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Entries in Obituary (2)

Monday
Dec182017

VALE CHRIS MURRAY

Fans, filmmakers and a global network of friends are mourning the shock passing of Chris Murray, a beloved, passionate advocate of Australian film culture. Via a public Facebook post written in his final days, the multi-hyphenate talent was frank about his yearlong battle with aggressive bladder cancer and his wish to fight the disease without burdening his friends with the news. He wrote, "I didn't want to worry people and by the time it got away from me I wasn't sure what to say." His last words to his friends and followers were, "We all had awesome times together. Remember me and us that way. I love you all. Much love, Muzz." He succumbed to the disease this morning, December 19, just before dawn, surrounded by family and close friends. He was 45.

A life consumed by film was given focus when he saw Martin Scorsese’s Goodfellas at age 18. “[My dad] said to me, ‘I’ll think you’ll like this, son’,” Murray recalled in a 2014 profile for Sydney Film School. “When I came out of the cinema, I really wanted to f**k shit up. I really wanted to get involved. No other film has affected me as much as that.” (Full interview below). After a stint selling advertising space in the street magazine 9 to 5, the 23 year-old Murray took the helm of Australian Playboy as Managing Editor in 1999, for what would be a brief tenure but one that paid huge dividends for the passionate film lover.

In November of that year, he fronted the launch of the first international edition of the iconic British film monthly, Empire, taking on the role of Editor and staffing the local office with some of Australia’s best-known film writers. He oversaw four years of circulation growth in a publishing sector faced with a shrinking ad market; his infectious passion for cinema, keen business acumen and warm personality proved endearing, affording him access to talent from all sectors of the Australasian industry. 

Murray’s laconic yet passionate presentation skills, cool personal style and encyclopaedic understanding of film, television and music did not go unnoticed by the broadcast sector. He took on-air roles as film reviewer for The Seven Network’s top-rating Sunrise show (2002-2007) and Austereo’s flagship FM station, Triple M (2002-2006). He emerged as one of Australia’s most informed entertainment industry voices, lending his knowledge and profile to such outlets as ABC 702 Sydney and 5AA Adelaide; the cable channels Showtime (where he hosted the popular ‘Movie Club’ show) and The Movie Network; and, as contributor for FOX News USA and The Nine Network. In addition to Empire, his writing would be published in Rolling Stone, FHM, Smash Hits, Kerrang!, Stack and The Walkley.

Of the many great legacies left by Chris Murray, it may be the 6½ years he spent as the Creative Director of the film celebration society Popcorn Taxi that most profoundly impacted our film culture. In November 2007, under the freewheeling principle, 'We love movies. You love movies. We should definitely hang out...', Murray (alongside Peter Taylor, his co-principal at the media company Neon Pictures) took creative control of the screening-and-Q&A event format established in 1999 by Gary Doust and Matt Wheeldon.

It proved the perfect platform for Murray’s vast film knowledge and warm interpersonal skills. Under his stewardship, the Popcorn Taxi interviewee roster boasted such names as Jerry Lewis, Vince Gilligan, Andrew Stanton, Karen Allen, Joel Edgerton, Richard Kelly, Brian Trenchard-Smith, David Michod, Rob Zombie and Quentin Tarantino (pictured, right); in 2013, Murray sat with Thor The Dark World star Tom Hiddleston for one of the most popular Popcorn Taxi sessions ever held. When interviewed by SBS Movies in 2009 as part of Popcorn Taxi 10th anniversary celebrations, Murray exhibited the spirit of a true showman, stating, “Every show is the Be all and End all. Everyone who goes must walk away after it and say, 'f**k that was awesome!'”

Murray left Popcorn Taxi in early 2014, taking a two-year sabbatical from the live Q&A format before launching the live event initiative, P.R.O.M. “The People’s Republic of Movies”. Murray drew on his reputation for the first round of PROM presentations – …Taxi alumni Quentin Tarantino introduced the Australian classics The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith and Mad Dog Morgan; a transcontinental interview with director Tom Ford followed a sneak peek of Nocturnal Animals. In February 2017, he was appointed Head of Media for Xeitgeist Entertainment Group, a multi-faceted production company based in Singapore and Sydney's Fox Studios .

Details of a service for Chris will be announced in the days ahead.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated Chris was 44. He was 45, born in April 1972. Apologies for the error.

