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Australia 2006
Directed by
Alec Morgan
82 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
3.5 stars

Hunt Angels

Synopsis: In the 1930s Rupert Kathner (Ben Mendelsohn) and Alma Brooks (Victoria Hill) became the Bonnie and Clyde of Australian film-making. They were determined to get their movies made at any cost and this often involved major deception and scams that had the police hot on their tails.

Hunt Angels is ambitious film that is all the more intriguing for being a true story. It is a fascinating insight into the world of film-making and Australia's film industry back in the 1930s. It was a time when Hollywood film moguls had a stranglehold on our domestic exhibition market and only their productions were screened in this country. Kathner was determined to break this monopoly. Despite being married, Kathner teamed up (professionally and romantically) with Alma Brooks, who became his camera operator, and together they started making newsreels to raise finance. During the course of their wild 15 years together many of their shonky attempts to raise finance saw them often evading police whilst simultaneously shooting their films. Together they produced the first crime movie about the notorious "Pyjama Girl" murder, and went on to make an amazing 19 films, including a Ned Kelly feature called The Glenrowan Affair. It took four years to make and the critics hated it.

The design of Hunt Angels is impressive. Morgan has chosen to shoot it not as a simple dramatic recreation, but to incorporate archival footage of the old Kathner/Brooks films, as well as interviews with people who knew the couple, including Kathner's son Paul, and actor Bud Tingwell. The combining, or digital compositing of the old footage with the newly shot scenes with real actors is stylishly achieved, and gives us an interesting sense of watching old and new at the same time. Being set in the 30s and 40s means that the production team has had to pay strict attention to details of the period, with costumes, sets and even lighting being very carefully created so as to blends everything together seamlessly. This requires something of a technical tour-de-force, which is certainly the film's strength. In many ways Hunt Angels is a celebration of film and artifice and this makes it also a lot of fun to watch. There are some wonderful old scenes, one of a 30s porno film (hilarious!!) and a number of nostalgia trips incorporating the old Cinetone newsreels with their famous laughing kookaburra.

At the same time however the rather ambitious combination of styles is also the film's weakness. Sometimes it's hard to follow what is a recreation, what is footage and what an interview, and at times the narrative thread hops about all over the place. Perhaps it could have been stronger as a straight documentary, or even a simple narrative recreation. The casting of Mendelssohn was a smart move. He looks the part, and with his larrikin attitude and self-confidence he's a perfect Kathner. Brooks combines glamorous 40s style beauty with an aura of tough independent womanhood.

Alec Morgan's film will not be for everyone, maybe because of its very specific subject matter, but for lovers of film history it's a must while at the same time serving as a good story of Aussie ingenuity. As Paul Kathner says, so tellingly, with relevance for today: "My father wanted to tell Australian stories - he was fed up with the Americanisation of films."




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