1983

 

“… ‘Flowers’ is by far the outstanding Australian film of the year…”  Neil Jillet “The Age”

“Visually compelling, astonishingly erotic”
The Australian

 

                         “Extraordinary”  Daily Mirror

Principle Cast and Credits:

Cast:
Norman Kaye
Norman Kaye………..Charles Bremer

 

Alyson Best………Lisa
Chris Haywood………David
Sarah Walker…………Jane
Julia Blake……………Art Teacher
Bob Ellis……………...Psychiatrist
Barry Dickens………...Postman
Patrick Cook………….Copper shop Man
Victoria Eagger……….Angela
Werner Herzog………..The Father
Hilary Kelly…………...Mother
James Stratford………..Young Charles

Director: Paul Cox

Writers: Paul Cox and Bob Ellis

Producers: Jane Ballantyne and Paul Cox
Associate Producer: Tony Llewellyn-Jones
Cinematographer: Yuri Sokol
Film Editing: Tim Lewis
Production Design: Asher Bilu
Production Company: Flowers International

Other Film Information:
Run Time: 91 minutes
Filming Locations: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Release Dates:
         France, May 23, 1984
         NY Film Festival, October 9, 1984
         USA, December 16, 1984
Budget: While exact numbers for the budget were unavailable, in an interview by Debi Enker, Cox says “I mortgaged my house and was the completion guarantor…. I wanted to make a film that I could basically finance myself.” (Enker, 125)
Awards:
1983 Australian Film Institute
Won AFI for best actor in a lead role: Norman Kaye
Nominated for Best Achievement in Cinematography: Yuri Sokol
                         Best Director: Paul Cox
                       Best Film: Jane Ballantyne
                       Best Screen Play, original: Paul Cox and Bob Ellis
1984 Valladolid International Film Festival
 Paul Cox won the golden spike

Bibliography of Interviews:
It was extremely difficult to find interviews with co writer Bob Ellis or co producer Jane Ballantyne however there were a few interviews with Paul Cox in print and online available through Australian sources.  However, some American newspapers had register only websites to view their archives and I was unable to access them.
Fitzgerald, Michael. “Films Man of Flowers: Australian Painter and Sculptor Asher Bilu is the force behind director Paul Cox’s interior world” Time International (South Pacific Edition) 17 (May 2, 2005) p.61
“For two decades or more, these (Paul Cox’s Characters) have stimulated art-house audiences as much as they have scared multiplexes.  That is one of the main reasons I work with him.” Asher Bilu
McAtamney, Jashua, “A Human Touch: an Interview with Paul Cox”, Metro (Melbourne, Victoria) no. 132, 2002. pgs 72-75
“I think we have a great problem in our world where we celebrate the wrong people for the wrong reasons. I’m interested in people who have something to say, who show life is not merely for the living but what you live for.” Paul Cox
Enker, Debi, “Paul Cox”, Cinema Papers July 1984 issue 46. pages 123- 129
“A filmmaker who deliberately distances himself from the mainstream of Australian cinema.” Enker

“The future of the industry should be in the hands of the filmmakers instead of the accountants and the finance people.” Cox

Schmidt, Lucinda, “Profile: Paul Cox” The Sydney Morning Herald, August 2, 2006
“He is appalled by consumerism ("people spend the week working like mad so on the weekend they can spend money on things they don't want") and the cult of celebrity, which celebrates "non-people". He is also scathing of mainstream films: "I think most films are pathetic, I'd rather read a good book. They're so false - but man cannot stand too much reality."”

http://www.wsws.org/articles/2001/jan2001/pcox-j06.shtml
Phillips, Richard, “An interview with Paul Cox, director of Innocence: "Filmmakers have a duty to speak out against the injustices in the world", World Socialist Website, January 6, 2001.
”I still think that we have only scratched the surface with film. It is one of the great gifts to our time and up until World War II film still had an element of growth, but then it became a product and became part of the so-called consumer society. It consumed all of us and fell totally into the hands of the enemy in America, which is Hollywood. It is now almost completely in the hands of the capitalists, the exploiters.” Cox

Bibliography of  Reviews:
I was unable to find any reviews in print; the only ones available were on the internet and are listed below. 

