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As my fellow reviewers have noted, the technical qualities are excellent: evocative cinematography, haunting score and sound design, sensitive direction. All of the performances are good but I particularly liked John Waters as the brooding brother and Geraldine Turner as the rubenesquely sexy landlady. The townsfolk have those wonderfully earthy, naturally idiosyncratic faces that seventies Australian cinema is full of.
The problem lies with the script. After a great build-up where clues are laid with nuance and subtlety, the revelation about the Abbott's relationship is lacking in the necessary emotional force. And the final scene just doesn't work for me. I was left puzzled and irritated.
On second thought, maybe its partly the script and partly the execution of the final moments. Maybe it worked better on paper than director Ken Hannam captued it on screen. I dunno. At any rate I was disappointed.
See the film if you can. There's an awful lot of good stuff happening before the climax. In fact, it's because the build-up is so good that the finale comes off as such a let-down.
My main point is to report that this film has stood the test of time and was just as good this time around even though I knew the ending. It may well be true that Australia wasn't ready for a film such as this - how some critics described it as boring completely escapes me! The DVD contains some excellent interviews with those involved in the film and helps to explain the apparent lack of box office success.
This is quintessential Australian cinema which must not be missed!
"Summerfield" is a remarkable film in that not very much happens, yet the viewer's attention is gripped from the first frame. The lead character is Simon Robinson, a supply teacher (played by the excellent Nick Tate of "Space 1999" fame) sent to replace another teacher who has disappeared from a remote township in Victoria, Australia.
Simon almost immediately falls in with the Abbott family brother and sister David and Jennifer, along with the latter's daughter, Sally who live on the isolated island estate of Summerfield. The Abbotts and other locals all seem to know something about something, but nobody is saying anything beyond dropping a few obscure hints here and there.
The film is a mood piece. We see shots of lonely coastline, dark clouds looming over gloomy waters. Against this ominous background, Simon comes across information about his predecessor and the Abbotts. He follows up on it, with disastrous results, leading to a doozy of a conclusion, full of savage irony. If only, if only
"Summerfield" had a very mixed critical reception on its release, but in an interview included on the DVD Nick Tate calls the film a "minor classic". Despite an irritating and superfluous side story where Simon makes love to his landlady, I certainly don't disagree.
Recommended, unless you like a lot of physical action. Rating: 8/10.
From reading some of the reviews here, it is apparent that the film wasn't well received by the critics at the time. However, forty years later, it is removed from all the influences that may have coloured a critic's judgement.
The thing that surprised me was how fresh it seems - the remote setting gives it a timeless quality - it hasn't dated much beyond the makes of cars, a few 70's hairstyles and the absence of mobile phones and Xboxes. It also shows the maturity that Australian films had achieved after the more strident efforts of the 60's and early 70's.
Simon Robinson, played by Nick Tate - a Robert Redford lookalike especially when shirtless - arrives in the small seaside town of Bannings Beach as a replacement for a teacher who has mysteriously disappeared.
He senses that the townspeople are hiding something about the disappearance, and feels that many of them are wary of his presence. When Simon accidentally injures Sally Abbott, a pupil from his school played by Michelle Jarman, he becomes acquainted with her mother, Jenny Abbott and her uncle, David Abbott, who own a property on secluded Summerfield Island. Elizabeth Alexander, whose ethereal quality was just right for this movie, plays Jenny Abbott. John Waters as David Abbott, exudes an underlying sense of menace.
Simon continues to search for clues about his predecessor's disappearance while becoming more attracted to Jenny. Eventually, after a shock finale, he learns all the answers, but wishes he hadn't.
The early part of the movie reminded me a little of "The Wicker Man" - even the name Summerfield is reminiscent of Summerisle, the setting for that classic horror movie of 1973. Although the stories have different resolutions, and the similarities are no doubt coincidental, both films start with a stranger arriving in a remote location, a disappearance, and inhabitants who seem to share a secret. Even the sexual temptation by the hotel manager's wife in the case of "Summerfield" has similarities with the encounter with the landlord's daughter in "The Wicker Man".
But the similarities end there, "Summerfield" heads off to it's own surprising and tragic conclusion.
The movie benefits from Bruce Smeaton's score. He was a very experimental composer with an amazing range. An Aeolian harp, which works as an acoustic wind chime, and other stringed instruments including a bouzouki, all find a place in the score, which also features a lilting main theme.
