FROM THE NEW WAVE TO GENRE FILMS
In 1972 the premier of South Australia, Don Dunstan, established the South Australian Film Corporation, and three years later this organization produced two films that changed the nature of the Australian film industry: Sunday Too Far Away and Picnic at Hanging Rock (both 1975). The corporation was also involved in many other notable productions during this period, including Storm Boy (1976), "Breaker" Morant (1980), and Peter Weir's The Last Wave (1977) and Gallipoli (1981). Its success inspired the other states to establish similar organizations and provided an ideal environment for directors such as Weir to develop a style of filmmaking that was noticeably different from the prevailing Hollywood style. Many of its films, including television productions such as Sara Dane (1982) and Robbery under Arms (1985), were set in the past and characterized by spectacular cinematography; character-based narratives; and downbeat, or open, endings.
The best film to emerge from this period, Sunday Too Far Away , was filmed on location near Port Augusta in South Australia. The setting is a shearing station in 1956, and while it details the rough mateship of men separated from wives and girlfriends, a sense of melancholy permeates the film. Aside from winning major awards in Australia, it was selected for screening at the Director's Fortnight at the Cannes Festival, and it also received generous praise from British critics. While Hannam's film favored a low-key realist style, Weir's Picnic at Hanging Rock was more in keeping with the European art film, as it largely eschewed a driving, coherent narrative style in favor of ambiguity and symbolism. Weir's film, which was based on Joan Lindsay's 1967 book, was concerned with the disappearance of a small group of Victorian schoolgirls who vanish while exploring
The success of both films was influential, and they were followed by a series of low-key period films in the next four years, including Caddie (Donald Crombie, 1976) and The Irishman (1978), Storm Boy (Henri Safran, 1976), Break of Day (Hannam, 1976), The Picture Show Man (John Power, 1977), The Getting of Wisdom (Beresford, 1977), The Mango Tree (Kevin Dobson, 1977), and Blue Fin (Carl Shultz, 1978). The languid pacing and downbeat tone of these films encouraged producer, author, and radio commentator Phillip Adams to catalog them as "elegiac images of failure."
Bruce Beresford's Money Movers (1979) and George Miller's Mad Max (1979) were tough crime genre films and represented a significant change. Beresford's film, one of his best, was underrated by critics at the time of its release. On the other hand, Miller's film, which was made on a very tight budget, struck a chord with audiences in Australia, America, and elsewhere. The film, which made Mel Gibson (b. 1956) a star, was rooted in the most elemental of melodramatic plots, the revenge story. It was lean, violent, humorous, and had little interest in the nuances of characterization. While some critics condemned it, its commercial success resulted in two sequels, The Road Warrior (1981) and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985). Larger budgets gave Miller an opportunity in the two sequels not only to intensify the visceral spectacle of the first film but to be more ambitious thematically.
The success of the Mad Max trilogy, in conjunction with changes in the nature of government support for the industry, provoked a rapid increase in the production of crime films and other forms of melodrama. In 1981 division 10BA of the Income Tax Assessment Act offered a tax deduction of 150 percent of eligible film investment and exemption from taxation on the first 50 percent of net earnings from that investment, providing that the projects could verify their Australian credentials and could be financed, completed, and released in the year of the deduction (changed to two years in 1983). This encouraged a boom in production although, unfortunately, there were many substandard films as some producers, motivated solely by the tax rebate, churned out movies that went straight to video or even remained unreleased. As a consequence, the tax benefits were constantly reduced throughout the 1980s as the debate over the nature, and level, of government support intensified until a major review of film funding was conducted in 1997. The resultant Gonski Report, however, received only a lukewarm reception by the federal government, and a mixture of tax concessions and incentives for private investment emerged as a compromise between a government reluctant to continue large-scale financial support and an industry still reliant on external funding.
b. Wellington, New Zealand, 30 April 1954
Educated in London, where she studied fine arts at the Chelsea School of Arts, and Sydney, Jane Campion was accepted into the Australian Film and Television School in 1981, where she directed the controversial short Peel (1982), which some years later won the 1986 Palme d'Or for shorts at the Cannes Film Festival. After more shorts and, following that, experience on a television series, her first feature was Two Friends (1986) for television. Although the basis of the story, the relationship between two girls over a period of time, was familiar, Campion's interest in exploring independent women in films that were presented in a nonliteral manner was already evident. Two Friends won awards from the Australian Film Institute for its innovative narrative, which told the story of the two girls in reverse time.
Similarly, Campion's first theatrical feature film, Sweetie (1989), was unconventional. The film traces the volatile relationship between two sisters, the introverted Kay and the erratic Sweetie, and explores a recurring motif in Campion's cinema, the tenuous divide between anarchy and "civilization." Sweetie was followed by An Angel at My Table (1990), a three-part miniseries for New Zealand television. Based on the experiences of the New Zealand writer Janet Frame it contains some of the stylistic and thematic attributes of her earlier films. Frame suffered from long periods of institutionalization following an incorrect diagnosis of schizophrenia, but Campion did not present her story as a simple melodrama of victimization, producing instead an episodic blend of comedy, suffering, and sensuality.
In 1993 Campion won an Academy Award ® for best screenplay for The Piano , as well as receiving a nomination for best director and a host of other awards. Filmed in New Zealand, the story concerns a deceptively "mute" Scottish widow who arrives in nineteenth-century New Zealand with her young daughter. After an arranged marriage to a lonely farmer, she enters into an affair with a neighbor who gives her piano lessons. Although the story contained elements of the romantic melodrama, Campion refused to be constrained by its conventions and combined a sense of "perverse" eroticism with stylistic modernism as she explored the negative effects of patriarchy and colonialism.
Campion's subsequent films have not achieved the critical or commercial success of The Piano . Her 1996 adaptation of Henry James's The Portrait of a Lady was another study of an independent woman battling the social and sexual constraints of a repressive environment, a theme she revisited in a contemporary setting in her 2003 adaptation of Susanna Moore's novel, In the Cut .
Sweetie (1989), An Angel at My Table (1990), The Piano (1993), The Portrait of a Lady (1996), In the Cut (2003)
Gillett, Sue. Views from Beyond the Mirror: The Films of Jane Campion . St. Kilda, Victoria, Australia: Atom, 2004.
Polan, Dana. Jane Campion . London: British Film Institute, 2001.
There was also a steady increase in offshore American productions during the 1990s with large budget films such as Mission Impossible (1996), its sequel (2000), The Matrix (1999), and its sequels (2003, 2004), as well as the continuation of the Star Wars series. Many Australian actors, directors, cinematographers, and musicians found work, and sometimes fame, in Hollywood and Britain, including Russell Crowe (b. 1964) (who was born in New Zealand), Mel Gibson (who was born in the United
States), Nicole Kidman (b. 1967), Hugh Jackman (b. 1968), Geoffrey Rush (b. 1951), Judy Davis (b. 1955), Rachel Griffiths (b. 1968), Toni Collette (b. 1972), Cate Blanchett (b. 1969), Heath Ledger (b. 1979), Naomi Watts (b. 1968), Peter Weir, Bruce Beresford, Phillip Noyce (b. 1950), Fred Schepisi, Jane Campion (who was born in New Zealand), George Miller (b. 1945), Gillian Armstrong (b. 1950), and others.