Amelia Rose Towers

(Jackie Farkas [now Jackie Wolf], Australia, 1992)


The major Australian commercial distributor Village Roadshow announced in 1993 that it would be reintroducing bold, innovative, short films before its features – at least, its high profile, art-cinema features. Thus Neil Jordan’s crossover success The Crying Game (1992) was coupled with Jackie Farkas’ Amelia Rose Towers, a movie that had already been very well received and celebrated at the Melbourne and Sydney Film Festivals, at MIMA’s annual Experimenta Event, and on SBS TV’s Eat Carpet program.


It comes from Farkas’ period as a student at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS), and was financed with support of two funding bodies. As well as directing, Farkas shares cinematography duties with Robyn Peterson. The script is by the composer-performer and visual artist Ashley Lily Scarlett. Unfortunately (and incredibly), almost no one involved with it, it seems, has gone on to enjoy a conventionally successful career in the film industry – although real life (or real culture), let us remind ourselves, is considerably broader in its options than the mainstream industry ever recognises. [Postscript: Amelia’s co-editor Kathy Drayton, for instance, went on to make the excellent documentary Girl in a Mirror [2005] on photographer Carol Jerrems. Farkas/Wolf’s own path has happened via cinematography, including for Janet Merewether’s Jabe Babe – A Heightened Life [2005], and teaching at AFTRS.]


Amelia Rose Towers moves in a fertile space between classical avant-garde formalism, the various experimental-narrative movements of the 1970s and ‘80s (Yvonne Rainer, Jon Jost, Raúl Ruiz, etc), silent cinema homage/pastiche (gags in fast motion), and the kinetic pop-radicalism of music video. Also in her short filmography as director, Farkas has a devastating, “found footage” masterpiece to her (alas, largely underground) credit: The Illustrated Auschwitz (1992), which is among the finest works in all Australian cinema. There is a “postmodern” element of found footage – very characteristic of the Sydney art-school scene in the 1980s and early ‘90s – also present in Amelia.


Amelia Rose Towers (Kelly McNair) – whose initials spell ART – faces off against an adversary, Michael Andrew Nelson (Garnet O’Neill) – whose initials spell MAN – after passing through various surrealistic chambers and screens offering images of a personal identity that can never be reconciled. It’s a suitably disturbed rite of passage into, and beyond, the heterosexual order: signs and wonders of queer sexuality (and self-enjoyment) run riot. Amelia Earhart (Tina Rogers) emerges from the sky to save the day!


There are hints of David Lynch here (in, for instance, the “diagrammatic” assemblages), and also of Jane Campion’s early, short work, not to mention Laura Mulvey & Peter Wollen’s aviatrix-meditation Amy! (1980) – but all taken in a radically different, more heterogeneous direction (the use of multi-gauges and refilming strategies is particularly ingenious). A more fruitful comparison, at least on the level of sensibility, would be with another contemporaneous Australian short, Liz Hughes’ Cat’s Cradle (1991). The field of adventurous shorts by women in Australia is an incredibly rich and under-documented area of world cinema.


The plot of Amelia Rose Towers is obscure (because dreamlike), and carries a pleasantly illicit frisson in its sex-and-gender imagery. Camp, baroque, decadently theatrical, with a distinctly Warholian rap (voiced by Scarlett) on the soundtrack, Amelia Rose Towers is filled with an acute atmosphere of fear and loathing, and a suitably perverse ethic of survival.


Anyone from the independent film sector would have imagined that Amelia Rose Towers has enough pace, mood and visual expressionism in a concentrated form to engage the sensibility of a typical, supposedly sophisticated filmgoer. Shortly after the theatrical season of The Crying Game began, however, Amelia Rose Towers was withdrawn as supporting short. The number of angry complaints from paying punters was extraordinarily high; on a talkback segment on ABC radio, one veteran exhibitor phoned in to give evidence that he had been “forced” by Village to screen Audrey [sic] Rose Towers, which he categorically considered “the worst film I’ve seen in 40 years”. What a review!


However, this is one case where we can truly advise: judge for yourself! The filmmaker has made Amelia Rose Towers (as well as The Illustrated Auschwitz) available on her Vimeo channel: https://vimeo.com/100185501.

© Adrian Martin May 1992 / November 1993

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
home    reviews    essays    search