This is a movie that has shed whatever baggage worried the critics all those years ago - it is simply a beautifully made film that holds your attention from start to finish.
There is strict attention paid to justified camera movement and exquisite composition in this tale of blood secrets.
Mike Malloy, who shot the movie, is to be commended for the beautiful, warm veneers of this subtle drama. Bruce Smeaton, who scored PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, turns in another hypnotic score that expresses the inner workings of its characters. Cliff Green, who scripted PICNIC, wrote this mildly haunting piece.
Performances are above par. Nick Tate, a vastly underused Australian actor, is superb as Simon Robinson, a replacement teacher in the midst of a mystery. Elizabeth Alexander, as Jenny Abbott, delivers an extraordinary performance which is a cocktail of ice poured over steamy passion. John Waters, as her peculiar brother, achieves just the right note. Most affecting of all is little Michelle Jarman's performance as Sally Abbott. An impossibly beautiful child, she has shattering on-screen charisma and conveys an ethereal otherworldliness that contributes so much to the film's success as a mood-ridden mystery.
The film is deliberately paced, but it is also quietly enchanting and seductive.
This movie makes a refreshing change from modern formulaic trash (you know the ones I mean) so give it a go ~ I'm surprised by how watchable 70's movies are, it didn't seem so then but it was a brilliant decade for films.
Come on whoever-owns-the-film-rights, pull your finger out and give this fab movie the DVD release it deserves! NOW!
P.S, If you like this, try 'Bunny Lake is Missing' which is another quirky little gem...
Every now again you stumble across a film that it's hard to take your eyes off and think "Why haven't I heard anything about this flick before?". Well, that's the case here. I accidentally happen upon this DVD when I was checking out my library's selection. Seeing that the screenwriter of "Picnic at Hanging Rock" was involved and the plot's outline looked like an intriguing mystery, I had no hesitation in checking it out. And what an uniquely, brooding mystery it was! I was compulsively, attached to this pretty well crafted, enigmatic piece.
The screenplay is done by Cliff Green and he incorporates an thought-provoking script here that generates a mystery, where there are many dense levels and hidden symbolic messages implied. The complex story plays around with the idea that something is not right on the surface and it evolves around our central character putting his nose where it's best left out off. The way the plot plays is hauntingly, still and there's a sensuousness feel running underneath the context. Underlining the mysteriously, quiet air is an ominous feel that's just hard to shake. Although, I thought the one of the revelations is rather predictable because you slowly put the pieces together and film's climax is plain unsettling thanks to the eerie score, but the final straw to the story is where it knocked me off my feet. Man, I didn't see that cunning conclusion coming! The thing is that the picture just sticks in your mind after it's finished.
The set-up of the story leisurely strings you along with some plodding moments, but I found it refreshingly engaging and how could you dismiss the flourishing backdrop. Simply it's glorious in detail and its gives the film an dreary, off-putting cloud that showers the air with a heavily moody vibe. The scenery might look ravishingly, breathtaking, but it's the isolation of it that streamlines the film and it embodies itself into subtext of the plot. What captured the backdrop was the well-defined, but graceful camera-work that freely moved about in such a soothing fashion. One thing that also screams out asking you to pay notice is Bruce Smeaton's (Picnic at Hanging Rock) highly prolific, titillating score that just raises harrowing chills. He was able to bring out the emotional element out of the characters in a very subdued, but precise manner. The production is professionally handled with such skilled brushes by all involved.
The lead performances were just magnificent that I couldn't help but become infatuated by this versatile cast. Nick Tate is faultlessly, believable as the naive teacher Simon Robinson. John Waters goes low-key, but still manages to make himself a force as David Abbott. Elizabeth Alexander, plays the delicate sister Jenny Abbott. Which, she is totally beautiful, but still she holds her own with striking penetration in such a passionately, protective way. While, the child of the piece played by Michelle Jarman, just has a certain glow about her and she seems so natural in her performance as Sally Abbott. The shadiness about her seems to lead into the mystery very well. The supporting roles are equally good by an alluring Geraldine Turner as Betty Tate, Charles 'Bud' Tingwell as Dr. Millar and Max Cullen as the unwelcoming Jim Tate.
