Aussiewood: Firestorm (1998)

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Director: Dean Semler

Stars: Howie Long, Suzy Amis, Scott Glenn, William Forsythe

Some of the best-looking films produced in Australia have had Dean Semler working behind the camera. The Road Warrior, Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, Razorback, The Lighthorsemen, and Dead Calm all carry Semler’s imprint as cinematographer. On taking his trade to Hollywood, Semler scored an Academy Award for his stunning work on 1990’s Dances with Wolves, and since then he’s chalked up a downright eclectic CV. Over the last three decades he’s worked on popcorn flicks (XXX, 2012, Maleficent), broad comedies (The Nutty Professor 2, Bruce Almighty, Get Smart), period films with a smidgen of prestige (The Power of OneWe Were Soldiers, The AlamoApocalyptoIn the Land of Blood and Honey), pulpy thrillers (The Bone Collector, D-Tox), and no less than six Adam Sandler films.

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Aussiewood: The Portrait of a Lady (1996)

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Director: Jane Campion

Stars: Nicole Kidman, John Malkovich, Barbara Hershey, Martin Donovan, Viggo Mortensen, Shelley Winters, Shelley Duvall, Richard E. Grant

Second viewing, via DVD

The Portrait of a Lady opens with voiceover of modern liberated women (with predominantly Antipodean accents) talking about kissing. A montage follows during the film’s opening credits, showing contemporary women of different cultural backgrounds lying in a circle, dancing, staring into camera, and so on. The film then cuts to Nicole Kidman—as the film’s heroine Isabel Archer—in 1870s England, dressed in period garb, frizzy hair severely curtailed, and hiding away following an unwanted marriage proposal. The film’s opening minutes nicely encapsulate Campion’s interest—an interest that pervades her filmography— in women both past and present, their spirits and agency, and attempts to domesticate and discipline them by various, frequently patriarchal entities.

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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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