Tag Archives: AFTRS

Dumbing Down The Future

What Good Is Tertiary Education If You Can’t Afford It?

After days of commentary regarding the Commission of Audit’s report, I’m a little stuck on the notion of education being possibly irrelevant in this country’s future. When you consider that this country used to have free education, it’s pretty alarming to see that the thinking behind the conservative, economic ‘dry’ people is to jack up the price of Tertiary education and saddle more people with HELP debt. The kinds of fees have gone up considerably since the days of HECS.

Just as an aside, I had an early HECS debt from my time at AFTRS worth $6,600 when I left. I had no obligation to pay any of it back until my annual income hit $30k. It was indexed to CPI, which was measured the old way and by the time i was making $30k, it had ballooned out to $12,700, which is roughly double. It took me about 5years to pay it off, but when you look at the total time it took from when I graduated, it took a decade.

The worst thing about paying it off was that it was money that got taken out after tax, but before you made any financial decisions. If you were earning just over 30k, the take home pay would be substantially less as a result. It became a sort of disincentive to earn the $30k, just to keep your finances going. It seemed unfair that the tax man got 2 bites of the tax out of you. The only reason you get an education is so you can get work, then it seems only fair that they take the HECS out first as if it were a business expense, and then figure out the income tax. I had this argument with the ATO a number of times to no avail, but at least I got it off my chest. It was a right pain in the rear and all it did was just start off at a measly $6,600.

Christopher Pyne – the minister for Poodles and limp Noodles – was on Q&A tonight making the claim that the average HELP debt of university graduates was in the order of $16k, so it’s not a big deal for graduates to pay back. His argument was that 60% ever get Tertiary but they pay for universities through their taxes so university students ought to be more grateful for the very low loan they are getting

When I look at some of the sums of debt people are being hit with for HELP, I am left staggered. A lot of specialist arts courses like animation or design are running at about $40-50k. You wouldn’t want to do a course like I did at AFTRS for $50,000 (not that it exists any more). Given the figure there, I would think it would take a good lifetime to pay off a specialist arts education. When you take into account how terrible your employment prospects would be, you’d have to wonder just what in the name of all that’s good you are doing, lumbering yourself with the pricetag of a family sedan before you even enter the rat race.

Then there are careers in things like social work where you would be hard-pressed to earn the $50k salary before you start paying off – but based on my experience it would mean that the social worker would only start paying it back when their pay reaches $50k through inflationary adjustments and bracket creep; and by then their HELP debt has ballooned out to several times the original sum. If vocational courses present such problems, then you sure as hell would be wary of doing a general arts degree.

The point of all this is to say what we’ve got going is financially disincentivising education. And the more we try and slug money out of students, we’re going to skewer higher education towards the wealthy. Contrary to Christopher Pyne’s rant about competition being good for the education sector, the competition would be for students willing to take on the debt – and if this population is diminishing in numbers through disincentivisation, then we can expect the “second tier teaching colleges” to hit a financial wall. In fact, that’s exactly what’s happening to many US teaching colleges.

Christopher Pyne’s argument that students can pay more is also misleading. By that argument, the rich can afford to pay more because they have the most capacity to make money through ownership of capital. But you sure don’t hear that coming out of Pyne’s mouth or the IPA spokespeople. What’s really clear is that the conservatives of this country strongly desire a future where Australia is less educated, with fewer opportunities for people as being the ideal. To that end, they’ll make education more expensive and less rewarding, except for those who come from wealthy families. While it is no surprise, it does seem to be one of the many things that are going to entrench inequality.



Leave a comment

Filed under General

Pleiades Mailbag 13/Jul/2012

Gimme Some Truth, Part 101

Back in 2009, a film was shown at the Sydney Film Festival to what amounts to a storm of criticism for its dodgy contention that there were slaves where there were not. I wrote about it at the time  here, here, and here.The film’s director’s aunt came over to these pages to contend that what her nephew had done was totally acceptable and honorable – which, patently was not true, no in the least bit – and the brouhaha spilled over even on to this little blog.

In some ways, the whole episode contributed to my feeling that Screen Australia were ethically compromised from within to allow such a film to be made and furthered the impression by washing their hands of the business. The inside information I got at the time was that once the film was made, what was there to be said or done? They were simply going to let that film ride out into the sunset, but whatever acclaim that came to it, they would take credit (as is the way with Australian Film Institutions in general – but that’s another discussion altogether).

