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Friday
Jan032014

CHILD'S PLAY: FAIRYTALES AND FABLES AT GOMA

In Brian Selznick’s illustrated novel The Invention of Hugo Cabret, the grandfather of fantastic cinema, Georges Méliès declares, “Fairytales can only happen in movies.” Queensland’s Gallery of Modern Art (GOMA) Cinémathèque programming team has taken the sentiment to heart for its first major film retrospective of 2014, Fairytales and Fables.

Méliès features extensively in the schedule of international fantasy cinema that will delight and disturb audiences over its three month run. Silent classics of his including A Trip to the Moon (1902), The Kingdom of the Fairies (1903), The Magic Lantern (1903), An Impossible Voyage (1904), The Palace of Arabian Nights (1905) and Baron Munchausen’s Dream (1911) will screen with live musical accompaniment, as will rarely-seen works from Ernst Lubitsch (The Doll, 1919; The Oyster Princess, 1919) and Herbert Brenon (Peter Pan, 1924). The centrepiece of the Fairytales and Fables season is Lotte Reiniger’s (pictured, right) 1926 work, The Adventures of Prince Achmed (featured, below), the oldest surviving animated feature, which will screen along with two strands of the legendary German filmmaker’s short films.

Curated by Amanda Slack-Smith from archival collections in New York, Los Angeles, Prague and our own National Film and Sound Archive, the GOMA season features much-loved titles from the genre (The Wizard of Oz; The 7th Voyage of Sinbad; The Neverending Story; Pan’s Labyrinth [pictured, top]; The Princess Bride; Babe) as well as works from the reigning king of movie fairytales, Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands; Sleepy Hollow; Big Fish; Corpse Bride). The dark psychological subtext often associated with classic children’s stories is explored in very non-family sessions of films such as George Cukor’s Gaslight; Dario Argento’s Suspiria; Stanley Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut; David Slade’s modern paedophile/revenge spin on Little Red Riding, Hard Candy, with Ellen Page (featured, below); and, Julia Leigh’s controversial sex-industry drama, Sleeping Beauty.

For the true film scholar, it will be the rarely seen international offerings that demand attention. Amongst them are Alice (1988) and Little Otik (2001), two surreal classics from Czech iconoclast Jan Švankmajer; Vaclav Vorlicek’s wonderfully entertaining adventure, Three Wishes for Cinderella (1973); and Jacques Demy’s The Pied Piper (1972), a dark, political allegory starring cult musical figure, Donovan. Ahead of the Lea Seydoux/Vincent Cassell blockbuster remake due for release in 2014, the 1946 Jean Cocteau classic Beauty and The Beast will screen from a newly remastered 35mm print.

After much consideration, SCREEN-SPACE offers our thoughts on the four global works from the Fairytale and Fables program that should not be missed… 

The PianoTuner of Earthquakes (Directed by The Quay Brothers; 2005)
This near-impenetrable artistic vision from critically divisive talents Stephen and Timothy Quay loosely adapts Jules Verne’s The Carpathian Castle into a visual and aural dreamscape about a kidnapped opera singer, the mad scientist who wants her voice for his automaton and the piano tuner who desires her. A maddening, mesmerising work; executive produced by Terry Gilliam.

The Juniper Tree (Dir: Nietzchka Keene; 1990)
From The Brothers Grimm stable of disassociated family themes comes debutant director Nietzchka Keene’s monochromatic story of two sisters forced to hit the road in Middle Ages Iceland after their mother is put to death for witchcraft. A giddy romp it is not, but elements such as the stark personal drama central to the narrative, sombre supernatural overtones and a charismatic turn as Margit from pop princess Bjork (pictured, left) in her film debut makes this idiosyncratic relic from a truly experimental phase in indie world cinema a compelling oddity.

Valery and Her Week of Wonders (Dir: Jaromil Jires; 1970)
Melding counter-culture experimentalism with a traditional Euro-cinema aesthetic, Czech New-Wave pioneer Jaromil Jires’ reworking of Alice in Wonderland/Little Red Riding Hood is a tour-de-force cinematic journey into young female sexuality, guilt-laden religious influence and social repression. And jewellery and incest and weasels and vampires…. Only 13 at time of filming, Jaroslava Schallerova (pictured, right) is an incandescent presence as Valery in one of the great debut performances.

