SOUTH AUSTRALIA, THROUGH THE CORPORATION SET UP BY DON DUNSTAN'S STATE GOVERNMENT IN 1972, played the leading role in reviving Australian film making.
The South Australian Film Corporation, which prompted other states to set up similar bodies, had critical and commercial success with its earliest films such as Sunday Too Far Away (1975: Australian Film Institute best film, best lead actor and best supporting actor awards), Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975) and Storm Boy (1976).
The corporation, set up under visionary chief executive Gil Brealey, also helped launch the careers of actors and film makers such as Peter Weir, Jack Thompson, Scott Hicks, Rolf de Heer, Mario Andreacchio, Bryan Brown, Geoffrey Rush and Bruce Beresford.
In the 1980s, the corporation shifted to television production at a disused factory in Hendon, a northwestern Adelaide suburb. The Battlers mini series in 1994 was the corporation’s last as producer. It moved to supporting South Australian film and television with funds and making available studios. This was its role in the Nine Network’s McLeod’s Daughters, filmed in rural South Australia.
The corporation moved in 2008 to the Adelaide Studios at eastern suburbs Glenside. The project included new sound stages and mixing suites, as well as a major refurbishment of an historic 19th Century building as a high-tech film hub.
Adelaide still takes a leading role in film with its biennial October 11-day film festival that has become one of the most innovative in Australia.
ADELAIDE'S FIRST FILM SHOW AT THEATRE ROYAL IN HINDLEY STREET IN 1896
Adelaide's first permanent cinema was in Hindley Street on the site of the cyclorama and the Olympia skating rink. Cinema chain owner T. J. West bought the site and revamped it as West’s Picture Theatre. It opened in 1908. In 1939, West decided to knock down the theatre and build a modern art-deco one in its place. (The theatre is now the home of Adelaide Symphony Orchestra as the Grainger Studio – named after Percy Grainger.) By 1912, several silent movie picture theatres were built, mainly around Hindley Street. The Empire Theatre opened alongside the newly-built 1901 Adelaide (Central) Market in Grote Street. The style of picture theatre buildings was influenced by the American cinema industry. They were often ornate and the most flamboyant building in the streetscape. Two former cinema buildings survive as substantial shops along Rundle Mall. One is the five-storey Lotteries Commission building at 23-25 Rundle Mall which was a former Grand Picture Theatre built for sole proprietor Alfred Drake. He held a grand opening in November 1916 for the city’s mayor and other dignitaries before it was premiered to the public the next day with The Fool's Revenge. It closed in 1976, having also been known at different times as the Mayfair and Sturt cinemas.
Terowie-born J.P. McGowan became a pioneering Hollywood actor, director and occasional screenwriter and producer from 1910. He is the only Australian life member of the Screen Directors Guild (now Directors Guild of America). After early years in the then-bustling South Australian railway town of Terowie, John Paterson McGowan grew up in the Adelaide suburb of Islington and later Sydney. He served in the second Boer War as a special dispatch rider. From South Africa, McGowan was recruited for a Boer War exhibit in the USA at the 1904 World’s Fair. He worked in live theatre and in 1910 joined Kalem film studios in New York City. That year he made his first film appearance in A lad from old Ireland. His horse riding ability enabled him to do many stunts. McGowan directed and often acted in the first 33 episodes of Kalem's 1914 adventure series The hazards of Helen. He married its star Helen Holmes. They left Kalem to set up their own company that made mainly railroad melodrama serials and features. McGowan moved silent film to talkies. While never a major star, over four decades he acted in 232 films —mostly strong roles like sheriff or villain—,wrote 26 screenplays and directed 242 productions. In 1932, he directed a young John Wayne in the 12-episode serial The Hurricane express. From 1938 to 1951, as executive secretary of the Screen Directors Guild, he fought for the director to be recognised within the film studio systems and emerging television industry. McGowan's adventurous stunt-filled partnership with Helen Holmes was celebrated in the bio-tribute, Stunt love, at the Adelaide Film Festival and at Museum of Modern Art, New York, in 2011.