It was all very messy. My own take away message was that if one were to value one’s own integrity as a film maker, one could do much better than associate with the likes of Violeta Ayala, Dan Fallshaw and Tom Zubrycki; that one could do better than to open conversations with Screen Australia on anything that remotely involved public ethics; and that the so-called undecidability of authorial intent over a text had reached an apotheosis of stupidity where people were stating bare-faced lies and then denying they stated their lies.

“There’s no reason slaves can’t fly overseas”, said Dan Fallshaw, the co-auteur. “Slavery is a state of mind.”

“Slavery can be mental”, Violeta Ayala said. “I never said Fetim is a slave”, Dan said. “Other people in the film do.”

A slave with a husband travelling Qantas and lodged with an eminent Labor politician? “I never said she was a slave”, Dan said.”The film shows us the facts. The audience can make up its mind.”

But no-one is shown shackled in the film. No-one is shown being spoken to harshly. No-one is shown being humiliated in any way. The only person (and he is treated as a person) who is humiliated in the film is the camel, whom the directors paid the villagers to humiliate and murder in front of the camera.

That was three years go now, and discussing the issues *surrounding* the film was an experience I found on the whole disgusting, nauseating and heartbreaking to say the least. Yes, it broke me. I decided I wanted out from the Film Industry if this was the tenor of the debate. I mean, why would anybody want to stay after that?

Today, Pleiades sent me this link where Bob Ellis discusses the new film made by the cinematographer of ‘Stolen’ denounces the film and its filmmakers.

And so it was that in this mood Carlos’s film was shown to a mixed and mutinous audience at AFTRS, and a chairperson, xxx, announced at 8.10 that we had to be out of there by 9.05 and she would interview Carlos for forty minutes and then take questions — OR STATEMENTS — from the audience and from the perspiring, embattled Dan and Violetta endlessly waiting up on skype, and then favoured us with her own heroic autobiography for a couple of minutes while we looked at our watches apprehensively.

Her redundant conversation with Carlos then took place — what is your film about, she asked him, and we had just seen it — for, amazingly, only twenty minutes, and a logjam of multidirectional fury in the audience vented garrulously all over the occasion BEFORE Dan and Violetta, screaming in their turn on skype, were allowed to talk over the chairperson, who kept yelling back at their giant images up on the screen, shut up, she said, shut up, and it got to be twenty past nine and a woman kept asking will you all please leave now and I’ve rarely had a lousier time in my life. I and Philippe and Meredith Burgmann co-starred in the film, and it would have been nice to discover how it might have gone down with an unbiased audience but this was not, alas, to be.

I will write more about this after viewing the response to it which Matt Peacock, who was I think as angry as me, is going to put on 7.30 tonight.

I hate to be writing this entry only a couple of weeks after going back to AFTRS for a wonderful evening and rekindling my passion for film making, but I guess at some point we all have to confront this ridiculous evil somehow.

Bob Ellis says he was in the minority but the opinions I had found at the time were firmly on his side – the side that demanded nothing buy the truth – and I would contend to this day that those who support the Ayala and Fallshaw positions are philosophically bankrupt munchkins undeserving of whatever public forum they possess to expound their idiotic views. If AFTRS is essentially going to be a little haven of ideologically motivated moral relativists then I guess that’s one tragedy.

But it also goes to core of what can be such a dogy area of epistemology in this part of history: the context-compromised documentary presenting itself as a depiction of reality or truth.The amazing thing is how these people insist on the veracity of their content while denying they made any false claims, claiming it is our fault for interpreting the presented information as saying they are claiming there is slavery. If that’s not the most pernicious kind of sophistry, I don’t know, maybe they should make films in praise of good Nazis who tried to protect us from evil Jewish Bankers – because that’s the level of context-denial that’s running through the defense of the film.

And what gets me is that some people are worried about ‘Ted‘ or ‘Human Centipede II‘. Jeebus. If you really want to get up in arms with your pitchforks, line up outside AFTRS and where Dan and Violeta live. That’s where the rot is setting in our public discourse.

As I’ve always contended on this topic, I’d like some truth from those people defending the film makers. Oh, and I will necessarily delete all comments of those defending ‘Stolen’ on this entry so you’ve all been warned.


