Bruce Beresford Bildungsroman Bonanza: The Getting of Wisdom (1977) and Mao’s Last Dancer (2009)

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Director: Bruce Beresford

Stars: Susannah Fowle, Sheila Helpmann, Patricia Kennedy, Candy Raymond, Hilary Ryan, Barry Humphries, John Waters, Sigrid Thornton, Kerry Armstrong, Julia Blake

At the time of The Getting of Wisdom’s release, Bruce Beresford was best known for directing muscular, rowdy entertainments like The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, Barry McKenzie Holds His Own, and Don’s Party. The latter film, adapting to the screen a play by Australia’s premier playwright David Williamson, was a step towards respectability for Beresford after his near professional ostracization following the Barry McKenzie films, and he was awarded a 1977 Best Director AFI Award for his efforts. The Getting of Wisdom seems an even more decisive step towards respectability, courting association with the dominant commercial aesthetics of the Australian New Wave: indeed, with its period setting, girls boarding school location, and literary origins (based on Henry Handel Richardson’s 1910 novel), it’s immediately evocative in its surface details of Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, released two years earlier and likewise set in Victoria at the tail end of Queen Victoria’s reign. However, The Getting of Wisdom’s a lighter yet more full-bodied blend than Weir’s artful, enigmatic melodrama. And while its focus on a young woman protagonist and feminine milieu outwardly suggests a significant departure from his earlier work, in its focus on culture clash the film is consistent with not only Beresford’s prior films but also subsequent ones like Breaker Morant and The Club.

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Careful, He Might Hear You (1983)

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Director: Carl Schultz

Stars: Wendy Hughes, Robyn Nevin, Nicholas Gledhill, John Hargreaves, Peter Whitford

Last week one of the weaker Australian films of 1983, Phillipe Mora’s The Return of Captain Invincible, was spotlighted here on Down Under Flix. This week’s spotlight falls on one of the best local releases of 1983, Carl Schultz’s Careful, He Might Hear You, based on a novel by Sumner Locke Elliott. The film’s critical status is evidenced by its sweeping of that year’s Australian Film Institute Awards, where it won 8 gongs out of 13 nominations, including awards for Best Film, Director, Adapted Screenplay, Actress for Wendy Hughes (one year after her nominated work in the superb Lonely Hearts), and Supporting Actor for John Hargreaves (two years after his nominated work in Hoodwink), against impressive competition from The Year of Living DangerouslyMan of Flowers, and Phar Lap. But I’m not sure Schultz’s film has persisted in the public consciousness as strongly as those others have, bolstered as they are by the auteur credentials of Peter Weir and Paul Cox, the star power of Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver, and the national iconography of the thoroughbred hero of the nation.

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The Return of Captain Invincible (1983)

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Director: Phillipe Mora

Stars: Alan Arkin, Christopher Lee, Michael Pate, Bill Hunter, Kate Fitzpatrick

Last year marked the end of my long infatuation with superhero films. For almost two decades I regularly made the pilgrimage to the multiplex to see the latest superhero joints, and while I retain some anthropological curiosity about the genre, 2016’s unfortunate double whammy of X-Men: Apocalypse and Suicide Squad killed most of my affection for and investment in it. Even so, as a former genre apologist and a writer on Australian film, I’ve long had a hankering to see Phillipe Mora’s 1983 film The Return of Captain Invincible, one of Australia’s very few attempts at a superhero movie, albeit a parody.

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Jack Thompson double feature: Scobie Malone (1975) and The Sum of Us (1994)

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Last month I reviewed two films headlined by the late, great John Hargreaves. Today’s piece spotlights two films from another great Australian actor of similar vintage. To say Jack Thompson is iconic is an understatement. He was one of the brightest new stars of the Australian New Wave, appearing in both lead and supporting roles in stone cold classics like Wake in FrightSunday Too Far AwayThe Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, and Breaker Morant as well as interesting flicks like PetersenCaddieMad Dog Morgan, The Club, and The Journalist. He was the first male centerfold in Australia’s Cleo magazine, was awarded the first Best Supporting Actor gong at the Cannes Film Festival for Breaker Morant, was the only logical choice to embody Clancy of the Overflow in The Man from Snowy River, hosted a travel program called Jack Thompson Down Under, and in recent years has alternated between roles in Australian films and supporting turns as men of influence (lawyers, politicians, military men, businessmen) in American films. This piece highlights two star turns from Thompson’s filmography separated by twenty years: 1975’s Scobie Malone and 1994’s The Sum of Us.

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Aussiewood: Ricochet (1991), Blue Ice (1992), The Real McCoy (1993)

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This latest installment of Down Under Flix’s Aussiewood series chronicling the adventures and misadventures of Australian filmmakers abroad deals with Russell Mulcahy. This isn’t the first time I’ve written about Mulcahy on this website – see my review of his 2003 sports biopic Swimming Upstream – but it’s my first time writing about the director’s signature action fare. Following his inventive creature feature debut Razorback (1984) and the cult success of Highlander (1986), the stalwart music video director looked to be on an upward trajectory as a filmmaker. However, Mulcahy was fired two weeks into production on the Sylvester Stallone vehicle Rambo III (1988) because he wasn’t shooting enough close-ups of its hubristic star, and the subsequent production and release of the much-maligned (and deservedly so) Highlander II: The Quickening (1991) was a ghastly, pained process. RicochetBlue Steel, and The Real McCoy followed those professional debacles in quick succession, and these three films feel like exercises in directorial penitence: they’re moderately budgeted, straight-down-the-line mainstream features and are largely inoffensive, discounting the innately quippy immorality of the Joel Silver era of action cinema that Ricochet slots into.

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DUF Activity Roundup

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In recent weeks I’ve had the opportunity to discuss Australian films and filmmakers outside the confines of Down Under Flix.

Over at Senses of Cinema, I wrote a piece on Jane Campion’s short film After Hours (1984). Read the full piece here.

And over on The Last New Wave podcast, I enjoyed a conversation with host Andrew Peirce about Henri Safran’s family classic Storm Boy (1976). Take a listen here.

There’s a lot of other terrific content on Senses of Cinema and Andrew’s site AB Film Review, and plenty of great episodes of The Last New Wave spotlighting local films both old and new, so take the time to explore the bountiful archives.

Australia Day (2017)

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Director: Kriv Stenders

Starring: Bryan Brown, Jenny Wu, Shari Sebbens, Miah Madden, Elias Anton, Sean Keenan

Typically Down Under Flix eschews films currently in cinemas, but I thought I’d make an exception for Kriv Stenders’ Australia Day, which is in limited release and has simultaneously made its video-on-demand debut via Dendy Direct and the Foxtel Store. Stenders’ film has divided both viewers and critics, with Luke Buckmaster in The Guardian and Blake Howard in Daily Review nicely encapsulating some of the key criticisms leveled at the film.

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