The Versatility of Director Mario Andreacchio (Part Two)

*contains spoilers

The Real Macaw was made as a family follow-up to Andreacchio’s critical, and runaway financial success, with another family film he directed and co-wrote entitled Napoleon (1995). That film was about a golden retriever pup that escapes his city home and goes on a trek cross country with the help of a galah. The film contains some incredible vistas and panoramas with the dog.

Napoleon (1995) DVD cover

It is written that 64 different dogs were used for the title and other dogs in the movie. I can’t confirm this. But it was a labour of love for the director with his Adelaide Motion Picture Company among the production companies involved.

The Adventures of Milo and Otis was released in 1989 in the United States. Trailer.

It is said the Andreacchio was inspired to make the film after watching The Adventures of Milo and Otis (1986) with his sons. That was a Japanese produced film which had a reputation based on rumour for the number of animals which were killed during the production. It is said that 20 kittens were killed among other atrocities. Andreacchio had Japanese producers for Napoleon as well but I imagine that of the reported 64 dogs used – few died! Kidding.

A young Jamie Croft voiced puppy Napoleon

Former child actor Jamie Croft (1981-) was the voice of Napoleon and he appears as the star of The Real Macaw. The teen, whose perkiness reminds me of a pre-war juvenile Richard Carlson (1912-1977), is central to the movie’s success as he had been for Napoleon to a major extent. The animals were the real stars of that one! And it was a giant hit for the director at the box office.

The Real Macaw tells the tale of a 150-year-old talking parrot named Mac who is witness to the burial of pirate treasure the previous century. With Croft’s family in debt and his grandfather, played by Jason Robards Jr. (1922-2000 lung cancer), ailing – due to falling out of a tree – young Croft leaves Australia’s shores for the island where the treasure is buried. All told to him by Mac the parrot voiced by Daniel Murphy rather effectively in comedic fashion. There is of course a baddie played by Aussie actor John Waters (1948-) who is also after the treasure.

Jason Robards Jr. has one of his last roles in The Real Macaw (1998)

Apart from a role in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (1999), The Real Macaw was Robards’ last movie. Croft is an enthusiastic performer and he made an impression in the film version of Tim Winton’s That Eye, the Sky (1994) and had kicked off his career in A Country Practice, which interestingly enough featured The Dreaming star Penny Cook.

Napoleon (1995) trailer

Young Croft is estranged from his father in The Real Macaw.

“I hate being home… I hate it,” says the teenager before fleeing his home on a bus with the parrot in tow.

This time some of the filming was done in Queensland with such Brisbane landmarks as Anzac Square and King George Square as well as other tropical locations.

“I’m talking about treasure… gold, diamonds, pieces of eight,” says Mac to Croft when he wishes for a miracle to save his grandfather from losing his home.

Croft with Mac on the plane to Coral Island in The Real Macaw

Four parrots were used in the movie. Well it doesn’t beat 64 dogs but it’s a nice try. And for the scenes where it was impossible to use the real thing then early computer imaging, animatronics and even puppets were used.

On his way to Coral Island in the South Pacific on a plane with Mac, they arrive only to find a hotel has been built on the spot where the treasure was buried. It has been 140 years!

Robards said he respected Croft’s acting in an interview. And vice versa!

After the relative seriousness of Fair Game and The Dreaming, Andreacchio immerses himself in a film with true Hollywood touches with the ‘name’ guest star Robards and US composer Bill Conti (1942-) as well as what we believe are overseas locales. There’s a catchy theme song which sums up the movie with the line: “There’s a treasure in you… a golden treasure in you…”

Another talking bird film released at the same time as The Real Macaw was Paulie (1998)

Another interesting aspect of the production is that while the Australian version has Murphy voicing Mac – in the US version Mac is voiced by actor John Goodman. I have never seen or heard the entire Goodman version and I don’t want to. I really can’t imagine the film would work without the Australian voice cast. I could be wrong but I have seen the advertisement with Goodman’s voice. No, not as good!

Once upon a time I was a member of AACTA and originally saw the film at one of their serial screenings they hold each year to determine who will get nominated and win. I was impressed immediately, but of course, it didn’t go on to any great fanfare. But then I thought The Wiggles Movie was robbed when it failed to get nominated the previous year after seeing a screening of that. Don’t you hate awards shows?! I must admit I watch very few family films these days as much of my family is grown.

The Real Macaw with the voice of John Goodman trailer

Somehow Croft and Mac become stars on stage in the ballroom at the hotel in some kind of stand up routine as villain Waters lurks about.

