Saturday, 19 March 2011

"STAR WARS" (1977) & "THE PHANTOM MENACE" (1999)

In my last blog I discussed the film that introduced me to the world of cinema, and subconsciously opened up a bizarrely unnatural love of movies. The film was of course The Wizard of Oz (1939), so I figured where best to continue on from than the point where the subconscious became the conscious, with the two films that turned that love of movies into a love of movie making.

It started when my dad brought home an AVI file of the new trailer for the upcoming Star Wars film, The Phantom Menace. The year was 1999 and I was 8 years old. I had no idea what the hell Star Wars was as I'd never seen any of the films, however for some reason the trailer captivated me. I'd never, to my knowledge, seen a film trailer before and the whole concept bewildered me. I was somehow able to watch scenes from a movie that was not released yet on my computer! Regardless, this film looked like nothing I'd seen before, I'd only ever watched children's films and never any action or adventure movies. I watched the trailer over and over and over again. God knows how many times I sat through it. I instantly wanted to see the movie and when I found out there had already been three, I just had to see them.

Once again, my Nan enters the story. A few years earlier Nan had bought the original trilogy box-set on VHS, so one day I visited her in the hopes of borrowing the films. As scared as I was to sit down and watch an 'adult' film, as soon as I got home I put on the original Star Wars (1977) [now known as A New Hope] and just like The Wizard of Oz had done a mere 4 years earlier, I was instantly opened up to a new form of film making. The special effects, the characters, the story all blew me away. It was all so new and awe-inspiring. That switch that The Wizard of Oz flicked inside my head once again went off and I had a new favorite movie.

As soon as Star Wars finished I remember instantly putting on the sequel The Empire Strikes Back (1980.) It took me a few days to then get around to the final film in the original trilogy, Return of the Jedi (1983,) and once I'd made my way through the original films I simply couldn't wait until the new one was released.

The Star Wars film filled my head with so many questions. How the hell did they do all these special effects? How did they do this? How did they do that? The films were also my introduction to 'widescreen' cinema. I remember asking my father, "what are the black bars on the top and the bottom of the screen?" His response was simply, "it's called Widescreen. It means they can fit more image on the screen." But, how? How could removing the top and the bottom of the image (as I had seen it) make more room for image space?
I was extremely intrigued and was instantly out on a mission to answer all my questions.

It wasn't long until most of my questions were answered. In April of 1999, a month before the release of The Phantom Menace, Channel 10 aired a television special titled Star Wars Episode One Has Arrived. The special was a 2 and a half hour documentary pieced together by a series of behind the scenes 'directors diaries' and interviews related to the making of the newest Star Wars film.  It was the first time I had ever seen the making of a movie. Who knew half of some movies were filmed in giant studios on a green backdrop? Who knew movies weren't shot in order and that it took months upon months to film a 2 hour film? It was a whole new world, and as soon as the documentary had finished I knew what I wanted to do - Make films! Luckily, I recorded the doco on VHS and I watched it over and over again, probably more times than I had watched the actual films, which I also watched quite regularly. I still have the recording to this day.

When The Phantom Menace was finally released I went into the cinema with a whole new perspective of watching films. I had seen how this movie was made, I had seen what went into the movie, I had seen all the behind the scenes trials and tribulations. No longer did I look at a film as a story, with a head full of questions. I saw it through the eyes of someone 'on the inside.' I thought I knew it all, but little did I know I still had much to learn.

Now having seen the making of The Phantom Menace and realizing that the original Star Wars films had been made around 20 years ago I needed to find out how such movies were made THAT LONG AGO!
So I set out on a new mission. I collected as many books as possible on the making of the films, recorded as many documentaries as I could and watched and read as much as I could on the internet. But not only did I begin to study Star Wars, I began to study films and special effects in general.

The story of how George Lucas almost highhandedly turned the entire film industry around by heading the development of modern cinema and special features astounded me. I wanted to be like George Lucas. I wanted to be just as revolutionary. I wanted to do what he had done.

