Poised between cultures
Born in 1944 in Sydney in Australia, Peter Weir has progressed from being a self-taught film-maker to being a mainstream entertainer. Only one year after making his low-budget first film The Cars that ate Paris (1974), he achieved an international success with Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975). He conjures fine performances up from genre-actors like Harrison Ford, Robin Williams and Jim Carrey.
Weirs second feature film, Picnic at Hanging Rock, is thought to mark a watershed in the history of Australian cinema. Its international success in 1975 made the film-world aware that Australia had a film-culture of its own, independent of the British homeland.
Picnic at Hanging Rock is set at the end of the 1800s and based on a true incident. A group of enthusiastic boarding-school girls and two teachers from Appleyard College, a strict, Victorian school, went on an outing and vanished. The film is a subtle open-ended horror-film with all the qualities which Weir was later to develop. The emotional spontaneity of the girls, fond of nature and the archaic, stands in stark opposition to the subordination and conformity of their own culture. Such cultural contrasts became typical of Weirís films. Often he has his figures confront extra-sensory, mysterious and inexplicable experiences related to a culture with deeper roots.
This applies for instance to The Last Wave (1977), in which a young Australian lawyer, David Burton, learns from Aborigines of an imminent world-flood. Burton immerses himself in the fascinating dream-world of the old culture and drifts away from his former life. Gallipolli (1981) is about Britainís entry into the first world war. With Mel Gibson on form in the main role, the film won nearly all Australian Sammy Awards and was internationally acclaimed.
In The Year of Living Dangerously (1982) an inexperienced but ambitious radio reporter, Guy Hamilton, has trouble in Jakarta on his first assignment. He comes to see the inhuman side of his metier and is attracted to Indonesian myths. Forced to choose between a woman and his career, he decides in favor of the woman.
After these American productions, Weir carried on working in Hollywood and remained faithful to his team, including the camerman John Seale and the composer Maurice Jarre. The Witness (1985) counts as being the best thriller from the 80s. A cynical and violent private detective from Philadelphia is faced by a murder. His work takes him into the domain of the Amish, a puritanical German-speaking sect which rejects all attainments of the modern world. Once more there is a clash between two philosophies, and once more the protagonist chooses the better. The lovers do not unite, but the detective, John Brook (played by Harrison Ford), is transformed by the experience. The Witness received 8 nominations for the Academy Award, in the categories best director and best film, for instance.
Robin Williams played the main lead in Dead Poets Society, which drew a great number of viewers. The teacher of English, John Keating, is keen to get his ideal of carpe diem and other aspects of an intellectual and humane world-view across to his responsive pupils at boarding-school. Critics praised the plea for individuality, self-determination and love of life but regretted the lack of an uncompromising rebel, typical of Weirís earlier films. Weir was nominated for an Academy Award as the best director and received a BAFTA Award for the best film and a Donatello Award for the best directing.
In 1990 Weir directed his first comedy, Green Card, about a marriage of convenience between two characters played by Andie MacDowell and Gerard Depardieu. In commercial terms Green Card has been his most successful film so far and was rewarded with an Oscar nomination for the best script, but The Truman Show (1998), too, was a great success. The good humored hero of this media satire is Truman Burbank, an insurance salesman living in an idyllic town called Seaheaven. It takes years for him to realize that every minute of his life since birth has been recorded by 5000 cameras and broadcast all over the world. His wife, his mother, his colleagues and friends are all paid actors, working round the clock, and whoever wants to warn Truman in this totalitarian world of entertainment vanishes. With this reality soap-opera, Weir takes television trends to a logical extreme.
Events at the HKW:
Sunday, 5th November, 1989
Der andere Blick (The other Point of View)
The third world in films from home or abroad:
Wo die grünen Ameisen träumen (Where green ants dream), from Werner Herzog
The last Flood, from Peter Weir
Organiser: House of World Cultures
Peter Weir was born on 8th August, 1944, in Sydney, New South Wales, in Australia as the son of an estate agent. After a brief attempt at studying art and law, he followed in his fatherís footsteps then went on a long trip to Europe to get to know the land of his forefathers. On his return he began working for Channel 7 as a stagehand and directed his first short films. In 1974 he made his cinema debut with The Cars that ate Paris. His wife often works with him in designing sets or in heading production.