FILM PRODUCTION COMPANY STARTED BY ADELAIDE BUSINESSMEN IN 1917
The Story of the Kelly Gang, screened at Adelaide Town Hall in 1906, worried the South Australian authorities. The bushranger film, based on the national myth of the underdog fighting the system, became a popular genre. The Advertiser reported that the 1906 screening of The Story of the Kelly Gang “worked the audience up to such a pitch of excitement that . . . Ned Kelly and his followers were cheered again and again”. When a later version, The Kelly Gang, screened in 1914 the authorities acted swiftly. It was the first film banned in South Australia. The state government’s chief secretary believed scenes of a bank robbery, train derailment and locking of police in their own cells were “demoralising to the younger generation”. Censorship struck again in 1916 when Adelaide cinematographer Harry Krischock’s short film, Hunting Kangaroos by Motor Car, set off public anger. Concerned about films offending public taste, the South Australian Advisory Board of Film Censors was estabslished in 1917. Another Krischock film, Remorse, the first feature film made in South Australia, caused more problems that year. Although its central theme was a venereal disease warning, a hint of pornography drew the audience and admission was restricted to those over 16. South Australian Southern Cross Feature Film Company's first film, The Woman Suffers (1918), was approved by the state censors subject to certain scenes being eliminated. But the NSW chief secretary banned the film without giving reasons after a seven-week run in Sydney. Longford suspected commercial reasons were behind this banning.
The silent film version of South Australian Auburn-born poet C.J. Dennis’s The Sentimental Bloke, financed by a South Australia’s Southern Cross Feature Film company, had its premiere in 1919 in Adelaide. Raymond Longford, who had signed a lucrative film deal with Dennis in 1917, directed the film for Southern Cross Feature Film, headed by Adelaide businessman David Gordon. Starring director Raymond Longford’s partner Lotte Lyell as Doreen and Arthur Tauchert as Bill, The Sentimental Bloke was a big hit and widely screened and praised in the UK and USA. A “talkie” version was made in the 1930s. This was followed by another C.J. Dennis creation, The moods of Ginger Mick. The Southern Cross Feature Film Company was at its peak in 1920 when it paid a dividend of a shilling a share.In 1925, major shareholder and entrepreneur E.J. Carroll suggested that Southern Cross Feature Film make an adaption of Dennis’s The Rose of Spadgers. But the other directors decided against it, with the company losing money by not being able to recoup film-making costs in the UK and USA. Southern Cross shut down soon afterwards. All copies of the film version of The Moods of Ginger Mick have been lost but a copy of The Sentimental Bloke in excellent condition was found in the USA. It had been catalogued incorrectly as “The Sentimental Blonde”.
BOOM DAYS FOR ADELAIDE PICTURE THEATRES FROM 1930s-50s
Adelaide city lost a slew of stylish and elegant cinemas from the 1960s with the advent of television and suburban multiplexes. Among the cinemas lost in the city were the Rex (first with 11am-11pm showings), Savoy (presented newsreels), Sturt, York, the Metro, Wests, Curzon (showing foreign films) and The Majestic. The York, with 1,722 seats, was opened by the Greater Wondergraph Theatres chain in 1921. It was demolished in the 1960s to widen Gawler Place.
CLASSIC CINEMAS JOIN RAMPAGE AGAINST ADELAIDE BUILT HERITAGE
AFTER FEW FEATURE FILMS MADE IN THE STATE BETWEEN 1918 AND 1968
Only four feature films were shot in South Australia between 1918 and 1968. There were two English productions – Ealing Studios’ Bitter Springs (1950) and the Rank Organisation’s Robbery Under Arms (1957) – and two American – Twentieth Century-Fox’s Kangaroo (1952) and Warner Brothers’ The Sundowners (1960) starring Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr. Films made in Australia became a new attraction after World War II with Bitter springs, The overlanders, Smiley and Jedda, which starred two Aboriginal actors, proving popular. Bitter springs was greeted as a major achievement with prime minister Robert Menzies attending the world premiere at Wests Theatre in Hindley Street, Adelaide, on June 23 1950. Other Australian films, although with international actors, were The Shiralee and On the beach. The outdoor sequences of some of these films were captured at South Australia locations and the world premiere of Robbery under arms was at Port Augusta in 1957. Neville Shute’s novel was adapted to film in 1956 as A town like Alice. It starred Virginia McKenna and Peter Finch. It was shown in Japan under the title Malay Death March: A Town Like Alice. (In 1981 it was adapted into a popular television miniseries called A town like Alice, starring Helen Morse and Bryan Brown.) The Alice refers to Alice Springs, named after the wife of South Australia’s postmaster general and superintendent of telegraphs, Charles Todd, who oversaw the building of the Adelaide to Darwin telegraph line, completed in 1872. South Australia administered the North Territory at that time.
