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:- Model virtues

Take man-of—the-moment Hugh Grant, add a few beautiful women who continually disrobe, and you’ve got a film that is sure to stir up a lot of interest. Director John Duigan and actress Tara Fitzgerald tell Alan Morrison there’s more to Sirens than naked supermodels.

There’s no escaping Elle MacPherson this month. Having climbed her way to the very top of the

supermodel ladder, she has now made the move from

the fashion glossies to the front covers of the movie mags as her acting debut in fellow Australian John Duigan’s film Sirens hits UK screens. in it she plays not stretching her wings too much on her first outing - one of a trio of models living on the estate of painter Norman Lindsay during the 1930s who has a disquietening effect on English curate Anthony Campion (Hugh Grant) and his sexually repressed young wife, Estella (Tara Fitzgerald).

‘l didn’t expect to cast her.‘ admits Duigan. ‘l was casting the net widely in the search for the women to play the models, and i sent the script across to her really just out of curiousity, without any real

and Flirting brought a charm to coming-of—age

adolescent sexual awakening - here. the themes are similar, although it’s a cross-cultural simmering sexuality that is of interest. Perched for most of the movie on the edge of a sexual chasm, Estella opens herselfto the emotional, moral and geographical

' freedom ofthe Australian landscape and its people.

Necessarily, this involves a liberal dash of nudity.

something to which Fitzgerald who unveiled her . flesh in Hear My Song and TV’s Tire Carnmnile

expectation that she would be available, or interested,

or have the ability. When she did finally respond. I’d already cast Tara and i wanted to cast the three models as being considerably taller than her to give

this subtle sense of an overbearing female phalanx of

people that she was having to deal with. Elle is clearly a good candidate physically because she‘s very statuesque and tall.‘

‘ihere’s a very clear distinction between a film like this, which Is about sensuality and repression, and films which come under the banner of pornography.’ John Duigan

Lawn is no stranger. Nevertheless, appearing alongside the supermodel nicknamed ‘The Body’

must have been a daunting prospect.

‘No,’ Fitzgerald refutes in a deep and husky voice that belies her petite frame, ‘it’s like saying, will you find it daunting to work with a great actor? You might be slightly curious you always are with people who have myths that shroud or precede them, as someone like Elle does. But I was wondering

; about working with Sam Neill [who plays Lindsay] in the same way. i wanted to explore the difference between the way women are looked at and what is

1 expected of them. For instance, my character would

not be self-regarding at all, unlike one of the models, where part of their being is this self-regarding thing,

this obsession with their looks.‘

After an extremely detailed screen test, Duigan was ;

convinced that MacPherson did indeed have the acting talents and commitment that the role demanded. On screen, she brings afresh, unselfconscious, quintessentially Australian sexuality to Sheela, one of the heavenly bodies in Lindsay’s universe. The Sirens of legend lured sailors to their deaths by seducing them onto rocks but, while the women cause extreme emotional confusion in that brand of bumbling Englishness that Hugh Grant has made his own, it’s their effect on Estella that is the film’s focus.

Duigan’s earlier films - The Year My Voice Broke

The film fictionalises an episode in the life of Australian writer and painter Norman Lindsay, whose hedonistic approach to art frequently

5 scandalised the establishment during the first half of the century. Particularly offensive to the church

hierarchy in Sydney is ‘The Crucified Venus’, which

: features a voluptuous woman on a cross, and so

{ newly arrived cleric Anthony Campion is dispatched, along with his wife, to Lindsay’s estate in an attempt : to persuade the artist to withdraw the offending piece

from a forthcoming exhibition. There Campion

~ encounters a magical, liberating atmosphere. the fiery Lindsay who revels in debate, and a set ofgorgeous

muses who cause a tremble in more than his stiff

Sirens: “Merchant-Ivory where the girls get their kit ofl’

upper lip. The period charm is delightfully done, but, on the whole. Sirens is little more than Merchant- lvory where the girls get their kit off. That said, however, the film has a strong visual appeal, particularly when the nude tableaux allude to real paintings. We may not know much about art, but we know what we like.

As an artist, Lindsay isn‘t particularly well known outside his native country a train crash during World War II destroyed the majority of his best works but it’s more the legacy of his attitude towards life and art that drew Duigan to the material. ‘The thing that i enjoy most about his work is that it’s tremendously affectionate for human sensuality,’

the writer—director explains. ‘Compared to, say, a lot

of contemporary cinema which deals with the

negative side of human sensuality and dwells on how j awful relationships between the sexes are, this film ; attempts to remind people that it can be a delightful

part of human experience. That is what I was taking from Norman Lindsey’s work in particular, because he had a terrific natural exuberance and playfulness

i when dealing with this subject.

‘Human beings have been enjoying the human form and celebrating it in art since the Greeks and

probably before them,’ Duigan continues, warming 3 to a more serious point, ‘so I don‘t have any qualms

in exploring this area. i think there‘s a very clear distinction between a film like this, which is about sensuality and repression. and films which come under the banner of pornography. The realm of

sensuality as a subject for artistic exploration has ; become quite compromised by the impulses towards

political correctness. While there is a lot behind those impulses that I feel sympathetic about, i think in

f some ways they have started to exert a stronghold on ' our ability as artists to freely explore that area

without guilt.‘ Sirens is currently playing at selected Odeons and


spa/mural Irv BACARIN BLACK

22 The List 29 July—ll August 1994