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By Joshua Smith

Alex Proyas and the Australian genre film
Author: Joshua Smith
Published on: July 21, 1998

While Alex Proyas may have seemingly exploded onto the international cinema scene out of nowhere, his meteoric rise to directorial stardom has followed a long and distinguished career in Australia. Alex Proyas is one of Australia's most talented visionaries, a man whose creative energy has spawned the creation of entire worlds, entire fictional diegeses, and whose work has become trademarked by its fast-paced visceral qualities.

It may come as no surprise, with this in mind, that the postmodern king of darkness, the master of the new breed of science-fiction thriller, made a number of music videos and television commercials during his seminal years as a filmmaker. Many of Alex's short artworks, including Nike commercials and the music video for Crowded House's "Don't Dream It's Over," have been critically acclaimed, winning a number of awards. His experience in this area, melding music with visual art in such a creative and unrestrictive forum allowed him to reveal and develop his talent, leading up to the conception of his first feature film.

Under the 10BA taxation legislations enacted in the 1980s, Australia experienced its most prolific period of production. Since filmmakers could receive funding with comparatively less trouble than at present, a number of new and upcoming filmmakers were presented with the opportunity to direct feature films. The films that appeared during this period, too, broke away from the rigid literary traditions of the AFC-genre films that prevailed in the 1970s. This provided the perfect environment within which Alex Proyas could pursue his dream, and direct the low-budget post-apocalyptic thriller Spirits of the Air, Gremlins of the Clouds (1989).

Alex Proyas wrote, directed and produced the work. While the film wasn't a huge success, it provided evidence that Alex Proyas could succeed where others had failed - he could produce a generic work on a low budget that both has a challenging narrative and is shot in a unique and captivating manner. This film is an intensely psychological work, focusing on the complex and irrational relationship that forms between three people when confronted with total isolation.

After making the film, Alex travelled to the U.S. in order to make the contacts necessary in order to provide him with work. His second film, the comic-book inspired The Crow (1994), would ensure Alex Proyas' success. Alex showed that he could create a convincing, chillingly prophetic diegesis based on a dystopic view of the near future. His film struck a cord with audiences since its startling visuals and pumping soundtrack were complemented by clever art design, "real" characters and sensitive direction. He brought life back into the comic book sub-genre in the manner that Tim Burton managed with Batman.

Alex Proyas' next film, to be released in Australia this August, is one of the most eagerly awaited films of the year. With the immense box-office success of The Crow behind him, Alex has been presented with the opportunity to create a big-budget film with almost total creative freedom. The film has been written, produced and directed by Proyas, and stars Rufus Sewell, Keifer Sutherland, William Hurt and Jennifer Connelly. In the tradition of Alex's earlier work, the film is a dystopic sci-fi thriller that exists within a world of its own. In order to achieve an appropriate mise-en-scene, Alex stated in a recent (May 1998) Cinema Papers interview that he chose to construct almost the entire city from scratch, creating approximately 50 interior sets for the film. This allowed him to achieve the constructed, fractured, dynamic style of set-dressing that he hoped to achieve in order to indicate that the city has been created as if from fragments of a person's memory. In this, and the film's themes relating to what it takes to make a human a human, the film shares similarities with Ridley Scott's masterpiece, Blade Runner (1982). While Scott's film was not a commercial success at the time of its release, though, Dark City has been since its opening in the USA earlier this year.

Hopefully, Alex Proyas' success, coupled with the earlier successes of Dr. George Miller and Geoffrey Wright, will cause some degree of reform within the Australian Film Industry. While our local funding bodies and the industry in general tend to favour productions that fall beyond the bounds of generic categorisation in an attempt to differentiate our local product with those films produced in America, a number of remarkably talented directors could be overlooked. What this means, then, is that Australia will continue losing our greatest new talents, such as Alex Proyas, Baz Luhrmann, Geoffrey Wright and Jocelyn Moorehouse to overseas studios since they, and others who have yet to achieve their level of success, find the funding barriers that exist in Australia too difficult to traverse.

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