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Tuesday, 25 April 2017

WHITELEY - Max Berghouse finds much to admire in James Bogle's new documentary

Whiteley (2017), Australia. James Bogle (Director), James Bogle and Victor Gentile (Writers). Northern Rivers production. With: Brett, Wendy and Arkie Whiteley (archival footage) and Andrew Blaikie (adult Brett Whiteley), Jessica White (Wendy Whiteley) and Olivija Strautins (Arkie Whiteley).

Let us make no mistake. Brett Whiteley was a most prodigious artistic talent. More prodigious perhaps in that he was self-taught. Moving triumphantly, if not serenely, from early adult success in Sydney, to instant recognition in London and thence to New York and the new ingredient of drugs, coupled with an already existing penchant for alcohol, he continued for the rest of his life producing, at least extremely professional work (when under the influence of drugs) and brilliant work when he was on the wagon. Ultimately however, no matter who the artist might be, it is the work that endures. Perhaps the more impressive the work, the less interest one has in the creator. This film was produced with the cooperation of Wendy Whiteley, Brett's former wife, who has made it her life's work to sustain the artistic recognition of Brett. If so, the film benefits from this in that there is an extremely wide display of the work Mr Whiteley produced. Where this work is part of a series, that series is displayed extremely well.

Moreover the film itself is extremely deftly produced. I was rather reminded with the similar, it seems to me, documentary about Florence Broadhurst, Unfolding Florence (Gillian Armstrong, Australia, 2006) with its use of archival stills reproduced in 3D, the photo shopping of characters like Mr Whiteley on the stock footage of places he visited and some colourful CGI. The production values of the film very much match the palette of the painter. Even for someone very familiar with the work, its display in a largely chronological way is interesting. There is a minor gripe with some of the colour stock footage of the European cities Mr Whiteley visited, and also of New York, asked some years outside the specific period of his visit. Some are earlier, some later and this can be shown in a variety of ways, like the vintages of cars on the road and the clothing worn by people, et cetera. But that is a very small glitch.

Inevitably with any focus by an artist on his work, a biography or biographical film is bound to be not linear or full but thematic and it is in the development of the biography of Mr Whiteley that I feel less comfortable. There is archival footage which I imagine very few people have seen and there is also recreated footage with Andrew Blaikie as Whiteley. This is extraordinarily professional as very frequently I could not tell genuine archival footage, from created footage. Mr Whiteley with his pale skin and tangled knot of red hair looking for all the world like an Antipodean Harpo Marx, cannot have been the easiest role to play. But Mr Whiteley seems almost an idiot savant because his intellect, as he expresses what he tries to do in his work, and indeed in explaining what art is about, is infantile and largely incomprehensible, compared to the art itself. I can't tell whether these views came at a time when he was generally affected by drugs, or specifically affected by them when conveying his views, but they are almost embarrassingly puerile. I certainly don't blame Mr Whiteley for this as such because most artists in any creative field find expressing how and why they get to a particular artistic point extremely difficult, if not impossible, and even if they know, they don't particularly wish to reveal their secrets. From the perspective of film however, keeping this footage in, rather than excising it, does leave considerable longueurs. At the screening I attended, some of these views elicited titters of laughter!

I mentioned above my inference of the cooperation of Wendy Whiteley and I merely suggest that perhaps there was some (implied) editorial control over the use of the material. If this be the case, then I'm pretty sure there no mention of the general critical view that Mr Whiteley's work suffered from especially when he was on drugs. It is rather as if the director was given access to a whole range of material and simply used it. He certainly laid this material out well. Whether he used it to the best critical advantage, I'm not sure.

There is consistent use of an interview with Mrs Whiteley. I believe it is a single interview because Mrs Whiteley has only a single position in the take and is dressed in the same clothing. This is interesting in that it seems to have been shot quite a long time ago. Mrs Whiteley looked substantially younger and with her youthful beauty very substantially intact. But whether her very blasé comments about drug ingestion add much to the biography I feel uncertain.

There is also archival footage of Arkie who died tragically young from cancer and was an outstandingly beautiful woman with very considerable talent as an actress.

