Oz (1976)

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Director: Chris Löfvén

Stars: Joy Dunstan, Bruce Spence, Michael Carman, Gary Waddell

First viewing, via DVD

The Wizard of Oz, Victor Fleming’s 1939 film based on the first of L. Frank Baum’s Oz books, is a beloved movie. It’s not just a classic children’s film, but one of that great crop of late 30s/early 40s movies – along with Gone with the Wind, Mr Smith Goes to Washington, The Adventures of Robin Hood, Stagecoach, Citizen Kane, Casablanca, and so on – that epitomized the very best of the Hollywood machine (a machine which, as several of these troubled productions including The Wizard of Oz attest, was at times a gruelling, erratic beast). The world of Oz has had a robust afterlife and its 1970s and 80s offshoots are especially interesting. They include the African-American musical The Wiz, which became a flick directed by Sidney Lumet starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson; Walter Murch’s dark sequel Return to Oz; and the much lesser known Australian film Oz, subtitled A Rock ‘n Roll Road Movie, directed by Chris Löfvén with music by Ross Wilson, Wayne Burt, Baden Hutchins, and Gary Young.

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One Night the Moon (2001)

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Director: Rachel Perkins

Stars: Paul Kelly, Kaarin Fairfax, Kelton Pall

First viewing, via DVD

In the opening scene of One Night the Moon, farmer Jim Ryan (Paul Kelly) awakens at his kitchen table. An empty bottle stands at his side, a remnant from a night of drinking to numb his pain. But the pain waits in readiness for him that morning, made clear when he launches into song about having naught to live for. He retrieves his rifle, passes an empty child’s bedroom, then his own bedroom where his wife Rose (Kaarin Fairfax, also Kelly’s offscreen wife) lies crumpled and defeated, then wanders out into the harsh outback. In these few minutes One Night the Moon makes two things abundantly clear. Firstly, it’s a musical, and secondly, it’s not one of the toe-tapping, knee-slapping variety. Where some of the best movie musicals have an inherent weightlessness to them, One Night the Moon is all weight: oppressive, foreboding weight.

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The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky (2001)

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Director: Paul Cox

Stars: Derek Jacobi (narrator), Leigh Warren & Dancers (dancers)

First viewing, via DVD

As Mario Andreacchio’s Paul Gauguin biopic Paradise Found attests, the lives and work of international artists are not beyond the purview of Australian filmmakers. In 1987, Paul Cox directed an acclaimed documentary about painter Vincent Van Gogh, titled Vincent, which featured narration of the artist’s letters by John Hurt. In 2001, Cox released a similar project, The Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky, trading letters for journals and easels for the stage to chronicle the mental deterioration of another tragic artist, the dancer Vaslav Nijinsky. Derek Jacobi, who also appears in Cox’s film Molokai: The Story of Father Damien, serves as narrator for this feature.

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The Cup (2011)

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Director: Simon Wincer

Stars: Stephen Curry, Daniel MacPherson, Brendan Gleeson

First viewing, via DVD

Whether you see it as the race that stops the nation or the race that divides the nation (there’s valid argument for both), and whether it’s the gravitational centre of your day, a chance to go all Caligula, or simply background noise, there’s no shaking that the Melbourne Cup’s a big deal. For non-local readers: it’s a major horse racing event (along the lines of the Kentucky Derby or Royal Ascot) that’s been running in Australia for over 150 years. It’s such as big deal that it’s somewhat surprising the Cup hasn’t featured too prominently in local films, though the prohibitive cost of recreating the event is obviously a factor. Crime comedies Horseplay and The Hard Word (both 2002) spring to mind as recent films to feature the event, albeit in a supporting role. Simon Wincer’s 1983 film Phar Lap, about the titular champion race horse, is probably the best-known film to feature the event. It’s fitting, then, that Wincer takes directing reins of 2011’s The Cup.

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News Roundup November 2016

Down Under Flix is now on Twitter at twitter.com/downunderflix, or @ downunderflix for those in the know. I’ll be using that platform in future to share news, reviews, retrospectives, and screening alerts from other sources, and will focus on my own reviews and features here on the site. However, I had a stockpile of links built up, so here’s one last roundup of classic films and catalogue titles currently in the news.

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This first item is a big deal. David Stratton is one of Australia’s premier film critics, commentators and scholars, and he’s putting together a multi-part documentary on Australian cinema. In a television interview promoting the project during his visit to the Adelaide Film Festival, Stratton talks about Australian film history and highlights some of his favourite local features, including Newsfront, Picnic at Hanging Rock, and Gallipoli. Watch the interview here.

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Age of Consent (1969)

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Director: Michael Powell

Stars: James Mason, Helen Mirren, Jack MacGowran, Lonsdale

First viewing, via DVD

In the 1940s, British director Michael Powell, in collaboration with Emeric Pressburger, made The Red Shoes, Black Narcissus, A Matter of Life and Death, and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp, among others. All four are jewels in the crown of British cinema: look at any list of the greatest British films ever made and you’ll find them featured prominently. By way of example, see this list from Time Out and this one by the British Film Institute (this list also features Carry On… Up the Khyber ranked directly above The Killing Fields, making it mandatory reading). While Powell’s 1960 film Peeping Tom also features on these lists and is today held in esteem, this voyeuristic psychological thriller was reviled by critics and cultural commentators on release and the filmmaker was ostracized wholesale from the industry. Later that decade he made two flicks in Australia: the 1966 comedy They’re a Weird Mob and 1969’s Age of Consent.

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Sirens (1993)

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Director: John Duigan

Stars: Hugh Grant, Tara Fitzgerald, Sam Neill, Elle Macpherson, Portia de Rossi, Kate Fischer, Ben Mendelsohn

First viewing, via SBS on Demand

Timing’s a funny thing. I’ve gotten into the habit of planning my line-ups for Down Under Flix a couple of months in advance, and John Duigan’s Sirens (1993) has been on the itinerary for a while now. Little did I anticipate that the same week I watched Sirens, star Kate Fischer would be thrust somewhat dramatically (and invasively) back into the media spotlight. Consequently, more people have probably read about, thought about, and googled Sirens in the last week than in the last decade.

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