Cinderella (Dir: Man-dae Hong, 2006).
A mixed critical reaction greeted Man-dae Hong’s South Korean horror film when first released, but its darkly-comic, stylishly-gory take on the plastic surgery phenomenon has grown in stature. It is one of the Cinematheque’s more daring choices and squeamish types may want to favour the other K-horror entrant, Pil-sung Kim’s moody, chilling Hansel and Gretel (though it comes with its own set of disturbing images, it must be said…).

Fairytales and Fables runs from January 10 to March 30 at the Queensland Art Gallery’s Gallery of Modern Art Cinematheque. Further details are available at the GOMA website.

Monday
Dec302013

SOLITARY MAN: THE GEORGE BASHA INTERVIEW

From a memorable character part in Steven Vidler’s Blackrock, George Basha has graduated to tough-guy, leading man status. Somewhat uniquely for Australia’s relatively small industry, those roles have materialized through Basha’s own multi-faceted talent and determination. He scripted his leading-man debut in 2009’s The Combination, in which he explored class issues, race relations, crime and violence with an incisive clarity; his latest, Convict, which he co-directed with actor David Field, revisits those themes with a stark honesty. Basha spoke to SCREEN-SPACE ahead of the film’s release…

Basha (pictured, above; bottom right) plays Ray Francis, a returned serviceman who finds himself imprisoned after defending the honour of his fiancée (Millie Rose Heywood). His incarceration is a particularly harsh one; he becomes the focus of merciless warden (David Field) and finds himself a pawn in the brutal politics of life on the inside.

The character asked a lot of the actor, who wrote the part with a strong moral core so as the conflict generated within the deeply immoral world of prison life was tangible. Also of importance was the strong physicality needed to survive inside.  “I did a lot of research in regards to my role in this film,” says Basha. “I was able to prepare not only my character but my body for the vigorous action sequences I put my body through during the shoot.”

That dedication to realism extended to the films location shoot. Situated in the heart of Sydney’s western suburbs is the iconic Parramatta Gaol, a landmark dating back to the convict era and which operated as a correctional facility until as recently as 2011. “When I wrote the script, the location was always Parramatta prison,” says the director, who was convinced after taking a walking tour of the abandoned site. “I loved the sandstone and most importantly it was the oldest prison in the country which was built by convicts. It wasn't easy getting the prison; I had to really reach out to all my contacts (but) finally we got the green light.”

The producer’s layered the film with as many factual elements as possible, both to help infuse the tone of the film and to capture the terrifying experience of incarceration. Says Basha, “Convict brings the element of a more modern look to the prison life of today. We brought in some real cons to give us the authenticity that I believe a film like this needs. A real ex con will look, walk and talk like an ex con.”

Australian cinema has reflected the nation’s penal colony roots with some of international cinemas harshest depictions of jail life (Stir; Hoodwinked; Ghosts of the Civil Dead; Chopper). Basha is convinced it is time for a fresh look at life on the inside. “This film has more to offer than just another prison film. It has been years since a tough prison film was made in this country,” he says. “It also takes you into the gang elements of the prisons these days and hits out at race issues.”

Basha partnered on his directing debut with one of the country’s most respected industry veterans, David Field, who made his film debut in John Hillcoat’s 1988 prison-set classic, Ghosts of the Civil Dead. Having met on the set of Blackrock, the pair developed a close mateship and a strong professional bond; Field directed Basha’s 2009 script, The Combination.

“We have a great friendship, but when the cameras roll it’s about making a great film,” Basha recalls of the on-set dynamic he shared with Field (pictured, right). “He really will get the best out of you (but) in the nicest possible way. Anyone that's worked with David Field knows how passionate he is as a filmmaker. Whether David or I were directing, it didn't make a difference because we think so much alike.”

George Basha can’t place too high a value on the learning experience that was The Combination. The film earned critical praise and turned a tidy profit; the success the film enjoyed helped Basha secure a sizable Aus$2.5million budget for Convict. “From the acting and directing to the production side of film making, I learned a lot from The Combination,” he recalls. “For Convict, I was able to prepare and (not) make the mistakes I made. I always knew what I wanted as a director. It made it easier because I also wrote the screenplay. I believe you grow as an actor and director with each film you make.”

Convict will have its World Premiere at Parramatta's Riverside Theatre on Monday January 20. Tickets available here. A limited national release will follow; check local press for details.