Here’s a link to a Matt Peacock interview with Carlos Gonzales who made the film denouncing ‘Stolen’ and its makers.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cinema, Film, Movies

Update 23/Jun/2012

AFTRS Is 40 Years Old

I got a call a couple of Fridays ago on my mobile phone. It was somebody from AFTRS. The first thing they said was that I was a hard person to find.

I told them it was because I was avoiding them.

They said they were having a 40th Anniversary. I asked if that was anything to celebrate. I mean, I didn’t exactly throw a party when I turned 40.

The guy laughed and said a few people were of that position but that they were calling us anyway to let us know that they’re having a bash and all the graduates were invited. So I said, yeah sure, send me the invite.

The invite came. It looked cheesy and it conjured up all the awkward reunion movie moments from ‘Grosse Pointe Blank’ and ‘Romy and Michelle’s High School Reunion’. So I said yes.

Last night was the do, and I’m here to report it was an awesome bash and I got back in touch with some amazing people. It’s always about the people and it was nice to make peace with the lousy place – it’s not even the old place – once and for all. Just seeing these people just filled my heart, and reminded me of a moment of inspiration long ago.

I’ll probably still bitch about AFTRS now and then because kicking a guy when he’s down has a certain sadistic pleasure, but all in all, I’m okay with it. I had a great time when I was there. Nostalgia masks great swathes of injustices and frustrations. I’d never go to my High School reunion or something for the University of Sydney Faculty of Medicine, but I’ll always be up for going back to catch up with my old comrades-in-arms from when film making was a brave and noble calling.

Chris McK, SMurph, Josef, Boschy, Mariella, Gina, Greg, Simon, Tomas, Daniel, Hereward, Stavros, Melina, Kylie, and everybody else I saw and spoke to last night, I luv yuz all from the bottom of my heart!

Leave a comment

Filed under Cinema, Film, Literature, Movies

Odds & Sods – 24/11/2010

Japanese Film Festival 2010

For some crazy reason, the good folks at Japan Foundation asked me to MC the opening reception for this year’s Japanese Film Festival. This year’s special guests were Tadao Sato, Tsutomu Abe and Shigeki Chiba. I had a few choice words to say about cinema in general but also got to put the boot into the state of the Australian Film Industry.

I also sat in as interpreter for the panel discussion for film students whereupon somebody asked what Australian Film can do to change things from its current plight. Tadao Sato praised Australian Cinema ans then said, “Stop being subcontractors for Hollywood and make your own films.” It drew a rapturous applause.

AFTRS Revisited

I hadn’t been inside the new AFTRS digs down in the Entertainment Quarter. The special guests were invited to inspect the school so I went along as their interpreter for that one as well. It’s so strange how they managed to bring across the musty, angst-ridden, repressed-violent-anger vibe into the new building. As far as vibe goes, it clearly was a case of “different building, same old shit.”

Behind the counter at the reception was Cathy who went through with me back in the early 90s. She said she was now studying Egyptology and had left Sound behind. She also said it’s just not as good as it used to be for students and that perhaps we went through at a really good time.

Turns out they’ve axed the 2 year Masters allegedly because it takes them out of the industry too long. Umm, what industry?

Anyway, the tour showed that they still had state of the art gear and all the whistles and bells, but basically they’d gotten rid of their Masters course and replaced them with 1 year professional Graduate Diplomas, and a 1 year Foundation course for young people. In other words, AFTRS had completely given up on its original mission. The amazing thing was nobody seemed to have noticed or said anything.

Maybe it’s a good thing. I’d been saying for some years that the day when AFTRS could be that premier institution was long in the past, given the parlous state of the industry. I guess if Cathy’s at the reception desk – and she was as die-hard as anybody for the biz – then what chance is there really?

Still Get No Fucking Respect

In the AFTRS library, they had a shelf of graduate works on video. My guests pulled out my graduating year’s tape and asked which one was mine.

Sure enough ‘Wired and Running’ was on it, but it was listed as a 16mm production. Um, no, it was 35mm. I can’t believe it. After all these years, they’re still trying to belittle my tiny bit of accomplishment at the school. Worse still, it had been mislabeled ALL these intervening years. I can just hear them saying, “oh it’s no great consequence.”

Well, here’s the thing. 2 things you should never let people screw you with is your payment and your credit. They’ve been fucking with my credit for years and years and years.

