merit has made it into the tougher climes of the competition at Berlin.

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B is for blogs (many) and for www.davidbordwell.net again, still, the best of them. Always cheerful, always enlightening. Though why you would ever want to go blogging when you could live the life of a university don as depicted in Josh Radnor’s Liberal Arts is beyond me even if there are muted complaints about faculty meetings inserted therein to give the picture an occasional bit of grim social realism.

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B also for Baseball

Baseball seems to be the only sport uniquely suited to ruminations about it on film. Maybe only boxing even comes close. Kevin Costner has made four baseball movies one of which gave the world the line: “build it and they will come”. This year’s entrant Trouble With the Curve has Clint Eastwood as the aging scout who can tell whether a guy can hit by the sound made when the ball is struck by the bat. It’s all about a feeling for the game. Baseball like cricket produces its own forms of literature but the game is better able to be filmed and incorporated into a drama. As well most of the baseball movies give you the impression that the actors can play it. Compare this with the batting effort by Stanley Baker in Losey’s Accident and you’ll see what I mean. The aficionado spots the fake immediately.

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C for Yash Chopra

The Indian producer Yash Chopra died recently and his memory was honoured at the APSA ceremony. Adrienne McKibbins writes:

For anyone interested in Hindi cinema Sunday 21st October was an extremely sad day. Yash Chopra, the major and much beloved figure in Indian cinema, died in Mumbai. He turned 80 on September 27 and had been working to complete his last film Jab Tak Hai Jaan, which released for Diwale on November 13th. Although the film was complete Chopra had planned to shoot one more song for the film in his adored Switzerland at Chopra Lake. After Chopra’s death despite the sequence being costumed and planned, none of the cast, crew or his family felt it could be done without the director himself.

The film opened well both in India and overseas (initially making the top ten box office films in both Australia and London).In general the films had positive reviews but whatever the critical response it is still bound to become an iconic film. The end credits show the master director at work on his last film aptly catching his rapport with his cast and technicians. One can only hope there is more of this to be seen when the DVD releases.

Some years ago in an interview Chopra made a comment which in some ways summed up his attitude to his life’s work ---

“Films have been my only passion in life. I have always been proud of making films and will continue taking pride in all my films. I have never made a movie I have not believed in. However, though I love all my films, one tends to get attached to films that do well. But I do not have any regrets about making films that did not really do well at the box office.”

Chopra has worked in the Hindi film industry for some fifty years, starting his career with his elder brother BR Chopra, whom he often cited as his inspiration, giving him full credit for his own success. In those fifty years Chopra has directed 22 features and produced or executive produced some 41 more. His first film as a director was Dhool Ka Phool in 1959, a melodrama about illegitimacy, and in 1965 he made WAQT, the film with which he not only found both critical and commercial acclaim, but with which he is credited with pioneering the concept of multi-starrers. But it's for his romantic sagas that he will most be remembered. Following the success of Daag A Poem of Love in 1973, Chopra founded his production company Yash Raj films, which has gone from strength has gone from strength to strength, giving many talented writers and directors a start in the industry.

Chopra was born on September 27th in Lahore to a Punjabi family, as the youngest of 8 children (his oldest sibling was 30 years his senior). For some years his upbringing was in the household of his older brother BR Chopra, a film journalist at the time, which presumably sparked the younger Chopra’s interest in cinema. Chopra moved to India after the Partition, planning on pursuing a career as an engineer, but his love of cinema encouraged him to seek work in the Bombay film industry, beginning his long career as an assistant to I S Johar and to his brother B R Chopra, who had become a producer/director.

He married in 1970, and decided on returning from his honeymoon that he would set up on his own. His sons, Aditya and Uday, were born in 1971 and 73, and now work in the film industry. Aditya has only directed three features, but they have all been blockbusters, and he is now a highly regarded producer/writer/director in his own right. Uday has been an actor, and is now the head of one arm of the Yash Raj empire.

While it might conventionally be said that Chopra is survived by his wife and two sons, it could also be said that he is survived by the many in Hindi cinema who looked upon him as a father figure or elder brother. Two such people would be Amitabh Bachchan, who appeared in four films under Chopra’s direction (one of which, Dewaar, often credited as being the film that created Bachchan’s “angry young man” persona), and Shah Rukh Khan, for in many ways it is the Yash Raj banner that made him the superstar he is. Chopra first directed Khan early in his career in Darr (1993), a box office hit. While producing and running Yash Raj studios, Chopra only directed 3 more films from 1993: Dil to Pagal Hai (1998), Veer-Zaara (2004), and finally Jab Tak Hai Jaan (2012), all starring Shah Rukh Khan. Khan also worked with other directors in Yash Raj productions, the combination of Yash Raj and SRK delivered such mega hits as Chak de India (2007) Rab ne Bana di Jodi 2009, and DDLJ (1995) - which has just celebrated a continuous run of 17 years at a cinema in Mumbai. Produced by Yash Chopra, directed by his son Aditya and starring Shah Rukh Khan and Kajol, it has become a landmark of Hindi cinema.

