Set at a girls’ boarding school in 1900, shot with dreamy sunlit photography, scored with Zamfir panpipes, and run through with an inexplicable tension. Great mood movie, providing no answers at the end, made fifteen years after unsolved disappearance drama L’Avventura.

The girls go on a field trip to the base of a mountain, are “forbidden any tomboy foolishness in the matter of exploration,” except for mute Sarah who is forced to stay behind at the school, which seems to be a place where rich girls wear all white and learn poetry. During naptime, four girls get up and walk up the mountain, led by Miranda (Anne-Louise Lambert of The Draughtsman’s Contract) and separately I think, a teacher also wanders off. One girl, complainy Edith, runs back screaming. The rest awaken, search until dark then return to the school.

After a days-long search party, rich Michael (Dominic Guard, the lead boy in The Go-Between five years earlier) and servant Albert (John Jarratt, baddie of Wolf Creek), young men who witnessed the girls at one point, begin their own search and come across one of the missing girls, who requires medical treatment and finally leaves the school, never speaking to anyone about what happened or where the others might be.

Albert wearing Michael’s hat:

Principal Mrs. Appleyard (Rachel Roberts of O Lucky Man) tells mute Sarah, whose best friend is still missing, that her bills haven’t been paid and she’ll be sent to an orphanage. Sarah commits suicide, which is the last straw in the school’s quickly failing reputation. Weird detail: Albert is revealed as Sarah’s long-lost brother, though I don’t think they ever meet. In postscript, the school closes and Mrs. Appleyard dies attempting to climb the mountain.

Sarah with Principal Appleyard:

Also in the movie: Jacki Weaver (who I just saw as a murdered aunt in Stoker) as a sexy maid.

V. Canby:

Horror need not always be a long-fanged gentleman in evening clothes or a dismembered corpse or a doctor who keeps a brain in his gold fish bowl. It may be a warm sunny day, the innocence of girlhood and hints of unexplored sexuality that combine to produce a euphoria so intense it becomes transporting, a state beyond life or death. Such horror is unspeakable not because it is gruesome but because it remains outside the realm of things that can be easily defined or explained in conventional ways.

E. Roginski for Film Quarterly:

The use of Gheorghe Zamphier’s Pan Pipes is insidious and mesmerizing. The notes from the pipes, echoing an ageless music of the hills begins early in the film to indicate the powerful presence of something primeval. It is played in counter-point to the sophisticated music of Beethoven’s Fifth Piano Concerto, the music of the civilized world. These two strains of music, then, struggle for attention and dominance throughout the film.

So this is where Toni Collette came from. She plays a loser from a hopeless family in a nowhere town trying to impress her nobody friends, who moves to the city and finally (and convincingly, not all-at-once in a cheap montage) finds herself (alongside dark-haired friend Rachel Griffiths). Writer/director Hogan later made My Best Friend’s Wedding and a version of Peter Pan.

A silent film in the style of 1907 and shot using a hand-crank camera, with lots (oh, lots) of start-stop disappearance effects, not at all like The Artist or the films of Guy Maddin – more of an anarchic keystone homage.

Bald Dr. Plonk has a bearded deaf/dumb assistant Paulus, a “winsome” wife, and a trick-performing dog (appropriately credited with the others in the opening titles).

Tragic calculations! Triple-checked!

Plonk tells the Prime Minister’s advisors (with hilariously fake facial hair) of his discovery, but they don’t believe him – so he invents a time machine (in about five minutes) to travel into our present and find proof of his theory. Meanwhile, Paulus pads the film by taking the dog for walks as a pretense for hitting on married women in the park. Paulus, deaf and not too smart, is put in charge of time machine operation as Plonk mistakenly travels backwards and is set alight by natives.

Paulus is then sent as a test subject and lands a hippie chick, then Plonk continues his experiments, photographing present-day industrial sites, “so this is what the end looks like.” Train gags, era-specific misunderstandings, a slight bit of stop-motion, and an anti-television joke that would make Tashlin proud.

Plonk’s wife keeps an eye on Paulus:

Plonk can’t seem to bring home his evidence that the future is a wasteland, so he brings the game Prime Minister along to 2007, where they find the present-day PM less approachable. It all ends with a madcap chase in a warehouse between plenty of cops and the surprisingly athletic main cast. The former PM gets to sit in a straightjacket entranced by television, while Plonk…

At first glimpse I thought De Heer made this before Ten Canoes, but no, he made it before TWELVE Canoes, the documentary follow-up.

