The Ausfather: Part II
Did anyone out there watch Welcome to Woop Woop?
You liar! I know you didn’t. First of all, it’s quite hard to find, and secondly…because no one in their right mind would sit through more than ten minutes of something like that. It’s barely a film, much less a good one. I, as it happens, am not in my right mind and have seen it twice.
Any proud Australian reading this should be seething at my disrespect by this point. How dare I claim that Australian films are below standard, and then put forth Welcome to Woop Woop as an example of what makes the grade? Well, I dare, I did, and I don’t care what you think.
Alright, fine, you may have a point. My whole argument is about Australian films being too Australian, so the natural retort is to ask for an example of the antithesis. What sort of films do I think Australia should be making? It’s easy for me to say that we need to be making good film, as opposed to just Australian films, but what constitutes a good film? Who decides what a good film is? What kind of films have both financial and critical success?
The complaint I hear most often is about money. “Australia doesn’t have the kind of money that America does, so we can’t make mega-blockbusters like they do”. But…who said anything about blockbusters? You know what Australia needs?…A Woody Allen!
You either know Woody Allen as a character, or as an artist. I temporarily titter at the former, but buckle with awe at the latter. You cannot be an independent film auteur without being highly literate in Allen’s back-catalogue. Since the early seventies, he’s made a movie a year, and some years two or even three. In the same vein as John Ford, he steams ahead with all the inhibition of an arctic icebreaker. Reviews and returns are equally poor deterrents, and he’s never been unable to make his next movie. How’s that possible, you ask? Doesn’t he have to lobby endlessly for grants, investments, and picture deals? Nope! Not when you’re Woody Allen, because Woody Allen…MAKES..GOOD..MOVIES.
Allen doesn’t make big movies or American movies. He writes simple scripts with good characters, typically a dose of witty humour, and insightful ideas. To date he’s written and directed 45 feature films. Here they are:
By the time you read this, however, it may very well be 46. That’s how rapidly he pumps them out. How does he do it? He keeps his budgets small!
Woody Allens films are low in scope, and therefore constitute a low risk investment. He has spent, in total, 613.9 million dollars on 45 films over the course of 50 years. That comes out to an average of 13.6 million per film. Collectively, they’ve grossed over 1.2 billion dollars internationally, raking in an average of 27.3 million each.
Basically it means that Allen’s movies typically pay out at twice their budget in a single theatrical run. Only in a handful of cases has this not been true. Over the years, he’s created a loyal fanbase that can be counted on to spread the word of a new release and line up for the next one. Actors who usually require multi-million dollar paycheques will all but waive their fee for a chance to work with Allen because of his iconic presence in American cinema.
The majority, if not all, of Allen’s signature talent lies in his writing. With a great script you can largely guarantee a decent return without wasting your money on pyrotechnics and green-screen. Films don’t have to be big to be successful. Just look at the Duplass brothers, for example!
You’ve never heard of the Duplass brothers? Alright, fine! Here we go…
Mark and Jay Duplass are herculean warriors in the fight against big budget movie domination. What they do isn’t low-budget, it’s no-budget.
Their early films were made for as little as $15,000 and ended up being selected for the Sundance film festival year after year. Later, they’ve gone on to produce fractionally larger projects with significantly more famous stars, like Jonah Hill and Kristen Wiig. Their formula is always the same; docu-drama style with an improvisational comedy tone. Their success is built on a solid understanding of character interaction. Watching the actors bounce off one another in a Duplass film gives me joy every time, and there’s always a great script underpinning it all. In fact, they’re not unlike Noah Baumbach in many respects.
Holy shit! Are you trying to make me tenderise a concrete wall with my forehead? Listen, folks, if this ‘blogger-bloggee’ thing is going to work then I need some commitment on your end. I didn’t make this thing so I could sit here and wax poetic about Transformer: Age of Extinction. Drive on past Village for once and take a trip to the Astor, or the Palace Kino, or Cinema Nova. Scroll deep into the cobwebbed independent film section of you Netflix, Torrent some obscure titles, or have a look at this year’s line up for the Melbourne Scandinavian Film Festival.
(Actually, that’s highly hypocritical on my part. I’ve never gone to the local Scandinavian film festival…and I’m Scandinavian.)
The point is…the point is…FUCK!!!
(Breathe in…breathe out.)
