Saturday, November 10, 2007

Surreal Beach

I recently wrote about The Sound of Aus a program that investigated the history of the Australian accept/dialect (they kept calling it an accent, but apparently it's a dialect?). It turns out - and this is something I and any other Australian person could've told you years ago - we're a bunch of lazy gits and that's how we get out accent. Rachel Griffiths spoke of how she turns her American accent on. She uses her tongue. Turns out Australians don't. I can't say I've ever taken any notice of it, but there you have it. There was plenty more in the program but I can't be bothered going into it, although that they chose John Clarke - he of a definite Aussie drawl - to host the program was delightful.

The reason I bring this up again is because I watched the 1959 Stanley Kramer film On the Beach today. The film is set primarily in Melbourne, Australia and revolves around a small group of people as the end of the world approaches due to the fallout of a nuclear war. It stars Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner - who famously din't say, but it was decades before anybody realised, "the perfect place to make a film about the end of the world" - Anthony Perkins (one year before Psycho) and Fred Astaire, in his dramatic debut.

From the opening moments On the Beach was a very surreal film to watch, as Aussie anthem of sorts "Watzing Matilda" plays on the soundtrack and one character namedrops Point Lonsdale. Throughout the film there are references to other Victorian cities such as Williamstown and there are scenes set in landmarks such as Flinders Street Station and Collins Street. Below are three images, one from the actual film as Ava Gardner runs through the Flinders and Swanston Street intersection towards Flinders Street Station, plus two photos of the famous train station from today, one at night and one in the day. Click them to view them larger.

I must say though that I was over-the-moon happy to hear all the American actors pronouncing "Melbourne" correctly. I was expecting to cringe throughout the whole thing whenever Gregory Peck or Fred Astaite would say it, but they all spoke it the Australian way. Good-o! I'll be happy though to never hear "Walzing Matilda" ever again.

The film itself isn't exactly amazing. It has it's moments and the cast are pretty good except for Astaire, who received a Golden Globe nomination, who I didn't like. There are strong moments towards the end of the film as it comes towards it's inevitable conclusion - I have a soft spot for movies that bring about the end of the world. There was a 2000 AFI-winning made-for-TV version also, which was directed by Russel Mulcahy and starred Amand Assante, Rachel Ward, Bryan Brown and Grant Bowler in the Peck, Gardner, Astaire and Perkins roles respectively. The best performance in each version however is the same character, that of Mary. Played by Donna Anderson in '59 and Jacqueline Mackenzie in '00.

Another shot of Flinders Street Station. It's like that empty Times Square scene in Vanilla Sky.

The making of the film, however, is even much more fascinating. Made in Australia in a time when we essentially had no film industry whatsoever (a time that was chronicled really well in last year's Aussie docudrama Hunt Angels) and the sight of stars such as Gregory Peck and Ava Gardner created chaos and mob scenes in the streets. The Melbourne suburb of Berwick, which saw a large part of the filming, even has streets names after key members of the cast and crew. Gardner Street, Kramer Drive and Shute Avenue, after the novel's director Nevil Shute.

There is a book by Philip Davey called When Hollywood Came to Melbourne: The Story of the Making of Stanley Kramer's 'On the Beach' (a name worth of Jesse James) that details, quite obviously, the making of the film and how enthusiastic fans would not only applaud throughout takes, they would even get so crammed behind the camera that they would spill out into the scene. There's a funny story about the garbage they used to create an apocalyptic world (seen below). It's not hard to imagine that Ava Gardner really did say those words she was believed to have said for decades. We're unfortunately nicknamed "the arse end of the world" too, you know.


Anonymous said...

Uh... what's the correct way to pronounce it?

Kamikaze Camel said...

Like you would expect to pronounce it, but without the big emphasis on the "r" in "bourne". It's almost like the r doesn't exist.

That probably the best way to describe it in words.

Cal said...

I watched this film yesterday too! Weird huh?

I intend to post about it soon but I must say I found it really, really overbearing. The whole apocalyptic thing works but there's too much "What have we done to ourselves?" and none of the characters are that interesting. I disagree about Astaire. I liked him :-P. Ava Gardner was bad though.