I probably put off watching this for so long because I’d written down years ago that I’d already seen it, in the dark days of the pre-blog era. No recollection of any scenes while watching, so that must’ve been in error. Based on a novel, though I wonder how much of the original writing is left after Roeg got through with it. Roeg’s first movie with a solo directing credit. Jenny Agutter (“the girl”) went on to star in An American Werewolf in London and Child’s Play 2, Nic Roeg’s son Luc (“white boy”) is now a producer, worked on Spider and We Need to Talk About Kevin, and David Gulpilil, only 18 when this came out, became the most reliable Aboriginal actor from The Last Wave to Ten Canoes.

The kids are on a picnic with their father, when he starts shooting at them then torches the car and kills himself. Hardly fazed, the kids walk off into the wasteland. But we know from Man Who Fell To Earth and Insignificance that human emotion isn’t Roeg’s strong suit, so we focus on the visuals and editing, which are amazing and strange. For instance, mid-film there’s a page-turn transition giving the brief impression that the whole thing is a storybook. And in the middle of a cross-fade, one of the two overlapping scenes cuts to a different shot – you don’t do that!

Plenty of wildlife. Cool lizards, parakeets, cockatoos, hawks and things I don’t even know what they’re called. But it’s not a good movie to watch just for the pretty wildlife, unless you’re prepared to see David G. spear some kangaroos.

All sorts of extras on the Criterion release, which I need to get sometime. Meanwhile I’ve got P. Ryan’s essay from the website:

Toward the film’s end, it is the turn of the young aborigine to display, by means of a sexually charged ritual dance directed at the girl. The girl’s fearful rejection of him leads to another major change from the novel. There, the native boy dies from a virus to which he would not have been exposed if not for his encounter with these outsiders; in the film, the young man takes his own life. A film with two suicides and a delicately sensual nude scene was never destined for the label of “children’s classic,” and yet one can sense that Roeg has trust in the reaction of an adolescent audience, for he is speaking the truth of adolescence to us all.

Not that I’m a brilliant postcolonial scholar over here, but I saw more to David’s death than sexual rejection. When he finds the stupid white kids, they’re desperate and dehydrated. He shows them how to find food and water, leads them on a days-long hike to the place where he thinks the girl is asking to be led. She just wants her own civilization, but he bypasses roads and houses, leaving them to an abandoned farmhouse. Once there, she stops acting as his equal or follower, goes inside and cleans up, leans out the window with a bucket asking him for water, which he fetches. Now she’s in her element, and his role is to be her servant. Then a few scenes contrasting his traditional hunting methods with the shooting massacre of a rifle-toting white man – with jarring freezes and reverse photography. The mating dance seems like he’s defensively embracing his traditions and manhood, too late.

Afterwards one of the great endings, Petulia-reminiscent, as she’s back in her high apartment listening to some man talk about boring business, having a flashback to when she swam naked and free with a stranger in the outback. More from Ryan:

Much has been written about the “fragmented” style that Roeg has employed in so many of his films — Don’t Look Now, The Man Who Fell to Earth, and Bad Timing all play with linear narrative, setting subtle traps for the viewer and commanding our close attention. In Walkabout, this style serves to enhance the sense of memory that pervades the film. All coming-of-age stories are fundamentally memory stories, rooted in recollections of a time of great intensity, of growing, of puzzling, of understanding. We look back at that stage in our life and find memories of the pain we felt and the pain we inflicted, unthinkingly, because we did not understand ourselves and our burgeoning relationship to a new, strange adult world. The strangeness of that world for the girl in Walkabout is deepened by the landscape; for the aboriginal boy, it is deepened by his encounter with people for whom his lifelong training has ill prepared him.

“The happy highways where I went and cannot come again” – the closing poem is also the source of the phrase Blue Remembered Hills. And as Roeg borrowed, so was he borrowed from – one kid saying “I don’t suppose it matters which way we go” was used in the Books song Be Good To Them Always.

