The arrival and diffusion of cinema in Australia were rather early: the first film (Passengers alighting from ferry ‘Brighton’ at Manly) was screened in 1896 less than a year after the official birth of the cinema and, again in 1896, the ‘operator Maurice Sestier shot the first Lumière’ view ‘(The Melbourne cup) during the most famous national equestrian competition, while the first feature film (The story of the Kelly gang, by Charles Tait) dates back to 1906 and is considered from some historians the first film whose duration exceeds 60 minutes. However, these were the first signs of the start of a cinematography that the production and historical conditions of the country would have forced to abrupt discontinuity. Cinema quickly took root in a culture that hadn’t had more than a century to settle, through differentiated colonization processes, in an unknown continent; but the local structures of distribution and exercise maintained bonds of dependence with the British and American industry, often destined to repress the attempts to create and consolidate a national cinema.
According to microedu, the first film productions, as often happened in the early days of cinema, were of an edifying nature and were made by the Salvation Army (The early Christian martyrs, 1899), the first structure to prepare a production and dissemination apparatus that provided for the use of the cinema integrated with the traditional one of the magic lantern. Already in the following decade, there were more than ten production companies and they made almost fifty feature films, which however dropped sharply to less than twenty in 1913 and did not exceed the annual average of ten until the Second World War.
It was necessary to wait until the seventies of the twentieth century to witness a phenomenon comparable to that period of great vitality, which however ran out very quickly between 1910 and 1912, just when a national cartel was established to integrate distribution and exercise with the merger between Australasian Films and Union Theaters. It was in this period that pioneering activities began such as Arthur Higgins (director of photography, who together with his father Earnest and his brother Tasman had a not secondary role in the birth of Australian cinema, working on more than thirty films until 1946) and directors and actors such as Raymond Longford and Lottie Lyell, Australia’s best known silent film diva,
In this cinema, of which very little remains (more than 80% of the films have been lost), the stories set in the bush prevail, the prairie correspondent in the physical and imaginary geography of Australia; at least until the advent of censorship, in 1912, they often had as protagonists escapees or bandits, around whom popular culture had built myths (The story of the Kelly gang). In these settings, reminiscent of those of the nascent Hollywood western, original figures also emerged, such as that of the gold digger or the female farmer (daughter or wife), to whom more than one film, especially up to the 1920s, attributed skills. of work organization similar to those of the head of the family: this is the case of works such as The squatter’s daughter (1910), written,
The city / countryside opposition – dramatized by the vast distances between urban settlements and by a sense of continental isolation that would remain a characteristic of the country’s collective unconscious, not only cinematographic – constituted a privileged axis for the choice of subjects as environments and characters. In 1917 Beaumont Smith, who made a dozen films up to the 1930s, started a popular saga with Our friends, the Hayseeds that told the adventures of a peasant family in the impact with city life; but two years later it was Longford, together with his partner Lottie Lyell as a leading actress, who made what is considered the most important feature film in Australian silent cinema, The sentimental bloke, based on the poem by CJ Dennis: it is the story of a dedicated man to
The style and themes of Western naturalism also recur in Longford’s later films such as On our selection (1920) and Rudd’s new selection (1921), based on the stories of S. Rudd and on two characters, Dad and Dave, whose adventures describe the transition from the rural world to urban integration. The same characters successfully reappeared in the 1930s in films directed by KG Hall and produced by Cinesound, a production company with studios in Sydney and Melbourne and destined for a longevity that appears unusual in Australian cinema: a remake of On our selection from 1932., Dad and Dave come to town (1938), Dad Rudd, MP (1940). And actor and director Pat Hanna successfully embodied another character from the peasant world grappling with urban modernity, Chic Williams, in Diggers (1931),
On the same ground in the 1940s the personality of Charles E. Chauvel established himself who, after working in the United States, returned home to direct the film that launched Errol Flynn (In the wake of the Bounty, 1933) and achieved great popularity with the war films 40,000 Horsemen (1941; Forty Thousand Knights), which chronicled the exploits of the Australian army in the Sinai during the Great War, and The rats of Tobruk (1944) about the war in Libya in 1942. With the collaboration of his partner, Elsie Sylvaney, Chauvel was also the author of an interesting documentary production and of the first full-length color film (Jedda, 1955) which tackled the problem of the integration of Aborigines into Australian society.The decades immediately following were marked by the definitive decline of the attempts to develop and take root in national cinematography and the arrival of foreign productions, such as the American Kangaroo (1952; Kangarù) by Lewis Milestone or the Anglo-Australian The Sundowners (1960; I nomadi) by Fred Zinneman and They’re a weird mob (1966; They’re Strange People) by Michael Powell.