Half a century to the day after The Woman Suffers premiered in Adelaide 1918, the next South Australian feature film, Ludwik Dutkiewicz’s Time in Summer (1968), appeared. Although it enjoyed a screening at the Berlin Film Festival but failed to attract commercial interest. The experimental narrative film, produced, written and photographed by Ian Davidson and directed by Dutkiewicz, explored the subjective experiences of a girl's first romance and her brother near death after a car accident. Christina O’Brien and Peter Ross led the cast. Davidson and Dutkiewicz also made Reflections (1964) and Transfiguration (1965) that received an AFI award for best black and white photography. Davidson was influenced by late 1940s films – William Wyler’s The Best years of our lives, Olivier’s Hamlet, The Third man and Kazan’s Boomerang – and by Jean Cocteau, Eisenstein, and modern authors William Faulkner and James Joyce. In the 1950s he was swayed by dramatists (particularly Lorca) seen in “visionary” productions in Adelaide and expanded his literary horizons in Mary Martin’s Bookshop that, under Max Harris, was a gathering place for exploring modernism. In 1955, Davidson met painter and multi-media experimental artist Stan Ostoja-Kotkowski and, soon after, brothers Wlad and Ludwik Dutkiewicz who founded the Arts Studio Players. Ludwik Dutkiewicz was featured in the documentary film Painting 1950-1955 South Australia, by Ostoja-Kotkowski. He belonged to the progressive Adelaide Group, that exhibited in Adelaide, Sydney and Melbourne in the 1950s.
Gil Brealey, television and film director, producer and writer, was the daring and imaginative hands-on force as founding director and chairman of the South Australian Film Corporation,set up by Don Dunstan’s state government in 1972. The corporation played the leading role in reviving Australian film making. Prompting other states to set up similar bodies, it had critical and commercial success with its earliest films such as Sunday Too Far Away (1975: Australian Film Institute best film, best lead actor and best supporting actor awards), Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975), Storm Boy (1976) and Breaker Morant (1980). Shine (1996) was a critical and commercial success. Geoffrey Rush won the American Academy award for best actor. The director, Flinders University graduate Scott Hicks, was nominated as best director for the Academy, Golden Globe and AFI awards. The corporation also help launch the careers of actors and film makers such as Peter Weir, Jack Thompson, Rolf de Heer, Mario Andreacchio, Bryan Brown, and Bruce Beresford. In the 1980s, the corporation moved into television production at a disused factory in Hendon, a northwestern Adelaide suburb. The Battlers mini series in 1994 was the corporation’s last as producer. It shifted to supporting South Australian film and television with funds and making available studios. This was its role in the Nine television network’s McLeod’s Daughters, filmed in rural South Australia. The corporation's new home from 2008 was the Adelaide Studios at eastern suburbs Glenside.
ANDERSON, HELPMANN, MICHELL, SEMLER, STIGWOOD, LaPAGLIA
Judith Anderson’s role in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940) was nominated for the best supporting actress Academy Award. This was a highlight of Adelaide-born and -educated Anderson’s film work that was limited compared to her distinguished theatre career in New York and London. Educated at Rose Park, Francee Anderson first performed with Adelaide Repertory Theatre and made her professional debut in Sydney in 1915 at 17. Three years later, unable to get film work in Los Angeles despite a letter to director Cecil B. De Mille, she moved to New York and a long stage career. After her belated role in Rebecca, appearances followed during in 1940s films such as Lady Scarface, Kings row, and Otto Preminger’s Laura (1944) with Gene Tierney. Anderson got to work with Cecil B. De Mille as Memnet for his epic The Ten Commandments (1956). Anderson’s other 1950s film roles included Herodias in Salome (1953) and Big Mama alongside Burl Ives in Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a hot tin roof. Anderson began n television in the early 1950s, starring in prestigious event dramas such as recreating her Medea in 1959 and productions of Macbeth in 1954/60, winning the Emmy award for both performances as Lady MacBeth. Anderson frequent starred onHallmark Hall of Fame and in the TV special Light’s Diamond Jubilee (1954), on all networks. In 1970, she had a role in the film A man called Horse. In 1984, besides appearing in Star Trek III: The search for Spock, Anderson started three years as matriarch Minx Lockridge on the NBC serial Santa Barbara.
