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the veiled 1Director: Glenn Fraser

Writers: Glenn Fraser, Peter McLeod

Stars: Janet Shay, Zoe Carides, Nicholas Papademetriou

Haunting, eerie, yet thoughtful and composed with consummate care, The Veiled follows Cassandra (Janet Shay), an Australian fashion photographer used to shooting models by the breezy, open seaside, as she ventures into the world of women shut away from the daylight. Visiting family overseas is also a chance for Cassandra to search for clues to the disappearance of her sister years ago, leading her to the dark underworld of local sex-trafficking.

Having made a financial success of herself, transforming a mere hobby into paid work, Cassandra now seeks to put her snapshot skills to more urgent purpose, using her camera to turn her lens back onto predatory men, as well as to snatch important images of their victims. Photographs are of great symbolic importance in the film as (among other things) a currency of proof: verbal tales seem to count for little, and the women Cassandra is trying to help cannot speak English.

Although short, the film is populated by authentic and often sinister performances, and shots are composed with high attention to detail and atmosphere, while never cluttered or overdone. Overall, The Veiled is a striking and powerful film about guilt, memory, and responsibility, all structured around a terrible and urgent social problem. Highly recommended.

The Veiled Teaser from Digital Realm on Vimeo.

Lecture from 2012 on the theme of the artist-hero in Tim Burton’s films. It runs around 50 minutes. An audio-only version is available here.

Abstract:
Characters with particular artistic talents and sensitivities dominate the films of Tim Burton: the introverted Edward Scissorhands (Johnny Depp) of the 1990 film of the same name stuns his detractors with a series of unlikely masterworks; Jack Skellington of The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993) is the celebritized and eagerly sought scare-artist of Halloween Town; in Corpse Bride (2005) Victor Van Dort (Depp) funnels his frustrations into musical composition. These portrayals are curiously complemented in Burton’s oeuvre by characters who appear as affected, inferior or even deadly, artists. The Joker (Jack Nicholson) of Batman (1989), for instance, pronounces himself “the first fully functioning homicidal artist,” before presenting his mutilated girlfriend as “a living work of art.” This illustrated presentation explores the foregrounding of creative art in Burton’s films, focusing especially on the figure of the artist-hero. It considers this recurring figure in relation to an auteurism that insists we recognize the “Tim Burton-ness” of each film (notice its particular artistry), traditional conceptualizations of art production, and the role of artistic practice in foregrounding individuality.

I’ve uploaded an audio version of my lecture on dogs in horror cinema, originally given at the Stranger With My Face International Film Festival, 2016. It’s nearly an hour long, with audio clips. It discusses Suspiria, The Exorcist, The Thing, and Cujo, among some others.

DUCK LAKE
Public lecture and presentation by Dr Yvette Watt
Art Forum, Tasmanian College of the Arts
University of Tasmania, 20th May 2016 12:30pm

As part of the Tasmanian College of the Arts’ Art Forum seminar series, Tasmanian artist, lecturer, and animal activist Dr Yvette Watt delivered a highly engaging overview of her most recent project. ‘Duck Lake’ was an amateur performance of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake ballet, aboard a floating pontoon-stage in the Tasmanian wetlands on March 15, 2016.

7223366-3x2-940x627This gleeful and openly eccentric endeavour was organised to protest the opening of duck-hunting season, during which the ordinarily peaceful Moulting Lagoon is disrupted by gunfire and carnage. In case such an project defied easy visualisation, Dr Watt provided a vibrant and fascinating series of slides (including video) to illustrate the process, and of course its striking culmination: the spectacle of dancers in pink tutus, hardhats, and parodic high-visibility pink ‘camouflage’ tights leaping and prancing delightedly at dawn.

Duck LakeWatt commenced her talk with a retrospective of her earlier artwork focused on our relationship to nonhuman animals (particularly farm animals) and its discomforting ethical implications. The photographic series ‘Animal Factories’ was particularly potent both intellectually and emotionally. The photos showed a series of factory chicken farms in Tasmania, many shot from afar—the structures isolated, imposing and arranged with eerie symmetry. A sense of the secrecy around animal agriculture was strongly evoked; while these industrial behemoths house many thousands of birds, snaps from outside show no trace of animal life around (and of course no hint of the torment within). Accordingly, Dr Watt explained her deliberate avoidance of the graphic imagery often employed by animal activists in favour of images that incite us to imagine for ourselves the lives of animals within these systems.

