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Philippe Mora

(born 1949) is a French-born Australian film director.

Mora began making films while he was still a child. His first home movie (now preserved by The National Film and Sound Archive) was Back Alley, made in 1964 when he was 15. A parody of West Side Story, it was filmed in Flinder's Lane, just behind his mother's studio at 9 Collins Street, and it features Mora, his brother William and friends Peter Beilby and Sweeney Reed.

Mora's next film, Dreams in a Grey Afternoon (1965) was made as a silent movie but was screened with music prepared by artist Asher Bilu. It was shot on 8 mm and blown up to 16 mm. The film features stop-motion animation of sculptures by the Russian-Australian sculptor and painter Danila Vassilieff and includes rare footage of John and Sunday Reed.

His next project, Man in a Film (1966), was a pastiche of Federico Fellini's 8 ½ and was also influenced by his recent viewing of The Beatles' A Hard Day's Night. Like its predecessor, it was also made as a silent movie, shot on 8 mm and blown up to 16 mm, and again screened with music prepared by Asher Bilu, starred Sweeney Reed and premiered film at Tolarno Galleries in early 1967.

Give It Up (1967) again featured Reed, plus Don Watson and Philippe's younger brother Tiriel and was shot in Fitzroy Street, Melbourne. It symbolised Australians' response to the Vietnam War by depicting a man being repeatedly kicked and beaten in a busy street while onlookers do nothing.

In 1967, Mora moved into 'The Pheasantry', a home in King's Road, Chelsea in London. This home was the origin of the name of his production company, Pheasantry Films. Living in or near The Pheasantry was a virtual Who's Who of London's underground 'glitterati', including Martin Sharp, Eric Clapton, Germaine Greer, artist Tim Whidborne, 'prominent London identity' David Litvinoff (production adviser on Nicolas Roeg's Performance), writer Anthony Haden-Guest (author of The Last Party: Studio 54, Disco and the Culture of the Night) and another friend from Melbourne, photographer Robert Whitaker, lensman of choice for many leading rock groups on the scene, including The Beatles and Cream.

During this time Mora contributed cartoons (as "Von Mora") to Oz magazine and he assisted Sharp on the landmark "Magic Theatre" edition. He also made his next short film, Passion Play, which was shot in the Pheasantry ca. 1967-68 with Jenny Kee as Mary Magdalene, Michael Ramsden as Jesus, and Mora himself as the Devil.

Mora began painting immediately on arrival in London, and one of his first London exhibitions was at the gallery of Clytie Jessop, who was the sister of Hermia Boyd (Hermia Lloyd-Jones).

Jessop invited Mora to exhibit at her gallery in the Kings Road, and the show was a great success, garnering excellent reviews and numerous sales-a situation Mora found rather incredible. By his own admission, he was so impoverished at the time that he had been forced to use house paint impregnated with insecticide for his paintings-a necessity he turned to his advantage by telling potential buyers that his paintings were "not only art, but they also kill flies".

More exhibitions at Clytie Jessop's gallery followed, with titles such as "Anti-Social Realism" and "Vomart". Eric Clapton bought one of the paintings from the latter exhibition, which depicted a shot-putter about to throw and simultaneously throwing up-a style reminiscent of the hilariously provocative Dada art of Barry Humphries.

His held a show at the Sigi Krauss gallery (where Martin Sharp also exhibited); it featured pictures all painted in black and white; the show also included a grey male rat which he had bought from Harrods. When the rat turned out to be female and gave birth Mora tried (unsuccessfully) to sell the babies as a 'multiples' in a limited edition of eight. The rat show attracted the interest of German avant-garde artist Klaus Stacks, who commissioned Philippe to produce an edition of one hundred screen prints of the mother rat. In February 1971 Joseph Beuys and Erwin Heerich invited Philippe to sign a "Call To Action" manifesto demanding the freeing of the German art market.

His next show was an Easter Crucifixion exhibition at the Sigi Krauss gallery which featured a life-size sculpture of a sitting man, made entirely of meat and offal. (cf. Robert Whitaker's controversial "butcher" cover photos for the Beatles' Yesterday & Today album in 1966). It was also at this exhibition that Mora screened his 8mm 'film painting' Passion Play, which was projected behind a screen framed in gold leaf. Some works from this exhibition (by artist Herman Makkink) were purchased by Stanley Kubrick's art director and used in the film A Clockwork Orange, notably the giant white phallus and the chorus line of dancing Jesus sculpture, though none by Mora.

Mora's provocative and highly symbolic offal exhibit caused a stir, a brick was thrown through the gallery window, which led to it being featured on the cover on Time Out, and later, as the piece began to petrify, the police were called after Princess Margaret, who had been dining at the restaurant across the street, complained about the stench. Detectives from Scotland Yard descended on the gallery and demanded that the sculpture be removed. but Krauss refused. The police claimed it was a health hazard and forced Krauss to move into the garden, where it gradually rotted away.

