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Thursday, 8 December 2016

Defending Cinephilia 2016 (5) - Tanner Tafelski sends in a Trio of Personal Defences

1.    Jack Sargeant’s Flesh and Excess: On Underground Film

I read few film books this year, but I’m happy to have spent time with Jack Sargeant’s latest book. Flesh and Excess is an essential and necessary book because it covers a period woefully neglected for a type of film that gets little attention in the first place—the underground film. This book is a gift, for Sargeant covers underwritten films from not just the 1970s and 1980s, but also the 1990s and 2000s, paying special attention to Mark Hejnar’s Affliction (1996), Todd Philips’ Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies (1993), as well as the works of Aryan Kaganof and Usama Alshaibi.

2.    Bill Ackerman’s Supporting Characters podcast

Supporting Characters debuted back in March, and it has quickly become one of my favorite film podcasts, along with Mike White’s Projection Booth, Karina Longworth’s You Must Remember This, Peter Labuza’s The Cinephiliacs, and Tom Sutpen’s Illusion Travels By Streetcar. Each hour-to-three-hour podcast highlights a person (mostly people from the United States) who’s doing their part in adding to the film conversation, whether that’s publishing a zine like Jeremy Richey’s Art Decades, programming films like Philip Bresler, writing about cinema (Heather Drain, Samm Deighan, Mark Walkow, Violet Lucca, Travis Crawford, Kier-La Janisse and more), or doing a combination of all these activities and more.  

Phillipe Grandrieux

3.    Philippe Grandrieux’s Unrest exhibition at Harvard University

It’s certainly not the most groundbreaking exhibit like Laura Poitras’ Astro Noise at the Whitney or the Bruce Conner show at MoMA, but it was a memorable one for me. February and March were Grandrieux months, for I finally saw Meurtrière (2015) and Malgré la nuit (2015). Soon after, I made the trip to Boston with my friend Jason Evans, proprietor of the swell This Long Century. We then spent a brief spell with Grandrieux himself. If you get the chance, meet your heroes.   

Tanner Tafelski is a cinephile and writer based in New York City 

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

my father - Poetry by Bill Hannan

my father dealt in dicta
I’m a Labor man he’d say
they fed a lot of canaries white bread
and they all died he’d announce
sausage wrapper he interjected
when the orator quoted The Herald

since he was a sheep man
who could tell the value of wool
by testing a fleece with his hand
I took him to a film about droving
but at the opening scene he snorted
crossbreds  and fell asleep

terse he was but he had a dream
I could see it in his eyes
as he narrowed them to scan
what lay beyond the horizon
a land where roses grew
and eucalypts prayed to lost gods

as old men are wont to do
he went to bed to die
he stayed there for a while
dreaming of the plains
he’s gone now past the horizon
and is camped where the roses grow

Editor's Note: Bill Hannan was my English and French teacher at Moreland High School in the early sixties, He has remained an engaged and engaging figure with active interests across local and Australian history, literature, politics and the arts. This is the thirteenth poem published on the Film Alert blog, an unusual element of the offering but one which has caused some very large page view numbers to occur.

But times change, things happen and now Bill has his own website where he'll be posting not only his poetry but some other stuff about his life and his talented family of poets, musicians, teachers and all round active people. You can find it by clicking here

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

NISHIKAWA Miwa - Michael Campi draws attention to a new talent from Japan

Nishikawa Miwa
If you haven't already done so, try to see some works by the Japanese director Nishikawa Miwa. After working with Kore-eda Hirokazu through the late 1990s, she has now directed five features and provided episodes for portmanteau short story films. Last weekend in Melbourne  the Japanese FF  concluded with her latest, THE LONG EXCUSE, which is an exceptionally nuanced drama about dealing with the expected grief that normally follows the accidental death of a partner. But here we can see that love on both sides has completely eroded in the exquisitely developed opening scene.

A successful writer has arranged a tryst with his girlfriend on the night that his wife goes away on a holiday with a lady friend and their bus has a tragic accident. The writer discovers that tending to the more urgent needs of the other bereaved man and his two children can be so fulfilling.
The Long Excuse
Superficially like Kore-eda perhaps but it has a very different tone. Developing the script from her own novel may explain the intensity of character development. Performances including the two children are flawless.  Her films SWAY and DREAMS FOR SALE have done festival trails. I believe all the previous features are available with English subtitles from the usual sources of Asian films like YesAsia and

Defending Cinephilia 2016 (4) - Peter Hourigan on Streaming, Blogs, Animation, Restorations and more

The nature of cinephilia is constantly in flux, and at times keeping up with what’s happening or important can be a challenge.  So, with the face-saving proviso that if I did this tomorrow it might be very different, here goes.