Saturday
Sep022017

R.I.P. ALAN CASSELL

For 40 years, one of the most sturdy and reliable character players in the Australian film sector was a Brit expat Alan Cassell. A master of the stage (he featured opposite Lauren Bacall in Sweet Bird of Youth for the Sydney Theatre Company) and a constant presence on local television (27 small-screen credits, including ‘Prime Minister John Gorton’ in the landmark mini-series, Vietnam), Cassell was a cherished cast member in many of the great films of the industry’s boom decades. On the occasion of his passing in Melbourne on August 30 at the age of 85, we honour the memorable moments of Cassell’s rich big screen career… 

CATHY’S CHILD (1979) and HARLEQUIN (1980)
Plying his trade on Australia’s west coast earned Cassell lead parts in two Perth-based productions - Edgar Metcalfe’s dramatic thriller, The Olive Tree (1975) and Terry O’Rourke’s bawdy soft-core romp Plugg (1975). Relocating to the eastern seaboard, roles in the TV series Matlock and a stand-out ‘crooked cop’ role in Bruce Beresford’s ensemble heist hit Money Movers (1978) signalled to the industry that Cassell was that great supporting player who could enliven any narrative.  Director Donald Crombie cast Cassell opposite Michele Fawdon in Cathy’s Child, a powerful drama about a mother determined to get her stolen daughter back; it would earn Fawdon the AFI Best Actress award and secure Cassell a Best Actor nomination (his only nod from the industry body). When casting the pricey genre thriller Harlequin, director Simon Wincer and producer Anthony Ginnane recognised Cassell’s worth and gave him a key role in the 1980 production opposite a cast of international imports including Broderick Crawford, Robert Powell and David Hemmings. (Pictured, right; a promotional lobby card for Cathy's Child, featuring Cassell and star Michele Fawdon)    

BREAKER MORANT (1980), THE CLUB (1980) and PUBERTY BLUES (1981).
On the set of Money Movers, Cassell had developed a strong professional rapport and lasting friendship with his director, Bruce Beresford. The filmmaker drew upon that mutual respect for three films that would come to represent Cassell’s most acclaimed character work. Beresford cast Cassell as pompous Brit officer Lord Kitchener, working against the actor’s working class roots, in the international hit, Breaker Morant. As football club administrator Gerry Cooper, Cassell gave perhaps his finest career performance in Beresford’s adaptation of David Williamson’s The Club, holding his own opposite Jack Thompson, Graham Kennedy and Frank Wilson. In the director’s teen classic Puberty Blues, Cassell played the ‘suburban dad’ to perfection as Mr Vickers, father of Nell Schofield’s wild child beach girl Debbie. (pictured, above; Cassell with Beresford on the set of Money Movers)  

The 1980s: SQUIZZY TAYLOR (1982), THE DARK ROOM (1982), FIRE IN THE STONE (1984) and BELINDA (1988)
Cassell worked to greater acclaim on television for the duration of the 1980s including the lead in Special Squad (an Aussie take on tough Brit police thrillers The Sweeney and The Professionals) and a 14 episode arc on Neighbours. His film work from the period was first rate, though often in service of films that saw minor theatrical seasons before their home video shelf life. Most prominent amongst them was Kevin James Dobson’s period crime thriller Squizzy Taylor, starring David Atkins as the 1920s underworld figure and Cassell as Detective Brophy, the hardened cop out to get him. US director Paul Harmon’s solid potboiler The Darkroom afforded Cassell a rare leading man role in a cast that included Anna Maria Monticelli and Rowena Wallace (and a blink-and-miss bit part for a young Baz Luhrmann). Other films in which Cassell made an impression include Howard Rubie’s romantic bush yarn The Settlement, opposite Bill Kerr, John Jarratt and Lorna Lesley; Gary Conway’s young adult adventure romp The Fire in The Stone, most notable for its origins as a novel from Storm Boy author, Colin Thiele; and, Pamela Gibbon’s semi-autobiographical dance drama Belinda (aka, Midnight Dancer), with Cassell comfortable as the anxious father of Deanne Jeff’s showgirl wannabe. (Pictured, above; a screengrab from The Darkroom, featuring Cassell and co-star, Svet Kovich)

THE HONOURABLE WALLY NORMAN (2003) and STRANGE BEDFELLOWS (2004)
In his final screen appearances, Alan Cassell got to play in two broad comedies, a bigscreen genre that had largely passed him by for most of his career. As his persona softened throughout the 90s with warmer and often very funny parts in TV series like The Flying Doctors, SeaChange and The Micallef Program, producers sought out his effortless charm to enliven their would-be crowdpleasers. In The Honourable Wally Norman, veteran comedy director Ted Emery used Cassell as the pivotal character, boozy politician Willy Norman, who misspells his own name and sets Kevin Harrington’s average Joe ‘Wally Norman’ on a course to Canberra. In Dean Murphy’s gay-themed romp Strange Bedfellows, Cassell plays ‘small country town beffudlement’ with warmth and integrity, opposite leads Paul Hogan and Michael Caton.