‘Wired and Running’ was 35mm. We busted a gut to do it in 35mm. You did your best to stop us. It was 35mm!!! Get that right, you assholes!

As I left I told Cathy, “I’m still angry. I can’t forgive this school. I just can’t. After all these years, they still disrespect me. Why the hell should I go out there and say nice things about this place?”

A Film School In Japan Handing out Degrees

I got my BA from AFTRS. I didn’t go there to get one. I went there for what they had in gear and the opportunities to make things. The irony is that after I left, they felt compelled to turn that 3 year BA program into a 2 year Masters. Shigeki Chiba from Japan was so impressed with the tertiary qualification aspect of it, he and Tadao Sato lobbied the Japanese Academy of Moving Images to be able to hand out tertiary degrees. Therefore it is ironic that AFTRS has backed away from their big courses.

The Ministry of Arts & Sciences in Japan grilled the pair  Mr Sato and Mr. Chiba when they made their submission to make their school a tertiary academic body. One even went as far as to say, “we hope you don’t lose something essential and good by becoming just another tertiary institution.”

It’s unlikely to be the case. They actually have a thriving industry over there. What killed AFTRS’s own flagship program was how disproportionate it was with the negligible growth rate of the Australian Film Industry.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cinema, Film, Movies

Come And See

Been A Long Time

Back in the day, one of the most traumatic films you could watch about the experience of World War II was ‘Come And See’ directed by Elim Klimov. This wasn’t just any movie about the war, this was a film so graphic in its portrayal of the Einsatzgruppen – the SS paramilitary death squads – and their hideous modus operandi during their campaign in Byelorussia.

The first time I even heard about this film was in the late 1980s when a friend of the family told me about with much excitement. He described to me the climactic montage, which hardly made any sense because I don’t think he understood what he was trying to describe, but it sounded really good. Later on, when i finally saw it, I understood it as well as the shear intellectual excitement of the family friend who just had to tell me all about it.

The film has a way of staying with you forever and for a long time I’ve wanted to get hold of this film on DVD so I can just watch it again and digest it; see if it matches up to the way I remember it.

What’s Good About It

My old film school Screen Analysis teacher used to like talking about misc en scene and sense of place. Well, this film is dripping with a sense of what Byelorussia is like and the sorts of life they had in the 1940s as the Germans came in. As a Soviet era film, the film works through some interesting technical moves as well as a dialectical montage towards the end.

There is plenty of good old social realism to go around as we survey the Byelorussian village and roll around in the mud and laves, dance in the rain, as well as wade through the bog with the main character. The film conveys a fantastic tactile quality with the images on the screen, which later on turn to freak you out. It’s got good directing and cinematography and you’re never at a loss to understand the situation.

In one sense, the film remains a high watermark of films made under the auspices of the old Soviet regime even while Klimov may have struggled greatly in convincing the Soviet powers-that-be to let him make the film. It’s an immensely ideological work as well as a very prosaically – almost pedantic – film that sets out to show what the Einsatzgruppen operation would have looked like. Put it this way, it’s nothing like an American movie. This thing was not made to entertain you. It was meant to seer into your very consciousness the frightening terror and horror of the war on the Eastern Front.

What’s Bad About It

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this film and I’ve possibly had too much time to digest the film. Watching it on DVD for the second time in my life had nowhere near the impact as seeing it the first time. Oddly enough there were whole sequences in the film that I’d forgotten about towards the beginning that are really tedious scenes to set up the central action of a boy going to war.

I probably shouldn’t say it’s bad as such but in the this viewing, I felt tedium. This is bad. Or maybe I’m just craving for more action on screen, but at the core of it I think Klimov is disinterested in what interests the audience, but very interested in what interests him. This results in a film whose emotional arc is so jagged that the crucially traumatic scene seems to pass over the main character early on all the while leading on to the church burning. It’s an odd choice as to what Klimov wants to show up close and what he chooses to only glance at.

It’s also not clear what happens to Glisha, the girl. I wasn’t sure that the victim of mass rape actually was Glisha or the young mother who escaped from the church, leaving behind her child and then carted off on a “pack rape truck”. The screenwriter in me sort of went, “hang a minute, what is this denouement?” The director in me actually went, “hang a minute, this is worth establishing, if you’re going to be so prosaic about he rest of the war crime activity?”

