Words by Alex Mansell
Collage by Ashleigh Duncan
You could be forgiven for entirely missing the release of the Australian film Tracks at the beginning of March this year. Despite decent reviews and a marketing campaign that spanned bus shelters all over the country, the film detailing the journey of Australian woman Robyn Davidson travelling 1,700km from Alice Springs to the Indian Ocean with four camels and a dog hasn’t proven to be a commercial success.
As far as Australian films go, Tracks appeared to have potential. The story is relatively well-known thanks to Davidson’s popular 1980 book and the international fame she received from the related National Geographic cover story and newspaper coverage. The film also starred well-known actors including Mia Wasikowska from Alice in Wonderland and Girls star Adam Driver. Even the American director—John Curran of the 2006 film The Painted Veil—holds his own in cinematic history.
After its release on the 6th of March, the film quickly dissolved from mainstream cinemas due to poor crowds and found itself in the less lucrative world of independent cinema. Box office figures have been scarce: Box Office Mojo suggested that the film has made only $1.6 million in Australia. This is a disappointing figure considering its $12 million budget. Tracks’ reception abroad is also not expected to be any better than that in Australia given the fact that the film will only receive a limited international release at the beginning of May and that the hype generated by its showing at the Vancouver Film Festival last October is well and truly gone.
Following the supposed ‘Golden Age’ of Australian cinema in the 1970s and ’80s that produced critical and commercial successes like Mad Max, Crocodile Dundee, Picnic At Hanging Rock, Gallipoli and The Man From Snowy River, Australia was in prime position to cement a place in world cinema. Yet somehow, we’ve ended up with an industry plagued by a lack of confidence, lack of funding, and lack of public support. In Peter Craven’s 2006 article in The Monthly that still has resounding relevance today, he describes a phenomenon in international cinema wherein Australian films are “perceived as foreign and art house”—a viewpoint that restricts them from the mainstream markets regardless of their potential for success. Tracks has found itself the victim of this trend.
Contemporary Australian films that have been commercially successful seem to be characterised by their overuse of aggressively ‘Australian’ iconography and themes. A film like Australia is an obvious case in point, and its generally negative reception domestically was a direct result of this. Red Dog followed in the same vein but still managed to receive a solid reception locally. The international attitude towards Australian films as niche has resulted in the high-profile films that do make it overseas having an artificial ‘okka’ feel to them. Australian filmmakers are being given the choice of making a film about anything they want, or attaching a big sign to their production that says ‘AUSTRALIAN’ through the liberal use of stereotypes, as in Red Dog.
Domestic funding for Australian films is still very low. A 2009 Screen Australia survey of the industry found that 57 per cent (or $224 million) of funding for Australian and co-produced films comes from overseas investors. And although Screen Australia is the main government funding body, its contribution over 2012 and 2013 amounted to a total of $24 million, dramatically lower than the total of $140 million from the government in 2005/06.
As far as making a profit goes, the only Australian film of 2013 that has made back its money is the Australian-American co-produced The Great Gatsby. None of the purely Australian films of 2013 did particularly well at the box office, and almost none received attention from overseas. After the ’70s and ’80s when Australian filmmakers made films that Australian people wanted to watch, we’ve reached a point where most of our films are too art house and foreign for overseas markets, but too inauthentic for domestic audiences.
You may ask what’s so bad about Australian films dying out. You may prefer Hollywood blockbusters or foreign masterpieces anyway. Is there any reason to go for the local stuff? Here’s one: film offers a unique opportunity for Australians to share their stories. Maybe they’re adventurous and set in the outback like Tracks or maybe they’re in the middle of a city, as far removed from stereotypes as you can get. The point is that Australians have stories that are worth telling, and without local and government support, they will never get told. Without the right kind of support, stories like Tracks will never reach the audiences that they really ought to.
Words by James Zarucky
Illustrations by Cameron Baker
Cinematic history is littered with fascinating tales of films that never saw the light of day, and projects that started as one thing and morphed into something different by the time they were released. Many of these films suffered from a combination of poor financial judgement, the clashing of sizeable egos, and filmmakers stubbornly pursuing their vision at all costs. Here are just a few of the notable examples of films that experienced an interrupted gestation.