Screen-Shot-2016-02-03-at-3.51.41-pm-203hvdo.pngIn contrast to Watt’s previous work, Duck Lake employed humour distinctively as a device of engagement, leading Watt to discuss issues around using amusement to capture moral attention. She argued that artist-activists should not accept conservative commands against being ‘political’ in their work, but should also ‘be clever’ in devising modes of captivating their audience.

maxresdefaultDuck Lake was certainly clever and strangely captivating. The spectacle was obviously designed to direct public and media attention to the violence of duck-hunting. More than this though, such a flamboyant and unlikely activity, performed by dancers in parodies of ‘macho’ apparel, was also a critique of hunting as a violent affectation of traditional masculinities. It was clear from several images that Moulting Lagoon, when not ringing with gunfire and littered with beer cans and spent cartridges, is serenely beautiful. The garishly pink performance on the lagoon announced its artificiality in this natural setting, although in doing so underscored the artificiality of the destructive macho rituals it parodied and upstaged.

Yvette-with-dead-teal-1aDuck Lake was sponsored by a crowdfunding campaign, and Dr Watt acknowledged the generous support of her many helpers on a project requiring considerable collaboration.

Duck-shooting is an issue easily obscured in Tasmania’s conservative political landscape. Yet, impassioned, provocative, and thrillingly weird, Duck Lake was a protest not easily forgotten.

  • To request an end to duck-shooting in Tasmania, write to Matthew Groom, Minister for Environment, Parks and Heritage: matthew.groom[AT]dpac.tas.gov.au
  • You can also read more here, and sign the petition.

 

the four feathers_THE FOUR FEATHERS (Silent, 1929)
Dirs. Merian C. Cooper, Lothar Mendes, and Ernest B. Schoedsack

Those familiar with The Most Dangerous Game (1932) and King Kong (1933) know producer-directors Merian C. Cooper and Ernest Schoedsack’s swashbuckling sensibilities, and in this silent, pre-Kong collaboration between the two (with Lothar Mendes) we get a pulpy yarn of wartime rescue, heroism and redemption. When British military gent Lt. Harry Faversham (Richard Arlen) evades his duty in favor of marrying his childhood sweetheart (Fay Wray) immediately, he drags himself and his family into disgrace. The film’s title derives from four feathers he receives from those once close to him (including a very unimpressed fiancée—now embarrassed to be with this wimp), the items offered as symbols of his cowardice. However, when his cohorts are captured in Africa he concocts a plan to infiltrate the enemy stronghold and ferry them to safety, thereby restoring his honor.

The Four FeathersThe codes of heroism and masculinity on display here are of course remarkably dated by now; although even by 1929, in the aftermath of the Great War, the chivalry of soldiering was under considerable scrutiny. Nevertheless, the film’s angst-ridden premise sets up some fine action as the Brits battle their captors, and a particularly momentous chase sequence (albeit with some discomforting animal involvement). The Four Feathers hardly stands alongside Schoedsack and Cooper’s more famous efforts, but it’s an enjoyable excursion before bigger things to come.  3 / 5

Complete film (public domain):

DARK AGE (1987)
Dir. Arch Nicholson

Darkage1987poster.jpgCrocodilian chaos in Australia’s Northern Territory: When one particularly big brute starts snacking on humans, it’s up to wildlife ranger and conservationist Steve Harris (John Jarratt) to bring it to heel. With a sensible respect for the local wildlife, Steve wants to stop the killer croc while preventing a crew of mad hunters (eager for an excuse to indulge their bloodlust) from hitting the creeks for a pump-action killathon.

Aboriginal elders warn Steve that this ain’t no ordinary crocodile: In addition to its size, this creature is “proper old” and “wise,” they say.  He’s also a figure in their Dreaming and they refuse to participate in killing him. The initial attack is provoked by the incursions of racist poachers, and Dark Age carries a strong anti-colonial subtext, evoking a land stolen and its ecology ignored and degraded.