Thursday
Dec122013

FAMILY GUY: THE RUBEN ALVES INTERVIEW

Within hours of stepping off a transcontinental flight, Ruben Alves is deep into an Australian interview schedule in support of his directorial debut, The Gilded Cage. A bittersweet comedy/drama with strong autobiographical elements, its story of a Portuguese family struggling with their Parisian life and the pull of their homeland has been a blockbuster hit; this week, Alves' film picked up the coveted People’s Choice honours at the European Film Awards. His staggered English will come through in the text below, as will his passion for the film, love for his characters and genuine humility regarding the film’s success. He spoke to SCREEN-SPACE at Sydney’s iconic Chauvel Cinema…

The script (co-written with Hugo Gelin and Jean-Andre Yerles) crafts such fully-formed characters of all the family members. Given the autobiographical element, can we assume your experiences are represented by Pedro, the teenage son, played by Alex Alves Pereira?

I am not the son, specifically. I think I am all the characters, a little bit. For sure, my life was my parents. My mom is still a concierge in Paris and my father still works. But, for example, the scene where the son refuses to recognise his mum never happened to me. But it is a feeling, like writing, what a teenager can feel at this moment of his life. It is not entirely autobiographical but it is inspired (by my life), for sure. I was 30 when I started writing and I felt it was time for me to step back and look at it with a new maturity, both with regard to this community and to this family.

There is a vibrant Portuguese community here in Australia, but it is fair to say that the general population here may not be as well versed on Portuguese customs or traditions. What can be learnt of Portuguese people from The Gilded Cage?

In the movie I wanted to talk about this integration that Portuguese people are capable of. Wherever they go, they are able to integrate with any society, mainly because of their work (ethic). Wherever they go, they work, work, work, but do so with very little noise, very discreet. At the same time, Portugese people will recognise all sorts of detail and feel something very deep in the movie.

And I am also talking about immigrants and the immigrant’s experience. Australia is a country that was built on immigration and in the film we look at going back home, finding your roots and your origins. After 30 years in your adopted country or city, you make a new life and new traditions, but you never lose the desire to return to where you came from and rediscover the values that you were born with. Portuguese people have an increible link to their family and their families past and I think the movie is most about that.

Each of your key cast members (pictured, above) have had their own immigration experience. Did this in any way infuse the production or their understanding of the characters?

Joaquim de Almeida (pictured, left) is a Portuguese immigrant. He has lived in the United States for 30 years or so. He speaks seven languages. Rita Blanco speaks very good French but she lives in Lisbon, and worked on a film about immigrants a few years ago. They understand so much.

When I met Joaquim de Almeida, it was at the Festival de Cannes at a cocktail beach party. The first thing he said to me was, “There is nothing to eat here!” All they had were those small hors d’oeuvres things and to the Portuguese, food is very important. That was when I first thought, ‘Oh, he could be my character’. He always played the bad boy in these big productions but it would be more interesting to see him as this very humble man.

It was very hard early because I said all my actors had to be Portuguese. But it’s a French movie and my French producers said to me, “Well ok, but we don’t know any Portuguese actors in France.” It was so important to me to create a very real family, even though it is essentially a comedy. It is light but not so light that you can forget the deeper moments. During the shooting, the actors understand that.

Perhaps your greatest accomplishment is that it achieves such a precise balance between giddy joy and a deeper reality…?

Well, that is just life. That is what life is to me. I live my life like that and I love that I was able to have that in the movie, several emotions all working in balance. That was always in the script because I am like that, that is where I write from. It was important to me to have a story where you could be laughing but then, suddenly, things get deeper.

Does that explain why it is travelling so well? Why audiences and critics are relating to these people?

First of all, it is a declaration of love for my parents; an honest, very human situation that we talk about truthfully. Everything is so complicated and so fast and so rude today (laughs), life is not so simple. Maybe this movie offers something warm and simple. Maybe we are all immigrants a little bit, or sometimes feel displaced, which I think is why the movie has touched so many people. 

The Gilded Cage from Palace Films is in Australian cinemas from December 12; Ruben Alves will be attending special Q&A screenings during his visit. Full details here.

Sunday
Dec012013

LOOK WHO'S TALKING: THE SILENT FILM CAREER OF BABY PEGGY

Peggy-Jean Montgomery, the child star who would come to be adored by a nation as ‘Baby Peggy’, was the biggest silent film star on the planet. In Vera Irewerbor’s revealing new documentary Baby Peggy: The Elephant in the Room, the star, now a spritely 95 years old, recounts the height of her fame, the system that allowed her carers to squander her fortune, surviving mental illness and destitution and becoming a fierce advocate for film industry child labour laws.

On a day trip to Century Studios with her mother and a family friend in early 1920, a producer noticed the adorable Peggy-Jean sitting on a stool. Needing a foil to co-star opposite one of the studios most popular stars, a rambunctious dog named Brownie, Montgomery was tested, signed and launched onto the American public.

