Sunday, 5 August 2007

MIFF musings

Dawn is only subliminally aware of the dangerous potential that resides within her body. An outspoken member of her school chastity group, Dawn has a sexual awakening like any number of teenage students with devastating consequences … for the male of the species. A living example of the vagina dentata myth, that is, a vulva with teeth, it will take a willing hero to conquer her and thus “slay the dragon.” Meanwhile however this modern day Gorgon or Medusa can wreak their revenge on the worst examples of male behaviour. And while some of the scenes are potentially confronting: the date rape boyfriend, the leering older man, the gynecologist who abuses his trust; all get their comeuppance when one appendage (or multiple digits) fall victim to this empowered woman. Played for laughs, this campy, American teen comedy is performed well by the apple-pie Jess Weixler (in the Reese Witherspoon mould). It was enjoyed by a full house of about 1,000 mostly younger film lovers at RMIT Capitol Theatre.

Likewise playing to a full house at the Capitol was the Australian premiere of Peter Carstair’s debut feature film, September, the first recipient of feature funding from John Polston’s Tropfest (an annual short film competition).
Ed (white) and Paddy (black) have grown up together on a remote West Australian wheat farm and been best mates. Set in 1967, Ed goes off to school each day while Paddy works on the farm helping his dad and the boss, Ed’s dad. The boys hear a travelling boxing troupe is coming to their town next month (in September) and so they rig up their own ring out in the paddocks. Also, a new family move onto the next property with a similarly aged daughter, Leena, with whom Ed becomes smitten. At that time in Australian history, the Government passed legislation that allowed the black man to earn the same wage as a white man. For many black families, this meant continued racism as the prevailing view was that if you were to pay a black man the same as a white man, then you would employ a white man instead. For Ed’s dad, he does not want to do the wrong thing, but does not want to do the right thing either. To pay two full time wages where previously he was paying none was something that his farm could not support (in balance however Paddy’s family had their rent waived and their food bought for them). Like it or lump it is his solution and this only builds resentment.
Ed and Paddy’s sparring takes on more personal physicality as these divisions unfold. This is mirrored in their friendship when both boys, at Ed’s insistence, go to pay a night visit to Leena. When they are discovered by Leena’s father, Paddy takes the beating as Ed escapes and runs home.
The film is primarily about friendship and the two boys reconcile amicably in a simple but touching way. Paddy tries his luck with the travelling boxing troupe and Ed stays on to help his father run the farm. I thought however that it failed to round out their fathers’ story and we are left hanging as to how the bigger picture of race relations played out.
Both boys (Xavier Samuel and Clarence Ryan) do a superb job in this otherwise quiet, focussed drama.

Dog Bite Dog
Hong Kong triad action movies are a dime a dozen and this one plays true to type. Pang is a Cambodian orphan, raised as a pit fighter and is little more than a fierce dog on two legs. His language is abrupt and manner non-existent. He is sent to murder a judge, which he does with no emotion and then the chase kicks in with zealous cop chasing the fearless Pang. The features of the genre are all played out here : the flashbacks; the one cop fighting against the rules and regulations; the ruthless baddie who can take on all comers. After about 90 minutes, Pang escapes with the girl in a motorised junk and that would have been 90 minutes well spent. Unfortunately the movie kicks on for another 20 minutes or so and this spells DANGER for the audience.
The montage of Pang and the girl falling in love is awkward, while “acting” replaces the hitherto vigorous action which is poor, to say the least. The titters in the audience turn to guffaws when “You are my Sunshine, my only Sunshine” starts to play over the top of Pang holding aloft his newborn son. And all the other characters ? They’re all dead of course.

The Phantom of the Opera
This 1925 cinematic classic of the silent era was shown at Melbourne’s grand Regent Theatre with a live accompaniment by David Johnston on the resident Wurlitzer Theatre Organ. And what an experience it was. The thunderous energy of the bass notes resounding from the organ reverberated through the Theatre and warned us of the evil lurking beneath the Paris Opera House.
The Phantom, played by Lon Chaney, is only seen shadow for the first third of the film. Brilliantly lit back shots show his spectral outline haunt walls in the pits of the Opera House while the ballerina’s on stage are the very contrast above. When we finally meet The Phantom he is wearing a mask that makes him seem almost normal and human. It is his love of Christine which makes him want to bring out the good within himself but it is her love of Raoul that may force him to return to his evil past.
When Christine unmasks The Phantom deep in his lair, we are met with a violent burst from the organ and we, the audience, regard his skeletal visage react in horror, before he turns and faces his love. She in turn recoils in revulsion and this sets him on his murderous rampage through the House. The mob however is never far away and they pursue our anti-hero into the Seine and to his death.

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