The largest reptile on earth, and with the gnarled look of a nasty dinosaur, the saltwater croc’s menace is wonderfully evoked with reference to its prehistoric origins (hence the film’s title), as well as its role in a timeless Aboriginal spirituality. In a nod to Jaws, the local bigwig (played by Home and Away veteran Ray Meagher) is concerned about tourism: Japanese investors set to build the town up mustn’t be scared off. 508Ultimately, Dark Age depicts an outback culture whose powerful players are in hot pursuit of modernization and money, trying to leave behind an indigenous historyand presentto which the creature is connected. The subtext comes on a little strong at one or two points, but amid numerous less imaginative Jaws-imitators it’s refreshing to see a film so brimming with ideas.

darkage_5609604f06a83The film’s score, heavy on the synth drums, is at times distractingly dated, and can’t always summon the intensity required (especially during a Jaws-like pursuit of the predator). The crocodile effects are also limited and sometimes log-like: one shot of the croc on the water’s surface seems to terminate because the model is slowly drifting off to the left. Shots of the brute in motion could have been livened up with some strategically edited and inserted stock footage. That aside, the film invests properly in its human drama, and tensions within the town (and culture more broadly) are played out through strong performances. As implied above, though, the film is perhaps most effective in its evocation of Australia as a kind of haunted land: a place with an ancient identity of which its white inhabitants are ignorant, but which nevertheless bursts violently forth from the past—and bites.  3.5 / 5

Razorback-2RAZORBACK (1984)
Dir. Russell Mulcahy

From deep within an Australian Outback as grotesquely gothic as any Tim Burton landscape comes Razorback, feral boar titan, to freight-train through your living room and steal your baby. Yes, your baby. I don’t know what it does with the baby. Presumably it eats him. The film doesn’t get a whole lot more sensible than that, but for those with a taste for horror with an absurdist touch: pig out.

To the land of the weird ventures American journalist and animal-lover Beth Winters (Judy Morris), intent on reporting the country’s heartless massacre of marsupial ‘pests’. Yet with Hogzilla on the prowl the story is bigger than she realizes. Not only is the wildlife more than she bargained for, but so too are the locals, the worst of whom—a couple of yawping, greasy, black-tooth hunters—intrude with a villainy of their own.

Razorback.gifMeanwhile, grizzled pig-shooter Jake (Bill Kerr), grandfather of the stolen baby, begins a Quint-like quest against the beast. Regrettably, Jake is but a shadow of his animal-horror influences, and the film suffers here from its indecisive tone: it’s hard to develop a scarred and serious character in a circus like this. Leaving that aside, Razorback is stylish and garishly striking—fairly well-financed but shot with an irresistible exploitation verve. The final showdown with the big boy (with much organ-pounding over the soundtrack) is sort of scarier than the rest of it, but foremost a silly delight. 3.5 / 5

POSSESSION (1981)
Dir. Andrzej Żuławski

667.jpgAn intense and aggressive domestic drama descends into experimental horror in Żuławski’s cult classic Possession. Steered visually by the restless cinematography of Bruno Nuytten the film constructs a world pervaded by uncertainty, discomfort, and a sense of worse to come. The initial horror is of an everyday nature: Mark (Sam Neill) arrives home to Berlin to discover his wife Anna (Isabelle Adjani) has been having an affair and is not the least bit sorry about it either. He turns on the insecure male hysterics and quickly drives her to a similar pitch—then beyond. However, in an apartment downtown Anna has been keeping (and gradually growing) a more monstrous secret, and as her behavior becomes more and more unhinged the film explodes into a warped and chaotic exploration of loathing, desire, and frustration.

As the above perhaps suggests, Żuławski’s film focuses at least partially on ‘possession’ in terms of sexual behavior: Sam Neill feels his cheating wife has acted like one ‘possessed,’ although in doing so highlights his own desire for ‘possession’ (of her). Character interactions are histrionic from the outset but often powerfully so—commanding our stunned attention with so much emotional mess. Beyond sexual ‘possession,’ the film is famous for its scenes of female madness, which are indeed remarkable and transfixing. Yet one scene in particular (you will pick it) is so explosive it seems to repel any Possession-8276_4.jpgpossible identification or sympathy, risking a kind of objectifying ‘insanity porn’—a display foremost for our shock and amazement. Or perhaps in its transgressive and apocalyptic intensity (far beyond narrative or meaning) the moment achieves a kind of liberatory chaos?  I expect opinions vary.

