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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

This week at SFC: The Proposition

Our screenings are free and all are welcome.

Feature film will commence at 8:30pm this week.

We are back in the back studio (where we belong). Test out our comfy new chairs!

The Proposition (John Hillcoat/Australia/2006/104')

Written by Nick Cave

Starring Guy Pearce, Ray Winstone, Danny Huston, Emily Watson

In The Proposition the Australian musician and author Nick Cave (Birthday Party, Bad Seeds, Grinderman etc ) pays homage to the westerns of Sergio Leone and Australia's Seventies film classics.

There was no Australian cinema before the 1970s, just a few cheap flicks for local consumption and movies made by foreign filmmakers, invariably bringing their own stars with them. Then came 'The Last New Wave' (the title of David Stratton's 1980 book on Australian cinema), though there was to be another New Wave in the 1980s with the emergence of a lively cinema in New Zealand. What happened in Australia was less a renaissance than a naissance, and the best of the films were about the birth of a national consciousness, the search for an Australian identity, and transactions the newcomers had with this strange land and the culture of its Aboriginal inhabitants. Many of the best were set in the late nineteenth century or the early twentieth century: one thinks particularly of Peter Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock, Fred Schepisi's The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith and Bruce Beresford's The Getting of Wisdom.

Nowadays the chief creators of the Australian cinema work in Hollywood, and their successors' films are more concerned with suburban life than with great national issues. Directed by John Hillcoat and scripted by the musician Nick Cave, The Proposition takes us back to the glory days - and a major link to that period resides in the presence in a minor role of David Gulpilil, the country's most famous Aboriginal actor who appeared in a string of Australian classics.

Set in the 1880s in the Queensland outback, it's stylistically influenced by the westerns of Sergio Leone, Sam Peckinpah and Monte Hellman. But the striking images of isolated buildings, strange rock formations, heat-shimmering desert and curious flora recorded by the French cinematographer Benoit Delhomme evoke the Australian painters Tom Roberts, George Russell Drysdale and Sidney Nolan rather than Frederic Remington and the chroniclers of the American west. The film begins with a ferocious shoot-out, seen largely from the point of view of some Irish bushrangers and their women besieged by police in a cabin, with shafts of lights coming from the bullet holes that turn the building into a wooden colander. When the battle ends with three outlaws taken prisoner, the English policeman, Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone), makes an offer to one of them, Charlie Burns (Guy Pearce). Go out into the desert and kill your elder brother Arthur (Danny Huston), or your younger brother, the 14-year-old Mikey, will be hanged on Christmas Day, a mere nine days hence. This is the stark proposition of the title, and the ways in which it is respected or reneged upon defines the film's action.

There is no formal exposition in the film. We learn from various hints that the Burns gang is dominated by the eloquent psychopathic Arthur, that their final outrage was an attack on an isolated homestead and involved rape and murder. Otherwise we are left to gather from their appearances who the people are and what they stand for.

Captain Stanley is a decent enough cop, ruthless but a man of his word, who has apparently come to Australia to better himself. He's determined to protect his genteel wife, Martha (Emily Watson), from the horrors of this world. Evidently a cut above her husband, she's trying to recreate England in this wilderness, with her fancy tea service, an imported Christmas tree, and cotton wool to resemble snow. She lies on her bed, a mail-order catalogue resting on her chest. More active in this direction is Eden Fletcher (David Wenham), an upper-class English landowner who views with contempt all those around him, whether they be the unkempt European settlers in the half-built town of Banyon, the bushrangers or the Aboriginals he wishes to exterminate. 'I will civilise this land,' he declares. Disregarding the deal made by Stanley, whom he controls, he arranges a lethal whipping of the jailed Mikey. This whipping scene has a casual horror about it. The spectators watch the grisly spectacle, oblivious to the swarms of flies that gather on their backs, and the lash ends up as if dipped in a bucket of blood.

Out in the desert, the Burns brothers, wild colonial boys - presumably transported Irish convicts or descendants of convicts - seem at one with the land. Its beauty and implacability evidently appeal to their nature. Arthur, a charismatic madman in the manner of the outlaws of the American frontier, waxes poetic as he watches the sun set each night over the desert; to him it's a premonition of death, the ultimate Celtic Twilight. The Burns brothers respect the Aboriginals and do not wish to tame the land. But on his journey to kill his brother, Charlie is nearly killed by aggressive Aborigines. This happens after a strange, violent encounter with a boozy, gentlemanly expatriate adventurer (John Hurt reprising his drunken cynic from Heaven's Gate).

The Proposition is both a realistic action movie and a forceful fable about the birth of a nation.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

This week at SFC: I am Cuba, the Siberian Mammoth

Our screenings are free and all are welcome.

Feature film will commence at 8:15pm.

Earlier this year as part of our mini Cuban film series we screened Soy Cuba -- this week we screen a recent documentary about the making of that film.

Thursday December 7th

I am Cuba, the Siberian Mammoth (Vicente Ferraz/Brazil/2004/Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, English subtitles/90')

In 1962, a team of Soviet cineastes and intellectuals, led by the eminent director Mikhail Kalatozov and including the poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko, traveled to Cuba to make an epic film about that country's recent revolution. After two years of collaboration with local actors, writers and technicians, they produced “I Am Cuba” (Soy Cuba) which displeased both the Cuban public and the Soviet authorities. The movie languished in obscurity until 1995, when Francis Ford Coppola and Martin Scorsese helped bring it to the attention of international western audiences. By then, in the wake of Communism's collapse, it could be hailed as a lost classic of a strange, fraught historical moment - a "Bolshevik hallucination," in the words of the film critic J. Hoberman.

"I Am Cuba: The Siberian Mammoth" is a 2004 documentary by Vicente Ferraz, a Brazilian filmmaker, who digs into the past to illuminate Kalatozov's extraordinary blend of formal bravura and revolutionary didacticism. Interspersing shots from the original film - many of which are justly famous for their power and complexity - with interviews, Mr. Ferraz has produced a welcome piece of historical explication.

Mr. Kalatozov's film, whose gloriously overwrought look owes much to the cinematographer Sergei Urusevsky, was a product both of Castro's revolution and Khrushchev's thaw. The Cubans who worked on it were happy to be involved in such a sophisticated production, while the Russians were filled with curiosity, occasionally tinged with condescension, about this new, tropical member of the Socialist fraternity of nations. The movie, a hugely ambitious and elaborate project combining four main story lines, was conceived as a grand poem of the revolution.

And it often felt that way as it was being made. Mr. Ferraz's interview subjects are full of fond reminiscences of the process. But their view of the product largely reflects the Cuban response when the film was shown there in the 1960's, and ridiculed in the press for its stylistic excesses and lack of realism. In the Soviet Union, it was officially disowned partly because its images of the Westernized decadence of Cuba before Castro seemed dangerously alluring. It is one of the ironies of modern history that the seductiveness of "I Am Cuba" could only be appreciated after the crumbling of the ideology that sponsored it. The film and its fate, deftly explored by Mr. Ferraz's archaeological excavation, represent one of the chief paradoxes of Socialism, which inspired so much idealism and inspiration and at the same time set about to crush and discard so much of what it inspired.