Yash Raj Films, which now operates out of a state of the art studio in Mumbai, is held in high esteem within the Hindi film industry, as is its founder. Not just as a producer and director, but as a man, Chopra was both admired and liked in the industry. Over the years he has won many awards and has represented the Hindi film industry at many events around the world. However, the actors he worked with always claimed that Yashji, as he was fondly called, was the most lively and “youngest person on the set”. He always remembered birthdays and other celebrations, and was also known for his love of food; no matter where a crew was anywhere in the world, Chopra would always know where to find the best Tandoori chicken or Parathas. Described by many heroines he worked with as a gentle man who had enormous respect for women. His quick sense of humour reflected his attitude and love of life.

He was an icon of Hindi cinema, with films often referred to as a “Yash Chopra- type romance” as though it had become a genre, but Yash Chopra will be remembered not just as an iconic producer/ director, a great film maker, and a unique representative of Hindi cinema, but as a warm human being.

In 2008 The Asia Pacific Film Awards presented Yash Chopra with the APSA 2008 FIAPF (International Federation of Film Producer’s Associations) Award for Outstanding Achievement in Film. Unfortunately he was unable to attend the ceremony in Queensland due to the death of his brother B R Chopra, but a video of Yash Chopra talking from his office in Yash Raj films Mumbai was screened on the awards night. The award was presented to him in person at the opening of the Mumbai film festival a few months later by the Director General of FIAPF, Benoit Ginisty. Yash Chopra said: “I am very happy that Mr Benoît Ginisty has specially come to present this prestigious award to me which unfortunately I could not collect last year owing to a personal bereavement. I thank APSA and FIAPF and humbly accept this award as recognition for the Indian Film industry as a whole and for myself personally.”

Professor Rachel Dwyer, who has written extensively on Hindi cinema, and wrote a book on Yash Chopra* was shocked when she heard the unexpected news. I asked her what she thought Chopra’s legacy would me for Hindi cinema.

Yashji was one of the people who built the film industry after 1947 and was still shaping it until his last days.  His films often raised social issues, however rich and prosperous his protagonists became.  Yashji shaped the idea of the Indian as a modern Punjabi from his earliest films such as Waqt,  uniting the diaspora with the homeland in the 1990s onwards.  His legacy will continue through the work of Aditya Chopra and Karan Johar, two of the most important producer-directors in Bombay today. 

*Yash Chopra. London: British Film Institute 2002

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C also for Bill Collins

The old film lush still survives to give us some remarkable programs. Now regrettably confined to a single night a week but when, as on a recent Saturday it’s a triple bill of Cromwell’s Since You Went Way, Rapper’s Voice of the Turtle/One for the Road and Hitchcock’s Notorious you have to hope Bill will live forever.

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D for DVD

GeoffStill the preferred vehicle for collectors... but a warning. In places where fast broadband is available, the DVD shop has disappeared. That huge HMV store in Vancouver stands as ghostly testimony to a now near forgotten time when browsing allowed you to hold any disc in the Criterion Collection. Australia is the last place where DVD stores flourish. When the NBN arrives, or if it arrives when the Abbott moment gets here, it's farewell to JB Hi-Fi and those endless racks and dump bins. JB knows it. They have announced they are moving into selling fridges and washers.

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F for Connie Field

Friend since the days she visited Melbourne to screen The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter to a packed Palais. This year, after close to two decades of production, her last film, a monumental multi-episode work about the history of the international anti-apartheid movement, Have You Heard from Johannesburg, won an Emmy for Exceptional Merit in Documentary Filmmaking. No sign that the film or this award has impressed any programmers down here but you live in hope.

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H for Head Ager/Dyer

You have to stay to the near the end of the Clint Eastwood picture Trouble With the Curve to pick up on this most unusual credit.

