Neither that film nor a follow-up, One Night Stand, made waves, but Duigan found admiration again with a pair of autobiographical films, The Year My Voice Broke (1987) and Flirting (1991), about young hero Danny Embling's (Noah Taylor) grappling with the crueler facts of growing up in a small country town and then at a posh boarding school where he romances an Ugandan nationalist's daughter (Thandie Newton). Duigan's unsentimental approach was appreciated, and he began a more unusually peripatetic international career with 1989's Romero.
Carl Schultz (1939- ) had begun his directorial career in the '70s, with the kids-oriented Blue Fin (1978), but 1983 was his year, when two of his features were released. Goodbye Paradise, a Raymond Chandler-esque mystery yarn set in Queensland's hot spot Surfer's Paradise, starring Ray Barrett (1926-2009), was overshadowed by the intense familial drama, Careful He Might Hear You, about a young boy (Nicholas Gledhill) who becomes the object of a custody battle between two contrasting aunts (Wendy Hughes and Robin Nevin) during the Depression. Schultz went on to adapt a David Williamson play, the relaxed and intimate Travelling North (1987), about a retiree (Leo McKern) starting up a new life in Queensland, but Schultz's career otherwise proved disappointing. Ray Barrett, who had acted for some time in Britain, including in some Hammer Horror films, became a popular character performer in the '90s especially with his craggy-faced air of patriarchal power.
The reception of Philip Noyce's work in the decade was uneven, with a showy thriller, Heatwave (1982), much admired, but his following feature, Echoes of Paradise, about a romance between a middle-class woman (Wendy Hughes again) and a Balinese dancer (John Lone) was ignored by critics and audiences. Heatwave was based in a real incident, the disappearance of a journalist, Juanita Neilson whilst investigating dodgy real estate dealings, an incident which inspired a second 1982 film, Don Crombie's more restrained The Killing of Angel Street. Noyce bounced back from the failure of Echoes of Paradise with a high-budget, slick, intensely realized thriller, Dead Calm (1988), featuring Sam Neill and Nicole Kidman as a married couple who take a yachting holiday to recover from the death of their son, only to be terrorized by an American psycho (Billy Zane) they rescue from a wreck.
Kidman had made her debut as a tomboyish adolescent in Trenchard-Smith's BMX Bandits, had featured in a remake of Bush Christmas (1983), and worked with Noyce before in a TV miniseries. Essentially high-class Ozploitation, Dead Calm nonetheless matched the technical effectiveness of Hollywood horror, and both Noyce and Kidman were soon working in America, Noyce handling the Tom Clancy double Patriot Games (1992) and Clear and Present Danger (1994), and Kidman starring opposite her soon-to-be-husband Tom Cruise in Days of Thunder (1990).
6. Puberty Blues: The Problem of Sustaining Success
With so many proven filmmakers and actors dividing their time or departing entirely for overseas work, and the corrosive effects of the production glut hampering Australian films' reputation for handcrafted quality, a decay set into the Australian film industry that wouldn't make itself fully realized until the Revival was well into its second decade, when, in the five years following its inception, the FFC recouped less than half of its overall investments. This losing streak was partly concealed by some sizable hits, including the highest-grossing Australian-made film of all time, Peter Faiman's Crocodile Dundee (1986).
Dundee's predecessor in sizable financial success was a true throwback: The Man from Snowy River (1982), an adaptation of Banjo Paterson's beloved poem about a fearless horseman whose pursuit of a valuable escaped colt down a steep mountainside earns him legendary fame. Snowy River sought inspiration in a macho, retro outback mythology that hadn't seen much play since the '50s, even during the New Wave's infatuation with historical filmmaking. Snowy River's wholehearted mythologizing even rejected the veneer of cynicism that had informed the likes of Gallipoli: it was more akin, in many respects, to a period, family-friendly version of Mad Max, quoting liberally from old-school Hollywood and literary melodramas, with its sturdy but innocent hero (Tom Burlinson), gutsy but feminine heroine (Sigrid Thornton), and the fraternal conflict of her bullying rancher father and his twin brother, both played by Kirk Douglas, brought into lend the film real star heft and American appeal.
Slickly directed by first time helmsman George T. Miller (often to be confused with the Mad Max auteur, this Miller had done much TV work as his apprenticeship), Snowy River was unfortunately hamstrung by a stilted, cornball script. Nonetheless, it went over a treat, particularly in the US, and the Aussie industry would drive itself into the ground trying to repeat some of its success. One such attempt was a fairly successful sequel, The Man from Snowy River II, in 1987, with Brian Dennehy replacing Douglas.
Simon Wincer had quickly risen from the likes of Snap-Shot to helm Phar Lap, a biopic about the much-loved Australian equivalent of Seabiscuit and the humans close to him, produced with polish and ceremony. The film was as well-executed as it could be, with a strong David Williamson script, even though its story was inevitably downbeat and preordained, with overseas appeal limited.
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