Sunday, 11 May 2008

St Kilda Film Festival Gala Night Review

I sent two snuffboxfilms agents out to capture the cinematic moment that intends to be, that is, the St Kilda Film Festival Gala Opening Night. Kindly delivered to me by Australia Post I had received a letter which stated "Dear Writer/ Director of Blah, Blah Trash that has once again been knocked back from our film festival, four years running, we are looking forward to knocking back your next work next year but in the meantime come along to our Opening Night on us". The two agents or rather guest Bloggers were the miraculous James Jackson and the debonair Amlajambira trusted souls I know in this cultural universe and so perfect for uncovering some of the on-screen antics to be had at the Palais on May 6th, which of course is held on a Tuesday night so that most people get home nice and sensibly.

So I hand over this post to James Jackson.

James Jackson prepares to watch cinema after realising the colostomy bag filled with Claret is trickling down his leg and tickling him in the process.


On the morning of the 6th of May 2008 I began watching Kill and Kill Again (1981) on VHS hoping to ascertain whether it was worth the ninety cents I paid for it. This is the sequel to the slightly more notorious Kill or be Killed (1980) which involves a tournament in a remote desert location organised by a crazed new fascist would-be despot to somehow compensate for his martial arts team losing at the 1936 Olympics. Which doesn’t ring true because there was not a martial art to be seen in the Olympics until Judo was introduced in 1964. Kill and Kill Again, on the other hand, involves a martial arts master and selected friends battling to defeat another would-be despot who is threatening to take over the world by putting mind-altering substances in the water supply. You see? Similar but different. And that night I went to the opening of the 25th St Kilda Film Festival at the Palais theatre.

Pete Smith seemed to be the MC and he started with some Barry Humphries-esque reminisces about the grand old days of the Palais which didn’t sound that great. Various dignitaries spoke at length and the Mayor of Port Phillip distinguished herself by declining to read her prepared speech, receiving hearty applause, apologising to her speech writer and proceeding to waffle on about nothing much for what seemed like half an hour. Pete then made a joke about having his first sexual experience in a balcony at the Palais and, wait for it, being by himself at the time. Everyone laughed except (I assume) the Mayor’s speechwriter who was probably still reeling from the cold shoulder-tackle of rejection. The final speaker was the festival director. I knew this not because he was introduced, no, I had stopped listening an hour ago, but because his scarf was slightly longer than everyone else’s. Scarves in film circles seem to be like sashes to Masons.

The first films we saw were made by the sponsors, one being Jamieson Whiskey which I thought was rather cruel considering there was no booze allowed in the cinema. In fact at the door they groped and fondled all bags and removed bottled water, possibly fearing contamination by some sort of afore mentioned would-be despot. Next up were the winning entries in the TAC short film competition. I wish the kids who made those films well and I hope the obligatory blood-stained designer clothing and black witticisms will catch the eye of enterprising Hollywood types like “those guys from Saw”. That said, they need to read J.G. Ballard’s Crash (don’t bother with the flaccid film adaptation) and, as the French say, shut ze fuck up.

The first short film for the evening was Len’s Love Story which was Nadia Tass and David Parker’s Malcolm (1986) without the trams, remote control cars and John Hargreaves (not surprising considering he is dead). Len, like Malcolm, is suffering from possibly a slight form of autism, has lost his mother and doesn’t know what to do. With some quite charming magic realism this is a salt of the (Mallee) earth Australian short film; a real fair dinkum little Aussie battler of a movie. It is, after all, about a loser and set in the bush and features a kangaroo and a hills hoist.

Wind was obviously a co-production with Singapore and centres on the juxtaposed domestic lives of two elderly people, one in Australia and one in Singapore. The film seems to suggest they were once linked by a common event, probably in the Second World War, but I was unsure of this. Like all the films shown Wind boasted technical brilliance and fine cinematography. In some ways as the technology improves making films becomes more difficult and one has to respect the technical acumen displayed over the course of the opening night. That said, as far as technique is concerned Hitler was a skilled artist and Basquiat should have stuck to speedballing. In the case of Wind, while it was pretty the premise was just too flimsy to build an engaging narrative.

A music video for a song by Evermore followed. The clip featured iconic images from the twentieth century, fitting really, for a song by one of the iconic crap bands of the Twenty-first century (which takes some doing). The vocalist whinged his way through insipid nonsense about how he will “never let” some poor unfortunate “go”. Which, by the end of the three minutes, was all I wanted to do, but I knew I had to hang in there for the rest of the films and I’m glad I did.

