What makes an Aussie film?
There are the obvious examples, like Crocodile Dundee and Muriel's Wedding - films that are so Australian that they are now part of our vernacular.
But what aboutMad Max? The series set in a post-apocalyptic world, but created and filmed by Australians. Plus, it was part of the Ozploitation era of 1970s and 80s Australian film, a movement that saw Aussie larrikinism and American B-grade sensibilities combine.
If it only needs to be filmed on Aussie soil, then something such as Judy and Punchis an Australian film. While it's about puppeteers in 16th-century England, it was filmed in Melbourne, has an Australian cast - including Canberra's Mia Wasikowska - and was created by an Australian crew, led by director Mirrah Foulkes.
The definition of Australian film has almost become a grey area.
"It's deceiving, because sometimes you don't know if it's an Australian film anymore. Even if it's a Hollywood film, it's often got three or four Australians behind it," National Film and Sound Archive curator Tara Marynowsky says.
It really is the perfect debate to have within the National Film and Sound Archive's upcoming exhibition, Australians & Hollywood: a tale of craft, talent, and ambition.
In the archive's first original exhibition in two decades, it will showcase pivotal moments in Australian cinema and the Aussies that brought those films, and others to life.
The show captures behind-the-scenes and on-screen moments, featuring never-before-seen items from the archive's collection, including costumes, memorabilia and props.
There are also personal treasures from some of Australia's most celebrated creatives in cinema, including directors David Michod and George Miller and actors Mia Wasikowska, Eric Bana and Paul Hogan.
Included are custom steering wheels from Mad Max: Fury Road,Catherine Martin's costumes from Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge! and the film duo's art concept books for Romeo + Juliet, as well as the clapperboards from the 2021 sci-fi epic, Dune, which Australian cinematographer Greig Fraser worked on.
And that really is the tip of the iceberg.
Summarising Australia's history in film is no easy task, but the exhibition has gone some of the way by breaking it down into five sections - each headed by one or two trailblazers who help link the rest of the identities that feature.
It's an unusual way to layout an exhibition, but it's a reflection of the Australian film industry itself.
"The industry is an intricate network of collaborators," Marynowsky says.
"People will be on one film together but they've also actually worked together on several films previously but you might not know that."
Kicking off the exhibition is the work of director George Miller - in particular, the Mad Max series - and how it fits into the film industry of the 70s and 80s.
It was an exciting new era for Australian cinema. The 60s saw little movement within the film industry, but the establishment of the Australian Film Development Corporation - which became the Australian Film Commission - as well as other initiatives, sparked a new beginning for the country's movie industry.
The years that followed, as Marynowsky says, were ruled by the risk-takers.
"It's the era where a lot of our industry cut their teeth and learnt a lot without many rules already in place, so you get films where they're doing crazy stunts or taking a lot of risks," she says.
"It was also an era where films had a low budget so people were creating something from not much at all. The Australian sensibility that shone through, but also captured the international audience."
You can see evidence of the shoestring budget in Mad Max, where the "leather" costumes were actually made out of vinyl and duct tape.
When speaking to the National Film and Sound Archive in 2018, Mad Max make-up artist Vivien Mepham recalled how the crew made things work on a small budget.
"All the blood and guts, in those days, we were using real meat, we were using bits of things that you wouldn't use these days [like] tripe and stuff like that to make wounds," she said.
"[And] almost when we finished the shoot, one of the stunts was a car went straight through the make-up van.
"But [the budget] was cheap, cheap, cheap. And we had these caterers who did weddings on the weekends and we'd get the leftover chicken."
When Norma Moriceau came on board for costuming for Mad Max 2 and Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome, creativity and repurposing was still at the heart of the costumes. But this time, they were made from bric-a-brac and items bought from adult shops.
And this same level of creativity, and "get the job done" attitude was the same throughout the industry.
"This very creative, artistic approach to filmmaking paid off and launched a lot of people to Hollywood. A lot of the cinematographers and the actors of that period took themselves or were poached from Hollywood, and made huge careers over there," Marynowsky says.
Of course, small budgets are not usually a limitation in today's film industry.
When comparing the costumes from Mad Max to those by Catherine Martin and Angus Strathie for Moulin Rouge!, the difference is clear.
Not to mention that costumes in modern-day films are often made in multiple. For example, the different versions of the iconic red Satine dress worn by Nicole Kidman in Moulin Rouge!, now live in different institutions across the world. One has even found a home at the National Film and Sound Archive and will be on show in the exhibition.
Sometimes the costumes are made in duplicate in order for the outfits to be pristine for each take. Other times, they are cut slightly differently to ensure the costume looks perfect no matter what the actor is doing.
Hugh Jackman had multiple different versions of his costume in the film Australia. While on screen they look identical, the costume he wore while riding was different to the one worn during fight scenes, for example.
This higher budget also shows in the special effects.
The exhibition features the work done by Sydney production house Animal Logic, who did the special effects on Baz Luhrmann's films, Moulin Rouge! and The Great Gatsby.
"The green fairy is one of the major ones in the exhibition," Marynowsky says.
"We've got some beautiful, behind the scenes images of Kylie Minogue in the studio with the blue screen behind her being catapulted through the air, and some great behind the scenes materials on Great Gatsby as well.
"When you think about [Baz Luhrmann and Catherine Martin] they're so Hollywood but actually make most of their films in Australia. And the crew and cast are mostly Australian.
"Elvis is coming out soon and that's got a lot of Australians in it. They champion the Australian industry just as much as they are Hollywood."
The same could be said of actors like Nicole Kidman.
She's the face of one of the exhibition's five sections, and the trailblazer connecting the work of other Australian actors including Cate Blanchett, Mia Wasikowska, Margot Robbie, Toni Collete, Chris Hemsworth, Guy Pearce and Russell Crowe.
They're the public faces of the Australian invasion on Hollywood. The ones that have Americans asking, "what's in the water down there?"
But as the rest of the exhibition demonstrates, they're not the only Aussies making waves in the film industry. They're joined by just as many, if not more, people behind the camera who are just as notable.
Arguably, many of the famous faces that feature in the exhibition are just as interconnected as Kidman, so why has the archive chosen her as the face?
"She's the trailblazer, in terms of the acting world. She opened up a lot of doors for many," Marynowsky says.
"Obviously Cate Blanchett is a big part of the show as well, but Nicole was chosen because she was just that step earlier - she was actually following the steps of Judy Davis a little bit. But she made a big splash in Hollywood."
As part of the exhibition, the archive has included episodes of the podcast, Aussies in Hollywood, created by Australian journalist Jenny Cooney, who has lived in Hollywood for 30 years.
Among the episodes is an interview she did with Kidman - who Cooney has been interviewing since the actor was 17 years old. The podcast sees Kidman reveal what it was like travelling to America for the first time to meet with agents and doing international publicity for her 1989 film Dead Calm.
"I remember getting dressed and wearing a suit on the plane because I thought I'd better dress up and look really great when I get off the plane so that I look like I made an effort," Kidman says in the podcast.
"I mean, nobody cared less, but for me, it was that thing of respecting that suddenly someone was buying me a ticket to fly overseas. That had never happened before."
It's a rare insight to what life is like beyond the red carpet. And that's something the archive not only wanted to capture throughout the exhibition, but is at the heart of why it was curated it to begin with.
Australians & Hollywood is not just a chance to show off interesting objects and fancy costumes, but an opportunity to champion Australian work.
- Australians & Hollywood: a tale of craft, talent, and ambition is at the National Film and Sound Archive from January 21. Tickets from nfsa.gov.au.
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