Tag team review: In the Wake of the Bounty (1933)

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Director: Charles Chauvel

Stars: Errol Flynn, Mayne Lynton

First viewing, via DVD

Following my earlier tag team reviews of Ghosts … of the Civil Dead (read here) and The Wannabes (read here), this week I team with another friend and contemporary to review the oldest film (thus far) covered on Down Under Flix, 1933’s In the Wake of the Bounty. Directed by Charles Chauvel and starring Errol Flynn, the film chronicles Fletcher Christian’s mutiny against William Bligh on the HMS Bounty and pays an anthropological visit to modern day Pitcairn Island. I’m joined below by Flynn enthusiast and scholar Michael X. Savvas. 

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Musical comedy triple bill: The Night We Called It a Day (2003), Thunderstruck (2004), BoyTown (2006)

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Last week, Down Under Flix kicked off a month on comedies from the noughties and thereabouts, highlighting a triptych of Australian romantic comedies. This week’s featured trio are linked by a shared focus on music, milking comedy from real-world entertainment lore, rock ‘n’ roll hagiography, and satirical jabs at manufactured pop music.

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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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Dad and Dave: On Our Selection (1995)

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Director: George Whaley

Stars: Leo McKern, Geoffrey Rush, Joan Sutherland, Noah Taylor, Ray Barrett, Barry Otto, Essie Davis, David Field

First viewing, via DVD

The characters of Dad, Dave, and the rest of the Rudd farming family date back over 100 years. Author Steele Rudd (aka Arthur Hoey Davis) began composing Dad and Dave’s adventures in the late 1800s, and the first 26 stories were collected into the book On Our Selection in 1899. Further adventures followed and the characters went on to appear in other mediums: there was a stage play in the 1910s; a silent film in 1920; a quartet of sound films directed by Ken G. Hall starting in 1932; and a radio series spanning from the late 1930s to early 1950s. While the characters haven’t figured in the cultural landscape too prominently in recent years, there’s no denying their place in popular culture: a large billboard for 1938’s Dad and Dave Goes to Town (which marked the film debut of Peter Finch) stands alongside similar commemorative billboards for Jedda, Picnic at Hanging Rock, Storm Boy, and Crocodile Dundee at Sydney’s Moore Park/Fox Studios entertainment precinct.

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George Whaley’s 1995 film Dad and Dave: On Our Selection revived the characters for late twentieth century audiences, and was designed to celebrate that year’s centenary of Australian cinema, as declared in the film’s end credits. The film adapts a number of Rudd’s stories and chronicles the exploits of the Rudd family and farm. Dad (Leo McKern) runs for state parliament against the slippery JP Riley (Barry Otto); Mother (Joan Sutherland) tends to house and home; oldest son Dave (Geoffrey Rush) falls in love, as does sister Kate (Essie Davis); and wayward son Dan (David Field) proves a miscreant, to name just a few story threads.

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Swimming Upstream (2003)

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Director: Russell Mulcahy

Stars: Geoffrey Rush, Judy Davis, Jesse Spencer

First viewing, via DVD

A quarter of a century ago, Russell Mulcahy’s music video for ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ became the first ever screened on MTV. As a music video director, Mulcahy helped define the form and helmed many of the medium’s most iconic, bombastic clips, including Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’ and a good portion of the Duran Duran catalogue. As a filmmaker, he’s best known for genre fare (action, sci-fi, horror), from Ozploitation gem Razorback and cult classic Highlander to recent episodes of TV’s Teen Wolf.

Suffice to say, when I think of Russell Mulcahy, I think of smoky visuals, dramatic backlighting and shafts of light, killer swine hating on humans, sword-fighting immortals decapitating each other, Christopher Lambert as a Scotsman, Sean Connery as an Egyptian, and Queen. A modest drama about sibling swimmers pressured into competition by an abusive, alcoholic father doesn’t spring to mind, but Mulcahy defies pigeonholing with Swimming Upstream.

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Paradise Found (2003)

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Director: Mario Andreacchio

Stars: Kiefer Sutherland, Natassja Kinski, Alun Armstrong, Chris Haywood, Nicholas Hope

Second viewing, via DVD

A broad ocker comedy. A gritty police procedural charting murky moral waters. A Shakespeare adaptation. A road movie about Indigenous youth. An art-house drama about intimacy issues. Given the variety of films covered on Down Under Flix thus far, it’s fairly clear that “Australian cinema” is a fluid, rubbery, malleable term that can encompass a range of different genres, styles and tones.

Paradise Found, a film about a French artist in Tahiti starring the guy from The Lost Boys and 24, is another Australian film, and a somewhat unlikely one. But this Paul Gauguin biopic has an Australian director, Mario Andreacchio; it features veteran Australian actors in supporting roles; it was filmed in Queensland as well as the Czech Republic; and it was funded by Australian as well as French, German and British financiers. And while we tend to associate such cinematic appropriations of other cultures and historical figures with Hollywood – by way of example, Anthony Quinn scored an Oscar for playing Gauguin in Vincente Minnelli’s 1956 Vincent van Gogh biopic Lust for Life – it’s also a typical instance of cinematic globalization in action.

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