WILDFLOWERS: DANCING, DESIRE AND FREEDOM IN THE FILMS OF GILLIAN ARMSTRONG

This season’s screenings will be repeated twice weekly in ACMI’s smaller Cinema 2 to accommodate our large membership, with our regular Wednesday screenings supplemented with extra Monday or Tuesday screenings.

One of Australia’s most successful directors, Gillian Armstrong (1950–) has built a significant profile as a filmmaker in her home country, in addition to maintaining a career internationally.

Entering the industry in the 1970s, Armstrong was more than just an important part of the Australian cinema revival – with My Brilliant Career in 1979 she was the first woman to direct a 35mm feature film in Australia for over four decades, going on to contribute significantly to the national landscape with some of its most impressive, brilliantly modern films. Spread across the realms of commercial and independent cinema, fiction and documentary, Armstrong’s films exercise a consistently sensitive sympathy with women and issues that affect them. It is this emotional and feminist trajectory, continued throughout her career, that reflects the importance of her own role as a filmmaker. However, with work that spans a number of genres, it is not only Armstrong’s thematic insight that should be celebrated but also her outstanding aesthetic skills as a director – she has a sharp sense of story, design, acting, music and rhythm. As Felicity Collins writes, her work “participates fully in the aesthetic force-field of Australian naturalism and arthouse realism”.

This season of mostly celluloid prints endeavours to pay tribute to the extraordinary breadth and longevity of Armstrong’s career, and includes early shorts made while still a student, famous and underseen features, and a selection of documentaries.

OPENING NIGHT

NOTE: SCREENINGS AT THE CAPITOL UNTIL WEDNESDAY 16 MARCH

It has been trying times over the last two years and hopefully this year will be better. As an acknowledgement of the difficulties, we are beginning the year with two comedies directed by Mitchel Leisen and written by Preston Sturges. This is also a primer for our Sturges’ season which screens in March.

From the mid-30s into the late 40s Leisen was a much-respected A-grade Paramount Studio director and worked with many of the industry’s greatest artists including actors Carole Lombard, Fred MacMurray, Jean Arthur, Claudette Colbert, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Fontaine, Olivia de Havilland, Paulette Goddard, and Dorothy Lamour (all of whom he worked with multiple times) and writers like Billy Wilder, Charles Brackett & Preston Sturges.

These writers are all well-known for writing & directing some of Hollywood’s great comedies, but where in their hands the comedy was fast, slapstick, dark, bitter, and cynical, Leisen moulded their scripts, removing some of the more outré material and slowing the pace to create works of humanistic melancholia with real physical and emotional attraction between his principal characters.

As a footnote, Leisen was ostensibly married to Stella Yeager, but as is suggested by the list of performers he worked with (a women’s director!), he was another of the Golden Age of Hollywood’s queer directors, along with Friedrich Murnau, James Whale, George Cukor, Dorothy Arzner and Nicholas Ray. He had a very long relationship with dancer/actor/choreographer Billy Daniel until the 1950s.

Please keep safe and keep others safe. You will need to wear masks at the Cinémathèque screenings and produce documentation of your vaccination status. Also, try to remain in the foyer for as short a time as possible, and minimise eating during the screenings. Two reasons, it can be noisy and it means you will not be wearing a mask.

Enjoy, and let’s have a fantastic year,

Michael Koller
On behalf of The Melbourne Cinémathèque

Wednesday 23 February

NOTE: SCREENINGS AT THE CAPITOL UNTIL WEDNESDAY MARCH 16

7pm EASY LIVING
Mitchell Leisen (1937) 88 mins – PG

One of the defining works of Hollywood romantic comedy, Leisen’s deftly calibrated and beautifully staged tale of a young working girl (the extraordinary Jean Arthur) who chances upon an expensive sable coat when it is flung from the high-rise apartment of a wealthy banker (Edward Arnold) was Preston Sturges’ first major script for Paramount. Ray Milland features as the millionaire’s son who ends up courting Arthur. Sturges’ screenplay highlights the themes of success and fast-paced modern life that would define his later work and gives space to a wonderful stock company of character actors who would go on to define his cinema (Franklin Pangborn, Robert Greig, William Demarest and so on).


8.45pm REMEMBER THE NIGHT
Mitchell Leisen (1940) 94 mins – Unclassified 15 +

Beautifully directed by Leisen from a brilliant screenplay by Preston Sturges – the last before starting his directorial career – this luminous film conveys the sentimental gleam of new-found love but goes well beyond the hide-bound conventions of romantic comedy. Leisen’s handling of the romance between prosecutor Fred MacMurray and the savvy shoplifter (Barbara Stanwyck) he falls for, caught stealing a diamond bracelet during the Christmas rush, is surprisingly complex and unexpectedly moving. A knowing follow up to the director and writer’s Easy Living, it also features Beulah Bondi, Elizabeth Patterson and Sterling Holloway.

“THIS COCKEYED CARAVAN”: THE COMIC UNIVERSE OF PRESTON STURGES

*Please note the Tuesday screening for the second week of this season, on Tuesday March 8 2022.

Preston Sturges (1898-1959) was the great shooting star of 1940s Hollywood cinema.

