Primers

 Terayama-Throw-Away-Your-Books-Rally-in-the-StreetsBy Simon P. Augustine

"Your liberation – who is it for?"
       – from Throw Away Your Books, Rally In The Streets

The advent of the internet has changed the landscape for cinema lovers forever,unveiling whole treasure troves, and in some cases entire sub-genres of filmic history that may have heretofore escaped the eyes of even the most ardent critic or cinephile. Within the matrix of video rental services, websites devoted to cinema culture, blogs, etc., there is almost no dark corner of the world’s movie theater that cannot now be explored. A happy example of this phenomenon for me is a recent encounter with a group of bold, visually stunning, intellectually challenging, spiritually and erotically charged films that rival the most daring films of today’s international and independent scene: the cinema which emerged from Japan in the 60’s and 70’s.

Blog entry 06/26/2012 - 7:30pm

by Roderick Heath

Continued from Part Two (1969-1989)

Lantana

Part Three: 1990-Present

1. Independent's Day: The Reign of Quirk

Australian cinema in the past twenty years has often looked like a manifestation of a culture constantly trying to second-guess itself. Faced with a narrowed era of multiplexes and blockbusters, moviemaking in Oz has failed, in spite of the occasional spotlights falling upon it, to gain even the kind of effective niche that British or French films had managed to carve in the modern cineaste panorama, and the fact domestic audience could rarely be counted upon to give necessary support stirred the question as to whether that support ought to be given automatically or first earned.

On top of this, the always problematic issue of how and what films to sell to the public has become all the more confusing, leading to fractious partisan battles of rhetoric. In the early 2000s, Ray Lawrence's Lantana was seen as a nuanced, grown-up alternative to a small avalanche of modest TV-derived comedies and in-your-face provocation; by the decade's end, further attempts to make grown-up, sober-minded dramas were being blamed in media critiques for dampening the industry's ever-ailing chances in being "depressing."

Blog entry 03/25/2010 - 8:46am

by Roderick Heath

The Cars That Ate Paris

Part Two: 1969-1989

1. Engines of Change

Continued from Part One

Few explanations for the almost unprecedented resuscitation of Australian cinema between 1969 and 1975 are immediately satisfying. Perhaps the most important changes were the most difficult to quantify, but it is easy to see that 1968 was one of the most important years in contemporary Australian history. A popular referendum gave equal citizenship to indigenous Australians after decades of excision from the communal dialogue. Demonstrations over a visit by Lyndon Johnson, and against Australia's follow-the-leader involvement in Vietnam, illustrated the rise of a new, protest-based counterculture, and a popular objection to the idea of the United States take Britain's place in dictating Australian international policy soon expanded into a new thirst for self-definition. The same year also saw the foundation of the Australian Council for the Arts, a federal panel for sponsoring cultural projects, after a sustained demand for aid in combating the apathy generally dubbed the "cultural cringe" that disdained home-grown art and entertainment.

Such events indicated a new attitude to issues long caught in stagnancy during the highly conservative government of Sir Robert Menzies, which had lasted from 1949 to 1965. The wave of political and cultural agitation rolling worldwide in this era coincided neatly with this reinvigoration, and a powerful nexus arose that fused renewed intellectual and artistic energy, and embraced both old and new versions of the national character. In any event, the close government interest in cinema Raymond Longford had pushed for in the 1920s to so little effect now became institution.

Blog entry 02/22/2010 - 3:09pm

[Roderick Heath's expansive survey of the history of Australian cinema begins in that country's own silent era, and works forward into the 1960s. Parts II and III will bring us into the modern era.  Some of the silent films mentioned here are actually available to watch online; links provided.  So come meet the unsung heroes and pioneers of one of the world's most prolific and important film industries. Enjoy. - ed.] Diggers

By Roderick Heath

Part One: 1896-1968

1. Pioneer Spirit

Filmmaking technology first came to Australia in the hands of Maurice Sestier, one of the Lumiere Brothers' [Wikipedia] many globetrotting cameramen, who arrived in Sydney in 1896, not a month after the first exhibition of films by Carl Hertz in Melbourne. Sestier shot several short travelogues of such edifying spectacles as Sydney Harbor and the crowds filing onto ferries and trams, and opened the Salon Lumiere on Pitt Street specifically to screen them, making him both Australia's first filmmaker and professional exhibitor. Sestier's film was too slow to capture the racing horses at the Melbourne Cup later in the year, so he settled for shooting the crowds instead. Sestier decided there was no future for cinema in Australia and auctioned off his camera two years after arriving, leaving for France with all his films. Nonetheless his work had made an impact, inspiring a small number of followers who made documentary shorts and news reels which proceeded to tantalize crowds.