With a stage-struck mother a driving force in his career, Robert Helpmann went from a childhood in Mount Gambier to became an international figure in ballet but also film, theatre, ballet and opera. He was consultant (1968) and artistic director (1970) of the Adelaide Festival of Arts. Legendary Adelaide teacher Nora Stewart was an early influence on Helpmann. Among Helpmann’s first ballet appearance was in the chorus at Adelaide's Theatre Royal for the 1924 premiere of Kenneth Duffield's first and only musical written in Australia, Hullo Healo. By 1926, Helpmann had joined the touring company of Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova. The high point of his dance career was the Sadler's Wells Ballet tour of the United States in 1949, when he partnered Margot Fonteyn in the lead roles of The Sleeping Beauty. After producing his own ballets, Helpmann appeared in many films, including the Powell and Pressburger ballet films The red shoes (1948), when he was also choreographer, and The tales of Hoffmann (1951). In 1942 he played the Dutch Quisling in the Powell/Pressburger film One of our aircraft is missing (1942) and later played the Chinese Prince Tuan in 55 Days at Peking (1963). After his return as co-director of The Australian Ballet, Helpmann continued in films, notably as the evil Child Catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968). Another family film role was the Mad Hatter in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1972). For the Australian Ballet, he co-directed and starred with Rudolf Nureyev in Don Quixote (1973). He also starred in the 1978 horror cult film Patrick.
Keith Michell reigned on film and television in Britain and the USA after having his first grounding in theatre in Adelaide in the 1940s with several of Lloyd Prider’s Playbox group productions at the Tivoli (now Her Majesty’s Theatre) and roles with Adelaide Repertory Company. Born in Adelaide, the son of a cabinet maker, and brought up in Warnertown near Port Pirie, Michell studied at Adelaide Teachers’ College and Adelaide University. Adelaide’s Playbox Theatre group gave Michell rounded experience in stage musicals. Michell left in 1949 for England and joined the Young Vic theatre company, making his first appearance in London by 1951. An early role there was Bassanio in The merchant of Venice. His first London musical was And so to bed, playing King Charles II. He toured Australia with the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre Company 1952–53 and then appeared in Shakespeare plays at Stratford-on-Avon. In 1956, on television, he played Henry Higgins in Pygmalion and starred in the title role in Don Juan at the Royal Court Theatre and in several Old Vic Company productions. Michell began with a string of West End musicals, starting in 1958 with Irma la Douce, then as Robert Downing (with June Bronhill) in Robert and Elizabeth, and the lead in Man of La Mancha. He won awards for his lead television role in The six wives of Henry VIII in 1970 and the film Henry VIII and his six wives (1972). Other films included Dangerous exile (1957), The Hellfire Club (1961), Seven seas to Calais (1962) and The executioner (1970). On American television 1988-93, Michell appeared on the Murder, She Wrote series. He was artistic director of Chichester Festival Theatre 1974-77, appearing in many of its productions.