I know I have constantly rabbited on about the old pre-special effects days of cinema being the years were movies were made simply for the love of film and not for money or because it could be made easily. But, there's still something about special effects that I love. I think that there's a right place for them and if they are used to tell the story and are used productively they are warranted. What Lucas did with the original Star Wars films he did so he could tell the kind of story that had never been told. It's only in the past 10 to 15 years that Lucas has been such an egomaniac and that special effects have spiraled out of control - running the classic form of cinema to the ground. And for this reason I love and hate George Lucas and to an extent the Star Wars films. I love how one man with one film could change so much, but I hate how it lead to such a huge change and marked the beginning of films becoming more of a mass marketing device than a product of love and passion.

Regardless, the Star Wars films are held dear to my heart for introducing me to the world of cinema making. I still love the story of Lucas turning the world of cinema upside down, but at the same time also wish it hadn't happened. Luckily I can look at it from two perspectives, and thank Lucas - my first cinematic idol - for giving me the chance to see the world of cinema from new eyes, and putting a new mark in what has become a rapidly increasing life's journey.

Friday, 11 March 2011


Where best to start off than with the film that started it all? The film that first sparked the fire inside me and got me interested in the world of cinema. The film that I am proud to call my favorite movie of all time.

I remember the first time I ever watched The Wizard of Oz. I must have been around 5 or 6 years old and I still remember the exact events of that afternoon. I was spending the day with my grandmother during my school holidays and we were sitting around in the lounge room. From what I can recall, these were the Pre-Foxtel days, so Nan didn't have cable at the time and naturally, there was nothing on TV. At that time there was a children's TV series on in the mornings called Magic Adventures of Mumfie, or something like that. The show revolved around the main character Mumfie, who was an anamorphic elephant, and his friends - a little flying pig and a scarecrow.
It was my favorite show at the time and for some reason I assumed Nan would have it on video. Of course, when I asked her if she did she looked at me strangely and said "What's Mumfie?" I explained, and she said to me "well, I don't have that show on video... but I have another video with a scarecrow in it.." And so was my introduction to the wonderful world of Oz.

So, Nan put on the video, one that she had recorded off TV god knows how long before. At first I was put off by the film's black and white opening. "Is this movie in black and white?" I remember saying, almost dismissing the film. "No. Only this first part." Thank god I stuck with it because, little did I know it then, but this was going to be a pivotal point in my life and a seminal moment in my love for cinema and filmmaking.

As soon as Dorothy opened her bedroom door and stepped into that wonderful technicolor land of Oz I was instantly captivated. As the camera begins to track through Munchin Land - past the shiny leaves and shrubs, over the sparkling blue river and across to the center of the Yellow Brick Road, I was mesmerized. I remember my exact response - "You know what Nan, I think I'm going to have to borrow this video." At that moment I had suddenly been introduced to 'cinema,' and a switch was flicked inside me that opened up a whole new world that was soon to change my life.

Whenever I've described my love of The Wizard of Oz to anybody I've always used the same phrase - There was never anything like it before, and there has never been anything like it since. And whether you believe that statement or not, it's absolutely true. Being 5 or 6 when I first watched it, of course I had never seen anything like it before. And now 15 years on, I've never found a film, old or new, that has captured the same energy, the same heart, the same soul and the same loving filmmaking than Oz.

The one thing that strikes me about Oz is the fact that it refuses to die. The story has been around for 111 years now, and the film was released 72 years ago. And the fact is that it remains timeless, it remains a classic, a favorite amongst young and old. There is no other film so old - with exception of Walt Disney's animated classics - that you could put on the television and expect a young child to enjoy and want to watch over and over again. I think this is why the film has meant so much to me over the years, the fact that I could enjoy it from such a young age, and that I can still enjoy it - albeit so much more - now.
There's something about the movie that seems so special, so unique, so unmatched that I find it my main source of inspiration. How can a film of 72 years old be so widely accepted by such a broad range of viewers in this day and age? You couldn't imagine a 5 year old sitting down and enjoying, say, Casablanca or Gone With The Wind.
The fact is - it remains so timeless, so familiar and so accepted by younger generations because its themes, its characters and its style are still so much a part of today's culture. There's a reflection of values here that is still so very much emblazoned in the minds of today's people. This is why Oz is so timeless, and why when a child could sit down and not know that the movie was made well before their parents, and even grandparents were born.