Of course, random shots of commuters and bushland were never going to fascinate paying patrons for very long. The idea of creating a fiction feature film may have been in many minds, but the man regarded as the first to accomplish it was an unlikely figure: Major Joseph Perry of the Salvation Army's Magic Lantern and Photographic Department. Perry, an Englishman residing in Melbourne, had shot a few short documentaries, and his first stab at a new kind of cinema was part of an early multimedia experience, with portions of his film shown in alternation with slides, sermons, and hymn singing, as part of a religious lecture. This movie, entitled Soldiers of the Cross, was essentially a series of illustrative sequences portraying the grisly fates of early Christian martyrs.

Blog entry 02/17/2010 - 10:04am

By Simon Augustine, M.Div

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest INTRODUCTION

Moviegoers and Madmen

Men are more interested in what they see when dreaming than what they see when awake.
- Diogenes

The movie theater is a miniature mental asylum. A temporary home made of cushioned seats (and padded, sound-proof walls) for the bereft, the dazed, the longing, the beautiful losers; men and women who need images almost as much as they need real people.

Maybe that explains why some of the most iconic and compelling characters in American cinematic history are those who embody madness in one of its many forms; like we moviegoers who watch and live vicariously through these fictional people, the characters themselves struggle with a relationship between reality and image, trying to find a fulcrum between the outside world and imagination: Randall P. McMurphy, irreverent would-be savior of "The Cuckoo’s Nest;" Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes, deranged stalker/fan par excellance, "hobbling" her favorite author in Stephen King’s Misery; Travis Bickle in Taxi Driver, "god’s lonely man," dangerous dreamer, epitome of urban social alienation; Dr. Hannibal Lecter, fascinating in his genius brand of cannibalistic insanity; or Sally Field as Sybil, bringing the complexity and pathos of multiple personality disorder to national consciousness. And the list goes on...

Blog entry 09/11/2009 - 11:07am

Drive-In By Dennis Cozzalio

For all the talk these days of the eventual demise of theatrical distribution, you might be surprised to learn that drive-ins, that quintessentially American pop culture phenomenon, have not only survived but, in some areas of the country, are actually thriving.

Dennis Cozzalio's "Drive-In Movies" primer is many things: a personal love letter to the experience; a history of drive-ins; an annotated list of 13 directors who have shaped the idea of the "drive-in movie" as a genre; and a fun shortlist of drive-ins in the movies.

Page 06/23/2008 - 1:06am

Could writers working prior to the 20th century have imagined their creations and characters being expressed in films, with all the dramatic innovations that moving pictures afford? Simon Augustine asks this question to kick off his new primer on Writers and Poets in Film. "The journey from book to film is reversed and turned in upon itself: we witness not the translation of the mind's eye of the writer into a visual, fixed medium," writes Augustine. "Instead, the fixed visuals of film are used to dramatize the writer in the act of using their mind's eye. In these films, viewers are hopefully exposed to new inroads toward understanding the traditional literary experience and its modes of creation." Read on for a look at films depicting Bukowski, Plath, Capote, Rimbaud, Burroughs, Shakespeare and many others, as well as some of the best examples of fictional writer characters in moviedom, in this insightful new essay.

Page 07/27/2007 - 12:00pm

Put them together, and the terms "East Germany" and "cinema" conjure up bleak associations: a gray Berlin, barbed wire, and the soul-frying bitterness of a Hollywood Cold War picture along the lines of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold or a post-reunification lookback such as The Lives of Others. But, as Robert Horton shows in our latest primer, East German Film, there's a fair amount of barbed wire and bitterness in the films of the German Democratic Republic, but there's much more: the subject is ripe for re-discovery, a process helped along in the US by a 2005 Museum of Modern Art series and a steady stream of DVD releases from First Run Features. Click on for a report on some of the more important works from behind the Iron Curtain.

Page 06/14/2007 - 1:13pm

Robert von Dassanowsky picks up where his Austrian Film to 2000 primer left off with his guide to New Austrian Film. Austria has become a "hot spot" internationally since the end of the 90s, when Barbara Albert's Nordrand (City Skirts, 1999) became the first Austrian production in decades invited to screen in competition at the Venice Film Festival. From Cachéa> (Hidden, 2005) and Dog Days to Darwin's Nightmare and Slumming, Austrian filmmakers are creating an incredibly rich, provocative and diverse body of work.

Learn more in our new guide:

Page 06/11/2007 - 12:09pm

by Liz Cole

living dead

Zombie flicks have enjoyed a popularity and longevity afforded to few other subgenres of horror, thanks largely to the versatility of zombies themselves. From White Zombie to Land of the Dead, the undead army are a handy device to criticize real-world social ills - such as government ineptitude, bio engineering, slavery, greed and exploitation - while indulging our post-apocalyptic fantasies. Zombie infestations are always the product of pesticide spraying, nuclear experiments gone awry, slavery, greed, exploitation, Nazi-voodoo conspiracies to take over the world (yes, this is its own sub-sub genre), alien invasions, the military industrial complex, and Michael Jackson's career. And the rotting undead, when put in the hands of a capable director with a flair for social commentary (George Romero), have a pathos that is genuinely touching and unnerving.

Page 04/06/2007 - 12:48pm

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