Excited by Essential Killing, I thought I’d check out Skolimowski’s only horror film for SHOCKtober. But calling it horror is like calling Essential Killing a political drama, inadequately simple labels for such weird and complex movies. The bulk of this one is a flashback/story told by Alan Bates to Tim Curry while scorekeeping a cricket game at some kind of asylum. Bates admits that he’s changing parts of the story to keep it interesting for himself – and we’re never sure if he’s a patient or what, so the narrator is unreliable to say the least. And as the commentary notes, “casting Tim Curry as your sanity figure suggests that the world is fairly skewed.”

Alan Bates lurks:

A cowed-looking John Hurt (the year before Alien, so the earliest film I’ve seen of his – though I must find Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs from ’74), a church organist by day and electronic composer in his spare time, is happily married to Susannah York (star of Altman’s Images). But one day Alan Bates (Chabrol’s Dr. M, Julie Christie’s illicit lover in The Go-Between) appears, tampers with Hurt’s bicycle tire, then invites himself over. He stalks the couple causing minor mischief then starts not-so-subtly taking over the family.

John Hurt rocks out in his home studio:

Alan Bates, head of household:

To prove his power to Hurt, they go off to the dunes and Bates demonstrates “the terror shout,” taught to him by an aboriginal magician. Somehow Hurt isn’t killed by this, but has a weird experience where he’s holding a stone, believing himself to be the town shoemaker. When he returns home, his wife is under Bates’s spell, and Hurt is the interloper. But he recalls the identity stones, goes off and smashes them to regain control of his household. Back at the house, Bates is arrested for the murder of his children (to which he confessed to Hurt and York earlier). Strange that Bates would be anxious to tell a tale which ends in his own defeat.

You can’t understand the extreme greatness of this shot without watching the whole film:

The police foolishly come for Alan Bates:

Meanwhile back in the framing story, a thunderstorm wrecks the cricket game. Jim Broadbent, in his first film role as “fielder in cowpat,” runs around half-naked smeared in mud or worse. Lightning strikes the scoring box, Bates is killed, and in another odd scene which also played over the opening credits, York comes tearing into the room where the dead lay, distraught.

Fielder in cowpat:

Reminded me of The Last Wave in its aboriginal magic and weirdly apocalyptic feel. Commentary brings up Caligari, which I should’ve thought of. The wife isn’t much of a character, just passed between the two men, but she definitely shows her acting chops in one intense sexual scene. Mostly minimal music by “the two guys from Genesis you probably have forgotten.”

I took advantage of the huge weekend snowfall in Atlanta by huddling on the couch with a pile of DVDs of short films which I’ve long delayed watching, followed by two obscure features, totaling eight newly-seen titles on Jonathan Rosenbaum’s hallowed list of 1,000 favorite movies. At this rate of eight per day, I’ll be through the list in no time, so anyone else can feel free to send me their own thousand-faves list and I’ll get to it shortly.


First off, two by Jane Campion. I wasn’t too kind to Sweetie or The Piano, was hoping I’d enjoy the early shorts more. A Girl’s Own Story (1984) is a vaguely Terence Davies-reminiscent period piece about two sisters and a friend one winter in the 60’s – having fun, going to school, singing Beatles songs and dealing with family trauma. The parents only speak to each other through their children, and dad brings his girlfriend to Pam’s birthday dinner… meanwhile friend Gloria leaves school because she is pregnant by her brother. Passionless Moments (1983) is a series of humorous sketches (each with its own title: “Clear Up Sleepy Jeans”, “No Woodpeckers In Australia”) with an ethnographic narrator telling us somebody’s mostly-insignificant stray thoughts (misheard lyrics to “Daydream Believer”, identifying a strange sound outdoors).

A Girl’s Own Story:
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These were two of the most enjoyable shorts I watched all day, so hooray for Jane Campion. Both were worked on by Alex Proyas, director of Dark City, whose new Nic Cage movie opens this month, and Passionless was made in collaboration with Gerard Lee, who wrote/directed a comedy in 1995 involving marital strife because of a sold piano, hmmmm.

Passionless Moments:
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Franz Kafka’s It’s a Wonderful Life (1993, Peter Capaldi)
I’d always admired the title of this and assumed it to be blending of Kafka’s and Capra’s sensibilities, but no such luck… it’s more of a Franz Kafka In Love, as the writer struggles to complete the first line to The Metamorphosis. Might’ve been nicer if I’d watched it earlier then, since by now every known artist’s inspiration has been illustrated by the movies, either as a serious drama or a light fantasy. Richard Grant (same year as The Age of Innocence) is Kafka, and his work-interrupting neighbors include Ken Stott (who’d soon play the lead detective in Shallow Grave) as a knife seller with a missing pet cockroach, and Phyllis Logan (a Michael Radford regular) as a novelty salesman. Our director is better known as an actor (Local Hero, Lair of the White Worm). My favorite detail: being friendly to a neighbor Kafka says “call me F.”