“I’ll drink until my liver fails… bound for South Australia,” sings Mac drunkenly as he quotes a line from an ancient song, something which I doubt would have made the Goodman version.

“…Life without joy isn’t a life for anyone, especially a child,” Robards tells Croft’s father.

The Real Macaw is one of Andreacchio’s love letters to his family

That Andreacchio’s sons were young and yet growing older when this movie was made, it shows with what real joy and love went into its making – and it shows! The Real Macaw is a positive movie which takes flight due to its two main performances: Croft and a bird.

The family film has continued to be a favourite of Andreacchio’s productions over the years with films such as Elephant Tales (2006) and The Dragon Pearl (2011), the latter definitely the better of the two and filmed in China.

The Dragon Pearl is another of Andreacchio’s family oriented movies. Trailer.

The director would make a film again in another area, this time biographical drama, which he would also write the story. It is a meditation on art and the life of Paul Gauguin (1848-1903 heart attack or morphine overdose), a period piece entitled Paradise Found (2003).

Paradise Found (2003) poster

Whereas John Milton’s (1608-74 kidney failure) Paradise Lost (1667) focuses on the Biblical story of the fall of man, Paradise Found rejects the Bible for the love of the art of the ‘false’ idols of the South Pacific natives, as we watch the Garden of Eden here on Earth in the 19th Century get captured on canvas before its complete fall and disappearance due to Western religion and the “traitors” of the civilised world.

Paradise Lost picture by William Blake

The ideas contained within Paradise Found range from the advocacy of art beyond that recommended by the Bible. I guess we’re allowed to look at naked men or God in the Sistine Chapel! Elsewhere Verboten!! That and the odd cherub! Nudity isn’t necessarily sexual, as we know it is all in the eye of the beholder. Paradise Found also shows how art can be used on a historical level as a record of ideas and practises of the past. Thus Gauguin is a lynchpin of sorts as he paints the last tribal ways which are on the cusp of being lost in our ‘civilised’ society. And in participating in such he is also a very controversial figure today.

Paul Gauguin self-portrait almost looking over shoulder with nude in background.

The work of Gauguin is now in question. Was he just another syphilitic paedophile who kept young teenage girls as his partners as he lived his life on the South Pacific islands? Or was he celebrating and participating in a society that was defiled by the arrival of Christianity and Western ways? There is no doubt he was a talented painter. But should we look at his nudes if they are of his native partners? Should they instead be hidden away and/or destroyed? They are not necessarily teenagers portrayed in the paintings.

Paradise Found could be described as a sanitised Hollywood product when it comes to these issues. It dodges them even before they became issues. If the film does look at them it is only peripheral.

It already knew of the artist’s reputation and the ruin of Gauguin’s bourgeois family because the pressures of marriage and conformity repressed his desire to produce ‘art’.

Kiefer Sutherland as Paul Gauguin before his island sojourn in Paradise Found

‘You’re a f*#@*#g genius,” says a slightly depraved character played by Chris Haywood (1948-), who has bailed Gauguin, played by Kiefer Sutherland (1966-), from a Polynesian jail for burning a cross outside of the home of the local priest.

Gauguin in Paradise Found burnt the cross in revenge of the priest having overseen the burning of one of the village’s sacred life-sized wooden carved idols. Gauguin has done it all on a drunken night on absinthe.

“First came the missionaries, but then came the traitors… What did the missionaries want? They wanted souls… The traitors the easy money… the result was this,” says our Gauguin. Art doesn’t even come into the equation. “It’s no one’s fault, it is what it is.”

Emancipated artist Sutherland as Gauguin in the South Pacific

Paradise Found flashes back to Gauguin’s early life as a married man with several children and his job at the Paris stock exchange. The film uses the Adelaide court buildings to great effect for these scenes.

His life changes through a chance meeting with the painter Camille Pissarro (1830-1903 possible sepsis) played by English actor Alun Armstrong (1946-). He calls Gauguin’s paintings the work of a natural talent and Gauguin leaves his job for a life of penury for his family. Many a so-called artist’s life has been ruined by such comments and encounters and indeed Gauguin seemed destined for a life of failure and tragedy. His family leaves him, unable to cope… his wife is played by actress Nastassja Kinski.

A self-portrait of Pissarro who was played by Alun Armstrong in Paradise Found

The misunderstood artist as visionary looms large even then as again the “misunderstood” label has attached itself to Gauguin today.

“I want to paint an idol,” says the painter again in his later life. He’s talking wooden ones after all and not sex idols! All the church there at the time wants to do is destroy the idols which is the last vestiges of innocence accorded physically to the villagers. When one of his women shows him the last of the idols hidden in the jungle, unbeknownst to Gauguin, he has led the authorities to it and also led to its destruction.

