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Hollywood had nothing to fear

Author: petershelleyau from Sydney, Australia
5 June 2003

This dull documentary on women in the Australia cinema from the silent days to 1939, when film production all but stopped, written by co-director Andree Wright, is undermined of it's intention since the female stars featured are plain, and the films presented in laughable clips. Feminists would probably attack the thinking that a woman has to be beautiful to be an actress, however based on the performances we see, there isn't much skill present either. In a commercial market, it seems Hollywood had nothing to fear, and it's perhaps easy to see how this environment allowed for the invasion and remaining supremacy of American movie product.

The treatment is more interesting when it presents how women in Australian cinema, at least in the silent era, were allowed to be "Jills of all trade", aspiring to positions of producer, editor, writer and director. It's telling that with the coming of Cinesound in the 1930's and talkies, the role of women was ironically diminished so that no female director would exist until 1979 when Gillian Armstrong made My Brilliant Career.

Lottie Lyell is the only woman here who has any great charisma, possibly because she dressed androgynously, and died prematurely, before she could be interviewed. The American import Helen Twelvetrees came to make one film, and her dinkum Australian accent is far more believable than the otherwise accepted tradition of faux-British diction. Australian Lotus Thompson scolded her legs with acid to stop her legs being cast in preference to her face in Hollywood, this act then leading her to "serious acting roles" (presumably where displaying her legs was not required). And Jean Hatton tells of her lifelong resentment of being called "Australia's Deanna Durbin".

The film features to-camera interviews with actresses Marjorie Osborne (dithery in an odd hair net), Louise Lovely who went Hollywood and came back, Shirley Ann Richards who went Hollywood and did not come back, and Aileen Britton, who is featured in a long analysis of the female roles in the 1937 Tall Timbers. We also hear from photo-journalist Ted Hood, producer/director Ken Hall, writer Oswell Blakeson, and publicist Nancy Gurr. Narration is by Penne Hackforth-Jones, who sounds rather joyless.

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