I do feel bad for the Greater Union on Russell Street. It obviously doesn't pull in enough money to restore itself properly, and appears to be buoyed only by its annual Melbourne International Film Festival sessions. Even so, when I walked into the bathrooms and discovered one stall without a toilet seat, one without a door, and one that's best left undescribed (for those weak of constitution), my sympathy for their plight began to wane.
Many seat cushions are held onto their bases by pure force of will, and far too many of the narrow arm rests are wonky and moments from falling apart. All you really need to do is sit in the damn things, and even this seems like an impossible chore. Were it not for the pedestrian traffic, I'd definitely be making myself comfortable in one of the stairwells, as they seem in much better condition.
I understan d that there are limited options for MIFF, as needs to be centralised and there are only so many venues, but if I were the organisers, I would make sure the Regent is free in 2009 and book out an extra theatre at the Kino, because until renovations are begun on the dilapidated Greater Union, it is really affecting the quality of the festival.
I entered the Greater Union, sat in what I will charitably refer to as a "seat" up near the front, and continued reading my book as I waited for the session to begin. After the series of "Everyone's a critic" stills I ranted about in the last MIFF round-up, we began with that awful ad for "Rush", the Australian cop show promo that plays before every film. The image was suddenly very streaky, and I began to speculate -- using my very limited knowledge about projectors -- what had gone wrong. Halfway through the ad, the image cut out and the screen was black. "I bet that's it," thought I, pulling my book out again, "the thing's bust, it ain't coming back." A few minutes later, a MIFF representative who looked like he'd rather be anywhere but here, told the crowd that the projector was busted and the session would not be played. I'd been looking forward to NIGHT TRAIN -- a minimalist drama about condemned prisoners set in China's industrial western provinces; I know, it sounds like a barn burner -- but what could I do? When I said Greater Union was a blight on MIFF, I wasn't just complaining about the seat cushions...
SON OF RAMBOW
Here we go. Over at the Forum , the sold-out screening of SON OF RAMBOW jumped straight into itself. I will admit to having never seen a RAMBO film -- not avoiding them, it's just never come up = -- but I soon found that all you need to know is contained within this film= Oh, everything you've heard about it is true, by the way. It is pure greatness, and a great showcase of the work of Garth Jennings, whose clips I've always enjoyed, but whose work on HITCH-HIKER'S GUIDE made me a little sad. The script and the direction is superb, and the performances even moreso. The two main kids in the film are incredibly natural, elevating the film above "cute kids jumping about" to something greater. Bill Milner is perfectly awkward, looking and sounding a lot like a young Nicholas Hoult. Will Poulter is extraordinary as the bully who befriends him; there's no way this kid doesn't have a big career ahead of him. Jessica Hynes/Stevenson is unsurprisingly brilliant, making me wonder why we don't see her more often (raising a family be damned, Jessica, get back in front of the camera!). It's a brilliant film, a total crowd-pleaser, and totally geared towards anyone who played at movie acting as a kid. Another must-see.
OF TIME AND THE CITY
Over to ACMI to see Terence Davies's documentary about growing up in Liverpool in the 1950s and 1960s... The other day I was talking about Guy Maddin's brilliant MY WINNIPEG and how every city or state should have a film like that devoted to it. Knowing nothing about the film when it began, the opening minutes made it seem like this was Liverpool's film. A history of the city told from a very personal perspective. It definitely is that, and it's a captivating watch, but it's not the definitive work that I feel WINNIPEG is. For instance: no history of Liverpool can avoid the subject of The Beatles, its most famous export. Davies g ives a brief intro to them, showing clips of them and other bands, and fades their music immediately out, fading in his preferred classical music to illustrate how tiresome he found the pop music movement of the 1960s. I think the film would have benefited from the history of these guys from Davies's own perspective, rather than a reference to how he's not going to talk about them, but I suppose it's fair enough. It makes it less about the city and more about Davies's own experiences growing up, and from that perspective, it's a bizarrely entertaining work. Oh, and I was particularly happy to hear some excerpts from Round The Horne, being as I am a big fan of early BBC radio comedy. A strange, wry, funny, and very interesting snippet of Terence Davies's Liverpool, circa mid-century.
MAN ON WIRE
I booked this one 'cos it sounded like the Speedy Gonzales version of the Denzel Washington revenge film, but discovered it was actually about Philippe Petit's attempt to cross the World Trade Centre buildings on a hire wire, back in 1974. And what a terrific doco it is. Petit himself is a very engaging figure, the stories about the feats leading up to the WTC crossing are just as exciting, and the flashback footage is superb. In fact, though I know some of it was real and some of it was recreated, the vast majority of it looked so authentic, I couldn't tell for the most part whether what I was looking at was reality or artifice. Though the film sometimes feels like it's stretching a good one hour story out into ninety minutes, it really is a cracking tale, and one that's worth seeking out.
Okay, I gotta get some shut-eye. I'll try to review the five films I have left (not to mention the non-MIFF films I've been seeing on the side) and catch up in the morning. Keep an eye out for the next column. It features an admission that, if you haven't questioned my credibility already, will definitely cause you to do very soon...