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I for Iran

Performing some early tasks for the annual Asia-Pacific Screen Awards has a number of side benefits. Not the least is the chance to see a swag of the annual production of the remarkable Iranian cinema. Every year produces a surprise. In 2011 it was the chance to see Negar Azarbayjani’s Facing Mirrors, remarkably bold film-making from a first time director which went on to rate highly with audiences at MIFF. This year Khosro Masoumi’s Bear was yet another revelation, even more so when you look up the indexes and discover that the director has made ten features, none of which would seem to have screened here.

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M for Movietime

ABC boffins decided to ring time on Julie and Jason’s little radio review only to rethink later and reinstate at least some discussion on film on Radio National. Julie retires but Jason carries the flag onwards.

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M also for Richard Moore

On the day of the Asia-Pacific Screen Awards ceremony Richard offered the view, published in Murdoch’s The Australian: “In this current climate one has to question whether a spend of $2m for essentially a one night award presentation is money well-spent”. A short time later, though unrelated, Richard was informed his contract as Artistic Director of BIFF and head of screen culture in Queensland wouldn’t be renewed. No word has come through on a replacement or indeed whether BIFF will even be there in 2013, such are the current patterns of expenditure in Queensland.

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N for National Film and Sound Archive

Thanks to Ken Berryman, Chris Guster, Kathrin DiRocco and others for inviting me to be a part of the NFSA’s Oral History Program. It gave me the chance, indeed the privilege, to sit down for hours to listen to and record the thoughts of luminaries and legends Tris Miall, Julie Flynn, Sharon Connolly, Peter Russell, Lynn Gailey, Bruce Spence, Des Power and Alan Ramsey

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P for a recent lament from supercinephile Barrie Pattison

As Woody Allen said about the Giant Boob, they usually come in twos.

The same week we got SKYFALL along came JAB TAK HI JAAN, the Hindi movie where Sha Ruhk Kahn's driver comments "We grow older but London gets younger", as they cross the Thames Bridge near the new construction. People who became familiar with the city years back will be hard pressed to recognise it in the  good living and busy street activities  in these films.

This was the last film from Yash Chopra. I may have missed the obits but I have the impression that the most important figure in the 2nd largest film industry in the world died without any comment locally - certainly with less thought than was given to Larry Hagman's demise.

Also, the night that BACK TO 1942 hit the Multiplexes, SBS did JOHN RABE one of the several films about the Movies' nicest Nazi, the promoter of the  security zone maintained in the face of Nanking massacre,  and much better than the festival circuit's CITY OF LIFE AND DEATH, which treats the same subject. This one points out that WW2 starts in 1937 for the Chinese - and Japanese.

BACK TO 1942 is the latest work of Feng Xiaogang, the leading figure of the Chinese (and probably Asian) cinema, whose films are their most ambitious, most rewarding and most profitable products. His productions are intensely scrutinised by the authorities, if not by foreign movie critics, and can be considered among other things as messages to the public.

BACK TO I942 is the most challenging of it's maker's work at two and a half grim hours. Some of it is magnificent - notably the bombing runs on the refugee columns, which cream previous versions of that familiar subject matter.

These multiplex releases arrive in the wake of  the great Canadian/Afghani ACT OF DISHONOUR, which got a run to eighteen people at a Parramatta fringe festival.  It's now less that the important material is not shown here but that virtually no one with any influence is seeking it out.

More on my Blog Sprocketed Sources.

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O for Obama

There are some good news stories , especially for poll mavens and election vultures.

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R for Jean Rouch

The Ronin Films release of six titles by the legendary film-maker Jean Rouch , directed to the educational market (and thus not on sale at JB Hi Fi) was without doubt the DVD event of the year. As far as I know several of the titles have never had screenings here. For details and sale negotiations you can go to www.roninfilms.com.au

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R also for Nicholas Ray

Ben Cho writes: Hi Geoff - If you send out another Film Alert could you please include information about this campaign being run by Susan Ray to celebrate Nick Ray: 

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/nickray/action-master-class-with-nicholas-ray?ref=live

Some good rewards for people who get involved as well including an unwashed Nick Ray shirt!!!

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S for Mary Stephen

Visitor to these shores again, friend and internationally renowned film editor who has spent much of this year working on a major new documentary from China. More anon. Also proud mum who writes:

Hello hello !!!!   Julie's pop-up books are now online, fresh from a wonderful reception at the Montreuil Book Fair. Les sites pour les livres pop-up de Julie sont ouverts... après un très bel acceuil au Salon du livre de jeunesse de Montreuil ... The books are available in French AND English.

