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Ginjirô Takeuchi, medical intern: I'd rather be told the cruel truth than be fed gentle lies.

         High and Low (1962)
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September Issue

Classic Film

Andrew Pike

In September our special guest in Andrew Pike, managing director of Ronin Films. Andrew has been inolved in the film industry for several decades and has been involved in academia, in film exhibition (in what is known as Arthouse cinema), as a director of documentary films, and as a distributor. He is a film fan, and someone who has a long history of experience in a number of different areas of the indutry. The screenings he attends will be a great opportunity to learn a great deal... to hear some good stories... and of course to see some great films.

In this edition of the magazine we'll be taking a look at Japanese cinema, at one of the stars of our second Musical (Fred Astaire), the extensive experience of Andrew Pike, and the work of Akira Kurosawa a great of not just Asian, but of world cinema.
Japanese Cinema
Japan has one of the oldest and most productive film industries in the world.. The first film ever produced in Japan was a short documentary about geishas playing musical instruments, shown in June 1899. Throughout the silent era, Japanese cinemas employed narrators known as benshi who described the action to audiences as the films played, sometimes giving a short lecture about the historical or narrative context of the story. Because of the volatile nature of early nitrate stock, and following an earthquake that struck the film archives and the devastation of WWII, more than 90 per cent of Japanese films of the silent era have been lost.

The first acknowledged master of Japanese cinema was Kenji Mizoguchi, who began his career early in the silent era. Starting out as an actor, Mizoguchi debuted as a director in 1920 in the middle of an industrial dispute. He worked typically quickly, shooting and editing in a couple of weeks and completing over fifty films between 1920 and 1930, including period dramas, samurai films, kitchen-sink melodramas and love stories. The leading light in what became known as the Golden Age of Japanese cinema, Mizoguchi favoured long takes and little camera movement. Revered as a cultural icon in Japan during his lifetime, his most popular films include Osaka Elegy, The Story of the Last Chrysanthemums, Sansho the Bailiff and Ugetsu. The international success of his 1952 masterpiece The Life of Oharu, which won the Silver Lion at the Venice film festival, did much to popularise Japanese cinema in the west.

The 1940s saw the debut of Akira Kurosawa with the action film Sugata Sanshiro. His first collaboration with actor Toshiro Mifune came in 1948 in his breakthrough film Drunken Angel. The actor and director would work together on another fifteen films, including his 1950 Academy Award winning classic Rashomon, the much celebrated Seven Samurai, and 1961s samurai film Yojimbo. After the costly failure of his American-Japanese WWII co-production Tora Tora Tora in 1970, Kurosawa made far fewer films but with the support of high-profile fans including Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, he completed two epics late in his career, 1980s Kagemusha and 1985s Ran.

                 Kurosawa and Gere on the set of Rhapsody in August (1991)
The third of the great masters of the Golden Age, Yasujirō Ozu began as an assistant director before directing his first film, The Sword of Penitence (now lost), in 1927. He went on to direct short comedies, documentaries and love stories before being conscripted into the army. On his return, he made his first popular success Brothers and Sisters in 1941 and his reputation was sealed by the end of the decade, which saw the release of Late Spring in 1949 and Tokyo Story in 1953, considered to be his masterpiece. Ozu’s naturalistic style, often shooting his actors from floor height and favouring simple photography and editing, has had a huge influence on western filmmakers, including Jim Jarmusch, Mike Leigh and Wim Wenders. His last film, An Autumn Afternoon was completed in 1962.

For a more detailed history of Japanese cinema, follow
this link.

In a ranking of
the 50 best films every produced by Sight & Sound, five were Japanese, with the top ranking film (Tokyo Story (1953) coming in at number three, and including two films by Akira Kurosawa (The Seven Samurai (1954), Rashomon (1950)). Japan has won the Academy Award for the Best Foreign Language Film a total of four times, which is more than any other Asian country.

Our next screening weekend will feature Akira Kurosawa's High and Low. While not his most celebrated film, it is still a rivetting police drama, and it is a film which bears his unique style, all good reasons which make it worth catching
Classic Musical Stars
Fred Astaire - a one of a kind entertainer
Fred Astaire came to dancing almost by accident. As a child he was forced to wait while his sister finished her dance classes, and being bored he begged to be allowed to join the class. Fred first joined his sister in Show business and later outshone her.