If you enjoyed "Picnic at Hanging Rock" this flick might also tickle your fancy. A very atmospheric mystery tale that stages the central notion impeccably well and leaves you with a bittersweet conclusion.
The basic plot concerns a teacher called Simon Robinson (played by Nick Tate) coming to an isolated community to replace a teacher called Peter Flynn who has gone missing and left his belongings at the guest house where he lodges. Simon now lodges in the same room. Nobody seems particularly concerned that Peter has gone missing.
For most of the film, nothing much happens, apart from Simon's curiosity being piqued about what happened to Peter. He also gets pulled into the orbit of the family of one his students, Sally Abbott (played by Michelle Jarman). Sally's mother is the elegantly beautiful Jennifer Abbott (played by Elizabeth Alexander). Simon slowly also becomes curious about the Abbott's, who live on an isolated island, with the only entrance being a wooden bridge, which has a locked gate and a sign to keep outsiders out.
For most of the movie, it was tracking to score 70+% but I particularly liked the ending. For some people the leisurely pace may be off-putting. For others, the ending may be too.
The reason why I bumped up my score due to the ending is because it haunted me. The entire end sequence of the movie both answers mysteries and leaves new mysteries to arise. My main question is whether the ending could have been resolved differently or whether something like that was inevitable. E.g. the scene where Jennifer's brother, David Abbott (played by John Waters) calls out to Simon. Was Simon's response leading up to that moment a consequence of him drawing together the issue of what happened to Peter and the position he now found himself in?
There is a resolution to the mystery of Peter's fate. It occurs to me that perhaps the filmmakers wanted the viewer to come to some sort of realisation about what had happened earlier (I also wondered if this related to Sally's father as well). I'm not sure if that is explicated well enough to come into play though. In searching for this title at this site, I was surprised to see a listing for "Secrets of Summerfield: The making of 'Summerfield'" (2005, video). Am definitely curious to see this now, with regard to my own questions about the haunting ending. Hopefully my suspicions can be confirmend (or not!). The existence of this follow up film is good news, in the sense that the original movie must have resonated with people for it to be created.
If you like movies with mysteries, this is definitely worth checking out. The film itself does provide subtle hints and allusions to the mystery.
General observations: * I really enjoyed the score for this movie and will try to seek it, but not holding much hope for that! The music was composed and conducted by Bruce Smeaton. The into score has Japanese strings playing, as well as some symphonic instruments. It creates an eerie mood, pensive at times. There is a lovely melody throughout this movie. At times there seems to be a subtle nod to music from a Hollywood movie (I think), which I just can't place...maybe something by Bernard Herrmann? * Geraldine Turner has a touch of Gillian Anderson in her looks (obviously vice versa), in the part of the lodge's management.
* I don't think I've seen the star, Nick Tate, in other Australian productions...what happened to him? Apart from John Waters ("All the rivers run" and "Play school"!), the only other actor I could say I've watched before was Charles "Bud" Tingwell (I'd seen him in the great British children's series "Catweazle"). I think Tingwell may be credited as "Bud" at the start and "Charles" at the end credits! Max Cullen is a familiar name and I've probably seen him before too. The cop in this film looks familiar too, but I probably haven't seen the TV shows where he regularly appeared...probably in the role of a cop too! * Not sure that I found Doctor Miller's (Charles Tingwell) revelations always plausible...i.e. often they just seemed to function as narrative exposition more than something that someone in his position would actually divulge. There are two examples of that: what he says to Simon one time, on the beach, and something he tells David at Summerfield.
* The cop says that "hundreds" of people have gone missing...I really hope he means in the state, not just their locale! Small town and all! * Apart from the terrific music, I also liked the hues of the sky at times...but my television isn't the best...perhaps it looks even better on a good screen! There is plenty of 1970's fashions as well...short shorts, shirts etc.
* Just by the by, you can make out two newspaper headline posters at the milk bar, giving an idea of when it was filmed: The Sun "Fraser clamp_ on Lea_" (hard to read clearly as it is obscured) and the Herald's "Pop man hurt in stage blast"...curious who that was! Viewed from my PVR from a recording made on ABC 20/12/2013 at around 12:35 a.m. Running time of 91:25.
This film seems to have been repeated more than once in recent years...which was good for me, seeing as I wanted to rewatch it!