Fragmented Films Dec 09

Epsilon is incredible. On the one hand it’s an insult to the science fiction genre, limp unimaginative and cringe inducing, yet on the other it’s such a freak oddity that it will make your brain melt. As part of the 6 disc Rolf De Heer Collection (Umbrella), which encompasses his first six films, it combines some extraordinary images of sped up humanity, not unlike koyaanisqatsi, then jams it kicking and screaming into a ridiculous narrative about a superior (female) being (with a broad aussie accent) arriving on earth, encountering a good natured ocker outback bloke and debating the horrors of humanity before falling in love. It’s stilted cringe inducing death on celluloid. De Heer puts the duo in matching shirts and shoots it like it’s Neighbours. It makes you wonder how he could have been responsible for the dark wit of Bad Boy Bubby two years earlier, or even the understated beauty of Dingo (1991), which stars jazz legend Miles Davis, who you’d be positive hadn’t seen De Heer’s previous film when he signed on, the woeful 1987 outback horror Incident At Raven’s Gate. The only horror here is that they gave him money to make other films after this turkey. Yet that’s De Heer in a nutshell: hit and interesting miss.

Wake in Fright (Madman) is a film about assimilation whether you like it or not. It’s Lost Weekend by way of Deliverance, except in the Australian outback the evil yokels don’t play banjo and make you squeal like a pig, no it’s much worse than that, they get you shit-faced and take you roo shooting. The residents of Bundanyabba are grinding down English primary teacher John Grant with bogan redneck Aussie hospitality, until he loses not only his smug superiority, but everything else he thought he stood for, descending into alcohol fueled oblivion. This is outback horror, the residents of ‘the Yabba,’ the equivalent of zombies clawing at Grant, trying to make him one of them. Made in 1971 it’s one of the most vicious and confronting Australian films around. The words “Is this your first time in the Yabba? So how’dya like the Yabba?” will chill your blood.

Samson and Delilah (Madman) is a love story without words. In the extras writer/director/cinematographer Warwick Thornton suggests at 14 he didn’t have Hannah Montana‘s monologues, he threw stones at girls. It’s bleak, austere and set in an Aboriginal community in central Australia, not pulling any punches, particularly in terms of petrol sniffing. But it’s a different kind of love, one that is faced with much more difficult, gritty and harsh obstacles than your normal cinema affords. It’s a two disc set, the second features Thornton’s previous shorts and a great behind the scenes feature with the actor playing Samson participating in a diversionary youth justice group conference apologising for a burglary he committed a year earlier. Believe the hype.

He Ran All the Way is a classy 1951 noir that transcends the premise of a killer holed up with an innocent family and becomes a fascinating rumination on family and trust. It was a film tainted by the House Un American witch hunt in the 50’s. Soon after the director John Berry fled to France, it was star John Garfield‘s last film dying at the age of 39 after much harassment from Mcarthy, and it was written by Dalton Trumbo (Spartacus) under an alias, in jail at the time of release for refusing to name names. It’s part of an excellent four disc box set MGM Film Noir (Aztec) that also includes Orson Welles patchy yet still compelling The Stranger with Edward G Robinson, Robert Wise‘s classy heist gone wrong Odds Against Tomorrow with Shelly Winters, and hard man Robert Ryan, as well as the inspiration for Dragnet, He Walked by Night.

Bastardy (Siren) is a portrait of the complexity of Melbourne’s Jack Charles, actor, musician, heroin addict, homeless, thief, criminal, and member of the stolen generation amongst other things. He begins by shooting up, saying “If I hide anything it wouldn’t be a true depiction.” And what we get is the charm and ravaged potential of a man who justifies burglaries in Kew as ‘hunting and gathering on prime Aboriginal land’ starred in The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith and has battled drug addiction for thirty odd years. Seven years in the making, this is raw unflinching intimacy.