What’s Interesting About It

Quite by coincidence I saw this article in the Economist. If you scroll to the bottom of the page you’ll see a spirited exchange of opinions as to whether Russia could have beaten NAZI Germany on its own.

I have no doubt that what the Russians endured in fighting NAZI Germany was much worse than anything else her allies had to live through. That’s just the fact of it. The Einsatzgruppen didn’t exactly tour an occupied New York or Washington DC, hunting for Jews and Romani and commissars. The film paints a fairly stark portrait of that very struggle by partisans facing off against the might of the German war machine.

What’s interesting about it today is that in light of all the things that happened in the Balkans with their death squads and death camps, the film has actually lost something of its power through the intervening years. The two Gulf Wars by the two Bush Presidents have also changed the nature of how wars are conducted to the point where it seems quaint that the Germans would bother to round people up and burn them in a church. The contemporary American simply sends out a tomahawk cruise missile or carpet bombs a whole city.

Film As Ideological Artefact

Elim Klimov struggled mightily to make this film. I can’t understand why, but then Tarkovsky struggled mightily to make his films as well. The Soviet film production approvals committee were apparently against making obscure films or difficult films. They wanted that old social realism, which of course goes back to Stalin. Stalin probably wasn’t interested in the entertainment value of film but he sure was interested in propaganda value, so he wanted Soviet cinema to be the perspicacious to the extreme.

Now, I can understand Tarkovsky running into some flack with films like ‘The Mirror’ but Elim Klimov is nowhere near an obscurantist director as Tarkovsky. Watching the film today, you can get a pungent dose of the Soviet Realist school of film making. You just can’t miss it. 20 odd years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and Perestroika, the ideological garb of the film stands out more today than perhaps it did in 1986. The film it reminded me of the most was in fact Leni Riefenstahl’s ‘Triumph of the Will‘. Maybe these films are mirror images of one another – one film about the glory of NAZI Germany, Klimov’s film about the absolute hell it created. In other words, as fine a film as it is, today we can see it for the propaganda film it was.

Which is all the more reason why I wonder why Klimov struggled so much. He was certainly pitching fastballs high and inside just as he was meant to.

The Mosfilm Legacy

We used to get a steady diet of Mosfilm stuff at AFTRS. Such heavily ideological works as ‘The Cranes Are Flying’ and ‘Alexander Nevsky’ would get a screening and the student body would all sagely nod and say how wonderfully moving these films were. They’re great films and I’m glad they got made, but to get them made, these film makers had to twist themselves to the yoke of Soviet ideology. You’d think AFTRS thought Mosfilm productions were the way to go in cinema.

In a world of global commercial cinema with America at the epicentre, it’s very quaint how AFTRS was feeding this stuff to its students who would have to write essays about a deeper cinema. I dare say it contributed greatly to unrealistic expectations about the craft as well as the business. I think this strand of thinking has influenced the funding bodies that took on these graduates as its assessors and film bureaucrats. It has collectively contributed to the decimation of the Australian Film industry in the 1990s as well as the 2000s. It is as if the film bureaucrats who came out of AFTRS essentially locked up the film makers of this country in a church and burned them all down.

I remember piping up at the time ‘Terminator 2’ came out and asking how these Mosfilm films stood in relation to a US$120million action spectacle. I got frowned at and ridiculed, but really, where is Mosfilm now? On the other hand, Arnie’s the governor of California and James Cameron did ‘Avatar’. Looking back on it now, it seems really quaint that so much value was put into studying Mosfilm movies.

I like ‘Come And See’, but it fills me with a weird kind of angst that has nothing to with its content.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cinema, Film, Movies

Myth Making

More Claptrap From AFTRS

I know I get a little mean when it comes to my alma mater The Australian Film Television and Radio School. But this piece in ScreenHub today just got my goat.

I have proposed that we should resurrect the debate about our purpose and offered a challenge to our implied assumptions about genre, emotion and entertainment. I’ve also argued that we should not tell our own stories, we should make our myths, and that the difference between our own stories and our myths are scale, dynamics and ownership. I have sketched out some ideas about scale and dynamics, but I have not yet made a case about ownership, because this is where all of the ideas come together.

