VCA Digital Archive: Love and joy

Still from Exoskeleton. Credit: filmmaker Michael Dean.
Still from Exoskeleton. Credit: filmmaker Michael Dean.

The VCA Digital Archive is a living audiovisual record of student films that date back to 1966. The articles in this series respond thematically to the depth and breadth of the collection, which will be available for research from mid-2019. Enjoy!

By Isabelle Rudolph

In my search for love in the VCA Film Archive, I found I was spoiled for choice. Love in the broadest sense is hard to define. Does it include infatuation? Lust? The passion one feels for a particular activity?

I decided to answer “yes” to all of these questions. The films I have chosen to review are laced with pain, hope, envy, loneliness and joy – themes that converge with each other and, although highly varied, all concern themselves with the subject of love.

The films vary in tone. Some are loaded with gravitas while others take a whimsical and light-hearted approach, but all possess nuance and subtlety, qualities well-suited to exploring a subject as complex and varied as love.

Love Me Stupid… A Story of Blood. Aleksi Vellis. 1984. Experimental.

Love Me Stupid… A Story of Blood (Aleksi Vellis. 1984) follows two protagonists, Robert and Trish, whose experiences of intimacy form the basis of the narrative. In the context of an emotionally abusive and constraining family life, a longing for love and care leads Trish to seek comfort in romantic connections.

Robert is also plagued by the absence of love in his childhood, as a result of abandonment and neglect. As the story unfolds, the consequences of these early traumas create the drama in the narrative. While familial and romantic love are definite themes, what I found really moving and interesting about this film is the way love within friendship is portrayed.

Characters peripheral to the main story arc provide some of the most poignant exchanges by caring for and supporting the two main characters as they navigate their life circumstances and consequential loss. It’s a simple story told with subtlety and care.

Flesh on Glass. Ann Turner. 1981. Drama.

The surreal Flesh on Glass (Ann Turner. 1981) is evocative and memorable in ways that are hard to define. What could have been a simple, fairly mundane film about a love triangle between three characters – a sister, brother and his wife – is made compelling by the underpinning strangeness. Spooky séances and dream sequences, the ghost of a Catholic nun, the presence of the ocean and a collection of glass ornaments, flesh out the narrative and give the film a disorder that is deeply engaging.

Love and Reality. Julianne Negri. 2000. Comedy.

Hiro and Miko. Adam Pietrzak. 1997. Comedy.

Love and Other Red Spot Specials. Lauren Anderson. 2008. Comedy.

During my travels through the Archive, I really enjoyed films that twisted the romantic comedy genre into something quirky and surprising. Among the highlights were: Love and Reality (Julianne Negri. 2000), a story of real estate, misfits and collections; Hiro and Miko (Adam Pietrzak. 1997), a crime comedy; and Love and Other Red Spot Specials (Lauren Anderson. 2008), about a transvestite living in a small town.

Exoskeleton. Michael Dean. 2006. Drama.

For a serious take on the search for love or the sparked beginnings of romance, the film Exoskeleton (Michael Dean. 2006) stood out. Across the film’s 12 minutes, Exoskeleton manages to invoke the challenges of self-acceptance, the tension between longing for and fear of intimacy, and the raw vulnerabilities that come with love and the human condition.

Filled with Water. Elka Kerkhofs. 2006. Animation.

Surreal and dream-like, Filled with Water (Elka Kerkhofs. 2006) and Pigeon Island (Clare Davies. 2002) explore the theme of love via drawings and music. The absence of words and the use of evocative imagery gives focus to the mood and raw emotion of both films.

Pigeon Island. Clare Davies. 2002. Animation.

Finally, there are several documentaries that look into how a deep passion has driven and shaped a subject’s life experiences. I empathise and find this genre of love beautiful and fascinating, where a person is doing something they really love in life that brings them joy and fulfilment.

In Cold Blooded Love (Jacqui Davis, 2002), a man has made a living from caring for venomous snakes and other reptiles. He discusses his unshakable devotion and love for snakes in spite of being hospitalised on multiple occasions from snakebites. In Against the Odds (Sare Aminian. 2004), an Iranian man tells the story of his love of music and how his refusal to give it up resulted in his incarceration and, ultimately, drove him into exile.

Cold Blooded Love. Jacqui Davis. 2002. Documentary.

Against the Odds. Sareh Aminian. 2004. Documentary.

I wonder why it is that I’m drawn to seek and connect with others endeavouring to understand love and its place in our lives, and what draws storytellers time and again to the subject of love.

One gets a sense in watching these films that love is inseparable from joy. That, although often illusive, love must be the key to feeling a sense of belonging, of completeness and contentment. This isn’t only romantic love, but love in all its complex diversity. I learn best through relating to others, through narrative and empathy, and I suspect many of us who love film do, too.

My understanding of love, its power, diversity and importance, has been enhanced by engaging with these films. With films as tender, funny and insightful as these, it is hard not to fall in love with the VCA’s Film and Television archive.

Isabelle Rudolph is a Melbourne-based artist. She completed a Bachelor of Fine Art (Honours) at the VCA, Melbourne University, in 2018. Her practice engages sculpture to explore issues of social connection and desire.

The FTV Digital Archive series of articles were commissioned as part of a grant from the University of Melbourne, Student Services Amenities Fee. University of Melbourne staff and students and some industry people dipped into the FTV archive and watched films based on themes. The idea was to use the archive as stimulus in which to curate and create. Some responses are completely creative, others are reviews, others are word art pieces.

The full collection is available for research.