URBAN CINEFILE - 1,000 WEEKS AGO
It was 1000 weeks ago this week (May 5, 2016) that at dawn on Thursday, February 27, 1997, www.urbancinefile.com.au went online for the first time, ‘the world of film in Australia on the internet’. An Australian voice was now talking to the world about movies and featuring Australian films and filmmakers as a priority.
Published online, www.urbancinefile.com.au was available to anyone with an internet connection, anywhere in the world. The internet was new and in those days, it was slow, dial-up modem connections that brought our content into the homes of cinema lovers; there were no smart phones or tablets, no mainstream media online, no cinema websites. Today, at any given time, almost 50% of our readers may be accessing our pages on mobile phones, over 13% on a tablet and only 37% on a desktop computer.
"In our first weekly edition"
In our first weekly edition, we published an interview with director Anthony Minghella who talked about his new multi-award winning drama, The English Patient (released the following week), and a profile on his cinematographer on the film, Australia’s John Seale. Minghella described Seale as the toughest man he’s ever worked with, “a man with Samurai qualities”.
We ran reviews of recently released Australian films Children of the Revolution (Peter Duncan), Dead Heart (Nick Parsons), Love Serenade (Shirley Barrett), Mr Reliable (Nadia Tass), Love and Other Catastrophes (Emma Kate Croghan) among others. We reviewed Epsilon, Rolf de Heer’s latest film (opening that week) and also published an interview with him.
Breaking the Waves opened that week, Lars von Trier’s gut-wrenching and groundbreaking (?) drama, launching Emily Watson’s international career.
Our box office reports – first Australian media to report Australian takings twice a week - were unique in reporting ‘bums on seats’ (BOSS) as well as total dollars, a meaningful measure for people outside the industry. Today, our twice weekly box office report (in dollars) is the single most popular page on the website.
"first Australian media to report Australian takings twice a week"
Wes Craven’s Scream was at the top of the box office with 129,358 BOSS, followed by Alan Parker’s Evita with 126,873 (which had opened at No 1 previous week) and Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! with 115,526, and Milos Forman’s The People v Larry Flint with 71,917.
Four Australian films were in the top 20 that week: David Caesar’s Idiot Box opened with 26,650 BOSS (At the cast & crew screening, Caesar explained why viewers would not see "A Film by David Caesar" listed in the credits: "It was a collaborative effort," he said, and explained that at times, the actors came up with lines which he felt were better than his original script.) Baz Luhrmann’s masterwork, William Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, was in its 9th week, with almost $2 million in gross takings. Jane Campion’s Portrait of a Lady was in its third week, Scott Hicks’ Shine was in its 28th week, with $1.14 million in gross takings.
We reported on the record box office takings for 1996, at $536,766,000, of which Chris Noonan’s Babe had taken $25.8 million ($37 million including 1995 takings); top of the takings list for 1996 was Independence Day, with $29.3 million. Robin Williams starred in two films in the top 10 for 1996: Birdcage and Jumanji. (In 2015, Australian box office was well over twice that, a record $1,226,315,433.)
We published our man Nick Roddick’s interview with Mike Leigh, whose Secrets & Lies had won the 1996 Palme d’Or and opened in Australia in October 1996; it was also a contender for the 1997 Best Film Oscar: “If anyone finds it difficult to reconcile my subject matter with my enthusiasm for the razzmatazz of Cannes, then they are naive and take a very narrow view of things. Apart from anything else, the dinners are good,” said Leigh.
"the 69th Oscars were looming"
Indeed, the 69th Oscars were looming, due to be presented at the Shrine Auditorium on Monday, March 24, 1997, hosted by Billy Crystal. This was the year Geoffrey Rush won his Oscar for Shine, Ralph Fiennes was nominated for The English Patient, for which John Seale won the Oscar for his cinematography, Cuba Gooding Jr in Jerry Maguire won for Supporting and William H. Macy was a nominee for Fargo; Frances McDormand won for Fargo, Emily Watson and Kristin Scott Thomas were nominees; Juliette Binoche won for her Supporting role in The English Patient which also won Best Picture; Evita and Fargo were among the nominees; and director Minghella won for The English Patient, while Scott Hicks was a nominee for Shine.
In Australian accolades, 1997 was the year for Kiss or Kill, winning AFI Awards for Best Film and Best Director (Bill Bennett), Best Editing (Henry Dangar) Best Supporting Actor (Andrew S. Gilbert); The Castle won the Original Screenplay Award and Cate Blanchett won her first AFI Award for her role in Thank God He Met Lizzie. (This award is not listed on her imdb entry, but it was the very first award for Blanchett, who at time of writing has had 137 award wins and another 156 nominations in her career.) It was the year Adam Elliot made his AFI award winning debut with the claymation short, Uncle. (At the time of writing, Elliot had just returned from Paris where the Forum des Images hosted a retrospective of his work, including his Oscar winning Mary and Max .)
The Cannes film festival in May 1997 screened a 3-minute short by Justin Case in Short Competition, Final Cut, and presented two Australian feature films – as different as it is possible to imagine: In Competition, Samantha Lang’s The Well, and out of competition at a special midnight screening, Stephan Elliott’s Welcome to Woop Woop. The former is a dark, brooding, intense psychological drama set on an isolated farm about “how the need for love can corrupt you”; the latter is a raucous, vulgar and subversive farce set in the outback at fly-infested Woop Woop complete with astonishingly inappropriate Rodgers & Hammerstein music.
Urban Cinefile’s coverage of the 1997 Cannes festival included a live report from the beach at 2.30am after the screening of Welcome to Woop Woop, in which Andrew L. Urban interviewed Elliott as he strode out of the Mediterranean fully clothed, a starlet on either arm. Urban’s interview was conducted on his (early model) mobile phone with Louise Keller recording it in Sydney and publishing it in text form instantly. Woop Woop, said an ebullient Elliott “is blowing one last big kiss goodbye to the mass of old Australian culture which is disappearing; 50s, 40s, 60s culture which is just about to go … there is beer guzzling, there is sexism and there is racism and there is more beer guzzling . . .”
" the inaugural 1998 Telstra / Financial Times Internet Award as Best Arts & Entertainment Site"
Merely 18 months later, Urban Cinefile won the inaugural 1998 Telstra / Financial Times Internet Award as Best Arts & Entertainment Site - despite much better resourced nominees such as the multi-million dollar venture by Nine MSN.
Louise Keller and Andrew L. Urban celebrating in front of their DVD library
-- thanks to Rod Bennett & photographer Annika Enderborg at Manly Daily / Daily Telegraph for the recognition & photo on May 3, 2016
Thanks to all our readers for your company these past 1000 weeks; we hope you will continue to find us relevant, useful, entertaining and sometimes surprising.
Dead Heart, Breaking the Waves, Idiot Box, Romeo & Juliet, Scream
Published May 5, 2016
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See some of the MILESTONES along the way to edition No 1000, in our 10th Anniversary Highlights
The English Patient
I've Always Loved you (I always wear it; I've always worn it; I've always loved you)
John Seale - Best Cinematography, The English Patient
Shine - trailer
Cannes Report 1997
Box Office - Bums on Seats