Authenticity, Affect and Place

RMIT University, Building 80, Level 10 – Room 80.09.07

Say a spell: summoning the ghosts of post-punk Melbourne

Donna McRae, Deakin University & Alexia Kannas, RMIT University

Despite its absence from many official cultural histories of the city, the Melbourne post-punk scene of the mid-1970s to the mid-1980s has developed an international reputation as an important and vital moment in global musical history. Initiating the careers of figures such as Nick Cave, Rowland S. Howard, Lisa Gerard, Dave Graney and Clare Moore, the scene was a melting pot of ideologically-charged musical experimentation, associated with bands like The Young Charlatans, The Birthday Parry, Dead Can Dance, The Moodists and The Boys Next Door: This paper explores the ways cinema has worked as a medium for the returning spectre of Melbourne’s post-punk scene – a subculture that, as Darren Tofts has pointed out, was characteristically ‘hostile to memorialization and longevity, to making history’ (21). Drawing on Derrida’s notion of hauntology, we consider how films such as Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire (1987), Richard Lowenstein’s Dogs in Space (1986) and his documentaries We’re Livin on Dog Food (2009) and Autoluminescent (2012), as well as McRae’s own 2011 feature Johnny Ghost, help Melbourne to remember a past it didn’t actually live through.

Donna McRae is a Melbourne based filmmaker and Lecturer in Film & TV at Deakin University. Her first feature film Johnny Ghost (2012) was selected into numerous film festivals locally and internationally, winning 7 awards including Best Female Director, Best Feature and two Special Jury Prizes. She is currently involved in a female horror anthology film project and her feature documentary Cobby: The Dark Side of Cute is in post production. McRae’s next feature film ‘Kate Kelly’ – a western about Ned Kelly’s sister – is currently in development.

Alexia Kannas teaches in the department of Cinema Studies at RMIT University. Her research interests include cult and alternative cinemas, cinematic modernism, cross-cultural reception and music and sound in film and television. She is the author of Deep Red (Columbia University Press/Wallflower, forthcoming 2017) and is currently completing a monograph on the Italian giallo film for SUNY Press.


Sonic Disturbance and Chromatic Dissolution: the Cantrills remake Melbourne

Tessa Laird, VCA, University of Melbourne

Celebrated husband and wife duo Arthur and Corinne Cantrill have made more than 200 experimental films since the early 1960s. Now in their 80s, the filmmakers have retired to Castlemaine, where they still hold screenings of their films in the original format. They are sceptical of digitisation since their films were specifically made as explorations of the medium. Experiments with lighting, framing, rhythmic editing, speeds and slownesses, and, most notably, colour separation, firmly place the Cantrills within international avant garde cinema practice. Their equally innovative soundtracks are now being recognised as important experimental compositions in their own right.

The Cantrills have utilised all aspects of their life as subject matter for their films, including trips around Australia and Indonesia, flowers in their garden, humble still lives, and paintings made by their autistic son Ivor. Crucially to the theme of this conference, the Cantrills have filmed Melbourne, and reveal a fragmented, psychedelic city quite different to the one that appears as a backdrop to narrative cinema. Rather, the Cantrills’ view of Melbourne is one in which surface, lighting, colour and structure are interrogated and manipulated, and where the city itself becomes the raw materials for a reimagining of vision itself.

Contrasting some of the Cantrills’ meditative films of natural wonders outside the city, such as At Black Rock and Waterfall (both 1984), with views of the Melbourne CBD in The City of Chromatic Dissolution and The City of Chromatic Intensity (both 1999 but utilising earlier footage), I will extrapolate ideas of the avant garde metropolis, figured as both dissonant and exhilarating. Utilising colour and cinema theory, I will demonstrate that the Cantrills’ works transcend nationalist or regionalist agendas, and qualify as international modernist masterpieces.

Tessa Laird is an artist and writer who lectures in Critical and Theoretical Studies at the VCA, School of Art, University of Melbourne. Originally from New Zealand, she has been a notable art critic for The New Zealand Listener, Art New Zealand, Circuit, and Art+ Australia. She has written a chapter on colour in the experimental film of Len Lye (Len Lye, eds. Cann and Curnow, Gavett Brewster Gallery 2009), and recently delivered a paper at Oxford University comparing the experimental colour film practices of Maori artist Nova Paul and Irish artist Richard Masse. Tessa’s doctoral studies on colour led to the publication of A Rainbow Reader (Clouds Publishing, 2013), a personal, speculative journey through the spectrum. She is currently writing a paper on the representation of animals in the experimental films of the French artist Camille Henrot, for the British journal Antennae: The Journal of Nature in Culture.


‘The Nina Effect’: Offspring, and the commodification of fan affect

Renee Middlemost, University of Wollongong

“Cities and countries are as alive, as feeling, as fickle, and uncertain as people. Their degrees of love and devotion are as varying as any human relation” (Payne, 2007).

Since its debut in 2010 Offspring has worn its heart and location on its sleeve. Offspring is a long form ‘dramedy’ about neurotic, yet endearing obstetrician Nina Proudman, and her warm and wacky family and colleagues. The creative team admit that this is a series unashamedly about the messiness of life and love, and was conceived as an antedate to a glut of crime television. Offspring’s popularity with Australian audiences has remained consistent throughout its six season run, despite plot twists that threatened to break hearts and loyalty to the show forever (#RIPPatrick). When the finale of Season 5 screened in 2014 and neatly rounded off the existing plotlines, fans feared it would be the last they would see of Offspring, particularly as it had reached the upper limit of episodes eligible for a Screen Australia rebate under local content rules. Fans immediately circulated an online petition calling for the return of Offspring, and despite the increase in cost, the series was renewed for Season 6 which screened in 2016.

This paper will demonstrate how the impact of the affective engagement of Offspring fans, in addition to the ‘aesthetics of affect’ (O’Sullivan, 2001) aroused by Melbourne can be framed in terms of authenticity. Hills (2015) work is vital in understanding the contradictions inherent in the role of affect in fan labour. I will contend that, whilst the affective engagement prompted by the audience (the online outpouring of grief over the death of Patrick; and sadness at perceived end of the show) can be framed as authentic, the aesthetics of affect elicited by the Melbourne setting (walking tours of locations; the ‘Nina effect’ on real estate and fashion) has been commodified. Even when initially situated in fan activity (such as fan websites on Nina’s style) the commodification of affect by the Network can be interpreted as the inauthentic appropriation of fan labour. Ultimately I wish to argue that Offspring illustrates the economic value of fan affect in an Australian context, and that the varying forms of affective engagement demonstrated by Offspring fans offered a powerful impetus for the revival of the series.

Renee Middlemost is an early career researcher and sessional academic at the University of Wollongong. Her recently completed PhD Thesis was entitled “Amongst Friends: The Australian Cult Film Experience”, which examined the audience participation practices of cult film fans in Australia. Her forthcoming publications reflect her diverse research interests; these include a chapter on cult film and nostalgia for The Routledge Guide to Cult Cinema; an article on space and the Australian film industry for Media International Australia; and a co authored chapter on the finale of Dexter.