Anthony LaPaglia’ made a brave Hollywood gambit in the 1980s. Educated at Rostevor College and Norwood High in the 1970s, he became a soccer goalkeeper for Adelaide City and West Adelaide and was working as a shoe salesman for Florsheim. Rejected by NIDA in Sydney, LaPaglia enrolled in an acting course at South Australian Castings Agency but left half way through for Los Angeles. LaPaglia's earliest screen credit was a 1985 TV episode of Steven Spielberg’s Amazing Stories. His first film was Cold steel (1987) followed by the title role in the telemovie Nitti: The Enforcer. He starred in the bio pic 29th Street, with roles in the vampire/Mafia story Innocent blood (1992), comedy thriller So I married an axe murderer (1993), legal thriller The client (1994), and comedy Empire Records. During 1997–98, LaPaglia appeared on Broadway in Arthur Miller's A View From the Bridge, winning a Tony Award. Before the play opened, LaPaglia met creator David Chase to discuss the role of Tony Soprano in The Sopranos. Spike Lee cast LaPaglia as a New York police detective in Summer of Sam (1999). During 2000–04, LaPaglia appeared in the sitcom Frasier, winning an Emmy Award for outstanding guest actor. LaPaglia made his Australian debut with Hugo Weaving in The Custodian (1993), followed by the romantic comedy Paperback Romance (1994). He also returned for Australian films such as Looking for Alibrandi (2000), Lantana (2001), Happy Feet (2006) and Balibo (2009). In 2002, LaPaglia co-starred opposite Sigourney Weaver in The Guys, about New York firemen who died in the World Trade Center. In 2015, LaPaglia returned to Adelaide to star in A Month of Sundays.
CREATING PATHWAYS FOR SOUTH AUSTRALIAN FILMMAKERS IN A LOCAL AND GLOBAL CONTEXT
ADELAIDE'S WHOLE NEW 21st CENTURY CREATIVE IMAGE WAVE IN SPECIAL EFFECTS AND GAMING
The AIE (Academy of Interactive Entertainment) campus in Grenfell Street and Game Plus working area in Pirie Street are two pillars of Adelaide CBD’s close-knit creator digital sector. AIE is a non-profit award-winning career-focussed educator in 3D animation, game design and visual effects with around 100 students graduating each year. Its campus neighbours major film and computer game studios such as Rising Sun Pictures, Six Foot Kid and Mighty Kingdom. The games developer Mighty Kingdom is the anchor tenant at Game Plus, a not-for-profit co-working centre for game developers in Adelaide’s CBD. In 2019, Game Plus was already at 95% of its 60-person capacity and housed more than 20 companies. The not-for-profit space was partly funded by the former Labor state government, which provided $450,000. Known for its Lego, Shopkins and Disney games, Mighty Kingdom has firmly positioned itself in the global gaming market – with close to eight million customers each month worldwide. Another of Adelaide’s gaming industry’s quiet achievers is Team Cherry who have sold more than 2.8 million copies of their debut game release Hollow Knight. Another is Last Minute Entertainment, a modest team of four – James Buttfield, Jess Kempf, Stefan Scuteri and Stephen Gregory – who released its debut title Tiki Trials in 2019 on Steam, a distribution platform for PC games. The Last Minute team met studying at AIE – with many of their classes taking place in Game Plus – and went on to enrol in the school’s incubator program, which provided them with a free work-space at Game Plus and hardware to help develop the game.
Mortal Kombat, a 1990s video game franchise, became the blockbuster theme for the South Australia’s biggest film project in 2019. The enterprise, using the South Australian Film Corporation’s Adelaide Studios in Glenside, was for USA-based New Line Cinema, a subsidiary of Warner Bros. Generating 580 jobs and involving 1500 extras at locations around South Australia, the film makers benefit from the state government’s 10% rebate on money spent in the state, with $70 million expected to be injected into the economy. Mortal Kombat also draws on South Australian expertise in production, post production and visual effect (VFX) for its action/adventure theme. South Australia has been able to span all those skills with animation companies such as Rising Sun Pictures and Resin studio and game-making companies such as Mighty Kingdom. The film will be led by producer James Wan, who has worked on Aquaman and The Conjuring, as well as award-winning filmmaker Simon McQuoid. Todd Garner will also be a producer, while Larry Kasanoff, E. Bennett Walsh, Michael Clear and Sean Robins to be executive producers, with screenplay by Greg Russo. Walsh said South Australia was the perfect location for the film and the team were excited at the opportunities it would create for the state. Director Simon McQuoid said the movie would go back to the “core essence” of the characters of the popular martial arts video game. A Deloitte Access Economic report estimated the contribution to the South Australian economy from 18 screen projects in 2017-18 was $119.5 million.