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There’s time in any shorts program for some Norman McLaren. I checked out a section on the DVDs of work he did with Grant Munro, one of the few men strong and patient enough to animate himself with stop-motion. A piece I’ve seen before called Two Bagatelles (1953) has Grant zooming around to music (Katy came in from the other room to express disapproval at the music), a fun exploration of their live-stop-motion ideas. An unreleased set of sketches and experiments called either On The Farm or Pixillation adds slow-mo, film-reversal and mattes into the mix. Canon (1964) features a blippy electronic version of “Frere Jacques” and has four Grant Munroes at once, moving across a stage and interacting. And A Christmas Cracker (1962), for which McLaren/Munro did great dis/appearing stop-motion jester titles and transitions, is a compilation of short holiday cartoons.

On The Farm/Pixillation:
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A Christmas Cracker:
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One of the non-McLaren segments of A Christmas Cracker, in which an inventor travels to space to retrieve a real star to top his Christmas tree:
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Wong Kar-Wai’s Hua yang de nian hua (2000) is a montage of rotting nitrate footage from newly-discovered vintage Hong Kong films. Two minutes long, fast-paced and wordless, set to a song used in In The Mood For Love.
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Two by Santiago Alvarez. Now! (1965) is a montage of upsetting footage, still and moving images, as Lena Horne belts out the title song, and Hasta La Victoria Siempre (1967) is twenty looong minutes of music and stock footage focusing on Che Guevara and other revolutions and revolutionaries. A chore to sit through – I’m gonna stop watching Alvarez movies for a while now.

Now!
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Hasta la victoria siempre
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Two early shorts by D.W. Griffith… although he made about 200 films in the two years between them (those were the days!) so maybe only the first one can be called “early.”

A Corner In Wheat (1909)
Wealthy trader corners the market in wheat, meaning less money for the farmer and higher prices at the market. As unrest grows and the cops are called to protect a bakery, the now even richer trader and some classy women tour the grain elevator to symbolically survey their fortune. He slips and is buried in grain, an ending stolen by Vampyr a couple decades later.
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Tom Gunning via Erik Ulman says: “the editing has special appropriateness in this film, as it represents the ‘new topography’ of modern capitalist economics, and its ‘lack of face-to-face encounters with the forces which determine our lives.'” Based on a book by the novelist who wrote McTeague (Greed). Actor who played the farmer appeared 45 years later in Ford’s The Sun Shines Bright.
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Musketeers of Pig Alley (1912)
A musician, just back in town after some weeks away working, gets all his money stolen by the titular gang. A rival crime gang fights the musketeers, and during the fracas our man gets his money back. When the rival gangleader is about to be arrested, the musician and his girl vouch for him, lying that he’d been with them the whole time, as thanks for his help. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, and all that.
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Wikipedia claims this “probably the first ever film about organized crime” and an influence on Gangs of New York – as if Scorsese’s first exposure to crime was in DW Griffith films. Lillian Gish, star of many Griffith movies, plays the girl.
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Report (1967, Bruce Conner)
Recording of radio broadcasts from when JFK was shot. Sometimes the visuals are robotically repeated loops of newsreels, sometimes film countdown leader, sometimes all white and black flash flickers, which do not translate well to medium-grade internet video. The second half is excellent, still the radio announcers but with shock associative visual editing from all manner of sources: a bullfight, advertisements, war movies and so on.
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Tunneling the English Channel (1907, Georges Méliès) has long bothered me because it’s the earliest film on Jonathan Rosenbaum’s 100 favorite films list but hasn’t been available anywhere on video. Fortunately the new Flicker Alley set remedied that, and I could finally see it, in fine condition with wonderful hand-coloring. It’s a cute story and a technically superior film, with the color and the combination of animation, live action and Melies’ usual fun effects. Story goes that the leaders of France and England agree to build a tunnel under the channel, and all goes well until the train crashes. As the tunnel fills with water undoing months of work and drowning the prime minister, they wake up – it was all a dream and they decide not to build the tunnel after all.
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LMNO (1978, Robert Breer)
A hammer, a faucet, a headless naked woman. Rapid-fire comic-book situations. Mainly-irritating soundtrack of running people, running water, and running tape static. Next time I’ll feel free to see how it works with a couple Kinks songs instead. Not my favorite Breer, but I’ve actually seen his films projected in a theater before, so this one obviously suffers from being a bootleg download watched on a laptop.
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Chris Stults, Film/Video Assistant Curator at the Wexner Center in Columbus, says (out of context): “The thing that has always drawn me the most to avant-garde cinema is that it is intended for an individual viewer, not a mass audience. The individual has to complete the work. To go back to the idea of seeing cinema anew, the viewer often has to figure out how to watch the particular film or video and then from that process of learning how to watch, meaning and interpretation can follow.”