The notion of ownership is deeply embedded in the phrase ‘tell our own stories’ but the question of who the owner is needs to be confronted here. If the ‘owner’ of the ‘our own stories’ is the person or people with the money to make the movies or the filmmakers who raise the money, then we are ascribing ownership to a very small, and by our own admission, culturally proscribed group of people. Myth on the other hand is owned by everyone it speaks to, and it speaks to humans more broadly than within specific cultures or societies. In order to be a myth is has to be a story bigger than ‘our own’. This does not mean it has to be an American movie.

American movies are based in American myths, and these are not the same as Australian myths. I speak from personal experience here, American’s believe in manifest destiny and Australians do not. Americans are raised to behave as though they could become the president of the United States and Australians are not. American movies uphold the underlying myths of pursuing your destiny or dreams, and taking individual action in the world. So, dynamics and scale come easily to those myth makers, which is why it may seem as though to argue for scale and dynamics is to argue for Americanisms.

But I hope that this is not the case. As David Stratton writes in his review of Blessed in The Weekend Australian on September 12, 2009 “we don’t do Hollywood style movies very well.” However, he has also called 2009 an “annus mirabilis” for Australian film, using a mythically saturated word, miraculous, for a year that has seen some remarkable myth making by Australians. Robert Connolly has mythologised the Balibo five and awakened exactly the sort of energy to work towards ideals that myths are capable of doing. Warwick Thornton has create a mythically resonant tale of indigenous kids sniffing petrol – with an optimistic ending – are these heroes not ideals for all indigenous cultures and their colonisers to work with? Mao’s Last Dancer is classic myth making: the dynamics of a rags to riches/ repression to freedom/struggle to triumph story, with dancing on a spectacular scale. It not only has built in international ownership across the U.S., China and Australia, but it’s a story owned by anyone who strives.

I recently saw a short film called Jacob, made by Dena Curtis, an Indigenous Australian woman. This film was not expensive to make, it is a genre piece, a period film, and its story, which only involves four characters, is on a mythic scale. It tells of a black man who comes home from months of working on the far reaches of the property expecting to see his newborn son for the first time only to find his son has come out white.

This story is much bigger than its protagonist. It is global on the subject of racial injustice. It could have been told about slaves in America, about Korean women after WW2 and on and on. Its dramatic question implies an action – will he accept the baby? Forgive the wife? Kill the landowner? And it has stakes – life and death stakes for the baby, justice and pride stakes for the parents. Inexpensive. Australian. And, because this story could be owned by so many, at any time, in any country and in all of the cultures and ethnicities that make up this country, it is mythic.

Myth making does not mean movies have to be happy or sad, smart or dumb, expensive or cheap, real or surreal. They must have scale, dynamics, and ownership by more than just their makers. Don’t tell our own stories, make our myths.

…And I thought, “Oh come on!” The games we can play with semantics are never-ending but the facts are,  we don’t make enough films to know what our myths are. All this theorising and conjecture and is just that. We can begin to talk about Australian myths when we have 1000 films and 10,000 novels worth watching and reading. We’re not there yet. Anything short of that is just speculation.

But I guess if you’re the head of Screen Studies at AFTRS you have to write *something*. So that’s why you have this claptrap parading as theory. This is the same school that when I was there, dared to say “‘Science Fiction’ is an American Genre” and proceeded to block my science fiction project. It’s good to see nothing much has changed. What a colossal waste of government money.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cinema, Film, Movies

Baz Mounts Defense of ‘Australia’

Because Evidently It’s Not Speaking For Itself

Baz Luhrmann is sounding like he’s not enjoying the roasting. Here’s a Reuters article on the director’s perspective on his own film.

“A lot of reviewers like ‘Australia.’ And we’re making people cry; I know because they write to us,” he told the Hollywood Reporter during an interview at the Four Seasons Hotel. “But there are those that don’t get it. A lot of the film scientists don’t get it. And it’s not just that that they don’t get it, but they hate it and they hate me, and they think I’m the black hole of cinema. They say, ‘He shouldn’t have made it, and he should die.'”

I think the people are crying because it’s more like an onion than a proper tear-jerker. But we’ll let that pass.

Asked why he thought the reactions were so passionate, he replied: “I know what it’s about.”

The movie’s detractors, he said, were used to movies that were neatly defined.

“This is not (simply) a romantic comedy for 40-year-old women or action movies for 17-year-old boys, and that’s not OK with some people. It’s not OK for people to come eat at the same table of cinema. But you look at movies like ‘Gone With the Wind’ and Old Hollywood classics, and they don’t fit in any box.

