Barry McKenzie Holds His Own (1974)

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Director: Bruce Beresford

Stars: Barry Crocker, Barry Humphries, Donald Pleasance

First viewing, via DVD

In Les Patterson Saves the World, reviewed back in September on Down Under Flix, screenwriter and star Barry Humphries’ intoxicated elder statesman Les Patterson teams with covert secret agent Dame Edna Everage to stop an international terrorist plot to poison citizens worldwide through toxic toilet seats. In retrospect, it’s hard not to view 1974’s Barry McKenzie Holds His Own – also written by and co-starring Humphries, and pitting the titular larrikin Barry McKenzie against a Transylvanian plot to bolster national tourism by kidnapping and manipulating the Queen of England – as a dry run for the later film. Barry McKenzie Holds His Own is ultimately the more successful undertaking, though its commercial success did little good, at least at the time, for director Bruce Beresford – returning to the fold after 1972’s The Adventures of Barry McKenzie – who was treated as a pariah and had difficulty securing work afterwards.

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The Fringe Dwellers (1986)

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Director: Bruce Beresford

Stars: Kristina Nehm. Kylie Belling, Justine Saunders, Bob Maza

First viewing, via DVD

Bruce Beresford is undisputedly one of the great Australian filmmakers. Between 1972 and 1981, he helped usher in and worked at the coalface of the Australian film renaissance, helming a succession of classics and quasi-classics. The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, Barry McKenzie Holds His Own, Don’s Party, The Getting of Wisdom, Breaker Morant, The Club, and Puberty Blues all bear his name as director, and together constitute a remarkable straddling of genres and high/low art divides, from the broad ocker fare of the McKenzie films (which repulsed the cultural elite but still managed to net a Gough Whitlam cameo) to the earnest heritage drama of The Getting of Wisdom. He adapted Australia’s most topical playwright (David Williamson) twice, helped popularize our greatest dame (Edna Everage), and tackled politics (Don’s Party), adolescence (Puberty Blues), sports culture and commerce (The Club), and Australian-British historical relations and colonial identity (Breaker Morant). Beresford’s subsequent career has alternated between overseas films, including the Academy Award-winning Driving Miss Daisy, and a handful of Australian productions & co-productions including this week’s film The Fringe Dwellers, Black Robe, Paradise Road, and Mao’s Last Dancer.

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A small request…

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Please take a moment to complete a short survey on Australian films and filmgoing. It should only take between 5 to 10 minutes. Please also share with anyone you think may be interested. If you’re curious about the results, they will be published on Down Under Flix in early 2017, and will be used to select and develop content for the site next year.

Click here to complete the survey

Cheers!

Yolngu Boy (2001)

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Director: Stephen Johnson

Stars: John Sebastian Pilakui, Nathan Daniels, Sean Mununggurr, Jack Thompson

First viewing, via DVD

There’s no better deal on Earth than the movies. For the cost of a cinema ticket, a monthly streaming subscription, a DVD or Blu rental, or whatever amount of data it takes to torrent a film, you can be entertained, educated, and elevated by everything from Doctor Strange to Pink Flamingos to Tokyo Story. With that embarrassment of riches, it’s little wonder Australian flicks fall through the cracks, and I’m as guilty of this as anyone. When Yolngu Boy was released in March 2001, it generated some really positive notices … which I roundly ignored along with the film, instead showering my not-so-hard-earned cash on significantly less well-received stuff like Dracula 2000 and Proof of Life. I might even have seen Miss Congeniality… on a discount day of course… But anyway, poor life decisions all around…

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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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