Fred entered show business at age 5. He was successful both in vaudeville and on Broadway in partnership with his sister, Adele Astaire. After Adele retired to marry in 1932, Astaire headed to Hollywood. Many a great star has failed to impress in their first screen test, and Astaire was no exception. The initial assessment famously said:


"Can't act. Can't sing. Balding. Can dance a little."

Despite this less than glowing assessment he was signed to RKO before being loaned to MGM to appear in Dancing Lady (1933). His second film was RKO's Flying Down to Rio (1933) where he began his highly successful partnership with Ginger Rogers, with whom he danced in 9 RKO pictures. During these years, he was also active in recording and radio. On film, Astaire later appeared opposite a number of partners through various studios.

After a temporary retirement in 1945-7, during which he opened Fred Astaire Dance Studios, Astaire returned to film to star in more musicals through 1957. He subsequently performed a number of straight dramatic roles in film and TV.

There really are so many unforgettable Fred Astaire routines, but one of the best and most admired is from Royal Wedding. You can enjoy it again by clicking below.
                                                Royal Wedding (1951)
Astaire is very well known, but there are still some facts about him which are not common knowledge. You might find the following facts interesting:
  • Fred Astaire had very large hands which he disguised by curling his middle two fingers while dancing.
  • His legs were insured for one million dollars. Reportedly so were Betty Grable's, but Astaire's legs were surely a much greater asset.
  • While all music and songs were known to be dubbed (recorded before filming), his tap dancing was dubbed also. He "over-dubbed" his taps - recording them live as he danced to the previously recorded taps.
  • Cyd Charisse's husband said he could tell who she had been dancing with - If she came home covered with bruises, it was Gene Kelly, if not it was the smooth and agile Fred Astaire.
It's worth finishng on a wise observation by Fred Astaire:
"The hardest job kids face today is learning good manners without seeing any."

And it's well worth seeing him do what he does best by coming along to The Band Wagon
Akira Kurosawa
While our upcoming film (High and Low (1962)) is not the first we have screened from Akira Kurosawa, it seems like it is a good reason to look back at the life and the work of the great Japanese director.

Kurosawa's exposure to cimena was early, it was sustained and it was of a high quality. While his father was from a military background and a strict disciplinarian, he was unusual in the fact he took his children regularly to the cinema. He thought it was educational for children at a time when Japanese society felt it was harmful. As he got older, his opportunities to see quality films continued. Kurosawa.s older brother Heigo became a cinema interpreter... introducing films and explaining them to the audience, and he allowed Akira in, giving him exposure to some of the greatest silent films ever made. These experiences were Kurosawa's training ground and cinema school.And it was this experience which began his lifelong dedication to the cinema.

Kurosawa was hired by PCL studios at the age of 23 as an assistant director. He busied himself writing many scripts, learning film-making on the job, and drawing attention for his prodigious talent. His first feature film was made in 1942 -
Sanshiro Sugata (a film he also wrote) and following the success of that film, many other projects followed.

Kurosawa was a very visual film-maker, he often remarked that he could see the film, or see the filmic potential of the film before he started developing it.And given the films he has left us, clearly he was right.

Kurosawa was a true artist. He spoke of cinematic perfection but never felt he attained it, except for a scene or a few moments in many or even all of his films. And the experience of watching a Kurosawa is something like that - there are moments of sublime beauty which stay with you for a long time.

Perhaps Kurosawa was right. Perhaps cinematic perfection can never be achieved. All we can do is keep making films, aiming for perfection, but having to settle for the incredible, perfect moments. And perhaps that's a good thing... it means we'll keep going along to the cinema to be taken to amazing places we never expected (even if just for a few moments), and it means people who are aiming for perfection will keep making films.