Modern documentary "lore" is that if in a documentary, one finds material which is entertaining and interesting, rather than merely "critical", the director should go for the interesting and entertaining. This is certainly done in the film and I cannot criticise it as such. My own interest in documentary relate to trying to find something in the subject matter of the documentary which I didn't already know. On that basis, I did not find the film a success. But that is only my own standard. To others, particularly of a generation younger than myself who are less familiar with the works of Mr Whiteley and don't know or don't remember how he blazed across the artistic firmament like an exploding comet, this film is very worthwhile.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Spanish Film Festival (4) - Barrie Pattison on quality crime movie TARDE PARA LA IRA/FURY OF A PATIENT MAN

So far so beaut as the Spanish Film Festival rolls on - a striking contrast to the challenge-free French product that preceded it.

The one advantage of being force-fed a year's worth of Spanish movies in one go is that we start to recognise the talent in depth that is producing them. Raúl Arévalo has interesting actor credits (Cien años de perdón, Balada triste de trompeta, Marshland) and his first film as writer-director Tarde para la ira/Fury of a Patient Man is remarkable, a grubby, super tough ‘scope crime and punishment piece set in the Madrid barrios.

It kicks off with a Gun Crazy reminiscent one take jewellery store robbery, camera behind the getaway driver, which ends with a startling crash.

Not showing the connection, we get to Antonio de la Torre (Volver, Night Manager) in the hospital with a comatose patient and in Raúl Jiménez small bar, a long way distant from de la Torre's comfortable home. This is a world of the men playing cards, first communion parties and the proprietor's waitress sister Ruth Diaz, with a son out of her conjugal jail visits with Luis Callejo (Mi gran noche, Cien años de perdón).

When the hard man comes out it doesn’t look good for her and de la Torre who are getting it on and exchanging intimate text messages.

The power relationship between the two men reverses as we discover that de la Torre, with a shot gun in his car boot, is not what he seems.

Callejo who feels he was let down by the escaped robbers starts seeking out his fellow heist men, cheery Manolo Solo and his reformed associate now scraping a living from a small farm and about to become a father. The man’s happy wife invites them to lunch.

We get screw driver stabbings, the menacing barrio gym, a victim on his knees begging for his life and Callejo, who has snuck a hotel steak knife into his shoe, locked in the car boot while Diaz, waiting in De la Torre’s flat, runs his family videos. We expect she will find the brutal black and white robbery footage where a girl is pounded to death but her discovery is another twist in the film's unpredictable plot line.

This is jolting stuff negotiating a path between reality and crime movie in a way we haven't seen before. Ugly grainy and desaturated filming works for the film. We can’t see who the getaway driver is and the violent material is more plausible. Like most of these, Tarde par la ira and deserves wider distribution than it's likely to get. It develops an iron grip on our attention.

Simenon On Screen (2) - Curiosity about some unknown titles - a second list

Les Caves du Majestic, (France, 1944), Directed by Richard Pottier, Script and adaptation by Charles Spaak. Based on a story published in Maigret revient, Gallimard, 1942.

Cast: Albert Préjean (Commissaire Maigret), Gabriello (Lucas), Suzy Prim (Mme Emilie Petersen), Jean Marchat (M. Petersen), Denise Grey (Mme Van Bell), Jacques Baumer (Arthur Donge), René Génin (Ramuel), Florelle (Charlotte Donge), Gina Manès (Ginette), Jean-Jacques Delbo (Enrico), Charpin (le juge d'instruction), Gabrielle Fontan (la vieille bonne), Denise Bose (Hélène), Robert Demorget (Teddy), Raymond Rognoni (le directeur du Majestic), Maurice Salabert (un inspecteur), Henri Vilbert (le chef cuisinier), Marie-José (la chanteuse), Jeanne Manet, Julienne Paroli, Charlotte Ecard, Marcel Levesque, Georges Chamarat, Marcel Melrac, Emile Genevois, Richard Francœur, Jean-Marie Boyer, Serge Berry, Marius David, Edouard Francomme.

