Arts / Movie portraits on parade

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NFSA’s new CEO Jan Müller.
HAPPINESS abounded at the National Portrait Gallery yesterday morning (November 9) when gallery director Angus Trumble joined his counterpart, the new CEO of the National Film and Sound Archive, Jan Müller, to unveil the new exhibition “Starstruck” to a bevy of photographers and cameramen that easily outnumbered the journalists.

Frock of thongs from ‘Priscilla’
The exhibition is devoted to the often overlooked “stills” photographers who photographed Aussie stars as they worked on films.

Trumble said he believed that the portraits lay in “an extraordinary realm between real and fictional”.

He introduced Müller, only four weeks into his job, who told those present that inevitably what would capture the public imagination would be the stories behind the photos – “people will like this,” he predicted

Curators of the show, Penelope Grist from the Portrait Gallery and Jennifer Coombes from the NFSA, were on hand to see their vision come to fruition. According to Grist, still photography was able to take a single revealing moment in which a portrait comes to life. To her what was on show was art, though the creators were still unsung heroes.

For her part, Coombes said it was the digitisation of the material that had been most exciting, but as well, there was the fact that the show started out being about glamour and ended up being about character.

Describing the exhibition “immersive”, the two curators drew attention to the costumes on show, such as Miranda’s white dress from “Picnic at Hanging Rock” and the sensational frock made of thongs worn in “Priscilla Queen of the Desert”.

Other highlights, they said, were Cinesound’s casting books and the opportunity to see actors developing over a long period, like David Gulpilil, last shown as an old man in “The Tracker”.

Cinema luminaries, actor Paul Mercurio and critic Margaret Pomerantz, arrived during the proceedings to walk through the show with assembled media.

Mercurio recollected how many times at the end of a hard-working day photographers had said to him, “mate, mate can we do a few shots? Can you hold that pose”. Looking at the entire exhibition he said, “I feel like I’m part of the family.”

Pomerantz, as she looked around the exhibition, said: “it must’ve been a joy to put it together”. She reflected on the changing face of Australian cinema, noting the ebb and flow of its history and praising the “fun films” that had people dancing in the aisles at Cannes – like “Priscilla”.

Mercurio had his own Cannes memories and said “I went in a nobody and came out, well”, – “strutting”, Pomerantz cut in.

While Mercurio admired the casting books with notes, 373 pages in all, Pomerantz said that some of the comments on female actors were “a little bit sexist”.

One thing they agreed on was that there were still talented directors, cinematographers and performers regularly being picked off by Hollywood.

Pomerantz summed up the movie portraits as she walked through – “they make you remember everything about the films”.

“Starstruck: Australian Movie Portraits”, National Film and Sound Archive of Australia, November 10 until March 4, 2018. Bookings and details to


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