Sunday, August 16, 2015

Book review - "Directed by Ken G Hall" by Ken G Hall (1977)

Perhaps the most important memoir written by an Australian filmmaker because of Hall's contribution to Australian cinema. He remains our most consistently commercially successful filmmaker of local movies (i.e. Australian ones, not Hollywood), with a series of hits from 1932-46 only really interrupted by the stumble of Strike Me Lucky and to a lesser extent Come Up Smiling. (NB It should be pointed out that hard data supporting this is not readily available but contemporary newspaper accounts and the extent the films were distributed back him up). Yes, Hall made movies at a time before TV and with the backing of a big cinema chain, but other filmmakers had similar advantages (eg Chauvel) and stumbled.

I don't think he was a natural writer - the prose in this is often stilted and several portraits of colourful people don't really come alive (eg Stuart Doyle, George Wallace). But he has such great stories to tell: early cinema going experiences; working as a journalist and moving into publicity; the surprise appointment as director; the hard slog of making On Our Selection and it's massive success; his admiration for Bert Bailey and George Wallace; the disappointment of Strike Me Lucky; the solidification of Cinesound in the 30s; war work; the desperate struggle to reactivate filmmaking in Australia and subsequent heart break.

I thought there would be more on TV, in which Hall worked for a decade. He's also sketchy on his personal life, probably figuring people weren't interested.

His criticism of the Australian film industry remain valid and his proposed solutions actually still make sense (basically he offered up a studio model with an artistic director... kind of like theatre companies). I don't think temperamentally he would have been at home in feature filmmaking of the 70s and 80s but it's a shame he never got to be say head of drama at a TV network.

IIt's an important book - probably the most vital personal account of Australian filmmaking in the 30s and 40s. Though Hall could still go with a good biography as well.

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