The mysterious Thing kept by Anna in her grubby parody of the domestic environment is darkly fascinating, yet the film seems occasionally to lose interest in it, so the device isn’t quite explored to its full visual or metaphoric potential. Ultimately the themes of partner-perfection and obedience are provocative and troubling, and the film’s emotional collisions both traumatic and captivating. But in addition to Anna’s startling hysterics, a very kooky paramour, the monster and a doppelganger there’s also talk of souls and death and God—and really there’s just a bit too much thrown in for us to get an intellectual or emotional feel for its implications. Disorienting sometimes to its detriment, Possession is nevertheless a work of wild and commendable audacity.  3.5 / 5

DEATH RIDES A HORSE (1967)
Dir. Giulio Petroni

death_rides_a_horse.jpgGood old-fashioned revenge doesn’t get much better than this down and dirty lead crusade from Giulio Petroni. On the kind of sodden night from which nothing good can come a gang of hoods storm the home of the young Bill Meceita, murdering both his parents. 15 years later, all grown up and more than handy with a gun, Bill (John Phillip Law) sets out for revenge. Meanwhile, Ryan (Lee Van Cleef), an outlaw as weathered as the rocks he splits during his term of hard labor, is finally granted release and begins his pursuit of the crooks who double-crossed him into the slammer in the first place. You guessed it: they’re the same low-lives.

The storyline of Death Rides a Horse packs a crude punch, but the ominous atmosphere is what really sucks one into this graceful and aggressive film. The rumbling strains of Morricone’s score effortlessly summon dread or exhilaration as required, and the opening attack scene is a horrid thrill-piece of trepidation—moody enough to be captivating and tumultuous enough to be genuinely threatening. The cinematography here arrests us at every turn: shots of the cutthroat legion moving over the hill toward the farm in the blinding rain, of water cascading off low hat brims, of hooves stepping with dire purpose through the mud.

DeathRides.jpgAlthough the film’s main interest is action—the simple pleasure of watching a couple of tough hombres take care of business—Petroni’s stylistic flair lends a symbolism of its own to these proceedings. The treachery and isolation of the Western landscape, the inexorability of fate, and the development of a surrogate father/son relationship between Ryan and Bill are all evoked.

The minimalist characterization and straight-up firepower of Death Rides a Horse won’t appeal to all viewers, but for those keen on a tightly plotted thriller content to let the lead do the talking, the film is a treat.  4 / 5

Download film (public domain)


 

Wolfen_1981.jpgWOLFEN (1981)
Dir. Michael Wadleigh

1981 was the year of the wolf, unleashing on cinemas both An American Werewolf in London and The Howling as well as Michael Wadleigh’s captivating Wolfen, the director’s first and final non-documentary feature. Albert Finney plays troubled NYC detective Dewey Wilson investigating a series of gory kills, beginning with the mutilation-murder of a real-estate tycoon and his wife. Big Money of course has plenty of enemies, and possibly connected is a militant Native American activist, Eddie Holt (Edward James Olmos). But this crime-scene suggests some hairier happening.

Eschewing the sexual subtexts of its contemporaries, Wolfen instead gestures to an ancient and unknowable animal world never quite vanquished. Like much animal horror, Wolfen imagines the creature’s point of view as it stalks its human prey; yet these shots are used so extensively that the technique threatens to destabilize familiar human points of view associated with the order and normality Wilson seeks to restore. The resulting impression is that this threat is not merely some aberration of civilized life to be corrected by good policing, but a rival reality—ever-present and always waiting for the inevitable demise of western “progress.”

wolfen2.jpgThis theme is hauntingly imbued in images of industrial and residential dilapidation—urban rubble through which the wolves stalk their prey. As Wilson tracks his targets, a tingling, stealthy score by James Horner accents (and never smothers) the film’s shivery atmosphere. A film as dark, graceful and bewitching as its elusive antagonists.  5 / 5