Thursday, March 9, 2017

Valhalla Regained: A Project

Shadows as a film night swells up like a ghost limb on a Friday evening. It's always bad but if I find myself on Smith Street at that time it can weigh a ton. I'll still glance down Perry Street and I'll want to cross the road and get myself to the Campbell Street corner, swing in through the steel door, wave to Milos and set up the projector.

Nostalgia's best use is to fill gaps in the present. So, one day when I tried a search on the Valhalla catalogues that used to be a part of the decor in any inner city shared house I came up with nothing. Asking a cinephile friend was rewarded with a swag of them from the eighties and nineties. I got them home and wrote down the title of everything I'd missed at the time and then worked out how to source it. Lack addressed. Well, a start.

It's not just the old days and ways but the sense of getting in front of the unknown again. We who went to them trusted the arthouses to give us the hidden and the outcast as well as the non-anglophone. They confronted us with Irreversible, terrified us with Ringu and delighted us with ? (and that's just the 2000s). And in between those titles were the ones I couldn't make. Time poverty, poverty from part-time hours, whatever it was I missed them. This is their story and the tale of the thrill of gem hunting. These home screenings will not always be crowd pleasers and I won't be responsible. I'll know only enough about the choices to make me want to see them (really just the premise) so I won't be able to vouch for them.

The first two were:

The Official Story:
Argentina's dirty war has been swept away and school teacher ? enjoys an easy privileged life with her businessman husband and adorable adopted daughter. But history keeps coming at her from the unruly classes of the creative literature teacher before her and the dissent the boys are learning to the increasingly forgetful circle of middle class friends she can scarcely tolerate. And the trail leads all the way back home as her investigations into atrocities suffered by a close friend intrigue her.  A slow burn depending on solid performance and an unfliching eye on the issues.

I only vaguely recall seeing this in the calendar in the mid-eighties but, given the subject matter, I wonder that I didn't get to it at the time. We were sobered by it, even after the champagne and heavy home made pizzas of dinner

William Walker, a mercenary employed by uber-capitalist Cornelius Vanderbilt to stabilise central America becomes his conquered territory's dictator and eventual enemy of his boss. Alex Cox's far superior follow up to the execrable Sid and Nancy finds him in fine form, giving us all the cheek of Repo Man but none of the reverence of the biopic. Using anachronism with increasing force to reduce the gap between U.S. incursions south of the border and allowing a dynamic central performance by the still little-known Ed Harris Cox creates a solid fable with a lean eye on the stylising.

I did want to get to this one and was even dating a woman who lived around the corner from the Valhalla when it moved to Northcote. We planned to go but household politics at her place demanded support from me. It got intense. Thinking of it, even though the issue was resolved in time neither of us would have taken to the quirks of the movie. Though ever on the left my politics had started to lighten. I don't think hers ever did.

Good start. Where next?


  1. Would it be too much of a request for you to maybe scan those Valhalla posters it would great see what was being programmed back then at the Valhalla. So what is the actual project you are planning? Didn't someone recently start a Valhalla Social Club? Which seems to have disappeared as quickly as it appeared!

  2. HI, I am planning on selectively scanning some of the calendars (the ones from the Richmond era are over a metre tall) to use in the artwork before I return them to their owner who is (I believe) going to donate them to an archive like the AFI library.

    My project is outlined in this post but sums up thus: I am going to source (where available) copies of all the films I missed at Melbourne arthouses from the '80s to the mid '90s and screen them. The audience will be friends of mine and at my place or that of anyone among those who volunteers. It's not a public event, alas, nor will be unless I can find a venue I can run on a regular basis that might feasibly attract an audience like my last film night Shadows (this blog began life as a program for that). That appears to be only getting harder to do.

    I, too, recall the Valhalla Social Club and that they set themselves up in a nifty looking venue. It might just be in hiatus until they work out problems that might have led them to close doors. I'm just guessing about that.

    Have you considered taking something like this up, yourself? Not just a casual night in with friends but something more curated. You'd have to bear the cost of any additions to your collection or invite friends whose collections might pool to a decent library. I'd always recommend screening to at least some people for whom these kind of films are fresh. It's a lot of work but it's also pretty rewarding.