Well, since you’re wondering…
Noah Baumbach is a mumble-core filmmaker who primarily writes and directs comedy dramas, and they’re really good! Now, to be fair, I haven’t seen all of Baumbach’s films. Moreover, some of the ones I have seen did not rub me entirely the right way. His latest films are the ones I recommend.
Frances Ha, While We’re Young, and Mistress America work beautifully as a trilogy that’s unified by one theme…age.
Baumbach has provided us with three perfectly observed commentaries on the phenomenon of the quarter-life crisis and mid-life crisis. As someone about to go through that awkwardly stressful shift from your 20’s to your 30’s, I’m immensely grateful to see my own whirlpool of emotions represented on screen. If you feel at all unsure about your future or your path in life then you have to watch these!. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Vicenarian, a Tricenararian, or a Quadragenarian. Everyone will find something relatable amidst the “so true!” writing and lovably goofy characters.
Best of all, these films are made for a couple million dollars each. They borrow heavily from the Woody Allen business model, ‘low’ and steady wins the race.
Please, Australia, find your Noah Baumbach, find your Duplass Brothers, find your Woody Allen. He or she is out there somewhere. We may struggle to compete with America on a blockbuster level, but there’s no reason why we can’t punch above our weight in low budget independent films. Oh wait, I forgot…there is a reason…
Australian scripts blow! Either those who are in charge of selecting scripts have a poor eye for good content, or the industry is educating us incorrectly. As the recipient of an Australian comprehensive course in filmmaking, the second possibility scares me to death. Could it be true that we’re giving aspiring writers the wrong advise? I don’t think so.
My screenwriting lecturers were highly intelligent people with a broad understanding of both flashy and foundational storytelling. Though, they did inadvertently prove my point, about poor Aussie writing, by never ever using an Australian film as an example of premium craft…
…but they did mention this one…
One of my writing teachers once asked the class, as a whole, if we had seen Lantana. We shrugged unanimously, and subsequently crushed his spirits. That’s because Lantana was, according to him, that rarest of gifts…a great Australian script.
I never quite forgot how emphatically he had recommended the film, as if it was the only one that had managed to crawl through the perilous shrubbery of shoddy local moviemaking, only to be placed awkwardly on the corner of some forgotten dusty drama section at the local rental store. His pleading worked, but only after a five year delay when I randomly came across Lantana listed in Foxtel’s upcoming films section. I clocked the name and set it to record. Life had slowly, surely, and relentlessly made it’s point. This was a film I needed to see…
But of course, when it comes to Australian films, I’ve been burned before. I remember The Water Diviner like it’s a stubborn Vietnam War flashback. I feel a citrus-like cringe in the back corner of my jaw when I think about Mystery Road. Then, of course, there was Adore. Blimey!
No, no! I will judge, with a fucking microscope, whether Lantana is passable script or not. Don’t expect ‘good cop bad cop’ here, it’s all ‘bad cop’! Alone, in a dingy apartment with the cold steel of a gun grip resting in my palm, I will judge thee! Go on, Lantana, do your worst!
I’m just kidding…
…I watched it with my mum!
She liked it, but I really liked it. Before I get into why, here’s the plot…
“The relationships of four couples unravel after the discovery of a young woman’s body in Lantana bush in suburban Sydney.”
Lantana is the name of an Australian flower that grows in a complex bush formation. Not only does the film kick off with the body of a woman found in a Lantana bush, but the intertwining vines of the Lantana represents the intricate collisions of life and love that follow. So there’s you’re “Australianism”, one and done.
The important thing about Lantana is how incredibly well conceived and written it is. It never feels the need to push the tension into outright violent territory. Like complex clockwork, it keeps its ticking innards under the surface. There’s plenty of tension building up behind the curtain, and the audience is treated to the right amount at the right time. I genuinely had no idea where the story was going and, to a weary film buff, that’s better than sex.
We’re treated to reliably methodical performances from Anthony LaPaglia, Geoffrey Rush, and Barbara Hershey, as well as several others who hold their own within an intimidatingly talent-rich ensemble.
I’m grateful to Lantana for not pivoting to the Australian funding body’s idea of an “Aussie film”, nor shaving off its edges to try and imitate American genre fluff. This is a great and mature Australian film that Australians should be proud of, and deserves to be wedged into your DVD collection next to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia and Robert Altman’s Short Cuts; Small and effective, exactly as it should be.
Congratulations Australia, you got this one right!