Sunday, October 10, 2010

International cinema: Australia and New Zealand

I'm currently taking a course about cinema history from the 1960's onward - and Gloria almighty, there's a lot! Studying film was much easier and reviewable in the silent era, when there were Hollywood, some cool and artsy German films, Swedish films with a lot of snow, Italian over-the-top historical epics and some Soviet propaganda.

When studying cinema was an easy task.
The Phantom Carriage (Sweden, 1921) and Battleship Potemkin (Soviet Union, 1925).

But after the 1960's every damn underdeveloped country had their own cinema movements, and suddenly there is a hell of a lot to study! Of course, it's wildly interesting too. Last week I watched a Senegalese bisexual version of Carmen, to mention something.

Tomorrow we are going to watch House of Flying Daggers (2004) in the context of Oceanian cinema, and since I thought that the director's previous effort Hero (2002) was visual mastery with a plot that was as fun as watching the grass grow in slow motion... well, it will probably be a nice morning.

Anyway. What I just came to think about while reading about films from Oceania, is that there is a hell of a lot of international cinema that most people have seen without probably thinking too much about it. Perhaps it's just my own interpretation, but it is almost like one expects all movies at the theaters to be Hollywood productions, since it's the standard. Therefore, I thought about writing some posts highlighting special "waves" of cinema from countries other than the USA, that have reached a great audience that not only consists of cinephiles. Well, a brief overview at least. Now: Australia and New Zealand.

Feel free to mention which of these films you have seen, and if I should have mentioned anyone in the context!

Australian cinema started to flourish in the late 1970's and early 1980's, and historical epics was a popular subject. What you might have seen in that category is a young Mel Gibson in the Word War I drama Gallipoli (1981). But wait, don't we need more Mel Gibson? Who can get tired of a drunken antisemitic Don Juan? Throw in the wildly popular futuristic action movies Mad Max (1978) and Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981).

Historical depictions and hunk action: Gallipoli and Mad Max.

And then there was the Australian comedy. For some reasons, in the 1980's the world just went crazy for Australian humor. Along came Crocodile Dundee (1986), Muriel's Wedding (1994), The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (1994) and Babe (1995). The latter was however American financed since USA likes to fund already winning concepts (like Crocodile Dundee II).

Australian comedies: Crocodile Dundee, Muriel's Wedding, Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Babe.

And when Australia could deliver films that were popular with the audience, along came more American financed films from Australia and with Australian directors. Australian actors that became popular and could enjoy a Hollywood career (often with either an American or British accent, though) are Nicole Kidman, Cate Blanchett, Hugh Jackman, Heath Ledger, Geoffrey Rush and Naomi Watts (born in England, raised in Australia). To name a few. The violent drunkard Russell Crow is from New Zealand, see below.

Australian director Baz Luhrmann directed Romeo + Juliet (1996) and Moulin Rouge! (2001). The animated family film Happy Feet (2006) is also a fairly new American-Australian co-production.

New Zealand, being a smaller country and often confused with Australia, had a much more modest success in the film industry. Jane Campion made the fantastically successful weepie The Piano (1993, and yes - I kind of almost cried a bit too). It was a USA-Australia-New Zealand (phuh!) co-production, with middle-aged-woman-fascination and New Zealand raised Sam Neill in the cast.
New Zealander Lee Tamahori made Once Were Warriors (1994) about Maoris, and at least I remember my mother's fascination with a VHS copy of it when I was little. The Swedish translation of the title was the more corny "The Soul of the Warrior". (Just a bit of useless trivia.)

Drama from New Zealand: The Piano and Once Were Warriors.

But then! Oh, but then. Then came the previously cool and original B-movie director Peter Jackson and pumped in money like the greatest of Arabic oil countries into the New Zealand film industry with his adaption of J.R.R Tolkien's complicated nonsense books The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003). Suddenly New Zealand could finance films like never before, and Jackson built a state-of-the-art facility in Wellington where cool D stuff for films like Avatar (2009) could be made. (Well, I'm not into the specifics of the technology - blame me!)
After that cash wave came films like Whale Rider (2002) about a Maori girl, and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2004) by a New Zealander. Then nobody heard about New Zealand ever after the latter beautiful film played the lovely tunes of the Andrew Sisters' "Oh, Johnny, Oh, Johnny, Oh!".

See you next time with... some other part of the world in some era or another.

A screenshot from some Lord of the Ring film, the female protagonist of Whale Rider and a both beautiful and disturbing scene from the beautiful and disturbing Chronicles of Narnia.


Christopher said...

I lived in Australia from late 1964 to late 1967..Perth and Sydney..I remember when the only big Australian film was "They're A Weird Mob"(not even sure if it was entirely aussie)based on the books of Nino Culotta.One of the elements I love about the Aussie emergence in many of their films, is their boldness to upstand moral decency and reverence to God..and do it so well..a couple of my fave films...Mad Dog Morgan...Strictly Ballroom..

Kendra said...

You should see Peter Wier's Picnic at Hanging Rock from the 1970s, it's brilliant and quietly creepy!

Niamhy said...

I want to study film history! I actually want to teach it...would you recommend it?

Russell said...

Good to see Australian cinema being mentioned. One thing that may be of interest is a documentary made a few years ago called "Not Quite Hollywood" - it charts the beginning of the homegrown Australian film industry and the many "Ozploitation" films of the 70's and 80's that were made in contrast to the more upscale costume dramas. Films like "Stone", "Turkey Shoot" and "Long Weekend" are under rated classics really worth seeing. Anyway, check out the documentary if you can, it's very interesting.

Lotten said...

Thank you for that information and the film tips! Really interesting!

My film book mentioned Picnic at Hanging Rock, but I obviously forgot to mention it in this post! Thanks, that film seems intriguing.

I love my film studies so much that I have a hard time believing that I actually AM studying it. I would recommend it to a film enthusiast any time! About teaching, I will probably go fir that myself if I don't getter any other brilliant idea about what to do with my life. The teachers I've had this far have all been so inspiring, passionate and natural - they really love what they are doing. So my answer to your question is - yes! ;)

Oh, I've heard about that documentary! I think I was on my way to watching it a couple of years ago, but forgot. Thanks for reminding me! It seems really fun, not to mention educating in film history! Thanks for the other tips as well :)

Amy Inferno said...

I want your classes. :D

Flying Daggers is a wonderful film, as far as I`m concerned. (have in mind that I loved Hero as well). ;)

piano <3