Current Issue #488

Stars on screen: Australian film portraits explore national identity

Stars on screen: Australian film portraits explore national identity

The exhibition Starstruck: Australian Movie Portraits taps into the intrigue, mystery and magic of a century of Australian film.

Starstruck first showed in Canberra last year. It is a collaboration between the National Portrait Gallery and the National Film and Sound Archives. Showing in Adelaide at the Samstag Museum of Art as part of the 2018 Adelaide Film Festival, the exhibition features more than 250 pieces including photographic portraits, behind the scenes shots, rare film posters, casting books and original costumes.

Portia De Rossi, Elle Macpherson and Kate Fischer as Giddy, Sheela and Pru in Sirens (photo: Robert McFarlane)

“It shows the breadth of the stories we are telling in Australia, and our Australian identity comes through very strongly,” says Joanna Kitto, curatorial researcher at Samstag. “There is a whole range of stories being told through Australian film and, put together, it shows us this very varied way of looking at our national identity.”

One of the key elements of the exhibition is film-still photographs by well-known Australian artists such as Robert McFarlane, Lisa Tomasetti and Matt Nettheim.

“There is a whole range of actor portraits but also character portraits and the difference between the two is quite an interesting element. It shows this idea of performance and storytelling,” Kitto says.

Proof sheet of David Gulpilil as Chris Lee, from the film The Last Wave, 1977, directed by Peter Weir. (photo: courtesy McElroy and McElroy)

Looking at the image of Toni Collette as Muriel in Muriel’s Wedding, taken by Robert McFarlane, it is difficult to tell where the actor might end and the character begins.

“There is a real magic in not knowing if you are looking at Toni Collette or Muriel or that moment of slippage between the two of them,” Kitto says.

Toni Collette as Muriel trying on a wedding dress in Muriel’s Wedding (photo: Robert McFarlane)

Alongside the photographs are costumes such as the thong dress designed by Tim Chappel and worn by Hugo Weaving in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and the red dress worn by Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge. There are also casting books from the 1920s which give a fascinating insight into what it was like to be an actor in Australian films early on.

Lottie Lyell as Doreen and Arthur Tauchert in The Sentimental Bloke (photo: supplied)

Also showing at Samstag, alongside Starstruck, is The Waiting Room, a new Samstag commission by international award-winning filmmakers Molly Reynolds and Rolf de Heer. The pair worked with visual designer Mark Eland and sound designer Tom Heuzenroeder to present their first gallery commission, a virtual reality installation.

“While Starstruck is looking at the history and the past of Australian film, The Waiting Room is almost the next step and shows the future of film and where it might be heading,” Kitto says.

Starstruck: Australian Movie Portraits
Samstag Museum of Art Friday, September 14 to Friday, November 30

Header image: Sam Neill and Judy Davis on set for My Brilliant Career with director Gillian Armstrong (photo: David Kynoch)

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