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Fragmented Films 15th of March 09

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Within the first five minutes of Mad Dog Morgan (Umbrella), Dennis Hopper, with a deep Irish brogue cold cocks an aggressive trooper, smokes opium in the Chinese settlement, then watches as his friend’s head explodes in a racially motivated attack. Failing as a gold prospector he turns to highway robbery and terrorises wealthy landowners. When asked in the extras how he approached the role, Hopper laughs, “well, a lot of rum.” He’s playing the Australian bushranger amongst a veritable who’s who of Australian 70’s alumni like Jack Thompson, Frank Thring, Bill Hunter and David Gulpilil, who teams up with Hopper on his crime spree. The director, Phillippe Mora recalls Gulpilil going walkabout during the shooting. When asked why he said “I had to ask the kookaburras and trees about Dennis.”  “Well what did they say?” Asked Mora. “They all said that Dennis is crazy.” In fact Hopper was so consumed by the role that when shooting finished he visited Morgan’s grave, drank  a fifth of Rum and started tearing up the cemetery. Driving away he was promptly arrested by police, blood tested him, pronounced legally dead, and hauled in front of a judge who told him that not only was he forbidden to drive in Victoria, he wasn’t even permitted to be a passenger. They then put him on a plane and sent him back the the U.S. It’s a great film. Hopper plays Morgan as a tormented rock star, or perhaps as himself, a spoiled drug crazed alcoholic actor on a downward spiral towards unemployment. The extras include Mora’s audio commentary, a radio interview, and 30 mins of Mora interviewing Hopper, discussing everything from the French New Wave to Easy Rider.

 

The 1957 Oscar for best screenplay was awarded to Robert Rich for The Brave One. However he never bothered to pick it up. It’s because he didn’t write it. He was a patsy, one of many. It was written by Dalton Trumbo under a pseudonym as in 1947 he was hauled before Senator Joseph McCarthy’s House Un American Activities Committee and refused to answer their questions or name names. He was subsequently jailed and blacklisted by Hollywood. Trumbo (Madman) documents this experience and explores how his stand affected his life, career and family, via archival interviews, telling excerpts from his films such as Pappilon and Spartacus, current day interviews with his family and friends, and most importantly his personal letters. These amazing letters are read by the likes of Liam Neeson, Donald Sutherland, Joan Allen, and David Strathairn. Witty, verbose and brutally honest, they reveal a resolute man struggling against a society hellbent on punishing him. It’s telling that Michael Douglas reads the letter where Trumbo discusses the blood on Robert Rich’s Oscar. His father Kirk’s interview is perhaps the most affecting here. Approaching 90, speech impaired, he talks of looking back on his life and reflecting on what he is most proud of: giving Trumbo a screen credit for Spartacus in 1970 and thus effectively ending the blacklist.

 

Like Animal Farm, The Crucible, or even the Bible (unless you’re from Hillsong), Lord of The Flies (Directors Suite) is an allegorical tale. This means that it shouldn’t necessarily be taken literally, that it’s a less explicit way to explore important themes or ideas that may be a little too sensitive to touch on head on. Yet on any level Peter Brook’s film is a cracker. Made for $150,000 in 1963, shot in black and white with non professional actors and crew on an island near Puerto Rico, Brooks captures a curious mix of documentary realism and stylised artifice. It feels like a uniquely psychological form of filmmaking, utilsing improvisation, an amazing amount of edits and a very articulate feel for both score and sound design. It’s a film, like William Golding’s famous book that demonstrates mankind’s perilous proximity to violence and anarchy once the artifice of law is dropped. 

 

The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (Beyond) is one of the first horror movies ever, a German silent from 1920, it’s one of the most famous examples of the German Expressionism, with highly stylised dark and menacing sets with stark geometric shadows. It focusses on a series of murders and is clouded in mystery and the fantastic. In fact it’s so genuinely spooky that it’s surprising it hasn’t been remade with Naomi Watts.