A Modern Girl's Guide to Artistic Excellence. (My Side of the Picture)

By Rawady, Wendy | Metro Magazine, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview

A Modern Girl's Guide to Artistic Excellence. (My Side of the Picture)


Rawady, Wendy, Metro Magazine


Sadly, in the 'noughties', creative expression for the small and large screen seems to be inextricably tied to the dollar. While it's understandable, as we are in the business of making a very expensive product rather than a dollar widget, it's rare to see anything that hasn't been filtered through an aggregate of financiers, lawyers and executive producers, all adding their halfpenny-worth into the creative mix. We all know that narrative, audience identification, marketing hooks and a fair measure of je ne sais quoi are vital ingredients in successful film-making. What then, are the new possibilities for artistic excellence, for making productions that satisfy today's public as well as the creator? Are there special rules for the twenty-first century that we could harness to make Australian films more commercial? Where can we look for inspiration?

Here we are in 2003, twenty-three clicks past the time when that 1930 film Just Imagine (David Butler) starring Mia Farrow's mother, Maureen O'Sullivan, predicted that New Yorkers would all be known by numbers rather than names, popping pills instead of relishing meals, commuting in little aircraft instead of cars, talking to each other via videophones, breeding in test-tubes instead of doing the horizontal tango and, worse still, worshipping a fat old dude instead of a heavenly being. The film's predictions, even when set in a comedy, were surprisingly on the button.

We do indeed rely a lot on our numbers in contemporary society, but twenty-three years down the track past Just Imagine's setting of 1980, hyphenated names are the more common nomenclature, pills are taken in addition to food which has unexpectedly taken on a communion-like status, though for many, pills are used as self-medication or social lubrication. Helicopters are still too noisy and expensive to replace street traffic. They got the fat chap almost right, but there's a twist. Oprah's weight yo-yos mystically so that we are never sure whether she is wearing a fat suit that she whips off to boost her ratings and merchandising (The New New Oprah Diet Recipe Book for Dummies etc., etc.) or is broadcast in repeats so many times that we've lost track of where exactly the great saint is in time. Videophones are still not in universal use but close enough if they slash the cost of web-cams. Of course, test-tube breeding happened years ago and is the subject of many ethical dilemmas. Similarly, Wonder Woman's mini skirts, Superman's lycra leggings, space travel and robotics (at least in manufacturing) are relatively ho-hum today. Dozens of sci-fi predictions are already absorbed into our world. Just Imagine was a moderately successful film combining spectacle, scary predictions about life's disintegration and a good ol' love story counterpoint to a bumbling comic hero. The mix went down spiffingly for the time.

Did the writers steal ideas from the inventors or were the films the inspiration for science? In fact, do films and television programmes stand up as a reflection of society, are many of their predictions correct and should we be more careful about committing apocalyptic visions to screen formats and mass media? Can we, for instance, bend public opinion in the same way that the philosophes of the eighteenth century are believed to have done? And if the answer is 'yes' then what stories would be most beneficial to the world of our children? Are there modern issues surrounding negative or positive influences of what used to be just plain story-telling? There are still many psychologists who firmly believe that television, film and even video games don't influence human behaviour at all. Just try floating that theory in court. Despite anecdotal evidence and the fact that the press always picks up on this element, stashes of porno and sadistic video games, strangely, cannot be pinned down as a cause of violent crimes--Michael Moore notwithstanding.

Once we have debated these issues, (and this is the bit that relates to the harnessing of those limited distribution dollars) can an understanding of where our world subconsciously wants to go influence what projects will be greenlit in the near future? …

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