May Highlights on TCM
AUSTRALIAN CINEMA (Fridays, 8pm)--In 1979, I saw a picture called The Last Wave. It was the story of a lawyer, played by Richard Chamberlain, who defends a group of aboriginal men accused of murder. He is visited by a series of vivid dreams and his dreamlife is echoed by the violent rainstorms that start happening suddenly in Sydney. The Last Wave was unlike anything I'd ever seen: the recurring images of water, the mounting anxiety and unease, the intimations of extrasensory connections between the lawyer and his client played by David Gulpilil made for a very disturbing and sensually overwhelming experience. It was, for me and many other North American viewers, not just an introduction to the work of a talented new filmmaker, Peter Weir, but to the poetic landscape of a nation and a culture on the far side of the world. In movies, Australia was almost unknown territory and the pictures that had made the greatest impression were all made by foreigners. Here was a movie with its own homegrown poetic force, rooted in a haunting evocation of a troubled cultural past (with direct parallels to our own treatment of Native Americans). The Last Wave opened in New York two years after it was made, it was quickly followed by Weir's earlier and equally unsettling Picnic at Hanging Rock, and then the floodgates opened: Mad Max by George Miller, My Brilliant Career by Gillian Armstrong, The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith by Fred Sphepisi, Newsfront by Philip Noyce and Breaker Morant by Bruce Beresford all came out in very quick succession. A whole new world of cinema opened up for us, made possible by Australian government support in the early '70s (the same thing happened in Germany at the same time, but we saw those pictures earlier). TCM is paying tribute to the Australian New Wave this month, and all the key pictures mentioned above are included, along with many others--some made on home ground and others made by the same directors after they started working outside Australia. Collective surges of creativity like this are always exciting, and they're very rare. If you don't know the work, this is an excellent selection to begin with. If you do know the films and haven't revisited them in a while, it might be time for a fresh look.
I REMEMBER MAMA (May 11, 8pm)--George Stevens was one of the Hollywood directors most deeply affected by his experiences during the war--in fact, he's one of the five directors whose interwoven stories are told in an excellent new book by Mark Harris, Five Came Back. When he came home, he didn't know what to do. He prepared to make a comedy with Ingrid Bergman but his heart wasn't in it. He settled on a screen adaptation of the play I Remember Mama, adapted by the English writer John Van Druten from Kathryn Forbes' memoir Mama's Bank Account. Here, as in A Place in the Sun, the underrated Something To Live For, Shane and Giant, I think that Stevens was trying to translate his feelings into images--really, trying to find solid and lasting images of genuine goodness. Jean-Luc Godard, in his Histoire(s) du cinéma, sees this in the close-ups of Elizabeth Taylor in A Place in the Sun. You can feel the same thing in this lovely, exquisitely crafted picture.
by Martin Scorsese