IMDB and recent reviews don’t list the same credit as the film’s official site & poster: “A Film By Rolf de Heer and the People of Ramingining”.

Young black-and-white Jamie Gulpilil (narrator David’s son) has a crush on his dad’s third wife. He’s joining the older men for the first time on the annual goose-hunt, and along the way, his dad tells Jamie the full-color story of a similar young man (also Jamie) in a similar situation, and how that turned out (father and another man dead, son comically inherits all three wives).

Lovely sidetrack details along the way, like the goose hunt itself (camping up in trees to escape crocs), the sorceror who watches over the town, and the rules that all tribes obeyed to prevent war.

David Gulpilil is humorously telling us the story of the black-and-white movie, which presents the story of the color movie, the hand-me-down nature calling attention to the storytelling itself and the fact that the events are said to have occurred many generations ago. The movie then collapses that sense of endless time by rendering the oldest events, the lesson-teaching ancient story, in vivid color, particularly in the lush greens of the trees and plants.

Apparently the production team strove hard for authenticity, adapting Aboriginal stories to bring the natives’ voices to multiplexes and call attention to the idea that they don’t need the modernization that is being forced upon them. Gulpilil tells us “it’s not your story – it’s MY story”, and so it’s unlike anything else in theaters, in storytelling and in visual style. Great movie, liked it even more than I thought I would. Katy liked, too.

Pretty okay movie. Definitely a strong western with lovely Australian landscapes. Good enough story. Guy Pearce is the bad guy with conscience, part of a whole bad guy family. Arrested with his daft younger brother in a whorehouse shootout, the chief lets him go, promising to free the younger if Guy kills his older, a hardcore killer living in the mountains. Well done, with great acting by Pearce, Ray Winstone (captain), Emily Watson (capn’s wife), and Richard Wilson (younger) and loopy fun acting by David Gulpilil (always the tracker) and John Hurt (bounty hunter).

Fall just short of loving this movie, only because it seems to have no real point besides “Nick Cave wanted to write an Australian Western”. I don’t have much Western history to compare it to, though… Good/Bad/Ugly, Dead Man, The Unforgiven, Fistful of Dollars… so no comment on its place in the great Western tradition. Little bit of mob-rule in there as the townsfolk find out about the captain’s deal, take younger brother from prison and flog him almost to death. E. Watson participates in that (cuz the brothers raped/killed her friend), then faints from the brutality… later is raped and has husband killed by older brother after he finds out. So it’s a cycle of violence thing (even though older bro planned to kill her husband before he even knew that younger bro had been whipped). Scenes about the aboriginal Australians’ relation with the whites… Gulpilil works for the captain’s men (gets killed), others are captured/enslaved, others attack without warning, spearing Pearce (see below) and some of captain’s men, and getting their heads blown off by older bro. Don’t think there’s much political commentary going on here, just attempts at historical accuracy.

Abandoned the commentary after 30 minutes as Cave & Hillcoat were just alternating between “this scene was really hard to do” and “this actor is brilliant”. The two made a movie in the late 80’s called Ghosts of the Civil Dead and have a comedy coming this year called Death of a Ladies’ Man [note 3 years later: this is probably Death of Bunny Munro, got postponed due to The Road].

Best outcome of the movie: getting on a Nick Cave kick and buying the 2DVD/2CD “Abbatoir Blues Tour” set. The 15-minute music video for “Babe, I’m On Fire”, also directed by John Hillcoat, is almost as good as The Proposition.

Tried to find the least-interlaced screenshots.

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