STREAMING and all the new delivery systems.
Technology has raced way ahead of me. I never quite got into Pay-TV. And I haven’t yet signed up for one of the streaming networks.  But I have to acknowledge that so much more content (at least in quantity) is available this way.  Apart from the subscription behemoths like Netflix, we’re starting to see smaller pay per view services with more ‘curated’ offerings.  See for example Senses of Cinema dipping its toe into this pond. Some of the streaming services are initiating their own content in ‘long form’ and some of this has been outstanding.(The Night Of  from HBO,  Mozart in the Jungle from Amazon Studios).But the technology can also work to stop you seeing that special film or series.  Geoblocking is becoming more effective, and so in Australia we can find ourselves more locked out of access to films that should be part of the whole world’s cultural resources, and valuable works that once would have become DVDs we could get are disappearing.

Another problem with all this on-line material is simply knowing what’s out there and where it is.  One effect of the internet technologies has been the explosion of opinions too often from people who haven’t got much worth saying. 
Kristin Thompson & David Bordwell
But there are always the exceptions. Probably top of my list would be Observations on Film Art, the blog site for David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson .  It’s a reliable site for insightful pieces into both new films and classics, a stepping stone to material you didn’t know about, or to a better understanding of something you did know already.     

And let’s not forget Film Alert 101, and say thanks to Geoff Gardner for this.  It’s evolved into a wonderful and rich source for a range of comments from a range of people with interesting comments on film, and a place with important information on happenings in the wider film scene.

Cover of the James Layton & David Pierce book
This 1930 two-strip Technicolor musical directed by John Murray Anderson has been rolling out around the world this year in a new restoration.  But it’s not the film itself that gets the place in my llst, but the book by James Layton and David Pierce on the film, its creation and its fullest context, and the story of its life from its first release to the emergence of the restoration.  This detail is fascinating and rich. Layton and Pierce produced the wonderful The Dawn of Technicolor a year or two back.  This new book has the same depth of research, and gathering of wonderful material to illustrate its content.  The irony perhaps of this standard setter of a book on an individual film is that the authors themselves recognise that the film has, to say the least, limitations. Here, the book is greater than the film. 

Which provides a segue into acknowledging another important aspect of current cinephilia – the restoration.  Perhaps it’s not fair that we cinephiliacs love a medium that has turned out to be so fragile. So let’s honour those scholars and lab. workers who are putting in so much work into discovering, rescuing and restoring our cinema heritage so we can continue to love it.  And this lets me honour Bologna’s Cinema Ritrovato where so many new restorations are launched into a new life. This year, this ranged from mere fragments from the very first years of Cinema, silent masterpieces such as Fritz Lang’s Der müde tod (1921), French ‘forties works like Quai des Orfèvres (1947) and Adieu Bonaparte (1985) from Egypt’s Youssef Chahine.  A sign of the ephemeral nature of film – even Scorsese’s somewhat recent (1993) The Age of Innocence has been restored.

Animation is not one of most favourite genres. Most of the time, we only seem to have access to technically accomplished, superficially polished and empty works like so much from the big American studios. But this year several animations came my way that gave me such pleasure, and showed what could be achieved. The Red Turtle (Michaël Dudok de Wit) was promising, using animation to explore a story with significant ideas to be explored, but ultimately it was let down by a rather lifeless animation style, especially for the major characters. But then came My Life as a Courgette and Kubo and the Two Strings.  Courgette  ( Claude Barras), showed animation could explore childhood angst and resilience with warmth and intelligence and humour. Céline Sciamma, one of the scriptwriters and the director of some other telling French films (e.g. Girlhood), was surely an important contributor.  And Kubo and the Two Strings (Travis Knight) has been one of my most delightful joys in a cinema this year, and I shared my excitement at the time, thanks to Geoff’s blog (see comments above!)  and you can click through again here.

Peter Hourigan is a Melbourne based writer and teacher.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Defending Cinephilia 2016 (3) - Editor's Choice and Explanatory Note

'Defending Cinephilia' was the phrase invented I believe by my friend Robert Koehler, an astute critic and programmer and one commentator who has looked a little down the road to see where we're heading. So this series of end of year posts is intended to provide cinephiles with opportunities to both write and read about the things that gave people heart in pursuing the cause of keeping the art of the cinema front and centre. The first post by Adrian Martin rounded up, with his usual exuberance, a host of activity that gives a good lead about the things that matter - quality TV, specialist festivals, institutional enthusiasm and just sitting down to soak up a movie. The second contribution by Rod Bishop segued us into resetting our manner of viewing in the Trump era.