Online Presence:
Being that this film was made in the 80’s, the online presence is limited.  Most of the information I found was on the international movie database and rotten tomatoes.  I was only able to find one interview online with Paul Cox and it is listed above.  Besides these brief reviews, the only other mention online is advertising for the DVD.
http://www.ebertfest.com/manofflowers.html
Man of Flowers Review by Denis Schwartz from Ozuz' World Movie Review
“This is a well-conceived and intelligently provocative, lyrical film about how fantasies can enrich our lives and how damning loneliness can be. It handles the theme of loneliness as well as it ever has been handled on the screen.”
http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0085893/
http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/man_of_flowers/
http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/films/films.php?id=8883

A film review by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

” An extraordinary psychodrama of a lonely man and his yearnings.”

http://www.channel4.com/film/reviews/film.jsp?id=105746
“It has a sincerity that is oddly moving.”
http://onfilm.chicagoreader.com/movies/capsules/5853_MAN_OF_FLOWERS.html
Capsule by Dave Kehr From the Chicago Reader
“Cox's morose, subtly whimsical style takes a while to impose itself, but eventually the film acquires a cosy, seductive strangeness, spun from curious, understated details and some plangent imagery.”
http://www.boxoffice.com/boxoffice_scr/boxoffice_dvd_result.asp?terms=1998
Review by Wade Major
“An ambitious study of the psycho-sexual games connected with art, artists, admirers of art and models…”
http://www.timeout.com/film/72729.html
Time Out Film Guide
         “It is quite unlike any film to have emerged from Australia.”

Paul Cox Complete Filmography: from most recent
2004 Human Touch
2002 Nijinsky: From the Diaries of Vaslav Nijinsky
2000 Innocence
1999 Molokai: The Story of Father Damien
1997 Waiting for Twilight
1997 The Hidden Dimension
1996 Lust and Revenge
1994 Tales of Erotica
1994 Exile
1993 Careful
1992 The Nun and the Bandit
1991 The Woman’s Tale
1990 The Golden Braid
1989 Island
1988 Gift
1987 To Market to Market
1987 Vincent: The Life and Death of Vincent Van Gogh
1986 Cactus
1985 Death and Destiny
1984 My First Wife
1984 Wo Die Grunen Ameisen Traumen
1983 Man of Flowers
1983 Last Night at the Alamo
1982 Lonely Hearts
1979 Apostasy
1979 Kostas
1977 Inside Looking Out
1976 Illuminations
1968 The Girl Grabbers

 