“Corny Hollywood movies from the ’40s freak out (the film scientists),” he added.

It’s a real drag that Baz Luhrmann went out and made a very big movie without a target audience, armed with the faith that a retread of a Hollywood movie from the 1940s would transcend the need for defining a genre, all the while he post-Modernistically pilfered cues from the said 1940s film.

While I’m no film scientist, I am at least a student of my craft. When I saw shorts on the Kidman/Letterman interview, I noticed he crossed the line not once but twice in a span of 30seconds. I’m sorry but if you can’t get your basics down like that, while working with a professional crew, then should you be entrusted with a $197million budget?

It’s not that he’s made a very broad, general film with a mixed genre – those things have places in the world, but they tend to have smaller audiences  because it takes a lot more effort from the audience to understand how the genres are getting mixed. It is the fact that Luhrmann can’t tell a story without throwing his camera around and trying to invent a new angle to shoot a 2-hander scene. Dare I say it, he’s actually not properly schooled in how to direct a scene for camera.

This results in his films being nebulous, unfocused and largely confusing. He is the opposite of David Mamet’s tenets where you should simply stick to the story as tightly as you can.

Years ago when he suddenly burst on to the world with ‘Strictly Ballroom’, I was a student at AFTRS. The ‘Strictly Ballroom’ promotional tour rolled into the school cinema and got its screen to much adulation from the  teaching staff. I was struck by several things:

– How poorly directed Strictly Ballroom actually was.

– How the teachers and admin staff embraced it anyway because the story was good enough and simple enough.

– How the AFTRS staff embraced the film, even though Luhrman was from NIDA and not the AFTRS. The guy had nothing to do with AFTRS.

Now, the third thing was possibly the weirdest thing, because it relates back to the first. One of the things that film school inevitably does to you is give you a grounding in the basic needs of directing for camera. If it didn’t/doesn’t, you should burn it down and start again. Certainly, in my time, as wobbly as it was, that culture lived and breathed at AFTRS.

So here was a film that failed to meet the kind of technical standards that second year novices were meeting, getting critical acclaim. Worse still, the AFTRS educators were willing to turn a blind eye to all these faults for which they would have roasted their own students and praise the film to the sky. It was a surreal moment. Yes, I’m talking about you, John O’Hara, Paul Thompson, Helen Carmichael, Marion Ord, Brian Hannant! – Just in case you’re googling your own names.

But it got me thinking: If NIDA could produce successful film makers who didn’t know anything about the technical things the AFTRS was imparting to its own students, and the AFTRS’s job was just to produce the crew who would work on these films, What EXACTLY WAS THE POINT OF HAVING A DIRECTING DEPARTMENT? What was the point of even having AFTRS?  It seemed incredibly self-defeating for AFTRS’s teaching body to embrace the success of the film in spite of all its abundantly clear faults. The sort of faults with which it would roast its own students

Understand this: All the students knew (and understood) that it was a deeply flawed film, and yet we all shrugged and furtively caught each other’s disbelieving glances as the AFTRS teachers lauded its success. It was one of those. “WHAT THE FUCK?!!!!” moments that make you re-assess everything about what you are doing. What exactly was the point of proper film technique?

What exactly is the point of any technique to do anything? Why bother learning a single-handed backhand? Why bother learning correct finger – position for scales? Why learn how to cast and reel properly? Why learn technique in anything, when the novice world just doesn’t notice? Or was it just a case of double standards?

I don’t have an answer to this double standard. I have no answer as to how these things happen. But let’s face it, there’s Baz Luhrmann making his dirty big Hollywood Blockbuster, partly on Australian tax Payers’ money – still, clearly ignorant of the basic basics of film making. And the joke is on me (and others), because there is nobody from my year at AFTRS that has directed a Hollywood film. What, exactly, was the point of having AFTRS, if this was going to be the outcome?

Those people should have been quaking in their shoes when Baz Luhrmann emerged, instead of lauding its success; because his very career poses serious questions about Filmmaking in Australia. In my book, the one that I got from AFTRS, it’s questionable that Baz Luhrmann should have been allowed to make that film; no, he shouln’t have to die except in the box office; and I’m not being mean-spirited when I say that.

Leave a comment

Filed under Cinema, Film, Movies