Contributions are welcome. My thought is for three to five items per person but no real restrictions apply, yet at least and brevity is always best. Send stuff for posting to me at

Off we go....

Bologna Catalogue Cover, 2016,
30th Anniversary
1. Bologna's Cinema Ritrovato remains the gold standard of public events devoted to bringing back the cinema's past. The general air of goodwill, the easy Italian style arrangements (actually some find this a reason not to go), the ever-lurking potential for surprise, the generous meal breaks - all bespeak an approach that welcomes cinephiles to the world of restorations, revivals, film history, scholarship and the sheer joy of unexpected discovery. And the great thing is the crowds are made up of many more beyond white haired oldies, (though Bologna's annual DVD awards remain resolutely male, old and white all over top to bottom).

Govett Brewster Gallery, home of the Len Lye Foundation
New Plymouth, New Zealnd
2. A trip to the Shaky Isles. Taking off for the North Island two days after Kaikora and Wellington copped some wild 7.8 shudders ("I really thought this was it. I was going to die." said a friend in Wellington a week or so later.) involved a bit of trepidation but on arrival hey... For cinephiles, two institutions, the remarkable Govett Brewster Gallery in New Plymouth incorporating the Len Lye Foundation, and Ngā Taonga Sound & Vision in Wellington bespeak what natural enthusiasm can do to bring film's past back.  
Age of Shadows, Kim Jee-woon, South Korea
3. The Current Cinema. I used to get invited to contribute to the Senses of Cinema Annual Poll and always had odd feelings drawing up lists of films seen in all sorts of odd places, especially old films seen at Bologna or on disc from sources that might sometimes even be called the dark side. This year I estimate I saw round a hundred movies just rocking up to the beloved local Randwick Ritz, the Event Cinemas at Bondi Junction and George St and occasionally the Chauvel, the Verona and the Dendy Newtown. (The Dendy has great seats in its extended section though nothing rivals the comfort in the so-called  V-MAX theatres at Bondi Junction.) So, the highlights of this selection, solid commercial movies, all seen at commercial venues:
45 Years  (Andrew Haigh, UK)
Age of Shadows (Kim Jee-woon, South Korea)
Beasts of No Nation (Cary Jo Fukunaga, USA)
Down Under (Abe Forsythe, Australia)
Hell or High Water (David Mackenzie, USA)
Hunt for the Wilderpeople (Taika Waititi, New Zealand)
Julieta (Pedro Almodovar, Spain)
Rams (Grimo Hakonarson, Iceland)
Shanghai (Dibarkar Bannerjee, India)
Snowden (Oliver Stone, USA)
Spear (Steven Page, Australia)
Spotlight (Tom McCarthy, USA)
Trumbo (Jay Roach, USA)

4. TV Drama - Watching multi-episode dramas has become the go to activity and discovering the new is as thrilling as those long ago moments when you started tracking down a new favourite director (Robert Aldrich!, Budd Boetticher! Seth Holt! Blake Edwards!....ahhh such memories). But relentlessly HBO, AMC, the BBC and more, including in Europe, are making cinephile lives more home bound and sedentary. 2016 highlights included, in the order seen and not mentioning the designated series, Show Me a Hero, The Bridge, Luther, Mr Robot, Cartel Land, Black Mirror, Homeland, Spiral, And Then There Were None, The Night Manager, Happy Valley, House of Cards, Better Call Saul, The Americans, Gomorrah, Bloodline, The Night Of, Baron Noir  and Narcos. (Goodness a lot of sitting down there.)

5. ...and the great absence When you discover enthusiasm in unlikely places like Wellington or New Plymouth you get a serious reminder of how Sydney has been let down by the failure to establish at least one, preferably more, film institution of the kind established in Melbourne and Brisbane especially. The state institutions in NSW are restricted to Robert Herbert's often fine selections of films to screen on 16mm or 35mm at the AGNSW and there have been in recent times some erratically presented screenings at the MCA. Not good enough by a long streak. My taxes are not working.

6. ...and the best Australian film of the year. I lament that the best Australian film I saw during the year, Molly Reynolds (and David Gulpilil's) Another Country (Australia, 2015), has not even, a year or more after its premiere, had a public screening in Sydney let alone caused discussion and celebration to break out all round. I feel further sadness that no one anywhere, not just in Sydney, wants to put on a screening of my friend Peter Tammer's The Nude in the Window a wonderful final tribute to the life and career of the late Paul Cox. I fear there will be ever more such films out there and our rickety systems of exhibition of locally produced independent work are letting toiling film-makers down big time.