PUTTING THEMSELVES IN THE INTERNATIONAL PICTURE
Mario Andreacchio is an Adelaide independent outsider film maker who has blazed new ground in international links from the 1980s and into the 21st Century. Through his Norwood-based AMPCO (Australian Motion Picture Company) Films, he has directed feature films, TV specials, telemovies, children's miniseries and documentaries. After working with investors from Germany, France, the United Kingdom, South Africa, Canada and Japan, Andreacchio threw himself into the first Australian co-production with China: the children’s film The dragon pearl in 2011. Australian actor Sam Neill played a lead role but Andreacchio impressed the Chinese by making a dragon the star of the film. Adapting to the Chinese ways of doing things, Andreacchio has joined other Chinese co productions including romantic comedy Tying the knot and action film Shimalaya. Born to Italian migrants in South Australia’s then-coal mining town of Leigh Creek, Andreacchio studied experimental physics then psychology before switching to film at Flinders University and ending at the Australian Film Television and Radio School. Andreacchio ventured into featured films in the 1980s with Captain Johnno (1988) winning an International Emmy. Another successful children's film, Napoleon, the adventures of a golden retriever pup and parrot friend Birdo Lucci, was a venture with Japanese company Herald Ace. Sally Marshall is not an alien (1999), an Canadian-Australian co-production, had strong reviews and was the second highest grossing Australian film of the year.
Bruna Papandrea, who grew up in a housing trust home in Elizabeth, can claim to be one of Adelaide’s greatest Hollywood achiever with her producing role in the Big little lies series that won six Emmy awards in 2017. Papandrea moved to New York City in the 1990s after starting a career in film production. She briefly returned to Australia to produce the 2000 film Better than sex, nominated for the AFI best film award, before going to London in 2001. She served as a production executive at Mirage Enterprises and returned to New York to work for GreeneStreet independent films as a creative director. She was executive producer of the 2006 romantic comedy Wedding daze before joining another independent Groundswell Productions in Los Angeles in 2006. She produced Smart people (2008), Milk (2008), The Marc Pease experience (2009) and All good things (2010) and zombie comedy Warm bodies (2013), starring Adelaide’s Teresa Palmer. In 2012, Papandrea and actress Reese Witherspoon founded the Pacific Standard company in Beverley Hills, focusing on films made by and about women. Their first projects were Gone girl and Wild (2014), from book rights bought by Papandrea and Witherspoon. In 2016, their partnership but they completed work on HBO's Big little lies. The series’ six Emmy awards was the biggest haul for the team of Australians who wrote, produced and starred in it. Big little lies won best miniseries and Paradrea was on stage with Nicole Kidman to collect her best actress award. In 2015, Papandrea received the Australians in Film International Award.
Hotel Mumbai, directed and co-written by Adelaide’s Anthony Maras, was one of the biggest film productions to come out of South Australia, released in 2019 with a world premiere at Toronto International Film Festival. Hotel Mumbai delves into the story of the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks. The thriller focuses on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel. Maras did copious research to produce the film. Hotel Mumbai was mostly shot at Adelaide Studios and partly funded by the Adelaide Film Festival where it had another premiere. English actor Dev Patel, known best for starring in Slumdog Millionaire and Lion, was a lead in Hotel Mumbai along with Adelaide's Tilda Cobham-Hervey. Anthony Maras’s earlier short film The Palace was a multi-award winner. It won best short film at other film festivals and awards ceremonies including the 2012 Beverly Hills Film Festival (also best director), 2011 Sydney Film Festival 2011, Melbourne International Film Festival (best Australian short film), 2012 Flickerfest International Festival of Short Films (best Australian short film), 2011 IF Awards (rising talent), 2012 Shorts Film Festival, 2012 Australian Film Festival and 2011 Adelaide Film Festival (audience award). It won best screenplay in a short film at the 2012 Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) awards. This marked Maras’s third AACTA Award, having won best short fiction film for his Spike Up. He was nominated for the same award for his first film Azadi. Maras was an associate producer on Last ride (2009), debut feature of Palme d'Or-winning director Glendyn Ivin and starring Hugo Weaving.