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James Cumes

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Blogs by James Cumes

5/15/2005 2:13:27 AM    [ Flag as Spam or Inappropriate ]

War and Peace; Prosperity and Poverty
Cannes: Where are the Aussies?

by Christopher James

I'm here at the Cannes Film Festival where the celluloid heart of the film world throbs with the hot blood of passion, anticipation and ambition. The stars shine bright, the hoardings scream their news about smash hits from around the world, the film brokers do their billion-dollar deals...
But I hear not a word about an Australian story, a great Australian drama, a smash hit from down under. Any Aussie brokers are paying top dollar for someone else's product.
We're not really surprised.
The Head of Drama even of Australia's leading Channel Seven, John Holmes, deplores the dearth of dramatic Australian material. So does Australia's Channel Nine, as well as the ABC and SBS.
None of them are doing much that's dramatically memorable. Mostly they whine and bewail their ill fortune. Some bewail that they're stuck with reality series - a reality that's too real to do anything but bore the pants off their ever-diminishing audiences.
Working with Channel Nine, Bryan Brown is busy with a second "Twisted" series of entertaining stories with a sense of mystery, intrigue or unease. They should be a great change from what viewers have recently had to suffer. One of those productions just might make it to next year's Cannes Festival, to be announced on a very small hoarding along the famous Boulevard de la Croisette.
But Two Twisted is unlikely to produce a great Australian drama, with great Australian stars, to be heralded with glamour and passion and presented proudly to the cognoscenti as well as the swooning public.
Why not?
In fact, it could happen.
The material is there. The actors are there. Australian stars are waiting for a great vehicle to exhibit their talents. Producers, directors, technicians - they're all there waiting.
All they need is a great Australian story.
And that's there too - just waiting to be translated to the screen.
Let's take one example. It's called Haverleigh and it's about the most dramatic period in Australia's history - when a bunch of hungry, half-trained, poorly-armed kids turned back the enemy in the jungles of the Owen Stanleys and at Milne Bay.
It's about how they fought and died and also how they lived and loved. Some readers have compared it to Gone with the Wind and War and Peace. Another suggests that the Haverleigh story is reality at its finest and most dramatic: the author "takes you there in his words, through his characters and offers you the gift of seeing first-hand what happens to people in the dredges of war."
Who are "his characters"?
There are such memorable women as the tough Jenny Graham who refuses to confess the love that dominates her life; the sophisticated Misty Cavell-Smith, with her Packard roadster, who loses her Romeo but never her style; and the plucky Cathy Lester who is ostracised for bearing her soldier's illegitimate son. Among the memorable men is Peter Brent who loses his virginity in the story's opening scene; Richard Brownley and David Strang who fight alongside Peter on the Kokoda Track; and Arthur Green, the nervous boy who becomes an ace fighter pilot. Frank Brand and Tony Murray are terribly wounded but help to throw the Japanese back into the sea at Milne Bay. So does bushman Jimmy Griffin who fights the enemy as he'd defend his land from marauding dingoes.
Haverleigh paints a picture of the rich adventure of Australian life during the most momentous years of the twentieth century.
Why aren't we telling stories like this? If we did, we'd be up on those hoardings along the length and breadth of the Croisette next year and every year. Our star actors and producers, directors and technicians would be strolling down every red carpet, to the applause of the fans - fans from all around the world - and Australia would be back, occupying the high points on the film-industry ladder we have sometimes risen to in the past.
What about that famous bottom line - the money sum? Investors would make millions out of it. If it joined in the venture, the Australian Film Commission would find that its money was again being well spent. The entertainment industry in Australia would have a great product to offer; and we would even have an export product that would help reduce that troublesome external trade deficit.
So perhaps there's reason for some optimism. At least I can hope that when I mingle with the cinema-industry's great and glamourous at Cannes next year, I will not feel that Australia has vanished into some terrible, film-making black hole. I can hope to see colourful hoardings along the Croisette and everywhere else in Cannes proclaiming our brilliant return to stardom. I can dream that people everywhere will be seeking us out and hoping to jump on to our unstoppable bandwagon.
It's not entirely a dream.
If we open our eyes and get off our bums, it could be reality!

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More Blogs by James Cumes
•  Lakatoi - Sunday, May 15, 2005  
• Over The Threshold - Wednesday, December 31, 2003
• Memories and Visions - Monday, December 29, 2003

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