Part II: Critical Review of Film and its Literature
Man of Flowers is above all a film of loneliness.  In the first 15 minutes of the film dialog is replaced by opera and we watch as Charles Bermer, an elderly art collector, drives Lisa, a young nude model, to his home where she strips in his living room.  As she slowly takes off each piece of clothing, the camera zooms out till you see Charles sitting and watching with little expression on his face.  Once she is completely nude in front of him, he gets up, leaves his house and proceeds to the church across the street where he plays the organ.  The regularity and unspoken agreement between the two tells the audience that this is a normal occurrence. 
The next scene draws a huge contrast from the clean, calm, and pristine home of Charles to the messy dark and noisy studio of Lisa’s deadbeat artist boyfriend, David.  David immediately towers over Lisa demanding money from her to support his drug habit and painting.  She retaliates by telling him that it’s her money and she earned it.  Charles pays Lisa $100 every Wednesday to strip for him.  When David gets upset over this and still demands her money, Lisa finally leaves the flat. 
We then find out that Lisa knows Charles because she does nude modelling for a sketch class he is in.  Instead of sketching her nude figure, Charles draws flowers.  He explains to his agitated teacher that this is what he sees when he looks at her.  This obsession with flowers and art is later revealed to be a deep seeded fear of sex and intimacy that was started at childhood.  Periodically throughout the film, Charles writes a letter to “Mother” whom we later learn is dead.  When he writes to mother he describes how he arranges flowers and how proud she would be of him and how he feels about his “little flower”, Lisa.
One of the most controversial scenes of the entire film is next when Charles is standing naked in his bathroom.  Paul Cox said that at one showing of the film, half the audience got up and left at this scene (The Remarkable Norman Kaye, 2006).  In this scene, Charles calls a radio show that is discussing the morality of sexuality.  After stating that he finds flowers as arousing sexual beings, the radio personality tells him that he is messed up and needs a special prayer to help him.  The entire movie isn’t controversial though.  The returning presence of the mailman to pick up his letters to his mother creates a comic relief.  He is sarcastic and blunt and proves to be a friend and mentor to Charles.
Another recurrence in the film is flashbacks to Charles’ childhood.  Once again there is no dialog, but opera music.  Young Charles and his parents walk in a park and come across a nude statue.  His father turns his back to it and he does so as well, showing that his father taught him to suppress his inner feelings and natural sexual tendencies.  In other flashbacks, we see young Charles grab a family friend’s chest and get punished by his father once again.  And in one of the later ones, we see his mother undressing while he watches and his mother and him in a naked embrace, implying that his childhood was littered with sexual confusion and abuse.  In The Remarkable Norman Kaye, Cox explains that these flashbacks represent his some of his own childhood experiences mixed with Kaye’s desire to have known his parents.
Another comic relief in the film, however slightly more morbid, comes when Charles visits a copper shop looking for a life size bronze statue of a naked woman on a spinning pedestal.  The man says no, but he believes we should embalm all of our dead loved ones and cast them in bronze, that way you can have “grandma in the hallway or in the dining room, just standing in the corner.”  This strange comment comes into play later on in the film and adds a twist that I am sure not many saw coming.
Lisa’s relationship with Charles strengthens as she questions he sexuality and he relationship with David.  Eventually she and her close girlfriend, with whom she experiments sexually, move in with Charles.  As things progress in their relationship, the flashbacks liken Lisa to a mother figure to Charles, especially when she says things like, “Darling, don’t worry, I will take care of you.” This connection seems to aggravate Charles’s memories, and a session with his psychiatrist reveals that he has been writing to his dead mother in order to remember his troubled childhood.  He becomes so overwhelmed by hearing the voices of happy children in the playground, he can’t bear to even play the organ any more, his most loved pastime.
Lisa’s affair with Charles angers and confuses David and as he can’t seem to find anyone to buy his modern art paintings he becomes increasingly desperate for money.  He goes as far to send a threatening letter to Charles demanding that he comes to his studio to buy some paintings and give him $2,000.  Charles does go, however when David mocks him and tells him that real paintings now a days are modern like his and not clean landscapes like the ones that Charles prefers, Charles responds with “ Have you got any real paintings here, I don’t see any.”  He the proceeds to leave.  An angry David then ransacks Charles’s home and beats up Lisa.  That is when he decides that David must go.
He invites David over to his home so that he may buy a painting, but little does David know that lining the walkway of Charles’ home are deadly spikes ready to shoot out at visitors.  David is struck by them behind his own painting and the next scene cuts to a bronze figure of a nude man in the park, holding flowers.  The iconic ending shows Charles as a black silhouette walking up a hill over looking water with birds flying around him and he says “I told my little flower not to worry, if anyone wants to tread on her, they must be punished.”

Critical Uptake of the Film:
            Besides the vague reviews that I was able to find online, there is little else that I could find on how people see the film.  As mentioned before, Paul Cox discusses the film in another film of his, The Remarkable Mr. Kaye. He states that at more than one showing of the film, most of the audience got up and left after seeing Kaye’s nude scene in the bathroom.  Now, this type of nudity seems to be more socially accepted and I would imagine if it was shown again, this would not occur.  Despite this however, the film was nominated for four AFI awards including best film and screenplay.  Norman Kaye also won the AFI for best actor despite the surprising nudity. 

Circumstances of Production:
            In an interview by Debi Enker in Cinema Papers in 1984, Cox describes how he wanted to make a film where he didn’t have to depend on anyone else because too many times before he was held up by others.  He mortgaged his home and the entire crew was willing to work without pay until “Suddenly the money came from an individual who had faith in me “(Paul Cox, Cinema Papers, issue 46).  This was the only information available on the budget and the circumstances of production. 

