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Jeffrey Walker: Orchestrating Ali’s Wedding

Ali's Wedding is based on the real life experiences of co-writer and star Osamah Sami, whose arranged marriage fell apart after two hours. To help him bring his story to the screen, Sami recruited director Jeffrey Walker (Dance Academy).
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78/52 (Revelation Film Festival)

Festival, Review, This Week 2 Comments

American author E. B. White once said, “Explaining a joke is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better, but the frog dies in the end.” The same can be said of why anything in storytelling works. Many documentaries about director Alfred Hitchcock have attempted to explain the man and his films, but often talk of their influence rather than why they work. In Alexandre O. Philippe’s documentary 78/52, a microscope is put over one scene from Hitchcock’s films: the shower scene from Psycho. Rather than a dead frog, audiences are left with a dead woman and the best analysis of Hitchcock’s talent.

The shower scene from Psycho is a cultural landmark. It’s been referenced in films, comics, and shows like The Simpsons. Even people who haven’t seen Psycho will know the shrill music accompanying the scene and what it means. 78/52 shows it wasn’t just a fluke it would become popular, with the documentary explaining how much thought Hitchcock put into it (the title of the documentary references the scene’s 78 camera angles and 52 cuts; a lot for a three-minute scene).

The documentary features over 40 interviewees, ranging from film directors, editors, writers, actors, and even Hitchcock’s granddaughter, with each bringing remarkable anecdotes and observations. Janet Leigh’s body double Marli Renfro provides details such as how the only time in the scene we see a knife touch her body was filmed. A sound effect anecdote is enlightening, showing the amount of detail involved in getting the sound right led to Hitchcock listening to his crew stab up to fifty different types of melon.

Along with behind the scenes, interviewees discuss the cultural influences of the time and the impact it made. Director Richard Stanley mentions the film’s significant breaking of taboo by being the first film to ever show a toilet, while director Eli Roth talks of the scene taking place in a shower scaring audiences for invading what was considered a safe space. Academic David Thomson makes a particularly astute observation about the painting used to cover Norman’s peephole being more than just a nice painting; the painting’s subject foreshadows the scene about to take place.

The analysis goes in-depth, with the shower head being compared to God’s eye, the movement of Leigh’s hands, why some shots are blurry, the use of space, and much more. Every interviewee offers a piece of information that blows you away – even exploring how a fight scene from famous cinephile Martin Scorsese’s classic Raging Bull actually imitates the shower scene. The way Philippe films each interview is also impressive: black and white, in a room that’s straight out of the Bates Motel. It’s a wonderfully made choice, making the film flow smoothly without disorientating the viewer by constantly switching between b&w and colour.

There is a lot to take in from 78/52. Analysing a three-minute scene – one which wasn’t even significant in the original novel – could be considered overkill. But, this documentary shows just how brilliant a filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock was. 78/52 is an entertaining film about a scene that not only completely changed the story in a film, but also completely changed cinema.

 
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Daniel Monks and Stevie Cruz-Martin: Feeling the Pulse

Screening as part of the Screenability Stream at the Sydney Film Festival, Pulse is a transgressive, provocative and insightful look at disability, sexuality, and identity. We spoke to writer and star, Daniel Monks, and director, Stevie Cruz-Martin, about their debut feature.
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Blue (Sydney Film Festival)

Festival, Review, This Week 1 Comment

Blue, director Karina Holden’s urgent eco-doco, casts a wide net in its efforts to catalogue the crises facing the world’s oceans. Using a number of activists and scientists as our points of ingress, the film takes in the threat of overfishing, be it from huge commercial enterprises or subsistence communities; the devastating impact of plastic pollution on the the entire oceanic ecosystem; the coral-bleaching epidemic brought about by rising water temperatures, and more. The film hits you with striking, harrowing images over and over again: drowned seals tangled in abandoned fishing nets, a hermit crab using a plastic cap as a shell, the skull of a sea turtle half-buried on a northern Australian beach, the graceless carcasses of huge sharks lined up at a South East Asian fish market. It is undeniably affecting stuff.

But it’s also quite obviously calculated to evince an emotional response, and you may find yourself in the odd position of being entirely sympatico with Blue‘s aims and themes, but at odds with the way it communicates them. For all that the film uses scientists and experts as spokespeople, it is very much a polemical, dealing in broad strokes and emotive language to drive its point home, and only lightly touching on concrete facts and figures. We get a lot of portentous long shots of doomed sea life, and just as much ponderous voice-over pontificating on the ills of the modern world. It gets tiresome.

But your mileage may vary. Blue is, at base, a rallying cry, designed to get the viewer riled up enough to actually take action; veteran oceanographer Valerie Taylor (still diving at 82, bless) adamantly states that one person can make a difference, and the film is capped with a list of resources and organisations for those willing to heed the call – good stuff. But still, one can’t shake the feeling of being talked down to. At its best, Blue is a beautifully shot and earnest look at the largely invisible apocalypse affecting the marine world – but it’s awfully condescending in the telling.

 
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Matthew Salleh: Traversing a World of Food in Barbecue

An epic journey through a dozen countries, Barbecue is not only a fascinating exploration of different culinary traditions, but a timely reminder of the similarities that bind us together. We caught up with director Matthew Salleh to learn more about his mouthwatering journey through the global village.