In the Wake of the Bounty (1933) shows paradise rudely interrupted

“It’s a hard road to travel,” says Pissarro in flashback about the life of an artist.

“The artist defines the society he lives in because he can see further and deeper than other men…” says Pissarro about being faithful to a vision as a fellow artist. But also as a friend Pissarro recommends Gauguin go back to his family.

The call of the artist can be strong, it can destroy he or she… it can only be supressed for so long, and it can drive a man mad like in Vincent Van Gogh’s (1853-90 suicide by gunshot) case. The film doesn’t detail any of Gauguin’s relationship with that painter which was explored more fully in director Vincente Minnelli’s superior (1903-86 emphysema and pneumonia) Lust for Life (1956)… Anthony Quinn played Gauguin in that film. The artist must create, like Gauguin does, when he heads to French Polynesia with an armful of canvasses and with little money, just goodwill.

Lust for Life featured Kirk Douglas as Vincent Van Gogh

The truth is Gauguin participated and captured an en end of an era.

Kiefer Sutherland as Gauguin is an actor worthy of the role but no award winner. Happily, budget and taste for the material see that the venture, while limited in its ‘Hollywood’ scope because it is only a small Australian produced film, see that it is not overblown.

Donald Sutherland as Gauguin in the crass trailer for Wolf at the Door (1986)

“I’m going to do something different… I am here to start my revolution,” he tells his wife about his existence within the art world and his wish not to be confined to a family.

Paradise Found is not a film about underage sex and it doesn’t even hint at that. Instead it is about beauty and the appreciation of that beauty without the shackles of Western civilisation and what was the real Paradise Lost. The film is chaste in its presentation, it does not exploit and if it does it is only on the level of the paintings themselves. Gauguin’s paintings remained generally unappreciated during his lifetime. And now they are almost unappreciated again because of his purported sex life.

Primitive Rites painting by Gauguin

“Don’t give up, whatever happens don’t give up,” says Pissarro about Gauguin’s failure during his lifetime.

Gauguin wrote in his intimate journals: “No one is good; no one is evil, everyone is both in the same way and in different ways”. He was found dead with a bottle of laudanum beside him, which hinted at suicide, while others say it was a heart attack. Descendants from his young teenage partners still live in Polynesia. If there is any religiosity to be found in Gauguin it may be found in his Contes Barbares (Primitive Tales) painting. It shows an androgynous central character in a Buddha-like pose, which suggests the possibility of rebirth. That’s just one of his many island paintings in his post-Impressionist and very colourful style.

Paradise Found clip/trailer

If the film can be criticised, it is for its lack of emotion as it failed to connect on my level. It didn’t move me greatly and if that is to be critical of the director then so be it – but it may also be because of the detachment of the artist’s point of view when he or she creates or sees another’s work.

If we describe Andreacchio’s Paradise Found as a living painting – “go back and finish it” – this moving picture ends with Gauguin enjoying his freedom and life on the islands as he greets the day with another cigarette. It could still be the start of a revolution, a new day where beauty and some sort of innocence triumphs over hypocrisy and criticism. As a moving picture, of course, it captures more immediacy than a painting ever can.

And again, the film does not exploit like Gauguin apparently did when we use our ever more politically correct 21st Century eyes… I do not necessarily affirm his reported lifestyle on the islands… but the film though remains fresh like his outlook and his resultant paintings. It is not a jaundiced eye, except when it looks at the church and the French without and not within their country. But I don’t think politics ever really interested Gauguin anyway…

Paradise Found isn’t necessarily the best Gauguin film nor the worst

“Where do we come from, where are we, where are we going…” signs Gauguin, almost Milton-like, on his latest masterpiece as he tells himself he must go on with the struggle of “creating hopes out of dreams”. Civilisation is often distant in his island paintings.

Where do we come from, where are we, where are we going…

Dirty old man? Or was he an artist who rendered the last Garden of Eden complete with its profane idols? Perhaps the idols were as dirty as it got while the natives made out behind the nearest tree!

Andreacchio dispenses with the dirty old man and presents us with the artist.

Mario Andreacchio has suffered a stroke and a heart attack and diabetes in recent years but has now apparently taken the bull by the horns and recovered his health upon losing weight. He is busy writing and working on his next project.

Director Mario Andreacchio used short films to launch a successful career

If there is anything to be learnt from his career, it’s that starting out with short films with some sort of funding, if not government, and making a wide range of short films, can help foster a career which can be in a variety of genres. And you can damn near excel at all of them.

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