Australasian Auteurs

See also: list of art films, presentation on art films.


Auteur - we use the French word (for 'author') because the first people who thought about films as having authors were French: François Truffaut (in 1954) and other people who wrote for Cahiers du Cinéma. A novel usually has clearly only one creative artist involved: the author. But making films is a more industrial process, and even the shortest short may require a producer, writer, director, editor, cinematographer, sound person, music person, grip, and so on. Against this, however, it may be perceptible that there is one person whose creative vision is manifest in the film.

Bordwell & Thompson (Film Art: An Introduction, 8th ed.) define an 'auteur' with almost cynical brevity in their Glossary (477) as:

The presumed or actual author of a film, usually identified as the director. Also sometimes used in an evaluative sense to distinguish good filmmakers (auteurs) from bad ones.

In this page, I shall use the term loosely to refer to Australasian film-makers who are usually writers as well as directors and who seem to be making films as art - as much as for entertainment or to make money (and/or achieve fame).

Paul Cox is perhaps the least disputable case of an Oz auteur. I have indicated on my page who the writer/s is/are on each of his films, and you'll find he wrote most of them. He says that a film must be made with love, otherwise why would you do it. All but about one of his films was made in this country. They're on a small scale, and many crew and actors turn up again and again: Chris Haywood and Nicholas Hope, for example, and Gosia Dobrowolska, for one much more pleasant.

Rolf de Heer is the other obvious example. It's striking that both he and Paul Cox were born in the Netherlands, but have made almost all of their films here. In de Heer's case, I think there are just the two he made elsewhere: the Father Damien film (Hawaii) and The Old Man Who Read Love Stories (South America) which I think of as the least of his work, despite (maybe because of) having the largest budgets. As in the case of Cox there are recurrent actors and crew: Graham Tardif has done the music for many of his films, for example, and Gary Sweet turns up more than once.

And then, after those clear examples, it gets more complicated. In my presentation on the art film (when I was still teaching) I gave examples from Peter Weir, Geoffrey Wright, and even Richard Franklin - but that was because I could demonstrate (following Bordwell) particular 'art film' moments from clips from their films. From which it does not follow that they are auteurs. Peter Weir has been working in Hollywood since his last Oz film appeared in 1982. He works in the industry. Richard Franklin's true home was in Hitchcockland, and his best films to come from that territory are Patrick and Roadgames. But he did what he could.

Geoffrey Wright is interesting. Not counting Lover Boy, which falls short of the defining 60' for a feature, he's only directed four films. Cherry Falls is a disgusting HW thriller, which brings together murder and the idea of virginity, and is best forgotten. But the other three are considerable. Macbeth clearly passes all the tests for art film status. While Wright clearly didn't 'write' it, in the sense that Shak did, it's nevertheless his conception of how a story could be retold, in the same way that Ran was Kurosawa's. Which leaves Romper Stomper and Metal Skin. Either of which, in my view, allow Wright to be admitted to the status of auteur. He wrote both of them.

You only need one film to be an auteur (Welles and Kane) but Laurie McInnes has two: Broken Highway (1993) and Dogwatch (1999). The fact that you may not have heard of her does not make her achievement in these two films, both written by her, any less considerable, in my opinion. I don't think you can buy the first now, in any medium, but the second was released on DVD, and you may still be able to find a copy.

Ivan Sen is an auteur. I haven't seen Dreamland (2009) but I'm sure he's a brilliant film-maker on the basis of Beneath Clouds (2002) and Toomelah (2011). For the former he wrote, directed, did the music, and took the stills photos. And it's an outstandingly good film. For the latter, he did everything.

Baz Luhrmann left auteurism behind with Australia (2008): I've rarely seen a more cynical exercise in making a movie to make a lot of money - not in Australia, anyway. But, before that, with the Red Curtain 'trilogy', Strictly Ballroom (1992), Romeo + Juliet (1996) and Moulin Rouge! (2001) he not only demonstrated a unifying style and artistic creativity, but even something like a 'philosophy of life'. But The Great Gatsby (2013) is just another Hollywood film.


Garry Gillard | New: 8 February, 2012 | Now: 6 March, 2017