During the 1960s, the intense development of documentary production was witnessed: between 1961 and 1962, more than six hundred documentary shorts were made and only one fiction film. A work such as Desert people (1967) by Jan Dunlop, on the aborigines, attests to the happy influence of a documentary cinema that had already seen European authors such as Joris Ivens (Indonesia calling, 1946) at work on the continent and which will be renewed by Werner Herzog (Wo die grünen Ameisen träumen, 1984, Where green ants dream).
It was therefore with the launch of a policy of state support and funding at the end of the 1960s that Australian cinema witnessed its most important success on the domestic and foreign markets. Producers such as Phillip Adams, tycoons such as Barry Jones, and politicians of different backgrounds, such as conservative J. Gorton and Labor E. Gough Whitman, led a movement of opinion and legislative action that led in 1975 to the creation of a school of cinema and the establishment of an organization, the Australian Film Commission, which managed substantial funding for film production, with which the State assumed almost all of the business risks.
This policy resulted in a rich and multifaceted sprouting of authors and works: Bruce Beresford (The adventures of Barry McKenzie, 1972; Breaker Morant, 1980), Tim Burstall (Stork, 1971; Alvin Purple, 1973), Ken Hannam (Sunday too far away, 1975; Break of day, 1976), George Miller (Mad Max, 1979, Interceptor; Mad Max 2 – The road warrior, 1981, Interceptor – The road warrior), Phillip Noyce (Newsfront, 1978; Heatwave, 1982), Fred Schepisi (The devil’s playground, 1976; The chant of Jimmie Blacksmith, 1978), Jim Sharman (Summer of secrets, 1976; The Rocky horror picture show, 1976), Peter Weir (Picnic at Hanging Rock, 1975, Picnic a Hanging Rock; The last wave, 1977, The last wave). This nouvelle vague without avant-garde programs and posters, but of great wealth (from genre films to arthouse films, from costume reconstruction to the investigation of social criticism), he felt the need to explore the past and his own identity with an unprecedented energy. Its originality is attested above all by the growing presence of female authors: Gillian Armstrong (My brilliant career, 1979, My brilliant career; Little women, 1994, Little women), the New Zealander also active in Australia Jane Campion (Sweetie, 1989; The Piano, 1993, Piano lessons), Pauline Chan (The space between the door and the floor, 1989; Little white lies, 1996), Tracey Moffat (Nice colored girls, 1987; Heaven, 1997), Jocelyne Moorhouse (Proof, 1991, Snapshots; A thousand acres, 1997), Nadia Tass (Malcolm, 1986; Mr. Reliable: A true story, 1995, Marriage under siege), Ann Turner (Celia: Child of terror, 1989; Dallas Doll, 1994),
along with excellent cinematographers (Ian Baker, Dean Semler, John Seale) and producers (Jane Scott). But the strength of that wave is attested by the persistence of its effects. Starting from the end of the Eighties, the Australia exported folklore and consumer cinema (Crocodile Dundee, 1986, by Peter Faiman), but also authors capable of revisiting classical genres with biting dexterity (as in the case of PJ Hogan’s comedies Muriel’s wedding, 1994, Muriel’s wedding, and My best friend’s wedding, 1997, My best friend’s wedding), directors of robust and conventional entertainment such as Scott Hicks (Shine, 1996, and Hearts in Atlantis, 2001, Hearts in Atlantis), Bill Bennett (Blacklash, 1986; Kiss or kill, 1997), John Duigan (Romero, 1989; Sirens, 1993, Sirene), Simon Wincer (Harley Davidson and the Marlboro man, 1991, Harley Davidson & Marlboro man; The phantom, 1996), and internationally renowned actors (Nicole Kidman, Geoffrey Rush, Guy Pearce, Toni Collette, Hugh Jackman).
In the last decade of the twentieth century, directors who were sensitive to deviance, psychic discomfort but also the nonconformist humor of the youth world made their way, such as Geoffrey Wright (Romper stomper, 1992, Skinheads), Stephan Elliott (The adventures of Priscilla, queen of the desert, 1994, Priscilla, the queen of the desert) and Richard Lowenstein (He died with a felafel in his hand, 2001, E died with a felafel in his hand), sometimes resorting to a taste that hybridizes grotesque and fantastic (such as in Young Einstein, 1986, Einstein Junior, by Yahoo Serious or in Just desserts, 1993, by Monica Pellizzari), which constitutes a not accidental resource of Australian culture.