To find out more about Kurosawa, check out the documentary below.
                    Documentary - A Message from Akira Kurosawa (2000)
The greatness on Kurosawa is not just demonstrated by the body of work he has left behind for us all to continue to enjoy, but is further underlined by the influence he has had on those who have followed him, as well as by the support he received as a filmmaker from other great directors - including Spielberg, Lucas and Scorsese.

Just sitting back and watching the title... Directed by Akira Kurosawa... brings a moment of excitement and anticipation for what promises to be a wonderful and powerful cinema experience.
Andrew Pike
Andrew Pike has a long history of engagement with the Australian film industry. In the 1960's he became involved with Canberra's independent film exhibition pioneer Darrel Killen, later going on to found and run the independent cinema Electric Shadows. Sadly both Darrel's cinema (The Center Cinema) and Electric Shadows are no longer screening.

Andrew studied the Australian film industry at the ANU and in 1972 completed his Masters thesis. He has written extensively on Australian film and with Ross Cooper, he co-authored the seminal history, Australian Film 1900-1977 (published in 1980 by Oxford University Press).

In 1974, Andrew formed Ronin Films with Merrilyn Fitzpatrick and was involved in importing 120 feature films from Europe and Asia. Ronin developed an interest in films from China and Japan, importing many films from the Chinese "Fifth Generation" directors in the 1980s, and organising many Chinese directors to visit Australia. They were actively involved in the beginnings of the French Film Festival, frequently working with the Alliance Francaise and the French Embassy to host festivals and other French film events.

Andrew worked for three years as a Consultant to the film collection of the National Library of Australia which involved the acquisition of films for study purposes in schools and universities. He was a Research Fellow in the Department of Pacific and South-East Asian History at the ANU and between 1989 and 1992, he was a board member of the Australian Film Commission.

Andrew maintains a keen interest in policy issues affecting the film industry and is a frequent contributor to debates on industry issues. He has been engaged as a consultant on regional cinemas by the New South Wales Film and Television Office and is active in promoting a wider public appreciation of all aspects of cinema. He has spoken regularly on ABC radio about film history.

In 2003 he was a Founding Member and Secretary of the ACT Film and Television Council. From 2008 to 2012, he was a member of the ACT Government's Cultural Council, advising the Arts Minister on arts policy and strategies. He also served as Chairman of the ACT Screen Investment Fund for the ACT Government, and has chaired the MPA APSA film development fund for the Asia Pacific Screen Academy from 2010 to 2015.

His company, Ronin Films, has distributed many Asian and Australian films including the feature films STRICTLY BALLROOM and SHINE, though nowadays the company specialises in documentaries and the non-theatrical market.  In 2007, he was awarded an Order of Australia Medal for his services to the film industry, and an honorary doctorate from the University of Canberra. He was a Board member of the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia until mid-2012.  As a documentary writer-director, his films include THE CHIFLEYS OF BUSBY STREET and EMILY IN JAPAN, and has produced many others.  In 2014, he completed a feature-length documentary as co-director with Ann McGrath, MESSAGE FROM MUNGO, about the interaction between Indigenous communities and archeologists at Lake Mungo in south-west NSW;  the film won a United Nations Association Media Award in November 2014.

His knowledge and experience spans the breadth of the Australian film industry, past and present. Andrew will be presenting three great film in Townsville in September. While the films alone will be worth coming to see, meeting and speaking with Andrew will be an equally rewarding experience for film lovers of all stripes.

Screening

Friday, 4th of September

7.00pm start

The Band Wagon (1953)

A pretentiously artistic director is hired for a new Broadway musical and changes it beyond recognition.

Comedy/ Musical/ Romance    Rated: G    112 mins
 
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Screening

Sunday, 6th of September

7.00pm start

The Overlanders (1946)

It's the start of WWII in Northern Australia. The Japanese are getting close. People are evacuating and burning everything in a "scorched earth" policy. Rather than kill all their cattle, a disparate group decides to drive them overland half way across the continent.

Adventure/ Western   Rated: G          91 mins
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Screening

Saturday, 5th of September

7.00pm start

High and Low (1963)


An executive of a shoe company becomes a victim of extortion when his chauffeur's son is kidnapped and held for ransom.

Crime/ Drama/ Mystery    Rated: PG          143 mins
 
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