1987 Triple Feature: Dot Goes to Hollywood, Dogs in Space, High Tide

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Every week, another film turns 30 years old. And if you visit movie websites or frequent “Film Twitter”, you’re bound to hear about it. Robocop turned 30? Here are 12 fun facts from The Wrap. Lethal Weapon turned 30? Here are 15 fun facts courtesy of Metro. Predator turned 30? Here’s an oral history from The Hollywood Reporter. Full Metal Jacket turned 30? Jo Blo’s got you covered with a Matthew Modine/Vincent D’Onofrio interview. Not a lot of local films get the 30 year commemoration (partly because they don’t lend themselves as easily to nostalgia-tugging click-bait), so I figured it was time to get into the 30th anniversary business and shine a light on some 1987 releases. I’ve already reviewed several 1987 titles on Down Under Flix, including Les Patterson Saves the World, The Time Guardian, and The Year My Voice Broke; other notable releases include Kangaroo, The Lighthorsemen, and Travelling North. Suffice to say, it was an eclectic year, and the three film discussed below are the very definition of a mixed bunch.

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Down Under Flix 2016 Review

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It’s that time of year when film critics and commentators, both legit and impostors like myself, assemble their end-of-year lists praising and burying the year just gone. Given Down Under Flix’s focus on Australian films, particularly older ones, attempting a global review of the year in cinema is well outside my jurisdiction. Instead, I’ll be listing my top five new Australian releases of 2016, followed by the top ten films covered on/for Down Under Flix over the past seven months.

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Starstruck (1982)

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Director: Gillian Armstrong

Stars: Jo Kennedy, Ross O’Donovan

First viewing, via DVD

Critic Pauline Kael once declared that the label ‘Made in Australia’ “is almost like a Seal of Good Housekeeping on a film. If a young man goes out on a date, it is safe to take a girl to an Australian film”. Kael was clearly not describing The Adventures of Barry McKenzie, but rather the period flicks that constituted much of the Australian New Wave, like Caddie, The Picture Show Man, The Getting of Wisdom, Breaker Morant, Gallipoli, We of the Never Never, and so on. Gillian Armstrong’s My Brilliant Career is another film of that vintage, albeit with a feminist restlessness befitting its source material under its finely burnished exterior.

With her 1982 sophomore feature Starstruck, Armstrong trades big dresses for big hair, lace for shiny leggings, and Good Housekeeping for amiable pop-punk. As the director recalled, “I didn’t want to make another period picture about a woman fighting for her identity… I wanted to do something completely different” (David Stratton’s The Avocado Plantation, p. 147). But while the films appear as dissimilar as apples and oranges on first glance, Starstruck’s lead character Jackie is restless and hungry for fame and fortune in much the same way Career’s Sybylla hungers for her autonomy. And like Career, Starstruck is very much a woman’s story, consolidating a preoccupation that would pervade Armstrong’s whole career, as noted in my piece on The Last Days of Chez Nous.

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The Last Days of Chez Nous (1992)

Last Days

Director: Gillian Armstrong

Stars: Lisa Harrow, Kerry Fox, Miranda Otto, Bruno Ganz, Bill Hunter

First viewing, via SBS on Demand

Twelve years before he acted out the last days of Adolf Hitler in Downfall, Bruno Ganz acted in The Last Days of Chez Nous. And now that low-hanging fruit is out of the way, let’s get on with the review…

In my Radiance review, I lamented the small percentage of women directors in the Australian film industry. Unbeknownst to me, this coincided with the announcement of a great new Screen Australia initiative, Gender Matters: Brilliant Stories and Brilliant Careers, to help fund more female-driven projects. The use of “Brilliant Careers” in the title reflects the continued relevance of Gillian Armstrong’s My Brilliant Career to Australian women’s stories on film, as well as Armstrong’s importance as the country’s first major female director. Ever since that film’s success launched her own brilliant career (not to mention Judy Davis’), Armstrong has alternated between local productions (Starstruck, High Tide) and Hollywood fare (Mrs Soffel, Little Women) and found success in both industries. The Last Days of Chez Nous is one of her key Australian works.

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