When I think about what kind of films would be made if the business were truly washed of its male bias, one filmmaker who always pops into my mind is Gillian Armstrong. Her films are all over the map in terms of periods, genres and scope, but what they have in common are strong female characters filtered through a strongly female-focused perspective.
After the international success of her debut film “My Brilliant Career,” Gillian could have done just about anything with her follow-up; she chose to use that currency to make a boldly different film—in fact, one so out of left field that it would seem she was challenging the very absurdity of being stereotyped as a certain type of director.
“Starstruck,” Gillian’s Australian punk rock musical, was the first film acquired by Cinecom, a company that I co-founded with two partners in 1982. It had been less than a year since I had been involved with the French film, “Diva,” which–like “Starstruck”–was a major departure from the films that had traditionally come from those countries. And like “Diva,” Gillian’s film had a kind of pop sensibility that seemed perfect for the moment. It was, simply put, a ton of fun.
We had enormous fun working on the marketing of the film. The opening night party was at a rooftop swimming pool, filled with inflatable sharks (you have to see the movie to get it). Jo Kennedy, the star of the film, came to New York and did a day of modelling costumes in the window of Fiorucci’s, a clothing store on the Upper East Side. We did co-promotion deals with the record company that published the soundtrack album, and set up radio promotion screenings to spread word-of-mouth. There was so much work put into the marketing that we were somewhat flabbergasted when, to our surprise, the film never caught on.
Ironically, the same week that “Starstruck” opened, we also opened the film that was Cinecom’s second acquisition, a little film by Robert Altman called “Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean.” In spite of terrible reviews in New York, it went on to enormous success, and is considered Altman’s first big comeback. Without the success of Altman’s film, the lackluster performance of “Starstruck–the film we actually thought was more commercial–might have sunk the company. It just goes to show that when you’re doing work on films that challenge expectations, you can never predict how things will turn out.
So, if you are in the mood to experience an Australian film that is unlike any you’ve ever seen, “Starstruck” will be shown at Columbia University as part of a day of screenings of films by “Visionary Women.” You can get your tickets to some or all of them below.
Saturday, September 15
Presented by Cowan, DeBaets, Abrahams & Sheppard LLP
12 PM: Tanya Wexler’s “Ball in the House”
2:45 PM: Sarah Kernochan’s “All I Wanna Do”
5:45 PM: Joan Micklin Silver’s “Chilly Scenes of Winter”
9 PM: Gillian Armstrong’s “Starstruck”