My Brilliant Career(Blue Underground, 5.31.2005)
With her 1979 debut, Gillian Armstrong made clear her cinematic specialty: blandly competent period dramas (she subsequently made sleep-inducers Mrs. Soffel, Little Women, Oscar and Lucinda, and Charlotte Gray). If you like this sort of thing, My Brilliant Career is a perfectly watchable, intelligent, even somewhat nuanced work. But Armstrong has never cared much for lively, energetic filmmaking. Her work doesn't have the spark or originality of great cinema but that should suit stuffy, middle-of-the-road cineastes just fine. It's just a little unusual that Blue Underground -- the company devoted to "guilty pleasures for adventurous movie fans" -- has chosen to release this on DVD.
Judging from their slate of upcoming releases (which includes films by Dario Argento, Ralph Bakshi, Enzo G. Castellari and several other maestros of guilty pleasure), it doesn't appear that Blue Underground has any desire to change their mandate. As far as I can tell, My Brilliant Career is an anomaly connected more to their new interest in Australian cinema than anything else. In addition to this title and Bad Boy Bubby, they're planning to release Phillip Noyce's Newsfront and a significantly less conventional Armstrong film, Starstruck.
In any case, Blue Underground has put together a solid, if surprisingly light, 2-disc release of My Brilliant Career. Disc one contains theatrical trailers, an impressive 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer -- imdb lists the film's aspect ratio (possibly apocryphally) as 2.35:1 but there's nothing awkward about the 1.85:1 framing so I assume it's correct -- and an audio commentary by Armstrong. This is a lively, informative track with pretty much everything you could ever want to know about the film, including the fact that Judy Davis hated her star-making role. Unfortunately, Armstrong comes across as unjustifiably arrogant, especially given her relatively undistinguished filmography.
Featuring roughly 25 minutes of extras, disc 2 is a little disappointing by Blue Underground standards. We get two 9-minute interviews, one with Armstrong and the other with producer Margaret Fink. These are really uninterrupted monologues, not interviews, but they're interesting nonetheless. Armstrong comes across better here than in her commentary. It looks like she simply set up a video camera in her house, recorded a message, and sent it to Blue Underground. In any event, it's a nice intro to the film.
Fink's live-action production notes give you a detailed production history of the film, going all the way back to her memory of reading the book 40 years ago. She discusses the details of hiring all the major cast and crew and explains that Davis replaced the film's original star. If this featurette is any indication, this woman has an incredibly good memory.
In addition, there's a 4-minute video bio of Miles Franklin (the novel's author), a 2-minute interview with Armstrong, Davis, and Fink at the Cannes Film Festival, and a Teachers' Study Guide (included as a DVD-ROM pdf). This is a definite first for Blue Underground, although I'm sure teachers everywhere were clamoring for study guides on Sadomania, Shock Waves, and Q: The Winged Serpent.
Overall, this is a solid DVD that should definitely please fans of the film. Blue Underground devotees may want to avoid this but, then again, what could be a guiltier pleasure for fans of exploitative genre cinema than 19th century costume drama? -- Jonathan Doyle