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KISS OR KILL

Bill Bennett’s latest movie, Kiss or Kill, poses a potent question: how well can you really know anyone? Even lovers. Andrew L. Urban visited the middle of nowhere during filming.

We’re standing in the middle of the Woomera Highway outside Port Augusta in South Australia. The heat is rising from the asphalt like waves of air spaghetti, and on the roadside, you can hear the grass groan. Behind us is the town, ahead of us is the road rising gently to meet the horizon. Nothing but sky. A lone kestrel floats on air high above our heads.

Writer/director Bill Bennett is deciding where to place the police car that will be smashed during the climactic chase at the end of the film.

That morning, the entire crew and some of the cast gathered in the dining room of the Standpipe Golf Motor Inn at Port Augusta that served as both accommodation, production centre and dining room. (The in house restaurant is run by an Indian family, who make excellent curries.)

Stuntment Glen Boswell and Johnny Hallyday discussed the finest details. Impact speed was expected to be 90 kph and the target car - the police car blocking the road -was stripped to make it lighter, give it more bounce at impact. The T bone crash, as it’s called, would have to be perfectly timed.

Bill Bennett and cinematographer Malcolm McCulloch were anxious to plan everything meticulously, in view of the narrow time-window of opportunity that was available for the shot. The final crash had to take place just minutes before sunset. There was no room for error, no time for more than a couple of takes.

That whole day was devoted to this single scene.
The army depot nearby served as a temporary base, where make up, wardrobe and the catering truck set themselves up. Foldaway tables and chairs in a tent became the green room, where people would have coffee between takes - and I’d do some interviews, accompanied by frantic hand waving to chase off the flies.

With the help of creative consultant Jennifer Cluff (his wife), Bill found his dream cast: "We got our first choices," she says. They would respond well to improvising the dialogue, given that Bill was always there to give them support - because it can be frightening for the actors.

"It’s the hardest acting I’ve ever had to do," says Matt Day, "and everything I’ve wanted out of acting. It makes you think." Francis O’Connor agrees: "In some ways this is the most difficult thing … but it’s also the most creative."

"Working with Bill calls for patience and understanding," says Chris Haywood, who won the Best Actor AFI Award for his starring role in Bill’s first feature film, A Street to Die (1985). But they all agree it challenges them to give their best.

Chris has a very high regard for the director: "He’s an extraordinary film maker. I would’ve done it for just a walk on part…you know it won’t be easy - but it’s innovative film making."

"Look," says Bill, "it is terrifying for the actors but the thing that I've stressed with them is that I won't ever let them down. I'll always provide a safety net for them, they're not out there by themselves and I won't let them look foolish. And I think probably because of my previous work, they do trust me. Plus, I must admit I'm becoming more confident in this style."

This style is pretty well in Bill’s professional genes, from his earliest days as a current affairs journalist on television, through the award winning dramatised documentaries - both for television and feature films, which he has made in the past 23 years or so.

"I started working this way because I'd come from a documentary background and the thing that excited me about documentary was the fact that you could turn a camera on people that you've lived with for months and yet they would come out with something that was so totally surprising and yet within truth and within their characters. And it would all make sense. I missed that when I went into drama; I missed that excitement, that spontaneity so I started working like that in Backlash (1986), trying to meld the two forms."

But improvised does not mean ‘make it up as we go along’, says Bill.

"It's probably a bit misleading when people talk about an improvised film. They probably regard it as being a very undisciplined thing where you simply turn a camera on and the actors get out there and start saying words. In fact, very rarely do we actually get to a scene where the actors need to talk about what's to be said. All of that has been discussed beforehand during rehearsals and I've also got some very specific dialogue in the script. So it's actually a very controlled and disciplined process. I'd be crazy to go into something that was otherwise."

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Bill Bennett on location (above and below)

REVIEWS

Read Andrew L. Urban's FEATURE

Read Andrew L. Urban's interview with
BILL BENNETT

See Paul Fischer's interview with
FRANCES O'CONNOR


Nikki and Al are lovers and partners in crime - small time. When a routine con job goes badly astray, they hit the road; the one that leads West across the barren Nullarbor. With the city cops on their trail, they overnight at a motel. By morning, the motel owner is dead. Murdered. Next day, they get a lift from a stranger, who takes them home and lets them stay. By morning, he and his wife are also dead. Murdered.

Nikki and Al may be lovers, but do they really know each other? As they begin to suspect each other of the multiple killings, they also start to learn things they wished they never knew. Things that may motivate a killer….
And all the time, the cops are closing in, helped by an Aboriginal tracker.

Kiss or Kill is a thriller with its own unique visual and musical heartbeat, set on the Nullarbor Plain west of Adelaide in South Australia. Starring two of Australia’s most exciting young actors, Frances O’Connor and Matt Day as Nikki and Al, the film also brings together a powerful supporting cast in Chris Haywood, Barry Otto and Max Cullen.





Australian theatrical distributor: New Vision Films
Australian pay tv rights: Movie Vision (Optus)
International Sales: Beyond Films







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