Philippe's next project was his first feature-length film, Trouble in Molopolis (1970).It was shot in London and "every Australian I knew was pulled into the picture", it was filmed in Robert Hughes' apartment and at the Pheasantry; Germaine Greer played a cabaret singer, Jenny Kee was 'Shanghai Lil', Laurence Hopewas a gangster, Martin Sharp played a mime and Richard Neville was a PR man; Tony Cahill from The Easybeats did the music with Jamie Boyd.

His next project was the parodic superhero musical, The Return of Captain, with songs by Rocky Horror Show. The film has long been regarded as a cult classic and recently became a minor hit in the US when it was re-released on DVD, due in part to its now-poignant final scene, in which Capt. Invincible flies past the World Trade Center.

In 1975, he wrote and directed, Brother, Can You Spare a Dime, a documentary about the 1930's comprising a series of film clips, comprising of newsreels, photographs, Hollywood films reflecting historical events, Hollywood films about making movies, outtakes, promos, and home movies. This was followed in 1976 by his first theatrical release, Mad Dog Morgan which he also wrote and directed. The film starred Dennis Hopper. Mad Dog Morgan was the first Australian movie to get a 40-cinema release in the United States. It received the John Ford Award in Cannes in 1976 as part of US Bicentennial celebrations and Mora was nominated by the Australian Film Institute for 'Best Director' in 1977 for the film.

These were followed by A Breed Apart with Rutger Hauer, The Howling II & The Howling III.

Mora's next film was based on the best-selling book by an old friend from his days in London in the late 60s, artist, author and broadcaster Whitley Strieber. Communion (1989) starred Christopher Walken and was based on Strieber's own alleged encounters with aliens.

Mora's 1990s film credits as director (and occasional writer and actor) included the horror spoof Pterodactyl Woman From Beverly Hills (1994); Art Deco Detective (1994); Precious Find (1996) a sci-fi version of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which reunited two actors from Ridley Scott's Blade Runner Rutger Hauer and the late Brion James. For television, Mora directed Mercenary II: Thick & Thin (1997), and the films Back In Business (1997), Snide And Prejudice (1998), and Burning Down The House (1998).

Mora's most recent film project, When We Were Modern, draws in part on his own life and experience. It examines the tangled lives and loves of the Heide inner circle - Sidney Nolan, Joy Hester, Albert Tucker and John and Sunday Reed. Nolan will is played by young Australian actor Clayton Watson (The Matrix) and Sunday Reed will be played by leading Hollywood actress Jennifer Jason Leigh.

In the forties, on the run after deserting from the army, Nolan lived at the Reed's famous house "Heide", and it was here that he painted his first Ned Kelly series. While living there he conducted an open affair with Sunday Reed, but Sunday refused to leave her husband and marry Nolan, so he married John's Reed's sister, Cynthia Hansen. The marriage eventually broke up, and Cynthia committed suicide in 1976. Her death sparked off the famously bitter feud between Nolan and author Patric White, who excoriated Nolan for abandoning his first wife (she and White were close friends) and remarrying (to Mary Perceval) very soon after Cynthia's death.

While researching the film, Philippe discovered previously unseen home movies of the Heide circle, including the only film of Joy Hester and the only film of the Mirka Café. The film is dedicated to Sweeney Reed, who committed suicide in March 1979, aged only 34. Reed will feature prominently as a character and as a tribute to him, Philippe is reportedly planning to screen some of the footage from Back Alley under the closing credits.

 

Filmography:

1964 Back Alley short subject

1965 Dreams In A Grey Afternoon short subject

1966 Man In A Film short subject

1967-1968 Passion Play short subject

1970 Trouble in Molopolis

1973 Swastika aka Double Headed Eagle: Hitler's Rise to Power 1918-1933 (USA: video title)

1975 Brother Can You Spare a Dime

1976 Mad Dog Morgan aka Mad Dog

1978 Newsfront - co-author, screenplay

1982 The Beast Within

1983 The Return of Captain Invincible aka Legend in Leotards

1984 A Breed Apart

1985 The Howling II aka Your Sister Is a Werewolf (USA: preview title) aka Stirba the Werewolf Bitch (UK)

1986 Death of a Soldier

1987 The Howling III aka Howling III: The Marsupials (+ producer)

1989 Communion director/producer

1994 Pterodactyl Woman from Beverly Hills + producer + actor (Dr Louis Blum)

1994 Art Deco Detective (+ producer)

1996 Precious Find + actor (as "Kosnikov")

1997 Back in Business aka Heart of Stone (USA)

1997 Mercenary II: Thick & Thin (TV)

1998 Joseph's Gift

1999 According to Occam's Razor

2001 Burning Down the House

2001 Snide and Prejudice

2004 Mothers Little Murderer

2009 The Times They Ain't a Changin'

2009 The Gertrude Stein Mystery or Some Like It Art