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

the-getting-of-wisdom-movie-poster-1977-1020203871

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.

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

Careful, He Might Hear You (1983)

adea0e0e57dcdcdb72f10d73e977d5ea45aba470

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.

Continue reading “Careful, He Might Hear You (1983)”

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

Header

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.

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

DUF Activity Roundup

Storm Boy title card

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)

Australia-Day-movie-poster

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.

Continue reading “Australia Day (2017)”

John Hargreaves double feature: Hoodwink (1981) and Sky Pirates (1986)

John-Hargreaves

Discounting the film Blackfellas, in which he plays a minor role as a racist policeman, I’m surprised it’s taken this long to cover any John Hargreaves films on Down Under Flix. A six time AFI Award nominee (including for Hoodwink) and triple winner, Hargreaves is one of the best leading men to emerge from the Australian New Wave, and I have particular regard for his work in Don’s Party, Long Weekend, and The Odd Angry Shot. Hargreaves was a natural performer: gifted and charismatic, but not unnecessarily flashy; handsome, but not movie star handsome, and slightly crumpled like a creased jacket. He was a quintessential Australian everyman ala Jack Thompson and Bryan Brown, though he’s less familiar to young filmgoers today, partly due to his untimely passing in 1996 at age 50. This article looks at one of Hargreaves’ best films… and one of his other films…

Continue reading “John Hargreaves double feature: Hoodwink (1981) and Sky Pirates (1986)”

If music be the food of love… Passion (1999) and Garage Days (2002)

194546-passion-0-230-0-345-crop

Director: Peter Duncan

Starring: Richard Roxburgh, Barbara Hershey, Claudia Karvan, Emily Woof, Simon Burke

Troubled pianists were, briefly, a big deal in Australian cinema. There was 1996’s Shine, Scott Hick’s impeccably made biopic of David Helfgott which scored Geoffrey Rush an Academy Award for Best Actor, and then there was 1999’s Passion, a lesser-known biopic of Australian-born composer and pianist Percy Grainger. Peter Duncan’s film chronicles the early stages of the artist’s international career, as the Hobbit-looking Grainger (played by Richard Roxburgh) finds fame but is handicapped in his life and romantic relationships by his predilection for self-flagellation and the “unnatural hold”, to quote the film, that his mother (Barbara Hershey) exerts over him.

Continue reading “If music be the food of love… Passion (1999) and Garage Days (2002)”