In 1985, David Lynch succeeded in getting Frank Herbert’s seminal sci-fi text to cinemas. But fellow genius/madman Alejandro Jodorowsky had attempted to adapt Dune almost a decade earlier, a novel many considered unfilmable. The extensive pre-production and planning that Jodorowsky and his team of collaborators undertook is now the stuff of legends. Jodorowsky’s film would have been no less than a fourteen-hour feature, with a cast that included Orson Welles, Mick Jagger and Salvador Dali, backed by Pink Floyd. Dali demanded to be paid $100,000 per hour for his role, a request that Jodorowsky intended to accommodate. He planned to film as much as he could of Dali within an hour, and commissioned designs for a robotic doppelgänger which would have replaced the artist in his other scenes.
Although producers panicked and pulled the plug when they realised that close to a third of their initial investment had already been spent in pre-production, the detailed concept designs and storyboards would go on to have an influence on later science fiction films such as Blade Runner, the Star Wars franchise, and Alien.
British director Stanley Kubrick has been tied to a number of unrealised projects, but Napoleon stands as the most ambitious of his abandoned endeavours. It is well documented that he had something of an obsession with Napoleon Bonaparte. Kubrick claimed in a number of interviews to have read close to 500 books on the man’s life, and his research resulted in the compilation of 15,000 location photos and 17,000 slides of Napoleonic imagery.
When planning for the film, he reportedly managed to get the Romanian army on board to provide 50,000 soldiers to take part in the reconstruction of epic battles from the era. The intended cast would have consisted of David Hemming and Audrey Hepburn in the lead roles, with Alec Guinness and Laurence Olivier as support. In 1970 another Napoleon film, Waterloo, was released and studios decided that Kubrick’s vision was too much of a financial risk.
Kubrick continued to talk about making the film as late as the early 1980s, and since his death, directors including Ang Lee and Steven Spielberg have been attached to projects based around Kubrick’s screenplay.
The recent passing of American comedy legend Harold Ramis has drawn attention to the long-promised second Ghostbusters sequel that has been in development since the 1990s.
Numerous theories have been floated as to what approach this film would take. The most credible indication was given by Ramis and Dan Aykroyd, who suggeste the focus would shift to a younger group of characters. Undoubtedly this would have been driven by Bill Murray’s continued refusal to take part, having previously expressed his general dislike of sequels.
At the time of writing, Ghostbusters 3 is yet to have moved beyond the script development stage, with reports appearing that rewrites are in the works following Ramis’ death. Actors Emma Stone and Jonah Hill have been linked to the film at various times, but at this stage no definitive casting decisions have been announced.
The Day The Clown Died
Comedian Jerry Lewis decided in the 1970s that he wanted to be taken seriously as an auteur. Naturally, he thought the best way to achieve this was to make a drama about a Jewish clown forced to lead children into the gas chambers at Auschwitz.
Lewis opted to finance the film out of his own pocket after other sources of funding dried up. A number of disputes between the principal creative and producer teams led to the completed film never being released to the public, with Lewis reportedly personally keeping a finished cut under lock and key. This hasn’t prevented the film becoming something of an intense source of interest for cinema historians and fans alike, with much attention surrounding the drip feed of excerpts, images and details about its production. Lewis himself has generally refused to comment when asked about it in interviews and public appearances.
Batman: Year One
It’s easy to forget that there was an eight-year gap between Christopher Nolan’s revival of the caped crusader and the debacle that was Batman and Robin. Director Joel Schumacher’s second Batman film was initially a hit at the box office, but triggered a vicious critical backlash that saw Warner Bros place a prosperous franchise on hiatus.
Although Batman may have been absent from cinema screens, studio executives considered a number of potential opportunities to reboot the series in the intervening period. Perhaps the most interesting project of note was Batman: Year One. This would have been an adaptation of Frank Miller’s graphic novel of the same name, directed by none other than Darren Aronofsky, known for his work on The Wrestler, Black Swan and the upcoming Noah. If finished this might have been the darkest adaptation of the Batman mythology to ever reach the big screen. Bruce Wayne was to be depicted as a disturbed youth who became a costumed vigilante as a way of coping with the murder of his parents. Alfred was not a butler, but an African-American mechanic who took Wayne in as a young street urchin. Unsurprisingly, Warner Bros baulked at the bleak direction the project was heading in, and opted to consider other alternatives.