Brought up by an itinerant mother who travelled to Europe to follow the likes of Isadora Duncan and Aleister Crowley, Sturges came to prominence in a burst of creativity and success on Broadway in the late 1920s before a ten-year stint as a jobbing and well-paid screenwriter for various studios including Paramount.

Writing for such prominent directors as John M. Stahl, William K. Howard, Rouben Mamoulian and, most significantly, Mitchell Leisen (Easy Living and Remember the Night), Sturges tired of the way his screenplays were being adapted and blazed a path for writer-directors like Orson Welles and Billy Wilder who emerged in his wake.

From The Great McGinty until Hail the Conquering Hero (the last filmed of his eight Paramount productions in a little over four years), Sturges created one of the most extraordinary and breathless bodies of work in American cinema. As Manny Farber has described him, Sturges is “an inventive American who believes that good picture-making consists in grinding out ten thousand feet of undiluted, chaos-producing energy”. Sturges’ restless, speed-fuelled, eccentric and often-manic work pinballs between slapstick comedy and dramatic pathos, success and failure, pratfalls and pointed satire.

A rollercoaster ride across and through genres, tones and styles, Sturges’ brief moment as a wildly successful writer-director is one of the most remarkable episodes in Hollywood history. After leaving Paramount in 1944, Sturges struggled to produce further films that matched his work of the early 1940s with the crucial exception of the movie that some consider his masterpiece, 1948’s Unfaithfully Yours. This program brings together many of Sturges’ most extraordinary films including such peaks of film comedy and beyond as Sullivan’s Travels and The Palm Beach Story.

Wednesday 2 March

7.00pm SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS
Preston Sturges (1941) 90 mins – PG

A dissatisfied musical-comedy director (Joel McCrae) abandons his muse, takes on the appearance of the unemployed masses and goes in search of the Depression-era reality that the movies seldom reveal. Sturges’ influential classic is one of the great movies about filmmaking and both a critique and paean to classic Hollywood values and the power of cinema. Deftly oscillating between comedy and pathos, slapstick and chain-gang drama, it also stars Veronica Lake in her most luminous and fondly remembered role. The key inspiration for the Coen Brothers’ O Brother, Where Art Thou?


8.45pm THE GREAT MCGINTY
Preston Sturges (1940) 81 mins – Unclassified 15 +

This extremely intelligent, biting political satire about a tramp (Brian Donlevy) manipulated into the governorship is as relevant today as when it unexpectedly launched Sturges’ stellar, if brief career as the preeminent Hollywood writer-director, justly winning him an Academy Award for original screenplay. Sturges’ restless visual style, breakneck speed and rapid-fire dialogue, seen here in their prototype form, went on to influence generations of filmmakers. The film is also populated by a characteristically colourful menagerie of stock players including Akim Tamiroff and William Demarest.

7 February
OPENING NIGHT 2024

7 February – 21 February
FROM THE BOULEVARDS OF PARIS TO THE DOCKS OF CHERBOURG: LANDMARKS OF THE FRENCH FILM MUSICAL

28 February – 13 March
'LIVING MAY BE TRAGIC, BUT LIFE ISN'T': THE FILMS OF THE TAVIANI BROTHERS

20 March – 3 April
IN THE AFTERGLOW: THE MERCURIAL STARDOM OF GLORIA GRAHAME

Wednesday 10 April
MAN OF THE CINEMA: A TRIBUTE TO JOHN FLAUS AT 90

17 April – 1 May
KEEP ROLLING: ANN HUI'S COUNTER-CINEMA

8 May – 22 May
"ALL ART IS ONE": THE VISIONARY CINEMA OF MICHAEL POWELL AND EMERIC PRESSBURGER

29 May – 12 June
WRITING WITH HER EYES: SUSO CECCHI D'AMICO, SCREENWRITER AS OBSERVER

19 June – 3 July
THE HOUSE THAT MOHSEN BUILT: THE FILMS OF SAMIRA MAKHMALBAF, MARZIEH MESHKINI AND MOHSEN MAKHMALBAF

10 July – 24 July
THE PAIN OF LIVING: JEAN EUSTACHE, BEING CINEMA

Wednesday 31 July
BETWEEN THE WAVE AND REVOLUTION: THE RETURN OF RIVETTE’S LEGENDARY L’AMOUR FOU

4–18 September
BLIND BEASTS, RED ANGELS AND HOODLUM SOLDIERS: THE IRRESISTIBLE CINEMA OF YASUZO MASUMURA

25 September – 9 October
JIŘÍ MENZEL: MAKING COMEDIES IS NO FUN

16–23 October
OF MEN AND MONSTERS: THE CINEMA OF NIKOS KOUNDOUROS

Wednesday 30 October
CONTESTED HISTORIES: THE DOCUMENTARIES OF JENI THORNLEY

6–20 November
THE FIRST AND LAST OF ENGLAND: THE QUEER LEGACIES OF DEREK JARMAN

Wednesday 27 November
PARADING THE PAST: RECENT ERNST LUBITSCH RESTORATIONS

4–11 December
THE SEEDS OF CHANGE: THE DOCUMENTARIES OF TOM ZUBRYCKI

Wednesday 18 December
CARLTON AND BEYOND: THE MELBOURNE UNIVERSITY FILM SOCIETY IN THE 1960s