Next up was Yolk; a film about an intellectually disabled teenage girl discovering her sexuality. But before you nod off I want you to know surprisingly, this was the best film of the night. Its depiction of intellectually disabled young people was flawless aided by great performances, especially from the girl with Down syndrome who played Lena. I was certainly impressed with the under-representation of part-aboriginal lesbian single mothers and effeminate asylum-seeker Muslim teenage boys whose fathers murdered their sisters in honour killings in the films screened on the opening night. It proved that funding bodies in this country do support films with other agendas, like perhaps entertaining an audience. Far too often these films are hailed as being subversive or challenging when in fact they are neither. Yolk was both. Last time the sexuality of intellectually disabled teenagers and a young woman, no less, was even mentioned in polite circles was in relation to Cunt The Movie. It seems we like our intellectually disabled people sexless or victims of sexual assault they are too intellectually disabled to prevent. This is far from the truth as depicted in Yolk where Lena is certainly not a victim and her sexual discovery is normal, positive and empowering. It is also funny and entertaining as we watch her pilfer a copy of The Joy of Sex from a mobile library, carry an egg everywhere she goes and develop a crush on a boy who is not intellectually disabled. This film also contained one of the few truly arresting shots of the night, where after fighting with her mother, Lena breaks the egg while holding it over her stomach letting the yolk slowly drip through her fingers.

Keeping on the theme of eggs the next film was Scrambled, a worthwhile one trick pony which I will not spoil by discussing here. Then it was time for Summer Breaks. This was the sort of film David and/or Margaret (they are indistinguishable after all) would describe as “life-affirming” except they wouldn’t as it revolves around bored teenagers getting ripped and “breaking the law” like Judas Priest. I think it was G.K. Chesterton who once said, “the follies of our youth are, in retrospect glorious, compared to the follies of our old age” and this film was about the follies of my youth. After devouring cultural products written about the experiences of those growing up in the sixties, seventies then eighties it is a sobering thought to find myself personally relating to tales of misspent youth. I am indeed getting older. The period was not specified but the blurb on the festival website says “loosely set somewhere in the late 1980s”. Sorry to go all encyclopaedia dramatica (lulz) on you but one of those kids was wearing a Sepultura T-shirt with the cover of the album Roots (1996). Nevertheless this film perfectly illustrated the suburban malaise of the period in as much that it wasn’t really a malaise at all. Also, Summer Breaks tried to be funny and it succeeded and for the first time since Pete Smith made that joke about masturbating in the balcony the audience laughed. Then the festival director shouted at everyone to be quite and said those who wanted to laugh, like those who wanted to smoke, drink booze (or open bottled water) would have to go outside. Not really. But Summer Breaks is a highly entertaining film unlike The Funk.

There were many good things about The Funk; it was cleverly made using animation and still photography, had an engaging voice-over and was nicely paced. But it has been done. Protagonist works in office, hates his life, divorced, nothing to live for etc jumps to his death from office building. No big loss. And all because of the terrible weight of living in this terrible world with its corporations and Iraq wars and George Bushes and high-rise buildings et al. If you reach middle age and still haven’t worked out that in this life we have to make our own fun you may as well be dead.

Finally we had The Touch of a Kiss which was nothing more than a well shot, well edited music video for a flamenco song directed by noted American filmmaker Roger Spottiswoode (Turner and Hooch, Tomorrow Never Dies) and shot in Melbourne. We had been alerted to the presence of this film on the programme by the festival director who was very proud to be able screen it although his smile seemed more like a (albeit cultural) cringe.

We tried to go to the afterparty but we didn’t have a blue ticket and didn’t fancy trying to convince the helpful security personnel that we were people of some importance. In some ways the St Kilda Film Festival is perfect fare for those among us who believe John Waters was a presenter on Play School and Jodorowsky is a product found in the expensive cheese section in Coles. Although I was not challenged or confronted by many of the films presented it is certainly, in the end, worthwhile to have a festival with mainstream appeal, major sponsors and an international reputation. The more opportunities offered to local filmmakers, the better. If I was intending to join their scarf-wearing ranks at this point with the industry truly in crisis I would only make the situation worse. But, I would be taking heed of the criticisms of Jim Schembri and above all else watching Australian films to ensure what I was doing was original. Anyway, it was well worth attending the opening and above all else I want you to know Kill and Kill Again is an awesome movie. It is going to take our industry a long time to produce something like that but we can only hope one day we will get there.

Review by James Jackson.


Amlajambira's report will be coming soon.

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