Another of the films produced by the Nazi-managed Continental company. One of three in which Prejean played Maigret in France during the Second World War.

Denise Bose, Albert Prejean, Les Caves du Majestic

Dernier Refuge (France, 1940) Directed by Jacques Constant, Adaptation and dialogues Jacques Constant & André-Paul Antoine. Adapted from Le Locataire, Gallimard, 1934

Cast: Mireille Balin (Sylvie Baron), Georges Rigaud (Elie Davis), Marie Glory (Antoinette Baron), Marcel Dalio (le docteur Karel), Saturnin Fabre (M. Baron), Mila Parély (Jacqueline), Jean Tissier (l'inspecteur Blanc), Christian Argentin (Van der Kruysen), Roge

Equateur (France, 1982) Directed by Serge Gainsbourg, Adaptation and Dialogue by Serge Gainsbourg, Adapted from Le Coup de Lune, Fayard, 1933)

Cast: Barbara Sukowa (Adèle), Francis Huster (Timar), René Kolldehoff (Eugène), François Dyrek (le commissaire), Jean Bouise (le procureur), Julien Guiomar (Bouilloux), Roland Blanche (le borgne), Murray Gronwall (le forestier), Stéphane Bouy (le colporteur), Franck-Olivier Bonnet (le Lyonnais), Daniel Odim Bossoukou (le boy Thomas), Viviane Assinga (la petite fille), Emmanuel Mapagha (l'accusé pendu), Pauline Bilalou (la jeune danseuse), Paul Olamba (le pinassier), Diata Nduma Dominique (le chef des pagayeurs), Yimbounga Nomba (l'interprète), Fidele Bouka (le pendu par les pieds), Denis Antchouet (le camionneur), René Sonnet (un habitué du Central Hôtel), Alain Bernabeu (un autre habitué du Central Hôtel), Akagha Gaspart (un Noir au tribunal), Gérard Renauld (un client du Central Hôtel), Jean Martin Lœmbet (un boy noir), pêcheurs du Cap Esterias Yville (les 12 pagayeurs).

Sunday, 23 April 2017

AFTRS Update - The current state of the appointment of a new Council Chair

April 23, 2017

Editor's Note: Avid readers of the blog may recall more than a little attention to the happenings at the Australian Film Television & Radio School. In particular attention was paid to the major fall in the number of directors being produced. You can read the story if you click here.

More recently there has been some continuing curiosity, at least from this blog if not from the Murdoch, Fairfax, Guardian or ABC, as to why the Turnbull Government can't extract the collective digit and appoint a successor to the badly done by Juliane Schultz whose appointment as Council Chair was extended by only a single year and not by the standard five offered to every one of her predecessors.

Professor Schultz's appointment concluded on March 9 so we're well into the second month of waiting to know whom it is that Senator Mitch Fifield, the Minister for Communications and the Arts, and the Prime Minister, in whose electorate the School resides, have settled upon. With the Turnbull Government and Mitch in particular you assume some likelihood that a mate is being lined up but confirmation would be nice. 

As a reminder, an earlier polite query to Mitch's office caused this response to be received from a very senior official of the Government. At last count today several hundred readers had had a read of this note. 

Dear Mr Gardner

Thank you for your email of 22 March 2017 to Senator the Hon Mitch Fifield Minister for Communications and the Arts, I am responding on his behalf.*

The timing of appointments to the Australian Film, Television and Radio School is a matter for government. An announcement will be made once these appointments have been finalised.

The Australian Film, Television and Rdio School Act 1973 allows the Council to continue to operate during a vacancy in the position of Chair, and that Council meetings can be convened by the Deputy Chair, ensuring that the Council will continue to be expertly guided while the appointment process takes place.

I trust this information is of assistance.

Yours sincerely

Lyn Allan
Assistant Secretary
Creative Industries

Since then nothing, though it should be noted that  the AFTRS website still features a photograph of Professor Schultz. However, if you click the button marked Council her name no longer appears. As for Mitch, recent activity on the page listing his media announcements includes "Government tables response to Senate Committee inquiry: Harm being done to Australian children through access to pornography on the Internet".  Very important I agree.