Poèmes en Pièces: 

Les Aventures d'un Village: 

Spread the word around you and don't hesitate to send the video with links to the websites to your friends ... To place your orders, go online ...  The books will be available in selective sales points such as museum bookshops or other speciality stores in your city soon.  If you wish to suggest other sales points in your area who    might be interested to carry these books, please contact the author. To get in touch with the author ... pour contacter l'auteur: julie.stephen.chheng@gmail.com . Welcome enquiries for coproductions into other languages.

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T for Albie Thoms

A dozen or so among us raised our glasses to remember Albie over a nice lunch at the (T for) Trinity Bar in Surry Hills just a few weeks ago. Albie was a multi-talented pioneer who took on authority figures like censors and government officials who didn’t care for his early work and the whole ethos of the Ubu Films squad. If ever a film deserved restoration and revival it would have to be Albie’s remarkable free ranging Marinetti, a film I haven’t seen since it had a packed out screening at Melbourne’s Dendy Cinema (the original) way back in 1969. When Albie moved into a more straightforward narrative mode in 1979 (after making a living doing things like episodes of Contrabandits and serving as an AFC bureaucrat) he made Palm Beach a network narrative of much invention and fun. It brought the young Bryan Brown to the fore and the incidental pleasure of John Flaus as the aging detective Larry Kent. Then there was his short film Bolero, the greatest audience participation movie ever made as one friend called it, a short and illustrious masterpiece. For his trouble and achievement Albie never got another chance to make another feature (mediocrities and hacks got to make any number of duds over his lifetime). He remained a genial figure and friends who saw him near the end as the cancer struck him down reported his great sense of bonhomie.

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T for Top ten or thereabouts

This is the list I sent in to the Senses of Cinema World Poll. I have a feeling on review that I’m not getting a few things. It never occurred to me to include Tabu nor The Last Time I Saw Macau, nor Leviathan, three films that may just be the Uncle Boonmee’s of their year, films for which complete admiration seems the divider between the them and us of purest cinephilia and the infidels lagging along behind. Maybe a second viewing of them might help but I can't help thinking it wouldn’t. I have a feeling my list of serious humanist treasures now marks me as irredeemably behind the current curve. Whatever, here it is and my thanks to APSA and VIFF for providing a chance to see ten of them.

New Films:

  • All Apologies (Emily Tang, China),
  • Barbara (Christian Petzold, Germany),
  • Bear (Khers)(Khosro Masoumi, Iran),
  • Caesar Must Die (Paolo & Vittorio Taviani, Italy),
  • Combat Girls (David Wnendt, Germany),
  • Cosmopolis (David Cronenberg, USA),
  • The Gangs of Wasseypur (Anurag Kashyap, India),
  • In Another Country (Hong Sang-soo, South Korea),
  • Margaret (Kenneth Lonergan, USA),
  • The Master (Paul Thomas Anderson, USA),
  • Mourning (Morteza Farshbaf, Iran) ,
  • No (Pablo Lorrain, Chile),
  • Los Pasos Doble (Isaki Lacuesta, Spain),
  • People Mountain, People Sea (Cai Shangjun, China),
  • Sharqiya (Avi Limne, Israel),
  • Since Then (Shinozaki Makato, Japan),
  • Werewolf Boy (Jo Sung-hee, South Korea),
  • Wu Xia (Peter Ho-sun Chan, China).

When I sent in the list above I completely overlooked Massoud Bakhshi’s A Respectable Family, screened at MIFF and VIFF, yet another remarkable film from Iran and another remarkable debut.

Plus, revealing a late age conversion, TV on DVD

  • Luther, series 1&2,
  • Downtown Abbey series 1,2 & Christmas Special,
  • Treme, series 2,
  • The Killing, series 1&2,
  • Berlin Alexanderplatz,
  • The Hour,
  • Sherlock series 2,
  • State of Play and Cambridge Spies

Plus Old films (some seen for the first time in Bold, some in gorgeous new restorations in cinemas or on DVD in Italic):

  • Bedevil (Tracey Moffatt),
  • Black Jack, (Kenneth Loach, UK),
  • Bonjour Tristesse (Otto Preminger, USA),
  • La Grande Guerra (Mario Monicelli, Italy),
  • The Hitler Gang (John Farrow),
  • The Human Condition (Masaki Kobayashi, Japan),
  • The More the Merrier (George Stevens, USA),
  • The Party and the Guests, (Jan Nemec, Czechoslovakia),
  • Pursued (Raoul Walsh, USA)
  • Twilight’s Last Gleaming (Robert Aldrich, USA),
  • Wild Girl (Raoul Walsh, USA)

That’s it for 2012

Geoff

*Photos by David Bordwell

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