A natural in front of the camera, Montgomery’s wonderfully expressive face and natural effusiveness helped to make her debut short, Her Circus Man, a national hit. It would be the first of an incredible 18 projects she completed in her first year as a star, her only rival for the affection of the movie-going public being Jackie Coogan, co-star of the Charlie Chaplin classic, The Kid.

Her parents had delusions of their own fame at one point; her father was a true-life cowboy, who had hoped to parlay his work as a stand-in for such western stars as Tom Mix into a leading-man career. Despite a turbulent relationship with her parents, she honoured his legacy when she wrote her first book, Hollywood Posse: The Story of a Gallant Band of Horsemen Who Made Movie History, in 1975.

Century Studios worked their biggest star for all her box office potential. She would make nearly 150 comedic shorts over a three year period, including such popular titles as Playmates, Brownie’s Baby Doll, Little Red Riding Hood, Sweetie and Peggy, Behave! The stardom was unparalleled, although it came at a cost; laws were not in place to protect child stars, and Peggy (at her father’s behest) was working long hours for up to six days a week. She often performed dangerous stunt work, including underwater shoots, running through a burning set and, quite incredibly, being harnessed to the underneath of a speeding train.

Though contracted to Century (for a reported US$1.5million, at the height of her celebrity), she would be released periodically to star in feature-length projects for the majors. Her first was Universal’s The Darling of New York (1923), a prestige tentpole that was released under the ‘Universal Jewels’ banner; strong vehicles for her talent followed, amongst them The Law Forbids, Captain January and The Family Secret.

She was the toast of Los Angeles, her boisterous charisma and playful cheek making her a party favourite. Family friends included Mary Pickford, Douglas Fairbanks, Harold Lloyd and Rudolph Valentino. In 1924, the year that she was chosen to be the celebrity mascot at the Democratic Convention in New York City (pictured, left; with President Franklin Roosevelt), she would steal top-billing from superstar Clara Bow in Helen’s Babies.

But it would prove to be her final starring role for a major studio; her father entered into a row with producer Sol Lesser over pay and contract conditions only to see her contract torn up and his daughter blacklisted from unionised shoots. She resurfaced in 1926 for the Poverty Row cheapie, April Fool, before disappearing from screens altogether for six years. Fate then dealt a particularly cruel blow when a fire tore through the Century Studio lot and many of Baby Peggy’s films were destroyed.

As was the case with fellow child-star Coogan, Montgomery’s parents had taken advantage of their child’s fortune and left her with next to no savings. She turned to vaudeville, committing her life to an endless series of coast-to-coast appearances to make ends meet (a brief comeback in such forgotten talkies as Eight Girls in a Boat went nowhere). It was a particularly dire time for the youngster and set in motion mental health issues which led to a troubled adult life; following a failed marriage, she was hospitalised after a nervous breakdown in the 1950s.

As documented in Iwerebor’s warm and funny documentary, the vibrant Montgomery (pictured, above) has since emerged a true Hollywood legend. Taking the name Diana Serra Cary, she relaunched herself as an author and industry historian, receiving plaudits for her books, Hollywood’s Children: An Inside Account of the Child Star Era, and Whatever Happened to Baby Peggy: The Autobiography of Hollywood’s Pioneer Child Star. A much sought-after speaker on the festival circuit, where the few surviving prints of her silent era work are regularly shown, she resides close to her son Mark and his family in northern California.

Wednesday
Nov202013

JOE SOMEBODY: THE MICHAEL TIERNEY INTERVIEW

(WARNING – Some content is of a graphic, sexually-explicit nature and may offend)   

Michael Tierney has enjoyed a life of hedonistic excess. He was born into the biz (the son of Edward Tierney; the nephew of Laurence Tierney); he indulged his creativity in the independent cinema scene of the 90s (as director of the Melbourne Underground Film Festival entry Evicted in 2000). But his fame came as ‘Joe Blow’, his iconic alter-ego hardcore porn persona. He is the subject of the revealing new documentary The Last Days of Joe Blow, directed by Tierney’s long-time friend and alternative film auteur, Richard Wolstencroft. Ahead of its screening at Monster Fest 2013, Tierney spoke with forthright candour to SCREEN-SPACE from Los Angeles...

When Richard came to you with the idea for his film, what was your first reaction? Were you at a point where you were moving away from the porn career, or did that period of change occur as a result, in some ways, because of the project?

