Aussiewood: King David (1985), Crimes of the Heart (1986), Last Dance (1996)

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With 1982’s Barbarosa, Fred Schepisi became the first of the Australian New Wave directors to make the pilgrimage overseas, kickstarting a trend of Australian directors selling their wares abroad.  George Miller followed with his contribution to 1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie, Gillian Armstrong with 1984’s Mrs Soffel, Peter Weir with 1985’s Witness, and so on. The trend continues to this day (seen most recently with David Michod’s Netflix film War Machine and the Spierig Brothers’ Jigsaw), with directors pursuing bigger budgets and diverse opportunities outside the confines of the Australian film industry. This article is the first in an ongoing series that will highlight some of the lesser-known or neglected ventures of Australian filmmakers working overseas. And given my established fascination with Bruce Beresford’s work—as discussed here and here and here—I’ll kick off by looking at three of his lesser known overseas productions: King David (1985), Crimes of the Heart (1986), and Last Dance (1996).

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Ned Kelly (2003)

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Director: Gregor Jordan

Stars: Heath Ledger, Naomi Watts, Geoffrey Rush, Orlando Bloom, Joel Edgerton

Second viewing, via DVD

This week marks the 137th anniversary of Australian outlaw and beloved anti-hero Ned Kelly’s doomed last stand at Glenrowan, Victoria. In June 1880, Kelly and the other young men comprising the Kelly Gang—brother Dan Kelly and friends Joe Byrne and Steve Hart—fought police at Glenrowan Inn wearing their now-iconic DIY head and body armour. Byrne, Hart and the younger Kelly were killed during the siege; Kelly himself was wounded and arrested, and would be hung in Melbourne Gaol in November that year.

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This Sporting Life: Dawn! (1979), The Club (1980), and The Coolangatta Gold (1984)

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Sport has long occupied a key place in Australian culture. As noted by Daryl Adair in his essay ‘Making sense of Australian sport history’, the earliest British migrants used sport to maintain links with their country of origin, while subsequent generations helped forge a national identity on the world stage via their sporting prowess. Adair also notes that Australia’s coasts and surf culture have facilitated an array of water-based sports, and in recent years the AFL, among others, has contributed to the reconciliation agenda as a prominent employer of Indigenous athletes. In light of this national pastime, this week Down Under Flix spotlights three sports-centric films from the late 1970s and early 80s.

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Joint Review: The Year My Voice Broke (1987) and Stanley’s Mouth (2015)

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This week’s review pairs two youth-centred Australian films of very different vintages and aesthetics. 1987’s The Year My Voice Broke is a traditionally-shot, rural-set period film (though originally shown on television) directed by John Duigan (Sirens) and produced by Mad Max creator George Miller. The film earned several Australian Film Institute Awards including Best Picture and Director, and a restoration of the film is scheduled to screen as part of next month’s Sydney Film Festival. In contrast, 2015’s Stanley’s Mouth is a non-traditionally shot, micro-budgeted, urban-set contemporary drama from independent director Mike Retter. The film screened at the Adelaide Film Festival in 2015 and is freely available on YouTube in several different formats.

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Beyond Innocence (1989)

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Director: Scott Murray

Stars: Katia Caballero, Keith Smith

First viewing, via VHS

Scott Murray is one of the premier commentators on Australian cinema. He’s best known as editor and contributor to Cinema Papers and Senses of Cinema, as well as for editing, authoring, and contributing to various volumes on Australian film, including one particularly indispensable resource for my work on Down Under Flix, Australian Film 1978–1994. In the 1980s, Murray directed the film Beyond Innocence, also known as Devil in the Flesh. It was both his theatrical feature debut and swansong, though he’d later helm a music documentary, Massenet: His Life and Music.

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Tag team review: Ghosts … of the Civil Dead (1988)

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Director: John Hillcoat

Stars: David Field, Mike Bishop, Chris DeRose, Kevin Mackey, Dave Mason, Nick Cave, Bogdan Koca, Freddo Dierck, Vincent Gil, Tony Clark

Second viewing, via DVD

Ghosts … of the Civil Dead is a prison drama set in Australia’s Central Industrial Prison. A flagship of Australia’s “New Generation Prisons” based on existing American prison models, Central Industrial Prison is, according to the film’s title card, a “maximum security facility designed to house the prison system’s most violent, unmanageable and predatory inmates”. At film’s start, the facility has just initiated 37 months of lockdown after a long string of violent incidents. The film backtracks to chronicle the lead-up to this event, following the paths of various prisoners as they are systematically abused and dehumanized by each other and the system. For this tag team review, I’ll be joined by music critic and commentator Cristian Stromblad, whose work can be found at the website Ugly ‘n’ Weird.

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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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