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MAKING OF: ANGEL BABY (1995)

BY ANDREW L. URBAN

First time director Michael Rymer wants to have audiences leave his film catharsised.

The lift is crowded as three burly men surround Harry and Kate; Kate, leaning against Harry's right shoulder, is pale, dishevelled, with an absent look in her eyes, while Harry seems agitated, anxious. The camera pans across the men, finds the strange expression on Kate's face, gently explores it, moves on to Harry, as the lift stops.

Outside, at the exit door, grips are erecting a steel mesh fence for the next scene, in which Harry and Kate make a dash for it, to escape the institution where they feel trapped, isolated, alienated, alone, frightened, inexplicable...

"It's a character driven, intimate story about two people on the periphery of society," Michael Rymer

The location is a disused Melbourne hospital, where Michael Rymer is making his first feature, Angel Baby, a love story about two schizophrenics.

"It's a character driven, intimate story about two people on the periphery of society," says Rymer during a lunch break, "with little hope of getting normal love, or companionship, family - then they fall in love, and it gives them a reason to struggle and to go for more."

John Lynch (Cal, The Name of the Father) and Jacqueline McKenzie (Romper Stomper, This Won't Hurt a Bit, Traps) star as the unusual lovers, both highly regarded actors with a track record of first class performances.

"The characters came first... I found them appealing and intriguing."

(The supporting cast also includes some of Australia's well known names, like Colin Friels, Deborra-Lee Furness, Robyn Nevin and David Argue.)

"The characters came first," says Rymer, "and I found them appealing and intriguing. At some point, these two quirky characters, these extremely strange people...somehow it occurred to me they might be described as mentally ill. They read signs in things, watched tv game shows for messages from some other world...."

After spending four months attending an informal day care centre for the mentally ill, Rymer had a pretty good (and very compassionate) picture of their daily lives, which he describes as atrocious. He says the film, while accurate, can not, does not, approximate the full extent of how awful are the lives of schizophrenics. "It's a cleaned up version...what they have to go through is messy, ugly and half the challenge [of making the film] is to make it watchable.

"But the script is not about crazy people," he says adamantly. "If I'd set out to make a film about schizophrenics, it would have been more about the symptoms than about the people."

"I learnt more in those two years than in five years at film school." on US Scholarship

The young Melbourne-born film maker studied at University of Southern California, and won the Warner Communications Scholarship for Directing. But it was a two year acting course in 1986 that he feels was crucial: "That process taught me to write - you learn what drama is. I learnt more in those two years than in five years at film school."

The script had been enthusiastically handled by several producers when Rymer's friend, young producer Jonathan Shteinman took it to the more experienced Tim White (Malcolm, Spotswood, Celia, Death in Brunswick). "The script had been highly spoken of, and had great appeal for top actors," White says. Shteinman and White "persevered" with the notion of Rymer directing his script, despite "the usual problems of trying to finance a first time director." (And having to buy out the development costs of the previous producers.)

"It connected with me because it had big emotion - an intensity I was drawn to," Producer Tim White

"It connected with me because it had big emotion - an intensity I was drawn to," White explains. "It's contemporary, bold and aimed at young adult audiences - plus it has two great central characters."

The script was lodged with the Film Fund, which is operated by the Film Finance Corporation (FFC) and requires no pre-sales to trigger full funding. Both the FFC and the Australian Film Commission were "very encouraging" says Shteinman: the latter even provided assistance for script editing by noted writer Louis Nowra.

Cinematographer Ellery Ryan (Death in Brunswick, Spotswood) is using high speed stock, and "with Michael Rymer's prompting we've done 'things' - like using overt camera angles to comment on the action, a bit of hand held and some overcranking (slow motion)."

"He wants audiences to leave "catharsised, emotionally charged and drained."

For Rymer, the film is both enormous fun and a dream come true: "I've got an amazing crew; state of the art professionals, and we're doing some amazing shots." He wants audiences to leave "catharsised, emotionally charged and drained. I used to feel that as a kid when I went to the movies, but I haven't felt it much lately, except after Schindler's List."

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ANGEL BABY

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FIRST IN A NEW SERIES:
The Making Of is a unique and historic series of articles on a selection of Australian films such as this one that were made BI (Before Internet), or at least before Urban Cinefile was launched.

FIRST REPORTED: 29/4/94

We gratefully acknowledge the assistance of the Australian Film Commission in helping to publish this series.

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