Don Perlgut PhD confirmed

February 16, 2012

Earlier this week, the Macquarie University (Sydney) Academic Senate gave the final tick of approval to my PhD dissertation, which I have completed in the Department of Media, Music, Communication and Cultural Studies (MMCCS).  I will formally receive the degree in early April.  The title of my thesis is The Making of a Cultural Moment: Mel Gibson’s “Passion” Goes to the Movies.  Selections from my research for the thesis appear in various parts of this blog.  For those who are interested, the thesis abstract is below.  Contact me on don(dot)perlgut(at)gmail(dot)com if you have any questions or would like to discuss.

Mel Gibson’s film The Passion of the Christ (“The Passion”) burst into American cultural consciousness and confounded numerous observers by its major box office success when released in late February 2004. The film became a major cultural and religious “event,” and highly controversial because of its on-screen violence, extra-biblical interpretations and antisemitic elements.

 The Passion now holds a unique position in the history of American film, standing squarely at the intersection of three pillars of American public fascination: politics, religion and the movies. High production values and graphic imagery mean that the film will visually define the death of Jesus for decades to come. I argue that the film’s release coincided with a unique moment in American political and social life: the Republican Party achieved great success with conservative Christian voters in the 2004 Presidential election, and there were widespread feelings of vulnerability and cultural insecurity resulting from the events of September 11th and the second Iraq War. Mel Gibson adeptly promoted his film in the USA through pre-release screenings to Christian “thought leaders,” and readily engaged in public debates with the film’s critics.

 The Passion did not achieve similar success in most other countries, with Australia a notable example of how it fared differently. This dissertation argues that this differential success resulted from a lower level of religious belief (including fewer evangelical Protestants), less community and media interest in the controversy through lack of an engaging local “angle” and less favourable local film distribution factors. Despite an enormous amount of initial debate, the film’s public controversy has virtually disappeared. While Mel Gibson’s career now appears to be seriously damaged by a combination of his history of antisemitic statements and erratic personal behaviour, The Passion remains popular with its target audiences and a milestone film of the early twenty-first century.

In order to analyse The Passion’s promotion, marketing and reception, this dissertation draws on a range of empirical data, as well as my own experiences as an Australian film critic.

Reflections on the Australian Cinema and Television Academy Awards

February 1, 2012

Last night, the Australian Film Institute’s new Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts (AACTA) held its first awards, broadcast nationally not quite live on Channel Nine.  Some reflections on the broadcast (noting that I am a professional voting member, with film writer/critic and producer accreditation):

The industry now pronounces the awards “the actahs”, which is a very clever Australian play on words and the noun “actor”.  There is a certain – and quite wonderfully Australian – ironic humour in this, which operates on both high and low levels, and I think will “take off” and embed in public (or at least industry) consciousness.  Good on ‘em: this one will probably work.

The editing of last night’s broadcast was very good.  The 9.30pm (Sydney time) almost two hour broadcast of activities which had happened just a few hours before was awfully quick turnaround, and was well-done.  I doubt that anyone really questioned it.  Professional and true.

About a full half hour of the broadcast was taken up with the “frocks” and Richard Wilkins interviewing people on the “red carpet”.  Pretty much shades of the Oscar ceremonies, when Wilkins is in LA to do the same with nominees, for Australian television.  He did that part just fine, and some of the chats (and frocks) were not bad at all.  Major brickbat, however:  the shameless integration of a promotional plug for David Jones with one of the interviews.  Major clanger, that one – infomercial at its worst.  Second problem – in a two hour broadcast, bring on the awards more quickly, please.  Also a real mistake to have a red carpet interviewee admit she had not seen any of the best film nominees:  that’s one true way to diminish the value of the awards – if she has not taken the time to see them (and she is there, for goodness’ sake), why should we?  Richard, next time skip that question, please.

Fabulous parts of the broadcast:  the Sydney Opera House setting (could not be better); the personalities and their enthusiasm, Geoffrey Rush, Cate Blanchett (no autocue for her – she learns her lines well), Olivia Newton-John, Russell Crowe, Mia Wasikowska, Jonathan and Anthony LaPaglia, Jacki Weaver.  And I totally loved the funny songs about the best film nominees:  clever, intelligent, sly, professional, fun, well-written.  Worth ARIA nominations in their own right.  And Olivia Newton-John gave a spirited performance to start.

Not so wonderful parts: promos for upcoming Australian films.  Isn’t this an awards ceremony for 2011, but the promos for upcomings (only one of which – A Few Best Men – is actually screening now) was awfully clunky, and confuses (as well as diminishes) the 2011 Awards “brand”.

No surprises:  Red Dog winning the best film award, Judy Davis best actress award.  Cinematography to The Hunter, costume and production design for Eye of the Storm (it was beautiful), Mrs Carey’s Concert best doco.

Yes surprises: no other major awards for Red Dog, with best director going to Justin Kurzel for Snowtown, as well as the other major acting, editing, sound and adapted screenplay “actahs” for Snowtown.

Interesting choice:  Best original screenplay for Griff the Invisible.

Great to see: Don McAlpine receives the Raymond Longford Award.

Problem with “Griff” and Snowtown: hardly anyone has actually seen these films so far  (Snowtown grossed about $1.1million in the ‘Oz box office: at $15/ticket that’s about 73,300 viewers) – although that will change once they come out on DVD and eventually TV broadcasts, in which case millions will eventually watch.  That’s eventually.  But there is still a difference between the cinema and television (the small screen), where these films will find their audience – as Screen Australia reminds us through its Beyond the Box Office research (April 2011).

Finally – despite the professional editing of the broadcast, it’s a shame we did not see the whole thing:  I understand (I was not there) that we television viewers missed the highlight of the evening – director Stephan Elliott (Priscilla Queen of the Desert, A Few Best Men) had a great and at times emotional rave about coming out gay (he is, okay, no surprises) and the perfidy of Australian film critics, particularly one from Melbourne.  Apparently he also predicted that his speech would be cut from the Channel Nine broadcast.  He was right about that (see comment below).  I heard this on ABC Radio Sydney 702 this morning at 7.40am, but you can also read about it in Encore magazine here.  You can also see part of it on the ABC News website.