Director: Paul Cox
            Born in Holland in 1940 he migrated to Australia in the 60’s to settle in Melbourne.  Originally a photographer, he met actor Norman Kaye in 1967 and later the both realized that they “Wanted to tell their stories through film” (The Remarkable Mr. Kaye, 2006).  He started out by making small budget films because he truly believes that the “industry should be in the hands of the filmmakers instead of the accountants and finance people” (Enker, 128) 
            Throughout his career he has won numerous awards, including AFI best film for Lonely Hearts in 1982.  Strangely enough, he seems to get more international recognition than Australian praise.  While in the 80’s Lonely Hearts and Man of Flowers made him fairly well known, after that he seemed to slip off of the Australian radar, although he remained popular over sees wining numerous international awards. A Woman’s Tale won the Grand Prix at the 1992 International Flanders Film Festival in Ghent as well as being selected for the 1992 Tokyo International Film Festival and Exile screened in competition at the 1994 Berlin International Film Festival. More recently, Cox’s highly acclaimed feature Innocence (2000) won massive audience and critical acclaim, including the Grand Prix of the Americas (Best Film) and the People’s Choice Award at the 2000 Montreal World Film Festival.
            Although he seems to lack support in the country he chooses to shoot in, he still continues to stay.  To Cox, it is more important to get his point across and to make people think than to spend a ton of money and make investors happy.  He is known for using actors that are more like real people and that have real issues like the audience he is trying to speak to.  One of the most important themes in his movies tends to be loneliness and human frailty.  In the beginning of his career he tended to use less dialog, but as he matured in his style he focused a little more on the actors and realized he could depend on them to tell the story.
            As a director and writer, Cox was loyal to his crew and worked on most of his films with the same people behind him.  Bob Ellis and Jane Ballantyne are two people that he has said he couldn’t work without. His favourite actor and best friend had the starring role in many of his films including Lonely Hearts 1982 and Man of Flowers 1983. Even after Kaye was hospitalized with Alzheimer’s Disease, Cox still managed to include him in films all the way up to his most recent in 2004, Human Touch. 
           
In Relation to Australian Film:
            Man of Flowers is a notable Australian film not because it is well known by Australians or even other people but because of the risk that Paul Cox took so early in his film making career.  Paul Cox is now known for making films like this one with an “art” style.  But what can really be said of the art film in Australian cinema?  Garry Gillard quotes Thomas Elsaesser, “ [Art] films have an open-ended approach to narrative causality and display a greater tolerance of narrative ‘gaps’ than do more classical forms. Here, as in real life, questions remain unanswered; ends are left loose and situations unresolved” (Gillard, 134).  Cox himself describes Man of Flowers as having an open end as well (Enker, 124).
            Another description often used to describe the art film is “art house” meaning that it is more likely to be shown in a smaller theatre rather than a multiplex mainstream theatre (Gillard, 131).  In an interview with Cox, Michael Fitzgerald describes Cox’s characters as stimulating art-house audiences as much as scaring the multiplexes (Fitzgerald 61).  Art films are also described as being anti- Hollywood or not Hollywood.  It seems strange to base a genre on the opposite of something, but being that Cox himself has said that he wants to do things differently from Hollywood and be as far away from mainstream as possible, this seems like a good description ( Enker 123).
            Specifically referring to Man of Flowers, the characters are very realistic, they don’t have any real set goals, besides just getting through the day, and they have problems, albeit not everyday ones, but problems that aren’t completely resolved by the end of the film.  Many times, art films are classified by the way they are shot and their aesthetic appeal.  Paul Cox was a photographer before a director and shot the flashback sequences in the film himself on a handheld camera to give it an “old” feel.  Also, being that flowers and art were a main focus of the film, this could help it be classified as an art film as well.
            In the end, Man of Flowers should hold an important place in Australian cinema because it was a starting point for prevalent director Paul Cox and actor Norman Kaye, showcasing both of their many talents.  Paul Cox’s films shouldn’t be seen for what they are, but more for what they make you think, how they make you react, and feel.

Works Cited:
Enker, Debi, “Paul Cox”, Cinema Papers, July 1984, issue 46, pages 123-129.
Fitzgerald, Michael,  “Film’s Man of Flowers Australian Painter and Sculptor Asher Bilu is the Force Behind Director Paul Cox’s Interior World”, Time International (South Pacific Edition) 17, (May 2, 2005) p. 61
Gillard, Garry. Ten Types of Australian Film, Murdoch University, 2007.

A Film Critique By Maria Racioppo 2007