CC: The Last Wave (1977)

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

CC: The Last Wave (1977)

Although not adapted from a written source this film has all the hallmarks of a traditional Lovecraft story.  Secret society with occult knowledge?  Check!  Prophetic dreams of a disturbing nature?  Check!  Overwhelming despair in the face of an undefeatable force of nature?  Oh hell yes!

The Last Wave (1977)

  • Directed: Peter Weir
  • Produced: Hal and James McElroy
  • Written: Peter Weir, Tony Morphett, Petru Popescu
  • Starring: Richard Chamberlain, Olivia Hamnett, David Gulpilil, Frederick Parslow
  • Music: Charles Wain
  • Cinematography: Russell Boyd
  • Editing: Max Lemon
  • Studio:
    • The Australian Film Commission 
    • Ayer Productions 
    • Derek Power 
    • McElroy & McElroy
  • Distributed:
    • Cinema International Corporation 
    • World Northal 
    • Columbia Broadcasting System 
    • Warner Home Video 
    • Rhino Home Video 
    • The Criterion Collection
  • Rated:
  • Release Date: 13 December 1977 (Australia)  January 1979 (US)
  • Running Time: 106 minutes
  • Country: Australia
  • Language: English

Peter Lindsay Weir, AM (born 21 August 1944) is an Australian film director.  After playing a leading role in the Australian New Wave cinema with his films such as Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Last Wave and Gallipoli, Weir directed a diverse group of American and international films—many of them major box office hits—including the Academy Award nominees Witness, Dead Poets Society, Green Card, The Truman Show and Master and Commander.

The Last Wave or Black rain (US title) is an Australian film from 1977, directed by Peter Weir.  It is about a white lawyer in Sydney whose seemingly normal life is disrupted after he takes on a murder case and discovers that he shares a strange, mystical connection with the small group of local Australian Aborigines accused of the crime.

The film opens with a montage of scenes of daily life in Australia in the 1970s: a rural school in the desert, the main street of an outback town, a traffic jam in the city, all being affected by unusually adverse weather conditions that suddenly appear.  Only the local Aboriginals seem to recognize the cosmological significance of these weather phenomena.

During one of these "freak rainstorms" in Sydney, an altercation occurs among a group of Aboriginals in a pub, which results in the mysterious death of one of them.  At the coroner's inquest, the death is ruled a homicide; and four men are accused of murder.  Through the Australian Legal Aid system, David Burton (Richard Chamberlain) is procured for their defense.  The circumstances by which he was contacted and retained are unusual, in that his law practice is corporate taxation and not criminal defense.  He nonetheless takes on the case, and his professional and personal lives begin to unwind.

Plagued by bizarre dreams, Burton begins to sense an "otherworldly" connection to one of the accused (David Gulpilil).  He also feels connected to the increasingly strange weather phenomena besetting the city.  His dreams intensify along with his obsession with the murder case, which he comes to believe is an Aboriginal tribal killing by curse, in which the victim believed.  Learning more about Aboriginal practices and the concept of Dreamtime as a parallel world of existence, Burton comes to believe the strange weather bodes of a coming apocalypse.  In the animist framework of Australian Aboriginal mythology, Dreamtime is a sacred era in which ancestral totemic spirit beings created the world.

The film climaxes in a confrontation between the lawyer and the tribe's shaman in a subterranean sacred site. Overcoming the shaman, Burton escapes to the surface to warn about the Last Wave.  Seeing a huge wave looming high above Sydney, he collapses in despair in the last shot.

In an interview on the Criterion Collection DVD release, director Peter Weir explains that the film explores the question, "What if someone with a very pragmatic approach to life experienced a premonition?"  Entered in the 6th Tehran International Film Festival in November 1977, the film won the Golden Ibex prize.

Finance was provided by the Australian Film Commission ($120,000), the South Australian Film Corporation ($120,000), Janus Films (US$50,000) and United Artists ($350,000).  US based writer Petru Popescu worked on the script.  Weir considered two Australian actors to play the lead but eventually decided to go with Richard Chamberlain.  Filming started 24 February 1977 and took place in Adelaide and Sydney.

The Last Wave was not as popular as Picnic at Hanging Rock but still grossed $1,258,000 at the box office in Australia, which is equivalent to $5,786,800 in 2009 dollars.  United Artists decided not to release the film in the US but it was picked up by World Northal for distribution and enjoyed a popular run.

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