Another thing about Oz is the way its characters are so familiar and so recognizable to you that you could swear they were reflections of yourself. And I'd be lying if I said that the most connectible character to me wasn't Dorothy. A young child finding her way through the world, learning morals, learning the world - all the while we are with her. I won't go into how I connected with all of the characters, because the magic of this film is that everybody connects differently, but still on the same level.

I've learned so much  from Oz over the years that with each viewing my love for the film grows. With every book I read, every documentary I watch, my love for the film grows larger and bolder. The Wizard of Oz was constructed back when films were made out of love, made from blood, sweat and tears, back before Hollywood became so overruled by movie moguls and people out to make a quick dollar. Sure, Louis B. Mayer - head of the MGM studios, and Jack Warner - head of Warner Bros. were all for making money and making big pictures that could gain revenue, but these two hard-heads never, EVER, signed off on a film that they didn't believe had credibility. They never signed off on a film they thought they could just simply make money off, but films that they believed would be popular, films people would love to see, films people would enjoy and films that they would like to make. Oz  is the product of the fairytale early days of Hollywood, back when Hollywood was known as "The Dream Factory," before money, special effects and blockbusters took over. And for this reason, the film means so much more to me and to the history of cinema.

Oz was made as MGM’s live action answer to Walt Disney’s Snow White. Mayer wanted his audience to experience the same love and the same joy as they had when they visited Disney’s cartoon dream world. Regardless of the fact that it was nominated for a flurry of Oscars (losing out mainly to MGM’s other epic Gone With The Wind, directed and released by the same director, Victor Fleming, in the same year) Oz did quite dreadfully on its original cinema run. It wasn't seen as a 'flop' but it barely made any revenue, it was seen simply as "just a movie." But over the years, Oz was re-released over and over again and played annually on televison - introducing new generations with each showing. It was then that people realised "hey, we have a classic on our hands" and further cemented it into the history of film classicsIt’s because of this that Oz has been deemed the most watched film of all time.

The Wizard of Oz, more than any other film has shaped the way I want to make films. I want to make films out of love, out of blood, sweat and tears. I want to make movies that I can connect with and that I can throw myself into, and that others can too. Films that remain timeless and films that people will enjoy. Films made simply because of great stories and great characters, delivered via a great passion. And not films that will only make a quick buck. Oz has taught me that a film doesn't need to make money to be successful, just as long as you love it, and nurture it and the viewing public do so likewise.

It's an odd film for a guy to hold as their favorite movie of all time, but given what the film means to cinema and means to myself I think it's fairly justified. I say with no regret, no embaressment and no trepidation that Oz has always been and will always be my favorite film of all time. And I will revisit this film to the day I die, not only to help me in my endeavors to make films, but also in my endeavors to find myself, and like Dorothy, find my place in the world.


Hey guys,

Just a quick introduction to what this blog will entail. It's the first blog I've ever done and I feel like a bit of a doucher for starting one up, but there are a few things that I wish to get out in the open in order to help people understand just what makes me tick, and what makes me see the world the way I do.

If you know me, without a doubt you know that I am one of the biggest movie buffs going around. Movies are not just a part of my life, but they have become my life. My bedroom wall is plastered with framed movie posters, I have cabinets stocked full with hundreds of Blu-Rays and hundreds of DVD's, and I have my own "library" - a book shelf filled with over 200 film-themed books.

What the hell made me like this? What is it that has captivated me so much that I have dedicated my life to watching and making films? Well, all your questions will be answered in this blog.

Each week I will upload one or two write-ups focused on a particular movie and why and how it has changed my perception of life, cinema and the way I make films.

I think in the following weeks and months you will finally get to see that long awaited look into the crazy, ever-ticking mind that is Dave Lee.