Hon Associate Professor; Programmer, Antenna Documentary Film Festival
|De stilte rond Christine M.
|Dance, Girl, Dance
|Daughters of the Dust
|The Body Beautiful
|The Back of Beyond
De stilte rond Christine M.
Playing with silence and sound, absence and presence, this is an uncompromising and powerful feminist film. Turning the murder mystery genre on its head, it baffled and angered many men when first released, and continues to do so. There's a scene close to the end where women from various walks of life, none of whom know each other, laugh together in solidarity; their laughter is so infectious that it jumps out of the frame and off the screen entirely to land in me, and I can't stop laughing, either. It's a film about, by, and for the sisterhood. I love this film.
Denis' exploration of masculinity and homoerotcism shimmers and dazzles me with its intensity and cinematic genius. Denis Lavant's performance is mesmerising. His fluid, narcissistic, erotic dance in the final scene comes high in my top ten all-time great cinematic dances. (David Gulpilil's dance in Nicolas Roeg's Walkabout comes top.)
There are several fine films about the horror and criminal insanity of nuclear warfare – Peter Watkins' tele 'docudrama' The War Game made a deep impression on my politics in my teens – but I think Imamura's Black Rain is truly great. It may not be his best film (an accolade I award to The Insect Woman) but Black Rain is a great film. I would like any and everyone who justifies the existence of nuclear weapons to watch this film. Message to Messrs Putin, Xi and Kim: if you have 123 minutes free one evening I'd be happy to show you this film. Come to think of it, Australia hasn't signed the UN nuclear weapon ban treaty, so I extend my invitation to our current PM, Anthony Albanese, or any subsequent Aussie PM who hasn't had the political intelligence and courage to sign.
Choosing between this and Akerman's other great film, Jeanne Dielman, wasn't easy. But apart from a predilection for documentaries, I was won over by how in D'est she points her camera at time and waiting, and the creative way in which she explores the relationship between time and place. Akerman takes her time and that's the pleasure of seeing this film. I've often been puzzled by the conundrum of how to film that which no longer exists, or doesn't yet exist, and this film offers suggestions while not claiming to provide the solution.
Dance, Girl, Dance
Maureen O'Hara (Judy) and Lucille Ball's (Bubbles) incandescent performances ensnare me. Judy's determined dressing down of the men in the audience (in the film's narrative and those watching the film) makes me stand up and cheer. Oh how I wish Gwen Allen's Sueleen Gay in Robert Altman's Nashville had seen this film.
Daughters of the Dust
I love everything about this film – the cinematography, sound, editing, costuming, hairstyling and performances are all a triumph. I also love how it blurs boundaries, deepens my understanding of borders and border-crossings, the role of language in defining a people, and how it infiltrates Beyoncé's Lemonade. Small wonder it has recently been restored and re-released. And praise be to all the film restorers in the global cinema community.
The Body Beautiful
Since first seeing this film, its startling images of mother and daughter, their bodies, their courage and their love refuse to disappear from my memory. And nor do I want them to. It's little-known gem, a great film that deserves much more recognition.
The Back of Beyond
In the 2012 critics' poll, Sylvia Lawson wrote: "after the work of Chris Marker, the distinction between feature and documentary is simply out of date…" This film supports – indeed, predates – her argument. When Head of the Australian Shell Film Unit, Heyer was commissioned to make a film that captured "the essence of Australia". And so he did. Following in the tracks of outback postman Tom Kruze, with only an Aboriginal child for company, as he drives through the desert of central Australia delivering the mail, Lawson explains that Heyer’s film asks audiences "to remember hopelessness, to think of central Australia as a place we [white settlers] might visit and even live in, but one where we could never properly belong". It's a mythopoetic work, a strange and strangely beguiling film. As Lawson says: "In any kind of genre theory The Back of Beyond shouldn’t work, but it does." It's a great film and my favourite Australian film (closely followed by Raymond Longford's 1918 The Sentimental Bloke).
Here's another film that makes redundant the distinction between drama and documentary. There are several hugely talented First Nation filmmakers in Australia today at the forefront of Australian cinema. For me, Sen is at the forefront of this wave. Sen is best known for his Mystery Road (cinema and television) films and series but I think Toomelah is his finest work of art. He wove his screenplay around his observations of the community where his mother grew up. His film speaks to indigenous/settler, local/national and international/global political and cinematic relationships. Toomelah visualises a disruptive, postcolonial space: a borderland in need of a border. Sen’s vision of the land and landscape of Indigenous peoples whose sense of belonging to a nation that is otherwise ignored or denied by dominant white settler Australia shows him to be a sojourner in his own nation. One who's engaged in a practice that frames borders as a site of potential cultural encounter rather than of exclusion. Its determined optimism and belief in education moves me deeply.
This isn't my favourite film by this great Kurdish-Turkish filmmaker – his directorial debut, Ümut/Hope, is – but Yöl possesses an undeniable aura of 'greatness'. He wrote, shot-listed and planned it down to the smallest detail while in prison on a trumped up charge of murder. His friend and fellow filmmaker, Gören, carefully carried out Güney's instructions. Güney and the rushes were then spirited out of Turkey to Europe where he gained political asylum in France. He was able to edit the film in time for the Cannes Festival where it won the Palme d'Or (jointly with Costa Gavras' Missing). The prison you see in the opening sequence is the one from which he escaped and the prison guard's voice you hear barking orders on the loudspeaker is his. What a life! What a film!
For many years now, my top favourite films, and the films I see most often, are Man With A Movie Camera (Dziga Vertov), Some Like It Hot (Billy Wilder), Seven Samurai (Kurosawa Akira), The Wizard of Oz (Victor Fleming), and two from Agnes Varda, Gleaners & I and Cléo from 5 to 7. But after agonising, I chose ten films (listed in no particular order) that I love, think are great works of filmic art, never fail but to move and astonish me, I take every opportunity to show my students, and I suspect won't appear on that many other lists.
I am desolate to have neglected many films that I love deeply, especially these: Night Mail (Harry Watt and Basil Wright), Sweetie (Jane Campion), Moolaadé (Ousmane Sembène), Late Spring (Ozu Yasujirō), The Sentimental Bloke (Raymond Longford); The Hour of the Furnaces (Octavio Getino and Fernando Solanas), Wavelength (Michael Snow), The Act of Seeing With One's Own Eyes (Stan Brakhage), Ikiru (Kurosawa Akira), Battle of Algiers (Gillo Pontecorvo), I Am Cuba (Mikhail Kalatozov). Strange to tell, and I don’t really understand why, but no films by several filmmakers who I consider great have made it on my list: Tsai Ming-liang, Frederick Wiseman, Wong Kar Wai, Chris Marker, Zhangke Jia, Robert Altman and John Ford.