Richard was visiting Los Angeles in early 2009 when he mentioned doing a documentary. I was receptive because when I initially created Joe Blow and entered the adult film business, I always thought that a documentary would be my eject button. Being a filmmaker before entering porn, I always thought a doco would be the natural way to re-enter the film business. And that is what it has become in a way. When Richard offered to do a documentary, I was at a point where I was very successful in porn yet very disillusioned in life. I had already tried quitting porn a few times by then. (pictured, below; Tierney, left, with Wolstencroft)

What were the toughest aspects of laying to rest your alter-ego, ‘Joe Blow’? Did it diminish your personal identity to any degree?

I don't think I had a personal identity any more. I had become Joe Blow. Becoming Joe Blow and being successful in porn, getting people to hire me and pay me to travel the world and bang porn superstars, this took a lot of commitment. I moved to ‘Porn Valley’. I only hung out with porn people. I had completely discarded my old life; staying in touch with only a few old friends. All my new friends called me Joe. I was Gilligan stuck on a paradise island. There was no Michael Tierney any more except when I signed my checks.

The film portrays the industry as a supportive one, in which nice guys like you make friends that last. Given the early loss of your father and the tumultuous relationship with your uncle/guardian, in hindsight, was that acceptance a driving force in you being part of the biz for so long?

I found acceptance in a group of people I found more interesting than Hollywood; rebel filmmakers, strippers, teenage runaways, and ex-cons. Guys in porn have to prove themselves. Once a porn actor does that you're like a made man. There's no reason to quit. Your call time is noon and you’re done by 4pm. You work with beautiful girls. On the surface it's a dream job. There was nothing to go back to.

Just as I would any actor or director, I want to ask about your craft and the technique you employed. What kind of physical connection or, perhaps, disconnection, did you employ at the height of your career? What became your focus before and during the hardcore sex scenes you filmed?

Most important was to get a good night rest. If I was rested I could handle anything. Never jerk off the night before a scene. Don't watch porn. Don't drink and party. Do non-sexual things. Go to the gym. Stay in shape. Live a low key stress free life. When it's your job to fuck for 2 to 4 hours almost every day it becomes a sexual marathon. Pace yourself. Trust your body. Don't worry. You need good vibes on set. If someone is angry or upset it can kill a scene. Small talk with the girl, a joke or two, a bit of indifference. Careful not to kiss her ass if she's a superstar. When the sex happens dive in and have fun. Listen to the director. Don't kiss too much. Take control. Think perverted thoughts. Breath steady. Open up for the camera. Show the penetration. Pull her hair a little. Feature the girl. Cum on cue. Check please!

There is a section in the film in which you descend into the tougher areas of Thailand’s night-life; at one point you intimate, but don’t expand upon, that you’ve done things that you’re not very proud of. How dangerously low did your health/sanity/life go?

In America you have girlfriends that act like whores. In Thailand, you have whores that act like girlfriends. I prefer the latter. The things I wasn't proud of were in the porn business. Scenes where a girl is swallowing 50 loads of cum or doing something in a scene I felt she would regret later. I preferred one on one scenes and small group scenes. Nothing too degrading. Because porn is a discipline and a job, I didn't realize that I had become a sex addict until I quit the business. The depression that I've experienced was partly sex addiction and partly rebuilding a life and identity I had destroyed. The lowest I got was in early 2012, struggling to pay rent in a sleazy motel on the Vegas strip and contemplating homelessness over paying the $135 weekly bill. Drugs were never my problem. Getting a job and fitting into society again has been my problem.

You’ve been out of the porn industry now for three years; the film ends on a man seeking out a new career and, more importantly, a new sense of self. How are things working out? And is there ever the urge to resurrect ‘Joe Blow’?

If you make a promise to yourself it's easy to break. This was another reason to participate in Richard's documentary. As uncomfortable as it was looking at myself, being looked at in this way, struggling with my life in public, I knew it was my best chance to get out of the business and stay out. I retired Joe Blow in September 2010. I left on high note. I had money, I was well liked, and I'd just travelled the world and banged a 1000 girls. I was done. Since leaving the business I've turned down many offers to return, and I've had every reason and excuse to re-enter the business. I've had to give up every comfort and addiction in life. I currently live on a friends couch in Los Angeles. My budget is $500 per month, but I have no debts. I don't own a phone or a car. I make phone calls through the internet. I work on my laptop designing websites for friends. I run Uncle Larry's website and others. It's become a Zen thing for me now. (And I’ve gone) from being a porn star to being celibate. I can't say I always love it but I am a man of extremes.