The Windmill of My Mind
2022 Introduction: My old friend Chris Windmill was among the total stars of the Super-8 filmmaking scene in Australia during the 1980s and through to the mid ‘90s. A list of his works (I name none of them in the appreciation below, which Chris commissioned from me in 1994) and other introductory information can be consulted here. From 2000 onwards, his film productivity is sparse – but hope springs eternal. Two years after writing this text, I was involved as Script Editor (and fictionalised figure) in Chris’ most ambitiously achieved (on 16mm) production, The Birds Do a Magnificent Tune (1996) – a film that fully lives up to its splendid title. It and other Windmillian classics are viewable here.
The films of Chris Windmill are quietly mad. They begin from the charming, irritating minutiae of everyday experience – shopping, cleaning shoes, hanging out the washing, going for a picnic in the park – and enlarge them into magnificent, terrifying obsessions. Windmill's ever-modest heroes and heroines live for no higher purpose than to fill out the days and minutes of their ordinary lives.
As a consequence, every imaginable flight of poetry is concentrated in these little activities. Hallucinatory associations of sight or sound begin to accumulate; abrupt narrative reveries take form. In this universe where nothing much means anything but every small detail is endlessly fascinating, Windmill offers us a homegrown surrealist revolution.
But these fevers of the imagination are tempered by a limpid pathos, a sense of life's limit and its fond comedy – dreams without portfolio, knightly quests without faith.
As a stylist, Windmill is a surprising, original mix of primitivism and sophistication. Like other radical naïfs of the cinema – like Sergei Parajanov, Aki Kaurismäki, Luc Moullet, George Kuchar – he strips filmmaking down to its elementary building blocks. Static frames, coloured filters, non-actorly recitations, domestically contrived optical tricks reminiscent of the early days of silent cinema – one encounters them in their full materiality, disconcerting, poignant and lyrical.
Then, upon this array of familiar devices and gestures stripped down and laid bare, Windmill proceeds to piece together his own audio-visual grammar, with its own odd, unique strategies and codes.
Again like the great naïfs – and also like those idiosyncratic engineers of screen gags, Jacques Tati or Jerry Lewis – Windmill forges, from one mad moment of his movies to the next, a special form of hyper-logic. The path of his film-daydreams is not simply absurdist or irrational but, on the contrary, compulsively rational and systematic.
To watch Chris Windmill's films is to be seized, as in a sudden embrace, by this genteel but fully deranged hyper-logic – this subjective hallucination leaving no speck of the everyday untransformed.
© Adrian Martin 3 September 1994